Genghis Khan - Jacob Abbott

The Death Of Vang Khan

A grand council was now called of all the confederates who were leagued with Temujin, at a place called Mankerule, to make arrangements for a vigorous prosecution of the war. At this council were convened all the chieftains and khans that had been induced to declare against Vang Khan. Each one came attended by a considerable body of troops as his escort, and a grand deliberation was held. Some were in favor of trying once more to come to some terms of accommodation with Vang Khan, but Temujin convinced them that there was nothing to be hoped for except on condition of absolute submission, and that, in that case, Vang Khan would never be content until he had effected the utter ruin of every one who had been engaged in the rebellion. So it was, at last, decided that every man should return to his own tribe, and there raise as large a force as he could, with a view to carrying on the war with the utmost vigor.

Temujin was formally appointed general-in-chief of the army to be raised. There was a sort of truncheon or ornamented club, called the topaz, which it was customary on such occasions to bestow, with great solemnity, on the general thus chosen, as his badge of command. The topaz was, in this instance, conferred upon Temujin with all the usual ceremonies. He accepted it on the express condition that every man would punctually and implicitly obey all his orders, and that he should have absolute power to punish any one who should disobey him in the way that he judged best, and that they should submit without question to all his decisions. To these conditions they all solemnly agreed.

Being thus regularly placed in command, Temujin began by giving places of honor and authority to those who left Vang Khan's service to follow him. He took this occasion to remember and reward the two slaves who had come to him in the night at his camp, some time before, to give him warning of the design of Sankum and Yemuka to come and surprise him there. He gave the slaves their freedom, and made provision for their maintenance as long as they should live. He also put them on the list of exempts. The exempts were a class of persons upon whom, as a reward for great public services, were conferred certain exclusive rights and privileges. They had no taxes to pay. In case of plunder taken from the enemy, they received their full share without any deduction, while all the others were obliged to contribute a portion of their shares for the khan. The exempts, too, were allowed various other privileges. They had the right to go into the presence of the khan at any time, without waiting, as others were obliged to do, till they obtained permission, and, what was more singular still, they were entitled to nine pardons for any offenses that they might commit, so that it was only when they had committed ten misdemeanors or crimes that they were in danger of punishment. The privileges which Temujin thus bestowed upon the slaves were to be continued to their descendants to the seventh generation.

Temujin rewarded the slaves in this bountiful manner, partly, no doubt, out of sincere gratitude to them for having been the means, probably, of saving him and his army from destruction, and partly for effect, in order to impress upon his followers a strong conviction that any great services rendered to him or to his cause were certain to be well rewarded.

Temujin now found himself at the head of a very large body of men, and his first care was to establish a settled system of discipline among them, so that they could act with regularity and order when coming into battle. He divided his army into three separate bodies. The centre was composed of his own guards, and was commanded by himself. The wings were formed of the squadrons of his confederates and allies. His plan in coming into battle was to send forward the two wings, retaining the centre as a reserve, and hold them prepared to rush in with irresistible power whenever the time should arrive at which their coming would produce the greatest effect.

When every thing was thus arranged, Temujin set his army in motion, and began to advance toward the country of Vang Khan. The squadrons which composed his immense horde were so numerous that they covered all the plain.

In the mean time Vang Khan had not been idle. He, or rather Sankum and Yemuka, acting in his name, had assembled a great army, and he had set out on his march from Karakorom to meet his enemy. His forces, however, though more numerous, were by no means so well disciplined and arranged as those of Temujin. They were greatly encumbered, too, with baggage, the army being followed in its march by endless trains of wagons conveying provisions, arms, and military stores of all kinds. Its progress was, therefore, necessarily slow, for the troops of horsemen were obliged to regulate their speed by the movement of the wagons, which, on account of the heavy burdens that they contained, and the want of finished roads, was necessarily slow.

The two armies met upon a plain between two rivers, and a most desperate and bloody battle ensued. Karasher, Temujin's former tutor, led one of the divisions of Temujin's army, and was opposed by Yemuka, who headed the wing of Vang Khan's army which confronted his division. The other wings attacked each other, too, in the most furious manner, and for three hours it was doubtful which party would be successful. At length Temujin, who had all this time remained in the background with his reserve, saw that the favorable moment had arrived for him to intervene, and he gave the order for his guards to charge, which they did with such impetuosity as to carry all before them. One after another of Vang Khan's squadrons was overpowered, thrown into confusion, and driven from the field. It was not long before Vang Khan saw that all was lost. He gave up the contest and fled. A small troop of horsemen, consisting of his immediate attendants and guards, went with him. At first the fugitives took the road toward Karakorom. They were, however, so hotly pursued that they were obliged to turn off in another direction, and, finally, Vang Khan resolved to fly from his own country altogether, and appeal for protection to a certain chieftain, named Tayian Khan, who ruled over a great horde called the Naymans, one of the most powerful tribes in the country of Karakatay. This Tayian was the father of Temujin's first wife, the young princess to whom he was married during the lifetime of his father, when he was only about fourteen years old.

It was thought strange that Vang Khan should thus seek refuge among the Naymans, for he had not, for some time past, been on friendly terms either with Tayian, the khan, or with the tribe. There were, in particular, a considerable number of the subordinate chieftains who cherished a deep-seated resentment against him for injuries which he had inflicted upon them and upon their country in former wars. But all these Tartar tribes entertained very high ideas of the obligations of hospitality, and Vang Khan thought that when the Naymans saw him coming among them, a fugitive and in distress, they would lay aside their animosity, and give him a kind reception.

Indeed, Tayian himself, on whom, as the head of the tribe, the chief discredit would attach of any evil befalling a visitor and a guest who had come in his distress to seek hospitality, was inclined, at first, to receive his enemy kindly, and to offer him a refuge. He debated the matter with the other chieftains after Vang Khan had entered his dominions and was approaching his camp; but they were extremely unwilling that any mercy should be shown to their fallen enemy. They represented to Tayian how great an enemy he had always been to them. They exaggerated the injuries which he had done them, and represented them in their worst light. They said, moreover, that, by harboring Vang Khan, they should only involve themselves in a war with Temujin, who would undoubtedly follow his enemy into their country, and would greatly resent any attempt on their part to protect him.

These considerations had great effect on the mind of Tayian, but still he could not bring himself to give his formal consent to any act of hostility against Vang Khan. So the other chieftains held a council among themselves to consider what they should do. They resolved to take upon themselves the responsibility of slaying Vang Khan.

"We can not induce Tayian openly to authorize it," they aid, "but he secretly desires it, and he will be glad when it is done."

Tayian knew very well what course things were taking, though he pretended not to know, and so allowed the other chiefs to go on in their own way.

They accordingly fitted out a troop, and two of the chieftains—the two who felt the most bitter and determined hatred against Vang Khan—placing themselves at the head of it, set off to intercept him. He had lingered on the way, it seems, after entering the Nayman territory, in order to learn, before he advanced too far, what reception he was likely to meet with. The troop of Naymans came suddenly upon him in his encampment, slew all his attendants, and, seizing Vang Khan, they cut off his head. They left the body where it lay, and carried off the head to show it to Tayian.

Tayian was secretly pleased, and he could not quite conceal the gratification which the death of his old enemy afforded him. He even addressed the head in words of scorn and spite, which revealed the exultation that he felt at the downfall of his rival. Then, however, checking himself, he blamed the chieftains for killing him.

"Considering his venerable age," said he, "and his past greatness and renown as a prince and commander, you would have done much better to have acted as his guards than as his executioners."

Tayian ordered the head to be treated with the utmost respect. After properly preparing it, by some process of drying and preserving, he caused it to be inclosed in a case of silver, and set in a place of honor.

While the preparations for this sort of entombment were making, the head was an object of a very solemn and mysterious interest for all the horde. They said that the tongue thrust itself several times out of the mouth, and the soothsayers, who watched the changes with great attention, drew from them important presages in respect to the coming events of the war. These presages were strongly in favor of the increasing prosperity and power of Temujin.

Sankum, the son of Vang Khan, was killed in the battle, but Yemuka escaped.