I'm back ... in case anyone is checking. Took a nice vacation over the holidays that stretched into two months. A relentless string of Connecticut snow storms had something to do with my absence, as well.
But, I'm back and, again, my plan is to post a blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Today I'm starting a serialization of a short story I wrote in August, The Gaon's Revenge. This story was offered as a free bonus to readers of Ishmael Covenant, the first book of the Empires of Armageddon series, and it is an offshoot of the original story in the book.
If you haven't read Ishmael Covenant, you won't be lost. This story stands on its own. But why haven't you read Ishmael Covenant????
The Gaon’s Revenge – Part I
A Short Story by Terry Brennan
What was worse? Risking his own life and soul in this very real fight with the mortal and immortal forces of evil, or risking the lives of the innocent and well meaning? Or had he signed Abraham Rosenberg’s death warrant the moment he stepped under his roof?
Standing over his shoulder, the Vilna Gaon watched as Rabbi Abraham Rosenberg rubbed ashes into the mortar around the three large stones that were reset low on the left corner of the hearth in the rabbi’s Konigsberg home. The new mortar now looked just as old as the original. A necessary precaution to ensure the safety of the Gaon’s second prophecy and the bronze box that protected it that were now hidden behind the hearth stones.
“A good night’s work,” said Rabbi Rosenberg, son of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, one of the Gaon’s most devoted and trusted disciples. Rosenberg looked warily at the corner where the box was hidden, then back to the Gaon who stood in the reflection of the fire’s dying embers. “And now to bed, I hope. Perhaps some sleep I can find before the sun washes my window. If there is not anything else you need of me? … then, good night, Rebbe.”
“Good night, Abraham. And – thank you,” said the Gaon. “Thank you for your courage.”
Shaking his head, with a retreating wave of his hand, Rabbi Rosenberg slipped through the door from the main room of his humble home, built hard by the right side of the Konigsberg Synagogue, into his bedroom beyond.
Now the Vilna Gaon was finally alone. Rabbi Rosenberg’s home was humble, but cozy, a home that radiated friendly welcome. After eight, energy-sapping days riding a mule, twice under attack from black-hearted enemies who wanted to steal both the prophecies and their lives, this home’s refuge wrapped him in a warm embrace. He felt as if some of his anxieties, some of his burdens, had escaped up the stone chimney like thin wisps of smoke. He needed to rest. But, even now, on this pilgrimage, he only slept a few hours each day. Sleep was still far from him.
Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon, or genius of Vilna, was a Torah prodigy from the age of seven. As a result of his great wisdom and his extraordinary comprehension of both Torah and secular knowledge, the often reclusive Gaon spent forty years writing voluminous corrective notes to the ancient texts of his people, particularly the Talmud. Now approaching seventy-four years, he was regarded as the most influential Jewish writer of his time. There was almost no ancient Torah text that did not bear his notes.
The Gaon’s range of knowledge was astounding. He had an intimate understanding of mathematics, astronomy, science, music, philosophy and linguistics but was also the most renowned Kabbalist of his time, the mystical – at times otherworldly – side of Judaism.
With his son, Yehuda, and his servant, Itzak asleep in their beds beside the stables, the Gaon sat himself in the same hearth-side chair he occupied hours ago when he first detailed the story of his journey to Rabbi Rosenberg. The story of the two prophecies he received from the throne room of God, their supernatural significance, the unrelenting danger posed in keeping them together and the gruesome death awaiting anyone who touched the prophecies without the anointing’s protection. So, the second prophecy – with its warning about the Man of Violence – would remain here, to be held in secret by the rabbis of Konigsberg until its rightful time. The first prophecy the Gaon received that fateful day one year ago, with the message about the Messiah’s coming, would return with him to Vilnius where he would end this aborted pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Thoughts of home stirred up a longing in his heart as the glittering embers of the banked fire emitted a last vestige of warmth. A night breeze danced across the embers, wrapping the Gaon in a faint golden glow and flickering like stars in the night sky off the silver breastplate of a huge figure to his right.
The Gaon snapped his head to the right.
“You’re still here?”
The Gaon believed – hoped – this figure had returned to heaven. But, tall, majestic and shimmering, the angel Bayard stood to his right, furled wings one-third again taller than his body, barely clearing the ceiling. From beneath his silver helmet, cascading brown hair fell well past his shoulders. Bayard was dressed like an ancient warrior, gleaming silver breastplate covering his chest, a massive broad sword in a scabbard hanging from his hip.
An old man’s weary sigh emerged from deep in the Gaon’s chest. “I thought you had left me. There’s more?”
Bayard’s two angelic companions no longer with him, he leaned against the chair opposite the Gaon and lowered himself closer to the Gaon’s eye level. “There remains one more task,” said Bayard, his voice containing the lilt of an echo, like ancient bells in a church tower. “A task that will hopefully confound the enemy.”
Bayard lifted his cape and revealed a second bronze box resting in his right hand. It looked like an exact replica of the one into whose lid the Gaon had pounded Kabbalah symbols in the hours just after midnight.
“A second box?” asked the Gaon, staring into Bayard’s deep, emerald colored eyes. “One was not enough?”
“This one has a different purpose,” said Bayard, placing the box in the Gaon’s lap. “Multiple purposes, actually.” Bayard pulled the scabbard of his sword around in front of him, laid his muscled arms against it and rested on one knee.
“If you leave here without something you are protecting, the enemy may conclude that the messages remain here. Both Rabbi Rosenberg and the prophetic message your left here will be at great risk. But, if you leave here with a box that appears to be clearly under your personal protection, then our enemy may follow you and the first message you received from the throne room.”
Bayard shrugged his shoulders. “Or a seed of doubt for the enemy.”
Rabbi Elijah Ben Shlomo Zalman was a wise man. It did not take a wise man to see this truth. “A decoy!” he said with emphasis. “These old bones of mine may not survive more attacks from the hounds of hell.”
“Yes, it is a long way home for you, revered one – a journey that will likely be as rife with obstacles, adversaries and dangers, as your pilgrimage here. But, this box,” Bayard pointed to the bronze box that remained in the Gaon’s lap, “will protect you.”
The Gaon looked down at the box, lifted it from his lap before his face. “This box will keep me – and those who ride with me – safe?” The Gaon looked at the sides of the box … turned it over and glanced at the bottom. The apothecary shop in Vilnius had dozens like it. Those boxes couldn’t protect you from a cold. “And how will this box protect us? It is so … plain. Why not just give me a box like the other?” asked the Gaon. “Or I can hammer kabbalah symbols into the top of this one.”
“There is only one box of power,” said Bayard, “one weapon forged for one specific purpose and mission. This box is for your protection. This box is to get you home safely. And, in doing so, it will also help keep what’s in this home secure until its time has come.”
The box still in his hands, the Gaon raised it up toward Bayard. “So, what do I do with it? Do I put the Messiah prophecy in this box? Is that what protects us?”
Bayard shook his head, hair spilling over his shoulders. “No, that first prophecy is to remain where it is … next to your heart,” he said. “Look inside.”
The Gaon raised the lid of the box. It was empty. “There’s nothing here.”
A smile creased Bayard’s face. “Nor will there be … until you need it. Keep the box close to you, within your sight. You, and those with you,” he said, sweeping his arm towards the stable where Yehuda and Itzak slept, “must remain with the box until you return to your home. Never allow it to be out of your sight or your reach. Stray from the box, and its protection will be lost.”
The Gaon’s body started swaying to the beat of the conflicting thoughts in his mind. He had finished his task, fulfilled his call. It wasn’t fair to throw him back into such danger once again. The weariness in his voice betrayed the depth of his condition. “Why do I need such protection?”
Bayard pushed himself off his scabbard. His furled wings rustled and nearly scraped the ceiling as he stood. He looked as if he was coming to attention before his commander’s inspection.
“Your assignment, man of God, is not completely fulfilled,” Bayard said with emphasis. “There is more yet for you to do … two additional messages you are destined to deliver. One that will ensure the box of power fulfills its mission. And you must return safely to your home to complete those tasks.”
Bayard lifted his right hand and placed it above the Gaon’s head. “And now, favored one, it’s time for you to sleep.”
~ ~ ~
“Father, it’s time to wake. Itzak has the mules packed and ready.”
The Gaon still sat in front of the now exhausted fire. Someone had placed a fur blanket over his body to keep him warm. His eyes opened and saw his son, Yehuda, a concerned look in his eyes. “You slept here?”
The Gaon stretched and felt the bronze box still resting on his lap. “Hmmm … yes, I slept.”
~ ~ ~
Drop by on Friday, March 5th, for Part II