Tuesday, December 29, 2009
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. All this while engaging in Talmudic style dialectics. "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, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII
An official note of invitation from the Ministry of Religion arrived in the post three days later for Asael:
To Asael b. Serariah
You have been summoned to stand before five honored members of the academy of scholars, honored rabanan, leaders of the Mesivta Tachtona, to engage in discourse in matters of kitabha, dinah and datah.Upon receiving a majority recommendation, your teacher will be licensed to proceed with your initiation into the priesthood at the level of komaran. The members of your committee are:
R. Hanifa b. Qiyas
R. Malik b. Bidah
R. Shafi b. Istihsan
R. Hanbal b. Risalah
R. Rechemiah b. Serariah Dolstoy
Congratulations on your efforts so far to reach this point and may Rachmana continue to aid you in your further endeavors.
Your humble servant of God,
K. Fasiq b. Makruh
Before even getting to the end of the note, Asael crumpled it in his hands and threw it down in Kuphdin's direction. Asael shouted "damn" followed by a string of more choice words, some in Saebethian others that he picked up from his dream sequences of being Caxton Bragg. Kuphdin picked up the note and walked over to Asael and put a hand around his shoulder. Asael smacked his hands together in a 'may his wife be a widow and his children orphans, in thy mercy, O Lord' pose of prayer and began to sob. Kuphdin knew of only one thing that could cause Asael to act like this. "What has your uncle done now?" Stifling a sob, Asael pointed to the note. Kuphdin began to read in a low monotone. "'You have been summoned … to engage in discourse in matters of. …' This sounds fairly standard and what we wanted to hear." Kuphdin's eyes then reached the final name on the committee, Rechemiah b. Serariah Dolstoy, and let out a deep breath. "Your uncle is a respected scholar and more than qualified to field your exams." Kuphdin said this with a forced smile, trying to put the best face he could on the matter.
Asael wiped his face with the sleeve of his robe. "The panel of five is supposed to include the teacher of the candidate to ensure at least one vote in favor. That should be you."
Kuphdin found he was genuinely touched by Asael's open admission of respect and need for him, a rare occurrence. "Officially your Uncle Rechemiah is your guardian and you live with him. He is the one who put in the necessary requests to get you this examination; all of this being so highly irregular considering your age. I imagine that it was assumed by whoever processed the forms that he was your primary teacher as well."
"I lived with him from the age of six to eight, years that I count as a complete waste. I have been working here for nearly four years and they have actually been moderately useful."
"Thank you," said Kuphdin, "for your vote of confidence."
"Of course," continued Asael, "I lived with my mother for six years, I learned to read when I was two, which leaves four years for her. And no disrespect to you, but she is much less thickheaded than you are so really she should be on the panel. Since she is indisposed I guess you can do as my primary teacher."
"I am glad of your support. So I rank as an average Dolstoy?"
"No," said Asael. He was still upset about his uncle and someone was going to pay for it. "You rank above a miserable cheat scoundrel lying hypocrite maggot brained excuse for a scholar. The first person one my list would be my grandfather General Serariah Dolstoy. He is indisposed and dead. My grandmother Hefzibah Dolstoy, I hear was also a master scholar, like Serariah even if, like Serariah, she never took on holy orders. Since she is also dead and I am in no mood to wait for the Resurrection to gain my priesthood, I am going to have to do without her to. My uncle, Asael Dolstoy, is not with us so we will have to do without him too. My mother, Sion Dolstoy, makes four. I do not really know much about my father's side of the family, but I am sure there was at least one intelligent person. I mean at least one person smarter than you."
"I am honored to rank above mindless cretin."
Asael took in a deep breath, attempting to collect his composure and failing at it. "The cheat wants me to fail. He is simply going to vote against me no matter how well I answer the questions put to me."
Kuphdin suspected that what Asael was saying was not far from the truth, but felt that, as a fellow priest and adult, it was his duty to defend his colleague. "Your uncle is not going to vote against unless you give him an excuse to do so."
"So you are saying that I just have to answer every question correctly then?"
"Being perfect helps, but you need to keep in mind that, more than what you say and if what you say is technically correct, there is how you say it. Being a priest is more than just how smart you are. The committee is going to be also looking to make sure you are of the right temperament."
Asael snapped back, verse in hand. "A priest is charged as keeper of the Oraitha. First he must know the law, both the oral and written, so that he may judge the people in righteousness. Second he must give over the law so that the people will not forget the God of their Forefathers as they did in ancient days. …"
"Yes. I know," said Kuphdin. "The law is an unbroken chain from priest to priest, teacher to student. This tradition is the living proof of the truth of God's word in the Oraitha. … I can also quote texts and, for that matter, so can any Melcothian missionary or trained parrot."
Asael turned and ran down through the stacks towards the stairwell shouting: "You and my uncle are setting a trap. If I fail to answer the question incorrectly then it will be my failure of knowledge. If I answer correctly then it will be my failure of temperament."
Kuphdin meekly shuffled after him. All would be well he knew. He just needed to keep Asael calm and focused and they would both get through this, despite anything Rechemiah Dolstoy might throw their way.