Heart Of The World – Snippet 13
He said, “Your name is Dinah.” He drawled the a, as the Mongols all did.
“Yes,” she said.
“I am Kitboqa,” he said. “I am great in the il-Khan’s favor.”
“I’ve noticed that,” she said. She saw how he puffed himself up as he spoke, throwing his chest out, making himself bigger.
He said, “I have my own ger.”
She saw now where this was going. She held the baby snugly against her. “I am happy with the Khatun Dokaz.”
“She has said I might have you.”
“I am happy where I am,” she said, again, but her throat went dry. Moseh sensed this, and gripped her sleeve with both fists. Tilting his head back, he gave Kitboqa a dark look.
He said, “You need not come with me now.” Turning to his horse, he gathered up his reins. He gave her a quick look up and down. “Later,” he said, and bounded into his saddle and rode off.
She watched him go, her skin creeping. The baby called out, “Amamama –” And pulled on her sleeve. She held him tight, and turning forward again she walked quickly, to catch up to the ger.
Around midday, Hulegu galloped up to Dokaz, who was riding along out of the dust; he had been all morning going around talking to his soldiers. She sent a woman to bring airaq and figs, which she knew he lusted for. He sent his men away with a look, and she sent the women off with another look, and they rode along stirrup to stirrup, sipping from the leather flask and sharing the figs.
“Did you think about what I told you — about Berke?”
Hulegu shrugged. “He knows what I am doing here. If he thinks he can sneak up on me from behind, he will, the cur. But I don’t see anything to do about it until he moves.”
“He’s an old man,” she said. “He will do nothing. But his sons might.”
“What ails this pop-eyed woman of yours? She turned down Kitboqa.”
Dokaz snorted at him. “He’s got no charms, Kitboqa. Not for women, anyway.”
“What’s wrong with him? He’s a tuman commander. His father was some kind of chieftain.”
“I don’t like him much either.” She thought Kitboqa smiled at those above him, and snarled at those below. “You give him a lot of power.”
“I’m thinking over the horizon. I won’t have all these Mongol tumans here forever, Mongke will need them, or Kubilai. I want a Turk commander I can trust, because those are the men I’m going to have.”
Dokaz thought this over. Hulegu was right, she knew; she admired his broad sense of this. Still, she disliked Kitboqa, if only because her sons did. And he was a rude man. She said, “I wonder why that one.”
“He’s clever and he’s brave. We have to get the best out of every man we have,” he said. “Let every man think he could be Temujin.”
She nodded. He saw Kitboqa in a different way, maybe better than she did. She said, “Do you want me to talk to Dinah?”
“He’s broody over her. Yes.” Hulegu shrugged. “I suppose, if she doesn’t want him, there’s no way to force her. Unless, you know, she is really a slave.”
“She is my guest,” Dokaz said, sharp. She saw a use for Dinah. “I do not hold my guests as slaves.”
His teeth flashed behind his moustaches. He said, “You are always the north star to me.” He leaned forward and sniffed her cheek.
They stopped before nightfall, but only to camp; they would go on in the morning. The ger’s women spread out beds in the open and made a fire, but Hulegu did not come. Nor Dokaz; Dinah kept an eye out for her, as the night settled down, and the firelight made a little room in the great darkness. She lay down to sleep but she could not sleep. She kept thinking of Kitboqa, and her body felt stiff as a corpse. She imagined it all broken, down there, the channels of her body hanging loose, like the roots of an uprooted tree.
Then suddenly in the dawn light, she was jolting awake. The others stirred around her; she got up, rolled her bed and stowed it, got the baby some gruel to eat. Already the ger was starting off on its great slow passage over the earth, its peak swaying back and forth.
Then Dokaz rode in among them all, on the gaudy brown and white horse she loved.
“Soon,” she cried. “Take heart, all of you, we’ve found a good place with a lot of water. Ha!” Abruptly she bent down and scooped Moseh out of Dinah’s arms and set him on the saddlebow before her. “What a little man!”
Dinah clung, desperate, to the side of the horse. “Khatun–” Moseh was gaping around, his eyes wide and his mouth open, his fists full of the horse’s mane.
“Oh, what a mother,” Dokaz said. She jiggled the baby up and down. “I won’t keep him. Isn’t he the ugly little thing, though?” She beamed down at Dinah.
“Khatun –” Dinah gulped. Now she could speak about the other thing but she was suddenly afraid. She gave Dokaz a pleading look. “Kitboqa –“
“Ah,” Dokaz said. She nudged her horse to walk along, still holding onto the baby with one hand, but the other she stretched down to Dinah. “Here, now. He has no knack for wooing, I expect.”
“I want to stay with you,” Dinah said.
Dokaz’ fingers squeezed her shoulder. “He would make you a good husband. You would have a household, your own children. You should consider this. You won’t be a girl forever.”
Dinah gulped, and looked away. “I — What happened to me, I–” She brought her gaze back to Dokaz. “Maybe I can never have children.”
The Khatun’s face drooped, and she reached out one hand to her. “Don’t say this.”
“I want to stay with you.”
Dokaz was still regarding her sadly, and her hand brushed Dinah’s hair. She blinked a few times. She said, at last, “This is your choice. You are not a child anymore, but you make your choice.” She slid the baby down into Dinah’s arms. “By tonight we’ll have the ger on the ground again. Things will be easier.” She gathered her reins and rode off.
In the afternoon they came to the edge of a shallow lake, and there they laid the ger back down on the ground, which took much digging and smoothing and rearrangement of the dirt, and then fitting the boards of the floor together. When that was done, and the ger laid on the floor, Hulegu with a crowd of his officers appeared and Dokaz went to greet them with the usual ceremony.
Dinah hung back; she saw work to do. One cart was full of rugs and beds and she got a rug she could carry by herself and took it into the huge, dim room, and while she was near the wall laying it down she heard someone come in behind her.
She glanced over her shoulder, and wheeled quickly around. It was Kitboqa. She saw purpose in his long narrow face, and she backed quickly away from him.
He said, “I will not let you say no this time.” He reached for her.
She shrank back but he had her by the sleeve of her deel. She whined in her throat. He reached for her with the other hand. “Listen to me. You are like me, not them. I can–” Then behind him someone came into the ger.
It was Nikola. Seeing him, she struck away Kitboqa’s reaching hand. Kitboqa let her go, and turned, putting himself between her and the Mongol prince.
He said, “Get out. I’m busy here.”
Nikola looked past him to Dinah, and shortened his gaze to the big Turk. Kitboqa was much taller. Nikola stood with his head back, his chest out. “No,” he said. “Leave her alone.”
Kitboqa swayed; he gave off a stink of rage. While the two men glared at each other, Dinah darted past him toward the door. She heard Nikola laugh, behind her. She fled out into the sunshine and the crowd of other people.