In this episode… a boy’s trouble and a town’s rubble.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Parts 5 to 7 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
Sh’monah Esray, Atonement and Forgiveness
Ahead on the road a hubbub and fuss. A crowd grumbles. A murder? A theft? We overhears someone explain:
“A merchant beatin’ his servant boy. Probably stole a dirham or two.”
The crowd thickens as we close in.
“A priest is strappin’ a young monk who ran away with a local girl.”
Still closer we see a man on a horse; maybe he’s a judge assessin’ a crime.
“No. He’s come from the royal court, to capture a soldier who deserted his post.”
Now soldiers with clubs and leveled pikes drive back the crowd, quick to disperse. We drive our goats out into a field, the soldiers ignorin’ us meaningless folk. There, a man; he’s standin’ by a horse, looks like a prince by his proud demeanor; and a boy, abashed, face down, his tears streakin’ his dusty and chubby cheeks. It seems the boy has lost his way by the questions the man is askin’ him:
“Boy, do you not know where you’re from, your ancestral home, your source and your strength?”
With a snuffle and whimper,
“Yes sir, I know.”
But now as I listen I change my assessment. Perhaps the child was cast from his home.
“Are you not worthy to serve your estate? Don’t you have the courage to take my place?”
“Sire! Father! Take me back! Please forgive me. I want to go home!”
“Soldiers! Bring the boy his horse.”
“Yes, your majesty. We hear and obey.”
Graceful, the boy ascends his mount. A cloud of dust as they ride away.
Batkol whispers and pokes my ribs,
“That were the Seljuk king and his son. Seems like the boy ran away from home like the baker’s son back home who run off to Akko to escape his father’s fist.”
“True,” says I, “but a royal child leavin’ his Palace? When you seen that?”
Seems so familiar and seems so odd. Where have I seen such a boy like that? I walk the way, chewin’ a stalk of grass, and ruminatin’ the past. Nibble and spit and this come to me,
‘Blessed are You who desires teshuvah*,’
fifth of the blessings on our holy road.
* Hebrew: repentance; from the verb ‘to turn or return’
Days later I find my thoughts snagged and torn on brambly paths, and the thought of that boy come bleedin’ out. Who would leave their royal home?
Jews who turn their afflictions and woes into anger and hate for their own folk.
And how many priests, imams, and kings, like asps, slithery, wicked and mean, poison our texts with venomous lies? What the barbs and sufferings, what the compulsion for dominance, that be blindin’ them from justice and truth?
These and many another child have run away from their father’s home, from the royal palace where the Lor resides.
Meanwhile the land seems to grow dark. Shimmery shadows; wavery hills. What ails us that they skip like rams? Sun so bright; blindin’ us. Furious heat; choke and gasp. Dust hangs in the thickened air. We have to force ourselves to breathe. A gust of wind, sullen, mean. Travelers turn aside, alone, to rest in the ovenish shade of a tree.
Forteenth Aruh, Part 7 uv 18
Sh’monah Esray, Redemption
The road empties. A village up ahead. Thirst. Silence. A motionless world. A well by the road. A moan. A cough. A gust. A creak. A gate. It swings. Is that a cry? Beyond the gate. What’s that? An urchin lies in dust. Whimperin’ with hardly a breath. Batkol goes in. “Where’s your ma?” Blank stare. Dust-white face. Mask of terror. Mask of death.
Silence. Batkol knocks on the door. Squeaks open. “Hey. Hello?” Silence. Dark inside. Our eyes adjust. The floor. Bodies sprawled in black halos; scarlet edged. Screams. Batkol. I almost swoon. Rush. Outside. Batkol grabs the child. Silence. Back in the street. More houses. More dead. A greybeard sits in a pool of blood.
“Give me the child,” his weary command. “She’s one of mine. They’re all mine. Now. Be gone. Never know when they’ll return.”
“Who are ‘they’?” Batkol asks.
“Be gone. Revenge burns hot and long. Beware the sound of horse. Be gone.”
He take the child. Lays her down in his lap. Her hand dangles in blood.
The sun is scorch the land.
Many a swat and snap and sting to rush them goatlets down the road. A dense copse up a ways.
“Let’s hide in there,” Batkol begs, in shock and fearin’ every sound.
“Them murderers may also be hidin’ there. Best to veer ourselves far away. See, a curl of smoke over there. Maybe there’ll be some water and a friendly face.”
Trembly and dizzy and seemin’ to be confused, Batkol mumbles she wants to hide.
Closer we get and now I can see: not a smoky oven or a fire pit but timber of house and not much remains. I lay Batkol down.
“You’re safe here.”
With a felt kaftan I blanket her. Tremors and tears and “come back quick,” as I goes to search for survivors there.
Bracin’ myself for what I’ll find — heads on a pole; charred remains of women and children; murder and gore. Bracin’ myself for what I’ll find.
Among the ashes a spirit, a ghost squats by a body. It looks up at me. Ash white face, a shock of gray hair, sackcloth robe, ragged, torn. Ashen bone for arms and legs; a withered pap hangs exposed; her eyes like marbles, glazed and white; mouth agape in a silent cry.
“Here, horse-men stampeded thru; fiery torches instead of hands. Eyeless men, blind of heart, who joy to hurt a hapless child, a witless mother. Screech and howl, and set a-flame and trample on, and shout a maniac’s hateful curse. Such as these have passed this way. Blind of justice; blind of faith.”
“Look ye upon our afflictions, man, you, in your own eye little less than angel, bearin’ the Name of your Lor. If so, redeem! Show your worth. Otherwise know, you are little more than beast, like those who came before, bearin’ their God and ruin in their wake.”
This my reply to that talkin’ ash:
“Little more than beast is true. Perhaps I’m not so blind as them that spread such wrath and ruin here, but blind enough that I can’t read the scales of justice weighin’ you. I came to see if I could help — provide some bread or soothin’ word, or help you find another place to build a home, to make a life. My wife and I was headin’ north. You can join us if you like, and leave us when your spirit moves.”
“My home is here, and all this ash, that’s my life.”
She says no more. The wind rises up. The fronds of palm click and clatter like a ragged band of skeletons dancin’ down the road.
Thick the dusk when I returns to where I left Batkol to sleep, with many a fear that she’d be gone. There she lay, still, asleep. I knelt and wept and touched her face.
“Thank you Lor, You who redeems.”
In the next episode… is there a doctor in the house?