1248 - 1251 KARAKORUM
It was a pleasant day in the middle of Spring 1248, nearly two years after Ahmad had left Bukhara. The experienced caravanners had, for some time, been becoming increasingly more excited about approaching what was for most of them journey's end. The large caravan had become considerably smaller during the long and arduous journey East as splinter groups had left the main train to go to, or stop at, other destinations along the route, and now only 200 of the original complement of 450 still remained. Half of the remainder would continue to Old Peking after a stopover at Karakorum. But now there were just a few more miles to go, just a few more dunes to climb, and excitement was mounting. Then, at last, a shout of joy and cheering came from the leaders. "Karakorum! Karakorum ahead!" The caravan wended its way slowly over the side of the last dune and there it was in front of them - the snaking River Orkhon glinting in the sunlight and the square outline of the Mongol capital. Although it had been a Mongol stronghold for many years previously, the square walls, a mile long and a hundred feet high all around, had been built in 1235. The walls were made of earth and mud, as stone was hard to come by in that area. As the caravan approached the city, Ahmad could see the dome and spires of a beautiful mosque; two main streets, one going from north to south, the other from east to west, with other streets leading off in all directions; the dominant palace on raised ground in the very middle of the city and other smaller palaces for the courtiers. One of these, Ahmad realised, would be his! But, even more amazing a sight was hundreds of Mongol yurts arrayed around the city, with flags and pennants of all the tribes represented fluttering in the breeze. From all directions other tribes were arriving, their movable yurts being pulled by rows of oxen, driven by three men per yurt, one of whom stood on the platform which carried the yurt, the other two on either side of the rows of oxen, whipping and prodding them on. There were also camels, ridden by their owners, pulling along carts filled with supplies and accoutrements. It seemed that the whole of the Mongol Nation was converging on Karakorum.
Other, smaller yurts were being reassembled. People bustled around the tribal encampments, many going into the city by one of the large gates. Ahmad's caravan entered the city by the south gate, all around which were traders selling hump-backed oxen and waggons. On one side of the main street were the Saracen dwellings with their familiar arched and domed architecture, while on the other were the red tiled roofs and pagodas of the Chinese community. The Saracens lived around the huge market place, located just outside the entrance to the Grand Palace. People of all races, be they Saracen, Mongol or Chinese, stopped to watch the progress of the large caravan to the market place and journey's end.
As the caravan circled round the square and came to a final halt, the massive doors which were the entrance to the Grand Palace swung open and a troop of Mongol warriors in full battledress rode out. Ahmad produced the golden Paiza that Ambassador Sartak had given him in Bukhara. He could see that the leader of the horsemen was obviously a high-ranking officer. He dismounted and walked to where Ahmad stood, holding the Paiza. "My name is Bayan. You are Ahmad Fanakati?" he asked unceremoniously.
"I am." Ahmad replied, noting the man was a Saracen in charge of a Mongol troop. He was tall, dark and, even under the heavy Mongol armour he was wearing, Ahmad could see by the way he moved that Bayan was a powerfully built man of considerable strength and athleticism. A good man to have on your side, Ahmad reflected.
"You and your people will follow me!" So saying, he turned on his heel and, remounting, his troop escorted Ahmad, his family and his Saracen bodyguard led by Commander Aftab, through the south-facing red-painted doors and into the Palace's courtyard. All Mongol entrances faced south. The doors, pushed by two soldiers, thudded shut behind them, cutting off the sounds of bustle outside.
"Here!" indicated Bayan, pointing to one of the houses ranged around the central Palace. "You will stay here!"
"When do I present the Paiza to the Great Khan Guyuk?" enquired Ahmad.
"You will not be presenting the Paiza to the Great Khan Guyuk." replied Bayan gruffly. "He died last week."
"Oh!" Ahmad was taken aback. "Then who?"
"The Great Khan's widow, Oghul-Qaimish, is acting as Regent until such times as another Khan is elected. However, she is making the funeral preparations and will be unable to meet with any envoys for some time. Therefore, the Viceregent Yalavach will receive you."
Yalavach! thought Ahmad. He is here! It will be good to see him again. Bayan was still speaking: "You are to serve the Khatun Jamui and her husband, Kubilai?"
"At the Khatun Jamui's request, yes." replied Ahmad. As they spoke they entered the house that would be his headquarters for the duration of his stay in Karakorum. Constructed in the Chinese style, with an ornately decorated sloping red roof, in the interior the five wooden living rooms were spacious and open. Wood was a luxury in a desert city and had been cut from the northern forests then transported down by elephant when the city was constructed. Ahmad's wives and children poured into the house behind him, chattering and laughing excitedly, exploring every nook and cranny of their new home.
"The Viceregent has instructed that you settle in here and rest from your arduous journey before presenting yourself to him in two days' time in the Imperial Palace. You may then commence your duties attached to the court of the Khatun Jamui." Bayan then turned on his heel and left.
Ahmad was desperate to see Jamui again, but knew that protocol had to be followed. He busied himself by setting up his household in the way he wanted it. Two pretty Chinese girl slaves and a male cook were assigned to the family, and Fatima and the other wives soon were enjoying ordering the harassed and overworked girls around. Ahmad eyed up the Chinese girl slaves with interest. One of them was comely - very comely indeed.
Ahmad found it a drawback to have been out of touch with the world for the two-year journey across Asia. He went to the Mosque for prayers and thus came into contact with the large Saracen community. It was there that he first caught sight the Viceregent who, encircled by bodyguards, made his abeyances to Allah and departed hurriedly. Yalavach was by then 55 years old, his beard and hair white, his previously straight body now stooped with age and care.
That evening Ahmad was sampling Chinese cuisine for the first time when there was a commotion outside the house. Two Mongol soldiers stamped to attention outside as Ahmad reached and opened the door.
Standing in front of him was Jamui Khatun.
Ahmad gasped in surprise at the sight of the little lady standing before him, her green eyes looking up at him, her cheeks flushing as a smile of pleasure lit her lovely face. "Hello, Ahmad, welcome to Karakorum." she said simply.
Ahmad found his voice. "My Lady, I am honoured!" Then, remembering protocol, he prostrated himself before her.
"No, no, no, Ahmad!" she leaned down to pull him up. "There is no need for you to do that! Arise, I beseech you!"
Ahmad, flustered and excited at the unexpected visit, stood again, this time taking time to enjoy the sight of her. She was dressed in an elaborate head-dress that had peaks on either side, adorned with pieces of gold that tinkled as she moved. Her long, red brocade dress was a mixture of Mongol and Chinese fashion and most becoming on her still-slim figure. He stood aside and indicated her to enter his house. She ordered her guards to remain where they stood and preceded Ahmad into the house. The heady aroma of the musk perfume she was wearing assailed his nostrils. He led her into his newly prepared Receiving Hall, then clapped his hands and one of the Chinese servants entered. "Food and drink for the Khatun Jamui, immediately." he ordered.
"No, Ahmad, please, there is no need - I have already eaten my meal for tonight." She spoke to him in fluent Arabic.
Ahmad dismissed the servant with a gesture. He wanted to be alone with her, to take in the sight and sound and smell of her. Jamui bade Ahmad be seated opposite her. He never took his eyes off her, feasting himself after the eight long years apart. Gently, he took her hand in his and pressed his lips to the back of her hand. "My Lady, if I may be so bold, you look even more beautiful now than when I last saw you beneath the mulberry tree!"
"Oh, Ahmad! You haven't changed a bit! I can still see that look in your eyes! But I'm a mother now, I have two young sons, Dorji and Chinkin and, I hope, another on the way! Dorji is six, and Chinkin is five. I also have a three-year old daughter, Miao-Yen."
"And Nogodar - what of him?" Ahmad asked.
Jamui was quick to catch the steely glint in Ahmad's dark eyes. "You hated my father for what he did to your caravan, didn't you?"
"Yes! Needless, pointless killing of innocent people! There was no need, no need!" Ahmad's sudden passionate outburst took Jamui aback.
"And yet you think gently of me?"
"I do - because you are a gentle person, my lady, not like your barbarian father at all!"
"Well, I have news for you about Nogodar, my father - sad news for me, good news for you!" she turned away as she felt unbidden tears sting her eyes. Ahmad waited. "As you know, he, and other members of my family, accompanied me here and stayed for the wedding, but he yearned for the wild Kara Kum and left Karakorum soon afterwards to return home. As you well know, the mountainous passes in the Hindu Kush are treacherous. There had been heavy rain and - there was a landslide. Half the caravan, including my father and brother Rodan, were buried alive ..." A sob escaped her throat and Ahmad moved forward to comfort her but stopped short. He dare not touch her - ever. He was annoyed and frustrated that his hatred, nurtured for all these years, would now know no outlet. No vengeance, no retribution against the man who had killed Ali, little Ahmad, and so many other innocent travellers. A thousand curses on him! But Jamui was crying. He longed to take her in his arms and hug away her grief, but he could not. Even the walls have eyes, he knew.
"M-my lady, I regret my enquiry has caused you grief. Please accept my apologies."
"It's all right, Ahmad, you could not have known." she replied, recovering her composure.
Ahmad thought quickly of something to take her mind off her grief. "Would you like to meet my wives?" he asked.
"Yes, I'd love to!" She turned to look up at him and his heart lurched as he saw these beautiful green eyes brimful of tears, but she had fully recovered her control by the time Ahmad presented her to his wives individually. However, when Jamui saw Beka she gasped in surprise at the Mongol girl. Remembering protocol, she waited for Ahmad to announce her. "This, my lady, is my wife Beka." Beka prostrated herself before Jamui.
"Beka, where are you from?" asked Jamui directly to Beka.
"My lady, I am the daughter of Moldai, of your father's tribe!"
"Ahmad! How did you meet her?" He told her the story, and for a while Beka and Jamui sat talking of old times. "Now, Ahmad, I insist, I must see your children, especially Beka's daughter!" and she slipped quietly into their bedroom. As she walked her head-dress tinkled. She stood watching them sleeping. "But they're adorable, Ahmad. And this is Cemile!" She said as she recognised the familiar Mongol features of the sleeping child. "Ahmad, you're a very lucky man!"
"I am, now." he replied meaningfully, his eyes burning into hers.
"Oh, enough of that, Ahmad. You have your life to lead, and I have mine." They left the bedroom and returned to the main room. Ahmad steered her away from his wives and said "Can I ask - does he love you as much as I do?"
"Oh, more, Ahmad. As you can see, from all the children we have already, although I am not his first wife, he loves me best, and I love him. He has another wife, Nambi, who has given him another son, Juji, but he visits me the most."
No, I love you best, Ahmad thought desperately, I always have, and I always will. But his thoughts remained unspoken. He knew that he would have to live with the situation for the rest of his life, always wanting, never having. But at least, now, he could always be near her.
All business was suspended until after Guyuk's funeral. Mongols believed that, if they were buried beneath a tree, they would live again through the tree. Guyuk had found his tree high in the mountains above Karakorum. Only Mongols could attend the ceremonial burial, and Kubilai, accompanied by his wives, was present to see the interment of his elder brother.
Mahmoud Yalavach, Viceregent of All China, did not like to work for a woman, but Guyuk's widow, Oghul-Qaimish, was strong willed. While the different tribes and families were squabbling about who should be the next Great Khan, she employed her late husband's household to continue the administration of the now great Empire of the Mongols, which stretched from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.
Bailio Yalavach was glad to see Ahmad again. He welcomed him in the wooden pavilion of his large palace. "Well, Ahmad, I see you have grown tall since last I saw you - how many - sixteen, is it? Sixteen years ago in Bukhara! You should give the Paiza to me, and anything else my son may have given you."
Ahmad duly gave him the sealed missive, which Yalavach opened and read rapidly, glancing occasionally at Ahmad as he did so. "Hm. You are here to work for Jamui Khatun?"
"I am, Bailio." replied Ahmad.
"My son tells me you attained high office for Yesu Mongke and carried out your duties with great success. Perhaps, in time ..." Yalavach's voice trailed off.
"My Lord?" Ahmad's curiosity was pricked.
"Ahmad, I am growing old. One day, soon, maybe, I will die and, before then, I would like to be able to recommend a suitable candidate to take my place. From what my son tells me in this missive, you are the right man for the job."
Ahmad's eyes glinted and he felt a soaring joy that he had never known before. The attainment of his wildest dreams! Power and riches were going to be within his grasp! Yalavach continued "As you can see, I am a rich man. Between you and I, Ahmad, I am a lot richer than 'they' think I am. How, you ask? Well, listen, and I'll tell you ..." Yalavach led Ahmad by the arm as they strolled in his ornate gardens. "Who do you think was sending opium to Bukhara?"
Life, for a short time at least, was pleasant in Karakorum. Ahmad took control of the administration, both financial and functional, of Jamui's large palace staff and spent many happy hours in her company. Every Prince's wife had her separate household to run, and it was a source of envy amongst the other women that Jamui had employed a handsome, intelligent Saracen. Soon tongues began to wag, and there was much speculation about a relationship between the tall, dark bearded man and the Mongol Prince's wife, but, no matter how hard anyone tried to spy on them, nothing improper was ever discovered to substantiate the gossip. Ahmad, to all outward appearances, was merely a well-paid servant of the Mongols.
Ahmad soon made use of the power he had been given. Chinese men and women, wanting to be assured of a good wage, discovered that a bribe in the right purse ensured a position on the staff. Many women, however, discovered that there was a further price to pay, including the pretty little Chinese servant in Ahmad's own household. A few months after Ahmad's arrival the servant, Sung-Li, did not report for duty one morning and, despite a house-to-house search of the Chinese quarter of Karakorum, Ahmad's men were unable to trace her.
Ahmad also made numerous excursions to the mercantile area of the city. During these personal visits, accompanied by Aftab and two of his soldiers, he met with leading tradesmen of clothes, food and armaments with the assurance of regular, well-paid trade with the Palace should the tradesmen 'offer' Ahmad a small percentage of their earnings. With the forceful persuasion of Ahmad's soldiers, it was an offer that the traders found impossible to refuse.
During this time the Princes and their warlords were fighting it out amongst themselves for the position of Khan of All Khans. If they were not doing battle against each other, they were otherwise engaged against the strongly resisting Chinese Province of Yunnan or the highly cultured southern Sung Chinese.
On the occasions when Kubilai came home for relaxation he took Jamui out on picnics, called cookouts, into the forests some miles north of the city. A large retinue of cooks, servants, falconers and soldiers accompanied them on every expedition. At Jamui's request, Ahmad went, too. He had to be content to watch from afar as Kubilai and Jamui sat beneath the hastily-erected portable bamboo pavilion, laughing together as they enjoyed each other's company.
In 1251 Mongke, Kubilai's elder brother, toured the Mongolian provinces to canvass support from the darkhans then, with the backing of his mother, Sorghaghtani Beki, and another high-ranking Mongol called Batu, he called a Kurultai at Besh-Baliq in Central Asia. All the attending tribes pledged their support and Mongke was duly elected as Khan of All Khans. However, the Houses of Chaghatai and Ogodei insisted that, because the Kurultai had been held in Central Asia and not in the homeland of Mongolia, the Kurultai was illegitimate and his Khanate would not be honoured.
After a short period of conflict the armies of Mongke and Batu were triumphant and they installed themselves as joint Regents in Karakorum.
In an attempt to unite the warring Mongol Houses, Mongke Khan summoned the now-deposed caretaker Regent, Guyuk Khan's widow, Oghul-Qaimish. A proud, independent woman who had enjoyed the power she had wielded since her husband's death, she presented herself at Mongke's Palace Reception Hall at the appointed time.
As she approached the Khan's dias alone, proudly adorned in all her finery, she deliberately did not prostrate herself before him in the traditional form of homage. Mongke Khan, very conscious of his new position, was furious the deliberate sleight.
"Huh?" he bellowed, making his court attendants cringe in apprehension. "What is this insolence? You do not bow to your Khan of All Khans?"
"No, I do not!" Defiance flashed from her brown eyes, her strong chin set in determination.
"You will bow!" he commanded, standing over her and pointing to the floor. "Guards!" Mongke's guards forcibly pushed her to the floor and held her there.
"Now, insolent woman, you will hear my words, and obey!" She struggled vainly under the pressure of the guards' grip, then gave up and lay still. "That's better! Now, I have a proposition to make - an offer which, I trust, you will not refuse! You have ruled the Khanate well since your husband's death, but now, I am Khan - your knowledge and experience will be of great benefit to our -" he turned to look at Batu, who sat on the high throne, nodding approval - "to our court. I offer you marriage, Oghul-Qaimish. Marry me, share our throne!" He indicated to the guards to allow Oghul-Qaimish to rise to her knees to allow her to speak. To Mongke's dismay, her face was contorted with rage and hatred.
"Marry you? After having been married to a true Khan of All Khans and you - an upstart, a pretender to the throne? Marry you? Never! I would rather die!" and she spat into his face to emphasise her utter contempt.
Enraged, he made to strike her with the back of his hand, but stopped himself. "You would rather die, huh? Very well! If that is what you want, you will die - at dawn tomorrow! If, before that time, you should come to your senses and change your mind, I will grant you an audience. Guards, take her away!"
Oghul-Qaimish, however, did not change her mind. As the sun rose the next morning over Karakorum, she was wrapped in a carpet and laid in the square, where a troop of Mongke Khan's horsemen trampled her to death as he watched.
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