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Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #25, Alternate Realities

Oasis; modified and colorized image from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.

In this scene our hero and Batkol travel with a dangerous caravan.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Ninth Era, Part 2, ~1032 C.E., north to Andalus

A two camel caravan snakes from town. It’s a five day slither to the Middle Sea, the one I swore that never again would I test with my life, testin’ my Lor; the one that leapt up and ate me alive; the one where the kindest, holiest men are prayerful cannibals with demon laws; the one with innocent-lookin’ boats but inside their bellies, the rows of teeth, the incessant drum and lust for blood; that’s where my feet be draggin’ me.

For long days we breathe sand and dust. Our lips crack, our tongues swell. Water, but a sip. Crusts, our meat. A date or raisin a heavenly treat. Add to the savor, whisper of knives, throats to be slit, rebelling tribes; khans and imams and kadis and clans brewin’ their troubles, stewin’ their plots on Kairouan and its sultanate.

Now the trail rises, winding and steep. They say we must cross a range of hills, then down to a river, the Miliane. From there to Tunis the way is pleasant. The route by the coast would avoid these hills but that way, water is briny and scarce.

As the way turns meaner, meaner the stares, and meaner and louder the whispered words.
“This Jew stood tall as a kadi walked by.”
“That Jew rides an ass while the imam walks.”
“Did you know, a Jew is physician to the judge?!”
“Worse still, some Yehud is advisin’ the vizier.”
“Usurpers and serpents, like the Prophet says.”
“Sharpen your knives; the night descends.”

The sun abandons us early that day, down in a deep and gehinnomy* vale. You can see the shadows snakin’ down the slopes as we make camp and claim our plots, to lay our mats, to embrace the night, to sleep and dream. Batkol and me, we find a place at the edge of a group pursuin’ their hajj**. But soon as their fires stop crackin’ and fade, we slips away, and crawls beneath a thorny bush outside the camp. But just at first light we crawl back to our mats.
* temporary place of purifying punishments after death in Jewish myth
** pilgrimage to Mecca

All that day we cuts and climbs and finally we reach the peak of the ridge. But now we sees, beyond and beyond another range and another range, climb and descend, climb and descend. With swollen knees and blistery feet, our breath short and our humor shorter. And night by night exhausted as we are, we disappear from our pilgrim group, then return like ghosts among the dreamy spirits that are driftin’ back to their bodies at dawn.

Some days later, on a piney ridge at the top of a rise, gasp! Below, the wadi Miliane among the rocks. A shout excapes from our mouths, agape. Even the caravan drivers give a hurrah. But comes the descent, scrabble and scrape, tearin our shins, our hands, our butts as we slip on the narrow and dangerous trail down to them waters, cool and sweet.

Some of us felt deceived at the base of the ridge – not a river but a trickly, chalky stream – here again, there again, a pool to be found. Still, better than water with a goatskin tang. As our parched throats ease a bit so the barkin’ and scowls turn to chatter and smiles. But don’t get me wrong. When the nights come on we spirit ourselves out of the camp.

Two days later, before midday the wadi opens to a wide plain. Of Tunis we see just a minaret or two, but we make her gate by the third call to prayer.

…At the checkpoint our caravan mills about as our packs are checked and taxes collected. Then up walks some murderous crows from our trek, them who was amongst the whispering ones. They looks Batkol and me up and down and they say,
“We seen you demony Jews, vapory like the smoke coilin’ from embers. We knows you’re nothin’ but ghost. We knows you can change your corruptible shape and enter our houses and beds and wives and preg them with demony sons of your kind. We knows you can enter our innocent dreams with your assassin spirit and assassin schemes. You chant, and your language makes us mad, and makes us serve your evil gods. Ah! But we also know the chief of the local guard. We warned him. Now we will see if your blood is red, or black as your heart when they lop off your heads.”

Just then up rides an armed troop. The captain barks,
“Here are the dogs.”
With billow of dust, and bellow and rush they charge us and batter me to the ground. Next thing I knows, its me and Batkol bound and gagged and choked by ropes; like Daniel, thrown into a pit…

…At the checkpoint our caravan mills about as our packs are checked, and taxes collected. Then up struts some murderous crows from the crew that guided our caravan through the hills. All brash and sneery they surround us, and one of them blurts,
“We knows you two! You’re part of that demony brood of Jews spawned of a god that hates our Lor.” Another points an accusin’ stick,
“You be the ones that change your shape when the night comes on and shadows fade.”
And another,
“You enter our nostrils like smoke, then into our breath and into our dream. And there you enslave us and serve us up to your goat-headed god who eats us alive. Let’s see the color of their blood before they disappear into the night.”

As they pull out knives, the custom guards shout. Then scramble and tussle and scream. Hardly a moment, and off they flee as there on the ground, eyes a-glaze, my Batkol dyin’, her throat slit…

…Come to the checkpoint. Millin’ of crowds and up walks some murderous crows from our trek, them as amongst the whispery ones. They looks Batkol and me up and down and say,
“We seen you demony Jews disappear at night, like coilly smoke from our fires. We knows your body ain’t real. We knows you can enter our minds and our souls, corruptin’ our thoughts, controllin ‘ our steps. You break into our dreams to assassinate our spirits with your omeny language and your castin’ of spells. But we also know the head of the guard here in Tunis. We’ll alert him right quick. Then we’ll see if there’s blood in them limbs and if you can curse when your throat is slit!

Just then, up rides a squad of knights. The leader reigns back and shouts,
“There they be!” With clash of gear and flash of sword the troops surround us. Terrors. Confusion. A moment later they grabs that crew of crows that just been threatenin’ us. They bind them in heavy leather thongs and drag them off with the shriek of a whip…

…Then the chief of the squad says to Batkol,
“Sorry, m’lady to cause you upset. Them thugs have been thievin’ the caravan trails. You’re lucky you come through that pass alive. But worry not. By tomorrow’s light I expect we’ll have relieved them of their ugly heads.”
Then he bows and strides himself away.

I turns to Batkol a-shakin’ my head.
“Who can know the ways of the Lor? Today the corrupt ones control our fate or today our God redeems us. This is the day that our Lor has made*.”
And Batkol takes my hand, and truer her word:
“The truth at the end of the day is this: ‘I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee**.’”
* Psalm 118:24; ** Berraysheet/Genesis 12:3

As we pass through the city gate I asks Batkol,
“What should we do first? Find the kahilla* or eat a meal?”
But this wondery woman says,
“The bath first.”
So each to a mikvah we make our way, to wash in a marble, steamy room, with a pumice stone and cake of soap. Then prayerful immerse in the ritual bath. Then anoint ourselves with good scents.
* Hebrew: Jewish community

~~~~~~~~~~

In the next episode, a cruise to some lesser known Club Med resorts.

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan with an awe of The Eternal and an unbounded love of Judaism that shapes everything I think and do. 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: http://steveberer.com/work-in-progress. In the process of reconstructing lives, I also reconstruct English, in an effort to achieve heightened and multi-dimensional perspectives. I have recorded some brief thoughts about this philological journey in a series of essays entitled "Essential Notes on Linguistics." You can read these on my website or at Academia. My creative life also includes arts and crafts. For example, my older son and I are working on an illuminated Megillat Esther. Finally, and in many ways most importantly, I currently live with my bashert just outside Washington, DC, and have two remarkable sons, the three of whom light my life.
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