The Desert's Secret
“What’s wrong, mother?” Hadassah laid a hand on Simay’s arm.
Simay took a deep breath and looked at her youngest, “Thirty-three years ago I set out to do something. What your father said just reminded me of it… but now is not the time for that story.” She patted her daughter on the shoulder. “You should go talk with your niece. I’m sure she would love to have someone to talk with who isn’t thirty years older than her.”
“Alright.” Hadassah nodded with a smile then dropped back to be with her brother’s daughter
“Hello.” Hadassah greeted the teenager.
“Hello to you too.” The girl smiled at Hadassah.
“You’re… Atara, right?”
“All my thirteen-year old life.” She replied.
Hadassah laughed. “Well, my name is Hadassah. I’m your father’s little sister. He, uh… He never got a chance to meet me when he was younger.” She sobered.
“Why not?” Atara asked.
“He never told you the story?” Hadassah looked at her niece, confused.
“No… he didn’t.” she shook her head.
“Do you think he would mind if I told it to you?” Hadassah asked.
Atara shrugged. “I don’t think he would mind. He always said he wasn’t exactly sure what happened. There’s a gap in what he knows, so if you know the whole story you would probably be able to tell it better anyway.” The blonde girl smiled, still looking tired from the journey she had taken with her father.
“Alright then,” her aunt said with a smile. “My mother – your grandmother – told me the first portion of the story when I was about nine. The rest of it I remember quite well from personal experience.”
As the group continued their journey away from the formerly-peaceful town Hadassah related to Atara how Ibrahim had been lost in the flight to Masada; how Simay and Iskender had married just before Hadassah was born; how she, Simay and Iskender had never stopped searching for Ibrahim – even though it had been over twenty years since he had been lost.
“So… you never knew your father.” Atara said softly.
“No. I never had the chance.” Hadassah said wistfully, “But I’ll see him someday.” She smiled, then sobered again. “I do not know how he died – only that he never made it out of Jerusalem. I’ve asked your grandmother many times, but she never really wants to discuss it. Not that I blame her really. It took half of my childhood for her to realize that my step-father truly loved her and that she loved him as well. But she never forgot my father – and I don’t think she ever will.”
“I don’t think she will either.” The teenager agreed.
The aunt and niece fell into a temporary silence. Then Hadassah realized that, although they had been talking for the past several hours, Atara hadn’t really said much about herself – other than that she was thirteen and that Ibrahim was her father.
“Atara?” Hadassah asked with a hint of curiosity in her voice. “How did you and you and your father come to be followers of the Way?”
The girl shrugged. “It was rather ordinary really. My father found out about a group of people meeting in the town we live – used to live in. They didn’t really talk about where the meetings were held – it changed from week to week – sometimes more often than that. Father went out one day, determined to find someone who went to those meetings so that he could find out what they were all about – in case he needed to do something about it. God led him to one of the men who took his family to the meetings. Father told me that once the man decided that he wasn’t going to jail them all – in our town Christians are not viewed in the best light, though we are tolerated to a certain extent – that he invited him back to his family’s house so that they could talk.
“Father spent several hours at the family’s home, asking questions and listening to the man’s answers. Father said that one thing that truly struck him as unique was the fact that the man was a Gentile, and yet he spoke the words of the Prophets of the God of the Jews. It was a paradox to him. He had been taught that Jews did not generally deal with Gentiles and Gentiles did not mix with Jews – especially not religiously.
“Another thing that caught Father’s attention was that the man’s faith claimed to have a Leader who had raised Himself from the grave – an utter impossibility. This almost put Father off of what the man was saying. But when he started to dismiss it as mere ramblings the question came to him, ‘What if – against the odds – what this man was telling him was true?’
“There was just enough doubt in his mind that he stayed and continued to talk with the man who continued to tell him about a person called ‘Jesus’ – the Son of God who made an atonement for all men if only they would accept Jesus as their Saviour.
“Father found himself actually believing what the man said and he became a Christian that day.
“I was only eight at the time but when Father came home from that man’s house he instantly began trying to convince us of the Truth he had found. Mother never looked at him the same way after that. My sisters were only two and four at the time and my brother Silvanus was six.
“I think that Vesta and Silvanus would have believed what my father told us, but Mother’s mocking deterred them. I waited until Mother had gone off to do something else – maybe gone off on one of her shopping expeditions or something, I’m really not sure – then I approached Father and asked him to tell me again all of the things that he had told us earlier.” Atara showed a tired smile.
“I remember the brightness of his smile that day. He was so happy that at least one of his children had not rejected his brand new Faith. So Father explained to me again what he had been told earlier that very morning, and in faith I took Jesus as my Saviour that day too.
“It was quite a sight I imagine – a new Christian trying to tell his daughter about a God he had only claimed for a few hours – a child leading a child… I will never forget that day, no matter how many years I live or how far away from that house I go.”
The last phrase brought reality back to Hadassah, “We may never return home again.”
Atara shrugged, “How many girls my age – or yours for that matter – can say that they saw the Arabian Desert – besides the ones who live around there?”
Hadassah laughed, “You have a point, I suppose.”
“So, how long do you think they’ll follow us before they decide we’re not worth the trouble?"
Atara received her answer two weeks and many dusty miles later. Eventually the group pushed their pace hard enough to outdistance the hunters. Another factor that probably put their pursuers off of their trail was the ever-increasing sand that they were encountering. None of them really liked the annoying grainy dirt, but it was a necessity if they wanted to remain hidden from the hunters.
One night, when the family was sure that they were no longer being followed they gathered around the fire to discuss their options.
“We have no assurance that once we go back we will not be pursued again.” Ibrahim stated. “I think we should continue going south.”
“I agree. Perhaps this is God’s way of moving us to where He intends for us be at this time.” Hadassah added.
“Perhaps.” Iskender said, “But our supplies are running low and we don’t know when we’ll come to the next place to resupply. If we head back we know where to go.” He turned to the teenager sitting beside Simay, “Atara? What do you say?”
“I get a vote?” she said brightly.
“In this group you do.” Iskender replied affirmatively.
The girl sat thoughtfully for a moment then said, “I know that, whatever we do, God will be with us. There are risks both ways. If we head back, we could be hunted again by the same group or even someone entirely different. If we continue on, we have no idea where we’re going specifically – though there are guides I’m sure we could hire who wouldn’t really care who we were as long as we paid him.” She tapped her chin with her index finger and an adventurous light sparked in her eyes “I think we should continue into the desert. We’ve nothing to lose.”
Iskender nodded. “Simay, my dear, what do you think?”
His wife did not respond. Iskender patted her shoulder and was rewarded by Simay jerking away from him, startled at his touch.
“Are you alright?” Iskender asked, concerned.
“Oh! Oh... I am fine, Iskender. I’m sorry. I was just… thinking.” Simay replied.
“Do you have an opinion as to what we should do? Where we should go?” he asked again.
“I…” a pained expression crossed Simay’s face. “I don’t know...” she pretended to warm her hands by the fire, attempting to make everyone think she was fine. Iskender was not fooled, but he let it go.
“Alright then. We’ll decide in the morning.” With that he dismissed the gathering
Later that night, when everyone else was long asleep, Iskender returned to the fireside. There he found his wife poking at the burning embers, staring thoughtfully into the livening flames.
He sat down quietly beside her, saying nothing, waiting for her to acknowledge him instead.
Simay let him sit there in silence for several minutes before saying, “You couldn’t sleep? It’s a lovely night – not too cold.”
A breeze gently swirled around the two, making a few stray sparks fly out of the fire pit.
“You seemed troubled earlier.” He offered.
“Earlier, when?” she replied.
“When I asked you what you thought about turning around or going on farther into the desert. I would very much value your opinion on the matter.”
“I…” Simay turned her head away, “I don’t have an opinion – I already said that earlier.”
“I know that’s what you said. The trouble is that I don’t believe you.” He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “After all these years of trust… why do you not trust me now?”
The silence enveloped them again as Iskender waited for Simay to make the decision whether or not to entrust her thoughts with him. It was obviously a difficult choice for her – something she was keeping hidden deep down inside herself.
“I don’t know how to tell you…” she finally whispered.
“Just say it.” he replied softly. “I’ll understand.”
Simay suddenly looked at him doubtfully. “I don’t know that you can…”
“We’ll see.” He said.
“All right.” Simay took a deep breath and dove in, “Before you met Malcus, Seda and I that night in the wilderness – before I even met Malcus – when I was still a little girl my mother made a pact with that awful spirit that calls itself ‘Diana.’” Simay began to tremble and Iskender put a steadying arm around her shoulders.
The added support gave her the courage to continue, “My mother promised that both she and one chosen daughter of every coming generation would propagate the worship of Diana. Every chosen guardian of the Diana cult would be Diana’s priestess for that generation, until it was time to pass the mantle on to the next daughter.
“In return for the veneration of my mother’s line – and whoever else she might convert – the demon promised to preserve the line forever…” she stopped, still shaking a bit at the memory of that distant night. “I was there when she made the pact. I was terrified…” she whispered harshly. “I wish I could forget it…” a tear rolled down her cheek and was quickly wiped away by her husband.
“You never told me…” he said quietly. “But, what does that have to do with the decision whether or not to turn around and go back home?”
Simay turned to look at him again, her eyes wide this time. “The night my mother was killed I was visited by that demon. The instructions it gave me were to go to the Arabian Desert. It was on my way there – here – that I met Malcus and Seda, and eventually you. That was over thirty years ago.”
This revelation stunned Iskender. “So you’ve been trying to come here all this time…?”
“Yes.” She admitted. “Until that day at Masada when I finally trusted Jesus. That day I stopped trying to come here.” She let out a quiet laugh. “Funny, isn’t it? I quit trying to get here and I end up right where I stopped trying to get.”
Iskender nodded. “It is odd. But perhaps Diana has missed something in all this.”
“What do you mean, it missed something?”
“I think that Hadassah, Ibrahim and Atara may be right about going forward into the desert.”
“That’s not what you said earlier though.”
“No, it isn’t. I just wanted them all to have a better-balanced perspective before they decided they wanted to tear out into that harsh wasteland. And I also don’t want to go ahead and press on until I know that you’re comfortable with going forward as well.”
Simay let her hand rest on her husband’s knee. “Thank you…”
“You’re welcome.” Iskender smiled.
“You never finished what you were saying about that spirit missing something.”
“Oh, yes, that.” Iskender directed his thoughts back to the matter at hand. “I think that, in telling you to come here, the demon made a grave error. It couldn’t have known that you would choose to abandon it, but God did know. It was no accident that Diana sent you here, and it was no accident that God has led us here now.” He paused. “I have never found myself more at peace than I am here and now, heading into that wasteland.” He gazed out towards the dark horizon, into the sea of sand. “I asked God to send me where He would have me to go. He sent me here.”
“I’m just so afraid that there’s something terrible out there…” Simay whispered.
“God will take care of us – just as He always has. He brought us through a mob of renegade soldiers, the sacking of Jerusalem, the journey to and flight from Masada, and so much more. He can thwart the plans of one tiny demon – whatever they may be.”
Simay and Iskender sat quietly now, watching the fire glow and listening to it crackle.
“It’s time to go then.” Simay whispered – this time without fear. “It’s time to find out what Diana so desperately wanted me to know. It’s time we discovered the desert’s secret.”