9 1 1 7

And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in the day when I shall make up My Jewels.

1 The Goatherd Who Turned King

Professor Pikkard’s Wargame had won some and lost some over the course of 6,724 years, but the world was still teetering toward destruction at the hands of the star-stones. Faith in the Most High was ebbing, and new faiths rushed to win the allegiances of the confused, troubled peoples. Some religions revived to former strength and glory known before the Re-location. Fire worship revived and became the state religion of the Sassanid Persians whose armies swept down from the Flaming Mountains and conquered the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and then turned south west to capture Mizraim. Zarathustra was the founding prophet of the fire religion, which reverered its power and purity as the Prime Creative Principle, and he went about destroying the temples of gods which he regarded as impure, outworn superstitions, placing only an altar on which holy fire burned day and night for the people to worship. Turned out of the temples, the priesthoods were impoverished and angry. The people too hated the Sassanids for seizing and smashing their gods, most of them very old, indeed. What did they want with this new foreign deity, which had no image other than the flickering flame on the “sacred fire altar.” What good was that to them? They could not put fine clothes and jewels on it, or whisper prayers into its ears or charm its senses with fragrant incense. Nor would the fire acknowledge music being played for its enjoyment, or enjoy the sight of dancing priestesses, or any other entertainment arranged to give the god pleasure and gain its favor. The effect of seeing a grand image displayed in a golden temple was altogether lost--who could summon up proper religious feelings where such display was outlawed and a simple flame substituted?

The people grumbled and seethed beneath the heavy hand of their new masters, and as for the fire god temples, they stayed away. Imageless, iconclastic and austere fire worship remained the religion of the Sassanids and failed to win the hearts of the subject nations which had long comforted themselves with gods they could see and touch and with bribes twist to advantage. For those peoples who had never known anything but idols, there was no soul-searching and reviewing of what they may have done to have been deserted by their gods and cast into the hands of the oppressor. But it was different with some other. Enraged by the Sassanids’ forced subjection of them to a new religion, the Arabs were one people that remembered what they had formerly possessed and became ashamed at their fallen state. Helpless and crushed, they were now encouraged by their distress to reckon the worth of what they formerly possessed and had laid aside for idolatry. Once they had known One Eternal God, which unlike the Sassanid Persian god, was not fire but completely invisible. They had shared this Creator-Lord of the Heavens with the Hebrews. Could they return to this god? Would he take them back into his fold? Many folk wondered about this, though they did not dare speak it out publicly for fear of drawing the wrath of the Sassanid soldiery installed in forts in Arab lands. After a time the Sassanids relaxed their hold when they saw the people were not going to revolt. They withdrew garrisons from the least taxable areas and countries, saving themselves money they could not get from taxing the people there to the point of starvation and death. The Arabs, who were mostly herding people, found themselves left quite alone to carry on as before. But, with the new freedom, they began to wonder aloud amongst themselves about the question, whether the Invisible God of Abraham their father would take them back into his loving bosom.

Shepherds and goatherds hotly debated the question out among the hills and hillsides, either with their own flocks or with other shepherds who happened to be close enough to carry on the debate. “But how do we approach the Awe of Ishmael?” one goatherd ventured to ask after hearing the others out and saying nothing for several years. “He must be very displeased with us, since our people have worshipped only goat-gods and Ken-anite gods all these years of our fathers.” How, indeed! No one could find a good reply for him, and the young man always went away sorrowful, for the question troubled him greatly. What he knew of the world was not very much. A few sayings of Qoph, his namesake and a wise man, had come to his ears from an old man’s lips once upon a time. He knew something about the faith of the Hebrews of bygone days before they turned away to Ken’anite gods. He knew quite a bit about the idolatries and whoredoms of the Ken’anites and his own people who were under the spell of their lascivious gods. Wanting change and reform badly, disgusted by the things he saw taking place daily amongst his brethren, he had thought of various sacrifices and offerings he could make for himself and his people, but none seemed satisfactory, and he knew he was poor and could not offer so many rams and ewes as would be necessary for so many long years of following other gods. There seemed no way back to him, until one day he was sitting on a hill with his grazing goats, half-asleep with the flies and insects droning about him in the grass when a thunder-bolt struck his mind.

“Present a Right Sacrifice on My altar, and I will be your God and will lead you and your people like a flock!”

Qoph Fashad leaped to his feet, his senses reeling. He knew the god he long sought had spoken, but what was he to do now?” He did not take very long to think what that right sacrifice would be. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Rushing to his brothers, he told them what had happened, and they all believed. “What do we do?” they all wanted to know, trembling with excitement and joy and many other emotions. “Sacrifice some sheep, some goodly ewes, immediately!” someone cried out who had no goodly ewes in his flock. “Surely, that will gain the god’s favor, and turn him to smite our foes on the cheek!” Qoph Fashad shook his head vigorously. “No, sons of Abraham and Ishmael, that won’t be sufficient! We must do more than that, don’t you see?” “But what, beloved ear of God?” they cried to him. “What?” Qoph Fashad Isma drew himself up as a man would, eyeing them solemnly. He saw that he was not only the ear of God, but His mouth, and it was time to speak boldly and not hold back any longer. “It will take all we possess, dear brethren! All. We must sacrifice all the flocks--particularly our more valuable flocks of goats. Otherwise, he will see that we are not sincere enough, he will turn away from us and our sinful people.” In that moment, most dread to hear, the shepherds knew they had a leader, a leader by blood and sacrifice, who could rebuild the broken bridge to God the Invisible! The deed was done! Galvanized into a mighty force by so great a sacrifice, the Arabs under Qoph Fashad raised a banner with a scimitar painted in blood on white cloth to which all the Arab peoples responded. They too sacrifice all their goats! They too showed how much they wanted to reform and turn back to the right ways of Father Abraham.

But, of course, this reduced them all to absolute poverty. Starvation loomed, a hideous reaper who would not spare man, woman, or nursing child. What were they to eat? Turning to Qoph, he responded after much prayer and meditation and replied to them at his tent door. The thousands gathered heard their leader say, “The herds of the fire worshippers are given to you! Go and gather! They are given into your hands.” “Yes!” the congregation roared. “It is the will of God for us! Truly, we will obey and go and gather their goats, sheep, and cattle! After all, they are godless fire worshippers” Since the Sassanids were not the sort to give up their wealth and possessions willingly,and certainly not to subject peoples they saw and treated as slaves, seeing themselves as the fire-ordained rulers of the Arabs, it meant war. Qoph’s forces swept the outlying garrisons and took their goods and arms. He then was able to attack border towns and then go against major cities. His movement, once started, swept away all opponents like a raging fire. It was sword against sword, fire against fire, and what Qoph had started proved more fierce and hot than anything the Sassanids could muster. No one loved the Sassanids, for they were cruel and grasping toward subject people, seizing not only the people’s wealth but their cherished gods. How the Sassanids loved to destroy the peoples’ cherished gods! They even ground them up, casting the dust into water and made the people drink it! No wonder everyone suffering outrages under the heel of the Sassanids flocked to Qoph’s banner! Many hadn’t the slightest idea of an Eternal God, Creator of All, but these men gladly submitted to the Five Spiritual Laws that Qoph instituted for them and their families just so they could throw off the yoke of the enemy. They must pray five times a day and recite the twenty Sayings of Qoph Concerning Holy Wisdom, perform ablutions in certain prescribed ways, keep morning and evening meal utensils separate, worship only the Awe of Ishmael, Who is invisible, on the holy mount of Moriah (which is located nearest Jerusalem of the Hebrews) and whore after no graven image, and perform military service from age twelve to twoscore. As Qoph Fashad Isma said in his new office of Kaliph, or “Goatherd-King of the Holy Flock of Isma” the people of believing must please God first with reformed lives, or otherwise they would fail in battle against the infidel foe.

It wasn’t long into the compaign before Qoph the Founder stood before his armies with sacred tablets, as Mosheh the lawgiver once stood before the people of Israel assembled beneath Mount Horeb in Midian. Unlike Mosheh’s tablets of divine law, these were gold, and on them was inscribed the Five Pillars of the new Faith. Since the tablets were seen only once and remained in Qoph’s keeping under heavy guard, some confusion began about them at the first, with different pillars being represented as the original Five, depending on which ears heard the Pillars read out and how the words of Qoph and the Angel were handed down. At some point in the centuries following, the Tablets were lost in a badly calculated campaign in the far north of the Ice Countries, but, for the most part, the Five Pillars were considered to be:

Right Recitation

Right Sacrifice

Right Ablutions

Right Service

Right Obeisance

Khrosroes IX, Emperor of the Sassanid Empire, was upset in his royal palace in Khrosroesbad, the Golden City with gates covered with gilded bronze. He possessed two thousand wives to keep him happy, and three thousand concubines as well, but the Emerald of State, the royal gem, was missing from the cynosure of his crown when one day he came to get it and sit upon his throne. He had not been giving royal audiences for quite some time, and now he was very sorry, for things had apparently gotten very lax in the throne room, the guards had been caught playing knuckle games with gems taken from the rugs, and now his royal jewel, called the Great Emerald of Zarathustra, was missing! Missing!

The Glorious Jewel of the Universe, as he was named and worshipped to his face by his courtiers, was determined to make an example of everyone for allowing this to happen. Heads would roll! The Emerald must be retrieved and those involved in stealing it would be impaled, their houses burnt and made dung-piles, and their families thrown to lions held in dens in the royal gardens. Never had he been more angry than this! With a green ligure substituting for the Great Emerald, he sat with his crown on the Peacock Throne and passed decree after decree as fast as the court scribes could take them down.

“All normal business and trade throughout the Realm suspended until the Emerald is found and restored to My Royal Majesty and Crown,” was the first decree. “All armies and fighting militia mustered to go in search of the Emerald, effective immediately!” was the second. “All women, wives and concubines to wear sackcloth and robes of mourning and cease from music-making and eating sweetmeats and drinking scented wine until the Emerald is restored to the Emperor of their happiness!”

So the decrees went forth by royal couriers, and the border fortresses were emptied, as the fighting men fanned out searching the countryside for the missing gem. Finding cities unprotected, forts left unattended and undefended, Qoph’s men swept in to take them like ripe figs falling from trees into their hands. His word confirmed to his followers, showing that Qoph truly was God’s chosen and appointed mouth, the people followed him all the more energetically. They let nothing stop their advance, and threw themselves at the enemy, utterly careless of their own lives and safety, believing that it was all to the good of themselves if they died fighting for his banner and the God of Abraham.

“Qoph is the Mouth of God, and we are the sons of Abraham!” they chanted day and night, and it was their battlecry as well as they attacked the Sassanids wherever they could be found.

Meanwhile, at the royal palace, standing beneath the gigantic, single, Omega-shaped arch that provided the roof, Khrosroes IX received a general lately come from action in the field. He had appeared in such haste his garments had not been changed to a court robe. Wearing a scimitar- lashed, blood-stained battle uniform, his turban gone and his hair disheveled, the general bowed with evident pain, then rose, helped by aides. “What is the problem now”” the emperor demanded. “Can’t you see I have more important matters, the missing Emerald, to see to right now? Is it just another border skirmish with the barbarians? Why do you presume to come before My Magnificence in soiled garments?”

“Your Majesty and Keeper of the Holy Flame!” the general, white-faced, replied. “Haven’t you heard? I sent a courier a day ago! He should have reached your ear by now!” “What are you talking about?” the emperor barked, reaching for a pomegranate from the golden fruit bowl offered by the Chief Fruit-Bearer. “Be quick, I have other things to attend to!” “The army, sire! We’ve been utterly destroyed by that goatherd king and his army! There’s nothing between them and the royal palace!” The emperor let the pomegranate drop, and it rolled down the golden, jeweled steps of the throne and bumped the general. The royal mouth fell open, and he seemed at loss for the right words. “Wh-wh-wh-WHAT?”

“Border tribes, Arabs, all carrying the banner of Qoph the Goatherd-King have crossed into our country and taken the fortresses, and they are on the Main Trunk Road leading to this city and palace! We tried to stop them, but they caught us just as we were setting up our tents for the night and were very tired from marching all day and looking for the Emerald, and--” The emperor rose, his crown tumbling off his head, as he made haste downwards. “A wretched, stinking goatherd turned king of the Arabs who leads them against my imperial might?" he thundered. "How can this be? Goatherds have never done that before! How can such insignificatnt creatures in my realm dare such a thing?” He did something most unexpected and a shock to the whole court, which was now as white-faced as the general. He seized the badly wounded general by the shoulders and began to shake him.

“You would have me believe a mere goatherd has achieved the thing you describe! No, it cannot be! YOU, because of your incompetence and stupidity, lost my army, the chief of my fighting force! YOU! I will have you impaled at once, I will burn your house and cover it with camel dung, and I will throw you wives, concubines, and children to my garden lions! I will--” But the court was no longer listening to the rambling mouth of a raving fool who still thought himself an emperor. Seeing which way the wind of destiny was blowing, knowing the Goatherd-King was the only mighty power in thge land, they had begun to flee for their lives, and take what they could en route. Guards of the Royal Guard began snatching at every gemstone and golden thing within reach, loading up their capes like sacks, and running out the doors. Some grabbed the most beautiful women in the overflowing Royal Harem and dragged them off. It was every man for himself.

Seeking refuge in the Royal Bedchamber, the emperor found his queen and empress had fled away from him and the palace, taking a horse and whatever jewels and gold she could carry. He was alone. All his servants were gone, turning over the furniture. The palace was on fire. But where could an emperor without an army flee? Where? Presently, advance troops of the Army of Qoph Fashad with its distinctive white banner emblazoned with the scimitar of Father Ishmael and a crowned white goat arrived, and the emperor was found hidden in the bedclothes of the canopied royal bed. He was slain where he lay paralyzed with fear. With the tyrant’s death the Sassanid Empire and all its fire temples was overthrown. A Goatherd-King, on the strength of a creed restored and the full support of his Arab people, had taken the greatest empire in his hand, and the entire world lay open to him.

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