20 – MAGISTRATES
King Mered’s two sons Dishon and Ginath refused to accept the crown from their dying father, who insisted that his sons renounce their Bat-El heresy before ascending to the throne. And so, effectively without living heirs, King Mered was forced to establish a system of popularly elected magistrates to rule Menkal instead of a king. Higher magistrates could overrule lower magistrates, but a council of lower magistrates could impeach the Chief magistrate.
In this way Menkal became the first Republic to exist on Barbelo.
Neriah the Younger, a convert to Bat-El, became the first elected chief magistrate of the Judahites. King Mered gave to him the White Scroll and the Ark of the Covenant, and he died at roughly the same time that Neriah the Elder died.
Dishon (with his wife Hatita) and Ginath (with his wife Junia) then undertook a mission to the east to preach Bat-El to the Benjaminites. Dishon and his wife were taken captive in Shedal, where they became servants of Prince Lamoni. There Dishon miraculously preserved the king’s flocks from predators and Prince Lamoni became a convert to Bat-El soon thereafter. Eventually even Lamoni’s father King Sarfael was converted to the People of Bat-El, he and his entire household. Then King Sarfael decreed religious freedom for all Benjaminites. Many people in the lands of Shedal, Glenah, and the cities within Glenah Wood all converted, and they began to call themselves Dishonites. After that, King Sarfael died.
The unconverted Benjaminites prepared to make war against the apostates, but the Dishonites were so filled with remorse over the Judahite blood the Benjaminites had historically shed they were pacifists to the point of declining to even defend themselves. When the hard-core Benjaminites saw the prone state of their prey they aborted their attack, and many even converted to the People of Bat-El on the strength of the passive witness of their intended victims.
To the west, in Menkal, a merchant named Eliada tried to restore the kingship, with himself as king, naturally. The people voted nay but his followers continued to regard him as king. After that, the Eliadaites waged war to seat their king by force, but the Judahite army soundly defeated them. Neriah the Younger personally slew Eliada.
Neriah then nominated a magistrate named Micah to replace him as chief magistrate, and this was confirmed by the people. Neriah had stepped down from the top job because he had observed that the people, much like Eliada, were becoming increasingly wicked, proud, disdainful of outsiders and neglectful toward the poor. Neriah feared the whole House of Judah was on a path to self-destruction. So after he resigned his post as chief magistrate Neriah began traveling from city to city to preach directly to the Judahites.
Neriah began to teach in the heart of the city of Akamar, where his call for social justice was well received the poor, but his message was rejected out of hand by the wealthy and powerful of the capital city. Neriah then moved on to the cities of Difda and Sukai, with very much the same reception. From Difda he traveled by ship across the strait to the seaside city of Suhair, whose leading citizens proved even more hardened than those of the previous three cities.
After a renewed persecution by the unconverted Benjaminites, Dishon led the Dishonites west to Menkal, where they were given land in the southern part of Elendal Island from a large stock of empty land that Chief Magistrate Micah always kept on hand for just such an emergency. But General Rufus of the Benjaminites had tracked the missing Dishonites west. In the lower vale of the Menkal River the general gave battle against the Judahites but Captain Eshton of Akamar led the Judahites to victory against the Benjaminite attackers.
When he had grown very old Neriah gave the White Scroll and Ark of the Covenant to his son, Rabsaris, for Chief Magistrate Micah was not a convert to Bat-El, and Neriah had not chosen to give the sacred relics to the man who had replaced him as leader of the people. Then Neriah was taken in slow stages by Issacharite priests to the Pool of Bat-El, where he was permitted to see the other world before he died. And his body was never found anywhere in Haaretz.
Micah promoted Captain Eshton and made him the commanding general over all the Judahite armed forces in the face of an impeding general war with the Benjaminites. A large force of Benjaminites had gathered together at Grand Mound, led by General Azza and this force including many Judahite dissenters who worshiped El Shaddai alone. The Benjaminite army attacked the Judahites in the land of Suhair and the battle raged north toward Akamar, ending on the banks of the Menkal River just south of the city. In the battle General Eshton’s forces protected themselves with finely molded body armor for the very first time in Barbelo history.
After winning the initial clash General Eshton sent spies east to the Great Plateau to investigate the Benjaminites’ weak points, and he moved his force by hidden animal tracks, known only to sympathetic locals, to surround the enemy.
General Eshton marched forth under his Manifest of Freedom, a standard that he raised to rally the Judahites to defend their liberties from the group of dissenters who wanted to establish their leader as a king and who were even willing to ally themselves with the hated Benjamites to do it. General Eshton was so angry with the dissenters, who were led by a man named Paulus, that he tore his cloak and wrote upon it, In memory of Bat-El, our freedom, our peace, our wives, and our children.
With these words he rallied the Judahites to defend their families and their liberty, chasing away the Benjaminites and the Judahite militias loyal to Paulus in the process. Any Judahite dissenters who managed to survive were put to death by Eshton. The Benjaminites were scattered to the east. Then Eshton raised the Manifest of Freedom upon every Judahite tower.
Soon there were many more such towers, for Eshton erected a fortified line of cities on the edge of the slope that formed the border between the Judahites and the Benjaminites. After that the Judahites greatly prospered, while the Benjaminites steadily diminished until they became little more than scattered bands of highway robbers. As the years wore on the borders of Menkal were gradually extended east to encompass Glenah Wood and they were extended south to a line between Mount Narutha and the mouth of the river Sabik. And it was said there never was a happier time, before or since, among any of the people of the tribe of Judah.
21 – ARRIVAL
When the Army of Mastema had securely occupied Salem, High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash took the balance of his forces and sailed over the Western Sea to the place where the northern and southern ice came together. There he relieved and strengthened the garrisons that defended the Gerash stores. Then Kirodiel led his army down into the West Lands, and it was the first such invasion by family Gerash against any other House since before the Second Deluge.
When Kirodiel was come to the foot of the Ice in the West Lands a division of troops from the House of Bellon confronted him. They had been mobilized when Talishi presented intelligence of the invasion to King Arman. And though House Gerash had overwhelming numbers on the field, Kirodiel did not signal them to attack, but the white flags of parley-truce were unfurled, and the High Lord Patriarch came forth to speak to the commander of the Bellon force.
He said, “Mastema himself it is who stands against you. Do not hinder the faithful of the House of Gerash. Do not send your sons to thwart the justice of the Army of Mastema, for on the Plain of Judgment they shall be consumed like dry grass! Yield up this Talishi interloper. Abandon your false deity El Shaddai and turn back to your first love, Mastema the All-Merciful, or the fire of his indignation shall devour your young!”
And the commanding Bellon general held forth his written orders and replied, “Behold, Lord of the White Beards! I have been authorized by the King to accompany His Excellency the High Lord Patriarch of the House of Gerash to Rumbek for a parley, he and any reasonably-sized force His Excellency might deem to be suitable to assure his protection. For it may not be known to His Excellency that the heads of House Sala, Antero, and Larund are also convening in the city to take council with the King and Lady Talishi.”
To this Kirodiel agreed. Both armies left the field unblooded. The Bellon division returned west with Kirodiel, who took a single company, but not before Kirodiel had sent his forces north led by Zadkiel.
Under the command of Mastema’s prophet the army came to a bay which was the easternmost finger of the sea. Zadkiel set a strong perimeter to catch any Bellon spies, then he set his whole army to work building many ships of war. Swiftly a great navy was built by the united forces of the whole House of Gerash, as insurance, lest the parley in Rumbek did not go to the liking of Kirodiel.
When everything was done in preparation for the Council of Royals and there remained only the impending arrival of the great Personages, Queen Aurra’s two serving wenches Luzea Cedarbranch and Aliwe Halil found themselves in the astonishing situation of having nothing to do. So they removed to a small empty nook above the great hall of the airy stone castle high enough to see everything and waited for the nobles to filter in. Whimsical Luzea, who spoke only in poetry, uttered a verse then:
I sing of final days brought by White Beard.
When noble ones rose against what they feared.
Just close your eyes to watch them meet the King.
Mark two slave women who observe unseen.
Her more wary companion Aliwe laughed a bit at this, but then she said soberly, “If they catch us here avoiding work Queen Aurra will have us flogged until the skin hangs from our back in bloody strips!”
Shrugging, Luzea only continued her recitation:
Aliwe Halil is one slave girl’s name
And Luzea Cedarbranch is her flame.
They shirk their toil in the King’s galley.
“There’s Brogan Antero!” said Aliwe.
Indeed King Brogan Antero of Vaska arrived at the Council first, accompanied by his daughter Kari, and they looked none the worse for their flight by dragon to Rumbek. King Arman had decreed that no weapons should be brought into the council chamber, save for the Dragonthorn alone, the ceremonial blade in the possession of Kari, which she wore in a scabbard on her back,
The Count Berek Antero followed the king into the chamber arm-in-arm with his wife Losna. He ruled the city of Gerazan, the major Antero city which lay furthest from the Bellon lands on the lake which was snuggled at the far west of the West Lands. Gerazan was the breadbasket of House Antero and produced such a bounty that there existed a trade with House Larund beyond the ice.
Baron Priam Antero of Jelaket entered next, but no woman accompanied him. The baron was the son of Baroness Vandriel Antero and the late Ichor Gerash, a spy of the House of Gerash who went native rather than passing through to the East Lands and carrying out his assignment against the Black Beards. The Eyes of Belial subsequently sent more spies to assassinate Ichor, but his son Priam took much better precautions, and when he had buried his father he swore eternal conflict with House Gerand. King Arman, suitably impressed, awarded him the mountain city of Jelaket, which bred the best horses on Barbelo, and supported most of the military forces of house Antero.
After that High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash made an unassuming entrance, a stroll without any pomp or wasted movements that said with no mistake that he was first and foremost a solider. He came with a mysterious black-clad, black-haired female he introduced as “Joy” but that was clearly an ironic name, for her black lips never smiled, and her black eyes seemed to show forth her icy heart. And it was rumored that this Joy was a sorceress from Earth immersed in the martial arts who came as both guard and concubine to Kirodiel.
Luzea Cedarbranch was too frightened, or fascinated, to utter any verse.
Kirodiel knew the aim of this council was nothing less than the formation of a league of all the houses on Barbelo, which would be far stronger than the house of Gerash alone. If that alliance came to be, an intolerable peace would break out between the eternally warring states, and that in turn would spark an existential crisis for the White Beards. For House Gerash had shifted over to an economy based almost entirely on supplying arms to the other houses, or attending to the needs of those who manufactured those arms. Now, overnight, the entire basis of industry in the lands ruled by Kirodiel could evaporate, unless this nascent league of kingdoms was stillborn. Kirodiel was attending to that.
Next the delegation from House Sala entered the council chamber. Walking at the side of Queen Aurra was the Royal Consort Duke Evandr Sala. But again Luzea had no immediate comment. She would lampoon the Queen later during the meal, to her regret.
The Queen ruled from Saharad, in the center of the largest, most fertile plain on all of Barbelo. It was plain to follow the trends. Left unchecked, House Sala would simply continue to grow until it outnumbered every other great family on the planet. Kirodiel did not intend to leave it unchecked.
Following the Queen was the Countess Ayani Sala, recent widow of Aldred Sala, which (after a suitable mourning period, of course) made her the most eligible bachelorette in the Land. Many at the Council, however, noted the virtual eye-lock Ayani had with Count Priam Antero. Something was happening there, and Luzea was slightly disgusted because it had only been two weeks since Count Aldred’s death.
Make room in the Sala barn of prize stallions
The countess eyes a two leg medallion!
Following the countess was her brother-in-law, Baron Bayard Sala of Thorgrim, who was also eligible for marriage, but it was said his tastes ran more to meat of the commoner female variety, which was contrary to the long tradition of the Sala clan. The Queen knew he was probably born that way yet she would sanction no union between her son and completely different sub-species. Of the Baron, Luzea said:
The Baron Bayard is food for many a talebearer,
Noblewomen have no chance, he finds urchins much fairer!
There was no particular order to which delegation came into the chamber, for it had been chosen by lots, lest some think the sequence represented the opinion of King Arman of which noble one was greater. He only decreed that the Bellon delegation should come last.
So at this time Lady Talishi entered, accompanied only by Khondiel in her best Fallen Angel dress uniform. Khondiel had dolled herself up, and wore the headband Talishi had given her with a brilliant white light set in the center of it. Many of the delegates marveled at this light, but Talishi told them later she was working for a time on both worlds when such things would be mere trinkets, and an entrance such as made by Khondiel would be seen as ridiculous.
After Talishi and Khondiel were seated at the table the Black Beard delegation arrived. The first royal peer to enter was stalwart King Garund Larund of Peshast, at the foot of Mount Tureth in the highlands that separated the lands of House Larund from Haaretz, far below the Wall of God. And though this astonishing face of rock was an invincible barrier to large armies moving east or west, there remained a single path, known only to the Black Beards, which ascended the face of the wall like a narrow ramp. Thus in small companies House Larund would often skirmish with House Sala and raid the children of Israel in Haaretz. Luzea sang to Aliwe:
He rules hillside Peshast where you were born.
The Queen greets him without a trace of scorn.
Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed her son
And is fresh in the minds of everyone.
The King was followed by the stout and manly Count Raddai Larund of the city of Belen, with his wife the Lady Irus on his arm. This count ruled the chief city of a province with a wide variety of rich veins of ore honeycombing the hills near the place where the ice formed a barrier to House Antero. Luzea sang:
Belen the source of much copper and gold
Guarded by the might of Raddai the Bold.
The stylish Baron Kadir Larund followed next, but he traveled only with aides. His city of Locotin, well up the valley of the River Bandar, was endowed with a verdant forest of gopher wood, a type of lumber that was found neither on Earth nor on Gorpai, but was a hybrid of the two, and was used by many ships in the Second Deluge, for it was flexible enough not to be destroyed by expanding ice. But many other valuable goods were made from gopher wood, for it was easy to cut and work, and the entire city of Locotin was constructed of gopher wood set in the branches of giant living gopher trees. Of Baron Kadir, Luzea said:
Locotin the arboreal city,
Even the Baron lives high in a tree.
And the Larund delegation took their seats along one edge of the large six-sided table made, appropriately enough, of gopher wood. Then at last the hosts of the council, the Brown Beards of House Bellon, made their entrance. King Arman Bellon, duke of the city of Rumbek, entered then.
Fishers circle Sealiah in a ring
With all of them subject to Arman King.
King Garand was followed by Count Zelus Bellon of the city of Mandakar, who came to the Council with his beautiful wife Tamar from the land of Haaretz. Mandakar, which lay on the west shore of the fertile island of Sealiah, was the city that fed the Brown Beards. Luzea sang:
The more food they grow in Zelus’ valley,
The more we toil in Arman’s galley!
The Count was followed by the Baron Kerresh of Elketz, who proceeded at a stately pace with his wife Ainia at his side. Elketz lay at the center of the range lands of the Magodon Peninsula, where cattle was sold by the head or by the herd and driven alive to parts throughout the land to be slaughtered. Luzea sang:
Watch your step Baron, when ready to roam,
We just caught a whiff, reminder of home!
When everyone had been seated Queen Aurra Sala stood up to say, “In the name of our God El Shaddai, and in the name of Mastema Lord of Barbelo, I welcome all of you here, and I especially offer much thanksgiving to King Arman Bellon for hosting our Council in this beautiful city. The issue before us is nothing less than the question: will there be enduring peace on Barbelo? Therefore I dedicate this Council, the first such gathering in the history of our world, to the memory of my slain son, Aldred Sala. I implore that each one of you endeavor to find a way to make Aldred’s otherwise useless death meaningful in some lasting way.” And after speaking those words she took her seat to allow the Council to truly begin.
22 – YESHUA
After a time, an Essene prophet named Yohanan appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins without recourse to the priests and the temple. And people from both sides of the Jordan River and the country all around went to Yohanan to confess their sins, and they were baptized.
Yohanan had gathered men to be his disciples named Philip, and Bartholomew, and Thomas. There followed him also Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot. These five disciples aided Yohanan in his ministry by acting as screeners, letting through to the baptism of Yohanan only those who approached with a sincere intention of repentence.
When he was about thirty years of age Yeshua son of Yosef came from Galilee to find Yohanan at the river and be baptized by him. The screeners didn’t know what to do about him. Yohanan, who knew of Yeshua’s reputation as a healer, was reluctant to baptize Yeshua. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, rather than you by me.”
But Yeshua said, “Nevertheless, let it be so, for it is written that the Son of Man must be numbered with transgressors.”
And Yohanan preached that the Day of the Lord was immanent, when El Shaddai would come to judge with holy violence all the nations of the Earth now ruling with power. He underscored the urgency of repentance and baptism, so that people could meet the end of human rule with a pure heart and be ready to accept the direct rule of El Shaddai.
But the priests and scribes and Jewish aristocracy and kings and Roman overlords alike all knew that Yohanan was really just seeding the whole region with people who would be anxious for the coming of a new theocratic ruler. They feared Yohanan would usher in one who would completely reorder the politics of the land more in favor of the destitute.
Now Yohanan was not solely about a future reformation nor did he stay on the banks of the Jordan River. He was zealous for the Code of Moshe and would often travel to the centers of power to attack hypocrites. When Yohanan’s preaching became embarrassingly personal, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, had Yohanan arrested and executed, and many of those who held power in the land breathed a sigh of relief. Then Yeshua, who had become Yohanan’s chief disciple, took control of the movement and accepted Yohanan’s five disciples as his own.
Yeshua moved upstream to the Sea of Galilee where he chose six more disciples of his own. The first to join were fishermen named Shimon, and Andrew his brother, as well as Yacob the son of Zebedee, and Yohanan his brother. They used the Zebedee’s boat to haul in the fish of the Sea of Galilee with nets.
And later the two sons of Alphaeus Clophas, Yeshua’s step-brothers Yakob and Yudah, also joined the movement and called Yeshua their master. But their sister Miriam, their father Alphaeus, as well as Yeshua’s mother, full brothers, and full sister, refused to become his disciples. They didn’t see much profit in it, and were of the opinion that Yeshua (and by extension themselves) would be much better served if Yeshua used his undeniable powers to turn a shekel or two.
In the Galilee region Yeshua began to preach a message that differed somewhat from the message of Yohanan. It was not enough for people to simply wait for El Shaddai to usher in a future kingdom. One must make the kingship of El Shaddai present, here and now, and this required active participation, not just lip service.
To illustrate his point Yeshua preached to them, saying, “A man had two sons, and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And his son said, ‘I will not’, but afterward he repented and went. And the man went to his second son and said the same, and his son said, ‘I will go, sir,’ but he did not. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
Yeshua met a man named Matthew, also called Levi, and dined with the man in his house. Although Matthew was a Jew, he was a tax collector for the Romans. The scribes and Pharisees considered Matthew a collaborator with the Roman occupiers, and they objected to Yeshua eating and drinking with a sinner.
But Yeshua insisted that he was a healer who treated people who were unwell, both in body and soul. He said, “I come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
And when Matthew asked Yeshua what would be the signs preceding the day of the Lord, Yeshua said, “The kingship of El Shaddai will not come with signs beforehand that can be verified, nor will people say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘Look over there!’ because the kingship of God is already present among you.”
Yeshua underscored to everyone present at the meal that he was not changing the practice of Judaism in any way. Rather, he attached great importance to every item in the Code of Moshe, no matter how trivial. He said, “Whosoever shall break the least one of these commandments, and shall teach others to do so, shall be called the least at the Banquet of God. For unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not make present the kingship of El Shaddai.”
If anything, Yeshua taught an even more strict version of Judaism by addressing the interior motives of the heart rather than purely outward actions done under the obligation of the Law. And mere lip service wasn’t good enough for Yeshua. He said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord shall enter into the Banquet of God, but only the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
At the conclusion of the meal, Yeshua added Matthew to his circle of disciples, making a grand total of twelve. Yeshua thought the correspondence with the twelve tribes of Israel had prophetic resonance.
When Yeshua preached, the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as one of the scribes. For he claimed the ability to forgive sins, which many thought was a power reserved to El Shaddai alone. But Yeshua accompanied his preaching and words of forgiveness with a very practical sign: he healed the sick with a touch.
Yeshua healed a leper, and ordered him to make the gift to the priest in the temple of El Shaddai according to the Code of Moshe. But Yeshua was saddened by the case, because the man only had a little psoriasis and was not infectious in any way, yet the priests had required him to live apart from his family, wear torn clothing, disheveled hair, and say “Unclean! Unclean!” for many years.
Great multitudes began to follow Yeshua as his fame began to spread to the point where often he could not enter the cities, but had to remain in the desert. Even so, sick people sought him out. Yeshua tried to limit the growth of his fame by telling the people that he healed to remain silent, but this rarely worked. Which is to say, they did not do as he commanded them.
And it was not only the Jews who received his healing touch. Yeshua healed the male lover of a Roman soldier who was paralyzed, to the dismay of many in the crowd who were suffering under the Roman occupation. Yeshua said, “To make the kingship of El Shaddai present, forget about the differences between Jew and Gentile. If you love your enemies as much as you love your friends, then your enemy will become your friend, and he will be destroyed as your enemy. For I say unto you that many Gentiles shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Israel in the second life. But many of the children of Israel shall not attain to the second life, because they do not make present the kingship of our Father in heaven.”
Sometimes Yeshua’s healing touch restored health to the brain of unfortunate people with mental infirmities, for the brain is just another organ just like the skin or the liver. But some of these victims displayed frightening symptoms, such as raving in graveyards at night, and people said evil spirits possessed them. Yeshua knew they were only sick, and he healed them, but he did not have the time nor was it his purpose to teach people there were no spirits, good or evil, and it would not have been accepted in any event.
But some of the scribes and Pharisees began to hate Yeshua, because his message was about breaking down barriers between human beings and El Shaddai, and breaking down barrier between human beings themselves, and their living depended on being religious mediators and teachers in an intermediate position between the people and El Shaddai. So they started to criticize everything Yeshua said or did.
And the first thing they commented on was the fact that Yeshua was often found in the homes of sinners and loose women, eating and drinking with them, and the ascetic fasting of Yohanan the baptizer seemed to be far from his mind. Yeshua said, “Yohanan came neither eating nor drinking, and you said he had a devil. The Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and you say, ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of Gentiles and sinners, one who dines with whores. Neither fasting nor feasting is acceptable with you, it seems, and worse than that, you assume all women must be either married or prostitutes.”
And the Pharisees began to criticize Yeshua because he cured a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day, when no work should be done, and healing was obviously work according to the letter of the Code of Moshe. And Yeshua could hardly believe his ears. He said, “What man of you, if his lamb falls into a pit, will not fetch it out on a Sabbath day? Is not a man worth much more than a lamb? So no, being merciful is not forbidden on the Sabbath day.”
And when they accused Yeshua of casting out demons by the prince of demons, Yeshua replied, “That doesn’t make any sense. If Mastema is divided against himself, he cannot stand and his kingdom is at an end.”
And after all these things the Pharisees were silenced, for they had been made to look like fools. Then they went out, and held a council against Yeshua, how they might destroy him. But when Yeshua realized what they were trying to do he withdrew himself from there. Multitudes followed after him, and he healed them all.
And while he talked to the people, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him, and his sister Salome told Yeshua they were all waiting for him, but Yeshua stretched forth his hand to his followers and said, “These are my mother and my brethren! I assure you that to make the kingship of El Shaddai present, even the lines of authority within one’s family must be ignored, let alone the lines of authority found in society at large.”
And some of his followers found this a hard saying, because it was a radical reorganization of traditional roles between men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor.
His family began to quarrel with Yeshua, because they well knew of his power to heal, and they had commanded him to stay in Nazareth and establish a healing cult with themselves as the toll-taking gatekeepers. But Yeshua refused. And after his family pushed matters further Yeshua would not receive his family at all, and he remained a traveling healer instead with no permanent abode, precisely because the desire for a fixed location and roles proposed by his mother and brothers ran contrary to his vision of the Banquet of God. To Yeshua, every day should begin anew, with every person in direct contact with each other through giving and receiving of the things they needed, and also with direct contact with El Shaddai through scripture and prayer.
Then there came to Yeshua the scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem, saying, “Show us a sign from heaven that you have authority to say these things and to forgive sins.”
And Yeshua replied, “El Shaddai has already forgiven men of all their sins, it remains only for men to accept the truth that it is so. But it is a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign when their faith has failed. Therefore there shall be no sign given to you except the sign of the prophet Jonah, who was three days in the belly of the fish and came out again alive.”
That was the first time Yeshua mentioned the manner of his coming death and resurrection. From that time Yeshua began to teach his followers that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. But his followers refused to believe it. And more to the dismay of Yeshua even his closest followers still accepted the terms defined by the scribes and Pharisees. They asked him, “Who shall have the greatest authority at the Banquet of God?”
And Yeshua called a little child to him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, “Unless you become as this child, and receive the kingship of El Shaddai with the same unreserved faith, you shall not recline at the Banquet of God.”
After Yeshua had instructed his twelve closest followers with all of his doctrine, he prepared to send them by twos into the countryside to bring the message of the Banquet of God to the peasants. Yeshua knew he could not lead them himself, simply because thirteen men arriving in a village together, while the men were working the fields, would be received with great suspicion, as though they were bandits.
Instead, Yeshua commanded they should stay no more than one or two days, and accept nothing but food and lodging in payment for proclaiming the vision of Yeshua. For it was written in the Code of Moshe, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Therefore those who proclaimed the Banquet of God deserved their food and shelter.
Yeshua said, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.” And the message they were to teach was happiness through freedom: Freedom from desires, freedom from fear, freedom from anger, and even freedom from grief.
The followers of Yeshua asked those who listened to them, “Who is the true ruler, the one who wants everything and cannot obtain all that he wants, or the one who wants only what he finds possible to obtain? The one who wants the entire known world, or the one who just wants a small and peaceful realm?” And this message was received well, because the peasants already had nothing. The followers of Yeshua said to them, “Be content with what you have, and you will be more free than any king.”
And the followers of Yeshua reached so many towns that even King Herod Antipas heard of his ministry, and feared that he was Yohanan the Baptist raised from the dead after he had beheaded him. Others said Yeshua was Elijah come down from heaven. But everyone agreed he was a major prophet on the order of Isaiah or Jeremiah.
23 – COUNCIL
When the grand conclave of royals hosted by King Arman Bellon actually began, it quickly degenerated into a sort of trial, with an endless chain of accusations against House Gerash left dangling in the air while Lord Kirodiel attempted to defend against each one of them. Queen Aurra Sala was the first to give her testimony.
She said, “I was already in mourning, for the news of the death of my son Count Aldred Sala had traveled faster from the battlefield than the bier carrying his pierced body. But it wasn’t until I saw the stricken face of my consort Evandr that I submitted fully to my grief. Yet I was surprised to find that Lady Talishi had come with him. Then I saw King Garand Larund in the procession as well and I asked Evandr, ‘Did we prevail in the battle after all? Is the King our prisoner?’”
“But Prince Consort Evandr said to me, ‘Lady Talishi brought him here. King Garand comes under a truce-bond to offer his apologies for the death of our son, and also an explanation.’
“’It is war’, said I. ‘What is there to explain?’”
“But King Garand said, ‘It is a war that never had to be, Your Highness. Lord Kirodiel came to me in Peshast not long ago. He rolled out a map, and said the Isle of Danya should belong solely to House Larund, for we had always been mariners, while House Sala had become more the farmers. Kirodiel said that House Sala holding Danya was as though the Gold Beards were sticking a finger in my eye. I accepted the truth of hyz argument at the time. And then very skillfully Lord Kirodiel changed the subject from Danya to the superbow.’ And King Garand brought a superbow out for my inspection.”
King Garand Larund stood up in council to add his testimony to that of Queen Aurra. “The superbow is a sandwich of wood between a layer of sinew in front and horn in back, all held together from glue made from boiled horse hooves. The bowstring is made also of sinew from the shoulders of oxen. When Kirodiel showed this my eyes fairly sparked at the sight of it. And when I fitted an arrow to it I deemed that only mighty men could draw the string fully back, and when they released the shot, the arrow would fly half again as far as from any other bow. So I ordered a thousand of them. And why not? Haven’t all of us done the same for a century, four Houses against one or a combination of the other, but never all simultaneously against House Gerash?”
Queen Aurra said, “Thank you King Garand. And if you’ll remember, I demanded to inspect the superbow myself, and I showed Evandr the curious mark which is also stamped on every weapon we had purchased of Gerash make. This mark is to be found in every Sala armory.”
King Garand continued. “My cavalry met the cavalry of Prince Consort Evandr Firegem at Fatho. We had somewhat greater numbers, but we faced Gold Beards armed with bows curved in curious shapes which allowed the archer to hold the string back without growing weary. That in turn gave them sufficient time to take a carefully considered shot. I was forced to break off the engagement or face a mutiny by my own cavalry. But it was not soon enough to save the life of your son, your Highness Queen Aurra, to my everlasting regret. He fell at a shot from a superbow. As I told you at the time, I am truly sorry. I can never make good your loss.”
“My son is gone, and he cannot be replaced, the Queen said. Yet something you said just now, King Garand, might forge some good out of all this. You said, ‘Haven’t we done the same for centuries, four against a combination of the others, but never all against the White Beards?’ House Gerash has been playing a double game for too long. Your army was driven off by what Kirodiel called a compound bow when he sold them to us.”
High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash stood up to speak in his defense. “I do not deny the essentials of what Queen Aurra and King Gerand have just related to you. House Gerash is a house of merchants after all. What I deny is their implication that our dealings with House Larund or House Sala were nefarious somehow. Are you noble ones making the claim here today that the pursuit of monetary profit is intrinsically evil?”
“It is not,” said King Brogan Antero. “No one here embraces a planned economy. But as Lord Kirodiel will recall, last year your embassy came to my palace and sold to me a forest of long pikes made from a new alloy that could pierce any armor in the Red Beard inventory, and they assured me it would pierce even the mail of the Brown Beards. And yet during the summer campaign the men of House Bellon were not caught by surprise at all. I was met on the approaches to Elketz by Baron Kerresh and his entire infantry armed with new plate armor that was miraculously capable of turning aside those very same ‘innovative’ pikes that your representatives sold me. And so friend was turned against friend, brother turned against brother, with no small loss of life, and no one benefited except the arms merchants of House Gerash. It seems that the only planned economy we are really talking about is that of the White Beards.”
Kirodiel said in his defense, “I fail to see any real significance in this tale, King Brogan Antero. The pikes we sold you were indeed invincible at the time we sold them to you. House Bellon merely took advantage of a late breakthrough in metalsmithy. If your house and the Brown Beards insist on carrying out your family squabbles, we are only too happy to provide the means for to do it, as surely as we aid House Sala and House Larund in their perennial warfare.”
The lesser noblemen of the four kingdoms told similar stories of wars that crossed the ice, Larund against Antero, of the whole West Lands united against the entire East Lands, and they even spoke of tussles between nobles within the same House. And at every point there was the omnipresent Lord Kirodiel or his representatives selling a problem to one side and the remedy to the other side. The stories with their common elements seemed to reach back into antiquity.
Princess Khondiel stood up to relate the rise of the Law of Mastema among the White Beards, of the resistance of the city of Salem and the inexorable transformation of family Gerash to a harsh militarism that went far deeper than any seasonal skirmishing between the other four Houses. “And now, said Khondiel, “the greater part of the Army of Mastema is camped in the eastern marches of this land, not far from this city. I have seen this host myself from the air. This of a certainty tells me my father is dead, and the city of Salem has fallen. For of what real import is the controversy between House Bellon and House Antero if House Bellon entire falls to the White Beards?”
King Arman addressed Lord Kirodiel directly. “Do you deny the report of Princess Khondiel?”
“I deny nothing, King. I have come to demand the return of the fugitive and common criminal known as Talishi, and to take into custody the one who facilitated her escape, Princess Khodiel, as well as the hundreds of her accomplices. That is the explanation for my army crossing the Ice.”
A bell rang somewhere in the castle. Queen Aurra Sala lapped her hands sharply twice, and that was the signal for her two serving wenches to serve the midday meal. The Council of Royals had discussed weighty matters indeed that morning, but now they paused to enjoy the hospitality of King Arman’s kitchen.
When Luzea Cedarbranch served a kingly plate of roast beef to Brogan Anteror she ventured to sing to him:
Born to rule Vaska as her king.
Yet queen-gentle his words do ring.
Valiant like the men of old
Fair like a bust of purest gold.
The King was shocked at first, but then he laughed with self-recognition at the impromptu verse. Queen Aurra was less amused. She growled, “Luzea!” But this merely served as the trigger for yet another verse from the playful Miss Cedarbranch:
Who rules the city of my birth?
Aurra Sala, the Queen of mirth!
This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except the Queen, who pointed directly at Luzea and said sternly, “Tonight. Twelve lashes!”
Aliwe burst into tears for her friend, and Luzea herself was suddenly shocked into silence. In fact, there was embarrassed silence all around the table now. Surely the Queen was joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing?
Talishi caught the queen’s eye and slowly shook her head, as though to forbid it. King Arman weighed the wisdom of publicly contradicting the queen’s command, he would have no prison-style cruelty in his own house. But the Queen’s face remained stern and inscrutable. Luzea and Aliwe were finished at any rate, so they returned to their niche high above the room.
The incident attracted the attention of Aurra’s son, Baron Bayard, who only recently had come into his full inheritance. He had been recalled from border with the Middle Land upon the news of the death of his brother. In fact, he had spent many years in virtual exile and had not taken a meal with his mother the Queen for all that time, so he was not acquainted with the new serving wench Luzea and her “talent”. Luzea Cedarbranch certainly caught hyz attention just now, and he contrived a way to get with her alone. Bayard cleared his throat and said, “Your Highness and my mother, I beg leave to speak.”
“State your piece, son.”
“Your Highness may know it is was hobby of mine on the Ice to contrive certain unusual and severe forms of punishment. Now a flogging is certainly a painful and terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but it is also such a common punishment on Barbelo that I fear sometimes it no longer has the desired lasting effect as it undoubtedly did in days gone by. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave girl Luzea over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truthfulness that she will never forget the experience.”
The Queen knew exactly what he was up to, and hid her smile behind a hand. It wasn’t like he was going to come right out and ask her, before all the royals assembled there, “Mother may I be excused from this meal so I can go have sexual relations with your slave girl?” Nevertheless, Queen Aurra realized har son was on to something. Knowing Luzea’s own preferences, it would still amount to a very severe punishment of both mind and body, and the whole thing would be an effective deterrent for the other serving girl.
The Queen said, “Then I turn Luzea over to you, son. But let me caution you, if she is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your ‘punishment far too lenient.”
“Thank you, mother.” Baron Bayard pushed himself from the table, and signed to the guards that Luzea should be brought along. And when the other guests were finished eating they excused themselves as well.
24 – EXECUTION
For a year Yeshua and his followers journeyed through the hamlets of Lower Galilee and Samaria on the west side of the Jordan river, as well as and Edom and Perea on the east side. Herod Antipas ruled all of these lands.
At the end of the year Yeshua’s ministry took them into Judea. And in the week before the Passover Yeshua and closest followers, male and female, spent their nights in Bethany, at the house of Shimon, a leper who had been cleansed by Yeshua. In Jerusalem many people began to see Yeshua’s famed healing ministry for the first time, because he had always remained in the north country and journeyed from village to village and house to house.
Yeshua went into the outer court of the temple and was angered to find the house of El Shaddai had become a marketplace. Animals fit to be sacrificed were sold at an enormous markup, and money for gifts was changed from Roman coins to special “temple money” conveniently acceptable to the priests, again at a ridiculous profit.
So Yeshua fashioned a whip, posted his disciples as bouncers, and went through the temple courtyard with genuine wrath, flipping tables, and saying, “The house of my Father is a place for worship and prayer, but you have turned it into a place to buy and sell religious paraphernalia! You hold the gold that sits in the temple with greater reverence than the temple itself!”
And many of the scribes and Pharisees came down to confront Yeshua, because now he was striking at their very livelihood. A portion of the profits made in the temple were kicked upstairs to them. But Yeshua publicly derided them, saying, “Behold the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at feasts. Truly, they already have their reward!”
And many of the scribes and Pharisees picked up stones, and would cast them at Yeshua, but he told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it!”
And by this he was speaking of the temple of his own body. But the priests were offended, because Herod the Great had begun to enlarge the temple during his lifetime, and even now under the rule of his son the work was still not completed. Three days indeed! But they could not stone Yeshua, for fear of the crowd that had gathered and the disciples who closed ranks around their master. So they departed for a time, and they deliberately twisted his words, and reported that Yeshua was saying he would destroy the temple.
But Yeshua did not try to correct them. He said only, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.” He meant only that he had started the process that would lead inexorably to his execution. But the word began to spread that Yeshua and his followers planned to set fire to the temple. And his enemies took council on how they could quietly have the man arrested and put to death.
That evening in the house of Shimon in Bethany, Yeshua and his followers were having supper. A woman came in and poured a box of very expensive ointment on his head. Yudah Iscariot complained that it was a waste of the ointment, because it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He didn’t mention that he normally skimmed his take right off the top of such gifts. Yeshua told him to lay off the woman, because she was anointing his body ahead of time for the burial to come. Even at that late hour none of his disciples believed Yeshua when he said he was about to be put to death.
With the stinging loss of this potential income weighing in his mind, Yudah approached the priests and offered to betray Yeshua in return for a small sum of money. He was already disappointed that Yeshua was not interested in serving as the focal point of a violent revolt against Rome, and he had already resolved to stop following Yeshua, but he realized he could at least turn things to his financial advantage.
For the priests’ part, they were not paying for Yudah to identify Yeshua to them, because Yeshua’s appearance was well known and he always drew crowds. The priests were paying so they could say the conspiracy against Yeshua began within his own circle. Thus Yeshua would be discredited. And Yeshua, noting the departure of Yudah, was satisfied that he had sufficiently aroused the religious authorities in Jerusalem to bring matters to a head.
With his remaining disciples Yeshua shared the first of an endless series of shared meals where his followers would gather close together and drink wine in memory of his shed blood, and break bread in memory of his broken body, and renew again their commitment to make the kingship of El Shaddai present in the world. It was, in short, the formal inauguration of the Banquet of God, and its repetition in every land and every age from that moment thereafter would become the central devotion of the people who embraced the teachings of Yeshua and his message of the forgiveness of El Shaddai.
After the meal Yeshua said it was not enough to simply stop causing more damage, and to know El Shaddai had already forgiven the offense. His followers must also go out into the world, forgive others of their sins, and help repair the damage that all sin has caused to mankind.
That evening in a garden near the city, when the time of Yeshua’s trial was nearly at had, he entered into direct communication with his beloved parent El Shaddai and asked for strength. Yeshua knew he would experience a level of suffering in the next few hours where he would beg to be released. And El Shaddai spoke to Yeshua Bat-El the words that he, in the body of Talishi, had just spoken to Khondiel after the battle of Salem:
If men and women everywhere become willing to do for each other what you will do for me tomorrow, then love won, beloved daughter! It may take many more centuries to play out but you have turned the corner. Once and for all, love won!”
The priests came with many armed men to arrest Yeshua, led by Yudah, and all of his followers fled for their lives despite their many previous assurances they would stay with Yeshua to the end. And Yeshua was subject to a series of six trials.
The first trial was before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas, who had been deposed by the Romans for his gross mismanagement. At the trial of Annas no judgment was rendered, because he had no real authority, and also he had a hard time getting two false witnesses to line up their lies about Yeshua. But Yeshua was subject to much physical abuse, which seemed to satisfy Annas.
The second trial was in the house of Yosef Caiaphas the high priest, where all his enemies were gathered together from the Sanhedrin council, which had been hastily called together. Gathering at night was a total breach of protocol, but the emergency (their loss of kickbacks from the temple) was sufficient in their minds to justify it.
Shimon son of Yona, one of the followers of Yeshua, came in through the servant’s entrance to watch, but he had some problems with his Galilean accent and some of the servants seemed to recognize him. He had to repeatedly deny knowing Yeshua.
After lengthy questioning, Caiaphas realized they had no binding legal case against Yeshua. He was blameless under the Code of Moshe. All they had to go on was a statement Yeshua made that he could tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days, which was more insane than blasphemous. But it was all they had. So after some more physical abuse, Yeshua moved on to the next stage.
The third trial was in the palace of the king before Herod Antipas, the exarch and client of Rome, who referred the case back to Caiaphas because he also could find no legal basis to find Yeshua guilty, and also because he didn’t want to go down in history as a mass butcher of Jewish prophets.
The fourth trial was before Pontius Pilate in the Praetorium. Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judaea, a subordinate of Vitellius, the Roman legate of Syria. He was exceedingly cruel and had absolutely no respect for Jewish religious sensibilities, but as far as Pilate could tell, despite Yeshua exercising the will to remain silent, which pissed him off, Yeshua was an innocent man.
Pilate was much more interested in the venom Yeshua’s mere presence seemed to invoke in the priests and Pharisees. So he referred Yeshua back to Caiaphas, told him to try again, and retired for the evening.
The fifth trial lasted for the balance of the night. At the end, Caiaphas put Yeshua under oath by the living God and asked him straight out if he asserted to be divine. Yeshua decided the thing needed a little prodding. He said, “Henceforth you shall see me seated at the right hand of God.”
Caiaphas rent his robe and said, “The charge of blasphemy is proven! This man deserves to die! But we have no authority to execute him. So we must bring him again before Pilate in the morning.” And meantime they occupied themselves with reviling and beating Yeshua.
The sixth trial was when Pilate really grew annoyed because he was being asked to put to death what he already knew to be an innocent man. But the Jewish religious authorities insisted on it, and there began to be agitation from the mob. So Pilate had Yeshua punished with the Roman flagellum, a whip with pieces of bone and metal embedded in the thongs.
The flogging was very bloody and severe. Yeshua had never experienced such intense suffering in his entire life. Most of the skin on Yeshua’s back was left hanging in strips. But Pilate, in a roundabout way, was actually trying to save Yeshua. He hoped the crowd would look at him after the torture and say, “It is enough, release him.”
But at the instigation of the priests and scribes, the mob cried out, “Crucify him!” and Pilate was astonished. He realized the Jewish leaders were really flustered by this man. So Pilate began to mock them by calling Yeshua the King of the Jews.
And it was a tradition at the feast of Passover for the governor to release one prisoner. Barabbas was an assassin of Roman officials who was scheduled to be crucified on charges of insurrection and murder. Pilate gave them a stark choice: Either Yeshua would be crucified, or Barabbas. Continuing his little joke, Pilate asked the priests, who were Sadducees keenly sensitive to avoiding rebellion at all costs, “Shall I crucify your king?”
But they replied, “We have no king but Caesar.” And so with great irony, a Jewish revolutionary against Rome was released at the request of Jewish collaborators in the name of their fealty to Rome, and Yeshua, who had once said “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar” was executed in his stead. Barabbas became the first man in history to have the penalty of his sins remitted by the death of Yeshua Bat-El.
Ironically, two thousand years later, self-styled followers of Yeshua in the United States would become the biggest defenders of the life-for-life penalty laid out in the Code of Moshe.
The Jewish council had obtained the penalty of crucifixion for Yeshua, even though to Jews, crucifixion was the most disgusting possible punishment. For it is written in the Law, “He who is hanged is accursed by El Shaddai.”
The Romans had a certain engineering genius when it came to roads and aqueducts, and this genius they also applied to the death penalty. Crucifixion was by far the worst thing they could imagine happening to any man, ever. Yeshua was forced to carry a heavy wooden beam on his back after most of the skin had been ripped off by the flagellum, and he was marched through the streets of Jerusalem to a point high on the slope of Mt. Olive facing the city.
The crossbeam was mounted to a post, and Yeshua’s two wrists were secured to the crossbeam with large nails through the carpal bones. And a single nail was driven through Yeshua’s two heel bones, which itself was agonizing beyond belief. When the cross was raised into the upright position, Yeshua’s own body weight made it impossible to breathe unless he pushed his head up level with his arms, which he had to do by standing on the nail through the bone.
So he became a human engine of suffering. Yeshua had to push up on the single nail in his heels to scream and then draw a breath, then he sank back down again, constantly shifting the burden from his feet to his wrists until he died of exhaustion. Most victims could take several days to expire, but Pilate had ordered such a thorough job with the whipping that Yeshua would only last for six hours.
Thus it was that Yeshua Bat-El, a living star, knew agony on such a level that it literally captured the psyche of the Eloah and trapped her in Yeshua’s body with no hope of escape except through death. Yeshua desperately tried to summon the will to die but found he could not, and the horror of this grew to overwhelm him. And yet Bat-El had freely accepted this punishment in obedience to her parent’s commandment. For Bat-El obeyed El Shaddai in full union with the human Yeshua. For those six hours as Yeshua suffered, he represented the whole human race, in every time and place. With this obedience of Yeshua Bat-El unto death, Mastema’s final claim against humans was silenced forever.
And the high priest Yosef, surnamed Caiaphas, came to Pilate and said this Yeshua he had commanded to be crucified had often foretold his own death, and said many times that he would lie in the earth, but rise again on the third day. “I fear, governor, that his followers will spread a lie through the city that they have seen the man risen again from the dead, exactly as he predicted. We will never be rid of the fanatics his followers will draw to themselves with that story.”
And Pilate said, “Have no fear, we will simply leave the man on his cross until the crows have picked him clean.”
But Herod Antipas said, “Actually, brother Pilate, we should bury him, since the Passover is drawing on. For it stands written in the Code of Moshe: the sun should not set on one who has been put to death.”
And to this Pilate also agreed, albeit somewhat more reluctantly. But Yosef Caiaphas was still unsatisfied. “Not to impugn the famous discipline of your troops, governor,” said he, “but it is well known that following a Roman crucifixion, the bodies are usually buried in shallow graves, with only a light covering of stones over them. During the night, dogs are sure to uncover him and feast on his body, and we will never be able to prove he is not risen as his followers will claim. The multitude will say, ‘See how righteous he was’ and they will do us the harm that I have touched upon.”
And Pilate said, “About that I can do nothing. The dogs are an important part of the invincible deterrent of the penalty of crucifixion, especially in light of Jewish beliefs about the importance of burial.”
But there was also there in the audience chamber of Pilate one Yosef of Arimathaea, a member of the Sanhedrin, who said he had a freshly hewn crypt which he had caused to be made for the use of himself and his wife when their time was at hand. And Yosef offered to lend the use of his crypt to lay the body of Yeshua within it for the span of three days that concerned the high priest. He said a heavy stone could be rolled into place to cover the entrance, and therefore the body would be safe from any beasts.
But Caiaphas had one more objection. “The crypt will keep his body safe from being devoured by dogs, but what is to stop his followers from stealing the body away? Therefore, Pilate, give us soldiers that we may watch his sepulchre for three days.” So Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with some of his soldiers to watch the tomb, and he considered the case closed.
Along with Petronius and his cohort came elders and scribes. They laid the body of Yeshua within, and all who were there, together with the centurion and his soldiers, rolled a very heavy stone against the entrance, and put on it seven seals, and pitched a tent outside to keep watch.
25 – RESURRECTION
El Shaddai would not stand by and watch the enemies of Yeshua desecrate his body after the appointed three days in the tomb. He caused the Earthly end of the worm-hole to Barbelo to be located inside the sealed tomb, and allowed the waters of the Sacred Pool in Hamar to flood it.
Two Issacharites dove into the Pool to retrieve the body, and when it had been taken to Canterwood many of the Issacharites wept, for Yeshua had been wiped off the face of the Earth like only the Romans could do it, and the body was almost unrecognizable. With all the dignity they could summon, an Issacharite priest of Bat-El used the Golden Gift to consume the body of Yeshua until it was no more.
After the three days had passed, the enemies of Yeshua were satisfied they had thwarted any possibility that his followers might rally around an empty tomb and form the nucleus of a messianic cult. They rolled away the stone so they could move Yeshua’s body from its temporary place in the tomb of Yosef of Arimathea and bury it in some more permanent but unmarked place. And there was nothing inside but a foot of water.
The superstitious Romans fled in great fear, and none of the priests and scribes would speak about what happened, nor did they tell Pilate that his soldiers had shirked their duty and run away. Petronius reported to Pilate that the Jewish elders were satisfied with the procedure and had taken the body of Yeshua away themselves. And Petronius ordered his soldiers to forget what they had seen.
From the first moments of her existence, the living sun Bat-El experienced things no Eloah had ever been subjected to over the whole history of her race, which extends back for billions of years. No Eloah had ever been conceived inside the body of her mother. No Eloah had ever dared to cut the line of communication with her own father as Bat-El had done at her mother’s request. No Eloah had a direct means of communication that Bat-El enjoyed by sharing a single sun’s body with El Shaddai.
And while El Shaddai and Mastema had taken possession of planet-dwellers as Bat-El had done with Yeshua, only Bat-El’s human avatar had experienced a death so wretched, so agonizing that in combination with all the other factors it drop-kicked Bat-El to a whole new plateau of ability. Not even her mother would ever duplicate the power that Bat-El discovered she suddenly had in the wake of the crucifixion.
It is a universal law of reality that there is no crown without suffering. What suffering, and what a crown! Bat-El found that she knew the whole panoply of her future as readily as any other sentient being could remember his or her own past.
At first Bat-El was excited to tell her mother of this new ability, for it seemed it could be turned into an invincible weapon to use against Mastema, but as she scanned her future history she reached a blind wall just a little over two thousand years along the time-line. And the only clue she had as to the cause was that Bat-El knew both she and her mother would suddenly take ill a few years before hitting that wall, and together grow progressively worse until the end. Bat-El hadn’t thought it possible that Elohim could get sick, at least until they were very old. And by old, she was thinking of billions, or even trillions of years.
El Shaddai suspected that somehow, in about two thousand years, Mastema would contrive a way to kill them. And this was puzzling, because 40,000 years of real space separated Sol from the K-Class star that was the body of Mastema.
Bat-El did not foresee that they would succeed in reaching contact with El, the greater community of Elohim before they reached that black curtain of oblivion. She almost slipped into despair, but then Bat-El realized that her view of space had been greatly enriched by adding the dimension of time. Her mother could locate the mouth of a fold-door anywhere in the Solar System, but she couldn’t really see it the way Bat-El now saw it. Bat-El discovered that she could put her end of the worm-tunnel anywhere she wanted in time as well as space, so long as it didn’t extend beyond the blank walls that marked her birth and her death.
They decided to try an experiment. Talishi flew in her avatar from the Castle Brys on Sealiah Island to Hamar, then took the passage from the Sacred Pool to Earth to a place where she could prepare herself in the attire of a female servant. Then she summoned the end of a fold-door and crawled inside.
Bat-El located the other end of the fold-door in the house of the high priest Yosef Caiaphas during the fifth trial of Yeshua. Talishi found she was able to move about at will, because her status as a servant made her almost invisible to the men of power. Only her very light skin and white hair drew some attention.
As she moved toward the chamber where they were questioning Yeshua she recognized the man Yeshua had called his chief disciple, Shimon the son of Yona. Talishi said, “I know you, sir! I saw you with Yeshua!” And this was absolutely true, because Talishi, as El Shaddai, had access to the memories of Bat-El, as Yeshua.
But Shimon grew nervous and declared to the woman who was really his own God, “I tell you I do not know the man!”
Talishi smiled at him warmly, having forgiven Shimon on the spot.
In the largest room of the house Caiaphas put Yeshua under oath by the living God and asked him straight out if he asserted to be divine. And Yeshua, thinking that he needed to move things along, said, “Henceforth you shall see me seated at the right hand of God.”
Then Caiaphas rent his robe and said, “The charge of blasphemy is proven! This man deserves to die! But we have no authority to execute Yeshua. We must bring him again before Pilate in the morning.”
Talishi entered the chamber and moved to stand at Yeshua’s left side, placing him to her right. She said in the loudest voice she could muster, “Behold my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased!”
And within the blink of an eye they were both gone, leaving a spherical hole in the intricately tiled floor of the chamber.
By making this change, Bat-El saw that Talishi had caused all of reality to fork. There was universe Alpha, the one where she as Yeshua had been crucified, and there was universe Beta, the one where Yeshua and Talishi had disappeared before the very eyes of the Sanhedrin in the house of Caiaphas. Bat-El could see both forks, and she could place the end of a worm-hole in either one.
Bat-El opened a fold-door in the empty tomb in Universe Alpha.
Early in the morning, after the sun had risen, Miriam of Magdalena, who had been the lover and closest female follower of Yeshua, took with her Miriam the mother of Yeshua, and also Yeshua’s sister Salome. They came to the sepulchre where Yeshua had been laid by his enemies.
And Yeshua’s girlfriend said to his mother and sister, “Although we could not openly weep and lament on that day when Yeshua was crucified, let us now do so at his tomb.”
Salome said, “But who will roll away for us the stone also that is set on the entrance of the sepulchre, that we may go in and sit beside him and anoint my brother’s body?”
Her mother said, “If we cannot do so, let us at least put down at the entrance what we brought as a memorial for him, and let us weep and lament until we have gone home again.”
So they went, but they found the sepulchre opened. And they came near, stooped down, and found Talishi there sitting in the midst of the sepulchre. Talishi said to them, “Why are you come? Who do you seek?”
Mariam of Magdalena said, “We seek he who was crucified. Please, if you have taken his body away, where have you taken him?”
Talishi said, “You will not find Yeshua, nor has anyone taken him, for he is risen by the power of El Shaddai and has gone. But in the city seek out Shimon who is called Kephas, and the other followers of Yeshua, and he will appear to you there.”
The women fled in much confusion and returned to the city.
And at this time the eleven remaining disciples of Yeshua hid themselves in the room where they had shared the first Banquet of God with him, and the door was locked, because they were filled with great fear on account of the Jews.
Miriam of Magdelena came to them, gave the special knocking sign, and was admitted into the room with them. And she said to Kephas, “I have been to the sepulchre where they buried the Lord. He is no longer there!”
And the disciples began to debate among themselves what this news meant.
Then a worm tunnel appeared in the midst of the room, but there was no flood of water, because it was possible for Bat-El and El Shaddai to open a tunnel between any two points on Earth. Yeshua floated through it, and the tunnel disappeared again. Yeshua stood among them, and greeted them with great joy, but they could hardly believe their eyes. And Yeshua said, “The peace of El Shaddai be with you.”
But they were very frightened, because they thought he was a ghost. So Yeshua said, “Do not be afraid! Look at my body and see that it is truly myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see me have.”
But he had no holes in his hands or feet, nor scars from the Roman whip, and some of the followers did not believe it was he. So Yeshua told them certain things they had once shared that only the disciples would know. Then they acknowledged it was indeed Yeshua, but they still thought he must be a ghost. So Yeshua asked for something to eat. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and Yeshua took it and ate it in their presence to prove he was not a spirit.
Then Simon Peter came to full belief, and regretted fleeing from Yeshua’s side in his darkest hour and denying that he knew him when he was in the house of Caiaphas. He sank to his knees and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Yeshua assured Simon he was already forgiven, and he said, “Indeed, soon I will depart from all of you, and return to El Shaddai, but you are eyewitness of all these things. Now you are no longer disciples but my apostles. I will send you forth to preach the forgiveness of sins and to bring the Banquet of God to all the nations of the world, beginning here in Jerusalem.”
And he took them out of the city as far as Bethany, and the tunnel appeared again beside him. Yeshua withdrew from them and entered the globe, and the globe was lifted into the sky, and they watched it until they could see it no more.
After that the apostles returned to Jerusalem to begin the work that Yeshua had trained them to do with much prayer and thanksgiving, and ever they came together to eat the memorial feast established by Yeshua on the evening he was arrested. And they had no more fear of the Jews, for their master had suffered the most cruel death men could devise, yet he was risen to a second life, and for those who were baptized and came to believe, the same was promised to them.
26 – INTERLUDE
As the keeper of the sword Dragonthorn, Kari Antero was convinced that she had the power to bend the will of everyone around her, even the will of her father the King. At least, this is what her father constantly assured her, to his ultimate undoing.
Some time ago Kari had taken Demonstroke all the way to the city of Mastema to put it to the ultimate test. Now, while the Council had taken a short recess she dismissed the guards blocking her way to Kirodiel’s chamber and received yet one more confirmation of her invincible power of persuasion.
Joy was lounging sensuously inside the chamber like some exotic black cat. In fact, everything about her was black except her unnaturally pale white skin. Kari told her she was dismissed also. Joy left quickly without a word of protest.
“How did you get in here?” Kirodiel demanded angrily after witnessing his woman sent away abruptly like some common servant.
“It wasn’t very hard,” Kari said. “I’m very persuasive it turns out. Yet the last time we met, you had the stronger power, it seemed.”
“I don’t know what came over me then,” he said. “And Joy would certainly never understand if she discovered the truth of the matter. She has very unpleasant ways of making her displeasure known.”
“I came to see if your resolve to keep our secret has not withered.”
“You must be thinking of the requirement for strict sexual purity for every woman who is entrusted to guard the Dragonthorn blade.”
The penalty for losing my virginity is more terrible than any other punishment in the history of Barbelo.
“Yes indeed, Princess. I am given to understand that if you were discovered to be, ah, disqualified, you would be actually rendered immortal and buried alive in a coffin deep under the ice to suffer the horror of eternal claustrophobia for all eternity. A truly horrible fate to contemplate for any creature no matter what their crimes, and sufficiently horrible, in fact, that it has never been found necessary to measure it out. In a way I’m flattered that you risked that awful penalty for a single session in bed with me.”
“So what are your feelings on this matter, Lord Kirodiel?”
“I find that I still have no desire at all to reveal it to anyone, and even thinking about revealing it to another person causes me to be overcome with a very bad depression that grows worse and worse the closer I come to making my urge into an actuality.”
“It is a shame that it must be so, Lord Kirodiel. When last we met you said that I had a very lovely ass and could not keep your hands from caressing it.”
Kirodiel puckered his mouth in disgust. “Princess, right now I wouldn’t reach across your ass to grab a winning ticket in the Salem numbers racket. I resent very much that you have somehow wound this spell around me. Your secret is safe. So if that is all you want, then please leave.”
Kari pivoted on one foot and marched out of his chamber without a sound. When she was well out of earshot Kirodiel began to snicker. The effort it had taken not to laugh the entire time was almost too much for him!
“So that was the girl,” Joy said, emerging from behind a curtain. She had doubled back by secret ways and listened to almost the entire exchange. “What a stupid twit, my Lord! It’s a wonder you didn’t have done and unleash the dragon on Vaska the instant she came to you and gave her so-called virtue away.”
“It is not her virginity that controls the dragon,” he told Joy, “but the sword. I need only to manipulate her into breaking the sword and then you can take control of the beast yourself.”
“With the sword broken I will have no problem flying Demonstroke. But I need access to his holding pen, my Lord. There’s a limit to the range of my power.”
“My guards can get you in easily enough,” Kirodiel said. “But tell me, Joy, how is it you can make beasts do your bidding anyway?”
“My lord already knows Yeshua and Talishi have what they call the B’nei Elohim project going on the side. A little below gods we are, the saying goes, a little above humans. As I understand it, I cannot control any animal until Yeshua prepares it with some kind of bead in their brain, much as El Shaddai once prepared Samuel to receive his voice long ago in Palestine. Your dragon, however, has already been prepared by yourself, Lord. I will merely tap into that.”
“Good. Then we shall await the moment when Princess Kari breaks the sword. There must be no doubt in the mind of Talishi and all the assembled ladies and lords that what follows is entirely the fault of the princess.”
And though Joy had removed herself to the enemy camp, and served Mastema with her whole body and soul, it never at any time occurred to her to mention that Yeshua had discovered a way to manipulate time. The compulsion never to reveal this, directly or even indirectly, ran to the very inner core of the B’nei Elohim.
When Baron Bayard Firegem was alone with Luzea Cedarbranch in his chambers he commanded her to disrobe, but Luzea balked, saying:
The Queen would give me twelve whistling lashes
I fear you more than a hundred slashes
“Nonsense, Luzea, I know you have seen the whipping tree do its work. It may be the tamest form of life native to Barbelo but it is nasty enough. Twelve lashes means at least two cracked ribs and maybe even some kidney damage. So remove that dress and let me see what I bought with my lies to my mother.”
Luzea slowly complied, but she was trembling. The baron commanded her to lie back on the bed so he could drink in the vision of her nude body. Luzea was lovely, he thought, with that untamed female scent he craved, but her purely animal fear took all the appeal out of what he wanted to do with her. As well mate with a captive hare.
The Baron sighed, and said, “You commoners are fortunate. You can do as you like but among the royal family of Sala we only allowed to take wife from among our peers, upon pain of exile. And when the Queen sets her mind to exile she has an option that is truly outlandish.”
Luzea sensed that he was relenting in his enthusiasm for “punishing” her and her trembling began to subside a little bit.
“Oh, but only if you knew how good you seem to me,” he lamented. “I’m a Gold Beard baron with a decidedly overwhelming preference for unspoiled women.”
My Lord endeavors not to let this show,
But tell me does your mother the Queen know?”
“Yes, Luzea, she has known for a long time. My taste for commoner female flesh was overlooked as long as I kept things quiet and discreet. But the Queen is beginning to lose patience.”
There was a scratching sound in the ceiling above, and the Baron rolled to one edge of the bed just in time as a thin ceiling panel gave way. Aliwe Halil fell to the bed just then, landing on Luzea’s nude body amid many wooden splinters. One naked leg of Luzea curled around Aliwe almost instinctively with pleasure, a conditioned response from their many sweet nights together.
The Baron smiled, got fully dressed, and strode toward the door to leave them alone. “I do ask that you put my room back in order when you are done, ladies. I’ll tell the guards to give you an hour alone.”
Before he left he remembered something and turned to Luzea. “There’s still my mother’s wrath to allay. You will have to feign some kind of injury so horrible that you refuse to speak of it. I think that will satisfy her.” He looked at the two of them starting to squirm and tilted his head. “And that should be me there wrapped in your lovely arms and legs, young Luzea!” Then he closed the door.
Aliwe and Luzea had not been practicing lesbians for a very long. They were damn good at it.
27 – THE WAY
In the days that followed the departure of Yeshua the apostles remembered that he had commanded them to teach the world everything he had taught. But no one had bothered to actually write down anything that Yeshua had said or did over the months and years they had known him. So they tried to come up with a definitive set of teachings by pooling together their memories of what Yeshua had said, but as is so often the case, human memory is imperfect and colored by preconceived notions. There was only a seed of discord at first but over time this seed would grow.
Shimon, son of Yoni, who was also called Kephas, found that sometimes if he touched a person who was injured or sick, they would seem to shift before his eyes, and instantly become unconscious. But when they awoke their infirmity would be healed. He had no idea that Yeshua was really taking the subjects to a distant point on the Earth on Timeline Alpha, rendering them unconscious, healing them over a matter of days or weeks, and then returning them to the precise point he had taken them on Timeline Beta with their bodies arranged in more or less the same position they had.
After that Kephas began his healing ministry in earnest, and many new converts were added to the followers of the Way. The crippled and diseased would line the streets where their families laid them, hoping that Kephas shadow would at least touch them if he himself would not. “And so it begins,” Caiaphas the High Priest said, “just as we feared it would when the body of this Yeshua went missing. Now these men and those of like mind will go among the people and tell them this Yeshua is risen, and stir them up to vain superstitions.”
Yet the apostles, despite the fears of Caiaphas, were not of like mind. The newborn Yeshua movement snapped in two when it was barely out of the starting gate. One faction, led by Yeshua’s half-brother Yakob the Righteous believed the movement was nothing more than a new take on orthodox Judaism and proposed to work towards an accommodation with authorities such as the Pharisees and Saduccees and even the Romans. Perhaps this attitude took hold because Yeshua had chosen not to give his brother the illusion of the power to heal. Yakob’s group decided to remain in Jerusalem close to the levers of power.
The other faction, led by Kephas, remembered how the authorities ruthlessly executed both Yohanan the baptizer and then Yeshua himself. They were not remotely interested in making peace with any enemy save Death, which Yeshua had shown through his resurrection could be conquered by anyone who made the rule of El Shaddai present in the world. In time, Shimon’s group migrated north, first to their original home near Galilee, then they moved further north to settle in Antioch.
Yeshua monitored the progress of his apostles at various points on Timeline Beta, and at first, aside from the odd “miracle” he did to prod things along, he did not interfere. But standing on Mount Olive the summer exactly forty years after he had been crucified, Yeshua witnessed the end of the Second Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. He knew Judaism was finished as a religion of the temple. From that point going forward personal adherence to the purity code of Moshe, as taught by rabbis in synagogues, would atone for personal and corporate sin which had previously been absolved by animal sacrifices.
Spot checks further up the timeline confirmed no third temple would ever be constructed. What troubled Yeshua was that over that same span of time his followers never took his message of the Banquet of God to anyone other than the Jews. In that scenario, with the fall of Jerusalem his own movement would be rapidly extinguished as well. He went back to the 30s to see what he could do.
Early on the Jewish aristocrats and religious authorities realized the new “Way” of Yeshua was a cancer growing on their power structure, and it was progressing geometrically. They realized the only way to stop it was to escalate to bloodshed.
The first victim of this new policy was a deacon named Stefanos, who had been selected to aid the apostles in attending to the physical needs of the people while they focused on preaching. Stefanos was particularly fired up for Yeshua, and it was easy to manipulate a mob into interpreting his preaching as the provocation of a Jewish apostate and stone him.
This death was witnessed by a certain Pharisee named Saulus of Tarsus, and he heartily agreed that Stefanos had to die. He volunteered to become the chief thug for the orthodox Jewish side, and went around the country kicking in the doors of Yeshua-followers and dragging them, men and women alike, to prison.
When Herod Agrippa I took command of Judea, appointed by Emperor Claudius, the Jewish authorities told him that Yeshua was a man who had deemed himself to be God, and had drawn many followers to him, and these followers continued to make converts even after Yeshua had been executed. Herod was a good Jew and this deeply offended him. He took the violence to a whole new level by arresting Yakob Boanerges, brother of Yohanan, and putting him to death by the sword.
This seemed to have the desired effect. The followers of Yeshua’s way went underground in Jerusalem, but Saulus heard they were still openly preaching in Damascus, so he went there with letters from certain rabbis authorizing him to find Yeshua’s disciples and bring them to Jerusalem in fetters.
And when he was on his way to that city, Bat-El caused the mouth of the wormhole to fall upon Saulus. It was the first “alien abduction” in history. Night was transformed to day. There was a warm alpine meadow with many different flowers, and stunted trees, and the biggest mountain Saulus had ever seen, covered by dozens of glaciers. There, seated in the meadow, was Yeshua, who said, “Do not be afraid, Saulus.”
Saulus asked in reply, “Who are you, Lord?”
And the man said, “I am Yeshua, the offspring of the living God. I am the one you are truly afflicting when you arrest my followers, for they are my hands and feet in the world.”
Saulus sank to his knees and said, tearfully, “Forgive me, Lord.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Saulus. You honestly believed my followers were turning the children of Israel away from our God. I honor your zeal, but I have a better use for it.”
“Anything, Lord,” Saulus said. “What would you have me do?”
Yeshua smiled at him, “After you have been baptized men shall no longer call you Saulus. After that you shall be Paulus, and you will be my missionary to the Gentiles.”
“The Gentiles, Lord?”
“I know it’s very ironic. You studied the Code of Moshe under Rabbi Gemaliel and your observance of it is impeccable. You are the perfect Jew, Saulus, but it turns out that is all the Code of Moshe is really good for: making Jews flawlessly unlike anyone of the neighboring nations and kingdoms. But the written law doesn’t make you objectively righteous to my Father because God can see inside your heart and loyalty has to begin from deep within. Do you see?”
“I do, Lord, there is the kind of righteousness based on the fear of being caught, and there is the righteousness which springs from the desire to please one’s master.”
Yeshua laughed. “Clearly you are going to be the brains of my organization, if you join me, Saulus. No doubt you have heard of the man I left in charge of my flock back there, Shimon, son of Yona.”
“I understand you renamed him Kephas, or ‘Rock’, Lord.”
“That’s true, but you may not know why I did that.”
“The rumor is he is a man of great strength, Lord.”
“I named him Kephas because he is as dumb as a rock. Nevertheless, if I turn you loose without putting you into the proper relationship with Shimon and my brothers and my other followers, you will run where I do not want you to go.”
Yeshua, speaking these words, stretched out his hands and touched Saulus’ face. Instantly, he was filled with dismay. “Lord, I cannot see!”
“Others will guide you to Kephas,” said Yeshua, and Saulus did not see how he was returned to the place where he had been taken from.
28 – UNION
When the table was set in order after the meal and everyone had taken their places again, it was Talishi’s turn to state her piece. She said, “Mastema is Lord of this world. That no one denies, and House Gerash has always been especially devoted to him. And yet humans are not native to Barbelo. Long ago we were grafted in from Earth, where El Shaddai and Bat-El reign. Perhaps this is why House Sala have cast their lots with the God of the other world, and why the other houses of Barbelo, and even the inhabitants of the city of Salem in the Middle Land, have varying degrees of devotion between the two deities.
“This is tolerable to El Shaddai, I can assure you, since El Shaddai has always called human beings the Students, and one of the most important thing a student can learn is how to think, not what to think. But I can also assure you that this state of affairs is not tolerable to Mastema. I’m quite certain that he has already begun to make his move, and you will soon discover why he has maneuvered to keep the other four house off balance and at each other’s throats. For he does not call human beings students, but rather servants.
“I will not attempt to influence the decision of this council, but I do offer a warning that if you decide to present a united face to House Gerash that afterward you move with supernatural speed, for Lord Kirodiel will then be presented with no choice but to attempt to take out each one of the four houses one at a time. And now I would bid good King Arman Bellon to tell his tale.”
He stood up and said, “Thank you Lady Talishi. Your worlds are weighty and to be pondered deeply. We here in Rumbek have also played the fool for the arms merchants of House Gerash, despite the formidable water barriers which protect us on three sides, and the Nine Mile Wall which protects us on the fourth. At times during the last century we have campaigned often against the Red Beards and even crossed the Ice to assail House Larund. But for the last twenty years, with only one recent exception, the unfortunate incident with Count Zelus, we have been at peace with the rest of Barbelo. That is why when High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel came to me with tidings of House Antero building many portable pontoons designed to bridge the straits north and south of Magodon, I was not panicked into buying the catapults he was offering to repulse the supposedly immanent attack.
King Brogan Antero said, “Kirodiel did offer to sell us the prefabricated pontoons, King Arman, but I was never tempted to buy any of them.”
“So you said, King Brogan, through your ambassador, and thus we both knew Kirodiel to be a liar. It brought to mind a state visit to the Middle Land I had made some time prior, when I crossed the Ice and passed through Salem to Ganelon and thence to the city of Mastema. In Ganelon I saw some of the finest bottom land I have ever seen, better than around Saharad perhaps, with soil so deep and rich it was nearly black, yet there were no crops, save weeds.”
“The Middle Land has a manufacturing economy now,” said Lord Kirodiel with obvious pride, “not a primitive agricultural one like the other four monarchies.”
King Arman replied, “Your land is indeed a manufacturing economy, High Lord Patriach Kirodiel, but it manufactures weapons of war. Solely. Noble ones, let that fact sink in for a moment. Everyone who makes a living in the Middle Land is either employed to make weapons directly, or they support those do. Their livelihood rests on keeping us at each other’s throats.”
“I will tell you what our economy purchases for us,” Kirodiel countered. “In a legal sense even my guards are on the same level as myself, with the same rights and obligations to the state. Can any of you noble born say the same thing about yourself and any one of your servants? A lowly apprentice could rise to attain to my seat on the State Council. Blood counts for nothing in the Middle Land, only ability and loyalty to Mastema. We have a theocratic meritocracy.”
Queen Aurra smiled at this. “Not just individuals but kingdoms, too, may form republics after a fashion, Lord Kirodiel.” She stood up and raised her voice. “At this time I propose the creation of an entity I choose to call the Union of Kingdoms. Within each individual kingdom, we royals shall maintain our absolute sovereignty. Yet decisions which have an effect outside of our respective borders, such as concluding treaties or going to war, shall be thrashed out in council chamber with every kingdom represented.”
“I second your proposal, Your Highness,” said King Brogan Antero, standing up again as well. “At this moment you may consider House Antero to be joined to House Sala in a Union of Kingdoms precisely as you describe.”
After Brogan vowed to join Queen Alodra’s new Union of Kingdoms, Arman Bellon announced his decision to add his land to the Union as well, followed by Belen Larund, whose conflict with the Queen had accelerated this Council of Royals, and whose assent now at the end completed it.
Lord Kirodiel remained sitting. He was perceptive enough to know the White Beards were not and never would be invited into this Union. Without looking at any of the nobles he said, “Review your own history, O privileged ones. Can you remember a single battle between your kingdoms and House Gerash? Or even hearing about one? You cannot, and if you scratch a little deeper you will find that it was not for lack of trying. We clipped your little seedling attacks before they could proceed beyond a simple skirmish and take root. How were we able to do this time after time, you ask? Very simple. House Gerash, you see, always retains the newest and best arms for its own defense.”
“Yet there are unintended consequences to becoming makers of arms rather than customers,” King Arman countered. “We have a continuous warfighting tradition which you lack. Take extreme care, then, lest your attacks sputter to nought in confusion and your forces become prisoners.”
“No doubt your fathers of old weighed that very thing in their calculations as well,” Kirodiel countered. “The wise ones refrained from assailing the Republic. The foolish ones made their sorties and were repulsed. So this can be no new warning to you: If ever House Gerash should find your so-called Union of Kingdoms standing at cross-purposes to our interests, beware.”
Princess Kari Antero stood up then, drawing the diamond sword Dragonthorn from its jewel-encrusted scabbard strapped to her back. She was moved to say, “Lord Kirodiel would also do well to remember that the Middle Land is not the only realm which can bring unmatched weaponry to the field of battle!”
“Nay, daughter!” King Brogan admonished Keri sharply, “Your King now commands you! Stand down and restore the sacred blade to its place!” And the King was very wroth because Kari was the only person allowed to be armed in this chamber, and that only on a ceremonial basis.
29 – ROME
With the conversion of Saulus, reality forked once more, creating Timeline Gamma. And Yeshua saw that although his Nazarene movement would survive the fall of Jerusalem, the blank wall in the future marking the death of Bat-El and El Shaddai remained intact.
Saulus, blinded by the touch of Yeshua, was led the rest of the way to Damascus by his traveling companions. Before he entered that city, they were intercepted by Ananias, a disciple who had been alerted by Yahweh. Ananias took them to his house in the city. There Saulus was baptized, and following the command of the Lord he began to call himself Paulus.
After a number of days, they journeyed again to Jerusalem, where Ananias tried to get the brethren to accept Paulus, but everyone was afraid of him, and feared he was trying to infiltrate their cells in order to betray them to the Jews.
In the end it fell to Barnabas, an old friend of Paulus who studied with him under Rabbi Gemalial, to meet with the man and find out what his story was. Barnabas was one of the earliest converts to Yeshua. He had been a wealthy landowner who sold his holdings in Crete and used the money to fund Kephas’ ministry. So Barnabas had the ear of Kephas, and after a long talk with Paulus he believed his friend really had met the Lord somehow and converted to the Way, just as he said. Yet it seemed incredible, and it would be a hard sell, for as Saulus he had been the worst enemy of the nascent Church.
Through the mediation of Barnabas, then, Kephas came to Paulus, who was still blind, and it was entirely within the power of Kephas to leave Paulus thus and remove a thorn from the Church. But Kephas was preaching a gospel of forgiveness, and he knew that Yeshua would scorn his hypocrisy if he did not try to heal the man. So Kephas touched his eyes, and something like scales fell away from them, and Paulus could see again, but his vision would never be nearly as good as it was before he met Yeshua, and Paulus would require the services of an assistant to write all his letters. Yet that, too, was part of Yeshua’s plan to mold his character. For years after that Paulus would beg the Lord in prayer to remove this impediment, and Yeshua would always answer, “No.”
“The Lord Yeshua spoke with me,” Paulus said to Kephas. “Not in a vision, but man to man, just as I am speaking with you now.”
“So you say,” Kephas replied. “He spoke with me too, after he was raised up from the dead. He spoke with me for years before he was put to death so I actually know the Lord. Can you say the same?”
Paulus shook his head, conceding the point. “The Lord said I was to be sent to the Gentiles.”
“And what will you tell the Gentiles?” Kephas asked. When Paulus again had no answer to that, Kephas said, “I see that Yeshua has left it to me to teach you his doctrine. Gentiles you say? Did you know that some of the apostles, even the Lord’s brothers, insist the Gentiles must become good Jews before they can be baptized in the name of Yeshua? That only the circumcised can come to the table of the Banquet of God?”
“The Lord Yeshua made it very clear to me that is not what he intended.”
Kephas nodded. “I’ve been trying to find some middle way. But now you come along and say you will go to the Gentiles, and not receive them as Jews first. I tell you that is the sort of thing that can split our Way irretrievably in two.”
“‘Come now, and let us reason together’, says the Lord,” cited Paulus from the prophet Isaiah.
And so they took the issue to the whole church at the Council of Jerusalem, convened by Yakob, the brother of Yeshua. Paulus was not permitted to speak, but Kephas pled his case before the council, and his position as the chief apostle carried much weight. But Kephas did not have the ultimate authority over whole the Church that would be enjoyed by the Popes much later.
Although he could not speak, the astonishing transformation of Paulus from enemy of the Way to a wannabe apostle carried much weight. So the final verdict of the Council of Jerusalem was that Gentile converts to the Way of Yeshua did not have to be circumcised or adhere to the whole Code of Moshe, but a handful of commandments which had Jews believed had been binding on all men since the time of Noah were retained. Paulus was not happy with the compromise, but few negotiators ever are.
Paul was ordained the Apostle to the Gentiles, while the original apostles would bring the children of Israel, scattered throughout the world, to the Banquet of God.
Finally Yakob the Righteous deigned to speak to him. “Remember, Brother Paulus, that here in Jerusalem we are burdened with many poor. Do not forget these people when you preach to your more affluent Gentile flocks of Yeshua and the Banquet of God.”
And so, with the blessing of the whole Church, Paulus began to make a series of travels throughout the northeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and he wove a network of a dozen new Churches in Greece and Asia Minor. Paulus benefited from his Roman citizenship, which came to him by virtue of being the son of his father. His father had purchased Roman citizenship upon becoming a successful tent-maker in Tarsus. This was a trade that Paulus had learned from his father, and a trade he relied on to support himself as he engaged in his missionary activity.
One time when Paulus had returned to Jerusalem with financial contributions he had collected from his constellation of Gentile churches, a vicious rumor sprang up to the effect that Paulus was teaching Jewish Christians not to obey the Torah. Yakob didn’t believe it for a minute, but he suggested that Paulus ritually cleanse himself in Herod’s temple to lay the questions to rest, and Paulus took this advice.
With everyone walking on eggshells over this point, an opening was seen by the enemies of the Church. After the death of the Roman procurator Porcius Festus, in the short span before Lucceius Albinus replaced him, the High Priest Ananus moved quickly during the power vacuum and assembled the scribes and priests and Sadduccees. Yakob was invited to attend this “hearing”.
Ananus said to him, “We, as well as all the people, know you are a just man, and partial to none. Therefore we ask you to restrain your people, for they have gone astray in their opinions about this Yeshua of Nazareth, and hold that he is the Messiah. Stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot you may be clearly seen, and your words clearly audible to all the people. For it is Passover, and all the tribes have congregated here, and some of the righteous Gentiles also.”
Yakob ascended to the pinnacle of the temple as he was asked, but there he declared that Yeshua sat in heaven at the right hand of God, and he that shall come again on the clouds of heaven with all the holy angels to judge the living and the dead.
The members of the council in great wrath threw him down from the temple, so the people would see and be afraid.
But Yakob was not killed by the fall, only crippled. So the members of the council began to hurl stones at him. In great pain he struggled to his knees under the bombardment and prayed, “I beg you, Lord God our Father, do not hold this against them, for they do not know what they do!”
Finally a textile worker took the staff he used to wring out the garments he dyed, hurled it directly at the head of Yakob, and smote him dead.
A huge fire broke out and destroyed a tenth of the city of Rome. Rumors began to spread that the Emperor Nero himself had started the fire to make room for his new palace. To diffuse these suspicions, he put a few Christians under torture and got them to “confess” to arson to stop the agony. Based on this “testimony” hundreds of known Christians were placed under arrest and fed to dogs, or crucified, or turned into screaming human street lamps. Kephas was arrested, flogged, and crucified on Vatican Hill. Paulus was a Roman citizen and could not be flogged or crucified so instead he was beheaded on the Ostian road just outside of Rome.
After that a revolt against Rome broke out in Judea, centered in Jerusalem. Nero appointed General Vespasian as military commander over three legions to put down the unrest. At first Vespasian had some success in Galilee, but when Nero was forced to commit suicide the Empire was plunged into civil war. Vespasian took some of his forces to Alexandria to secure the Egyptian grain supply, and ultimately was declared Emperor himself by the Senate. He left his son Titus in charge of the final assault on Jerusalem.
The city was defended tenaciously by the Jews, but with four Roman legions surrounding Jerusalem with mighty earthworks, the outcome was never in doubt. After a siege of five months the entire city, including the temple which was central to Judaism, was pillaged and razed to the ground, except for three towers and the Western Wall, retained on the orders of Titus as a reminder to the surviving Jews of their lost glory. Yeshua watched from the summit of Mount Olive.
Jerusalem, one of five Patriarchal Sees in the universal Christian Church, ceased to exist, even in name. The Romans eventually turned it into a colony named Aelia Capitolina.
The mother of Yeshua passed away peacefully while living in the house of Yohanan Boanerges in Ephesus, Asia Minor. Yeshua sent Issacharite women to gather her body and bury her near the Pool of Bat-El in Canterwood. No one saw her body removed. Yohanan knew only that before she could be buried her body could not to be found, and no one on Earth could have taken it. Thus began the cult of Mariam that would persist for all time.
When Yohanan died, bringing to a close the Apostolic Age, the leaders of various Christian communities began to assemble biographies of Yeshua, and all of these were forgeries, attributed to various deceased pillars of the Church to add a vernier of authenticity. This soon got out of hand. The bishops of Corinth and Carthage complained that someone was writing false epistles using their name to discredit them and promote their own agenda. In Rome, two men laid claim to the bishopric at the same time, and the controversy did not end until the Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax exiled both of them to Sardinia.
Some emperors were a bit more harsh. Valerian ordered that all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons, including Pope Sixtus II, must sacrifice to the Roman gods, under penalty of death. Many of them chose death. Decius extended the persecution to the Christian laity. He issued an edict requiring all citizens to sacrifice to the emperor in the presence of a Roman official and obtain a certificate proving they had done so. Most Christians complied rather than incur fines or even death.
Other emperors, however, were more tolerant. Emperor Constantine, in fact, converted to Christianity on his deathbed and Julian the Apostate was the last non-Christian emperor. Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire, and eleven years later he outlawed most pagan rituals.
In the Seventh Century, a rival monotheistic religion called Islam arose to challenge Christianity, but the empire would resist the Muslim onslaught until the Fifteenth Century when Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans. This marked the final end of the Roman Empire.
During the long twilight period leading up to that, the Popes called for a series of seven Crusades, all of them brutal wars of conquest against the Islamic empire by Christendom. During the seventh Crusade Mastema the Accuser came to Yeshua in Canterwood and handed him a sheaf of parchment. He said, “This is a papal bull titled Ad Extirpanda from Pope Innocent IV. Note in particular Law 25, where he authorizes the use of torture against heretics.”
“The head of state or ruler must force all the heretics whom he has in custody, provided he does so without killing them or breaking their arms or legs, as actual robbers and murderers of souls and thieves of the sacraments of God and Christian faith, to confess their errors and accuse other heretics whom they know, and specify their motives, and those whom they have seduced, and those who have lodged them and defended them, as thieves and robbers of material goods are made to accuse their accomplices and confess the crimes they have committed.”
Mastema said, “I can assure you, Yeshua, having made something of a study of this, there are things that can be done to human beings short of killing them or breaking their limbs that make even the agony you endured in Judea pale in comparison. Twelve hundred years, Yeshua, and this is what has become of your ‘Banquet of God’. So I think I can say, without contradiction, that I have won.”