So Menpūle and his disciples (who were nicknamed Khezbekeans) travelled further afield in East Pen, preaching to the villagers and gaining many new followers. They also crossed the Rhine to bring light to their brothers and sisters in the west of the country. In these days Menpūle taught that God is one, that thēli emanates from God like the rays of the sun, that he sent out powerful spirits, the ētukal, to act as his ministers. These and many other teachings of Menpūle were later recorded in the book called The Light of the Star.
After three months of going around the country in this way, some of the disciples grew restless and proposed that a delegation be sent to the prince at Sutam Galdu or the high priest at Āgheferta. Menpūle said to them ‘Listen. Our mission is to bring light to those in darkness, and this cause would be badly served by rash acts. The high Sīltek of Summer will be celebrated soon. Let a few of us then go up to Āgheferta as humble worshippers, but there let us pray to God at his temple and abstain from adorning the sun. We shall show the authorities we mean them no harm.
On the day before the festival Menpūle met at Kauverupe’s house with the four disciples he had chosen to accompany him to Āgheferta. These were: Tewuri his brother; Kemar, a peasant of Khezbeke; Thumbulupe, son of the lord of Āvnipa; and Nir, a slave of that household. His companions thus included men of all the classes. They ate together with Kauverupe and Ānd, and the priest was besought God to protect them on their journey.
The five men set off at midday carrying just bread, water and some silver strips to donate to God’s temple at Āgheferta. They followed the road south until Fort on the Bend, where they rested awhile in the shade of some trees. Then they carried on south-westward to where River Saka joins the Rhine and followed the Saka upstream to the Holy Lake.
Menpūle led his companions along the north bank of the lake until they were a short distance away from the temples. He said to them ‘Let’s stop here to eat and let’s sleep here overnight as well. If we sleep in the great enclosure among the sun-worshippers we will be caught up in their rites when the sun rises. The ground out here is just as holy as the ground in there. When the trumpet sounds from the tower to announce the dawn, we shall stand silent reverence to God, giving thanks to him for illuminating out world.’
The five men then went to the west gate of the temple precinct, where they handed over their weapons to the guards. They made their way across the great enclosure, which was full of people dancing and yelling before a big bonfire in the middle. They went into the temple of God, the house of Bruya, which was empty but for two guards looking out for thieves. And there they prayed long and silently before the sanctuary. On the way out they threw their silver strips into a big urn, as tall as man, which stood by the doorway. They money thus collected went towards the upkeep of the temple, the maintenance of its priests and the relief of paupers.
As Menpūle and his friends were leaving the temple, a priest in plain-coloured robes came up to them. He asked Menpūle, ‘Sir, why are you and your companions taking no part in these joyful celebrations? Are you Devotees of Bruya?’
‘We are devotees of the Lord Bruya, sir, though we don’t belong to the sect of that name.’ Menpūle replied. ‘We believe that he is the one true God and we abstain from worshipping others.’
‘So have you come here now to convert the people to your beliefs?’ the priest asked, gesturing towards the crowd with his arm.
‘Certainly not!’ Menpūle retorted. ‘At the very most we are demonstrating our piety before those who might be suspicious of us. We mean noone any harm.’
‘Well then, Menpūle son of Blapuke, would you like to gain official recognition and protection for your sect? All you must do is swear loyalty to our Prince and our high priest. I am sure you are already the most loyal of their subjects. The high priest is ready to receive your oath in person once the morning sacrifices are completed.’
‘Yes, I will accept your offer, sir, if no further conditions are added to the oath and if you will tell me who you are.’
‘I am Wanu, Deputy Head of the Holy Council of Āgheferta, and I was sent to greet you by the high priest Tewuri. Of course no extra conditions will be attached to your oath. If you still say yes, please wait by the north gate until one-and-a-half burmal, when I’ll come to fetch you and your companions.’
‘Yes, I will swear the oath,’ Menpūle said.
So Wanu left the five men and they waited by the north gate, shaded from the sun by the outer wall of Bruya’s temple. Kemar said to Menpūle, ‘I for one don’t trust that man. He seemed rather threatening at first but then he started flattering you,’ Menpūle replied ‘I know the priests are scheming men, but they’re treating us with favour. If they keep to their word, then we shall serve them gladly. But if they break their word, then our loyalty to them ceases.’
Wanu did not return until two burmal, when he appeared wearing the blue robes of the upper clergy and accompanies by two guards. He led the five men out through the north gate and up to the high priest’s palace in Āgheferta town. The high priest had retired there after the completion of the morning sacrifices, and there he heard Menpūle’s oath together with Wanu, some other priests, some guards and Menpūle’s companions.
Menpūle swore, ‘In the sight of the Lord of Heaven I, Menpūle son of Blapuke, leader of the Khezbekean sect, promise loyally to serve Wuskanda, Prince of the Pennul, and his successors. I promise loyally to serve his servant Tewuri, high priest of the Pennul, and his successors. And I promise to enjoin these things on my followers.’
The high priest now proffered Menpūle a blue-stained staff; at its upper end was a knob bearing a bronze crown. He spoke ‘Take this as an emblem of your authority over your followers, authority conferred by the high priest of Pennul on behalf of his lord, the Prince of the Pennul. In sight of all the gods we promise to protect you.’
Menpūle took the staff from him, bowed and said, ‘I thank you, my lord,’ And then turning to his companions he said, ‘Don’t think that this staff of office will make me haughty like the other sect leaders. My authority is that of a humble teacher.’
Then the five companions departed, collected their weapons from the west gate and made their way back by the same route. Menpūle was received with wonder in the village of Khezbeke and many more people joined his cause that very day. Even his father Blapuke forswore all gods by Bruya.
Over the next three months the Khezbekeans began to form themselves into an organised sect. Menpūle chose five beside himself to travel as preachers around the towns and villages of Pen: his brother Tewrui, Thumbulupe, Nir, Nele the son of Kemar, and Irighudh, a widow of Khezbeke. They travelled in pairs. In addition, five settled priests came over to the Khezbekeans and put their temples at the sect’s disposal. Menpūle confirmed them in their office. Chief amongst them were the great Kauverupe of Khezbeke and Lāzughur of Tiskalu Āghe.
On Menpūle’s instructions they threw the idols and emblems of the old gods out of the temples and broke them. Instead they placed a silver star in the sanctuary as a symbol of God’s enlightenment. On the sīltek the disciples gathered outside the temples to pray. All were welcomed by the priests and the travelling preachers, though they might still cling to the old gods in their heart or be of barbarian blood, for Menpūle had said, ‘All who come to us are believers; all who are pure in heart are Ulbs,’ And indeed he had the priests baptise and initiate several barbarian slaves who belonged to believers. Thus he made them Ulbs, enjoying the rights of Ulbic slaves. Such a thing had never been heard of before, and many cruel slave-owners feared for the absolute rights they had enjoyed over their barbarian slaves.
The priests of the old gods also feared Menpūle, for he was breaking their hold on the people. Reports of their fears reached Wanu, the chief of the holy spies of Āgheferta, and the man who had led Menpūle to honour now led the agitation against him. He falsely put it about that Menpūle wanted to usurp the high priest’s place. And eventually news of this ‘troublemaker’ reached Prince Wuskanda at Sutam Galdu.
One morning in early Wainiteudhu Menpūle was preaching to the people in the marketplace of Anaduma. He said, ‘People of Anaduma, your trade has made you wealthy but it has also made you rotten. You may live in fine houses, you may adorn your temples with gold, but where does your wealth come from? You sell wine to the barbarians and make them drunk; you buy slaves from them to toil on the estates of Ulbia and the South. Yes, you are merchants in misery! And what do you buy for yourselves with your dirty money? Drunkenness, gluttony, usury and harlotry!
‘People of Anaduma, if you continue to lead such lives of sin you will surely be ruined, if not in this world then in another. Unseen worlds are right beside you. When you die, you will embark on a great ship, and if you die unrepentant, an icy wind will drive that ship to a frozen sea and on through a narrow channel in the ice. On a frozen, desolate shore you will disembark, there to wander in the fog, isolated one from another, with naught but rags to keep you warm.
‘People of Anaduma, repent of your sins and you will be spared this. Lead chaste and temperate lives, deal in wholesome goods, give generously to the poor. If you are upright and devoted to the one God you will surely be rewarded, if not in this world then in another. A gentle wind will take your ship to a fair, fertile country, and there you can walk with your friends through verdant meadows and graceful woods, beneath a mild sun or soft rain.
‘But I tell you, one day when many of you are still living the Ulbs will be put to the test. In twenty-five years’ time the northern barbarians will unite and assail our lands. If the Ulbs heed my words, they will withstand the attackers and go on to flourish. But if they disregard what I say, they will fall and the land will be laid waste. When that day comes, the Eagle will prove a better guardian than the Bear.
‘If the Ulbs stand, I can see a time when they will be united under one king. The barbarian chieftains will submit to his authority. Both piety and prosperity will prevail within the realm, and God’s message will be preached even to the barbarians without.’
Suddenly a horseman appeared in the marketplace and rode towards Menpūle. Those who were listening dodged from his path. He rode up to the preacher and asked, ‘Are you Menpūle son of Blapuke, leader of the Khezbekeans?’
‘Sir, I am,’ replied Menpūle.
‘Well then, I am Ruzekūm, son of Kūm, a messenger sent by my lord the Chief Prince Wuskanda.’ Here the rider gestured towards the brooch fastening his cloak; this had the form of a crowned bear. He continued, ‘My lord requests you to stop your proselytising, for it is causing discord in the realm. So will you stop your activity?’
‘No, sir. Wanu of Āgheferta promised me that no further conditions would be laid on me.’
‘Be that as it may, the consequences of refusal will be most harsh. You shall have one day to reconsider your decision while I consult with my lord. Await me here at the same time tomorrow morning.’
The horseman departed and the people turned away from Menpūle in fear. He was left alone with Nir, who was accompanying him on this circuit of his travels. Nir said to him, ‘Teacher, this meeting tomorrow could well be a trap. I think we ought to flee.’ But Menpūle replied, ‘No, Nir, my time has not yet come: I still have much work to do. We shall remain in this town to await the Prince’s messenger.’
So Menpūle and Nir remained in Anaduma that day and stayed overnight at an inn. In the morning they waited at the edge of the marketplace and at the appointed hour Ruzekūm appeared again on horseback, followed by four men armed with clubs.
Ruzekūm called out, ‘Menpūle, my lord the Chief Prince is giving you one last chance. Either you cease your proselytism or you will be expelled from the realm. You see I have four strong men from the town guard here to assist me if needs be. So will you stop now?’
‘No, sir, I will not,’ answered Menpūle.
‘Very well then, said Ruzekūm, ‘you and your followers who will not renounce your sect must leave Pennu soil within ten days by order of the Prince of Pennul. If you stay any longer or if you return to Pen you will be treated as outlaws. And my lord will advise his fellow princes to give you no refuge until you come to the barbarians or the sea. Guards, relieve this gentleman of his blue stick and escort our friends to the south gate!’
The guards grabbed the staff of office from Menpūle, seized him and his companion and marched them through the streets to the south gate of the town. There they released them, but Ruzekūm warned Menpūle, ‘Keep your tongue in check while you’re still on Pennu soil. We are listening and now you’re just an ordinary subject enjoying no special favour.’
Menpūle and Nir set off on foot towards their home district and reached Tiskalu Āghe when it was already dark. They warned Lāzughur the priest and the other believers there of the coming danger. Menpūle told them, ‘All who are willing to leave with me should send a household member to Kauverupe’s home in Khezbeke the day after tomorrow at noon. There we shall discuss what to do.’
Menpūle and Nir stayed that night as guests of Lāzughur and his wife Neleyak. After supper the men debated where they might go but they could come to no conclusion. Nir spoke up. ‘We should go to the land of the Celts in the south. I hear they value wisdom greatly and they will surely welcome us.’ But Menpūle objected. ‘Any barbarians will make short work of us if we come to settle among them, and even some of our Ulbic brothers will treat strangers with violence. I suggest we settle on the western frontier, where people of many tribes live together as friends. There we may be free to follow our faith.’ Lāzughur, however, warned him, ‘The freedom there goes hand in hand with lawlessness, and I don’t doubt but that Sutam Galdu has agents there already. We will be safer with the Sēdhmal or the Īdhalnul, who are hospitable to strangers but who have no love for Wuskanda.’ ‘True enough,’ said Menpūle, ‘but their lands adjoin Pen and he can still put pressure on them.’ And so they carried on disputing.
As Menpūle lay asleep that night a dream came to him. He was running across rough, scrubby country and he could hear the voices of pursuers and the barking of dogs behind him. Suddenly he looked up and saw a wide river in front of him and beyond that a great hill with vine-clad slopes. He jumped in and somehow managed to swim across to the far bank, where he knew he was safe thanks to the protection of the great hill.
When all had gathered for breakfast, Menpūle related his dream to them. Then he said, ‘I am sure that God is showing the way I should take. In the dream I found safety under a green mountain, which is the name of Sīdhaive, Prince of Treweral. And one certainly has to cross rivers to reach to his country. Yesterday I rejected the thought of Treweraveli because of the old enmity between our tribes and for fear Sīdhaive – Sīdhaive the Fox – might use us in some intrigue against our own country. But God has shown me the way and I hope you will follow me,’ And the others did agree to follow him, though Neleyak wept at the thought of taking her little son Lāzupe to a strange land.
After that Menpūle and Nir left Lāzughur and his wife and called once more on the disciples on Tiskalu Āghe, telling them about the new message that Menpūle had received from God in the dream. That day the two men travelled about the valleys of the Tiskalu Kuzhe and the Bedhledh, alerting the believers who were most numerous in those districts. In the evening they crossed the Rhine by ferry from Thikeduma to Faskeduma to warn the believers on the west bank too.
Now Menpūle and Nir had it in mind to stay that night at the house of Thumburez, a rich merchant of Faskeduma and the leading believer in the town. They explained their weighty business to the doorkeeper and he led them to his master, who was entertaining guests in the dining room. There they were astonished to see Tewuri and Thumbulupe dining at Thumburez’s table with his family. Tewuri and Thumbulupe had been travelling far afield in West Pen but through God’s providence they were there when Menpūle arrived with news of the coming expulsion. In the end all four preachers put up there for the night, and the next morning they returned to Khezbeke to meet the other believers at Kauverupe’s house.
Though many had come to hear Menpūle preach and many had joined his cause, few indeed were now prepared to follow him into exile. Menpūle, Tewuri, Thumbulupe and Nir were greeted warmly by Kauverupe and Ānd, but besides these there came from Khezbeke only Nele and Irighudh. The brother of Menpūle promised his father Blapuke, mother Murez and sister Ulmu would also go with him, but Nele son of Kemar reported that none other of his father’s household would come. Noone from Āvnipa was present other than Nir and Thumbulupe, who had meanwhile obtained permission from his father to take Nir with him as his own slave. From Tiskalu Āghe there came only Lāzughur, who promised that his wife Neleyak, his son Lāzupe and the old widow Shandiyin would go. And from Faskeduma there came Pranenaske the son-in-law of Thumburez, who promised that his wife Rīmuri and his slave Kruta would go too. But the other three priests who had joined Menpūle’s cause now deserted him. And indeed noone else was to join his shrunken party in the following days.
So Menpūle and nine of his loyal followers gathered at noon in Kauverupe’s house. There they sat down in the dining room, some at the table but some also on the floor, for there were not enough chairs for them all. Kauverupe and Ānd brought their guests beer to drink and lentil soup and bread to eat, and while they were eating Menpūle addressed them.
He said, ‘Friends, I placed my trust in the authorities but they betrayed me. They gave me a staff of office but then they snatched it away, though I had done them no wrong. They broke their word, and with that my sworn loyalty to them was wiped away.
‘My authority no longer derives from princes and high priests; it comes from God alone. I am no longer the ‘leader’ of some sect but the Teacher of the Ulbic Nation.
‘And you have stepped out of the shadow of Āgheferta to form a new community in God’s sunlight. You are no longer a “recognised sect” but a free gathering⁵ of believers.
‘And out of the hundreds who claimed heed to God’s word only you stood the test when it came. You are no longer “Khezbekeans” – what does that mean in the wider world? – but Pure Ones. ⁶
‘But there is no longer any place for the pure among the Pennul, so corrupt have they become.’
With that silence feel on the company. After they had finished eating Pranenaske said to them, ‘My father-in-law is offering to lay boats to take us to our destination free of charge.’
Menpūle answered him, ‘We do not have the time.’
Pranenaske said, ‘Then my father-in-law offers to lay on travelling-carriages to take us from Faskeduma to our destination free of charge.’
Menpūle answered, ‘Yes, that would allow us to travel swiftly, but I insist that we pay for the hire. Friends, are you agreed to pay for this?’
‘Yes,’ the disciples said.
‘Then we accept your father-in-law’s kind offer,’ Menpūle said to Pranenaske. He continued, addressing the whole company, ‘We still have eight days to leave the land, but it is better that we move quickly, for I sense that Wuskanda’s mind is being poisoned against us. Let us assemble at our friend Thumburez’s house in Faskeduma by, oh, evening tomorrow, for some have a long way to come. Bring some money and such necessities as you can carry. And may God grant us a safe road out of this darkening country – and in the end a safe return!’
So the Shīliral went back to their homes and prepared to leave the next day. Blapuke placed his house and land in the charge of his younger brother Tumblap, and the others did likewise or arranged a quick sale. But in spite of the sorrow of parting their land and loved ones the Shīliral were comforted by the hope of eventual return.
The name (īzu) henceforth given to the body of Menpūle’s followers, the ‘church’.
The name (Shīliral) henceforth given to Menpūle’s followers.
On the next day the believers made their way from the villages of Thumburez’s house in Faskeduma. They went on foot in small groups, while Shandiyin rode on a pony and Lāzughur and Neleyak, who were going with her, took turns to carry their child. Thus they reached the Rhine ferry at Thikeduma and crossed over to other bank, where Wuskanda’s decrees counted for less among the local people. And Thumburez greeted the travellers heartily and fed well and put them up in rooms around his residence.
In the morning, they breakfasted with their host and he led them out to the yard, where three carriages were waiting for them. Then Menpūle handed Thumburez the money he had collected from the believers to pay the fares, and he said ‘Thank you, friend. God bless and protect you in this land. And Thumburez replied, ‘It is an honour to help you, Teacher. May we meet again in this very courtyard!’ Then the travellers went to fetch their luggage, loaded it onto the carriages and said their final goodbyes to their host and his household. (Here Rīmuri, daughter of Thumburez, parted from her parents with tears in her eyes.) The coachmen took their places, the travellers climbed aboard and thus they began their passage into exile. In the first carriage Kauverupe bore in his luggage the silver star from the temple at Khezbeke, while in the second carriage Lāzughur had the star from the temple at Tiskalu Āghe. The other stars had fallen into their persecutors’ hands, but the Shīliral did manage to save a remnant of their holy things.
And Menpūle’s prayers was answered: God did indeed grant the believers a safe road out of a land that fallen into darkness. On that first day of travel they took the Rhine Valley Road south as far as Themadhuta, which became the site of our capital Yāvuduma. There they stopped, and Menpūle said to his travelling-companions, ‘If the Sons of the Rain win the great battle to come, here the victorious king will build his city.’ The travellers left the Valley Road at Themadhuta and followed the Road of Brotherhood as far as Yavmelta, where they stopped overnight at an inn.
On the second day of travel the believers passed through the wild, forested highlands where three tribes meet. Though travellers were often attacked by robbers there in those days, the believers passed through in safety, for the Lord of Heaven was protecting them. And when they reached the border of Treweraveli at Kelbespau, they had merely to pay a toll to the officials and they were let through. (It is said that Sīdhaive had intelligence that the refugees were coming and that he allowed them an easy entry into his realm.) That night they stayed at the inn in Auzaua, a safe abode at last.
On the third day of travel, the sixth after Menpūle ‘s expulsion from Anaduma, the believers travelled down the Road of Brotherhood towards Mugharta. It was late afternoon when they crossed the bridge over the Moselle and entered the city of Mughar. They found an inn often used by Thumburez’s employees when they were in the city on business, and there they stayed the night.
In the morning Menpūle thanked the coachmen and let them depart on other business. To his followers he said, ‘We have swum the river. There is no going back. Let us seek the protection of the mountain.’ And he led them to the gate of Sīdhaive’s palace, which lay nearby in the centre of town.
Nele and his companions apologised to the disciples for the hurt they had caused their victims and the harm they had done to the īzu, and Menpūle forgave them. But Lairte and his companions would not hear their apologises and would not meet the other disciples, even though Menpūle and the Council begged them. With their pride wounded they stayed apart and met at Lairte’s house.
At this time of tension in the īzu Menpūle used to go into the forested hills beyond the river to meditate. On the evening of the fourteenth day of Twikenu he and his friends Thumbulupe, Lean, Irighudh and Dumanu climbed up the Amber Hill and sat down in a clear space on the slope above the city. There, as the sun went down behind them and the dark advanced upon them, they meditated and were filled with the forest’s thēli.
As they sat there, a white flame sprang out of the ground in front of them and rose higher than the trees. They leapt back in fear but a voice spoke to them from within the flame.
‘Stay my servants,’ the voice said, ‘I am your God, who called you to awaken the Ulbs and who led you from persecution to refuge.
‘Now you have fallen into dissension and fear you have failed me, but that is not so.
‘You are the faithful. Others will come and go but you will stand fast and I will increase you.
‘You wish for unity. Go within and you will find me there.
‘I have spoken. Go now and tell your fellow-servants in the city.’
When the voice had finished speaking the great flame sank back into the ground and disappeared. Menpūle and his friends moved forward hesitantly but could see no trace of fire on the grass there. Yet, when they spoke to each other, each proved to have seen and heard the same things. Thus they knew that God had truly entrusted them with a new message for the Shīliral.
They hastened down the hill, across the bridge and through the city gate. Menpūle took his companions through the streets to the house of Mughar the priest. He related the words of God to Mughar and his companions confirmed them. And Mughar believed him, though he was puzzled.
Menpūle said to the others, ‘Tomorrow is a market-day. At daybreak go around to the houses of the believers and summon those who can to gather in the temple yard at one burm. Tell them the Teacher wishes to pass on a new message from God to his servants. And after that they may depart on their business.’ Then they returned to their homes.
Early in the morning Menpūle and the five others visited the believers’ houses and summoned all who could to come promptly to the temple. Ninety-five people gathered in the yard, the majority of the īzu. There was Pennul, Treweral and Tadhal, ‘strict believers’, ‘lax believers’ and followers of the Teacher’s middle course. Even Lairte was there.
Menpūle stood in front of the temple and addressed the crowd. He said, ‘Brothers and sisters in the Rain, the Lord of Heaven has spoken to me and to some of my friends here. He has words of encouragement for us in this time of our division.
‘This is how the lord has made himself known. Yesterday evening I went with Thumbulupe, Lean, Dumanu and Irighudh, good people known to you all, to the Amber Hill to meditate in the forest there. The divisions in the īzu have caused me much pain and, in truth, I was hoping for higher guidance and reconciliation. And indeed my hopes were fulfilled, though not in a way I could have foreseen. As we sat on the edge of a clearing a great white flame rose from the ground before us, but it shed no heat nor singed the long grass, and a voice spoke from the flame.’
Menpūle spoke the words that God had uttered. And he said, ‘When we had seen and heard these things we came back to the city, to Mughar’s house, and told him our story. Brother, is that not so?’
‘Yes, it is so!’ Mughar said.
Menpūle said to the crowd, ‘Brothers and sisters in the Rain, Shīliral, you have heard the words of God. Will you waver or will you stand fast? Do you want division or do you want unity?’
‘Unity! Unity!’ the believers said, Lairte among them.
‘Heaven bless you. You may depart on your business now,’ said Menpūle, and the believers went out of the temple yard in joy.
After this the ‘lax believers’ and other disaffected returned to the bosom of the community, for they knew that God would bless the steadfast believers and did not want to be counted as waverers. Lairte and his associates at last hear the apologies of Nele and his friends and forgave them the hurt they had done them. And so the believers were reconciled and united; where the hand of man was not strong enough the hand of God did the work.
After this the disciples put their divisions behind them, though some former followers of Lairte left and crept back to their old gods. In the summer they did not strive so hard to gain fresh converts but cultivated their unity and their inner life. They looked to the temple as the visible sign of their unity and assented to the gentle guidance of the Council of Five.
The preachers did win over some people both in town and in country, mostly commoners who worshipped Ikwa. The priests of Ikwa were disquieted at this but took no action. They had seen many cults come and go since long before the foundation of the city and the Shīliral were no different in their eyes.
In Tivimreteudhu Menpūle became engaged to Re’uzhiru the daughter of Dumanu the tax-collector. He mentioned it briefly to his disciples but ordered no celebration to be held, for he wished them to think of higher things. Re’uzhiru was a short, black-haired woman a few years younger than Menpūle, known for her love of the arts, as indeed he was an artist himself. He had grown to love her deeply, though he had kept his feelings from the world.
At this time Menpūle also taught many new things to his disciples. Prince Sīdhaive heard a vague rumour of this and, being curious, summoned Menpūle once again to his palace in town. On this occasion a servant conducted Menpūle to a private room where Sīdhaive was waiting for him.
The prince rose from his chair and greeted him with the words, ‘Be well, Menpūle.’
‘Be well, Sīdhaive,’ he replied.
‘You may wonder why I’ve called you here,’ the prince said. ‘I truth, I have heard that you are expounding amazing knowledge to your friends. As a lover of wisdom I was curious to know more about the world.
‘I will tell you what I may.’ Menpūle said, ‘though many things must remain closed to outsiders. Sit down, if you will, while I tell you the story of the world.’
He said, ‘In the beginning God sent forth rays of thēli into the void, and the rays became spirits, his ētukal. Sīka, Shighwa and Latranuli were preeminent among them.
‘On God’s command each of the three sent a ray into the void, and the rays condensed to become worlds. Sīka made this world; Shighwa that world; and Latranuli the other world. The lesser ētukal went to serve the greater. The ētukal also sent out many lesser rays which became shemakal, spirits who were to assist them in the great work of creation.
‘On God’s command Sīka shaped the matter of the world into the forms that we know. She built a great wheel of earth in the lower regions and formed seas of water on its face. She made the expanse of air, and above it set the fiery bodies of the sun and moon to light the world, and beyond them the stars in their great globe. Then she set the heavenly bodies moving for the first time and they began to mark out the days, the months and the years. Shighwa and Latranuli fashioned their worlds similarly.
‘Then on God’s command Sīka sent forth rays of divine thēli into the land and the sea, and they produced living things. First, the earth threw up plants and trees, covering its bare face with a fleece of verdure. Then it bore birds and creeping creatures, while the water spawned fishes. Lastly, the earth produced the beasts of forest and of mountain and also a wild race of two-footed creatures. Shighwa and Latranuli filled their worlds similarly.
‘So Sīka made the world in its early days, and the seasons passed in their sequence, and the creatures filled the land and the seas and the sky. But something was still wanting in the world, something which God had long planned in his mind. He stretched out his arm to the forest of Kūmi, where many of the two-footed creatures lived, and as he passed his hand over the face of the earth they were made human. For the first time they spoke, they sang, they praised God. And he said to them, ‘I have chosen you from among Sīka’s beasts and raised you up to the summit of the world. Be fruitful, fill the earth and enrich it. Do good to one another and you shall go after death to a gentle place. But if you do ill to one another or if you kill the two-footed creatures, who are your brothers, you shall go after death to a harsh place.
‘In those days the humans named everything around them, the trees of the forest, the beasts and birds. They called themselves “Gambal”, for they recalled that they had been born of the earth,¹⁴ and the older two-footed race they called “Daghul” on account of their heavy frames.¹⁵ The Gambal lived peacefully in Kūmi, for there were enough of Sīka’s goods for everyone. They made themselves bows and arrows to hunt the beasts of the forest, clothed themselves in skins, fed on nuts, berries and meat.
‘With the years they increased in number and bands of them roamed far and wide across the Continent. In time they reached its shores and built boats to cross over to the islands. They even ventured into the hot lands to the south and east, as you did yourself, Sīdhaive. During these years they learnt to cultivate plants and tame beasts for their benefit. But never did they do harm to one another, for they lived in the midst of abundance and they remembered God’s command. Nor did they touch the Daghul, though as the Gambal advanced these withdrew into the inaccessible forests and mountains.
‘Now some shemakal of Sīka grew bored with their allotted task of inspecting the caves beneath the earth. They said to each other, “We took part in the creation of the earth, a mighty work. Why should we have now to linger in these dark caverns, mending little cracks in the rocks? Let us return to the daylight and there perform works commensurate with our greatness!”
‘Then they returned to the light in a southern island, emerging from a mountain in a great blast of fire. Rocks and ash from beneath the earth rained upon the country and many people died. The shemakal felt their own power and laughed. At that moment these ‘helpers’ became ‘hinderers’¹⁶ of God’s plan.
‘The ungakal used their powers to strike fear into the local people, cowing them with fire, tempest and earthquake. And they also found a subtler way to gain mastery: they inflamed the lust of some for more cattle, more land, more women and incited them in theft and murder to achieve those ends. For the first time Gambal broke God’s commandment. And soon they were condemned to suffer in Shighwa’s harsh lands.
‘The ungakal persuaded many of their shemak brothers to join them and their influence spread across the earth like ripples on a pond. But the loyal shemakal rallied and resisted them, their hearts strengthened by God. There was great turmoil on earth, the seas overran the lands and multitudes of people perished, but in the end the loyal shemakal prevailed and the ungakal retreated. The Lord of Heaven permitted the ungakal to remain in the world because they belonged here as Sīka’s children and because they could put humans to the test, winnowing the chaff from the grain. Thus the Lord turned evil to good account.
‘The Gambal slowly recovered from their afflictions and began to build a better life for themselves. They discovered copper and used it to make axes, sickles and many other tools. They cleared forests, planted the soil and more than replenished their numbers. They chose princes to regulate their affairs and founded cities as seats of administration and trade. But the ungak spirit too was still in them. The Gamba tribes made weapons and waged war on each other out of their greed. They slew the Daghul in contravention of God’s command. And they turned from reverence of their true Father and his ētukal to the vain worship of phantom gods.
‘Then God decided that the time was ripe to raise up a new race which would be an example to mankind. He chose the noblest of the world’s people, the Rutnul, who had followed neither the violent ways or their neighbours nor the luxurious ways of the southern cities. Then he said to the most virtuous families amongst them, “Go up to the hilltops of Yakaverli. Take off your clothes there and wait for me. I have a great blessing to bestow upon you.” They did as he said because they still trusted in their God, although they were at his mercy. He passed his hand over the hilltops and shining clouds came over them, shedding a rain like silver on the gathered people. The rain washed the sins of the Gambal from them and they were made pure. God said to them, “I have chosen you from among the Gambal to be the seed of a new race, the leaders of mankind. Put on your new clothes, go back to your houses and make the earth beautiful.” Then they put the new clothes on.
‘The new people called themselves “Ulbs”, for they had been reborn in the rain, ¹⁷ while “Gamba”, which had once been a noble name, came to denote the “foreigner”, the “barbarian” as we mean it today. Over time the Ulbic families moved out far across the land and settled it. Some took Rutnu spouses, thus passing the blessing of Ulbdom to them and their children. In those times the Ulbs fought bravely against Gamba raiders but were at peace among themselves. Their leaders were the heroes you must know well from history, men such as Shandiaive and the Three Brothers from the East.
‘The Ulbs grew into a wealthy people through diligent work and trade with their neighbours, but then like fools they were tempted into Gamba ways, into wicked ways. They too turned from the God who had favoured them and worshipped phantoms in his stead. Princes oppressed their people and tribe fought against tribe. Then prophets arose, inspired by God to preach against the folly of the people and the tyranny of their rulers, but the Ulbs shunned them like Tatyin, founder of the Devotees, and persecuted them like Mūtnu the Wanderer.
‘The League has brought peace but in the hearts of the Ulbs little has changed. Prophets still come to them, but who knows whether their voices will be heard?
‘But that is enough for today, Sīdhaive. I will tell you about the future some other day.’
Then Sīdhaive rose from his seat and said to him, ‘You have more than rewarded my curiosity, Menpūle, I have never heard these things before from any wise man. Come, let’s eat and drink and then you can go home.’
A few days later Sīdhaive called Menpūle to the palace again. They met in the same room and after an exchange of greetings Menpūle resumed his teaching.
He said, ‘I have told you much about the past of the world, which is open to the view of the wise, but I can say much less about the future. Nevertheless, I will give you an indication of the things to come.’
‘The leadership of the Ulbs, who are so corrupt, will not stay unchallenged for ever. One day soon the Pellave warriors will march onto Ulbic soil and try to seize their crown. But while the Pellavel may crush the Ulbs, they can never succeed them as the leading race. They are but a tool in the hands of God. And, Sīdhaive, whatever the outcome of that battle, the leadership of the Ulbs will certainly come to an end someday.
‘For in due time God will raise up a still nobler race, born of the body of Ulbdom but endowed with a higher nature. Then the remaining Ulbs will be called to assist the newcomers in their great work, which is to bring God’s message to the whole world and to re-establish a just order on earth. They will be called ‘Paruli’¹⁸ and they will wage a bitter struggle against ignorance and wickedness. And thought it take hundreds of years of war, they will prevail in the end and overthrow, the tyrants of the earth.
‘But that victory will only mark the beginning of a greater struggle. The power of the ungakal over human souls will be broken, but they will flee to the wild lands and the caverns beneath the earth and there seek to rebuild their strength. Then God will pass his hand over the bravest Parulil and they will become like shemakal, mighty and radiant. These Yezigilal¹⁹ will fight the ungakal and the shemakal will leave their stations to join them. Even Mother Sīka will turn against her rebellious children. As in ancient times, the battles of the powers will cause great turmoil on earth. Once again the storm will sweep away forests; once again mountains will topple like skittles; once again the seas will rise and devour the land.
‘But in the end the forces of order will overcome the very last ungak and put him in chains. The time will have come for the final judgement of all. The worlds will come close together and Shighwa will be granted authority throughout their expanses. Then he and his army of shemakal will sit in judgment on the living and the dead and the rebellious ungakal also, looking into their very hearts. The good and the repentant sinners they will let go, but the incorrigibly wicked will be annihilated.
‘Then the worlds will merge together into one great world. The skies will become one sky; the suns – one sun; the moons – one moon; the oceans – one ocean; the earths – one earth. The matter of the world will be transformed into something rich and glorious and all humans will be changed likewise into Yezigilal. The living will walk and converse with those who were once dead. Indeed, in the new world there will be no more death. It is beyond our understanding, Sīdhaive.’
Menpūle fell silent, nor did the prince speak. At length Sīdhaive rose and said ‘You have taught me such things, my friend, such things. Go home now and wait until I call you here again.’
Menpūle left the palace and returned home. Though the prince had seemed appreciative of his words, he was still troubled as to what their next meeting might bring.
A few days later Sīdhaive called Menpūle to his palace for a third time. He was taken to meet the prince in the same room again and there the two men exchanged greetings.
Sīdhaive said to him, ‘You are a man of great knowledge, in fact unique knowledge. I have thought about this over the past few days and I would like to make you one of my court advisers. I can provide you with a salary and a place to live, and you can give me advice on matters political, moral and, even religious! How about that for a bargain?’
Menpūle answered, ‘This is another great honour, Sīdhaive. I do not deserve it. But I will accept it, for I wish to help you and your tribe and I hope to bring them closer to God thereby.’
‘Very good,’ said Sīdhaive. ‘I am so pleased. Now I have some apartments here in the palace where you and your relations could live.’
‘Yes,’ Menpūle said, ‘I will accept your kind offer, but it is for my relations to decide whether they want to move in too. Among us all are equal.’
The two men shook hands and afterward Sīdhaive treated Menpūle to food and wine and music.
Gambal is derived from gambi, ‘earth’.
Daghal is derived from dagh, ‘heavy’.
Ulbic ungakal, the word used henceforth is in this translation.
Ulbi means ‘rain’
I.e ‘Sacred Ones’, ‘Saints’
So Menpūle left the house on Envoys’ Street and took up quarters in a corner of Sīdhaive’s palace. His mother Murez, who was ailing now, moved in nearby. So did his brother Tewuri, who joined the clerks of the princely household. Over the winter and the spring Sīdhaive often sought Menpūle’s counsel on a wide variety of topics and he listened with fascination to his religious teachings, but he would not become a believer. ‘I am the head of the Trewera people,’ he said, ‘and a few enough of them are Shīliral.’
But Menpūle’s new standing did make the Trewera listen again to the Shīlira preachers, and many more now joined the congregations in and around Mugharta. The new year brought a new confidence to the servants of God and a new spirit to their life together.
But so many were deserting the temples of Ikwa that the priests again grew perturbed. They said to each other, If the people stop sacrificing to the Lord Ikwa, then he will turn away from the Treweral and deliver us up to our enemies. Let us therefore beg the prince to stop the blasphemous preaching of the Pennul and to throw Menpūle out of his palace for good measure!’
So the priests of Ikwa went to Sīdhaive and said to him, ‘Sir, every day we see the Pennu exiles, the so-called “Pure Ones”, causing mischief in the realm. They deny its gods and set the people against one another. We entreat you to suppress their mischief-making, as you suppressed it before, and we warn you against their counsels.’
But Sīdhaive answered them, ‘I too was suspicious of the Shīliral when they first arrived in the land, but my acquaintance with them has taught me that they are good and trustworthy people. I will not restrict their cult to advantage yours, however venerable yours may be. And if the people are deserting your temples for the meeting-places of the Shīliral, then maybe their god is greater than Ikwa.’
The prince’s rebuff downhearted the priests of Ikwa but they were still determined to beat their Shīlira rivals. They pretended to respect Sīdhaive’s will, taking no open action against the servants of God, but secretly they sent two envoys to Chief Prince Wuskanda to get him to intervene on their side. They thought he would aid them against Menpūle, their common enemy.
But when the envoys came to Sutam Galdu at last and explained their mission, the Chief Prince politely turned them away, for above all else he valued good relations with his powerful fellow Sīdhaive. Then the envoys went on by some crooked road to Āgheferta and spoke to Wanu, who was more than willing to make common cause with them.
In the meantime, Menpūle had suffered fresh grief when in the month of Twikenu his mother Murez had been taken from this world. When Kauverupe buried her ashes beside her husband’s in the northern cemetery hundreds turned up to mourn, and they raised a splendid monument over their grave.
Menpūle sought comfort in his old friends Ānd and Kauverupe and from his fiancée Re’uzhiru. But in his hour of mourning his opponents began to harry him by underhand means. The priests of Ikwa secretly put about rumours that Menpūle was a Pennu spy who sent reports to Wuskanda or a sorcerer who had bewitched Sīdhaive into doing his will. And now and then gangs of masked men waylaid Shīliral at night and beat them. The authorities could not find the culprits and even the priests of Ikwa condemned the attacks, but rumour had it that the assailants were former supporters of Lairte acting on the priests’ behalf.
As the bright summer grew dark in the land of the Treweral, Menpūle called his leading disciples together one evening to Mughar the priest’s house. Among those gathered were Kauverupe, Lāzughur, Rīmuri, Dumanu and Thumbulupe.
Menpūle said to them, ‘Friends, our enemies are stirring in the city now. They will not show their faces openly yet, but I know they are skulking in the house of Ikwa Bīum.
‘Such men are a disgrace to the priesthood, but the disgraceful are in the majority now. In ancient times wise men arose from among the people and guided them, but in time their descendants made themselves like a class apart. They claimed sole possession of the rites and lorded it over the people.
‘Now the time is ripe to break their hold. Among us any wise and respected person may act as priest, be he ordained or no.
‘And when I am married to my bride, the rite will not be conducted by any priest, worthy men as you are, priests of the New Rain. Rīmuri, you shall do it!’
Then Mughar said, ‘With all respect, Teacher, that’s not a valid marriage! The law doesn’t recognise marriage without a priest, let alone conducted by a woman!’
Menpūle answered, ‘I have obeyed the law all my life and I shall continue to do so until I die. But the law of the tribes has been corrupted by barbarian customs, whereas the law of the īzu does not replace the tribal law; it takes its back to its source.’
‘You are right,’ Mughar said.
Finally, Rīmuri spoke, ‘I thank you, Mempu, for the honour you are bestowing on me, although others here deserve it as much as I.’
On the twenty-first day of Tivimreteudhu two processions, the bride’s and the groom’s made their way to the temple on Star Street. More than a hundred people gathered in the courtyard, even in such perilous times. There were disciples, people from the city and a few officials from the palace.
Re’uzhiru and Menpūle walked through the crowd to the front, she on the left and he on the right. They wore ordinary dress but as tokens of their tribes Menpūle had a wreath of ivy on his head and Re’uzhiru wore a crescent moon of iron on her breast. Then Rīmuri, in everyday attire, stepped forward from the temple and drew a line between them with a priest’s rod. Re’uzhiru left her father with tears in her eyes, stepped across the line and grasped her bridegroom’s hand. Rīmuri scattered water on the couple and called on Heaven to bless them; thus they were married.
In the evening they help a big feast on the riverbank, for people’s spirits still needed to be raised. More guests came and they ate twenty-five roast pigs and drank numerous barrels of wine and beer. People from the city mingled freely with the believers and not a harsh word was spoken.
Soon Re’uzhiru moved into her husband’s quarters in the palace. Menpūle and Re’uzhiru attended several feasts held by generous believers, but otherwise they were rarely seen in the city in the month after the wedding. Danger was still in the air. Though the assaults on the Shīliral had ceased, Menpūle’s opponents were again blackening his name and stirring up feelings against him.
One of those days a stranger from Pen entered the city, unnoticed among the other travellers. And that night, strange to say, Dumanu, Thumbulupe, Lean and old Irighudh all dreamed the same dream, in each one’s dream a black dog loped across the Moselle bridge and through the city gate, disregarding the crowds and the sentries. Then, it seemed to them, it disappeared quickly into the shadows.
One month after the wedding the final feast was held at Lord Mughaz’s hall in Melegaldu. It lay close to the city and Thumbulupe himself was manager of the estate there. But before the banquet started, Menpūle took the leading disciples aside to a quiet room and spoke to them.
‘He said, ‘Great evil is afoot. A few nights ago I dreamed that the dog, the devilish dog I saw in Airasita, ran through the west gate into Mugharta town. I’m sure my opponents are trying to kill me now.
‘After this night Re’uzhiru and I will stay behind the palace walls until – maybe – the danger has passed. My brother has agreed to act as my messenger to you outside. He will speak on my behalf and bring news of you back to me.
‘But my friends, you must prepare for the time when I am gone. My works is nearly over now and I fear the end is coming. Kauverupe, you have steered the īzu well through difficult times. You will have a great reward in paradise. And when I go from this world, you shall take my place as guide of the believers. And Thumbulupe, you shall be come the governor that day, for you are skilled in administration.
‘Let the believers know my words, but be careful. And let’s now go to the feast. Time is pressing.’
The hall was full of guests. Menpūle and his bride sat at Mughaz’s right hand. Servants brought in abundance of meat and wine. Yet the guests ate and drank little and a dark cloud at foreboding hung over them.
When Menpūle and Re’uzhiru left that evening in one of the prince’s carriages, it was the last time they were seen in public for months. They remained within the palace, hidden from the world. Tewuri, though, brought news that they were well and had become good friends with the prince and his officials. He conveyed Menpūle’s injunction to his disciples. ‘Live as you have been living, follow the path of virtue.’ He took his brother’s place on the Council and acted upon his instructions.
During this time the Shīliral kept their faith in the Lord of Heaven, but near them they sensed also the presence of something evil and they remembered Menpūle’s warnings. However, the investigations of Rīmuri and Lairte, who had wide contacts in society, could find no definite evidence of a plot against Menpūle. It is said that Sīdhaive set his spies to find those conspiring to hurt his guest, but even they uncovered nothing. Menpūle himself said to Tewuri, ‘I know he is here, sheltering somewhere in the city, but I cannot locate him. He is invisible, concealed by an evil power.’
At the very beginning of the new year Irighudh, who was still living at the house called Khezbeke, suffered a stroke and died soon after. They buried her ashes in the northern cemetery near the tomb of Blapuke and Murez. Tewuri said to the mourners, a small band of the Pennu disciples, ‘Irighudh is dead, but the fire of her faith lives on.’²⁰
Menpūle and Re’uzhiru stayed within the palace walls until the end of winter, but then Tewuri announced an unexpected change. When the Council were meeting at Lāzughur’s house one evening he told them, ‘My brother feels that he has left the city and gone elsewhere. He thinks it’s safe to go out now. And what’s more, Re’uzhiru and he have got thoroughly sick of playing unginu with the ladies and gentlemen of the court. You’ll be seeing them now and again.’ The members of the Council were surprised at the news but they welcomed the return of their friends.
So Menpūle and Re’uzhiru began to appear among the believers one more. They attended the sīltek meetings, both at the temple and at private houses, they called on disciples in their homes. They were always accompanied, it must be said, by bodyguards from the princely household, and Menpūle still seemed weighed down by a great burden. But the disciples were simply glad to see their Teacher again.
On the twentieth day of Sīarteudhu Menpūle went early in the morning to Mughar’s house. He wished to discuss Mughar’s renewed demands for the recognition of priests within the īzu. Menpūle was accompanied by a bodyguard called Gam. Mughar’s wide Teukiz greeted them at the door and led Menpūle upstairs to where her husband was lying sick on bed.
‘Be well, Mughar,’ Menpūle said, coming up to the bed.
‘Be well, Menpūle,’ Mughar replied.
‘How are you? In no fit state to go to the temple, I see.’
‘No, I’ve been here for three days now with a fever.’
‘What can I do for you?’
‘You can take my keys, if you don’t mind, and go and open up the temple for the brothers this morning. Teukiz will give them to you. And as for the old priestly rank, well, I’ve had second thoughts there. It’s not worth another argument. ‘
Teukiz found the keys to the temple and handed them to Menpūle, who said his goodbye to the couple. He walked a short distance up the street to the temple door. Gam stood by him, keeping watch, while he opened the door and walked through into the courtyard.
At that moment someone lunged out of the darkness at Gam and knocked him out with one blow. Noone saw or heard what the assailant did next.
When Mughar’s assistant priests Yāla and Fai came to the temple moments later, they found the bodyguard unconscious in the street. Yāla tried to bring him round while Fai went into the courtyard and saw to his shock Menpūle lying on the flagstones in a pool of blood. He was dead with his throat cut. The assassin had vanished. The two men and the disciples who had come in after them wept and shouted, ‘Teacher, Teacher, what have they done to you? We should have defended you!’
The name Irighudh is derived from iri, ‘fire’.
The disciples took Menpūle’s body back to Mughar’s house but, view of the priest’s illness, soon moved it to the house of his neighbour Treura the shoemaker. There they washed it and dressed it in clean clothes. They washed clean the spot where Menpūle had been killed and Yāla scattered water around the temple grounds to make them holy again. They sent messengers to call on their fellow-believers and tell them the terrible news.
While the messengers who visited people in the city saw nothing amiss, those who went out to the nearby estates and villages found trees blown down and buildings roofless. A great storm had blown up in the early morning, raged for one bei and then quickly subsided.
Many disciples came to Treura’s house that day to see their Teacher’s body and to pay their respects. Re’uzhiru walked down there alone from the palace and, when she saw her husband dead, threw herself around him and would not be moved from his side the whole day long.
In the midst of the commotion the new Council – Kauverupe, Thumbulupe, Lāzughur, Rīmuri and Dumanu – came together for the first time in a back room at Treura’s house. They decided to the body in the custody of the believers for they did not wish to hand it over to Menpūle’s protector the prince, who might use the funeral for his own glory. However, they did allow the city investigators freely to inspect the body and to interview the witnesses.
Tewuri, Thumbulupe and Lean put on the black sash, lit the lantern and stood vigil over the body that night. Re’uzhiru stayed with them but seemed oblivious to what went on around her.
When morning came Menpūle’s relations and close friends put on a white sash and carried his body on a bier to the burning hill north of the city. There they burnt it. And when the attendants had at last got the ashes ready for burial, a great crowd of mourners came out through the north gates and into the cemetery. Among them were believers of all stations, people of the city who honoured Menpūle and even Prince Sīdhaive with his wife and little child. Thumbulupe gave a simple oration in praise of is old friend and Kauverupe cut his soul’s bond with earth. That day our Teacher Menpūle entered paradise to dwell with the saints.
The believers observed a month’s mourning after Menpūle’s death, wearing white every day. While most of them carried on living in their accustomed ways, Re’uzhiru, devastated by her husband’s death, moved out of the palace and returned to her mother’s and father’s home. It was noted that Prince Sīdhaive too donned the white robe of mourning and departed earlier than usual for Ruze Galdu that year.
A few days after Menpūle’s death travellers from Pen brought strange news to Mugharta. On the very morning of the murder an earthquake had struck Āgheferta. Many temples had collapsed and the tower of the hours had fallen down. And while they were rescuing the injured, a priestess of Waulrez had run around the enclosure, screaming, ‘Woe to the sanctuary, woe to the land, for the towed of the goddess has fallen!’
During this time the investigators called to them the priests of Ikwa’s great temple, who many thought had some hand in the murder. All of them denied knowledge, but one man, Lazha the Tadha, was troubled by his conscience and eventually confessed what he knew. He told them, ‘After the prince had refused to crack down on the Pennu exiles, some of us priests at the temple decided that the blasphemer Menpūle just had to be removed one way or another. Six of us swore a secret oath to that effect. That’s me, Shan, Félinu, Kan, Preinape and the other Lazha, Lazha of Khaim Bughu. In the end we chose Kan and the other Lazha to go to Sutam Galdu and see if the Chief Prince would help us, but he refused too. They were desperate and they got in touch with Wanu of Āgheferta. That’s where things really started to go wrong. Kan and Lazha somehow arranged with Wanu that Wanu should send an assassin over here to dispose of Menpūle. After that Kan and Lazha came back and things took their dreadful course.’
When this intelligence was reported to Prince Sīdhaive. Dwelling at Ruze Galdu, he ordered the arrest of the other five suspects and the continuing detention of Lazha. So on the morning of the fifteenth of Yeziteudhu city guards entered the House of Ikwa and seized Félinu and Shan as they were receiving offerings from the worshippers. People remonstrated and even scuffed with the guards but to no avail. Kan, Preinape and the other Lazha were taken from their homes the same morning and thrown into jail with the others to await their trial.
Six days later, when the month’s mourning was over. Sīdhaive came down from Ruze Galdu to his palace in town. He changed into the clothes of a commoner and, accompanied by two bodyguards in similar dress, walked to the house on Envoys’ Street where Kauverupe and his wife still lived. Ānd opened the door to them and led them upstairs to her husband.
‘Be well, Kauverupe son of Puzulpe,’ Sīdhaive said.
‘Be well, my lord,’ Kauverupe answered. ‘What brings you here at this sad time?’
‘I come to you not as a prince, not as a lord but as a simple man. I wish to join your sect, to worship your god, of whom your master Menpūle taught me something. What should I do?’
‘Well, if you are a simple man, I shall give you a simple answer, such as Menpūle gave me. You should serve the one God of Heaven, whom our ancestors called Bruya; you should join with us, the believers, to pray on the sīltek; and you should follow the way of virtue, which is the way of our ancestors. Those are the keys to salvation.’
‘Then I will join your sect and I will follow you, Master Kauverupe,’ the prince said and bowed to him.
Prince Sīdhaive, his wife Mudhmele and many of his courtiers became believers. Our Teacher Menpūle accomplished his work even after his death, but the work of his disciples had only just begun. And they were to cause great strife and know some great sorrow before they won the crucial victory.
The End (Or only the Beginnings?)
'The Voice of Heaven'
Menpūle the Teacher, the first work included in the book, is the biography of the greatest Public prophet, who prefigured the monotheistic faiths in some respects and therefore has a lively claim to our attention. The Holy Rain, in contrast, is an epic poem set in the mythical times which still has the power to entertain us. These two classic texts show us different facets of the almost-forgotten culture of Ulbia, the sober moralism of the prophet versus the lively imagination of the ‘pagan’ tradition, yet they also have much in common, above all a sense of the special mission of the Ulbs as a people chosen by the gods.
One might believe that Ulbic literature was preserved for the modern world through divine providence, for all the substantial written works we know belong to a single collection of manuscripts, discovered by the British adventurer-archaeologist William Cooper on his travels through Egypt. In 1890 he visited St Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of the Mount Sinai and chanced upon a set of parchments written in a strange script resembling Etruscan. He persuaded the steward of the monastery that they were of little value and made off with them in his baggage. The monks’ loss was British scholars’ gain. Fragmentary papyrus texts from Menpūle the Teacher had already been discovered by Flinders Petrie, again in Egypt. It is remarkable that we know so much about the Ulbs, whose homeland lay on the middle and lower Rhine, only from their distant settlements in Egypt, but there the dry climate preserved many documents which would have been lost in their homeland.
MENPŪLE THE TEACHER
Menpūle was born in Pen, the dominant state of the Ulbic League, around 730 BC. He was the son of a well-connected craftsman and received a good education, but at the age of 25 he is said to have heard a divine call which changed his life for ever. Thereafter he preached against traditional polytheism of the Ulbs, ever though his forthright stand brought down persecution on himself and his followers. Perhaps the central event in his mission was the flight from his home (in the region of modern Düsseldorf) to the provincial city of Mugharta (now Trier), whose ruler Sīdhaive became his protector. However, he was not safe from his enemies even there.
When the vigorous Mugharid dynasty established a unified state in Ulbia in c. 675 BC, Menpūle’s faith was rapidly promoted to the position of established religion. However, the Menpūlean traditions were not written down in their final form until c. 580 BC under the patronage of King Kuzheghur. (Alphabetic writing was a recent introduction from Etruria.) While the sayings and sermons of Menpūle were brought together in the main volume of scripture, The Light of the Star, the scholar Takbeke concentrated on emphasising the prophet’s life and deeds in Menpūle the Teacher. Takbeke seems to have had access to Sīdhaive’s private records (see p. 30 below), which would speak for the authenticity of large parts of the text, though the author might also might have also have been subject to political pressures, e.g. to portray Sīdhaive, the ancestor of King Kuzheghur, in a favourable light.
Menpūle sought to cleanse the contemporary Ulbic religion of its proliferation of gods, its superstitious idol-worship and its orgiastic celebrations. He strongly believed he was reviving the ancestral faith in ‘the one God that is’ and the virtues of the ancestors too. Shunning corruptions of society. Menpūle’s disciples called themselves Shīliral (‘the Pure’). But in spite of Menpūle’s devotion to the one God, his teaching that there are also mighty spirits active in the universe (see pp. 13 and 52.) later led to the emergence of new, semi-pagan sects).
THE HOLY RAIN
The Holy Rain , is apparently quite a different kind of work, a long poem treating of the deeds of gods and heroes in a mythical age. Disgusted at the violence of humanity and tempted to wipe them out entirely, the gods decide instead to select one nation as a ‘living model’ for ‘weak mankind’. The poem describes how these Ulbs migrate from their original homeland, led by the vigorous Chief Khādha, how they settle in a strange land and how they struggle to survive there in the face of some unfriendly natives. The passions of the Ulbs complicate matters for them further, while the gods intervene subtly now and then to keep them on the right track.
The narrative of The Holy Rain and Menpūle’s teaching about sacred history coincide in one incident, the fall of a divine rain which is said to have cleansed the ancestors of the Ulbs. Takbeke sees this incident as a moral calling while Argur, the poet of The Holy Rain, pays more attention to the miraculous details, but in both cases the Rain (Ulbi) is the crucial event that separates the Ulbs (Ulbal) from the rest of humanity.
The Holy Rain was in fact written after Menpūle the Teacher by Argur of Thikeduma. Working later in the 6th century BC, he took the traditional myths of the Pennu tribe as the basis for his great verse epic known as Kūmagha Cycle, of which The Holy Rain is the best-known portion. Argur was a partisan of the old Tewurid dynasty which had been overthrown by the Mugharids, and part of his motivation in writing the Kūmagha Cycle may well have been to glorify the ancestors of the Tewurids and their traditions. He was, however, writing in a predominately Shīlira society, and the gods of The Holy Rain have become literary figures and no longer the objects of worship as such. Menpūle the Teacher and The Holy Rain can be seen as complementary works, written in the same age but for contrasting reasons, the explanation of a new faith and the evocation of an old world.
MENPŪLE THE TEACHER
The Ulbic nation flourished in the later years of Chief Prince Malanda the Child. The fields were yellow with ripe corn where in the hard years they had lain beneath floodwaters. The rivers and seas teemed with fish. The roads and rivers were busy with wagons and ships taking cargo to foreign countries. At this time out Teacher Menpūle was sent into the world.
Menpūle’s father was Blapuke Tumbeke’s son, a man of the Pennu tribe who dwelt in the village of Khezbeke by Thikeduma. His parents had named him Blapuke because they wanted their son to hold fast to life in times of hunger. ¹ His wife was Murez, the daughter of Tadheskape the priest. Her parents had given her that name because they too wished their child abundant life. ²
Now Blapuke was a painter who adorned the mansions of the nobles and even the palace of the Chief Prince at Sultam Galdu. When the time came for his wife to bear her first child, he was away in Āgheferta, decorating the tomb intended for Lālikāk, the powerful and proud high priest of the Pennul. This was in the 88th year of the League.
On the day of the birth a wind from the west brought dark clouds over the land, so that it was like night. There was much lightning and thunder, and when Murez gave birth to her child a mighty bolt of lightning struck the hill above the village.
When the storm had passed, people found that the One Stone, ³ a great and ancient rock on the hilltop, had been split in two by lightning. They wondered greatly at this but could not grasp its meaning: the new-born boy would divide the Ulbic nation into two camps. On that very morning the high priest Lālikāk died at Āgheferta while in bed with another man’s wife. He received an honourable burial, though rumours quickly spread. People were astonished at the news but they did not understand its deeper meaning: the new-born boy would destroy the corrupt priests. On the same day the Chief Prince’s throne at Sutam Galdu was crushed to splinters as if by a giant invisible fist. People were shocked to hear this and the prince sought reassurance from his soothsayers, but noone was able to divine the true meaning of the portent: the boy newly born in obscurity would bring down the throne of the Tewurid princes.
The brother of Blapuke went to Āgheferta to tell him of the birth of his son. Blapuke swiftly completed his work (the funeral of the high priest was also pressing) and hurried home in joy. And when the time came, the father, the mother and the people of the village took the baby down to the nearby river, the Bedhldeh. There the village priest baptised him in the water, as our ancestors were washed clean in water, and they named him Menpūle after the black storm-clouds which had come over the place of his birth. ⁴
In the following years the family flourished. Blapuke gained many commissions from wealthy patrons, Menpūle grew into a healthy, fair-haired lad; and Murez bore her husband two more vigorous children, a daughter, Ulmu, and a son, Tewuri.
Blapuke means ‘tenacious’.
Murez means ‘lively’ or ‘full of life’.
Called in Ulbic the Khez Beke, whence the name of the village.
Menpūle means ‘black cloud’.
Now in the 93rd year of the League Chief Prince Malanda died and his son Wuskanda succeeded him. Then new men won influence at court and a wind of change swept out of Sutam Galdu. Blapuke fell into obscurity with the loss of his important patrons, though he and his family were still able to get by on the work he obtained from the petty nobles of the district and the merchants of the Twin Cities.
Blapuke taught his son the rudiments of the painter’s art and the signs commonly used in picture-writing. Later the boy was sent to a school in Thikeduma, where he was an able and assiduous pupil. Then on his fifteenth birthday he was taken to the top of One Stone Hill by the men of Khezbeke, and the village priest Kauverupe invested him with the red-bordered garments of a Pennu man; thus he left his childhood behind.
Menpūle was apprenticed to Thia, a notable teacher at the Great School of Thikeduma, and after two years of instruction under this kindly master he became also a student at the Great School. There he studied the higher disciplines of drawing and painting, history and theology, and he excelled at landscape and ornamental painting.
At the age of twenty-two Menpūle completed his apprenticeship and returned home to work for his father, who expected him to take on the business after his death. Menpūle assisted his father in decorating the lord of Kehzbeke’s hall and other places, and he also waited on the village priest at rites and sacrifices. And so Menpūle lived a worthy but unremarkable life until the 114th spring of the League, when he was twenty-five years old.
One evening at this time Menpūle was walking back home from the hall called Āvnipa. He had painted a scene of a shepherd and his flock for the lord of Āvnipa, who had rewarded him with a few strips of silver. It was already dark, and he looked up at he stars as he walked along the road.
Suddenly a voice spoke to him from behind a bright star. ‘Menpūle!’ it said. The man froze on the spot with fear. He asked falteringly, ‘Is that you, Lord Yenga?’ No answer came. He asked, ‘Is that you Lord Ikwa?’ Again no answer came. Finally, he whispered, ‘Is that you Lord Bruya?’
No answer came at first, but then the voice replied, ‘I am Bruya, I am Ikwa, I am Yenga, though these are but names that you and your people give me. In truth I am A.’ the one God that is I washed your ancestors in the pure Rain and set them to make the earth beautiful, but you let yourselves be corrupted by the impure and you made the earth ugly. You forgot the true nature of your Lord and worshipped me under strange names and masks.
‘Now I am calling you back to my service, Children of the Rain. You, Menpūle, shall be my messenger. You are a righteous man and of good repute among your people. And I will grant you a special gift, a gift of foresight, to aid you in your mission. So go and teach!’
Menpūle cried out, ‘How am I to teach, Lord?’ but the voice from heaven was gone and the star now looked like any other. He walked on trembling and wondered if he was going mad or if some evil spirit was deluding him. He told nobody about the incident for several days, neither mother nor father nor brother nor sister nor indeed the village priest, but went about almost without speaking and with a grave countenance.
Menpūle confided first to his mother that God had spoken to him and appointed him his messenger to the Ulbs. She feared that her son was going mad, but she remembered the portentous circumstances of his birth and wondered whether he might not be destined to fulfil a great mission. In her uncertainty she advised him to go and see the priest, who knew him well and who could certainly ascertain the truth of the matter.
So Menpūle went to Kauverupe’s house and found him sowing parsnip seed in his garden. ‘Be well, Kauverupe,’ he said.
‘Be well, Menpūle. Is there something troubling you?’
‘God has spoken to me. He says that the Children of the Rain have turned away from him but now they must come back to his service. And I have the task of calling them back!’
‘The sects speak of prophets who made similar claims in ancient times. The god who spoke to you, was it the Lord Bruya?’
‘He said, “‘I am Bruya and Yenga and Ikwa, but in truth I am A., the one God that is.’”
Kauverupe was astonished, for the name was in those days known only to the ordained priests. He asked, ‘And did anyone tell you that name?’
Menpūle replied, ‘Noone but God himself, I swear it.’
‘Then you speak the truth, Menpūle.’ said the priest. ‘You used to follow me, but now I shall follow you. I renounce the false gods I have served all these years.’
They went back into the house and found Kauverupe’s wife. And preparing the midday meal. Kauverupe said to her, ‘We don’t need to eat right now, my piglet, and neither does our guest. He is a prophet who is calling the people to serve the true God. And we should follow him!’ And stopped what she was doing and followed her husband’s call.
Menpūle led them to his parents’ house, and there all three testified to the truth of the matter. Menpūle’s mother, sister and brother followed the call and renounced the man-made gods, but Blapuke his father stood fast, saying ‘The gods have raised me out of poverty and hunger. They have been good to me and I will not desert them for a new-fangled deity, not even if all the priests of Āgheferta came here to persuade me! Menpūle answered, ‘You may keep your old gods for now, father. Bruya is just another name for God and Yenga is a distorted reflection of him, seen as if in the ripples on a pond. In time you will see a clear image of the Lord of Heaven.’
Menpūle and his disciples went around the village and the farmsteads nearby, preaching the oneness of God. They won many converts, among them the petty nobles residing at Khezbeke and Āvnipa. Tewuri the youngest brother of Menpūle, was seized with enthusiasm and proposed that they should go to Sutam Galdu and preach to the prince there. Menpūle, however bade caution saying, ‘The time is not yet right. We are still too weak. If we were to approach the prince now, he would brush us away like flies. It is far better to teach the simple people round about, who have not been corrupted by fine living.’
Menpūle explained his wishes to see the prince to one of the sentries who were guarding the gateway. The soldier led him into a palace building and they soon returned with a third man, a lackey, who announced to the waiting group, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the prince is ready to receive you all right away. Follow me!’
So they followed the lackey with their travel-soiled clothes and their bags of possessions through the bright, colourful corridors of the palace to a hall with a low platform set in an apse at the far end. There, flanked by two soldiers, on a chair of gnarled wood, sat a short, balding, dark-haired man in green robes. This was Prince Sīdhaive.
‘Be well, my friends from Pen!’ he said.
‘Be well, sir!’ they answered.
‘Menpūle son of Blapuke, you and your followers have come to ask for asylum in my realm, for my colleague Wuskanda has taken a dislike to you. Is that not so?’
‘Yes, sir, that is so,’ Menpūle replied. ‘Wuskanda threw us out on account of our faith, but my god showed me in a dream that we should seek your protection.’
‘Your god has guided you well,’ said the prince, ‘for I am known as a generous man and a lover of knowledge; and you, I judge, possess knowledge such as I have not yet heard, though you are still an inexperienced young man and I have listened to the Greek poet Homer at Miletus and learn secrets from the priests of Egypt.
‘Now there are several houses in the city that I keep for the use of visiting foreigners. You may live in one or two of these residences until you are able to return to your homeland, which I hope the gods will soon permit. All I ask is that you pay the state a modest rent and, as foreigners, keep out of the religious and political affairs of my tribe. What do you say to this?’
‘We accept your gracious offer, sir,’ Menpūle replied, and the others nodded assent. He added, ‘Though my god commands me to preach to all the Ulbs, he also commands me to keep my word, and I promise not to preach to your people nor propagate my faith among them.’
‘Very well,’ the prince said, smiling, and he told the waiting lackey to take the visitors to their new homes on Envoys’ Street.
The believers were accommodated in two small houses on Envoys’ Street, which lay in the centre of town quite near Sīdhaive’s palace and which is now called the Street of the Prophet. There they lived in cramped conditions, Menpūle with his family once more, Jestingly they the houses ‘Khezbeke’ and ‘Tiskalu Āghe’.
On the day they moved in Menpūle said to Kauverupe, ‘Friend, I have led the believers out of danger to the safety of this city, but I am not the man to govern the community. Kauverupe, man of wisdom, ⁷ into your hands I entrust the government of the īzu, ‘and Kauverupe answered, ‘I take up the burden gladly.’
Though the people of Mugharta were suspicious of the strangers that their prince had lodged amongst them, Sīdhaive himself desired to learn more from them and invited Blapuke and Menpūle to carry out some work at the palace. There they repainted one of the corridors in the subdued colours which pleased the prince, and there they told him their story. On the second occasion Menpūle alone was called to the palace, for the prince wished to speak to him in confidence. He instructed him to finish off the corridor and questioned him as he worked. This dialogue we have from Sīdhaive’s own account.
Sīdhaive said to Menpūle, ‘There are rumours going about this city. They say that you and your friends are magicians, that you cast bolts of lightning at Wuskanda’s soldiers, that you flew here over the hills in your carriages. Tell me, is there any truth in this?’
Menpūle answered, ‘No, sir, there is not. We got here swiftly with God’s help but without the use of sorcery. And Wuskanda’s soldiers did not pursue us in any case. The rumour-mongers are lying: we are not magicians but ordinary people who love God.’
Sīdhaive then said, ‘I have also heard, Menpūle son of Blapuke, that you can see into the future, even that you have foretold war in the Ulbic lands. Tell me, is there truth in this?’
Menpūle answered, ‘Yes, sir, there is. When God called me to be his servant, he granted me the gift of foreseeing certain things, though many things remain hidden from me. Yes, I foretold war. I see a time not far away when strife will break out among our tribes, and the Pellavel will take advantage of our disunity and strike against us. Your land will be safe, I warn you, sir, but it is from here that salvation may come.’
‘These are troubling words and dark ones,’ Sīdhaive said. ‘Tell me when will Pellavel make their attack and what may save us from them?’
Menpūle answered, ‘They will come in twenty-five years and your son may save us from them.’
‘But I have no son,’ the prince said. ‘I have been married for fourteen years now and yet my wife has given me neither a son nor a daughter. In fact, I have a mind to divorce her and marry a younger woman. What do you say to that?’
Menpūle answered, ‘Even if she were barren, to divorce her would be unjust. But I know she is not barren. In the second summer from now your wife will bear you a son. He will grow up to be a warrior greater than your ancestor Mughar. He will be the hero of the nation and, maybe, its saviour.
Sīdhaive asked him, ‘Why do you keep saying “may, may, maybe” of this victory?’
Menpūle answered, ‘If the Ulbs return to the service of God, he will grant them victory under your son’s captaincy, but if they choose to remain disobedient, he will condemn them to defeat at barbarian hands.’
Sīdhaive said, ‘Very well, I shall wait and see whether my wife bears me a son at the time you name. But I am still not sure whether to believe you, Menpūle son of Blapuke.’ And with that he withdrew.
On the third occasion both Menpūle and his father were called to the palace. The prince instructed them to paint a bedroom adjoining the corridor with forest scenes. And to Blapuke, who was skilled in figure-painting, he said, ‘Paint me the god Tadhesk and his retinue on this panel. Let them dance among the trees, as they do in the forests of the Ardennes.’
But Blapuke said to him, ‘I cannot do it sir, The Lord of Heaven forbids it.’
Menpūle explained, ‘Tadhesk and the like are false gods, distorted reflections of the one true God, and humans worship them in error. Even the Ulbs have erred in this as much as the barbarians. But now God is calling the Ulbs back to his service and they must renounce their false gods and break their idols. That, sir, is why we cannot paint Tadhesk and his retinue, ever if it be a work of fancy.’
Sīdhaive suggested, ’Could you not paint your own god instead?’
Menpūle replied, ‘No, sir, that would truly be an impious act. To depict God is to make an idol and Tadhesk of him. God is the unpicturable and inexpressible.’
‘I am impressed by your resolve, gentlemen,’ Sīdhaive said. ‘To stand up to a prince is indeed a courageous act. Very well them, paint the Tadha youths and maidens dancing among the trees instead.’
‘As you wish, sir,’ said Menpūle and his father and set to work. After a while the prince withdrew.
The prince was pleased with the painters’ work and kept them busy at the palace that autumn and winter. However, now he ceased conversing with them on other subjects than their work, for he did not wish to feed the rumour that the strangers had him under their spell. In the meantime, some of the disciples found other, if lowly, work in the city, and so they prospered in a modest way as they entered the new year.
*Kauverupe means ‘devoted to wisdom’.
The new year brought bitter cold to the lands and with the cold came death. Many died in Mugharta, Shīliral among them. In the month of Melinduteudhu, Blapuke the father of Menpūle and Shandiyin of Tiskalu Āghe were taken from this world. Like other strangers residing in the city, they were buried in the cemetery outside the north gate. Kauverupe officiated at Blapuke’s funeral and Lāzughur at Shandiyin’s.
After these deaths the Shīliral came together and comforted one another. They were like a single family. Menpūle himself was quiet and reflective but he did say to Ānd, ‘Death belongs to the order of things. And now my father is walking in the fields of paradise.’
Blapuke’s death brought the community together, but it suffered a loss of restraining hand on his impetuous younger son. Tewuri now grew restless under the preaching ban and resolved to defy it, foolishly believing that this would advance the cause of salvation. So one day in Sīarteudhu he and Nele, who was under his influence, went to preach to the people in the marketplace of Mugharta.
Tewuri said, ‘People of Mugharta, you have fallen far since the days of your father.⁸ He was a man of virtue and courage but you, though you have a great prince still, you are already touched by vice and cowardice. Your new-found riches are rotting the foundations of Mughar’s city.
‘We, the servants of God, showed the Pennul their iniquity and for that they expelled us from their fatherland. We found refuge with your kindly prince and we are deeply grateful for your hospitality, but I must warn you: the sins that gave “rotten Pen” its nickname are corrupting your hearts also. ⁹
‘But people of Mugharta, it need not be so! Our Lord, the god you call Bruya, has shown us a better way and commanded us to teach it. Our own kinsfolk rejected the way – will you do the same?’
At that moment four city guards emerged from the crowd and seized Tewuri and Nele. They were under orders to arrest and Pennu exile who broke the preaching ban, and here they acted swiftly. They bought Tewuri and Nele straightaway before a magistrate to be tried.
The magistrate heard the testimony of the guards and of civilian witnesses from the crowd, who said, ‘We heard these men preaching their god publicly in the marketplace, though our prince has forbidden it, and we heard them denounce the people of Mugharta as vicious and cowardly.’ Then he said to Tewuri and Nele, ‘We charge you with contravening a princely order and with insulting the citizens of Mugharta. Are these charges true?’
Tewuri answered in awe, ‘Yes, sir, I am a fool. I have outraged the citizens and disgraced my fellow-disciples, though I wished only to show the citizens the way of salvation.’
The magistrate asked Nele, ‘And what do you say to the charges, young man?’
He replied, ‘They are true. We are fools.’
The magistrate said, ‘Accused, as you have shown contrition for your offences I shall treat you with leniency, but you cannot expect any special favour. I sentence you both to the mildest punishments allowed under our law, for contravening a princely order – thirty lashes, and for insulting the citizens of Mugharta – fifteen lashes. When sentence has been carried out you will be released, free to go back to your fellow-disciples, but let this sentence be a warning to you not to abuse our hospitality again.’
With that Tewuri and Nele were led away and flogged. Then they were released, as the magistrate had commanded. They stumbled back to Envoys’ Street through jeering crowds. There Ānd washed and dressed their wounds.
When Menpūle had heard their story he said to them with a heavy heart, ‘I welcome you back, brothers, though you did receive a fair punishment and warning. We live as strangers in Prince Sīdhaive’s country and must obey his laws.’ Then he embraced them.
After their punishment Tewuri and Nele were accepted into the community again, though some called them ‘the Big Fool’ and ‘the Little Fool’ long after. But their actions revived the people’s animosity towards the Shīliral, who were now shunned by many Mughartans and were often denied work.
In those days Pranenaske, who helped the believers to escape from their persecutors, grew bitter in his heart. Whereas the others had left their country for love of God, he, though professing to be a believer, had departed in hope of making money in Treweraveli. Now that the Shīliral seemed to be weak and without prospects in Mugharta, he decided to abandon them and return home.
Pranenaske put his plan into effect one evening soon after the Festival. He called his wife Rīmuri and his slave Kruta to him in their quarters and announced his intention, begging them to leave with him. Rīmuri, who was loyal to the Teacher, tried with all her strength to persuade him to stay, and eventually even the docile Kruta spoke up in his mistress’s favour. Then Pranenaske declared sharply to his wife and slave, ‘Stay here with the other simpletons!’ and he seized his bag and walked out of the house into the night.
It is reported that Pranenaske rode to Kelbespau on the Pennu frontier, where he presented himself to the border guards and formally renounced his membership of the ‘Khezbekean sect’. Bearing a certificate to this effect, he made his way back to his home town of Faskeduma. But when he sought out his father-in-law Thumburez, the great merchant grew angry with him for deserting his daughter and threw him out of the house. Pranenaske’s own brothers rejected him likewise on account of his dishonourable behaviour. Impoverished and without a home, he lived as a roaming hawker and grew ever more embittered, blaming Menpūle for his plight. At length he confessed all he knew about his old companions to Wanu of Āgheferta, painting the Shīliral in the darkest colours, and conspired against them.
Pranenaske’s desertion was the hardest blow yet for the small band of believers, for one of their own had betrayed them. Two days later, when he had confirmed the fact of Pranenaske ‘s departure, Menpūle called them all together to still their confusion and raise their spirits.
He said to them, ‘Friends, we have suffered a grievous reverse. The man who helped us to escape to safety here, the man who was our link with the world, a man I trusted has betrayed us. Pranenaske has abandoned his wife, deserted his brothers and sisters in the īzu and slunk back to the land of our opponents.
‘There he may well work mischief against us, but we cannot stop him now. Only God and his ētukal have the power to stay him and to judge him.
‘Friends do not despair. We still have our task to fulfil and if we trust in the Lord of Heaven, he will sustain us until that task is done. We are stumbling down a dark valley, brambles beneath our feet and wolves howling in the hills around, but already I see the lights of a city ahead of us. If we turn back we will get lost, a prey to wild beasts, but if we keep struggling forward Heaven will protect us and we will reach the city, there to do our task.
‘And friends, I bless you for your loyalty to the cause in this dark hour. You did not follow the renegade Pranenaske but once again you stood the test. Rīmuri, you disobeyed your husband and, Kruta, you disobeyed your master only to obey the true Lord. And in that you did rightly.
‘Let sex, class and tribe be as nothing among us, just as all people are equal in the sight of God. And let the slaves among us be freed.’
Silence fell, but then Thumbulupe spoke up, ‘Mempu, I will follow you long that path to your goal, though it be a difficult road, and the others concurred with him. On the next day a party of believers went before a magistrate and there Rīmuri and Thumbulupe manumitted their slaves Kruta and Nir, who had served the cause so well and who so much deserved their liberty. Thumbulupe said to his former slave, ‘Nir is not a fit name for a free man. Rather I call you Lean.’¹⁰
In later months of the year the Shīliral gradually began to build up friendlier relations with their Trewera neighbours, who could observe their hard work and harmonious living. And finally in the month of Teinduteudhu they all had grounds for rejoicing when Thumbulupe married Ulmu, the sister of Menpūle. Kauverupe the priest wedded the couple.
*Mughar, founder of Mugharta.
A play on words. Pen also means ‘heart’
Nir means ‘mouse’ while Lean means ‘lion’.
In the new year the disciples continued to hold firmly to the Teacher’s path. And Heaven visited further joy on them when a child, a daughter, was born to Neleyak and Lāzughur. Her parents named her Khaimmu, for ‘new life’ had now sprung up in a foreign soil.
Menpūle, though, had a growing presentiment of coming danger. One day in the middle of Sīarteudhu he called all the believers together and explained his plan.
He said, ‘Friends, we are drawing closer to our destination. The city lies before us and will soon welcome us in. We shall make many new friends. But I know there is also something evil roaming there. I hear it howling like a dog.
‘But I cannot see the beast, try as I might. It is as if the smoke of Mugharta were obscuring my vision. To obtain a clear view I must get away from the hustle and bustle here.
‘So I will soon be leaving you for a few days. I will go to Airasita and pay reverence to Mūtnu the prophet at his tomb. Mūtnu the Wanderer shared our sufferings. Maybe he can help me.
‘Shīliral, while I am away, live as you have been living, follow the path of virtue. Kauverupe is here to guide you.’
Then Lean spoke up. ‘Teacher, do you think it’s safe to go? Maybe this evil you speak of could be lurking on the road.’
Menpūle replied ‘Lean, I know it’s safe. I see no danger on the road to Airasita and back. Besides the Garinul treat strangers well and wouldn’t harm me.’
Then the believers knew that their Teacher could not be dissuaded, that he was determined to make a pilgrimage to Airasita in Eudia, though many considered this to be a wild land beyond the frontier.
Menpūle packed his bag and left the house early on the twenty-seventh day of Sīarteudhu. As he related to his disciples afterward, he walked for four days along the West Road, through forests, hills and rivers. He slept and ate where he could, in rough inns or by the wayside. Like a vagabond he came down from the hills to the green fields of Gari and trudged along the rough road to the mean town of Airasita. But when he arrived in the early evening he found the town transfigured, glowing like a golden city in the light of the sinking sun.
Menpūle spent the night before Evrika at an inn in the town but left before sunrise and made his way to the northern cemetery, where the ashes of Mūtnu were buried. He wore a black sash and bore cakes and beer to offer to Mūtnu’s spirit. There were no others by the prophet’s tomb, though many had come to other graves to honour their ancestors on Evrika.
Menpūle spent the day by the tomb, remembering Mūtnu and his endeavours to spread the pure worship of Bruya among the tribes. He cleared the moss and weeds from the neglected monument. At the appropriate hours he laid bowls of food and drink before it and he ate and drank some himself in fellowship with the dead. But still no others came to the tomb and Menpūle thought, ‘Was Mūtnu’s work in vain? Is my work in vain?’
When it grew dark Menpūle lit a lantern and placed it before the monument, as the Garinul did also at the other graves in the cemetery. Then he laid a bundle of clothing on the ground as a pillow, wrapped a blanket around him and lay down to sleep by the grave.
When he slept he dreamed that he was walking along a street in Mugharta in the morning twilight. He was holding a bunch of keys in his hand and used one to open a door in a wall on the right. He walked through into the courtyard in front of a small temple, but he suddenly heard something behind him. Glancing back, he saw a great dog chasing after him into the yard, it was black and wolf-like with a red patch on its breast. It leapt at him, seized his leg and brought him down. As he struggled with the beast an obscure figure stepped forward from the shadows and spoke softly to him, ‘Menpūle, my work was not in vain and nor will yours be. Before this happens your work will bear rich fruit and yet more afterwards. Even in the depths of the Lord of Heaven is with you.’ Then the dog closed its jaws on his throat and he awoke suddenly.
And when he awoke he knew clearly that his own death was not far away. It would strike him in Mugharta, though he did not recognise the spot, and it would come to him from Pennu soil, for the devil dog wore a read heart, the Pennu emblem, on its chest. But he also knew from Mūtnu’s words that he had crucial work still to do.
When it grew light Menpūle took off the black sash and put on the white sash of Yezika. Like the other tomb-visitors he made a final offering of food and drink and with them he walked in procession around the town walls. All day long he walked with the others, as the souls of the dead make their final journey to that world. Some groups of people were dancing and yelling, making wild music and drinking, but Menpūle walked silently and in spirit was with the dead.
A grey-haired man of Airasita who was marching beside him asked Menpūle in the Ulbic tongue, ‘Stranger, why do you look so serious? This is a happy day!’
Menpūle replied, ‘Yes, sir, this is a happy day, but the wild antics of your countrymen and mine spoil its happiness. Celebrate the passage of souls to paradise by all means, but even on this day don’t forget the pain of death nor the possibility of damnation.’
‘That is true, but you Rusinul always see the sad side of things.’¹¹
‘Both Eudinul and Rusinul have their virtues, and first and foremost we are all Ulbs.’
‘You are a just man,’ the old Garinu said. ‘I wish there were more Rusinul like you.’
Menpūle returned to the inn for the night and set off for home again in the morning; it was the first day of Yeziteudhu. He went back by the same road, a smooth road this time, and arrived at the house in Mugharta on the evening of the fourth.
He was pleased to find that the believers had come to no harm whilst he was away, and they were glad of his safe return. But when he told them of his dream they were distressed. Some suggested plans to forestall the danger to his life. Lean said, ‘Teacher, if you have to leave Mugharta I will go with you. In Gari or in the land of the Celts, I will be at your side.’ Then Rīmuri spoke, ‘No, you do not need to flee again.¹² We are here under the protection of Prince Sīdhaive and, if our lives are threatened by enemies, we should ask him to send us guards or even to take us into one of his palaces. I’m sure he would oblige.’
At length Menpūle answered, ‘Thank you for your advice, friends. But I know that my destiny lies in Mugharta and that I shall die here. We may need to ask the prince to defend us when it grows dark in Mugharta, but that hour has not yet come. To seek his aid now would merely revive the suspicions of our neighbours. So we must wait yet and live as we have been living.’
After Menpūle’s return the disciples still followed his guidance, though it strained their spirit to carry on waiting without perceptible signs of hop and with the fear that their Teacher would die. There was even fresh whispering against his caution.
*The Eudines called the Ulbs Rusinul (Highlanders) and themselves Eudinul (Lowlanders) after their original homes.
The Ulbic verb is plural.
But an event was soon to come which vindicated Menpūle and set his disciples on the road to honour once again. In the month of Unkenu the prince’s wife Mudhmele at last bore him a son, just as Menpūle had foretold. Sīdhaive called the boy Yāvuli, for he had come as a blessing on his house, ¹³ and commanded great celebrations to be held throughout the realm for two months.
Now one month after the birth the prince summoned Menpūle to his summer residence at Ruze Galdu above the city, arranging for a carriage to convey him there from Envoys’ Street. Once again Menpūle was conducted into the presence of Sīdhaive, who was seated at a table in a small room.
The prince rose to greet his guest. ‘Be well, my old friend,’ he said.
‘May you be well, sir,’ Menpūle answered, ‘and your son also.’
The prince paused in thought and then said ‘Welcome to Ruze Galdu, Menpūle. Do you like my little farmhouse?’
‘Yes, sir, I do,’ he replied. ‘It is a handsome house.’
The prince smiled and said, ‘You need not call me “sir, sir”. “Sīdhaive” is enough. And come and sit on this bench here. My servant will bring us cakes and wine.’
When Menpūle had sat down and drunk a little, Sīdhaive continued, ‘I am pleased with you, Menpūle. The words you spoke about my wife have been proved true, though I had doubts at the time. You must have a great gift. I would like to reward you for the excellent advice you gave me. What is your wish? I have land enough for your people if you should desire it.’
‘I have one great desire, Sīdhaive,’ Menpūle replied. ‘More than land for my people, more than anything else in your realm. I wish for the right to preach to your subjects, for the abrogation of our agreement. I know this is a big favour to ask.’
‘It may be a big favour but I shall grant it, so grateful am I to you. You and your people shall be free to preach your faith to my people throughout the land. I ask only that you continue to keep yourselves from our politics – unless I happen to seek your advice again, of course.’
‘I am boundlessly grateful,’ Menpūle said. ‘You have opened the gate to a new age. Yes of course we shall continue to obey your wishes.’
Sīdhaive smiled and said, ‘I am flattered, Menpūle, greatly flattered. But here we have more food and drink and music. We can leave the weighty matters now.’
Servants brought in food and wine for Sīdhaive and his guest and a musician played the lyre for their entertainment. After that the prince showed Menpūle around the house and its grounds and he was much impressed. Sīdhaive escorted him to the carriage and the two men parted in good spirits.
That evening Menpūle called all the believers together to tell them the good news. He said, ‘Friends, we have reached our destination at last. Today, Prince Sīdhaive summoned me to Ruze Galdu and thanked me for the advice I gave him privately two years ago, when I told him his wife would bear him a son this summer. He offered me any reward I might wish and I asked him for my greatest desire, the right to preach to the Treweral. He granted this, friends.
‘Once again I thank and bless you for your loyalty to the cause. But though we have reached the gate of the city, it has not yet been opened to us. We must wait a while for the prince’s decision to be proclaimed publicly. And even then we must act with caution.’
Menpūle spoke with renewed authority and the believers recognised this. They waited quietly until the twenty-fifth day of that month, when the town crier at last announced the revocation of the preaching ban. Menpūle, though still insisted that they should remain quiet and that he should be the first one to speak in public.
Ten days after the proclamation Menpūle and Lean went to the marketplace of Mugharta as they had once done in Anaduma. Menpūle said to the people, ‘People of Mugharta, rejoice, for Heaven has blessed your prince with a son to continue his great line! New life has come to you, new life in the flesh.
‘But I have other news to tell you of a blessing you have not seen, though you may have heard strange rumours of it. New life has come to you from Heaven, new life in the spirit.
‘You have heard how the Lord Bruya gathered your ancestors on the hilltops and sent down the Holy Rain upon them, cleansing them of their barbarism. But I tell you that you have fallen back, indulging in barbarian ways and praying to barbarian gods, not to your true father Bruya. Indeed, you have disgraced the name of Ulb.
‘But now the Lord of Heaven is sending a New Rain down to earth, a rain of spirit where once he sent a rain of water. The New Rain fell in Pen and many seemed to be cleansed by it, but at the hour of trial they crawled back into the dirt. Now it is falling in Treweraveli – will you come forward to be cleansed? will you run away at the time of trial?
‘What I offer you is simple: come into the New Rain, follow the new way, enjoy the new life.’
When Menpūle had finished speaking a stocky man emerged from the crowd and addressed him, ‘Pennu,’ he said, ‘you speak fine words and are not afraid to denounce our faults. I have half a mind to join your sect, but tell me, what exactly do you mean by “come into the New Rain, follow the new way”? Should I undergo a new initiation or obey new laws?’
Menpūle answered, ‘No, we are not like the sects, who have brought in initiations and laws not heard of before. To come into the New Rain, it is enough to listen to the divine message and heed it. To follow the new way, it is enough to do as we do: serve the one God, known as Bruya, and no others; join with the believers to pray on the sīltek; hold on to the path of virtue. If you do so, you will live the new life.’
‘Yes, I will join you and do as you do!’ the man said. He was Dumanu, a tax-collector in the market and a respected man in the city. Many from the crowd followed him in pledging to join the īzu; Lean counted twenty-two in all. Menpūle told them, ‘Go and lead your lives in the city but come back to pray with us on the sīltek, we meet in the bigger of our houses on Envoys’ Street at one burm.’
When the believers next gathered for prayer five days later they were joined by ten new converts who had heard Menpūle’s words. The others had fallen away. They crowded into the main room of the house called Khezbeke, for they had no other place where they could meet together. They prayed in silence for the length of one burm without images or incense, songs or instruments, as was the custom of the Shīliral.
In that autumn Menpūle, Thumbulupe, Lean and Irighudh preached to the people, as once in Pen, and made fresh converts among the Treweral and Tadhal in the city. As the īzu grew in numbers their meetings spread into two and then three rooms. The Pennul amongst them no longer felt like strangers in the city but made friends with their neighbours. They were no longer restricted to manual labour but were able to practise their own trades among the Treweral. Menpūle himself painted for the traders and manufacturers of Mugharta and also for Sīdhaive at Ruze Guldu. And Rīmuri was the first to move from Envoys’ Street to a house of her own, taking her servant Kruta with her.
As the community grew, Menpūle saw that it needed a settled leadership to hold it together and administer its affairs. Accordingly, he chose four others beside himself, the Teacher and guide: Kauverupe retained the everyday government; Lāzughur was entrusted with responsibility for rites; Rīmuri for relations with those outside the īzu; and Dumanu for financial affairs. Menpūle put his plan to the believers after prayer one day and they gave their warm assent. The new leadership came to be known simply as the Council of Five.
The īzu grew little in the winter months but Heaven kept them from harm. Those who were needy were helped out by their brothers and sisters. When spring came, many more from the city joined the servants of God, and the preachers went out, as once in Pen, to win over the country people also. The believers now began to meet in several different houses inside and outside the city.
Early in Yeziteudhu a city priest called Mughar joined the Shīliral. He had charge of a small temple, dedicated to Ikwa Bīum, on Star Street in the northeast quarter. His assistant priests and congregation followed him into the īzu and they placed their temple at the community’s disposal.
Menpūle saw that Providence had thus given then a seat of unity just as they were forming themselves into scattered congregations. He had them take an idol and emblems of Ikwa Bīum out of the temple and carry them to the great house of that god which stood in the southeast quarter. There they handed them over to the priests of Ikwa, Menpūle judged, had more use for them. Lāzughur dedicated the temple anew to God and placed the silver star from Tiskalu Āghe in the sanctuary. And Menpūle confirmed Mughar and his assistants in their offices, for he wished to give due recognition to his Trewera disciples.
Now some believers wished to make compromises with the old faith, the better to accommodate the newcomers. They said ‘Let the converts carry on worshipping the old gods for a while if they will. Let them go to the temples, let them sacrifice there. By mixing with us they will come around to the truth in the end.’ But others were incensed at their laxity and opposed them, saying, ‘We are a new community, called out by God. The converts must renounce the old gods utterly and separate themselves from the unbelievers. One true believer is worth far more than a thousand hypocrites.’
Menpūle told the disciples, new and old, ‘No, you should not worship the old gods. If you do so you cannot be Shīliral, believes in the one God. But nor should you separate yourselves from the people, whom you call unbelievers. If you stand apart from them, how can you bring any into the new community?’
Most heeded Menpūle’s words, but a few stubborn souls continued to quarrel with him and with each other. Then on the last day of Yeziteudhu an event occurred which threatened the very unity of the īzu. As the worshippers were leaving the yard of the new temple Nele was seized with anger and he struck Lairte, known as the chief of the ‘lax believers’. Men of both factions joined in the fight. But when they realised how dishonourable their actions were, they were ashamed and dispersed through the streets.