Servant of the Bones

Part I

THE BONES OF WOE

Golden are the bones of woe.

Their brilliance has no place to go.

It plunges inward,

Spikes through snow.

Of weeping fathers whom we drink

And mother’s milk and final stink

We can dream but cannot think.

Golden bones encrust the brink.

Golden silver copper silk.

Woe is water shocked by milk.

Heart attack, assassin, cancer.

Who would think these bones such dancers.

Golden are the bones of woe.

Skeleton holds skeleton.

Words of ghosts are not to know.

Ignorance is what we learn.

Stan Rice, Some Lamb 1975

1

This is Azriel’s tale as he told it to me, as he begged me to bear witness and to record his words. Call me Jonathan as he did. That was the name he chose on the night he appeared in my open door and saved my life.

Surely if he hadn’t come to seek a scribe, I would have died before morning.

Let me explain that I am well known in the fields of history, archaeology, Sumerian scholarship. And Jonathan is indeed one of the names given me at birth, but you won’t find it on the jackets of my books, which the students study because they must, or because they love the mysteries of ancient lore as much as I do.

Azriel knew this—the scholar, the teacher I was—when he came to me.

Jonathan was a private name for me that we agreed upon together. He had plucked it from the string of three names on the copyright pages of my books. And I had answered to it. It became my name for him during all those hours as he told his tale—a tale I would never publish under my regular professorial name, knowing full well, as he did, that this story would never be accepted alongside my histories.

So I am Jonathan; I am the scribe; I tell the tale as Azriel told it. It doesn’t really matter to him what name I use with you. It only mattered that one person wrote down what he had to say. The Book of Azriel was dictated to Jonathan.

He did know who I was; he knew all my works, and had painstakingly read them before ever corning. He knew my academic reputation, and something in my style and outlook had caught his fancy. Perhaps he approved that I had reached the venerable age of sixty-five, and still wrote and worked night and day like a young man, with no intentions of retiring ever from the school where I taught, though I had now and then to get completely away from it.

So it was no haphazard choice that made him climb the steep forested mountains, in the snow, on foot, carrying only a curled newsmagazine in his hand, his tall form protected by a thick mass of curly black hair that grew long below his shoulders—a true protective mantle for a man’s head and neck—and one of those double-tiered and flaring winter coats that only the tall of stature and the romantic of heart can wear with aplomb or the requisite charming indifference.

By the light of the fire, he appeared at once a kind young man, with huge black eyes and thick prominent brows, a small thick nose, and a large cherub’s mouth, his hair dappled with snow, the wind blowing his coat wildly about him as it tore through the house, sending my precious papers swirling in all directions.

Now and then this coat became too large for him. His appearance completely changed to match that of the man on the cover of the magazine he’d brought with him.

It was that miracle I saw early on, before I knew who he was, or that I was going to live, that the