CHAPTER 12

1261-1270 EMPIRE BUILDING

 

Allah was indeed merciful, because in 1261 something happened which finally gave Ahmad the leverage he needed to attain his ambition.

Kubilai, while out riding, met with an accident. His usually sure-footed white Steppe pony stumbled into an unseen hole in the ground and fell, breaking his, and his rider's, leg. Kubilai was in great pain, and all the shamans and Chinese healers in the region were summoned to help him, but all their herbs and potions had little effect.

Deeply concerned, Jamui turned to Ahmad for assistance. She visited his house, wringing her hands in anguish.

"My lady! This is an unexpected pleasure! How may I serve you?"

"It's Kubilai, Ahmad. He was thrown from his pony and has broken his leg. It's a bad break, he's in terrible pain, and nothing anyone can do can help him. Do any of your Muslim healers have anything that would ease his suffering?"

Ahmad thought for a moment, stroking his beard as he paced the room. "There is something ..."

"Anything! Anything, Ahmad, but please, hurry!"

He went to an ornately carved wooden cabinet and, unlocking it, he brought out an earthenware bottle that had Arabic writing on it. "This, My Lady, is a very special potion, the ingredients of which are known only to me. Given a sufficient dosage, I can guarantee that My Lord Kubilai's pain will be eased."

"Guards! Take it from Lord Ahmad!" ordered Jamui of her escort.

"No!" Ahmad turned away, protecting the bottle in his hand. "Only I have the knowledge of how to administer the correct dosage!"

"But surely other healers will have knowledge of this mixture?"

"No, it is an ancient concoction, imparted to me by an aged physician in Bukhara who will be dead by now. Only I, in all the world, know how to handle this potion."

"Oh, very well, but come quickly, Ahmad!" Jamui tugged at his sleeve in her urgency.

---oo0oo---

As they approached Kubilai's sickroom, they could hear him bellowing like an enraged bull from his pain. Jamui rushed to his side. "Kubilai! Ahmad is here! He has a potion which will ease the pain!"

"All of you so-called physicians and healers, get out of here!" shouted Kubilai. "Leave me alone!" The coterie of men fussed out of the room.

Ahmad could see that Kubilai's left leg was badly damaged but that the healers had already straightened the bone and put a firm splint on either side of the injured leg. The broken skin had been cauterised. Kubilai was reeking of alcohol.

Ahmad sat by the bedside and uncorked the bottle. "First, My Lord, you must cover your head with a cloth and inhale the fumes." Kubilai complied. He became drowsy. Ahmad poured a small amount of the liquid into a cup and offered it to Kubilai. "Now, My Lord, drink this down in one quaff!" In a few moments the drug took effect and Kubilai was asleep.

"Oh, Ahmad, it has worked! He's sleeping like a baby!" Jamui was relieved.

"He will sleep till morning, when I will return and administer another dosage of the magic elixir!"

"How can we thank you, Ahmad? We are in your debt."

Ahmad smiled to himself as he heard these words. At long last he had the chance to hold Kubilai forever in his thrall, and he was not going to miss the opportunity.

---oo0oo---

As Kubilai's leg healed, Ahmad continued to give him draughts of the drug. Although Kubilai was a bad patient, he now looked forward to experiencing its effects, until one day his court physician, who had unsuccessfully resisted Ahmad's interference, approached his Khan, who was by this time able to hobble around on makeshift crutches.

"My Lord Khan." The richly robed man bowed obsequiously.

"Well, what is it, Moldai?" the Khan was in no mood for a fussy doctor.

"My Lord Khan, I am concerned that you are still partaking of the medicine given to you by the Lord Ahmad. Your injury has healed admirably and I am sure you are no longer experiencing such severe pain."

"That is true, Moldai, but I find it also eases the pain in my joints I have been enduring these many years. It is of overall benefit to my wellbeing to continue taking Ahmad's elixir, though I will order him to give me lesser doses."

Satisfied, the physician backed out of the Imperial Presence.

However, Kubilai discovered that, when Ahmad gave him a milder draught, all his aches and pains returned. His body demanded its daily dosage.

"What say you, Ahmad? Why is it that I need your elixir all the time now? It was never thus before!"

"It would appear, My Lord, that you have become addicted. This is a regrettable but unavoidable side effect. Unfortunately, My Lord, the preparation of the medicine has become for me a time consuming and expensive exercise."

"Expensive?" echoed Kubilai. "Then I will do without it forthwith!"

"As My Lord wishes." replied Ahmad, bowing deeply as he left Kubilai's presence. He knew that all he had to do was wait. That evening, Jamui paid him another, but this time not unexpected, call.

"Ahmad, come quickly! He's trembling and sweating and is in a terrible state! He orders you to bring him his elixir!"

"Orders me, My Lady? But it is so expensive to manufacture!"

Jamui was in no mood for bargaining. "He says he'll pay you - any price you want! Just come quickly!" Ahmad had it ready, sitting on a table. A cynical smile played across his lips as he accompanied Jamui in silence to the Palace that night.

Kubilai was indeed experiencing a severe case of withdrawal symptoms. He was lying huddled on a couch, shivering and shaking, his complexion pallid. Jamui stood back as Ahmad approached. Kubilai saw Ahmad, saw the bottle he craved for swimming in and out of focus in Ahmad's hand. "Give! Give me, now!" His voice was husky.

Ahmad poured out the draught, held it tantalisingly close but just beyond the Khan's reach. "You will recall, Great Khan, that I am the only man alive who knows the secret formula for this concoction, and therefore the only man alive who can keep you supplied with it. If, for any reason, you should decide to do away with me, you will die horribly. If, however, you should give me all I desire, then I will serve you faithfully until death. Do you understand what I am saying, Great Khan?"

"Ahmad, you're blackmailing him!" Jamui was dismayed at the revelation of a side to Ahmad's character she had never encountered before. "I thought you were our friend!"

"But I am, My Lady. When he was injured, did I not assuage his pain? Have I not come, even now, to do so again? It is a small price I ask - eternal freedom from his pain, for all that I desire!"

Kubilai was convulsed with another violent spasm of shaking. "Anything! Anything you want! Just - give me the potion!"

---oo0oo---

The following morning Kubilai, now fully recovered from his withdrawal symptoms, commanded Ahmad to his presence.

"I seem to recall, Ahmad Fanakati," Kubilai spat out the name, "that we made some kind of bargain last night while I was - unwell."

"My Lord, do not be angry with me. I mean you no evil!"

"No? Well, then, withdraw your demands!"

"My Lord, I cannot! Look on it as a business arrangement. I have what you want - you have what I want. We can come to a mutual agreement that will benefit both of us for the rest of our lives!"

"Well, Ahmad, precisely what is it that you want?" Kubilai leaned forward on his throne.

Ahmad suddenly realised that he had Jamui for the asking, but stopped himself just in time. No, that would be asking too much, he realised. A knife in the dark would be the inevitable outcome of that demand, irrespective of the consequences. There was, however, something else he wanted, very much indeed. He spoke quickly. "I learned some time ago from Vice-Regent Yalavach that the true intention of bringing me here was by the order of the late Guyuk Khan, who intended to train me to be Yalavach's replacement when the time came. When Guyuk died that was forgotten. I want to be your Vice-Regent, with all the riches and women for my harem that such an exalted position brings. Give me that and I swear I will serve you loyally for however long Allah grants me life."

"Your price is high, Ahmad!" said Kubilai. "And what if I refuse?"

"Then, regrettably, I will have forgotten the formula for your elixir ..." Ahmad did not need to finish the sentence, as the results of such a loss of memory were still fresh in Kubilai's mind.

His shoulders slumped in resignation. "You have served me well until now and I do not want to reward that loyalty by killing you for your impudence, although that is what I should do. Very well. It shall be as you demand. However, in case it arouses the suspicions of the Barons, I will not promote you too hastily. You still lack the necessary experience for such a high office."

"I understand, Great Khan. I promise I will continue to serve you well. Give me what I want and you will have no cause for complaint."

So it was that, in 1262, Kubilai Khan appointed Ahmad Chief Financial Adviser to the Central Secretariat of Ministers, which consisted of Ministers of Agriculture, Public Building and Works, Pacification, and Finance and Internal Administration. He was to fulfil these new responsibilities over and above his duties as Minister for Revenue.

---oo0oo---

In 1264, Kubilai appointed Ahmad Vice Chancellor of the Secretariat. His power and influence were growing rapidly, to the alarm of many within Kubilai's court. However, when any of the Barons or Ministers actively raised objections against Ahmad, he found a way, through blackmail, to silence them.

Kubilai finally won the surrender of Arik-Boge in 1264, but the peace was uneasy. Returning in defeat to Karakorum, Arik-Boge was forced to live there in exile, along with Batu and his other supporters, until his death in 1266. Kubilai did not mourn his brother's death.

Kubilai wanted to found and build his own dynastic capital. The site he had chosen was located slightly to the north-east of the ancient Chin dynasty capital called Chung-Tu, which Kubilai's advancing armies had captured some ten years previously. Kubilai named it Khanbalic, City of the Khan. To pay for the construction of the new city he needed vast amounts of money. He received daily from the provinces tributes of silk, jade, and ingots of gold and silver from the Altaic mines, all of which helped to finance the construction of his new capital. Kubilai's Court was now attracting all the finest brains in the East - Saracen, Cathayan and Christian philosophers, priests, scientists, architects, astronomers, astrologers, merchants and tradesmen, who were all eager to share a new beginning, and live in a peaceful and aesthetically pleasing environment.

Kubilai's obsession to conquer the Sung had to be temporarily shelved as he poured money into the countryside to strengthen his fortifications, improve the roads for the Yam mail rider service, which would also encourage two-way traffic over the Silk Road, revive and improve agricultural techniques and the commencement of public work projects, such as the building of the 1,000 mile long Great Canal between Hang-Chou and Khanbalic, which would speed trade routes and distribution of food, river flood control and water conservancy projects.

All this empire building took time and money, and Ahmad instituted a population census of households to register everyone eligible to become taxpayers. The Chinese who tried to dodge registration were remorselessly hunted by Ahmad's men and, when captured, were imprisoned and tortured as an example to others.

---oo0oo---

By 1265, with the establishment of comparative peace and improving road systems in the conquered provinces, it became possible for merchant adventurers to reach Shang-Tu with their Western wares. Amongst the first travellers to enter the growing city were two traders from Venice, the brothers Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, escorted by two envoys from the Court of Hulaku, Kubilai's brother, who had established his headquarters in the conquered Persian capital of Baghdad. Nicolo and Maffeo had taken five years to traverse the Silk Road. Kubilai, who had never before met Westerners, heard of the travellers from the envoys and invited Nicolo and Maffeo to present themselves at his Court. Escorted by their two envoy friends, Nicolo and Maffeo entered the domed palace and saw for the first time the splendour of the Great Khan. All the floors of the great palace were carpeted in the finest silk, intricately crafted ornaments of jade an ivory adorned the interior. As they stepped over the threshold the of great Audience Chamber, still smelling of newly-cut wood, the two brothers gaped at the vastness of the hall, at the other end of which was a richly-robed man sitting on a throne. A few feet in front of the Khan lay a pile of black rocks which a servant threw on a brazier. Nicolo and Maffeo could not believe their eyes - the black rocks were blazing and a pleasant heat came from them, sufficient to heat up the whole area.

"Prostrate yourselves before the Khan of All Khans!" whispered one of the envoys to the two brothers.

Kubilai, seated atop a flight of steps on a throne of gold, beheld his visitors with a beady eye. Standing close by, at the foot of the steps, was Ahmad. On the other side of the steps stood Prince Chinkin. Kubilai descended the steps and placed his foot on each man's shoulder, then bent forward to personally raise Nicolo and Maffeo to their feet.

Able to converse in Mongol, Nicolo introduced themselves. "My Lord Kubilai Khan, we are traders who come in peace from Venice, in the Mediterranean."

"In what do you trade?" asked Kubilai gruffly.

"We trade in Venetian Glass, the finest in all the world! We also trade in wine, my Lord Kubilai." Nicolo, who was carrying a wooden box, opened it and presented Kubilai with a beautiful glass drinking cup which had survived the long journey. The glass was blue and it was decorated in an intricate gold leaf design.

Kubilai reached out and took the glass, holding it delicately by its stalk. "Ah! It is a thing of beauty!" He showed it first to Chinkin, then to Ahmad, who both gave approving nods. "I thank you for this gift, gentlemen. I will treasure it and, hopefully, not break it! Ha! Ha!"

Nicolo and Maffeo laughed a little uncertainly.

"Tell me, what was your route?" Kubilai's curiosity was burning as brightly as the coal fire.

"My Lord Khan, we commenced in Constantinople, then went up to Bolgara, back down to Urghanj, then on to Bukhara, Otrar and Karakorum before arriving here."

Ahmad reacted slightly when he heard Bukhara being mentioned. This did not go unnoticed by the Khan. "Vice Chancellor Ahmad is from Bukhara. You must speak together later, no? Now!" Kubilai clapped his hands and servants brought out an elaborate meal set out on tables. The visitors tucked in, and Kubilai became convivial as the cups of koumiss were continually replenished.

---oo0oo---

The next day, Nicolo and Maffeo Polo were the honoured guests of Ahmad. As they strolled informally in Ahmad's palace gardens, he spoke of his memories of Bukhara. "It has been nearly twenty years since I left Bukhara to come here. Tell me, how has it changed?"

"It has grown rapidly and is very much a centre of commerce for the near and middle East. We had intended only staying there briefly, but in fact dwelt in that city for three years, so much did we like to live there." responded Maffeo.

"Three years! Then you must have made many friends. Tell me, do the mulberry trees still grow in the square outside the Makh Mosque?" asked Ahmad nonchalantly, assailed by memories.

"Yes, and the maidens still gather the fruits when they are ripe." replied Nicolo, smiling. Ahmad simply nodded his head in recollection.

"How I would love to return to Bukhara, but my life is here, serving the Khan. Please, come indoors and we shall take tea."

Ahmad's audience room was silk carpeted but the rest of the decor had a strong Muslim emphasis, with blue tiles at the arched entrance and the Holy Koran held open on a carved wooden stand in a corner. There were also cloth scrolls embroidered with Arabic blessings decorating the walls.

"Tell me," continued Ahmad when they were sitting sipping China tea from the handleless china cups, "While you stayed in Bukhara, did you know a certain el-Shazam?"

"Why, yes. He was a powerful, rich man."

"Was?" asked Ahmad.

"He died shortly before we left."

"Oh. I see. He was my wife's father. Is his wife still alive?"

"Yes. She is old, very old, but still very much alive and still bossing her servants around!" reminisced Nicolo.

"So you knew them quite well, then. Did they not mention their daughter and son-in-law?"

"Ah, well ..." Nicolo was hesitant to answer.

"Go on!" encouraged Ahmad, with a good idea of what was coming next.

"They did mention that Fatima had married someone called Fanakati. Nicolo had almost said "someone they despised" but stopped himself in time. "Is that you?" he enquired.

"Indeed it is! Should you return to Bukhara, you can assure el-Shazam's wife that I am still taking good care of Fatima. Allah has been merciful and she has borne me many sons, as have my other wives. But enough of this talk! To business!"

"Business, Lord Ahmad?" Nicolo liked the sound of the word.

"Yes. The Great Khan is eager to set up permanent trading between the East and West and, with your contacts, especially in Bukhara, you would be well placed to operate a profitable business. Should you need additional funds to travel to other cities within the Khanate during your stay, please do not hesitate to speak to me. How long do you intend to stay in China?"

"For as long as we are welcome, Lord Ahmad."

"Hm. Take this Paiza." Ahmad produced an inscribed silver tablet from his pouch. "This will allow you privileged travel wherever you wish to go."

"We are most grateful, Lord Ahmad." said Nicolo, taking the precious metal reverently in his hand.

---oo0oo---

On their return to Khanbalic in 1266 after their tour, Nicolo and Maffeo spent many hours with Kubilai, telling him of their travels and of life in the West. Kubilai was especially interested in the Christian religion, and empowered Nicolo and Maffeo, as his personal ambassadors, to return to the West with a special letter written by Kubilai to the Pope, asking him to send to Khanbalic one hundred knowledgeable priests well versed in all the sciences of mathematics, language, music and astronomy. He also asked that they bring back some Oil of the Lamp which burns in the Holy Sepulchure in Jerusalem. He did not tell them why he wanted the Holy Oil but he believed, because of its alleged healing powers, that Chinkin might be cured by it. Kubilai then summoned one of his tribal Barons, called Cogatal, and ordered him to travel back with Nicolo and Maffeo as the Khan's chosen representative to the Pope. He gave the brothers a large, solid gold Paiza, which had been specially inscribed with the names of Nicolo, Maffeo and Cogatal, ordering that the bearers should be given safe passage and be supplied with everything they desired throughout every Mongol country they should pass through. They also took back with them samples of jade, china, ivory and other precious stones and metal which Kubilai gave them as an earnest of his goodwill and as a basis for future trading.

From his palace walls, Ahmad watched as Nicolo, Maffeo and Cogatal began their arduous six thousand mile round trip.

---oo0oo---

Even before the construction of Khanbalic was completed in 1266, Kubilai's Court in Shang-Tu had grown large. Although Chinkin was compelled to stay at Shang-Tu, Kubilai's other sons, when not out defending the outermost reaches of the Mongol Empire, attended governmental meetings, as did the land Barons, military advisers and strategists.

The new city of Khanbalic was constructed rapidly. It was surrounded by a square, white-painted wall, each side of which was a mile long. At each corner a fort was built. Each of these forts housed different kinds of military equipment. In the South side of the wall five gates were constructed, the central one of which was opened only and solely for the Khan's use. Inside the first wall was a second, slightly longer than it was wide. It, too, had four forts and five gates to the South. Between the two walls parks were planted and cultivated. Flowering trees and shrubs abounded where deer, squirrels and many other wild animals wandered and a deep, wide artificial lake, fed by one of the nearby rivers, was dug and filled with all kinds of fish.

Built within the second wall was the Khan's massive, single-floored palace, behind which, by order of the Khan, a hillock constructed solely of coal was raised. This was done in case of siege, as the coal would provide adequate heating and energy to sustain the occupants for a very long time. To disguise it, the hillock was covered with grass and a green painted Chinese pagoda was erected at its peak. It was called The Green Mount. The walls inside the Khan's Palace were decorated with silver and gold and the best Chinese and Mongol artists were engaged to draw fine paintings of Mongol horsemen, Chinese dragons and every kind of bird and animal that pleased the Khan. The vaulted ceiling was also similarly ornamented. The Palace's main reception room was built to seat more than 6,000 people.

Kubilai granted Ahmad the large stone-built palace in the old city of Khanbalic which had been erected centuries ago by the Chin Chinese warlords and was located to the south of the newly-built Mongol city. Ahmad was overwhelmed at the luxury of his very own palace in Chung-Tu. He, too, employed Chinese craftsmen to renovate the interior to his specifications, and soon the rooms took on a distinctly Arabian flavour. A large book of the Koran took pride of place in the central room of his own apartments, with the scriptures written in black writing against a white background on the walls intertwining with blue wall ceramics, high arches and wooden latticework which decorated the rooms. All the rooms were filled with jade, bronze and ivory statuettes which he had accumulated through gifts, bribes or personal purchases, the opulence completed by woven silk Chinese or cloth Perisan carpets on every floor. The Palace's Reception Hall was a full 20 feet square. He employed fifty Chinese servants, whose quarters were in separate houses located near the palace. The first floor was devoted entirely to the harem suites where his wives and concubines were kept in seclusion. Built into the bedrock of the castle were ancient dungeons. His older children, including Husain and Mas'ud, were given suites of their own.

This arrangement suited Ahmad's nefarious purposes very well, as he could now enjoy some privacy of movement outwith the vast Mongol complex, which the Chinese called The Forbidden City, as it was forbidden for outsiders to enter its portals.

---oo0oo---

One of the other tributes demanded by Kubilai was a regular consignment of young peasant women from all the provinces, sometimes given willingly, sometimes extracted by force, to act as his concubines.

Kubilai developed a system whereby the girls, on arrival at the Palace, were put in charge of Mongol matrons, who slept with them to ensure that they did not snore or have bad breath. They were also physically examined to ensure their virginity before being shown to a final vetting panel for their suitability to serve the Khan. If they were rejected, they fell under the jurisdiction of Ahmad, now also Minister of Administration.

The most beautiful maidens of all were considered to be those of the Ungrat tribe, who had their lands around the Great Wall of China, a branch of which were the Kungurats of Transoxania, of which the beautiful Jamui Khatun was a member. Once a year a tribute of one hundred maidens from that tribe were sent to Khanbalic. Kubilai searched in vain for one more beautiful than his own favourite wife. However, when he found a girl who resembled her, he chose her to serve him. Should she fall pregnant by him, he kept her as one of his concubines. Should she not fall pregnant she, too, was rejected and fell into the eager hands of Ahmad Fanakati.

There were many young girls who were rejected by both Kubilai and Ahmad, perhaps because of personality failings, like a penetrating laugh, bad breath or a flirtatious eye. When the other favoured Ministers to whom he offered the girls also refused them, Ahmad found that he had a surfeit of women not even he could cope with, so he discarded them onto the streets. It was also considered by the girls themselves to be a great disgrace not to be chosen by the Khan and, rather than return to their villages with such a stigma, they chose to stay in the Old City, selling themselves for enough money to live and eat.

There were disreputable people who realised there would be considerable profit for them should they buy these girls before they lost their virginity and sell them as slaves overseas.

One night, Ahmad received a visitor - an Arab ship's captain who came up from the nearby port whose appearance was alarming. Unkempt, uncouth, his teeth filed to sharp points giving him a satanic appearance when he bared them, he was a slave trader who stole or received girls and transported them in the bowels of his filthy, black-painted ship to wherever there was a market.

"Ha, My Lord Ahmad, may you live in peace and prosperity!" Touching his forehead and lips in the Arabic salaam, he bowed deeply. "I am Yilmak, Captain of the good ship Seabird!" Ahmad, standing close to him, was assailed by his stinking, fish-smelling breath and retreated to a cushion, bidding Yilmak sit some distance from him. The man's body odour nevertheless continued to offend Ahmad, who lit perfumed joss-sticks in an effort to allay the smell. "I have a proposition for you, Lord Ahmad, one that will profit us both."

Ahmad, who was thinking up ways of dismissing this unwelcome visitor as fast as he could, suddenly changed his attitude when he heard the word "profit". "What have you in mind, Captain Yilmak?"

"There have been many complaints about the large amount of prostitutes in the streets lately, no?"

"There have. The Minister of the Interior had recently received a delegation of irate citizens, who claimed their sons were being corrupted by these women." concurred Ahmad.

"Well then, you would like to get rid of some of them, no?"

"What have you in mind?" asked Ahmad, his brain racing ahead.

"The Khan's concubines who are rejected - before you send them out onto the streets to fend for themselves, give me, or any other trader captain in port, the opportunity to buy them. That way, the best of the rejects may well find good homes, you can gain much gold, both for yourself and the Khan, and the townspeople will thank you for ridding the streets of so many of them. You like the idea?"

"Yes, Captain Yilmak. I like the idea."

"Next tribute is due in from the provinces next month, yes?" Amhad nodded agreement. "Well, I will come back. You have them ready and I will ship them out at night."

"How many women can you take and what's your price per head?" Ahmad asked.

"Oh, two hundred per ship at, say, ten ting per head." Yilmak's eyes were slitted, calculating. So were Ahmad's. Ahmad had the upper bargaining hand, as he had what Yilmak wanted, and he was sure that, no matter how much he bargained, the ship's captain would still walk away with a handsome profit.

"Preposterous! Men pay that on the street for one meeting! One hundred ting, in gold, per woman."

They haggled for a while, then came to an agreement of 50 ting per woman, half of which Ahmad would record in Kubilai's books as 'sundries'. As for the other half, well, a man had to make a profit! Ahmad never asked where the girls went, or how they fared but, every month, a black ship arrived in harbour and, soon after, slipped away again with the tide under cover of darkness with its latest consignment.

Kubilai, ever demanding of more money for his expensive, and seemingly everlasting, campaign against the Sung, never questioned where the money came from, either, but congratulated Ahmad on the increase in revenue.

---oo0oo---

It was inevitable that one day Kubilai should meet Cemile. Kubilai was visiting Chinkin in his palace and Cemile served the refreshments. When Kubilai caught sight of her Mongol features he was immediately interested. "Girl! Come over here and fill my tankard!" he ordered. Cemile obediently carried the jug of koumiss over and poured the contents into his golden goblet. As she did so he caught her arm and she looked into his eyes. "But you must be a member of my wife's tribe!" he said as he gazed into her green eyes.

"My Lord, I serve Chinkin!" she said, trying to escape his clutches.

"How would you like to be my woman?" he asked, trying to touch her body.

She backed away. "No! I am not Mongol, I am Muslim!"

"Muslim! How come?"

"My father is Ahmad Fanakati!"

Kubilai let go of her as if he had been scalded. "Hah! I should have realised! I will have nothing to do with you. Go! Leave us alone!" and Cemile scurried off, relieved at her narrow escape.

Kubilai turned to Chinkin. "I hope you are not ..." he made a sexual gesture.

"No, father, I am not. I despise Fanakati, you know that! She is the one who saw me during an attack of the falling sickness and my mother decreed she should be attached to my household for the rest of her life."

"Be sure that you do not touch her, then. I wish no further complications with that man."

"But, father, you speak as though you hate him, too."

"I have every right to!"

"Then get rid of him!"

"My son, I cannot! We have a - mutual agreement. Now, I will say no more. There are many things to attend to." He rose abruptly and strode out of his son's presence, leaving Chinkin dismayed and intrigued. No matter how hard he tried, Chinkin never discovered his father's secret, but his attitude was further hardened against Ahmad with the knowledge that he was powerful enough to hold his father the Khan at bay.

---oo0oo---

The only drawback to Ahmad's residence being outside the Forbidden City was that he had less opportunities of seeing Jamui.

Jamui at that time was concerned with cultural liaison between the diverse peoples inhabiting the old city of Khanbalic, which was a thriving, seething mass of different nations and religions. She became a connoisseur of Chinese arts and crafts.

Jamui had embraced Buddhism and listened for many hours at the feet of the Phags'pa Llama from Tibet, who was one of Kubilai's religious advisers. Jamui was greatly attracted to the doctrines of peace and tranquillity taught by the Buddhist, a young man in his 30s. He wore only a brilliant orange robe and had shaved his head. The Phags'pa Llama, however, disliked Ahmad for his dissolute lifestyle, and attempted to influence Jamui's opinion of her long-time friend. "My La-dy," he spoke in his broken, lilting Tibetan accent. "You should not asso-ciate with such a man. He is truly e-vil. All these wo-men ..."

"Nonsense, Phags'pa!" responded Jamui gently. "He is no more evil than my own beloved husband, who owns more women than any man alive. Do you consider my husband evil, Phags'pa?"

Quick to see danger in her question, the Phags'Pa Llama backed down. "No, no, my La-dy. Not your husband, no!"

"Well then, say no more on the subject. Ahmad has served me and my husband faithfully for many years, through good times and bad, and my husband sees fit to reward Ahmad in the way he most appreciates! Now, tell me more of the teachings of Buddha."

---oo0oo---

Chinkin, as heir apparent to the Mongol Empire, was becoming increasingly uneasy about Ahmad's influence in Court. Through Aftab's growing army of spies, Ahmad had enough damning information on over half the senior court officials to hold them in a stranglehold to do his bidding, and to vote for his policies, whenever he commanded.

However, Chinkin also had his supporters on the Secretariat. Educated by the Chinese, Confucian scholars allied themselves to the Crown Prince of the Mongols. The Confucians also frowned on Ahmad's lascivious lifestyle, as they believed in monogamy. By this time Ahmad had a large and ever-increasing harem of wives and concubines who were continually presenting him with the fruits of his nightly labours. As his children grew and were educated by the finest Muslim scholars in China, Ahmad's constricting tentacles grew ever tighter on the Chinese populace. He manipulated Kubilai into appointing his eldest son, Mas'ud, to be Darughachi, or Provincial Governor, of Yunnan Province for the statutory three-year period of a Governorship. His father had schooled Mas'ud well, and he continued his father's policies of the imposition of heavy taxes, and even heavier fines for tax dodgers. Not all the fines, of course, went straight to Kubilai's Treasury. Instead, some went to Ahmad, and the remainder went to feather the young Provincial Governor's nest.

Confident with his influence with Kubilai, Ahmad then proposed his second eldest son, Husain, to become Intendant of Khanbanic, the duties of which included overseeing the state monopolies on salt, silk and other commodities. During a heated Court meeting An-T'ung, Kubilai's Minister of the Right, one of the Chinese allies of Chinkin, stood up to speak.

"My Lord Kubilai, I strongly object to such an appointment. Husain Fanakati has no previous training or experience for the position. He's just a boy - you cannot place a youth in charge of the economy of Khanbalic!"

"My Lord Kubilai, may I be allowed to speak?" Ahmad said, silkily. Kubilai indicated his consent. "My sons have been educated to the highest degree by the best scholars in China. I have carefully instructed them in the methods of political economy. Has not my son Mas'ud proved to be an efficient Governor of Yunnan? I would not have nominated him had I believed he was incapable of the job. Instead, he has succeeded in greatly increasing the amount of taxation being paid into the Treasury. My son Husain has been taught by the same scholars, and I have every confidence in his intelligence and ability to carry out his duties to his Khan." Ahmad's challenging glance threatened any defiance or possible disapproval. As the majority of the Council's bowed heads offered none, Kubilai called for a vote and Husain became Intendant of Khanbalic at the tender age of seventeen. Ahmad's political position in Court was further strengthened by Husain's financial manipulation. Chinkin, again frustrated, nursed his hatred for the man he now saw as his rival.

---oo0oo---

Not all of Ahmad's elder sons were politically inclined. At another Court meeting, Ahmad nominated yet another son, Nassur, for the position of military commander of Schezewan Province. Once again one of Chinkin's allies, the Confucian Hsu Heng, opposed the nomination, but Ahmad's persuasive powers over Kubilai and the Council swung the vote.

However, Chinkin's allies' continuous opposition annoyed Ahmad. After one such Court meeting, Ahmad retired to his palace in a rage. Aftab was there and received the brunt of his master's wrath.

Pacing in his private suite, Ahmad raged. "Who do these accursed Confucians and Buddhists think they are? They have absolutely no knowledge about the financial administration of an Empire, nor do they have any idea of the pressure that Kubilai continually puts on me to replenish his diminishing coffers. I am already putting more paper money into the economy, but imported commodity prices are increasing and less and less money is being collected from these recalcitrant Chinese!"

"With respect, My Lord, it is the man whom the Confucians and Buddhists support that is your true enemy."

"And that is?" Ahmad stopped his pacing, surprised at Aftab's words.

"Why, Prince Chinkin, My Lord." Aftab thought he was stating the obvious.

"Chinkin! That young whippersnapper! Thinks he's Khan already! Well, we'll see about that!"

---oo0oo---

In the meantime, however, Prince Chinkin had an audience with his father.

"Great Khan, please listen to me, your son and heir!"

"Now, Chinkin, you know you mustn't get excited!"

"Father, I am not excited." replied Chinkin, sitting cross-legged at his father's feet. "But I must talk to you about Ahmad Fanakati. Father, the man is evil! He has more money, and more women, than he knows how to deal with! By making him Vice-Chancellor of the Secretariat, you have given him great power, which he is exercising freely. Father, you should not give such power to outlanders!"

"My son, I reward him for his work and invaluable advice in financing my Empire. An Empire, mind you, to which you will one day fall heir! Everything he does for me now, he is doing for you, and your family, in the future!"

And when I am Khan, thought Chinkin, the first thing I do will be to ensure that he will take no further part in the running of my Empire! Aloud, he said "Father, make me Chancellor of the Secretariat. That way you can be sure that your best interests will be served!"

"But you are too young yet, Chinkin, and your illness ... What if you take the falling sickness in front of the whole Secretariat? Are they all to die for seeing you like that?

"Father, I have already sat in on many of your Council meetings. As to my malaise, well, of course all our Councillors cannot die. On the days when it is most likely that I will suffer an attack, I will simply absent myself from public life."

"You are very persuasive, my son!" Kubilai considered Chinkin's proposition. It might keep Ahmad a little more in check if he were to make such an appointment. "Well, then, so be it! I shall announce your appointment during the next meeting of the Secretariat!"

"Thank you, father." Prince Chinkin left his father with a feeling of immense satisfaction. At last he had a positive foothold to work against Ahmad!

---oo0oo---

The first Ahmad heard of the appointment was from Cemile. She now enjoyed the position of nanny to Prince Timur, recently born to Chinkin and his wife, Cocachin. To maintain the tradition, Princess Cocachin had been especially chosen for the heir apparent from the large and widespread Kungurat tribe and, as with most of the Kungurat women, she was indeed beautiful, with the same green eyes and marble soft skin as Jamui Khatun. Needless to say, Ahmad appreciated Cocachin's youthful beauty but, being Chinkin's wife, he kept a very respectful distance. Cemile, however, discovered she was distantly related on her mother's side to Cocachin and became deeply involved with the newly-formed family, both attending to Chinkin and to his baby son, who, fortunately, was free of his father's malaise. Although State business was not discussed in front of the servants, the walls, as they say, have ears, and news of Chinkin's appointment rapidly spread round his household. That night, Cemile escaped out of the Mongol city and found her way as best she could through unfamiliar territory to her father's palace in the Old City.

Already with one of his new concubines, Ahmad was annoyed at the interruption, but, realising the exceptional circumstances, nevertheless saw his daughter in one of his offices. "Why have you come here at this time of night?" he demanded of Cemile. "It is dangerous to be out in the streets alone at night after curfew - the patrols could have arrested you!"

"Father, I would not have come unless it was urgent. I don't think I was followed." She drew her wrap closely around her. "Prince Chinkin has been appointed Chancellor of the Secretariat!"

"What! Are you sure?" Ahmad gripped his daughter's arms in a vaguely threatening attitude.

"Yes, father, I am sure. It's to be announced at the next Secretariat meeting. Father, he hates you! He'll do anything to remove you!"

"Hm!" Ahmad paced pensively. "You have done well, Cemile. I know how dangerous it was for you to come here. I will get Aftab to escort you back. Can you re-enter the Forbidden City without being detected?"

"Yes, father, I know a secret way in!"

"Good, good. If anything else important comes up, let me know. Now go, I have much thinking to do!"

---oo0oo---

Soon afterwards Ahmad requested, and was granted, a private audience with Kubilai. After due ceremony, Ahmad was quick to come to the point. "My Lord, it is now time now for you to formally appoint me as Vice-Regent to act on your behalf, as previously agreed. Every year when all your family is up at Shang-Tu during the summer months, the whole of Khanbalic is devoid of firm Mongol rule. The rebellious Chinese may well take that opportunity to attempt an uprising. Give me the command of a thousand troops to guard the City during your absence. Their presence in such an eventuality would prevent and intimidate the Chinese enough to avoid such a possibility. I have served you well, as I promised, Great Khan."

Kubilai gave Ahmad's proposition careful consideration. It would again mean placing him above Chinkin, but he realised he had no alternative. He had delayed appointing Ahmad Vice-Regent for long enough, and a bargain was a bargain. He had given his word. "I see the force of your argument, Ahmad, and it is a relevant one. We must have our recreation of hunting and falconry, away from the summer heat of Khanbalic, but our capital should have someone there in overall authority to be answerable to me for its administration. Perhaps it is time. I will arrange for you to receive the Golden Gerfalcon Tablet of the Office of Vice-Regent at the next Meeting of the Grand Council at the end of this month."

"My Lord! You do me the greatest honour!" A bit of fawning never did any harm, thought Ahmad as he bowed deeply, then prostrated himself before his Khan. Kubilai stepped forward and placed his foot on Ahmad's shoulder in the traditional gesture of dominance.

---oo0oo---

"Father, are you mad? Give Ahmad the Vice-Regency in your absence? Better by far to let me stay while you go to Shang-Tu, then, when you return, I shall go!"

"No, Chinkin, that would not work either! Soon I will go south to Manzi to assist Bayan in defeating the Sung. Then we will have two capitals to govern and only one man - you - to govern them. And what if you are ill when I am away? Who is to run the Empire then? No, Ahmad is well respected amongst the Council and has an excellent information network that operates in all corners of the Empire. He is the man for the job, Chinkin. I know you dislike him, but he has served us well, and will continue to do so. Now go! I will have no opposition in this matter!"

And so, despite vigorous but unsuccessful opposition from the Chinese and Tibetan advisers on the Council, in 1270 Ahmad Fanakati attained his ultimate ambition and, during a ceremony that was attended by all the Barons of the Grand Council, military and civic heads and a regiment paraded in the great square outside the Khan's Palace, he was given the Golden Gerfalcon tablet of authority, making him Vice-Regent of All China under Kubilai Khan.

---oo0oo---

It did not take him long to further strengthen his position. Immediately after the news of his appointment was made public, while attending Friday Prayers at the mosque, he requested and received permission of the mullahs the opportunity to address the Faithful.

After devotions Ahmad, dressed in Persian clothes and turban, stood before the large population of Muslims inhabiting Khanbalic. "Brothers of Islam, hear me! The Great Khan Kubilai has, in his wisdom, appointed me Vice-Regent of All China! I mean to use this privileged position for the good of Islam! Assist me in any way you can, and all will grow rich with me! Hear my promise, Brothers of Islam! I promise that, whenever possible, I will appoint good Muslims to prominent positions! As Minister of Finance I am in a position to approve good salaries for those who work for the Vice-Regent. All others, build up your trade links with the West and great riches will be ours! Praise be to Allah!"

---oo0oo---

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