When Akbar received the news of his father's death he was a boy just turned thirteen. He was at Kalanaur, in the Panjab, and his affairs were in the hands of the Turkoman chief Bairam Khan whose ability and loyalty fortunately equaled the roughness of his temper. His grandfather Babur had been eleven when he succeeded to the even less stable throne of Farghana. Ranjit Singh, who was to rule the Panjab in the early nineteenth century for nearly forty years, was ten when he succeeded to the chiefship of his clan. At this moment the Mughals seemed to have no greater chance of empire than either of the three contending Afghan factions. Their resources were less and their morale little higher. They owed their initial success to Bairam Khan. When he received the news of Homayun's death he was conducting a campaign against Sikandar, a relative of Sher Shah. At Chunar was another claimant, Muhammad Adil Shah, who compensated for his own ineffectiveness by the talent of his Hindu general Hemu. Hemu took Delhi before Bairam Khan could reach it and then proclaimed himself emperor under the style of Raja Vikramaditiya. The two armies met at Panipat, fifty miles north of Delhi, where the fate of India was decided for the second time within the space of thirty years. Hemu, blinded by an arrow early in the battle, was killed and his army dispersed. From this moment began the Mughal empire as a raj rather than as an adventure.
Bairam Khan continued to rule until 1560, and consolidated his young master's position. By that time the Mughals controlled north India from the Indus to the borders of Behar, and in the fortresses of Ajmer and Gwalior had secured the keys of Rajputana and the road to the south respectively. But Bairam was old and overbearing, Akbar young and masterful. The inevitable breach, reminiscent of Kaiser Wilhelm's with Bismarck, occurred, which ended with Bairam Khan's murder by a private enemy while on his way to Mecca. For two more years Akbar