The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 5, part 1
appears in this issue.
Chapter Five: The Three Asses|
part 2 of 2
The three priestesses, their faces covered with black veils with long ass’s ears sprouting from the top of their heads, waited for him as if he was expected. In a dark, threatening ceremony they surrounded him, sat him on the floor and formed a circle around him; they began in a twisting dance, chanting a disharmonic tune, one continuing song taken up by each of them in turn which run in a circle spiralling round and round like their dance...
Here he comes
The anointed one
A shining star
A falling star
Truth and lie
Is world custom
The coming world
Go with your destiny
Your appointed time
Here it comes
Your appointed fate
The day of choice
Your fate is come
All words of truth
All words of lie
Over and over again and again...
His head twirled, his mind had gone blank, filled only with that one voice. Then it stopped. In the silence he found himself lying on a bench at the entrance hall. One of the temple’s maids — not a priestess — gave him water, helped him to sit up, waited until he recovered. When he looked out, he saw dawn rising, understood he had spent the whole night there. He worried about the boy staying out with the donkey, but the girl told him — as if hearing his thoughts — that there was nothing to worry about, that he would find them all right.
Through a thick fog, not sure whether it was hanging on the earth or inside his head, he climbed up to the top, mounted the donkey, let the boy lead it home. The next day the people’s representatives appeared before him as he was sitting as judge, demanding Sha’ul to be made King.
The dreams stopped then, never to recur; it was possible, he thought, that his everyday troubles outweighed anything he could dream about.
* * *
We sat there for a little while, silent together. Then an awful thing happened. I peered at the valley beneath us, and was overwhelmed by a terrible sight. Three figures in black, with women’s bodies, heavy, ass-like heads and long, pointed ears, were dancing strangely; they twisted their bodies, throwing their hoofed legs up, turning their heads backwards, their faces red, monstreous, their eyes burning fire.
I screamed, my whole body shivering fiercely.
“What is it? What do you see?” Sha’ul cried, naturally taking me in his arms.
“Don’t you see them, down below?”
“No, only the temple. What do you see?”
But the vision had vanished. The sun inclined in the west.
“Come,” he rose, “let’s go down before dark.”
He waited only a moment for me to calm down, then we set on our way down the slope, the boy remaining with the donkey at the top. He was afraid of the loneliness at night, but Sha’ul promised him no harm would come to Ashtoret’s beast at this sacred place; he stayed reluctantly, had no choice.
We started climbing down. The oblique rays of the declining sun hit the steep slope, deflected from the rock surface, blinding our eyes and endangering the descent. Sha’ul went down first, marking convenient footholds for me where I was treading hesitantly.
It was hard for me; I was still a young girl barely out of childhood, my legs too short to fit Sha’ul’s long strides. A few times I slipped on the smooth rocks, loosening small stones which, miraculously, missed Sha’ul’s head; as my body shook with the effort, the squill garland fell off my head, adding to my unhappiness with the trip. At last, scratched and bruised all over but otherwise unhurt, we arrived at our destination; I found my white garland lying at the foot of the temple’s wall, and put it back on my head, to add somehow to a feeling of safety and confidence which I lacked.
A thick, heavy atmosphere greeted us, threatening more than any concrete danger. The noise of the cluttering ravens which could be heard clearly from above was absent now, as the sun had sunk behind hilltops; the place was wrapped in complete silence — no birds chirping, no insects buzzing. The air was motionless, no wind rustled in the dry, leafless branches of the solitary tree.
As we were recovering from the hard climb, a woman appeared at the entrance to the building, tall and heavy, her full figure covered with a wide, black, flowing garment. Her face was wide, frank and pleasant but her eyes were deep and dark; black greying hair fell loose around her shoulders. She stood there as if expecting us, inviting us in; she made us sit on a bench in what looked like a waiting room, with a low ceiling and one window looking over the bottomless abyss. I peered through the window and was immediately taken ill.
Turning my eyes away, I noticed a large statue of Ashtoret standing in a corner: the Goddess riding a donkey. A last sun ray gleamed on her full curves, shining on the silver crescent on her head. I sent her a pleading look, and the Goddess’s closed eyes opened toward me, full of love and compassion.
The priestess turned to Sha’ul as if she knew him, and he presented me before her. With a wave of her hand she invited him to enter the inner room, which was actually a cave carved in the rock.
Fear gripped me, I was afraid to stay alone in that place. Loneliness and desolation were not only in the situation of the Temple, they were part of the ritual taking place there. The prophecies were shown in visions to the visitors individually, because such a vision is a very personal affair. Each person sees a different vision existing inside a different reality; no one can experience the reality of another person, each living within his or her own solitude in the world.
* * *
At the Temple of the Three Asses I learned that I was able to see visions, to experience things beyond the concrete world. The blessing such talent carries is very doubtful, especially because it does not work to order. The visions I have had in my life, at that temple and in other places and times, were sometimes hard, always unavoidable; the memory of the vision I experienced at the Temple of the Three Asses pursued me at some of the happiest moments of my life.
Left alone in the waiting room, I looked again through the window. The gathering dusk filled the abyss below, no longer was I able to discern its distance; it was as if the whole building was sinking into the abyss. My head felt dizzy, my eyes grew misty, and from the mist a picture appeared.
Black, sharp cliffs; meandering, dark canyons. Dark figures loomed over depths, carved in the rocks, monstrous, menacing. Pale, frightening ghosts roamed in the gullies. A pale moon threw heavy shadows all over. Sha’ul’s dark figure was floating among the cliffs, groping, searching; it was a naked figure, stripped not only of its clothes but also of its skin and flesh, of all cover to its inner thoughts, a figure divested of all external accessories. It passed through the eternal gates looming among the cliffs — one gate, and another, and another — seven gates Sha’ul’s figure passed and did not find what it was looking for.
Re’uma’s spirit, transparently white, floated above Sha’ul’s head and he did not notice it. Then a small dark figure appeared, clad in a very prominent red in this dark-pale-grey world — the figure of Ahino’am, the sole concrete creature in that misty, insubstantial world. Sha’ul’s figure was drawn to it and they flew together, climbing up above the cliffs; beneath them, a mountain opened its mouth spitting fire, and they floated over the fire... Suddenly, Ahimo’am’s figure flew up, Sha’ul’s was pushed down - down - down - into the open, red mouth which was spitting up burning tongues, licking, holding Sha’ul’s quivering figure, absorbing it into their bosom. I screamed, leaping from my seat...
The elderly priestess appeared, took me in her arms, held me tight to her bosom. I suddenly realized that I had never been held tight to the soft bosom of a woman... The feeling was so pleasant that I became dizzy again, and the vision vanished without a trace. Eternity passed as I stayed in those soft, warm arms until Sha’ul came out and I was released back into the harsh world around me.
My father’s face was deathly pale. I did not know what he had seen in the cave, I did not ask; if it was anything similar to my own vision, he had no reason for joy.
* * *
Night fell, and we stayed to sleep in the temple’s entrance hall. The night was dark and thick. When the lamp was quenched, one star peeped through the window, sharp and cold. As I shut my eyes, the sight of my vision returned, pale ghosts filled the room. I hid my head in the blanket, drew nearer to my father’s body. A thin, pale moon looked through the window, in whose light I finally fell asleep with my eyes open.
The effort needed for the climb back made me forget some of my fears and the sorrow that had accompanied them. We found the donkey standing calmly, brousing on the leaves called after its name, keeping the boy safely crouching between its legs; it seemed it had not moved one pace all night, as if it had no fear of ghosts or beasts of prey which might have roamed the area.
We went back in silence, both Sha’ul and I still full of the gloomy visions we had seen. When we reached Giv’at Sha’ul we found the mourner surrounding Re’uma’s bed. Sha’ul, struck with an unbearable pain, collapsed, and for many days even Maakha was unable to revive him. Re’uma’s one remaining son, Yonatan, sat by his side, sharing his grief; his daughter Merav, however, was too full of anger against her father, blaming him for the evil he had brought on her mother’ head, and was unable to comfort him.
Sha’ul’s illness, that disease of doubts and hesitations which sprouting in his mind and heart as the alternation of depression and madness, burst out with all its strength, took over his whole being with nothing to stop it now.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar