Bortai headed toward the ger of Temujin to lay bare all to him. Well, except for the parts involving reincarnations and ‘travel’ across worlds. Those were just too strange and she did not have a proper understanding of them herself so it would be better to keep her own counsel on them. As she walked, she became self-conscious of her heart skittering like a panicked fawn. She felt a little ashamed of acting like a lovesick girl of fifteen (which was her physical age but her mental age was a different story altogether). Consequently, she was hanging her head low and invariably, she collided with a barrel chest.
“Sorry”, Bortai apologised while rubbing at her scalp, which she felt must have been bruised by the barrier of flesh she had just hit that might as well be stone.
When she lifted her head again, she saw a bemused smile on the youth whom she had crashed into. Her eyes quickly roamed over him and she could see that he had indeed the brawn to go with that impregnable chest. Quickly lowering her eyes in embarrassment, she bade him farewell and was about to scurry off. However, he intercepted her with his observation, “You seemed to be heading towards Temujin’s ger.”
Bortai looked up at him and asked politely, “Yes, I am.” Then she sent him an unspoken question with her eyes.
“Last time I saw Temujin, he was carrying his Hunter’s Pack and supplies for a long trip. That was about half a ten-day ago.”
Bortai gave him her thanks and the two parted company. After pausing to think for a while, Bortai decided to pay a visit to Hoelun, First Wife to Yesegei Khan and the mother of Temujin. From what Bortai gathered of the periodic reminiscing of Temujin and Hoelun of their times with Yesegei Khan, Yesegei Khan always conferred with this remarkable woman before and after major decisions, just as her own Khan-father relied on the advice of Chechi and Aunt Koka. Failing to find Temujin, the next logical choice for her to turn to would be his parents.
It was as she had guessed. When she got to Hoelun’s ger, she could hear Yesegei’s strong deep voice conversing with a female voice that she instantly recognised. Hoelun had a way of speaking that made every note come out round, which made her sound extremely cultured. This was quite distinct within their society, as everyone else tended to speak in a more free natured way. And yet, no one would stare askance for her for such a hallmark. No, she wholly belonged to and fitted in. In fact, she would never look out of place anywhere, whether it be the simple but hard life that the Mongols led before Temujin united them all or living in a palace as Mother of the Great Genghis Khan at the zenith of the Empire. Such was the magic of Hoelun- serene, self-possessed, eminently adaptable and ever unchanging at the same time.
When Bortai detected a lull in the conversation inside the ger, she lightly coughed to make her presence known before requesting entry. It was Hoelun who answered giving her assent. Bortai warmed to her undertone of motherly tenderness (which she characteristically and quite unconsciously carried) and smiled despite her nervousness.
After she had entered into the tent, her eyes locked onto Hoelun of their own accords. Hoelun was exactly as she remembered her, except for being substantially younger. But then Hoelun had aged gracefully- no, those would be wrong words to use indeed. In her senior years, Hoelun had not just retained the attractiveness of her features, whose charm had always been that the longer you looked at them, the more you became enamoured of them. The wisdom she had accumulated over the years had actually made Hoelun a striking beauty that blossomed late, at an age when all other women should and would be withering.
The three of them quickly settled down to business after the customary greetings were exchanged. Bortai struggled somewhat before making a direct opening, “I have come to laid bare the truth, about myself.”
Both Yesegei Khan and Hoelun looked at her curiously but did not rush her.
“I did not give my real name at the Ctofalir but now I believe it is time that I state who I truly am.” Now that Bortai had made her start, she found that words simply flowed out of her. “I am Bortai, daughter of Otgonbayar and Chagantani of the Ontaggarit.” She paused momentarily, giving time for what she had just revealed to sink in, and for Yesegei Khan and Hoelun to react how they would.
Yesegei gave a hearty laugh that took Bortai by surprise. “I thought you looked vaguely familiar,” he said in his booming voice, “You have your father’s eyebrows and his nose. So how has he been? Have not seen him since we arranged the match between you and Temujin. You were but a babe in your father’s arms. So how come you here?”
Bortai gave a summary of her life events starting from the point that she woke up from her accident, omitting little save the parts that she had decided to keep forever private. When she got to describing her Bride Test, however, she blushed. That met with boisterous laughter from Yesegei and a slight but approving smile from Hoelun.
“So what do you think of Temujin as your husband? Do you see him as a fit match?” Yesegei asked with a twinkle in his eyes that brightened even more when Bortai briskly nodded her assent. In fact, he threw back his head and laughed. He also praised her for being ‘a true daughter of the Steppe’. Hoelun looked upon the scene with an indulgent smile.
“I was told that Temujin had ridden off.” There was an unspoken question in Bortai’s eyes even though she had framed it as a statement of fact.
“I sent Temujin, along with Borochu and Nergei, off as only one of the many parties to negotiate alliances across the Steppe. Their first stop will be your own tribe and that of Temujin’s wife-father.” Yesegei said the last with an impish smile.
Suddenly, Bortai felt apprehension. Bortai did not have a clear idea of why- it might have been part of the power she held as a Sister or it might be the intuition that came with having a greater wealth of life experiences, but she felt that she had a keener instinct over whether certain events boded good or ill compared to when she had recovered her memories. And hearing the news of Temujin’s whereabouts just then, she had definitely felt that it would come to a bad end if she did not get besides him in time. She said so to Yesegei and Hoelun but omitted to mention her premonition, saying only that she wished to catch up to him to tell him the truth herself. Yesegei smiled knowingly and declared that he would send two escorts with her in case of mishaps. Bortai thanked him and then scurried off to make her preparations. Consequently, she missed the troubled expression that had passed across Hoelun’s face as she strode out of the tent.
After days of hard riding, Temujin and both of his andas were walking rather than astride their magulandas. Even though the maguls of the Crunalan Steppe was of a sturdy breed and could run tirelessly for ten-days if need be, the three of them decided that while the business at hand certainly brooked no delays, there was yet no need to push their magulandas so early in the journey. Meanwhile, masses of grey storm clouds drooped over their heads, hanging so low that it felt like one could touch them if one only reached up a little. And yet it felt suffocating, as if the very air was somehow cloying. The three youths did not make conversation as they trudged along, pulling at the collar of their kaftans which suddenly felt too tight.
Suddenly, Nergei gave the hand signal for them to halt. The other two looked at him and mouthed silently, What? In response, Nergei cupped his right hand around his ear. There was just the sound of grasses swaying in the wind. No sounds of game or other animals. An unnatural quiet lay ahead of them.
The three of them exchanged a glance. Borochu motioned for them to veer off to the left in order to circle around the ambush. Yet, the ambushers must have realised the folly in their chosen disguise or else having been alerted by the unnatural occurrence of oncoming footfall suddenly falling completely silent. Other men might be fooled to think that this meant their prey have paused on the spot but for the most skilled Crunalan hunters, they knew that trickery was at hand. Regardless of the reason, their ambushers promptly discarded any subterfuge and waylaid them before they had covered much distance. The numbers of ambushers were more or less as they had expected. They were nine in total, one of them having quite a small stature for a Crunalan man. All had a seasoned look about them and each was gazing at the three young warriors like a wolf closing in on its kill.
Bortai and her two escorts (she barely had time to ask their names, which she had already forgotten by now, before she bade them to start off with all haste) had ridden at a frantic pace, spurred on by the dread within Bortai’s heart. Over the past few days, apprehension had deepened to dread. Bortai was convinced that something had already happened to Temujin, else she could find no reason for her heart to skid in such a haphazard fashion. Consequently, Bortai had set a grilling pace, speeding off in the hopes that she would arrive in time.
Overhead, the noon sun was showing its smiling face in full. The Wolf-teeth Moons were almost waning into the Slumber Moons such that Bortai would have normally appreciated the fingers of sunray that brushed against her face for chasing away the first hints of chill that had already set into the air. Yet, all she felt at that moment was a teeth-gnashing annoyance at feeling such additional heat on top of that flushing through her blood.
Bashudai twitched her nose at the scent of blood that had suddenly assailed her nostrils. She sent out a silent warning to Bortai. By then, Bortai’s her companions had probably been alerted by their four-legged brothers too. All three of them scanned vigilantly ahead for signs of trouble while their mounts carefully padded across the lea on long strides. The sounds from their hooves blended in seamlessly with the noises on the Steppe, as only horses native to the Steppe could.
It wasn’t long when the dings of metal clashing against metal rang out ahead. Even without urging on their parts, their mounts quickened their paces. The scene that came into Bortai’s sight made her heart leap into her mouth. Temujin and two other youths were fighting back to back, each of them bathed almost from head to foot in blood. Stalking them and keeping them fenced in a ring were five men who had more or less taken cuts A little off to the side, Temujin’s Qulan was battling two more and not far on the ground lay the motionless figures of two men and two horses.
Bortai and her two escorts bore down on the enemies keeping Temujin’s party hemmed in, breaking their formation. Fast as lightening, Nergei slashed out at one of the attackers on his left and ran towards them. He was followed closely by his two andas, who then each vaulted onto the mounts of Bortai’s party. Behind them, a crunching noise could be heard and then a series of urgent hoof beats following in their wake.