“There is going to be a war,” Osari said as she and Yin watched the men return from the council. Osari and her sister-in-law Yin stood on the western face of the hill above their village with wicker shields balanced face down on their left arms. Their right hands were browned near to black with the cold dirt that the wild onions had thrown upon the two middle age women in protest at being plucked from the ground.
Yin took two more more steps, and saw another sprig of deep green that signaled the presence of a wild onion. The south born woman bent at the knees before, wrapping her soil covered hand around the pungent grass. Yin pressed her knuckles so close to the earth that she could feel the succlent bulb beneath. It was too small an onion. She stood back up thinking she might pick that one next month. “The men are back sooner than I expected," Yin said through a grunt of effort as she rose.
“War is easier to agree upon then peace sister-in-law,” said Osari who was still a few paces behind Yin. Osari then bent at the knees herself and stood back with fair size bulb beneath her fist.
Yin looked at the three dozen onions in her shield and the two dozen in Osari’s. It was not half much as they planned on gathering today and they were only half way down the hill. But the men had returned early, and Yin would need to check on her husband's first wife. She might need feed her and clean her before she could clean her self up and slip away. Yin took another step and spat with annoyance. “If there is going to be another war, we should let these onions ripen a little longer. We are going back to camp.”
Osari said absent mindedly, “But sister I barely have enough for soup.”
Yin dumped her entire shield worth in Osari’s and said, “ Make your soup with these and let us go.”
It was high summer and the sun only left the sky for few short hours each day. Thus, when Yin slipped quietly out her husband’s tent to cross the small hill over to the clean stream the night sky was still dim as the sun waited eagerly for the dawn . Yin climbed over the hill, and down to goat herd along the stream. Yurta, the oldest bitch among the sheep dogs barked viciously for a moment before trotting over to give Yin a submissive bow of the head. The dogs were scared of their mistress and fanned out quickly to see if any goats need correcting or saving. Yin came upon Xong the half-witted boy of 9 who like Yin had been a war trophy from the south. He was sleeping with pair of kids curled against his back. Yin planted a toe swiftly in his ribs. He sat up quickly with a cry and she berated him in their native tounge.
“You fool, the horse lords already think we fools. They wouldn’t think to beat you worse if the herd is not as my husband left it. Go back to the thicket and gather up enough wood to make a fire and then wait for me on top the hill there. Don’t you come back here till I come get you.”
The boy blank faced, held on to the baby goats aside him tenderly and protectively. “Go” Yin screamed, “leave the kids or I will make you eat them both.” Xong took off running.
Yin waited till he was out sight. Then the mother of two grown and married daughters who who not yet past 30 herself slipped out of the quilted robe that was all she was wearing, and stepped in the fridged murky stream. She washed her hard weathered feet, her neck, her hands and the tender parts of her loins. It was the first touch they had felt since all the men save her husband and the tribes other old men had left for council. Then she wrapped her robe back around her cold pricked shoulders and waited. But the Khan's son, her lover did not come to her that night. When dusk turned back into dawn she walked over the hill back towards the village. As she walked she came across the shepherd boy sleeping next to a pile of sticks. She roused Xong from the place he had fallen asleep on the hill with stern kick to thighs. The boy leapt up, his eyes wide with fear, and his body shivering. His tired weakness sent a shudder of anger through her that she might look the same way. She sent him back to the herd with a strike across the face.
The next day Osari and Yin were walking the heard along the stream. “I wish horses could eat goats,” Osari said.
“Hmmm,” Yin replied. “Don’t tell that to the Kahn. He might find it works and leave us with nothing while they are off to war.” Yin stopped and looked at the a bend in the stream. She crossed the stream counting: four steps down. “This is the place.” Yin said.
Osari looked at the field in front of them. “What shall we plant sister.”
Yin replied, “Millet.”
“Why here sister? It is so far from the well.”
“The stream is four steps down, the goats will be less likely to get into the grain. Plus the the hill on that side of the stream is gentler but still sloops toward the stream. The rain water will flow through the field, but if we are lucky it won’t be fast enough to wash the seed away.”
Osari replied “I glad my brother bought you sister, I hate planting.”
Yin snorted. “Well if the men stopped going to war then may be we wouldn’t have to plant at all or when we did plant maybe we could keep some of the grain from year to year.”
“It is not just men that go to war sister. The Kahn brought back a woman with them from council, she is to go to war with him.”
Yin paused and looked up at the field with fire rising in her checks. “Is her’s the new ger by the Kahn’s. The one Kahn’s son set up.”
Osari grunted a yes and picked up a sweet beetle off the ground and washed it clean in the stream before popping the shocked little critter into her mouth.
Yin realized that new warrior girl is why he didn’t come last night .
Having been reading Moonlake's Return of the White Deer novel I have grown a little curious about Mongol life. To this end I just read an article titled "Agriculture on the Mongolian Steppe" (2012) by Doeke Eisma published in the The Silk Road, Volume 10, pp 123-135. In this article Eisma notes that Agriculture on the Steppe goes back to prehistory but that agriculture resource exploitation had been inconsistent. Some centuries on the Steppe saw heavy agriculture and some were with almost no agriculture. He speculates that agricultural projects often were started out of military necessity and they often employed imported Chinese agriculturalists and farmers. His interpretation is that it was the male Mongol leadership that was directing these projects. I tried to speculate in this short piece that perhaps agricultural projects were started by the civilian population that had to suffer the consequences of these military campaigns. I am also speculating on what type of romantic encounters the Kahn's son may have in these close knit but stratified and prideful communities and what unseen ripples might result from a new romance.