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.

First, Absalom and Lotán visited the storekeeper where Lotán was given a reed mat. "You can't be issued with a habit," said the storekeeper apologetically, "because you aren't a member of the order. So you will have to wear your own clothes. But the brethren will supply all your other necessities."

Lotán's mind was in such a whirl that he barely took in what was being said to him and did not even acknowledge the kind words. Absalom grinned at the storekeeper and guided Lotán, carrying his reed mat, out of the store. To Lotán, Absalom's navigation of the buildings of the settlement seemed haphazard, but soon they arrived at a long, low building. When they entered, Lotán saw that from a central corridor there were a dozen entrances on each side, each covered with a curtain but no door. Absalom steered Lotán towards the third entrance on their left and pulled open the curtain. A young novice was lying on his mat inside the cell.

"Ah, Brother Aaron," said Absalom to the youngster, "you must take your reed mat and find yourself another cell, I'm afraid. The Righteous Teacher has assigned this person to my care."

With a smile, as if nothing untoward had happened, Aaron rose to his feet, picked up his reed mat, bowed and left the cell. Absalom pulled the curtain across, giving them what little privacy it offered. "Throw your reed mat on the floor," he said encouragingly, "and make yourself at home. Lotán looked around. He could see nothing but three bare walls, two reed mats - his own and one other - and the curtain hanging in the entrance. Apart from that there was almost nothing, not even a window: where the wall met the ceiling at the end of the cell there was just a small slit that served for ventilation.

"Sit down, Lotán, and we can talk," said Absalom. As he sat down on his reed mat Lotán's mind went back to another place he had shared: two pallets, one for him and one for Yannai. Suddenly, it was all too much and he burst into silent weeping, his shoulders heaving. Instinctively, Absalom sat down next to Lotán and took him in his arms. "For sure, it's a terrible thing," he said. "You must have lost someone dear to you." Lotán nodded through his tears. "Just weep, my friend, let God see your distress. I know, I too have walked that path. Cry. Let it out." And He hugged Lotán all the harder. The hug was so intimate that it reminded Lotán of the hugs of a different person, now gone for ever. But it was not the same; it felt so very different. His heart breaking, he let out a wail, not caring if his grief could be heard throughout the dormitory.

Finally, after more than an hour, he could weep no more. Not because he had no more tears and no more grief, but because his strength failed him from weariness. Absalom gathered Lotán into his arms, lowered him onto the reed mat, and snuggled close to him. "Sleep now. Go to sleep. I am here. I will watch over you." Exhausted, Lotán fell into a deep sleep.

* * * * *

It was late the following morning when Lotán at last woke up. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, momentarily disorientated. Slowly memory returned. There was no one in the cell but himself. He looked down to find that he was covered with a coarse blanket. Underneath he was naked and his clothes were folded neatly by his head. 'How did that happen?' he wondered, scratching his head.

The curtain was pulled aside and Absalom came in. "Ah, so you're awake," he said. "You must have been completely exhausted."

"What time of day is it?" asked Lotán.

"Why, it's past the fourth hour of the morning," said Absalom jauntily. "Another couple of hours and it will be noon."

Suddenly, in the presence of this young man, Lotán was acutely aware of his nudity under the blanket. "How come I am undressed?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly.

"Ah," said Absalom, with a patently studied nonchalance, "you were so tired out. I couldn't leave you to sleep in your clothes now, could I?"

Lotán looked at Absalom and studied his face. It was a sweet face, gentle, kind. There were wrinkles around the eyes which twinkled when he smiled. But right now Absalom had a certain look on his face. Lotán well remembered when he had seen another face with the same expression. Then it had been Yannai on the day they first met. In retrospect, Lotán could recognize that Yannai's concern had been that Lotán accept him, and the doubt that he had whether or not he would acknowledge mutual love. 'Ridiculous!' thought Lotán to himself. 'Absalom is not in love with me. And I certainly am not in love with him! I shall never be able to love anyone other than Yannai. And Yannai is ...,' He could not bring himself to say the word, even just in his thoughts.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" asked Lotán.

"Like what?" asked Absalom, taken aback by the bluntness of the question.

"You know what I mean," said Lotán. "I've seen that look in other men's eyes."

Absalom blushed. "I don't know what you mean," he said.

"And I thought that you people were not allowed to lie," laughed Lotán coarsely. "What a fool I have been. All that hugging last night. You weren't showing love; all you feel for me is lust!"

"Hush, Lotán. That's not true at all! I swear that it's not true."

"What? You don't lust for me? I can see that look in your eyes! Why, even now you are mentally undressing me!" Lotán could not understand why he was so angry with this man, but he couldn't stop himself. He knew he was hurting Absalom, but something inside him pushed him on and on with his taunting tirade.

Absalom gulped, searching for words. Finally he mastered his passion and said, as calmly as he could, "Lotán, I don't have to imagine you naked. When I undressed you last night I saw all I could have wanted to see."

"And did you like what you saw?" said Lotán, cruelly crude. Absalom looked at him for a moment, stunned. "All you can see in me is Shovál's plaything, Yannai's pretty boy! I hate me!" hurled Lotán at Absalom in scorn and derision.

"I do not know who Shovál is and I am not sure that I know who Yannai is," said Absalom. "But one thing I can promise you: I shall never, ever touch you in that way again unless I have your permission. I cannot help how I feel about you. But I am quite capable of controlling myself."

Lotán went red with shame or anger. "What do you mean when you say that you can't help how you feel about me? What do you feel about me? Do you think you love me? Hahaha!"

"Lotán, I don't know if I love you. But I would like to love you if you would let me. I feel that we might be very good friends if you would just let me get close to you. But you are setting up a wall between us, a wall that I cannot break down. You think that you are the loneliest person in the world. But others have known the despair of eternal separation - and they have learned to live with it until the void can be filled."

Suddenly Lotán was silent. Then, almost like a child, he asked, "Can the void ever be filled, Absalom? I don't think there can ever be anyone else like him."

"Of course there will never be anyone else like him, silly. There will never be for me anyone else like my Jesse. But there could be someone else who could fill the void in a different way. Someone different. Love can express itself in many ways and forms."

"I wish I could believe that," said Lotán.

"You know," replied Absalom, "learning to love has something in common with learning to swim. You can never really swim until you let go of the edge of the pool. You can never fall in love again unless you let yourself fall in love. You must believe in yourself."

"I cannot let him go. And I want you to know that he died while swimming," he added harshly.

"You don't have to let him go," said Absalom, ignoring the latter remark. "You loved him. He will always be there, in your mind, in your heart, in your soul. You were blessed with a great and abiding love. Someone who has known love can always let their heart expand to make room for more love. He whose heart can know only one love does not know true love. When we love someone else we do not love our first love any the less; we just create more love for the new object of our affection."

"You never answered my question," said Lotán coldly.

"What question was that?" asked Absalom.

"Did you like what you saw?"

"Lotán, You are being crude just to hurt me, to hold me at bay. But, to answer your question: you are beautiful, truly beautiful. I have felt a strange attraction towards you from the moment that I saw your face in the Teacher's study. It is your face that attracts me, not the rest of your body. I shall wait in hope that maybe the day will come when what I feel for you might be permitted to blossom into something even more meaningful. I am lonely. I have a void to fill."

"I can't promise anything, Absalom. I cannot love you. I do not think that the day will come when I can love you. And if it comes it might be a very long way off."

"That's all right. I have a lifetime."

"Yannai and I had a lifetime before us, but that was taken away. They never gave us a chance to live our lives together!"

"Maybe he will be waiting for you in Paradise, Lotán."

"No, he won't. Yannai didn't believe in that. He said we only have one life to live."

"Then surely, Lotán, he would want you to live your one life to the full!"

Lotán threw off the blanket. "I must get dressed," he said. Absalom turned to leave. "No, stay," said Lotán. "Now I don't mind if you look. But don't get any ideas! I'm not available."

* * * * *

Later that day, one of the brothers returned to the settlement from a visit to family in Jerusalem. After the midday meal he was full of what had been happening in the capital. Firstly, he told the assembled brothers, a High Priest had been appointed in place of the High Priest who had died: it was the same Hananel that had been deposed a few months earlier to make way for Jonathan Aristobulos. But as far as this brother was concerned the most momentous event to be described was the magnificent funeral that had been arranged for the deceased High Priest.

"Brothers, you have never seen anything like it! The procession itself was several stadia long - so long that I couldn't really assess it. Every single priest in Jerusalem followed the catafalque, at a suitable distance of course, so that they would not be ritually contaminated by the corpse. Ahead of the catafalque bearing the young man's body walked his mother, the Lady Salomé Alexandra, and his sister, the queen. But would you believe it? At the very head of the funeral procession marched King Herod himself! He was walking barefoot and was dressed in a robe of sackcloth and he had ashes on his head. When they reached the burial cave it was Herod himself who gave the funeral oration. He could hardly contain his tears! He spoke of this great tragedy that had overtaken the country; what a calamity it was that this young man should have lost his life in such a tragic accident. At one stage he pulled the covering off the body and told the people to look upon the beauty of Jonathan Aristobulos. 'Only when you see his surpassing beauty can you truly appreciate the magnitude of the catastrophe that has overtaken the young man, his family, indeed, the whole kingdom.' By the end of the funeral oration everybody was in tears."

At this point Lotán could contain himself no longer. He pushed his way through the crowded room, into the courtyard outside. He had to breathe. He had to scream. Was there no end to that man's crass hypocrisy? Was he to be permitted to fool the whole world? Was the truth to be trampled underfoot in this crude manner?

Absalom ran out after Lotán and found him barely able to catch his breath, tears streaming from his eyes. He did not try to comfort him nor did he try to calm him down. He just snapped an order: "Come with me!" Lotán was so disorientated by his distress that he just obeyed and followed Absalom.

Absalom led Lotán out of the settlement and headed towards the cliffs that loomed to the west. He started climbing up the cliff side, When Lotán hesitated he barked "Keep up with me!" After a good hour of climbing they arrived at a narrow ledge and there Lotán could see the entrance to a cave. Absalom sat down outside the cave and motioned to Lotán to join him. By this time, of course, Lotán had regained much of his composure.

"Where are we?" he asked, "and why have you brought me here?"

"There are lots of these caves around here," said Absalom. "We use them for storage, because these are places that nobody would imagine contained anything of any value. In fact, we store in these caves some of our most precious belongings."

"You store here your gold and silver?" asked Lotán rather incredulously.

"No, Lotán. To us gold and silver are not precious. We store here documents, scrolls full of our accumulated learning."

"And why have you brought me here, Brother Absalom?"

"You will see why soon. But first I want you to tell me all about Jonathan Aristobulos."


"Yes, Yannai. I can guess most of it, but I need to hear you say it. Out loud, please. I want you to hear yourself telling your story. I want to hear about your love for each other. Tell it now."

Slowly, Lotán began to talk about the years he had spent with Yannai, the love they had shared, the exquisite togetherness, the complete union of two kindred souls. The more he talked the easier it was for him, and the words began to tumble out in a continuous torrent.

And then came the moment when he described his doubts and fears concerning Herod's machinations against Yannai. And finally, with a heart-rending howl, he described what he had seen from Master Melchior's window. "They killed him, Absalom! They drowned him in the water! Then they pulled my Yannai, my wonderful Yannai, lifeless from the water he so loved."

"So, Yannai was killed by his own bodyguard?" asked Absalom, incredulously.

"Yes. It had been a plot right from the beginning. Oh why did I not see it coming? I promised to shield him and to protect him. I failed! I failed my wonderful Yannai at the moment of his greatest need! By my negligence I caused his death! I killed the man I love!"

"No, Lotán. That's not true, and you know it. Now I want to hear from you the name of the man who really caused the death of your Yannai. Say it out loud. Shout it to the hills, let it echo in the caves! Lotán, who was it who killed Yannai?"

Lotán stood up, almost beside himself. He threw his arms into the air and shouted with all his might: "Herod, son of Antipatros! You murdered Jonathan Aristobulos! You gave the order. It was you who brought low my most beautiful soulmate. Herod, son of Antipatros! King of Monsters! King of Liars! King of Deceivers!" By this time Lotán was gesticulating wildly. "Herod, son of Antipatros, I curse you! From the bottom of my heart I curse you! May you never know peace of mind until your dying day. May you fear for your life at every turn. And when your time comes to die may Caus curse you. May the God of the Jews curse you! May all the gods of the Romans and Greeks curse you! May all the gods of the Gauls and Celts curse you!" The empty cliffs echoed with his anguished shouting into the void. "May you die a horrible death, a death at which every good man will shudder and recoil. Herod, son of Antipatros! I, Lotán the Edomite, shall never rest content until I see you breathe your last. May you die in fearful anguish, with none to help you. And, Herod son of Antipatros, when at long last you are dead may your body rot in the deepest reaches of hell! I, Lotán the Edomite, the soul-brother of Jonathan Aristobulos curse you, curse you, curse you!"

The physical and emotional effort had completely exhausted him. He was shivering from the passion of his words. Absalom pulled Lotán into his arms and Lotán let himself slide into their embrace.

"Now, Lotán the Edomite, hear me," he whispered, more to himself than to Lotán. "I, Brother Absalom, do solemnly swear that I will stay with you and protect you from this day forth. If companionship becomes something more I shall be that much happier; if not I shall accept that with understanding. I give you my myself. Do with me what you will."

* * * * *

During the next eighteen long months Brother Absalom taught Lotán everything he knew about the art of healing and the work of the apothecary. For Lotán it was not easy, having so much to remember and so many practical tests to pass; but he threw himself into the studies with all his heart. The intellectual effort that he had to invest sometimes helped him forget the gnawing ache that was in his heart. He knew in his heart of hearts that if he had never met Yannai - if Absalom had been the first he met - he would have been able to fall in love with him; but he just could not put the memory of Yannai out of his mind. Absalom was Absalom and not Yannai.

As the spring of his nineteenth year began to meld into summer a new yearning overtook him. The monks were very friendly towards him, but he missed Melchior. And if there was one sole creature that he missed as much as he missed Yannai it was Caleb. Then one fine noon time, one of the brothers came to the workplace where Absalom and Lotán were experimenting with roots of certain plants. "Lotán, a guest has arrived to see you. He waits in the study of the Righteous Teacher."

Impelled by his excitement he rushed through the settlement and skidded to a halt just before the entrance to the study in order to compose himself. He walked through the entranceway, completely oblivious of Absalom who had caught up with him breathlessly and remained standing in the entranceway throughout all that followed, uncertain as to whether he could permit himself to intrude. But as soon as Lotán came into the study Caleb rushed towards him, pushing him onto the ground in his excitement, just as he had done in years gone by. Instead of getting up, Lotán just hugged the dog for all he was worth, and thrusting his nose into Caleb's mane, just to inhale the special doggy scent. "O Caleb, I have missed you so much!" he whispered as he hugged the dog.

Finally he stood up and went over to give Melchior a hug too. "Welcome, Master, welcome," he said. Melchior returned his hug and then pushed him away at arm's length. "Just look at you, Lotán. How you have grown! Why you are a man now, there's no doubt about that. And you have grown a beard. Yes, it becomes you, it really does."

When both Lotán and Caleb had quietened down Melchior said, "And who is this who has come with you, Lotán?" Lotán looked behind him and saw Absalom standing in the entranceway. Before he could utter a sound the Teacher said, "Come in too, Brother Absalom." Absalom took a couple of faltering steps into the room. "Master Melchior," said the Teacher, "Brother Absalom has been Lotán's mentor during all these months."

"And," replied Melchior, "if I am to believe half of what you tell me, Righteous Teacher, he has done a magnificent job! I thank you, Brother Absalom, for everything that you have done for Lotán and me." Absalom bowed his head and said nothing.

Melchior turned back to Lotán. "While you have been away my work load has increased. Now I need an assistant more than ever before. The Righteous Teacher tells me that you are ready. So, if there is nothing here to hold you back..." and here he paused, looking at Absalom, "... we three shall make our way back to Jerusalem at first light tomorrow."

"We three?" asked Absalom, speaking for the first time in a low, dull voice.

"Yes," replied the magus, "Myself, Lotán and Caleb."

"Oh," said Absalom, in the same dull, emotionless voice. "I see."

A look passed between the magus and the Righteous Teacher, an imperceptibly raised eyebrow, a corresponding nod, just as imperceptible.

"Lotán," said Melchior, "I want to check up with Brother Absalom here on all the things that you have learned. While I do so, why don't you show Caleb around? I'm sure he would love a good long walk with you."

Lotán's eyes lit up. "Come on, Caleb," he said, signaling the dog to follow him, and the man and the dog went out to play just as if they were still a boy and a dog.

"Master Melchior," said the Righteous Teacher, "I shall leave you my study for your conference. You will forgive me, but there are some urgent matters to which I have to attend." He left the room, leaving Melchior and Absalom alone.

"Well, Brother Absalom," said Melchior as soon as the Teacher had left, "you do not seem very happy today. That is the reason why I asked to confer with you: I don't really need to know what you have taught Lotán, because I have already been told that you were an excellent teacher and have done a superb job."

Absalom nodded his head in acknowledgement, but said nothing, and kept his eyes steadily on the floor.

"Your unhappiness is connected with Lotán, is it not?" asked Melchior.

Absalom nodded again, but still made no reply, nor did he look up.

"Are you unhappy that he is leaving?"

Again just a nod in response.

There was a long pause, while Melchior stood thinking. Finally he said, "Would you like to leave with him, Absalom?"

At this Absalom looked up. His eyes lit up and he spoke for the first time during this conversation. "Could I? May I?" he asked almost incredulously.

"Perhaps, it may be possible. But you must first tell me why you want to leave with him."

No response.

"I am going to make a suggestion to you, Absalom," said Melchior. "All you have to do is to say yea or nay. I suggest to you that you have fallen in love with Lotán."

"Yes. How did you know?"

Melchior laughed gently. "One doesn't have to have great perception to understand what is going on inside your heart. Tell me, if I may ask, is your love returned?"

"No," answered Absalom, in the same dull tone. Then he became animated: "Did you see what he did with that dog? He loves the dog. He cuddles the dog. But he cannot love me, will not cuddle me. He can love a dog, but he won't love me."

"Lotán has a lot of love inside him. You know what has happened, I am sure?" Absalom nodded. "Then you must make allowances; you must be patient."

"Patient?" exclaimed Absalom, "I have been patient for month after month! Do you know what torment it is to be with him every hour of the waking day and not being able to touch him, because he recoils? Do you know what agony it is to sleep next to him every night, to feel his warmth but never to be in his arms? I have loved Lotán from the very first moment I saw him in this study. As soon as I came in here on that day I looked at his kind face and I heard Jesse's voice saying to me 'This is the one!'"

"You will have to explain that to me, Absalom," said Melchior, very gently. "Who is Jesse?"

"Who was Jesse," said Absalom. "Jesse and I were lovers. Then one day he became ill. The healers could do nothing for him. His body just seemed to waste away. At the last he was in excruciating pain. Just before he died we talked about the future - or rather, he talked about my future. He said,

"Absalom, sweetheart, you know that I shall not get better and that I shall soon die. You understand that I shall be leaving you. I love you so much that there is no way that I can say it. You just have to know that my love for you is as great as your love for me. It is because of this great love that I want you to promise me that when I am gone you will not pine away. After a period of mourning I want you to start living your life again, for you and for me. One day someone may come along, someone who could fill the void I am going to leave behind in your life, someone you could love. When that someone comes along a voice inside you will tell you that 'this is the one'. When that day comes I want you to love him and cherish him with all your heart. For my sake, promise me this. Promise me that you will stay happy and fulfilled."

When I saw Lotán I remembered what Jesse had said. I knew that I could love Lotán - not the same as Jesse, nothing could be the same as Jesse. It would be different, but it could be good."

Absalom fell silent. Melchior also remained silent for a good few moments. Then he said, very gently, "Absalom, that was very beautiful." Absalom made no reply. "Tell, me, Absalom, could you really love Lotán as you say? Could you love him come what may? Whatever life brings you and him?"

"Yes, I could. Yes, I do."

"Then leave this to me. Let me see what I can do. I make no promises except one, that I will do my best for you."

"Thank you, Master Melchior, thank you! I ask no more."

"Is there somewhere private here where I can talk to him quite freely?"

"Yes, Master. Tell him to take you to the cave. He will understand."

* * * * *

It was much more difficult for Melchior, not so young, to clamber up to the cave than it was for agile, young Lotán. Lotán reached the platform at the cave's entrance together with Caleb; then he leaned down to offer his arm to Melchior for the last climb up. Lotán stood laughing as Melchior arrived quite breathless.

They sat down outside the cave. Lotán explained how the caves in the cliffs served the needs of the brothers. "Hmm," purred Melchior, when he heard, "so this is where Righteous Teacher's library is."

"And lots more," said Lotán. "I've helped bring some of the scrolls up here several times."

"I should love to read some of those documents," said Melchior. Then, hastily, he added, "But that is not what I want to talk to you about."

"I know, Master," said Lotán, fondling Caleb behind the dog's ear. "You want to talk about Absalom, don't you?"

"Yes, Lotán, I do. Or rather, I want you to talk to me about Absalom."

"What shall I say, Master?" asked Lotán, dispiritedly.

"You know that he loves you."


"But you do not love him?"

No response.

"Lotán, dearest son, do you or could you love Absalom?"

"Yes, I could. No, I do not."

"Can you please explain to me what you mean by that?" asked Melchior, very quietly.

Lotán hunched up his knees and clasped them in his arms, bending his back forward. Melchior had to strain to hear what Lotán was saying.

"He is a good person. He is kind, generous, loving, and a wonderful friend."

"But he is no more than that?" asked Melchior, prodding very gently.

Lotán was silent for a while. Then he continued, "No, I can't say in all honesty that he is no more than that."

"Can you explain what you mean?" asked Melchior.

"Master, can I speak to you freely?"

"My son, you can speak to me about anything and everything. Whatever you say, you will always be my Lotán."

Lotán was silent for a good few moments before he continued, "Absalom means an awful lot to me. Sometimes I want to take him in my arms and kiss him. His lips are so inviting. Sometimes, when we lie side by side at night, I want to snuggle up to him and then ... er ... to do things. And most often I ache for him to do things to me. But more than anything else, I just want him to be with me, by my side, around me - and me around him. Sometimes it hurts so much that I want to cry."

"Does Absalom know that you feel this way?"

"Caus, no! I could never tell him, never!"

"Lotán, my dearest son, why can you not tell him that you love him and want him?"

Lotán straightened his back, sat straight, pushed his chin forward and said, "Because that would be betraying my Yannai!"

"Lotán," said Melchior very gently, "Yannai is dead."

"Not in my heart, he isn't," said Lotán. "In my heart he is with me all the time."

"Yes, he is in your heart, Lotán, and always will be. Nothing can ever remove him from there. But," and here Melchior touched Lotán's chin and made him look at him, "when Yannai is in your heart is he also in your arms? Is he also making love with you in the most intimate way? Do you feel his kiss on your lips?"

Lotán burst into tears. "No," he wailed. "No! I miss him so much, so much. I watch Absalom get undressed each night and imagine that he is Yannai and that soon he will be lying next to me, on top of me, inside me. But I will not betray Yannai. Never!"

Melchior pulled the weeping Lotán into his arms. "You silly boy. You would not be betraying Yannai if you loved Absalom. You would be fulfilling his dearest wish."

"What? I don't understand," mumbled Lotán through his tears.

"Lotán, do you think that Yannai loved you?"

"Of course he did! He loved me with all his heart and with all his body just like I loved him!"

"Well," continued the magus, "when you love someone, do you want them to be happy or miserable?"

"Happy, of course!"

"Now, think carefully. If it were you who had died and Yannai had survived: would you want him to be happy or miserable?"

"I would hope that he would be sad that I was gone. I would hope that he would always remember me and the love we had. But, no, I would not want him to be miserable. I would want him to lead a full and happy life."

"And that, my dear Lotán, is exactly what he would want for you," said Melchior, rather triumphantly.

"How do you know that, master?" asked Lotán.

"I know that because I know that he loved you - with all his heart and might. His soul is yearning for you to be happy."

"There you are wrong, master," said Lotán. "Yannai was a ... a... Sadducee. I think that's how they say it. They don't believe in souls and life after death."

Suddenly, he looked up, his face aglow.

"You know," he said, "I have just remembered something that Yannai explained to me. I can remember it as clearly as anything. It must be the mention of the Sadducees that brought it back to me. I once told Yannai that it was hard for me to accept the idea that death was so final. I told him that his belief 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. He then told me that that is 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. He would want me to live a full and happy life for his sake."

"Lotán, my son," said Melchior, "you know that Absalom loves you. You have admitted that you are attracted to him. He could be your chance for love, happiness and fulfillment in this life. Do not reject him. You have made him so miserable."

"What could I say to him? I don't know how to... to be with him."

"Whatever is on your mind, whatever is in your heart, shout it out loud now to the the world."

Lotán stood up, as he had done eighteen months earlier when he had shouted to the echoing cliffs and caves his imprecation against Herod. He took a deep breath, raised his arms on high, and shouted to the wind:

"Yannai, Yannai, beloved Yannai. Shall I go with Absalom? I cannot love him like I loved you. Nothing could be like the love we had. But there could be a different love, a love that could also be fulfilling. Can I love Absalom as well as you? Send me a sign! Help me decide! Send me some kind of ... sign!"

He sat down. A few moments later they heard someone clambering up the cliff face. "That will be Absalom," said Melchior, "I told him to come and fetch us after an hour had passed."

Absalom climbed onto the ledge. As he appeared, Caleb started barking and wagging his tail furiously, a frenzy of joy at Absalom's arrival. The dog rushed at Absalom and jumped up at him, pushing him to the ground. Absalom hugged the dog for dear life. Then Caleb lay on his back, legs in the air, waiting for Absalom to stroke his tummy.

"Thank you, Yannai," shouted Lotán to the echoing emptiness, "Thank you beloved! That's the sign!"

"What sign?" asked Absalom, bewildered.

"Yannai once said to me that Caleb would only befriend someone if he knew that they were a person who could be loved. Caleb loves you. That means that Yannai would love you. And so can I!"

Then he stood on the edge of the ledge and whispered into the wind, "Beloved, even if I do fall in love with this man I shall never forget you. You will always be in my heart. Always."

Now he joined Absalom on the dusty floor of the ledge and the two of them played with Caleb, who was in paroxysms of delight.

"What shall we do now," asked Lotán shyly.

"We shall take it very, very slowly," said Absalom. "We have a whole lifetime to discover each other. There is no need for us to hurry things. You lead, always, at your pace. It is enough that you let me love you."

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