One Strong Leader

by Paul Curley © 2003

Qui looked on in disquiet as the horsemen wheeled once more and bore down on the defenders of Xian. He had seen many wars in his four centuries of life as he struggled to bring his land together.

He had ridden as a soldier for the Nan Han armies in the period of the ten kingdoms and five dynasties. When yet another bloodthirsty warlord came to power in that state, he brought his prowess north to help Shi Jintang as a councilor in his efforts to keep his Later Jin dynasty together. Qui had really felt that this one time frontier commander was the person to end the bloodshed that had drained the country since the Tang had failed. But Qui's southern dialect and mannerisms brought scorn upon his head from the other generals and scholars, to such an extent that they all advised the cession of provinces to the Liao outlanders, just because he advised Shi otherwise.

When Shi had given away these holdings without a fight, Qui once again took to the road. He traveled round the warring empire, studying religions, histories and new fighting styles. He learned many secret ways and more of the visions that told him since childhood to make his country whole. After ten years of wandering he was not surprised to hear another ruling dynasty had claimed the north, and three years later had let it slip through their fingers.

He should have been middle aged by the time the Song came to power, but something was keeping him from aging as normal, and he actually rode against the Liao when he passed his eighty second sui. He had taken it as a personal failure that they had claimed enough territory to become powerful. He outlived them, and the Xia, and the Jing dynasties, always blaming himself when another threat caused the country to bleed, another horde swept through the lands, another warlord claimed a piece of the empire as his own.

Finally despairing of the leaders fate inflicted on the Middle Kingdom, he left its borders, searching for someone who could bring the country together. He met a determined young barbarian, and saw something special. Temujin was a great horseman, adept with the traditional weapons of the steppes and burned with a vengeance that was frightening to see. A rival people had poisoned his father, and he had joined enough of the surrounding clans together to feel sure of crushing the poisoners. This he did in a style that impressed Qui, who was by now almost two hundred sui old. With care he steered the impulsive warlord to greater and greater power, until the entire nation called him the Great Ruler.

Qui helped him write the Great Yasa, a set of laws the defined the rule over what was becoming a large empire. Hidden in this were many old invocations and spells that bound Temujins rule to Qui's plans. Over the course of the next twenty years, Temujin consolidated his rule, brought more tribes and nations under his administration. At first Qui was happy. The nomads power was definitely enough to overcome the Liao, Jin and Song. He made punitive raids on these people who threatened the unity of Qui's homeland, but his gaze always seemed westward rather than south.

On the day that the last character of the Yasa was written, Temujin was thrown from his horse and died. Maybe it was just coincidence. Maybe. Qui had been grooming the Leaders grandsons Ogedei and Kublai for this moment and now steered their gaze beyond the Wall.

With lightening attacks, one by one the petty kingdoms and paper empires fell, until the whole of the most ancient of lands lay in their grasp. It was the moment Qui had waited for all his life. The land was under one ruler, although it was a foreign one. The entire continent seemed to hold its breath for the course of a year, as if unsure of what to do with this chance for peace.

Qui set about taming the barbarians. If his country could not produce a leader to unite it, at least he could instill some of its ancient civilization into its new rulers. He educated them in the kanji script, instructed them in its religions and told them of the lands glorious history. Together they built their capital at Dadu. Kublai even took it upon himself to found a dynasty, in the old style. This Yuan dynasty was to last beyond his death, and Qui finally sensed his lives work was drawing to a close.

His body was weary, and he had lived for over three hundred years. He still retained the look of a young man, as if he had not aged since the day he decided to accept his visions as his vocation in life. But his soul was tired, and he grieved inside that he had helped a foreigner conquer his people. He longed to die, but the peace did not last for long, and the uprisings began anew.

Seventy more years passed, Kublai died and his dynasty began to show the same cracks Qui had seen so many times before. He became disillusioned and took it upon himself to see the latest of the rebel leaders, without knowing why he did so. Outside the city of Xian he saw Chu Yuanchang's warriors for the first time. They overthrew the city with ease, and captured Qui. Word of his presence spread to the Buddhist monk and peasant youth who led the forces, and he was ordered before the general.

Looking up, Qui expected to see the eyes of yet another greedy person, or a cruel warlord, or a coward. Instead he found himself looking into the level gaze of the person who had visited him every night for centuries. He had found his leader. He had found Zhongguo's salvation. He had found the first Ming Emperor. Just one more effort was needed to make it come true.

x x x

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