Second Son
Part One


 
Her brothers came to the yurt early on the morning of the third day of the marriage.
In a loud voice, Damba announced them from outside. "We wish to speak with Princess Shabara!"
Ta lifted his arm gently from beneath the head of his still-sleeping bride, arose quietly, and went out to them. He closed the door flap behind him.
Except for one, he saw the men and boys he had noticed grouped near Damba at the wedding ceremony. Again, they stood behind him, in deference to the firstborn.
Ta bowed low before them. The others bowed in kind. Damba only nodded.
"I am sorry, but she is sleeping," Ta informed them graciously, ignoring Damba's haughty behavior.
"Wake her," the Mongol demanded curtly.
Ta angled himself specifically toward Damba, bowing one more time. "If I may suggest, brother-in-law....."
"I am not your brother-in-law!"
Ta could not hide a flash of anger. "Shabara is my wife!"
"Not yet, Manchu, not yet!"
There was no mistaking an inclination of Damba's hand toward the hilt of his saber.
Abruptly, the youngest of those behind him, a good-looking, but slight, lad of thirteen, stepped between Damba and Ta. His head was shaved, and he wore a saffron-colored robe. He raised clasped hands in front of his face and tilted his head downward.
"Highness," he entreated, "I beg you to wake her. We mean no disrespect."
The boy raised his head. His eyes were moist with tears. "May I see my sister, sir? Please! I am Chrys, her youngest brother."
Ta softened. "Ah, Chrys! You are very precious to her! She speaks your name often. She has, I believe, been like a mother to you, although she was herself only a child when....."
Ta paused awkwardly.
Chrys nodded. "It is all right to speak of it, sir. My mother died giving birth to me. She was needed in Heaven. God generously allowed me to be born in remembrance of her before He took her away. My mother was Princess Chrysanthemum. Thus, I am Chrys. I have been given to the Church."
Ta stroked the boy's shaved head tenderly. "Wait, Chrys. I shall wake her...for you."
He glared briefly at Damba before retiring inside.
In moments, Shabara appeared at the doorway in a dressing gown, running a comb through her long hair.
At sight of Chrys, both she and the boy burst into tears. They embraced.
"My little priest," she wept, "my little lama of love! I have been lost without you!"
"Forgive me, sister," he said. "The Living Buddha is having me intensively tutored in certain mysteries at a lamasery even more remote than Dragon's Heart. You know how forgetful he can be! His wife reminded him many times to bring me to Urga to join your caravan when it came through. Suddenly, it was too late. He then dispatched a party of lamas to fetch me from the lamasery and bring me here."
Shabara wiped her eyes and stood, clasping him close.
"This child is my blessing of God," she said to Ta. "I shall dress now and go with my brothers, milord husband...if I may."
It was the first time she had publicly esteemed him. Ta's heart skipped a beat with joy.
"You may...milady wife," he replied in a suitably dignified tone.
When they had gone, Ta sought out Pao in the yurt he shared with the other dragoons.
"Brother Pao, progress has been made," he said excitedly when they went walking together.
"You have made love!" chortled Pao, striking the heels of his palms together. "Let us drink koumiss!
Ta touched his arm in restraint. "No applause yet, my friend. But she slept with her head cradled in my arm!"
Pao stopped short. He stood back from Ta with his hands on his hips. "That is no cause for celebration! Do you, like her, know nothing of the man-and-woman thing? Must I get you a Pillow Book, too?"
Ta shrugged. "Well, didn't Coral say to go slowly?"
Pao shook his head disdainfully. "How can one who has seen the world be so unworldly? A wife is for the taking, man! That's why she is in your bed...or you in her bed, as the case seems to be. Aha!" His eyes lit up. "Perhaps that is the problem, Brother Ta. You need to bed her in the wedding gerr. That will put her in the proper frame of mind!"
"Hmmm," mused Ta. "Possibly, you are right."
Pao clapped him on the shoulder. "Give it a try tonight. You have until tomorrow morning before the decision must be made - one more night, brother. You must make it a night she cannot forget! Now, please come with me to find Mandorva Khan. You have to speak to him about releasing Coral from her punishment in the laundry. She is there now. My dumpling has been punished enough. Soldiers actually came for her yesterday while we were...you know what I mean...and fairly dragged her away. I would have gone after them, but I misplaced my pants!"
Shabara had settled into the center of a circle composed of her brothers - all sitting cross-legged beneath the smoke-hatch in Damba's private yurt.
"Tomorrow morning, you will make your public announcement of divorce before our father's gerr," her eldest brother charged her sternly. "Tell us now if there is any doubt that you intend to do so."
She maintained a thoughtful silence, then spoke. "Before I knew of this marriage, I nearly killed the Manchu prince. I had gone alone to view the Great Wall. He saw me, and chased me through the ravine. I did not, of course, know who he was, or the soldiers who rode with him - only that they were our oppressors.
"I dodged behind a boulder and waited for them to pass. I was angry. Not only was he a Manchu, but also he had spoiled the loveliest moment of my life. I lifted my rifle. I had him in its sights until he cleared the pass. I rode back to the palisade, but it was too late. The sun was high. My lovely moment was gone, and he was out of range. Perhaps I should have shot him when I had the chance. Things would be simpler now."
Damba grunted. "Things are still simple, sister. All you need do is declare a divorce."
She answered him with anger. "That is my decision to make. You have naught to do with this!"
Damba raised clenched fists above his head and brought them down vigorously on his knees. "How dare you make such statements to me! I am your elder brother. You are only a woman, after all!"
"The decision is mine in the eyes of the law!" she snapped. "Besides, Mongolian women are the equals of men! We fight, we hunt, we trap, we do everything as well as you, and we are your mothers, as well! You are only a man, after all!"
He flushed as red as blood. "Must you insult me? Is it not enough that our father has capitulated, has sold his soul for horses, for silver, for gold?"
She laughed mockingly. "Sold his soul? He has sold mine, you fool! And why should I sit in silence when you insult me and my sex?"
She gave him a virulent look. "You rail about my marriage, but it was you who carried me to the altar! If you were truly a man, you would have refused to do so. You would have challenged our father and demanded an end to this humiliating affair! You prove the case the Manchus make - that they rule us because we are weak!"
Her voice rang with contempt.
His pride bitterly wounded, her eldest brother raised his fists again. If he meant to strike her, he never got the chance. Young Chrys pitched himself across Damba's knees.
"Let there be peace in our mother's family!" cried the boy lama. "If you must hit someone, brother, let it be me. Let our sister find happiness in whatever way she can. You may beat me to death in atonement if she should go to Peking."
Shamed, Damba dropped his hands.
Shabara arose. She grasped Chrys's arm firmly and pulled him up from the floor.
"Brothers, this is the one true man among you!" she declared, and marched him out the door.
 

Table of Contents · Part 2

1998 Brockman Morris