Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #138, Coded Message

Argument;  image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Velázquez-065, Josephs Bloody Coat - Royal Monastery San Lorenzo, in the public domain.
Argument; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Velázquez-065, Josephs Bloody Coat - Royal Monastery San Lorenzo, in the public domain.

In this episode, Saadia and Batkol witness an enigmatic dialog.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Nineteenth Era, Part 2, ~1432 C.E., Palma

We live in Palma for some months. Is it years? Maybe more? And in that time Aragon’s noose is squeezin’ tighter on the church’s lands, tryin’ to choke out heresies and alternate readings of the gospels, or personal knowledge of God in the world. As for pagan, Muslim, and Jew, a sword is pressed against our necks; hard to breathe, afraid to move. Like we’ve fallen into a vortex of hell fit for Dante’s mythology.

But forgive. I’ve rushed ahead of myself. I still must describe the secret folk hidin’ inside of Palma’s streets. And Batkol insists I reveal the book she wrote in Genoa….

Like I said, that priest hustled us thru private courtyards and mazy ways and into a house with nary a knock. Expectin’ a parlor, much surprised, we stands in a kitchen fragrant with bread. The cook nearly drops her tray of cakes, and stifles a scream,
“Oh, Father Enrique! You fright-a me.”
“So sorry, Hagar. Senior Vallseca awaits us. We came the back way to save time.”
She leads us into a sittin’ room.

An Impressionistic Masque

Juan Vallseca
Man of stone. Face a mask. Sits like sphinx. The desert winds slowly etch his mask away, slowly pit his stony eyes. Flickers of inner life emerge. He taps his fingers on his thigh. His stone casting starts to crack. As if a rumble from far away, words echo out of his chest, words of welcome from a distant place.

Father Enrique
A well trained hound at his master’s feet, tho sharp-toothed, mastiff tall, knows the hand that feeds him well and makes him lie and whips his haunch; none too fawning but well-restrained.
“My sphinx-hearted man of faith; my dear friend, Senior Juan…”

Gabriel Vallseca
A puppy scampers into the room, nippin’ toes, yip and yap.
In walks Gabby with a wide grin and a flaky pastry in his hand. Crumbs fly as he says ‘hello.’

Father Enrique
The light dims and shadows etch dark furrows around his eyes, that now enlarge like murky pools as evening dulls the rosy clouds and the bright sky turns deeper blue. Is that the Nazarene I see on a further hill, his robes blowing in the gusty wind; or only Paul, sharp of tongue and jagged thoughts, come to Rome to challenge law? His voice is soft, but his fist is clenched as his next words transform the mood.
“What, now, are we to do?”

Juan Vallseca
A breeze blows in, fresh and sweet, and leaves flutter near a rocky shore. The surf is quiet, just a soft purr.
“Hagar, your baking is ever a joy. Perhaps our guests desire some tea; bergamot and honey, please.”

Is this a docile family pet, or a sulky cur often kicked, known to growl behind your back or nip your heel in nasty fits?

Juan Vallseca
Man of stone. Only his eyes move, following the servant’s steps til she closes the door. Like an avalanche, the face of the mountain falls away and carries with it the lifeless facade; as if stone, by alchemic heat, bursts into flame, and ignites the room…. And a still, small voice cuts the air.
“We must make it appear they sailed away. No one must know they are still here.”

Father Enrique
Hidden fears and angry thoughts spark and fume like burning pitch; the air is choked; suppressed screams; the undertones that fill his words.
“No. They must leave at once; sail away. Who can say what eyes and ears are seeing, hearing? Who can say what lies and fears will spread in this corrupted place and drive the heart to evil deeds?”

Juan Vallseca
Night descends. Sudden squalls thrash the air. Flash and crash. Suddenly the gusty wind turns cool. Hot and sweaty necks turn chill. Fresh air. Inhale relief. The squall past, the muggy heat returns. A distant thunder rolls.
“Yes. The dangers here are great. Gabby, stroll down to the wharf and suss out when the next ships sail, preferably to Genoa.”

Gabriel Vallseca
Puppy eyes glance around. A playful task. Who will come? Yip and yap, or is that a growl?
“Already, rites slip away. Already prayers have been forgot. Already teachings are distorted. Soon there will be nothing left.”
Not a yipping yapping pup. A young lion is roaring here.

Juan Vallseca
Stone face mountain. Inward eyes. Silence on the piney slopes.
“Aah. I think our tea has come.”

Juan Vallseca
Still life. Glass bowl full of grapes. Foreground: a yellow speckled pear, a fly standing on its neck. Background: window, public square.
“My dear Saadia, what do you think of our bergamot tea? Have you ever drunk anything quite so flavorful? Thank you, Hagar. Our guest here reports a Venetian ship from Candia* is newly arrived. Please rush there. You know my weakness for their wine and nutty cheese. Is the larder low on anything else? Please go now. Tomorrow they’ll be all sold out.”
Shuffle, snuffle, groan, and growl. Still life. Wilted flowers in a vase. Foreground: bees gnaw at a pear. Background: dark velvet drapes.

Father Enrique
A choir of monks chant a tune, Ave Maria, fervent and loud. Outside, donkeys bray in a pen, sparrows twitter, crows caw. Hawkers push their carts thru the street. Clip clop of mules, barking of dogs. A squatting beggar with a hoarse cry. The good father hums the Glory Be and works his rosary, bead by bead, smiling as if in a revery.
“I love the docks when ships come in. The hubbub and hustle and wares on display, all the world brought to our shores, to this, the fairest, most Catholic isle.”

Ants marching along the wall. A mouse scuttles behind a bench. A snake slithers beneath the floor. A darting swallow feeds its young. Hagar sullenly crosses the room. The door bangs and she shuffles away.

Thunder. Cloudburst. Sirocco winds. Branches crashing down on roofs. Rubbish, buckets, laundry, leaves swirl and tumble thru the streets. Horses thrash their tethers loose. Dogs cower under chairs. Windows rattle; shatter of glass. Water pours thru seeping cracks…

“We cannot risk discovery, the convent and its secret lives. The church sends its eyes and ears, like rodents, into every nook, gnawing into every heart…”
“I know! But what’s our future then? Live like hares among the wolves? Devoured daily one by one? But if our maps and if our tools convince the king that we have worth…”
“The church will not be bought away. Our only hope, escape from here…”
“No! What other home is there? Berber prisons? Muslim chains? Barbaric frozen Teuton lands?”
“They say the Polish king is good, and don’t confuse the Ottomans with Muslims like the Mamluk brutes…”
“And what? Abandon all my flock and let them sink in ignorance, and lose the only way to God?”
“We must reset the corner stones, build knowledge, restore strength, slowly loose these Christian chains. If Jews in Palma and Aragon might yet survive, we need these two…”

And here, Batkol and me just sit amidst this fraught and garbled froth. Utterly perplexed we see that all their eyes are trained on us. Me, I’m thinkin’ to myself,
“What the hell does all this mean?”
When Batkol says,
“You mean us two??”


In the next episode… ‘who else they talkin’ about, dudes?’

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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