It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary. — G. K. Chesterton

Travels and Adventures of Marco Polo - George Towle




Homeward Bound

While the khan had been away with his court at the hunting grounds, three Persian ambassadors, with a gorgeous train, had arrived at Kambalu. Finding the khan away, they resolved to await his return, and were therefore sumptuously lodged in his palace. No sooner had the khan heard of their arrival, than he gave a splendid banquet in their honor, and having feasted on the bounteous things that his stewards set before them, the ambassadors were summoned into the garden, where the khan reclined in the midst of his women, to inform him of the object of their visit. The three Polos, as usual, had their places near the monarch. They watched with no little interest the appearance of the Persians, and listened intently to what they had to say.

The chief ambassador, making low salaams, advanced to Kublai Khan, and kneeling at his feet, spoke:

"Your majesty knows that our great sovereign, King Argon of Persia, married a lady of Cathay for his wife. With much grief I have to announce that the good Queen Bolgana is no more. She was a most gracious queen, beloved of all her lord's subjects; and the king himself loved her most faithfully. When she died, with her last words she implored King Argon on no account to take to himself a Persian as his second wife, but to send hither for a maiden of her own family, and make this maiden her successor. King Argon paid heed to the dying prayer of the queen; and hath, in compliance with it, sent us here to Cathay, to seek for a second wife."

"You are very welcome, noble Persians," replied Kublai Khan, "and shall give orders that you be entertained at my court, as long as you choose to tarry, in a manner befitting your rank and my love for King Argon, your master. You and your gallant company shall be lodged within my palace, and all things in it shall be at your service. Meanwhile, I will send messengers without delay to the province whence Queen Argon came, and will demand of her family a maiden who shall return with you to Persia."

The Persians then retired, and the khan and his courtiers resumed their recreations. The Polos soon made the acquaintance of these envoys of King Argon. Nicolo and Maffeo had twice travelled in Persia, and had already been received at the sovereign's court, and they well understood the native language of the envoys; while the latter were delighted to find accomplished Europeans, with whom they could freely talk, and who were familiar with their own country. Marco busied himself with providing amusements for the Persians, and acted as their guide about the palace park and the city of Kambalu. Occasionally he went with them on hunting parties and soon became very intimate and confidential with them. He did not conceal from his new friends how long and eagerly he and his father had desired to return to Venice, and how resolutely Kublai Khan had forbidden them to think of doing so. The Persians sympathized with him in his longing, and encouraged him to hope that his deliverance might no be far off. But Marco drew little comfort from their words, and did not once suspect that they would themselves be the means of opening the way to his return home. Kublai Khan was as good as his word to the Persian envoys. He lost no time in sending to the native province of Queen Bolgana to demand a new bride for the Persian monarch, giving orders that the youngest and fairest daughter of the family should be sent. In due time his messengers returned, and with them the newly destined bride.

Marco was at the court when she entered the palace, and was brought into the presence of the khan and of the Persian ambassadors and, accustomed as he was to the beauty of many of the Tartar ladies, he was amazed at the exceeding loveliness of this young girl, whose fate it was to be sent to a far-off strange land, and to become the wife of a king more than double her own age. She was very young and girlish, being scarcely seventeen; her graceful and slender form was attired in robes of the richest silk. The khan presented her to the Persian envoys, who did not conceal their admiration of her beauty, and declared that she could not fail to greatly please their lord and master.

Preparations were now hastened for the departure of the embassy. Kublai Khan had resolved that the bride should be attended with great state on her journey to her new home. He provided a brilliant escort of courtiers and guards, and selected some of the choicest gems and gold and silver ornaments that his treasure-houses provided, as presents for King Argon and his youthful bride. Upon the latter he showered necklaces, bracelets, and rings enough to dazzle even a queen; and he also gave the ambassadors solid proofs of his esteem.

The time had nearly arrived for their departure, when, one day, the chief of the ambassadors sought an audience of the khan, and told him that he was about to ask a still greater favor than the khan had as yet conferred upon him.

“At your majesty's court," said the Persian, "are three noble and learned Venetians, who have been here, as I learn, some seventeen years. Sire, they are most anxious to return to their own land. They have served you faithfully and they seek the reward of their fidelity in your gracious permission that they shall again behold the scenes of their youth. These Venetians have much knowledge of the Indian seas, by which we are about to return to Persia; and we are bold enough to beg your majesty's leave to take them with us."

Kublai Khan frowned, and at first seemed on the point of breaking out in a fit of passion; but governing his temper, turned abruptly around, and said that he would think of the Persian's request and give him his answer on the morrow. The next day he called the Persian to him and said:

"The Venetians have attached themselves strongly to me, and have been, for many years, my wisest and most trusted counsellors. I am most loth to part with them. But I clearly see that they are fully resolved to go back to Venice, and that they cannot possibly reconcile themselves to remaining in Cathay. I perceive that they have begged you Persians to intercede for them; nor, methinks, will they leave any stone unturned to break away from me. I have therefore resolved, at last, to grant your request, and to set them free to go back with you, so it pleases them.”

The Persian bent low before the khan, in abject token of his gratitude; and then hastened off to impart his good news to Marco, who could scarcely believe that the obdurate khan had really yielded. He soon, however, received from the khan's own lips the assurance of the truth and his heart thrilled with joy to think that, after all, he would see dear old Venice once more.

So it was decided that the Polos should go with the party of the young bride to Persia, and make their way from thence, as they could, to Europe. They soon made ready for the voyage (for the party were to travel by sea, the land journey being too long and too perilous for the frail young princess and her female companions); and the day quickly came for them to bid adieu to the good khan who had treated them. so generously, and to the host of Tartar friends whom they were about to leave forever.

The khan had not only loaded down the Polos, the envoys and the princess with costly gifts, and provided them with a brilliant Tartar escort, but had caused thirteen of his largest and finest four-masted ships to be especially fitted up for their use, and to be manned by ample crews of from one to two hundred sailors each. Everything on these ships was arranged for the luxury of the travellers, The furniture was elegant and comfortable, and the stock of provisions was choice and abundant. In all, the company that attended the party comprised, besides the sailors, six hundred persons.

Just before they set out, Kublai Khan summoned the Polos before him, in the presence of the whole court; and tenderly embracing each of them, with tears in his eyes, he handed Nicolo two golden tablets, which were to serve them as passports. On these tablets the khan had caused to be written his command to all his governors and subjects, not only to permit the Polos a safe passage, but to provide them with all things of which they might be in need.

When the travellers repaired to the port where lay their ships, Kublai Khan, with a great multitude of courtiers and soldiers, proceeded with them some miles on the road, and parted from them with the warmest demonstrations of affection at a village where all halted for the leave-taking. The khan fairly wept as he embraced Marco, who was his chief favorite while Marco himself was overcome with emotion at separating from a monarch who had overwhelmed him with favor and kindness.

The ambassadors, the princess and the Polos, having arrived at the port of embarkation, repaired on board the flag-ship, in which they were all to sail together; their escort and attendants entered the other ships; and, while an enormous multitude roared its good-bye from the shore, the fleet set forth on its southward voyage.

Marco had already traversed these Eastern seas, and was quite familiar with the various islands and headlands as they were passed. He took command of the fleet, and under his directions the ships sailed by the nearest route into the Australian waters. They did not deem it wise or necessary to put in at any of the islands, as they had already on board provisions and water enough to last them two years, and it was needless to risk an attack from the savage inhabitants.

It took the fleet fully three months to reach the long and lovely island of Sumatra. On the voyage, Marco greatly enjoyed the companionship of the three Persians, who were men of high birth and remarkable intelligence. On making the acquaintance of the young princess, (whose name was Cocachin), he found her as lively and amiable as she was lovely in face and person. She was soon able to converse with her protectors, and spent much of her time on deck, gazing amazed at the myriad wonders of the sea, which she had never before beheld. At first she had been homesick, and melancholy but the excitements of the voyage had restored the rosy color to her cheeks, and gayety to her heart.

Polos on their way home
EMBARKING FOR HOME


After staying a short while at Sumatra, the ships resumed their voyage, their stores replenished and their company refreshed by the brief sojourn on land. Sailing southwestward, they skirted the coast of India as far as Ceylon; and then, turning their prows northwestward, traversed the Indian ocean, thus in due time reaching the Persian Gulf. By the time they reached the port of Hormuz, however, they had been more than two years away from Kambalu, during which period they had only landed once, at Sumatra. Two of the Persian envoys had died on the voyage.

The brilliant company landed on Persian soil with great pomp and display, for they were escorting the future queen of the country, and the envoy who survived deemed that she should make her first appearance among her future subjects in all proper state. But no sooner had they landed than they learned that the good King Argon had in their absence followed his first queen to the grave. The country was in a state of civil war, and the young Princess Cocachin had arrived to find herself widowed before she was a wife.

The party lost no time in repairing to the prince who was then ruling in Southern Persia, Kiacatu, the brother of Argon to whom they presented their lovely charge. But Kiacatu, though engaged in a struggle with King Argon's son, Casan, for the crown, was too honorable to detain the young girl; and directed her escort to proceed with her to Casan's camp in the north, providing the party with two hundred horsemen to protect them.

Marco now found himself traversing the same road as that by which he had travelled to Cathay. Many objects were familiar to him as he advanced; and now and then, on stopping at a town or village, he found old men who remembered his journey more than twenty years before.

It was a long jaunt from Hormuz to Khorassan, where the young King Casan was posted with his army; and their progress was often interrupted by the operations of war. But everywhere the soldiers and the people respected the cavalcade, on account of the fair young princess whom they were conducting to the northern camp. Marco always rode at her side, with the ambassador; and had she not been of rank so much above his own, and the destined bride of another, he might easily have fallen head over ears in love with her. As it was, she became very much attached to her handsome and sturdy cavalier; and looked forward with real sorrow to parting from him.

It was towards evening that the company approached the camp of the gallant young prince who was fighting for the crown which was his due. The tents were spread over a wide space in a beautiful valley, watered by a swiftly-flowing stream; and from a hill top Marco surveyed the bustling scene. The soldiers were loitering about their tents in groups: and above the tents floated the banners of the royal house of Persia. In their centre was a lofty and handsome pavilion; and this the travellers rightly guessed to be the headquarters of the prince himself.

With the passports they had, it was no difficult matter to penetrate the outposts, and advance to the royal pavilion. On reaching it, the princess, ambassador, and three Polos dismounted and approached the door. Presently Prince Casan, apprized of the arrival of the party, emerged from the pavilion. He was a fine looking young man, tall and straight, with broad shoulders, a fresh rosy complexion, and a soft brown beard. He was splendidly dressed in silk and jewels, and altogether presented a noble and attractive appearance. He stepped forward and welcomed the party to his camp. Then the ambassador, standing with bowed head, informed Casan that this was the young princess of Cathay, whom his father Argon had sent for, in order to make her his wife. But now that Argon was dead, he knew nothing else to do with her, than to bring her to Argon's son and heir, Casan himself. The prince was already glancing with tender eyes at the lovely young maiden; and no sooner had the ambassador done speaking than he exclaimed: “You have done well, my lord. The fair princess shall receive all honor and protection from me. Nay, I am happily still unmarried; and the bride whom my august father destined as his queen, I will receive as mine."

So saying, he took the blushing Cocachin by the hand and led her to a tent near by, sending her women after her to keep her company. It may well be believed that she did not much regret, after all, finding that her destined spouse was no more for he was an old man, and now she was to be married to one as young, handsome, and powerful as the proudest princess could wish.

Meanwhile, Casan busied himself with offering such hospitalities as his camp afforded to his visitors. The ambassador and the Polos were provided with luxurious tents, and at night were feasted by the prince to their hearts' content; and the next day a great review of the troops was held, at which they rode beside the prince himself.

Eager as Marco was to see Venice once more, it was with much reluctance and sorrow that he parted from the good friends with whom he had travelled so far, and whose friendship he had so keenly enjoyed. The Polos resolved to tarry at the camp at least until Casan and Cocachin were married, after which event they would hasten towards home. The more Casan saw of the young girl, the fonder he grew of her, and he soon became impatient to be wedded to her as soon as possible. Cocachin was nothing loth; and so within a week of her arrival in the camp, they were duly married according to the rites of the faith to which they belonged.

The next day, the Polos prepared to set out for Trebizond, which was the nearest port where they could hope to find a ship to take them to Constantinople, from whence their way home would be easy. When the moment for bidding farewell came, Marco could not restrain his tears. He warmly embraced his Persian friends, and kneeling at the feet of the Princess Cocachin, fervidly kissed her hand. She, also, was much touched at parting from so good and faithful a friend, and tears of regret coursed down her cheeks.

The Polos here bade good-bye also to the larger part of the escort who had accompanied them on their travels, and only took with them a few guides and attendants, and a body of Persian cavalry, whom Prince Casan detailed to guard them as far as Trebizond. They then set out, followed by the friendly cries of the Persian soldiers.