Miri’s dreams bothered her. They were all of Yeshua, and they worried her. She was walking under the olives, walking slowly along the path between two rows of the trees. On either side, stone walls, broken and untended marked the edge of the garden. The sheep had wandered from their enclosure and were scattered far and wide, and their wayward path bothered her, but for some reason she looked up. There, on the ridge of the Arbel, stood a lone acacia, and beside it, Yeshua. He looked down at her and turned away. She called to him, but the winds carried her cries toward the sea. He could not hear her, and as he walked away, disappearing over the ridge, she knew she would never see him again.
She began to run, but her skirts slowed her down. Panic overwhelmed her, and she cried his name again and again, but still he did not hear her. She had to warn him not to go over the hill for he was in great danger, but he could not hear her. He disappeared as she reached the edge of the olives, and thorns ripped her legs as she scrambled up the mountain after Yeshua. She screamed his name, louder and louder, until she heard her own being called.
It was Martha. Miri’s niece was standing over her, shaking her awake.
“Shhh! Shh!” she said, “He’ll be back! He’ll be back! I’m sure he will!”
“Oh Martha,” cried Miri, “I miss him so!”
For some reason, she remembered the scrolls she had discovered in the Library at Philae, and she thought she should have sent word to Ana the fuller’s wife to send her the scrolls and instruments. Now that her estate had become a centre of healing, she thought Nicodemus especially would be interested in the tube of Anpu. She resolved to recreate one, and, on Nicodemus’ next visit, she mentioned the artifact with him and he as intrigued by the idea. He very much doubted that it would be an effective procedure, but he took a drawing to his surgical instrument maker who turned out a reasonable facsimile in brass. Miri had it returned to smooth the edges for they were too sharp and the it needed to be widened where it wedged in the mouth in order that it not be accidentally swallowed. The coppersmith hammered out a wider nouthpiece, and rolled the edges into an inward turning rim, and Miri was satisified with it. Nicodemus himself had a copy of it made and kept it in his physician’s box just in case he ever had a chance to try it out. Miri. For her part, had Phillip the Mason carve two philtres and shallow cups as she had seen in the “Opening of the Mouth” kit, and kept the tube and the bottles in her purse. She was not sure she could recall the exact formula of the powder for the alabaster jar or the liquid for the onyx jar, but resolved to reason out the ingredients as she could remember them.
Without Yeshua, the commune slowed. Less people came to visit, and some of the residents left and returned home. Part of the reason could have been it was the height of summer, and no one wanted to work. But without Yeshua’s words, somehow, the Soul of the community seemed to suffer. The biggest reason was probably another raid by a policing force raised by Antipas to weed out the opposition to his marriage to Herodias.
After the raid, Miri asked for an audience with Antipas, but it was denied. Shortly after that petition, Sharifa failed to turn up to their rendevous. Miri waited until almost daybreak, but the cousin of Phasaelis did not show. She was very concerned for the Nabatean Princess, and she stopped Shimeon and Adam one day on their way to the market at Tarichae and asked them to take their fish to the market at Tiberias, and ask about the princess. Shimeon absolutely refused on religious grounds, but Adam said he would take two other men in the boat and dock in Tiberias.
The same day they had a visit from two men dressed completely in white and held themselves completely apart. There was really no need for them to remain so aloof as most respected their need to be ritually clean, and it seemed everyone considered themselves to be contaminated in comparison. They were trapped by Susanna, who had wordlessly stood before them with a basket of food.
“We cannot take it!” declared one, “We can eat only that which we ourselves have harvested!”
“That would leave you very little time for anything else!” declared Susanna as she side stepped in time with their sidestep.
“So, you grind your own grain and bake your own bread?” she asked.
“The women of the Community bake our bread,” replied one of the Saints patiently.
“I see, so for the exception of bread, you eat what you have harvested,” replied Susanna.
“And the flax for your linen? Do not the women of your Community weave?”
“Of course they weave!” replied the Saint again.
“Then with the exception of your daily bread and the clothes on your back, you use only that which you harvest?”
The Saint could see that Susanna was steering him to break his vows, and he merely smiled.
Miri looked up from her sewing. “Susanna,” she said calmly, “Allow them to pass!”
“Where are you going?” Susanna asked the men.
“We are traveling from Qumran to visit brethren on Mount Carmel!” replied the man.
Miri instantly set her work aside and stood up.
“Mount Carmel?” she asked, “Will you be returning from there also?”
“If the Power wills it!” replied the man, “We are Essenes traveling to our community there, and plan on returning to Lake Ashpaltis before winter!”
“Can you look for a boy there?” Miri asked. “Though his name may be changed, he was called Benjamin!”
Susanna immediately stiffened.
“My brother?” asked Susanna, “You know of my brother?”
“No, sweetie,” said Miri, “I am just asking them to look!”
“We shall do what we can,” replied the man, “We would drink from your well!”
“The well is yours!” said Miri, and the second Saint drew a metal cup from his pack.
“I have an orchard also, yonder!” said Miri pointing to the house. “You are welcome to take whatever you find!”
Susanna, forgetting her manners grasped the man’s sleeve.
“Tell him Susanna wants him back!”
The man was evidently very uncomfortable about being touched by the young woman, but she tightened her grip about his arm.
“I shall!” answered the man, and Susanna released him, and left the two of them to discuss the ritual ablutions they would now have to undergo, and where they might find a mikvah that would meet their standards.
“Do you think they’ll find him?” she asked Miri.
“Do you?” Miri replied.
Susanna frowned. Another traveler appeared in her sight and she picked up the basket and moved toward him.
“Are you Miriam?” asked a voice.
Miri turned and a short dark-haired man stood beside her. He was not handsome, but neither unattractive.
“I am,” she replied.
“I am Levi, Son of Alphaeus!” His gaze turned to follow Susanna. “Is that Susanna to whom I am betrothed?”
Miri frowned. “I am her mother!” she said defensively. “What do you want
“Her mother?” asked Levi, “I was under the impression that..”
“She is adopted, with witnesses!” snapped Miri, “State your business!”
“Well,” began Levi, “I heard of your problem with Yoachim, and I had thought perhaps it would be best if I relinquished my claim and gave you a writ of divorce!”
“A divorce?” asked Miri.
“I would return her dowry, but unfortunately it has long been sold, and I have spent the money!”
“The money is not important!” said Miri quickly, “Why are you doing this?”
“I have heard good things about her,” replied Levi, “I know I am not much liked in Kefar Nahum, in Chorazin or Tarichae, but I could not be a millstone around this girl’s neck! Here is her Get!”
He handed Miri a piece of pottery on which he had written his divorce.
“Please,” he said, “Take it!”
He turned tail and had gotten several steps before Miri reacted.
“Wait!” she called, “Come and meet her!”
Levi was a tax collector from Kefar Nahum as was his father. Alphaeus was a stern man and well matched to his occupation, but his son bore the burden of his duties with a conscience born in Heaven, but baked in Hell. No one could say that the instinct for self preservation was not deeply instilled in Levi. He taxed to the letter of the Law, never straying one jot from his described tasks. He took no more than was asked, but on the other hand, he accepted no less. He had from time to time, from what Miri discovered, stretched out the time for payment, but then again he had never used his own coins to relieve another.
Still for this one thing, this act of kindness, Miri knew Levi’s heart was good. Whenever he could, he came to visit. The entire village buzzed with the news of Levi the taxman giving out soup at the Watchtower. However, several people at the commune grumbled that it was not Levi’s soup to give. Miri, for her part, defended him always, saying all he needed was time.
Adam had discovered plans for a wedding were underway, but could get no real news of Phasaelis. Some said she was walled in a secret chamber, with only a small opening for food and water to be passed. Others said she had been sent on a ship to Iberia, and to Miri’s relief none of the dozen rumours mentioned her death.
Every night she walked Arba or Shalosh to the rendevous at the palm grove, but always came back without seeing any sign of Sharifa. A week passed with no word, then on a New Moon, the day Miri’s period began, Bernike appeared.
“Phasaelis is not well!” whispered Berenike, “I have tried to get her to eat with food made of my own hand, but she will eat nothing!”
“And Sharifa and Amitel?”
“Amitel is dead!” said Berenike, “She was so distraught at Phasaelis’ refusal to eat, she finally tasted some of the food for her sister, and fell dead at our feet! Neither Sharifa nor Phasaelis have eaten a bite! They are wasting away! Sharifa told me of your plan and I came here with her basket!”
Miri looked down at the basket. It was tied with a red ribbon.
“What a lovely ribbon!” she cried, “Did you tie it?”
Berenike shook her head. “No, Sharifa added it! She said you would like it!”
“Can you get me in to see them?” asked Miri, for she knew by the ribbon, Sharifa was warning her of danger. But from who? Berenike?
Berenike shook her head. “They are guarded night and day! It would take the forces of Rome to break into the North Tower!”
“The North Tower?” asked Miri, “On which floor?”
Berenike’s mouth snapped shut and tightened. “I cannot say!” she said quickly.
“But you speak with them daily,” said Miri, “Surely you know what floor they are on?”
“I cannot say!” repeated Berenike.
“How can you not know?” asked Miri.
“Forgive me!” the girl cried and fled back to the palace. Without the food Miri had brought. And leaving the both baskets.
A huge voice rang out in the night air.
“Woe to the adulteress!”
“The judgment of the Lord shall fall upon your heads! You have brought shame to the Land of Israel! Death to the adulteres!”
The voice continued.
“Idiot!” whispered Miri under her breath, and tied the donkeys to a tree. She crept forward for a better view. Yahja stood in all his glory, staff raised, shouting abuse on Antipas and his harlot. Heads were poking up over the city walls. It would be no time at all before they seized the prophet, and removed him. Miri ran from her cover and grabbed Yahja by his belt.
“Stop it!” she whispered, “You’ll get us all arrested!”
“Have no fear, for the Lord will protect me!” said Yahja without looking back. Her tugging was having no effect at all.
“The Lord sent me!” said Miri, “He said to get your ass under cover and shut the hell up!”
“Woe to thee Jezebel and Ahab! Just as the voice of Elijah brought them down! So shall the Lord bring thee down!”
“Yhaja!” said Miri tugging him, “Let’s go!”
For the first time he turned to her. He was extremely annoyed with her interference. “This is the Lord’s work! Do not interfere!” He turned back to the walls of Tiberias. “Repent of your sins! For the Messiah is Coming! Woe to thee that flaunt the Lord!”
The bar across the city gates slid back, and the sound echoed in the night. Miri looked back at the palm grove and ran for cover. She could not leave Yahja to the Herodians. She untied the two donkeys, and dragged them toward Yahja. As quick as a wink, she slipped the rope from their basket harness through Yahja’s broad belt and tied it fast. He looked at Miri for a moment, but the gates of Tiberias opened, and he shouted at the armed men coming toward them.
“Lackeys of the Imperial State! Repent your Sins before it is Too Late! The end of the world is nigh!”
Miri urged the donkeys forward and the rope pulled Yahja a step back ward. “Stop it!” he whispered indignantly, then waved a fist at the approaching warriors.
“The Lord will know your Evil! Death to the adulterers!”
Miri urged Arba and Shalosh forward. Yhaja dug in his heels, still haranguing the approaching posse.
‘Damn it, Yahja, Come with me!” She was winning, but they moved a worm’s length at a time, and she knew they would be in the hands of the soldiers in seconds.
“Why do you Galileans have to be so stubborn?” she cried out.
“Death to the adulterers!” shouted Yahja.
There was no time. They were swarmed by Herod’s men and under a rain of cudgels, and grasping hands and arms, both Miri and Yhaja were pulled to the ground and bound. Though Arba and Shalosh escaped, they ran only as far as the grove and, distracted by succulent grass, decided to stop and eat.
Miri awoke in a darkened room. The walls were round. She lifted her hand to her head, but an iron manacle weighed her down, and the chains clinked as she moved. Yahja was bound to the wall. And Phasaelis, Bernike, Sharifa and Phasaelis were also bound but not shackled.
“Where are we?” she asked groggily. She had a vague memory of being dragged behind a caravan, of being thrown into a cage, and seeing a small patch of stones passing below her. The inside of her head was slow in a way that told her she had been drugged.
“The Black Castle!” said Yahja, “The Den of the Jackal, Machaerus!”
Miri sat up and rested her back against the cool stone of the prison cell. The cold brought her burning flesh some relief.
“He plans to kill us!” said Phasaelis.
“But if he kills you, he will have no claim to Perea!” said Miri, “He will have to return it to your father!”
“I will die from poison!” said Phasaelis, “It is the only way he can legally stake a claim on Perea. If it appears that I die of natural causes, he can inherit my land! But you, on the other hand..”
The sound of a door opening interrupted their conversation.
Antipas entered the room. He was flanked by the key master, who he dismissed with a fleeting wave of his hand.
“You have all caused me no end of aggravation!” he announced. He walked about the room, idly checking the bonds that held his prisoners. His mood changed and his public mask of royal indifference slipped over his anger.
“Quite a collection of rogues!” he said as though admiring his handiwork. “The Prophet Elijah!” he said as he pass ed by Yahja.
“The Lord shall strike you down!” croaked Yahja. His voice had been broken. Miri suddenly noticed the scores of scars, wounds and weals upon his massive frame. He had been tortured unmercifully.
Antipas stopped and turned to Yahja, as he lifted Phasaelis’ head with his forefinger, then let it drop. “Indeed? But it was he who put me here!”
“So, I have Elijah, the Porcelain Princess from the East…”
“Haritar will hunt you down to avenge this insult!” hissed Phasaelis.
“Ah, yes!” said Antipas, “So now Haritar will join forces with god to destroy me! How does the thought of your God helping the infidel Aretas sound to you, Yohannes?”
“It matters not to me!” said Yahja, but Miri could sense Yahja would prefer God acted on his own.
“Let us go!” said Miri. The outburst surprised her, for she knew Antipas would never release them, and all her words had done was to gain his attention.
“Ah yes, the mysterious Magdalene!” Antipas walked over to her, and pulling on a chain hanging from a pully, tightened Miri’s shackles and pulled her effortlessly to her feet.
Face to face, he smiled as he grasped her right breast and squeezed. He pushed himself against her.
Phasaelis growled in anger, the indignity, not of Antipas molesting her friend, but of doing it in front of her. She strained at her bonds.
“Strange!” whispered Antipas, and his mouth caressed and bit Miri’s neck. He held the flesh between his teeth, and increased the pressure. Miri went cold, as though her body had drained of blood. Phasaelis roared at her husband’s molestations of Miri. His hand reached down to her crotch, but he froze in shock as he dug between her thighs. She was menstruating.
He staggered back and stared in horror at his hand, as though the very fingers had been bitten off.
“Damn you!” he spat and fled the room.
“He must have had a ritual to perform!” said Miri. “He’ll have to delay it for at least two weeks!”
“The Lord is on our side!” declared Yahja.
“And his Mother!” murmured Miri under her breath.
Yeshua stood above the town of Yericho. Though his thought was impelled by his desire to return to Galilee, a voice within him had told him to climb the hills above the town. He had thought perhaps Yahweh would speak to him there, but, after some time waiting, it seems that he had perhaps picked the wrong day. He had expected perhaps a set of tablets, new commandments perhaps. He shook his head.
Feeling foolish, he climbed down the slope. He bypassed a sentry at a guard post along the road to Yerushalayim, and thought perhaps he should travel to the Holy City, but he no longer had the desire to sacrifice upon the Temple Mount. Just as Yahweh had told Ibrahim to sacrifice a ram instead of his son, Yitzak, Yeshua knew that he needed no intermediary to reach the Power. He had found his own connection to God. He thought the best action would be to visit Yahja at the Hilja Ford.
As he slipped down a rocky slope to reach the main road again, a voice startled him.
“Where are you going?”
Yeshua sensed rather than saw a man sitting beside the road. He seemed to be waiting for him.
“Quo vadis?” the man asked, using Latin.
Yeshua peered into the darkness, and realized the stranger was a priest.
“I speak Aramaic,” said Yeshua. He was surprised to see a priest and wondered that perhaps this man was indeed a messenger of god. He had appeared exactly at the point when he had consciously rejected the need for an intermediary.
“I am Yeshua!” he said to the priest.
“Yohannes!” The priest stood up. “You seem to be avoiding the authorities!” he commented.
“Prudence is called for in these times!” said Yeshua. “Why are you on this Path?”
“Because God wills it!” replied Yohannes. “I was waiting for a sign.”
“And I!” said Yeshua, “Why would you ask for a sign? Surely your duties as a Templar would dictate your way!”
“I am to travel to Machaerus to officiate over the wedding of Antipas and Herodias, but cannot reconcile my heart with the task!”
“Herodias? Surely Antipas would come to Yerushalayim to marry?”
“He is already married to the Nabatean, and he plans to marry his brother’s wife! The Baptist from Jordan has roused his followers against the Tetrarch, and he is afraid that some of the more zealous Followers of the Law will try to assassinate he and his bride!”
“I don’t understand,” said Yeshua.
Yohannes explained all that he had heard about the terrible machinations of Antipas and Herodias and the rumours of murder of Phillip.
“So, I am torn, and cannot proceed, nor can I go back!” said Yohannes.
“I am joining my cousin at Hilja!” said Yeshua, “It is on the way to Machaerus! Perhaps we could travel together!”
Most of the estate was in ruins, its inhabitants either dead, imprisoned or scattered to the four winds. Susanna stood within the rubble, unable to comprehend the reality within which she found herself. Of the bustling fertile community she knew, only the olive trees remained untouched by violence. She walked down to the Tree at the end of the lane. Detritus of the fighting littered the road, but now it was quiet, the place seemed not to have changed. She spied her basket lying by the wayside and retrieved it, and then sat on the wall. A lost sheep came up and tried to eat her cloak. She tried to stop the sheep from munching her mantle, but it persisted, and finally she took its head in her hands and stroked it. She petted it idly, more for her own comfort than that of the sheep. The animal was content to be stroked and stood with its new mistress.
The watchtower was still standing, and so was the main house, though it had been gutted. A fire had razed the stables and the Birth House was a pile of rubble and toppled columns.
She closed her eyes.
She stood alone on the road, basket still in hand, but full, wrapped in the robe Miri had made for her. It still had Miri’s smell upon it. A unique mixture of spices only Miri wore. Though no one was nearby, Susanna was not alone. The spirits of the land walked with her. Wherever she went, the memories of the dead reached out to her, and she connected with what they had once been. She was not afraid of them, but as with real people, their pain repelled her and their joy impelled her. They guided her footsteps, and she never doubted their direction. Two men approached.
She recognized them both.
“Yeshua!” she called out. He stopped in shock, for he had not expected to see her. The other man also stopped, surprised to see a young woman on the road alone so late at night. Yeshua ran to her and knelt at her feet.
“Susanna!” he whispered, “What are you doing here?”
“You must go to Machaerus!” said Susanna, then opened her eyes.
She smiled at the sheep chewing her robe.
Yohannes was convinced they had been visited by an angel.
“It is the sign I was seeking!” he said excitedly.
Yeshua said nothing, for Yohannes had been babbling about the appearance of the girl in white upon the road by the Hiljah Ford. Arriving there by dawn, they were met by a scene of desolation. The followers of Yahja were in sackcloth and ashes and wailed at the loss of their Prophet. Neither Yohannes nor Yeshua had known of his arrest, and hundreds of the Baptists, wailing and shouting for revenge had already begun a pilgrimage to the Black Castle of the East to demand the return of their Prophet. At the camp, Yeshua sought Yakov and Adam, but neither was at the ford, and he could find no one to tell him of their fate. Both he and Yohannes hurried across the river and into the hills
Miri turned to the sliver of light that widened as the door opened. Chuza stood in the entrance. He put his fingers to his lips and moved swiftly to Miri’s side.
“I came as soon as I could!” he whispered.
“They have taken Yahja!” said Miri hoarsely.
“He is dead!” said Chuza. “Antipas gave his head to Herodias as part of her dowry!”
Miri cried out at the news.
“Shh!” said Chuza, “I have been able to persuade Antipas that the death of Phasaelis would be political suicide. As corrupt as the Romans are, they have a strong conservative morality they profess, and putting aside one’s wife is looked upon as sinful! Not to mention Haritar has mounted a force of cavalry to rescue his daughter. Killing her would be to give up our upper hand! But he has told me you are a spy! How can that be?”
“I have obligations to Haritar, Chuza!” replied Miri.
I have brought you some food!” he whispered. “I have no way as yet to get you out! Antipas has been blinded by lust! I shall find a way to escape!”
“Is Yohanna here?” asked Miri.
“She could not come,” said Chuza, “She is heavy with child!”
“She’s pregnant?” asked Miri, “That’s wonderful!”
Chuza smiled despite their circumstance. He uncapped a jar, and lifted it to Miri’s lips. “Drink this!” he said softly. The liquid was sweet and sticky, tasting of wine and honey. Miri was immediately filled with a warm fuzziness, and her predicament seemed not as serious as she had once thought. She began to feel quite sleepy, and began to drift into a dreamland she knew well.
She fought against the slipping away, and for a moment cried out.
“Poison!” she croaked, and slipped into the netherworld that always remained beyond the illusion through which her life passed. But it was for nothing that she escaped the real world. She was still chained to the wall. Yahja was hanging beside her, his head restored.
“Miriam!” he called. “You cannot stay!”
Miri lifted her arms and displayed her manacles. “I don’t have much choice!” she replied.
“Life is nothing but choices!” said Yahja, “You cannot stay here! Yeshua needs you!”
Miri stood up. She was chained hand and foot to the castle wall.
“He is the Messiah!” said Yahja, “You have chosen as you should have chosen! It is as it should be! I would not have chosen a woman like you for my cousin, but I can see now that the world unfolds as the Lord wills it!”
“But you are dead!” said Miri.
Yahja smiled. With a great effort he snapped his manacles, and the chains fell from his limbs. “So be it!” he said, his bravado returned.
And then promptly disappeared.
She was alone. Phasaelis and Sharifa were no longer chained in the cell with her. Though Miri did not know it, they had been taken to a small apartment in the palace of the upper city of Machaerus. Antipas was under siege. He had called up his forces from his realm to meet the threat from Haritar, but that meant that insurgents were now erupting in raids against his holdings throughout Galilee. It was obvious he could not hold either Machaerus, Perea or Galilee. He had to retreat. To reduce the threat from Galilee, he had executed the Baptist. A mob without a leader was easier to manage than one directed. He had to deflect Haritar’s advance as well.
To this effect, he had summoned Phasaelis.
“I am willing to let you live!” he told her.
“You have no choice!” said Phasaelis defiantly, “My father will drive you into the sea!”
“Well, I have decided that if he promises to withdraw, then I shall release you to his custody!”
“And my cousin?”
“And Miri of the Watchtower?”
“The Magdalene is a spy!”
“Not of her choosing!” said Phasaelis.
Antipas was not in a mood to argue. He had to abandon Machaerus before Haritar arrived. Although Antipas had control of the city, he did not have enough men to man the walls. The castle was part of Phasaelis’ dowry, and he thought to let it go. Haritar would also demand Perea, but it was a bigger prize than Machaerus, and harder to take. Haritar would have to mobilize a much larger force to take Perea. “Very well, I shall leave her unharmed! Is that acceptable to you?”
The sound of the approaching army came too late for Yohannes and Yeshua to find a refuge. They were caught on the road, and stood to one side. The army of Antipas marched past without giving them a second glance.
“So much for the ceremony!” said Yohannes. “It looks as though my services are no longer needed!”
“We shall keep to the road!” said Yeshua. “They had no prisoners with them! Yahja is still ahead.”
“It is not far!” Yohannes said with a shrug, “Lead on, my friend!”
Miri was released at Phasaelis’ command. The princess had quickly taken control of the citadel. Most of the inhabitants of the lower city were Nabatean, and they were more than willing to align themselves with Phasaelis.
Haritar arrived the next day, and rushed into the palace. He could not keep his tears from flowing.
“Forgive me!” he cried “I am so sorry for your fate!”
“It ends well,” whispered Phasaelis after a long embrace.
“It is not over!” said Haritar darkly, “Antipas must give up Perea!”
“It will be ours!” swore Phasaelis, “And Herodias shall feel my wrath!”
Haritar ordered the sanctuary be cleaned out and a stone set out to honour Al Dushara and Allat. Both Phasaelis and Miri were weak from their confinement, and it was not easy to eat. Haritar set them to rest. Sharifa too was given rest and had honours bestowed upon her and her family. Many vied for the honour of attending them, Haritar assigned a great number of women to attend them.
A woman named Warsnara entered the room where Miri lay.
“There is a man here ho wishes to see you,” she announced.
“Who is it?” asked Miri listlessly.
“He says his name is Yeshua!”
Miri sat bolt upright immediately “Send him in!” she exclaimed, and threw off her covers.
When he entered she flung herself into his arms and held him more tightly than she had held anyone before.
“I can’t breathe!” he said breathlessly.
“Don’t ever leave me again!” she said, not relinquishing her hold on him.
“I’m sorry!” he said to her, “I was wrong!”
“I love you!” declared Miri.
“And I you!” he replied. “We will marry as soon as we can!” he said happily. “I am so sorry I spoke of you as I did!”
“And I promise not to lose my temper!” she replied.
“Do not promise that which you can’t deliver!” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I would not change you if I could, I love you the way you are! You are my Life and my reason for Living!”
He touched her hair gently. “You are hurt,” he said softly. As his hands passed over her face and body, the pain disappeared, and Miri was whole again.
“There is no need for you to return!” said Haritar, “You are a friend of Nabatea for all Eternity, and there is no tent in our land that will turn you away!”
“Thank you, my Lord,” replied Miri, “But we have family and friends in Israel, and no matter the despot that overrules it, the land is ours and we of the land! There is though, a favour I would ask!”
“Melt down the golden coins of Germanicus and free my friend!”
Haritar smiled. “Redbeard is already a free man! He commands a cohort of infantry.”
“He is here?” Miri asked.
“In the desert!” said Haritar, “We cannot believe that he has taken so well to our ways! But we shall indeed melt the coins down!”
“It is the custom of his kind to go into battle naked except for a necklace, a torus of gold about their necks!” said Miri, “I think he would be honoured to serve with such a torus fashioned from the gold of Germanicus!”
“We shall make it so!” declared Haritar, “You do us great honour, Miriam. Our house is your house! We will send you with gifts worthy of you!”
“I ask nothing!” replied Miri, “Yeshua and I have all we need! Our hearts are full!”
“And mine!” said Haritar.
“Peace be with you!”
“And you, Haritar!”
“We shall not forget you, my daughter!”
“Nor I you!”
Miri was delighted to see Yohannes. He was the priest to whom she had spoken in Yericho! The world seemed to stop wobbling on its axis as they set out for Israel. Phasaelis surrounded by her escort had ridden out with them on a beautiful dark mare. She had insisted they ride also, though neither Yohannes nor Yeshua had sat upon a horse before. At a narrow gorge beyond the Black Castle, they came upon a body beside the road. They reigned in their horses and the captain of Phasaelis’ guard insisted they turn back. Yeshua and Yohannes dismounted. Though they had not come far, they were already saddle sore.
As she dismounted, Miri saw more bodies beyond the first. The road was littered with corpses hacked to death. They were followers of Yahja. For as far as they could see the road was dotted with the dead. It had been a massacre. Antipas’ retreating forces had clashed with the faithful seeking their Prophet.
Yeshua silently moved from man to woman and child, searching for anyone living. They had been hacked to death by Herodian swords.
Phasaelis pleaded with her friends to return to Machaerus with her.
“We must return home,” said Miri. “We have friends in Galilee!”
Phasaelis and Miri said their tearful goodbyes, and Yeshua, Yohannes and Miri set their faces to the Hiljah Ford. Crows and vultures had already begun to peck away at the flesh of the dead. They walked as if in a dream, through a land of putrefying flesh and exposed fat and bone. None of them spoke, but they clutched each other constantly, as though they would meet the fate of the others should they become separated from each other. From time to time, they would see a set of eyes peering at them from a chopped body, or a limb shivering, a leg shifting, and they stopped often to administer to the dying. There was no one left to save. Those that were still alive could not be saved. They soon used their water, but finally, tired, bloodied and dirty, they reached the ford on the dawn of the third day.
Exhausted, Miri, Yeshua and Yohannes sat down on the banks of the Jordan and gave thanks to the Power above for their deliverence. Across the river, they could see Israel, and they lay down beside the flowing waters of the River Jordan and were content at the sight of their homeland.
“I wish that Yahja were alive!” said Yeshua, “My life is just beginning, and I would wash my past sins away in the living waters of the Jordan!”
“You do not need him for that!” said Miri, “The Power knows your heart Yeshua!”
Yeshua looked ay Yohannes. “Baptise me!” he said to Yohannes.
“It is you who should baptize me!” declared Yohannes.
“Give me the blessing so that I may continue along my way!” said Yeshua.
He stood and took Yohannes’ hand and led him to the banks of the river, and they entered the water together. Waist deep, Yohannes cupped his hands and poured the living water over the head and body of Yeshua.
Yeshua descended into the waters of the Jordan. The water blocked his ears and he felt his sins slipping away from him. His broken vows as a Nazorite were carried downstream. His life with his family, the sins of Joseph his father, all passed away. He was cleansed of all Sin, and he remained under the waters for Eternity. When he arose, he heard a voice coming from the Heavens saying, “Behold my son! I am well pleased!” and as a dove the Power descended upon him from the heavens and entered into him.
Yohannes was held in awe before all that transpired.
“You are the Messiah!” declared Yohannes, and immersed himself before the Anointed One. Yeshua turned to Miri and held out his hand.
She entered the river, and the cool waters soothed her parched legs, and filled her with a cleanliness she had never before experienced, and the love that filled her was greater than any love she had ever known. She held hands with Yeshua and Yohannes in the flowing waters. The waters of life. Love overflowed her and could not be contained.
Yeshua lifted his voice to Heaven.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
Yohannes and Miri overcome with the moment joined in and the three of them recited the psalm together.
“He lays me down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He refreshes my Soul. He leads me on the path of righteousness by his name.”
Their voice grew louder and it seemed as though the very angels of Heaven spoke with them.
“Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
The world turned on an axis about them.
“You prepare a feast before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runneth over!”
None could experience such ecstasy. Their voices lifted louder.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life for I shall dwell in Beth-El Forever!”
The silence of the morning was broken by the gentle cooing of doves, and the earth erupted with the song of birds as they greeted the rising Sun.