Marco searches for the mastermind behind a murderous plot, while Prince Jingim weighs the risks of retaliation.
We left off last time with Marco and Kublai Khan having a nice chat about how to best punish Marco’s absent daddy and asshole uncle for smuggling. The conversation is cut short when an assassin shoots a poisoned dart into Kublai’s neck, and Marco and Kublai are quickly surrounded by enemies. Marco fights them off, buying enough time for Byamba, Kublai’s super cool bastard son, and Hundred Eyes to appear and back him up.
They torture and interrogate one of the assassins as Kublai falls into a coma from the poison. The assassin says nothing of course, but that doesn’t matter because Hundred Eyes already knows where they came from; trained by the Old Man in the Mountain, they are among the last remaining Hashshashin, “demon” assassins who were rumored to have been destroyed ages ago and who offer their skills as mercenaries. Prince Jingim is doubtful of their existence. When Marco pipes up with a “I heard of them in a village during my travels,” Jingim sends him and Byamba to the village masquerading as merchants to track down the mercenary assassins. Kokachin meets with Marco before he leaves and urges him to use this mission as a chance to escape, while he can.
My new most hated character, Chancellor Jia Sidao, shows the Song court the bodies of the ambassadors he had killed, claiming it to be the work of the Mongols. He finally gets the armies he wants and mobilizes for war. Poor Empress Dowager. So close to peace, never close enough.
Back in Cambulac, Ahmad is also urging Prince Jingim to wage war, but Jingim wants to wait for Marco and Byamba’s report. Hmmm. This dude has been pushing really hard for war since day one. It comes off more than a little bloodthirsty, and that coupled with all shady little glances he kept throwing at Jingim and Kublai makes him highly suspicious. Since I’m pretty sure Jia wasn’t the one to hire the Hashshashin (bet he’ll kick himself for not thinking of it when he finds out though) I’m gonna say Ahmad’s at the top of my suspect list.
Something Ahmad says about the Latins “traveling to cover up transgressions” in the Khan’s empire gets Jingim to personally interrogate Niccolo and Maffeo. Jingim discovers that Niccolo abandoned his son for the sake of legacy, and lets his own insecurities and anger take over, hissing that “even after you had abandoned him, after he could have died for your transgressions, he was still concerned for you.”
The Byamba + Marco road trip, at least, is going well, as the pair bond over their shitty fathers. I rather like this burgeoning friendship. Also, I just realized that all my favorites are either related to Kublai or are Kublai himself – Jingim, Chabi, Byamba. A+ family right there.
After a little poking around, Byamba and Marco attract enough attention from the Hashshashin to get themselves escorted to the Old Man in the Mountain… via a drug trip. There’s a 70% chance that Byamba are gonna wake up alone in the middle of the desert naked, dehydrated, and robbed of everything they had on them. The other 30% chance is what actually happens: Marco ends up hallucinating himself into another unnecessary orgy, and then into yet another weirdly tender sex scene with Kokachin. Really? Why are all of Marco’s hallucinations sex-related? Why can’t he just see some dancing pink elephants or something, for goodness sake.
When Marco and Byamba (who probably hallucinated something really nice, like a father/son hangout at the park chugging wine, which I wish I could’ve seen rather than Marco’s three minute red-tinted debauchery) wake up, the Old Man is waiting for them. He gives Marco the paper with the assassination orders on Kublai Khan, confirms it wasn’t Jia Sidao who paid them, and suggests that “the hand that dropped the purse lives closer to home.”
Marco recognizes the handwriting belonging to someone who’s now dead. The tax collector, perhaps? Byamba offers to let Marco go back to Italy, but Marco declines the offer and follows the stars of the Three Sisters – the ones his father once told him would bring him home – back to Cambulac.
Jingim finally finds out what happened to the Song ambassadors he negotiated peace with. Knowing that Jia Sidao is preparing for war, Jingim also starts to pull his forces together. Ahmad watches this with a little smirk on his face, thus cementing my suspicion that he’s the Littlefinger of Cambulac. He couldn’t get Kublai’s ear, so first chance he gets he goes for Jingim’s – sneaky, sneaky.
Kublai finally wakes, and when he does he’s full of praise for his son, who stayed his hand and didn’t rush off into war too soon. Byamba and Marco deliver their report to a more-or-less recovered Kublai. Marco asks Kublai to pardon his father and uncle, but when that is denied, Marco decides to have their hands branded with the mark of a thief and banished from the city.
Ahmad: If you do not prepare to strike, worse, prepare to be struck.
Marco: This is not my home. I’m a guest. It’s not my place to judge my host.
Byamba: Fathers are destined to disappoint their sons, and sons their fathers.
Jingim: I realize now that I had no idea the pressure one is under, turning a son into a man. Forget all the citizens in the realm. The responsibility parents have for that one soul.
Chabi: It is a great challenge, and a greater honor.
Ahmad: Soldiers understand losing is part of the journey, so long as their leader does not believe it the destination.
Yusuf: Ego, not armies, destroys empires.