An Historical Romance by C.
Khan and his Toba princess are fictions rooted in historical fact. When
the story opens in 1290 (690 A.H.), the Mongol conquests initiated by
Genghiz Khan have been extended and consolidated by his extensive
family. Iran and the Middle East are ruled by the Ilkhans, descendants
of Genghiz’s grandson Hulegu. China is ruled by Genghiz’s grandson
Qubilai (Coleridge’s Kubla Khan), founder of the Yuan Dynasty and
nominally Great Khan (Qaghan). The northern part of central Asia is
occupied by the Golden Horde, and the southern part by the
Chaghatayids. Local wars are common, and neither the Golden Horde nor
the Chaghatayids pay much attention to the far away Chinese ruler.
Despite such family quarrels, the Mongol innovations still hold firm —
emblems of authority (paitze), teams of horsemen for government
correspondence and intelligence (elchi) and election of new leaders at
a tribal gathering (kuriltai). Originally Shamanists (Tengris is the
great spirit), the Mongols are attracted to Daoism with its search for
eternal youth, but later convert to Islam in the west and Buddhism in
the east. Searches for spiritual enlightenment are not unusual in this
period of upheaval, and Qubilai is following traditional practice in
dispatching Chinese princesses to strengthen alliances with barbarian
rulers (Marco Polo accompanied one such mission). A poem in thirteen parts available
as free e-book.
It is the year six-ninety of the Prophet
And thirty of Qubilai on the throne —
weak, totters, would well be off it,
his death-name on the stone,
But thick and heavy as the mountain dew
burst the blood from the quriltai
Du'a attain it, or old Qaidu:
knows that the crafty but weary Qubilai.
So they must bring me from riding at will
long green slopes of the great Tien Shan —
from morning, unknown until
clouds close over our allotted span.
Gap-toothed and jagged, peaks wind to the sky,
the valleys give way to snow.
wind here is barbed, brings tears to the eye;
and snowy the waters flow.
Around me gerfalcon and hawk: aloft and dive,
long we worked up the deep blue skies.
one feels open, at large and alive;
is deep beneath the eyes.
Why should I turn back, obey these commands?
I had and in Argun's hand.
Great Prince, this is Qubilai's land:
is the seal of his countermand.
My commission is simple, my lords: to gain
secret incised in the viper's tooth.
the passes or over the plain
for the Ilkhan eternal youth.
Yours is the will 'o the wisp then, Prince.
many have ridden this far in vain.
it be that words won't convince
Tunhuang is also our lord's domain
Where you may question the gray-bearded scholars
their days over golden books:
thought comes afar as the spring's first swallows,
wizened as their looks.
Within the cliffs of a thousand Buddhas
Beyond all error
that is asked is as good as
in this distant place.