Shikanoshima (志賀島), Hakata Bay, June 30, 1281​

Kim Bang-gyeong stood at the head of the table his makeshift war council stood around, the air still thick with smoke from the gunpowder that burnt corpses and ships alike. It was a familiar sight, bringing up painful memories of the defeat and shame of nearly seven years ago. Yet besides the princeling Wang On, none of the faces were the same. Gone was Kudun, their old marshal who valiantly led the first invasion, replaced by another Mongol lord named Hundun [1]. Neither was Liu Fuheng present, his injuries from that Japanese general's arrow nearly as great as the disgrace and exile he suffered.

Yet one man from that time still was, the most despicable man in the world--Hong Dagu. His skin crawled at the sight of that man's smirk, perhaps from the brutal physical torture he ordered on him or the constant slander aimed at gaining ultimate status in both Goryeo and China and blaming his own failures from seven years ago on him. So repulsive was Hong Dagu that if Kim had just a little less loyalty toward Goryeo (yet still loyalty far greater than all but a few subjects), he'd be fighting with the Japanese instead of against them.

"The Japanese raids are increasing in number," his general Wang On said. "I lost three ships and a hundred men last night. They even attacked us during the day!"

"Where is the Southern Route Army! Does anyone have ANY word of their whereabouts?" the Mongol general Hundun shouted. "We need reinforcements at once!"

"There is no sign of them. Our general needs to devise a solution to this problem...and quickly," Hong Dagu said with a cruel smirk.

Kim looked at Wang, sometimes a reliable rival of Hong's, for any sign of sympathy, but found none. The time was now that he made the critical decision that saved or doomed the campaign.

"We will withdraw to Iki and wait for the Southern Route Army. That was our supreme commander's plans. To go against that is to go against the Great Khan himself," Kim said.

"We've gone against them before, haven't we?" Hong Dagu sneered. "It was you who proposed that instead of dashing ourselves against that accursed seawall the Japanese built, we attack their supply lines."

"Such was the best option we had available at the time. Do you have a better proposal, Hong?"

"I propose we follow those orders once more, yet this time we strike the opposite shore. They will be lacking in supplies and reinforcements to sustain battles and we will lay waste to that province and shift the battlefield, while the Southern Route Army takes this seawall."

"Repeating our past failure is simply foolish, Hong," Kim said. "We've lost too many men already."

" just called both the Great Khan and our dear king fools for ordering this second attack on Japan. Are you claiming we have already lost?" Hong's eyes glared with menace, his argument swaying Hundun and even Wang On.

"Give me your proposal and I will pass it to our subordinates," Kim grunted, knowing he was cornered.

"Perfect!" Hong cheered. "You see, we failed last time because we split our forces. This time, we leave only a token force in Hakata Bay. Gather the most damaged ships and crew them with the injured and disgraced. Order all soldiers to spend the rest of the day making scarecrows and order our prisoners to dress them with gear and armour for corpses. These wooden men will be our crew, and we will keep the fires burning in the night for them."

Kim wanted to protest, but Hong's logic seemed sound. It is said there was once a state called Usan on the island of Ullaeng who surrendered to the old Kingdom of Silla when they saw Isabu's wooden lions. Hong's trick is little different in substance, so perhaps it might work.

Wang clenched his fist at that order, but Kim shook his head in warning that it was useless to protest. Hong needed to release his pent up cruelty somehow.

"So the Southern Route Army will arrive and crush them for us? Ha, better prepare your explanation to Arakhan if you aren't back by then," Hundun said.

"Arakhan will understand," Hong said with confidence. "By then, the greatest struggle we'll face in this war will have been won."

Wang and Kim looked to Hundun, who as the seniormost Mongol commander present no doubt held the final say. He's our last chance to prevent Hong from stealing the glory.

"Really? You're making too great of an assumption when you claim we'll be striking their weak spot. What possibly makes you think that?"

"My trust in the Liaoyang forces in the north. We've spent seven years preparing for their moment of glory, entrusting them under the finest explorer of these uncharted lands and seas. As we speak they must be striking fear into the hearts of the Japanese."

Kim shook his head. It all comes down to nepotism. He trusts his younger brother and that barbarian vassal of his with the fate of us all.

"We cannot let the quality of the expedition Hong Gun-song prepared doom our mission," Kim said. "There is no proof they will aid us. Seven years ago, this same explorer found only the raging sea instead of the northern gates of Japan, contrary to what his benefactor claimed."

Hong slammed his hands on the table, glaring at Kim.

"You dare mock me? A single word to the Great Khan, and you'll be sent packing."

"Do not argue here, you two!" Hundun shouted. "Hong, can you refute what Lord Kim says?"

Hong's expression calmed down as he took a deep breath, undoubtedly drawing on the most of his wickedness.

"Seven years ago, even that great explorer Taxiala had no clue what lay beyond the sea on that island. Yet he find out he did as he spent years and years subjugating the tribes of the furthest north. Japan cannot afford to ignore this threat. There is unrest in the north and all fear the arrival of our army from that direction."

"I'm not at all convinced, Lord Hong," Wang said, folding his arms. "Get to the point."

"Japan's armies are not where they should be," Hong said. "They fight us in both south and north, rather than defeating us separately. Their commanders lack the courage of their soldiers to employ the best strategy."

Kim rolled his eyes. How impudent the man who refused to press our advantage seven years ago now speaks of courage!

"But," Hong sighed. "It's your decision, Lord Hundun. I pray you employ my strategy to its fullest. We shall strike at the city called Mouji [2]. If you find those lands more defended than before, I will lead the next assault on this seawall."

All eyes in the room turned to Hundun as he sat in thought, pondering Hong's strategy. Suddenly, a smirk appeared on his face.

"Let us do both. Since you so seek glory, we will attack that port. Once we succeed, you will be the first over the seawall at Hakata. For your sake, I pray the man standing before you speaks Mongolian and not Japanese."

March 1273, Dadu​

Taxiala stood outside the palace, the last words of the minister stuck in his head. Unfortunately, we cannot approve your dispatch of troops. He saw his own sigh in the chilly air around him on the frigid winter day. His servant--and increasingly friend--Yanxue greeted him, nearly unrecognisable in the fine silks of the Chinese compared to those rancid skins his people wore.

"I suppose they don't want to help?" the man said. "Too bad."

Taxiala shook his head, his sigh visible once more.

"'The Great Khan has his hands full,' they all say! We've wasted so much time and effort and barely done a thing up there, and just when we can finally crush those who dare attack the Great Khan's subjects, we're forbidden to move forward? Nonsense! Goryeo, Song, and Japan never mattered before, yet they matter now?"

"Such is why the simple life of my people is superior," Yanxue said with a smirk. "Even before I was a chief, I might freely speak with them and contest their decisions and even go my own course if enough of us agreed. None of this nonsense of being threatened with exile or getting my family executed."

Taxiala nodded, recognising the wisdom of his Udige friend [3].

"The same simplicity that reveals baffling wisdom like the sea freezing as a pond might. If only I'd known that the first time I came to that desolate shore."

He felt sudden anger, as if the past 3 years had been entirely futile. All his forces had done was killed a few bandits and given goods to the Jiliemi, work that mere merchants could have done. The raging seas stopped him from accomplishing his mission of crushing those rebels, yet now he learned the gods of those seas permitted him to pass only for man to block his way.

Out of the corner of his eye, Taxiala noticed a man paying particular attention to him. His robes were ornate, and he seemed a man of high position despite his youth. Taxiala shivered at his fierce gaze, suddenly realising he may have just signed his own exile to a frontier worse than Nurgan. Other tall men who looked like soldiers began to surround that man, but to his surprise, the man waved them aside and approach Taxiala.

"Goryeo, Song, and Japan, you say? Goryeo and Song won't be a problem, it's only that last enemy state that will," he answered with incredible confidence. "Ah, forgive me for intruding on your private affairs."

"I wouldn't mind at all if you could help me in those affairs," Taxiala replied.

"Help you?" The man's face lit up as a veritable army began assembling behind him. "My hands too are full, but what do you need?"

"Permission to launch an expansion across the frozen sea to subdue the rebel tribe known as the Guwei," Taxiala said. "But, I doubt you can help me there."

"If it involves crossing the sea, then I certainly can. I seek to cross a sea too, yet my enemies are far worse than a tribe of rebels."

"Just who are you, anyway?"

"I am Hong Dagu, soon-to-be victor over the rebels in Goryeo. From my position in Liaoyang, I know all about you and your expeditions against the Guwei and Yiliyu. I suppose you seek another audience with the court? Since we are both crossing seas, they might be interested in what I have to say."

Taxiala nodded with reluctance, knowing he placed his entire fate in this man's hands. Yet he had no choice for the sake of his subordinates who died in his failed expeditions--let alone his own righteous anger.

"Please, Lord Hong," Taxiala said with a bow.

Hong grinned, his soldiers watching as a seemingly powerful man like Taxiala bowed before him.

"Per chance, do you have anything extra to offer me? I will be crossing the sea myself soon after all."

Taxiala's sigh drifted again in the cold air. Few lend aid freely. He looked at Yanxue, knowing he gave almost everything--even some of his personal goods--to chiefs like him for their aid in the last campaign.

"I'll give you half of what I seize from the Guwei in my campaign. They are a wealthy tribe, rich in pelts of sable and seals. Some even own swords from the Japanese, others have gold jewelry. You and your kin will be rich indeed."

"Sounds wonderful. Will you permit my men to collect taxes from the natives on that island?"

Taxiala glanced at Yanxue. "Do you trust him to be fair and just with your people?"

The old man laughed heartily.

"I don't trust anyone but my own kin! Jurchen, Mongol, you're all the same to me."

"Tax them as you will, so long as it's fair."

Hong Dagu bowed to Taxiala before rising with a strange grin.

"We have a deal then." He motioned to a senior officer to stay put. "The Goryeo rebels shall persist a few hours longer so the Guwei rebels might respect the righteous authority of the Son of Heaven. As for you, ready your forces to cross a sea."

Author's Introduction

Welcome to my second TL, Sea of Blood, Sea of Ice. It is the story of an alternate Mongol invasion of Japan, where butterflies from the Mongols launching a late 1273 expedition to Sakhalin results in surprising changes down the road. I chose this setting because it's incredible how the era of Kublai Khan in East Asia led to so many different events so far apart--for instance, the downfall of numerous states from Goryeo to the Pagan Empire to the Yuan dynasty themselves all trace their roots in Mongol invasions. There are many fascinating PODs possible in this era with huge ramifications for East Asia--and beyond--and this particular POD is one of them.

It should also be stated that this whole TL originated as a post in my main TL A Horn of Bronze. This is because the events of A Horn of Bronze (wealthier North Asia due to changes in Alaska/Pacific Northwest) greatly increase the chance the Mongols would be led down this path. But it wasn't improbable IOTL either, given how the Mongols--and Koreans--operated in the region. With that in mind, I decided to expand that chapter into an actual TL since this era and concept greatly deserves to be more than a side story in a different TL. It's also convenient since readers will not have to read through almost a hundred chapters first.

I do intend to keep working on A Horn of Bronze, and at some point I will stop this TL (or more like put it on ice). This TL will be to a large degree "canon" to A Horn of Bronze, which will have a mere summary or two of what goes on in Japan. Now that that's out of the way, I hope you enjoy reading this TL! The first real chapter will cover the background and POD, along with more description for who these figures actually are.

[1] - Many historians believe Hundun (忻都) and Kudun (忽敦) were names for the same Mongol general involved in the invasions of the Japan, but for the sake of this story I will keep them separate.
[2] - Mouji is today part of modern Kitakyushu, but was a seaport of note in medieval times
[3] - I cannot find much on Yanxue (and the source I found the Chinese spelling of his name and information on him won't let me copy-paste, sorry), but Chinese sources state he was an ethnic Udige man who informed Taxiala's force they might cross the Strait of Tartary during winter. His personality is fictional, as is his position as a chief in Udige society, being a friend of Taxiala, or traveling to Dadu.
A Mongol conquest of Japan? Subscribed! I'm not too familiar with this era but hopefully my head won't turn much.

Great appreciation from a fellow author who is doing a TL on another Mongol state, Golden horde. May the legacy of Genghis live on!
Am very interested in this as well. Did my own Mongol Japan and it eventually converges a wee bit with A Horn of Bronze

A Mongol conquest of Japan? Subscribed! I'm not too familiar with this era but hopefully my head won't turn much.

Great appreciation from a fellow author who is doing a TL on another Mongol state, Golden horde. May the legacy of Genghis live on!
Great to hear. Thank you.
Any impact on buddhism and India?
Japanese Buddhist schools will be different TTL, but just how different I don't know and I don't want to spoil too much. It looks too easy to point to Nichiren Buddhism and say "if the Mongols took over Japan, Nichiren Buddhism would become the dominant school because its vague nationalism and exclusionary nature will make it appealing." Or looking at Zen Buddhism and its connection with the Kamakura bakufu and saying that them suffering a far worse crisis means Zen Buddhism never spreads as much in Japan as OTL. Although needless to say, both sects would be greatly affected by these events and I'm sure Japanese Buddhism would be in general (one trend of the Kamakura era was the emergence of many new Buddhist schools). I don't know how much I'll go in-depth on it. There's a lot of obscure Japanese Buddhist schools that apparently were more popular in medieval times like Ji-shu.

As for India, I don't think it would change much from least for quite a while, since Kublai Khan and the Yuan never attacked it and were arch-rivals of the Chagatai Khanate who were the main force attacking India.
Am very interested in this as well. Did my own Mongol Japan and it eventually converges a wee bit with A Horn of Bronze

I'll have to take a look at that.
Looks extremely interesting! Watched
Thank you.
Chapter 1-Obstacles

Near Souya Strait, southern Karafuto, April 16, 1274​

Taxiala rode his horse alongside his elite bodyguard of Mongol warriors in their armor, looking every which way for any signs of an ambush in the snowy forest. He kept one hand on a javelin, the other hand on his horn in the event those fur-clad Gilemi showed up once again. Already he'd lost too many horses to their lethal poisoned arrows. His lieutenants and bodyguards held bows already notched with arrows, their steeds advancing at a slow trot in even more wary watch.

He halted as he noticed a patch of bright sunlight, stopping the whole force and causing a bit of a commotion. Yet confidence glances to his lieutenants quieted the disease. He looked behind him, summoning a man in fur cloaks and hat with distinct whorls and stripes riding a pony.

"Yanxue, bring me our guest," he ordered.

"As you wish," his Udige friend replied as his horse trotted out of sight. Moments later he reappeared with two footsoldiers walking alongside his pony escorting a third man. Taxiala found strange as always the man's distinctive appearance, with his heavyset eyes and nose, incredibly thick black beard, and stout bones. His white and blue robes with their endless whorls and patterns stood out among the armed soldiers, clearly clothing for a man who'd rather be sitting around the campfire on a day as cold as this.

"Tell me, how much further to the Japanese," Taxiala asked. Yanxue translated, speaking with the man that awful gutteral language the two understood [1]. The bearded man seemed to be laughing at an increasingly frustrated Yanxue in disbelief.

"What's he saying, and why is he mocking me?" Taxiala demanded, but Yanxue simply shrugged.

"He thinks your question's too ridiculous to consider answering. Says you'd have better luck walking back home and finding another way."

Taxiala clenched his javelin harder at the Gilemi man's mockery.

"The hell does he mean by that! How many days must we travel to reach Japan, the ones he bought that fine sword from?"

Yanxue sighed, trying to reason with the smug Gilemi before shoving him into the arms of his captors.

"He's making jokes about how we must pray to the gods so the fish let us ride their backs if we want to go to Japan," Yanxue replied. "Whatever the hell that means."

Taxiala thought about it for a minute and then his eyes widened as the realisation struck him--there was another island between here and Japan. Taxiala shook his head, unable to believe what this man was telling him. Somehow, this barbarian warrior at the edge of the world had just disproved centuries and centuries of scholars.

"Ask him the quickest path to the sea," Taxiala said. His subordinate did as told, but the Gilemi man simply gestured forward with a bemused grin. Taxiala sighed, frustrated with the man as he ordered his party forward. No matter what, they'd find the answer before long.

As soon as they exited the grove of trees, Taxiala smelled it immediately--the scent of salt in the air. He looked at his guards and ordered them to dash ahead with him. There he saw that sight he never expected to see--the great cliffs of the ocean appeared before him. In the clear distance, he saw the hazy outline and hills of a most distant land.

"It seems like we must cross two seas then. May the Great Khan forgive us if we're unable to do so," Taxiala said to his lieutenant. He took a deep breath, knowing his mission just became endlessly more complicated.

Behind him, Yanxue and the rest of his soldiers finally caught up to them.

"So he was telling the truth. Hmm, I never expected this to lay in our way. Perhaps it too freezes over?"

"Ask that Gilemi bastard if it does or not," Taxiala said. Yanxue posed the question to the captive, but the man simply smirked and looked at Taxiala as if he were crazy.

"He wonders what sort of madman thinks the entire ocean freezes so that we could cross."

Taxiala clenched his fist, trying to sort through his disappointment.

"He's useless to us. Strip him of his clothes and toss him over the edge." He's nothing more than an extra mouth to feed who might just betray us in the night.

"Excuse me, my lord? He seems to be high ranking and I'm sure your Great Khan would like to see him as a captive."

"The Gilemi have far too many petty headmen like him. Deal with this one now, and we'll catch ten later."

Yanxue relayed the order to the guards and Taxiala looked away as they carried out their brutal task. The Gilemi man shouted words of protest in his own language to no avail as Taxiala gazed at the sea.

"Tell him to pray to his gods that they might cause the fish to allow this man to ride on their backs," Taxiala said. Yanxue repeated his words in his own language as the man was tossed naked into the sea. Seeing the source of his frustration struggle fruitlessly against the cold water barely alleviated his mood, and whatever hope of the man serving as an offering so that whatever gods ruled this country might freeze this strait solid dissipated as he plunged beneath the water.

If it were so easy to remove a big obstacle as a small obstacle, would we have obstacles at all? Taxiala sighed as he tried figuring out his next course of action.

Near Souya Strait, southern Karafuto, April 30, 1274​

Taxiala and his lieutenants huddled around the fire, watching a great meaty leg of reindeer twirling on it dripping fat into the flames and emitting a most fragrant smell. The warmth and imminent feasting was quite a pleasurable distraction from the frigid waste of this land. Taxiala wondered if he chose an accursedly frigid spring for his campaign or if this land was always so cursed.

One thing was for sure--Taxiala knew he was cursed.

His officers around the fire looked eager to join in the feasting, beside one man Taxiala noted from the corner of his eye.

"What's his problem?" he asked Yanuxe, the stripes and patterns of his Udege cloak and hat standing out from the Jurchen and Mongol wear of Taxiala's other comrades.

"That was his reindeer," Yanxue laughed. "Some damned fool let it roam too far from the camp and one of our hunters shot it." He held up a long, narrow chunk of wood with a strip of leather attached before throwing it into the flames with a shower of sparks. "This was that beast's collar. Let that collar continue to serve this beast in the afterlife."

Taxiala chuckled to himself. Their mistake had given them a delicious meal they wouldn't have received otherwise. And besides, that Yiliyu chief might just as soon turn hostile again.

"It's not a laughing matter," Yanxue said. "If my people killed your horse and ate it, you'd be furious and want us punished. Fortunately, he'll forgive you if you hunt him a reindeer and let him do with it as he pleases."

Taxiala pondered the man's words before looking at one of his lieutenants.

"Tata'erdai, at sunrise assemble a hunting party and kill as many reindeer as you can for this man." We need the allegiance of as many barbarians as possible. The Yiliyu are too close to our supply lines at Nurgan and must be kept subdued.

"Just this man? My men can kill a lot of reindeer, might as well have enough to provision an entire fort," Tatardai said.

Before Taxiala could respond, an idea suddenly struck him. He looked around at his encampment, counting well over a dozen campfires whose glow remained uncloaked by even the tall trees. An entire fort?

He grinned with pride. An entire fort would make not only subduing the local Gilemi tribes easy, but allow them to punish the Gilemi on the other side and perhaps even attack Japan.

"While you're out hunting, look for a site to establish a permanent fort." Taxiala turned to his other chief lieutenant. "You as well, Yangwuludai. With any luck, we'll be successful enough the Great Khan will grant us permission for even more forts, and perhaps rulership in this land."

In the 13th century, the greatest land empire in history formed on the northern steppes of Eurasia under the banner of Temujin--later Genghis Khan--and his descendents. With the strength of their horse archers and disciplined, organised forces, they defeated countless opponents from the Jin Dynasty of China to the great shahs of Khwarezm to the knights of Poland and Hungary. Although their conquests were marked by great violence and the deaths of millions, by placing so much of the once-fractured world under a single ruler, the Great Khan, the Mongols brought an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

Even decades after the death of Genghis Khan in 1227 and the empire's nominal division between his sons and grandsons, the Mongol Empire continued its expansion. They struck Europe, India, and the Levant, continuing their fight against enemies as diverse as the Delhi sultans, the Seljuks of Rum, and the nobles of Hungary. Yet their greatest effort by far were the Chinese. In seeking to rule this land, the Mongols first crushed their ancestral enemy, the Jurchens who ruled the Jin Dynasty, destroying them in 1234 with the aid of the other great enemy of the Jurchen, the Southern Song Dynasty. Soon after, the Mongols and Southern Song were themselves at war, where over the course of the next few decades the Mongols grinded them down through brutal campaigning.

The Mongols assumed the mantle of ruler of North Asia thanks to their conquest of the Jin, but establishing control in that region took much time. They came into conflict with the Korean Goryeo Kingdom, which despite its auspicious beginnings in 1231 with the defection of the frontier general Hong Bok-wan (洪福源) and his substantial powerbase, took until the end of 1257 before the series of wars came to its bitter end. At the same time, the Mongols faced troubles in their subjugation of former Jin lands in the region, accomplished only through powerful local vassals such as Hong Bok-wan's descendents who settled Koreans in the region known as Liaoyang, along with those three households descended from Genghis Khan's brothers. Mass resettlement of thousands of loyal Korean, Chinese, and Mongol households followed.

Shortly after in 1259 Möngke Khan, leader of the Mongol Empire, died during a siege in southern China. His rule had been broadly successful, but he delegated increasing authority to his cousins and others in distant regions of the empire such as Russia and the Middle East. He also failed to secure succession for his favoured son Ariq Böke. His other son Kublai, backed by less-traditionalist forces within China, Europe, and the Middle East, wrested control of the Mongol Empire from Ariq Böke and became its Great Khan, yet in the process permanently fractured it. He built a new capital Dadu (大都) within northern China in 1266 and in 1271 declared himself Emperor of the Great Yuan (大元) and holder of the Mandate of Heaven. This was intended to gain support within China against the still-powerful Southern Song.

As the campaign against the Southern Song continued, another great potential enemy in East Asian remained for the Yuan--the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan, which was a prominent trading partner of Southern Song and thus a potential enemy. This government had ruled Japan since the victory of Minamoto Yoritomo in 1185 over his regional rivals, establishing a parallel bureaucracy to the imperial court in Kyoto aimed at governing the many provinces of Japan. Yoritomo became the most powerful man in Japan, gravely weakening the authority of the imperial court and its civilian administration from his own seat at Kamakura, far to the east of Kyoto.

Yet at the time of the Yuan-Japanese confrontation, Yoritomo's successors had long since lost power themselves to their former allies, the Houjou clan. The Houjou clan ruled as shikken (執権), or regent, for a succession of shoguns from other branches of the imperial family. All were enthroned as children, and all were deposed--usually forced into the monastery--by the time they were old enough to pose a threat to the Houjou clan's powerbase. Subsequently, the Houjou clan defeated an attempt at imperial restoration in 1221 (the Joukyu War) and in 1247 purged those who sought to restore the shogun to power, thereby reigning supreme over Japan.

Unfortunately, Houjou dominance was wholly dependent on powerful Houjou leaders such as shikken Houjou Tokiyori (北条時頼), who named his kinsmen to prominent positions before retiring, thereby creating a dictatorship of the Houjou clan. But Tokiyori himself died only a few years after, thereby ensuring there would be an ever-present conflict between the interests of the shogunate and the interests of the Houjou clan. This conflict was expressed in the tensions between direct vassals of the Houjou clan, termed miuchibito (御内人), and direct vassals of the shogunate, termed gokenin (御家人). Tensions between these factions of powerful vassals would mark Japanese politics for decades to come, as they alraedy had--political purges were not unknown.

Kublai demanded the submission of the Japanese in 1266, but his letter did not reach Japan until 1268. When it did, the Houjou clan rejected the demand, ostensibly at the advice of the Zen monks his clan patronised, many of whom came as exiles from Southern Song. It met little better fate with the imperial court in Kyoto, who viewed it as an insult to their authority. Both parties, in particular the Shogunate, considered it a declaration of war and immediately began to make preparations for an invasion under the guidance of the new shikken, Houjou Tokimune.

Initially, the Japanese planned to strike first. After purging a number of potential threats, including his older brother, Tokimune ordered two favoured military leaders in Kyushu, Shouni Tsunesuke (少弐経資) and Otomo Yoriyasu (大友頼泰), to command an invasion force against Goryeo to drive out the Mongols, planned for five years in the future in March 1276. At the same time, these two leaders were entrusted with building a defensive wall at Hakata Bay, the most likely place of a Mongol invasion.

The invasion took years for the Mongols and their Korean allies to prepare, in light of the ongoing conflicts with Southern Song and revolts in Korea. The latter were indeed a serious matter, for they involved the elite units of Goryeo's military regime, the Sambyeolcho (三別抄), who sought to install their own puppet king of Goryeo [2]. Hong Dagu (洪茶丘), son of Hong Bok-wan and by now a thorough Yuan patriot, led Yuan forces who aided Goryeo's monarchy in ousting the pretender and his followers. The Sambyeolcho were brought under control and as their final act, executed their own leader Im Yumu (林惟茂) before being disbanded by Goryeo's king Wonjong (高麗).

Yet radicals within the Sambyeolcho refused to recognise Wonjong's order and continued their resistance. Alongside local Korean forces under famed general Kim Bang-gyeong (金方慶), the Yuan suppressed the rebellion with utmost brutality. Hong Dagu personally executed those members of the royal family who supported the rebellion and in 1273 executed every single rebel caught alive. This won him the approval of the Mongols, who gave him the important task of shipbuilding and logistics for the Japanese invasion.

Hong's activities were unpleasant for the people of Goryeo. He ordered hundreds of ships built and fully stocked with provisions. He lived lavishly, extorting the Goryeo court for fine clothing for him and his subordinates. His soldiers took supplies by force from the local people, breaking into homes and often stealing for themselves. A vast number of Koreans were forced into every aspect of shipbuilding, from cutting and processing the timber to assembling the ships.

At this time, the Mongols already sought to probe the defenses of Japan through an unlikely place--the most distant north on Japan's northernmost island of Karafuto. Already in 1264, the Yuan under the general Shide (great-grandson of Genghis Khan's famous general Muqali of the Jalair tribe) aided the local Jiliemi people (吉列迷) against their rivals the Guwei (骨嵬) and Yiliyu (亦里于). Such a conflict occurs in the context of the Guwei (best known as the Ainu) migrating north to Karafuto where they joined their kin already there in attacks on the Guwei while the Yiliyu (or Uilta) were enemies from the mainland [3]. As the Jiliemi submitted to the Yuan, the Yuan dispatched a general named Taxiala (塔匣剌) to subdue them.

These expeditions failed due to weather on the Strait of Tartary, but in 1273, Taxiala learned from a native man named Yanxue the strait freezes over in the winter. He petitioned the Yuan court for another expedition. Although initially rejected, Taxiala encountered a new ally who enthusiastically listened to his ideas--Hong Dagu. Hong found the idea of a northern diversion in the attack on Japan compelling and helped win over Kublai Khan himself. Thus Taxiala was granted a force to launch a winter expedition to aid the Jiliemi and ideally menace the north of Japan [4].

Just the mere rumours of the invasion in Japan rose tensions throughout society. Nichiren Buddhism, one of the new schools of Buddhism which reshaped religion in Japan during the 12th and 13th century, exploded in popularity as its founder Nichiren (日蓮) warned of Yuan intentions toward Japan, a coming invasion brought about by the decline of dharma and neglect of the Lotus Sutra. Deemed an intolerant zealot by his enemies and subversive by the Kamakura Shogunate (patrons of Zen Buddhist monks condemned by Nichiren much as he condemned all other schools of Buddhism), he and his followers were persecuted yet no amount of persecution seemed to stamp out his religion. The message of salvation being achievable in this life and Nichiren's appeal to the people ensured its popularity.

One such follower of Nichiren Buddhism was Andou Gorou (安藤五郎), head of the Andou clan and one of the most powerful rulers in the north of Japan. He held the position of Ezo kanrei which signified his rule over all the northern islands of Japan and controlled a powerful navy, the Andou-suigun (安東水軍). In addition, he ruled the port of Tosa, the wealthiest port in Japan's north which controlled trade with the Ainu and other northern peoples. Like his predecessors the Oshu Fujiwara, his clan held deep roots among the indigenous people of Japan's north and he commanded great respect among them, hence the family's personal title of leadership, hi-no-moto shogun (日の本将軍) [5].

Lord Andou was not just a supporter of Nichiren, but a devout partisan. He demanded the promotion of Nichiren Buddhism among his people, especially in light of the Mongol threat. Pure Land Buddhism and traditional beliefs were suppressed by his decree. The people of the north rose up in revolt in 1268, an event Nichiren described as a great disaster. Andou managed to suppress the worst of it, yet it would continue smoldering year after year. Taxes were not collected and banditry widespread. Kinsmen of the rebels who lived in Ezo even launched raids across the Tsugaru Strait. The region was cast into chaos, not the least as other branches of the Andou clan began to view the revolt as a danger to their personal power [6].

The Mongols learned of this ongoing disaster in the north of Japan from an Ainu prisoner captured by Taxiala's expedition. Hong Dagu even sought to delay the expedition so Taxiala might finish subduing Karafuto and draw away even more Japanese soldiers. Regardless, such advice was not taken, and the invasion of Japan was to commence as scheduled.

Taxiala's efforts succeeded in one respect. Despite the long journey down the Heilong River followed by dangerous ice floes and harsh weather conditions on the Strait of Tartary, the Mongols captured or killed a number of Ainu headmen and nominally obtained the submission of all Ainu living on Karafuto. In addition, he became the first from the mainland to confirm that Karafuto and Ezo were not connected, as was commonly believed by Chinese (and Japanese) scholars of the time.

Yet having brought few boats, all Taxiala could do was send scouts across the strait to Ezo, half of whom ended up killed by Ainu warriors with their notorious poison arrows. In April 1274 established a fortress named Guohuo (果夥) at the southernmost point of the island, stationing primarily Jurchen and Nivkh warriors who were granted wives from captured Ainu women.

Meanwhile, word of the Mongols in the north reached the Andou clan via allied Ainu tribes. Andou Gorou petitioned the Kamakura shogunate's government, the bakufu (幕府), for funds to equip an army as well as additional reinforcements, but his request was denied. The impending invasion in the south was too important and the bakufu believed (probably rightfully) that Andou was exaggerating the threat to suppress his clan's internal issues. To Nichiren, this was yet more proof the bakufu was shirking its duties.

On November 2, 1274, the Yuan fleet set off from the port of Happo in southeastern Korea. It was a sizable force of 20,000 men, led by the general Kudun, a veteran of the Song campaign [7]. The bulk of the soldiers were Koreans from Goryeo, led by the victors of the Sambyeolcho Rebellion Kim Bang-gyeong, Hong Dagu, and Wang On. Han Chinese general Liu Fuheng (劉復亨), veteran of the campaigns against Southern Song, rounded out the leaders of the campaign. Their target was Hakata Bay on the southern island of Kyushu, where they would seize the port of Hakata before marching inland and taking Dazaifu, seat of Kyushu's local government [8].

Japanese preparations were hurried, but competent. Taxes were raised to equip thousands of warriors and assembled fortifications in Kyushu, while the shugo (守護, shogunate military governors) of Kyushu were dispatched from Kamakura to their local provinces to eliminate bandits and other hostile elements [9]. Shouni Tsunesuke and Otomo Yoriyasu, initially leaders of the planned invasion of Korea, naturally took the role of leading the defense of Kyushu. Priests were ordered to make prayers for Japan's victory, and the Emperor himself visited the shrine of Hachiman, the god of war. The heavyhandedness at which the shogunate went about these orders was likely to strengthen their own position, a criticism alluded to by Nichiren's continued criticism.

The Japanese strategy aimed at defense in depth. Aside from the greatest concentration defending Hakata Bay, each vassal was to conduct defense with their own forces and grind the Mongols down until they retreated. This strategy led to the valiant yet doomed last stands on the islands of Tsushima and Iki between Korea and Japan and the deaths of local lords Sou Sukekuni (宗助国) and Taira no Kagetaka (平景隆). Many islanders there were enslaved and massacred, carried off to Korea or forced to provide services to the Mongol forces.

The Mongols then attacked the outnumbered Japanese defenders at Hakata Bay on November 19, where 6,000 of them met around 10,000 Mongols. Mongol tactics aimed at annihilation were completely new to the Japanese who fought in a regimented and honourable manner. Yuan infantry fought in tight, coordinated formation, eliminating Japanese warriors who fought individually. Their technology was superior, including primitive rockets and large grenades launched from catapults known as thunder crash bombs that struck terror into Japanese ranks.

Although the Japanese gradually fled the field throughout the day from the Yuan's superior technology and numbers, some leaders such as Shouni Kagesuke (少弐景資) (younger brother of the Japanese commander Tsunesuke) and his warriors remained. These warriors continued fighting against the Mongols, occasionally achieving great results as the enemy's fatigue increased. Among these was the crippling injury dealt to Liu Fuheng, shot with an arrow from afar by Kagesuke. Additionally, the Mongol force began running low on supplies, including gunpowder weapons and arrows. This let the Japanese escape in the night to Mizuki Castle outside Dazaifu, built 600 years prior specifically to defend against invasion from the continent.

Yet the Yuan forces did not continue their advance. The injuries to Liu Fuheng and continued ambushes from the Japanese rear guard unnerved the Yuan forces. They ordered their men to pillage Hakata as they assembled a war council. While Mongol commander Kudun wished to press the attack, Hong and Liu believed their forces were insufficient and too exhausted to repel potential Japanese ambushes. Further, it was worried that Japan might assemble a larger army and crush them. With hulls full of pillage, heads, and prisoners, the Mongols thus decided to return.

While historians debate the causes, Hong Dagu's decision appears to rooted in his belief the Japanese still had a large force nearby, as by this point he knew his northern diversion failed. In any case, the bulk of Japanese forces engaged were local warriors from the Kyushu provinces--few from the north of Japan fought there.

The decision to return proved a fatal one. A storm brewed up and sank many of the Yuan ships [10]. Although large and imposing, their construction was hurried and poor and the strong seas and hulls overloaded with plunder made them unseaworthy. Around 9,000 men died in the campaign from both the battles and the storm, making it among the gravest defeats yet suffered by the Mongols.

While the Japanese celebrated their success and fortune, in China and Korea the mood was that of anger and frustration. The commanders disputed amongst each other where the blame lay--Hong Dagu laid the blame on Kim Bang-gyeong's sailors and leadership for convincing him to retreat while Kim blamed Hong's cowardice and harsh treatment of the men conscripted to build the ships. All blamed Liu Fuheng for being the first to propose a retreat. Punishment from Kublai Khan was fierce--Liu and Kudun were dispatched to the frontlines against Southern Song in subordinate posts (the latter would die there). Hong's favour with the Khan ensured he received only a simple rebuke, yet he used this opportunity to spark a years long feud with Kim Bang-gyeong as Hong tried acquiring additional power within Goryeo.

The only success ironically belonged to Taxiala. As he remained at Nurgan in winter 1275 coordinating military actions, he was not able to receive any blame for his own failure. When he finally returned to Shangdu that summer, he brought with him ten captive Ainu chiefs along with sable pelts, gold jewelry, white gyrfalcons, and even fine Japanese swords and lacquerware. With this, he was granted permission to continue the subjugation of Karafuto as a marshal of the Zhengdong Branch Secretariat (征東元帥府), a post that defacto answered directly to Hong Dagu.

As the Mongols took stock of their successes and failures, one thing remained certain--the dream of the conquest of Japan had not died. From the survivors of the expedition to Kublai Khan himself, all knew that one day, Japan must fall. Whether it fell from the south or north was immaterial, for the Mongol Empire must never be stopped.

Author's notes

This chapter is also an introduction, a lengthy but hopefully summary of the main countries this TL will focus on along with some of the key players players. I've simplified things somewhat out of concern for length and accessibility. The main ATL content is Taxiala's expedition to Sakhalin, which OTL did not occur in late 1273 as he hoped. Much of what Taxiala accomplishes TTL was instead done in later Yuan expeditions to Sakhalin. Everything else is as OTL, minus the circumstances of the Yuan withdrawal. I feel that although the Mongol invasions of Japan are famous historical episodes even in the West, the context behind them is far more obscure, so I hope this good introduction is handy.

Apologies to anyone hoping to see the 1274 Japan invasion success! I feel the 1281 invasion does not get as much attention and besides, it fit better my otherTL (A Horn of Bronze, from whence this TL originates from). Yet it still fits very well the POD here, if not even better, since it gives the Mongols on Sakhalin more time to establish a good base for threatening Japan from the north.

The next update will also have a lot of OTL content (albeit even more obscure), but will have yet more ATL content as I discuss how each side (mostly the Chinese, Koreans, and Taxiala's expeditions) prepares for the coming invasion. As always, thanks for reading.

[1] - The Nivkh language has many distinctive sounds not found in Tungusic language, and would logically have been spoken by an Udige man like Yanxue and a Sakhalin Ainu like this man because of intermarriage in their community (be it voluntary or forced--slavery was common).
[2] - I won't go into depth here, but the Goryeo military regime was broadly similar to Japan's Kamakura Shogunate in that a regime of military officers within a hereditary dictatorship reduced the monarch to a figurehead. And just like the Houjou clan came to dominate the Kamakura Shogunate, the Ubong Choe eventually dominated this military regime, although it never became as complex as Houjou clan's control over the shogun became
[3] - It is surmised the archaeological Okhotsk culture represents the Jiliemi (best known as the Nivkh). The Okhotsk culture's decline was due to Ainu ascendency. It was not an entirely violent displacement--the Ainu learned their famous bear cub ritual (iomante) from the Nivkh--but in Sakhalin it certainly was. As seen here and OTL, the Mongols eventually became involved in this conflict.
[4] - IOTL, Taxiala was either not granted permission for another attack in 1273, or failed. His success in convincing the court via a chance meeting with Hong Dagu (which perhaps gives him additional resources as well) is our POD.
[5] - The term "hi-no-moto", in addition to laying at the root of Japan's name, very possibly predates the Japanese state, as a similar concept was used by the Emishi, who included the ancestors of the Ainu. It is this concept which this title refers to, as the Andou clan appears to descend from local Ainu chiefs who ingratiated themselves among the Oshu Fujiwara (who themselves were part Emishi), married into them, and claimed the title and status among the locals based on matrilineal descent (which is an Ainu custom) from the Oshu Fujiwara after that clan was destroyed.
[6] - The Andou clan's geneology has numerous contradictory sources, so I will use a personal reconstruction (so I can have more people to use) based on the one found on Japanese Wikipedia. Note that over the centuries, the clan used two different kanji to spell their name (安 vs 安)--the latter is also used for several other Andou clans from other regions of Japan which may or may not be related.
[7] - It is believed that the 30,000 number often attributed to the Mongols is exaggerated, so I am slightly reducing it to 20,000. In any case, it seems the Mongols outnumbered the Japanese
[8] - Hakata is nowadays part of Fukuoka, but historically was the most important port in that region (indeed, "Fukuoka" was very narrowly chosen over "Hakata" as the name of the modern city in the Meiji period). It is sometimes called the "port of Dazaifu", as Dazaifu immediately inland was the seat of Kyushu's government and a center of such importance in medieval Japan that the term "Dazaifu" often refers to Kyushu's government.
[9] - The term in Japanese sources is akutou (悪党) and often translated "bandits", but akutou included all manner of criminals, debtors, and often people whose only offense was offending the wrong people be it local notables or the shogunate
[10] - It is very likely that neither of the Mongol invasions were sank by typhoons, but rather by mere passing storms that raised swells. While the ships were very good on paper and made superior fighting platforms compared to Japanese ships in a place like Hakata Bay, they could not withstand high seas because they were of poor construction and in the case of the 1281, literally river boats confiscated from Southern China. Therefore, even a moderate gale in the open sea would've been enough to cause severe damage, especially if the ships were close together and crashed into each other as one source states
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So Mongols are 'Island hopping' to Japan? Me thinks Ainu will be instrumental in Mongol invasion as a local ally.

Also when did people started to know that Karafuto and Hokkaido aren’t connected?
With the Yuan focusing on invading Japan what will happen to Kublai's other military campaigns (Dai Viet, Champa, Pagan, Java)

I also like to see the Yuan interacting with peoples crossing from North America
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So Mongols are 'Island hopping' to Japan? Me thinks Ainu will be instrumental in Mongol invasion as a local ally.

Also when did people started to know that Karafuto and Hokkaido aren’t connected?
The Ainu are actually in a very bad place since the Nichiren fanatic Andou Gorou clashes with them but they're also distrusted by the Mongols and especially their local Jiliemi/Nivkh allies who have spent decades fighting with them. But still, the Mongols had ways of making use of their former enemies to fight their current enemy.

The Karafuto-Hokkaido thing is particularly odd to me since many historians and archaeologists believe the OTL site at Cape Crillon/Souya, the Shiranushi earthwork, is the Guohuo identified in Chinese sources based on its similarities to continental Yuan forts and dissimilarity to Ainu forts. This suggests the Yuan would've explored that south in their attacks on the Ainu (and they did capture/subjugate at least a few of their headmen), but there is apparently no map before the 18th century IIRC (when Japanese explorers discovered this fact) in China, Korea, or Japan which depicts that the two islands are separate. Hell, it seemed to be widely believed it was connected to the mainland (despite the History of Yuan relating the "Taxiala learned he could only cross in winter" story and Ming expeditions), which is why the Japanese offered aid to Korea during the Manchu invasions there--they feared it would be easy for the Manchu to send their army right to the southern tip of Hokkaido.
With the Yuan focusing on invading Japan what will happen to Kublai's other military campaigns (Dai Viet, Champa, Pagan, Java)

I also like to see the Yuan interacting with peoples crossing from North America
Kublai's other campaigns will make their way into an update. But I will say it doesn't seem like China was lacking for troops since the first Pagan campaign was done by local garrisons, Turkic soldiers from Central Asia, and indigenous allies. It's Goryeo who foots the bill for Japan.

Probably only in A Horn of Bronze. I doubt I'll ever get far enough into this to do anything approaching that (since A Horn of Bronze is still my main TL), but I would like to get a good few updates into this.
Chapter 2-Preparations

Nurgan, Liaoyang, March 1279​

As Waying [1] stepped through the doors into the court, his eyes went wide with shock at the host of warriors before him. Those men who looted his village, carried off his sons and daughters into slavery, and slew his father and brother were not just Repunkur who obtained fancy armour and weapons. They formed an entire host themselves, ordering the Repunkur around as he might a dog or a pig. His people were up against an incredible adversary.

The fierce eyes of those evil warriors glared at him, mocking his predicament. The tight wooden shackles chafed at his wrists as his body ached from the long forced march from his village. But as much as he wanted to strike them down, he remained calm. His gods would protect him even this far from home, and he would punish what they'd done to him tenfold.

The leader of the men stood up while aide stepped forward. Both wore fine silks and tall hats, although perhaps not as fine as the clueless-looking man standing beside them. The leader spoke words in some language Waying didn't understood, relayed through his aide.

"Marshal Taxiala of the Zhengdong Branch Secretariat greets you, Guwei headman. In the name of the Son of Heaven who rules the vast and mighty state of Great Yuan, he orders you to submit yourself and your people to his rule."

The aide spoke the Repunkur's guttural language, peppering it with terms Waying had never heard. The hell is a marshal or a Zhengdong? Waying bristled at that idea, unable to shake the flames of destruction from his mind.

"We Ainu submit to no one but those brave and wise men who lead our people. I cannot submit to this Son of Heaven, whoever he might be, let alone his marshal."

A few warriors jeered at him as the aide relayed his reply to that "marshal", who only shook his head in what looked like frustration. He gestured and shouted something to his aide, whose face contorted into an evil grin. A few warriors led out in shackles what clearly were his two sons and three daughters, their faces blooded and bruised from abuse. Another man held the severed head of his brother, presenting it to the "marshal" who started laughing speaking his reply to the aide.

"All of your people spout this rhetoric, yet meet only with death and destruction. Why are so eager to lead your people to the death?"

The marshal stood, hurling the head by its beard directly at Waying. Waying stepped back, saying a quick prayer to the gods that he not be the one judged for mistreating his brother's body. He grit his teeth, purging whatever fear remained from his body.

"You have come to our land to aid of our enemies for some unholy purpose. Why do you so viciously attack us? You are rich people who need nothing from us, or even our enemies. You have no place in our country."

"All under heaven must pay tribute to the Son of Heaven. If you don't pay the tribute, he sends his marshals and innumerable forces after your people to extract the tribute by force."

Waying shook his head at the response he got. Why could these people not understand? He had nothing to give these people that they could not already provide themselves.

"I obey no Son of Heaven, for Heaven has no son here on this Earth," he replied. "Even if he did, I would have nothing to give him."

The marshal and his aide looked at each other, beginning to furiously talk back and forth. They gestured to the soldier holding his oldest son, and the man raised his sword and cleaved his arm off in a single strike. His son screamed in pain for a moment before silencing himself out of need to appear stoic and strong in front of both his father and these tormentors. The crowd of soldiers laughed, the Repunkur among them most loudly and repulsively.

"No!" Waying shouted, desperately trying to break his shackles. He broke lose from the grip of the soldiers restraining him, but just as soon was surrounded by far more and tackled to the ground well short of his son.

"You say your people are poor and have nothing to give," the aide said. "Do you have medicine to give your son for his wounds? If you serve the Son of Heaven, he will dispatch the finest and wisest healers in the world to your community to heal not just your son, but all of your suffering people."

"Y-you caused them to suffer! We were fine without you! If I returned to my land, my own healers could save my son!"

"People from countless lands serve the Son of Heaven, learning much from each other in the process. Your healers will never reach their full potential." The marshal waved his hand, and the soldiers helped Waying to his feet. "We seek peace with your people to bring them the gifts of civilisation. It is decreed the war between your people and those you call Repunkur must end so new cooperation can begin."

Waying grit his teeth, feeling completely trapped. He looked at his son's wide eyes that seemed to be pleading for help. I have no other option to save his life. Besides, my people will still serve me, and so many others will come to my call when I continue my resistance.

"I will submit to the Son of Heaven provided you might save my son. If you cannot, then you will have to kill me, for I will spend my days in prayer to my gods so that I gain the strength to kill every last one of you."
Nurgan, Liaoyang, May 1279​

Just as soon as that Guwei chief left with his children--one-armed but otherwise healthy son included--Taxiala faced another annoyance. He was informed imperial magistrates were seeking an audience with him. A month of that Guwei man's threats were enough--he didn't need the stress that visits from government officials brought him.

"I'm not much suited for these duties," Taxiala complained to Yanxue. "Coercing captive Guwei into submission and sitting back receiving reports is something for the bookish Chinese, not a warrior like me. I expected a marshal's work to be more exciting."

"I know nothing about that as ever, my lord!" Yanxue replied. "I'm just here to help you deal with these people you keep dragging in. Although...there's been a lot of my own people here lately, and those of the Water Tatars."

"They were ordered here as a reminder of their loyalty. The Heilong River is of crucial importance to subjugating Japan. If we don't have the supply lines, then we will surely lose."

"I sure hope my people who haven't spent so much time around you guys understand that. They worry all the outsiders settling at the trading posts will drive away all the game."

"If it did, then it would drive away the outsiders. This is not a farming country, it's a hunting country. Rest assured, your people will be compensated and become wealthy beyond their imaginations. Besides, Hong Dagu has sent his men to scout the coast and locate good harbours we might also use for supply. The burden won't fall on your people alone."

Before Yanxue could reply, their own local magistrate cheerfully announced the arrival of the expedition from the Yuan court. Taxiala bowed as custom demanded.

"We bring news and orders from the capital," the lead magistrate spoke. "The rebels who proclaim themselves as heirs to the state of Song have been suppressed. The Son of Heaven has restored peace to all the land."

A few in the room, not the least his own magistrate, expressed at such achievement, but Taxiala simply nodded. The war against Song has gone on my entire life. Is it truly over? He couldn't imagine the scale of the battles that must have been waged in that country for an enemy to have resisted a force as strong as the Great Khan's for decades.

"Very good," he replied. "What else do you need?"

"We would like a report on your use of military funds."

"On the orders of the Great Khan's honourable servant Hong Dagu, I have established the required colonies for supplies. Farmers of many nations, four thousand households I believe, will produce the food our armies need to support us as we attack Japan from the north."

The magistrate looked at the others in his party, then glared at his local counterpart before shaking his head.

"We passed through those colonies, but the people seem very poor and mostly are bartering with local barbarians for their needs. There was very little grain to be had."

"They have only been in operation for a few seasons," Taxiala answered. "Many are Jurchens and Mongols who do not live as the Chinese or Koreans. But my responsibility for those colonies concerns only their safety and their ability to supply my soldiers. I will make sure Hong Dagu knows of the problems. Is there anything else?"

"The Son of Heaven wants to speak with you, Marshal," the magistrate said. "We are here to inspect your efforts because they are of great importance to our nation, but you will answer to the Son of Heaven personally in Shangdu for how you have managed things for the coming punishment of Japan."

Taxiala wondered how much was the magistrates being their usual two-faced selves. If Song has truly fallen, then no doubt the Great Khan will focus on Japan. Soon I'll be back in the saddle fighting those Ainu, and then after, I'll cross swords with those Japanese warriors Hong tells me so much about. I suppose I'll only learn it from the Great Khan himself.

"Very well. I will attend his court. I know exactly what he demands--the subjugation of Japan. I will give him the best advice I can."
Southern Karafuto, December 1280​

Waying's heart sank as he looked into the beady eyes of the old headman, full of pity and sorrow. He was my father's friend and I've known him since I was young, but I have to give him orders like this? How can I treat my brother's father-in-law like this?

"Yes, sir. I am requesting ten live pigs, one hundred preserved salmon, a preserved deer, ten preserved ducks, and a wagonload of grain. [2]"

"MORE food? We have none to spare, Waying," he replied. "We will starve before spring if you take more food from us like you did this autumn."

Waying pointed behind him to an ox-drawn wagon.

"I-in there you will find a bushel of charcoal, sharp axes from the Great Khan, fine silk robes, and shiny beads from across the southern lands," he said, his hesitation and shame burning him, for right now he was no different than that bastard who nearly killed his son. "Your people can rest this winter and not worry about staying warm, and come the spring you'll be wealthy."

The old headman shook his head and sighed.

"We can't eat charcoal, iron, silk, or beads. You know that, Waying. Come back home. Your people need you more than ever."

Waying clenched his fist, knowing the old man was completely right.

"I-I can't. They killed my father and brother, they nearly killed my son had they not saved his life with their strange medicine. I'm not working for the Repunkur, I'm working for the Great Khan, the most powerful and wealthy leader in the world. I must serve him just so we might survive."

"Some of us might, but you won't," he said. "You're too brilliant to be a mere extortionist, and if this 'Great Khan' is that powerful, his wise men will know that. You will be killed, because I know you hate every bit of what you're doing now."

Waying stroked his short beard as he tried figuring out how a response to that. The old man saw through him completely and knew that he only served the Great Khan out of self-preservation. He was nothing like those other Ainu chiefs he met in Mongol service who were enriching themselves--he just wanted his people and above all his close kin to survive."

A patrol of horse-mounted soldiers trotted up to Waying. All of them thankfully looked to be Jurchen from the patterns on their cloaks--he made sure no Repunkur were around whenever he extorted headmen like this.

"Are you almost finished? It is nearly sunset and we cannot leave you and your men behind," the leader of them said in the Repunkur language.

"They are already starving," Waying replied. "Taking the requested supplies would be too much."

Waying winced as the patrol leader drew his sword with a sickeningly sharp noise. He stepped in front of the headman, his arms outstretched in protection.

"Put it away, put it away! We are not doing any more violence in this village! Please, give me more time!"

"He's right, Waying," the headman said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You need to leave with them, for I will not part with the food. I will stay here until death, unless there's another way."

The last of his words hung on Waying's ears. Another way...?

"What if they leave Karafuto?" Waying asked. "I've seen them myself, there's Repunkur who the Great Khan ordered to distant villages. Can this man stay with them?" His heart pounded fast as he thought of something on the fly.

"They can leave if they choose, just like so many Yiliyu have. But we still need their food," the Jurchen man answered.

"I can only give you my own house's supplies and what little is left in our granary," the headman explained. "Most of our village is hiding now or desperately trying to find anything they can eat to survive. They have food, but it would take days to convince them to surrender their personal stores."

The skepticism in the Jurchen patrol leader's glare terrified Waying. He looked as if he'd kill the headman on the spot just to make an example of him.

"Th-that is as good of an offer as possible, sir," Waying said. "Our people have become far too skilled at hiding thanks to these last ten years of war and deprivation."

"Very well then," the patrol leader said, sheathing his sword. "You will give us everything you have, and we will grant you and your people permission to settle in a farming garrison."

Waying breathed a sigh of relief, but hung his head as the soldiers went to work in the village. They climbed up the ladder of the granary and smashed in the door, throwing a few piles of grain onto the ground. A pig squealed loudly as a soldier killed it on the spot, no doubt wanting to feast on pork tonight.

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm sorry I couldn't do more," Waying apologised. "There's no way to express just how sorry I am for what you will go through because of me."

"Don't apologise," the headman said. "Just think of how you will survive this misery you've imposed on yourself. Your relationship with this Great Khan will not last, and you will be in my place."
Shimokita Peninsula, Mutsu Province, June 1, 1281​

Hong Jung-hui tasted the ocean through his mouth so wide open with joy. The beach drew near, that beach where he would equal the deeds of even his father. Even the boat shaking from the high waves could not quell that intense excitement. He tried composing himself, trying to think of poems in his head he might write down, but the words couldn't come to him. Battle would soon begin, and he would soon strike terror as never seen before into the hearts of the Japanese.

Do they have beautiful women unlike those barbaric Ainu harpies with those awful blue mouths? How wealthy are they? He had so many questions in his mind before he was shaken out of his reverie by the boat crashing against the shore.

"Dammit!" He stepped out of the boat, walking over to the forming encampment on shore. There, his irksome ally Tatardai approached him on horseback.

"Your men are late. Were the seas too rough?" He spoke with some level of contempt--perhaps it was for his youth, perhaps it was because of some grudge against his father, Hong didn't know.

"It wasn't a problem. Now where is my horse? Your job was transporting all of that."

The barbarian man pointed behind him, where an attendant held the reins of a fine white steed. Hong climbed into the saddle, looking around to take in the landscape. He noticed one of Tatardai's soldiers holding what looked like an Ainu man. There are Ainu here? [3] Hong approached that group to see if he knew anything.

"Does this man know anything?" Hong demanded. The soldiers turned around and bowed before holding up a skewer of a charred fish.

"He knows how to catch fish! Here, sir, are you hungry?"

Hong nearly accepted before remembering his father's words about danger being all around. For all he knew, that man poisoned his catch before the soldiers took it from him. Fighting the Ainu so many times taught him they were experts at poison and ambush.

"What else? Where is his village? Isn't this Japan? He must have a lord he answers to."

One of the soldiers, Jiliemi by the looks of his shoddy armour, relayed the question to the Ainu fishermen. The man answered, and the Jiliemi man just shrugged.

"The Ainu here speak very differently than Karafuto," the Jiliemi soldier answered. "From what I can understand, he's babbling something about 'Andong' and 'master of the sunrise' [4]. But he lives across the sea from here and is apparently a no-good ruler."

"Another damn sea to cross? Really? Was that Japanese merchant we caught really so untrustworthy?" Hong glared at the Ainu man, who shivered in fear.

"Make sure he never leaves this camp. If he tries to lead you anywhere, then kill him at once unless you're desperate to die."

"Get down, now!" the Jiliemi man shouted. Hong ducked out of instinct as he heard an arrow whiz past his ear. Tch, ambushed. Looking up, he saw two robed Ainu men retreat into the brush. Hong took out his horn and blew loudly, signalling that it was time to fight. A few horseman trotted up to him in haste as the camp took a defensive posture.

"What's happening, sir?" a soldier said.

"There are two Ainu archers in those trees," Hong said. "Kill them at once. There must be a village around here." He turned around, watching the trees carefully. And here I thought I would be fighting those famed Japanese warriors, yet once again I just fight barbarians. There would be no wealth in that, little glory, no beautiful women, and worst of all, he'd be far from matching his father's deeds.
The Mongol expedition to Japan in 1274 was a decisive defeat, one of the worst suffered by the Mongols at that point. Yet this by no means heralded a decline in the fortunes for the Yuan under Kublai Khan, for he had more than enough resources to arrange yet another campaign. Yet during the remainder of the 1270s, issues internal and external kept the Yuan focused on more important matters than punishing the island across the sea.

The greatest of these was of course the war with the Southern Song. The defeat of the largely Korean forces in Japan did nothing to stop continued Yuan triumph on this front. The fall of the great fortress of Xiangyang on the Yangtze in 1273 after its lengthy siege practically ensured their collapse. In early 1276, Yuan forces conquered the Southern Song capital Lin'an (modern Hangzhou), deposing its child emperor Gong of Song (宋恭帝), who was deported to Shangdu under his personal name Zhao Xian (趙㬎).

Enough of Song's government, including Zhao Xian's younger brothers, that the war continued until 1279. These also resulted in Mongol victories as Song's manpower depleted through defeats, disease, and defection. Their last stand occurred at Yamen in modern Guangdong, where a great Yuan naval force annihilated the Song fleet. The last emperor, Bing of Song (宋帝昺), perished as his chancellor Lu Xiufu (陸秀夫) drowned himself with the boy emperor in his arms alongside thousands of other Song loyalists. The Yuan thus united China, becoming the first non-Han state in history to do so.

The collapse of Song did not signal peace in China however, for Kublai Khan involved himself in numerous other conflicts. For instance, in 1276 he began his conflict with the state of Pagan in Burma, ostensibly to both punish the state for its mistreatment of Yuan emissaries and to block a potential path of escape for the Song remnants. Pagan's ruler Narathihapate responded by sending tens of thousands of men to invade the small state of Yingjiang, a Mongol vassal.

Around that time, the Yuan faced an internal rebellion from Kublai's nephew Shiregi. Nominally aided by Kublai's arch-rival Kaidu of the Chagatai Khanate of Central Asia, Shiregi's forces managed to captured the old Mongol capital Karakorum itself for several months. This rebellion no doubt delayed the fall of Song and greatly aided Kaidu's cause as Kublai's actions against the rebel Kaidu were cast into disarray for several years. He was defeated by 1279 and exiled to the far south of China where he died of illness in 1282.

Unable to dispatch a large number of forces due to the defeat in Japan, the continuing war with Song, and internal rebellions the campaign was left to local Mongol forces and primarily auxilliaries from the vassal state of Dali in Yunnan. Despite being outnumbered, the Mongols caused the Burmese elephants to run amok by showering them in arrows, driving off the Burmese force and leaving them in control of Yingjiang and other border areas.

Lastly, the Mongol campaigns in Karafuto continued, for the Gilemi and Yiliyu had no authority to which to coerce all of their headmen to surrender. This was a vicious guerilla war, where supply lines to the fort of Guohuo were constantly attacked by tribal raids. In response, the Mongols began a policy of seeking out enemy villages, burning them, and confiscating all crops and livestock. These actions drove the people into the wilderness and brought starvation, making it appealing for their chiefs to submit to Yuan authority. Despite this, the Mongols were constantly light on troops due to demands in more essential theaters, forced to rely primarily on allied tribes whom they found unreliable and indisciplined.

Hong Dagu's patronage proved essential to the continued subjugation of Karafuto, yet this was not readily available due to Hong's clash with both the Korean court and his now arch-rival, Kim Bang-gyeong. Hong accused Kim of plotting to kill Korean king Chungnyeol (高麗) and ordered him arrested and tortured. Kim confessed under torture to being involved in a dramatic plot against both the King and the Yuan, which Hong used as evidence in 1277 to petition Kublai Khan for another invasion of Goryeo aimed at destroying his enemies.

Privilege was denied. Goryeo officials had complained to the Yuan over Hong's harsh policies and corruption, and king Chungnyeol even managed to get his loyal general Kim Bang-gyeong released from prison. Hong Dagu's power was thus broken in Korea, although he and his family still held much authority in their role as supporting the planned invasion of Japan.

It was with this that Hong turned to his true powerbase--Liaoyang. Seeing Taxiala's forces bogged down, Hong began taking a more active role in the campaign starting in 1278. He used his personal resources--and those looted from Goryeo--to both reinforce Taxiala's forces and strengthen the supply lines. Additionally, his petition for further campaigns on Karafuto met with success due to the Ezo Ainu increasingly joining the battle with their kin in Karafuto. This gave Hong access to even more resources for expanding his personal fief in Liaoyang.

From 1278 to 1281, around 4,000 households of Korean, Chinese, Jurchen, and Mongol origin were resettled to the Lower Heilong basin and Karafuto as military colonies termed tuntian. Nurgan was confirmed as the capital of this district of Liaoyang, with 2,000 households settled there. Upstream, the Yuan established the fortified villages of Fudali (傅達里), Malhen (末里合温) and Boli (伯力), in order to keep the road to Nurgan safe. Across from the Heilong's delta, the fortified village of Nanghar (囊哈兒) was founded and Guohuo was expanded from a small fort to a true fortified town [5]. Further, two new forts, Wuliehe (兀列河) and Buluohe (波羅河), were founded on the east and southern coast of Karafuto, each accompanied by small military colonies. [6]

These garrisons greatly improved the supply situation for Taxiala's forces, although some of the citizens reputedly starved or froze to death from the harsh, unfamiliar conditions, particularly those from Southern Song. Taxiala visited the Yuan court in 1279 and 1280, each time bearing more gifts and subdued Ainu and Uilta chiefs. A network of chiefs officially vested with magistrate powers emerged on Karafuto. Although their loyalty to the Yuan state was tenuous at best, their conflict with the Jiliemi had been settled and they were now more or less Yuan vassals.

Additionally, Hong ordered the coast of Liaoyang to be charted and tribute collected from native villages. It seems that Hong held grand ambitions of restoring the prosperity this region held prior to its devastation by the Mongols. Although hampered by lack of resources, he succeeded in establishing military colonies at the ports of Yongmingcheng (永明城), Anding (安定), and Yanzhou (鹽州) by 1280 [7].

The raids on the Ainu drove many back toward Japan, where some crossed the Tsugaru Strait and allied with factions opposed to Andou Gorou. From prisoners and the loyalist Ainu, the Japanese learned of the shocking Mongol threat from the north. In 1279, Andou Gorou wrote to the shogunate, claiming 1,000 ships carrying 10,000 Yuan soldiers were going to strike south.

Andou's request must be placed in context with Japan's anti-invasion preparations. Far more dramatic demands were placed on the Kyushu provinces and to a degree all of western Japan after 1275. New taxes were raised, and Kyushu warriors were required to be on watch for 3 months out of the year and be ready at any other time. These taxes funded a great expansion of the seawall at Hakata Bay to an average of 2 meters high and 2.5 meters wide stretching across the entire shoreline of the bay and 20 kilometers on either side. All manner of supplies, including shipping, were requisitioned to support these operations.

The north received a proportionately lesser amount of resources from the Kamakura bakufu. All warriors of Mutsu and Dewa Provinces in the north of Japan were required to patrol the coast for three months, while a seawall was to be built at Tosa with smaller seawalls around Mutsu Bay. Houjou Tokimura (北条時村), governor of Mutsu Province, was named to the post of chinjufu-shogun (鎮守府将軍), the first in almost a century. As in the past when the post signified the commanding general against the Emishi and other threats in the north, Houjou Tokimura was to command, raise, and equip warriors from Mutsu and Dewa in defeating foreign threats.

Andou and his allies primarily used these resources to defeat his local enemies, those rebellious Ainu and other local leaders, while hoarding many of them for himself. Few of the fortresses and seawalls were built--Andou instead constructed them in strategic places best used to suppress dissent within his realm. Although his forces encountered some success at first, they were only required to serve 3 months which ensured the rebellion still smoldered as before.

Problems remained in Japan with ability to use these resources. Disputes between those two classes of vassals, the goukenin and miuchibito, remained prominent, and organising them as a coherent army proved challenging. Loyalty was given only to the shogunate or to the Houjou clan, and there was a base reluctance to accept orders from other vassals of equal rank. Yet Houjou Tokimune was a wise ruler and kept confidence in his vassal Adachi Yasumori (安達泰盛), who was popular among the goukenin--this led him to appoint Yasumori's son Morimune (安達盛宗) to the important post of military governor of Higo Province in 1276, where he would command the local samurai.

Meanwhile, plans for a second Yuan invasion accelerated. Guohuo on Karafuto became the base for routine raids on Ezo. Losses were high in Ezo's forest, but succeeded at ending aid to the remaining Karafuto Ainu rebels. One such raid captured a Japanese man, likely a merchant, exile, or fortune seeker [8], who informed the Mongols of both the distance to the Tsugaru Strait and its ease of crossing, redoubling efforts in that direction.

The loss of 10 ships in a storm in 1280 hindered Taxiala's efforts at pacifying Ezo, but this merely opened new opportunities. The Mongols charted offshore islands and forced the submission of the locals. Small garrisons were established to keep order, ensuring a path through friendly territory instead of the dangerous Ezo coast. These islands were to be used as staging points for Taxiala's fleets, as well as supply the timber to build their ships.

Unlike the large Chinese or Korean ships--many glorified river barges--Taxiala's fleet consisted largely of locally built traditional oceancraft of the Jiliemi and Tungusic peoples. These were supplemented by a variety of Korean ships. Although not as powerful in a fight as the fleets amassing in the south, they were swift and manueverable and ideal for the piracy scheme Taxiala aimed for.

As the Yuan court assumed the sporadic riches they found on Karafuto and Ezo might be found in far greater volume in Japan, preparations for invasion took on greater urgency. Faced with a diminishing treasury and increasing inflation from the long war against Song and fearing outbreaks of many new wars, Kublai Khan set the invasion date for 1281. This time, a vast force from China consisting mainly of former soldiers of Southern Song would join the force. The fleet was constructed in a hurry by Song craftsmen, creating a force of large, imposing ships that were of dubious quality when it came to bad weather [9].

In Goryeo, Hong Dagu once again supervised these preparations and caused tremendous hardship as he confiscated much food and conscripted people into cutting timber and building ships. Fearful of their fate, Hong faced sporadic revolts and riots from the people, while the Goryeo court complained of his deeds to the Yuan. Yet thanks to his success in Liaoyang, Hong maintained enough rapport with Kublai Khan to avoid any punishment.

Preparations for war against Japan were rapidly accelerating by 1280. Based on the success of Taxiala's conquest of Karafuto, the general Qaradai (哈剌䚟) convinced Kublai Khan into ordering similar measures with the southerly island of Taiwan. This island was poorly charted, but known to host pirates (both indigenous and ethnic Han), smugglers, and tax evaders. He dispatched Qaradai to the area in 1280 with 6,000 soldiers (mostly from Southern Song), who achieved the subjugation of the fishermen and smugglers inhabiting the small island group of Penghu offshore. It seems that Kublai sought to open another angle of attack against Japan.

Although successful in establishing a fort, Aboriginal Taiwanese warriors and their Han allies destroyed Yuan raiding parties with their mobility and knowledge of the terrain. Much of the army perished from disease or even incorporated themselves into the local bands of Hoklo and Hakka Chinese outlaws. The survivors returned to Penghu with barely 2,000 men left and only a few dozen captured Taiwanese prisoners. Although some survivors begged Kublai to send another expedition, the soldiers and ships were needed for the Japanese invasion. However, Qaradai was not severely punished, for he provided valuable insight as to how the soldiers of Southern Song performed under Mongol leadership. [10]

As before, the Mongols attacked first from Karafuto. Reinforcements from Hong Dagu under his favourite son Hong Jung-hui (洪重喜) crossed the frozen sea at the end of 1280. They spent winter of 1281 destroying the last remnants of resistance in Karafuto before uniting with Taxiala's force. Together they made up around 5,000 warriors, predominantly Jiliemi and Water Tatar (Tungusic peoples) auxiliaries. Their confiscation of food from the Karafuto Ainu brought about a terrible famine and resulted in the emigration of the Yiliyu back to the mainland [11].

There the force divided in half, with one half under Taxiala mounting a great raid on Ezo, the others under Hong Jung-hui attacking Japan. The attack on Ezo focused on the Ishikari Plain, where villages might easily be found and looted and those fleeing spotted and ran down by Mongol cavalry. Although the marshy terrain and Ainu tenacity made these actions challenging and cost nearly half the Mongol force, the Mongols reputedly killed thousands of Ainu and captured dozens of headmen. Other raiders striking Ezo burned coastal villages and especially destroyed boats so that supply lines to the subdued islands remained open and no further aid reached the Karafuto Ainu.

Meanwhile on June 1, 1281, the force under Hong Jung-hui attacked the Shimokita Peninsula, penetrating the incomplete seawall and destroying several fishing villages. They quickly retreated upon hearing of a large approaching Japanese force and lost several ships to the Andou Clan navy. Although accomplishing little besides burning a single village and killing local militias, this short raid marked the beginning of the Second Mongol Invasion of Japan and all the turmoils it would bring. It would merely be a taste of the suffering and terror to come in the future.
Author's notes
This chapter is a mix of OTL and ATL material discussing the happenings in Yuan, Goryeo, and Japan between 1274 and 1281. All named characters are OTL people like before.

At some point I may attempt a map of northeast Asia to give some reference where the military colonies are. Information on that region is incredibly sparse and often only found in Russian, Chinese, or Korean sources which I've clumsily scanned through with Google Translate. MOST of the military colonies I mentioned were OTL (although only Nurgan was important, most of the rest were just trading posts), but may be anachronistic for the Yuan era. However, there were many Yuan operations in the region, and TTL only features even more.

The next chapter will be wholly ATL, featuring the 1281 Kou'an Invasion of Japan. After that, I will do a chapter (mostly OTL with some slight differences) covering the numerous other campaigns Kublai Khan involved himself in at this time, probably also including more with Japan. As always thanks for reading.

[1] - Waying (瓦英) was an OTL late 13th century Sakhalin Ainu chieftain named as an adversary of the Yuan who later submitted. While little is known about him, he may have been old enough to have conceivably been an Ainu headman in this era
[2] - In this era, the Ainu still farmed and herded pigs. Their transition to full-time hunter-gatherers would not come until they became totally dependent on Japanese and Chinese trade (including trade in rice and sake) in the centuries to come.
[3] - There indeed were Ainu on the Shimokita Peninsula, and although the culture has somewhat faded, the language is gone, and the people are ethnically mixed, there still are to this day
[4] - "Andong" is the Korean/Chinese reading of the name "Andou" and "master of the sunrise country" would be a rough translation of "hi-no-moto shogun." Although I'm not sure if there ever was an Ainu translation, like I mentioned before, the Andou clan had significant sway over the Ainu for centuries so even in Shimokita, an Ainu man might know of the clan and their role in his society
[5] - Nurgan (sometimes Nu'ergan) is Tyr, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia. Although not mentioned until Yuan times, archaeology confirms it was founded in the Jin Dynasty as part of their control over that region and was important enough that the earliest Buddhist temple in the region was built in that time as well. Fudali is Amursk, Boli is Khabarovsk itself, which dates to the Tang era, Malhen is Komsomolsk-na-Amure (name is Jurchen/Manchu, I'm fairly certain I have the correct pronunciation from the Chinese transcription)
[6] - Nanghar is directly opposite the Amur delta, just south of Rybnovsk, Boluohe is Poronaysk, and Wuliehe is Nogliki. All are on the island of Sakhalin.
[7] - Yongmingchang is modern Vladivostok--this was the Yuan dynasty name, but it seems not have been an important settlement OTL. Anding (安定) seems to have been the Liao Dynasty name for an area centered on the town of Olga, Primorsky Krai. Yanhzou (鹽州) is at Zarubino, Primosky Krai, very near the North Korea border. I would assume the local name under Bohai/Balhae might have been known still, for in that era it was a major port.
[8] - Communities of Japanese on Hokkaido existed since the Kamakura era, possibly earlier, but they were not numerous and dubiously "Japanese" as they seemed to have been mostly closer to the Emishi. The first wave of Japanese settlement would not be until the 14th century OTL.
[9] - For whatever reason, "seaworthiness" was not a concern in 1281. However, they certainly made great fighting platforms in enclosed waters
[10] - Penghu, the islands off the coast of Taiwan, was occupied by the Yuan OTL in this time which may tangentially be related to preparations for the second Japanese campaign. There was an OTL invasion of similar size and success on Taiwan around a decade later--I think the ATL success of the Sakhalin invasion might inspire a Mongol general to try the same with Taiwan a few years earlier than OTL.
[11] - Consider this a way to keep the "Uilta did not arrive in Sakhalin before the 17th century" theory still true TTL.
Aww man, the ainu are in for a worse time. Although I have hopes as many will migrate.

How much prepared the Japanese are now compared to OTL? It seems the Yuan will assault on Tsushima this time?
Aww man, the ainu are in for a worse time. Although I have hopes as many will migrate.

How much prepared the Japanese are now compared to OTL? It seems the Yuan will assault on Tsushima this time?
Japan is about the same as OTL, except strategically worse off because they've wholeheartedly bought into the idea the Mongols will attack from both north and south and have spent a lot of resources (and the good will of their vassals) building fortifications and stationing patrols there, patrols which ironically are helping suppress the local Ainu rebellion.

Yes, Tsushima is in the crosshairs again in 1281 as it was in 1274. It's pretty much a requirement for invading Kyushu.
Chapter 3-The Fall of Dazaifu
The Fall of Dazaifu

Hakata Bay, Chikuzen Province, August 11, 1281
The ponderous Mongol ships sailed on the gentle summer breeze into Hakata Bay. To Kim Bang-gyeong, the air seemed so humid and sweltering it might be as dense as the sea. A few attendants, including a newly captured Japanese slave woman, fanned the room as the Yuan generals sat in council. Despite the great success of his plan, Hong Dagu seemed incredibly sour.

"You STILL expect me to storm the wall at Hakata Bay?" he said, his eyes greedy and incredulous. "Nonsense! Why am I even here? Wang On has far less skill than I do at these matters!"

"Wang On? Call him Alatemur [1]! He lives like a regular Mongol, you do not!" Hundun shouted back. Kim smiled--it was good someone besides him was here to check that bastard. "Your expedition cost us half our troops and gained a city that the Japanese can easily cut off with reinforcements. You're going over that wall, Hong Dagu!"

"Then tell Arakhan and Fan Wenhu to land their reinforcements there and not Hakata Bay!" Hong shouted back. "I'm not going over that wall!"

"You agreed to those conditions," Kim added. "You WILL follow them. Because of you, we have scarcely 1,000 men and are sailing on a fleet with just as many scarecrows as we made before."

"I don't need to follow anything, not when the Great Khan has my side on such a petty matter. We won, and our comrades in the Southern Route Army will surely win too. What else matters?"

"You will obey your promise, Hong Dagu, lest I order my men to throw you overboard. You are the most depised man in Goryeo, and many will cheer at the news you died of pestilence, your body thrown overboard to prevent the outbreak of disease," Kim replied. He drew his sword for emphasis as Hundun stood by the door, ready to open it in case Hong tried something foolish.

"The only pestilence is people like you, people who willingly bow before whichever ruler orders them to submit and praises them with the same hollow words. All the corruption in this world derives from actions like yours."

"Save those words another time, Lord Hong, we're nearing the shore now," Hundun said, opening the door. The three generals walked to the top deck of the ship, guards in tow, and glanced upon the coast. The faint outline of the seawall still stood, as did the great encampment of some force behind it. Hong's eyes widened in panic.

"N-no, I'm not going over there!"

Hundun smacked his back, shoving him forward.

"Oh you are, but see, you're in luck!" the Mongol lord laughed, pointing to an impromptu drydock on the beach. "Those are OUR ships!"

Kim squinted, his eyes poor from age. Yet from what he could tell, those were indeed the sails of a few Chinese ships being inspected for damage on the beach..

"O-our ships...? Yes, yes, those are our ships! Everything worked according to our plans." Hong's demeanor changed at once from craven to his usual braggart self. "And now I will be the first to report to Lord Arakhan the great victory we gained in Mouji, and my plan that saved our fleet from needless attrition from the Japanese."

Hong walked off, no doubt looking for a ship and some men to row him to the shore. Kim looked at Hundun with some worry.

"Are you sure it's wise to let him do that?" he asked. Hong didn't need anything to inflate his ego even more.

"Let him. He'll eventually make a mistake not even he can bounce back from. Until then, let him continue to benefit the Great Khan."

Kim wanted to complain to Hundun, but said nothing. He benefits the Great Khan, but the Great Khan does not benefit us equally. How many more will Hong Dagu trample?
Komenoyama Pass (米ノ山峠), Chikuzen Province, September 13, 1281​

Shouts and screams of continuing battle rose from the distance, but they had calmed down from earlier. To Shouni Kagesuke, they were pleasing noises--the cowardly foreign invaders were fleeing the field, but being attacked from the shadows of dusk at every step. The disasters at Hakata and Mouji were but flukes. We need only realise our superior spirit and we will win every time.

Kagesuke looked to his brother Tsunesuke, whose nervous demeanor lifted more and more with every report he received.

"It seems your dishonour at Hakata has been cleared, brother," he said. "The enemy is running everywhere they can, and rumour has it their leader is on the brink of death." Yet Tsunesuke shook his head.

"I swore it to myself--the invaders will be driven from Japan by my sword, or my spirit will. Until then, I will remain disgraced."

"And now we are one step closer," Kagesuke pointed out, drawing his blade and inspecting the blood on it. It seemed as if it would still function well in cleaving through hordes of those invaders from the mainland. "Now you give the report to Lord Houjou, I have some matters to attend to."

Kagesuke climbed onto his horse and galloped off toward the source of the noise, one hand on his reins, the other on his bow. The breeze in his face felt wonderful on the humid summer evening, although not as wonderful as the killing he prepared himself to do. The invaders must pay for daring to set foot on Japanese soil with such evil intentions.

He scanned the area around him, wondering where the enemy might show up and with instinct loosed an arrow into a bush nearby. He stopped at once, noticing a choking man in the robes worn by the enemy coughing up blood. He already bore wounds, so no doubt he merely finished him off. Content with his work there, Kagesuke continued forward toward the source of the greatest noise.

Into the next clearing, Kagesuke saw a most terrible sight. A wall of warriors on both sides clashed against each other, the enemy looking to be nearly driving his forces off. He shot an arrow into the crowd and prepared to rally the soldiers when he noticed the cause--one of his own commanders was wounded by an arrow and gradually retreating. Why is this not being reported to Tsunesuke or Lord Houjou?

Regardless, Kagesuke sounded his shell trumpet, trying to signal more forces to the area. Arrows soared around him as his horse galloped in a circle, Kagesuke firing his remaining arrows as fast as possible to make the enemy think reinforcements had arrived.

Thanks to his efforts, reinforcements actually did arrive. A few men of the Kousai clan, his good vassals, arrived on horseback, followed by a few exhausted-looking footsoldiers with their spears. Kagesuke was just about to join their charge before he heard another sound behind him--his brother's retainer Kousai Norikage (香西度景) signalling to him.

"Lord Kagesuke, we're not to press the attack further and risk more! Lord Houjou has personally ordered this!"

"Ex-excuse me? In the moment we're about to cut down hundreds more of them? We could drive them all the way back to Mouji if we keep fighting!" Kagesuke could not believe the words he heard.

"V-very well, my lord. But be aware that Lord Houjou will probably personally report this to the Regent himself."

"I care not what he thinks anymore. That he wouldn't spare a single man to defend Iwato Castle and called half its defenders over to make a stand at Mizuki Castle SHOWS he knows or cares nothing of what he's defending." Kousai sat on his horse, a distraught look on his face. All the lords of these provinces know it. We are under direct threat while the Houjou Clan sits back and orders us around without caring of our concerns, and we dare not speak it. Even Houjou Tokimune, wise as he is, isn't grasping the full situation.

"V-very well then. Shall we charge, my lord?"

"Indeed we shall. Onward!" Kagesuke drew his sword and led at the head of the group of Kousai clan warriors. Even if he was punished by that Houjou Sanemasa or the Regent, even if the enemy was already about to break, Kagesuke knew for the sake of his clan, his vassals, and Japan that he must fight the invader until his last.

Suddenly he pulled back, seeing an archer fire a burning arrow right toward him. The arrow burst into flames with a great crack, knocking him to the ground beneath his horse. Beside him, Kousai Norikage lay breathing his last, his neck broken by his own horse's fall.

Bloodlust within him, Kagesuke crawled out from under his horse, trying to run toward the enemy. Yet the enemy kept moving further and further away, and he noticed a sharp pain with every step. Kagesuke suddenly stopped, taking a deep breath to quell the emotions within him. He looked back at Norikage's body, shaking his head in annoyance. Had you reported only what you needed, you'd still be alive. Damn those invaders--and damn the Houjou too.

Mutsu Bay, Mutsu Province, July 10, 1282​

The Japanese warriors came right at Taxiala--now that they finished seizing his ship, they'd seize his head as well. Yet he was too swift for them. He ran the first warrior through with his knife, cast aside his helmet at a second man, and lept into the water. His whole body shivered, for even on a summer day it was still frigid, yet submerged beneath it he might swim to safety, evading the arrows Japanese archers fired at him.

He popped his head above the water and at once grabbed onto the oar of a barbarian ibune [2], its hull covered in distinctive hides.

"I am your commander!" Taxiala shouted in the Jiliemi tongue to a wary oarsman, before repeating himself in Guwei and the Water Tatar's language. The oarsman looked at his partner before the two shrugged and helped him into the ship.

"Thank you! You will be rewarded for your deed, but now, we must retreat back to the main fleet!" As the oarsmen relayed the order, Taxiala grabbed his soaked shell trumpet to signal his fleet to retreat. This has fast become a disaster.

They passed directly alongside a Japanese warship, able to do nothing but look up and pray the archers focused their shots some place else. Fortunately, they were busy contending with several other ibune somewhat further away that made easier targets.

The occasional arrow still struck the waves as Taxiala grasped the situation. Nearly all his advance force of large ships had been captured, sunk, or forced to retreat, with the ibune and war canoes either sunk or with heavy losses. A few ships sat burning, the thunder crash bombs and fire arrows effective at their job. He felt like a fool for not realising it before hand--the ibune made poor fighting platforms compared to the taller Japanese ships, and his attempts at mitigating that by using his fleet as the main spearhead failed entirely due to the enemy's leadership--and tenacity.

Taxiala said a quick prayer for those brave warriors who were fighting to the death in that melee and giving him and the survivors enough time to escape. The Japanese did not seem to be pursuing and fortunately, the fleet flagship was drawing near to cover their escape.

"That ship. Let me pull alongside it," Taxiala said. As the barbarian captain followed his order, the ship lowered a rope down and Taxiala ascended. As he threw off his dripping wet armor and outer cloak, he saw the man he least wanted to see--the young Hong Jung-hui, wearing much too fine a robe to be doing any fighting.

"Well, why'd you retreat? If you'd fought more, my push would've been enough to send them packing!" His shrill voice gave Taxiala a headache just listening to it.

"Apologies, my lord," Taxiala said, bowing before his nominal superior. "The barbarian warriors and their ships proved far more fragile than I believed in the face of the enemy warships and their tenacious marines." Damn him for making me blame our allies like that when all of us are at fault.

"Warriors reflect their leaders," Hong mused. "But no matter, how many are still trapped in that melee?"

"I estimate a few hundred, rapidly being eliminated by the Japanese. I escaped with only a few hundred myself. The rest have perished."

"Tch...may they have taken as many possible with them. We need to shift strategies. Any ideas?"

"First, continue the general retreat, my lord," Taxiala advised. "The remaining ibune are not worth saving and are useless in battle."

"Useless? And after all we spent convincing those stingy chiefs to give us their ships and warriors! Imagine how much those gifts we handed those Guwei chiefs would've been worth! All of that wealth, up in smoke now!"

Hong looked at the burning clouds, with anger as more trumpets signalled to pull the fleet away. Fortunately, it seemed like an orderly retreat might be made with the presence of the many large ships.

Up in smoke...wait a minute. Hong Jung-hui's words brought a sudden idea to Taxiala's mind.

"Set the ibune ablaze," Taxiala said. "Let them serve as fireships to cover our retreat."

"Hmm...I like what you're thinking," Hong said. "We'll make them even more dependent on us, and we'll take far less losses."

"The enemy strategist is an aggressive one, so we may yet even win this battle if he errs in his response," Taxiala added. "Let's hurry and set those ships ablaze." Hong went about the ship, shouting orders to his men. The few Jiliemi and other ship owners looked aghast.

"My lord, this is not a good idea." Yanxue protested. "They will demand much compensation for those ships."

"I know. But Japan is wealthy, and once our armies in the south have succeeded, we'll give them great stores of Japan's wealth."

In the water around them, Hong saw distraught-looking Guwei warriors reluctantly telling their crews to abandon their ships. A few remained to crew the ships now being set ablaze.

"May our great disaster be followed by our comrade's great victory," Taxiala murmured. If it isn't, we have wandered into the greatest disaster imaginable.

Itsukushima, Aki Province, August 2, 1282​

Shinto priests in white stood alongside Takeda Tokitsuna as he watched the main host of the enemy. The boat gently rocked from a cool morning sea breeze. The sun rising behind the mountains marked two months into the siege, and the invader still defiled the sacred Itsukushima Island with their vulgar presence. A morning campfire still burned on the outside of the shrine, visible through the grand torii atop the water [3].

A small ship came up to the side of Tokitsuna's vessel with an unusual cargo--live deer. The animals looked pathetic all restrained by ropes and snares.

"Five more deer removed from the island, my lord," a local peasant leader said. "All deer our healthy and my lord's requirements met."

"Good," Tokitsuna replied. "Did you encounter the enemy?"

"Not once today, just as yesterday. I wonder they are?"

"Bring the deer to the mainland and see to their wounds. You may keep two deer for yourselves." As Tokitsuna dismissed the peasant leader, a messenger from the shogun, Mouri Tokichika (毛利時親), appeared before him as always.

"Kamakura once again refused your request, my lord. Itsukushima's sanctity must not be violated and all available soldiers are traveling south with Houjou Tokikuni and Adachi Morimune to expel the invaders from Kyushu. Therefore, you will..."

"'Defeat the enemy and spill not a drop of blood,' you're about to say," Tokitsuna said, interrupting the youth. "Argh, I've trying to that for two months now to no avail. It was the best idea I came up with, but will this strategy really work?" One look at Mouri's face showed he doubted it too. Once the sun rises a little higher, we will sound the trumpets as usual to unnerve them...wait, that's the problem!

He looked to the trumpeter beside him and shook his head.

"Don't signal this morning. Let's ensure not a single trumpet sounds from our ships," Tokitsuna ordered, continuing to ponder the matter. Surely the monks he knew would have much to say about how he ignorantly repeated the same strategy to the point of meaningless. His mind expanded from the possibility of what else he had been doing wrong.

We've removed hundreds of deer and other game animals from Miyajima and looted the land of edible mushrooms and roots. We know exactly where the enemy is and keep him awake every night through beating drums near his camps. We've even kidnapped some of his soldiers and set fire to his stocks. Yet he still won't surrender? What is the last push we need?

"Lord Mouri, is the rumour that the enemy covered their retreat from Hakata Bay using a fleet of scarecrows true?" Tokitsuna asked, suddenly remembering something he heard.

"I believe so, my lord. Why do you ask?"

"Scarecrows aid retreats, but rarely aid attacks. Will our enemy expect that? So let us build scarecrows and give them crude armor and weapons and push the ships toward the island at high tide."

"The enemy surely isn't that stupid, my lord," Mouri protested. "They will just knock down the scarecrows and curse us for making fools of them."

"Perhaps we send a few archers behind them and fire arrow to set the scarecrows alight?" Tokitsuna said, grasping at straws. "If we attack in the night, the enemy will be in panic and believe they have offended the heavens."

"I-I think if they cared about that, they wouldn't be on Itsukushima to begin with," Mouri stammered, taken aback by Takeda's unconventional thinking.

"The enemy will believe we've been reinforced not just by more warriors, but by the heavens themselves. If they're as hungry and exhausted as I think, their mind will play many tricks on them," Takeda replied. "And we might insert anything into a mind so given over by desire."
Itsukushima, Aki Province, August 3, 1282​

Everything seemed like a nightmare to Wang On, from the rocking of the boat to the painful binding of his wrists and legs. He hadn't slept well ever since raiding that island shrine on Hong Dagu's advice thanks to the enemy's siege, and on the night the enemy stopped blasting their trumpets and banging their drums from the surrounding forest, he awoke to the horrifying sight of burning men in ships crashing against the shore. All he could do was surrender when the enemy ships so increased in number and their attack so imminent as the wind had blown choking smoke toward his camp.

The enemy warriors dragged him before the enemy's leader, a lazy-looking middle-aged man who sat on a simple mat in a room on his ship surrounded by two armed warriors. Something smelled incredibly delicious, and Wang On saw a plate of roasted venison over rice, much as he'd eaten before the deer seemingly vanished from that island. His stomach growled, having eaten barely anything besides meager portions of rice, moss, and berries.

"Are you the enemy leader?" the man asked him, his command of Chinese poor.

"Y-yes. I-I am a prince of Goryeo, descendent of the great King Hyeonjong. I demand to be treated fairly according to my status."

"Then I expect you act like one," the enemy leader said. "A proper ruler knows temperance and gives proper obedience to the heavens. You have clearly failed in the latter, but will you fail in the former?"

Wang On had no idea what the enemy meant by that. Was he just speaking nonsense, perhaps because he spoke so poorly the language of civilised people?

The enemy leader and his guards arose from his seat and with a quick cut of a short blade, hacked the restraints from Wang On's wrist. Wang On's heart beat faster as he feared he'd be forced into some battle against the man, but the man simply smiled.

"I will leave this plate of food here along with a cup of barley tea. Prove to me you're worthy of the title of prince by consuming neither." With that, he left the room and sealed the door, leaving Wang On confused at his intentions.

"Just what the hell is his problem?" Wang On shouted out loud, completely delirious. "He uses such mad tactics, he babbles on mindlessly!" His thoughts turned to Hong Dagu, who led him into this trap to begin with. "And this damn shrine was FAR more protected than I was told! Just what the hell is this place!?"

While the more rational part of him thought it best to sleep and wake up having completed that Japanese man's challenge, his stomach thought it otherwise. He grabbed a pair of clean chopsticks sitting by the food and immediately started eating a surprisingly tasty meal.

As he kept eating, his head seemed more clouded than ever and his stomach clenched and burned with a strange fire that soon spread to his throat. It became harder and harder to breathe. Is this poison? Did I really just...? How can a man like me die of such plots.

Wang On fell over, praying sleep might grant him freedom from whatever poison he just consumed. The darkest thought burned in the back of his mind that all he would be free of was his soul. Damn you, Hong Dagu. Had I not listened to such a foolish idea...
Tokuyama Bay, Suou Province, August 15, 1282
The tempest showed no sign of stopping. Far from the storm of iron Houjou Tokikuni expected he'd encounter as the divine wind drove the Mongols from Japan, he encountered a storm of pure malice. The gods of the sea were angry, and bringing out his anger at his fleet. Perhaps it's because we let the enemy occupy Itsukushima and devastate so many shrines.

"My lord! The only way we can move these ships is sheltering in that bay!" the ship captain shouted. "The weather is far worse than it was a few hours ago when I last advised that!" Tokikuni grit his teeth, annoyed at that ship captain's attitude.

"What's Adachi's son, that Morimune doing?" Tokikuni asked, peering out onto the deck of the ship. The rain had become so intense he could barely see the ships around him, let alone the ship carrying the son of that bastard whose indolence led to the invaders striking so far into Japan.

"I don't know sir! But he's probably looking for a sheltered anchorage as well!"

"Very well, then let's pull into there!" Tokikuni pointed ahead toward what looked like a bay. He was unsure just where it was, but it seemed to close enough to their destination.

The blasts of the shell trumpet signalled the fleet to begin turning, but a sudden burst of wind ensured it impossible. The ship rocked and groaned violently and Tokikuni fell to the ground at once. Worse still, the ship wasn't righting itself--it was taking on water!

"How poor of a sailor are you that you'd steer your ship like that!" Tokikuni shouted at the man. "Guards, arrest him at once and throw him over, for he just cost us this ship and its provisions! Abandon the ship!"

The captain screamed in protest as Tokikuni's armed guard tackled the man to the ground and began dragging him to the deck. Tokikuni threw on his cloak, following them above deck to where sailors from the neighbouring ship were tying ropes so his ship might be safely evacuated. The wind and rain made standing difficult and soaked him to the bone in mere seconds.

Suddenly, a great flash of lightning illuminated the bay to where he saw a terrifying sight--the sails of distant ships, their cabins ever-so-faintly illuminated by lanterns.

It has to be the lights of villages and sheltering HAS to!

But there was no mistaking it--it was a fleet, and based on the size of their ships, it was the fleet of the invaders. Houjou leaped to the other ship, falling on his hands on knees on the slippery deck.

"M-my lord, are you alright?" a retainer on the ship stated, the captain of that vessel running up beside him.

"Y-yes. G-get a signal at once that we must prepare for battle! Th-those are enemy ships! We've found their main fleet!"

"In a storm, my lord?" the captain asked. "We'll cause panic if we send up battle signals like that."

"DO IT!" Tokikuni screamed. "We'll cause even more panic if we let the enemy ambush us!"

Suddenly he was blown to the soaked wooden deck as another gust of wind swamped over the fleet. A loud crack signalled the ropes between the ships breaking as his old ship drifted off, perhaps sailing toward the bottom. The horns started blowing as he ordered, but drowned out by the wind as they were, Tokikuni feared they signalled something far more ominous than battle.

Tokuyama Bay, Suou Province, August 16, 1282​

A few Japanese ran toward Ataghai with spears, but Ataghai was prepared. He shot his bow and skewered one instantly before dodging the spear thrust and gutting the other two men with his dagger. His comrades made quick work of the last group, as the boarding party was finished off without incident.

"Clever of them, hiding in a seemingly abandoned ship," Ataghai mused. It's fortunate divine intervention turned this bay of water into a bay of wood.

"That makes five ships you've captured this morning, general," a captain said, making Ataghai smile with pride.

"Indeed. Hong Dagu will have nothing to complain about once we return to Mouji. I only regret I couldn't capture the entire fleet."

"You can still capture many of its timbers!" the captain joked. Then, Ataghai noticed one of the sailors of the ships cautiously dipping his oar in the water to ensure they didn't strike a rock or a remnant of a ship. The sailor screamed as he pulled up a drowned body.

"What are you waiting for, throw it back in!" Ataghai ordered. This isn't just a sea of wood, it's a sea of bodies. "There's only tens of thousands more like it!"

"S-sorry, sir!" the sailor said, but the captain only laughed.

"Next time, fish up a beautiful woman or something!" he joked.

"May we be that lucky in our future," Ataghai said. "I wonder if we've used up this lifetime's luck with our victory here.

One look around the bay seemed to confirm it. Ataghai had never seen this much ship wreckage. Even his battles against Southern Song on the Yangtze led to nowhere near this much carnage. No doubt bloated corpses would be washing ashore for months, and for ages to come, fishermen would be finding bones and remnants of the armour and weapons belonging to the countless number of drowned Japanese warriors. They must have outnumbered us at least twice over. I would have been lucky to retreat with my force intact, yet instead the enemy has been completely destroyed.

"No matter, where will you send us next? That island where lord Wang On perished?"

"Tempting, but they'll be expecting us there, and I fear we offended the gods with our actions on that island. For now, let us loot the surrounding villages, kill any soldier who made it to shore, and reunite with Hong Dagu in Mouji. Much work remains to be done in the south before our final victory."

The Yuan Dynasty launched their second invasion of Japan in summer 1281 as the culmination of Kublai Khan's drive to punish the island nation. A decisive campaign against Japan, it was to be the largest naval invasion in history up to that point. Nearly seven years of arduous planning and intrigue proceeded this dramatic moment that would reshape the history of East Asia.

The overall Yuan leader of the expedition was the Mongol general Arakhan (阿剌罕), a long-time compatriot of Kublai Khan's who distinguished himself against the rebellion of Ariq Boke and especially against the Southern Song. Beneath him were the leaders of the Southern Route Army under Fan Wenhu (范文虎), a commander of Southern Song recommended by Kublai's favourite general Bayan, with 30,000 warriors and sailors. Most of Fan Wenhu's army consisted of warriors from Southern Song hoping to regain their status under the Yuan, while others included disgraced leaders such as Qaradai or Liu Fuheng.

The other large Mongol force was the Eastern Route Army, consisting of 10,000 warriors and sailors from Korea under the Mongol general Hundun. Its command staff included leaders such as Kim Bang-gyeong and Hong Dagu who sought to avenge his failure from the previous invasion. As before, this force consisted mainly of warriors from Goryeo, and its ships were somewhat more seaworthy than the large river ships used by the Southern Route.

In response to the northern threat, the Japanese under shikken Houjou Tokimune assembled a sizable host in the north under the chinjufu-shogun Houjou Tokimura, numbering around 10,000. Such a force reduced the number Tokimune might send against the Mongols in Kyushu. Although Tokimune rallied clans from all over the country, ultimately it was Kyushu's lords who bore the greatest burden. The assembled Japanese army numbering about 35,000 traveled south under Houjou Clan member Houjou Sanemasa (北条実政), expecting victory against this invasion, known as the Kou'an Invasion after the era name Kou'an (弘安), due to their coastal fortifications and divine providence.

The structure of the Japanese defense remained similar to 1274. Tokimura's leading generals were the two leaders of Kyushu's government, Otomo Yoriyasu and Shouni Tsunesuke. While a few officials from the Shogunate were present leading their own forces, the Otomo and especially Shouni clan contributed much to the leadership of the army. Their own chief lieutenants consisted of the leading clans of Kyushu.

The Eastern Route Army's force under Kim Bang-gyeong was first into battle, taking the islands of Iki and Tsushima. Like in 1274, Mongol firearms and bombs combined with their numbers to overwhelm Japanese defenders on the islands in the bay. Japanese commander Tsunesuke lost much of his nerve upon hearing his son Suketoki (少弐資時) fell in battle while attempted to storm the islands in Hakata Bay. Yet delays in the Southern Route Army forced Kim to wait at Iki for arrival of reinforcements, giving the Japanese crucial time to prepare. The small size of the Eastern Route Army prevented any direct attacks against the sturdy Japanese seawall and its defenders.

In disobedience of Arakhan's orders, Hong Dagu convinced the Eastern Route to leave only a token force at Hakata Bay and instead attack the Kanmon Straits. Through swift attacks, they captured the city of Mouji on the northern end of Kyushu after a quick siege and sudden assault in mid-July, albeit at great cost.

Fortunately for the Japanese, they quickly discovered the Mongol ruse and annihilated the detatchment in Hakata Bay using a night attack that burned the Mongol ships. Yet as they prepared to march toward Mouji and destroy Kim's beachhead, the main Mongol fleet under Fan Wenhu and Arakhan's main force arrived, seizing the islands in Hakata Bay in mid-July. Hong's disobedience was overlooked, and he was reinforced with 5,000 more men and given leave to pillage Nagato Province across the Kanmon Straits. Arakhan's force at Hakata Bay was met with the same harassing night raids, but against Fan Wenhu's advice chose to wait for the return of the Eastern Route Army instead of retreating to Tsushima.

These events spared the Mongols disaster. On August 15, a great typhoon struck Tsushima and destroyed many ships there, yet passed by Hakata Bay and the Kanmon Straits with no damage. Hearing false news the Mongols supply line had been cut (some ships were sank, but quickly replaced), Japanese commander Sanemasa pressed the attack on August 17 after a series of night raids. Although morale was high, the Mongol ships chained together served as better fighting platforms and destroyed much of the Japanese fleet.

Seeing the destruction in the harbor, the Japanese on shore lost morale. The Yuan army breached the seawall with their bombs and broke their lines, completing their defeat of the Japanese. The Mongols stormed the port of Hakata on August 18, fighting a several day battle against Japanese stragglers as the main Japanese force retreated to Mizuki Castle, the main fortress defending Dazaifu, seat of Kyushu's government. Others holed up in the nearby Ono Castle or the Shouni Clan's Iwato Castle--together these fortresses ensured no siege of Dazaifu could proceed.

Kim Bang-gyeong attempted to outflank these fortresses, so Houjou laid in ambush for the Eastern Route Army as they crossed the mountains at Komenoyama Pass [4]. It was an arduous journey for the Yuan forces, who lost many from desertion and Japanese raids. Yuan general Wang On stayed behind at Mouji with several thousand soldiers, ostensibly to coordinate supplies and reinforcements. However, with the Mongols in their rear, the Japanese could not take full advantage of the situation and supplies became tight.

On September 13, 1281, around 10,000 Japanese under Shouni Tsunesuke attacked a slightly smaller number of Yuan soldiers. Kim stood his ground as he gradually pulled back with his men, losing most of his army but inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese. Shouni wished to press the attack, especially after hearing rumours the enemy general was wounded, but was held back by messengers from Houjou Sanemasa requesting he conserve his strength.

Kim was indeed gravely injured in the fighting--he died several days later at Mouji. Rumours abounded he was assassinated by his rival Hong Dagu, for Hong reportedly mocked his death in a poem and demanded his be buried in Japan, lest his corpse take up too much space on a ship returning booty to Korea. However, Hong eventually acquiesced to this demand, as well as to the demand of his ethnic Korean soldiers to appoint a countryman in Kim's place--this position went to Kim's former lieutenant Pak Gu (朴球) instead, known for supervising the deception operation that let the Yuan fleet sneak away from Hakata Bay.

The defeat at Komenoyama ended Yuan ambition to outflank Dazaifu. Instead, the Mongol force intensified their sieges. Their siege weapons proved deadly as the engineers who took the nigh-impregnable castles of Southern Song went to work with their bombs, rockets, and trebuchets. Despite the age of the fortification, tenacious Japanese resistance prevented the Yuan from storming the damaged castle. They refused to surrender even as the seasons passed, reduced to cannibalism, eating grass, for they expected at any point a sudden relief force.

This relief force was a reserve army of around 8,000 men raised by the Rokuhara Tandai (effectively the Houjou clan's internal security force in western Japan). Although many of its numbers had already joined the main Japanese force, enough remained to land in Kyushu and keep Yuan supply lines harassed. Utsunomiya Sadatsuna (宇都宮貞綱), a talented youth of 15 favoured by the Houjou clan, led this force. In several skirmishes, he showed great skill at keeping the Yuan forces at Mouji isolated from those besieging the castles in the region.

Meanwhile, another force was being assembled far to the north. From Shikoku, Japanese forces assembled and garrisoned Kyushu's towns in 1282, further limiting the damage the Mongols might cause. Elsewhere, thousands of more soldiers were raised, although their quality was dubious. The new Japanese force numbered 30,000 men, which far outnumbered the 20,000 Yuan soldiers in Kyushu. Taxes were increased further to pay for this force, and local lords from yet more provinces faced new duties of service. It was to be jointly commanded by Adachi Morimune (安達盛宗) (who had narrowly escaped Kyushu with his life) and Houjou Tokikuni (北条時国). These men would travel by sea, and innumerable merchant ships and fishing boats in addition to large warships were commandeered to move them to Kyushu.

Among these redeployed forces were those stationed in the north. While Taxiala's small force of 4,000 remained limited to small-scale coastal raids, Andou Gorou knew they would return in force should the shogun order his soldiers elsewhere. Yet he had little choice in the matter due to his Nichiren fanaticism alienating many lords from him and he thus faced the Mongol army with his own forces and vassals.

In winter 1282, Taxiala concluded an alliance with several Ainu headmen who had suffered at the hands of Andou Gorou's forces, raising an additional thousand Ainu warriors and their ships. Learning the Japanese had moved south, they invaded Mutsu Bay in July 1282 with their entire force of 5,000 warriors, intending to crush the Andou clan's fleet and open all northern Honshu for future invasion.

At the head of the Andou fleet, Andou Gorou intercepted Taxiala with a lesser force of perhaps 3,000 warriors, with his distant relative Andou Suemura (安藤季村). However, Andou outnumbered the Yuan in terms of large ships, for most of their ships were smaller ibune of native design rather than the sturdier Japanese or Korean vessels. This made it difficult for his auxiliaries to board ships and rendered them easy targets for Japanese archers. Pulling his ships back, Taxiala ordered the natives to board the larger ships so he might render the smaller ones into fire ships. This tactic severely damaged the Andou fleet and drove them off (despite Suemura's objections). Each side suffered heavy casualties, preventing the Mongols from taking advantage of it.

In the south, the Yuan knew the dire threat posed by Japanese counterattack. Their fleets scoured the coast of the San'you region, burning villages and denying the Japanese safe harbours. At several places they clashed with advance elements of Japan's fleet, but to no conclusive result. Cooperation between the Japanese forces was hindered by internal struggles between Adachi Morimune and Houjou Tokikuni. The latter was accused of corruption and evil deeds by Adachi, and was nearly stripped of his authority by Adachi's father, the prominent Adachi Yasumori (安達泰盛), before being reinstated by Houjou Tokimune himself, who decreed Japan needed unity in these times.

Internal conflict riddled the Mongol forces as well. On August 2, 1282, Mongol commander Wang On (王雍) died in battle while attempting to raid the sacred island of Itsukushima. Some allege he was lured into attacking by Hong Dagu, who concealed information of how defended it was--as a result, he died at the hands of Takeda Tokitsuna (武田時綱), military governor of Aki Province [5].

Takeda's victory was famed in Japanese history--to avoid spilling blood, he removed all food and even wild animals through the island by using peasants, priests, and disguised warriors (in later times, these men were commonly portrayed as ninja) who eluded Mongol patrols. A favourable wind blew, letting him storm the island with a boats loaded with scarecrows that burst into flames from fire arrows. These makeshift fire ships destroyed many Mongol boats as well as further depleted their supplies. Low on supplies and fearing enemy reinforcements arrived, around 3,000 Mongols surrendered. Yet this did not stop the Yuan advance, for they were reinforced by the general Ataghai (阿塔海) and his marines and the campaign continued unabated.

On August 16, 1282, a typhoon blew the concentrated Japanese fleet into Tokuyama Bay, sinking and damaging many ships. As the storm subsidied, the Mongol fleet emerged and dashed the smaller Japanese ships into the rocks and islands, drowning countless Japanese warriors, including Houjou Tokikuni. While Adachi Morimune attempted to rally the survivors and their fleet, many were Houjou clan vassals who accused him of assassinating Tokikuni under cover of the storm. Only some goukenin vassals and their soldiers survived through beaching their ships and fleeing to the hills. Over 20,000 Japanese died or became prisoner in one of the greatest defeats in their history. Morimune was dissuaded from seppuku by his grudge against his co-commander, blaming the defeat on the rival.

Hearing news of this defeat, Mizuki Castle surrendered on September 15, 1282. Houjou Sanemasa and Otomo Yoriyasu both committed suicide alongside dozens of leading Japanese. Ono Castle surrendered days later, and the remaining garrison at Dazaifu put up only a token resistance as on September 30, Mongol forces leveled the city and massacred the entire population.

However, resistance around Dazaifu remained, thanks to the Shouni Clan and their tenacious defense. Shouni Tsunesuke led the defense from Uchiyama Castle, the main castle of the Shouni, while his younger brother Morisuke (盛資) defended Iwato. Kagesuke, alongside his nephew (and heir to the Shouni clan) Moritsune (少弐盛経), commanded roving patrols that harassed Mongol lines. However, both were injured and Moritsune's younger brothers killed in battle aiding the escape of the other two Japanese lords.

Most of the Shouni clan would die by early 1283. Knowing the small number of forces guarding them, Yuan general Arakhan ordered them stormed. Explosives made clearing the interior of the castles relatively easy. On January 15, 1283, Shouni Tsunesuke committed suicide as Uchiyama Castle fell to the Mongols. Dozens of his retainers shared in this fate, as well as the Shouni clan in its near-entirety. Only Kagesuke, Moritsune, and Moritsune's young sons--having retreated south to their castles in Hizen Province--remained of the male members of the clan, each one of them determined to resist.

Following this victory, Mongol forces reached across the entirety of Kyushu, mounting continual raids and isolating major cities and fortresses. Even after the collapse of central headquarters, it was a slow grind as the Japanese defenders proved remarkably tenacious. Utsunomiya's reinforcements along with Shouni clan remnants helped assemble resistance to the Mongol forces. Even ordinary peasants fought the Mongols with everything they had and paid a bloody price for it.

Although the conquest of all Kyushu seemed imminent, the fall of Dazaifu, defeat of two major Japanese armies, and capture of numerous castles was but the opening act of a campaign that was to be as grueling as anything the Mongol Empire ever attempted. Losses of manpower, horses, and ships was already enormous. Worse, new fronts were opening all around the Yuan Dynasty as neighbouring powers supposed the Yuan Dynasty must be exhausted from warfare against Southern Song and Japan. From the Pagan Empire of Burma to the Tran Dynasty of Vietnam, numerous powers sought to challenge the authority of the Great Khan from both within and without. An intense era of warfare like few others would soon descend on the East.
Author's notes

I felt like writing a lot of short vignettes for this chapter to capture the decisive feel of it. I'm not sure just how many I will do in the future, and maybe I will even stop at some point. I hope it was enjoyable enough and I captured the scale of such a campaign, since in the past year or so I've developed a real interest for how a Mongol campaign in Japan would proceed (since too many people seem to think the next result "inevitable capture of all Kyushu" or even "inevitable capture of Kyoto"). The running inspiration will be the Southern Song and Goryeo campaigns, both of which involved much maritime action and campaign in mountainous, well-fortified lands (indeed, Mizuki Castle mentioned here was actually designed by engineers from the early Korean state of Baekje in the 7th century).

There is somewhat of a discrepancy from OTL in that Arakhan seems to have died immediately before the invasion was launched--he wasn't too old, so he survives TTL. Also, Shouni Tsunesuke and Kagesuke's father, Tsuneyoshi, is named in some sources as the Japanese leader, but he was 82 years old and died around the time of the invasion, so I've written him out. Otherwise, all named characters are OTL as always.

My largest discrepancy from OTL sources is the numbers. I'm very skeptical of the numbers given in Chinese sources, and to a lesser extant the numbers given in Japanese sources, which is in line with modern criticisms of these sources. Thus I've reduced the sizes of each army accordingly.

Next update will be a mix of OTL and ATL as I examine how this invasion of Japan and the massive amount of resources for it affects the other Mongol campaigns in this era. Thanks for reading as always!

[1] - Wang On is known in some sources as Alatemur because he was raised among the Mongols (as per a tribute demand where Goryeo princes were to be sent to the Mongol court) and held a certain cultural affinity toward them. Despite that, he was still a prince of Goryeo as he was descended from King Hyeonjong of Goryeo, who ruled in the early 11th century
[2] - Ibune is the term given to traditional seagoing ships of the Ainu, Nivkh, and some Tungusic peoples, especially in the medieval period. They were sturdy, fast, and capable ships for transporting people and cargo, but would have been at a disadvantage in a naval battle against East Asian ships
[3] - Even if you don't know where it is, you've probably seen a picture of the famed gate (torii) outside Itsukushima as its frequently used to illustrate Shintoism and Shinto shrines. The current gate dates to the Meiji era, but a similar gate stood in the water overlooking the shrine since the 12th century.
[4] - Today this is Prefectural Route 65 in Fukuoka Prefecture to the northeast of Dazaifu
[5] - It is not clear if Takeda Tokitsuna was shugo of Aki (unlike his father, who we know for certain was), but he was a prominent local figure in the late 13th century. He's also an ancestor of the far more famous Sengoku-era warlord Takeda Shingen.
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So mongols have almost captured Kyushu. But I believe Japanese will give them a hard time and the invading forces need to be reinforced regularly. It'll be quite hard with that huge body of water and frequent typhoons. Just one batch of reinforcement Being screwed by sea means a big defeat for Mongols already inside Japan.

They seriously need allies with naval expertise. While Ainu are good mariners they are no raiders and stand no chance against Japanese ships.
Great story. Also, I think that mainly Kyushu and following the Mogol forces advance, the rest of Japan, between the resistance and the Mogol usual reprisals, may be facing and asides of the nearly wiping off from their ruling warrior elite, a demographic disaster. One, that, proportionally, would be even more grievous than the one suffered by the Chinese population, through the decades long Mogol conquest...
may be facing and asides of the nearly wiping off from their ruling warrior elite, a demographic disaster. One, that, proportionally, would be even more grievous than the one suffered by the Chinese population, through the decades long Mogol conquest...
This is mainly due to Seppuku which will doom Japan in the end. A land which was conquered by mongols because it’s military leaders took their own lives following one or two major defeats.
So mongols have almost captured Kyushu. But I believe Japanese will give them a hard time and the invading forces need to be reinforced regularly. It'll be quite hard with that huge body of water and frequent typhoons. Just one batch of reinforcement Being screwed by sea means a big defeat for Mongols already inside Japan.

They seriously need allies with naval expertise. While Ainu are good mariners they are no raiders and stand no chance against Japanese ships.
Fortunately, it would be possible for China to assemble better ships than a fleet full of shallow-draft river warships given enough time and money, and looting Japan is a good way for Kublai Khan to raise the funds for it. Unlike in OTL 1281, there's less of a hurry to grab as many ships as possible. Preserved examples from Southern Song, Yuan, and early Ming show that the Southern Chinese were very good shipwrights and regularly built sturdy ships that traveled the Southern China-Korea-Japan trade route.

Goryeo might still have issues since I suspect poor, hurried construction by conscripted labour was a factor in one or both disasters, and with Hong Dagu (who OTL organised the shipbuilding in 1274 and 1281) still in a prominent position, this doesn't seem likely to change.

The Ainu (Guwei) were effective enough at raiding that in this era they chased the Nivkh/Okhotsk culture off the Southern Kurils and even crossed the sea to attack the Nivkh on the mainland (hence the OTL Mongol intervention). The Nivkh (Jiliemi) were called "repunkur" (sea people) by the Ainu, and did culturally influence the Ainu enough in the way of maritime hunting and other customs. But yes, their ships are inferior.
Great story. Also, I think that mainly Kyushu and following the Mogol forces advance, the rest of Japan, between the resistance and the Mogol usual reprisals, may be facing and asides of the nearly wiping off from their ruling warrior elite, a demographic disaster. One, that, proportionally, would be even more grievous than the one suffered by the Chinese population, through the decades long Mogol conquest...
Oh, it's definitely going to be a disaster, but ironically one akin to what actually happened to Japan, albeit a century or two later, that permitted the rise of new warrior nobility in the Muromachi era and beyond. For example, the Shouni clan and Andou clan frequently mentioned TTL ceased to exist by the 16th century, supplanted by newcomers. I'm sure much of that will happen TTL, but even earlier.
This is mainly due to Seppuku which will doom Japan in the end. A land which was conquered by mongols because it’s military leaders took their own lives following one or two major defeats.
From what I can tell, seppuku was not as ritualised in the Kamakura era as it was in the centuries to come since as a custom it seems to have truly emerged just a century earlier in the Genpei War (although there's earlier antecedents), although honour-preserving suicide was certainly a thing for far longer before that. It seems like the violence of the Nanboku-cho era and the enduring popularity of the Taiheiki epic based on that is what truly institutionalised seppuku as is commonly understood.

And IMO there isn't much of a difference between mass suicides like the Taira clan or Houjou clan OTL and the mass suicides of Southern Song dynasty ministers and courtiers at the end of the Battle of Yamen in 1279.