Monday, June 15, 2009

Asael V

This is part of my ongoing novel. Think of it as Killer Angels taking place in a musket and magic fantasy world with characters that combine the religious sensibilities of American revivalism with Beowulf-like blood feuds. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Introduction, A Note from the Author, Prologue, I, II, III,IV

Forty six years earlier:

Colonel Hasan Kochba was sitting on a park bench, oblivious to his surroundings. His only compromise with the summer weather was his brown military overcoat that lay over a nearby table several amot away. His gaze was fixed on the scacordus board in front of him with occasionally glances at his opponent and the boy sitting on the side, watching both of them. If this had been a dual one might have listed the boy as his friend’s second. It was already too late in the day for any dueling. Anyway Colonel Kochba was not the sort of man who dueled with swords or with pistols. What sort of military officer, you ask, had never been in a dual before? As Kochba liked to say: “A competent one, a live one and the only sort to be trusted with men in battle. A man who would gamble his life on a matter of pride could be trusted to hold the lives of his men as dearly.”

The game before Kochba was certainly an important matter; one could even say that he had traveled several hundred miles on horse and carriage to the town of Ekron for a few games. To be more specific, a few games with the man in front of him. The boy and the man in front of Colonel Kochba were a study in contrasts and one would have been hard pressed to tell that they were father and son. The father was a large man. In height he was only slightly above average, a few fingers under four amot, but he made up for it with a wide neck and bull-like girth. He had worn brownish olive skin and the creases on his brow gave him a look of a man older than his thirty-six years despite the fact that there was not a spot of grey in his hair or his full beard and prominent mustache. He had a droopy right eye that gave him the look of a man in a permanent stupor. Take away the pressed black suit and stiff shirt with a short grey necktie and one could easily have passed him off as a common butcher. The boy was fairer of skin. He wore knee-breaches and the dress shirt of his school uniform. Like his father, the boy had an absent gaze about him as he lay with his head resting on his knuckles. If the boy was anything like his father, Colonel Kochba knew, then that gaze was nothing less than a trap. Colonel Kochba had claimed the initiative early in the game and now more than twenty moves in was up by a pedes. His opponent had been sitting with a more than usual glazed look on his face for over four minutes now without making a move and Colonel Kochba was getting worried.

“Are you going to move, Serariah, or am I going to have to install a clock to this game.”

The sound of his Abba’s name being used so casually caused Asael to prick his ears upward. Asael began doing a quick count in his head as to how many people called father by his first name and not Professor Dolstoy. He certainly did not, that was forbidden. Ima did not whenever he was around, though used it when she thought that he and his younger sister Sion where out of earshot. Either that or when she was yelling at Abba. Ima never actually yelled at Abba, though Asael had come to realize that calling his father by his first name was her substitute. Come to think of it Ima was the one person he knew willing to yell at Abba, other people were too scared. Asael often wondered what it was about his Abba that scared people. “Abba walks and breathes in the certainty of Rachmana," he thought. "Other people do not have that faith and the guidance to match Abba’s and so quickly found themselves shamed to silence. Ima has double the faith so she does not fear to argue with him. In fact Ima preached on the Oraitha publically to women and sometimes even to men and none of the Rabanan ever objected.” Asael wondered if Colonel Kochba ever argued with Abba. How much faith did the Colonel's soul possess?

Serariah with an almost casual flick of his arm moved his episcopus three spaces along the diagonal. “So what are you going to lose, your eques or your turris,” said Serariah in a rough drawl that marked his rural background. Not for the first time since they met up this afternoon did Colonel Kochba reflect on how he missed that voice. There was a refreshing honesty to Serariah that could prove utterly misleading.

“Hardly fair! I had you there for a moment.”

“That has always been your weakness Hasan. You are always the strategist; it is when you have to follow through as the tactician that you fail.”

The game continued and true to his word, Serariah captured an eques after three moves. Colonel Kochba managed to make him pay for that with the loss of a pedes, but he was now down. The game went down for him from there. There were a few opportunities, he thought, for turning this into a draw but Serariah cut him off at every point. After another twenty minutes and fifteen moves, Colonel Kochba tilted his rex and resigned.

“I think I need to drop to junior league here. Is the young cadet up for giving me a round?”

Asael picked up his head. “I thought one always played winner.” He stood up and sat down in the seat vacated by his father. Serariah stood behind him, shadowing his son, and looked at Colonel Kochba.

“I am sure the Colonel can pay for the privilege in the finest currency of the land.” Colonel Kochba spread his hands out in a sign of poverty. “I did not bring any cigars so I’ll have to owe you one.”

“The account is not one cigar; it is five.” Serariah said this dispassionately without a hint of humor. Colonel Kochba gave a wry chuckle. “The book keeper is a bit indisposed, don’t you think.”

“The table leg at the Sisterhood’s in Wolfenbuttel, if it is still intact, should say twenty-nine to me and twenty-four to you, Hasan.”

“If I recall that table was mortally wounded in the line of duty, fending itself from excessively celebratory graduates from the Wolfenbuttel military academy.”

Asael looked up at the two men. He suspected that there was more to this story. It sounded too much like some of the chakima’s[1] telling of stories from the Oraitha. Like the time the chakima told the class about the zonah of Yabus, who although she was a nachria, saved the messengers. The chakima said that zonah meant an innkeeper. The lesson from this story, according to the chakima was that Rachmana had performed a miracle on behalf of the righteous messengers, who risked their lives to enter the city of Yabus. Ima told him that zonah meant whore. Asael had to look the word up in a dictionary, but after he finished Ima sat him down and explained to him the lesson of the story that Rachmana loved the simple faith of a whore over that of the rote belief of the messengers and it was her faith that saved them. Asael’s liked Ima’s explanation better, but there was one thing about it that bothered him; what kind of miracle was faith? He had asked Ima, but she just smiled and said: “greater than the crossing of the sea.”

[1] Religious scholar, often used to particularly refer to someone teaching school children.

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