In which Simon Magus enjoys a hot night with a future saint.
Note: Luni is Simon’s dead brother
"I’ve not seen thee here before."
The speaker was a young man, who smiled shyly when I turned to look at him. He was slightly built, bandy-legged, had a beak on him like a Bedoo, hairy-bodied, but and at the rate he was shedding he’d be entirely bald before he was thirty. His Greek was good, his accent Asian, but he was certainly a Jew. He was also very drunk. Without waiting for an invitation he sat down on the bench beside me.
"Shaul. Dost like the show?"
I recognized his type: he was one of those men in whom a superabundance of the masculine humour manifests itself paradoxically in a total indifference to the charms of womankind, and who can therefore only find release in the company of their own sex. He was obviously interested in more than conversation. I myself had never found the body of my fellow man particularly appealing, and did not answer.
"They speak, thou know’st."
"The drums.” The entertaiment in that place, if one could call it such, comprised a trio of drummers, banging out some incomprehensible rhythms on skin-topped tambours. “Every beat, every tap corresponds to a word in the language of the drum. Listen."
I did. It made sense: the chaotic non-rhythms did indeed have the cadence of speech. Certainly the audience seemed to understand, for they roared with laughter at every beat.
"And what do they say?"
"They discuss the Roman in the corner. The drummer on the left has just concurred with the other’s opinion of his relationship with his closer female relatives, and now adds further speculation regarding his preferences in bestial bedmates. His fellow responds that the Kittim, being swine in any case, undoubtedly enjoys nothing more than a pig’s prick up his arse, as he lovingly licks the shit from the hindquarters of the dog who rules in Roma."
I had to laugh.
"If he only knew."
"Oh, he does. That’s Gaius Falconellus, Caesar’s top spy in these parts. He knows twelve tongues, among them drum talk, which he has studied for five years. He knows."
"Then why doesn’t he arrest them all?"
"I have said: he is a spy, not a soldier. There may come a time when such means, or similar, are put to more dangerous ends. A message in the night between rebel bands; a secret signal to an assassin that his intended victim approaches… surely more useful to keep such knowledge concealed, than betray it over a bit of fun in a tavern."
I looked more closely at the master spy. He was looking around the room with a confused smile, pretending to pretend to laugh at a joke all present shared but himself. This only provoked more merriment, and I wondered how many of the revellers would find cause before long to regret their hilarity. I turned back to my companion.
"And how dost thou know all this?"
"Gaius and I were friends, once. We…"
He fell silent, as if fearing to betray more than he had said. The next thing I knew, his hand was on my thigh. I shrank away. He laughed.
"Come, friend, thou art pagan. The most abominable act is second nature to thee. Where art thou staying?"
He was now rubbing my crotch lewdly, and drunk as I was, I could not help but respond to his skilful touch. Well, what the Hell; never let it be said that Simon is not up for a new experience! I closed my eyes and resisted no more, whereupon he bent close and whispered in my ear.
"I keep a room upstairs. Stay with me this night. Let me show thee all the things one man may do with another, that no woman can know."
I nodded, then rose shakily. He took my hand and led me from the bar. When we reached his room he barred the latch, knelt before me and pulled up my kirtle. He looked up.
"We’ll just get this out of the way," he said.
He applied a practiced mouth to my straining cock and within a minute I had come forth in spasms and fallen back panting on the bed. Licking his lips, he rose to his feet.
I expect that at this point most men might have just thanked him kindly and been on their way. But every passion has its own power, and whatever drove this unorthodox Jew was a passion beyond any I had ever known. I had to know him better.
So for the next few hours Shaul instructed me in all the mysteries of man-to-man lovemaking. I found myself playing Mars to his Venus, Isis to his Osiris, even Saul to his David. It was a novel and edifying experience, though I may rightly say I contributed my share of innovation: Helena has been instructing me and Gorgio in various means of pleasuring women, and certain of these, appropriately modified, proved of great utility in the present encounter.
At one point, during one of our more imaginative contortions, I heard laughter, and looked up startled. But it was only Luni in the air above the bed, chuckling.
"What’st tha up to, Shim?"
I felt my desire diminishing and flashed him a stern admonition:
"Get out of here, thou little creep!"
But he just giggled and hovered lower to get a good look. Shaul noticed my sudden distraction and looked down at me in concern.
"What is it? Is something wrong?"
"Nothing. It’s only…"
I stopped. His people tend to abhor those who deal with the dwellers in aether, and in truth I was having fun and did not want the evening to end in acrimony.
"Nothing. It’s all right. Let’s continue."
And we resumed our play, while Luni cheered us on. Finally we lay exhausted in each other’s arms, anointed in a pungent blend of sweat and seed. Shaul held me tight, his hairiness strange against my own smooth skin. And presently I perceived that his body was shaking, as if some deep and long-repressed emotion were suddenly bursting forth. For several minutes he sobbed loud and long until, against my better judgment, I asked him what was wrong.
He looked up, his face a contorted mask of anger and despair.
"Shaitan! Get behind me!"
"Again? Mercy please, I beg thee! That last bout has drained me dry!"
He looked at me askance for a moment, then wordlessly disengaged, stood, and began to dress. I sat up. He turned furiously.
I began to protest.
"Get out of here! I know thy devil’s tricks!"
"Thou certainly dost," I retorted, "but ’twas not I taught thee them. I confess I am inexperienced in these matters; give me an hour and I shall attempt to rise to the occasion once more. But I’m not leaving. Thou’st offered thy hospitality, and curfew is long past. So thou mayst as well sit down and tell me what ails thee."
He looked at me for a moment in anguish. Then he sank to his knees, and began striking his head against the stone floor, till his balding scalp bled. I leapt up and seized him, pulled him onto the bed. After a brief struggle, he went limp in my arms, weeping piteously. Suddenly he cried out:
"Most loathsome of creatures am I!"
Then I understood.
You may not be familiar with Judish strictures regarding the act of love. Essentially, they boil down to an abhorrence of wasted seed, born no doubt of their long sojourn in the wilderness a thousand-year past. Any emission which cannot result in conception, whether down the gullet of a priestess of Ishtar, staining the pallet of a lad left alone with an illustrated Roman novel, or stuffing the bum of a comrade-in-arms, is strictly forbidden, and the transgressor doomed to ostracism or worse.
I knew all this, of course, the odd Law of the Hebrews providing grist for many a rude jest among my own people. I had never, however, taken it particularly seriously. All nations make a sin of adultery, but this does not prevent its universal practice at any and every opportunity. I suppose I thought that an appropriate sacrifice, offered privately, would suffice to cleanse the soul of any guilty stains attendant upon such an act.
Apparently this was not the case, at least not for my new friend.
"In the midst of life I am dead! All my life, I have studied the wisdom of our fathers. I have tried to become wise, to understand what the Lord understands, to know what He knows. O Lord, You made me. From the good red Earth You made Father Adam. But I was formed from the slime of impure emission, the polluting blood of the womb. And you gave me over to the dark one, to the Archon of Desire who rules this Aeon.
"O Lord of Abraham, have I not tried to do Your will in all things? Have I not studied Your will, as You have revealed it to our fathers?
"Yet the more I try to know You, the further You pull away from me. I reach for the Light, and it dances away before my eyes, till only the darkness remains. My longing overwhelms me, and I am driven into the street, in search of the ecstasy You have denied me. And then, and then…"
Suddenly he leapt up and shouted at the ceiling.
"But this is the last time. Before You, and before this evil one who has tempted me, I swear by all that is holy and holy and holy that never again will I do this deed. Do you hear? Never!"
He turned to me, and his face was filled with joy, as if a great burden had been lifted from his soul. A strange sadness came over me. How many times had this poor fool vowed the same Vow in the remorse of the afterlust? Out of curiosity I asked him, and was not surprised at his reponse.
"Every time!" he cried excitedly. "But this time is different. I feel it; I know He has heard and will not let me stray again. Oh thank You, Lord, thank You!"
"There are those," I said carefully, "who maintain that the Lord of All cares nothing for any sin thou mayst have committed, that the Law that binds and torments thee is the creation of the same monstrous one whose name thou called me. And in that case, all thy self-recriminations are themselves foolishness; what is important is that thou shedst the burden of that Law."
He looked at me horrified.
"If only it were so! But of course I know why thou speakst thus. Thou art but a heathen devil, the instrument of the Dark One, as he seeks to entrap my soul and drag it down to the eternal grave."
Incredibly, he smiled.
"Maybe thou dost not even exist. Or maybe all this is a test, and I shall wake anon, with no more on my conscience than a dream. O that it were so!"
This was too much.
"As much," I retorted, "as I would wish thee to awaken innocent of all we have just shared, I assure thee that I do in fact exist…"
"But for how long? Listen. This day I met a troupe of lepers. Hast ever met a leper?"
Grandba’s adage "Leper: Avoid at all costs!" has always served me well, so I shook my head.
"I was walking down the road from the Temple. They were coming in the East Gate, perhaps ten of them in their rotten rags. I shouted at them:
"’What art thou all doing here?’
"One called out:
"’We seek Jesous the Anointed. We were told he would heal us.’
To me: "Thou know’st Jesous?"
"’Don’t waste thy time,’ I said. ‘He’s crucified, dead and buried.’
"At this they put up a forlorn weeping and, feeling pity, I approached and looked at the wretches more closely. All were men, my age or younger. One, whom the disease had not fully ravaged, beckoned me over.
"’Come on," he said, "We won’t bite!’
"They all laughed. I went as close as I dared, staying upwind of any noxious humours he might exude. His skin was dead white, his hands and feet swathed in bandages, but he was still handsome, and I knew a sudden lust. He went on:
"’The Lord has treated us fairly for our wickedness, and we come to seek forgiveness and, if possible, a cure. Dost know of any others who possess Jesous’s powers?’
"’I know none,’ said I, ‘and his have proven false.’
"’Then,’ said he, ‘thou mayst as well join us now. For th’art one of us.’"
In horror I drew back, at the same time scanning Shaul’s body for dead patches or open sores. None was apparent, but I kept my distance.
"I was sore afraid," Shaul went on, "after all, he should know. Then I understood. These unfortunates were also sons of Sodom and, recognizing in me a brother, were trying to warn me of my fate if I persisted in my evil doings. Tell me, friend, how long dost thou think the shit lies lurking ‘neath the skin before it bursts forth in all its horror? Perhaps it is in me now. Or in thee!"
But I had already got the point, and was hurriedly dressing. I grabbed up my stuff and was out the door without farewells, to spend a sleepless night on a bench in the bar.