The new caravansary stockade constituted an inn offering comfort in the Mongolian style. Yurts of various sizes were situated on the perimeter of a large central courtyard. Water and feeding troughs for camels, mules and horses were grouped along one side. Caravans transporting goods to and from the valley were always in residence. Pilgrims to the temple complex stayed there as well.
The caravansary also served as social center for the valley's activities. In front of the wooden palisade, vendors displayed their wares in stalls or spread them on the ground by the roadside, retiring inside to conduct their business in the courtyard at night. Across the road, a small Chinese settlement included a restaurant and general store which served as a second social center for the few Chinese residents in the valley. None were Manchus. The Mongols were housed in scattered clan encampments.
Grazing lands for horses and sheep occupied most of the valley. The lower escarpment wall was populated by nimble goats thriving on hardy milk vetch that increased their production of milk. They also had an insatiable appetite for the wing-petaled red flower that in spring, summer, and fall covered the rock face. It turned their milk sweet and pink, likewise flavoring and tinting the rich butter made from the cream. "Ruby tea," a brew of Chinese bonay tea, the goat butter, and salt, was a delicacy much prized by pilgrims to Dragon's Heart.
The crater formed part of a khanate under the jurisdiction of Damba's father, Mandorva Khan, whose clan occupied its southern quarter. The entire khanate, however, extended several hundred kilometers beyond the valley, at the southern end of the Yablonovy Range which began in Siberia.
The khanate was patrolled by Mandorva Khan's private corps of several thousand men posted at garrisons throughout the territory. The marriage of his daughter, Princess Shabara, to a mighty Manchu prince in Peking, gave him enough leverage with the Dragon Throne to keep Manchu troops not only out of the valley, but also beyond the limits of the khanate itself.
The single exception to his jurisdiction was the Lamaist complex perched eight hundred meters above the valley floor. The temple and lamasery at Dragon's Heart were governed by a High Lama. His rule was absolute, beginning at the first step marking the ascent.
At the new caravansary that first afternoon, Damba talked with Brad at length in an effort to calm the American's nerves while they waited to hear from Romelle.
"She will be quite safe at Doctor Bart's compound. They say that the doctor has been at the temple this morning, but was seen on his way home awhile ago. He will have found Madame there by now. It is no doubt a happy reunion."
Brad nodded. "It has to be. She hasn't seen him since she was three. I've never met him at all."
Damba was surprised. "I thought you were his nephew."
"I am, but he did not return to America after I was born," Brad responded. "Then, my father...was killed...and I was...taken away by my mother...to a horse farm in a place called Kentucky. We seldom went anywhere. Those horses became my life."
Damba grinned. "I knew it! I have watched your way with the stallion the Living Buddha gave you. You are a master. It is most unusual. You do not use a crop, nor do you give him much heel. Even on the treacherous roadway down the escarpment, you never touched his reins."
"I talk to him in whispers, and guide him gently with my knees," Brad explained.
"He understands English already?" Damba laughed.
Brad chuckled. "It is a language of my own, the speaking of my heart. I don't use words in the normal sense, but sounds every horse understands. I was taught by an old black man in Kentucky, a former slave. He exerted a deep influence on me as I became a man. I looked upon him as father and friend."
The tall lama had sat in silence until now.
"I have noticed this about you," he said. "You have no consciousness of race. That is not true, for example, of Doctor Chavadzy. When you look at me, I do not see prejudice in your eyes."
"You do not see it because it is not there," Brad replied. "My love for the old man in Kentucky, and for a black woman named Annie who was with me when I was very young, precluded such intolerance in my character."
Chavadzy approached them. "I know the innkeeper from previous visits. They are quite busy, but he has given us each a yurt, Lieutenant. I think it best for Madame to stay alone at the cottage with her father until they sort things out. Presumably, you gentlemen will be staying at the temple?"
He had addressed himself to the lamas. They nodded.
"Strange things are afoot in your quiet valley, Damba," the Russian went on. "The High Priest of the temple disappeared last night without a trace, and the lamas at the temple are in quite a state about it. The innkeeper also says that six strangers arrived at the caravansary on horseback yesterday evening. They hired a yurt, rested, and then were seen last night in China Town across the way. Their horses have been found tethered near the temple steps."
The tall lama tensed. "We must call on Doctor Bart at once."
He strode toward his horse. The others followed.
At the moment they entered Bart's compound, Romelle and her father were standing under a Tree of Heaven, naming it for Philo.
"I think your approaching him with the story in First Kings is beautiful," he said, "but I want you to explain why you offered yourself to him in this way. Did you love him - as a woman loves a man?"
She lifted her fingers to stroke a feathery leaf. "Was I in love?" She thought for a moment. "No, but I loved him as the man who had nurtured me, who had nurtured you, the man to whom I owed all but life, which I owed to you. No, I was not in love, but I loved him enough to feel called by God to cherish him and comfort him as best I could in his declining years. I would have been his wife in every way, had it been possible, but he chose to continue only as my protector. He said he would help me to save myself for the one man I could love."
Bart sighed. "I am so proud of you. Your mother would have been proud of you, too."
The noise of the others arriving brought father and daughter to the front porch.
The tall lama dismounted first and rushed to Bart.
"Doctor, what has happened at the temple? Where is...the High Lama?"
Bart shook his head. "I don't know. Monks came from the lamasery early this morning when they first discovered him gone. I went with them. We have searched everywhere. Impossible as it seems, he has been spirited away."
Chavadzy mentioned the innkeeper. "He told me six strangers came yesterday. Their horses were found near the temple steps. Do you suppose they were Manchus?"
"I suspect they were," Bart replied with a trace of anger. "The monk who was supposed to be guarding the entry to the temple grounds was, instead, kneeling in the garden, chanting the Lotus Sutra in penance for some trivial sin. Anyone could have slipped by him! Just before dawn, when he was back at his post, he heard Manchu obscenities shouted in the Marco Polo Library, where the High Lama often spends the night reading. He heard the High Lama's voice answer back: 'The ruby belongs to Tara! It was never meant for you!' The monk ran for help. When he and several others burst in, no one was there. Since then, the High Lama has not been seen."
The tall lama announced: "I must go to the temple at once. He must be there somewhere. There is no way out other than the steps to the valley. That the strangers' horses still wait below implies that all six men, and the High Lama, are still up there. I have sent the other lamas ahead to watch the horses in case the strangers try to elude us."
"I'm coming with you," insisted Brad. "I have special investigative training. Perhaps I can find something that might otherwise pass unnoticed."
The tall lama nodded his assent. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Your offer is deeply appreciated."
Not to be outdone, Chavadzy volunteered, as well. "This is my line of work. I shall come, too."
The tall lama bristled. "Your reputation is well known in this country, Doctor Chavadzy. I thought your line was torturing Orientals for the purpose of extracting information - strange work for a medical man. You are known to have made mistakes that cost innocent lives. I can name three. But, then, what is the life of a coolie to a white man? To you, we all look alike! Doctor Bart is the exception to your kind. In his American Hospital here, he saves Asian lives, and he accords us the dignity of our individuality!"
Brad and Romelle cast covert glances at each other, understanding at last the tall lama's antipathy toward the Russian.
Chavadzy's eyes were downcast. He made no answer.
Romelle came to his rescue. "If I may speak in his defense, I heard Doctor Chavadzy give a stern dressing down to a Russian officer at the frontier who spoke ill of you and your party. He told him such bigotry would not be tolerated, and threatened to report him to the Tsar. Perhaps he has suffered a change of heart since those three...mistakes...were made."
"He has proved his concern for our welfare," added Brad.
Damba spoke rapidly to the tall lama in Mongolian, receiving a nod in reply.
"We welcome you, Doctor Chavadzy," Damba said. "Anything you can do will be appreciated."
"Rebel and I can also be of help," suggested Romelle.
"The dog, Madame?" Damba asked incredulously. "It would not be seemly to take a dog into the temple. Besides, women are not allowed to enter, as the Living Buddha informed you in Urga."
She turned to Bart. "Help me, Father. I know what I'm doing. I beg you!"
He was struck by the intensity of her plea. He looked at the tall lama.
"My daughter and I, and the dog, will go with you," he pronounced with finality.
The tall lama removed the chain from around his neck and lifted it over her head. The golden medallion he had shown to the Manchu captain at the caravan of condemned men now shone on her breast.
"No one will dare question your entry to the temple when you wear the medallion of the Living Buddha," he said, "and I shall carry Rebel myself. No one will dare to question me."
They set off for the eastern side of the escarpment.