5 – TALISHI
The avatar of El Shaddai had flown in a curving path high over the northern Ice, and the narrow yellow and blue belt that was the inhabited portion of Barbelo was now well over the horizon and out of Talishi’s view. During the flight El Shaddai spoke to Talishi of many things, and patiently explained the meaning of terms when the girl failed to understand them.
Talishi learned that almost the entire world of Barbelo was covered in at least a thousand feet of ice. Precipitation was greatest at the poles, where the world-glacier was miles thick. And the giant icecaps moved very slowly, grinding the surface and underlying bedrock flat. Only at the narrow equatorial belt were temperatures warm enough to melt the ice. The great glaciers of the northern and southern hemispheres came to an end there and huge chunks of ice sheared off, fell to the ground, and melted, the source of water for many rivers and freshwater lakes.
In the second Great Deluge on Barbelo none of the water was transferred to Earth by wormhole as it had been done in Shinnar, and the impacting comet added much water to Barbelo. When the habitable zone thawed again it was only three hundred miles wide and the northern and southern ice sheets formed three bridges of ice across the equatorial zone rather than a single bridge. A full generation of human beings lived trapped in the ice in arks or in caves, feeding on stored provisions if they had been foresighted enough to lay them aside. Family Kulsu and Ornis had not made such arrangements and perished.
When the thaw came Barbelo had been greatly changed. The Really Big River had become separate streams flowing through three separate lands along the equator, walled by miles of ice cliffs on every side. The land had been re-sculpted to the point of being unrecognizable.
The ones who survived among family Antero and family Bellon settled in one of the three new lands, while the remnants of family Sala and family Larund settled a second land. Family Gerash, which was undiminished by the catastrophe, came out of their cities of ice and settled the entirety of the third land.
All five families immediately began to maintain supplies and caves in the ice against the next large impact. After two world-destroying floods the remaining people of Barbelo had a renewed respect for the divine oracles of Mastema.
As the twin ice packs slowly retreated they left behind long ridges of loose undifferentiated till piled in low terminal moraines. And rarely, active volcanoes formed under the ice and burned their way to the surface. Mount Anshar was one of these. The northern ice gave way around the bulk of Mount Anshar and closed back up again many miles to the south, forming a small territory of land in the shape of a teardrop which was free of ice. And it was here that the avatar of El Shaddai reached landfall once again.
Thermal features abounded in the land of Anshar, keeping the many lakes and ponds from freezing despite the extreme northern latitude of the place. So far was Anshar from the inhabited places along the equator that not even Family Antero had discovered it when they roamed the northern ice before the Second Deluge. Anshar was the name Talishi herself chose for the place and the mountain after she surveyed it.
When Talishi climbed back down through the central pillar and reached the ground again, she was startled, because someone was waiting for her outside. It looked like a slender human being, perhaps a woman, who was encased entirely in featureless white, even the face, which remained perfectly smooth, with not even eyes to see or mouth to speak. Yet see and speak it could still do, for it said, “Welcome, Talishi. Behold yet another avatar of El Shaddai.” And it held its arms out for inspection.
“Another fish hook,” Talishi said.
The second avatar of El Shaddai had no means to smile, but it could make the same strange sound the flying avatar made when Talishi amused her. The figure pointed across the treeless landing flats to a large dwelling of glass and wood perched on a low rise. El Shaddai said, “Talishi, there is only one structure in all of this land and it belongs solely to you. Accompany me there. We will go inside, and I will tell you many things.”
The house was more glass than wood, with an outstanding view of the ever-changing fire torrents of Mount Anshar only five miles away across a pumice plain. But there was no danger of the lava engulfing the house, for a great chasm intervened.
The main living section of the house was a single room, with an alcove above the kitchen where Talishi could sleep with some degree of privacy, but there was not a living soul anywhere for thousands of miles around. On the main level were plush cushions and a glass table of superior make. It was all far more luxurious in terms of comfort than anything found in the most lavish palaces of Barbelo, yet the decor was simple, with a stark beauty in a minimal way. Talishi was already planning to make some changes herself.
The avatar of El Shaddai, requiring no cushion for comfort, simply seated itself on the floor to put its head on a level with Talishi’s head and began to speak. “We Elohim call ourselves the Watchers. Mastema calls human beings the Servants. But I call you the Students. And despite what you have been taught in your scriptures, Chokhmah did not make you. I found you. And human beings are the most important discovery the Watchers have ever made.
“But Mastema has assumed full authority for the discovery process and to me he is a fool. Early on I suspected that Mastema would seek any justification he can find to have human beings destroyed. But Mastema cannot prevent me from sharing what the other Watchers know with you world-dwellers as your capacity to understand it grows. So I have started an independent stream of research.
“I considered how the Elohim could interact with world-dwellers, but there was a severe limitation because as you have seen our avatars are taller than the trees of Barbelo and they cannot move about on the surface of the world without burning everything in their path. Or they are like this one, with the appearance of a human only, but no ability to smell and taste and feel.
“I desired to experience Barbelo as though I were a human being but unfortunately it would work a grievous change in the subject that could never be undone, and might for lack of a better word be called possession. For the mind of the Eloah would be joined to the mind of the human, and in the joining there would emerge a new mind wrought from the twain, yet the greater portion, seven parts in ten, would reflect the Elohim who possessed rather than the human who was possessed.
“And it would also be a physical change involving the same link that allows the Elohim to communicate with each other instantly across great distances, such that the Eloah would be immediately aware of whatever was experienced by the person who was possessed. Likewise, the body of that person would instantly respond to the will of the possessing Eloah. Mastema, who thinks of humans as his servants, first tested the procedure with a man named Israel, but this man was given no choice in the matter, and neither were any of the patriarchs of the House of Gerash, all of them possessed in turn by Mastema even down to this time.
“To my mind, such a change ought to be made only to a man or woman who was appraised of all these things, and understood them, yet remained full willing to continue. So now, Talishi it is time to make my proposal to you. I would join with a woman of Barbelo and live among the people. But the thing cannot be done out of obedience to a divine commandment, but only as the free will choice of the woman who receives the call and answers, because once the joining takes place, we can never be unjoined.”
And Talishi asked, “If I accept this thing, what will become of me?”
El Shaddai answered, “You shall no longer be fully yourself, but neither shall I be fully myself. Instead, you will be a new person who is simultaneously both yourself and me, and we will both come to understand, as though we always knew it, everything that is known by the other.”
Still Talishi hesitated, so El Shaddai said, “Also, when your body dies, you shall continue to live where I am, and that life will endure so much longer than the span of human life that I cannot express it using symbols that you would understand. Your culture doesn’t have the mathematics.”
Then Talishi was aware not only of the huge gap in her own knowledge, which was expected, but of the equally large gap in El Shaddai’s knowledge, which was not expected. And she did assent to the divine proposal. But Talishi did not say yes to El Shaddai in return merely for the promise of long life, but that both she and the Eloah, together, would come to know many things.
6 – PATRIARCHS
Abram and his wife Sarai grew full of years, but for some reason they remained childless. Melchizedek told Abram that he would receive a great reward for following El Shaddai, but Abram was puzzled because he had no blood heir. Abram, in fact, had designated his steward Elizer of Damascus to inherit all that he had when he died. But Melchizedek constantly assured Abram that his heir would be the fruit of his own loins.
They went for a walk, and when it was night, Melchizedek asked Abram to look at the stars and see if he could count them. “So shall your descendants be,” said he.
There are only about six thousand stars visible to the unaided human eye but Abram got the point. El Shaddai agreed to reward Abram with progeny, and Abram agreed to worship only El Shaddai as God and trust that she would always do what she said she would do. That was the basis of the first covenant between the Elohim and human beings, the first contract made between the divine and the mortal on something of an equal basis.
On Barbelo, however, Mastema concluded no similar covenant, for he considered humans there to nothing more than his servants.
Abram was the head of a large nomadic clan and possessed great riches. He was already living in the golden age as far as he was concerned. Abram did not pine away for “salvation” or an afterlife. Abram had lived a full and blessed life. He accepted that he was mortal like everything else in the world, from mayflies to olive trees, and the only thing left that El Shaddai could promise him was that his name and his blood would be carried into the future by a people who would live in the land he had been promised.
El Shaddai had promised Abram a blood heir, but she seemed to tarry. Assuming the problem lay with herself, Sarai clenched her teeth and married off her slave girl Hagar to Abram so he could produce an heir, just like El Shaddai had said.
But Hagar didn’t become pregnant for an abnormally long time either. Prince Melchizedek said the people of Barbelo knew much lore on the problem of infertility and offered to examine the girl in the privacy of her tent to see if anything was wrong. Melchizedek seemed to be successful, for soon after that, Hagar discovered that she had conceived.
As the pregnancy advanced Hagar began to show contempt in the way she looked at Sarai, and Sarai could see this in Hagar’s eyes. The newly rival women attempted to annihilate each other with mere glances, and Hagar lost the duel. She ran away.
In the wilderness Melchizedek tracked Hagar down and said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and if you bear a son you shall call his name Ishmael.” And Hagar was gently persuaded to return to the camp of Abram and resume service as Sarai’s serving wench. Hagar’s only consolation (an enormous consolation to be sure) was that she would become the mother of Abram’s firstborn child.
When a boy was born to Hagar, El Shaddai had demonstrated that she always keeps her promises. So Melchizedek came to Abram and initiated the second part of the ritual to establish the covenant with him. This involved a name change. The name Abram meant “the father is exalted” and had served only to glorify long-dead Terah rather than Abram. In the ritual Melchizedek changed the man’s name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations”.
But the important part was that circumcision was instituted.
Before that, Abraham’s worship of God had been solely of the character of a personal devotion. All of the human-divine interactions had occurred solely between Abraham and God, more often than not mediated through Melchizedek. Sarai followed Abraham because she loved him and because she was his wife. His servants followed Abram because he employed them. But with the introduction of the ritual of circumcision the worship of El Shaddai became corporate worship. And this proto-Judaism was something that would be embedded in the culture rather than a creed adopted by choice. Baby boys would be circumcised when they were eight days old, and anyone who was not circumcised was to be cut off from the people, so to speak.
Mastema was the one who originally came up with the weird requirement.
There was, however, an unintended evolutionary benefit to circumcision. No longer protected by the foreskin, the glans of the penis was chafed day and night by clothing and the brain responded by reducing its sensitivity to the four thousand nerve endings there. This resulted in the ability of a man to last somewhat longer during intercourse before making that funny noise that meant it was all over. And that, in turn, meant a happy lady who was less likely to sleep around on him.
It didn’t always work.
One time Abraham went into a town of the Sinai desert, where he made sure everyone knew his wife Sarah was his sister, because he was afraid someone would try to kill him and take Sarah to wife, for even in her middle age Sarah was a very beautiful woman. And Abraham wasn’t being untruthful when he said this, because Sarah really was his half-sister. They had the same father, but different mothers.
Abimelech king of Gerar grew smitten of the woman and took Sarah into his household. But soon afterward, Melchizedek came to him and said, “King, you’re a dead man, because Sarah is another man’s wife.”
And King Abimelech said, “Prince Melchizedek be merciful, Abraham said she was just his sister, and she went along with it. I’m innocent!” And the king restored Abraham’s wife to him.
Exactly nine months after sleeping in the house of Abimelech, Sarah gave birth to a boy, which Abraham named Isaac.
Isaac was circumcised the eighth day according to the commandment of God. Not only did the aged Sarah give birth to him, she nursed him as well. But on the day when Isaac was weaned and Abraham held a large feast in honor of the occasion, Sarah decided the camp was not large enough for two sons of Abraham. She insisted that her husband send Hagar and her son Ishmael away from the entourage immediately, and permanently.
Abraham was inconsolable, but Melchizedek assured him that God would make a great nation of Ishmael as well. So Abraham, generous man that he was, gave Hagar a single skin of water and a little bread and sent her off with the boy into the Negev desert outside of Beersheba.
Very soon they drank all the water in the bottle, so Hagar hid the child under some sagebrush and went about fifty yards away to cry. She did not want to see the death of her only child. But Melchizedek heard her crying and El Shaddai produced a well of water in the desert though the judicious placement of the earthly end of the wormtunnel. Ishmael and Hagar lived in the wilderness under the care of Melchizedek and his two servants, who taught Ishmael to become an archer. When he was of age, Hagar obtained a wife for him out of the land of Egypt.
After the death of Abraham and Sarah, Melchizedek journeyed once more from Barbelo to Mesopotamia, the land of Abraham’s own people. By chance he ended up at the very house of Abraham’s original clan, and saw there Bethuel, son of Milcah the wife of Nahor, who was Abraham’s brother. And Bethuel had a daughter named Rebekkah. That meant Rebekkah was Abraham’s great niece. She was therefore Isaac’s first cousin once-removed.
Melchizedek told her father of his mission, and showered the family with many lavish gifts from the estate of Abraham. Then Bethuel called Rebekkah and asked, “Will you go with this man?”
And she said, “I will go.”
By this acceptance, Rebekkah took her place in the great story set in motion when El Shaddai inserted herself into human history and first commanded Abraham to go to the land of Canaan. Yet Rebekkah did not make her decision on the basis of Isaac’s character, which remained unknown to her, but on the basis of how Melchizedek represented himself to her and her family: courteous, humble, and devout.
The gold and jewels were obligatory, but Rebekkah decided to go on a hunch. This servant Melchizedek (for a servant she thought him to be, rather than a prince) was a good man. And the master of that man must be a good man as well, she reasoned.
When Melchizedek brought Rebekkah to the oasis at Beersheba, Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took her as his wife, and he loved her. Thus was Isaac comforted after his mother’s death.
Melchizedek, in a sense, had provided Isaac with a replacement mother to love. Rebekkah herself sensed this and felt a twinge of regret, but she had assented to the marriage. She was committed. And later she gave birth to twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Then Melchizedek knew his service on the Earth was completed, and he returned to Barbelo, for he had learned that his aged father Melchiyahu had taken sick, and he would not remain king of Salem for much longer.
El Shaddai was prevented by her arrangement with Mastema from contacting the outside community of Elohim. She could only listen. Lacking this ability to form social bonds, El Shaddai turned her creativity inward. She became something of a hacker, putting the lore of El to novel uses. The first one of these had been the Golden Gift, but there were other inventions.
During the time when Abram’s grandchildren were growing up El Shaddai contrived a way to take possession of a human being. But the nature of the method was such that the subject would form a composite being from two personalities, with the personality of the possessor represented in strength by approximately seven parts in ten, and the personality of the donor reduced in intensity to only three parts in ten.
El Shaddai refused to impose this permanent change on any human unless they were fully appraised of the nature of the change yet remained willing to accept it.
But Mastema had no such objections. Using the procedure, Mastema took possession of a man on Barbelo named Israel, and for a time Mastema walked the Middle Lands under that name, experiencing the life of Barbelo directly in the way world-dwellers experienced it. But Israel had never given his consent.
Mastema, in the body of Israel, turned his thoughts to Earth and the family that had been chosen by El Shaddai. He decided to observe if that family continued to obey the requirements of the Abrahamic covenant. Israel journeyed to Earth to see the place with his own eyes, and meet the young man named Jacob, the one who currently held the inter-generational Blessing of God.
Israel took little thought for his personal safety, since the body he possessed had been hardened by the eternal violence of Barbelo, and he had heard from El Shaddai that Jacob was more the son of his mother than the son of his father. Jacob was, by all reports, a passive man who preferred the womanly arts of back room whispering and plotting to the masculine arts of direct action on the field.
After Jacob crossed the river Jordan, he sent messengers ahead of him to meet his brother Esau and mention that he had a lot of oxen and asses and flocks and servants and hint that he could smooth over any hard feelings Esau might still have over losing his Blessing through fraud when they still lived in the household of their late father Isaac.
The messengers returned to Jacob saying that Esau was coming out to meet him with four hundred men. That worried Jacob to no end. He divided his caravan into two halves. That way if Esau smote one, the other might escape. Jacob prayed a humble prayer to El Shaddai for deliverance, then set aside a portion of his herd as a gift to Esau. Jacob sent two hundred and twenty goats, two hundred and twenty sheep, thirty camels, fifty cattle, twenty asses, and ten foals, which his servants took on ahead to deliver to Esau.
As for Jacob himself, he hung back as a rearguard, not against Esau and his people, but against someone else he had noticed watching him from afar. Jacob hid himself cleverly amid vegetation near the stream called Jabbok, which was a tributary of the Jordan river. When the stranger approached, unaware of Jacob’s presence, Jacob assailed him suddenly, and there ensued a bitter fistfight that changed into a wrestling match that went on through most of the night.
The stranger seemed to rely on grasping Jacob’s clothing to hurl him around, so Jacob opted to shed his clothing and fight entirely in the nude. And the stranger noted that Jacob had been circumcised as required by the Abrahamic covenant.
As they fought Jacob kept saying, “Who are you?” but the stranger refused to say and Mastema grew dismayed that Jacob was proving so tenacious. Even when the stranger wrenched Jacob’s femur out of its socket at the hip, causing great torment, Jacob refused to yield. Finally even the stranger himself was at the end of his resources and near exhaustion. He commanded Jacob to let him go, but Jacob said, “I will not release you until you tell me who you are and bless me.”
Mastema-Israel said, “No longer shall men call you Jacob, but Israel, for you have contended with gods and men alike, and you have prevailed, and you have even wrested my name away, and taken it for your own.”
Then Jacob released Mastema, who went back to Barbelo to rule family Gerash directly by taking possession of each of the Patriarch’s descendants in turn, and he came never again nearer to the Earth than its moon.
At sunrise Israel hurried to rejoin his wives and children, but he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. When Esau drew near with his four hundred men, Israel put forth his eleven children with their four mothers, then passed in front of them and bowed before his brother. And to Israel’s everlasting surprise, Esau did not assail him, but rather embraced him, and kissed him, and they both wept.
So the family feud was ended, if ever there was a feud, for after Israel had fled many years before Esau soon forgot that his Blessing had been stolen by his twin, since he obtained all of Isaac’s possessions anyway by default, and after that he had come to miss his twin brother. Israel introduced his children and their mothers to Esau, and begged his brother to accept the gift of herd animals he sent him, saying, “Take them please, my lord, because El Shaddai has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough. More than enough.”
Throughout this meeting Israel was extremely courteous to his brother and called him “my lord” even though the Blessing required Esau to call Israel lord. The love Israel still had for his own twin brother superseded all such minor considerations. Then after a long discussion in which they caught up on all the things that had happened since they had parted, Esau agreed to go on ahead because Israel had children and young animals that could not travel very fast. So they parted on good terms and both brothers rejoiced that things had transpired so.
7 – SUNSET DISCOURSE
Khondiel was a scrubby urchin who rose to the very top of the Fallen Angels gang because no matter what trouble she got into, she never seemed to actually get into trouble. This was mostly a matter of her connections. She was, after all, the daughter of King Gordiel. But Princess Khondiel was not the marrying kind. The traditions of Barbelo made no provision for homosexuality.
In the country outside of Salem the prophetess Talishi brought a new doctrine to the people, and knowledge of El Shaddai began to take root in the land, yet it did not rise to the level of worship. Talishi preached to the women of the city who were her primary audience, but many men came to listen also. And since it was a large gathering of people, Khondiel’s Fallen Angels showed up as well, but their focus was on picking pockets.
But all of them (even Khondiel’s gang) were astonished at Talishi’s teachings, for many of them ran contrary to what the people had always been taught to believe about the gods. Talishi confirmed the divine origin of her doctrine by healing the sick with knowledge of the bodies of the world-dwellers that El Shaddai and Mastema had obtained through long study.
Khondiel witnessed Talishi healing many people with medicines prepared from fireweed and the bark of vogul trees, and she spoke of Talishi to her father King Gordiel, but it was more than Khondiel’s words that impressed the King. For his daughter had stopped dressing like a man, and was seen much more frequently inside the castle, even during nights.
When Mastema first heard tidings of Talishi (he did not yet know that El Shaddai was walking among the people in the body of a woman) he commanded his servant Zadkiel, a nobleman of Family Gerash, to appear before him. Mastema, who was himself in the body of the High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel, said, “You alone have done all things according to my will. Therefore I name you the Mouth of Mastema. Go unto the people of Salem in the uttermost west of the Middle Land and preach what I will tell you.”
And Zadkiel was forced to travel the entire distance to the city of Aramel on horseback, for the avatar of Mastema was not configured to provide life-support for any passengers like the avatar of El Shaddai was, which often moved Talishi about, even to the West and East Lands over the ice. Mastema was not remotely interested in the comfort and convenience of his slaves.
When Zadkiel arrived outside the city he began to preach, “Thus says Mastema, ‘Chokhmah! My wife! For your bride price I created all things, land and sea, beasts and people and growing things. But this I have against you, that you have accepted all the praise for your healings, and your followers do not recognize me as the power and ultimate source behind all healing. And you allowed your followers to believe that you are like me, having no beginning, and also no ending. Because you permit your followers to believe I did not create you I appoint a day when you will no longer exist. Behold, I make you mortal and cast you out of Anabas. For only the uncreated can never be unmade. Therefore I shall unmake you, that all Creation shall know it is I alone who is the uncreated Creator.’”
And this preaching confused many of the people, because Talishi had already told them that Chokhmah was a half-brother of Mastema, not his mate. But Zadkiel continued.
“Thus says Mastema, ‘El Shaddai! My son! For your inheritance I created all things, land and space, time and energy. But this I have against you: That you wished your father dead, that you might come into your inheritance before the time of my choosing. Therefore men shall no longer call you a god, for you also are now mortal, I shall cast you out of Anabas and you shall die like men and the sons of men, in pain and fear.’”
And many of the people were confused by this preaching as well, because Talishi had already told them that El Shaddai was female, that the father of El Shaddai was Belial, and that the mother of El Shaddai had been Mastema, but Mastema was now male. And Zadkiel still was not finished.
He said, “’Thus says Mastema, ‘Talishi! Daughter of Jophiel the glassblower, you have instructed the people about El Shaddai and have served him well in your own way. But this I have against you, that you claim the spirit of El Shaddai rests within you, and that you are united with him in body and soul. Because you do not affirm your station as a commoner who carries only human blood, behold! I have pronounced the penalty of death upon you. You are doomed to die, for perpetrating the lie that you are a goddess. But to the people of the city of Salem no judgment rests on you, unless you persist in holding Talishi to be a prophetess and continue to worship El Shaddai as divine; for I, Mastema, am the only true God. There is no other.’”
King Gordiel heard that this Zadkiel interloper had pronounced the death penalty on Talishi and this offended his sovereignty to no end. He commanded that Zadkiel appear before the throne to give an explanation. And Zadkiel counseled that King Gordiel himself move against Talishi and immediately put her under arrest, but the King was reluctant to agree on account of the popularity of Talishi among many, even with his own kin. At this, Zadkiel grew angry, and insisted that the King comply, for he came in the name of Mastema himself.
King Gordiel said, “On that point I have only your word, but know that I was made king of this city by the Gerash High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel, and by the laws of our House the giving of the scepter is without repentance. An errant king may only be held to account to the Patriarch by war.”
Zadkiel said to him, “Consider the alternative, sire. Woman-centered rituals and devotions! Talishi is cutting at the very heart of god theory.”
But King Gordiel was a far more practical man and he asked Lord Israel to lay out the real danger.
Zadkiel said, “The danger is two-fold, Sire. First is the Patriarch’s over-reliance on income from pilgrims to the temple of Mastema. We, that is Mastema (Peace Be Upon Him), could lose a third of the revenue base overnight. The second and truly frightening part is the long-term danger of actually destroying the sacrifice-atonement system. Our entire religious structure is based on the proven fact that Mastema’s aim is not too good. As long as someone is punished, never mind who, Mastema is happy. But now Talishi comes along saying even the gods are to be judged according to an objective scale of good and evil!”
Gordiel said, “I see where you are going, Lord Zadkiel. Instead of merely atoning for our crimes, we might have to start actually being nice to one another.”
“Then will you move against this Talishi woman, Sire?” And the King noted that the idiot failed to discern his sarcastic snark.
“Not in haste, self-described Voice of Mastema. My daughter Princess Khondiel admires this new prophetess, which gladdens my heart in a way I cannot tell. I will invite Talishi to an audience and judge for myself whether her teachings are dangerous to the peace of my realm. As for yourself, Lord Zadkiel, get thee hence from my city and return to the capital. Messengers will be sent with word of my decision, yea or nay.”
After the audience with Zadkiel, King Gordiel sent his daughter as a messenger to Talishi, to say that he would have the prophetess visit the court to teach what she would, if she was willing. Yet it was to be no sovereign command or decree.
Talishi agreed to come, if the encounter was open for any of the people to witness if they chose. So King Gordiel prepared to receive Talishi in an open-air gallery outside of the palace itself, with much seating for spectators, for this was where the king often entertained visiting nobles with exhibitions of personal combat. Khondiel came also, dressed for once like an actual princess.
And these were the words Talishi spoke to the people and their king as the sun sank below the horizon in the west:
“El Shaddai is a lamp whose light is these words. The darker your thoughts, the further from El Shaddai you go. She who is far from El Shaddai is no better off than he who denies El Shaddai.
“Celebrities are known by many and are called famous, but she who embraces El Shaddai sets an example by her deeds and is called influential.
“Men are said to be superior to the animals because they can control their own environment, but she who embraces El Shaddai can control her own behavior.
“The wealthy accumulate many riches but cannot keep all of them safe. She who embraces El Shaddai has few desires, and so holds on to all that she has.
“Thieves take from those who do not have enough to supplement their own bounty, but she who embraces El Shaddai diminishes the overflowing to enrich the impoverished.
“The moralist sits back in judgment of the causes of a tragedy, but she who embraces El Shaddai is too busy mercifully addressing the needs at hand to render judgment.
“The judge demands to see evidence of good in others, but she who embraces El Shaddai does good in this moment, and does not live for yesterday or for tomorrow.
“The strong man can do he wills to do, but he cannot determine what he wills. She who embraces El Shaddai makes her own awareness of injustice the determinant of her actions.
“The boastful put their riches and knowledge on parade, but she who embraces El Shaddai does not tell all that she has, nor all that she can do.
“The proud would rather break than bend in pliable humility and admit error, but she who embraces El Shaddai considers those who point out her faults as her greatest teachers.
“Traditionalists would teach an old thing before cultivating a new thing, but she who embraces El Shaddai finds that creativity is the coin to buy her way.
“Leaders examine who speaks rather than listen to what is said, but she who embraces El Shaddai knows that half of a conversation is listening.
“Warriors retaliate for suffering an indignity by committing yet another indignity, but she who embraces El Shaddai knows the greatest revenge is not to be like him who did the injury. The greatest conqueror is she who has conquered herself.”
When Talishi had finished delivering the Sunset Discourse and healed many of the people who had come to see her speak, Princess Khondiel spoke quietly to King Gordiel her father, and after that Gordiel bade Talishi to visit the throne room for a private talk. When she drew near, the King said, “Lady Talishi, when you say, ‘she who embraces El Shaddai’ do you mean to say that no man can become your disciple?”
“Not at all, Your Majesty. When I speak in those terms, I wish to convey an image. As a rule, women are much gentler than men. A man that admires El Shaddai will have a gentle heart, like a woman, because he sees others around him as another ‘I’ yet he will retain his strength and his male nature.”
“Thank you for explaining that, Lady Talishi,” the aged King said. “For it seemed to me that for many years my own daughter had a fierce heart, yet in recent days she has come to admire El Shaddai, and it has gentled her. This gladdens me.”
“The king is aware that one in six people are born with a preference to use the left hand,” Talishi said, and at first both the King and the Princess were puzzled by this apparent non sequitur. But Talishi continued. “This is not a matter of choice, there is an element of chance that is a part of every birth, otherwise all of our sons would look exactly alike, and of our daughters would be identical. Allow me to demonstrate.”
And Talishi thrust first her left hand into a jar of assorted dried fruits, then her right hand. She opened both hands to show them. “If you count the number of fruits I have in each hand, and their kinds, you will see they are not exactly the same sets. This is similar to what happens with every birth as well. And yet, because left-handers are a minority, our culture traditionally ascribes their preference to evil. We speak of the ‘left hand of the damned’ and there are many charlatans who profess to change this preference to the normal one.”
Talishi returned the delicacies to the jar, but retained one to eat.
Then Khondiel and her father realized exactly what Talishi was speaking about. Talishi had been oblique, to avoid offending them. The King took her cue and said, “There are other preferences that must have the same random source as left and right orientation. I believe the children who behave in these ways have precisely the same degree of moral culpability for those inclinations, which is none. We should love them without condition!”
Khondiel beamed. “Thank you, my father and King.”
“Princess Khondiel,” Talishi said, “you are who you are. Good for you! Lucky you! Never try to undo that and live a lie because someone says their ancestors would not approve.”
The King said, “My daughter has expressed to me her strong desire to become your disciple, Lady Talishi. Would you consider teaching her on that basis?”
“Your Majesty, I have not yet formally gathered disciples to myself, and if I did, it would be a far greater commitment than a few hours a day away from the castle. She might be asked to travel to the other lands of Barbelo, or perhaps even to the other world, the one visited by King Melchizedek long ago. Would you, Princess Khondiel, be willing to part with your father for years, decades, perhaps even for half a lifetime? Consider his age. It might be the case that you would part and never be reunited.”
“I am willing to do so, and more, I would put the Fallen Angels at your disposal.”
“And I too am willing,” King Gordiel said. “For I deem, Lady Talishi, that you will return to me a daughter who is fit to rule this city.”
“In that event, Your Majesty, I will take Princess Khondiel to be my first disciple.” She bowed deeply, and the audience was concluded.
King Gordiel arranged for Talishi to spend the night in the castle. The next morning Talishi summoned the avatar to the city of Salem, and she took Khondiel in a suborbital flight to her house in Anshar, but ever they remained chaste, and slept separately one from another.
8 – IMMIGRANTS
For centuries while El Shaddai stood apart, a great nation had been raised up to Abraham, the children of Israel, and all of them kept the covenant of Abraham even after they migrated from Canaan to Egypt during a “dark ages” which had been triggered by a severe long-term drought. This change in the regional climate also brought about the rapid decline of many advanced Bronze Age civilizations throughout the area of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. But Mastema’s original claim that humans would never remain loyal to Elohim if they were left to themselves utterly failed.
Mastema no longer had valid grounds to call for the destruction of the whole human race. Thus was the oracle of El Shaddai fulfilled when she said to Abraham, “All the earth shall find blessing in you.” El Shaddai would never carry out a demand by Mastema to destroy the human race, and there was nothing Mastema could do to assail mankind from his own remote location. Without a doubt, El Shaddai knew humans were the Students foreseen by the Old One. It was clear Elohim would need to come to terms with human beings and learn to co-exist with them. El Shaddai said it was time to make the announcement to El.
But Mastema thought to move the goal posts and try another delaying tactic. He told El Shaddai that anyone could obey a simple injunction like circumcision, but give the people a comprehensive written law like the Code of Ur-Nammu and they would soon break most of its precepts with abandon.
El Shaddai’s first impulse was to ignore this foot-dragging on Mastema’s part, but she thought at the very least it would present an opportunity to break loose a concession. The children of Israel had grown very numerous but they were not free, and as a nation they had slipped into bondage under Egypt. So El Shaddai would entertain Mastema’s idea for a second test, but to carry it out she required another agent from Barbelo, preferably in the same mold of Melchizedek.
The task that would be laid before this agent was almost inhumanly great. He was to establish himself as the leader and spokesman of the children of Israel in Egypt. He was to negotiate with Pharaoh for their release, or, failing that, lead a revolt to achieve their freedom. He was to lead the house of Israel back to Canaan, the land El Shaddai had promised to Abraham and his progeny, putting down any resistance by the existing inhabitants. And finally he was to give the Immigrants a working legal code that would get their society up and running.
Mastema turned once again to the city of Salem in the far west of the Middle Land and selected Prince Moshe to meet the challenge laid forth by El Shaddai.
After four hundred years of oppression the children of Israel had been beaten down so thoroughly that Moshe found the first challenge, the task of taking up the mantle of leadership for the children of Israel, to be much easier than he had anticipated. After Moshe spoke to the people and got most of them on board with his plan to rescue them, he went before Pharaoh.
All Moshe wanted at first was three days off for the people to go into the desert east of the Nile delta and hold a feast to rededicate everyone to the God of their forefathers. Not only did Pharaoh tell him no, he punished the Immigrants for even asking to get three days off by increasing their workload. The Immigrants complained to Moshe that so far his mission had only made things worse for the people. So Moshe decided he needed a little help from El Shaddai and the judicious transfer of various things from Barbelo to Earth through the wormtunnel.
So began a sequence of ten plagues. Each cycle began with Moshe requesting three days of religious leave for the Immigrants, and if the religious leave was not granted, Moshe would do something to change Pharaoh’s mind. More often than not, Pharaoh’s court wizards were able to duplicate the plague on a smaller scale, so Pharaoh was not impressed and denied the religious leave.
The first plague was a heavy spill of rock oil, which covered the surface of the Nile River with a brown syrupy layer. Many of the people said the god of Moshe had turned the river into blood, and it was bitter, and they were forced to dig new wells near to the river to drink. But Pharaoh’s magicians were able to mix oil with water and produce the same brown mess in the court of Pharaoh, so Pharaoh did not give in to Moshe’ request for religious leave for the Immigrants.
The second plague was a great swarm of frogs that covered every square foot of Egypt. Pharaoh’s magicians were also able to bring forth frogs, but they could not remove the frogs, so this time Pharaoh said he would grant the religious leave if Moshe made the frogs go away. Moshe made the frogs go away, but Pharaoh went back on his word and did not grant the religious leave for the Immigrants.
The third plague was lice, and Pharaoh’s magicians could not duplicate this plague, but Pharaoh did not let the Immigrants go on religious leave to worship El Shaddai, and he waited out the plague, which only lasted a few days anyway.
The fourth plague was a swarm of flies that came upon the Egyptians and covered their skin, but did not come upon the Immigrants. Pharaoh begged Moshe to remove this plague, but after Moshe did so, Pharaoh refused to grant religious leave for the Immigrants.
The fifth plague was a fungus from Barbelo that exterminated all the Egyptian livestock but left the Immigrant’s livestock standing. Pharaoh not only refused to let the Immigrants go on religious leave, he took the Immigrant’s cattle for his own people to replace the cattle that had been slain.
The sixth plague was a loathsome skin disease, also from Barbelo. Pharaoh’s magicians could not even heal themselves, let alone anyone else afflicted in Egypt, but Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not grant the Immigrants three days of religious leave to worship El Shaddai.
The seventh plague was giant hailstones that slew all the cattle that Pharaoh had stolen from the Immigrants, as well as anyone standing outdoors. But none of the hail fell on the Immigrants. Pharaoh admitted his guilt, and Moshe caused the hail to stop. But Pharaoh went back on his word again. Moshe, at great length, began to discern a pattern.
The eighth plague was a swarm of locusts that ate every green thing in Egypt. Again, the three days of religious leave was not granted.
The ninth plague was a darkness in Egypt so thick that the Egyptians could not even see each other across the room, and it was hard to breathe, but the Immigrants all had light in their houses. Pharaoh told Moshe he never wanted to see his face again, and that the next time they met, Moshe would surely die.
Then Moshe said to him, “O Pharaoh, you have spoken true, you will never see my face again. But to you I say, a tenth-part of all the houses in Egypt will be destroyed this very night, killing or maiming everyone sleeping within, but none of the houses of my people will come to harm. Then when your servants come and bow down before me, and beg me to take the people on the three days of religious that leave that I have requested, only then will we go.”
Then Moshe instructed the Immigrants in a new ritual that involved each Immigrant family killing a lamb without blemish, marking their front door with the lamb’s blood in the sign of the cross, roasting the lamb, and eating it in haste. That evening the avatar of El Shaddai passed over the whole land of Egypt and smote one in ten of every house where there was not a token of blood on the frame of the front door.
And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not one warren where there were not flattened dwellings and many dead or dying.
Then Pharaoh sent servants to prostrate themselves before Moshe and beg him to take the Immigrants and go into the desert on the brief religious leave they wanted. What Pharaoh had in mind, of course, was just a temporary leave of absence, and he was counting on them coming back to work later. That is why their Egyptian friends and neighbors “lent” the Immigrants jewels of silver and gold, ostensibly to wear for the feast, and much clothing for the trip. They all assumed the Immigrants would return within the week and give it all back.
So a great multitude went into the desert on foot with all their animals. The crowd was not pure Israelite, but included those of mixed ancestry, half-Israelite and half-Egyptian. There were in such a big hurry that they had to eat unleavened bread, because there was never time to let the bread rise, and that is in fact what the Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates, the necessity to make do when responding immediately to the imperatives of El Shaddai. The Immigrants had lived in Egypt a total of four hundred and thirty years.
9 – TRIAL
When Zadkiel had sufficient force to move against Talishi without the consent of King Gordiel, the task would have been quite impossible for him if Talishi’s closest disciple Khondiel had been present to protect her good friend and teacher. But Talishi, who wished to bring matters to a head, had sent Khondiel and all her Fallen Angels away to bring a collection of food to a hungry village far from Salem, and this provided a narrow window of opportunity for the Eyes of Mastema to scoop her up.
Talishi was placed naked in a cubical wooden cage and taken to the city of Mastema. There after many humiliations she was put through a public trial to incriminate herself by her own words so there would be no doubt among the people that her teachings blasphemed the god of House Gerash. Lord Zadkiel served as the prosecutor, while Khondiel, through a special waiver in the law of the city forbidding women to work and to speak, served in her defense.
The charge was insurrection. Specifically, Talishi was accused of inciting infidelity to Mastema. In any theocracy, to sin against god is exactly equivalent to breaking the law.
The ordeal went on for days as Zadkiel attempted to trip Talishi up with riddle-words, but he was dealing with an advanced composite being, both Eloah and human, and Talishi had a suitable answer at every turn. Zadkiel was too stupid to realize he was being soundly beaten in an intellectual sense by Talishi’s rhetoric. But Talishi suspected that none of that would matter.
Zadkiel turned to the words of Talishi’s famous Sunset Discourse in Salem, which had been preserved as scripture in a growing collection of scrolls. He said, “I find it interesting that you always say ‘she who embraces El Shaddai’ meaning women, and excluding men. Do you imply that all women are your disciples, and no men can be?”
Talishi replied, “Sadly, no, the patriarchal mind-set is not confined to your gender. By these things you shall know a woman is not my disciple: She is caught up in every fad and does not affirm her uniqueness. She grows annoyed at situations she cannot help, and so she is perpetually angry. Controversies that divide the people and stir up the disciples attract her. Assuredly, no woman who does these things can call herself my follower. And any man who does not do these things may consider himself my follower.”
Zadkiel said, “And yet, contrary to the will of Mastema you employ your disciples at labor, and even call them Fallen Angels, which some say is really an army of females. Such a ridiculous contradiction has never existed in all of history.”
Talishi said, “A patriarch gathers the wealth and scatters the people. The Fallen Angels scatter the wealth and gather the people.”
Zadkiel asked, “So you espouse redistributionism?”
Talishi replied, “I espouse only giving women work that draws them together in service of their sisters. There is no overlap with the work of men.”
Zadkiel said, “So where do men fit into your schemes, Talishi?”
Talishi said, “Just as humans were called out of the animals and given free will to have a closer relationship with both El Shaddai and Mastema, I have called the Fallen Angels out of humanity that they may unite and nourish one another.”
Zadkiel asked, “Do you mean lesbian separatism? I point out that such a thing is considered completely unnatural by all our ancient traditions, even if the commandments of Mastema make no mention of it.”
Talishi replied, “It is natural to stink. It is our frequent bathing and use of perfumes that are unnatural. No one suggests turning back the clock on personal hygiene. To the Fallen Angels, the word ‘unnatural’ simply means ‘not on the level of animals.’”
Zadkiel ran completely out of arguments. He told the judge there were no further questions. The judge ordered a recess before the defense could begin.
Although she was not trained to act as a legal advocate, Princess Khondiel had been a good student of Talishi, and her spirited defense would have been more than adequate to secure Talishi’s release in any other court on any world.
At first she focused on the fact that the Law of the city of Mastema had come well after Talishi began to teach, spitting Zadkiel’s own words back at him when he had first begun to preach in Salem, saying, “Talishi! Daughter of Jophiel the glassblower, you have taught the people of El Shaddai and have served him well in your own way.” Khondiel noted for the court that clearly the Law of the city of Mastema had come well after Talishi’s ministry had taken root on Barbelo, and might even have been introduced purely in reaction to her teachings.
“At no time in our history have we ever condemned a person for committing actions that were made illegal after the offense,” Khondiel pointed out. “And even if that is to be the case in this instance, there is still the question of jurisdiction. Talishi was apprehended just outside of Salem, in lands ruled absolutely by my father King Gordiel. And to this day the king refuses to accept the Law of the city of Mastema as a check on his own sovereignty, which makes this trial itself illegal.”
All these objections and many more were allowed to spool out until Kirodiel grew tired of them and instructed the princess to move on to her next one. The unfairness of the situation began to grind Khondiel down, but Talishi took it all in calmly. The important thing was that the people in the courtroom could see the injustice of the thing.
As the defense of Talishi drew to a close, Khondiel put Talishi on the stand, swore her to veracity, and said, “Lady Talishi, despite all the evidence we have heard for the charge of impiety toward Mastema, you still maintain your innocence. How can this be?”
Talishi said, “For most wives on Barbelo it is not a powerful decision to stay married, because her only alternative is to starve. In the same way, it cannot be a powerful decision to worship Mastema anywhere in the Middle Land, because the alternative is a mock trial and execution.”
Khondiel said, “So my Lady, you contend that any ‘piety’ which is compelled by law is invalid?”
Talishi answered, “Precisely. Such ‘piety’ is as phony as the ‘love’ found in many, if not most, patriarchal marriages. How much more vital is the love of two people who are utterly free to stay or to part, yet who still choose to stay together! Does that sound risky? Living dangerously is the very thing that lends excitement and significance to our lives. Only with conflict can we flare with incentive to create a new destiny.”
Khondiel asked, “New destiny? Doesn’t that go against everything we have been taught about the laws of fate?”
Talishi said, “Mastema once told El Shaddai that to take fate into one’s hands was to rise beyond good and evil. In reality, a rock and a tree are beyond good and evil, and so is everyone suborned to the laws of cause and chance. Rocks, trees, and people who are not permitted, or refuse, to make a choice are amoral. Not immoral, mind you, but amoral. The entire field of ethics simply doesn’t apply to them.”
Khondiel asked, “So you don’t think High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash ought to legislate morality?”
Talishi said, “Not that he ought not to but that he literally cannot. It’s a logical absurdity, like a three-sided rectangle.”
Then Khondiel said, “The defense rests.”