July 23, 2019 What if Genghis Khan died, just before he really got going? Thanks to a blacksmith's son called Jelme, we don't have to wonder. We might, however, wonder why Jelme's heroic rescue required so much blood and so little clothing—but thanks to a blacksmith's podcast called Something True, we don't have to wonder.
Read a full transcript of this episode on the Something True website.
Follow Something True on Twitter @atruepodcast. (Or just follow Duncan and Alex.)
Music on this week’s episode:
Jahzzar – The Last Ones*
Gablé – Gloria*
Gablé – Douch OK*
Lee Maddeford – Tom's Lullaby (with Les Gauchers Orchestra)*
David Szesztay – Bizarre Waltz*
*modified for the podcast.
Before the warlord Temujin was called Genghis Khan, he very nearly lost his life in a battle against a powerful foe. At the Onon River in Mongolia, the future Khan had joined his forces against a rival clan. But though Temujin fared well in the fight, he caught an arrow in the neck – which, in the 13th century, was often fatal.
Temujin was carried back to camp, where he passed out while the sun went down. Hours later, he sputtered back into consciousness.
"Drink," he said weakly. "I must have something to drink."
Crouched at Temujin’s side was Jelme, his second in command, and one of his closest advisers.
"A drink? Something to drink? No problem!" cried Jelme, overjoyed to see his Khan alive. "Just leave it to me."
Jelme rose to his feet and took off his clothes. "Leave it all to me."
You’re listening to Something True – stories from the footnotes of history. Written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Corbett Ashby. This week’s episode: Baatar.
Jelme was a blacksmith's son. When Jelme was just a baby, his father presented him to Temujin, and implored him to take the infant. Did he mean it like, "Take my baby boy as tribute, mighty Khan!" Or, "My bouncing baby boy will fare better under your tutelage, mighty Khan!" Or, "I'm a big, bouncing, shitty dad, mighty Khan!" We don't know. All we do know is that the young Jelme ended up in Temujin's service, and grew up to become one of his highest-ranking buddies. A smart decision on Temujin's part. For one day, Jelme—and Jelme alone—would save the life of the future Genghis Khan.
It took Temujin until his forties to unite the disparate Mongol clans under his rule. And it wasn’t easy getting there. Sensing that the ambitious and increasingly powerful Temujin was a once-in-a-lifetime threat, other Mongol leaders would try to keep him in check.
In 1201, that challenger was Jamuka, Temujin's blood brother turned nemesis. Despite their kinship, Jamuka thought he had better show Temujin who was boss before Temujin showed him who was boss. Jamuka brought his armies, shamans and allied clans to Temujin’s doorstep for a fearsome display of "boss-showing".
"Temujin," he demanded, "why don't you just submit and recognise me, Jamuka, as the supreme khan of all khans!"
Temujin really had to think about that. "Jamuka is my blood brother! We grew up together, hunted together, snuggled under the light of the mighty moon together! And backing him is the Tayichiud clan, who enslaved me and my family when I was just a small boy! I can't face them again, and I can't go against my own brother! Just kidding: I'm Genghis Khan!"
Temujin and his armies roared into the fight, chasing Jamuka's frightened troops as they retreated to a safer position at the Onon River. There, the battle was joined. The big boys were really fighting now! Arrows flew back and forth for hours, without either side gaining much of an advantage—until suddenly, Temujin was shot in the neck.
The Great Khan went down. His neck blasted blood like a garden hose in the hands of a weak child.
He needed a hero. He had Jelme.
Jelme rushed his leader back to camp. “Nobody touch him!” he barked. “Everybody, leave us!” Jelme did not know what to do, but he knew enough not to trust anyone else with Temujin’s life. Luckily for Jelme, night had fallen, and with that came a temporary truce. Both sides returned to their own camps, to rest and gather their strength for the battle to begin again in the daylight.
But that was the only bit of good news. Temujin had passed out. There was a good chance that the arrow had been poisoned. Also, it was taboo to let Mongol blood spill onto the ground, and that was happening in a big way.
If, when the sun rose, Jamuka and the Tayichiud saw the great Temujin looking this helpless, they were sure to rally and win the fight. The situation was dire. If that blood was infected, Jelme only had one option—and that was to go for it. He clamped his lips around Temujin’s neck wound and sucked and swallowed the poisoned lifeblood like it was a freshly-popped bottle of champagne. He gulped down mouthful after mouthful. And while Temujin slept, down, down went his bloody nectar into Jelme’s thirsty tummy. But Jelme’s tummy could only hold so much, and heaved the blood back up in protest. “There’s too much! I can’t hold it!” Jelme burped up Temujin’s blood all over his clothes, and also everywhere. Any enemy who came across this scene would have had to think, “Ah, so Temujin is fine after all. He looks great.”
But Jelme’s inspired plan worked. After an hour, Temujin regained consciousness, but just barely. He implored Jelme to go and get him some milk, which Jelme was more than happy to do. He whipped off all his blood-stained clothes and went on the hunt.
Unfortunately, Jelme couldn’t find any milk in camp. So he wandered, basically nude, into enemy territory, darting around in the shadows and peeking into their various tents and boxes. But where was all the milk? Try as he might, he couldn’t find it anywhere. Well, maybe Temujin would be happy with something else. What about a yoghurt? Everyone loved a yoghurt. So Jelme decided to make a yoghurt for Temujin. And while the enemy slept, Jelme settled down at their camp fire and brewed up whatever he could find into a tasty and healthful snack fit for a Khan.
Having snuck back out of the enemy camp, Jelme roused Temujin and helped him to eat. And now that he was coming out of his convalescence, Temujin finally noticed that the man crouched eagerly beside him was almost completely naked, his mouth and faced caked with blood, with vastly more blood pooled in fresh puddles all around them.
“So, I have two questions,” said Temujin.
Temujin’s first question related to the blood. Jelme explained what he’d done.
“OK, but I’m not happy that you threw up the blood here, where I have to see it.”
“I didn’t wish to leave your side even for a second!”
“Yes, but looking at this is very gross, and I don’t like it, and I want you to know that you have done a bad job.”
Jelme accepted the criticism.
Then, Temujin wanted to know why Jelme was naked.
“Well, that’s an easy one,” Jelme answered. “We were out of milk, so I had to go down to the enemy camp to pick some up. If they caught me, and I was in full uniform, well it’d be all over wouldn’t it? It’d be Zoinks for Jelme. But if I was wandering around naked, well, first of all, they might have assumed I was one of them, and so they would have looked away, rather than risk being caught gawking. I mean, they know as well as we do that nudity, or even semi-nudity, in public, is not in itself an invitation to stare."
“Oh yes, yes, of course; go on.”
“But if they did recognise me as one of your men, then I’d simply claim that I had intended to desert you. I’d point to my embarrassed state and explain that you had captured me and taken all my things, but I’d managed to escape, and now here I was, hungry for yoghurt. However, nobody spotted me at all, so the thorough explanation I’ve just given you is happily irrelevant.”
Temujin was impressed. Despite his fearsome reputation, he was not a callous man, and he knew it was important to reward loyalty and heroism.
“Jelme, I’m very satisfied. You’ve saved my life, and we may win this battle yet. On the other hand, you did make me look at a lot of blood when I didn’t want to, so overall, I’d say that’s about a B… B minus. However, I shall still grant you the traditional hero’s reward: permission to commit up to nine crimes.”
Jelme gasped. “Nine crimes!”
“Yes, my friend, yes.”
It was quite an honour. The number nine was sacred in Mongol culture, and crimes were not normally allowed. Unfortunately, we don’t know how Jelme chose to spend his nine free crimes. He could have hunted animals in the off-season or abducted a family—but all we know is that when the sun rose after that long, dark and bloody night, all was not lost, and Jelme was a happy hero with a crime spree ahead of him. In the morning, he and Temujin rode forth and slaughtered the enemy.
I mean, really made a mess of them. Well, they were warlords.
That was Something True, a podcast on the Idle Thumbs network, written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Corbett Ashby. Music credits can be found in the description and on our website at somethingtrue.net where you can also find a complete transcript of this story. Follow us on Twitter @atruepodcast, and join us again for the next episode: Citizen Tim.