Vang Khan


Karakatay.--Vang Khan's dominions.--The cruel fate of Mergus.--His

wife's stratagem.--Nawr.--He falls into the snare.--Armed men in

ambuscade.--Death of Nawr.--Credibility of these tales.--Early life

of Vang Khan.--Reception of Temujin.--Prester John.--His letter to

the King of France.--Other letters.--The probable truth.--Temujin

and Vang Khan.

The country ov
r which Vang Khan ruled was called Karakatay. It

bordered upon the country of Katay, which has already been mentioned

as forming the northern part of what is now China. Indeed, as its name

imports, it was considered in some sense as a portion of the same

general district of country. It was that part of Katay which was

inhabited by Tartars.

Vang Khan's name at first was Togrul. The name Vang Khan, which was,

in fact, a title rather than a name, was given him long afterward,

when he had attained to the height of his power. To avoid confusion,

however, we shall drop the name Togrul, and call him Vang Khan from

the beginning.

Vang Khan was descended from a powerful line of khans who had reigned

over Karakatay for many generations. These khans were a wild and

lawless race of men, continually fighting with each other, both for

mastery, and also for the plunder of each other's flocks and herds.

In this way most furious and cruel wars were often fought between near

relatives. Vang Khan's grandfather, whose name was Mergus, was taken

prisoner in one of these quarrels by another khan, who, though he was

a relative, was so much exasperated by something that Mergus had done

that he sent him away to a great distance to the king of a certain

country which is called Kurga, to be disposed of there. The King of

Kurga put him into a sack, sewed up the mouth of it, and then laid him

across the wooden image of an ass, and left him there to die of hunger

and suffocation.

The wife of Mergus was greatly enraged when she heard of the cruel

fate of her husband. She determined to be revenged. It seems that the

relative of her husband who had taken him prisoner, and had sent him

to the King of Kurga, had been her lover in former times before her

marriage; so she sent him a message, in which she dissembled her grief

for the loss of her husband, and only blamed the King of Kurga for his

cruel death, and then said that she had long felt an affection for

him, and that, if he continued of the same mind as when he had

formally addressed her, she was now willing to become his wife, and

offered, if he would come to a certain place, which she specified, to

meet her, she would join him there.

Nawr, for that was the chieftain's name, fell at once into the snare

which the beautiful widow thus laid for him. He immediately accepted

her proposals, and proceeded to the place of rendezvous. He went, of

course, attended by a suitable guard, though his guard was small, and

consisted chiefly of friends and personal attendants. The princess was

attended also by a guard, not large enough, however, to excite any

suspicion. She also took with her in her train a large number of

carts, which were to be drawn by bullocks, and which were laden with

stores of provisions, clothing, and other such valuables, intended as

a present for her new husband. Among these, however, there were a

large number of great barrels, or rounded receptacles of some sort, in

which she had concealed a considerable force of armed men. These

receptacles were so arranged that the men concealed in them could open

them from within in an instant, at a given signal, and issue forth

suddenly all armed and ready for action.

Among the other stores which the princess had provided, there was a

large supply of a certain intoxicating drink which the Monguls and

Tartars were accustomed to make in those days. As soon as the two

parties met at the place of rendezvous the princess gave Nawr a very

cordial greeting, and invited him and all his party to a feast, to be

partaken on the spot. The invitation was accepted, the stores of

provisions were opened, and many of the presents were unpacked and

displayed. At the feast Nawr and his party were all supplied

abundantly with the intoxicating liquor, which, as is usual in such

cases, they were easily led to drink to excess; while, on the other

hand, the princess's party, who knew what was coming, took good care

to keep themselves sober. At length, when the proper moment arrived,

the princess made the signal. In an instant the men who had been

placed in ambuscade in the barrels burst forth from their concealment

and rushed upon the guests at the feast. The princess herself, who was

all ready for action, drew a dagger from her girdle and stabbed Nawr

to the heart. Her guards, assisted by the re-enforcement which had so

suddenly appeared, slew or secured all his attendants, who were so

totally incapacitated, partly by the drink which they had taken, and

partly by their astonishment at the sudden appearance of so

overwhelming a force, that they were incapable of making any


The princess, having thus accomplished her revenge, marshaled her men,

packed up her pretended presents, and returned in triumph home.

Such stories as these, related by the Asiatic writers, though they

were probably often much embellished in the narration, had doubtless

all some foundation in fact, and they give us some faint idea of the

modes of life and action which prevailed among these half-savage

chieftains in those times. Vang Khan himself was the grandson of

Mergus, who was sewed up in the sack. His father was the oldest son of

the princess who contrived the above-narrated stratagem to revenge her

husband's death. It is said that he used to accompany his father to

the wars when he was only ten years old. The way in which he formed

his friendship for Yezonkai, and the alliance with him which led him

to call Temujin his son and to refuse to take his wife away from him,

as already related, was this: When his father died he succeeded to the

command, being the oldest son; but the others were jealous of him, and

after many and long quarrels with them and with other relatives,

especially with his uncle, who seemed to take the lead against him, he

was at last overpowered or outmanoeuvred, and was obliged to fly.

He took refuge, in his distress, in the country of Yezonkai. Yezonkai

received him in a very friendly manner, and gave him effectual

protection. After a time he furnished him with troops, and helped him

to recover his kingdom, and to drive his uncle away into banishment in

his turn. It was while he was thus in Yezonkai's dominions that he

became acquainted with Temujin, who was then very small, and it was

there that he learned to call him his son. Of course, now that Temujin

was obliged to fly himself from his native country and abandon his

hereditary dominions, as he had done before, he was glad of the

opportunity of requiting to the son the favor which he had received,

in precisely similar circumstances, from the father, and so he gave

Temujin a very kind reception.

There is another circumstance which is somewhat curious in respect to

Vang Khan, and that is, that he is generally supposed to be the prince

whose fame was about this period spread all over Europe, under the

name of Prester John, by the Christian missionaries in Asia. These

missionaries sent to the Pope, and to various Christian kings in

Europe, very exaggerated accounts of the success of their missions

among the Persians, Turks, and Tartars; and at last they wrote word

that the great Khan of the Tartars had become a convert, and had even

become a preacher of the Gospel, and had taken the name of Prester

John. The word prester was understood to be a corruption of

presbyter. A great deal was accordingly written and said all through

Christendom about the great Tartar convert, Prester John. There were

several letters forwarded by the missionaries, professedly from him,

and addressed to the Pope and to the different kings of Europe. Some

of these letters, it is said, are still in existence. One of them was

to the King of France. In this letter the writer tells the King of

France of his great wealth and of the vastness of his dominions. He

says he has seventy kings to serve and wait upon him. He invites the

King of France to come and see him, promising to bestow a great

kingdom upon him if he will, and also to make him his heir and leave

all his dominions to him when he dies; with a great deal more of the

same general character.

The other letters were much the same, and the interest which they

naturally excited was increased by the accounts which the missionaries

gave of the greatness and renown of this more than royal convert, and

of the progress which Christianity had made and was still making in

his dominions through their instrumentality.

It is supposed, in modern times, that these stories were pretty much

all inventions on the part of the missionaries, or, at least, that the

accounts which they sent were greatly exaggerated and embellished; and

there is but little doubt that they had much more to do with the

authorship of the letters than any khan. Still, however, it is

supposed that there was a great prince who at least encouraged the

missionaries in their work, and allowed them to preach Christianity in

his dominions, and, if so, there is little doubt that Vang Khan was

the man.

At all events, he was a very great and powerful prince, and he reigned

over a wide extent of country. The name of his capital was Karakorom.

The distance which Temujin had to travel to reach this city was about

ten days' journey.

He was received by Vang Khan with great marks of kindness and

consideration. Vang Khan promised to protect him, and, in due time, to

assist him in recovering his kingdom. In the mean while Temujin

promised to enter at once into Vang Khan's service, and to devote

himself faithfully to promoting the interests of his kind protector by

every means in his power.