Gateway to the Classics: Genghis Khan by Jacob Abbott
Genghis Khan by  Jacob Abbott

The First Battle

I N the language of the Monguls and of their neighbors the Tartars, a collection of tribes banded together under one chieftain was designated by a name which sounded like the word orda. This is the origin, it is said, of the English word horde.

The orda over which Yezonkai had ruled, and the command of which, at his death, he left to his son, consisted of a great number of separate tribes, each of which had its own particular chieftain. All these subordinate chieftains were content to be under Yezonkai's rule and leadership while he lived. He was competent, they thought, to direct their movements and to lead them into battle against their enemies. But when he died, leaving only a young man thirteen years of age to succeed him, several of them were disposed to rebel. There were two of them, in particular, who thought that they were themselves better qualified to reign over the nation than such a boy; so they formed an alliance with each other, and with such other tribes as were disposed to join them, and advanced to make war upon Temujin at the head of a great number of squadrons of troops, amounting in all to thirty thousand men.

The names of the two leaders of this rebellion were Taychot and Chamuka.

Young Temujin depended chiefly on his mother for guidance and direction in this emergency. He was himself very brave and spirited; but bravery and spirit, though they are of such vital importance in a commander on the field of battle, when the contest actually comes on, are by no means the principal qualities that are required in making the preliminary arrangements.

Accordingly, Temujin left the forming of the plans to his mother, while he thought only of his horses, of his arms and equipments, and of the fury with which he would gallop in among the enemy when the time should arrive for the battle to begin. His mother, in connection with the chief officers of the army and counselors of state who were around her, and on whom her husband Yezonkai, during his lifetime, had been most accustomed to rely, arranged all the plans. They sent off messengers to the heads of all the tribes that they supposed would be friendly to Temujin, and appointed places of rendezvous for the troops that they were to send. They made arrangements for the stores of provisions which would be required, settled questions of precedence among the different clans, regulated the order of march, and attended to all other necessary details.

In the mean time, Temujin thought only of the approaching battle. He was engaged continually in riding up and down upon spirited horses, and shooting in all directions, backward and forward, and both to the right side and to the left, with his bow and arrow. Nor was all this exhibition of ardor on his part a mere useless display. It had great influence in awakening a corresponding ardor among the chieftains of the troops, and among the troops themselves. They felt proud of the spirit and energy which their young prince displayed, and were more and more resolved to exert themselves to the utmost in defending his cause.

There was another young prince, of the name of Porgie, of about Temujin's age, who was also full of ardor for the fight. He was the chieftain of one of the tribes that remained faithful to Temujin, and he was equally earnest with Temujin for the battle to begin.

At length the troops were ready, and, with Temujin and his mother at the head of them, they went forth to attack the rebels. The rebels were ready to receive them. They were thirty thousand strong, according to the statements of the historians. This number is probably exaggerated, as all numbers were in those days, when there was no regular enrollment of troops and no strict system of enumeration.

At any rate, there was a very great battle. Immense troops of horsemen coming at full speed in opposite directions shot showers of arrows at each other when they arrived at the proper distance for the arrows to take effect, and then, throwing down their bows and drawing their sabres, rushed madly on, until they came together with an awful shock, the dreadful confusion and terror of which no person can describe. The air was filled with the most terrific outcries, in which yells of fury, shrieks of agony, and shouts of triumph were equally mingled. Some of the troops maintained their position through the shock, and rode on, bearing down all before them. Others were overthrown and trampled in the dust; while all, both those who were up and those who were down, were cutting in every direction with their sabres, killing men and inciting the horses to redoubled fury by the wounds which they gave them.

In the midst of such scenes as these Temujin and Porgie fought furiously with the rest. Temujin distinguished himself greatly. It is probable that those who were immediately around him felt that he was under their charge, and that they must do all in their power to protect him from danger. This they could do much more easily and effectually under the mode of fighting which prevailed in those days than would be possible now, when gunpowder is the principal agent of destruction. Temujin's attendants and followers could gather around him and defend him from assailants. They could prevent him from charging any squadron which was likely to be strong enough to overpower him, and they could keep his enemies so much at bay that they could not reach him with their sabres. But upon a modern field of battle there is much less opportunity to protect a young prince or general's son, or other personage whose life may be considered as peculiarly valuable. No precautions of his attendants can prevent a bomb's bursting at his feet, or shield him from the rifle balls that come whistling from such great distances through the air.

At any rate, whether protected by his attendants or only by the fortune of war, Temujin passed through the battle without being hurt, and the courage and energy which he displayed were greatly commended by all who witnessed them. His mother was in the battle too, though, perhaps, not personally involved in the actual conflicts of it. She directed the manœuvres, however, and by her presence and her activity greatly encouraged and animated the men. In consequence of the spirit and energy infused into the troops by her presence, and by the extraordinary ardor and bravery of Temujin, the battle was gained. The army of the enemy was put to flight. One of the leaders, Taychot, was slain. The other made his escape, and Temujin and his mother were left in possession of the field.

Of course, after having fought with so much energy and effect on such a field, Temujin was now no longer considered as a boy, but took his place at once as a man among men, and was immediately recognized by all the army as their prince and sovereign, and as fully entitled, by his capacity if not by his years, to rule in his own name. He assumed and exercised his powers with as much calmness and self-possesion as if he had been accustomed to them for many years. He made addresses to his officers and soldiers, and distributed honors and rewards to them with a combined majesty and grace which, in their opinion, denoted much grandeur of soul. The rewards and honors were characteristic of the customs of the country and the times. They consisted of horses, arms, splendid articles of dress, and personal ornaments. Of course, among a people who lived, as it were, always on horseback, such objects as these were the ones most highly prized.

The consequence of this victory was, that nearly the whole country occupied by the rebels submitted without any farther resistance to Temujin's sway. Other tribes, who lived on the borders of his dominions, sent in to propose treaties of alliance. The khan of one of these tribes demanded of Temujin the hand of his sister in marriage to seal and confirm the alliance which he proposed to make. In a word, the fame of Temujin's prowess spread rapidly after the battle over all the surrounding countries, and high anticipations began to be formed of the greatness and glory of his reign.

In the course of the next year Temujin was married to his second wife, although he was at this time only fourteen years old. The name of his bride was Purta Kugin. By this wife, who was probably of about his own age, he had a daughter, who was born before the close of the year after the marriage.

In his journeys about the country Temujin sometimes took his wives with him, and sometimes he left them temporarily in some place of supposed security. Toward the end of the second year Purta was again about to become a mother, and Temujin, who at that time had occasion to go off on some military expedition, fearing that the fatigue and exposure would be more than she could well bear, left her at home. While he was gone a troop of horsemen, from a tribe of his enemies, came suddenly into the district on a marauding expedition. They overpowered the troops Temujin had left to guard the place, and seized and carried off every thing that they could find that was valuable. They made prisoner of Purta, too, and carried her away a captive. The plunder they divided among themselves, but Purta they sent as a present to a certain khan who reigned over a neighboring country, and whose favor they wished to secure. The name of this chieftain was Vang Khan. As this Vang Khan figures somewhat conspicuously in the subsequent history of Temujin, a full account of him will be given in the next chapter. All that is necessary to say here is, that the intention of the captors of Purta, in sending her to him as a present, was that he should make her his wife. It was the custom of these khans to have as many wives as they could obtain, so that when prisoners of high rank were taken in war, if there were any young and beautiful women among them, they were considered as charming presents to send to any great prince or potentate near, whom the captors were desirous of pleasing. It made no difference, in such cases, whether the person who was to receive the present were young or old. Sometimes the older he was the more highly he would prize such a gift.

Vang Kahn, it happened, was old. He was old enough to be Temujin's father. Indeed, he had been in the habit of calling Temujin his son. He had been in alliance with Yezonkai, Temujin's father, some years before, when Temujin was quite a boy, and it was at that time that he began to call him his son.


Purta in the Tent of Vang Kahn.

Accordingly, when Purta was brought to him by the messengers who had been sent in charge of her, and presented to him in his tent, he said,

"She is very beautiful, but I can not take her for my wife, for she is the wife of my son. I can not marry the wife of my son."

Vang Khan, however, received Purta under his charge, gave her a place in his household, and took good care of her.

When Temujin returned home from his expedition, and learned what had happened during his absence, he was greatly distressed at the loss of his wife. Not long afterward he ascertained where she was, and he immediately sent a deputation to Vang Khan asking him to send her home. With this request Vang Khan immediately complied, and Purta set out on her return. She was stopped on the way, however, by the birth of her child. It was a son. As soon as the child was born it was determined to continue the journey, for there was danger, if they delayed, that some new troop of enemies might come up, in which case Purta would perhaps be made captive again. So Purta, it is said, wrapped up the tender limbs of the infant in some sort of paste or dough, to save them from the effects of the jolting produced by the rough sort of cart in which she was compelled to ride, and in that condition she held the babe in her lap all the way home.

She arrived at her husband's residence in safety. Temujin was overjoyed at seeing her again; and he was particularly pleased with his little son, who came out of his packing safe and sound. In commemoration of his safe arrival after so strange and dangerous a journey, his father named him Safe-arrived; that is, he gave him for a name the word in their language that means that. The word itself was Jughi.

The commencement of Temujin's career was thus, on the whole, quite prosperous, and every thing seemed to promise well. He was himself full of ambition and of hope, and began to feel dissatisfied with the empire which his father had left him, and to form plans for extending it. He dreamed one night that his arms grew out to an enormous length, and that he took a sword in each of them, and stretched them out to see how far they would reach, pointing one to the eastward and the other to the westward. In the morning he related his dream to his mother. She interpreted it to him. She told him it meant undoubtedly that he was destined to become a great conqueror, and that the directions in which his kingdom would be extended were toward the eastward and toward the westward.

Temujin continued for about two years after this in prosperity, and then his good fortune began to wane. There came a reaction. Some of the tribes under his dominion began to grow discontented. The subordinate khans began to form plots and conspiracies. Even his own tribe turned against him. Rebellions broke out in various parts of his dominions; and he was obliged to make many hurried expeditions here and there, and to fight many desperate battles to suppress them. In one of these contests he was taken prisoner. He, however, contrived to make his escape. He then made proposals to the disaffected khans, which he hoped would satisfy them, and bring them once more to submit to him, since what he thus offered to do in these proposals was pretty much all that they had professed to require. But the proposals did not satisfy them. What they really intended to do was to depose Temujin altogether, and then either divide his dominions among themselves, or select some one of their number to reign in his stead.

At last, Temujin, finding that he could not pacify his enemies, and that they were, moreover, growing stronger every day, while those that adhered to him were growing fewer in numbers and diminishing in strength, became discouraged. He began to think that perhaps he really was too young to rule over a kingdom composed of wandering hordes of men so war-like and wild, and he concluded for a time to give up the attempt, and wait until times should change, or, at least, until he should be grown somewhat older. Accordingly, in conjunction with his mother, he formed a plan for retiring temporarily from the field; unless, indeed, as we might reasonably suspect, his mother formed the plan herself, and by her influence over him induced him to adopt it.

The plan was this: that Temujin should send an embassador to the court of Vang Khan to ask Vang Khan to receive him, and protect him for a time in his dominions, until the affairs of his own kingdom should become settled. Then, if Vang Khan should accede to this proposal, Temujin was to appoint his uncle to act as regent during his absence. His mother, too, was to be married to a certain emir, or prince, named Menglik, who was to be made prime minister under the regent, and was to take precedence of all the other princes or khans in the kingdom. The government was to be managed by the regent and the minister until such time as it should be deemed expedient for Temujin to return.

This plan was carried into effect. Vang Khan readily consented to receive Temujin into his dominions, and to protect him there. He was very ready to do this, he said, on account of the friendship which he had borne for Temujin's father. Temujin's mother was married to the emir, and the emir was made the first prince of the realm. Finally, Temujin's uncle was proclaimed regent, and duly invested with all necessary authority for governing the country until Temujin's return. These things being all satisfactorily arranged, Temujin set out for the country of Vang Khan at the head of an armed escort, to protect him on the way, of six thousand men. He took with him all his family, and a considerable suite of servants and attendants. Among them was his old tutor and guardian Karasher, the person who had been appointed by his father to take charge of him, and to teach and train him when he was a boy.

Being protected by so powerful an escort, Temujin's party were not molested on their journey, and they all arrived safely at the court of Vang Khan.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Yezonkai Khan  |  Next: Vang Khan
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.