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20 – MAGISTRATES

King Mered’s two sons Dishon and Ginath refused to accept the crown from their dying father, who insisted that his sons renounce their Bat-El heresy before ascending to the throne. And so, effectively without living heirs, King Mered was forced to establish a system of popularly elected magistrates to rule Menkal instead of a king. Higher magistrates could overrule lower magistrates, but a council of lower magistrates could impeach the Chief magistrate.

In this way Menkal became the first Republic to exist on Barbelo.

Neriah the Younger, a convert to Bat-El, became the first elected chief magistrate of the Judahites. King Mered gave to him the White Scroll and the Ark of the Covenant, and he died at roughly the same time that Neriah the Elder died.

Dishon (with his wife Hatita) and Ginath (with his wife Junia) then undertook a mission to the east to preach Bat-El to the Benjaminites. Dishon and his wife were taken captive in Shedal, where they became servants of Prince Lamoni. There Dishon miraculously preserved the king’s flocks from predators and Prince Lamoni became a convert to Bat-El soon thereafter. Eventually even Lamoni’s father King Sarfael was converted to the People of Bat-El, he and his entire household. Then King Sarfael decreed religious freedom for all Benjaminites. Many people in the lands of Shedal, Glenah, and the cities within Glenah Wood all converted, and they began to call themselves Dishonites. After that, King Sarfael died.

The unconverted Benjaminites prepared to make war against the apostates, but the Dishonites were so filled with remorse over the Judahite blood the Benjaminites had historically shed they were pacifists to the point of declining to even defend themselves. When the hard-core Benjaminites saw the prone state of their prey they aborted their attack, and many even converted to the People of Bat-El on the strength of the passive witness of their intended victims.

To the west, in Menkal, a merchant named Eliada tried to restore the kingship, with himself as king, naturally. The people voted nay but his followers continued to regard him as king. After that, the Eliadaites waged war to seat their king by force, but the Judahite army soundly defeated them. Neriah the Younger personally slew Eliada.

Neriah then nominated a magistrate named Micah to replace him as chief magistrate, and this was confirmed by the people. Neriah had stepped down from the top job because he had observed that the people, much like Eliada, were becoming increasingly wicked, proud, disdainful of outsiders and neglectful toward the poor. Neriah feared the whole House of Judah was on a path to self-destruction. So after he resigned his post as chief magistrate Neriah began traveling from city to city to preach directly to the Judahites.

Neriah began to teach in the heart of the city of Akamar, where his call for social justice was well received the poor, but his message was rejected out of hand by the wealthy and powerful of the capital city. Neriah then moved on to the cities of Difda and Sukai, with very much the same reception. From Difda he traveled by ship across the strait to the seaside city of Suhair, whose leading citizens proved even more hardened than those of the previous three cities.

After a renewed persecution by the unconverted Benjaminites, Dishon led the Dishonites west to Menkal, where they were given land in the southern part of Elendal Island from a large stock of empty land that Chief Magistrate Micah always kept on hand for just such an emergency. But General Rufus of the Benjaminites had tracked the missing Dishonites west. In the lower vale of the Menkal River the general gave battle against the Judahites but Captain Eshton of Akamar led the Judahites to victory against the Benjaminite attackers.

When he had grown very old Neriah gave the White Scroll and Ark of the Covenant to his son, Rabsaris, for Chief Magistrate Micah was not a convert to Bat-El, and Neriah had not chosen to give the sacred relics to the man who had replaced him as leader of the people. Then Neriah was taken in slow stages by Issacharite priests to the Pool of Bat-El, where he was permitted to see the other world before he died. And his body was never found anywhere in Haaretz.

Micah promoted Captain Eshton and made him the commanding general over all the Judahite armed forces in the face of an impeding general war with the Benjaminites. A large force of Benjaminites had gathered together at Grand Mound, led by General Azza and this force including many Judahite dissenters who worshiped El Shaddai alone. The Benjaminite army attacked the Judahites in the land of Suhair and the battle raged north toward Akamar, ending on the banks of the Menkal River just south of the city. In the battle General Eshton’s forces protected themselves with finely molded body armor for the very first time in Barbelo history.

After winning the initial clash General Eshton sent spies east to the Great Plateau to investigate the Benjaminites’ weak points, and he moved his force by hidden animal tracks, known only to sympathetic locals, to surround the enemy.

General Eshton marched forth under his Manifest of Freedom, a standard that he raised to rally the Judahites to defend their liberties from the group of dissenters who wanted to establish their leader as a king and who were even willing to ally themselves with the hated Benjamites to do it. General Eshton was so angry with the dissenters, who were led by a man named Paulus, that he tore his cloak and wrote upon it, In memory of Bat-El, our freedom, our peace, our wives, and our children.

With these words he rallied the Judahites to defend their families and their liberty, chasing away the Benjaminites and the Judahite militias loyal to Paulus in the process. Any Judahite dissenters who managed to survive were put to death by Eshton. The Benjaminites were scattered to the east. Then Eshton raised the Manifest of Freedom upon every Judahite tower.

Soon there were many more such towers, for Eshton erected a fortified line of cities on the edge of the slope that formed the border between the Judahites and the Benjaminites. After that the Judahites greatly prospered, while the Benjaminites steadily diminished until they became little more than scattered bands of highway robbers. As the years wore on the borders of Menkal were gradually extended east to encompass Glenah Wood and they were extended south to a line between Mount Narutha and the mouth of the river Sabik. And it was said there never was a happier time, before or since, among any of the people of the tribe of Judah.


21 – ARRIVAL

When the Army of Mastema had securely occupied Salem, High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash took the balance of his forces and sailed over the Western Sea to the place where the northern and southern ice came together. There he relieved and strengthened the garrisons that defended the Gerash stores. Then Kirodiel led his army down into the West Lands, and it was the first such invasion by family Gerash against any other House since before the Second Deluge.

When Kirodiel was come to the foot of the Ice in the West Lands a division of troops from the House of Bellon confronted him. They had been mobilized when Talishi presented intelligence of the invasion to King Arman. And though House Gerash had overwhelming numbers on the field, Kirodiel did not signal them to attack, but the white flags of parley-truce were unfurled, and the High Lord Patriarch came forth to speak to the commander of the Bellon force.

He said, “Mastema himself it is who stands against you. Do not hinder the faithful of the House of Gerash. Do not send your sons to thwart the justice of the Army of Mastema, for on the Plain of Judgment they shall be consumed like dry grass! Yield up this Talishi interloper. Abandon your false deity El Shaddai and turn back to your first love, Mastema the All-Merciful, or the fire of his indignation shall devour your young!”

And the commanding Bellon general held forth his written orders and replied, “Behold, Lord of the White Beards! I have been authorized by the King to accompany His Excellency the High Lord Patriarch of the House of Gerash to Rumbek for a parley, he and any reasonably-sized force His Excellency might deem to be suitable to assure his protection. For it may not be known to His Excellency that the heads of House Sala, Antero, and Larund are also convening in the city to take council with the King and Lady Talishi.”

To this Kirodiel agreed. Both armies left the field unblooded. The Bellon division returned west with Kirodiel, who took a single company, but not before Kirodiel had sent his forces north led by Zadkiel.

Under the command of Mastema’s prophet the army came to a bay which was the easternmost finger of the sea. Zadkiel set a strong perimeter to catch any Bellon spies, then he set his whole army to work building many ships of war. Swiftly a great navy was built by the united forces of the whole House of Gerash, as insurance, lest the parley in Rumbek did not go to the liking of Kirodiel.

When everything was done in preparation for the Council of Royals and there remained only the impending arrival of the great Personages, Queen Aurra’s two serving wenches Luzea Cedarbranch and Aliwe Halil found themselves in the astonishing situation of having nothing to do. So they removed to a small empty nook above the great hall of the airy stone castle high enough to see everything and waited for the nobles to filter in. Whimsical Luzea, who spoke only in poetry, uttered a verse then:

I sing of final days brought by White Beard. When noble ones rose against what they feared. Just close your eyes to watch them meet the King. Mark two slave women who observe unseen.

Her more wary companion Aliwe laughed a bit at this, but then she said soberly, “If they catch us here avoiding work Queen Aurra will have us flogged until the skin hangs from our back in bloody strips!”

Shrugging, Luzea only continued her recitation:

Aliwe Halil is one slave girl’s name And Luzea Cedarbranch is her flame. They shirk their toil in the King’s galley. “There’s Brogan Antero!” said Aliwe.

Indeed King Brogan Antero of Vaska arrived at the Council first, accompanied by his daughter Kari, and they looked none the worse for their flight by dragon to Rumbek. King Arman had decreed that no weapons should be brought into the council chamber, save for the Dragonthorn alone, the ceremonial blade in the possession of Kari, which she wore in a scabbard on her back,

The Count Berek Antero followed the king into the chamber arm-in-arm with his wife Losna. He ruled the city of Gerazan, the major Antero city which lay furthest from the Bellon lands on the lake which was snuggled at the far west of the West Lands. Gerazan was the breadbasket of House Antero and produced such a bounty that there existed a trade with House Larund beyond the ice.

Baron Priam Antero of Jelaket entered next, but no woman accompanied him. The baron was the son of Baroness Vandriel Antero and the late Ichor Gerash, a spy of the House of Gerash who went native rather than passing through to the East Lands and carrying out his assignment against the Black Beards. The Eyes of Belial subsequently sent more spies to assassinate Ichor, but his son Priam took much better precautions, and when he had buried his father he swore eternal conflict with House Gerand. King Arman, suitably impressed, awarded him the mountain city of Jelaket, which bred the best horses on Barbelo, and supported most of the military forces of house Antero.

After that High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash made an unassuming entrance, a stroll without any pomp or wasted movements that said with no mistake that he was first and foremost a solider. He came with a mysterious black-clad, black-haired female he introduced as “Joy” but that was clearly an ironic name, for her black lips never smiled, and her black eyes seemed to show forth her icy heart. And it was rumored that this Joy was a sorceress from Earth immersed in the martial arts who came as both guard and concubine to Kirodiel.

Luzea Cedarbranch was too frightened, or fascinated, to utter any verse.

Kirodiel knew the aim of this council was nothing less than the formation of a league of all the houses on Barbelo, which would be far stronger than the house of Gerash alone. If that alliance came to be, an intolerable peace would break out between the eternally warring states, and that in turn would spark an existential crisis for the White Beards. For House Gerash had shifted over to an economy based almost entirely on supplying arms to the other houses, or attending to the needs of those who manufactured those arms. Now, overnight, the entire basis of industry in the lands ruled by Kirodiel could evaporate, unless this nascent league of kingdoms was stillborn. Kirodiel was attending to that.

Next the delegation from House Sala entered the council chamber. Walking at the side of Queen Aurra was the Royal Consort Duke Evandr Sala. But again Luzea had no immediate comment. She would lampoon the Queen later during the meal, to her regret.

The Queen ruled from Saharad, in the center of the largest, most fertile plain on all of Barbelo. It was plain to follow the trends. Left unchecked, House Sala would simply continue to grow until it outnumbered every other great family on the planet. Kirodiel did not intend to leave it unchecked.

Following the Queen was the Countess Ayani Sala, recent widow of Aldred Sala, which (after a suitable mourning period, of course) made her the most eligible bachelorette in the Land. Many at the Council, however, noted the virtual eye-lock Ayani had with Count Priam Antero. Something was happening there, and Luzea was slightly disgusted because it had only been two weeks since Count Aldred’s death.

Make room in the Sala barn of prize stallions The countess eyes a two leg medallion!

Following the countess was her brother-in-law, Baron Bayard Sala of Thorgrim, who was also eligible for marriage, but it was said his tastes ran more to meat of the commoner female variety, which was contrary to the long tradition of the Sala clan. The Queen knew he was probably born that way yet she would sanction no union between her son and completely different sub-species. Of the Baron, Luzea said:

The Baron Bayard is food for many a talebearer, Noblewomen have no chance, he finds urchins much fairer!

There was no particular order to which delegation came into the chamber, for it had been chosen by lots, lest some think the sequence represented the opinion of King Arman of which noble one was greater. He only decreed that the Bellon delegation should come last.

So at this time Lady Talishi entered, accompanied only by Khondiel in her best Fallen Angel dress uniform. Khondiel had dolled herself up, and wore the headband Talishi had given her with a brilliant white light set in the center of it. Many of the delegates marveled at this light, but Talishi told them later she was working for a time on both worlds when such things would be mere trinkets, and an entrance such as made by Khondiel would be seen as ridiculous.

After Talishi and Khondiel were seated at the table the Black Beard delegation arrived. The first royal peer to enter was stalwart King Garund Larund of Peshast, at the foot of Mount Tureth in the highlands that separated the lands of House Larund from Haaretz, far below the Wall of God. And though this astonishing face of rock was an invincible barrier to large armies moving east or west, there remained a single path, known only to the Black Beards, which ascended the face of the wall like a narrow ramp. Thus in small companies House Larund would often skirmish with House Sala and raid the children of Israel in Haaretz. Luzea sang to Aliwe:

He rules hillside Peshast where you were born. The Queen greets him without a trace of scorn. Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed her son And is fresh in the minds of everyone.

The King was followed by the stout and manly Count Raddai Larund of the city of Belen, with his wife the Lady Irus on his arm. This count ruled the chief city of a province with a wide variety of rich veins of ore honeycombing the hills near the place where the ice formed a barrier to House Antero. Luzea sang:

Belen the source of much copper and gold Guarded by the might of Raddai the Bold.

The stylish Baron Kadir Larund followed next, but he traveled only with aides. His city of Locotin, well up the valley of the River Bandar, was endowed with a verdant forest of gopher wood, a type of lumber that was found neither on Earth nor on Gorpai, but was a hybrid of the two, and was used by many ships in the Second Deluge, for it was flexible enough not to be destroyed by expanding ice. But many other valuable goods were made from gopher wood, for it was easy to cut and work, and the entire city of Locotin was constructed of gopher wood set in the branches of giant living gopher trees. Of Baron Kadir, Luzea said:

Locotin the arboreal city, Even the Baron lives high in a tree.

And the Larund delegation took their seats along one edge of the large six-sided table made, appropriately enough, of gopher wood. Then at last the hosts of the council, the Brown Beards of House Bellon, made their entrance. King Arman Bellon, duke of the city of Rumbek, entered then.

Fishers circle Sealiah in a ring With all of them subject to Arman King.

King Garand was followed by Count Zelus Bellon of the city of Mandakar, who came to the Council with his beautiful wife Tamar from the land of Haaretz. Mandakar, which lay on the west shore of the fertile island of Sealiah, was the city that fed the Brown Beards. Luzea sang:

The more food they grow in Zelus’ valley, The more we toil in Arman’s galley!

The Count was followed by the Baron Kerresh of Elketz, who proceeded at a stately pace with his wife Ainia at his side. Elketz lay at the center of the range lands of the Magodon Peninsula, where cattle was sold by the head or by the herd and driven alive to parts throughout the land to be slaughtered. Luzea sang:

Watch your step Baron, when ready to roam, We just caught a whiff, reminder of home!

When everyone had been seated Queen Aurra Sala stood up to say, “In the name of our God El Shaddai, and in the name of Mastema Lord of Barbelo, I welcome all of you here, and I especially offer much thanksgiving to King Arman Bellon for hosting our Council in this beautiful city. The issue before us is nothing less than the question: will there be enduring peace on Barbelo? Therefore I dedicate this Council, the first such gathering in the history of our world, to the memory of my slain son, Aldred Sala. I implore that each one of you endeavor to find a way to make Aldred’s otherwise useless death meaningful in some lasting way.” And after speaking those words she took her seat to allow the Council to truly begin.


22 – YESHUA

After a time, an Essene prophet named Yohanan appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins without recourse to the priests and the temple. And people from both sides of the Jordan River and the country all around went to Yohanan to confess their sins, and they were baptized.

Yohanan had gathered men to be his disciples named Philip, and Bartholomew, and Thomas. There followed him also Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot. These five disciples aided Yohanan in his ministry by acting as screeners, letting through to the baptism of Yohanan only those who approached with a sincere intention of repentence.

When he was about thirty years of age Yeshua son of Yosef came from Galilee to find Yohanan at the river and be baptized by him. The screeners didn’t know what to do about him. Yohanan, who knew of Yeshua’s reputation as a healer, was reluctant to baptize Yeshua. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, rather than you by me.”

But Yeshua said, “Nevertheless, let it be so, for it is written that the Son of Man must be numbered with transgressors.”

And Yohanan preached that the Day of the Lord was immanent, when El Shaddai would come to judge with holy violence all the nations of the Earth now ruling with power. He underscored the urgency of repentance and baptism, so that people could meet the end of human rule with a pure heart and be ready to accept the direct rule of El Shaddai.

But the priests and scribes and Jewish aristocracy and kings and Roman overlords alike all knew that Yohanan was really just seeding the whole region with people who would be anxious for the coming of a new theocratic ruler. They feared Yohanan would usher in one who would completely reorder the politics of the land more in favor of the destitute.

Now Yohanan was not solely about a future reformation nor did he stay on the banks of the Jordan River. He was zealous for the Code of Moshe and would often travel to the centers of power to attack hypocrites. When Yohanan’s preaching became embarrassingly personal, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, had Yohanan arrested and executed, and many of those who held power in the land breathed a sigh of relief. Then Yeshua, who had become Yohanan’s chief disciple, took control of the movement and accepted Yohanan’s five disciples as his own.

Yeshua moved upstream to the Sea of Galilee where he chose six more disciples of his own. The first to join were fishermen named Shimon, and Andrew his brother, as well as Yacob the son of Zebedee, and Yohanan his brother. They used the Zebedee’s boat to haul in the fish of the Sea of Galilee with nets.

And later the two sons of Alphaeus Clophas, Yeshua’s step-brothers Yakob and Yudah, also joined the movement and called Yeshua their master. But their sister Miriam, their father Alphaeus, as well as Yeshua’s mother, full brothers, and full sister, refused to become his disciples. They didn’t see much profit in it, and were of the opinion that Yeshua (and by extension themselves) would be much better served if Yeshua used his undeniable powers to turn a shekel or two.

In the Galilee region Yeshua began to preach a message that differed somewhat from the message of Yohanan. It was not enough for people to simply wait for El Shaddai to usher in a future kingdom. One must make the kingship of El Shaddai present, here and now, and this required active participation, not just lip service.

To illustrate his point Yeshua preached to them, saying, “A man had two sons, and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And his son said, ‘I will not’, but afterward he repented and went. And the man went to his second son and said the same, and his son said, ‘I will go, sir,’ but he did not. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

Yeshua met a man named Matthew, also called Levi, and dined with the man in his house. Although Matthew was a Jew, he was a tax collector for the Romans. The scribes and Pharisees considered Matthew a collaborator with the Roman occupiers, and they objected to Yeshua eating and drinking with a sinner.

But Yeshua insisted that he was a healer who treated people who were unwell, both in body and soul. He said, “I come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

And when Matthew asked Yeshua what would be the signs preceding the day of the Lord, Yeshua said, “The kingship of El Shaddai will not come with signs beforehand that can be verified, nor will people say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘Look over there!’ because the kingship of God is already present among you.”

Yeshua underscored to everyone present at the meal that he was not changing the practice of Judaism in any way. Rather, he attached great importance to every item in the Code of Moshe, no matter how trivial. He said, “Whosoever shall break the least one of these commandments, and shall teach others to do so, shall be called the least at the Banquet of God. For unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not make present the kingship of El Shaddai.”

If anything, Yeshua taught an even more strict version of Judaism by addressing the interior motives of the heart rather than purely outward actions done under the obligation of the Law. And mere lip service wasn’t good enough for Yeshua. He said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord shall enter into the Banquet of God, but only the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

At the conclusion of the meal, Yeshua added Matthew to his circle of disciples, making a grand total of twelve. Yeshua thought the correspondence with the twelve tribes of Israel had prophetic resonance.

When Yeshua preached, the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as one of the scribes. For he claimed the ability to forgive sins, which many thought was a power reserved to El Shaddai alone. But Yeshua accompanied his preaching and words of forgiveness with a very practical sign: he healed the sick with a touch.

Yeshua healed a leper, and ordered him to make the gift to the priest in the temple of El Shaddai according to the Code of Moshe. But Yeshua was saddened by the case, because the man only had a little psoriasis and was not infectious in any way, yet the priests had required him to live apart from his family, wear torn clothing, disheveled hair, and say “Unclean! Unclean!” for many years.

Great multitudes began to follow Yeshua as his fame began to spread to the point where often he could not enter the cities, but had to remain in the desert. Even so, sick people sought him out. Yeshua tried to limit the growth of his fame by telling the people that he healed to remain silent, but this rarely worked. Which is to say, they did not do as he commanded them.

And it was not only the Jews who received his healing touch. Yeshua healed the male lover of a Roman soldier who was paralyzed, to the dismay of many in the crowd who were suffering under the Roman occupation. Yeshua said, “To make the kingship of El Shaddai present, forget about the differences between Jew and Gentile. If you love your enemies as much as you love your friends, then your enemy will become your friend, and he will be destroyed as your enemy. For I say unto you that many Gentiles shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Israel in the second life. But many of the children of Israel shall not attain to the second life, because they do not make present the kingship of our Father in heaven.”

Sometimes Yeshua’s healing touch restored health to the brain of unfortunate people with mental infirmities, for the brain is just another organ just like the skin or the liver. But some of these victims displayed frightening symptoms, such as raving in graveyards at night, and people said evil spirits possessed them. Yeshua knew they were only sick, and he healed them, but he did not have the time nor was it his purpose to teach people there were no spirits, good or evil, and it would not have been accepted in any event.

But some of the scribes and Pharisees began to hate Yeshua, because his message was about breaking down barriers between human beings and El Shaddai, and breaking down barrier between human beings themselves, and their living depended on being religious mediators and teachers in an intermediate position between the people and El Shaddai. So they started to criticize everything Yeshua said or did.

And the first thing they commented on was the fact that Yeshua was often found in the homes of sinners and loose women, eating and drinking with them, and the ascetic fasting of Yohanan the baptizer seemed to be far from his mind. Yeshua said, “Yohanan came neither eating nor drinking, and you said he had a devil. The Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and you say, ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of Gentiles and sinners, one who dines with whores. Neither fasting nor feasting is acceptable with you, it seems, and worse than that, you assume all women must be either married or prostitutes.”

And the Pharisees began to criticize Yeshua because he cured a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day, when no work should be done, and healing was obviously work according to the letter of the Code of Moshe. And Yeshua could hardly believe his ears. He said, “What man of you, if his lamb falls into a pit, will not fetch it out on a Sabbath day? Is not a man worth much more than a lamb? So no, being merciful is not forbidden on the Sabbath day.”

And when they accused Yeshua of casting out demons by the prince of demons, Yeshua replied, “That doesn’t make any sense. If Mastema is divided against himself, he cannot stand and his kingdom is at an end.”

And after all these things the Pharisees were silenced, for they had been made to look like fools. Then they went out, and held a council against Yeshua, how they might destroy him. But when Yeshua realized what they were trying to do he withdrew himself from there. Multitudes followed after him, and he healed them all.

And while he talked to the people, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him, and his sister Salome told Yeshua they were all waiting for him, but Yeshua stretched forth his hand to his followers and said, “These are my mother and my brethren! I assure you that to make the kingship of El Shaddai present, even the lines of authority within one’s family must be ignored, let alone the lines of authority found in society at large.”

And some of his followers found this a hard saying, because it was a radical reorganization of traditional roles between men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor.

His family began to quarrel with Yeshua, because they well knew of his power to heal, and they had commanded him to stay in Nazareth and establish a healing cult with themselves as the toll-taking gatekeepers. But Yeshua refused. And after his family pushed matters further Yeshua would not receive his family at all, and he remained a traveling healer instead with no permanent abode, precisely because the desire for a fixed location and roles proposed by his mother and brothers ran contrary to his vision of the Banquet of God. To Yeshua, every day should begin anew, with every person in direct contact with each other through giving and receiving of the things they needed, and also with direct contact with El Shaddai through scripture and prayer.

Then there came to Yeshua the scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem, saying, “Show us a sign from heaven that you have authority to say these things and to forgive sins.”

And Yeshua replied, “El Shaddai has already forgiven men of all their sins, it remains only for men to accept the truth that it is so. But it is a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign when their faith has failed. Therefore there shall be no sign given to you except the sign of the prophet Jonah, who was three days in the belly of the fish and came out again alive.”

That was the first time Yeshua mentioned the manner of his coming death and resurrection. From that time Yeshua began to teach his followers that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. But his followers refused to believe it. And more to the dismay of Yeshua even his closest followers still accepted the terms defined by the scribes and Pharisees. They asked him, “Who shall have the greatest authority at the Banquet of God?”

And Yeshua called a little child to him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, “Unless you become as this child, and receive the kingship of El Shaddai with the same unreserved faith, you shall not recline at the Banquet of God.”

After Yeshua had instructed his twelve closest followers with all of his doctrine, he prepared to send them by twos into the countryside to bring the message of the Banquet of God to the peasants. Yeshua knew he could not lead them himself, simply because thirteen men arriving in a village together, while the men were working the fields, would be received with great suspicion, as though they were bandits.

Instead, Yeshua commanded they should stay no more than one or two days, and accept nothing but food and lodging in payment for proclaiming the vision of Yeshua. For it was written in the Code of Moshe, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Therefore those who proclaimed the Banquet of God deserved their food and shelter.

Yeshua said, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.” And the message they were to teach was happiness through freedom: Freedom from desires, freedom from fear, freedom from anger, and even freedom from grief.

The followers of Yeshua asked those who listened to them, “Who is the true ruler, the one who wants everything and cannot obtain all that he wants, or the one who wants only what he finds possible to obtain? The one who wants the entire known world, or the one who just wants a small and peaceful realm?” And this message was received well, because the peasants already had nothing. The followers of Yeshua said to them, “Be content with what you have, and you will be more free than any king.”

And the followers of Yeshua reached so many towns that even King Herod Antipas heard of his ministry, and feared that he was Yohanan the Baptist raised from the dead after he had beheaded him. Others said Yeshua was Elijah come down from heaven. But everyone agreed he was a major prophet on the order of Isaiah or Jeremiah.


23 – COUNCIL

When the grand conclave of royals hosted by King Arman Bellon actually began, it quickly degenerated into a sort of trial, with an endless chain of accusations against House Gerash left dangling in the air while Lord Kirodiel attempted to defend against each one of them. Queen Aurra Sala was the first to give her testimony.

She said, “I was already in mourning, for the news of the death of my son Count Aldred Sala had traveled faster from the battlefield than the bier carrying his pierced body. But it wasn’t until I saw the stricken face of my consort Evandr that I submitted fully to my grief. Yet I was surprised to find that Lady Talishi had come with him. Then I saw King Garand Larund in the procession as well and I asked Evandr, ‘Did we prevail in the battle after all? Is the King our prisoner?’”

“But Prince Consort Evandr said to me, ‘Lady Talishi brought him here. King Garand comes under a truce-bond to offer his apologies for the death of our son, and also an explanation.’

“’It is war’, said I. ‘What is there to explain?’”

“But King Garand said, ‘It is a war that never had to be, Your Highness. Lord Kirodiel came to me in Peshast not long ago. He rolled out a map, and said the Isle of Danya should belong solely to House Larund, for we had always been mariners, while House Sala had become more the farmers. Kirodiel said that House Sala holding Danya was as though the Gold Beards were sticking a finger in my eye. I accepted the truth of hyz argument at the time. And then very skillfully Lord Kirodiel changed the subject from Danya to the superbow.’ And King Garand brought a superbow out for my inspection.”

King Garand Larund stood up in council to add his testimony to that of Queen Aurra. “The superbow is a sandwich of wood between a layer of sinew in front and horn in back, all held together from glue made from boiled horse hooves. The bowstring is made also of sinew from the shoulders of oxen. When Kirodiel showed this my eyes fairly sparked at the sight of it. And when I fitted an arrow to it I deemed that only mighty men could draw the string fully back, and when they released the shot, the arrow would fly half again as far as from any other bow. So I ordered a thousand of them. And why not? Haven’t all of us done the same for a century, four Houses against one or a combination of the other, but never all simultaneously against House Gerash?”

Queen Aurra said, “Thank you King Garand. And if you’ll remember, I demanded to inspect the superbow myself, and I showed Evandr the curious mark which is also stamped on every weapon we had purchased of Gerash make. This mark is to be found in every Sala armory.”

King Garand continued. “My cavalry met the cavalry of Prince Consort Evandr Firegem at Fatho. We had somewhat greater numbers, but we faced Gold Beards armed with bows curved in curious shapes which allowed the archer to hold the string back without growing weary. That in turn gave them sufficient time to take a carefully considered shot. I was forced to break off the engagement or face a mutiny by my own cavalry. But it was not soon enough to save the life of your son, your Highness Queen Aurra, to my everlasting regret. He fell at a shot from a superbow. As I told you at the time, I am truly sorry. I can never make good your loss.”

“My son is gone, and he cannot be replaced, the Queen said. Yet something you said just now, King Garand, might forge some good out of all this. You said, ‘Haven’t we done the same for centuries, four against a combination of the others, but never all against the White Beards?’ House Gerash has been playing a double game for too long. Your army was driven off by what Kirodiel called a compound bow when he sold them to us.”

High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash stood up to speak in his defense. “I do not deny the essentials of what Queen Aurra and King Gerand have just related to you. House Gerash is a house of merchants after all. What I deny is their implication that our dealings with House Larund or House Sala were nefarious somehow. Are you noble ones making the claim here today that the pursuit of monetary profit is intrinsically evil?”

“It is not,” said King Brogan Antero. “No one here embraces a planned economy. But as Lord Kirodiel will recall, last year your embassy came to my palace and sold to me a forest of long pikes made from a new alloy that could pierce any armor in the Red Beard inventory, and they assured me it would pierce even the mail of the Brown Beards. And yet during the summer campaign the men of House Bellon were not caught by surprise at all. I was met on the approaches to Elketz by Baron Kerresh and his entire infantry armed with new plate armor that was miraculously capable of turning aside those very same ‘innovative’ pikes that your representatives sold me. And so friend was turned against friend, brother turned against brother, with no small loss of life, and no one benefited except the arms merchants of House Gerash. It seems that the only planned economy we are really talking about is that of the White Beards.”

Kirodiel said in his defense, “I fail to see any real significance in this tale, King Brogan Antero. The pikes we sold you were indeed invincible at the time we sold them to you. House Bellon merely took advantage of a late breakthrough in metalsmithy. If your house and the Brown Beards insist on carrying out your family squabbles, we are only too happy to provide the means for to do it, as surely as we aid House Sala and House Larund in their perennial warfare.”

The lesser noblemen of the four kingdoms told similar stories of wars that crossed the ice, Larund against Antero, of the whole West Lands united against the entire East Lands, and they even spoke of tussles between nobles within the same House. And at every point there was the omnipresent Lord Kirodiel or his representatives selling a problem to one side and the remedy to the other side. The stories with their common elements seemed to reach back into antiquity.

Princess Khondiel stood up to relate the rise of the Law of Mastema among the White Beards, of the resistance of the city of Salem and the inexorable transformation of family Gerash to a harsh militarism that went far deeper than any seasonal skirmishing between the other four Houses. “And now, said Khondiel, “the greater part of the Army of Mastema is camped in the eastern marches of this land, not far from this city. I have seen this host myself from the air. This of a certainty tells me my father is dead, and the city of Salem has fallen. For of what real import is the controversy between House Bellon and House Antero if House Bellon entire falls to the White Beards?”

King Arman addressed Lord Kirodiel directly. “Do you deny the report of Princess Khondiel?”

“I deny nothing, King. I have come to demand the return of the fugitive and common criminal known as Talishi, and to take into custody the one who facilitated her escape, Princess Khodiel, as well as the hundreds of her accomplices. That is the explanation for my army crossing the Ice.”

A bell rang somewhere in the castle. Queen Aurra Sala lapped her hands sharply twice, and that was the signal for her two serving wenches to serve the midday meal. The Council of Royals had discussed weighty matters indeed that morning, but now they paused to enjoy the hospitality of King Arman’s kitchen.

When Luzea Cedarbranch served a kingly plate of roast beef to Brogan Anteror she ventured to sing to him:

Born to rule Vaska as her king. Yet queen-gentle his words do ring. Valiant like the men of old Fair like a bust of purest gold.

The King was shocked at first, but then he laughed with self-recognition at the impromptu verse. Queen Aurra was less amused. She growled, “Luzea!” But this merely served as the trigger for yet another verse from the playful Miss Cedarbranch:

Who rules the city of my birth? Aurra Sala, the Queen of mirth!

This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except the Queen, who pointed directly at Luzea and said sternly, “Tonight. Twelve lashes!”

Aliwe burst into tears for her friend, and Luzea herself was suddenly shocked into silence. In fact, there was embarrassed silence all around the table now. Surely the Queen was joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing?

Talishi caught the queen’s eye and slowly shook her head, as though to forbid it. King Arman weighed the wisdom of publicly contradicting the queen’s command, he would have no prison-style cruelty in his own house. But the Queen’s face remained stern and inscrutable. Luzea and Aliwe were finished at any rate, so they returned to their niche high above the room.

The incident attracted the attention of Aurra’s son, Baron Bayard, who only recently had come into his full inheritance. He had been recalled from border with the Middle Land upon the news of the death of his brother. In fact, he had spent many years in virtual exile and had not taken a meal with his mother the Queen for all that time, so he was not acquainted with the new serving wench Luzea and her “talent”. Luzea Cedarbranch certainly caught hyz attention just now, and he contrived a way to get with her alone. Bayard cleared his throat and said, “Your Highness and my mother, I beg leave to speak.”

“State your piece, son.”

“Your Highness may know it is was hobby of mine on the Ice to contrive certain unusual and severe forms of punishment. Now a flogging is certainly a painful and terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but it is also such a common punishment on Barbelo that I fear sometimes it no longer has the desired lasting effect as it undoubtedly did in days gone by. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave girl Luzea over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truthfulness that she will never forget the experience.”

The Queen knew exactly what he was up to, and hid her smile behind a hand. It wasn’t like he was going to come right out and ask her, before all the royals assembled there, “Mother may I be excused from this meal so I can go have sexual relations with your slave girl?” Nevertheless, Queen Aurra realized har son was on to something. Knowing Luzea’s own preferences, it would still amount to a very severe punishment of both mind and body, and the whole thing would be an effective deterrent for the other serving girl.

The Queen said, “Then I turn Luzea over to you, son. But let me caution you, if she is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your ‘punishment far too lenient.”

“Thank you, mother.” Baron Bayard pushed himself from the table, and signed to the guards that Luzea should be brought along. And when the other guests were finished eating they excused themselves as well.

24 – EXECUTION

For a year Yeshua and his followers journeyed through the hamlets of Lower Galilee and Samaria on the west side of the Jordan river, as well as and Edom and Perea on the east side. Herod Antipas ruled all of these lands.

At the end of the year Yeshua’s ministry took them into Judea. And in the week before the Passover Yeshua and closest followers, male and female, spent their nights in Bethany, at the house of Shimon, a leper who had been cleansed by Yeshua. In Jerusalem many people began to see Yeshua’s famed healing ministry for the first time, because he had always remained in the north country and journeyed from village to village and house to house.

Yeshua went into the outer court of the temple and was angered to find the house of El Shaddai had become a marketplace. Animals fit to be sacrificed were sold at an enormous markup, and money for gifts was changed from Roman coins to special “temple money” conveniently acceptable to the priests, again at a ridiculous profit.

So Yeshua fashioned a whip, posted his disciples as bouncers, and went through the temple courtyard with genuine wrath, flipping tables, and saying, “The house of my Father is a place for worship and prayer, but you have turned it into a place to buy and sell religious paraphernalia! You hold the gold that sits in the temple with greater reverence than the temple itself!”

And many of the scribes and Pharisees came down to confront Yeshua, because now he was striking at their very livelihood. A portion of the profits made in the temple were kicked upstairs to them. But Yeshua publicly derided them, saying, “Behold the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at feasts. Truly, they already have their reward!”

And many of the scribes and Pharisees picked up stones, and would cast them at Yeshua, but he told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it!”

And by this he was speaking of the temple of his own body. But the priests were offended, because Herod the Great had begun to enlarge the temple during his lifetime, and even now under the rule of his son the work was still not completed. Three days indeed! But they could not stone Yeshua, for fear of the crowd that had gathered and the disciples who closed ranks around their master. So they departed for a time, and they deliberately twisted his words, and reported that Yeshua was saying he would destroy the temple.

But Yeshua did not try to correct them. He said only, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.” He meant only that he had started the process that would lead inexorably to his execution. But the word began to spread that Yeshua and his followers planned to set fire to the temple. And his enemies took council on how they could quietly have the man arrested and put to death.

That evening in the house of Shimon in Bethany, Yeshua and his followers were having supper. A woman came in and poured a box of very expensive ointment on his head. Yudah Iscariot complained that it was a waste of the ointment, because it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He didn’t mention that he normally skimmed his take right off the top of such gifts. Yeshua told him to lay off the woman, because she was anointing his body ahead of time for the burial to come. Even at that late hour none of his disciples believed Yeshua when he said he was about to be put to death.

With the stinging loss of this potential income weighing in his mind, Yudah approached the priests and offered to betray Yeshua in return for a small sum of money. He was already disappointed that Yeshua was not interested in serving as the focal point of a violent revolt against Rome, and he had already resolved to stop following Yeshua, but he realized he could at least turn things to his financial advantage.

For the priests’ part, they were not paying for Yudah to identify Yeshua to them, because Yeshua’s appearance was well known and he always drew crowds. The priests were paying so they could say the conspiracy against Yeshua began within his own circle. Thus Yeshua would be discredited. And Yeshua, noting the departure of Yudah, was satisfied that he had sufficiently aroused the religious authorities in Jerusalem to bring matters to a head.

With his remaining disciples Yeshua shared the first of an endless series of shared meals where his followers would gather close together and drink wine in memory of his shed blood, and break bread in memory of his broken body, and renew again their commitment to make the kingship of El Shaddai present in the world. It was, in short, the formal inauguration of the Banquet of God, and its repetition in every land and every age from that moment thereafter would become the central devotion of the people who embraced the teachings of Yeshua and his message of the forgiveness of El Shaddai.

After the meal Yeshua said it was not enough to simply stop causing more damage, and to know El Shaddai had already forgiven the offense. His followers must also go out into the world, forgive others of their sins, and help repair the damage that all sin has caused to mankind.

That evening in a garden near the city, when the time of Yeshua’s trial was nearly at had, he entered into direct communication with his beloved parent El Shaddai and asked for strength. Yeshua knew he would experience a level of suffering in the next few hours where he would beg to be released. And El Shaddai spoke to Yeshua Bat-El the words that he, in the body of Talishi, had just spoken to Khondiel after the battle of Salem:

If men and women everywhere become willing to do for each other what you will do for me tomorrow, then love won, beloved daughter! It may take many more centuries to play out but you have turned the corner. Once and for all, love won!”

The priests came with many armed men to arrest Yeshua, led by Yudah, and all of his followers fled for their lives despite their many previous assurances they would stay with Yeshua to the end. And Yeshua was subject to a series of six trials.

The first trial was before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas, who had been deposed by the Romans for his gross mismanagement. At the trial of Annas no judgment was rendered, because he had no real authority, and also he had a hard time getting two false witnesses to line up their lies about Yeshua. But Yeshua was subject to much physical abuse, which seemed to satisfy Annas.

The second trial was in the house of Yosef Caiaphas the high priest, where all his enemies were gathered together from the Sanhedrin council, which had been hastily called together. Gathering at night was a total breach of protocol, but the emergency (their loss of kickbacks from the temple) was sufficient in their minds to justify it.

Shimon son of Yona, one of the followers of Yeshua, came in through the servant’s entrance to watch, but he had some problems with his Galilean accent and some of the servants seemed to recognize him. He had to repeatedly deny knowing Yeshua.

After lengthy questioning, Caiaphas realized they had no binding legal case against Yeshua. He was blameless under the Code of Moshe. All they had to go on was a statement Yeshua made that he could tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days, which was more insane than blasphemous. But it was all they had. So after some more physical abuse, Yeshua moved on to the next stage.

The third trial was in the palace of the king before Herod Antipas, the exarch and client of Rome, who referred the case back to Caiaphas because he also could find no legal basis to find Yeshua guilty, and also because he didn’t want to go down in history as a mass butcher of Jewish prophets.

The fourth trial was before Pontius Pilate in the Praetorium. Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judaea, a subordinate of Vitellius, the Roman legate of Syria. He was exceedingly cruel and had absolutely no respect for Jewish religious sensibilities, but as far as Pilate could tell, despite Yeshua exercising the will to remain silent, which pissed him off, Yeshua was an innocent man.

Pilate was much more interested in the venom Yeshua’s mere presence seemed to invoke in the priests and Pharisees. So he referred Yeshua back to Caiaphas, told him to try again, and retired for the evening.

The fifth trial lasted for the balance of the night. At the end, Caiaphas put Yeshua under oath by the living God and asked him straight out if he asserted to be divine. Yeshua decided the thing needed a little prodding. He said, “Henceforth you shall see me seated at the right hand of God.”

Caiaphas rent his robe and said, “The charge of blasphemy is proven! This man deserves to die! But we have no authority to execute him. So we must bring him again before Pilate in the morning.” And meantime they occupied themselves with reviling and beating Yeshua.

The sixth trial was when Pilate really grew annoyed because he was being asked to put to death what he already knew to be an innocent man. But the Jewish religious authorities insisted on it, and there began to be agitation from the mob. So Pilate had Yeshua punished with the Roman flagellum, a whip with pieces of bone and metal embedded in the thongs.

The flogging was very bloody and severe. Yeshua had never experienced such intense suffering in his entire life. Most of the skin on Yeshua’s back was left hanging in strips. But Pilate, in a roundabout way, was actually trying to save Yeshua. He hoped the crowd would look at him after the torture and say, “It is enough, release him.”

But at the instigation of the priests and scribes, the mob cried out, “Crucify him!” and Pilate was astonished. He realized the Jewish leaders were really flustered by this man. So Pilate began to mock them by calling Yeshua the King of the Jews.

And it was a tradition at the feast of Passover for the governor to release one prisoner. Barabbas was an assassin of Roman officials who was scheduled to be crucified on charges of insurrection and murder. Pilate gave them a stark choice: Either Yeshua would be crucified, or Barabbas. Continuing his little joke, Pilate asked the priests, who were Sadducees keenly sensitive to avoiding rebellion at all costs, “Shall I crucify your king?”

But they replied, “We have no king but Caesar.” And so with great irony, a Jewish revolutionary against Rome was released at the request of Jewish collaborators in the name of their fealty to Rome, and Yeshua, who had once said “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar” was executed in his stead. Barabbas became the first man in history to have the penalty of his sins remitted by the death of Yeshua Bat-El.

Ironically, two thousand years later, self-styled followers of Yeshua in the United States would become the biggest defenders of the life-for-life penalty laid out in the Code of Moshe.

The Jewish council had obtained the penalty of crucifixion for Yeshua, even though to Jews, crucifixion was the most disgusting possible punishment. For it is written in the Law, “He who is hanged is accursed by El Shaddai.”

The Romans had a certain engineering genius when it came to roads and aqueducts, and this genius they also applied to the death penalty. Crucifixion was by far the worst thing they could imagine happening to any man, ever. Yeshua was forced to carry a heavy wooden beam on his back after most of the skin had been ripped off by the flagellum, and he was marched through the streets of Jerusalem to a point high on the slope of Mt. Olive facing the city.

The crossbeam was mounted to a post, and Yeshua’s two wrists were secured to the crossbeam with large nails through the carpal bones. And a single nail was driven through Yeshua’s two heel bones, which itself was agonizing beyond belief. When the cross was raised into the upright position, Yeshua’s own body weight made it impossible to breathe unless he pushed his head up level with his arms, which he had to do by standing on the nail through the bone.

So he became a human engine of suffering. Yeshua had to push up on the single nail in his heels to scream and then draw a breath, then he sank back down again, constantly shifting the burden from his feet to his wrists until he died of exhaustion. Most victims could take several days to expire, but Pilate had ordered such a thorough job with the whipping that Yeshua would only last for six hours.

Thus it was that Yeshua Bat-El, a living star, knew agony on such a level that it literally captured the psyche of the Eloah and trapped her in Yeshua’s body with no hope of escape except through death. Yeshua desperately tried to summon the will to die but found he could not, and the horror of this grew to overwhelm him. And yet Bat-El had freely accepted this punishment in obedience to her parent’s commandment. For Bat-El obeyed El Shaddai in full union with the human Yeshua. For those six hours as Yeshua suffered, he represented the whole human race, in every time and place. With this obedience of Yeshua Bat-El unto death, Mastema’s final claim against humans was silenced forever.

And the high priest Yosef, surnamed Caiaphas, came to Pilate and said this Yeshua he had commanded to be crucified had often foretold his own death, and said many times that he would lie in the earth, but rise again on the third day. “I fear, governor, that his followers will spread a lie through the city that they have seen the man risen again from the dead, exactly as he predicted. We will never be rid of the fanatics his followers will draw to themselves with that story.”

And Pilate said, “Have no fear, we will simply leave the man on his cross until the crows have picked him clean.”

But Herod Antipas said, “Actually, brother Pilate, we should bury him, since the Passover is drawing on. For it stands written in the Code of Moshe: the sun should not set on one who has been put to death.”

And to this Pilate also agreed, albeit somewhat more reluctantly. But Yosef Caiaphas was still unsatisfied. “Not to impugn the famous discipline of your troops, governor,” said he, “but it is well known that following a Roman crucifixion, the bodies are usually buried in shallow graves, with only a light covering of stones over them. During the night, dogs are sure to uncover him and feast on his body, and we will never be able to prove he is not risen as his followers will claim. The multitude will say, ‘See how righteous he was’ and they will do us the harm that I have touched upon.”

And Pilate said, “About that I can do nothing. The dogs are an important part of the invincible deterrent of the penalty of crucifixion, especially in light of Jewish beliefs about the importance of burial.”

But there was also there in the audience chamber of Pilate one Yosef of Arimathaea, a member of the Sanhedrin, who said he had a freshly hewn crypt which he had caused to be made for the use of himself and his wife when their time was at hand. And Yosef offered to lend the use of his crypt to lay the body of Yeshua within it for the span of three days that concerned the high priest. He said a heavy stone could be rolled into place to cover the entrance, and therefore the body would be safe from any beasts.

But Caiaphas had one more objection. “The crypt will keep his body safe from being devoured by dogs, but what is to stop his followers from stealing the body away? Therefore, Pilate, give us soldiers that we may watch his sepulchre for three days.” So Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with some of his soldiers to watch the tomb, and he considered the case closed.

Along with Petronius and his cohort came elders and scribes. They laid the body of Yeshua within, and all who were there, together with the centurion and his soldiers, rolled a very heavy stone against the entrance, and put on it seven seals, and pitched a tent outside to keep watch.

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