Dear readers, tonight we present you with a Mongol chief from the armies of Temujin (whom you might know as Genghis Khan). We witness the chief being questioned by Irle Khan — the king of ghosts.


A deep voice in the gloom. What creature are you?

Jamuqa saw nothing. Nothing was what he had expected. “I’m a Mongol,” he said aloud. “Despite everything. A dead one.” He thought about that. “Dead and proud. Who are you? Irle Khan?”

If you think I am Irle Khan, said the voice, how do you imagine him?

“Oh, as the nursery rhyme tells me.

Throned on black beaver pelts thou suppest, Irle Khan;
The breastbone of a corpse serves thee for platter,
Thy cutlery shriveled fingers, sharpened nails, from a tomb.

Thy great hips girt with thine sword in verdigris,
In iron scales, in ancient braid and epaulet, thou comest stalking,
Thou stretchest forth thy hand to our heroes, to our steeds.

Irle Khan, like a black coal thy countenance glitters,
Like tides in the ocean wave thy waxy black tresses:
Mighty, mighty art thou, lovely art thou, Irle Khan.

Flattery,” said Jamuqa, “obviously, to avert the King of the Dead. But by the end, you were lovely to me.”

My questions begin at the beginning. Answer them, Jamuqa Chief of Jajirat, to see my face.

“Fantastic.”

Exercise your faculties, after your delivery to me. Call up a cherished memory from your childhood. A toy you were attached to?

“If you’re Irle Khan you know I didn’t have a childhood. A toy? My toys were half-sized weapons and my games were soldier’s drill.”

What about that game of knucklebones once on the Tola River’s ice?

“I see. You know the answers already. You mean when I met Temujin.”

Is he the only early memory you like to think of? Talk to me, Jamuqa Chief of Jajirat. I have a list of questions and we go by the rules down here.

“Yes, you have a reputation for inflexibility, but then I was known as a martinet myself. I’ve always been curious to meet you, Irle Khan. I’ll answer your questions.

I grew up in hard years for the Mongols, and my tribe had them hardest. Except for Temujin’s, who lost his tribe. We were both eight years old when I challenged him to knucklebones that day on the frozen Tola. Same day, I took him to see my tree half-burnt by lightning and within the week, we mixed the holy ash in blood out of our thumbs, and drank the drink that made us andas.”

Did you keep that oath of blood brotherhood, the both of you?

“With you to punish oath-renegers? An oath was never so bent and battered as that one between Temujin and me. Yet on the other hand, no oath held so true. You smell out a whiff of a lie, Irle Khan, and you’ll eat a corpse like me for fibs, and the spirit too. Now I challenge you.” He fell silent.

After a moment’s wait the voice went on to its next question. No lie detected, then.

Continue reading “Jamuqa (of the Amgalant series, by Bryn Hammond)”