Georgia Book Reviews: Waters of Eden, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The Book: Waters of Eden: The Mystery of the Mikvah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.)

Summary: An exploration of the Jewish teachings on Mikvah (a special pool or body of water for ritual purification) in the written and oral Torah.

Recommended by: A messianic Jewish website I can’t seem to find now, sorry!

My Thoughts: This is the first non-fiction reading I’ve ever done on Judaism, and I found it fascinating. I was prompted to buy this book during my memorization of Matthew 3. I wondered where, exactly, the ritual of baptism had sprung from, when there was no record of it in the Old Testament and suddenly everyone was familiar with it when John the Baptist entered the scene. What was it about baptism that Christ needed to do in order to “fulfill all righteousness”? What was the Jewish understanding of baptism when Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan?

In some ways, the broad understanding discussed in Waters of Eden falls closely in line with New Testament teaching about baptism, and shed light on the historical understanding of baptism that would’ve been held in Jesus’ day. Kaplan talks about the connection of Mikvah to Sinai, conversion, and original sin. “How does immersion in a Mikvah change a person? This can best be understood on the basis of another Talmudic teaching that “a convert who embraces Judaism is like a new born child.” (page 12), and “…[A] Mikvah cannot be made in a vessel or tub, but must be built directly in the ground, for in a sense, the Mikvah also represents the grave. When a person immerses, he is temporarily in a state of nonliving, and when he emerges, he is resurrected with a new status.” It’s impossible to read this without thinking of Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Did I find the answer to my questions in this book? Sort of. Better understanding the Jewish traditional roots and understanding of baptism at the time of Jesus’ baptism helped make it clearer to me the notions of purification, rebirth and repentance, and consecration that would’ve surrounded immersion. One interesting side note is that baptism was generally for converts to Judaism, so when John called for repentance and baptism, he was calling his fellow Jews to something radical.

So why did Jesus say, “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness,” when John objected to baptising him? I’m not sure. I think, though, of the roots in Sinai that Waters of Eden presents. In Matthew 4, right after his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted, and his responses to the tempter’s wiles are all taken from Deuteronomy, from areas where Israel failed their tests. If his baptism, then, represented his assumption of his active role as the bringer of the kingdom of heaven, the true child of God in perfect obedience, baptism could be seen as his commitment, and his wilderness trial the mirror of Israel’s. It’s admittedly only a theory, but either way, I’m glad I read this book, as I think it added depth and richness to my thinking; I’d like to do more reading on Judaism, the oral Torah, and the Second Temple period.

Saintly Sundays: Memorize the Bible in 25 Years

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One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to memorize the book of Matthew. The idea came from a few different sources. The first was this post on Changing Your Mind, which in turn introduced me to the book How To Master the English Bible (only available on Kindle that I’ve found; linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.) The basic concept is to read each book of the Bible over and over again until you’ve mastered it– deeply absorbed it, grasped the themes and messages, made it your own.

I started with the book of Matthew, and in the course of my reading, read a lot about the way Jewish children were raised in Jesus’ time. I’m so impressed with the way Jewish children memorize the Torah from ages 5-12. Having read that often devoted students would go on to memorize the remainder of the Tanakh, I was struck by the idea that Christ might’ve had the whole Scripture (of his time) memorized!

So why not me? Although starting at five books would’ve given me a more leisurely schedule, I discovered that I could do the entire Old & New Testament over the next 25 years, at the rate of 1300 verses a year, or about 25 a week.

Now, I know that sounds like a lot, and that’s where the next piece of the puzzle slots in: Scripture Typer. Seriously, buy it– it’s well worth the $10 price. With Scripture Typer’s automatic system of review, I don’t have to get my 25 verses word-perfect in one week. I just have to be able to type it at 92% accuracy. Then, over the next few weeks as it pops up for review, I get more and more accurate with it. The upshot is that with about 20-30 minutes a day (which I do first thing in the morning while the boys have a snack and read in bed), I’ve memorized Matthew 1-7 since January 1st.

Eventually, I’d like to do a modified version for my kids to use. Perhaps starting with the first five books of the New Testament from ages 5-12, and then if they’d like to continue, handing them over to Scripture Typer with a plan adjusted for the books they’ve already memorized? I’ll have to think on it.

If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, here’s a PDF of my 25-year plan. And I’d love to hear of any resources for memorization or tricks you guys use!

Georgia Book Reviews: The Jesus We Missed


The Book: The Jesus We Missed, Father Patrick Reardon

Summary: A loving treatise on the way we should understand Jesus’ humanity as presented in the four Gospels.

Recommended By: This review on the Gospel Coalition blog.

My Thoughts: Although at times I felt Reardon was descending into mere speculation– offering lovely explanations for various actions of Jesus that may or may not have any actual basis in reality– for the most part, I dearly loved reading this. Reardon’s love for Christ shines through the pages, his translations of the original texts and his historical understanding both of the Gospels themselves, and the church history and tradition that built on them, were invaluable and insightful, and I came away from reading feeling my own love for my Saviour expanded and my desire to learn more about him deepened.

I especially loved the beginning chapters on Jesus’ pre-ministry life. Since New Year’s I’ve been memorizing Matthew, and am just now starting on the Sermon on the Mount, so for the last month, I’ve been saturated daily in those four simple chapters on Jesus’ birth, flight to Egypt, baptism, and temptation in the wilderness. The richness of historical detail and insights from Reardon helped me feel even more intimate and helped by these four chapters.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who would like to better understand Jesus in his historical humanity, and I will definitely be seeking out Reardon’s other works.

Georgia Book Reviews: Partners in Christ


Book: Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism, by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.*

Summary: A case for being an evangelical who believes in the authority of Scripture and isn’t complementarian.

Recommended By: A rather mixed review on the Gospel Coalition blog. You might not be surprised to learn that I agreed with a lot more of Stackhouse’s points than the TGC blogger…

My Thoughts: I think what I most appreciated about this book was the ‘middle way’ approach Stackhouse takes. He critiques flaws and too-glib arguments in both complementarian and feminist readings of Scripture, and his approach provoked me to take more honest looks at the ‘sticky’ passages regarding the roles of women in Scripture. Although I didn’t always agree with his interpretations– for example, I find a plain reading of Ephesians 5 to be much less supportive of male leadership roles than Stackhouse does even within it’s historical context (a blog subject for another day!)– I appreciate the chance to think critically and consider new perspectives on these passages.

Stackhouse presents the argument that New Testament norms in gender were adapted to their historical context, much in the way the sexual transgression laws of the Old Testament represented not God’s ultimate best standards, but his patience to meet hard-hearted humanity where they were at in their cultural surroundings. This isn’t a particularly ground-breaking argument, but Stackhouse’s approach to it is unique and moderate. His ‘model’ for best synthesizing and understanding the Scripture’s teaching on gender is as follows:
– Principle #1: “That men and women are equal in dignity before God.”
– Principle #2: “Since some things matter more than others, lesser things sometimes must be sacrificed in the interest of the greater. What matters most to God, it seems, is the furtherance of the gospel message.”
-Principle #3: We have “the Christian liberty to give up precisely some of the freedoms won for us in Christ– again, for the sake of a higher good.”
Stackhouse argues that Scripture presents a model of doubleness– affirming certain patriarchal practices and attitudes of the day, while at the same time– sometimes in the same breath– offering a taste, a breath, a reminder of the equality and unity of men and women. Although I don’t always agree with his interpretations or the broader framework he proposes, I think his approach to the task of forming a coherent interpretation from a widely varied body of Scriptural teaching on gender is wise and can be learned from: he is committed to not using ‘pet’ texts from murky passages to support his preconceived views, but instead trying to form a theology that most nearly agrees with the most clear teachings from the broadest passages on the subject. As I work to form a Biblical theology of gender, a task for which I most certainly find myself in flux and often in deep water, I appreciate this wise approach to interpreting, and I pray I can humbly and wisely approach Scripture in a similar way as I work to understand the sometimes-thorny issues surrounding gender and the word of God.

A final point I find very worth considering comes in this quote: “Indeed, as Howard Marhsall pointedly suggests, the very term complementarian may be nonsense: two classes of people are equally capable, but certain leadership roles are reserved to just one of those classes, yet everything else can be done by members of either class– what is ‘complementary’ about that arrangement?” I read this put another way on a blog post (which I’ve unfortunately lost track of since so will have to paraphrase from a very rough memory): “If the positions of pastor and church leader are closed to women by nature of their God-given roles, what positions within the church are correspondingly closed to men? Should men not serve in the nursery? Help with the dishes after a potluck? Offer support and advice to someone making a decision? In what sense do complementarians understand women’s ‘ezer‘ role to be distinct from an man offering their gifts of service and help within the church, such that we could say that man was ‘usurping’ a woman’s role?” Without a coherent answer to this, we are not really discussing women as ‘complementary’, but merely restricted.

*Book linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.

In Search Of An Accurate Nativity

I’ve been on the hunt for a while for a more Biblically/culturally/ethnically accurate nativity scene. I love the tradition, the idea of making the story concrete especially for little ones, but the typical traditional nativity scene mixes up Bible stories (wise men with the shepherds), uses a stable, and almost universally features a white family, sometimes even a blonde Mary. What’s up with that? Seriously.

So, I’ve been on the hunt, both for more accurate historical information, and for an actual accurate nativity scene. Here’s some links if you’re interested in the same subject.

First up: Inn and Stable, or Guest Room and Family Room? “Surely a more authentic cultural understanding enhances the meaning of the story, rather than diminishing it. Jesus was rejected at His birth by Herod, but the Bethlehem shepherds welcomed Him with great joy, as did the common people in later years. The city of David was true to its own, and the village community provided for Him. He was born among them, in the natural setting of the birth of any village boy, surrounded by helping hands and encouraging women’s voices. For centuries Palestinian peasants have been born on the raised terraces of the one-room family homes. The birth of Jesus was no different. His incarnation was authentic. His birth most likely took place in the natural place for a peasant to be born—in a peasant home.”

Second: Forensic archaeology’s depiction of what typical Jewish men of Jesus’s day would’ve looked like. Plot twist: they weren’t white!

Finally, the only place I’ve been able to find non-white nativity scenes: Etsy! Here’s my favourite. Once I’ve saved up my pennies, I plan to ask for a custom scene with shepherds and wise men, and follow some of these ideas for making your scene reflect the Biblical story more accurately. Now the last thing to figure out: how to depict a one-room village home instead of a stable?

Also in the market for non-white Nativity storybooks for the boys. The Jesus Storybook Bible has darker-skinned characters but I’d love to find some specifically on Christmas.

Writing: Conventicle, Chapter Ten

            The way out of Caethron ran south, through the mountains. Heavy crags walled it on on either side, so that the way was clear and narrow, for which Weiss was glad. “No chance of going astray,” he nodded to himself as he set off, armed with a stout staff from Seto and a packet of dense, fragrant oilcakes from Ovesa. He felt he had had straying enough these last days for one man’s lifetime.
            Weiss’s rest had done him good, and he made good time through the mountain range, travelling steadily, reading his book by firelight in the evenings, downing a few birds by sling, singing half-remembered snatches of songs Ovesa had sung. It was not till he came through the foothills on the third day that his strength began to flag again. He had always been a man used to the outdoors, but the mountains were not like the marshy plains, and the rations were thin, and it seemed with each step, his Deedsweight dug a little deeper into his shoulders. It was a tongue of despair, lapping away at his resolve, and against it warred the map Mare had given him, for every step took him closer to the place marked in gold letters: Jesh’s Land, and beneath, the name Salavus. So courage and weariness tugged at him from both sides for a day and a night, and then, late in the morning, nearly on level ground now, the narrow path opened quite suddenly into a wide valley.
*
            In a threadbare brown robe, side-by-side with Arris and Mare, Aldous washed her clothes in the basin behind Hallan’s house. It was not a task she was accustomed to—her aunt and uncle had kept servants enough for that sort of work. She tried to copy Arris’ expert scrubbing with only mild success, but accepted it as her best effort in the end, and wrung out her clothes and spread them to dry on the grass alongside Mare and Arris’ when they were satisfied with their own work.
            Perhaps it’s for the best, a sly thought crept through her head. They might still smell of him.
            Cressus! The thought of him still needled at her. These were the clothes she had taken off with him, hesitant at first but then hungry. The rumpled clothes she had put on the next morning in the peace of his empty chambers.  Smoke, hyssop, metal, and leather. She had ridden in the night close against him, and now this wall between them forever.  Surely she could hold onto the smell of him, only, without shame?
            “Your way lies on ahead,” said Hallan, as they broke their bread at noonday. “Down through the village to the Interpreter’s house. And beyond that—to Jesh’s Land. I cannot take you there, not today. With the Blind Eye hanging around somewhere outside the gate, I’ve got to stay close to hand to open it for any travellers in a hurry. But you’ll find the way clear enough: down into the valley and at the south end of the village, a long house with many windows.”
“I will stay too,” said Mare. “For I’ve a wound to the shoulder that could use more rest, and after that—“ she looked at the Gate through the window. “There are many more who need to hear the words of life,” she finished softly.
Aldous suspected that Arris was no more pleased than she was at the prospect of making traveling companions for one another. The same destination they might have, but Arris was a villager, a laborer, terse, strong, uneducated, a woman of action. Aldous was a city-dweller, a scholar, a thinker, a fine lady from the Queen’s Quarter. They would have been ill-at-ease with one another even had Arris not mistrusted Aldous.
Still, they set out, back in their own garments (still slightly damp) but with a few provisions from Hallan to bolster their meager supplies: dried meat, dust-bread, slings for hunting which Aldous could only hope Arris knew how to use. Aldous had tried to return Hallan his book, but he pressed it back to her.
“Keep it,” he smiled, “and read it daily for the courage and grace it will speak to your heart.”
So Aldous tucked it into the pouch at her belt, and followed Arris down the winding path from the Gate to the village. There were trees here and there, scraggly poor things but still bigger than what grew on the marshes. Sheep bleated. Aldous tried not to let her breathing get too ragged, but Arris set a pretty hard pace. Sweat stung at Aldous’ eyes and she kept them trained down, focusing on the next step only: down, down, down. It could not be too far. It was a short way to the village. Just a little ways through the little village and they’d be at this Interpreter’s house and she could rest. Down, down, down—and then she was stopped short by slamming into Arris’ back.
Aldous snapped her head up and there, blocking their path, was Vana, and a strange grey-faced figure. Nay, even Vana was strange and grey-faced.
“Hello, Aldous,” she said with menacing cheer. Aldous whipped her eyes to Vana’s knife belt, but there were no knives. Vana’s hands danced around at her sides; thin and bony, they seemed, and grey, and with the nails sharpened to a point.
“Vana?” Aldous voice was heavy and uncertain, and Vana grinned wolfishly and nodded.
“Vana and not Vana,” she answered. “When Cressus proved too soft for the task of halting you, I took things, as is always best, into my own hands. Perhaps you did not know of the lore—a little place near to that thrice-cursed Gate where the Soul-Eaters make their home?”
Aldous had heard stories of the Soul-Eaters, silly tales told late at night in the dark among youths, stories for the superstitious. Arris had evidently heard them too, for her stony determination evaporated suddenly into a childish shriek. She scrambled backwards, stumbling against Aldous, who fell in turn. The Soul-Eaters were at them in an instant
“Sometimes,” whispered Vana, bending over Aldous almost tenderly, “even the Blind Eye isn’t enough. One can always upgrade one’s membership, and fortunately—“ Vana opened her mouth wide to a gush of cold air, revealing a mouthful of grey serrated teeth—“the Soul-Eaters are welcoming to ambitious women such as myself.”
“Your ears, your ears, cover your ears,” shouted Arris, who had a bony he-Soul-Eater hanging over her. Aldous snapped her arms up to cover her ears, and as she shut out Vana’s voice, her mind seemed suddenly clearer, and Vana less terrible.
Still, Vana only smirked, and, clasping Aldous’s wrists, gave a mighty yank.
“Come now, Aldous,” she said. “You were never lacking ambition yourself.”
Was that true? Had Aldous been ambitious or only aimless? She couldn’t remember now. Your ears, cover your ears, she remembered, and dutifully put her hands back up. Vana pulled them away again. Aldous felt more and more wooly.
“Join us,” coaxed Vana. “You weren’t really going to go all this way, leaving everything behind, fighting through hardship and enemies and cold, not when what you want could be yours if you’d only stop fighting…”
Aldous shook her head, slow and confused. She made to put her hands up, but Vana pushed them down again triumphantly. She knew she was winning—
but Aldous’s hand danced across the book tucked in at her waist—
#
The valley beneath Weiss was slant-lit by the sun, and it might have been a place of beauty, but its serenity was marred by two blemishes: a great torture-tree splayed out on the near slope with gears and barbs coiling across its blood-blacked wood, and at the bottom in the gully, the gaping mouth of an open tomb.
A shudder ran over Weiss, but it was not a shudder of horror only, for he knew this place—he had read, and re-read the portion of his book concerning Salavus. Jesh’s suffering, Jesh’s shame, taken not for his own crime, but for the legal debts of anyone, man, woman or child, who would surrender their guilt to him. The agony, the rending of bonds, the cruel bloody torture-tree claiming him as a just punishment. And then, the burial, the closing of a purely legal transaction, the mouth of the tomb sealed over. And next— no wonder Weiss shuddered!—that insatiable mouth burst and toothless, the light breaking slanted across the valley, Jesh himself, alive again and triumphant, the way to Elionae’s city opened, the toothless tomb, aye, the tamed tree!
The tremor that shook Weiss was not horror only, but wonder, and grief, and a curious feeling like a child meeting suddenly in the flesh those characters that had peopled the legends and stories he heard around the fire all his life. It was real! It was his! And Weiss felt a sudden wrench as the legal rectitude of his Deedsweight bit deep as knives into his shoulders, for the cords were drying and shrinking like sinew in the sun. They tightened until he thought he could not bear it, till almost they were ready to draw blood, and then, breathlessly, they gave a mighty twang and—let go.
The shot-grey capsule slithered out from beneath Weiss’s tunic and crashed into the rocky ground at his feet. Weiss skipped back to avoid it and it leapt off, thrumming off rock and hurtling over turf, end over end, down, down, and down, until with a great leap it cleared the slope and plunged headlong into the open mouth of the tomb.

 

 

 

 

 

Weiss stood for a long moment with his own mouth wide open, and tears standing in his eyes. Then, he staggered and dropped down to the grass, staring at the valley spread before him, weeping and laughing and saying over and over, “Thanks be!” and “Jesh, Jesh, Jesh,” and marvelling at the lightness with which he drew breath and the freedom with which he could move himself, and the extraordinary gladness which bloomed across his body at the absence for the first time in his life of the pressing presence of his deeds. It was the first rain lashing down into a land that had always been dry, and dusty, and without life.

Ok Seriously

One more post on the Target gender-desegregation hoopla. Because I’m really frustrated and kind of horrified at the things people are saying.* I read this post by Matt Walsh because some of my Facebook friends ‘like’ his page (although I did decide to hide all posts from him in future because I need to live my life not constantly frustrated about this.) Anyways.

I have two sons who are into a broad variety of things, including dolls, construction vehicles, dance parties, and reading. I don’t have a daughter, so I can’t speak to what she would be like, although I remember being a little girl who loved biology (National Geographic wildlife specials all the way), fat novels, playing in the woods, and riding bikes and playing Red Rover with the neighbourhood kids. Chances are you have a similar story. You loved Barbies, climbing trees, and those foam 3D puzzles of architecture. You loved the Hardy Boys, card games, and a stuffed frog you took to bed with you every night even when you were way too old for it. None of these things was cause for much comment. Now, I’m not saying there were no problems with the expectations on kids in the past, of course, but the truth is that the toy aisle has gotten more gender-segregated in the last few decades.
The thing is this: toy gender segregation is not about biblical manhood and womanhood. It’s about money. Toymakers, broadly, don’t give a plugged nickel whether their toys encourage girls to be nice, pretty, and domestic, and boys to be tough, athletic, and spatial.** They do, again broadly, care about their bottom line. If you can get siblings to play with different toys, because one of the siblings is a boy and two are girls, you’ve just sold that many more toys. If boys and girls can’t play together in groups because boys and girls don’t play the same group games, you’ve sold that many more toys. If, however, kids can happily play group games, pretend games, building toys, et al. in non-gender-specific ways, toymakers don’t get to divide their markets into smaller, more lucrative categories.
Why get into a righteous froth on behalf of toymakers’ moneymaking categories? I talked a bit in my last post about how most of the toy segregations don’t make sense and are actually discouraging the kinds of things we want to see in godly men and women. Let’s go over it one more time. If your little girl plays with dinosaurs, wonderful– she’s cultivating a sense of joy and wonder in God’s creation. If your little boy plays dolls, wonderful– he’s practicing to be the kind of father who’s there, one-on-one with his kids, teaching them the truth as they stand and sit and walk. If your daughter loves hockey, perfect– she’s set on a path for enjoying the physical form she’s been given, stewarding her body and health well, and learning to cooperate with others. If your son is dazzled by ballet, perfect– he’s getting set to grow into a man who appreciates the beauty and creativity of art and enjoys God’s gift of music and dance as ways to praise him and communicate with each other. None of these things conflict in any way with Biblical categories of manhood and womanhood expressed within marriages and churches. None of these things have the slightest thing to do with sexual orientation or transgenderism. It’s a crying shame to see people– parents, even!– acting as if it’s somehow bad to let kids freely roam the toy aisles without a big sign insisting that what they like is for the other gender. It is also startlingly illogical. Surely letting kids like what they like is doing the precise opposite of encouraging gender confusion, by telling our little girls and boys that there are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be a boy, and in all that beautiful diversity, there is no need for one to long to be something other than what she is, something other than what he is: a unique person who loves, say, science experiments, Lego Star Wars, and paper doll kits, and is just right exactly the way they are.
*People are using words like ‘sissifying’ and ‘pussifying’ to describe this move, because A) this has anything to do with anybody being tough? and B) thanks for showing clearly with your word choice that yes, people do still think that female=weak and useless, so we DO need to break down these gender stereotypes; sorry Matt Walsh, when you say “Nobody ever said that girls can’t be strong or boys can’t be gentle” your own crowd is right there giving you the lie…) 
 
**Which, BTW, not Biblical criteria at all. That’s just culture and tradition talking.

A Quick Crash Course…

in why I write about gender stereotyping and feminism.

When Target makes a decision that allows kids to enjoy whatever toys they are drawn to without feeling as though they are making the ‘wrong’ choice, and a big crowd of people hop onto their Facebook page to tell them they are denying our God-ordained genders, kowtowing to the ‘transbullies’, and leading America further into the ‘depraved’ dark hole it’s already in. GUYS. God didn’t give Adam and Eve each a pile of approved toys. Kids are also not born with any particular proclivity to cars/blocks/actions figures vs. kitchen sets/baby dolls/pink dress up. None of these things are sexual. None of these things are inherently gendered. None of these things are treated in the Bible’s discussion of gender, which instead focuses on things like honour, servant-heartedness, and love. Those are things I can do and be while moving heavy rocks to build a wall for my garden– so why not a little girl playing with construction toys? Those are things my husband can do and be while cuddling our little boy before bedtime and singing him a lullaby– so why not a little boy playing with a doll? These were things Jesus exemplified while heading up a bread and fish meal for a big crowd– so why not a little boy playing kitchen?

What I’m getting at is, when you’re upset about the breakdown of gender divides that do not exist in any way, shape, or form in the Bible, and invoking God to do it, you’re doing it wrong. You’re gypping a bunch of kids in the process. It hurts nobody to let kids like what they like without judgement. It will help kids, to feel free to explore and learn with a broader range of toys and games. It will help kids by letting them feel more confident in their choices and preferences. Putting extra-Biblical rules and restraints on little children is exactly the sort of thing the Bible frowns very strongly on. Unlike letting your daughter play with Avengers action figures and your son wear fairy wings, on which subject the Bible is utterly silent.

(Or maybe I just read the headline wrong, and Target actually replaced its whole toy section with a squad of evil child-corruptors handing out sexual literature? No? Then let me close with this handy flowchart:)

 

Writing: Conventicle, Chapter Nine

            The village, if it might be so called, of Caethron, nestled down between the mountains in the valley below the Gate. The houses made a little cluster, like mushrooms sprung up overnight, with whitewashed stone walls, thatched rooves, little gardens, and workbenches and washboards and the occasional sheep or chicken giving them an industrious air.
            “Who lives here?” Weiss asked Hallan as they walked.
            “Just a handful of us,” shrugged Hallan. “Most of us greyheaded now but all of us glad to serve Elionae by guarding his keep here. We are a rest for weary travellers—a simple task but welcome, I think.”
            “And I am to meet the Interpreter?” Weiss’s curiousity had been piqued at the title, the weight which Hallan had given the name as they set off.
            “Yes. He is a Loremaster and a wise man, and he gives all the travellers who pass through here such lore as will be helpful to you in your journeying.”
            The Interpreter’s house was different from the other cottages, long and broad with small windows cut at intervals in the stone. Hallan rang a bell that hung at the door, and for many minutes, the two stood waiting on the stoop. Weiss listening to the birdsong, the sheep bleating, the wind rustling, and tried not to fidget. Then the door creaked open.
            Hallan’s description of ‘greyheaded’ was apt. The man and woman who greeted him matched the mountains, granite-haired, their skin creased and scored, their features craggy. They smiled, though, with a welcome that was ageless and bright.
            The woman was dressed in a long robe, red as wine, with her grey hair wound in a crown about her head. The man wore a pure white tunic belted at the waist, and a fur collar. They both had a regal look, and Weiss felt very solemn.
            “You bring us a new pilgrim, Hallan?” said the Interpreter.
            “This is Weiss, lately of Aiken,” said Hallan, putting one hand on Weiss’ shoulder.
            Weiss bowed, and then was not sure if that was the done thing. It was all rather new to him. When the Queen passed by he and his friends used to do very low, mocking obesiances, but he had never felt so particularly awed by someone before, and the gesture felt as ridiculous as a simple nod or handshake would’ve felt irreverent.
            “I am Seto, called the Interpreter,” said the old man formally, “and this is my wife, Ovesa. Please, come in.”
            The room was long and low, and the sun that shone cool and watery seemed to come in no further than the outskirts, despite the rows of windows. Weiss followed his host and hostess a little ways into the room, and then they turned together and Seto said,
            “Now.” His voice reminded Weiss of the storytellers in Aiken beginnning a tale, and he turned and saw that Hallan had not followed them in. “Weiss, lately of Aiken,” continued Seto, “why have you come here?”
            “Hallan told me that you could tell me things that would help me along my way,” said Weiss. He folded his hands in front of him as he spoke, and then felt like a child and unfolded them.
            Seto nodded gravely.
            “Come in, then, traveller, and I will show you that which may help you along your way.”
            Seto was very serious, but as they walked down the long room, Ovesa turned back to Weiss and smiled, a smile of anticipation, of reassurance, and perhaps a streak of mischief.
            Before he could wonder what it meant, his guide stopped suddenly, between the last two support pillars that arced up into the ceiling, and lifted the candle in his hand.
            The pillars were painted, vivid blue and pine green and blood red, with the figure of a man. The images were almost childlike, and yet with a depth behind them. They showed the man clinging to the book of Elionae, pleading in the face of destruction, overshadowed by a crown of gold.
            “The Man who is Mother,” said Interpreter. His voice was low and sacred in the dim space and Weiss bent closer to the paintings. A thunderhead of awe began to gather inside him.
            “The Man who is Mother, one in ten thousand,” sang Ovesa, her voice dusky-slow. “Travail with child does he, and suckle the children he bears, the children of the Master, unfolding the darkness to the darkened, holding the hands of the children as the children learn to walk in the way.”
            “Watch for him,” said Seto. “Watch for him as you walk in the way.” Weiss nodded mutely. “Now come in,” said Seto, and they passed through the door at the end of the hall.
The next room was lit by a skylight, which shone a square of light on a painting swirling across the floor. It showed a woman, strong and smiling, bringing water to wash a room where a man swept violently, stirring thick dust into the air. The simple image was yet so vivid that Weiss’s throat tickled just to look at the spattered dust.
            “Euvan, the Grace,” said Interpreter, and Ovesa sang again:
            “Thick the dust of deeds lies upon the heart, heavy the weight. Tirsin, tirsin, the stirring of that dust is worse than the lying of it. But here! Here the sweet water of Euvan lays the dust, washing it away; rest she brings, and order, making the way for the good and the great.”
            “Tirsin…” said Weiss, remembering. “Tirsin was the name of the Lady in the Mountain.”
            “Tirsin, which in the Old Tongue means ‘weight’,” said Seto. “A dragon of the old kind. But we tell not only the fact of a thing, but the meaning of it, too. Here we have painted the meaning of Tirsin. Soon, little brother, you will meet the meaning also of Euvan.”
            “Who makes the pictures?” said Weiss.
            “We do. Together.”
            “And everyone comes to see them?”
            Ovesa laughed.
            “For all your beard and and sun-rough face, you are a boy yet!” was all she said.
            “I’m twenty-five,” said Weiss, a little wounded, having always considered himself rather a hardened man of the world. And then her merriment made him laugh.
            “’Tis only that you watch everything with such wonder,” she placated him, and that made Weiss pause. How long had he been looking for wonder and been unable to find it?
            There were many more pictures they showed Weiss, and after took him to a pleasant sunny room and read to him from his book while Ovesa made red-leaf tea and Seto stoked up a fire. Weiss fell asleep in his chair listening to them read and had a dream of a fire that would not go out, and a palace on a hill, a man in a cage, two children waiting in a room—all vivid green and blood red and blue as a lake in autumn.
#
            “Stay low,” hissed Mare, unnecessarily, for Arris and Aldous had already pressed themselves flat as they could against the cold rocks. Below them, Vana and Cressus crouched in the pass. The horses were tied up a little way’s further in, their heads low and their ears down. It looked as though they’d been ridden all night—from the Gate back to the place where Aldous had been guarding their prisoners, and then back to this place in the mouth of the pass, Aldous supposed.
            Cressus’ head was low and discouraged, too, and Aldous realised he must think her captured. Of course he wouldn’t assume she’d betrayed him. Her heart gave a fierce twist within her, and almost she wanted to stand up, call to him to come save her, let him believe that she had been overpowered and held captive. She stayed low against the rocks.
            The three women had agreed to take the rougher way over the hills, instead of approaching the Gate by the road, where they would be nearly certain of coming across Vana and Cressus. Now it was proving to be a wise choice. They would’ve walked right into the pair, had they taken the road.
            “Move slowly,” said Mare. “One rock dislodged could be all it takes to let them know we’re up here.”
            They began moving along the lip of the pass in a slow, painstaking creep. Occasionally, they had to double back to find a new path, for the steep slope above the pass offered little in the way of cover and easy places to walk. Aldous looked longingly at the road below.
            “Couldn’t we go down now?” she asked, when they had put Vana and Cressus behind them around a few bends.
            “Suppose they scout up the path a little ways?” replied Mare. “As long as we’re off the path, we might be anywhere in these mountains.”
            “Not anywhere,” Annis objected. “They must know we’re making for the Gate. If we don’t come into the pass before long, I should think they’ll move to the Gate itself, and they we shall have no choice but to face them.”
            “We could make better time on the road,” mused Mare.
            So they made their careful way down and, at a swift trot now, journied on. Every noise made Aldous start, every shifting rock sounding like a horse’s hooves and every whistle of wind the voice of a pursuer. When the Gate was in view at last, Aldous broke into a ragged city-raised run, forging ahead of Mare and Arris for a few strides before they fell back into step with her. Up the stairs, her legs screaming, her side stitched, Aldous nonetheless matched her two work-hardened companions step-for-step all the way up the stairs to the Gate. Or perhaps they matched with her. Chest heaving, leaning against the stone wall, she wondered if they reallly wanted her with them, their erstwhile captor slowing them down and bringing her assassins along behind them. She hardly listened while Mare knocked, caught in a swirl of confusion, and then as the gate swung open, Vana’s voice cut clear and sharp across the air.
            “Cressus, Cressus, I have them!” Vana called, and Cressus thundered out from around the bend, kicking his horse wildly to pass Vana.
            “Aldous!” he called, and Aldous froze, staring at him. He thought she was a captive. He was coming for her. He was pouring his heart and soul into coming for her.
            Dimly, she was aware that she was alone on the step, that Mare was calling her name from inside the gateway, but chiefly she was aware that Cressus had dismounted and was running up the steps to her.
            “Aldous!” he said again, and she took a step back. He slowed, confused, and for the space of two breaths his eyes held hers. She tasted in memory his sweat and desire; she was riding beside him under starlight, dancing her fingers across the creases around his eyes; he was listening to her, listening as no one had ever listened. Aldous opened her mouth to speak, but there were no words. She turned and passed through the gate, and the gatekeeper swung it closed behind her, with a sound of iron.
            That night, after they had rested and eaten, Aldous sat alone on an outcrop of rock, watching the gate with her knees pulled tight against her aching chest. The sky behind the gate was crimson and orange, and somewhere down there Cressus knew she had left him. She started at the feeling of a hand on her shoulder.
            “I beg your pardon, do I disturb you?” It was Hallan. Aldous shrugged. “I am here to care for all the travellers that pass through here,” he said gently, “and I cannot help but see that you mourn for something. This is meant to be a place of refuge.”
            “Aye,” said Aldous, sudden and bitter, “and I was not meant to be here. Mare was bringing Arris here. I was their enemy. I am the enemy. I turned my back on my lover for the sake of something I have no part in.”
            Hallan shook his head.
            “You are in good company here,” he replied. “We none of us have any right to this refuge.”
“What do you mean?”
            “I know the sign your lover wore on his arm,” said Hallan. He was laying something before her, something heavy and grave. “For I myself once wore it. In those days I was called only ‘The Executioner’, the swiftest and strongest in the Blind Eye. The last Thron of many to die by my hand, he spoke aloud the words of Life even as I burnt him slowly to death.” Hallan’s face was drawn in lines of pain and disgust, but Aldous had turned from the gate and was hanging on his words. “I could not forget his words even after he was burnt to ash. I could not forget. I knew I had no right to their beauty—yet here I am, guarding the King’s gate. Nay, Jesh makes the right– you have only to come, traveller. Come before him shrinking that you have no part in his kindness, but come before him bold, knowing that he has bid you come.” Hallan pointed to the east, down past the village to where a long, straight road stretched out between the narrow walls of the mountains. “If it’s a view you’re looking for, try that one. That road takes you straight into Jesh’s land, and there’ll be more joy there than can be found in a hundred lovers or all the power in Aiken.”

 

 

 

 

 

            Aldous turned herself to follow his hand, and gazing down into the valley, she said, “Thank-you,” softly. Hallan slipped away, but he left behind him a little book, bound in leather and illuminated in gold. With her face set towards Jesh’s land, Aldous began to read the Song of the Living.