"So… the lost tower, eh? What’s there to share? People make too big a deal about it"
Albanus looked at his father as if he were seeing him for the first time.
“Father, we haven’t been completely honest with you.”
“What are you talking about, Albanus?”
“We came here skirting around the truth, and I think you deserve to know. It has occurred to me that telling you the truth might actually lead us to a way out of our terrible predicament.”
The father growled with annoyance.
“Do you think I have time for riddles? At my age? Just speak plainly, boy.”
“The king has sentenced all your sons to death!”
The father raised his thin eyebrows, his eyes widening in surprise.
“And for what crime?”
“No crime whatsoever. He charged the three of us with finding out the secret to the locked tower. We’ve failed to find anyone in all of Rome who can remember anything significant about the tower, and the king is punishing us for our failed mission. Father…” Albanus stepped closer to his father, his eyes pleading. “Perhaps you know something about the tower? You’re very old.”
His father rolled his eyes. “So… the lost tower, eh? What’s there to share? People make too big a deal about it. It’s not nearly as exciting as the legends on the street would like to have you believe. For centuries, the leaders of Rome have always kept all their most cherished items in there, things they wanted to be safeguarded for long after they had passed on. But you’ll find more treasure in the palace of Decimus himself than what you would discover in the locked tower.
“If anything, what you might find of special value in that tower are ancient artifacts, things passed down from our great ancestors of yesteryear, a time long, long ago…”
“What about a chest?”
“A chest with long blades of grasses resting in there. Stalks that are mysteriously still moist, as if they had just been placed in there. And there is an aura around the chest, a—”
“Power that seems to vibrate the very air around the chest. As if something were about to burst from the chest.”
“Y-you know of the chest?”
The father lifted his gaze and stared at Albanus. He hesitated for a moment, his long, bony fingers tapping against his sides.
“I was never sure if it was true. I remember hearing about it from my great-grandfather when I was just a young child. I am the only person in Rome, likely, who has ever heard of it… Come closer and I will reveal to you a great secret.”
The brothers sat down around their father, their eyes glued to his wrinkled face. He dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. His eyes seemed to glow with excitement as he spoke. The brothers had never seen him look this animated about anything.
“As you boys know, we, the people of Rome, come from our great ancestor, Eisav. The power of the sword, our unslakable thirst for world dominion and influence and the desperate pursuit for worldly pleasures, all stem from him. One of his grandsons was the original owner of those stalks, and he hid them to be used at some point in time against the Jewish people.”
“What are the stalks for? Do you cook them?”
“No. Those stalks have the power to wreak unspeakable destruction on the Jewish nation. When used properly, their power can be released at long last, and the Jewish people will fall!”
“Father, now you are the one speaking in riddles. We don’t understand.”
“Ach! Listen to me. You must know what the Jews teach, that when we rise, they fall, and when they rise, we fall. But we are never at the height of our powers simultaneously, we’re always competing to be on top. The stalks are our way of unleashing a great power which will propel our nation upward, as the Jewish nation falls…”
“Yes, we understand that. But the question is, how can we unleash the power of these grasses that lie inside the chest?”
“Ah… For that, you’ll have to do something for me.”
“Bring me to Decimus himself. I want to be one to deliver the secret formula to the emperor.”
“But Father, you can’t walk!”
“Father, we cannot just bring you through the streets of Rome at your delicate age and demand to speak with the emperor. He’s not available at our whim, and we don’t want to hasten our execution for disturbing him. Just tell us the secret, and we’ll relay the message immediately.”
“No!” Their father’s eyes flashed with anger. “Bring me now, or the secret dies with me! Either I get my meeting with the emperor, or the three of you will perish tomorrow.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 907)
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