Lotán The Edomite

by Neph


Who is this who comes from Edom,
With garments of glowing colours from Bosra,
Majestic in his apparel,
Marching in the greatness of his strength? [Isaiah 63:1]

Respectfully dedicated
to the memory of RR
ob. February 21st 1980.

The days passed and became weeks; the weeks passed and became months and another year had gone. The boys were seventeen now, both fully grown men. Both insisted on remaining clean-shaven, Greek style, rather than let their beards grow as most of the men of Judah did. Miriam Mariamne had been married to Herod now for several months and she was pregnant.

One morning, while they were playing with Caleb in the garden, Asdri'el came and interrupted them. "Jonathan Aristobulos, sir."

"Yes, what is it Asdri'el?"

"The lady Salomé Alexandra, your mother, requests your presence in her sitting room."

"Why is the man always so pompous?", thought Yannai. "He could easily have said 'Your mother wants you." He sighed inwardly. "Thank you, Asdri'el. Please tell my mother that I will be along directly." Asdri'el went back into the house.

"Well, we'd better see what it is she wants. Come on, Lotán. Caleb, back into the house!"

The lady Salomé Alexandra was seated at her work desk. The worries of the past few years were beginning to show. She had circles under her eyes and wrinkles were beginning to show in her face despite the best efforts of the maid servants who attended to her elaborate makeup. Seated on one of the stools near her was a man who could only have been a Roman. Yannai went over and kissed his mother. "Good morning, Mama." Then he turned and greeted the visitor: "Greetings. I am Jonathan Aristobulos."

"Greetings, Jonathan Aristobulos, My name is Quintus Dellius."

"Sit down please, Jonathan Aristobulos," said his mother. "And you, Lotán. Quintus Dellius is here as an emissary from Marcus Antonius."

"The same Marcus Antonius who had my uncle beheaded?" asked Yannai, dryly.

"Yes, young sir," said Dellius. "I am afraid that that was a political necessity, as I am sure you understand." Yannai made no comment.

Yannai's mother said, "I took the liberty a while ago of writing to my dear friend Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, who, as you are probably aware, is very close to Marcus Antonius, who, at the present time, is in Egypt."

"Why did you write to Queen Cleopatra, mother?" asked Yannai.

"A great wrong has been done to our family, my son, and to you in particular."

"To me, mother? I am not aware of any wrong having been done to me."

"Yannai, listen; and please don't argue with me. Herod has done something outrageous. Something that we cannot overlook. He has appointed a High Priest."

"Well, he can't be High Priest himself, after all, can he, Mother? He doesn't have the right lineage. He had to appoint someone. What else was he supposed to do? "

"He should have appointed you High Priest, Jonathan Aristobulos. You have the pre-eminent right to that post which your ancestors have held for more than one hundred years. Instead, he has brought in a nonentity of a priest from Babylon!"

"Well, Mother," said Yannai, who was beginning to develop an acute political sense, "A nonentity of a priest imported from abroad will hardly cause him any trouble. Maybe it was an astute move."

"Fiddlesticks! Nonsense! It is you who must be made High Priest."

"What if I don't want to be High Priest?"

"You will always do what is expected of you, Yannai. You are the last surviving Hasmonean heir."

"Well, Mother; without me saying yea or nay, what has all this to do with Quintus Dellius, our honoured visitor?"

"I asked Cleopatra to suggest to Marcus Antonius that he invite you to Egypt. The idea was that if you were received by the great Roman general and he espoused your cause, Herod would think again about passing you up."

"And has Marcus Antonius invited me to Alexandria?"

"No, young sir," said Dellius. "So far he has not. That is why I am here. I have made a suggestion to your mother."

"Yes, Yannai. Quintus Dellius has suggested that we have your portrait painted."

"What?! Why on earth should I have my portrait painted?"

"I want to send your likeness to Marcus Antonius."

"Why do you want to do that?"

"Listen to me, young sir," said Dellius. "You are a very handsome young man. Indeed, I do not believe that I have ever seen a young man as ... as ... as fetching as you. And believe me, young sir, I have seen many beautiful young men in my time. But none of them matches you in good looks."

So far, the conversation had taken place in Greek, in deference to the Roman visitor. Suddenly Lotán leaned over and whispered into Yannai's ear in Hebrew, "Look at his eyes; look at the way he is smacking his lips. He is mentally undressing you. He lusts for you."

"My close friend here," said Yannai, "asks what my personal appearance has to do with this conversation. He does not understand. I must admit that I do not see how having my portrait painted could advance my mother's intention to have the high priesthood conferred on me."

"Young sir, once Marcus Antonius sees your portrait, he will immediately summon you to Alexandria. Believe me, young sir, I am his friend and his assistant in many things. I often ... how shall I say it? ... I often procure for him precious things. I can assure you that he will want to see you. Surely I do not need to be more explicit to a young gentleman as astute as yourself. Your friend, of course, would remain here until you return."

Yannai exploded. "Do you mean that you want me to go to Alexandria as the fancy boy of Antonius? Is that what you mean, sir?"

"I see that you have grasped my meaning as quickly as I was sure you would. Once you are intimately associated with Antonius, he will recommend to King Herod that you be made High Priest, or anything else you want to be, and Herod will not dare to refuse."

Yannai, almost in an undertone, but in a voice as cold as steel, addressed his mother in Hebrew. "Mother, is there no length to which you will not go in your insane campaign to restore the fortunes of our house? I am shocked. I am ashamed. You virtually prostituted my sister by marrying her off to that vile man; and now you want to prostitute me by setting me up as the sex toy of Marcus Antonius? I cannot believe you would do this to your own son!"

Salomé Alexandra responded to her son also in an undertone, coldly. "Can you not see what difference there would be for you between sharing the bed of Antonius, one of the greatest men in the world today, and sharing the bed of Lotán, an unknown fugitive from who knows where? With all due respect, the latter liaison will get you nowhere very fast; the former will make you High Priest of Israel."

"Liaison? Liaison!? Have you never heard of love?"

"Princes do not marry or have intimate relations for love; they do so for political objectives. You will do your duty! In any case, at the moment, all that is required of you is to sit still for a few days while your portrait is painted. You can hardly object to that."

"I could object even to that, Mother, but I won't. I see that you are determined. I cannot and will not make any undertaking as regards a visit to Alexandria, but I will sit for my portrait. I shall make faces all the time so that the artist will have to paint me with my tongue hanging out, like Caleb. Antonius will show no interest in my dog face."

Then he turned abruptly toward Dellius. "Good day to you, sir. Good day to you, Mother." Then, turning on his heels he snapped, "Come, Lotán, let's get out of here."

* * * * *

Actually, it was Lotán who made Yannai see reason. "Yannai, I really can't see why you are so upset about having your portrait done."

"Can't you? Don't you see that it is just the prelude for a new career for me as the catamite of a horny Roman general. Apparently, after having made a whore of the Queen of Egypt he wants to add a Hasmonean prince to his list of conquests. I will not share anyone's bed but yours. I will not give my body to anyone but you."

"Calm down. Stop reacting like a Hasmonean prince!"

"I am what I am."

"Look. You will have your portrait done. Dellius will take it to Antonius. Antonius will take one look at you and will demand of Herod that he send you to him." Yannai was about to say something, but Lotán put his fingers on Yannai's lips. "Shush. For once listen to me, my prince. I know what I am talking about. I can see what you can't see. I can see you. He will see you and he will want you."

"So, my clever Edomite, how does that leave me any better off?"

"Think, my proud prince. Forget that terrible family pride for a moment and think like the scheming politician that Herod is."

"I don't follow you."

"The fact that Antonius will ask Herod to send you to him will make absolutely certain that Herod will do everything he possibly can to prevent you from going to Egypt. Herod will save you from Antonius."

"I still don't understand."

"Apart from Herod, who is the only person that has a claim to the throne of this land?"

"It's me, I suppose."

"Correct. Why is Herod king and not you?"

"Because he was appointed by the Romans, who think that they can rule any people they choose."

"Exactly. The hand that gives can also be the hand that takes back."

"I must be really dumb today. I just don't understand."

"Really, Yannai. You are being very obtuse! If you were Herod, would you let the only surviving Hasmonean prince become close in any way to a member of the Roman government? Herod knows you and Herod knows Marcus Antonius. He would be shitting himself from sheer terror the whole time you were with Antonius. Yannai, he just will not let you go. He won't let you go for exactly the same reason as your mother wants you to go. It's as simple as that."

"Well, well, well, my beautiful Edomite. You have suddenly become a devious politician, haven't you?" Yannai hugged him.

"I have been living too long in this house not to learn the art," said Lotán. "So you will have your portrait painted? It will ensure that you will not leave me."

"Yes, I will have my portrait painted. But you shall be there all the time that I am going through this torture. I won't have you gallivanting around free as a bird while I have to sit cooped up seeing nothing but the back side of an easel."

* * * * *

Yannai sat patiently enough while his portrait was painted. Lotán sat most of the time behind the artist making faces at Yannai. This made Yannai laugh and his eyes twinkled with mischievous merriment. Sometimes Lotán would stroke his crotch or lift his kilt, teasing Yannai. Or he would put his thumb in his mouth and make sucking noises. The artist captured the lustful desire that filled Yannai's eyes and face at such times.

Salomé Alexandra was delighted with the portrait. She and Dellius decided to send two portraits: that of Yannai which had just been done and that of Miriam, the one that had captured Herod's heart. Dellius wrote a covering note:

To Marcus Antonius in Alexandria, Quintus Dellius in Jerusalem sends greetings. By private courier.
My general, the courier will give you two portraits for your perusal. These are pictures of a brother and sister of high rank. The girl is now the wife of King Herod. The boy is ripe for whatever you would ask of him. These children seem not derived from men, but from some god or other. The boy in particular is absolutely delectable. You will not be disappointed.

Marcus Antonius was indeed captivated by the portraits. He would have loved to summon both the brother and the sister to Alexandria, but he knew that to demand the presence of Herod's wife would be going too far. Also, he knew that Cleopatra wouldn't stand for it for one moment. She would throw one of her tantrums and it would last for days. But he did write to Herod, requiring him to send Jonathan Aristobulos to him as soon as possible.

* * * * *

"I will not let him go! No! Never!" Herod was livid with rage. He had received the Roman general's rather peremptory instruction (barely disguised as a request) to send that damned boy to him. "And I am surprised at you, my dear wife, that you would have me accede to Antonius' request. Surely you know what will happen there. My dear, I do not think it safe to send one so handsome as your brother, in the prime of his life - remember he's only seventeen years of age - and of so noble a family; and particularly not to Antonius! He is one of the principal men among the Romans, and he is also one that will abuse the boy with his ... hmm... how shall I say it? ... amours. What's more, Antonius is one that openly indulges himself, without control, in such pleasures as his power allows him. Think again, dearest wife: it is not good for your brother to be sent to Antonius."

Miriam thought to herself that Herod too indulged himself uncontrollably in many pleasures because his power allowed it. The only difference was that Herod's pleasures included women, power, prestige, wealth and debauchery; but they did not include men or boys. She decided that it would be more prudent to keep such thoughts to herself. Instead she said, as innocently as she could, "Husband, I am surprised and delighted that you are so solicitous of my brother's wellbeing."

"Well, I am." Herod knew that Mariamne understood very well that her husband was certainly not solicitous of her brother's wellbeing, so he decided that it would be better to leave the subject for a while. "I also have other reasons for not wanting your brother to go to Antonius, but we need not discuss them at this moment."

If he could tell blatant lies, she thought, so can I. "Husband, if your other reasons are connected with me or my family I want you to know that we seek only your health and success at all times." That should give him something to think about.

"Oh my dear wife, I know exactly what your family wants for me! I know almost everything that is going on in your mother's house. I have my agents everywhere. I know that the procurer Quintus Dellius is behind this message I've received from Antonius. I know that your brother is the sexual plaything of an Edomite refugee. I also know something that your brother doesn't know, or at least he doesn't seem to know or care about. He is very popular with the people." His mind began to wander and he forgot that he was talking to Miriam. "The people only have to look at him and they cheer him. Sending him to Antonius would be a match that could ignite a huge conflagration for me!" Suddenly he realized that he had been too frank. Well, what's done can't be undone. Besides, the silly hot bitch doesn't really understand these things. "And there's one other thing that I know," continued Herod, quickly picking up his interrupted train of thought. "I know that your mother thinks that her son ought to be High Priest."

"Well, husband, so he should be. It was unfair of you to appoint Hananel. You imported him from Babylon rather than let my brother have his rightful place as High Priest."

Herod was silent for a moment, the cogs and wheels in his mind working fast. There was an idea there, he was certain; it was just waiting to pop into his consciousness. Quiet, woman! Let me think! Stop your eternal prattling! I should never have married her. But, by God, she is wonderful to look at and even more wonderful in bed. But then, so am I. Now, what is this idea waiting to be born...?

Suddenly it came to him. "Ahah! You Hasmoneans think that you are so clever! Your mother thought that she could outdo me, sending a portrait to Antonius. But she forgot that she was dealing with me! She wants her golden boy to go to Antonius so that he can insinuate himself there with the master of the world and - so she thinks - hey presto! goodbye Herod, hello pretty boy! No! I know exactly how to prevent that ever happening!"

A sudden shudder wafted its way through Miriam's body. What was this monster, her husband planning now?

"Ho there! Chamberlain! Damn his eyes! Why are they always there when you don't want them and never there when you do?"

A chamberlain came into the room. "You called, majesty?"

"Yes, you oaf, I called. Get me a secretary in here at the double. You'll run if you know what's good for you!"

"Very good, your majesty." The chamberlain left, walking sedately. In a few moments, he returned with a secretary bearing his writing utensils.

"Sit down, man. I want to dictate a letter."

"I am ready, sire."

"Good. Write this down:

To his excellency, Marcus Antonius, Supreme Commander in Egypt of the forces of the Senate and People of Rome, Herod, King of the Jews in Jerusalem, sends greetings.
I have received your request to send to you Jonathan Aristobulos the Hasmonean. Indeed, he is a most acceptable person, of high rank and dignity. It is the duty of a king to please his subjects whenever he can. In order to please the people I have decided to appoint Jonathan Aristobulos High Priest. As such he will have to attend to his religious duties all day, every day. The Jews do not permit the High Priest to leave the country for any reason at all, private or public. Furthermore, being the scion of a royal house he is much beloved of the people and there is a great danger that if this boy should go out of the country all would be in a state of war and uproar. Therefore, on both counts and with great regret, I find that I cannot accede to his excellency's request at this time.

"Did you get all that? Send it off by special courier."

He then dictated two more letters. One, a curt note to Hananel the High Priest, informing him that his services were no longer required and that he was dismissed. The other was to prince Jonathan Aristobulos formally appointing him High Priest of Israel.

* * * * *

When the royal courier arrived with a letter to be delivered to prince Jonathan Aristobulos personally, Yannai was rather taken aback, while his mother, who was looking on impatiently, wore a face that displayed anxiety and deep irritation that it had not been delivered to her. Yannai read Herod's letter silently. "What does it say?" asked the lady Salomé Alexandra, trying very hard to not sound too curious.

"Read it yourself, Mother," said Yannai, handing her the royal missive. She glanced at it and then let out such a whoop of delight that Lotán came running in, asking what had happened. He was followed by Asdri'el, who too wanted to know what the fuss was about. But he could not simply ask as Lotán had.

"You called, lady Salomé Alexandra?" he asked, standing in the doorway as pompously as only he knew how to be.

"No, Asdri'el, I did not. Thank you so much. Please close the doors behind you." Asdri'el withdrew with a bow and his nose in the air as usual.

"Yannai, at last he has recognized you! At last you fulfill the role that all your ancestors have fulfilled for the past century. Yannai, my son, you are the High Priest!"

Yannai was silent.

"High Priest," asked Lotán. "What does the High Priest do?"

Yannai turned to Lotán. "The High Priest of Israel is the head of all our religion. He officiates in the great Temple and supervises what goes on there according to the laws of our religion as written in the Torah, our holy book."

"I see," said Lotán. "Congratulations!" and he gave Yannai a bear hug. "Does that mean that you will have to go to this Temple every day, then?"

There was a painful silence which Yannai's mother broke at last: "Lotán, the High Priest has to live in the Temple precincts."

"What? But..." spluttered Lotán, totally devastated.

Yannai put his arms around Lotán. "But, sweetheart, I shall be able to return here every now and then."

"Every now and then! Yannai, we have been together now for nearly four years. In all that time we have not spent even one night apart!"

"Well," said the lady Salomé Alexandra, "you will be apart now for many a long night." There was a note of satisfaction in her voice rather than a note of compassion.

"Will I be able to come and visit you, Yannai? In the Temple, I mean?"

"No, Lotán, you will not!" interjected the lady Salomé Alexandra. The apartments of the High Priest in the Temple compound are in the holiest area, which is reserved only for Jews. There are notices everywhere in Greek and Hebrew informing non-Jews that if they pass the barrier they will be responsible for their own death 'which will follow'."

Lotán was desolate, and so was Yannai. The news that would have made any other young man in Israel go out of his mind with delight, with pride, left Yannai absolutely aghast and distraught.

"Can you refuse?" asked Lotán hesitantly.

"My son will do his duty!" snapped Yannai's mother decisively. "He is a Hasmonean prince. This task is his rightful inheritance and his duty, to himself, to his family, to the people of this land, to Jews all over the world."

Suddenly, there was a commotion at the main entrance of the mansion. A few moments later Asdri'el entered and bowed to Yannai. "My Lord High Priest, the Temple officials have arrived with the carriage which will carry you to the Temple."

Two men in priestly garb entered, bowed to Yannai, and said, "Would my Lord High Priest be pleased to accompany us to the Temple?" It was a statement rather than a question. Yannai had no chance even to kiss Lotán goodbye. The priests ushered him from the room. Just before the new High Priest was marched out of the door he called back to Lotán over his shoulder, saying something that probably no High Priest had ever said before: "Don't forget to take Caleb for a walk every day. I will come home as soon as I can."

And he was gone.

* * * * *

For Lotán the days that followed were dreary and empty. How was he to fill the days now that his constant companion, the love of his life, had been wrenched from him? How was he to survive the nights alone on his pallet in 'their' cubicle? For years now he had fallen asleep each night after sating himself with Yannai's love; and afterwards if he woke during the night he could feel Yannai's naked body hugging him in his sleep. Now he was left cold and lonely. The sex he tried to replace with his strong right hand, but it just wasn't the same; and the cold nothingness seeping from the neighbouring pallet made it hard for him to get to sleep or to stay asleep.

Faithful to Yannai's last command, Lotán took Caleb for a walk around the city every day. Nearly two weeks had passed and not a word had been heard from Yannai or the Temple functionaries. Then one day, as he and Caleb were walking along one of the broader avenues, Lotán saw a mass of people crowding the sidewalk, jostling, gesticulating and cheering a sedan chair which was making its way towards them carried by two servants.

Lotán approached someone on the edge of the crowd. "What's going on?" he asked. Suddenly, Caleb began barking, his tail wagging so fast that it could hardly be seen.

"It's the High Priest," said the man in the crowd. "It's Jonathan Aristobulos!" and he resumed his cheering. As the sedan chair passed, the crowd went wild with delight and Caleb barked his greeting with all his might. Lotán wanted to run to the chair, but the crowd was too thick to make it possible for him to reach the chair before it had passed on its way.

"Come on, Caleb," said Lotán, rather disconsolately. "Let's go home." As he walked the dog towards home, he thought of the sole ray of sunshine that the situation had for him. "Well, Caleb, at least we now know that the people love him almost as much as we do. Our Yannai is very popular. Good for him!" A tear formed in the corner of his eye. When they got home Lotán flung himself on his pallet and Caleb snuggled up to him. "Well, old chap, at least I have you to love," he said, hugging the dog for all he was worth. Then he burst into uncontrollable tears.

* * * * *

A few days later there was a commotion at the entrance of the mansion. Lotán knew that it must be Yannai returning for a visit. He could not bear to greet Yannai with all those people standing around, so he waited with Caleb in their apartment. Suddenly, the door was flung open and Yannai burst in. The two boys fell into each other's arms, lips pressed so hard against lips that they were almost bruised. They fell into a heap on the floor and made love as if the world were about to come to an end.

A good hour later, they fell apart exhausted, sweaty and dreamily delirious.

"I don't think it's ever been that good," whispered Lotán. "I was in what your people call Paradise for a while."

"When you were inside me, all I could feel was you, the whole of you, the complete you; you are my only love."

"Maybe if it's as good as this we should be apart more often," said Lotán slyly.

"Well, we will be apart. Tomorrow I have to go back," said Yannai, sadly.

"Well," said Lotán, jumping up, "there's the rest of today and all of tonight!"

While they were washing the sweat from their bodies in the pool Yannai suddenly said, "You know, I've been thinking. We should think of ourselves as a married couple as far as sex is concerned."

"What do you mean?" asked Lotán.

"According to Jewish law a husband may not have sex with his wife from the moment her monthly period begins until seven days have elapsed after the bleeding stops. That's nearly two weeks in the month. It must be for them very much like us saying that it has never been so good. Maybe my absences will make our sex all that much better."

"And all that more precious, your holiness," said Lotán, splashing water in Yannai's eyes.

"You are making fun of me," said Yannai, splashing back. "But you know, all this time I have been spending in the Temple has made me think a great deal about holiness."

"Yannai," asked Lotán, his voice taking on a serious tone, "what is the holiest time for you? When do you feel possessed by holiness?"

"I feel holiness take hold of me when we have sex like we did just now," said Yannai, also seriously.

"Yannai, you think that sweaty, animal sex is holy!? What kind of religion is your religion?" Lotán was shocked.

"No, sweetheart; you are right; sex is not holy. But love is holy and, when sex is an expression of true love, it becomes holy."

"I see what you mean. I've never thought of it like that. Well," said Lotán, jumping out of the pool, "tonight we must hold another religious service!"

* * * * *

This was how their lives went on for a few months. Every couple of weeks Yannai would return for a day or two at the most. When he arrived they copulated like rutting animals for a while; then the pace slowed down and their copulation would change into love-making. And each time felt like the first time, and each time was better than the last.

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