The Three Palladins by Harold Lamb (1977)
Lamb, noted for his historical novels and biographies, first published this novel about a young Genghis Khan as three-part serial in Adventure magazine in 1923. Donald M. Grant did pulp fiction fans a great faor when he rescued the tale from its tattered pulp pages and published this novel in a limited edition in 1977 with full color illustrations by Cathy Hill.
Fifteen-year-old Mingan, a prince of Cathay and nephew of the Emperor, is about to accompany his uncle's court on a hunt to celebrate the feast day of Hao. This day has a special meaning for Mingan for at last he will be allowed to wear the insignia of manhood and nobility for the first. Unable to sleep soundly the night before, he is awakened by a shadow moving stealthily across the screen in his room. It's the executioner known as "The Servant of Mercy" -- so-called because he strangles those nobles whose rank is too high for beheading. Mingan narrowly escapes this attempt on his life, as well as several other attempts that day.
Who in the Emperor's court would order Mingan's execution, and why? The answer comes pretty soon: Chung-hi, the heir to the throne and Mingan's old playmate. Chung-hi is systematically eliminating any possible claimants to the throne in anticipation of the eventual death of the old emperor, including Mingan who, acccording to prophecy, is destined to have a great future in his country.
Fleeing past the Great Wall, Mignan finds himself in Mongol territory where he meets and befriends a boy his own age, Temujin, the son of the Mongol Khan. Riding together, they soon learn that Temjujin's father is dying, the victim of poisoning. They arrived at the Khan's camp too late. The old Khan has died and many of the tribes and clans loyal to him refuse pledge their loyalty to his young and unproven son.
Left with only a few loyal followers, Temujin struggles over the next few years as several loyal clan leaders die and as the Mongol herds are attacked by unknown raiders.
Things come to head when Podu, the head of the gypsies arranges for a festival for all the clan leaders. The leaders plan to strip Temujin of any power and to elect a new Khan. Podu hopes to arrange the marriage of his daughter Burta to whoever emerges as the new Khan. Temujin, who was not expected to show up at the festival, arrives with a small force of oldiers and with his three palladins: Mingan the Cathay, Chepe Noyan (the Tiger) who is a Christian from the court of the mysterious and legendary Prester John, and Subotai (the Buffalo), a giant Tatar.
Things go south pretty fast. Jamuka, an old enemy of Temujin, has allied himself with Prester John. He murders Podu and tries to kill Temujin. Temujin, his palladins, and Burta escape, but not before Mingan is speared through the lung during the battle. It takes months for Mingan to recuperate under Burta's care. In the meantine, Temujin as recruited many of the clans and has become the Great Khan -- or Genghis Khan, also known as the Man-Killer.
Jamuka stumbles across the isolated spot where Mingan is healing. He buries the wounded palladin upto his head in sand to let the desert seal Mingan's fate. He captures Burta and carries her to the palace of Prester John. Mingan is discovered, barely alive, by Chepe Noyan, who had been sent ot check on his comrade and Burta.
Now our heroes must travel into the heart of Prester John's Territory to save the gypsy princess and to wreak their vengeance. The shadowy and powerful Prester John, rumored to be centuries old, awaits them.
A fast-moving, slam-bang adventure tale -- the type the pulps did so well back in the day.