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Volume III
TITLE ~ Queen of Heaven: The Life and Times of Mary Magdelene

Chapter 7

     During the year after her visit to Yerushalayim, Miri’s fortunes multiplied.

     Philip and his helpers built a magnificent stone watchtower that gave her a wonderful view of her estate as well as the entire Valley of Gennessaret. Miri discovered they specialized in building city fortifications, and Philip, Zachariah and Zebediah had built a stone watchtower three stories high, that, with the earth mound round about, would hold back and occupy several cohorts of the Imperial Legions in its storming. Not that she would probably need such a fortress, but, as Zebediah admitted, as they all stood admiring it, “I guess we got carried away!”

     While Philip and Zeb and Zak were finishing the tower, Tamar brought a woman of Kefar Nahum for a visit.

     “This is Zilpa, widow of the tentmaker,” said Tamar.

     Zilpa, stood behind Tamar in the manner of a shy child and barely lifted her eyes in greeting. Miri said hello, and Zilpa seemed too embarrassed to answer.

     “She’s a good housekeeper, an excellent cook, and needs a job in a reputable house,” added Tamar.

     “And would she like to work here?” asked Miri.

     Tamar turned for agreement from Zilpa, but the woman shrank all the more.

     “She has three children to support and no place to live as her house was appropriated for taxes owed on her estate.”

     Miri wanted to meet her children, but as the three women walked down to the gate, they discovered they were no longer where Zilpa and Tamar had left them.

     “I told them to wait right here!” wailed Zilpa.

     “I am sure they did not get far!” said Tamar, at once trying to assure Zilpa and apologize to Miri.

     A terrified scream turned their attention to the road in time to see a large quarry wagon tip over and twist sideways. One of its wheels had broken off and gleaming white marble stones spilled across the road. Zilpa immediately saw her sons in the path of the tumbling rock.

     “Look out!” she screamed, and pushed them away from the accident. A large broken rock rolled to their feet.

     “Where’s Susanna?” screamed Zilpa.

     Both boys turned in shock.

     “Where’s Susanna?” screamed Zilpa again. She grasped the arm of one of the workmen. “Have you seen my daughter?” she asked the wagon master desperately, “Where is she?”

     Both her sons both looked about and shrugged helplessly. “She was just here!’ answered the eldest.

     “I told you not to move!” Zilpa screamed at her sons.

     Tamar turned to the crowd that gathered about the wreckage. “Have you seen a little girl?” she asked, “About this high?” Everyone shook their heads, but the action galvanized them into moving the stones. News that the little girl was buried beneath the stone spread thorough the crowd, and everyone, men women and older children, including Miri and Tamar and Zilpa and her sons, pitched in to remove the masonry and stack it by the wayside. The boys were crying, for they were sure their negligence had killed their sister.

     A small three year old girl, a bouquet of wildflowers in her hands, arrived and sat on an ancient stone to watch the frenzied activity. As Zilpa wiped her dusty brow with the back of her hand, she caught sight of the little girl, and froze.

     “Susanna!” she screamed She ran and scooped the little girl up in her arms. The wildflowers flew from the girl’s arms and showered Zilpa as she clutched her daughter to her aching breast. Zilpa’s cry of joy stopped work on the stone removal. Though the cart still blocked half the road, traffic resumed, though it slowed and stopped to examine the broken axle of the cart. Everyone had an opinion on how to fix it. Miri and her guests sat under the shade of the giant sycamore growing off to one side of the entrance to her estate.

     The trauma of the day had opened up Zilpa, though her sons were very subdued now they were in their mother’s bad books. Susanna resumed her wildflower gathering, though now she was under the protection of Zilpa’s eagle eye. Miri agreed to hire Zilpa for a half shekel per day, and that for her sons work, a half shekel for each week, and they could share a room beside the stables. Arrangements made, her visitors left, and Miri agreed to meet them with three donkeys in Kefar Nahum and they would walk back and bring Zilpa’s personal belongings to the estate together.

     Miri awoke early the next morning, prepared a fire and baked a few loaves of round bread, and packed them into a basket lunch with grapes and cheese. Philip, Zebediah and Zachariah arose and asked if she minded they accompany her to Kefar Nahum. Glad of the company, they led out three of her donkeys, Shalosh, Arba and Hamesh. There was a great deal of rubble remaining from the accident of the previous day, and they all commented on the stone.

     “We should build stone benches there under the sycamore,” said Philip, “Alongside the wall.”

     “Those are mostly flagstones,” pointed out Zeb, “Maybe we could build a plaza!”

     They continued their conversation as they walked to Kefar Nahum. By the time they passed the gravel beach to the west of the tiny village, they had entertained themselves by adding to the project until they had decided to erect a great plaza, complete with a collonaded portico, baths and a synagogue that would rival any Herod himself could build. Their lightheartedness dissipated when they reached the district of Kefar Nahum near the House of Zilpa. The narrow street was packed with women and children, for most of the men were still on the lake fishing.

     Miri pushed through the crowd. A number of armed men were dragging Zilpa’s furniture onto the street, searching it and throwing anything valuable onto a small donkey cart. Zilpa and her sons were bound and chained to the cart. Susanna was bound and lying amongst the valuables in the cart.

     “What’s going on here?” Miri demanded.

     A burly man, his head shaved, turned fiercely, but seeing her fine dress, reigned in his frustration.

     “Nothing of concern, Ma’am,” he replied, “This woman’s husband has bonded his wife and sons to a contract he has not repaid. We have come to collect.”

     “You can’t do that!” said Miri indignantly.

     “Begging your pardon, Ma’am, but I can. I have the order right here!” He held a small scrap of paper. Miri took it from him.

     “How much do they owe?” asked Miri.

     “I can’t say!” said the man.

     “I’ll pay it whatever it is!” said Miri.

     The man shook his head, “Look, it’s not up to me, I just pick them up and deliver them to Caesarea!”

     “Who is your patron?” asked Miri, “Does he live nearby?”

     “Look,” growled the man, “I have a job to do!”

     “I will speak to Herod Antipas about this!” said Miri.

     The entire crowd quieted at the name of the tetrarch.

     “Herod Antipas!” said the man. He smiled menacingly and brought his face close to hers. “Well, when Herod Antipas comes to me and says release this woman and her whelps, I shall do that!”

     At that moment, Miri noticed that the demand note mentioned only Zilpa, Daniel and Jeremiah. It had been signed before Susanna had been born and did not include her in the debt. She pointed out the omission.

     “Well, I call that a bonus!” leered the man.

     “I am her sister!” said Miri, “And I claim the child as my next of kin!”

     The crowd reacted in agreement. Though they were cowed by the order and the rule of Roman colonial law, the injustice of the little girl’s fate increased their anger, and gave it an outlet. The men of the press gang now were alerted to a riot and closed ranks. Miri and the leader stared at each other fiercely for a few anxious moments, as the shouts about them increased. Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, the man smiled and cut his losses.

     “Take her!” he said and motioned for the others to leave. He picked up Susanna and threw her at Miri. The little girl and Zilpa screamed in terror, and the crowd surged forward, but Miri caught little Susanna and clutched her to her breast. The crowd turned its face toward the slaver gang.

     Immediately the gang formed a protective perimeter about their cart, and, swords and clubs drawn, resembling a prickly hedgehog, pushed roughly through the crowd. The villagers followed in the wake of the kidnappers, shouting, wailing and crying. An angry teenager threw a stone, and the men picked up the pace of their retreat. More stones followed and the press gang broke into a run. The crowd immediately ran after them. The result was that Zilpa and her boys were pulled from their feet and dragged along behind the cart. Shocked by the sight of the woman and her sons being torn by the stony ground, the crowd halted their pursuit, and thankfully, once they were a stone’s throw away, the press gang halted, pulled their prisoners to their feet and checked their charges for damage. The leader shouted defiance at the villagers and shook his fist, but the incident was over, and both sides returned to their separate worlds and the ripples of the incident faded into the alleys of the village.

     Miri still stood where she had caught Susanna. The innocence of the little girl’s big eyes tore into Miri’s heart. Her little round cheeks were streaked with dust and tears.

     “Are you my new mommy?” she asked.

     Miri brushed the hair from her face. “Yes, Susanna,” she answered softly, “For as long as you need me!”

     Miri got nowhere with Antipas. He simply shrugged off the incident and asked Miri why she would bother with such a trivial thing. Phasaelis was as disinterested as her husband. All Miri could remember was the prenomen on the contract. Simply put, “Gaius of Caesarea”, was such a common Latin name as to be almost useless. She resolved to travel to Caesarea as soon as possible, but life intervened in her plan.

     The construction path of the walls about Tiberias had moved further south of her estate than Antipas had originally considered, and as a result, Antipas agreed to sell the estate to Miri, with a substantial down payment, that used up almost all of her hidden silver. The tetrarch used the money to purchase more land, though most of the property he occupied had been seized from Galilean insurgents. And part of his acquisition which comprised the main reason for his need for Miri’s silver was the cemetery where he immediately removed the graves of the insurgent martyrs buried there, so no pilgrims could gather in remembrance.

     Yair managed to clear her estate of uncleanliness through the Rabbis from Kefar Nahum, as, with the exception of Jonah’s family, it was determined the other graves and tombs had been empty for several generations. Shimeon then arranged for the family graves be moved to the cemetery nearer Kefar Nahum. A sacrifice of a sheep from her flock was performed to cleanse the estate and the blood of the lamb was painted over her doorposts and lintel as well as stones flanking the entrance by the road. And so, shortly after the fatwah upon her estate was lifted, a gold coin and a payment of silver arrived with a Nabatean agent of Haritar.

     Abdulla Obodas was a most gracious and amiable merchant. He traveled in a train with his wife, Cyprus, and his two teenage sons. Miri offered Abdulla and his traveling companions room to camp amongst the olive grove, and in a wonderful coincidence, Phasaelis arrived with her court shortly after the Nabateans had set up their household under Miri’s olives.

     Though she did not know Abdulla, Phasaelis was delighted by his presence, and the Nabateans, in turn, were delighted by her arrival. Though they had never met, they were kinsmen. A feast was in order, but the gathered company, seeing Miri had ripe grapes and olives to be harvested, and no one to pluck the fruit from the branches, set to harvesting the crop. Philip, Zebedee and Zachariah were inspired to repair the olive press. Sticks for drying racks were assembled to hang the grapes to produce raisins, and a number of women began to prepare bread and vegetable stew in Miri’s courtyard.

     The harvest lasted three days, and the Nabateans insisted on staying until her crop was brought in, and the oil and wine production was well established. Miri’s compound was the centre of a fairly large camp of tents and booths.

     Since the fatwah on her estate had lifted, a number of farm hands, field workers and household staff, showed up once news of the harvest was underway. Even Antipas arrived, hearing Nabateans were at his doorstep and visiting with Phasaelis, and the festivities reached Imperial proportions. A huge banquet table was set up in the olive grove, cooks from the tetrarch’s kitchens arrived, incense lit over a temporary altar and animals slaughtered and roasted, lamps lit, and at sundown, the feast began.

     Court musicians, the best in Galilee, played all night, wine flowed and Galileans and Nabateans, arm in arm, danced about the fire in the courtyard. Susanna sat beside Miri, for since Miri rescued her, the youngster could not bear to be out of physical contact with her. Her little hand clutched Miri’s robe day and night, and wherever Miri went her “little lamb” was sure to go. The little girl tugged on Miri’s sleeve.

     “Can we dance?” Susanna asked.

     “Of course!” said Miri, and, lifting Susanna to her feet, the two of them whirled into the line of dancers about the fire. They were absorbed by the music and celebration, and for endless wonderful moments there was neither past nor future, only the joy of unrestrained dance. Miri finally put the tired and happy Susanna to bed, and rejoined the festival. She drank and danced until late into the night. At some point in the evening, Antipas took her to one side.

     “You are a spy for Haritar!” he whispered.

     Miri’s heart stopped beating for an instant, but she had no answer ready.

     “This Abdulla Obadas is no merchant, and I am aware he has the ear of Haritar! For what reason did he stop here?”

     “He wished to enquire to the Princess’s health,” answered Miri.

     “And what did you tell him?” asked Antipas.

     “I said Phasaelis was in the best of health and quite happy with her life here,” replied Miri truthfully. “I think Haritar probably has the concern of any parent for his child.”

     “And why did he choose you?”

     “Have you ever tried to keep a secret in Galilee?” asked Miri, “It is well known Phasaelis has visited me often!”

     “I will be watching you, Miriam,” hissed Herod, “It would be counter productive to execute you! But I expect every report to be no different than your last!”

     Without warning Antipas gripped her arms and kissed her on the mouth. Though she was shocked, the experience wasn’t exactly unpleasant, and though she put up her hands to keep their bodies apart, she didn’t push him away.

     “I am watching you, Miriam!” he whispered hoarsely and knocked back the contents of his wine goblet. “You have more wine?”

     Miri took the goblet. “Of course!”

     She searched out the crater the tetrarch had brought to the farm for the celebration, and dipped his cup into the great bowl. Not having a goblet of her own, she took a draught of his cup. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Antipas watching her. He pushed through the dancers, and took the cup from her.

     “Well, I can assume it’s not poisoned,” he said and took a great draught.

     “I have no reason to poison you,” said Miri sweetly, “Do I?”

     His eyes narrowed as he weighed her reply, but they were separated by the intrusion of others, and Miri searched out a goblet of her own, and filled it often enough to lose count.

     Susanna woke Miri far earlier than she would have wished. Already, the royal entourage of Antipas was ready to return to Tiberias, and Miri washed Susanna and herself with water from a bowl, and dressed hurriedly to bid Antipas and Phasaelis goodbye. She gave them gifts of the first oil of the harvest and promised to send wine when it was ready. Antipas gave her a gift of the brass wine crater, and she then presented him with a chest of silver coins as a payment installment for the sale of the estate.

     She walked beside the royal train as Susanna rode with Phasaelis in her carriage. Eventually Phasaelis prevailed upon Miri to turn back, and Miri invited the princess to visit any time she wished. Phasaelis presented Miri with the necklace about her neck, they embraced, and Miri turned her face to home. By the time she returned, Abdulla and his kin were also ready to leave, and the Nabateans and Miri exchanged rounds of gifts, and, sitting Susanna upon Hamisha, Miri escorted her new friends along the route she had just walked with Antipas and Phasaelis. With a last gift, the Nabateans waved farewell, and Miri turned Hamisha homeward.

     On the way back, Susanna was very quiet.

     “Are you alright, lambkins?” Miri asked.

     Susanna nodded, but she was obviously downcast.

     “Were you thinking about your mama?”

     The little girls nodded again.

     “Is she coming back?” asked Susanna.

     Miri stopped walking, and grasped Susanna’s head with both hands.

     “Of course she is,” Miri whispered, “Someday!”

     “She’ll be sad without me!” said Susanna.

     “Baby, your mama will be happy knowing you’re safe with me! And she has Daniel and Jeremiah to keep her company!”

     “I miss them, Miri,” Susanna said quietly.

     “Of course you do, sweetie!” Miri stroked Susanna’s hair. “But they’ll be back! They’ll be back for you!”

     “I love you, Miri!” said Susanna wrapping her little arms around Miri’s neck.

     Miri pulled Susanna from Hamisha’s back and hugged her tightly.

     “And I love you, too, lambkins! I love you more than anything!”

     They took the rest of the afternoon to return to the farm. They stopped by a palm-shaded beach and played in the water. A group of small boys were splashing about by the water’s edge, trying their hand at casting a net for fish. They managed to catch a few small silver fish, and they showed off their catch to Miri and Susanna. Miri paid them a small copper coin for the fish, though they were too small to eat. Susanna accepted the fish from the boys one by one and set them free. One of the boys shinnied up a date tree and threw down dates which they all thouroughly enjoyed. The boys took turns feeding dates to Hamisha, and Miri allowed them to ride the little donkey up and down the beach. They took Susanna with them, and Susanna took to the boys, and, watching them show Susanna frogs along the shore, Miri realized the little girl saw her brothers in the little beach boys. The sun moved to kiss the western hills and turn them purple, and she shooed the boys back to their homes. Tired and happy, Susanna, Miri and Hamisha trudged wearily back to the compound.

     As they approached her estate, Miri noticed how much the huge sycamore dominated the entrance to her land. She was reminded of her conversation with Philip and Zeb and Zak. She imagined a cultivated rest area beneath the cool shade of the sycamore. She determined she would pay the masons to create a garden seat there.

     From that day, Miri’s household was firmly established, and her estates fully staffed. Antipas allowed Phasaelis permission to visit Miri at her estate at will. Philip and his friends built a beautiful space about the sycamore, and used the soft marble stone from the accident to fashion the seat surfaces. One of the most remarkable discoveries during the construction of the rest area was a small spring, or more accurately, an underground brook. They struck the opening as they cut the foundation for the retaining wall for the rest area, and decided to create a small pool around it. They directed the stream to flow from the pond into a drainage pipe running beneath the Tiberias Road. The pool instantly became a stopping place for thirsty travellers despite the slight sulphuric taste, and Miri and Susanna often came down to the road and watch the traffic pass by.

     Miri, Susanna sat at the tree with Jonah, Philip, Zachariah and Zebediah when Shimeon, Adam and Tamar arrived for a visit. They carried some of the belongings from Zilpa’s house that had been salvaged by the villagers of Kefar Nahum.

     “They belong to Susanna now,” said Shimeon, setting his bundle on the ground. He opened the cloth wrapping, and produced a number of cooking utensils, some lamps, clothing and other sundries. Susanna stood before him silently watching.

     “I don’t want them!” she announced finally. “Give them to someone else!”

     Shimeon was taken aback.

     “Maybe we’ll put them away until you’re grown up,” suggested Miri.

     “No!” said Susanna, “Give then to someone else!”

     “Who?” asked Shimeon.

     “I don’t care!” said Susanna.

     “We’ll hang them from the tree!” said Miri, suddenly inspired, “That way, anyone who needs these things can pick them like pomegranates!”

     Susanna clapped her hands. ”Yes!” she said happily, “Hang them on the tree!”

     So, everyone helped Susanna hang the belongings from the lower branches of the tree. They tied them with ribbons brought from the house, and everyone added decorations of their own to the great tree. While the others laboured about the tree, Philip sat to one side and chiselled text upon a large slab of stone to commemorate the event. Finished, he enlisted Shimeon and Adam to set the plaque between two benches that ringed the sycamore’s roots.

     He stood back and everyone admired his handiwork, as Miri read from the stone. First, she announced the title, “The Gift of Galilee.” Everyone nodded approval, and she continued:

     “Unlike brazen idols carved by Greeks,

     With conquering arms wrapped o’er ravaged lands,

     Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand,

     This Tree of Love, this Mother of the Exiled.

     From leafy hand, bids She world-wide welcome

     For those from far and ancient lands.

     Whatever hangs from this Tree,

     Or remains upon the ground within her shady sphere

     She offers to the weary, poor and needy.

     Take what you need from Her generous green arms,

     And, in Her Honour,

     Leave for Others that which you do not!"

     Susanna was delighted. “Yes!” she cried and hugged Philip, and everyone in turn. Passers-by had gathered at tree and all admired the tree and the inscription and the little Susanna’s gifts. Many of them left offerings of their own at the tree, and all who stood by knew that the ground beneath the sycamore was sacred, and was indeed transformed into a Tree of True Love.

     News of the tree’s transformation spread swiftly, and many came from Tarichae, Kefarnaum, Arbela and beyond, to leave offerings and prayers at the tree, and to collect gifts that were left by others. It became a meeting place, and soon whenever Miri and Susanna came down to sit by the tree, they were often greeted by others already there. Philip had urged her to build a larger gate at the entrance, but Miri refused. None had trespassed upon her soil, for all remained content at the tree and the pool where the water bubbled from the ground. Eventually, Susanna insisted they carry a basket of bread and dates down to the tree each morning, and the first act she performed upon reaching the plaza was to offer the food to whoever happened to sit under the sycamore’s shade. If perchance no one occupied the plaza, Susanna waited with the basket and stared down the road to the North, waiting for the first travellers to offer them food from her basket.

     It was on such a day that Miri sat with Jonah, Philip, Shimeon and Adam. A huge man with wild hair and great bushy beard, staff in hand, strode up the hill toward them. Despite the stranger’s wild looks and determined step, Susanna stood her ground before him, determined to offer the man a bite to eat. Spying the youngster in his path, he crossed the road to avoid the urchin, but she moved to block his way. Miri suddenly stood up, and moved to scoop her little lamb into her arms. After three attempts to avoid the little girl, the man planted his staff in the soft ground at the edge of the road and stood towering over her.

     “What have you there?” the big man roared gruffly.

     “Bread and raisins,” answered Susanna.

     “And how much are you asking?” demanded the stranger.

     “Nothing!” answered the little girl, “This food is for the hungry!”

     “And if I am not hungry?” asked the man.

     “Then don’t eat!” replied Susanna.

     The man smiled. “You are a fine and generous young lady!” He rubbed his chin through his beard. “And I am hungry!”

     Susanna lifted the basket higher for the wild man. He smiled and grasped a handful of raisins. He stuffed them into his mouth and chewed appreciatively. He spied Miri and her friends, and swallowing the last of his raisins, pointed to Miri.

     “Are you the mother of this child?” he bellowed. She was under the impression he was always loud. Rather than get into all the complications, she answered, “I am!”

     “Then may the Lord bless you for bearing such a child!”

     He stretched his hand to Susanna. “Come!” he said and she took his hand without hesitation. He led Susanna to Miri.

     “I have traveled this road and countless others, and this child is the first to await my arrival!”

     Miri and the others exchanged glances. “She stands there every morning!” said Miri.

     “And now I have come!” said the man. He looked about the plaza. “What is this place?”

     “It is my estate. My name is Miriam.”

     The man stared intently at her, then about at the estate.

     “Is that your tower?” he demanded.

     “It is!” replied Miri.

     “A fine tower!” he exclaimed, “Good defensive position! Grand view!”

     His wild nature threatened her, and she wanted to step away from him, but he still held Susanna by the hand. His manner was that of a bull ox, his hair the mane of a lion, his eyes imbued with the raptor glare of an eagle. Miri crouched down and lifted Susanna, and thankfully, the wild man let her go. As soon as she had Susanna wrapped safely in her arms, Miri stepped back from the giant.

     “Who are you?” she asked defensively.

     “Yahjah!” he replied, “I am a Messenger of the Lord!”

     Miri set Susanna down between Jonah and Philip.

     “And what message do you bring?” she asked.

     “Repent!” Yahjah bellowed. Everyone jumped at the ferocity of his reply.

     “Repent?” asked Miri. “Of what?”

     “Sins!” came the reply.

     “I come to wash away the Sins of the Idolaters! The Sins of the Adulterers! The Sins of the Fornicators! The Sins of Israel must be washed away, for the Messiah is Coming!”

     “The Messiah?” she asked, barely masking her disbelief. If he was not so imposing, she would have laughed out loud, but she sensed danger in his presence.

     “The Messiah!” he roared. “He is Coming!”

     Adam and Philip both sat up like hounds to the hunting horn.

     “Who is he?” asked Philip.

     “When?” asked Adam.

     Yahjah turned his gaze upon the fishermen. “He needs no name, for all will know him when he arrives!”

     “So when is he coming?” demanded Shimeon. His question came from a genuine curiosity, but to Miri the question seemed silly.

     “Only the Lord knows!” growled Yahjah, “It is not for me to know until The Messiah arrives. My Calling is to Prepare Israel for his Coming!”

     “You had better travel another route,” suggested Miri, “This road goes through Tiberias.” Though she was afraid of Yahjah, she thought he might run afoul of Antipas and his Court should he pass through the royal city and meet a sticky end.

     “Aaah!” growled Yahjah, “Am I, the Messenger of the Lord, to be deterred by Spawn of Herod? I have nothing to Fear!”

     Shimeon, usually slow on the uptake, realized Yahjah was probably his own worst enemy. “I will take you in my boat! Adam and I will sail you to the south end of the Kinneret!”

     “A boat!” Yahjah’s eyes lit up. “Am I to be Jonah cast upon the shore? Yes! Yes, I like that! And you, little missy,” He leaned down to Susanna, “Are you coming with me on the boat?”

     Miri was about to scoop Susanna again, but the little girl shook her head at Yahjah.

     “Good!” Yahjah declared, “You will wait upon this road for the Messiah, while I go to prepare the way!”

     His eyes narrowed, Yahjah stared intently into her Soul. “Keep the Gate open!” he said firmly. He snapped back to the world. “So when are we leaving?” he asked Shimeon.

     Shimeon and Adam bade the others goodbye and walked Yahja back down the road to Tarichae where they had beached their boat.

     Susanna, picking up her tray, stared up at Miri, and asked “Miri, what’s a Messiah?” Miri shook her head, not sure whether the she was mad or the country around her.

     The following day, the sky opened her blue arms to Shemesh and he rode into a perfectly cloudless firmanent. Miri sat beneath the dappled shade of the sycamore, and her Soul opened wide. A raven, undeterred by the presence of Susanna alit upon the ground beside the small girl, and Susanna began throwing pieces of bread to the large bird. Miri closed her eyes, and her presence rippled outwards. Despite the calmness of the summer morning, she sensed a strong aggressive intrusion into the world, though she could not determine the source.

     She had brought some wool down with her with her and pulled the tufts out, and started the spindle in her hand spinning and began pulling out the thread. She found a quiet satisfaction in the twisting of the wool into thread. The spindle was wood but weighted with a thick coloured glass globe. She had picked it up in the market in Yerushalayim. As it whirled swiftly, it seemed that each rotation was a day in her life, and she envisioned the world as the globe. There was Hindustan, Arabia, Israel, Egypt Africa and beyond the web of Imperial Rome. She sensed great cold and heat, and forces so great, the will of the people of her world dwindled to insignificance. What made the world spin? She wondered. It was of no concern to her, for it would spin whether she understood its mechanics or not. A thick aromatic cloud of herbs and spices wafted from the terra cotta incense burner on the ground beside her, and from beyond the underlying chorus of the birds calling from bush to barn, and the complaining bleat of her sheep, the searching clucks of her chickens and an annoying complaint from Hamesha, she sensed the slow majestic rivers of energy flowing through the earth beneath her feet. A fisherman returning from Tiberias to Tarichae, trod softly and respectfully past in the course of going about his business, and, taking care not to allow his shadow to fall upon her, left two fish hanging from the sycamore.

     A family hurried by for Tiberias. As they approached the sycamore, their voices dropped to whispers and their step slowed for Susanna barred their way and would not let them pass until they had eaten from her basket. Miri opened her eyes and smiled at the young children as they chewed the dates Susanna had given them, and as her gaze embraced them, a gentle breeze affectionately tousled their hair and hugged their tiny bodies. Animated by the touch of the wind, the two giggled and ran to the protective folds of their parents robes, pausing only briefly to glance back at the woman and child by the sycamore before they disappeared around the bend in the road.

     A small black cat rubbed itself affectionately against her legs, then wandered off to clean itself in the first warm sunny spot to take its fancy. Miri arose and stepped forward, her eyes fixed intently to the northwest where she sensed a disturbance.

     As her mind opened, the breeze became wind, raising the dust from the street, tugging at her robe, pulling toward the dunes of the desert and the hills beyond. Susanna, her attention carried by Miri’s sudden alertness, stared curiously into the distant haze searching for the focus of the old woman’s gaze, yet could neither see nor sense its cause.

     “Someone is coming, Susanna,” whispered the Miri excitedly. “Someone is coming!”

     As if in answer to her words, dust drifted from the Arbel, and soon the steady beat of marching men reached their ears. A glint of sun on gold sparked in the distance. The countryside ground to a halt and turned its focus to the approaching Roman army. The birds settled to earth and fell silent. The eyes of the shepherd and sheep turned as to an approaching storm. Cattle ceased chewing their cud, ears spread wide to the oncoming men. The clanking of their armour filled the increasingly dusty air, and it seemed even the sun was diminished by their passage. All business stopped in Tarichae as the legion passed through, and the rumble of their passage grew as the army turned and wove toward Miri and her ward.

     Susanna, however seemed to be the only being not intimidated by the approaching army. She stood her ground upon the road, but Miri scooped her up and carried her out of harm’s way.

     As the first contingent of the army passed by, Miri recognized several men from Tarichae bearing the soldiers’ packs. Every community under Roman protection was obligated to supply able bodied men to carry the soldier’s packs, and refusal to comply by any man led to, at best, a flogging, and at worst, execution, though the latter was rarely used except in time of open warfare or insurrection. More enterprising and nefarious commoners found the task an opportunity to pilfer Roman belongings. A silver chalice or two, golden statuettes of gods, that sort of thing. As the obligation to carry the pack was limited to a mile, the thief was long gone before the soldier found out he had been duped. Such was the danger of lost luggage, the more lazy individual found that by offering to carry a pack, the soldier thus accosted invariably refused the request, and the obligation terminated and the laggard could then turn his face to a lesser activity to which he felt he was better suited. It was part of the eternal cat and mouse game played between Rome and her subjects, but an example that stood well as an analogy for the relationship between Rome and her dominion. Rome extracted as much as it could from her provinces by force of arms and the provincials stole back what they could through guile and cunning.

     A mounted officer approached Miri and Susanna. Dusty and hot, he demanded water. Miri slipped Susanna to the ground.

     “Follow me,” she said and turned to walk to the fountain.

     “Would you like some grapes?” asked Susanna. She held up her basket to the officer, and he smiled and dismounted.

     “I would love to have some of your grapes!” he declared, “How much are they?”

     “I am giving them to you!” said Susanna impatiently, “We have no need of your money!”

     “Then I accept!” said the Roman. He glanced up at Miri, and instantly was smitten by her dark eyes. “This child is yours?”

     Miri reciprocated the ardour of the Roman for, though he bested her by twenty years, he was strong and incredibly well chiseled. “I am her protector,” replied Miri. She held a dipper under the fountain and allowed it to fill, then handed it to the Roman. “Then she is safe for I know of no soldier who would not give his life for you!” he said gallantly.

      “Not every soldier is as silver tongued as you,” she replied with a smile. The man had the same qualities she had seen in Germanicus, a natural animal magnetism that could melt a woman’s heart and part her legs as easily as a warm knife slicing through butter.

     “Your water!” she said.

     “You have no wine?” he asked.

     “You would have to come to the house,” replied Miri, “And your men would miss you!”

     “Is that an invitation?” he asked.

     “It would be improper to do so,” replied Miri, “And my neighbours would talk!”

     “They no doubt already talk of you,” replied the officer, “It must drive your husband mad!”

     “I have no need for a husband,” replied Miri, “Are you applying for the job?”

     “Valerius,” said the Roman, extending his hand, “I am on the way to Tiberias and then to Perea. Perhaps I could call upon you should time permit.”

     “Perhaps,” replied Miri, “Though I shall not wait up for you!”

     “No light in the window?” he asked in mock disappointment.

     Miri pointed to the watchtower.

     “I shall hang a yellow cloth from that tower for three days,” she replied. “Should you not arrive while the banner is flying, you will have no reason to call.”

     Valerius lifted the dipper to his lips.

     “I would always have reason to call one such as you!”

     He arrived that evening, dressed in Roman style, and attended by two fairly elderly slaves.

     “Valerius Gratus,” he said as he stood upon her doorstep. “I have heard something about you, Miriam of the Watchtower.”

     “All good, I hope,” answered Miri. “Have you eaten?”

     Valerius was a beautiful man, and Miri was smitten. They chatted for hours and played dice with Susanna who loved the game. Valerius waited while Miri lay Susanna down and told her a bedtime story, and invited him to the roof of the house. He expressed admiration of the tower and the masonry from which it was built. They climbed the stairs and on the parapet kissed under the moonlight.

     Valerius came to her whenever he could for they could not seem to satiate the lust they had for each other. They made love as soon as he arrived or for as long as public decorum kept them apart, and again and always just before dawn when he had to return to Tiberias to rejoin the army. He remained for several days, but an invitation from Phasaelis to attend a dinner in honour of the Procurator of Palestina interrupted their non-stop love fest. Her prayer to the Great Mother that Valerius was important enough to attend the banquet was more than answered.

     Valerius was the guest of honour.

     She had bee sleeping with the Procurator!

     She was in pins and needles until they managed to reach each other through the courtiers and prominent citizens of the new Tiberias.

     “You should have told me you were Procurator!” she whispered as they found shelter behind a line of young cedars given to Antipas by his brother Philip.

     “Would you then have slept with me?” he asked.

     “Of course not!” she replied.

     “Then I am glad I didn’t tell you!” he said with a smile that instantly affected her knees.

     “So am I!” she declared and kissed him passionately on the lips. They entwined instantly, but luckily there was no place for them to dissolve into each other horizontally.

     “I leave tomorrow!” he said.

     “Will you be back?” she asked breathlessly.

     “Whenever I can!” he declared.

     Miri was drunk. But she was not alone. She sat under the olive tree with Phasaelis, Amitel, Sharifa and Berenike, her Judean handmaid, all of who also were quite drunk. Jonah, unable to bear the laughter and chatter of drunken women, had taken Susanna for a walk down by the lake. There were no field workers about as the planting had finished and the sun had begun his work warming the soil about the seed and floated at his warmest place in the afternoon sky. They had all gone past the point where decorum would suggest they stop drinking. Their laughter was raucous and speech slurred. Berenike took up a small tambour and began to tap out a dance beat that instantly connected and challenged their feet. The women broke into a dance, and sang merrily to the drum’s voice. None noticed for some time, the dark hooded figure standing silently watching them, but such was the intensity of thought from the robed stranger, they all stopped and gaped stupidly at the apparition.

     Drunkenly they mocked the figure’s somber appearance, but their laughter slowly dwindled and they all stood swaying unsteadily under the influence of Bacchus, and the figure stepped forward. Finally the hooded figure lifted her hood, and Miri gasped.

     “Sister Miriam!” she cried, though it came out as “Shishter Madiam!”

     She staggered over to Sister Miriam to hug her, but her niece held her hand out to stop a full embrace and turned her face as the smell of wine and smoked fish Miri had consumed, offended her sensibilities. Sister Miriam was disgusted.

     “So this is how you live?” she demanded.

     Miri shrugged “Not every day!”

     Her answer caused her royal guests to break into giggles.

     “I shall find lodgings in the town,” said Sister Miriam.

     “No! No!” protested Miri, “you must stay here!” and she grabbed Sister Miriam’s hand.

     “This place is like a brothel!” sneered Sister Miriam.

     Phasaelis instantly reacted to the comment.

     “Brothel! Brothel?” she demanded drunkenly. “I am the Princess of Galilee!” Unfortunately, she completely garbled Galilee, and her handmaids broke into laughter again.

     Sister Miriam turned to leave, but Miri held her arm.

     “Please stay! You will have your own room!”

     Sister Miriam frowned for a moment. “Show it to me!”

     Miri’s head ached terribly. A sharp stabbing pain behind her eyes made her gasp. For the first moments of consciousness, she had no idea where she was, and once she oriented herself, she discovered she was lying in her cellar, near the cistern. It was cool and damp and Miri had no desire to leave.

     Vague memories of the events leading to her state of unconsciousness drifted into her muddled mind, and though she remembered the arrival of Sister Miriam, she was not sure of the veracity of the visions that drifted through her head. She groaned.

     “I’m never doing this again!” she complained.

     Her voice reverberated in the stone cellar, and she swore there was a touch of sarcasm in the echo. She was not sure of her legs, and they refused to support her efforts to ascend the stairs, necessitating her sitting several times as she groped her way to ground level. The air became noticeably warmer near the surface and bile rose in her throat.

     It was going to be a bad day.

     She lay, eyes closed and hands on her head, at the top of the stairs. At the edge of perception, she heard prayers. Sister Miriam! Guilt arose in her garbled brain, and it was strong enough for her to remain in the dark beneath the wooden trap door at the top of the stairs. She made a mental note to set up a sleeping palette in the cellar, but then made another note never to drink again, again. She dozed off, and was awoken to the groans of her royal guests. It was apparent they were in the same state as Miri. Mustering what little energy she had, Miri pushed up the wooden trap door.

     It was stuck! She pushed hard and it shook but didn’t budge! Miri shouted for help. Eventually a brilliant white light seared her brain as Hulpa the cook opened the trap door and stared down in disbelief at her mistress. Hulpa was the widowed aunt of Shimeon and Adam, and they had prevailed upon Miri to hire her as they claimed, quite rightly, her skills in the kitchen were unsurpassed in all of Galilee. She, however, was dour and, unfortunately, unrestrained in delivering her opinions on inappropriate behaviour. This, however, was completely beyond her ability to comprehend, and she retreated to unmerciful polity.

     “Will Madame like Yotapa to draw her a bath?” she asked Miri in a rather cold, distant and disapproving tone.

     “Please,” croaked Miri, her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth. The bathroom was large and well appointed, having been designed on the Roman patrician style that the Herodians loved. The frigidarium was already occupied by her guests. They all sat in various states of despair, and all groaned as Miri entered.

     “I have a dinner tonight!” complained Phasaelis, “I’m never going to make it!”

     “I could send a messenger to say you are sick,” said Miri.

     “Antipas will just send his physician!” whined Phasaelis, “And he’ll just tell my husband I’m hung over!”

     “Maybe not,” said Miri as she slipped thankfully into the cool water. Her brain hurt from thinking, but she managed to reassure Phasaelis she would think of something after the bath. The five women spent a long time languishing in the frigidarium. Hulpa appeared and produced a huge steaming glazed ceramic jug of herbal tea, and several glasses.

     “Drink at least two glasses,” she said primly and disappeared into the kitchen again. Miri sniffed the jug. She caught the strong smell of juniper berries, cypress and rosemary, and the vapour seemed to have a few other ingredients she recognized but could not name. She poured herself a glass of the tea. It was hot, but not scalding, and she swallowed the whole glass in a single draught. She poured another and drank that completely as well, then turned to pouring and passing out glasses to the others. Sipping tea, she supplied her thirsty guests with full glasses until the ceramic jug was empty.

     Whatever the contents of the infusion, all felt far better than when they had descended into the bath. Stimulated enough to move by the effects of the tea and cold water, they moved from the frigidarium and into the tepidarium, fired early that morning and tended until they awoke. The tepidarium was almost overpowering. Aromatic vapours arose from the potpourri of dried flowers scattered over the surface. Yotapa, the teenage house girl, brought in an incense burner and placed it upon a grill over small charcoal fire set into the floor. Smoke began to curl and then billow to the ceiling from the burner. The sweet smelling smoke was overpowering, and though the bathers protested, Yotapa sat unmoving as the aromatic vapours permeated the room. None begrudged the girl, for they all knew the smell they would give off from the after effects of their drinking binge needed to be expunged. Yotapa dripped a small amount of peppermint oil from a small alabaster jar into a small bowl, and mixed it with a small chunk of cypress sap with a finger length stem of liquorice root. Finished, she dropped five sticks of the root into the small bowl and offered it by turn to Miri and her guests. The bathers each chose a stick, dipped it into the mixture, transferred a small drop to her tongue and began scrubbing her teeth with the stick to erase the horrible aftermath of unbridled imbibing from her mouth. The hot water forced the sweat from their pores, and the smoke coated their skins with an exotic aromatic mask.

     Phasaelis was the first to rise from the water and her handmaids were drawn out in her wake. They massaged perfumed oil into the princess’s skin as she lay upon the massage stone beside the tepidarium pool. Berenike wrapped a towel about herself and retrieved clean clothing from another room for the others. Once Phasaelis was rubbed, strigelled, wiped clean and dressed, Sharifah added new sandalwood and frankincense to the incense burner and Phasaelis stood astride the burner and allowed the fragrant smoke to permeate her oiled skin and clothing. Miri was attended by Yotapa and the others followed suit, and soon, there was but a faint trace of the previous night left within them.

     Hulpa had set a meal for the princesses. Sharifa and Amita, though attending Phasaelis, were actually distant cousins from a less distinguished part of her clan. They were not servants in the Western sense of the word and were accorded more respect than the Westerners treated their household slaves. They were neither indentured nor enslaved, but remained with Phasaelis from their own choice. They deemed it a high honour to attend to her needs, and Phasaelis thought of them as sisters, though she treated them as an older sibling treats younger sisters, but still, they were sisters.

     As Yotapa was helping Miri wrap her cotton chiton, she was struck by the happiness of Phasaelis and her two cousins.

     “Are you happy?” Miri asked Yotapa.

     Yotapa was taken aback by her question and Miri repeated it.

     “Of course!” Yotapa replied, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

     “I mean, are you happy serving me?”

     “I am paid well,” replied Yotapa.

     “Well, would you do this if you didn’t need the money?”

     “Of course not!” said Yotapa, then paused for a moment. “Of course, if I didn’t have the money, I would probably marry Telicassus the Tanner!”

     “So, why are you here?” asked Miri.

     “I can’t stand Telicassus!” said Yotapa.

     “So you work here to avoid him?”

     Yotapa smiled. “My father was killed in a protest against the Kittim in Yerushalayim, and my mother died in childbirth. My brothers are both stupid, young and lazy, so the money I bring in keeps food on the table. Telicassus thinks I should turn onto my back and spread my legs wide open in gratitude for the miserly offerings he brings me!”

     She spat into the charcoal embers in the floor grate, then looked deep into Miri’s eyes. “Your house is a paradise, and I cannot bear to return to the small hovel we call home!”

     Miri glanced over at Phasaelis and her attendants.

     “Tell your lazy, stupid brothers there is a room here for them!” she said softly. “There is no need for you to suffer so!”

     The Angel of Judgement sat motionless beneath the olive tree where Hulpa had set a meal. The day was hot, so Sister Miriam no longer wore her cloak, but a bright white linen cloth veiled her dark hair and looks.

     “Miriam!” said Miri, “I am so sorry! Please, had I known you were coming I would have prepared the way!”

     “I hope I am not interrupting your drinking!” said Sister Miriam coldly.

     Miri hugged her nonresponsive niece.

     “I am so glad you accepted my offer!” said Miri, “Have you spoken with Yohanna?”

     Sister Miriam had no reply.

     “I see,” said Miri, “And why have you not chosen to speak with your family?”

     “You are family,” replied Sister Miriam.

     “Of course I am,” answered Miri, “But Martha and Yohanna are worried about you!”

     “The Lord will care and provide for me,” replied Sister Miriam, “What need do I have for family?”

     “What need?” said Miri, “Only you can answer that!”

     “I thought you would understand! Why did you leave?”

     “I needed to know…” began Miri, but there was no answer to place upon her tongue. She changed the subject. “I will send word to them that you are safe!”

     “No!” said Sister Miriam. Her eyes faltered as she knew her family in Bethany would have to be told. “Can you wait? Just a day or two?”

     Miri touched her niece’s cheek.

     “Who are you?” a little voice piped in.

     “Susanna!” cried Miri and picked up the little girl who had just returned from her walk.

     “Susanna, this is Sister Miriam!”

     It seemed to take Sister Miriam a long time to recognize the small child as a human being.

     “Hello!” said Susanna, “I picked some flowers!” Susanna held a small bouquet of wild flowers out to Sister Miriam.

     Miri had to give Sister Miriam a look to prod her into accepting the gift from Susanna.

     “They’re lovely,” said Sister Miriam quietly, but the act had caused her pain, and she retreated behind a dark aura. Miri frowned.

     “Are you feeling unwell?” she asked.

     Sister Miriam nodded and smiled bravely, but she was in pain.

     Susanna gave Sister Miriam a big hug, and as the little girl wrapped herself about her, Sister Miriam broke into tears.

     At that moment Phasaelis and her entourage arrived at the table and the conversation deteriorated swiftly into superficial pleasantries, and Miri had to postpone speaking to Sister Miriam’s despair.

     Jonah joined them, and Miri sent Yotapa with Shalosh, one of her donkeys to bring her brothers and their belongings back to the compound. One of the field workers came up the pathway to the estate to see if there was any work that day, and Miri dispatched him with a carefully written note to Antipas to say that Phasaelis had come down with a stomach ailment and would have to stay an extra two or three days at the estate.

     Phasaelis fretted, for she had a royal sense of duty to her position, but she sensibly agreed to allow Miri to at least try to put off her return until the effects of their wine and cheese party of the day before wore off. Susanna, meanwhile had taken a liking to Sister Miriam and insisted on taking her down to the lake to show her the beach and meet her friends there. Though Sister Miriam was clearly not comfortable with the child, she was unable to dismiss the girl’s invitation and accepted as graciously as she could manage.

     The meal was very pleasant and Miri invited Hulpa to sit with them all, and although she refused at first, the company prevailed upon her to join them. Shimeon and Adam arrived, and sat with the others and joined the feast. They were all still sitting about the olive grove when the royal physician, flustered and officious, arrived with Miri’s messenger in tow.

     “Your highness!” he declared breathlessly as he approached, “I came as soon as I heard!” He lifted a large wooden box and set it upon the table. “I have brought some stomach remedies, and will prescribe whatever is necessary to help you recover!”

     “Nicodemus!” said Miri, “Please, come walk with me!”

     Nicodemus protested, but followed Miri’s crooked finger, and they walked apart from the others along the olive grove.

     “We have a small problem,” whispered Miri once they were apart from the others. “You see, Phasaelis, delicate creature that she is, was not used to the strength of my wine, and well, she overdid it! She is very concerned for she is afraid that Antipas will discover that she, through no design of her own, is feeling under the weather due to her…” Miri paused, “…accidental… ingestion of the fruit of the vine. I, on my own initiative, sent Antipas a message she would not recover for two days, for, once he comes close to her highness, will discover she has been drinking, and blame her for the overindulgence and their marriage may suffer for the cause of it! You can see that this would not be good for the court or the tetrarchy…”

     “Of course,” replied Nicodemus, “But I am obligated to tell…”

     “This is what I think,” said Miri conspiratorially, “I thought you could give them a draught, and declare them fit by morning. You can return to Antipas and blame it on a difficult malady, perhaps bad mussels or mushrooms, water or what-not, toxic but not fatal, and that you have treated them and they would recover after good night’s rest! That way, Antipas will be pleased with your abilities in that you have eased Phasaelis’s discomfort and cut her recovery time by more than half!”

     Nicodemus stroked his well trimmed beard as he thought about Miri’s proposal.

     “Phasaelis will attest to your skills to Antipas personally and hold you in high esteem for this favour,” said Miri, “When she and her servants return to the palace early tomorrow morning!”

     Nicodemus was lost in silent thought.

     “Well?” asked Miri.

     “I shall make it so!” he said finally.

     “Excellent!” declared Miri, though she did not like him, “Come join us for dinner!”

     Nicodemus was as reserved as Hulpa, though in a more ethereal way, but he relaxed as the sun drifted past it’s zenith. Time came for him to leave and he took a few powders from his wooden case and ground them with an alabaster mortar and pestle, and measured them into 5 packets, one for each of the royal party and recommended they be drunk with vinegar and water. Dutifully, the ladies of the court took a draught of his concoction, and thanked him for his attention, and he departed as soon as he had their word they would return at dawn.

     Miri walked him past the gates where his servant and bodyguard waited for him, and then accompanied them to the end of the curve in the road south of her estate. As she bid farewell, she dropped a bag of silver coins into his hand.

     “A gift,” she whispered, “Thank you for your heart!”

     He smiled, but said nothing. As Miri watched him disappear around the curve in the road, she heard Susanna’s laughter coming from the beach. She left the road and descended to the shoreline. Along the muddy flats, she spied Sister Miriam, Susanna and four young boys running about in a mad game of tag. She sat upon a low crumbling stone wall to watch them play and her heart burst with love for their innocence.

     “So what is bothering you?” Miri asked Sister Miriam once Susanna was asleep.

     Sister Miriam stared down at her hands. “Do you promise not to tell anyone else?” she asked without looking up.

     “Of course!” declared Miri, “Of course I promise!”

     “Miri, I..” tears welled in Sister Miriam’s eyes. Miri wrapped an arm about her niece.

     “It’s alright, it’s alright!”

     Sister Miriam took a deep breath. “After you left, I studied the Torah, and learned the household skills we are all supposed to learn, and Yusef arranged a meeting for me with a boy of a nice family. We went for a walk.”

     She paused.

     “He raped me!”

     Sister Miriam stopped for a moment to gather strength.

     “He told his parents I was a whore and he was not interested in marrying me!”

     “You didn’t tell Yohanna?”

     Sister Miriam stared down at her hands again. She shook her head.

     “How could I? Who would have me after that? I know the Torah! I have dedicated my life to the Lord and I am no longer a virgin! I couldn’t tell anyone!”

     “And that’s when you went to Qumran?” asked Miri.

     “No!’ said Sister Miriam. “I stayed at home, but I was pregnant! I went into Yerushalayim and found a Greek physician to end the pregnancy! His wife took me in, and we flushed the fetus into the Kidron!”

     She looked up at Miri.

     “I couldn’t go home!”

     Miri pulled her niece into her arms, and held her as a gradual convulsion of tears overwhelmed Sister Miriam.

     “I’m so bad!” cried Sister Miriam, “I am so bad! Please forgive me!”

     “I forgive you, Miriam!” Miri whispered, “I forgive you!”

     She rocked Sister Miriam until her niece fell asleep in her arms. It’s not me that’s mad, she decided. It’s the world!

     Early the next morning, much to Sister Miriam’s dismay, Melcaart arrived. Miri prepared a guest room for him, and took him for a tour of the estate. His typical comment was “Very nice! Very nice!” that is, until Miri showed him her books. His typical comment then became a horrified “Oh my God!” that increased in volume and pitch.

     “So what do you think?” asked Miri, finally.

     Melcaart took a deep breath and smoothed down his beard. “Your book keeping needs a little work!’ he said, “But your estate is more than sustainable!” He unrolled a scroll and stared in disbelief at the manifest listed. He then stared at Mir, then back to the scroll and back to Miri.

     “These spices are yours?” he asked incredulously.

     Miri nodded.

     “Can you get more?”

     “It will take some negotiating, and a trip to Alexandria, but, yes, I can!”

     “Oh my God!” he said again.

     Susanna popped up onto Miri’s lap.

     “What’re you doing?” she asked.

     “Melcaart is helping me with the farm!” said Miri.

     “You wanna help me with the bread and dates?” she asked Melcaart.

     Miri laughed.

     “Of course he does!”

     They carried the basket down to the Sacred Sycamore. Susanna took Melcaart by the hand and showed him how to offer the dates and bred to the passers by. Though he was initially a little mortified, the act of giving seemed to loosen him up a little. He eventually extricated himself from the little girl, and returned to Miri who had sat down with a traveller from Damascus.

     “Sister Miriam has been avoiding me,” he said pointedly.

     “She does not wish the family to know she has left the Essenes.”

     “Why is that?”

     “I… I cannot say,” replied Miri.

     “Why do you think she came to you?” Melcaart asked suspiciously, “And not her family?”

     Miri resented her not being included as family, but ignored the slip. “She wanted acceptance without judgment.”

     “She could get that from home.”

     “But she cannot imagine that, so she came to me.”

     “I will have to tell Yusef and Yohannah when I return,” said Melcaart.

     “I would expect nothing less,” replied Miri. “Now shall we discuss business? Can you deliver a message to Alexandria for me?”

     Miri wrote letters to Apusim, Aristophanes, Appolonia Albina and Cornelia in Alexandria to enquire as to the state of her holdings there. She was not sure that her property would have been left intact or whether her association with Agrippina had resulted in its confiscation. She also wrote greetings to Haritar to ask for his assistance in a dispensation for the Heart of Isis to travel safely between Myos Hormos and Yavandana. And if his customs agents in Arabia Felix found the Isis, to pass news of her to Sylvanius. To all, she asked to pass her whereabouts to Demetrios and Drusilla. Melcaart carried the messages back to Yerushalayim and promised to deliver them personally to Anobel and on to Alexandria.

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