Writing time-travel historical novels about the mysterious Caucasus Mountains in medieval times? Then you might be interested in writing about an area not so frequently covered in historical novels especially when time-travel to various eras takes one family on an adventure from the past to the present and back to the past.
Writing time travel about the Caucasus also focuses on characters who take on many costume drama disguises in persona, accent, and perception as they travel from one homeland to a new one ahead of the first Crusade. What was it like East of Western Europe and at high elevations in medieval times, riding with the various migrations from East to West and North to South?
When you write novels, you often have characters that build a family around themselves or build a trap in which they get stuck paying mortgage bills or paying off businesses and other expenses. With fiction about medieval and ancient characters on the move, you focus on the travels, the people met, the encounters, and the attitudes of the times. Ancient peoples still had to pay off businesses, but houses usually were built by families or yurts set up by the community and extended families with not so many mortgage payments as we know them today.
So the traps people set for themselves in historical novels have a lot to do with climate changes, territory migrations or invasions, and travel to new homelands for some, as you can see in the story below of a family of healers located where the Volga runs into the Caspian and across the mountains to the Black Sea, then south in their time-travel adventure on the move. The main character is Bihar of Balanjar and his family. Balanjar (Baranjar, Belenjer, Belendzher, Bülünjar) was a medieval city located in the North Caucasus region, between the cities of Derbent and Samandar, near the Caspian Sea. Check out, "Battle of Balanjar (730s)." The setting of this story (below) takes place in the 10th century and is excerpted from my paperback (and also Kindle edition) novel, Adventures in my Beloved Medieval Alania and Beyond.
Commitment to Healing
965 of the Common Era, Kiev
Also see Part 2 of this story. And if you'd like to read more of a story like this one as a novel, check out my published paperback fiction book or also in the Kindle edition, Adventures in my Beloved Medieval Alania and Beyond.
"Deliver these Torah Scrolls by Passover (Pesach)," the rabbi from Constantinople eagerly committed. "Bihar, my friend, you must ride from Kiev to Jerusalem on the back of an ass. Do you commit your values to this purpose in the name of the lost tribe of Simeon?"
"Surely, only an ass would attempt to ride to Jerusalem in these timorous times," laughed Bihar of Balanjar, a great horseman of the steppes who now dwelled in Kiev.
"But being a man of a thousand disguises, I will take to those roads in the ways that I trade along my Silk Road, as a healer of men, a sharer of food, and a repairer of the world. And I promise that by Passover/Pesach, the Torah Scrolls will be in the hands of the great rabbi from Toledo whom I am to meet at Jerusalem and deliver the scrolls."
"By Passover, you promise?" The rabbi arched one eyebrow feverishly.
"Yes, by the sweetness of Passover. By the feast without the hummus. For the sake of a spring planting. For the harvests by the new year. And for the chance to be at one with commitment to what repairs, shares, and cares for the world. I promise."
Bihar of Balanjar, a great healer who used acupuncture needles acquired on the Silk Road from a wise one of Cathay, Bihar, the great grandson of a former Tengri shaman, accepted his son's rites of passage into Judaism on the same day that the Rus Prince, Svyatoslav conquered the Khazar white fortress at Sarkel.
The people scattered in the midst of a war that continued to escalate. Khazari widows whose husbands had died in the war accepted the little pillows to catch their tears. Bihar's soldiers carried into battle the Khazar Kagan's standard as a round, polished silver mirror on a long pole, hung with variously colored horsetails and other ornaments.
Bihar, now all dressed up as a Khazarian Kagan with no place to go, raised his skullcap over his wife's oil lamps and stared through his tattered hat. His voice had a cold, slick quiver of peace.
He turned to the wise rabbi who traveled all the way from Persia. Bihar's voice grew louder. "Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam oseh ma'aseh vereshit." We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, Source of creation and its wonders.
"None beneath the Kagan of the Khazars and his fine horses can take this Torah to Jerusalem," decreed the Persian rabbi, opening the ark to show Bihar sacred scrolls safely hidden in the walls above a chest of frayed skullcaps.
"Yet I don't think you're going to Jerusalem in a straight line dressed as you are," said the rabbi of Constantinople -- with a chortle. "Whose garb style will you select from your life travels along the Silk Road--this time?"
The rabbi from Persia replied, "If I know you, you'll find your way to Jerusalem in the garb of what or who, this time, my Kagan of a thousand disguises--an Imam, a Buddhist monk, or a pilgrim from Byzantium?"
Inside the shattered white fortress of the Khazars at Sarkel, by the Don River, the Kagan, Bihar began to daven to and fro, praying as the Persian rabbi guided a pointer at the letters Bihar long before had copied into his own language.
The Rus princes entered and asked Bihar, Kagan of the Khazari who he was now and where he wanted to go. A multilingual Kievan cousin of the Rus prince gave Bihar the triple circled hand sign, addressing him in his Turkic dialect as the Khaz Khan.
He returned Bihar's brother's shield with the large Magen David six-pointed star. The Rus soldiers took Bihar outside and let him go. Each time he was stopped, someone would say, "Let the Khazari king do what he wants."
He carried babies, newly born and laid back into his arms, dead. One with ice-blonde hair, but with glassy gray eyes and a small cut on the belly. Bihar kissed him and found a soldier to help him lay the baby on a bench.
Three minutes later, his five-year old brother, already stiffened, came to join him. The coppery smell of blood ripped through the forest.
Bihar had opened a door to the brick fortress at Sarkel along the Don River that its Byzantine Greek chief engineer, Petronas Kamateros, had built a century before when summoned by Bihar's great grandfather. Now Bihar drew back in familiar horror: a mountain of corpses lying amid the ruins. He closed the shattered door, and waited.
Sarkel and Atil had fallen to Rus Prince Svyatoslav, and Bihar now found himself slamming the same words into people who passed by: He shouted to the Khatun (Queen), "The babies as well, wanted war?"
She turned to a Kievan Rus soldier who shrugged. The soldiers had gone without sleep eight nights in order to destroy the Khazari fortress at Sarkel. Their ships came by sea in the night.
The chain-mail swathed Khazar horsemen in pointy helmets had settled the steppes by then and had great orchards, but the sea? To a Khazar, who boasts finer horsemanship than anyone, riding alongside the horse upside down, and invisible to weapons, it was not to their advantage to be attacked by sea.
Music of the nyes, harps, and kanouns in the Persian style of taksim wafted in quarter tones from the children's room where the families of the rabbinical scholars from Persia and Baghdad came to teach the difference between torah and tumah. No war could stop the harps.
Horizontal rain lashed Bihar's face like a thousand thongs. The quiet village was carpeted with cloud-whipped birch trees. Farmers scythed their crop and burnt it, turning the air a teal blue. Judaized by rabbis from Constantinople, and Jewish immigrants from the Black Sea Italian colonies, Khazar soldiers that fled along the Don River valley and beyond to the Silk Road were humane and decent.
One of them even came back in the battle to lead the collapsing bier bearers who had joined those of two Byzantine Fathers of the monastery hospice. The soldiers had a sorrowful expression.
"Come on, for Hashem's sake, there are seriously injured people here," Bihar cried.
The Khazar soldiers guided Bihar, at the risk of his life, as the war with Rus Prince Svyatoslav was at its peak. A Byzantine merchant, traders from Khwarizm (Azerbaijan and parts of northwest Uzbekistan), Volga Bulgaria, and Persia had perished. Their inn was crushed by the prince's catapult, and in three vaulted rooms laid a dozen traveling merchants-wounded, burnt, their stomachs open, and their arms torn away.
Bihar and some Khazar soldiers, the two Byzantine Fathers, and the Khatun all joined in, but they were not enough to carry the wounded across the alleys. The remains of a fortress had attracted Prince Svyatoslav's warriors.
Three visiting families bringing a new Torah scroll from Baghdad to Sarkel were wounded. A woman's arm had to be amputated and cauterized. All their faces were riddled with black-holed burns. They said nothing, not even a moan. But they kept their large eyes wide and thought of the place where the Volga flows into the Caspian (Sea of Meotis), the Sea of the Khazari.
The Turkic and Circassian allies of the Khazars came from the Caucasus Mountains like soft dragons face to face with the Rus silver bears sailing down the Don to many Black Sea ports.
The place of wooden synagogues, the Jewish quarter, stretched like a tough, earth-toned skin of stones. The prince's warriors struck the holy places, the ruins, while the children of Khazars, fought, davened (divined/prayed) to and fro in prayer, and scattered in the streets.
A reflection of Bihar's face in the polished silver mirror of his standard revealed a tall, muscular young man with the honey-colored complexion of one who spent his days riding in the sun. His short-clipped hair was curly and dark as an Egyptian in front, yet long in the back, where a thick braid flowed from beneath his helmet over his right shoulder and was tied at the end by three bands of malachite beads.
Bihar's lips were pulled over his teeth, giving him a look of confusion. He staggered in the distance to a ruined Byzantine monastery. "Am I in the right place?" Bihar's voice was tense as he walked up to visiting Byzantine and Armenian priests standing far enough from their ruined church.
"Courage is not in the young people," the Father responded.
"Go out and pick up the wounded," the priest called to two young men.
"You're having a hard time getting people to do that," Bihar reassured him.
Serakh, a woman from Baghdad, who had just given birth, sat on the stairs with the baby in her lap, still attached to the cord. Bihar remembered her. He had bought ewes from her when she arrived in Khazaria before the prince waged his war. Her husband copied scrolls and bound special books for the children.
"Please take me back home," she begged Bihar.
"You have no home now," Bihar scowled over his shoulder in a voice dark as lava.
"But where shall I go?" She cried.
"Over there." He pointed northwest to the grasslands of the steppe. The Rus soldiers asked him to do so.
Bihar carried her and the baby into the back of his donkey cart, and then swooped up her little daughter who sat beside her. "Idillah, idillah," she gasped, thanking him, taking his hand and calling it the hand of God.
"Atil?" He asked. He thought she pointed the way to the Khazar city of Atil. "Atil is wasted on this Passover, but not on the next or the next after that when I shall bring this Torah to the rabbis in Jerusalem," he said sadly.
"Idillah," she repeated in her own tongue. "Yes, idillah," at last he responded in her own language. Hashem will provide for the rabbis in Jerusalem until I can deliver this scroll. If it survived from Baghdad to Kiev in the last generation, it will survive in this generation to be returned to Jerusalem."
"I have learned Arabic long ago from rabbis in your great center of learning. When Baghdad is done with her wars against my people, I shall return there to study, speaking your tongue as well as any emir. From a priest in Damascus, I have learned Aramaic. And from those like you in my Khazaria, I have learned Hebrew."
"Who will light a candle in memory of my language, after not at the Passover seder, but by Rosh Hashanah night?" Bihar retorted, narrowing his eyes. "What Mishnah will I write at Javneh for my people? And where will I celebrate next Passover and Rosh Hashanah?" Where will I spend the entire year?
She covered Bihar with blessings. He slowly drove the donkey cart toward the monastery that had a resting place open to all. A visiting Armenian priest provided from his own to help the villagers when the Byzantine priest's well ran dry. The Rus prince's soldiers had destroyed all the Khazar places of sanctuary.
At the end of the narrow, dark street a little boy was limping, his hands waving wildly. "Go away, get back!" The Rus soldiers were shouting at him in languages he did not understand. Bihar stopped and leaped toward the boy who scratched at the slivers in his bare feet.
"Where is your mommy?" Bihar asked.
"Where do you come from?" The boy said and repeated with glassy eyes. "Where is mummy?"
He had lost his mind. Bihar carried him off to the monastery's room of hospice.
With his hand extended, Bihar stopped cold as he stared at its golden door knocker made in the image of a human hand.
"Hashem," Bihar whispered. "The hand of the Creator..." Outside the monastery there was another cart. Bihar turned to look inside, thinking it was empty.
He jumped back. Five little children, one a baby of two weeks, lay there, as white as if they were made of alabaster, and covered with blood.
One by one Bihar took them out. They were put on the plank with their mother and covered up. They were those who had been left in the ruins, in order to take care of the wounded children who were still alive.
The father, arrested by soldiers, was unable to take his family further. Gently, Bihar picked up from the bottom of the cart a baby's sandal and put it in his pocket.
As soon as the rain stopped, nightingales by the dozens swarmed to pick grapes. Darkness fell like a fat snake in twenty coils amid the naked glory of a blizzard of stars. The crescent moon rose over the deserted fortress at Sarkel. Bihar's donkey cart slid over a few feet between the mountains of the two halos, a snow-capped barren peak where Bihar knew he could spend the time between Passover and the Day of Atonement that comes after Rosh Hashanah.
Bihar had returned to the monastery's sanctuary for the wounded. A Rus soldier was still there, dead against the wall with an ax and a small rivulet of blood running from his head. The Khazari donkey carts with many family's possessions were slowly burning against the blackish red sky.
"Where will you go?" An Armenian priest asked. He offered Bihar a plate of chickpeas and olives. "You can spend this Passover here with us. Our people and your people once lived together where the four rivers flowed out of the Garden of Eden. We were one people with you. Today your soldiers told me you perform miracles for your people. Maybe you should change your name to Nissim. In Hebrew it means miracles, he said. Your rabbi told me that. Why don't you eat?" He persisted. "I'm Ter Manvelian."
"I can't," Bihar shuddered. "I can't stand the smell of my own hands."
The Father went down to the flagstones where three hundred Khazar refugees slept on the ground at the foot of a red lantern by the consecrated bread.
"Take this body for your sake." The Byzantine church service went on. "We share the church," the Armenian priest said. "The Greek in the morning.... The Armenian in the afternoon."
"Are you sure I'm really in the right place?" Bihar asked. The Armenian priest touched him gently on the shoulder. "You're a Jew now, and so is he." The priest pointed to an icon on the wall of the Armenian church.
Mothers taking refuge in the basement had no water to wash their babies. Children cried for food, and there was no more bread. The Father briefed the monks on what to say to Rus and Khazar soldiers. What do you say when two opposing sides fighting in a war have to share the same healing room day after day?
Suddenly a great healer entered the room. Bihar ran to meet him and thrust a document in front of the healer's face.
"What are you?" The healer asked, looking at Bihar's deeply-tanned face.
"I'm from Atil, a Jew."
"When you were Khazarian, you had a country, and you had the Caspian Sea. Now that you're a Jew, you belong to the caravans of the Silk Road."
"I have a country," Bihar announced. "When I pray, what direction do I turn to, Constantinople, Rome, or Jerusalem? Maybe the direction I should turn to when I pray should be straight upwards? In what direction do you pray?"
"Take it easy. I'm Jewish myself, from Kiev."
"This order has the royal Rus seal," said the healer.
"Why do I need a Rus seal, if I'm Kagan of the Khazars?" The order granted permission to bury the bodies that were piling up at the entrance of the monastery.
"We have no more carts or wagons," Bihar said. "I will follow the loyalty of my pet wolf-dog. We will walk together with my prized ass, better than any horse of the steppes from where I've traveled."
The heat of the next dawn brought the stench in waves, and the whole monastery had to burn all their incense in large gold lamps that swung on heavy chains from one end of the building to the other. The priest did the hardest work. Bihar handed covers to him, walking in the blood with worms wriggling in it.
A Khazar Tarkhan rode up, a commander with no one to lead. "I'm coming to claim the body of Khatir, a dead Khazar."
"He's here," said the Armenian priest. "The rabbi will be taking him in a moment."
"His family paid to have him buried as a Jew," he added.
The Tarkhan left with the rabbi and one body in a wagon. Bihar stopped the wagon. "Can't you give aid to anyone else?" The dead were piled up outside. "How many can you fit in this wagon?" The rabbi said. Bihar watched the wagon driving away filled with occupants.
One by one, Bihar carried the bodies off. The limbs easily became detached from the bodies. Bihar carried once again the cart with the mother and her five children. Just as he was arriving with the people at a Jewish cemetery, the soldiers of the Rus prince rode up on their horses.
Prince Svyatoslav was there with his tall silver helmet on his head, and his soldiers who came in the great long ships they built in the style of the western Vikings. He didn't see the bodies. A long line of horsemen rode toward the burial fields.
Bihar swept off the cover from the bodies so Svyatoslav would take a look. The Khazari women saw it, and a Rus soldier shrank back.
"Cover it, cover it!" a Khazar craftsman shouted, jumping between Bihar and the Rus prince. "Cover it or you'll go blind as in the epic of Krolu of the Oghuz." Bihar obeyed.
Bihar and the rabbis entered the cemetery where a man was burying his wife and daughter. He strutted to the communal pit through the pestilential odor.
Bihar had passed over, one by one, the babies whose heads were opening up. "Baby sandals of blood," he muttered. "Would we be welcomed and treated this way in Jerusalem?" He stared through his hands.
"Do you think you can turn Jewish in four generations and deserve to be buried in Jerusalem?" The Rus prince shouted to Bihar. "I should first be in Jerusalem before you."
"Why? Is it important to you?" Bihar answered Svyatoslav.
"To be baptized in the River Jordan," the prince told him. "The war is not over for me. My mother has become a Christian and joined with Byzantium. But I always will be a pagan. And for you, royal Kagan of the Sea of the Khazari?"
"You will absorb my people, and you shall become us." Bihar replied.
Later Bihar staggered out of the cemetery, past two Khazar women. "I am that I am," one told him. "So to whom do you belong?"
A line of Khazarian youths with side curls wearing the lamb's wool hats of the Circassians hurried to see what a Byzantine church looked like. They walked behind the donkey carts and fine steppe horses. The healers from Abkhazia and Chechnya taught them their warrior stick dance, the Sufi Zikr. When the Rus prince saw the dance, he forbade it forever.
"I'll never give up my Sufi Zikr dance," the Chechen healer told the Kievan and Abkhazian healers nearby. They all came, like wise men, drawn to war to heal or kneel.
Bihar met Chorpan, a Khazarian Jewish traveling scholar and merchant from Kiev whom he hadn't seen since he left his work teaching Bihar, years before. Old Chorpan had brought him itakh, puppies, when he was a boy.
"Come back with me to Kiev," Chorpan admonished the Kagan. "I have a great villa in Odessa and a house in Kiev that welcomes you."
Bihar felt comfortable with Chorpan, his regent and tutor for many years. "Where will I go? What will happen? I'm a Jew now. Nothing's the same. When I travel, people think I'm a Moslem from Persia on a pilgrimage."
"The Arabs. The Rus. The Byzantines. The Persians. The Turkic tribes."
"The Kagan is the last to know when the whole of Khazaria has been taken."
"Must I lose who I am? Is that the only recourse?"
"You have to belong to something," Chorpan said, slapping him on the back.
"Go; go along to help the others. In them you'll find out what side you belong on and where you are."
Near Sarkel a horse rolled into a ditch crushing new trees. A wagon driven by the son of a rich Persian merchant stopped.
"Are you headed for Kiev?" The young man said.
"Why are you riding in royal Khazar wagon?" Bihar asked.
"It's a Rus wagon now."
"That's my son's wagon."
Bihar's son crawled out from under a blanket in the wagon. "It's all right, father. The merchant is taking me away from this place." The Queen peered out from under a canopy. "We're going to stay with my sister in Kiev. A family of Jews from Prague married into another from Cologne. They came to Kiev to find a bride for their son."
Bihar nodded. "I'll send for you."
The wagon stopped in front of a burned-out village bakery. Rus soldiers looted loaves of bread.
"Stop it," cried the Armenian and Byzantine priests.
"Rabbi, rabbi, the priest called out. "Order this place closed."
The rabbi from Baghdad had the shop closed. Bihar went on the road again. The royal wagon passed a dead woman lying in a ditch.
"We're not going to Kiev," Bihar said. "Proceed west."
"Why?" Chorpan asked.
"Because I'm a no-man's land physician, a healer for all oppressed peoples of the world. I also have people I trust who have made a place for me in Polin, the land of rest. No one in Polin knows I'm Jewish. The Rus are ordering all Khazars to return to Kiev. Whom do the Rus fear most? Not the Khazars, not the Oghuz Turkic tribes, not the famine in the land of the Mongols, not their brothers in Byzantium, not Rome, but the sword of Islam.
"Where do I stand as Kagan of the Khazari? If not for me, the entire world would have one religion, and guess what that one religion would be? Where shall I stand without a land? It is we, the Khazari, who allowed the prince's Slavs freedom from war and famine. And how does he thank us? By destroying Khazaria."
"People covet their neighbor's herd when their own bread basket is full," Chorpan wailed sadly in a minor key.
He strummed the strings of his instrument, tipped his tymakh, and whistled to the clickata of his horse's steps. Soldiers of Prince Svyatoslav rode in front of the Khazari caravan, arrows pointing toward them and their cities. Voices blared across the steppes while wild horses and swift running asses from Persia whined.
"You must leave now for Kiev or go back where you came from. If you don't, your houses will be destroyed."
"Go back where? Do you see us living in yurts or homes? We are many from different places," Bihar told the soldiers. "Khazaria is not only a seasonal grazing field for wandering Turkic tribes. Jewish refugees from Byzantium, Persia, Mesopotamia, and all the lands of Europe have flooded into our realm for at least the past two hundred years."
Bihar rocked back and forth. "These refugees gave us their Hebrew heritage. Send us to Jerusalem. In what direction do you turn when you pray?"
Bihar jumped out of his bier. "Where are you going to send them, back to Baghdad? What about those from Constantinople or Kiev?"
A dead woman carrying two loaves of bread lay in the same ditch for two days. Bihar dug a hole under a rock and buried her with the bread.
"Go find two rabbis," Bihar shouted to Chorpan. "Go!" He repeated. A burial party was quickly formed. Bihar prayed with them, according to ritual.
In the monastery, Bihar passed by two wounded children who had gone mad. A Jewish healer came in leaving his weapons of war outside.
"What are you doing?" Bihar asked, watching the healer work.
"I'm pinning a name to each of the wounded. It is because as different as people may be, everyone in battle now reminds me of Prince Svyatoslav's soldiers far away back home. So many warriors are coming even to the ends of the Earth or here."
The priest nodded to the healer, and then quickly pulled Bihar aside. "You're in a monastery of healers and priests from Armenia who are here to meet with the Byzantine monks in their outpost. During this war their healers saved hundreds of Khazari Jews by hiding them. It's not good for Prince Svyatoslav's men to come here."
Bihar carried back the wounded from the villages to the monastery. Horses ran wild, and most of the carts and wagons were stolen. Soldiers from both sides lay unburied in the wheat fields.
Bihar's mind went back to another war in which he fought as an ally, in the Caucasus. The people he had been hiding out with, the Adyghe, Shopsugs, and Abkhazian Circassians were accused of welcoming the Imams of Islam as liberators from the threat of the Slavic princes. Svyatoslav was ruthless in hunting down the collaborators who had welcomed Bihar posing as a fellow Moslem from the Caspian. The dead looked the same as those on the steppes of the Caucasus.
"I've played double agent and spy too long. I have to take a side. Now that my son has accepted the Jewish faith like his father, I can't risk staying a King of a thousand disguises any longer," Bihar told Chorpan.
The next day a tense and tedious grey tone rose inside Bihar like a madhouse. Back in his makeshift dwelling, camped on a field of dry grass, he checked his weapons see whether they were ready for battle.
His contact from Atil was the Khazar Tarkhan, Baghatur, whose name meant brave warrior. Bihar's last hope, his infinity of mirrors, his new leader, must live. He was a rubber stamp in the hands of his rulers. Baghatur watched two cockroaches running across the lush Persian carpet.
"Books don't break. Books are better than people," he told Bihar. A cool breeze from the shadowed lattice rushed over his wet body.
On the horizon a taupe slit swallowed a blue bay battle tents. In the distance, Bihar watched the light above the gates of one home below; he saw the carvings and wondered whether the crescent above the door stood for Islam or the old Moabite moon god that came from Ur? The old crescent represented the downward curves of the Tree of Life. He had the same Cow symbol on the doors of palace at Sarkel.
Baghatur's crude weapon again jutted from the shadowed lattice. "Give me a better reason for this," Bihar whispered. Baghatur remained silent; only his green-gold eyes were alive.
"You can get away with anything because you are more a healer than a Kagan," Baghatur told him. "You can't go to Kiev. They will find you there. Where will you go, to Byzantium? They will find you there, too, and also in Armenia. Persia is not the right place. Do we go east or west, my Kagan?"
"I'll send for the Khatun and my son in the one place they won't find me. Let everyone else think I went where I can be the healer at the Caliph's court in Egypt or Cordoba."
When he finally left the area, Bihar felt so well again. He had donned the swaddling robes of an Imam. "No one stops a religious teacher on his most holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Look at my face. Is this not the face of a pilgrim from Samarkand or a Pharaoh of the Nile?"
Bihar was a nomad again forgetting his isinglass trade and his apple orchards where the Volga flows into the Caspian (the Sea of Meotis). Now Bihar's animal plodded against the hot winds of the open roads. "Cordoba is a lifetime away," he told his new traveling companions. "Maybe we should go to the great synagogue in Prague?"
"No, I hear the Jews are walled into that city," Baghatur roared. "Who knows when they will be allowed to mingle with the other citizens as a free people. It may take centuries."
"Who will dare forget Jerusalem?" Bihar's eyes shone as he spoke in a quiet voice.
"You have no blood ties to the Jews of King David's Jerusalem."
"Neither did Ruth, the Moabitess."
"Ruth was a woman of the Syrian deserts."
"My Caspian deserts share the same sunshine."
"Why are we going to Jerusalem?" One companion asked as he rode beside Bihar. "Cordoba is our new Jerusalem."
"No, not now. Two hundred years ago, it was. But I hear now the Visigoths' descendants are fighting the Moors there. What nation today wants us to be a citizen of their lands? Tell me, and I shall pray Hashem to inscribe it for all time in the Book of Life."
"All in good time. To get to Jerusalem, I must first create the right seals and parchments to become the healer to the royal court of the Caliph. Before I can do that, I must learn more about who really rules Jerusalem from behind the latticed shutters. I must enter Jerusalem only when I've first met my destiny in Egypt."
"I'm taking my family north by west," Baghatur said. "I need land to farm."
"And I seek people to heal," said Bihar. "Perhaps I can make miracles happen again."