I was some weeks in the Healer’s temple, attended occasionally by Nazharr; more often by the priestesses of Yarrave. One in particular, an older woman named Saraih with intelligent eyes and an infectious laugh, seemed to have adopted me. She fussed over me, making sure I ate plenty and scolding me when I scratched at my bandages. Ezhaki came to see me almost daily, often bringing Semja who would happily climb all over me once my bandages were off. Araquiel was a more serious child who preferred to watch me with quiet curiosity. These people became a family I had never known.
Time passed easily enough, and Ezhaki proved a diverting companion; well educated and witty. I found his culture both strange and fascinating. The more I learned of it, the less I truly understood it, a paradox that I think faces any newcomer to this region. It was during this time that I sought to understand it by feverishly writing down everything he told me. He seemed amused at first, but once he realized I was a trained scribe he thoughtfully provided me with the means to continue taking my notes. A good natured man and a true friend to the end of his days, he was more of a father to me than my own.
It seems strange now to look back and think how when he first rescued me from the desert, I considered Ezhaki a barbarian. Their way of life was relatively simple, after all. And yet in the deepest parts of their lands, hidden from all outsiders there existed a city – a city! – which was lighted at night by hundreds of lamps through the streets – clean, swept streets. This, while the Crusaders who called these people infidel still emptied their night slops in the streets each morning. I shudder to think what he must have thought of me when I first arrived; I was completely ignorant and thought myself an educated man. Indeed, I was by the standards of my people. I just knew so little compared to him.
Here’s an example: At some point while I slept after that first meeting, someone bathed my wounds. It was pleasant to have the caked blood and desert dust washed away. Imagine my horror when the next morning, Ezhaki showed up with two powerfully muscled men bearing a litter, and informed me that he was taking me down to the river for a bath.
I gaped at him in shock. Everyone knew that too-frequent immersion in water brought about cold humours which would weaken the spirit. I wished neither to succumb to a cough, nor to imply to this odd but pleasant fellow that his idea of a good time might well be the death of me. When I demurred, he tilted his head and regarded me curiously.
“Eoghain, whyever not?” he asked me finally. “Would you not feel better with your bruises properly tended and your body cleansed?
“I … I don’t doubt it, Ezhaki,” I replied a bit timidly, “but I was apparently bathed just yesterday.”
He laughed. “That was yesterday,young friend,” he said in his deep, rich voice. “Today is a new tale. How can you not wish to face it with yesterday’s dirt washed away?”
Stammering, I tried to explain about the ill humours which would attend upon too much immersion in water. His expression went from confused, to surprised, to supremely amused as he began to understand what I was telling him. Finally, he held a hand up and stopped my torrent of words.
“Eoghain,” he said, his tone kind. “Take no offense, my friend, but you speak foolishness. Cleanliness makes one more healthy, not less. Look at me, for I bathe like this each morning!”
I had to admit, he was a fine and healthy specimen of manhood. Still, I hesitated. A lifetime of teaching taught me that too much bathing was bad for me. Perhaps we were of sufficiently different blood that what made him healthy, would yet weaken me?
Seeing my hesitation, he leaned forward and spoke in an apologetic tone. “Please do not be offended, friend Eoghain,” he said softly, “But .. I would most dearly wish you trust me, and let us bear you to the river. You ah … you smell … bad.”
For a moment, I merely looked at him. Then I couldn’t help it: I laughed. He was so earnest and polite, and so correct; My people do not smell especially sweet. One grows accustomed to it. But to he who assiduously cleaned himself each day, I must have smelled like a wet dog after a garbage raid. I consented to be borne to the river then, and washed. After all, yesterday morning I expected to die. Each day after then was a gift.
A gift. Yes, that is the word for it, as I look back over the past half-century. A gift of love and laughter, of sorrows and tears not borne alone, of a people who became my family. It is my turn then to repay the gift Ezhaki gave me so many years gone, for the sake of his children and grandchildren. I do so by giving their name to history so that something of them lives on.