Shike – Day 97 of 306

So it was a surprise when, after a short stay in Linan, Yukio was given an Imperial appointment as military commander of Kweilin, the chief city of Kwangsi province on the western border of the Sung empire. The Mongols had invaded the independent kingdom of Nan Chao and taken its capital, Tali. Kweilin was their next likely target. If Kweilin fell, the nomads could move on to Changsha, the strongest city in the central region. The fall of Changsha would open the way to Linan. The Chinese rulers had given Yukio a crucial post.

After the Mongols had been camped outside the city’s walls for, three days, they sent an unarmed officer across Lake Rong hu in a sampan. Yukio said, “Let’s behead him in front of the gateway, where his countrymen can see it. That will encourage our people and teach the enemy that we are resolute.”

Jebu, who had a strong distaste for unnecessary bloodshed despite his years of combat, was surprised at Yukio. “The governor of the city might want to decide how to deal with this envoy,” he suggested mildly. “Let’s not antagonize our Chinese friends further.”

Governor Liu Mai-tse, an aged scholar, received Yukio, Jebu and the Mongol emissary in his marble hall of state. After bowing to the governor, who was seated on an ivory chair, Yukio addressed him in Chinese.

“I wanted to behead this Mongol at once, Your Excellency, without even hearing what he had to say. This weak-spirited monk who accompanies me persuaded me to bring the enemy to you instead. If it is your wish, though, I will gladly execute him now.”

For the first time Yukio spoke in a language the envoy understood. He showed no fear, but glowered angrily. Despite his age—his hair and moustache were grey—he had the powerful build and quick movements of a young warrior.

Governor Liu smiled. “I am not familiar with the humour of Gepen, but I believe you are joking about this monk. I observed him from the wall the day you fought the Mongols, and he is anything but weak-spirited. His advice to you is wise. The Mongols consider the person of an ambassador to be sacred. To slay this man would be an unforgivable offence.”

Yukio shook his head. “I’m sorry, Your Excellency. I was under the impression we had already offended the Mongols.”

Liu raised a slender hand in admonition. “You will admit the possibility that they might eventually take this city?”

“With reluctance.”

“Of course. If we had slain their ambassador they would assuredly put all the people of Kweilin to the sword. That is their custom. You do not have the right to condemn every person in this city to certain death. If we do not embark on a course that drives them to do their worst, there is hope. The Tao is infinite and infinitely surprising.”

Now the grizzled officer turned to Jebu. “Are you a Mongol?” he demanded angrily in Chinese. “How can you serve the degenerate Chinese and fight against your own people?”

“I am not a Mongol, though my father was,” said Jebu. “I was born of mixed parentage in the Sunrise Land and was raised there.”

The Mongol looked surprised and curious. He squinted at Jebu closely and seemed about to ask another question when Liu interrupted.

“If you are through quizzing this monk, tell us who you are and what you have to say to us.”

The Mongol drew himself up and addressed the governor. “I am Torluk, a tuman-bashi—a leader of ten thousand. I come from the commander of the army outside your gates. He does not wish to waste men or destroy a valuable city. Therefore he gives you an opportunity to surrender now. Open your gates to us and all will be spared—even the warriors from the Land of the Dwarfs.”

Land of the Dwarfs. Jebu had heard that expression once before, when he had listened in secret to Arghun’s conversation with Taitaro. Was it true that his people might be ridiculed for their stature? Perhaps it was so, for had he not always been the butt of jokes because of his height?

“I see.” Governor Liu stood and beckoned to Yukio and Jebu, drawing them to a corner behind a gilded pillar and leaving his pikeman to watch the envoy.

In a low voice he said, “This commander who offers mercy is only second-in-command of the army outside. The tarkhan who leads all the Mongols in this region is in Szechwan conferring with their Emperor Mangu. The temporary commander has made many errors by Mongol standards. In the battle at the Green Belt Bridge his orders were delayed, and too many warriors died. Discipline in the camp is poor. The movements of his army are behind schedule. Now he fears that the tarkhan will punish him for his mistakes. He wants to take the city without a fight and present it to the tarkhan as a great conquest.”

“How do you know so much about what the Mongols are thinking, Your Excellency?” Jebu asked.

“I have agents who are able to get in and out of their camp with ease. I know also that even though you suffered great losses at the Green Belt Bridge, the Mongol commander fears you. You are strange to him, and you seem fiercer than the Chinese he has encountered. And he doesn’t know how few of you there really are.”

“Your Excellency wishes us to fight on?” Yukio asked.

“I do.”

Yukio nodded. “We will teach them that the men of the Sunrise Land are not dwarfs but dragons.”

Jebu was pleased that Yukio did not promise victory. Perhaps he had begun to absorb some of the Zinja teachings.

Governor Liu returned to his throne. “We reject the terms offered us. We will fight on against the barbarian invaders who would steal our lands, our cities and our lives.” He motioned his guards to escort the ambassador back to the south gate.

The grizzled tuman-bashi started to turn away, then swung around and said, “You will regret your stubbornness. You should surrender now, while you have the chance. There will be no mercy for Kweilin when our tarkhan, Arghun Baghadur, resumes command.”

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