“Hem baim,” said the fish at the bottom of Shemaiah’s boat. “They are coming.”
Shemaiah heard and crouched down close. He had never, of course, heard a fish speak before, but nor had he ever seen a fish as uncanny as this one. In the predawn light, it was a mottled blue with a flattened tail and a profusion of fins, including two pairs of stubby ones at its base that might almost be legs. Its skin was oily—even more so than the oilfish that Shemaiah had gone out this night to catch—and there was something preternatural in its eyes.
“Hem baim,” it said.
“Who?” Shemaiah asked. “Who is coming?” He felt an instant’s bemusement that he was talking to a fish, but if there were fish who could speak Ivri, maybe they could also understand it. There were stranger things in Muluku Eloheinu’s world than he could imagine.
“They are coming,” said the fish.
For a moment, Shemaiah considered throwing the fish back. He would get nothing for it at the market—it was useless as food, and the oil that it exuded smelled foul—and though its speech was a prodigy, he could say “hem baim” as well as it could. But the Shevi’im, the Council of Seventy, would want to hear of this, so he threw it instead into the tub at the boat’s stern.
Dawn was breaking and the oilfish had returned to the depths, so Shemaiah steered toward home. Ahead was the island that some called Eretz Yarok and others Mwali: forested mountainside, low terraced hills, the silver gleam of streams, the long beach at Miklat town. A warm breeze blew from the north and guided Shemaiah to shore, and the scene resolved into thatched roundhouses, millet fields, low mud-brick buildings and the market plaza where the Shevi’im held court.
Yochanan the market-judge was waiting when Shemaiah pulled his boat onto the beach. “Oilfish?” he asked, and peered into the tub to begin his inspection. “These look good, this one... what is that?”
And the fish began to tell stories.
It was still talking to a gathering crowd when the first of the Shevi’im arrived. There were three of them in masks of polished hardwood: two with artfully carved age-lines and tufts of grass attached to the temples and chin, the third clean-shaven and flatter-featured. A Chanyawa ancestor, Shemaiah thought—he didn’t know which one it was supposed to be, but he didn’t know who the Ivri ancestors were either. The Shevi’im elders guarded that secret closely in their initiations.
“Son of man,” the fish said, “set thy face against Gog of the land of Magog, the chief priest of Meshech and Tubal.” The names were unfamiliar to Shemaiah, and the story was hard to understand; after a moment, he realized that the very language the fish was speaking wasn’t quite the one he knew. The words were Ivri, but they were the old Ivri, the one the ancestors had spoken before the books and scholars were burned, the one without any borrowings from Chichanyawa. He leaned closer, hoping the words would become clearer to him, and he was so intent that he hardly noticed the Shevi’im doing the same.
They crouched close, and the one in the Chanyawa mask crouched closest. “Fars, Shewa and Kyrene with them,” the fish said—those were names Shemaiah had heard—and suddenly, he could see them: the air above the tub was filled with images of mounted Farsi archers and dark-skinned Shewa soldiers with wooden shields.
“It is the true telling,” said Yochanan. “Word for word and sound for sound.” And Shemaiah knew that it was so. Yochanan was a Gatherer and a Sower—one who could collect stories and make them seen—but only if the story were told exactly as it had been first told. Only if the fish recalled this story’s words and inflections exactly as they had been spoken by the distant ancestor who invented it could Yochanan have Gathered those words and Sown their image for all to see.
“The fish knows the lost stories,” Shemaiah said. “The stories from before the burning.”
The three Shevi’im, now standing upright, were talking about the same thing, or more precisely, they were arguing about it. The Shevi’im always argued; sometimes there were more arguments than elders.
“How can a fish tell the old stories?” asked one of the bearded ones.
“It is said that when the books and the scholars were burned, their ashes were thrown in the sea,” the Chanyawa-masked one answered.
“The ashes! No one can read ashes! Ashes cannot speak!”
“But this fish comes from the deep places,” the third one said. “It lives in the realm of the great whale Livyatan. It is said that Livyatan hunts by boiling all the deep waters, and a creature that can survive that might see ash as we see what the ash came from.”
“Fish are protected from the evil eye,” said Yochanan. “And it is said that holy men can be reborn as fish. When the Umbrians tore Abba Zeira’s skin with iron combs and cast his body in the sea, he became a great grouper and gave lessons to the fishermen.”
Shemaiah knew that story. It was part of the lore of his craft, and an old fisherman with a Gatherer’s and Sower’s talent had shown him its image when he was a child. The Chanyawa had loved this story too, in the days when the Ivrim were their slaves; they too had tales of ancestors who became animals, and the story of Abba Zeira was one of the things that first made them see the Ivrim as kindred spirits. The fish he’d caught couldn’t be Zeira—it was an uncanny thing from the depths, not a grouper—but could there have been others?
“Nonsense!” someone repeated, and Shemaiah saw that more of the Shevi’im had come. They were throwing their masked heads about and waving robed arms like Gatherers who’d forgotten their stories, shouting about whether the fish was a messenger or a prophet or a demon.
“It is warning us!” said one. “’They are coming’—the men of Fars and Shewa and Kyrene.”
“And if they’re coming, then so? They weren’t the ones who burned our books.”
“In Kyrene there was burning.”
“And from Kyrene on the Great Green Sea, they will come all this way to conquer us?”
An elder masked as a woman—Vered the Judge, perhaps, or the warrior Ekari—swung a fist at the one who’d said that. The people at the market raised a shout. The Shevi’im always bickered—it seemed sometimes that one couldn’t become an elder without a strong belief that the way to worship Muluku Eloheinu was to argue about Him—but it was rare for them to come to blows. More of them started fighting, and the people began looking at their neighbors; when the elders didn’t speak with one voice, neither did the people.
Yochanan stepped in to break them up; he wasn’t an elder and never would be, but in this place, his authority as market-judge outweighed even that of the Shevi’im. But before he could reach them, the image of two men fighting appeared above the assembly. “Quick to anger and quick to forget, his gain is balanced by his loss,” the fish said, and the Shevi’im left off fighting to argue about this new portent.
“The Feast of the Sparing is in two days,” Yochanan said. For a moment, Shemaiah wondered what that had to do with anything, and then he remembered. At the Feast of the Sparing, the people remembered both of the departures from Masr, and it was then that they received messages from the ancestors. Maybe then, when all the people and all the Shevi’im were gathered, they would learn why the fish had come.
“You will guard it until then,” the man in the Chanyawa mask told Shemaiah, and Shemaiah wondered what stories it would tell in the meantime.
Guarding the fish, at first, was no hardship. Shemaiah sold his oilfish quickly and at top price—faster and dearer, in fact, than he had ever done before. People kept coming to see the marvel he had brought, and it seemed that some of the fish’s glory reflected on him; men in their market-robes, women in dresses of woven raffia, and even masked elders treated him as if he had suddenly grown wise.
But as the day wore on, his newfound position began to pall. The fish told the same three stories time and again—that of Gog and Magog, another about a tribe called Amalek, and the third about the destruction of the ancient Ivri city Shomron by the armies of fallen Ashur—and Shemaiah began to imagine listening to them all night as he huddled alone on the beach. And as fine as the price he’d gained for his oilfish had been, he knew that if he didn’t go to sea again, he’d have no catch to sell tomorrow and would earn no price at all.
“Hem baim,” said the fish, and launched again into Ashur’s conquest of Shomron, and Shemaiah stood and called to the market-judge.
“Yochanan!” he cried. “Find someone to watch the fish tonight, or I’ll throw it back in the sea.”
“Have you lost your wits?” Yochanan put aside a dispute over the quality of woolen blankets and hurried over. “The Shevi’im have said that your fish comes from God. It is telling the lost stories. You will keep it safe.”
“And who will keep me safe? Who will keep my children safe? I’m the only one who feeds them since Nechamah, may her memory be blessed, lost her footing on the mountain. Will the Shevi’im find money in their stores to pay me?”
Yochanan knew the answer to that as well as Shemaiah did, and resignation replaced anger. “I know you did well today,” he said, “and you’ll do well tomorrow. Give me three zuzim, and I’ll take another three from the market-fines and pay Binyamin to stand guard till you come back.”
Shemaiah bargained, more for form’s sake than anything else, and settled at two zuzim from him and four from the market coffers. Old Binyamin was found in the abandoned harvest-hut where he slept and brought to the market to stand watch; Shemaiah handed him the two iron coins and pushed his boat out from the beach.
He sailed north. It was late afternoon, and there would be a few more hours to catch mullet and skate before the oilfish came out. He took his market-robe off, spread his nets, and let his boat drift before the south wind.
After an hour, he breasted the cape at the southeastern end of Karthala, the largest and northernmost of the Four Islands. To the northwest, Karthala’s central volcano loomed eight thousand feet high and smoke rose from its caldera; due north was the open sea. Shemaiah looked into the gathering darkness, searching for signs of the invaders the fish had told of; north was where his Ivri ancestors had lived before their books were burned and they were sold as slaves, and north was where their ancient enemies also lay. He saw nothing of them there, but as the coastline receded, he learned that he wasn’t the only one searching.
“You! You from Yarok!” someone called, and Shemaiah saw another boat passing to the south. It was a fishing boat like his, but its nets weren’t set and it was packed with many more people than it would normally carry.
“I am Shemaiah,” he said, “if you want to call me by my name.”
“Shemaiah, then. Is it true about the fish? That it says they are coming?”
For a moment, Shemaiah wondered how they knew, and then he saw the signal fires burning to the south on Eretz Yarok’s mountaintop. By now, everyone on the Four Islands would know, and so would the Shevi’im who ruled each of them. If the fish’s prophecies had been a matter of argument before, they would be four times as contentious now...
“Who are ‘they,’ then?”
That was a question Shemaiah had asked himself many times since he’d caught the fish. It had given answers, but they were all different; the tribe of Amalek didn’t come from any of the nations that followed Gog of Magog, and Ashur, so the story said, was altogether gone. The Shevi’im were arguing over which was true, but surely they all were—if they weren’t first tellings, the fish would never have been able to Sow them in the marketplace. Maybe the fish was speaking in parables, as both Ivri and Chanyawa sages were known to do, but if so, where in the parable was the truth?
“The fish knows. Muluku Eloheinu knows,” he said, but the boat from Karthala had turned westward again and was already merging into the twilight.
Later, as the stars were rising, Shemaiah saw another sail far to the north. It was miles away, and he could see it just well enough to know that it was a sail and that it was triangular. He had seen such sails before in stories: when the Sowers told of the flight after the burning, when they told of the treacherous ship-captain who had sold their ancestors as slaves on the Usahil coast, the sail of his ship had looked like that.
But the sail wasn’t headed for the Four Islands; it was bound for the great isle of the Sakalavas, and like the boat from Karthala, it was gone before Shemaiah could be sure he’d truly seen it.
It was oilfish-time not long after, and Shemaiah steered his own boat to the south and let the signal fire guide him toward home. He hadn’t reached the beach when he heard the shouting, and when he pulled the boat ashore—next to the one from Karthala, he saw—he heard that it was coming from where Binyamin was guarding the fish. He rushed to the fireside and saw elders from four islands ready to come to blows, and old Binyamin leaning on a kapok branch and staring helplessly.
Shemaiah looked to the old man for an explanation, but he only said, “the fish is telling another story.”
Within the circle of Shevi’im, there was an image of a priest upbraiding thousands of tribesmen. They were gathered in long lines, clothed like the Ivrim of ancient times, and bore not a trace of Chanyawa in their features. The priest walked among them, pointing and gesticulating, and while most of their faces were tight with shame, others were pictures of sorrow.
“And Ezra the priest stood up,” said the fish, “and said unto them: ‘Ye have broken faith, and have married foreign women. Now therefore make confession unto the God of your fathers, and do His pleasure; and separate yourselves from the foreign women and from the peoples of the land...” And in the image above it, the voices of dissent were drowned out, and shame-faced men watched as sorrowful women walked out of the city forever.
The fish began the story again, repeating it as had the others, and over the telling, Shemaiah could hear the exultation of the elders from Karthala. The Ivrim who had refused to marry with the Chanyawa in the years of their captivity, those who had never counted the Chanyawa ancestors as part of their nation, those who cried “blasphemy” when others called God the Creator by the name Muluku—they were the ones who had settled Karthala, and now it seemed they had a champion.
“Yes!” one of them cried. “You of Yarok and Nzwani and Maore have broken faith! You must put foreign things away.”
“Put them away?” another elder said—one from Eretz Yarok, one whose Chanyawa blood was plain. “How would we do that now? Does the Ivri part of me send away the Chanyawa part?” There was a murmur of agreement from others among the Shevi’im and from the people gathered beyond, wives holding tightly to their husbands’ hands.
“It’s too late for that,” said another of the Karthala men, his voice regretful behind his mask. “But we know that the stories aren’t always meant literally. You are too mixed to send the foreign blood away, but you can give up foreign ways. You can return to the pure stories, the ones the fish is telling—and we can teach you.”
There it is, thought Shemaiah. All the bickering among the Shevi’im—all the argument over points of doctrine and law—was, in the end, about power. The fisherman had seen that play out many times. On Karthala, where they had no streams, the Shevi’im had argued for a year about the commandments relating to the building of cisterns, and it had ended with a faction of them in charge of the water supply. There had been another controversy when he was a child, one about the laws of weaving...
“The Chanyawa are our ancestors!” shouted an elder from Nzwani. “Muluku Eloheinu gave their wisdom to us, and we won’t give it up to you!” There were more shouts of agreement and derision, more gestures, and Shemaiah realized that one of the Shevi’im from Karthala was pointing at him.
“Ask the fisherman!” the elder said. “He saw a dhow coming from the north! They are coming, like the fish said, and the old stories will make us strong!”
How did he know that? Shemaiah wondered. Had he said something under his breath that the elder had Gathered? But it didn’t matter how the elder knew; he did know, and the image of the lateen sail appeared above the assembly while people murmured below.
“A dhow?” said Eleazar the blacksmith. “You didn’t need to ask Shemaiah—you could have asked me. There was a dhow at Uchanyawa when my son went to trade for iron—it had come from Sayhad to sell spices. Is that what we’re supposed to fear?”
“If they come to Uchanyawa, they’ll come to us. And when they see who we are...”
“When they see who you are...”
From somewhere in the crowd, a stone arced overhead and into Ezra’s image. The ancient prophet, of course, went unscathed, but the rock continued its course into the crowd beyond. Someone cried out in anger and pain, and a second later, elders and commoners were fighting again.
This time, the fish didn’t calm them. Yochanan called for peace, as he had before, but neither he nor his market-guards could enforce it. The guards were Chanyawa from the mainland, chosen because they were outside the factions and clan-feuds of the Ivrim, but they were outside no longer—the feud this time was about them. The fighting spread into the town, and as the moon rose over the mountainside, Shemaiah saw the first fire.
The fish said nothing about the fires in the town. Shemaiah wondered if it saw them, and if it did, what it thought they were. What would fire look like through a veil of water—did the fish think it was a strange red starlight?
“Hem baim,” it said, and that was no enlightenment at all.
Later, as the fires spread, Yochanan came again, followed by a group of men armed with sticks. “Leave Binyamin here again and come with me. I can’t use the guards, so I need people with some sense.”
“Binyamin won’t be any good if something happens.”
“You won’t be any good either, by yourself. And nothing will happen. People have other things to fight about.”
Not really, Shemaiah thought—it was the fish that had set them fighting, and it was the fish’s words they were fighting over. But he knew what Yochanan meant. It was no longer the fish itself that mattered, and the quarrels playing out in the burning town were older than the fish was. He accepted a spare stick from one of the men and followed where they were going.
The stick rested uneasily in Shemaiah’s hand. He’d never been part of an army—it had been years since he’d fought at all—and he wondered how he would know what to do if it came to a battle. He sensed the same uneasiness in his new comrades; fighting together was new to all of them. The wars the Ivrim had fought since coming to the Four Islands had been amateurish affairs, and this would be no different.
It was their good fortune that the same was true of the people in the town. The fighting there wasn’t faction against faction; it had broken down into knots of people struggling and cursing. Some had knives, and there were bodies on the street, but Yochanan’s troop far outnumbered any of them, and it proved easy to break them up and take their weapons. Keeping them apart was harder—some of the fights started again as soon as the troop had moved on, and they had to break up the same battles a second or even third time—but after midnight even the most passionate of the fighters had become exhausted and ashamed. The men who had followed Yochanan drifted apart and sought their homes in the town; Shemaiah returned to the market, found Binyamin and the fish where he’d left them, and slumped against the tub to sleep.
Yochanan’s voice wakened him an hour later; it was still before dawn, and Yochanan loomed above him in the starlight. “You should take that fish,” Yochanan said, “and throw it back into the sea.”
Shemaiah pushed himself up on his elbows and shook his head to clear it. “The Shevi’im told me to guard it.”
“And look what it brought us. Take it home. Let it tell its lies to Livyatan.”
“Are they lies? Its stories are the true telling—they have to be, or the elders couldn’t Gather them. If the fish is really from God, do we dare throw it away?”
Yochanan knelt and brought his face close to Shemaiah, and Shemaiah suddenly recognized the meaning of its seams; Yochanan was fifty years old, an elder himself though he had never been co-opted into the Shevi’im. “Your fish knows the stories as they were first told,” he admitted. “But what if the first teller was lying, or saw wrongly? What if the dhows are coming merely to trade?”
“What if he didn’t and they aren’t? Dare we not listen?”
“Then we should train an army and make ourselves strong, not fight each other and make ourselves weaker. If the men in the dhows are the descendants of Amalek, then the fish is doing their work better than they could.”
Yochanan lapsed into silence for a moment and then began speaking in Chichanyawa—a form of Chichanyawa so archaic that Shemaiah couldn’t recognize many of the words. It must be a story, Shemaiah realized—an ancient story, if the first telling had been in language so old. And when the first image of Yochanan’s Sowing appeared in the form of an ape known nowhere in Usahil, he realized how ancient it had to be—so old that it must be from before the Chanyawa migration.
“Mombemba saw the lands that the people had cultivated, and he wanted them for himself,” Yochanan said, and in the predawn light, Mobemba the ape looked down from a tall kapok tree and surveyed the Chanyawa fields. He couldn’t face the villagers’ iron spears, so he sent a frog, a thrush, and a forest shrew to warn them that enemies were approaching from the east. The animals’ tales, too, were true tellings—recounted in language even older than the story’s—and, when faced with their prophecies, the Chanyawa argued over whether to flee or march out to meet the foe. In the end, some marched and some fled, and Mombemba’s clan feasted on their empty fields.
Shemaiah had once heard a later version of that story; not a true telling but simply a tale to be told around the campfire. In that one, Mombemba, who had merely been a monkey, hadn’t prevailed—Ekari of the Star-Steel Sword had rallied the Chanyawa with her meteorite-forged blade and driven the monkey invaders out. But Ekari had lived during the migration and her stories were told in much newer words, and Shemaiah realized that her part was a late addition to an older story, to the original one in which the people were defeated.
The fish, too, could have been sent by an enemy, he thought. Maybe Muluku Eloheinu wasn’t the only one who knew the ancient stories. Maybe the foes of the Ivrim knew the stories too; hadn’t they been the ones who stole them? He looked into the tank and saw the fish staring upward through the water. Had it, too, seen Yochanan’s Sowing, and what plans might it be making now?
“I don’t know,” he said. The spell of Yochanan’s story hung in the air and, coming on top of the day’s events, had shaken Shemaiah’s certainty, but who was he to second-guess the Shevi’im? And in the back of his mind, he wondered if Yochanan’s arguments were as much about power as the elders’; after all, who but Yochanan’s market-guards would train and lead the army he’d mentioned?
“Tonight is the Feast of the Sparing,” Shemaiah said. “The Shevi’im will bring messages from the ancestors—the ones who told the stories. There will be a sign then.”
He wondered if the fish knew that it was a holy day, and what stories it might tell when dusk fell again.
That day six new graves were dug in Miklat town. Few left their homes except the mourners, and even they hurried back as soon as they could; the fear and exhaustion hung so thick in the air that if Shemaiah had the talent, he might almost Gather it.
Almost no one came to see the fish that day. It swam and bubbled in its tank and told of Amalek and Ezra and Gog of Magog, but everyone had heard those stories already, and if it had any new ones, the people weren’t sure they wanted to know. Those who did come said that they too were expecting a sign for the Sparing; some of them dreaded it, and others carried word back to the houses where elders were scheming.
In the afternoon, the smell of cooking drifted through the town, and the people began coming out at last. They brought a long table to the marketplace and laid it silently with the symbols of the Sparing: unleavened bread, bitter herbs, lamb bone, kapok branch, fish, and sword. On mats scattered around the market they laid the feast, and around the mats, the people gathered.
By dusk, the market looked like it might at any other Sparing, but it was also different. In other years, Shemaiah would have sat with his clan, all of them around a single mat. But now, instead of clans, the people were grouped in factions. The elders of Karthala and those who supported them were at one side of the plaza, those who had fought them on the other—and a third group, a larger one, occupied the center under the protection of Yochanan and his market-guards. Seen that way, the gathering looked less like a feast than an armed camp on the eve of war...
A sudden drumbeat interrupted the thought, and Shemaiah saw the masked Shevi’im enter the market, leaping and dancing as they converged on the table. One of them and then another began singing, and then they all were: a true song, the story of the First Sparing, as the elders of ancient times had related it, and with all of the Shevi’im doing the Sowing, the sky above the marketplace was ablaze.
Shemaiah knew what he would see, but he never failed to thrill at it: the suffering of the Ivrim as slaves in Masr, the plagues with which Muluku Eloheinu had exacted revenge on the Masri, the escape so hurried that the Ivri women hadn’t time to bake bread. And while the story was enacted in the sky, more elders danced below it in the guise of the plagues themselves; some were locusts, some wore raffia coverings made to look like pillars of fire, two or three together might be have been a snake or a diseased bull. They capered around the table, they danced among the people, and those in the marketplace reached out to touch the instruments of the Sparing.
And after the First Sparing came the Second. The scene in the night sky shifted abruptly to a city square, also in Masr but many centuries later, and the people saw the black-clad priests burning the Ivri books and cried out as their ancestors had. They saw the flight to the coast, a hundred families in the dead of night leaving everything behind but the scraps of their stories, and then the sea-captain who had promised them passage to Bharat but treacherously sold them as slaves on the Usahil coast. They saw the Lamu merchant who bought the exiles and sold them on to the Chanyawa king, and the Shevi’im, in new costume, danced among them as boats, winds, men with whips.
And then... and then, the drums beat faster, the scene above the market dissolved into a single face, and a shout of joy rose from the assembly as they recognized Dalia the Teacher. She was a Gatherer and a Sower, and when the Chanyawa king had brought her to the royal hut, she told him stories. She recited chapters from the histories of Masr and Attiki and Fars, she told him of the battles of Skandar and Calvus, and when she told, the king saw. She told him that she could show him more—that she would tell him of weapons and tactics that would win the Chanyawa a great kingdom, and that he would see them with his own eyes—but if he wanted those secrets, then the price would be freedom for the Ivrim after twenty years’ service...
That wasn’t where the story ended, Shemaiah knew. There was more: the battles that had won the kingdom of Uchanyawa; the valor of Dalia’s brother, which the king had rewarded by reducing the twenty years’ indenture to ten; the boats that her half-Chanyawa son Eleazar the Carpenter had built to carry the exiles to the Four Islands at last. But this year, those parts of the story did not get told, because the fish leaped all at once from its tank and cried “Abomination!”
Silence fell even before the fish returned to the water; there were no drums, no songs, no dancing. The story of the Second Sparing flickered and disappeared, and the stars overhead looked no different from all other nights.
Even those from Karthala didn’t speak. They had welcomed the fish, they had spoken against all things foreign, but even they remembered the Second Sparing and even they revered Dalia. To hear the fish speak thus about a woman who the Ivrim called the second Esther...
“Yes, an abomination to heaven!” called a young man—not one from Karthala but of their faction, and now speaking the words that they didn’t dare. Shemaiah could see others gathering their courage to support him or shout him down, and he knew that if the fighting broke out again, even Yochanan would be powerless to stop it. He’d hoped for a sign at the Sparing, but not for this one.
And then, suddenly, he heard a story.
No, he didn’t hear it—he knew it. The ancestors were supposed to speak to the Shevi’im at the Sparing feast, but it seemed they had spoken to him instead, and a story he’d never heard was full-formed in his mind. And he shouted, “It is not from heaven!”
Silence fell again, and the story spilled out of him.
Shemaiah had never been a Gatherer or a Sower—he lacked both the training and the talent—but this one night he was both, and his words formed a scene over the marketplace. It was a scene from centuries ago in al-Shams, with robed Ivri scholars arguing over whether an impure oven could be made pure again. One of them, opposed by the others, asked for proof from a tree, a stream, and a wall, and at his command, the tree walked across the path, the stream flowed backward, and the wall bent low above the scholars, but each time, his opponents refused to accept the proofs as valid. Finally, he said “may a proof come from heaven,” and the voice of Muluku Eloheinu—though the sages didn’t call Him that in those days—said “he is right.”
“And then,” said Shemaiah, “the sage Joshua rose and said ‘it is not from heaven.’ The words have been given to us; let us decide.”
Above, in the sky, the voice from heaven laughed and said “My children have defeated Me,” and on the ground, in the market square, the watchers understood. There were to be no more signs from heaven, not in the form of a tree or a stream or even a fish; the Ivrim had their stories and their wisdom, and if their faith told them to face traders from the north together and that Chanyawa blood made them stronger, that was theirs to decide.
Shemaiah knelt by the fish-tank. “Someone help me carry this,” he said, hoping that wouldn’t break the spell; Yochanan, with the same hope clear on his face, put his hands under another part of it and waved to two more of his followers to do likewise.
No one stood in their way as they carried the tank to Shemaiah’s boat and helped him push it off into the water. If the quarrel broke out again after that, Shemaiah didn’t know.
Miklat town had long since faded to the south when Shemaiah put his boat at anchor, and only the mountaintop remained as a looming shadow. He hoped the Ivrim would do well under Yochanan’s rule; the Shevi’im would argue endlessly about what had just happened, but Yochanan seemed to know his own mind. The Ivrim had had a time of judges before, and it hadn’t worked out badly. Maybe this time would be no worse.
He reached into the wooden tank and put his hands on the fish. “Hem baim,” it said. “They are coming.”
Shemaiah lifted it and looked into its eyes as he cast it into the sea. “Tell them we are here.”