The Tiger Queens

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9780451417800: The Tiger Queens

In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself the Great, or Genghis, Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph....
 
After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, gifted Borte becomes an outsider within her clan. When she seeks comfort in the arms of aristocratic traveler Jamuka, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man who agreed to marry her and then abandoned her long before they could wed.
 
Temujin will return and make Borte his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new kingdom. Their daughter, the fierce Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, will transform her desire for revenge into an unbreakable loyalty. And Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow, will position her sons to inherit the empire when it begins to fracture from within.

In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, the tiger queens of Genghis Khan come to depend on one another as they fight and love, scheme and sacrifice, all for the good of their family...and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls.

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About the Author:

Stephanie Thornton is the author of The Secret History and Daughter of the Gods. She is also a history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ALSO BY STEPHANIE THORNTON

Prologue

Our names have long been lost to time, scattered like ashes into the wind. No one remembers our ability to read the secrets of the oracle bones or the wars fought in our names. The words we wrote have faded from their parchments; the sacrifices we made are no longer recounted in the glittering courts of those we conquered. The deeds of our husbands, our brothers, and our sons have eclipsed our own as surely as when the moon ate the sun during the first battle of Nishapur.

Yet without us, there would have been no empire for our men to claim, no clan of the Thirteen Hordes left to lead, and no tales of victory to sing to the Eternal Blue Sky.

It was our destiny to love these men, to suffer their burdens and shoulder their sorrows, to bring them into this world, red-faced and squalling, and tuck their bones into the earth when they abandoned us for the sacred mountains, leaving us behind to fight their wars and protect their Spirit Banners.

We gathered our strength from the water of the northern lakes, the fire of the south’s Great Dry Sea, the brown earth of the western mountains, and the wild air of the eastern steppes. Born of the four directions, we cleaved together like the seasons for our very survival. In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, we depended upon one another for the very breath we drew.

Even as the steppes ran with blood and storm clouds roiled overhead, we loved our husbands, our brothers, and our sons. And we loved one another, the fierce love of mothers and sisters and daughters, born from our shared laughter and tears as our souls were woven together, stronger than the thickest felts.

And yet nothing lasts forever. One by one, our souls were gathered into the Eternal Blue Sky, our tents dismantled, and our herds scattered across the steppes. That is a tale yet to come.

It matters not how we died. Only one thing matters: that we lived.

Part I

Chapter 1

1171 CE

YEAR OF THE IRON HARE

He came in the autumn of my tenth year, when the crisp air entices horses to race and the white cranes fly toward the southern hills.

A single man led a line of horses between the two great mountains that straddled our camp. Startled, I set down my milking pail and wiped my hands on my scratchy felt deel—the long caftan worn by men, women, and children alike—as my father joined me, grunting and shielding his eyes from the last rays of golden sunlight. Visitors and merchants often found their way to sit against the western wall of our domed ger, silently filling their bellies with salted sheep fat until our fermented mare’s milk loosened their tongues. I loved to hear their tales of distant steppes and mountain forests, of clans with foreign names and fearsome khans. My father was the leader of our Unigirad clan, but life outside our camp seemed terribly exotic to a girl who had never traveled past the river border of our summer grazing lands.

I finished milking the goats and untied them from the line, watching the shadows grow, eager for the trader’s stories that would carry me to sleep that night.

“Borte Ujin.” My mother, the famed seer Chotan, called from the carved door of our ger, her gray hair tied back and a chipped wooden cooking spoon in her hand. I hated that spoon—my backside had met it more times than I could count on my fingers and toes.

I was a twilight child, planted in my mother’s belly like an errant seed long after her monthly bloods had ceased. After being childless for so long, my parents welcomed even a mere girl-child, someone to help my mother churn butter and corral the herds with my father. And so I grew up their only daughter, indulged by my elderly father while my mother harangued me to sit straighter and pay more attention to the calls of geese and the other messages from all the spirits.

My mother was by far the shortest woman in our village, but the look she gave me now would have scattered a pack of starving wolves. “Pull your head from the clouds, Borte,” she said. “The marmot won’t roast itself.”

I lugged the skin bucket of milk inside, ducking into the heavy scents of animal hides, earth, and burning dung. The thick haze of smoke made my throat and eyes burn. The felt ceiling was stained black from years of soot, and the smoke hole was open to the Eternal Blue Sky, the traditional rope that represented the umbilical cord of the universe dangling from the cloud-filled circle. A dead marmot lay by the fire, the size of a small dog, with prickly fur like tiny porcupine quills. Our meat usually came from one of the Five Snouts—horses, goats, sheep, camels, and cattle—but my father’s eyes sparkled when he could indulge my mother’s taste for wild marmot. The oily meat was a pleasant change.

“There’s a visitor on the path.” I hacked off the marmot’s head with a dull blade and yanked out the purple entrails. My father’s mottled dog pushed at my hip with her muzzle, but I swatted her away, daring to toss her the gizzards only when my mother wasn’t looking.

Mother sighed and rubbed her temples, squinting as if staring through the felt walls at something far away. “I knew about the visitor before he stepped over the horizon,” she said, the beads that dangled from her sleeves chattering with her every movement. Each was a reminder of a successful prophecy breathed to life by her lips, bits of bone and clay gathered from the spine of the Earth Mother to adorn her blue seer’s robes.

I glanced at the fire. Two singed sheep scapulae lay on the hearth, cracked with visions of the future. My mother’s father had been a holy man amongst our people, but he had passed to the sacred mountains the night I fell from her womb. There were whispers that my grandfather’s untethered powers might have found a new home in my soul, and his Spirit Banner still fluttered in the breeze outside our ger, strands of black hair from his favorite stallion tied to his old spear, so that his soul might continue to guide us.

My mother stuffed the marmot’s empty stomach cavity with steaming rocks. “These strangers will bring great fortune and great tragedy.” She spoke as if commenting about the quality of our mares’ dung, then pushed a strand of graying hair back from her face and glanced at my palms, slick with blood. “You’d best not greet your fate with foul hands.”

My skin prickled with dread. My mother was an udgan, a rare female shaman, and had cast my bones only once and then forbade me from speaking of the dark omens to anyone, including my father. Lighter prophecies than mine had driven other parents to fill their children’s pockets with stones and drown them. And so I had swallowed the words and promised never to speak of them.

The Eternal Blue Sky was bruised black when I stepped outside, and the scent of roasting horsemeat from a nearby ger made my stomach rumble. The water in the horses’ trough clung to the warmth of the day and I scrubbed until the flesh of my hands was raw. As on any other night, voices floated from the other far-flung tents. My cheeks grew warm at the grunts of lovemaking from the newly stitched ger of a couple freshly wed, the young man and woman who my mother claimed mounted each other like rabbits. The moans were muffled by a new mother crooning to her fussy infant and an old woman berating her grandsons for tracking mud into her tent.

And my father’s voice.

I started toward him but retreated into the shadows as a wiry stranger stepped into view. About the same age as my father, the man wore two black braids threaded with gray hanging down his back, topped with a wide-ruffed hat of rabbit fur. Five dun-colored horses grazed in the paddock, laden with packs, their dark manes cropped close. I strained to hear the conversation, but my father only complimented the man on the quality of his animals. The stranger patted the flank of a pretty mare, releasing a puff of dancing dust into the air. Early moonlight gleamed on the curved sword at his hip, an unusual sight amongst my peace-loving clan, but then the light hit his face. I stumbled back, nearly landing on my backside.

His right eye glittered like a black star, but the left socket was empty, a dark slit nestled between folds of wrinkled skin and at the exact center of a long white scar, likely an old battle wound.

“And I thought they called you Dei the Wise.” The man grinned at my father, revealing two lines of crooked brown teeth. “You didn’t think I’d come without something to trade this time, did you, Dei?”

This time. So my father knew this traveler.

I thought to stay and listen, but the stranger shifted on his feet and his gaze fell on me. I expected a one-eyed scowl, but instead the man’s bushy eyebrows lifted in surprise.

I shrank further into the shadows, pulling the darkness around my shoulders. My mother would have my skin if she knew I’d been eavesdropping. Learning more about this stranger would have to wait until he’d filled his belly with our marmot.

I scuttled back to our ger, feeding the fire with dried mare dung until it crackled and my cheeks flushed with heat. My mother bustled about, mumbling to herself as she set out five mismatched wooden cups.

“There’s only one visitor, Mother.”

She ignored me and poured fresh goat milk into two cups, then filled the other three with airag. I knew better than to argue what I’d seen with my own eyes.

My mother pulled the rocks from the marmot’s belly as the wooden door opened, ushering in a gust of cool air along with my father and his guest. Behind the man skulked a scrawny boy scarcely my height, dressed in the same ragged squirrel pelts as his father and fingering the necklace at his throat, a menacing wolf tooth hung from a leather thong. His black hair was cropped close to his head and his eyes gleamed the same gray as a wolf’s pelt. My father’s dog gave a happy bark and jumped up, paws on the boy’s shoulders as if embracing a lost friend. The boy’s hand went to the hilt of his sword, a smaller version of his father’s, and for a moment I thought he might stab the dumb beast. I dragged her away by the scruff of her neck and forced her to sit at my feet, prompting a raised eyebrow from the boy.

I turned my nose up at him and looked to the one-eyed visitor as he bowed to my mother. At least the father had manners.

“Chotan,” he said to my mother, straightening. “I bear warm words from Hoelun, my first wife and mother of my eldest son.”

My mother grasped the wooden cooking spoon so hard I thought it might crack. It took me a moment to recall the story of my mother’s childhood friend Hoelun, married to a handsome Merkid warrior who loved her. The story of her shame and dishonor while en route to her new husband’s homeland was still whispered around hearth fires, that a desperate Borijin hunter had been tracking a rabbit when he came across a splash of fresh urine in the snow, left by a woman. The man ignored the rabbit and hunted the woman instead, stealing her from her husband and claiming her as his wife.

A one-eyed hunter.

This man wearing a sword curved like a smile was no exotic trader, but instead a kidnapper of women.

The fire suddenly burned too hot, yet a cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck. I stepped toward my mother, well away from the men’s side of the tent. “And this must be your daughter,” he said, opening his arms toward me. “Her face is filled with the first light of dawn, yet her eyes are full of fire like the sun.”

It wasn’t my eyes that filled with fire then, but my cheeks.

“Borte’s soul is full of fire,” my mother snapped. “As was Hoelun’s.”

“Still is,” the stranger said with a laugh. “Fiery women make the best wives.” He elbowed the black-haired boy, still standing sullenly at the edge of the ger. “They’re certainly the best in bed.”

At least I wasn’t the only one with burning cheeks. The boy looked as if he wished the Earth Mother would open her maw and swallow him.

My father cleared his throat and handed the largest cup of airag to his guest. “You must be thirsty after so long a journey, Yesugei. Rest a while and then you can tell us why you’ve come.”

The men stuffed their bellies with so much marmot that my stomach still rumbled when I lay on my pile of furs later, listening to Yesugei’s wild tales. His son hadn’t yet spoken, only sat on the visitors’ west side of the tent as if forgotten by his father and crammed his mouth with marmot as if he might never eat again. His gray eyes darted about, no doubt taking in everything. I burned to know why this one-eyed man dared return to the village of the woman he’d kidnapped, but the heat of the fire pulled me into sleep. The furious whispers of my mother and father entered my dreams, but the rosy fingers of day pushed their way through the cracks of the ger when I next opened my eyes.

I wished I hadn’t woken when I heard what the men were discussing.

“Temujin would make Borte a good husband,” Yesugei said.

Temujin. So that was the boy’s name. It meant to rush headlong, like a horse racing where it wished, no matter what its rider wanted. He sat cross-legged by the door, sharpening a stick with a wicked-looking knife as his foot twitched. I had a feeling he was ready to bolt at any moment, to saddle a horse and tear across the steppes.

I might beat him to it.

“They’re too young.” My mother’s voice stung like a wasp. I peered through slitted eyes to see my father lay a gentle hand on her arm, the platter of dried horsemeat to break our fasts untouched between them. “I’ll not give the only treasure of my womb to a Tayichigud raider,” she muttered.

I wondered then if she wished she had told my father our secret instead of keeping it hidden all these years. Now it was too late.

“Since the days of the blue-gray wolf and the fallow deer, the beauty of our daughters has sheltered us from battles and wars. Our daughters are our shields.” My father’s words were an oft-repeated maxim amongst our Unigirad clan, yet Yesugei’s people were well-known as the lowest and meanest of the steppe’s families, as sharp clawed and sneaky as battle-scarred weasels. No single man ruled the grasslands, meaning that the belligerent Merkid, wealthy Tatars, fierce Naiman, and even the Christian Kereyids all fought continuous wars for supremacy.

“Borte,” my father said in a stern voice, but I kept my eyes closed. “Stop feigning sleep and come here.”

I sat up and my mother handed me a cup of goat’s milk to wash the bitter taste of sleep from my mouth, but I found it hard to swallow.

“I’d keep my little goat with us as long as possible, forever if I could.” My father twirled a strip of dried meat between gnarled fingers, then sighed. “But as much as I might wish it, it is not my daughter’s fate to grow old by the door of the tent she was born in.”

“My husband,” my mother said. “It is not wise—”

My father didn’t allow her to finish, only raised his hand for silence.

“I don’t wish to be married,” I said, praying the Earth Mother would send up roots from the ground to bind me forever to this ger....

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself the Great, or Genghis, Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph. After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, gifted Borte becomes an outsider within her clan. When she seeks comfort in the arms of aristocratic traveler Jamuka, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man who agreed to marry her and then abandoned her long before they could wed. Temujin will return and make Borte his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new kingdom. Their daughter, the fierce Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, will transform her desire for revenge into an unbreakable loyalty. And Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow, will position her sons to inherit the empire when it begins to fracture from within. In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, the tiger queens of Genghis Khan come to depend on one another as they fight and love, scheme and sacrifice, all for the good of their family.and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls. Nº de ref. de la librería ABZ9780451417800

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself the Great, or Genghis, Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph. After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, gifted Borte becomes an outsider within her clan. When she seeks comfort in the arms of aristocratic traveler Jamuka, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man who agreed to marry her and then abandoned her long before they could wed. Temujin will return and make Borte his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new kingdom. Their daughter, the fierce Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, will transform her desire for revenge into an unbreakable loyalty. And Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow, will position her sons to inherit the empire when it begins to fracture from within. In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, the tiger queens of Genghis Khan come to depend on one another as they fight and love, scheme and sacrifice, all for the good of their family.and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls. Nº de ref. de la librería ABZ9780451417800

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself the Great, or Genghis, Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph. After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, gifted Borte becomes an outsider within her clan. When she seeks comfort in the arms of aristocratic traveler Jamuka, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man who agreed to marry her and then abandoned her long before they could wed. Temujin will return and make Borte his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new kingdom. Their daughter, the fierce Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, will transform her desire for revenge into an unbreakable loyalty. And Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow, will position her sons to inherit the empire when it begins to fracture from within. In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, the tiger queens of Genghis Khan come to depend on one another as they fight and love, scheme and sacrifice, all for the good of their family.and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780451417800

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