Article for Public Domain Review - The Khan's Drinking Fountain

The fountain, the Silver Tree, at Karakorum

By the time Friar William of Rubruck arrived at the camp of Möngke Khan in the last days of 1253, he had pushed his body to its breaking point. The trip from Acre had taken him by way of Constantinople, across the Black Sea, and then on a punishing overland journey featuring extreme cold, a demon-haunted pass, and little enough food that his travel-companion, Bartolomeo of Cremona, had been close to tears, exclaiming “It seems to me I shall never get anything to eat.” And then there had been the Mongols themselves. Passing into their territory was like passing “through one of the gates of hell,” and leaving their presence comparable to escaping “the midst of devils.” Safe to say that the Mongols seemed quite alien to this Flemish friar.

William grumbled at their (in his view) incurable greed, commented repeatedly on his distaste for the women’s noses, and spoke of the foolishness of their religion. Though in many ways a clever traveller and, despite this xenophobia, an at times astute observer, he was in other ways a fish out of water, even going about at first in bare feet on the frozen winter ground. But not everything was so unfamiliar, so strange to him…

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