To Hide Our Shame
“Where have you been?!” Nuray chastised.
“I – I got lost.” The excuse was partially true.
“Do not lie to me, child!” her mother shrieked.
Simay shrank away from Nuray; her mother had never blown up at her like this before. The girl quivered in fright.
“I just stopped to talk for a few minutes…” Simay mumbled.
“Who did you talk to?!” Nuray demanded.
Simay’s scared eyes darted around the street, looking for some place to run. Why was her mother so angry unless she knew exactly where Simay had been? The implications of that thought horrified her.
“J-just two people I met on the way home, mother.” Simay tried to placate Nuray by giving her more pieces of the truth.
“You’ve been talking to those Christians! By Diana, I can smell it on you!” Nuray thrust an accusing finger in her daughter’s face.
Simay took another look at her mother’s eyes. They were not the way that she remembered them, even from this morning. Her eyes were lit with a fire Simay had only seen a few times and never wanted to see again. This was the fire she always had after a day of speaking with the spirit of Diana. Her mother had discovered this spirit one day several years ago during meditation and ever since that day, Nuray had sought out the spirit every time she went to meditate. Nuray was not always successful in contacting this spirit, but when she was she became very strange. She knew things she couldn’t have known unless someone – or something – else had told her.
Simay made a split-second decision: she turned and ran.
Time seemed to slow as Simay’s feet carried her back up the street she had just come down. Nuray’s footsteps sounded hollow in the girl’s ears.
The whole scene seemed surreal. The moon was not yet fully risen, but its light shone brightly on the streets of Ephesus.
Simay’s mind raced faster than her tired feet, and fear of what her mother might do in her state of mind made her press on.
Back through the dim alleys and backstreets, Simay ran. To her great dismay her mother was not slowing down. In fact, as she ran she screamed at her daughter through her ever-present veil.
The icy terror that Simay had felt crawl through her at the tent-makers’ house returned and the presence she had sensed earlier returned with it giving her speed, but despite all of this, her mother began to gain ground.
Simay tripped on something in the dark street. She stumbled, but stayed upright.
“You have betrayed me, girl!” Nuray growled unnaturally.
Simay’s heart began beating much too fast as the voice coming from her mother’s lips wrapped icy tendrils around her heart. Simay had heard a voice like it only one time in her life.
More fears began to pile up in Simay’s mind; more questions and doubts, when gradually one thought in particular began to surface. Once it had fully formed Simay changed direction and began heading toward the outskirts of the city proper. She did not know if her mother would follow her; as every bitter memory of her lonely childhood flashed through her mind she adjusted her pace just enough to make sure that her mother would neither catch her nor lose her before they reached their destination
Simay had to concentrate extremely hard not to run into or over anything in the seemingly stifling darkness. Even now, with only the light of the moon and stars, her mother seemed to be able to see her without difficulty, and she was beginning to gain on Simay again. The girl had to run much faster than she should have in the darkness in order to stay far enough ahead of Nuray. Simay focused on the street ahead of her, hoping that she would reach her destination before it was too late.
The number of houses she passed began to dwindle. Just when she thought she could not keep up her blazing pace any longer, Simay spotted the glow of many torches. Her mother was less than ten feet behind her now.
Simay’s feet dug into the ground, propelling her the last hundred yards to the steps leading into the temple of Artemis Diana.
Nuray’s mind, blinded by the spirit that possessed her, did not register where her daughter had led her and she flew up the stairs after the wretched girl, her footsteps echoing loudly down the well-lit hall.
Simay sprinted the distance from the front opening to the door leading to the main room. The last time she had been in this temple, her mother had spirited her away. Now, it was her mother from whom she sought refuge.
Simay flung open the great wooden door and burst into the room – right in the middle of a ritual.
“Who dares disturb our worship?!” the new high priestess demanded.
Just then Nuray also barreled through the door, almost knocking Simay over.
“Please, high priestess –” Simay gasped, “this woman is trying to kill me!” she pointed at her mother.
Nuray’s mind began to uncloud and she realized where she was. She froze in horror as reality dawned on her.
“And who is this woman, child?” the priestess asked.
“She – she…” Simay stopped. If she did this – if she revealed the truth…
“She has caused you nothing but pain.” A voice whispered in Simay’s heart. “Did she ask you if she could take away your childhood? Did she think about you before making that promise all those years ago? Did she think of you all those times she flew into a rage for no reason and beat you?”
“No… she didn’t…” Simay answered within her heart.
“I’m waiting, child.” The high priestess interjected.
Simay looked into the high priestess’s face. “She is Nuray.” Simay heard some quiet gasps of disbelief from the other women in the room as they recognized who she was, but this reaction was nothing compared to the response Simay got after she spoke the next few words.
“She is… my mother.”
Cries of outrage drowned out Nuray’s pleas for mercy. In the eyes of everyone present, Nuray had just become the lowest of all beings – a vow-breaker.
Nuray tried to run back through the door, but two of the temple eunuchs seized her and another bound her hands tightly behind her back.
The high priestess beckoned the men to bring Nuray up to the altar. The woman struggled against her captors, but to no avail. The strength of the spirit of Diana was completely gone and the men were too strong to reckon with.
“Former High Priestess Nuray.” The woman’s eyes pierced Nuray’s soul and made her shiver. “I am High Priestess Aayla. You have sinned against your goddess, and you must now pay the price. Tomorrow morning, an hour before sunrise, you will be executed for your betrayal.” Aayla extended a finger towards a dark doorway off to her left. “Take her away.”
“No! Simay! Simay!” Nuray screamed with tears running down her face as she was dragged out of the room and into the dark recesses of the temple’s underbelly to await her death.
When the echoes of Nuray’s cries had died, Aayla turned her attention to Simay.
“Well, child, tell me. How old are you?”
“I – I am fifteen, High Priestess.”
Aayla assessed Simay and nodded approval. “Since your mother has no sense of loyalty, I doubt that you have much of a home to return to. Where is your father?”
“I never knew my father, High Priestess.” Simay studied the swirling striations in the marble floor. They seemed to dance in the torchlight. “My mother never spoke of him…”
“Of course not.” Aayla remarked snidely.
Simay drew in a sharp breath when she felt the high priestess’s hand come to rest on her shoulder.
“Do you wish to stay here with us, Simay? Diana is always willing to accept a new priestess.”
Simay kept her head down, “I thank you, High Priestess, but I am not worthy to accept your offer. I am the progeny of deceit and betrayal.”
“True. But no one has to know that.” Aayla whispered to Simay.
“Yes, High Priestess, but I would always know.” She whispered back.
“Very well, child. You may go.” Aayla dismissed Simay with a wave of her finely manicured hand.
Simay slowly traced her steps back through the room, along the hallway and out the main entrance of the temple.
Once Aayla was sure Simay was gone she turned to a man who had been waiting silently in the shadows, just outside the reach of the light cast by the torches.
“Follow her.” she ordered, her voice low. “Make sure she does not leave Ephesus. If she tries, kill her.”
“Yes, High Priestess.” The black-clad stranger bowed and disappeared so quickly that only a few of the temple attendants ever saw him
Simay dragged her feet through the pitch black streets, lit by an occasional torch and occupied by several thieves, transients, and other city riff-raff that only dared show their faces at night. She carefully avoided everyone and everything – including bushes and trees, just in case someone was hiding behind them, ready to spring on whoever might chance to walk by.
The way was lonely and Simay did not allow herself to think about what she had just done. She couldn’t think about it. If she did, she might regret her decision, and regret was not a luxury she could afford right now. She had to get out of this city. There were too many memories here – too many heartaches. She determined to catch the next group of traders who came through town and go with them. She did not care so much where they went, only that they went far away from here.
On the way home, Simay shuffled past the house of the tent-makers. The windows were dark. The thought briefly skirted through her mind that she could talk to Priscilla and her husband: that they would listen to her – they had listened before, even offered hope. But then the thought was squelched by darker musings. She was now a murderer. No one would want to associate with her knowingly… not even the tent-makers.
Simay forced her feet to trudge onward.
The girl eventually made it to the front door of the hovel she used to call “home.” Once inside she lit a small candle and looked around the room. Nothing was out of place or missing. Even the small silver bear was still tucked away in the far corner, glinting in the candlelight.
Simay walked over to the little statue and studied it, shaking her head in bewilderment.
“Why do you shake your head at me?”
Simay screamed and jumped back from the bear; at that same instant the small candle flame was snuffed out, leaving only the bear’s glowing eyes to light the room.
“I – I – “ Simay stammered.
“If you hadn’t done it, she would have killed you.”
“H – How do you know about that?” Simay whispered.
“I am the Spirit of Diana. I know many things, Simay.” The voice growled harshly. In a slightly gentler tone, the voice continued, “I never really wanted her to begin with, you know.”
Simay’s eyes widened, “What do you mean, spirit?”
“First of all, you may call me ‘Diana,’ not ‘spirit.’ Secondly, you were the one I always wanted to serve me, not that weakling, Nuray. She couldn’t even control her temper, much less keep a promise. She already broke one vow. I simply made it impossible for her to break another one. It was I who brought you to the temple tonight, Simay.”
“Yes, I know… Diana. I heard your voice in my mind.”
“And you wisely followed what I told you.
Simay thought for a moment, “But Diana, aren’t you the one who made my mother behave the way she did tonight?”
“Nonsense, Simay.” The spirit lied sweetly. “I would never have done such a thing.”
Simay and the spirit were silent for a few seconds,
“Why are speaking to me now, Diana. Why not years ago?”
“You were not ready to give up everything to follow me, Simay.”
At this, Simay was taken aback, “I do not understand.”
“My dear, Simay,” Diana cooed, “you already know you cannot stay here in Ephesus.”
“You will journey to the Arabian desert with a caravan of merchants that will pass through here in two days. Take with you only what you need – not that there is much else to take – and bring this statue with you as well. You will need it in the years to come, and you will pass it on to your daughter, and she to her daughter, and so on throughout the generations, that you might fulfill your mother’s promise to me.”
“I understand, Diana.”
“Good. Now get some sleep, Simay. You will need tomorrow and the days afterward to prepare for your journey.”
Simay nodded as the bear’s eyes faded to their normal state.
In a daze, Simay did not bother to light the candle again. She made sure the front door was secured as best as it could be, then she went into the inner room of the house and slept.