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


T HERE was another great and powerful khan, named Idikut, whose tribe had hitherto been under the dominion of Gurkhan, the Prince of Turkestan, where Kushluk had sought refuge, but who about this time revolted from Gurkhan and went over to Genghis Khan, under circumstances which illustrate, in some degree, the peculiar nature of the political ties by which these different tribes and nations were bound to each other. It seems that the tribe over which Idikut ruled was tributary to Turkestan, and that Gurkhan had an officer stationed in Idikut's country whose business it was to collect and remit the tribute. The name of this collector was Shuwakem. He was accustomed, it seems, like almost all tax-gatherers in those days, to exact more than was his due. The system generally adopted by governments in that age of the world for collecting their revenues from tributary or conquered provinces was to farm them, as the phrase was. That is, they sold the whole revenue of a particular district in the gross to some rich man, who paid for it a specific sum, considerably less, of course, than the tax itself would really yield, and then he reimbursed himself for his outlay and for his trouble by collecting the tax in detail from the people. Of course, it was for the interest of the tax-gatherer, in such a case, after having paid the round sum to the government, to extort as much as possible from the people, since all that he obtained over and above the sum that he had paid was his profit on the transaction. Then, if the people complained to the government of his exactions, they could seldom obtain any redress, for the government knew that if they rebuked or punished the farmer of the revenue, or interfered with him in any way, they would not be able to make so favorable terms with him for the next year.

The plan of farming the revenues thus led to a great deal of extortion and oppression, which the people were compelled patiently to endure, as there was generally no remedy. In modern times and among civilized nations this system has been almost universally abandoned. The taxes are now always collected for the government directly by officers who have to pay over, not a fixed sum, but simply what they collect. Thus the tax-gatherers are, in some sense, impartial, since, if they collect more than the law entitles them to demand, the benefit inures almost wholly to the government, they themselves gaining little or no advantage by their extortion. Besides this, there are courts established which are, in a great measure, independent of the government, to which the tax-payer can appeal at once in a case where he thinks he is aggrieved. This, it is true, often puts him to a great deal of trouble and expense, but, in the end, he is pretty sure to have justice done him, while under the old system there was ordinarily no remedy at all. There was nothing to be done but to appeal to the king or chieftain himself, and these complaints seldom received any attention. For, besides the natural unwillingness of the sovereign to trouble himself about such disputes, he had a direct interest in not requiring the extorted money to be paid back, or, rather, in not having it proved that it was extorted. Thus the poor tax-payer found that the officer who collected the money, and the umpire who was to decide in case of disputes, were both directly interested against him, and he was continually wronged; whereas, at the present day, by means of a system which provides disinterested officers to determine and collect the tax, and independent judges to decide all cases of dispute, the evils are almost wholly avoided. The only difficulty now is the extravagance and waste with which the public money is expended, making it necessary to collect a much larger amount than would otherwise be required. Perhaps some future generation will discover some plain and simple remedy for this evil too.

The name of the officer who had the general charge of the collection of the taxes in Idikut's territory for Gurkhan, King of Turkestan, was, as has already been said, Shuwakem. He oppressed the people, exacting more from them than was really due. Whether he had farmed the revenue, and was thus enriching himself by his extortions, or whether he was acting directly in Gurkhan's name, and made the people pay more than he ought from zeal in his master's service, and a desire to recommend himself to favor by sending home to Turkestan as large a revenue from the provinces as possible, does not appear. At all events, the people complained bitterly. They had, however, no access to Gurkhan, Shuwakem's master, and so they carried their complaints to Idikut, their own khan.

Idikut remonstrated with Shuwakem, but he, instead of taking the remonstrance in good part and relaxing the severity of his proceedings, resented the interference of Idikut, and answered him in a haughty and threatening manner. This made Idikut very angry. Indeed, he was angry before, as it might naturally be supposed that he would have been, at having a person owing allegiance to a foreign prince exercising authority in a proud and domineering manner within his dominions, and the reply which Shuwakem made when he remonstrated with him on account of his extortions exasperated him beyond all bounds. He immediately caused Shuwakem to be assassinated. He also slew all the other officers of Gurkhan within his country—those, probably, who were employed to assist Shuwakem in collecting the taxes.

The murder of these officers was, of course, an act of open rebellion against Gurkhan, and Idikut, in order to shield himself from the consequences of it, determined to join himself and his tribe at once to the empire of Genghis Khan; so he immediately dispatched two embassadors to the Mongul emperor with his proposals.

The envoys, accompanied by a suitable troop of guards and attendants, went into the Mongul country and presently came up with Genghis Khan, while he was on a march toward the country of some tribe or horde that had revolted from him. They were very kindly received; for, although Genghis Khan was not prepared at present to make open war upon Gurkhan, or to invade his dominions in pursuit of Prince Kushluk, he was intending to do this at some future day, and, in the mean time, he was very glad to weaken his enemy by drawing off from his empire any tributary tribes that were at all disposed to revolt from him.

He accordingly received the embassadors of Idikut in a very cordial and friendly manner. He readily acceded to the proposals which Idikut made through them, and, in order to give full proof to Idikut of the readiness and sincerity with which he accepted his proposals, he sent back two embassadors of his own to accompany Idikut's embassadors on their return, and to join them in assuring that prince of the cordiality with which Genghis Khan accepted his offers of friendship, and to promise his protection.

Idikut was very much pleased, when his messengers returned, to learn that his mission had been so successful. He immediately determined to go himself and visit Genghis Khan in his camp, in order to confirm the new alliance by making a personal tender to the emperor of his homage and his services. He accordingly prepared some splendid presents, and, placing himself at the head of his troop of guards, he proceeded to the camp of Genghis Khan. The emperor received him in a very kind and friendly manner. He accepted his presents, and, in the end, was so much pleased with Idikut himself that he gave him one of his daughters in marriage.

As for Gurkhan, when he first heard of the murder of Shuwakem and the other officers, he was in a terrible rage. He declared that he would revenge his servant by laying waste Idikut's territories with fire and sword. But when he heard that Idikut had placed himself under the protection of Genghis Khan, and especially when he learned that he had married the emperor's daughter, he thought it more prudent to postpone his vengeance, not being quite willing to draw upon himself the hostility of so great a power.

Prince Kushluk remained for many years in Turkestan and in the countries adjoining it. He married a daughter of Gurkhan, his protector. Partly in consequence of this connection and of the high rank which he had held in his own native land, and partly, perhaps, in consequence of his personal courage and other military qualities, he rapidly acquired great influence among the khans of Western Asia, and at last he organized a sort of rebellion against Gurkhan, made war against him, and deprived him of more than half his dominions. He then collected a large army, and prepared to make war upon Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan sent one of his best generals, at the head of a small but very compact and well-disciplined force, against him. The name of this general was Jena. Kushluk was not at all intimidated by the danger which now threatened him. His own army was much larger than that of Jena, and he accordingly advanced to meet his enemy without fear. He was, however, beaten in the battle, and, when he saw that the day was lost, he fled, followed by a small party of horsemen, who succeeded in saving themselves with him.

Jena set out immediately in pursuit of the fugitive, accompanied by a small body of men mounted on the fleetest horses. The party who were with Kushluk, being exhausted by the fatigue of the battle and bewildered by the excitement and terror of their flight, could not keep together, but were overtaken one by one and slain by their pursuers until only three were left. These three kept close to Kushluk, and with him went on until Jena's party lost the track of them.

At length, coming to a place where two roads met, Jena asked a peasant if he had seen any strange horsemen pass that way. The peasant said that four horsemen had passed a short time before, and he told Jena which road they had taken.

Jena and his party rode on in the direction which the peasant had indicated, and, pushing forward with redoubled speed, they soon overtook the unhappy fugitives. They fell upon Kushluk without mercy, and killed him on the spot. They then cut off his head, and turned back to carry it to Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan rewarded Jena in the most magnificent manner for his successful performance of this exploit, and then, putting Kushluk's head upon a pole, he displayed it in all the camps and villages through which he passed, where it served at once as a token and a trophy of his victory against an enemy, and, at the same time, as a warning to all other persons of the terrible danger which they would incur in attempting to resist his power.

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