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- Si'Wren of the Patriarchs - 1/53 -
Copyright (C) 1998 by Roland J. Cheney
Si'Wren of the Patriarchs
by Roland Cheney
To my wife, Jacquelyn.
The story of Si'Wren was culled out of a veritable treasure trove of hundreds of little clay tablets which were found sealed and submerged for over 4,000 years in stone jars. The jars were brought up from their place of discovery on the floor of the Persian Gulf, where they had lain half-buried under successive layers of sediment for over four millennia, by an internationally renowned team of archaeologists, oceanographers, and professional deep sea divers.
Although few realized the true significance of the find at the time, it was to be recognized later as a momentous event on that fateful day when the very first stone jar was actually removed safely intact from the bottom of the sea by a crude, squealing, grease and rust encrusted loading crane, to be hoisted free after so many centuries and set at long-last on the heaving deck of the aging expedition ship.
Monetary funding for the expedition was so short at times that the only affordable ship permanently on duty throughout the entire venture was an extremely dilapidated and barnacle-festooned vessel of third-world registry. No doubt many of the people involved viewed it as a minor miracle that the near-constant threat of mechanical breakdown did not endanger the success of the mission proper.
But the mechanics and engineers worked more than a few miracles of their own when catastrophe loomed, as it did more than once, and their determination ultimately prevailed.
Safely deposited on dry land after having been lost and forgotten for almost all of recorded human history, the stone jars were finally opened to reveal, instead of wine or oil, the curious little clay tablets safely dry and cushioned in a packing medium of loose straw and uncombed wool. The clay tablets, finally exposed to the light of day after holding their secrets for so long, were gently removed from their stone keepers and carefully packed in crates to be secretly shipped to the back rooms of a major museum. There, it was hoped, they could be systematically catalogued, transcribed, and translated by the dedicated ministrations of a team of the foremost scholars of our time.
After careful and intensive study, the story was derived and adapted -by express and exclusive museum permission- by the author, who poured himself out in an exhaustive work upon this unspeakably priceless literary treasure, to such an extent that a state of chronic ill-health and increasingly strained and weakened eyesight had begun to set in toward the end of the project. Every effort was taken to achieve the highest possible standard of accuracy, integrity, and authenticity in highlighting every nuance of meaning from so obscure an original tongue.
The author has since recovered, and the story of Si'Wren is therefore presented now in modern literary form, which -it is hoped- will be found to have suffered but little from the inevitable abuses of such a distant cultural disparity and linguistically disjointed translation. The rigorous demand of a simple, honest, and straightforward retelling of the story of Si'Wren owes it's true success, not so much to the tireless and unstinting efforts of the author, working with a bank of modern university supercomputers, but rather to the remarkable purity of Si'Wren herself, and the crude directness and honesty of the original telling.
Here, then, is the final result of so much work, such danger and heartbreak on the high seas, unrelenting secrecy, and endless scrutiny, the goal, the prize, priceless beyond all calculation, the translation of those ancient hieroglyphs so painstakingly stick-marked upon the unimpressive-looking little tablets; a story written in the softness of clay, and hardened to the rock of ages. It is a brittle, harsh tale of a tormented adolescent girl who lived out her tragically short life in a time of the greatest moral evil and physical beauty that the world has ever known, a story from the dawn of human history.
She never knew Jesus, the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, by name, although He most assuredly knew her when He formed her in her mother's womb. His time was not yet come.
She was never to hear of the Tower of Babel, or of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Egypt and Moses, of Babylon or the Jews, the Roman Empire, the Cross, or any of the modern religions of the world. They were not yet.
She lived out her short life, and eventually died, about the time when mocking rumors were being widely spread abroad of a foolish old man called Noah, a wise old Patriarch who was rumored to have been directly commanded by no less a personage than the Almighty Himself to build an ark, a great wooden ship. This man, Noah, was given Divine instructions that he must waste no time, but work diligently to prepare a safe haven for his family and himself against a terrible day of judgement to be rained down upon a sinful world, a day when a wrathful God would bring forth a watery flood so deep as to utterly wipe out the unspeakable evils of an accursed race.
Many were amused at the rumors of Noah and his strange Invisible God. Whether the rumors of impending doom were true or not none could say, although there was none who would not readily agree that it was a world worthy enough of such punishment. It was a cruel, backward world, where "...every man did what was right in his own eyes...", sometimes for the better, but more often, for the worse. Much worse.
It was into such a world that the little slave girl, Si'Wren, was born...
Chapter One - Little Jars
The young girl sang softly to herself as she filled another container. Topping it off, she carefully stoppered the neck of the dainty clay vase and laid it to one side with the others.
An orphan prize of the conquests of the House of Rababull, she was small for her age, with long ebony hair nearly down to her waist in back, and perpetually of a rather plain appearance as a child, which safely hid her flowering beauty, unbeknownst to herself, from the lustful eyes of others.
She liked to hum and sing while she worked, although not too loudly, and was a painstaking, diligent servant. She had just finished filling nine of the little clay jars. They contained a medicinal salve comprised of rare aromatic resins and spices which were intended to be sold by an agent of Rababull, her master, in the market place at great profit.
Rababull kept many slaves, wives, and concubines, and had many sons and daughters. He was a strong, wealthy gentleman of noble birth, a titled land owner who wore much crude jewelry, together with the softest of furs and robes, and was always dressed in the finest weaves of red and purple.
He had long distinguished gray hair upon his head. His beard was elaborately curled every morning on a carefully heated rod of iron which was always cleaned and tested first with the judicious application of a wet thumb by his personal man servant, who kept it meticulously polished and free of rust with a dash of virgin olive oil and a cursory, daily polishing.
Rababull had hard, no-nonsense eyes and speech, and he always drove a hard bargain, whether it be something of as little consequence as the selling-off of an old slave or animal too advanced in years to be of proper use to him anymore, or the buying and selling of great tracts of land. He also saw to the scourging of slaves and the torture and questioning of thieves and miscreants, not infrequently even unto pain of death itself. Life could be cheap, depending on who you were, or who your father was.
Master Rababull was more than six hundred and fifty years old, although by the standards of the moderns, more than four thousand years in his future, he would have been described as an exceeding fit fifty-five. His life experience, like his age, was vast.
He was not afflicted by an old man's failings of the mind. He was missing no teeth, neither smitten by cavities. He was sound of stature. He was still keen of ear, and ate and drank as freely as any rash youth. He suffered no impairment of bone, limb, or mind, and had suffered no ailment since the day of his birth.
His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated, and he craved a good physical match or a hard bet as much as any man 500 years his junior.
It was morning, and Nelatha labored steadily beside Si'Wren. Nelatha had been originally sold into slavery at birth for the unfortunate offense of having been a firstborn female, and her first owner had been fond of tatoos and ritual scars, of which Nelatha had received many all over her body.
Nelatha was accustomed to making no little ado of her mere five years seniority over Si'Wren, though not in an unkindly way. Nelatha's limbs were tireless and unfailing, for she was a large woman of short stature and powerful girth. The plenteous flesh of her upper arms rippled to an odd meter as she worked, grinding successful handfuls of spices and herbs in the stone pestle and mortise, to be portioned out into equal shares for each lot of balm.
The balm was made with fresh olive oil, pressed and drained out of a great wooden casement and ram located in the back yard of the compound. The ram was comprised of a flat, wheel-like lid, with many heavy stones laid on over the top of the lid by two powerful male slaves, crushing it down onto the open-topped barrel of olives. As the slaves piled on the stones, the progressively increasing weight of the ram steadily crushed out the fresh, strong-smelling olive oil which was drained through a bung hole at the casque's base.
This was a most pleasant time for Si'Wren, who, not having had any tatoos, not so much as one, applied anywhere on her body like Nelatha, and neither desiring any, yet greatly admired and envied Nelatha for her expert ability and wealth of worldly experience. Si'Wren always looked on with beaming countenance as the piles of freshly sorted and washed olives were slowly crushed down under the weight of so many heavy stones. She would watch the pooling olive oil in the collection bucket, diligent to pluck forth the bugs from the fresh pressing. Then the oil would be covered to settle out any remaining bits of dust,
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