ON A SPRING DAY in his twelfth year, Temujin raced his four brothers across the steppes, in the shadow of the mountain known as Deli’un-Boldakh. The eldest, Bekter, rode a gray mare with skill and concentration, and Temujin matched his pace, waiting for a chance to go past. Behind them came Khasar, whooping wildly as he moved up on the two leaders. At ten, Khasar was a favorite in the tribe, as lighthearted as Bekter was sullen and dark. His red-mottled stallion snorted and whickered after Bekter’s mare, making the little boy laugh. Kachiun came next in the galloping line, an eight-year-old not given to the openness that made people love Khasar. Of all of them, Kachiun seemed the most serious, even secretive. He spoke only rarely and did not complain, no matter what Bekter did to him. Kachiun had a knack with the ponies that few others could match, able to nurse a burst of speed when the rest were flagging. Temujin glanced over his shoulder to where Kachiun had positioned himself, his balance perfect. He seemed to be idling along, but they had all been surprised before and Temujin kept a close eye on him.
Already some way behind his brothers, the smallest and youngest of them could be heard calling plaintively for them to wait. Temuge was a boy with too much love for sweet things and laziness, and it showed in his riding. Temujin grinned at the sight of the chubby boy flapping his arms for more speed. Their mother had warned against including the youngest in their wild tournaments. Temuge had barely grown out of the need to be tied to the saddle, but he wailed if they left him behind. Bekter had yet to find a kind word for Temuge.
Their high voices carried far across the spring grass of the plain. They galloped flat out, with each boy perched like a bird on the ponies’ backs. Yesugei had once called them his sparrows and looked on with pride at their skill. Temujin had told Bekter that he was too fat to be a sparrow and had been forced to spend a night hiding out from the older boy’s bad temper.
On such a day, though, the mood of the whole tribe was light. The spring rains had come and the rivers ran full again, winding across plains where dry clay had been only days before. The mares had warm milk for drinking and making into cheese and cool yoghurt. Already, the first touches of green were showing through the bones of the hills, and with it came the promise of a summer and warm days. It was a gathering year, and before the next winter, the tribes would come together in peace to compete and trade. Yesugei had decreed that this year the families of the Wolves would make the trip of more than a thousand miles to replenish their herds. The prospect of seeing the wrestlers and archers was enough to have the boys on their best behavior. The races, though, were what held them rapt and played across their imaginations as they rode. Except for Bekter, the boys had all seen their mother privately, asking Hoelun to put in a word with Yesugei. Each of them wanted to race the long distance or the sprints, to make a name for themselves and be honored.
It went unspoken that a boy who returned to his gers with a title such as “Exalted Rider” or “Master of Horse” might one day win their father’s position when he retired to tend his herds. With the possible exception of fat Temuge, the others could not help but dream. It galled Temujin that Bekter assumed he would be the one, as if a year or two of age made a difference. Their relationship had become strained ever since Bekter had returned from his betrothal year away from the tribe. Though Temujin was still the tallest of the brothers, the older boy had grown in some indefinable way, and Temujin had found the new Bekter a humorless companion.
It had seemed an act at first to Temujin, with Bekter only pretending at maturity. The brooding boy no longer spoke without thinking and seemed to weigh every statement in his mind before he allowed it past his lips. Temujin had mocked his seriousness, but the months of winter had come and gone with no sign of an easing. There were moments when Temujin still found his brother’s pompous moods amusing, but he could respect Bekter’s temper, if not his right to inherit their father’s tents and sword.
Temujin watched Bekter as he rode, careful not to let a gap grow between them. It was too fine a day to worry about the distant future, and Temujin daydreamed about all four brothers, brothers—all five with Bekter, even—sweeping the board of honors at the tribal gathering. Yesugei would swell with pride and Hoelun would grip them one by one and call them her little warriors, her little horsemen. Even Temuge could be entered at six years of age, though the risks of a fall were huge. Temujin frowned to himself as Bekter glanced over his shoulder, checking his lead. Despite their subtle maneuvering, Yesugei had not yet given permission for any of them to take part as the spring came.
Hoelun was pregnant again and close to the end of her time. The pregnancy had been hard on her and quite different from the ones before. Each day began and ended with her retching over a bucket until her face was speckled with spots of blood under the skin. Her sons were on their best behavior while they waited for Yesugei to cease his worried pacing outside the gers. In the end, the khan had grown tired of their stares and careful silence, sending them off to run the winter out of the horses. Temujin had continued to chatter and Yesugei had picked him up in one powerful hand and tossed him at a stallion with a white sock. Temujin had twisted in the air to land and launch into a gallop in one movement. Whitefoot was a baleful, snappy beast, but his father had known he was the boy’s favorite.
Yesugei had watched the others mount without a sign of his pride on his broad, dark face. Like his father before him, he was not a man to show emotion, especially not to sons he could make weak. It was part of a father’s responsibility to be feared, though there were times when he ached to hug the boys and throw them up into the air. Knowing which horses they preferred showed his affection, and if they guessed at his feelings from a glance or a light in his eye, that was no more than his own father had done years before. He valued those memories in part for their rarity and could still recall the time his father had finally grunted approval at his knots and ropework with a heavy load. It was a small thing, but Yesugei thought of the old man whenever he yanked a rope tight, his knee hard into the bales. He watched his boys ride into the bright sunshine, and when they could no longer see him, his expression eased. His father had known the need for hard men in a hard land. Yesugei knew they would have to survive battle, thirst, and hunger if they were to reach manhood. Only one could be khan of the tribe. The others would either bend the knee or leave with just a wanderer’s gift of goats and sheep. Yesugei shook his head at the thought, gazing after the dust trail of his sons’ ponies. The future loomed over them, while they saw only the spring and the green hills.
The sun was bright on his face as Temujin galloped. He reveled in the lift in spirit that came from a fast horse straining under him, the wind in his face. Ahead, he saw Bekter’s gray mare recover from a stumble on a loose stone. His brother reacted with a sharp blow to the side of the mare’s head, but they had lost a length and Temujin whooped as if he were about to ride past. It was not the right moment. He loved to lead, but he also enjoyed pressuring Bekter, because of the way it annoyed him.
Bekter was already almost the man he would be, with wide, muscular shoulders and immense stamina. His betrothal year with the Olkhun’ut people had given him an aura of worldly knowledge he never failed to exploit. It irritated Temujin like a thorn under his skin, especially when his brothers pestered Bekter with questions about their mother’s people and their customs. Temujin too wanted to know, but he decided grimly that he would wait to find out on his own, when Yesugei took him.
When a young warrior returned from his wife’s tribe, he was given the status of a man for the first time. When the girl came into her blood, she would be sent after him with an honor guard to show her value. A ger would be ready for her and her young husband would wait
at its door to take her inside.
For the Wolves, it was tradition for the young man to challenge his khan’s bondsmen before he was fully accepted as a warrior. Bekter had been eager and Temujin remembered watching in awe as Bekter had walked up to the bondsmen’s fire, close to Yesugei’s ger. Bekter had nodded to them and three men had stood to see if his time with the Olkhun’ut had weakened him. From the shadows, Temujin had watched, with Khasar and Kachiun silent at his side. Bekter had wrestled all three of the bondsmen, one after the other, taking terrible punishment without complaint. Eeluk had been the last, and the man was like a pony himself, a wall of flat muscle and wide arms. He had thrown Bekter so hard that blood had run from one of his ears, but then to Temujin’s surprise, Eeluk had helped Bekter up and held a cup of hot black airag for him to drink. Bekter had almost choked at the bitter fluid mingling with his own blood, but the warriors had not seemed to mind.
Temujin had enjoyed witnessing his older brother beaten almost senseless, but he saw too that the men no longer scorned him around the fires at night. Bekter’s courage had won him something intangible but important. As a result, he had become a stone in Temujin’s path. As the brothers raced across the plains under a spring sun, there was no finishing line, as there would be at the great gathering of tribes. Even if there had been, it was too soon after winter to really push their mounts. They all knew better than to exhaust the ponies before they had a little summer fat and good green grass in their bellies. This was a race
away from chores and responsibilities, and it would leave them with nothing but arguments about who had cheated, or should have won. Bekter rode almost upright, so that he seemed peculiarly motionless as the horse galloped under him. It was an illusion, Temujin knew. Bekter’s hands on the reins were guiding subtly, and his gray mare was fresh and strong. He would take some beating. Temujin rode as Khasar did, low on the saddle, so that he was practically flat against the horse’s neck. The wind seemed to sting a little more and both boys preferred the position.
Temujin sensed Khasar moving up on his right shoulder. He urged the last breath of speed from Whitefoot, and the little pony snorted with something like anger as it galloped. Temujin could see Khasar’s pony out of the corner of his eye, and he considered veering slightly, as if by accident. Khasar seemed to sense his intention and lost a length as he moved away, leaving Temujin grinning. They knew each other too well to race, he sometimes thought. He could see Bekter glance back and their eyes met for a second. Temujin raised his eyebrows and showed his teeth.
“I am coming,” he called. “Try to stop me!”
Bekter turned his back on him, stiff with dislike. It was something of a rarity to have Bekter come riding with them, but as he was there, Temujin could see he was determined to show the “children” how a warrior could ride. He would not take a loss easily, which was why Temujin would strain every muscle and sinew to beat him. Khasar had gained on both of them, and before Temujin could move to block him, he had almost drawn level. The two boys smiled at each other, confirming that they shared the joy of the day and the speed. The long, dark winter was behind, and though it would come back too soon, they would have this time and take pleasure in it. There was no better way to live. The tribe would eat fat mutton and the herds would birth more sheep and goats for food and trade. The evenings would be spent fletching arrows or braiding horsetails into twine; in song or listening to stories and the history of the tribes. Yesugei would ride against any young Tartars who raided their herds, and the tribe would move lightly on the plains, from river to river. There would be work, but in summer the days were long enough to give hours free to waste, a luxury they never seemed to find in the cold months. What was the point in wandering away to explore when a wild dog might find and bite you in the night? That had happened to Temujin when he was only a little older than Kachiun, and the fear had stayed with him.
It was Khasar who saw that Temuge had fallen, glancing back in case Kachiun was staging a late rush for the grass crown. Khasar claimed to have the sharpest eyes of the tribe, and he saw that the sprawled speck was not moving, making a decision in an instant. He whistled high-low to Bekter and Temujin, letting them know he was pulling out. Both boys
looked back and then farther to where Temuge lay in a still heap. Temujin and his older brother shared a moment of indecision, neither willing to give the race to the other. Bekter shrugged as if it did not matter and reined his mare into a wide circle back the way they had come. Temujin matched him exactly and they galloped as a pair behind the others, the leaders become the led. It was Kachiun now who rode first amongst them, though Temujin doubted the boy even thought of it. At eight, Kachiun was closest in age to Temuge and had spent many long evenings teaching him the names of things in the gers, demonstrating an unusual patience and kindness. Perhaps as a result, Temuge spoke better than many boys of his age, though he was hopeless with the knots Kachiun’s quick fingers tried to show him. The youngest of Yesugei’s sons was clumsy, and if any of them had been asked to guess at the identity of a fallen rider, they would have said “Temuge” without a moment’s hesitation.
Temujin jumped from his saddle as he reached the others. Kachiun was already on the ground with Khasar, lifting the supine Temuge into a sitting position.
The little boy’s face was very pale and bruised-looking. Kachiun slapped him gently, wincing as Temuge’s head lolled.
“Wake up, little man,” Kachiun told his brother, but there was no response. Temujin’s shadow fell across them and Kachiun deferred to him immediately.
“I didn’t see him fall,” he said, as if his seeing would have helped. Temujin nodded, his deft hands feeling Temuge for broken bones or signs of a wound. There was a lump on the side of his head, hidden by the black hair. Temujin prodded at it.
“He’s knocked out, but I can’t feel a break. Give me a little water for him.”
He held out a hand and Khasar pulled a leather bottle from a saddlecloth, drawing the stopper with his teeth. Temujin dribbled the warm liquid into Temuge’s open mouth.
“Don’t choke him,” Bekter advised, reminding them he was still mounted, as if he supervised the others.
Temujin didn’t trouble to reply. He was filled with dread as to what their mother Hoelun would say if Temuge died. They could hardly give her such news while her belly was filled with another child. She was weak from sickness and Temujin thought the shock and grief might kill her, yet how could they hide it? She doted on Temuge and her habit of feeding him the sweet yoghurt curds was part of the reason for his chubby flesh.
Without warning, Temuge choked and spat water. Bekter made an irritable sound with his lips, tired of the children’s games. The rest of them beamed at each other.
“I dreamed of the eagle,” Temuge said.
Temujin nodded at him. “That is a good dream,” he said, “but you must learn to ride, little man. Our father would be shamed in front of his bondsmen if he heard you had fallen.” Another thought struck him and he frowned. “If he does hear, we may not be allowed to race at the gathering.”
Even Khasar lost his smile at that, and Kachiun pursed his mouth in silent worry. Temuge smacked his lips for more water and Temujin passed him the bottle.
“If anyone asks about your lump, tell them we were playing and you hit your head—understand, Temuge? This is a secret. The sons of Yesugei do not fall.”
Temuge saw that they were all watching his response, even Bekter, who frightened him. He nodded vigorously, wincing at the pain. “I hit my head,” he said, dazedly. “And I saw the eagle from the red hill.”
“There are no eagles on the red hill,” Khasar replied. “I was trapping marmots there only ten days ago. I would have seen a sign.”
Temuge shrugged, which was unusual in itself. The little boy was a terrible liar and, when challenged, he would shout, as if by growing louder they would be forced to believe him. Bekter was in the process of turning his pony away when he looked thoughtfully at the little boy.
“When did you see the eagle?” Bekter said.
Temuge shrugged. “I saw him yesterday, circling over the red hill. In my dream, he was larger than a normal eagle. He had claws as large as—”
“You saw a real eagle?” Temujin interrupted. He reached out and held his arm. “A real bird, this early in the season? You saw one?” He wanted to be certain it was not one of Temuge’s idiotic stories. They all remembered the time he had come into the ger one night claiming to have been chased by marmots who rose up on their hind legs and spoke to him.
Bekter’s expression showed he shared the same memory. “He is dizzy from the fall,” he said.
Temujin noticed how Bekter had taken a firmer hold on the reins. As slowly as he might approach a wild deer, Temujin rose to his feet, risking a glance to where his own pony cropped busily at the turf. Their father’s hawk had died and he still mourned the loss of the greathearted bird. Temujin knew Yesugei dreamed of hunting with an eagle, but sightings were rare and the nests were usually on cliffs sheer enough and high enough to defeat the most determined climber. Temujin saw that Kachiun had reached his pony and was ready to go. A nest could have an eagle chick for their father to keep. Perhaps Bekter wanted one for himself, but the others knew that Yesugei would be overcome with gratitude to the boy who brought him the khan of birds. The eagles ruled the air as the tribes ruled the land, and they lived almost as long as a man. Such a gift would mean they all could ride in the races that year, for certain. It would be seen as a good omen that an eagle had come to their father, strengthening his position with the families.
Temuge had made it to his feet, touching his head and wincing at the speck of blood that showed on his fingers. He did seem dazed, but they believed what he had said. The race of the morning had been a lighthearted thing. This one would be real.
Temujin was the first to move, fast as a dog snapping. He leapt for Whitefoot’s back, calling “Chuh!” as he landed and startling the illtempered beast into a snorting run. Kachiun flowed onto his horse with the neatness and balance that marked all his movement, Khasar only an instant behind him, laughing aloud with excitement. Bekter was already lunging forward, his mare’s haunches bunching under him as he kicked in and went. In just a few heartbeats, Temuge was left standing alone on the plain, staring bemusedly after the cloud of dust from his brothers. Shaking his head to clear his blurred vision, he took a moment to vomit a milky breakfast onto the grass. He felt a little better after that and clambered up onto the saddle, heaving his pony’s head from its grazing. With a last pull at the grass, the pony snorted and he too was off, jolting and bouncing behind his brothers.
THE SUN WAS HIGH in the sky before the boys reached the red hill. After the initial wild gallop, each one of them had settled into a mileeating trot their sturdy ponies could keep up for hours at a time. Bekter and Temujin rode together at the front in mutual truce, Khasar and Kachiun just behind. They were all tired by the time they sighted the great rock the tribes called the red hill, an immense boulder hundreds of feet high. It was surrounded by a dozen others of lesser size, like a wolf mother with her cubs. The boys had spent many hours climbing there the previous summer and knew the area well.
Bekter and Temujin scanned the horizon restlessly, looking for signs of other riders. The Wolves claimed no hunting rights to land this far away from the gers. Like so much else on the plains, the stream water, the milk, the furs and meat, everything belonged to whoever had the strength to take it, or better still, the strength to keep it. Khasar and Kachiun saw no further than the excitement of finding an eagle chick, but the two older boys were ready to defend themselves or run. Both carried knives and Bekter had a quiver and a small bow across his back that could be quickly strung. Against boys from another tribe, they would acquit themselves well, Temujin thought. Against fully grown warriors, they would be in serious danger and their father’s name would not help them.
Temuge was again a speck behind the other four, persevering despite the sweat and buzzing flies that seemed to find him delicious. To his miserable eye, his brothers in their neat pairs seemed like a different breed, like hawks to his lark, or wolves to his dog. He wanted them to like him, but they were all so tall and competent. He was even clumsier in their presence than on his own, and he could never seem to speak the way he wanted to, except sometimes to Kachiun, in the quiet of the evenings.
Temuge dug his heels in viciously, but his pony sensed his lack of skill and rarely raised itself even to a trot, never mind a gallop. Kachiun had said he was too tenderhearted, but Temuge had tried beating the pony mercilessly when he was out of sight of his brothers. It made no difference to the lazy beast.
If he had not known his brothers’ destination, he would have been lost and left behind in the first hour. Their mother had told them never to leave him, but they did it anyway and he knew complaining to her would earn him cuffs around the ears from all of them. By the time the red hill came into sight, Temuge was feeling thoroughly sorry for himself. Even from a distance, he could hear Bekter and Temujin arguing. Temuge sighed, shifting his buttocks where they had begun to ache. He felt in his pockets for more of the sweet milk curds and found the end of an old one. Before the others could see, he stuffed the little white stick into his cheek, hiding his blissful enjoyment from their sharp sight.
The four brothers stood by their ponies, staring at Temuge as he ambled closer.
“I could carry him faster than that,” Temujin said.
The ride to the red hill had become a race again in the last mile, and they had arrived at full gallop, leaping off and tumbling in the dust. Only then had it occurred to them that someone had to stay with the ponies. They could be hobbled by wrapping reins around their legs, but
the boys were far from their tribe and who knew what thieves were ready to ride in and snatch them away? Bekter had told Kachiun to stay at the bottom, but the boy was a better climber than the other three and refused. After a few minutes of argument, they had all nominated one of the others and Khasar and Kachiun had come to blows, with Khasar sitting on his younger brother’s head while he struggled in silent fury. Bekter had cuffed them apart with a curse when Kachiun went a dark purple. Waiting for Temuge to get there was the only sensible solution and, in truth, more than one of them had taken a good look at the sheer face of the red hill and had second thoughts about racing his brothers up it. Perhaps more worrying than the bare rock was the complete lack of an eagle sign. It was too much to expect droppings, or even the sight of a circling bird guarding the nest or hunting. In the absence of any proof, they could not help but wonder again if Temuge had been lying, or spinning a wild tale to impress them.
Temujin felt his stomach begin to ache. He had missed the morning meal and, with a hard climb ahead, he didn’t want to risk becoming weak. While the others watched Temuge approach, he picked up a handful of reddish dust and made it into a paste with a dribble of water from the saddle bottle. Whitefoot bared his teeth and whinnied, but did not resist as Temujin tied his reins to a scrub bush and drew his knife.
It was the work of a moment to nick a vein in the pony’s shoulder and clamp his mouth to it. The blood was hot and thin and Temujin felt it restore his energy and warm his empty belly like the best black airag. He counted six mouthfuls before he took his lips away and pressed a bloody finger over the wound. The paste of dust and water helped the clotting, and he knew there would be just a small scab by the time he returned. He grinned, showing red teeth to his brothers and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He could feel his strength return now that his stomach was full. He checked the blood was clotting on Whitefoot’s shoulder, watching a slow dribble reach down the leg. The pony didn’t seem to feel it and resumed cropping the spring grass. Temujin brushed a fly away from the blood trail and patted the animal on its neck.
Bekter too had dismounted. Seeing Temujin feed himself, the older boy knelt and directed a thin trail of warm milk into his mouth from his mare’s teat, smacking his lips in noisy appreciation. Temujin ignored the display, though Khasar and Kachiun looked up hopefully. They knew from experience that if they asked they would be refused, but if they ignored their thirst, Bekter might condescend to allow a warm mouthful to each boy.
“Drink, Khasar?” Bekter said, raising his head sharply.
Khasar did not wait to be asked twice and ducked his head like a foal to where Bekter held the dark teat, shining with milk. Khasar sucked greedily at the spray, getting some of it over his face and hands. He snorted, choking, and even Bekter smiled before he beckoned
Kachiun looked at Temujin, seeing how stiffly he stood. The little boy narrowed his eyes, then shook his head. Bekter shrugged, releasing the teat with just a glance at Temujin before he stretched his back and watched the youngest of their brothers clamber down from his pony. Temuge dismounted with his usual caution. For a boy of only six summers, it was a long way to the ground, though other children in the tribe would leap from the saddle with all the fearlessness of their older brethren. Temuge could not manage such a simple thing, and all his brothers winced as he landed and staggered. Bekter made a clicking
sound in his throat, and Temuge’s face darkened under their scrutiny.
“This is the place?” Temujin asked.
Temuge nodded. “I saw an eagle circling here. The nest is somewhere near the top,” he said, squinting upwards.
Bekter grimaced. “It was probably a hawk,” he muttered, following Temuge’s gaze.
Temuge flushed even deeper. “It was an eagle! Dark brown and larger than any hawk who ever lived!”
Bekter shrugged at the outburst, choosing the moment to spit a wad of milky phlegm onto the ground.
“Maybe. I’ll know when I find the nest.”
Temujin might have replied to the challenge, but Kachiun had tired of their bickering and strode past them all, pulling at the waist cloth that held his padded deel in place. He let the coat fall, revealing just a bare-armed tunic and linen leggings, as he took his first handholds on the rocks. The soft leather of his boots gripped almost as well as his bare feet. The others stripped down as he had, seeing the sense in leaving the heaviest cloth on the ground.
Temujin moved twenty paces around the base before he saw another place to begin, spitting on his hands and taking a grip. Khasar grinned in excitement and threw his reins at Temuge, startling the little boy. Bekter found his own place and set his strong hands and feet in clefts, lifting himself up with a small grunt.
In a few moments, Temuge was alone again. At first, he was miserable and his neck ached from staring up at the climbing figures. When they were no larger than spiders, his stomach made its presence felt. With a last look at his more energetic brothers, he strolled over to steal a stomachful of milk from Bekter’s mare. There were some advantages to being last, he had discovered.
After a hundred feet, Temujin knew he was high enough for the fall to kill him. He listened over his panting breath for his brothers, but there was no sound or sight of them in any direction. He clung by fingertips and boots, leaning out as far as he could to see a route higher. The air seemed colder and the sky was achingly clear above his head, without a cloud to spoil the illusion of climbing toward a blue bowl. Small lizards scurried away from his questing fingers and he almost lost his grip when one was trapped, squirming, under his hand. When his heart had stopped hammering, he brushed its broken body from the ledge where it had been enjoying the sun, watching it twist in the wind as it fell.
Far below, Temujin saw Temuge pulling at the teats of Bekter’s mare and hoped he had enough sense to leave some. Bekter would thrash him if he found the milk gone, and the greedy little boy probably deserved it.
The sun was hard on the back of his neck, and Temujin felt a line of sweat touch his eyelashes, making him blink against the sting. He shook his head, hanging from just his hands as his feet scrabbled for a new place to rest. Temuge could have killed one of them with his stories of eagles, but it was too late for doubts. Temujin was not even sure he could get back down the sheer slope. At such a height, he had to find a place to rest, or he would fall.
The blood in his stomach gurgled as he moved, reminding him of its strength and making him belch its bitter smell. Temujin bared his teeth as he pulled himself higher. He could feel a worm of fear in his stomach, and it began to make him angry. He would not be afraid. He was a son of Yesugei, a Wolf. He would be khan one day. He would not be afraid and he would not fall. He began to murmur the words to himself, over and over as he climbed, staying close to the rock as the wind grew in force, tugging at him. It also helped to imagine Bekter’s irritation if Temujin reached the top first.
A gust made his stomach drop with a sudden feeling that he would be plucked and thrown from the high rock, smashing into the ground by Temuge. He found that his fingers were shaking with each new grip, the first sign of weakness. He took strength from his anger and went on. It was hard to guess how far he had come, but Temuge and the ponies were only specks below and his arms and legs burned with effort. Temujin came to a ridge where he could stand out of the wind and gasped there, recovering. He could see no way to go farther at first, and craned around a shelf of rock. He would surely not be stuck there while the others found easier routes up? Only Kachiun was a better climber and Temujin knew he should take time to rest his aching muscles. He took a deep breath of the warm air, enjoying the view for miles around. He felt as if he could see all the way to the gers of their tribe and wondered if Hoelun had given birth. Surely many hours had passed since they had arrived at the red hill?
“Are you stuck?” he heard above him.
Temujin swore aloud as he saw Kachiun’s face peering over the ledge. The boy met his gaze with the beginnings of a smile crinkling his eyes. Temujin shuffled along the ledge until he grasped a decent handhold. He had to hope it would lead to another above. With Kachiun looking on, he controlled his breathing and showed the cold face of the warrior. He had to jump up to reach for a second grip, and, for a moment, fear overwhelmed him. On the ground it would have been nothing, but on the ground he would have fallen only a little way. With the wind moaning around the crags, Temujin did not dare think of the
emptiness at his back.
His arms and legs blurred as he shoved himself up by sheer strength and energy. To stop moving was to begin to fall, and Temujin roared as he made it to where Kachiun was kneeling, calmly watching his progress.
“Ha! Khans of the mountain do not get stuck,” he told Kachiun, triumphantly.
His brother digested this in silence.
“The hill breaks apart just above us,” he said. “Bekter has taken the south col to the peak.”
Temujin was impressed at his brother’s calm. He watched as Kachiun walked to the edge of the red boulder he’d climbed in panic, going close enough to have the wind pull at his braided hair.
“Bekter does not know where the eagles are, if they are here at all,” Temujin told him.
Kachiun shrugged again. “He took the easier path. I don’t think an eagle would build a nest where it could be so easily reached.”
“There’s another way, then?” Temujin asked. As he spoke, he scrambled up a shallow slope to get a better view of the summits of the red hill. There were two, as Kachiun had said, and Temujin could see Bekter and Khasar on the one to the south. Even from a distance, both boys could identify the powerful figure of their eldest brother, moving slowly but steadily. The northern peak that loomed above Temujin and Kachiun was a spike of rock even more daunting than the initial sheer slope they had climbed.
Temujin clenched his fists, feeling the heaviness in his arms and calves.
“Are you ready?” Kachiun asked him, nodding toward the northern face.
Temujin reached out and caught his serious little brother around the back of the head in a quick clasp. He saw that Kachiun had lost a fingernail from his right hand. There was a crust of blood running right along his forearm to the sinewy muscles there, but the boy showed no sign of his discomfort.
“I am ready,” Temujin said. “Why did you wait for me?”
Kachiun grunted softly, taking a fresh hold on the rock. “If you fell, Bekter would be khan one day.”
“He might be a good one,” Temujin said, grudgingly. He did not believe it, but he remembered how Bekter had wrestled his father’s bondsmen. There were aspects of the adult world he did not yet fully understand, and Bekter had at least the attitudes of a warrior.
Kachiun snorted at that. “He rides like a stone, Temujin. Who can follow a man who sits so badly?”
Temujin smiled as he and Kachiun began to climb.
It was a fraction easier with two of them working together. More than once, Temujin used his strength to support Kachiun’s foot as the boy swarmed up the face like an agile spider. He climbed as well as he rode, but his young body was showing signs of exhaustion and
Temujin saw he was growing pale as they put another hundred feet behind them. Both boys were panting and their arms and legs seemed too heavy to move.
The sun had crossed the highest point of the sky and begun its trail toward the west. Temujin eyed its position whenever he could find a place to snatch a moment of relief from the strain. They could not be caught on the face in the dark, or both of them would fall. More worrying was the sight of a looming ridge of clouds in the distance. A summer storm would tear them all off the red hill, and he feared for his brothers as Kachiun slipped and almost took them both to their deaths.
“I have you. Find another hold,” Temujin grunted, his breath coming like fire from his open mouth. He could not remember being so tired and still the summit seemed impossibly far. Kachiun managed to take his weight off Temujin’s arm, looking back for a moment at the bleeding scuff marks his boot had left on Temujin’s bare skin. Kachiun followed his brother’s gaze out over the plains and stiffened as he saw the clouds. The wind was difficult to judge as it gusted around the crags, but both boys had the feeling it was coming straight at them.
“Come on, keep moving. If it starts to rain, we’re all dead,” Temujin growled at him, pushing his brother upwards. Kachiun nodded, though he closed his eyes for a moment and seemed dazed. It was easy to forget how young he was at times. Temujin felt a fierce, protective pride for the little boy and vowed not to let him fall.
The southern peak was still visible as they climbed, though there was no sign of either Bekter or Khasar. Temujin wondered if they had reached the top and were even then on their way back down with an eagle chick safe under a tunic. Bekter would be insufferable if he brought one of the great birds back to their father’s tents, and the thought was enough to lend a little extra energy to Temujin’s tired muscles. Neither boy understood at first what the high-pitched sounds meant. They had never heard the cries of young eagles, and the wind was a constant companion with its own sound over the rocks. The clouds had spread to fill the sky and Temujin was more concerned about finding a place for shelter. The thought of getting down with every handhold slick with rain made his heart sink. Even Kachiun could not do it, he was certain. One of them would fall, at least. The threat of dark clouds could not completely hold the attention of the two boys as they dragged themselves up to a cleft stuffed with twigs and feathers. Temujin could smell the scent of rotting meat before he was able to bring his eyes up to the level of the nest. At last he realized that the whistling sound was from a pair of young eagles, watching the climbers with feral interest.
The adult birds must have mated early, as the chicks were neither scrawny nor helpless. Both still carried their lighter feathering, with only touches of the golden brown that would carry them soaring over mountains in search of prey. Their wings were stubby and ugly looking, though both boys thought they had never seen anything quite so beautiful. The claws seemed too large for the young birds, great yellow toes ending in darker spikes that looked already capable of tearing flesh. Kachiun had frozen in wonder on the ledge, hanging from his fingertips. One of the birds took his stillness as some sort of challenge and hissed at him, spreading its wings in a show of courage that made Kachiun beam in pleasure.
“They are little khans,” he said, his eyes shining.
Temujin nodded, unable to speak. Already he was wondering how to get both birds down alive with a storm on the way. He scanned the horizon at the sudden worrying thought that the adult eagles might be driven home before the clouds. At such a precarious height, an attacking eagle would be more than a match for two boys trying to shepherd fledglings to the ground.
Temujin watched as Kachiun drew himself up into a crouch on the very edge of the nest, seemingly oblivious to the precarious position. Kachiun reached out a hand, but Temujin snapped a warning. “The clouds are too close for us to get down now,” he said. “Leave them in the nest and we can take them in the morning.”
As he spoke, a rumble of thunder growled across the plains, and both boys looked toward the source. The sun was still bright over them, but in the distance they could see rain sheeting down in twisting dark threads, the shadow racing toward the red hill. At that height, it was a scene to inspire awe as well as fear.
They shared a glance and Kachiun nodded, dropping back from the nest edge to the one below.
“We’ll starve,” he said, putting his sore finger in his mouth and sucking at the crust of dried blood.
Temujin nodded, resigned. “Better that than falling,” he said. “The rain is nearly here and I want to find a place where I can sleep without dropping off. It will be a miserable night.”
“Not for me,” Kachiun said, softly. “I have looked into the eyes of an eagle.”
With affection, Temujin cuffed the little boy, helping him traverse the ridge to where they could climb farther up. A cleft between two slopes beckoned. They could wedge themselves in as far as possible and rest at last.
“Bekter will be furious,” Kachiun said, enjoying the idea.
Temujin helped him up into the cleft and watched him wriggle his way in deeper, disturbing a pair of tiny lizards. One of them ran to the edge and leapt in panic with its legs outstretched, falling for a long time. There was barely room for both boys, but at least they were out of the wind. It would be uncomfortable and frightening after dark, and
Temujin knew he would be lucky to sleep at all.
“Bekter chose the easy way up,” he said, taking Kachiun’s hand and pulling himself in.
THE STORM BATTERED the red hill for all the hours of darkness, clearing only as dawn came. The sun shone strongly once more from an empty sky, drying the sons of Yesugei as they emerged from their cracks and hiding places. All four had been caught too high to dare a descent. They had spent the night in shivering wet misery; drowsing, then jerking awake with dreams of falling. As the dawn light reached the twin peaks of the red hill, they were yawning and stiff, with dark circles under their eyes.
Temujin and Kachiun had suffered less than the other pair because of what they had found. As soon as there was light enough to see, Temujin began to scramble out of the cleft to collect the first of the young eagles. He almost lost his grip when a dark shape swept in from the west, an adult eagle that seemed as large as he was.
The bird was not happy to find two trespassers so close to its young. Temujin knew the females were larger than the males, and he assumed the creature had to be the mother, as it screamed and raged at them. The chicks went unfed as the great bird took off again and again to float on the wind and look into the rock cleft that sheltered the two boys. It was terrifying and wondrous to be so high and stare into the black eyes of the bird, hanging unsupported on outstretched wings. Its claws opened and clutched convulsively, as if it imagined tearing into their flesh. Kachiun shuddered at the sight, lost in awe and fear that the huge bird would suddenly spear in at them, pulling them out as it might have done with a marmot in its hole. They had no more than Temujin’s pitiful little knife to defend themselves against a hunter that could break the back of a dog with a single heavy strike.
Temujin watched the brown-gold head turn back and forth in agitation. He guessed the bird could remain there all day, and he did not enjoy the thought of being exposed on the ledge below the nest. One blow from a claw there and he would be torn loose. He tried to remember anything he had ever heard about the wild birds. Could he shout to frighten the mother away? He considered it, but he did not want to summon Bekter and Khasar up to the lonely peak, not until he had the chicks wrapped in cloth and close to his chest.
At his shoulder, Kachiun clung to the sloping red rock in the cleft. Temujin saw he had prized out a loose stone and was weighing it in his hand.
“Can you hit it?” Temujin asked.
Kachiun only shrugged. “Maybe. I’d have to be lucky to knock it down, and this is the only one I could find.”
Temujin cursed under his breath. The adult eagle had disappeared for a time, but the birds were skilled hunters and he was not tempted to be lured out of his safe haven. He blew air out of his mouth in frustration. He was starving, with a difficult climb down ahead of him. He and Kachiun deserved better than to leave empty-handed.
He remembered Bekter’s bow, far below with Temuge and the ponies, and cursed himself for not having thought to bring it. Not that Bekter would have let him lay a hand on the double-curved weapon. His elder brother was as pompous about that as he was about all the trappings of a warrior.
“You take the stone,” Kachiun said. “I’ll get back up to the nest, and if she comes, you can knock her away.”
Temujin frowned. It was a reasonable plan. He was an excellent shot and Kachiun was the better climber. The only problem was that it would be Kachiun who had taken the birds, not him. It was a subtle thing, perhaps, but he wanted no other claim on them before his own.
“You take the stone. I’ll get the chicks,” he replied.
Kachiun turned his dark eyes on his older brother, seeming to read his thoughts. He shrugged. “All right. Have you cloth to bind them?” Temujin used his knife to remove strips from the edge of his tunic. The garment was ruined, but the birds were a far greater prize and worth the loss. He wrapped a length around each palm to have them ready, then craned out of the cleft, searching for a moving shadow, or a speck circling above. The bird had looked into his eyes and known what he was trying to do, he was certain. He had seen intelligence there, as much as any dog or hawk, perhaps more.
He felt his stiff muscles twinge as he climbed out into the sunlight. Once more he could hear thin screeching from the nest, the chicks desperate for food after a night alone. Perhaps they too had suffered without their mother’s warm body to protect them from the storm.
Temujin worried that he could hear only one call and that the other might have perished. He glanced behind him in case the adult eagle was soaring in to hammer him against the rock. There was nothing there and he pulled himself onto the high ledge, dragging up his legs until he crouched as Kachiun had the previous evening.
The nest was deep in a hollow, wide and steep-sided, so that the active young birds could not clamber out and fall before they could fly.
As they caught sight of his face, both of the scrawny young eagles scuttled away from him, wagging their featherless wings in panic and cawing for help. Once more, he scanned the blue sky and said a quick prayer to the sky father to keep him safe. He eased forward, his right knee pressing into the damp thatch and old feathers. Small bones crunched under his weight and he smelled a nauseating gust from ancient prey.
One of the birds cowered from his reaching fingers, but the other tried to bite him with its beak, raking his hand with talons. The needle claws were too small to do more than lightly score his skin, and he ignored the sting as he held the bird up to his face and watched as it
“My father will hunt for twenty years with you,” he murmured, freeing a strip from one hand and trussing the bird by wing and leg. The second had almost climbed out of the nest in panic, and Temujin was forced to drag it back by one yellow claw, causing it to wail and struggle. He saw that the young feathers had a tinge of red amidst the gold.
“I would call you the red bird, if you were mine,” he told it, pushing them both down inside his tunic. The birds seemed quieter against his skin, though he could feel claws scrabble at him. He thought his chest would look as if he’d fallen in a thorn bush by the time he was down. Temujin saw the adult eagle coming as a flicker of darkness above his head. It was moving faster than he would have believed possible, and he only had time to raise an arm before he heard Kachiun yell and their single stone thumped into the bird’s side, knocking it off its strike. It screamed in rage as real as he’d ever heard from an animal, reminding Temujin that this was a hunter, with a hunter’s instincts. He saw the bird try to flap its huge wings, scrabbling at the ledge for balance.
Temujin could do nothing but crouch in that confined space and try to protect his face and neck from the lunging claws. He heard it screech in his ear and felt the wings beat against him before the bird fell, calling in anger all the way. Both boys watched the eagle spiral down and down, barely in control of the descent. One wing was still, but the other seemed to twist and flutter in the updraft. Temujin breathed more slowly, feeling his heart begin to slow. He had the bird for his father and perhaps he would be allowed to train the red bird for himself. Bekter and Khasar had joined Temuge with the ponies by the time Temujin made his slow way down. Kachiun had stayed with him, aiding where he could so that Temujin never had to scramble for a hold, or risk his precious cargo. Even so, when he finally stood on the flat ground and looked up to the heights, they seemed impossibly far away; already strange, as if other boys had climbed them.
“Did you find the nest?” Khasar asked, seeing their answer in their pride.
Kachiun nodded. “With two eagle chicks in it. We fought off the mother and took them both.”
Temujin let his young brother tell the story, knowing that the others would not understand what it had been like to crouch with the world under his feet and death beating against his shoulders. He had not been afraid, he’d found, though his heart and body had reacted. He had experienced a moment of exhilaration on the red hill, and it disturbed him too much to talk of it, at least for the moment. Perhaps he would mention it to Yesugei when the khan was in a mellow mood. Temuge too had spent a miserable night, though he had been able
to shelter with the ponies and had occasional squirts of warm milk to sustain him. It didn’t occur to the other four to thank him for his sighting of the eagle. Temuge hadn’t climbed with them. All he had from his brothers was a hard clip from Bekter when he discovered that Temuge had emptied the mare’s teats during the night. The little boy howled as they set off, but the others had no sympathy. They were all parched and starving, and even the usually sunny Khasar frowned at him for his greed. They had soon left him behind as they trotted together across the green plain.
The boys saw their father’s warriors long before they were in sight of the gers of the tribe. Almost as soon as they were out of the shadow of the red hill, they were spotted, the high-pitched horn calls carrying a long way.
They did not show their nervousness, though the presence of riders could only mean their absence had been noticed. Unconsciously, they rode a little closer together as they recognized Eeluk galloping toward them and saw that he did not smile in greeting.
“Your father sent us out to find you,” Eeluk said, addressing the words to Bekter.
Temujin bristled automatically. “We’ve spent nights out before,” he replied.
Eeluk turned his small, black eyes on him and ran a hand over his chin. He shook his head. “Not without warning, not in a storm, and not with your mother giving birth,” he said, speaking sharply as if to scold a child.
Temujin saw Bekter was flushing with shame and refused to let the emotion trouble him. “You have found us, then. If our father is angry, that is between him and us.”
Eeluk shook his head again, and Temujin saw the flash of spite in his eyes. He had never liked his father’s bondsman, though he could not have said why. There was malice in Eeluk’s voice as he went on. “Your mother almost lost the child through worrying about the rest of you,” he said.
His eyes demanded Temujin lower his gaze, but instead the boy felt a slow anger building. Riding with eagles next to his chest gave him courage. He knew his father would forgive them anything once he saw the birds. Temujin raised a hand to stop the others, and even Bekter reined in with him, unable just to ride on. Eeluk too was forced to turn his pony back to them, his face dark with irritation.
“You will not ride with us, Eeluk. Go back,” Temujin said. He saw the warrior stiffen and shook his head, deliberately. “Today we ride only with eagles,” Temujin said, his face revealing nothing of his inner amusement.
His brothers grinned around him, enjoying the secret and the frown that troubled Eeluk’s hard features. The man looked to Bekter and saw that he was staring into nothing, his gaze fixed on the horizon. Then he snorted. “Your father will beat some humility into your thick skins,” he said, his face mottling with anger.
Temujin looked calmly at the older man, and even his pony was absolutely still.
“No. He will not. One of us will be khan one day, Eeluk. Think of that and go back, as I told you. We will come in alone.”
“Go,” Bekter said, suddenly, his voice deeper than any of his brothers’.
Eeluk looked as if he had been struck. His eyes were hidden as he spun his mount, guiding only with his knees. He did not speak again, but at last he nodded sharply and rode away, leaving them alone and shaking with an odd release of tension. They had not been in danger, Temujin was almost certain. Eeluk was not fool enough to draw steel on Yesugei’s sons. At worst, he might have thrashed them and made them walk back. Still, it felt as if a battle had been won, and Temujin sensed Bekter’s gaze on his neck the whole way to the river and his father’s people.
They smelled the tang of urine on the wind before they saw the gers. After a winter spent in the shadow of Deli’un-Boldakh, the scent had sunk into the soil in a great ring around the families. There was only so far a man was willing to walk in the dark, after all. Still, it was home. Eeluk had dismounted near their father’s ger, obviously waiting to see them punished. Temujin enjoyed the skulking man’s interest in them and kept his head high. Khasar and Kachiun took their lead from him, though Temuge was distracted by the smell of cooking mutton and Bekter assumed his usual sullen expression.
Yesugei came out as he heard their ponies whinny a welcome to the others in the herd. He wore his sword on his hip and a deel robe of blue and gold that reached down to his knees. His boots and trousers were clean and well brushed, and he seemed to stand even taller than usual. His face showed no anger, but they knew he prided himself on the mask that all warriors had to learn. For Yesugei it was no more than the habit of a lifetime to assess his sons as they rode up to him. He took note of the way Temujin protected something at his chest and the barely controlled excitement in all of them. Even Bekter was struggling not to show pleasure, and Yesugei began to wonder what his boys had brought back.
He saw too that Eeluk hovered nearby, pretending to brush down his pony. This from a bondsman who let his mare’s tail grow thick with mud and thorns. Yesugei knew Eeluk well enough to sense his sour mood was directed at the boys rather than himself. He would have shrugged if he had not adopted a warrior’s stillness. As it was, he dismissed Eeluk’s concerns from his mind.
Khasar and Kachiun dismounted in such a way that Temujin was hidden for a moment. Yesugei watched closely and saw in a flash that Temujin’s tunic was moving. His heart began to beat faster in anticipation. Still, he would not make it too easy for them.
“You have a sister, though the birth was harder for your absence. Your mother was almost blood lost with fear for you.”
They did lower their gazes at that. He frowned, tempted to thrash each one of them for their selfishness.
“We were at the red hill,” Kachiun murmured, quailing under his father’s gaze. “Temuge saw an eagle there and we climbed for the nest.” Yesugei’s heart soared at the news. There could only be one thing squirming at Temujin’s breast, but he hardly dared hope for it. No one in the tribe had caught an eagle for three generations or more, not since the Wolves had come down from the far west. The birds were more valuable than a dozen fine stallions, not least for the meat they could bring from hunting.
“You have the bird?” Yesugei said to Temujin, taking a step forward. The boy could not hold back his excitement any longer, and he grinned, standing proudly as he fished around inside his tunic.
“Kachiun and I found two,” he said.
His father’s cold face broke at this and he showed his teeth, very white against his dark skin and wispy beard.
Gently, the two birds were brought out and placed in their father’s hands, squalling as they came into the light. Temujin felt the loss of their heat next to his skin as soon as they were clear. He looked at the red bird with an owner’s eyes, watching every movement.
Yesugei could not find words. He saw that Eeluk had come closer to see the chicks, and he held them up, his face alight with interest. He turned to his sons.
“Go in and see your mother, all of you. Make your apologies for frightening her and welcome your new sister.”
Temuge was through the door of the ger before his father had finished speaking, and they all heard Hoelun’s cry of pleasure at seeing her youngest son. Kachiun and Khasar followed, but Temujin and Bekter remained where they were.
“One is a little smaller than the other,” Temujin said, indicating the birds. He was desperate not to be dismissed. “There is a touch of red to his feathers and I have been calling him the red bird.”
“It is a good name,” Yesugei confirmed.
Temujin cleared his throat, suddenly nervous. “I had hoped to keep him, the red bird. As there are two.”
Yesugei looked blankly at his son. “Hold out your arm,” he said. Temujin raised his arm to the shoulder, puzzled. Yesugei held the pair of trussed chicks in the crook of one arm and used the other to press against Temujin’s hand, forcing his arm down.
“They weigh as much as a dog, when they are grown. Could you hold a dog on your wrist? No. This is a great gift and I thank you for it. But the red bird is not for a boy, even a son of mine.”
Temujin felt tears prickle his eyes as his morning’s dreams were trampled. His father seemed oblivious to his anger and despair as he called Eeluk over.
To Temujin’s eye, Eeluk’s smile was sly and unpleasant as he came to stand by them.
“You have been my first warrior,” Yesugei said to the man. “The red bird is yours.”
Eeluk’s eyes widened with awe. He took the bird reverently, the boys forgotten. “You honor me,” he said, bowing his head.
Yesugei laughed aloud. “Your service honors me,” he replied. “We will hunt with them together. Tonight we will have music for two eagles come to the Wolves.” He turned to Temujin. “You will have to tell old Chagatai all about the climb, so that he can write the words for a great song.”
Temujin did not reply, unable to stand and watch Eeluk holding the red bird any longer. He and Bekter ducked through the low doorway of the ger to see Hoelun and their new sister, surrounded by their brothers. The boys could hear their father outside, shouting to the men
to see what his sons had brought him. There would be a feast that night and yet, somehow, they were uncomfortable as they met each other’s eyes. Their father’s pleasure meant a lot to all of them, but the red bird was Temujin’s.
That evening, the tribe burned the dry dung of sheep and goats and roasted mutton in the flames and great bubbling pots. The bard, Chagatai, sang of finding two eagles on a red hill, his voice an eerie combination of high and low pitch. The young men and women of the tribe cheered the verses, and Yesugei was pressed into showing the birds again and again while they called piteously for their lost nest.
The boys who had climbed the red hill accepted cup after cup of black airag as they sat around the fires in the darkness. Khasar went pale and silent after the second drink, and after a third, Kachiun gave a low snort and fell slowly backwards, his cup tumbling onto the grass. Temujin stared into the flames, making himself night-blind. He did not hear his father approach and he would not have cared if he had. The airag had heated his blood with strange colors that he could feel coursing through him.
Yesugei sat down by his sons, drawing his powerful legs up into a crouch. He wore a deel robe lined with fur against the night cold, but underneath, his chest was bare. The black airag gave him enough heat and he had always claimed a khan’s immunity from the cold.
“Do not drink too much, Temujin,” he said. “You have shown you are ready to be treated as a man. I will complete my father’s duty to you tomorrow and take you to the Olkhun’ut, your mother’s people.” He saw Temujin look up and completely missed the significance of the pale golden gaze. “We will see their most beautiful daughters and find one to warm your bed when her blood comes.” He clapped Temujin on the shoulder.
“And I will stay with them while Eeluk raises the red bird,” Temujin replied, his voice flat and cold. Some of the tone seeped through Yesugei’s drunkenness and he frowned.
“You will do as you are told by your father,” he said. He struck Temujin hard on the side of his head, perhaps harder than he had meant to. Temujin rocked forward, then came erect once again, staring back at his father. Yesugei had already lost interest, looking away to
cheer as Chagatai stirred his old bones in a dance, his arms cutting the air like an eagle’s wings. After a time, Yesugei saw that Temujin was still watching him.
“I will miss the gathering of tribes, the races,” Temujin said, as their eyes met, fighting angry tears.
Yesugei regarded him, his face unreadable. “The Olkhun’ut will travel to the gathering, just as we will. You will have Whitefoot. Perhaps they will let you race him against your brothers.”
“I would rather stay here,” Temujin said, ready for another blow. Yesugei didn’t seem to hear him. “You will live a year with them,” he said, “as Bekter did. It will be hard on you, but there will be many good memories. I need not say that you will take note of their strength, their weapons, their numbers.”
“We have no quarrel with the Olkhun’ut,” Temujin said. His father shrugged. “The winter is long,” he replied.
Excerpted from GENGHIS: Birth of an Empire © Copyright 2011 by Conn Iggulden. Reprinted with permission by Delacorte Press. All rights reserved.