Genghis Khan felt his least dream promised stratagems, and so he gathered counselors around him each twilight to read the twitching of his eyes beneath their lids. It grew dark quickly and, soon, the counselors slept.
Every night, the youngest of them gave himself to sleep instantly, eager for his own dreams when he might roam over the steppe on a stunted pony, dragging his feet, or he might fly on just one arm, the other hand at his lips to silence his wonder.
One night, he awoke in a dream as he might to day. Walking to the tent flap as if it were real, he pulled it aside and found the camp empty of soldiers. It was afternoon. The day was hot, the land unshadowed, but the wind seemed to have arrived as if over a glacier. Despite the sun, the air raised goose bumps.
Senses usually eluded him in dreams. They were impossible to gather in a single impression, but this camp appeared outside his mind. Each object so clear it vibrated, he walked as in a map where everything shouted a label that became the thing itself—the charred wood of dead fires looked black enough to absorb all light, the sky so blue it became liquid, the yellow grass stiff as swords.
And, for a while, he enjoyed it alone. Up ahead though, he saw someone sitting on a log in the space where tents thinned. The man was smoking a pipe, and, by the tilt of his chin, the young counselor knew him instantly.
He thought of turning and walking away but he’d been seen. The arm of the man beckoned him. The young counselor’s feet broke into a trot beneath him.
“You’ve found me,” the man said.
“The others have not.”
“You may sit, boy. I won’t raise my eyes to you.”
Even in a dream, the counselor’s body fell onto one knee, and he averted his eyes.
“You know why you are here.”
“Scratch my back.” He shrugged and hunched to move his back beneath the boy’s fingers. His face relaxed. He moaned with pleasure.
“You will listen. When I ask you whether or not to act, you must tell me ‘no.’ To my every question, your answer must be ‘no.’ Do you hear me?”
“Yes…” he twisted his head to look at the boy and smiled, “you know what I ask and say ‘yes,’ but I hear you say ‘no’ even now,” he waved his hand and frowned, “That’s fine. Good. You may go.”
But the young counselor didn’t move. “How can I go when you told me…”
The answer, a burst of laughter, startled him.
“I knew your father better than you remember. When he brought you to be a soldier, he warned me, ‘Don’t let him have his own mind, or he will never listen,’ but I spared you battles. I didn’t want another man who listened, or only one who listens as my horse listens or as the tree listens for storms.” He chuckled, “You will understand the word means less than nothing. That is why you will say ‘no.’”
He held the young counselor’s eyes again, and said, “Now go. You may go. I must have a quiet pipe…because I can never have a quiet pipe.”
When the young counselor jerked awake he found himself at the Khan’s foot. All around him the other counselors had melted into sleeping forms. They leaned in such different directions that no one wind could have arranged them so. The faint sawing of their breath matched the noise of insects eating outside the tent.
Only one other set of eyes was open.
“Boy, you’re awake. The others have given in. Have you heard anything? Did I speak? Has my spirit shouted?”
“No, sire,” the boy said.