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

Rupture with Vang Khan

T EMUJIN remained at the court, or in the dominions of Vang Khan, for a great many years. During the greater portion of this time he continued in the service of Vang Khan, and on good terms with him, though, in the end, as we shall presently see, their friendship was turned into a bitter enmity.

Erkekara, Vang Khan's brother, who had usurped his throne during the rebellion, was killed, it was said, at the time when Vang Khan recovered his throne. Several of the other rebel chieftains were also killed, but some of them succeeded in saving themselves from utter ruin, and in gradually recovering their former power over the hordes which they respectively commanded. It must be remembered that the country was not divided at this time into regular territorial states and kingdoms, but was rather one vast undivided region, occupied by immense hordes, each of which was more or less stationary, it is true, in its own district or range, but was nevertheless without any permanent settlement. The various clans drifted slowly this way and that among the plains and mountains, as the prospects of pasturage, the fortune of war, or the pressure of conterminous hordes might incline them. In cases, too, where a number of hordes were united under one general chieftain, as was the case with those over whom Vang Khan claimed to have sway, the tie by which they were bound together was very feeble, and the distinction between a state of submission and of rebellion, except in case of actual war, was very slightly defined.

Yemuka, the chieftain who had been so exasperated against Temujin on account of his being supplanted by him in the affections of the young princess, Vang Khan's daughter, whom Temujin had married for his third wife, succeeded in making his escape at the time when Vang Khan conquered his enemies and recovered his throne. For a time he concealed himself, or at least kept out of Vang Khan's reach, by dwelling with hordes whose range was at some distance from Karakorom. He soon, however, contrived to open secret negotiations with one of Vang Khan's sons, whose name was something that sounded like Sankum. Some authors, in attempting to represent his name in our letters, spelled it Sunghim.

Yemuka easily persuaded this young Sankum to take sides with him in the quarrel. It was natural that he should do so, for, being the son of Vang Khan, he was in some measure displaced from his own legitimate and proper position at his father's court by the great and constantly increasing influence which Temujin exercised.

"And besides," said Yemuka, in the secret representations which he made to Sankum, "this new-comer is not only interfering with the curtailing your proper influence and consideration now, but his design is by-and-by to circumvent and supplant you altogether. He is forming plans for making himself your father's heir, and so robbing you of your rightful inheritance."

Sankum listened very eagerly to these suggestions, and finally it was agreed between him and Yemuka that Sankum should exert his influence with his father to obtain permission for Yemuka to come back to court, and to be received again into his father's service, under pretense of having repented of his rebellion, and of being now disposed to return to his allegiance. Sankum did this, and, after a time, Vang Khan was persuaded to allow Yemuka to return.

Thus a sort of outward peace was made, but it was no real peace. Yemuka was as envious and jealous of Temujin as ever, and now, moreover, in addition to this envy and jealousy, he felt the stimulus of revenge. Things, however, seem to have gone on very quietly for a time, or at least without any open outbreak in the court. During this time Vang Khan was, as usual with such princes, frequently engaged in wars with the neighboring hordes. In these wars he relied a great deal on Temujin. Temujin was in command of a large body of troops, which consisted in part of his own guard, the troops that had come with him from his own country, and in part of other bands of men whom Vang Khan had placed under his orders, or who had joined him of their own accord. He was assisted in the command of this body by four subordinate generals or khans, whom he called his four intrepids. They were all very brave and skillful commanders. At the head of this troop Temujin was accustomed to scour the country, hunting out Vang Khan's enemies, or making long expeditions over distant plains or among the mountains, in the prosecution of Vang Khan's warlike projects, whether those of invasion and plunder, or of retaliation and vengeance.

Temujin was extremely popular with the soldiers who served under him. Soldiers always love a dashing, fearless, and energetic leader, who has the genius to devise brilliant schemes, and the spirit to execute them in a brilliant manner. They care very little how dangerous the situations are into which he may lead them. Those that get killed in performing the exploits which he undertakes can not speak to complain, and those who survive are only so much the better pleased that the dangers that they have been brought safely through were so desperate, and that the harvest of glory which they have thereby acquired is so great.

Temujin, though a great favorite with his own men, was, like almost all half-savage warriors of his class, utterly merciless, when he was angry, in his treatment of his enemies. It is said that after one of his battles, in which he had gained a complete victory over an immense horde of rebels and other foes, and had taken great numbers of them prisoners, he ordered fires to be built and seventy large caldrons of water to be put over them, and then, when the water was boiling hot, he caused the principal leaders of the vanquished army to be thrown in headlong and thus scalded to death. Then he marched at once into the country of the enemy, and there took all the women and children, and sent them off to be sold as slaves, and seized the cattle and other property which he found, and carried it off as plunder. In thus taking possession of the enemy's property and making it his own, and selling the poor captives into slavery, there was nothing remarkable. Such was the custom of the times. But the act of scalding his prisoners to death seems to denote or reveal in his character a vein of peculiar and atrocious cruelty. It is possible, however, that the story may not be true. It may have been invented by Yemuka and Sankum, or by some of his other enemies.

For Yemuka and Sankum, and others who were combined with them, were continually endeavoring to undermine Temujin's influence with Vang Khan, and thus deprive him of his power. But he was too strong for them. His great success in all his military undertakings kept him up in spite of all that his rivals could do to pull him down. As for Vang Khan himself, he was in part pleased with him and proud of him, and in part he feared him. He was very unwilling to be so dependent upon a subordinate chieftain, and yet he could not do without him. A king never desires that any one of his subjects should become too conspicuous or too great, and Vang Khan would have been very glad to have diminished, in some way, the power and prestige which Temujin had acquired, and which seemed to be increasing every day. He, however, found no means of effecting this in any quiet and peaceful manner. Temujin was at the head of his troops, generally away from Karakorom, where Vang Khan resided, and he was, in a great measure, independent. He raised his own recruits to keep the numbers of his army good, and it was always easy to subsist if there chanced to be any failure in the ordinary and regular supplies.

Besides, occasions were continually occurring in which Vang Khan wished for Temujin's aid, and could not dispense with it. At one time, while engaged in some important campaigns, far away among the mountains, Yemuka contrived to awaken so much distrust of Temujin in Vang Khan's mind, that Vang Khan secretly decamped in the night, and marched away to a distant place to save himself from a plot which Yemuka had told him that Temujin was contriving. Here, however, he was attacked by a large body of his enemies, and was reduced to such straits that he was obliged to send couriers off at once to Temujin to come with his intrepids and save him. Temujin came. He rescued Vang Khan from his danger, and drove his enemies away. Vang Khan was very grateful for this service, so that the two friends became entirely reconciled to each other, and were united more closely than ever, greatly to Yemuka's disappointment and chagrin. They made a new league of amity, and, to seal and confirm it, they agreed upon a double marriage between their two families. A son of Temujin was to be married to a daughter of Vang Khan, and a son of Vang Khan to a daughter of Temujin.

This new compact did not, however, last long. As soon as Vang Khan found that the danger from which Temujin had rescued him was passed, he began again to listen to the representations of Yemuka and Sankum, who still insisted that Temujin was a very dangerous man, and was by no means to be trusted. They said that he was ambitious and unprincipled, and that he was only waiting for a favorable opportunity to rebel himself against Vang Khan and depose him from his throne. They made a great many statements to the khan in confirmation of their opinion, some of which were true doubtless, but many were exaggerated, and others probably false. They, however, succeeded at last in making such an impression upon the khan's mind that he finally determined to take measures for putting Temujin out of the way.

Accordingly, on some pretext or other, he contrived to send Temujin away from Karakorom, his capital, for Temujin was so great a favorite with the royal guards and with all the garrison of the town, that he did not dare to undertake any thing openly against him there. Vang Khan also sent a messenger to Temujin's own country to persuade the chief persons there to join him in his plot. It will be recollected that, at the time that Temujin left his own country, when he was about fourteen years old, his mother had married a great chieftain there, named Menglik, and that this Menglik, in conjunction doubtless with Temujin's mother, had been made regent during his absence. Vang Khan now sent to Menglik to propose that he should unite with him to destroy Temujin.

"You have no interest," said Vang Khan in the message that he sent to Menglik, "in taking his part. It is true that you have married his mother, but, personally, he is nothing to you. And, if he is once out of the way, you will be acknowledged as the Grand Khan of the Monguls in your own right, whereas you now hold your place in subordination to him, and he may at any time return and set you aside altogether."

Vang Khan hoped by these arguments to induce Menglik to come and assist him in his plan of putting Temujin to death, or, at least, if Menglik would not assist him in perpetrating the deed, he thought that, by these arguments, he should induce him to be willing that it should be committed, so that he should himself have nothing to fear afterward from his resentment. But Menglik received the proposal in a very different way from what Vang Khan had expected. He said nothing, but he determined immediately to let Temujin know of the danger that he was in. He accordingly at once set out to go to Temujin's camp to inform him of Vang Khan's designs.

In the mean time, Vang Khan, having matured his plans, made an appointment for Temujin to meet him at a certain place designated for the purpose of consummating the double marriage between their children, which had been before agreed upon. Temujin, not suspecting any treachery, received and entertained the messenger in a very honorable manner, and said that he would come. After making the necessary preparations, he set out, in company with the messenger and with a grand retinue of his own attendants, to go to the place appointed. On his way he was met or overtaken by Menglik, who had come to warn him of his danger. As soon as Temujin had heard what his stepfather had to say, he made some excuse for postponing the journey, and, sending a civil answer to Vang Khan by the embassador, he ordered him to go forward, and went back himself to his own camp.

This camp was at some distance from Karakorom. Vang Khan, as has already been stated, had sent Temujin away from the capital on account of his being so great a favorite that he was afraid of some tumult if he were to attempt any thing against him there. Temujin was, however, pretty strong in his camp. The troops that usually attended him were there, with the four intrepids as commanders of the four principal divisions of them. His old instructor and guardian, Karasher, was with him too. Karasher, it seems, had continued in Temujin's service up to this time, and was accustomed to accompany him in all his expeditions as his counselor and friend.

When Vang Khan learned, by the return of his messenger, that Temujin declined to come to the place of rendezvous which he had appointed, he concluded at once that he suspected treachery, and he immediately decided that he must now strike a decisive blow without any delay, otherwise Temujin would put himself more and more on his guard. He was not mistaken, it seems, however, in thinking how great a favorite Temujin was at Karakorom, for his secret design was betrayed to Temujin by two of his servants, who overheard him speak of it to one of his wives. Vang Khan's plan was to go out secretly to Temujin's camp at the head of an armed force superior to his, and there come upon him and his whole troop suddenly, by surprise, in the night, by which means, he thought, he should easily overpower the whole encampment, and either kill Temujin and his generals, or else make them prisoners. The two men who betrayed this plan were slaves, who were employed to take care of the horses of some person connected with Vang Khan's household, and to render various other services. Their names were Badu and Kishlik. It seems that these men were one day carrying some milk to Vang Khan's house or tent, and there they overheard a conversation between Vang Khan and his wife, by which they learned the particulars of the plan formed for Temujin's destruction. The expedition was to set out, they heard, on the following morning.

It is not at all surprising that they overheard this conversation, for not only the tents, but even the houses used by these Asiatic nations were built of very frail and thin materials, and the partitions were often made of canvas and felt, and other such substances as could have very little power to intercept sound.

The two slaves determined to proceed at once to Temujin's camp and warn him of his danger. So they stole away from their quarters at nightfall, and, after traveling diligently all night, in the morning they reached the camp and told Temujin what they had learned. Temujin was surprised; but he had been, in some measure, prepared for such intelligence by the communication which his stepfather had made him in respect to Vang Khan's treacherous designs a few days before. He immediately summoned Karasher and some of his other friends; in order to consult in respect to what it was best to do.

It was resolved to elude Vang Khan's design by means of a stratagem. He was to come upon them, according to the account of the slaves, that night. The preparations for receiving him were consequently to be made at once. The plan was for Temujin and all his troops to withdraw from the camp and conceal themselves in a place of ambuscade near by. They were to leave a number of men behind, who, when night came on, were to set the lights and replenish the fires, and put every thing in such a condition as to make it appear that the troops were all there. Their expectation was that, when Vang Khan should arrive, he would make his assault according to his original design, and then, while his forces were in the midst of the confusion incident to such an onset, Temujin was to come forth from his ambuscade and fall upon them. In this way he hoped to conquer them and put them to flight, although he had every reason to suppose that the force which Vang Khan would bring out against him would be considerably stronger in numbers than his own.

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