Aliyah's Wedding Day

or A Medieval Wedding

On Purchasing Camels in Jerusalem

by Áindle ÓDiarmada

(pronounced on-lee oh deer-mod-a)

My father, Tigernach Ó Diarmada, a successful merchant trader, died.

As his only son, this meant that I had to take over conducting the business affairs for the family business. That also meant I had to travel as my father had for many years. I had traveled with him many times in my youth, but for the years immediately preceding his death I had dealt with the local production, purchasing, and delivery of goods. I usually went no further than south to the hot or cold fair in Troyes, or north to the highlands of our cousins in the Scottish Highlands.

The first year after my father’s death, I traveled to visit my cousin in Constantinople - Charlemagne’s city. His father, my Uncle Loki, was also a merchant trader and our link to the Middle East. You may know him as Bran Ó Diarmada or, as he is known in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Bran ben Cormac. Loki moved his household to Jerusalem when he married a local girl, Miriam, during one of his trading trips. His presence there allowed us access to goods from the Mediterranean and the Orient without having to wait to trade at the hot and cold fairs. Instead, we were able to trade goods back and forth, even to the hot and cold fairs.

My cousin and I traveled to Jerusalem to see Loki for business. It was Loki who decided I needed to purchase camels. I needed to transport goods purchased for trade back to the ship I had waiting at Tyre. I had planned to simply arrange transport, but Uncle Loki insisted it would be better if I took the goods back with me, as "why wait until tomorrow if you can get the job done today." And so, to the purchase of camels.

To purchase anything in an honorable and yet reasonable manner, it very important to establish a relationship between the purchasing and buying parties. This is especially true in the Middle East. People in this area will not "do business" if they do not know you. They are happy to take your denari, but they will not "do business." I knew this and was prepared to spend some time trading (and PURCHASING CAMELS) and establishing my own relationships as son and heir with the men I had met with my father in my youth.

My uncle continued to insist it would be better if we were to have our own people and animals to transport the goods. He offered the services of his sons to manage and maintain my investment during the times I would not be in the Middle East. This meant I had to meet with my cousins as well as other people over several weeks, hiring additional men to assist my cousins with my new business; purchasing horses, donkeys AND CAMELS. Now I knew horses and donkeys as we used them at home, but I knew nothing about camels. I also did not speak the local languages and had to depend on my Uncle and cousins to translate. So, even though I felt the pack animals we had to be good enough and was willing to hire transport for everything else, I agreed to buy the camels.

This is how the man named Asriel became involved in my affairs.

He was an old friend of my father and uncle who just happened to have two camels for sale. I met with him and his family several times during the month I was in Jerusalem doing business. Beside several sons around my age he had only one daughter, the lovely Aliyah. She was introduced to me at our first meeting, but I saw little of her after that. Despite being a beautiful girl, I have since found she can be stubborn and headstrong, but I digress. When I suggested we go to the local camel market in the city, both Asriel and Uncle Loki quickly proclaimed it was too risky. We would most definitely be cheated; the market could not be trusted. Besides, why bargain with strangers when we could "keep it in the family."

Now, back to Asriel.

When we finally met to discuss the purchase of the two camels. They were brought up to the tent by a young boy wearing such flowing robes, it was hard to tell where the robes ended and boy began - one could not even see his eyes. We spent some considerable time looking at the camels. As far as I could tell - they were CAMELS. I went into the tent with my Uncle and Asriel who started discussing the details of the camels purchase. When there was a pause and I would ask for a translation, my Uncle gave me more coffee and ask me to trust him, he was working out the best deal. The conversation would then seem to pick up in a more earnest tone. After many cups of coffee and several pipes it appeared they had finally reached an agreement. My Uncle told me we would be returning the next day to pick up the camels. 

When we exited the tent to once again look at the camels, they and the boy were gone. My Uncle spoke to the man Asriel some more and not being able to understand the conversation, I was still somewhat concerned by its tone. Uncle Loki, however, told me not to worry and assured me the deal was solid. Asriel apparently offered a tent for us to stay in and Uncle Loki said to not offend our host, we should stay there. He sent a messenger to his house to let my Aunt know where we were.

The next morning a messenger from Asriel arrived at our tent. According to Uncle Loki, the camels were still missing. I suggested perhaps we should seek another source or pay transport. I still did not see the need to purchase camels. He counseled patience. Five days later we were still being patient.

My Uncle and I were finally summoned to the tent of Asriel on the eighth day. When we arrived the two camels were loaded and standing, like camels, outside the tent. Asriel, his sons and the camel boy awaited us inside. He presented my uncle with what appeared to be a contract. My Uncle carefully read it, asked Asriel a few questions and then  declared it good. He turned to me and said we had a deal. The girl, Aliyah, would travel with me to care for the camels - with her servants and possessions.

Asriel motioned the camel boy forward. When he put back the head covering I was surprised to see it was his daughter, Aliyah, beneath the robes. I assumed he was about to give her final instructions on the camels. Suddenly, I found myself witness to a brief, quiet, well maybe not so brief or quiet, discussion with lots of arm flailing and much stomping of Aliyah's beautiful feet. Did I mention how beautiful Aliyah's eyes are? Or how passionate she is? Or the lovely way she purses her lips when she pouts - well, I did have time to notice many things about Aliyah during her "brief" discussion. Eventually she turned away from her father and meekly stepped beside me. I did not know the gift she gave me with that gesture at the time.

Asriel signed the contract and Uncle Loki indicated that I should sign as well. When it was signed Asriel gave it to Aliyah. Thinking this was all, I reached for my pouch to pay for the camels. Uncle Loki stopped me and said not yet. I thought we were done, but camel sales apparently require more than just a contract.

We went into Jerusalem and there met with a local official. Aliyah handed him the contract which he read aloud. He then asked me questions that Uncle Loki said were related to verifying the validity of the contract. Uncle Loki translated. He asked if we were freely agreeing to the contract, if I was eligible to enter into such a contract, and if I was married - saying I could only have no more than four wives. I said yes to the first questions and told him I was not married even though I did not understand what being married had to do with purchasing camels. I guess if you have too many wives you cannot support a camel also. I had to promise to take care of Aliyah, to guard and protect her and keep her with me. Uncle Loki then had me repeat some words in Aramaic, and Aliyah said some things to me, also in Aramaic. At this time Uncle Loki told me I could pay for the camels. I tried to hand my pouch to Asriel, but he indicated I should pay Aliyah. So, Aliyah received 200 silver denari for the camels and a gold ring to indicate my financial commitment to the future. I then had to pay her father for her servants and the possessions Aliyah was bringing with her (per the instructions of my uncle as it was apparently in the contract.) We all shared a cup of wine. When all had taken a drink, Asriel wrapped the cup in a white cloth and I was told to smash it with my foot to seal the deal.

The customs are really different in other kingdoms. As we left the official I mentioned to Uncle Loki that it would have been easier to marry the girl than it had been to purchase a couple camels. Asriel, who apparently overheard me broke in to the conversation and suggested quite loudly in broken english that we join his family for a feast supper. Now I understood why he and my Uncle had to converse all the time in Aramaic. (I will note that Asriel has learned english much better over the years and can speak it quite well now.) Uncle Loki said we had to accept the invitation as it was to celebrate the successful completion of our arrangements. The two men walked quickly away, leading our company. The rest of us followed.

So, for the past 25 years, Aliyah has been sharing my tent and traveling with me -even without the the camels. She has been very good to me. She has taken it upon herself to watch over my business dealings in the Middle East and all parts outside of the Isles or the fairs. I will admit, it seems I get to spend more time with my woodworking than before she came to me. She has an excellent head for business. She has recently begun to teach me a bit of Aramaic. She has been an excellent cook; though I had been the cook for our group before she joined me. Her servants have always handled the camels when we’re in the area and her brothers have managed my investments well for me when we have not been present. I now own 12 camels, plus several horses and donkeys.

So, purchasing a camel or two in the Kingdom of Jerusalem is expensive for the inexperienced. Aliyah has handled all the interpreting for our Middle East dealings and she is a much better negotiator than Loki. I have never had to pay 100 silver denari for a camel since that first purchase. It goes to show how it helps to know the people and customs of the area. I tease Uncle Loki that he made a better deal for Asriel than he did for me. He always laughs and slaps me on the back when I say that.

Oh, yes, it seems that the camels were loaded when we left Asriel’s lands, but not with my purchases. I had to arrange transport for that. The camels and the extra pack animals I came with carried Aliyah’s possessions!