The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #42, Palace, Burning
In this episode pogroms, like wildfire, spread across Spain.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eleventh Era, Part 10, 1066 C.E., Granada
I seen the assassins, war horses and men, trained for fury, to trample in blood. I run to confront them; they hardly sneer, and with vambrace slash and thrash me aside. Moments later they reach the wing of Yosef the vizier, Shmuel’s son. I hears as I stagger to find the guard, crashin’ of furniture, screamin’ of children. Gates wide open; guards, not one.
‘Are they come for the king, or has he planned this?’
I think as I step into the street.
Shouts and the clatter of boots and swords. I looks to the right, our city’s gate, chains undone, it slowly swings with a piteous squeal open to the fields. And I sees Granada become Golgotha — our Jewish vizier hangs crucified. Like blood, the streaks on the dawning sky. Now mobs run mad. And I hears the cry,
“Free yourselves from the grip of the Jew!”
Now it come clear, the scope of this. Not just the vizier but every Jew stands in danger. “Where’s my Batkol?” In spite of being battered, I rush and I run to my valorous wife, my heroine, only to find our apartment door shattered and a ransacked mess inside. And nary a clue of my eternal bride.
Strange to see the ease and the speed that my thoughts fell, I who said I would not pick up Gabirol’s theme, now repeatin’ his common refrain,
‘Oh Lor, these exiles; how long will they endure? How long, our Lor? How long is Your way?’
The storm front hits. The scream and the wail and the shatter of glass and the fire’s hiss, doors ripped off their iron hinges, tooth and scowl as the wind bursts in.
How strangely quiet the morning comes on. The sky painted with a lean brush — a touch of madder on shades of gray. From the rubble people emerge, still afraid, and then a new wail rises from the earth as the children, the mothers, the fathers all stare from their homes and courtyards, on the pools of blood, on the slain where they lived in a land that they loved. Then them as was battered, abused, and raped crawl out of their corners, immersed in their traum. This Andalus. So sick unto death.
A voiceless cry is rivin’ my soul. Mine and how many others gashed? Them as raped now twisted in shame; their thoughts, if writ, would burn the page. Those, like me, with our spleen tore out, the pages bleed themselves away.
The books of our Souls are bound in Heaven, but they’re writ in our crude and human script. These pages scribed of our temperamental tale, the parchment skins are seared with iron; they crinkle and smolder beneath the hot point and almost ignite as our tale is writ. And the Lor must suture it, letter and word. Only God can read that corrupted text. He reads and the angels transcribe it all, stampin’ in outrage, weepin’ despair.
Eternal record of this sodom world. Nor all the histories that kings compose to extol their power and clear their names — in the court of the Lor they are evidence of perjury and bad faith.
Returnin’ to my history…
Does the sea’s waters flow into the hills? Yet now our Jordan has backwards turned, as out of Granada us Jews must go in sullen groups and stragglin’ alone. We throw ourselves to the waitin’ wolves: Castile and Aragon droolin’ up north; to the east we hear that Catalan is not so starved and sharp of fang; and south, Malaga, gate to Maroc, where the Berber in his fanatic faith is long of sword and short of talk. And some even venture to Portugal, west, a land that’s hangin’ on the edge of the world.
Without my Batkol I am lost and confused. She had become part of my every thought. Oh how the wheel of me wobbles and creaks. Grievin’ despairs that drain all my strength. By day I can hardly rise from the hay; walkin’ mindless of where I go. But at night my mind whirs and spins in waking dreams both sharp and dim: There! Batkol, she is still alive. I run to her but she disappears down ruined streets; I enter a door. Is that her there, toothless and old, or there, crucified on a tree, or there, on a ship as it sails away? Oh bitters; oh shatters; beguiled, betrayed. In my self reproach, so weak of will.
For months I wander from village to town ever seekin’ some word of her, ever berating my baneful hope. And then in Barcelona a man who says he heard from another man that he knows of a woman that is searchin’ for her man, one of Granada’s noble men.
“Her name,” I urge, “Tell me her name!”
“That I don’t know, and that man be gone. Said he be goin’ into the hills, an maybe even to savage Gaul.”
Oh how hope drives a man insane. That turncoat hope, that opium smoke. Drives me further up the coast to Mataro where them simple folk have painted crosses in blood on their doors, all worked up by some inspired priest whose imagination misreads Exodus and has started preachin’,
‘End times are near. Jew and your Angel of Death go away.’
I hustles my bones right out of there, especially hearin’ that many Jews fled thru here not long ago.
Malgrat. Ain’t no painted doors. Priest here be most hospitable and much appalled by the massacres. He wouldn’t let me travel on without a meal and a night’s rest in a niterous grotto cut in stone, used by ascetics who wander thru. I careful describes Butkol to him. Shakin’ his head,
“I can’t say. I seen so many fleein’ Jews. They say Girona’s rulin’ prince armed a city garrison with orders to kill all rioters and pertect its Jews at all costs.”
He give me the name of a priest he knows in Sant Dalmai up in the hills.
“Girona’s but a two days walk, less if you gots some strength of leg.”
I reach Tordera before sunrise and rush on to Sant Dalmai, my mind declarin’, insistin’, screamin’,
‘She’s not there. Don’t be caught in this self-destructive delusion of hope.’
But my feet refuse to hear my thoughts. Midday, knockin’ at a back door of a rough built church, stone and brick all mixed together like a patchwork quilt.
“Excuse me, Father. I’m a wanderin’ Jew lookin’ for my wife, if she be alive. The good and holy priest of Malgrat told me you be kind and just, and might have knowings to help my quest.”
Here too, a righteous and holy man, anxious to salve my troubled soul without regard for our differences.
“My son, very few women have passed through my village, traveling alone. Some weeks ago three widows came through, terribly hungry, exhausted, ill. God have mercy on their souls.”
He serves me a cup of barley soup and I give him the only coin I have, bid farewell and I’m roadin’ on, my feet defyin’ what my heart knows.
And there, Girona. And now my feet will hardly move. I drag myself up and down its narrow lanes, searchin’ markets and open squares. Night falls. Like a leper I sits at a gate, binding my mental wounds, til I fall asleep in the dust. Mornin’ come. Risin’ from the dust I follow some Jews to a house of prayer.
What a strange texture of thought and feeling, as there before me I sees Batkol. Not unburdened joy or simple relief. Not wonder of fate. Not thanks to God. Not bitter at the Lor. Not fury at men. Not swoonin’ as if the world were a-spin. Not questions and doubts and troubled fears. Not sorrows and heavin’ memories of pain. But all of them mixed in a tangled yarn. Memories and fantasies, dreams and past lives. What I seen and dreamed; what I prayed for and feared. I just stood there weepin’, afraid to reach out.
In the next episode, building a new life.