Love and Conquest at the Gates of Samarkand

Written for Jules, posted here for L——. You know who you are.

I have this story up alongside my old fanfiction on Ao3. But one or two people have been missing Temujin and Jamuqa — as I was myself when I wrote this story in 2020. It’s a snatch of them post-Amgalant. It’s fanfiction, by which I permissioned myself to be a bit more indulgent than in the novels.

The story has a retrospective on Temujin and Jamuqa. If you hate spoilers, perhaps beware.


Love and Conquest at the Gates of Samarkand

by Bryn


‘I’ve aged.’ Temujin fingered the skin of his face and thought how coarse he must look, to a love who did not change.

‘Gives you character. I like my men the way I like my leather: rumply, hardworn.’

This wasn’t true at all, in Temujin’s memory. ‘Since when?’

Gently he admitted, ‘Since you aged.’

They first met when both were eight years old. Jamuqa had lived to thirty-nine. Now Temujin was fifty-three, and Jamuqa a spirit. At this answer the mortal one of them felt a warmth of comfort, as from a fire and boiled food.

Fast march across the winter Kizil Kum – Red Sand – ought to seem like home to a Mongol, even though local guides told them nobody travelled through the desert. It wasn’t meant to be a feat to get to Samarkand, not for a Mongol army, but the khan’s old limbs disgraced them.

‘We’re at the gates of the enemy capital,’ said Jamuqa, ‘unexpected, by a road they don’t bother to put on the maps. We beat the wet, which would have bogged our horses to the elbows. Can you be less hard on yourself?’

‘We did this, Jamuqa. You and I.’

‘That’s more like it. The rest of Mongols, they came along for the ride.’

‘No. But when we made Mongol unity our cause, at twenty, did you envision we’d be here? Three thousand miles from where we started, and no lost battles to our name.’

‘I knew we’d never run out of enemies. But what feats the felt-tent people find possible, united? I had no idea.’

On his army’s urgent march Temujin, their Tchingis Khan, had not claimed the privacy of his own felt skirts about him. Tonight, while they waited outside the Samarkand gates for daylight, he set up his little travel-tent. Although he heard Jamuqa’s voice in the busiest day – in battle – still it was a luxury to concentrate on him and shape his presence.

He had obligations, before he indulged himself: spirits require gratitude, Jamuqa Spirit no exception. ‘The Hwarazm shah’s coins call him “the Second Alexander”, for his conquests where Alexander the Great once conquered kingdoms. It is your tactics which have undone Hwarazm.’

‘Not yet.’

‘We are at his capital and the shah is nowhere to be seen. He has run away from us and left his cities to defend themselves. Thirty years ago Mongols knew an obscure Mongol on the steppe to be the most intelligent tactician of the age. Now they know you preside in spirit over our victories. It is you who outface this legendary Alexander.’

‘Watch out about Hwarazm shah’s ridiculous titles, Temujin. Defeat him, you inherit them.’

This was a tease, since Temujin didn’t like the flattery of titles beyond Tchingis, his kingly name from God. When a challenger for kingship Jamuqa had gone in for extravagant titles – “universal khan” – in a game. Because, as he confessed at the last, he had secretly favoured his childhood friend, his blood brother – never truly his rival.

Titles weren’t safe ground perhaps, to dispute between them. Besides, Temujin was in a mood for more intimate subjects. ‘Yesterday in the desert Bo’orchu told me a tale of Alexander. West of here near a city Hamadan can be seen the Shir-e-gamgin, the Melancholy Lion. It is a lion in stone Alexander commissioned upon the death of his friend Hephaestion. The king of beasts, stooped to the ground with his head low: this was Alexander, in the midst of great conquests but sunken on his knees with grief.’

‘Bo’orchu told you?’

‘Yes. In apology, if you like, for his old suspicions of our friendship. I answered, that was me in the year up until you joined me as a spirit. He remembered me then, and agreed.’

‘The year of my absence. Before my death, instead of afterwards.’

‘Yes. It was that period we equated with description of the statue. Newly khan of the whole steppe, but without you. Distance I was used to, different sides in conflict. But you withdrew from us entirely, and you were ill.’

‘I tried, Temujin. I tried to leave you gently. I left you my tuq, which a man doesn’t part from alive. You were my other self, and I gave you this symbol of my soul. I declared myself dead to public life and went into the mountains, to live at peace for the time my illness let me. I’d warned you I wouldn’t live to forty.’

‘It was hard to think of you in that condition. When I was meant to feel triumphant. I hope you won’t say I was weak. Alexander survived his dead friend by eight months, and only thought of monuments to him and not of conquests.’

‘Well, I didn’t know what state you were in. Don’t imagine I did what I did for your sake only, Temujin. By my tuq in your hands I thought to have a piece of me in the great work you had ahead of you. A piece of me wasn’t enough. So I came back and asked for my execution.’

Temujin shivered, still, at mention of it. That event had been his most hair-raising hours on earth, never mind the wars he had participated in since.

He quoted to himself Jamuqa’s argument in persuasion of him to the act:

We have drunk our blood with lightning ash and holy Onon water: that drink shall never be dissolved. That drink is in my veins, your blood and mine, the alcohol of us, our selves and the charisma that in each of us has cast a spell upon the other. Then let us use the old techniques, techniques to tie one dead to one alive.

A rival, killed with preservation of the blood by the one who vanquished him, becomes his slave in the spirit world. Jamuqa, in his eagerness to live through and with his blood brother, turned himself into that tethered tutelary spirit.

‘And so I have a fortune Alexander did not have,’ smiled Temujin. ‘Certainly I wouldn’t have proved a great, but continued a poor figure like that lion. Few of my friends, I admit, understood our friendship while you lived. But they saw how our union in spirit salvaged me.’

Outside the door of the tent, with his horse and weapons ready to go, stood Jamuqa’s tuq of black yak hair, the Mongols’ banner when at war. Temujin’s own white-haired standard was kept for days of peace, and had only flown at short intervals since Tchingis Khan owned both.

Jamuqa fell silent for a while. Temujin lay down to ease his back, on comfy skins that had come off animals in Altai Mountains (where Jamuqa’s bones were sealed inside a tree). Through the smokehole overhead the stars shone over Samarkand city, which kept a strange quiet for its concentrated population – an unimaginable mass to Temujin, despite that he had seen cities. The Mongol army, of course, made its nightly noises and no more: no unseemly excitement, no faults of discipline.

Jamuqa’s face bent over him, the image cutting in on his half-closed eyes. He saw Jamuqa with his eyes either shut or open. ‘Do you know what?’

‘No.’ Temujin shook his head awake again, but stayed on his back with Jamuqa in the familiar one-legged squat beside him.

‘Never mind Alexander, who wasn’t such a big thing where I lived. Do you remember Sultan Sanjar, a hero of mine when I was young?’

‘I do. Your heroes were rare.’

‘These were his grounds eighty years ago. The last Great Seljuq, and the only one of them arguably great in a personal capacity. Your hero, Ile Dashi of Black Qatat, defeated him.’

‘Let’s not argue heroes. That was the Battle of Qatwan, and I respect both sides.’

‘It didn’t stop Sanjar, who waged war until he was seventy. I heard about him as if he were my uncle, but you know what nobody told me? When I was in love with you and young.’ Jamuqa’s triangular face, as he said this, changed the way a cloud changes, into his face at twenty. ‘When I tried on you what was illegal and we argued.’

Temujin didn’t want to interrupt him, although he itched to expand on that too-brief account: how they discovered they were both in love, and spent a legendary night together – before the famous argument, which was about integrity as much as illegality.

At the age he was he knew to simply listen and let Jamuqa talk.

‘There I was, a young Mongol who liked cock as much as he liked ayrag, or ever so slightly more. Now Bo’orchu suggests acceptance with his Alexander story, but when I was alive I was the bad influence on you.’

Temujin shut up at this juncture too.

‘Nobody told me Sultan Sanjar had a love life. His was a mess. In no way exemplary for a young Mongol to follow. But it was mamluks.’

‘Mamluk soldiers? It’s the first I’ve heard myself.’

‘See? I had to get the gossip as a spirit. If I’d known that fact about him at eighteen, I might have had the nerve to say, I’m the other kind, like Sultan Sanjar.’

‘Tell me about his messes.’

‘Several of them. He’d fall infatuated with a soldier and grant him offices above what he was fit for. Then, when his piece proved corrupt or crashingly incompetent, there’d be a public bust-up. Public, since both held public offices. You and I, Temujin, decided we were public figures – both in the running to be khan, and in those circumstances we couldn’t contravene the law.’

‘To be fair that was me, when young and stupid, and you took the side of love. Was there scandal for the sultan?’

‘Complaint, as his aides and peers mopped up the damage. Lampoons sung in the streets. Despite it, he remained the greatest of the Seljuks, talked about in the fashion I heard when I was young.’

‘Private lives are often swept away for public figures. Sanjar’s government was otherwise a fine one. I hear of him in anecdotes about his sense of justice. Because he stood high in general estimation, mischievous speech didn’t take hold of his reputation like a weed. I understand it, as a matter of fact. I am wrapped up in respect, such that I feel stifled in sable furs.’

‘No Mongol wants to taint you, Tchingis, with gossip of that sort. Even if they have to exculpate me.’ Jamuqa knocked a hand on his upright knee. ‘I wish I’d had the courage to announce myself explicitly. Before I involved you in risk of exposure, before our night together. But after I’d been given generalship over the Mongols’ first war in ages, and we won. Twenty years old, at the peak of my reputation. I could have told the assembled chiefs: you can cut my head off, or you can ask me to direct your wars, it’s up to you. But I’m a man who lies with men.’

To have to live dishonestly hurt Jamuqa, Temujin knew. Mongols valued honesty, and Jamuqa was Mongol. He said, in hopes to help, ‘I have urged them towards an honest memory of my life and acts. I have encouraged them to gather different people’s accounts, and I have related mine, whether I am proud or ashamed. Oddly, this leaves me confident that history has a circumstantial knowledge of how I killed my half-brother for theft of food from the family, when we were nearly starved, in my childhood. But how I loved? I have not given the collectors a precise report of you.’

‘You won’t, either. I won’t let you. It’s too late for gestures of that sort.’

‘Alexander has a great love story attributed to him. He seems to me exceptional. I think I won’t, although I had two great loves: my first wife Borte; my anda Jamuqa, and great matters hung on the course of those loves – the khanship, our work for the unity of Mongols. They should not believe the private side of life less important to record.’

‘I am no Hephaestion,’ said Jamuqa, ‘and might have spoiled your chances there. Loyal lieutenant to the great one. Whereas your history and mine: it’s complicated. After our argument I fought against you, and later I pretended I did, in order to send you information on your enemies. Out of this I have the name of untrustworthy. No mate for you, in story.’

‘That’s not fair.’ Temujin thought of his own words on the night he agreed to Jamuqa’s execution. Across the arena where men slay and are slain, our stomachs were hollow for each other. ‘You sacrificed for love more than any man whose story I have heard. First your reputation, to cede to me the glory. In the end your life, to be with me.’

‘I did tear up my reputation in your service, and I don’t regret that now. It isn’t acknowledgement I ask for. I find a pity, I concede, that one of your virtues goes unacknowledged, Temujin. Your constancy. It wasn’t easy to love the two of us, your queen and me, amidst the demands of public life. You did extraordinarily well.’

The compliment only made Temujin feel guilty. ‘In the past, perhaps,’ he said, to deflect it.

Jamuqa smiled knowingly, and didn’t insist.

By Temujin’s early ideals, sex meant a union of persons. He experienced that with one, and then, confusingly, with two. But where he did not love there was no soul exchange in the act, and he used to suffer from a sense of void. Used to, because Jamuqa was with him always now, which rescued him from that effect.

Jamuqa interpreted his face and offered, ‘It’s complicated.’

‘Did Sultan Sanjar have children? I forget.’

‘He had political wives, a couple, as a king of course, and out of one of them two daughters. And no end of nephews and cousins. That wasn’t why he was the last of the Seljuqs.’

Even Jamuqa had had a political wife, but no issue. Temujin’s child count stood at thirteen. After Borte, his other wives were matters of diplomacy, and he had learned to pay them the attention they were due, although Borte was the mother of nine.

‘I am not a poor husband any more,’ he said to Jamuqa, ‘and glad I am not. But you know I still prefer these nights when I commune with you alone.’ The queen he had brought on the western campaign, Ulun, had custody of the baggage wagons, which hadn’t crossed the  desert.

‘“Commune” is your word now? Do you remember the description you once gave me of the melting-together spirits do? Back when I didn’t believe in spirits, but to listen to your talk, I wanted to.’

‘Yes. I do.’ He picked up Jamuqa’s spirit-hand, admiringly. Jamuqa was put together like an antelope, and he like a bear. ‘More fantasy on my part than knowledge. Rather obviously, I was justifying that we wait.’

‘You were helping me to sublimate my passions.’

‘I was stupid,’ he said for the second time that night. ‘And I don’t know whether I believed myself. I told you we’d have forever in the afterlife…’

‘It’s lucky I believed you, at the end. And took the jump to join with you, when the horses trampled me. I’m forever, Temujin. It only gets better when you’re a spirit too.’

Temujin, at fifty-three, believed him absolutely. This voice in his head, this image in his eyes. His dead love, with whom he conjured up a bliss impossibly sublime, even in their single night together at nineteen.


In his most uncertain hours Temujin thought he had killed his friend, by a rite which Jamuqa never believed in but staged for Temujin’s sake, to let him go gently, to give him an idea to hold onto.

For Temujin did have dark hours in these conquest years. Wars off the steppe were on another level than struggles between tribes at home. Jamuqa had taught him war, Jamuqa had been the one armoured up inside against hard sights. Tchingis Khan performed what was expected of him, but when he couldn’t help but shut his eyes he pushed his tutor spirit into the driver’s seat and hid at the rear of the wagon, in a wicker hutch of the mind like the layer of felt around him now where he lay at one with Jamuqa.


Dawn struck the gates of Samarkand. Alexander once conquered here. More recently, the city’s self-titled king, the Second Alexander, Hwarazm shah, had massacred its inhabitants in a three days’ sack as punishment for revolt. Ten thousand lives paid for the same number of residents from Hwarazm whom Samarkandis had killed in the streets.

Hwarazm shah had only won Samarkand thirteen years ago, to add to his rapid empire, to call his new capital for the prestige its depth of history lent him.

Today it was Tchingis Khan with his fearsome reputation, and two options.

Samarkand’s inhabitants chose the one that wasn’t massacre again. They sent out their unconditional surrender.


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