The Sweet Wood

“The Sweet Wood” is a direct translation of the word used in Indonesia for “cinnamon.” 

This story is inspired by an article I read today on Live ScienceEvidence of 3000-Year-Old Cinnamon Trade Found in Israel. Thanks to Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss whose post gave me the idea of writing something inspired by a historical article.

Ancient Near East, 4000 – 1000 BCE, source: web.cocc.edu

The stars came out one by one that night, like tiny diamonds glittering in the black velvet cloak of the sky. They formed the timeless pictures that the ancients saw and hung above mthe desert like a domed roof.

There was no moon to light the way.

The traders had trudged for days alongside their loaded donkeys, travelling from Ur, along roadways, well-worn by the feet and hooves of the many who had gone before them. Now, they had set up camp and had lain down for the night.

Tomorrow, they would dismantle their camp, gather their goods and continue on their journey to Dor, right on the coast of the Great Sea.

In addition to the usual commodities, on this trip they were carrying something new. Something they had never seen before but which they were sure would fetch goods of great value in return. It would be deemed, they were sure, to be worth any expense.

They were carrying qinnamon, an aromatic bark which they had been assured by the traders in Ur, smelled like nothing they had ever encountered before. They had to agree – this was not just a tempting story woven to secure a profitable trade.

It smelled both sweet and spicy, like a nut roasted on the fire and mixed with pepper and honey, like the red sands of the desert heated by the mid-day sun. It smelled of faraway lands. Indeed, it had come from afar, through trade routes that began beyond anywhere anyone they encountered had ever seen.

Yassib lay awake that night, wondering whether they would make Dor by the next nightfall. He was young and accompanying his father for the first time on this journey. One day, he would be old enough to follow the route himself, to bring and to trade his own goods.

Yassib, too, had been allowed to smell the precious new material they were bringing back from Ur. The market had been full of bustle and of jostling, of distractions. He preferred the quiet days spent crossing the land between smaller settlements. But despite the distractions, the smell of the qinnamon had captured his attention, and his imagination.

He wondered now about the land it had travelled from, and the people who lived there. Did they believe in Baal and the other gods and goddesses of his people? Were they traders too? He had never thought before this journey about what other peoples thought or ate or wore. He had never been outside his home and didn’t think to imagine there might be others, different from his people, beyond the horizon.

But in the commotion and swirl of bodies and animals and colours and smells of Ur, his eyes had been opened, and he had awakened to the knowledge of the foreignness of that which lay beyond.

The excitement of the others, the seasoned traders with whom he and his father travelled, in reaction to this new qinnamon, had been infectious and curious. For here he was, young and green and in awe, and yet he saw that these elders were also capable of awe. He wondered whether it was simply due to the arousal of hope for valuable trades, or whether they too sensed the magic in the bark.

Yassib finally fell asleep with the smell of qinnamon in his nose and dreams of magical foreign lands in his mind.

The sky began to lighten and the others began to stir, readying themselves for the day’s journey.

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