Anselm and Micah's Friendship Begins

Sinai, 1513

  

Micah sat on a rough bench in the courtyard of St. Catherine’s Monastery. He had a few pebbles in his hand and he was tossing them across the dirt-and-rock courtyard, trying to see how many times he could get one to bounce.

Ooo, that was a good one, he thought to himself as a smooth, round pebble bounced off a paving stone and skipped a few extra times.

He occasionally glanced at the nearby tourists. A bush—the only green thing in the entire monastery—grew out of a sandstone wall, and they were straining to pluck a sprig from its trailing, vine-like branches. They obviously weren’t the first to try to do so; all of the bush’s branches had been snapped off until they were just out of reach of most people. That didn’t stop the relic-hunters from trying, though.

Micah snorted and went back to his pebble-throwing game. Still, he occasionally looked back at the bush. He found Christians’ fascination with relics humorous—and sometimes a bit disturbing—but he couldn’t help but wonder if they might, for once, have gotten it right. Might he actually be looking at the same bush which Moses had once seen wreathed in flames? It seemed a ridiculous idea—a 3,000 year old plant—but he couldn’t help but wonder just a little bit.

Anselm at last emerged from the nearby chapel, and Micah was quick to drop his rocks and hop to his feet. Micah was having more fun traveling around the Holy Land with Anselm than he had had in decades, but he did get terribly bored when Anselm took time out to be religious. He tried to be understanding, though. Honest, he did.

Anselm went over to the bush, too—just as the last batch of tourists wandered away, looking dejected.

Micah followed Anselm and looked up at the bush. “You are tall more than others,” Micah said in French. “I think you could get it.”

Anselm reached up, stretching and standing on his tip-toes, but his fingertips just barely brushed the bottom of the branches.

Micah frowned, seeing how close he was. Then he got an idea. “I will get it for you.”

Anselm looked down at him. “You’re shorter than I.”

“No, um….” Micah struggled to find the right word. He couldn’t come up with it, so he mimed being picked up. “You… me,” he said, as he gestured.

“Ah,” Anselm said, catching on to the charade. “Lift you,” he said, supplying the correct word.

“Yes, lift me.”

Anselm picked Micah up by the waist and raised him up without any trouble. Micah chuckled as he pinched a long, green branch from the bush.

Anselm put him back on his feet and Micah handed him the greenery. Anselm provided one of his rare smiles as he accepted it, then he broke it in two, offering one half to Micah. “Would you like a piece?”

Micah was a little surprised, but then Anselm had surprised him on more than one occasion during their trip; he was always very polite and thoughtful. Micah began to wonder if Franks were finally becoming civilized, or if Anselm was a rarity.

“Thank you,” Micah said, taking the proffered sprig. 

Anselm looked up at the sky; the sun was beginning to go down in the west, and the high walls of the monastery were casting ever-longer shadows.

“Do you want to go to the top, or move on?” Anselm asked Micah.

Micah considered the offer for a moment. If the Christians had selected the correct mountain, then on the summit above them was where Moses received the Torah. Micah wasn’t really sure how he felt about walking where Moses walked, but then the mountain wasn’t, in and of itself, holy; it was the Presence of God which made it holy. And if God wasn’t there at the moment, then it was just a mountain—no matter how important it had been in the past.

“We will go,” Micah said, suddenly feeling carefree. Why not go? If he heard the voice of God telling him to leave, he could always run back down.

They hired a couple of donkeys from one of the monks, then began following the narrow, winding road up the side of the mountain.

The trip up was slow and uneventful. They passed the earlier tour group going back down, and when they arrived at the top, they were the only people there.

Anselm shaded his eyes with his hands and looked out at the rugged, barren landscape. Micah did likewise. They were on the highest mountain in the middle of a cluster of close-set peaks.

“It looked different in my mind,” Anselm said, breaking the silence.

Micah laughed. “It looked different to me, also.”

Anselm frowned, his brow furrowing in thought. “Were there not many Jews here?”

“Not here, but down there, yes,” he said, indicating the valley. “Many thousands. Six thousand… no, six hundred thousand men—and women and children also.”

“Where did they stay?”

Micah looked down into the narrow valleys between the peaks. “I do not know.”

“I expected only one mountain on a plain.”

Micah smiled. “I did also.” 

Anselm glanced at him. “Do you think this is the correct mountain? Is this really Mt. Sinai?”

Micah was surprised to hear him say such a thing; he had never heard a Christian express any sort of doubt. “I do not know,” Micah replied honestly.

Anselm pulled the sprig out of his doublet.

“This may just be a plant,” Anselm said with an ironic smile. “Nothing special.”

“That may be all it is,” Micah agreed, “but I will keep mine as a reminder that I was here. That is special, even if the plant is not.”

Anselm smiled at him, then tucked the piece of greenery back into his doublet. “Yes, it is,” he replied.

They took the long road back down the monastery and found it plunged into a premature twilight as the mountains hid the setting sun.

“It’s late,” Anselm said, as they handed their donkeys back to the monk on duty. “Do you want to leave now, or stay the night?”

Micah and Anselm had found that they generally preferred to sleep outside, away from people. Not only were they free to talk—Micah was giving Anselm lessons in Cainite and Canichmeh customs—but Micah tended to attract unwanted attention from other men.

But at the same time, Micah desperately wanted a bath. There hadn’t been many opportunities to bathe since they left Alexandria, and the last leg of the trip to the monastery had been particularly dusty. The next stage of their journey back into Palestine would be long and without much in the way of amenities. It might be a couple of weeks before he had another opportunity to bathe.

“We will stay,” Micah said at last. Surely to God men staying in a holy place would leave him alone.

While the rest of the pilgrims were at supper, Anselm and Micah made use of the monk’s stone bath. The design had obviously been copied from Jewish mikvahs, because it was a similar configuration and was fed from a diverted spring. It wasn’t hot, but after being dusty for days, it was refreshing nonetheless.

“This is good,” Micah said with a contented sigh, as he relaxed in the water.

He noticed Anselm was still in the process of undressing. Anselm wore over-the-knee boots, wool hosen—which tied onto his lined, linen doublet—and under all of that was a linen shirt and a small pair of under-breeches. And those were his warm-weather clothes. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he had been wearing a longer, woolen doublet over his linen one.

Micah, on the other hand, had wasted no time stripping out of his sandals, tunic, and long under-breeches.  

“Why will you not wear clothes like mine?” Micah asked him. “They are quick to put on and off.”

Anselm sat on a bench next to the bath and began unbuckling a boot. “Yes, but look how dirty you get. My clothes keep the dirt off me.”

Micah had to admit he was right; Micah’s legs were constantly dirty because there was nothing to keep the dust from blowing under his tunic.

Micah knew that Franks bathed… sometimes… but he had never known one to be as clean as Anselm. He was practically Jewish in his fastidiousness. He even carried a skin of water with him just so he could wash his hands and face in the evenings.

“You are a very… not dirty person,” Micah said, voicing his thoughts.

Clean,” Anselm said, supplying the correct word. “And yes, I am.”

“The Franks I knew when I was young were not clean. Are things changed much?”

“No,” Anselm said, pulling off his boot. “If anything, people are less clean now than when I was a child.”

“Really?”

“It’s said that bathing frequently makes you sick. And sinful.”

“Why sinful?”

“Because it’s enjoyable, I suppose. That, and there are a lot of prostituées at bath houses.”

“What are ‘prostituées’?” Micah asked, terribly curious.

“A woman who is… not of good personnage.” Micah shook his head, still not understanding. “A woman who gets into a man’s bed for money,” Anselm said, being more blunt. 

“Oh,” Micah said. Then he grinned. “Why are they at bath houses?”

“Because that’s where there are men—naked men,” Anselm said with grin.

Micah laughed. Anselm made jokes almost as often as he smiled, but despite his initial social awkwardness, he was beginning to loosen up.

Anselm finally managed to get undressed, and he slid into the bath at the opposite end. He sighed as contentedly as Micah had. “This is nice,” he said.

“How does it make you sick to take a bath?” Micah asked, still curious about Frankish customs.

“The hot water can unbalance your humors.”

“Jews bathe a lot—one time a week or more—and our humors do not become unbalanced.”

Anselm grinned—looking practically devilish. “Some people would say all Jews are quite unbalanced.”

Micah made a face at him, but Anselm merely laughed.

“And what would you say?” Micah demanded.

“Of the Jews I have met….”

“Yes?” Micah pressed, when he didn’t go on.

“I think you are probably the only unbalanced one.”

“Ha, ha,” Micah said sarcastically.  

Micah dipped his head under the water for a minute, rubbing the dirt out of his hair. When he came back up, he saw Anselm was doing the same.

Anselm looked a bit odd with his hair down. He normally kept his shoulder-length hair tied back, and, more often than not, he tucked the ends up under the linen coif which he wore so it wouldn’t get dirty.

But nothing looked more odd than his light-colored eyes. Micah rarely saw anyone whose eyes weren’t brown or dark hazel, and of the few people he had seen with light-colored eyes, none were as light as Anselm’s.

“Why are you looking at me?” Anselm asked.

Micah was startled. “Nothing,” he said, embarrassed that he had been staring.

“Do you find me as strange as I find you?”

“Strange? You think I am strange?”

“And unbalanced.”

Micah splashed him with water. “How can someone with such weird eyes think I’m strange?” Micah retorted in Cainite.

Anselm frowned. “I… not… know what you say,” he said, hesitantly, in Cainite.   

“Time to learn,” Micah replied in French. “What is this?” he asked, cupping a handful of water and letting it run through his fingers.

Ner.”

“And this?” he asked, holding out his hand.

Anselm frowned, then shook his head.

Shoshu,” Micah said. “And if I hand something to you?”

Anselm shook his head again. Micah could tell that he was frustrated by his lack of knowledge. Even though Anselm had not had any education—either as a human or as a vampire—Micah had come to the realization that Anselm was not a stupid man. And being intelligent, it clearly chafed when he was reminded that he lacked knowledge—especially something which he should already know, like the language of his people. 

Shoshui,” Micah answered for him. “You can add “i” to the… end?... yes, the end of most words and make them… move.”

Micah frowned, as he too began to suffer from a lack of knowledge. He knew enough French to communicate adequately with Anselm, but he certainly didn’t know enough to effect a lesson in grammar.

“Move?” Anselm asked, looking confused.

“Words that move… that mean ‘to move.’ Walk, run, bathe… they are words of doing, yes?”

“Yes,” Anselm said, a look of deep concentration on his face.

“In Cainite, you may have a word for a thing—‘water’—‘ner’—and if you put an ‘i’ on the end, it moves. ‘Neri’ means ‘to water’ or… um… ‘flow,’ is the best word, I think.”

Anselm’s eyes widened, as he began to grasp the lesson. “Ner,” he said, dipping his finger in the water.

Micah nodded.

Then Anselm scooped up a handful of water and let it pour out. “Neri ner?” he asked. “Flowing water?”

“Correct. ‘Neriner’ means ‘river’ also.”

Anselm looked floored. Micah knew exactly what he was thinking: he was recalling every noun he knew and turning them into verbs.

“A gift is ‘shoshuia.’ It is a related word, you see? A gift is something you give.”

Anselm slowly nodded. “Yes, I see.”

They stayed in the bath for nearly an hour—Micah tutoring Anselm in Cainite. Once Anselm understood that Cainite was a language made up of root words, he began to see patterns which allowed him to understand Micah much better.

It began to rain while they were in the bath, and by the time they got out and dried themselves on the woolen towels, it was pouring.

“I am happy we are not sleeping in this,” Micah said, peering out the open window.

“As am I,” Anselm agreed. “Rain like this in steep, bare mountains causes very sudden floods that can sweep people away.”

They didn’t bother to get dressed; they just put on their underclothes and headed to the men’s quarters. It was a long room with a dozen large beds which could sleep about four people each. Although they had seen little in the way of crowds late in the day, there were apparently a number of pilgrims who had paid for beds because the room was already half-full and beginning to fill as more people finished supper.

Anselm and Micah took the bed furthest from the door—hoping to be left alone. Anselm stripped naked—as everyone else was doing—but Micah kept on his under-breeches. He didn’t want to draw attention to the fact he was a Jew; he was afraid he might quickly find himself sleeping outside in the pouring rain.

They carefully folded their clothes into a bundle which they could slip under the bolster pillow. People who didn’t sleep in their clothes, or on top of them, or keep them in a locked box were likely to wake up the next morning with nothing at all to wear.

As they were folding their clothes, Micah felt the weight of someone’s eyes on him. Glancing around the room, he noticed a dark, middle-aged man looking at him—rather like a lion observes a zebra drifting away from the herd.

Apparently sleeping in a monastery didn’t deter people from their less-than-holy pursuits.

Micah sighed wearily, then stepped closer to Anselm. “I think we are going to have trouble,” he whispered, nodding in the direction of the man.

Anselm glanced at the man and frowned. “I think you’re right,” he agreed. “He’s already trying to decide if we’re together, and if he can separate us.”

Micah was annoyed. “Why do they never want you?” he muttered under his breath. “You are much more handsome than I am.”

Anselm looked surprised. “Am I?”

Micah looked back at him as if he was daft. “Yes.”

“But people here look more like you than me.”

“So?”

“I would have thought that I would be ugly in comparison—because I am strange, as you say.”

Micah continued to stare at him in disbelief. He didn’t know how someone who looked like Anselm could ever think that people would find him ugly.

“Your eyes are strange,” Micah admitted, “but that does not make them ugly.”

Anselm looked mildly surprised by this. Micah wondered if he was truly that humble, or just socially clueless. It was hard to tell with Anselm; he was clearly an introvert, and yet he also seemed to be a rather selfless individual.

A couple of monks came in a moment later and tried to hurry everyone into bed so they could blow out the lamps.

The dark man came over to the bed Anselm and Micah had chosen—bypassing free space in others along the way. But he looked disappointed when Anselm climbed into the middle.

“They want you because you are not many years,” Anselm said to Micah, switching to Cainite.

“I’m young,” Micah said, offering the correct word. “At least, that’s what they think,” he added, as he got into bed beside Anselm.

It took Anselm a moment to understand Micah’s words, but when he did, he chuckled. “Yes, you have more years than I.”

“I’m older,” Micah said, surprised at his own words. Although he knew they were true, he felt as if Anselm was older. Perhaps it was because Anselm looked a decade older, but that didn’t quite feel like the right reason. Maybe, instead, it was because Anselm seemed to be a natural leader. Although Micah thought he was going to lead Anselm around the Holy Land, at some point Anselm had become the leader, and Micah followed him and just acted as an interpreter, as needed.

“It is also because you are small,” Anselm added, as he and Micah pulled the linen sheet and woolen coverlet over themselves. They both rolled onto their sides, their backs to the other man, ignoring his presence completely. “Men want to….” He stopped, searching for the right word.

“You probably mean ‘dominate,’” Micah offered. “They think because I’m small, I’m also weak, and they can do what they like. They can dominate me.”

Anselm took a moment to consider his words. “Yes,” he agreed.

“They are wrong about that, too.”

Anselm laughed. “Yes, they are.”

Micah was tired, and he quickly fell asleep before the heavy, vibrating snores of the other men in the room had a chance to keep him awake.

At some point, though, he became aware of the fact that something was crawling up his leg. He was vaguely disgusted that the bed had vermin in it—not that lice and fleas would bite him—and he tried to brush it away. But his hand hit something more solid than a bug.

His eyes flew open, as he felt a hand sliding further up his thigh, reaching around the front. But before he could react, another hand clamped down on the first.

“Micah,” Anselm said in a low, cold voice, “tell him if he touches you again, I’ll break his hand.”

Micah repeated Anselm’s words in Arabic.

“And tell him to get on his side of the bed and do not to touch me again.”

Micah spoke, and the perpetrator withdrew his hand and rolled over without a word.

“Did he try to touch you, too?” Micah whispered in French.

“He was lying against my back and reaching over me to grab you. I will break his hand for you, but I may break something else for me.”

Micah chuckled.

It took Micah some time before he could quiet his mind—and his nerves—enough to go back to sleep. Such incidents were the primary reason why he hardly ever traveled, and never alone. To venture beyond your community was to enter a jungle where only the strong survived. Micah was certainly strong enough to best any human, but a group of them could give even him trouble, especially if they were armed—not to mention he preferred not to be molested before he had the chance to kill someone.

Eventually, though, he drifted off to sleep again. He was dreaming something that involved a talking cow—which surprised no one but him—when something began grabbing at him.

He jerked awake. Just as he did, he felt Anselm’s hand clamp down on the other one again. A moment later, there was an ear-splitting yowl which almost—but not quite—drowned out the sound of bones popping and cracking.

“I told you to leave him alone,” Anselm said grimly.

The man’s howls woke up everyone in the room, and a couple of minutes later a few monks came running in, carrying a light. Everyone was babbling all at once—mostly to complain about the ruckus. The monks waded through everyone, finally tracking down the source of the disturbance.

The molester—cradling his injured hand against his chest—spoke rapidly and loudly in Arabic.

“This man attacked me in my sleep!” he said, pointing an accusing finger at Anselm. “See here, he’s broken my hand!”

Micah quickly translated for Anselm.

“You sodomite!” Anselm spit, glaring with such hatred, the man took a step back in fear. “I told you the first time you grabbed him to leave him alone. I warned you that I’d break your hand if you did it again. You got what you deserved.”

The monks looked at the other man, as if to see what he had to say for himself. Micah could practically taste his fear at being exposed, and some of it showed on his face.

“I… don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said nervously. “I was sound asleep the entire time. If I flailed around in my sleep, that is no fault of mine and should not be thought to be anything untoward.” His voice raised in pitch. “If anything, I should question a man who seems to know so much about buggering boys. Or do you sleep with your lover openly on this sacred ground?”

Micah hesitated to translate; he could feel anger radiating from Anselm like heat. But Anselm glared at him so demandingly, he felt he had no other choice.

And it was as he feared. As soon as he spoke, Anselm lunged for the man, and only Micah’s grab for his arm restrained him. Micah knew if he let go, Anselm would kill the man—and in a very unnatural way.

“Anselm, do not reveal us,” Micah whispered to him in Cainite.

Anselm hesitated for a moment, then he looked at one monk, then another. Immediately, they rounded on the perpetrator.

“You lie!”

“How dare you be so lewd!”

They began striking the man with their fists and boxing him about the ears with their open hands. He cowered, trying to shield his head with his arm, then he tried to flee from the room. More monks were milling around the doorway, and they took up their brothers’ cries and flogged him from the room.

Once he was out of sight, Micah exhaled in relief and sat down on the edge of the bed. He looked up at Anselm, who still seemed to be bristling with anger.

“Here, it is alright,” Micah said soothingly, touching him on the arm.

“How dare he try and force himself on you. And then lie to the holy brothers about it!” Anselm said with righteous indignation.

“Anselm, you are looking for virtue where there is not any.”

“That much is obvious.”

“No, I mean….” Micah struggled for the right words. “You should not expect virtue because you are where you are. This holy place, the desert—your land, my land—there is no more virtue in one place than the other.”

Anselm looked at him, confused. “But… this is the Holy Land.”

“It is no more holy than any other land,” Micah said sadly. “I have seen many horrible things happen here. I have seen women and children killed in holy places all over Jerusalem. I have seen the streets red with blood and paved with the dead. This place is no better than any other.”

Anselm sat down beside him weakly. “Then it is a lie?” he asked uncertainly.

“I think this place was once holy, but no longer.”

Anselm stared at the floor. “Is there nothing holy, then?”

Micah thought about his question for a minute. “I once heard a rabbi say that God is not found in a place or in a thing, but between people.” He glanced at Anselm. “If we treat each other well, then that is enough for God. That is what is holy.”

Anselm smiled a little. “I think I like your rabbi.”

“Shh, someone might hear you,” Micah said with a teasing smile.

Some of the brothers came in a moment later, clapping their hands and trying to herd people back into bed. Anselm and Micah got into bed, just as the monks began blowing out lamps again.

“Thank you,” Micah told Anselm in a low voice.

“It’s nothing,” Anselm said dismissively. “I promised I would hurt him if he touched you again, and he did, so I kept my promise."

“I… can take care of myself, you know,” Micah said, hesitantly. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but at the same time he was very conscious of the fact that Anselm had been a mercenary soldier for nearly 150 years, while he had little experience in arms and warfare. He hoped that Anselm didn’t think him as unmanly as he sometimes felt.

“Yes, but I can take care of you, too,” Anselm replied. “And you took care of me. You kept me from hanging that man from the rafters by his own bowels.”

Micah couldn’t help but laugh quietly.

“We will take care of each other,” Anselm declared.

Micah smiled wryly in the darkness. “A Jew and a Christian taking care of one another.”

Unwillingly, his memory flashed back to the day he found his mother and five sisters slaughtered in their home—killed by the Crusaders as they took Jerusalem. His father had been among the corpses on the city walls, barely clinging to life.

“Is… that a problem?” Anselm asked hesitantly. “That I’m a Christian?”

There was something in Anselm’s voice that buried his old memories. “No, it is not a problem,” Micah reassured him. “We will take care of one another.”

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Web design by Keri Peardon.

 

Background for the website and the header is from Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio, translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro in Escalona, Spain, January 11, 1466. The original manuscript is housed at the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The female figure in the header is from the Manesse Codex, which is housed at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.