In this episode… another fortress on a promontory, but with unseen assassins.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 16 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
Sh’monah Esray, Hear our voice, 1
Comes twilight and towerin’ palisades rise with mysterious patterns in the rock. Urshinnab points at the cliff and says:
“Glyphs writ before Noah’s time.”
“Genealogies and weird tales?”
“No one can read it,”
For a moment they all seem to read themselves, like the earth revealing her secret life. Startled, I’m lookin’ all around. Who’s mumblin’? Ain’t Urshinnub. Be that hashish still workin’ me? Just a deep rumble, like an echoin’ voice:
“Bow to me you little men and I will uncloak myself for you…”
Thunder? No… but I’m hearin’ words that sound like this:
“Be dismayed by your abashment lickin’ my dust.”
Then silence. There on the highest ridge where the sun is sinkin’ into the haze, a fortress.
“That be Rumkale*, abandoned since the time of Job. We’ll stay the night as its royal guests.”
Our ferryman beaches the tiny skiff. Dismayed, we climb her talkin’ cliffs.
* pronounced ‘roomkallay’, the ‘oo’ like’book’
A stairway to heaven up them cliffs. Wobbly and gaspin’ at the lower gate as we entered the tomblike, shadowy court where many a warrior on armored horse must have clattered, anxious to charge. Through inner courts and another stair to the battlement deck and upper bunks.
“Sleep with your angels,” the ferryman points.
Darkness thickens the last light. Smell of urine and dried scat where I lay my head on the damp stone.
Awoken from dream. Trumpets and shouts. Cloppin’ of horses, clackin’ of swords, like a troop of soldiers in the lower courts. I look around. Can’t see a thing.
Startled, I sit up. First light. Wailin’ and moans. Desperate shouts.
“See me. Hear me. Why won’t you help?”
Back on the river, the boat adrift through banks of mist that thin and disperse and thicken again. Croakin’ and screeches, flutter and splash, muffled by fog. Now cries and whimpers like I heard last night. The mist as it thins reveals the shore; crowds of people, like mournful wraiths, mouths wide open, arms all raised like wisps of smoke rising in the air, bendin’ and twistin’ as the fog blows in; muffled moans, then silence again.
Startled, I sit up. First light. Whimper and moan. Gurgle and snore. Unmoving, I listen. A howl from afar. Or is it the wind in this Byzantine gloom?
First light. I wake again. ‘Damn! Such dreams.’ The ferryman grunts,
“Gather your things. This castle’s walls are full of spirits troubled and cruel. The river is callin’ in the mist below.”
Through banks of mist we silently drift as the ferryman poles us, sullen, depressed. Gathered on the banks, like the unburied dead, or like the witch of Endor* now recalled, in small groups, in clamorin’ crowds, all the morn as we pole upstream they point and accuse, they cry and they beg,
“See us; hear us; know our plight. We are Jews, even mothers and children accused of crimes we have not done, and king and priest and common serf, caliph and mufti, servant and slave, these the mobs that have murdered us. See us; hear us; demand our avenge.”
* 1 Samuel 28:7
Appalled and trembling we huddle in the boat while our ferry ascends towards the river’s source.
“This here Euphrates from Aden flows down and down to our life below. Few there are who would go back up and dare to witness these agonized souls. Awful injustice these spirits endured and demand an accountin’ for the crimes. All who pass this way must hear whatever most appalls their soul, and then are judged as righteous or cruel. Them that weep in sympathy and seek to restore an honest court and call on the Lor to salve and to heal, they will be judged as righteous ones. And them who weep in sympathy and clench their fists and curse their foes and vow revenge with a sharpened sword, they will be judged as false of heart and here on this river, on that very day their souls will begin to burn and decay. You two, prepare to meet your judge.”
And there we sat and who could have known our passage this way would come to this.
In the next episode Saadia and Batkol prepare to be judged.