Fresh tears welled up in her eyes.
“He – he was lost… I couldn’t hold onto him. Too many people.” She wept.
“He’ll turn up.” Sojourner attempted to console her. “There are many families with children here. If he can’t find us, he’ll find one of them. He’ll be fine.”
“I hope so...” Simay sniffed. “If he even made it into the fortress.”
“We checked the trail thoroughly. If we found anyone, we brought them in with us. That’s why it took so long for everyone to get back after we made sure the Romans wouldn’t be able to get in. Most likely one of the other men found him and brought him in if he didn’t get in with the crowd.”
With that, Sojourner let the two packs – miraculously still in his possession – slide from his back onto the ground beside Simay. He then took a seat on the other side of the baggage. He sat there silently for a long time, letting Simay try to deal with her upset life by herself.
After a while he started digging through the packs to see what they had with them and what Seda had run off with. Thankfully they had the pack with the money in it as well as a lot of the food that Malcus had hurriedly stuffed in. He picked out something he thought Simay might be tempted to eat, though he doubted she was in the mood to do so.
He handed her some food anyway. She looked at it blankly for a moment, then set it in her lap, ignoring the offering. Sojourner ate silently, staring up at the darkening sky. Had it really been almost an entire day since they left for Masada?
Stars began to peek out from behind the scarce clouds. Small campfires dotted the interior of the fortress. The sounds of families and individuals alike seemed to be magnified by the crisp night air. Sojourner took a cleansing breath and prayed silently.
“My Father. My Lord. I thank You for bringing Simay and I through Jerusalem safely. I don’t pretend to know why You have taken Malcus, my brother – my friend,” tears stained the big Ephesian’s brown face, “but I know You will bring about good from his death. I’m only sorry he couldn’t be here now…” Sojourner looked around, seeing the families that had escaped the city intact. “Help me, Father. Help me to know where to go from here. And watch over little Seda, wherever she may be.”
He looked back to Simay, still in her partial stupor, and decided it was safe to leave her for a bit while he scoured the fortress for her son Ibrahim.
“If he’s here, please help me find him.” He prayed softly as he set off on his search.
A couple of hours and many questions later he returned to Simay empty-handed and no closer to finding the boy than before. He didn’t bother to tell Simay what he had done. She didn’t need to hear about anything else going wrong right now. And it was always possible that he had missed the boy. One child in hundreds was easy to overlook. He still held out hope that the boy was alive somewhere and in good hands. “May it be so.” He prayed.
The night wore on. Simay did not sleep. She only sat there, eyes glassy and distant. Sojourner did not feel the need to sleep either. His heart was heavy for the sad young woman. She had lost everything – almost literally. No one was left for her except him, a stranger whom she feared. Perhaps now that the terrible spirit had left with Seda as its pawn Simay would decide he was not so bad after all.
Simay suddenly shook herself out of her stupor and realized that Sojourner was staring at her.
“What?” she said harshly.
He could not see her face. “How are you?” he asked softly.
“How should I be?” she snapped back.
“I don’t know.” Sojourner replied, still using the same soft tone.
Simay didn’t reply to that for a moment, then she turned to face him. She hugged her knees to her chest, took a deep breath and looked straight up into the canopy of twinkling lights above her. It seemed to Sojourner that her face might be just a little bit more open than it had been when he had first returned from fending off the Romans.
He began to think that she would never say anything else to him when she suddenly looked straight into his eyes and asked him the question he had been anticipating since he first met her.
“Who are you?”
He waited a moment before answering, thinking about what the best way to tell her would be.
“Did you ever meet any of the people your mother worked with?”
“No…” she said, confused. “No one was supposed to know about me. When they found out…” The young woman let her chin fall to her chest and more tears fell from her still-wet eyes.
“I know. It costed her her life.”
Simay jerked her head up, completely caught off guard. The next instant she was in the Ephesian’s face with a small belt-knife pointed at his throat.
“How do you know that?!” she hissed
His brown eyes seemed to look into her soul.
“I was there.”
“What?!” She nearly screeched it before she managed to stifle her voice. As it was, the people nearest them looked at her strangely, but none of them intervened. “You what?!” she repeated in a lower volume.
“I was with your mother the night she was executed.” He pushed Simay’s knife hand away from his throat, “My name is Iskender.”
Simay backed away from the Ephesian, more confused now than she had been before.
“How…? Why…?” she struggled to form her thoughts.
“I was once a servant in the great Temple of Artemis Diana, but I committed an unpardonable sin.”
“What?” she managed.
“I too broke my vows to Diana. I became a follower of Jesus.”
Simay wanted to run away and hide somewhere where no one could ever find her again. The guilt of that terrible night at the temple came crashing down on her again. It was so heavy that she felt as if someone had laid a pile of bricks on her shoulders. It was so terrible that she was actually glad that her husband and children were not here to see the awfulness of it.
“You feel responsible for it.”
“Yes!” she sobbed. “I killed her just as much as that executioner did.”
“Perhaps…” he granted, “But God gave her new life that night.”
“That’s not possible!”
“Nothing is impossible with God, Simay.”
“I don’t understand!”
“Do you want to understand?”
Simay sat on the ground; many years of memories ran through her mind and settled in her heart. She remembered the tent-maker and his wife, the night she had slept alone in the house after betraying her mother, being taken captive by the slavers, meeting the man sitting in front of her, her husband’s last selfless act. The final memory that washed over her was the one that she had desperately tried to remember for years – the one that she now realized Diana had always squelched. She remembered the two scarred hands that had reached out to her in her dreams time after time. With that memory also came the realization that the reason that the hands had always been reaching out to her was because there was someone in this wretched world who cared – someone who wanted her.
In that moment everything came together. The things that Malcus had told her since the day that he had chosen to follow Sojourner – Iskender’s – God instead of Diana. She realized that her husband had told her the truth. There was another choice besides living beneath Diana’s fist of iron.
“I do want to understand.” Simay finally said.
“Then I’ll tell you.” Iskender smiled.
For next hour the man carefully relayed to Simay the truths that he had come to know many years ago. He told her how God had sent a Redeemer – Jesus; how that Redeemer had come as the final blood Sacrifice and Substitute; how God now offered salvation from sin and eternal death through that Redeemer. “Repent and believe” were the words he used.
“Your mother’s physical life was taken from her, but before she died she said something to me I will always remember, ‘I always asked in my heart why I should exchange a living goddess for a dead man. But that is not the right question, is it? What I should have asked is, “why shouldn’t I exchange a treacherous goddess for a living God?”’”
Simay’s eyes widened as she realized what Iskender had said. Her mother, before she died, had seen what Diana was – a treacherous spirit. That realization had driven her to cry out to God – just as it was driving Simay to do the same now – to turn from relying on herself, or Diana, and to that Redeemer.
The only words that escaped Simay’s mouth were, “I believe it – all of it!” She couldn’t say any more. The knowledge that she now had a master who loved, instead of one who merely used and then discarded her, was overwhelming and for the first time in a very long time she laughed with joy.
The neighbors who were still awake looked quizzically at the pair of foreigners again, shrugged their shoulders and ignored the strange behavior
After that Simay slept soundly until well into the next morning. No dreams plagued her; no fears interrupted her rest; no demons tormented her heart. Sweet forgiveness gave her peace that she had never known before.
When she finally awoke Simay found Iskender – who she still thought of as Sojourner – reading one of his scrolls that he had inexplicably been able to hold onto through the past day and night’s events. Perhaps the hand of God had kept it safe for him, she thought.
“Soj – Iskender?” she sat down beside him.
“It doesn’t matter which name you use.” He chuckled.
“What is it?” he asked.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand. How did you get out of prison? No one escapes the temple dungeon.” She paused, “But somehow you did.”
“I was released.” He answered simply.
“Surely not by the guards.”
“No. Not by any human hand.” He raised his eyes to the bright morning sky.
Simay looked at him in confusion. “How can that be?”
“I can’t explain it. There is no explanation.” He shook his head. “The night after your mother was taken away, mere hours before my own scheduled death, I awoke to the sound of the lock on the cell door clicking open. I looked up to see why the guards had come for me early. No one was there. Just quiet darkness.
“I pushed open the door, thinking that someone had made a mistake. When no one stopped me, I kept walking until I had made it out of that miserable death house. I never saw one person in the temple that night.” He looked back down at his scroll before continuing. “I knew God had let me out of the cell, and I made a promise to Him.” He looked at the young woman sitting beside him. “That promise was to find you – to tell you everything.”
The girl stared at him then ventured a cautious, “Why…?”
The Ephesian man smiled, “There are no accidents in God’s plans. Always remember that. It was no coincidence that I was there the night your mother died. Just like it was no coincidence that I found your group that night the marauders attacked – or tried to. God puts people where they need to be when they need to be there. But as for why I wanted to find you, your mother loved you. I knew that by the way she talked about you before she knew I was there. I also knew that if she could have, she would have told you herself about what happened to her that night. But since she couldn’t, and I was the only other person who could, I set out to tell you. I just knew in my heart that I had to. I know that may not make much sense to you right now, but you’ll understand some day.”
“You’re right… I don’t understand.” She thought for a moment then continued, “It took you years. You could have given up; you didn’t even know my name, where I was going, who I was with. You’re a very persistent person, Iskender.”
“I serve my Saviour. When He gives me something to do, I do it. The journey He took me on during those years of searching brought me to many places and through many trials. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” He started to roll up his scroll. “I acquired this and several others on one of my many adventures.” He indicated the parchment. “They were a gift.”
“Would you teach me to read it?” she asked
“Of course.” He readily agreed.
“Malcus tried to teach me to read his language once, but I never could do it. I have a hard enough time speaking it, much less reading it, but I want to learn it now. Maybe, with God’s help, that will make the difference.”