In this scene Saadia (our hero) and Batsheva Koltov (Batkol, his wife) meet the vizier of Garnotta.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Tenth Era, Part 2, 1039 CE, Granada
Batkol and me, guests of the king by the word of the Jewish general and vizier, known to us Jews as Shmuel ha-Nagid, Samuel the Prince, a merchant made good. We live in a suite in his palatial house, and eat at his table where all wines flow.
We arrived all tattered, luggin’ a bag made of worn out jute, stuffed with our junk. And me with that letter from Rav Khushiel slung over my shoulder like a yoke on an ox. Days and nights that letter burned into my neck and into my craw like an expulsion edict. How many will I carry before the Days of Truth arrive? And yet that letter, black fire on skin, become my passport, bodyguard, and key to crossing borders where guards are like dogs, all sniff and growl and quick to bite; where checkpoints extort whatever they want; where the king is suspicious of most everyone, and only his friends pass through his doors. Every one of them times, I took that tube with its rolled-up parchment and its red wax seal and its flourishy cover that says, all bold, ‘Only for the eyes of the Andalusian vizier,’ and them checkpoint guards, their eyes grow wide. They backs off and bows with obsequious words, “Yes sir! In service of king and vizier! No trouble, no worry. God be your guide.”
Arrivin’ a-ragged to ha-Nagid’s guard, who looks at us like we’re two stray cats. With his hand on his sword and his tongue like a knife, he sneers,
“Pass on; you have no business here.”
“I carry a letter from Rav Khushiel — the light of the darkness of Kairouan — sent to the prince of Andalus, the honorable Shmuel, the king’s vizier. I know not its contents, as the law dictates,* but I alone must deliver it.”
* decree by Rabbenu Gershom around the year 1000 CE/ 4760 Heb.
And there we stands through the heat of the day. (I guess in Garnotta messengers abound.) Evening comes. What to do? When that sneer of a guard clanks down the hall. With clashin’ of bolts and squeal of a hinge the gate to heaven opens a crack.
“Wait here. Don’t move or you’ll breathe no more.”
Three guards then appear. One grabs my arm, one grabs Batkol, the third he grins with silver teeth like polished fangs.
Long we hustle down lightless halls and then, behold, marble baths, steamy and clean and smellin’ of mint. There, two attendants take my clothes, soak me, and scrub me with pumice and soap. They cuts my hair and oil it smooth and bring me new robes like the high-born wear. My own clothes they throw in a bin of rags. They’ll probably use them to mop the floor.
Tenth Era, Part 3.
“Now you are ready to meet the vizier.”
And I thinks, ‘Now I knows how Yosef felt when they whisked him from a dungeon to interpret dreams, *or Joshua, the High Priest, standin’ before the angel of God, his filthy garments of sin removed for robes of light and a turban as pure.*’
*-* Zechariah 3:3-5
Batkol come out, her hair in braids, lookin’ like a princess in silk and lace. And what’s that rosy tint on her cheek, and crimson lips like poppy blooms? And I thinks to myself, not without fear,
“When they brought Bathsheba to Davy’s room, no doubt they prepared her just like this. Will they send me, like Uriah, out to my death?”
Where next we’re led…. We enters a room like I never seen, and my fears fade. Casement windows with diamond panes inset in deep niches in the wall, with faceted peaks and surfaces in tile, glazed in sparkly floral designs. Giant tapestries hang on the wall and couches upholstered in minute brocade of geometric patterns, who can describe? A table set with silver plates gilded with a delicate filigree, and silver utensils and silver bowls and silver pitchers all beaded and etched. And cups propped up on thin little pipes; goblets they call them, like drinkin’ from a flower made of glass.
And at every window and every door attendants with cocked heads and haughty stares, weighin’ our thoughts. Not chamberlains, these snooty pages, but angels of death with bonebreaker hands.
And just as I wonders, ‘what should I do?’ a door bursts open and a guard shouts out,
“To stations, men!”
And there, the vizier.
Some people float like a leaf in a stream; some sink as soon as the waters get rough; some tumble on, gaspin’ for air; some get stuck in pools midstream or aimlessly drift by stagnant banks.
When Shmuel haNagid steps in a room he is not one of them awash in the stream. He is the mountain that sends forth the stream. Does he step in the room, or the room step to him? The force of his character bends the world. But what is the cost of such world-shapin’ will? Like a spring compressed, you cannot let up, or all your force will redound on you.
When he sees Batkol, the world falls away from his burdened eyes. Rapid his steps to her. He lifts her hand to his lips.
“Welcome, my dear!”
Then he turns to me,
“Ah, and here, the envoy from the other world! I have read your scroll. There is much to discuss. It seems your travels have been full of duress, but Khushiel puts all faith on you.”
And now rich fragrance fills the room. The foods they serve! Transcendent delights. The aromas, the display, the unearthly tastes, here in this place where all wines flow.
In the next episode, a revery…