The Golden Horde

The Golden Horde by Peter Morwood

Book: The Golden Horde by Peter Morwood Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Morwood
Fedorov had barely passed the wooden ramparts of the gulyagorod and now they were reining back in confusion, uncertain whether to continue or return.
    “One of theirs?” he said, aware Mar’ya Morevna was at his side again.
    “One of ours. That’s not a Tatar war-horn. It sounds like our scouts have finally decided to come back and tell us what the Hell is going on.”
    She was right. The Kipchaqs and their ponies were just as stocky as any Tatar, so for their own safety’s sake the scouts carried Russian trumpets with a high shrill note unlike the Tatar horns. Ivan felt momentarily foolish – he should have known the difference – then dismissed it. There was more at stake than a tone-deaf nomad mercenary.
    “Eight went out,” he said, “and I count eight coming back. So either they missed the Tatars altogether or they’ve led them straight back here.”
    “No. They’re alone. I can’t see any movement beyond them, and anyway they aren’t riding anything like fast enough for a hot pursuit.”
    “They aren’t exactly cantering either,” Ivan pointed out.
    “Maybe they heard about the soup ration,” said Mar’ya Morevna dryly. “Do you want to stand here and guess or go down there and find out?”
    “Stand here,” said Ivan. His wife gave him a quizzical glance. “I’m the Tsar of Khorlov and they’re my paid servants, so let them come to me.”
    “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
    “If I said it was because you’re not the Tsar, would you be insulted?”
    “I might hit you, if that’s any answer.” Then she grinned and, regardless of the amused and interested captains who now huddled around the brazier close enough that they risked singed furs, put her arms around her husband’s neck and kissed him full on the lips. “That, my loved one, was for having a sense of humour at a time when jokes are few.” She kissed him again. “That was for trying to get used to the waiting.” The third kiss was more leisurely and, though the deep hoods granted them remarkable privacy, it lasted long enough to make the captains politely turn away. “And that,” said Mar’ya Morevna softly in the fur-fringed darkness, “was to keep us warm.”
    The chiefmost of the Kipchaq scouts, being a nomad barbarian ignorant of civilized good manners, was astride his shaggy little pony and watching them both when Ivan and Mar’ya Morevna finally emerged blinking from between the hoods. Ivan felt intimately tousled and emphatically aroused, and the scout’s incurious gaze made him blush to the roots of his hair.
    “What’s to report, Torghul?” said Mar’ya Morevna. One glance at Ivan’s face told her that he would need a few seconds to get his thoughts back in some sort of order where the battle was concerned. Ivan nodded gratefully. It would be a minute or two before he could talk to the man without wondering what was going through the mind behind that flat-featured, droopy-moustached face and besides, the Kipchaqs had been in her service long before they transferred their allegiance to the twin realms of Khorlov and Koldunov.
    “Mongol ride that way, many many,” said the Kipchaq, waving his arm back eastward. It took Ivan only an instant to substitute the unfamiliar name ‘Mongol’ for the familiar ‘Tatar’. “I, Torghul, see Mongol. All Kipchaq see, but I, only I alone am wise to count, ten times I count, count many horse, many camel, many Mongol, a score of scores, ten times. Then Mongol see Kipchaq, chase Kipchaq. All Kipchaq go, swift to come away, but I, Torghul, more brave, less swift, I see no Mongol follow from first chase. So I, Torghul,” – this time he thumped himself on the chest for emphasis – “only I alone go back. And I see Mongol ride again, that way as always.” He stood in his stirrups and gestured again, not just towards where the Tatars were, but in a long sweep that encompassed almost half the horizon from east to west by southwest.
    “Ryazan,” said Mar’ya

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