Adventures in My Beloved Medieval Alania and Beyond: A Time-Travel Novel Set in the 10th Century Caucasus Mountains. Historical Novel by Anne Hart.
Proper Parenting in Ancient Rome: A Time-Travel Novel of Love as Growth of Consciousness & Peace in the Home. Historical Novel by Anne Hart.
Riding with the Queen of the Huns
© by Anne Hart
The Gobi Desert, Early Medieval Times: Riding with the Queen of the Silk Road and Painting her Portrait with Threads
"I’m going to take many more wives,” Jelek chortled. “I have a right to marry as many wives as I please. I’m the Khan now.”
“And I’m still the Queen.”
Taklamakan rose to look over the portrait that I now had finished. I painted her riding her horse with the wind through her long hair. I drew her as wild looking as her horse with the same expression in the eyes. It was a longing for the freedom of the steppe.
She spoke to her husband as she waved my painting above her head to view it from all sides. “You are my father reincarnated. When I was born, the midwife announced to him that he now had a new daughter.
He told the midwife to look twice. ‘Are you sure it’s not a boy?’ he asked.”
“Shaddup, shaddup, you werewolf of the steppes, the Khazari will hear you.” Jalek groaned. “You’re going to make me kill you.”
Taklamakan ignored him and looked me straight in the eye for sympathy.
The more sympathy she could get from me, the more she manipulated me with anger.
The Queen of the Huns meant trouble. I tried to help her. I tried to force pity so I’d give her a ride someplace on my steed. She said she wanted her independence again.
“I must leave here,” she said quietly. “I have chosen the wrong husband to be the Khan of my peoples. I will ride alone until I find the right man to be the father of my future children.”
“I won’t give you children. You’re not going to rule me,” Jalek said as he turned away.
“Why do you speak to me only in commands?” Taklamakan sobbed. “I’m the Queen. Why isn’t anyone listening to me?”
“Not since you made me the Khan of your peoples and mine.”
“Isn’t it funny how our marriages always turn out to be like our parent’s
no matter how much we try to be different?” Taklamakan said.
No matter how bad the marriage went, those two types would be
hardest to separate. In their mood swings, they could kill each other.
Never Marry a Timid Man
“Never marry a timid man. The shy one will explode in anger at their wives,” she told me.
“What would I know about marriage at fifteen?”
“The shy ones observe everything and turn it inwards, putting themselves down, calling the partner a loser, and finally, bursting with violence when they start to feel sorry for themselves.”
It was obvious our whole family said, that Taklamakan controlled Jalek with an iron hand inside of a velvet glove. When he was free of her a few hours a day, he went way over the limit.
“I like you, Chichek,” Jalek said to me meekly.
“That’s too bad,” I answered defiantly. “I don’t like you. I like friends my own age, friends that I can run and play with and trust with my life that they won’t curtail my own freedom to think for myself and question all who seek power.”
“That’s right. We are both thinking women,” Taklamakan added.
“Women destined to be the Khatun of each of our lands.”
He exploded. “I hate this room where you play. I hate the cold fireplace,
and your vicious wolf cubs. I hate every pelt in this room.”
“Jalek, don’t do this,” I said. “You’re coming to live with me to see how it works out,” Taklamakan said. “We’ve only been married one day.”
“I hate everything in this room, from the kettle that holds the kindling you never use to the dumb statue of a cat that has a history I’ve heard too many times.”
Jalek ran to the mantelpiece and tossed everything to the carpet. He took a vase with a candle in it and threw it at the Queen.
Taklamakan ducked, but the vase flew through the window.
“He’s being ugly,” she whined to me.
Jalek ranted on. “At your wedding it was the two deaf ladies from
Atil that I had to entertain. I’m so lonely, I could die.” Suddenly he
was ashamed of what he’d blurted out.
“My wedding? The wedding was for you and me.”
Jalek the third, Khan of the Avars, looked at me shocked that I’d see
inside him. A servant girl poured some nettle tea into several chalices
and handed me and him a cup. “Please, let’s all cool it,” I said cautiously.
The herbal mixture on the table stood untouched. “I hate the two, long, watery drinks that have to last through the night,” he teased, twisting his mouth. “I hate the phony smiles in this room. You’re all laughing at me. I’m sick of the fake formality you go through to impress me, my ladies.”
“You’ve done pretty well tonight helping him to talk, to open up like a woman,” Taklamakan complained.
“All I see are phony, stapled smiles, like costume dolls,” Jalek continued.
“Two red dots on each cheek.”
The Queen of the Huns couldn’t show anger. “Maybe if you had to
go out and till the land for a living instead of living for the moment.”
“What about you?”
“You worry me so,” Taklamakan cried. “It’s a barrier to the pain you cause me. You disappeared on our wedding night. Where did you go? And today, you want me to leave. Why don’t you leave? I want a
new husband, maybe a match from one of the sons of the Kagan of the Bikhar Khazari.”
“Maybe you want your freedom.” I interrupted.
“What do you know, steppe sister? You’re only fifteen.”
Jalek the third took up his goblet. “Shove your time-traveling trip. I want something of my own.”
That was the first faint surge of triumph he’d felt all evening.
“Nothing makes a Hun Queen angrier than to have her youthful husband argue like an old hen,” Taklamakan said.
“Tonight I’m ready for a fight,” said the Avar Khan.
“Save your energy for the Pechenegs,” his wife replied.
“You control every facet of his life. He is a king to his people. Why don’t you let him show what he can do for his own people?” I asked her.
“The wrong husband can ruin your whole wedding day,” she said.
“Why won’t he allow me a life?”
“Allow?” I hesitated.
My mother heard it all from behind the drapery and entered the room, uninvited. Her royal presence acted to calm down the couple.
“Does he expect you to say ‘My dear little baby, don’t grow up?’”
Khatun announced as she rustled her cloaks and lighted the oil lamps.
“Taklamakan,” Khatun said. “Jalek is asking what children always ask.”
Jalek walked toward my mother. He put his powerful tanned arms around her. “If I fall in battle with the Pechenegs, then will you love me, mommy?”
Jalek broke down in tears. “Tell her, Khatun. Tell her.”
Mother blew a long sigh through the serrations of her lower teeth.
I’ve taken in a Pecheneg orphan, an Avar, and now you. Sit down. My table is ample enough to feed one more mouth. Besides, charity multiplies.
“We just found out today. Jalek is going into a battle and is vastly outnumbered.” She told the whole family at the dinner table.
Jalek crumpled, sobbing at mother’s feet. “I’ll never be a man.”
Taklamakan poured the goblet of herbs and water over the back of his neck. “You wimp, get up. Thousands of people win battles with the Pechenegs. You have to be a man if you want to ride with the Queen of the Huns.”
“I’m going to end up defeated.”
“Defeat is an opportunity for change. You don’t have to go into battle, though, and you don’t have to take the coward’s way out. Join our secret time-traveling family.
“It must take a lot of doing to win all that strength over into your own corner and then go on eating at the same table, living normally day to day,” Jalek told me.
He arose and looked at Taklamakan and I. “You two steppe sisters are too good at everything, like my step mom—training a wild horse or riding upside down or cooking dinner for twelve hundred without servants.”
“Tell me about your real mom, Jalek. When I was your age, talking wasn’t an option,” Khatun said.
Like a thorough bred horse, Jalek couldn’t resist the challenge. Before he could open up to me in front of us, Taklamakan interrupted and cut him off in the middle again just as her own father did to her.
She told me all about her life raised by a widowed Khan and trained to ride and use a curved sword from the age of five.
“You’re absent just like my old man, the coldest Hun on the Silk Road.”
Jalek shut down. “Where’s my father?”
“The Pechenegs killed him in battle.” She cried.
“I saw a Pecheneg also named Jalek burned by the Kievan prince,” said father.
“That was Jelek, the Pecheneg. The Avar Khan’s name is Jalek.” I told my family.
“I didn’t realize the Avars and Pechenegs had almost the same names for their sons.”
“What are you thinking, mother?” I turned to the Khatun. “Don’tlet the sound of a name fool you. Similar sounds may have different meanings among a variety of peoples. I knew a Kievan prince’s son also with the same name. And then there was a Bulgar named Jelek. What about the merchant from Khwarizm named Jalek?”
“I say the Khan’s a spy. He’s no Avar. Look at his face sideways. He’s a Pecheneg.”
“But do they really look that different? They have so many different people who joined them along the Silk Road. They could look like anybody here. He could be a Uyghur or an Oghuz,” mother insisted.
“Taklamakhan,” I sighed. “Do you really want to stay married?”
“My father who always called me a thinking woman,” said mother.
“So now think for yourself clearly, Taklamakhan. Do you want to stay with your husband? Do you want him to go to war? Or do you all want to lay aside your feelings and join our family time-traveling through the centuries and find out what real wars have turned into so that you may go home and avoid them?”
Taklamakan thought how I could tell her that she had to really love herself and respect herself to deal with all the worry. How could I treat this war on a family level when a bigger war was going on outside the door, a war of hatred between the haves and the have-nots, the culturally different, and even the whole world?
As much as war stank, it was responsible for the evolution of knowledge. Not that knowledge is wisdom, but that righteousness is wise. There’s a fine line between knowing how to heal or knowing how to pray or knowing how to build a weapon or wagon with more wheels that doesn’t break or a horse that can gallop through a desert like a camel.
That bothered Taklamakan a lot. The last time we two steppe sisters feasted together, an old lady got ahead of her in line as we waited in the hot sun for a goat skin bag of water to drink.
Taklamakan grabbed the lady who cut in front of her and screeched, “Get out of my way before I push in your face.” All that inner rage exploded. At home, the Queen of the Huns was incapable of showing anger. Instead, she’d make you feel guilty by prying your sympathy at how sick she was with loneliness at eighteen. With a total stranger whom she was sure of never seeing again, she pinched and shoved and stepped hard on toes. All the anger she banked for years was suddenly spent on a stranger.
“Was I the goddess of the steppes?” She laughed afterwards in her shaky voice. There weren’t many goddesses in the steppes, just our mythical hawks, horses, amulets and the spirits in the trees.
Taklamakan is smart. She changed the subject. “We’re placing power in sick hands. Half the Khans of the Huns have slapped their concubines around or worse. Our people are creating cages too small
for a couple to hide in. Everybody knows two wolves in a cage bite each other. So do two people in a small campground yurt.”
The Queen of the Huns is a little doll face with blood-red lips. “Do I have to drive a stake through his heart to stop him from mothering me?” She always asked me this kind of a question, then answered it herself with a ‘but.’
“Would you want to have your daughter marry a great Khan exactly like you?” she added. “Just walk out, Jalek and don’t turn back. I prefer to stay with this large extended family of Khazari until I decide what I want to do. That’s the only way I’ll remain Queen of my people.”
Jalek couldn’t stop laughing. Taklamakan was serious. Mother told her. I’ve told her. She wouldn’t listen.
He couldn’t believe it. “Taklamakan to live with a Khazar family?”
Jalek choked on his water laughing so loud, so strained, and so fake.
Mother pleaded with the Queen of the Huns to spend the night.
“Come, daven with us. Pray with us,” said mother.
I’m afraid of Jalek,” she sobbed. “He’s cruel—like his dad, and just as miserly.”
“So that’s it,” I said loudly. “It’s all about wealth.”
The makeup Taklamakan slapped on her teenage face looked like a clown. Her shiny black Asian hair flopped under the flickering oil lamps. Taklamakan is like a second daughter to my mother, the Khatun.
She braided her hair when the Queen of the Huns was a small child and we played together each time our peoples met in the steppes. In a war, a prayer, or a marriage, something usually goes chaotic.
Nothing can be planned to go a certain way. There’s always the law of chance, the unforeseen, or the unstable. There’s always something going awry on the fractal curve of life’s number game. That’s the way it is when you ride with the Queen of the Huns. Keep your bags packed. Jalek moved backwards, tearing the goblet from Taklamakan’s grip, and flinging her wedding bracelets onto the ground with a vengeance.
“Do you honestly think these trinkets you gave me will give you back your manhood?” Taklamakan laughed at him. “Or can only warfare achieve that?”
“Only you stand between me and my manhood.”
He reached out to touch her, but she jumped away. Jalek took Taklamakan in his arms and grinded his mouth on hers, forcing her back.
She pushed him away.
“It’s wrong. So terribly wrong,” she said sarcastically.
Hopelessly, he released her. “You’re mighty bitter for having been married only one day, my Queen.”
He turned to leave the room, but she blocked his path and grabbed his shoulders. “Why can’t you look me in the eye? Why can’t we talk anymore? You don’t have to be my husband. We can talk. We can be friends,” she demanded. “Now I realize I’m not looking for a husband after all. No, I don’t want one. I want a friend. I want my mother, a shoulder to cry on.”
He flung her into the wall, and her hand accidentally knocked a portrait to the carpet. He looked up in surprise to see the hole she had cut in that flimsy felt wall of the yurt leading to her quarters. Jalek ran over and poked his finger through.
“You spy,” he ranted. “You spied on me all this time. You were always watching me.”
“Maybe it’s time for us to go our separate ways,” Taklamakan calmly told her husband in almost a whisper. Our whole family now was in the room staring at the royal couple. Oh, how they must have dishonored themselves in front of our family.
She put her arms around him, but Jalek wrenched her wrist, twisting it so she dropped one of his trinket wedding bracelets. Sobs convulsed the Khan’s shuddering body. “I won’t give you the satisfaction of getting revenge. I’ll go quietly, my Queen.”
She retreated at his words, but he followed her, unaware of the pouch of coins he wore around his neck. He removed the sack and slowly put it on the table.
“I’m returning your parent’s bride wealth. I’m glad they weren’t here at this moment, and that our Khazar friends were, since they are neutral to our marriage.”
“I am not an animal. I’m a man.” He turned his back to her. “Do you see
the tail of a dog? No. I’m not an animal.”
Taklamakan crouched next to my skirts, cowering beside my table, her eyes wide with fright. Gibberish spilled from the twitching corners of her white-lined lips. The sounds angered him. She wiped the white foam from the corners of her mouth.
“I don’t care if you leave,” Taklamakan sobbed. “Jalek stole all my wealth and property. Now I have nothing. I’m a Queen without a country.”
My father walked in. I heard his footsteps above and know he watches everything below from his secret window above. This is his rooftop eagle’s nest. He has the view of a fish, at least when we have guests.
“Stay with us, Taklamakan,” father asked. “When you start to respect yourself again, you’ll be part of our family. I have the solution to all your problems.”
“Good bye.” Jalek walked out.
“Let him go,” I said.
Father took her hand and led her as he leads any of the large number of children in our royal Khazar family. “While you are still under twenty, ride the Torah of Time, the Steppes of Sanity, the Depths of Dreams, the Roads of Righteousness, and the Mountains of the Mighty with us. You’ll see the Silk Road a thousand times in new ways.
"Time travel and see the world in all its stages. The lesson you will have learned is that we all marry our mirrors—someone who reflects how we feel about ourselves at one moment of time. In another moment you might feel differently about yourself and choose another for an entirely different reason. Every wife is a mirror of her own husband’s failures, and every husband a victim of his wife’s success.”
With that, Taklamakan began to think about what he said. “A wife can mirror her husband’s successes too,” she added. “And a husband can diminish with his wife’s failures.”
“It works both ways, “father said. “Give yourself time. All we can offer you in Khazaria is time. “Now let me show you our secret cave where you can travel and learn by seeing the world that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This irony has been etched in sandstone now for what is it—six thousand years?”
All of a sudden up came a whirlwind in the clouds, and we found a cave beneath some branches where we tried to camp for the night. We went through the labyrinths of stalagmites and stalactites. I left little pieces of silver lace fabric as markers so we could find our way back in day or night. There was a dark cavern of sorts, and a fierce wind came up and pulled all of us through in a whirlwind.
A funnel of purple gray dragged each one of us up along with our four horses and the queen’s bier and her horses. From the ledge of a great calcite cliff, we flew into the blackness. You see, we have been to this place and time traveled to the same scene of what happened to my Khazaria many times, and we take our guests here to show them what will be so that they will gain insight, foresight, and hindsight.
The next instant a burst of sunlight blinded us for a few minutes, as we whirled through a large opening at one end and a small opening at the other. And suddenly we were on the outside of cave, but where were we? Nothing looked familiar. And the noise, the incredible noise thundered and fired around us.
We were strangers in a strange land, and time stood still. No, not quite. It moved drastically forward. “We will be sold as slaves in this strange place,” the Khagan shouted to the Khatun. The place was the same, but time shifted and moved its foundation.
We were on the other side of time.
“Wait, let’s find out.”
Before we had time to recover our wits, great there came a sound like the roar of lions and moved forward faster than anything we could have imagined. “Where are we?” I demanded, and no one had the answer—yet. All I knew is that we had awoken in another time, in the probable future, because our beloved Sarkel was destroyed, yet we were suddenly back in Khazaria in another time and in the middle of a war.
I later found out we had been swept more than one hundred summers into the future, when the Kievan prince had destroyed Sarkel and our people had to flee to a new homeland. But wait, my brother will tell you this part of our tale so I can take my evening meal.
Anne Hart has written 87+ paperback books currently in print with various online booksellers and several E-books for Amazon Kindle. She's a retired creative writing educator and editor (since 1972) and author (since 1959). Her Facebook Group on creativity enhancement and resources for writers is at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/healthresearchnews/. You also can read her almost daily blog at: http://anne-hart-writes.blogspot.com/2016/06/here-are-50-strategies-on-how-to-write.html.
If you're interested in various stories or novels set in the medieval Caucasus or Steppes north of the Black Sea, or in ancient Rome, you may wish to see some of this author's novels such as: Adventures in My Beloved Medieval Alania and Beyond: A Time-Travel Novel Set in the 10th Century Caucasus Mountains. (2009), or Proper Parenting in Ancient Rome: A Time-Travel Novel of Love as Growth of Consciousness & Peace in the Home. (2007).