“Yohanna has renounced Yahweh, and declared herself to be a follower of Al-Uzzah!” announced Sister Miriam at breakfast.
“Publicly?” asked Miri, almost choking on her tea.
“Well, she didn’t announce her conversion in the Temple, if that’s what you mean!” said Sister Miriam, “But she has erected a shrine to her in her garden!”
“That’s wonderful!” cried Miri, but she managed to curb her enthusiasm as Hulpa entered the courtyard.
They sat with Susanna at the wooden table under the vine bier, along the southern wall of the compound. Hulpa stared at them quizzically, then disappeared into the darkened opening beneath the steps to the upper floors into the kitchen. Abdulla and his kinsmen had left with Lucius before the sun rose, so they were quite alone.
“I thought you should know!” said Sister Miriam.
“Yes, thank you!” said Miri, grasping Sister Miriam’s hand. “So how is Eleazar taking it?” she asked, knowing it was shorthand to allow Sister Miriam to express her own views through Eleazar.
“What’s an Al_Uzzah?” asked Susanna.
“She is a spirit like your tree,” explained Miri. “ A tree that shades us all. It is from Al Uzza that the blossoms break forth. It is from Al Uzza that the seeds swell and fill with their goodness. Al Uzza is the Soul in the Tree of Life”
“Like in the Garden of Eden?”
“Eleazar has donned sackcloth and shaved his head!” said Sister Miriam.
Miri burst out laughing. She recovered enough to apologize to Sister Miriam who was obviously was concerned over her mother’s coming out of the closet.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I couldn’t help that!”
“He takes it very seriously,” stated Sister Miriam, “And I have come to ask for your advice.”
“My advice?” asked Miri, “What can I say to you, Miriam? Your mother has always worshipped the Great Mother. She is now at ease with that.”
“But the End of Times is near!” said Sister Miriam vehemently, “Her Soul will be cast out when the Messiah comes! Each one of us must cleanse ourselves of Sin before he arrives! Those who do not remain pure will be cast into Gehenna! What can we do?”
“Do you really think that?” asked Miri, “Do you think your mother will be cast from Israel?”
Tears welled in Sister Miriam’s eyes. “None of us is worthy!” she said through her tears, “We have all sinned and will not be called when he comes!”
“Oh Honey!” said Miri softly, pulling Sister Miriam to her breast, “You are a good girl, and the Messiah would surely want you by his right hand!”
“I an a sinner!” sobbed Sister Miriam, “There is not enough water in the world to wash my sins away!”
Susanna sidled up to Sister Miriam and wrapped her arms about her, and she and Miri held Sister Miriam until her crying stopped.
Philip the Mason stopped by for a visit, and sat with Miri, Susanna and Sister Miriam by the Sacred Tree at the bottom of the lane. It was gaily decorated with prayer cloths and ribbons of many colours. A great number of gifts and offerings lay scattered about the great tree’s roots.
“Zebedee is getting married,” he said after a rather long silence.
“I’ve heard!” said Miri.
“To a widow!”
“Well, a virgin would be rather wasted on an old goat like Zebedee!” said Miri.
“That it would!” returned Philip. “She has a family, apparently! Five boys and two girls.”
“I see,” said Miri, “How old are they?”
“All grown from what I hear, and none married!”
“What is the world coming to?” asked Miri.
“You’re mocking me!” declared Philip.
“I am!” replied Miri.
“You’re a devil!” declared Philip.
“What are you giving them for a present?” asked Miri.
“I’m not entirely sure,” he said, “What can you give people who marry at that age?”
“Ho Susanna!” boomed a huge voice. Miri and Philip shaded their eyes against the sun. Yahja the Baptist was approaching along the road, “Blessings upon you child!”
Sister Miriam, awoke from her nap under the tree and squinted at the giant man bearing down on them. Yahja patted Susanna on her head and helped himself to some unleavened bread from her basket. He stared at Miri and Philip.
“I have need of lodgings! Is there still a cave along the hillside yonder?”
“There is,” replied Miri, “But you are welcome to stay in my house!”
“As tempting as that may be, I cannot stay with a heathen! The cave will do nicely!”
“I shall prepare some food for you!” said Miri.
“Neither can I eat your food,” replied Yahja.
“I will prepare it for you!” said Sister Miriam. Yahja turned to face the young woman and his wild eyes bored into her and she looked away. His dark eyes softened. “You serve the Lord well!” he said, “You have come a long way along the Path of Righteousness, I can tell! You were at Qumran were you not?”
“You saw me there?” Sister Miriam asked in amazement.
“I was sitting by the wayside when you came to their gates. You were so wrapped in your own troubles, you saw nothing else!”
“I am sorry, I don’t remember…”
Yahja placed his huge hand on her head. “When you are ready, you can follow me, and we will wash away your sins in the Jordan!”
Sister Miriam was overwhelmed. Yahja turned to Philip.
“And when are you to be baptized?”
Philip smiled. “God only knows!”
“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain!” boomed Yahja, “The End of Times is almost upon us! You must wash away your sins in the Living Water of the Lord! The Messiah is coming!”
Philip still smiled, but he did not take offense to Yahja’s denigration of his purity. “Will you be staying long?” he asked Yahja.
Once the news that Yahja had arrived at her estate, throngs of people converged at Miri’s gate. “Where is he?” they cried, “Where is the Baptist?” An amazing number of people came to be cleansed by the Baptist, but he remained in the cave up the hill. Miri made everyone promise not to reveal his resting spot as she didn’t want these gathering crowds to overwhelm her land. Her plants were just beginning to lift their green heads from the soil, and she didn’t want anyone tramping through her fields.
Yacov and Yohan, sons of Zebedee appeared at her gate, and asked to be shown to Yahja. Yakov was the elder and was a dour and saturnine man, dressed in a rough wool tunic and robe. Yohan, on the other hand was dressed in fine white linen in much the same way as the Essenes. He carried a basket with him, and offered it to Miri. Within were twelve sesame seed cakes with honey, five smoked fish, and an offering of wine.
Miri accepted their gift, and thanked then for escorting her niece to Tarichae.
“Is she here?” asked Yohan and peered about the crowd for a sign of her.
“She has taken bread and water to The Baptist,” replied Miri. She marveled at how his calling had become his name. As though called from the bowels of the Earth, Sister Miriam appeared over the stone wall stile and gracefully picked her way through the stones scattered beside the path.
“There she is now,” said Miri and waved. Sister Miriam smiled and, when she saw Yakov and Yohan, waved back. He pace picked up and she was breathless as she arrived.
“Brother Yakov!” she said happily and hugged him. For some reason she withheld a hug from Yohan, and for half a breath everyone suddenly felt awkward. “Brother Yohan!” she said rather primly.
“Sister Miriam!” he replied politely, “It’s a pleasure to see you, again!”
“And you, Brother Yohan!”
There was another overly long silence.
“We came to see Yahja!” said Yakov finally.
“He will be down!” said Sister Miriam.
“When?” asked Yakov, his impatience barely concealed.
“When he is ready!” replied Sister Miriam, “But you already know that!”
Yakov was silent. He and Yohan knew Yahja quite well, for they had left their nets for a good part of the Sabbatical Year and followed Yahja through the Judean desert with Adam, brother of Shimeon. Yahja was meditating, and would return to them once he had received his inspiration from God.
Yohan glanced down at Sister Miriam’s empty basket. “He is eating?” he asked with a trace of amazement mixed with a peculiar jealousy.
“You have brought him food?” asked Sister Miriam.
“I– ” He had given his food to Miriam.
“Bring some tomorrow,” replied Sister Miriam, “Meanwhile, you should call Adam and Shimeon to keep this crowd off our pastureland!”
Sister Miriam spoke with such authority, that Yakov sent Yohan to fetch the other two fishermen to keep the crowds under control. Miri stared out at the lake.
“The Age of Pisces!” she whispered.
Sister Miriam frowned at her aunt and hooked a hand into the crook of Yakov’s arm and led him up to the house to eat in the kitchen.
The next day, Antipas and his entourage, surrounded by a large number of soldiers stopped at the Sycamore. A grumbling rumble rippled through the crowd at his arrival. He rode a beautiful golden stallion, and dismounted immediately. Flanked by his personal guard, he made his way to Miri through the crowd.
“Miriam!” he called as though she was a long lost friend, “Phasaelis gives her regrets. I understand you have the man they call Yahja the Baptist staying on your property!”
“He is!” replied Miri, “But he is up along the Arbel!”
“I wish to speak to him!” said Antipas, “Can you show me where he is?”
Miri was about to answer, but Sister Miriam stepped forward. “I can take you!” she said, and with a cursory glance at the palace guard, added, “Your henchmen will have to stay here!”
The Captain of the Guard moved to object, but Antipas waved him away. He smiled and magnaminously removed his sword belt and dagger, handing it to the Captain.
“Lead on!” he said, his smile now permanently cemented to his lips.
As the crowd saw Antipas ascending the mountain, they surged forward, but the guard was already prepared and formed an armoured perimeter along the orchard wall to block anyone else from climbing after the tetrarch.
Miri stared after the receding figures of Sister Miriam and Antipas in admiration. Yahja had somehow passed his authority into her young niece.
As the sun passed its apogee and began to slide into the western sky, Antipas returned alone. He was as white as a sheet. Miri approached him but he brushed past her and mounted his horse without a word. Miri was immediately concerned, but she caught sight of Sister Miriam standing on the first rise on the slope behind the house, and she relaxed.
As Antipas wheeled his mount back down the road to Tiberius, his entourage scrambled to follow and flank him, and the Herodian party left in a manner Miri could only feel was a retreat. Sister Miriam remained on the hill and the crowd simply stared after the receding Antipas in total silence.
The time had come for Zebedee to claim his bride. Joined at the last moment by the Baptist, and with a loan of Shatayim, one of Miri’s donkeys to carry the dowry out and the bride back, Zebedee and his sons, palm fronds waving, embarked on the road to Nazareth to retrieve his new wife. Miri had discovered, much to her amusement that the woman was called Mariamne. No one in Kefar Nahum nor Tarichae knew who she was, and many were itching to travel down the Nazareth Road to Nazareth with the groomsmen, but the fields were sprouting, and needed harrowing, and once the wedding party, replete with musicians disappeared down the road through the Arbel disappeared the countryside went back to work in earnest, and for the time being, the wedding was forgotten.
The women of her household walked back from the road to Nazareth at a remarkably relaxed pace. There was nothing immediately pressing to be done, and they stopped to admire the spring flowers, and pick some to decorate the house. All about them songbirds whistled, warbled and chirped to attract their brides to be. The day was sunny, but not too hot, and there was a promise of moisture in the air wafting from the sea beyond the hills. Once home, Miri and Susanna took the bouquets of flowers and found vases in which to place them, and Sister Miriam and Hulpa set the wooden handles into the gray granite grindstones in the centre of the courtyard and began the arduous task of grinding wheat for the next day’s bread.
As the sun settled, doves began to coo from under the leaves in the olive gardens, and a wonderful calmness enveloped them all. From the west, the distant roll of thunder promised new rain, and by the time they had carried the flour into the house and sealed it in a storage jar, the rain began to fall one tiny drop at a time. The ground speckled with dark spots, and slowly the rhythm of the falling rain began to beat more steadily and came down harder until it became an unbroken hiss and raindrops beat the rhythmof upturning of thunder clouds on the thirsty land.
They sat in the shelter of the stone staircase, and in the yellowing light, watched the rain fall into the court. Soon the dust turned to mud and rivulets bubbled their way across the waterlogged courtyard. Spying a coiled rope at her feet, Miri suddenly remembered the monsoon rains in Hindustan, and she picked the coil up and ran into the rain.
“A swing!” she called, “We’ll make a swing!”
With the exception of Hulpa, the others, including Yotapa’s brothers, Ephraim and Asher followed her, and they hung a swing from a perfect branch in the Sycamore. They took turns on the swing with the other laughing and the riders squealing in delight at swinging in the rain. Though they were soaked, they were completely wrapped up in the happiness of the moment, and such was the intensity of their enjoyment, it was sometime before they noticed Yohanna standing on the road in the rain.
She stood bedraggled and despondent, behind her, two small overloaded donkeys. Susanna noticed her first and pointed to the water soaked woman waiting by the wayside. Miri turned and recognized her sister immediately.
“Mother of Heaven!” she exclaimed for she knew instantly something was wrong. Everyone stopped their play and swarmed Yohanna, taking charge of the donkeys and ushering her back to the house. Hulpa had alreadu brewed some warm tea and heated some spiced wine. The women retired to the bath house and stripped off their wet clothes, towellled off and wrapped themselves in warm woolens.
“I have left Chuza!” declared Yohanna. The entire clutch of women attending her gasped in unison.
“You can’t be serious!” said Miri.
“And why would I joke about that?” asked Yohanna testily.
“I don’t want to discuss it!” Yohanna snapped.
“Nice weather,” said Miri.
“For a duck, I mean” Miri added.
“What’s an Al-Uzzah?” asked Susanna staring intently at Yohanna.
Yohanna smiled despite herself.
“She is the great Mother of us all,” said Yohanna gently, but with great sadness. “When you look deep within your Soul, the face that looks back at you is Al Uzzah.”
“Like a mirror?” asked Susanna.
“Do you ever feel that you are not alone?” asked Yohanna.
“I am not!” said Suzanna with great confidence, “There is always someone by me!” She frowned for a moment. “Do you know a man called David?”
The colour dropped from Yohanna’s face, and Miri felt her hair rise as her pores closed.
“My father!” exclaimed Sister Miriam, “You’ve seen him?”
“He wants you to know he loves you!” Susanna looked from Sister Miriam to Yohanna. “He loves you both!”
Yohanna was mortified.
“Can you speak to him?” demanded Sister Miriam, “Can you?”
Susanna shrank from Sister Miriam. “Not in the way you are asking,” the little girl said, “but I know him!”
“He says you must return to Shechem,” said Susanna, “And celebrate the Solstice!”
“Oh my goodness,” said Yohanna, “How can you know that?”
“You are my connection,” said Susanna. “I know him because I know you.”
“He follows me?” asked Yohanna, holding her hands to her breast.
“Not in the way you ask,” Susanna replied again.
“Why does he want me to return?” Yohanna asked, “I can’t believe this is happening!”
“Then why are you here?” asked Susanna.
“I had nowhere else to go,” said Yohanna.
“You no longer love Chuza?” asked Miri.
“No!” snapped Yohanna. “I mean, yes, I still love him! With all my heart! But an angel visited me in a dream.”
“An angel?” asked Miri.
“Of sorts, I suppose!” said Yohanna, “She told me I must leave Yerushalayim! That I should return to the land of David! I thought she meant the City of David, so I told Chuza we must move to the City of David.”
“No, the Old City below the Temple Mount!” replied Yohanna, “At first, I ignored her. Why would I want to go down into the Old City, when I had a beautiful house in Bezetha? But she kept coming back!”
“The angel was a woman?” asked Sister Miriam, “What was her name?”
“Al-Uzzah!” shouted Susanna, “She was Al-Uzzah!”
“Oh Mother of Heaven!” declared Yohanna, “Why didn’t I see that, myself! That explains everything! I prayed to Al Uzzah to save me for it was the only image I could find in all of Yerushalayim. It belonged to my mother-in-law! Chuza was horrified! He has spent a great deal of effort to appear as dedicated a follower of Yahweh as Ibrahim! But I couldn’t help myself! Al-Uzzah returned every night! I appealed to her to stop! But she was persistent!”
“That’s why you set up a shrine?” asked Sister Miriam, “To frighten her off?”
“I don’t know!” replied Yohanna angrily, “I just wanted her to stop! Chuza refused to even think about living in the Old city of David! We argued, and I left!” She looked helplessly at the others. “I didn’t know what else to do!”
“We shall go to Shechem!” said Miri, “If Al Uzzah thinks we should return to the foot of Gerizim, then that is where we shall go!”
“All of us?” asked Sister Miriam.
“All of us!” declared Miri, “The game is afoot!”
“This was a stupid idea!” grumbled Sister Miriam, as she sat beside The Well of Yakov at the opening of a ravine that ran between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Miri and Yohanna sat either side of her. Back in her old neighbourhood, Miri felt the warm reassurance of familiarity that childhood haunts bring. Yet, behind the memories of more innocent times was the underlying hostility of the village had directed at her after the earthquake so long ago. She was older, and hoped the memories of the villagers was short, though she knew the likelihood was next to nil.
Yotapa slapped the back of Ephraim’s head.
“Ow!” he cried. “What did you do that for?” he asked as he rubbed his head..
“I don’t need a reason!” grumbled Yotapa. She lifted her hand to Asher who was poking Ephraim’s ribs with a short stick, just to aggravate him more. Asher ducked away and laughed, scattering the goats the family had brought with them for milk.
“Water the donkeys!” Yotapa commanded her brothers to keep their antics from getting out of hand, and they slipped from the stone wall, glad to have something to do.
Susanna sat beside Miri, her legs dangling from the wall.
“Can I watch?” she asked Miri.
“Stay away from the edge,” cautioned Miri, then decided Susanna’s safety required more than words for protection. “I’ll watch with you!” She slipped her hand inside Susanna’s girdle.
The bucket sat on the edge of the well, attached by a rope wrapped about a wooden axle set in a rough wood frame over the well. Asher and Ephraim had lowered the bucket into the well, and were excited by the rope that seemed to have no end. Ephraim leaned over the stone wall built about it and peered into the gloom. “I can’t see anything!” he called out, “Keep going!”
“I want to see!” cried Susanna. “Lift me up!” she commanded Miri.
Miri grabbed Susanna about the waist and the little girl poked her head over the edge. “I don’t see anything!” she said. “I can hear water!” she said brightly, “Like a river!”
One by one each of them had to peer into the well. Finally, Yotapa thought she heard the bucket splash into the water. As soon as she did, the rope pulled taught. Susanna was right. The well was fed by the living waters of a swift flowing underground stream and the current now dragged on the bucket and tightened the rope.
“Pull it up!” Yotapa called out to her brothers. She glanced up at Miri. “This is going to take some time! The well is very deep!”
While they were engaged in the long process of hauling up the water, a woman approached their group. She stood apart, water jar balanced on her head, and waited silently and patiently for her turn. The wind pulled gently at her green robe and shawl.
Miri stared at her for a moment, and their eyes locked for they recognized each other. They were held in a strange moment of knowing and not knowing, but the woman’s eyes flickered to the crescent mark on Miri’s forehead.
“Miriam!” she said in surprise, and Miri, at that moment recognized the stranger.
“Salome!” she shouted, and Yohanna looked up at the woman as well.
The woman placed her jar upon the ground, and extended her arms. She and Miri embraced passionately.
“I can’t believe it’s you!” cried Salome, “This is amazing! I was just thinking about you and your family!” She released Miri and turned her attention to the others. “Yohanna!” she said excitedly, “May the Great Mother be praised!” She hugged Yohanna. “And who is this?” she asked, staring at Sister Miriam. “Little Miriam? My you’ve grown!”
Greetings over, Salome invited them to stay at her house. She left immediately to tell her husband to prepare for guests. The excitement over, Miri’s family returned to watering their livestock.
The moon reached her apogee high over Mount Gerizim, dark except for a thin sliver of the waning moon. Miri wondered at the timelessness of the mountain. Is was not the same yet retained its sameness. The foliage covering its sides sprouted, flowered and seeded, ever-changing, never changing. The coven had shrunk. There were only four. Yohanna sat opposite. Salome to her right, Naomi, on the cusp of menopause, yet still dark with blood, sat on her left. Edna had died in childbirth and both she and her unnamed child had rejoined the Goddess. Far and away into the valley, an owl called and another, closer, within the grove answered and flapped away on muffled wings. The altar was decorated with fruits and flowers, bread and wine. A cage of turtledoves sat upon the altar to be released after the Dark Times passed. Each woman, once ready, lifted her feet from the ground and balanced cross-legged upon her wooden chair, each within easy reach of the central altar. Removed from the world, they were ready. The fire they had lit flickered and died.
A great sense of contentment enveloped the circle of women and the energy of the Earth flowed up between them and pulled the firmament down to where they sat, and the light of the stars filled them with an ecstatic equilibrium that was perfectly balanced, neither moving forward or back, nor waxing or waning. Slowly it seemed the entire bowl of the sky revolved gracefully about them. Their minds touched the countryside, and below, in Shechem other women were roused from their sleep, not knowing why. Sheep bleated and shifted in their kraals, and cows called to their sisters, cats uncurled and dogs lifted their ears to hear what no man could hear.
The earth began to shake. A vibration barely perceptible. But the Earth strained under the pressure of the Power the women had created. There was resistance to their call, and the flow of energy wavered. Dark festering sores of suffering uled from a thousand places upon the land and their connection to the earth suddenly cracked and shattered, and in that instant their blood flowed free of the womb.
Miri’s eyes opened and Yotapa stood at the edge of the circle. She stood uncertainly at the edge of the trees, and Miri’s attention drew the attention of the other three.
“A perfect five!” declared Naomi, and Yotapa’s blood began to flow. She winced as she felt the trickle of blood inside her thigh. It tickled and she felt uncomfortable standing. She had brought her own stool, and Miri beckoned for her to bring her stool and sit beside her.
Four cups of wine had already been poured, and Naomi took the first, took a sip and passed it to her left. The goblet passed from each woman to the next.
No matter how long the blood flowed, three days or five, the Law required they remain in isolation seven days, Each day in the grove, they bathed in the natural spring that burbled up from between the stones beneath the altar. This spring returned to the earth where the trees met the clearing, and there, their blood mingled with that of the Great Mother who had spawned and nursed them. Their blood returned life to the Mother who supported it. It was thus, for the lives of women were cycles within cycles and their paths curled about wider circles. That which was taken was returned; that which was removed was replaced; that which closed opened.
Naomi took Yotapa’s hand and squeezed it affectionately.
“It is not about Faith,” she said softly, “Nor is it about Belief. It is about Sharing. It is about acceptance. It is about Love!” She smiled. “Welcome, Sister! Welcome, Home!”
News of Miri’s return to Shechem traveled quickly. There were those who thought she should have returned a penniless penitent, and that she must have earned her fortune through illicit and immoral means, and others, remembering the crescent mark upon her forehead foreshadowed her choosing the Messiah, thought that now she was rich, and very rich at that, would be the perfect bride for their son.
Unfortunately, Naomi’s husband, a staunch Samaritan was set against having Galileans staying at this house, for he considered the men of Northern Israel as pagans, and those that were not were not worshippers of El Shaddai but Yahweh. As with most adamantine monotheists, he considered that any interpretation of god that differed from his was heretical in the extreme and direct proof that the difference was enough to deny the other worshipped the same god as he. So, Yohanna and Miri decided to negotaiate with the village eldermen for a place to camp. They settled on the ground that had once been their home and was now overgrown with weeds. The pasture behind the property was walled in and was ideal for their animals.
On the other side of the town, though they had no son of marriageable age, Esther’s husband, Mordecai, decided his younger brother would be a suitable suitor for Miri, and considered a woman of Miri’s demeanour, a woman to be corralled and tamed. Unfortunately, he was not a direct man and decided, as Esther had previously been a member of the coven that met in the grove, she should approach Miri with his brother’s proposal.
Esther, to her credit, was mortified, but unable to stand up for herself, approached Miri with a view to passing along her husband’s scheme.
Miri and Yohanna had set up in a tent on the very spot where once the House of David had stood, and had agreed to pay a sum to the synagogue in order to secure the villagers’ agreement that they could lay claim to the land, though for the duration, a tent was the only shelter that the elders were willing to allow. It was there in the tent that Esther came to see Miri. Miri was overjoyed to see her, for any time that Esther could get away from the demands from her husband was a time for celebration. Esther, however, was terribly quiet and was barely audible when she gathered enough courage to broach the subject of matrimony.
“Mordecai is standing by to make sure I speak with you!” she whispered. She then explained the purpose for her visit, and Miri could not imagine herself tied to someone as dour as Mordecai, and she imagined his brother to be as somber as his older sibling, and perhaps more retiring.
“We are friends, Esther,” said Miri as she patted Esther’s hand, “Never be afraid to speak with me!”
Esther’s shy reserve crumbled, and a tear flowed from her left eye, then her right. Her lip began to tremble. Miri wrapped her arms about Esther before the poor woman could break into tears, and held her close.
“If you don’t marry his brother, he will beat me!” she confessed. “He will think it is my fault you refused his offer!”
“You must stay here with us!” said Miri.
“I can’t!” wailed Esther, “He will beat you as well! Mordecai will make all your lives miserable!” She broke free of Miri’s embrace.
“I have to go!” she said quickly and before Miri could prevent it, Esther turned and fled. Miri rose to go after her, but at that moment, Yohanna returned from business by the town gate with the elders.
“What was that about?” she asked Miri.
“Mordecai wants me to marry his younger brother.”
Yohanna laughed. “What a prize that would be!”
That evening, they decided Miri would return to Tarichae in a few days after they surveyed the site and measured the dimensions of the property, and see if Philip was available to build a house in Shechem for Yohanna. It would take a while, for there was, as in all transactions in Palestine, some disagreement as to the property lines of the original plot.
“Perhaps he will know of a carpenter” suggested Yohanna, “from what I hear there is none in Shechem, for they have all moved to Tiberias to work on the summer palace and baths of Herod Antipas.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Miri.
Yohanna looked away, and Miri knew her sister was not happy.
“You can go back,” Miri said gently. “It is not too late!” She embraced Yohanna, and Yohanna, tears welling in her eyes, but refusing to leave, gripped Miri tightly. ”I am such an idiot!” she whispered, “That I should leave such a man for the calling of the gods!”
“What choice did you have?” asked Miri.
“I am such an idiot! Not only do I openly embarrass him, but I leave on a quest with no purpose! For an angel in a dream! Why am I needed here?” Yohanna asked.
“Perhaps it is not you she was calling,” said Miri, “Others have followed in your wake!”
At that moment, Martha and Eleazar appeared on their threshold. They were hot and dusty from their journey, and neither was in a good mood. They had come to plead with Yohanna to return to Yerushalayim and go back to her husband. Eleazar was a pathetic caricature of a holy madman, covered in ash and sporting a rather crudely shaven head.
Miri burst out laughing. “Eleazar, you are a sight for sore eyes!”
Eleazar frowned and remained mute.
“He has something to say to Mother!” announced Martha.
All eyes turned on Eleazar, but he was in a sulk at Miri’s greeting. Martha prodded his ribs.
“You must come back to Chuza!” he blurted out.
“It was not so long ago you were against my marrying!” said Yohanna indignantly. Her stubborn streak was obviously now gaining the upper hand over her heart. Miri suddenly saw more of herself in her sister than she had seen in a long time, and she smiled at the recognition of their common geneology.
“That was then,” said Eleazar. He was clearly uncomfortable. “Now, I think you have an obligation to remain with Chuza! He misses you terribly!”
“He told you that?” asked Yohanna, “Those were his words?”
“No, not exactly,” admitted Eleazar, “But you can tell he is very unhappy!”
“I can?” asked Yohanna, “And how do I do that? Did he send you here to advocate on his behalf?”
“No,” said Eleazar, carefully choosing his words. “Martha and I came without consulting with him.”
“You have caused him a great deal of dishonour in the city,” said Martha, “You should not have shouted your secrets from the rooftops, Mother! It is quite unbecoming!”
“So are you here because of Chuza’s discomfort, or your own?” asked Yohanna.
“You have to come back!” declared Eleazar.
At that moment, Sister Miriam returned from her walk. She was delighted to see Eleazar, and not at all phased by his strange appearance, and hugged him tightly. Ash from his forehead left marks all over her black clothing. She brushed his head, creating a cloud of dust, and Martha sneezed.
“Martha!” Sister Miriam said in greeting, and turned her attention back to her brother. “You have made a mess of your head!” She pulled at a tuft of hair he had missed. “You cannot become a Nazorite with hair cut like this!”
“I am not becoming a Nazorite!” he replied testily, “I am in mourning!”
Sister Miriam blanched. “In mourning? For whom?”
Sister Miriam suddenly realized he had come to bring Yohanna back to Yerushalayim, and turned to face Yohanna. Everyone else followed her gaze, and all eyes were on Yohanna. Her stubborn streak rose to the challenge.
“I will return if Chuza apologizes!”
“And how can I apologize if I have no idea where you are?” asked Chuza as he entered the tent. He seemed to fill the room.
“Chuza!” Yohanna ran straight at him, and the impact of her embrace almost bowled him over. She showered him with desperate kisses, and he laughed and reciprocated her eagerness. “I’m so sorry!” she said repeatedly between breaths and busses.
“That’s disgusting!” declared Martha, but everyone in the tent was filled with a tearful warmth that joined their hearts with the reunited newlyweds.