CHAPTER 5

1241 - 1246 RETURN TO BUKHARA

 

The Mongol division, led by Nogodar and his sons, entered Bukhara the following day. Ahmad, Salina and Beka drew away from the main body of troops, who set up their tents on the outskirts of the city while Nogodar and his captains rode to the Citadel. They headed for el-Shazam's house. As he approached the house he had not seen for a year, it occurred to Ahmad for the first time that Fatima might be upset at Salina's and Beka's presence and status as second and third wives. Salina had had a very bad journey from Khiva, suffering from morning sickness. Comforted by a compassionate Beka, she was exhausted as they rode the final mile to their new home.

The door to el-Shazam's house was shut and barred. Well, so it should, thought Ahmad. Fatima had not been informed of his impending return. He raised his fist and pounded on the wooden door. After a moment he heard the bolts being shot on the other side and the door opened hesitantly. Fatima stood there, took one look at Ahmad and fainted in shock on the doorstep.

Fatima's mother rushed out to assist her daughter and stopped in her tracks when she saw Ahmad. "You!" she said with a mixture of amazement and abhorrence.

"Unfortunately, yes, it is I, my lady." responded Ahmad, irony in his voice. "Permit me to carry my wife indoors." and he scooped her up and carried her inside, laying her on a couch. Fatima moaned, her eyes flickering open.

"Oh! It is not a dream! You are alive, Ahmad!" she said, propping herself up. Ahmad knelt beside the couch, caressing her pale face.

"Alive? Of course I'm alive. Whoever told you I was dead?"

"I did." Ahmad turned and came face-to-face with el-Shazam.

"And who told you?" Ahmad persisted, anger rising within him.

"A Mongol patrol reported to Hulugu that your caravan had been attacked and that all were killed. They even brought back your horse ..."

"Silver Star! Where is he?"

"Vazir has him."

"Vazir! I should have known! I must pay a visit to the great Vazir!"

As Ahmad spoke, Fatima recovered enough to sit, eyeing up the two women standing silently behind Ahmad. She drew a deep breath, and spoke. "Ahmad, who are they?" she asked, pointing.

"Ah ..." Ahmad hesitated, the crucial question having been asked. Nothing for it, he realised, but to tell the truth. "This is Salina, my second wife - she is with child and is weary from the long journey back from Khiva. And this is Beka, with my daughter, Cemile."

"With child? And - your daughter?" Fatima asked with incredulity.

"Yes. She is my firstborn."

"Then ..." Fatima's mother, who had left the room momentarily, returning with a bundle in her arms, said "What do you consider this to be?" The bundle moved and squalled loudly.

Ahmad looked to the bundle, then to Fatima, who took it from her mother's arms. "This is your firstborn, Ahmad. Here, meet your son!" and, standing, she handed the baby to him. Ahmad's jaw dropped in amazement. He had no idea how to hold the infant and she showed him quickly. For the second time that month, Ahmad looked at a child of his for the first time. The baby stopped crying and smiled, gurgling. He looked in wonderment, first at the child, then at Fatima.

"B-but we only ..." he stammered.

"Once is quite enough, my husband!"

"So it would appear!" All this time, Salina was standing in the background as she had not been bidden to be seated. Suddenly she swayed and fell to her knees with a tiny cry.

"Salina! She is unwell!" Ahmad handed his son back to Fatima and went to Salina's assistance. He led her to nearby cushions and laid her out on them. "She is exhausted from the journey and in need of rest."

"She shall not rest here, Ahmad Fanakati." el-Shazam's voice was severe.

Fatima's mother went over to the girl, who was moaning. "I think you men should leave the room - quickly!"

Ahmad and el-Shazam did as they were bidden and moved into another room. Ahmad, recovering his composure, turned on el-Shazam. "So that is why you sent me no further money? You thought I was dead? Let me see ... by my calculations, you now owe me 10 dirhams."

"But, I have been keeping your wife and your child, in your absence, and fully intended to do so for the rest of my life."

"We had an agreement. A Muslim always honours his debts."

el-Shazam's shoulders drooped. This man, he realised, was ruthless and totally self-seeking. Ahmad's dark eyes bored into his in a commanding manner. el-Shazam knew that Ahmad was already a powerful man in Bukhara and, now that his mission to Khiva had been successfully completed, he would be held in even higher regard, both by Mas'ud Beg and by Kara Hulugu. "I will give you the money." he conceded.

A few minutes later Fatima, her mother and Beka emerged from the other room. Fatima went to her husband, putting her arms around his slim waist in a weak hug. "Ahmad," she looked up at him as he pressed his body against hers. "That girl - Salina - you have married her?"

"Yes."

"Do you love her?"

"Yes."

"Better than me?"

Ahmad threw his head back and laughed loudly, then replied "Of course not! You are my first wife. You have given me a son! What more can a man ask for?"

"But that Mongol girl has given you a daughter. Are you married to her as well?" Fatima persisted, both her parents listening intently.

"No, but Nogodar's tribe have banished her. She is - ah - a concubine, I suppose!" Ahmad smiled.

"A concubine! And we must all live together?"

"Of course!"

"Oh! This is outrageous! I did not expect ever to have to share you with anyone."

"No? Then I am sorry, but you will have to prepare yourself for that - but just now ..." he held her tightly against him.

"No, not just now. Your - other - wife is quite ill. She nearly lost the baby she is carrying and cannot be moved. Father, please give your permission to keep her here. If she moves, she will lose the baby and may die as well!"

"She is Saracen woman?" el-Shazam asked Ahmad.

"Yes, of a good family in Khiva."

"Hm. Very well. It would appear I have no alternative in the matter. She may stay until she is well enough to leave."

That evening, the el-Shazam household held a feast in honour of Ahmad's safe, and unexpected, return. The next day, after Ahmad had worshipped at the Mosque, with Bailio Mas'ud Beg by his side, the mullah had, at Ahmad's behest, named Fatima's baby Mas'ud in his honour. Mas'ud Beg was delighted and took the whole family back in state to the Shahristan in continuance of the celebrations.

The following day, Ahmad returned to the Shahristan to have a formal audience with Mas'ud Beg, during which he outlined the adventurous journey and telling him of Vazir's plot to have him killed and make it look like it was a raid by the desert bandits.

Mas'ud stroked his beard pensively. "It would appear to me that you have two alternatives, Ahmad. If you do not wish to cause trouble, simply do nothing. Vazir will already know of your safe return and will doubtless, thinking you know nothing of his plot, try to have you killed again, and will keep on trying until he succeeds."

Ahmad paced the room, thumbs hitched round his belt. "That means I will have to have bodyguards guarding me round the clock for the rest of my life, at great cost to the state!"

"Indeed. But your value to me is such that the state would not hesitate to foot the bill. You shall, of course, be in charge of the pursestrings!" They both laughed at the incongruity of the situation. "On the other hand ..." Mas'ud hesitated, thinking the situation through. "On the other hand, if you accuse Vazir of ordering the attack, and can prove it, Hulugu would have no alternative but to discredit Vazir. Can you prove it?"

Ahmad thought for a moment. "My Lord, I can."

"You might still have to be wary of Vazir's supporters. They are as wily as we, you know. They will wait their chance ..."

Ahmad shivered involuntarily. His life had been threatened on a number of occasions now, but he was aware that only a moment's relaxation of vigilance would suffice for a hired Assassin. And there were plenty of them in Bukhara ...

"It would appear I have no alternative, my Lord. I must expose Vazir. He is, after all, the cause of the death of my friend and protector since childhood, Ali, as well as a young boy I befriended ... His voice trailed away as he recalled the horrific scene. "Yes. I will seek audience with Hulugu Khan."

"Vazir will be there, you know." offered Mas'ud.

"I know. That way we can see his reactions."

"We?" enquired Mas'ud.

"I would be honoured if you would support me in this, Bailio Beg." Ahmad used the formal address deliberately.

"Very well. But you better have irrefutable proof."

"I do, my Lord."

---oo0oo---

The fortress had changed little in the time Ahmad had been away. He and Mas'ud entered unaccompanied and were escorted by a Mongol guard detail to the presence of the Khan. As anticipated, Vazir lounged in cushions near his ruler. Ahmad was quick to catch the look of hatred Vazir shot at him as he stood before Hulugu, nor did it escape the watchful eyes of Mas'ud.

"Ahmad! You have done well for me! I have now made an alliance with Berke, Khan of the Golden Horde, and with Nogodar. We will pool our resources and people - great will be my power!" And he laughed loudly. "I said I would reward you well, should your mission be a success. Now, name what you want. It is yours!"

"My Lord Khan does me great honour." Ahmad knelt ceremoniously before Hulugu. He took a deep breath, knowing that the next few minutes were critical ones in his lifetime. "There is, unfortunately, something unpleasant I have to tell you, my Lord."

"Oh? What is that?" Hulugu glanced at Vazir, who was staring with burning hatred at Ahmad. Ahmad, however, was not looking at Vazir.

"You heard that I was dead, killed in a raid by desert bandits."

"That is correct. It was only when you returned to Bukhara with Nogodar that I knew you were still alive."

"May I enquire who told you I had been murdered?"

"Why, Vazir here. Why do you ask, Saracen?" Hulugu asked gruffly, annoyed at the question.

"Because, great Khan, it is Vazir who ordered my death."

Vazir jumped up and faced Ahmad, the anger and hate erupting within him. "That is not true!" he hissed, his face inches from Ahmad's.

Undaunted, Ahmad stepped back to face the Khan. "I regret, great Khan, that what I said is true. One of the ruffians who attacked our caravan confessed, as he lay dying, that he served Vazir, who had sent him. There is, however, one other piece of evidence that I will offer you."

Hulugu was very angry now, too. "Pah! Evidence, evidence! What further evidence?"

"Do not listen to him, great Khan, it is all a conspiracy!" pleaded Vazir, suddenly afraid for his own safety.

"Silence, Vazir! Speak, Ahmad Fanakati!"

"My Lord, Vazir has a white horse. Ask him where he got it."

"Well, Vazir? Answer!"

"It - it - was given to me as a gift, great Khan."

"By whom?" Hulugu persisted.

"By a passing horse trader. He had - found it wandering alone in the desert!"

"A single horse, wandering - in the desert?" even Hulugu's credulity was stretched. "And he never tried to find out why it was wandering in the desert?"

Vazir shrugged his shoulders. Ahmad continued. "That white horse, great Khan, is mine! He is called Silver Star and has a black, star-like marking on his forehead, between his eyes. I suggest, great Khan, that Vazir asked his hired killers to bring back a token of the fact that they had killed me. What better token than my horse?"

"No! No, it's not true!" denied Vazir emphatically. "That is not proof enough! The horse is mine!"

"May I suggest, great Khan, that we see who the horse's true master is? If he recognises me, then obviously he is mine."

"Let it be so. Guard! Bring Vazir's white horse out of the stables and into the forecourt." The guard scurried away to do his bidding. A few minutes later, standing in the warm sunshine, Silver Star was led out. "Now, release him!" commanded Hulugu. Immediately, Silver Star whinneyed recognition and trotted straight to Ahmad, who clapped him, rubbing his long face as the white horse nodded and pranced around him. "It would appear, Vazir, that the horse belongs to Ahmad."

"I tell you, great Khan, the horse was brought to me by a horse trader."

"No!" contradicted Ahmad. "Silver Star was taken from me by the marauders. They would not leave such a magnificent animal wandering around in the desert. He would not survive for a day in these conditions. No. He was brought back to Bukhara as visual evidence. Had the horse been killed, no evidence of my identity would have been available. There was a deep mist surrounding us when the attack took place. How else could they have identified me but by my horse? I was attired in desert robes and I looked just like the rest of the caravanners. Only by my horse could I have been specifically identified, and that's why the survivors of the raid brought him back to Vazir."

Hulugu paced the room, turning the facts over in his mind. He turned quickly to face Vazir. "Why did you want Ahmad dead?"

Vazir dropped his head and said nothing.

"Answer me!" commanded Hulugu, but still Vazir said nothing. "Guards! Take him away!" and they led Vazir away, screaming his innocence and defiance. Hulugu turned to Ahmad and Mas'ud. "I have no doubt that Vazir wanted you out of the way. In ordering the attack, he jeopardised the mission I sent you on. He also caused the death of Saracen soldiers, acting by my command as your protectors. Thinking all were dead, he had no fear of proof of recognition of your horse. We Mongols despise murderers and horse thieves. He will die tomorrow, and you may be present to see how Mongol justice is meted out!"

The following morning, Vazir, stripped to a loincloth, was dragged protesting to the centre of a circle. He was bound tightly and then rolled up in a Persian carpet. The troops of Hulugu's army then rode their ponies repeatedly over him, trampling him to death. Fortunately, he did not live long.

---oo0oo---

Afterwards, Hulugu brought Ahmad back to his fortress. "Now, to your payment. What do you wish? Riches? Women? Ha, I can see you wish both of these. Well, then, from now on, you will work for me, no? You are a good administrator and financier. You will replace Vazir, you work for me!"

How easy, Ahmad thought. Now I can control the movement of all things that come here along the Silk Road. Especially drugs.

Mas'ud, when Ahmad told him of the offer he could not refuse, met the news with muted enthusiasm. "You are going to take up this position, Ahmad?" he asked, apprehensively.

"I am, my Lord."

"I have one word of advice, then. Ahmad, always remember you are a Saracen. We Saracens stick together for the good of our race. The Mongols are our conquerors and masters, and will do what they will with us. If Hulugu can give you what you most want out of life, then go and work for him. Make profit from him and return that profit to your own people. But beware - death will lurk around every corner!"

---oo0oo---

In the square outside the blue-domed Makh Mosque the Faithful had planted mulberry trees to offer shade for the weary and, in the summer, fruit for the young women of Bukhara. As Ahmad walked past the trees to return to el-Shazam's house and his new family, a group of young women were shaking the trees to release the sweet, white fruits from the branches onto a waiting sheet. Lost in thought, he did not see amongst them a Mongol face. It was only when she called his name that he stopped and turned in amazement to see, amongst the yashmak wearing Turkic women, the lovely Jamui.

"My lady!" he made a sweeping Persian bow to her.

"Come, Ahmad, come taste the mulberry fruits! They're so sweet and delicious!" The other women giggled as he bent down and, before he knew it, Jamui popped a fruit into his mouth.

"It is indeed sweet, my lady, but not as sweet as the face I behold!"

Jamui had a number of the fruits in her hand and she ate one, offered another to Ahmad as they walked to a shady seat nearby. "Beware, Ahmad, there are eyes everywhere!"

"I understand, Lady. I thought - I would never see you again."

"Tomorrow, at dawn, we set out on The Silk Road. My destiny is calling, now, but don't be sad, Ahmad. Always remember - I go willingly and, who knows - maybe we'll meet again sometime, beneath another mulberry tree!" and with that, she was gone.

As the sun rose the following summer morning in 1240, Ahmad watched from the Mosque's highest minaret as, in the clear morning light, Nogodar, escorting his lovely daughter, Jamui, led his retinue eastwards out of Bukhara as they embarked on the arduous 2,000 mile journey along The Silk Road, at the end of which was marriage for Jamui to Kubilai in Karakorum.

---oo0oo---

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