Heart Of The World – Snippet 11

Dinah laughed, and hugged her. The child shrugged her off and she drew away.

She had fourteen letters in the dust when Nikola came.

He rode up on a spotted horse, without saddle or bridle, which nonetheless came straight beside his mother’s ger door and then stopped. He slid off, and the horse wandered over toward the other horses, in the open ground, where the two little boys were trying to scale their legs. Nikola came over beside Dinah and sank down on his heels.

“Your hair is getting longer,” he said, and reached out toward her head.

She pulled back away from him, and he lowered his hand. He looked down at the dust. “What are you doing?”

She stared down at her hands in her lap; she cradled the baby. Her heart was pounding. She did not dare look at him, or he might try to touch her again.

She said, unsteadily, “This is lettering. An alphabet. But not all yet.”

He frowned at it. “You know this. That’s good. But — for me –” He put his hand down in the dust and swept all her letters away. “Tell me what is west of here. You knew Idrisi’s map, my mother said. Make me a map.”

She stifled down a rush of anger. She reminded herself she did not own the dust. The baby was waking anyway and she found his sap and gave it to him.

She said, “I am not all so sure where we are now. Here is Baghdad.” She remembered all the maps she had seen of the trade routes east and west. “Here is Damascus, and here is the edge of the sea, and here is Constantinople.” She drew the straight vertical shoreline of the Middle Sea, and made dots in the dust for the cities. “Here is Cairo.” The baby was howling; he had soaked himself, and needed tending. She started up. Nikola got her by the arm and pulled her down again.

She swallowed.  Her arm burned where he had touched her. He said, “There is — somewhere — a golden city.”

Startled, Dinah gave a shaky little laugh. “What?”

“The city of Jesus? Sah-lem.”

“Jerusalem,” Dinah said.

“Ah, then it is a real place.”

“Not made of gold,” Dinah said.

“How do you know? Have you been there?”

“No,” she said, with another shaky laugh. Nothing was made of gold; Baghdad itself had been only stone.

“So.” He smiled at her.

She said, “Very well.” She looked down at the map. She did not want to tell him where the Holy City was. She made a random dot. “There is Jerusalem. Now. Answer me, then. What is a shaman?”

“Someone who goes between here and –” He nodded up, toward the sky. “She said that? She means Jesus. He hung himself on a sacred tree so that he could reach the overworld. That’s what shamans do.”

That was not how Dinah understood Jesus. She got up, holding the baby. “I have to take care of him.”

She went back into the ger; Nikola followed her. As she went through the door of the ger, his hand brushed her backside. She licked her lips. If he attacked her she could not stop him. She took the baby back over to the corner where they kept his fresh clothes.


Ever since they moved off onto this part of the steppe, Dokaz had been expecting some message from the Mongols in the north, and when an emissary came, she had him brought before her right away.

He was one of Berke’s sons, harsh and coarse; the north wind made them so. He stood in front of her, in the middle of the ger, and said, “The Khan of the Golden Ordu has sent me to tell you to stay out of our pastures.”

She sat straight in her chair. The blocks under it put her at eye level with him. She said, “This grass is not yours. We have rights here, and we are here, and you are not.”

He bared his teeth at her. Put his hands on his belt. “The Great Khan, praise to his name, gave all west of the River of the Chumash to Jochi, the eldest son–“

Dokaz spat to her left. “Jochi was not his son.”

Berke’s son bridled up. She glared into his eyes, her jaw set, and waited for him to speak.

He said, finally, “That is not material. The Great Khan accepted the lord Jochi. And left him all this pasture which you are now treading on.”

“West of the Chumash. North of the Sea of the Georgians. “

“Do not make us settle this in the old way.”

She held still a moment, her mind hot. She considered coming forth with a threat of her own. Just words. She said, “The Khakhan has sent us here to do his will, the Khakhan, the Lord of the World, even of you.”

The emissary pulled his lips back from his teeth again. “Do not make us settle this in the old way.” He turned on his heel, with no courtesy, and walked out, his men following him.

She leaned back in the chair and put her feet on the stool.  Nothing ever ended. This was an old sin that kept causing trouble. Before he became the Great Khan, Temujin was just another young man with a handful of followers. When a greater man’s army attacked his camp, he fled, leaving his young wife behind. After a year he got Bortai back, but she was with child, after all that time in the ger of his enemy. Temujin owned the child as his, because what had come on his wife was through his fault. He named him Jochi, the guest. Now a generation later, a hundred days’ ride away, the name still fell like a rock in to the soup.

She did not think Berke Khan would attack them here. Temujin’s bequest to his eldest son had included vast territory but no Mongol army. Berke commanded a dozen tumans, good men, steppe men; with them he and his father had beaten the Rus, the people west of the Chumash, who were very many, and rich, subduing them as far as Rum itself. But they were not Mongols. In her mind she went through the meeting she had just had, so that when Hulegu came she could tell him exactly what was said. But she did not think Berke would attack them and she would say that also.


Dinah fed the baby milk and honey, rocked him and sang to him, and he seemed happier. She had him now all the time. At night he slept in the hollow of her body. During the day she carried him everywhere. When the khatun’s leftovers come down to the women, she mushed up bits of meat and poked them into his mouth. The other women were glad to have him off their hands and patted her and nodded.

She learned more words, help, and where, and the colors red and blue. She learned that the name they had told her for the baby was just the word for baby. She began to call him Moseh. Only in her mind at first.  When the other women bounded onto horses and rode off to the lake, she climbed on a horse and jounced along with them. They swam in the lake, taking turns standing watch to keep the men away. When she took off her clothes her arms and hands were brown, but above the elbow so white the other women laughed.

Dokaz sent her with Jun to the bazaar to buy chah, and she went with the baby on her hip.

The bazaar was on the flat ground, in among the gers, a row of stalls and awnings and people selling things. Most of these people were not Mongol. Dinah drifted along past the stalls, heaps of figs and apples, nuts, jars of honey.  A tinker, mending pots, selling them. Jun whispered something, and drew her toward a tray of little jewels.

“Oh, they’re beautiful.”

These were crosses, necklaces and earrings, mostly silver, or at least silver looking, with chips of glittering stones. Jun moved on soon but Dinah stayed, poking among them, looking for something Jewish. The merchant was watching her narrowly and she stepped back, embarrassed, and then in the stall behind him, behind a screen, someone called to him.