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Temujin was chasing a vision: to unite many tribes into one, to make the earth tremble under the hoofbeats of a thousand warhorses, to subject unknown nations and even empires to his will.
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Conn Iggulden is the acclaimed author of the Emperor novels, which chronicle the life of Julius Caesar, and the Conqueror series, which is based on the lives of Mongol warlords Genghis, Ogedai, and Kublai Khan. He is also the coauthor of the bestselling nonfiction work The Dangerous Book for Boys. He lives with his wife and two children in Hertfordshire, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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 ...
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Book Description Blackstone Audiobooks, Inc., 2008. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1433215330
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