Suddenly, they stumbled upon a gap leading into yet another little courtyard, about twenty feet across. It seemed empty. Rohan hustled them through, saying, ‘Come, let’s go in here and discuss what we should do next.’

As they entered the open courtyard, they stopped dead in their tracks, staring at the strange spectacle that confronted them. A plump youth, a couple of years older than Rohan, was sitting alone on one side, on a low stone step, with a huge golden bowl beside him. It was overflowing with jalebis of some sort, and he was furiously stuffing his face with them, looking furtively to his left and right.

The boy was dressed in the most extraordinary fashion. He wore a thin, transparent cotton kurta-pyjama in block-printed green, embellished heavily with gold thread. He had an embroidered sash tied around his waist and on his head was a silk turban lined with pearls, and topped with a feathered aigrette, with a large emerald in the centre. His eyes were outlined lightly with black kajal.

He wore the most amount of jewellery they had ever seen on anyone in their lives – including most Indian brides they’d seen photos of! His chest was covered in various necklaces of emerald, pearls and gold, and large pearls dangled from his ears.

He had emerald and pearl armbands, and matching bracelets. His fingers shimmered with rings of different stones. It was the most extraordinary sight to see on a boy their own age. Noor and Ansh started giggling, nudging each other. ‘Check out this walking-talking jewellery store!’ chortled Noor. ‘How is he able to keep his neck upright under all that weight?’

‘He seems to be wearing all the crown jewels of the world,’ gasped Ansh. ‘Is he a runaway child bridegroom?!’ The boy suddenly realised he was being observed and looked up a little guiltily. When he saw the children, his expression changed to one of anger.

He sneered at them in Persian, ‘They seem to be letting any old rabble into the palace these days. Don’t you know who I am? Show respect to your future emperor!’ Rohan and Zoya stood there, dumbstruck. Ansh let out a snort of suppressed laughter.

The boy repeated sulkily, ‘I said, bow at once before the Most Exalted Mirza Nuruddin Beg Mohammad Khan Salim!’

Zoya’s mind started spinning. Mirza Salim?! She hissed to the others, ‘Oh my god, this is Baby Jahangir!’ They turned as one, eyes wide, to gaze at him again.

He shouted, ‘I’ll have you thrown into the dungeons, you rude peasants.’

Noor’s ready temper surfaced. She flashed back at him, ‘Bow before you? Never, you pudgy menace!’ Thankfully, in her anger she had replied in English. Jahangir instantly looked intrigued and asked, ‘What language are you speaking in? Where are you from? Tell me at once!’

Zoya quickly stepped in and said in Persian, ‘We are from Ahom, sire,’ and put her hand up to her forehead in an aadaab.

‘Ahom?’ Salim said. ‘Aah, from the countryside…that’s why you don’t know how to conduct yourselves at court.’ His mood changed in a lightning flash and he gave them a jovial smile. ‘Come, tell me about your land.’ With that, he took another jalebi and stuffed it into his mouth.

‘That’s the sixteenth jalebi he has eaten in front of us,’ muttered Ansh.

As they drew closer to him, Ansh’s mouth started watering as he gazed at the bowl of intricate-looking jalebis – with fancy spiral edging around each piece – he never got to eat this oily, sweet and sticky deliciousness at home, with his mum forever feeding him wheatgrass smoothies and dry oat biscuits.

‘Imartis!’ yelped Zoya. ‘I loooove them.’

Salim looked at them in astonishment. ‘What? You’ve eaten these before? It’s not possible! They’ve only just been invented today!’ The children stood, speechless, as he continued, ‘Why, I commanded the royal chef to make me something extra special – a jalebi-of-jalebis! And this is what he presented me with.’ He grinned boastfully. ‘I still have to come up with a name for it that’s as royal as this dish…’

History Hunters: Akbar and the Agents from the East

Excerpted with permission from History Hunters: Akbar and the Agents from the East, Shruti Garodia and Archana Garodia Gupta, Hachette.