Sunday, September 11, 2011

When the warriors returned we applauded their accomplishments. In the evening we celebrated with goat and lamb roasted over embers.
Then the musicians played to our hearts and sang songs of bravery and triumph, and kept us warm from the cold kiss of night.
They sang songs in praise of our God who had delivered us from our enemies.
Late in the night under a dream washed sky we savoured soft songs of melancholy, of lost homelands, of lost love.

I was but fifteen, not promised I believed, and my virtue unsullied. My mind was innocent, my soul not realised, my spirit unbounded, my possibilities immense, and my joys were many.

My father may God be with him sold me to a merchant, Salomon, a man with four wives.
Salomon was a brute. He plucked me as you would the petals of a flower, then ground the petals between his palms and cast them away. His wives then trampled them into the dust. I became shackled like a dog, fed the scraps of his exhaustion.

My father visited, goaded by my mother and by his own conscience; he knew me not.
In the morning he returned and slit Salomon’s throat from ear to ear. Salomon bled like the pig he was, squealing in silence. His wives wailed to the sun and to the moon.
We fled that country, my father, my mother, my two younger sisters and I, hiding by day and walking by night, avoiding towns and villages, eating what the earth provided, following the river.

After two weeks we joined a caravan travelling east. My father's smile returned and he became tender to my mother and to his daughters. That night he held me and wept. He told me that Salomon had assured an easy life for me, with respect for my youth. He begged my forgiveness for his foolishness. I told him that my family was the bread of my being, the honey in my heart.

On the following morning the sun arose, a gigantic blood red eye, its liquid bloody vision tainting the earth, reaching to our faces, smearing our souls.

When the raiders came upon us that night, our leader bargained for passage but their greed was immense and their slaughter was without mercy. We cried to our God to save us but His need for our martyrdom was greater than His need for our lives. I somehow slid away between boulders and hid beneath shrub trembling, a small frightened animal.

In the silence of the pale morning I slipped into the blackened smoking camp. Among the bodies, the limbs and the prowling dogs I found the head of my father. I closed his eyes and I held him to me. I kissed his lips. My blood had frozen, my heart had stopped. I looked to the left and I looked to the right. Nothing but destruction, death. Where was my mother? Where were my sisters? I looked to the sky. Where was my God? My screams erupted from my body like the Nine Demons of Sheol. Each one louder and more terrible than the last. The sky bled with my anger. My God cowered in His bower.

The year had opened in warm certainty and the possibility of youth. Now I felt the cold fingertips of Fate. Fate is the company you dread. You watch his shadow dance before you as he rides up behind. 

This excerpt is taken from a manuscript found in a cellar in the town of Anjar in Lebanon in 2004. Anjar has been suggested as the location of ancient Syrian city of Chalcis. A Roman road connected Antioch to Chalcis. The purported autobiography of Sybilla of Antioch was translated into French in 2009 by Paul Hazan, Doctor of Linguistics at the University of Cairo. It is claimed to have been written in the 11th century by Sybilla, the so called Queen of The Brigands (Hazan uses the French 'brigand'). It is reputed to be a fake by some experts despite carbon dating in 2006 which confirmed the sample material to be 11th century.  Others regard it as biographical romanticised fiction from around that period. Even so it makes good reading. 

A disclaimer here. Purely by coincidence this post went up on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Actually I posted it on 10/11 here in Oz (the dateline). It was not intended to have any direct reference to the dreadful tragedy, or indeed the subsequent ongoing tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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