In the summer dusk, the encampment of the Mongols stretched for miles in every
direction, the great gathering still dwarfed by the plain in the shadow of the
black mountain. Ger tents speckled the landscape as far as the eye could see,
and around them thousands of cooking fires lit the ground. Beyond those, herds
of ponies, goats, sheep, and yaks stripped the ground of grass in their constant
hunger. Each dawn saw them driven away to the river and good grazing before
returning to the gers. Though Genghis guaranteed the peace, tension and
suspicion grew each day. None there had seen such a host before, and it was easy
to feel hemmed in by the numbers. Insults imaginary and real were exchanged as
all felt the pressure of living too close to warriors they did not know. In the
evenings, there were many fights between the young men, despite the prohibition.
Each dawn found one or two bodies of those who had tried to settle an old score
or grudge. The tribes muttered among themselves while they waited to hear why
they had been brought so far from their own lands.
In the center of the army of tents and carts stood the ger of Genghis himself,
unlike anything seen before on the plains. Half as high again as the others, it
was twice the width and built of stronger materials than the wicker lattice of
the gers around it. The construction had proved too heavy to dismantle easily
and was mounted on a wheeled cart drawn by eight oxen. As the night came, many
hundreds of warriors directed their feet toward it, just to confirm what they
had heard and marvel.
Inside, the great ger was lit with mutton-oil lamps, casting a warm light over
the inhabitants and making the air thick. The walls were hung with silk war
banners, but Genghis disdained any show of wealth and sat on a rough wooden
bench. His brothers lay sprawled on piled horse blankets and saddles, drinking
and chatting idly.
Before Genghis sat a nervous young warrior, still sweating from the long ride
that had brought him amongst such a host. The men around the khan did not seem
to be paying attention, but the messenger was aware that their hands were never
far from their weapons. They did not seem tense or worried at his presence, and
he considered that their hands might always be near a blade. His people had made
their decision and he hoped the elder khans knew what they were doing.
"If you have finished your tea, I will hear the message," Genghis said.
The messenger nodded, placing the shallow cup back on the floor at his feet. He
swallowed his last gulp as he closed his eyes and recited, "These are the words
of Barchuk, who is khan to the Uighurs."
The conversations and laughter around him died away as he spoke, and he knew
they were all listening. His nervousness grew.
" 'It is with joy that I learned of your glory, my lord Genghis Khan. We had
grown weary waiting for our people to know one another and rise. The sun has
risen. The river is freed of ice. You are the gurkhan, the one who will lead us
all. I will dedicate my strength and knowledge to you.' "
The messenger stopped and wiped sweat from his brow. When he opened his eyes, he
saw that Genghis was looking at him quizzically and his stomach tightened in
"The words are very fine," Genghis said, "but where are the Uighurs? They have
had a year to reach this place. If I have to fetch them . . ." He left the
The messenger spoke quickly. "My lord, it took months just to build the carts to
travel. We have not moved from our lands in many generations. Five great temples
had to be taken apart, stone by stone, each one numbered so that it could be
built again. Our store of scrolls took a dozen carts by itself and cannot move
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...