irrational, a. 3. (Math.) Not capable of being exactly expressed by an integral number, or by a vulgar fraction. — Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
All entries © 2004-2005 by David Moles.

Monday, January 10, 2005

4 Bunji (AD 1189)

Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.

AKITA, JAPAN — The accepted accounts of the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune state that in the spring of 1189, brought to bay by the agents of his treacherous brother Yoritomo, he took his own life. On a hillside in Tohoku prefecture, there is a stone monument, erected to mark the occasion.

Certainly a severed head, said to be Yoshitsune’s, was brought back to the capital that summer; but the head, though preserved in spirits, had by the time it arrived deteriorated so far as to be unrecognizable. Taking this fact into account — and also taking into account the Sino-Japanese reading, gen gi-kyo, of the characters comprising Yoshitsune’s name — popular legend has always maintained that the hero did not in fact die in 1189, but rather escaped to Mongolia. There, the inhabitants gave him a new name: Genghis Khan.

Alas, it is not to be.

Yoshitsune does escape Yoritomo’s men, bribing a coastal pirate to carry him across the Sea of Japan. Mere hours from safety, however, he spots a mermaid off the starboard bow and immediately becomes infatuated with her. Ignoring the warning cries of his companions, Yoshitsune leaps into the waves, and is never seen again.

Deprived of their Khan, the Mongols never unite, never become the ruthless, blood-drinking horde that conquered China, threatened Japan and Sumatra, and sacked Russia, Poland and Hungary. Without the memory of Genghis’ armies to inspire fear, later khans — Subedei, Uzbek, Timur — are only local terrors. No Osmanli Turks sweep across the Byzantine lands into the West; no Golden Horde comes to invest the Kievan Rus and reduce the Russian princes to the status of Mongol tax collectors.

In 1426 Grand Duke Fyodor of Vladimir-Suzdal marries his daughter and sole heir to King Charles Olaf of Sweden. Within a century three-fourths of Europe, from Reykjavík to the Volga, Tallinn to the Danube, is united under the Swedish crown. Christendom under the three-crowned riksbanér is peaceful, clean, sober, honest, good-humored, and industrious. Jews, Magyars, Slavs, Poles, Finns and Lithuanians are honored minorities. Every child can read, and most can sing. Art, music and architecture flower as never before. Envoys from Ethiopia, China, Persia, the Islamic caliphates, come to Stockholm to negotiate treaties, and send home instead volumes of awe-struck poetry.

In 1742 the mer-people, rising from the depths to conquer the surface world, are rendered speechless by the beauty of the cities of the Baltic. Seeing the towers of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Adrianople in Riga, the prince of the mer-people converts to Christianity on the spot.¤


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