Authors: Chris Walker
THE TIGER-HEADED HORSEMAN
The first book in the Nomadic Sky series
Book Guild Publishing
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by
The Book Guild Ltd
45 Church Road
Hove, BN3 2BE
Copyright © Chris Walker 2013
The right of Chris Walker to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
Typesetting in Fiesole by
Norman Tilley Graphics Ltd, Northampton
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
A catalogue record for this book is available from The British Library.
ISBN 978 1 84624 937 2
ePub ISBN 978 1 90971 691 9
Mobi ISBN 978 1 90971 692 6
To Grace, Sam and Alice
Sarah, Grace and Hugh; Peter and Nicola Bell; Bridget and Richard Storrie; Year 6 of 2013 at Saltwood Primary School and Mrs Selby; Enkh-Undram Bayartogtokh; employees of Oyu Tolgoi and Rio Tinto Mongolia; Glenn Bowman and Elizabeth Cowie; Peter Clayton; Jill and Alan North; Chaucer; Book Guild Publishing; Grant and Annalisa Hopkins; Pascale and Bruno Rodriguez; Mum and Dad; Rebecca and Ewen Angus; my very wonderful Granny.
Special thanks to Sharon Whyte for her cover design.
As Chinggis Khaan rode out to save his friends, he felt uneasy. It wasn't that he had ventured out of his camp alone without his private guard. Something more sinister was afoot. He could sense it in the chill air shrouding him as he galloped across the Steppe. Ahead of him lay a barren herder encampment. Four round thickly-felted tents – gers – stood stiffly against the freezing wind. A dozen Mongolian ponies sheltered in their wake, anxiously seeking out any protection from the storm. Mountains rose up around the camp keeping a keen watch over the petrified site. Chinggis called out but only the sub-zero weather answered. The wind snapped at his enormous sheepskin coat and he pulled his fox-fur hat down tight over his ears. It may have been August but the winter of 1227 remained stuck fast across the southern Gobi Desert. Chinggis's shaman advisors had been sure it portended evil but he had ignored them. He was, after all, the Mongol emperor; ruler of the largest empire ever known to mankind. His lands stretched from what we now know as the Pacific to the Mediterranean; he wasn't going to be afraid of a bit of cold weather. Jumping from his steed, he raced to the largest ger. A dusting of snow betrayed the otherwise steely blue sky. There was no sign of his friend's insignia but he was too frantic to notice such details.
Throwing open the wooden door of the ger, Chinggis peered into its murky interior. There was no sound from within. He stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him. As
his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he made out shapes and shadows standing around the walls but noticed too late the dozen shards of sparkling steel that were now suddenly thrust in unison towards him. The moment he drew his sabre, his life departed him. A dozen foreign swords continued to stab and slash at him repeatedly as his eyes began to freeze. Given Chinggis's reputation, his enemies wanted to make sure he was well and truly dead.
During his lifetime, Chinggis Khaan had never been a man who had ever tired of fighting. It had been expected of him. It was what emperors did. However, since his assassination that summer long ago, he had been trapped in a steely afterlife; incarcerated, seemingly for eternity, by his evil cousin Khad. It was Chinggis's blood relative who, jealous of his cousin, had orchestrated his murder. For his part the malevolent Khad had, upon his own earthly demise, joined his cousin in the same frozen eternal state of limbo. The pair had continued to fight one another each day for almost eight hundred years and Chinggis was wearying of it. There was never any question about him losing the fight; sometimes he even appeared to enjoy it. Secretly, though, all he really wanted was a truce, followed by a hot bath, a generous massage and a nice glass of chilled, fermented yaks’ milk. Khad, though, would never yield.
Khad despised Chinggis. The younger cousin hated the fact that, despite everything, people still adored Chinggis. Although he had brought about the downfall of Chinggis's empire and created his own, he was still neither respected nor loved. To make matters worse, being forced to confront his cousin every day in the afterlife reminded Khad why it was that Chinggis was more popular. Khad could not accept this fate and vowed to vanquish him for ever. He would never give up. His hatred was deeply rooted and losing was not an option. The more he saw of Chinggis, the deeper his rage took hold. Khad would never win,
never win. Chinggis was as supremely strong as Khad was weak; as virile and masculine as Khad was churlish and self-important. The cousins were locked in immortal, eternal combat.
Had Khad simply been willing to sit down and talk with his cousin, each could have agreed to differ and moved to their ultimate sanctuary. Chinggis would gladly have helped Khad by calling a truce but his cousin would not listen. Khad failed to understand that peace was the only way for them both to escape the indeterminate state in which they had been trapped for centuries. Both longed to escape their limbo but Khad's rage would not allow him to see how easy it would be to move on. Neither did he appreciate that their final destinations would be in very different places.
Nineteen-year-old Tengis frequently thought about Chinggis Khaan and his evil cousin Khad. They had both played out their eternal struggle in Tengis's dream world every night since he had been born. It was Tengis's private joy. The two most famous, most infamous men Tengis had ever read about were somehow linked to him. It was only as he grew older that Tengis began to question why.
Tengis shook the recurring dream from his mind and crept out of bed. Stretching to his full five foot ten inches, Tengis stood proudly in front of the mirror and stared at the moonlit reflection facing him.
‘You're the man,’ he said, pulling his stomach muscles taut and adopting a weightlifter pose. He didn't have much muscle but that didn't stop him loving his appearance. He looked deep into the eyes that stared back at him and knew without any shadow of a doubt that he was Chinggis Khaan. He had to be. It all made sense.
Tengis was taller than any of the other boys his age. He could beat anyone in a fight – mostly by foul means. He could debate more directly, if less diplomatically, than anybody else. He had always been top of his class in every subject. He looked just like the pictures and statues that lined the city avenues . . . or so his mother said. She'd even given him the same surname. He had an unhealthy level of ambition of which everybody was wary. More importantly, his dreams confirmed it. Night after night,
between glimpses of the fighting cousins, Tengis dreamed about leading armies across the wide-open Steppe that ran through the heart of Ongolium. He dreamed of taking his armies towards victory through the mountains; about frenetic bloody battles where he was always the victor; about ruling the vastest empire the earth would ever know; about being revered and loved by a billion loyal and fearful subjects. There was also the voice that whispered to him.
Tengis had been born in the centre of the bustling disjointed Baatarulaan (formerly known as Ulaanbaatar), capital city of Ongolium (the country that had once been known as Mongolia). His father had joined the army and set forth on a very important campaign when Tengis had still been a youngster, or so his mother had said. Tengis was still waiting for his father's return fourteen years later and couldn't understand what was keeping him away. As far as he was aware, Ongolium hadn't quarrelled with any other country since the infamous sacking of Baatarulaan eight centuries previously. Why Ongolium even needed an army was beyond Tengis, although he knew it was only proper that it had one. Ongolium had resolutely determined its own course and Outsiders were not wanted in any shape or form.
The voice that whispered was what really confirmed his belief. Before any dream got underway, and after every enemy had been vanquished, the voice of a man spoke quietly to him. It told him to look for his greatness; to remember who he was; to forget all others and be true to himself. Despite being born several hundred years after Chinggis had died, Tengis had all the proof he needed. He was the true Mongol emperor. He just couldn't quite figure out how this could be possible. What Tengis did know was that he was Chinggis and that it surely meant change was coming; though he didn't know exactly what it would look like.
As far as Tengis was concerned, Ongolium had only one truly famous son and one infamous legend.
Chinggis Khaan was that son, although he was now widely known as Genghis Khan much to the chagrin of purist historians. Chinggis had lived at the turn of the thirteenth century and during his sixty-six long years had successfully built an empire stretching from the Strait of Anian, between Asia and North America, to Italy, and from the Arctic Circle to Siam. At the centre of Chinggis's domain was his beloved Mongolia: the land of the eternal blue sky; land of the horse; land of his fathers and their fathers and their fathers and so forth. From Mongolia he ruled his empire with ruthless determination. Key to his success had been the natural abundance of horses in his homeland and the innate ability of his countrymen as expert horsemen. He established the largest, most highly skilled and utterly fearsome cavalry to gallop the globe. As Chinggis was wont to say: ‘Spare the horse, spare the enemy!’ He killed bountifully and showed mercy sparingly but, contrary to many history books, he wasn't all about anger and tempestuousness. He was one of the very first people to see the vast benefits that could be found if one embraced cultural and religious diversity. He allowed his subjects to worship who, or what, they chose and to continue the traditions of their choice so long as they paid him a tax for the privilege. Indeed, Chinggis and his people revelled in the new-found wealth of knowledge that their exploits uncovered. Theirs was a civilisation that surpassed all that had gone before in terms of intellectual accomplishment and was responsible for inventing many of the aspects of life we take for granted today.
The thick fur hats that kept Chinggis's warriors warm on the Steppe were later adapted into portable food stores, with horsemen keeping their meats warm for longer atop their bonces. This invention was later also adapted to keep infused hot
water warm. Chinggis's excellent archers all had second jobs as messengers. They would wrap notes and military orders around their arrows and fire them to a post some 200 metres away, where another archer would do likewise until the desired recipient was reached. Chinggis was responsible for inventing many modern sports as well. After beheading his enemies, his men would often throw the vanquished heads to one another and endeavour to wrestle one another to reach a distant line – rugby was born in Mongolia long before any snotty schoolboy picked up a football. When his army were bored of tossing the heads to one another, or when the heads started to go a bit mangy, the soldiers would pitch them to a chosen soldier with a big stick who would try and hit it as high as he could into the air. In one fell swoop baseball, rounders, cricket and, ultimately, racquet sports came about. Eyeballs became golf balls. Teeth became dice.