CHAPTER 11

1258-1260 KURULTAI!

 

In 1258 Hulaku, in his campaign to conquer Persia, captured Baghdad, thus ending an era of Muslim dominance in the Middle East. However, in the South of China, the campaign against the Sung was not going so well. In Szechwan province, north of Yunnan, the combined armies of Mongke and Kubilai laid siege to the city of Hochau. It was in the middle of summer and very hot. The Sung fortress held out. Frustration grew, and campaign resources and money started to run out. And then, in August 1259, Mongke Khan fell ill. At first, it was a simple case of gasto-enteritis, probably picked up by inadequate cleaning facilities. But, instead of passing over, his malaise grew progressively worse, turning into dysentery and weakening the Great Khan to the extent that he could no longer command his army. The great Mongol fighting machine ground to a halt as slowly, painfully, Mongke Khan's strength dwindled and ebbed away.

Kubilai received a message from Mongke's chief physician to go to Mongke's yurt urgently. Alarmed at the tone of the message, Kubilai hurried to his brother's gigantic yurt. As he entered, the nauseating smell of sickness and ordure assailed his nostrils. Kubilai gagged but controlled his stomach. Shamans bustled in attendance, but were unable to cure the dying Khan. Lying with his eyes closed, Mongke sensed a new presence nearby and, seemingly with a great effort, opened his eyes.

"Kubilai!" the voice was a hoarse whisper. "Kubilai, I'm dying!"

"Nonsense, brother Khan. You will be up and about in no time!" replied Kubilai with a heartiness he did not feel, knowing the words to be false.

A dry sound, which could have been laughter or coughing, came from Mongke's throat, as Kubilai knelt beside the sick man's paliasse. "I want you to know, my brother, that my House will support your election to the Khanate."

"But I do not want to be Great Khan, brother."

Mongke raised a shaking hand to grip Kubilai's shirt. "Sometimes, one is compelled to do things, whether one wants to or not, for the greater good of the people. Do this for me, Kubilai, because it is what I want." Mongke, too weak to move, groaned as another spasm gripped his intestines and caused him to void himself where he lay. The stench was obnoxious and Kubilai turned away as the physicians fussed around their helpless patient.

Mongke made one last effort. "Wait! Just one more thing, before we part, my brother. That man Ahmad. He is a wily one, and slippery as a snake. You will need much money from the people to conquer the accursed Sung. Employ him to get it for you any way he can but, at all costs, conquer the Sung for me!" He coughed and leaned over the opposite side of the bed to be sick. Kubilai left the tent. By nightfall, Mongke Khan was dead.

---oo0oo---

The siege of Hochau was abandoned and the grieving armies returned, despondent and defeated by weather and death, to Shang-Tu.

In 1260 Batu, Mongke's co-regent, and Arik-Boge, Kubilai's elder brother, both of whom Mongke had left in Karakorum to rule in his absence, called for a Kurultai to be held there to elect the new Great Khan. However Kubilai, who had the support of his other brother Hulaku as well as the Houses of Chaghatai and Mongke, called another Kurultai in Shang-Tu. Hulaku, however, was still fighting against Berke, Khan of the Golden Horde in Russia, and was therefore unable to give Kubilai his physical backing. The Kurultai in Karakorum, also backed by Berke, elected Arik-Boge as Great Khan. Meanwhile in Shang-Tu, with the absent Hulaku categorically declining the high office, Kubilai was offered the Khanate by the Grand Council of Barons. Ceremoniously they invited him to rule three times, and on the third asking he accepted.

Arik-Boge, who maintained that a Kurultai was not a Kurultai unless it was held in Karakorum, declared war on Kubilai Khan and engaged him and his allies in a series of bloody battles. Casualties were high on both sides, but eventually Kubilai triumphed and was hailed as Khan of All Khans.

---oo0oo---

With the accession of Kubilai to the Khanate, the Mongol capital moved from Karakorum to Kubilai's headquarters in Shang-Tu, where he quickly formed a government comprising six Government Ministries, namely the Ministries of Justice, Personnel, Public Works, Revenue, Rites and War, together with the Grand Council of Barons, who were twelve tribal chieftains who acted as overlords of their allocated regions, or Sings, of the nation. Provincial Governors, responsible to their respective Barons, were appointed at three-yearly intervals. Kubilai also appointed Chinese, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist and Muslim religious and cultural advisers. The conquered Chinese armies were integrated with the Mongol forces.

Acting on Mongke's dying words, as soon as Kubilai took power he banished Alandar to return alone to Karakorum and re-installed Ahmad as his Minister of Revenue in Shang-Tu.

Ahmad moved into his Ministerial offices just as Alandar completed his preparations for departure. Coming face-to-face unexpectedly at the entrance to the building, Alandar halted, eyeing his opponent with loathing. "So, Fanakati, once again you land on your feet, like a cat with nine lives! Allah alone knows what lies in the future, but I am sure that, one day, your luck will run out, and I hope that I will be there, Fanakati, I hope that I will be there!"

Not if I can help it, thought Ahmad as Alandar swept past him, never to return.

Ahmad watched the solitary figure ride out of the gates of Shang-Tu at the start of his long journey back to Karakorum, then he called Aftab into his presence. "Aftab, Adviser Alandar is proceeding alone to Karakorum. With all these brigands on the road, one wonders what kind of fate such an unprotected traveller might meet." Ahmad regarded Aftab with a meaningful look, and threw another weighty purse in his direction. Wordlessly, Aftab caught it and walked away to do his master's bidding.

Ahmad now had a free hand and immediately re-instated the use of paper money into the Chinese economy, thus increasing monetary circulation.

Vice-Regent Mahmoud Yalavach had recently died peacefully of old age in Karakorum. When he heard the sad news Ahmad grieved for his benefactor and mentor but at the same time realised that, if Allah was merciful, he could at last allow himself to envisage the possibility of becoming Yalavach's successor to the title of Vice-Regent of the Mongol Empire.

---oo0oo---

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