The Power of the Heliodromus sample (this material is copyrighted)

Chapter 1

            High atop the minaret of the Zumurrud Khatun Mosque, the muezzin’s call for prayer woke Isa promptly at dawn.  He wiped the sleep from his eyes and moved to a basin full of rose and clove scented water to wash.  His apartment above a blacksmith’s barn, was small comprised of the wobbly table his basin sat upon, his simple bed, a chest with his possessions, a small fireplace with a hooked pot that he rarely used for anything more than a bland pottage, a bench, and a simple desk, which was, of course, covered with books. Actually, the room would have been much larger if it wasn’t for these volumes. They were stacked floor to ceiling leaving only a narrow cruciform path from bed, to basin, to desk, to door.  What he didn’t spend on the necessities of life, he spent on these books as he searched for clues for the whereabouts of the Evangelion.

It had been 15 years since he started this quest, the search wasn’t going well.

Isa opened his single window and looked to the sky. The January air was still crisp with night, but the sun was already above the horizon. The muezzin must have been late this morning, which means Lwica would be late for work if he didn’t rush. He moved to his chest and took out a black cloak of wool called a bisht to wear over his long linen tunic or thawb. As he was a Christian and therefore a dhimmi (regulated person), he was also required to wear a honey-colored turban called a taylasan and a like-colored zunnar or thick cord belt. Unfortunately, this distinction of being non-Muslim also required that his bisht have an appliqué on the chest in the shape of a pig. It was a derogatory reference to a Christian’s affinity for pork, considered to be unclean and not fit for human consumption by the Muslim majority. He looked at the pig for a moment and sighed, before putting on the cloak and tying it fast with the zunnar.

He hurried down stairs and across the courtyard, waving to the blacksmith already fanning the coals for a long day’s work. Luckily, the man was also a Christian, and wouldn’t chastise Isa for not offering prayer to the southwest (the location of Mecca from Baghdad). Lwica lived in an apartment in the next courtyard owned by a widow, Lady Ida. Always a heavy sleeper, Isa was sure Lwica would still be sleeping. He came to her window and threw a pebble at the pane. She didn’t answer. It wasn’t until he was about to throw the forth, that she opened the window with disheveled hair.

“We’re late.”

She looked to the sky.  “By the blood of Christ!”


She covered her mouth. “Sorry.”

Isa rolled his eyes. “Hurry, get dressed or you’ll have to skip breakfast again.”

Isa sat atop the wall and waited, kicking his heels against the stones. It seemed that as they got older, Lwica took longer to get ready each morning. He heard the door and turned, but it wasn’t Lwica. Instead the widow came out of her adjoining apartment. She, like the blacksmith, was a Nestorian who lost her husband, a scholar of some acclaim, several years ago. She was a bitter woman, but her one redeeming quality was that she was marvelous cook, and Isa and Lwica spent many nights at her table.

“Good morning, Lady Ida. It will be a splendid day.”

She gave him a sour look. “When are you going to get off my wall and make an honest woman of that girl?”

Isa’s cheeks turned red. 

“It isn’t proper for you to be hanging around outside her window like this with you both being bachelors.”

“We are like brother and sister, Lady Ida, as you know.”

“Don’t give me that. Is Lwica to be a single-woman all her life? How old is she?”


 The woman almost collapsed. “Praise the Lord, she’s already an old woman! Fare as she is, she’ll never find another. Are you going to make her wait forever? Perhaps it’s better she join a nunnery and marry the Lord.”

“Ha! Lwica a nun. Even you must see the comedy in that.”

“The neighborhood talks, Isa.” The woman lowered her voice. “Lwica is smart. She doesn’t need to hear them to know what they are saying.”

“I’m sorry Lady Ida, but I neither have the resources, nor the time for such things. I think you will find that Lwica feels the same.”

“Don’t be too sure about that, my young fellow. I see how she looks at you.”

“What do you mean?”

She shook her head. “You work in the city so you must be a smart man, but you’re not particularly bright when it comes to women. Life is short and the winds of change are always blowing. Don’t wind up at the end of your life, filled with regret. More importantly, if you have any love in your heart for Lwica, don’t force that life onto her.” A door closed and she looked up. “You’re late, Lwica.”

“Yes, I know, Lady Ida.” She stumbled down the stairs. “I was up until midnight studying.”

“You two, always studying. There is more to life than those stupid books. You both would do well to realize that. What good is knowledge without life? My late husband, God rest his soul, always liked to give a lesson. At the very least learn that one from him.” Lady Ida looked between the two. She adjusted Lwica’s hijab, and then focusing on Isa with a squint. “I take it you’ll be eating my food again tonight?”

“If you would be so kind as to have me at your table.”

“Even leaches have their use.” She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Yes, of course. You’re always welcome, even though your dumb as nails. Make yourself useful and bring me back some flour. The good stuff this time, none of that weevil filled dust that you brought back the last time.”

“As you wish.”

“Well, off with you both.”

They smiled at each other and headed for the city walls.

“And stop at the church to get some wine! We must have wine.”

Isa waved, “only the best, right?”

“Eh,” she swatted the air, “as long as its strong.”

They both laughed and continued towards the city.

            Lwica looked to Isa, “busy day?”

            “The director has asked to speak with me.”

            “Really, why?”

            “I don’t know, but I’m hoping my request to work in the east wing has been approved. I’ve barely touched that side. You?”

            “I still haven’t been given access to the hospital’s library, but I think I’m close.”

            “Good. God willing, I hope this is the year.”


            Isa glanced to Lwica. “Do you ever regret?”


            “Coming with me.”

            “Never. Where else was I to go?”

            “I’m sorry. I never thought it would take this long.”

            “As you always say, great things can’t be easy.”

            “Do you realize this is the 15th year we’ve been in Baghdad?”

            “Yes, of course. You are not the only one counting the days.”

            “Do you miss our home?”

            “Isa, we’ve been in this city most of our lives. This is our home now.”

            “I guess.”

            “Why, do you?”

            “I just never thought it would take this long. It would be nice to get just a clue, you know?”

            “You’ve gotten clues.”

            “No, I mean something substantial.”

            “Like what?”

            “I don’t know, like something other than a scrap of knowledge that the book was here many years ago.”

            “Isa, we both know where it is.”

            Isa looked down. “I know, but how are we to get to it?”

            “Have faith and keep working hard. Someday he will recognize your work and reward you.”

            “I don’t know. I’ve seen so many Muslims with half my skill promoted before me.”

            “I don’t mean the director.” She looked to the sky. “I mean Him.”

            Isa looked up too. “Yeah, Him.”

            “Anyway, your meeting is a good sign, right?”

            “I guess so, unless they’re getting rid of me.”

            “And how could they do that? The place would fall apart without you.”


            They came to a branch in the road. One path led to the Bashra gate, the other circled around towards the Tigris and then up to the Kurasan gate about two miles away.

            “Do you have time for breakfast?” asked Isa.

            “It doesn’t look like it.”

            “You’ll starve.”

            “I’ll try to pick something up outside the hospital.”

            “Well, I’ll miss you at the bridge.”

            She looked at him with the tilt of her head. “Really? Usually I annoy you.”

            “Yes, you’re right, but sometimes things are too silent without the chatter of birds.”

            “Hey!” She playfully pushed him. “This bird’s beautiful song is better than your goose’s honk.”

            “See you here at dusk?”

            “Of course, and don’t forget Lady Ida’s flour.”

            He felt around his pockets. “Ugh.”


            He smiled, “Do you have any coin?”

            “What happened to what I gave you yesterday?”

            “You know.”


            He smiled again and cupped his hands like a beggar. “And I have to buy parchment.”

            Lwica shook her head. “It was good that we decided I hold the money. Here, and you heard her, buy the good stuff, Isa. No spending it on books again.”

            “Yes, yes, yes.”

            “I’m serious. We’ll starve if either of us have to do the cooking.”

            “Thanks!” He took the money.

            “I swear, you’ll be the death of me. Buy something good to eat too… and no books!”

            “Yes, I heard you.”

            She looked at him with the corner of her eye. “Ok. We almost have enough to get you out of that barn.”

            “I like my barn.”

            “It smells of horse piss.”

            “Yeah, it does.”

            “If it smells of horse piss, then so do you.”

            “Hey, I washed with the rose and cloves you gave me.”

            She bent forward and sniffed. “It’s an improvement, I must say. At least now you smell like a horse’s piss after it ate some rose and cloves.”

            Isa frowned.

            “Don’t do that.”


            “Frown like that.”


“Because you look like that little boy the day I met you in the ruins of Krakow.”

“It has been an adventure.”

            “It certainly has. Ok, I really need to get going.”

            “Thanks, Lwica.”

            “For what?”

            “For sticking with me.”             She sighed, and brushed some of the hair from his face. “There is no place I’d rather be.”

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