Heavy gray clouds blanketed the setting sun, and the wind gusted, spitting snow. Semjaza shivered as he wove around the goatskin huts toward the oversized assembly tent. Transforming from his ethereal body into human form proved more difficult each time. Today winter seemed intent on reminding him that cold stung mortal flesh. He rubbed his hands, anticipating the warmth of the assembly tent signaled by the wraith of smoke drifting from its roof-hole. Wind spun the smoke into threads, lacing the air with the full, sharp aroma of burning wood.
Hearty laughter rang from the tent. A woman pushed out through the heavy flap, grinning at a pendant swinging from her fist. She glanced at Semjaza. “News?” Her eyebrows arched.
“Not yet.” He paused at the entrance and looked back, trying to pick out the smoke rising from his own tent. The midwives had made it clear that he wasn’t welcome during the birthing. He tried to explain that, as a Watcher, he had witnessed many births and deserved to be at his wife’s side, but they had glared their answer. And their anger. Watchers’ babies, though exquisitely beautiful, were so large that both women and babies often died in childbirth.
Inside the assembly tent, voices rose like a wave and spashed into laughter. Semjaza raised the flap and ducked into the haze-filled warmth. On one side of the room women huddled around tables, discussing the display of colored tinctures for eyelids and cooing over bracelets of costly stones. On the other side Azazel held both a glinting, short sword and the attention of the men. Semjaza clenched his jaw. The usually solemn tent had turned into a bazaar.
Azazel glanced at Semjaza and grinned. “A shield!” He handed the broad polished disk to one of the men. “And a breastplate.” He slipped on the metal vest.
“To protect from the blades?” asked a hunter, as men pushed forward to inspect Azazel’s armory.
“You’ll be invulnerable,” promised Azazel, who had taught his camp metalworking, creating jewelry, forging swords.
Old Enoch shouldered out of the crowd, his countenance as dark as storm-threatening clouds. “Battle,” he muttered, stabbing the dirt floor with his staff. “What if we don’t want battle?” Beckoning to Semjaza, he headed out of the tent.
Semjaza lifted the flap for Enoch, then followed him into the cold. Ezekeel stood nearby with a youth, their faces to the sky as they discussed how cloud shapes foretold weather. Semjaza nodded with approval. As Captain of the Watchers he had insisted that the angels share their knowledge to benefit the people they had chosen as their own. He himself had revealed enchantments and the use of herbs. Baraqijal and Kokabel explained astronomy. Araquel taught the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the ways of the sun, Sariel the course of the moon. And Azazel? Semjaza snorted. Were swords a benefit?
When they reached Enoch’s tent, the old man said, “We’ll wait together.”
Semjaza held open the tent flap and followed Enoch inside, where a servant stirred the fire in the brazier in the center of the room. A safe distance away, baskets of scrolls lined the shadowed back wall. Enoch wrote more than any scribe Semjaza had ever seen. The old man had explained that humans, keenly aware of the fleeting nature of life on earth, felt compelled to keep a permanent record. Moreover, to the earthbound mind, possessing – thus keeping track of possessions – carried great weight.
As Enoch eased down to a cushion near the brazier, the tent flap opened and Enoch’s gray-haired wife Naamah leaned in. “Enoch, you have a grandson.”
Semjaza, halfway between sitting and standing, gaped in wonder. “A son. And my wife?”
Enoch waved him out. “Go to your wife.”
Naamah bobbed out, and Semjaza joined her. “She lives,” repeated Naamah, trudging ahead. “But she’ll not likely want any more children. Not by you anyway.”
- to be continued -
© 2011 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Based on The Book of Enoch, 220 BCE – 100 CE. Photo courtesy morguefile.com.