Tim Tucker

In the year 1227 A.D. Genghis Khan basked languidly inside of his modest yurt hut along the Orkhon River and the grasslands of his dominion were lush and green with rain and the monolithic Mongolian steppes sprawled endlessly under the eternally blue sky.

Early on the evening of the twenty first year of the Mongol Empire Genghis was near the end of a scroll of Chinese poetry when a Mongol chief burst into his abode calling, "Great Khan, oh great Khan! You must come quick, there is turmoil at the main gate!"

Genghis nary looked from his scroll. "Have the Tartars come blazing across the Gobi Desert in search of respite?"

"No most highest Khagan!"

"Do the Naiman rise from their graves and shamble across the plateau seeking revenge?"

"No my liege I'm afraid it is something far worse!"

"We have tread over mountains of corpses and stared Death in the face himself, what could ever be worse than what we have already wrought?"

A muffled bang shook the very earth as if in answer to his question. Genghis finally looked from his scroll.

"I want a squadron of Zuuns armed and ready now."

The chief fled the yurt as Genghis prepared himself in heavy fur lined armor and a ferocious bears head helm. He retrieved his massive double bladed battle ax next to his collection of poetry scrolls and sighed. There would be other evenings to bask in the work of Yang Wanli.

Stepping outside his hut Genghis could feel an impending danger wafting in the air along with the warm wind. Mares were ushered along, bows strung and arrow heads chosen, and men both young and old joined Genghis at his side as another tremor shook the ground. They marched across a meadow of grass and came to the main gate.

"I want archers to take up flanking positions against the gate." Genghis commanded. "Ten horsemen take position in front of the gate, be ready to charge -"

Genghis never finished the command as the gate exploded inward in a storm of splinters, dust, and settling smoke. The mares reared back in fear and flung their riders from the saddles and the warriors cowered in terror of the thunderous blast, all except for Genghis Khan, who peered through the haze as something lumbered through the debris. At first Genghis thought that the treading behemoth advancing into the Mongol stronghold was a dragon – its menacing reptilian visage and smoldering hot coal eyes suggested as much – but as the smoke and dust cleared Genghis could see its frame clearly, all reinforced bamboo and streamers the colors of the sun and the grass trailing in its wake along with banners emblazoned with Chinese Calligraphy and he knew instantly what they were facing.

This was no ordinary dragon.

The monstrous 'dragon' lurched forward on rusty steel treads and came to rest in front of Genghis and his men. From its sculpted bronze head, from its frozen snarling maw a pillar of orange and crimson flames erupted from deep within the beast, making the already warm air blisteringly hot and driving back his troops and horses. Besides his whispering silk strands of hair that blew against the stifling heat and a bead of sweat that trickled down his brow Genghis moved not an inch and when the impressive display of fire conjuring was over he stepped forward and boomed, "now that you have my attention come fourth from your contraption so you can have my ax as well!"

A hollow laugh as thick and sinuous as a snake drifted from the dragons mouth and when it spoke its voice seemed to echo around and about the Mongol horde. "It is neither your attention nor your ax I seek." A hidden hatch opened on the top of the dragons head and a lone man emerged from his holding. He wore robes of traditional Chinese style, his hair shaven in front and cascading down to his legs in a decorative braid in the back and he had the cunning yet shrewd face of a wizened fox, silk like whiskers of a mustache hung from his thin lips and his preternaturally amber eyes glowed with as much warmth as the eyes of his mechanical dragon. "What I seek from you is a proposition."

"Who are you?" Genghis demanded.

"I am the Merchant of War, Huli Jing and I have traveled a very long way across the Silk Road for an audience with the great Genghis Khan!"

"A merchant of war..." Genghis chuckled. "Look around you o' merchant! Our empire stretches from one corner of the continent to the other and our troops have subjugated any and all who stood before us! What can you possibly offer my people that we have not already taken ourselves?"

"I offer you the chance for more! More power! More bloodshed! As long as there are men like you who keeps the wheels of war forever spinning my work will never be done. Or has the great Genghis Khan grown fearful of his ways?"

"The only thing I fear is that you will leave this place and seek the aid of one of our enemies to barter your machinations. You are not a Merchant of War, for in war we honor friend and foe alike and our conquered subjects are at least given a simple choice: obedience or death. You are a Merchant of Death and Destruction who would prosper over the blood of the innocent just as much as the blood of a soldier."

Genghis reached beneath his leather armor, under his robe and brandished fourth a thin scroll. Relieved onto the parchment was a simple child's drawing of a forest of small trees in which birds sang and dogs pranced about and stick figures of various sizes and colors held hands beneath an eternally blue sky. The drawing had been given to him by a pale skinned blue eyed boy many years ago and now Genghis held the scroll before Huli Jing as if it possessed talisman like powers.

"Gaze upon what we have created merchant. While you peddle your death and war we have made the birds sing amidst whispering forest and we have given peace to animal and men alike to enjoy their beautiful music. As I have said I fear the next man you will accost with your bartering and I fear that man will have anger in his eyes and murder in his heart, and that is why you will not leave this place alive!"

Genghis commanded his archers who unleash a swarm of arrows at the Merchant of War. As swift as a fox Huli Jing dropped back into his mechanical beast, the arrows protruding harmlessly from its bambooed sides and bouncing of its brazen head. Its hot coal eyes flared like twin cauldrons of pure flames and another torrent of fire sprouted from its mouth, engulfing Genghis and his men.

The flames burned with the heat of 1,000 suns beneath the fiercest of days in the Gobi Desert and the screams of his immolated brothers burned even fiercer in his own stricken mind but when he saw the child's scroll burn to fleeting ashes, birds, trees, dogs and men alike his pain was immediately belied by a rapidly seething anger that spilled over like the flooding of the mighty Orkhon River. Genghis ripped away his burning armor and robe to expose angry red scorch marks upon the vast ripples of his muscles. Smoke not only curled and wisped around him but seemed to radiate from inside of him as a manifestation of his rage. He inhaled deeply, the stench of scorched flesh and hair pungent in the air, and bellowed a war cry that pierced the early evening.

Gripping his battle ax tightly, Genghis sprinted toward the dragon, its eyes once more radiating death and destruction, destruction and death, and when he struck forged steel onto bronze he struck with enough force to shatter the Altai Mountain range. The dragons bamboo hide exploded into a very many tumens of splinters like the crushing of a forest and in his final moments the Merchant of War Huli Jing had brought a marvelous beauty to the world when the gunpowder in the dragons head ignited, sending streamers of gold, crimson, and violet Chinese flowers deep into the sky.

Despite his final spectacle however, Huli Jing had been a wicked man, and if he had not committed great sins then perhaps God would not have sent a punishment such as Genghis Khan upon him!