Heart Of The World – Snippet 12
The merchant turned and answered, and they were speaking French.
She hovered, listening. She got some of it. She went back to the counter, and the merchant swung back to her.
She said, stumbling, “Je vuv-veux menorah? Shofar?”
He looked at her as if she were witless. She had said it wrong. “Ah,” he said. “Une Menorah.” Leaning on the article. He leaned toward her and rattled off some words.
She got the gist of it; he was asking if she were Jewish, and she said, “Ah, oui.” And tried again. “Je suis –” Oh God, she had forgotten the word for servant — “une femme de la Khatun.”
The merchant was entering into the spirit of this; he leaned on the counter, and spoke slowly and carefully, broadly smiling the while. They talked back and forth. Then another customer came to his counter and he waved his hands at Dinah, shooing her off, and went to sell something. She walked down the lane of the bazaar after Jun, who was in the little crowd listening to a man play a kind of lute, and took her along to buy the chah.
Thereafter she went by the bazaar as often and she could, and she stopped by that merchant’s stall and they spoke in French.
She was in the ger, laying down a rug, when there was a stir and a shout and the door thrown back, and a man came in. Everybody in the ger at once stood straight and still, and Dinah, as always, did as they did.
From the other end of the ger Dokaz strode, and as she came on she sang, in a high joyous voice. The man stopped inside the door; he was not tall, but square, solid. He flung aside his hat. His long black moustaches hung down to his chest and his eyes gleamed pale in his sun-darkened face. Other men crowded in behind him, going to one side of the ger. Dokaz came up face to face with him and bowed to him, and he bowed. She held out her arms, palms up. Their eyes locked. He stretched forth his arms over hers, and they both leaned forward and touched their noses first to one cheek and then the other. They straightened, still holding each other, and they both bowed again, several times. Then they walked together through the ger to the back, and disappeared behind the painted screen.
Beside her, Jun muttered, “Hulegu, the Il-Khan. The grandson of –” She gestured up. Dinah had seen there was someone they would not name, who was not, she thought, Jesus. But their Jesus was different from the one she had learned of, not the son of god, not god at all. Jun nudged her. Around them the other women were moving eagerly into the middle of the ger. “Come along,” Jun said. “Now are the gifts.”
They all crowded together into the center of the ger, around the hearth, and by the altar, and suddenly all around her they were calling out.
“Welcome home, father Hulegu! Welcome home from the hunt!”
Whistles and cheers followed this. The Il-Khan came out from behind the screen again. Dinah saw again how stout he was, how he walked as if he owned the earth. He came up before the ger’s welcoming people.
He bowed. They all bowed, Dinah among them.
He said, “Pleased am I to be back among my children, the people of my heart. Kitboqa!”
Two men came up, carrying a rug rolled up. They unrolled it on the ground between the servants and the Khan, and on it was a great heap of gold and silver and ribbons and tassels and little bowls and cups. The Khan bowed again, and all the people bowed. Then the Khan went back behind the screen and the officers who had brought up the rug stood beside it, and one by one each of the ger’s people went up and received something.
Dinah went up last, her eyes lowered. All she saw of the tall man by the rug was his hand, holding out a silver coin.
She went back to the women’s side of the ger, and Jun came up at once. “Let me see.”
Dinah showed her the coin. “Why is this?”
“The Khan took this all in a raid, and he shares it with us all, least to greatest, because that is our way.” Jun held up a little brass bell, which tinkled. “All I got was this. Maybe Kitboqa has his eyes on you.”
Dinah held the coin out. “Do you want it?”
Jun burst into a smile, took the coin, and gave Dinah the bell. Dinah rang it softly; she thought the baby would like it: better than the coin.
Hulegu, who missed nothing, said, “Who is this popeyed girl with the odd hair?”
Dokaz was helping him get out of his deel, which he had worn for days, riding, and which stank. She said, “My Jew. Nikola found her among the people brought out of Baghdad. She is a clever bit, I think she will be very useful. Where did you go?” She took the filthy stinking coat out to the opening by the screen, where someone could take it away to clean, or maybe just burn, and bring another one.
He sat down on the low bed, yawning. “I went south, to the salt, to see what was there.”
“And what was there?” She came back, and he pulled her onto his lap and they wrapped their arms around each other.
“Cities, ready to surrender.” He stroked her hair. “They have much, so much. In the harbor at Basra there were ships from beyond the salt, and goods piled on the shore. Mongke will be pleased.”
She leaned against him. They had loved each other since they were children, long before they married, when he had come to her clan to court her older sister. Her older sister now lived somewhere else. He had other women sometimes but between them there was perfect trust. She had never needed another man. “Then we’ll go down there next?”
“No. those places are already yielding, and there are bigger prizes to the west. Damascus. Cairo.” He was sliding her clothes away, his hands searching, but he yawned again; tired, he would want only to sleep in her arms. He said, drowsy, “Whatever lies to the west.” They lay down together.
The baby Moseh fattened, and sat up. She taught him to clap hands, and they sang together, sitting in the sun. Then Jun too would sometimes sing, and Tulla, the four of them sitting out before the ger spilling out music. Jun sang in an eerie voice, high and low at once.
They were working harder. With Hulegu there the place was much busier. His officers came in and out, in and out, tracking the place full of dust. One day they all were suddenly put to packing up. Everything in the ger had to go into boxes, and the boxes outside to an unending row of carts. The men lashed rows of carts together, side by side, front to back, into a great square on wheels, and all the ger’s people, and many others besides, gathered around the tent and lifted it up into the air and set it down on top of the square. Then rows of horses drew it slowly away over the treeless plain, rocking and swaying above the trampled ground like a cloud fallen to earth.
The people went along after it. Jun offered Dinah a horse but she wanted to walk; the ger was going so slowly she could easily keep up. She walked up to one side, out of the dust, Moseh on her hip.
She heard a horse coming up behind her, and turned her head. Startled, she saw one of Hulegu’s chief men. He dismounted and walked along beside her, leading his horse.
He was tall, and not Mongol: a broad, high-cheekboned face, light skinned. He stared at the baby Moseh a moment.
“Who is this one’s father?”
She hugged the baby closer, like armor. “I don’t know. His mother died. He is an orphan.”
His face slackened; he looked away a moment. She picked up her step, looking around for Jun and the others.