Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 35
In his magnificent palace in the great city of Baghdad the Ilkhan, Hotai the Ineffable, glowered at his grand vizier and the four assembled generals. He had moved far from his Mongol origins in dress and indeed in habit, but not in traditional diet. And he ate as if he spent the same number of hours in the saddle or at war as his distant cousins. Sheep-meat and good wine, if not qumiss, had not been kind to him. It had made him rotund and lazy, he admitted to himself. But he was not a fool, and he managed his empire, and his large court, and even his harem, well.
Running the empire had kept him here…sedentary, being an administrator. But that was why he had generals running each of the fronts of the empire, unlike his father who had liked campaigning himself and lived to eighty doing so, forever crisscrossing the empire and dragging his court around.
However, the news that brought his generals and his vizier before him was nasty hearing, and made the old warrior blood in him rise and demand that something sharp and pointed be brought to bear on the problem. “What do you mean, they are everywhere? These Baitini are not spirits! We know where they come from! Take punitive steps. Alamut must be destroyed. Bring its master to Baghdad in chains.”
“I was alerted to just what the problem was by the Old Man of the mountain, in Alamut,” said the grand vizier, with a conciliatory wave of his hand. “This time, it is not the Old Man’s doing. It appears that the group no longer takes orders from there, and destroying Alamut would be counter-productive.” He coughed. “They have actually always part of the local governance. They made reliable…agents… and once we bought them, they were relentless. It was the way they worked, and they’re good for solving…problems. In fact, we have used them a great deal, Your Ineffability. Only, now they have turned against us — or some of them have, at any rate. We, um, had no idea of their numbers or how high they had risen in certain administrations. We have identified some of them, of course, but we don’t know who all of them are. But there are several satrapies which are effectively being made ungovernable by their actions. And what worries me is that I don’t know why, or what they plan.”
“We need to make an example,” said General Quasji, of the northern march. “I propose that we sack their principal cities.”
The Ilkhan eyed him unfavorably. Normally such interviews were conducted with the entire court. The grand vizier had not called for this meeting to be private for no reason. Plainly he had chosen these men for loyalty and to ensure secrecy in this council. But this fool general was playing as if to the gallery. Playing for future power. “They are our principal cities, Quasji. Our sources of taxation and income. Why would we sack our own cities and destroy the livelihoods of our own subjects?”
“Besides, they seek to make a religious schism in our troops,” said General Harob. “We have no small number who have gone over to being followers of the Prophet Mohammed. While the great majority of the Moslems in our domains do not share the sect…they have put it about that we are the enemy of Islam.”
General Harob was in control of the campaign in Cicilia. Hotai knew him to be a devout Nestorian. It was why he’d been put in Cicilia, to keep the war there from being perceived as a religious one, to draw in allies against the Mongol from the Christian lands to the west. The Ilkhan played a slow game in Asia Minor, gradually nibbling away at the kingdoms there. Actually Hotai had no vast appetite for conquest. But it was a Mongol tradition and it kept the army in a state of readiness. “If we were to persecute our own people in the hopes of destroying these Bataini, we would appear to actually be the enemy of Islam.”
“I think a show of real force might be in order,” said General Malkis. The elderly campaigner was effectively retired from the campaigns in Hind, but still wielded a great deal of influence. He had been a loyal friend of Hotai’s father, and it had been his support that had made it clear that there was to be no dynastic squabble when Hotai had become the Great Khan.
“That must be done,” said the Ilkhan, “Assuredly. But what? Throwing ourselves against our own people is like skinning the sheep to get the wool. True, you have wool and meat and skin, but only once. Then it is gone forever.”
“But we do not wish to show any sign of weakness to our foes. We’ll have invasions and insurrections,” said the grand vizier. “There is unrest in many quarters already.”
Hotai knew this was all leading somewhere, and not towards his dinner “What do you propose then?”
“A royal procession, Great Khan. With attendant troop maneuvers and parades and displays of force. And a few salutatory lessons, perhaps. Especially if we can capture some of these Baitini. We might bring back the polo game using the heads of the condemned, perhaps.” The vizier pulled at his lip. “The general populace would enjoy that. They fear the Baitini, I am told.”
Unlike his father, Hotai had not left Baghdad since being raised to being Ilkhan to the Southern Horde. He blinked. He had traveled as a young prince, of course. Just to move the whole court was…
Actually, a pleasant idea. It would do some of them a great deal of good to have something other than debauchery and intrigue to deal with. They’d like it less than he did. “Plan to make it so, Grand Vizier Orason. And I think we need a few visitations of troops to areas which have had particular problems. Just their being there will be a reminder for them. So: where shall we go first?”
“West or north, Great Khan. There are more problems there. The Arab tribes are restive, but we have more troops there anyway. And they have little more than sand, goats and banditry to the southwest.”
Hotai smiled and made up his mind. “We will proceed first to Mosul. And have proclamations read in the cities of Aleppo, Tabriz and Damascus, so that they are to prepare. We will visit them as well.”
“But…they are, well, in opposite directions, Great Khan,” said the grand vizier, plainly wrestling with the idea of explaining geography to his overlord.
He nodded. This was part of his plan. Altogether, he was cautiously pleased with it. “Precisely. We will not say when we will visit them.” They would be in a froth, a frenzy of preparation and worry. They would also have great motivation to root out these Bataini themselves, to have prisoners to present to their Khan.
That drew a smile and an acquiescent nod. “It shall be done, Great Khan. There is also the matter of requests from several of our subordinate states. It is an opportunity to draw them more under our control. They’re asking for help.”
He made a gesture of agreement. “It will of course be our gracious pleasure to render it. And now you are dismissed from my presence, except for you, General Malkis, and you, Orason.”
When they had paid their respects and left, and the tongueless guards were back at their stations at the great closed doors, the Ilkhan cleared his throat. “And now. We need to discuss how we rid ourselves of this canker within.”
The grand vizier scowled. “I have been compiling lists, Great Khan. The problem is, well, they are well suited to spying and gathering information. It is difficult to know who to trust. Several of them are in high positions. And they have been loyal to the Ilkhanate for a century. We thought them loyal, at least. But it appears that they have been like maggots beneath the skin of a sound-seeming apple. It is only their numbers that hold them in check at all.”
“Not so in the tumens,” said General Malkis. “We are Mongol.”
The Ilkhan knew that this was not really so. In theory, the military were Mongol. Of course in practice this had not been so for many years. The noble Mongol were still largely of Mongol blood, but intermarriage, especially with the Turkic tribes whose the way of life was similar, was normal. And of course skilled military engineers had always been welcome in the army of the Khans. They had received many honors and become part of the nation.
The general correctly interpreted the look his overlord gave him. He had known his father well, and Hotai had been told he shared many mannerisms with the late Great Khan. His father had mostly been a distant man, often away and at war, so Hotai really could not say. “They are Mongol in loyalty at least. Your great-uncle the Ilkhan Hulagu decided the ‘shmaeli made poor soldiery. He disliked and distrusted them and put measures in place against them.”
Hotai’s great-uncle had been an erratic and occasionally brutal ruler. But his legacy had been a secure empire, and, it would seem, had kept the enemy within out of the military.
“There will be a few. They’re allowed to lie to unbelievers in the name of their religion. Still, it is a strength. But it will draw the army away from its usual work.”
“What effect will this have on our campaigns?”
The old warhorse shrugged. “Great Khan, we fight many small wars all the time. I think our enemies scattered, and unlikely to ally…but they will push back in places. Or find relief and regroup. Cicilica is one such front. Hind another.”
The Great Khan considered his options. “Plan for the worst,” he decreed. “But let us act as if we had no such plans at all. We, too, may lie.”
Michael Magheretti, the Podesta of the Venetian community of Trebizond, had moved his life into a well-practiced non-routine since the fleet had left. Tasks had to be done, and work dealt with…but according to no pre-ordained pattern. Trebizond was still in the grip of mayhem and fear. The sultan himself had survived an attempt on his life. Michael…three.
The city had degenerated into a series of cantons, with barricades and armed men with cross-bows at the windows, watching them. Still, somehow, life went on even with the honest — or at least, the more-or-less honest and honorable — confined to their houses and their work places constantly under guard, de facto prisoners, while the murderers and thugs roamed free. The wrong people behind bars…
One got used to it, thought Michael glumly. And the Venetians had at least been able to draw together. It had not been good for their cohesion with the local Greek-speaking inhabitants, and even less so for the newer settlers from the hinterland. Once this had been one of the melting pots of East and West. Now they were separating out, with agony for many of the mixed families.
He settled himself at his somewhat dimly lit desk — away from the barred window — where his eyes would struggle but at least he would not be visible. He looked at the pile of paper. At one of his bodyguards picking his teeth with his dagger. “What is that noise?”