In The Ordu of the Il-Khan
Dinah ached, her whole body a single burning pain, her bottom half ripped and ruined. Lying on the hard ground in the dark she shivered, thinking she might be pregnant. Some horror growing in her.
No matter. They would kill her soon. They would kill them all soon.
She had always been the one to care for others. She had always had that power. Now she needed care and no one. No one.
She cried, lying on the ground. Around her, the others cried. On the far side of the room a woman called out, “No—No—”
It was not happening now. It had happened before, outside. They would kill them all soon. She had seen them killing all the people, even the children. The babies. Broken like loaves of bread.
She had lost her mind then, gone mad, or partway died, she remembered nothing, only waking, here in the dark among so many others. Her body throbbed. Torn open. No seed could flourish there. Pray to God no seed would take there.
She cried again, hopeless, wanting to die.
Instead they came and made her stand up. Short men, stocky, narrow eyes. Skin like leather. One nudged her. “Hey. Christian? Christian?” He poked her breast, laughing. “Christian?” She plodded on, uncaring now, it was not her body now.
Then hands pushed a cup of water into her hands. She grunted. The inside of her mouth puckered. She had not known how thirsty she was. She lifted the cup and drank.
She was outside, in a street. Smoke drifted by her. The wall before her was broken in. With a dozen other women she stood on the pavement, with horsemen all around her.
The hands took the cup. The man behind them gave her a bowl full of a tasteless gruel.
They were all eating. The other women. She saw their rags and clutched at her own dress, torn from the waist down. Stiff with dried blood against her legs. Their hair wild and frizzy, and she lifted her hand to her hair, matted and crusted with dirt.
A short brown man on a horse rode in among them. “Listen to me! All you women. You are spared because you are Christian. The Khatun Dokaz herself has gone before her lord the Khan and begged for your lives. Thank God for this.”
Dinah shivered. He was looking straight at her as he said this. She said, “I am not Christian.”
The horsemen were moving them all toward the gate, herding them along like sheep. The man before her shifted his horse to block Dinah’s way. “Someone said you were, or you would not be here.” He spoke stilted Arabic. In his broad dark face his teeth suddenly gleamed. “Maybe better you are, so?”
She said, “I am not a Christian.” She was crying again. That was all she had left. She would not lie to save her life. She said, “I am a Jew.”
He said something under his breath in his own language. The horse sidestepped, restless, the other women were filing off, and the countless riders all around them, out the broken gate. She thought, I will not leave Baghdad. Die here. She felt comfort in that.
The Mongol rider said, “I’m tired of killing people. I say you are a Christian. Go with them.” He reined his horse around and rode away.
They trudged on after the army, their little band of women among hundreds moving, masses of people and animals going on across the plain. There were seventeen of them, a few young girls, one old woman, the rest of middle years. The horses ahead of them kicked up a dust that yellowed the sun. After them came a train of carts. Dinah thought they were crossing fields, put under for the winter, but nothing grew here now. The ground beaten to flour. They came to a canal and had to wade it. The carts took longer to get across and fell behind them. Horsemen trotted busily up and down, swerving past them, but paid no heed to them, except to bring water and food.
The other women watched her. One said, “She’s not one of us. You heard her.”
She pretended not to hear them but the skin crawled on the back of her neck. The Mongols brought them bowls and a jug, and she licked her lips, hungry.
She stood back. They were passing the jug, full of the thin clear stuff the Mongols drank, that tasted like sour milk. She waited until they were all done, and sipped up the little left in the bottom.
That night they slept on the ground. Before dawn the horsemen roused them up and started them off again. Soon after the old woman sat down where she stood, and they all walked on and left her there.
Dinah turned to look over her shoulder; in the dust the woman was a disappearing lump on the plain behind them. She thought, I could do that. Escape like that.
The Mongols fed them all more of the sour milk, bread, a handful of figs. She thought of Persephone, but she ate it all.
The days blended together. A horseman brought her a blanket—she thought he might be the same man who had talked to her in the ruins, young, a round face, high cheekbones, slits for eyes. The other women would not let her eat with them. One shoved her away and another threw stones at her.
The flat ground was rising, and ahead, hills lifted from it, long ridges like waves they walked along the valley between them. During the day she wrapped her blanket around her like a skirt and at night she curled up beneath it. The other women spat at her. They tried to keep her from getting any food at all.
They came out of the valley onto a broad grassland, stretching off long to the horizon. From the height of the pass she looked out to what seemed the edge of the world. Great herds of horses grazed on it but the enormous sky made them seem little. There were no clouds. The wind ruffled along the hillsides, turning over the grass in waves.
A dozen riders came up to the women, and with their horses herded them all together, as if they were sheep. Dinah hung back, wary of the other women, until a horse struck her from behind and bumped her forward into their midst.
The tall woman wheeled and slapped her. She turned to the horsemen and shouted in Arabic, “Take her away! She is not one of us, you heard her—the dirty Jew! Take her away!”
The horse behind her brushed up against her again. She turned, trying to escape, and the rider got her by the arm and hoisted her like a child up in front of him. He slung her across his saddlebows, face down. She clutched at the air, at the horse, at the stirrup by her shoulder, and the horse bounded forward and she was sailing off along with it, the grass sweeping by her, a foot from her nose.
They stopped, abruptly, in front of a round tent. The Mongol lifted Dinah by the arms and slid her down feet first to the ground. He shouted something; his horse backed a few steps away from her. It was that same boy, she thought, who had first spoken to her in the church.
In front of the tent was a two-wheeled cart. Three women stood there, their arms full of cloth and boxes, staring at them. When the Mongol boy shouted again, one turned, set her load of boxes down, and came up toward Dinah.
Dinah backed away; she could not stop herself. The woman stopped. She spoke to the Mongol, who answered her with a shrug and some words. Turning back to Dinah, she said something in another language, and then, suddenly, in Arabic, “You want water? To wash.”
Dinah’s mouth fell open. She said, “Yes, please.”
The Mongol boy galloped off. The woman—lanky, a lean face, a gap between her front teeth—brought out a basin of water. The other two were younger, maybe her daughters. They stood watching her; when she looked up one smiled and nodded and made sweeping motions toward her face. Dinah set the basin on the tail of the cart. Bending over it, she washed her face, and the water turned to mud.
They brought more. She washed down through a crust of dirt, to the sunburnt skin of face and arms, and then—with a glance at the women watching her—she peeled off the rags of her dress. Her underthings were gone. She washed her body, her legs.
They brought more water, and some cloths. She washed between her legs, the blood caked on her thighs, everything still sore.
They brought her leggings of thin leather, and a long coat, blue, with a front that crossed one side over the other and buttoned on the shoulder. The gap-toothed woman said, “Sit down, here,” and sat behind her and took a comb to Dinah’s hair.
The comb stuck in her hair. One of the daughters murmured. The mother muttered to herself. Dinah could see the comb full of broken hair. Finally the woman got up and went to the cart.
She came back with shears, and Dinah cried out, “No!” and put her hands to her head. Under her fingers a mass of filthy straw. One daughter seized her wrists and held them out in front of her, and the other gripped her head by the ears.
It was terrible; it was like the other time, when they held her, and she thrashed and screamed and wept. They kept her fast. They cut her hair off, and let her go, and she sat there panting.
The gap-toothed woman said, “You are done, now. Be calm.”
Dinah wiped her cheeks with her fingers. She touched her head, the hair stubbled like a beard. She said, “I will never be done. It will never be done.” Her breath came short; a scream gathered down in her throat.
The gap-toothed woman shrugged. “Your hair will grow back.”
Dinah ran her hand again over the burr of her skull. The scream never came up. The woman brought her some of the sour milk to drink. She sat and watched while they went back to unpacking the cart. They took everything into the round tent, boxes, bowls and pans, stacks of cloth, rugs.
Being clean was astonishing. Dinah’s skin felt soft and new as a baby’s. Drowsy, she was half asleep when the Mongol rider came back.
He rode in among them; he spoke to them from the saddle. She could not remember seeing him ever off his horse. He turned to her, and said, “Stand up.”
She stood, moving away as she did. He nodded. “Good. You look much better.” He spoke to the other women in a laughing way, and they bowed and he gave them something from his belt pouch. He turned to Dinah.
“Come with me.” He kicked loose a stirrup and bent down, one arm out.
She saw he meant her to get on behind him. She slid her hands behind her. “Where?”
“To see my mother,” he said. “Now, come on, nice as you look now, I don’t want to muss you up getting you there.”
She was afraid; she looked around as if somehow she might be able to escape. They were all watching her. She remembered them cutting her hair, the hands gripping her wrists and her head, and how she could not fight back then. And so not now. She gathered herself, went up to him, and took his arm, and tried to put her foot into the stirrup. He swung her up behind him, and before she was settled the horse galloped off.
She held onto his belt with both hands, jouncing painfully on the back of the saddle, but almost at once they were slowing down, coming up to another tent. He dropped her down on her feet, and for once dismounted from his horse.
The tent was a great circular wall made of heavy cloth, with a pointed top. It was much bigger than the one where she had bathed, and she saw it had a kind of floor under it laid down of wooden planks. People bustled around it. Some were unloading carts and carrying goods into the tent but many were just standing around. They wore coats like her new coat, but of fine shining fabric; they had fur hats on their heads. When her Mongol came after her, they burst forward toward him from all sides, everyone shouting.
“Noyon! Nikola! Noyon!”
He tramped through them, got her by the elbow, and steered her forward, through the door of the tent. Inside, he stopped a moment, still holding on to her, and said, “I am Nikola. You are—”
She swallowed. She wanted not to tell him, but she did not want to lie. She looked away. “Dinah.”
He muttered at her, but she was looking around her now. She stepped into a wide round dim space. The noise from outside died away. Rugs covered the floor of the tent, like a bazaar. The space was open, with only a few thin columns for the roof. In the middle of the room in a hearth of iron were red glowing coals. Nikola nudged her onward, through people carrying in boxes and cloth to either side of the big room. A soft light filtered down through the cloth roof, mellow as honey. Nikola pushed her on across the room, across the soft cushions of the rugs, around the hearth.
In that space was a low table, with, she saw, astonished, a crucifix on it. Behind that, almost to the tent wall, stood an empty chair. Someone put a table down beside it. Two men struggled setting up a folding screen behind it.
The table, the column holding up the roof, the chair were all carved into intricate patterns. As she went by the column she saw in the carvings the glimmer of gold. One hand on her arm, Nikola forced her forward, toward the chair. The men with the screen stood up straight suddenly, and the man with the table also, and toward them all came a woman.
Dinah stopped. The woman was no taller than she was but facing her Dinah felt much smaller. Pale eyes in a dark face. Her coat was sleek as spider silk, lined with fur. On her head a fur cap. Her ears were rimmed and ringed with gold and around her neck were chains of gold. She stood with her head thrown back, as if she looked far off. Then she was turning toward Nikola, and he gave her first a sweeping bow and then embraced her, and Dinah saw this was his mother.
He said, “Girl, this is the Khatun Dokaz.” He spoke to his mother in another language, but Dinah heard her name.
She bowed. The Khatun said, “My son tells me you are a Jew.”
Her heart clenched. Now they would murder her. She lifted her face, eye to eye with the Mongol woman, and said, “Yes.”
“The Great Shaman began as a Jew. You are a favored people. I am honored to have you among us. Come and talk to me.”
Dinah went loose limbed. The Khatun waved Nikola away. She turned to the carved wooden chair and sat down. Dinah did not move. She pressed her hands together. The three-paneled screen behind the chair was painted with birds. Beside the chair was the small table, the top a shining panel of wood inlaid with loops and curls of gold. Someone brought over a gold tray with a pitcher and some cups and set it carefully on the table. There was a little chest next to the pitcher. Beside that, a tiny brazier on its own metal feet. Dinah looked back wonderingly toward the woman in the chair, who smiled at her. The chair itself was carved and figured with metal and with jewels. Set into the high back was a silver medallion—she saw at once it was a map of the world.
“Idrisi,” she said. “That is Idrisi’s map.”
“It is.” The Khatun leaned toward her. “You recognize it? Tell me your name again.” She spoke slowly, carefully, as if the language were new to her.
Dinah cleared her throat. She wondered what she should say. “My name is Dinah, my lady. My father was Reb Moseh ben Maimon, of Baghdad—“
When she said that, suddenly, her heart burst, and she began to weep, not for herself, nor even her father, but for Baghdad, gone to dust. She put her hands to her face.
“Ah, well,” the Khatun said. “Come sit down. Tell me why you are crying.” With her hand she drew Dinah forward. Beside the big chair was a stool, and Dinah sank down on it.
“You ruined my city,” Dinah said. She was gushing with tears. Everything she had suffered poured out of her. “You destroyed us.”
“This happened,” the Khatun said. Her hand lay on Dinah’s shoulder; her fingers pressed and kneaded, as if she would push her into another shape. “And you have been hurt and you have lost all. We did this to you. You see only that we destroy. But we are bringing in a greater world. We must wipe away the old world first, to bring the new. We are gathering all the peoples of the world together again, as we were meant to be, under the most high God, as the earth lies under the sky.”
Dinah lifted her head, astonished. The Khatun smiled at her. Her hand shifted to Dinah’s cheek. “You are welcome here. You are my guest.”
Dinah lowered her head. She could not think this into anything straight. She felt suddenly exhausted. The Khatun touched her again, soft.
“Your father was a rebbe—was he a scholar?”
“There were thousands of scholars in Baghdad.”
“And he was one?”
She sighed. “Yes.”
“And you are a scholar? You recognized Idrisi’s map. You speak Arabic. What else?”
Dinah blinked at her. “Hebrew. Some Farsi.”
“Can you read?”
“Can you read Latin? Can you read this?” The Khatun reached down to the table and took something from the floor beside it, and held it out.
Dinah took this up, a scroll of reed-paper. Black ink marks crossed it, lines and circles, and she could make nothing of it for a moment, until part of a word swam up at her, and she saw the marks as letters of the Latin alphabet. “Frere,” she said. “This is French.”
She began to weep again, tears trickling down her cheeks. The Khatun took her by the chin and turned her face up.
“Why are you crying now?”
“You murdered him,” Dinah said bitterly. “Him I knew who spoke French.” She rubbed at her eyes.
The Khatun patted her cheek. “Ah, poor thing.”
Dinah turned her face away. This kindness gave her nothing to defy. Across a space covered with rugs Nikola stood watching her. The Khatun took the scroll out of her lax grip.
“You have endured much, and yet you live. You interest me. You will stay here, I shall find you some duties. Now share chah with me.”
With her finger she beckoned over a stout woman in a long shining gown.
This woman went to the little table. She poured water from the ewer into a cup, and set the cup on the brazier. After a moment it was bubbling, and the servant emptied it quickly into another cup, filled it again, and set that on the brazier. When this cup was boiling, she dumped out the water in the second cup, filled it again with the fresh boiled water, and opened the little chest.
A heap of dry leaves filled it. A wonderful aroma escaped it. The servant sprinkled several of the leaves on the water, and from the table took a round of wood and fit it over the top of the cup.
Dinah murmured. The Khatun said, “I learned to drink this in the east, when my lord and I were there for the kuriltai.” She spoke as if she and Dinah had known each other for years. There seemed no space between them, as if they were old friends. The servant was going through the whole process with a second cup. When she was done, she took the wooden lid from the first, and kneeling down held the cup out with both hands to the Khatun.
Dokaz stood; she took the cup, held it up to the sky, then to right and left, then toward the ground, and then back and forth. She sat again, and sipped up the steaming drink. “Aaah,” she said. “The eyelids of God, the Han call this.”
The servant gave Dinah the second cup with far less ceremony. Dinah held it, uncertain. She thought briefly again of Persephone, but the delicious smell filled her nose and made her mouth water. She lifted the cup. It was hot, almost too hot to drink, and she sipped cautiously. The savor flowed over her tongue. She felt suddenly warm and happy. Looking to the Khatun, standing there above her, she smiled.
The women had one side of the big tent, and the men the other. At night they slept on mats on the floor. During the day they sat and gossiped and waited to be told what to do.
They took the rugs out into the sun, shook them, beat them, and brought them in again. They kept the fire going in the iron hearth, carrying in dried dung to fuel it. They took food here and there. Dinah obeyed. They gave her a broom and she swept. They gave her a bucket and she went for water. The work was steady but easy. She felt light, hollow, an empty skin. Everything she knew was gone, the household she had managed, the father who had ordered her life, the city that had contained her. She had nothing to hold onto. She watched the other women, and did what they did, stood waiting to be fed, used a certain part of the latrine. Slept on the floor.
She learned words. The tent was a ger, the clear fermented milk was airaq. Nikola was a noyon. Thank you, please. She learned names, like Jun, the big breasted woman who gave them all orders. Tulla, slight and pretty, who could speak some Arabic.
There was a baby, which they brought to her often; he cried a lot, even with his honeytit to suck on. His mother had died.
Tulla said, “He die too, alas. So be it.” She patted Dinah’s shoulder and said something in Mongol.
But Dinah loved to hold him, to have something, anyway, to care for. She took him outside, to the edge of the platform, in the sun.
The camp spread out around her. On either side of this ger was another, just as big, and around them all a little open ground, like a dry moat. Beyond that the gers crowded the long slope as far as she could see. Once she thought it must have been grassland but now the ground was beaten to dust. She sat with the baby in the sun, sang to him as he cried, and lifted her head into the warmth.
He slept, after a while. Cradling him in her crossed legs, she leaned down past the edge of the board floor and smoothed the dust with her hand. With her finger she traced letters in the dust. Some other children came out of the ger, the little girl and two boys. One of the boys was the Khatun’s youngest son, Nikola’s brother. This gave him nothing with the other boy, who was bigger and picked on him. They both went off quickly toward the horses in the open ground. The little girl came over to Dinah and sat down.
She said something, which Dinah thought meant, What are you doing?
Dinah said, “I’m trying to write, khatun.”
The little girl giggled. She probably didn’t understand but she liked being called by the honored word. She leaned on Dinah and watched, and Dinah drew the letters of the Latin script in the dust with her finger.
She remembered how Dokaz had reacted when she recognized the French. If she could remember this, she could find some favor. Once, she had studied this. Her father had often needed help with his library, and she had learned to read the titles of scrolls and books in the Hebrew and the Latin scripts. She thought the Latin letters had some order but she had no idea what it was. The Hebrew script began with Aleph and so she put the Latin A first, and slowly she remembered others, and said their sounds, and drew them in the dust.
The little girl beside her moved closer. Dinah looked over; the child was drawing in the dust, looking carefully at what Dinah did, and copying it.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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—”he 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.