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The council of Royals quickly degenerated into a kind of trial. A chain of seemingly endless accusations against House Gerash were left dangling in the air while Samael attempted to defend against each one of them. Queen Aurra Firegem spoke first of her son Count Aldred.

She said, "I was already deep in mourning. The news of Aldred's death traveled faster from the field than the bier carrying his pierced body. Yet it was not until I saw the stricken face of Evandr that I submitted fully to my grief. And Lord Michael had come with him."

Then I spied Hashmal Phanuel of Family Bellon walking behind the procession, and I asked Duke Evandr, 'Did we prevail in the battle after all? Is the lord of Alodra our prisoner?' But my husband said, 'Nay, Aurra, the Lord Michael brought hem hither under a truce-bond.'

Phanuel prostrated hemself before me. Che offered hez deepest regrets for the death of my son, and che offered to give an explanation. 'But it is war', said I. 'What is there to explain?' The hashmal said in reply, 'Yet it is a war that never had to be, Your Majesty. Lord Samael came before me in Atria not long ago. Hy rolled out a map and told me the isle of Danya should belong solely to House Bellon, for we had ever been the mariners while the Gold Beards had become more the farmers and should be content with the vale of Loenna.'

'Hy said to me House Sala holding Danya was like sticking a finger in my eye. I accepted the truth of hyz argument at the time. Then very skillfully Samael changed the subject from Danya to the superbow.' And Hashmal Phanuel brought out this superbow for my inspection.

Phanuel stood up at a nod from the queen. Che said, "The superbow is made of gopher wood between a layer of sinew to the fore and horn to the rear, all held together from glue made from boiled horse hooves. The bowstring is made also of sinew from the shoulders of oxen."

My eyes fairly sparked at the sight of the thing. And when I fitted an arrow to it I deemed that only mighty ones could draw the string fully back, and when I released the string the shot flew half again as far as from any other bow. So I ordered a thousand of them.

And why should I not? Have not each of our kingdoms done the same for centuries, one or two Houses rising up against one, or all Houses assailing the others, but never, and how odd this now seems to be, all three Houses simultaneously coming up against the Black Beards?

Queen Aurra said, "I thank you, Phanuel. If you also recall, at the time I showed Duke Evandr the curious mark on your superbow which is also stamped on every weapon we have purchased of Adanite make, not excepting the compound bows that settled the battle in our favor."

The queen's husband Duke Evandr stood to explain hyz wife's remarks. "When my cavalry met Phanuel che had somewhat greater numbers than we, but my forces were 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.

Phanuel said, "I was forced to break off the engagement or face a mutiny by my own cavalry. But it was not soon enough to preserve the life of your son, to my everlasting regret, Noble Ones."

The queen offered Phanuel a gentle smile, but her eyes were moist. She said, "My son is gone and cannot be replaced. Your army was driven off by special bows that Samael supplied to us just before the battle. And now we both see hy has been quietly playing a double game."

Queen Aurra was seated once more, followed by her husband and Phanuel. Then, abruptly, Samael stood up to speak. "I do not deny the essentials of what the queen, her duke, and the hashmal Phanuel have just related to you. Family Gerash is a House of merchants after all."

What I deny is the unspoken implication that my dealings with House Bellon and House Sala are somehow an evil. Are any of you making the claim here today that weaponsmiths may not seek increase? If they did not, of a surety there would soon be no arms in all of heaven.

King Uriel Bellon stood to answer hym. "No one here would deny workmen their wages, Lord Samael and no one is suggesting that the industry of a kingdom must be carried out entirely by edicts from on high. But I beg you to recall last winter when you came to my palace. You carted off much Bellon gold, and left in its place a forest of long pikes made from a new admixture of metals that could pierce any armor in my inventory, and you assured me it would pierce even the mail of the Brown Beards. Yet the summer campaign proved otherwise. The yeng and nephilim of House Larund were not caught by surprise. I was met on the approaches to Elketz by the ophan Gadreel and hyz entire infantry clad with immovable plate armor that was curiously able to turn aside the allegedly irresistible pikes you sold to me. So friend was turned against friend with no small loss of life, and no one benefited except the arms merchants of House Gerash. So let us not speak of reining in commerce when the only industry commanded by directives issued from a cabal is that of the Black Beards."

The Lord Samael said, "I fail to see any real significance in this tale, Your Majesty, nor in your conclusion. The pikes we sold were indeed invincible at the time we sold them to you. House Larund merely took advantage of a late breakthrough we achieved in metalsmithy."

If your ancient House and the House of Larund insist on carrying out your hoary family squabbles, we in Adan are only too happy to provide the means for you to do it, as surely as we aid House Sala and yourself in your other perennial quarrels on the shores of Thalury.

The lesser nobles of the monarchies then rose one after the other to weigh in on these matters. Jegeduel Bellon and Balthazar Firegem spoke of battles that were fought, every year it seemed, on the hills of glacial till that formed the border between Rimmon and Gerazan.

Gadreel of Elketz spoke of a skirmish with Hashmal Raddai near Peshast, a sharp row between nobles within the same House, and neither one knew at the time what had been the essential cause. "Only now, at this council," said Gadreel, "are things beginning to grow clear."

In hindsight we see Larund against Sala, Larund against Bellon, Sala against Bellon, even brother against brother among the Brown Beards. And it's so curious how Samael is omnipresent, pointing out problems we never knew we had, and ever with a remedy on hand for sale.

Lilith then stood up to state har piece. "All of you have heard tidings, no doubt, of how the land of Adan has been torn by civil war in recent years, and how my brother King Melchizedek was slain by many arrows even as hy drew night the shore east of Salem to surrender."

Mayhap not all of you know how I fled Salem in exile with my Lord Michael, and with the Fallen Angels and others of the city who yet call me Queen, even as we were pursued across the ice bridge by the overweening victors who were not content to digest the spoils of war.

But I deem that among those in attendance here only King Metatron knows of the bargain we forced on Samael, Michael and I, that there is now a hard border on the frontier of Magodon that the Adanites must never cross west, nor I east. And so I remain in perpetual exile.

My husband assures me that once a seraph's word is given, there can be no repentance, and indeed this is why Samael could depose my brother only by warfare and not a simple edict. Also an impenetrable bog stands between Adan and Rimmon so the Black Beards are boxed in.

They need only to fear an attack from King Metatron, yet the king has no reason to ever do so, save it be to recover the trackless wastes that lie between the new border and the ice bridge. But that would be a fruitless adventure against a thoroughly well-equipped army.

So the weaponsmiths of Adan have now only the three kingdoms to buy their wares. No great wonder, then, that Lord Samael is seen much of late craving audience with Queen Aurra in Sarahad, and King Uriel in Jelaket, and King Metatron in this city, and all their vassals.

Lilith was seated. Michael stood up to add hyz remarks to those of hyz wife. "Ultimately, Samael is lord of heaven. That no one denies. Lord Samael is a seraph in union with the sun we call Keter, and heaven huddles near to Keter as though to a fire in an overnight camp."

In the land of Adan House Gerash has always been especially devoted to Keter, and while angels and nephilim are peculiar to heaven, humans are from the world where Chokhmah reigns as lord, and it was from human stock that the angels and nephilim of heaven were begotten.

For heaven is a poor imitation of Earth, where there are islands with more land free of ice than exist in all of heaven, and there are no beasts native to heaven by reason of the world-embracing ice. And it is a truth that humans are kindred to the beasts in most ways.

Therefore in Rimmon where Queen Aurra reigns Chokhmah receives the adoration befitting an eloah, while in the lands ruled by the House of Bellon less so, and here in Magodon lesser still. This is tolerable to me since I have always called world-dwellers the Students.

It is a far better thing a student learns how to think rather than what to think, and I demand obedience only from the b'nei elohim, whom I have set aside just for that purpose. But I assure you divided loyalty is not tolerable to Keter, and there is Daat to consider.

Poor Daat has not even a thin ribbon of land on a world of ice to rule as his own, and his living avatar, Israel, must settle for whatever dregs in heaven are left to hym by Samael. And Samael has never called the dwellers of heaven the Students but rather the Servants.

So I am certain that Samael has already begun to set his designs in motion, and I think you will soon discover why he has maneuvered to keep the other three Houses off balance and at each other's throats. Yet I will not attempt to impose my will on that of the council.

But I counsel great caution in the wake of forming one front against Samael. Hy cannot assail you with hyz main force, but hy can send assassins at will, and burn through the ruling nobility until he finds one more to his liking, and outfit that one to adventure abroad.

Samael stood to offer a rebuttal. Hy said, "Of the self-styled queen named Lilith I have nothing to add, other than to ask, can there be a queen without a city to rule? For sha harself allows that sha must never return to Salem in har lifetime, nor har daughter in hars."

As for your own misguided imaginings, Lord Michael, consider! If I had truly ever wanted to subdue the remaining three kingdoms of heaven it would be a small thing to equip one and put a complete embargo on the two others, yet ever I have sold Adan's arms to all alike.

Samael seated hymself. All the guests of the king had stated their concerns. At last King Metatron rose to hyz feet to say, "Lord Michael, your words are weighty and must be pondered deeply. Know that we too here in Rumbek have played the fool for Adanite arms merchants."

This city has formidable water barriers to protect us on three sides, and the Nine Mile Wall protects us from being assailed by land on the fourth. Yet at times in centuries past we have ventured over the Wall of God, and even crossed Thalury to assail the Gold Beards.

Once during the reign of my father I crossed the ice bridge and passed through Salem to Ganelon and thence to Adan, a journey that took the better part of a year. In Ganelon I saw some of the finest bottom land I have ever seen, better perhaps than even around Saharad.

While there I saw that much of Adan had soil so deep and rich it was nearly black, yet there were few crops, save weeds.

Samael replied, "After the revolution most of the Middle Land has become a smithy. Only Salem has primitive agriculture like in your monarchies."

"Noble ones," said the king, "let us dwell on that for a moment. East of Salem, everyone who makes a living in the Middle Land is either employed to make weapons directly, or they support those do. Their livelihood rests entirely on keeping us at each other's throats."

"I will say what our livelihood purchases for us," Samael countered. "In a legal sense even my guards are on the same level as myself, with the same rights and obligations to the state. Can any of you noble born say the same thing about yourself and one of your servants?"

"A lowly apprentice could rise to attain to my seat on the State Council. Blood counts for nothing in the Middle Land, only ability and loyalty to Keter. In all of Adan now that Queen Lilith has been permanently dispossessed, we have a republic. A theocratic meritocracy."

Queen Aurra smiled at this. "When that apprentice does rise to your seat on the State Council hy will undoubtedly find hy is merely the next yang to be possessed by Keter. Nevertheless, not just citizens but kingdoms, too, may form republics after a fashion, Lord Samael."

A bell was heard to ring somewhere in the castle. Metatron slapped hyz hands sharply twice and that was the signal for Luzea and Gabriel to serve the midday meal. The Council of Royals paused in their grim deliberations to enjoy the hospitality of King Metatron's kitchen.

Gabriel fans out with wine. When Luzea Cedarbranch serves a kingly plate of roast beef to Uriel Antero che ventures to sing to hem:

"Born to rule Jelaket as king.

Yet queen-gentle hez words do ring.

Valiant like the yeng of old

Fair like a bust of purest gold."

King Uriel is shocked to silence at first, but then che laughs with self-recognition at Luzea's impromptu verse. Queen Aurra Firegem is less amused and growls Luzea's name. But this only serves as the trigger for a couplet directed at her from the playful Miz Cedarbranch.

"Who rules the city of my birth?

Aurra Firegem, Queen of mirth! "

This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except Aurra, who pointed directly at Luzea. "Tonight. Twelve lashes!"

Suddenly Gabriel burst into tears for hez friend. Luzea was shocked to silence.

Indeed, an embarrassed silence settled all around the council table. Surely the Queen must be joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing? Michael caught the queen's eye and slowly shook hyz head, letting her know as politely as possible hy forbade it.

In hyz mind King Metatron weighed the wisdom of publicly countermanding the queen's command. Hy would brook no dungeon-style cruelty by hyz guests. But the Queen's face remained stern and inscrutable. Luzea and Gabriel returned to the high niche overlooking the chamber.

Queen Aurra's surviving son Balthazar had been under a sort of punishment by exile that brought him to Rumbek. He had not taken a meal with his mother for all that time, so hy was not acquainted with Luzea Cedarbranch and hez "talent", although he certainly noted hez sex.

That Luzea was an ambi had naturally set the clockwork of Balthazar's mind in motion to find a way to be alone with hem. Now he saw a clear path to rescue his mother from her self-inflicted dilemma, and if by chance it also helped himself, well, that couldn't be helped.

He said, "My mother the Queen may not know it was a diversion of mine in Belen to contrive certain unusual forms of chastisement. Now a flogging is without a doubt a terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but I fear it is doled out far too frequently in heaven."

I feel that a flogging no longer has the desired lasting effect that it undoubtedly did in the days of yore. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave nephil Luzea over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truthfulness that che will never forget the experience.

The queen knew exactly what Balthazar was up to and hid a smile behind her 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 servant?"

Nevertheless, Queen Aurra realized her son was on to something. She was not blind. The entire Sala delegation had noticed how love-smitten Luzea had grown over Metatron's jen servant. What Balthazar had in mind would amount to a severe punishment of mind and body indeed.

Then I turn the ambi over to you, son. But let me caution you, if che is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your punishment far too lenient.

"You are too gracious to me, mother." The Baron tossed his napkin and pushed himself away from the table.

After Balthazar signed to the guards that Luzea should be brought along most of the other guests excused themselves as well, whether they were finished eating or not. Gabriel, free for a time, had a very good idea where Luzea was going, and knew of a second way to follow.


On the edge of Shaula Wood, northeast of Adjara, Lael and a remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin tended their flocks of animals and slowly wandered east into the hills until they were come to the face of the Wall of God, four miles high, and could go no further.

The decorative sphinx on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant rotated to guide them ever north on a maze of paths at the foot of the Wall. Lael knew that by means of the ark Chokhmah had never failed to lead them to good grazing grounds for their little herd of livestock.

As they trundled along often they would meet friendly parties who journeyed south from Sastrom. They used the paths at the foot of the Wall of God to reach Fatho where they could find river passage on the Sabik downstream to cities in Alodra. But few words were exchanged.

One evening when Lael's group reached a precipitous bench along the face of the Wall and decided there to make camp they encountered a party of seven Brown Beards. Lael was delighted to learn that one among them named Marsayas spoke Hebrew and could be understood by them.

Marsayas begged Lael to grant his travelers leave to make overnight camp nigh to Lael's group. This, said che, was laid on hem for want of any other flat place to pitch tents. To this Lael warily agreed but ever he eyed the ark of God while the two bands shared provender.

Lael told Marsayas that he and his people were newly come to heaven and knew nothing of the lands that lay about them, but he led the remnant wheresoever Chokhmah made known through an oracle, which was the gold-covered chest Lael and his sons reverently carried about.

Marsayas could not resist this perfect opportunity to spin a tale, but he cautioned Lael's company that it was true in every detail, and although it recounted the actions of very foolish men, it was a solemn tale of caution rather than one of mirth, and none should laugh.

And again Marsayas spoke to his own band using the strange tongue of the nephilim in heaven. As che did so, Lael made his sons Elam, Jemuel, and Rosh stand nigh to the Ark while the wives of all the colonists seated themselves in a circle between the fire and Lael's sons.

Together with Lael within the ring of women sat Abner and his son Asa, and Josiah with his son Tobiah. But Zethan, Jabez, and his two sons Rimon and Asher stayed with the small flock of animals on the edge of the little plateau to ensure they were not lost over the edge.

You call this land Haaretz," Marsayas told them, "but we call it simply The Land We Know. Towards the setting suns lies Thalury, the great Western Sea. Ships ply between ports in Sastrom, Alodra, and the Saiph League, and they sail up the River Sabik as far as Atria.

The coast continues north and south farther than any mariners know, for they ever turn back after sailing for a month or two, yet there are innumerable coves and many of these are settled, it is known, and they survive by trading fish and wares with folk of other coves.

From the beginning of days sailors of the Land We Know heeded the commandment of the gods never to sail out of sight of land. No captain, drunk or otherwise, dared steer his ship so far to the west that the haze caused the Land to fade from the view of the aft lookout.

An order to sail far west was good cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. It was an ancient and bedrock article of law that no such crew returning to port without their captain would ever face punishment if their tale held true under questioning.

But in the days when Demonstoke raged free there was revolution in the Land We Know. The Saiph Republic flourished for a time, and many longstanding laws were overthrown. Reason reigned over all, and when the time was ripe men and nephilim were found to crew two ships.

These sailors were willing to disregard the strict commandment of all the gods never to sail much west. So stiff-necked were they it was never imagined the gods cared for the lives of mariners. Instead, there spread rumors of a choice land far in the west called Rimmon.

It was said among them Rimmon was a land the gods created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, never without the most select game, and their divine interdict was merely to keep the secret from being despoiled by mortals.

The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries of the Saiph Republic were named Will O' The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the slow current with sails unfurled, for on Thalury the currents move stately to the west while winds blow reliably to the east.

In two days the gray band that was the Land We Know could no longer be seen in the east by reason of the sea mist which had entirely shrouded it, and some of the older sailors muttered in fear, for the tradition was deeply carved within them, while certain others scoffed.

One night the lookout manning the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Wisp that he was raising his sails and veering off.

Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will O' the Wisp did not alter his course until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. She was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.

"The Will O' The Wisp and all aboard had indeed fallen over the edge of heaven. In the uttermost west Thalury pours over a great cataract, a vast waterfall with no bottom. Long the ship fell partially submerged within the waters of the sea, which had become a white sheet.

"The waters of the sea and even the air fell together with the ship, and there was little breeze. The ship tumbled, resting on nothing, and the crew felt no weight. They floated freely in the air, as though swimming under water, but some floated far away from the ship.

The small but constant breeze broke the sea sheet into globes of water, some the size of a man's head, others the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in many of these balls of water, and when the rations aboard the Will ran out these fish were the only source of food.

Yet none of the doomed men and nephilim suffered thirst as was common among marooned sailors of Earth, for Thalury was a freshwater sea ever renewed by ice melt. As the crew continued to fall, the dark underside of heaven became visible overhead like the inside of a mask

And it was seen and understood by the falling sailors that the Land We Know is really the lowest step in an endless stair, vast beyond all mortal imagination, and there is a second step rising to the east, and this step we know from this side of heaven as the Wall of God.

But the breeze blew the globes of water far apart one from the other and the heat of the two suns caused them to shrink until none of the water globes which remained near the ship held living fish. The survivors began to starve, and pondered killing each other for meat.

By the time the sailors were desperate enough to become cannibals they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than make pitiful moans. Then came the final days when they passed from the living one by one, according to their remaining strength.

The sailors found that death was not the end. They awoke in new bodies untouched by any scars of battle or the lash, looking down upon The Land We Know from the very rim of the Wall of God, four miles of sheer and implacable stone which none of the living have yet scaled.

The sailors who tarried atop the Wall of God heard feeble voices carried by the wind through a trick of sound reflecting on the stone precipice. Ever they walked the ramparts of heaven, hoping to hear the voices of their loved ones, and when they did it was bittersweet.

As time went on the newly dead found they were forgotten by their friends and even their loved ones sooner than they would have liked. The more impact a person had in their life the more fragments they heard so they lingered more, but the humble accepted the truth sooner.

At great length nearly all the dead came off the precipice and rested on the narrow lawn behind it, before the Upper Sea, waiting, they were told, for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The elohim refused to speak to them of their final fate.

The dead are told only, ""Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings."" Within twenty years every member of Captain Skulldaggers's dead but resurrected crew passed over the Upper Sea to the east, and he alone remained.

Skulldagger has attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passes but that his name is spoken aloud by someone below. Yet more often than not his name is spoken with a shudder, as the story of the Will O' The Wisp is told again to every new generation.

Marsayas said, ""Now I tell you all these things not that you do not fear your own death, which indeed is truly nothing to be feared, but that you know what you must do, presently, when each one of you find yourselves resurrected and standing the brink of the Wall of God."

When those words were spoken Marsayas drew out a weapon. Che cried out, "All glory be to Belphegor, lord of Magodon!" Che thrust forth with a cruel knife that was more a sharpened pipe with four twisting edges. The blade slipped through Lael's ribs to core out his heart.

As though by a pre-arranged signal, the six other jan of the House of Larund withdrew identical weapons and made to assail the men of Lael's little band of nomads, but they soon grew dismayed to find the little humans, both men and women, were ready to defend themselves.

Lael's wife Sariah restrained Marsayas' arm to prevent hem from striking her husband with a second blow but she was unaware Lael was already bleeding out. The six Brown Beards who had traveled with hem quickly jumped out of striking range of Abner, Asa, Josiah and Tobiah.

But the Judahite woman named Serach and the Benjaminite woman named Sela restrained two of the fleeing Brown Beards by embracing their calves. As they were dragged, four other jen were free to burst through an open hole in the ring of womenfolk seated around the campfire.

At the death cry of Lael the men who had been watching the animals on the rim of the camp immediately took the bows they carried on their backs and fitted arrows to them. They fired at Marsayas and two of the newcomers, shooting over the heads of the women hindering them.

Still, four of Marsayas' company were free to make for their real target and rushed toward the Ark of the Covenant to seize it. Lael's sons Rosh, Jemuel, and Elam had not been lulled to sleep by Marsayas' tale and had already drawn the swords dangling from their waists.

A fold-door appeared with Belphegor standing within, ready to take possession of the Tablet of the Abrahamic Covenant moments after one of the nephilim were able to seize it. But dark energy is limited and time was critical. Belphegor could not wait for very much longer.

Three individual sword duels commenced far more fierce than any of the jan had foreseen. This left a fourth Brown Beard free to draw near to the Ark and seize it, but Chokhmah now entered the fray. When the nephil touched the relic che immediately stiffened and fell dead.

Every beat of Lael's heart let out more of his life's blood and he sank to his knees. The body of Marsayas and two of the jen in hez party fairly bristled with arrows. Jemima, Keturah, and Susanna slipped daggers between the ribs of the nephilim strangers to finish them.

Atara, Keziah, Dinah, and Leah then dragged the three nephilim to one edge of the plateau where the men tending the flocks of animals helped cast them over the side, whether still living or not. Belphegor saw that Marsayas had failed him and that he had ran out of time.

The fold-door, which always resembled a glass or crystal ball taller than a man owing to the way it bent light, snapped into non-existence. The first attempt to seize the Ark had failed, and now the Laelites knew the Ark was a prize much sought by none less than a seraph.

A grieving Sariah sought to revive her husband, but his life had already slipped away. She held his body through the night and when the white sun became visible over the rim of the Wall of God the sons of Lael buried him on the flat of ground where they had made camp.

By that evening the shock of what had happened to them faded. None of the Brown Beards, if any had survived, crawled up to the plateau to renew their attack. So the three sons of Lael began to dispute which one of they would take up Lael's office of high priest and chief.

Jemuel sank to his knees and said, "O living God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, if you will, make known what man of us shall be high priest and hear your voice on the Day of Atonement." And in reply the graven sphinx decorating the cover of the Ark rotated to face Rosh.

Elam pondered this silently for a time, then said to his younger brother, "God favors you to be the High Priest, that is plain, and so the oracles of God shall be committed to you. But think you strangers will never again attempt to take from us the Ark of the Covenant?"

Rosh shook his head. "Our father Lael was a great prophet and while he was yet alive it was the will of God that the office of high priest and the office of judge should be in the grasp of one man. Yet even our father led us only where the Ark itself marked the way."

Let the offices of priest and judge be carried out by two sons of Lael according to our temperament. I will set foot on the path marked out by the oracle of God, spoken or otherwise, but in all other things, beloved brother, I shall obey as though you were our father.

Then Rosh removed he the cover of the Ark of the Covenant with his bare hands, yet Chokhmah did not smite him. And Rosh took he the White Scroll of Lael to record all the things leading to the death of his father, and wrote that Elam had become their judge and chieftain.

And it came to pass that the Ark led the Remnant west from the Wall of God to the Shaula Wood, but they were tracked by an officer of Belphegor's Extraordinary Force named Derash with a small platoon of lesser soldiers who had been taken to Haaretz by fold-door in pairs.

And Derash gave battle to the Remnant, and brought Elam into captivity, but his nephilim could not seize the Ark, for Rosh had hidden it within a tent that was not discernible from the thirteen identical tents of the people. And men of the Remnant drove the attackers off.

Derash put Elam to the most refined torment, but che learned naught of the movements of the Remnant as they were led by Chokhmah himself by means of the Ark. And Jemuel and Rosh led a war party from among the people to assail the camp of Derash and release their brother.

Elam put Derash to the sword in vengeance for his pain, and slew he also Hovan son of Bron the chieftain of Eniph. Jemuel's party wounded four others, but the unscathed jan and men were scattered into the depths of Shaula Wood and none save Telan Blackseed returned again.

Telan knew no one less than Lord Belphegor sent Derash on his errand, and Telan knew also that Belphegor would demand his own life in recompense should he flee with the faithless others after the errand of Derash failed. Therefore he sought Bron, Hovan's father, in Eniph.

But the Ark of the Covenant led the Remnant through a land of rolling ridges and scattered trees between Adjara and Lake Enkaa, then west between Mount Naratha and Mount Linan, and there the graven gold Director began to spin, and Elam called their wanderings to a halt.

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On the edge of Shaula Wood, northeast of Adjara, Lael and a remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin tended their flocks of animals and slowly wandered east into the hills until they were come to the face of the Wall of God, four miles high, and could go no further.

The decorative sphinx on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant rotated to guide them ever north on a maze of paths at the foot of the Wall. Lael knew that by means of the ark Chokhmah had never failed to lead them to good grazing grounds for their little herd of livestock.

As they trundled along often they would meet friendly parties who journeyed south from Sastrom. They used the paths at the foot of the Wall of God to reach Fatho where they could find river passage on the Sabik downstream to cities in Alodra. But few words were exchanged.

One evening when Lael's group reached a precipitous bench along the face of the Wall and decided there to make camp they encountered a party of seven Brown Beards. Lael was delighted to learn that one among them named Marsayas spoke Hebrew and could be understood by them.

Marsayas begged Lael to grant his travelers leave to make overnight camp nigh to Lael's group. This, said che, was laid on hem for want of any other flat place to pitch tents. To this Lael warily agreed but ever he eyed the ark of God while the two bands shared provender.

Lael told Marsayas that he and his people were newly come to heaven and knew nothing of the lands that lay about them, but he led the remnant wheresoever Chokhmah made known through an oracle, which was the gold-covered chest Lael and his sons reverently carried about.

Marsayas could not resist this perfect opportunity to spin a tale, but he cautioned Lael's company that it was true in every detail, and although it recounted the actions of very foolish men, it was a solemn tale of caution rather than one of mirth, and none should laugh.

And again Marsayas spoke to his own band using the strange tongue of the nephilim in heaven. As che did so, Lael made his sons Elam, Jemuel, and Rosh stand nigh to the Ark while the wives of all the colonists seated themselves in a circle between the fire and Lael's sons.

Together with Lael within the ring of women sat Abner and his son Asa, and Josiah with his son Tobiah. But Zethan, Jabez, and his two sons Rimon and Asher stayed with the small flock of animals on the edge of the little plateau to ensure they were not lost over the edge.

You call this land Haaretz," Marsayas told them, "but we call it simply The Land We Know. Towards the setting suns lies Thalury, the great Western Sea. Ships ply between ports in Sastrom, Alodra, and the Saiph League, and they sail up the River Sabik as far as Atria.

The coast continues north and south farther than any mariners know, for they ever turn back after sailing for a month or two, yet there are innumerable coves and many of these are settled, it is known, and they survive by trading fish and wares with folk of other coves.

From the beginning of days sailors of the Land We Know heeded the commandment of the gods never to sail out of sight of land. No captain, drunk or otherwise, dared steer his ship so far to the west that the haze caused the Land to fade from the view of the aft lookout.

An order to sail far west was good cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. It was an ancient and bedrock article of law that no such crew returning to port without their captain would ever face punishment if their tale held true under questioning.

But in the days when Demonstoke raged free there was revolution in the Land We Know. The Saiph Republic flourished for a time, and many longstanding laws were overthrown. Reason reigned over all, and when the time was ripe men and nephilim were found to crew two ships.

These sailors were willing to disregard the strict commandment of all the gods never to sail much west. So stiff-necked were they it was never imagined the gods cared for the lives of mariners. Instead, there spread rumors of a choice land far in the west called Rimmon.

It was said among them Rimmon was a land the gods created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, never without the most select game, and their divine interdict was merely to keep the secret from being despoiled by mortals.

The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries of the Saiph Republic were named Will O' The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the slow current with sails unfurled, for on Thalury the currents move stately to the west while winds blow reliably to the east.

In two days the gray band that was the Land We Know could no longer be seen in the east by reason of the sea mist which had entirely shrouded it, and some of the older sailors muttered in fear, for the tradition was deeply carved within them, while certain others scoffed.

One night the lookout manning the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Wisp that he was raising his sails and veering off.

Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will O' the Wisp did not alter his course until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. She was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.

"The Will O' The Wisp and all aboard had indeed fallen over the edge of heaven. In the uttermost west Thalury pours over a great cataract, a vast waterfall with no bottom. Long the ship fell partially submerged within the waters of the sea, which had become a white sheet.

"The waters of the sea and even the air fell together with the ship, and there was little breeze. The ship tumbled, resting on nothing, and the crew felt no weight. They floated freely in the air, as though swimming under water, but some floated far away from the ship.

The small but constant breeze broke the sea sheet into globes of water, some the size of a man's head, others the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in many of these balls of water, and when the rations aboard the Will ran out these fish were the only source of food.

Yet none of the doomed men and nephilim suffered thirst as was common among marooned sailors of Earth, for Thalury was a freshwater sea ever renewed by ice melt. As the crew continued to fall, the dark underside of heaven became visible overhead like the inside of a mask

And it was seen and understood by the falling sailors that the Land We Know is really the lowest step in an endless stair, vast beyond all mortal imagination, and there is a second step rising to the east, and this step we know from this side of heaven as the Wall of God.

But the breeze blew the globes of water far apart one from the other and the heat of the two suns caused them to shrink until none of the water globes which remained near the ship held living fish. The survivors began to starve, and pondered killing each other for meat.

By the time the sailors were desperate enough to become cannibals they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than make pitiful moans. Then came the final days when they passed from the living one by one, according to their remaining strength.

The sailors found that death was not the end. They awoke in new bodies untouched by any scars of battle or the lash, looking down upon The Land We Know from the very rim of the Wall of God, four miles of sheer and implacable stone which none of the living have yet scaled.

The sailors who tarried atop the Wall of God heard feeble voices carried by the wind through a trick of sound reflecting on the stone precipice. Ever they walked the ramparts of heaven, hoping to hear the voices of their loved ones, and when they did it was bittersweet.

As time went on the newly dead found they were forgotten by their friends and even their loved ones sooner than they would have liked. The more impact a person had in their life the more fragments they heard so they lingered more, but the humble accepted the truth sooner.

At great length nearly all the dead came off the precipice and rested on the narrow lawn behind it, before the Upper Sea, waiting, they were told, for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The elohim refused to speak to them of their final fate.

The dead are told only, ""Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings."" Within twenty years every member of Captain Skulldaggers's dead but resurrected crew passed over the Upper Sea to the east, and he alone remained.

Skulldagger has attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passes but that his name is spoken aloud by someone below. Yet more often than not his name is spoken with a shudder, as the story of the Will O' The Wisp is told again to every new generation.

Marsayas said, ""Now I tell you all these things not that you do not fear your own death, which indeed is truly nothing to be feared, but that you know what you must do, presently, when each one of you find yourselves resurrected and standing the brink of the Wall of God."

When those words were spoken Marsayas drew out a weapon. Che cried out, "All glory be to Belphegor, lord of Magodon!" Che thrust forth with a cruel knife that was more a sharpened pipe with four twisting edges. The blade slipped through Lael's ribs to core out his heart.

As though by a pre-arranged signal, the six other jan of the House of Larund withdrew identical weapons and made to assail the men of Lael's little band of nomads, but they soon grew dismayed to find the little humans, both men and women, were ready to defend themselves.

Lael's wife Sariah restrained Marsayas' arm to prevent hem from striking her husband with a second blow but she was unaware Lael was already bleeding out. The six Brown Beards who had traveled with hem quickly jumped out of striking range of Abner, Asa, Josiah and Tobiah.

But the Judahite woman named Serach and the Benjaminite woman named Sela restrained two of the fleeing Brown Beards by embracing their calves. As they were dragged, four other jen were free to burst through an open hole in the ring of womenfolk seated around the campfire.

At the death cry of Lael the men who had been watching the animals on the rim of the camp immediately took the bows they carried on their backs and fitted arrows to them. They fired at Marsayas and two of the newcomers, shooting over the heads of the women hindering them.

Still, four of Marsayas' company were free to make for their real target and rushed toward the Ark of the Covenant to seize it. Lael's sons Rosh, Jemuel, and Elam had not been lulled to sleep by Marsayas' tale and had already drawn the swords dangling from their waists.

A fold-door appeared with Belphegor standing within, ready to take possession of the Tablet of the Abrahamic Covenant moments after one of the nephilim were able to seize it. But dark energy is limited and time was critical. Belphegor could not wait for very much longer.

Three individual sword duels commenced far more fierce than any of the jan had foreseen. This left a fourth Brown Beard free to draw near to the Ark and seize it, but Chokhmah now entered the fray. When the nephil touched the relic che immediately stiffened and fell dead.

Every beat of Lael's heart let out more of his life's blood and he sank to his knees. The body of Marsayas and two of the jen in hez party fairly bristled with arrows. Jemima, Keturah, and Susanna slipped daggers between the ribs of the nephilim strangers to finish them.

Atara, Keziah, Dinah, and Leah then dragged the three nephilim to one edge of the plateau where the men tending the flocks of animals helped cast them over the side, whether still living or not. Belphegor saw that Marsayas had failed him and that he had ran out of time.

The fold-door, which always resembled a glass or crystal ball taller than a man owing to the way it bent light, snapped into non-existence. The first attempt to seize the Ark had failed, and now the Laelites knew the Ark was a prize much sought by none less than a seraph.

A grieving Sariah sought to revive her husband, but his life had already slipped away. She held his body through the night and when the white sun became visible over the rim of the Wall of God the sons of Lael buried him on the flat of ground where they had made camp.

By that evening the shock of what had happened to them faded. None of the Brown Beards, if any had survived, crawled up to the plateau to renew their attack. So the three sons of Lael began to dispute which one of they would take up Lael's office of high priest and chief.

Jemuel sank to his knees and said, "O living God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, if you will, make known what man of us shall be high priest and hear your voice on the Day of Atonement." And in reply the graven sphinx decorating the cover of the Ark rotated to face Rosh.

Elam pondered this silently for a time, then said to his younger brother, "God favors you to be the High Priest, that is plain, and so the oracles of God shall be committed to you. But think you strangers will never again attempt to take from us the Ark of the Covenant?"

Rosh shook his head. "Our father Lael was a great prophet and while he was yet alive it was the will of God that the office of high priest and the office of judge should be in the grasp of one man. Yet even our father led us only where the Ark itself marked the way."

Let the offices of priest and judge be carried out by two sons of Lael according to our temperament. I will set foot on the path marked out by the oracle of God, spoken or otherwise, but in all other things, beloved brother, I shall obey as though you were our father.

Then Rosh removed he the cover of the Ark of the Covenant with his bare hands, yet Chokhmah did not smite him. And Rosh took he the White Scroll of Lael to record all the things leading to the death of his father, and wrote that Elam had become their judge and chieftain.

And it came to pass that the Ark led the Remnant west from the Wall of God to the Shaula Wood, but they were tracked by an officer of Belphegor's Extraordinary Force named Derash with a small platoon of lesser soldiers who had been taken to Haaretz by fold-door in pairs.

And Derash gave battle to the Remnant, and brought Elam into captivity, but his nephilim could not seize the Ark, for Rosh had hidden it within a tent that was not discernible from the thirteen identical tents of the people. And men of the Remnant drove the attackers off.

Derash put Elam to the most refined torment, but che learned naught of the movements of the Remnant as they were led by Chokhmah himself by means of the Ark. And Jemuel and Rosh led a war party from among the people to assail the camp of Derash and release their brother.

Elam put Derash to the sword in vengeance for his pain, and slew he also Hovan son of Bron the chieftain of Eniph. Jemuel's party wounded four others, but the unscathed jan and men were scattered into the depths of Shaula Wood and none save Telan Blackseed returned again.

Telan knew no one less than Lord Belphegor sent Derash on his errand, and Telan knew also that Belphegor would demand his own life in recompense should he flee with the faithless others after the errand of Derash failed. Therefore he sought Bron, Hovan's father, in Eniph.

But the Ark of the Covenant led the Remnant through a land of rolling ridges and scattered trees between Adjara and Lake Enkaa, then west between Mount Naratha and Mount Linan, and there the graven gold Director began to spin, and Elam called their wanderings to a halt.


Pilate was procurator of Judea. He ruled under Vitellius, who was the legate of Syria, and Judea was considered to be part of Syria by Rome. Pilate was so cruel even Vitellius sometimes thought he went too far. He would execute Jews at the drop of a kippah, any kippah. He had absolutely no respect for Jewish religious sensibilities, so bringing Yeshua before him on charges of being a false prophet or a blasphemer would be a waste of his time and Pilate enjoyed having his time wasted somewhat less than watching the drop of a kippah.

Yeshua knew that too well. He planned to commit suicide by Roman by suborning a tax agent, but the oafish incompetence of Annas nullified all his preparations when he roughed up Mattiyahu. Pilate would demand to see the tax agent and he would see the marks of the beating. So Yeshua worked a blasphemy narrative to motivate Caiaphas, in turn, to work a messiah narrative before Pilate. The irony was that when Yeshua, in hypostatic union with the eloah Binah, claimed to be on a level with the God worshiped by Caiaphas, he wasn't lying at all.

Notwithstanding what Yeshua's admirers would come to believe in the centuries to follow, in First Century Judea "mashiach" was a word which very specifically meant a Jewish king who would defeat their Gentile enemies and restore the Jews as a regional power in the Levant. So if the people acclaimed a Jew as mashiach, or messiah, and that Jew did nothing to discourage them, Rome had every reason to suspect sedition, and her usual response was state terrorism in the form of public crucifixion on the Tau cross. That suited Caiaphas to a "T".

Since Pontius was an honorific assumed by Pilate himself, Caiaphas was not being familiar with the military governor when he said, "Pontius Pilate, this man leads the rabble who once followed the baptizer in Galilee. Herod Antipater has no doubt has spoken of him to you. His followers believe him to be one to restore the line of David to the throne in this city. In recent days his disciples set him upon an ass and the foal of that ass. He rode into the city deliberately 'fulfilling' the words of one of our prophets about a future king."

Pilate addressed the prisoner directly. "Is it true, what the High Priest has accused?" Yeshua merely shrugged and was silent, which infuriated Pilate at first, then intrigued him. He said, "You must know what I can have done to you, yet you reply to me in this manner?"

Yeshua raised his eyes to peer into those of Pilate and said, without a trace of fear, "You have no power over me but that which is ordained by God."

"We shall see," said Pilate, who was more interested in the venom Yeshua's simple presence invoked in the high priest.

He said, "And you, Caiaphas, what would you have done with this man?"

The high priest replied, "You have ears, Pilate, but do you not hear? Do you not discern the faithfulness of the Jews of Yerushalayim? Listen to them crying out for an enemy of the Emperor to die."

"What I discern is a mob you have raised up against a mob led by this man, and you think I cannot see how your scribes are inciting them. I would chastise both of you, but I am constrained to just the one." And Pilate ordered solders to lead Yeshua away to be flogged.

A Roman flogging was nothing like the caning of "forty stripes less one" ordered by Jewish religious courts that often didn't even break the skin. They used the flagellum, a whip with pieces of bone and metal embedded in the thongs. Its primary purpose was to flay a man. The first stroke was too much for Yeshua. As a b'nei elohim he invoked unconsciousness for the rest of the ordeal. The Roman soldiers saw he was wasting their time and tried to rouse him with water but to no avail. Seeing he was not dead, they proceeded to skin him alive.

It was not Chokhmah's will that Yeshua endured the preliminary torture, but that he died of crucifixion. Yet he would never get from the barracks courtyard to the cross by remaining in a self-induced coma. He came around, and the full yoke of his suffering slammed down. It was as though the skin of his back had been burned away, but it felt far worse than that. A flame, at least, would have charred away most of the nerve endings. Here the nerve fibers of Yeshua's ruined and bleeding were intact and screaming, by exquisite Roman design.

Yeshua longed to will his death yet from obedience chose to live. Binah, a living star, knew pain on such a level that it captured the psyche of the eloah and trapped her in Yeshua's body with no hope of escape except through death, but death could only come on the cross. Binah freely accepted this mistreatment in compliance with Chokhmah's will, and the compliance was in full union with the human Yeshua. With the obedience of Binah/Yeshua even to the point of a wretched death, Keter's final claim against all humanity was silenced forever.

Yeshua was brought back before Pilate with his teeth chattering from shock and loss of blood and agony. Pilate, in a contorted way, was actually trying to save Yeshua. Perhaps the crowd controlled by Caiaphas would look at the man after his bloody ordeal and be satisfied.

Instead, the crowd's demand to crucify him grew into a throbbing chant. Pilate began to see the depth of Caiaphas' inexplicable fear of the prisoner. Then he saw a chance to mock the high priest. He said, "Behold, the King of the Jews!" and laid his own robe on Yeshua.

Yeshua flinched under the weight of the robe on his raw shoulders and let out a rasping moan.

Caiaphas said, "Pilate, do not say he is the king of the Jews. Thus do his followers think him, and so we brought him before you."

But Pilate remembered another Yeshua. Yeshua bar Abbas was an assassin of Roman officials who was presently undergoing a slower but more thorough chastisement than a flogging. Pilate said to Caiaphas, "Forget the crowd. Choose your Yeshua. Either this Yeshua bar Yosef shall be crucified or Yeshua bar Abbas."

Yosef Caiaphas knew he was caught in a trap. One bad choice here and he could be deposed as high priest as was his father-in-law.

Pilate said, "I have made my own inquiries into this man long before you brought him before me, did you know? Of course you must have known. This man you are asking to have put to death for you, Caiaphas, was a disciple of the baptizer called Yohanan, and he accepted some of the baptizer's disciples when Herod put him to death, that much is true. Such Herod communicated to me when this one walked to Judea. Do you wonder why Antipas never killed this Galilean also, Caiaphas? The answer is simple. This Yeshua never spoke a single word against Herod. He is a doctor, and by all accounts a very good one. The crowds follow him seeking to be cured, not to watch a fiery prophet.

"And I was not content to take Herod's word for it," Pilate went on, turning to face Yeshua as he spoke. "I sent an agent to find this fellow. You may remember him, Galilean. He was a Jew but he really answered to me. He asked about your views on paying taxes to Rome."

Yeshua acknowledged Pilate with a nod of his head, but said nothing. Pilate turned then back to Caiaphas. "Yeshua here said, 'Show me the coin used to pay the tax' and my agent produced one. Yeshua said, 'Whose likeness is stamped on the coin' and my agent said Tiberias. Finally Yeshua said, 'Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God.' So my agent returned to me and made his report, and I put this traveling healer out of my mind until you brought him before me today, Caiaphas, and said he must die. Now when he rode the donkeys, that was stupid. I can't have more of that, so he's been punished, but was it worthy of death? I leave it entirely up to you and your God, Caiaphas. Choose. Shall I crucify an actual Judean revolutionary, or shall I crucify your king?"

"Release to us Yeshua bar Abbas," said Caiaphas. "We have no king but Tiberius Caesar."

Pilate fairly beamed with pleasure. "See how much better it is, priest, when all can clearly see your professed fealty to Rome is a lie? I despise nothing more than hidden motives."

As Yeshua was led away to die Caiaphas said to Pilate, "You spoke of hidden motives. Today this false prophet foretold his own death in my presence, and that he would rise again on the third day. It is clear to me now he was really attempting to deter his own execution."

"Now Governor, I fear that after he dies his followers will spread a lie throughout the city that they have seen Yeshua risen again from the dead, exactly as he predicted. We will never be rid of the zealots his disciples will draw to themselves with this fabrication."

"Then I will simply leave the man on the cross until the crows have picked him clean."

"Governor, you must not let that come to be. I invoked the Law of Moshe to bring Yeshua's fate upon him and the Law also says the sun must never set on one who has been put to death."

Pilate's annoyance grew to obvious anger. Would he never be rid of this priest? He said, "I will order my centurion to make sure the man is dead before sunset and to bury him nigh to the place where he was crucified. Will that satisfy Yosef Caiaphas and his God's law?"

"I do not question the discipline of your troops, Pilate, but it is known that following a Roman crucifixion the bodies are usually buried in hastily-dug graves with only a light covering of gravel over them. During the night dogs will root his body out and feast on it."

"What of it?" barked Pilate. "It would be, in the end, no different than if birds consumed his body, except the burial will comply with the letter of your Law of Moshe."

"But we will never be able to disprove he is risen, as his followers will claim to the multitude!"

"I can do nothing about the dogs," said Pilate. "They make crucifixion a more effective deterrent among your people in light of your own belief that bodies are raised at the end of time."

There was in the audience hall a member of the Sanhedrin named Yosef of Arimathaea. "Listen," said he. "I have a freshly hewn crypt which I caused to be made for myself and my wife when our time is at hand. You may lay the body of Yeshua within for the span of three days where it will be safe from beasts or any of his followers who would do us harm."

"The crypt will keep the body of this Yeshua safe from being devoured by dogs, true enough, but what is to stop his followers from stealing the body away? Any stone we set into place to seal the tomb can be removed by the man's followers if they have sufficient numbers."

"What of it?" demanded Pilate. "Their future king will still be dead, whether his body rests in their hands or in a tomb."

"General, you do not anticipate what will happen. His disciples will bury the body in another place and three days after claim they saw him alive."

Pilate thought on Caiaphas' words for a moment and reluctantly came around to his point of view. "Make any reasonable request of me, priest, but consider carefully. When you depart I will receive no more audience concerning that man, and entertain the matter never again."

"Pilate, order a number of armed men to watch his sepulcher four days and four nights. Then we may be certain none of his followers have stolen his body only to say in three days, 'Lo, he is risen as he said, behold his empty tomb!'" And all the other councilmen agreed.

Pilate seemed delighted. "Let it be so!" he said. "Now, Caiaphas, if you are finished piling on impossible tasks to satisfy your paranoia and your religious law I will leave it for you to give the instructions to Longinus, who is the centurion overseeing the man's death."

The Romans, it was universally conceded, had a certain engineering genius when it came to building arenas, roads, bridges, and aqueducts. They applied the same acumen to the death penalty. Crucifixion was by far the worst thing they could imagine happening to any man.

In Jerusalem the Romans liked to run a practical joke when they crucified men. Near Damascus Gate the cross had a platform of wood for the feet, bristling with nails pointy end up, and a second platform was laminated under it to prevent the nails from being pushed out. They tied prisoners to the cross by his wrists with ropes, but let their legs kick free. The victim's own body weight made it impossible to breathe unless he brought his head to a level with his arms. After his arms were exhausted he must do that by standing on something. In the case of the cross near Damascus Gate, the only thing to stand on was a little bed of sharp nails. Invariably the victims "volunteered" to impale their own feet on the nails, because continued life was important to them early in the crucifixion. Later, not so much.

Very soon after the prisoner had perforated his own feet just to stay alive, the Roman soldiers lashed his ankles to the cross to make sure he could not change his mind in the hours or days to come. After that he transformed into a reciprocating engine of suffering. When the prisoner died of thirst and shock and exposure after a number days, it was a simple thing to tug on the arm ropes and haul the prisoner's feet from the points of the nails. That way the same cross could be used again, as the one at the north gate frequently was.

Now it was Yeshua's turn. Each wrist was secured by a knot with several turns of rope. The two ropes had been passed through iron rings at the ends of the crossbeam. The Romans hauled him up and he let out a great cry as his raw back was scraped against the vertical post.

Both ropes were tied off at another iron ring mounted under the little bed of nails but they weren't made too taut. By long experience Longinus, the centurion who was supervising the execution, knew just how much slack to leave in Yeshua's body to maximize his suffering.

But after a number of minutes even Longinus grew dismayed. Yeshua, silent now, had sagged against the cross and showed no sign of attempting to preserve his life by pulling himself up to breathe. His feet remained dangling, entirely motionless, along the vertical post.

If Longinus was supervising the crucifixion, Yosef Caiaphas and Yosef of Arimathaea were supervising Longinus. "What is wrong?" Caiaphas demanded.

Longinus replied, "I'm not certain. The condemned man should be showing signs of, ah, extreme distress at this point."

After more minutes passed Yeshua voided his bowels. The soldiers crucifying him found that his skin was growing cool and they began to fret, because it looked like they had somehow bungled the execution. And if that proved to be the case they would be punished themselves.

"It must have been the flogging," suggested Longinus. "Petronius was too thorough. I had nothing to do with that." He took his spear and depressed the skin of Yeshua's bare chest. Then he looked at the two members of the Sanhedrin standing nearby. "By your leave, sirs?"

It was not Caiaphas' purpose that Yeshua should suffer. The man had claimed to be on a plane with Hashem, The Name, and for that he must die, traditionally by stoning, but Yosef's fool of a father-in-law Annas had caused the Romans to withdraw that power from the council. Now, incredibly, Yeshua had somehow died in the first few moments of his crucifixion and Longinus was asking permission to verify it. Caiaphas said, "You may proceed, Centurion." And Longinus pierced the heart of Yeshua with the tip of his spear. There was no movement.

So he made his men unhitch the ropes and lower Yeshua's body into a bag made from hemp, and loaded this onto a wheeled cart. They followed Yosef of Arimathaea around the eastern wall of the city and across the Kidron ravine to his prepared crypt on the Hill of Olives. Then the sack with Yeshua's body was lowered into the hewn pit, and a heavy stone was slid over it by all the men present, even the priests. Longinus put upon on the stone seven seals in the name of the Governor, and they pitched a tent amid the olive trees to keep watch.

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Strangers In Paradise