Unlike the last time, Bortai was not among the last to enter the Chief’s Ger. She was steered to an Honorary position even closer to Yesegei Khan, right next to him who escorted her all the way here. Once all who were required to attend had seated themselves, Yesegei declared without preamble, “The Tatars had formed an alliance.” His eyes roamed over those gathered, gracing each with a brief but earnest stare. He proceeded in a grave tone. “With the Morghanan.”
The Morghanan… Bortai searched her mind for a while and counted her luck when the snatch of conversation in which Aunt Koka had mentioned these people came to her grasp. A tribe of shamans, a tribe of recluses. Those were Aunt Koka’s exact words. The shamans were the only ones who could wield magic on the battlefield. It chilled Bortai to think that they would come up against such odds.
A commotion broke out immediately. “But how?!” “Tengri’s Will!”
“Silence! We have gathered here today to find a solution.” Yesegei Khan’s determined voice overrode all and spread out as a tide that strengthened the hearts of the gathering.
“Easy to say as an assurance,” a snort came from a man in late thirties with a pudgy face. Behind him sat a crowd of sturdy warriors in middle and late twenties. He himself was seated at the first place below the Honourary Ring. Bortai knew that meant he was First Hunt Leader of the tribe.
Before Yesegei could reply, another voice coming from further back, going just beyond Bortai’s field of vision, intruded into the exchange. “Then let the Wolf of the Ankali give us his solution first.” When he got to the term ‘the Wolf of Ankali’, a mocking tone came onto his voice and that caught Bortai’s attention. The Wolf of Ankali… She thought she had heard the term somewhere but she could not remember exactly in what reference to. Yet she had a feeling that it would be significant somehow. She felt a little vexatious that such details chose to elude her at that moment but she shrugged her emotions aside. It was more important to concentrate on the meeting at hand.
“I propose that we make alliances of our own in the additional time granted to us in lieu of this new happenstance.” Yesegei did not rise to the bait but chose to calmly but firmly state his solution.
“With whom that is mighty enough to contend with the Morghanan?” came the retort, in an almost accusatory tone.
“With whomever we can ally with.” Yesegei did not flinch.
“And why would anyone want to risk themselves for our sake?” this was from the First Hunt Leader.
At this point, it was clear to Bortai that the First Hunt Leader and the other unseen person were working in concert to oppose Yesegei Khan. To what purpose she had no idea but her heart told her that it boded ill. Moreover, she felt intuitively that she would be able to pinpoint the exact source of such unease when, if, her memory comes back. Again, it came back to her memory loss. She felt frustration mounting like a tidal wave within herself.
While Bortai was thus absorbed in her own thoughts, a long discourse of verbal lunge and riposte went on, first between three personages only but soon engulfing more and more of those gathered until it became a hot debate. Bortai tuned out for a while to prevent further provocation that could push her emotions beyond the brim.
Outside the Chief’s Ger, the sky had invariably darkened into the soft grey of dusk. The seven stars forming the Temul’s Tail took turns peeking out from behind the thin gauze that separated the Heavenly realm from the mortal one. The Crunalan Steppe hummed with a soft note that vibrated in the hearts of not just the Ankalis but all Crunalans who live on its vastness. In this magical moment, quarrels were quietened and grudges were cast aside. So it came to be that on the cusp of disbanding, the Council came to consensus that alliances would be sought out and forged to countermand the pact between the Tartars and the mighty and mysterious Morghanan.
“Have you any thoughts to whom we shall call on first when forging our alliances?” the First Hunt Leader said in a much softer tone that he had used throughout the Council, as if he was just starting to genuinely contemplate on this issue rather than just being quarrelsome. Still, Bortai was taken by surprise when he added “Khan-brother.” in a half sigh. So the First Hunt Leader was younger brother to Yesegei Khan and uncle to him!
Yet, the shock that came with the realisation was destined to be surpassed by what Bortai heard next.
“I have an anda, an anda who is a wise and good natured man. He is Khan of the Ontaggarit. We shall start with him first. As many of all already know, he is also soon to be the wife-father of my eldest son Temujin, hafin of our Ankali.”
Bortai felt her head spinning. The last vision she saw in her hazy vision was his face in which concern shone forth like two beacons of light despite the mist coming to shroud over her sight.
Bortai woke up in her ger and felt disorientation for a moment. Then the weight of the bushels of memories settling into place in her mind seemed like an assault after she had gotten used to the lightness associated with only remembering her immediate family and her two friends. A bitter smile came onto her lips. The return of her memories was indeed beyond what she had expected and bargained for. It did not bring the clarity that she had hoped for but rather more problems to circumvent.
Bortai she was (or had been) indeed but not the right Bortai. She was altogether in the wrong universe or plane of reality or whatever it is. She had never had much a mind for these fantastical concepts while living in her own world. In her own world, she had been a Bortai but that was her previous reincarnation. Her temples had started to throb at the notion that reincarnation truly existed in a concrete way rather than as an abstract concept passed down through folklore. Nevertheless, she was given some answers to the skeins of puzzlement that were previously clogging up her mind, such as the feeling of familiarity and distance from the Crunalan society that she had felt simultaneously, such as her not recognising her aunt Koka who was a unique figure in this particular universe, such as that unsuccessful first ‘trial’ with Qasqhai. All of them came down to her being the wrong Bortai! And her ‘accident’ probably had something to do with it also. She smiled again, this time in irony, at the thought of how she had previously been convinced that everything would come to light if she could uncover what really happened during her ‘accident’. But now the details of her ‘accident’ would probably never come back to her simply because those memories did not belong to her at all.
As she let go of this belief that she had been clinging on, her mind reflexively contemplated on her most recent reincarnation in her own world. For all she knew, she might have gone through numerous reincarnations but all she had memories of were her most recent two, before she came here. She reflected bitterly that she was finally able to pinpoint her sense of dread at the notion of marriage. For a second, she experienced anew the anguish she felt when she was ditched by her first and only boyfriend for a younger girl whose family had better connection than hers, which was nothing as she was orphaned young. Yet soon, the feeling became merely wisps of light smoke that dissipated with the winds. Gone with it also was the tiredness that permeated her bones in the subsequent days she spent numbing herself with work and wearing solitude as a shell. She felt that she had been made anew, having shrugged off the restraints on her imposed by her modern life. She could see in retrospect that she had never truly belonged there, not to that time and not to that place. Instead, the whole of that life was stifling her, deadening her from inside. She felt unspeakably relieved and gratified that she was once again back where she knew she belonged to with her heart and soul. While this was not the exact Mongol society that she had once been part of, it had enough resemblance to it (in fact, minus any fantasy elements, it was pretty much the same) and she was once again back on the Great Steppe.
She also got a second chance to be with Temujin, her one and only true love from two lives. Now, she finally came to understand that she had never loved her modern day boyfriend. She had chosen out of the rational part of her mind because he was good natured and treated her well but she had never given him her heart. The anguish she felt when they had broken up did not stem out from her feelings for him but because she was (is and always will be) proud and thought of it as a betrayal. But Temujin, he was her soul-partner and the father of their beloved children. She smiled when she considered their fine progeny, their four sons who were hale and either strong as a warrior or wise as a man and their five daughters who had each gained a successful match with men who not only valued them for their status but also come to appreciate them for who they truly were as a woman.
And yet, cold dread seized the nape of her neck and slithered down her spine, tormenting her by inching its way across. Jochi. Her- no, their first born, for Temujin had acknowledged him as his own despite the awkward timing of his birth. And there was no doubt that he was raised up lovingly by both of his parents. The household was still all harmony and bliss after their second son Chagadai was born and growing up. But time played cruel tricks on relationships sometimes. As the Mongol empire expanded, so too did the gulf grow between Temujin and Jochi. And then there was the irreconcilable split between Jochi and Chagadai after Chagadai uttered those words that torn a gouge in her heart. To top it off, she had to outlive the Great Man himself and witness him dying, not in glory nor even contentment (as befitting someone who was such a legend known throughout the East and West and hailed as having achieved so much) but in regrets and grief that had built up upon the years. And she understood perfectly why it was, and indeed had to be so. For great though Temujin was as a man and a leader, he was prone to periodic rashness. Coupled with his tendency to take things to the extreme- a product of the trials he had been through after the whole of his family was cast out of the tribe after his Khan-father’s death, he had performed not many but enough deeds that he later disapproved or even found abhorrent of. Would things be different here, in this alternative world?
Bortai took a long breath and then let it out again, to steady herself. From the place most deep and dear to herself, she drew up the resolve to chance it. She was determined to weather the future together with Temujin, regardless of whether good or ill come of it. Besides, she believed that it would be different this time. It was already different. Yesegei was still alive and she would do her best to ensure that he remains so.