Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 52

* * *

On a field which was part of the floodplain of the little river, the knights formed up into a defensive square. The river was barely a stream now, but Bortai thought it be a raging torrent in winter. The blonde foreign knight had kept pace with her and Kildai. He had dismounted easily, something that Bortai was willing to bet was actually quite hard to do in such armor, without help. He produced a knife and she knew a moment of alarm, despite him having offered clan friendship. But it was just to cut the thong that she’d used to secure Kildai’s arms around her. He lifted her little brother down.

Another one of the knights, a man with a scarred face and an eye patch, came up, along with the man from the Ilkhan Bear clan. She noticed there were several of the Bear clan in among the large party of Knights. The tall blonde man gently set Kildai down on a blanket that the dark eyed man with his braided hair and the pistols had ridden up and handed to him.

She dismounted too. “What is wrong with him?” asked the man from the Ilkhan.

“His suns soul wanders the lands of Urleg Khan. Have you a Shaman who can enter the spirit world below and call him back?”

The Mongol shook his head. “Maybe these Franks have someone. Their medicine is not as sophisticated as ours, but in spite of that, many of them get better. What happened to get him into such a state?”

“He was knocked off his horse during the great game at the summer kurultai. I think he landed on his head.”

So these were Franks? She had, of course, heard of them. What were they doing here on the borderland of the Golden Horde? Was their word worth anything? Why did they accompany the people of the Ilkhan? And why did they carry truce-diplomat flags?

The Mongol nodded sympathetically. “It has happened to me. But I just broke this bone here.” He pointed to his shoulder. “Mind you, I think that was from being kicked after I fell.”

The one-eyed man knelt next to Kildai, opened his eyes and examined each pupil in turn. Very gently he felt at Kildai’s neck, and then the skull.

He looked at her and asked a question.

“He wants to know how long he has been like this,” translated the Bear clan Mongol. “And what happened to him.”

She answered as best as she was able, feeling oddly helpless. Actually, she felt like just sitting down and starting to cry, as if she was a little girl again. It was just so good to no longer be carrying the entire weight of her little brother’s health, and the clan’s and their own survival on her shoulders.

Her relief must have shown in her face because the tall blond knight said something to the man with pistols. He took something out of a pannier, which turned into a simple saddle stool, with three legs and a leather top. The blond knight set it up and offered it to her with a small bow and a gesture.

He seemed to be avoiding using his few words of Mongol. She could understand that. A tremulous smile to her lips — not something she was very accustomed to bestowing on strange foreign knights. Or anyone else, really. The tremulous part worried her. She must not show such weakness.

The one eyed knight stood up, dusting off his hands. He spoke again to the man from the Ilkhan, who translated. “He says the boy must rest quietly. He must stay still for some days. He should not ride, anyway.”

Bortai shook her head, pointing back at the ridge. “If they catch us, they will kill us. We are far from our clan. We were,” she decided to be economical with the truth, “separated from them during the big fight at the kurultai.”

The plump Ilkhan warrior, Tulkun, was plainly shocked by that. “They fought? At the kurultai?”

She nodded. That had indeed been a shocking breach of tradition, but then tradition seemed to be weakening its hold on some of the clans.

“Clan fought clan.” She pointed to Ion. If this man from the Ilkhan was going to be sympathetic, she may as well see if she could get some protection for Ion. “Our slave saw more of it than we did. He saw which clan waited in ambush for others, under the kurultai flag. They will kill him if they find him too.”

“So, the clans have not yet selected a new khan?”

She shook her head. “As far as I know, no. The kurultai was broken before the vote. That means that Gatu Orkhan is regent.”

“Ah,” said the Mongol from the Ilkhan. “That is what the tarkhan Borshar has come to see to. We are not supposed to know,” he said with a small smile. “And I heard and will bear witness that the Ritter Erik Hakkonsen offered marriage and kin-shelter. The Franks are under the envoy-flag of the tarkhan.”

“Yes, but he did not actually understand what he said.” Bortai smiled on the Ritter. That had been a generous gesture in a time when she had seen very few.

The warrior from the Ilkhan bowed respectfully. “The honor of the Hawk clan has not diminished. There are many who would have taken advantage.”

The blonde Ritter Hakkonsen spoke to Tulkun, who replied to him in the foreign tongue. He was speaking about them, that much Bortai was sure of. Behind him another knight rode over — the one who had shouted to him at what had almost been a cavalry clash. Now that things were not quite so fraught, she realized just how big the man was. And her first thought, incongruously, was a twinge of sympathy for the poor horse!

Fortunately it was a very sturdy animal, much like its rider.

* * *

“She speaks too fast for me to understand all of it,” said Erik. “What is the problem? They were hunting for her, weren’t they?”

The Mongol nodded and replied in broken Frankish. “She was separated from her clan. Big fight at clan gathering — supposed to be peace for election of new khan. Fight start before khan elected. They very powerful clan, much honor. Old family. Clan the Ilkhan support for khanate. Family for ruler.” He smiled. “You offer clan-protection. But honorable lady know it is just foreigner who does not understand what he say. Honor for foreigners not the same for Mongol.”

Even though it wasn’t intentional, the condescension in the statement irritated Erik. Manfred, now standing just behind them, leaned forward. “What did he say? I’m not sure I followed.”

“The girl and — I gather the boy is her brother — come from the royal clan, if I understand it right. They got separated from their clan in a fight about the new ruler. In my misguided attempt to be polite, I offered them from what I can work out was an alliance and the protection of my clan. But our translator says that she understood that we foreigners don’t have much of sense of honor and they don’t expect us to abide by it.”

Manfred raised his eyebrows. “And that is the core of the problem with our relationship with the Ilkhan, and probably the Golden Horde too. Erik, if I did not know you well enough to know you had already decided to do it, I’d order you to tell her that we foreigners have our own code of honor.”

“No,” said Erik. “This is not something that can be told. It must be shown.”