Part 3: Truth and Reconciliation Hearing in the Sharia Zone

Before reading this, please see Part 1 and Part 2.


**A couple of months later.


Our heroes at this point have gone through several completely different adventures in the polytheistic part of Qodra.  On the way, they’ve been spotted and ordered to an audience by the Emperor of Qodra.  His intelligence services have told him about the strange things Yith and Eleya have done, stunning people and making thunder sounds (with a gun which is an unknown device here).  Also, he has found out that Yith claimed to be from the sky.  He understands Yith as a minor polytheistic god who has come to visit his country, and Yith has not been able to talk him out of this idea.  The Emperor has had Yith bow down to him, and now has a vested interest in Yith’s godhood, since only he, among all rulers, has been bowed down to by a god.  In exchange for the bow, Yith has asked to be allowed to free some slaves, and they are now travelling with our party.  One of the slaves is a young girl who was about to be sold as a sex slave (important in the story to follow).  Some of the slaves worship Yith in secret as a god, even though they know he doesn’t approve at all.  They just think he’s modest – and after all, he did free them, so they worship him as the god of manumission (liberating of slaves).  Right now, the Emperor is sending our heroes, along with the freed slaves, two royal princes and some officials, including the Governor (khalzukhli) of the Sharia Zone, back to the law courts of the Sharia Zone for a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking into how our heroes were mistreated on their first time through (as seen in Part 2). **




Story begins



After four more days of travel, we came out onto the coastal lowlands again, and on the fifth day, the northwest border checkpoint of Daa’if came right up on a curve in the road.  No place for little Tekhub-shenni’s here, I thought.  I suddenly had the strongest wish to see my young buddy again, but we were heading for the opposite side of the bay, back to the law courts and grand buildings that, in my case, only seemed to presage pain and punishment.

As it happens, though I had no way of knowing it, I’d be seeing him very soon, so I didn’t need to feel frustrated.  But what the heck – frustration is a poignant reminder of ongoing vitality.  Enjoy it while you can’t.

There was, needless to say, no problem going through the checkpoint, though in retrospect, we could have worked a little harder to get the girls and women past the initial shock of having to cover their heads with a head-scarf.  It isn’t easy to get ex-slaves to accept a new restriction, and there’s no reasonable way to argue that an item that covers so much of the head, including a major sensory system – the ears – isn’t restrictive.  Perhaps with a specific cultural perspective, you could imagine that the relative modesty of the scarf was more liberating than the natural clarity of being uncovered from the neck up, but this idea didn’t work for any of our double-X-chromosome people.  They did see, though, as passersby reminded us with dappled and calicoed hijabs, that you could make the item look stylish.  Tuni {one of the freed slaves, a young woman} was the most reluctant of our group to go with the look, but when Yith and I told her about my prison adventures, she bit her lip and strapped on the modesty saddle.  The one she chose from the box offered by our soldiers was magenta.  Yes, the half-colour of creative exuberance – as far from modesty as a person can get in a flutter of pigmentation.

A ceremonial guard corps from the district government was ready to receive us on the other side of the line, and the governor himself was there, in full splendour, at the head of their formation.  Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi, the khalzukhli, as he was officially titled, wore a green tunic robe that extended to his ankles.  The tunic had woven-in quranic inscriptions in white on the upper half – he looked like he was swathed in an elaborate version of our Earthly Saudi flag.  The inscriptions were partially obscured by a broad, fringed, ivory coloured sash, with braided white fringe tassels, that went over one shoulder and draped down to his hemline on the opposite side.  He also wore a green version of the peaked cap of high sQodravtse authority.  His beard was an unusual auburn shade, and I wondered if he’d been having a go with some henna, but I later decided that it was natural.  He was a sQodravtse chestnut redhead – part-Kurdish by descent, as I later found out.   His most unusual feature, though, was that he had braided the bottom two-thirds of his beard in cross-hatching braids, in the style of an ancient Assyrian king.  This gave him a remarkable look of civility.  By contrast, the emperor, whose beard was au-naturel, would have seemed like a wild hunter by comparison.  No doubt ‘the eagle’ preferred to look ready for the hunt.

“In the name God, the merciful, the compassionate, we bid you peace,” the khalzukhli began.   “In the name of his majesty, Kelum-arssibi, the Emperor of the Central Qodra, the Eagle, it is my privilege to welcome all of you here to our Daa’if Autonomous City.  We bow to their royal highnesses Prince Khashib-arssibi, the ushriannei (heir to the throne), and prince Talbush-arssibi, visiting our City for the first time.  It is our deepest honour to have you in our home, and all that we have is yours.”

The assembled delegation all bowed deeply, as did our own soldiers.   Not wanting to breach protocol, Yith, Xus, Eleya and I did so as well, after a brief exchange of looks among ourselves.  Talbush gave us a comical “O” face and a cutely modest little grin.  The khalzukhlu continued his welcome speech.

“We extend a special welcome to the emperor’s distinguished guests from outside this nation and even outside this world, and we wish to assure you that your safety here is under unbreachable imperial guarantee.  We’re aware of how you left this region when you were last here, and we hope you will be gratified by our attempts to rectify the injustice that was done to you.  Please follow me now, and you will be received in our visiting diplomatic and military quarters as valued guests of our City and our nation.”

I still had to take a deep breath as I crossed the border.  My first impulse was to hold onto Yith’s hand, but I caught myself.  Even though boys not uncommonly walked hand-in-hand here, the context we arrived in tended to make it controversial.  Darn.

Holding that supersmooth hand would have been like a drink of water on a very hot day.  Speaking of weather, it was distinctly warmer here than it had been in the interior, and the sun was brilliant, off-and-on, as patches of cloud trooped across the heavens.

We rode across the line on our horses and glanced around at the gazes of the small crowd that had assembled to see what was going on.  A great deal of whispering was going on amongst the robed, hijabed and otherwise curtained people.  A few people shouted ‘salaam’ – peace! – and I wasn’t sure if they meant it or if they were being ironic.  I did hear one boy excitedly say ‘luti’ to his little friend – meaning sodomizer or arsenocoit – but then a woman, probably his mom, shushed him up.

(‘Arsenocoit’ is a sDiyyanantse English word that basically means ‘sodomite,’ but undoes the disputed link of that concept to the Sodom story in the Bible – it’s derived from Saint Paul’s use of the word αρσενοκοίτης – arsenokoites – in 1st Corinthians 6:9 and can be translated, if you don’t want to use four-letter sex words, as male-doer.  In our culture, it means the ‘top’ in a relationship of same-sex surrogacy.  You can see the word ‘coitus,’ meaning penetrative sex, in the word roots.)

We filed down long avenues on our horses.  The markets we passed still looked sumptuous, and I had to repress my long-standing urge to go on a Daa’if shopping spree.  This probably wasn’t the best time for me to buy a carpet, in any case – but maybe with all my connections here now, I could leave it with someone until Tashei {a trader} could come and ship it back for me.  Of course, this meant I’d somehow have to get back home myself.  Easier fantasized than done.  Best to simplify things and just plot my own trajectory.

The reasonably palatial military compound had its own set of walls.  They were devoid of the usual array of divinities and creatures.  Just the mushkhushshu, the birdfoot dragon, prowled on the stonework, and only in relief, not in colour.  His snappy jaws looked ready to blow out fire or eat whatever it is that such creatures eat – military captives, perhaps.  His girlfriend or boyfriend on the other side of the gateway looked just as hungry.

We deposited our materials in our living quarters and were immediately ushered to a large dining hall.  There, we had a meal of whole roasted lambs that was the equal of anything we’d had from the garbage pits of Qodra City {our heroes were reduced to scavenging garbage for a few weeks}.  It was much better when the previous day’s purulent chicken bones and date pits didn’t need to be shaved away from the meat.  Coming back to the coast automatically reminded me of our last trip here, and I found that my friends had the same thoughts on their minds.  Only Kheshmi {a dog} seemed to be able to ignore reminiscence and just concentrate on the meat of the moment.   We humans pay dogs for that exact clairvoyance, that steadfast alluminance, so I gratefully gave him lamb bits and reminded myself that the world is forever new.  Only a surfeit of brains causes you to think otherwise.  Alas, I possessed – and possess – that surfeit.

After dinner, we had a chance to mingle with the other diners and lounge around on divans.  Those who wished could go into the outdoor plaza and smoke apple-flavoured tobacco from the qaliyan pipe, or shisha.  I was actually persuaded to try one toke by a friendly soldier, bravely trying to make contact despite the language barrier, and it gave me a mild buzz reminiscent of a barely missed hangover.  I declined to amplify the sensation, but I made my refusal as friendly as I could.  I hope the man thought he’d made my day in one puff of smoke.

Kirib-tareshei {a tradesman and friend of our heroes} and his prince dropped by to ask if they could borrow our dog for the evening – they’d become hooked on the joys of dogwalking by torchlight, and the evening was gorgeous – so Yith and I found ourselves keeping purely human company.

“What’s the word on tomorrow?” I asked Yith after he’d been talking to the Captain and other officials for awhile.

“They say there’s going to be a moderated open tribunal about what happened to us here, and everyone they can round up who was involved will be there.  You might get to see some of your friends again.  Maybe even our closet-stalker.”

“Nightmare.  I don’t want to lay eyes on those people ever again.”

“I’m not eager to see them, either, but maybe we can get some satisfaction.”

“Hah.  Or ‘closure’ as they always used to say on the news back on Earth – reassurance for the weak-kneed that their futile anguish has been leavened by a minor illusion of being in control … most often derived from obtaining a nibble of revenge.”

“Oh, we are in an angsty mood tonight!”

“True, true.  And what good does it do?  Maybe ‘we’ think too much, in between bouts of not thinking enough.”

“I think you’ve just written out the recipe for being human.”

“Don’t go post-ironic on me – life is complicated enough.”

We gladly took the next escort over to our dormitory corridor, bringing Xus and Eleya along and leaving them at their door with a prayer for a safe night.  In our own room, with the door locked, after checking every space big enough to hide a human, we ducked under the blankets and did something very simple and pointedly straightforward with each other.  It was cathartically pleasurable and changed my mood completely.  Perhaps forever.

Daa’if, a place for lovers.

***************  ********************  *********************

“In the name of God, the compassionate, the beneficent and the merciful, peace be with you.  We open this tribunal in the name of God’s compassionate justice; we act today directly under the auspices of his imperial majesty, Kelum-arssibi, our emperor, who we praise for fostering our holy justice system in this region.”

Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi sat behind a broad oaken bench at its central podium; we had just filed in to take our seats in a special side gallery in the progressively elevated, semicircular rows of wooden seats that were arranged opposite the bench.   I sat at the end of a row, overlooking my dog, who was doing well holding a ‘stay’ position on a square of deep carpet placed beside me.  He was looking very pleased with himself, as dogs do when they understand they’re at work and have a respectable place in the human sphere.

We were surrounded by our freed-slave friends, the princes, and Kirib-tareshei.  Kelu-Shawushka {a middle-aged woman who is a state financial official} sat with little Keli {a young girl, one of the freed slaves}, who seemed very serious, as if she was worried about the outcome of the proceedings.  Perhaps we should all be, I thought.  We’re not out of the juridical woods yet.

“Today we are assembled to inquire into the matter of how visitors representing the messenger peoples who traverse between worlds, as well as unannounced emissaries of the benign emperor Deiyah in the country called Diyyanah in the east, were treated in this autonomous region.  This is a fair tribunal and its results are not pre-ordained – with the exception of one imperial directive that will be disclosed in due time.  Everyone will be heard and may speak their mind freely.  No one will be criminally prosecuted unless they confess a crime in a spirit of searching for further justice.  If they do that, their case will be handled with a recommendation for mercy.  This tribunal is for purposes of elucidation, reconciliation and learning.  If our justice system is found to need refinement, then we will begin to study the changes that are needed.

“We do not prejudge whether our extra-territorial visitors were right or wrong in anything they did here; however, their safety has been guaranteed, and whether their actions in retrospect appear to be good or regrettable, holy or sinful, they will be escorted under military protection to their destination, the border point of our Tsaga neighbour.  This tribunal is not to benefit them; it is for our benefit.”

“We will begin with witnesses who can establish the nature and general character of these guests.  As our first witness, we’ll call the first person who met these individuals upon their entry into our territory.  Tekhub-shenni, son of Agib-attili of Daa’if Khemzikhei, can you come forward to our witness chair here?

And there he was, rising out of a seat at the back, our little mentor.  I noticed a familiar face beside him, as well – his elderly friend Miikha.  We exchanged waves of greeting.  Tekhub-shenni gave us a broad smile that would have melted the frozen space travellers on a passing Communicator vessel.

“You may bring your father with you if you want to, young man,” Faisul ad-Dtaa’ifi suggested in solicitous tones.

“My father isn’t here,” the boy responded.  “I asked, but, as always, he has no time for me.  My friend Miikha came with me – and your soldiers.”

The independent tone of voice seemed to settle the matter of whether Shenakka – his mom’s nickname for him, as you recall – needed adult hand-holding to ease the strain of testifying.

“Since this is an imperial tribunal, you may swear to tell the truth on a holy book or on a statue of your dedication god.  What is your choice?”

“Um… I was dedicated to Kumarbi but … I don’t know … let me swear on the book of my friends.”

“What book is that?”

“The holy book of Miikha and Marrik and Yit’.”

“It’s not possible if you’re not a member of the religion of Isa (Jesus), son.  And my understanding is that that can only be accomplished with consecrated water.  Did anyone happen to bring any?”

There were chuckles around the room.  No one raised their hand.

“You can say our shahada and accept Islam right here, and swear on the Quran,” Faisul suggested.  “Same god.”

“I respect your religion, lord,” the little stalwart answered, “but I would rather go in with these friends who’ve helped me so much.”

Yith, as usual, was translating to us.

“May I speak, Lord?”  I asked.  Yith echoed me in the usual strange syllables, like sound breaking up on a cliff face.

“Marrik Rajjarsoun, you are recognized to speak.”

“There is a sort of shahada from our church Tekhub-shenni can say if he wishes.  The baptism can be left until later.”

“We don’t know your church, but I accept this.  Tell us.”

“It’s our ‘Baptism in the holy spirit,’ Lord: ‘I accept Yeshua the Anointed into my heart as my basis-of-power in understanding God’s love, and as my revivalist and the preserver of my spirit; and I accept the holy spirit into fellowship with my spirit as the provider of the adherent of God’s grace; so be with me, God.’”

Yith later said he was forced to translate ‘adherent’ as either ‘gripping-surface’ or ‘handholds,’ and he went with the latter because his language-chip found it in the Quran: ‘And whoever submits his face to God, while he is a muhsin (doer of good), then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold.’

“If you would like to repeat that saying after our messenger friend, Tekhub-shenni, then you may,” Faisul said.

“Abi?”  Tekhub-shenni bleated, meaning ‘who?’  Yith put up his hand and waved it slightly.  “Oh!” The boy smiled crosswise.  He could now see who was being indicated by ‘our messenger friend,’ but clearly, he had no idea why Yith was being called that.  It must have sounded like ‘courier’ to his practical ears.  Yith as tablet-postman?

Yith quoted the saying to him and the boy repeated it, with a smorgasbord of nuance-motions flitting over his subtle face.  He seemed satisfied.  Then an official brought him another tattered antique cuneiform bible.  That was what I would have liked to buy around here.  I wondered if we’d have time to cruise the antique shops.  Of course, I still had no money.  Oh well.  Meanwhile, as this bit of bible-covetousness was zapping across my mind, Shennaka was swearing to tell the truth.  Then Faisul started right in, using a more formal sort of nickname.

“Tekhubshe, where did you meet the four travellers.”

“Mm…at the border.”

“Why were you at the border?”

“I was … mm … helping people.”

“Guiding them?  Helping them find their way?”

“Mm well … do I really need to say?”

“You don’t need to worry here, we’re just interested in finding out how these travellers behaved with you.”

“Lord,” a bushy-black-bearded man broke in from the left front benches.  He was an armed official, seemingly associated with the tribunal since he spoke without introduction.  “The boy was probably involved in a little smuggling operation that was broken up recently.  He wasn’t with the ones we found, though.”

“Smuggling!  Is that right, young man?”

“Um …”  Tekhub-shenni crossed and uncrossed his legs as he sat, and puckered up the side of his mouth in boyish vexation and hesitation.

“Son, you just swore on a holy book of the God who created you and the world that you would tell the truth, and he recognizes the truth without fail, because he knows all.”

“OK (sigh) … yes.  I did that because I was too hungry but later I stopped after these four friends helped me.”

“How did it become possible for you to stop if you were hungry?”

“They gave my mother a lot of money and paid for my school, so I learned to write and do arithmetic so now I scribe for my neighbours and I help the shopkeepers with their tax.”

“In such a short time you learned all that?”

“I had to because my family has no money and my mother is too good to be let down.”

“Did you smuggle something into our zone for them?”

“Mmm (wince), yes, Lord.”

“What was it?”

“A spice grinder, Lord, very heavy, made of iron.”

“Ah, we have a description of an object people saw later – black with a thin end, straight, and also a thick end, curved.  Was it like that?”

“Yes, lord!”

“Pardon me, I’m going to ask your friend a question.  Yithythyth, what was this object Tekhubshe had?  Not a spice grinder, I take it.”

“No, lord, as you’ve guessed, it was a piece of the thunder mechanism.  But we had no way of explaining that to Tekhub-shenni, so I made up that description.  It was as harmless as a spice grinder by itself.”

“And where is that mechanism now?”

“When put together, it was a dangerous device.  We dreaded having it fall into the wrong hands, or having it copied by artisans in this country.  So, after leaving Daa’if, we disposed of it piece by piece as we went along.  And it was a good thing, since we were later robbed by a freed slave who tried to become a bandit.  It would have been terrible if he had had that device and taken it to Gashru {a bandit chief}.”

“As curious as I am about it, I can’t say you did wrong in destroying it.  Now back to our young man here.  Tekhubshe, it seems some good was done for you.  I wonder how profound it was.  Did meeting these strangers allow you to give up any other bad things you felt you had to do, besides smuggling?”

“I …”  The voice dropped off; the eyes were downcast.

At this point Xus urgently asked to speak.

“We recognize Qesassaroun Zouiatkouitch,” the khalzukhlu said – obviously reading Xus’s name from Arabic-Persian script, according to Yith.  The correct pronunciation of Yith’s name earlier, complete with its ‘th’ sound, showed that Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi was well educated in classical Arabic diction.  Unfortunately, Xus’s name wasn’t really friendly with Arabic script or sQodravtse phonics.

Xus quickly said, “I ask for the sake of Tekhub-shenni’s dignity that he not be asked to talk about something we think he only tried once.  We spoke to him against it, but I don’t think our persuasion was necessary.”

Even with this, the boy turned red and squirmed.

“This is a merciful tribunal.  You need not say anything about this misadventure, young man.”

The boy closed his eyelids and raised his forehead in relief.

“How are you liking school?”

“Lord,” the boy answered, swinging his dusty sandal-clad feet in the chair, “it’s a blessing to me – one that’s so high above us that … my words can’t reach it.  I feel like a lizard who’s been turned into a falcon.  I want to run over and hug my friends for all the good things they’ve brought into my life.”

“I see no reason why you shouldn’t do that.  You may leave the chair.”

There was a discreet but clearly audible groan of disapproval from somewhere behind us.  I looked and, as chillings shot through my shoulder muscles, I saw that it was the man from the morality watch, Mr. Fancy Dress.   Next to him was the judge who convicted me.  I closed my eyes for a moment in dismay, but there was no time to cringe – a love-seeking missile hit me and exploded its arms around me.  And my arms exploded back.  It was so good to see him again!  “Tadav!” he whispered. “I love you,” Yith translated this in the same sort of whisper it was said in.  Then the boy was on the move again, and Yith, Eleya and Xus got their hugs.  To Xus, the boy said “Shawushi!” – colloquially, ‘fantastic.’  He was pleased to have been bailed out of his embarrassing moment on the stand.  The word he used was edgy, because it almost took the name of Shawushka, the goddess, in vain – but clearly, he wasn’t worried about offending her.

“Let’s carry on,” said Faisul from his bench.

There were three complex seconds of eye contact and other non-verbal subtlety as all of us, including Shennaka, thought about whether he was too big to be offered a place on someone’s lap.  There were no empty seats nearby.  Then we saw a face-set of decision – he looked up at Miikha and gave him a wave that seemed to say, “coming in a moment” – sure, he couldn’t just desert the recruited granddad who’d brought him here.  But then a surprise intervened.

“We call Miikha ben Butrus of Daa’if Khemzikhei to the stand.”

Oh – the little face registered the new situation.  There was a look at the empty seat where he’d have to sit alone among complete strangers if he went back right away to where he’d been.  Then a look at us and a calculation of whether or not he was just overall too big and manly to sit on someone’s knee.  Then a slight inclining of the eyebrow from me, indicating knee-ish availability.  Then a release in the face from manhood to boyhood, a mini-flush of slight embarrassment and/or excitement, and he took the invitation.  I hoisted him up and put one arm around him.  “Tadav,” I said.  It’s awfully strange loving someone who you can’t talk to at all, so since we now had one good word, I was darn well going to use it.  He smiled up at me.

Yith later explained the grammar of that word to me, and that pretty much discouraged me from trying to learn a second one any time soon.  Oi vey.  A first person antipassive in absolutive form with implied object, used in order to give an imperfective sense to what would otherwise be an ergative transitive form (thank you, notebook).  I think I’ll study French instead.  {The language is ancient Hurrian; qv Google}

We must try to find a cuneiform “Conversational English in 3 Months” for the little guy, I thought.  He could probably do it in three months.  And, as I’m sure you know, reader, the ‘in 3 months’ part of such titles is more comedic than realistic for most people.

Meanwhile Miikha was being sworn in on the tattered sheets of cuneiform.  His arthritic limp on the way over to the stand had made it clear that he was well on in years.  Faisul began very respectfully.

“Grandfather, how did you meet these travellers?”

“The boy brought them to me.  I’m not sure why – supposedly because we had the same religion.”

Reading between the lines, I would say Tekhub-shenni had wanted to show Miikha off to us as a ‘find’ in his search for missing fatherhood.  But I’m glad Miikha didn’t come out and say anything like that.

“Did you see anything good, bad, or unusual about them when they stayed with you?”

“They struck me as good people, and they’d been very kind to the lad.  I appreciated that, because he’d been running a little wild there and he was hungry a lot of the time.  But the young woman, Eleya, did an amazing thing for me – she gave me some seed-shaped things made of bitter material, and every time I ate one, all the pain in my bones lifted out of me like steam from a kettle, and only came back hours later.  I used them very sparingly, and I was able to take one for the ride here, and I have another ready for the ride back.  Otherwise, I’m in too much pain to ride so far.

“And one other thing happened.  The boy Marrik, or Marqos as we would call him, mentioned a woman over in the border lands who was looking for a partner.  One day I took one of those bitter seeds and came to central Daa’if to see my kids and grandchildren – first time I’d made the trip in a long time.  I remembered this woman and dropped the word about her, describing her as I’d had her described to me.  One of my cousin’s sons had been widowed and he was in a bind with four kids and a poor estate.  He was adventurous enough to check the story out.  The angels were on his side and the two of them liked each other – they’ll marry next month and his family will move out there with some capital from our family.  Perhaps it’s an ordinary story, Lord, but I don’t regret the day I served some mint tea and dates to these travellers.”

And Shrug Sheep Cheese, I thought.  The expert always remembers.

“Yes, our thorough investigation of the route and history of these travellers disclosed Tisha-dimmuzi to us, and we have a deposition from her.  She’s very happy indeed to meet your cousin’s son.  Now let me ask you – did the travellers make any claims to be gods or to have god-like powers?”

“Not at all, Lord, they were ordinary people and they share one of our religions of the book – they wouldn’t claim to be pagan gods, I’m sure.”

“They testified in court here that Marrik and Yithythyth are married – what does your religion make of that?  Can they be genuine members of your religion?”

“In traditional times, we found all such relations to be sinful, but we laboured under a misapprehension.  We thought that no one was really a eunuch unless they’d been cut that way with a knife, so to speak, or born with visible parts of both sexes.  But then we had to discuss this matter with those from our own community who felt they were true eunuchs driven against their will into the pagan community, even though they loved our Lord and our God.  I am of the group that believes that the love within their relationships is evidence that they are of a common spirit with our Lord, insofar as any of us is, through his grace.  As the bible says, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  We don’t ask more than that.

“We know that there are forms of love that are to be avoided.  In our scripture Polous the Apostle says, ‘It’s said that there is sexual immorality among you of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has married his father’s wife. And you are arrogant about it! Shouldn’t you mourn instead? Let the one who has done this be removed from among you.’  But in these cases, in our view, the people involved are not making the most ideal use of their true natures, whereas in the case of a marriage among eunuchs, they are doing this.  We cannot visit upon a woman that she should have a eunuch as a husband, except in the remarkable case that such a pair wishes each other.  A man and wife become ‘one body,’ as our scripture says, through an experience of mutual desire for the body of the other, not just through contact alone.  To be blunt, if you could become ‘one body’ through contact alone, then some farm boys would be half goat, like the Roman fauns.

“We accept that the sincere marriages of eunuchs are not a cloak for exploitation by people pressed under a frenzy of sin.  I find the kindly actions of these travellers consistent with their natures, and many of those who share my religion agree.  Not all, I admit.  But some people put fear before ahava, real love, in their priorities, and I am one of the ones who feels obliged to put love first.  Perhaps, Lord, you know the saying of Isa (Jesus) to a young man: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your understanding, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself – on these two directions all of the law and the prophets do hang.’  There is no room there for strange extra laws against the true natures of other loving human beings.  That’s all.”

I had no idea.  I thought he’d be completely traditional.  I was very moved to know that little Shennaka wouldn’t be raised by his adopted granddad to think me a monster of sin.  Not that I claim to be anything better than error-prone, but surely my love is my good side.

“Thank you, grandfather, that’s all I wish to ask you now.  You may return to your seat.”

Tekhub-shenni glanced up at me tentatively.  I remember very well from my childhood days that a lap feels great for ten minutes and then the bones come out and you start to squirm.  “Okay, go and keep that wonderful man company; we’ll see you at the break,” I said, with Yith doing the usual strange echo.  The boy gave us both another hug, and couldn’t resist Xus and Eleya as well; then he rocketed off towards his previous seat and, after helping Miikha up the stairs, gladly accepted an arm draped over his shoulder.

“As another character witness, we call Kirib-tareshei of Qodra City, whose patronymic we don’t know, to the stand.”

Under questioning, Kiir again recounted the story, as he’d done for the emperor, of all the things Yith disclosed to him as we walked along together in that pivotal evening in Qodra City.   He also gave an overview of the conditions in that city that drove hundreds a year into slavery, and all the things desperate people did to try to ward off the permanent loss of their freedom.  My story of desperation was included.  Finally, he recounted the history of how our close brush with slavery had led us to our efforts to free slaves later on.

“As a representative of the emperor,” Faisul said, shaking his head, “I must reserve comment on the moral condition of Qodra City.  But let us thank God that our own regional autonomy allows us to substitute the zakat, holy charity, for forced prostitution, and lets us honour the principle that freeing a slave is a generous act recognized by God, may his name be praised.  Now, Kirib-tareshei, do you find that these travellers claim to be gods or to have gods among them?”

“No, lord, but we were all put in a difficult situation when the emperor felt that he had proven Yiffiffei {Yith as named by the Emperor and other Qodra people unable to pronounce ‘th’} and his fellow messengers were minor gods in the sQodravtse pantheon.  Myself, I still wonder if he was not right about that, because we saw a strange, miraculous act where two men were rendered pleasantly mindless, to remain that way for a week.  Later, too, there was another unworldly event in the slave market, where a soldier beat himself into a revelation of kindness.  Whatever the true nature of these events were, my friends attempted to use their influence to free slaves, and this led my wonderful new friend, the prince Talbush-arssibi, to hope that Yiffiffei could be recognized as the god of manumission.  We – the prince and I – hate slavery, you see, and it would be to our advantage to have an extraordinarily likeable god on our side.  Recently, the matter has been a topic of strange tension, with Yiffiffei insisting that he isn’t a god, and many of our party of freed slaves – and I reveal this in the hope of eventual harmony among us all – worshipping him in secret as a very modest and reticent god.   For how else can he do what he does?   He’s a wonderful boy, but he’s not like any other boy.”

“Yes, we of the eagle have documented many witnesses of the events you mention.  There was also a similar event involving a guard in our prison here in Daa’if.  You may stand down, Kirib-tareshei.  While your story is fresh in our ears, we will have one more witness before the break.   I call his honour, Qadi Muhammed ben Uthman al-Khourrikhi; lord, will you please take the stand?”

“If I’m compelled to participate in this pagan spectacle, I suppose I will,” the judge groused.

“Let me mildly warn you, your honour, that you, like me, are a subject of the Emperor Kelum-arssibi, and he is famous among all emperors for the respect and latitude he proffers to our religious integrity.  Do you accuse his tribunal, held under my jurisdiction as Governor, of unfairness?  Do you aver that our Islamic standards are inferior to yours?”

“I do not make this accusation – though you must know that for a pagan truly to be rightly guided is unlikely.  You have heard how he decided this youth was a god.”

“We’ll come to that presently, sir.  I agree, of course, that this can only be a misunderstanding.  But what is he?  Do you find that the history recounted by Kirib-tareshei is consistent with the history the youth Yithythyth told you in your court?”

“Yes, the ‘youth’ [quotation marks were added a flick of the eyebrows] has his story well memorized, it would seem.”

“Are you aware, your honour, of the tale of Maryam Sipkamari, one of the founders of west Daa’if?”

“I have heard of this fairy tale, yes.”

“She recounts a family of six, including three men and a boy, being awakened in the skies over this world, and being instructed in her own Khoeini language by six creatures she describes as ‘like siege engines the size of a pony, with legs, always changing in form.’  She mentions being told that she was frozen like ice for many thousands of years, and had been revived.”

“A woman can have many imaginings.  Djinns [genies – earth spirits] and devils can inspire people with their tales.”

“Perhaps there is another explanation, your honour.  Yithythyth, does the description given by Maryam Sipkamari sound familiar to you?

“Certainly, Lord; these are our Communicators as we normally are.  If I had access to our information library, I could easily find you the number of the ship and the names of the messengers involved, as well as all the names of the people who were with Maryam.  To do that, though, I would have to go back to the plague land and send a message in a sort of lightning bolt to Communicators who are now flying away from our world.”

“Respected Khalzukhlu,” said the judge, “how much of this ungodly prattle will you listen to in our presence?  Aren’t you worried about demonic influence on us and yourself?”

“Judging requires not pre-judging, your honour.  [The judge frowned like a fleshy thundercloud when he heard this.]  The insincerity of this speech is nowhere in evidence.  You heard the character witnesses, and we can add in many more, based on our investigations.  These people never acted in a way suggesting they served an evil cause, and they often worked for good.  Do you know something about them that we don’t?”

“You know that the one male admitted being married to the other and they were apprehended in the act of kissing in the manner of husband and wife.  Our guideline is the hadith of Abu Daoud: ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Lut, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”’ We didn’t catch them fully in the act, but if you ask them, I expect they will confess it.  They may even have done it under your roof last night, here in our zone of supposed purity from evil.”

“We do know about the history of the case you judged; to that topic we will return as well.  My current concern is the true and correct nature of Yithythyth; he cannot be judged by our law until we know how it applies to him as a being, man, djinn or other.  The laws are given to men, but they apply to others created by God, subhanahah wa taÿala (the most glorified, the highest).  We know that djinns may be Muslims; as one of them stated in our holy Quran: “And of us some are Muslims, and of us some are al-qasitun (disbelievers). And whoever has embraced Islam, then such have sought the Right Path.”  If there are men and also djinns who have free will and may embrace Islam or disbelieve, is it not possible that in this broad universe, full of stars, where we know of at least two separate worlds, there may be other intelligent beings endowed by God with choice?”

“If such beings are not mentioned in the Quran, which was written before the worlds were made, how can they exist?”

“Let me recite to you, respected Muhammed ben Uthman [switch to Arabic for the quotes]:

“‘Praise be to God, unto whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. His is the praise in the hereafter, and he is the wise, the aware.  He knows all that goes into the earth and all that comes forth from it, and everything that descends from the heaven and everything that that ascends into it. He is the merciful, the forgiving.’

“Now, as you recognize, here is our Quran as brought to us by our Prophet, on whom be peace.  I ask you now – who descends from the heaven and ascends into it?  More than once, I mean.”

“The Ruhh Jibril [the spirit/angel Gabriel], certainly.”

“How can you be certain that in this wide universe, there are not many other creatures who can descend from the above and ascend back into it?  Even birds can do this to some extent, and creatures as lowly as vultures can ascend above our sight.  We can shoot arrows and stones high into the sky; who is to say how much further a thing could be shot with better propulsion?   Some have assumed that God placed us here on this world, but no one has received a valid revelation from an angel to this effect.  Perhaps even our ancestors ascended into the heaven and then descended from it.”

“This comes near to blasphemy, your lordship.”

“Not when only the use of mechanism and mathematics are involved, as you see with our engineers finding better ways to hurl rocks against city walls.  Have you seen everything that exists?   Let me continue my recitation where I left off.

“‘Those who disbelieve say: the hour will never come unto us. Say: no, by my Lord, but it is coming unto you surely – the Knower of the Unseen. Not an atom’s weight, or less than that or greater, escapes him in the heavens or in the Earth, but it is in a clear record, so that he may reward those who believe and do good works. For them is pardon and a rich provision, but those who strive against our revelations, challenging, theirs will be a painful doom of wrath.  Those who have been given knowledge see that what is revealed unto you from your Lord is the truth and leads to the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise.’

“Respected Judge, you will tell me there are many scriptures concerning the ghaib, the Unseen.  Sometimes this word refers to things that humans cannot see, known only to God, but other times it refers to what is revealed to us through our Prophet and earlier prophets; and at times it even refers to mundane matters like the histories of nations for which we have lost the records.  I submit to you that you, who are determined not to be a knower of what you have not seen, are striving against a revelation of truth of this kind – that there is a type of creature apart from men and djinns with God’s endowment of choice, and this species can descend from the heavens and ascend to it.”

The judge leaned back and breathed in as he took in this grave accusation of bias against divine reality.  This left an opening, and as a keener-student from away back, I just had to break in.

“Your lordship, there is something I can add here.”

“You may speak, Marrik.”

“During the time I was on Earth, people often ascended into the heavens using a sort of flying ship, shaped like a tube with a pointed end, and before I was born, two men had even walked on the surface of the moon.”

“I have read much about this moon.  Men did that?”

“Yes, shielded by special clothing and carrying tanks of their own air along with them, since there is no air to breathe on the moon.”

“Astonishing, but I can’t call it impossible.”

“Respected Governor,” the judge interjected testily, “you almost had me changing my mind there, but this addition to the fairy tale has tipped the balance.  There is nothing in the Quran that suggests in any way that a man could walk on an object in the heavens, whether moon, planet or star.”

“Respected judge, it is not ijtihad to assume that the Quran, holy as it is, leaves many natural phenomena out of its discourse.  Otherwise, it would be as big as the universe itself.

“There is that which is seen in the worlds, and that which is seen in the Quran, and then also the Unseen, and our god is the Knower of the Unseen. The unseen divides, as I said, into what is unseeable by humans and what is seeable by us, if it is revealed or disclosed.  Yet you seem to be insisting that the whole of the Unseen – unseen by you, that is – does not exist, even though God is repeatedly stated to know much that lies in this domain.”

“Anything can be said to exist.  Fantasy is prolific.  The Unseen that is mentioned in the Quran mostly stays that way – it remains beyond us.”

“Nonetheless, I take it from your ‘mostly’ that we agree on this much: the Unseen does exist and is known by God, and God has been known to allow portions of it to be revealed.  Shall we accept a small revelation of it in the nature of ordinary phenomenal knowledge that is new to us? – nothing involving spirits, but merely beings with choice, and the mechanisms they devise.”

“The possibility you refer to can’t be denied, but you must exercise utmost caution and not be misled.”

“I promise you my best effort in this regard; I am not a naïf, and I treasure the integrity of our religion and customs.  Nonetheless, we have a history of friendliness to true natural knowledge, and our astronomers have progressed far beyond the knowledge of the pagans because they accept God’s truth, as disclosed by instruments made of metal and glass.  But I must clarify one other subtle point with you, judge, related to the matter of visibility.   I think that if Yithythyth were standing before you in his messenger form, as described by Maryam, not looking like a human and yet speaking any language you wish, you wouldn’t question that he is another sort of being, neither human nor djinn.  That is, unless you insist on calling everything intelligent that isn’t a human a djinn – for this exclusive logic, I see no support.

“You have the problem that his nature is currently unseen.  I apologize for grinding at this rhetorical point, but are you truly willing to let yourself, in the name of caution, be limited to knowing things that you can see, when you serve a god who expressly states that he knows the Unseen and sometimes discloses a fraction of it?”

“Even in an ordinary human, there’s much that is unseen.  But clearly we stand on firmer ground when we recognize things mentioned in our holy scripture.”

“That only means that we can’t always stand on firmer ground.  You mention that there is nothing in the Quran to suggest a human can travel to a planet or stand on one, and yet, our astronomers have suggested that this is a planet we are standing on – and moreover, the Earth is another planet of the same kind.  So here we stand, and there they stand, across the heavens, or at least what we took to be the heavens, on two planets, one without a moon, and one in possession of one.  The firm ground that we stand on, here, is not mentioned in the Quran.”

“All right.  I concede the unsophisticated point that there might be reality God can see that I can’t see, even in what appears to be a person.”

“Yithythyth, are you a human?”

“Lord, this body is a human body, grown by me and my friends out of the material of Marrik’s body.   It looks different because we made some changes to its constitutive information and its development in order to make another individual.  But the information that animates it – the spirit or soul – is from my original person.  For many tens of thousands of years, I was a mechanism as described by Maryam Sipkamari, and before that I was something that looked like an animal.  But nothing djinn-like or god-like was done by our crew.  My spirit was all transferred as information, like stitches on an embroidery cloth, not as something from the classical spirit world like the movements of a djinn.  In principle, everything about me that was transferred could be written into a book, though that book would be almost impossibly long.

“So what this means is that much of the threadwork in the upper and forward parts of my brain is in patterns that carry memories and motivations of another kind of creature entirely, not a human – a form of existence that showed a parallel sort of genesis to the one that gave rise to the human species.  In terms of biology, the knowledge of living things, we were not humans at all; we had four feet and were covered in ooze.   Spiritually, though, we are much like humans, but cast, as the plague people would say, ‘in an arbitrat’ – which means, in a series of differences that scarcely relate to the opportunities we address as an intelligent species.

“Think of a tribe that always makes carpets with a different kind of stitching from that used by most tribes.  The carpet is still a carpet and it functions normally as one, but the stitchwork is completely different throughout – it seems very strange to anyone who knows carpets well.  This is how we are in relation to humans.  That’s why I was so similar to humans that I could fall in love with one, to my great surprise.   So I became as human as I could for him.  That’s why my non-human part is invisible.  My body is entirely human other than the tiny mechanism, someplace inside, that gives me the languages of this planet – and yes, it is a planet.”

“Respected governor!” the judge said impatiently, “regardless of the truth of this, isn’t it enough to turn your gut?  An animal of some kind turned human who now uses material severed from the body of his partner-in-sin to become a boy who is the perfect match for him in the act of Lut?  I once thought that the older had seduced the younger in this crime; but in what we have heard now, the seemingly younger may have seduced the older.  Nonetheless, the crime is just as heinous; in fact, now there is something akin to bestiality involved, so it may be much worse.”

“Respected judge, folk-sayings aside, is anything that takes place between these two an act of Lut?  Now that we have conceded the possibility of an invisible nature outside of humanity to Yithythyth, let us look at other possible invisible natures.  I find that the holy Quran offers us two kinds of interpretation for people of the nature of Marrik, and, in his human form, Yithythyth.  One interpretation casts them in with the wild and aggressive rapists and robbers of Lut, who had wives but nonetheless also enjoyed sexual pillaging directed against their own sex.  In our regular civil life, we see men who leave their wives at home and go to one sort of prostitution or another, whether with girls or with boys, whether in exchange for money or purely for mutual expression of lusts of the flesh.  Although some such people retain civil and humane behaviour even in such circumstances, this is still zina, extramarital sex, as is clearly called wrong in our Quran.  And many are indeed aggressive, as the Lutis were, and merely use others as objects of their will.

“So then we come to the alternate group mentioned in the Quran, men who have no natural power with women.   Here, there is a group of males for whom marriage to women is surely not recommended.   The Quran says to men of the ordinary kind, ‘your wives are a ploughable field for you, so go into your field when you like.’  Now if your ploughshare droops like a flag on that day, then you cannot raise much of a crop.  I find it highly questionable that if such men prove to be fit to marry each other, the aggressions of the Lutis should be predicated upon them.  Likewise, they are hardly like married men or unmarried, marriageable men, going to prostitutes or other diversions.   We pride ourselves on being the religion that is compatible with science, with the continuous learning of realities, and yet we impose such a ridiculous classification error on these people, lumping the gentle and kindly ones who lack power with women in with the rapists of Lut.  What is this but superstition?  Now you can see why I brought our character witnesses forward before we had this discussion.  How can we divest ourselves of this grotesque error that causes us to see evil in people of love and kindness, to imprison people who, in their relations with each other, cannot have extramarital sex in the usual sense because they are not created for man-woman marriage in the first place?

“Marrik and Yithythyth brought education and hope to the near-orphan, a good husband to a woman needing one, relief from pain to a grandfather, freedom to many slaves, and even a revelation of kindness to a military officer who was using child slaves for sexual purposes.  As we have not yet heard but may hear later, they freed a child from such usage and also cured the congenital binding of her tongue with deft surgery that involved almost no bleeding.  How many testimonies do we need to hear about them before we concede that they cannot be of the people of Lut, even in their marriage?”

“Even if we conceded that, governor, we couldn’t allow them to do the act of concupiscence.  As the sura ‘The Believers’ says, ‘Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers and who shun vain conversation; and who are payers of the zakat poor-tax; and who guard their modesty save from their wives or those that their right hands possess [their slaves], for then they are not blameworthy, but whoever craves beyond that, such are transgressors.’  How can you say that a craving of one boy for another isn’t ‘beyond that?’”

“In the following way.  Firstly, you know that we traditionally take ‘the believers,’ ‘l’muuminuuna,’ in this passage, as referring to men, since the masculine form of the word is used.  Consistently with that, then, we take the later word ‘azouajim,’ as ‘their wives.’ In fact, though, this is also a masculine noun meaning ‘their partners’ or ‘their paired ones’ – it doesn’t specifically refer to females in itself.  If we take ‘believers’ as a generic referring to all believers, male and female, then they are simply advised to stay with their partners, or alternatively, their slaves.  If we take the word as referring strictly to men, then our previous topic about visibility returns.  In what is seen, Marrik and Yithythyth look to be men no different from any others except in their individual form, but in what is unseen, they are clearly different in the ways we’ve discussed.  In that case, how can we say that their ‘paired one’ is a wife, given that they can’t serve as typical men with a wife?  According to all our evidence, they do not crave beyond each other as partners, and to me, even if I use the most cautious and conservative logic, that fulfills the verse.”

“Preposterous.  Wicked.   In sura al-Najm [‘the star’], it clearly states ‘(is the apostate not informed that) it is he (Allah) who causes death and gives life, and that he creates the pairs, male and female, from nutfah [semen and female reproductive materials] when it is emitted…?’  Here you can see that the same ‘pairs,’ in the grammatical form ‘l’zaoujaini,’ are specified as male and female.  With all respect, how can you even think of monkeying with that?  My brother, I apologize for speaking so frankly from this inferior position, but I must preserve you from this error.”

“Hear, hear,” said the Fancy Dress man from the audience, or sQodravtse words to that effect.

“My brother, you are among our most respected judges and I deem that frank conversation between us is permitted here.  Let it not be said that I intimidated you into silence when you believed you should have spoken.  I bring your attention to sura Adth-Dthariyat [‘the winnowing winds,’ ‘dth’ being pronounced like ‘th’ in ‘then’]: ‘and of everything we [God] have created pairs, so that you may remember.’  And sura ‘Ya Siin’ where we have the saying ‘Glory be to him who has created in pairs all of what grows on the earth, as well as themselves [humans], and that of which they know nothing.’  Now, if there is an apparent man who finds himself, as created by God, to be an impossible match for a pair involving a woman, because of an unseen difference from typical maleness, and yet a perfect pairing partner appears to him in the form of another of the same kind, is that not a sign of God’s glory?  Even if such things, for many of us, come under the banner of ‘things of which we know nothing,’ the pairs are still there, as evidence of God’s mercy, even if reproduction doesn’t follow from them.  To recognize this doesn’t in any way allow the aggressive and degrading sin of Lut, any more than our love of our wives allows pillaging random women on the roadways.

“I had such reflections privately before this case came along, having shared the company of many God-created eunuchs throughout this empire, but this case and the interest of the emperor has brought the matter to a head.   Do you find, respected judge, that my reasoning about God’s mercy towards the unseen in different men – the unseen that he in his glory can see perfectly well – is admissible?   And do you see that to compare any method of sharing love among God-granted eunuchs to the sexual lootings of Lutis is simply an error?”

“Governor, one of these boys claims to have made himself this way, so ‘God-granted’ hardly seems to apply – though I concede that he was constrained by the nature of the other.  To extend from this to more typical cases, Lord, I simply find it incautious in the extreme to extend God’s concept of ‘pairs’ outside of reproductive pairs.  I understand your reasoning, but I don’t accept it.”

“May I say something, Lord,” I asked, and got a nod.

“When we studied reproduction in school, we found that it doesn’t always involve pairs of strictly opposite sex – for example, the split-gill mushroom that grows on wood has over 20,000 sexes of equal importance, and most of them can mate with most of the others.  Meanwhile, the Parisian cave mushroom that we grow to eat [or the ‘store-bought mushroom’ as we called it in my home town] reproduces without mating.  You just need one strain and all reproduction occurs, and the kind of tiny seed that is produced is like the seed produced by sexual reproduction in related mushrooms.  And when there are pairs, sometimes they aren’t male and female.  The little sad-voiced gecko [Lepidodactylus lugubris], a lizard that lives in some of our tropical areas, has only females, no males, but they come together in pairs to stimulate each other to lay eggs.”

“Respected governor!” the judge expostulated.  “This person neither helps his own case nor yours.  We are trying to discuss moral issues of importance to our Creator, and here he is prating about mushrooms and lizards, talking of things we can’t possibly verify.  And he even says that his people grow mushrooms to eat, as if they lived on rot!  Let’s resist the urge to hear any more of this outlandish, fantastical stuff.  If anyone wants this sort of unbridled imaginings, let them read Abu Bakr ibn Tufail’s book” [‘Haiy ibn Yaqzan,’ ‘Alive, son of Awake,’ an early 12th century fantasy novel from Andalusia, about a boy raised by a gazelle on a desert island, and his ascent to philosophical reason].

“Not so fast, judge, your reflex of rejecting the unfamiliar is something that must be moderated here.  What he says is perfectly sensible – God in his wisdom has made some pairs that differ from obligatory male-female pairs, whether there are more than two kinds or fewer than two, and yet reproduction continues.  This illustrates the vast diversity of our Creator’s inventions in nature.  We need not take every mushroom as an example for our own families, but surely it is logical for Marrik, and us, to be interested in pairs created by God that are not male-female.  We can only read the Quran perfectly if we test each word with the reality it betokens.  The word in this case is ‘pairs.’  Our own literature describes the mating of this lizard, which we also have, since people have tried to raise it as a house animal.  The idea that everywhere throughout nature the ‘pairs’ that God has implanted are all male-female pairs can be rejected.  Thus the word is slightly prised ajar of the male-female concept, even though most pairs are of that nature.

“I have no doubt that you will not be comfortable in agreeing with me, at least not for some time, but I have a suggestion that was discussed with our emperor, that I will herewith proclaim as implemented.  I do not have the jurisdiction to order you to judge our holy scripture this way or that, nor do I wish to subsume the role for which you have studied so diligently.  I am only a governor, not a final arbiter of our scripture.  My jurisdiction, however, does extend to the range of persons you may apply our laws to.  I hereby proclaim that pairs of men who claim reduced natural power with women are not to be prosecuted for their marriage-like loving relationships under our Luti or zina laws if they are of any religion other than our own.  The same applies to pairs of women who make the same sort of proclamation.  Furthermore, if those claiming to be same-sex pairs espouse what we have long called the Siwi heresy, the Hanafi code from that Siwa oasis where same-sex pairs long lived in peace under the fold of Islam, then they will not be prosecuted, though you may deport them from our zone if you feel you must.

“I hope that in time, this confusion of invisibly eunuch-made persons with plundering Lutis will end, and our culture will purify itself of this embarrassingly primitive association, which ignores all reality of people’s love, motivations, and nature.  Frankly, I hope that if you study the issue in detail, you’ll formally adopt the Siwi point of view. Until that time, though, there will be no more imprisonment or whipping of the flesh for those who undertake such relations in good conscience with their religion.  So proclaimed in the name of the emperor Kelum-arssibi, may he be favoured and enlightened by God, subhanahah wa taÿala.”

“This is an infringement on our autonomy.  I record myself as having objected to it, but I will comply with the emperor’s jurisdictional changes as I must.”

“I am glad to hear that.   For the sake of any others who may feel more resistant, I am forced by my position to proclaim this addendum:  all must know that any fomenting of rebellion or mob scenes about this matter will be dealt with.  If such unwanted confrontations occur, the emperor decrees that subsequent funerals for the dead, if any, will be held purely in private.  He adds that if anyone lights fires to kill large numbers of random people and then kills himself, in defiance of Islamic law, the severe empire-wide principle of lineal suicide will be used in retribution – the perpetrator’s entire family line, including parents, children, wives, brothers and sisters, and their wives, husbands and children, will all be eliminated.  This scripturally unlawful and hideous measure I do not condone in any way, but the emperor has warned that anyone committing such a mass-murdering atrocity against the innocent, as was done in a previous time of trouble, will be answered by an equal atrocity against the innocents in the family line they came from.  ‘If anyone commits such an act of suicide warfare, thinking to devastate and then evade their due shame by killing themself,’ he says, ‘let the entire line that bred and nurtured that soulless creature be forever eliminated from the face of Ullikummi {Vweialer}.’  Subsequent to my negotiation, we’re entitled to make certain exemptions, such as for family members who try to give authorities advance warning of such a plan, but I wish this proclamation to serve as a deterrent so that I never have to see the implementation of this kind of measure.

“In general, as we wish to protect ourselves against the encroachment of such a barbarous civilization into our autonomous zone, it is best to comply with the emperor’s jurisdictional wishes without militant complaint.  Well-considered quranic argument may still be used to build a case against this measure over time if you wish to reasonably apply for revision.  I urge you, however, to consider the merits of the case I have made.  You may stand down.  The tribunal will recess until after the mid-afternoon prayer.”

The release initiated a melée.  There were a lot of emotional people in the room.  The freed-people were astonished at the goings-on – none of them had ever heard any Islamic discourse before. Also, they hadn’t heard much of our back-story.  Talbush knew about how I’d met Kirib-tareshei, but he hadn’t spread the tale of my venture into prostitution around {Marrik was nearly forced into it, but was bailed out by Kirib-tareshei}.  Still, the story only won me sympathy and admiration for my courage; Talbush would be forced to re-tell the tale several times to different people.  I got congratulations from Tuni about speaking so well in the midst of the complicated discourse, and for holding my own.  Yith clearly hadn’t lost any of his godly status and was deferred to with barely concealed reverence.  Tekhub-shenni led Miikha down (the exit could only be attained by going downstairs anyways) as quickly as he could, and he received rapturously good reviews and congratulations from the crowd while we four were giving Miikha our embrace of peace.

“A true friend of Yiffiffei, and so clever!” was how Lelwani {a freed slave, mature woman) put it as she gave the youngster a motherly hug twice the size of any he’d ever had before.  He resisted excessive congratulation, however, because he wanted to keep helping Miikha walk along.  He did take a moment to grab Yith’s sleeve and say, “now I know why your ‘spice grinder’ seemed so stupid.”  He grinned in great satisfaction.  He’d known all along there was something fishy about that story.

There was something else on his mind, too.

“Are you and Marrik really from the sky?” he asked.

“Yep,” Yith answered, “and getting to know you made it worth the trip.”

“You’re crazy but I’m glad you guys came.”

“Thanks, buddy, so are we.”

“Can I learn some magical stuff from you?”

“Nope, there are just five things and they’re things only I can do.  But anyway, your smarts [he pointed at the boy’s head] and your good character are all the magic you need.  And your learning.”

“True, people already say I’m magical when I read them stuff.”

“There you go, see?”

The army had arranged lunch for us all, and that was our next destination, give or take a washroom trip.

The judge and Mr. Fancy Dress left, along with some supporters, in a disgruntled sweep of robes, and their beards thorned into the air as they discussed the unprecedented assault on their traditions.  Yith had the impression, though, that their discussion was more scholarly than personal, and they weren’t merely reacting to the power plays inherent in the recent drama.

Xus, Eleya, Keli and Kelu-Shawushka walked along arm in arm in an almost familial way – their conversation was halting but clearly enjoyable.  I speculated that they could all have happily have moved in with Kelu-Shawushka in Damosun and settled down to be civil servants in sword-land.  Alas, though, that was impossible.  We still had to move on, assuming we really could get out of this city alive.

Lunch was served for all the travellers, and to our surprise, it was not in the military compound, but rather across the street from the tribunal hall in a restaurant.  The establishment had domes on its roof and looked almost like a flattened concept of a Turkish mosque.  Inside, it was the sort of place I’d only seen, and coveted, the garbage of – all red- and gold- and black-patterned carpets, with quartz-inlaid tables bearing ornamental teapots and coffeepots with long handles and necks, some in brass polished so bright that it looked like gold that had swallowed the sun.  I got to sit at a polished oaken table with Yith on one side of me and Shennaka on the other, and Miikha beside him sat with Talbush.  We were all soon engrossed in lively chat and, wherever imaginably appropriate, lively hugs, pats and love-punches.  Between courses – roast doves, saffron rice, spitted meatballs, tabbouleh salad – everyone got up and talked to everyone else.  It was glorious, memorable, affectionate, and very tiring.

Luckily, the time just after lunch in Daa’if was normally a two-hour rest break, and as my friends had noted in their times of freedom here, most people had a nap.  I’d spent my whole sojourn in prison, so I hadn’t seen this.  Today, I actually got to participate in the community rhythm and go lay my head on the pillow to sleep off my sumptuous lunch.  I’m afraid to say Yith and I warded off sleep for awhile with activities that I presume the judge would think about only with reluctance.  I hoped, as I hit that bodily stratosphere that’s so far up into feelings that it can’t go into memory, that his own meditations, whatever their subject, were going well.

I did, of course, check the closets again before lying down.  This had become part of my routine.

Coming out of the closet had become a whole different concept for me.

The call of the muezzin for the mid-afternoon ÿasr prayer was as pleasant a wake-up call as I’ve ever had.  I looked out our unglazed windows and saw jackdaws wheeling around in the sky, circling some old chimney they’d taken over as their colonial roost.  The air was warm and the smell of the sea came to my nostrils – we weren’t far from the harbour.  It almost made me feel like swimming – but then again, it didn’t.  Funny about that.

I wanna go home.  My palace, my kingdom for my palace.

I did say an afternoon prayer for everyone involved in our tribunal, including the judge and the embroidered morality man.  As I gave my thanks at the end, I looked outward.  The blue of the sky there was so much like home, so much like hope.

Yith took me around the shoulder and pulled me away from the window.  One kiss and then we robed up and readied ourselves for part two of the tribunal.  I wondered if I’d be asked to take the stand.

We’d once again loaned our dog to Kirib-tareshei and Talbush, but happily met up with the doughty quadruped as the group of us assembled in the courtyard in front of our barracks.  We walked the five-minute walk to the hall where the tribunal was held.  Kheshmi found it a fascinating excursion – the food stands along the way must have reminded him of his glory days as chief food wolf in Qodra.  At least two sausages that for some reason had hit the dirt took on a second life as comestibles when his iron digestive tract incorporated them.  It was good to have a dog who was insensitive to the tricks and traps of trashivory.

The only reason he was allowed in the hall was that we were attending an imperial tribunal, which was multicultural in nature.  In a purely Islamic tribunal, he would have been barred – several hadiths had noted the prophet, on whom be peace, stating that the angel of God had refused to enter a building that contained a dog or an image.  I was glad that the great liberality of Christianity, laid out in no uncertain terms for saints Peter and Paul, allowed us both pics and puppies in our dwellings.  Call me sentimental, but I’m sure that if the angel Gabriel were ever to drop by my tent, he would take a moment to pat my dog.  Everyone else does.

Miikha and Tekhub-shenni rejoined our party just before we went into the hall.  The older of the pair had asked the younger if he’d rather not skip the rest of the hearing, but the younger was far too curious to miss anything.  In any case, soldiers weren’t available for an escort until the tribunal was over, and the little guy wanted to spend more time with us before heading back to help his mother out with regular life.  “I told Pashshib-Kumarbi he had to take over all my chores, including the scribing,” he said with precise efficiency.  “He was really nervous because no one’s ever corrected his writing except me, but I told him if he’s not sure about something, Sharum-elli can help him.”

Aha, firm evidence of a girl getting an education – we were ‘in the know’ with a hard crowd of borderlands desperados.

Our tribunal had no published agenda, and when we were all back and assembled – other than the judge, who didn’t reappear – we got a surprise.  Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi, his beard freshly braided and coppery in the windowlight, made just one announcement.

“In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful, peace be upon you.  I begin this session by inviting a special guest to take my place to administer a matter that came up in our investigation but that took place well beyond this jurisdiction.  My lord, the heir to the throne, his imperial highness, Prince Khashib-arssibi will take this seat to inquire into the matter of the border official Ar-ewri.”

{A legal case related to another story line is edited out here.  Then we return to the matter of Marrik and Yith.}

The regular program of the tribunal was now back in session.

“It has been our most special honour to have you in our chair, and your leadership and mercy are an education and a beneficence to us all,” Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi intoned.   Khashib moved with leopard-like grace back to the discreet seat of the judge-in-waiting, while the burning-haired Faisul resumed the podium.

“We have now dealt with two matters out of three.  We have dealt with the interaction of the four travellers with our judicial system.  We have dealt with official extortion.  Now we will deal with the interaction of the travellers and our Morality Watch.  Will Ahhmed ben Ahhmed ben Ahhmed al-Quwaini please come to the witness chair.”

Oh oh oh my ghosh.  Mr. Embroidery.  He scowled openly in our direction as he rose to go to the chair.  His raiment was especially fine – a pale gold tunic with two black vertical bands on the front embroidered in gold abstractions, almost like diamonds in shape but looping and swooping with each other so that they looked like descending columns of diamond birds.  He had his peaked hat of high office on, and seemed confident he wouldn’t be asked to remove it.

With energy and reverence, he held a velvet-bound copy of the Quran and swore to be truthful.  I had no doubt he would be.  It’s a pity there’s no swearing against selective truth or bias, I thought.  But then again, could anyone swear such a thing in complete self-candour?  I probably have a few biases myself.  Perhaps many.  I may be too biased to know it.  And too biased at the next level to know that I’m too biased.  Could I possibly be unbiased at the 677th  level of regress and then work down to fairness from there? {the 677th level of ‘decision regress’ is explained elsewhere in the book}

I didn’t think the embroidered man – Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, since I finally knew his name – was troubled by such questions.

“Sir,” Faisul said.  “Once these travellers came to your attention, you and your service made a special effort to prosecute them, investigate them, and to invigilate against their escape.  Ordinarily, such energy devoted to the upkeep of the law and the public morals would be highly commendable.  On the other hand, their initial offense was seen by no members of our society except those who were watching with special instruments, and a strong case could be made that, given the naiveté of this group in our society, the offense was worthy only of a warning.  Furthermore, in light of our conversation earlier today, the second group of offenses they were charged for has now been stricken from the jurisdiction of your service.  This is something you had no way of anticipating, but I still find it poignant that if just one well-concealed kiss among these people had been ignored by your service, the travellers would have left your jurisdiction that day and gone to where their affectionate acts were unquestionably legal.  Yet, for that kiss, you wished to detain Marrik Rajjarsoun for many years, and mark him with many stripes.  I have reviewed the transcripts of both proceedings, and I speculate that Marrik and Yithythyth became pawns for you in what amounts to an attempt to one-up Qadi al-Khourrikhi [the judge].  Our holy book says, “Worship Allah and join none with him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the traveller, and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess.”  Do you wish to render an apology for this twofold episode of apparent overzealousness against our travellers, and perhaps also for distortion of justice for the sake of personal rhetorical advantage?”

“Your lordship, may I speak frankly?”

“Yes – that’s the nature of this tribunal.  You may speak with frankness and I will respond the same way.”

“I have no idea why you would defend these horrible people or any of their acts.  I appreciate it that you have been placed in a bind, having to serve a pagan emperor, but in my service, we are privileged to deal not with local or compromised standards, but with absolute standards that are handed down from God himself, subhanahah wa taÿala.  You, as a Muslim, ultimately must serve the same standards we do or prepare to be cast down to flames and thorns by a far greater Emperor than the one you serve in your temporal position.

“Let’s review the facts.  These people were first seen interfering with a pagan family.  They admit that they smuggled something, seemingly a frightful object of evil power, past our beneficent border control, in the hands of an impressionable young boy.  They have now lured that boy into the arms of their self-gratifying mimic of Christianity, where immorality may run rampant, with things permitted that no Christians ever allowed.  Furthermore, our diligent investigations in the neighbourhood around that house have shown that one of the girls has learned to cipher mathematics, as if she is being clandestinely taught by her brother – we cannot catch them at it, as yet, but note this breach of the purity of the female.   And compare, incidentally, the virago, the amazon, who represents the female sex among these four.  Are you raising your daughters to be thunder-wielding, swordfighting monsters like this?  I think not.”

Eleya, hearing this on a delay, merely smiled wanly.  Xus gave her a proud ‘that’s my girl’ hug that drew a lot of notice around the room.  It seemed thunder-wielding females might have a fan base here after all.  Meanwhile –

“The list of offenses committed by these people goes on and on.  They flouted their nakedness on our beaches in front of women and children.  They committed immorality with each other, but of that, enough has been spoken.  Although let me just say the word ‘marriage’ to you.  Remember what it has meant to you so far in your life.  Hasn’t it now changed to an amalgam of gold and pig dung if the coupling of these two is included in it?”

Guess who he pointed to.  My heart doubled its beats per minute.

“They twice bribed one of our court officials with their foreign riches, the second time with items of colossal value that they failed to declare at the border.  The Marrik one screamed incomprehensible curses in unknown tongues during his punishment.  The young one cast a satanic witch spell on two members of our prison system – your lordship, regardless of what he was reacting to, if you had the power of witchery at your fingertips, knowing that God abominates and condemns such practices, would you use it?

“Then they took part in a violent escape from lawful custody after corrupting our officials with their wealth, and the female put a sword cut into one of my men that is taking unusually long to heal, and has left a swollen type scar [keloid] that threatens to rupture whenever he thrusts his sword.  He had to be given a job where he doesn’t bear arms.  During the prison break, these kaffirs and their mercenaries appropriated the cry of God himself destroying the infidel strongholds, as if they could supplant the power of God.

“And speaking of supplanting God!  The glib-tongued boy, to my mind, has a demon whether he is from the heavens, hell or both.  How has he convinced the emperor, that benighted heathen, that he is a god?  A few acts of witchcraft do not qualify a person for appropriating the corner of God’s throne in a bold move to establish shirk!  [That’s the cardinal sin of attributing divinity to lesser beings, in case you’ve forgotten.]  Call some more of your so-called character witnesses and see if they don’t call him a god – see if they are not planning a ghastly new religion based on the worship of this filthy, male-kissing, snake-tongued monstrosity.

“Respected Faisul ben Muhhammad, you must serve your position in a way that also serves your Creator.  I suggest that instead of accusing me and the respected judge of wrongdoing, you disassemble this tribunal and expel these emissaries of plague from our region and our empire with no further ado.  Our prison is too good for them.  Let them wander until they come to some land where devils walk in the place of men, as I’m told is the case in the nation to the north.  If they wish, they may apologize to me, to our nation, and to God, if indeed our God is the God they serve.”

There was a moment of silence as rhetorical chips fell where they may.

Faisul spoke.

“Your disquisition, respected Ahhmed, is like something learned from a philosopher, a student of how to compile small stones of bias together until a mountain is made that can sweep away all thought with a landslide.

“You have already heard that their caution about their thunder object was partly based on fears of what this frightful object could do if it got into malevolent hands.  I don’t condone smuggling in any way, but in this case, the item was of no known value or interest to our system, and the effort to conceal it, arguably, was meant to protect us.  Is that correct, Yithythyth?”

“Yes, lord, the thunder object has caused the deaths of millions upon millions of people.  We made a point of never using it lethally, and I wish not to say too much about it for fear of exciting people here about such objects. If you wish to have peace and good order, you do not want them here.  I myself have been the witness of whole worlds where all the inhabitants destroyed themselves to rubble, like Thamuud and Ÿa’aad, by the use of these objects and their conceptual descendents.  If we had left such a thing intact here, perhaps seized by a border guard for examination, we could rightly be accused of bringing eternal bloodshed and destruction to your society.  All inhabitants of Qodra should thank God, as we do, that this instrument has not become a part of your society.  I regret that we brought it here at all, but it did save us from calamity twice.”

“Yes, respected Ahhmed,” Faisul rejoined, “you don’t know that the thunder object was again used, further east, to dissuade brigands who held these travellers at swordpoint, and were on the verge of committing rape.”

“And did the travellers use it as men, or as supposed gods?”

“They used the imitation of a descent of Teshshupp {a major Hurrian god}.  That terrorized the brigands into flight.  The chief thug was so moved that he renounced crime.”

“Odious – wherever they go, they attempt to simulate God’s own divinity in vulgar pagan forms.”

“Far from it.  They merely used the imaginations of criminal minds to deliver a needed shock.  In times of combat, tactics must be effective.”

“And,” Yith added in, “the motive was humane, because with the yell of ‘Teshshupp,’ Xusxerron avoided the other example he could have used – to kill or severely wound some of those present by means of the thunder object.  His use of imagination was purely an act of mercy.”

“As for the possible education of a girl,” Faisul said, “you know that making such efforts a crime has no scriptural basis, and it’s completely uncontroversial in West Daa’if in the Shiite fiqh.”

“We are not comfortable with the practices of these human-worshipping …”

“Silence.  Partisan slandering of one of our communities by the other is not permitted in this tribunal in any way.  I’m sorry if you thought my permission for frank speech could allow this intolerable breach of our civil treaties.  The Shiites are to be tolerated and treated with respect, without backbiting.”

“As you wish, your Lordship, though what goes under a carpet is still…”

“Shut your animal mouth now.”




“In any case, look what you’ve done.  You’ve taken an effort to educate a boy and raise the level of the rest of the family, and twisted it into a whispery rumour of an assault on God.  The boy has stopped smuggling, he has renounced the vice we chose not to name, and now he has become a person of the Book.  Yet everywhere, your narrowed eyes see only wickedness.

“About the nakedness, you know full well that this was explained as customary in these people’s homeland, and our investigation with plaguish friends of the emperor has confirmed that this assertion is true.  They believed they had privacy, and you invaded it with instruments they had no means of knowing you had.  The law against what they did was broken off the sign at the border point where they crossed – and in any case, it was only by the most extraordinary circumstance – having a heavenly messenger present – that they could read the parts of the sign that still existed.  A warning would have sufficed, once the circumstances became known.  The judge was correct in his mildness.  Yet you wished to teach him a lesson, and maximized the opportunity provided by the kiss.  If not for your surfeit of vigilance, no one in our zone would ever have seen such a thing from these frightened travellers who were planning to leave the zone before sundown.  To win an egotistical bureaucratic argument, you would send a kind and loving boy, a guest in our zone, to prison for ten years, and have him heavily beaten.  And you say you serve a God who has ‘the merciful’ among his sacred names.  If you thought goodness had a sand-grain’s weight of importance compared to transgression, you would burst into flames of shame, but instead you vibrate in self-justification, biting your hand in your mouth because your urge to vanquish all mercies with your opinions is so obsessive.

“The actions of the bailiff, relieving our prisons of inmates through transfers of wealth into various pockets including his own, was not a secret, was it?  It was done routinely and openly in a special room.  I have no way of knowing who got a percentage of this industry, but it’s odd that you don’t either, as a supposed guardian of our morality.  Who had you ever arrested who was involved in this monkey business?”

More silence.

“Personally, I would be glad to prosecute this bailiff and to trace down all the trails of his financings, even to the last stitch of embroidery they paid for [a comment that received a start, followed by a furious scowl] but alas, someone, someone living well outside this zone at the moment, has had the perspicacity to donate an emerald to the temple of Ullikummi – perhaps someone who heard rumours of an imperial investigation that might touch on these matters.   The priests use the green stones arranged around obsidian to compose the eyes of Ullikummi in their most prized idols, and this extraordinary donation has helped to convince the emperor that the man should not be prosecuted.  He also feels the man saved a visiting god and important emissaries from injustice and abuse in our system, and that the man is something of an underhanded hero.  Without the central figure of this graft scheme to examine, we are at a disadvantage, and we may focus more on prevention of future occurrences.   I hope you and your service will be diligent in helping us.  I myself will be watching you Watchers, as will the Eagle.”

More silence.

“Now about your other charges.  Yithythyth, what is the nature of the strange occurrences you can bring on with your hand gestures.  Is this witchcraft?”

“No, but its nature as a mechanism is very hard to explain, lord.  I’ll try.

“You know that our friend Kirib-tareshei here has invented a way to put large, flat pieces of glass into doors that fit into window frames.  In the plague lands, such windows with glass have been standard in all houses and other buildings for over a hundred and fifty years.  On Earth, they were widespread over 400,000 years ago.  On our home planet, they were in use so long ago that the number words for the time span seem almost meaningless – long before any human, man or woman, ever existed anywhere.  Every year that goes by, some new mechanism or technical improvement is added to society.  In hundreds of years, great changes occur, especially if competition among societies forces development to move quickly.  Here on this planet, the population has been sparse, the nationalities have been few, and the isolation between countries has been great, so, in Qodra, development has slowed.  Everything here is at least 500 years behind the stage of development in the plague lands – though, the case of the thunder object shows, this may not be a bad thing.  Meanwhile, our civilization is advanced over this by thousands of tens-of-thousands of years.  We have had some time to invent things.

“The actions that a human carries out are normally initiated when the brain has one of two experiences.  Sometimes it receives a stimulus, external or internal, that it is predetermined to react to – if an object flies toward the eyes, the body will duck and raise its hand, ‘without thinking,’ people say; and if a body is hungry, the eye will turn to food.  These actions address the needs of what the plague people call ‘vegetal paralection’ [‘vegetal paralection’ came out in sQodravtse as ‘bodily pseudo-choice;’ in ordinary English, I would have to shift over to the alectical ‘evolutionary differentiation’].  This refers to the responses that have been built into the human species addressing the opportunity that nature offers for the basic human modes of life and reproduction.  But sometimes the mind, in its ability to manipulate images and processes, foresees upcoming opportunities that only its decisions can address.  Then, it uses mechanisms it possesses, both intuitively fast and deliberately slow, to evaluate these decision points and arbitrate among them.  Even if the alternatives seem to be equal in desirability or fearfulness, it can still choose among them.  And why not?  What’s to stop it?

“This second capability gives people free will and makes them essentially uncontrollable.  The majority can be controlled, more or less, through persuasive rhetoric and their own social need for sympathetic and imitative solidarity, but some always escape into their own ways, even if those ways are self-destructive.  We just saw a tragically good example of that in our travels, when a young man was killed because his unquenchable craving for freedom made him a brigand.  When our messenger civilization began to deal with humans, some of us were concerned about that sort of thing, so in humans that we transported to this planet and elsewhere, we sometimes embedded some vegetal-paralection material into the brain meat of their minds, so that their free will could be overwhelmed in specific ways by a few distinctive gestures or sounds.  These gestures and sounds were designed to be produced either by someone in normal messenger form or by someone in human form.  We slightly altered the process of childbirth in a way that caused the children of everyone here to have the same changes hidden in their brains.  It so happens that we didn’t invent these mechanisms entirely newly, but instead borrowed their elements from a group of animals from the same home planet with minds made of similar brain substance, namely insects.  Thus, to make a very long story short, we embedded a series of insect-like reactions to visual and sound cues into the build of every human who was born on this planet.  Not every one of us agrees that this was a good or a right thing to do, but we did it.  I hope that your world will never again see the use of these signs, and that knowledge of them will be lost.  Perhaps I should have allowed myself to be raped in order to avoid disclosing them, but my human vulnerability encouraged me to defend myself.”

“I scarcely understand what you said, young man, though I followed it diligently.  But I don’t argue with your defending yourself against rape with this exotic mechanism.  No man should attempt what was about to be done to you, and if he does, let him be humanely stopped if he can be.  You did him no harm, and that is extraordinarily merciful.  Ahhmed, do you not agree?”

“Governor, with respect, you are letting a talkative devil infest your judgment with fantasy.”

“What’s more fanciful, his account or the suggestion of witchcraft?”

“Witchcraft is mentioned in the Quran; infesting our minds with locust souls through ‘brain meat’ is not accepted by the wisdom of God.  In any case, our human decisions are not made by a part of the body, but rather the spirit, which is later evaluated by God.  God does not put ‘brain meat’ onto the scales of good and evil.”

“The spirit is information nested in the brain,” Yith said.  “A human whose brain is injured no longer has full access to this information.”

Faisul tilted his head slightly at Yith.  He pulled at his beard.

“I don’t think we have time, young man, to discuss exactly where the spirit is located and what it is.  But yes, in military and accident casualties, we have noticed that head injuries may greatly affect the ability to make decisions.  The brain appears to be involved.  Respected Ahhmed, about your religious rejection of Yithythyth’s explanation, you presume that God has not granted the messengers revelations and information that differ in some technical details from what we have been offered.  But you know your Quran.  ‘And for every ummah [a community or a nation] there is a messenger; when their messenger comes, the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.’  ‘In truth, we [God] have sent you [Muhammad] with the truth, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner. And there never was a nation but a warner had passed among them.’  Scholars have noted that the Earth’s moon is mentioned over thirty times in the Quran.  Is it not perhaps a book written expressly for humans?”

“Do these so-called messengers claim to have a Quran written for their own kind?”

“No,” Yith interjected.

“It doesn’t matter,” Faisul noted.  “There’s no implication in the scripture that every isolated nation who has been sent a messenger will produce a different Quran or, anomalously, the same one.  We don’t know how God will work to send his message to those who come from other planets.  This messenger, we’ve been told, is the first of his ummah ever to convert to a religion of the book.  Perhaps God is using him, not as a prophet, but as a preparer of the way.”

“Blasphemy, deviltry – your logic turns me around inside my soul, but I don’t believe it.”

“That is sheer stubbornness.  You have no corroborating evidence of witchcraft – no spells, no pits, no divination, no curses, no blessings, no evidence of a soul disposed to malevolence or magical grandiosity.  The only evidence you have is your label.  That, I reject as unsupported.  I accept that the hand gestures used could have been a sort of highly developed mechanism rather than witchcraft, and I am glad that I don’t understand such things further.  I would not want our people to have their own hands on such devices.

“I also don’t take seriously, in light of the miscarriage of justice that was perpetrated on the travellers, that they were entirely in the wrong to cooperate with our corrupt bailiff and to aid him in Marrik’s prison break.  After all, the matter at hand was ten years’ imprisonment and 150 lashes for a private kiss among brief sojourners from a country where the act is unquestionably legal.  And their use of loud warnings, even words abstracted from our scripture, in lieu of injuring and killing, has to be recognized as humane.  Your best officers might not be alive today, sir, if these travellers were inclined in any way to violence.  I fully support our legal system and our penal system, but here it malfunctioned badly and only desperate measures could be used to correct the wrong that had been done.  Our emperor, incidentally, more than agrees.  The justice system itself does not function with impunity.  If it commits horrors for no good reason, God himself will arrange for justice to be done to it.  Here the judge, understandably but somewhat recklessly, didn’t believe scripturally sworn testimony and dismissed it as demonic ravings.  Well, the universe is sometimes more nuanced than we are in the habit of believing it is.  If we think everything we don’t understand belongs to witchcraft, djinns and demons, then we don’t have a religion any more – we have a superstition, and Allah has been replaced by a shirk figurehead who gapes in menace as he sways under the weight of sacred names he lacks the strength to bear – merciful, beneficent, compassionate.  For all of those names entail a willingness to work with absolutely everything that is true and real.”

“Well, speaking of shirk, your lordship, isn’t that exactly what we see here?  This minor god whose story you accept so graciously is entering the pagan pantheon of your country.  What kind of a creature would do this?  And all the worse if he claims to accept God as his creator.  Tell me this is not a rebel djinn if you dare, pulling the wool over your eyes.  The emperor, I understand, made him prove he was a god.  Can you make him prove he is not claiming to be a god?”

Yith interrupted.

“Even the people who are most tempted to call me a god can testify that I’ve insisted over and over that I was not one.”

“Very well,” Faisul said, “that’s a good start.  Let’s call upon the most innocent and the least likely to dissemble.  What’s the name of the young girl amongst your freed people?”

There was a very quiet moment.

“Kelib-Yiffiffei,” Kelu-Shawushka announced.

Even my hair stood up.

The embroidered man actually laughed.

“’Yiffiffei healed me.’  With his name in the god’s place in these heathen phrase-names.  And he has permitted this.  If he were not under the protection of that carrion-feeding mountain bird, he should be tried before a death sentence in this city, and with God’s pleasure, dispatched from the universe of the living.”

Your head will roll off this mountain and down into the mire it belongs to!” Khashib shouted, standing fully upright in front of his chair and glowering.  That someone should be killed for publicly denouncing the emperor in such terms, in this country, was thought to be so obvious that there wasn’t even a law against it.  It was an obvious act of war.

“I am not afraid to be a martyr for truth.”

“My friend,” Faisul said, “I believe that, since you’re not even afraid to be a martyr for your own folly.  Shall we hear the facts before you judge?”

“Your majesty,” the governor continued, looking piercingly at the crowd and then back at his master’s boy, “I have been given special powers of mercy in this tribunal, and if that was a death charge you just uttered against this man, I would ask you to withdraw it.  Would that he see your father’s mercy as an example.”

“As you wish, governor.  My father’s example should be an emblem of the just.  But note that the sword of death was withdrawn by my clemency.”

“It is credited to you, your majesty, and speaks well for your rule.  Now, will Kelib-Yiffiffei please come to the chair.”

“Must she?”  Kelu-Shawushka spoke up.  “This is a terrible new trauma for a girl who has had a deeply painful life.”

“I have daughters myself,” Faisul answered gently.  “I’ll be kind.”

Keli slowly disengaged herself from Kelu’s protective arm and made her way up towards the chair, more warily than timidly.  She pulled at her hair and tilted her head a little to one side.

“Daughter,” said Faisul, “how would you like to swear that you will tell the truth – on a book or on a statue?”

“I will tell the truth.”

“I believe you, but the procedures of our courts require swearing on a holy book or a god.”

Keli looked around.  She caught Talbush’s eye.

“I only know one god,” she said.

Talbush suddenly seemed to have a mild headache.  “Whwww!” I could see him saying inaudibly, with air blowing out through his pursed lips. Then he reached into the chest folds of his robe, along the side, and pulled out, you guessed it, the statue of Yith.  He rose tentatively, and Faisul gave him a semicircular nod indicating ‘if that’s how it’s going to be, get on with it.’

The prince rose and took the statue down to the girl, and held it before her.

It was fully finished and resplendent.  I looked behind me and Tekhub-shenni, sitting one row back, widened his eyes to the size of owl eyes as he gave it the once-over.  I almost expected him to turn his head 270 degrees and take it from another angle.  He pressed his upper lip over his lower in a ‘hmph’ of astonishment, gave me a puzzled shrug and mini-headshake, and looked at Yith.

Yith, meanwhile, was wincing with one eye.  Talbush looked around, and he and Yith exchanged a neutral look. Talbush seemed to shrug slightly, but I couldn’t be sure.

“I swear by Lord Yiffiffei that I will tell the truth,” Keli said, in a voice as clear as a tuned, rim-rubbed wineglass.  She held Talbush by the hand, and he stayed with her, with the statue in his other hand.

“Thank you, daughter.  I’m going to ask you some questions and you needn’t worry about anything – just say the truth and you’ll go back to your friends in peace.  How did you come to know Yithythyth, or Yiffiffei as you call him?”

“He and Marrik and his majesty came to buy me from a man who … was touching me.  And the man refused to sell, and the Lord smote him with magic so that he let me go.  I was the first to fall and worship him.  He is my god.”

“Do you need to hear more?” Ahhmed ben Ahhmed said ominously.

“Of course,” the governor replied, giving an eagle-ish frown.  “This is a tribunal where truth is welcome.  Reality is not a barking dog.”

Hearing the word ‘dog’ made me look to see if Kheshmi was taking this all in, but he was asleep with his chin on his forepaws.  Bliss anywhere.  Or at least patience.  Gotta love dogs.

“Daughter, did Yiffiffei do any other magical things that you saw?”

“Saw?  Well, no.  But.  He could understand me talking when my tongue was stuck to my jaw, and no one else could – and then he freed my tongue.  {Keli was born tongue-tied, and Yith, with help from his friends and an emergency medical kit, did field surgery to free her tongue.} And they say he put magic stems in my mouth so the cut couldn’t bleed {He had some surgical styptic pads, unknown in the early iron age culture Keli comes from}.  He gave me speech, your honour.  I bless him forever.  And his friends who helped him.”

Aww, you’re worth it, love, we’re lucky we found you, I wanted to say.  She was turning out to be quite the sweetheart.  I hoped her loving attitude wasn’t going to get Yith into trouble.  Or embarrassment, I suppose I should say, since we’d been guaranteed we’d get out of here in one piece.  By an apparently trustworthy source.  This line of thought made me start to sweat.

“Did he ever say that he was a god?”

The girl looked over at Yith with eyes full of wan appeal.

“He’s very shy,” she said.

“You can tell the governor the truth, love,” Yith said softly.

“Ever since then he’s said he’s not a god.  But when he freed me, he told the man he was Yiffiffei Enni Kirenzivi [the god of manumission].”

“You see?”  Ahhmed ben Ahhmed demanded of the governor, with a sideways toss of his head in Yith’s direction.  “And here are you and your infidel employer, challenging our jurisprudence for the sake of this blasphemer!  How many verses are there in the Quran, and how many hadiths in Bukhari [Sunan Bukhari, one of the main books of sayings of the prophet] about the interest of Allah, the one and only true god, in the virtue of freeing slaves?!  And here is this alien idol of flesh simulating God’s mercy, openly, as a would-be alternative god!”

“I really didn’t want to do it,” Yith explained, “but I could see this general was going to make Keli very, very unhappy, and he wouldn’t sell her or be outbid.  He refused the emperor’s own writ of expropriation and threatened a rebellion of his military unit if the writ were enforced.  And this was right in the presence of Prince Talbush-arssibi, who had already been threatened at spearpoint by his father for making trouble about manumission.  I didn’t want to get him in trouble, either.  The only chance I had to make sure the imperial house didn’t get the blame and become the target of the general’s fury was to claim I outranked the emperor.  And even then, I had to use a hand gesture to make the man know the pain he was going to cause.  Maybe I could have done it differently – maybe I could have used the sign without saying I was a god – but then that would have made my actions nothing but an alien assault, because he wouldn’t have had the last chance to change his mind freely.  It seems to have been a sin – yes, really – [Yith was reacting to several onlookers shaking their heads ‘no’] but one that was needed to do the right thing.  It was a lie, if nothing else.”

Ahhmed cleared his throat.  “Blaspheming for the sake of an opportunity is still blaspheming.  A grave sin against God can’t ever be the right thing to do.  Your lordship, the dangerous confusion emanating from this group of weird Christian heretics is obvious.  This incident happened far out of our jurisdiction, but when it comes to judging whether our Watch was mistaken in keeping the sword point close against this group of travellers, I think this proves that we had it right.”

“Respected Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, I find some mitigating factors in the situation.  Firstly, the man was already a heathen and this approach just used his own belief system to show him his true deviation from the path of kindness and mercy.  Secondly, through the use of the manumission idea, you’ve managed to represent the impersonation of a nonexistent pagan god as if it were an attempt to simulate being Allah, the Creator of the Worlds.   I am sorry, but that’s ridiculous.  Yes, the impersonation may mislead some gullible pagans into believing in more strongly in their pagan gods, but it is still merely play-acting about a fictional subject.  You could just as easily accuse someone of blasphemy for imitating the mushkhushshu {dragon symbol carved onto buildings}.  And if the play-actor advocates a good quality like mercy, that doesn’t make him more deeply implicated as a blasphemous mimic of the true God.

“In this case, the general was stubbornly determined to do what was harmful.  When blocked, he threatened to turn the loyalty of his forces against the emperor.  What happened next, according to the most recent news from our investigation, was that he became a changed man.  He has already freed two female slaves from his household in Damosun, with substantial monies.  The emperor is satisfied that he remains completely loyal.”

“Your lordship, you justify or ‘mitigate’ this blasphemy based on talking about the harm the general planned to do, but what harm was this? And moreover, what about the harm that was done to him?   He bought a slave to do what was legal in his law and in ours, even if he intended to take her as a concubine.  You know that what is legal to a man in his time of desire is his wife or ‘maa malakat aymaankum’ [ما ملكت أيمانکم , Arabic for ‘what your right hand possesses,’ i.e., ‘your slaves’].  Since he had bought the girl as his slave, she was already legal for that purpose.  Yes, she was young, but not prohibited – you know the many hadiths about Ÿa,,isha [Aisha], the second new wife of the prophet, peace be upon him, after he became a widower.   ‘Narrated Ÿa,,isha – the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years [that is, until his death, when she was 18].’ And she had already been betrothed to Jubayr ben Mut’im prior to being reassigned to the Prophet.”

“How can you say ‘what harm was this’??”  Talbush broke in incredulously.  “If you’d seen the look in Keli’s eye, you’d have known she was revolted and really scared.”

“His majesty, Prince Talbush-arssibi,” Faisul noted by way of general introduction.

“Your majesty,” Ahhmed replied with a hooded gaze, “it’s not uncommon for someone that age to balk at changes in their life, but firm and merciful discipline will set them on the right path.”

Talbush sighed and raised his eyes up.  “This wasn’t just a ‘change in her life:’ while she was in the auction line, the general had already touched her where girls have privacy.”

“That was wanton of him and if he did it in my jurisdiction, he would be arrested for it – he wasn’t married to the girl, nor did he possess her.  Even after he bought her, to do it openly would be indecency.  On the other hand, where he did it, in your city, such actions are not uncommon, or so I’m told.  Now that I’m under pressure to tolerate heedless foreigners displaying themselves nakedly on our beaches, I suppose I mustn’t condemn the general in his naiveté either.   If he became a believer, I promise you that he wouldn’t do such ignorant things.”

“This was just the beginning, though,” Talbush replied.  “The real horror was that he clearly was going to take her to concubinage and make her his sexual partner, and obviously against her will.”

“Two sons of my old owner did things to me I hated,” Keli said, “and the general did the same as they did in the beginning.  I would rather die.”

“In our law,” the embroidered man said with his jaw set, “assuming you were a virgin, he would have to ask you for your consent and you would say yes by remaining silent.  Here is the saying from the life of our Prophet:  ‘Narrated Abu Haraira: Allah’s apostle said, ‘A female slave should not be given in marriage until she is consulted, and a virgin should not be given in marriage until her permission is granted.’ The people said, ‘How will she express her permission?’ The Prophet said, ‘By keeping silent.’”

“Oh yes, I was that thing – virgin.  The family told the boys not to ‘ruin her market value.’  They kept telling me I was just lucky they were good boys.  But then they did disgusting things that … ,,hmhh [throat catch and release] … got around that.  But I always kept silent.  My tongue was attached, I couldn’t really talk, and I was beaten up or played with if I tried to say ‘no’ with sounds.  What kind of a ‘yes’ is staying silent?  My heart refused and the Lord and his majesty and Marrik saw that and they did everything for me.”

“Daughter,” said Faisul, “my daughters would feel the same as you.  None of them was ready for men at your age.  In fact, the reason the Prophet uttered the hadith that my colleague Ahhmed ben Ahhmed just quoted was to stop a scam designed to allow men to marry young girls who refused.  I will quote part of a related hadith that has all the information about the scam:  “Some people had said, ‘If a man falls in love with an orphan slave girl or a virgin and she refuses him, and then he pulls a trick by bringing two false witnesses to testify that he has married her, and then she attains the age of puberty and agrees to marry him and the judge accepts the false witness and the husband knows that the witnesses were false ones, he may consummate his marriage.”  To this, the Prophet responded by giving the orphan slave girl or virgin the unquestioned right to refuse the marriage.  I can only hope he merely overlooked the case of the pre-pubescent girl who for whatever reason is not a virgin.  And you see that the age of puberty is mentioned in the hadith as a time when the girl is more likely to agree to marry and the marriage to be consummated.  So I hold you to have been within your rights, in our moral code, to refuse the General, and I hold that Yithythyth was benevolently motivated to try to secure your refusal for you.  I can see he went into the situation with no intention of proclaiming himself a god, and felt driven to it by circumstances.  I don’t say it was right, but I like the result – hearing you here today as a free young woman, speaking your thoughts with dignity and modesty.  I commend those who freed you.

“Your forced silence due to your tied tongue and your history of slave-beatings is the third example in these hearings of something that is real but is unanticipated, or insufficiently adumbrated, in our laws.  In these cases, we are forced to appear to bend the laws to make an exception, even though the reality is that the central justice within the law makes the apparent bend a hidden straight path.  The person who is partially not a person, the male who is opposite to typical males with regard to women, and the virgin whose refusal of consent must be made silently – these are matters that we can deal with as long as we understand the justice of our law instead of picking at phrases.  This is not of interest to you, daughter, since you have not been under our law so far, but it’s of interest to us, since we must deal well with situations like yours if they arise in our own city.

“Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, if you said, ‘I’ll continue to arrest anyone who says in the market “I’m a god” and tries to use this assertion to get his way in something,’ I wouldn’t disagree with you.  The person would be a swindler using spirit impersonation, or perhaps a lost soul, out of contact with reality.  But I don’t think we will ever see a case like this one again – a person not quite a person, who really does have some abilities we traditionally ascribe to gods and spirits, making one such statement in desperation, as a last resort, to save a young girl from a lot she perceives as horrible.  Why don’t we agree to let God himself decide this one, and derive some satisfaction from recognizing the good in the outcome?  Kelib-Yiffiffei, you may go back to your seat, and I thank you very much for your truthfulness in speaking with us.  May God be with you always.”

“OK,” Keli said simply, and she allowed Talbush to lead her to her seat.  We could see she was trembling a little, but she gave us a slight smile.  It seems we were always getting to see her being brave.  Perhaps she was the bravest of us all.

“Do you wish to respond?” the governor asked Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, who was sitting and stroking his beard with his lip curled as if he wasn’t satisfied at all.

“Governor, you might say it is not our business, but here in this courtroom we have a person [he gave Yith a little nod] who was formerly an inmate in our prison system, who watches the ignorant and the innocent, and also some respected royal persons whom I must not seem to slander, worship him in the form of an idol and says next to nothing against it.  He purports to be a person of the book, and yet he facilitates a virtual new religion dedicated to his false godhood.  If the question for our Watch is ‘should we have treated such a person and his accomplices as prime suspects for immorality?’ I would say that the answer is ‘yes.’  This very tolerance of false worship abundantly proves the moral looseness of the person and the group.  Is there something in the injil (the gospels) that permits a Christian to become the object of idolatrous worship when it suits his convenience?  I think not.

“But we can give the young man one good chance to clear his name, and reconcile himself to the greatest extent he can with our Morality Watch.  Yithythyth, from the moral point of view, you must either say that you will allow them to treat you as a god, or that you will not allow this.  If you say you will allow it, you will be chargeable with blasphemy in our jurisdiction, even if your imperial protection prevents the charge from being laid.  If you say that you will not allow this, then I will set my suspicions aside and acclaim you as a person of the Book, even in the light of everything you have done.  God can judge the rest.”

There was a moment of complete silence.  Yith nodded his head back and forth, deep in thought.  I put my right hand over the back of his left hand.

“That,” he said, “is a brilliant solution.  I haven’t had any leverage so far, but now I do.  I’m not a god.  I don’t wish to be seen or treated as a god.  And I don’t think it will help anyone if this illusion replaces reality.  I am so far from godhood – I couldn’t even decide if I should use my powers or even my authority to save the life of our confused friend Shekhi {refers to a storyline that isn’t in these excerpts}.  I cried out ‘no’ to the soldiers when I saw that he was about to be shot, but I didn’t say it with real force, or try to stop them with signs – maybe partly because Shekhi had stolen the manuscript our emperor told us to carry – but does losing a priceless manuscript come close to the cost of erasing an existence and denying the person all their future chances to make good?  I don’t know – I still don’t hear a clear answer in my mind about this. So governor, I make zero claim on godhood.  BUT if his majesty, Prince Talbush-arssibi, or any one of these people here, even Keli, wants to insist that I am their god, then I will state for their sake that I am the god Yiffiffei, created as such by God the creator.  This will be a formal blasphemy and I waive my protection.  You can punish me according to your law.”

“You’re not able to waive your protection,” Faisul said with the faintest curl of a smile.  “But so that your plan isn’t thwarted, I’ll allow you to be sentenced to up to fifty lashes if you make this statement.”

“Yith, you have no idea!” I said with my heart in my mouth.  I could feel it beating against my lips.  I gripped his hand and he gripped me back with the force of resolution.  Now it was my turn, I thought, to weakly protest ‘no’ and watch in horror as things went out of control.  I couldn’t really think of how I could stop Yith now.

The uniformly blanched faces of the Yiffiffei cult gave a tone of Hallowe’en to the right central front benches of the tribunal.

“May we have a few moments outside to discuss this matter?” Talbush asked the governor.

“By all means,” Faisul said, expanding his left hand toward the ornately carved doorframe of the entranceway.

The freed people and their prince exited, as did their sponsoring tradesman.  Talbush also beckoned to Miikha, and he went painfully with them, with the stick-like arm of Tekhub-shenni under his elbow.

After five minutes, they returned, like a jury, and they had the colour back in their faces.

“I’ll speak for us all,” Talbush announced.

“Go ahead, your majesty,” Faisul said.

“This will make me an outcast forever from my father’s religion,” Talbush said, raising his eyebrows to the look of alarm his brother cast his way, “and maybe he’ll kill me – but there’s no other way.  We’ll all follow the lead of the little guy here, Tekhub-shenni, and join the religion our Yiffiffei belongs to.  We like the sound of the church that Miikha belongs to because they have lots of images of saints and founders, but we don’t speak their language of worship [Syriac Aramaic] and so we’ll start a church of our own in Qodra, dedicated to freeing slaves and bringing Yiffiffei’s kind of love to the people of that city.  Miikha tells us that we should wait for completely unexplained miracles done in his name before we called him a saint, but we will honour him anyways in some way.  Wise people from Miikha’s church and maybe the church from the plagues can come and help us start up, if they will be so kind.  We’ll call Yiffiffei the founder of our church.”

“Then there’ll be no lashes after all!”  Faisul said with a smile.  His coppery beard exchanged scintillations with his teeth as a beam of sunlight struck him from an open window.

Khashib, sitting behind him, was still shaking his head in disbelief.  He clearly wasn’t inclined to co-found the Church of Qodra and risk his father’s spearpoint.

“You’re completely mad, brother,” he announced, “but your motives are good.  I’ll make one heartfelt request to our father to tolerate you if he becomes alarmed.  If he decides against you, though, my loyalty is to him.”

“I understand, brother,” Talbush answered.  “But think of the freed slaves who are loyal to you and would remain so.”

Brilliant.  I’d never before met a kid who was a born politician – he just whipped these things out effortlessly.  Amazing.

Yith, meanwhile, had gathered his thoughts, and stood up to speak to the group of freed people.  Some of them were still looking at Khashib, and Kirib-tareshei called them around with “let’s hear what Yiffiffei has to say.”  They all turned to face their former god.

“I really want to thank you very much, you guys,” Yith said, and then added hesitantly.  “I think… though … you might want to credit Marrik as the original founder of the church.”

I heard my name and said “heh?”

He translated what he’d said for me.  Everyone waited for him to do it.

“Me?” I said.  “I haven’t done anything.”

“This whole thing happened because of your wild idea to trade the freeing of slaves for my bow to the emperor,” Yith said.  “And that idea made Talbush and Kiir see each other in a new light.  If not for that, we would have just bowed to the emperor and been brought back here as a foursome.”

He explained to the others what he’d said.

“My brain just pops out ideas all the time,” I said.  “Gee, if you shouldn’t blame yourself for minor things you did or didn’t do when someone dies, how can you start giving yourself credit for tiny things you did when something really good happens?”

“It was an inspired idea, buddy,” Xus commented, reaching across to punch my shoulder.  “Maybe it came from beyond you someplace, or maybe it came from you yourself.  Maybe you should take personal credit for it so we don’t have to make you Saint Marrik.”  He grinned at me.  He knows me too well.  To be called a saint is even more embarrassing than taking credit for a good thing.

“Oh no,” I said, “that’s crazy, and there’s already been enough of Saint Marriks.  I don’t qualify to be in that crowd.  Not that I’m against the holy spirit passing on some tips to me or you or whoever, but I just feel like my normal self, and after what I’ve done in my life, I’m very sure I’m no saint.  Ask my late mother.  OK, for what it’s worth, I take credit for having had that idea.  But just thank God I had it.”

Yith translated.

The freed people gave all four of us a cheer, with the governor nodding his indulgence up above:  “Yiffiffei!  Marrik!  Eleya!  Xusxerron!”

“May we take another few moments?”  Talbush asked the governor.

“It’s close to our break time, but go ahead.”

“Miikha?  As we planned… ”

Miikha spoke.

“To formalize our friends’ decision, they’ve asked me to recite our special prayer, the one Yeshua the messiah gave to us, as spoken in our sacred language of worship.  This is the language that he originally said it in – he whom you Muslims call Isa.  Talbush assures me that Yithythyth can translate it, even though he’s probably never heard our language before.  He’s so sure about this that I guess I’ll just have to believe it.”

And so he recited this direct, rhyming quote out of religious history, line by line, with Yith following up in sQodravtse.  Tekhub-shenni, his spiritual son, took his hand and looked up at him with pride.

“Aboon dbashmayo,”

“Our father who exists in heaven,”

“nethqadash shmokh.”

“honoured be your name.”

“Teethe malkoothokh,”

“Your kingdom come,”

“nehwe sebyonokh,”

“your will be done,”

“aykano dbashmayo off bar’o.”

“as in heaven, so on Earth.” [yes, the church here left it as ‘Earth’]

“Hab lan lahmo dsoonqonan yawmono”

“Give us our needful bread this day”

“washbooq lan khowbain wahtohain,”

“and forgive us our shortcomings,”

“aykano doff khnan shbaqan il hayobain”

“as we also have forgiven those who’ve come up short with us.”

“Lo thaalan il nessyoono elo fasson men beesho”

“And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”

“metool dedeelokhee malkootho,”

“for yours is the kingdom”

“ou haylo ou teshbohto,”

“and the power, and the glory”

“loalam olmen Amen.”

“for ever and ever. Amen.”


Miikha added, “I pledge that we’ll baptise these people into the Church and give them a firm footing in the love and salvation of our Lord.  You too, Shennaka.”

The boy gave one of his lopsided, supple smiles.  He looked around and ended up exchanging some eyebrow movements with Kheshmi, who had woken up and was beaming good dog vibes at the crowd of friends gathered in front of him.

Yith then spoke up for himself.

“I have something else to say now.  I want to thank you again, Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, for your stringent correctness that led to solving this problem.  You’ve rescued me from the worst kind of knowledge-bending political falsehood – the type that’s intended to do good.  Now we can all do our best without the falsehood, and I can be remembered for what I am.”

“Whatever that may be,” Ahhmed commented.  “I acknowledge your thanks with gratitude.  I am not comfortable that every issue that troubles me has been reconciled in God’s best light, but we have brought many people here over from symbolic wandering to the Book, and I can go home with that much satisfaction.”

Faisul decided it was time for the moderator to retake the helm.

“May the peoples of the Book, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Sabaean, always fulfill God’s mission for them, to correct and improve one another when they have strayed from their assigned path in God’s service.  I believe that with that, this tribunal has fulfilled its purpose.

“Thank you to everyone who contributed to this search for truth and understanding.  We will follow up with the matters I pledged myself to earlier.   Now, though, there is another excellent meal prepared, this time at the military compound so that all of us can be present.  I declare this tribunal discharged, in the name of our Emperor, and in the sight of God, the beneficent.  To each one of you, salaam [‘peace’ in Arabic].”

I was bold enough to give the newly secularized Yith a huge hug, and then we were surrounded by freed people, who partially hid our next act – a full kiss on the lips.  Tekhub-shenni clambered up over the front rail of the seating and squeezed in between Yith and me as we reached over to hug everyone in our group, starting with Tuni and Keli.  It was an amazingly celebratory time, like a fireworks display made of hugging arms and broad smiles.

As our mutual well-wishing began to taper, at last, Ahhmed ben Ahhmed came over.  To my shock, he spoke to me with one of the two words in his lexicon that I could understand.

‘Salaam,’ he said, and he held out his right arm in an arc, with the embroidered gold band on his arm glowing in the light.

My throat caught.  ‘Salaam,’ I said back, and then, yes, we did it – exchanged the kiss of peace on each other’s cheek.

And then Yith got the same.  After he broke off the embrace and Ahhmed turned away towards the door, Yith looked at me and I looked at him.  His all-coloured eyes were as round as Tekhub-shenni’s, which were also gazing at me from below.

Ahhmed ben Ahhmed gave a nominal bow to Talbush and Khashib on the way by – they were deep in conversation at this point – and left the hall.


**We then go on to other things*

— END —









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One Response to Part 3: Truth and Reconciliation Hearing in the Sharia Zone

  1. Pingback: Part 2. Arrest and Judgment in the Sharia Zone | thismoonlesssky

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