A week later, at Rhea and Mary’s home
“Aima! I have missed you so much.” Rachel stood and greeted her mother when she entered the small chamber.
“I have missed you, too.” Elizabeth responded, hurrying over to the couch her daughter had risen from. “Now, tell me, how are you recovering?”
“I am nearly well, and see, I can walk… without too much difficulty.”
“Are you doing too much again?”
“No, Aima. Rhea is strict with what I am allowed to do.”
“Where is she? It was the woman called Mary who ushered me in.”
“She is the other person who owns this house. Remember Rhea told us about it before, when we came because of Jacob being ill...”
“So where is Rhea?” Elizabeth interrupted.
“She has taken a woman who has been staying here to meet someone who needs a helper in her home. How is Saba? Have you seen Esther yet?”
“One question at a time, my dear. Saba is well. He is looking forward to meeting his grandson from Egypt. You remember that he is coming?”
“After the shop closes, it is lonely for him with only me for company.”
“I used to go over the record of sales with him in the evenings...”
While Elizabeth wondered how much to tell Rachel about the changes ‘Old Simon’ wanted to make, Rachel prattled on about a woman who had been staying there.
“She must be your age, Aima. Oh, I don’t mean to offend you, but it seems unusual that an older person needs this type of help.”
Elizabeth only half listened as her daughter explained. It might be that she would be in need of somewhere to stay the way things were with her father-in-law. The thought had frightened her and she was trying to do all she could to prevent doing anything to upset him.
“This woman, Hannah, has nowhere to live, and she has been so sad. She used to live in Ephesus, but she does not want to go back there.”
“You know a lot about her, Rachel.”
“There is not much I can do yet, so I am around this home. There are some chores I can help with, but so far, I cannot stand for long, or sweep or wash. I do what I can and Rhea and Mary are so kind and encouraging.”
“I had hoped they were being kind to you.”
“They are very kind, Aima. Although I had met Rhea that time, I was not sure what she would be like. She seemed so stern, but she is not, she is a caring person.”
“Considering they were strangers to you, and you were not well, it could have been difficult. It is hard to be dependent on someone, to trust they will care for you…” Elizabeth was lost in her own thoughts.
Rachel held her peace for a moment. It had been someone she knew and had loved, who had damaged her. She stopped the thought. “Rhea and Mary were so good to me. I still needed a great deal of help when I first came, and it seemed that nothing was too much trouble for them.”
“Has anyone said how long it will be until you are well enough to come home?”
“No, well, not exactly.”
“Do I detect a reluctance there, Rachel?”
“No, Aima... well, yes, a little.” She chose to only tell her mother part of the truth. She did not want her mother to insist she come home, which she might do if she knew that she was learning about the faith of the people she was staying with. So, she focused on what seemed safe to her to share. “I am comfortable here, and I do miss you, I miss you very much, but I have to admit that the thought of going back to where Abba beat me… scares me.”
Elizabeth looked at her daughter sadly. “I am so sorry, my child. I wish it had been me your father beat. It was harrowing to see what you had to go through, seeing you in such a state, not knowing if you would live or not.”
“Then do you understand why I am afraid to come home?”
“Yes, I can understand, but your father will not be coming back.”
“There is no guarantee of that, Aima.”
“The synagogue backed your grandfather’s decision to cast him out.”
Rachel looked at the floor. She did not want to hurt her mother, but she could no longer trust her father. Once, she had loved him… trusted him, but by his actions that day he had destroyed that trust.
Elizabeth stood in front of her daughter feeling helpless. She had worried about the physical injuries. How to cope with the damage to her daughter’s mind she did not know. Her daughter should not have to bear this load. “You are so young, child, too young for this.”
“I do not feel young, Aima.”
“My dear,” tears filmed Elizabeth’s eyes.
“I know I disappointed him, not being marriageable yet, and it angered him that I worked in Saba’s shop, but Aima… my own father beat me so badly I nearly died. My own father!”
“Oh, child, I am so sorry.” Elizabeth wanted to hold her but was not sure she was healed enough, so she opened her arms and let Rachel decide.
Rachel moved forward into her mother’s open arms.
“Will I hurt you?” Elizabeth asked anxiously.
“It is alright now, Rhea said my rib is healing well.”
Elizabeth sighed and enclosed her daughter in a loving hug that said all she had no words to express.
“The mother arrived,” Mary told Rhea when she returned. “She seems amiable.”
“You sound surprised, Mary,” Rhea remarked.
“Well, I had wondered what manner of home Rachel came from when her father could beat his own daughter like that. I wondered if the mother was… perhaps harsh. Maybe she told the father about Rachel coming to our fellowship meeting.”
“Oh Mary, do not be hasty in judging. It was Elizabeth, the mother, who wanted to come to our meeting. The girl was nervous… in case she was seen,” Rhea finished thoughtfully.
Elizabeth, having walked in on the conversation, said, “I thought you were a little unfriendly when I arrived.
Mary looked startled.
“I did not mean to eavesdrop,” Elizabeth explained. “I came to ask if it is true that Rachel is allowed to sit outside in the garden. She said she did yesterday, and would like me to take her for a little while, but I thought I should check.”
“She wants to go outside again? There will not be much sunshine left in the garden,” Rhea asked awkwardly.
“Yes, that is what she asked. She said she feels confined.” Then turning to Mary, Elizabeth said, “I love my daughter very much. As I told her, I wish I had been the one whom my husband beat, but I was not in the house at the time. I was fetching some medicine for my father-in-law.”
“I apologize,” Mary said. “Girls who come to this place are often abused by both parents for choosing to follow our beliefs.”
“As Rhea said, I was the one who wanted to go to the meeting here with the old man from Ephesus. His prayer healed my younger daughter, I wanted to know more… and my nephew was sick with the fever. Rachel was frightened. She knows how her father feels about those he calls ‘heretics.’”
“Did he find out?”
“No. He beat her because he had forbidden her to work in the shop, and her grandfather needed her to go in there for a short time…”
“Hannah, who is another of our guests, has been talking with your daughter. She said that Rachel is afraid to go back home,” Mary said.
“She told me that, and I do not know how to reassure her. My father-in-law has cast him off. The synagogue backed the decision, but, as Rachel fears, that might not necessarily be something her father will abide by.”
Rhea, who had been listening to the exchange, said, “There is no need to decide about that now. It will be another two or three weeks before she is able to take up her duties in the home. We will see how she feels then. For the moment, yes, I think it would be a good idea for Rachel to sit in the garden with you. Take her blanket with you. Although the day is fine, there is a chill in the air.”
“As I said, I am sorry for judging you, Elizabeth. It is not my place,” Mary said.
Elizabeth looked at the woman, she was about the same age as she was, and her expression was sad. “I suppose I would have thought the same, but I hope you will see otherwise now.”
The main door opened and Hannah came in, “Thank you, Rhea, Judith seems friendly, I think we will manage fine together. I think it will be easy for me to fit into the home.”
“Come and tell me what you have arranged,” Rhea said, then turned to Mary, “Mary, will you please help Elizabeth take Rachel outside for a short time.”
Elizabeth and Mary looked at each other, then Elizabeth smiled tentatively and the pair went off to Rachel’s room.
“Did I hear Hannah’s voice?” Rachel asked Mary, as she settled Rachel on the garden bench.
“Yes, she has arrived back.”
“Does she like the woman? Will she work for her?”
“I think so. Now do not waste time on matters we can talk of afterwards; for now enjoy this time with your mother.”
Elizabeth smiled her thanks as Mary left.
“There is room here if you want to stay. Bracha and her brother left yesterday. Do you remember them?”
“Yes, they were with Rhea at Sara’s home when we went for the medicine.”
“One of the brethren from an outlying farm employed them both. They were so pleased not to be separated. So you could stay here tonight.”
“I will be staying, my dear. Rhea sent word when she knew I was coming. She said I could spend the day with you, sleep here at night, then go to the farm tomorrow. I had intended to spend the night with Sara, but I could not have told her about you. By now she probably knows that Rhea has become a member of this fellowship, so I will go to her home tomorrow, and not say I have been here. Malachi will come for me in the morning and take me there. Then one of Sara and Micah’s manservants will take me out to the farm. Sara might want to go herself, and visit Aminta.”
“What will you tell Esther?”
“When I arrive at the farm, I will tell Joanna what has happened… what your father did, and be guided by her advice. Your Saba wanted me to tell her that your father is dead. Because he has been cast-off, he is seen as dead to the synagogue. But perhaps she should know the truth. I do not think your father would contact either of my sisters, but just in case.”
“What are you going to tell them about me? You cannot tell them about how badly I was hurt without them wondering who is caring for me. Please do not tell them where I am.”
Elizabeth sighed. It was something she had talked about with ‘Old Simon.’ He was adamant that he did not want it known that Rachel had been cared for by heretics, and Sara would know that Rhea was. “I do not know, Rachel, I honestly do not know.”
“You should ask Rhea.”
“Ask Rhea what,” Rhea laughed as she came into the garden. “I have come to tell you it is time for you to come inside. The sun is behind the trees, and the garden is in shade.”
“Aima and I were wondering how she could tell the family about me, without saying where I am.”
“Why would you need to hide that?”
Elizabeth replied, “You know all my family are Jewish, and you have become one of those…”
“Heretics,” Rhea supplied the word with a chuckle.
“Well, yes,” Elizabeth said, embarrassed.
“You have no need to worry. Your sister Sara does not know. Remember what I told you about the danger we are in? All that she knows is that I have bought a house with a friend and we have many visitors come to stay.” Seeing Elizabeth’s puzzled look, she added, “I was your sister’s servant, not her friend. We do not mix with the same people. Because I never took the Jewish faith, we knew no one in common. So, you can tell her where Rachel is being cared for. She will understand. My gift for healing is well-known.”
“Thank you. It has been difficult having no one to talk to about this. The worries went around and around in my head.”
“We will talk this evening if you like,” Rhea said. “Now Rachel, time for you to come indoors. You and your mother can continue visiting back in your chamber.”
It took Rachel longer to return to her room than it had to go to the garden. “Rest on your couch, young woman. It will take you longer to recover if you try to do too much,” Rhea reminded Rachel.
When she was settled on the couch, Elizabeth sat in the chair beside her.
“I will bring you an herbal mix,” Rhea said as she left.
“Thank you,” Rachel replied, then turning to her mother asked, “Why are you visiting Esther anyway? Has Aunt Joanna sent word that they want her to come home?”
“No, my child. I thought it gave me a good reason to come and visit you. Then, your grandfather said the rabbi’s assistant…”
“Yes Rachel, Jonadab. Seemingly, he told your grandfather the rabbi said it was time she came home.”
“Why do they interfere so much in our lives?”
“It would have been a shock to the members of the community, what your father did, and then there was secrecy about where you were. Perhaps that is why it was decided that it was time for your sister to return. I do not know.”
Rachel was quiet, considering. She realized she should not have the annoyance towards Jonadab that she did… The members of this group were quite the opposite… helpful, caring.
She realized her mother was speaking again, “Do you want your sister to know where you are? Would you like her to come and visit you on the way home?”
“I would like to see her, but not if she will be upset at where I am.”
After thinking for a few moments, Elizabeth said, “What if Esther talks about where you are when she returns home?”
“Saba does not know?”
“I told him you were being cared for by my sister’s former servant, and that she is a healer. But he says you are with your aunt and uncle. The rabbi scared him, I think. Malachi knows, of course, but not Doran or his family.”
Rachel wondered what would happen when he found out she had been learning about their faith. Not wanting to think about it, she said, “So tell me the other things that have been happening. Have you heard any news from Timon?”
“Malachi went to see him, take the news to him. Your Saba did not want to send only a letter, he wanted him to be told by someone he knew, and Malachi had first been employed by him. Your brother was shocked that his father would do such a thing… and worried about you, but he is busy trying to fit into his position and learn what to do.”
“He was good at organizing the unloading of our supplies. I am sure he will learn. And Damaris? How is she?”
“She did not go with Timon, she waited until he had found a suitable home. Her parents have sent one of their old servants with her, to help Damaris and choose suitable staff for their home.” Not wanting to take the conversation further, discuss things an unmarried girl should not inquire about, Elizabeth changed the subject, “So tell me how you have been. I can see that you are looking much better. It looks as if your face is healing well, and you are talking normally again. Are you truly recovering?”
“I am, Aima. I hope that soon I will be able to walk normally again, but I am contented here. Rhea and Mary are very kind, and I have been talking to Hannah. She has a daughter who is a little older than I, called Deborah.”
“Does she visit her mother?”
“She is married and lives in Corinth.”
“That is a long way from here…”
“It is a sad story, Aima. The girl married a leader of a false group, and for a time her mother was fooled by it also. Now she has been cast off and has nowhere to go.”
“Before, was she Jewish, or one of those fellowship people?”
“She was one of the brethren.”
“You are talking like those fellowship people. Have you decided to be one of them?”
“I do not know, Aima. Saba John spoke to me when I was in his house…” She lowered her eyes, wondering if her mother would cope with knowing she was learning their faith. Deciding not to at the moment, she said, “You, yourself, wondered why his prayers were answered. You have seen how kind they all are.”
“I know,” Elizabeth sighed. “But do you know what it would mean? You would not be able to come home. Your Saba has warned me...”
“When Esther was healed of her sickness, and I took you both to see him, you were not... comfortable going there. Esther was more scared, but remember, I wanted to know what the difference was between…”
“His prayer and the rabbi’s prayers,” Rachel finished. “I remember you saying that each time either my sister or I protested.”
“Yes, I talked with your Saba because I was puzzled, and he had seen Esther healed. He told me that if I... if I started to believe what they believe, your father would have to put me out. He said that I would not be able to see you, Esther, or Timon, again and that it might affect his business. Well, your father is not around anymore, but I would lose you. Do you see what I am saying? If you convert to this belief, you will not be allowed to contact me, your Saba, Esther, Timon, Damaris... or their baby when it is born.” She chose not to add the matter of the warning her father-in-law had given her recently.
“So you have been curious, too?”
“Yes, but consider the cost. You would lose your family,” Elizabeth warned.
Rachel lowered her eyes. John had said the same thing about considering the cost, and she had been. Thinking back over the years, the behavior of the followers of the ‘Way’ were much more loving than those of her fellow Jews. Other than her father and Jonadab, there was Silas, Joseph… The picture those two conjured up was not pleasant. Not like these people she thought as her mind presented her with an image of Benjamin.
Early the next morning, Elizabeth said farewell to her daughter, “I hope to come back and see you. If not on the way home with Esther, then somehow I will find a way to visit you again, soon.”
“Do not worry about me. I am content here, and well looked after.”
“I feel better having seen you again.” Elizabeth kissed her daughter and went out to where Malachi was waiting with the cart.
“You will have to tell me where to go,” Malachi said.
“I will direct you. Have you been accommodated?”
“Yes, with a kind couple, and I am able to help them while I am there. They are elderly and need some assistance.”
“How will I contact you to pick me up?”
“I could wait and take you out to the farm. No one knows me here. Well, no one other than the elder and the people I am staying with.”
“My father-in-law was probably being overly cautious. If you do not mind taking me there, that will make things much simpler. I will stay a couple of days with my sister Joanna. That will give Esther a chance to say good-bye and then, if it seems safe to tell Esther, on the way home we will stay here a couple of days. You will not have to come back out to the farm for me. My sister Joanna will arrange for someone to bring Esther and me here. When I come back, I will be able to contact you. After I see my sister Sara today, I should be able to tell you more... Oh, turn here and up this alleyway. I can walk from here and you can stay here with the donkey and cart. I will come back and tell you when I will be leaving. I will probably stay the night here.”
As it was closer, Elizabeth made her way to the back gate of her sister’s home. Memories flooded back of the last time she was here and had slipped out of this gate to go to the meeting of the fellowship group. This time there was no one around, but the gate was unlocked, so she opened it and went through.
The last time she had been here, a well was being dug. She saw it had been finished. One of the helpers had been Timothy, Bracha’s brother. She was pleased that they had found work, and together.
Her brow creased in puzzlement, Elizabeth made her way through the open back door. This was not right. Something was wrong. It was like a house of mourning, where everything was left open for the mourners to come in and spend time with the bereaved.
“Sara! Sara, are you here?”
There was no reply, so Elizabeth made her way to the kitchen. Servant girls whom she did not know looked at her curiously. “I am looking for Sara,” she said.
“She is in the main room,” one of the maids replied.
Elizabeth made her way to the main room of the house, a room only used on Sabbaths and Holy Days, “Sara, are you in here?”
Sara, grief showing on her tired features, turned to see who was coming in. Seeing her sister, her face paled and she collapsed onto the couch that was behind her. “It cannot be you. You are dead.”
“Sara, are you alright? What is wrong?”
When she saw her sister staring at her as though she was an apparition of some sort, Elizabeth hurried over to her and said reassuringly, “Sara, it is me, your sister Elizabeth. What is wrong in this house?”
Having been alerted to the presence of a visitor the servant had not recognized, Micah came into the room. He saw Elizabeth and stepped back in shock, before hurrying to sit at his wife’s side.
“Micah, what is the matter here? I have come to see Sara and I am going out to the farm…”
With his arm around his wife, Micah replied, “We were told you were dead.”
“What! Who told you that?”
“Your husband, Meshua. He came with the bad news a week ago.”
Elizabeth looked around for somewhere to sit and dropped ponderously onto the seat. “I am not dead.”
“I can see that, but we have been in mourning for both you and Rachel,” Micah replied.
“Sara, I am sorry I have frightened you, but I must know what has happened.” Turning to Micah, she asked, “Did Meshua come here?”
Making sure that Sara had recovered enough to sit upright, Micah went to the door and called, “Bring wine and bread, and make one wine a strong one.”
Soon after a serving girl hurried in with a mug of wine.
“For your mistress,” Micah instructed, then waited as she went back to fetch a tray with the other wine, bread, and drinking cups. When she had gone, Micah addressed Elizabeth, “Tell us what happened.”
“You tell me. When did Meshua come? What did he tell you?”
“We have been in mourning for you and Rachel,” Sara said dully, still shocked that her sister was there in front of her.
“Your husband was upset. He came to tell us that you and Rachel had been attacked by some crazed pagan mob. He said his father had survived the attack, but neither you nor Rachel had. He had been busy with your funerals, arranging to close his stall, taking over his father’s shop… and mourning you both.”
“It does not make sense,” Elizabeth said. “How would a crazed mob… oh never mind. So he stopped here on his way to Pergamum.”
“Pergamum?” It was Micah’s turn to be puzzled. “He was on his way to the farm to collect Esther and take her back home. He apologized for not coming immediately but he had all the arrangements to make and had to hire someone to care for his father. He said Esther was needed at home.”
Elizabeth held out her drinking cup, asking for a refill and said, “Let me tell you what actually happened.”