1246-1248 THE SILK ROAD


In 1246 Guyuk Khan succeeded the late Ogodei Khan. When he took power one of the first political moves he ordered was to replace Kara Hulugu, who was a grandson of Chaghatai, by Yesu Mongke, who was Chaghatai's son. Yesu Mongke, however, immediately reinstated Hulugu because Yesu sided with Ogodei Khan's sons against him. Political in-fighting amongst the ruling Mongol Houses was an ongoing process.

Throughout the political intrigues of the Mongol Warlords, Ahmad Fanakati consolidated his position as adviser, financial controller and chief tax collector for the House of Chaghatai, gaining the family's trust and confidence in his abilities. So appreciative of Ahmad's talents was the Mongol ruler that he built for Ahmad a beautiful two-storey house or Arabian architecture near the citadel, and granted him five of his concubines that he did not want. Ahmad now had overall control of the taxation of the Silk Road's arriving and departing caravans. He compelled all caravan masters to pay levies of one per cent of all items and goods they were carrying. And so, at the age of 25, Ahmad was living luxuriously at his Mongol master's expense. On his return to Bukhara, Ahmad now appeared to have all that he wanted in life. Everything, that is, except a certain Mongol Princess.

His second son, Husain, had been born to Selina she did not recover from her pre-natal illness and died shortly after the birth of her son. Fatima, already nursing her own son, Mas'ud, had taken on the responsibility of Selina's child as well, with the assistance of Beka, who was also nursing Cemile. Ahmad exhibited no interest in the infants until they could walk and talk and, because of his busy position which now involved frequently travelling to collect taxes in Samarkand and Tashkent for his Mongol overlord, he had precious little time to get to know his growing family, for, by 1246, he also had another son, Ali, and two daughters by his other wives and concubines.

In the middle of the summer of 1246 Sartak, Guyuk's Chief Ambassador, arrived in Bukhara from Karakorum on one of the large westbound caravans. After a lengthy private conference with Yesu Mongke during which he updated the Mongol Warlord on the political situation in Karakorum, he presented himself to the court of Bailio Mas'ud Beg. Ceremonials over, Sartak, who was small, like all Mongols, face like tanned leather from many years of travel, slim and very fit, had a private audience with Mas'ud.

"Bailio Mas'ud Beg, I bring you greeting from your father, the Viceregent Mahmoud Yalavach. He says to tell you he is well. However, he grows old, and it is the will of the Great Khan Guyuk that another Saracen, loyal to the Mongol Empire, be chosen and trained with a view to eventually taking his place. The Great Khan considers you too valuable to Transoxania to be taken to the lands of the Mongol. However, Jamui Khatun, wife of Kubilai, son of Chingis, has suggested to the Great Khan that a man of her acquaintaince called Ahmad Fanakati be considered for such a position. She requests that this Fanakati be attached initially to her court, to assist her and her husband in its administration while he gains experience about the many Eastern lands governed by the Great Khan. Do you know this man?"

"Ambassador, he now serves as chief adviser and financial controller to Yesu Mongke."

"Really! Then he is already well experienced in Mongol administration. And loyal, too."

Mas'ud did not respond for half a beat as he thought "Loyal? After what you Mongols have done to him and his family? Loyal, no, self-seeking, yes." Aloud, however, he said "Ambassador, he is one of the Faithful."

Unaware of the ambiguity of Mas'ud's words, Sartak replied "Excellent! I will meet with him forthwith."

When Ahmad heard from Ambassador Sartak that the Princess Jamui wanted him to go to Karakorum to work for her his heart leaped in his chest. Although Sartak did not mention the Khan's intention of training him for high office at some future date, the prospect of working closely with Jamui was the answer to all his prayers to Allah. It had been so long since he had stood alone, watching her ride away from him for what he had then believed to be for ever. He had thought of her every day of these intervening years, dreamed erotic dreams of her which distubed his sleep, his resentment burning deeply against Kubilai for having what he could never have. He now possessed five wives and twenty concubines, but none could adequately assuage his eternal desire for the beautiful Jamui.

Mas'ud Beg summoned Ahmad to his presence. "Well, Ahmad, Sartak has spoken to you. Have you made your decision?"

"Yes, my Lord. I will go to Karakorum."

"It is as I suspected. Ahmad, you have a great future here. You are already a wealthy man in an important position in society. Are you going to throw all that away just because of an infatuation for an unattainable Mongol Princess? You realise, of course, that, because of the great distance, once you go to Karakorum you may never return to Bukhara."

"I do, my Lord." Ahmad was inexorable.

"She means that much to you?"

"My Lord, I shall be near her every day, working with her, sharing her life. I would rather have that than never to see her again."

"I will miss you, Ahmad."

"And I you, my Lord. I am very grateful for all you and your father have done for me." They stood and embraced briefly in a show of emotion for each other never before exhibited.

"Speaking of my father - there is one thing I would ask you to do for me." Mas'ud said.

"Your wish is my command - as you know." Ahmad replied, inclining his head.

"My father, the Viceregent of All China, is resident in Karakorum. Take this message -" he handed Ahmad a sealed scroll. "Give this to him when you arrive. It will, I assure you, be to your benefit to do so. It will not, however, be to your benefit to break the seal, which is my personal ring seal, and read it. My father will, if he sees you have tampered with it, be forced to revise his opinion of your trustworthiness. Do you understand?"

"Bailio, I do."

"Well, then, may Allah go with you and your family. We will never meet again."

While Ahmad was taking his leave of Mas'ud, the Ambassador sent a Yam postal rider back to Karakorum to inform the Khan and Jamui of Ahmad's acceptance of the position. He then made preparations to continue on his travels towards the west to meet with Berke, Khan of the Golden Horde. Before he left Bukhara, however, he gave Ahmad a gold Paiza, which was a twelve-inch by four-inch tablet, inscribed in the Uighur script. This acted as a permit to the holder and his retinue to allow free, privileged and safe passage throughout his journey in all the Mongol-dominated lands they would pass through. Ahmad was instructed by Sartak to return the Paiza personally to the Great Khan on his arrival at Karakorum.


Before Ahmad left Bukhara there were matters he had to attend to. He paid a visit to el-Shazam.

When they were alone, Ahmad began. "I realise," he said as he nibbled on proffered sweetmeats, "that it will be impossible for you to continue with our - financial arrangement after my departure. I therefore relieve you of that obligation."

"You are most kind." responded el-Shazam, sarcastically.

"However," continued Ahmad, ignoring the jibe, "I am, naturally, taking my wives and children with me to Karakorum, though I will be selling off my concubines except those, of course, who have given me children. The women are weak and spoilt with easy living and could never endure the hardships of the journey I am about to undertake. They will make a good price at the slave markets. An Eastbound caravan leaves in two days so I will not have time to reap the proceeds of such an enterprise. For that reason I am giving them to you and you may sell them for me but -" Ahmad paused to silence el-Shazam's protests at such an imposition; "but, as I will have no means of receiving the cash from the proceeds of such a sale, you will give me now one thousand dirhams for them - should you make more than that on the sale, you may keep the profit."

"But I don't have a thousand dirhams!" protested el-Shazam.

"Come now, el-Shazam, you know I'm neither naive nor a fool. You have that money, and much, much more. For that price, too, I shall include this ..." and Ahmad reached into the leather pouch on his belt and produced the silver toggle from Tegana's jerkin.

"Why you! Give me that!" and el-Shazam made an unsuccessful grab for it.

"Now, now, don't be impetuous!" taunted Ahmad, holding it at arm's length above his head, well away from el-Shazam's unsuccessful attempts to recover it. "It will be yours for one thousand dirhams. If you don't agree now, the price will go up ..."

el-Shazam weighed up the pros and cons. Fatima did genuinely seem to love this son of a camel and was willing to go with him. The alternative would be for him to keep his daughter for the rest of his life, which would be an expensive business, as no other Muslim man would wish to marry a divorced woman. He would also be free of the threat of accusation of a crime he did not commit and he could make a healthy profit on the sale of the concubines. All in all, not a bad deal. "Very well!" el-Shazam agreed reluctantly.

The following day two sackloads of coins were delivered to Ahmad's palace and Ahmad, accompanied by Fatima, brought the women and the toggle to el-Shazam in exchange. There were emotional goodbyes to be said, as Fatima would never see her parents again.

el-Shazam drew Ahmad aside. "You will take good care of her, you hear?" he said gruffly.

"As I have said before, she is my first wife and I will honour her for that. The journey ahead will not be easy for any of us but I promise you, el-Shazam, I will take good care of your daughter."

As there was nothing more left to say, Ahmad and a tearful Fatima returned to their abode to make final preparations for departure.


Kara Hulugu, Yesu Mongke and Mas'ud Beg showered Ahmad with parting gifts. Because of the vast distance that separated Bukhara from Mecca, Ahmad was never able to make a holy pilgrimage to the sacred shrine. Knowing this, the Mullahs of the Makh Mosque gave Ahmad a large watertight metal jug full of holy water which pilgrims had brought from the sacred Zamzam well in Mecca. For Ahmad, this was the greatest gift of all as, sometime in the future, Ahmad would now be able to anoint his children and, when the time came, have his burial shroud soaked in the water, as was the Muslim custom. The jug was inscribed with verses from the Koran. The Mullahs also gave him an intricately woven and designed red prayer carpet. The Mongol warlords gave him Persian blankets and elaborate horseriding tack for the journey. Ahmad also treasured Mas'ud's gift, which was a bronze locking chest. It had four separate locks which could only be opened by setting the dials to a combination known exclusively to its owner. On the lid was inscribed in Arabic "Peace, long life, prosperity, health and good luck". The strongbox was delicately tooled and decorated with inset lapis lazuli and green malachite stones. Yesu Mongke also entrusted him with his annual tribute to the Great Khan, which Ahmad placed into the chest. A platoon of hand-picked volunteers of Saracen soldiers, led by Aftab, who had now been promoted to Commander of One Hundred, personally escorted Ahmad, his wives and family and, of course, Yesu Mongke's tribute as they passed under the towering, pointed-arched Eastern Gate of the city on their final departure from Bukhara and Transoxania in the late summer of 1246 along The Silk Road. There were many in Bukhara profoundly glad to see him go. The caravan comprised of 450 Muslim men and as many camels, laden with gold, silver and other Persian merchandise for sale in the Far Eastern marketplaces.


The Silk Road is an ancient trade route commencing in the West at the ports of Constantinople, Sardis or Antioch, going East through Transoxania, the High Pamirs and on the southern route through the Taklamakan Desert or the northern route through the Gobi Desert and ending in Old Peking. The Eastern-bound caravans carried rich Western cloths and fabrics, nuggets of gold and silver and the perfume musk, while the Western-bound trains carried silk fabrics, ivory, jade, china and other items unique to the Far East.

Ahmad's caravan took the northern route, travelling north-east through Ferghana to Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire located in the Gobi Desert approximately 200 miles south of Lake Baikal.

Progress by foot, horse and camel was perforce very slow, and had to be planned to coincide with summertime in the High Pamirs if travellers did not wish to be trapped by snow for six months. During the daytime, all of everyone's energy was devoted to avoiding injury and danger over the treacherous road. As night drew in the caravan masters would find the best places to camp for the night, and every family was responsible for the erection of its own tent and personal facilities. As such a routine took an hour to complete, after eating their only meal of the day everyone was so exhausted that sleep was a priority.

Ahmad's wives, who in his harem in Bukhara had been continually vying with each other for their husband's nightly favours, soon found it necessary to bury old hostilities and to pull together through the ordeal of the longest overland journey in the world. The family lived together through illness, injury and hardship, warmed and comforted one another through torrential rain, biting cold in the High Pamirs, sandstorms whipped up by hot desert winds and the unbearable heat of the Gobi Desert.

It was only during the long, arduous and dangerous trek that Ahmad was able to take time to get to know his children. Muslim children are kept in their mother's care for the first seven years of their life, then they are sent to the Mosque School to be indoctrinated into the Islamic Faith. As his three eldest children reached the age of seven during the journey, Ahmad took it upon himself, in any spare time he had, to instruct them in the Holy Readings of the Koran.


It was early on in the trek, as the routine was being established, that Ahmad made a stunning discovery about a member of his own family. Camp was being struck for the night on a plateau approaching the High Pamirs. Ahmad had attended to the erection of his large, elaborate and colourful Persian tent and the womenfolk were making its interior comfortable, preparing their sectioned-off sleeping space and cooking the meal. The children, including Mas'ud, Husain and Cemile, who were, at the commencement of the journey, all six years old and still full of childhood energy, were playing chases outside, with Mas'ud and Husain in hot pursuit of a screaming, but happy, Cemile. To dodge her brothers, Cemile skipped into the tent just as Ahmad was sitting, cross-legged on the groundmat. Not watching where she was going, she hurtled into him and fell onto his lap, knocking him over. Ahmad's eyes crossed in pain as he doubled up on the floor, nursing his discomfort. He heard a feminine ripple of amusement from his wives when they saw where he was hurting, but Ahmad was angry. "This is no ... laughing matter!" he said, his voice taut with pain. That made them laugh even more as they whispered amongst each other. Recovering, Ahmad realised Cemile was crying. He knelt beside her. "Listen here, young lady ..." Cemile, eyes brimming with tears, looked directly into her father's eyes for the first time in her life. Ahmad stopped in full flow and gasped at what he saw. This girl, this Mongol hybrid that he had fathered - she had green eyes! Eyes as green as the Lady Jamui! He stopped and stared into these eyes. They were beautiful! Why had he not noticed them before? Because he had never been this close to his daughter before. Cemile started to cry again and, to calm her down, he enfolded her in his arms, feeling the first upsurge of paternal love he had ever experienced. "Now, now, don't cry, Cemile! Papa's not going to hurt you!" and, as he sat her carefully on his lap, he thought: How silly of me! Beka is of Nogodar's tribe, and Jamui is Nogodar's daughter. Green eyes run in the tribal family! I have fathered a green-eyed, beautiful daughter! From that moment onwards, Cemile was always his favourite daughter.

Beka came up to Ahmad to relieve him of the child. "No, no! Let her sit here for as long as she wants!" Ahmad said. "Here, Beka, you sit beside me, too!" Cemile, fully recovered from her fright, was now playing with her father's beard. Her gentle touch tickled him and he laughed. Suddenly, the whole atmosphere in the tent lightened and Ahmad looked at Beka for the first time since she had been outcast by Nogodar. He realised that her eyes, too, were green and she, too, was beautiful! Ahmad had never taken Beka to his bed since he had acquired her, preferring Fatima and his other ladies, but that night, when all the others were asleep, Ahmad came to her compartment ...

Inevitably, as Ahmad enjoyed his pleasures every night, two more sons and a daughter were born on the Silk Road. But with every step he took, and every time he lay with his wives, the face of Jamui swam before his eyes. All his energy, all his dogged determination, was motivated by the prospect that, at the end of the journey, Jamui would be waiting for him.