Immediately, when it seemed the worst might happen, and Becca's strong, Viking heart was thumping against his ribcage, he heard a voice in his heart speaking.

"Do not fear! I am Lord over the great flood, and I will command the angry waters to turn back and flee away from you. Stand fast and see My might and My power. As for the waters, they will not overflow you, and the fire, it shall not consume you, neither shall a hair on your head be singed, but rather the beards and hairy scalps of your enemies will be burnt up, and of the rest, none of them, not one shall escape the bitter edge of the sword, for the cries of the widows and children have come up to me, and I will avenge them now speedily!"

Becca was astonished, and felt his knees almost dissolve, but he knew what he had heard the Lord speak was not something he imagined. There was nothing else like Yeshua's voice. He indeed had heard the Voice of God, but how in the world, he wondered, would the Lord do such mighty things? There seemed no hope for them.

"Be of good courage, for I am the Lord you God! To God alone belongs escapes from death!"

After the events, which were each stupifying, beyond anyone's imagining or comprehension, it was hard for Becca to put them together, they happened simultaneously, in the sense that they dovetailed, each involving the other so perfectly, that if one part was left out, or a little late, it would have proven utter disaster for them.

There was a cloud that appeared, unnoticed by most of them, but which they discussed afterwards, some recalling they had seen it and that it resembled a man's hand, others caught by surprise. It flew up from the north where the gulf lay, and dropped rain on the watershed nearest the citadel's ramparts.

The cloudy hand did not let a single raindrop fall on the fortress city itself, whose cisterns could have used the water for a siege, but only to the right side-- there the water rushed down the steep slopes to the Nive, filling a little cove that had been dry for many, many years perhaps. And there was so much water, big boulders that could tear crack open a ship's hull like an egg were covered up by the time that the next event burst upon them.

Whoever gave the order, it was never determined. But they quickly oared the ships over to the cove, rather than remain in the path of the approaching floodwaters from the broached river dam.

Becca and his men had just gotten their ships into the safe haven to the left side of the gorge when the cliffs began falling in an avalanche that blocked the gorge hard to their right. What had done it? They had felt no quaking of the earth.

They no sooner saw this happen when the floodwaters, released from high above, reached the now blocked-up opening of the gorge. For a moment the dam held, then suddenly a tremendous surge of waters exploded through and up over the blocking rocks.

In their safe haven they all watched, utterly speechless, as the floodwaters surged past them. It did them no harm whatsoever as the tumbling mass of waters swept downstream, rolling big boulders down the channel with an appalling roar that could make a heart stop.

Becca could now see that they would never have survived more than a few moments if they had remained in the main channel. If the fall of rocks had not happened, they would have stood no chance at all. They would have been swept away by the waters and the boulders like so many leaves on a mountain brook and dashed against the rocky sides of the river and all their lives lost.

How could he have known the flood would be so violent and great? They had to see it to believe it. He had been through ferocious storms at sea, but this was different and worse than any of them.

But was this going to be all? Their enemies had been extremely cunning, and had nearly destroyed them--except for the water cloud giving enough water to fill the cove that became their safe haven, then the fall of rocks partly blocking the floodwaters.

But there was no time rejoice over their deliverance, for the Lamb Fortress had sent its last defenders down the defile, and they now attacked. The Franks had been caught in an ambush and thus were not coming to join Becca, it appeared. Holding the upper ground, they were so sure they had the advantage, the imam had let all his remaining fighting men go.

Pelted with rocks and arrows, it seemed at first that the ships would be overwhelmed and it would be hand to hand fighting, with swords and axes with their more numerous foe. But Becca, under shields held up for him, got the siphon ready, and when he had his men maneuver closest to the land, he saw thirty or forty Muslims rush into the water, no doubt thinking they might board him.

It was now or never! Maybe they would all blow up together? But he had two men working the bellows, and then he released the first burst of Greek fire. It worked! Deadly, all-consuming fire jetted in a long stream from the horned dragon head, and sprayed the leading Muslim warriors charging forward, and they were immediately running and jumping, burning up and even throwing themselves into the water to no avail, for the flames burned just as fiercely under water. Becca could not help thinking, while this was going on, of Alissa, what these men had done to her. So there was no pitying them, as they had not fought with soldiers of their own strength, but with a mere shepherdess and treated her most shamefully and cruelly, without any pity at all.

Becca then heard shouts, Frankish ones, coming from the heights above, and saw Frankish troops pouring down to attack the Muslims from their rear. Somehow they had eluded the ambush!

Caught between Becca and the Franks, the Muslims still fought ferociously even with all hope gone, but the battle was soon over, and the sloping ground was littered with their bodies, burnt up by Becca's Greek fire or pierced by Frankish swords and arrows, while a fair number had skulls split by Danish and Northmen's axes.

But they could not rest on this victory. They still had to deal with the outlying bands that the imam had sent to ambush Becca.

Rushing back up the slopes, the Franks stormed up to the Lamb Fortress, and took it, for no men could hold it now against them, being so little defended it was hopeless to resist. But the Franks did not disturb anything and shut the gate tight, and they waited, while other forces hid in the rocks round about, rocks that easily swallowed up any number of men they chose to put among them.

It soon happened, what they were awaiting. The Muslim bands that had been sent out to ambush Becca now returned, though warily, their weapons all held ready for any enemies they might meet. The Frankish commander had meanwhile made a running search of the city and captured the imam alive, and forced him to signal to his men to come into the city, and the gate, at the commander's word, was slowly opened.

Just as the Muslims rushed to enter, they were met by the Franks from inside the fortress who charged out at them. From all sides, the other Franks attacked, and the Muslim warriors were annihilated. The imam would have no one left now to fight for him. Only the women and children, and the old people, were left, along with whatever Christians still lived in the vicinity.

Freed at last of their oppressors' cruel yoke, the Basques crept out into the open, from wherever they were hiding. Soon, tentatively at first, then more animated, finally exuberantly, they danced a Basque victory dance. The Frankish commander, Count Chevalier de Rouncevalles, turned the city completely open to them, and told them they could take whatever houses they wished (other than the spoils he himself confiscated for the Emperor, of course!), for the city and citadel had all been theirs after all. Yet the Basques hung back, as if unsure and uncertain that he really meant it. The city was theirs? They seemed as if they couldn't quite accept their own freedom and good fortune, having been treated as slaves for so long.

Becca watched all this taking place, after the fighting was finished and the imam was shackled and set under guard for a journey to the dungeon in Aachen. His whole family had fled, slipped away into the surrounding mountains, during the confusion of battle, so he was going alone to whatever fate Charles decided was his due. That was just as well, Becca thought, for the militant jehadist imam's end would probably not be so pleasant (he would probably be quartered and drawn by horses pulling his limbs in different directions), having taken the role of a military commander instead of sticking to his religious duties at the mosque.

Becca brought his locker and had a sad duty to perform. He took Alissa's family aside among those who had gathered. He could see at a glance that something more was needed to be done to built up the people's confidence in themselves, so that they could take possession of the city as they should, in order to keep it fast.

He went first to the Frankish commander, explained what he was doing, and the Frank turned over some of the imam's and the mosque's treasure (which also contained many items taken from the Basques), which was given to the family, to afford them some solace in their great loss. Wrapped in fine cloth, with the treasure beside it--it was the best Becca could think to do for Alissa's family. Then when the Frankish commander heard that Ranorr was the Basque youth who had led them another way to the citadel, thereby eluding an ambush laid for them by the imam, he was all the more anxious to be generous with the family.

Becca thanked them all, saying that Alissa had warned him just in time, and had given her life to do it. Because of her, his life, and the lives of his men, were spared.

Ranorr, his father and mother, and his younger brothers and sisters seemed to take pride and strength from what he as well as the Frankish commander told them and did for them. As their own parting gift to Becca, they handed him their most precious possession they had, an ornate wooden cross that had some gilt on it which they had saved from the city's overthrow by the Muslims a generation before their time. But Becca's duty was not completed. He took Charles's imperial standard which he had carried up from the ship and climbed up into the tallest tower, the minaret of the mosque, and hung it there from the topmost window. Then he took the cross he had been given and climbed out on the roof and tied it to the topmost spire with leather cords, after pulling off the crescent. Workmen, he knew, would follow and make it more permanent, but that would do for now--he had obeyed the emperor's orders.

The next few days were very busy, of course, as the Franks and Becca too saw to all the details of making the Lamb Fortress defensible again, garrisoning it with selected men, who had indicated they wanted to remain and perhaps marry among the Basques and raise families, though few Franks cared to do that, as the place seemed far too primitive for their tastes and and the mountains too savage and remote.

Fearing to let the fortress go back to the Muslims for want of Frankish residents to defend it, Count Chevalier de Rouncevalles commanded the Basque people, that they should call for more young and vigorous Basque men from outlying areas to come and live there, with their wives and families if they had them, or to marry their elgible women if they didn't, so as to properly defend Laith and keep it a stronghold for the commonwealth of Charles the Great.

"Yes, sir," Ranorr's father assured the commander, "we will send for them, as there is room enough for good, young men to make a living now that our enemies are so reduced in number."

In exchange for this duty, the commander appointed him Count of the city, responsible to Charles the emperor.

As for the captive women, children, and the old people, what would they do with them?

Some pled with the commander, to allow them to remain, even if they should have to become servants and slaves to the Christians. These were assigned to various Basque families who were willing to take them.

Some old people were too sick and infirm to travel, so hearing of them, Becca gave them money, so they would not starve if they remained in their homes. But the others would have to leave as there were no men to support them. About these Becca had a word to the commander.

"Let the women and children go free, sire!" he said to the Count de Rouncevalles. "Let them take the old Roman road and go back to their own people up over the mountains to the south, for they would be a nuisance for you to escort all the way back to Aachen, and this way, they will be no further trouble to you. They cannot fight us. Let them go free. If they wish to accept Christos (as they have had no Savior from their sins, only a prophet until now), then maybe let them remain too if that becomes their desire, and a peacable living will be found here for them--but only if the Basque people accept them peaceably, of course."

The more "civilized" Franks, despite Becca's wise and merciful words that they all thought were exceptional for a barbarian, agreed but made some exception too. They took their pick the female captives for slaves and concubines, since a number were very attractive young women, and the rest were released to find their way out, so only half of what he had asked was done.

Seeing the Franks do this with the young women, Becca shook his head. Would such a woman ever be trusted? What if she took her ravisher's own dagger to his throat when he lay sleeping after he ravished her? Would that be his fault, or his for being so foolish and lustful? Now he was glad he hadn't worn the Cross the Franks emblazoned on their mail shirts. They dishonored the Cross by their behavior, and he wanted to do nothing to follow their poor example and bring discredit to Christos his Lord.

Becca, evenso, after offering the Muslim people Christos, saw most all were determined to leave, so he gave them grain and wine from the fortress. They could take all they could carry to sustain them on their journey, he said. At last, he though, the "Lamb Fortress" had ceased to be a den of wolves and could now become again what its ancient name had described, a haven for peaceful sheep.

Both the Franks and their commander were amazed by this largeness of Becca's heart, but they did not interfere as they knew Becca had Charles' imperial standard and after the hunting expedition a special standing with the emperor even they could not claim. But after the Muslim women and children had gone, he turned to Becca. "You have shown them much mercy today. Why? Do you love these infidels? Why is it that you have a heart to help them? Wherever they end up, they will only breed more infidels for us to have to fight and kill!"

"Sire, years ago I determined I would fight only fighting men like myself, not helpless women and children and the aged. God has blessed me richly for that decision made in my youth, and spared me destruction many times at the hands of my enemies. You yourself have seen and heard what the Lord did for me and my men, have you not? How then can I shamefully defile the Lord's Cross I raised on the tower, staining it with the blood of these ignorant people who happen to follow a false shepherd? I would be a poor disciple of Christos indeed if I behaved like that!"

The commander shook his head doubtfully. "I will do it, but we Franks know these Muslims and their devious ways well, ever since the Hammer gave them a terrible pounding and drove them back into these mountains. The mothers will never let their children forget that this mount was once taken by the House of Islam, as they call it, and once taken, they will never give up claim to it. They feed hatred of us in their mother's milk to their babes!"

"Oh, I believe you!" said Becca. "But we still cannot be as they are, if we follow Christos and his Way, can we? We are called by His holy Name. If we choose to act as they do, nurturing the same kind of hearts of hate, then they will never see cause to change and depart from their false god and his prophet which have done the world so much hurt!"

Franks standing around hearing Becca's words were not happy to hear them, but the count smiled, despite his reservations and misgivings about treating the Muslims with such Christian clemency.

"Indeed, the Lord has been most gracious to you! The eyes and ears of the court are turned in this direction, you may be well assured! The emperor will soon be hearing about the things done here by the hand of God on your behalf! This is a great victory for him, and he will be very pleased with you. No doubt he will grant you lands and a fine castle!"

Becca had to smile in return at that. "But sire, I have my own ship I built with my hands, that is all I wish, not lands and a stone castle on a mount! And no enemies on board either, which might not be the case if I were to accept a rich fief from the emperor, and thus gain the envy and malice of men."

"You are right about that, you great-hearted Dane! We Franks are a people wise in council, noble in physique, radiant in health, excelling in beauty, daring, quick, and tough, but I must say, though you are a barbarian, you are nearly the match of my best Franks! I have seen many great men fall, by the hands of their own trusted underlings. For the world produces those aplenty who will always try to pull down greater men. There are always base men who wish to take away what you won with your own courage and arms. Even the emperor is not immune from such low vermin and must keep a large bodyguard posted at all times of the day and night. Best keep your one ship then, and so sleep easily at night with your good wife than lie awake in a fine castle and assassins are hiding in the window curtains!"

"But I am not married, I have no wife," Becca replied.

"Well, then, be thankful for that too, Dane, as someone else might be warming your side of the bed while you are off fighting the infidel!"

They both laughed, and what had been an uncomfortable scene now relaxed and the Franks were friends with Becca once again.

Becca turned away and then saw Ranorr standing not far off, looking his direction. There was something in his glance, and Becca went over to him. But the youth did not want to say anything, he started off walking, and Becca understood and followed him.

Ranorr led Becca, who was increasingly curious, away from Laith and along the river up the gorge until they finally came to the Great Stone Face. Yet there was more to it than a face of some bygone emperor or ruler carved in the living rock, as Becca soon discovered.

Ranorr scrambled down the steep slopes, as only a native could, and Becca followed slowly with difficulty, holding onto rock while trying to put his feet wherever Ranorr had put his.

Beneath them was the dark, rushing water, and so a fall would give them a most nasty shock in the ice-cold and rocky-bottomed stream.

Then Becca saw Ranorr vanish in thin air.

He climbed down to where he last saw Ranorr, and found a cleft in the rock.

Though the hole he saw a large room, caught a glimpse of the youth, and pillars of some underground temple!

It astonished him, that such a hidden place had been here a long time evidently, many hundreds or thousands of years perhaps, and Ranorr knew of it! What could it be? Perhaps Ranorr knew the secret of the place?

He followed Ranorr in, and the pillared room proved to be only an entrance, for the main chambers lay beyond, deep down in the bedrock of the mountain. Ranorr went quickly, as the steps were lighted from something like living fire in them, and Becca had to move quickly too lest he lost sight of him. Finally, Ranorr came to the ground floor of the huge, cavern like chamber, and he stood gazing at a blue-glowing crystal he had selected from the other glowing objects.

He then turned to Becca, and presented it to him. Becca understood. This was Ranorr's reason for bringing him here, he wanted to give Becca his benefactor something precious, and this was the best thing he had. Becca took the crystal, and did not know what to say or what to do with it, but he thanked Ranorr. But there were far more things to look at than one crystal, and Becca set the crystal down as Ranorr went to show him other things as well.

Becca found especially intriguing a certain mirror-like item that glowed with life and showed scenes of some land he had never imagined. Where could it be? It held all sorts of objects the earth did not have, but some of which he saw here in the cavern, both broken and unbroken mixed together.

But Ranorr did not pause long in this chamber, and led his benefactor further on to a yet larger chamber. Here were huge serpent-twined columns, an obelisk and other crystals of various shapes, all glowing color, light, and power.

Beyond that chamber was a third, just as impressive, for held a vast pool or lake. In it Becca observed huge floating globes, that seemed alive as they moved this way and that, but always in line, serenely cruising along the shores.

What were they? What could they be for? Who created them? All these things Becca wondered as he gaved at these marvels of what seemed to be crystal.

The serene scene was soon disturbed dramatically, however, when Ranorr picked up a stone, as youth characteristically do, and flung it at the first and biggest of the floating globes.

The crystal globe erupted, changing colors, and the water churned around it. Becca saw that they might have to leave the area, if the crystal got even angrier, as it seemed it might.

He was right, as the crystal did not subside, but began shooting out bolts, forcing Becca and Ranorr to run for their lives.

They made it safely into the adjoining chamber they had recently left, and Becca, still wanting to leave the entire underground chambers because he felt danger in the air, turned to see if he might take the crystal with him that Ranoor had given him.

He found it, but it too was agitated, shooting forth a cloud of electricity in a highly charged field around it.

Becca could see others too in the chamber were doing the same thing. He knew now that their presence was abhorred by the objects in the place, and he wanted only to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Ranorr had the same instincts he had, apparently, for he was running already. Becca let him go ahead, since he could help him if he fell or got into some difficulty. Both of them made it up the stairs just as huge volumes of blocking rubble cascaded down behind them, sealing off the two large chambers from the entrance. As for the entrance, Ranorr dashed through it, and then came a tremendous rumble and grinding commotion overhead that stopped Becca in his tracks.

The next thing he knew is that the stone under him was rocking and heaving as blocking stones, weighing tons each, fell down, completely crushing the entrance pillars and filling the space immediately ahead of him.

Thrown down, Becca lay in the darkness and flying dust, his arms over his head, in an instinctive attempt to shield his head and face.

Gradually, stones stopped falling, and the thundering noise died away. He realized he had escaped, and felt sure he hadn't been crushed in any of his limbs, as he could move them all. Somehow, not a single behemoth had touched him, as he hadn't yet stepped through the portal into the entrance, which now was completely blocked up.

Was Ranorr dead under the rocks? He could not believe he had escaped. Yet he began calling out.

After a few calls, he heard a sound, someone was answering!

"Ranorr?" he shouted with his might.

Yes, he heard the youth's voice, it was Ranorr, but where was he?

Becca had to find out, he just couldn't lie there in the dark, without trying to reach Ranorr if he could.

He climbed up the boulders facing him, and discovered that they didn't quite reach the ceiling of the entrance chamber.

He crawled up and into the space above the blocking stones, not expecting the crack would go any further. But he found it did. In fact, there was a larger cavity or crawl space over the rocks, winding but long enough for him to climb further, and reach toward the entrance far enough so that he at least saw light. Light! He saw a wedge of light in which there was a face--Ranorr's!

Climbing up toward the wedge of light, he found not only that he was still blocked in, for he couldn't get through the space, but Ranorr had vanished. Ranorr! he called out long and hard, but the youth never answered, and the echoes returned, mocking the trapped caller. What was Ranorr thinking? he wondered. Leaving him like that, without a word?

It seemed hours in that confined space, but Becca heard a scratching sound, and crawled back up to the crack to see if he might look out. Perhaps it was Ranorr? He fully expected Ranorr, but instead he saw a strange face, that of a dark-bearded little old man, who had a bag of some kind of tools suspended from a rope over his head. Amazed, Becca could not think to say or do anything, but simply watched to see what the visitor would do.

The stranger did not seem to be put off by Becca's plight, but inched forward until he was within reach of the area he had chosen to work on.

Pulling out his hammer and chisel, he set to work. Clip by chip he began to reduce the stone in front of Becca. It was softer limestone, somewhat eroded already, and much easier to remove than the blocking stones, which were solid granite.

He continued at this for some time, and Becca thought he might as well try some words, and after a while the mason, for such he seemed to be, paused, looking directly at him. "My name is Johanan," he said simply, using Frankish language. "And you, sir?"

Frankish words, and some well-recognized words from other languages, all came to use as the conversation continued, proceeding with many starts and lapses, of course, as Becca and the rabbi got to know one another better and how each thought. But this was no problem they hadn't known before. The peoples of that day, mingling together for business or trade or even government and war, if they wanted to do business in any part of Charles' vast, diverse empire, needed to make do with a word-stock that contained words from many languages. Since stone masonry of this type cannot be hurried, they had plenty of time to find the proper words if they could to communicate.

Becca learned a little more as each searched each other out. This man was Jewish, he was a rabbi, and lived in the Lamb fortress with his wife and two girls. They resided in the crypt under the imam's palace, which had been a church. It was there they hid after the Franks took charge, and were safe enough there until they came out to greet the new commander.

"Weren't you afraid of the Franks?" Becca wanted to know.

"Oh, I know they call themselves Christians, and we have suffered often from some Christians in the past who hated us, those saying we killed their Christos, but I didn't fear them moreso than our captors, who were cruel enough as infidels go. They only kept us alive so I could serve as the mason, doing repairs. No one wanted my work. But they fed us worse than their donkeys of course! As you can see, sir, we barely kept our skin on our bones!"

Becca could see the man was telling the plain truth. He was very thin, and his color was pale too, so it was clear that he seldom saw the sun.

The hours flew rather swiftly, as their conversation picked up. It was amazing to Becca how brilliant the little man was, as he squeezed out meaning from every Frankish word they knew in common to get across many different things.

The topics ranged more and more afield.

Becca mentioned the cave and its contents at one point.

The mason-rabbi seemed interested.

"There are marvels in it, far beyond what ordinary men could create," he told Johanan.

He tried describing them, then asked who could be the beings that created such wonders.

The rabbi had an answer! He was sure about it too!

"They are the Nephillim, and the rabbis and teachers of old have written much other about them and their acts. They are the Fallen Ones, a race of what you call giants today. But they were really the Titans, as the Greeks of old named them, and though they were indeed fallen from God's kingdom of heaven, they were not necessarily giant in stature. Yet they were superhuman in powers, and they lived upon the earth at one time, and came and intermarried with humans, with the lovely ones of the womenfolk that they picked out for their pleasure. And they bred children from them, half-human and half-Titan. These children grew and waxed great and became the Giborim, the mighty hunters with bow and sword and slingshot, such as Nimrod who built the Tower of Babel and defied God. But the Flood came, by the command of God Almighty, and destroyed them all.

How could that be, rabbi? Becca asked. You mean they are all dead? Is this place they built down in the mountain then so great in age, that it was fashioned before the Great Flood of Noah?

Johanan didn't know the answer, but he replied it might be that old, or even older.

But what if it isn't, what if it is something done after the Flood. Wouldn't that mean the Titans, or at least some survivors of the Flood, are still alive?

The rabbi thought that was possible, and he hurried to clear away the last portion of stone blocking Becca's way out.

Becca was amazed that he was free when he finally tried the hole and was able to squeeze out. He hung there for a few moments, breathing the air of a free man--how delicious the fresh air and light was, not like the prison inside the blocked chamber!

He turned to thank the rabbi, but the rabbi didn't wait for any such thing and after a yank or two on the rope, he was drawn up by the Franks who kept hold on the rope on the crags above.

Becca waited for his turn, but suddenly a bundle of old clothes fell past his shoulder and tumbled into the river. Looking back over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of the rabbi, in the water, being taken by the swift currents downstream.

As if to answer his question, the rope came falling next, the bag of tools still attached to it! And he heard Franks' laughter echoing from above him! He didn't have time to think. He had to do something now!

He knew he might strike rocks under the water, but he gave a Danish war whoop and jumped.

The water was just as much a shock as he anticipated. He ignored it, however, and swam as fast as he could to catch up with the rabbi, who was drowning, face down but being carried with the swift current.

Rocks stood out of the current in many places, dangerous to any boat, but one of these snagged the rabbi, and Becca reached him just before he slipped off and back into the main current and was lost forever. He seized the rabbi under his arm. Lunging toward the river's shore, Becca reached the rocks nearest him and with the rabbi still tucked under his arm got ahold of a rock and pulled himself up.

There on a flattish rock he set to work trying to revive the rabbi if he could.

Being a water-born Dane, acquainted much with drowning men, he knew ways land-dwelling folk did not know. He pushed and pushed, then breathed in his own breath into the rabbi's lungs, and did this until the rabbi suddenly got rid of all the water he had swallowed and began gasping for air.

His eyes opened, and he lay weakly on the rock, but he was alive.

Becca was overjoyed the rabbi would be able to rejoin his wife and family and not leave his wife a widow and his childrfen orphans--especially with Franks in charge who might not want to help them since they were Jews.

That thought reminded him. He had some business to complete with the Franks!

You couldn't cross a Dane so badly and not expect a fury that was beyond description to seize upon his whole being. A very stern, icy-cold look took over his expression, replacing the joy. Danes looked like that whenever their whole being was affronted by some deed of base treachery, and there was hell for somebody to pay who had injured them with.

Becca glanced up at the crags above that lined the narrow gorge, but he could see no one.

Perhaps, the rabbi's persecutors thought they had taken care of two birds with one stone--getting rid of both the Jew and his protector, with their bodies floating somewhere downriver for the birds and fishes to devour.

Well, Becca was very much alive, and the rabbi too, and they would soon see how wrong they were!

It took Becca's great stamina to get the rabbi back up to the top of the gorge, as they couldn't get to the Laith Fortress by going downriver, not with the sides of the gorge so steep and full of fallen boulders.

When they reached the top, at first they saw no one, but soon a Frank came forward from the rocks and greeted Becca, a surprised look on his face. He also glanced at the rabbi, and was even more surprised.

The Frank's face went ashen. "You mean you saved the Jew?" he cried. "You saved him?"

Becca seized the Frank before he could even draw his weapon, and was throttling him as he demanded, "Yes, what of it? I am a Christian! I didn't come here to kill innocent Jews! Were you the one holding his rope and you let it go?"

"No, no!" the Frank gasped. "Let me go! Several held the rope that let the Jews down and then cast him into the river. I will lead you to them. You can do with them as you wish then."

Becca released his deadly, iron-like grip, and the Frank, the moment he was free, took off running.

Becca followed, despite his recent ordeal in the river, he summoned his reserve of strength and ran even faster, and jumped and brought the Frank down. He soon had him subdued.

"I'd kill you right now, you bastard of a dog and a pig," Becca growled into the Frank's ear, "except I want to know what happened. Who did this to the Jew--you, or were there others?"

He tightened his grip round the man's throat.

"I can't tell you!" the man rasped. "They'd kill me if I--"

Seizing his hair and scalp, Becca smacked the man's head on the hard ground, put a fist to his back and stomach a few times, and the man lolled in his grasp, softened up a bit and more likely to tell him what he knew.

"All right, if you won't tell the truth to me, then I will do with you as we Danes customarily do with our betrayers and liars--I will cut off your flesh, strip by strip, show it to you, then proceed to your liver, and thrusting my hand in, I'll rip it out and feed it to you, piece by piece! Is that what you want to happen to you now? Speak, and save your rotten, stinking hide!"

The Frank's eyes rolled with horror in his head, he was so terrified he gasped, "I will lead you to the others who did played this trick on the Jew. I was just watching them amuse themselves. I am not the one you seek!"

Becca shook the Frank all the harder. "Why should I believe you? You may be lying again to me, wretch!" The Frank swore by the name of all the saints and even Christos. "No, this is the truth I say. I will take you to them."

Dragging the Frank along so he couldn't get away a second time, the rabbi following at a distance, Becca found the Franks' camp, and there the commander was present, and he came forward the moment he sighted Becca's red hair.

"I have only now come to find out how you are doing," he said, greeting Becca with his arms out. He glanced down at the Frank that Becca had pinned to the ground with his foot on his neck. And he also saw the Jew standing in Becca's shadow.

"But what is going on? Why are you punishing one of my men? What has he done?"

Becca could hardly hold his temper, but he did, respecting the commander. "You sent some very base men to help us. That is the truth. After this Jew freed me from a rock chamber, they let him and his rope fall into the river, thinking he would perish. And they thought I would concede to the death of a Jew--even if that Jew were my rescuer! I mean to show them how wrong they are. Where are the men? This man tells me he knows who they are, and will point them out to me. I told him I will not kill him as he deserves if he tells the truth. Will you stand in my way, or see that justice is done?"

The commander's face changed expression, and he grew just as stern as Becca looked, and he shook his head. "No, I will not stand in your way, Dane! Go root the guilty ones out. I don't care how many there are. Do with them as you deem best, as they are no longer soldiers I would claim to bear my ensignia. I will never countenance such evil sport being made of my own allies. I befriended the Jew, and I was right about him, for he has done you good service and me as well in your rescue, so how could I accept such base treatment in return of the Jew?--so do with those men, according to your own people's law, just as you please, Dane, for I wash my hands of them!"

To put real power in Becca's hands, he granted him his own bodyguard, and Becca then proceeded. As for his own men, he thought to send for them, but in the meantime he had the bodyguard, in case there was a mutiny in the Franks against their own commander's authority.

His pigeon in tow, Becca strode into the midst of the Franks, and they parted to let him pass.

"There, that one!" said the pigeon pointing to one man.

Immediately, he was seized by the commander's bodyguards and held.

Another, and yet another were identified and taken. Six in all were seized and then dragged the testing ground that Becca selected.

According to Danelaw, he selected the first of them taken, and questioned him, putting him to the test.

"Speak truth to me, and you will fare better. Speak lies, or do not speak at all, and you will suffer the consequences.

"Did you cast the Jew into the river, when you knew he was my benefactor and sent by your own commander to my aid? Speak!" The Frank remained silent, holding to his oath binding all of his own blood, his eyes showing how much he hated aliens, Becca and Johanan standing nearby.

Becca left him alone for the moment, then went to the rest, and each in turn followed the first in refusing to speak.

Becca then turned to face the other Franks, other than the bodyguards. "Will you put them to death for their base treachery to a friend of mine and for their dishonoring a command of your commander, or must I do it according to my Danelaw?"

The whole atmosphere suddenly grew tense, strained. The Franks, shoulder to shoulder, refused to let a foreigner part them from their own blood and strenuously declined. They were opposed to a man to punish one of their own, and they looked as if they wanted to fight anyone to the death who attempted such a thing.

Becca glanced over to the commander, and he saw the look of disgust on the commander's face. He was taking no chances either, and had his sword drawn.

Becca then turned to do his duty, to avenge the Jew on his attackers and also to vindicate the commander's honor, which had been betrayed by these six men and even by his own force in not taking the men and doing what was just to do to wipe away the crime.

He drew his knife, and went to the first man, who was then, at his order, pinned on a big flat rock, his shirt mail stripped off, and his chest bared to his flaying knife.

But it was well for Becca that his crew showed up, word having gone down to them that their captain needed them. Who had sent it? Nobody could say after these events--but they were informed to make haste, with all their arms, including what was left of the Greek fire.

Rushing, they came to the encampment just in time to interpose themselves between the Franks and Becca. As for the bodyguard of Franks assigned to them, Becca had already sent them back to their commander, saying, "I will not ask you to defend me against your own comrades! My God, Christ, stands with me, and He is enough!"

Standing in rows with their bows drawn, the Northmen and Danes stood facing the equally armed force of Franks.

The Danes and Northmen of Becca's company were vastly outnumbered, of course, but they had Greek fire, which everyone knew by now would turn their arrows into firebrands of hell that cannot be extinguished in a man's flesh.

This sobered the Franks, who saw that many of them would now die horribly if they rushed at Becca to rescue the six men in his hands.

As they fell back somewhat confused, Becca thought to try one more word with them, to take away some the fire in their hearts if possible. Though he had Greek fire, and his archers' could dip their arrows in it before sending them into the Franks, he was loath to use it against his own allies with whom he had shared a battle and victory over the Muslims.

"Hear me, Franks! Becca the Red, son of Rasmus, wishes only peace and amity with you. We are not your blood, but we are under the same Cross as you, and the same standard of your Emperor and great King. Your commander only wishes peace amongst us in this war with the infidel. So why are we arrayed against each other? This is a sorry pass! Christians against Christians--it is a terrible shame to see this happen. These men given into my hands have betrayed the both of us, have they not? Think on it. They did not count the Cross of the Christ anything worthy, as they dirtied it with their own base treachery against an innocent man who had befriended and rescued me from the rock tomb. My Holy Rune-book, and yours in your tongue, says that those who bless Israel will be blessed by God, and those who curse Israel, meaning the Jew, will be cursed by God..."

He paused, and saw his words were creating some second thoughts, if the expressions changing from fury and anger to something approaching shame and even pious fear of God began to spread among the hundreds of faces.

Would you want that shameful stain on your own Crosses which you bear across your mail shirts--a stain that heaven itself would see and abhor? No! You wouldn't, not if you are men of noble heart! But if you defend these blackguards now, and fight us innocent men for them and approve their crimes against the people of our own Christos, then you are one with them and their crimes in the eyes of Christ whose banner you hold and serve under. What say you? Will you resist a just punishment due them, or will you change?

There was a rumble that sounded and rolled like thunder that passed through the massed ranks of the Franks--and it gathered volume, until finally it was a resounding "NO!" that echoed in all the nearby canyons.

"Will you then stand with me for the sake of the Cross?"

An equally thunderous "YES" greeted his ears, reverberating and rolling away into the distance, and the entire atmosphere changed, from outrage and anger to something closer to peace and agreement.

Just as amazed as anyone that this happened, Becca turned back to the traitors.

Everyone watching his every move, he drew his knife which was sharper than even his sword and went up to the first, then took a sharpening stone from an inner pocket in his hair shirt. Whetting it against the stone, he eyed the first of the traitors. The man's eyes widened, and he struggled in the hands of the Northmen holding him. His chest was bared, and open now to the knife.

Becca knelt down and put the point of the knife to the man's ribs, where the skin was most tender and sensitive. The man gasped. His eyes squeezed shut and he groaned, trying to twist away from the point of that Becca's knife.

"No, I have thought of something more painful than carving this roast! I will try that first.

Everyone was amazed. What could be worse than flaying the man and then making him eat his own liver and other organs piece by piece until he expired in utter agony?

Commander on down to the last Frank, the six hundred man force and the allied Danes and Northmen watched spell-bound as Becca drew aside Toari, his second in command, and then Toari hurried away, got two leather goatskin waterskins and brought them. Toari slit the one, using the other to give the man a drenching, including pouring water into his mouth that the Northmen held open. He sputtered and gasped as he spat out water. That done, Toari slit the other waterskin, poured that water over the man again, with his fellow Franks of the six captives looking on, with the same results. Then Toari cut and made one big square piece of it. This he handed to Becca.

"Tell me," he commanded the man pinned the rock, "what did you do with the Jew? And who helped you? Tell me the truth and we will not deal so harshly with you and let you live."

Despite his sodden, bedraggled state, the Frank turned his face aside, refusing to talk. Becca then glanced at the other five, being held as spectators of the first to be made an example of. They too were solidly allied, all defiant.

"Very well then," said Becca with a slight smile, "we'll have to do our best as barbarians, according to our own uncouth practices, regarding this man to get the rest of you to see reason and tell us everything we wish to know."

The man on the ground groaned, shut his eyes, and clearly he expected the knife to slice him up into bacon strips, but instead Becca laid the wet goatskin like a blanket over the man's face, and for a moment there was silent, then they all heard horrible shrieks and gasps and he struggled violently to get free but could not, as his body thought he was drowning, though he was not.

The Franks were all laughing at this time, some holding their stomachs they were laughing so hard!

An old Danish custom to get traitors to tell the whole truth, it worked like a charm most every time. It never took very long, before the culprit went half-mad with an irrational fear of drowning and spilled everything he knew.

Terror was still starkly livid in his bulging eyes as Becca yanked off the wet leather skin from the man's face.

"Speak!" he commanded.

And the man opened up. He was only to eager, to spare himself that terror of drowning, something he had thought to inflict on the harmless Jewish rabbi.

"Mercy, mercy, Lord Becca sir! I'll tell you what we did! I'll tell you all!"

And indeed he did tell a good portion, breaking the silence they had all vowed to keep. With everyone present hearing every word, he named his five collaborators, and, what's more, babbled on about how they had plotted to...then one of the other captive Franks stuck his foot out and kicked him, and he stopped, remembering his oath to his confederates.

Becca saw this and grabbed the one who kicked the interrogated man into silence, and threw him to the ground and put his foot square on his neck, pinning his face to the dirt, weeds and rough rock while he proceeded to receive the rest of the testimony.

He motioned to Toari to administer the "water skinning" as it was called. He then addressed the man. "I'll have to teach you another lesson? Hard for you to tell the truth, eh?"

But the moment the nauseating, dripping wet, clinging, membrane-like skin of a goat touched the Frank's quivering face, his body remembered with a terrific, uncontrollable revulsion, and he convulsed on the rock, and cried for mercy again, and Becca had the horrifying thing removed.

"My forefathers were so cunning, this is a most wonderful torture for criminals," thought Becca. "It works on these low, filthy dogs every time, but didn't require letting a drop of their stinking blood befoul my clean knife or sword blade!

This time the culprit did spill all. He couldn't help himself and also added that the drowning of the Jew was just a bit of fun they had together, not expecting that Becca would make such a big fuss about it. But the main thing was that they had planned to turn the fortress back to the Muslims, betray it with its slim force of defense to the mountain Muslims, for a certain sum of gold in advance of course! The cabal of Six were part of those who had volunteered to remain behind, which gave them ready access to the gates. They had seen this as their main chance to get rich quickly without having to risk their lives fighting for it. And once the six sacks of Byzantine gold solidi, each to be the size of waterskins, were theirs in hand, they would fly to some other country, preferably in the East where they would be safer from Charle's revenge, to enjoy the money in any way they chose. It had seemed the perfect plan, only the little affair of the Jew had messed everything up!

By this time, the waterskin-broken man was weeping, his nose running with his tears, and Becca was too disgusted to spend anymore time on him. Imagine, a dog was one thing, but a sniveling puppy feeling sorry for himself? Where was this man's dignity?

He rose and faced the whole gathering. It had been an ugly confrontation just a short time before, offering to end in the deaths of himself and his men and many of the Franks too, but now all was changed. The Franks all looked abashed and ashamed at what fellow Franks, their own blood, had plotted and would have carried to completion but for Becca and his choosing to defend a "mere Jew" who had been thought fair game for persecution up to then.

Becca knew what they were thinking.

He had Toari escort the rabbi to a high enough place where all could see him.

Becca pointed to him.

"This brave man saved my life, in freeing me from the blocked chamber in the mountain cave. He has been done a great disservice for his kindness to me. Your commander sent him to my aid, and, look how he was rewarded." He lifted the rabbi's hand and held it, then challenged the Franks, including the commander who was witnessing all this drastic reversal of fortune.

"What is your thought now toward this innocent man? Should he be rewarded for his kindness, and also for the ordeal he suffered at the hands of these base traitors?"

The whole company did not hesitate. They lifted their weapons and shields and roared their approval.

Becca was satisfied. "It will be done!" he shouted back.

He then had Toari and others escort the rabbi back with an honor guard, along with many Franks who wanted to join in, to the Fortress. They carried him on their shoulders!

As for the traitors, he turned them back to their commander.

"I have no desire to punish them or avenge myself on them for almost drowning me too, I only wanted the truth, and since we now have it, these men are yours to deal with. As for the one who spoke the truth, even if forced a bit, show him some mercy and spare his life. The one who stopped him from telling me the truth, I loathe, he is a dog, so give him what he richly deserves. As for the remaining four, that is up to your discretion. We know the Christos would give them all a chance to repent, lest their souls be lost to the fires of hell! Let the priest first offer them repentance, sir! I do no punish men's souls, nor does the Lord!"

The commander nodded grimly, took charge of the men, and Becca and his crew were free to return to the squadron in the river.

But he did not go there immediately. He followed the rabbi's entourage into the Fortress, intending to seek a final word with the man who saved his life and perhaps reward him further. After all, the rabbi must have a family hidden somewhere, he thought, and how were they faring and being treated under their new masters the Franks? He would go personally and find out. What he hadn't thought of was that word of everything proceeded him, so that he had a great surprise for himself in store.

The arrival of the Jew, attended by both Franks and Becca's men as a great man might be, had captivated the whole attention of the people and soldiers of the Fortress. Word of what had happened with Becca and the traitors, and how their city was spared betrayal back into the hands of the Muslims--who surely would have beheaded every single one of them in vengeance, not sparing even the women, boys, and little girls from rape, or being forced to watch their own mothers and sisters molested-- made the people all the more jubilant, even to the point of hysteria!

As Becca walked through the gates swung open to him by the guards, he found the whole populace of Laith packed tighly into the narrow street beyond, cheering him and his men with an exuberance that only the Basques could muster! Becca's ears, which were not so used to the shrieking ululation of the women, were deafened temporarily as the crowd erupted. Both men and women were bathed in tears of joy and relief. They all certainly knew they had just been spared certain death and destruction, and they all knew it beyond any doubt. If not for Becca, they would have lost everything. He was so astonished even so, not having planned any of the events of the day, and know how impossible it was for him at every point to make it all come out right, but then Ranorr and his father came running up to him, bowing and even kissing his hands.

This mad adulation, amounting to almost a worship of him, disturbed Becca's spirit. He had to do something to let them know that this was not right. He was not their Savior! Only Christ was!

He saw a priest and had him come forward to him. "Have you a prayer thanking God for deliverance from our enemies?"

Yes, he did, the priest replied.

He had the priest raise his cross that he carried on a chain and the people quietened and the madness that was almost worship of Becca died down sufficiently for the priest to lead the people in the prayer.

Becca knelt too, joining the thanks to God, to Christ who had given them the victory, not by the strong arms and cunning of men.

When the people arose, Becca addressed them.

"Friends, I came here only to help you, though ignorant of the deadly perils of your mountain home. I was sent by my great king, Charles of the Franks and many other peoples too, to regain this city and fortress for your people and also for securing his border lands from bands lawless men. I hear your enemies have a word for your craggy home, Laith, which means lion in their language, but your original name for this city, which I cannot pronounce, means Lamb Fortress. Well, I know both a Lamb and a Lion, He is Yeshua, the one you call Jesus the Christos. Yeshua the Lam delivered me from my sin, paying my penalty before God and making me his son. But here I found out I needed the power of Christ the Lion to deliver me out of the hands of our enemies. He sent an earthquake, as he promised me shortly before the earth shook and the rocks fell down blocking the river. He sent it just in time, before the flood reached me and my ships. Instead of being swept down and destroyed, and all of us drowned, we were spared, so that we could help you throw off the yoke of your oppressors, the Muslims of Mohammed the prophet of blood-letting.

So you see, I did not escape death, and my men with me, by anything I did, but it was by the miracle and mercy of God, the Christos whose Cross you reverence. Thanks to Him, my life was spared from our deadly enemies, and so we were able then to go and fight them, together with the Franks. Again, I was spared my life, when I was caught inside a cave in the mountains near here. But the commander listened to the council of the Lord, and sent a Jew to use his masonry skills to free me from a rocky tomb. Again, I was powerless, but the Lord delivered me as He had promised.

Becca paused and looked out over the whole crowd, and saw everyone was listening and waiting for what he might say next.

What could he say, his heart was so full, he found it hard to speak. But he decided to tell them everything, for he knew he wouldn't come this way again.

"My work is done, and I must leave you, friends, soon, but here is what I have on my heart that I must tell you. Yeshua is the Lord God of all, and he is your Lord Christos. Jews live among you, as I know by the man sent to set me free from the cave in the mountainside. He is a rabbi, a learned man of his ancient people chosen of God, holding the holy scriptures precious. Do not molest or hinder him in any way. Treat him well for my sake, but remember that he is from Christ's own Chosen people the Israelites. Evil men have spread wicked lies. His people did not kill Christ, as their enemies have often charged. He is Lord of the Universe, and the wicked were but chaff in his thresher. Could they take and slay Him, who is Almighty? No, of course not, but He willingly laid down his life for our sake, to take away all our sins, so that we could become true children of God. Do not persecute him and his people, as the base traitors, the six men whom we have caught in the act, have done. They have shown they are the Devil's own serpents and would have destroyed you all, Gentile and Jew--it mattered nothing to them who you were, they cared only for their own enrichment, all at your mortal expense. As God's Word promises, love the Jew and love one another, and you will be greatly blessed in this place. God said it, that he would bless those who blessed His people. Remember, it was our sins that nailed Christ to the cross. God allowed His Son to suffer this, that He might provide a means for our salvation. Angels stood ready by the thousands to go to the defense of Christ, but Christ never called them to His aid, as He was determined to do His Father's will alone as the Lamb of God."

Becca was surprised at himself, declaring such things as though he were a holy oracle or preacher of the Word of God! But he couldn't help himself, the words came unbidden to his lips, straight from his heart and spirit, and better try to hold back a bursting spring torrent in the mountains with mere human hands than stem the outpourings of God's Word!

Becca turned, then saw Rabbi Johanan standing at the edge of the crowd. He knew then that this was the reason for his coming, that this man might be spoken for and defended. It even crossed his mind to ask if the rabbi would go with him, so he could introduce him to Charles when he made his report to the emperor.

But he needed to end his address to the crowd. "Farewell, I will go to my friend, the Jew, and say my goodbye. Peace to all!"

He moved away, his own men acting as escorts to help him get through the throng, but the people clung to him, and it was difficult to get through all the rejoicing people as he tried to reach the rabbi. But when he reached the other end of the square, the rabbi had vanished. Where?

He didn't want to frighten the people by taking his crewmen along, so he had them remain in the public square the numbers of people reassured them despite the many soldiers about, both Frank and Dane, and, where they would be no source of unease in a city that had known far too much disturbance of late.

Going alone, he was exposed to any Muslim soldiers still lurking in the cellars and corners of the tightly crammed houses, but he had his hand ready at his sword in case he met with any assassin.

He had heard from the rabbi that there was a former church turned warehouse by the Muslims, that still sheltered him and his family.

It took quite a search, but finally he came upon a building that looked like it had been a church at one time. Inside, there were some surviving features of a church that the Muslims had not bothered to destroy--fragments of fresco art and bits of mosaics in the floors and ceilings and walls. Bags of broken open and emptied grain lay strewn about, for the warehouse had been raided after its keepers had fled, taking all they could carry.

He came to a boarded up doorway, but the boards parted, he discovered, and he was able to slide through and found a stairwell opening beyond it in the gloom.

He drew his sword just in case a Muslim was hiding out there, and made his way carefully down the broken stone steps.

At the bottom of a dozen or more steps he found another wooden barrier, but it too had been breeched, and he was able to work his way through it without having to break it down with his feet.

He called out, and then heard a shuffle of feet and low, muffled voices.

After a few moments he could see more distinctly and found he was in a crypt of the demolished church.

And the rabbi was standing a few feet away!

Becca greeted him, and the rabbi graciously invited him to enter his quarters, such as they were in the crypt.

Going through an arched doorway, Becca stepped into a larger area that opened on various small chapels where stood the biers and remains of various saints and martyrs of Roman persecutions, though long forgotten by the world.

Rabbi Johanan spoke to his wife, introducing their guest, and she did not come forward to greet him, but stood behind her husband after a brief nod to him.

Becca noticed two small children, and heard several more in the shadowed recesses of the chamber.

"So are you comfortable here?" he asked the rabbi. "Or would you rather wish to move back to the synagogue you told me about?"

The rabbi smiled thinly, and shook his hand.

"Sir, we have not dared do such a thing, and they only left us alone here, as the Muslim people are most superstitious, and fear ghosts and spirits of the dead and particularly those of infidels, which they call us, though they also call us 'People of the Book". We would have been killed if we had tried to live in our own synagogue and the house of the rabbis attached to it. But here, well, we were atleast spared our lives, as no one wished our death enough to hazard himself among the spirits of the dead."

Spirits of the dead, indeed! But it certainly did smell rank and dead down in that place! And Becca could see that it was hardly suitable for human beings, being fit for only a house of the dead. However revered a place it was to Christians of past generations, the living would find it very unhealthy. Surely they could remove their household now that the Franks were in charge?"

"Will you rather move, Rabbi, if I defend and help you do it?"

The rabbi seemed to be speechless.

No one before ever had offered such help. He had a hard time standing, in fact, as he went to a pillar and leaned against it for a few moments as he gazed at Becca. He seemed as if he couldn't believe his own ears.

"Would you really help us, sir? No one else will allow us to do that, unless you have the power and wish to use it on our behalf."

"Yes! I do have that power, and I will use it! But you needn't thank me for a special favor, rabbi. You delivered me from the cavern, which would have been my tomb except for your setting me free! My life is spared because of you! Be prepared to move. When can you be ready?"

The rabbi spoke rapid-fire to his spouse, and she hurried away with two children clutching at her robe.

"We are ready, sir! We have so few things, only a few spoons and bowls, a blanket or two we all share, and a few clothes. Just give my wife time to gather up the baby and the children, and I the Torahs and the other books hidden here, and we will follow you!"

"May I see them first?" asked Becca after the rabbi slid aside the blocking slab from the hidden collection.

Handing Becca a lamp, the rabbi stood aside and Becca slid into the low-arched space on his belly and the rabbi's lamp shed light on a mass of parchment scrolls and vellum books, all looking very ancient.

He gathered his arm full of them and slid back out. "Can you tell me what they are, rabbi?"

Johanan quickly read them off to him, one by one, for he knew all the languages of scholars--Latin, Syriac Greek, Aramaic, Babylonish or Chaldean, and a number more obscure.

"Cicero's 'Hortensius," Virgil's 'Georgics,' Polybius's 'History of Famous Romans and Greeks,' the Argonautica by Apollonius, the Oracles of Enoch, Julius Caesar's "Gallic Wars"...even an account by the ancient Greek mariner, Kolaios of Samos whose ship had passed through the Pillars of Hercules and explored the boundless Ocean beyond and journeyed to Britannica among other far-flung isles.

The Torahs, of course, were the rabbi's chief delight, and he selected them out from the profane writings and placed a special Jewish prayer shawl, a talith, over them to protect them for the short journey back to the synogogue where they had once lain.

Becca watched the rabbi taking the greatest care with the Torahs, and thought to ask him a little about them in the time he had remaining there.

"Tell me, Rabbi, what do you think about the one we call Lord Christos, our Savior, do you regard him as your Messiah?"

The rabbi did not seem put out by the question. He had the scrolls of the Rambam and some others equally authoritative, and so he showed Becca what the earliest rabbis held and taught concerning the Messiah, particularly as the the Prophet Isaiah had spoken of him.

First he spoke of Jonathan ben Uzziel in the 1st century A.D. His Targums on Isaiah 53 began, "Behold my servant messiah shall prosper..."

"Clearly he identified the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 with the Messiah. And Uzziel was heavily quoted by the early rabbis and he was a great voice for all Jewry," the rabbi said.

He then picked up a centuries-old copy of the Zohar, thought to have been composed by Simon bar Yochai in the 2nd century and read a passage, "There is in the garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the sons of sickness; this palace the Messiah then enters, and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him. And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israrel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for transgression of the law; and this is that which is written, 'Surely our sicknesses he hath carried,' which was taken from the prophet Isaiah."

This said, the rabbi paused to see if Becca was following him, and he seemed to see that truly he was, so he continued to open the treasures of the rabbinical library to this green-eyed, inquisitive northern barbarian who seemed so fascinated by Jewish lore.

Becca understood more than the rabbi thought, for he saw the Zohar quoted from Isaiah 53:4, since he never forgot what he had read, it was branded forever on his memory. He also understood that the passage made Israel distinct from the One referred to in the passage, and, furthermore, the ancient text by Simon bar Yochai recognized the vicariousness and substitutional element, the Lamb in the Messiah, who took upon himself the suffering due to Israel for their sins.

And the rabbi wasn't finished opening the documents to his Danish guest! He read from the Babylonian Talmud: "The messiah--what is his name...those of the house of Rabbi Yuda the Sain say, 'The Sick one,' as it is said, 'Surely he hath borne our sicknesses'".

The moment Becca heard that, he instantly understood that the Babylonian Talmud also took the Isaiah passage to refer to the Messiah. And the rabbi confirmed this in several more manuscripts he plucked from Becca's arm--the Midrash Thanhumi, the Sepher Ha-Gilgalim, and the Midrash Cohen. The last puts the following words in the mouth of the prophet Elijah, as Elijah says to the Messiah:

"Bear thou the sufferings and wounds wherewithy the Almighty doth chastise thee for Israel's sin;" and so it is written, 'He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities,' until the time when the end should come."

For Becca, these few minutes formed a rabbinical Torah school, a synagogue school, all in one-- with this marvelous teacher, Rabbi Johanan. He could never have put these things together, and so quickly too. He learned more in a few minutes than most scholars learned in years of intensive language study and then translation of the ancient texts composed in many difficult, even extinct languages!

Becca could see, as the rabbi's teaching continued, that here was a man of God who believed the most ancient rabbis and their teachings on the Messiah. What followed was the "Yom Kippur prayer, or Day of Atonement Prayer, also called the Musaf Prayer. Rabbi Eliezer Kalir in the 7th century composed it:

"Messiah our righteousness is departed from us: horror hath seized us,a nd we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring him up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinnon."

The rabbi rewound the scroll and tucked it back carefully into Becca's arm, and his eyes looked keenly into Becca's. "You have heard now the ancient teachings from the rabbis of old, and this is what they come to in this last text: we are undone! This prayer I just read to you voices the fear that Messiah has departed from the people, the Messiah who already came to us but was rejected. He came and suffered for the people as Isaiah the prophet foretold he would, bearing the sins of our people, which were placed on him alone. Now, the people pray for the Messiah to come back a second time. But I fear too that he shall not return as a Lamb, as he did the first time and was rejected by the elders and leaders of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. No, he shall return as a Lion! We shall suffer much before the eyes of our people are at last opened and we behold him whom we gave to the Romans to suffer and be punished as a criminal--yes, the very one you name as Yeshua of Nazareth! It is a shame they are so ignorant, as they do not know what is going to happen when the Lion-Messiah appears in the future time that is foretold. We as a people did not choose to follow him when he came as a Lamb, and it shall be done severely to us whatever is necessary to open our eyes to him at his second coming."

The rabbi's eyes were so sad at this point, Becca felt himself touched by the man's lifelong pain. What a great man he was facing, Becca felt. Johanan had suffered so much at the hands of the Muslims, but inwardly he suffered far more over the ignorance and fallen state of his own people who did not know the Messiah had already visited them and been turned away from him as an imposter because he did not come first as a Lion and Ruler of the World but as a lowly, suffering Lamb meant for the supreme sacrifice for all sins. But they were blind, they acted ignorantly, misled by the rulers of the Temple, he thought. Didn't Yeshua say so hanging on the Roman cross? And the Christos prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." So how could he hold it against the Jews for blindly rejecting the Messiah, when the Messiah himself forgave them and prayed for them? Yet he knew the Jews were treated by Christians in many places as Christ-killers, something they could not be, as the Lord said no man took, or could take, his life, he willingly laid it down for the sins of the people.

The rabbi's wife hurried up at this pause, tugging at the rabbi's sleeve. They spoke rapidly, a Sephardic language Becca could not possibly follow, and then the rabbi turned back to his gathering of their few possessions into bundles to be carried away. Whole sheets or blankets were used, as it was convenient to be carried, as they had no cart nor could afford to hire one.

When they set out, even the little children each carried a small bundle of a few items! Their caravan drew the attention of the neighbors, for not in their lifetime had any seen the Jews set forth so publicly, as these were the remnant of the once flourishing community in the Lamb Fortress city.

The rabbi led them all to the synagogue turned into a granary. Becca set down a blanket-load of the rabbi's manuscripts and books, and with a big post he wrenched out of a fence, he broke down the barred outer door, having no key for the smaller door.

With screams of joy, the rabbi's wife dropped her bundles and ran forward into the compound, kneeling to kiss the very stones of the little courtyard. Becca turned to the rabbi, and saw his eyes were running with tears!

Did this reunion with their synagogue mean so much? Such an old building long abused by the Muslims would take a lot of mending work before it was restored, but Becca had never seen such joy in anybody as these poor Jews reunited with their ancient synogogue and house of prayer.

Becca forced open the next door as well, and the whole family entered the gloomy building. Inside, they found disorder and a mess of sacks, many recently emptied by looters. But the building itself was not damaged, and could be cleaned and swept out and returned to use, Becca saw, so maybe it wouldn't take as long as he first thought it might. And the family quarters? They had to go round to the back to find them, and they were still intact too, almost ready to be reoccupied. Furniture still could be found in them, as the Muslims did not like much furniture in their dwellings and had no use for the things the last rabbi had left so hastily, being driven out with his family along with the mansucripts he had scooped together from the library.

Becca was so book-minded, he wanted to know first of all if the remaining books had survived somehow the Muslim occupation. So he asked the rabbi to find out, and the rabbi led him to the old library, and here they found only the remnants. A fire in the middle of the stone floor had been made of them a long time before, without the Muslims bothering to clear out the ashes, nor even the pots they had used. The rabbi knelt and stirred the ashes, and found some fragments of several manuscripts. He tenderly wrapped them in his prayer shawl, and they then went to see the rest of the synagoue and open the windows, one by one, to the light and air. Swallows that nested in the eaves and rafters flew in and out as Becca burst the barred shutters and light flooded in.

There was little more he could do then for the rabbi and his family, the synagogue was now back in their possession, but he thought of setting his seal on the re-occupation with the commander before he left the Lion Fortress.

"This holy place is yours, rabbi, with all rights and privileges to keep and enjoy it with your people forever--and know the Commander of the Franks will confirm what is declared here by Becca the Red's hand this day. Do not fear anyone coming to counter-claim it and take it from you by force. No one shall drive you out again, not as long as the word of Charles' stands fast in his Christian realm." Could he really promise such a thing to Jews? Yes, he could! He knew he had the ear of the Emperor and King of the Franks, which few men could boast, despite the king's huge court and wide acquaintance with men of all races, nations, and tribes within his empire. Not even the commander had such access to Charles, nor had he been given the imperial standard as Becca had.

Pausing outside the old synagogue, Becca paused, thinking over the wonderful things the rabbi had patiently opened to him from the writings of the ancient rabbis concerning the Messiah, the One who was both Lamb and Lion. When would the Jews come to know the Messiah as the ancient prophets of Israel and later the Jewish rabbis had revealed and written about him? It would be as the rabbi said, at the time of the Messiah's second coming. But then the sufferings of the world would be most terrible--as the Gentiles sought to destroy Jerusalem and kill all the Jews under the leadership of the Anti-Messiah. The rabbi agreed to all this, that even his people would be deceived into following the Anti-Messiah for a time, and yet he did not forsake his people, bound in darkness as they still were. Well, here at least, he could live in peace with his family and teach such Jews who would in time come to live in the Lamb Fortress again. He could teach them the ancient rabbis' words on the Messiah and perhaps open some of their eyes to Him. That was evidently his task, for he had not fled from the Lamb Fortress despite all the years of persecution by the Muslim occupiers. Had he not prayed for this time of liberation? A thousand times if once! Surely, his prayers had been heard in heaven! The Franks had been sent by Charles the great king to liberate the city, without knowing about the Jews still in hiding in the city. But God had used Charles and his forces, even used the Danes, had he not?

Becca had reason to be happy over the part God had given the Danes in this liberation of the Jews and also the Basques. Who knows what will come of it all, he thought, as he made his way back down to the Frankish camp to see the commander and tell him what had been done regarding the rabbi and the synagogue.

Something strange happened. The closer he got to the marketplace, and the farther from the synagogue, he felt more troubled. Something was not right. What could it be? He realized that he had not concluded his business with the rabbi after all. Then he realized what it was. He turned back.

The rabbi looked surprised to see him again at his outer doorway.

"I am very remiss," Becca said to him. "You saved my life, and I owe my life to you. So I have returned to give you my life. It is yours!"

The rabbi stared at him for a long moment, and when he spoke, it was with very careful words. He shook his head. "But you spared my life too, when you leaped into the river torrent, and risked your life for mine. It is I who am remiss. I owe you my life, sir! You have discharged fully any obligation to me in what you did for me and my family. Go in peace, sir! Shalom! You go with my blessing."

Becca knelt before the rabbi, who put his hand on his head and blessed him.

"I bless you as a righteous friend of Israel, with the blessing of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who blessed all those who came in peace and blessed their households. And doubly, I bless you, Becca son of Rasmus! For you believe in the Messiah as I do, that live in the certain hope that He is coming again, though my people were blind and missed him, many of them, when he first came to us as the Suffering Servant and not the Lion they were expecting. May your life be blessed, and your wife and family, and all your possessions and cattle! Go in peace, my son.

Becca felt his eyes running, as he rose up to his feet. This little man had given him a most powerful blessing, even if he did not have a wife and family. What a wonderful life his would be, if doubly blessed!

But then a question occurred to him.

"Rabbi, why don't you want to go back to your homeland Israel? Why choose to live here in a foreign land instead?"

The rabbi stared at him, then made a sign of grief, scooping up some dust from the street and casting it on his head and shoulders. "Ai ai ai!" he moaned. "Our land is still trodden underfoot by the Gentiles! And the Muslims there now will not permit our return in peace, if we come in any numbers. A few here, a few there perhaps, but any considerable gathering they will attack and drive out. So most of us remain here, the Disaspora, in many foreign lands, whevever we happen to find refuge. But why do you ask, sir? It breaks my heart to hear of it."

Becca was sorry to grieve the rabbi at a time of rejoicing like this was, their homecoming to their synagogue. Yet he had to wonder why the Jews would cling so hard to a foreign home, unless they knew better than others how very difficult it would be if they tried to return to their own country.

He tried to comfort the rabbi, and reassure him if he could. "Perhaps Charles will send an army, and me and my men too, and retake the land and its holy places for you and the Christian people as well."

The rabbi considered this, but he looked doubtful. "Perhaps, perhaps. But God has His own timing in these great matters, and I do not read in the prophecies of anything like that happening just because of one king or another who might favor our holy cause. No, it must be the end of the Time of the Gentiles, as the prophets foretold. When that will exactly be, nobody can rightly tell. We will know it by the signs attending it, but the signs are not yet visible. It maybe be several years from now, or many hundreds of years from now."

Becca saw it was high time to get back to his men, and detain the rabbi from his family and duties no longer. He went away, leaving the rabbi to enjoy his latter years in his home back at the synagogue from which his forefathers had been driven by Muslim occupiers. Surely, they would be happier, much happier now. And Charles's favor was upon them, for their protection, so that there would be safety and security for them as long as men feared the Franks and the wrath of God reserved for all covenant-breakers and enemies of Israel.

As for the Holy Land, he recalled now what he had heard from various voyagers--that the Muslims abused it, and had made it a desert and wilderness from Mt. Hermon in the north to the Negev Desert of the south. It had been like a garden under the East Roman rule, but now it was eaten up and waste, as it a swarm of locusts had devoured it end to end. And the course of nature had turned against the Muslim-occupied land too-- no rain for years on end, the deserts growing and the vineyards growing, and few fields of grain sown and reaped--so that the people declined every year in numbers. Surely, it was not a good time for Jews to return to their homeland-- they would be blamed for its sufferings and bitterly persecuted, no doubt! Jews were always being made scapegoats for the troubles of other peoples!

He reached the big public square, reunited with his men, and he was just about to leave and seek out the Commander when the people crowded round him and would not let him go.

What was he to do?

He understood they wanted him to remain, but he knew he could not give them their wishes. He had duty to his king, and to his own people, to answer to, and though these Basques were all shouting his name together with praises, calling him to be chief in their city, he must ask them to choose another, as graciously as he could.

When he could make his voice be heard, he told the people he must return to his king, but surely they could find someone who would lead them better than he, a foreigner, could. Just the same, he and his men had a parting gift for them, as a token of his esteem for them and their gracious offer-- a victory dance!

His men were most happy to oblige their commander. They not danced a victory dance since they left their homeland, and their feet were itching to do it. Becca, who knew such dances as one who had travelled and entertained the high kings of both the Danes and the various Northmen kingdoms, led off.

The Basques, who were great dancers themselves in their free state, stood intrigued as Becca and his men clapped swords together, swung at each others' heads, leaped over counter thrusts, wheeled around to repeat the same with the men next facing them, all the while the whole group turned in a big circle, the center of which was graced by Becca, who performed his greatest feats of leaping and shouting and even flipping end over end, always landing on his feet.

It was a spectacular sight, and the Basques roared with approval, bringing out instruments to add to the dance.

The final climax came, as the crew suddenly fell apart into two lines, their swords raised, and Becca streaked between the two with the heart-piercing scream, as they swung, but narrowly missed him, each in turn. It was a dangerous feat, of course, one which not every chief dancer excelled or surrived--but it raised the heart-beats of everyone to a fever pitch, and when they all saw Becca still standing, unscathed, triumphant, and raising his sword to heaven-- the crowd erupted, everyone was jumping up and down and trying to get near him, and he had to run to escape being mobbed. Out the gate he sped, his crew hot on his heels.

It took some cooling down, and smoothing of his hair, before he was composed enough to go into the Commander's presence, but he went and got all he requested. The rabbi's privileges were confirmed and written out in a document, one which was to be preserved at Laith in the citadel in a special stone container, the other to be forwarded to Charles in Aachen. This done, Becca was satisfied. His duty done to King and commander, it was time for him to depart. He could disband his squadron too, but woudl lead them first back to their home port. What they did from thereon was their king's business, not his. His part was concluded, and he and his men were on their own again--to serve either as mercenaries for the King or to take new service somewhere else. He had been thinking of various possibilities, but his heart was drawing him homeward, and he could not resist the tug. Besides, he and not a few of his men were no longer youths, they needed to take wives and start famiilies. They had won enough money by now to afford them. It was time to put down some roots!

But the Basques were not through with Becca, as it turned out, even though he had declined to be their city ruler. They sought him out at the Commander's quarters, seeking him to lead them on an expedition to take the Muslim redoubt that lay a day's journey further south up into the high mountains.

"Sir Becca, they will be harassing us from there, coming to steal our sheep and goats and rape our women, if we do not drive them out and take the place," they told him. "Will you help us? Surely, if you help us, we will have good success."

Becca was reluctant, but he agreed to go with them and at least take a look. He might give them some advice, if nothing more, that would help them take the place back from the Muslims.

So they set off on the morrow, and after some hard climbing on many steep, goat-like trails, they came to it. It was everything they had described. It would not be easy to take it, he saw at once. No wonder the Basques had pleaded for his help.

But he remembered something, an advantage nobody else had--Greek fire! He still had some left! Maybe it was just enough for the purposes!


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