The following is based on an interview between William of Augsburg, a Dominican friar, and a woman identified in the manuscript as Khutelun, the daughter of a Tatar tribal chieftain near Fergana in present-day Kyrgyzstan. The document was recently discovered in the Vatican archives by author Colin Falconer, though it is unclear how it got there. It is believed the document was written en route to Shang-tu (the Xanadu made famous by Coleridge) in 1260.
WILLIAM: For over twelve hundred years your people have been living in darkness. Do you not wish to hear news of the one true religion and save yourselves and your people from everlasting damnation?
KHUTELUN: I don't understand this darkness you are talking about. The world was created by the spirit of the Everlasting Blue Sky and it is alive with luminous spirits. Every rock and every bird, every tree and every wolf has spirit in it. Why don't you ever wash?
WILLIAM: But you are a witch, is this not true?
KHUTELUN: In my tribe we are known as shamans. If we wish to commune with the gods, we use koumiss and hashish to go to the fifth level of heaven and talk with them. I have talked with gods since I was a child. Josseran says that you are a holy man, can you not do this? But it is burdensome and sometimes I wish I did not have such a gift.
WILLIAM: It is not a gift! What you are talking about is the work of the Devil!
KHUTELUN: I don't know what world you come from, but there seems to be a lot of devils in it. I shouldn't like to live there.
WILLIAM: I saw one of your women beating a man with his whip today until his back was bloody!
KHUTELUN: Well, he wanted to marry her.
WILLIAM: And this is how you savages mate?
KHUTELUN: A woman does not want to marry a weakling. He submitted willingly to the test. He rode around her on his horse and let her whip him to prove he is strong. Of course, she was quite fond of him so she didn't whip him too hard or for too long. A boy has to make sure he chooses the right girl. You think this is strange? So explain this please, why sometimes at night in your tent you flay yourself with your own whip? Did you think we didn't know about this? Is it a test to allow you to mate with yourself?
WILLIAM: I am mortifying the flesh, our great enemy. I only wish my translator, Josseran Sarrazini, would have a care to do the same. He is a knight who has taken vows of chastity for five years with the Templar order, to serve out a penance for his past sins. Yet I believe he has broken these vows with you, in violation of his oath and all natural and divine laws. Is this true?
KHUTELUN: I may not answer that. The things that take place between a man and a woman are not anyone else's business.
WILLIAM: But you are a heretic and a savage and he is a Christian nobleman with a sacred commission to guide me to your great lord in Cathay. He has steeped his mortal soul in sin for you!
KHUTELUN: Look, barbarian, I have had enough of your questions. I will take you as far as Shang-tu so you can put your petition to the great khan, Khubilai, as my father has ordered me to do. After that you may look to your own future, as I must look to mine.
WILLIAM: And what about Josseran?
Here the manuscript fragment ends.
There is no evidence that such an embassy from the Pope to Khubilai Khan took place in 1260 although historians have conjectured that the Pope at one stage considered sending an embassy there to forestall an invasion of Western Europe by the Tatar Mongols.
Such an expedition would have been tantamount to a suicide mission. At that time no one in the Christian world had been to China - Cathay - and returned alive.
Colin Falconer has been published widely in the UK, US and Europe and his books have been translated into seventeen languages. He is the author of SILK ROAD, a fictional account based on this historical fragment. It is to be published on October 4, 2011. For more information click here. He invites you to join him at http://www.colinfalconer.net/