(To read Jacob and Saka's story, Festival of Lights, keep an eye out for Babes in Toyland II - coming Nov. 30 to Aspen Mountain Press.)
I just sat back down after a break to freshen up when Tina pokes her head through the doorway.
“Michelle, your next interview is here. Are you read for … umm… them?”
“As ready as I'll ever be.” I reach for my notepad. Would this guest be as much fun as Jenna? If my first interviews are anything to go by, I'm in for a treat. Wait - had Tina said “them”?
Tina reappears with two figures behind her. I expected Jacob bar Moshe of the Kohanim, but not a …guest.
My confusion must be evident.
“Guardian.” The lone terse word from the thin-lipped woman was almost as startling as her appearance. She stalks into the room, without so much as a by-your-leave, staring and sniffing suspiciously at the most innocuous items. Her height, coupled with her brilliantly beaded vest, leather pants, a bow and an axe made her stand out against my tasteful Holiday décor.
I wait politely while she reassures herself that there is no threat in the room. I shift to raise an eyebrow at Tina. She is as clueless as I, judging by the subtle shrug she gives me in return.
I turn back to my guests and the woman's arctic blue eyes stare back at me with all the passion of a chunk of ice. Wolf's Eyes.
The man who silently steps into the room is just as striking. This must be Jacob.
He's wearing clothes that look more suited to a Nativity scene reenactment than an interview. Somehow the odd beige and brown stripped raiment suits him, though. It highlights the warm tan tone of his skin, kindles golden highlights in his shoulder length hair and turns the simple brown eyes into a warm sherry. A nice sandy beach with a surfboard would be more fitting for the man with the shy smile than following in the wake of a glacial-eyed warrior woman.
“Thank you for joining me tonight.” I put down my file and pick up my notepad and pen. The woman's watchful gaze follows my movements.
“I am honored to be invited to your home, but I must confess this is all confusing and unexpected. The man who came to my door…” He seems uncertain.
The woman spoke up. “He was not Hebrew. Jacob did not know him. He was viewed as a danger, at first.”
I look over at Tina. “Tina, please call and see if the publisher's rep made it home okay.”
She nodded and darted off. For once she didn't even glare back.
“My apologies.” Jacob bows elegantly. “There was a slight misunderstanding until these necklaces,” long brown fingers brushed against a pendant hung around his neck, “were given to us. By the man's impossibly light skin, I should have known him to be sent by Elokim to bestow the gift of tongues.”
I have no clue who the Eli guy was, but I recognize the translator pendants marketing had somehow obtained from a defense contractor. At least that was the rumor.
“I hope you don't mind if I take notes this way. The last time I used a tape recorder there were…difficulties.” I was now more than a little tired of saying this because of the looks that accompanied some of the responses. I didn't want to go into details so I just smiled and held my pen at the ready, hoping no one would protest.
Jacob's eyes brightened. “What is a tape recorder?” He looked around the room like a kid at Christmas. “There are so many things here I do not know or understand, but perhaps we can begin with that?”
Oh, that's right. I'd been warned that Jacob wasn't exactly up on the modern conveniences. “This is a tape recorder.” Pulling the malfunctioning device from the table's drawer I click 'play' and a distorted woman's voice came from its tinny speaker. It still wasn't working correctly, the tape playing first too fast and then too slow.
A sudden a streak of buttery gold flashed past my face, knocking the stupid tape recorder to the floor where it shattered.
“Saka!” Jacob stumbled over his own feet to stand in front of me, arms outspread.
I was not about to complain. That woman had just won the prize for most volatile guest. I could just see Tina in the doorway behind, holding a cell phone and making some odd hand signals. I shook my head. She'd startled me but I still don't think she wants to hurt me.
“It sounded like a demon.”
“These people have given us a gift only God can give.” Again he pointed at the pendant. “You must abide by the rules of hospitality of my people this night.”
She went from looking furious to sporting the world's best poker face before turning to stare out of the window. The motion revealed a wrist-thick braid of dark brown hair that fell to mid-back.
“Please, accept my apologies for the damage to your… tape recorder. Can it be repaired?” He looked so upset, I found myself nodding, despite it being an utter loss. “There is a war coming to my homeland. My father decided I needed protecting and bought Saka.”
“Bought?” How far back in time did these people come from? “What day was it when you left?”
“It was Yom Shabbat, seven Kislev in the year 3928.” He seemed puzzled by the question. Oh, that's right, they were Hebrew. I made a mental note to go online and figure out when the odd pair came from. I picked my pen and paper back up from the table and took a few notes.
“My family does not often buy slaves from the Syrian market. It was need that lead to my father purchasing Saka Ishkuzi.”
“What an interesting name,” I remarked. She was facing me again. I hope the smile I gave her provided some reassurance..
“She is of the Kimmeroi.” Jacob's smooth, almost hypnotic, singer's voice hurried on, “Scythian from the area above the Black Sea.” Oh, them I'd heard of. Given the way history texts described the Scythian race, she seemed positively sedate now. I jot a few more notes to myself.
“Are you ready to get started on the interview? Can I offer you some refreshments? Food and beverage, name your desire and my super-efficient elf Tina will be delighted to bring it.” I smile and see Tina tuck the cell phone away in her skimpy skirt. Very skimpy - where did she tuck it. Maybe I don't really want to know.
“Of course, tea would be perfect.” His smile is conspiratorial as he leans forward. “Is your handmaid a Scythian? Saka has the same look when my mother asks her to be helpful with food.”
“She has no Scythian blood that I am aware of.” I smile brightly and hear Tina's teeth grind. “Please, sit down.”
After Jacob settles into his chair, I raise my pen and smile. “What are you?”
Jacob tilts his head. “I am a man, a simple scholar of the Talmud hoping to one day be a member of the priesthood.”
“What problems do you face in your world because of what you are?”
Saka paces forward and stands behind his chair. The long wooden haft of her battle axe thuds on the hardwood floor and she leans against it, the blade a full head taller than her fierce angular face. Oddly enough, Jacob seems reassured by the action instead of flustered.
“In Judah, the Hellenes rule through their Seleucid forces. They have passed laws forbidding my people from worshipping our God. To that end the Temple Mount was desecrated and turned into a place of pagan sacrifice. If it is revealed that I study to be a Rabbi, my life is forfeit.”
Okay so the Barbarian Queen makes better sense. ”So what do you do for a living, and do you enjoy it?”
A wide smile breaks out on his face and I instinctively smile back. “My father and brothers all work on the caravan trails as spice merchants. They return home at different times of the year and stock our store, but always come home in time for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. While they are gone I tend the shop with my younger brothers. My mother is a renowned weaver, but she handles her own business.”
“Mmm. What do you do for fun?”
“Fun?” The statue behind him says something guttural I couldn't catch and his face brightens. “Ah, I see! I enjoy reading scrolls, learning new languages and recently Saka has been teaching me to use her bow.” The last admission brings a slight blush to his cheeks.
I smile and try not to let on that I can imagine what has transpired during those lessons. I don't need to make them uncomfortable again. “Do you have any hobbies or interesting information about yourself you'd like to share?”
“I do not believe so, I am a simple man. There are lessons with Rabbi Pathai, my mornings in the store and caring for my donkey and Saka's pony.”
“What are your plans for this holiday season? Which holidays do you celebrate, if any, and how do you celebrate them?”
“Holiday? There is Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month, but there are no holy days until Purim.”
Hmmm. How far in time HAVE they come? Maybe from before they celebrated Hanukkah, otherwise I'd have expected it to be mentioned by a Hebrew “Is there anyone special in your life?”
Jacob's finely sculpted cheekbones flush with color again and he looks at his hands. “There is one I consider special to me, yes.”
“Can you tell us about her?”
“I...I do not know what to say,” he stammers. Lifting his gaze to mine, Jacob flicks doe-eyes at the hatchet-faced woman now looking at Tina with something akin to respect.
My helper had to have raided her Halloween wardrobe. Instead of her skimpy Santa outfit, she wore suede leather pants and a bustier very similar to Saka's. What a suck-up. I'd stick my tongue out if I didn't think I'd lose it.
With a smug smile she set the tea cup in front of Jacob and flounced out of the room. I see a look pass between the soft and sweet Jacob and the violent and terse Scythian. It does make a warped sort of sense, actually.
“Um…okay then… What are your goals for the rest of the year?”
Sipping his tea, Jacob sighs in contentment. “It isn't often that we get these leaves from the Xian province, this is a treat. Our year has just started but before the year concludes, it would be a blessing for the Maccabeus' army to retake Jerusalem from the Seleucids and free our people from religious oppression.”
“I certainly hope your people are successful. I fear I'm taking up too much of your time. Thank you so much for joining me tonight. I really enjoyed getting to know you...both.” I smile and ignore the scattered remains of my tape recorder.
“It was an honor to meet you, even if I do not understand the reason for it.” Jacob stood and he and Saka made their way to the doorway where Tina waited to escort them out.
Saka grasped my helper's arm firmly. “Until next we meet, Taihnah. May your arrows fly straight and true and your enemies fall at your feet.” Jacob touches her shoulder and the Scythian woman walks to the door, opens it and stares into the darkness, looking for…I don't know what, but I certainly don't envy whatever it is.
Interesting, Jacob is taller and broader than the woman chosen to guard him. His gentle demeanor and smooth, attractive features made him seem softer, delicate. Feminine good looks with a man's strength. A shame he seems hooked on the Barbarian Queen.
I look at my now gloating assistant. What does Taihnah mean that, coupled with Frederick's of Hollywood's best, a Scythian would suddenly treat her so well. Mostly, I wonder if I'd ever get her ego deflated over this coup.
As I watch Jacob and Saka leave, I wonder what my next guest would have in store for me. I have high hopes for my meeting with Thanet Blake.