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Igms issue 20, p.11

IGMS Issue 20, page 11

 

IGMS Issue 20
 


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  Like me.

  Eloi knew the danger, of course. And so he hid his Beyn from me. Somewhere in Judea. Somewhere in the lands ruled by Herod. That's all I knew.

  So I came to Lytrotis and studied him, all his desires and dreams. Then I began to reach inside him and kindle little fires, wakening and strengthening the hopes and wishes that were useful to me. He felt my presence and thought that all those fires were promises. Did he want a little power? I showed him his own dreams of taking life and giving death. Did he want honor? I showed him his own face wearing the majesty of kings. He wanted all of it. I never lied to him. I showed him his own darkest desires and he lied to himself, convincing himself that if he let me in, I would give it all to him. I never said.

  Fool, Lytrotis! Let me in, and your beast will have it all, but I will be the rider. Are there pleasures? Yes, you'll feel a pale echo of what I, the master of this body, feel. But the choices are all mine, until I tire of this beast and let you have it back.

  Until that day, Lytrotis had been a hanger-on, one that Herod tolerated because he was a flatterer and because he was young and attractive. But now, with me inside and in control, with a tongue, with language, I began to be able to lie in earnest. Not flattery, but good advice, based on my thousands of years of learning how the darlings can be controlled.

  Herod had long felt his kingdom slipping away. The Romans loomed and circled like vultures: Die, Herod, they seemed to say, and your kingdom will drop into our hands, no matter how you buttress it.

  Herod built the Jews a temple, and they still despised him. He built cities and filled them with Greeks, and they looked down on him. He killed his wife and three of his sons when they conspired against him and still he was not safe. As his body aged and sickened, he had nothing left.

  Then I took over the body of this sycophant and suddenly Herod began to hear wisdom.

  The good news I promised him came true. My warnings saved him several times. All I said to Herod was the purest truth. The only lie was this: that he could trust me.

  "In my old age, to have such an adviser as you," he said once. "If I had known you earlier . . ."

  But if I had known earlier that this was the time and place, the kingdom would have been mine, and Herod a discarded corpse somewhere.

  As for taking him over -- what good would that have done me? He was nearly a corpse already. Sick, in constant pain. His beast would die too soon. I had to use Herod's power to kill the Beyn, and Lytrotis gave me the means to do it. Herod listened to me. Herod trusted me. Herod did what I told him to do.

  I set his agents to searching Judea from end to end -- as well as other places heavily infested with Jews, like Galilee and Syria and Egypt. I learned when the baby had been born, but no names, and the parents could have taken it somewhere else by now, for all I knew. Then Eloi tipped his hand.

  Three travelers came into Judea, and my agents brought me word before Herod knew of them.

  "They're strange men," said Jerubbel. "I thought that they were kings, but they claim not to be. Merely educated men. Sages."

  "But strange -- what do you mean by that?"

  "Foreign, but not from any place we know of. None of the kingdoms of Parthia -- they speak Persian and Aramaic, but they aren't from any place in Parthia. Names of farther places have been spoken to them, but they claim not to be from any of them. Not India or China, not Samarkand or the Isles of the Sea. 'From the East,' is all they say."

  "What do they look like?"

  Jerubbel shook his head. "I stare at them intently, but at once my gaze shifts away and I can't remember what I saw. When I don't focus my eyes on them, I can see that there are three -- two tall, one short. They ride on dromedaries, with six more camels behind them, laden with supplies. They have servants who can be looked at -- ordinary men. Those I can tell you about; I talked to them. Two Assyrians, a Babylonian, an Elamite, an Armenian. But they all say the same: I don't know what they look like, or where they're from, or what the language is that they speak among themselves."

  "Aren't the servants afraid to be with such strange men?" I asked.

  "They are," said Jerubbel. "But the pay is good, and these 'wise men' are mild-tempered and never beat them. So the servants stay, and talk of these marvels to men like me."

  "Take this report to Herod as soon as you can," I said, "but don't speak to him of how you can't actually look at them. That will frighten him, and he'll either want to kill them or refuse to see them. Speak to him when I am at his side."

  Jerubbel did what I asked, and when Herod heard of these wise men from unknown lands, he sat in thought.

  "What a great opportunity," I said.

  "Why?" he asked.

  "They come from lands that Rome has never heard of," I said. "And yet they came to you."

  "But they haven't come to me."

  "They entered Judea," I said. "You are king here. Send for them. They will come."

  "I don't want to see them," he said. For sometimes Herod had more wisdom than was useful to me. "They don't belong here."

  "They don't belong here," I agreed, "which is why you must meet them, so you can learn their business. How can a king be safe with strangers in the land?"

  So Herod's men went out and within two days the Wise Men walked into his court and I laid eyes on them for the first time.

  I almost laughed aloud.

  Of course they could not be looked upon by these beasts. They were not of this species of featherless biped, not even of this planet, and did not want to be known for what they were. A seraph, a yamin, a nagid. The seraph's wings were hidden under a cloak, but I could see them moving as he walked; the yamin's nearly spineless movements made him seem to seep across the floor like something liquid; the nagid hobbled, trying not to move in the great two-footed hops that are native to his race.

  All of them chosen as beasts for evyonim to bind with because they were like enough to Eloi: A large brain, language, hands that made tools. All of life on every planet bent itself to creating beasts that Eloi could employ as mounts for those who served him, as Eloi himself once mounted such a beast on yet another world, and bound to it, and made the thing immortal.

  It stops here, I thought, as seraph, yamin, and nagid approached. I was not bound to Lytrotis's beast, so I was not blinded as Eloi's darlings were, seeing only the beast-face and never the evyon within. I could not be deceived by their fendings and shadowings. I was not yet trapped within the brain.

  The seraph was the one called Asdruel. The yamin was not known to me, but that is because they are not comfortable at such low gravity and rarely come to the world where I have been imprisoned. The nagid was a little pest named Lemuel who liked to write sentimental poetry and have it translated into every language he could find. Such vanity -- supposedly against the rules, but apparently his poems pleased Eloi and so the poems continued to slither their way into every culture.

  And because of who they were, and what they were, I knew why they were here. The Beyn would not have power to raise his body from the dead unless they began the transformation now, the deep binding that no other of Eloi's darlings was pure enough to undergo without destroying the body in the process. It had to happen before the baby came into its language, preferably before he began to walk upright. They would have the chemicals, the bioforms, or as these bipeds would say, the potions and the spells.

  They would also have the little baby's home address.

  No, I could not follow them. They would know me then. But here in Herod's court, I could hide inside Lytrotis and not be recognized.

  I could see that Herod was in a mood to be surly and abrupt, but oil was what we needed now, not vinegar. "Be kind and helpful to them, my king," I whispered in his ear, "and they will tell us all we need to know."

  By now Herod took my counsel almost before I gave it.

  "Why do such esteemed ambassadors come to my poor kingdom?" asked Herod, his voice soft and meek.

  Ah yes, thought I, this is the Herod wh
o somehow got both Octavian and Antony to back him, so he could keep his kingdom no matter which of them might triumph in their civil war.

  "We come in search of him who is born king of the Jews," said Asdruel, for his mouth was best suited to framing the speech of these bipeds. Herod understood him easily, as did all the court; only I could hear how strained his voice was to make such difficult sounds.

  "You may speak to me in Greek," said Herod. "Or Aramaic."

  "It is Hebrew in which the prophecies were written," said Asdruel. "We saw the star of the newborn king blaze brightly in the east, and we have come to add our poor selves to his worthship."

  "Judea we knew," added Lemuel, his voice squeaking. No one seemed to notice, or if they did, they did not care. Always these "wise men" deflected from themselves whatever they did not want the bipeds to notice. But I was not deflected. I could not be fooled. "Judea, but not where in the land. It is larger than we thought."

  I leaned to Herod's ear. "Your own wise men will search out the answer."

  "Small compared to Rome," said Herod. "Towns and villages, where Rome is nations and cities. Yet we also have the Law and the Prophets, and men skilled in the searching of them. Perhaps we have a book you have not read, a prophecy you do not know. Stay here and dine, and wash yourselves from your journey. Before your meal and bath are over, we will have whatever answer can be found."

  I was amused at the thought of a yamin washing in plain water -- it would osmote every vital mineral right out of his body. So defenseless, the yaminim. Not that he could die -- these three were already dead and then restored, made immortal on their own worlds. But the water would boil away from him and it might be hard to conceal completely from the bipeds.

  "We will eat, and bathe," said Asdruel. "And eagerly we await your counsel."

  Within a few minutes, Herod had all the Hasmoneans and Sadducees that always lingered in the court, hoping to be the next one named high priest. "Find me where this 'king of the Jews' is supposed to be born," said Herod to them, not oily now, but full of vinegar. "And when you find it, tell me why I was never told of such a portentous birth."

  "O King," said one of them, "if we told you of every rumored Anointed One, it would take you hours every day to hear of them. They're country bumpkins, most of them, with delusions. Their neighbors and families hush them up or hide them away. They do no harm. They are possessed."

  It was true. I let many of my followers amuse themselves by taking over the bodies of mental weaklings and then pretending to be the Beyn. Why not? It amused me and confused his darlings.

  Apparently it wasn't hard to find. Several of these priests and scholars had suggestions within the hour, but they were too farfetched. Yet in scarcely more time than the idiotic ones, the right prophecy turned up.

  And so Herod had the young scholar who found it read the words aloud. "'And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, art not the least among the princes, for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people.' Who can the governor be, except the Anointed?"

  The Wise Men seemed content with that, nodding and smiling. "Yes," said Asdruel, "that is right."

  "We feel the rightness of it when it's . . . right," screeched Lemuel.

  Oh yes, that one was a poet.

  "Then I, who am Idumean," said Herod, "who serve as king only until this long-awaited one is born -- my life's work is complete and I can die content."

  Asdruel and Lemuel and the yamin bowed -- though the yamin was already so near the floor as to make no difference. "Your faithfulness as steward of the newborn king will not be forgotten."

  I was sure of that.

  "I beg you to tell me now," said Herod, "what day the star you saw appeared, so that we can learn his age and help you find him."

  The three of them looked from one to another. I almost made Lytrotis laugh aloud, for of course they couldn't say -- they had been on other planets, where other time-systems were employed."

  "We have been so long upon the road," said Asdruel, "and started from three different kingdoms. We expect the child must be nearly one year old by now."

  I could see Herod's skin begin to flush. Because he was a suspicious old fool, he thought he was being lied to. "It is often so," I whispered, "in people of their country. They do not have the calendar of Julius, you see."

  "Ah," said Herod softly, nodding, the color fading from his cheek. "Of course it is hard to know the day, when you do not have that excellent calendar."

  "We will find him," said Asdruel. "Easily, now that we know the name of the town. We beg your permission now, O King, to leave your presence and greet the baby who has been born among the Jews."

  "Go, yes," said Herod -- for he needed no prompting from me, when the course was obvious. "Go and seek out the little boy. Only do me this kindness, I beg of you, noble visitors. I am old, and travel little from this home that has become the prison of my declining years. But for this glorious event I will -- I must -- set out from here so I may prostrate myself before the One for whom I have kept such long vigil."

  Oh, yes, Herod, that is well-played, I said, without letting the words slip out. I do not have to teach treachery to you.

  "Of course we will return to you," said Asdruel.

  The ability to lie, I thought, of course it rose with you, Asdruel, when you claimed your new immortal body from the stone where your old dead one had lain. A liar like me, that's what you are, only I'm condemned and hated for it, and you're one of his loftiest Messengers, entrusted with an errand such as this.

  The Wise Men rose up and went away, the whole procession of them.

  Since I knew they were not coming back, I sent three men to follow them, so they could note what house they entered.

  But that was just to satisfy old Herod, who thought he knew my plan.

  I did not follow them. I ran ahead -- myself, using the legs of Lytrotis's beast, which had not run in years. But he was young, and if these years of luxury had sapped his strength, I had the power to drive the beast as Lytrotis had never bothered to drive it. I was there when they arrived. I saw them pass through the streets. I felt the little dagger in my sleeve. I had practiced with it. I knew that it would drop into my hand when I needed it.

  They deflected the eyes of others -- all knew of their passing, but had no memory of their faces, their misshapen bodies, the strangeness of it all. Only I could see. And so I followed, always keeping a building between us, so they did not see me, could not have guessed that I was there.

  It was a little house -- the kind that is rented to a young family starting out. A tall and quiet man who worked with his hands, of a social class that Lytrotis barely knew existed. But I knew him -- one of Eloi's favorite darlings. And the mother! She came out and tucked herself under her husband's arm, and I knew her well. These were strong, and faithful to Eloi -- they would never have let me in the way Lytrotis did. Nor could I have stayed inside them if they had -- there was no place in them where disharmony left space for me to tear them open from the inside. Maddening, that the only evyonim I could work with were the vain and stupid ones, the easily deceived, the greedy ones who dreamed of things that would destroy them if they ever got them. Lytrotis.

  He felt my despising him and seethed in the corner of his old self where I still tolerated his presence.

  There was no room for these Wise Men in the house, still less for their servants. But they could go into the garden of the larger house next door, and so the young mother ran to the neighbor and asked consent. Apparently it was given, and the mother returned.

  Through the garden gate the Wise Men went, and their servants followed, carrying the gifts that they had brought with them to honor the newborn king.

  Only I knew what they were. A small chest of the kind commonly used to transport frankincense; a largish covered phial in which the waxy form of myrrh was often carried. And a dozen small bags, tight-knotted and carried in a larger bag; by the weight, it could only be metal, and I knew that it was gold.
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  The gold was useless -- it was only there to deceive.

  As for the frankincense and myrrh, they were anything but that. Philter and bioform, that was what they held. The tools to transform the baby into the kind of being who could only die if he permitted it, and never lost the connection with his body even if he did.

  The gifts -- the tools of the operation -- were laid out upon a low stone table in the garden.

  Meanwhile, the father and mother had gone back into their house, and now they came out again, a toddler in their arms. I could not be sure of his age, for I could not look at him. I could sense his heft, his size in their arms, but I am forbidden to look upon the Beyn, either through the eyes of a beast or with my own perceptions. I am blind to him. But not to his presence.

  If you drive a dagger deep, and slash with it, the body of a baby is so small you are bound to hit something vital, and inflict a fatal wound.

  So as the parents carried him from house to house, I drifted among the neighbors, sliding ever closer.

  At the gate, when they stopped to pass through single file, I was close enough.

  I reached out my hand as if to caress the babe, as several of the neighbors had already done. There was no knife in my hand; I would not let the blade appear until my fingers were already close. None would see the blade, not even as I made the first deep slashes. My hand would cover it from sight. The connection of Beyn to bipedal corpse would be severed in that moment, never to be restored, the body never to be taken up again. All in ruins, all his plans. Vindication. Vengeance. Breaking up and tearing down. What I had lived for all these centuries.

  The blade was dropping into place; I felt it against my palm; and then there was something cool against my forehead. Cool, and yet it burned. I would have recoiled from it but I could not, for it did not hurt the skin of the body that I occupied; it was me it hurt. The hidden me, that no one here had seen.

 
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