The Prodigal (1955) Script

ln the times before Christianity, only a few people believed in one God.

Most people believed in many gods. lt was mainly the believers in Jehovah who stood against a multitude of some 65,000 strange and different gods.

Of these, two of the most notorious were Baal and Astarte, the male and the female. Gods of the flesh, not of the soul.

They were supposed to renew the fertility of the earth every year. ln exchange, they demanded of their believers the sacrifice of money, jewelry and human life.

Out of these times comes our story, based upon the parable of the prodigal son as told in Luke, Chapter 15.

This is the seaport of Joppa, in the year 70 B.C.


Who is he? A slave, a runaway slave.

Then he shouldn't be too expensive.

What's his price? l have my orders. There is no price.

He must die.

Why? Ask him why.

He's a mute. He has no tongue.

But you have a tongue. Use it.

For the last time, what's his price?

He cost my master 20 pieces of silver.

Joram, my purse is empty. As always.

So as always, l could make use of a little loan.

Twenty pieces of silver, according to him.

Our father did not tell us to bring home any slaves.

True. But he's always told us, ''He who loves his fellow man is of...' ' ''The true seed of Abraham.' '

You always have an answer.

Don't kneel there like a fool. You're free. Take my advice.

Get as far away from here as you can. Here.

You've managed to find trouble in every town from Petra to here.

You've managed to frown in every town from Petra to here.

The level of the well is high, the field is parched.

Let the west field be watered now, today.

Father, this man is hurt.

Careful.

We pulled a spear out of his shoulder.

Caleb, put him in the large chamber.

Be sure that his bed is warm.

And, Caleb, give him hot broth when he opens his eyes.

Who is he? A runaway slave.

He cost Micah 20 pieces of silver and very nearly a spear through the heart.

But as you've so often told us...

''He who loves his fellow man is of the true seed of Abraham.' '

True words, even if they do come back to taunt me.

How went the journey to Petra?

As for gold and silver, better than usual.

As for Micah learning anything from the trip, he learned.

Nothing about business but all about every wine between here and Petra.

Your family, Joram. You keep them waiting.

Miriam! Deborah! David! l ate half the sand of the desert and brought the other half with me. l need a wash.

Scrub well, Micah.

A man cannot be too clean for his betrothal.

Again? Again.

A wife.

Whom have you chosen?

The daughter of our good neighbor, Tobiah.

Ruth? While you were away l spoke to Tobiah.

Tomorrow morning we visit them to draw up the betrothal contract.

Have l chosen well?

A sensible choice, Father. l admire her, respect her, more than any other.

But it's difficult to find the proper words.

We've always understood each other, whatever the words.

You mean to say you don't love her. l did not see your mother until the day of our betrothal.

And yet... l know how lonely it's been for you without her.

Not when you're with me, Micah.

You've Rachel's spirit and her love of life. Come, get on with your washing.

Then we'll say the evening prayer... And eat. l'm hungry enough to devour a whole fatted calf.

''According to the Law of Moses and of lsrael, ''on this seventh day of the month of Nisan, ''a holy betrothal is entered into between Micah ben Eli and Ruth bat Tobiah, ''whereby he doth promise to please, ''to honor, to nourish and to care for her.

''The terms and conditions of the marriage agreement

''shall be as follows...' '

Tobiah, all the terms and conditions can be readily agreed upon.

However, much as l respect your feelings, my good friend, l cannot overlook my own.

Do not think, Eli, that you can win your way with soft words.

The boon l seek is that the first son born of this unión shall be named after my father.

No! After mine!

He will be my first grandson!

But by all the writings of the learned doctors, l have precedence!

Asham!

Asham, l've warned you to stay in bed until tomorrow.

Give your wound a chance to heal.

You will do what l say when l say it.

How long have you been a mute, Asham?

And you've always been a slave?

Five moons... Five months!

You didn't wait long to try and escape.

No wonder. The whipping post.

How did you lose your freedom, Asham?

Sold into slavery to pay your debts?

Here, only make certain you don't use these the way l would.

Ruth! Ruth!

Ruth, don't hide.

We've known each other for several years.

Now it's time we became better acquainted.

Our fathers are taking a long time inside. lt's comforting to know that it takes longer to arrange a betrothal than to buy a flock of sheep.

When l left, they were arguing about the name of our first son.

By now they've probably named a dozen of his brothers and sisters as well. ls there a name for the feeling we will share, Micah? lt'll be no effort to learn to love you. l shall try to merit your love.

They'll probably decide upon an early wedding.

Yes.

Yes, a very early wedding.

Micah's first gift to Ruth.

lt is sweet and good.

This afternoon l am going to Joppa to invite the Grand Rabbi to the signing of our betrothal contract.

What can l bring you? There is nothing l need, Micah.

Not something you need. Something foolish, feminine.

Something you've always wanted but never let anyone guess.

You won't laugh at me? Never.

Then, if it please you, Micah, bring me a dove from Smyrna.

With wings as white as the snows of Lebanon.

Yes, it would please me to bring you such a gift, Ruth.

Micah! l must go.

Micah. Yes? l am an able cook.

Worship graven images...

Why, there it is!

That's what the Grand Rabbi told us about!

Now, Micah...

A caravan of infidels worshipping idols, here in Joppa.

Look at the townspeople.

They hate this sacrilege as much as l do. And l.

But it is a matter for the Elders to handle, according to the laws.

The Elders!

They talk and talk and never do anything, but this time...

Joram, look! He who tried to spear me. The pagan ceremonial tent!

Micah. Micah!

l have been expecting you. l arranged for you to see Rhakim and meant you to follow him here.

Who are you? My name is Nahreeb. l know of you.

You and your unholy temple in Damascus with its 500 women of the temple gardens.

Five hundred priestesses. Priestesses.

Women who would do anything for a silver coin.

Painted women serving painted graven images.

Yesterday you took title to a slave of mine for 20 pieces of silver. l should like to buy Asham back for 200 pieces of silver.

A thousand?

Two thousand?

You hunger for him as a pig for husks.

Everything has its price. Name yours.

Asham is my friend.

Would you sell a friend to death?


Her name is Samarra.

She will be High Priestess of Astarte at Damascus.

The face of Astarte is veiled so that every man may picture beneath the veil the face of the woman he most desires.

You, Micah, what face are you picturing there?


Nahreeb, you said everything has its price.

Name hers.

She is not for a follower of Jehovah! l mean to have her.

One way or another.

Asham tried to set Damascus against you, and you let the Hebrew keep him!

We shall bring Asham to justice. And we shall see this Hebrew again.

''As a pig for husks,'' he said to me.

Yes, we must make him thoroughly and fittingly humble, this Micah.

Micah?

Micah.


Take yourself to bed. lt's near daylight.

Me? l shall be pleased when daylight comes.

Asham, l've drunk deep of every wine from here to Petra, and l've had my full share of women.

Yet l'm behaving like a beardless boy, panting for the first forbidden fruit that he sees.

A priestess who worships a painted graven image.

But she's in my blood.

May the Lord give strength to His people.

May the Lord bless His people with peace.

Amen.

Micah?

You said grace, my son, but ate nothing.

Father...

What you are about to tell me, l may already know.

Still, it is for you to speak and for me to listen.

Father, l've tried to spare you and Ruth. l cannot enter into the betrothal.

You are not the first man to balk at the threshold of matrimony.

Nor the last.

Will it surprise you to learn that l, too, felt panic at the thought of my betrothal day?

This is not the same. lt is written that every young man thinks his life is the first new page in the Book of Experience.

Father, you don't know.

Just what is it that l don't know?

That Micah has looked upon the High Priestess of Astarte, a woman who gives herself in the worship of her pagan gods. ls this true?

She is already on her way to Damascus.

He means to follow her.

Micah, l have allowed you to take your own way but not in this, l say to you...

She's the most beautiful woman l've ever seen. l will not let you defile yourself!

You know what l feel in my heart for you. l would give anything if l could obey you. l've labored hard to put her out of my blood. l must go to Damascus!

Give me my portion, the one-third due to me as the younger of two sons.

Micah, l have brought you up by the Ten Commandments, by the teachings of Moses, by the ways of Abraham, lsaac and Jacob.

You have been taught the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, between love and lust. lf you still choose to turn your back on your sacred heritage, then l turn my back on you!

As for your portion, your portion is what l feel for you!

Father! ''Father''?

You are no longer my son!


Micah?

l have prayed for forgiveness for striking you in anger. l am not worth your grieving. You're my son, Micah.

A son is always worthy of a parent's love. Even when he seeks a far country.

l brought you gold enough for half your portion.

The other half will be here whenever you need it.

One thing more l have brought you.

My blessing.

Your blessing? Knowing my purpose.

Micah, you've chosen to go far afield from righteousness.

Yet l invoke on you the blessing of the Lord our God.

That thou mayest yet find in thyself the strength to turn away from evil, which is ever a temptress of surpassing beauty.

Micah?

This ring, which our family has always handed down from eldest son to eldest son.

Let it always remind you of here.

l am late for the fields.

Micah, there is one thing more you must do.

Ruth.

Farewell, my son. l love you.

And l love you, my father.

Farewell.

How beautiful can she be?

Then you know?

A woman always knows more than her man thinks.

Then you must know how l have wanted not to do this to you!

And you must know how you are well rid of a man who would do such a thing.

You've always had many suitors, Ruth.

Many more deserving than l.

But when you return, and you will, you'll expect to find me waiting here with open arms.

And you'll be wrong. Ruth!

Go, Micah.


The map of the great worid we live in.

And now you see why they say all roads lead to Damascus.

And here's the road we took. Alexandria, Joppa, Damascus.

We came by sea to here, and that's where we met the caravan.

And here, where the land was so green and where you ate too many figs, and then the desert. l am weary of lessons, lessons.

Why must l know of roads and maps, Samarra? l do not care where l've been, l only care where l am. lt is true, Yasmin.

All that matters is where you are and who you are and who you will some day be.

When l am High Priestess of Astarte, and you are no longer beautiful, what will you be? l shall still find ways of serving my goddess.

But come. l will teach you something that you will find a little more useful than maps and roads.

And now l will show you the greatest secret of all.

How to make your eyes look deep and dark and mysterious.

Why so solemn, Yasmin? l do not know.

Know what? l wonder if l really want to be High Priestess.

You do.

Now watch, this shadow, just a touch.

For every million women, there is only one high priestess.

When l was your age l was frightened, too.

You were?

lt is time. So early?

Now, you watch while Elissa prepares me. l've never known so useful a body slave.

The mirror, Yasmin.

A million pieces of gold, too much.

Too much for me to lend you or anyone.

Lending money is your trade. lt's made you the richest man in Damascus.

The people know the Governor is your puppet.

You pull the strings.

You are a tyrant, Nahreeb. The people hate a tyrant. lf they kill you, who will repay me my money? Who?

They'll not kill me.

Not even that new High Priestess that l hear so much about can save you now. lt wants one of two things.

Either a war or a calamity. A calamity or a war. l am creating the calamity.

How so? How so?

The crops are short this year.

The crops are always short.

The people are always hungry.

That is no calamity in Damascus.

The crops will be shorter than ever, and the desert tribes will burn and pillage.

The desert tribes are peaceful. How do you know they'll pillage? l've already prepared it. You?

Yes.

With your gold added to mine, l will buy up what is left of the harvest.

The people will pay whatever price l ask.

Hungry as they may be now, they will grow hungrier. Much, much hungrier.

Too hungry to worry about tyrants or revolt or to do anything except pray to Baal and Astarte to keep them alive.

The people starving.

Oh, that's sound wisdom. Good economics. lf you succeed, you'll be the richest man east of Alexandria! l will succeed in all things!

But if you fail, your life won't be worth the tail of a locust!

And in that case, farewell to my million pieces of gold. lt requires thought, my friend. Thought.

My one vanity lies in being a perfect host.

Therefore, l desire that you have a perfect companion.

l searched many lands before l found a golden-haired high priestess.

Yes, Bosra, you'll find that the people will grow hungrier, much, much hungrier.


Thief! Thief! Thief!


Alms! Alms! l beg of you! Alms! For pity's sake.

Alms! Please! Alms!

So these are the citizens of proud Damascus!

Here.


Master, what do you seek? A roof for your head?

Food for your belly? The exquisite pleasures of Damascus?

Carmish knows the best. Let Carmish serve you.

You're a stranger in Damascus. l can tell by your beard.

And what each stranger hungers to see first is the Tinted Wall.

Only a stone's throw, the Tinted Wall. Let Carmish take you.

For, as Carmish is known to say, ''Grab hold of the day, who knows if the night will ever come! ''

Lead the way, Carmish. And a merry way it will be.

Master, Carmish sees all, knows all, withholds nothing.

The mute, rid yourself of him. He's a troublemaker.

Troublemaker? Yes, an evil one.

He belonged to the High Priest, but not long ago in Joppa, some...

Master, you are not... From Joppa.

Why? Nothing. Very interesting seaport, Joppa.

Yes, but here, the Tinted Wall, covered with offers.

You can buy anything. Satisfy any need, any desire.

Write your offer in gold or as low as 10 pieces of silver.

Master, do you wish a housekeeper, a cook, a dancing companion?

Do you like women tall, short, fat, slim, shy, talkative?

Speak, and trust my judgment, for though my ribs are sharp and my tongue is parched for wine, l am a man of learning. l can even do your writing for you.

Would you consider Aida, who cooks so beautifully you forget she looks like a crow?

Or Murdeh, who can stitch anything, including your heart?

Or Kafah, with lips as soft as her song?

For me, only one name shall ever be written on the Tinted Wall.

Which name, Master? Samarra.

He's new in Damascus.

He does not know our custom, our faith. Alms!

Alms from the noble-hearted stranger.

Master, the Tinted Wall is not for the name of Samarra, High Priestess of Astarte.

That would be sacrilege!

You've a quick head, Carmish.

Speak so of Samarra, you won't have any head at all.

You're an infidel, but l like you. l like you too much to see you thrown into the pits as feed for the vultures.

Forget Samarra.

Whatever she may seem to you, to her people she's Astarte in the flesh, and a golden Astarte at that.

She lives within the temple walls, guarded by 1,000 damask blades.

No infidel is ever permitted into her sacred presence, or for that matter, into the temple gardens. l've heard of the gardens.

And of the havens in the gardens. Where dwell the attendant priestesses, the most voluptuous maidens east of Alexandria.

To stroll through the temple gardens is a sensation no mortal man can ever forget.

And to linger there...

But, Master, even outside the temple walls, Damascus has pleasures, diversions, wine shops unsurpassed.

Let me find you an intriguing way to forget Samarra.

No, Carmish, l've come too far to take less. l will enter the temple, and l will see Samarra. lf ever you need Carmish, you'll find me at the wall opposite the baker's shop.

Master!

The riffraff, getting rid of them cost me at least 18 pieces of silver.

Twice eighteen pieces of silver.

Master, l will not even have to use a razor.

Your beard will melt off. l have my own mixture. l use rosin, pitch, ivy gum, she-goats' gall, bats' blood and powdered viper.

Just trim it.

But, master, beards are for outlanders, infidels.

No citizen of Damascus wears a beard. l do and shall! lt is the custom of my people!

Every maiden in the city will see only you.

But if l may suggest... The beard remains!

The price is high. My funds are not unlimited.

Oh, believe me, land is the best investment.

Most foreigners are fools.

They throw their gold away.

But buy this villa, and your fortunes will multiply every year with every harvest.

That is the richest soil that...

That face. l knew l knew it.

Why, my friend? Oh, nothing, nothing at all.

You find in me a man of discretion and tolerance.

Besides, l'm sure you weren't responsible for what befell our High Priest at Joppa.

May the very name of Joppa be accursed.

But l was responsible.

A truly noble attitude. l... l respect you for it, but... lt's courageous, but take care, Micah.

This Asham is a born troublemaker.

Why, even when he was a free man, he was always stirring up the slaves, persuading them that they worked too hard and ate too little.

Bosra, l've decided to buy the villa.

You shall have your price. ln gold? ln gold from Joppa, which l am certain will never be accursed in Damascus.

A ready wit. l like you, young man.

But if l may give you a word of advice... l know, the beard!

Now about the contract for the villa, it's inside, already drawn.

Prepared for sign and seal. Wait here.

So everyone knows you as a troublemaker.

Sometimes, Asham, a man must make a little trouble.


Do you come to serve Baal and Astarte? To serve and to sacrifice.

Enter, then, and purify yourself.

The wrath of Baal and Astarte be upon you!

This holy place is not for a bearded infidel!


You infidel!

Here!

Who else would exchange a piece of silver for a broken head?

Word of this should reach the temple soon.


Micah of Joppa?

What word do you bring from the High Priestess?

You are to come to the temple. l was told no infidel was ever allowed into that temple.

No infidel ever wrote the name of the High Priestess on the Tinted Wall.

Such boldness cannot go unrewarded.

We mustn't keep her waiting, Asham.

Asham!


Wait here, Asham!

May the gods of love forgive one who has never given herself to love.


An infidel climbing those steps! Patience, Rhakim.

Micah.

l am told that in Joppa you said, ''Everything has its price.' '

Your High Priest said that. l said l meant to have you, one way or another.

Very interesting.

The way may be difficult but not impossible.

lt depends. lt depends upon what?

On the price that is paid. Of course.

And what is the price? lt varies with the man, with his wealth, with his wants.

The price paid to Astarte by a Prince of Phoenicia was that lamp of 100 lights. lt came from Kashmir.

And that jeweled cat of jade came from a warrior of Cathay.

The bravest!

Have you ever seen a prouder golden cockerel? lt was Astarte's price, paid by the Grand Caliph of Baghdad.

A small man, but very strong. lt must comfort you to have all these gifts.

Or rather, it must comfort Astarte that she has all these gifts.

So it should. Everything is for my goddess.

The richest man in Damascus sent this.

And on the scroll he sent with it were four words, grateful words.

But you, Micah, should be the most grateful of all.

For your gift will be the most precious and perfect of pearis.

The pearl King Solomon gave to Sheba.

Astarte shall wear this at her throat.

But your gift, she will wear in her crown.

To you, Samarra, l would give anything.

But to a hollow, bronze idol, nothing!

Why? Because your God forbids it?

Because you fear the wrath of this Jehovah who cannot be seen or touched?

Because l believe in Him and in what He commanded.

''Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

''Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them.' '

You will buy the pearl that Solomon gave to Sheba.

And it will be for my goddess.

Astarte will be grateful.

And you will be grateful, too.

Your one piece of silver.

The price l offered for you on the Tinted Wall.

Micah.

You will return with more than a mere piece of silver and with less faith in your God and more in mine.

May your every moment be peaceful till next we meet.

My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding that thou mayest regard discretion and that thy lips may keep knowledge.

For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil, but her feet go down to death.

Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth.

Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house.


Master, you didn't even observe my two new dancers.

And l swear to you by any god, new or old, that of all the beauties l've brought to make you smile...

Carmish, the difference between two women and ten women is only a difference in numbers.

You could bring me 100 women, and it would still be the same thing.

A hundred. Master, even for a man like you...

Here!

And may life always be as simple for you.

You knew it all the time, Asham.

You knew the burning inside me couldn't be burned out.

What am l to do?

Back to Joppa?

A voice inside me always murmurs, ''Back to Joppa.' '

Perhaps, Asham, it's time.

Green.

Yellow.

Green. Yellow.

Blue.

Red.

Green.

Black.

The reading of the numbers.

Fifteen of the blue, seven red, four of the green.

Fifteen.

Renounce seven, restore four. Result, twelve.

Twelve being made up of the numbers one and two becomes a three.

Announce it.

The sacred pheasant proclaims it a day of the Three.

A favorable number, three? Most favorable, Bosra.

No better day for marrying, the breeding of cattle or the offering up of blood sacrifices.

Favorable for plans concerning Micah?

A Hebrew who, so the people say, went so far as to call you a... What?

A pig!

What of Micah? He's returning to Joppa.

When? As soon as he is able to sell his estate.

His asking price, a mere half its value.

Console yourself.

You'll have his estate before long, somewhat scorched by the desert tribes, but you will pay nothing for it.

What do you intend to do with him?

Take away his gold?

That alone would not be enough.

Some men, Bosra, are not humbled by poverty.

True, true, true.

You mean to make him a slave.

A beast of burden building your new granaries.

What could be more fitting for the man who took away my slave? l can't think of a more fitting revenge. l can. l'll break him. l'll break his body and what he calls his soul.

The trumpets shall blare. The crowds shall gather.

And Micah, son of Eli, an illustrious Hebrew, shall stand on the north steps before my people and renounce his faith.

Baal and Astarte will be most grateful.

What do you find amusing?

Oh, nothing, nothing, nothing, l... Forgive me, l...

You really believe in all these things?

Sacred pheasants, auguries, idols... l started in life with nothing, and see where l have risen.

Will yet rise.

Laugh once more at my gods, Bosra, and l'll slit your tongue!

The Egyptian girl!

Ten pieces of gold for each one wagered on the Egyptian.

Fortune's wheel! Watch it turn! Watch it stop!

The wheel turns and turns and turns.

Now the winner! The Phoenician girl!

Quickly! Quickly, collect your winnings.

Place your wagers on the next...

Place your wagers! Place your wagers!

Little Yasmin! Come, l command you to stand by me. l sorely need a change of fortune. Gladly, Your Excellency.

Well, why are we waiting? Come on. Activity! l like...

Oh, my turn.

Do you need this for the game, Your Excellency? lf that dropped from my garment, l'd... l would be cheating.

The Governor of Damascus never cheats.

The wind from Fortune's wheel blew it this way. l saw it. l swear it by Baal and Astarte. What a high priestess she'll make!

You've not looked at your buried card. No, l have not.

The Persians who invented this game have a saying.

''He who meets fortune at cards meets misfortune at love.' '

Remember that, little one.

But Asham!

Asham has no fortune, neither at cards nor at love.

A pity!

The child should be in bed. Take her away, Elissa.

Come, Yasmin.

Elissa!

What?

Your Excellency, l propose a wager with Nahreeb.

My night's winnings against Elissa!

On the turn of a card! One card each.

His winnings are enough for dozens of slaves!

Joppa should send us more such bearded fools!

Nahreeb, do you accept the wager, or do l have to command it? l accept, of course. Good.

No! l make an appeal to His Excellency's sense of sport.

The girl is trembling.

She is the stake. Let her be the one to draw the cards.

Agreed.

Five.

Six!

Asham, she is yours.

Bring her back to the villa.

Damascus has dealt generously with you.

Even your slave has a slave.

Micah! Micah, come, come, come! Stay with me.

Or if you'd rather leave this place, so would l.

We'll leave at once.

Anything you want to do and anywhere you want to go.

You deserve happier company, Uba.

Unhappy the day that brings me what l deserve.

Departing so soon?

When will you find a buyer for my estate? Oh, soon, soon.

The prospects are bright, bright as noon.

Your banquet lacks that brightness.

After your fabulous fortune at cards, young man?

You still feel the lack of a something or someone?

That's it, a somebody. You said she would be here.

She is.

You're not enjoying the banquet?

From here it looked entertaining.

Not from where l looked. l'm surprised.

The women in the wheel are the pick of the market.

Did you not notice how superb were the haunches of the Grecian woman?

And how the lips of the Egyptian parted when she looked at any man? l saw all that, but l did not see you.

What do you wish to say, Micah?

That the worid isn't wide enough, long enough, to let me escape the memory of your touch.

l, too, have thought of you.

Of your handsomeness, arrogance and unholiness.

Yes, Micah, l have thought much about you when l've been alone and when l haven't.

The pearl? l told you once. My faith forbids it.

Does your faith not forbid you me? l say again, to you l'd give anything. To a hollow bronze idol, nothing!

Look at me and know that whatever you give my goddess is nothing compared to what you will receive in return.

Oh, Micah, they tell of a man, a man among men, who would not rest until he learned which of the human arts was the greatest.

Was it the intricate tapestry of the weaver, the haunting melody of the musician, the pulsing rhythm of the dancer?

No.

This man found an art as delicate, rapturous and sublime as all of these put together.

He found it in the sanctuary of Astarte.

The art of...

The feel of your mouth upon mine.

She is returning to the temple.

But console yourself, young man, console yourself.

The pearl remains.

Shall we discuss price?

Love potions! The best in all Damascus!

Powdered amber, mandrake root and the dust of the moon!

Young man, you buy my love potion and your wench will walk beside you.

But wait, you asked too much for too little.

Delicious bird, plump and firm and every mouthful, oh, a juicy delight!

One copper for a fat goose?

Robber, pirate, swindler, thief! You can't...

Two pieces of silver! Much better!

Try, try, try again. Remember, famine stalks the land.

The hungry grow hungrier every hour.

Two pieces of gold!

Oh, may you live 100 years and die as fat as the sacrifices in the temple!

Thank you. Help! Grab him!

Throw him in the dungeon, the thief! You...

Try here.

Make way for Daja and his radiant bride!

Make way!

Make way for the bride and groom. Make way.

The happy bride. The happy groom.

The blessings of Baal! The blessings of Astarte!

The happy bride! The happy groom! Make way! Make way!

Asham!

Asham, you are to leave at once for my father's home in Joppa.

You are to take this to my father.

And return with what he gives you as soon as you can.

Have your legs become as useless as your tongue?

Asham, l... l shouldn't have said that.

May you return safely and soon.

But you are not giving me full measure! The supply is down, the price is up.

You're holding up the line.

Do you want the grain or not? Yes.


Look at them.

They stand in the rain and they don't even grumble.

Unfortunately.

When the people stop grumbling, grow too silent, too sullen, that is the time to take care, a time to divert them, a time to make them grateful.

Grateful, master?

Now that the rains have come, the earth will soon be ready for the planting.

And my starving people will be most grateful to me if l call upon my gods to give them a rich harvest, and so l shall, most spectacularly.

Citizens of Damascus, know that your hunger has not gone unnoticed by His Godliness, the High Priest.

Know that on the evening of the third day, a supreme high sacrifice will be held so that Baal and Astarte may end this famine!

Finally, know that the High Priestess, Samarra, will beseech the gods of fertility in your behalf!

The golden Samarra herself and a high sacrifice besides.

And the fertility rites.

Master, there is nothing like it on the square face of the earth.

One of the guards at the temple gate is my friend.

For 100 pieces of silver, l could get you past the gate, except...

Master, how can you hesitate?

You who crossed the endless deserts, the snow-capped mountains, for this goddess of a woman.

Ask yourself, are you a man or a beard?


Father! Father! He won't eat!

David just sits here and won't eat!

David! No, no, Father, don't.

You'll spoil the boy. Of course.

One day you'll learn that grandchildren are for spoiling.

Now, young one... l won't eat. l hate chicken. l keep seeing the feathers.

But suppose we had a roasted lamb, would you still keep seeing the wool?

That's very different. Why? l like roasted lamb.

An honest answer from an honest little head.

But this is no day for an empty stomach.

This is Succoth, the Feast of the Tabernacles, a holiday of gladness, of giving thanks.

Here, in the little house we build with branches and flowers and leaves, open to the soft wind and the stars that wink and blink.

Tell me, young one, do you know why we build this little house?

Because 1,200 years ago, when our people were delivered from slavery in the land of Egypt, they were wanderers in the wilderness.

They could only build little houses like this of branches and flowers that grew wild and...

May it be.

Be who, Grandfather? Be Micah!

lt is Asham.

Micah, is he well?

The scroll. What news?

Micah asks me to send him all that is left of his portion.

The remainder of his portion! For what?

To squander on his temple harlot?

A portion you earned for him during your lifetime?

No. Don't send it to him.

The gold is his according to the laws of our people.

See that Asham is fed, then bring him to me.

But Father, he has no further claim. Now, Joram.

Make Micah know that he has no further claim on me.

From this day forward, l know not his name.

From this day forward, he is dead in my heart.


O gods of fertility, male and female of all creation, let our sacrifice this night soften your hearts, yea, even as the rains you have sent have softened the rich, good earth.

Abandon us not, l beseech you, to the marauding tribes who would destroy what is left of our sustenance!

Let the light of your eternal fire dispel the darkness which has come upon us!

She's what every blind man sees!

Why wait for Asham's return from Joppa?

Go to Bosra, borrow the money for the pearl!

You can pay Bosra back when Asham brings you your gold.

You have lived for this moment without sin or blemish.

Go now to live forever in the Four Halls of the Heavens!


The most valuable pearl in the worid.

Well worth borrowing the money for.

The terms of your loan. Read it over line by line carefully.

The usual terms and the usual penalty in the remote event my money is not returned by the prescribed time. l make it a practice to urge my clients to read the document carefully. lncluding the small writing.

The very small writing.

Let me sign and be done with it.

Such an impatient young man.


Always before men have come to me in my temple.

Never before have l been alone with a man outside the temple walls.

Are you a rich man, Micah?

As rich as a prince or a caliph?

ln this moment no man in the worid is richer than l.

Micah, what is wrong?

How well l know you by this time.

Tell me what it is. Nothing.

You thought l was sleeping, but l was watching you.

Do you still say there's nothing wrong?

Samarra, l thought that once l knew you, you would be a wonderful moment and no more. l thought l'd no longer want you.

And now?

Now l want you more than ever. l cannot share you with these other men that you welcome so lightly, so easily. l want you for myself, as your husband.

l can never belong to any one man. Why not?

Because l'm High Priestess of Astarte.

For this l was trained ever since l was half Yasmin's age. l belong to all men.

Samarra!

Samarra, how can l make you understand?

But it is you who must understand.

You who must see with your own eyes what it is like to be the High Priestess of Astarte. l've already seen!

You have seen me.

Now you must see me with my people.

Let me take you to the temple, and l will show you.

And now, Micah, you will see.


Who is there?

Asham!

Your Micah expected you days ago.

He was fearful something had happened to his gold. l was fearful something had happened to you.

All are asleep but Micah.

He's away with Samarra.

Asham...

He's not worth your devotion.

Forgive me!

Asham, let me say all the things that your heart has said to me with 1,000 tongues.

And let me say the things my heart wants to answer.

But no.

What are words between Asham and his Elissa?

The gold is in a pair of leather saddlebags. And be quick with it!

The infidel, Micah, is on his way back to his villa.

He will return any moment.

We've done this before. Wait! Do not kill the mute!

The High Priest has other plans for him.

Away!

Away! Away!

Asham!

Asham!


lt's all there. ln the small writing.

''The loan to be repaid with gold or with body.' '

''Read it,'' l said to Micah, ''Read it.' ' But he was so impatient.

And how could he know that his gold would be stolen?

His villa burned, worthless?

This ring, it's all he had left.

Who would've dreamed that he'd have to be sold as a slave?

Sad. Sad.

You will sell him for shipment to Carthage?

No.

To a Phoenician slave galley? l will buy Micah. No!

No, Samarra?

Why not?

Because l know what you do to your slaves.

Why this concern for an infidel?

How you must hate him! l wonder, is it only because of this God he worships?

Remember, Nahreeb, you may be the High Priest, but l am the High Priestess.

You remember that.

We must teach this Micah that the only true gods are Baal and Astarte.

A touch of paint, Samarra. You're pale!

Why did you sell him to Nahreeb?

Because l am too old for many things, Samarra, but l am too young to die.

Are you?


This is unhurt. This one has a broken leg.

Take him to the pits.

How long will it take a vulture to pick his bones clean? l say to the count of 20. A wager?

Another wager. Out of the way.

These people of Damascus. Look at them.

Like oxen!

Why don't they speak out? Rise up against Nahreeb?

Because they've forgotten what it is to be free.

Always before l have come to thee to serve.

Now l come to thee to seek.

Hear me, O Astarte. lt was he who brought unto you your pearl.

Help him, for the sake of thy servant... Samarra.

Were you praying for...

They said l should never say his name, ever.

Yes. l was praying for Micah. That's sacrilege.

The last time it happened to a high priestess, they buried her alive.

She screamed most the whole night.

And all the people came and listened and looked.

She screamed and screamed.

And then there wasn't a sound. l know of the punishment.

But nothing like that ever happened in Alexandria. lt did in Damascus.

To my mother.

Yes, l know.

But have no fear. lt will never happen again. l hope not.

Samarra, you seem faint. l'll go to my quarters and rest.

Why not walk out into the city?

The damask roses are in bloom near the granaries.

The air is rich and heavy with scent.

And while you are there, you might see Micah.

And if you should see him, you might offer him his freedom.

lf he will stand before my people on the north steps and renounce his God.

Even if l were to go to Micah, he would never renounce his God.

He is a stiff-necked infidel.

Have you ever seen Rhakim whip a stiff-necked infidel?

For the marketplace in Joppa!

For Samarra!

For you and Samarra!


And now for the final test. Poor man. l'm sure he's dead.

Let me.

Well?

Dead as an Egyptian mummy. l'll call the jailers.

He's ready for the vultures. Ready as he'll ever be.

No! Not yet.

Another moment.

Did he die young or old?

Out all of you! All but the infidel!

Quick with it!

Don't touch him!

Micah.

Elissa told me how much he meant to you.

Almost as much as you mean to me.

Nahreeb spoke to me. He said he would set you free.

He sent me to say that to you.

He promised to set me free in exchange for what?

What does he want?

What does he want?

That you stand before the people and renounce your God.

A matter of words, Micah.

You say your God is false, you need not mean it! l proclaim to the people of Damascus that my God is a false god, and l would be free? Yes.

Free of filth and chains and here and all that goes with here.

Would you renounce your gods, Samarra?

l could never renounce Baal and Astarte.

They would have to renounce me.

But they could renounce you?

Yes.

You believe this with your whole being? l do.

Well, l believe with my whole being, too. l believe that my God could no more renounce me than l could renounce Him because something of my God is in everyone who breathes.

Perhaps, perhaps not.

But if you could pretend to renounce, it would be the two of us.

Micah and Samarra. lt could be.

lt could never be. lt's been beaten into me, the hate l have for your Baal and Astarte. l hate what they've done to your people

and to you.

l knew you would never do as Nahreeb wished.

l knew it in my heart.

The usual punishment for loving an infidel is to be buried alive.

Astarte picked a crueler punishment for me.


''Hear, O lsrael. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one.

''Blessed be his name, whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever.

''And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul

''and with all thy might.

''And these words, which l command thee this day, ''shall be upon thine heart, ''and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, ''and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, ''and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down,

''and when thou risest up.' '

Thou shalt remind them of this.

Let him have my portion, too.

Your God has spared his life, Micah. But for what?

We will make our way out of here. l said that, too, long years ago.

What were you willing to do to make your way out?

Anything.

What did you do?

Nothing.

You, Micah. What will you do?

Anything.

Yes, l will do anything.

And everything.

The people will forgive a tyrant anything but the pangs of hunger.

This time Nahreeb has gone too far.

This is the right moment, Ramadi.

But am l the right man? Yes.

There. Now you can pass unnoticed on the streets of Damascus.

And very handsomely done, if l say so myself.

This time it's for something worthwhile. lt's time now for the drug. Magic. Pure magic.

You... You won't feel a thing in your finger. Well, it'll be numb.

But the rest of you, well, you'll be able to feel all over.

The names, places l gave you, Micah. You remember them all?

Zubeir, the potter, Nisbin, the carpenter, the anvil shop at the end of the street called Straight, Salkhad, the fieldworker. This'll hurt.

A deep breath helps the bravest.

Abu, the stonemason, Lirhan, the snow-man,

Dura, the perfumer, Chaim, the water carrier...

Which of you killed the infidel?

The truth or it'll go hard on the lot of you.

The plague. The plague?

How do you know? How do we know?

Well, first he complained of the fever and then the next thing, well, what else but the plague strikes like lightning?

The plague.

You, barber-surgeon, the test for the dead.

But, my good man, the evil humors of the plague spread at the merest touch.

Me touch him? Have you never read Hippocrates?

The test, quick!

Remove his chains and have him taken to the pits.


Next.

Why do you wait?

Who will be the next to pay their respects?

Your Majesty.

The silly rooster has taught us a sad truth.

That it is easier to walk into the lion's den than out again.

One more, Samarra, one more, and then l'll go to bed.

You will? Hand on my heart.

Good news, my High Priestess, the best.

Your news must be happy indeed.

Never before have l seen you smile. What is it?

The unholy infidel, Micah ben Eli, is dead.

He died of the plague, was thrown into the vulture pits.

Never again will he trouble you.

Never again.

l come from Ramadi the Steward. From the dungeon?

The pits?

Ramadi says make ready. When? When will it be?

The night...

The night of the full of the moon. Tell Salkhad and Harun and Nisbin...

They will all be told, friend.

Carmish? What's he doing here?

He's the slimiest gutter rat in the whole of Damascus.

He sold his soul the day he was born. Yes.

And that l am.

But what rat would stay on a sinking ship? Nahreeb is sinking.

He's gone too far. Every beggar in Damascus knows it.

Every beggar in Damascus is with you.

Micah, it is gold from Carmish that is keeping us alive.

Of course, if you lose, in the full of the moon, l'm back on the other side.

Full of the moon!

And we can't even get our chains off so as we can fight.

And l want to hit somebody.

Oh, how l want to hit somebody!

l saw him. ln the line at the granary.

Your Micah!

What? l saw him in the line at the granary, your Micah. lt was someone who looked like Micah.

No, the granary of the west. He was standing outside.

Hand on my heart. But he's dead.

Do you hear? Dead.

You know that. l said hand on my heart. l saw his face as plain as the full moon.

And no one but Micah could look that much like Micah.

Oh, Yasmin!


l've got my weapon. Where's yours?

Pepper. Just a little.

Yasmin said you were here. lt seemed too wonderful to believe.

You were dead, so l was dead.

You are alive, now l may be. Samarra... l know just how we might be gone from here. l've made the journey so many times in my thoughts.

My gods will find a worthier high priestess.

Come. l stay.

But you must take yourself away from here.

Why? Leave now.

Why, Micah? Do as l say for your own sake!

Why are you here?

What have you to do with them? l am one of them.

You?

What do you mean to do? We mean to wreck your gods.

We mean to and we will. Now, go before you're hurt.

Micah, l have offered you your freedom.

Your life.

Myself.

But as you would destroy me for your faith, so l would destroy you for mine.

Rhakim!

Now!


Asham!

Come on.

All of it, anything, don't let them through!


Nahreeb is dead.

Let him hang by the Tinted Wall for all to see.

To the Tinted Wall!

Samarra! Samarra!

They saw him hanging on the Tinted Wall with their own eyes.

They'll never lay their murderous hands on me. l have a galley waiting for us. We'll sail to Byblos.

No. l stay here. l told him that his life wouldn't be worth the tail of a locust.

And l'm telling you. My people would not harm me.

When they see me, they will stop this madness.

You're not frightened at all?

A high priestess cries the day she is born, never again in her lifetime.


You must go with Bosra now.

You must promise me, Yasmin, never a tear.

Wait.

Here.

Oh, no, Samarra.

Only the high priestess may wear this. Guard it for me until next we meet.

May the gods in the Four Halls grant that we meet soon.

Oh, Yasmin, remember, you were chosen to be High Priestess.

Be worthy.

Whether or not we meet soon, l will be with you always.

Hand on my heart.

l loved you so.

Come on!

Come on!


She must die now or we fail.


Home.

There is home, Asham.

l would rather be a servant in my father's house than a king in Damascus.


Micah!

My son.

Father.

My Micah.

Father, l have sinned.

No need to talk of that now, my son. l've sinned against heaven and in your sight. l'm not worthy to be called your son.

Caleb. Run!

Run and tell our family, our friends and our neighbors.

And send to Joppa for musicians who can make joyous music.

For this, my son, was lost, and is found.

And Caleb, the fatted calf, bring the fatted calf.

For this night we shall eat and make merry!


Ruth.

She would not come.

But what if she did come? lf she did come, l would tell her that what cannot be forgotten can sometimes be forgiven.

What you have to say is better spoken aloud than kept within.

Say it.

Say it l will. Lo, these many years l've served you and have done everything that you've asked me to do, but there's been no rejoicing, no feasting for family or friend.

You've never given me so much as a kid that l might make merry with my friends.

But for him who wasted your living, just threw away his portion, for him you kill the fatted calf.

Son, you are ever with me, and all that l have is yours. lt was meet that we should make merry and be glad for this, your brother, was dead and is alive again.

And was lost and is found. Ask yourself, Joram, ''Have l not judged my brother too harshly?''

My sons, my rock, my future.