In this episode our hero spends some time with a woman of the night.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Twelfth Era, Part 5., 1099 C.E., to Tiveria
“Best to camp here,” I says to Batkol. “Bouillon’s soldiers may be waitin’ down there.”
“Not a bite to eat nor a drink all day, ‘cept that swamp you guzzled that made you chuck itself and half your guts, as well. Must be some herbs and cleaner drink, and a flat bread or two in Jericho. You stay here and I’ll go down. I’ll pass their sentries in my veil.”
“I’ll not let you go,”
says I, aghast, but she turns, hustlin’ down the ridge, and weak and dazed, I shout behind,
“I mean, I’ll not let you go alone!”
At Jericho’s gate we see a crowd. Bouillon’s soldiers are strutting and pointing, checkin’ faces and unloadin’ carts and generally makin’ troubles for all.
A woman approaches, her face unveiled, cold dark eyes and beet red lips. Brash, she appears and without fears. *Woman of night, woman of light*.
*-* Doors, L. A. Woman
Me, I’m nauseous; my head’s a-spin, cramped and about to be sick again. I kneel and heave and the world goes black.
Wakin’ in a dark oppressive cell on a stone floor in a pool of puke. I think,
“I’m caught in Bouillon’s net. Where’s Batkol? She even alive?”
Strange dreams and delirium fill my head with a sickly dread… I close my eyes and open them again; dim light; a hazy spirit… I open my eyes, a blazin’ light burns the room, blindin’ me….
“Burnt alive. The end has come…”
Words reverbin’ outa the light.
Echoes in my head; swirlin’ heat; dim light. An angel smiles down and lifts my head to give me drink, sweet nectar of heavenly fruit.
I know this angel. She accompanied me in my worldly descents and stood by me, protector and guide in the lower worlds, who now restores me to these upper states.
Dark, but for candles. That angel again, feedin’ me nectar from the Tree of Life.
Mornin’ light. Open my eyes. Batkol? And a daughter of the lower worlds?
“Sister-shade in the warp of Batkol, are you her, ascended from Bouillon’s knife and sent to journey further with me? Are you her eternal and subtle part, a similitude of her Adam shell? Or are you a phantom in my fevery eyes? Tell me, are you my sister spirit, or must I descend into Adam again, and blindly search them sepulchral halls? Tell me those days of tohu and deceit have ended, and this is the world of Truth.”
Well, I didn’t say it like that at the time — probably just mumbled some jibberish not worth the ink, but that’s what I meant.
“Where do you think you are?” she asks. “Some layer of Heaven? Some Adeny place? Oh, Saadia Mishan! You are so full of dream, so full of hopes and the joys they hold. No, we have not passed the threshold of Adam’s house. This is stone and sand, wood and clay, a house in the thick of Jericho’s wall. And this is Rakhov, flesh and blood, with an angel’s spirit, our guardian. Honey, tell him what you told me.”
Rakhov, she stares at the floor awhile, and lookin’ up, she been teary eyed, and yet there’s a fierceness that startles me:
“Fearin’ the knights that come to this land, them demons unleashed from their lower worlds, Frankish worlds, Teutonic worlds, worlds of anger and worlds of hate…. Their conquerin’ towers and war machines… And the land melted like wax in their flame. Christians and Muslims alike ran in their indiscriminate heat and hate.
“Me and my folk from earliest days lived in this city, lived in this wall, lived in this hole in this sunbaked clay. We bore the cross since the time of Paul, but these Frankish pagans, in their lightless worlds, accused our people of heresies, and inclined to sword us like Muslim and Jew.
“When Christian kills Christian, end times be near. This land will burn like Gomorrah’s plain. Now here you come like them angely Gods lookin’ down from Aberham’s heights. There and then I decided my course: Let me serve and flee with you, and perhaps a seed of my people will survive. Call me Zerah*-in-the-bitter-wind or call me Rakhov**-in-these-alleys-of-sin, but where you go, take me there.”
* Hebrew: seed; ** see Yehoshua/Joshua 2
Late in the day, the clash of boots ringin’ in the halls, rushin’ up stairs. Rakhov, roused by pity and fear drags me up with Batkol’s help to the roof to hide us in a heap of flax. Then she’s gone. Footsteps come to a halt. Voices.
“Ha’ you seen a runegade Jew spyin’ the city for the Fatimid hor’? He’s treachery full a clever lies, pervokin’ hate of our Savior prince. He’ll cut yer froat and steal yer gold.”
No response for an age or two then cloppin’ of boots up her stair.
“Here’s the place!” she proudly claims. Shock of dread. She sold us out!
But then Rakhov continues to talk,
“From this rooftop your camp is just down there, and easy for you to see me up here. I’ll hang this scarlet shawl from my window if I see that treacherous Jew again.”
Grunts and laughter and some lewd quips as she leads them back to the courtyard door.
Deep dusk when Rakhov returns.
“Sorry to fright you like that,” she says. “Someone told them they seen me with you. But they’ll be gone in a couple of days and we’ll climb down the wall and I won’t look back.”
So now we are three. We argues with her that the shoes of a Jew often don’t fit, and bullies and boneheads and jackals and snakes are always eyin’ for easy prey. But she says she ain’t concerned for her feet, its her neck and the noose them Frankish knights is fittin’ for her as a heretic. And long before them wild dogs had come, she carried the cross up many a hill which, without churchmen, was hard enough. But them priests be makin’ it ever the worse with their threats of hell and their birch-cut rods. Her soul already known plenty of aches. Some new shoes might be a better fit. But her biggest worry: is she worthy enough to take on the priestly robes of a Jew.
Little she knows, but she’ll do and she’ll choose. We’re glad to have her. She’s sharp and she’s hard.
Well, we’ll follow the Jordan like it backwards flows up to the lake and Tiveria. We hear there’s still some Jews up there with a house of God and a scribe or two.
And then outa nowheres, a moment of joy. While it’s shinin’ on me I have the thought:
If I can establish it for a moment, why not an hour? If an hour, why not a day? If a day, why not a week? If a week, why not a year? If a year, why not the shape of things forever?
Ah well. It seems it come and gone, bein’ no more than a brief mirage.
In the next episode: some thugs in a tavern.