The Khan sat upon his throne ominously, like a great statue of what he was, the image whose favor all men hoped and whose wrath all man dreaded. But the city before him still defied his will. Many a week he had laid siege to it, but still the city stood.
He said to a courtier, "I am told that the enginners of Cathay are the most cunning in the world. Why is it that they cannot breach these walls?
The reply came, "Your majesty, the best of them have gone over to the Soong. They say...".
"They say what?", snapped the Khan, "They say I am a 'sheep-eating barbarian?' I have not treated them as the Great Temajin did. He gave them only misery. I had compassion on them. I gave them peace and wealth. Yet still they resist my will."
The Courtier said,"They are doing there best, Your Majesty."
The Khan said, "I wonder. Tell them that if they cannot build machines of war to breech those walls, they will all die miserably."
Marco said, "Please sir, do not do this thing. My father was in the Venetian navy. He helped build engines to breech pirate strongholds on Crete.
The Khan said,"I am told that the men of the west are mere barbarians".
Marco said, "I am not the only one they say that of."
Every one around looked shocked.
The Khan chuckled,"Oh come, people. Learn to laugh. He is foolish but I like a lad who speaks his mind. Just beware that you do not say to much as you did just now."
Marco said, "I beg your forgiveness, Your Majesty. Yes it is true, our City is small compared to the greatness of the Khan's domains. But though some here find us a contemptable thing, we have secrets inheirited from the days of the Emperors of the Romans, who long ago ruled a land almost as great as Your Own."
Marco's father protested,"I wasn't an enginner. I merely followed the commands I was given."
Marco said, "Question your slaves. Shrewd enginners are demanded by many princes and go far abroad. Maybe there are among them some captured in war, who know of these secrets."
The Khan said,"See to it and I will spare these failed enginners. Though I know not why you have compassion on them."
Marco said, "It is good to have compassion on any. Besides those who wish great reward must take great risk."
The Khan said, "Well spoken-and honestly."
Marco questioned the slaves amid the camp. He came upon an old Venetian enginner.
The slave said, "I learned my secrets from service to the City of Constantine and served many a prince but always Venice first. At the last I was captured by the Saracens. They sold me to the Tartars and I have been a slave ever sense."
Marco said, "To think, a free Venetian reduced to such straits. But you can get your freedom back. And much besides."
The slave said,"I am old and I have no ambition. I merely wish to go home and have enough to live on comfortably and be forgotten and forget the world."
Marco said, "That can be arranged."
A few weeks later the Khan summoned Marco, "The city has fallen. You have earned my favor. What do you request."
Marco said, "For myself and my family your favor is enough."
The Khan smiled cynically, "Indeed it is."
Marco then said,"The man who brought this about, wishes to be given his freedom and allowed to go home in peace."