The shuttle set down gently outside the city. As soon as Avi was out of the massive compartment, he paused and surveyed the incredible scenery. The eager travelers streamed out around him, but he didn’t notice.
“During the Old Earth era, this was all desert,” Rachit said, pointing to the surrounding scenery. Avi could hardly believe his words. Green saturated the landscape, and the rolling hills stretched as bright as painted canvas. A cool, moist breeze made the picture dance as the evening sun colored the rolling hills with an amber glow.
Rising up from the sea of emerald was a city silhouetted like gold against the deep blue. She was dressed in white clouds. Her towers reached for the sky, and the hills she sat atop were active with constant movement. Crimson flags bearing the insignia of the King flew atop virtually every visible building. This was the ancient capital, the bold center of the world, the eternal city, grand Jerusalem.
“That’s the temple,” Rachit said as he pointed to a massive structure, to which the city seemed to all be bowing. No other building loomed so large in the grand outline.
"Reunited at last,” Sophia said as she flanked Avi, Carina, and Rachit. Next to her was Bhoora. She stroked his head once more. They thanked her before she skipped off to attend to other business.
“So, what do we do now?” Avi asked.
“We follow the crowd,” Rachit said, pointing to the throng of people streaming toward the city from Low King Hans's shuttle. All around them, companion animals were being reunited with their hosts. Birds of a thousand colors filled the air. Beautiful creatures from all over the world wandered toward their respective human friends. The vessels of other nations who had landed nearby joined the growing flow of people. The scene was alive with life.
“I’ve never seen so many people in one place,” Avi said.
“Just wait,” Rachit said. “You won’t believe what it’s like in the city!” They followed the enormous crowd as they wound their way upward into the busy streets.
“How could this many people fit in Jerusalem?” Avi asked.
“This place is built for pilgrimage,” Rachit said. When they arrived beneath the immense capital’s gates, the granite grandeur overcame Avi. Arching towers of timeworn stone lofted lazily into a low hanging haze. The whimsical mist crowned the hoary upper lines of the greatest edifices. Vibrant crimson banners aired atop the turrets, casting a stirring variation against the indigo of the sky, which appeared less inaccessible in this heavenly place. As the crowds entered the city streets, they dispersed in every direction, but Avi remained frozen under the impressive archway.
“Well, I did my part,” Rachit said.
“Are you leaving us?” Carina asked.
“No, I just mean my job was to get you to the city. I don’t know where to go from here,” Rachit said. He and Carina looked at Avi, who was still exploring the cityscape with his hungry eyes. It took him a moment to realize they were staring at him.
“Oh, yeah, right,” he said. “The address.” He reached into his side satchel and dug around, looking for the invitation he had received from the two travelers from Jerusalem. He unfolded it and read the address aloud.
“Well, how do we get to this address?” Avi asked, handing the invitation to Rachit. He took the sheet and began to scan.
“Oh, my!” he said. His face took on a paler tone as he looked up from the sheet.
“What?” Carina asked.
“This address is—” Rachit looked at the sheet once again.
“Is what?” Avi asked.
“How could that be right?” Rachit mumbled to himself. He turned the invitation over as if there might be a different scrawl somewhere else. There was none.
Rachit handed it back to Avi and straightened his shirt, and patted his hair. He said, “This will be interesting.”
“What?” Rachit just smiled.
“You're not going to tell us, are you?” Carina asked.
“I want you to find out for yourselves.”
“Ok,” Avi said. “Let’s get going.”
Once more, they moved through the busy streets of the city. The towering architecture suggested its ancient and mysterious past. Even when the kingdom was young, the city had already stood as a beacon for pilgrims for millennia. The capital was like a song, drifting and moving with every noise, a song that continued to echo and swell. There were so many sights and sounds Avi had to hold on to Bhoora, making sure he didn't wander off.
On the sidewalks, in the yards, and on every corner, people were working to construct basic structures covered in Palm fronds. Some were relaxing in the shade of their newly built huts. The handmade structures along the roadsides struck a strong contrast against the ever modern city architecture.
“What are those?” Avi asked, pointing to the nearest of the temporary shelters that lined the road.
"I think those are the tabernacles people will sleep in during the festival days,” Carina said. “Is that right, Rachit?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “They symbolize how the King redeemed his people from their slavery in Egypt of the Old World. They then had to live in tents in the desert for forty years. Now they also symbolize how the King has redeemed an entire world from having to take shelter in the Old World of sin and death.”
They walked for about a half-hour, climbing their way up and descending many small hills as they wound through the bustling streets toward their destination. No matter where the streets took them, the temple's towering heights could be seen.
As they moved through the city, another building grew large upon one of the hills. It couldn't rival the temple, but in any normal city, it would be a mighty and impressive structure in its own right. Its rounded tower top spires overlooked the city from high above. It sat adjacent and always in view of the temple. As they continued along their way, this impressive structure was ever in their sights. As the minutes drove on, they grew ever nearer to it.
“Why are we stopping here?” Avi asked when Rachit paused before the giant wooden doors of the impressive structure. “This must be some kind of royal palace.”
Its stone arches rose above them like marble giants gently bending to meet in the middle. The door had to be the height of twenty men. All around were pilgrims who streamed by to see the amazing architecture. Rachit just stood by smiling as Avi waited for an explanation.
Carina let out a gasp followed by a giggle. “Look at the address,” Carina said. He scanned the area, trying to find the appropriate markings. He compared the street and address with the invitation he held in his hand.
“This couldn’t be right,” he said.
“Don't you think they would know their own address?” Rachit asked. A wry smile stretched across his face.
“Well—I mean—maybe there’s more than one.” Avi checked and rechecked his invitation, not able to believe they had arrived at the correct spot. “This is some kind of palace.”
“Nothing to do but knock,” Carina said as she stepped to the giant wooden door, grasped the massive iron ring, and slammed it vigorously against the door.
“No, don’t,” Avi said. “We don’t want to bother—” Despite its massive size, the door swung wide as easily as if it had been a trifle. A young, beautiful woman stood in the open frame.
“Hello, friends,” the young woman said. Apparently, with the door opening, a new flurry of aromas wafted out. Bhoora stepped toward her. He could not resist the smells.
“We’re very sorry to have disturbed you,” Avi back stepped as he grabbed the fur of his bear and tried to pull him back.
“Oh, cut it out. Just give her the invitation,” Carina said, grabbing the paper from Avi and placing it in the young woman’s hand. They waited as she examined the sheet.
“Ahh, we wondered when you would arrive,” she said. “My name is Adelaide.” She pulled at the enormous door so they could enter. Carina virtually charged at the door, Avi was slower. Rachit helped him along with a hand on his shoulder.
“I'm sorry, mistress Adelaide, but what is this place?” Avi asked. As they stepped through the door, he realized that it was not a single building but a walled complex. Dozens of large structures lined the inner colonnade of the wall. People, both immortals and mortals alike were busy doing various tasks. Had they not just come from the crowded streets of Jerusalem, Avi could believe that this was a city unto itself.
“Don’t you know where you are?” Adelaide smiled. “This is the palace of Lord David ben-Jesse, Low King of Israel, second only to the Emperor himself.”
“I—uh—is—” Avi said. Rachit patted him on the shoulder.
“I'll go tell Eliah Bendavid that you're here.”
“You’ve got friends in high places!” Rachit laughed.
“And we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,” Carina said.
“I didn’t do—” Avi started to say, but Carina cut him off.
“I meant Rachit,” Carina said. “If you hadn't spoken up about Avi's song at the gathering, none of this would have been possible.” She hugged him. Rachit blushed, a rare shade for the large man. What a shift Rachit had made. Only a few days earlier, he and Carina had been perpetually at the edge of a thermonuclear meltdown. Now Rachit could hardly contain the warmth overflowing from his teary eyes.
“Oh, well, thank you, Carina,” Rachit said. “I'm quite glad I did.”
“And, I suppose you had something to do with it too,” Carina said, turning to her brother. Avi resisted the urge to deflect the understated compliment. She wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Ahh, friends, from Tamesh,” Eliah Bendavid said as he emerged from a building. He spoke loudly as he crossed the courtyard. “I'm so glad to see you. You must be hungry. Please, come, we will recline, and I will introduce you to Jerusalem's finest cuisine.”
“We are—I mean—It is a great honor to be here with you,” Avi said. Eliah took Avi’s face in his hands and kissed him confidently on both cheeks. He did the same with Rachit. For Carina, he took her hand in his and kissed it gently.
“Let us find a quiet place to relax, shall we?” Eliah said as he led them through a nearby colonnade. As they walked, he spun around. Walking backward, he said, “I have a special surprise for you. I think you will be quite pleased.”