Shike – Day 122 of 306

The chieftains responded to Bayan’s speech with a roar of assent. Now Kublai was protesting that he was not worthy. He held out his hands in a gesture rejecting the honour offered him. Bourkina had told Taniko exactly how this part would go, so that even though she understood little Mongolian, she could follow what was happening. Shouts went up from the crowd. They were demanding that he accept the Great Khanate. How rude and strange, subjects shouting orders at the man they had chosen to be their ruler. No more rude and strange, though, than the very idea that people could choose their ruler.

The roar became insistent, even frightening in its intensity. Some of them were chanting his name, “Kublai, Kublai,” over and over. Still he shook his head and tried to make his refusal heard above their clamour, ludicrous behaviour for a man wearing crown jewels and sitting on an Emperor’s chair of state. But it was expected of him, as Bourkina had explained.

At last Kublai stood up. He held out his hands again, but this time the gesture was one of yielding. He bows to accept the supreme power, Taniko thought, still bemused by it all.

The shout of the leaders of the Mongol empire was deafening.

Bayan and an older general—she supposed it was Uriangkatai—held up a long strip of dark grey felt. This, Bourkina had told her, had been traditional for Mongol khans from the days when their tribe was created by the spirits of snow and ice. The two generals draped the felt over the seat and arms of the throne. Slowly Kublai Khan sat down.

So simple, thought Taniko. A man plants his buttocks on a piece of felt and becomes lord of the world.

The cheering redoubled in volume, then died away. One by one the men removed whatever head covering they wore—fur hats, steel helmets, Chinese-style caps of office, turbans, burnouses. As a silence fell over the room they unbuckled their belts. Swords and daggers thudded to the carpeting. The standing men draped their belts over their shoulders. Thus they made the traditional submission to the new Great Khan.

One by one the chieftains moved forward to greet Kublai and to make individual pledges of loyalty to him. Servants bearing large porcelain wine jars and silver platters laden with smoking roasts of beef and mutton began to move through the crowd. Taniko saw the tumanbashi Torluk pushing his way out of the hall. His felt hat was on his head and his sword buckled at his side, but nobody seemed to notice him.

In the gallery Bourkina called out, “Ladies, it’s time we were leaving. It won’t be long before the level of feasting and rejoicing here passes what is safe. Each of us will surely have her opportunity to congratulate the Great Khan in her way and in her own time.” There were cries of protest.

Hotai said, “That may be well enough for foreign women, but I’ve grown up attending Mongol feasts. I will be quite safe and comfortable, and I will stay.”

“Indeed, she’s safe enough,” Seremeter said quietly to Taniko. “What man would look twice at that cow?”

One of Kublai’s Chinese consorts smirked. “Cows are what the Mongols like best.”

Taniko stared at the Chinese woman. “You could lose your head if any Mongol heard that.”

The woman laughed. “Not at all. To call a woman a great cow is regarded a high compliment among the Mongols. Didn’t you know that?”

Except for Hotai and several of the older and more prestigious Mongol wives, such as the principal wife, the lady Jamui, Kublai’s women permitted themselves to be shepherded by Bourkina down the gallery stairs and out of the place. Across a wide courtyard with a fountain in its centre was the women’s palace. Though it was the Fifth Month, the beginning of summer, the wind was from the steppes of the north, and it was cold. Taniko could see why Kublai had chosen Shantu for his summer residence.

The women crossed the courtyard in a group. Like a flock of geese, Taniko thought. A monk approached them, one of the many who had come from the furthest corners of the world to observe the kuriltai and see what these new world conquerors portended for the various religions. This one was only slightly taller than Taniko, with white hair and a white beard. He wore a grey robe.

“Stand aside,” Bourkina called loudly. “No man is permitted to approach the Great Khan’s wives.”

The elderly monk chuckled and stood his ground. “Surely, my lady, one my age and wearing the robe of a monk is harmless enough.”

“Many a monk’s robe has concealed a pestiferous weapon,” said Bourkina in a slightly more pleasant tone.

“The range of my weapon is not so great these days, lady,” said the monk with a smile. “I assure you, you’re well beyond it.” Taniko wondered about him. From his size and general appearance he looked neither Chinese nor Mongol, but as if he might come from her own country. Immediately after that thought came the shocking recognition that on his robe was the same Willow Tree symbol she had seen on Jebu’s. The old man was a Zinja from the Sacred Islands. She was sure of it.

She had no idea until that moment how much she had been missing her country and her people. She wanted to cry.

“What do you want, old monk?” Bourkina snapped. “If it weren’t for your white hair, I’d have had the guards take your head by now.”

The old man bowed as only the men of the Sacred Islands knew how to bow, with respect and yet dignity.

“I realize that I may not speak directly to one of the Great Khan’s consorts,” said the monk. “But I see among you a lady whom I recognize as a countrywoman of mine.” He looked directly at Taniko and his eyes twinkled. “I have news for her.”

“Indeed,” said Bourkina. “I should have recognized from your imposing stature that you are from the Land of the Dwarfs.” Several women snickered, and Taniko glared at them. She wanted to rush across the courtyard to the old monk and throw herself at his feet, but she dared not even speak to him directly.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)