In 1257 news reached the Court of Mongke Khan about his brother Kubilai's innovatory way of stimulating the monetary supply. He called a meeting of his Court, including his Minister of Finance, Liu T'ai-P'ing, and Alandar, his Financial Adviser. It was unanimously agreed that Alandar and Liu go at once to Shang-Tu to investigate any possible discrepancies that may have arisen within the complex tax system. No advance warning was to be given to Kubilai.
The border patrols were the first to sight the approaching detachment of Mongol warriors. Recognising that civic dignitaries were heading for Shang-Tu, Kubilai sent out a welcoming party to escort them to the city whilst ascertaining who their honoured guests were to be. Kubilai chose Ahmad to represent him. Unsuspecting, Ahmad rode out with his own men, led by Aftab, their armoury and harnesses jingling as they rode out of the city, Kubilai's royal banner fluttering in the wind.
As Ahmad drew near he recognised the trappings of Liu's banner, and suddenly felt a qualm of apprehension in his stomach. "You have not seen the last of us!" Alandar had said threateningly at the end of their acrimonious interview. Apparently not, pondered Ahmad.
As the two retinues met, they dismounted to indicate that there was no malevolent intent. Ahmad handed the reins of his Arabian stallion to one of the soldiers and, accompanied by Aftab, he approached Liu and Alandar, who had left the cover of their travelling yurt and were now standing under a vast parasol held by two of their men. This denoted their importance and, more practically, protected them from the burning sun. Although it stuck in his throat, Ahmad observed protocol and knelt before the Minister and his adviser.
"My Lords, on behalf of Prince Kubilai, I welcome you to his province." Ahmad looked up into the hard, slitted eyes of Liu.
"So, Fanakati, we meet again. Arandar and I come to see Kub'rai, sent by Great Khan Mongke. You take us see Kub'rai, no?"
Ahmad rose from his kneeling position. "That is why I am here, my Lords. Please - follow me." Ahmad returned to his party, remounted and rode back with his unwelcome guests, his thoughts racing.
They were cordially received by Kubilai and Jamui in his Audience Chamber, with Ahmad standing inscrutably, hands in sleeves, by his side.
After the ritual offering, and accepting, of food, Liu wasted no more time. "My Rord Kub'rai, by order of Mongke Khan, we come to audit books of aw' ru' honourable tax correctors." said Liu, bowing respectfully, his eyes still hard and unyielding. "If any mistakes found, Great Khan order heads to rorr' and that you no' have responsibirity for money any more, soh."
"But why?" asked Kubilai, mystified at this turn of affairs.
"Not know, honorabre sir, only forrow orders. First, we rook at your accounts. Then, we go to your provinces, see how tax corrected there. We want Ahmad Fanakati to accompany us on tour of provinces."
"Ahmad?" Kubilai turned to him. "Go with them!"
"As My Lord commands." Ahmad bowed.
Mongol guards snapped to attention as Ahmad entered the Treasury chambers. He felt Liu and Alandar's eyes boring into his back as he turned into the vaults where all the records were kept. He walked up to massive cabinets lining the basement walls and threw one open. Thousands of parchment scrolls lay in orderly lines above hundreds of leather-bound books. Both Liu's and Alandar's jaws fell open momentarily when they realised the impossible task they had set themselves. Ahmad noticed and inwardly gloated at their reaction. He thought he would pursue the situation. "Where would My Lords like to start?" he said, his hand sweeping outwards as he indicated the other cabinets also, presumably, filled with parchments.
"Ah, soh!" It was as much a sob of dismay from Liu as a response to Ahmad's question.
Alandar stepped forward. "I think perhaps we should settle into our apartments before embarking on this audit. Agreed, Minister Liu?"
"Ah, soh!" replied Liu, obviously relieved at the suggestion. Ahmad, smirking slightly at the small victory, called on Tang to escort them to their apartments then, hurriedly, he went to work.
They started the audit the following morning, going through every single document meticulously but, try as they might, they could find no irregularities. For two weeks they searched for some damning evidence but, to their increasing frustration, they could detect nothing. Ahmad had been thorough, and he knew it. He stood, arms crossed, with a self-confident air, as they went through the last few documents in the large room, embossing them with Liu's Ministerial seal ring and coloured candle wax.
"Well, Ahmad," said Alandar as he passed the final sheet to Liu for his seal, "you have done an excellent job here and are to be complimented."
"Thank you, My Lords." Ahmad bowed deeply, mockingly.
Ahmad viewed the forthcoming tour with great apprehension. He would be travelling with Mongke's Ministers and Mongke's troops, thus having no self-protection. He was on his own amongst potential enemies. There was no way he could warn his provincial tax collectors in advance of the approaching danger and would have to rely on their discretion. Ahmad did not enjoy the beauty of the countryside they were riding through. He was far too worried.
First the retinue went to Huai-Meng in Honan. There Kubilai had established a Pacification Bureau in an effort to maintain an unstable peace, and also the regional agency to print paper money, which ideally was intended to promote trade throughout the area. The chief tax collector of the province was Ho-Minh, a local Han Chinese whom Ahmad had employed on his and Kubilai's first visit to the town.
All the townspeople turned out to look at their unexpected visitors. Children ran in front of the party, laughing and skipping, while the adult population stood and watched and wondered. As it was nearing sunset, Ahmad led them to Ho-Minh's house and was himself surprised to see it lying unused. Suddenly Ho-Minh appeared, running towards them down the street. Small and clean shaven, he was richly attired in an expensive green silk brocade robe and hat. Ho-Minh recognised Ahmad and bowed to him, hands in sleeves.
"My Lord Ahmad! We are much honoured by your unexpected visit and by the presence of your honourable guests. How may I be of service to My Lords?"
"Show them your books." commanded Ahmad, expressionlessly.
"My Lord, since My Lords did not give me forewarning of their requirements, it will take a little time to prepare them for presentation."
"No! No time to prepare! See them now!" demanded Liu heatedly.
"My Lords, it is late. Perhaps you may wish to rest and I will present them to you in the morning." replied Ahmad.
"Hm. Well, maybe. We are tired from our journey." agreed Alandar, easing himself from his saddle sores.
"Ho-Minh, this was your domain. Where have you moved to?" asked Ahmad, silently praying that what he suspected was not true.
"Ah, I have - a new house - over that hill there. Please, come!" and Ho-Minh ran with a shuffling step, with Ahmad and the retinue following.
The house was large and spacious, with a decorated red roof and whitewashed walls. Inside there were many servants and expensive looking furniture and china ornaments.
"When did you move to this abode, Ho-Minh?" asked Ahmad, suspiciously.
"Oh, people of town built it for me, very kind, free and for nothing, My Lord."
"But why?" persisted Ahmad.
"I bring much trade to Huai-Meng. People grateful."
Ahmad could see, however, that he was living far beyond the means of his small Government pay and felt a qualm of apprehension.
Ho-Minh offered them hospitality and a bed for the night. Liu posted a guard outside Ahmad's sleeping quarters, so he could not speak to Ho-Minh during the night.
The next morning Ho-Minh took them to see the agency Ahmad had instituted to print paper money. The concept was new to Liu and Alandar and they watched closely as the clerks laboriously wrote out each bill and it was stamped with the Kubilai's official seal. Ahmad noticed a conspiratorial look passing between Liu and Alandar. A sense of foreboding assailed him. He did not have long to wait for the confirmation of his worst fears.
Liu and Alandar, on returning to Ho-Minh's house for food and refreshment, called Ho-Minh and Ahmad to their presence. Alandar spoke. "We are still puzzled about the way in which your parchment money is issued and circulated. Please explain."
"It is simple, My Lords." replied Ahmad, "When coin is exchanged it is substituted for parchment. All bills are endorsed by me or my staff as legal tender."
"But you could put out any amount of these bills and flood the market with useless pieces of paper, whereas the silver coin has a definite weight value. The people are not getting value for money."
"But they are, Lords, if we say so!"
"I see. Because Prince Kubilai decrees it is legal tender, it becomes legal tender while you amass the old currency and ... and do what with it, Fanakati?"
Oh, oh, thought Ahmad. They've hit on it! Quickly he thought how to phrase his reply. "Prince Kubilai regenerates the economy."
"Regenerates the economy? By building hunting grounds, palaces and such like for himself with the people's money? While you give them - paper - in return? But that is preposterous! The Great Khan will be furious at this misappropriation of his funds! He did not give Kubilai a financial allocation to spend on himself! And you, Ho-Minh! How do you explain the sackfuls of this so-called money that my guards discovered secreted under the floorboards of this very room last night?"
Ho-Minh's face flushed, then whitened, and Ahmad felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Ho-Minh stammered and stuttered, but he was unable to give a satisfactory answer in his panic. "Fanakati, this man has been defrauding your new money system! It is quite clear that he is using this money to enrich himself! That is high treason against the Great Khan! Do you know, Ho-Minh, how treason is punished by the Great Khan?" Ho-Minh was visibly trembling in terror.
"No! Please, no, My Lords! I did not mean to keep the money!"
"Then, what were you going to do with it? Decorate your walls?" Liu asked sarcastically.
Ahmad shot a warning look at Ho-Minh, who caught and understood it. He must not tell the truth, that the money was about to be shipped to Ahmad's personal Treasury. If he told on Ahmad, Ahmad had threatened that Ho-Minh's whole family would suffer. Instead, he did not reply to the loaded question, and hung his head in shame.
"What you know about this, Fanakati?" pursued Liu.
"Nothing, My Lord." Ahmad replied, looking Liu straight in the eye as he lied.
"Velly well. GUARDS!" Liu bellowed, and his Mongol captain and three others ran into the room, swords at the ready.
"Arrest this man!" Liu indicated towards Ho-Minh. "Now you will see the justice of Monkge Khan in operation!"
The guards dragged the screaming Ho-Minh out of his house, along the street to the marketplace. At swordpoint Ahmad was compelled to follow.
All trading suddenly ceased as the Mongol warriors entered the square and forced Ho-Minh, still screaming for mercy, to his knees. A thousand curses on Liu, thought Ahmad, he's going to to through with it! If I say anything, I will incriminate myself. Heads will roll, he said. By Allah! He meant it!
The entire population the town flooded into the square and formed a circle around the unfortunate tax collector. There was a hush, except for the crying Ho-Minh. "People of Huai-Meng!" Liu spoke in his own language. "This miserable article has been cheating the Great Khan, and cheating all of you! By the power invested in me by Mongke Khan, I hereby sentence this man to death!" A murmur went round the square, but Liu did not give it time to gain momentum. "Captain of the Guard! Carry out sentence!"
Ho-Minh struggled, screaming, but two guards forced him to his knees, pinning his arms behind him and pushing him forward, exposing his neck. Ahmad watched in horror as the sword blade rose and descended, and Ho-Minh screamed no more. Liu stepped forward and held the severed head by its pigtail, displaying it for all to see. "This ..." Liu addressed the stunned populace, walking in a circle around them, "This is what becomes of all cheats and traitors of the Great Khan Mongke!" Revolted, Ahmad had to suddenly turn away and vomit repeatedly at the horrific sight.
Liu stopped in front of Ahmad, his ghastly souvenir still in his hand. Ahmad, as white as a sheet, regained some composure, trying hard not to look. However, Liu had other ideas. He held the face up in front of Ahmad. "And you, Fanakati. You profess innocence of this man's actions. Well, we shall see. We have yet to visit Prince Kubilai's other appanages. Should we find any other evidence of hoarding by your 'trusted' tax collectors, you know what their, and your, fate will be!"
Ahmad now travelled under close guard to Hsing-Chou. There, it was surprisingly easy for Liu and Alandar to discover yet another hoard, this time in the tax office premises, and this time two heads rolled - those of the regional chief tax collector, and his assistant.
The retinue travelled on to Ching-Chao, in Xian province. Ahmad lived each day of the journey in fear of his life. He became emaciated from lack of food and water, his captors thoroughly enjoying watching him suffer, both mentally and physically, at their hands. Revenge, indeed, was sweet for Liu and Alandar. They tortured and taunted him until he no longer cared about his death, and it came as no surprise to him that more illicit treasure was recovered from his taxmen at Ching-Chao. Once again, heads rolled in the dust with Liu holding Ahmad publicly responsible for his underlings' deaths. A groundswell of Chinese hatred was subtly nurtured against Ahmad and, after the executions in Ching-Chao, a lynch mob of townspeople, enraged at the apparent injustice of who had taken the punishment, grew and erupted around the Mongols.
The mob gathered around the tax collectors' office, where the Mongol retinue were staying overnight. They were chanting, shouting, firebrands in their hands, calling for Ahmad's head, too. Liu looked out the shuttered window. The house was encircled and the lighted torches were thrown onto the wooden roof.
Ahmad sat, perspiration soaking his turban, as the mob advanced, poking the torches through the window slats.
"It would appear, Ahmad, that they want your blood!" Alandar commented, amusement in his voice despite the taut situation.
"Wh-what are you going to do?" Ahmad asked.
Liu turned round and faced him. "Now, what sha' we do with him, Alandar? Sha' we throw him to the mob? Or sha' we keep him for Mongke Khan's justice? What say you?"
"Oh, throw him to the mob!" Alandar said with a dismissive gesture.
"N-no! No!" gasped Ahmad, eyes wide with terror, certain that his last hour had come.
"On the other hand ..." continued Liu, "if we discredit him with Kubilai, then Kubilai will be discredited by Mongke for being a bad judge of character, and if Kubilai cannot choose trustworthy men to support him, then Mongke will consider him unworthy of high office."
The flames were licking around the windows and roof now and the smoke was beginning to suffocate. "Out, everybody!" ordered Liu, grasping Ahmad painfully by the arm and leading him to the door. Opening it abruptly, the mob suddenly hushed and Liu addressed them. "My people, hear my words! You have seen the justice of the Great Khan Mongke! So die all traitors! We intend to take this man back to face the personal justice of the Great Khan and, I can assure you, he will receive his just desserts! Now, go about your business! We will leave in the morning!"
Although there were some anonymous voices of dissent from the crowd, the majority were mollified and began to disperse leaving the former tax office to burn to the ground. The next morning the Mongol troop rode out amidst a hail of stones and excrement aimed at Ahmad who, riding on his Arabian horse, was an easy target for the missiles. Battered, bruised and bleeding, Ahmad rode to meet his fate.
They marched back to Kubilai's Palace in Shang-Tu. As they rode through the streets, the sight of Ahmad Fanakati, dirty and wretched, under arrest, stopped the traffic wherever they passed. Liu commanded an audience with Kubilai and was immediately granted one. Self-importantly, with a show of strength backed by their Mongol warriors, Liu and Alandar, with Ahmad between them, strode up to Kubilai, who was seated on his high throne.
"My Rord Kub-rai!" Liu and Alandar bowed before Kubilai.
"What is the meaning of this intrusion and your treatment of my Finance Minister?" shouted Kubilai, annoyed at these men's presumption.
"We have discovered that you are being cheated by this man and his minions, My Rord Kub'rai!" stated Liu dramatically.
"What? Why, that's preposterous! Release him at once, by my command!" ordered Kubilai. "Guards!"
Kubilai's guards faced those of Liu, swords drawn.
"Stop! Order your men to sheathe their swords in my presence!" commanded Kubilai, his voice trembling with anger and outrage. Liu's men turned to him for guidance, and he indicated that they comply. With a hiss of steel on scabbard, the swords were sheathed.
"Now, Minister Liu, explain your behaviour to me!"
"In each of your plovincial capitals the taxmen emproyed by Fanakati were defrauding the Great Khan by hoarding money, salt and other items. We carried out summary justice ..."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Kubilai, ominously.
"We executed them, my Rord Kub'rai."
"By whose command?" Kubilai was exceedingly angry.
"By the Great Khan's command, my Rord." Liu bowed his head respectfully.
"These were my employees, in my regional capital. You had absolutely no right to carry out any kind of sentence at all without my permission!" By now, Kubilai was trembling with scarcely controlled anger. "Ahmad, what have you to say about all this?"
Ahmad prostrated himself in front of his master, who stepped forward and placed his boot on Ahmad's shoulder before Ahmad, kneeling, replied.
Ahmad adopted a controlled voice with a reasoning tone. "My Lord Kubilai, they are trumped-up charges. These men were merely holding back until a sizeable consignment was ready for shipment to your Treasury!"
"Pah! I do not believe him, Lord Kubilai! They were either hoarding their cut to profit their own pockets, or preparing to send the goods to Ahmad's Treasury!"
"If they were sending the goods to Ahmad's Treasury, then the profits were for me and not for him!" responded Kubilai.
"So - you admit to taking more than the alloted taxation from the people!" Alandar's eyes shone with exultation at the self-condemnatory admission.
Kublai stood with his mouth open, unable to respond. Liu took advantage of the situation. "In the name of Mongke Khan, I hereby relieve you, Prince Kub'rai, of all tax collection responsibilities. From now on, my officials will ensure that all dues and duties are justly administered. I will return tomorrow to Karakorum, taking Fanakati with me to face the Khan's justice! Alandar will remain here and set up an agency to audit all records of the Tax Collection Bureau."
"No! I will not permit you to take Ahmad!" Kubilai was passionate, adamant.
"You have no option, Prince Kub'rai. I represent the Great Khan in all matters of state. Fanakati is my prisoner. I hold him responsible for all the evasions, infractions and transgressions of Mongol Law that were discovered during our tour of your regions."
"Do not hold him responsible, hold me! I will go with you to Karakorum to present my case, since you will not see reason."
"As you wish, Prince Kub'rai." Liu bowed. He knew he could not forbid a Royal Prince to return to Karakorum to see his own brother.
Kubilai left the distressed Jamui as regent in his absence while he made the long journey back to the Mongol capital. Ahmad remained a virtual prisoner, surrounded by warriors bristling with armoury. Throughout the long and tedious march, Ahmad saw not a glimmer of a chance that he would be spared and his mood of depression deepened as they approached the gates of Karakorum.
Shortly after their arrival, Mongke Khan granted an audience with Liu, Alandar and Kubilai. Ahmad was there too, held at swordpoint. Briefly, Liu and Alandar outlined their findings to an attentive Mongke, who was seated majestically on his golden throne atop of a raised dias which had a flight of steps leading up to the throne. Batu, his co-ruler, sat beside him.
After listening to Liu's account, Mongke had a whispered conversation with Batu.
"Do I believe him, Batu? Liu has served me well, and yet ..."
"Let your brother speak, Great Khan. One must hear both sides of the argument before making a sound and wise judgement."
Mongke pondered for a moment, then spoke. "You should not have come here, my brother, thus leaving your responsibilities behind."
"My responsibility, brother Khan, is here to defend both my, and my Minister's, integrity and honour. You see before you Ahmad Fanakati, who, not very long ago, was honoured by you for saving the Royal family from the Assassins' knives. Now he stands before you, accused of treason which he did not commit. He was merely acting on my orders, which were to amass as much money and stores as possible in order to finance our campaign against the Sung."
"That he saved our lives is true. I cannot execute a man to whom I and my family are forever indebted, despite your accusations, Minister Liu. Release him!"
Ahmad's guards sheathed their swords and released him from the bonds that tied him. Ahmad, weak from his ordeal, collapsed on the floor. "Take him out, feed and clothe him!" ordered Mongke.
"But my Lord Khan ..." pleaded Liu, seeing his prey slipping from his fingers. Ahmad, regaining his senses, was led shakily from the audience chamber. As he did so, he shot a look of pure hatred against his persecutor.
"Liu, you may return to your duties." Liu bowed and departed hurriedly. "Now, my brother Kubilai!" continued Mongke. "You say you are gathering supplies and finances to fight against the Sung!"
"I am, brother Khan, but Minister Liu has left Alandar to audit all incoming taxes. I would prefer if Ahmad ..."
"I have already spared his life and released him. However, Alandar will remain with your Court as my representative to ensure fairness in all financial matters. Both you and Ahmad are relieved of all financial administration of your regions until I decree otherwise. Is that clear? Now, let us plan our strategies against the Sung. We will go on campaign together. Our massed armies will prove to be an irresistible force, and victory will quickly be ours!"
Relieved of his Ministerial responsibilities, Ahmad returned to Shang-Tu to once again serve on the administration staff of Khatun Jamui while her husband and his brother were away in Southern China fighting the Sung.
Prince Chinkin gloated at Ahmad's fall from power. Now eighteen years old, he had grown into a slender-bodied young man. To compensate for his physical weakness, however, he had a strong will which he exercised over his indulgent mother, although not altogether successfully. While his other brothers grew to a healthy maturity, Prince Chinkin was eternally compelled to protect himself from illness and injury.
"Mother, why do you continue to employ that man Ahmad? He has brought disgrace to my father by his mis-management of the tax system. Get rid of him, mother. Send him back to where he came from!"
"I cannot, and will not, do that, Chinkin. Both your father and I trust him. He has never deliberately done anything bad for the family. It is difficult to govern regions so far away from here. I am sure we have all learned a lesson from recent events, my son. Now, go and have your afternoon rest, and speak no more to me about Ahmad!"
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