"You have servants to put them to bed," Hoelun chided. "If Temuge wakes, I will need you here."
As she spoke her fingers drifted over a dark knot under the skin of her son's belly, just a few fingerbreadths above the dark hair of his groin. She had seen such an injury before, when men lifted weights too heavy for them. The pain was crippling, but most of them recovered. Temuge did not have that kind of luck, and never had. He looked less like a warrior than ever as he had grown to manhood. When he slept, he had the face of a poet, and she loved him for that. Perhaps because his father would have rejoiced to see the men the others had become, she had always found a special tenderness for Temuge. He had not grown ruthless, though he had endured as much as they. She sighed to herself and felt Borte's eyes on her in the gloom.
"Perhaps he will recover," Borte said.
Hoelun winced. Her son blistered under the sun and rarely carried a blade bigger than an eating knife. She had not minded as he began to learn the histories of the tribes, taking them in with such speed that the older men were amazed at his recall. Not everyone could be skilled with weapons and horses, she told herself. She knew he hated the sneers and gibes that followed him in his work, though there were few who dared risk Genghis hearing of them. Temuge refused to mention the insults and that was a form of courage all its own. None of her sons lacked spirit.
Both women looked up as the small door of the ger opened. Hoelun frowned as she saw Kokchu enter and bow his head to them. His fierce eyes darted over the supine figure of her son, and she fought not to show her dislike, not even understanding her own reaction. There was something about the shaman that set her teeth on edge, and she had ignored the messengers he had sent. For a moment, she drew herself up, struggling between indignation and weariness.
"I did not ask for you," she said coldly.
Kokchu seemed oblivious to the tone. "I sent a slave to beg a moment with you, mother to khans. Perhaps he has not yet arrived. The whole camp is talking of your son's illness."
Hoelun felt the shaman's gaze fasten on her, waiting to be formally welcomed as she looked at Temuge once more. Always he was watching, as if inside, someone else looked out. She had seen how he pushed himself into the inner circles around Genghis, and she could not like him. The warriors might reek of sheep turds, mutton fat, and sweat, but those were the smells of healthy men. Kokchu carried an odor of rotting meat, though whether it was from his clothes or his flesh, she could not tell.
Faced with her silence, he should have left the ger, or risked her calling for guards. Instead, he spoke brazenly, somehow certain that she would not send him away.
"I have some healing skill, if you will let me examine him."
Hoelun tried to swallow her distaste. The shaman of the Olkhun'ut had only chanted over Temuge, without result.
"You are welcome in my home, Kokchu," she said at last. She saw him relax subtly and could not shake the feeling of being too close to something unpleasant.
"My son is asleep. The pain is very great when he is awake, and I want him to rest."
Kokchu crossed the small ger and crouched down beside the two women. Both edged unconsciously away from him.
"He needs healing more than rest, I think." Kokchu peered down at Temuge, leaning close to smell his breath. Hoelun winced in sympathy as he reached out to Temuge's bare stomach and probed the area of the lump, but she did not stop him. Temuge groaned in his sleep and Hoelun held her breath.
After a time, Kokchu nodded to himself.
"You should prepare yourself, old mother. This one will die."
Excerpted from Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden Copyright © 2008 by Conn Iggulden. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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