Phasaelis stood in the doorway, her handmaids standing without in the shade of the trellis over the threshold.
“I wish to speak with you!” she announced.
Miri placed the paring knife on the wooden table Yeshua had built for her. Darkness emanated from the princess, and Miri instinctively knew they must speak alone. She was however, glad to see her young friend. She had received Obodias several times since the shunning by the palace, and had been told that Haritar was becoming concerned, and expected her to find a way to reach his daughter. Miri, for her part, promised to do so, but her overtures through intermediaries including Nicodemus the physician had come up wanting. The only good thing that arose from her efforts was the friendship of Nicodemus who had become involved in the healing centre that had evolved within Miri’s compound.
He had taken to visiting often, and had become obsessed with the theory that “living” water, that is, the water of naturally running streams, unpolluted by human contact had healing powers. In the nature of the Greeks, he had begun to treat some of those afflicted by sickness with this water, brought from Panaias in the realm of Phillip the Tetrarch to wash them daily. He had the thought that the ablutions required by religious ritual, were in themselves, healing and did not require the propitiary offerings to the gods who ruled the waters. His “experiments”, as he called them, seemed to show he was right, though he was quite aggravated by relatives and well-meaning helpers insisted on making offerings on behalf of the sick. It did seem, though, that those he washed daily fared better than those who were not, and soon Miri and the others made sure they washed before and between each person they administered in the hall they had built to house the arrival of the sick.
The absence of Nicodemus that day now made sense. Phasaelis had reassigned the doctor in order to meet with Miri.
“Let’s walk!” Miri suggested to Phasaelis, and took the princess by the arm, “How have you been?”
“Miri,” said Phasaelis, ignoring Miri’s question, “I am so sorry for shunning you!” Her eyes were pained. “I really had no choice after the incident in Caesarea! Since then, Antipas has grown colder, and blames me for a loss of face with Pilatus. The governor is of the opinion that Antipas is soft on the terrorists in his realm and has been pressing him to crack down on the brigands, but they hold the hills and cannot be routed out without incurring heavy losses! If I had continued to visit you, I would fall under suspicion of conspiring with the enemy!”
“The enemy?” asked Miri in surprise.
“Oh Miri!” sighed Phasaelis, “Surely you can see that! Antipas believes you are a Nabatean agent! He thinks this place is a fifth column being established at his very doorstep!”
“A fifth column?” asked Miri. She was in shock.
“He thinks you are building a resistance movement right here in Tarichae!”
“That’s absurd!” declared Miri, “We are not an army!”
“Every group is an army to a tyrant! A warrior can see the world only in terms of his existence. That is why my father chooses men to advise him that are from all walks of life! If his inner council was composed only of warriors, he would be condemned to always waging war!”
“So you came to warn me?”
“No!” replied Phasaelis. He eyes descended to the ground below her feet, “I am in greater danger than you!”
“Phillip is dead!”
They had reached the shade of the olives. Phasaelis scanned the fields about them. No one was near. “He died, they say, of a stomach ailment,” she said, “but he was poisoned by Herodias!”
“How can you be sure?”
“Listen,” whispered Phasaelis, “Last month, Antipas was to take me to Caesarea, but he left me in the fortress at Sepphoris! He claimed I would be bored! We argued, but he left me there anyway without even a handmaid to attend me!”
Phasaelis began to shake. Mir wrapped an arm about the princess and sat her down on the stone wall beside the olive trees. “When he was in Caesarea, Herodias arrived the same day!”
“Berenike told me!” sobbed Phasaelis. “He had locked Sharifa and Amitel away from me, but he had taken Berenike with him. She and two others were told to attend that bitch from Joppa! They saw everything! They fucked each other’s brains out and barely saw Pilatus at all! The governor was livid! He and Antipas had words, and Pilatus sent Herodias back to Panais!”
“Oh Mother!” declared Miri, “What a kettle of fish!”
“Berenike heard them plotting to kill her husband! She had entered the apartment through a side door hidden by a tapestry, but because she heard Herodias say, ‘We must kill him!’ she stopped before she pushed the curtain aside, She stayed hidden, and listened as they discussed ways of getting rid Phillip. Horseback riding, hunting accident, wild animals, drowning, but Herodias always came back to poison, and that is what they decided to do. After he was dead, they said, they could marry!” Phasaelis stared up at the green branches of the olive trees.
“Marry! Once Phillip was dead, the Law requires he marry her for she and Phillip have no male heir, and it is incumbent upon Antippas to marry and give Herodias a male heir in his brother’s name!”
“Has Berenike told anyone else?”
“Everyone knows! The words between Pilatus and Antipas are known in Caesarea, and Berenike can barely keep her mouth from speaking of it, but, for her own safety, there is no one she can tell, for Antipas would have her killed! She would never turn an Israelite over to the Romans, but even if she told Pilatus, the only way her testimony would carry any weight in Roman Court is if she was tortured!”
“Tortured?” asked Miri.
“A slave’s testimony is legal only if it is given under torture. The Romans do not trust their own slaves, for it would be easy for a house slave to turn in a master for any number of reasons. The law was introduced to ensure that a slave would not lightly or mailiciously turn in his master! The prospect of red hot irons fairly well ensures that no slave would betray a master!”
“So Berenike told you?”
“Sharifa!” answered Phasaelis, “Which is the same thing!”
“Within two days of the banishment of Herodias from Caesarea, Phillip fell sick! He died two days ago and Herodias is arriving in Tiberias within the week!”
“She’s coming here?” asked Miri. She was now concerned of her own safety, for Herodias was not a woman of any compassion, and her true nature had shown itself when Herodias confronted Miri at the circus in Caesarea. She was the worst that the family of Herod could produce, and it was likely she would lead Antipas to deferring to his own dark side.
“She now has control of the Decapolis! When she joins forces with Antipas, They will have all of Israel except Judea!”
The arrival of Herodias in Tiberias was a sign of bad times ahead.
“She will kill me!” hissed Phasaelis. “You must get word to my father!”
“Of course!” said Miri, “But you must leave!”
“I can’t!” Phasaelis was desperate. “If I leave, then the peace between Nabatea and Perea will end! And Pearea is the only card I have to play!”
“But you can’t stay!” said Miri. “Your father will send a force to bring you home!”
“I must!” said Phasaelis grimly. “You were right before! I cannot separate from this union without irrefutable evidence, for without it, I think Rome will side heavily with Antipas, and I have no wish for my father to be besieged by the western barbarians! They will rip our family apart and enslave our people! Our lands will feel the pain of their hob nailed boots! Without the Romans, my father could crush Antipas with one hand tied behind his back! Please get to word to him! Tell him I will do as he says!”
“In the meantime, how will you manage?” asked Miri.
“I must watch what I eat,” said Phasaelis, “And I wish to purchase food from you!”
“There is no need for payment,” replied Miri. “I would gladly supply you with food!”
“I will pay for it!” said Phasaelis, “That way it can pass through the household books without much notice. Antipas has denied my allowance for some time!” Phasaelis’ voice dropped to a whisper. “The food is to be sealed and marked so that I know it is you!.”
“Of course!” said Miri, I will place my seal upon it!”
The products of Miri’s estate were marked by the crescent copied from the birthmark on her forehead, and a star placed within its arc.
“It is not enough!” said Phasaelis, “You will also place a small mark with your fingernail on the top of every seal. Do it by your own hand, and tell no one else! If there is no mark then I shall know that the food is not from you! You are the only person I can trust!”
“I shall mark it like this,” said Miri, making sure no one was watching. She traced two arcs together, with her toe in the dust, starting from the same locus and then arcing toward each other and crossing. She joined the two open ends. It was obviously a fish.”
“It is too obvious!” said Phasaelis, her foot erasing the marks in the dust. “Mark it with a cross!”
“It shall be done!” said Miri. “Shall I deliver the food to you at Tiberias?”
“Someone else!” said Phasaelis fiercely, “She shall meet with Sharifa by the grove along the bend before the gate. There they shall sit as if resting. Each will carry matching baskets. If it is not safe, she will tie a red ribbon to the handle. If it is safe, then the ribbon shall be untied! You have someone else to trust?”
“I would rather not put anyone else in harm’s way!” replied Miri. “I shall do it myself!”
Phasaelis frowned for a moment, weighing her options. “A slave would be tortured if discovered!” she said, and paused for a moment. “Very well, you may meet Sharifa there just after sunset!” She will supply a list each day for the next.” Phasaelis slipped her right hand inside her left sleeve and brought out a small scrap of papyrus. “My list!” she said and gave it to Miri.
It was substantial. “I will have to bring this on a donkey!” she said as her eyes dropped down the list. Phasaelis frowned again. “You cannot carry it alone?” She was genuinely perplexed, but Miri excused her ignorance for Phasaelis probably had never carried anything of her own for any greater distance than the length of a room.
“Very well,” said Phasaelis, “I shall arrange for Sharifa to drag her ass down there as well!, though I am not sure she knows how!”
“I will give you Hamisha to take with her. She has a pleasant disposition and will follow anyone carrying food.”
Phasaelis slapped her hands together. “Well, take me on a tour!” she said brightly, “The place has changed!”
“Indeed, it has!” said. Miri, “I no longer hire field hands for there were are than enough people staying at the estate to pitch in for any task!”
“There are so many!” said Phasaelis in wonder, “Do they all work?”
Miri laughed. “No! Not all! There are some very sick who have come to be healed!” She guided Phasaelis to the new buildings, “Come! I will show you the Hall!”
The hall was built like a temple. The vaulted roof of the central hall was pillared and the beds were lined within the apse between the pillars and the outside wall. It had the appearance of a stable. The central area was lit by clerestory windows that lighted the vault above the pillars. It had been filled quickly, and a number of outhouses had been added along the outside walls.
“We keep people with different afflictions apart!” said Miri, “So that one will not infect the other. It was Nicodemus’ idea. Everyday we wash the floors with living water.”
Phasaelis tiptoed delicately through the hospitality area, afraid she might become polluted by the sick. She was definitely not used to communing with the common people.
Another building was packed with lump, ripe women, ready to give birth. There was a closed atrium within that building where the expectant mothers could rest in peace and quiet, though a number of children ran about the place.
“How do you manage all this?” asked Phasaelis.
Miri laughed. “I don’t!” She nodded in greeting at a very pregnant woman waddling by. “Each part of the estate, whether it be the birth house or the barley field, is serviced by men or women that want to work there. We have planning meetings, and each section of the estate elects someone to our council. Those people then meet and coordinate their efforts!”
“Slaves running the estate!” said Phasaelis in wonder, “Sounds like heresy!”
“There are no slaves! People come and go! Some stay, some don’t!”
“What if you have a major harvest?”
“The council decides on the options we have to harvest, and before it begins, we have a general assembly, and everyone gets to cast their lot for the best plans!”
“And that works?” asked Phasaelis, “What if no one agrees? Do you have to step in then?”
“Well,” replied Miri, “So far we haven’t had to step in, and so, we don’t really have a way of dealing with that yet. If we cast lots for a specific task, the decision that got the most tiles is the task we choose!”
“Just like in gambling,” said Miri, “We have tiles and each person throws a tile into a bucket that is designated for a task choice. So each step is voted on and carried by a vote.”
“And no overseer?” asked Phasaelis.
“We sometimes vote for someone to lead us in prayer,” said Miri.
“And to who do you pray?”
“Ahh!” said Miri, “That was a great problem, and still is, but most of us have agreed to address the gods as The Power.”
“Whoever happens to be listening from the Heavens!”
“I would like to see this,” said Phasaelis. “I cannot imagine people running their affairs without a leader. It doesn’t seem possible!”
Miri nodded. “No, I have met many who have said the same thing, but all you have to do is look about you! People are happy! And you know why?”
“They control their own destiny! They have no overlord to bend them double!”
“Now it sounds like treason!”
“Only to someone who lives to rule!” said Miri.
As it turned out, Phasaelis came to pick up her own food, and their meeting place by Tiberias was a fallback only if her state functions kept her from returning. Within the next two weeks, she came almost every day. Word that Herodias was arriving in Tiberias soon had the ears of the Galileans buzzing. There was a lot of speculation as to the outcome of her visit, but all agreed that it did not bode well, and many came to comfort the Nabatean Princess, even though she was a foreigner. Part of the sympathy was also spurred by the fact that not many people ever had the opportunity to get so near to a real, live princess, and many came just to touch her so that her royalty would bring them blessings. All this created an unbearable tension in Phasaelis, that sometimes snapped in angry outbursts and a bout of crying.
Nicodemus often accompanied her along the road to and from the estate and Tiberias. As they were members of the same court, it was only natural they come together, but Phasaelis was not comfortable joining Nicodemus with the sick, and once on the farm, they split up. Miri, Susanna and Phasaelis were sitting beside the road by the Tree watching Susanna when a herald stopped to drink of the fountain.
“Where are you going?” asked Susanna.
The herald smiled.
“To the court of Antipas,” he replied wearily.
“And from where did you come?” asked Phasaelis.
“From Joppa,” he said.
All three women froze for a moment.
“From Herodias?” cried Phasaelis. Her voice was almost an apoplectic screech.
The herald started at her out burst, and stepped back a pace.
“My goodness!” he declared.
“My friend has a strange affliction!” explained Miri, “It causes her to shout loudly at inappropriate moments.” She gave Phasaelis a very stern warning look.
The herald frowned.
“Would you like something to eat?” asked Miri pleasantly. She took the basket from Susanna and proffered the contents to the herald.
“Thank you!” answered the herald, “You are very kind!”
“Not at all!” answered Miri brightly.
“Is it far to Tiberias?” he asked as he bit into a fig cake.
“No, not..” began Susanna, but Miri kicked her gently and interrupted.
“It is a very difficult walk!” she said. “You must climb the Arbel and then descend on the eastern side of the mountain!”
Both Susanna and Phasaelis stared open-mouthed at Miri, for Tiberias was really just around the bend and a short walk to the palace.
“I would gladly show you!” she said.
Such were the charms of Miri, the man was instantly entranced by the thought of being led through the wilderness by such a beautiful woman. His lust instantly overcame his sense of duty. “Would you care for some wine?”
The three women escorted the herald to the house. There they took him for a tour of the wine cellar, and opened a number of amphorae to show him the various wines they had for sale. He did not have the sense not to swallow the tastes and soon he was a little wobbly. Phasaelis and Miri helped him into the sunshine and he announced he should leave for Tiberias. Miri and the princess, leading Hamitha, guided the herald up the north eastern slope of the Arbel, and to the top. There the fields stretched slowly back to the lake, and, after an idyllic picnic,along the way, the herald began to tell them of his mission.
After they reached the city gates, he thanked them effusively, and asked for permisson to stop by when his duties allowed. Miri told him he was welcome at the Watchtower anytime.
“The Watchtower?” he asked and blinked.
“Our estate is known as The Watchtower because of the watchtower at the corner. Did you not see it?”
The herald blinked. Though he may have noticed the tower as he passed by the estate, he was in a somnolent state. Miri placed a coin in his hand.
“Get yourself a room!” she suggested, “You should not show up at court in your state!”
“How can I ever thank you?” he asked gratefully.
“There is no need!” said Miri and hugged him. He wrapped himself around her and hung limply from her shoulders. Afraid he might pass out at any moment, she pushed him away and he stood swaying and blinking drunkenly in the afternoon sun. Miri and Phasaelis bade him goodbye, and hightailed it around the city walls to the Northern Gate.
Once out of sight of the herald they stopped.
“I have never seen a man talk so much after so few drinks!” said Phasaelis.
“I dropped a little medication in his drink,” said Miri, “we use it to relax the women in the Birth House!”
“I can’t believe that bitch is planning on wedding Antipas!” spat Phasaelis, “I’m going to kill him!”
“You can’t!” said Miri, “You know that! He can legally marry more than one wife!”
“I don’t care!” said Phasaelis, “he’s bringing that bitch into my house, and they’re going to be fucking each other right under my nose! I am the daughter of Haritar of Nabatea! How dare he do this to me?”
“Look!” said Miri, glancing about nervously, “Herodias will be here tomorrow! You can’t let her know that you know of her plans! You have to watch her like a hawk, and look for signs of betrayal!”
“I cannot bear it!” growled Phasaelis. “Damn him to hell!”
They were forced into silence as Phasaelis was recognized by passers-by. “I had better go!” she said. She hugged Miri tightly. “Thank you so much!”
They embraced for a long moment, and finally broke away.
“I will not be coming by for a while, I should think,” said Phasaelis, “You must meet Sharifa at the bend yonder.”
“I’ll be there!” said Miri, “Good luck, sweetie!”
Miri looked back before she turned the curve and Phasaelis, standing by the gate, blew Miri a kiss.
Phasaelis drew in her breath, She needed to calm herself before she returned to the palace. She punched the wall beside her. It hurt terribly and she cursed herself for being so stupid. She had already determined she should strike out at Herodias before Herodias could get rid of her. Her situation was precarious. The only way that Antipas could maintain his hold over Perea was for him to kill Phasaelis and claim it as his inheritance as her husband. Divorce would mean that Perea would have to be returned to Haritar, and Antipas would not give it up, that she knew.
She walked toward the palace, and Sharifa and Amitel, who had been waiting for her return, came out to greet her. Amital took charge of Hamisha, and Phasaelis told Sharifa about the arrival of Herodias, leaving out the details that the news had come from the herald from Herrodias. After Amitel returned from the stables, the three of them snuck back into Phasaelis’ quarters in the palace. It didn’t escape her notice that rooms were being prepared for Herodias and that Antipas was planning to move Herodias into the apartment next to his.
A sizable crowd had gathered along the road to Tiberias. It was apparent from her message to Antipas, Herodias had thought that their nuptial plans were secret, and so, the crowds gathered to await her passage must have been a shock. As excited as everyone else, Miri had planted herself by the Tree to await the train of Herodias to pass through. The day began to take on all the trappings of a major festivals, for soon falafels, fried fish, figs and baked goods appeared for sale. At the Tree, food was free, and so the hawhkers moved along the road toward Tiberias.
Yeshua joined Miri and Susanna at the roadside. It seemed work had stopped all over the estate and everyone was now seated about the Tree.
“I heard there was a parade,” he said as he sat down on the bench.
“Herodias is about to pass by,” said Miri.
“They say she is to marry Antipas,” said Yeshua.
“Hmm,.” Said Miri.
“That tells me you know something about it,” said Yeshua, “Does Antipas know what kind of a reaction that will cause?”
“I am sure he is,” said Miri, “But it seems love is stronger than sensibility.”
Yeshua frowned. He was not sure she was talking about Herodias and Antipas or him and Yeshua.
Miri patted his knee and smiled.
“You think too much!” she told him.
A buzzing passed up the line. Everyone stood up to catch a glimpse of Herodias. It was a false alarm. The noise was created by a quarry wagon.
“Could be a long day,” said Yeshua, as they watched the wagon roll by. The driver waved imperiously to people lining the road as he passed, evidently enjoying the attention, and the change from his routine. Those engaged in travel that day eventually slowed and stopped to wait for the arrival of Herodias.
It was late afternoon before their patience was rewarded. A small retinue accompanied by an entourage of mercenaries approached. The squealing wagon was embarrassing by Imperial standards, and Miri knew Herodias would be fuming inside at the paucity of pomp that surrounded her. The curtains on the sedan were tightly drawn, and everyone was extremely disappointed and the crowd began grumbling as the procession passed.
A sudden shout caused everyone to crane their necks.
“Death to the adulteress!” came the cry, and a woman screamed. Turmoil erupted within a cloud of dust where the sedan had disappeared. Screams and shouts erupted, but Miri could not see the cause. “She has been assassinated!” cried someone. “Herodias is dead!” The word spread through the crowd. Miri and Yeshua pushed forward only to be met by a bristling human hedgehog of drawn swords and lances. The sedan had been tipped over, and they saw bare motionless legs sprawled on the ground. It was a man
“Stay back!” growled the soldier nearest them, and his shouts were parroted through the group. The crowd retreated to a safe distance, and Herodias, surrounded by her courtiers and servants huddled fearfully behind the ring of bodyguards. A stand off ensued, and the crowd originally festive, now seemed more surly. There was a great deal of resentment to the impending marriage, and many believed that Herodias was an adulteress. She had misjudged her countrymen for her husband’s brother was already married. They began to see the makings of a new Herod.
The retreat was clumsy and scattered. The body of the assassin was thrown over the back of an ox in the train, and their passage now left and confused eddy of humanity in its wake.
The next day, a full cohort of Antipas’ guard descended on the compound. They turned over the furniture and scattered the contents of the househol over the ground. Two men, both from Chorazin, were slain as they resisted the search. Two others, Jonah, and a woman from Tarichae were arrested and taken away. The raid left the estate in shambles, and everyone dazed.
“Why on earth would they take Jonah?” asked Susanna.
“It’s probably a mistake,” said Miri hopefully.
“Where did they take him?” Susanna asked.
“Sepphoris!” said Phillip the Mason, then fell silent as Miri shot him a warning glance.
“You don’t need to protect me,” Susanna said to Miri. “He is in a great deal of pain. Will they torture him?”
“Probably,” said Miri. “He’s an old man!”
That evening, Susanna insisted on accompanying Miri to her rendevous with Sharifa. They could not travel alone at night, so Yeshua insisted on walking with them. The night was hot and the moon bright. They stopped for a moment at the spring by the Tree.
“Jonah came to me,” said Susanna, “He says thank you.”
“When?” asked Miri.
“Just before we left. He says he tried to reach you, but you were closed off.”
“Closed off?” asked Miri.
“When was the last time you had a visit?” asked Susanna.
Miri suddenly realized she had not seen the souls that flitted about her as she had once done. Even deaths of the people in her care had not risen from their bodies. She had passed it off as her simply being too busy to notice.
“It has been some time,” she admitted.
“Yeshua,” said Susanna, holding her hand out, “Touch me!”
Yeshua grasped Susanna’s hand and they both smiled. Miri felt a twinge of jealousy, and suddenly felt alone. The feeling was so strong she reached out and grasped the interlocked hands of Yeshua and Susanna.
Instantly, she had entered another world. Though the landscape had not changed, it suddenly seemed different. She was touched by the awareness of Yeshua and Susanna, and she suddenly felt alive and brighter than she had moments before. There was no need to speak for all three were now united as one. She was no longer herself, but a trimorphic, and they had become “we”. No longer was there a “Me”, a “You” or a “Her”, only a combined “We”. A being that was three in one. By facing outwards, they were a creature with three faces.
It was time to leave for Tiberias. Without speaking, they began walking, no longer joined by their hands, but linked through their Souls. In a great whiteness, they were linked not only to each other, but every incarnation of the Soul that existed. Miri found that the link could be followed anywhere, and she could call upon anyone she knew, and in that instant she also knew everyone who had ever existed, and could call up their avatar with ease. She was overcome with an ecstasy she had never known, and this feeling was shared by both Yeshua and Susanna. In that instant, pleasure and pain were meaningless. They sensed Sharifa well before they saw her, and they reached out to her before they met physically. She was terrified. Susanna-Miri-Yeshua calmed her, and she relaxed without knowing why. And she was prepared for them when they arrived, for she knew of their coming and was prepared before she knew they were there.
She sat in the palm grove on a broken cornerstone left by the masons of Tiberias. Their meeting with Sharifa lessened the connection between the trio, but the union was not completely disengaged. Miri was grateful for the return of her senses, and she lovingly ruffled Hamisha’s ears, as they exchanged pleasantries with Sharifa. The hand maid prolonged the visit, for in the company of the three Palestinians she felt completely at home and secure. For the first time, she realized the immensity of the level of tension that was her life in the palace. She yearned for her old life in the desert of Nabatea.
Susanna touched her gently. “We must go!”
“Of course!” Sharifa replied. “Perhaps I could meet you at your estate. It is not much further to walk!”
“It is too far to be on your own,” said Miri.
Sharifa was downcast. “I was thinking of during the day!”
“Speak with Phasaelis,” suggested Miri, “I have no objections!”
“She is evil,” said Sharifa.
“Phasaelis?” asked Miri in surprise.
“Herodias!” said Sharifa, “She has more faces than the Hydra! I swear she is possessed by jinn! I fear for my cousin Phasaelis! We must get her out!”
She slipped a ceramic cynrical jar from her sleeve.
“Send this to Haritar!” she whispered. “His daughters need him!”
On the way back, they spoke out loud.
“This is a very dangerous undertaking!” said Yeshua, “You will be crucified if your part is discovered!”
“Then we must not be caught!” said Miri grimly.
“Easier said than done!” said Yeshua.
“Or not done!” declared Susanna. “We live in dangerous times!”
“Such is our fate!” whispered Yeshua, “What is done is done!”
Later that evening, Yeshua and Miri lay together on the roof of the watchtower. They could hear the sounds of others sleeping on the surrounding rooftops, and the sounds of their comrades was comforting. But Miri sensed a disquiet in her companion.
“You’re afraid of me.”
Yeshua turned to look at her.
“You are afraid if you lay with me, your powers will be stolen.”
“Yet you know that true power lies here.” She took Yeshua’s hand and placed it over her belly. “It is I who can give life whenever I wish to have it. It is only through me that you will achieve true immortality.”
“We are all to be reborn.”
“Whether you are celibate or not.”
“Yes.” Yeshua looked away.
“Then tell me why you would withhold yourself from me? What purpose does it serve?”
“I took the vows of a Nazorite, and I am sworn to remain celibate. They teach that the way of the flesh is the way of sin, and I cannot sin.”
Miri touched Yeshua’s shoulder.
“Why do you still think that to lay with me is a sin? You think your power will drain away? You will feel the true oneness that you now seek with your god. To lie together is an act of reverence and worship. Truth and life come together for a brief moment that lasts an eternity. I know what you seek.”
Yeshua clenched his jaws.
“I want to share with you everything I am,” she whispered. “I want you to touch my breasts. I want to feel you deep inside me. We will be together as one.”
“I have taken vows as a Nazorite,” said Yeshua. He turned to her and looked deeply into her eyes. “I still feel guilt and shame. How can I face the others if I lay with you? After everything I have preached I would feel I had betrayed them. I would be unclean.”
“Unclean!” Miri stared at Yeshua in disbelief. “Unclean! A hundred times a day you touch me! How many lepers and cripples have you laid hands upon? You have eaten with Kittim! A thousand times you have broken the beliefs of the Pharisees. You have rejected the Essenes as overly fastidious! And you call me unclean!” Miri stood up.
“Yeshua, you are so pig-headed!” she shouted. “You think that you know the secrets of this world, yet still think half of the world is unclean! Women are not unclean! We are real people with hearts that love, minds that think and souls that are as pure as any man’s! You have more to learn than you know! How can you say you are seeking truth when you deny the existence of half of the world?”
Heads popped up around them.
“You can never be one with anything as long as half of the whole is missing!”
“Get out!” Miri shouted, “I never want to see you again!”
Yeshua gathered up his robe and stood up. He hesitated.
“Go!” she commanded.
Yeshua pushed through the entrance of the arbor and disappeared into the night. Miri stood in the opening of the arbor and watched him cross the roof. Miri listened to his footsteps as he walked stiffly down the stairs into the courtyard. The door creaked open and squeaked closed. Silhouettes of the heads of curious neighbours poked up from their sleeping places on nearby rooftops. Miri glared at the shadows that dropped one by one from view, then stormed back into the booth, threw herself onto the bier, and began to sob.
Yeshua walked silently along the deserted path toward Tarichae. He avoided passing by the front of the synagogue, mainly to avoid any fishermen who would be preparing to go to work now that the sun was down. He could hear the muffled sounds from the wharfs as they loaded their nets and gear onto the wooden boats. The bustle of the fishermen usually cheered him, but now he needed to be alone. He was going the wrong way. He had to be alone and think.He walked westward and out of the village by the back way to avoid the Roman sentry on the road. A dog barked as he climbed over a stone wall and cut through an olive grove. The gnarled trees seemed sinister. Daemons lurked in the blackness and he shivered. Fear welled in him, catching him by surprise. Always, the love of Yahweh had insulated him from fear, yet tonight it had deserted him.
Miri had shaken his faith.
Her words echoed in his mind and he realized that she had been right. His thoughts were jumbled, and he knew he would have to think out what she had said, and try to sort his thoughts. Yeshua stood still and looked furtively around him.
He had lost his god. He was alone.
“Miri!” Martha called softly, then peered into the booth. “Miri, wake up!” Martha, as always, smelled of bread. She had already baked enough bread to feed an army.
Miri opened her eyes. Sunlight peeked and poked through the palm and willow branches. She rubbed the salt from the night’s tears from her eyes and squinted at Martha.
“Shimeon is here!”
“Oh god!” groaned Miri
“He wants to see you right away!”
“I don’t want to see him,” said Miri.
“He says he won’t leave until he sees you!”
Miri sat up. “All right! Give me a minute, and I’ll be right down.” She looked around for her clothes, and Martha bustled back down the stairs. Miri slipped her gown over her tunic, and reached down for her robe.
Shimeon burst into the booth with Martha fussing in his wake. Miri stared open-mouthed at him. His eyes scanned the booth angrily.
“Looking for something?” Miri asked pointedly.
“Where is he?” he growled at her.
“He’s not here!” said Miri indignantly. “Go downstairs and wait for me! I’m not dressed!”
“Oh my!” said Martha.
Shimeon suddenly realized he was in Miri’s bedchamber. And looked about, stunned at his actions.
Martha took his arm.
“We’ll wait downstairs,” she said to Miriam and pulled Shimeon back.
Miri pulled her robe about her and followed them out. She smiled insincerely at her gaping neighbours who had been disturbed by Shimeon’s entrance, and descended the stairs.
Shimeon stood sheepishly in the courtyard, and Martha disappeared into the back rooms.
“Well?” she asked imperiously.
“I-” began Shimeon.
“Shimeon, you came here looking for Yeshua. Why?”
“He was with you last night.”
“Yes, he was. But he left.”
“That is none of your business, Shimeon”.
“It is my business. How could you sleep with the Messiah!”
“He and I are betrothed,” corrected Miri.
“But he is the Anointed One!”
“What makes you say that?” she asked, but she knew he was right.
“Everyone says so!”
“I love you, Shimeon, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to give up my own needs and desires because you say something is so. There are things that you do that I don’t like, but I know that you wouldn’t give them up for me. You follow your own god, even though in your heart you know he is wrong. Why do you think I should give up my whole being for you?
“I love you,” said Shimeon moodily.
“So this is not about Yeshua!” Miri accused, “How can you say that even though you are married to Sarai?”
Shimeon clenched his jaw, but did not answer.
“Even though you have a wife, you still want to own me. You men speak of intercourse as if it were an act of possession. You take a woman. You possess a woman. There is no sharing in ownership. You’ve said so yourself.”
“Yes I have, but this is different-”
“How is it different?” Miri asked angrily, “If I asked you to stop preaching rebellion, would you do it? Give up the cause? You know as well as I do that Herod‘s men will come and crucify you if you continue, yet you charge ahead with no thought to the pain you will cause me when you die. Are you willing to share your body with them, even though you have given it to me?”
“That‘s not the same thing!” Shimeon protested.
“You‘re damn right it‘s not the same thing!” Miri shouted, “If I gave myself to another man, I would do it from love, yet you are willing to give it to other men who hate you, who will abuse you, then take it away from you! And what will I be left with? A memory?”
“So you sleep with other men for that?”
“No! But I must have the choice to do as I please!”
“You have to marry me! The law says so. If a man lies with a woman, then he has the right to take her as a wife!”
“Then shall I marry the others I have lain with? Who has precedence, Shimeon? You? You were not the first! Will you follow your law, and force me to go to another man?”
“I - I shall go to a judge and tell him we have lain together!”
“You will not!” Miri declared angrily, “Would you take me against my will? If you do that I shall hate you! I shall deny it!”
“But you said you loved me!”
“I do! But does that mean I shall spend the rest of my life as a slave? Did I ever tell you I loved you above all others?’
“You’re a good-hearted man, Shimeon, but I could never be your wife. You know that!. We are not a good match!”
“Yes we are!” retorted Shimeon, “I love no other! And you love me!”
“Yes, but not the way you want me to!”
“What other way is there between a man and a woman? What is wrong with me that you can reject me so easily? I’m a good provider. I will have a boat of my own-”
“Shimeon, I have enough from my own family! You have no idea of what I need! You have no idea of who I am-”
“You are a goddess!” blurted Shimeon.
Miri stared at Shimeon. He was a dedicated Jahwist, and the shock of his blasphemy against his own deity had slammed his mouth shut.
His face darkened and his eyes glared out at her from under his thick eyebrows. “Tell no one of this!” he growled at her, then whirled around and disappeared through the door.
Miri turned as Martha slid in from behind the tapestry.
“You could do worse,” Martha commented. “He’s a fine man.”
“You marry him!” retorted Miri.
“I have other things to do!” said Martha officiously, but there was a slight glow in her cheeks, “Besides he’s married!”
Miri laughed. “Martha, you would make a perfect match for Shimeon! A perfect match!”
“Nonsense! I could never marry a fisherman!”
“Of course you could! You could have my dowry, and I’ll arrange for a marriage immediately.”
A smile crept across Martha’s face. “And without a dowry, who would marry the likes of you, Miriam of Magdala?”