Avalon 7.4 People in the Middle, part 2 of 6

Inside the tent, Lincoln pointed at the map Zheng She got out and laid over top of the new map they were making. He said it was a copy of the map made originally for the Emperor of Han by Zhang She’s ancestor, Zhang Qian.  

“Bactria,” Lincoln said, checking the map against the one in the database.  He pointed.

“Soon to be called Balkh,” Katie said.  “Avestan, mostly, I would guess.  Mostly folk religion and Zoroastrian.  I don’t know how far Buddhism has penetrated.  It could be all Buddhist by now, but I doubt any Nestorian Christians have gotten there.  Not yet.”  She looked up and saw the Chinese men in particular staring at her, like women should not speak in the presence of men.  “Sorry,” she said, and Lincoln continued.

“Here, where it is marked Dayuan.  That is as far as the Greeks under Alexander reached.”

“He got that far?”  Lockhart was impressed.

“Up here, marked Kangju, is Sogdinia.

“Where Roxana, Alexander’s wife came from.” Katie tried to whisper.

Lincoln ignored her.  “Back here, across the Tarim Basin is where the Yuezhi come from. They have pushed down into all this area and pushed out the Parthians, more or less. Merv, here, is on the edge of Parthian territory these days.”

“The Anxi?” Zheng She asked, seemingly unsure who the Parthians might be.

“The Arsacid dynasty of Parthia,” Katie spoke up again.  “The Chinese name an area after the people, usually after the king’s or emperor’s dynastic name, being generally applied to the people.  China is presently the land of the Han, though eventually, the name China sticks.”

“But here?” Captain Ban got interested and did not hesitate to ask the woman.

“The Yuezhi form a confederation of five?  I think five tribes.”  She looked at Lincoln who started to look it up in the database before she waved him off.  “The important tribe is the Kush.  They eventually take over the old Greco-Bactrian empire, push up into Sogdinia and eventually all the way to the Hindu Kush, and they form the Kushan Empire between China and the Parthians.  Pushing from their end, and with the Romans on the other end, they weaken the Parthians who eventually fall to the Sassanids.  A Parthian civil war doesn’t help.  The Scythians invading from the north and killing a couple of Parthian kings doesn’t help, either.  To be honest, the Kushan empire is never strong, being made up of various loosely connected tribes.  But they do control the road, here, between the Tian Shan and the Taklimakan desert.”

“Not at all,” Zhang She said.  “That whole area has been made the Western Protectorate of the Han.  It was a hundred years ago the great general Zheng Ji drove the Xiongnu out and made the land a protectorate of the Han.  That is another reason for our journey.  After these hundred years, much has changed in the west, and the great Han emperor wishes to know what has transpired.”

Lincoln made a knowing sound before he spoke.  “There was a rival dynasty set up some years back and the Han got involved in their own civil war.  The Han won and reestablished the dynasty about five, or less than ten years ago. My guess is, now that things have settled down, the Han want to know what has happened in the west, which is a long way from home.”

“The Western Protectorate,” Captain Ban nodded.

“Protectorate, yes,” Katie agreed.  “But you do not live here.  The Yuezhi have moved in with many western peoples.”

“So I have seen,” Zhang She said.

“Our primary trouble these days remains with the Xiongnu, not the Yuezhi.  The Xiongnu pushed the Yuezhi out of the western lands and across the desert,” the captain said.

“The Mongols,” Katie named them.  “But look.  The Tian Shan, the mountains in the north, and the Kunlun Mountains in the south with the desert in between make an affective barrier separating the Mongolian tribes from the Yuezhi.  And in the steppes, the Scythians have moved in and make an equally affective barrier against the Mongolian hordes.  It will be twelve hundred years before the Mongolians build enough strength and numbers to break through those barriers.”

“What is down here?” Gan Ao asked, sort of changing the subject.

“That points to India,” Katie answered.  “Shendu,” she read the name on the map.  “Probably Sindhu, a name for the Indus valley, roughly modern Pakistan.  It is an area still heavily influenced by the Greeks, like Bactria and Sogdinia were.  The actual India, of the Ganges, is further over.”

“My great ancestor. Zhang Qian failed to find a safe way from the Han to the Shendu people,” Zhang She said, out loud.

“The Himalayas.”  That was all Katie had to say.

“The Hindu Kush.  From the Kushan of the Yuezhi people?” Gan Ao asked.

“No doubt,” Katie said, and looked at Lockhart.  “And it occurred to me I am probably saying too much.  Most things are best to find out on your own.”

“I wonder if Tien is still around,” Boston said, pointing to the Tian Shan on the map.

“Tien?” Zhang She asked, while the four men of Han stared at Boston’s red hair.

“Tien Shang-Di,” Boston said happily.  “A really nice guy, and a good friend.”

“You mean, the god of heaven?” Gan Ao asked.  He grinned again, like he knew something.

“I guess so,” Boston said, confirming the guess, but not committing to it.

“Boston,” Katie scolded her.  “You know perfectly well that is who you are talking about.”

Boston grinned and shrugged.  “Yeah, but I’m ready for breakfast, and you will just stand around talking maps and history and stuff till the cows come home.”  She left the tent.

“Food must be ready,” the map maker, Djo-Djo agreed, and they all piled out of the tent to where the cooking fires burned.  Nanette complained.

“They are all eunuchs.  There are no women at all in this camp.  Only broken men.”

“The eunuchs serve, as is their duty and right,” Zhang She said, not exactly understanding the complaint.

“The Romans and Egyptians have slaves,” Decker said again, as the others came to the fire at the same time.

“Yes,” Lincoln said.  “But in Rome a man can earn his freedom.”

‘But we treat our eunuchs well, and if they serve well, they can win titles and lands with great honor,” Captain Ban said.

“But in Rome, a man can earn his freedom with titles, lands, and honor, and still have his manhood, to have children to pass down his prosperity to the next generation,” Lincoln said.

“Stop it,” Alexis said.  “There are eunuchs even in our day, the result of cancer, and other things.”

“There were Greco-Roman Eunuchs too,” Katie said.  “And in the middle east and Egypt, for centuries.  They are all over the world.  It probably started as far back as Sumer.  The Persian empire was full of Eunuchs in imperial service, and Alexander did not end the practice.  You might as well get used to the idea because we will probably run into eunuchs several more times during our journey.”

Lockhart turned up his nose and shivered but said nothing.  Decker remained stoic, but he looked at Nanette, and she looked at him with a look that said she could deal with it if he could.  He nodded slightly, but they also said nothing.

“And what does the one with flaming hair say?” Djo-Djo asked.

“Yes,” Zhang She said.  “I have seen yellow hair among the Yuezhi, though only once or twice.  I have seen blue eyes, but I have never seen hair the color of the flames.”

“I say we should eat and get moving or Lydia will get to the city ahead of us.”

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