HOW THE FRIARS FARED AMONG THE TARTARS
 THE sea of Mongol invasion which, pouring in the thirteenth century from the vast steppes of Asia, overflowed all
Eastern Europe, and was checked in its course only by the assembled forces of the German nations, filled the
world of the West with inexpressible terror. For a time, after whelming beneath its flood Russia, Poland, and
Hungary, it was rolled back, but the terror remained. At any moment these savage horsemen might return in
irresistible strength and spread the area of desolation to the western seas. The power of arms seemed too
feeble to stay them; the power of persuasion, however, might not be in vain, and the pope, as the spiritual
head of Europe, felt called upon to make an effort for the rescue of the Christian world.
Tartar hordes were then advancing through Persia towards the Holy Land, and to these, in the forlorn hope of
checking their course, he sent as ambassadors a body of Franciscan friars composed of Father Ascelin and three
companions. It was in the year 1246 that these papal envoys set out, armed with full powers from the head of
the Church, but sadly deficient in the worldly wisdom necessary to deal with such truculent infidels as those
whom they had been sent to meet.
 Ascelin and his comrades journeyed far through Asia in search of a Tartar host, and at length found one on the
northern frontier of Persia. Into the camp of the barbarians the worthy Franciscan boldly advanced, announcing
himself as an ambassador from the pope. To his surprise, this announcement was received with contempt by the
Tartars, who knew little and cared less for the object of his deep veneration. In return he showed his feeling
towards the infidels in a way that soon brought his mission into a perilous state.
He was refused an audience with the Mongol general unless he would perform the ko-tou, or three
genuflections, an act which he and his followers refused as an idolatrous ceremony which would scandalize all
Christendom. Finally, as nothing less would be accepted, they, in their wise heads, thought they might consent
to perform the ko-tou, provided the general and all his army would become Christians. This folly capped
the climax. The Tartars, whom they had already irritated, broke into a violent rage, loaded the friars with
fierce invectives, and denounced them and their pope as Christian dogs.
A council was called to decide what to do with these insulting strangers. Some suggested that the friars
should be flayed alive, and their skins, stuffed with hay, sent to the pope. Others wished to keep them till
the next battle with the Christians, and then place them in front of the army as victims to the god of war. A
third proposition was to whip them through the camp and then put them to death. But Baithnoy, the general, had
no fancy for delay,
 and issued orders that the whole party should at once be executed.
In this frightful predicament, into which Ascelin and his party had brought themselves, a woman's pity came to
the rescue. Baithnoy's principal wife endeavored to move him to compassion; but, finding him obdurate, she
next appealed to his interest. To violate in this way the law of nations would cover him with disgrace, she
said, and stay the coming of many who otherwise would seek his camp with homage and presents. She reminded him
of the anger of the Great Khan when, on a former occasion, he had caused the heart of an ambassador to be
plucked out and had ridden around the camp with it fastened to his horse's tail. By these arguments,
reinforced with entreaties, she induced him to spare the lives of the friars.
They were advised to visit the court of the Great Khan, but Ascelin had seen as much as he relished of Tartar
courts, and refused to go a step farther except by force. He was then desired, as he had been so curious to
see a Tartar army, to wait until their expected reinforcements arrived. He protested that he had seen enough
Tartars already to last him the rest of his life; but, despite his protest, he was detained for several
months, during which the Tartars amused themselves by annoying and vexing their visitors. At length, after
having been half starved, frequently threatened with death, and insulted in a hundred ways, they were set
free, bearing letters to the pope ordering him to come in person and do homage to Genghis Khan, the Son of
 At the same time that Ascelin set out for the south, another party, headed by John Carpini, set out for the
north, to visit the Tartars then in Russia. Here they were startled by the first act demanded of them, they
being compelled to pass between two large fires as a purification from the suspicion of evil. On coming into
the presence of Bathy, the general, they, more terrified perhaps than Ascelin, did not hesitate to fall upon
their knees. To heighten their terrors, two of them were sent to the court of the Great Khan, in the heart of
Tartars, the other two being detained on some pretext. The journey was a frightful one. With no food but
millet, no drink but melted snow, pushing on at a furious speed, changing horses several times a day, passing
over tracts strewn with human bones, and the weather through part of their journey being bitterly cold, they
at length reached the court of the Mongols on July 22, 1246.
They arrived at an interesting period. The election of Kujak, a new khan, was about to take place, and, in
addition to great Tartar lords from all quarters of the Mongol empire, ambassadors from Russia, Persia,
Bagdad, India, and China were at hand with presents and congratulations. The assembled nobles, four thousand
in all, dazzled Carpini with their pomp and magnificence. The coronation was attended with peculiar
ceremonies, and a few days afterwards audience was given to the ambassadors, that they might deliver their
presents. Here the friars were amazed at the abundance and value of the gifts, which consisted of satin
cloths, robes of purple; silk
 girdles wrought with gold, and costly skins. Most surprising of all was a "sun canopy" (umbrella) full of
precious stones, a long row of camels covered with Baldakin cloth, and a "wonderful brave tent, all of red
purple, presented by the Kythayans" (Chinese), while near by stood five hundred carts "all full of silver, and
of gold, and of silk garments."
The friars were now placed in an embarrassing position by being asked what presents they had to give. They had
so little that they thought it best to declare "that they were not of ability so to do." This failure was well
received, and throughout their visit they were treated with great respect, the khan cajoling them with hints
that he proposed publicly to profess Christianity.
These flattering hopes came to a sudden end when the great Mongol ruler ordered the erection of a flag of
defiance against the Roman empire, the Christian Church, and all the Christian kingdoms of the West, unless
they would do homage to him; and with this abrupt termination to their embassy they were dismissed. After
"travailing all winter long," sleeping on snow without shelter, and suffering other hardships, they reached
Europe in June, 1247, where they were "rejoiced over as men that had been risen from death to life."
Carpini was the first European to approach the borders of China, or Cathay, as it was then called, and the
story he told about that mysterious empire of the East, gathered from the Tartars, was of much interest, and,
so far as it went, of considerable
ac-  curacy. He was also the first to visit the court of those terrible warriors who had filled the world with
dismay, and to bring to Europe an account of their barbaric manners and customs.
Shortly after (in 1253) a friar named Rubruquis, with two companions, was sent to Tartary by Louis IX. of
France to search for Prester John, an imaginary Christian potentate supposed to reign in the centre of Asia,
to visit Sartach, a Tartar chief also reported a Christian, and to teach the doctrines of Christianity to all
the Tartars he should find. Rubruquis did his work well, and, while failing to find Prester John or to convert
any of the Tartars, he penetrated to the very centre of the Mongol empire, visited Karakorum, the capital of
the Great Khans, and brought back much valuable information, giving a clear, accurate, and intelligent account
of the lands he had seen and the people he had met, with such news of distant China as he could obtain without
actually crossing the Great Wall.
After his visit information concerning these remote regions ceased until the publication of the remarkably
interesting book of Marco Polo, the first to write of China from an actual visit to its court. The story of
his visit must be left for a later tale.
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