The Light of Truth

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Chapter 23

CHAPTER 23

Old Simon’s home

One look at Elizabeth's tear-stained face and ‘Old Simon' said, "She's dead, isn't she?"

How to reply was something Elizabeth had thought about endlessly as she walked home that dreary morning.

Afraid to look at him, she still wrestled with the question. Should she tell her husband and father-in-law that Rachel had survived?

What would it mean to her if she said ‘yes' to her father-in-law's question? What would it mean to Rachel? What would Meshua do to their daughter if he knew she had survived? Next time he was angry with her, would he beat her again? Would she survive another beating?

Standing in the main room of her home, she was replaying the scene from earlier that morning before she left the old man's family home.

"I am glad I persuaded you to have something to make you sleep," Naomi had said when Elizabeth had awoken.

"How is Rachel?" Elizabeth had asked, rising and looking over at the still form of her daughter.

"She is sleeping; I had to give her more powder during the night before Lois came to watch her," Naomi had told her, then asked, "What do you want to do? You are welcome to stay till she wakes."

"How long will she sleep?" Elizabeth had asked.

"She has not properly awakened since you brought her here. But she did cry out a few times during the night. I think that is a good sign."

"What you gave her, was it for pain, or to make her sleep?"

"For pain, but it also makes her sleep. One of her ribs is broken, as well as the damage to her face." Naomi hoped Elizabeth would accept her word, and not ask to see for herself. The sight of the girl's bruised body had brought her to tears; she could not imagine what the mother would feel if she saw the damage inflicted upon her daughter.

Elizabeth accepted what she was told. "So you are going to keep her sleeping for a while?"

"Until Phillip says otherwise. He will come and see how she is later this morning."

"I will have to go home. I do not want to, but my father-in-law will be worried, and I need to make arrangements for his care."

"Will your husband be there?" Naomi had asked, wondering if he would dare return home after what he had done to his child.

"I do not know." Elizabeth had tried to avoid thinking of him. How could she be civil to him when he had beaten their daughter so badly she was near to death?

"And if he is, how will you explain where you have brought her?"

Elizabeth stared at her. "I do not know. Neither do I know how I will explain staying out all night."

"Are you going to tell him that she survived his attack?"

Tears filled her eyes, spilled over and ran down her careworn cheeks. "If I do, then he might want to see her. He might insist on bringing her home." She wiped the tears away, angry with herself for her vulnerability. She needed to be strong... to make decisions, but had to confess, "I do not know what to do for the best."

"Would you be causing more trouble for the girl if you tell your family she survived the beating?"

These thoughts were the ones that had plagued her as she walked home. She knew Rachel would be well looked after, and Naomi was kind. Why were these people so caring, so giving, opening their home to a stranger?

Over a simple meal to break their fast, Naomi had assured Elizabeth that she did not mind looking after the girl. "When you are able to come... if you are able to visit here safely, please do visit her. When she wakes, she will want you."

"Elizabeth!" ‘Old Simon's' voice interrupted her recollections.

"I apologize, father-in-law. It has all been such a shock. Remember that the customer said that Rachel was still alive, and Malachi mentioned a hospitium."

"She did not survive, though," ‘Old Simon' said heavily.

"She had too many injuries." There, she had said it. She had made the decision.

"Will the matter be reported to the Romans?"

"No. They said that I had enough to bear without the Romans being involved and the person who beat her could be punished for murder." It was a variation on part of her discussion with Naomi and Lois, this morning, not an outright lie, Elizabeth consoled herself. She added, "That would have been another hurt for you."

"I have cast him out. He is no longer my son."

Elizabeth raised startled eyes and looked at her father-in-law for the first time since coming home. He had torn his robe in the manner of Jewish mourning. His face was swollen and streaked with tears. He seemed to have aged many years since the previous evening.

Wiping his eyes, he said, "I loved that bright girl. She was so quick to learn; even her own brother said she should have been a son. But she was always thoughtful and kind, as a girl should be, always helping me, caring about me. I cannot forgive him for what he did."

"Perhaps you need to reconsider it. Casting him off is saying he is dead to you."

"He has gone."

"When, how?"

"Last night. He came home, not even apologetic."

"Did he ask about Rachel?"

"I think he knew he had gone too far. But no, he did not ask about her, or about you. He was still furious." Seeing her jump nervously, he explained, "I was the one he was angry with because I had told Rachel to go into the shop."

"Did he hit you?" she asked, amazed.

"No, he would not dare."

"But if Meshua thought he had seriously injured or killed Rachel, he might not have cared about killing you, too."

"Have you never noticed the cudgel by my chair?"

"I had forgotten all about it."

"Well, I made sure my son had not. He did not like what I had to say to him, but he has not been pleased since he returned and I told him about his nephew coming here."

"All the same, he is your son. This must have been very difficult for you."

"This last day has been like one of the bad dreams that people talk about if they have been indulging in the drug that the pagan priests give to their proselytes."

"How do you know about that?"

"Many things are talked of at the bath house."

"Do you think that Meshua will come back home?"

"No. He will not. He packed his things, took the money I gave him, and told me he was moving to Pergamum."

"Pergamum?"

"Where it seems, he has a stall in a market there, the same as he has here. That was why he was so long in returning from the so-called ‘buying trip'."

Pushing down her guilt over deceiving him, Elizabeth walked toward him, "So much you have had to bear." Then the thought occurred to her, "Do you want me to move out, too?"

"You are my son's widow, the mother of my grandchildren. No. I do not want you to move out."

"Will we have to go into mourning for Meshua?"

"I will talk to the rabbi about that. I do not know if we keep the mourning period in circumstances like this. I would prefer that people did not know that my son killed his own daughter."

"So much to think about." Elizabeth realized she should be mourning her daughter. "What about Esther, what about Timon? What are we to tell them?"

"Leave Esther where she is as long as your sister will have her. You will have to make the journey to the farm though, and tell her that her sister and her father are dead. Timon... Well, he is different. Tell him about his sister, but you will have to tell him the truth about his father. He might meet him."

"Are you going to send for him to come home?"

"Oh, with all that has happened, I forgot. Timon is in Patara now." ‘Old Simon' sighed.

Elizabeth did not want to tell him that Damaris had not left yet. She had gone to stay with her parents until Timon settled into the town and found them a suitable home.

"No, I will not ask him to come back, I will have to write him a message. Perhaps Malachi will deliver it." ‘Old Simon' thought aloud. "Timon was the one who hired him, so he knows him... and Malachi can tell him what happened to his sister."

How complicated it quickly became after one little lie. The only reason she had told her father-in-law that Rachel was dead was because she thought Meshua would be at home. Now, she did not know how to undo that lie.

"The shop will have to be closed for Rachel. Malachi can go then, if he is willing."

"I thought you were going to talk to the rabbi first."

"I will, I am trying put my thoughts in order, trying to think of all that needs to be done."

Elizabeth leaned against a wall and covered her face with her hands. How could she unravel this mess? Besides, under these circumstances she did not know how she would be able to visit her daughter. Haunting her was the fear that Rachel might actually die, and this would no longer be a lie.

"I know this is painful for you, my dear..."

Elizabeth started at the unusual endearment from her father-in-law. "It is painful for all of us. By what you have done, you have also lost a son."

"If I am honest, he has been very difficult to deal with since he returned. He wanted control of everything before I died. He started becoming angrier after I reminded him that he was not my firstborn son."

Not wishing to enter into a discussion about her husband's behavior after his return, Elizabeth changed the subject. "Father-in-law, I am very sorry about last night. I did not look after you properly. And I left you without a meal. You saw the state I was in, but I should have thought, I should have made arrangements. All I could think of was obtaining help for Rachel... then I stayed with her instead of coming home, well, not with her, but where she was. A bed was made for me."

"Were you there when she died?"

"No. I thought after making sure you are alright, that I would go back and find out what happened. I was too distressed to understand..." There, she had worked out how she could go see how Rachel was. One lie led to another.

"I understand, and you do not need to concern yourself about last night, I had a meal."

"Did you find the millet and grain biscuits?"

"No, I did not need to look for anything. Young Doran brought me some food from his mother. There was some for you also."

"What does he know?"

"He saw Rachel being kicked."

"I told him to go home after he came for me."

"Do not be vexed with him. He is a kind lad. He knew that with the pain I was in, I would not be able to help, he saw you take Rachel away."

"Did he see...?"

"He said that Malachi and a customer put her onto my cart. He didn't know anything else. Is there something else?"

"No. I only wondered how much he had seen."

"When he saw that you were taking Rachel away, he realized that I would not have a meal, so he asked his mother for a serving of their meal, for me. And before you worry about that, I asked him what he had told his mother. I did not want it spoken of, and I am sure you do not. Doran said that he told her that my granddaughter had taken ill, and you had been too busy to make a meal."

"That was very kind of him, and of his mother."

"I ate the rest of the broth this morning, to break my fast."

"How did you heat it up?"

"I ate it cold. It was fine."

"Do you intend to open the shop today?"

"Yes, I do. I will talk to the rabbi before I make any plans. There is no body. You might think me harsh, but the shop is all I have to take my mind off what is happening… what has happened. After I have talked with the rabbi, the shop will have to close for a week for Rachel. For now, the lads better get the orders out, and I will talk to Malachi and see if he will be able to take the message to Timon during that time. It will be less of a shock for my grandson if someone he knows tells him… well, delivers my note and can answer questions. I would not want to send a message only. You do not mind if the shop opens today? I know Doran is coming."

"I believe Malachi intended to come as well. He is returning your cart." As soon as she said it, she realized she had said too much.

"Why does Malachi have my cart?"

Thinking quickly, she replied, "To look after it."

"Oh. I do not remember him saying anything."

"You remember he came and saw that you were alright and locked up the shop? The cart had to be driven very slowly, and he had to run ahead to find the doctor. He could not have brought it back after taking Rachel there. It was the last night of Saturnalia, and he would have had to walk home in the dark. There might have been drunken men around. I think the customer who saw to Rachel organized it. So Malachi took it and will bring it back when he comes to open the shop." It was one of the matters she and Naomi had discussed. It would not be wise for her to travel back with Malachi, and Elizabeth had agreed.

"I remember Malachi closing up and making sure I was alright. I insisted on waiting in the main room..." he paused because he did not want to tell Elizabeth that he had wanted to confront Meshua. "The lad might have said something, but I was too upset about Rachel. To be truthful I was annoyed with myself for putting her at risk, and I felt ashamed. It was my fault for walking around so much. My stubborn pride resulted in me being in such pain that I had to leave the shop."

He had never been so frank with her before, and everything he said made her feel even more guilty, knowing she was adding to his grief. But she could only deal with ‘now.' Perhaps later, when she saw how Rachel was, she could tell him there had been a mistake. She asked, "How is the pain this morning?"

"Bad again, I have been pacing about since daylight came. You did not come home. I did not know if Rachel had survived, what state you would be in... or where you were."

"I am sorry I added to your apprehension. Sit down, and rest your feet. Is there anything I can fetch for you?"

"Would you please rub my feet?"

"Yes, of course I will, and I will fetch you some of your medicine."

"Not the usual one. The other one, the one that you keep locked up, the one to dull the mind."

Feeling as if she was centuries old, Elizabeth acknowledged ‘Old Simon's' request with a nod, and turned and walked off heavily to collect what she would need. How she would make it through the day, she had no idea. She wanted to be with Rachel, see that she still lived, but she had duties here.

‘Old Simon' called after her, "When you give me the other medicine, maybe I will lie down. I did not sleep last night. Well, perhaps a little now and then, but not much."

Pausing, Elizabeth replied, "That is a good idea. I have work to do here, and I will need to go to the market. Now that the Roman festival is over, I need to buy food for us. Will you be alright?"

"Doran is coming to work in the shop, and you said that Malachi is coming to work also. If I am asleep when you go, tell them so they can listen in case I call."

The sound of a cart penetrated the haze of Elizabeth's thoughts as she fetched the medicines and the liniment. Realizing it must be Malachi returning the donkey and cart, she grimaced. ‘Old Simon' was in the main room. If Malachi came in from the back lane and through the shop, her father-in-law would see him first. When shortly afterward there was a knock on the house door, Elizabeth realized she had been holding her breath, and let it loose in a long, relieved sigh.

"Elizabeth!" ‘Old Simon' called. "Would you see to that, please? I could not stand up again for any price."

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth said. Maybe God did answer prayers. She had worried that Malachi might tell her father-in-law what had happened with Rachel, but he had come to the house door, instead of letting himself in from the back lane.

"Mistress," Malachi began when Elizabeth opened the door.

"Hush," and after a glance over her shoulder, she whispered, "My father-in-law thinks my daughter is dead. Please be careful what you say."

"I only knocked to tell you that I have returned the donkey and cart. I put them away." Then in a lower voice he said, "Your daughter still lives. Naomi told me to say you that she has given her another strong powder. Phillip said it would be best to let her sleep for longer."

"He went to see her then?"

"He was still with her when I left. I could not wait any longer before bringing the cart back, and coming to see if I am to open the shop."

"Thank you for your help last night, for fetching the doctor... and everything." She felt like embracing the lad, who was only a little older than Rachel. He had been so considerate and helpful.

"I wish my help had not been needed. I should have told Benjamin that the order was set out differently; he would have worked it out. I should not have asked your daughter to come out of the storeroom."

Tears ran down Elizabeth's cheeks. "Her father would have discovered anyway when she was not in the home."

"Elizabeth!" ‘Old Simon' called, reminding her she should not be standing here talking to Malachi.

"Does the master want me to open the shop?" Malachi asked.

"Yes. Go in from the back lane and open up. My father-in-law is in a lot of pain, and I am about to see to him. Doran will also be coming."

"If Doran asks about the girl?"

"Tell him to ask me or my father-in-law. Please say nothing else."

"I understand. I will go and open up now."

‘Old Simon' called again. "Is there a problem?"

"No," Elizabeth replied, closing the door and going back to the main room. "He wanted to know if you wanted the shop opened. I told him that you did, and that Doran would be coming too."

"Why did he not come through here?"

"I told him that I was going to see to you. I did not think you would want to be disturbed any further."

"Did you tell him I would like to speak to him?"

"No, I thought it best if you choose the time. You want to lie down; you want to see the rabbi..."

"I know, I am a bit muddled."

"We all are," she replied.

"I know what he is, though," ‘Old Simon' said as she knelt to massage his feet.

"I am not sure what you mean."

"He is what your husband calls a ‘heretic.'"

What was coming now? Elizabeth wondered. She looked up at him, "I discovered that last night. The place he took us... the doctor who saw Rachel, was one also. The only way Malachi would have known to take Rachel to that man is if he was a follower of the old man."

"Meshua and I had angry words about that, too. Someone must have told him about Malachi. Remember the lad worked for Timon at Meshua's stall? He didn't want him to continue to work for me. Since he came home, he has been trying to take over my shop, and I do not know why, not when he has a stall in Pergamum."

Sitting at his feet, preparing to massage the liniment in, Elizabeth said, "What will be done about his stall here at the market?"

His mind turning over the thoughts racing through it, ‘Old Simon' came to a conclusion. "When you have finished with my feet, I will not take the strong medicine yet, lock it back up again. When Doran arrives, tell him I have an errand for him. I want him to find out if that young lad, Seth, has any work for today. If not, ask him to come here."

As she rubbed the liniment in, Elizabeth asked, "What do you want Seth to do?" Guilt over her lie made her uneasy, wondering if Seth would be sent to find out what had happened to Rachel.

"I want him to run to the rabbi and ask him to see me privately. When he comes back, if the rabbi will see me, Seth can hitch up the donkey and cart and take me there."

"Are you sure you are well enough?"

"I want to tell the rabbi that I have cast off my son, and ask if I must mourn him publicly."

"Are you going to tell him about Rachel?"

"That is more difficult since you took her to a heretic hospitium, and you did not see her body. I will say she is severely injured."

Standing up, Elizabeth found it difficult not to sigh with relief. It fitted with what she wanted to tell him later. "Your feet should feel a little better now father-in-law. Do you want some of the usual medicine?"

"Yes please."

"Master...?"

"Come in Doran," ‘Old Simon' said, recognizing the voice. "I have an errand for you."

"I will be pleased to help." Then approaching ‘Old Simon' he asked, "How are you this morning? I talked with Malachi, but he said he does not know how you are, or how your granddaughter is."

Elizabeth smiled as she returned with the medicine, Malachi was trustworthy. "Doran, thank you very much for looking after my father-in-law last evening, and please thank your mother also, for providing him with a meal."

"I knew he would not be able to make one himself, and you were busy. How is your daughter?"

‘Old Simon' looked at her. How she answered would determine what he would say.

"I do not know, Doran. I took her to a hospitium and stayed there, too. I am going back soon to find out if she survived..."

Forehead creased; Doran glanced at ‘Old Simon.' He wondered if the old man knew the only reputable hospitiums were run by members of the heretic group.

"I know what you are thinking, Doran. Please be discreet. It was the only way for my granddaughter to have the care she needed, ‘Old Simon' warned.

"What was the errand you wanted me to do?"

"Run and see if Seth has work for today. If not, tell him I have work for him and ask him to come as quickly as possible."

"I will tell Malachi that you want me to run an errand. There are no customers at the moment."

"Most of the people will be sleeping off sick headaches," ‘Old Simon' told him.

When Doran went through to the shop, ‘Old Simon' said to Elizabeth, "He is very loyal. I think he suspects there is more to this, but he is not asking."

"This is too much for me," Elizabeth admitted. Overwhelmed with emotion, she was afraid of giving herself away, and her lies being exposed, causing more hurt. Most pressing was worry about her daughter, "Rachel could only have been in the shop a short time. How can all this be? How I wish it was a bad dream."

"I agree, but it is not. It is all too real," ‘Old Simon' said. The sorrow in his voice made Elizabeth feel even worse.

"While you wait for Doran to return, I will go and make a meal for the noon break, and bring something from the market later for our evening meal." She was grateful that ‘Old Simon' had not noticed she was wearing a different robe. She also wanted to wash the borrowed robe so she could return it to Naomi.

Later, while ‘Old Simon' was out, seeking advice from the rabbi, Elizabeth took the opportunity and hurried to Naomi's home.

"Come in, Elizabeth," Naomi greeted her. "Lois is with Rachel at the moment."

"Is she any better?" Elizabeth asked, fighting to control he fears.

"Phillip said we should allow her to wake now and see how she is. Come and sit with her."

"I think she is starting to wake," Lois told them as they entered the room.

Almost running, Elizabeth went to her daughter's side.

Naomi followed and stood with Lois. "I think you are correct," she said to Lois. "We must stop her from trying to rise."

"Rachel, Rachel... can you hear me?" Elizabeth asked.

With a groan, Rachel said, "Aima? I hurt... everywhere."

Elizabeth sent a questioning look at Naomi.

Naomi shook her head. She guessed that Elizabeth was querying why Rachel speech was odd, but she did not want to talk and confuse the girl with another voice before she had fully awakened and opened her eyes.

"Rachel, you are safe," her mother assured her.

Struggling to open her eyes, she found she could not open both. Lifting her arm to rub them, Rachel found that her arm was strapped to something. "Aima?"

"Rachel, my dear child, you are not at home. You are at the home of the old man we came to see after Esther was healed. His granddaughter and her friend are here. They, and a doctor have been looking after you."

They could all see that Rachel was trying to work things out, but Naomi and Lois left it to her mother to explain.

"Your father hurt you very badly, my child. As soon as you are able to travel, I want to take you to Rhea until you are healed."

While Elizabeth was trying to explain to her daughter, Lois whispered to Naomi, "Did Phillip say anything about giving her anything to eat when she awoke?"

"We need to see that she is fully awake. If she cannot swallow properly, and she coughs, it could be dangerous for her with that broken rib."

Trying to focus on her mother's face, Rachel asked, "Abba?"

"He has gone away. Back to Pergamum." She would explain the rest when Rachel was stronger. "He will not be able to harm you again."

Rachel sighed, and her lips twitched in a smile, then she groaned.

"Would you like me to give you something for the pain?" Naomi asked, moving into Rachel's line of sight. "Not enough to make you sleep heavily again, but sufficient to make the pain easier to bear."

"Please," Rachel managed to say.

"I will leave you to their care, my dear. But I need to ask you something." Elizabeth paused, trying to find the best way to phrase her question. Giving up, she decided just to ask. "Do you want your grandfather to know you are alive?"

A frown started on her face; then pain made Rachel grunt.

"You wonder why I am asking." Elizabeth said. "He thinks you are dead." Taking the hand of the unbroken arm, Elizabeth said quietly, "You very nearly were. Had it not been for Malachi, and Naomi's son, you probably would have been. But your father is not coming back. And you will not be home until you are well, which I think will be a long time."

"My poor Saba. Yes, tell him I am alive."

Naomi moved forward and addressed Rachel. "This has been so much for you to take in, my dear. Just know that we will look after you and keep you here until you are well enough to be moved." With that, she put a small amount of powder under Rachel's tongue. "Rest now."

"Rachel, I have to go back home and see to your grandfather," Elizabeth said after sitting with her until she started to doze. "I will come back and visit you. May these peoples' God bless, heal and protect you. Remember Esther and Jacob."

"Thank you..." Rachel said sleepily as her mother and Naomi left the room.

Outside the room, Elizabeth was able to show her distress. She asked Naomi, "Will she be able to talk properly again? I did not want to upset her by mentioning how strangely she was talking."

"We will not know until her face heals, but I thank God, she does not seem to have brain damage. She recognized you and understood when you talked about her grandfather and father."

"Thank you so much for looking after her. I appreciate what you have done. But now I must go. I need to go to the market on my way home..." Elizabeth smiled at Naomi and turned to walk toward the courtyard gate.

"When you come next, would you please bring some clothing for Rachel? We had to cut her robe off in order to tend to her, and no one here is small enough to give her something to wear. I am sure she would prefer to be clothed when she is a little better."

"I should have thought. Sorry. And I laundered the one you lent me; when it is dry, I will bring it back."

"Lois washed yours, but I think the bloodstains did not come out."

"No matter, it was an old one."

With a last quick look into the room, at her daughter, Elizabeth left. At least she could tell her father-in-law that his granddaughter was alive.

*****

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