Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 12

Chapter 6

“His suns soul roams the lands of Erleg Khan, my daughter,” said the shaman, calmly. “I must call it back to join his other souls here under the bowl of heaven.”

Wherever Kildai’s soul was, it was nowhere pleasant. Bortai’s younger brother muttered, but his eyes did not open. If you opened them, the pupils remained wide, even if you took him out into the brightness of mother-sun.

The shaman of the White Horde smiled comfortingly. “The windhorse of this boy is strong. His souls are strong too. It will return. It may take time. Erleg Khan’s world below is wide, far wider than this.”

Bortai sighed and looked at the doorway. “Parki Shaman, you know as well as I do that the one thing that we do not have is time. Gatu calls for the election of a new khan now.”

The shaman shrugged. “It may take greater skills than mine. My master Kaltegg, who was your father’s shaman, had more –”

Two warriors bundled in through the door. The blade of the leader’s sword embedded itself into Parki’s neck. The target was in itself more shocking than the deed. Once, no-one would have dared to raise a hand to the shaman of the White Horde. Now, with the old ways dying, someone had killed him. But Bortai had no time for horror.

She had time for a knife instead. The killer had no opportunity to free his blade before she cut his throat. Her father had believed that it was time the people returned to the path set by Chinggis Khan. To the traditions of the Mongol. That meant that she knew how to use a knife, a lot better than some low half-Vlachs scum.

Her father’s insistence on a return to the secret history and the Yasa had gotten him killed. Her, it had kept alive.

Alive for the moment, at least. She was still armed only with a knife, and dressed in a deel, facing a foe with a sword and wearing a leather and steel mailcoat. He swung, the blade passing through the flames. She could not restrain her gasp of horror. Even those who had given up the old faith for Islam or Nestorian Christianity would not do something like that. A Mongol knew that it would mean their death.

Belatedly, that occurred to her attacker also. He looked at the fire, and that instant of distraction was enough for her. He died, as she’d intended, quietly. She cut the felt at the back of the tent, and, picking up her unconscious brother, slipped out into the darkness.

Already the kulurtai encampment was noisy with the sound of drunkenness. Kildai was only fourteen, but he was a solidly built boy. She knew that she could not carry him far or fast — but that now was time to follow the ancient maxim of Chinggis Khan to the letter. She must flee, and survive. There would be time to gather others to their standard if they lived. But Gatu had obviously decided that they would be better quietly dead.

Kildai was a problem in his unconscious state, though. He would have to travel in a cart, and that would be difficult. There were of course many carts in the section of the kulurtai that was devoted to her Hawk clan. But, by the action taken, their getting back there was unlikely. Even if they did, if they broke camp now it would be noticed and would lead to a confrontation that they could not afford at this point. Gatu’s men would be waiting, patiently, for the last of the White horde, the clan of the hawk, to flee the boundary markers of the kulurtai. The guard-duty for the camp worked according to a strict rota, and the clan on guard tonight were no friends to the Hawk clan. She could not go back. They would be waiting, she was sure.

Instead, she made her way across the camp, keeping in the darkness between the gers, until she came to the Fox people. They were Blue horde, but their grazing was poor, and they had a constant raiding warfare with the Bulgars. She put Kildai down in the deep shadow, and stripped off most of her jewelry, and left it next to him in her sable muff. It would not do to appear too wealthy. She took a deep breath and walked forward between the fires they had set for visitors and traders. The small group drinking kumiss were silenced by her arrival.

She put her hand on heart and bowed. “Respect to the hearth and the Fox clan.”

They still drank qumiss and set up guest fires, so they probably still held to tradition. Tradition would require a greeting and an offer of sustenance before any form of business could be discussed. The delay irked her, but it could be used to her advantage.

The Fox Clan elders would assume she was avoiding being stolen by her intended groom. That was a game they would revel in. Being hard to capture was still honorable. Chinggis Khan had declared an end to wife-stealing, and while he lived that had been strictly observed. But he was centuries dead and, like drinking, wife-stealing was a much beloved Mongol custom.

Eventually, the niceties having been observed, they got down to negotiation. Bortai was terrified that her brother might wake, alone and in the dark and as confused as people were, after a blow to the head. But she kept a steely calm. “I need three fine horses, such horses as the great Fox clan ride.”

The clan elder shook his head sorrowfully. “Alas. Horses… We could offer you a pony. For twenty dirhan in silver.”

She shook her head equally sorrowfully. “A prince’s ransom. I am a poor woman. What of a gelding and mare?”

The bargaining went on. She dropped some comments about the leader of the Jaghun her father wanted her to marry. She was afraid that even the small piece of jewelry she offered might be too much, or a piece they might recognize. But at length she got what she wanted — which was anything but three horses — and they got a good price on a covered cart that had seen better days, with an ox. The cart would be in bad repair, and it was most likely the ox was young and still balky and undertrained, or close to its deathbed. But they expected her to be caught in fairly short order, so there was no point in parting with the best. There was a fair chance that the ox would either be left on the plain or become part of her new husband’s property.

Now she had to deal with the delicate matter of getting Kildai into the cart, unseen. She really had no idea how to manage that. But fortune favored her. No sooner had the beast — young and balky, as she’d predicted — been poled up, than a loud fight broke out. Her Fox clan helpers hurried off to watch. They were fairly drunk by now and entertainment at night in kulurtai was scanty. She went back to find Kildai and found that he had moved. Rolled over, or been rolled over.