I have had this scene written for a while, and I open it occasionally and tweak on it. But I’m starting to notice that I’m really bad about tweaking something to death (I’m still tweaking on my first book, and I considered it finished a year ago!), so I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and publicly post it.
This is the story of how Anselm and Micah meet one another in 1512. This is also the first year that Joshua is the Erujtah, and you’ll see he clearly sets the tone for how he rules. I’ve tried to make all the information as historically-accurate as possible, but Jerusalem was a run-down, backwater little city in the 16th century, so it’s hard to find information on what people were wearing, how they lived, etc. It took a lot of digging just to find out what language people spoke (Arabic was the most common first langauge; Farsi (Persian) was the language of the government and courts), and even that’s a bit of a guess, because Jerusalem changed hands so frequently, what was common practice in one part of the controlling empire wasn’t necessarily the way things were done in Jerusalem. But, any historical inaccuracies aside, here it is:
Micah woke up bored. He knew it wasn’t right, but sometimes he disliked peace. Fighting for or against whoever was trying to take Jerusalem in any particular year was all that really made him feel alive. Peaceful years passed without notice. But the Convening would open after the Rosh Hashanah service that evening, and while the meeting itself was often boring, it was a different kind of boring, which almost made it interesting. Besides, there would be people in town he hadn’t seen since the last Convening—and maybe even some new people; socializing after meeting was always the best part.
He decided to go out to the market to kill some time.
The sun was still shrouded in the early morning haze, but it promised to blaze fiercely when it rose fully. It was still hot during the days, as if summer didn’t want to let go.
He meandered slowly through the narrow rows of vendors, while people bustled around him. That was one thing about living forever: you never needed to be in a hurry. Today, tomorrow, a hundred years from now—what did it matter?
He stopped to admire a large stand of fruit. He had always liked fruit, especially melons; they were so colorful and juicy—the opposite of most of the surrounding land. Micah bent down to inhale the scent. It was strong; they were perfectly ripe. Even though he had no hunger for one, a ripe melon was still a pleasant scent.
“You want to buy one?” the merchant asked.
Micah smiled and stood up. “You don’t have anything I want to buy.”
The man’s face instantly darkened. “What do you know, you Jew?”
Micah waved at him dismissively. The man returned the gesture more insultingly. Micah wandered off, chuckling inwardly. Arguing with merchants was part of the enjoyment of the market, and if you couldn’t argue over the price, you had to find something else to argue about.
Micah was surprised to find someone selling books, and he was instantly drawn to the stall.
“Hey, Jew, I have lots of books. Lots of books for you.”
“I see that,” Micah said absentmindedly, as he looked over the piles.
“I have many languages. What do you read?”
“Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. My Persian is only so-so. And I can read a little Greek.”
“You read Frankish? Look at this,” he said, shoving a red leather book under Micah’s nose. “New.”
Micah took the book from him and opened it. He recognized the Latin characters, but he couldn’t tell if the book was written in Latin or French or something else. Everything that wasn’t a Hebrew- or Arabic-style script got lumped into the category of “Frankish,” regardless of what language it actually was. Micah spoke passable French, so he tried sounding out the letters to see if any of the words sounded familiar.
“Excusez-moi,” someone said behind him, tapping him gently on the shoulder.
Micah turned around and was instantly surprised; the man behind him was Canichmeh. He didn’t know why he hadn’t noticed his scent sooner, especially as it was no one he recognized.
He quickly glanced the man over. He was tall, and dressed in a foreign style, not unlike the Frankish pilgrims that came to the city in a steady trickle. He wore his yellow leggings quite tight, and his blue woolen shirt was fairly fitted—especially at the waist—then flared into a skirt that barely reached his upper thighs. It all looked rather uncomfortable and hot to Micah. It was also rather dirty and travel-worn, as if the man had just arrived in the city.
Micah looked up and was startled by the man’s eyes, instantly thinking he must be blind. The next moment he banished the thought; no Canichmeh was blind. The man’s eyes had to naturally be a very light gray. His hair was black—darker than even Micah’s—and his skin was quite pale, even for a Canichmeh. Compared to everyone else around him, he almost looked translucent. He also looked very tired.
“You are… Canichmeh?” the man asked hesitantly in French.
“Yes,” Micah replied, thinking it ought to be obvious by his scent. But maybe the man was being polite.
“Is… is today Rosh Hashanah?”
“It is tonight.”
The man looked immensely relieved and muttered something to himself that Micah didn’t understand. Then he smiled a little. “I was différé in Venezia because of bad weather, and I lost trace of my days. I was afraid I was too late. I’ve been riding hard to get here on time.”
Micah didn’t understand everything he said, but he didn’t have to know much; traveling was always a risky, uncertain business, and sailing the Mediterranean was even worse. If the man was only delayed due to bad weather, that was something to be thankful for; it wasn’t uncommon for entire shiploads of people to go down en route.
“You are here on time,” Micah reassured him. “Our meeting is tonight.”
“Where’s a good place to stay? Something honest and clean.”
“Oh, no, you will stay with us.” Micah pointed back the way he had come. “Go to the end of this street. There is… water there,” he said, trying to indicate a cistern with his hands. The man nodded his understanding. “Turn left and go… there is a second street; go to that. The building is on the right. That is where the meeting is. The door is red.”
The man nodded, then smiled a little. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” The man started to leave, but Micah caught his sleeve. “Hey, can you read this?” he asked, holding up the book.
The man didn’t even look at what was printed in the book; he just shook his head sadly. “No.”
“Ah, well,” Micah said, turning back to the book stand. “What’s this supposed to be about, anyways?” he asked the merchant.
“I think it’s about Christianity. Some new heresy. I got a good deal from my Venetian seller; they were trying to get rid of them before the Church burned them.”
Micah shook his head. He couldn’t imagine anyone burning books; even though there were many more available now, thanks to the new printing press, they were still too precious to waste.
He glanced at the book again. “Heresy is always interesting… but I don’t think I know enough about Christianity to know what is and isn’t a heresy.”
The man shrugged. “What’s to know? It’s not the true faith.”
Micah thought that rather applied to more than just Christianity, but he didn’t dare say so; he rather liked having his head attached to his body.
He put the book down. “What else do you have?”
“I have some books in Greek. This is a new printing of Homer,” he said, offering a book in brown leather. “Are you familiar with the story of Troy?”
The meeting room was nearly full when Micah and Isaac walked in. The tables were arranged in a horseshoe-shape, with the Council members sitting along one side of the tables at the head of the room. Below the horseshoe arrangement were some additional tables where the Yaechahre sat.
The local Yaechahre always came to the Convening, and many people from the surrounding areas also came, but not many Yaechahre from outside the Holy Land came. Depending on their starting point, it could take up to six months to reach the Holy Land, and even with a Canichmeh escort, travel was still dangerous. But, nonetheless, some Yaechahre braved the hazards—namely to arrange marriages.
Yaechahre groups were usually small, and it was a delicate matter to get outsiders married in—and sometimes, depending on the political or religious climate, impossible. Due to a lack of new blood, it only took a couple of generations before everyone in any given group was too interrelated to marry. Groups in neighboring cities cross-married, but that typically only lasted a few generations, then both groups were too interrelated to marry. That’s when someone would end up going to the Convening to find mates for the young people in their group.
Micah glanced around, and noticed his friend, Azir, sitting at the first table, next to the high table. Micah made a beeline towards him.
“You’re late,” Azir said with a smile. He gestured for Micah and Isaac to sit on the bench next to him.
“They haven’t started yet, have they?” Micah asked.
“Then we’re not late.”
Azir laughed. Isaac leaned around Micah to look at him. “That we’re here a moment early is thanks to me, of course.”
“Of course,” Azir agreed with a knowing smile.
Joshua rose and greeted everyone, welcoming them to the Convening. Joshua had been the local Eruj for several centuries, but this was his first year as Erujtah. The previous Erujtah had announced his resignation at the previous year’s Convening and Joshua had been elected shortly thereafter. Micah liked Joshua quite well, and thought he would be a good Erujtah, but everyone else seemed to be reserving judgment. How he handled the Convening would be very telling.
Joshua asked anyone who had not been to a Convening before to come forward and introduce himself. Micah noticed the light-eyed man he had encountered earlier tentatively came forward. He looked rested, and he had cleaned up and changed clothes, but it was clear from the unpatterned fabric and lack of embellishment he was not a rich man.
Micah and the others in Jerusalem tended to wear the best clothing they were allowed, by law, to buy and wear. In fact, the long tunic Micah was wearing was his very best. It was a very dark blue and heavily embroidered in geometric patterns of gold, silver and red. They had all been accused, at one point or another, of dressing above their station—Micah was especially bad about wearing white, which was usually forbidden to Jews—but they were generally only harassed by new rulers; the ones who had been in the city for a while heard rumors of the ones who never aged, and they generally left them alone.
Even though the stranger wasn’t human, Micah could tell he was nervous and a little unsure of himself. He suddenly felt a pang of guilt that he hadn’t been more hospitable before; he should have escorted the man there himself instead of just giving him directions. It wasn’t like he was busy with some pressing matter.
“What is your name?” Joshua asked politely in Cainite, when the stranger remained silent.
“Anselm,” he replied. He didn’t offer anything else.
“And where are you from?” Joshua pressed.
Anselm looked confused. “I….” He hesitated.
“Where are you from?” Joshua repeated a little more slowly, carefully enunciating his words.
The man shook his head.
Joshua looked a little taken aback by Anselm’s refusal to answer the question, but apparently decided to let it go. “Who is your sire?” he asked, changing questions.
“John. Father, he was. Dead.”
The entire room was silent, staring. “What?” Nasim—a member of the Low Council—asked, looking at Anselm in confusion.
“John, my sire and father he was. He was dead. Is dead,” Anselm corrected himself.
“How old are you?” Nasim pressed, looking shocked.
“How many years have you been one of us?”
“Oh….” He looked flustered. “I… not know. Deux cent soixante,” he said, giving up and speaking in French.
“You’re two hundred and sixty years old, and can’t speak Cainite?” Nasim asked with shocked amazement. He glanced at the others on the Council. “Can we even recognize him as an adult if he can’t speak?”
“I speak,” Anselm said, looking embarrassed.
“Our Yaechahre speak better,” Nasim replied derisively.
Tears of shame and anger welled up in Anselm’s eyes; his hands clenched in fists. “Where I learn?” he accused in Cainite. “I know no one but my father. He is dead many years. I have no one. Where I learn?”
“Did you learn anything at all,” Nasim needled, “or do you drink animal blood like a savage? Êtes-vous un sauvage?” he asked contemptuously.
“Nasim,” Joshua snapped, glaring at him.
Anselm stood a little taller, gave Nasim a look of utmost loathing, then turned on his heel and strode towards the door.
Micah extracted himself from his bench, hurrying to catch up with Anselm; he and Joshua converged on him at the same time, just before he went out the door.
“Don’t leave,” Joshua pleaded in French.
“My father always wanted to come here,” Anselm replied; Micah could see him trying to blink away tears, “but he died before we could raise the money. When I had the money, I came for him. But I’m glad he’s not here; I’m glad he died before he could come here and be insulted. I see now why we lived alone; our people are horrible.”
He turned to leave, but Micah and Joshua both grabbed for him. “Wait,” Micah said. “Nasim is….” He glanced at Joshua. “What’s a good word for him in Frankish?” he asked.
“I’d say Nasim’s the lame offspring of a diseased donkey,” Joshua replied in French.
Anselm blinked, then a smile tried to creep on his face.
“I’m sorry you’ve been insulted,” Joshua added. “Nasim’s behavior is disgraceful; we treat guests—and our people—better than this.”
“We are not like him,” Micah interjected.
“Come,” Joshua said. “There’s much more to our meeting than this, and many people better than Nasim here. Don’t judge us all on his actions. Come,” he said, gently tugging on Anselm’s sleeve.
Anselm hesitated, looking unsure. Micah knew if he walked out, he would never come back. Franks were easily insulted—or, rather, once insulted, their hearts were hardened and that was that. They didn’t engage in angry name-calling and back and forth arguments until a compromise was hammered out; they just washed their hands of the matter. Or attacked. Warfare always seemed an appropriate course of action to them.
“Micah,” Joshua said in a low, pleading voice.
Micah took Anselm by the arm. “Come, sit with me. I can tell you everything. But do not laugh at my French; I do not speak well.”
“You speak very well,” Anselm said sincerely. It made Micah feel even more ashamed of Nasim’s words.
Finally Anselm let Micah drag him to his table. Azir and Isaac scooted over to make room for him.
Joshua returned to the head table and turned to address the assembly. “We will be conducting our business….”
“We haven’t finished with him,” Nasim interrupted, pointing to Anselm.
“Why, is there some insult you’ve failed to deliver, Nasim?” Joshua said, looking at him witheringly.
“He needs to recite his ancestry.”
“For the love of God, Nasim! We haven’t required anyone do that in centuries.”
“But it’s still law that they do.”
“Why are you so bent on insulting and embarrassing this man?”
“I’m not embarrassing him; he’s an embarrassment in and of himself.”
Joshua frowned severely. “There’s only one embarrassment here, and it’s not Anselm.”
Nasim’s eyes narrowed. “What are you implying?”
“I think you know exactly what I’m implying.”
“I’ll have you know I’ve been on this Council two hundred and thirty-one years. You haven’t been here a year.”
Joshua drew himself up to his full height. “And I’ll have you know that I’m the Erujtah. I don’t care how long you’ve been here; I am master of this Council. Me, not you.”
Nasim stood up angrily, and started to walk away.
“Where are you going?” Joshua demanded.
Nasim wheeled around. “I will not be insulted by an upstart like you, Y’hoshua Cohen.”
“I’m an upstart?” Joshua replied, clearly affronted. “Your ancestors were tending goats in the middle of nowhere while my family was here, tending the altar of God. I fought the Romans for this city before your great-great-grandparents were even born, and I have the scars to prove it. I’ve held the group here together through war and persecution and plague for four hundred years. I’ve killed for our people and our Yaechahre, and I’ve nearly died for them as well. But I’m beneath you? I’d like to hear your list of credentials, if they’re so much more impressive than mine.”
Nasim turned and stomped towards the door. He jerked it open, but paused when Joshua’s words rang out through the silent room. “This Council is still in session. If you walk out, I will bring a vote of no confidence against you.”
Nasim glanced over his shoulder, glaring hatefully at Joshua, then he walked out, slamming the door shut behind him.
The room was utterly still; every breath was held for a long moment. “How juvenile,” Naomi said, finally breaking the silence.
Joshua glanced at her. “Me or him, my dear?” he asked, a hint of a smile on his lips.
She chuckled. “Him. And maybe you, just a little.”
Joshua returned to his seat. “There will only be one master of this Council, and until a two-thirds’ majority votes to remove me, that master is me.” He glanced at the others around him. “Does anyone want to raise a vote of no confidence against me?”
There was only silence. “Very well,” Joshua pressed on, “then I would like to take this opportunity to raise a vote of no-confidence in Nasim.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. “Are… are you serious?” one of the members of the Low Council asked.
“I am. I do not issue idle threats. Nasim has obligations to this Council, and one of those obligations is to be present when we are convened—especially at the yearly Convening.
“Furthermore, his actions before this assembly have been unconscionable. He publically and purposefully belittled Anselm—which none of us should do to one another, but we of the Council must hold ourselves to an even higher standard. We are the governing body of our people, and we represent everyone. Anselm himself said we were horrible people—and why shouldn’t he think that? Nasim degraded us all in his eyes. If we don’t have the respect of our people, we have nothing.”
He picked up a round stone—a little larger than his hand—and banged on the table with it. “There is a vote before this Council. Each may cast his or her vote, and the reason behind it, if desired.”
Every member voted in accordance with his or her rank—beginning with the members of the Low Council. Although some people voted to keep Nasim, none of them offered any words in his defense. Joshua was the last to vote. “I vote ‘no-confidence.’ That brings the vote to eight in favor of removing Nasim, six for him remaining, and one abstention. The motion carries,” he said, pounding the table with his stone again. “The clan of Accad will replace Nasim according to law. Are there any here, now, who are of that clan?”
Two men stood up. Joshua looked at them. “One of you needs to take Nasim’s place until someone can be elected to replace him.”
One man bowed politely. “I will defer to my father,” he said, gesturing to the other man.
Joshua gestured to him. “Come up and join the Council.” The man looked thunderstruck by the request, but dutifully joined the others at the high table, taking Nasim’s place.
“Now that unpleasantness is over,” Joshua said, “maybe I can continue where I left off.” He stood up once again, and addressed the crowd. “We will be conducting our business….”
Micah could hardly explain everything to Anselm in a hushed whisper without being overcome by a fit of giggles. Joshua was going to make a very good Erujtah.