Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 02
“As you know,” said the Bashar Ahmbien, “we are not a great maritime people.” The voice of the Ilkhan Hotai in Jerusalem, despite his wizened body, was a man of immense influence. His slightest word could mean death and destruction to thousands.
What he said was true enough. It was the mastery of the horse that made the Mongols the dominant force of the east. Light, fast cavalry, great bowmen and superb tactics.
But of course Eberhart politely demurred. “You are a developing maritime force, rather.”
“Perhaps — but the vessels of more powerful forces are reluctant to allow us to develop further.”
This was dangerous talk. The Mediterranean needed yet another sea-power nearly as badly as the Empire needed Prince Jagiellon on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. “Ah,” said Eberhart.
Ahmbien cocked his head, obviously weighing that non-committal “Ah” for any possible information. It didn’t tell him very much. “Yes. We have found this irksome in the Black Sea.”
That was somewhat better, Eberhart felt, although far from anything to relax about. But Ahmbien plainly understood this too. “It is not, you understand, our desire to control the seas. We’ve found ships very poor places to maneuver our horses. But we would like to talk and trade with our kin.”
“The Golden Horde,” said Eberhart, cutting to the chase. This was both dangerous and yet potentially advantageous. The Golden Horde had become isolated on the lowlands to the east of the Carpathian Mountains after the death of Batu Khan. To the south, the Bulgars, Thracians, other mountains tribes and the Emperor Alexius in Constantinople cut them off from their fellow Mongols in Egypt and the Levant under the Ilkhan. Hungary and Slavic tribes and Vlachs vassals of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania blocked their movement to the north and west.
The Holy Roman Empire truly did not mind if they blunted their swords on the Prince Jagiellon’s minions to the North. Even if they won, well, that would — at least in the short term — be no bad thing. The Mongols had proved to be excellent rulers, once the initial wave of conquest had passed with its atrocities and barbarities. Often less greedy in taxation than former rulers, and happy to allow freedom of religion and trade. Even their justice was frequently an improvement.
Local satraps were varied, of course, and some were oppressive and greedy. But the shadow of the Great Ilkhan rested on them. They did not dare go too far. Eberhart knew that a Mongol war with King Emeric of Hungary would be a desirable thing, although it would be better if that merely resulted in the death of King Emeric, and not the destruction of the buffer-zone that was his kingdom. But, weak reed and traitor though Alexius was, giving aid to cause the downfall of Byzantine Emperor Alexius was not desirable. Besides… the Black Sea… the Venetians were good allies, and they relied on the trade out of the Black Sea to some extent.
“You are too astute for us, noble lord,” said Ahmbien, a hint of a smile peering out from behind his moustache, a moustache that would have done the hind end of a wild Irish moorland pony proud. “The Golden Horde. The descendants of Batu Khan. It would appear that some months ago the issue of succession became paramount. We believe this is of interest to you. The leadership is divided among the clans. Since the death of Batu Khan the Horde have increased their numbers and look for fresh lands. Part of the Horde favors expansion to the south.”
Eberhart tried not to tense, like a terrier at the mention of rats. And failed.
His host inclined his head at him, just slightly. “And the faction we feel has a just claim, would break out through the lowlands to the North and East. Our support would carry weight among the clans.”
Eberhart exhaled. Of course, there was no way of telling if Ahmbien spoke the truth or not. But at least the Ilkhan were presenting the information that there were two factions, which they had no need to do. “Of course,” he said.
“We understand each other, then. An agreement of mutual convenience as it were,” said Ahmbien, tugging his moustache.
“Indeed. But I fail to see what this has to do with us. Or with maritime prowess?”
“We have always been able to send messengers across the Black Sea. Not easily, but by indirect routes — Trebizond, by sea northwards to Kerch, across the Krym and then on into the lands of the Horde. We receive news the same way. Our last five messengers have failed to return. So have the ships they sailed on. We believe a great fleet is being assembled in the Dniepr gulf. We have word of at least three hundred round ships, and many galleys.”
There could only be one destination for such a fleet.
And whatever else the Holy Roman Empire might disagree with Ilkhan about, this they had in common. The Ilkhan did not want the allies of Prince Jagiellon to take Constantinople. Neither did any other Mediterranean or even European power. “How long has this been underway?” asked Eberhart.
“Perhaps three years,” said Ahmbien.
The reasons behind Jagiellon’s adventures against Venice suddenly became much clearer. The Mediterranean without Venice’s galleys would present a large soft underbelly. Smaller powers — the Genoese and others — could be picked off piecemeal. Jagiellon had been moving pawns on a board so vast that others had not been able to see them all. When he had failed in Venice, he just gone on building ships. But by now… they should have sailed.
“The tribesmen of the Golden Horde raided deep into the north. They captured and burned a fleet of barges. Barges full of flaxen sailcloth and rope,” said Ahmbien, as if reading his mind.
“Ah!” said Eberhart. “The fleet would have sailed after the failure of the attack on Corfu, but couldn’t?”
Ahmbien nodded. “By next spring they will sail, unless the ships are destroyed.”
“Can they be?” asked Eberhart.
Ahmbien shrugged. “The raid cost Prince Jagiellon’s allies dearly. But it cost the Horde still more. Baku Khan was killed. Thus the Horde did not take and keep but returned to their grazing-lands to hold a convocation of the tribes, to choose a new leader, as is our tradition. Ghutir, the son of Baku, was named as the new Khan. But he died. Magic and poison were both blamed. Now, the succession is clouded. There is Gatu, the son of Baku’s younger sister, the grandchild of the Orkhan Berke. And there is a cousin, one Kildai, who is the great grandson of Batu Khan’s older sister, and is descended from Ulaghchi Khan on his mother’s side. It is complex.”
“Always seems to be,” said Eberhart, dryly. “And one of these would go south, and the other north. It would seem that being flanked by the same enemy would be unwise for anyone, let alone a master of tactics like the Mongol.”
“You speak soothly,” said Ahmbien with equal dryness. “Except… Gatu, we believe, has no intention of being flanked… by enemies.”
It took a moment for this to sink in. “I think I need to go and prepare certain messages, Your Excellency,” said Eberhart. He struggled to stand up, his knees complaining about the long time spent sitting on the cushions.
The Bashar Ahmbien waved him down. “Sit, my guest. I have more to tell you, and a proposal to make. I wish to introduce you to the Tarkhan Borshar.” He clapped his hands. A servant appeared, bowed. “Summon the Tarkhan Borshar of Dishmaq,” said the old man.
Borshar, when he arrived a few minutes later, was a tall shaven-headed man with the customary Mongol forelock. He showed not a trace of expression on his broad face. He bowed perfunctorily. Eberhart had met many functionaries in his long and varied life as an official of the States General. He was good at reading men. Borshar just came across as inscrutable. Eberhart did not like that.
Ahmbien coughed delicately. “The Ilkhan would take it kindly if you could prevail on your Venetian allies for us. Relations,” he smiled wryly, “are better between yourselves and them than between us and them. We need the good Tarkhan taken to the lands of Golden Horde. We believe that his presence can influence matters in a mutually beneficial fashion.”
Eberhart raised his eyebrows. “One man?”
Ahmbien shrugged. “And his escort, naturally. We have found one man in the right place can make a large difference. Of course it would help if that one man carries the word of the legitimacy of a marriage and the support of the Ilkhan.”
“The marriage of the elder sister of Batu Khan. It happened in times of war, and without the formality it should perhaps have been accorded. The claim of Gatu to the Khanate rests partially on the shoulders of that uncertainty, and partly on the youth of Kildai.”
It sounded good. That was enough to make Eberhart suspicious.
“Letters of safe conduct according those who accompany the Tarkhan the status of escorts to an envoy, will of course be provided, under the seal of the Ilkhan.”
Eberhart did not raise his eyebrows in surprise. But he wanted to. That was a signal privilege. The Mongols were legendary for the degree of safe-conduct accorded to such emissaries and their escorts.