The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #80, To the Mountains!
In this episode, steep cliffs and avalanches.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 18 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
…We land in the home of a merchant with clansmen from here to beyond and plenty of caravans plyin’ between. Her name is Tamar. Her man, she has none….
Her house like Shmuel HaNagid’s court, full of her family, daughters and sons, their spouses and parents, and servants, not a few. Jvari, a monastery across the river is a little cottage compared to her place.
Such a bustlin’ house as I’ve never known. Like foremen, each of Tamar’s brood oversee weavers, goldsmiths, scribes, and workers of every local craft; and others trackin’ the multiple parties of trade to the ends of the earth, as they buy and sell, han* and caravan, camel and cash. Such a volatile business, to wring out your heart, crisis and glory, vanquish or collapse. And zippin’ unnoticed among the rush, servants and cooks, who spy and connive.
* warehouse, caravanserai
And there’s Tamar, like the captain of a ship directin’ the swabbies through becalmment and storm. And I shouldn’t repeat what I almost seen, that a man or two knows well her room. (Funny, I never reported the same when a man’s nest had more than one hen.)
Well, Tamar, her lineage is noble and long, her folk mostly east of the Caucasus.
About a week later while blessin’ our meal she declares the hand of God was in this. (I think she means Batkol and me arriving’, tho the hand she seen ain’t visible to me.) So she must visit her folk in Darbon* and we must come and all of her house! Right in the midst of ‘HaRukhaman’,** people leap up, with “What do you mean?” and “What of my caravan due next week?” And a thousand items of business that weigh, and “You’re too old to cross the Balakan.”*** And the children all runnin’ and hootin’ “hooray!” And someone belts out in almost a chant,
“*Adonai oez lay’amo yetaen, Adonai yivarekh et amo v’shalom.*”
And that was the end of birkat**** that night!
* now known as Derbent; ** supplications added to blessings after meals;
*** region of the Caucasus mountains;
*-* Adonai gives strength to His people. Adonai will bless His people with peace.
**** Hebrew: blessings
If I thought the house was frenetic before, now it looks like a hive of bees, riled up and buzzin’ and ready to sting.
Mules laden with barrels of food, utensils and vessels, firewood and plates, tents, weapons, clothes, and gifts, and packets of stuff; well, who knows what? Like an army preparin’ to march to war. Then up on horses like Kipchaks they leapt like they was born and lived on horses’ backs. And me and Batkol, we pawed and scratched, we slipped and fumbled til the servants looked back. What a laugh they had as they hoisted us up.
Three days makin’ our way southeast. The hills trickled into valley and marsh, a snaky river that don’t seem to flow. And towerin’ mountains off to our left, engulfed in black and thunderous clouds that seem to be caught in the jagged peaks. Hour by hour we drift to the left til we feel the wet and chill of the fog as it rolls in waves down ragged ravines.
That night we stop at a rustic camp, Kakh*. The whole of town comes rushin’ out to greet us like we was the shah of the land. Family and friends they turn out to be, and we’re so welcome we stay the next day, tho I notice some elder servants are scarce, and some strong young men. Huntin’, I guess.
* or Qakh
That night in our birkat* the HaRakhamans** went on and on about landslide and flood. Tamar’s eldest son, Daveed, leans to me,
“Our family is bred from Mountain Jews. We know these hills like we carved them ourselves. We found a pass, secret to us, the fastest way over this ridge, precarious now due to rain and flood. We’ll test it tomorrow. God lead the way.”
* like I said: blessings after a meal; ** supplications to the All Merciful
Break of day and we’re on the move, directly into the facin’ ravine. The trees are wearin’ a gauzy veil of fog on their heads. Behind their trunks a heart of darkness gazin’ at us.
Single file into the maw; man and mule, women and mule, on such a trail as the eye can’t see. Higher and higher we climb through the day and the moody forest like a primeval world from Russian tales and hoary myths: towerin’ bears and man eatin’ beasts.
From the midst of the trees and muffled fogs distant roars, screeches, squeals. Death lurkin’ above his pray.
We inch along a steep ravine. One slip and you’ll fall a thousand feet. Gush and ooze over ankle and hoof. Froth and fury in the torrent below.
Then a crackin’ and crashin’ and tremorin’ earth and overhead, branches sway and creak. The leader stops, hand in the air. ‘Silence! No one move or breathe.’ Now I can hear it, a guttural moan, nearer and louder, more violent it grows. And a sudden terror grips our throat. And here it come and no way to flee, a hillside of mud, trees and rock, crunchin’ and swallowin’ all in its path.
A craggy boulder –(it’s the mercy of God) — like a flankin’ tower in a battle charge diverts the maelstrom’s on-rushin’ mud and all that we suffer is gut-twistin’ fear and two or three mules that bolted and slipped and tumbled their life down the ravine.
Many long minutes of speechless fear we stood. Then a word, then a chattery gasp, then shouts and wails and,
“What should we do?”
For, instead of a path, its a river of muck and many a voice calls out,
“Best to go back.”
But Tamar and a few of her sons declare,
“This is our mountain and we are its Jews.”
And their skills with a horse and blazin’ of trails shone itself clear as we slip-slide ahead.
Nightfall. The last of the mules emerged while the forward group cleared a make-shift camp. No yelpin’ or grumbles, ‘cept maybe me, as we crunch on a biscuit and lay in the ferns, a rock for our head and a blanket of fog, and drizzle and thunder singin’ their songs.
In the next episode, warriors charging out of the hills…