Even In This Madness
“Sojourner! Seda! Get up, we’re leaving the city!” Malcus announced as he ran through the house knocking on each of the two doors then flying back to Simay and his two children.
By the time he was through the bedroom door Simay was up, dressed and wrapping Ibrahim up in something practical.
Little Seda wailed her displeasure, “I’m staying here!”
“No, you’re not.” Malcus stated. “The soldiers are coming little one. If you’re here when they get here, you’ll be dead.” He looked his rebellious little daughter in the eye and saw her flinch.
“Okay…” she relented. “I’m coming. I guess.”
“Malcus, we must bring something with us – ”
“Yes, yes. I’ll get some things ready, but we must leave as soon as we can. If we don’t, it will mean our lives.”
Simay nodded her understanding of the gravity of the situation.
Malcus left the room and hurriedly packed food, water, survival supplies and whatever money they had into several packs. He shouldered the largest one and handed another to Sojourner, now emerging from his room with a few things of his own in tow.
Seda burst from her room with terror written in her face and a small bag in one hand. Her hair and eyes were wild, but she was dressed and ready to leave, so Malcus handed her the last of the three packs.
“Simay!” Malcus called just as she came through the door with one child holding each hand and a small bag slung over her shoulders.
“We’re ready.” She said, looking first at Ibrahim, then at her daughter Seda, then at her husband.
Malcus nodded at each of his small band in turn before breathing deeply, offering up a prayer for their safety, and heading for the door of the house. Sojourner doused any lights that had been left burning and Seda closed all the doors and windows before following the master of the house to the door.
Malcus carefully pried open the door a crack and peaked out into the street. Torches burned in front of several houses. Screams could be heard from somewhere across the city and the shouts of soldiers, civilians, and zealots mingled to create a sound full of terror and death.
“Let’s go. We should be safe at the Masada fortress. The Romans won’t be able to penetrate its defenses, but we must hurry – before they get here.” Malcus said in a low voice to all of his companions. Then he stepped out the door and motioned for everyone to follow him.
Simay and the children came first followed by Seda, and finally Sojourner taking up the rear and securing the house door behind him.
The quiet footsteps of the group made little sound in the poorly lit streets as the band hurried away from the impending destruction. Block after block of houses, shops, and animal corrals went by without incident. It was almost too quiet. The silence made them all more nervous. Even Ibrahim and little Seda seemed to sense the tension in the adults.
Shadows played across the ground, using the occasional torchlight from houses to jump across the street in unpredictable patterns.
“Malcus.” A harsh whisper met the group leader’s ear.
“What?” he whispered back in kind.
“Someone’s back there.” Sojourner’s words made Malcus’s blood run cold. “I can’t see him, and it’s only one person, but he’s definitely there.”
“Keep them safe. I’ll be back.” Malcus quietly put a hand on Sojourner’s shoulder before dropping back behind the group to replace the Ephesian. To the stalker it likely appeared to be a simple position change, but little did the watcher know what Malcus had planned.
The group passed a particularly dark section of houses – likely abandoned – and Malcus took that opportunity to slip into a dark recess between two dwellings. The man shadowing his group passed by his hiding place, giving no indication that he realized Malcus had dropped off of his radar.
As the shadow passed, the Jew could barely make out the trappings of a Roman soldier, sword drawn and ready.
The Roman never knew what hit him. As soon as the man passed Malcus’s hiding place he flew at the stalker, throwing his arm around the thick neck, squeezing off air. The Roman choked and sputtered, sending flailing limbs in Malcus’s direction. One connected and sent pain shooting through his right leg. He realized he just been nicked by the wildly swinging sword.
Malcus strengthened his hold on the soldier and held on tightly. The captive man redoubled his efforts to shake his attacker. He backed Malcus into a wall, jarring him, and the Jew’s assassin instincts kicked in, causing him to hang on for his life – and his family and friends’ lives.
Just then the sound of his daughter’s fear-filled cry came to his ears along with a shout from Sojourner and a wrathful yell from Seda, then came the sound of swords clashing up ahead.
Malcus quickly subdued the Roman, letting him slump against the wall, unconscious. For a moment, he looked at the man, thinking that perhaps he should run him through with his sword. But then he shook his head. He couldn’t bring himself to kill the Roman – not without a reason – but he did snatch up the man’s sword before running as fast as he could down the street towards his friends and family.
As he drew nearer, he saw that the band had been attacked by three more soldiers. Seda was handling one of them while Sojourner took on the other two. Seeing an opening, Malcus flew into the fight, tossed Seda the extra sword he had taken from the unconscious Roman and struck at one of the two soldiers attacking Sojourner.
Malcus’s sword struck home and the Roman roared in pain and frustration that he had been so easily taken by surprise. A deep gash now marred the soldier’s leg and he turned from Sojourner to concentrate his efforts on Malcus. Each man struck over and over with little success. Malcus’s leg began to ache from the graze he had received earlier from the first soldier. Then, to Malcus’s relief, the man he now fought began to show fatigue – his stamina waning due to his own leg injury, much more severe than Malcus’s.
The Jew saw an opening in the Roman’s guard and took his opportunity, striking the Roman right through the heart. It pained him to do it, but he had no other choice this time. The other man was dead before his body hit the ground.
Now lacking an opponent, Malcus ran to fight at Seda’s side, thinking that she might need some help only to discover that Seda had already dispatched her foe and was now hacking at Sojourner’s.
Badly outnumbered, the last Roman continued to fight bravely, but Seda, Malcus and Sojourner prevailed and sent the third soldier to a swift death.
“We must leave! Now! There are more coming. I can hear them.” Sojourner insisted.
“I know.” Malcus said just before he felt his wife’s fearful embrace, “Simay! Are you alright? Ibrahim and Seda –”
“They’re fine.” Her anxious whisper came. Then Malcus saw his children, still each clasping one of their mother’s hands. Fear was in their eyes, but not a scratch was on them, thanks be to God.
Malcus scooped up Ibrahim – the larger of the two children and Simay, following his example picked up Seda.
“We have to run. It’s the only way we’ll ever get out of here alive.” He announced, receiving instantaneous, unanimous agreement.
Malcus again took the lead and set a good pace – not too fast, but fast enough to give them a good chance of escaping the oncoming soldiers. He was followed by Seda, then Simay and their daughter, shadowed closely by Sojourner, keeping a watchful eye out for more trouble.
They ran on and on for what seemed like hours to them all, but what was in reality only twenty or thirty minutes. Simay began to tire with the added weight of carrying her daughter and Sojourner took the girl, instructing her to hold onto his neck and not let go – an order she readily obeyed.
No more Romans appeared until they had almost reached the edge of the city. From their position, they could see the distant gate of the city and beyond that they glimpsed the distant refuge of Masada towering above the ground.
One moment the way was clear. The next they were surrounded by the enemy. At least ten Romans had them hemmed in. Even with everyone wielding a sword except the two children, the odds were worse than two to one in the soldiers’ favor. But in spite of the bad odds, Malcus, Sojourner and Seda all drew a sword. Sojourner handed Simay his sword – smaller and lighter than the broadswords they had taken from the soldiers they had battled earlier – and hefted one of the captured Roman blades.
The four adults made a protective shield around the two children and told them to stay inside the circle. Ibrahim and little Seda were too afraid to disobey.
“Pigs!” Came the insults.
“Those children you call ‘zealots’ are all dead. Just like you’re about to be.” Said another Roman, assuming that the band they faced were all Jews.
“We are not all Israeli.” Sojourner replied in his native tongue.
“What’d he say?” one soldier looked questioningly at another.
“Who cares? He’s just trying to throw us off. They’d have been out of this place a while ago if they weren’t Jews.” He thought for a second and then added, “or Jewish sympathizers. Just kill them. We’ll find out after they’re dead.”
There was no further chatter from the soldiers, only cold, calculating swordplay.
Adrenaline fueled the four refugees. If the Romans broken through their defenses, there would be no hope for the two children. They would either be killed or sold into slavery, so the four fought hard, taking down three of the ten attackers fairly quickly.
“Where’s Seda?” came Malcus’s question when he suddenly realized that only three swords continued to fight the soldiers.
“She’s gone!” Simay’s cry came from behind him. “Close the circle –” Simay’s scream pierced Malcus’s soul and he chanced a look towards his wife, fearing that she had been hit. What he saw was worse. Only his son stood in the midst of the circle. His daughter Seda was also gone.
He knew in his heart that his wife’s best friend had betrayed them. She had kidnapped their daughter, and if she had taken the girl for the purpose he supposed – he prayed he was wrong.
Just then Malcus whirled around, impaling another Roman with his broadsword just as Simay, in a fury of maternal rage cut down first one, then two soldiers, leaving only four more, two of which were dispatched by Sojourner.
The final two soldiers proved harder to bring down. One fought, not with a sword, but with two long silver knives. He was the more masterful of the two. Sojourner took him on, striking, parrying, dodging, and striking again, in an elegant, deadly dance, from which only one would emerge alive.
While the Ephesian fought the knife-wielder, Malcus and Simay joined forces against the less skilled Roman. Simay showed remarkable reasoning capabilities even in her anger at the kidnapping of her daughter. She and her husband created the perfect deadly force. Even though the Roman was well-versed in the art of fighting, the couple outwitted him over and over until Simay was finally able to strike the fatal blow, which she gave with a little bit too much enjoyment.
Sojourner still battled the other soldier, swatting aside jab after jab of the twin blades. The Ephesian had been nicked a few times, none serious, and he had inflicted a few good scrapes on his opponent too.
Now all three remaining adults descended on the lone enemy. Had he been an Ephesian he might have run from his imminent demise, but Romans did not run, even from death, and he gave the three refugees the fight of their life.
Finally, after many costly minutes of fighting the knife master, he met his death at the trio’s hand.
When the immediate threat was over, Simay hugged her husband and cried for her lost daughter.
“We have to find her, Malcus.” She sobbed. “She can’t be far.”
“Simay…” Malcus held her tightly, “we’ll never find her. The best thing we can do for her now is pray that God will take care of her.”
“God.” Simay huffed. “That’s all you ever talk about.” she shoved him away and continued weeping as she went to her one remaining child and hugged him tightly.
Malcus tried to console her again only to be shaken off for a second time.
“Lord, I don’t know what to do right now. Protect my daughter as only You can, and help us to find her again, even in this madness.” Malcus prayed silently.
He looked up to see Sojourner looking further down the path, staring at distant Masada – their only hope for safety. They had to keep going; they had to get to the mountain. Maybe he and Sojourner could leave Simay and Ibrahim there and come back for little Seda after that.
He presented his solution to Simay and received a reluctant agreement. They would go to Masada and return later. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.
“After all,” Malcus thought a little sadistically, “if my daughter is with her namesake, and she’s been taken for the reason I think she has, Seda will see that no immediate harm comes to her.”
The group, now less two quickly continued on their way out of the city. They were in the shadow of the wall when they passed one last dark street.
By some miracle, Malcus heard the faintest whisper of air – a whisper that should not have been there. His instincts sent him flying toward his wife, shielding her from whatever was whistling her way. His quick reflexes and selfless love saved Simay, but at a great cost.
Malcus felt the blade of a knife sink into the back of his shoulder, missing the pack that had slipped to one side on his back and he grunted at the blade’s impact. The pain flashed through him as he stood facing his wife.
Diana’s outraged scream emanating from the elder Seda’s lips shook them all. The demon cursed God and immediately shook with terror at the thought of the consequences for such words. No divine punishment came for the moment and the spirit thought it wise to leave the scene before anymore ill befell its plans. Unbeknownst to Simay, Diana had been plotting her demise. The little Ephesian girl had become too weak-willed. She was supposed to die – but that fool Malcus had gotten in the way. Seda hissed with rage as she fled.
Sojourner was instantly at his friend’s side. Malcus had sunk to his knees and Simay was crying hysterically. The man she had shaken off less than an hour ago was now the dearest person in the world to her. As his life’s blood left him, Malcus spoke to his wife and then to his friend – his brother in the faith.
“I love you, Simay. Whatever happens to you from this day onward, know that. And know that God loves you too.” He smiled at her and then turned to look at the Ephesian man. “Isk - Sojourner. Look after her. And my son and daughter.”
“I will, brother.” Sojourner said, and he knelt beside his dying friend as Malcus took his last breath in this world and his first in Heaven.
“Malcus!” Simay shook her husband’s lifeless body. “Malcus!” the shock of his sudden death shook Simay to the very core of her being. He had saved her. That blade had clearly been meant to end her life, not his. And her best friend – her betrayer – Seda had done this. “How could she?!” Simay cried out before breaking down into inconsolable weeping. Even Ibrahim in his childlike way tried to comfort his mother, but he could do nothing for her. Her grief went far deeper than either Sojourner or Ibrahim could ever hope to heal.
She had trusted someone who had ripped her family apart and she had let that same person come between her and the one person who loved her the most – the one who had just died for her – her husband. Her heart broke.
“We cannot stay here.” Sojourner put a gentle hand on the new widow’s shoulder. “We have to leave the city, and we have to go now.”
“No!” Simay said through her tears.
“I have been charged with yours and your children’s safety. I will not be forced into breaking that confidence.” He said with such conviction that Simay stood to follow him. Sojourner took a moment to retrieve the pack that now lay with Malcus’s body. He shouldered the extra burden and with not a few tears led Simay and Ibrahim out of Zion.
When the grief-filled threesome came nearer to Masada, they were greeted with the sight of many others, like themselves, seeking refuge inside the great rock walls of the mountain. The mob pressed in tightly around them.
The people – those that were able – made their way as quickly as possible up the steep path and filed into the fortress. The small path was overloaded with bodies vying for a position in line. The loose order was soon shattered when yet another disaster befell Simay and her group. More enemy soldiers seemed to appear out of nowhere and began harassing the fleeing Jews. Many of the men in the group of refugees slipped back through the crowd, down the side of the mountain and kept back the soldiers as the rest of the people thundered up the path and into the mountain.
In the chaos, Simay lost her hold on her son’s hand. She tried in vain to find him again, all the while calling out to him, but the din of the panicking crowd drowned out her one small voice. She hoped that her seven year-old son would find his way to her once he had gotten into Masada – if he even made it up the mountain alone… The thought hurt to contemplate.
Feeling completely powerless and drained Simay moved with the flow of the crowd which spilled into the mountain until everyone who had come for refuge was inside. Many others were calling the names of family members or friends, trying to find them. Some succeeded, but just as many failed. The men who had bought their families and friends time ran up the mountain path to join them, still pursued by a handful of determined Romans.
As Simay’s tired feet carried her across the open space inside the fortress, she could think of only one place to turn. Diana would help her. She had to. Within one day Simay had lost her entire family and her best friend. In vain, Simay continued to look everywhere she could for her son, but as hard as she tried, she could never find him. Only the stranger Sojourner remained, and he had not yet returned from the skirmish with the soldiers.
“Oh, Diana!” Simay cried out in her heart. “I need your help.”
The young woman wept as she found a relatively private place to collapse. When she had fallen to her knees she reached into the small bag that she had brought with her. Her hand groped around inside. A look of sick terror fell across Simay’s face and an icy fist gripped her heart. She thought she might lose what little food she had taken in that day. The silver statue was gone. Simay tried over and over again to find the familiar presence of Diana. Her efforts were entirely fruitless. The spirit had gone.
This one last loss broke Simay completely. Her husband was dead, her children lost; she was homeless, and friendless. She knew in her heart that the goddess who had promised to preserve her and her descendants’ lives had again broken her promise. Simay knew that she had been a fool to believe the presence that called itself Diana. It had broken its promise before. Why hadn’t she realized that if it broke its promise once with no remorse that it would likely not hesitate to do so again? The cruelty of the betrayal crushed her and despair and emptiness engulfed her.