Three days later, Genghis sat inside his gher, a great breast-shaped tent painted in blue and yellow swirls, and hung with colourful flags. Unlike most ghers, the Khan's rested upon the back of a huge wagon. The team of oxen used to pull the wagon grazed nearby, nuzzling the grass, chewing slowly. He liked the sound of his beasts, and the smell of his horses, just as he enjoyed the scent of a woman. He drew strength from them, and strength was vital when the weight of destiny rested on his shoulders.
A heavy knock rattled the gher’s door.
Subutai. Genghis nodded his approval. The man was worth his weight in numan.
‘Enter!’ He settled upon a carved wooden chair covered in furs and brightly woven cloth.
Subutai pushed through the door, one arm supporting the blind shaman, Temku. Close behind followed Muqali. He held the door for a woman, her hair so grey and thin her scalp was visible, the skin mottled with age. She did not hunch as would a feeble old crone. She did not accept Subutai's arm but hobbled west to east around the gher to stand before Genghis.
‘You know our ways.’ Genghis traced a matching circle in the air.
‘To know one’s enemy is a wise thing, Khan.’
Genghis Khan stiffened, eyeing the old woman, calculating her measure. ‘I live my life by those very words. So, are you my enemy?’
‘Are you my master?’
Subutai shoved her to her knees. ‘You will show our Khan the respect and honour he deserves.’
‘What is your name, mystic?’ Genghis stood, hands on hips, chin raised.
‘Most call me Xin.’
‘Well, Xin.’ He motioned for Subutai to help her to her feet. ‘What are your gifts? Your powers? What makes you better than my shaman?’
‘Can he tell you how to capture the spirit of the Fire Arrow?’ She pointed skyward, the skin of her hands translucent, her veins blue and bloated. ‘Because I can!’
‘A woman no bigger than a child – no stronger than a newborn foal – capturing the Eternal Blue Heaven's Messenger?' Genghis laughed, the sound brittle, angry. ‘Take her away. Unless…' He paused and addressed Temku. ‘The Fire Arrow's spirit would make me unstoppable, would it not? Does she speak the truth?'
‘Khan,’ Temku said, reluctance in his weathered face. ‘She does not lie. But if you do as she suggests the risks are great.’
‘You too know how to capture the Fire Horse’s spirit?’
‘I foresaw this moment, yes,’ Temku said. ‘But I do not know how to harness the Fire Horse. What I do know is you’re approaching a living crossroads, Khan. Either path is open.’
‘And yet you said nothing!’
‘As I said, the risk is great. Too great.’
‘Who are you to decide what I should risk? Nothing! Nothing is more important than my destiny. To shy from danger would insult our gods.’
‘I am sorry, Khan. I simply wanted to protect you. Kokochu predicted the world would be yours. A precious jewel you’d rule over. But I did not see you following this mystic’s path to achieve it.’
‘Perhaps Kokochu was a far greater shaman than you.’
‘Very likely, Khan. Forgive me.’
‘So, woman.’ Genghis turned to Xin. ‘What do I do to capture the Fire Horse’s spirit?’
‘You paint it,’ Xin said mildly.
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