Nesha had been one of those rare women whose nature was to not speak ill of anyone, yet today she wished she would have said or done something to stop her three brothers from joining the crew of the Phoenician expedition, commandeered by the blond seaman from the North, Wolt. Though her brothers were hired on as sailors and not warriors, she longed to redo the day she had run and told them of the commotion on the beach when the blond-haired Captain set foot upon the Lebanon and began recruiting local fishermen and sailors.
Today the sun was out just enough to warm her as she sat in the sand blocking the sea breeze by lodging herself between two boulders. From her vantage point, she could see hundreds of men still preparing ships. Their silhouettes as they marched back and forth from the docks cast dark thoughts upon her mind which she quickly shook off. She could see them carrying urns of the purple dye that would go to Egypt to be carefully placed upon linen. She processed that purple dye herself and looked down at her well-muscled purple-stained hands, confirming that she was indeed a diligent worker. During the mornings and evenings, when it was cooler, she worked with a crew of twenty other women, toiling until the sun went down. Her disciplined work would bring rewards in the form of goods to trade for lavender for her baths and as perfume for wine. She and her mother would chop up the flowers and heat them into the wine. The jar of olive oil she would trade her earnings for, she planned to bring home to please the family, who needed it for cooking, cleaning and lubricating. Working very hard would also bring a surprise jug of sesame oil. Of course, she would buy fruits and grains in the market to share with her family, which had diminished in size since the departure of her brothers. Their ship had set sail months ago and she anxiously awaited its return. Each afternoon she sat between the same two boulders, letting small rocks and sand run through her fingers while with every loud boom of the waves she looked up hoping to see their sun-browned skin and pearly smiles. With each ship that came in, Nesha checked faces for the brothers she loved, knowing their style of step and just the right curve of waist and the way they tossed their heads as their strong hands hoisted and folded fishing nets.
“Nesha," her mother called out, walking towards her.
As her mother reached out her hand, Nesha understood the look in her warm, kind, earthen-brown eyes.
“Look north, perhaps one day they will return for us.”
Nesha gathered her sandals as tears dropped down upon her chubby, sun-baked cheeks. In silence, the two followed their familiar stepping places along the shore of the Lebanon. Nesha hesitated at the halfway point but her mother squeezed her hand tighter, still, Nesha walked very slowly and gawked at the sight of the keeled boats in the harbor, reminding her of the men from the north who had lured her brothers away with the promise of prosperity and adventure. The northern men’s wild blond hair and striking blue eyes frightened her at first but the provisions they provided were impressive and she too fantasized about their world beyond the sea. Each time she saw the fair-skinned babies that the blond men had left behind with their Phoenician mothers, she wondered if she might catch the eye of one of the seafarers.
“Your mind is far away Nesha,” her mother said wryly, “do not forget I was young once too.”
They both stopped at a high point where the vista allowed a great expanse of the sea.
“I do not know what troubles me more, that my sons have sailed away and may never return or that you and I child, shall never have the chance.”
“Mother, you love father, you love Asherat-Baalat your heavenly mother and you love the cedars of the Lebanon.”
“Yes,” she smiled and released her daughter’s hand, needing her own to help her balance along the large rocks.
“Your father was as your brothers are, from an early age he thrived on the unknown.”
“Tell me about Father.”
Her mother looked years younger as she smiled and began to reflect on the past, “your father loved to sit at the shore and listen to the stories coming from the fishermen, laughing and nodding along as though he knew other’s adventures well. As soon as he was old enough, he became a fisherman sailor and made his way to Tyre.
“Is that when you found each other?”
The Semitic beauty smiled broadly in the afternoon sun, the breeze blowing her black hair, traces of it catching in her mouth. She removed the strands and licked her lips.
“My people had been tribal herders for thousands of years. The Mediterranean was not always our homeland. Long ago we were a tough nomadic people.”
She looked seriously at her daughter, wondering if Nesha still followed her thoughts. “Our tribe welcomed your father and taught him agricultural skills, teaching him shipbuilding and maneuvering the seas. How it all changes. Now his three sons have left it all behind, alive with the fresh sea air filling and invigorating their lungs and the anticipation of new adventures.” She sighed deeply and caught the lump in her throat.
“The day they left their smiles were wide. Though I am their mother, the three looked so similar out there on the boat, it was difficult to tell them apart.”
“Yes, I remember their thick, long, black, wavy hair and their broad tanned torsos gleaming in the sun.”
“Nesha, they were proud of their heritage. The men of my family helped Solomon build his temple upon the hill in Jerusalem. Many cedars were cut and thousands of masons were organized.”
Nesha had heard the story over and over yet never tired of hearing it, “I hope they return Mother, I do hope.”
The brothers, Mago, Zakar and Tab were not only fishermen but also craftsmen merchants. Their dreams were to sell the wares they had spent almost two years crafting and return home to retire to a rural life of agriculture. As the boat rocked in the waves of the sea the young men rested. The hot sun melted their cares at leaving family behind, especially Tab, who was the youngest of the three and had said good-bye to a loving girl. He had come along with the blond seamen apprehensively, yet the day’s sun seemed to work its magic. Mago, the liveliest of the three, his foot playing catch in and out of a large hole in their fishing net, said quickly, "I will find soil more fertile than all the virgins I have left behind."
Zakar joined in the spirited visualization, "My wine will be sought after and fetch a hefty price."
Tab was quiet; not sure he could predict his future once reaching the River Rhone but finally spoke his heart.
"I will marry one of the Celtae women, one with hair like red ocher." The two brothers, both irritated at his affirmation to break from tradition, squinted their eyes, made clucking noises and bantered him with threats. Tab held a firm angry expression and sat up aggressively, frightening both Mago and Zakar.
"Now you are angry that we persuaded you to journey with us. You will find fertile land first and return to Tyre for a wife," Zakar announced punitively.
"I will find a handmaiden with skin as soft as feathers and rest my head upon her bosom as I gaze into the heavens," Mago sang.
"I may even go to war against Rome - against the Visigoths – against any and all who ever threaten my sanctuary," Tab boasted.
"Do not speak of war."
"Yes brother, do not speak of war."
After many years of hard work laboring for the blond sea Captain Wolt, the three brothers were able to live permanently on the land along the Mediterranean and worked their way up the River Rhone where the land was as fertile as the women. Zakar, Mago and Tab blended their visions into a life quite common along the lush river valley. Their settling down had begun a small village. If not for the battles they had endured to save their early meager fortifications, it would have been an idyllic existence. Tab had found his Celtic beauty. She had not wanted to go along with his advances but his sneaky nature was quick and decisive. She left her tribe early one morning while her father looked over Tab's selection of Phoenician handicrafts. Her new life with Tab was full, festive and prosperous and their children kept her busy and joyous. Tab had not, however, become the great warrior he had boasted of, instead, achieved his needs through a cunning personal skill he had mastered at Tyre while learning the merchant’s trade. Mago had been the one to go to war, always in trouble because of his choice of handmaidens.
"He spends more time in battle from resting his head upon the soft bosom of another man's wife than gazing the heavens,” Zakar would complain. Mago would be silent and brooding, quite jealous of Zakar's success in planting vineyards with grapes that as planned, fetched a hefty price. Zakar's agricultural accomplishments had been achieved through the incorporation of slaves. The land was planted and harvested by dark-skinned North Africans he had bought from a Semite trader traveling from Palestine. Fair-skinned Barbarian slaves that had come from the North tended it. Eventually most had worked hard enough to purchase their freedom and had either left free or had chosen to stay, coupling with other slaves or in some instances marrying into the Rhone River Clan. The colony that was springing up along the fertile Rhone had grown to several hundred settlers and the slave traders had begun calling the village Rho.
The large river wound its way down to the sea, enabling traders to come from the east with camels, elephants, and beautiful women that danced until the darkness gave way to light. There were those from the Lebanon who brought finely crafted furniture from forests of cedar. Bedouins traveled in caravans with ornate jewels to trade. There were craftsmen, cave artists and storytellers who shared their tribal narrations with all who cared to gather around communal fires near the trading camp. There were lively debates, especially from the Greeks, who proudly proclaimed generations of learned men had brought philosophy and governing to the whole of the Mediterranean and those same storytellers told of seas far to the north, where fishing was at its finest and their thoughts and ideas had penetrated into the minds of men. Each tribe had their own version of the great flood that sent their ancestors off to other lands and each tribe claimed their ancestral right to be wherever they were coming from or going to. There were days of calm and days of upheaval and this went on through each generation.
After too many generations to count, fascinated with the stories of Hesperia and Britain, Nooleen, a descendant of Tab and his Celtic beauty, said his good-byes to the tribe and headed up and over mountain ranges, through thick forests and along gentle lowland terrain. After several years of his walking adventure, one morning he brushed sand from his red, swollen eyes, stood and stared wistfully at the strange obelisk that marked the center of Britain, cocked and turned his head, analyzing what it might be that jutted up so prominently along the old Roman road. Dizzy with insecurity, he suspended his thoughts as the raptors overhead, spread their large wings and swept the length of his body, their shadows cloaking him as they flew over. Throughout his journey, the illustrious birds had advanced him to moist resting places, each new waterhole bringing forth renewal. Never did they fail him, nor did he, as he continued placing each foot, one in front of the other in a predetermined march to a new life.
Nooleen soon settled into his new village, and quickly developed a pastime of scrutinizing women of all ages and measurements. The lasses smiled affectionately at him and sensed his kindness. Though if he interpreted anything into their smiles, he was disappointed at the outcome, for it was never more than a kindly smile, until he met Sara.
"Divination" she would tell the villagers later, when asked about their beginnings, "pure divination."
Her eyes sparkled in the telling of their love, her voice and breath quickened. Her scarlet cheeks, ample bosom, and ambrosial nature were enough to catch the eye of many men in the village. The wild rousts that she and Nooleen had in the stable straw, inches away from the hooves of the village beasts, left her fertilized and fulfilled. The day their child was born, Nooleen announced that they would call him William, after the great conqueror William. But this
William would be William of Wroughton.
William grew in the protection of his folks. Considering his father, Nooleen, was quite common, William was blessed with a becoming set of well-defined features laid upon fresh olive skin and a strong captivating smile. Nooleen and Sara adored and nurtured the boy, as did all the lackadaisical village girls who loved to carry him about their hips. When he grew old enough to walk unattended, William would find his way to the top of the hill and spend afternoons at the Dun of Ella, the old fortress where long ago Egbert, King of Wessex, won a great battle and became the Saxon Lord of the entire kingdom.
The days were satisfying for young William until the village began suffering through arduous times. Then tragedy struck. One day, several men began harassing Nooleen. Good men though they usually were, they had imbibed too much strong ale in an underground hut where they stored grains and root vegetables.
“Ho there,” said a round-faced yellow-haired man as he staggered out of the cellar, “I saw you here last night, you stole our bags of grain!”
“I did no such thing,” Nooleen spoke up, picking up his pace and hurrying on up the path to meet with his wife and child.
“Ah, alas, Toden, there he is, is this not the fellow who stole our millet last night?”
The two men were so drunk the words upon their lips were barely decipherable. Nooleen cautiously continued down the path, ignoring the drunks.
Toden then ran in front of Nooleen, blocking him and taunting him. “I knew you steals our grain, we saw you, we knows you did it.”
Nooleen knew better than to think he could take on the two inebriated fools. The spirits they had been nursing for several days was upon their breath. Nooleen could smell the fumes as they drew closer and grabbed at him. They pulled at the coat Sara had made for him and it terribly angered Nooleen. Standing tall, Nooleen pushed at Toden and wrestled him to the ground. The second man, Ripley, grit his teeth, grabbed an ax and attempted to hit Nooleen upon the head but Nooleen released his hold on Toden and grabbed the ax from Ripley. The two misguided men in their fierce anger succeeded in pulling Nooleen to the ground, pressing his face against the rocks, the white chalky soil working its way into Nooleen’s mouth. Toden grabbed a large rock and dropped it upon Nooleen’s skull. Nooleen’s body went limp. Toden and Ripley, in a continuous rage, gathered a thick rope, made a noose and hung Nooleen from a tree. As the life was leaving Nooleen’s body, he opened his eyes to see the setting sun light up the hillside in front of him. In his view were the familiar silhouettes of his wife and child, baskets in hand, hand in hand, picking wildflowers on their way to meet up with him. Little William was only five when he climbed up that tree to work the rope and gently release his father.
“I’m sad,” young William told his mother one morning, months after the death of his father. He had just awakened from one of his many nightmares, which left him with the vivid memory of his father’s limp body dangling at the end of a rope, moments before he and his mother could save him. His mother, Sara would just stare at the boy, not knowing what to say. As the years passed, she regained some elements of her former self but regularly suffered from bouts of fear. William endured her screaming, awaking them both from sleep, a sleep which neither would be able to recapture. They would often go outside and sit on the rocks below the slight slope that receded away from their meager dwelling. He would hold his mother’s hand and try to distract her with stories the villagers had told him about the stars and the heavenly orbs that light up the nighttime sky, especially Venus. She smiled repeatedly, each time he told the stories; she knew the stories well and it amused her that he could be so creative, changing them to fit what he was remembering in his half-awake mind.
“Look Mother, see the glittering orb that lights up the sky on this dark night?”
Sara cocked her sleepy head and William could see that it was a great effort, “Yes, I see it, um hum.”
“That’s Venus, goddess of love and beauty. One night the old man told me that I would have her, all for myself.”
“What old man?” his mother asked, awakening now that her son had spoken of such seriousness. She wanted to know who was filling her son’s head with dreams that could not be fulfilled.
“The old man, the one with the long, long, white hair and the long white beard. The one with the shiny spot on top of his head where the hair refuses to grow, the man with the missing teeth.”
“He’s been speaking with you? I did not know he could talk. What does he know of Venus?”
“Oh he knows Mother, he knows about beautiful women. He used to have one.”
“He did, did he? Well it must have been a very long time ago.”
“Yes, it was a very long time ago and he loved her as any man loves his favorite horse. Each time he looks into the sky and sees that bright orb, he sees her and feels her.”
William was not only distracting his mother but now thanks to the kindly village storyteller, he was himself thinking of brighter images. But his mother had lost interest, thinking of lost loves brought greater sadness. William bent down to look into his mother’s saddened face that stared into the cold ground, not a far distance from the rock she was sitting on, her feet squarely placed between her ears.
She nodded and waved her hand as if for him to continue.
“He told me that one day I would have my own beautiful Venus. Do you know why?”
She shook her head no, continuing to stare at the dark ground, barely lit by the evening sky.
“Because that glittering orb up there makes women.”
His mother looked up at him with disbelief and a strange amusement but dropped her head back down again.
“Little chips of that star rain down upon the earth. Sometimes at night, you can see them glitter. The moisture from the morning dew makes them grow into beautiful women and some day I’m going to have one, all my own.”
His mother shook her dropped head. William could see she was not impressed.
“I am sad too mother,” the boy said. “I loved my father. He was going to teach me to milk the cows and harvest wheat, and weave. What will I do without a father to show me these things? I will need to be very kind to the other fathers and all the villagers so they will teach me the things I need to know.”
Sara lifted her head, put her hand on his check and gave him a hopeful smile. They could feel the nighttime closing. Before too long, the sun would rise again. They would do their best to tackle the daylight hours just as they had the night.
During spring, planting the hamlet became earnest. There was no time for leisure. A stolen moment to sit and enjoy the fresh green growth of oak trees after the long winter was always stolen from something else. The upcoming summer’s harvest needed to be considered and the village horses that were growing fat were sure to founder without a vigorous ride. There were animals that needed a spring-cleaning or their hooves picked-out. The sounds of the British meadows played together with synchronicity, yet if one were to keep a steady beat with one’s foot, each segment could be extracted and examined, then carefully laid back into the symphony like the gentle returning of the hen’s egg to her nest. The birds chirping, the breezes blowing, the leaves rustling, and the goats braying were sweet and delicate but the heavy sound of thundering work horses and ponies chasing after one another in the late morning sun brought a bass to nature’s well-orchestrated beauty as the dew gradually evaporated from the tall blades of grass.
William was slowly maturing. He had learned to smile and slightly bow to the women he passed in the village. He would quickly help them when he saw a need and all were quite fond of him. While only fifteen, the older lasses in the village took a liking to him as he drove a large horse-drawn cart out into the fields to scythe tall grasses for the stock. They would watch as his firm back and strong arms lifted and pitched the long green grasses up into the cart. When the cart was piled high with fresh hay, he would lie on his back on top of it and soak up the morning rays of sun, trusting the horse, Blackie, to slowly return to the stables. One of the young women, Lyla, was always smiling and watching him. Her body had matured graciously and the heat drifting through the two youngsters had not gone unnoticed amongst the other villagers. Lyla kept her bodice tightly laced but loose and had a way of keeping her skirts raised just enough to reveal her soft, tan legs.
William and Lyla could only admire each other in passing, unlike the dance of young love that surrounded them in the hidden underbrush of the world of the buck and the doe, in the river with the fish and in the mating rituals of the hawks that ruled the atmosphere encompassing the village.
"Why don't you help her carry the milk? That jug is weighty," William's friend Jonah would say, "It pains us all to watch. If she raises her skirt for you again today William, I swear, I will carry that milk jug myself. Do not forget that we are also young ardent men. This goes on day after day. Will it not cease?"
"I don’t know Jonah, my mother needs me so very much. I can’t be involved." As he said these words, William turned to look at Lyla across the cobblestones where she stood by the barn tending the milking cows. She smiled back, her bare feet pointing outward, all the while, once again, exposing her beautiful, tanned legs.
Jonah watched as always but today he boldly took one look at William then with several big steps marched up to Lyla until William loudly cleared his throat. William caught Lyla’s eye, and finally, their romance began. After that day, the two were often seen laboring together in the old village or enjoying an evening meal consisting of the usual village fare of cheese, curds, plenty of oatcakes and fresh bread made from grains that grew in the cool climate.
Lyla's father, a Norman, had a brightly colored longboat and she and William were often seen sitting in it docked along the rocks. She always found somewhere to put her leg up so she could expose her beautiful skin. Her smile was just as huge in the morning as it was in the evening.
The spring had been delightful but the foggy winter that followed brought a melancholy to the boy and William seemed to grow indifferent towards Lyla. Finding excuses to taper off their work parties, he spent more time tending to his mother, who struggled as best she could at light-heartedness.
One day William packed up some things, put his mother on a horse and started west toward the great stone circle. He promised Lyla he would return but not understanding the depth of that promise, thoughts of her grew faint as the scorching late afternoon sun reddened his youthful skin. William and his mother took their time, stopping to graze the horse on the fresh green grasses that grew thickly along the wayside. Each day they marveled at the changing colors of the sky and the breezes that blew differing scents. Sometimes the smells were of the oak, the acorn, and the moisture that perpetuated the mosses that blanketed the forest floor and at other times, the open meadows caught their noses with fresh grains cultivated by farmers. Then there were the too-frequent times when they did hurry a bit, but politely, through small homesteads that had rotting animal waste or the occasional midden pile.
Once arriving at the great stone circle, the sky was dark and brown clouds filled with rain were ready to blow. William stood staring up at the tall stones that formed an impressive circle, their mystique made the hair on his arms tingle. His mother, Sara, still depressed and not easily enthused, especially over the architecture of the ancients, did not respond but William went around and admired each one. Sheep were gnawing green grass at the base of them and he thought it ironic when he saw one urinating nearby. But sheep were there for his needs and luckily if they were unappreciative of the great physical feat left by workers long ago, their brains were too small to know they were being fattened to be killed which eased William’s conscience about his dependence upon them for food and wool.
Leaving the village had left Sara disheartened. She found no comfort in her son's wanderlust and insisted on returning to the village. William left his mother in the care of strangers who had also traveled to the circle and would be making the walk back to Wroughton. For several more days, William stayed upon the hallowed ground. The bottoms of his feet were callused from all his wandering and when tramping through the tall green grasses that grew where the ancients paid reverence to their deities, William felt as if he were completing his own circle. He took deep breaths in and out, in and out, rhythmically walking, his heart pounding, his ears hearing only the sounds inside his body. He knew these sounds would lead him to complete a larger more encompassing circle of destiny. Suddenly William’s ears throbbed as an arrow sailed by just missing his head. Though fearful, he should have thrown his body to the ground but curiously; he turned to watch where it sailed, only to catch the next arrow in his shoulder. William’s cry echoed throughout the hills and his blood laid spewn upon the sacred site. It was not long before William saw into the yellowed, blood-shot eyes of three archers and as they dragged him off, the rocks tore at his skin as his body bumped along the ground. Tired of his painful screams, one of the three knocked him out using the blunt end of a wooden ax handle.
When William awoke, he looked about his surroundings and felt the rocking of a ship upon the sea. Understanding that he had been abducted, he pulled at the straps that securely wrapped around his hands, feet and waist. Having been cast down behind kegs of liquor and sacks of grains, every inflamed ligament in his body cried out for relief. He heard the loud, bristled, deep, abusive voices of men, bragging of their status of Knights of betrayal, intent on sailing to the ports of Palestine to share in the fleshpots of gold and of course, women stolen from other men. This would not be the only day that turned to night, with the sounds of loud, argumentative voices just a few feet away. It was weeks before they gave him any freedom from restraint, which was followed by a long winter of captivity.
Many of the arguments pertained to navigational topics, which for the most part, William understood because the men spoke a familiar language. He could see the maps and discerned they must have traveled to some far-away place, those far away spots that the men of his village would tell stories of, perhaps where his people had come from. William could not identify with these men. The men who had killed his father, Toden and Ripley had been cut from the same mold. Why had such bright men resorted to such a decrepit existence? What had happened to them in their lives that they spoke repeatedly of their proud betrayal? Whom had they betrayed? Certainly, it had been men of great means and status. A handful of the crew were of the simplest minds, doing whatever was told of them in exchange for food, drink and a slight promise of profit. The others, William observed, were of a substantial degree of intelligence.
In the brief time, William had been their prisoner, he watched the ships come and go and heard the stories of his captors. Their stories became exaggerated as the men slowly fell into their cups of strong drink and then to the floor to sleep it off. Each and everyday William plotted to break away to follow a feeling that was growing inside the shadows of his loneliness.
Day after day William saw elaborate visions of a young girl. Thoughts of her nested in his mind. His Venus as the old man had predicted. One night when fear had captured his heart and the moon slept behind pointed clouds, when the water was stormy and choppy, he looked out at the remote port where they were temporarily docked and saw a small vessel. He had gained enough trust to convince his captor that the rope anchoring a vessel he was watching, was about to break. The Captain saw the waves roughly tossing the odd little ship about and agreed with William. With no sea experience, his captors doubted William would wander. Fearful yet determined, he fought back tears as he walked down to the beach. This was his first taste of freedom in months. The cool salty air made him shiver. Goosebumps were on his arms and there was a pain in his gut but he thought of his mother and the Village of Wroughton and promised himself that he would one day return. He found a sharp rock on a shore full of rounded stones. The rock, and the muscles of his strong physique, ripped at the cording holding the small vessel. The rock broke the rope free and William with it. He was soon out of sight and on his way to find the young woman he had seen in his dreams.
The constant pelting of the sea pockmarked William’s face. His lips bled and his hair was like wire. He no longer looked a young man nor felt it. The boat adrift, and he, without food or water for days, baked in the hot sun. He laid flat on his back thinking of the old horse Blackie and the hay cart, he dreamed he was lying on top of the freshly harvested grass he had clipped, and that Blackie was taking him safely home. Inhaling deeply, he imagined smelling the freshly harvested grasses.
How many days at sea, adrift, William was too delirious to have counted but when he awoke to find himself in the stone house of a mother with two daughters and a son, he gathered his mental faculties with all effort he could rally and took stock to see that he was indeed still existing in this lifetime. He had no idea what had transpired to find him on land, nor did he speak their language, so had no way of asking. While contemplating his situation, he rested on their mats, drank of their fruit juices and ate their nutmeats, greens and grains. The two daughters diligently brought him fresh bowls of fruit and a cloth warmed and seeped in citrus that they gently cleansed his hands with. The son was indifferent, shrugging off what was usually expected of a young boy, curiosity that this stranger had come adrift from the sea and was in their home. The boy stole a glance at the man’s hazel eyes and fair skin and analyzed the stranger’s hair which was thick and wavy but not curly like the people of the desert he saw each day, their black and dark brown hair was quite thick with curls.
William’s recuperation afforded him the luxury of the occasional daydream, particularly over the mother who ran the household. Though she was years older than he was, he found himself sexually aroused by her. He would lay and watch her open vessels of oil and wipe them through her long dark hair. He watched her run the oil over her slender shoulders, taking serious pains to cover each spot of skin, her arms, her dark-skinned legs, even running her hands up and into her inner thighs, her hands following the flow towards the taught muscles of her backside where she would spend time and massage her lower back. She knew he watched her wantonly. After several days of the daughters coddling him, when he was able to sit up alertly, their mother brought a strange man in, pleased him right in front of William's eyes and without a word nor even a look, left him in silence. He wondered where her three older children were and how they just slipped away while she brought this strange man inside. Later when the children returned, they avoided any talk and averted their eyes. It was then that William caught the eyes of one of the daughters. He saw a look of shame and confusion in her deep brown eyes. When she forced a gentle smile at him, her teeth were very white like the underside of fresh seashells. Her hair was the color of sand, falling in waves and her skin was darker than his was but lighter than her mother’s was. The longing and needing he felt for her mother was changing, his thoughts turning now towards the girl whom he soon noticed was older than she had originally appeared. Turning his focus away from the mother tortured him as he wrestled with that longing inside of himself. He had been teased by her mother's mischievous ways and now he knew he had to make haste and take the daughter with him.
William had no possessions. No coins, nor beast to carry this barely a woman with him. She spoke not his language nor shared the same culture. He took her without asking anyone's permission, especially hers. His muscles were strong and he grabbed her - he wrapped his hands about her mouth and into the night, he stole. He took her out into a dangerous world where men shackle other men to do for them, so that they may idle in their brew. The moon was bright and the young girl's sandy hair danced in the light. She knew to disassociate. William saw in her eyes that her thoughts were far away - fear was not new to her. He wanted badly to slide his breeches off and roughly share that which he watched the strange man take from her mother but William was not a savage and William had not had the opportunity to enjoy the lubricated folds of a girl and not confident he could. He had found his Venus. The old storyteller would be proud.
They traveled slowly through the warm night. The Bedouin villages were scattered thinly throughout the desert and the bells on their sheep echoed pleasantly as the only language that William and the girl shared. Her fear dissipated as each day became a routine of William bartering his labor, receiving food and provisions in return. After several days, they began accumulating comforts and each day the food they ate was more filling. Chickpeas, sunflowers, rolled and flattened wheat bread and honey began to flow their way. By the time they reached Palestine, the girl of olive orchards and fields of grapes grew comfortable with William. She had never thought she would be leaving her place by the sea nor expected a better life but now she sensed in William that feeling of protection, a need that burns inside every young vulnerable woman. William provided care and with his delicate eyes conveyed unspoken promises.
William let the young woman be his guide. She communicated to him that she would lead him to the magnificent city upon a hill. Through the interpretation of other pilgrims, she made it clear that they would not escape turmoil and that this was where they were destined. They traveled for weeks through the desert, walking and upon the backs of various beasts, and when their bare feet was blistered from the hot sand, kindly strangers offered them fresh sandals. As they neared the view of the ancient city of Jerusalem, formed from the very sands beneath their feet, she smiled and watched his expression, constantly looking up, herself in awe at the huge stones that surrounded the city and the temple that rose eminently up.
William and his young Venus walked through the ancient city, her hand in his. Before coming to Jerusalem, she had not heard the complete story of Jesus the Christ. She had heard fragments of stories about the great healer and how his blood ran through their tribe and she remembered heated debates that ran into the night during holy days when conflicting histories of her people were discussed. The much beloved Mohammad had also been woven into her tribe’s ancestry but as a girl she had known very little about either one of these men accept that talk of them caused disturbance during what was supposed to be a festive time. Her childhood was over now and she was enjoying forming her own thoughts while she and William strolled about, marveling at the history of King David and his father Solomon and at what great an effort it must have been to build the temple walls that surrounded the city. William would add bits and pieces of history that he had heard through his mother, that his father, Nooleen had told her. How his father would have marveled if he knew that his son William would walk these historic streets.
Though William was older, their ages soon melded to a ripeness that was strong and mature enough to go through the tribulations that the years would bring them. Crusaders throughout Jerusalem became gruesome and confused men, resolved to select and remove a people they believed evil. The Crusaders and their swords, in their inability to distinguish between citizens, friend or foe, dripped with the blood of many. No one escaped their terror. The blood of battles was stained into the stones that all bare feet touched in the early morning. And the stones were cold. But as William and Avohn (he began to call her) placed each bare foot down on that cold cobblestone, their warmth left a hint of the peacefulness that their efforts would one day bring.
Avohn and William found a hovel that was so well hidden, they almost missed it. They entered quietly and began setting up a place to prepare meals and place mats upon the ground for sleeping when they saw many abandoned children huddled in the darkness. It shortly became apparent that two women, broken of heart and spirit, were the only adults tending to them.
To Jerusalem’s crusading armies, the children’s ancestry had neither been condoned nor condemned, just their lives left to be stepped upon like blood-soaked cobblestones outside the hovel. William and Avohn became their angels - their God, Goddess, and they relieved the tired women of their responsibility. That first night, William and Avohn sat and thought, their backs against the cold stones that made up the wall. They could barely communicate with the children but Avohn knew the unspoken language of love and the children’s fate was soon changed. Will's protective spirit and Avohn's skillful art of bargaining from wealthy merchant’s with fruit carts, soon brought a daily life that began to bring smiles to all their faces amidst the turmoil and the sounds of cultures clashing in the distance.
In an attempt to be inconspicuous, William wore the attire of a Christian man of Jerusalem during the seven years he and Avohn cared for the children. They remained with the initial twelve children and saw them from tender ages until one by one they filtered out into the streets and hills of Judah or found a place with a family in Jerusalem. Fortunately, the little ones escaped the slavery trade. Most of the children found work caring for pack animals or harvesting dates and grapes. Though Will and Avohn tried to stop them, some of the boys joined up with fighting men. Unimaginable that the children of the victims became the victimizers, the two adults shook their heads in disbelief as several of the young boys took up arms. These were the ways of their world - there were not many options.
One warm day as the desert sun heated the stones enough to take the chill off, Avohn’s naked body brushed against William’s skin. He had thought about arising early but after her chilly nipple slid across his back, William grabbed at her wrist and looked seriously at her. She shook her arm free and at the same time, he released it. She rose upon the dusky stone floor upon which her feet were firmly planted. Her slender body stood bathed in sunlight that shot fiercely into their small space. She smiled at him, turned around and stood on her toes to peek into the streets of Jerusalem. No one could see into their private chamber, nor could she reach the opening enough to see into the streets but she could see the tips of walking staffs and better hear the sounds of people shuffling by. She was hesitating. She knew William wanted to please himself inside her but she was not sure that it would hold the love she enjoyed, just the lust that often accompanied his advances. When she turned to eye him and sense his mood, she saw his manhood larger that it had ever been. Was it the way the light shone upon it against the dark shadows of the room? She held his gaze for too long, his male ego becoming tender, sensing this she knelt down. With her hand, she brushed at the soft skin that made up his fluid filled desire. She lay back down with him and put her lips upon it, respecting it and caressing it. He had never heard of a woman giving pleasure as such and certainly would not tell of it to anyone. He looked down at her long curly hair upon his chest and watched her lips kiss him there sensuously. He closed his eyes and felt her body move closer to his. He reached his hand to her thighs, slid two fingers, and felt her jelly like moisture. She slid a leg over his body, straddling him, then slowly descended down and placed him inside her. They could both hear the sounds of the citizens outside the walls, more and more footsteps with each passing moment, each new person beginning their day. The sounds became muffled as Avohn and William collectively engaged in the primitive act of tossing their bodies into one another, their egos pushing to drive the other to new heights. When Avohn’s breathy cry reached the outside world, there were a few laughs from those passing by, the familiar sound of a woman pleased yet again by the delicate fabric of man and William’s loud voice following with his pleasure call, one his woman had answered.
After their morning of lovemaking, Avohn laid in William’s arms while he plotted their return to his land of green rolling hills. Slowly they emerged from their cozy hideout and enjoyed the afternoon wandering freely about the markets of Jerusalem.
“I want those,” Avohn said bartering with the olive vendor. Perplexed, the vendor’s eyes wandered about trying to decipher which variety of olives she desired.
“I want those,” she said slowly as she pointed at the oily, mouth-watering variety of large dark olives.
“Ah, “ he said with a broad smile, “the olives from the north.” He leaned over his table, his tunic strings dipping into his bowls of olives, “your voice, your language,” he smiled again and averted looking at her straightly, “my mother’s family comes from your village, a very long time ago. I have not heard it in many a year.”
Avohn smiled softly and touched the vendor’s hand as he filled her vessel with the olives. He squeezed her hand tightly and with a bow of his head, thanked her graciously. The vendor then began to shout out as others passed him by without stopping, “Olives, olives from the north, olives from the south, olives warmed by the sun, olives …”
Suddenly three young vagrant boys ran by with two adult men chasing after them. The distracted crowd began to push and shove. William grasped tightly the hand of the girl he loved. She fell to his feet and he pulled her back up again. Frightened they began to run. Avohn clung tightly to the large vessel of olives.
“Let it go!” William scolded but Avohn clung tightly to what she had so preciously acquired. Holding it tightly to her chest, the vessel began to slip from her hand. Letting go of William's hand so she could stabilize the vase, the crowd, rushing between the two of them, separated them. Avohn jumped up and down frantically looking for William above the heads of the men in the crowd but their roughness pushed William farther and farther back. He jumped upon a threshold of stairs to improve his line of sight but she was nowhere to be seen. Staying where he was, he scanned every face, every pair of women’s eyes. The crowd calmed and he walked frantically about calling her name.
“Avohn, Avohn, Avohn … Avohn!”
The crowd grew thinner with each degree that the acrid sun lowered in the sky. William looked upon the ground amid cracked bowls, rotting fish, women’s dropped scarves and children’s broken toys. He could hear his heart beating loudly.
He walked amidst the abandoned tables, bent down and vomited. He pulled at his hair and vomited repeatedly. How could she have disappeared? What had happened to the young, kind beauty that he had seen in visions while enslaved upon the ship? Sick with grief, he hung about the city all night, grinding his teeth away like the winds of sands wore away the buildings he leaned against in anguish. Nowhere was she to be found. William knew there was a gentle layer of man who walked slowly and carefully amongst the thieves and power-hungry men who decimated in the name of their God yet every man he saw, he saw with disgust and disdain. In his heart, he knew someone had taken her. He had heard accounts of the slave dealers trolling the markets looking for vulnerable women and children. William detested men who stomped out the lives of women and children, men who saw them as commodities to barter or sell. The thought of men’s crude behavior and Avohn’s desirable beauty became a tortuous thought.
In unrelenting pain, day after day, month after month, William walked the streets of Jerusalem waiting for the people's God to bring her back to him. He thought he saw her one night, the curve of her hip, as she turned a corner but when the woman turned to see who was following her, she scowled at him. He stayed awake all that night thinking only of Avohn. He could feel her, almost touch her soft delicate skin but he could take the pain no more. Months passed and William told his desperate tale to many. A quite common piece of advise was to go to Marsaille where many of the slave dealers took their victims. Respecting their wisdom, he left Jerusalem, working on a ship to provide his passage to Marsaille. His agonizing began to settle into the depths of his consciousness, a spot quite distant from his heart.
Marseilles was alive with activity that did not stir William’s blood, but the many shades of browned bodies fascinated him. In Marseilles, the port brought merchants and slave-traders from the east and from below the Equator. He repressed his pain and gradually adapted to the merchant port life of Marseilles but he did not eat much and grew thin. At night he took board on the ships that he worked on during the day, unloading cargo, working just enough for a meal and the occasional inland dry floor to sleep on. Some days he was more ambitious than others and worked extra so he could set aside coins and buy a woman for an hour as the Noblemen did. He peeked at the street women from afar and like many a single male, took to the dangerous practice of visiting these Courtesans. He was still a charming fellow and they grew to know him well, becoming his only friends. It wasn't always a grand affair, he did not have that many coins and he often found himself waiting about in the evening winds until the girls had made their quota, took pity on him, having seen him waiting outside and gave him what little they had left of themselves and took William's few coins to top off their purses. It was a dangerous habit that William was convinced he needed to abandon.
Avohn’s beauty had led to her abduction. It was painful for her to have to submit her body to another man, after giving it to William, when it had been sweet as ripe grapes she tasted from her fingers as a child. After losing the clasp of Will's hand in Jerusalem’s marketplace, she had been forced to adapt to the servitude she had fallen prey to. Two other women, who purchased her, mostly to add numbers to the household and keep the master from their bedside, sold her into the home of a wealthy merchant, Ahmil. After acquiring Avohn, he grew cold to most of his other women and sent them off when they were with child, left to beg in the streets.
Avohn would lay awake at night not fearing this bearded merchant. He had only bedded her once and the ensuing feeling after he had enjoyed her beauty, was so sharp he developed a strange fear of her. Some power she held, some covenant with God, some future destiny she had, he did not tamper with and he began to protect her as he would his own child, a child he would never have.
A variety of young girls came through his household but none like Avohn. Ahmil had a fear of God yet his morals were tangled as the vines that grew the grapes so sweet to Avohn.