Shike – Day 143 of 306

Jebu felt Yukio and Taitaro, standing above him, tense themselves. He himself had barely been able to follow the argument, but it seemed to him that Arghun had won his point. To the Mongols, what was one foreign life, more or less? Doubtless, to settle this dispute, Kublai would decree his death.

Chapter Twenty-Four

All eyes in the huge yurt were turned upon Kublai now. The big, dark man sat on his golden throne with his hands clasped across his belly, and smiled faintly. Except for his beard, he reminded Jebu of statues of the Buddha. After a long silence, he looked about him, raising his eyebrows.

“Has anyone anything further to say?” His voice was deep, pleasant. It rolled smoothly through the room like a great river.

Jebu wondered, did Taniko love this man? She had loved Kiyosi, and Kublai Khan had as many admirable qualities. I killed one man she loved, and now a man she may love is going to kill me. That is a kind of justice.

“Then hear my judgment.” Kublai went on. “Arghun, there were many ways you could have carried out my Ancestor’s commandment, You could simply have waited until this all-important battle was over. Then come to me. Instead you chose a way that cost many lives. You ordered warriors of mine to attack other warriors of mine. This was an intolerable breach of the Yassa. It is obvious to me that you chose this surprise attack because you were not sure I would let you kill the monk Jebu. You did not trust me.”

Arghun opened his mouth, and Kublai held up a hand. “Be silent. You are going to say that you acted in good faith to fulfil the commandment of Genghis Khan. Let me remind you that Genghis Khar has been dead for thirty-seven years.” A surprised murmur arose it the room, and Kublai allowed it to die down before he continued.

“I ask you, Arghun—I ask all of you—are we to obey the last word Genghis Khan spoke on every subject? Might he not say another word if he were alive? He was my grandfather. I sat on his knee. I rode before him on his horse. I knew the very smell of Genghis Khan. One thing I remember about him, even if no one else does. It was impossible to guess what he was going to do next. He was loyal to friends and he never broke treaties. But he was never bound by his past ideas He was able to learn and change. Now that he is dead, are we to stop learning? Is every man who says he has a word straight from the lips of my grandfather to make himself my master? My grandfather would have been the first to laugh at such foolishness. If Genghis Khan were alive today I would bow down before him and obey him. But he is not alive, and I will not bow down before any man who tells me he knows what Genghis Khan would have commanded. If I did that I would be a fool and not worthy to be Great Khan. If he were alive, would my grandfather think it good that hundreds of men were killed today so that Arghun could take one life—or try to? We do not know, so I must ask myself what I think about it.

“My brother, Arik Buka, raised his standard against me because he knew that if I were made Great Khan, many things would change. Arghun, you were one of those who encouraged Arik Buka to rebel against me, because you, too, were against change. You brought your Banner over to me, but you do not truly submit to me as Great Khan. You still want me to do what you think my grandfather would have done. I tell you, Arghun, that the Great Khan can take orders from no one except the Great Khan.

“This is my judgment. It would be right for me to order your death, Arghun, for causing warfare among my troops. If you stood before any of the Great Khans who preceded me, I am certain they would have had you taken out and strangled. But I will not order your death because you are valuable to me. You brought me a host, and you turned the tide of battle today. I told you I know how to remember a friend.”

Kublai turned to Uriangkatai. “You could, like Arghun, have mistrusted my justice and sought redress for your grievances on the battlefield. If you had done that, we would have lost everything we gained in today’s victory. I uphold all your accusations against Arghun. I give you the power of life and death over him. The men he killed were under your command. You have the right of vengeance if you want it. You know that I do not wish to have Arghun killed. But I give you final say in the matter, Uriangkatai. Shall Arghun live or die?”

Uriangkatai was silent for a long moment before he replied. “I owe it to my men who were killed and to their families to have justice. I, too, believe Arghun deserves death. But the Great Khan’s wisdom surpasses mine. If you wish Arghun to live, my Khan, so be it.”

“You have acted wisely and well again and again today, Uriangkatai,” said Kublai delightedly. “You are a worthy son of your illustrious father.” He paused, and cheers rang through the yurt. Uriangkatai’s broad face reddened, and Arghun stood stolid, expressionless.

“Now we come to this monk,” Kublai said. “He is the son of Jamuga, and Arghun says Genghis Khan decreed death for all Jamuga’s seed. This monk is the son of Jamuga by blood, but he never knew Jamuga. His true father is the old monk who stands there with him, one who has lent his wisdom to my religious debates. For over four years this Jebu has served me faithfully and well along with the little band of his countrymen under the tuman-bashi Yukio. For that I owe him the same loyalty and protection any of my warriors deserves from me. Furthermore, he is a man of religion, and the Yassa forbids us to injure holy men of any faith.

“I decree that my grandfather’s order condemning the family of Jamuga is rescinded. The monk Jebu is to live. Arghun, you are forbidden to harm him. I issue this command to show the world that I am Great Khan and take orders from no one, not even my most illustrious Ancestor, and certainly not from Arghun Baghadur.”

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