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WANDERING TARTARS AND THEIR CHIEF ZAGATAI, IN THE THIR
FROM THE TRAVELS OF WILLIAM DE RUBRUQUIS.
HE third day after we were departed out of these pre
cincts of Soldaia, we found the Tartars, amongst whom being entered, methought I was come into a new world, whose life and manners I will describe unto your highness as well as I can.
They have no settled habitation, neither know they today where they shall lodge to-morrow.
They have all Scythia to themselves, which stretcheth from the River Danube to the utmost extent of the East. Each of their captains, according to the number of his people, knows the bounds of his pastures, and where he ought to feed his cattle winter and summer, spring and autumn; for in the winter they remove into warm regions southward, and in the summer they go up into the cold regions northward. In winter, when snow lies upon the ground, they feed their cattle in pastures where there is no water, because then they use snow instead of water. Their houses in which they sleep they raise upon a round foundation of wickers artificially wrought and compacted together, the roof consisting of wickers also meeting above in one little roundell, out of which there rises upwards a neck like a chimney, which they cover with white felt; and often they lay mortar or white earth upon the felt with the powder of bones, that it may shine and look white: sometimes also they cover their houses with black felt. This cupola of their house they adorn with variety of pictures.
Before the door they hang a felt curiously painted over, for they spend all their coloured felt in painting vines, trees, birds, and beasts thereupon. These houses they make so
large that they contain thirty feet in breadth ; for measuring once the breadth between the wheel-ruts of one of their carts or wains, I found it to be twenty feet over, and when the house was upon the cart it stretched over the wheels on each side five feet at least. I told two-and-twenty oxen in one draught, drawing an house upon a cart, eleven in one row according to the breadth of the cart, and eleven more on the other side. The axle-tree of the cart was of an huge bigness like the mast of a ship, and a fellow stood in the door of the bouse upon the forestall of the cart, driving the
They likewise make certain four-square baskets of slender twigs, as big as great chests; and afterwards from one side to another they frame an hollow lid or cover of such-like twigs, and make a door in it before. Then they cover the said chest or house with black felt, rubbed over with tallow or sheep's milk, to keep the rain from soaking through, which they likewise adorn with painting or white feathers. Into these chests they put their whole household stuff, or treasure, and bind them upon other carts which are drawn by camels, that they may pass through rivers ; neither do they ever take down these chests from their carts.
When they take down their dwelling-houses, they turn the doors always to the south, and next they place the carts laden with chests here and there within a stone's cast of the house, insomuch that the house standeth between two ranks of carts, as it were between two walls.
The women make themselves (adorn ?) beautiful carts, which I am not able to describe to your majesty but by pictures only. I would willingly have painted all things for you, had my skill being great enough in that art. A rich Tartar hath a hundred or two such carts with chests. Baatu hath sixteen wives, every one of which hath one great house besides other little houses, which they place behind the great one, being as it were chambers for their women to dwell, and to each of the houses belong two hundred carts. When they take their houses off their carts, the principal wife placeth her court on the west, and so all the rest in order; so that the last wife's house is on the east frontier, and the court of each wife is distant from another about a stone's cast.
Hence it is that the court of a rich Tartar will appear like a very large village, few men being to be seen therein. One woman will guide twenty or thirty carts at once, for their country is very flat, and they fasten the carts with camels or oxen one behind another. A wench sits in the foremost cart driving the oxen, and all the rest of themselves follow at a like pace. When they come to a place which is a bad passage, they loose them, and guide them one by one, for they go at a slow pace, and not much faster than an ox can walk.
On my arrival among these barbarous people I thought, as I before observed, that I was come into a new world; for they came flocking about us on horseback, after they had made us wait for them in the shade under the black carts. The first question they asked was, whether we had ever been with them heretofore or not; and on our answering that we had not, they began impudently to beg our victuals from us.
gave them some of our biscuit and wine, which we had brought with us from the town of Soldai; and having drunk off one flaggon of our wine, they demanded another, telling us that a man does not go house with one foot. We gave them no more, however, excusing ourselves that we had but little. Then they asked us whence we came, and whither we were bound. I answered them in these words, That we had heard concerning their Prince Sartach, that he was become a Christian, and that
unto him our determination was to travel, having your majesty's letter to deliver unto him. They were very inquisitive to know if I came of mine own'accord, or whether I was sent. I answered that no man compelled me to come, neither had I come unless I had been willing; and that there I was come, according to my own will and that of my superior. I took the utmost care never to say I was your majesty's ambassador. Then they asked what we had in our carts, whether it were gold, silver, or rich garments to take to Sartach. I answered that Sartach should see what we had brought when we were come unto him; that they had nothing to do to ask such questions, but rather ought to conduct me unto their captain ; and that he, if he thought proper, should cause me to be directed to Sartach—if not, that I would return; for there was in the same province one of Baatu's kinsmen, called Zagatai, to whom the Emperor of Constantinople had written letters to suffer me to pass through his territories.
With this answer of ours they were satisfied, giving us horses and oxen and two men to conduct us. But before they would allow us these necessaries, they made us wait a long while, begging our bread for their brats, wondering at all things they saw about our servants, as their knives, gloves, purses, and points, and desiring to have them. I excused myself, saying we had a long way to travel, and we could not deprive ourselves of things necessary to finish so long a journey. They said I was a niggardly scoundrel. It is true they took nothing by force from me, but they will beg all they see very importunately; and if a man bestows anything upon them, it is but lost; for they are thankless wretches. They esteem themselves lords, and think that nothing should be denied them by any man.
If a man gives them nothing, and afterwards stands in need of their assistance, they will do nothing for him. They gave us of their cows milk to drink after their butter was churned out of it, which was very sour, which they call Apram ; so we departed from them; and indeed it seemed to ne that we were escaped out of the hands of devils. The next day we were introduced to their captain. From the time wherein we departed from Soldai till we arrived at the court of Sartach, which was the space of two months, we never lay in house or tent, but always under the canopy of heaven, and in the open air, or under our carts; neither saw we any village, or heard of any building where any village had been; but the graves of the Comanians we saw in great abundance.
We met the day following with the carts of Zagatai, laden with houses, and I really thought that a great city came to meet me. I wondered at the multitudes of droves of oxen and of horses, and droves of sheep; I could see but few men that guided all these, upon which I inquired how many men he bad under him, and they told me that he had not above five hundred in all, and that one-half of this number never lay in another lodging. Then the servant, which was our guide, told me that I must present somewhat to Zagatai, and so he caused us to stay, going themselves before to give notice of our coming. By this time it was past three, and they unladed their houses near a river, and there came unto us his interpreter, who, being informed by us that we were never there before, demanded some of our victuals, and we granted his request. He also required of us some garment as a reward, because he was to interpret our message to his master. We excused ourselves as well as we could. Then he asked us what we would prefer to his lord, and we took a flaggon of wine, and filled a basket with biscuit, and a salver with apples and other fruits; but