Shike – Day 141 of 306

“Your brother loves tradition, my Khan.” Some of the officers chuckled.

Arghun is getting the better of this whole discussion, Jebu thought. Why doesn’t Uriangkatai speak up? If Kublai decides in Arghun’s favour, Arghun will kill me, and no one can stop him. It’s out of my hands now. The Self, working through these Mongols, will decide whether I live or die. Of course, that in me which is the Self will live for ever in any case. I’m so tired, I don’t care what they decide, as long as there is an end to this.

“Tomorrow I will sit on an open-air platform on this throne and my tradition-loving brother and his tradition-loving councillors and officers will be brought to me, and I will sentence them to death,” Kublai went on. “Not my brother. Him I will keep beside me for the rest of his life as my—guest. But the rest of them, those who led my brother astray, will be suffocated under piles of felt. Think, Arghun Baghadur. That would have been your fate as well, had you not wisely chosen to give your allegiance to me.”

“I think not, my Khan,” said Arghun, standing tall before Kublai and gazing bleakly at him. “If I had not come over to your side, you would not have won this battle.” A shocked, resentful murmur rose among Kublai’s men. Kublai himself only smiled and nodded.

“You will find, Arghun Baghadur, that I know how to remember a friend.” He turned suddenly to the orkhon Uriangkatai. “Son of Subotai, only now do you give me a chance to thank you for your part in this day’s victory. What is this dispute you bring to me for judgment?”

Uriangkatai drew himself up. He was as tall as Arghun, but much heavier. “My Khan, Arghun ordered one of his tumans under Torluk here to attack your left wing today after he had changed sides, while we fought the final battle with your brother. Hundreds of your men were killed. It was treachery, murder and an utter desecration of the Yassa.”

Jebu could not imagine anyone talking to the Emperor in Heian Kyo the way Arghun and Uriangkatai talked to Kublai Khan. These generals were barely polite to their Great Khan. They argued with him, bantered with him, lectured him. And yet Kublai Khan ruled a territory thousands of times larger than the Sacred Islands.

Kublai turned to Torluk. “I remember you. You came to the kuriltai at Shangtu four years ago and warned me not to accept the title of Great Khan. What was your part in this?”

Arghun said, “My Khan, at my command he attacked the troops from the Land of the Dwarfs.”

“I spoke to Torluk,” Kublai said gently.

Torluk said, “My Khan, it is as my commander says. He ordered me to withdraw my tuman from the fighting against Arik Buka’s centre, turn back and attack the foreign dwarfs, who were following us. I was particularly to make certain that the monk, that man on the litter there, was killed.”

Kublai looked thoughtfully at Jebu. “I have seen him before. He rides with the dwarfs, but he is no dwarf himself. He looks like one of us. Why did you send a tuman to kill him, Arghun?”

Arghun looked at Jebu, his fingers twitching as if he were about to leap on him and try to kill him then and there. “My Khan, this monk is the son of Jamuga the Cunning.” He paused, as if this were all he needed to say. The assembled officers murmured among themselves.

“I thought Jamuga’s family had long since been wiped out,” said Kublai. “Monk, was Jamuga your father?”

“He was, my Khan,” Jebu whispered. Kublai leaned forward on his golden throne, frowning.

Taitaro called out, “He was choked with a bowstring and finds it difficult to speak, my Khan. He admits that Jamuga was his father.”

Kublai smiled. “You are the religious jester, are you not? What is your part in this quarrel?”

“I am from the Sunrise Land, may it please the Great Khan, and this monk is my foster son.”

“Fascinating,” said Kublai. He set his golden goblet down on the arm of his throne. “Arghun, did you order Torluk and his ten thousand to attack my warriors from the Sunrise Land just to kill this son of Jamuga?”

“I did, my Khan. Three times before this I tried to kill him, and he escaped me. I had to make sure of him this time. I knew his countrymen would try to protect him. Only by attacking with overwhelming force could I make certain of carrying out your grandfather’s command.”

Kublai raised his eyebrows and folded his hands across his imposing belly. “Even that, it seems, was not enough. Arghun, my grandfather told me the story of Jamuga, but that was many years ago. There must be some here who never heard of him. You must refresh our memories. In what way did Jamuga offend my Ancestor?”

Arghun bowed. “My Khan, Jamuga the Cunning was the worst enemy your Ancestor ever had. At first, he was one of his best friends. Indeed, he was your Ancestor’s cousin. When your Ancestor was known as Temujin, Jamuga was his anda, his blood brother. He saved your grandfather’s life many times. But in the end he betrayed him.

“Jamuga lived among the people who herded sheep and goats, the poor ones of our land. Temujin was of the Yakka Mongols, the horse herders who had always been the nobility among us. When Temujin fought against the other tribes and made all submit to him, Jamuga allied his followers with those of Temujin. But Jamuga told his people that after Temujin had united the tribes he would make a new nation in which all would be equal. The horse breeders would sit down with the goatherds and the shepherds, and all would live in peace with one another. The nations on our borders would leave us alone because we were strong and united.

“Temujin had a different vision. He did end the lordship of horse breeder over shepherd, but he replaced it with the rule of the Great Khan over all other khans, and the princes and generals over their tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. He made war on the nations on our borders and took their wealth for us.”

“If we had followed the dream of Jamuga, all Mongols would be equal but poor,” said Kublai with a smile. “Because we followed the vision of my Ancestor, all Mongols are unequal but rich.” There was a rumble of approval from the assembled officers.

Arghun continued. “When Temujin held a kuriltai and was proclaimed Genghis Khan, Jamuga gathered the tribes who resented Temujin and had himself proclaimed Gur-Khan, Universal Ruler, of Mongolia. He raised a civil war against Genghis Khan and drew powerful enemies, the Merkits, the Keraits and the Naiman, into war with our new nation. Temujin had not been in so much danger since the days when his father was poisoned and he himself forced to wear the wooden yoke of a slave.

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