The Tiger and the Cauldron[42]

Chapter 42

Rashid was travelling again. Now that the war was almost over, he expected to feel relieved, however there were new daily frustrations to take the place of the old.

Since crossing the Alburz into the plain of the Caspian in what Ghazan planned as a victory march, they had encountered the late summer rains and the swarms of mosquitoes that invariably attacked in the warm dampness of evening. The going was slow, as they had to stop frequently to free one or other of the heavy wagons from the fresh mud of the route. Rashid disliked the rain almost as much as the baking heat. He had tried to begin a new chapter of his History, but a tent, even a Mongol prince’s tent with its imported luxuries, was not the ideal study, especially when infested with hungry, buzzing insects. Having several times picked up his pen, he had been forced to lay it down again after only a few sentences.

To add to his discomfort, Ghazan was spending more and more time in the company of the sycophantic Sadr Zanjani, who had joined them on the banks of the River Sefid and was gradually worming his way into the Prince’s affections. The Emir had strong opinions on most subjects and it was the rare occasion indeed when these varied by more than a shade from Ghazan’s own. The more Rashid saw of him, the more he disliked him. He felt his own influence waning. Unless he took drastic steps, all his best-laid plans would come to nothing.

However, ideas for the History were still flowing: a successful conclusion to the war; the replacement of the regime of terror and profligacy with one based on Qur’an and Sharia; these themes would fill the final chapter on Baidu’s reign. Word had come that Baidu was taken and Rashid had already completed the chapter in his mind, leaving only the matter of the Il-khan’s fate to be inserted.

At last the rain stopped. Zanjani begged immediate leave to attend to his estates, and Rashid prepared paper and pen for an assault on his great work. Ghazan had other ideas.

‘What am I going to do about these rebels, eh Rashid?’ he asked.

‘Rebels, Your Highness?’ Rashid was caught off guard and he used the old form of address without thinking.

Ghazan seemed not to notice. ‘Tigers, they called themselves.’

‘They have been helpful to your cause, Sire,’ said Rashid, managing to correct his mistake. ‘If this Ahmed Sabbah is anything like his brother, he is a worthy man – and a good Muslim.’

‘I’ll reward him for his services,’ said Ghazan decisively. ‘A generalship. But my sister … eh? That’s quite a different matter.’

Rashid was well aware to whom his patron referred, but he felt it better to be evasive.

‘She’s still in Khorasan, Sire,’ he observed indifferently.

‘Oljei – yes. But Doquz – what about her, eh? This half-sister of mine is ruling Tabriz, it seems, and making a good job of it. Women have always run Mongol affairs when their men were at war, but we can’t have them running the army or commanding garrisons.’

Though Rashid was no misogynist, this was an opinion he shared. However, he knew better than to express it directly.

‘A woman should have a husband, Sire.’

‘That’s what started this whole Tiger business, Rashid,’ said Ghazan curtly. ‘They wanted to marry her off. How can I be sure I’m not the next victim of her claws?’

‘Her objection was to the man rather than to the principle of marriage, if I’m not mistaken,’ said Rashid, ‘and in that matter I admire her judgement. Find her a husband to her taste, or likely to become so, and she will not disobey you.’

‘Perhaps I should meet her and ascertain her wishes in the matter.’

‘Is that wise? Maidens are drawn to youths, Sire, and these Tigers have smooth faces, by all accounts.’ Rashid recalled part of a verse he had once read. ‘The inclination of women is towards passion, and young men they run with loose bridle.’

‘Well said, Rashid,’ exclaimed the Prince. ‘Maybe you could take her off my hands – tighten the bridle, eh? Make sure the saddle fits?’

Rashid suspected the Prince was indulging in crude humour at his expense, but he felt his senses stir as there flashed through his mind for a few seconds a vision of ripe maidenhood. Inwardly he sighed.

‘I fear I already have my quota of wives,’ he said dispassionately.

Ghazan gave one of his ogrish smiles. He tried to wink, unsuccessfully.

‘Still, I take your meaning, Rashid,’ he said. ‘We’ll let Mistress Doquz have her day while we think on it.’

*****

[to be continued in a day or two]

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