Start of day 7 of the Feast of Tabernacles – Elizabeth and Rachel
“Aima, I think you should sit on the front bench beside Thaddeus on the return journey,” Rachel announced as she rose from her sleeping pallet.
“Where did that thought come from? We have only awoken.”
“But he will be here soon.”
Elizabeth agreed, and they dressed hurriedly by the light of the moon shining through the high window in the room.
Loosening her hair from the now disheveled braid, Rachel glanced at the window. “It seems strange to see one of those openings into a bedchamber. But I really appreciate the light.”
“Bracha must have left a shutter open but I am so glad she did. It did not even occur to me to check. In the city, such openings into homes would invite thieves.”
“Aima, can you see well enough to tidy my hair? It has worked its way out of the braid and I will never be able to untangle later it if I leave it like this.”
Quickly tying her own hair in a knot at the back of her head, Elizabeth used her fingers to straighten out the worst of the tangles in her daughter’s long hair. “That will have to do for now. We can tidy up when we arrive. Our shawls will cover any untidiness until then.”
Bracha tapped softly on the door of their room. “Are you awake? I have prepared a light meal for you, and I have your clean clothing. It dried thoroughly.”
Elizabeth nodded to Rachel, who was nearer to the door. Smoothing her clothes down; Rachel opened it.
“Thank you. What would you like us to do with the pallets? Roll them up?”
“No, leave them for me. I will see to them after you have gone. If you give me the bag you brought, I will put your clean clothes in while you eat.”
Thanking Bracha and passing her the bag, Elizabeth and Rachel hurried to the small room where they had eaten the previous evening. Rhea waited there.
“I have the two mixtures. This one,” she held out one in a brown jar, “is for the baby. This other one,” she said as she passed Elizabeth a pale gray jar, “is for Aminta. I have sealed them with wax so they do not leak on your return journey.” With a slight smile and a brief look at Elizabeth suggesting a shared secret, Rhea added, “If the mixture is not needed for the baby, keep it in a cool place. If it remains sealed, it will last a year or more.”
The unspoken message was that the women knew the Apostle John had prayed for the boy.
“Here in this other container is the liniment that will ease any aches caused by the return trip.”
While Rhea had been passing the jars to her mother, Rachel had quickly eaten. “I will pack them carefully, away from each other, in the bag with our clothes,” she said.
Rhea looked at her approvingly.
While Elizabeth ate, Rhea told them. “You need not worry that I will tell anyone where you went yesterday.”
Rachel and her mother locked glances, then Rachel quickly surveyed the room. Bracha had gone.
“I have much more to fear than you,” Rhea said.
“From my sister?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, from anyone in the community. It may have escaped your attention, but what we believe causes us to be persecuted. The meeting yesterday was well-planned and well-watched.”
Rachel remembered her thoughts before falling asleep. Those references the old man’s great-grandson had made about the Roman soldiers, and the comments beforehand of hoping the Romans left them in peace...
Rhea was still talking; mainly to Elizabeth, “I told you that Mary and I have a ‘fellowship house’. The only people in the village who know that, are the deacons and the elder of the group. We have to be careful. Bracha’s brother Timothy is employed here, but no one knows of his beliefs. Attending the fellowship meetings was not easy for him, and he could not go to the special one because he was needed to help with some garden work.”
“If it is so dangerous, then what about all the people going to that meeting yesterday?” Rachel asked.
Several things ‘conspired’ to make it safer,” Rhea smiled. “There have been three pagan wedding feasts this week; the Jews have gone to their own Feast in Ephesus, or did as your relatives – traveled to be with family. No Jews remained to denounce us, and the pagans, who have been busy with their own celebrations might have thought it was part of one of their times… Perhaps God allowed their eyes to be blinded to the truth.”
“We will not say anything,” Elizabeth assured, turning to her daughter for confirmation.
Rachel nodded and agreed.
“Thank you. In the past, members of our fellowship have had their homes burned down, so we are exceedingly careful not to draw attention to ourselves. Yesterday, was an exciting time, but it does not seem to have drawn comments from the people of the village. Normally we make our different ways quietly to the meetings, and live orderly lives. Mary and I live quietly, and people treat us as two widows... who have family members come and stay with us.”
Elizabeth frowned, trying to take it in.
“People would burn your house down if they knew what you believe?” Rachel asked.
“It could happen. We could also be taken to the arena...”
“What a high cost – your beliefs.”
Bracha came hurrying in and passed the bag to Rachel, “The donkey and cart are coming up the lane, I can hear the hoof-beats on the hard clay.”
“Leave your dishes where they are, I will see to them,” Rhea instructed as she saw the pair reach to pick them up.
Rachel carefully put the jars between the clothing.
“Be careful with that bag, and don’t let the jars bang together,” Rhea said.
Rachel and Elizabeth nodded.
“I will be careful with it,” Rachel said, as she and her mother pulled their shawls over their heads. Picking up the bag and holding it to her chest, Rachel turned to leave.
“Rachel, go on ahead and tell Thaddeus we are ready,” said Elizabeth. Turning to Rhea, she said, “Thank you for all you have done, and thank you for trusting us with your secret. I will not betray it, nor will Rachel.”
In a rare gesture, Rhea put her hand out and touched Elizabeth on the shoulder. “If you ever have need of the house, you, or someone you know, it is near the main road to Ephesus. There is a large cypress tree in front. Probably one reason no one wanted the house.”
“The association with death and mourning?”
“Yes, there are many superstitious beliefs. However, it worked to our benefit, and there are many medicinal benefits from the tree.”
“Aima,” Rachel urged, calling back from the gate.
Elizabeth thanked Rhea, then hurried up the path to join her daughter.
“Thaddeus is at the gate, and he agrees with me, Aima. You should sit on the front bench with him. I will sit behind and hold on tight.”
“Then I shall take charge of the bag with those jars in it.”
Rhea stood and watched as they climbed up and into the cart. She hoped the baby was healed and would not need the mixture. She hoped he had not died before the women had arrived with the request.
The sky was painted with orange and yellow, spreading like molten gold over the indigo of the night sky. Elizabeth smiled as she treasured the scene.
Rhea watched as the cart started off on the journey back to the farm. She heard Thaddeus reassure, “The donkey is sure-footed and it will be full daylight when we reach the difficult part of the road.”
Rachel’s bright young voice drifted back over the distance, “I think I will walk beside the cart at that section.”
The response to that was lost as the cart and its passengers disappeared into the distance.
“Father, please grant them a safe journey, and evidence of Your healing power when they arrive.”
The nearer they came to the end of their journey, the more difficult it was to hide their anxiety about what awaited them. Neither dared put words to their fear, ‘What if Jacob has died?’
“Nearly there,” Thaddeus announced, startling them.
They studied the scene ahead of them, looking for clues as to what had happened to Jacob, but there was nothing to give them a hint. The booths were still intact.
“Some of the people have come too far to be able to take down their booths as is customary on the seventh day,” Thaddeus observed.
Elizabeth smiled. He sounded just like his employer. Elizabeth had already noticed that he was a bit slow in his thinking and assumed that was why he had not talked much on either journey. He did not have the understanding to make conversation. It was kind of Levi to hire him. Many men would see the fact that the young man was slower to understand, and not realize the loyalty that young men like him offered those who did employ them. When they did learn how to do the work, it was thereafter done the way they had been taught. No shortcuts. She caught her mind wandering. Where was it she had heard that? With an almost imperceptible shake of her head, she castigated herself. It was probably her father-in-law she had heard say it.
“It is too early to pull them down, I think,” Rachel responded to Thaddeus.
Elizabeth turned and frowned at her, sending a warning about speaking to a young man not of her family, but her daughter continued.
“The men will be preparing for the meeting, and some of the women for work in the kitchen.”
“Oh, yes.” Thaddeus agreed. “The ones who can go to their homes for the night, will take down their booths after noon.”
“I wonder if Dana is still here. I think the family live close enough for her husband to travel back for the Holy Day tomorrow.”
Staying with his own thoughts, Thaddeus said, “I will help the master take down the booths that remain, after the Holy Day.”
“I am sure he values your help, Thaddeus, and I want to thank you for the help you have been to us.”
Thaddeus turned pink but smiled broadly, as he stopped the cart at the gate.
Rachel clambered out of the cart first and went to the front, to where her mother sat. Reaching up, she said, “Pass me the bag so you can climb down easier.”
Thaddeus hurried around the cart, and, almost pushing Rachel aside in his desire to be helpful, reached up to help Elizabeth down.
Rachel stepped back hurriedly, clutching the bag containing the precious burden.
The kitchen was a hive of activity when Elizabeth and Rachel hurried into it. Two days’ meals were being prepared.
“Jacob is healed.” Joanna announced. “The mixture is not needed. The rabbi’s prayer must have been heard after all.”
Rachel and Elizabeth exchanged a joyous look.
“When did he...?”
“Late yesterday afternoon.”
The look mother and daughter exchanged was a mixture of puzzlement and delight.
“There was no one we could send to let you know we did not need the mixture,” Joanna said briefly, then turned back to her task.
“Besides,” Sara added, “I knew that Rhea would have started making the mixture as soon as you told her. So there would have been no point sending anyone.”
“Aima, will you braid my hair so I can work here?” Rachel asked.
Glad she had straightened the tangles out earlier, with deft fingers, Elizabeth did as she was asked, while she continued talking. “That Jacob has recovered is all that matters,” Elizabeth assured her sister. Then she looked around the kitchen, but could not see her younger daughter. “Where is Esther?”
“Oh, she is with Aminta. She has been an excellent companion to her,” Sara replied, pausing in her work.
Frowning, Elizabeth merely replied, “Oh.” When she and Rachel had left yesterday, Esther was going to spend the night with Alisa. Looking at the activity, Elizabeth realized there would be no explanation for the moment. Perhaps Esther would tell her what had happened to change the arrangement.
“Where are they?”
Looking over her shoulder, Joanna replied, “They are helping Chanan take apart their booth so he can attend the meeting with the rabbi and his scholars.”
“What about Jacob?”
“He is with the nurse.”
Rachel asked, “What shall I do?”
“See Kyla,” Joanna directed. “Sara and I are preparing the lambs for the spit. Kyla and her helpers are making the sauces, and Marah and her assistants are making other food.”
Passing her mother the bag, Rachel said, “I will stay and help. You go to Esther, I can see you are concerned. And remember the mixture that Rhea made for Aminta...”
“Yes, I will go up and talk with them.”
“There will be time for us to take down our booths when this rush in the kitchen is over.”
Elizabeth could not suppress a laugh. Her daughter was behaving as though she was the mother.
“Late yesterday afternoon,” Rachel mouthed.
“Rachel, come and take over for me for a few moments,” Sara ordered her niece, startling Joanna.
Rachel looked from one to the other.
With a nod, Joanna relinquished command, briefly. She realized that Sara wanted to explain to Elizabeth what had happened, and why things had changed.
Removing the cloth protecting her clothes, Sara hurried over to Elizabeth and taking her arm, urged her out of the kitchen. “Come outside for a few moments.”
“What is wrong?” Elizabeth asked. As she sat down on the bench she carefully put the bag with the medicines at her feet. Taking the shawl from her head, she started tidying her hair. ‘Was it only yesterday morning Sara and I sat here,’ she wondered. So much had happened since then, and she hoped what she was about to hear was not that Esther had been ill again. Satisfied with her hair, she drew a deep breath, and waited.
Looking around to make sure no one was near enough to hear what she was about to say, Sara fidgeted.
“You are frightening me, sister. I thought that Jacob had recovered. Is something else wrong? Is Esther alright? “
Reaching for Elizabeth’s hand, Sara reassured her sister, “Jacob is well, and Esther has been excellent.”
“So what do you want to speak to me about?”
Taking a deep breath and staring at her restless hands, Sara said, “After you and Rachel had left yesterday, Aminta became wild.”
“What do you mean ‘wild’?”
“She pushed into the booth, thrust Joanna aside, took Jacob out of my arms and tried to drown him. When I stopped her, she attacked me. She said Jacob was going to die anyway so she would make his end peaceful. Joanna and I were stunned. We were afraid to seize her in case we hurt Jacob.”
“It is hard to believe that Aminta, so quiet and obedient, could do such a thing… Oh my poor sister,” Elizabeth reached out and took Sara’s hands. “I can see why you were anxious about speaking of it.”
“There is more. Jacob stopped whimpering. We all thought he was dead. Aminta must also have thought so. She picked him up, cradled him to her, and went to the edge of the roof. It was clear she intended to jump. Then Jacob coughed and water spewed out of his mouth. Aminta looked down at him; she looked at him as if she had never seen him before. That’s when Joanna managed to reach her and catch hold of her.”
“How terrible for all of you!”
“Joanna tried to talk to her, to calm her, but Aminta pulled away. She said that Joanna had never liked her, and that was why she sent Rhea away. I tried to reason with her, and she turned on me, accusing me of forcing her to marry Chanan.”
“Where was he?”
“Talking with the rabbi and the scholars, I suppose. He had been told to stay away.”
“I have never been so afraid in my life. Then she passed Jacob to me. We thought she was going to jump this time. But she did not. She slumped down, said it was all too hard, and asked for Rachel.”
“And Rachel and I had already left.”
“Joanna told her that you had both gone to Rhea, to fetch some of the mixture.”
“Did that help?”
“No. She said we were old, and would not understand,” Sara suppressed a shudder at the memory before continuing. “I assured her that we had been young, too. Joanna started to say she had lost two sons, but stopped herself in time. Then I thought of Esther.”
“Whom I had given permission to stay with Alisa and her family until my return.”
“I talked with Aminta, talked about when she was a little girl, younger than Esther. Joanna managed to reach the stairs unseen and went down.”
“Joanna had assured everyone she would not leave the roof until Jacob was healed, that must have been difficult for her. She is such a stickler for honesty and order,” Elizabeth said, knowing her oldest sister.
“We were desperate. I had Jacob, but I longed to hold Aminta. I know she is not my flesh, but I love her as though she were.”
“So what happened? Is she alright now?”
Pointing to the roof of the family home, Sara said, “There she is. She and Esther and Chanan.”
“How did this come about?”
“Joanna came back with Esther, and Jacob’s wet-nurse.”
“But he would not feed...”
“It was not to feed him, it was to take charge of him.”
“She was not afraid of his fever?”
“No, and neither was Esther.”
Elizabeth gasped. She had not thought of Esther being at risk of catching the infection. There might be need of Rhea’s mixture, after all.
“Your younger daughter was amazing. She had already calmed Joanna. I do not know what she had said or done...”
“Esther and her aunt had some bond. I think it started at Aminta’s wedding.”
“Well, whatever it was, it was needed then. I gave Jacob to his wet-nurse, who went and sat out of sight behind Kyla’s booth. Esther sat down next to Aminta and started talking to her. Aminta responded, and the two of them have been together since.”
“What do you mean? Where did she sleep?”
“With Aminta in Kyla’s booth. Kyla went home with Marah.”
“So they all know?”
“No, only those who need to know. Marah will not say anything.”
“And now, how is Aminta? Yes, I see her pulling the booth apart, but how is her mind?”
“It is as if it never happened. Jacob is with his wet-nurse and she knows he is healed.”
“Rhea sent a mixture for Aminta, a calming mix she said, because of the worry...”
“What a treasure that woman has been.”
A movement caught Sara’s attention. “Look, they must have finished, Chanan is coming down.”
“Then will it be alright if I go up, and shall I offer Aminta the mixture?”
“Yes, please do. And I had better go back to the kitchen. Preparation for the Holy Day is always busy.”
“I know. Thank you for telling me Sara.” Reaching into the bag that rested safely at her feet, she said. “Here, you take this mixture Rhea made for the fever and put it in a cool spot. She said it will last a year. I will go up to Aminta.