Monday, May 2, 2011

The next Scroll Transation - Miri - A Meeting in Alexandria (part 1)

Miri - A Meeting in Alexandria

Last night I dreamt of our first encounter with the mad Celt.  We’d been in Alexandria a little over a year and had developed the habit of ending the day sitting quietly in a tavern, discussing the days events and teachings over a mug of watered wine.  One night, seemingly out of no-where, this monster of a man appeared and greeted us as though we were long lost comrades.  We were so stunned at his audacity that we all three just sat there as he staggered up to our table and launched into a drunken monologue.
“Greetings,” cried this huge barbarian, throwing his arms wide, then slamming his empty tankard down on our tablet.
“I am Viriathus Cuchulain, the Celt, of the Tribe Trocmi, out of Anatolia and 400 years ago my people stormed the city of Rome and burned it to the ground!”
With that he dropped into the chair he’d dragged up to our table.  He stood over 6 feet tall and must have weighed 200 pounds or more, all of it muscle.  I thought the chair would collapse, but while it creaked and wobbled, miraculously it held together.  The man shouted at the tavern keeper to bring more ale and wine for all and then he smiled at me.  I remember that smile, so big and happy.  It seemed as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Years later, Simon would snidely refer to it as a big dumb grin for a big dumb Celt, but I always loved that smile.  And we all learned very quickly that Cuchulain was anything but dumb.
“So,” he said, turning to look Yoshai in the face, “I see you plan to throw off the Roman yoke!  Drive them from your homeland and regain your freedom!  Hah!”
I glanced at Yoshai, almost swallowing my heart in terrified surprise.  How did he know we planned to fight Rome?  We had said nothing like that tonight, nor any other night in a public place.  Those discussions were held very quietly in our rooms, late at night like any good conspirators.  Yoshai glanced anxiously around the room.  Roman legionaries failed to leap out at us from the shadows.  No-one waited to drag us off in chains.
“What?” The madman laughed at our reaction.  “You think I don’t know?  You think the whole wide world doesn’t know that the Jews of Israel would like nothing better than to wipe the Romans off the face of the earth?  Relax!  Everyone in every Roman colony has the same thoughts now and again.  Most never do anything about them, but woe unto those who do.  Listen and I will tell you a tale that you need to know.  ‘Tis a tale of great deeds, valiant warriors, hopeless battles fought and sometimes won, more often lost at great cost.  I give you the tale of my people, with all its warts and glory.”
Yoshai closed his mouth and subsided back into his chair.  It was almost funny, except for the sudden heart pounding fear of being discovered and crucified by the Romans.  I don’t think I’d ever seen Yoshai quite so lost for words before.
“Have you heard of we Celts?  Ah, but you probably know us as Gauls.  For over 1,000 years my people have ruled Gaul.  Our warriors were strong and restless and our chariots spread us wide.  We took to the western seas and found islands off the coast of Gaul.  Many of us settled there, behind the white cliffs on the green hills of Briton.  It was there we found our ancient brethren, those who once travelled and traded many generations before.  From there we followed their old trading routes, down into Iberia.  We were and still are, a warrior people.  Some of us farm, some herd, but the younger sons soon tire of those games and take to raiding and counting coup.  As a young man, I often showed my bravery and daring.  Many times I snuck into the camp of a neighboring tribe and stole their cattle, herding them back to my town, showing the people my abilities!”
“I was eighteen when I stole my first wife,” he paused for a moment, “though she is long returned to the earth now.  Gods, she was a beauty, hair the red of dancing flames, much like yours, my lady.” he said, gesturing at my dark red hair.  It was an unusual color for a Jew and had drawn many a comment over the years. “But oh, what a temper she had to go with the flames!”  His voice saddened and he paused again, lost in his memory.
“Now, where was I?  Yes!” he took a huge gulp from his mug and waved at the inn-keep for another.  “My people ruled Gaul, a thousand years of almost peace.  Nothing  more than a little tribal bickering and youthful pranks.  We built an empire spanning the known world.  From Halshtat in the Germanies, where our salt mines supplied the tribes for thousands of leagues around, to Briton off the coast, west to the wide waters, east to the lands of the Persians and beyond.  The Greeks called us the Keltoi and looked upon us as a civilization equal to their own.  We ruled when Rome was nothing more than a village of mud huts, the legendary wolf twins Romulus and Remus not even born.  With the coming of Rome we became the barbarians, the peoples outside the Roman Empire.  Lucky for Rome we never united.  Ah, but that was our downfall.  We had too many little chieftains, no single great leader to call us together and wield us like the mighty weapon that we could have been.  And so a great nation of many tribes fell one by one to the Legions.”
“We spread across Gaul, beyond the Alps.  Many tribes, farmers mostly, with their younger sons out for adventure.  For years we lived our lives in comfort, never at war, but never quite at peace with ourselves.  But we grew jaded.  Many took to living in towns, staying in one place for many years at a time.  Some 400 years ago we took a liking to the town of Senones, near Sentinum just north of Rome and many settled there.  We became friends with the nearby Etruscans, which is to say we had the occasional minor war with them but neither side was ever really hurt.  A little youthful mischievousness, just to keep things lively.  Cattle raids, wife stealing, counting coup. 
One time though, after we had blooded the Etruscans noses in their city of Clusium, the Romans decided to intervene.  First they sent envoys to us, offering to parley a peace agreement between Clusium and Senones, but then they turned against us and fought beside the Etruscans.  Now for many years the Etruscans had known they could not beat us and we had no desire to beat them.  Striving against a near equal is good for the soul.  The young still needed a tribe to count coup against.  But when the Romans joined them, they thought they could rid themselves of us, so we were forced to crush them on the battlefield.  We burned Clusium as their punishment.” 
“This loss of our proving grounds angered us, so we marched on Rome.  Some 360 years after they founded their great city, we stormed their gates and took their great city away from them.  We ruled there for a year or so, but Rome was not home, so after we forced them to pay us a huge ransom in gold we left, returning to our homes in Senones.  We had beaten the great Romans into the ground.” 
He paused and looked around the table at our disbelieving faces.
“What?” he growled.  “You do not believe me?  You think no-one has ever beaten the Romans?  Ask any Roman!  Though they will tell you a slightly different tale they will still admit that we conquered Rome and soundly thrashed her great armies.  But we lost interest.  We had no great urge to build and rule an empire.  We leave that kind of  foolishness to others.  We simply wanted a little variation in life, a little spice now and again.  As you wish to do with your homeland, we returned to ours, expecting to live in peace, thinking our war with Rome was over.  But it wasn’t.  Rome does not lose.  Not ever!  The term ‘forgive and forget’ is meaningless to the Romans.  ‘Never forgive, never forget!’, now that is pure Roman!”
“Thinking nothing more of the war, my tribe moved further east, into Macedonia.  Our young had to cease their warrior sports, as our neighbours quickly grew annoyed with us.  Instead our young men became free mercenaries.  We fought for our neighbors, for their enemies, anyone who would pay us.  By the Gods, we even fought for Rome.  Even now, many Roman Centurions are Celts, though few will admit it these days.  Look at me!  I was once a centurion in the ranks.  Hah!”
“Aye, we fought for Rome and we fought against Rome.  In the wars with Carthage, there were Celts on both sides.  Ten thousand of us marched on Rome with Hannibal when he crossed our Alps.  Four thousand of our cavalry rode out with the Romans against him.  Alexander used us when we conquered Egypt for him and we supported Ptolomy later.  We were there when they raised the great lighthouse of Pharos and many of our ships use that beacon to this day.”
“Ha!” he laughed softly, “There are Celts on all sides these days, though you’d never know it from the way they dress!”
He stroked his hair, his hand moving down to his beard, tugged gently at the gold band he wore around his neck.  “No-one dresses like a true Celt any more!” he said sadly.  
I studied him carefully as he stared mournfully into his mug.  Was this really a madman from the outer lands, the barrens?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  His hair was long, but carefully oiled and braided all around his head.  The hair braids were very fine and tight.  He must have taken hours to do his hair.  I couldn’t help but smile.  Why, he must take more care of his hair than both my sisters combined!  He was clean and his clothes, though obviously worn, looked to be well made and of good quality.  Around his throat he wore a torque, the first I’d ever seen.  It was finely worked, two inter-twined snakes curled around his neck, the mouths of each holding a ball the size of my thumb, the balls resting at his throat beside his collarbones.  With a shock I suddenly realized it was made of gold.  This madman carried the wealth of a Judean village around his neck as jewelry!  His leather tunic was worn, but obviously well made, with a fine tapestry embossed into the leather, the intricate pattern curling around the collar and down both the front and back of the jerkin.  A huge moustache lay across his lip, curled up at the ends.  In the dim light he bore a strong resemblance to an Auroches bull and much of their savagery lay within him.
He must have felt my intent gaze, for he looked up, gave me that smile again and continued with his tale.
“My tribe was one of the lucky, for we were part of the group that moved east.  A hundred years after we toppled Rome, on our way drifting eastward, we swept down through Macedonia towards the great temples at Delphi.  We were going to plunder the Temple and take the holy offerings, but the Gods turned against us.  Taranis, Lord of the Thunders, grew angry with our pride and struck down our armies, sending against us such storms as we’d never seen before.  We fled, ragged bands running both north and east.  My tribe crossed the Hellespont that year and we fled into Anatolia.  For many years we lived there peacefully, sending our young warriors off to fight for whoever wished to hire them.  We had been beaten and battered, but we fared better than those we left behind.  We left, but many of our brother tribes remained in Senones.”
“Remember Rome now, our beaten foe.  Our great failure was that we had forgotten her.  Remember her Legions well if you plan to battle them!  We thought it was over and done, but Rome doesn’t lie quiet.  While my tribe was wandering east and thinking foolish thoughts about Delphi, Rome took Senones.  Took it and obliterated it!  The whole city, burned to the ground!  The men fell to the last and those few who survived the fight to lay down their weapons in surrender were slaughtered where they stood.  The women were given to the legions for sport.  The young men were crucified by the thousands.  Only the very youngest were spared, those too young to remember anything of family.  Those they took into slavery.”

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