Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 78

Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 78


October, 1540 A.D.

Chapter 43

Erik thought the large felt-lined tents which they had been assigned in the Golden Horde encampment were as defensible as a . . . piece of felt with a latticework of sticks. The setup was also such that the horses were kept in corrals some distance from their tents. “We will need to re-organize. We need to be able to keep our horses here,” he said firmly. “And Tarkhan. We need to organize the tents in a defensive ring around your quarters.”

For the first time since they had met him Borshar looked completely taken aback. “I will be staying in the quarters assigned to me by the Orkhan. Not with you.” His tone said ‘and thank heavens for that.’

Manfred shook his head. “No, M’lord. The terms of our letter of safe conduct require us to accompany the emissary of the Ilkhan. Your welfare and safety is our responsibility.”

“That responsibility ends here, among our own people,” said Borshar stiffly.

Manfred smiled with ineffable urbanity. “No, M’Lord Tarkhan. These are Mongol of the Golden Horde. I know as well as you do, that they do not recognize the suzerainty of the Ilkhan. We cannot therefore abandon our duty of guardianship. To do so will violate the agreement and our honor. We will not permit that.”

For a moment Borshar looked as he might dispute the existence of Frankish honor. But the knights of the Holy Trinity, in full armor and watching, seemed to un-nerve him. “Very well,” he said. “Let me speak to our hosts.”

“Erik will accompany you,” said Manfred.


“I can pay you no higher compliment than to send my personal bodyguard with you. He is one of the deadliest men alive,” said Manfred. “Besides he needs every opportunity he can get to hear the Mongol language spoken. He will be my aide, to make sure that translation is reasonably accurate, in the audiences you promised to facilitate.”

Borshar nodded. “I am sure it can all be arranged.”

And indeed, it was.

But Erik was unable to escape the feeling that the man was . . . almost pleased. Their new encampment was on the outer edge of the vast Mongol camp. And their horses were with them. But they had their backs to the river, and it was not a river that the armored men and horses could dream of swimming. There was some open land to the west, along the margin of the camp. Eric considered it as scarcely a better option than swimming. He was not surprised to discover that Falkenberg and Von Gherens regarded it in much the same light. It was a fairly somber Erik Hakkonsen that went back to Manfred and his new felt tent a little later, having extracted a modicum of information from the Mongol.

“I was wrong about how many men there are in this encampment,” said Erik.

Manfred raised his eyebrows. “More I suppose?”

Erik nodded. “A Tumen. A regiment. 10,000 men.”

“And thirty thousand horses,” said Falkenberg. “That’s their strength. They can change horses and just keep going. They’re lightly armored. I’ve yet to see a single firearm, but they’re good with those bows. They put a lifetime of training into them. Our armor is more effective against arrows than a ball. But our horses are less well protected, and they are accurate.”

“Their horses are small, though.”

Von Gherens nodded. “As much as two hands smaller than ours. But I think they will be tough little animals. Not needing a feed of oats ever day,” he said, looking at Manfred.

“My horse needs it. It has a lot of me to carry,” said Manfred. “So when are we going to get to present our credentials? If I am going to have to talk the sooner we get talking and get back out of here, the better.”

“Ah, so you are feeling uneasy after all? I thought that was a good performance about our agreement with the Ilkhan.”

Manfred shrugged. “Who wouldn’t be nervous, surrounded by 10,000 men? Now if they were 10,000 women like that Bortai . . .”

Erik snorted. “You’d be in even more trouble.”

“Probably true,” Manfred acknowledged. “You should talk to her about this situation. I must admit I got uneasy when Borshar was so keen to abandon us. I know. I know. The Mongol have a long tradition of honor to emissaries. We have a written appointment to that effect. But . . . Go talk to the Mongol woman.”

Erik went.

* * *

Bortai had watched and listened. How could she tell the Ilkhan’s tarkhan that something was very, very wrong? Perhaps things were done very differently these days in the Ilkhanate. She had been told that they had become quite fond of dwelling in cities and palaces, not in the traditional fashion. But surely he knew where envoys and their escort should be housed? She looked for an opportunity to speak with him or one of his bodyguard, but the only person was who came to hand was her unfortunate Tortoise clan betrothed. She still couldn’t think about that without a smile . . . well, outright laughter sometimes. And right now laugh was something she might as well do. She had put her head, and her little brother’s head, right inside the lion’s mouth. The tall white-blond Frankish Orkhan had of course put his own head inside the lion’s mouth too, but that was the work he had chosen as a mercenary. But . . . She still did not want him killed. He made her laugh, even if he was one of the lesser peoples.

He bowed and smiled. “Obviously the things that worry me, should not.”

“Oh. No,” she said feeling foolish. So he was not unaware. “You should be afraid. Very afraid. This is not the way a tarkhan should be treated. You should be in the encampment of the Orkhan. Not here. The drinking and feasting should have already begun.”

He looked troubled. “That may be my fault. I told them the first camp was not suitable.”

“But it was not. It was an insult. Like this. You were placed with the new arbans. The . . . what is the word,”– she too had learned some Frankish from him, “the recruits.”

“I knew something was wrong,” said Erik heavily. “I had understood that there was honor in the way the Mongol treat a tarkhan. Now I have to get Manfred out of here. Somehow. We need a barge.”

Since the last word was Frankish, she took a little time to work out what he wanted. And then to shake her head. Point to the wooden towers downstream and upstream of their camp. “Those have the ballista and arbalest . . . weapons for attacking cities. They practice on the . . . barges. Sink them. Throw large burning oil-vats at them. Even at night. It is full moon now.”

The foreign Orkhan looked as if he had swallowed something unpleasant. “They would have to defend against river attacks I suppose.”

“Yes. The Hungarians from Irongate have tried that. In my father’s time.”

Erik looked very thoughtfully at the towers. There was one not forty yards away. “Do you know anything about them? I mean, how they are defended?”

Her father had ordered their construction! Of course she did. But how would he know that? “Yes. I have been into one of them.”

“So . . . how many guards? . . . and the door appears open. Is there a portcullis I can’t see?”

It took a while to explain the portcullis. He plainly thought that it was some kind of fortification, not a siege tower. “Oh. There is no door. They are not for fighting from. They are for attack. We fight on horse. Not from behind a wall. Only the lesser people fight from behind walls.”

“No door!” he said, incredulously.

“Sometimes a heavy blanket is hung to stop the wind,” she conceded. “But the men would be trapped in there when there was fighting. A door would stop them reaching their horses.” The horses were tethered at the base of the tower. When the grazing was finished, they’d move the tower a little.

He shook his head, incredulously. “I saw the horses. I thought they were just being . . . he searched for the word. “Bad,” he settled on. It was plainly not quite what he wanted to say. “The weapons at the top. Could they be turned?”

It was her turn to look puzzled. “They do. To aim them at the river.”

“I mean right around. To aim at the camp,” explained Erik.

The idea had never occurred to her. It was shocking . . . and not without a savage pleasure. To drop a burning oil vessel on the Gatu Orkhan’s own ger. A dream! . . . looking at his face, she saw it was not so. Not as far as he was concerned.

“I don’t wish to ask you to betray your own kin,” he said, mistaking the expression on her face. “But I have to at least create a distraction if we’re to get out of here.”

“They are no kin of mine. My Clan are to the north,” she said proudly. “Not one Mingghan . . . no, not even one Arban here is from the White horde. We would have treated the tarkhan with suitable honor.”

“He . . . doesn’t seem unhappy. What is a Mingghan and an Arban?”

“An Arban . . .” she held up her fingers. “That many men. A Jahgun is that many Arban. A Mingghan than many Jaghun.” She sniffed. “And it is not right. So: so you plan to leave the encampment? You should. You and the tarkhan are not safe.”

Erik nodded. “That’s been my reading of the matter. But it doesn’t fit with the reputation of the Mongol.”

Bortai had to admit to herself that it did not. Yes, Gatu and some of his henchmen had fallen far from the path of Ulaghchi and the Yasa code. But honor was still strong among the rank and file. Most of them would not dream of attacking the envoy, any more than they would pass a blade through a hearth-fire or pollute water. “You would find a welcome among my Clan. Especially if Kildai were restored to them. He is doing better. He and the boy from Jerusalem talk a lot.”

“Heaven help us. That David is pure trouble,” said Eric with wary smile.

She nodded. “But he gets Kildai to do things that I could not.”

“Probably things that will lead him into the trouble he likes so much.”

Bortai shrugged. “It is tradition that boys of a certain age will do such things. Some of them die. Some learn. But Kildai cannot die. I have told him so.”

* * *

Erik absorbed this with an inward chuckle despite the situation they were in. He did not have a vast close experience of women, but he had observed enough from Manfred’s early conquests, Francesca, and of course his own iron-willed Mama. He had a feeling that this young Mongol woman might be every bit as iron-willed as his Mamma. She might lack Francesca’s finesse and skill in getting men to do what she wanted, but she probably would get there anyway. Without help. Erik felt faintly guilty. He had not compared her to Svanhild. It still hurt. And it always would. Svan had been different, she had been brave, yes, but not likely to get her own way, except that one would wish to make her happy.

Bortai interrupted his reverie. “Ion has gone out into the camp. He says they would not be looking for him here. I . . . I realize that I never knew a slave could have such courage. I knew they could be loyal, but Ion . . . he has risked his life for us. Do you have many slaves in your barbarian lands?”

Erik bit his lip. “In a manner of speaking I suppose. We have thralls. But there are few in Iceland now. They are more like family retainers, and Bishop Wulfstan got the Aetheling to pass a law that says the child of a thrall is a free-Carl. When we went to Norse Telemark the old system is still in place. But they do not . . .” he felt himself blush “cut them.”

“Cut them? Oh. You mean geld them. It is not common here. Common among the Ilkhan lands, I have been told. It was a custom there before the coming of the Ilkhan. We have found it best not to meddle in these matters among the subject people. They are easier ruled if you just remove that which irks them and leave them to their own traditions.”

Just when Erik thought he was getting used to her, this part slipped out. She seemed an ordinary, if strong minded young woman . . . and then the Mongol attitude would come through, making her sound like a princess. An arrogant princess, at that. Iceland was too small and thinly populated and wild for such attitudes . . . and Vinland too big. “I must go and discuss this with Von Gherens and Falkenberg,” he said stiffly. “Thank you for your help.”

* * *

Bortai watched him leave, feeling slightly forlorn. What had she said to offend him? He was certainly a fine Orkhan, for a foreign mercenary. She understood, a little, why the tarkhan would use such men. They were nearly as disciplined as Mongol and very . . . regimented. If Erik had been one of the people he would have been a mighty general. She still needed to ask him to arrange some kind of distraction. The encampment was guarded, of course. But if she and Kildai and Ion could get out to the north, and go through the camp, with a horse apiece . . . well, there would be a scout Hawk-clan scout or three hiding in the hills, watching this encampment, unless they had been so defeated and scattered as to have no organizational skills left. Back on the north bank of the great river, they could at least ride.

She sighed. They’d gained some ground, it was true. Kildai’s wits appeared to be as much back in his head as they ever were with a fourteen year old boy. They had some ponies — not the quality that she would have wished for, but better than nothing. They were on the north bank of the great river. But did they have to be right in the middle of Gatu’s Tumen? Gatu had spaced them two Mingghan abreast along the river — more convenient for water than a normal diamond or a circle formation with the patrol Mingghan on the inside with the orkhan’s personal Khesig. Plainly Gatu did not expect an attack. Her nails bit into her palms. Oh she would love it if the White Horde surprised him. But it was obviously unlikely.

* * *

The encampment of the foreign Knights was obviously guarded, as Ion expected. But slaves went to-and-fro, doing the menial tasks slaves did. Ion joined them. He was terrified of being recognized. On the other hand . . . no one looked at slaves, and he knew just how to be one, and what to do. He kept his head down.

And was recognized.

But not by someone who knew of his fall from grace as one of Nogay’s trusted slaves. “You. Here. Take this message to the ger of your master,” said the commander of the guard on the foreign encampment. “It is from the Ilkhan Tarkhan, or so his man said. I am not an errand boy. If he wishes me to carry messages he must speak with me himself.”

Almost fainting with fear, Ion bowed and took the roll of parchment and hurried off. He had no intention at all of arriving at the ger of Nogay. But he was not about to tell the noble lord that. So he took the message and went.

“The other way, you fool,” snapped the guard commander after him. So Ion went the other way until he was out of line of sight. He wished he could read. But at least he was away from the guard-commander. Ion was looking for two things . . . the best way across this camp, and some other slaves. Slaves liked to talk. And they always knew exactly what their masters were doing. Like Princess Bortai, he knew that something was amiss. And they would know what it was.

Of course the talk was all about the things that slaves found vital. Food. Punishment. Gossip about the sexual liaisons of their masters. There was nothing quite as pleasing as knowing something about his wife that he would not wish you to know . . . or that he did not know himself. Inevitably too, it was about the foreigners and of course, and of course he had been seen leaving their camp.

“So how do they treat their slaves? Do they beat you often?” asked a grizzled oldster. “And what are the women like?”

“I’ve heard the men have no balls and the slaves have to service the women for them,” said a younger one, hopefully.

Ion rolled his eyes. “And they all have six breasts.”


“Don’t be stupid. They only have four,” said another slave, grinning. “Anyway, we’ll find out tomorrow. What’s the loot like?”


“You know. Well, when the masters are finished with them tomorrow are there going to be any pickings for us?”

“They are quite wealthy,” said Ion, fishing. “They keep their food in the plain saddle-bags. The cloth ones.”

“That’s no use. Saddlebags are always taken by the masters. Can’t you empty some out tonight? They won’t take food when they divide up the loot.”

“What about the other slaves?”

Ion did not tell them they had no slaves, or at least none with them. He would never have been believed. So he lied a little. That too was perfectly normal. You learned to cut the through the chaff of lies to gain the kernel of truth.

And the truth was that the slaves were expecting a massacre. Advising him to keep out of the way in the morning. Hoping to secure a little loot that their masters considered too irrelevant in the aftermath.

And they too could not understand how this was to be. There were several who had seen Ilkhan Tarkhan come from Kerch in years past. The emissary and the truce were sacred. Their masters knew that too, and were troubled by it all, by the sounds of it.

But they were all looking forward to tomorrow . . . when whatever it was would happen.

Ion made his way back to the encampment, avoiding the way he had come in, and the Captain of the guard, back to Princess Bortai, still with the little roll of parchment in his ragged cotte. He was a troubled man. Somehow they would have to get out of this camp, past the guards on the far side and then flee north tonight . . . for two or three days at the least, and possibly a week—his grasp of distances and places was rudimentary. He had always been told where and when to go, and when to stop.

* * *

Erik pointed at the rough map that they had prepared. “That is a kill-zone. They want us to try to flee along the river’s edge. They expect us to go there.”

Falkenberg nodded. “We exercised the horses along there. As if we were having a good scout around. There is a low berm between the Mongol camp and the river. The ground is marshy. Not good for a charge.”

“Good place to get strung out, which is exactly what the Mongol liked, historically,” said Von Gherens.”

“This is all based on the assumption that we’re going to have to break out of here by force,” said Eberhart.

Erik looked grim. “Based on what I heard from Bortai, that is an assumption we’re going to have to consider likely. We must prepare for it.”

Eberhart looked like a balky mule. Erik was normally fairly tactful — by Erik’s standards — with the old diplomat. “It’s not a scenario that history holds likely,” he said.

Manfred rubbed his jaw. “Prepare for the worst. Preparation hurts no-one. And I don’t like this either.”

“For goodness sake don’t kill anyone during your preparations,” said the old man grumpily. “That would cause more problems than I think I could ever sort out.”

“We have very carefully left Kari out of our deliberations,” said Erik, “for precisely that reason. Now, has bombardier Von Thiel got some spare powder? We’re going to need a large scale distraction. And do we consult with Borshar? Or at least his bodyguard? We may have to take him with us . . .”

There was the sound of argument outside the felt-lined tent, including a very determined female voice, and a couple of words of Frankish interspersed with high speed Mongol.

“She can’t keep away from you, Erik,” said Manfred.

The knight on guard outside the tent was plainly no match for Bortai in this mood. He escorted the young woman inside. Manfred noticed that her hands were twitching into claws. If he’d been the poetic sort he’d have said that her eyes were spitting fire. The Prince of Brittany had met a few girls of that type and in that state over the years. You were wise to start running. He wondered just what Erik had managed to do. She appeared to be too angry to be coherent. She’d picked up a handful of words of Frankish from Erik, but right now there was just a torrent of Mongol pouring out of her. She pulled a roll of parchment out of her waistband and flung it on the floor in front of Erik.

“What’s all this about?” asked Manfred, wondering just what trouble his innocent — in many of the ways of the world — friend, bodyguard and mentor had got himself into with the woman. He’d not seriously thought Erik would get himself involved with any woman again, let alone write letters to her.

“Something to do with Borshar,” said Erik, holding up a soothing hand. He picked up the roll of parchment, and said something to her, which Manfred could only assume meant ‘slowly’. Erik unrolled the parchment as Bortai began speaking again. Slowly. Too loudly, as if to a half-wit. After a few moments she got that under control too. She plainly had the sort of iron control that made wise men afraid. Manfred peered at the parchment in Erik’s hands. It was in some foreign script, and most probably in some foreign tongue. He was fairly certain Erik hadn’t written it, unless the boy from Jerusalem was a much better teacher than he’d seemed to be.

“She says,” said Erik incredulously, “that this is a letter from the tarkhan to Nogay. One of the orkhan’s generals. Her slave was given it to deliver to him. I am not following exactly why or how, but she did tell me earlier that he was going scouting in the camp for her.” He paused. Listened to some more of Bortai’s explanation. “Ah. The slave used to be in the service of this General. The man who gave him the message did not know that this was no longer true. So her man brought her the message. He almost forgot it. He did not know that it was important, as he does not read.”

“We can’t read it either,” said Manfred. “But I gather the Ilkhan are not as out of contact with the Golden Horde as they would have had us believe, if they are sending notes to prominent Generals. Or is he their spy?”

Erik spoke to her. She shook her head. Spoke some more. “She says the Golden Horde and the Ilkhan have exchanged emissaries in the past, yes, but not for five years now. But she says this,” he tapped the parchment, “is treachery. They plan to kill us all.”

“What? Explain. I thought they respected envoys and their escorts,” said Manfred.

“Except that we are described by another word,” said Erik.

“And that is?”

“Hostage takers,” said Erik. “She says this note says it must be made clear to the men of the Blue horde, that we are holding the tarkhan hostage.”

“What!” came from several of the audience.

And now it was not just Bortai who looked furious.

Eberhart shook his head. “We have a writ of safe conduct, appointing us escorts to emissary of the Ilkhan.”

“It seems it will not be worth very much. If we ever get a chance to show it to anyone . . .

“The lady would have had to be one of the greatest actresses under heaven to have played that as well as she has,” said Erik.

Manfred nodded. “True. But she could have been duped. I mean to get such a piece of evidence . . .”

“Which we can’t read,” said Eberhart.

“That I could very easily solve, in part,” said Erik. “The little book of Mongol-Frankish translations that Benito gave me, gives the words in Mongol script –based on the Chinese I believe. Even a few words would do to verify the document. But someone else will have to do it. I need to scout. And I think I am are going to need Kari.”

Erik’s expression was as grim as any Manfred could remember seeing on his face. “I am afraid I can no longer promise, Eberhart, not to kill anyone in our preparations.”

“What do we do about the tarkhan?” asked Von Gherens. “He’d do as a hostage, damn his eyes. Let him be what he claims to be.”

Erik looked at Manfred. Who nodded, slowly. “Bring him here. Now. Do it with respect but with fairly massive force. I could use some explanations, if nothing else. It is our duty to escort him. We’re going to take it very seriously.”

Erik pointed to one of the knights. “Von Meul, take thirty of the knights, in full armor, and bring him and his entourage here.”

But when they got to the large ger, the customary Mongol guards were not there. And neither was the supposed occupant. A slit in the rear, and darkness, had allowed them to slip away. It did look as if they planned to return — all their possessions were there. A guard of twenty knights was left, waiting.

* * *

“No,” General Nogay said rigidly. “I did not get your message. I simply was warned by . . .”

He shuddered slightly. That happened quite often, when he thought of Grand Duke Jagiellon and his steel eyes. “The voice from Vilnius, of your coming some weeks ago. I was told, and passed the message onto Gatu that your escort were to die, barring a select handful. I was told that you would arrange a suitable pretext. The men will be unhappy about this.”

“There is a guard commander that I will see flogged to death,” said Borshar furiously. “I sent one of my men out to give him the message to be delivered to you. I did not want to be seen speaking to him myself. This may delay our plans a little. I had discussed the matter with General Okagu — who escorted us this far. It is necessary that the rank and file be told that they have taken me hostage.

“But I have been told that they have a writ of safe conduct.”

“A forgery,” said Borshar. “A tool to gain close access to the Orkhan and kill him. They do not wish him to become Khan of the Golden Horde.”

Nogay shook his head. “But they would surely die if they did that? No one would believe it plausible.”

Borshar shook his head. “They are religious fanatics. They believe themselves secure in the promise of paradise if they die in the service of their God.”

Nogay snorted. “I have heard of such madmen. Some of those out of Alamut were supposed to hold that mad belief.”

He wondered why Borshar stared at him like that. But as the man’s dilated pupils barely seemed able to focus, Nogay ordered food and kvass, and sent a messenger to the ger of the Orkhan. He cursed mildly the loss of the slave he had used for such errands. Ion had been reliable and quick thinking, unlike this clod. He had a moment’s regret that he had ordered the man killed. At the time it had seemed justified.

Neither of them noticed that one of Borshar’s bodyguards, fat Tulkun, had slipped away.

* * *

When Bortai had heard Ion’s declaration that there was a massacre of the foreign mercenary guard planned, she had taken it for the usual slaves talk. Exaggerated and wildly fanciful, manufactured out of half-heard rumors. She had wanted more certainty about the disposition of horses and guards. He had told her what he could, and she’d regretted that he was no trained warrior. He missed things they would have noted without a second thought. Still, she knew more now . . . And then he’d remembered the roll of parchment he’d been given. Naturally he gave it to her. He could not read it himself.

She’d had to read it twice to believe it. At which point all her planning for their escape had gone for a long run out of the ger door — not as fast as she had, heading for the ger in which the foreign Orkhan and his knights met. She’d been too furious to think about what she would do when she got there. It never occurred to her that anyone might not believe her. She was Bortai, Princess of the Hawk Clan.

She’d been a little taken aback that they had not instantly sprung to arms. It had taken a while to work out that the old white-haired foreigner doubted the truth of the entire matter. But Erik Orkhan, and his second in command Manfred — who was perhaps a war-Shaman — did. Bortai wondered why it had never occurred to her before that the big man might be a foreign Shaman. It would explain why he was always so carefully guarded. Enemies would stop at nothing to kill such a one. But the foreigners were different to the Golden Horde. Such a breach of honor, such a deception, would have had the Mongol onto their horses first and thinking and planning later. These lesser people were also less inclined to precipitous action. She bit her lip. It might not actually be a bad idea to behave thus, sometimes. Being cooler-headed was perhaps not a bad thing, when they were plainly facing a terrible war.

Such betrayal and insult would have to be repaid with a bloody finale. She’d been told as much by Tulkun, and seen it in their conduct. They had been an honorable escort, for mercenaries, drawn from lesser peoples. There was honor, and then there was Mongol Honor, and this Tarkhan certainly had not lived up to it. At the same time, it occurred — belatedly — to her that a bloody death-battle was not going to help her in her stern duty: to get Kildai back to the Hawk clan, back to the White horde.

Erik came over to her and bowed. “Lady, we thank you for the warning. It was an honorable thing to do.”

She found herself coloring slightly. “I am Bortai.” What more explanation was needed?

He nodded. “We need to get Manfred out of here, and keep him alive. We’ll be riding right through the camp in about three hours time. We will have to abandon our pack-train, and much of our gear.”

“You flee?”

“We have a task ordered us. Manfred must be guarded. This does not appear worth much.” he held out a piece of parchment with the royal seal of Ilkhan on it.

“May I see it?” she asked, meaning the seal. She was disappointed in their flight . . . and yet this Shaman must be of great value, that they would put him before bloody revenge. They did not seem cowards.

“Certainly. Eberhart wanted to check it for loopholes. There are none in the Frankish,” said Erik.

It was written in two scripts, neatly and with artistry, as such a document should be. She could not read any Frankish but the Chinese-Mongol script was clear and familiar. It was in every detail a writ of safe conduct for the escort of the tarkhan Borshar, and carried the seal of the Ilkhan. Bortai had written similar documents for her father. How dared anyone violate such a document? It would mean war.

And then it struck her. It would mean war.

War between the Hordes, as had nearly happened before Orkhan Berke’s death three hundred years ago. War between clans as had happened after Ulaghchi Khan’s death. It put a different slant on the need for flight. There would be time for revenge — once this piece of treachery — because it could be nothing but treachery — was dealt with.

As to why: she could see why it would be of great advantage to a power to the north to have the Golden Horde at war with the Ilkhan. Many unlikely alliances had been made by common enemies.

“We can offer little in the way of security for you and you brother now, I am afraid,” said Erik. “We will happily take you along, but you will have to leave your cart and everything that cannot be carried on horseback. And is your brother fit to ride?”

“I think so,” said Bortai, seriously. “If we stay we will be killed. And now that I understand this,” she tapped the paper. “It is vital that you should not be killed. That you should present this — and the letter from Borshar to Berte at the great kurultai.”

“I thought that was over and broken up.”

“Yes. But we will hold a new one. Gatu Orkhan and his men will find themselves under the carpet.”

“Under the carpet?”

“Yes. Nobles are put to death thus. Rolled in a carpet and the horses stampeded over them,” she said, relishing the thought. “I go to prepare Kildai to ride.”

“Better put both David and him together on one of our spare mounts,” said Erik. “They’re a little bigger and better conditioned than yours, even if they probably don’t have the stamina, and those two don’t weigh much. David can keep him in the saddle. And Kildai can handle the horse better than the boy can.”

He paused. “I would tell your brother that he does it for the Jerusalem lad’s sake. David is not the rider that Kildai is. He’ll be more willing to do it then.”

Bortai smiled. He was a good commander of boys, not just men. She knew this break had a very poor chance of success and that the orkhan’s Tumen would follow them like relentless wolves. But survive and defeat them they must. Or the Blue and White Hordes — that now made up the Golden horde — would split, diminish and be eaten by the power to the north.

The ger flap swung open . A pair of knights stood there, escorting plump Tulkun, the Ilkhan Tarkhan’s bodyguard. “He keeps saying your name, Ritter Hakkonsen. He came back like a thief in the night. We don’t understand another word he’s saying.”

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