Cooper Moo and Erik Bear, two of the authors of the final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, The Mongoliad: Book Three, wrote this exclusive essay for Boing Boing.
The shadow of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II hangs over the shattered Holy Roman Church as the cardinals remain deadlocked, unable to choose a new pope. Only the Binders and a mad priest have a hope of uniting the Church against the invading Mongols. An untested band of young warriors stands against the dissolute Khan, Onghwe, fighting for glory and freedom in the Khan's sadistic circus of swords, and the brave band of Shield-Brethren who set out to stop the Mongol threat single-handedly race against their nemesis before he can raise the entire empire against them. Veteran knight Feronantus, haunted by his life in exile, leads the dwindling company of Shield-Brethren to their final battle, molding them into a team that will outlast him. No good hero lives forever...or fights alone.
In this third and final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, the gripping personal stories of medieval freedom fighters form an epic, imaginative recounting of a moment in history when a world in peril relied solely on the courage of its people.
THE 12 STEPPE PROGRAM
Erik Bear and Cooper Moo
We love gallows humor -- the darker the better. Bonus points if you have the presence of mind to wisecrack in the face of certain death. You may recall this most excellent exchange on the eve of the Battle of Thermopylae:
Native of Trachis: "The Persian arrows are so numerous they block out the sun!"
Spartan Dienekes: "Good. Then we will fight in the shade."
It's not that we make light of situations we "can't handle". Rather we are accepting the challenge while giving fate the finger. Gallows humor is a perfectly legit tool for dealing with death, divorce, and all manner of dereliction - even addiction.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction, or witnessed a friend for family member do so, knows there is little humor in the experience. And yet, when you talk to someone who has been through rehab they will often tell you a dark humor pervaded their treatment group. Call it a coping mechanism; it can play an integral piece in beating the beast. And it certainly comes in handy when writing about addiction.
The Mongoliad, published in three volumes by Amazon's 47North, is the epic tale of an intrepid band of warriors from the west who set out to save Europe from the Mongol hordes. One of the primary characters is an alcoholic. Ogedei Khan, third son and heir to the throne of Genghis Khan, drank so much fermented mare's milk it probably cost the Mongols their ever-expanding empire. In penning the tale, there was no avoiding writing about Ogedei's drinking problems - and at times it got down right depressing.
Now, one of the crazier quirks about writers is that we'll do damn near anything to avoid writing - even write. For example, instead of writing what we should have been writing; in this case whatever chapter was due that week, the authors of this article took the time out to scribe a tongue-in-cheek bit about the attempted intervention of a ruthless Mongolian khan who wielded near-absolute power over one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.
* * *
Ogedei, Khan of Khans, third son of Genghis the Great Conqueror, sat upon his throne. His mighty frame was draped in fine robes--delicate embroidery depicted clouds and dragons in pure-gold thread on a sky-blue background. The lilting music of zithers filled the room and lithe girls danced about the tall throne. Ogedei absently traced the delicate silver etching of the cup in his right hand. The cup was empty. He did not wish it to remain empty.
A harsh, staccato clapping brought Ogedei out of his stupor. The music stopped and the dancing girls faltered as Toregene, Ogedei's first wife, took command of the ger. She shooed the musicians and girls away. The space quickly emptied as everyone rushed to do First Wife's bidding.
Oegedi arched an eyebrow at Toregene and made to protest but the diminutive woman stopped him with a gesture. Whatever this was, it apparently wasn't up for negotiation.
Then, to Ogedei's great surprise and shock, his elder brother Chagatai entered the ger followed by Ogedei's head administrator Chucai, a woman with a clipboard and some whelp who looked like he just got off the plains. The boy held a large pink box.
"Chagatai, brother..." Ogedei began but Toregene again waved him off. That was getting annoying.
"Please don't speak, Ogi, we're here to help you." The group before him shuffled their feet uncomfortably. "Brother Chagatai is here, Master Chucai, this is Gansukh from Chagatai's personal guard." Toregene then motioned to the woman with the clip board. "And this is Jessica."
Jessica's tone reflected the gravity of the situation. "This is an intervention, Ogedei Khan - we're here to help you stop drinking."
There was a long silence. Ogedei looked at each of the people standing before him in turn and then started to laugh. The action started deep in his ample belly until his entire frame shook with the effort. Chagatai and Toregene exchanged concerned glances and Toregene stepped forward.
"This is no joke, Ogi, we want you to get better."
Ogedei's laughter died in his throat.
"We've enrolled you in a Twelve Steppe Program..."
Ogedei groaned but Toregene continued.
"Which, if you complete it, will save your marriage and your empire. If you continue to drink as you are you will lose both."
Ogedei glared at Toregene. First wife held his gaze unflinching.
"Aren't you guys forgetting something?" he bellowed, his eyes sweeping across the group.
"I'm the mother-freakin' Khan! I do whatever the hell I want!"
Toregene sighed heavily and Jessica wrote something down on her clipboard.
"Lose my marriage? I've got plenty of wives and more if I want'em!" Ogedei waved his hand toward the entrance of the ger to communicate there was no shortage of wives out there.
"And who's going to fire me? You?!" Ogedei fairly shrieked, coming halfway out of his throne and pointed a meaty finger at his older brother. "You traitor!"
Jessica interposed herself between Ogedei and his brother, "Please, no name calling."
"What?!" the khan was clearly working himself into a rage. "Who the hell do you think you are? I've got a name for you - all of you - headless!" Ogedei made a sharp chopping motion with his right hand.
The young whelp made for the door, nearly dropping the pink box. Master Chucai snagged his sleeve and dragged him back to the group. He kept a death grip on the boy's arm to hold him in place.
Master Chucai spoke in a low, measured tone. "Great Khan...last night you were so drunk you ordered the invasion of Russia with just the people in the room."
"I did?" Ogedei faltered. "Huh. Uh...how many people were in the room?"
"Enough to kill the visiting Russian emissary and his entire entourage."
Ogedei grimaced, "Oooooo, that's not good."
"No, Kakhan, it isn't. What do I do with all of these very white Russians?"
Ogedei's gaze clouded. "Mmmm...white Russians."
Toregene rolled her eyes, not amused.
Ogedei cleared his throat. Obviously taken aback by the news of a dozen unexpectedly dead Russians, he seemed consider his situation.
Jessica motioned for the whelp to proffer the pink box to the Khan. The boy inched forward. "P-p-pastry our eminence?"
The khan was agape. "Seriously?"
"Let's all have a pastry and talk this through," Jessica said. The boy opened the box to reveal delicately frosted confections. Ogedei's expression changed.
"I'll take half of that cherry-chip scone. Just half."
Chucai produced a knife from beneath his robes and cut the scone neatly in two.
There was a pause as the group distributed the pastries and found chairs. A small semi-circle formed around the khan.
"Very tasty!" Ogedei said, his mouth full of scone. Master Chucai inclined his head.
"Now," Jessica began again, "here's how this is going to work-"
Suddenly Ogedei's expression soured and he silenced her with a snap of his fingers. "Look, Jessica, I'll tell you how this is going to work." The khan swallowed and motioned for Gansukh to hand over the pink box. He located the second half of the cherry-chip scone and pointed at Jessica with it.
"You are going to go back to wherever the hell you came from or I will introduce you to Captain Munokhoi and the rest of my private guard." Jessica's jaw clenched and she pulled her clipboard to her chest.
"You," Ogedei nodded his head at Toregene "Fetch Second Wife, she'll enjoy my company tonight."
"You'll have no company tonight," Toregene retorted, standing up. She strode out of the ger with Jessica in tow.
Ogedei, looking decidedly less confident, blundered on.
"Chucai, sorry about the dead Ruskies but I know you can handle it." The Khan made a flicking motion this fingers. Chucai stood. "And find my brother a ger for the night." Both Chucai and Chagatai left the room.
"And you," Ogedei held his empty cup out to the boy from the plains, "Fetch me a white Russian!"
* * *
Needless to say this copy ended up on the cutting room floor. "Ogedei's Intervention" was a diversion - a dark-humored way of dealing with Ogedei's alcoholism. In The Mongoliad the khan's inability to deal with his addiction plays a pivotal part in the fall of the Mongol empire and the subsequent halt of the invasion of Europe. In reality there was no intervention - and no invasion.
Perhaps, if such an intervention had worked, we'd all be speaking Mongolian.
Cooper Moo: spent five minutes in Mongolia in 1986 before he had to get back on the train--he never expected to be channeling Mongolian warriors. In 2007 he fought a Chinese long-sword instructor on a Hong Kong rooftop--he never thought the experience would help him write battle scenes. Cooper's work has appeared on Slate, in the Seattle Weekly, Pacific Fishing and other publications. He lives in the city of Issaquah near Seattle.
Erik Bear: lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. He has worked in video games, short stories, novels, comics, and intends to conquer all forms of fiction.The Mongoliad: Book Three
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.