UNTO US A CHILD - Part 1
Apologies if I already posted this last year, can't remember now but someone might enjoy it.
Ye Gods, it had been a gruelling and exhausting journey so far, in punishing temperatures and cruelly painful, scouring sandstorms, and Parathus wasn’t as young as he used to be. In fact although he wasn’t absolutely certain, he estimated himself to be around 80, which of course added to his gravitas and reputation for wisdom. He had set out from his golden city with its spires, temples and blue-grey mountain peaks what seemed a lifetime ago, cheered from the city gates by many of his subjects despite the relatively low key departure he had wished for. It was, after all, not a prequel to some great battle, he thought wryly. This was – what? A quest for knowledge? An all-consuming thirst for some greater truth? A pilgrimage. Yes, that would do. He just hoped he would reach the end of the journey before his old bones and his fluttering heart failed him.
Was he in fact as all-knowing and wise as his servants and subjects thought him to be? It was true he had ruled for many years, sometimes with unforgiving and arbitrary harshness, but such were the times. He didn’t however consider himself to be unjustly cruel or sadistic for the sake of it. Hadn’t he pardoned the band of insurgents who threatened to storm his grand palace and unseat him and his government? True, he had had to make an example of their leader if only to warn off any future uprisings, but the man’s death had been swift with no unnecessary torture or humiliation. The remainder had been terrified into loyalty and sworn to peaceful obedience, and Parathus had sent them on their way – although he had them watched closely for some time thereafter.
His third wife, a deliciously tender and gentle girl only recently acquired, had been discovered behind a statue in his magnificent gardens with one of his head grooms last year and instead of beheading them both, as he would have been absolutely entitled so to do, he had her banished to a remote village (although it broke his heart) and had merely chopped the groom’s hand off, although as he later reflected, perhaps he had severed the wrong appendage. All in all, he considered himself a just and fair minded ruler. He knew however that he would not rule forever, and that perhaps – at the end of his gruelling journey– history itself would have to be re-written. On the other hand, if he was horribly mistaken and had somehow mis-read the portents then the physical and mental torture to which he was subjecting his old body, the agonising jolting of the camels, the burning pains in his knees and shoulders, would have been for naught. How his court doctor would laugh when – if – he ever returned, resembling nothing more than a loose sack of scrawny weather-beaten bones held together by richly decorated silken and velvet clothes. “Here’s mad old Parathus back again” he’d smirk, “Old age has finally driven him to insanity. Travelled halfway across the globe, dragging his poor idiot servants along just for the ride. And for what?”
“Maybe he would be right” Parathus considered, when he was at his most exhausted and weak, longing for a deep fragrant bath and the ministrations of a compliant female. “Perhaps I have been misled in my failing eyesight and thirst for celestial signs. I should return home.” And yet, and yet … some stubborn core in his wheezing chest drove him on.
That and a deep conviction that something wondrous was waiting to be found, maybe a treasure of boundless worth, a creature as yet unknown, a crystal waterfall, a lost city of great beauty and harmony perhaps. Or something more elemental, more rooted in humanity.
The temperature was climbing rapidly even though it was only just past dawn. The sky was already a blazing cobalt blue, cloudless and blinding, and the camels accompanying the small party seemed to tremble like grotesque aspens through the haze of heat, although they were the most stoic of creatures and in fact suffered far less than did Parathus himself and his two servants.
He lifted the flap of his tent, wiped his deep brown leathery brow with the edge of his cloak and squinted across the gentle hills. They had been travelling for months now, driven onwards by what his servants considered privately to be an insane obsession and one in which they would have been grateful not to have been included. They were however his faithful subjects and respected and even loved the old man, despite his frequent outbursts of irascible temper and the worrying memory lapses to which he was sometimes prone.
“Prepare my breakfast, we leave shortly” Parathus instructed the younger man, a slim youth who had been in his employ all his life. “Dates and flat bread will suffice, and make sure the beasts are fed, it will be another long day.” “Yes, my lord” murmured the lad. “And the direction? It is still the same?” Parathus smiled grimly. “Yes indeed, still the same direction. I checked last night. And I feel we have not much time.”
He let the tent flap drop and walked back into the cool dimness inside. He had rich furnishings as befitting his rank, a low padded embroidered stool against one corner, a collapsible desk which was overflowing with charts, a polished chest and a canopied bed which his older servant was in the process of dismantling. Luxury was a weakness, PParathus instinctively knew, but one to which he felt he was entitled now he had grown both in age and importance. After all, he had great responsibility, and along with that responsibility went certain advantages – and he did suffer terrible joint pains, which lying on a rolled up blanket on the hard sand would not aid at all. While he ate his frugal breakfast he again scrutinised the thick illustrated charts in front of him. The mystical heavens lay there before him, the planets, a representation of earth, magical figures, lions, rams, angels, a smiling moon. Parathus had always been fascinated with the heavens and what lay beyond the sky.
He had a precious and precisely constructed instrument inlaid with gold, which he now took up and held to his left eye. Opening the tent flap a little, he gazed upwards into the infinity of the atmosphere, searching intently. Nothing. It seemed the sky went on forever, empty even of birds … but he knew this wasn’t so. He was certain. It was this certainty that had driven him and his tiny entourage out far from Persia and into this bleak landscape.