In this scene our hero meets the Caliph Omar who is leading the Muslim armies as they surge out of Arabia.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fifth Era, Part 1. ~635 C.E. Sura,
Sura! Your pure and holy ways are but a fadin’ memory now. You, my neshamah,* my eternal wife, Naomi, there I found you first. There in our abundance, our love, our children, our measure of days, all wisdomful, there I lost you. *Diyan emmet.*
* breath; soul; soulmate
*-* ‘The True Judge’, end of a blessing acknowledging the death of a loved one
There in Elijah’s house I lived. How he changed in my eyes! A prophet first, but day by day I watched him descend to a foibly man, with his temper and moods. He fussed and fumed preparin’ his inks, stretchin’ skins, scribin’ books. And slowly, slowly, he ascended again beyond the petty measures I held. Wise of people, wise of words, wise of eternal moments too. Perhaps a prophet he truly was.
All them notes I compiled in those years — many a tale and many a book, verses a-weave in our family life — up it were, and burned. This time zealots ragin’ outa Mecca, with a new name of God and another book of God’s last words. And once again the ways of Aden and its paradise halls* were englobed in flame. The fiery angels descended like wolves on the fold, and nor but bloody bones remained and the ash of fields slashed and burned, where the Lor was evolvin’ a holy seed. Delicate shoots forever lost.
* others say: howls
Up they come with their warrior sheen, glint of sword and shield a-gleam, and the armies of Persia and the Byzantine were all a-rot, and more corrupt. A few stood, but the many fled, and we that fed and housed them troops were cast off quick enough, like bones to a growly cur, us crackled and crunched.
Them Persians fled from the Arab horse, which came on, first, like a tappin’ on the ground; then like a rapid beat of a drum. Then like a heavy surf a-roll, and then as thunders that rumble and shake. The books on our shelves and our piled up plates trembled, and so did Naomi and me. Out I rushed, I don’t know why. Maybe I was just swept up like dust from a room out to the porch. But just me alone. Everyone else in Sura musta had more sense. Me with my payot* and long grizzled beard, still wrapped in my tallit,** prayers still in my mouth.
* uncut side locks; ** prayer shawl
Fifth Era, Part 2.
And there at the head of this on-comin’ beast, the caliph himself and his privy guard. (‘Course, at the time I didn’t know the caliph from a gonif.* The dust coated swarm were all just plunderers and drinkers of blood in my eyes, according to the gory reports.) ‘Course, they seen things different.
* Hebrew for thief
He drew back on his reins and the steed reared up an walked like a man on two legs, and with a nay and a snort he stopped right there. Suddenly, the thunderin’ horde restrained, all but the clipcloppin’ hooves on the square. He barked out somethin’ in his strange tongue and them ghost-men around him they snickered and hooted. And me, I thinks, ‘You talkin’ to me?’ and I turns, figurin’ there’s someone behind me. More laughter and clipclops, til the man booms out some curdlin’ command. Then silence chokes that bad-mouthin’ crew. I spins back around. He’s talkin’ to me!
I had to laugh. Another chapter in The Wars of the Lor writin’ its code into our blood and we who are come to record the pieces and twist them into a history, now face to face with the warrior king.
I bows my head, and starts to say,
“Tell me please… *Omar, na,*…” Then I stops and shrugs, and sighs, since he can’t grasp a word I’m sayin’. Then more shouts and I figure my head will soon be rollin’ down the street, and I’ll need to find a new body to cloak my soul.
*-* Hebrew: tell me, please
But he don’t move, nor a one of his thugs, but there’s rufflin’ and rustlin’, some shoutin’ and shush. While I’m sweatin’ my last moments down here, up rushes some lug like Filippides*, gaspin’ bent over, hands on his knees.
* You know, the guy who run the first marathon
When he finally straightens up and looks at me, a strange expression twists his face. He turns to the caliph. They chitter and chat. Then he turns back and says,
His face is like a door swung open wide into his soul, and there he is, tryin’ to hide. But he can’t. Then the door blows shut in the wind, and to him I says,
Him who was once of the priestly people, but who closed his eyes and heart and soul, (as I once thought to do, myself when Rome was pressin’ down on me).
*-* Hebrew for “hello, dog”
**-** Hebrew for “hello, like-my-heart”
I continues then my words to him:
“Here we are, speakin’ face to face, and no one but you understands my words. Just as our Lor still speaks in your Soul, face to face and with you alone. An you might hear it if you listen. Like we say every day, ‘Sh’ma Yisroyel.’ Them that are strong and full of courage go from the many to join the few. But you have turned down the trembler’s road, the road of anger and the road of fear. Fear of men and angers at God. The muddy roads, the slurry roads, the follow roads, and not to lead, the roads of tails and not of heads, away from the few to be with the many. But you can return, brother of mine.”
Just about then the caliph barked, and my lost brother then barks at me,
“Our Caliph sets the terms, not you!”
The he turns and bows and chitters away, obsequious and trembling, maybe exposin’ exactly what I said. But since my head still ain’t rollin’ down the street I’m guessin’ he bantered up a tale.
Next week: ultimatums.