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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Tufto

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In an ancient part of the world, across the bitter Steppes, beyond the desert and mountains and Silk Road cities, the land of the nomads and their kin.

There are no cities here. No marble halls or silver palaces. No golden castles or grey-stone citadels. No strange tortures of the East, nor zealotry of the West.

There is endless hostility and war. There is no soldier class; just the hunters and the bowmen. They live on milk, cheese and meat, and trade furs and horses with the sedentary people to the south and east. There has never been friendly relations between the nomads and the city-dwellers. The nomads disdain them, but lust fiercely after their wealth.

And the nomads have bows. Strong bows, bound sinew and wood twisted into a curve. We call it the composite bow; and it was with this, along with centuries of practice at horsemanship, which allowed the Mongols to conquer their empire.

But that was another world, another time. And though the Mongols still have a part to play, there are other tribes who shall play their part. In the year 840, the capital of the Uyghur Khanate, the dominant power on the Steppes, was sacked by the Yenisei Kirghiz. But the Kirghiz did not take the Steppes for their own. They went back west, to their old homeland, to continue their life as it had always been.

And it is here that, on the first of January in the year 867, that a Kirghiz chief had a dream, a dream from the Eternal Heaven...


The Iron Horde

A Kirghiz Narrative AAR.



-----

I have become very good at abandoning AARs. After wondering why that was, I eventually decided that the best plan would be to go back and write another CK AAR, as the character-based nature of it makes it easier to write. I decided to go for the Mongol steppes, as I am (relatively to most other things, anyway) familiar with the area's history; and the Kirghiz were the easternmost representatives. Hopefully, this will allow me to remain interested and invigorated.

And thus, we begin... a tale of nomads, blood, faith and fervour, survival and death and the horror of the world...

-----

Contents:
Chapter One: The Winter Steppes
Chapter Two: Fear and Joy
Chapter Three: Ipekel of the Kirghiz
Chapter Four: Council of Karluks
 
Last edited:

Stuyvesant

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I was just wondering if you'd been around lately, seeing how it's been a while since Ivy and her cohorts regaled us with tales of misery. :) Oh well, on to the next venue... I daresay the nomads suit you well. :p
 

Tufto

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I was just wondering if you'd been around lately, seeing how it's been a while since Ivy and her cohorts regaled us with tales of misery. :) Oh well, on to the next venue... I daresay the nomads suit you well. :p
:p I wanted to continue Ivy, but a series of savegame problems (aka being too used to ironman and forgetting to save) ended up in me having three different continuities to tie together, and I wasn't sure how I could satisfactorily do that.

Still. This one won't be abandoned this time. I promise. Honest. *Crosses fingers in desperate and fervent hope*.
 

Jokolytic

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I can't wait! This sounds amazing, I wonder what religion you'll end up with.
 

Tufto

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Chapter One: The Winter Steppes


The Kirghiz Steppes

The sun glinted off the snow-capped peaks which surrounded the steppe. It was a crisp and cold January dawn, and the frosty morning steamed the breath of the handful of tent-dwellers clustered in their little camp. Several gers were being taken down by sharp eyed women and eager children; most of the menfolk had wanted a final hunt before they moved, and were out searching for deer.

It was a curious time to move, but it was simply becoming too dangerous near the mountains. The Uyghurs were raiding deeper and deeper into the lands to the direct east, and the Kirghiz feared they would be next. The remnants of the old Uyghur Khanate were not quick to forget what had been done, seventeen years before; the tattered ruins at Ordu-Baliq stood as a perpetual insult.

The flap to one of the remaining gers, the largest among them, opened suddenly. A man of medium-height, dark-skinned and sporting a long beard and dreadlocks, blinked blearily at the light of the sun. His hat was lopsided, masking his sharp features; the hooked nose and jagged eyebrows. His eyes were dark and his hair was a pleasing auburn. “Too much light, my dear Tengri,” he muttered to the sky, as the surrounding members of his clan murmured greetings to him.

“You’re up early, O drunken one”, murmured an amused voice. The man snapped his eyes up to see a figure reclining on a large rock, a pitcher of kumis in one hand and his head tilted back to catch the sun. The women were casting disapproving looks at him, unsurprisingly.

“That is some way to address your Khan, Eldeçyuk,” smiled the first man. He yawned loudly, and, tilting his hat more firmly on his head, snatched the pitcher from Eldeçyuk’s hand and flung it away.


Eldeçyuk, a high-ranking advisor to the Kirghiz Khan.

Eldeçyuk brought his head back up sharply. “I was drinking that”, he snarled.

“After your consumption last night, you shouldn’t be drinking anything for a week,” chuckled the Khan. “Come, old friend. Walk with me a while.”

Muttering and groaning profanities, Eldeçyuk got up off the rock and followed his ruler. The Kirghiz had been doing well under Khan Bönek's rule; he knew how to keep the clans in line, and how to make them submit. The Khanate was surviving under his tight control, and slowly it was getting on his feet again. Under the old Khan, they had reached their high point with the sack of Ordu-Baliq; but for the ten years following that, after they had returned to their homeland, Eldeçyuk had heard of a slow and steady decline. The old Khan could fight, but do little else. The east was lost to them, more or less.


Khan Bönek of the Kirghiz.

Then Khan Bönek had taken over. Another member of the ruling clan- called “Zong” by the Chinese, rumoured to be descendants of the ancient Han general Li Ling- he began as little more than a child, put in power as a figurehead. He had learnt to rule, however, and did so effectively; for though he was not the greatest general or the shrewdest bargainer, he knew how to bang the heads of the tribes together, and was well-learned enough to impress the city-dwellers. Occasional spouts of anger did not stop him from being an honest and respected man.

They walked for a long time, before Bönek waved his hand to signal Eldeçyuk to sit. “I have been thinking. We have a problem.”

Eldeçyuk raised an eyebrow as he lounged on the grass. “We have many problems. We have bands of Uyghurs raiding our lands, we have a cold winter, and we have people in your councils who want to cast out all the Manicheans and Christians in the name of Tengri. Makes me wonder if they actually listen to anything the shamans say.”

Bönek smiled, lightly, as he sat beside his advisor. “The Uyghurs problem is about to be dealt with, the winter will be over soon, and those zealots have about as much influence over my judgement as a dead frog. No, we have a far bigger problem. Tell me, what have your spies told you about the Kimek Khans recently?”

Eldeçyuk was, aside from one of the most loyal and competent advisors of Bönek, was also well-renowned among the clan for one reason in particular: every now and again, a rider would thunder into camp, sweep off his horse and enter Eldeçyuk’s tent. After about three minutes, during which time hurried whispers could be heard, the man would jump back on his horse and ride off again in the direction he had come from. Bönek found those hurried whispers of his friend to be some of the most useful tools in his arsenal.

“They have told me nothing,” growled Eldeçyuk. “No reports have come back, and only the scantest local rumours from some herdsmen I know near the edges of our pastures. Apparently some kind of coup has happened.”

Bönek grinned widely. “Hah! For once, I have the knowledge, young one, and you languish in ignorance. For yesterday, I received a letter from the new Khan."

At this, Eldeçyuk's sun-kissed contentment was replaced with sudden interest as his Khan handed him a letter. Sitting up, he began to read.

Like most letters on the Steppes and among the Kirghiz, it was written in the Orkhon script; what was more interesting was that the man who had written it had taken the effort to translate it into Kirghiz from his own tongue. Eldeçyuk was better-read than most of the Kirghiz (which admittedly wasn’t saying much) and it did not take him long to understand.

“Cumans. And Kipchaks. Well, that certainly makes a change, I suppose”, he said with a smile. But Bönek was not smiling; he kept on frowning at the page before him. It did not seem to satisfy him at all.

“This is bad, old friend. The Kimeks were people we could make peace with. These Cumans… this coup is not something to ignore. They have a large and powerful host, if my outriders are correct, and they’re getting close to the borders. I do not want my pasture taken from me.”

Silently cursing the inefficiency of his spies, Eldeçyuk asked “So, what is your plan? Muster the clans? Prepare for war?”

Bönek shook his head, sadly. “I had a dream last night.”

Eldeçyuk rolled his eyes. “I didn’t think you went in for that sort of stuff.”

“I don’t, usually. But, I don’t know… this was different…

There was a tree. A great, powerful tree, with a thick trunk. It was standing in the middle of a great Steppe- this patch of land here, in fact. And the seasons changed around it, but still, unchanging, it stood there, never moving.

Then all at once a storm began. The lightening struck the tree, yet the tree did not die. It grew, and grew, and grew. I was thrown into the sky by its branches, and saw all the world and all its splendour. I saw the grassy Steppes, and the lands beyond; the cold trees to the north, the sand-cities to the south, the Chinese to the east, and strange folk in the west, men of wooden houses and walled cities. I saw us, on the periphery of it all. Great wars and events moved all around us, endless cycles of good and evil, morality and immorality, while we were on the edge, warring and drinking aongst ourselves.”

Eldeçyuk, in spite of himself, was fascinated. “And what else?” he asked to the faraway look on Bönek’s face.

“I saw battles between fire-worshippers and the Muslims in high mountains. I saw a man, a king of some sort, bitter and dying within vast walls of stone. I saw steam and sails and great devices I cannot conceive of. I saw empires clash in war upon war, and I saw the world burning under a black-and-red flag. I saw a holy city, wreathed in flame and weeping widows. I saw catacombs of ancient men defiled in cold and windswept shores, as Christians with hatred in their eyes burnt down wooden temples. I saw scrolls scattered to the wind, and the last city falling to a grand army. I saw a river-kingdom plundered by warriors dressed in black. I saw an army of death sweeping from the jaws of rats, and at the last, a gleam of paradise upon the western shores.

And above all else, I saw our periphery become the centre. I saw the world change. I saw that tree spread across the Steppes, across the sand, across seas and continents. I saw the name of Kirghiz carving fear into the hearts of all men. I saw orphans made and kingdoms crumble, and cities fall beneath the sword.

And a voice spoke to me then, saying one thing over and over: 'Submit, and this will be yours, for the sign has already been handed to you'.”

Bönek shook his head, mustering himself out of his reverie. Eldeçyuk was looking at him in wonder, but Bönek just stared across the steppes. Mountains lay around them, grand and tall. The land between, where they sat and where their camp was being folded up, was flat grass, the snow melting in the orange sun. It was a beautiful place. It deserved to breed rulers of men.

“So what will you do?” came Eldeçyuk’s voice. Bönek sighed, and turned to his friend with another smile. Always, he carried a smile behind his expression; they were useful things to be unfurled.

“I shall go to this Cuman, and submit. He can call himself our Khan. He shall have his share of the plunder that the Khan deserves. I shall sit at his councils. I shall drink with him, and send men to him to fight alongside him. And all the while, I shall watch, and wait, and grow in strength. And the day will come where the Kirghiz shall rule all his land, and when my clan shall rule all the world, as we rightfully should. The east is closed to us. Let the west be our new pasture.”

The sound of hooves could be heard, in the distance, across the plain. The riders were coming back from the hunt. Bönek and Eldeçyuk stood, and walked back in silence, thinking and scheming in the land of snow and grass.



-----

All those prophecies shall come to pass, in one form or another...

I can't wait! This sounds amazing, I wonder what religion you'll end up with.
Thanks! I'm hoping for (and will be trying to get) either Zoroastrianism or Hinduism, though I may reform Tengrism or go Nestorian too.
 

tnick0225

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Stuyvesant

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That's some sweeping vision (and yes, well-written). You don't go in for the small, contained story, now do you? :p

Still, the writing's top-notch as usual and I look forward to finding out where you'll take this ambitious tale. :)
 

Specialist290

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I have a certain fondness for those little out-of-the-way states on the relative periphery of the map. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on this one :)

I'm a tad concerned that Bonek seems to be accepting the message of this dream with altogether too little scrutiny or suspicion; while it may indeed be a message from the gods themselves, it seems that in the stories I've read, prophecies have a tendency to be fulfilled in ways that often bring ruin on those most eager to bring them about (though also at the same time on those who least want them to come to pass as well; Fate truly is fickle).
 

ekorovin

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Now that's something I didn't even hope to see! I subscribe and salute you with a glass of kumys.
 

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Great aar so far. I for myself am really attached to the steppe and it's history during middle ages, so this aar is really interesting for me. You have a great skill describing the life of steppe nomads, their relationships and all. So far so good. I'm following.
 

unmerged(780564)

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I must say I was really intrigued by your first chapter and even though I don´t know in which direction this will evolve as for now, I am expecting this to turn into a great AAR. I love your writing and the way you were able to explain me the way of nomads (because I know so little about them, that I even could say that I know nothing :rofl: ). Anyway I congratulate wish to congratulate you, dear Tufto, with a nomination to the "WritAAR of the Week" award. I hope it will bring you some new readers and comments and ESPECIALLY that this will keep you motivated not to give up on this interesting AAR.

Well I got only one more thing left to say: ENJOY YOUR MOMENT IN THE SPOTLIGHT :rofl:
 

Tufto

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Chapter Two: Fear and Joy


Later depiction of Khan Sokal of the Cuman-Kipchak Khaganate

The steppe grass was always the same to Eldeçyuk. He had ridden across thousands of miles in his life, and he never felt that one place was truly different to the next. It was just flat grassland stretching on, surrounded by mountains, taiga and the desert sun.

The Kirghiz and the Cumans watched one another across that grass, as Eldeçyuk licked his lips nervously. The new Khan had accepted the Kirghiz’ offer (how could he not?), and so the two had met, thirty miles to the west of the Kirghiz pasture. But Eldeçyuk still saw no difference between two sets of grass. Not like the other chiefs and notables, all sitting on their horses with dark blank faces, hating this foreign land.

Everyone wanted something. It could be women, drink, power, justice, good herds, anything; they would kill to get it. Everyone was selfish like that. Even the good men had a streak of darkness in their blood, an oozing desire to see the world as they wanted it. Among the other peoples of the world, there were rumours of men who killed for faith and reason, or the disruption of some maddening ritual. He would never understand that.

For Eldeçyuk had never had the energy for such nonsense. He just wanted the world to still be there when he woke up the next day, for the sun to shine, the dew to smell sweet, the women to be pretty and his family to still be alive. He smiled a little smile to himself, which faded as the Cuman began to approach.

Khan Bönek shifted uncomfortably on his horse. A twitch of Eldeçyuk’s eyes saw his downcast expression, and the young nomad knew his Khan was suffering. With a sigh, Eldeçyuk nodded to the man on his left, and together with the Khan, the three of them rode forward.

The man on his left, Könçek, had sad old eyes, despite having seen less than forty winters. He was a fervent supporter of the shamans in a way Eldeçyuk found exasperating; moreover, he always wanted to follow whatever the omens told him to do; but nevertheless, he had a good soul. Könçek was a far more important man than he was, and stood strapping and tall upon his horse. He was such a bluff, genial man that enemy diplomats and ambassadors often melted at the charming words of the strapping fellow. For there was not a dishonest bone in his body, and he had no head for the intrigues of the world. Everyone liked him.

Eldeçyuk dug his heels in to match his Khan’s speed. Bönek seemed to be powering forward with a kind of determined grimace on his face. Eldeçyuk could almost feel his pain.

The riders halted, before the Cuman Khan. One of Eldeçyuk’s spies had at last pulled through, and he now knew much: this Khan was known as Sokal, and his clan the Andjogli.


Already, Sokal had built a name for himself, and was beginning to be feared upon the Steppes.

The Cuman was a tall man, broad-shouldered and with an intelligent, guarded face. A tricky one, thought Eldeçyuk, frowning. The horse he rode upon was a monstrous beast, snorting and shaking, but the Cuman seemed unfazed by it.

Bönek seemed to be about to speak, but stopped. The Cuman’s face was not one which wanted words. It was hard and cold, cruel eyes fixed upon the Kirghiz’ face. Bönek closed his mouth, and with a dark look, removed his hat and threw his belt across his shoulder, the traditional gesture of submission. Eldeçyuk and Könçek did the same. All three bowed their heads, as Bönek spoke the typical words of homage.

There was a pause, a dread silence, for several heart-wrenching moments. Then the Cuman’s expression brightened; he smiled, and laughed. “Well met, Bönek of the Kirghiz! Come! Bring your riders, for we have prepared a great feast for you all!”

The three Kirghiz looked at one another, startled. They had not expected such friendliness, or hospitality. Könçek shook himself, and smiled broadly, exchanging happy words with the Khan as they rode off. Eldeçyuk rode back to signal the rest of their entourage to follow, while Bönek reluctantly followed his new Khan.

He was not happy; but who would be? He was a steppe nomad, warrior, hunter. It was not in his nature to submit. His nökers (companions) and the heads of other clans had been, thankfully, supportive, especially after Eldeçyuk had pointed out the virtues of the plan in his typically blunt and cynical style.

He kept his distance from the Khan as Könçek buttered him up with talk of hunting and archery, which the Khan enthusiastically responded to. Bönek sighed, closing his eyes for a moment to block out the humiliation of his action. There was food and drink awaiting him. He could worry about the future later on.

For he was worried about the future. Very, very worried. The things, the images he had seen… he was not sure if they were portents of prosperity or ruin…


The procession of the Kirghiz Khan, now a mere chief of the easternmost tribe of the Cumans...

-----

It was after dusk, but still the feast went on. Bönek could never quite forget politics, but the qumis had dulled his senses enough that he could relax- if only for a time. There was laughter all around, pretty women, old friends and the new! He had wrestled with his new Khan, who was being very kind, kind and open. It was odd, that…

Anyway. he’d won the wrestling, just, and everyone had cheered, and the Khan had grinned, and all was good again. And now the shaman had brought out his Kyl kyyak, the stringed instrument of the Kirghiz, adorned with the horse-head carving at the top.

And the world began to swim in colours, colours, of brown and grey. The stars shone and spun. He remembered…

He saw the river kingdom again, and the men in black. He awoke with a start; the feast was still going. He distracted himself; a pretty maiden was thrust at him, and with her he danced and spun. Her eyes were like fire and he was intoxicated by them. He drank the liquid of them up, and she smiled, and all he wanted was that smile again.

The stars shone. There was a shaman, and some cheering, a kiss, and starlit joy beneath the night. And the Khan was happy.

-----

He never saw the horror on Eldeçyuk’s face, when the nöker returned from a brief walk, and realised just what his chief had done…



The folly of drunkenness...
 
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Tufto

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I must say I was really intrigued by your first chapter and even though I don´t know in which direction this will evolve as for now, I am expecting this to turn into a great AAR. I love your writing and the way you were able to explain me the way of nomads (because I know so little about them, that I even could say that I know nothing :rofl: ). Anyway I congratulate wish to congratulate you, dear Tufto, with a nomination to the "WritAAR of the Week" award. I hope it will bring you some new readers and comments and ESPECIALLY that this will keep you motivated not to give up on this interesting AAR.

Well I got only one more thing left to say: ENJOY YOUR MOMENT IN THE SPOTLIGHT :rofl:
Again, thanks a lot :) a great and wholly unexpected honour :p.

Great aar so far. I for myself am really attached to the steppe and it's history during middle ages, so this aar is really interesting for me. You have a great skill describing the life of steppe nomads, their relationships and all. So far so good. I'm following.
Thanks! :).

Now that's something I didn't even hope to see! I subscribe and salute you with a glass of kumys.
*Drinks deep from kumys and offers pitcher to ekorovin*.

I have a certain fondness for those little out-of-the-way states on the relative periphery of the map. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on this one :)

I'm a tad concerned that Bonek seems to be accepting the message of this dream with altogether too little scrutiny or suspicion; while it may indeed be a message from the gods themselves, it seems that in the stories I've read, prophecies have a tendency to be fulfilled in ways that often bring ruin on those most eager to bring them about (though also at the same time on those who least want them to come to pass as well; Fate truly is fickle).
Thanks :) and he is rather too enamoured with the idea of greatness (a side effect of the Envious trait :p). They will all come to pass, but he is still somewhat blind as to how. Greatness comes at a price...

That's some sweeping vision (and yes, well-written). You don't go in for the small, contained story, now do you? :p

Still, the writing's top-notch as usual and I look forward to finding out where you'll take this ambitious tale. :)
I can't help it; I keep coming up with grandiose plans :p can't stop myself.

Anyway, thanks; hope you stick around for this one :).

I am enjoying this quite a bit already. Loved the prophecy bit...and very well written!
Thanks! :).
 
Last edited:

Stuyvesant

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I must admit to skimming the last few lines at first, to get to the finale, so my reading was roughly: "...world began to swim in colours..." - "...the horror on Eldeçyuk’s face ... realised just what his chief had done…"

Based on that, I gathered that Bönek had taken some magic mushrooms and fed them to his new Khan as well. Compared to that, marrying a commoner after a drunken rut seems positively pedestrian. :p

So, through no fault of your own, the dramatic payoff was a little lessened. :)

To recap: Bönek is now a vassal of Khan Sokal, the submission was mentally painful but now everyone is bestest of buddies. Or are they? It all seems a little too smooth, a little too easy. I expect there to be a nasty little tail somewhere. Perhaps Khan Sokal was secretly fancying Ipekel, or she is his daughter in disguise?
 

Specialist290

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As far as surprises from a night of heavy drinking go, I can think of worse things to wake up to in the morning than a wife, even if she is a commoner.

That said, I do have to wonder if Khan Sokal somehow knew this was going to happen and set it up to keep Bonek's eyes away from certain other women of his court...
 

DumBMan

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Another great chapter. Now that the Khan has married, even in drunkenness, he can make a 'hole bunch of sons and daughters and expand the clan. :p
Anyway, looking forward for more.
 

Jokolytic

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Are you playing on Ironman? Any mods?