Hello: So here I am taking a huge step and reaching out for your comments. I am going to post some chapters from my newest work on this blog. I would be honored if you would take the time to read and comment. I hope that my followers will be excited about what is coming. And So It Was Written
A Novel by
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh.
There shall step forth a star out of Jacob;
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel,
and shall smite through the corners of Moab,
and break down all the sons of Seth.
The Star Prophecy of Numbers 24:17
Using real millage must tell reader that
The Jewish Enclave of En Gedi
In the Year 128 CE
Thirty miles from the holy city of Jerusalem on the western shore of the Dead Sea stood the lush oasis of En Gedi. Fed by a jeweled waterfall, the grass was green as emeralds, the palm and date trees flourished, and the vineyards were lush—all amid miles and miles of naked, treeless mountains of rock where herds of ibex grazed. This was the Judean Desert—unchanged since the time of Moses.
As the clouds shifted and the sun blazed, Livel Kohan and his brother Masabala patrolled the perimeter of the olive groves searching for any sign of approaching Roman soldiers.
At sixteen, Livel was narrow in the hips and shoulders. A newly sprouting beard sat upon an angular face, his chin a little too sharp, his brow a bit too wide. He had large expressive coal colored eyes and an impressive nose that curved at the end. His appearance teetered on the edge of homeliness—until he smiled, an act that transformed his face.
In contrast, fifteen-year-old Masabala was handsome. He had thick ebony hair, enormous sable eyes, long legs, a sleek hard body, and even though he was younger by a year, he was already two inches taller than Livel.
Masabala weaved towards Livel with a sharpened stick in his hand, graceful as a panther, slashing the air like a sword. “Take that, you Roman swine!” he hissed, arm extended feinting an attack. He lunged, driving hard and stopping just short as he gently poked Livel’s chest with the tip of his weapon. Faking a sneer he hissed, “Had you been the enemy you would be dead!”
Livel shook his head and laughed. “With a stick?”
“A stick today, tomorrow a mighty sword. Let’s go. There’s a cave I want to explore.” Masabala yanked Livel by the arm.
Livel dug in his heels. “We shouldn’t leave the grove.”
“You afraid?” Masabala jeered.
“Not afraid. Just cautious, as you should be.” Livel knew his remarks would go unheeded. Once Masabala had set his mind to something, he was relentless and it was fruitless to try to dissuade him. Memories flashed of the times Masabala had put them in harm’s way—climbing dangerous cliffs where one misstep would have meant death, hanging precariously from tree limbs as they built a forbidden tree house, their bodies scarred from scratches and falls.
Livel would never admit that he loved the danger, or that he silently rejoiced in his brother’s bravado. For while he did not have Masabala’s great physical strength he did have the courage and aptitude of a warrior, and he often fantasized what it would be like to act as impulsively as Masabala. But impulsivity went against Livel’s nature and so he protested for the sake of protesting, telling himself that he was going along to keep Masabala out of trouble when in truth he wanted to go. “We have to be back before dark.”
Masabala shot his brother a smile. “We will be.” He knew that Livel was more adventurous than he would ever admit, but there were great expectations surrounding his brother, and for that reason alone Masabala was willing to take the blame for all their bloodied knees and bruises.
They ran side by side towards a ridge of low cliffs. Masabala was swift as a gazelle, his stride long and elegant. Livel kept up by sheer determination. Without warning, Masabala slid in the sand. Livel came to a stop beside him.
“No matter what our parents say, my destiny is to become a great warrior!” Masabala proclaimed, raising a clenched fist in the air. As a Kohan, his family was directly descended from Aaron, the older brother of Moses. Being a part of that lineage came with certain obligations and becoming a soldier was not one of them.
“I’m sure the entire Roman garrison will one day know your name and they will tremble in your presence.” Livel faked a bow and then playfully punched Masabala’s arm.
“And one day all of Israel will know your name as well,” Masabala said, respect tingeing his words. “Father says even now the rabbis in Jerusalem speak of you in whispers.”
As the first-born son of a respected rabbi, Livel’s fate was sealed at birth—he would follow in his father’s footsteps. What set him apart from others was his unique gift. Information stayed in his head, stored in compartments, available verbatim as needed. With perfect recall he could recite all six hundred and thirteen commandments, the ethics, laws and spiritual practices of the Jewish people. He spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and he had learned to speak Latin and Greek from the traders who frequented the En Gedi. By this time next year he would be studying under the tutelage of the great rabbis in Jerusalem.
Masabala ran backwards. “Come on great scholar, I’ll race you!”
The boys sprinted toward the ridge that led to the cave they were going to explore. Halfway between En Gedi and the cave they heard the thundering of horses’ hooves and the unmistakable clanging of armor. Horrified, the boys froze. Sound carried far in the desert, bouncing off the sheer walls, making it impossible to gauge how far away the soldiers were.
The Romans controlled Judea and were unmerciful adversaries. They would overrun villages at will and there were stories of young boys being beaten, and forced to become sex slaves for the men.
Terrified, the brothers ran toward En Gedi. Livel turned for a quick look, trying to spot their enemy. That decision was catastrophic as he collided with a boulder and tripped. Masabala reached down and yanked him up. Livel screamed when he put pressure on his foot.
“I’m hurt. I can’t keep up!” Livel cried, grabbing his brother by the shoulders. “Go!”
“And leave you behind?” Masabala shook his head wildly. “We can hide.”
“There’s no place to hide and you know it!” He looked into the desert, to the dust kicked up by the distant riders, their spears and shields reflecting the sun. He would not be the reason his brother got captured. “I’ll be right behind you.” He gave Masabala a shove. “Just once, listen to me! Run!”
“I’ll get help and be back before they get here,” Masabala said as he ran toward home.
Livel took a tentative step on his swelling ankle. Walking would be a painful option and running was out of the question. He hobbled a few steps trying to decide what to do. If he turned toward En Gedi they would spot Masabala, so instead he headed in the opposite direction. For ten minutes he crawled, hopped and limped, determined to put as much distance between himself and Masabala as possible, all the while hoping that his brother would return before the soldiers found him.
He squinted into the distance, the horses and soldiers so close now he could count their numbers. There were twelve. He looked toward En Gedi, his eyes searching for a wisp of dust, anything that might give proof of a rescue. There was only stillness, the lazy clouds passing overhead as if his world were not about to shatter.
The shouts and clattering of armor closed in on him and soon he was surrounded. A soldier wearing a bronze breastplate and bronze helmet dismounted. He reached for his pilum, a wooden spear with an iron tip. Livel stood paralyzed, gutted by the greatest fear he had ever known.
“What do you think he’s doing out here alone? Or is he alone?” the soldier asked his comrades in Greek, poking Livel with the tip of his sword as he looked toward En Gedi.
“I’m injured and my friend went for help,” Livel replied in Greek, all eyes now riveted on him.
The soldier smiled, menace turning his eyes to fire. “My, my, a well-educated young Jew.”
An older soldier dismounted and approached. The men made way in obvious dereference to their leader. “My name is Marcus Gracchus,” the man said. “And yours is?”
“From the venerated lineage of Aaron. I know of these things. Tell me, Livel Kohan, how many languages do you speak?
Marcus Gracchus smiled. He was in need of another tutor for his sons and it seemed that good fortune had come his way. “Put him on the extra mount. We will take Livel Kohan with us.”
Everything was happening too quickly, hands coming at him and faces a blur as he was tossed on to the horse. Livel understood as clearly as he had ever understood anything in his life that there was no point in resisting as he twisted in the saddle to get what he knew would be a last look at En Gedi.
Tears burned the back of his eyes and he swatted them away. He would not let them see him cry. Not now. Not ever. Livel could hear his father’s voice: when you are lost or frightened, confused or disheartened—turn to Ha’Shem. He will always be with you.
Livel began to pray.
They traveled throughout the night, moving rapidly whenever the rugged terrain allowed them to do so. Livel prayed until exhaustion overcame him and he fell asleep slumped over the soft mane of the horse. The ensuing nightmares were intense, whips and fire, his parent’s anguish, Masabala’s rage.
At dawn, the Roman troop halted and Livel awakened with a start as torrents of anguish washed over him and the sleep world dissolved. They were outside a Roman encampment waiting for a bridge to be lowered that would allow them to pass over a ditch that encircled the entire perimeter. His horse tethered to the saddle of s soldier, they entered the camp filled with hundreds of tents. As they moved over the paved roads they passed stalls where the pounding of anvils could be heard. There were blacksmiths, and butchers, bakers and wine sellers. They turned left and passed a street of bathhouses and barbers. Another left and they were on a street with hospitals, workshops, and endless mule-drawn carts heaped with food, armament, and every sort of supply.
Livel was torn from his mount, thrown into a tent, and chained to a post. The only visitor came once a day and that was to deliver food and empty the pot where he defecated. The rest of the time he lay alone on a mat of straw, withdrawing into a shadow world where he teetered on the edge of starvation, eating only enough to remain alive because the Judaism he so deeply believed in forbade suicide.
On the tenth day of his incarceration the commanding officer, Marcus Gracchus ordered that Livel be bathed, dressed in clean tunic and brought into his tent.
Gracchus lay on a chaise, impressive in a white robe trimmed with gold thread. He had a square face, angry sea-green eyes, a chiseled nose, and soft, almost feminine lips. It was as if his face were divided: stone-like from the nose up, gentle from the nose down. His black hair was slicked with oil.
As a senator of Rome, and an accomplished Legion Commander, he was in Judea by direct edict of Emperor Hadrian. The objective was to ascertain the situation in Judea and report back to the emperor. Domitius, his youngest son had accompanied him while Scipio, his oldest was sent to the northern border to take part in the building of a wall between Rome and Scotland.
The tent was lavish with carpets on the floor, pillows scattered about, draperies and tapestries hanging from the walls. Incense burned, the scent of myrrh and frankincense wafting through the enclosure.
“It’s been reported to me that you are barely eating. Have a seat,” he said in Greek, pointing to a stack of feather-filled pillows.
Livel didn’t move, he just stared at the man, defiance in his eyes.
“You will learn to follow orders,” he said, his demeanor turning ominous. “Sit!”
“I am returning to Rome and taking three hundred of my men with me. When we get to Rome, if you’re healthy, I will allow to become a tutor to my sons.”
Livel knew he was on precarious ground. This was not a man to defy yet his anger seethed and he couldn’t help himself. “I may be enslaved but you can’t make me eat!”
Marcus slowly lifted a whip that sat beside the chaise. As if he were swatting a fly he cocked his wrist and the whip slashed across Livel’s bare arm.
Livel cried out, as much from shock as from the pain.
“You will do as I say or I’ll sell you as fodder. Is that what you want, boy, to be fed to a hungry lion in the center arena of the great Coliseum in Rome?”
Livel shook his head.
I will eat. I will live. And one day, I will go home!”