A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Normally after I’ve finished a story I write a little introduction, musing about what inspired me to write it, or perhaps trying to explain certain words or phrases that were used. In any event, with this particular story my introduction was quickly spiraling out of control with the details about who 13th century Mongols were and so on. History lessons are lovely in theory, when you’re in school and not thinking about sex, but kills the mood in any other context. With that in mind I removed those notes and placed them at the end as an postscript. Here, though, is a summary of the characters for those who might find the Chinese and Mongolian names a wee bit confusing. Cheers!
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Saru’sinul-tu — Young Mongol warrior from the now extinct Kara-Khitan tribe of Mongols. Her name means, “the lust that can only be found in the moonlight.”
Lady Linshui — Brilliant Chinese general and practitioner of Taoist dark magic during the Ming Dynasty. Her friends and foes alike call her the Witch Bone. It is her goal to conquer everything between the Yellow River to the Danube. The crumbling Mongol empire is the only thing standing in her way.
Turakina Khatun — Granddaughter of Genghis Khan on her mother’s side. The title Khatun is the female equivalent of the Khan. Her ferocity in battle has earned her the Persian nickname of, “Divooneh,” the Crazy or the Mad One.
Fatima — Borjigin Mongol, like her queen, Turakina. She is the younger woman’s tutor, bodyguard and lover. It is she who first witnesses Saru’sinul-tu during the Battle of Qaraqata.
Une-Khitay — Mongolian general and uncle to Saru’sinul-tu.
Une-Calada — The Mongolian general tasked with laying siege to Beijing.
Baatarsaikhan and Avtalyon — Cousins to Saru’sinul-tu.
General Hu Hua-Yong and General Jui Jy-Shou — Loyal Chinese generals under the command of Lady Linshui.
Ubaid al-Jayyani — Muslim warlord who, through political connections, holds the post of Taishi, a rank similar to that of a Grand Vizor.
* * *
The heat from sun’s rays quivered the air; a heat ignorant of the waters above the cloudless skies, a heat that blurred all far-flung objects alike. Across this kingdom of sand, camped around a small oasis of palms, lay a fire-cooled horde: Mongolian nomads, shepherds of the steppes. Naked bodies of men and women were stretched equally upon the ground in what little glinting shade they could find. It was Thursday on the southern edge of the Gobi desert, what the Chinese called the plains of Xi Xia.
These were more than nomads, however; they called themselves the Warriors of the Eternal Blue Sky, made up from various conquered Mongolian tribes that the Great Khan, Genghis, had brought under his control. Kara-Khitan women lay side by side with male shepherds from the Dorben clan. The Khurilar, the Uriankhat and the Khori Tumed rode along side with their once bitterest of enemies, the Ma’alikh-baya’ut. The air was full of the the musky odor of nutmeg and orange slices, sweat and horses, Damascus steel and drying blood. Genghis had united them and taught them the “three divine arts:” riding horses, shooting arrows and wrestling. On horseback they wore round caps of metal adorned with bands of wild animal pelts. The cloth of their deels, roughly made from flannel dyed, had once been dark in color but the sun bleached everything to a pale lilac. Oxen-hide shields hung against the palms with bows and cheerily painted quivers full of arrows lay by their side. On horseback they were the greatest riders in the world: indomitable in strength, fantastical in courage. Bu in the soul-sapping heat, however, even just resting in the shade, they had become slow, sweet, dazzled and dim. Little droplets of sweat covered necks and breasts, pendulous balls, thick round asses and wiry pubic hair.
Near the horde’s larger grove was a smaller one. In the center was a large tent, a ger, which had been recently erected. The exterior was made out of canvas, dyed a dark blue to keep the heat of the sun away. Around this tent all manners of slaves worked. Korean grooms rubbed down the coats of squat little ponies. A Berber cook, captured in a caravan raid, watched three Chinese eunuchs under his supervision prepare a feast.
Inside the ger the walls were hung with plum and gold silk. A carpet from the looms of Armenia covered the floor. On it were spread four chairs, on which sat the officers who would oversee that their raid into China was successful. Their commander was a man of some fifty years of age, the sort with a face that expressed both energy and resolution. He wore a plush, velvet hat symbolizing his rank, one that had an upturned brim with an embossed pointed top. A gold belt encircled his waist. On his feet were a pair of upturned boots that prevented him from slipping out of his stirrups during an impassioned battle charge. His named was Une-Khitay Khan and was at the time considered the greatest military strategist alive … the greatest male military strategist, that is.
Next to him sat his companions; two were young men, his nephews, dressed in outfits similar as to their uncle. The fourth member of the party was a teenage girl whose muscles, showing clearly beneath her skin, testified to a life of hard work and poverty.
Powerful as the Mongolian empire once had been, the events of the last few decades showed to all who cared to see that a life and death struggle with the Ming Dynasty was fast approaching. Genghis Khan had subdued China once, but now the conquering nation of Mongolia stood on the brink of collapse.
The girl, Saru’sinul-tu, niece of Une-Khitay, had been, from her earliest memories, trained by her uncle to survive. When she was ten years-old Une-Khitay took her with him on a campaign in Salji’ut steppes; there she had bathed in the frigid water from the melting runoff of snow up in the ice-clad hills. She had kept up with the rapid flight of the Khan’s horsemen, sent out in pursuit of the rebelling Qongrat tribes.
“It is not enough that we can trace our blood back to the Great Khan,” her uncle had often said. “There was a time when Kara-Khitan horsemen alone won our battles and subdued our foes. But today we are few and the Ming empire is vast. Beijing looms greater and more powerful year by year. That is why we must make every effort to show ourselves worthy of domination. That is why I mentioned of our queen, Turakina Katun, who, young as she is, is said to be the greatest woman in all of Mongolia.”
Saru’sinul-tu nodded. She was an apt student. She could wield the curved scimitar of a warrior. She could swim the coldest river; traverse long distances at the top speed; send an arrow with infallible aim to a target as the best of any Chinese archer could.
“The sun is going down, uncle,” the girl said, standing by the door of the ger, “the heat is slackening off.”
“If you say so, Saru’sinul-tu,” one of the younger men laughed, “I feel just as sweaty now as I ever have. This is the fifteenth time that you have been to the door in the last half hour. Your restlessness is driving us all crazy.”
“Avtalyon, dear,” the girl replied, laughing in turn. “It’s the first time we’re going to see the Forbidden City! I’m sure you are longing to test your bow and arrow on something other than Onggirat tribesmen.”
“It’ll be the first time we sacked the Forbidden City, you mean, Saru’sinul-tu,” the young man replied, “but the Chinese will not leave the fortress they call Jinyi until dawn so I’m well content to be quiet until then.”
“Your cousin is right, niece,” the general said, “impatience is not a virtue.”
“And yet brother Baatarsaikhan says nothing at all about that,” Avtalyon remarked, turning around to look at his cousin sitting next to him. “I bet during the five hours we’ve sat here that his thoughts have never once been on what the Witch Bone might or might not do.”
“That is true,” Baatarsaikhan said, speaking for the first time. “I am thinking of Mongolia, of the corruption and misrule that saps our strength.”
“It is best not to talk about that, Baatarsaikhan,” the general said, sternly. “The subject is a dangerous one; there are spies for the Taishi everywhere. To be denounced as hostile to our regent, even if he is a foreigner, is to be lost.”
“I know the risks,” the young man answered, rising from his chair and walking up and down the ger. “I know that so far all who have ventured to raise their voices against our new regent have disappeared. Yet, even if the dangers were ten times as great I cannot keep silent. What has Ubaid al-Jayyani gotten us into? His extravagance and corruption have drained imperial finances and paralyzed our army. The tribes of Uru’ut and Khurilar have been lost to us. Our allies in the Himalayas, Russia and India turn their backs in shame that so mighty an empire has sunk so low. How can a Borjigin who loves his ancestry remain silent?”
“All you speak of is true, Baatarsaikhan,” the general said, sighed, “though I should be flayed alive were it whispered outside the ger that I said so; but at present we can do nothing. Had the great Altan-Bolod lived, then I believe that he would have set himself to clean out the First Queen’s stables; but now no warrior living today could accomplish that. You know how every attempt at revolt against Ubaid al-Jayyani has failed; how our people have, again and again, been crushed into the dust just when victory seemed likely. No, Baatarsaikhan, we must suffer all of which you speak of until some hero arises, some leader and deliverer.”
Here the older man stood up as well, paused and then continued.
“I have hopes, great hopes,” he said, in an even lower voice, “that such a soul might be found in our queen, Turakina Khatun, who seems to possess all the genius, wisdom and military talent of our Great Khan. But hush. Let us speak of this no more. I suspect that even among my servants there are spies in league with Ubaid al-Jayyani.
There was silence in the ger. Saru’sinul-tu slumped down in her chair, for a time forgot even that the next day, or possibly the day after, they would be at the outskirts of Beijing. With the impulsiveness of youth and a fiery heart Saru’sinul-tu, naturally, inclined to the perspectives of her nephew, Baatarsaikhan, rather than to the more sober counsel of her uncle. She still burned with shame and anger as she heard the tales of disasters which had broken the sons and daughter of Temujin, making money their god, suffering their armies to become paupers, permitting the the nomadic people of the steppes to become servants to alien agents and lords. This was Taoist sorcery cast by far wiser and far seeing foes than anything Genghis Khan could even dream about.
As evening closed in the stir in the neighboring camp aroused Saru’sinul-tu from her thoughts. A singer was called for and an old man played upon a horse-headed fiddle.
“There is a khan’s daughter; I shall tell you, I shall tell you, I shall. Who strides forth in a queen-like way, and has the claws of a hundred tigers. Who strides forth in a mother-like way, and has the jaws of a thousand tigers. Who strides forth in a warrior’s way, because she is rules over all the tigers.
For months rumors had flown across the border that something sinister, something terrible, was slowly gathering itself together in the heart of China. Those who believed in magic claimed that the Ming court had finally hired a Taoist witch to raise the dead, or perhaps to craft an army out of stone, to lead against the Mongols. The Parliament of the Steppes hurriedly came together and it was decided to meet this threat, whatever it was, head on.
The expedition had arrived at the small oasis the previous evening. During the night the deep howling of wolves could be heard endlessly among the foothills. So close were they that the watch guards were required to light great grass fires to scare off the nights cats from making any attack upon their war horses.
The evening dragged on.
Just before dawn, as Saru’sinul-tu was drifting in and out of sleep, she heard a sudden challenge from a sentry outside, followed instantly by loud and piercing screams from hundreds of throats. She sprang to her feet.
“Outside!” Une-Khitay cried, only half dressed, but clutching his sword. “The enemy is upon us!”
Looking about in the dark Saru’sinul-tu could seem to locate her sword. All her hands discovered was a long, bamboo stick used for stirring fish ponds. Clutching this she rushed out of the ger, right behind her uncle.
* * *
Save for the sighs of the wounded and the gasps of the dying nothing rose into the air except the circling shadows of vultures whose black wing tips swept ever closer while the roar of battle died away. The sun hung, as it always did, a ball of frustration, glowering down upon the western hills. Across the trampled fields all was quiet, no war drums echoed. The screaming was over. Those who could had fled while the rest lay where they had fallen.
On her gangling mare, high above a hillside copse, Fatima watched, as she had been doing ever since the first streaks of dawn had appeared, back when the sleeping hosts of the idiot general Une-Calada Khan had awaken to find themselves amidst a flying forest of arrows and in confusion had moved out onto the plains of Xi Xia, there to meet the relentless hordes of Lady Linshui, the most trusted general of the debauched Hongwu Emperor.
Fatima had tsk-tsked in surprise and disapproval when she saw the glittering squadrons of mounted Chinese warriors draw out in front of the masses of their slow but loyal foot soldiers, leading a sloppy advance. They were the best Northern China had to offer: cavalries from the Tangut tribes, the Jin and the Jurchen and the Minyak. But to Fatima they seemed only amateurs and she shook her head. They were going up against the likes of old Qaidu Khan and his amazon daughter, Khutulun, a warrior who was, as the 14th century chronicler, Ghiyasud din Khwandamir of India, once put it, “a superb general; one who could ride upon the enemy ranks and snatch up a solider, all the while on horseback and with one hand, as easily as a hawk snatches a sparrow.” This battle would determine much, for civil war was about to divide the Mongolian tribes once again.
Watching, she had become dumbfounded at the Mongolians charge. With a thunderous roar they attacked the vanguard of Lady Linshui and then swept up the long slope of a hill into the teeth of raking fire from Chinese archers hidden over the crest. Fatima had seen the Chinese launch their whole might against the oncoming cuirassiers, the Mongolian light cavalry. She had seen the cuirassiers turn, collapse and scatter, the horse-plumed riders toppling off backwards from their steeds, dead before they hit the ground. Fatima wondered: who was leading such a sloppy attack against an army that should be so easy to beat? Where was wise Qaidu Khan? Where was iron Khutulun?
She had watched, amazed, as the Kara-Khitan horsemen swept on, reckless of both their horses’ endurance and of their own lives, blindly crossing the ridge where the enemy lay. From her vantage-point Fatima could see both sides of that ridge and she knew that there lay the main power of the Chinese army: forty-two thousand foot soldiers, the dreaded skirmishers, all in heavy armor, bearing spears and cruel, curved swords. As they crested the ridge the Kara-Khitans realized that the real battle still lay ahead of them. But by now their horses were all haggard, their bow strings broken, their hearts choked with grime and pain and the first hint of defeat.
Fatima had seen the Mongols waver and look back for their leaders. In desperation the horse warriors hurled themselves at the massed enemy, trying to break their ranks by stupid fury alone. That charge never reached the enemy’s line. Instead, a storm of arrows that blackened the sun and sang as they sped through the sky broke their charge. The whole first rank of horses and riders went down, quilled like porcupines. In the spray of red ruin that leaped up the next line behind them stumbled and fell as well, their horses trampling the dead and wounded alike.
All this Fatima had seen in bewilderment. She had seen, too, the shameful retreat of certain Mongol warlords, the savage last-stand of others. On horseback, on foot, besieged, they all fell, one by one, while the storm of battle broke around them and the blood-drunk heavenly army — for Lady Linshui was said to command a celestial army of shamanesses, tamed female demons, queens and their consorts — all fell upon the Mongol invaders. Retreating, lords thundered through the ranks of their very own tribesmen. Whole cuirassiers units fled in confusion while others received the full force of the Chinese wrath. Men and women staggering backwards stubbornly, opposing every gained foot, but unable to check the unvanquishable foe.
Now, as Fatima scanned the field, the celestial army had paused and returned to loot the dead and cut up the dying. Those Mongolian lords who had not fallen had flung down their bows and surrendered. On the farther side of the dry valley Fatima shivered at the screams which rose into the sky. Lady Linshui’s warriors were butchering their prisoners.
“Tengri!” muttered Fatima. “My mother’s people bragged that they could hold up the sky forever on the tips of their arrows. Now the sky has fallen and the dead are meat for the vultures!”
Reining her horse Fatima rode away through the copse of trees. The woman had come this way not to witness history, but rather because she was on a mission assigned to her by her own queen. However, even as she emerged out onto the rocky hillside she saw a prize that no pure-blooded Borjigin could refuse. Red eyed and racing in a lather, a tall steppe horse sped by in a cloud of dust. Fatima spurred forward quickly, hoping to catch the flapping reins. Finally, having caught the high-strung warhorse, she trotted swiftly down the slope with her prize, away from the silence and stink of the battlefield.
Suddenly she stopped among a clump of stumps and burrs. Right in front of her Fatima beheld a small pack of men retreating. A tall, richly clad warlord stood in their middle. His helmet was gone. He was broad shouldered with skin an almond brown, as was the fashion at the time he sported a mustache and goatee. He was grunting and cursing as he attempted to hobble along using a broken spear as a crutch.
As Fatima watched, the big man stumbled and fell. The small band stopped and surrounded their lord. A strange feeling came over Fatima, as if she was being watched. She turned around, looking about the copse of trees. Nothing.
Then, out from the bush, emerged a girl, the likes of which Fatima had never seen before, even among the feral Borjigins of her people. She was taller than Fatima by a good foot, her strides were like that of a mountain dog. Her long, braided hair framed an oval face with ludicrously long eyelashes; her disorderly, bushy eyebrow were the sort legends were made of. Her skin was the color of the moon. The bamboo staff that she held in one hand looked flimsy enough, though her dirty deel was torn and splattered. Her arm was stained red up to an elbow; blood dripped from a deep slash in her upper forearm.
“Boovu saa!” spat the wounded warlord in Manchurian, a dialect of which Fatima understood a bit, “we lost the war.”
“No, my khan, we shall only lose a horde of old imbeciles who have been shaming the legacy of the Great Khan for some twenty years or more,” the Kara-Khitan girl replied. Her voice was hard and alien, like the drone of a wasp in the air.
The rich man swore again. “What the fuck do you know about war, girl? Make yourself useful before those damn Chinese find us. Get me a new horse. I broke my ankle when my last one was shot out from under me.”
“Those who show their backs upon a field of slaughter make the best moving targets, or so I have been told.”
“Shut your mouth before I have these men shut it for you!”
The tall girl dropped the point of her stick to the earth and stared at the others soberly.
“You give commands as if you still sat in your mother’s ger, Une-Calada Khan. If it weren’t for imbeciles like you we might have destroyed Linshui today.”
“Yanhan!” roared the khan from the ground, his narrow face crimsoning, “I will not listen to this insolent female! I’ll have you flayed alive, are you listening to me?”
“O, I am listening, Une-Calada. I listened when you shouted down the Parliament of the Steppes in our council of war,” snarled the girl, her eyes glittering dangerously. “I listened when you called Odval of the Choros a ‘know-nothing woman’ because she urged the Parliament to allow her to lead the main assault with her tribe. I listened when you had the ear of that fool of a Grand Vizier from Persia, Ubaid al-Jayyani, so that in the end he commanded you to lead the charge that ruined us all. Now you — who turned coward quicker than anyone else when you saw what your stupidity had done to the army of the Great Khan — now you order me to hold my tongue?”
“Yes, you Kara-Khitan bitch!” screamed the man, convulsed with fury and pain. “You shall pay for this!”
“O, I’ll pay,” said the young girl, feeling blood-red rage roil up from behind her eyes. “You have heaped insults upon my people ever since we joined this regiment. I am not afraid to die, provided I get to settle our score first.”
The nearest Mongolian bodyguard stepped forward, drawing his sword and reaching out toward the girl’s arm. Before he could stretch his fingers, however, the girl’s bamboo flickered in her hand and stabbed into his wrist. The swordsman shouted in surprise, felt a white-hot pain against his suddenly broken wrist and dropped his sword. The bamboo flickered upward, followed by another stab, this time into the man’s right eye. The bodyguard screamed as he covered his gouged-out eyeball with his one good hand.
The girl’s movement might have been as simple as a dance step but for some reason the second swordsman could not block nor even avoid her bamboo either. The other five bodyguards took a collective step backwards. One of them yanked out his sword and attempted to thrust it toward the girl’s beautiful face. As the sword tip leaped up and forward a loud swoosh, indicating the power behind the thrust, filled the air.
The girl did not even move, save a single flick of the wrist. This time she stabbed at the man’s shoulder, crushing the bone. The jab was so fast that although it started after the initial thrust, it arrived well before the sword reached its target. The bodyguard cried out in pain as well and felt all his strength flee out of his arm. Then the girl’s wrist flashed again and the bamboo buried itself into his eye socket. The man fell to the ground, rolling about. Fatima saw that, even though the Kara-Khitan moved too fast to be seen clearly, her techniques were clearly derived from some sort of fighting skill.
“Yavj boovu saa!” The lame lord, clutching his leg, cried out. “There is only one girl and four men! Why don’t you kill her?”
“Even if the odds were forty against one it would not be enough for you to stop me,” their young opponent replied.
The girl’s left hand lifted slightly and the bamboo thrust toward yet another swordsman’s eye. Three swords were quickly drawn, naked steel all, and the men sped toward her. The girl moved nimbly, deflecting all three, then she counterattacked. Soon all her assailants were half-blind and smitten, laying groveling in the dirt.
“Novsh min!” The khan bellowed, paling, trying to scramble up on his knees and reach for his sword. But even as he did so, the Kara-Khitan girl struck and the man’s scream was cut short in a ghastly crunch as the bamboo came down upon his skull, cracking it neatly like an egg.
“Cheers, my friend, cheers!”
At the sound of a stranger moving out from her hiding place the bamboo wielding girl wheeled about, pointing the tip of her stick forward like a spear. For a tense moment the two women eyed each other; the younger warrior standing above her fallen victims, some alive, some dead, and the older Borjigin sitting upon her saddle like a stone carving.
“I am a Borjigin and a follower of baatuun,” Fatima explained, using the ancient Mongolian term for a band of heroes. “I am no vassal of the Chinese Emperor. My arrows are in my quiver. I have need of a woman who is both wise and deadly. I represent someone who can offer you anything you might desire.”
“I desire only bloody vengeance upon the skull of Lady Linshui,” murmured the girl.
The dark eyes of the Borjigin glittered. She had the quick sensation of slipping her hands around the strange girl’s hips, one hand fondling her breasts through her deel while the other slipped between her legs. Fatima wondered if the girl was a virgin. Probably not, few warriors ever are, but one never knew in this day and age. Fatima loved making virgins cum. She could see herself kissing the girl’s neck, sucking and nibbling her round jawline. A wet moment of desire washed over Fatima and she blinked.
“Then come with me, darling girl. My lady is the sworn enemy of that Taoist sorceress.”
“Tell me, who is your lady?” asked the Kara-Khitan suspiciously.
“She is called the Mad One,” answered Fatima with a smile. “Turakina the Divooneh, the granddaughter of Genghis Khan, Khatun of all the Borjigins.”
“So … you speak on behalf of our queen?” the girl asked, her suspicion changing to astonishment. “What brings you out to this empty wasteland?”
“Just because Genghis Khan’s sons were all syphilitic eunuchs and parasites upon the empire does not mean his daughters sat around being meek and mild. Will you come and serve your Khatun in our people’s time of need, my friend?”
The Kara-Khitan turned her head in the direction of the distant screaming which told her that the slaughter of prisoners was still going on. She despised the killing of those who honorably surrendered, only to find even that had turned against them. She stood still for an instant; a small bronze statue and even the wind appeared unable to touch her. What was she feeling? Excitement? Bemusement? Indifference? Fatima had no way of knowing. Then the other relaxed her grip on her stick and looked at the Borjigin.
“I will go with you,” she said. That was all.
Fatima grinned with pleasure, leaning forward she gave Saru’sinul-tu, for that was who it was, the reins of the captured Mongolian horse. The Kara-Khitan swung into the saddle and glanced inquiringly at Fatima. What was that look? Certainly not desire, not the way Fatima was feeling right now, but … it might have been something else. Some thing ..? the Borjigin motioned with her helmeted head, then trotted away down the slope. The two women cantered swiftly into the gathering dusk, leaving behind them the ruins of the battle of Qaraqata, fought on the plains of Xi Xia. The battle would rage for another two days and nights and end with Qaidu Khan and his daughter, Khutulun, coming to a stand-still with the army of Lady Linshui. But the Borjigin woman and the Kara-Khitan girl would not know of those events, not yet, at any rate.
They camped only once on their trek across the Gobi, for the desert is a sweltering place, even at night in February.
Mongolian male and female warriors wore similar items of clothing: bulky trousers; a large tunic jacket called a deel secured by a few buttons over their right breast; leather-bound boots that came up to the knees. Underneath all this they wore a twisted thong of cotton that left very little to the imagination. These two particular women came from a long line of female warriors. It was said that when Genghis Khan’s beloved first wife, Borte, rode into battle against hostile Arabian raiders while six months pregnant she exposed her breasts and round belly and beat her chest with her bow and arrows, so frightening the Muslims that they surrendered without spilling any blood.
That night the two women sat together around a small fire, naked save for their twisted thongs of cotton between their legs. The Kara-Khitan had consented to let Fatima undo her long braided hair and was combing the oil of sweet nuts through it, to prevent lice. Lice might be an issue for some but the Borjigin had solved the problem herself by simply shaving her head uncharacteristically bald. Let the Chinese be obsessed over tiny, bound feet; for a Mongol all female beauty and erotic symbolism rested upon a woman’s visible face. Broad foreheads were especially fetishized by smearing yellow powder across them, making anyone as beautiful as Lady Ot, the goddess of the fire and the moon.
“Ah, my daughter has perfect, beautiful hair,” Fatima said, sitting behind the girl and running her shell and ivory comb through the thick mane.
“My mother, do not tease me, everyone can see my hair is dirty and ratty.”
This talk was, as they say, ritual. Older women in the tribe were, naturally, pleased to extol the beauty of their younger female offspring, while the girls in turn would praise the wisdom of their mothers and grandmothers. Sitting in their gers it did not matter if the mothers and daughters were blood kin or not, everyone who lived on the steppes and followed the path of the stars was related, in one way or another. Every girl was her tribe’s daughter, every woman their mother.
Fatima took a handful of the girl’s thick hair and brought it up to her nose. Borjigins did not enjoy perfumes, as a rule. The natural musk and odor of the body was the best aphrodisiac. The Kara-Khitan smelled slightly of nut oil, but mainly of eighteen years of hard living. Fire and blood could be found in her scent, horse and desert and slaughter — all the things that made life worth living.
“My daughter has many perfect, fascinating scars,” marveled Fatima, her hands running over the old sword cuts and ancient wounds inflicted from a dozen different battles that adorned the girl’s arms and thighs. It was obvious the girl did not mind the exploration, for she simply sighed a little louder at the touch and shifted her wide ass in the hot sand.
“My daughter has perfect, hard nipples,” Fatima purred in her ear, reaching around and cupping the small breasts in the calloused palms of her hands.
“Ma — my — my mother — O! uhhh …”
The girl panted, her eyes partly closed, her mouth open, her tongue hanging down as she felt her flesh pinched, the juice of exhilaration stirring deep between her legs. The older woman pulled on her nipples, large and soft and brown. They stood out hard in the hot night air, waiting eagerly for fingers or lips to suckle on them, to tease them, to stir them alive. Already the twisted thong of cotton pressing in-between her shaggy cunt lips was soaked.
“My daughter is such a hairy girl,” Fatima said huskily, her fingers slipping down between the splayed-open legs. It was a forest jungle that she entered; a dark triangle overflowing the cottony creases of her thong. The girl’s clit was long and quite erect. Fatima pulled the fabric to one side and held the clit gently between her thumb and forefinger, starting to move her fingers in a slow, lazy figure-8.
The Kara-Khitan hissed, her fingers digging into the sand.
Fatima’s tongue traced a brutal half-moon a Chinese scimitar had once carved into the girl’s left shoulder blade. Sweat built up between them; girl-cum ran down their thighs. Somewhere in the endless stars overhead the young woman, leaning back, thought she saw a pair of celestial eyes looking down on them. It sent shivers down her spine but she couldn’t tell if it was the intoxication of being watched or finger-fucked that made her head swim just so at that particular moment.
Fatima pressed the girl forward, bending her over, getting her onto her hands and knees, presenting her gushing cunt to to the stars and moon. She rubbed her tongue around the girl’s lower lips, bathing her own mouth in cum, teasing her. The Kara-Khitan turned her head to one side, stared up at the heavens. She was sure she saw the eyes now, yes. They were watching. The whole damn world was watching her cum.
“My daughter … tastes … so … nice,” murmured the Borjigin from deep within the quaggy marshlands of the girl’s pubes. Saru’sinul-tu cried out, her muscular thighs pinning the older woman’s head like a wrestler, clamping her lips onto her clit, cumming for all that she was worth.
They slept that night in each others’ arms and by the time the sun was sinking below the western hills on the next night they stood on a crest of a rise overlooking a desert city, studying its spires and minarets covered in turquoise, that iconic blue-green stone. Fatima drew in her reins and sat motionless for a moment, sighing deeply as she drank in the familiar sight. As metropolises went, it certainly could not compete with mighty Beijing, in China, but she would take it over the Persian city of Khorasam or Nishapur in Iran. It was a nomad’s city and that meant hard-won pleasure.
“Karakorum,” Fatima announced.
“We have traveled far, my mother,” answered her young companion. Fatima smiled.
Saru’sinul-tu eyed her guide. Even after sex the Borjigin’s attire was remained filthy, her expression remained exhausted; her eyes, though, continued to sparkle. The Kara-Khitan regarded the view, voicelessly; recalling the days and nights of ceaseless riding as they passed across the Gobi. She had followed Fatima, unquestioningly, even before their peccadillo on the plains. They passed over vindictive mountains and bypassed enemy patrols they happened upon in the eyeless wilderness. They passed around hills where the hot southern wind blew, that led them into wastelands of steppes. Saru’sinul-tu’s memories of the time were of the cantering of hoofs, orgasms, sun. Saru’sinul-tu marveled at the remote distance that had led them to the oasis of blue spires that marked their journey’s end. Vast was the empire of the female regent, the woman called Turakina the Divooneh.
The two riders traveled down into the plain and worked their way between the lines of caravans and ox herders, whose drivers and shepherds shouted unceasingly, all bound for the Great Cobalt Gate. These were merchants ready to sell spices, silks and jewels: the merchandise of India and China, of Persia and Europe.
“All the world rides the road to Karakorum,” said Fatima, nodding.
They passed through the wide turquoise-inlaid gate and rode through the winding streets, past clay-built apartments and bazaars thronged with the people of a thousand tribes and a hundred races. The Kara-Khitan saw figures from the mysterious reaches of the north; the stocky Yakuts with the rolling gait of a lifetime spent in the saddle; Cathayans in robes of silk; round-faced Kipchak soldiers. She saw turbaned Arabs, lean Syrians, hawk-faced Indians, languid Persians, swaggering Afghans.
Saru’sinul-tu’s wonder grew as they turned into a wide gateway, guarded by terracotta camels. There they gave their horses to Muslim grooms, walked along a winding path lined with ancient green palms. The Kara-Khitan, looking between the trunks, saw fountains jetting arches of water against the endless blue sky. At last they came to the royal palace, gleaming white and gold in the noonday sun. They passed between columns of marble, entering the inner-chambers with walls decorated in delicate reliefs by Persian and Armenian artistry.
In a blue-domed room that looked out through stone windows upon a long line of broad, shaded, garden paths the two women stopped. There muscular attendants took their weapons and led them between a double row of mute eunuchs in snow-tiger loincloths, half-men who held two-handed scimitars between their beefy thighs. At the far end of the room Fatima knelt before a figure seated on a plush divan. Saru’sinul-tu, however, stood silently erect.
The Kara-Khitan looked closely at the woman on the divan; was this, then, the all-powerful Toregene? She beheld a woman in the prime of life, with a wide sweep of hair pinned under a conical hat crowed with a fanciful knot. As with almost all Borjigin women, her deel could hardly conceal her colossus breasts. She did not sit cross-legged as was the habit for Muslims, nor with one leg tucked under the other as was the way of other Mongol tribes. There was power in every line of her being. Her crisp black hair was untouched with gray despite the stress of attempting to unify her people. There was something wolfish in her appearance, thought the girl, that suggested the soul of the everlasting nomad.
“Speak, my darling Fatima,” the khatun commanded in a low voice. “Vultures have flown westward, but we have yet to hear any reports about what took place at the front.”
“My lady, we rode before the slaughter had even finished,” answered the older warrior. “That news shall travel slowly on the caravan roads. What I shall tell you is that a great battle has been fought in the foothills of the land of our enemies; that Lady Linshui has broken the army of the Une-Calada.”
“I thought as much. The man was a fool. Tell me, Fatima, who stands beside you?” asked Turakina, resting her chin on her palm and fixing her deep eyes upon Saru’sinul-tu.
“A warrior of the Kara-Khitan clan who escaped the slaughter,” answered Fatima. “She alone found Une-Calada and his rabble and extracted justice for his outrage against the Great Khan’s person.”
“A curious tale, indeed. Why did you bring her to me?”
“It was my thought that she would aid you, my lady, when the time is right.”
“What are you called, Kara-Khitan?” asked the khatun. “What is your title?”
“I am Saru’sinul-tu,” answered the girl. “I come from the east of the Gobi, where the last of the Kara-Khitans have made their khanate. I have no title, neither in my own land nor in the army that I once followed.”
“Why do you come to see me?”
“Lady Fatima told me that you could offer me anything I might desire.”
“And what is it that you desire the most?”
“Lady Linshui, the demon vassal and general of the Emperor of China, the one whose enemies have named her the Witch Bone.”
Turakina let her chin sink down upon her massive breasts for a moment and in the silence Saru’sinul-tu heard the silvery tinkle of a fountain in the courtyard and the musical voice of a Persian poet singing on a morin khuur, a curious two-stringed lute.
Finally the Borjigin queen lifted her head.
“Sit down with Lady Fatima upon this divan close at my left hand,” said she. “Tell me about your life and then I will instruct you in how to destroy a demon.”
“My Khatun,” Saru’sinul-tu began, bowing to the Mongol queen. “I am no story teller but I shall sing to you a poem my mother taught me on the eve that I left home. I hope this small thing pleases.”
The Kara-Khitan bent a little, as if to draw in air to her lungs. Fatima smiled and licked her lips, she had yet to wash the taste of the girl’s cunt from them, a taste more intoxicating than airag, the fermented mare’s milk the Mongol habitually guzzled down in large quantities.
It was good that Saru’sinul-tu was a warrior and not a poet, for her voice was creaky from disuse but she sang with emotion and Turakina understood that the pain the girl sang about came from somewhere deep inside:
I walk to where the river turns to fall
and watch the mist rise up and up.
Regret at my fate; a dying girl
who recalls all that she’ll never know.
Monks of Tibet do not know pain
like I do. My hair turns autumn,
though my summer has just begun.
Under tender moonlight
my young heart yearns
for all I shall never know,
a common enough longing:
that is my name.
This war has left my tribe
in ruins while boatmen
doze in the calm eddies
of a sandbar.
I ask this river,
again and again,
to send me lovers,
ones I can confide in,
while I feel the pull
of my fate’s tide.
Her village destroyed, her parents slaughtered, her people nearly exterminated from the face of the earth, Saru’sinul-tu had left the desert because there was nowhere else to stay. That had been in 1294. Seven years of war and machinations in Mongolia had exhausted her, even at the age of eighteen. When it was rumored that Lady Linshui was amassing a new army through various dark arts at her disposal, the girl had joined the tide that had been swept into China and their doom. Now here she was, a sheep herder’s daughter, standing in the blue-domed palace of the fabulous city of Karakorum, while the last of Genghis Khan’s granddaughters listened to her recite bad poetry. Fate was curious, indeed.
* * *
While her enemies’ bodies rotted on the plains of Xi Xia, Lady Linshui turned her attention to the south and trampled the Muslims warlords that called the Silk Route home. The Tibetans, the Koreans and the Liao she ground beneath her celestial legions. Her shamanesses summoned up infernal warriors, whose frenzy astounded even her toughest mortal vassals. The men of the world flowed whimpering between her iron fingers and she hammered the golden crowns of princes and kings to tin. Somewhere in the heat mirage of the Gobi, though, sat the one last obstacle for conquering all of Central Asia: the Borjigin queen known as Turakina Khatun. It was to her that Lady Linshui sent envoys with declarations of war and slaughter. No response was forthcoming, but word came along the oases of the desert of a mighty Mongol army riding forth and a great war in the west; of Turakina joining forces with her kinfolk that made up the Golden Hoard and crushing the Tzars of Russia. Lady Linshui gave little thought to that; Russia was no more real to her than was to the Pope of Rome. Europe had foolishly burned its witches and then the Plague had ravaged the rest as a punishment for Christian hubris. It would be an afterthought in her campaign, if there were any bones left to pick over. Her eyes were turned toward crushing the last of the Mongol empire; weakened, but still a truly formidable enemy.
“The Tao of the Left Hand shall burn the horse-girl khanates with steel and shadow,” she said. “I shall ride their queens like beasts of the earth and the bones of their men shall be food for fireflies and the dark grubs of the night.”
Then, in the early spring of 1302, there came to Lady Linshui, as she labored in an inner chamber of her personal temple in the Forbidden City, crafting red and black talismans to bind and command the ghosts of slain warriors two of her tamed female demons. With them they brought a tall Kara-Khitan girl, one whose macabre body was darkened by the sun of steppes and the scars of a thousand blades.
“She rode from the desert’s source and then to the gates of the City on a foam-covered horse,” one said, for tamed female demons always speak in rhyme, “saying she demanded to see our Lady. What is your passion? Shall we flay her alive before you? or tear her between sword and talon?”
“Horse-girl,” said the Taoist sorceress, putting down her brush and cocking her head to one side, “you have found Lady Linshui. Speak, before I feed you to those who have a perverse pleasure for female flesh.”
“Who doesn’t?” said the other in a dead-pan, then, “is this becoming for the once and future Empress of all of Asia? I have ridden far to serve you and all you do is scowl and puff and stuff. I am called Saru’sinul-tu and among your scrawny shamanesses and giant breasted demons and sickly queens there is no warrior who can best me while using a sword; among your slovenly wrestlers there is no woman whose back I can not break.”
The Taoist sorceress cocked an eyebrow and considered the strange girl. She was in her early twenties, perhaps. Unlike many of the Borjigin women she had known Nature had not endowed this girl with the sort of top heavy breasts that made steppe concubines famous the world over … then again the bulky deel jackets Mongols habitually wore covered up far to much for Linshui’s tastes. “Perhaps she will be pleasing when I strip her out of those garments?” the Witch Bone thought.
“I wish you were not a horse-girl,” she said, “for I love a woman with a sharp tongue that can get into tight places. Tell me more, darling girl! What else can you offer me that will allow me to become, as you put it, a humble empress?”
“Shape I have, but not that of size. I am locked to your body, but easily fly. I follow you to bed, for I can never be contained. Under the sun I crawl, but under the dark I reign.”
Lady Linshui stiffened, everything about her subtly changed; for behind all her blood-lust and sorcery there lay the most penetrating mind south of the Great Rock Gorge of the Chuluut River.
“Are you drunk, girl?” she asked. “What do you mean by this riddle?”
“I speak no riddle that you don’t already possess the answer to,” snapped the Kara-Khitan.
“I have no time for games. Do not trifle with me.”
“Pff,” the other retorted. “That’s too bad for you.” And then, when it became obvious the Witch Bone was ignorant of the answer, Saru’sinul-tu gave an ungainly curtsy, and added with a nod, “my Mistress of the Dark.”
“Dark? Shadow? That’s the answer, in truth? You’re a shadow? You risked everything on the chance that you’d find me in the mood for childish games; knowing that I have had my captures torn apart by my celestial army just to wile away a tiresome afternoon?”
“When you have heard what I have had to say, please do with me as you like. But know this: I hate your enemy, the one who is called Turakina. She is a cowardly woman. I went to her hungry for honor as all warriors hunger for, because she was of my people, my kin, but how was I rewarded? Camel dung was thrown in my face.”
At the name of the one who stood between her and all of Central Asia stood up, scattering talismans and brushes.
“What? You served under that half-crazed she-bitch of a dog?”
“Yes. I was her toy. I rode beside her and guarded her back. I climbed fortress walls under a shower of arrows and broke the ranks of the Muslim soldiers who controlled the oases and Silk Route. When the pillage and plunder was distributed among the generals, what was given me? Jeering and abuse. ‘If you want pretty gifts, puppy,’ said that woman, ‘seek an audience with the Ming Court, their eunuchs will be holding a spot especially for you.’ And because in Borjigin eyes I am not shaped for buxom tricks; because I am rudely stamped, cheated, her khans and generals roared with laughter at her wit. As Wet Mother Earth and Endless Father Sky are my witnesses, I will wipe out that laughter with burning of walls and screaming flame!”
Saru’sinul-tu’s passionate words reverberated through the chamber and her eyes were cold and cruel. Lady Linshui thought for a long moment.
“You come to me for revenge?” The Taoist sorceress composed herself, sat back down at her low table. “Because why? Because you were too weak to do it yourself? So … you needed the shadows of the dark to aid you?”
“Weak? No. Shadows? Yes! I came here to be your shadow.”
“O mighty warrior, stupid little girl, were you so deluded to think that I would wage war against the Mad One simply because of some slight given to a wandering Kara-Khitan vagrant? You look as if you brought half the desert with you in your clothes.”
“I am of the desert and you will out there sooner than you think because she is about to wage war against you,” answered Saru’sinul-tu, undaunted. “When that ‘half-crazed she-bitch of a dog,’ as my lady so astutely called her, rode west to wrestle the city of Constantinople out from the hands of the Sultan, Othman I, who you once called El-Gazi, his army was strengthened by a thousand Ming horsemen, sent by you, yourself. Now the House of Osman is cast down, Constantinople has been looted and even the Bosporus burns from the Mongol’s engines of war. Turakina has destroyed your comrades and she is exactly the sort of woman who will not forgive my imperial lady for interfering.”
“What? Were you the concubine of Divooneh as well to know so much? Did she talk in her sleep?” Lady Linshui asked, incredulous. “You? A worthless vagrant? Why should I trust a Kara-Khitan? We crushed you at Xi Xia! Go whore yourself out in the brothels, if any man would have you. By Hsi Wang Mu, Goddess of Plagues and Pestilence! I shall deal with those fucking Mongols by the dark arts and hell fire!”
A ferocious, defiant flame blazed for an instant in the Kara-Khitan’s eyes, but a moment later the sun-burned and scarred face showed no signs of anger.
“Know this, O my lady,” Saru’sinul-tu answered, slowly, “I can teach you not only how to break Turakina’s army, but I can bring you her head.”
“Lap dog of a she-bitch!” shouted the Taoist sorceress, and the tamed female demons standing on either side of her shook their snake-like dreads and hissed hideously. “Do you think that I, Hongwu’s most trusted vassal, need the assistance of an orphan girl to conquer the Mongols?”
Saru’sinul-tu laughed in her face, a hard mirthless noise that shocked all present.
“You think that commanding demons will save you. Turakina will lay you to waste,” Saru’sinul-tu said, purposely. “Have you seen Genghis Khan’s daughters in war? Have you seen Mongol arrows darkening the sky as they rip through the air, fifty thousand loosed all at once? Have you seen their cuirassiers making the desert shake beneath their horses’ hooves?”
“Actually, yes,” answered the Taoist sorceress, not particularly impressed.
“Yes, the whole world has seen that, but what you haven’t seen,” returned the Kara-Khitan, “is Turakina’s own necromancy.”
“What?” asked a startled Lady Linshui. “The Mongols have their own dark arts that I was unaware of?”
As if for an answer Saru’sinul-tu pulled the sleeve of her deel back to reveal her left arm. It wasn’t so much a scar revealed, but a dreadful curse; almost as if she had been branded by the Mongolian circle and four horse-headed device Turakina had placed on her army’s shields, a design had been etched there. But no white-hot cattle-brand could ever sear such an intricate pattern. This had been done by something vastly unearthly.
“Fire shadows did this?” asked Lady Linshui after a moment of studying the ruined arm. “Feisty little bastards, though they pale in comparison when summoning an earth djinn or a sky elemental.”
“Of the cities of the Ural, Turakina left but her only ruins. She tore down even the broken walls and replaced it with a pyramid of skulls. Kingdoms that stood for a thousand years fell to her as will the Ming once they are ground under her foot, my Lady Linshui.”
“You say this to me, unbeliever?” cried the Taoist sorceress. “I will cast you into such a deep pit that not even your souls will find their way out for a million generations to come!”
“Ho, are you proving your righteousness over Turakina by threatening to damn the same vagrant she banished from her sight?” Saru’sinul-tu asked, bitterly. “Chinese, Mongols and Turks: power corrupts you equally, I see.”
“By Meng Po, Goddess of the Dead!” Lady Linshui said, “you must be possessed by a dung spirit to speak like this to the Witch Bone herself! You have come to the Forbidden City seeking alms, eh, little girl? Stay in my palace until I can decide whether you are a seducer, a fool, or a madwoman. But if you are a spy, my little lap dog of a she-bitch, that cursed flesh on your arm will have felt like a fool’s kiss compared to the torments I shall lay upon you.”
Their interview over, Saru’sinul-tu settled down into the court of Lady Linshui, whose friends and enemies called the Witch Bone. Soon there came diplomats from Turakina Khatun, no one less than the princely general, Bayan of the Merkid clan, who asked if the Ming court would give up the shameless girl who had openly mocked their queen, for this Mongol clan wanted justice served, surly the Ming court would keep the peace between the two nations by turning Saru’sinul-tu over to them?
Lady Linshui, sceeing an opportunity to slight her enemy, twisted her black hair between her fingers and looked directly into Bayan’s eyes as she gave the reply, “I know you, Bayan Khan, that your people are in no place to be attempting to bargain for the life of anyone. You know me, little man; nothing stops me from taking your empire when I feel like it and feeding your favorite wives to my army as spoils of war.”
Bayan Khan neither blinked nor showed the smallest trace of anger. He simply paused as he was bringing the cup of rice wine to his lips, arched one eyebrow and replaced the cup upon the table between them, untasted.
“You do my hospitality ill service, little man, by not tasting the wine I have so generously offered.”
“For give me, my lady,” the Mongol said, rising, gazing down at the general in something akin to amazement. “Talk of conquest has turned my tongue … sour. I would be doing your wine an even greater disservice by attempting to drink it with such a … foul taste in my mouth.”
No further diplomats came from Turakina.
One day, as Saru’sinul-tu practiced her wrestling in Lady Linshui’s Gong Fu Hall, the Taoist sorceress approached the Kara-Khitan girl, marveling at the other’s thick thighs and tiny breasts, the arms that could bend a mortal man in two, the fine sheen of sweat that hard exercise brings to the body.
“Horse-girl, you have labored hard enough for one night. Go bathe yourself in the hot springs we call Sihnon. Report back to me … later … after you are done.”
“The advantage of being part of a celestial army,” Saru’sinul-tu thought as she lay naked on a bamboo table after her sore muscles had recovered in the scalding hot water, “is that it doesn’t really matter whether it is a spirit or demon attending to my needs, they all can get into tight corners no one else can.”
There were around a dozen invisible hands working on her — kneading muscles, pulling, rubbing in deep — Saru’sinul-tu was grateful for them all, especially the ones that kept sliding into the wrong places. She could feel countless ghostly fingers move from her hips over her sensitive ribs to her breasts, where her erect nipples was tweaked this way and that. The hands would begin their journey down her front once more, traveling up her muscled back, her scars, from her shoulders to her fingertips, to her chubby ass. Other hands worked hard on her inner thighs. Much to her joy there was even one hand that did nothing more than massage the lips of her furry cunt.
By this time Saru’sinul-tu’s body was beginning to strongly respond to the tamed female demons’ efforts. Even the hand supporting her by her cunt seemed to be constantly working the hyper-sensitive flesh of her clit.
After a time, she could hardly concentrate on anything, even laying still; the sensations radiating from her cunt, her breasts, every inch of skin, were so overwhelming. After a moment of teasing the heat would return intenser than before, wave after wave, clinging tenaciously to her burning, quivering flesh. Her body trembled from the terrible, marvelous pressure building up inside her.
The hands were joined by hungry, voracious mouths that were all lips and tongues, seeming intent on sucking the very marrow out of her bones. Saru’sinul-tu felt herself drowning in a whirlpool of incredible fires that reminded her of blood-lust, the battlefield’s need for slaughter.
Soon Saru’sinul-tu became a mindless creature intent only on her own pleasure. When the Kara-Khitan grabbed an invisible head nursing on her breasts, felt the heavy breasts of another flatten themselves between the splayed open cleft of her ass the four demons let themselves be seen and immediately devoured their cum-dripping, eager warrior; dividing up the girl between themselves. When they each had their fill, Saru’sinul-tu’s burning body was pleasured out of time. Orgasms that run amok.
It took a very, very long time before the girl had the energy to roll off the bamboo table and try to clothe herself without getting too much of her own cum all over her robes. It took an even longer time before she left the Sihnon in search of Lady Linshui. She hoped, that maybe just perhaps, if she waited enough time the four demons would return.
“Next time I’ll ask for five,” the girl mused.
As the months progressed Lady Linshui drew Saru’sinul-tu deeper into diabolical sex and wild schemes of war and conquest, plied her with opium from Afghanistan, sake from Japan, a bright hell-water distilled from something potatoish the sorceress called the “water from the lake of fire.” Even as Saru’sinul-tu roared and reveled in the Ming court, Linshui penetratingly observed the girl from Kara-Khitan. But as time passed her doubts grew less suspicious; for, when at her drunkest, Saru’sinul-tu spoke no word that might hint she was anything other than what she seemed to be: a warrior of little skill, an orphan unwilling to work the brothel-trade when she still could swing a sword. She cursed the name of Turakina and all the barbarians. Under close, subtle scrutiny the Kara-Khitan, apathetically moved, drinking all but the Taoist sorceress onto the floor in the wild drinking-bouts and bearing herself with a reckless valor that earned the respect of the hard-bitten eunuchs.
Lady Linshui lay about the walls of Shigatse, which the Mongols called Samdruptse, in the mountain kingdom of Tibet. Her preparations were made: Shigatse, after that, the city of Tsetang; the fate of Tibetan Buddhism wavered in the balance. The wretched Tibetans, worn and starved, had already drawn up a capitulation, when word came flying out of the East, a dusty, bloodstained courier on a staggering horse. Out of the East, sudden as a desert-storm, the Borjigins had over the meager defenses of Erlian, Ming’s border city, had fallen. That night the shuddering people on the walls of Shigatse saw torches and cressets tossing and moving through the celestial army’s camp, gleaming on dark hawk-headed women and shamanesses who summoned the dead, but the expected attack did not come, dawn revealed a great regiment of foot soldiers moving in a steady double column back across the bridge at Monk Jump Gorge, bearing a steady retreat back into China. The Witch Bone’s eyes were at last turned homeward.
“Here we will camp,” said Lady Linshui at last, shifting her stiff and sore arse in the saddle. She glanced back at the long lines of her army, winding beyond sight over the distant hills: over 200,000 fighters; grim skirmishers, cuirassiers glittering in plumes and silver armor, heavy cavalry in silk and steel; her allies and alien subjects, Korean and Khololo archers, the twenty thousand daughters of Xerxes of Persia, armored from crown to heel; there were troops of Russians, too, who had wandered into Central Asia, stocky Cossack girls, Ural witches, female swordsmiths from the river Don.
For weeks the Chinese host had moved toward the ruined city of Erlian, expecting to encounter the Borjigins at any point. They had passed Zamyn-Uud, where the Taoist sorceress had established her base-camp; they had crossed the river Halys, or Kizil Irmak, now were marching through the hill country that lies in the bend of that river which, rising east of Erlian, sweeps southward in a vast half-circle before it bends, west of Kirshehr, northward to the Black Sea.
“Here we camp,” repeated Lady Linshui. “Erlian lies some seventy miles to the northeast. We will send scouts into the city.”
“They will find it in ruins,” Saru’sinul-tu predicted, riding at Lady Linshui’s left side.
The Taoist sorceress scoffed, “Do you mean to say that the Mad One will flee when she sees us?”
“She will never flee,” answered the Kara-Khitan. “I told you, she is not without supernatural agents herself and can move her host far more quickly than you can. She will take to the hills and fall upon us when we least expect it.”
“Meh! Not even I am powerful enough to flit about with a horde of 150,000 warriors,” Lady Linshui snorted her contempt. “She will come along the Erlian road to join us in battle. We will crush her like we crushed your pitiful Kara-Khitans.”
With that the Chinese army made camp and there they waited with growing rage and restlessness for a whole week and a day. Lady Linshui’s scouts returned with the news that only a handful of Mongols held Erlian. The Taoist sorceress roared with rage and bewilderment.
“Fools, have you passed an army of Mongols on the road?”
“No, by Div-e Sepid,” swore the rider, “they vanished into the night like ghosts. We have combed the hills between here and the city.”
“Turakina must has fled back to the desert,” said Jui Jy-Shou, one of Lady Linshui’s junior generals.
“No,” Saru’sinul-tu insisted, “she is lurking somewhere in the hills to the north.”
Lady Linshui had never taken other women’s advice, for she had found long ago that her own strategical skills were clearly superior. But now she was puzzled. She had never before fought the desert riders whose secret of victory was mobility and who passed across the land like a dust devil of steel from out of the Gobi. Later that day her scouts brought in word that large parties of Mongols had been seen moving about in the hillside.
“Now that she-bitch Turakina attacks us from the north, just as I predicted,” Saru’sinul-tu said, laughing.
Making up her mind, Lady Linshui drew up her fighting columns and waited for the assault, but it did not come and her scouts reported that the riders had passed on and disappeared. Bewildered for the first time in her career, Lady Linshui struck camp and on a forced march reached the foothills of the Dornogov mountains in almost a day. She expected to find Turakina attempting to ambush them in the deep river gorges they were required to pass through. No enemy was to be seen. The Taoist sorceress cursed and sparks rose up all around her. She sent scouts deeper into the mountains. Soon they came flying back. They had seen the Mongol rear guard. Turakina had circled around the whole Chinese army. She was even now marching on the Ming city of Zamyn-Uud.
Frothing, Lady Linshui turned on Saru’sinul-tu.
“Horse-girl! What do you have to say now?”
“What are you talking about?” the Kara-Khitan asked mildly, still, she stood her ground. “You have no one but yourself to blame; especially if someone like Turakina has outwitted you. I told you that Turakina would not face you on a field of battle in traditional ways. And guess what? She didn’t. I told you she would leave Erlian and go into the hills. And guess what? She did. I told you she would fall upon us when we were least suspecting it, but it seems with that I was mistaken. I did not guess that she would cross the mountains and elude us. You must admit, two out of three isn’t bad.”
Lady Linshui grudgingly admitted the truth of the Kara-Khitan’s words, but she was still mad with fury. Else she had never sought to overtake the swift-moving horde before it reached Zamyn-Uud. She flung her columns across the hills and started on the track of the elusive Mongols. Turakina Khatum had somehow crossed the Dornogov mountains and out into the steppes, burning all the grasslands as they went. Now Lady Linshui was forced to retrace her steps, as prairie fires consumed what little there was of water and food for the horses.
The Chinese celestial army marched over a fire-charred waste. As the strength of the army lay in its infantry, the cavalry was forced to set its pace with the grunts and marching soldiers. Everyone stumbled wearily through the clouds of stinging dust that rose from beneath their sore, shuffling feet. Under a burning summer sun they plodded grimly along, suffering from hunger and thirst, horses gasping and dying every mile or so.
Finally they came at last to the plain of Zamyn-Uud, saw the Mongols installed in the very camp that they themselves had just left, besieging the city. A roar of desperation went up from the thirst-maddened Chinese. Turakina had changed the course of the little river which ran through Zamyn-Uud, so that now it ran behind the enemy lines; the only way to reach it was straight through the desert hordes. The springs and wells of the countryside had been destroyed. For an instant the woman known as the Witch Bone sat silent in her saddle, gazing from the Mongols to her own long, straggling line of fatigued shamanesses, dog-tired female demons and exhausted queens. The sign of suffering in the haggard faces of her warriors shocked her. A strange fear tugged at her heart, so unfamiliar she did not recognize the emotion. Victory had always been her; how could it be otherwise?
On that august summer morning the battle-lines stood ready. The Chinese were drawn up in a long crescent, whose tips overlapped the Mongol wings, one of which touched the river and the other an entrenched hill fifteen miles away across the plain.
“Never in all my life have I wanted to hear someone else’s advice about war,” Lady Linshui said, “but you rode with Turakina once. Will she leave her camp and attack me?”
Saru’sinul-tu shook her head.
“You outnumber her army. She will never fling her riders against the solid ranks of your skirmishers. She will stand far off and overwhelm you with a forest of arrows. You must go and attack her.”
“How can I attack her cavalry with my foot soldiers?” snarled Lady Linshui. “Yet … yet, you speak truth. I must hurl my warriors against her before she has the upper hand.”
“Her right wing is the weaker,” said Saru’sinul-tu, a sinister light burning in her eyes. “Mass your strongest soldiers on your left wing, charge and shatter that part of the Mongol’s army; then let your left wing shall close in, assailing the main battle of the Khatun on the flank, while your skirmishers advance from the front. Before the charge the cuirassiers on your right wing may make a feint at the lines, to draw Turakina’s attention.”
Lady Linshui looked silently at the Kara-Khitan. Saru’sinul-tu had suffered as much as the rest on that fearful march. Her armor was white with dust, her lips blackened, her throat caked with thirst.
“So it shall be,” said Lady Linshui. “Princess Sukhebatar shall command the left wing my own heavy cavalry, supported by the Oirats. We will stake all on one charge!”
With that they took up their positions, no one noticed a Oirat steal out of the Chinese lines and ride for Turakina’s camp, flogging her stocky pony like mad. At the head of these rode Saru’sinul-tu, for they had clamored for the Kara-Khitan to lead them against her own kin. Lady Linshui did not intend to match bow-fire with the Mongols, but to drive home a charge that would shatter Turakina’s lines before the khatun could further outmaneuver her. The Chinese right wing consisted of the cuirassiers; the center of the skirmishers with General Jui Jy-Shou, under the personal command of the Taoist sorceress.
Turakina had no infantry. She sat with her bodyguard on a hillock behind the lines. Dojoodorj commanded the right wing of the riders of high Asia, Fatima the left, Princess Sukhebatar the center. With the center were the elephants in their leather trappings, with their battle-towers and archers. Their awesome trumpeting was the only sound along the widespread steel-clad horse lines as the Mongols came on with a thunder of cymbals and war drums.
Like a thunderbolt Jui Jy-Shou launched her squadrons directly at the Mongol’s right wing. They ran into a terrible storm of arrows, but grimly pushed on, the Mongols scattering before them. Jui Jy-Shou, knocking a heron-plumed chieftain out of his saddle, shouted in exultation, but even as she did so, behind her rose a guttural roar.
“Hurray! hurray! hurray! For our queen: Turakina Khatum!”
With a shout she turned and saw all of her charging horse cavalry falling in tens and twenties under the forest of arrows of the Oirats. In her ear she heard Saru’sinul-tu laughing like a madman.
“Betrayer!” screamed the general. “You would sell out Lady Linshui?”
An expert scimitar flashed under the endless blue sky and Jui Jy-Shou rolled headless from her saddle.
“That is for Xi Xia!” yelled the Kara-Khitan. “Let fly your arrows, my horse-sisters!”
The stocky Oirats yelped like wolves in reply, wheeling away to avoid the swords of the desperate Chinese, driving their deadly arrows into the milling ranks at close range. They had endured much from their masters; now was the hour of reckoning. Now the Chinese right wing attempted to check their charge; caught before and behind. The celestial army buckled and crumpled, whole troops breaking away in headlong retreat. At one stroke Lady Linshui’s chance to crush her enemy had been swept away.
As the charge had begun, the Chinese right wing had advanced in the midst of the feint and had been caught by the sudden unexpected charge of the Mongols left with a great blare of trumpets and roll of drums. Fatima had swept through the light cuirassiers, almost losing her head momentarily in the lust for slaughter. She drove the enemy flying before her until pursued and pursuers vanished over the slopes in the distance.
Turakina Khatum sent Princess Sukhebatar with a reserve squadron to support the left wing and bring it back, while Dojoodorj, sweeping aside the remnants of Lady Linshui’s cavalry, swung in a pivot and thundered against the locked ranks of the skirmishers. They held, a wall of iron, until Fatima, galloping back from her pursuit of the cuirassiers, hit them on the opposite flank.
Charge after charge crashed on those compact ranks, surging forward and rolling back. In clouds of of dust kicked up by the horses the skirmishers stood their ground, thrusting with gore-reddened spears. The wild riders swept in, raking the enemy with the storms of their arrows as they drew and loosed too swiftly for the eye to follow, rushing headlong, hacking as their scimitars sheared through shield, helmet and skull. The Chinese beat them back, overthrowing horse and rider; pulling them down and trampling them under foot, standing on their own dead, until both armies struggled upon a ground composed only of the slain and the hoofs of Mongolian steeds splashed blood at every pass.
All day Lady Linshui had fought grimly on foot at the head of her women. Repeated charges tore the Chinese host apart at last, though all over the plain the fighting raged on. Bands of female demons stood back to back, slaying and dying beneath the arrows and scimitars of the riders from the steppes. At Linshui’s side Hu Hua-Yong was slain, pierced by a dozen arrows. At the head of a thousand of her skirmishers the Taoist sorceress held the highest hill she could find, through the blazing hell of that long afternoon she gave commands while her celestial army died all around her. In a hurricane of twanging bows, lashing axes and ripping scimitars, Linshui’s warriors held the triumphant Mongols to a pitiful impasse. It was at that time that Saru’sinul-tu, on foot, rushed headlong through the melee and struck the Taoist sorceress with such hate-driven strength that the crested helmet shattered beneath the scimitar’s whistling edge and Lady Linshui fell like a dead woman. Over the weary groups of bloodstained defenders rolled despair as the war drums of Mongolian thundering their victory.
The power of the Ming court of the Forbidden City was broken, the heads of their best generals heaped before Turakina’s tent. But the Borjigin Mongols chased the flying Chinese all the way to the fortress called Jinyi, Lady Linshui’s stronghold, sweeping the walls with sword and flame. Like a whirlwind they came and like a whirlwind they went, leaving nothing alive behind them.
Riding back to the Borjigin camp beside Dojoodorj and Fatima, Saru’sinul-tu learned that Lady Linshui lived. The stroke which had felled her had only stunned, Taoist sorceress was now captive to the Khatun she had once mocked. Saru’sinul-tu cursed; the Kara-Khitan was dusty and stained with hard riding and harder fighting; dried blood darkened her armor and clotted her lips. A red-soaked scarf was bound about her thigh as a rude bandage; her eyes were bloodshot, her thick lips frozen in a snarl of battle-fury.
“I wish she had not survived that blow. Is she to be torn apart by horses, as she swore that our Khatun would be?”
“Our lady gave her good welcome and will do no harm to her,” answered the attendant. “The Taoist sorceress will sit at the feast.”
Fatima shook her head, for she was merciful except in the heat of battle, but in Saru’sinul-tu’s ears were ringing the screams of the butchered captives at Xi Xia. The girl laughed, but it was not a laugh that was pleasant to hear.
To the fierce heart of the Taoist sorceress, death was easier than sitting a captive at the feast which always followed a Mongolian victory. Lady Linshui remained like a grim stone, robbed of magic, she neither spoke nor heard the boom of the drums, the roar of revelry all around her. She did not touch the great golden goblet set before her. Many and many a time had she exulted over the agony of the vanquished, with much less mercy than was now shown her; now the unfamiliar bite of defeat left her icy and chill.
She saw Saru’sinul-tu sitting next to Turakina, her stained dusty garments contrasting strangely with the silk-and-gold splendor of the Mongolians. Lady Linshui’s eyes blazed, her face turned wild and drained goblet after goblet of purple wine. It was then that Lady Linshui’s iron control snapped. With a scream that struck the Mongolians silent, the Witch Bone lurched upright, smashing the heavy goblet into fragments upon the floor.
All eyes turned toward her and some of the Borjigins stepped quickly between her and their Khatun, who only looked at the witch impassively.
“Horse fucker and spawn of an unbeliever!” screamed Lady Linshui at Saru’sinul-tu. “You came to me as one in need and I sheltered you! The curse of all traitors rest on your soul, blackguard!”
Saru’sinul-tu stood up slowly.
“Blackguard?” she said. “Is the battle of Xi Xia so long ago you have forgotten who you annihilated or have you gone senile in your old age? Have you forgotten the ten thousand prisoners you slaughtered there? My tribe, naked and with their hands bound, one by one? I fought against you then with steel; but you think magic a noble weapon to use in war so I fought you with guile. You are the fool, from the moment you marched out of Jinyi, you were doomed. What? Because I went down on you a couple times then you thought that you understood my motivation?”
It was her that Fatima gave the young Kara-Khitan a significant, piercing gaze.
“It was I who spoke to the Oirats, a tribe you conquered; so they were content and seemed willing to serve you. You never really trusted me, which you shouldn’t have and so I told you only truths, knowing that you would follow your own wisdom, regardless of what I or anyone else might say, until your own stupidity drove you to make a mistake. Then you ignored your own council and turned to me, who never once lied to you while in battle, and I led you into a trap. Witch Bone, hear me: I played my part right under the eyes of the whole Ming court, every instant, even when I was out of my head with sake. I fought for you against the Tibetans and took wounds for you. In the Gobi I suffered like the rest. I would have gone through any hell to bring your tyranny to an end!”
“If you serve well your mistress as you have served me, betrayer,” retorted the Taoist sorceress, “your people’s victory shall be short as it will be bitter. Yes, may each of you bring the other tumbling down! In the end, Borjigin queen, you will lament the day you took this viper into the tent of Genghis Khan!”
“Be at ease, Lady Linshui,” Turakina said, stolidly. “History shall decide who betrayed who. Mortals can never guess the motives of the Gods.”
“Like hell they can’t!” cried the Taoist sorceress with a terrible laugh. “It is not written that the Witch Bone should live to be a toy for a mad dog to play with! Queen Divooneh! Mongol dogs! I, Lady Linshui, tell you all, fuck you and your sad excuse of an empire!”
Before anyone could grab her, Lady Linshui, the Taoist sorceress, snatched a carving-knife from a table and plunged it into her throat, up to the hilt. Her eyes rolled backwards and all the candles and torches in the ger fluttered and went out. Blood gushed everywhere. For a moment the Chinese general staggered, as if caught in a storm, spurting her life upon everyone about her. Then, slowly, she crashed to the floor. The Borjigins stood aghast. Of all the inglorious ways to die, suicide where one’s blood actually touched the earth was the most foul, for then the soul could never find paradise and only pollute Mother Earth under Father Sky.
Saru’sinul-tu stood and walked over to the body. She drew the hem of the woman’s dress so far up that she could use it as a burial shroud, exposing the dead woman’s naked thighs, the giant forest of pubic hair Saru’sinul-tu had known intimately. Already the bowls were leaking and urine mixed with the blood soaking the floor while Turakina Khatun, seating herself royally, took up a great goblet that glowed crimson in the firelight and brought it to her lips.