Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #72, Land of Assassins, 1

Bilal; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Hercules and Hydra -MET_DP822198, in the public domain.
Bilal; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Hercules and Hydra -MET_DP822198, in the public domain.

In this episode the rabbi sends our duo to a guide to take them north.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 12 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
Sh’monah Esray, Divine Retribution

Like I said, our friends in Homs been few after I spoke too honest and true. Well, the wind blows and the grass withers and our minds are bending to an inner urge and our feet been made for walkin’ away, with laughter faded and faces gray.

Still the rav treats us decent enough. Seein’ our plight he takes me aside and apologetic, asks what I need.

“Urgent the inner call on us to leave these troubled parts, this land. The Lor expelled Adam from Light, and here we all are, climbin’ our way back to Aden’s brilliant dawn but all we keep findin’ be Babylons. Thinkin’ Aden is just beyond, the more we approach the more it withdraws. Who can restore the days of old? Time don’t run backwards. The dead don’t return. So we’re turnin’ away from the backwards view. Maybe the Lor is inspirin’ us like the Prophets before; like our judges and kings; like *Hilkiah findin’ the books of the Law*, or Ezra rebuildin’ Jerusalem, or Yokhanan ben Zakkai foundin’ a school, or the sages buildin’ academies up in Sura and Pumbadit. And day by day, even you and me addin’ righteousness into this world. So Batkol, she hears Polan’s call, and I hears, maybe, Khazaristan.”
*-* II Kings 22:8-13

The rav replies with a weary sigh,
“Ever the search for a better place and a better time and a better spirit, but the world runs backwards away from the Lor, and the soul, like a man, grows weary and old. So our great feats and heroic deeds are all behind us, and unless God will send a savior, all is lost. Best to stay near the Holy Land, so when satan sets us ablaze, our passage through the furies is brief and the salvin’ land can restore us right quick.
“But I will send a sh’liakh* with you to find you a guide through Assassia’s lands. Without a guide abandon hope ye who would pass through rebellious Hama.”
* agent, representative

Fourteenth Era, Part 13 of 18
Sh’monah Esray, Support for the Righteous, part 1

Chiseled stone and fired brick wall us in through our narrow maze; and awnings and balconies over our heads. Neither light nor air, as the heat bakes the sewage in the street befoulin’ our feet.

A courtyard. Our sh’liakh taps on a door and we wait in the thick shadows and stench. Shuffle. Eyes peer through a crack.
“Is Master Bilal acceptin’ guests?”
The door creaks and we slip from the gloom into utter darkness as the door creaks shut. “Wait.” Footsteps shuffle away.

Slowly our eyes adjust in the dark. A tiny room and a moldering hall. Damp the air, like to breed disease. Shuffle. A tiny and wrinkled man in a white robe and a white beard. “Come.” His slow unsteady steps, like a faltering dirge leading us down a coiling stair, their walls of flint with razory flecks that cut our hands, like teeth linin’ the maw of the earth.

There like a king of the underworld, crosslegged, sittin’ on a prayer rug, an idol of stone, its arms as thick as any man’s legs; neck like a tree trunk and a massive head made larger still by a shock of hair and ringlets of beard that tumble and boil into his lap.

The idol talks and my heart near stops.
“Who’re you servin’ up to me, Yacoob? Offerings meant to burn in the Old Man of the Mountain’s grove?”
Our envoy smiles and climbs the stair, leaving us alone in this devil’s den.

A cascade of shock and fear and rage tumbles down the edge of me –

betrayal by that Yacoob scum or by his rav an evil sect in Homs like Sodom’s predators I remember that white robe priest serpent coiled in Palmyra’s ruins* that demon boy down his cave I’m bound and gagged by Berber thieves** hit him stab him gouge his eyes an idol that devours men this the idol that I serve my scarlet sins these harlot jinns is this justice my reward *v’uttah tzuddeek ulkoel habbah allanu kee emmet ussetah v’unnukhnu heershunnu*…–
* Second Era, Part 4; ** Seventh Era, Part 3
*-* vidui, the confession at death; this the last line: You are righteous in all that is come on us; You create truth; we, wickedness.

“You two ain’ in Damascus no more, with its little men and little sins. You jus’ moseyed into the lion’s den. And you, all blind, would trip along. Your sugary times is behin’ you now. Now is the tastin’ of fear and blood.”
Like a rumble from the guts of the earth, or the sound of thunder down from the hills, my thoughts echo through my bones while he growls and I talk.

“We heard the road is straight from here — Hama, Aleppo, on to Antep — and Seljuk soldiers secure the way.”

“Seljuk guards? What a pile! Offal pours from the mouf of the king and the people grovel and eat it up. Hashashin rule this countryside. Ain’ no imam or sheikh or prince safe in sleep or on the street, safe indoors or safe with troops, but the Ismailis have their way. Aleppo is seven days from here, in the daylight and on the road. Frice that time if you wanna live.”

“So we must find our way by night on goat paths and through wadi beds?”

He frowns like I’m some addled goose.
“I’m the way and I’m the light, and I’m the one that you’ll serve. Or else fug off and take your chance and end up Ismaili slaves. Unless they choose to cut your froat. I leave tonight jus’ after dark. When you hear the muezzin’s call you bes’ be here. I won’t wait.”
The ancient white-robe leads us out.

And then that monologue returns,
…betrayal… never trust that bull… what is lie and what half-true…


In the next episode, welcome to Hotel California.

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. 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: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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