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

Death of the Sultan

I N the mean time, while Jughi and the other generals were ravaging the country with their detachments, and besieging and capturing all the secondary towns and fortresses that came in their way, as related in the last chapter, Genghis Khan himself, with the main body of the army, had advanced to Samarcand in pursuit of the sultan, who had, as he supposed, taken shelter there. Samarcand was the capital of the country, and was then, as it has been since, a great and renowned city.

Besides the sultan himself, whom Genghis Khan was pursuing, there were the ladies of his family whom he wished also to capture. The two principal ladies were the sultana and the queen-mother. The queen-mother was a lady of very great distinction. She had been greatly renowned during the lifetime of her husband, the former sultan, for her learning, her piety, the kindness of her heart, and the general excellence of her character, so far as her dealings with her subjects and friends were concerned, and her influence throughout the realm had been unbounded. At some periods of her life she had exercised a great deal of political power, and at one time she bore the very grand title of Protectress of the faith of the world. She exercised the power which she then possessed, in the main, in a very wise and beneficial manner. She administered justice impartially. She protected the weak, and restrained the oppressions of the strong. She listened to all the cases which were brought before her with great attention and patience, and arrived almost always at just conclusions respecting them. With all this, however, she was very strict and severe, and, as has almost always been the case with women raised to the possession of irresponsible power, she was unrelenting and cruel in the extreme whenever, as she judged, any political necessity required her to act with decision. Her name was Khatun.

Khatun was not now at Samarcand. She was at Karazm, a city which was the chief residence of the court. She had been living there in retirement ever since the death of her husband, the present sultan's father.

Samarcand itself, as has already been said, was a great and splendid city. Like most of the other cities, it was inclosed in a double wall, though, in this case, the outer wall surrounded the whole city, while the inner one inclosed the mosque, the palace of the sultan, and some other public buildings. These walls were much better built and more strongly fortified than those of Bokhara. There were twelve iron gates, it is said, in the outer wall. These gates were a league apart from each other. At every two leagues along the wall was a fort capable of containing a large body of men. The walls were likewise strengthened with battlements and towers, in which the men could fight under shelter, and they were surrounded by a broad and deep ditch, to prevent an enemy from approaching too near to them, in order to undermine them or batter them down.

The city was abundantly supplied with water by means of hydraulic constructions as perfect and complete as could be made in those days. The water was brought by leaden pipes from a stream which came down from the mountains at some distance from the town. It was conveyed by these pipes to every part of the town, and was distributed freely, so that every great street had a little current of water running through it, and every house a fountain in the court or garden. Besides this, in a public square or park there was a mound where the water was made to spout up in the centre, and then flow down in little rivulets and cascades on every side.

The gates and towers which have been described were in the outer wall, and beyond them, in the environs, were a great many fields, gardens, orchards, and beautifully-cultivated grounds, which produced fruits of all sorts, that were sent by the merchants into all the neigh-boring countries. At a little distance the town was almost entirely concealed from view by these gardens and orchards, there being nothing to be seen but minarets, and some of the loftier roofs of the houses, rising above the tops of the trees.

There were so many people who flocked into Samarcand from the surrounding country for shelter and protection, when they learned that Genghis Khan was coming, that the place would hardly contain them. In addition to these, the sultan sent over one hundred thousand troops to defend the town, with thirty generals to command them. There were twenty large elephants, too, that were brought with the army, to be employed in any service which might be required of them during the siege. This army, however, instead of entering the city at once, encamped about it. They strengthened the position of the camp by a deep ditch which they dug, throwing up the earth from the ditch on the side toward the camp so as to form a redoubt with which to defend the ground from the Monguls. But as soon as Genghis Khan arrived they were speedily driven from this post, and forced to take shelter within the walls of the city. Here they defended themselves with so much vigor and resolution that Genghis Khan would probably have found it very difficult to take the town had it not been for dissensions within the walls. It seems that the rich merchants and other wealthy men of the city, being convinced that the place would sooner or later fall into the hands of the Monguls, thought it would be better to surrender it at once, while they were in a condition to make some terms by which they might hope to save their lives, and perhaps their property.

But the generals would not listen to any proposition of this kind. They had been sent by the sultan to defend the town, and they felt bound in honor, in obedience to their orders, to fight in defense of it to the last extremity.

The dissension within the city grew more and more violent every day, until at length the party of the inhabitants grew so strong and decided that they finally took possession of one of the gates, and sent a large deputation, consisting of priests, magistrates, and some of the principal citizens, to Genghis Khan, bearing with them the keys of the town, and proposing to deliver them up to him if he would spare the garrison and the inhabitants. But he said he would make no terms except with those who were of their party and were willing to surrender. In respect to the generals and the soldiers of the garrison he would make no promises.

The deputation gave up the keys and Genghis Khan entered the city. The inhabitants were spared, but the soldiers were massacred wherever they could be found. A great many perished in the streets. A considerable body of them, however, with the governor at their head, retreated within the inner wall, and there defended themselves desperately for four days. At the end of that time, finding that their case was hopeless, and knowing that they could expect no quarter from the Monguls in any event, they resolved to make a sally and cut their way through the ranks of their enemies at all hazards. The governor, accordingly, put himself at the head of a troop of one thousand horse, and, coming out suddenly from his retreat, he dashed through the camp at a time when the Monguls were off their guard, and so gained the open country and made his escape. All the soldiers that remained behind in the city were immediately put to the sword.

In the mean time, the sultan himself, finding that his affairs were going to ruin, retreated from province to province, accompanied by as large a force as he could keep together, and vainly seeking to find some place of safety. He had several sons, and among them two whose titles were Jalaloddin and Kothboddin. Jalaloddin was the oldest, and was therefore naturally entitled to be his father's successor; but, for some reason or other, the queen-mother, Khatun, had taken a dislike to him, and had persuaded her son, the sultan, to execute a sort of act or deed by which Jalaloddin was displaced, and Kothboddin, who was a great favorite of hers, was made heir to the throne in his place.

The sultan had other sons who were governors of different provinces, and he fled from one to another of these, seeking in vain for some safe retreat. But he could find none. He was hunted from place to place by detachments of the Monguls, and the number of his attendants and followers was continually diminishing, until at last he began to be completely discouraged.

At length, at one of the cities where he made a short stay, he delivered to an officer named Omar, who was the steward of his household, ten coffers sealed with the royal signet, with instructions to take them secretly to a certain distant fortress and lock them up carefully there, without allowing any one to know that he did it.

These coffers contained the royal jewels, and they were of inestimable value.

After this, one of his sons joined him with quite a large force, but very soon a large body of Monguls came up, and, after a furious battle, the sultan's troops were defeated and scattered in all directions; and he was again obliged to fly, accompanied by a very small body of officers, who still contrived to keep near him. With these he succeeded, at last, in reaching a very retired town near the Caspian Sea, where he hoped to remain concealed. His strength was now spent, and all his courage gone. He sank down into a condition of the greatest despondency and distress, and spent his time in going to the mosque and offering up prayers to God to save him from total ruin. He made confession of his sins, and promised an entire amendment of life if the Almighty would deliver him from his enemies and restore him to his throne.

At last the Mongul detachment that was in pursuit of him in that part of the country were informed by a peasant where he was; and one day, while he was at his prayers in the mosque, word was brought to him that the Monguls were coming. He rushed out of the mosque, and, guided by some friends, ran down to the shore and got into a boat, with a view of escaping by sea, all retreat by land being now cut off.

He had scarce got on board the boat when the Monguls appeared on the shore. The men in the boat immediately pushed off. The Monguls, full of disappointment and rage, shot at them with their arrows; but the sultan was not struck by any of them, and was soon out of the reach of his pursuers.

The sultan lay in the boat almost helpless, being perfectly exhausted by the terror and distress which he had endured. He soon began to suffer, too, from an intense pain in the chest and side, which gradually became so severe that he could scarcely breathe. The men with him in the boat, finding that he was seriously sick, made the best of their way to a small island named Abiskun, which is situated near the southeastern corner of the sea. Here they pitched a tent, and made up a bed in it, as well as they could, for the sufferer. They also sent a messenger to the shore to bring off a physician secretly. The physician did all that was in his power, but it was too late. The inflammation and the pain subsided after a time, but it was evident that the patient was sinking, and that he was about to die.

It happened that the sultan's son, Jalaloddin, the one who had been set aside in favor of his brother Kothboddin, was at this time on the main land not far from the island, and intelligence was communicated to him of his father's situation. He immediately went to the island to see him, taking with him two of his brothers. They were obliged to manage the business very secretly, to prevent the Monguls from finding out what was going on.

On the arrival of Jalaloddin, the sultan expressed great satisfaction in seeing him, and he revoked the decree by which he had been superseded in the succession.

"You, my son," said he, "are, after all, the one among all my children who is best able to revenge me on the Monguls; therefore I revoke the act which I formerly executed at the request of the queen, my mother, in favor of Kothboddin."

He then solemnly appointed Jalaloddin to be his successor, and enjoined upon the other princes to be obedient and faithful to him as their sovereign. He also formally delivered to him his sword as the emblem and badge of the supreme power which he thus conferred upon him.

Soon after this the sultan expired. The attendants buried the body secretly on the island for fear of the Monguls. They washed it carefully before the interment, according to custom, and then put on again a portion of the same dress which the sultan had worn when living, having no means of procuring or making any other shroud.

As for Khatun, the queen-mother, when she heard the tidings of her son's death, and was informed, at the same time, that her favorite Kothboddin had been set aside, and Jalaloddin, whom she hated, and who, she presumed, hated her, had been made his successor, she was in a great rage. She was at that time at Karazm, which was the capital, and she attempted to persuade the officers and soldiers near her not to submit to the sultan's decree, but to make Kothboddin their sovereign after all.

While she was engaged in forming this conspiracy, the news reached the city that the Monguls were coming. Khatun immediately determined to flee to save her life. She had, it seems, in her custody at Karazm twelve children, the sons of various princes that reigned in different parts of the empire or in the environs of it. These children were either held as hostages, or had been made captive in insurrections and wars, and were retained in prison as a punishment to their fathers. The queen-mother found that she could not take these children with her, and so she ordered them all to be slain. She was afraid that the Mongols, when they came, might set them free.

As soon as she was gone the city fell into great confusion on account of the struggles for power between the two parties of Jalaloddin and Kothboddin. But the sultana, who had made the mischief, did not trouble herself to know how it would end. Her only anxiety was to save her own life. After various wanderings and adventures, she at last found her way into a very retired district of country lying on the southern shore of the Caspian, between the mountains and the sea, and here she sought refuge in a castle or fortress named Ilan, where she thought she was secure from all pursuit. She brought with her to the castle her jewels and all her most valuable treasures.

But Genghis Khan had spies in every part of the country, and he was soon informed where Khatun was concealed. So he sent a messenger to a certain Mongul general named Hubbe Nevian, who was commanding a detachment in that part of the country, informing him that Khatun was in the castle of Ilan, and commanding him to go and lay siege to it, and to take it at all hazards, and to bring Khatun to him either dead or alive.

Hubbe immediately set off for the castle. The queen-mother, however, had notice of his approach, and the lords who were with her urged her to fly. If she would go with them, they said, they would take her to Jalaloddin, and he would protect her. But she would not listen to any such proposal. She hated Jalaloddin so intensely that she would not, even to save her life, put herself under his power. The very worst possible treatment, she said, that she could receive from the Monguls would be more agreeable to her than the greatest favors from the hand of Jalaloddin.

The ground of this extreme animosity which she felt toward Jalaloddin was not any personal animosity to him;  it arose simply from an ancient and long-continued dislike and hatred which she had borne against his mother!

So Khatun refused to retire from the danger, and soon afterward the horde of Monguls arrived, and pitched their camp before the castle walls.

For three months Hubbe and his Monguls continued to ply the walls of the fortress with battering-rams and other engines, in order to force their way in, but in vain. The place was too strong for them. At length Genghis Khan, hearing how the case stood, sent word to them to give up the attempt to make a breach, and to invest the place closely on all sides, so as to allow no person to go out or to come in; in that way, he said, the garrison would soon be starved into a surrender.

When the governor of the castle saw, by the arrangements which Hubbe made in obedience to this order, that this was the course that was to be pursued, he said he was not uneasy, for his magazines were full of provisions, and as to water, the rain which fell very copiously there among the mountains always afforded an abundant supply.

But the governor was mistaken in his calculations in respect to the rain. It usually fell very frequently in that region, but after the blockade of the fortress commenced, for three weeks there was not the smallest shower. The people of the country around thought this failure of the rain was a special judgment of heaven against the queen for the murder of the children, and for her various other crimes. It was, indeed, remarkable, for in ordinary times the rain was so frequent that the people of all that region depended upon it entirely for their supply of water, and never found it necessary to search for springs or to dig wells.

The sufferings of the people within the fortress for want of water were very great. Many of them died in great misery, and at length the provisions began to fail too, and Khatun was compelled to allow the governor to surrender.

The Monguls immediately seized the queen, and took possession of all her treasures. They also took captive all the lords and ladies who had attended her, and the women of her household, and two or three of her great-grandchildren, whom she had brought with her in her flight. All these persons were sent under a strong guard to Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan retained the queen as a captive for some time, and treated her in a very cruel and barbarous manner. He would sometimes order her to be brought into his tent, at the end of his dinner, that he might enjoy his triumph by insulting and deriding her. On these occasions he would throw her scraps of food from the table as if she had been a dog.

He took away the children from her too, all but one, whom he left with her a while to comfort her, as he said; but one day an officer came and seized this one from her very arms, while she was dressing him and combing his hair. This last blow caused her a severer pang than any that she had before endured, and left her utterly disconsolate and heart-broken.

Some accounts say that soon after this she was put to death, but others state that Genghis Khan retained her several years as a captive, and carried her to and fro in triumph in his train through the countries over which she had formerly reigned with so much power and splendor. She deserved her sufferings, it is true; but Genghis Khan was none the less guilty, on that account, for treating her so cruelly.

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