Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hearing voices

Ch’Voga stood on suspect legs before the Emperor of Aedlin.
“Are you alright?” the child asked.  “Is he alright?” he then asked his Vizier, his anxious movements threatening to dislodge the ridiculous crown upon his head.  “Should we get him a chair, can he have a chair?”  The Vizier looked embarrassed by his lord then, and Ch’Voga tried to set them at ease.
“I am recovering, my lord.  I have just had many new experiences in a very short time.  It was my first time riding a boat upon water.”
“Really?” the child emperor seemed amazed.  “It is the only way to enter the Citadel.  How do you enter your homes?”
“Water does not stand in great pools around my home like it does here around your home.  We can only find it by digging very, very deep.”  He chose not to add they would never waste so much of it by exposing it to the Sun to evaporate either, much less pump it through the building to create the tremendous waterfalls that made the castle appear to be floating on clouds of mist.  It seemed inhospitable to judge a stranger’s ways, no matter how profligate.
The emperor sat bewildered and it was silent in the throne room.  Ch’Voga had been coached by Khop the Chief Steward on the journey from the wharf only to speak when spoken to by either the Emperor or Savoy the Eminent, his Vizier so he stood still and waited.
The Vizier broke the silence first.  “The Emperor was quite interested when he heard you were a holy man.”  Ch’Voga heard no question in this.  It seemed like a prompt of some sort but for whom?
The Emperor perked up, “Oh yes!  They told me you are a messenger from God!  Do you speak with him?  What does he sound like?  How do you know it’s him and not your own thoughts?”
“Begging your pardon, my lord, I have never actually heard his voice with my ears except when he speaks through his people or when his Word is read aloud.”
“His word?  Does he send you letters?  Does he issue edicts?”  Again, his excitement shook his crown like a tinkling tree in an earthquake.
“In a manner of speaking, one may say he does.  We have his book, the Holy Scriptures, which has been passed down and preserved.  In them he tells us about himself.  What he loves.  What he hates.  Who he is.  What he has done.”
At this, the Emperor looked visibly deflated.  “Oh.  I see.  I had so hoped…”
“You see, my liege,” the Vizier spoke, “it is as I have said to you.  You are the Lone Voice of God.  The only one in whom he trusts to speak through.  You and you alone.  It is the single most important charge upon your person.”
The child upon the throne suddenly appeared to feel the weight of his office like the golden crown upon his head and shoulders.  He sank into the oversized throne. 
“God does speak through His Spirit, my lord.  If you pray and listen and study His Scripture, He is faithful and true to those whom He loves!”  All eyes turned to Ch’Voga and he realized he had spoken out of turn.  “Forgive me, milord, I mean no disrespect, but my heart aches for you and compels me to speak.”
“”Those whom he loves.”  Does he love me?  I have never heard him.”
“He loves all his children and he stands ready to receive any who come to him in humility and faith, my lord.”
“Will you stay?  Will you teach me to hear him?  Will you teach me his words?  Please!  Please stay!”  Completely forgetting the dignity of his office, the child nearly tumbled out of his throne.
Ch’Voga, flushed and overwhelmed by the moment as well, abased himself before the Emperor, “I would be delighted to serve you in this way, my lord!”
“Excellent!  This is really good!  Thank you!  Can we start now?  Can he have a chair now?  Savoy?  Please?”  Ch’Voga looked up then and something in the eyes of the Eminent Savoy the Vizier told him he had just made the biggest mistake of his young life.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Witness is chosen

A delegation came as they were preparing to leave.  Prudence sat on a stool in the shade of the sail.  As Ch’Voga strained under each yoke of water skins, she made a show of checking them off and then slowly, deliberately, carefully decided where and how he should place them in the tiny hold.  Kurga had engaged the wharfmaster in conversation and was trying very hard to look fascinated with the man’s inane stories when the party arrived.  “The Emperor has granted an audience with the missionaries,” the Jackal they had come to know as Khop the Chief Steward announced. 
“We did not ask for an…” Kurga started to say but Prudence cut him off.
“We are humbled by his eminence’s generosity.  They will be happy to accompany you.”
“The invitation was for all.”
“I am merely their humble porter.  The Chief Steward has seen me before and knows this to be true.  I am not fit company for his Excellency and would dishonor his court with my presence.  I honor him instead by not dragging my impure feet through his rugs.”  Kurga wondered how much it hurt the enormous pride of Prudence to make such a self-effacing speech.  The major domo seemed to accept the answer however and so he took a chance himself.
“I also would beg his indulgence in this matter.  As a servant, I handle the logistics of the journey and leave the holier matters to the holy.  I too would not deign to insult the Emperor with my ignorance in matters too high for me.” 
Khop’s expression did not change; the straight-backed servant could have been made of the same sandstone as the wharf for all he gave away.  At last he turned to the damp and panting Ch’Voga.  “And you?  Will you speak to the Emperor or is one who demeans one’s self to do the physical labor for one’s own porter and servant too lowly or too holy perhaps to indulge the Emperor of the lands he traverses and the benefactor who’s goods he loads?”
Ch’Voga swallowed to find enough spit for his voice.  “I’d be delighted!” he wheezed.  With only a hint of embarrassment, he took the briefest dustbath with sand from the wharf, donned his outer robes again, quickly arranged his turban, making a mess of it as usual.  Kurga went to give him a hand, realizing only now that their lives may be in his inept paws.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Could I refuse without insulting them?”
“Not likely.”
“Good because it is for this reason I have come!  A chance to speak with the Emperor!  Imagine!”
“The Emperor of an empire of dirt,” Prudence sneered under her breath so the major-domo’s alert ears would not hear.  “What will you say?”
“Only what Yah wishes me to say.  “And you will be brought before both governors and kings because of me, for a witness to them and to the Gentiles. But whenever they hand you over, do not be anxious how to speak or what you should say, for what you should say will be given to you at that hour. For you are not the ones who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who is speaking through you.””  With this, he turned, “I am ready, my lord.”
“I’m afraid he’s going to say something remarkably stupid,” Prudence said watching him go in the company of the Steward and his escort.
“In only what Yah wishes him to say?” Kurga asked.
“That is exactly what worries me.  The man whom he quoted was executed for that very thing.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A buzzard load of exposition

“We’re going South,” Kurga said.
“And?” Prudence asked.
“Our destination, the one we paid you to take us to, is East.”
“You’re welcome to walk.”
“Where are you taking us?”
“The Citadel of the Emperor of Aedlin.”
“A Citadel?  Citadels have soldiers.”
“True.  Nearly as many as you have pointless observations.”
“I don’t like soldiers.”
“I don’t like you.”
Ch’Voga broke in, “wouldn’t it be safer to go around them?”
Prudence made a show of her annoyance.  “If by ‘safer,’ you mean, we die of thirst the day after tomorrow.  Then yes.  Since I do not wish to die of thirst the day after tomorrow, I take my chances with the soldiers of the Emperor of Aedlin.”
“Aedlin you say?” Kurga asked.
“Never heard of it.”
“That’s because it effectively ceased to be an empire some centuries ago.”
“What happened to it?” Ch’Voga asked.
“Stupidity,” she said, salting it with a curse, “on a scale that makes the two of you look brilliant by comparison.  The fools in the capitol sat and did nothing when the rains stopped.  They feasted as famine decimated their people.  They courted and played games as the survivors became refugees in other kingdoms.  They painted and played concerts for each other as the city itself turned to ruin.  They clung to their traditions and their power within their fortified walls and turned a blind eye to all else.”  She cursed them again.  “They still think they rule all the Sand Sea itself.  Idiots.  No one rules the Sea.  Sand has no master but the wind.  The Sun taxes and pays tribute to none.”
“How do they survive then?
“The same way anything does in the desert.  Water.  The Citadel sits on a spring.  They can grow enough for themselves and for the rest they tax travelers.  Heavily.”
“Can’t be that many of those.”
“Precious few there are, which is why the tax is so grievous.  That is predominantly what the charge for this journey was for.”
“Why do people pay it?  Why don’t people just go around?”
“To go around is to go around the Sea itself.  One doesn’t just pick a heading and plow off into the Sea unless one wishes to be the lumps in a buzzard’s morning dump.  So we go where the water is.”
“Why don’t you just carry more water?”
“Because your thick heads weigh too much.  We don’t ride on sand; we glide over it.  Too much water and we glide like a cow pregnant with another cow, who’s pregnant with an elephant.  Look, you babies are going to be fine.  Let me do the talking.  And do what you do best, look clueless.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pay back

“I hope to give no offense,"Kurga buffered, "but I must confess, Sister Prudence, you surprise me.”
“You know nothing about me.”
“True, but you do not fit my image of the hardened Sand Sea boat captain.”
“You don’t strike me as much of a missionary either.”
“From what I can tell, coming from you, that is a compliment.”
Prudence shrugged.  “If you choose to take it as such.”
“And Ch’voga, does he strike you as the missionary type?”
All that was visible of the woman beneath the robes were her eyes, hands and feet, yet every one of them visibly constricted and Kurga thought he could have sensed the animus had he been blind and deaf  “To a fault.”
“You on the other hand, if again, I may risk offending, strike me as a woman of sensibilities.  Perhaps, even a woman of business?”  She turned her gaze on him.  The hostility was gone from them to be replaced by what he supposed was her usual expression; the look of someone who sees a bug and is trying to decide if it is worthy of swatting.  She said nothing however so he continued.  “Which begs the question, what then do you get out of this journey?  Surely there must be less dangerous voyages you could have made?  What would make a sensible Sea captain risk life, limb and livelihood for a fool’s errand?”
She proved to him they both knew the identity of the fool to which he referred by returning her gaze to his partner.  “It seemed the best way to pay him back.”
“For granting you your freedom?”
“For jilting me at the altar.” 
It occurred to Kurga right then, there were two meanings to the phrase, ‘pay back.’

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Sweet Taste of Success

“You look glum, K’sretti.”
“People’s hearts are hard, Kurga.”
“Ah, have you been preaching to the choir again?  I keep telling you, Ch’voga, Portia Uhuru IS a religious town.  They don’t need what you’re selling because they already have it.” 
“Religion is trying to reach God by flapping one’s arms and calling it “flying.”
“That’s good!  Very pithy!  Don’t waste it here though, save it for the sinners across the sea.”
“Yes, yes, I know, we are all sinners, justly deserving the wrath of God!  One wonders why you cannot sell this message!  It is such a cheery pitch!”
“Oh lighten up K’sretti!  This is not a time to lament, it is time to celebrate!  In here, I believe they sell iced cream here.  Have you ever had iced cream?  Of course you haven’t.  You are in for a real treat!  You there!  Barkeep!  Do you sell iced cream?  What flavors?  Strawberry and Vanilla… no chocolate?  Pity.  We shall have both!”
“Kurga, what are you doing?  We have no money.”
“No, my glum philosopher, you do not have money, but those who seek Yahweh will not lack for any good thing!  And iced cream is a very good thing, my friend.”
“That is Psalm 34.”
“Is it?  There’s a psalm about iced cream??”
“No, the bit about not lacking.  Did your contact come through?  Are we financed?”
“Did I not say I would?  I did, and you are getting ready to succor the sweet taste of my success for yourself, that which Kurga Din Allorowro Vela D’Pomani D’Moro promises, comes to pass.”
“You will be able to pay the captain in advance then.  That is good.”
“She wants her fee in advance?  I thought you said she trusted you.”
“Trust, no.  Far from it.  I said, she owed me a favor for one I did her long ago.”
“What favor did you perform for her, save her soul, I suppose?”
“In a manner of speaking perhaps.  I didn’t marry her.  Mmm, you are right Kurga, your success is very good.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Phinehas and the has-nots

A particularly successful trader from an ancient race of merchants, Phinehas sat back and fixed Kurga with an intent gaze over the tent of his jeweled fingers.  “The Sand Sea.”
            He sat still, only the glint of his diamond mail betraying any movement as he breathed.  Kurga knew better than to interrupt.  “You are young.  Perhaps you do not know that in four generations not only has no one found a safe path through the Sea, no one has returned from trying.”
            “I am not so ill informed.”
            “Yet you think it is not only possible but economical.”
            “Goods from the East, not in months going around the Sea but in days going through it.  The one who could deliver such a thing would be a king.”
            “And a criminal.  The Legions consider it a demilitarized zone and do not want to waste valuable resources protecting caravans.”
            It was the opening Kurga has been looking for to play his ace.  “No they do not.  But they do not care how many missionaries wish to become martyrs.”
            Silence.  Outside the tent the bazaar continued in full throat.  Kurga made a show of sipping his tea.  The plan was brash to say the least, the only way Phinehas would finance it was if he believed Kurga was the kind of Panthera, bold and resourceful enough to pull it off.  Now was not the time to betray nerves.  Yet before the expedition faced its first lethal trial, its life hung upon the knife’s edge of a wily, old merchant prince’s perception of Kurga’s character.
            Phinehas laughed and Kurga relaxed.  “A missionary!  You!”
            “Why not?  After all, are not wealth and prosperity the blessings of God?  Is a merchant then, anything but an fellow worker with God?  An evangelist, spreading the faith, sharing the blessings of those who have with those who need?”  It was a little joke but Kurga was rewarded with more laughter.  This was going well.
            “All very fine and very funny but even if I did believe you had found religion, my young friend, I am not yet so senile as to think the Legions will.  That is to say nothing of the Sandskiff captains.”  Kurga knew this too as he had spent his first fruitless weeks here in this harbor town trying to secure passage before fate intervened.
            “Which is why I am merely attaching myself to an existing mission, passage already booked …which is a little short of the funds it needs to launch.”
            The old man chuckled.  “Which brings you to me.  “The young lions are in want and suffer hunger, but those who seek Yahweh will not lack for any good thing.””  Kurga took that as a, ‘yes.’