In Sinai Tapestry, it is 1840, and Plantagenet Strongbow, the twenty-ninth duke of Dorset, seven-feet-seven-inches tall and the greatest swordsman and botanist of Victorian England, walks away from the family estate and disappears into the Sinai Desert carrying only a large magnifying glass and a portable sundial. He emerges forty years later as an Arab holy man and anthropologist, now the author of a massive study of Levantine sex—and the secret owner of the Ottoman Empire.
In Jerusalem Poker, on New Year’s Eve, 1921, three men sit down to a poker game. The Great Jerusalem Poker Game, as it’s eventually known, continues for the next twelve years. The players are as exotic as the game: Cairo Martyr, a one-time African slave, now the Middle East’s chief supplier of aphrodisiac mummy dust; Joe O’Sullivan Beare, an Irish tradesman with a specialty in sacred phallic amulets; and Munk Szondi, an Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army colonel turned dedicated Zionist. And they are playing for no less than the control of Jerusalem itself.
In Nile Shadows, in 1941, a hand grenade explodes in a Cairo bar, taking the life of Stern, a petty gunrunner and morphine addict. His death could easily go unnoticed as Rommel’s tanks charge through the desert in an attempt to open the Middle East to Hitler’s forces. Yet the mystery behind Stern’s death is a top priority for intelligence experts. Master spies from three countries converge on Joe O’Sullivan Beare, who is closer to Stern than anyone, in an effort to unravel the disturbing puzzle. The search for the truth about Stern leads O’Sullivan Beare through the slums of Cairo to a decaying former brothel called the Hotel Babylon.
And in Jericho Mosaic, Yossi is an ideal agent for the Mossad. He’s recruited by an agent named Tajar, and code-named “the Runner.” Thus begins the longest-running and most successful operation in the history of Israeli intelligence. Meanwhile, in the desert oasis of Jericho, Abu Musa, an Arab patriarch, and Moses the Ethiopian, meet each day over games of shesh-besh and glasses of Arak to ponder history and humanity. We learn about the friendship of Yossi’s son, Assaf, an Israeli soldier badly wounded during the Six Day War, and Yousef, a young Arab teacher who, in support of the Palestinian cause, decides to live as an exile in the Judean wilderness.
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The Jerusalem Quartet
Sinai Tapestry Jerusalem Poker Nile Shadows Jericho Mosaic
By Edward Whittemore
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Edward Whittemore
All rights reserved.
Standing straight out in front of him, thick and menacing, was a medieval lance twelve feet long.
The Arabic Jew, or Jewish Arab, who owned the entire Middle East at the turn of the century passed his early life exactly as had his English forebears for six hundred and fifty years.
At the family estate in southern England he was taught to care for flowers, especially roses. His parents died while he was young and his aunts and uncles moved into the manor to raise him. In due time he would receive his title and become the twenty-ninth Plantagenet Strongbow to bear it, merely one more Duke of Dorset.
For it seemed that destiny had found a resting place among the Strongbows. At one time, thought to be about 1170, one of their line had helped subdue eastern Ireland and been given a title because of it. Since then the family had lapsed into patterns. Confusion had been lost or forgotten. Instead there was repetition and order.
The oldest son in each generation always married on the day he assumed his majority and became the new lord. His wife matched him in wealth and shared his concern for flowers. Children appeared at regular intervals until five or six had been born, more or less equally divided between males and females. By that time the duke and his duchess were thirty, or nearly thirty, and both abruptly died by accident.
The accidents were routinely silly. After drinking an excess of mead late at night they might fall asleep and fall into the fireplace. Or they might doze off in a trout stream and drown in a foot of water.
Following the flight of a butterfly after breakfast, they would wander off a parapet. Or they would absentmindedly swallow a mutton joint whole, causing suffocation. Or a mild sexual diversion such as dressing up in medieval armor would lead to fatal hemorrhaging in the pelvic region.
In any case both husband and wife died at the same time, at about the age of thirty, and it was then the duty of the deceased lord's younger brothers and sisters to return to the manor to rear their five or six nieces and nephews.
It was a family custom that these younger brothers and sisters never married, but being close in age they had no difficulty resettling in the manor of their childhood and enjoying one another's company. At the beginning of the Christmas season they gathered together in the large banquet hall for twelve days of festivities that had come to be called the family game, a traditional sport in which the hall was cleared of furniture and opposing teams were formed with the goal of running a satin pillow from one end of the hall to the other.
During the first hour of play each day intensive grappling was permitted. But thereafter a firm grip on the genitals of an opposing player was sufficient to stop the advance of the pillow and bring on a new scrimmage for its possession.
Under these conditions, despite their wealth and genuine concern for flowers, it was unlikely the Dukes of Dorset would ever have distinguished themselves in the world even if they had lived beyond the age of thirty, and in fact none ever did.
From the end of the twelfth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century, successive Plantagenet Strongbows grew up with a sound knowledge of roses and a vague memory of their parents, learned the family game by watching their aunts and uncles, passed into manhood and sired an heir and a new brood of aunts and uncles before succumbing to another silly accident, thereby perpetuating a random family scheme which was their sole contribution to God and man and England.
Until in 1819, the year of Queen Victoria's birth, a different sort of infant was born in the Dorset manor, different either because of a mutation in genes or because of the terrible disease he suffered at the age of eleven. In any case this slight boy would one day end six hundred and fifty years of placid Strongbow routine by becoming the most awesome explorer his country ever produced.
And coincidently the most scandalous scholar of his era. For whereas other famous theoreticians of the nineteenth century formulated vast, but separate, concepts of the mind and body and society, Strongbow insisted on dealing with all three.
That is, with sex in its entirety.
Not sex as necessity or diversion or in the role of precursor and memory, not even sex as an immediate cause or a vague effect. And certainly not in terms of natural history or inevitable law.
Sex neither as habit nor suggestion but simply sex by itself, unplanned and chaotic and concomitant with nothing, beyond all hope of conspiracy, previously indistinguishable and now seen in infinity.
Sex as practiced. Sex as it was.
At the time, an inconceivable proposition.
In addition to the family game in Strongbow Hall there was also a family mystery. In a manor so old it was only to be expected that some arcane relationship must exist between the structure and its inhabitants, its source secret, probably a hidden sliding panel that opened onto dark passageways leading down into the past.
In fact the huge manor was said to include in its foundations the ruins of a major medieval monastery, unnamed, thought to have been desecrated when its monks were discovered practicing certain unmentionable acts. And close beside those ruins were the ruins of an underground Arthurian chamber, vaulted and impregnable, which had also been desecrated when its knights were discovered practicing other unmentionable acts.
Even deeper in the ground, according to legend, there were the ruins of a spacious sulphur bath only fitfully dormant, built during the age of the Romans.
Next to these baths was a small but impressive sacrificial circle of stones from the even more distant era of the druids.
While lastly, surrounding all these subterranean relics, was an immense erratic design of upright monoliths, astronomical in nature, erected in antiquity by a mighty people.
No one had ever discovered the secret passageways that led to these buried remnants beneath the manor, even though they had always been hunted. For centuries Strongbow aunts and uncles, on rainy afternoons, had armed themselves with torches and organized search parties to try to find them.
Of course minor discoveries had been made. In any given decade a group might come across a cozy unused tower cubicle heaped with furry rugs or a small snug cellar hideaway just big enough for three people.
But the family mystery remained. Tradition claimed the secret sliding panel might well be found in the dark library of the manor, yet strangely Strongbow aunts and uncles never led their search parties there. When a rainy afternoon came they invariably went in other directions.
Thus the aunts and uncles who became the overseers of the manor early in the nineteenth century might have sensed irrevocable changes afoot when they saw the eldest of their wards, the future lord, spending his afternoons in the deserted library.
The awful truth became clear when the boy was eleven, on the winter night set aside each year for the family's heritage to be recounted by the older generation to the younger. On that night everyone gathered in front of the great fireplace after dinner, the aunts and uncles with their snifters of brandy, sitting solemnly in large chairs, the boys and girls absolutely still on cushions on the floor. Outside the wind howled. Inside the little children stared wide-eyed at the crackling logs as the ancient lore of the place was recounted.
A shadowy medieval monastery, began an aunt or an uncle. Hooded figures thrusting yellow tapers aloft. Chants in archaic syllables, incense and bats, rites at the foot of a black altar.
Underground chambers from the age of King Arthur, whispered another. Masked knights riding through the mists in eternal pursuit of invisible combat.
Roman legions fresh from the land of the pharaohs, hinted a third. Barbaric foreign gods and pagan battle standards. Luxurious baths wreathed in steam behind the walls of sumptuous palaces.
Druidical rituals, suggested a fourth. Naked priests painted blue clinging to mistletoe, a single towering oak in a lost grove, apparitions in the gloom on the moors. From the deeper recesses of the forest, eerie birdlike cries.
And long before that, whispered another, massive stones placed on the plains in a mystical pattern. The stones so gigantic no ordinary people could have transported them. Who were these unknown people and what was the purpose of their abstract designs? Yes truly we must ponder these enigmas for they are the secrets of our ancestors, to be recalled tonight as so often over the centuries.
Indeed, murmured an uncle. So it has always been and so it must be. These undying marvels are hidden in the ancient library of our manor, reared by the first Duke of Dorset, and there lies the secret within all of us, the impenetrable Strong-bow Mystery.
A rustle passed around the fireplace. The children shivered and huddled closer together as the wind whined. No one dared think of the maze of lost passageways spiraling down into the earth beneath them.
A thin voice broke the silence, the voice of the future lord.
Sitting erect, farther from the fire than anyone else, the boy gazed gravely at the heavy swords suspended above the mantle.
No, he repeated, that's not quite correct. In the last year I've read all the books in the library and there's nothing like that there. The first Plantagenet Strongbow was a simple man who went to Ireland and had the usual success slaughtering unarmed peasants, then retired here to polish his armor and do some farming. The early books he collected were about armor, later there were a few dealing with barn-yard matters. So it seems the family mystery is simply that no one has ever read a book from the family library.
The disease that felled him the following day was meningitis, which killed his younger brothers and sisters. Thus there would be no aunts and uncles in the next generation and a comfortable routine dating from the reign of Henry II was suddenly shattered.
In its place lay a sickly wasted boy, dying, who made up his mind to do what no Strongbow had ever done, to enter confusion and not let destiny rest. His first decision was to live and as a result he became totally deaf. His second decision was to become the world's leading authority on plants, since at that early age he wasn't fond of people.
Before the attack of meningitis his height had been average. But the revelations that came with the approach of death, and his subsequent bargaining with fate, brought other changes. By the time he was fourteen he would be well over six feet tall, and by the age of sixteen he would have reached his full height of seven feet and seven inches.
Naturally his aunts and uncles were utterly bewildered by these strange events in his twelfth year, yet they tried to go on living as the Strongbows had always lived. Therefore while he lay recovering in bed, it being the Christmas season, they gathered in the great banquet hall for the customary pillow match. And although fearful and disturbed they bravely carried on as usual, resolutely polishing family tradition just as the first duke had once polished his armor.
While the furniture was being cleared away they picked their teams and playfully jostled one another, smiling and nodding and politely guffawing and lightly patting a bottom or two, patiently forming queues and just as patiently reforming them a moment later, stolidly standing one behind the other as they commented on the rain and tittered hopelessly in agreement.
The hour closed to a few minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve, what should have been the beginning of twelve companionable days of nuzzling and scrimmaging. But when the playing field was cleared, precisely when the satin pillow was ceremoniously placed in the middle of the floor and the fun was ready to begin, a dreadful silence swept through the hall.
They turned. In the doorway stood their gaunt nephew, already an inch or two taller than they remembered him. Standing straight out in front of him, thick and menacing, was a medieval lance twelve feet long.
The boy went directly to the middle of the room, skewered the satin pillow and hurled it into the fireplace, where it burst and blazed briefly. Then in words alternately booming and inaudible, for he hadn't yet learned to modulate his voice without hearing it, he announced they were all dismissed from his house and lands forever. Any aunt or uncle found on the premises when the clock struck midnight, he shouted, would receive the same punishment as the pillow.
There were shrieks and a rush to the door as the future Duke of Dorset, twenty-ninth in his line, calmly ordered the furniture returned to its place and assumed control of his life.
Young Strongbow's first act was to make an inventory of the artifacts in the manor. With his botanist's interest in cataloguing he wanted to know exactly what he had inherited, so with a ledger in one hand and a pen in the other he went from room to room noting everything.
What he found appalled him. The manor was an immense mausoleum containing no less than five hundred thousand separate objects acquired by his family in the course of six hundred and fifty years of doing nothing.
There and then he decided never to encumber his life with material goods, which was the real reason, not vanity, that when the time came for him to disappear into the desert at the age of twenty-one, he did so carrying only his magnifying glass and portable sundial.
But such extreme simplicity was for the future. Now he had to master his profession. Methodically he sealed off the rest of the manor and moved into the central hall, which he equipped as a long botanical laboratory. Here he lived austerely for six years, at the age of sixteen writing to the Rector of Trinity College stating that he was prepared to take up residence at Cambridge to receive a degree in botany.
The letter was brief, attached to it was a summary of his qualifications.
Fluent ability in Early and Middle Persian, hieroglyphics and cuneiform and Aramaic, classical and modern Arabic, the usual knowledge of Greek and Hebrew and Latin and the European tongues, Hindi where relevant and all sciences where necessary for his work.
Lastly, as an example of some research already undertaken, he enclosed a short monograph on the ferns to be found on his estate. The Rector of Trinity had the paper examined by an expert, who declared it the most definitive study on ferns ever written in Britain. The monograph was published by the Royal Society as a special bulletin and thus Strongbow's name, one day to be synonymous with rank depravity, made its first quiet appearance in print.
Almost at once three sensational incidents made Strong-bow a legend at Cambridge. The first occurred on Halloween, the second over a two-week period prior to the Christmas holiday, the third on the night of the winter solstice.
The Halloween incident was a fistfight with the most vicious brawlers in the university. After drinking quantities of stout these notorious young men had adjourned to an alley to pummel each other in the autumn moonlight. A crowd gathered and bets were taken while the sweating fighters stripped to the waist.
The alley was narrow. Strongbow happened to enter it just as the brawlers went into a crouch. Having spent a long day in the countryside collecting specimens, the wild flowers he now carried in his hand, he was too exhausted to turn back. Politely he asked the mass of fighters to stand aside and let him pass. There was a brief silence in the alley, then a round of raucous laughter. Strongbow's bouquet of flowers was knocked to the ground.
Wearily he knelt in the moonlight and retrieved his specimens from the chinks in the cobblestones. When he had them all he moved forward, flowers in one hand and the other arm flailing.
Because of his extraordinary reach not a blow fell on him. In seconds a dozen men lay crumpled on the pavement, all with broken bones and several with concussions. The stunned onlookers pressed against the walls as Strongbow carefully dusted off his flowers, rearranged his bouquet and continued down the alley to his rooms.
Excerpted from The Jerusalem Quartet by Edward Whittemore. Copyright © 2002 Edward Whittemore. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword: "Edward Whittemore (1933–1995)" by Tom Wallace,
3. Cairo 1840,
4. Sinai 1836–1843,
5. The Haj,
7. The Tiberias Telegrams,
8. O'Sullivan Beare,
9. Haj Harun,
10. The Scarab,
15. The Jordan,
16. Jerusalem 700 B.C.–1932,
17. The Bosporua,
18. Melchizedek 220 B.C.–1933,
20. Smyrna 1922,
21. Cairo 1942,
Introduction by Lesley Hazleton,
1. Jerusalem 1933,
2. Cairo Martyr,
3. Cheops' Pyramid,
4. Solomon's Quarries,
5. Munk Szondi,
6. St. Catherine's Monastery,
7. Haj Harun,
8. Joker Wild,
9. Nubar Wallenstein,
10. Sophia the Black Hand,
13. O'Sullivan Beare,
15. Sheik Ibrahim ibn Harun,
16. Venice 1933,
17. Crypt, Cobbler,
"Nile Shadows: The Improbable Art of Edward Whittemore" by Ben Gibberd,
1. An Australian Hand Grenade,
2. The Purple Seven Armenian,
3. Hopi Mesa Kiva,
15. The Sisters,
16. Two Candles,
19. A Golden Bell and a Pomegranate,
20. A Gift of Faces, a Gift of Tongues,
21. Purple Seven Moonlight,
22. Bernini's Bag,
23. Nile Echoes,
Introduction by James Hougan,
An Editorial Relationship,
About the Author,