You may continue in Aramaic. It will be useful to you to have the practice.
The months rolled through the schedule at Beit haMiqdas. I continued to assist Oreget Rivka. I received, and counted, measured and calculated from one end of the year to the other. But the pace no longer broke our spirits. The pieces of weaving were finished smoothly. The supplies lasted longer, and we were never held up waiting on a shipment. The monies from the sale of the skins caused all the Oregot to live with less stress, and they saw honey more often on the refectory table as well.
Yahya made the correct sacrifices to complete his purifications, forever cast out of the caste of priests into which he had been born. He was shaved in the Court of the Nazarites. His permanent incompleteness did not feature in the gossip making the rounds after he had left the Court of the Metzoraim. He sent me a note at the workshop, from time to time, telling me of his travels.
He was gone most of the year. He had taken ship on the Ai-Ramathea, to make a reason for his absence from the Mach’lakhah of Abijah no doubt. The second letter I had from him had been sent before their ship left Kernow. It arrived at the workshop.
Maryam Hanna bat Zebadyah
Care of the Oregot of the Parochet
8th Tishrei 3777
We sail with the first good wind following Yom Kippur. Yosif has provided himself with a booth to set up on the deck for Sukkot at Sea, so we will observe the whole festival even if we are on the open ocean.
I met a great one among the draoidh while Yosif took his luxury wares into the firmer territories of Roma Imperia. We have already loaded tin, woad and anthracite-- the bulk of our return cargo. Truly, Kernow is at the edge of the empire, and the very end of the world as well. After Kernow, there is only open ocean going west.
I knew much already of the draoidh’s practices and had little hope of hearing anything worth pursuing in my quest for the Shekinah which the Tribes lost at the time of Nebuchadrezzar. But he told me of people in the farthest north and east, past every land of Alexandros’ great empire that was. What he said caused my heart to fill and my liver to leap within me.
On those plains where the snow grows most months of the year reside a cast of priests who climb to heaven. They use a specially made rope. They make their attempt only after lengthy preparations, purifications, and prayers.
They live as the Ysraelites did under Moishe: in skin tents without any fixed place to call home. Does not the rope they climb sound like Yakub’s ladder to Heaven? I must find them and convince them to train me to do likewise.
I have looked everywhere else, and in every other element under the firmament, for our lost Shekinah. I can do no better, and no worse, than try to find His presence in the rituals and acts of these shepherds of the north. If I must climb through the air to bring back to the Tribes their lost Bride, it will be a little thing compared to the emptiness of the Kodesh haKodashim now.
Much depends on Mimi and her willingness to find me housing for any duration. If you should make landfall at Tzor before I do, soften her heart towards me as Moishe failed to do with Per-O. You have remarkable gifts of persuasion and insight. Do your best for me again, little cousin.
Being Yahya, the letter hopped from point to point, in surprisingly scholarly ‘Elines. Little words and short phrases tucked here at the end of a sentence, or there between main clauses, changed the nature of the information he shared and the quality of the requests that he made as well. I read it twice more in full to be certain I had seen everything in it.
He and Yeshua appeared to get on. No one seemed to grudge the time at port in the wilds, beyond Roma Imperia’s farthest reach. I would do my best for both of my cousins. The farthest north and east where they lived in snow and tents made of hide. I shook my head.
“Bad news from your ne’er do well cousin Yahya?” Oreget Dinah asked, clearly expecting the worst-- as ever.
“No. No, he and Yeshua, who works on the Ai-Ramathea, are getting along. And their captain, Yosif is doing well with his trade. Maybe you will have heard of him as he serves in the Sanhedrin when he is in town.
“They are taking up tin, which is purer than that they could get nearer in Gadis, and not subjected to loading taxes, as they are past the reach of Roma Imperia. I believe he has cedar, silk, and glassware from Tzor to peddle to the unfortunate legions and citizens stationed at Isca Dumnoniorum. He explained some of it in his last letter, his first letter really,” I amended.
“This letter says that Yahya has learned of a people who climb to heaven on a specially prepared rope. He wants to go and have them teach him how. Then he can find the Shekinah and bring her presence back to the Kodesh haKodashim,” I clarified.
“Hmph. Sounds like his usual nonsense. That boy never could think right. Always trying to weave his own pattern into the larger Parochet of the Tribes. Nothing good can come of that. Mark my words, miracle child,” she croaked, wagging her head with certitude.
“Very likely. Snow. I don’t think it sounds very nice,” I confessed.
“Indeed. Will you spend the rest of the morning mooning over your letter from that spoiled scion of the house of Aaron, or had you planned to make yourself useful at some point in the day?” She inquired dryly.
“Of course, Oreget Dinah. I didn’t know I would have news from my family today. Speaking of family, have we heard anything at all from my aunt Mariamne? The last word I had came before Yamim Noraim, and we’re almost on to Hanuka.” Oreget Dinah might have heard something, and it would be more than I knew, if it had come in the last three months.
“Nothing more recently than you. But you will remember she said she had business in Hagmatana. If she has gone as far as that, she should be some time in returning, supposing she doesn’t decide to winter there altogether.
“There are mountains north, west and south of that city. Most of the passes close early in the season, so one hears. I have never been farther than a day’s travel from holy Yerushalayim,” she ended piously.
“I see,” I replied shortly.
Yahya’s letter was the last news I had from any of my family through the winter. My mother, Shelomit, kept too busy to fill the time with composing missives to her long-away daughter. It had been more than five years since I had lived at home with her, my father and my eight brothers on the banks of the Yam-haKinneret.
Migdala, the village of my childhood-- which my mother assured me had grown great with people since the resort of Tiberias had opened down the lakeshore, lay seven days walking from Yerushalayim. Tzor was another two days along. Close as these places were, the only word I had had came from as far in the world to the west as anyone could imagine.
My aunt Mimi’s private world of ritual, routine and solitary labor did not allow for correspondence. Marmar and Sobe had very little vision, and neither of them kept up with their dwindling acquaintance through the medium of the written word. Marmar might still send a brightly colored tangle of knots to one of the few Hecatoi now living with the skill to interpret it, but I had never had the patience to learn the system.
Haha might have been the one most likely to stay in touch, but she devoted her time to eating well, flirting with the guards, and long daily trips to the baths for massage and soaking. Her perpetual dampness made working with ink problematic. So no word to me came from the nearer family.
Spring came, bringing my birthday, and the hanging of the second Parochet since I had come to Beit haMiqdas. Also, another letter from Yahya.
Maryam Hanna bat Zebadyah
Care of the Oregot of the Parochet
20th Adar 3777
We are returned, victorious! Yosif did very well at Isca Dumnoniorum. I made several private trades with the draoidh while we waited on our captain’s return in Pensans. Aunt Mimi is delighted with the many packets of herbs, and even some seeds, I brought to her. The draoidh who sold them to me gave me good instructions for their care, harvesting and use. I have a place at Tzor for so long as I don’t cause the Hecatoi of our house consternation or embarrassment. No small order for me.
Perhaps I should see about being inducted into the eunuch service here. Purely to see if the liturgies of Our Lady Rolling provide any glimpse of the Shekinah, of course. Or would that be a source of disquietude for our foremothers?
Yeshua continues well and helpful, naturally. He sorts yarn for Marmar, and takes dictation of the accounts for Grandmother Sobe. He has even cajoled his mother Mimi into creating new and more exotic scents and soaps and unguents for your Haha. As you can imagine, this has sent her into the bowels of the baths for only longer and longer stretches of marination. The bath attendants know her better than any of us is ever likely to.
Yosif sails north this spring. He never trades within the bounds of Roma Imperia, so it’s the Pontus Euxinus for the Ai-Ramathea, then on to Lake Maeotis. He hopes to dock her at Tanais in order to continue upriver by barge to the trading outposts. He says there are furs, amber and wondrously carved ivory to be had. Our captain might yet travel to the farthest east but it won’t be this year.
I may go along with the Ai-Ramathea for the pleasure of seeing new sights. Your aunt has given me many commissions for mosses, lichens, seeds and dried flowers. Stay busy, little one. I hope to see you in Tzor the next time we are in her waters.