Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Genghis Khan and His Falcon

Author: Paulo Coelho

On a visit to Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, I had the chance to accompany some hunters who still use the falcon as a weapon. I don’t want to get into a discussion here about the word ‘hunt’, except to say that, in this case, Nature was simply following its course.

I had no interpreter with me, but what could have been a problem turned out to be a blessing. Unable to talk to them, I paid more attention to what they were doing. Our small party stopped, and the man with the falcon on his arm remained a little way apart from us and removed the small silver hood from the bird’s head. I don’t know why he decided to stop just there, and I had no way of asking.

The bird took off, circled a few times, and then dived straight down towards the ravine and stayed there. When we got close, we found a vixen caught in the bird’s talons. That scene was repeated once more during the morning.

Back at the village, I met the people who were waiting for me and asked them how they managed to train the falcon to do everything I had seen it do, even to sit meekly on its owner’s arm (and on mine too; they put some leather armbands on me and I could see the bird’s sharp talons close up.)

It was a pointless question.  No one had an explanation.  They said that the art is passed from generation to generation – father trains son, and so on.  But what will remain engraved for ever in my mind are the snowy mountains in the background, the silhouetted figures of horse and horseman, the falcon leaving the horseman’s arm, and that deadly dive.

What also remains is a story that one of those people told me while we were having lunch.

One morning, the Mongol warrior, Genghis Khan, and his court went out hunting.  His companions carried bows and arrows, but Genghis Khan carried on his arm his favourite falcon, which was better and surer than any arrow, because it could fly into the skies and see everything that a human beiong could not.

However, despite the group’s enthusiastic efforts, they found nothing. Disappointed, Genghis Khan returned to the encampment and in order not to take out his frustration on his companions, he left the rest of the party and rode on alone. They had stayed in the forest for longer than expected, and Khan was desperately tired and thirsty. In the summer heat, all the streams had dried up, and he could find nothing to drink. Then, to his amazement, he saw a thread of water flowing from a rock just in front of him.

He removed the falcon from his arm, and took out the silver cup which he always carried with him. It was very slow to fill and, just as he was about to raise it to his lips, the falcon flew up, plucked the cup from his hands, and dashed it to the ground.

Genghis Khan was furious, but then the falcon was his favourite, and perhaps it, too, was thirsty. He picked up the cup, cleaned off the dirt, and filled it again. When the cup was only half-empty this time, the falcon again attacked it, spilling the water.

Genghis Khan adored his bird, but he knew that he could not, under any circumstances, allow such disrespect; someone might be watching this scene from afar and, later on, would tell his warriors that the great conqueror was incapable of taming a mere bird.

This time, he drew his sword, picked up the cup and refilled it, keeping one eye on the stream and the other on the falcon. As soon as he had enough water in the cup and was ready to drink, the falcon again took flight and flew towards him. Khan, with one thrust, pierced the bird’s breast.

The thread of water, however, had dried up; but Khan determined how to find something to drink, climbed the rock in search of the spring. To his surprise, there really was a pool of water and, in the middle of it, dead, lay one of the most poisonous snakes in the region. If he had drunk the water, he, too, would have died.

Khan returned to camp with the dead falcon in his arms. He ordered a gold figurine of the bird to be made and on one of the wings, he had engraved:

“Even when a friend does something you do not like, he continues to be your friend.”

And on the other wing, he had these words engraved:

“Any action committed in anger is an action doomed to failure.”

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