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AN ODOR OF SANCTITY

 

“LOOK YOU, JULIO; THE FIENDS OF MUHAMMED WOULD TEACH US A LESSON IN CHIVALRY. WE, ACCORDING TO THEM, ARE NOT ENTIRELY LOST FROM THE STANPOINT OF THE TEACHINGS OF THEIR CAMEL-DRIVER PROPHET. OUR LORD JESUS, THEY ARE KIND ENOUGH TO GRANT, WAS ALSO A PROPHET ---A MINOR AND UNIMPORTANT PROPHET WHO PRECEDED AND MADE WAY FOR THEIR GREAT MUHAMMAD, BUT STILL A PROPHET. GENEROUS OF THEM IS IT NOT?”

 

“GOD’S DEATH!” JULIO SAID. “WHAT A BLASPHEMY!”

 

“WAIT, MY GOOD JULIO, THERE IS MORE. THEY DO NOT TOUCH OUR CHURCHES, NOR THE TEMPLES OF THE RASCALLY JEWS BECAUSE BOTH FAITHS, THEY CONDESCEND TO ADMIT, HAVE MUCH OF TRUTH. WE HAVE ONE GOD, AS DO THEY, THOUGH WE HAVE NOT GOT HIS NAME RIGHT; AND WE, TOO, HAVE OUR HOLY BOOK, THE SACRED BIBLE—VASTLY INFERIOR TO THE QUR’AN; OF COURSE; BUT A HOLY BOOK FOR ALL THAT. THUS WE – AND THE JEWS – BEING ‘PEOPLE OF THE BOOK’ ARE, IN THEIR LORDLY VIEW, NOT ENTIRELY PAGANS, SO OUR CHURCHES ARE SACROSANCT, AND WE, POOR DEVILS, UNDER THEIR KINDLY GUIDANCE MUST BE LED TO FIND THE TRUE WAY. GOD’S DEATH! I PREFER OPEN PERSECUTION! I’D RATHER BE TREATED AS A MAN AND AN ENEMY THAN AN IDIOT AND A BACKWARD CHILD! ….”

*****

 

“WHAT AILS HER, SIR JEW?” ALARIC SAID.

 

“AN EXCESS OF SUFFERING, I THINK, “ BEN EZRA SIGHED. “SHE CLAIMS – AND I BELIEVE HER, FOR HER SPEECH AND WAYS ARE MOST GENTLE – TO BE OF HIGH BIRTH IN THE EAST. SHE SAYS HER MOTHER WAS ONE OF THE LADIES IN WAITING AT THE COURT OF THE EMPRESS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, WHICH, TOO, IS POSSIBLE, EVEN PROBABLE. ONLY ON HER HONEYMOON VOYAGE AMONG THE GREEK ISLES, POOR ZOE AND HER HUSBAND – HE WAS A PRETTY LAD, STRONGLY RESEMBLING YOU, BUT DARKER OF SKIN AND HAIR, THOUGH HIS EYES WERE BLUE, I RECALLED – WERE TAKEN BY MOORISH PIRATES. AND BECAUSE THEY WERE A STRIKING PAIR – ZOE HAD MORE FLESH THEN THAN SHE HAS NOW – THOSE SEA BRIGANDS DECIDED NOT TO SELL THEM IN ALEXANDRIA, AS USUAL, BUT TO BRING THEM HERE TO SPAIN, FOR, BY THEN, WORD HAD SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE MEDITERRANEAN OF THE FABULOUS PRICES OLD HAKAM PAID FOR UNUSUAL SLAVES. I SUPPOSE, HOWEVER, THAT EVEN SLAVERY WOULD HAVE BEEN ENDURABLE HAD THEY BEEN ABLE TO REMAIN TOGETHER – FOR MUCH SHE LIKED WHAT SHE HAD USE OF, IT SEEMED TO ME. BUT, AS I TOLD YOU, ZOE’S HUSBAND WAS ALMOST TOO PRETTY TO BE A LAD. SO AL-HAKAM DECIDED – THE OLD SCOUNDREL WAS GIVEN TO ODD WHIMS – THAT THE BOY WOULD MAKE A HANDSOME PAGE FOR HIS FAVORITE OF THE MOMENT, ONE FATIMA, HER NAME WAS, I THINK. SO HE ORDERED ME TO CUT THE PRETTY GREEK …”

 

“AND YOU DID?” ALARIC WHISPERED, TRYING TO KEEP THE SHUDDR OUT OF HIS VOICE.

 

SOLOMON BEN EZRA SMILED SADLY. “YOU WILL NOTE THAT MY HEAD IS STILL UPON MY SHOULDERS, YOUNG GOTH,” HE SAID.

“WHAT HAPPENDED TO HIM?” ALARIC SAID.

 

“HE DIED. EIGHT OUT OF TEN DO. AND SHE, POOR THING, WENT MAD. OLD HAKAM PUT HER AMONG HIS FEMALE SLAVES; BUT NEITHER HE, NORE ANYONE ELSE, HAD TOUCHED HER, METHINKS. BY THEN SHE WAS FAR TOO SKINNY TO SUIT A MOOR. AND WHEN SHE LOST HER REASON, THE EMIR FREED HER. FOR, ACCORDING TO THEM, ‘WHOM THE FINGER OF ALLAH HATH TOUCHED’ IS A SACRED PERSON. I FOUND HER DYING OF STARVATION IN THE STREETS, FILTHY, HALF NAKED, COVERED WITH SORES.BROUGHT HER HERE, CURED HER, RESTORED, EVEN, I THINK, MOST OF HER SENSES – TREATED HER MORE AS A DAUGHTER THAN AS A SLAVE. BUT SHE HAS THIS OBSESSION STILL ---“

 

 

 

  

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