Heart Of The World – Snippet 15
Dokaz was sitting in the back, behind the painted screen, drinking chah. When Dinah came in and bowed, the Khatun said, “Sit down, please. I saw you, that was daring, I thought, and I hope useful. What did you find out?”
“Just what you heard, Khatun. The Prince wants to ally with –” she almost said “us.” Instead, she said, “The Il-Khan, against the Sultan in Damascus. The man behind him was urging him on.”
“That man. Did you hear his name?”
“Find out, if you can. What about the others?”
“They’re Bohemund’s men. Except one, the man in the white surcoat with the red cross.”
Dokaz was pouring her a cup of chah. “Who was that?”
“I think he is a Templar. He is against this, I think.”
“They are knights. Monks. Brothers of the Order of the Templar of Jerusalem.” This was coming to her in bits. How to explain. “They fight for the Cross, for Jerusalem. A little army.” Very little, compared to the Mongols, she knew. “They have Acre, I think. Much of Acre. The big city on the coast.”
Dokaz frowned, her fingers tapping on her cup. Dinah lifted the cup to her lips and sipped the steaming brew. The Khatun said, “Find out some names for me. That one man, I saw how he spoke to the Prince. If we can influence him, we shall have done something.” She smiled. “You did well, Dinah. Thank you.”
The chah warmed her; the praises warmed her more. She sipped the tea, content. Going out, with only a little listening, she found out the small man was a Genoese named Simone de Bonafaccio.
Then in the afternoon, in the new bazaar, she came around a corner and Rikart stood there.
He stared straight at her. He paid no heed to Moseh. He said, “Why are you here? Why are you staying with them?”
“I have no choice.”
“What a lie that is. You never lied before. They destroyed Baghdad. Everything beautiful and wonderful in Baghdad is gone. Your father’s city. Have you forgotten that?”
She said nothing. She thought she had put that behind.
“They will do that to every place they come to. They hate cities. Listen to their prayers sometime. They want only endless grass, and horses, and the great blue sky.”
“There is nothing left for me back there. My father is gone, Baghdad is gone.”
“Damascus and Aleppo come next. Then Acre, Antioch. Jerusalem, what’s left of it.”
“They will win.”
“Ah.” He stands back. “That’s not what matters.” He stared at her. “Gilbert can always find me. If you change your mind, I will help you.”
Yvain de Foret-le-Garde, Grand Marshall of the Templars, had deliberately taken a slow horse; he watched the hunt gallop away up the long slope beyond the lake and sat back in the saddle and let his reins loose. The Mongols on their infernal ponies were racing on ahead of Bohemund but the Prince was doing his gallant utmost to keep up.
The Mongols were hunting with eagles. The Marshall fought down a pang of envy at that, he would have loved to have seen that. In the sky, out there, he thought he still made them out, those faint specks. Below, the earthbound leaders of the hunt were disappearing into the slopes and draws around the lake. Cranes, maybe. Even hares, he would have liked to see that.
But now, up along the wide undulating plain, here came another rider.
He let his horse amble. The wind swept out of the east here, smelling of the steppe, wild and bitter. The hunt had begun well north of the Mongol camp, which stretched out across the open plain under its usual yellow cloud. Jogging through the tall grass, Rikart Rannulfsson rode up to him.
“Well met,” Yvain said, and they shook hands. “I thought perhaps you had gone. Where have you been?”
“I went looking around,” Rikart said. “I know some people here.”
Yvain had heard that Rikart had once lived with the Mongols, that he had married a Mongol woman. There were a lot of wild stories about Rikart the Ghost. Yvain looked the younger man over. Rikart had cut his beard and let his hair grow. He wore a red silk Mongol shirt over his mail. He looked half-Mongol.
“You were in Baghdad when they attacked, I heard. How did you escape?”
“I ran. I fought, but mostly, I ran.”
Yvain grunted. He would have liked to know more, but the look on Rikart’s face held him back. He said, only, “What have you found out?”
“This is a huge army. They’re saying fifteen tumans, and it may be all of that.”
“A tuman is what?”
“Ten thousand men.”
Yvain swallowed. His eyes drifted off, toward the yellow cloud.
“The proof is the horses. Their horse herds are grazing the land for six days’ east of here. They must have over ten hundred thousand horses.”
Yvain scratched his beard. Such a number was impossible. However it did mean they had to move constantly, always seeking new grass. This, he thought, explained much.
“Worse, for our sake,” Rikart said, “is these men are mostly Mongols. The Khakhan has sent the best of his home forces here, with his own brother commanding. They have a few Turks, Naimans, Kipchaks, some very high up, but this is an army of well-armed, well-trained men with very good officers. They have a big purpose here. Baghdad is just the beginning.”
“This Khakhan is their Emperor? I have heard another word, a name — Tema–gan–“
“Temujin. He gathered them together, two generations ago. They were just steppe clans then. He made them into the Mongols. Turned them loose on the world. Hulegu is his grandson.”
“Bohemund thinks we can make use of them.”
“Bohemund is an idiot.”
Yvain laughed. “I wouldn’t turn my back on him. He hates you. What you said to him yesterday did you no good with him at all.”
“Yes. I am leaving, I don’t trust Hulegu not to move on me, either.”
El Shab’h, the outsider, everybody’s enemy. Yvain said, “Come to Acre. Maybe we can convince my brothers.”
Rikart shrugged one shoulder. The hunt had vanished in among the rumpled land along the head of the lake. He said, “You and your brothers won’t stand a day against them.”
The skin of Yvain’s neck roughened up. “God wills it,” he said. This gave him less comfort than it once had. He laid his hands on his saddlebows. “Who else? You think you can rouse Damascus against him? You think Yusuf would listen?”
“Put it in a poem,” Rikart said. “Write it on the rear end of a pretty girl.”
Yvain laughed again. That left only one other, and he said, “What about Egypt?”
At that Rikart straightened, and his eyes came back to meet Yvain’s. “Do you get along with Baibers?”
“Holy Blood,” Yvain said. “Does anybody get along with Baibers? Not even the other Mamelukes get along with Baibers, which is why he’s outcast. I was thinking about Qutuz.” This was the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt.
“We make an alliance. You,” Rikart said. “As many of the other Christians as we can. Qutuz and the Mamelukes of Egypt. Maybe Yusuf. That’s a solid wall against them. But it must be solid. Baibers and the Bahriyya Mamelukes control the center of the wall, the Jordan Valley and south.”
Yvain said, “Such a thing has never happened. At least, not for very long.”
Rikart swept his arm out, toward the yellow cloud, the distant camp, the hundreds of thousands of horses. “Such a thing as this has never happened.”
Yvain lifted his reins. “We shall see, then. Come to Acre. At the very least the Venetians will pay you well to talk to them.” He nudged his horse, turning back toward the camp; the Il-Khan had provided them with a good larder and a fine southern wine. Turning brought the whole plain before his eyes again, the vast clutter of the Mongol camp, stretching it seemed over the edge of the world.
He blurted out, not thinking, “How can we beat them? Has anybody ever beaten them?”
“No,” Rikart said. “Never.” He nodded stiffly. “They say that’s God’s will.”
He backed his horse quickly away. “Until seeing,” he said, and galloped off down the slope.