Tears flowed down Temujin’s face, but even at the tender age of nine, he knew this would be the last time he’d be able to cry freely. The Tartars had poisoned his father, Yesükhei, chief of the Kiyad clan, and even though Temujin was next in line by blood, the clan had refused to accept such a young boy as their leader and had driven the family away.

Temujin held the child’s bow Yesükhei had made him up to the sky and spoke to his father’s spirit. “Father, please give me the strength and courage to take care of our family.”

Then he bent down and entered the special tunnel he had spent the entire day digging next to the river. The tunnel was fifteen feet long and three feet wide, and Temujin had lined it with large stones. At the end of the tunnel, Temujin gently set the bow on the ground, wiped his eyes for the last time, and walked back out into the late afternoon sun. He covered the entrance with dirt and then marked the site with a pile of the largest boulders he could carry. After setting the final boulder in place, he stood in silence and offered a final prayer.

He knew his life would never be the same. He would have to depend on his mother, Hoelun, to teach him everything he would need to know to overcome the treachery, tribal warfare, thievery, and raids that would plague his family during his childhood years. But from that moment on, Temujin would no longer be a child. Tomorrow he would begin making a man’s bow—a reflex bow made from horn, wood, and sinew—to replace the child’s bow he had just symbolically buried along with his childhood. In his mind, Temujin could see the new bow. It would be unmatched in its force and reach. He would design it so it could be used from horseback for targets up to a hundred meters away. It would allow him to employ battle tactics never before seen, and it would restore the power that had been stolen from him. Nothing would hold him

“Temujin, where have you been?” Hoelun asked upon his return home. She noticed a change in her son’s demeanor. He was no longer the little boy who had left early that morning.

“Mother, how much food do we have?” he asked, ignoring her question.

“Just a little yak meat,” Hoelun answered.

“Tomorrow I’m going to get us more,” Temujin said resolutely.

Although surprised by the fierce determination in his voice, Hoelun smiled as she set about preparing their evening meal. There was no doubt that Temujin meant what he had said. However, in the days to come, food proved so scarce that when Temujin discovered his half-brother, Bekhter, stealing food from the family, he felt no remorse in killing him.

When she saw what he had done, Hoelun cried, “Temujin, what have you done?”

“Bekhter took the marmots I had killed, Mother, so I followed him,” Temujin replied matter-of-factly.

“When I found him near the river, preparing to eat them, he attacked me and I was forced to kill him.”

As he grew older, Temujin became known as a warrior who would go to any length to achieve his objectives and he quickly set himself apart from those around him. Once he was captured by a rival clan while hunting for game, but that very night Temujin killed his guard and escaped. The survival skills he had learned as a boy allowed him to stay alive until he was able to rejoin his tribe.

At the age of seventeen, Temujin was married to Bortei, a young girl his father had selected before his death. It was destined to be a union of love and respect. The black sable fur Temujin received from Bortei’s father as a wedding gift would prove to be of great value in the future.

“Bortei, I love you,” Temujin said on their wedding night, “but I need to use the sable to encourage my father’s allies to help me avenge his murder.”

“Do what you must, my husband,” Bortei agreed. “I am happy that my father’s gift will be of assistance.”

Within a few days, Temujin had used the fur to convince Togrul, his father’s closest friend, to seek retribution against the Tartars. A short time later, Togrul helped Temujin bring Yesükhei’s men under the leadership of the rightful heir.

Thus began Temujin’s career as a conqueror. As news of his power spread, Temujin called for all the tribes to set aside their differences and unite against their common enemies. Warriors from all parts of the land came together, bringing their families, supplies, and weapons with them. Temujin kept his army well organized, dividing his warriors into units of tens, hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands. Each warrior kept his own food with him, usually a quantity of powdered yak. In times of extreme hardship, warriors resorted to drinking the blood of their horses to survive.

Temujin learned early in life that trusting people wasn’t to be done lightly. He also knew that alliances shifted and changed over time. Even his childhood friend and blood brother, Jamuqa, eventually turned against him, taking Wang Khan, an ally of Temujin’s father and a man whose life Temujin had saved more than once, with him.

Despite sharing some of the spoils of war with those who fought in his campaigns, Temujin urged his warriors to avoid the trappings of wealth and pleasure. Hardship and poverty had taught him bitter lessons and he firmly believed that maintaining a degree of austerity would keep his troops strong. Temujin’s conquests were ruthless and destructive. He was genocidal in dealing with those who dared to defy him and was universally hated by all those he forced into submission.

He ended tribal wars by uniting the Merkits, Naimans, Mongols, Uyghurs, Keraits, and Tartars. He conquered the Tanguts’ western Xia dynasty, the Jin dynasty, the Kara- Khitan Khanate, and the Khwarezmid Empire of central Asia and Persia. His attacks on Georgia, Volga Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India destroyed cities, fortresses, and entire armies. The boy named Temujin had become ruler of an empire—and he had gained a new name. He was now called Genghis Khan. Khan believed that China’s arrogance and indulgence in luxury had resulted in its abandonment by heaven.

He also believed that his own people’s modest lifestyle and meager possessions kept them in heaven’s good graces. Most of his people owned no more than one coat and one set of clothes and lived as simple herdsmen. He believed rank was earned by merit, not by birthright, and his warriors had to earn the right to rise in the ranks.

Temujin always led from the front line, staying constantly visible to his warriors. Over the next seven years, the Mongols accomplished seemingly impossible tasks, adding the entire known world to his empire, from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan.

The Mongols were fearless warriors, toughened by the deprivation necessary for survival in their own desolate land. Khan knew that if he distributed the wealth his army was accumulating among his warriors, it would eventually make them soft and weaken their resolve to fight. All his efforts to unite the tribes could be undermined by greed, jealousy, and petty bickering. Gold could tear his empire apart, so he decided to use a portion of it to supply and arm his men. Another portion would be used to feed his people, and a third portion would be divided, as were his territories, among his three sons.

However, the vast majority of the Mongol treasure would be hidden. Not even Alexander the Great, the pharaohs of Egypt, or the Caesars had amassed such riches. The gold, silver, diamonds, jewels, silks, and furs took weeks to transport to a secret place, but he was determined not to allow riches and luxury to destroy his empire. On August 18, 1227, Genghis Khan died. His body was to be carried to his birthplace near the Onon River in northeast Mongolia, where he would be laid to rest in a tomb near the place where he had buried his bow many years before. A mile-long canal, the bed of which was forty feet deep, had been dug in the valley parallel to the Onon. A temporary dam had been built and a tomb had then been dug fifty feet below the canal. Once the work was completed, only the tunnel holding the boy’s bow offered any hint to the tomb’s location.

Late that night, after his body had been entombed and the funeral feast had ended, the Mongols set up camp at the bottom of the canal. Qasar dismissed the sentries and once he was sure everyone was asleep, he climbed out of the channel and crept to the temporary dam. He led six horses down a path that had been carved in the side of the canal and then tied ropes to the bottom of three key logs supporting the dam. He secured the other end of the ropes to the horses’ harnesses, mounted the lead stallion, and cracked a whip to urge the horses forward. As they strained against the harness, the logs slowly gave way, bringing down the dam and quickly submerging the camp and tomb. The surging water broke through a temporary wooden breakwater at the other end of the channel—altering the course of the Onon River forever—and leaving no one alive to tell the story.

Over the centuries, the story of Genghis Khan’s wealth was passed down from generation to generation. Although many fortune hunters sought to find it, the treasure remained no more than a tantalizing legend.