Conqueror by ketyka


The novels of Conn Iggulden bring the past to thrilling life, from ancient Rome to thirteenth-century Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Now he delivers the spectacular story of the rise of Genghis Khan’s grandson, a man destined to become one of the most remarkable rulers who ever lived—the legendary Kublai Khan.

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Chagatai Khanate
late 13th century





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                                                                               h a

Almalik                      ou                                                                                             Shangdu

                                           ins                                                                              (Xanadu)




                                                   o                                                                                                Y e l l o w
                                               e                                                                                                       S e a
  Sultanate                                r
      of                           p
    Delhi                E

                                                                                                                     t ze

                                                           0           200             400            600          800          1000 Miles

                                                           0               400                800             1200             1600 Kms

                                Genghis Khan

       Jochi       Chagatai     Ogedai Khan

   Batu    Berke    Guyuk Khan Qashi


The Golden Horde              House of Chagatai
          The Dynasty of


Mongke Kublai Khan     Hulegu Arik-Boke
 Khan    1260–94

       Yuan Dynasty Ilkhanate
                     of Persia

a.d. 1 2 4 4
                               O NE

and avenues running in streams as the rain hammered down in the
darkness. Outside the thick walls, thousands of sheep huddled to-
gether in their enclosures. The oil in their fleeces protected them
from the rain, but they had not been led to pasture and hunger made
them bleat and yammer to each other. At intervals, one or more of
them would rear up mindlessly on its fellows, forming a hillock of
kicking legs and wild eyes before they fell back into the squirming
   The khan’s palace was lit with lamps that spat and crackled on the
outer walls and gates. Inside, the sound of rain was a low roar that
rose and fell in intensity, pouring as solid sheets over the cloisters.
Servants gazed out into the yards and gardens, lost in the mute fasci-
nation that rain can hold. They stood in groups, reeking of wet wool
and silk, their duties abandoned for a time while the storm passed.
   For Guyuk, the sound of the rain merely added to his irritation,
much as a man humming would have interrupted his thoughts. He
poured wine carefully for his guest and stayed away from the open
window where the stone sill was already dark with wetness. The man
who had come at his request looked nervously around at the audi-
ence room. Guyuk supposed its size would create awe in anyone more
2                      CONN IGGULDEN

used to the low gers of the plains. He remembered his own first nights
in the silent palace, oppressed by the thought that such a weight of
stone and tile would surely fall and crush him. He could chuckle now
at such things, but he saw his guest’s eyes flicker up to the great ceil-
ing more than once. Guyuk smiled. His father, Ogedai, had dreamed
a great man’s dreams when he made Karakorum.
    As Guyuk put down the stone jug of wine and returned to his
guest, the thought tightened his mouth into a thin line. His father
had not had to court the princes of the nation, to bribe, beg, and
threaten merely to be given the title that was his by right.
    “Try this, Ochir,” Guyuk said, handing his cousin one of two cups.
“It is smoother than airag.”
    He was trying to be friendly to a man he barely knew. Yet Ochir
was one of a hundred nephews and grandsons to the khan, men
whose support Guyuk had to have. Ochir’s father, Kachiun, had been
a name, a general still revered in memory.
    Ochir did him the courtesy of drinking without hesitating, emp-
tying the cup in two large swallows and belching.
    “It’s like water,” Ochir said, but he held out the cup again.
    Guyuk’s smile became strained. One of his companions rose si-
lently and brought the jug over, refilling both their cups. Guyuk settled
down on a long couch across from Ochir, trying hard to relax and be
    “I’m sure you have an idea why I asked for you this evening, Ochir,”
he said. “You are from a good family, with influence. I was there at
your father’s funeral in the mountains.”
    Ochir leaned forward where he sat, his interest showing.
    “He would have been sorry not to see the lands you went to,”
Ochir said. “I did not . . . know him well. He had many sons. But I
know he wanted to be with Tsubodai on the Great Trek west. His
death was a terrible loss.”
    “Of course! He was a man of honor,” Guyuk agreed easily. He
wanted to have Ochir on his side and empty compliments hurt no
one. He took a deep breath. “It is in part because of your father that
I asked you to come to me. That branch of the families follow your
lead, do they not, Ochir?”
                           CONQUEROR                                    3

    Ochir looked away, out of the window, where the rain still drummed
on the sills as if it would never stop. He was dressed in a simple deel
robe over a tunic and leggings. His boots were well worn and without
ornament. Even his hat was unsuited to the opulence of the palace.
Stained with oil from his hair, its twin could have been found on any
    With care, Ochir placed his cup on the stone floor. His face had a
strength that truly reminded Guyuk of his late father.
    “I do know what you want, Guyuk. I told your mother’s men the
same thing, when they came to me with gifts. When there is a gather-
ing, I will cast my vote with the others. Not before. I will not be rushed
or made to give my promise. I have tried to make that clear to anyone
who asks me.”
    “Then you will not take an oath to the khan’s own son?” Guyuk
said. His voice had roughened. Red wine flushed his cheeks and Ochir
hesitated at the sign. Around him, Guyuk’s companions stirred like
dogs made nervous at a threat.
    “I did not say that,” Ochir replied carefully. He felt a growing dis-
comfort in such company and decided then to get away as soon as he
could. When Guyuk did not reply, he continued to explain.
    “Your mother has ruled well as regent. No one would deny she has
kept the nation together, where another might have seen it fly into
    “A woman should not rule the nation of Genghis,” Guyuk replied
    “Perhaps. Though she has done so, and well. The mountains have
not fallen.” Ochir smiled at his own words. “I agree there must be a
khan in time, but he must be one who binds the loyalties of all. There
must be no struggle for power, Guyuk, such as there was between
your father and his brother. The nation is too young to survive a war
of princes. When there is one man clearly favored, I will cast my vote
with him.”
    Guyuk almost rose from his seat, barely controlling himself. To be
lectured as if he understood nothing, as if he had not spent two years
waiting in frustration!
    Ochir was watching him and he lowered his brows at what he saw.
4                      CONN IGGULDEN

Once again, he stole a glance at the other men in the room. Four of
them. He was unarmed, made so after a careful search at the outer
door. Ochir was a serious young man and he did not feel at ease
among Guyuk’s companions. There was something in the way they
looked at him, as a tiger might look on a tethered goat.
    Guyuk stood up slowly, stepping over to where the wine jug rested
on the floor. He raised it, feeling its weight.
    “You sit in my father’s city, in his home, Ochir,” he said. “I am the
firstborn son of Ogedai Khan. I am grandson to the great khan, yet
you withhold your oath, as if we were bargaining for a good mare.”
    He held out the jug, but Ochir put his hand over the cup, shaking
his head. The younger man was visibly nervous at having Guyuk
stand over him, but he spoke firmly, refusing to be intimidated.
    “My father served yours loyally, Guyuk. I too am a grandson of
Genghis, though I will not be khan. Yet there are others. Baidur in the
west . . .”
    “Who rules his own lands and has no claim here,” Guyuk snapped.
    Ochir hesitated, then went on. “If you had been named in your
father’s will, it would have been easier, my friend. Half the princes in
the nation would have given their oath by now.”
    “It was an old will,” Guyuk said. His voice had deepened subtly
and his pupils had become large, as if he saw only darkness. He
breathed faster.
    “Then there is Batu,” Ochir added, his voice growing strained,
“the eldest of the lines, or even Mongke, the oldest son of Tolui. There
are others with a claim, Guyuk. You cannot expect—”
    Guyuk raised the stone jug, his knuckles white on the heavy han-
dle. Ochir looked up at him in sudden fear.
    “I expect loyalty!” Guyuk shouted. He brought the jug down across
Ochir’s face with huge force, snapping his head sideways. Blood
poured from a line of torn flesh above Ochir’s eyes as he raised his
hands to fend off further blows. Guyuk stepped onto the low couch,
so that he straddled the man. He brought the jug down again. With
the second blow, the stone sides cracked and Ochir cried out for help.
    “Guyuk!” one of the companions called in horror.
    They were all on their feet, but they did not dare to intervene. The
                             CONQUEROR                                       5

two men on the couch struggled. Ochir’s hand had found Guyuk’s
throat. His fingers were slippery with blood and Ochir could not keep
his grip as the jug came down again and again, suddenly shattering
so that Guyuk held an oval of the handle, jagged and rough. He was
panting wildly, exhilarated. With his free hand, he wiped blood from
his cheek.
     Ochir’s face was a red mash and only one of his eyes would open.
His hands came up once again, but without strength. Guyuk batted
them away easily, laughing.
     “I am the khan’s son,” Guyuk said. “Say you will support me.
Say it.”
     Ochir could not speak. His throat was closed with blood and he
choked violently, his body spasming. A gargling sound came from his
broken lips.
     “No?” Guyuk said. “You will not give me even that? That small
thing? Then I am finished with you, Ochir.” He shoved the jagged
handle down as his companions watched, appalled. The noise died
away and Guyuk stood up, releasing his grip on the shards of stone.
He looked down at himself in disgust, suddenly aware that he was
covered in blood, from spatters in his hair to a great slick down his
deel robe.
     His eyes focused, coming back from afar. He saw the open mouths
of his companions, three of them standing like fools. Only one was
thoughtful, as if he had witnessed an argument rather than a killing.
Guyuk’s gaze was drawn to him. Gansukh was a tall young warrior
with a claim to being the best archer in Guyuk’s command. He spoke
first, his voice and expression calm.
     “My lord, he will be missed. Let me take him away from here while
it is still dark. If I leave him in an alley of the city, his family will think
he was attacked by some thief.”
     “Better still they do not find him at all,” Guyuk said. He rubbed at
spots of blood on his face, but without irritation. His anger had van-
ished and he felt completely at peace.
     “As you say, my lord. There are new sewage pits being dug in the
south quarter . . .”
     Guyuk raised his hand to stop him.
6                      CONN IGGULDEN

   “I do not need to know. Make him vanish, Gansukh, and you will
have my gratitude.” He looked at the other men. “Well? Can Gansukh
manage on his own? One of you must send my servants away. When
you are asked, you will say Ochir left us earlier.” He smiled through
the smeared blood. “Tell them he promised me his vote in the gather-
ing, that he gave his solemn oath. Perhaps the fool can benefit me in
death as he would not in life.”
   His companions began to move and Guyuk walked away from
them, heading to a bathing room he could reach without crossing a
main corridor. For a year or more, he had not washed without ser-
vants, but the blood was itching his skin and he wanted to be clean.
The troubles that had enraged him earlier that evening seemed to
have fallen away and he walked with a light step. The water would be
cold, but he was a man who had bathed in freezing rivers from a
young age. It tightened the skin and invigorated him, reminding him
he was alive.

with writhing dragons around the rim. He did not hear the door
open as he upended a wooden bucket and poured water over his head.
The cold made him gasp and shudder, his flesh in gooseflesh and his
penis shriveling. As he opened his eyes, he jumped at seeing his mother
standing in the room. He glanced at the pile of clothes he had thrown
down. Already the blood on them had mingled with the water, so
that the wooden floor ran with red-tinged lines.
   Guyuk put the bucket down carefully. Torogene was a large woman
and she seemed to fill the small room.
   “If you wish to see me, mother, I will be clean and dressed in a few
moments.” He saw her gaze fall to the swirl of bloody water on the
floor and he looked away, picking up the bucket and refilling it from
the pink water in the bath. The palace had its own drains, specially
constructed in fire-hardened tile by Chin experts. When he removed
the stopper, the incriminating water would vanish under the city,
mingling with the night soil and filth from the kitchens until no one
would ever know. A canal ran by Karakorum and Guyuk supposed
                         CONQUEROR                                  7

the water would empty into that, or into some pit where it could
soak. He didn’t know or care about such details.
    “What have you done?” Torogene said. Her face was pale as she
stopped and picked up his tunic, sodden and twisted.
    “What I had to,” Guyuk replied. He was still shivering and in no
mood to be questioned. “It does not concern you. I will have the
clothes burned.” Guyuk raised the bucket again, then tired of her
scrutiny. He let it fall back and stepped out of the bath.
    “I called for fresh clothes, mother. They should have been brought
to the audience room by now. Unless you are going to stand and stare
at me all day, perhaps you could fetch them.”
    Torogene didn’t move.
    “You are my son, Guyuk. I have worked to protect you, to gather
allies for you. In a night, how much of my labor have you undone? Do
you think I don’t know Ochir was invited here? That he has not been
seen leaving? Are you a fool, Guyuk?”
    “You have been spying on me, then,” Guyuk replied. He tried to
stand tall and unconcerned, but the shivering grew worse.
    “It is my business to know what happens in Karakorum. To know
every deal and argument, every mistake, such as the one you made
    Guyuk gave up the pretense, exasperated at her lofty tone of dis-
    “Ochir would never have supported me, mother. He is no loss to
us. His disappearance may even be a gain, in time.”
    “You think so?” she demanded. “You think you have made my
work easier? Did I raise a fool, then? His families, his friends, will
know he came to you unarmed and that he disappeared.”
    “They have no body, mother. They will assume—”
    “They will assume the truth, Guyuk! That you are a man who can-
not be trusted. That alone among the nation, your offer of guest
rights cannot make a man safe. That you are a wild dog capable of
killing a man who has drunk tea with you in your own home.”
    Overcome with anger, she left the room. Guyuk barely had time to
consider what she had said before she was back, thrusting dry clothes
at him.
8                       CONN IGGULDEN

    “For more than two years,” she went on, “I have spent every day
courting those who might support you. The traditionalists who
might be approached on the grounds that you are the eldest son of
the khan and you should rule the nation. I have bribed men with
lands, horses, gold, and slaves, Guyuk. I have threatened to reveal
their secrets unless I receive their votes at a gathering. I have done all
this because I honor your father and everything he built. His line
should inherit, not Sorhatani’s children or Batu or any of the other
    Guyuk dressed quickly, pulling the deel robe roughly over a tunic
and tying a belt around his waist.
    “Do you want me to thank you?” he said. “Your plans and schemes
have not made me khan yet, mother. Perhaps if they had, I would not
have acted on my own. Did you think I would wait forever?”
    “I didn’t think you would kill a good man in your father’s house.
You have not helped me tonight, my son. I am so close. I do not know
yet what damage you have done, but if this gets out . . .”
    “It will not.”
    “If it does, you will have strengthened the claims of every other
man in line. They will say that you have no more right to this palace,
this city, than Batu.”
    Guyuk clenched his fists in frustration.
    “It is always him. I hear his name every day. I wish he had been here
tonight. I would have removed a stone in my path then.”
    “He would never come to you unarmed, Guyuk. Whatever you
said or did to him on the trip home has made it harder for me to
bring you your inheritance.”
    “I did nothing. And it is not my inheritance!” Guyuk snapped.
“How much easier would all this have been if my father had named
me in his will. There is the source of it all! Instead, he left me to
scrabble around with all the others, like a pack of dogs fighting over
one piece of meat. If you had not assumed the regency, I would be out
there in the gers, looking at my father’s own city in envy. Yet still you
honor him. I am the khan’s firstborn son, mother! Yet I must bargain
and bribe to gain what is mine by right. If he was half the man you
                          CONQUEROR                                   9

seem to think, he should have considered that before his death. He
had enough time to include me in his plans.”
    Torogene saw the pain in her son’s face and relented, her anger
vanishing. She took him into an embrace, moving to ease his distress
without thought.
    “He loved you, my son. But he was obsessed with his city. He lived
with death on his shoulder for a long time. Struggling against it ex-
hausted him. I do not doubt he wished to do more for you.”
    Guyuk rested his head on her shoulder, thinking sharp and un-
pleasant thoughts. He needed his mother still. The nation had learned
to revere her over the years of her regency.
    “I am sorry I lost my temper tonight,” he murmured. He forced a
breath like a sob and she gripped him tighter. “I just want it all too
much. I cannot bear it, mother. Every day, I see them looking at me,
wondering when we will call the gathering. I see them smiling at the
thought of my defeat.”
    Torogene stroked his damp hair, smoothing it with her hand.
    “Shh. You are not the same as them,” she said. “You have never
been an ordinary man, Guyuk. Like your father, you dream of greater
things. I know it. I have sworn to make you khan and it is closer than
you know. You already have Sorhatani’s son, Mongke. You were so
clever to take his oath in the field. His brothers will not disobey their
mother. That is the heart of our position. Then in the west Baidur
has received my envoys. I am confident he will declare for you in time.
Do you understand now how close we are? When Baidur and Batu
name their true price, we will call the nation.”
    She felt him stiffen as she mentioned the name he had grown to
hate. “Be calm, Guyuk. Batu is just one man and he has not left the
lands he was granted. In time, the princes who look to him will see he
is content as a Russian lord, that he has no ambitions for Karakorum.
Then they will come to ask you to lead them. I promise it, my son. No
other man will be khan while I live. Only you.”
    He pulled away and looked down into her face. She saw his eyes
were red.
    “How much longer, mother? I cannot wait forever.”
10                     CONN IGGULDEN

    “I have sent messengers to Batu’s camp, once again. I have prom-
ised him you will recognize his lands and titles, for his lifetime and
the generations to come.”
    Guyuk’s face twisted into a snarl.
    “I do not recognize them! My father’s will is not written in heaven!
Should I leave a man like Batu to roam free on my borders? To eat
rich foods and ride white mares in peace? Should I leave his Golden
Horde warriors to grow fat and make children of their own while I
fight wars without them? No, mother. Either he is under my hand, or
I will see him destroyed.”
    Torogene slapped him across the face. The blow was heavy and it
rocked his head to one side. As a bloom of red grew on his cheek, he
looked at her in stunned shock.
    “This is why I told you not to court the princes on your own,
Guyuk. I told you to trust me. Listen. And hear with your heart and
head, not just your ears. Once you are khan, you will have all the
power, all the armies. Your word will be law. On that day, the prom-
ises I have made for you will be dust, if you choose to ignore them. Do
you understand now?” Though they were alone, her hissing voice fell
so she could not be overheard. “I would promise Batu immortality if I
thought it would bring him to a gathering. For two years, he has sent
excuses to Karakorum. He dares not refuse me outright, but he sends
me tales of injuries or sickness, saying he cannot travel. All the time,
he watches to see what will come out of the white city. He is a clever
man, Guyuk, never forget it. Sorhatani’s sons do not have half his
    “You are bargaining with a snake, then, mother. Be careful he does
not bite you.”
    Torogene smiled. “There is a price for all things, my son, for all
men. I have merely to find his.”
    “I could have advised you,” Guyuk said peevishly. “I know Batu
well. You were not there when we rode into the west.”
    Torogene tutted under her breath. “You do not need to know
everything, Guyuk, only that if Batu agrees, he will come to a gather-
ing in the summer. If he accepts the offer, we will have enough of the
princes behind us to make you khan. Do you see now why you should
                          CONQUEROR                                 11

not have acted on your own? Do you see what you put in danger?
What is the life of one family head compared to this?”
    “I’m sorry,” Guyuk replied, lowering his head. “You have not kept
me informed and I was angry. You should have included me in your
plans. Now that I know more, I can help you.”
    Torogene regarded her son, with all his weaknesses and flaws. Still,
she loved him more than the city around them, more than her own
    “Have faith in your mother,” she said. “You will be khan. Promise
me there will be no more bloodstained clothing to burn. No more
    “I promise,” Guyuk replied, his mind already on the changes he
would make when he was khan. His mother knew him too well for
him to be comfortable around her. He would find her some small
house far from the city to live out her last days. He smiled at the
thought and she took heart from it, seeing again the young boy he
had once been.
                                T WO

toward the small ger in the crook of hills. As he rode, he kept his eyes
moving, looking for watchers or scouts. He had not announced his
visit to the homeland of the Mongol people and he could name a few
who would have been very interested in his presence there. Sorhatani
had inherited the birthplace of Genghis Khan from her husband
years before. She had brought tumans back to the open plains, tens
of thousands of families who wanted nothing more than to live as
they always had, in the shadow of mountains, on the open land.
    There was nothing to excite suspicion around Tsubodai’s ger. The
old man had retired without any of the trappings of power, rejecting
all the honors Torogene had tried to press on him. Batu was pleased
just to find him, though the retired orlok did not move around as
much as some. He had brought no great herd that had to find new
grass every few months. As Batu drew closer, he could see just a few
dozen sheep and goats, untethered and untroubled as they cropped
the grass. Tsubodai had chosen a good spot by a streambed, on what
looked like an ancient floodplain, made smooth and flat by the pas-
sage of millennia. The sun was shining and Batu found himself ad-
miring the man yet again. Tsubodai had commanded the greatest
                          CONQUEROR                                  13

army of the nation, more than a hundred thousand warriors who
had fought their way to the northern hills of Italy. If the khan had not
died and brought them home, Batu thought they would have made
an empire from sea to sea. He grimaced at the memories, ashamed
that he had enjoyed the old man’s failure once. That was when Batu
had thought his generation could put aside the petty politics and
bickering that marred the world he knew.
    Batu kept up his slow approach, knowing it would not be a good
idea to surprise Tsubodai. They were not exactly friends, though his
respect had only grown in the years since the Great Trek. Even so,
Batu needed the advice of one who was no longer part of games of
power, one whose word he could trust.
    Still at a distance, Batu heard a dog barking. His heart sank as an
enormous hound came out from behind the ger and paused, raising
its head. Batu didn’t like dogs at the best of times and he could see
this one was huge and black. He yelled “Nokhoi Khor!” for someone
to hold the beast, but there was no sign of Tsubodai or his wife. The
dog sniffed the air, turning its head back and forth. It was looking at
him over the field, then it growled and broke into a run, skimming
through the grass. Its face flopped as it charged, so that he could see
white teeth and eyes. As it approached, his hand dropped to his bow,
but he did not take it up. His chances of a friendly welcome would
dwindle somewhat if he shot Tsubodai’s dog.
    His pony skittered to one side and Batu shouted madly at the
hound, trying different words of command. The enormous animal
kept coming and he was forced to dig his heels in and canter around
in a great circle, with the dog following him. He could see white froth
on its mouth as it gnashed and howled at him, no longer silent as it
saw him escaping.
    Out of the corner of his eye, Batu saw a woman come out of the
ger. She seemed amused at his predicament and bent double as she
laughed. All he could do was ride in circles, avoiding the snapping
    “Nokhoi Khor!” he called again to her and she stood up, looking
at him with her head cocked to one side. After a while she shrugged
14                     CONN IGGULDEN

and put her hand to her mouth to whistle two sharp blasts. The dog
dropped to the grass at the sound, his dark eyes still focused on the
horseman who had dared to enter his territory.
    “Stay,” Batu said to the animal, giving it a wide berth. He had
never seen a dog the size of that one and he wondered where Tsubo-
dai had found it. It watched him all the way in and Batu was very
aware of it as he dismounted slowly, with no sudden movements.
    “I am looking for Orlok Tsubodai,” Batu said.
    He could hear a low growl at his back and it was hard not to glance
over his shoulder. A smile twitched at the woman’s mouth as she re-
garded him.
    “Perhaps he doesn’t want to see you, nameless one,” she replied
    Batu flushed. “He knows me well. I was with him in the west. My
name is Batu, son to Jochi.”
    A shadow passed over her face at that name, as if she had heard it
many times. She looked deeply into his eyes, searching for something.
    “I wouldn’t touch a weapon if I were you. The dog will rip your
throat out.”
    “I’m not here for revenge,” Batu said. “I made my peace a long
time ago.”
    “I’m glad one of you has,” she said.
    Her eyes flickered behind him and Batu turned, convinced the
hound was creeping up on him. Instead, he saw Tsubodai leading a
horse on foot, coming out of a straggling stand of trees not far away.
Batu was surprised by the feeling of relief that swept over him. Once,
he had hated the man, but then in those days he had hated many. In
time, he had learned to respect him. Batu did not examine his own
feelings in too much detail, but in many ways he thought of Tsubo-
dai as a father. It was not something he had ever said. Simply to see
Tsubodai alive and apparently well was a ray of light in his current
mood. Nothing seemed as hard if you had Tsubodai on your side. If
that was true, of course. Batu was still not at all certain how he would
be received.
    Those thoughts passed quickly through his mind as Tsubodai
came closer. The old man whistled to his dog and Batu watched as
                          CONQUEROR                                  15

the savage animal rose and ran to him, suddenly puppyish in its en-
thusiasm, so that it wagged its entire body rather than just its stump
of a tail. Tsubodai walked with one hand loosely wrapped in a rein
and the other reaching out to ruffle the dog’s great head. He was not
smiling as he looked from Batu to his wife.
   “Have you offered him tea?”
   “Not yet,” his wife said. “I thought I’d leave it up to you.”
   “Good. Be on your way then, Batu. I have nothing to say to you.”
   Batu waited, but as far as Tsubodai was concerned, the conversa-
tion was clearly at an end. Tsubodai walked past him, clicking his
tongue to keep the dog close.
   “I came a very long way to see you, Orlok,” Batu said.
   “I’ve left titles like that behind me,” Tsubodai shot over his shoul-
der. “I am retired.”
   “I’m not here to ask you to lead, old man, just to ask for your
   Tsubodai paused in the action of ducking down through his ger
door. “Goodbye,” he said without looking up.
   Batu watched in frustration as Tsubodai vanished into the gloomy
interior, taking his dog with him. Batu turned helplessly to face
Tsubodai’s wife, still standing there with the same wry smile. Her
childbearing years were surely behind her, but she looked vaguely ma-
ternal as her gaze swept over the disappointed young man.
   “I don’t like to see a visitor turned away with nothing,” she said.
“Will you take salt tea?”
   Batu heard a grunt of irritation from inside the ger. The walls
were thin enough for Tsubodai to hear every word.
   “It would be an honor,” Batu replied.
   He was still there as the evening came in. Tsubodai didn’t seem
too troubled by his presence. The old man had contented himself
with a silent glare, repairing a bow while Batu sat making polite con-
versation for some hours. He had learned the name of Tsubodai’s
wife, at least. Ariuna was a pleasant woman and once she relaxed, she
was fascinated by the news he brought. Even Tsubodai snorted when
Batu talked of the lands he had been given in Ogedai’s will. At a
stroke of an ink brush, Ogedai had awarded him a vast fiefdom in
16                     CONN IGGULDEN

Russia. Knowing Tsubodai was listening closely, Batu told Ariuna
that part of it had once been his father’s, after leaving Genghis be-
hind him. He had felt Tsubodai’s gaze on him then, knowing the old
man’s memories would still be sharp. Batu had not looked up and,
after a time, Tsubodai went back to his pots of boiling water, horn,
and glue.
    As the sun set, Tsubodai rose, stretching his back with a groan.
    “I have to check the animals,” he said to his wife.
    Batu looked at his feet, and it was not until Ariuna said “Go after
him, then!” that he stood up with a grin and went out. Women were
sometimes vital when it came to men talking.
    He found Tsubodai with the dog, which turned and bared its
teeth at him until Tsubodai checked it with a word. Together, he and
Batu tested the ties holding a small corral together, before going on
to feel the womb of a goat very close to giving birth. The silence be-
tween them was comfortable, much better than when he had sat in
Tsubodai’s home as an unwanted guest. Outside, the old man seemed
to relax a little and he gestured for Batu to examine the goat. Batu
nodded as he pressed his fingers around the unborn shape.
    “Not long now” was his verdict. “She seems happy enough.”
    “She is,” Tsubodai said, straightening up. “And so am I. Life is
hard, Batu, but it can at least be simple. It is simple here.”
    Age had made him thinner than Batu remembered, but there was
still a presence to him. No one would ever mistake Tsubodai for a
herder, no matter where they found him. His eyes had seen empires
rise and fall. They had seen Genghis as a young man.
    Batu did not reply. After a time, Tsubodai sighed and rested his
hands on the wooden bar of the corral.
    “So tell me what has brought you so many miles. I warn you, I
know nothing of the politics in Karakorum. I have no net of spies any
longer, if that’s what you’re hoping.”
    “It’s not. I just want the advice of someone I can trust.”
    As Ariuna had earlier, Tsubodai searched his eyes with his own
and subsided, tension drifting out of him.
    “Ask, boy. I don’t know if you will like my answer.”
                          CONQUEROR                                 17

   Batu took a deep breath.
   “You know Guyuk as well as anyone.” Tsubodai said nothing, so
he went on. “Did you know the new khan has not yet been chosen?”
   The old man nodded. “I’m not in a desert. I heard that much, at
   “It has to be Guyuk, or Mongke, or Baidur . . . or me. We are the
only four in reach, and Mongke pledged his word years ago, when
he heard Ogedai had died. He will support Guyuk.”
   Tsubodai scratched the side of his jaw. “It’s done, then. Throw in
with Mongke and Guyuk. Baidur will follow along, once he knows
you are together. Guyuk will be khan and I will be left alone.”
   “Is that what you would do?” Batu asked seriously.
   Tsubodai laughed, an unpleasant, bitter sound.
   “Me? No. But I am not you and all my choices have already been
made, good and bad.”
   “Then why would you have me support him? In my place, what
would you do?”
   Tsubodai didn’t answer immediately. He stared out over the dark-
ening fields, his gaze roaming over the stream and the distant hills.
Batu waited.
   “I am not in your place,” Tsubodai said at last. “I do not know
what drives you. If you want to get the best bargain, then hold on as
long as you can and judge the moment when his gifts are likely to
become threats. Secure your own lands and perhaps you will survive
long enough to enjoy them.”
   “And what if I care nothing for the best bargain?” Batu said, of-
fended. “What if I think Guyuk should not lead the nation?”
   “Then I cannot help you. If you stand in his way, you will be de-
stroyed, without a doubt.” The old man seemed on the verge of saying
something else, but he shut his mouth firmly.
   “What is it? You speak in riddles, old man. You tell me you would
not follow him, but that I will be destroyed if I don’t. What sort of a
choice is that?”
   “A simple one,” Tsubodai said with a smile. He turned to Batu
properly for the first time. “You have not come to me for answers. You
18                     CONN IGGULDEN

know everything you need to know. Are you troubled by those who
share Guyuk’s bed? Is it that? Do his companions fill you with anger,
or is it envy?” Tsubodai laughed.
    “He could take dead goats to his bed, for all I care,” Batu said with
an expression of distaste. “What matters is that he is a small man, a
man without dreams of any kind. He has only cunning, where the
nation needs intelligence. You cannot tell me he would make a good
    “He would be a terrible khan,” Tsubodai replied. “Under Guyuk,
we will see the nation wither away, or broken apart. But if you will not
stand against him, who will? Anyway, it is too late. You are already on
your way to a gathering. You will give your oath to Guyuk and he will
be khan.”
    Batu blinked in surprise. His warriors waited for him in a valley
more than a day’s ride away. Tsubodai could not have known, unless
he was lying about having no sources of information any longer. Per-
haps there were a few old men who still came to share tea and news
with the orlok after all.
    “You know a few things, for a man who claims to be nothing more
than a simple herder.”
    “People talk. Like you. Always talking, as if there is nothing better
to do. Did you want me to say that you are making the right choice?
Perhaps you are. Now leave me in peace.”
    Batu stifled his irritation.
    “I came to ask you what Genghis would have done. You knew
    Tsubodai grinned at that, showing his teeth. Two were missing at
the side of his mouth, so that his cheek was sunken there. It was easy
to see the shape of his skull, the skin stretched over the bone.
    “Your grandfather was a man without compromise. Do you under-
stand what that means? There are many who say ‘I believe this,’ but
would they hold true to those beliefs if their children were threat-
ened? No. But Genghis would. If you told him you would kill his
children, he would tell you to go ahead, but realize that the cost
would be infinite, that he would tear down cities and nations and the
price would never be paid. He did not lie and his enemies knew it. His
                           CONQUEROR                                   19

word was iron. So you tell me if he would support a man like Guyuk
as khan.”
    “No,” Batu muttered.
    “Not in a thousand years, boy. Guyuk is a follower, not a leader.
There was a time when even you had him trotting around in your
wake. That is not a weakness in a carpenter or a man who makes tiles
for a roof. The world cannot be full of lead dogs, or the pack would
pull itself apart.” He rubbed his dog behind the ears and the animal
grunted and slobbered at him. “Wouldn’t it, Temujin?” he said to the
hound. “They can’t all be like you, can they?” The dog settled onto its
stomach with a grunt, its front legs outstretched.
    “You named your dog after Genghis?” Batu asked in disbelief.
    Tsubodai chuckled. “Why not? It pleased me to do so.” The old
man looked up again. “A man like Guyuk cannot change. He cannot
simply decide one day that he will lead and be good at it. It is not in
his nature.”
    Batu rested his hands on the wooden spar. The sun had begun to
set while they talked, shadows thickening and merging all around
    “But if I resist him, I will be destroyed,” he said softly.
    Tsubodai shrugged in the darkness. “Perhaps. Nothing is certain.
It did not stop your father taking his men out of the nation. There
was no middle path with him. He was another in the same mold.”
    Batu glanced at the old man, but he could barely see his features
in the gloom.
    “That did not work out too well.”
    “You are too young to understand,” Tsubodai replied.
    “Try,” Batu said. He could feel the old man’s gaze on him.
    “People are always afraid, boy. Perhaps you must live a long time
just to see it. I sometimes think I’ve lived too long. We will all die. My
wife will die. I will, you, Guyuk, everyone you have ever met. Others
will walk over our graves and never know we laughed or loved, or
hated each other. Do you think they will care if we did? No, they will
have their own blind, short lives to live.”
    “I don’t understand,” Batu said in frustration.
    “No, because you’re too young,” Tsubodai said with a shrug. Batu
20                     CONN IGGULDEN

heard the old man sigh to himself. “There’s a good chance there are
bones in this valley, men and women who once thought they were
important. Do we think of them? Do we share their fears and dreams?
Of course not. They are nothing to the living and we don’t even know
their names. I used to think I would like to be remembered, to have
people say my name in a thousand years, but I won’t care if they do,
because I’ll be dust and spirit. Maybe just dust, but I’m still hoping
for spirit as well. When you’re older, you will realize the only thing
that matters, the only thing, is that you had courage and honor. Lose
those things and you won’t die any quicker, but you’ll be less than the
dirt on our boots. You’ll still be dust, but you’ll have wasted your
short time in the light. Your father failed, yes, but he was strong and
he tried to do right by his people. He didn’t waste his life. That’s all
you can ask.” The effort of speaking seemed to have tired the old
man. He cleared his throat and spat carelessly on the ground. “You
don’t get long in the world. These mountains will still be here after
me, or you.”
   Batu was silent for a long time before he spoke again.
   “I never knew him, my father. I never even met him.”
   “I am sorry I ever did,” Tsubodai replied. “That’s how I under-
stand about honor, boy. It’s only when you lose it that you realize
how valuable it is, but it’s too late then.”
   “You are a man of honor, if I understand anything at all.”
   “I was once, perhaps, but I should have refused that order from
your grandfather. To kill his own son? It was madness, but I was
young and I was in awe of him. I should have ridden away and never
sought out Jochi in the Russian plains. You wouldn’t understand.
Have you killed a man?”
   “You know I have!”
   “Not in battle; up close, slow, where you can look into his eyes.”
   Batu nodded slowly. Tsubodai grunted, barely able to see the
   “Were you right to do it? To take all the years he would live?”
   “I thought so at the time,” Batu replied uncomfortably.
   “You’re still too young. I thought once that I could make my mis-
                          CONQUEROR                                  21

take a good thing. That my guilt could be the force that made me
better than other men. I thought in my strong years that I would learn
from it, but no matter what I did, it was always there. I could not take
it back, Batu. I could not undo my sin. Do you know that word? The
Christians talk of a black stain on the soul. It is fitting.”
    “They also say you can remove it by confessing.”
    “No, that’s not true. What sort of a man would I be if I could just
wipe out my errors with talking? A man has to live with his mistakes
and go on. That is his punishment, perhaps.” He chuckled then, re-
calling an old memory. “You know, your grandfather just forgot his
bad days, as if they had never happened. I used to envy him for that.
I still do, sometimes.” He saw Batu looking at him and sighed. “Just
keep your word, boy, that’s all I have for you.”
    Tsubodai shivered as a breeze rushed past them.
    “If that’s you, Genghis, I’m not interested,” he muttered, so low
that Batu could barely hear the words. “The boy can look after him-
    The old man pulled his old deel robe closer around him. “It’s too
late now to ride back to your men,” Tsubodai said a little louder. “You
have guest rights here and I’ll send you on your way in the morning
after breakfast. Coming?”
    He didn’t wait for Batu to answer. The moon was showing over
the horizon and Batu watched the old man walk back to the ger. He
was pleased he had come and he thought he knew what he had to do.

the middle of nowhere. Three hundred miles north of Karakorum, it
had a single purpose: to work as a link in messenger chains that
stretched as far as the lands of the Chin, west into Russia and as far
south as Kabul. Supplies and equipment came along the same route,
on slower carts, so that it could thrive. Where there was once a sin-
gle ger with a few spare mounts, there was now a building of gray
stone, roofed in red tile. Gers still surrounded it, presumably for the
families of the riders and the few maimed soldiers who had retired
22                     CONN IGGULDEN

there. Batu wondered idly if one day it would become a village in the
wilderness. Yam riders could not move with the seasons as their an-
cestors had.
    He had avoided the way stations on his journey from his new
lands. Just the sight of his tuman would have sent a rider galloping
down the line. No one traveled faster than the yam riders over rough
ground and news of his movements would have been in Karakorum
days ahead of him. Even for this message, he had left his warriors in
a forest of pine and birch, too far away to be discovered. He had rid-
den ahead with just two of his scouts until they came to a ridge where
he could tether his horse and send them on without him.
    Batu lay on his stomach in the sunshine, watching their progress
toward the yam station. There was smoke coming from its chimney
and in the distance he could see the tiny figures of horses cropping at
the grass. When he saw his scouts enter the building, he turned over
on his back and stared up at the blue sky.
    There had been a time when he wanted to be khan. If he had been
offered it in those days, he would have grasped the thorn without
hesitating. Life had been simpler then, riding west with Tsubodai.
The death of Ogedai had done more than halt the Great Trek into
the western nations. The khan had gone out of his way to raise Batu
from poverty, forcing him through promotions until he gave orders
to ten thousand picked men. It should not have been a surprise that
Ogedai had included him in his will, but it had been. Batu had not
expected anything. When he had ridden to his new lands, he had
found traces of a Mongol camp, with gers falling in on themselves
and rough wooden buildings. He had searched them all, and in one
he came across a rotting saddle stamped with the mark of his father’s
tuman. Ogedai had given him the lands his father had chosen when
he ran from Genghis. Batu had held the saddle then and wept for a
man he had never known. He knew something had changed in him
from that point. As he looked up into the perfect blue, he searched
himself for the itch of desire, of ambition, but there was nothing. He
would not be khan. His only purpose was to be sure the best of them
took command of the nation. He worked his hand into the earth he
                          CONQUEROR                                  23

lay on and tore out a handful of grass and dirt. In the peace of a warm
day, he crumbled it into dust and let the breeze carry it away.
    Above him, a distant hawk wheeled and then hovered, perhaps
interested in the man who lay supine on the grass of the plains. Batu
raised a hand to it, knowing the bird could see every detail even from
such a height.
    The sun had moved in the sky by the time his scouts returned.
Well trained, they gave no sign that they saw him as they reached the
ridge, not until they were out of sight of anyone watching from the
yam station. They walked their ponies past him and Batu followed,
checking behind occasionally. He did not need to ask them if the
message had gone. The yam stations were famous for their efficiency.
A rider would already be galloping to the next one, some twenty-five
miles toward Karakorum. Torogene would hold his sealed letter in
her hands in just three days.
    Batu was thoughtful as he trotted across the rich green grass. He
knew Guyuk would lose face when the gathering fell apart. Batu’s
other message would reach Baidur around the same time and if he
acted on the promise of support, many things would change. Baidur
would be a better khan than Guyuk, Batu was certain. For an instant,
Batu felt a whisper of the old voice, telling him that he would also be
a good khan, the firstborn of Genghis’s firstborn. It would be fitting,
as if the nation had been wrenched back on the right path after too
long. He shook his head, crushing the voice in him. His father had
wanted to find his own path, far from khans and herds. Speaking to
Tsubodai had given Batu a sense of vast reaches of time, a glimpse of
decades, even centuries, through the old man’s eyes. He struggled to
hold on to it.
    Batu tried to think of all the possible futures, then gave it up. No
man could plan for everything. He wondered if his pony rode over the
bones of long-dead men and shivered slightly at the thought, despite
the warmth of the sun.
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