Chapter 5; The Well of the Wise
“Dead?!” Charles interjected.
“Indeed, that is what she told me,” said Gabriel. “And, as you’ll see, I came to have little cause to doubt her, since so much else that she has shown me has, indeed, come to pass.”
“Shown you? What do you mean ‘shown you’?”
“That, I am coming to. Yeshi’s words, of course, startled me very much. Here I was, having traveled from England to simply find her, having passed through dangerous straits to come into the relative safety of her valley, pursued, as it seemed, by unknown assailants. And there, I was told that I would somehow be required to return again to make safe the way for others. It was all a bit much, and I told her so at the time. But, she simply smiled and said that I would soon come to understand better.
“But then Yeshi asked if I was hungry, and whether I might wish to rest after my journey. I was delighted to accept her hospitality, so she led me from what I came to regard as the ‘Chapel’ into an adjacent building. Here I found a table laden with viands the likes of which I had never tasted before, and in great abundance. There was a platter with what appeared to be cold pheasant, a tureen filled with steaming soup that tasted of fresh fish and coriander, many bowls of spiced vegetables, mounds of fresh and aromatic apricots, grapes, and oranges, and chilled white wine that I could only compare to a delicious but obscure vintage I had once tasted in Sicily. There were also plates of injera, the ubiquitous flatbread of Ethiopia that serves not only as food, but also as the means of dining, since traditional Ethiopian meals are eaten with the hands.
“I was astonished to find such fare before me, since it appeared that Yeshi lived in Mekdes alone, and I could think of no way that such a feast might have been prepared without the help of many servants. Yet, when I turned to thank her for her hospitality and consideration, and to ask who had prepared such a feast, Yeshi had already vanished.
“I came to accept the peculiarities of Yeshi and of the manner of happenings in Mekdes as the days progressed, but in this first instance, I admit I was startled, or rather, puzzled. Nevertheless, I set to the meal with a hearty appetite, and afterwards I found that, adjoining what I came to regard as my ‘Parlor’, there was a small suite of rooms including a dressing area. Here a basin and pitchers of hot and cold water were set out, and adjoining this was a bedroom with a curtained window that faced toward the east. Fresh clothes had been laid out for me: white robes not unlike those in which Yeshi clothed herself, but which fit me perfectly.
“Over the next many days, I was able to assess the size of Mekdes, and most of its features. It was hemmed in on all sides by the peaks and hair-raising passes of the Sahel. It appeared to have but one way to reach it, at least by land, and that was through the gated rift by means of which Amsale had brought me. But the valley itself was large enough not only to provide land for the cultivation of food for many souls, but also for many wild animals to thrive. There was a modest stream that was fed from many springs, and in this dwelt a species of fish that was readily caught with net or angle. There also were forests and grasslands frequented by the pheasant-like birds that I mentioned. I saw now signs of any dangerous animals; not even the baboons that we had met on the mountain pass.
“So, I was able to content myself that, indeed, many might find refuge in Mekdes, should the need for a sanctuary truly arise. But, I also knew that I would require more time with Yeshi in order to understand why she had summoned me. For, make no mistake; I could never have found Yeshi unless she had called me to her; and this alone, coupled with what I learned of her own deep studies and wisdom, was enough for me to give credence to her initial words.
“After several days had passed and I had thoroughly rested from my travels, a morning came when Yeshi joined me at breakfast. She ate sparingly, but it was clear that she felt it was time for us to speak at length. After the meal, I accompanied her back to the Chapel.
“I had not been in that place since my first arrival, and then the hour had been late. By morning light, the Chapel was even more ethereal than I had remembered, and I once again felt that this was a place of great sanctity. As I’ve said, brilliantly colored icons filled the walls and even the ceiling; much of the interior was gilded, and the morning light, shining in beams through the misty air, enhanced its otherworldly aspect.
“This is the Holy of Holies, Gabriel,” said Yeshi. “It is here that I come to learn all that I must know for the sake of the Brotherhood and the souls with whom I am entrusted.’
“Then Yeshi motioned me past the curtain through which she had passed on my arrival. Within was a smaller room: round and also bedecked with icons. But, at the center of this space stood a golden basin and a fountain that was the source of a spring of fresh water. But, this was not like any other water.
“‘King Solomon himself knew of this well,’ said Yeshi. ‘And drinking from the fount, he came to understand God’s work as few have before or since. By partaking of this water and heeding the urgings of my dreams, I have been provided me with all knowledge that is needful to me. The spring’s location and its properties have been held as a close secret for thousands of years, and now, other than myself, you alone of all humankind know of its existence. Come, Gabriel; drink, and we will explore the future together’
“And so, I drank. Behind the fountain was affixed a large icon. It consisted simply of a golden frame within which stood a featureless field of ultramarine; there were no figures painted there, no landscapes: just a sea of deepest blue. I knelt before it. At first, looking at the empty blue field, I could see nothing. But then, Yeshi placed her hands upon my shoulders. She, too, gazed at the icon, and at that moment I perceived that the blue was melting away, and it seemed that forms swam in depths beneath the surface of some wild ocean. These became ever clearer, and for the next several hours I was lost in this vision, this dilation of time, that had opened up before us…”
“But what, specifically, did you see?” asked Charles.
“Many, many things, some of which I only came to understand later, with Yeshi’s help. I saw, first, the lands at the edges of Mekdes, and saw it littered with the bodies of dead men, their carcasses being picked clean by vultures and jackals. But then the vision broadened, and I saw towns and cities in Ethiopia and Egypt. Wars erupted; regimes rose and fell; great monstrous machines travelled in the air, loosing destruction beneath them. A great king was cast down, bringing to an end a line of royalty that stretched back to Solomon. I saw events tangled, as with some great webbing, and each moment was tied to the next in a tapestry of gossamer threads.
“But, because Yeshi was directing our gaze through the many twists and turns of possible outcomes, I came to see that there was a single broad thread that we were following. And because of its strength, it seemed that it could only be broken through some tremendous cataclysm. Yet the thread itself led to Apocalypse, a dimly-seen series of catastrophes that might only be avoided through divine intervention. Yeshi did not believe that such intervention would come; instead, the Suffering Times need be endured, and these tribulations would then lead to the end of all things.”
“The end of all things?”
“Indeed. The players were set, even back then, and it is many generations since first I saw these visions. But nothing has changed the course of that thread of events. Whether you choose to rejoice or to suffer great trepidation, or both (which is likely the most prudent reaction), the end of this age is coming; it is nearly upon us. And we shall see much of it through together.”
“I…I don’t know what to make of any of this, Gabriel,” said Charles, shaking his head.
“Did I not tell you, even as you were painting my portrait, that you were a part of all of this? And that Yeshi told me about you? Well, as it happens, yours was one of the countless faces that I saw in the visions, but one that I came to see ever more clearly. I was curious about you, and Yeshi told me much that she had learned on her own; about you, and about what will be required of you and of those that will come to help you along the way.”
“You make it sound like I have some great quest ahead of me.”
“That you do, my boy, that you do!” Gabriel sat back in his chair. He knocked the ashes from his pipe and refilled it. “But it will not be a quest that you undertake alone.”
In the brief silence that ensued, the sound of rising wind could be heard through the windowpanes, and the suggestion of thunder could be heard distantly. “And so, it begins,” thought Gabriel to himself, thinking back on the vision of this night that he had had so many decades before.
“But, Gabriel, how can I take this seriously?” asked Charles. “It’s a singular tale, but even without you telling me what lies ahead, how can you be sure that I am the person that Yeshi told you about? Or that you saw in the vision?”
“It is a very good point, and one that I anticipated,” said the old man. “I knew you were likely to play the role of ‘Doubting Thomas’, and who can blame you? But, tell me, how many times have we been together since first we met?”
“I’d say, perhaps a half dozen.”
“And have I ever, to your knowledge, been in this flat before?”
“No. This is the first time I’ve had you up; for the portrait, you know.”
“Good. Then, if I’ve never been here before, I could not know, for example, about the paintings you have stored in that room yonder…” Gabriel pointed toward a closed door just outside the kitchen.
“No, I suppose not.”
“And thus, I also could not know that you have been working on the portrait of a young lady for quite some time now; a young lady with whom you are in love…correct?”
Charles blushed. “No, I suppose you couldn’t know that. But, that said, what does this lady look like, if you somehow know about the portrait?”
“You’ve shown the painting to no one, I take it? And no one knows of its existence, not even the young lady in question?”
“But the lady in question is unusual, and even you don’t know that much about what she looks like, since she is always veiled. Am I right?”
“Yes…but this is uncanny!”
“You have rendered her seated before a blue background. She is dressed all in white, and held in her left hand is an object that looks rather like a pendulum of some sort, wrought in gold.”
“Oh my God!”
“There are other details I can describe; the vision of the painting was very clear when first I saw it in my visions. And its most singular feature is that the woman is painted without her veil: with violet eyes within which there are no pupils. You saw this vision of her yourself, in a dream, and you have attempted to capture that dream in paint ever since it first came to you.”
“Now you are truly scaring me, Gabriel!”
“Not as much as I should do! For we’ve not yet discussed what is to come! But, you required proof….”
“But…but nobody knows about this! No one! And you almost seem to be making light of the fact that you’ve seen something that no one could possibly have seen!!” Charles was ashen white and trembling.
Gabriel leaned over to him and grasped his hand. “Charles! Take a few deep breaths. There. Be at peace. I knew this night would be difficult for you, but I hope perhaps we’re nearly through the worst of it.
“For unbelief is the greatest hurdle; we live in an age of such skepticism that the minds of even those who profess to believe in ‘all things visible and invisible’ can be put in great jeopardy. It is always a shock when we see past the veil ourselves for the first time. But this isn’t even the first time for you, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you have a very special gift, Charles, whether you’re yet fully conscious of it or not.”
“What sort of a gift?”
“Well, to put it bluntly, you, too, are able to see things that others can’t see.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Look, Charles, you’ve admitted that you painted this picture of Sogna…”
“Yes,” Gabriel said, “I said ‘Sogna’. You don’t think I’d know about the portrait without also knowing the name of the young lady, did you? But, as I was saying, you painted the picture of Sogna from an image that came to you in your dreams. But those aren’t just random dreams; they have a very special quality that you’ve come to know; and you’ve had them all your life, haven’t you?”
“Yes…yes, I have. They’re unusually vivid. But they’re really just dreams, after all….”
“No, that is precisely where you’re wrong. Charles. They are not ‘just dreams’, nor are they just your brain sorting things out, as most dreams are for the rest of us; they are premonitions of actual events.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying, Charles, that you can see the future; that your dreams are messages and omens of what is to come. In short, Charles, just like Yeshi, you are nothing less than a prophet of God.”
[To be continued]