CLICK HERE to send an email
Go to Volume 1 Table of Contents Go to Volume 2 Table of Contents Go to Volume 3 Table of Contents
Volume III
TITLE ~ Queen of Heaven: The Life and Times of Mary Magdelene

Chapter 2

          After the play, Germanicus retired from the general party to his apartment with his wife Agrippina, and two trusted Legionnaire Captains, Rufus and Gaius. Agrippina invited Miri and a few others to accompany them for a midnight aperitif. As they climbed the stairs, Germanicus turned to Flaccus.

     “What do you think Cygnatus intended with this play?” he asked.

     “Why, it is an obvious affront to you, My Lord!” replied Flaccus quickly.

     “How so?”

     “Why, that those who rule are not ruling by divine right, nor is an emperor a god! Surely you can see that!”

     “But how can you say it is directed at me? In what manner? Do you think I would usurp the gods? Have myself declared a God as my Uncle and Grandfather have done?”

     “Surely that is the logical thing to do if you wish to be Emperor, My Lord!”

     Miri and Agrippina exchanged glances for they could see immediately Flaccus was baiting Germanicus. Gaius and Rufus, captains of the guard and loyal friends of Germanicus, engaged in a separate conversation, immediately recognized Flaccus’ intent.

     “My Lord Germanicus is above that sort of thing are you not, My Liege?” interjected Gaius sardonically.

     Germanicus smiled enigmatically.

     Agrippina stepped in. “Such nonsense! How could Euripides have written a play directed to Germanicus five hundred years before my husband was even a twinkle in his father’s eye!”

     The party entered the bronze plated doors to the imperial apartment.

     “But it was rewritten by that fellow Philo Philomater,” protested Flaccus, “Surely you can see he has changed the intent of the thing! I say Cygnatus paid him to change it!”

     As the guests removed their cloaks and seated themselves, several slaves brought wine and cheese with various breads.

     “But who’s to know Euripides true intent in writing this play,” replied Gaius, “It is well known that the ending to the Bacchae was lost, and rewritten by others. Perhaps this fellow Philomater is indeed on the right track. Euripides has never been kind to tyrants!”

     “My point exactly!” declared Flaccus. “He is condemning Germanicus as a tyrant, the Claudians as tyrants!” He placed a piece of cheese on a small bun, “Perhaps he is declaring his support for Germanicus. It is possible he is casting Tiberius as Pentheus. The resemblance is there don’t you think?”

     Rufus gaped at Flaccus as a goldfish stares at a cat through the glass of a fish bowl. Such talk was treasonable, and he was at a loss to answer.

     “He’s teasing you, Rufus,” said Agrippina, patting the captain’s knee.

     “With all due respect, Lady Agrippina,” retorted Flaccus, “Do you not think, that Pentheus acted very much like Tiberius. Cygnatus has attended the Emperor once or twice, I believe. The physical resemblance is there. And I think there was a touch of Germanicus in our Dionysus!”

     Germanicus laughed. “Sometimes it is not prudent to think too deeply, Flaccus! What do you think, Miriam?”

     “I think the play was chosen as a message of sorts. It has an egalitarianism which seems to say control of the state should not be left in the hands of one who seeks such control, but one who shuns it. In that case, I think Cygnatus speaks to you, but I do not see him as an ally. He is letting you know he knows what your intentions are. Cygnatus is declaring he will not stand in your way; he will only support you if you succeed. As Dionysus unseats the tyrant and frees the Maenads, so you intend to free Rome of its tyrant.”

     “Not by force!” replied Germanicus indignantly.

     “Is there any other way?” asked Flaccus.

     “We must not-”

     A commotion outside the door interrupted the discussion. The muffled sound of angry voices brought Germanicus, Rufus and Gaius to their feet, swords unsheathed and ready. The door burst open and a young cavalryman burst in.

     “Forgive me, Lord Germanicus,” panted the cavalryman, “I know the hour is late, but I bring news from Rome!” He held out a scroll, very much tattered.

     Germanicus accepted it and opened the letter, but Agrippina guided him to an alcove off the living room, so they could read it together in private. Rufus and Gaius sheathed their swords and welcomed the cavalryman.

     “Are you hungry, soldier?” asked Gaius.

     “Very much, sir,” replied the young man, “I have not eaten since I left Bubastis!”

     “You came through Syria?”

     “The sea winds have been unfavourable, so I set out by horse from Rhinocolura.”

     “A long ride. Here-” Rufus extended a platter to the young man, and a slave preferred him a cup of hot spiced wine, both of which the young man accepted gratefully.

     “I don’t like this,” muttered Gaius under his breath to Rufus. He caught Miri’s glance and steered Rufus away from the rest of the guests where they spoke in whispers in a secluded corner of the reception area.

     “What’s your name?” Miri asked the young soldier.

     The boy almost choked on his bread and cheese trying to swallow it to answer her, then replied politely, “Socrates, ma’am.”

     “Call me Miriam.”

     “Yes, ma’am, Lady Miriam, ma’am,” Socrates answered awkwardly.

     “Socrates is an well-honoured name.”

     “Well, ma’am, begging your leave, but it was more of a joke on my father’s part. I never had much of a head for reading nor any other of the arcane arts. I’m less like Socrates than anyone I know.”

     “Yet you are a soldier! And a trusted one!”

     “Well, to tell you the truth ma’am, my captain says its better to trust a plough boy than a man of letters. The more brains a man has, the less you can trust him, he says!”

     Agrippina entered the room and all conversation stopped. She made a beeline for Miri, and took her by the arm.

     “Miriam, I must speak to you!” she said urgently.

     Agrippina steered Miriam into a small room off the main foyer.

     “You are the key I need to save the world, Miriam!” Agrippina gripped Miri’s arm tightly. “My last hope! That courier has brought me bad news! You were right! Tiberius has heard of the coins! I told Germanicus he should not have minted the coins, yet in his innocence of the machinations around him, he ignored me! That is why I need you so badly! To make matters worse, Piso has ordered the recall of the coins and their reminting with Tiberius on the face! And-

     And, news has been dispatched to Rome of Germanicus’ release of the Imperial Granary! The soldier has brought a dispatch to our friend Flaccus to order our arrest, but thankfully he knows nothing of it! We must leave immediately!”

     Miri started to protest.

     “I know, I know, all this is sudden! We must set sail at once for Antioch! You must take this!” Agrippina handed Miri two small parchments bearing the seal of Germanicus. She held up the smaller roll. “You must deliver it as soon as possible to Herod Antipas in Jerusaleum!”

     “And the other?”

     “You are to keep this sealed until I call for it. It is an epistle from Tiberius to Flaccus authorizing our arrest. It thanks him for his services against Germanicus and suggest that it would be best if we did not return alive to Rome!”

     Miri was in shock. So quickly had the tide turned against Germanicus, and now she was being ordered to return to her homeland. Her stomach turned in knots.

     “I shall give you an escort!” continued Agrippina, “They are trusted men and will see you arrive safely at Jersualeum, but I do not wish anyone within our entourage to know of this mission! I have written a letter of introduction and told them you are an honoured Indian princess and they are to escort you at once to Herod’s court! The lad who brought these bad tidings will accompany you for he will guide you to the company beached by Rhinocolura. Together you will have two cohorts for the last leg of your journey through Palestine!”

     “I must go home and gather some things,” said Miri.

     “Of course,” replied Agrippina, “But you be sure you leave tonight! Wait here, and I shall send the lad in to you! You must leave through the servants’ door, so no one will know you have already left! You can trust no one with this news! This mission is of utmost secrecy! No one must know I have contacted Herod!”

     Agrippina hugged Miri, “I am sorry we could not have grown to know each other, for already I feel you are my sister!”

     In a heartbeat Agrippina was gone. Miri lowered herself to a seat by the door, which opened almost immediately. Brunhilda appeared carrying a small parcel with Miri’s dagger.

     “There is a small philtre should you get caught,” she said brusquely in her thick German accent.

     “Thank you,” answered Miri. She had no intention of taking the contents of the vial, but pocketed it, making a mental note to throw it away the first chance she got.

     No sooner had Brunhilda disappeared than Socrates stood at the door.

     “Ready to go, Ma’am?”

     “Let’s go, soldier,” said Miri standing up quickly.

     The side streets were dark.

     Like shadows, Miri and Socrates descended into the subterranean passageways and followed the main canal to her house. Though they encountered a patrol, the presence of Socrates negated the need to hide. In fact the patrol stepped to the side as they approached in deference to the imperial uniform. Within the hour, they reached the foundations of her house and entered through the trap door. The kitchen was dark, but lamplight streamed down from upstairs, and Miri and Socrates stepped quietly up the stone steps.

     It seemed Theophilus had fallen asleep on the couch in the main room.

     Not wanting to wake him, Miri held her finger to her lips to silence Socrates. She gathered several items together and pushed them into a shoulder bag. She put the parcel from Brunhilda down on the desk and slipped her sheathed dagger from it and returned it to its place on her belt. She glanced over at Theophilos’s sleeping form, and wrote him a brief note:

     “To Theophilos, with all my love, Miri,

     I am leaving for a few days on urgent business in the Fayum, I shall return in a few days. I hereby grant you power over my affairs until I return. Please let Demetrios know I shall not be returning and he will acquaint you with all that has to be done. Send word to Apusim! May the Great Mother preserve you.”

     She impaled the small piece of parchment on a projecting ornament on the lampstand by her desk, then pointed to the chest of gold coins, and Socrates lifted it to his shoulders. With a final last glance at Theophilos, she turned and walked into a strange dark robed man who roughly wrapped an arm about her. In the moonlight the metal of a dagger flashed, and instinctively, Miri’s knee jerked upward and crushed the man’s testicles against his pubic bone.

     The man groaned and the dagger clattered to the floor. Behind her, Miri heard the unmistakable sound of swords unsheathed and she whirled in time to see Socrates clash violently with two more attackers. Miri dropped her knee onto the throat of the man groaning at her feet, and he jerked once and lay still. She grasped his fallen dagger and uncurled suddenly, leaping at the nearest shadow. She thrust the knife into his kidneys and twisted it sharply. He screamed and turned to face her, but Miri pulled the knife from his torso and rammed it up underneath his exposed ribcage. His chest exploded with hot blood and as his energy suddenly gushed from his body, his eyes met hers. Like the lion so long ago in the desert, he could not believe his own life had been brought to and end by this woman. Miri grasped the sword from his hand, as he collapsed and whirled about wielding the sword before her like an axe.

     Socrates had run the other attacker through and stood panting, flush with excitement. He stepped toward her and hugged her briefly.

     “Good work!” he said in admiration and stepped back. “I think we had better leave immediately!”

     Miri bent to her first attacker and removed his belt and scabbard and wrapped it about her own waist. It was a little loose at the waist, but hung from her hips.

     “I have to speak to Theophilos,” she said tersely as she slid the sword into its scabbard.

     She crossed to the couch and knelt beside Theophilos. She could see the stain of blood on the cushions and felt through the cloth with her knees the dark sticky pool beneath the couch. She knew now he was not sleeping, and had been murdered by the assassins who lay dead on her floor. She brushed his hair from his eyes gently, her hands shaking, and tears filled her eyes. From deep within her a cry of rage and agony burst outwards through her heart, her lungs and throat, and exploded into a violent wail of anguish.

     She had no time to reflect, for at that moment a soldier burst into the room. Both Miri and Socrates whirled to face him but he put up his hands. Dressed in auxiliary uniform, and a thrombus about his neck identifying him as a Celtic warrior, he was a mountain of a man, his ruddy face hidden beneath a great bushy red beard.

     “Come quickly!” he cried with a strong Gaelic accent, “We must flee Alexandria before the dawn awakens the world! Tiberius has ordered Germanicus assassinated secretly! He knew he could not be brought to Rome to answer for intruding in the Imperial Estates of Egypt without his authority to do so, for Rome and the Senate would surely side with our Germanicus! Avilius Flaccus has activated the garrison to seize Lord Germanicus and Lady Agrippina!”

     “Have they taken him, then?” asked Socrates aghast.

     “No! He and Agrippina, may the Great Mother preserve them, set sail before the assassins could reach him. Most of the assasssina we cut down in short order, and the others, including Flaccus, have been set to rout! Agrippina sent me to escort you from Egypt!” He spoke directly to Miri. “You are no more safe here than a chicken dancing with a fox, for Livia’s spies know you are the fulcrum about which Agrippina’s forces shall turn the path of Germanicus to the Imperial Throne!”

     “What will I do?” asked Miri.

     “We are to proceed together to Jerusalem to establish an alibi with Herod Antipas, then travel on to Antioch to meet Germanicus and Agrippina.”

     “I shall get my things,” said Miri.

     “No!” The soldier grasped her arm. “There is no time! We must leave now!”

     “Can we at least we can take that chest?” she asked, pointing to the chest of gold coins still by her desk. Socrates bent to lift it, and groaned at the weight.

     “What’s it full of?” he asked, “Gold?”

     “Of course!” replied Miri, “Did you think it was make-up?”

     With a great effort, Socrates lifted it to his shoulders.

     With a final last glance at Theophilos, Miri turned her back and she and her escort descended the steps into the kitchen, where they stopped for a moment to light a lamp, and then into the damp cistern below the house and into the irrigation tunnels below the city.

     A silent intruder slipped from the shadows of the upstairs hallway. He walked across to the note and pulled it from the lamp stand. He grunted as he read the note, for Miri should have been running towards the docks on Lake Moeris where they would have to catch a boat to the Fayum, but the cisterns would lead then either to the harbour to the Northwest or the canal to the East. He wondered why the woman would lie to the dead man on the couch and who the young man was, but as he did not have enough information to reach a conclusion, he left the note on her desk, shrugged and slipped from the room, determined to follow his quarry.

     Deep beneath the streets of Alexandria Miri led her escorts eastward through the twisting maze of underground channels. Socrates was tiring quickly. He staggered under the weight of the chest of gold and fell to his knees. The Celt, bringing up the rear, growled and leaned down, swiftly bringing Socrates to his feet and lifting the chest to his own shoulder, all in one great movement. They had not gone more than three paces, when Miri heard the clanking footfall of an auxiliary patrol. She held her hand up and turned placing her finger to her lips. She swung the lantern about and spied a small niche further back. She pointed to the opening in the rock and the three of them retreated into the vaulted opening. There was no room for them within the antechamber, for a cage door barred their way. With a great echoing blow, the Celt smashed the iron grate with the chest, and, screeching in agony, the doorway collapsed. It did not detach, but the lock broke and the hinges bent back enough for them to slip through. Their forced entry had caught the attention of the approaching auxiliaries, and their steel nailed boots pounded on the stone walkway beyond.

     There was only one way for them to go. Up the stairs at their feet. The Celt passed the wooden chest to Socrates and drew his great sword, twice the length of a Roman short sword. Miri and Socrates shared the burden of the chest, and followed the giant up the stairs. At the top was a door, but the lock was flimsy and it was not bolted. The Celt shouldered it open easily, and the three of them found themselves in the darkened interior of the Great Library. Through the great columns, moonlight bathed the stacks in an eerie otherworldly light and instantly all three felt like barbarian intruders in the sacred silence of the library.

     The Celt was the first to recover and he closed the door they had broken, and bolted it shut. He put his ear to the door to listen for anyone following. Silent as ghosts, they stood without moving and only their breathing filled the silence. Finally, satisfied the patrol had not followed them, they looked about. Not a creature, mouse, lizard or beetle stirred. Instantly at home, Miri took charge.

     “What is your name?” she asked the Celt.

     “Redbeard, son of Ain,” he replied proudly.

     “Redbeard?” Miri asked doubting the name.

     The Celt nodded.

     “This is Socrates,” said Miri.

     “Son of Lucius!” added Socrates, extending his hand.

     The men grasped hands in greeting.

     “We are in the Great Library,” said Miri, “It will not be easy to leave without being seen. My thought is we pass through to the Baths and into the Jewish Quarter.”

     “Lead the way!” declared Redbeard.

     “Remove your shoes,” said Miri.

     The two men complied quickly, unstrapping their military boots. Barefoot, the trio padded silently through the stacks of papyri. They were in the scriptorium where manuscripts were copied and transcribed. It was divided into sections, depending on the origin of the document being translated or copied. The open area they entered was the quick copy section for documents seized from visiting ships. Customs agents boarded each ship that docked in Alexandria, and each team had an agent specializing in literature who scoured the ship for religious and scientific tracts. These were taken, a receipt written, and then brought to the library to be copied. The originals were compared to a catalogue and then, if the seized document was not found or differed in the text to a matching document, it was brought to the quick copy area. Usually a document could be copied within two days, and then returned to the ship from which it was removed. As part of the procedure, a price was offered to the owner, and if the owner accepted the price, the document was purchased, a receipt issued, and it was brought to the library and stored. It was, in due time, translated to Greek, but the backlog was humungous.

     There was also a black market for such documents, and many visitors smuggled in books and sold them in one of the numerous bookshops in the back streets of Alexandria. Miri had arranged for Sylvanius and Parvati to bring back a number of Hindu and Sanskrit texts for they were in great demand in Alexandria, and many of the well-to-do scholars and collectors were willing to pay a high price for such items. Miri’s would be brought up through the Fayum and would not be subject to the same scrutiny. Local scrolls were not deemed as important as foreign texts.

     They reached the far doorway to the scriptorium that led into a large hall. Socrates peered around a column, then snapped his head back. “There are two guards!” he whispered.

     They retreated to the scriptorium to assess their position. Suddenly voices filled the silence of the Library. Miri tip-toed to the doorway. The patrol that had forced them to retreat to the library were at the door and talking to the guards about the broken gate below the building. The guards had heard nothing and they did not think they needed to check the library. The doors were checked every two hours, and they had just finished the last patrol. The patrol captain insisted on checking the doors again. Reluctantly the guards stood up from the table where they sat, folded their supper into their napkins and pulled out their keys.

     Miri returned to her companions and explained the situation. They quickly slipped into a narrow space against the wall behind a stack of scrolls beside the doorway.

     “How many in the patrol?” asked Redbeard.

     “Perhaps ten,” replied Miri.


     Miri nodded.

     Redbeard removed a cloth bag stuffed with scrolls from the shelf beside him.

     “Open the chest!” he whispered. Socrates unlatched the chest and flipped back the lid. Redbeard emptied the scrolls from the bag into the chest.

     “Put this on!” he whispered to Miri and without waiting for her to answer, pulled the bag over her head. She protested, but Redbeard hissed at her just as the patrol entered the scriptorium led by one of the guards who led them to the door to the cistern tunnels.

     “See. It’s bolted!” said the guard.

     “Open it!’ ordered the patrol captain.

     Redbeard and Socrates stepped out from behind the stacks. They were out of line of sight of the patrol, and Redbeard guided Miri into the hallway. He and Socrates carried the chest between them, and they approached the lone guard at the exit.

     At the sight of them, the guard stood up quickly. “Great Zeus!” he exclaimed. “Where’d she come from?”

     “Hidden in the stacks since closing!” said Redbeard.

     He and Socrates dropped the chest on the table before the guard. “Caught her red-handed!” Redbeard flipped open the chest revealing the scrolls.

     “Oh my!” said the guard, “We didn’t see her!” he added quickly.

     “She’s a shifty one!” said Redbeard, “We have to take her in!”

     “Right!” said the guard. He lifted his keys from his belt and unlocked the exit door, and held it open for the soldiers and their prisoner.

     Socrates closed the lid of the chest and wrapped his arms about it without locking it and followed Redbeard and Miri out into the street. The guard peered out after them, and they walked away as quickly as possible without looking hurried. The guard suddenly noticed the soldiers had no shoes, at about the same time that Redbeard and Socrates also realized they were barefoot.

     “Hey!” he called.

     “Oh shit!” said Socrates. Redbeard yanked the bag from Miri’s head and all three broke into a run. They were around the corner in no time at all, but as Alexandria was built on a grid pattern, escape would be more difficult than in most cities. Miri suddenly realized they were only a couple of blocks from Aristophanes’ residence. “Follow me!” she cried and raced for the next street. The guard had not followed them, but they were sure the alarm would soon be raised. Breathless they arrived at the front steps of Merowayan embassy.

     Redbeard knocked on the brass door with the hilt of his broadsword. A small latched shutter opened inside the door.

     “Yes?” asked the suspicious voice from the inside.

     Redbeard opened his mouth to speak, but Miri pushed her way in front of him and addressed the door in Meroitic.

     “I wish to speak with the ambassador of the Kandake, Aristophanes!”

     “He is sleeping!”

     Miri held the medallion of Aminatare up to the small opening.

     “Come in!” replied the gatekeeper. The bar slipped from the door and the ornate door opened quickly. Miri, Redbeard and Socrates silently slipped inside.

     “I see,” said Aristophanes, after Miri had explained her situation.

     “You cannot carry that gold with you!” said Apusim, “If you are caught with the freshly minted aureae with the head of Germanicus upon them, you will be implicated in treason. You should not continue to Jerusalem!”

     “But I must!” cried Miri.

     “You would be safer traveling to Meroway!” said Aristophanes. “Neither Tiberius or Setem’s family can reach you there!”

     “She must arrive in Jerusalem!” growled Redbeard, “It would be ill to leave Germanicus and Agrippina exposed! It would bode well, you can see, that Germanicus remain heir to the Imperial See!”

     “We have sworn to see she arrives safely!” added Socrates.

     “No offence,” said Apusim, “But there is only the two of you and Tiberius commands the entire Roman Empire!”

     “Not for long!” declared Redbeard.

     “We shall see!” retorted Apusim.

     Miri knew from her reading of Germanicus, he would not live long. His thread of fate was short. But how short?

     “I will go to Yerushalayim,” she said softly, “From there I will decide! Ari, I will send word when I can!”

     “Leave the gold! Take only what you might need for the journey,” said Aristophanes, “I will see the rest is melted down tomorrow, I will give you a note of credit for the treasury at Rekkem in Nabatea. With the seal of Aminatare and my note, you will be able to withdraw whatever you need from there!”

     “Rekkem?” asked Socrates.

     “You would know it a Petra,” replied Apusim.

     “But that is out of our way!” declared Socrates, “We must pass through Gaza! There is a garrison there!”

     “Exactly!” declared Apusim, “But I am sure they will be alerted for agents of Germanicus! If you pass further south across the bitter lakes, and across the canal, you can pass into Nabatea, and enter Jerusalem from the north and the east! No one will suspect you from there! I will get you some clothes that will be more appropriate for your journey!”

     So, it was settled. As the embassy was safe from search for the time being, Aristophanes and Apusim set the three visitors in a guest wing, and assigned only three slaves of their household to attend to their well-being. They were sworn to secrecy, but to be on the safe side, they left orders that no one was to leave the embassy until the ambassador Aristophanes had given permission.




     “This is the life!” declared Redbeard from his perch upon the dromedary, “I had always thought I would return to my home on one of these!”

     Socrates was not as sure, for his camel seemed a little less intimidated by his rider than the animal supporting Redbeard. The three of them made a fine sight. Turbanned and dressed in fine robes, they turned heads along the palm-fringed road to Memphis. A cool breeze had begun to blow from the Mediterranean behind them as the land of the Nile warmed under the Afrikan sun. All about them, from the papyrus edged waterways to the finely irrigated wheat and bean fields, the land was awash in green.

     Miri was content in a strange way. Returning to Yerushalayim on a camel seemed to her a grand and exotic entrance. The animals were a gift from Apusim, and were intended as gifts to the Kandake, and she had pulled some very large strings to fetch the animals and dispatch them South. They were rare on the west bank of the Nile, but she also knew, once they moved into the Arabian desert, the three travellers would be less conspicuous.

     Though the most direct way to Yerushalayim would have been by sea, the way was also heavily patrolled by the Roman army and navy, as well as hundreds of border guards and customs agents. They had tried to find a ferry through the delta, but the access to the river was very controlled and they were afraid of being discovered by the network of spies through the area. After several failed attempts to cross the waterways, they decided to cross the Nile above Memphis, far enough away not to be affected by the search that might be underway from them, and cross on the road to Heliopolis. Socrates fretted terribly, they had added days to their trip by detouring to the south. Still, they finally reached a busy ferry dock, and they blended in with a trading caravan and boarded a large barge that took them across the incredibly wide breadth of the Nile. They camped just south of Heliopolis, and shared campfire tales with the caravaneers. From there, they set out along the road across the Sinai toward Rekkem planning to pass on the eastern edge of the Dead Sea along the King’s Highway and into Jericho, then down to Yerushalayim.

     However, the gods were against them, and as they passed south of the Bitter Lakes and entered the Negev desert, dirty brown clouds formed on the southern horizon and bore quickly down on them, and blew across their path from the south. Miri, taking up the rear, lost sight of her companions almost instantly, and within minutes, the road as well. The wind howled around her, and her mount decided to sit down and wait out the storm. Realizing the camel knew more than she, Miri tied the camel’s ropes about her waist, snuggled into the lee of the camel and covered her head completely with her robes.

     She wondered how long it would be until her escorts noticed they had lost their charge. Surely, they would stop because of the sharp sting of the sand. And dust in the strong harmatan wind. She was alone in the desert. She knew she had another eight days until her mount collapsed, but she knew she would not last that long left to her own resources, though she had carried more water than the other two due to her smaller size, and the weight of the weapons the others carried. She carried Cleopatra’s bow, and was sure enough of her skill to know she could drop an oryx or ibex if she came across one. Satisfied she could cope, she decided to use the delay as a reason to sleep.




     Some distance ahead, Socrates turned behind him and noticed Miri had disappeared. He called to Redbeard, but the Celt couldn’t hear him in the wind. He spurred his camel to catch up to the Celt, but the obstreperous animal balked, and twisted about and Socrates fell from his one-humped charger. Not at all an able camel rider, Socrates dropped the rein and in an effort to retrieve it, slipped from his saddle and fell to the ground. Though his helmet was strong enough to ensure the fall did not crack his skull, he was immediately knocked unconscious, and the camel, now freed of its oppressor, galloped away, leaving Socrates lying senseless beside the road.

     It was some time later, Redbeard realized he was alone. He was alerted to the fact as Socrates’ camel galloped riderless across his path. He did not realize it at the time, but the other camel was actually on the road while he himself had actually left it and then crossed over in time to see Socrates camel gallop in front of him. He spurred his mount forward and galloped after the runaway camel, and after a frustrating chase, he finally managed to throw a rope about the errant dromedary, and tie the two camels together. However, by that time, he had left the road a long way behind, and hobbling the two animals, he decided to make camp and wait for the storm to pass.

     The storm lasted two days, and at the end of the first, Miri managed to lead her camel to a rocky escarpment. There, amongst the rocks, she found a small wadi that sheltered them from the worst of the wind and dust. Small scrub acacias, shorn off where the winds scoured over the rocks clung to their niches in the wadi, vibrated in the harmatan wind. Though she did not at first notice the sound, at some point, she could hear a strange beating of a great drum. It continued on through the night and into the next day, and though her mind told her it was a trick of the wind, her heart wavered for the howling winds seemed to be the trails left by lost souls whirling madly about the rock outcrop, calling for her to free herself of her body and join them.

     On the third day, Miri awoke to the awesome silence of the desert. There was no place in the world as quiet as the desert without the wind. She was soaked in dust. Her pores were blocked and her mouth and nose were dry and caked with a layer of mucous and dust. The sun was not yet up, but the light to the East was rising, and she could see the star of Ishtar calling to her from the horizon. Taking her bearings from the Eastern Star, she bore slightly to the North, and incredibly, she regained the road within two hours.

     The sun rose quickly and soon the heat was unbearable. But she and her camel plodded steadily ahead. Then as the sun was beginning to set behind her back, she noticed a flock of vultures ahead, fighting on the ground near a small pile of rock. She wondered what they had found, but as she approached, she realized they were feasting on the flesh of Socrates. She drew alongside the body and stared down at it sadly. She could see bone. He had been dead for some time. Reluctantly she slid from the camel and hobbled the animal so it wouldn’t wander away, then shouted to scare the vultures away. The flock scattered, but still individual birds made forays into the corpse to strip pieces of meat from the bones. There was not much left of him. Blood was spattered about where the entrails had been pulled from the thorax, and the skull had rolled away from the body and stripped of flesh. The vultures had had a harder time with removing the flesh from the body cavity as Socrates’ armour had covered most of it, but it seems they had entered through the arm and leg holes, once the limbs had been stripped. As she bent down to examine the skull, Miri noticed Socrates sword had been unsheathed. Had he drawn it to fight off the birds? Was he still alive when they began to pick at him? Then her heart froze. His sword was broken in two!

     And the hair on her head prickled as a shadow passed over her, and instinctively she rolled, ducked and drew her own sword in one swift movement. A large axe smashed into the gravel where she had been crouching, and she stood, her sword above her head, ready to strike.

     A tall man whirled to face her, a huge ceremonial axe in his hand.

      “So now you will kill me as you killed my brother?” he asked, his voice choking with hatred.

     “Your?” Miri cautiously stepped forward.

     “You killed this man?” she asked.

     “He would have killed me!”


     “He is sworn to protect you!”

     “And that is a crime?”

     “I have sworn to kill you! He would have tried to stop me!”

     She narrowed her eyes as she looked deeper into the eyes of the stranger. The dark smoldering beauty within his eyes betrayed the familial resemblance, and her hair stood on end.

     “Setem!” she whispered.

     “He was my brother!”

     “Anetch!” Now she could see the resemblance plainly. “How long have you been following me?” she asked. They had begun to circle each other now, stepping carefully, eyes locked, looking for an opening in each other’s defensive posture.

     “Since your arrival in Koptos. I recognized you from the descriptions I have of you in Setem’s letters. The moment I saw you, I knew there could not be two women as beautiful as you! You had to be the she-devil who claimed my brother!”

     “So you think I am a devil?” asked Miri. She stopped so the setting sun was at her back. Anetch shifted his weight, and in doing so, he briefly glanced down. It was the opening for which Miri had been waiting, and she sprang forward and swung her sword swiftly. He had no time to react. She gashed his forearm but the force of her blow was taken up by the stock of the axe as it snapped and cracked loudly. He swung wildly at her and she struck the axe handle again. This time it snapped in two. Miri spun about and struck at Anetch. Her blow hit his wrist guard, and he dropped the axe. She kicked out at him and he fell to his knees and the point of her sword stabbed toward his neck, but stopped a few hairsbreadth from the skin.

     “Don’t move!” she commanded. Thankfully, Anetch obeyed. His cut arm bled slowly down his arm.

     “How well did you know your own brother, Anetch?” she asked breathlessly, “You know he could have had me for the asking, but he chose guile to take what I would have willingly given. After humiliating me, he destroyed my honour in public, then because he had me once, he thought I was his without asking! He raped me!”

     “That is not what I heard!” replied Anetch, his determined hatred faltering.

     “Of course not!”

     “It is still not enough to take a man’s life!” said Anetch sullenly.

     “No, perhaps not!” replied Miri after a moment’s hesitation. “But in the heat of the moment, many things seem appropriate which later do not! Now I am faced with such a moment! Can I trust you?”

     “How can you ask me such a thing? I am sworn to avenge my brother’s life!”

     “Yet, you are a man of honour. If I let you go now, will you still seek my destruction?”

     “I have sworn it!” Despite the force of his words, Anetch’s eyes faltered.

     “I do not wish to take your life Anetch,” said Miri softly, “If you are a man of honour, then I shall release you on your promise not to harm me. If you cannot give that promise, and will not release yourself from your vow, I have no choice but to spill your blood out upon the sand.”

     “Then kill me!” cried Anetch. He ripped his shirt open, baring his beautiful bronzed chest to the point of her sword.

     Miri’s heart melted. She could not bring herself to kill such a beautiful brave man, and as he stood before her, prepared to accept his death, she realized the glowing heat which had melted her heart emanated from her nether regions, and now she was overcome by a relentless passion. She threw down her sword and pulled him toward her. Her lips met his and she revelled in the heat of their embrace. In her hunger to get at him, she ripped away his tunic and robe. She pushed him to the ground, and her own clothes came apart in a violent tug, and she mounted him, her vulva pushing down upon his hot skin. Her pelvis slid across his magnificently rippled torso. His huge hands grasped her buttocks and guided her loins to his, and in one swift glorious moment his penis thrust deep into her.

     Their fast, furious movements carried them both quickly to climax as white and as hot as the sun itself, and as their passion burned out, the sudden realization of the act began to sink in to Miri, as she still shuddered from the last waves of her orgasm. Within that fraction of a heartbeat, she sensed danger, and she looked down. A dagger in Anetch’s hand flashed toward her. Instantly, she rolled away, and raised her arm to shield herself from the blow. The knife clashed against her bronze bracelet and the blade only scraped her forearm, giving her enough time to reach down for her sword. She whirled the iron weapon, and with a deep guttural scream, drove her sword swiftly into Anetch’s chest with both hands. Once! Twice!

     As she leaned on the hilt of the sword, she could feel the point grind on his backbone, and Anetch jerked once then lay still, his dagger still clutched in his lifeless hand.

     His life force rose from the still body and curled about her in an angry embrace as it was carried away by the desert wind. Her nostrils filled with the smell of sandalwood and frankincense and she began to cry.

     “Damn you!” she whispered, as she pulled her robes about her, “Damn you all!”

     She sat through the night, unable to sleep. Though she knew the souls of Anetch and Socrates had left their bodies, she did not have the sense that they had joined their ancestors. Anetch was no longer in Kemet and his remains were on the wrong side of the Nile, and Socrates was an ocean away from his birthplace. She realized she had no idea of his origins. And so she sat, praying for their souls, but her heart yearned to bring them back, and in that, she knew she could not release them. They were doomed to wander the desert. To join the voices she heard during the dust storm. She shuddered and opened her eyes.

     Setem, headless, stood before her.

     Miri’s heart thudded desperately in her chest.

     “What do you want?” she asked, barely able to breath.

     “My brother!”

     “Then why do you come to me?”

     “Only you can release him,” replied the spectre.

     “How can that be?”

     “He has sworn to kill you!”

     “But he is dead!”

     “You must release him from his oath!”

     “How can I do that?”

     “You must die!”

     “I must die to release your brother’s soul?”

     “He cannot rest until you are dead!”

     “And you?”

     “I cannot rest until he has fulfilled his vow!”

     “So you are going to follow me?”


     Miri lost her temper and heaved a rock at Setem. It passed through him and he disappeared.

     “Ha!” she cried in triumph, and stood up. She whirled about looking for Setem to return, but he did not. She was, however, surrounded by a band of heavily armed men.

     They were Nabateans. But beyond that, she had determined nothing. They tied her hands together, and perched her upon her camel. Speaking little and in whispers, the men led her through the silent desert. They had buried Socrates and Anetch and sacrificed a small onyx to the goddess of the underworld to secure their souls. Miri was relieved at that, for she was sure the task of burying them would have taken her more than a day. And now they were headed toward a range of mountains that appeared in the East. As the ground began to undulate, the road began to coil about the slopes like a long dusty snake. In the afternoon, she was blindfolded.

     The day darkened and the night cooled and finally her blindfold was removed. She was lifted from her camel and set upon the ground in amongst the animals, but was not untied. One of the tribesmen brought her a bowl of water and dates. He held the water to her lips, and she drank gratefully. One by one, he fed her grapes. At first he gave them to her carelessly, but he soon began to tease her with the food, snatching it away when she opened her mouth. His game was not from playfulness and it irritated her. She lunged at the dates to stop him from yanking the food from her, but her extra effort only encouraged him, and she finally gave up. When she refused to continue. He shoved the rest of the dates in her mouth and she almost choked. When she spat them out, he slapped her hard.

     The noise attracted the attention of the others and an argument ensued. The band had swelled in size, and now included women and children. As the man who had slapped Miri rejoined the group engaged in setting up a pile of stones, and old woman, cuffed the man who had slapped Miri behind the ear. The blow caused no pain but to the young man’s pride. His companions laughed. A small circle of children had accumulated around Miri and they stood staring both curiously and fearfully beyond the range of any spell she might cast. The same old woman called out to the children and they reluctantly broke from the thrall her presence had created and ran back to the center of the camp.

     Two women approached Miri, and armed with spears, they prodded at her and indicated Miri should get up. Guided by the spears and unintelligible commands, and hampered by her bindings, Miri walked as best she could to the chanting crowd gathered between the tents. The arranging of the stones was accompanied by a strange singing, though Miri recognized the tune. Three women were in the process of setting a fire. The fuel, dried branches and charcoal, was set within a triangle of three large stones. The gaps between the stones allowed the air to blow into the fire and the flames grew quickly, flaring up through the improvised chimney. Upon the three stones, they placed a black, flat stone, and once the stone was in place, the whole congregation began to dance, or rather walk, about the fire in a clockwise direction. The two women who brought her to the circle stuck their spears into the ground and took Miri by the arms. They loosened the ropes binding her, and each taking an arm, brought her into the circle. Miri had seen this ritual before in Ubar and walked with the tribespeople about the altar. Her heart beat hard and fast for she wondered if she might not be the sacrifice for the evening. The women accompanying her had released her as they sensed she would follow the footsteps of the others.

     On the seventh circumambulation, the parade stopped and each participant produced a small leather pouch of incense, kissed it and placed a small piece of incense onto the flat stone. The stone was not yet hot enough to burn the incense, but as the crowd chanted and watched, the resin slowly began to melt and form small pools on the stone. The participants held their hands out to the fire and sang, all thoughts on the sacred stone, and magically, finally brought on by the will of the people, thin wisps of smoke rose from the resin. Once the sign had been seen, all emptied their small pouches onto the hot slab and clouds of incense curled upwards as the incense evaporated and gave up its spirit to the gods.

     Miri, remembering she had fine frankincense in her leather pouch dug into the purse, grasped one of the cloth bags that held her incense, and added her own resin to the slab. The entire crowd gasped, but the fine resin scattered across the stone and instantly bubbled and spit. Strong arms grabbed her and pushed her to the fire, holding her head down over the smoking stone. The heat from the fire made her gasp and she screamed as her face was pushed almost to the surface of the stone. She fought desperately against the men holding her, but they held her fast. The smoke, though imbued with the perfect smell of frankincense irritated her nose and burned the inside of her throat. She coughed and gasped for breath, but still she was not released. Sure she was to be sacrificed, she could see no way from saving herself, and in desperation, she called out in alarm, supplication and Aramaic

     “Oh Great Mother! Save me!”

     She was instantly released. Mir fell onto her knees before the fire.

     She had been delivered.

     With that realization, Miri fainted.

     Her first awareness was of a cool touch across her brow. Her eyes fluttered open and she was greeted by a woman veiled by a beautiful blue embroidered veil, and decorated with a beautiful diadem and necklace of silver coins.

     “You gave us quite a start!” she said softly.

     “Who are you?” asked Miri.

     “I am Fatima, sister of the Sheik Barak,” the woman answered.

     “What happened to me?” asked Miri, the events before she awoke, jumbled so chaotically in her mind she could not make sense of the memories.

     “My cousins and brother found you in the desert, talking to the air!” She dabbed Miri’s brow with a damp cotton cloth. “They thought you were Aluka, Queen of the Ghul.”


     “Alaka is a terrible jinn who seduces men who wander alone into the desert and at the moment she receives their seed, she bites into their necks and suck out their blood. All Ghuls have this power, but Aluka is their Queen and is irresistable! Men fear the Ghul above all others for it is the dark soul of the woman created below. That part of us that they cannot resist. They can think of no greater peril than a woman who kills, yet they are drawn towards such temptation like moths to a flame. It is the oblivion, the total annhilation of soul that the orgasmic union of souls that is so much like death.”

     “Why didn’t they talk to me?” asked Miri., “They would have known I am a woman!”

     Fatima smiled.

     “If you were a ghul, you could have eaten their words and used them to cast evil against them, turned their heads and in that moment of oblivion, stolen their essence. They saw that you had already killed a man.”

     Miri closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

     “More than one,” she whispered.

     “That is your concern,” said the woman, her posture stiffening slightly.

     “Why did you not behead me then?” asked Miri.

     “During the purification, you called upon Allat and your talisman fell upon the sacred stone!”

     “My?” Miri reached for her neck.

     Fatima held up the necklace Miri had received from Tara in the Dolma Valley.

     “The Hand of Miriam!” Fatima declared.

     “Miriam?” asked Miri, “How did you know my name?”

     “Your name?” asked Fatima, “You are called Miriam?”

     “Praise be to Al-Lat!” she declared after a moment’s thought.

     “I was speaking of Miriam, the sister of Moses!” said Fatima, “Though this is the hand of Al-Lat, whom the seer Miriam, who traveled with Moses through the Sinai, called upon to reveal the wells that sustained the Israelim! It is the hand of Al-Lat and Al-Uzza that gave sustenance to the prophet Moses here in the desert!

     Of course, after they buried Miriam,” Fatima whispered, “The well no longer traveled with the Hebrews, and, though he tried, Moses could not duplicate her feats. Miriam was a prophet of the Three Maidens, but Moses assumed her powers were his, but once she died, he could not repeat his miracles, nor call forth water by smiting the rocks as he had done before! He was a warrior and did not understand that the offerings to the desert maidens given by Miriam gave the power to his staff. They say the Hebrews were sore oppressed afterwards!

     She expired upon this very spot!”

     “Right here?”

     “Well, close by,” replied Fatima, “It is Miriam that fills our wells with water, both bitter and sweet! If we follow the Path of the Righteous, the water is sweet, should we transgress the sacred laws, then the water will turn bitter, but it is Miriam who knows the places and shows them to us!”

     “How can that be?” asked Miri, “Does her soul remain here?”

     “She was denied entrance to Paradise,” replied Fatima, “Where else would she be?”

     “How could a prophet be denied entrance to Paradise?”

     “Pride!” answered Fatima, “She set herself above the Messiah Moses, and condemned him in front of the people! She should have approached him in private, without witness!”

     “Ah!” said Miri, “Women should be seen and not heard!”

     Fatima waggled her finger at Miri, “No, no! It was not that, for many times she spoke aloud, but the matter was a private one and should have been dealt with in their family! You see, after Al-Yahweh had given the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, Moses abstained from his marital duties in order to constantly remain in a state of purity, to be gain merit to receive the word of God. However, his abstinence from coitus with his Kushite wife, Zipporah, was known only to Moses, Al-Yahweh and Zipporah. As she had no other way of knowing, Zipporah formed the impression that all great prophets acted thus, and as a consequence when she heard Eldad and Medad speak their prophecies, Zipporah sighed, and in an offhand manner remarked to Miriam: ‘Oh my! Now their wives will be as untended in their marital bed as am I.’

     Miriam pressed Zipporah for more details and soon discovered Moses had neglected his wife so, and she was shocked for how could he be in touch with the Shekhina if he abstained from intercourse? She went immediately to her brother Aaron.

     ‘He will bring down a curse from god if he acts in this manner!’ she complained to Aaron, ‘Does our brother think his separation from his wife will improve his relations with God? You and I, Aaron, are also prophets of Al-Yahweh and have no need to abstain from sleeping with our spouses! This is unheard of!’

     And so, in their haste they went to Moses to complain of the prophet’s remission of the duties due his wife, yet Moses was busy. So they waited. But always the time was not right. Finally, in frustration, Miriam blurted his neglect before the congregation.

     And at that very moment, Al-Yahweh appeared to the Miriam, Aaron and Moses, instructing them to appear before Him to receive prophecy. Since Aaron and Miriam had been intimate with their spouses, they now had to run quickly to bathe and cleanse themselves. But because of this, Moses alone received the word of Yahweh.

     Yahweh, was angered for only Moses was ready for his prophecy, Aaron was late and Miriam, who was still bathing, not at all. His anger spilled over and descended upon Aaron who became lame, and Miriam. She received the worst of the wrath of Yahweh, and came out of the water covered in the sores and ravages of leprosy, and as a result, Moses was forced to banish her from the camp. Without Miriam, the well in the desert ran dry, and the people were afraid. They could not leave Miriam behind, for it was she who pointed out the wells they must find to cross the desert, but they feared also for their lives, as she was struck with leprosy. For a week they remained in this place, pleading with Moses to intercede with Yahweh, but he did not. The water lasted but two days. On the third the entire camp prayed to Yahweh to release Miriam from her curse. He did not. On the fourth day, the people pleaded with Aaron to life the curse. Fearing the retribution of Yahweh, he did not. One the fifth day, the Hebrews pleaded with Moses to call upon Yahweh to life the curse. He did not. The sixth day was the Sabbath, and so Zipporah, cleansed and smelling of sweet frankincense and sandalwood went to Moses and seduced him, and in the afterglow of her blessing upon him, elicited a promise that Moses would speak to Yahweh about lifting the curse on her sister-in-law.

     The next day, Moses said a short prayer for Miriam and, elated, Zipporah carried the last chalice, the last cup of water in the encampment to her sister-in-law. When she arrived, Miriam was not cured, for she was still covered in the terrible wounds of leprosy, but Zipporah’s heart was so moved, she knelt down beside Miriam and lifted the chalice to her lips.

     Seeing such devotion and sacrifice from Zipporah, Yahweh removed the curse, and as the water touched her lips, Miriam was cured of her ailment. Appearing to the women, Yahweh swore an oath to Miriam, that he would never harm her again, and to ensure that every other god or jinn would know of his protection, he placed a secret eye within her left hand that would stare down any other evil eye from man, jinn or gods!”

     Fatima placed the necklace around Miri’s neck.

     “And it is that sign that you are wearing now, Miriam! I cannot wait to tell the others of your name!”

     And with that, Fatima left to tell her family the news about the blessing they had received.

     The next day, the entire tribe sacrificed a goat as the sun rose and headed their group eastward. That they had an incarnation of Miriam the Prophet in their midst was a propitious sign. They would escort her to Rekkem. As they passed through Kadesh, Fatima pointed out to Miri the sacred stone of Miriam ahead beside the Last Well she had divined.

     Within a quarter stadium of the great standing stone, the tribe of Barak dismounted and approached upon their knees, alternating in a strange ritual of standing, kneeling, touching their heads to the ground and standing again. After taking a single step each, they repeated the ritual and painstakingly the group reached the standing stone.

     After lighting a fire, the whole group began to chant and walked about the stone as they sang their supplications to Miriam to intercede with Al-Lat. As they walked, Fatima spoke of the stone in a reverent whisper.

     “You see, the Kittim, the Romans and Greeks are barbarians and know only what their eyes and ears can tell them, and they believe stone is inanimate, a dead thing. They do not see that it is home to the souls that came before us. Every stone is an ancestor, and so, they see the desert as a dead zone, a place without life and soul, but we, the Nabateans know this place. Here, the sands whisper to us and tell us of those who passed before. If you listen carefully, you can hear the scorpion scuttle beneath the ground, the snake across the dunes, and smell water where none can be seen. The desert is alive, but only we few can see its breath. Only we know by the whirlwinds of the passing of the jinn and the souls of our loved ones within the very earth. A stone breathes. A stone sings. A stone tells of the world beyond out world, but one must learn to listen!”

     Though Miri had lost track of their perambulations, the party stopped at seven, the number of gates that carried Abzu into the Underworld. With great respect, they made a small offering of bread and dates, and poured milk and honey onto the sacred stone.

      “This stone,” announced Barak to Miri, “This stone is the sister of Moses. She is called Miriam. Upon her death, she was transformed into this pillar, and from this spot for millennia, flowed a sacred spring. Around this stone grew a pond, and around the pond grew three groups of three trees. These trees were the sisters, Al-Lat, the date palms, Al-Uzza, the acacias, and Menat, the asura palms. The souls of the three sisters protected the oasis of Miriam long after the Hebrews had departed and founded their nation in the North. The heart of Miriam opened to the weary traveller, and her pool slaked their thirst.

     One day a merchant, one Aziz ibn Benar, arrived at the Pool of Miriam and decided that were he to stake a claim to the spring, he could turn a handy profit, and so he made his camp permanent, and decided as the new owner of the oasis, he should be allowed a commission on the gifts that others bestowed in the memory of Miriam and the adulation of the three sisters. One day, much to the delight of the merchant Aziz, an Egyptian princess pass the pool of Miriam on her way to the hidden city of Rekkem, and amongst the gold offerings, left a magnificent necklace as an offering to the goddess of the spring.

     This necklace, unbeknown to the merchant was called by the Egyptians, a Menat, the very same Menat we worship, the goddess of Fate.”

     A knowing murmur passed through the audience, for they all knew that Menat would soon deal with the merchant in a most suitable, fitting and altogether ironic twist.

     “This necklace,” continued Barak, “This was a heavy beaded necklace with a crescent moon upon it, a representation of our lady Allat, Queen of the Heavens, and a counter piece at the rear, carved from a green stone. A stone that was none other than the most sacred Al-Uzza. So, you see, Menat had come to the oasis through the necklace, for the necklace was Menat. The Egyptians, who worship more gods than anyone else in the world, knew the three goddesses as an incarnation of the goddess Hathor and her son, Ihy. In fact, as we all know, Hathor is called upon by the devout Egyptian as The Great Menat. But the merchant, a man of great pecuniary talents, however, was not schooled in the ways of the gods and did not realize that Hathor uses the Menat as a conduit through which she passes her power.

     Used wisely, Menat bestows joy and life, fertility to man and beast, and invokes birth and rebirth. In ancient days the Pharaoh himself offered the Menat necklace to Hathor, and in exchange she returned the blessings of Menat to the Pharaoh and his people. But used unwisely…”

     Barak paused in his narrative to stare deeply into each and every listening soul, his eyes resting upon his eldest son, a boy of twelve. The child shivered, and Barak continued.

     “Used unwisely,” he repeated, “It could only bring ruin!”

     “And our merchant Aziz, was drawn to Menat, for such was her beauty, such was her value, such was his fate, that he placed it over his head, the crescent moon covering his heart. The Menat, now in his possession, spoke to him. “You shall be granted that which you need, but know this also, that which is in your heart, may not be what is within your mind, and that which is in either may not be good for your Soul. The Menat knows this, and so shall you!”

     No sooner had he placed the necklace upon his breast, Aziz wished for untold treasure, and within a heartbeat, a great wind arose from the desert and blew away his tent, and carried off his belongings. Only by grasping tightly the bole of a samura palm, did he manage to keep himself from being carried off by the wind.

     Once it had passed, Aziz bewailed his fate, for, not only had his own belongings disappeared but all the offerings that had been left for the Three Maidens had also disappeared.

     “I wished for treasure and all that I have was taken from me!” he wailed. “How can the Menat be so great?” Dust from the desert filled his nostrils and dried his mouth, and Aziz crouched by the pool to wash his face and whet his throat. Yet as he bent over the pool, the weight of the Menat caused him to lose his balance and he fell into the water. His mouth filled with water and he was in fear of drowning, and he cried out for Al-Uzza to save him. He called the goddess by her water name, Meri, and the Menat answered his supplication and a whirlwind spun into he oasis and drew all the water into itself, and the pool was dry.

     Aziz was greatly relieved at his rescue, but soon realized he was alone in the desert miles from the nearest water. Eventually, he became quite weak. He dug in the empty pool bed, but not a drop of water remained. No matter how deep he dug, the sand remained dry. It dawned upon him that if he could climb the date palms that were Al-Lat, he could at least sustain some moisture and sustenance from the dates that dripped their sweet syrup far above his head. But he had not the strength to climb the trees.

     But then, he remembered his tinderbox, and thought perhaps if he could set fire to the base of the tree, he could cause the tree to fall and harvest the dates. He set to work immediately and struck his flint at the foot of the largest date palm and soon flames licked the base of the tree. Suddenly, a whirlwind spun from the desert and spread the fire to all the trees in the oasis and in an instant, everything green was turned to ash. All was lost for the wretched Aziz, Gone were his belongings and the treasure of the Asura. Gone was the water that sustained Life in the desert. Gone were the trees that provided sustenance. There was none for him to call for aid, for the three Maidens had deserted the oasis. All that was left was the rock of Miriam. Aziz implored the stone to save him. Under the scornful glare of Shammash, god of sun, Aziz, dust in his mouth, clutched at the Menat, for it seemed to be squeezing the life from him. Gasping for breath, Aziz regretted the path he had taken and wished to re-live his life. Knowing all was lost he kissed the hot stone goodbye.

     The moment his lips caressed the sandstone, the soul of Miriam touched his, and, having regretted his sins, he now confessed them all.

     ‘Forgive me!’ he cried out, ‘I have been consumed by greed, and now my greed has consumed me! I have no wish to die like this!’

     ‘Your avarice has caused the waters to dry up,’ said the Soul of All Souls that rose from Miriam and embraced his being. ‘You have consumed the trees in your fire, and dishonoured the Three Maidens by taking that which has not been given! By what right can you ask forgiveness? You will atone for all this in your next life as will all who flow from you!’

     ‘Please!’ cried Aziz, ‘If you spare my life, I will change! I will honour the Three Maidens! I will respect the life of the oasis and take only that which I need, and I shall not lust after gold or power! Return me to my family and I will live my life in honour!’

     ‘I shall speak with the three Maidens,’ replied the Soul of All Souls that emanated from Miriam. ‘Gather three stones,’ commanded Miriam, and Aziz scrambled about the hollow in search of three stones.”

     “My children,” called out Barak to the youngsters gathered at his feet, “I shall need three stones!” The children ran about laughing and shouting until three stones were selected. Each stone required more than two children to bring each stone to Barak.

     “’Plant them in a circle facing each other,’ commanded Miriam, and Aziz complied,” said Barak.

     The children planted the three stones as Miriam had instructed Aziz.

     “Gather all that lies upon the earth that will burn,’ as Miriam instructed Aziz!” commanded Barak, and the children scurried about looking for twigs and dead grass. Several women added dung patties, and the fuel was placed carefully within the circle of stones.

     An old man stepped forward as Barak continued his story.

     “The Souls of All Souls commanded the fire be lit for Allat,” said Barak, and the old man set a smoldering rope to the fuel between two stones and breathed upon it. A flame for Allat arose.

     “The Souls of All Souls commanded the fire be lit for Al-Uzza,” said Barak, and the old man set a pan of smoldering charcoal to the fuel and breathed upon it. A flame for Al-Uzza arose.

     “The Souls of All Souls commanded the fire be lit for Menat,” said Barak, and the old man set a smoldering rope to the fuel and breathed upon it. A flame for Menat arose.

     “And then Miriam commanded Aziz to place another stone atop the three to form a sacred altar, and this Aziz did!”

     At that moment to great cries and chants, two younger men gathered and lifted a flat stone and placed it upon the three standing stones.

     “And so all Three became One!” said Barak. “And Aziz was commanded to pay homage and sacrifice to the One, and this he did!”

     At that, one by one, the tribespeople stepped forward and placed incense and other herbal offerings upon the flat stone, and again those who had offered to the deities of the desert began a rhythmic procession about the fire. Miri joined in, placing some of her own frankincense upon the flat stone. The dogs of the camp excited by the ceremony, excitedly barking, mingling their voice with the song of the tribe, for they knew from the chant that a sacrifice was due.

     They headed east. Out in the desert, the worries of life fell from her like petals from a fruit tree. The timelessness of the desert shrank her hopes and fears to nothing, for in the face of the eternal silence, only the next footfall mattered, the next breath worth taking. Only in the desert, true freedom existed. But, though Miri was relieved at the turn of events, her mind fretted about the Celt, Redbeard. She was sure he could not last alone in the hot desert.

     At the foot of Mount Horeb, her worst fears were confirmed.

     They came across the Celt tied to the twisted trunk and gnarled lower branches of an ancient acacia tree, long dead. His skin was burnt bright red, great whitened flaps sloughed from his exposed skin. A diadem of thorns crowned his head and streaks caked dark brown and glistening bright red marked a myriad of bloody paths from his head, to his chest and shoulders. He had been flayed, but not skinned.

     Hands reached for talismans and the caravan stopped. A cloth tied to his wrist was covered in a writing Miri did not understand but her companions did.

     “He is a jinn!” whispered Fatima.

     “No!” said Miri fiercely, and slipped from the shoulder of her camel and the shelter of the canopy mounted upon it. She ran to the Celt before her new friends could stop her.

     He was alive!

     She lifted her own water skin to his lips and poured a mouthful onto his lips and the Celt stirred.

     “Oh Dear Mother!” wailed Miri, “Redbeard! Wake up!”

     His eyes fluttered, caught sight of her and closed. He smiled, though his weak smile cracked his lips, “Well, to be sure, you’re a sight for sore eyes!” he whispered and lost consciousness.

     It took a great deal of persuasion for Miri to persuade the Bedouin to help the Celt. Not until they set a fire from parts of the tree and burned purifying aromatics about him, would they render aid, though they did reluctantly pass items to help with the Celt’s recovery to Miri so she could minister to him. Finally, after they cut him down, and watered and oiled him, they manufactured a covered travois for one of the camels and set off for Rekem, though none now would ride with either Miri or Redbeard.

     It took all of Miri’s skill as a physician to maintain the life of the Celt, but with help from her friends gathering herbs in the desert and within another three days, they approached the mountain walls of Rekem. As with all cities, scattered graves and tombs, at first, one or two, then more, lined the way to the gate. It struck Miri that it was always the dead that greeted any traveller to any city, for they always were laid to rest outside the city walls. They passed a massive quarry and several stelae dedicated to the divinities of the townspeople.

     “Petra!” croaked Redbeard, as the party came to a halt in the hectic marketplace that almost completely blocked the road. All manner of goods were traded from spice to slaves. It was an unofficial market and designed simply to avoid taxes in the marketplace within the city itself. But the goods here were on the whole, a lower quality and questionable value. The Roman phrase “Caveat Emptor” applied here more than most places in the world. The Nabateans were not only shrewd businessmen, but pirates of the saea and brigands of the desert dunes.

     “Listen,” whispered Miri to Redbeard, “We have thrown away your Roman auxiliary uniform, and you will not be welcome here if your connection with the Imperial family is known. Being a Celt, you can probably create an illusion of antagonism to the Imperial See.”

     Redbeard smiled painfully, “No doubt,” he rasped. “But I shall remain mute!”

     “Have faith, we’ll get some honey to cure your silver tongue, Celt!” said Miri.

     None of Barak’s family wanted to enter the city proper, preferring to camp well into the desert away from the frantic activity, but Barak’s sons Hassan and Saifal-Uzza, two handsome and strong young men agreed to accompany Miri and Redbeard to the city gate.

     “But where is the city?” asked Miriam, for she could see neither walls nor watchtowers.

     “Inside the mountain!” declared Hassan, “Rekkem is protected by the Lady of the Mountain!”

     The four travellers dismounted from their camels and presented themselves as travellers at the gates of Petra.

     “Who is that?” asked the chief gatekeeper, pointing at Redbeard.

     “The Celt?” replied Miri offhandedly, “He is a slave!”

     “You won’t get a copper for one in that condition!”

     “He is not used to the sun!” said Miri.

     Everyone in earshot laughed at her remark.

      “He is useless!” said Hassan in the local dialect, “She must take him to a physician!”

     “Try Jabal ibn Basir!” replied the guard, “He is very good! Down past the Temple of Al_Uzza! But you will have to pay dearly for him to cure a slave!”

     Miri bid farewell to Hassan and Saifal, and she and Redbeard led their animals past the flood control dam, under the Triumphal Arch that marked the official entrance to Rekem, and into the dark narrow cleft in the pink sandstone mountain.

CLICK HERE to send an email