Heart Of The World – Snippet 14

Jun gave her a sharp look. “What’s wrong? What happened in there?”

Dinah shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing.” She went in among the other women, comforted by their numbers.


One day the French merchant told her, “Bohemund is coming.”

“Bohemund,” she said. Vaguely she knew this was the Prince of some Crusader city, off to the west by the Middle Sea.

“There will be people here with money again,” he said. He complained often of the Mongols’ wanting to barter with him, offering him horses or blankets or goats, but not money.

Then back in the ger, the Khatun summoned her in behind the wall of screens. In the dim space, Dinah greeted her in Mongol, with a bow.

“Well, good for you,” said the Khatun, and spoke on in her own language. “We are having some people here from the west, in a few days –“

“Bohemund,” Dinah said, and put her hand over her mouth.

The Khatun’s eyes widened in surprise. “How did you know that? I only heard a little while ago.”

“In the bazaar, Khatun.”

Dokaz laughed. Her gaze rested on Dinah as if she had grown wings. “Ah well. That’s where the news is freshest, always. Anyway. When they come, will you help me? I need to find out all I can about them.”

“Yes, of course.” Dinah made another bow.

“Good. We shall see how this goes.”


In the bazaar the next morning, just as she came to the French merchant’s booth, shouts sounded, and the crowd shrank quickly back, out of the lane. Dinah craned her neck to see over the shoulders in front of her. Men ran by with sticks, chasing the crowd out of the way, making room for a huge grey horse. The man upon it carried a banner with a cross. He wore armor, his helmet bright in the sun. Behind him came more Christian knights, riding in rows.

Among them came one in gilded armor, whose horse danced this way and that, half-reared, snorted, as the knight waved around him. From either side came cheers. Behind her, the French merchant called out, “Prince of Antioch! God save the Prince of Antioch!” That brought a few more whoops.  

The gilded helmet jittered by her. Then, in the crowd of riders just behind him, she saw Rikart.

She gasped. He was dead. She had thought him surely dead. He wore mail, under a loose white sleeveless surcoat, but no helmet. On his head a flat-brimmed peasant’s hat of straw. She shrank back, but he did not look her way. Among a dozen other Christian knights he passed her by.

He would not know her if he saw her, she thought. She was another person now.


Later, the Prince and some of his men came to the ger to present themselves to Hulegu and Dokaz. Jun took the baby for her, and Dinah wrapped her head in a cloth to cover her hair, tightened her belt, hooked her coat up close to her chin. She waited by the side of the ger, watching the Franks come; relieved, she saw Rikart was not one of them.

When they went into the ger, she followed. In the men’s side of the ger were the jugs and cups for the greeting ceremony. She stood there, the other people staring at her, while the Franks filed in and arranged themselves, six men in two rows. From the side of the ger Moseh called out to her but she gave him only a quick smile, her eyes always watching the Franks.

They were looking all around at the ger. Some lamps shone, here and there, and the place gave off gleams of gold.  Before them was the hearth, and then the altar, but the two chairs beyond that were empty.

 With the men serving, Dinah went up to give cups to the knights. To her surprise, the jugs were full of wine. She wondered where the Il-Khan had found this. Going along the row, she filled the cups.

Bohemund, in the middle, was jiggling a little in place; he looked quickly around, as if he expected a chair, and took the cup from her without even looking at her. He spoke a rapid French, sharp-edged. “What a place. Reminds me of the Venetians, a little gold here and there and a man thinks he’s a king.”

The others all laughed. Behind the Prince a short, square man said, “Yet they’re Christians. See the cross?” He pitched his voice to reach Bohemund’s ear; Dinah went to fill the next cup. “We can use them, sir. God sends us what we need to do His work.” He crossed himself.

“If you ask me,” another man said, “Rikart is right.”

She gripped the jug tighter, her heart thumping. Calmly she went on to the next man, the next cup. From behind her someone clutched at her behind. She twitched out of the way. Looking up toward the wall, where the Mongols stood, she saw Nikola scowling, his gaze aimed past her.

In the front of the ger, by the door, was the cask, and she went there to fill the jug. Back in the center of everything Hulegu stood up in front of them all, held his cup up and down, back and forth, and said, “God above us give all peace. Greetings to the Prince of Antioch.”

In the front row of the Franks, the short man piped up in Latin, “Pax nobis, O Domine! Ave, Princeps Antiochus!” He leaned toward Bohemund and said, low, in French, “Peace to everybody.” Bohemund leaned closer to hear him, half-turning his head. Not a Latiner. He held up his cup.

“God grant us all the strength to do His will. I greet the Lord Hulegu, conqueror of the Caliph!”

That rattled back on through the translators, God granting all, and Hulegu conquering. Everybody drank. She went down the line to Bohemund again, to fill his cup again. As she did, she looked past him, to the man who had said Rikart’s name.

Tall and lean, this one, with a red cross on the chest of his white surcoat. She knew that meant he was a Templar. She dropped her eyes quickly to the jug.

Now Bohemund was presenting gifts, each one with a chain of words in several languages, up and down. She did not see how they would get anything done this way. Hulegu also had gifts. The Franks stirred, restless. The short man beside Bohemund tilted toward the prince again and said, “Get to the Sultan Yusuf somehow. Tell him we have a common enemy.”

She kept moving, her eyes lowered, cup to cup. But her ears tingled from listening. Bohemund cleared his throat, and said, “Conqueror of the Caliph, we are here to honor your great victory. But also, to tell you, we stand with you against the Sultan, we are ready to fight side by side with you against Damascus! Christians together!”

That turned into a flurry of excited Latin and then Mongol. Hulegu answered that all honor went to the Khakhan but he would convey this to his brother. As for the Sultan in Damascus, that would happen as God intended it. They drank again, with many gestures.

The man behind Bohemund said, “Ask him for a private hearing tomorrow. See if he’ll come to us.”

She filled up his cup. The Templar said, “Do you think he’s a nitwit?” When she lifted the jug he waved her off.  She drew back.

Bohemund and Hulegu nattered a while about meeting again. Hulegu was hunting in the morning; for a while it sounded as if he wanted to go off at that by himself and meet Bohemund later, but gradually they came to the notion that the Franks could try their hands at this as well.  The Templar said, between his teeth, “We aren’t allowed to hunt.” The stubby man beside Bohemund said, “Catch him at his ease, sir. We can keep up with them.”

The Templar rolled his eyes. Dinah poured them all more wine. Now they were winding this down. More speeches about peace and glory went up and down the ladder of translations. Somebody stroked her again. Then they were filing out into the blazing spring sunlight.

She went to wash up the jug and gather cups but at once Tulla came and said, “The Khatun wishes you.”