02 A Leap of Faith

Based on a 2018 Version. If a more recent version appears, update.

“Rish, who are you talking to?” The ruffian’s question was addressed to a thin young man clad in  a saffron robe.  The two youths stood on a thin path that cut through heather and stones at the top of a sharply defined river valley. The novice monk replied, “Tenzin, I’m talking to the god of this mountain.” As he spoke the novice walked to the very edge of the cliff.

“Are you asking him if he’ll catch you if you jump? He asked you to jump last time. Do you think he will again?”

A sharp memory of the earth racing towards him flashed through Rish’s mind. He removed his red, felt cap, scratched his large, bald head, and took a deep breath  before he replied.  “No. I’m asking the god of this mountain why he caught me yesterday, when I fell.”

“If he caught you yesterday, he’ll catch you again.”

The novice did not reply.

The ruffian tried again, “What is the god saying?”

“He’s not saying anything.”

“How do you know the god is male, if he is not saying anything?”

He told me that he did not catch me when I fell yesterday. The river is his wife. That is all.”

“No he didn’t.”
“You’re right. He caught my essence and recreated me. I found my corpse.”

This uncertain dialog made Rish pause for a moment. He silently watched Rish standing on the edge of a precipice, looking down the sheer cliff into the valley of the Tsang Pao river. “You are going to jump aren’t you?” he asked after a moment.

Rish paused before he replied even though he knew the answer. “Yes. Eventually.”

“Not now?”, Tenzin sat forward, his gaze intent on Rish’s every movement.

“I don’t know.”  Rish leaned slightly forward. “I have had a vision. I have seen that it will happen, not when and how.”

“Do you believe that whatever caught you yesterday will catch you again? I mean when you fell … and then flew.”

Rish edged forward. In a sense he had already begun to jump because now some of his body weight was over the edge and his momentum was forward. Out. He hoped up and not down. Down was what he most feared, the sharp red rocks at the base of the cliff. He shifted his weight farther forward, accelerating his slow motion fall and then almost imperceptibly pulled back.

“I don’t know what I believe.” Rish retreated for the cliff’s edge and continued walking along the path through the heather.

Tenzin followed slightly behind. “Rish, if you don’t have faith when you jump, whatever god that caught you yesterday will surely let you fall. Isn’t that what this is about? A test of faith.”

“Test of faith. And revelation of the power of faith. First one, then the other.”

Rish was less sure of his words. He wondered to himself, “Why would a god demand my faith? What kind of god would desire any kind of faith at all?”

They stopped at the point where the cliff face was most sheer.  Rish once again stepped to the edge. He looked down the cliff face to where the scree slid into the rushing river, far below. The feeling of terror that he had felt yesterday as he fell washed over him again and then, like yesterday the fear was replaced by exhilaration. Flying had been different than he had expected. He had not cut through air like a knife when he flew; it was more that the universe shifted to let him pass.

The memory of flying was dispelled by Tenzin, who tentatively asked, “Well … are you going to …?”

Before he replied Rish thought, “When Tenzin urges me to jump he is  thinking about the rush that comes from falling. Everyone can relate to that. Everyone has fallen. But what is pulling me back to this spot, where the cliff is steepest,  is not the rush that I experienced when I fell, but the exhilaration I felt when I started to fly.”  The feeling obsessed him, but he was certain that experiencing it again would not be easy. If he leapt off of this cliff now in an attempt to capture yesterday’s feeling, it would not work. He would plummet to a quick death. “No, Tenzin, I am not going to jump right now. The time is not right. There is no reason – to jump would be to presume the mountain God and the river Goddess have forbearance.”

Tenzin and Rish walked back to the village in silence. Their village, far below them, was at the limits of possible cultivation. Indeed most of the land, except for a narrow strip that closely followed the river, was used for grazing, not cultivation. One hundred metres higher up put Rish and Mila half way into the clouds. There were copses of small birches and oaks trees at this height; further up where the soil was worse and the climate colder, these gave way to pines, spruces and firs. Along the path the dominant vegetation was a coarse heather, that clung desperately to the mostly exposed rock. The path was lined with clusters of goji berry bushes, whose small purple and white flowers had just begun to bloom.

Although it had been sunny when they left as they returned the air became colder and wetter as a cloud bumped into the mountain side directly in front of them. As a result,  Rish smelt the Mongol horseman well before he saw them, a stroke of luck that saved his life.

He had encountered a Mongol troop long ago, when he was a child (Godan’s invasion in 1240). Although the encounter resulted in many violent deaths, the only thing he could clearly remember about it was the smell and the clanking sounds their horses and armor had made.

The smell terrified him. The sounds made it worse. Without an instant’s hesitation he pulled X onto the ground. They hid behind a large cluster of goji bushes that grew out of white-ish grey soil on a small hill at the edge of their town. The bushes were not particularly thick – Rish could see through them, and his hearing was acute.

The Mongols were filthy, rough looking and very well armed.  A soldier in red armor stood out.  [Godan again?].

“What is going on?” Tenzin whispered into Rish’s ear.

Before he could answer two soldiers pushed a slave forward. He was a frail man dressed in jute rags, originally from Bengal. That he was alive at all was testament to how healthy he had once been. The man tottered into the dusty square in front of the town gate. People lined the tops of the town walls, but none came outside. Prayer flags hung listlessly in the still air.

The slave spoke clearly but with an accent, “Godan is looking for a person. A twin. Named Rish. Give him up and he will leave you alone. Otherwise he will return with a myangan and destroy this village. “

The village elder spoke up. “He is not here.”

“Then where is he?” A frightened voice hidden in the crowd spoke up.

Godan signaled and the soldiers withdrew short swords and prepared to attack.

Godan shouted, “He is here or he is not here?”

The village Elder stepped forward while everyone else withdrew. He said, “I know who you mean. Rish. The twin of the man who will achieve enlightenment in one …”

“We know the stories Where is the twin?”

The Elder nodded. “He left. That way. Down stream. “

There were two directions. Along the Tsang Pao to Kolkata. Or via the Indus to Karachi. The Eldest pointed to the Tsang Pao, downstream. The most likely direction for anyone to go from this point.

Godan nodded and in a moment the Elder was bound and placed in a wagon. The Mongols set off downstream..

Rish pulled X back behind the hillock so they could talk. Rish pulled himself away from Tenzin terror

“Güyük Khan’s has arrived with mangudai.”


[“The son of Ogedei Khan is here with elite troops.”]

“They’re here for you.”

“Yes. Goodbye and be still.”

There is a chase and then Rish leaps, with X.


Three tests to see if he is bewitched or a sorcerer

Most of the Mongol troupe set out on the search for Ki. Guyuk stayed behind to supervise Rish’s interrogation. The first step in the interrogation was to determine if Rish was a demon.  Four sorcerer’s  were produced: three Uighurs who were dressed in a Chinese style, and an astrologer from Jaipur. The astrologer asked him some questions about where he was born and when and then retreated with his charts to a corner.

The Uighurs were visceral shamans: they began with chicken entrails, then quickly moved on to those of a fish. These examinations were cursory. What interested the shamans the most were a large, putrid set of intestines, which were presented grandly in a wooden bucket, which leaked blood over the dirt floor of the animal pen.

It was clear that his life depended on the pronouncements of these men, but Rish was so ill from the smells and from his wounds, that he crawled to a corner, as far away from the shamans  as possible.

Guyuk entered and had a brief conversation, through an interpreter, with the astrologer and three shamans. The shamans apparently wished to talk as one, but Guyuk insisted they speak to him each separately; Guyuk addressed the astrologer first; his guards escorted the Uighurs away from his prison.

The astrologer spoke Hindi so Rish, who came from a merchant family, could partially understand what he said. Which was unfortunate. The astrologer was a harsh, wizened old man who felt the only value Rish offered to the world was as a vehicle to capture Ki.”This boy is perfect bait.” The Uigher discussions were mystifying,  but quickly concluded. Then Guyuk gave his pronouncement. There were were nine people in the fetid, all purpose animal pen, but Guyuk pronounced loudly.  When he was done a large Mongolian rudely picked Rish up, flung him over his shoulder and took him outside. He was then slammed onto the back of a slow, but sturdy mare, and tied to it with painful ropes made of animal gut. The horse archers, bait in hand, set off. There was no hesitation about what direction they were going to take.


Ki ran until long after his lungs began to burn.  There were very few places to hide in the river valley. Most of the land was somehow in use by people. He headed to a chalky area full of caves and goji bushes, upstream from the town. There was one cave which had a spring. This made it an obvious hiding spot if you knew about it. He knew that someone would tell the Mongols to look here. Why not? By doing so one could save an entire town. It was still the best spot he could think of to rest at while he collected his thoughts and figured out what to do next.

There were not very many options.

Perhaps he meets a green-skinned holy man, a la descriptions of Mila Repa.

Bad situation. Give himself up to save village. That would lead to no good. The Mongols wanted him as a weapon. He remembered the fate of his father. He did not want to help the Mongols.

As he loaded some berries into a broad leaf for storage, a Mongol horseman passed by. Ki accidentally  disturbed a snow leopard which exposes his hiding spot. The horseman gets delayed and the horse reels away from the cat, but the path to Mila’s escape route is blocked.

One horseman waited as a guard while the other raced back towards town to get reinforcements.

Ki, in full view of the horse archer retreated to the cliff’s edge. The Mongol soldier pressed closer, but kept the distance between himself and Ki constant. After only a few moments standoff he saw a trail of dust that was quickly replaced by a view of ten horse archers and an eleventh horse to which was strapped a body. It took only a moment to recognize the body as that of Rish. 

He began to rush forward but was hit by a volley of arrows. The arrows were blunted, so didn’t pierce his skin – the Mongols were trying to capture rather than   kill him. Nevertheless,  they left him disoriented and in pain.

Ki thought, “It is no good to be captured. They will use me as a weapon”. His only path was to jump off of the cliff.  “Perhaps the gods hate mankind because we tempt them into sin”, he thought as he shuffled backwards towards the cliff’s edge, his gaze fixed on the body of his  bound friend. His path ran out. He was at the cliff’s edge now. He looked down the sheer red face to the sharp limestone rocks far below,  How could he jump without tempting the gods? How could the gods not be angered by his hubris?  Catch me before I die, I am more worthy than all the other creatures who have ever fallen to their deaths. I am worthy except that I have caused my  friend and ward to be enslaved. As he jumped he shouted,  Let me fall, I deserve to die.


Rish felt neither exhilaration nor fear as he launched himself over the cliff. For all of the momentum he had when he launched he only moved a small distance through the air. The horse archers appeared, with their prisoner Rish in hand. As one they raised their bows and pummeled him with a volley of blunt arrows. These flung him backwards through the air until he was completely out of range. This lead to an impasse – Ki floating in the air, staring at the Mongol troupe. Finally Guyuk became impatient and gave an order. Several minutes later they brought Rish forward to the edge of the cliff. He was rudely pushed off of his mount and then, without even a moment’s thought about the life they were about to take he was pushed over the edge, still bound.

Without a second thought Ki raced through a hail of arrows through the air to where Rish was falling. The Mongols, launched a large net that completely entwines Ki and Rish. Although he could still fly, he could not escape. 

They were fortunate to have fallen in a location that was very inaccessible for horses.

Rish is injured. Ki cuts free of the net. He tries to fly with Rish but he can’t. He’s too weak. He flies to a cave just above where Rish is and passes out.