Warrior: Curse of China
The third novel in the Warrior series covers the period 1207 - 1223
The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to see their cities reduced to ashes, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters. Genghis Khan
Children ran alongside the retinue of soldiers, camels, and oxen pulling hundreds of ornate carts and covered wagons. They had never seen such strange animals as the snorting one-humped camels on the steppe before. Dancing and laughing, they dared each other to touch the hairy beasts. They ogled the beautiful exotic women, the skilful jugglers, the wailing musicians, and the half-naked dancers.
‘It is the Prince of Wei for the annual tribute, my lord,’ Bogorju said, ducking through the opening into the Khan’s tent.
Genghis sat on a couch reading. ‘Tell him I’m busy. I will see him shortly. Have slaves remove the seating and cushions. Ask Vangura to bring trays of food and drink.’
Bogorju raised an eye, but went to do as he was ordered.
After an hour, Bogorju returned to see if Genghis was ready. He lay dozing on the couch, the parchment resting on his chest. ‘My lord, the Emissary is gowing impatient.’
Genghis opened an eye. ‘Good. Tell him I am still busy. I will see him soon.’
Bogorju smiled, and went out to tell Yun-chi what the Khan had said.
After two hours, a slave reported to Bogorju. ‘My lord, the Khan will see the Emissary now.’ He backed away, and Bogorju escorted the Emissary to see the Khan.
Bogorju ushered Yun-chi into the tent. ‘The Prince of Wei, my lord.’
Yun-chi bent slightly as he entered through the opening. He was a tall, thin man, dressed immaculately in a long red and gold embroidered robe that reached down to his feet. He had a short four-cornered hat in the same fabric, which covered his black knotted hair. On his feet he wore a pair of pointed slippers that matched his other clothes. His face was pale with long moustaches and a goatee beard.
‘Ja’utquri,’ Yun-chi said, calling Genghis by his appointed Chinese title, rather than as Khan of the Mongol nation. ‘You know that I represent the Jin Emperor, Zhangzong, and that I should be accorded the same respect and obedience, as if I were the Emperor himself.’
‘You have been coming for the tribute for many years, Yun-chi,’ Genghis said, breaking protocol by not addressing the Chinese official by his royal title. The couch had now been removed. Genghis sat in an elaborately decorated chair on a raised dais. A variety of meats and delicacies, together with skins of rice wine, qumys and airag, were laid out on coffers. Now forty-five years old, he still retained the physique of a man half his age. He wore his usual attire of felt boots, trousers and a fur-lined coat, gathered at the waist with a leather belt that held his scimitar sword and knife. Two of the elite guard stood in the shadows of the tent, a further ten were positioned outside. ‘I have decided that I will no longer submit to the Jin Emperor. I will no longer pay the annual tribute, and I renounce the title Wang Kin once gave me, for which I have no further use.’
‘This is a serious matter, Ja’utquri,’ Yun-chi said, continuing to use the Chinese title. He looked around the tent for a seat so that he could sit down. He only stood in the presence of the Emperor.
‘It is serious, Yun-chi,’ Genghis replied, but it was clear from Genghis’ grin and the sparkle in his eyes that he did not consider it serious at all. ‘I have kept your northern border safe for many years. And I have paid the Emperor’s tribute each year for this privilege.’ He paused, taking a drink of qumys. He signaled a slave to bring him a tray of food from which he helped himself. He did not offer Yun-chi either food or drink as custom dictated. ‘Your northern border is now no longer safe.’
‘If you follow your words with actions,
Ja’utquri, there will be dire consequences,’ Yun-chi stated matter-of-factly. ‘The Tartars also refused to pay their tribute. As you are well aware, we sent an army against them.’
‘The Tartars were a small tribe, in comparison to the Mongol nation that now exists, Yun-chi. Do you think you have an army large enough to attack us and force the payment of a measly tribute?’
‘You know I am sure, that payment of the tribute is not the issue here. It is your disobedience and lack of respect for me, and as such, the Emperor. If we allow this insult to go unpunished, then all other vassals that pay tribute to the Emperor, may think they can insult him and refuse to pay, as you are doing.’ Yun-chi shifted his weight from one leg to the other, and looked at the trays of food. ‘It is, of course, the Emperor’s decision, but I feel sure that he will want to make an example of you.’
‘Tell Emperor Zhangzong, I look forward to seeing him,’ Genghis said, the smile still lingering on his face, his eyes dark and piercing. ‘You should remember, however, before you throw any more threats in my direction, that if we are now at war, then I could have you executed where you stand, and help myself to your valuables and the tributes you have already collected.’
‘I shall take my leave then, if you have no objections?’ Yun-chi asked.
Genghis slid a sliver of beef into his mouth and took a drink of qumys. He saw beads of sweat break out on Yun-chi’s forehead, the small marmot-like eyes darted about the tent.
‘I have no doubt, the Emperor will want to be at the head of his army, so I am sure I will see him soon on the battlefield,’ Genghis said. Both he and Bogorju laughed out loud as Prince Wei turned, and hurriedly shuffled out of the tent.
‘If we weren’t at war with the Jin before, my lord,’ Bogorju said. ‘I am sure we are now. You could see the anger and embarrassment on his face, even though he tried hard to hide it. You humiliated him. He will now go back and persuade the Emperor to send an army against us.’
‘And we will be waiting for them,’ Genghis replied.
Genghis sat astride his horse about to inspect the camp with Bogorju and Jelme when an Ongut messenger, spraying dust everywhere, came to a halt in front of them. Looking filthy and tired, he jumped off his mount and prostrated himself on the ground.
‘Speak,’ Genghis said.
The messenger pushed himself up to a kneeling position. ‘My lord, Tegin says that the Tangut Emperor, Huanzong, has been murdered. A new Emperor, Xiangzong has taken his place.’ Genghis had permitted Alaqush Tegin to return with his tribe to the lands bordering the Jin territories and the Tangut in Xi Xia. His orders were to keep watch on the border and report anything unusual.
‘When did this happen?’ Genghis asked.
‘The day before I left, my lord, I have travelled without rest. It has taken me ten days to get here.’ The messenger’s speech was slurred and he struggled to keep his eyes open.’
Genghis signalled a slave. ‘You have done well. Now you need rest, food and drink before you return. This slave will see to your needs.’ The slave led the messenger and his horse away.
He turned to Bogorju. ‘Tell the other senior counsellors to meet me here tomorrow at first light,’ Genghis said. ‘We need to discuss the situation with the Jin and the Tangut.’
At first light the following day, Munglig, Churchadai, Bogorju and Jelme arrived. Genghis waited for them. He looked refreshed, but they all knew he had only had a few hours sleep.
Before he could say anything else, there was a commotion outside the tent and one of the guards came in. ‘My lord, it is a messenger from the Ongut.’
‘Another one,’ Jelme said. ‘Things must be happening down there on the border.’
‘Bring him in,’ Genghis told the guard.
The messenger was out of breath, tired and unkempt. He prostrated himself in front of Genghis. ‘My lord, Tegin has been murdered by his brother, who has appointed himself chief of the Ongut.’
Genghis looked at his senior counsellors and said, ‘I introduced the Yasa only last year to stop this from happening.’ He turned back to the messenger. ‘Are there any more details, other than what you’ve already told us?’
‘I was given no other information, my lord,’ the messenger said. Genghis dismissed him.
Genghis said to one of his attendants, ‘Go and bring Shiqi Qutuqu to me.’ The attendant rushed out to find Genghis’ adopted son, the supreme officer of the law.
‘This is the problem with keeping the tribes intact,’ Genghis said. His eyes dark narrow slits. ‘I allowed it, as you all know, because Tegin submitted to me voluntarily. They have now forfeited that privilege. I will distribute the Ongut warriors throughout the army. They still have tribal loyalties, which appear to be stronger than their loyalties to me.’ He stood up and began pacing. To another attendant he said, ‘Go and find Jebe and Boroqul. Ask them to come to me now.’
‘Father,’ Qutuqu said, hurrying into the tent. ‘You wanted to see me?’ Qutuqu was a Tartar, who had been found in the Merkit camp as a little boy.
‘There has been a murder, Qutuqu,’ Genghis said to him, as if he had never heard of such a thing. ‘Apparently, Tegin, the chief of the Ongut, has been killed by his brother. I want you to go there and investigate this crime. Without pre-empting your investigation, if you find that the case is proven against the brother, I want him and his family executed, but of course, you know the punishment as well as I. Jebe and Boroqul will accompany you to ensure order.’
Jebe and Boroqul came in then, and Genghis switched his attention to them. ‘I am sending Qutuqu to investigate the murder of the Ongut chief, and sentence the brother and his family to death if the case is proven. The two of you are to take your tumans and accompany him, carry out the executions and then Jebe, you are to bring the whole tribe back here as soon as possible. I will distribute the warriors throughout the army once they arrive. Boroqul, you will set up camp on the border and wait for us there. We will be attacking the Tangut as soon as Jebe brings the Ongut back here, but you are not to speak of this to anyone, not even your men. Send messengers if there is any Jin or Tangut activity.’
The three men saluted and left to carry out their orders. Genghis continued the meeting with his senior counsellors.
‘As you heard me say, I have decided to attack the Tangut,’ Genghis repeated.
‘Why the Tangut instead of the Jin?’ Bogorju asked. ‘We have just refused to pay the tribute and declared war on the Jin, won’t they now attack us?’ The other three looked at Genghis, surprise evident on their faces at this new information.
‘It will be many months before Prince Wei returns to Jin territory. He still has a number of tributes to collect. Also, the Jin are in no position to wage war on anyone. They have financial difficulties. The Yellow River has changed its direction to the sea, which has caused famine in many parts of their territory. The people are starving to death.’ Genghis noticed the surprised looks on their faces. ‘I said at the Quriltai last year, we must move beyond the steppe. The men are already bored with herding and milking. They want plunder, and Xi Xia is a rich country. The Tangut Emperor has been murdered. A man called Xiangzong, has taken his place. It is an ideal time to attack them.’ He paused, and a smile creased his face. ‘Whilst you were spending the winter keeping warm with your many wives, I have been gathering intelligence on both the Jin and the Tangut, and planning our next move.’
‘And very warm my many wives were too,’ Churchadai said to a roar of laughter.
‘If we attack the Jin,’ Genghis continued, ‘the Tangut may very well side with them against us. There is a peace treaty between them. They may think that they will be next. If we attack the Tangut, however, I don’t think the Jin will come to their assistance. They will be happy with a weakened Tangut. Also, we do not want the Tangut offering any threat to our rear and flanks when we attack the Jin, so we must first make the Tangut submit. They are the weakest of the three Chinese states. Lastly, we can call on their soldiers to fight the Jin.’
‘How do you know all of this, my lord?’ Munglig asked.
‘I have been acquiring intelligence on Xi Xia for many months.’ Genghis said. ‘Men from the Kereit, Ongut, Naiman and Uighur have all been questioned. They previously had relations with that kingdom. The Muslim merchants who travel through those territories are also a valuable source of new information. I have spoken with many of them at length. The murder of Tegin, means that we will now be delayed until Jebe returns with the Ongut.’
‘The Ongut warriors will be travelling the distance twice,’ Jelme pointed out. ‘It might have been better to leave the warriors where they were, and then collected them on the way.’
‘I gave that some thought,’ Genghis responded. ‘But then they would have remained in tribal formations during the Xi Xia campaign. I didn’t want that. The length of time between the murder and the punishment would have been too long. The fact that they are travelling twice the distance will give them some indication of my anger at this crime. They will be told when they arrive, that I expect no less of them than their comrades, regardless of the distance they have travelled. The tuman commanders will be ordered to punish them if they fall short of what we expect.’ He looked at Jelme, and said, ‘Let the tuman commanders know that there will be a war council in one month’s time at midday. Say nothing about our destination.’
Jebe hurried into his tent. Cheren, now nearly three years-old came running towards him. He scooped her up in his arms. ‘Hello princess, and what have you been doing this morning?’ he asked, kissing her on the forehead.
‘Helping mummy with the work, daddy,’ Cheren gurgled, wrapping her arms around his neck. Her dark plaited hair brushed his face. Jebe had never seen anyone with such big brown eyes He knew that she would capture the hearts of many men as she grew to womanhood.
‘You’re a good girl,’ he said, putting her down. She scampered off to finish her chores.
‘Why have you returned so early, my love?’ Sharia asked him, busy brushing the carpet. Particles of dust danced in the shafts of sunlight that lanced through the doorway.
‘I am leaving,’ he said softly, moving close to her. ‘The men are assembling as we speak. I must join them soon.’
Putting the broom down, she looked up at him and said, ‘How long will it be this time?’
He drew her to him. ‘I will be gone about six weeks. As soon as I return, I will be leaving again, probably for a year or more.’
‘Why can’t he be content with what he’s got?’ she said, tears welling in her eyes. ‘Sometimes, I feel as though I’m not married at all.’
Jebe knew that she was emotional with her pregnancy. She was due to give birth in sixth month’s time, and he would not be here. She will simply have to manage without me, he thought. ‘We have talked about this many times, my love. I am a warrior. That takes me away from home. What would you have me do, volunteer to stay here and look after the camp whilst everyone else fights for the glory of the Mongols?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Let the others die, but not you. I wish you were a shaman so you could stay here with your ugly, fat, pregnant wife, and your beautiful daughter.’ Jebe knew very well that Sharia was far from ugly. She still retained her slim sensuous figure, even though her stomach and breasts were now heavy and swollen. Many of his warriors would happily have changed places with him to possess his beautiful wife.
‘If I was a shaman,’ he challenged her, but he knew it was a pointless discussion, ‘you and I would not be married. You want a warrior, someone who can protect you, someone who is strong and can father many children.’
‘You say that as if you will be here to protect me, as if you will be here to father many children, but you won’t.’ She pushed him away and looked at the floor. ‘You will be somewhere else, and I know what you’ll be doing whilst you’re away. Don’t deny it. The other wives talk you know. I expect the steppe is littered with broken-hearted women and your many children. I know men have needs when they’re away.’
He knew that she was lashing out at him as a defence against his leaving, knew that it was no good trying to console her whilst she was like this. Whatever he said would be wrong, she would twist his words to mean something other than he intended. ‘You know that’s not true, Sharia.’ His words were soft, comforting. He drew her to him again, held her tight, and kissed her. She wrapped her arms about him, pressing her face against his chest.
‘Be careful,’ she said, turning away to hide her tears. She grasped the broom stabbing it down on the carpet.
He bent and picked Cheren up again. Kissing her cheek he said, ‘Goodbye, beautiful.’
‘Goodbye, daddy.’ He put her down. ‘Be careful,’ she said, smiling her beautiful smile.
He chuckled at his precious daughter copying her mother. At how lucky he was. He ducked through the doorway with a heavy heart.