Thursday, January 14, 2010

Asael XIX


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, XVIII


Forty six years earlier


The Dolstoys' third child was born in the fall of that fateful year, three months after the visit of Colonel Hasan bar Kochba and two weeks before Asael's thirteenth birthday, confirmation year for him. Serariah wanted his wife to go to the new hospital, but Hefzibah insisted on using, as with her two previous children, a cunning woman known as Savta Shifra. As usual they argued about it for several days. Serariah argued that the hospital was safer. Hefzibah objected to having a male doctor. Serariah objected to her objection, on grounds of reason and heresy, and said no to having spells said over his wife and child in his house. He declared, in no uncertain terms, that he would never allow "the stench of the ungodly to cross his threshold" up until the moment that Hefzibah went into labor before ordering Asael to get the woman.

Savta Shifra, upon arriving in tow with her grandniece Puah Ulrich, warded off Serariah's smoldering glare that came from behind the smoke of his cigar. She immediately shooed Sion and Shunra out of the room and locked the door. In only three months Shunra had grown to over ten pounds and Sion now needed all her upper body strength to lug the thing around. Shunra, despite her occasional flashes of agility, was not the sort of cat to deign to move a single muscle if it could help it.

Serariah herded his two children down into his study to wait out the delivery. This was Sion's first time allowed in. She lifted her eyes to marvel at all the books packed into this small space and promptly dropped Shunra on the books and paper cluttered desk to get a better look. Serariah gave the cat a wry smile, picked it up and deposited it on his lap. This no longer surprised Asael; he had become used to his father's affection for the cat, always on the side so Hefzibah could not see. He made sure to feed it and give it water when, as it happened so often, Sion forgot. He even went around the yard scooping up its droppings to forestall the potential complaint. Why his father had taken to Shunra remained a mystery. Asael suspected that this was his father's attempt to win over Sion's affection as part of the long struggle with his mother. Asael had long ago realized that he and his sister were peds in a scacordus match between his parents that served as the foundation of their marriage. He was his father's piece. Sion belonged to his mother and his father was trying to capture her. Serariah, now the military's new unofficial theoretician, was planning a long term campaign for this piece. Asael doubted if Sion possessed the long term memory to be captured in such a way. This theory gave Asael a sense of empowerment. If pieces could change sides then he could change sides for himself, thus to become a third player in his own right.

"Is Ima going to die," asked Sion? "No silly," said Asael. He grabbed her and swung her on his lap, sitting down opposite their father across his desk. Sion leaned forward toward Shunra, nosing in the air. Shunra reciprocated the gesture. "Dasiah lost her Ima last year. Babies die to you know. Abba, if you had to choose between Ima and the baby would you have Ima die?"

Serariah smiled at his daughter. "Nothing is going to happen to Ima. Do you know why? It is because we are going to pray. You have been a very good girl. Rachmana is looking down at this little girl that he loves as much as her Abba and her Ima do and he would never do something to hurt this family."

Asael wanted to ask his father: "But you do not believe that prayer actually works. That is why you wanted Ima to go to a hospital even though the hospital employs foreigners and unbelievers. You believe that Savta Shifra is a trickster if not a witch and heretic for her herbs, amulets and prayers."

Sion looked down reflectively at her knees. "But what if I have not been a good little girl?"

Asael cut off this line of thought immediately. He did need Sion to suddenly start confessing about their spying or about his hidden books in a fit of conscience. "So Sion what should we pray first?"
Sion's eyes brightened, thoughts of moral reflection gone from her nearly five year old mind. "Oh could we sing Modeh?"

Asael shrugged his shoulders and began to lead Sion in the prayer for getting up in the morning, chanting in the Ashurit: "We praise thee O Lord in whose mercy our souls have been returned to us this day. We promise to honor this gift, this one day."

"First knowledge is fear the Lord," sang Sion, skipping to the end of the hymn. "The shining sun is calling children, listen what it says." Sion was now jumping to a vernacular hymn that she had learned in Lord's Day group. Asael tried to keep up with her. His first thought was that she had no idea what she was singing. But then he glanced down at her face, brimming with joy. "There is a power to her joy. She does not think, she just loves," thought Asael. Could it be that her raw unsullied faith could stand against the might of the New Knowledge and even scale the fortresses of heaven? Asael glanced at his father's books, his sacred books to one side and profane books, mostly written in Nephite, on history, mathematics and books on the New Knowledge on the other side. He then looked at his father, by now lost in a world to himself, his cigar in one hand. Asael closed his eyes and for a moment he saw his father as his mother did. There was an apple inside of his father in the place of a heart. Inside the apple was a worm with eyeglasses eating away at it. "The New Knowledge has eaten your soul until there is nothing left but a hollow shell. Now you would try to sacrifice your own daughter to this New Knowledge, the idol of your vanity," whispered Asael.

Asael could hear his father mumbling to himself in Nephite. From the smattering that he knew of the language, Asael could make out the lines "not for my sins" as his father repeated them over and over as a continuous refrain.

After half an hour Sion sang herself out of her fragments of at least a dozen songs and fell asleep against Asael's chin. Serariah continued in his dark mediations, his head bent forward on his hands, resting on his desk, seemingly unaware of Shunra, who had found a perch on one of his large shoulders. Asael leaned over and grabbed a book from the sacred shelf and began to read, trying to ignore the occasional shouts from above.

After three hours, there was a knock on the door. It was Puah, the helper girl, and she was smiling. Serariah shook himself alert and stood up, knocking Shunra, who had fallen asleep on top of him, to the ground. Asael picked up Sion, still asleep, and followed his father up the stairs. Sion began to stir as they entered the bedroom. Her eyes opened to Savta Shifra holding her baby brother, still crying. Sion jumped out of Asael's arms and ran to Savta Shifra and reached out her arms, crying out: "Mine!" Hefzibah nodded weakly to Savta Shifra to hand over the baby.

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