You’ve found the once-“savage” Sea Peoples heritage: long, luminous & liberating!
A wild-hearted prehistoric (Minoan) man “Sweet Wine” fights to go forward by the light of his visionary sister—killed as they strove to resist the conquest of their people’s ancient and dazzling life. Among many loved ones sailing at his side is a bright little orphan named Zoe, her nose cut off by the spite of Crete’s new masters. A mountain-youth who lives in honor to fight their lawlessness, but fights their way and risks his soul. A woman who will forge new civilized links out of ruins from Cyprus to Sicily—and after so much hardship and success in a new land, here come the first Israelites, from Samson to Samuel.
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(Before you dive in, try “The Catastrophe Cycle” here
to see what the Sea Peoples offer us today)
Scroll away below with this quick outline of Excerpts
(50-odd pages): Free, No Spoilers—Enjoy!)
a woman speaks a Sea Peoples story of Creation:
another calls their tribes to conscience before battle.
From Chapter 1:
Deucalion (once the young Ariadne’s brother)
points fellow-rebels the uncertain way
to live new lives worthy of their ancestors.
From Chapter 3:
Deucalion “Sweet Wine” has turned—
He enters the once-his Knossos Throne Room
and brings his people’s message to “the man” of their conquerors.
From Chapter 5:
The families living new challenges from Cyprus to Sicily,
Deucalion suffers the curious gift
of outliving his love Pyrrha and his kin.
From Chapter 7:
Riding whirlwind change and dispossession,
the tribes face another rebirth
among ruins and families ardent to rebuild.
From Chapter 9:
Sucked back into war: Pharaoh’s promise of life in Palestine
for guarding the traffic on the East-West roads
becomes a curse on friends and coexistence.
Can returning the captured Ark of the Covenant
help the desperate odds for understanding?
From People of the Sea Prologue—
a woman speaks their story of Creation:
another calls their tribes to conscience before battle.
As ever first to rise,
Pelasgoi, and a woman—a Turan, as we say Lady.
Pyx the name,
a daughter of Earth-Gaia’s first human beings.
In every one of you, that blood
bears memory of your first mothers and fathers,
and sure as your feet know
the paths of your grandmothers’ orchards
brought Herself forth
and gave Being
space and light
in parting waters from the sky.
like a crane rising into the morning
rose to the goodness
and in joy She spoke
Her name of great dominion,
in its vast vibration of Her happiness
became a rhythm, and Her body
danced a gentle joy
that rose within Her senses
to the knowing of Her own infinitude.
Her spirit moved in love on the face of the waters
and Her dance raised up prodigious wind
behind Her, shimmering, quick-bright, silver,
a thing mysterious, beautiful, a monster
who came awake in love with what He saw.
Hai-ee! Snake, prodigious beast of being
following Her, became
Her Partner in this dancing of the world.
Beyond themselves, between the world’s pillars, together
the dance love incarnate,
the horned new moon the cradle of infant suns,
the swaying of the sea beside the sky.
His wanting Her is the deep waters girdling the world,
the serpent in the swaying of my hips
and in our gardens, holy communions:
to Her he poured his coiled-up innards out,
and love brought forth The Egg that birthed the world.
Who remembers this world young,
full moon the mate of summer sun, the first dawn of Gi
when the green mountains sang in flowers,
rivers clapped hands
and every star of morning shouted joy?
Pelasgoi. And so with our first eyes
we see the ruin you blood-sick boys have wrought,
you kings, you walled-up thieves who made us peasants.
Six hundred spears of family come running to this fight,
black as this remembering blood between us.
Tell you why: never once surrendered, not a child of us
to that first fool of you, posted at your crotch:
Snake, prodigious Ophion, the father of your imbecilic lies.
Who saw the splendor of the world
and told His Mother and Her young, I made you:
She gave Him Her good heel across the head,
kicked His teeth out, too, to help him think again,
and from those teeth Pelasgians were born.
I give you this, it’s why we make such troubles!
Younglings of the never-conquered sun,
we are The West, the flight from madness:
daemon of you all, ragged tribes, silent, sullen-proud,
first and thirteenth people of the world.
Flood-riders, children of the cranes, the salt in you,
raisers of gigantic stones that outlive memories of men.
Gozo, Nuraghi, seed of the Tyrrhenoi, from Thessaly
through the Cyclades and the twelve great isles of Asia,
we taught men’s hands the ways of grain
and now we scrape for food in holes of mice.
Squanderers of seed! Great chiefs, dispossessed by wishes,
taste in smoke and fire what we bore first.
Do not say it, Achaians of the south and north,
Argivi, Ironheads, that your fathers did not take
our grandmothers’ groves, their mysteries and children
from Argos plain to Mother Kriti‘s isles, Miletus, Troy.
Never speak again that we forget the great homes
roofed with rainbow tiles, shining by the sea at Lerna:
the first age of the world you turned to slavery and ash.
Your broke-tooth misery is Goddess law come down,
and we rejoice.
Hai-ee! Tomorrow, the last of our bloods marry after all.
On Ramses’ jaw-hook blade? Or a spread of bottom-land?
See you at the altar.
Nobody walks away. I see no beaten people here. Maybe, you flea-bit pharaohs, a seed to plant.
Padi; as you see, a gray Wanassa of the Lukka, the Turan of our chieftain, Chimaros Night Flame. He sleeps now, poppy-drunk. Just between us? His life is one whole cloth of nerve and larceny. His name too has a Cretan touch: great ones, does that ring with your own pardon-tales? Tell it to a pirate.
Before this fire, truth for truth. You bring us Lukka here to build your numbers. Now you seem to have knives to help the poorest isle-folk. So then, know why our skills red The Nile again this year. Good children of Goddess law, a long nose blocks your eyes. Your sea-law made the Lukka hated, in the midst of your own crimes across The Green. Now you know what it is to do things you hate for the sake of your children.
Lukka laugh at big words, like the pennants men fly on their war-wagons: they flap more wind than the ponies. Our camp sent this bent old lady, I confess it, as a mock. But we too loved our lands along the sea. Cousin Neos, we remember Khatti people as cousins, in times-back when Hatti was their Mother of the Sun. Then, you know the story. Their fathers threw down Goddess and her daughters, put up stone-beard statues of themselves—and marched on us, for our last sheep and son. We Lukka too learned blades in Hatti’s front lines against Pharaohs. So! Out of that, our elders’ new choice: keep bleeding for Hatussas, starve in hidden places; or, bury regret, and take for ourselves as others take.
Now you understand this intolerable camp of children’s eyes. Yonder! a slow fat ship riding low with grain, and wine, and metals—Great ones, you were nobler in your pain? Chimaros drinks to kill the spirits of his kills. Dress your idols as you like.
The Hatti fought old Pharaoh to a standstill at Kadesh. And then what surprise, that such a slaughter turned their minds to what had made things work in the first place, marrying up? But the fight wore out Hatti’s arm, and we turned on them, with relish. That was our mistake, you men have said it! Sweet righteous poison, blood-justice, and our very own right to steal—Puh! Brought us where? Homes of flame, our mouths big words, our bodies criminals.
Before I sit, mothers and fathers, what will you lay upon the mountain’s bleeding-stone, that your ancestors bring you back to life? In each of us, the fool must die. And no offering we make can match what must be won.
I know the wrinkle in my boy’s smile when he hurts. The color of my girl’s hair is an oak-leaf in the seventh waning moon. See, then: those with nothing yet can give most dear. To Gi, Pytogayah, a little one. My littlest one. She went like sleep. And this night, she climbs into the lap of Shapshu, the living sun.
Our sisters hide their faces in their palms. They know what is torn from us, in hope of one heard prayer. Tribes they come from, men will weep, and have no tears tomorrow.
Eh? You muttering lords of standing water, pull out your own best offering to sunrise. Go on then, brother pirates, cat-call, clang your cups, howl the holy curses! How many children wasted on your altars to yourselves?
From Chapter 1:
Deucalion (once the young Ariadne’s brother)
points fellow-rebels the uncertain way
to live new lives worthy of their ancestors.
—Are you gone mad? Burn Knossos Labyrinth? Your own family’s house!
–Criminal, said another. –Talking slaughter, like some king. Then what?
–Oh, Sweet Wine didn’t mean those things, said the gray goat-bearded priest who was kneeling over me, flat on my back like an X in a pile of bed-skins, my head a mountain coming out of mist. It was Makris, gazing down with a new-moon smile
–Please, you two, he said. –The man was struck by lightning, and good as dead three days. Let a brother get his breath!
Makris pulled the old hides off my bones and worked his hands like a midwife’s up and down. Revived out of nowhere, mountain air ran along my flesh a breath of wings. And that first full drink of it, cold as black water from a spring, swirled through me. It was an ecstasy of waking up, and underneath all being, an undulating sorrow that time would not change
–Go on now, men, cry the town that Deucalion lives. We dance, and festival, while the new year sun stands still. Find the women, and his sons!
The two incensed cousin-townsmen grunted, and turned for the dolmen door. One thumped his boot on the threshold, and spoke without looking back
–Hey, priest. Ask this unconquered son why as soon as he swore blood, a Griffin’s tongue of lightning blew him off the sanctuary. Not with our sons!
Where? Karfi: a colossal gray crag-faced spike of granite rising straight up from the shoulders of a mountain, hammered like a nail in the heart of our island Mother Kriti. Whoever sailed the sea miles below, or stole up into this country, Karfi saw them first. Old times of our mothers and fathers, Karfi was a high place of dance, of feast and healing, between the stars and the horned mountain caves of our families’ sleep. Now in a world torn off its wheel, The Nail was a refuge that only self-exiles would choose. A hostile crag, as far as possible from homes we could not let go
The air was medicine, sage, thyme, artemisia, and my body felt the mountain hold me up to the circles of the sky. But the snug cypress-beams over our two heads roofed a house that was one room and one window more than a boulder goat-pen. Every wall a common wall in this honeycomb of lanes and shelters, huddled down out of wind and sight behind The Nail’s northern cliffs
There was sting-fire up and down my arms out of deep red slashes I had cut, for blood alone awakened family sleeping in the mountain, that they speak. But the wounds were clean and crusted, with a smell of Makris’ diktamos poultice. Now he raised me up to ladle water, icy and mineral-sweet
—Come to your house, Sweet Wine, Dionysos, true of speech, he chanted gently out of funerary song. –What do you remember, Deucalion?
I remembered that remembering made me want to die. Near thirty years ago, out of the ruins of my own and my family’s mistakes, turning my back on the figurehead throne of conquered Knossos and dragging my first son up this break-neck mountain, to keep him from the mainland’s Achaian squanderers at arms. An island, you see, a whole exquisite island one day’s sail from our north shore, had blown itself into the sky, and they were making the most of our wrecked land. Too late we had found ourselves only prey in mainland eyes. Our every answer played into their hands, and the woman who walked the world as the soul of us lost her life by our confoundment
The wind and cold we found up here, the work for every morsel of comfort—and the harvest, for a sand-blasted wine god, a king of things other than war? An outlaw inheritance for two sons and a girl. Futility, while a violent handful of red-beards and blue-eyes kept on bleeding the ancient household
Outside a rebel yell broke the morning twilight: Hai-ee! Hai-ee! And women’s voices trilled up out of the town, O-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo
In my left hand, the hem of Makris’ deerskin wrap, with a tiny stitched-in row of running spirals. The back of my skull still felt a clout of thunder, and limbs and looks moved slow, as if enormous. Things buzzed, like a mountain alive with summer bees. And here we were again, through annihilating fire
–-Better say what you remember, brother
–Ho! Makris laughed with a wag of his chin-bristles. –Why, it was everything to look for in a Moon Bull, a Minotavros—and so say all three camps of cousins up here, who love you. May I? Son of Pasiphae Who Shines For All, and of the Minos, Keepers of Days in The House of the Double Axe, Labrys. Blood and rightful husband of Ariadne, Lady of Knossos Labyrinth, heiress of the ancient queens, and no man and woman ever will be closer. But now—argh. The last son of Labrys Clan. The last to hold the Great Year throne in family honor. And he left it so
–Makris, what happened?
–It was you, grown so black and quiet everywhere, down with the men guarding trail, or pruning trees, or ripping out wood for somebody’s broken loom. I saw you, listening, looking, that restless rolling shoulder. And then, talking straight out with people, here at a table, there at the spring, or a grave. Saying plain what I see, too, in their faces—that it’s no life to hand on to children. We are dying on the vine up here, the goodness of our seed. We, a pack of highland outlaws—there’s a backwards bone to choke on. Well, I knew, Makris laughed, –that you were the fellow to turn things, Knossos Labyrinth spectacle man. You, to pull the nail out of people’s smiles
–Yes, yes. Five days ago. It was the dying of the moon just ahead of winter solstice. You climbed up onto the sanctuary roof. From there on the edge of this world you called out the mountain. People came in from hunting, climbed their ways over rocks from the other houses—we crammed the lanes and roofs to see you up there on The Nail’s last point. I remember, you began to move, and I was thinking you were like old Keret, from the songs sailors fetched out of Ugarit. A well-born man, a loving man, homesick for his house, for his family, his mate. Not a straggler up here who couldn’t feel that, with elders’ graves and a burned-out farm behind them
–Remember what you said? I felt the breath go through my body, Makris sighed, –and every other body in the press. You said you climbed up there to die with the sun and moon. You were going into the dark with them, and coming out alive, or you were going to jump—but for you, The Nail was finished. You slashed your arms till I winced, and the altar-stone took your blood and word. Keeper of Days, that was a Minos speaking
–Then, wonders, that’s all! I know you saw your sons, and daughter, and how many people kept vigil for you up there. Prayers, torches, pipes came out, a systrum, a daouli-drum, the githa-bag wailing to make your nape stand up. On you went, and no moon in the morning sky. Rippling off old skin like winter Snake, ramping along that edge a spring-crazy Bull. You belly-roared like summer’s Lioness, with young to feed
–But oh Sweet Wine, you made us wait for the shiver of death that Griffin brings. Second night with no moon, and still the arms up and out at stretch, all runs of blood. Then, you’d done it. Down over Dikte mountain came a thunderhead, so big and louring-black that it made people hide bunched together in their houses, and the dogs in too. When the rain cracked open out of that with thunder, you were still up there, turning and howling like the world. Well, you climbed down inside the sanctuary, and came back out with Labrys—the last big bronze double axe we had, with the doubled blades and spirals
–Ho! said Makris. –Lightning snapping and booming around us in the rain. Back you climbed up onto the sanctuary roof. The last altar of the world, it looked, because it is. And you turned in place and doubled back to face us. You lifted the monster both hands high, and your face, Deucalion, the eyes—I don’t want to see that again, till Griffin take me home to Snake. The waters pouring off you. You bellowed out, Knossos Labyrinth will burn! And, Crack! That bolt was so close and blinding-blue I see it now. Crack! Down you went a dead man, right through your knees, and Labrys in blasted pieces. Mercy! I never will know why you didn’t pitch back off the mountain
Makris breathed out, and rested, brooding still over answers to the offering. I saw the last sign of our family’s understandings, Labrys, broken by the hand of light and shadow that had forged it. How had I not understood the grief and clamor of our elders’ graves? It was criminal to leave a thing once holy unbroken, unburned, unburied. So then—the end, and our way out, lay where we were born. House of the Double Axe in funeral flames. A night of the Griffin, lit by the last Minotavros
Suns and moons had endings. We had been clinging to a corpse. Now, the baffled man inside was finished. Watch new metal flowing from a forge, you see the slag drop off, and feel the hot pure incandescent blood of Earth. It cools, and hardens: that was what I found inside. Morning. Ferocious, loving—real again
–Well, your good sons helped us carry you in, Makris smiled. –And here we are. Back from the other world, and come to your house. Home, Deucalion
–Home. Be careful, man who just called the dead back, true of speech
–Oh, you don’t want to kill anybody! Makris cajoled, grooming back my father’s thick black hair as I managed to stand up. With no answer, he loosed his highland whistle toward the door, and ducking in under the lintel came a troop of smiling cousins, kinsmen who had kept his vigil for an end or a beginning
A good eight or nine mountain-people of the town arrayed themselves to stand gazing in a group, some with a flute, a drum or censer in their hands. All together they lifted their palms up and out to me in a sunny welcome’s blessing, little ones in black and white wool wraps, hard prime men and women in caps of goat, and the haggard buckskin elders. I doubled this, grateful, but their faces were fear behind Karfi smiles. Now, three of the women with bright eyes piously lifted their wraps to show their breasts, singing out sweetly: Seam, undo yourself! Mollifying voices, luring men back into the world of hope and shipwreck
–See? Makris said. –Home, and this is your family. Some of them. Come now Deucalion, you know every face. Here’s Pereko, and Cissia the potter, and Donos and Arge. Look, young Oinops brought us a rabbit
–Otus, I told them. –Otus climbed out of those skins. He Pushes Back. Family, are we finished weeping on this stone? See this cup I make with my hand. The Sweet Wine is turned. I pour it out. Earth Mother, turn it again
They knew me not a man to call for war. To live on The Nail was to know our enemies’ hope, that we should live according to it, for a weakling’s benefit
–Say no more, Makris cautioned. –We know, thirty years and your family’s house still bleeds in the mainland paw. I mean, why make cousins nervous. You like it here. We see you happy at the chores. Festival is medicine
Deft fellow, Makris: stall, deflect, show the crazy man normal things
–You saw me taken, soul and body. Family, what we grieve is gone the same. And we cannot leave the great house of our families, the core of our memory as she is. Come spring, I am going to burn Knossos Labyrinth. Or, die where I was born. I will kill every cheese-counting Achaian squatter with a knife in the way of that pyre, and take the sunrise after
–Now, this is true: good ships are sleeping winter in the sheds along Amnisos shore. Five moons from now, we can make them ours and sail The Great Green. The wind can tell us where to go, but no more this. I will push back, against squanderers who imagine that what they have done here works
–Stop! said Makris with a stamp. –There are families up here mainland blood. They won’t kill their kind! Why, Melas is your brother-in-law
–Yes he is. Melas is Achaian family. But say it, this once: our end was their beginning. They had no word for ocean, coming here. The best of our houses rent themselves making them at home, and we lost ours
–Say it! What made Melas family? He turned his back on kinsmen still at pillage. But we cannot just walk away. You do not hear war from me. But where stealing begins, family ends. Griffin tells me, Karfi is not enough
In the silence a thump of mountain wind touched the house, and people started to ease themselves back outside, some with the half-smiling wink of any morning, and some with nervous formal hails of old time, fist-to-brow. Bluntly cordial, scared: Cissia, with the black-haired almond-eyes touch of Egypt, Oinops my rugged nephew with the north islands’ twinkling smile. In each and all, the gardens of Crete had mixed proud Aegean shoulders, the locks and olive-bronze skins of Canaan, Libya and Asia. Off they went to put it off, in little joys of morning
–I ask not a man of you along. But where to, cousins? Hovels, not home. Are we not sick of how an island blew into the sky, and it rained white bulls?
–That’s alright! See you at celebrations! Makris called after them. –Same old fellow, don’t worry. He loves us all three houses! The women are coming!
But Makris stopped short, with an uncertain clutch of his amber-bead necklace. Makris, our dear gray he-goat out of Malia, grieving his home since it burned: pretending we did not see him bent and wasting, too, before our eyes
Anybody, I tried after them. A way to start again, with any honor. The one answer was a young girl’s voice
–Keeper of Days, keep us in the circles of the sun!
I might have said, No more, no less—but running in past them through the door came my girl-child, Little Zoe. She vaulted up into my arms
–Papou! –Sweet girl! –There, you two, that’s the medicine!
Zoe, eight, happy, gangly and lithe, with strong hair and eyes dark brown as ripe carob. The monkey clung to me laughing and the sound and feel of her drove deep a sword of gratitude. We spun, kissed, and bumped the table: the ache of life came back…
From Chapter 3:
Deucalion “Sweet Wine” has turned—
He enters the once-his Knossos Throne Room
and brings his people’s message to “the man” of their conquerors.
…I walked through blood and weapons, corpses, writhing forms: Donos dead on his back, with Butes lowering a young son’s locks down over him, Kinuwa dead, his old folks orphans. They helped me to eat my heart at the four doors of the throne’s sunken anteroom. Down four steps inside, the alabaster benches sat empty around a floor of black ironstone, set in pink schist: naked wall where, once, a turquoise tapestry of isles
My arm let go the shield. Four doors behind me became two in front: in old days, this play the more to see nothing but The One beyond enthroned. Now this magic doubled iron in my blood. For Koreter sat there, still as an idol in the chamber‘s crimson flicker. Here, where seated elders of our clans had faced down every would-be Cretan king, nobody faced him
Waiting his turn; but the great palm-painted jar at his feet, the bowls on the inner-chamber benches at his sides said he had prayed. He gave me nothing as I came in, his gray hands fixed to the knees of his white gold-belted gown, the silver-pointed chin and brow high, eyes straight across the chamber. Gold his wristbands, a yoke of eight gold necklaces; goldfoil holding white locks from his brow with two winged horses, lapis-blue
He was trying to master me, and flinched not an eye when I kicked over the great jar and it smashed, pooling chrism and horsemint. Same instant, I read the wall at his back: gone the great green palm that had shaded our throne’s white alabaster, gone our green hills, waters, lively quietude. Either side of Koreter’s blank face, a sharp-beaked Griffin, hunters and devourers once the reach of our law. Tonight, they were monsters come for him, their hooked beaks high with necks craned up to swallow. And wingless, too! A joke laced in by our old-blood painters: no wings to carry this fellow up the sky. Too fat, Mother Griffin, with a belly full of Great Year monsters waiting to be born
I put the tip of my iron to his plexus: Koreter’s breath came big, but his eyes stayed fixed looking past me. What he saw was the chamber’s sunken pit, the grave of summer’s sun-crown, grave of the miserable self
–Minotavros is come. The son of your own lying hand, I said. And then, louder: –You sit like a Pharaoh. Too bad you’re Achaian, and in Crete. I thought you people held it blasphemy, impersonating gods. You know me for your own, don’t you, Koreter
He blinked once, and then deigned to look at me
–You cursed clown-faced animal, jabbering Libu. Those guards are Meshwesh, he snarled. –Smarter dogs come in out of the rain. Oh, to see their knife in your back!
Outside, Norax was shouting. Here, I reached to rip Koreter off the throne, and Dog’s Day, he cursed: You will never be free of us
My hand threw him across the chamber: he hit the facing stone bench hard and his body cried out, but not his will. He clambered half-up, and clutched the arm worst-hurt. In the throne’s shapely seat I saw our moon, our sun and star above the mountain: I the first and last to do a thing like this in front of them
–Does it hurt, when somebody hurts you? Welcome to the world. Too bad you can’t stay, spider
Koreter was still bent, half-up where he fell: a nice clean little old man-sire. I thought of his Lion and their sons’ deeds sanctified. Hard-built towns in ash. Burly browbeaten yokels whose hope in life was slaves and jewelry, who shipped our mouthy women to their flax-farms. Zoe’s nose. Flame, I no longer knew who spoke
–A thousand names built this house. For them, Koreter, I give you something. A living chance. I swear it, by our family. Look at me! Answer one question. An easy one you should know. Answer, and solemnly, you live
—Get it over with! What is it then! he sneered, holding hard to the bench
–Just tell us about one good thing you have done, for Crete, in coming here. There must be one good thing. Tell us about it
He tried. –Ohh, gods, gods! I fetched him, jerked his head back and drove iron down the root of his neck till the hilt struck collarbone. His eyes were boiling and the throat in his open mouth. I twisted hard-around, then ripped out and his lungs’ blood fountained purple from the hole. When the spray of it failed, I threw him on his face at the dais, and shrieked his death delivered soaked with blood before the throne. Everything fused and married: sun-disc, star-center, navel, new moon cradling new sun: crowns of the horned mountain, and fresh blood red across their niche. Let go. See
Between the polished sea and mountain curves of the throne’s back alabaster stone, my shade moved in the other world, iridescent, bloody. Where the ninth curve had crowned the face of the woman of my soul, a splash of blood let two drops fall. The throne was broken, dead and killed—not Great Year way. Dead, alive and in-between, I raised the palms I had to the people who had raised it, and defended it
At the door a man of Alashiya offered to drag out Koreter. I woke to stink of iron in the pooling blood, mad noise outside beyond the doubled doors. Rocks and arrows coming down: there might be a dozen Achaians outside, men caught bunking in the town and now hoping to hold us without coming in, until they scared up who knew what, and horses
Smoke of our burning-begun flowed in gray plumes out of doors and stairways, and blasts of south wind dragged it over the court. There was Melas, his back to a huddle of women and children, all fair, sobbing in their night-clothes. Why not kill them, right there where Achaians killed ours. I found Koreter’s corpse dragging from my hand, out between Merire’s Meshwesh and the captives. In front of all, I chopped the head off, and held it up on high a draining diadem. The women and children hid their eyes, poor innocent locusts. Here came Melas through smoke and bouncing stones. –Where in blazes Aktor, and Abas! It’s time to settle and get out!
From Chapter 5:
The families living new challenges from Cyprus to Sicily,
Deucalion suffers the curious gift
of outliving his love Pyrrha and his kin.
Our first house we plastered white two years later, and over its door went Moira’s gift, a limestone brace of mountain horns with three spirals facing the morning. Six rooms with a ground-floor center sanctuary and benches round the walls for communions, two stories with good windows, a rooftop garden: it was more than Ninna ever hoped. The crown of it was HoneyBee’s motion to anoint her first mother, with the standing of old Zoe in our midst. Ninna filled her hands arranging labor to raise other households along the valley, and in the evenings people came back to our first fine yard, with its gathering-tables under plane trees spreading forty years of of shade. To Moira, we sent every first-fruit. To Melas we lost about one in four Karfi people, but a good dozen babies like Brimo’s were fat ones
Keeper of Days was going to need some years to sight the sun against our hills. The moon’s days told me when and where to start, and we had our own festivals winter and summer along with Moira’s. For Aktor, Ninna dug in beds of herb and flower, lily, jasmine: when the earth felt good to her hands and feet, she knew the pleasure went deep enough to find and fetch him home. HoneyBee said Ninna’s breathing was prayer. We never kindled morning fire but the candles were already lit for her shrine in the house to old family and old home. Ninna sang their names and people caught pieces of their ways and stories through her. She might by the season be one of a hundred women out on the land stooping over for greens, or carding for the looms in homes nearby. Always, when people came in to a meal, the savor was from Ninna’s hands. Her quiet broom swept gently neat as an altar until sunset, and then back every evening to sing her candles into darkness. She was tearing up weeds one day, and I said she should rest
–I wonder, Otus, what I failed to do, even while I see that blackguard now, that failed man
–Honeybee told me that you turned his beatings into marriages for the house. You, first mother, are the warrior conquering Alashiya
–Otus, curse my mouth, I could see Aktor dead and feel better than I do
Honeybee and Zoe kept Ninna near: We’ll make it so good here that Aktor will know he must come home. They took Ninna gathering crane-feathers every season in the shore-lands’ nesting marshes, and brought stately things to Zakkala ceremony. In the midst of our losses it was Norax’s Oinops coming to the front: of old days, he was always third man with Prax and Aktor, and Norax kept him close with their pleasures in the land. We cleared for grain, orchard and olive, planted our nurseries: there were nights of love alone with Pyrrha, with others in the gardens of Paphos
Pyrrha never named a father of the child she was showing by late autumn’s moon, but when I asked what names she fancied, she said Deucalion for a boy. Why do you cry? Is this not why I found you, and why you came, to bring sweet wine back to the world?
And then she wished that somebody grow trade of sylphium, promised with Merire. Easy for her to line up men to work Zakkala in my stead, and Ramose to sail as far as Sicily: I could see Podargos. Moira was ready to send masons and potters out Thapsos way
Last to this push, there was Cissia the best potter out of Karfi, as ready as a sailor. No surprise, losing that son of hers Oka to Melas’ dreams, besides her sharky house-bond. And if lady Pyrrha could take a year at sea, Cissia meant to have young Eos off The Nail. So, I talked this out with Ramose in her name
–Give you ten days of Crete on the home leg, and then I leave you there, he answered: a double-edged promise the pair of us enjoyed
Instantly I missed our tiny trees, Ninna’s yard with its moving shadow of the horns, our river’s talking stones. But again I surrendered to the sea because, if we did not vanish in it, there was gain every side of going. If we brought back Eos, there was standing of the kind I wanted with Karfi people at Zakkala
–Keep this up, you’ll be walking sailor-legged, Norax joked. He had his own request: to make as bold as I could to find our good sons yet alive, perhaps, with Aktor. There in our last cups came Oinops’ turn to plead his own year under sail—saying out first that he disliked the sea. Oinops had Norax’s fierce-red hair and was grown as Libu-large. When he settled for Norax’s word against it, it was good to think someone had learned from our dead man Donos, who had worried his chances of coming through Knossos and bet the wrong way
Honeybee and Zoe made me feel the last of home. Ramose was less annoyed with me this time, and listened when I asked to beach near the Achaian outpost in Rhodes. We coasted past the ruins of Trianda: for Pyrrha, I never told the end of Cretans there, and our boats made into their little bright bay Ialysos. The usual bulky men at arms had a boulder-fort with a few stone houses near it for their families, and these ran a works like Pylos‘ little brother. Harbor-master must have heard about Melas, and was not pleased to feel some reach of Alashiya where he lived
I learned nothing for gifting their yellow-bearded chieftain; but when I saw the size of their ramshackle potters’ barn, I kept the man’s cup full. Hinting at business, I wondered if they had enough ships to bear so much stock eastward—and he roared back Why! at almost battle-pitch. Because, I said, the tables of Ugarit and Byblos began to like Achaian clay. So you say. We will discuss it. Come back, said yellow-hair. And I knew that, with him, I had just cut myself out of a rising game
–Cursed croc-eyes on their prows, Ramose said
On Carpathos, shells of houses where Melas burned his name. We coasted well off Crete’s southern mountains, put in at Kommos the best jumping-point for Libu, and Knossos’ cheese-counting grip was no more. The Messara plain’s plenty was fetching back things of the world, and Kommos was growing houses, ship-sheds, style. From the beach I saw the great humps of Psiloritis wrapped in cloud beyond her harbor. I was building, working, free, with a boat and home; drinking new ways and places, the problems and indignities turning into play
I left offerings for so much help from my family, and paid a skinny boy to bring Zoe and Makris a prince’s box of myrrh. I schooled it into him, Sweet Wine comes for Eos and six more, and he switched his donkey up trail. I felt ready to carry his water, yet I breathed a world that was enough, and lost the sorrows of The Nail in the name of a boy that might be born. The winter with Merire and his three new wives was full of hunting, sleep and plans
In the middle of The Green, while Ramose wove his secret sea-paths out to Sicily, I heard lewd skirls and thumping songs that men at oars never sang for Pyrrha
Away away we sail and row, off we go, wild wind blow
sweet for the girls who won’t say no in the boats of Alashiya
When we put in at Ugarit
she screams my thing will never fit
we leave them happy where they sit
in the boats of Alashiya
The water-boy, the water-boy,
the master wants to boff him
he stuffs his twat with shards of pot
to keep the bugger off him
In all our mothers’ lands of trade
it’s every mother’s son gets laid
here comes a gift will never fade
in the boats of Alashiya
–Papou! Podargos shouted for old times coming down the grassy hills at Thapsos. Look at him! Two heads taller, straight brown hair out loose to his muscled shoulders, and he still had his bright mountain eye. Podargos was thriving, and if I thought him young to be turning himself into a house-bond of Nyasha’s, that was what he wanted—belonging to a town and people with equal room to run and build. His pairing up with Kopi was part of a feast that coupled many. If it smoothed the way for business, there were fist-fights too, fierce enough to tell of real resentments […]
[…] I adored my wives, their strengths and where they needed me; could suffer with our men digging ditches, learning the water-cooled saw that cut our stone, and in the evenings longed to plough, especially with Pyrrha. Phitios came home like resurrection to Winato, and they made famous husbands. Podargos came to visit, his herds turned into ships’ business growing in his pouch: Norax and his Oinops plied Miletus as I did westwards, and some of our men fished mackerel and tunny with Trojan partners. Like them, more of our young scattered into the islands, eager for their own
The more I traveled, I learned to confess it: when things were good with Egypt, things were good. We were Canaan’s kin and partners, but their own little status-wars cost more than Pharaoh’s taxes. The second Amenhotep kept their peace with a hand much lighter than promised early-on: when he died after twenty-five years, I found myself grandfather to Podargos’ son, named Prax. They were both in Alashiya because Ninna was dying. She entrusted little Prax her crane-clan’s feather: she wanted to die in the garden, and she gave me my first clue that something was not normal. Now from these days onward, a life and world began to fade
–Do you think it’s the sylphium shipped these years? Ninna asked
–What, I said. –Dear one, men do not drink that
–But you don’t change, she said. –Your eyes are older. But your skin. Your face. Tell us. Tell me, Ninna pleaded: she was not afraid of passing through the door, only speaking from the first unwilling steps
What could I answer? Many men belied their age. When Ninna died, her mask was smiling. Though Aktor never returned to her, the last she saw was the line of our young people coming through her garden: they kissed her hands, for the strength to lose a home and build another. She slept below a pretty hill, and many times our dances turned her way with palms out high
The next Pharaoh reigned ten years and, nothing like the Tutmoses before him, he all but left the east to its affairs, a man for his dreams and monuments. I lost my Nail-hard brother Norax, who died in a good bed in the home of his son Oinops‘ family, out in Miletus. I sailed there with his daughter Aithe, cut my hair, my arms, and we danced his honor. She had twin daughters now. Oinops’ house stood partners a long time with Zakkala. And then came a third Amenhotep, a little boy-king, whose mother’s family Pyrrha had sailed to see. By the time he put on his blue war-crown and crushed the hope that Libu had breathed into Nubia, Honeybee too was passing
–You won’t share it? she wept. –You can help me, and you won’t?
–Share what! I answered, kissing her work-battered hands. –Oh, Fourogata, the people who walk proud here learned from you. You were the altar that you raised for Ariadne, you made it worlds more than trade. Honeybee, don’t leave us
She did. And I did not die like everybody else. Like Moira, like Ramose, like Winato, more and more of them. Arge, and Cissia, Euryale and even Brimo the once-gazelle. And one by one, the people grieving change beside a grave saw me not changing. Their playful envy cured into wonder, and then became unease, resentment, fear: the thing I loved most began to turn
Sport of nature! I say what I know, that if skin and hair and strength of body speak of age, mine stopped getting older from that time forward, through the lives of many families. It was not a gift asked for, maybe a curse deserved. I never looked it in the teeth. There were tales of men burning the world for what fell into my hand. And in the place where I had landed with it, a man who hoarded blessings was in trouble
I shrugged that I had been struck by lightning. What was my diet, what did I bathe in, what root or talisman? With no answers, rancor grew, and worst where it counted, in the elders whose hard-earned status this unnerved. Alashiya’s elite were shrinking in their jewelry and textiles, turning skeletal under fine wigs and melting cones of saffron, and I went about a black-haired farmer whose skin still liked the sun. Vain I was, till smirks became accusations. He drinks the juice of monkey-stones. He comes to your house to lance a boil and two days later grandfather is dead—dry as a fly when the spider is done
I stopped trying to answer. Did they expect me not to eat the whole fruit fallen to my hands? Pyrrha’s sister Kia died. Next we knew, most of Paphos’ traders refused to carry produce of our land. They wanted an answer; but the Lady after Moira, Arne, had not won her office on short memory. Zakkala was her elder Pyrrha’s child. Arne shipped out all we had and it fetched a good year‘s silver. That shut people up, and the envy got worse
Merire died. I was asked to make offerings at Sais: the Libu all but ruled that town on a western branch of Nile, and the temple there of Neith was immense, full of people and learning. Inside, Merire’s property by work went to all their children, his copper sword to his sister’s eldest son. After, I sat outside that portico and learned the words inscribed above the door
I am all that has been, is, shall be
No mortal ever lifted up my veil
The fruit I brought forth was the Sun
Podargos had all a man could want. He and Kopi raised four children, Nyasha bore Shekelesh sons to reckon with, and they kept Bright Foot clear of Sicily’s worsening feud. My son Deucalion was a man to name every bird in our orchards. Zoe grew to a woman with a gift like Kia‘s, and all but lived at Paphos‘ seashell-oracle. She played with people till their own sense served them, and it grew the oracle‘s name. Should I sail this year? a trader would ask her. Will you feel more lucky next? Zoe also bore a girl, Kaliopi, with her dancing-feet. I watched their lives ripen through fine evenings under the great trees of our yard. Grandfather now, I did begin to dote in the sun. Old Crete, even The Nail, grew sweeter: this should have been an old man’s nap. Instead, I was still fit for voyages
Travel kept me some from Pyrrha, but none of the trouble touched her. In Pyrrha we lived past measure: Zakkala was home, music, dawns and evenings jasmine-scented, strong harvests, children, swimming with them in waters like liquid sky. She and I never got enough of holding each other, naked, kissing: our feet still rubbed together, making their own love every time the first
And then I was kneeling beside her last bed. Pyrrha told everybody else to leave the room: they went out smirking-sure that, now, for her, daemon-man would work his gift, and it would out. I had nothing: words
You made my heart big as the mountains
not even mountains could love you more
I watched Pyrrha traveling, returning from visions that soothed her pain. This the woman who forged two trades with Sicily and Libu, now crosslegged upright in her bed, like some tiny ancient seed a child of herself. She lifted her hands toward the room’s light, and her fingers were a clumsy girl’s: she was in her mother’s Cretan kitchen, tongue at her mouth’s corner, one eye shut, learning thread and needle. Her hands rose up together again and again, threading the eyelet like a gesture of solemn praise: it tore down my bitterness till I was left only shattered, and in awe. The other world had opened in the room. The thread in her hands was real and infinitely long, and the line of grandmothers teaching: I saw worlds vanish in her passing, and their gestures and praise untouched by it. Pyrrha slept, and then the eyes in which I lived came back, lucid, radiant
–I dreamed, she smiled, –our first day together, on the mountain. And I wake to my beloved, and the world we made together of what we said
–No, no. Listen, she said. –These years of talk, I arranged to help you. Sweet Wine, Zakkala is our family’s. But—you had better leave. Make yourself their agent on the sea. Don’t wait till someone wants to see if you can die. Strange man, crazy man! Sweet Wine, take your name back. That is all we can hope, is it not, to bear with everything, and keep our honey?
–Go back to Kemet. Take my name to Lady Tiye, who rules with Pharaoh. So much land, they ran the country till he grew; and Tiye wants island things. My winter snake, be brave, whatever keeps your summer rising! Husband, brush my hair, before the women come
I gnashed my teeth not asking to die with her. If I did eat poison, or drown, would I be a walking corpse? She looked down generations: the choice was live for that, or ashes now. I swore my Pyrrha all. She closed her peaceful eyes. I kissed her mottling hands, and when her breathing ended, sat her up, and brushed her hair. When I pushed the room’s shutters open, the midday trees were still as if the last bird had died. Below, Paphos faces stared up from her yard. The wine of my blood turned fiery: in that window I took my old name again. People turned their backs
–Not even for her! –Curse your man-selfish secrets! –Why don’t you leave, like your kinsman that other murderer?
I went into our orchards and hills along the sea, and crushed the tears from my heart. When it tore me inside-out, I was back in the paradisal night with Mother Zoe under Dikte, and we laughed that I had found her right three ways. I refused to see Pyrrha’s grave: it was a lie. And then, I never worked so cold and sure at things whose end or reason, I knew not….
From Chapter 7:
Riding whirlwind change and dispossession,
the tribes face another rebirth
among ruins and families ardent to rebuild.
Unbelievable. Utterly. A man as old and young as his tribe’s ninth generation, faced again with starting from the stones. An ignorant stranger, in a land as thick as ancient blood. And nothing for it, except to go on
–You will find your way, Radharani smiled. –Sure as El found the ocean
For as she told it, in the very beginning El, Beneficent Bull who reigned from his mighty horned mountain, looked down on the sublimity and dewy freshness of the world. Turning his gaze in every direction, El basked in what he alone had created and accomplished. Yet, among all the green and gray distances surrounding him, half of what El saw was blue, in a place and a way that was not the sky. So did El descend his mountain, to see what this different blue was
When El for the first time stood beside the ocean, he wondered at so vast a living thing, as it tossed and sighed and glimmered. Now, El saw two immaculate creatures at play in the waters and the waves, sporting and flashing and enjoying themselves. They seemed to be waiting for him. Their flashing eyes and solemn looks reached down into El’s great root, and stretched his being from one horizon to the other
El cried out to them, and said they might call him father, or husband, as they pleased. They gave El one laughing answer—Husband!—and El knew that his being and doing had never been alone. These wonders in the waters were the handiwork of Asherah, El’s one wife older than stars, the walker in the sea, who had made all things beside him. Horny old fool, how had he forgotten? El’s laughter at himself shook the universe awake. And together they named these immortal younglings, Shachar the dawn, and Shalim, dusk: children of the sea, Elohim, the first divine offspring
There were more than seventy powers like these consecrated from the harbors to the inland mountains of this land, with names and temples and confused crossings-over to make your head swim—each the patron of a family or a guild or some profession. Dagon and Belatu, mother and father of nourishing dew, were raisers of the grain. Their son was Baal Hadad of thunder and storm, like his father with a wish to rule alone: his mate was Baalat. Anat, ever-virgin of a million copulations, slaughterer on battlefields, was a match for Reshef her crazy kinsman of the desert, who brought plague or skillful healing at his whim. Yam ruled the oceans and rivers, Kotharat was comfort to a woman with child. Nikal filled men’s orchards with succulence, Yarikh was her husband of the moon: Kothar a craftsman, and Shapshu the living sun. Hawwah and Adham, wife and husband tending vineyards on the mountain, lived like all of the Elohim forever. And the crown of their realm was the world’s great Tree of Life
Mot was the name of death in these Canaani lands and towns. He alone, Radharani said, received no worship and no offerings. After all, every day, the hand of Mot took for itself. And why was that?
El had forgotten himself in vanity. Baal Hadad had done likewise. So had another of the Elohim, Horon—a guardian of men against the desert’s wild beasts, as cunning as snakes at magic and in places underground. Horon took his chance to challenge El. With a single toss of one horn, El sent Horon head-over-backwards down the mountain. But Horon, raging, resolved on a hopeless revenge. In a flash he was a snake, and he sank his fangs into The Tree of Life. It changed into a hideous Tree of Death, and Horon cast around it a sickly fog, a mist that choked and dimmed the world
From the Elohim, El sent Adham of the vineyards to fight Horon. So, they grappled up and down the thundering mountain. But Horon coiled up his vicious spite, and struck his fangs into Adham. As Adham felt this bite, and took this poison, he knew that he lived no more among his undying sisters and brothers
This was the beginning of Mot. No greater grief could Adham suffer. Yet, to his comfort came Shapshu, the living sun, to be mistress of the dead and light the way. Adham the new creature, she called man, Adam. And because for him, there was no life without Hawwah, Shapshu gently folded her hand into Adam’s
But this was not the deathless hand of his companion from their vineyards on the mountain. This mortal, woman, she called Eve, Life, The Mother of All Living to be born. Henceforth, said Shapshu, their immortality would be their children
The Elohim together, moved by these wrongs and kindnesses, turned in wrath against Horon. The Elohim forced Horon to rip his Tree of Death up by the roots, and to restore The Tree of Life, that man and woman never want for its fruit; nor shall they want who are mujomena, mystis, or understanding
Yet, for this undoing, Mot was not to be be undone. Shapshu the sun, for her part, never shone so bright. She burned away the last of Horon’s sickly fog, and the land and living things were fresh as dew again
As an islander, I sought these first Canaani things in hope of their wisdom about death, and why it had not touched me down these years. It seemed their answer was the one I had from home: no answer, only the comforts and consolations of this life. This was at least fair ground for hope that I might fit in
–Urana is what age? I asked
–All of eighteen, Radharani smiled, as we watched the first of her welcome-girls stride out, covered in flowers, toward a hundred guests across the stone-slab court. Our vantage was a slot in the door of her house where it faced the courtyard: two other young favorites of the house came out behind Urana, companions of the greeting with crown-daisies golden in their thick dark hair, and they loosed one shivering call from the white conchs lifted in their hands
These girls wore no more than their festival names, their flowers and white loincloths, like Qadesh, Canaan’s Holy One. In the crowning blaze of summer solstice sunshine their garlands of flowers flowed brightly down off their shoulders, the blooms hung carefully to cross X just below the girls’ dimpled navels. Big-budded vetchlings orange as a new moon, clusters of red everlasting, rock roses white against blue Syrian cornflowers, and coastal iris, with petals so purple they looked black
Their solemn good cheer quelled the courtyard’s murmuring babble, and the conches cried six more calls for the summer gathering-days. People let their eyelids fall and smudged themselves with smoking cedar-twigs, fingers spiraling up and down. Behold, my new teachers: farmers of the broad sea-plain Sharon, Canaani merchants of the trade-towns, island sailors, feather-crowned Serens of the Pulesati cities, and herdsmen off the hills and pasture-heights that faced The Green. Radharani was giving them a place to make offerings to powers, that powers embrace their lives in arms of care and comfort
–Good girls, thunder! she whispered with pleasure. –Yes! Confront them, stand, arms high now, like suns between horns of mountains. Sway, lift up their hearts—and lo! she laughed. –The manly mystics crane their necks for more. They’d give their souls, to see those flowers fall! Music now, music!
Her guild of players commenced as the young girls moved in serpent sways of hips and shoulders in a line. A deep and heavy drone rose into the air with the nebel’s twelve lusty-fingered strings, and a shimmering ring of little cymbals danced in and out of time between pulses of a ram’s hide drum. As people answered, shaking tiny bells sewn in along their garments’ fringes, two double-reed flutes began to flutter like twining birds. Softly between them climbed the ugab’s long sweet hollow-sounding pipe. It seemed to cry above the droning and the drums’ dark beats. If their sound had a name, it was longing, and longing swayed the young girls’ hips
This was all by old custom of marzeah, a gathering-of-riches festival for the summer countryside around the hill Qadeshah. A generation gone since our catastrophe, I had watched this place grow from low squat hovels to a travelers’ house, and then a town over the sea, with a few rolling acres of two-story homes, garden patches, and date-palms shading well-laid paths of stone. The knee-high wall encircling everything marked a sanctuary rather than a stronghold, and below the hill’s steep flanks of red sandstone, a good little harbor spread out along the riverbank, with houses for stores and a fair road inland
Of all the hands that had raised Qadeshah, people called Radharani its crown: she wore her rich black locks in two big spiral curls and between them her pixilated almond eyes were bright, her thirty years’ red-brown skin even darker under her long white diaphanous gown, of island-weave. She wore red everlastings everywhere and I could scarce believe another circle in my fortune, to stand beside her here
–Look at my dear fool out there! Radharani laughed now, giving me her view. –He wants to be our baal, my king? His head is wonderful, the songs say—kindly, since between his ears are smoke and clouds! Make me laugh, like Asherah at El!
This was Halak, the big portly fellow now dancing by himself across the front of the crowd, the full spread of his tasseled garments swaying bright colors and shapes of Nile cotton and Canaani purple. Halak these people sometimes called head man of Qadeshah, but that was as far as it went: he had not fled north into The Lebanon with so many other Canaani, but held fast to family orchards and proffered himself for the job of kissing up to overseers from The Nile. Halak’s mouth as he danced alone was open in a kind of feigned possession by the music, his beard dark and thick as fur but curled up into ringlets Hatti-style, and a tall hat rode his bobbing head. His eyes had not rolled back, but peeked through his painted lids to see which people took up his pretense, and who might laugh or sneer. Behind his back, Halak was the walking reason why Qadeshah brooked no king: he amounted to the nickname whispered in the country where his family held good orchards, Lord Of Pistachios
–Forgive me, Radharani said. –In truth, Halak does for us the things that must be done, stroking Egypt, where our hope is only to be left alone
Her hope and mine: Qadeshah was the seed of a way cracking open in the good soil that followed our nightmare. The man who left his brand in our flesh had been murdered by his captive wives. And still, the peoples in reach of his house paid their prices. To Nile we owed our place here, and the price was Pharaoh’s charge: keep these lands and roads of trade in order, or lose everything. Halak was the butter we spread on his officials
Another life ago, where I thought my rage had made me a helper, I had brought forth dead bodies. Here, in the ordinary well-laid streets of Qadeshah, in the fine stone buildings raised by these people in the midst of humble houses, the seed of the way was life trying to be life again. What stood now was Pulesati and Canaani, with island touches, and Achaian hearths, and things from Tyre and Byblos: a sanctuary garden of Qadesh, white evening star, whose presence tamed the wild
–And, tonight, Radharani relished, as her hips rocked gently with the music, –a shadow takes full moon. The moon, Sweet Wine. Are you sure?
–By all my years a Keeper, this is the night, I answered her. –The worry, I told you: we can wait eighteen years and no shadow comes, and then wait eighteen more to the hour of the night, and it will show. But you know what this does to people. They think the dead walk, that daemons climb up out of holes. Every blessing and power of the moon fails, and dark things rise that can devour the last hope. Be kind, Radharani! It will come this night, because it is your desire
She wanted help to prove her house a sister of the sun and moon. She wanted Qadeshah to stand a peer in secrets of the real moon’s lights and shadows, and so like other women of good houses, be a conscience of Pulesati strength. And she hoped as much that it might do something for the troubling night-time voices coming off the land: long ululating anguished calls, that she said had begun a few years ago. Their sounds, to her, were northern highland: floating voices circling strings of words, at once a deep of longing, accusation, and a warning
Our bride is in many hands
At sunrise hours ago, a hundred close-by families stood gathered at the ocean: their procession circled around the entire hill, and then wound up through Qadeshah with music to the high place trees and stones. Farmers with their barley and wheat in ranked the front of the company, Dagon’s sons: behind them two feather-crowned ponies pulled a chariot with one of the house-guard’s Annakim giants riding grand marshal, and behind him, Labrys walked high on a flower-spiraled shaft. And now, gates closed, more solemn things: the sun was nearing noon, the fierce peak of his powers and the beginning of his fall. Radharani and I took turns at the slot of vantage in her door, and the courtyard was packed to the pillared entranceway, the faces of her guests as many colors as their garments
The droning din of music ceased, and Urana and her sisters burst out into shares of the wild harangue schooled into them
–To Qadeshah be welcome, all, where sun stands still and shines straight down!
–Welcome, you wholly ungovernables!
–Today we choose today!
–Now, get out of here, clodhoppers, scribes in crooked clay, plotting rotting good-for-nothing greed-bags! Fuck your feuds, and women, go, who kiss their horny feet! Go, you broken ones who bow to weaklings and their fists—and go you rat-faced keepers of the hoard!
–Great Year wheel and blackened moons and suns, break your greasy grip!
–Snake, Bull, Lioness take you down! And Griffin grab you by the balls!
Sudden wilder music then, with claps of the crowd’s hands catching on quick, and outraged raucous roars of laughter. No one departed
–Let them serve out the honeycakes, Radharani said, –and sharing-cups of your wine. Are you ready, Flood Rider, New Wine Sailor, for the day you have wanted so long? Breathe, from this lotus I hold for you
I bowed my head, and breathed her proffered queen of flowers. The house was all Lebanon cedar of its beams and burnt barley out of the bread-ovens. She seemed to know my need to keep my head, and she drew me to another look outside. A crowd to overwhelm the eyes, every pair of them so different, from head-gear and hair and beard to the blends of colors down their striped and patch-pattern robes. Rings and bracelets, clan-tattoos, earrings and necklaces, each one a work of worlds I never saw. The only common things were the lack of visible weapons and the ranks of bare washed feet. But still alive the lot of us, three hundred years of salt since Knossos. Radharani breathed herself a long deep savor of her flower
–Your little ones in Egypt, she said, one palm to my heart. –Murdered by the grief of people there, in battle’s wake: they are here with you. Today, in the children you husband for this house, meet them again. Sweet Wine, before this double door, let go. Men drown beyond their depth. Qadesh spreads her wings, and breathes them life
I looked up from the flower to the graces of her eyes. –I will do as you ask, to be a house-bond, I answered. –I will speak a Keeper’s secrets where you ask. But, I want to know—what you most desire, Radharani
–I will tell a man who lost and brings so much. Let people refresh themselves, they see me soon enough. This be the touchstone of our day, Radharani began
–When I was three, your fathers the islanders scourged many kings out of Canaan. When Nile broke the last waves of you, you came back to this land where the temples and great houses already knew your arts. But you, Deucalion, were dead to everything. Pharaoh wanted lucre for his priests. His ministers gave you choice of the peoples’ captured ships. So you were wealthy again by the time I first saw you, and a prisoner to ghosts. Living in one wretched room in Gaza, on a mattress like a stone
–And how did I find you, born worlds away? You know what Yumm said, the man I called father; that I was born of the rising sun. So they say of mystery-children east of Babylon. Young, I thought me born in the saddlebag of one of his asses. Yumm called me bright as hammered tin, sweeter than the myrrh he traded west. I loved the travelers’ houses and the roads and hills with him, the Sutu tents and Bedouin camps in lands of stone beneath the sky. We had night-sings, and music by the wells
–One spring, there was sickness in Yumm’s tents, and it left him old: he knew his body had strength for one more journey. Yumm was like his fathers, no man to forget a debt. To pay it took him all of the western road to Gaza. I made him bring me along, as little girls get their way. So I thought, until I found he had left his wealth at home, but not his treasure. Yumm owed a Cretan of Gaza for stock of oil and aromatics. And what to do when he found he had outlived those partners—another whole company of people swallowed by The Green? He asked help from the little old priestess there in Gaza, Diwia
–She found us another Cretan. You. I remember, Yumm was too much man to cry for losing me, scrawny as a monkey then. But he cried when you, in turn, put me in the care of Diwia’s house. That was what he wanted for me all along. Why? I cried then, because I loved him; and he said, The lives of these great ladies will be yours: in you, the eastern lands return the gifts of the western sea. Do this for me, Shiny One, and for yourself: goodbye. It helped me through that time to tell myself his stories. Yumm said that gods might be the sun, but Radharani is what shines; that nothing moves a god, and still her ceremonies move him. In the core of my name, I found the thing to which I meant my life to rise
–Those years, I swept Derceto’s halls in Gaza, learning arts of ceremony; and when my flower came, I gave it to the god come through my door. The first I heard your name was when I drank with ladies there the drink that closes wombs. And each man gave back something to the house: the wealth that made ten fingers’ worth of good things happen in the towns around those places. I laugh because I like so much a man who understands: good things happen where a woman feels safe!
–I know the men of tribes outside who twist the names of sanctuary women, houri of the hours, and call us whores for that. Men who either drop their robes or pick up a stone if a woman says hello, and give back as little as they can. But I was as Urana is becoming. I paid honor to that house, as women give to see a good thing prosper; so that loving ways go on in this our life. So I came to know and learn from the daughters of the isles who fought old Ramses. I should be—like them, finding fields with promise, if I could fetch men to it. They knew what it was to need and help each other
–The land was broken kingdoms, except where your people of the boats were sharing seed and staking farms, and building to the south. Not many Canaani, sons of the old disorder, stood in the way of people who put roads and fields and markets back to work. Women said it was like old Alashiya, every town its kinds of worship, and Great Year festivals between. I had skills to rise in that. The time came when it grew safe to travel old roads inland. In the Shephelah country that looks up the hills toward Hebron, there is an old Canaani town, Lachish, where your tribes were digging in grapes and olives. I went there with priestesses, to ask the daemons of the land a planters’ blessing
–And who was camped as well along their brook but a band of Annakim, the giants who keep our walls here, brothers now: the first men swayed to the thing born in my mind. They fight for any side, but in-between they live for drink and girls. That day, they were down from their guild-house in Hebron for both, all blades and muscle. I thought there might be some with better hopes. What are their lives, Deucalion, that music and a woman’s subtle foot should mean so much? Was I not to build where they saw Asherah, Baalat Qadeshah, Hawwah?
–I gave my learning, and they gave back gifts, and service. I asked if they had ever dreamed a garden, in the midst of pains of war and work. Well, if I knew a place like this, our red mountain of the dead, with good harbor and a road, could they move men and stones? If I brought such men of skill, would Qadeshah not stand? It was these people, all so different, wanting one place set apart. I did what Gaza mothers did, and every other house not waiting for a king
–Oh! Shall we not have fine music today, Radharani said breathing out a sudden brightness, –and carry our prayers up to the high place, and take good meals and talk along the benches? How I have wanted to thank you, she smiled, looking us both up and down as if we had appeared full-born before the doors
–Yumm is always near me: sometimes I smell his leather travel-bags. I felt like a child when I saw you come beaching back into my days. You were the door for me to a new life, Radharani smiled. –Now, I will be yours
I still held Pyrrha in my soul, sitting pretty on a mountain. This was all such woman, with worlds more ambition for this place in the Pulesati web
–What do I want, Radharani said, searching it out: her almond eyes narrowed round the sun’s dance of lights in her irises. –The trade of predictable old boats: to learn The Great Year moons and suns, and make them double crowns of Qadeshah. To that, you will speak for me this day, and put before our Serens what this evening offers. Ahh, tonight! May the shadow come to light!
Radharani laughed at herself, a trill like a spring among stones. –Sweet Wine, my life is ceremony. But it is not the regard. Not The Green’s easy wealth. Nor even your Libu mystery, that keeps time for children in our hands. What I crave is beyond myself; to let go, offer, and extinguish into life, such as I knew in my first flower. To marry this my flesh to the world’s flesh, and stand beyond my name and the last thought. Pouring forth, like a wound and all my joy together. A wind of the sea
Her eyes animal-alive, all shapes at once: I felt her dark-skinned body breathe, sheathed in the gown no more than a white translucence. With a sweep of her lifted hand Radharani reached for the double cedar doors, which opened into sunshine and her multitude of lives
–Selah, Sweet Wine!
Urana and the girls sang out from prayers already old to these families, and the courtyard took them up. Radharani lifted a new husband’s right hand
–Across a thousand courts, a thousand houses,
men find their joy reborn in Qadesh, Holy One.
Speak, Goddess young in our eyes, in-law of the peoples,
speak the word of our father, Bull, El, Beneficent One.
Take war from the face of The Earth, he says:
Weave love into the very dust.
Let peace possess the world, tranquility the fields
Soft waves of their voices pleasured her, their bride in many hands; and Radharani answered
–For I have a word that I shall tell you,
a matter that I shall declare to you:
the word of the tree, the whisper of the stone,
the murmur of the heavens to the earth,
of the deep to the stars,
a word that men do not know
nor the multitudes of the earth understand.
Come, and I shall show it
in the midst of the mountain
–Now, let the young ones step forward! she declared. To my surprise, it was the sight of the children coming out that tore me down, letting go a father’s hand or mother’s robe: two boys and two girls ten years old holding onto each other as they neared the strange man off The Green. My share of Qadeshah younglings to foster, sworn from this day their xenos, their helper-always. With fangs of factions eager all around them to lay hold on their days, they were going to need it….
From Chapter 9:
Sucked back into war: Pharaoh’s promise of life in Palestine
for guarding the traffic on the East-West roads
becomes a curse on friends and coexistence.
Can returning the captured Ark of the Covenant
help the desperate odds for understanding?
In three years, Urana and those who lived to remember Radharani raised a larger house of communion on the first stones, and the conches blew as fierce as ever. I could not keep away. In places Qadeshah still looked blackened or broken, but the shells had come as fresh good-luck gifts from the islands, with dancing-masks of Snake and Bull and Lioness and Griffin, and double-axes: the finest gift became their first ceremony, a faience figure of Earth Mother you could hold in your hands, her upraised arms presiding tranquil and strong on the little altar where people shared their meals. Pulesati and islanders, Canaani and Eberu might come just for the feasts and the music and the women, but the red hill was rising again
And if it took that long for Egypt to do something, at least it seemed that WenAmon kept his word. A small host of middling officials arrived in every Pulesati city, decked in the wigs and necklaces of gold and multicolor beads that spoke authority from Thebes. People here called them horse-collars, but there was no mocking their message: secure the roads, or else. I should have expected no better answer to our pleas. Serens drove the resolution forward in every town, to burn the heart out of highland crime. And this had to be with a force that was more than Kereti. It was going to need conscripts. Where comfortable farmers and craftsmen saw, rightly, that forcing young men into weapons opened the way for kings and catastrophes, the fear of Pharaoh’s weapons worked. Qadeshah got its visit like every other Pulesati place, and when protection arrived the reply was panic. All its people felt was their being surrounded again, and they ran up the streets spitting backwards at the so-called friendly spears, packing together into the new-laid courtyard
–You two look fit to fight
It was a horse-collar in white and gold with a Pulesati officer, he a muscular thirty with sun-wizened slits of eyes, as dark as his leather cuirass and short slashed kilt, and a scar across his brow below the cropped-feather band. Both looked me up and down, seasoned and severe, and then waited answer from the man by chance with me, called Ittai, an Eberu of twenty-eight
–Deucalion, a trader from Crete long a patron here. This is Ittai, a guest of this sanctuary with his wife and son and daughter: Eberu, of the tribe they call Judah. We are volunteers, spoken for. You can check that yourselves in the house of communion
–We will, the officer replied. –Qadeshah is under the protection of Aphek. Your name is Ittai? How old is your son?
–He is eight, sir, like his twin sister
–Volunteers, the officer mused. –For what?
–Water, and zuthos barley-wine, I answered, and after a moment, his eyes relaxed. He knew that every marching mile ran uphill under the sun. And, that killing and burning in the highlands was going to make an unpoisoned well pure luck. When the the pair of them left us, Ittai gave me a sideways look
–Well, it kept you from a company of spears
–Oh, blast! Ittai exclaimed. –I said I believe in the value of one life. Did I have to say that includes my own?
He stalked away to his family across the courtyard, going with all the heavy tread of his big burly body and his mother-round belly out ahead of him, stretching the seams of his two-piece woolen simlah. Wife and young ones watched him coming with his deep-set rolling eyes cast down, the blue wool cap riding the wild frizz of his hair: there was no smile for them to lighten the line of Ittai’s jaw, twice as heavy-looking for the short stiff beard. First thing, though, the four of them kissed, and then they laughed together at something he said
Ittai was not one bone the brute he looked, as all men go by chance, but had made himself a most companionable goon in his stays at Qadeshah. He might have been a blood-son of old Raz, with that wide-open drive to say anything for a smile, and the three moved in under his arms as he explained the trap into which I had helped him. His wife, Bat-Yam or Daughter of the Sea, looked at me and then squinted as Ittai began to listen to each of them: Gil the bony boy they had named for joy, and Nili his little girl, whose name Ittai had worked hard to explain. It spoke what he called the glory of their people, who will not lie
They spoke awhile, shook their heads together, and Ittai came back
–I come here to reach out, he muttered. –If that cutthroat will have a bowman put an arrow in my side for going home, they tell me to stay and take my chances. Bat-Yam’s cousins can see them back to the farm. Curse you, Deucalion, we are grateful, again. Alright, so you saved our grapevines. It was a rain-mold, Ittai shrugged with mock of bitterness, but then he put his foot down
–No. I cannot be involved in this. Do you understand that man’s intentions? My cousins gather this moon to share unleavened bread in the navel of the land, and to look into their own hearts. Talk about carrying the enemy’s water! Come to think of it, Deucalion, have you wondered about your people turning into thugs?
–Yes, I answered. –May I tell you where we seemed to lose our choice? In my grandfather’s day, there was a Seren of Gaza named Symoon. This surly bull held his office so long because he was two things: a listener, and a man who always worked ahead of trouble. When robberies on the roads kept getting worse, Symoon stuck his neck out for a council with your highland Yisryli
–He told them plainly that Pulesati had no right in the highlands, wanting only passage on the roads that all men walk. Nor could Yisryli make claim by their fathers on the lands along the sea. If a ship on the ocean paid one in ten measures for safe passage, it was only just that Yisryli receive the same for traffic through their lands. More, Symoon offered them two measures in ten, in exchange for nothing but restraint of their own men. The answer he got, my grandfather heard and told me. There is no choice. Their God had commanded them to make no friends uncircumcised, not to mingle, or make kinship, or marriages: to neither teach nor learn, to make no merriment or laws or treaties with our kind. Now, if that was what they wanted, well enough—but this left their men free to make fair game of us and others, robbing the roads? This, Ittai, they explained without explaining. If they disobeyed their god, it would make them our slaves, or they would vanish—but obedience would take the land from Babylon to Gaza
–In fact, the answer said that robbery would serve till they made open war. They leave a hole in the world and dream that we will all jump in. Face it with me, Ittai. No choice? That was a choice. Choice on every side brought thugs upon us
–Sounds about right. We can all die carrying water for Pharaoh’s fat priests. Fine, said Ittai, and he swung gaze into mine. –What now, old man of the sea?
Neither one of us got out of it, though we managed our places in the rear working wagon-loads of jars up country: we ate the dust of companies from eight cities’ jurisdictions, half bowmen and half swords or spearmen, a column of two thousand weapons climbing the hills eastward from Gezer. Ittai, sick with worry for his family’s sake, hid his face with a burnoose before we went out the gates, and he kept it closed day after night. We passed from lowland farms and pastures into woods of oak and pine that slanted off their hills, broken with rocky scrub: the country lay green after spring rain, with snowdrop and cyclamen. Second day, talk came back along the column, and I saw my young friend turn away when we heard it. The place is called Shiloh. Look for the priests
–I do not want to be here. I do not want to see this. I will lift up my eyes to the mountains
There was no way out. Third dawn, with all the land seaward spread out below, we turned north, and from there the weapons ahead of us ran at the double beyond our sight. So, by the time we came around a last long low hill and saw the half-hidden plateau, horns and sounds of rally and battle and death were in our ears. It was a double shock, for one quick look around showed a place of fine meadows with a scatter of white houses and herb gardens, flames coming out the windows, and a legion of bright tents rank by row spreading out beyond them, burning
Paths crossed among them so worn that they looked like white stone. Pistachio, fig and olive trees climbed the far long slopes. Most of all, the sight of these ordinary hills punched me harder than a buffet of wind because it looked so like the ordinary valley of Knossos Labyrinth—where a stranger might ask, Why here?, and a man born there could put no words to its feel of ancient sanctity. We were now the people laying waste. We had smashed into a place of families and memory. As this horrific stupidity ran wild before our eyes, it felt as if my brain were tearing loose. These hacked-up corpses, that arm, this trail of trickling gore, not one thing needful here, and the long day was still coming
Here and there across the little plateau a melee of pitched groups kept trying to finish or help each other out of the places where slaughter was toe to toe. From one heap of mixed tangled corpses to another, slingers and bowmen of each side kept maneuvering to flank or get behind the flow of enemies into these fights, and pillars of smoke twisted up along the shoulders of the hills, where horns blew and voices shrieked as if coming out of the air. By the first clutches of dead bodies we saw it looked as if the Yisryli had charged full-force down from the heights above their holy place, but that Pulesati spears had then drawn back to let the bowmen drop them by the dozen. There were Pulesati bodies stuck with spears and some few arrows, with brains smashed out by clubs and stones. But the mixed Kereti bowmen in calm and mobile double-ranks were making the difference in who died
By now we were being drawn forward ourselves, and there near the center of the plain we saw the swords and spears and clubs still at it, now in their lines along the wall of one side of an enormous enclosure. It ran east to west, longer than five ships and half as wide, with linens or hides or fabrics stretched between stout posts and guy-lines, as tall as the height of five men: all about it stood lesser tents’ encampments in bright groups of colors, burning. If the world has one worst sound it is the chop of weapons cutting flesh and the shrieks and moans of men falling under them, and these the hills around us more than echoed. But the size of this thing shocked me and the blankness of its wall, and I remember words then in my head not like my own: That outside see not in, That inside see not out. We could only see the flat roof of a tent rising up inside it near the center, it must have stood ten men tall, as blue as a fair day at sea, densely decorated, burning. My mouth was open to see such a thing and the butchery in front of it, but Ittai cried louder with each flame that took from an arrow, and ran right up more and more enclosure. He writhed as if every weapon stabbed him
–Help me, Deucalion! How did I get here? Pull out my eyes! The center! The end! Hai-eee! Mercy! Mercy!
And then the wail of a horn like no other sounded off the hills. Their god! men said. Their god is coming out!
The stretched-cloth sides of the enclosure were turning into flame at the backs of maybe fifty last-stand Yisryli with hardly more than knives. But there at its eastern entranceway, they parted ranks, and shouted their souls into the sky. Something like a great gold-sided chest was coming out, three men to each side gray-bearded and richly robed: it was like a carrying-chair on golden poles, but no one sat upon it. Out it came with appalling courage straight into that slaughter. But the hacking just went on, and Ittai hid his eyes in both arms as the bearers went down under spears and arrows. The great chest fell with them, and the long hills wailed with a scream of hidden hundreds. In the last of it, we watched astonished as a boy with long dark hair no older than Ittai’s son came running out under the flaming gate. This boy in what looked like lambskins made it straight through the reach of flailing weapons, through the rain of stones and arrows, and out of sight. When I turned to Ittai again for hearing the rip of his cloak from top to bottom, his head was bloody both sides, because his fists were full of his hair. I tore off a piece of my wrap and tried to help
–Long ago, this happened to my home and family
–And look what you did about it! Curse you to a man, you have cursed my eyes! You smash the world, and now you expect what—order?
–Was that a throne? There was nobody on it
–Oh, Ittai moaned from deep in his chest. –How can—No, he told me trying to recover. –No. The only king is in the sky
–Deucalion, can you shut up?
I nodded, and hung my head with his. We were there two more days and nights, and Ittai kept his eyes to the ground as we worked our pails and cups and ladles camp by camp. His face had never looked so dark, and made speaking at all an obscenity. Still, the camps kept roistering in the high ways of survival and victory, and when we had our rest Ittai lay face-down with his cloak round his head. We could not avoid sights of plunder, the pulling-down of houses and the sanctuary with them, nor the nights’ Pulesati jubilations: there were fights among them and some camps of Kereti, whose mixed men pled mercy for their cousins’ lives. If there were no slaves or captives, we saw men at arms loading up for home: they cut themselves huge sheets of curried hides and linens and fine veilings, pulled up every last bronze peg of the sanctuary wall, and talked astonished about the gold if they could not get some. One captain made a parade of his share, as the first to brave their sanctuary’s core—a golden holder of candles as broad as his shoulders with what looked like seven points, so heavy that it took both his hands to shake it high. Second day, word spread that the walls inside their central place were sheets of gold. The melee that ripped it to the ground almost brought on a mutiny, as some units stood to lose with their orders to chase down the scattering Yisryli. By the time we began to abandon the place, scouting groups detached along the road north and south, for the setting-up of protected caravanserai. By summer, they had marked each one with a pillar of cedar or stone
The worst for Ittai was the great golden chest. When he saw it had been touched, and opened, and loaded on a cart for the taking back to Aphek, he collapsed to the ground, struck his own face and head with clawed-up dust, then curled up, and shook. If our column left him there it seemed he would never get up. Later, he helped me to understand what had crushed him, that no one fell dead for these doings. There, I told him farm and family needed him. No answer, not even a look. Ittai collected himself, and started walking
We got out of jubilant Aphek as soon as we could. The officers reported extirpation of the core of highland robbery, the Serens and horse-collars pronounced that our promise was secure. But I stood among the cheering with Ittai’s one question for tomorrow. I wanted to walk him all the far way home, and asked for a fresh look at his vines
He shrugged, and then it was many miles along the sea before he spoke again
–I said you cursed my eyes. I saw what I saw. But it was a thing a man alive must witness to. And whom can I tell? Family tells family. Then, more family will ask: And what were you doing there, Ittai? And why are you alive, Ittai?
–You were trapped, I insisted, stopping and poking his chest on each word. –And you did your best. No one can ask any more of you
–Shows what you know, he answered
News went fast ahead of us, and from Joppa to Gezer and Ekron, we waded through public offerings of thanks, feasts and funerals. East of Ekron, we followed the Sorek’s waters up into its valley, and after many turns and narrows the land spread out flat and green between great shoulders of rocky hills, alive with calls of wheat-ears and buntings. Some miles beyond the Pulesati farms of little Timnah, the valley curved away southward toward the city Beth Shemesh. Beyond that, as Ittai said it, the villages of Eberu and Yisryli were sure to be staggering in grief and rage. From the houses of his farm, you could look up the valley and see how close they stood in separation
–Ittai! The lamb told my heart it would be this day!
–Bat-Yam, beloved. Do not talk like that, said Ittai as they kissed both cheeks three times and plenty on the mouth, Ittai running his mitts through Bat-Yam’s fine black tresses, kissing her eyes as dark as any on the land. She was a woman just his age and height, but her fine frame and plain comely wraps light blue made her look the young wife he married, now almost jumping at his side as he moved through the family taking cheers and welcome-kisses. There were Bat-Yam’s mother and father, an older sister and younger brother, and on Ittai’s side two sisters, his wife, and more: they had all been tending a feast of special days that had to be held with or without him. They gripped Ittai both arms to know by touch that he had come home, and the faces that had clearly weathered storms began to laugh and shout thanks up into the blue. We knew Pharaoh would have to let you go!
Ittai’s house like the other separate ones that faced it was a solid labor in stone and mud-brick. Pale-gray plaster made them all more handsome: you came in through a space between rows of four rough oak pillars, where straw and provender fed their stock, and you saw into all the rooms either side, where Canaani houses kept secrets with turns and doors. Likewise upstairs where they lived: the sun fell all afternoon on their low central table, with Bat-Yam’s loom, their beds, neat belongings and plain jars to each side. Weavings warmed the walls and hung bright zagging lines down over their parallel porches. But as soon as Ittai was free to look about, resolve took over his face. Before he asked for his young he was hulking off toward the fields and vines
–Where am I going? To do what we should have done. To do too late what we were told
It was Bat-Yam on his heels, then all the relations after them, then me: we saw Ittai take a wrecker’s hold on one of the two wooden posts at the edge of their tillage
–No! Bat-Yam said, pulling his hands away from it. –Asherah brings only blessings here. What is the matter with you? Will you insult Her and cut half my family from the table?
–There is no choice!
–We know better, Bat-Yam answered him, and in the face of his bulk she stood her ground until Ittai turned away. He might have stalked alone into their main house, but his youngsters Gil and Nili came out the door. I saw his knees go as they clutched him from both sides, and everybody moaned: then Gil and Nili ran inside together, and when they came out he was slapping a hand-drum and she was fingering notes from a small one-pipe flute. This was enough to set the place dancing with hands locked all around him, Ittai in their midst dark and dazed
Their custom, already under way, was to roast their best yearling lamb, and at dusk every man smeared its blood on the beams of his door with a sprig of marjoram. When they came to table the farming men were in long shepherds’ robes and head-wraps, and they ate with staves in hand or nocked between their knees: I understood nothing of it, nor why they ate their feast so quickly, nor the scolds of their elders that not one bit be left except to burn. Ittai, I saw, was mainly sipping his wood cup of raisin wine: others noticed, and if they had heard things of Shiloh, held back. I would have sat for the family stories starting after, but Ittai got up and walked outside: alone then, feeling the eyes that could not help but look a bit dubious of my presence, I smiled nature, and followed. Ittai was back at those posts of Asherah, holding one of them and weeping
–What do they know? They do not even feel it, yet. Do you understand, the total destruction of the meaning in the soul of a whole people? Can you?
And what could Knossos Labyrinth mean to him
–The hakhamim, the wise ones promised us fire and death for these things, Ittai said looking up and down the post
–Ittai, learn from the blood on my hands. What happened was not gods. It was a reckoning out of our failures. Every face of your household says the soul you share will
–Will what? Fail Holy One again? Let me give you the bad news, Ittai said, and when he wiped his eyes he wore a look like stone. –Man is ugliness. The Covenant was to redeem us. The Ark. The memory. Now it is all ashes, and we—I am sorry, Deucalion, but—we are going to lose ourselves among the nations. Among animals
He turned his despair away. Standing there I felt like a child with no more than five or six words of understanding. Ittai came about, and asked me to sit with him, there at the edge of his vineyard in starry darkness. Perhaps he felt my ignorance. Ittai began to talk about huge things, one after the other. Once he began, I saw he had tried to be ready, as if he needed me to see something too big to be missed, and certainly too big to grasp […]
–Even in the dark you look lost, Ittai joked as he finally took a few breaths
–We were never informed of His promise. This is a new shadow on the sun, I said overwhelmed
–No, Holy One is not the El they tell at Qadeshah. There is no one like Him. I know because I listen to you, Deucalion, with my best mind. Tell me circles of the sun and moon. Tell me the four horns of our altars fit yours, the doubled pairs. I even agree, the lords of nature have limits, and so should men. But the greatest of powers is beyond, outside, separate. You people dream it up that now is forever, the seasons cycling through, divinities in everything
–And you see the hand of Holy One in everything. What is the difference?
–We are going somewhere, Ittai said
–We are somewhere already
To my surprise and pleasure, Ittai laughed. –Come, I said. –Holy One made us all. But He promised everything to just a few, who must take it from others by force, to prove they love Him?
–I can only tell you, Ittai smiled briefly, –that men are bits of dust, and He is a mountain so high that it vanishes in clouds. The merest approach to Him pales the blood, and blanks the mind, and shows how wretched people are. Still, every single man of any family in the world is free to obey, and to live in His eternal light. Was there ever any better way to bring all men together? The world is dead things, plants and animals, and two-legged animals that talk. But, to us, Holy One gave dominion, and a way to live that in righteousness. As we obey and atone, we return to the garden
–Our worst days came of forgetting we are in it. Ittai, do priests of Egypt lie, for their own benefit?
–Of course, he said. –Their crimes begin already to destroy them
–Then is it possible priests in every land deceive that way?
–Possible, Ittai shrugged, –if you include the people around your altars. Using festivals to hide the ragged numbers, Keeper of Days?
Staggering still at what his fathers did with old Canaani memory, I had come again to fail against a wall old as Theseus and Abas. With a shake of his great head Ittai unfolded his legs, stood up, and offered his hand. That was when Bat-Yam came out of the shadows of the trees, with one of their twins under each of her arms. The pair of them smiled my way, but then drew back half-behind her, peeking out like little cats. –Nili and Gil have something to say to you, Bat-Yam told me, but neither could say it
–They wonder can you stay longer, she smiled
I bowed, smiled back and hoped to be no trouble: Ittai walked over and hugged them all together, with a look my way of his deepest pride. And was this liking not the sin that brought destruction from their god? It was not a thing to ask, but there began a kind of living answer in the years of visiting to come. It took half a moon of days to trim his vines and tie them up for thicker stocks and more grapes. If the greater family kept aloof from me as an uncircumcised laborer, Gil they forgave for his questions about seas and ships and islands. Nili worked as hard at Bat-Yam’s side, and the sweetness of her flute, played in the evening between stretches of words from memory, was something for players at Qadeshah to envy
Gil was young to think about his life beyond their farm, but Nili saw hers, as a kedeshot or singer: more, what they called a soreret, a poetess, whose words came from Holy One in her heart. Who would have wanted to help her more than Radharani? But here, that talk might bring trouble. Leaving, I promised to bring Nili a big fine flute from the islands, perhaps a double-reed. And so I found myself coming back many times down the years, going home with Ittai when he made it to Qadeshah
Gil grew fast his father’s barrel-strength: he rose to their labors just as goat-kids off Karfi had learned in Alashiya. He whacked olives down off their trees till his hands were swollen red: they sang their songs as soothing hand over hand sorted twigs from fruit, and then shared out the medicine, rubbing each other’s hands with the first oil. Gil woke the sun to get to work, he came alive making things and learning—all of that in how he told his first year laying grapes out to make raisins. At the gathering, down came a hundred thousand feasting bees: he had to learn to keep calm in their swarms, shoveling raisins into sacks, but when the last sack closed, the last bee flew. Dear boy, all lit up inside
–Not one sting, Deucalion!
–As if everybody wins, I smiled. –You’d think there’s plenty
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