In this episode, things fall apart.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fifteenth Era, Part 1, ~1272 C.E., Tabriz
Long time since I recorded my tales. Last thing I wrote was my Yizkor Book. Who knows if it will survive war and fire, famine and flood. And as if the Mongol and his constant war weren’t enough of a Noahide flood, earthquake brought down our han one night. In the rubble, crushed and crumbled children. Batkol and me, our hearts were crushed, and our will was crumbled just like them kids. Weeks and months and useless days, melancholy and dismembered thoughts; barely able a feed ourselves. Work? Prayer? Who could do? I don’t recall who said it first,
“Time to leave this place behind.”
North to Poland? Forget about that. The Mongol eats up the whole land, even each other, nor does his hunger abate. Fustat?* Maimon’s** long been dead, but maybe a few of his flock remain. Like a sandstorm ragin’ thru our heads, couldn’t see even a step ahead, so we just started out, limp and trudge.
* old Cairo; ** Moses ben Maimon
Eyes to Baghdad. Expectin’ to find just lone and level sands stretched out after the Mongols had harrowed that field. But first we stumbled into Tabriz. What is this? Muezzin* calls; a market place with busy stalls; some bushy palms; and bright glazed tiles on the face of a musjid’s** dome and walls. Even churches and synagogues back in the warren of market streets.
* him who chants the call to prayer; ** mosque
As we gawk along, some guy rushes up, squawkin’ about our travels beyond and our Master already restin’ at home and come along we mustn’t be late.
“Our Master? Us on the road beyond?”
Troubled times and madmen abound. And tender and soft we decline his help.
“Don’t be afeard. I mean you no harm, but the Holy Father will join us soon, and many the delicate dainty prepared, and your Master be worried that you be lost.”
How many Christians, and not a few Jews believin’ these be the end-time days. This sorrowful mystic broke in his grief, imagines around the next corner we’ll find the King Messiah and he will save. Just then we’re at an open door and some haggard woman is shoutin’ ‘hallelu’, and grabbin’ our arms, obsequious -like, and draggin’ us into an opulent room, brocaded curtains and velvet chairs, and some foreign rake with a feather in his cap gapes at us as we gape at him.
He turns to the madman and asks of him,
“Hoyar aze twa? Iyar niy on gise.”
Well, that’s my scriptin’ of what I heard. It sounded like some garbled Spanish or such, and my heart is leapin’, thinkin’ of Spain.
It’s been a few years since we been back there so my lingo be probably garbled as his, but all excited to know the news — how goes Grenada and who is the King? I blurts out,
“I’m a Spanish Jew.”
An amused smile curls his lips.
And there’s Batkol, yankin’ my arm,
“This place is creepy. Let’s scram. Come on!”
And the haggardly woman tries to appease Batkol, cooin’ and pattin’ her hand; and now the Holy Father struts in but it’s just some priest from a local church; and the madman jabbers at this one and that; and here come some pastries, and now some tea; so it takes quite a while to sort things out.
Reader, the first thing you probably should know: this weren’t Messiah, nor even the Pope. But he spoke Italian and he actually said,
“Who are these two? They ain’t our guides.”
And if I recall he said his home were Venice, but he’s on a quest out east, and his servant mistook us for his guides, and his name is Margo Folo, or such.
Batkol’s still yankin’ my arm to go as I accept an offer to join them for meat.
“Incorrigible man,” she mutters, annoyed.
Before they finally served us some wine it were clear as mountain air to me this Margo is a bag of bluster and brag. ‘The emperor’s riches’ and ‘silk and spice,’ and ‘secret knowledge’ and ‘forgotten arts.’ The child lives in a fairy tale.
But after a glass or two of ale the froth were blown off and I’m feelin’ the heat of the fire burnin’ in this lad’s gut —
‘open the world to profitable trade,’ and ‘wealth to be gained while servin’ a need,’ and ‘spreadin’ knowledge and openin’ doors to wisdom instead of suspicion and war.’
As the bottles of wine and ale pile up it seems the fog in my eyes is blown off and my esteem for this man grows ever more deep as he lays out stages and stratagems —
‘new markets and untapped needs,’ and ‘the new vein is the richest vein,’ and ‘new trade routes to monopolize which pope and king will pay to secure,’ and ‘new empires will be built on trade and the only borders will be tradin’ routes,’ and ‘trade brings a taste in new things, and then comes desire, and then comes need and then all empires are in your fist.’
Mornin’ sun, and hands are shook that I will join his embassy as translator and travel advisor. Only one problem — convince Batkol.
Honey… sweety… just calm down… I know… you’re right, I’m all turned around… It’s true… I really don’t know the lad… Yes… There ain’t no Jews in China… But the Byzantines, think about them… The Frankish knights?… Worse than that… No road is safe… but Mongol guides?… What to do if it don’t work out?… East or west, a horse don’t care. We’ll follow the sun and come back west.
In the next episode, on the road with Marco Polo.