Background Information on Voyage with the Vikings for Parents and Teachers

Peril in the Palace: Truth and Fiction

by Marianne Hering

Marco PoloMarco, Niccolò, and Amaffeo (sometimes called Maffeo) Polo are all real characters, and they visited Kublai Khan in the summer of 1274 or 1275. Kublai Khan did meet with Niccolò and Amaffeo before the visit that’s recorded in this book. He sent the brothers to Rome to bring back 100 priests. Kublai Khan was so excited the Polos were coming back that he sent a party of warriors to escort them to his summer palace. The golden tablet that Kublai Khan gave the men was real. The owner of a tablet had the respect and power of the khan.

Marco Polo PortraitDue to the wars in Europe during this time, the Polos were unable to bring back 100 priests; they did bring back the oil from Jerusalem, the letter from Gregory X, and Marco. Niccolò and Amaffeo tried to bring two friars with them, but the friars got frightened at the first warzone they had to cross, and the friars returned to Rome.

Kublai Khan did have grandchildren who lived in the palace. I made up Beki’s name, a shortened form of Kublai Khan’s mother’s name, because the female descendents of Kublai Khan aren’t in any of the translated genealogies.

The parts about the giant eagles (rocs) were taken from The Travels of Marco Polo, in which Marco records the legends about the birds. (We made a little joke about the famous book when Patrick and Beth give Marco the blank journal. Marco didn’t write the book until after he returned home and spent time in jail, although scholars speculate that he must have kept records before then.) Marco also records the levitation that the yellow lamas performed in public. I researched about lodestones, and it’s possible, though unlikely, that the yellow lamas used magnets in their tricks.

There was an early draft of the story where the yellow lamas used demonic spiritual magic to do their tricks. Coauthor Paul McCusker chose to go with the magnet explanation instead of dealing with the disturbing spiritual element. We just couldn’t address that topic well in this book it wasn’t that we shied away from it.

Marco Polo

Some scenes are mostly true but happened out of time sequence. Kublai Khan did battle his uncle Baraq, but it was before the Polos came back. The first few years that Marco lived in Asia, things were fairly peaceful. Marco was eventually sent out as an ambassador, but not just after he arrived.

About the use of nails: The Chinese architecture at the time did not use nails. The Chinese used dovetails and other carpentry methods to build their grand palaces.

The Mongol leaders did learn Chinese (or tried to), and a granddaughter of the khan would most likely be learning how to read it. The Mongols empowered their daughters and wives if the woman showed skill and ability to learn. Kublai Khan utilized Chinese, Muslim, and Christian (Nestorians) servants.

On jumping over a fire: It was against the Mongol law to jump over a fire. Fire was very important to the Mongols, especially a cooking fire. They had several laws governing the use of fire and cooking, and there were also codes about what you could do or could not do inside a ger. The Mongol code was called the Yassa of Genghis Khan, and it was kept secret. Only the Mongol leaders had access to it. Some scholars speculate that the code never existed; however, there is evidence that the Mongols had a strict moral code. Many of the moral laws are similar to the Ten Commandments. In the code, Genghis Khan states that it is not good to promote one religion over another; neutrality was key when it came to politics and religion. Perhaps that is one reason Kublai Khan was resistant to the gospel.

Kublai Khan did have relatives who were Christians. He did not embrace Christianity because the Christian God didn’t help His people win wars. To Kublai, a god who wouldn’t or couldn’t win wars for his followers was useless. He also believed that, as a Mongol leader, he would have eternal life. That was perhaps another reason the gospel had no pull on his heartstrings.


Bibliography for Peril in the Palace:

Aldin, Rashid and John Andrew Boyle, The Successors of Genghis Khan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), 241–255.

Bio. True Story, “Marco Polo. biography,”, “History of Magnetism,”, “The Yasa of Chingis Khan. A code of honor, dignity and excellence,”

History of Magnets,

Köchümkulkïzï, Elmira and Daniel Waugh, Silk Road Seattle, “Dwellings,”

Komroff, Manuel, Marco Polo (New York: Julian Messner, 1961).

Levy, Jonathan, Marco Polo, A Fantasy for Children,  (New York: Dramatist Play Services, 1977) 18.

Marshall, Robert, Storm from the East, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993) chapter 8.

Polo, Marco, and Rustichello, The Travels of Marco Polo, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1858) 282. You can also find this title at Google Books—

Rossabi, Morris, Kublai Khan: His Life and Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) 20, 66–67, 90–91, 96–97, 106–107, 138–139, 170–171, 226–227.

Saslow, Wayne, Electricity, Magnetism, and Light (Pelham, AL: Thomas Learning Inc., 2002) 69.

Steinhardt, Nancy et. al., Chinese Architecture (Yale University Press, 2002), 191.

Trinity College Dublin, “Myths and Origins: Child A encounters the lodestone,” http://www.tcd.le/Physics/Schools/what/materials/magnetism/one.html.

Turnbull, Stephen, Mongol Warrior 1200–1350 (Oxford: Osprey, 2003).

Weatherford, Jack, The Secret History of Mongol Queens (New York: Crown, 2010) 21, 52, 70–71, 129.

Wikipedia, search terms “Genghis Khan,” “Kublai Khan,” “Ancient Chinese wooden architecture,” “Christianity among the Mongols” and “yassa.”

Women in World History Curriculum, “Biographies: Female Heroes of Asia: Mongolia/Sorghanghtani Beki,”

Women in World History Curriculum, “Biographies: More Info for Sorghanghtani Beki/Mongolian Women,