North, south, east, west, center—five directions, five colors, five elements brought into harmony by the World Tree. Rooted in the nether realms of the dead, the great trunk of the World Tree passes through the middle lands of earth and water and links them with the heavens.
In the west, the earth goddess Umai reigns, with the trees sacred to her and the animals that inhabit those trees—which, like all animals, have multiple souls that let them communicate and interact, even with humans.
Usually they do not bother. Perhaps we are not as interesting as we like to believe. But once—long long ago, when the steppes rang with the cries of riderless horses and the tiger prowled never considering the hunter’s snare—the Great Blue Wolf Ashina, at the very base of the World Tree, rescued and suckled a boy. Where he came from, no one knows. Why, she did not say. But when he grew into First Man, she bore him a litter that gave rise to the peoples—Turks, Tatars, Mongols. She taught her cubs to hunt and fish, to build felt tents against the cold, to control vast herds of grazing animals, to respect the natural world and their own pack but fight others of their kind without restraint. To honor the ancestors like herself, who watch over the dead and the unborn and direct the living. To worship Tengri, Lord of the Eternal Blue Sky, and Umai his consort. To recognize the sacred animals that Tengri sent to guide them—wolf, bear, tiger, turtle, swan, lynx.
Ashina’s children cherished their wolfish heritage. They applied the lessons of the hunt—preying on their neighbors, vanquishing the settled peoples beyond the grasslands. Genghis subdued much of Eurasia. Batu burned his way from the Volga to the Danube and ground Russia under the heel of his felt boot. Timur piled pyramids of skulls outside Damascus and slew war elephants before the gates of Delhi. Babur took Afghanistan; Akbar, Hindustan. Mahmet breached the massive walls of Constantinople. Sons and grandsons of Genghis ruled the plum-blossom pagodas of Dadu and Shangdu. Beijing, Xanadu.
But Tengri also governs time. In time, Ashina’s children forgot that they belonged to a single pack. The Golden Kin of Genghis Khan parted ways, each adopting the religion and customs of the sheep who served them. Brother fought brother; the Pax Mongolica shattered under the blows of a hundred warring princes. Empires fell away. Khanates split, then splintered. Formerly subject lands flexed their muscles. Backwoods Russia grew so powerful that it became a refuge for dethroned Tatar princes. Kasim of Kazan, among the first to change sides, received for his sustenance the town that later bore his name—Kasimov. Many others followed.
Tengri and Umai did not abandon Ashina’s offspring. The ancient legends survive. The World Tree still links heaven and earth with the hunting grounds below. The ancestors wait and watch. And when the occasion demands it, to those willing to listen, Tengri sends a messenger…
The volumes in this series are: The Golden Lynx (West) The Winged Horse (East) The Swan Princess (North) The Vermilion Bird (South) The Shattered Drum (Center)