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

Progress of the Quarrel

T EMUJIN'S stratagem succeeded admirably. As soon as he had decided upon it he began to put it into execution. He caused every thing of value to be taken out of his tent and carried away to a place of safety. He sent away the women and children, too, to the same place. He then marshaled all his men, excepting the small guard that he was going to leave behind until evening, and led them off to the ambuscade which he had chosen for them. The place was about two leagues distant from his camp. Temujin concealed himself here in a narrow dell among the mountains, not far from the road where Vang Khan would have to pass along. The dell was narrow, and was protected by precipitous rocks on each side. There was a wood at the entrance to it also, which concealed those that were hidden in it from view, and a brook which flowed by near the entrance, so that, in going in or coming out, it was necessary to ford the brook.

Temujin, on arriving at the spot, went with all his troops into the dell, and concealed himself there.

In the mean time, the guard that had been left behind in the camp had been instructed to kindle up the campfires as soon as the evening came on, according to the usual custom, and to set lights in the tents, so as to give the camp the appearance, when seen from a little distance in the night, of being occupied, as usual, by the army. They were to wait, and watch the fires and lights until they perceived signs of the approach of the enemy to attack the camp, when they were secretly to retire on the farther side, and so make their escape.

These preparations, and the march of Temujin's troops to the place of ambuscade, occupied almost the whole of the day, and it was near evening before the last of the troops had entered the dell.

They had scarce accomplished this manœuvre before Vang Khan's army arrived. Vang Khan himself was not with them. He had intrusted the expedition to the command of Sankum and Yemuka. Indeed, it is probable that they were the real originators and contrivers of it, and that Vang Khan had only been induced to give his consent to it—and that perhaps reluctantly—by their persuasions. Sankum and Yemuka advanced cautiously at the head of their columns, and when they saw the illumination of the camp produced by the lights and the campfires, they thought at once that all was right, and that their old enemy and rival was now, at last, within their reach and at their mercy.

They brought up the men as near to the camp as they could come without being observed, and then, drawing their bows and making their arrows ready, they advanced furiously to the onset, and discharged an immense shower of arrows in among the tents. They expected to see thousands of men come rushing out from the tents, or starting up from the ground at this sudden assault, but, to their utter astonishment, all was as silent and motionless after the falling of the arrows as before. They then discharged more arrows, and, finding that they could not awaken any signs of life, they began to advance cautiously and enter the camp. They found, of course, that it had been entirely evacuated. They then rode round and round the inclosure, examining the ground with flambeaux and torches to find the tracks which Temujin's army had made in going away. The tracks were soon discovered. Those who first saw them immediately set off in pursuit of the fugitives, as they supposed them, shouting, at the same time, for the rest to follow. Some did follow immediately. Others, who had strayed away to greater or less distances on either side of the camp in search of the tracks, fell in by degrees as they received the order, while others still remained among the tents, where they were to be seen riding to and fro, endeavoring to make discoveries, or gathering together in groups to express to one another their astonishment, or to inquire what was next to be done. They, however, all gradually fell into the ranks of those who were following the track which had been found, and the whole body went on as fast as they could go, and in great confusion. They all supposed that Temujin and his troops were making a precipitate retreat, and were expecting every moment to come up to him in his rear, in which case he would be taken at great disadvantage, and would be easily overwhelmed.

Instead of this, Temujin was just coming forward from his hiding-place, with his squadrons all in perfect order, and advancing in a firm, steady, and compact column, all being ready at the word of command to charge in good order, but with terrible impetuosity, upon the advancing enemy. In this way the two armies came together. The shock of the encounter was terrific. Temujin, as might have been expected, was completely victorious. The confused masses of Vang Khan's army were overborne, thrown into dreadful confusion, and trampled under foot. Great numbers were killed. Those that escaped being killed at once turned and fled. Sankum was wounded in the face by an arrow, but he still was able to keep his seat upon his horse, and so galloped away. Those that succeeded in saving themselves got back as soon as they could into the road by which they came, and so made their way, in detached and open parties, home to Karakorom.

Of course, after this, Vang Khan could no longer dissimulate his hostility to Temujin, and both parties prepared for open war.

The different historians through whom we derive our information in respect to the life and adventures of Genghis Khan have related the transactions which occurred after this open outbreak between Temujin and Vang Khan somewhat differently. Combining their accounts, we learn that both parties, after the battle, opened negotiations with such neighboring tribes as they supposed likely to take sides in the conflict, each endeavoring to gain as many adherents as possible to his own cause. Temujin obtained the alliance and co-operation of a great number of Tartar princes who ruled over hordes that dwelt in that part of the country, or among the mountains around. Some of these chieftains were his relatives. Others were induced to join him by being convinced that he would, in the end, prove to be stronger than Vang Khan, and being, in some sense, politicians as well as warriors, they wished to be sure of coming out at the close of the contest on the victorious side.

There was a certain khan, named Turkili, who was a relative of Temujin, and who commanded a very powerful tribe. On approaching the confines of his territory, Temujin, not being certain of Turkili's disposition toward him, sent forward an embassador to announce his approach, and to ask if Turkili still retained the friendship which had long subsisted between them. Turkili might, perhaps, have hesitated which side to join, but the presence of Temujin with his whole troop upon his frontier seems to have determined him, so he sent a favorable answer, and at once espoused Temujin's cause.

Many other chieftains joined Temujin in much the same way, and thus the forces under his command were constantly increased. At length, in his progress across the country, he came with his troop of followers to a place where there was a stream of salt or bitter water which was unfit to drink. Temujin encamped on the shores of this stream, and performed a grand ceremony, in which he himself and his allies banded themselves together in the most solemn manner. In the course of the ceremony a horse was sacrificed on the shores of the stream. Temujin also took up some of the water from the brook and drank it, invoking heaven, at the same time, to witness a solemn vow which he made, that, as long as he lived, he would share with his officers and soldiers the bitter as well as the sweet, and imprecating curses upon himself if he should ever violate his oath. All his allies and officers did the same after him.


Drinking From the Bitter Waters.

This ceremony was long remembered in the army, all those who had been present and had taken part in it cherishing the recollection of it with pride and pleasure; and long afterward, when Temujin had attained to the height of his power and glory, his generals considered their having been present at this first solemn league and covenant as conferring upon them a sort of title of nobility, by which they and their descendants were to be distinguished forever above all those whose adhesion to the cause of the conqueror dated from a later time.

By this time Temujin began to feel quite strong. He moved on with his army till he came to the borders of a lake which was not a great way from Vang Khan's dominions. Here he encamped, and, before proceeding any farther, he determined try the effect, upon the mind of Vang Khan, of a letter of expostulation and remonstrance; so he wrote to him, substantially, as follows:

"A great many years ago, in the time of my father, when you were driven from your throne by your enemies, my father came to your aid, defeated your enemies, and restored you.

"At a later time, after I had come into your dominions, your brother conspired against you with the Markats and the Naymans. I defeated them, and helped you to recover your power. When you were reduced to great distress, I shared with you my flocks and every thing that I had.

"At another time, when you were in circumstances of great danger and distress, you sent to me to ask that my four intrepids might go and rescue you. I sent them according to your request, and they delivered you from a most imminent danger. They helped you to conquer your enemies, and to recover an immense booty from them.

"In many other instances, when the khans have combined against you, I have given you most effectual aid in subduing them.

"How is it, then, after receiving all these benefits from me for a period of so many years, that you form plans to destroy me in so base and treacherous a manner?"

This letter seems to have produced some impression upon Vang Khan's mind; but he was now, it seems, so much under the influence of Sankum and Yemuka that he could decide nothing for himself. He sent the letter to Sankum to ask him what answer should be returned. But Sankum, in addition to his former feelings of envy and jealousy against Temujin, was now irritated and angry in consequence of the wound that he had received, and determined to have his revenge. He would not hear of any accommodation.

In the mean time, the khans of all the Tartar and Mongul tribes that lived in the countries bordering on Vang Khan's dominions, hearing of the rupture between Vang Khan and Temujin, and aware of the great struggle for the mastery between these two potentates that was about to take place, became more and more interested in the quarrel. Temujin was very active in opening negotiations with them, and in endeavoring to induce them to take his side. He was a comparatively young and rising man, while Vang Khan was becoming advanced in years, and was now almost wholly under the influence of Sankum and Yemuka. Temujin, moreover, had already acquired great fame and great popularity as a commander, and his reputation was increasing every day, while Vang Khan's glory was evidently on the wane. A great number of the khans were, of course, predisposed to take Temujin's side. Others he compelled to join him by force, and others he persuaded by promising to release them from the exactions and the tyranny which Vang Khan had exercised over them, and declaring that he was a messenger especially sent from heaven to accomplish their deliverance. Those Asiatic tribes were always ready to believe in military messengers sent from heaven to make conquests for their benefit.

Among other nations who joined Tenujin at this time were the people of his own country of Mongolistan Proper. He was received very joyfully by his stepfather, who was in command there, and by all his former subjects, and they all promised to sustain him in the coming war.

After a time, when Temujin had by these and similar means greatly increased the number of his adherents, and proportionately strengthened his position, he sent an embassador again to Vang Khan to propose some accommodation. Vang Khan called a council to consider the proposal. But Sankum and Yemuka persisted in refusing to allow any accommodation to be made. They declared that they would not listen to proposals of peace on any other condition than that of the absolute surrender of Temujin, and of all who were confederate with him, to Vang Khan as their lawful sovereign. Sankum himself delivered the message to the embassador.

"Tell the rebel Monguls," said he, "that they are to expect no peace but by submitting absolutely to the khan's will; and as for Temujin, I will never see him again till I come to him sword in hand to kill him."

Immediately after this Sankum and Yemuka sent off some small plundering expeditions into the Mongul country, but they were driven back by Temujin's troops without effecting their purpose. The result of these skirmishes was, however, greatly to exasperate both parties, and to lead them to prepare in earnest for open war.

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