“Why are we doing this, Jin?” Bo asked imploringly, as they stood in front of the assembled ragtag army, twelve thousand strong. “Or at least, tell me if we will survive.”
After a brief calculation, Jin replied, “Jamukha has at least 20,000 men, but I reckon we could win.”
Clapping the doubtful Bo about the shoulders, Jelme let out a mirthful laugh, “Jin here is the one mentioned in prophecy, the descendent of the Grey Wolf, come to us dressed in a goatskin cloak and mounted on a barren mare.”
“That’s just Jin being cheap,” grunted Bo.
“Have faith, comrade. He is destined for great things.”
Jin waved his palm in dismissal of great things he might be destined for, “Actually, he’s right Jelme. I was just being cheap. The old mare is both cheaper and better for working on while riding at a relaxed pace. Not to mention that I am an accountant not a veterinarian, how was I supposed to know that the mare was barren?”
“Did you hear that Jelme?” Bo smirked. “He’s an accountant, not a warlord. It was all just a coincidence.”
“That might be true but I believe in the prophecy. Does the wheel know what is pulling it along? Anyway, I am a soldier and it is my destiny to die on the battlefield.” Jelme shot Bo a sly smile. “If we are victorious today, the reward will be much greater than if we were on the other side, right Jin?”
“Yes, there will be no looting during the battle. Afterwards will we divide the spoils amongst all of us,” Jin answered.
Bo sighed. “So tell me now, why are we doing this?”
Clean shaven and neatly dressed, Jin entered the ger, a notorious drinking hole favored by the criminally inclined. The establishment was more accustomed to receiving the patronage of bandits, cutthroats, lawyers and the like. A meek accountant stuck out like a sore thumb amongst severed limbs.
Wary of his surroundings, Jin kept his eyes on the floor, or on the furniture, making sure to avoid catching the eyes of patrons in the ger, while he surreptitiously searched for his 6 o’clock appointment.
He made a quick stop at the bar for some napkins and a glass of kumis. Before he could walk away, a heavy hand rested on his shoulder, it’s weight clearly indicating that he should stay put. He turned to see the brawny figure to which the thick hands were attached to, topped by a face held together by scar tissue, stubble, and a scowling expression. With a slow tilt of the meaty head, beady eyes examined him like a rare specimen of some sort. Jin remained erect, unmoving.
“What brings you here stranger?” Voice, gruff as if even his throat were as scarred and stubbled as his face.
Before the accountant could issue a reply, the man rasped along. “Looking to hire mercenaries?”
After brief deliberation, Jin cleared his throat to reply. “No, I am not looking to hire anybody. In fact, I am here on assignment myself.”
The man expressed his amusement with a scratch to his oversized skull. “You, a mercenary? Aren’t you a bit scrawny for the battlefield? Let me guess, you’re a cavalry archer or horse thief, right?”
“Unfortunately, no. Not the warring sort, I assure you. I am here to meet a client for an accounting job.”
“Accounting? What is that?”
“Oh silly me, I tend to forget that I am the only accountant in Mongolia… How shall I put this?” Jin stroked his unimpressive beard as he gathered his thoughts. “I keep record of things; horses, cattle, gold and other resources for people who pay for my service, in order to advise them in making decisions on how to use their resources.”
“That does not sound necessary,” the man pronounced.
“Well, it might not be for those who do not have much, but for warlords and kings, or anyone with a lot of things, accounting helps them control their wealth.”
“Hmm. So what should I call you, stranger? Thelonious accountant?”
“Pardon my manners, you can call me Jin. It’s short for Temujin,” he proffered his hand to his new acquaintance.
“Well met. My name is Bo’orchu. Friends call me Bo,” answered Bo as he clasped Jin’s hand.
“So tell me Bo, what sort of money do you make as a mercenary?” Jin enquired. “Mercenaries are not paid very well. We wait for a battle to get paid, and we get to
keep any loot acquired on the battlefield,” he shrugged. “Usually midbattle, and it happens quickly to avoid blows from the enemy.”
“Hmm… that is not very efficient, is it not, looting midbattle. Why not wait till it is over?”
“The good stuff is long gone by the end.”
Jin stopped himself from asking more questions when the realisation hit that he should be looking for his six o’clock appointment. He excused himself, assuring Bo that he would return to their conversation. Looking around, he noticed a lady occupying a table at the back.
With hurried steps the accountant approached the lady dressed in a blue caftan robe and took a seat. “Pardon me,” said Jin apologetically, “You must be Borte?”
The lady slowly looked up from her cup and stared appraisingly at the new arrival. “Yes and that would make you Temujin, I assume you had some trouble finding the place?”
“Sorry for the delay, I am not used to these parts, but please call me Jin.”
“No worries, I just arrived here myself. However, I do not want to stay here any longer than necessary.”
“What’s wrong with this place?”
Borte’s gaze darted quickly around the room. “It is quite obvious, it is not the place for someone like me. Nor you for that matter, your neat bookkeeper’s look sticks out like a camel grazing amongst sheep in this place. The clientele here looks like a prison population.”
After a quick survey of his surroundings Jin asked, “What made you choose this place then?”
Before Borte could reply, one of the other patrons swaggered up to the table and interrupted their conversation with a question of his own.
“Hello there beautiful. Sorry to interrupt but I can’t help but notice that you are with the wrong guy,” the stranger turned his head to Jin and shook his head. “Surely a strongly built man would better serve to please you?”
The intruder cut an imposing figure with his broad muscular build and demonic eyes. Despite the interruption, Borte remained composed in her seat, paying him no heed and Jin followed her lead. Incensed by the lack of attention, the man slammed his palms in front of Jin and shouted, “I will take your woman, fight me if you want to keep her,” shouted the intruder.
Meeting his gaze, Jin looked at the intruder and said, “Perhaps you are in need of an eye doctor?”
The man blinked.
Jin sighed, “I want you to look at her,” he said as he pointed towards Borte. “Note the shade of her caftan robe, see its brilliant hue? That blue is not cheap. Notice the quality of the craft. Take note of the silver embroidery and intricate patterns.”
The man made a puzzled sound.
Snapping his fingers, Jin drew the man’s attention to himself. “Now, look at me. I am sure you will notice that I am neatly dressed, but if you look closer,” he said whilst beckoning the man closer with his fingers. “You might notice that this is nothing more than a cheap goatskin cloak.”
The man sniffed, unsure if he was being insulted or being given information he could use in some way.
“In other words, I am not with him,” Borte clarified. “This is purely business, I came here for nothing else. Now leave us.”
Belligerent, the man stood in front of the two, now trembling with rage. He had a beautiful wife and kids waiting for him at home, and though Borte looked exquisite, he hadn’t actually thought he would have a chance with her. Tonight, he was simply looking for a fight. A fight that he could win, and the neatly dressed man sitting before him looked like an easy win.
He reached for the battle axe slung over his back.
Seeing Bo by the bar, Jelme made his way through the surly drinking crowd. “Bo!” he greeted. “Did you notice the mare outside?”
Seeing his friend in high spirits as usual, Bo acknowledged him with his customary grunt.
“Outside, there is a barren mare. Do you know to whom it belongs?” Jelme asked with excitement.
“Jelme, do you know where they serve the fermented mare milk that I put away by the gallon?”
Puzzled, Jelme pointed to the bar.
“Good, you still have your sense. Now you know that I have been inside. By the bar.
Drinking kumis,” said Bo, downing the rest of his drink in one gulp and signalled to the barkeep for another. “How the hell should I know?”
“My friend, you should pay attention. Don’t you remember the prophecies, the Grey Wolf’s descendent will one day unite the steppes and he will arrive on a barren mare, wearing a goatskin cloak. I always wondered if the mare would be wearing the goatskin cloak, but having seen the barren mare unclothed by goat outside, I now assume the man will be wearing it.”
Bo shook his head, “You’re too old for fairy tales. People of the steppes are nomads and of chaotic nature. The wheels of fate turn fast in these lands, one minute a warlord, dead the next. Tell me Jelme, how will the steppes be united?”
“Sheesh Bo, you’re pessimistic as usual, but in your own words, how the hell should I know?” he shrugged. “I’m not the goatskin cloak wearing leader of the prophecies.”
For a brief moment Bo remained silent, grasping his chin in a thoughtful manner. “Oh, did you say a goatskin cloak?”
“Yes, I mentioned it twice in the past few sentences I spoke to you, pay attention Bo!”.
“Well then,” Bo intoned slowly. “I have seen the one that will unite the steppes.” “Stop messing around, Bo. This is an important moment, where is he?”
Bo turned to where Jin sat with Borte and drained his drink once more. “The buildup is a crucial phase of any story.”
“Just tell me already!”
“I would tell you, but I find myself rather parched. My throat could use some lubrication.” Bo waved his empty mug in the air before Jelme.
Jelme rolled his eyes and signalled the barkeep for another on behalf of his friend and placed some coins on the bar.
“There,” said Bo, pointing towards Jin. Immediately, Jelme made his way over to man dressed in the goatskin cloak.
“But he’s just an accountant,” shouted Bo to his friend. “Whatever that is.”
Despite the calm demeanour Jin displayed, the sight of the axe hovering over his head gave way to terror. “Goodbye, cruel world, I’m leaving you today, goodbye,” he sang under his breath, while waiting for the blade to make contact. Life did not flash before his eyes, as one is led to believe, He waited with his eyes squeezed shut, he had always rather looked forward to seeing his life replayed.
There was a thunderous crack and crashing sound. Jin mentally took stock of his limbs, no impact, no pain. Perhaps his head had been cleanly severed from his body and his brain hadn’t quite caught on yet.
“You can open your eyes now,” said Borte.
Jin’s eyelids lifted to the sight of Jelme, who extended a hand towards him. He stared at it, unsure of what action to take.
“This man just saved your life.” Borte explained.
He grabbed the hand extended and profusely worked it up and down in gratitude, speechless at this turn of events.
“Don’t mention it,” said Jelme. “Chosen one, I’m sure you would like a drink, let me procure us some.”
Borte cleared her throat.
“Oh, pardon my intrusion. I will leave you two to your romantic episode.” Jelme said, as he leaned towards Jin. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Nice woman you got there. I would expect nothing less from the descendant of the Grey Wolf.” He turned towards the lady and bowed his head to excuse himself.
“Hold on,” said Borte, as Jin began to make embarassed sounds in an attempt to explain the actual nature of their relationship. She silenced him with a gesture.
“Would you be interested in joining my horde?” she asked Jelme. Without hesitation, Jelme replied, “Sure thing.”
“Well then, I’ll be in touch.”
“But before you go, will you tell us your name?” Jin asked.
“Oh yes of course, where are my manners? I am Jelme, a friend of Bo,” he explained, gesturing towards where Bo was, deep in his drink.
“Well met, call me Jin. I’ll have that drink with you soon.” “Sure thing, Grey Wolf Pup.”
Borte sighed in relief. “Finally, we can get to the matter at hand.”
In the distance, Jelme saw Jin riding at the stately pace of his barren mare. He whistles and gestures to Jin to approach him.
Jelme waits as the mare leisurely trots closer and signals for Jin to stop. “Jelme, what can I do for you?” asked Jin, displaying no intention to dismount.
The mercenary enthusiastically greeted his friend, in high spirits as always. “Nothing in particular. I just want to know, when do we go into battle?”
“Must I repeat this every time we meet? I am an accountant in this horde, not a mercenary or a warlord.” Jin said, emphatically. “I am exempt from battles.”
“What a pity,” said Jelme as he shook his head.
“What are you doing here anyway, don’t you have to work to do?” Jin asked.
“I’d rather not, there’s nothing that the captain could teach me anyway.”
“Well, I have to leave you. I am off to see the warlord,” said Jin as he worked his mare back into a trot.
Jin dismounted once he reached the most opulentlooking ger, the living quarters and command centre for his employer, Jamukha.
As Jin entered the ger, Jamukha looked up from where he was poring over maps, helped by two attendants.
Jamukha was a highly regarded warlord. In his youth, he had emerged victorious in battles against the smaller factions of the Northern steppes. The middle aged warlord had made great strides in a quest to unite Mongolia. Except for a few belligerent tribes, he had all but taken full control over the Northern steppes.
The warlord turned his gaze back to his maps.
“Ah, if it isn’t Jin, the accordion,” grunted the warlord. “How is my horde doing?” Jin gave his employer a small deferential bow, unheeded, and replied, “The horde is growing at a sustainable rate, there is a slight surplus in food production and adequate equipment for the soldiers.”
Jamukha gave an appreciative nod his eyes still on the maps, “Everything is well?” “Well, there might be more desertion soon, a dozen or so of the mercenaries have
gone missing in the last week.”
Jamukha looked up. “That is not good.” Jin nodded.
Jamukha frowned and turned back to his maps. “Well, fortunately, I will soon attack the Merkits to the east soon. That will quell any more desertion, these soldiers of fortune would not pass up a chance like this.”
The Merkits were the largest tribe on the eastern border of Jamukha’s realm. Jin’s face shifted subtly.
“The Merkits!” exclaimed the accountant with a tone of suppressed alarm.
“Yes,” nodded Jamukha. “I think it is time for us to expand eastward. We might have tough battle ahead, but the horde is now at 25,000 strong, is it not my accordion?
Jin made some quick calculations with his fingers and nodded his confirmation.
“It is settled then, we will take on the Merkits on the next moon,” Jamukha declared. “There might be losses for us, but the next moon will bring us luck in battle. The mystics have assured me of this.”
The news made Jin uneasy. The Merkits were best not underestimated. Given their strength, the worst possible outcome would see Jamukha fail due to a lack of resources. But Jin kept his doubts to himself. Jamukha wasn’t very receptive to having his decisions questioned.
“We have no more to discuss. You may leave.” Jamukha said, looking up once more from his maps and nodding towards the entrance of the ger.
Jin hesitated, then cleared his throat to speak. “Actually, there’s is the small matter of my wages,” Jin said. “I have yet to receive any, since I began work for you.”
Jamukha flashed the accountant, his most charming smile, “Are you not a mercenary? You’ll will have to wait for battle next month with all the others to get rewarded.”
“B But… I am not a mercenary, I am an accountant,” pleaded Jin.
The warlord shot him a puzzled look, “I thought you said you were an accordion.
Regardless, I hired you only to please my wife, Borte.”
“I still need to be paid like the other noncombattants.”
“You’re only here because, Borte wanted to contribute to my war efforts,” growled Jamukha, suddenly filled with rage. “It was an act of charity towards my wife. Do you think I need someone to tell me how is my horde doing? I managed to gain control over the Northern Steppes without the aid of accountant.”
Jin remained silent.
“You can’t win wars with bookkeepers. What I need are warriors.” Jamukha said menacingly. “No, you will not be payed. I cannot encourage such a profession to my people. My people will aspire to fight for me, their Khan. Not to keep note of petty bits of information and tell me what I already know.”
Jin trembled at these words.
“I have no use for you. I will appease Borte’s need to help me in other ways,” said Jamukha.
Jin stood in front of his former employer with a blank stare on his face. “Go, now,” growled the warlord.
An open bottle of kumis, or fermented mare’s milk sat on the bar. Bo noticed the empty space around it, except for one disheveled Jin slumped in his seat, his fingers around the neck of the bottle.
“Looks like I won’t be drinking alone today.”
He approached the bar at a distance to get his drink from the bartender before walking over to his friend.
“Hey there, accountant,” Bo grunted.
Jin remained silent, giving no indication that he acknowledged Bo’s presence. The mercenary tapped Jin’s shoulder, “Why the long face?”
It seemed an age before the accountant lifted his head. “Oh, it’s you. Let’s drink.” “That is a given for me, but why are you drinking?” Bo was puzzled at his friends
uncharacteristic slovenly appearance and obvious indulgence in kumis. “Did your mare kick the bucket?”
“Well,” Jin burped, lifting the bottle with two hands and emptying its contents into his mouth. “I just got fired today, for expecting my wages.”
“Well that is bummer,” said Bo. “Maybe you will find something else.”
“I don’t think that is in the cards,” Jin replied glumly. “I am the only accountant in the land! But there is not much demand for my services. Jamukha is the only one wealthy enough to need an accordion, I mean accountant. Almost everyone else lives, hand to mouth.”
Jin paused thoughtfully and raised his hand to his mouth to demonstrate.
Bo’orchu shrugged and laid a sympathetic hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Actually,” he said, “I might require your services.”
Jin perked up.
“Not now, but maybe a year down the line.”
Jin furrowed his brow with significant effort. “What do you mean?” “I haven’t mentioned it before, but I am venturing into commerce.”
The accountant made a noise that was part hiccup, part question mark.
“It’s a kumis making venture, I’ve been doing it in my spare time for the last couple of years. It does turn a steady income but not significant enough for me to quit my job.”
Jin shot him a look of pleasant amusement, “Tell me more about this business of yours.”
“It’s a small, oneperson operation, I’ve got fifteen mares and a production capacity of three barrels a week. It’s very small now.”
A slow grin spread across Jin’s face as he said, “That is great.” “Thanks, but it’s still early, I don’t think I could use your services yet.”
“Of course, too small.” Jin’s head bobbled in agreement, the smile still wide on his face. “If only there was some infrastructure for you to obtain the required resources to expand your operations and achieve economy of scale for your business.”
“Sure, infrastructure, that would be great.” Bo raised his mug uncertainly to his mouth, then paused and sniffed carefully at first his drink, then Jin’s empty bottle.
“Yes, but how would this infrastructure gain those resources in the first place?” Jin asked.
Bo made no attempt to answer.
“It could be sourced by their own business dealings or collected from subscribers in exchange for security and incremental gain. Which would be paid out by taking the risk involved in giving out loans.”
“That sounds like I’ll have to pay more than the original sum.” said Bo. “Not sure that is something I want.”
“Yes, but the benefits from the improved production on your operations would be more than sufficient to pay off the additional cost,” assured Jin.
The kumis producer took a moment to digest the idea and understood that it all meant making more money. He put his drink down thoughtfully. “What about regulation, how will those in this system secure their contribution, if any of it fails?”
“Good question,” Jin hiccupped, ending his words in a squeak. “Maybe an enforcing body could step in, to govern the system.”
“A governing body, eh?” Bo looked doubtful. “You’re talking about a warlord?” “Perfect. The authority could be derived by martial prowess. It seems like that is the
only authority available, a just governing body made of brute force.”
“Looting and raiding?” Bo shook his head. “That would have to be one rich warlord, because you can’t pillage nearly enough to keep such a thing running for long.”
“That is well, so how will such a body be funded? The current practice of raiding is not sustainable,” murmured Jin. “For a warlord looking to loot and beat others into submission, this method is adequate, but to exert power and influence across a massive area is next to impossible. The cost of upkeep alone is a nightmare.”
The accountant pondered the mechanism involved for a moment. “It could also engage in other public service, providing security and infrastructure. In place of mob justice.”
“This governing body of yours is sounding more and more expensive.”
Jin smiled, “The cost could surely be managed, if those living within such a system pay taxes.”
“Tax.” Bo shrugged. “What is that?”
“It will be the cost levied to everyone living in such a system, a cost based on the overall wealth of an individual with progressive brackets across different bands of society.”
“Sounds complicated. I’d like to see you try to tax a mercenary. Would be like trying to race that barren mare of yours.”
Jin waved his arm dismissively. “Paying taxes is not complicated if they are paid with set wages instead of loot.” He paused. “And if anyone needs help with their tax assessments that would be no problem, as they could engage the help of accountants.”
Bo rumbled with laughter. “That’s very clever. You wouldn’t be the loneliest accountant anymore.”
Jin’s face was like a bright, sunny day.
“So, what will you do Temujin?” Bo asked, lifting his mug once more.
“After giving it some thought, I think I’ll take Jelme’s advice after all.” Jin said standing up with only a little bit of help from the sturdy bar. “I think it is time for me embrace my destiny and unite the steppes.”
The landscape is ravaged from battle. The trampled ground is littered with the dead, despatched in various manners, arrow to eye, decapitation, gaping head wound and other, miscellaneous causes of death.
“Hey you!” Jin raised his voice above the din, directed at one of his soldiers. “Find me Bo and Jelme, quick!” The soldier grunted affirmatively to the tasked given and ran towards other comrades a dozen yards away.
Sitting atop a dead horse, Jelme tossed a pebble towards the newly minted warlord, while Bo studied his friend from a few feet away where he leaned against a partially destroyed wagon. Jin walked up to stand before them.
“Look at him, all victorious in battle. Didn’t I tell you he’d unite Mongolia someday?” smirked Jelme.
Bo nodded, “Yes, who would have thought a timid accountant would make an excellent warlord.”
His cheeks reddened, Jin shifted shifted his gaze towards the ground. “It was a team effort. Anyway, where is the kumis, Bo? We’ve definitely earned our drink today.”
Without a word Bo handed him the waterskin filled with the fermented drink.
Jelme stood and clapped his palms against Jin’s back. “Take a good look, Jin. This is your first step towards greatness. Someday you will be the ruler of the universe, Genghis Khan.”
Bo laughed heartily, “You’re mistaken, Jelme. Our friend here would rather be remembered as the Accountant Khan.”
By Amir Imran bin Husain Safri from Malaysia