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.

Summer came and was now almost gone. The debilitating heat was now being mellowed by autumnal breezes. Yannai had been High Priest for several months. Throughout the hot summer months, he had returned home every ten days or so, whenever his duties would permit. But now, having returned home, he had first sated himself with love with Lotán and then he had sat up on his haunches.

"Sweetheart, we have to talk."

"Is this something I have to concentrate on?"

"Yes, please."

"Then will you please either sit normally or cover yourself up, because it is impossible for me to concentrate on anything at all when I have your beautiful dagger right thrust in my face, when I can just reach out with my little finger and stroke your balls ... like this."

Yannai covered himself up with a blanket.

"Stop it, my insatiable Lotán! I need you to use your ears now and let your eyes and mouth rest for a while."

"What's the matter, Yannai?" asked Lotán, sobering up.

"We are coming up to a very busy time of the year."

"We are?"

"By 'we' I mean the Jewish people in general and the Temple priests in particular - and me most of all."

"So 'we' now does not mean you and me, but you and everyone else!"

"Sweetheart, please don't be difficult. You know what I mean and you know what I don't mean. We - you and I - have to get through this together."

"Sorry. It's just that sometimes being separated from you is ... difficult." He toned down the word he was going to use. "Knowing that you now belong to a world out there as well as to me isn't easy."

"Don't think that it's easy for me either. Sometimes, when I am celebrating some solemn ceremony, I suddenly think of you and wish you were by my side."

"Do you really?"

"Do you doubt me?"

"No, never!"

"So," said Yannai, "very soon we, the Jewish people, will be approaching the most solemn and sacred day of the year, the Day of Atonement. For a week beforehand I shall be sequestered in the Temple precincts and I shall spend all my time being taught the intricacies of the day's ceremonials, which depend entirely on me. Just a few days after that, we shall be celebrating the happiest day in our calendar and once again I shall be at the centre of the celebrations. So, all this means that for the next six to eight weeks, we shall not have a chance of being together."

"I understand, Yannai. I know that I can't be with you in person, but I shall be with you in thought all the time. Maybe if I were Jewish I could be with you..."

"No, silly. Even if you were Jewish you could not be with me on the Day of Atonement because you are not a priest. Our priests are all descended from the same man, so even those born Jewish cannot be in the Temple courtyard during these ceremonies if they weren't born into a priestly family."

"Even so, I get left out of things because I'm just a heathen Edomite."

"Shall I slap you again like I once did? You are the most wonderful man in the world to me. There is not a Jew in existence who means as much to me as you do. It doesn't matter whether you believe in the God of Israel or in Caus, the god of Edom. You always have the same sweet name for me: you are my Lotán, and that's enough for me from now until the day I die."

"And you are my prince, my lord, my king, my love."

"Anyway, I have some good news for you." Lotán's eyes lit up. "The festive day of which I spoke, Tabernacles, is so jolly that every year they put up a grandstand in the Temple precinct so that the womenfolk can look on. I shall get my mother to take you with her on the day so that you can see from afar as I play my part."

Lotán threw his arms around Yannai and pressed their lips together. "Oh, you wonderful man! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"Do you really want to thank me?" asked Yannai, sensuously, throwing off the blanket that covered him.

* * * * *

Lotán was unable to contain his excitement when the great day arrived and he would at long last get to see his partner in love perform as High Priest. In the end it was not Salomé Alexandra who accompanied him. Yannai's mother could not bear the thought of being just one of a huge crowd, a dirty, sweaty, foul-mouthed crowd of nonentities. It was Samson who was assigned to be Lotán's guide.

They arrived early and found a front seat in the grandstand that had been erected especially for the occasion. Even though they were outside the Temple precincts, they had a wonderful view of what was going on in the Temple courtyard. Lotán watched what was going on in the priestly courtyard with uncomprehending interest, while Samson explained to him what was happening. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the crowd. Everyone turned towards a couple of chairs that had been set up in the centre of the grandstand. Lotán watched expectantly and soon Miriam, Yannai's sister, appeared, making her way towards her chair of state. The crowd went wild with joy, shouting her name: "Mir-yam! Mir-yam!" Then her husband appeared and there was a deathly hush as he made his way after her. The almost silent way in which Herod had been greeted by the crowd was even more pronounced against the riotous shouts of joy and love that had greeted Miriam.

"I see that the people cheer you, Mariamne, more than they cheer me," whispered Herod into his wife's ear, with a pronounced scowl on his face.

"Nonsense, husband," responded Miriam carefully. "All they have for me is unthinking affection. What they have for you is awed respect."

"Maybe," replied her husband. "Well, let's watch the spectacle. When does your brother get to perform?"

Lotán could see all this but, of course, he could not hear the exchange between the king and queen. Samson drew Lotán's attention back to what was happening in the priestly courtyard below. A large number of priests in their official garb were forming a double line that led from an entrance in the side of the courtyard opposite the spectators towards the great altar that was in the centre of the courtyard. The altar, explained Samson, had been set up by Yannai's great-great-great grandfather and his brothers after they had recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians who had desecrated the Temple and its altar. It was a massive structure, whose top was approached by a ramp.

Jonathan Aristobulos appeared from the side entrance in his high priestly regalia. As he walked slowly through the double line of priests towards the altar, the crowd went wild with delight and cheered and clapped for all they were worth. "Ah," sighed Samson almost to himself, "it's like the good old days before the Romans came."

The High Priest reached the foot of the altar and paused. A priest was assigned to go to a basin in the corner of the courtyard. Proudly, he brought back to where the High Priest was standing a very large golden pitcher which he had filled with water from the basin. "That water was drawn last night from the Gihon spring," explained Samson.

"What are they going to do with it?" asked Lotán.

"That's the big question," whispered Samson. "You see, according to the Pharisees - the majority of the people - the High Priest should ascend to the top of the altar, take the jug and pour the water on top of the altar as an offering to God, asking for a good rainy winter. But the Sadducees think that the water should be poured at the base of the altar. In the past there have been riots when a Sadducee High Priest - Yannai's great-grandfather - did it his way."

"What's Yannai?" asked Lotán, anxiously, "Pharisee or Sadducee?"

"His family has been Sadducee for generations now. But if he does it the way the people want they will love him for evermore. If he does it his way, I just don't know what will happen."

The crowd grew quiet as the High Priest and his party ascended the ramp of the altar in a solemn processional. When they were all arranged at the top of the altar the High Priest made a sign to the priest below bearing the golden pitcher and the priest began to ascend the ramp slowly, holding the pitcher as high as he could with outstretched arms. He reached the top, handed the pitcher to Yannai, the High Priest, and bowed in reverence. Now there was absolute silence both in the courtyard and among the crowd in the grandstand. Yannai turned round towards the edge of the altar and held the pitcher high. There was a gasp from the crowd. Was he going to defy them? Was he going to pout the holy water onto the ground at the base of the altar?

But Yannai was speaking in a strong voice that carried over the courtyard and into the crowd. "Behold," he cried, "Behold the sacred water of the Gihon spring. This water we offer to God with a prayer that He grant us blessed rains during the coming winter."

"Amen," cried the crowd.

In a swift movement Yannai turned round, held the pitcher over the top of the altar and poured the water onto the altar. The crowd went delirious with delight! The cheering continued while Yannai handed the empty pitcher to the priest who had brought it and the whole procession made its way down the ramp and across the courtyard towards the side entrance. Suddenly, from within the crowd began a rhythmic chant: "Yo-na-tan! Yo-na-tan! Yo-na-tan!" The chant became louder and louder as more and more people in the crowd took it up, until at last there could not have been anyone in the crowd who was not cheering himself hoarse with this chant, which was accompanied by a rhythmic hand-clap. As he reached the side entrance Yannai turned round to face the grandstand for a moment and waved at the excited crowd. Pandemonium, mass hysteria, broke loose as Yannai disappeared through the doors.

"Well," shouted Samson to Lotán, "You can't say that the people don't love him! Just listen to that adulation!"

Yes, thought Lotán to himself, they love him. Now I have myriads of competitors for his love. But not one of them shall ever love him as I do. Not one!

They made their way out of the grandstand and back towards the mansion. Although he was constantly jostled in the jubilant crowd, Lotán had only one picture in his mind's eye all the time: his Yannai, the High Priest of Israel, in his magnificent robes. With half an ear, he listened idly to the excited comments coming from all sides: Wasn't he magnificent? Did you see how handsome he is? Have you ever seen so beautiful a lad? Did you notice how tall he is compared with the others? He reminds you so much of his grandfather! He would make a magnificent king! Lotán listened, proud and defiant. He wanted to shout out at the top of his voice: You may love him from afar, but it is me that he loves, me, me, me! Only me!

* * * * *

"'It's just a chant' she said! Just a chant!" Herod was fuming. "It was bad enough when the crowd cheered her, because I am very wary of any sign of public affection for that damned Hasmonean family - even if the cheering was for my own wife. But did you hear what happened after the ceremony? They cheered that pretty boy with a cheer that you could have heard as far as Jericho! And then she tells me that it's just a chant and that tomorrow they'll have a different hero. She's a sly one, that Mariamne! She and her fucking family are planning something; they're hiding something."

Herod's anger was uncontrollable and it was fueled by his consuming suspicions that the Hasmonean family was planning a come-back: they would topple him and set that young queer on the throne instead.

"Well, sire, the lady Salomé Alexandra has been exchanging letters with the Queen of Egypt." Herod was conferring with his spy-master, Sabion.

"What was in the letters?" snapped Herod.

"That she feared for her life and the life of her son and that she was seeking asylum in Egypt."

"What did Antonius' whore reply?"

"That she would offer them protection in Egypt, if they could get there."

"Under no circumstances may she be allowed to leave the country! Do you hear me? She must not get to Egypt! She may be discreetly killed off if necessary, but she may not, I repeat not, reach Egypt. If she does, you will pay for it with your life. Is that clear?"

"Sire, she shall not leave the country. If she tries, she is a dead woman. What about the boy?"

"Yes, indeed; what about the boy? I would love to have him killed."

"Just give the word, your majesty, and it shall be done."

"Are you insane? He cannot be assassinated! Just think of what the people will do. They will blame me for his death and there will be such riots that not even I could control them or know where they might lead! No, our High Priest, Jonathan Aristobulos, is going to be much more difficult to destroy than his mother."

"Yes, sire."

"In the mean time, check up on him. What are his habits? What things does he like doing? Does he have any special fears? And while you are about it, see what you can find out about his Edomite boy, his toy. I wonder, does the Edomite thrust his dagger into his Holiness' sheath every night? Check it out and bring me word."

"Yes, sire. We have two agents in the mansion: the butler and a laundry maid. The laundry maid will tell us anything and everything out of sheer terror. The butler is a pompous windbag and will tell us anything we want to know if we make him feel important enough. In addition, Sire, we have managed to buy three of the priests in the high priestly entourage."

"Very good. Keep me informed of developments. Go!"

"Jonathan Aristobulos, you shall not have my throne! That I swear by all that is holy to you, to me, to anybody else. I shall have you safely in my power; and when I do I shall destroy you and your house, utterly and completely. Ho there! Bring me my supper - at the double! And make sure that my Taster comes before it gets completely cold!"

* * * * *

A couple of days after the great Tabernacles festival, Yannai came home. He was beside himself with happiness. "Sweetheart, guess what! Now that the main festivals are over I've got a break for ten days! We can be together for ten whole days!"

"What will we do?" asked Lotán excitedly - "apart from the obvious," he added, grinning.

"What I'd really like to do is to get away from everything - from this house, from this city. Maybe we could go down to the coast again, like we did that time. Do you remember?"

"Oh, yes! I would get to see the sea again! Oh, yes, Yannai, do let's go to the coast. What's the name of the sea?"

"Well, we call it "the Great Sea"; but the Romans, in typical arrogance, call it "Our Sea".

"I think the Romans have got it right this time: it shall be our sea - yours and mine."

Yannai laughed. "I'll tell Asdri'el to get things ready for us. We can go tomorrow. Only thing is, we'll have to have my body guard tagging along as well."

"Body guard?"

"Yes, there are three new priests in the council, and they said that my priestly guard of honour in these times was not enough. They persuaded the others that I needed 'proper' protection. So a detachment of four soldiers from the royal guard has been seconded as my personal bodyguard. Lotán, you have never seen such fellows. Tall? They are taller even than me! They come from a country a long way off called Gaul. Among themselves they speak a language which they tell me is called Celtic; but we converse in Greek. I have never seen such burly fellows. They are quite intimidating."

"We'll go to the sea like we did last time, and we'll swim in the sea. Do you remember how you taught me to swim last time?" Lotán rambled on, now really excited.

"Oh yes," enthused Yannai, "I love swimming. I'd go anywhere for a swim." He went off to tell Asdri'el to make the arrangements for their trip, bubbling over with his new-found freedom.

Later that night, they made love slowly and passionately, savouring every moment. 'Daggers' found their way into mouths, where they were caressed and cajoled by loving tongues. Tongues found their way into mouths; lips burned together with passion; hands roamed and fondled every erotic body part imaginable. When they were at the height of their passion Lotán whispered to his lover, "Your holiness, enter into my holy of holies." And, as yet again two bodies joined in passionate love; yet again two souls became one, indissoluble.

Their trip to the coast was a great success. They frolicked naked, both on the beach and in the water. To begin with the Gallic bodyguards remained aloof, but then Lotán noticed that they huddled into a lively conference in their Celtic language. The upshot of the conference was that two of the soldiers stripped off their clothes and joined the two boys in the water while the other two soldiers maintained their watch. In the water, gradually, their games became more and more energetic. At one stage, one of the Gauls took a deep breath and then his companion held his head under the water until a sign came that more air was needed. The soldiers explained to Lotán and Yannai that this was a popular water game in Gaul. Would the gentlemen like to try it too? The boys vigourously declined. Two days later, they returned to Jerusalem, happy and reinvigorated.

* * * * *

Herod and his wife were sitting in their withdrawing room. He was going over plans for a new building that an architect had been required to submit; Miriam, now visibly pregnant, was reading quietly. A chamberlain appeared in the doorway and announced the arrival of Sabion.

"Leave us, wife," snapped Herod peremptorily. Miriam demurely rose and left the room, nodding pleasantly to Sabion.

"Well," said Herod, "what news?"

"I had a conference with the butler, Sire."

"The outcome? Get on with it, man. You are so slow!"

"It seems that prince Jonathan Aristobulos is very fond of swimming."

"Swimming? What use is that to me?"

Sabion ignored the question and continued, "The butler also reported, with great disapproval, that both the prince and the Edomite were swimming naked in the sea and that two of the soldiers had joined them. He also reported on some of the games they played."

"Fuck you, Sabion! I want useful information, not the disapproving burblings of a pompous arsehole!"

Unperturbed, Sabion described the game that the soldiers had played in the Mediterranean. Herod looked up, his eyes narrowing until they were almost closed as gears began shifting in his mind. "Yes," he said eventually, "I see the possibilities."

"The idea was not their own, Sire. As soon as it was reported to me that they were going to the sea, I told those Gauls to see if they could find an opportunity."

"You idiot! You incompetent goatfucker! You..." Herod ran out of expletives in his sudden rage. "If they had succeeded in what you suggested to them the whole country would be up in arms! Can't you imagine the reaction, you dung-beetle of a congenital idiot? Just let the people hear the whiff of a report such as 'two of Herod's soldiers killed the High Priest by drowning him in the sea' and you would hear the wail from here to Jericho! If the boy is to be eliminated it must be done in such a way that in no way can it be attributed either to me or my servants. Can't you get that into that apology of a brain that you presumably have somewhere inside your head?"

By now Herod was in full tilt, unstoppable. "You call yourself a spymaster!? You've got horse droppings where your brains ought to be! Your mother, if you had one, must have been shagged by an ass, not a man. By all the devils in Tartarus! If that boy had died swimming you would have heard the uproar all the way from here to Jericho!" Suddenly he stopped, almost in mid sentence, barely catching his breath.

"Sire," started Sabion.

"Silence, you camelfucker! I'm thinking!"

Herod started mumbling to himself, trying to put together the thought that was just about to be born. Swimming... Jericho... swimming... Jericho. That's it! Eureka!

"Sabion, you camel-shagger! Why do I have to do all the thinking around here? Get out! And send me a secretary. Now!"

Sabion left with little of his self esteem still intact. A secretary arrived.

"Take down the following notes:

Item. I want a full report of the progress of the construction of my winter palace in Jericho.
Item. Make sure that the swimming pool that I ordered to be constructed there is at least six cubits deep. I want to be able to dive in.
Item. Invite the High Priest and his mother to dine with my wife and myself at the earliest opportunity.
Item. Send to the High Priest the two special stallions from my stables with the message that they are a gift for the High Priest and his ... his... his companion from me in deepest appreciation of his unique contribution to the success of the Tabernacles celebration.

"Did you get all that? I want to be informed as soon as it is done. Get out!"

* * * * *

The boys were astounded and delighted with the gift of two stallions. The lady Salomé Alexandra was astounded and delighted with the invitation to dine with her daughter and her "son-in-law, the king". But after the initial incredulity that they had been given a gift of extraordinary value, Lotán had second thoughts. Yannai looked at his partner and quite simply said, "What?"

"Do you remember, Yannai, that while he was still alive I made a promise to your uncle - that I would look after you, protect you? Well, I have a feeling deep inside me that there is something very wrong here."

"What do you mean, 'something wrong'?"

"I don't think we, or rather you, should accept this gift."

"Sweetheart, why on earth not?" asked Yannai, with a trace of disappointment in his voice.

"Look at it like this: would you have expected Herod to send you a gift of enormous value? Herod? To you, of all people? And what's more, would you have expected him to send a similar gift to me? What am I to him?"

"He sent you a gift in order to please me, silly."

"That's just it, you dimwit. You are blinded by the generosity of the gift. Herod is devious, he is shifty; he has a stone where his heart ought to be; he is malevolent, he is malicious. If there is one person in the world that he wants to see dead it is you. The only thing that holds him back is the fact that the people love you and would never forgive your violent death. If he could contrive your death by accident..." a cold shiver ran down his back as he said the words. "Yannai, please do not accept this gift. It could well be a devious trick to cause your destruction."

"You must be joking, sweetheart. Even Herod would not do such a thing. Kill the High Priest? He wouldn't dare."

"No, he would not dare to kill the High Priest; but he would dare and dare and dare again to kill off Prince Jonathan Aristobulos. I have a feeling inside me. It's almost as if your dead uncle were acting through me. I can't explain it."

Yannai laughed. "Now you are being ridiculous! How could a dead man act through a living one? How can a dead man act at all? It's all in your imagination!"

Lotán was adamant. "I know what I feel. Why can't the soul of a dead man inspire a living person?"

"Ah," said Yannai, with a grin. "So that's where you are coming from. You have been listening to the Pharisees and their ridiculous teachings about a soul that is eternal, about some kind of life after death in heaven, about a bodily resurrection."

"So?" asked Lotán.

"I, sweetheart, am a Sadducee, the son of a Sadducee, and the scion of a long line of Sadducees. I think I drank in Sadducee beliefs and values with my mother's milk."

"I don't understand," said Lotán.

Yannai explained patiently. "Sadducees do not believe in a soul; we do not believe in life after death; we do not believe in a bodily resurrection. So, as far as I am concerned, my uncle is dead and as such there is no way that he can influence you from the grave."

"I can't argue with you about Jewish beliefs. You people have so many sects it's a wonder that any of you know what to believe! But I, Lotán the Edomite, know one thing: while he was still alive your uncle gave me a charge. He said to me, 'Look after your friend, even with your very life. He needs all the protection he can get.' That is something with which you cannot argue. You were there when he said it."

"These two stallions are worth millions, sweetheart. Do you really want me to give them up?"

"Yannai, There is nothing in the whole world that is more precious to me than your life. I would willingly give up a whole kingdom just to keep you alive. Can you not give up two animals just to make me happy?"

"Oh, sweetheart, that's not fair! You are trying to make me feel guilty."

"No, I'm not. I am trying to make you see things the way I see them. I am not blinded by those magnificent animals."

"And I," said Yannai, "am not blinded by a mere suspicion that Herod wants to kill me."

"Do you agree that Herod is devious, shifty, malevolent and malicious?"

"Yes, he is a bloodthirsty tyrant who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends. Nothing."

"Yannai, for Caus' sake! Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying! Don't give him the chance to kill you!"

Yannai sighed resignedly. "All right, I shall think of some way to return the animals politely. Maybe we shall discover that the High Priest is not allowed to own a horse! But I am only doing this to please you."

"And I am only asking it because I could not bear to lose you."

That night as they lay side by side, sated with the afterglow of love-making, Lotán turned to Yannai. He kissed him gently on the lips and then snuggled his head onto Yannai's chest. Yannai gently ruffled Lotán's wiry hair.


"What, sweetheart?"

"Did you mean all that about not having a soul and no life after death?"

"Of course I did! That's our belief."

"That means that if anything were to happen to either of us the other would be left bereft and with no hope of our souls finding each other again in the future."

"I suppose so. That's why life is so precious. That's why we must make the most of the life that is given to us. What we have done with our life, what we have achieved while we were alive, is what we leave to humanity. Nothing more."

"That is a hard teaching, my love. I don't know that I would be able to live with it."

"Enough of this philosophizing! Let's get back to making the most of the life we have."

And they did - daggers drawn.

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