Shike – Day 120 of 306

The Ancestor, Kublai told her, had had four sons by his principal wife. These were his heirs. Each son had been given a separate domain within the empire. Genghis Khan had indicated that he wanted Ogodai, the third son, to reign after him as Great Khan. After the death of Genghis Khan, Ogodai had been elected Great Khan at a kuriltai. The orkhons, tarkhans, noyans and baghadurs swore that the Great Khan would always be a member of the house of Ogodai. Ogodai commanded the Banners to ride westwards, where they completed the conquest of Russia begun by Genghis Khan and overran lands beyond called Poland and Hungary. The campaign ended when Ogodai died.

Kublai’s own father was Genghis Khan’s youngest son, Tuli. He was a brilliant, daring and merciless warrior who had inherited something of his father’s strategic genius. He was known as the Master of War. The portion of the empire given him to govern was the Mongol homeland, and with it the title Keeper of the Hearth. Tuli died nine years before Ogodai.

For five years after Ogodai’s death, his widow ruled as Regent. She was a proud and foolish woman, and she made many enemies. She was rude and overbearing to members of the Golden Family and veteran commanders. She demanded excessive gifts from vassals and allies, showed favouritism to the Nestorian Christian religion, and threatened to impose it on the whole empire.

Finally a kuriltai elected Ogodai’s son, Kuyuk, Great Khan. He was sickly and a heavy drinker. He died after reigning a little over two years.

Kuyuk’s widow was rumoured to be a witch. Together with Ogodai’s widow she ruled the empire for two years. Then they put forward Ogodai’s grandson as their candidate for Great Khan.

The two widows of the house of Ogodai never suspected that yet another great lady would bring about their downfall—the widow of Tuli, Kublai’s mother, Princess Sarkuktani. She was as wise and discreet as the women of Ogodai’s house were headstrong and arrogant. Like Genghis Khan himself, Tuli had four able sons. Princess Sarkuktani saw to it that the four young men were trained in the Chinese classics of statesmanship and philosophy as well as in the Mongol arts of warfare. She quietly made alliances with the leading men of the empire.

When the kuriltai to elect Kuyuk’s successor was finally convened, the Mongol leaders ignored their promise that the house of Ogodai would always rule them. Instead they elected Mangu, the eldest son of Tuli.

A year after his election Mangu discovered a plot against his life led by the widows of Ogodai and Kuyuk. The Mongol law forbade shedding the blood of any person of high rank. So the bodily orifices of the two women were sewn shut to prevent the escape of evil spirits, and they were tied up in leather bags and thrown into a river. Mangu commanded the execution of hundreds of other members of the house of Ogodai and their supporters.

Mangu then set out to extend the Mongol empire further. He sent his second brother, Hulagu, westwards to invade the Moslem lands of the Middle East.

Kublai invaded China on Mangu’s order, and then Mangu decided to go to war himself. Under Kublai Khan, the Great Khan Mangu, and Arghun Baghadur, three armies invaded southern China.

A chill went through Taniko when she heard the name Arghun Baghadur on Kublai’s lips. At once she remembered the giant red-haired warrior who had come to Daidoji looking for Jebu. Could this be the same one, or were there other Mongols of that name?

Mangu left his youngest brother, Arik Buka, behind at Karakorum, the Black Walls, the Mongol capital built by Genghis Khan. Just as Tull, the youngest son of Genghis Khan, had been Keeper of the Hearth, so now Arik Buka, Tuli’s youngest son, was given that title. He was ruler of the homeland and commander of the army of the Centre.

The Sung empire was a more populous land than any the Mongols had ever invaded, and its cities were bigger and better fortified. Kublai frankly admitted to Taniko that the invaders had bogged down. Arghun was besieging Kweilin in Kwangsi province, Mangu’s army was before Hochwan in Szechwan, and Kublai was here in Hupeh, trying to take Wuchow. The war had been going on for two years.

“By the way, a number of your countrymen are making the war more difficult for us,” said Kublai with a smile. “Arghun reports that a contingent of warriors from the Land of the Dwarfs is in command of the defence of Kweilin. They fight like devils, almost as well as Mongols. They have considerably delayed Arghun’s capture of the city.”

Taniko carefully kept her face expressionless, though her heart was pounding like a taiko drum. What strange karma brought Jebu and his enemy together at a remote city in China?

“I did not know there were any warriors from my country in China,” she said.

Kublai’s broad face creased in a smile. “Didn’t you? Prince Horigawa knew about them. They are members and supporters of that warrior family you told me about, the one on the losing side.”

“The Muratomo?”

“Yes. They won’t delay Arghun much longer. Through Prince Horigawa we have made an arrangement with a Chinese statesman that will lead to their being overrun shortly.” He was watching her closely, searching for a reaction.

Taniko smiled. “My lord, my country may seem small to you, but it is full of people I don’t know, whose karma is of no interest to me. My family is related to the Takashi, and I have always been close to them, rather than to the Muratomo.”

Later, in her yurt, she wept for herself and Jebu, who must be with the samurai at Kweilin if he were alive at all. She remembered Horigawa’s saying the samurai would be sacrificed by the Sung Emperor’s chief councillor as part of a secret peace offer. They would be destroyed at Kweilin, and the Chinese, whom they had come to help, would not lift a finger to save them.

Her heart was a pit of ashes. It would be with Jebu as it had been with Kiyosi. One day, almost casually, someone would tell her that he was dead.

A few days after that conversation with Kubali came stunning news of another death. On the eleventh day of the Seventh Month of the Year of the Sheep, the Great Khan Mangu, Kublai’s elder brother, had died of dysentry at Hochwan. Bourkina told her to prepare for a long journey.

“It will take us at least a month to get to Shangtu.”

“Who besides us is going there?”

“All of the khan’s household that is not there already. His advisers and ministers. And the entire left wing of our army.”

“What will we do there?”

“We will wait and watch what the other great ones of the empire do—the khan’s brothers, the survivors of the house of Ogodai, the members of the other families descended from Genghis Khan, the noyans, the orkhons, the tarkhans.

“What about the siege of Wuchow?”

“That’s over. It’s of no importance now.”

“What about Kweilin? Has Kweilin fallen?”

Bourkina smiled. “Ah, that’s where the men from your country are, isn’t it? It will take awhile for a messenger from the tarkhan Arghun to reach us, but at last report Kweilin still held out. There is no more war with China, lady. We have a more important question to settle now, one that will decide the future of Mongolia and China and the whole world. To say nothing of your future and my future. Who is to be the next Great Khan?”

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