The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Three Wizards And A Burning Bush

By: Thomas Booher

An Excerpt from Chapter 3 of Saving Damascas 

Petra looked over his shoulder at the three men. One of them, a heavier set man who was facing Petra, glanced up, smiled, then continued his chummy conversation.
Petra was startled by what he saw. He wasn’t sure how he missed it initially (probably because he was more concerned about his current predicament than his surroundings), but the three men were dressed more neatly, and differently, than anyone he had ever seen in Emerton. While their garb wasn’t extravagant, it was colorful, and appeared to be clean, even brand new.
What’s more, the material seemed to be made of something comfortable, like silk. And the colors, well, it wasn’t the drab grey or brown that virtually everyone else wore. The elderly men all wore cloaks, which was rare due to the general lack of money but not completely unheard of. These cloaks, however, were hoodless. Petra had never seen a hoodless cloak.
The heavyset man that glanced up had a solid, forest green cloak and rather puffy hair, while the man to his left, the shortest and by far the thinnest, had a white cloak with red trimming. The other man, the tallest of the three, wore spectacles and a nearly sky blue cloak with white trimming.           
Petra strained his eyes to make out what the elderly men were wearing, but from their perspective it seemed he was frowning. The heavier set man leaned toward his companions and said something to them. A brief deliberation followed, then suddenly the other men swiveled in their seats to face him. Petra noticed that all three men had the image of a golden bush engulfed yet unscathed by silver fire on the upper left side of their cloaks. 
“Young man, why don’t you join us and the lovely lady and have a drink. It’ll be on us,” the stocky, puffy haired man said with a friendly grin. He had a deep, gravelly voice that seemed to boom when he began to speak, like distant thunder.
“Yes, join us. It would be good to have new company. It’s not every day we get to talk with commoners. I’m generally a teetotaler myself, but I make exceptions when I come here. It’s weakened after all,” said the thin man. He was balding but still had some white hair on top of his head. What was left appeared to be curly. He spoke with a quicker cadence than the other two, expressed with his hands a lot, and got excited easily.
“Come on and have a sit. We don’t bite,” said the tall one with the spectacles. He was balding too and had white-grey hair, but it wasn’t curly. He seemed to tint his words with light sarcasm and sat with his arms crossed in front of him over his cloak as he slumped in his seat. 
Petra looked back at the bar girl for approval. She was looking at the three men alarmed, as if she thought their invite was dangerous, but received no reaction from them.
“I... do as you wish, sir. But mind your manners, these are respectable men, unlike yourself,” she said, glowering at Petra as she spoke the last two words. She walked out of site behind the bar.
Petra was left to himself with the three elderly men gazing at him across the tavern, apparently all part of some organization, eagerly waiting for him to join them. He needed time to think about how he would escape town without getting that beating, and yet there was something intriguing about the men at the table.
“Sounds good to me. Guess I’m in no hurry,” he said to them from across the room. He was in a hurry in truth, but the gentlemen interested him. He walked over, more stiffly than his usual gate, hoping to exude an air of respectability like the girl had said to do, but the walk felt awkward and unnatural.
There were two available seats at the round table -- one next to the thin man, and one next to the empty chair, which would have put him closest to the tall man with the spectacles. Petra was a bit put off by the tall man’s curt words and so elected to sit next to the thin man.
“Welcome!” the thin man said happily, patting Petra on the back once he sat down, as if he had just passed a test and gained membership into their little club. The tall man and thin man shifted in their seats to face the puffy haired man once again, backs angled toward the bar now. 
The thicker man across from Petra freed his arms from beneath his cloak and leaned forward, much like he did before, and with another big smile on his face extended his right hand to Petra. Petra shook the man’s hand, examining his overblown facial features and stylish hair.
“We’re so glad you came to join us lad,” the puffy haired man spoke with sincerity and a deep, powerful voice. “What’s your name, and what brings you to the Cooked Goose at such an early hour?”
“I’m Petra Warfield. Actually I just came to get a drink and do some thinking before work today.”
“Whoa, Warfield you said? That’s a good name, has the sound of a real warrior, wouldn’t you say Mac?” The puffy haired man had a gleam in his eye. He addressed his question to the tall man who was leaning back in his chair, fingers now interlaced across his stomach over his cloak.
“Oh I would think so,” Mac muttered casually. He sat upright now that he was brought into the conversation and continued. “I apologize for not introducing myself before. I’m Macarthur, but these days all the young folk call me Mac.” Mac didn’t offer his hand, and Petra waited for him to say more, but he did not.
“Nice to meet you, er, Mac,” said Petra, unsure if it was appropriate for him to call him by his familiar name. Mac smiled slightly and nodded.
“And you can call me Piper. That’s what everyone calls me; they say it’s because I’m pretty good with the pohtehlo, along with other instruments you blow into,” said the thin man. Petra nearly blurted that his father created the pohtehlo, but thought better of it, remembering what Mott said about his father earlier. He was no longer sure who his father really was. He didn't even know his name. Petra turned in his seat to face Piper and shook his hand too.
“And your name sir?” said Petra, turning to the puffy haired man. He was beginning to feel a bit more comfortable now that he was introduced.
“Ah I meant to give you my name before. The name’s Sproul.”
“Um, Sproul you said?”
“Yeah, Sproul. You know, like the soup?”
“The soup sir?” Petra was more confused.
“Eh, well never mind. Just know that the name’s Sproul.”
Petra sat there trying to think of a "sproul soup," but his attention was quickly diverted to a hand holding steins of ale that came perilously close to his eye from over his shoulder. It was the girl from the bar. She had brought drinks for everyone, holding all five of them in one hand by bringing the handles of each near one another and gripping around them. She skillfully passed the drinks across the table and took the open seat next to Petra.
“And if you must know, my name is Amethyst,” she said as she sat down. Petra thought Amethyst was leaning away from him, and she didn’t look at him when she spoke, as if he were  diseased or smelled bad. He probably did stink.
Petra and Amethyst did most of the drinking, while the three men did most of the talking. At first, they didn’t say anything noteworthy. Piper talked about how it was good to be in town again to see how people were doing, and Mac mentioned that he thought it was unusually cool for the time of year and that he was glad they were spending most of their time indoors. Sproul appeared to be quite jolly, laughing a lot in between swigs. Amethyst seemed uneasy during the conversation, and Petra could tell she was shifting her eyes in his direction every so often.
Petra was brought into the conversation when Piper asked him how living in the village was going.
“Living in the village? Why don’t you know? It’s terrible. The guards limit our freedom, take our food and hard earned money, and make many of us slave away for King Salazar all day. Those who are unfit for heavy labor often don’t find jobs and die of hunger,” Petra found it hard to believe that the men weren’t aware of living conditions. He couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t know, given that Damascas had been under the rule of Sydon and King Salazar for twenty years. Then it struck him.
“You, sirs, aren’t from Damascas are you?” Petra looked at each of the elderly men in turn.
Amethyst broke her prolonged silence with a vexed grunt. “Of course they aren’t from around here. Have you seen anyone wear hoodless cloaks, or have you ever seen that insignia before?” She pointed at Mac’s burning bush symbol on his cloak.
“No, Amethyst, I haven’t,” Petra retorted, agitated by her rudeness. “But I haven’t really seen anyone outside of Damascas before either, have you?”
“Eh, you could say we aren’t from around here I suppose,” Mac interjected before Amethyst could respond with something smart. “We cannot elucidate on the symbol or divulge the exact nature of our work. However, we would like to ask you some questions.”
“They are the same questions we have been asking Amethyst for the last few weeks,” said Piper. Petra looked at Amethyst. He was not sure what he was getting into.
“I don’t know what you are referring to, but I really need to get going. I have work in nearly an hour from now, and I’ve got some important things to tend to before then,” said Petra, pushing his seat back from the table to stand up.
“Ah come now, surely you have time for another ten minutes or so? Just a few questions, and if you aren’t interested when we’re done you don’t have to bother with us old men anymore,” Sproul said in his usual gruff yet good-natured tone.
Petra thought it over and decided ten more minutes at this point couldn’t hurt. Besides, these men and this girl seemed different, a break from the mundane. Curiosity got the better of him and he pulled his chair back up to the table.
The mood at the table shifted. Amethyst seemed to be pleading with her eyes, hoping that the three men wouldn’t say anymore to Petra and let him on his way. But the three men turned serious; even Mac scooted his chair forward and sat up straight.
“Please, no, he won’t like it! I know what he’s like!” said Amethyst, practically begging.
“Hey, what are you talking about girl? I don’t even know you, yet you speak as if you know me?” Petra fumed. His voice was raised, but it mattered not since no one else was in the tavern.
“My sister, remember?” said Amethyst scornfully, and that shut Petra up. He feared if the distinguished men at the table knew of his love for prostitutes they would rebuke him and the conversation would no longer be genial. 
“Is this the boy you were telling us about before?” asked Piper, lowering his chin and shifting his eyes up at Amethyst. He pressed for an honest answer.
“Y-yes, it is,” said Amethyst hesitantly. “You need to be very careful with this guy.” She looked back at Petra disparagingly.
Petra was about to spout off at Amethyst again and ask her what she meant by being careful with him, but Sproul held his hand up, indicating that he wanted Petra to relax and let him speak first.
“Amethyst dear, I appreciate your concern. But I would like you to remember that just a few weeks ago you yourself would have been considered a risk to us, not unlike Petra here.”
Amethyst opened her mouth as if to object, but then appeared to acknowledge the truth of what Sproul had said. She slumped back in her seat, embarrassed and ashamed. Mac patted her on the back and gave her a sympathetic look over his glasses. Then Sproul continued.
“Petra, Amethyst here has recently told us that you weren’t a huge fan of Barah. Is this true?”
Petra scrunched his brow like an angry owl. He wasn’t expecting the conversation to take such a turn, but since he felt Barah was at fault for his current enslavement, he welcomed the opportunity to share his thoughts.
“You got that right. I guess I told Amethyst’s sister something about my religious beliefs at some point, and she couldn’t keep her little mouth shut. It would appear her sister is no better. But yeah, Barah is the cause of our problems as far as I’m concerned. What’s it matter to you?”
“We are followers of Barah,” Mac said.
“Figures. Seems you men have found favor with the gods,” Petra replied. He tugged on his rugged tunic to show he was referring to their fine clothing.”
“Now wait a minute, you said earlier that you blame Barah for your rough life. Why do you do that?” asked Mac, ignoring Petra’s suggestion.
“My, you guys really aren’t from here are you? Damascas, the chosen people of Barah. My parents, and most Damascans, worshiped him and worshiped him. According to what I heard from a few loyal old fools, Barah promised to provide for us. Then twenty years ago Barah’s people fall into King Sydon and their god Graybar’s captivity. I gave up on the god game. It’s hard to decide between a god who can’t provide for his people and a god who torments those who aren’t his own. Do you call Sydonian captivity provision? I don’t.” Petra looked among each of the three men, both hands pressed down on the table, his anger swelling as he spoke.
“I can understand your frustration. Believe me Petra, after the invasion the same thoughts entered my mind. But do be careful about calling someone a fool,” said Sproul. He was looking at Petra, yet he wasn’t. His vision seemed to be elsewhere, as if he were reliving some important moment, but he broke his reminiscence almost as quickly as it began.
“Eh... Tell me Petra, have you ever read, or even seen, Barah’s Book?” Sproul asked, having recovered from his momentary nostalgia.
“No, but what does that matter? Everyone says he was supposed to take care of us, and he hasn’t. He’s proven himself untrustworthy, and thus unworthy of my time.”
“Ah ah ah, but that is where you would be mistaken,” chimed in Piper. “You see -- Sproul, Mac, and I, we were... teachers of the Book, if you will, before the invasion. We’ve studied it extensively, and things are not as clear cut as you have been led to believe.” Piper spoke as if he had a big secret that he was dying to tell.
“I don’t follow,” said Petra sternly.
“Let me see if I can help you out,” it was Mac interjecting this time. “What you need to understand is, our God Barah--“
“No no, your god, not mine,” said Petra, not wishing to be associated with a god who broke promises.
“Fine. Our God Barah,” said Mac, clearly exasperated. He glanced around the table to indicate the “our” referred to everyone except Petra. “Our God Barah made a covenant, a promise if you will, with us, the people of Damascas.”
“Wait, wait- you said you weren’t from around here,” said Petra, beginning to doubt the elderly man’s memory and credibility.
Mac blew out a long breath through his teeth, trying to remain patient. He collected himself then began again.
“Petra, friend, you really need to learn to keep your mouth shut until someone is finished speaking, and quit jumping to conclusions. It was you, not I, who said that me and my friends were not from around here. I said you could say that was the case, in a manner of speaking. We were born here, raised here, and worshiped Barah for many years here. He was very good to us before the invasion.”
“Yes before, but what about--”
“Let me finish!” Mac was on the verge of losing his temper. He recomposed himself then continued. “Please, Petra, let me finish speaking. The invasion occurred not because Barah is weak or unfaithful, but because we have been unfaithful to him.” Mac looked at Petra over his spectacles, his lips pressed against one another firmly, causing them to stick out a bit.
Petra had never heard anything like that before. He had always been told, and thus always believed, that Damascans had been faithful to Barah up to the bitter end, just prior to the invasion. However, he had a ready reply.
“Even if that were true, what does that matter? A promise is a promise right? Why does Barah expect us to be at his every whim anyways?”
“Because he made you!” Piper said as if he couldn’t believe such a question could be posed seriously.
“Ah, is that so? Who says Graybar didn’t make us, or some other god?” Petra responded, matching Piper’s incredulity.
“That’s where you need to know Barah’s Book. It says that Barah made Graybar. Graybar rebelled against Barah, wanting to be God, and was cast from Barah’s presence. But there is only one God, and that is Barah,” said Piper.
“What makes you so sure?” asked Petra skeptically. A female voice interrupted.
“I’ve read the book Petra, it’s true. Barah is God, and God alone.” It was Amethyst speaking.
She had remained silent at the table during the rapid exchanges between Petra and the three men, rubbing her arms and twisting her long brown hair nervously as the men spoke, but she could no longer remain silent.
“No, that’s just hearsay. Of course Barah’s Book will make that claim. That doesn’t make it true,” said Petra.
“I believe we can persuade you that it is, with time, Barah willing. We did with Amethyst,” said Sproul confidently, and he proudly smiled at her.
Time. Petra had nearly forgotten about work altogether. He only wanted to stay for ten minutes, but ten minutes had long passed.
“I’m done here. I gave you plenty opportunity to explain Barah to me. I’m not impressed. Have fun in the crazy club with these old men, Amethyst.” Amethyst buried her face in her hands, frustrated with the way things were panning out. 
“I knew this would not go well,” she murmured.
“Petra,” came Sproul’s booming voice without its usual courtesies, halting Petra who was now halfway across the tavern. “Come here tomorrow at seven in the morning. I’ll bring a copy of Barah’s Book and show you why it’s reasonable to trust in him alone.” Petra leaned his head back and rolled his eyes.
“Sorry old man, I don’t expect to be in town tomorrow, and I won’t be coming back. Farewell, wise ones.” Petra left the tavern and headed for the sawpit.