TC004

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15 – PROPHESY

Sibiel, the farmer from Odargas who tried to smuggle Khondiel to Salem, had been fingered by the farm hands he hired when they were threatened with death by slow torture. The Eyes of Mastema elected not to kill him, for it would seem too much a kindness to Sibiel and a waste of good muscle power. Zadkiel’s army was short-handed so Sibiel was instead cruelly pressed into slavery as a simple waterbearer in Zadkiel’s camp.

Having little else to do for entertainment, often the Gerash soldiers would trip him, laughing together with their buddies as Sibiel trudged back again and again to refill his pot.

That night Sibiel wandered off to the edge of the camp where a hooded shape tackled him and dragged him into a small ravine. It was Kandiel! She ordered him to switch their clothes.

He wanted to stay and help rescue Talishi, but after some stern words from Princess Khondiel, together with ample thanks for what he had done Sibiel faded off into the night under a black robe.

Khondiel adjusted Sibiel’s clumsy homemade armor and helmet, which was almost worse than no protection at all. She padded out her womanly curves and put on false facial hair to offset the soft feminine features that always belied her status as commander of the foremost army on Barbelo. Then she drifted into the camp fetching water for the men and searching for Talishi in the area where Sibiel told her she was being held captive.

Talishi was held within the cubical wooden cage that had been moved off the wagon tied to a tree by the Gordian Knot and relocated instead to the center of the camp, guarded by two men. Tonight it was covered with a canvas to keep Zadkiel’s men from leering at the nude young Talishi instead of watching out for Khondiel.

Her Sibiel uniform worked well. Khondiel could swagger with the best of them. The guards permitted her to enter with a ladle of rancid water. She appeared between the canvas and the cage.

For light Khondiel wore a green flexible band of intricate make, a gift from Talishi. In the center it possessed a brilliant white light that allowed Khondiel to move on the darkest nights, and there was none like it anywhere on Barbelo. The canvas covering Talishi’s cage was thick enough that no light escaped to betray the princess.

“Khondiel!” Talishi husked, filled with joy when she saw the face of her disciple. Then she was filled with consternation. “Nice beard.”

“Hush! Take my headband.”

Talishi whispered, “That headtorch was my gift to you, Khondiel, and I never ask for my gifts to be returned.”

Khondiel said in reply , “You will have to make an exception this time,” and she passed it to Talishi between the interlaced bars.

Talishi said, “Do you want me to use it to escape?”

Khondiel replied, with a smirk, “Please don’t do anything stupid, Talishi. Better yet, don’t do anything at all!”

Talishi immediately got the joke and smiled.

Khondiel offered water. “This headband is the only thing I have that says ‘Khondiel was here’ without mistake. Now Zadkiel will come in here and gloat over you like evil warlords always seem to do. At that time I want you to let him see you have my headband. That’s my message to him, and it is a very simple one: That I can come or go at will.”

“It will rattle him good,” Talishi agreed.

Khondiel said, “The more men he has guarding you, the less men he’ll have on the field of battle tomorrow.”

Talishi smiled at her. It was well planned. “I knew you had a scheme for getting me out of here, Khondiel.”

They shared the most heartfelt kiss of their lives, knowing it could very well be the last one. Then Khondiel left, promising to return with an army to get her loose.

At sunrise Zadkiel saw that his plan had worked. He had flushed Khondiel out of the city. But the patriarch had been absolutely right about Khondiel’s network of favors. Accompanying Khondiel was King Gordiel of Salem and all of his men under arms.

Talishi was visible in the center of the camp, held naked and shivering within the giant wooden cage with a heavy guard around her representing a fair fraction of Zadkiel’s available men.

“And that is his own fatal flaw,” Khondiel told her father the king, who was mounted on his own horse beside her. “My ruse has worked perfectly. Talishi has now become Zadkiel’s greatest weakness, a precious jewel tying down a third of his men just as our attack begins.”

So their armies began to clash fiercely, and with the new disparity in numbers the battle gradually began to go against Zadkiel. Khondiel fought her way to the top of the hill behind Zadkiel’s army where the wagon was tied up all by itself now.

Zadkiel spotted what Khondiel was trying to do in the fog of battle and moved to cut her off, lest she solve the Gordian Knot and become the beneficiary of the prophecy, destined to rule all Barbelo.

They both dismounted and launched into an extended face-to-face sword duel. The tip of Zadkiel’s blade slashed Khondiel’s bare abdomen as he attained first blood.

Khondiel feigned shock at the pain and injury and pretended to slow down. Zadkiel, seeing that, let his guard down for just a fraction of a second, but it was enough. Seeing her opening, Khondiel let loose a ferocious kick to his face and Zadkiel was laid out cold.

Khondiel was sorely tempted to finish him off right there, but her eyes settled on the forgotten wagon on the hilltop and she ran to it instead.

She tried to untie the Gordian knot that secured the wagon to a mighty tree, but like many that came before her she made no headway. Meanwhile Mastema’s cavalry was rapidly closing in on her.

Finally, with no time to lose, Khondiel just cut the knot with her sword. The wagon began to roll downhill and she jumped inside, hanging on for dear life. Her war cry gripped the attention of the troops guarding Talishi, and they gaped at the horror approaching them. All of the men fled as Khondiel’s desperate gamble played out.

She ducked inside the wagon and braced herself as the wagon collided with the cage at breakneck speed, shattering both the cage and the wagon to splinters. Somehow they survived the collision. Both women were more bruised and beaten than they had ever been before but Talishi was alive and free.

King Gordiel continued the rout and pursued the scattered remnants of Mastema’s army into the forest. But the king knew this defeated army represented only a fraction of the strength that the Gerash patriarch could bring to bear on him, and its relatively small size had itself been a gesture of contempt on the part of Kirodiel for the abilities of Salem to defend itself. Next time there would be a far greater host. But for now Gordiel shrugged. That was a worry for another day.

When Zadkiel finally regained consciousness he saw his utter defeat from his vantage on the hilltop, and he fled the field alone on his horse.

Khondiel said, “No more adventures for a while, Talishi. I’ve cracked a rib, for starters.”

Talishi accepted a blanket and threw it around her naked form. Being deprived of clothing for so long had caused her much suffering. Gorpai was largely an ice world after all. She said, “Thank you, Khondiel! But why did you throw away everything you’ve worked for since you met me and first questioned who you were, just to save my life?”

For her part Khondiel was almost at a loss for words. “What do you mean ‘why’? Didn’t you find that cage a little drafty?”

Talishi held up the end of the wagon’s rope. “I’m talking about the Gordian Knot. I’ll admit, cutting it was not what your father’s oracle had in mind, maybe, but now you are destined to rule Gorpai. Fate! The unreformed Khondiel must return now.”

Khondiel said, “Must she? You say Mastema was behind all this, but do you think Mastema will have his way forever? What if the oracle really meant the spirit of the new Khondiel will take over Gorpai? The Khondiel who changed on that unforgettable day when she first met you.”

Talishi was shocked at first, then she smiled as understanding fully dawned. “The new Khondiel? If men and women everywhere became willing to do for each other what you did for me today…then love won today, Khondiel! It may take many more centuries to play out but you may have turned the corner here today. Once and for all . . . love won!”

16 – JUDAHITES

Not many days after Lael’s death in the new colony in Haaretz, about sixteen years after the migration from Judah, Elam and Lemuel were angry with Rosh for the admonitions of their father that came out of Rosh’s mouth at regular intervals. The old man was dead, may he rest in peace, but here was little Rosh spouting Laelisms as though the old man somehow lived on through his third son.

Rosh’s older brothers eventually sought to take his life because they would not have their younger brother rule over them. Before they could carry out this deed, however, Rosh fled into the wilderness with all that would go with him. Rosh took his own family, and also Zethan and his family, and Timon with his family, and Jared his younger brother who was born on Barbelo, and also the sisters of Rosh.

The Benjaminites however remained in the land of Shedal near Glenah Wood. This was the fertile place that Lael’s group had first settled and farmed after crossing to Barbelo from Earth.

A great religious controversy was born in the parting of Rosh that would result in much bloodshed. For Rosh took the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the White Scroll, and the Ark also possessed a kind of director, which was one of the two decorative cherubim on the golden lid of the box. This director pointed to the way they should go and began to spin when they should halt.

The people in Rosh’s group descended from the broad upland around Shedal southwest to Thalury. When they arrived at a point on the coast where much fish could be obtained, the pointer angel on the Ark began to spin in contentment. Rosh called this area Suhair.

They planted seed on the gentle slopes inland from shore and raised flocks of animals on the golden hills that rose north and east of the sea. Rosh also made many blades of bronze, “Lest by any means the Benjaminites should come upon us and destroy us.”

As El Shaddai had foreseen, many people came from elsewhere in Haaretz to approach the Ark of the Covenant. They came to speak directly to El Shaddai and also to receive her commands. Some of these pilgrims were commanded by El Shaddai to remain among the people under Rosh and mingle their blood with the Judahites.

Then one day it became the turn for Rosh’s brother Jared to write in the White Scroll that preserved their history, because Rosh had grown old and he saw that he would soon die. After the death of Rosh some of the Judahites journeyed up the coast until it formed a narrow strait with the Isle they called Elendal lying off-shore. Some of the Judahites mingled with the indigenous peoples along the way. Most of the native people of the area were Gold Beards of the House of Sala, and they made their homes along the seashore. But Jared and most of the people pushed ever on until they reached a large river that poured from the east directly into the strait. There the Judahites founded a settlement called Akamar.

The White Scroll and the Ark of the Covenant passed down from Jared to his son Jachin, then to his grandson Omar and also to his great-grandson Abidan. And when Abidan had grown old and feeble, it was deemed by the people that Akamar had grown large and strong enough that Abidan’s son Baruch should be acclaimed a king.

With his mighty deeds, and wisdom, with the help of prophets from elsewhere in Haaretz, and by slaying hundreds of Benjaminites, King Baruch established peace in his land. For the rest of the king’s life, there would be peace in the kingdom of Menkal, which was what the Judahites called their homeland with it’s many islands and bays.

King Baruch had a son named Mered, and the king made certain his son received a good education. Mered meticulously studied the laws and histories recorded on the White Scoll, and Baruch told his son that the scroll was the only thing keeping the Judahites from dwindling in unbelief like the Benjaminites on the plateau to the east.

Then came the time when King Baruch wanted to go into retirement. He told his son to gather the people together outside of the city so he could make the announcement. But that would be just a formality. Baruch gave his son the actual reins of power immediately. Additionally he passed on to Mered the Ark of the Covenant.

In the morning the people arranged themselves around the chief gate of the city in tents, with each family separated one from another. The door of each tent was faced so they could stay in the tent yet hear the words of King Baruch as he spoke from a specially constructed tower.

The king spoke of his life in service to the people, and how he even labored with his own hands that the people would not be unduly burdened with taxes. Yet he did not bring this up to boast, only to affirm that he had really been in the service of El Shaddai all along. The King said he served El Shaddai by serving his fellow human beings. And he also said that he only brought this to their mind to remind them that if he, their king, labored much to serve the people, then how much more the people ought to labor to serve one another.

Then Baruch told the people he could no longer be their teacher or their king because he was very close to going the way of all flesh. It was only by the sustaining power of El Shaddai that he was even able to stand there and speak to them without instantly collapsing. He concluded his speech by declaring that his son Mered was already king and ruler over all the people of Menkal.

During the short span after his speech and before Baruch died a detachment of Judahites returned to the plateau east of Menkal for a reconnaissance-in-force of the land they had first settled.

Captain Peresh, the leader of the expedition, went to the king of the Benjaminites, King Arieh, and persuaded him to let them stay in the land. Arieh gave them the land of Glenah after commanding the Benjaminites in that land to depart. The people under Peresh lived peacefully for twelve years, but King Arieh had deceived them and intended later to take the goods they produced by force.

At first the Benjaminites made small spoiling raids, but soon a major battle was fought with the Judahites emerging victorious. Ten years of cold peace followed, until the death of king Arieh, when Arieh’s son King Gruen tried to drive the Judahites out of the land. But the Benjaminites were once again defeated, because Captain Peresh had sent spies to discover the disposition of the Benjaminites and made his preparations accordingly. As part of those preparations, the women, children, and old and infirm were taken to safety.

Upon his death Captain Peresh bequeathed the land surrounding Glenah to his son Parnach and declared him to be a full king. But after a time King Parnach proved to be an evil man who taxed his people heavily, spending the money on riotous living, including a spacious palace and a tall tower to spy out the lands of both Glenah and Shedal. He even encouraged the people to immerse themselves in the same sins that he did.

The prophet Rekem of the tribe of Gad came west to preach repentance to Parnach’s people, but he was imprisoned by the very people he preached to. Rekem was taken in chains before King Parnach and his false priests. There Rekem delivered his final message and was executed by fire. As he was dying he prophesied that Parnach would suffer death in a similar manner.

One of the priests of Parnach, a young man named Neriah, believed Rekem’s words and pleaded with the king to spare the prophet’s life. Neriah was cast out and was forced to hide so that the servants of the king could not kill him.

Neriah taught the words of Rekem to more of the people, and many believed him. He also became a great prophet and religious leader among the rest of the Judahites in Menkal later in his life. Hence, Rekem was successful in his prophetic mission although he died a martyr and only one single man believed his teachings while he lived.

King Parnach’s evil and his oppression of the people continued. He even attempted to assail Neriah and his followers during a sermon. Neriah and his disciples then left the vicinity of Glenah by secret ways in the forest to the east and the king’s army was unable to follow them. Neriah led his people to a land hidden in the heart of Glenah Wood, where they prospered.

A small group of Parnach’s people became angry with him, including a man named Jaanai who swore to kill the king. They fought, and when Parnach saw that he was about to lose he fled to a tower. From the top of the tower he saw that an army of Benjaminites was about to attack and convinced Jaanai to spare him so that he could lead the people to safety.

Parnach and his people fled, but they were unable to escape the Benjaminites. Parnach ordered the men to leave their wives and children behind. Some did, while others did not. They were captured by the Benjaminites and returned to Glenah, where they were taxed one half of all they owned and one half of everything they produced. The Benjaminites then made Parnach’s son, Raddai, the king.

Those who abandoned their families and stayed with Parnach soon regretted their choice. They turned on Parnach and burned the man to death, fulfilling the prophesy of Rekem, while Parnach’s priests ran away and hid in the fringes of Glenah Wood. The men of Glenah then returned, determined to find out what had happened to their families and to avenge them or die with them. So they joined Raddai’s people. But Raddai, after a number of attempts to cast off the Benjaminite yoke, had to accept that he would serve only as a tributary king.

Years later King Mered, the son of Baruch, sent sixteen men led by his son Dishon to discover the fate of Captain Peresh and his followers. Dishon soon discovered the people of Raddai at Glenah and the people of Neriah hidden in the forest and aided them all in escaping from the Benjaminites to Menkal in the west.

Once safe in Menkal, however, Neriah’s son Neriah the younger and the sons of King Mered grew filled with zeal for a strict application of the Code of Moshe. They persecuted Neriah the elder and his movement was called the People of Bat-El briefly, but after a time prophets from Hamar appeared and ordered them to lay off Neriah the Elder. The foreign prophets were sufficiently persuasive that Neriah the younger and the sons of King Merad themselves became full converts to Bat-El.

17 – DIPLOMACY

When the prophet Zadkiel came before Mastema Incarnate, in the person of High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel, he abased himself on all fours and brought bad tidings of his defeat in the Battle of Salem and the escape of Lady Talishi. Zadkiel expected to be decapitated at any moment, but to his great surprise no harm came to him.

Kirodiel was unhappy about the defeat, to be sure, but he remained sanguine overall. He had held back a greater part of the armed forces of family Gerash in reserve, and he knew also that King Gordiel and especially his daughter were formidable opponents, so the initial setback was not unexpected. Kirodiel contemplated waging war in the west for two years, but he made no move except to have Zadkiel post the Eyes of Mastema in an unbroken ring around the city and he garrisoned the road leading to Salem in diverse places.

During those two years El Shaddai incarnate, in the person of Talishi, had not been idle. For the avatar of El Shaddai descended from the sky and made landfall near Salem and Lady Talishi climbed inside together with Princess Khondiel. Within the avatar there was room enough for several persons, and El Shaddai had prepared her avatar to support life high above Barbelo where there was no air. The avatar lifted into the heavens in a great arc, intending to make made landfall again in the far west of the East Lands, which was home to the Gold Beards.

Khondiel had flown within the avatar many times before, so the terror of the flight no longer held any sway over her, if ever it did. For a few minutes at the top of the arc, Talishi and Khondiel were wonderfully free of the forces that that pressed them into their seat during the ascent, forces which would be present once again when the avatar began to descend to Barbelo. For that brief time the women found much amusement bouncing off of the walls and each other.

And Khondiel asked Talishi, “What is the source of the fires that lift us into the skies over the world? Your avatar never seems to require replenishment of its fuel as a campfire would.”

“The fires that propel us come from within my own body,” Talishi explained. “No flatulence jokes please. They are the fires of a living sun, channeled through a fold-space link in much the same way people are able to pass from Earth to Barbelo and back again.”

“Forgive me if I sound like a little girl on the ‘why’ chain but what is the source of that fold-space link?”

“It is something Elohim are born with,” Talishi said. “Perhaps in the same way you were born with a voice. There are five lines going out from me. One line links me to my father Belial. The second one links me to my mother Mastema. The third one links me to my daughter Bat-El. And Bat-El, at my bidding, has withdrawn the line connecting her to Belial. The fourth line links me to this avatar. And the fifth line links me to the Ark of the Covenant which resides in Menkal.”

“You said these lines are natural things that you are born with, like a voice. What happens if Mastema decides not to listen to your voice?”

“Neither Mastema nor Belial can refuse to listen, for absolutely nothing in reality can break the lines between us short of my own death. But having listened, they can refuse to answer, much as Belial has decided to do. And they can refuse to pass on my speech to other Elohim up their fold-lines, as both of them have decided to do.”

“So that means Mastema cannot disable this avatar on a whim.”

“No he cannot,” Talishi said. “Think of my link with Mastema as like a hatch on a ship with three ropes passing through it. He can never close the hatch as long as the ropes are there.”

“Ah yes, but perhaps if Mastema physically destroys this avatar or the Ark then those two ropes, at least, will no longer block the closing of the hatch.”

“You are absolutely correct, Talishi. A wormhole that stretches from a living star to a very distant place requires the existence of some physical object as an anchor. Consider, for example, the Ark of the Covenant. It might be moved from one place to another on a whim. Barbelo itself is rotating, and revolving around the sun that is Mastema, and Mastema is himself moving relative to me. From instant to instant, all those movements are communicated back to me down the fold-link, which is the only way I can keep the end-point inside the Ark. But if someone were to burn the Ark to ashes, and melt the gold, there would be no longer be a shape for me to grasp.”

“But what about the passage that goes from the pool of Bat-El back to Earth?” Khondiel asked.

“Ah yes, now that is an entirely different case,” Talishi said. “That kind of fold-door requires the active cooperation of two Elohim to maintain. We have an ancient bargain. Mastema keeps his end of the fold-door under the surface of the Sacred Pool, and I do as I want with my end. Some day, many years from now, there will be another such passage created to fulfill yet another bargain.”

When the avatar landed at the city of Saharad, Talishi and Khondiel emerged from the avatar of El Shaddai in the full sight of many witnesses, and afterward they were taken to the Matriarch of family Sala and took counsel. Princess Khondiel spoke to Queen Aurra Sala of her victory at Salem, and of her spies in the city of Mastema who reported that Kirodiel contemplated war against all of Barbelo. Talishi told the queen that Kirodiel’s strategy was to pick off each family off one at a time using his full strength to overawe each one in turn. By the time the remaining families took thought to form an alliance together against him it would be far too late.

Queen Aurra proposed to convene a council of all the Houses to consider the words of Khondiel and Talishi, and to discuss other matters. Talishi proposed that the queen’s council take place in Rumbek, capital city of the House of Bellon, but Queen Aurra remarked that Barbelo was a very large world and it would be difficult to persuade the nobles of Barbelo to travel to Rumbek.

Talishi answered that she would offer to transport all the participants who were willing to travel to Rumbek aboard the avatar of El Shaddai, which could bring them thither in a very short span of time. Then after Khondiel and Talishi completed taking counsel with Queen Sala they returned to Salem for a brief time, and dwelt together in great peace and happiness.

A number of weeks later the avatar of El Shaddai appeared at Salem again and took Khondiel and Talishi to Peshast, the chief city of the Black Beards in the far east of the Eastern Lands. There they met King Gerand Larund, where Talishi relayed Queen Sala’s call for a general council of all the houses of Barbelo, and offered to transport the King and any others he wished to attend to Rumbek with the same avatar she used to arrive in his own kingdom.

And again a number of weeks later Khondiel and Talishi journeyed to the land of the Red Beards, to their capital city of Vaska. There they conferred with King Brogan Antero, relaying the same information and making the same offer. But as for the Brown Beards of family Bellon, Talishi would not avail herself of the avatar of El Shaddai again. Rather she would come there herself overland with Khondiel and the Fallen Angels. There, or so she hoped, the four families would come together to draw up their plans against Mastema.

Now King Gordiel, with the aid of Khondiel and her Fallen Angels, had prevailed in the Battle of Salem, but the king knew time was not his ally. For he himself waxed old, and he knew his death swiftly approached. Not even Talishi with her healing arts could stay the ravages of old age.

None believed the High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel would authorize Princess Khondiel to succeed him. So the king commanded Talishi, Khondiel, the Fallen Angels, and all who would go with them to embark on a quest long in preparation to sail from Salem across the sea until they reached the far shore in the uttermost west of the Middle Lands.

Thence they were to ascend the foothills and mountains that led ever up to the Ice, the ancestral homes of family Gerash, where many provisions were laid up against the day of a third world flood. But in the caves and tunnels of the ice fierce battle was assured, for the stores were defended by the vigilance of the Patriarch’s forces from any that would raid them, no matter from east or west.

If they prevailed in the struggle, then continuing due west for many leagues, the ice would end, and descending once more the travelers would come to the West Lands and the fastnesses of the seafaring family Bellon. For the Brown Beards were no friends of the Gerash patriarch, and their king had often stated they would welcome any refugees from the Middle Land.

Then Talishi thanked King Gordiel for his lifetime of faithfulness and service to El Shaddai, and took her leave of him, knowing full well they would never meet again. The final parting between Khondiel and her father was particularly bitter.

With Khondiel went too all of the Fallen Angels, and hundreds of others who had made their homes in Salem when the teachings of Talishi struck a chord in their hearts.

As King Gordiel had foreseen, the storehouses in the ice caves were strongly defended, and there was hard fighting before the exiles won through. Barely half of the refugees who had set out from Salem walked down to the shore of the Eastern Sea of the West Lands and gazed at the dark and distant profile of the Isle of Sealiah.

Then Talishi was brought by ship to the city of Rumbek and presented herself before King Arman Bellon, the Patriarch of the Brown Beards. The king asked why the famed Lady Talishi was in exile from the Middle Land.

Talishi replied, “Because I brought the truth to family Gerash. But they hated the truth, because it was like a bright light, and the truth threatened to reveal the dark things they do in secret.”

And King Arman asked, “What is truth?”

Talishi said in reply, “We know truth when our mind conforms with the way things are.”

King Arman asked, “What do you ask of me, Lady Talishi? Shall I protect the purity of your truth?”

Talishi said, “If what I teach is so very fragile that I must seek aid to shield it from contamination, then what I have cannot be the truth. The warriors of Mastema fight to convert others to their truth and wage holy war against other truths. They fight because what they call ‘truth’ is too weak to sell itself to all who seek the truth with sincerity. Since they are certain they already possess the truth, they refuse to investigate reality and delight in self-deception.”

King Arman asked, “Then what, dear Lady Talishi, is your truth? What is the ultimate truth?”

“Only this,” she revealed. “The noblest activity is unending love.”

And Talishi accompanied her words with a mighty sign of her authority, for at that moment the avatar of El Shaddai flew over the Bellon capital city at great speed, but the people saw only a streak of light in the sky, and a terrifying noise like thunder broke many windows in Rumbek. Then King Arman welcomed Talishi and all her companions to his land, and a place was found for each of them on the Island of Sealiah. They became his protected subjects.

Talishi, Khondiel, and the Fallen Angels all took residence in the north of Sealiah. Then Khondiel began to teach their new friends and neighbors among the Brown Beards, individually and in small groups, the doctrines of El Shaddai. But Talishi herself refused to teach, lest the king think he had taken a troublemaker into his land.

Privately Talishi spoke to the king of Queen Aurra’s proposal for a council of the four Houses, and of her commitment to transport the nobles of those families to Rumbek to gather together. To this King Brogan agreed, and a date was set to convene the council.

As time went on, King Gordiel of Salem went the way of all flesh and was buried in a lavish tomb, and the people of the city mourned his passing for thirty days, but what they really mourned was the end of their way of life

Then the army of Mastema marched through the city unhindered, and Kirodiel Gerash appointed a new king over the city, one who laid a heavy tax on the people in penalty of their rebellion. For it was the Law of Mastema that in every five-day week the people could keep the fruit of their labor from three of the four workdays. And the increase of one day was to go to the maintenance of the Army of Mastema and the Eyes of Mastema, as well as his temple priests.

But upon the people of Salem was laid a second yoke, for the fruit of the labor of yet another workday was to go the upkeep of the new forces that garrisoned the city. Thus the people could only keep half of what they earned.

The Eyes of Mastema multiplied in Salem like flies, and there appeared hundreds of checkpoints throughout the city. Many people, even children, were put to torment for the smallest transgression, yet none were permitted to depart to other cities in the Middle Land. So matters would remain until that whole generation of Salemites had passed away, according to the decree of Lord Kirodiel, but ever after men who spoke with the accent of Salem would bear a stigma among the White Beards.

18 – JUDEA

During the exile in Babylon scribes and priests maintained a continuous tribal identity for the House of Judah by meticulously maintaining the written genealogies and histories of the people. They had seen what had happened to the ten “Lost Tribes” and refused to allow it to happen to Judah and Benjamin and also those Levites who happened to live among them.

When Cyrus the Great, emperor of Persia, conquered the Babylonians he instituted a policy of repatriating the Jews back to Palestine. The first parties he sent began the task of rebuilding the temple of El Shaddai. Because of this many Jews in exile regarded Cyrus to be appointed by God.

Later Ezra led a second group of Babylonian Jews to Jerusalem to reestablish the Code of Moshe. He compiled and redacted the Torah from a number of pre-existing source documents including copies of the missing White Scroll, and instituted very exclusive fundamentalist doctrines including a ban on Jews marrying Gentiles.

Decades later Nehemiah, a Jewish servant of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, was sent to Jerusalem with a third group of Jews to complete the temple, repair the royal palace, and rebuild the walls of the city. But when he was finished, the older Jews with him wept with sorrow, for the second temple was a pathetic shadow of the glory that had been Solomon’s original temple-palace complex.

Philip II, king of Macedon, conquered the Thebans and Athenians at Chaeronea and brought all of Greece except Sparta under Macedonian rule. When he died his twenty year-old son Alexander succeeded him and freed all the Greeks in Asia Minor from Persian rule. For the next twelve years, Alexander forged the largest empire the world had ever known up to that time.

After defeating King Darius at Issus, Alexander subdued Egypt and founded the city of Alexandria. The following year, all of Palestine fell under his domination. But Alexander left no heir, and upon his death his generals, called the Diadochi, divided the empire between themselves and became rivals. The Diadochi put on royal crowns, and so did their sons after them.

Ptolemy I Soter, one of the Diadochi, claimed Egypt for himself and defended Alexandria from the other generals. He also founded the Library of Alexandria and became the first Egyptian king of the Macedonian Dynasty of Ptolemies. Ptolemy II Philadelphus succeeded him and brought Alexandria to its peak of power and influence. The Pharos lighthouse was constructed during his reign. Ptolemy III Euergetes extended the Ptolemaic Empire to embrace Palestine, Asia Minor, and the islands of the Aegean. But after his death the Ptolemaic empire gradually began to decline.

A rival Diadochi named Seleucus I Nicator founded a similar empire centered in Asia Minor that ruled the lands conquered by Alexander from Thrace to India. As the Ptolemies weakened, Palestine gradually fell under the rule of this Selucid Dynasty.

At that time many Jews began to adopt the ways of the Greek gentiles who dominated them. They tried to cover the marks of their circumcision and built gymnasiums where they could participate in athletic activities in the nude. They no longer observed any of the ordinances of the Code of Moshe. With some support of these secularized Jews, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes declared Judaism abolished, and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to Zeus.

Many of the Jews were ready and willing to abandon their old religion and accept the ideas of the Syro-Macedonian king. But the priest Mattathias began a set of terrorist acts to deter Hellenized Jews from sacrificing to Zeus. Jews who were caught breaking the precepts of the Law were killed, and boys were forcibly circumcised. Eventually this campaign, which was based out of hiding places in the desert outside of the cities, became a full-scale revolution to return to the fundamentalist doctrines instituted by Ezra.

Upon the death of Mattathias, his third son Judas Maccabeus took over leadership of the revolt. He defeated Apollonius and Seron, and turned back Lysias who came with half of the army of King Antiochus IV Ephiphanes, and also he re-purified the temple in Jerusalem. But Judas Maccabeus was killed on the field of battle confronting governor Bacchides.

Jonathan, the fifth son of Mattathias, then led the revolt. He renewed battle against Bacchides and defeated Apollonius. After that Jonathan became the high priest of the Jews. Jonathan Maccabeus was taken prisoner and killed after an invitation to meet Trypho for peace negotiations.

Simon Maccabeus, the brother of Jonathan, then began to lead the Jews. He too was the high priest, as was his son and grandson after him. Simon obtained independence for Judea from Demetrius II. He battled Antiochus VII and defeated him. Then Simon was betrayed and killed by Ptolemy the son of Anubus, governor of Jericho, at a banquet in the stronghold of Dok.

John Hyrcanus I, son of Simon Maccabeus, battled Ptolemy, the murderer of Simon, avenging his father’s death. He rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and also battled Antiochus VII. Under his reign, Judah prospered much.

Aristobulus I Judah, son of John Hyrcanus, annexed the territory of Iturea to Judah. During his reign, some of the Jews began to teach the idea that everyone who ever lived on the earth would be raised to life again in a simultaneous general resurrection to witness to sovereignty of God, and after that, all life on earth would come to a violent end.

Alexander Jannaeus, brother of Aristobulus, was the first high priest of the House of Mattathias to call himself King, thus founding the Hasmonean Dynasty. An aggressive warrior, he died in battle. Under his reign the movement of the Pharisees came into existence, which means the “Separated Ones”. The Pharisees opposed the Hasmonean innovation of combining the kingship with the high priesthood in one person. They also believed that the dead would be raised again, but they denied the world would end in a final apocalypse, because that would simply be pointless.

The Pharisees built synagogues in every Jewish city and town where the people could study the Torah under the tutelage in the scribes, called Sopherim, and also offer prayers for the return of the House of David to power in Israel.

After that, Queen Alexandra, wife of Aristobulus, enjoyed a benevolent reign of nine years. During Queen Alexandra’s reign a high priest was chosen from the landed aristocracy of Judea. This elite group was also known as the Sadducees. Their policy was to avoid rebellion at all costs, even to the watering-down of Jewish traditions with Hellenistic and Roman ideas. This policy to accommodate with the world was much criticized by the Pharisees.

King Aristobulus II, son of Alexander Jannaeus, reigned until the intervention of Pompey after his conquest of Syria for the up and coming Romans.

King Hyrcanus II, son of Alexander Jannaeus, was named ethnarch of the Jews by Pompey and elevated over his brother. Thus Pompey maintained the Hasmonean Dynasty on the throne, but only as his clients.

King Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II, was decapitated by a pretender to the throne named Herod. This Herod was favored by Marcus Antonius and Queen Cleopatra after they defeated Pompey. Mark Antony, acting in his role of triumvir, subsequently declared Herod king of the Jews.

King Herod conquered Joppa and Medeba and captured Jerusalem after a seige of three months. He occupied Samaria and restored the temple to its original glory.

In Egypt the last Pharaoh was Ptolemy XV Caesarion, son of Gaius Julius Caesar and Queen Cleopatra VII. Following the suicide of his mother in the wake of the battle of Actium, Caesarion was executed by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius and Egypt was annexed by Rome. Herod soon became a client of Octavius, who was later called Caesar Augustus.

In the waning years of the reign of Herod a man named Gabriel, who was a trusted agent of the Fallen Angels of Barbelo, journeyed from the Pool of Bat-El in Canterwood to Israel, in the same way Melchizedech once came to Abraham long before. And Gabriel, knowing his history, was thankful the Nile leg of the journey had been omitted.

Gabriel found a day laborer named Yosef, son of Heli, in the village of Nazareth. This tiny community was in the land that was given to the Israelite tribe of Zebulun in the days of Yehoshua son of Nun, who was the chief lieutenant of Michael. Gabriel chose Yosef and his wife Miriam because both of them were directly descended down the line of David, just as Lael had been.

Gabriel established his credentials as a messenger of El Shaddai with many unmistakable signs. Then taking the couple before dawn to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the mouth of the worm-tunnel appeared under the water, emitting a pale purple glow. Entering the water, Gabriel took Yosef with him to the Pool of Bat-El in Haaretz on the world of Barbelo, and Miriam his wife followed after them.

In Haaretz Yosef and Miriam learned that the tribes of the northern kingdom had not perished from the earth by intermarriage following their exile in the land of Medea. They were still thriving on Barbelo, according to the promise El Shaddai made to Abraham to raise up many nations from his loins, and members of the southern kingdom had been taken to dwell with them as well.

And it was also revealed to Yosef and his wife that El Shaddai had begotten his own offspring after the manner of the Elohim, and it was the will of El Shaddai to send his child Bat-El to the Earth enrobed in the flesh of a male human being.

So Yosef, together with his wife, freely assented to allow their first son, when he was born, to be united with Bat-El. They were returned to Nazareth where they dwelt in peace for a while, and in due season Miriam gave birth to a son. Yosef named him Yeshua and they took the babe into the desert to fulfil their promise.

Bat-El took possession of the babe Yeshua following the process that El Shaddai had once used to take possession of Talishi, but Bat-El went a little further. For it was not only the brain of the infant which was transformed, but also both of his hands became glorified flesh in preparation for the healing ministry of El Shaddai that would commence when he came into full manhood.

Then Yosef and Miriam returned to Nazareth with Yeshua, where the boy had a normal childhood to the extent that was possible for a family living close to starvation in a village stricken with poverty. Yosef and Miriam had other children as well, a daughter named Salome and sons named Shimon and Yosef Junior, who was nicknamed Josy.

As Yeshua grew, the Eloah Bat-El looked at the world with wonder through Yeshua’s eyes. Yeshua learned the stoneworker’s trade that his father engaged in, but it was very difficult and dangerous work that sent Yosef to an early grave.

Under the Kinsman Redeemer clause of the Code of Moshe, the brother of Yosef, a man named Alphaeus, was required to marry his widow and adopt his children, and after that people sometimes called Yosef’s brother “Clophas”, which means “replacement”. Clophas had sons named Yakob and Yudah and a daughter named Miriam, all cousins of Yeshua who, after Clophas wed the wife of his deceased brother, also became Yeshua’s step-siblings.

With the sudden enlargement of the family Yeshua did not have to continue in the harsh livelihood of Yosef to ensure the well-being of his mother and siblings. Instead Yeshua began to make a name for himself in Nazareth as a faith healer, and people in the town and the vicinity would come to his house to be healed by him. Afterward they would leave modest gifts for the support of Yeshua’s family.

19 – DEMONSTROKE

From the beginning Mastema had delighted in terrifying the people of Barbelo with his avatar, but human beings were nothing if not adaptable, and after a time they thought Mastema’s gig was getting a little corny. And yet not even Mastema was given to doing anything without a deeper purpose. Mastema was still riding that ten thousand-year-old hobbyhorse, his dreary old thesis that all of the mammal planet-dwellers who had dealings with the Elohim could not follow the simplest set of arbitrary rules without screwing them up.

From the beginning many beasts were brought from Earth. For the most part these creatures were benign, and fitted in well with the ecology of Barbelo, or they were herd animals which men had tamed from time immemorial. Mastema saw that animals would soon breed far beyond the ability of Barbelo to support them, and chief among these animals, he knew, would be human beings themselves. So Mastema introduced to his planet monstrous predators from the darkest dreams of men to keep them in check.

Then was seen on Barbelo many monsters and trolls and goblins as well as Leviathan, the dragon under the sea who devoured those who foundered therein. After that Mastema introduced dragons, and all that went about on two legs had to keep one eye on the sky, for they were the dragon’s prey, as surely as the small creatures who went on four legs were ever the prey of eagles.

But all the predators created by Mastema were merely taken to be strong threads woven into the growing tapestry that was Barbelo. Men honored the wisdom of Mastema in creating them, and they were not really afraid. For it was man and not any other beast who were the most terrible predators the universe had ever known, by utter necessity, from the first day that fangless, clawless big-brained monkey came down from the trees and decided to compete on the savanna with lions and tigers and bears for meat. And now that man was unleashed on an entirely new world so much the worse for that world, dragons or no.

The dragons of Mastema were immortal if they remained safe in their aeries, and they bred only very slowly, but they could be slain, and lays commemorating the deeds of many dragonslayers, would-be or otherwise were still sung in the roadside inns dotting the land.

In the end only one dragon remained, and this one men found much to difficult to kill, for it was the greatest one of all. Mastema had parked his entirely mechanical avatar and decided to drive a living avatar that would resonate with the darkest nightmares of men. Mastema named it Demonstroke.

After Mastema had made a show of his new toy, using his dragon avatar to burn portions of several cities in all the lands, he fashioned a sword made from a single large diamond and called it Dragonthorn. Mastema declared that he had infused the blade with a powerful spell binding the beast. And Mastema declared that the eldest daughter or niece of the ruler of the House of Antero would wield the blade, and the spell would remain unbroken for as long as she remained a virgin.

When the virgin held Dragonthorn in her hand, whatever she bid Demonstroke to do, he would do it, even to allowing persons to ride upon him in the air as though he were a winged steed. The role was a great honor and privilege, but it was also a serious duty. Unleashed, the dragon could lay waste to all the cities on Barbelo. Control of Demonstroke hung by the slender thread of the girl’s virginity.

The Patriarch of the Red Beards, Brogan Antero, loved his daughter Kari very much. Princess Kari had the beauty of youth with long, bright red hair, and she was on the very cusp of womanhood. The King was almost supernaturally patient with Kari, and denied her not the least thing. Even during the frantic preparations for the Royal Council in Rumbek he was willing to stop and make time to listen attentively to Kari as though she were the only thing that mattered on Barbelo. The King sat close to her and nodded his head up and down as she described for him the seemingly random images of last night’s dream.

Kari said, “Father, I dreamed it was night, and I could see the ground was covered with sleeping little metal people. People came out of the sky in two tall metal engines of war that spouted fire, but they wore strange armor, and I could not tell if they were men, women, boys or girls. The first person picked up one of the metal people and took it into the first metal tower, and somehow I knew that metal person was myself, in the strange way of dreams. That person flew into the sky and we were safe. The second person stayed behind to pick up as many of the other metal people as they could find, but that person was caught by strange men and killed. Then I awoke.”

King Brogan stopped nodding his head and smiled at Kari. He said, “Shall I interpret the dream for you, child?”

“Please do, Father.” To Kari, the King was the wisest man who ever lived.

“The first person in your dream is myself. You feel protected around me, which is indeed a good thought, because my entire will is bent toward keeping you safe. The second person in your dream is your human mother, who wanted to have other children by me, and those were the other little metal people. But she fell victim to poison in her drink, and was killed by the palace intrigues that never cease here in Vaska.”

“As simple as that, Father?”

“As simple as that. Your sleeping mind created images to express what you felt in your heart. You are still dealing with your grief. I find solace from the content of your dream that you do not blame me for your mother’s death.”

“Never, Father!” Kari interrupted. Kari was shocked at the mere suggestion that she would think that, or even dream it.

The King placed a hand on Kari’s head to reassure her, then he said, “If you did blame me, even secretly within your heart of hearts, then your dream would have taken a very different course.”

“Beloved Father,” Kari said, “why have you not taken for yourself another wife? Are you afraid that she would be killed as well?”

“Not so, Kari. Soon the one adept at poison will come forward and try to worm into my life, and then I will know who she is. But now we must set aside your dreams, daughter, and our lingering grief for your mother, and our lamentation of things we can never change. Queen Aurra Sala summons me to a great council in Rumbek, and I would have you come with me.”

As declared by Mastema the sexual virtue of Princess Kari must continue intact to keep Demonstroke under control. The King had always tried to lessen the burden for his daughter Kari by letting her believe that a strong spell to influence others accompanied possession of the diamond blade, and he denied her not the least thing except a suitor. This belief would prove the undoing of all.

“It is a very great distance across the West Lands from Vaska to Rumbek,” he told her, “but we will ride Demonstroke, for I know you love it so, daughter.” And she beamed at him.

It was said that Demonstroke was as much engine of war as he was living beast, and King Brogan thought there must be truth in that. For what mere beast could contain the fires that somehow came from the body of the orange sun that was Mastema?

Demonstroke’s head bent bent back over them on its long scaly neck and fire spewed out in a jet that propelled the dragon into the sky, pushing Kari against her father, and her father in turn against a bony ridge at the place where Demonstroke’s neck joined to the rest of his body. And the dragon soared into the sky until the air became almost too thin for Brogan and his daughter to breathe.

Then Demonstroke’s head bent forward again, and he extended his wings. With gentle flaps the dragon extended his glide as much as possible as the largest river in the land of the Red Beards slid by underneath. Then, when the land had rushed up to meet them and the deadly tops of trees native to Barbelo nearly brushed the belly of Demonstroke, he bent his head back again and let loose another long jet of flame.

Over and over again this cycle repeated as the day gave way to night, but the cycles of fire and glide grew shorter and shorter as they approached the city of Jelaket nestled high in the mountains that marked the border with the lands claimed by House Bellon.

Brogan and Keri, well-bundled against the cold, would both drift off to sleep as the dragon flew on through a darkness punctuated by fire, a sleep they found possible only after many such flights. As they slept they passed out of the mountains to the plains in the east inhabited by House Bellon, and the lights of lonely, widely separated houses passed underneath in the darkness far below.

When the glimmer of dawn appeared before the king and his daughter once more they were over the Magodon peninsula, the heart of the land where dwelt the Brown Beards, and the city of Elketz was seen moving stately to the west far below. Yet their final destination, the capital named Rumbek, would not be reached until mid-day.

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