Oblivious to the happenings in the courtyard, Joanna and Sara bathed the baby in the cool water, trying desperately to bring the fever down. Aminta sat and wept out of sight behind the booth. Chanan was off praying, and their daughter Leah, who had stayed overnight in the larger booth of her grandparents, Joanna and Levi, slept peacefully through all the panic.
Elizabeth approached Chanan and Aminta’s booth and looked in to ask the grandmothers if she could bring them some food. She heard her sister Sara say to Joanna, “If only Rhea were still here. She made a healing mixture for Aminta when she had the fever as a young child.”
“The rabbi will pray for him,” Joanna replied, putting more trust in her rabbi than in Sara’s Greek servant, however skilled her sister said she was.
Elizabeth could see Sara was saddened by Joanna’s response, and with a quick look at the baby boy she could understand why. Stifling a gasp, she saw it was the same fever that had taken her first child. Trying to hide her alarm, she wished she could say something in support of Sara. She could have confirmed that Rhea had a particular skill with herbs and potions, but realized her words would not help, instead perhaps cause harm. Coughing quietly to announce her presence, she asked, “Shall I bring you something to eat and drink?”
The natural reaction of both women was to refuse, then each realized that they would be no use to either the child or his parents if they made themselves ill. Neither had broken their fast yet. “Alright, Elizabeth, but not much,” Joanna muttered.
“What about Aminta?” Elizabeth asked.
Joanna tutted, and went back to bathing the child.
With a sob in her voice, Sara said, “You can try, she is sitting behind the booth, crying.”
Elizabeth hurried back down to the kitchen, and with the help of two servant girls, took food and drink back up her sisters. She sent the servants back and took Sara’s place until her sister had eaten, then did the same for Joanna. The fear the women felt was evident, and none of them talked beyond the basic needs.
Rabbi Obed and his group of scholars arrived, creating a stir. The rabbi was tall, lean, and wore his robes with authority. Kyla hurried over to him and asked if he wanted anything to drink or eat.
“I understood this was urgent,” Rabbi Obed replied abruptly. “I was called from my early morning prayers.” Turning to his scholars he directed, “You can eat while you wait.”
Micah smiled sympathetically at his niece, then led the rabbi up to the roof. The group of scholars followed the servants to the separate eating area set up for the rabbi and his group. They gratefully partook of the refreshments offered, but, like their teacher, they were terse in their thanks when Rachel and Esther came to remove their bowls.
“Do not take it personally,” Rachel whispered to Esther as they made their way back to the kitchen. “They are scholars, and we are merely women who serve them.”
“One of them, the one with the gray in his beard, he watched you closely, sister.” Esther smiled.
“Well, I didn’t watch any of them.”
Esther chuckled as they entered the kitchen. She knew her older sister’s unmarried state had been discussed many times by her parents.
As the time drew near for the teaching to begin, the men waiting in the courtyard looked at one another, wondering if the rabbi would teach or not. The answer was plain when the scholars made their way to stand and wait outside the usual room where the teaching had been held each day of the Feast.
Nothing was said about the baby, so the menfolk went into the room and found spaces on the floor to sit. Old men had brought cushions, but the young ones smiled, grateful for their youth, and sat down in the available spaces. The scholars waited respectfully, outside. Rabbi Obed was still with the family on the roof.
Nathaniel, and his elderly parents, from the neighboring farm arrived. Walking through the passageway from the gate, the two men talked about the scriptures Rabbi Obed had been discussing during the Feast.
“Some of the scholars are bringing forth good points,” Nathaniel said to his father.
“I wonder what is wrong?” his mother asked.
Nathaniel and his father looked at her curiously, wondering what she was thinking of. Shaking their heads at the workings of the female mind, they made their way to the room they had been meeting in each day.
Guessing their thoughts, Marah, Nathaniel’s mother, did not enlighten them but she could sense something was wrong. As her husband and son went to the room where the men gathered, she went to the kitchen where she had been helping Joanna this busy week.
Taking in the fact Joanna was missing, and her son’s betrothed wife, Kyla, was organizing the people in the kitchen, Marah knew her senses had been correct. “Kyla, my dear, what is wrong?”
“Aima Marah, baby Jacob is ill,” Kyla said tremulously, a little unnerved by the concern in Marah’s voice.
Putting her hand on her heart and muttering a quiet prayer, Marah asked, “What can I do to help?”
“If you would make those delicious patties you have been making these past few days... that would help. I don’t know when Aima will come back down...”
“You poor child. This is a time of rejoicing for you and Nathaniel. The announcement of your betrothal should have doubled the celebration of this week. May JHWH bless your nephew with life, and you and my son with many blessings.”
Kyla turned her head to respond to a question from one of the women helping in the kitchen, and Marah saw she had regained her self-control. Taking a few moments, Marah watched this young woman who would soon be living in her home. For the first time, she saw her attractiveness and quiet assurance in these difficult circumstances. Now, she could understand why her son had been so excited when Levi had responded favorably to his request to marry Kyla.
Turning back, Kyla said, “Aima Marah, I know you have lost a son. You will understand better than most how the family is feeling right now.”
“Kyla, the boy isn’t dead yet,” Marah corrected, then frowning, wondered, “Or is he?”
“No, I am sorry. I am allowing my thoughts to run on.”
Carefully considering her response, Marah said, “I hope you and Nathaniel never lose a child, but if you do, you will discover the pain does not go away, it only changes... over years, to acceptance. Do not be in a hurry to wish that on your brother.”
Kyla looked at her mother-in-law, searching for a sign of censure. Seeing none, she bowed her head, knowing that what she had spoken of so lightly was a grief beyond her understanding. She hoped Chanan would not have to experience the pain she had seen flicker in her mother-in-law’s eyes.
Seeing Kyla’s reaction, Marah counseled, “Child, be prepared to cope with the bad we are given, but do not allow worries about them to rob you of your hope. Your nephew may live and prosper. I hope so. Your family has had its share of grief and loss,” she said reminding her of her older brothers’ deaths.
“I don’t remember Reuben, and I was young when Joash died. His death shocked us all, but I suppose Aima and Abba tried to protect me from much of the pain of their feelings... and I was too focused on myself to notice.” For the first time, she realized how frightening this illness of her nephew must be to her parents. Turning to Marah and put her hand on the old woman’s arm, “Thank you for pointing that out. I have been so busy with organizing what needs to be done, I have not considered their feelings.”
Marah smiled and patted the girl’s hand. She was pleased. Knowing the girl’s reputation of haughtiness, she had experienced some concerns about her son’s choice of bride, so she was relieved to see the young woman took correction graciously. “Now, I should start preparing those patties you want me to make.”
Kyla called a servant to bring the ingredients Marah needed. After making sure that everything was under control in the kitchen, she returned to Marah’s side and asked, “Will you teach me how you make them?”
Marah smiled and explained what she was using and why. After watching carefully, Kyla joined in and made some too. Soon there was a large pile waiting. One of the servants came, gathered them carefully and took them to the oven.
As they worked, Marah talked. “Nathaniel has already started building a home for you at our farm. You have heard, I am sure, of how his brother was killed in a fight in Ephesus and his older brother went to Rome, refusing to have anything to do with the farm. It hurt us deeply when he signed a paper witnessed by a notary, giving up his rights ...” she sighed. “This is why Nathaniel, our youngest son, became heir to our property.”
Although her father had already told her some of this, Kyla listened respectfully to the mother of the man to whom she was betrothed. Marah was old, but she was kind, and Kyla was grateful to have this good-natured old woman for a mother-in-law. Her correction earlier had been done kindly and quietly.
“Nathaniel has long wanted to offer for you,” Marah said pensively, “but he thought that as a younger son, he had nothing to offer.”
Kyla listened thoughtfully. It was not often that a bride heard these details about her husband. She knew she was considered rather forthright, and this had discouraged her younger suitors. When she thought about some of her brother Chanan’s contemporaries…Silas, Asaph, Thomas-- she was glad none of them had offered for her. Nathaniel was older, but gentle, and seemed considerate. She had gladly agreed to the betrothal when her father had told her of Nathaniel’s offer. And their home would be near the family farm.
As she worked alongside her mother-in-law, Kyla pondered on how many young men died before old age. Whatever had happened to her brother Reuben was a mystery. It had not been talked about in their home, at least, not in front of her. She wondered if he had known this son of Marah, who had cared so little for his heritage. It was not something she felt comfortable enough to ask.
“Rabbi Obed is coming down,” one of the servants whispered and Kyla and Marah exchanged hopeful glances. The scholars hurried to stand behind him. People watched, hoping for an announcement saying that the baby was better, but the rabbi, followed by his scholars, made his way to the room set aside for teaching. Seating himself, the rabbi continued his discourse from the previous day without a word about the child.
Shortly after, Elizabeth came down the stairs, carefully balancing Leah on her hip, and trying to soothe her. The toddler had protested indignantly at this stranger taking her away. She was cross anyway, having woken from her sleep to find that no one had time for the normal cuddle and play as they dressed her. Setting the child on her feet, Elizabeth took her hand and led the little girl to the main house where she gave Leah into the care of her nurse. The puzzled twenty-month-old was taken inside the main house, keeping her away from the gathering. Elizabeth also kept her distance until she had carefully washed at a basin in the kitchen.
Kyla hurried to meet her, “What is happening? How is Jacob?”
“His two grandmothers are continuing to try to cool him. Aminta has at last overcome her fear and is working with them to try to save her child.”
Marah stepped forward. “Have you broken your fast yet?”
“No. I went up with Sara...”
“Everything here is under control, why not eat now?”
Looking around the busy kitchen, she saw it was true. Kyla and Nathaniel’s mother had the meal preparation under control; the servants, helpers and her own daughters all seemed purposefully occupied.
“Thank you, I will, it has been a shock,” Elizabeth said and helped herself to a drink of the mixed wine and water, belatedly breaking her fast. She could not push aside her fear for the boy. Her first son had died of the fever two years before Timon was born.
“Is Jacob better?” Rachel asked, hurrying over to her mother when she finished the work she was doing.
Elizabeth shook her head sadly.
Sensing her mother’s mood, Rachel insisted, “Sit here and rest, Aima, there is nothing you need to do.” Kyla overheard, looked up, and nodded her head agreeing.
Some of the other woman and girls were whispering.
“My nephew is no better, but he is no worse,” Kyla told them, trying to keep the women calm, and keep working.
“How did the baby catch the fever?” One young mother asked worriedly. “Is the well water safe?”
“The well water is safe,” Kyla responded.
“It is fed from ‘living’ water, from an underground stream,” Marah interjected, seeing the women start to mutter to each other.
“Then how could the baby catch the fever? Is his father still herding goats?”
“Is anyone else sick?”
“What did the rabbi say?”
The questions flew thick and fast, not all directed at Kyla, some to one another.
Marah looked at her daughter-in-law, wondering how she would handle this situation, ready to step in if necessary.
Kyla drew in a deep breath before replying. She knew how careful she had to be. A wrong response or attitude here, and these women would leave. “We have no idea how Jacob contracted this fever. All the family are well; Chanan sold the goats some time back, so there is no answer there.”
“What milk is the baby drinking?”
“He has a wet-nurse. She is clean and has been with the family long enough for us to know she is scrupulous in her methods.” Glancing at Marah, who smiled encouragingly, Kyla added. “I know most of you must be anxious, and please understand that what my father said earlier is true. If any of you are worried about the safety of your own children, then no one will think the less of you if you choose to leave.”
“It might be too late,” a voice said belligerently.
One of the others silenced her. “You are only saying that because your child has not been well since your family arrived before the Feast started.”
“Well, I am going, and taking my child with me.”
“If that is the case...“ Marah paused, searching unsuccessfully for a name.
“Rebecca,” prompted Mary, who had been working with the woman.
“If that is the case, Rebecca,” Marah smiled at her, “you should go and pack your belongings now. Someone will let your husband know when the teaching is finished, and you can all leave.”
“How many children do you have, Rebecca?” Kyla asked.
“One, a boy.”
“How long has your son been sick?”
“Since we arrived.”
“Then it is not the fever,” Elizabeth spoke up. “The fever comes on very quickly and after six days...” She did not finish her thought, but remembering what happened with her baby son, she knew that if Rebecca’s son had the fever, by now the child would either have recovered or died.
“Then we will stay,” Rebecca said begrudgingly.
“It might be a good idea to stay with your child, though,” Kyla suggested.
“Is there someone with him now?” Marah asked.
“His older cousin. She is seven years old and has often looked after him.”
“All the same, I think it would be better if you went and cared for him yourself. Take some food and water for your family.”
Realizing she had overstepped her position, Rebecca said, “Thank you. It is better if I do.” Then as she left, she turned her head back to face them, “He doesn’t have the fever,” and hurried away.
When the buzz in the kitchen settled, Kyla repeated, “Remember, if you are worried, it will be alright if your family leaves. Otherwise, we need to continue with the meal preparations.”
“We will stay,” was the response.
“Then let’s hurry and have this food ready. We should start to prepare for the meal tonight as well as the noon repast.”
“Good idea, it will make the work for the women who come this afternoon much easier,” Kyla said and all the women set to, working to make up for lost time.
“What would you like me to do?” Elizabeth asked.
“If you will be going back up to the family, it might be better if you did not work in here,” Kyla replied apologetically.
“I will go back then and see if anything else is needed.”
Rachel frowned. Did this mean her mother would not be able to join in any of the festivities? She thought it wiser not to ask; instead she took her mother’s hand.
“Where is your sister?” Elizabeth asked.
“She’s over there,” Rachel replied, pointing to her sister who was laughing as she came in from the kitchen storeroom with Alisa and her mother, Dana. “She does not understand how serious this could be. And this is the first festival where she has been able to join in with the other young girls.”
“Rachel, you do not need to tell me. I am so pleased that she is having a good time. As for young Jacob, we must hope the rabbi’s prayers have been heard.”
Catching sight of her mother, Esther ran over to her, “Aima, Alisa’s mother has asked me if I want to join their family this afternoon.”
“And you do, of course,” Elizabeth chuckled, then made her way over to Dana who was about to chop the vegetables she had brought in from the storeroom.
“Esther said you asked her to join your family this afternoon.”
“We would appreciate if she could join us,” Dana assured Elizabeth, “Alisa has been quite lonely. There are so few girls of their age here. But because you are one of the host’s family, with your booth inside the perimeter, I didn’t like to ask.”
Esther stood eagerly beside her, hoping for her mother’s consent.
“Dana, Esther only has her sister and me here. If you feel you can cope with your daughter and mine, as well as their high spirits, then of course, Esther may stay with you. She no longer has the illness that used to plague her...”
“How was she cured? Maybe whatever it was would help the little boy.”
“We don’t know how she was cured, we are just grateful she is,” Elizabeth said, turning to Rachel. With an unspoken message, she let her know she wasn’t to speak of her sister’s healing.
Rachel recognized her mother’s need for caution. But, like her mother, she also wondered why the prayer of the man, considered a heretic, was answered when he had prayed for her sister. There were so many things about him, and his beliefs, that unsettled her, but she pushed them away as she always did.
“Thank you, Aima,” Esther said and hurried back to work with Dana and Alisa.
Turning to her other daughter Elizabeth asked, “What about you, Rachel, what do you want to do this afternoon? Do you wish to spend time with Dodi and the other girls? ”
“No, Aima, I will help here as long as I am needed... unless you want me to do something?”
Looking around with a practiced eye, Elizabeth saw the meal was almost ready to be served. Approaching Kyla, she said, “Would you mind if Rachel and I take some food and wine up to your family?”
“Thank you,” Kyla responded, “As I said before, it would be better if you did not help in the kitchen. You saw how anxious some of the mothers are.”
“Do you mind if I take Rachel, then?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, that will be fine. We have enough helpers now, and please, tell my mother all is well in the kitchen...” Kyla broke off, not knowing how to express what she was feeling.
“I will tell her you are doing exceedingly well, and have many excellent helpers,” Elizabeth assured. Signaling the boy who did the fetching and carrying in the kitchen to come and help them, she and Rachel filled baskets with some of the food. Adding a skin of watered wine, they took the supplies up the steps to the roof.
“Leave the baskets here by the stairs, and go back down. You might be needed to help in the kitchen,” Elizabeth told the boy, who scurried off gratefully. He did not want to be exposed to any infection.
They approached the family booths cautiously, hoping the baby was better.
Disappointingly, Jacob was no better, but at least he was no worse. His weak cries were heartrending though, and Elizabeth’s heart sank. Even Rachel was downcast.
Closing her eyes and finding strength within her to be cheerful, Elizabeth called to the women, “We have brought you something to eat and drink.”
Three dejected faces looked out at them.
Frowning, Elizabeth said, “I know this is a large booth, made for a family, but with all of you in there the air will be stale. Come out and eat.”
“We have to keep bathing Jacob,” Joanna replied.
Elizabeth squeezed in and felt the water in the basin. “This is too warm. Let me send Rachel to ask the older lad to bring up fresh water.”
“We cannot make it too cold, it will shock him,” Sara answered.
“I will send for some anyway. Mix it with this water.”
Rachel had already left and soon returned with an older, stronger servant lad, and a large basin of clean water.
“Shall I leave it here, mistress?” he asked, placing it at some distance away from the booth.
“Yes, that’s fine. Best not to come too close, we can manage from here.”
“I am not afraid of the fever. I had that as a child, but I will go back because I am needed in the kitchen, for the heavy work.”
“Now, mix some of this fresh, cold water with the water you have already been using.” Elizabeth knew how distressed her sisters were by the fact they were allowing her, the younger sister, to tell them what to do.
“Kyla sent some fresh cloths, too,” Rachel told them.
Responding to the comment, the grandmothers dragged the large basin of cold water nearer to the booth.
“Oh good, he put a dipper in!” Elizabeth declared, then seeing Rachel approach, she added, “You stay back, Rachel.”
“While we organize this, you stop and have something to eat, Aminta.” Joanna told her daughter-in-law. “Go and sit with your cousin. Elizabeth can wet those fresh cloths for us.”
Too weary and discouraged to argue, Aminta went and joined Rachel outside the booth.
Rachel was shocked at her cousin’s appearance but covered it. “Let’s go over there and lean against the buttress,” she suggested, hoping her cousin would rest if she could not hear the baby whimpering.
Busying herself seeing to Aminta’s meal, Rachel struggled mentally, wondering how to help, not knowing what to say. The bright and cheerful older cousin she had so much admired was now a sad and forlorn young mother.
“It’s hopeless, Rachel,” Aminta said, pacing anxiously between Rachel and the booth, trying to peer in.
“Go on, go and eat,” Sara said to her daughter. “There is nothing you can do at the moment.”
“You need to stay well for little Leah,” Joanna said.
“And to look after Jacob when he recovers,” Elizabeth added, trying to cheer the child because, after all, Aminta might be a mother, but she was still a ‘child’. She must only be sixteen years old, a year older than Rachel.
Heavyhearted, Aminta did as she was told and walked over to where Rachel had set out some food for her. “It’s hopeless, you know,” she muttered again as she approached her cousin and sat down beside her.
Frowning Rachel asked herself what she could say. ‘Try not to be scared’ seemed such a foolish thing to say when Jacob was so ill that they all clearly feared for his life.
“I don’t know what to say to offer you comfort Aminta,” she finally said.
Aminta sighed. If only she could tell her cousin what she was feeling. It was more than the fear about her son. It seemed so unfair. She wished she could scream her protest. After all she had gone through to produce this son, now this threat. She would be expected to go through it all again. But she couldn’t say that to a young unmarried girl, even though she was her cousin. “I am so afraid,” she eventually confided.
“At least, he is no worse,” Rachel said lamely, handing Aminta some fruit.
“All the same, I wish Aima had been allowed to send for Rhea, or have her make the mixture she used on people with the fever, including me.”
“Does your mother-in-law not like Rhea?”
“Our aunt is a kind person...” Aminta prevaricated, avoiding looking at Rachel.
“She made Rhea welcome when she came with me... but I think the problem was that Rhea is not Jewish and she did not convert.”
“I did not know that.”
“Rhea does all that is required of her. Everything she does is correct according to the Torah, but she never felt she could take our faith.”
“Your mother didn’t mind.”
“My mother valued her, and she was my maid most of my life. She was chosen by my... my... own mother. I...” Aminta choked on the rest of her words.
Reaching out to take Aminta’s hand, Rachel said, “I care, Aminta. I understand.”
‘You could not understand’, Aminta thought, but merely said, “I wish she knew and could make some of her mixture for Jacob.”
“Perhaps you should say something.”
“Not if it upsets Chanan’s mother. She is my aunt, my mother-in-law, a kind person, but...” The young women exchanged sympathetic glances.
As they added some of the fresh water to the basin, Sara had been working around to the same point. While her daughter sat with Rachel, she tentatively raised the subject again. “Joanna, I know you did not want my servant to make her mixture, but don’t you think that perhaps it might be worth trying? There would be nothing unclean in it. She has always kept all the required laws.”
Keeping her eyes on baby Jacob and continuing to bathe him with a damp cloth, Joanna replied, “But she is not Jewish. I never understood why you kept her on when you married Micah and took over the household.”
“Aminta was little more than a baby when her mother died. Surely you can understand how cruel it would have been to take away the only other woman who cared for her.”
“She was just a servant, a Greek servant.”
“Who had been with Aminta’s mother when she married, and who took over the care of her child when her mother was killed.”
“That was sad, I will agree. But when you married Micah, she could have gone back home to her family.”
“Joanna, you know I do not agree with that. And I have never regretted keeping her on. Nor sending her here with Aminta when she married, which I believe you did not like.”
“This is a working farm. There is no need for servants to look after just one person. I allowed her to stay long enough.”
Elizabeth said firmly, “Joanna, Sara, you are both my sisters, and now we have this crisis. Is it not time to forget an old prejudice?”
Jacob whimpered again, weakly, and Elizabeth edged Joanna out of the way and took over bathing the baby with the cool water. “Could he be hungry?” she asked.
“He is not interested,” both grandmothers replied.
“Just dampen his lips with some water,” Sara responded.
Fearful and losing hope, Joanna had to put her prejudice aside and asked, “Tell me about the mixture Rhea made for Aminta.”
“I don’t know what she puts in it; herbs that she grows, I think. All I know is that it cured Aminta, and several others who have suffered the fever. And it is not unclean.”
With a great sigh of capitulation, Joanna said, “Then yes, let it be tried.”
“If I went now, it would be tomorrow before I could bring it back. Rhea will have to gather the ingredients, brew it, let it cool and then strain it.”
The two grandmothers looked at each other, wondering if the child would last till the next day.
Sara was torn. She wanted to go, but was afraid to leave in case the child died and her daughter needed her.
Elizabeth, sensing her sister’s reluctance to leave and the urgency of the need, said, “I will go. Rhea knows me, and even if I am not spending the night in a booth, I will be staying only temporarily in your home... if that is permissible to you, Sara.”
“I think that even the rabbi wouldn’t object, not in an emergency, so yes, if you are willing, please go, and I will stay here and help.”
“It is dangerous for a woman to travel alone, and Meshua isn’t here to escort you,” Joanna interjected.
“The donkey and cart the girls and I arrived on was hired.” Elizabeth suddenly realized. “The man will not be back for us until the day after the holy convocation.”
Joanna sighed, thinking, ‘just as I agreed, now this.’ “None of my house servants know where Sara lives, and the only male servant who does know is that young kitchen boy. I don’t think he could be trusted with the task. Besides,” she said turning to Sara, “I don’t think your Rhea would believe a stranger, a boy...”
“If you will let me use your donkey and cart, I will still be able to go. And if we can settle this, I will arrive more quickly. I should be there by the seventh hour, after the noon break.” Elizabeth cut in.
“You surely do not plan to drive yourself, sister!” exclaimed Joanna.
“You would be at significant risk. A woman alone in a donkey cart...” Sara agreed, reluctantly.
Unusually assertive, Elizabeth said, “I will take Rachel with me, then I shall not be a woman traveling alone. If I go now, Rhea should be able to make the medicine in time for me to bring back early tomorrow.”
“You would then be two women alone. Tell Kyla what you are to do and ask her to send one of the young outside servants to drive you and bring you back in the morning.” Joanna said brusquely, her awareness of the need for haste penetrating her bias against the Greek servant.
Sighing with relief, Elizabeth stood up and looked over to where Rachel and Aminta were sitting. She had to tell Rachel what had been decided.
“You had better hurry then,” Joanna urged.
“I am going,” Elizabeth retorted. Sometimes she would like to tell her older sister how patient everyone had to be with her.
“Do you think something has happened to Jacob?” Aminta asked her cousin anxiously. “They have been whispering and sounding quite agitated.”
Elizabeth approached the girls, “Have you managed to eat something, Aminta?”
“Why? What’s the matter?”
“Oh, sorry my child, nothing has changed with your son. No, I wanted to know because I need to take Rachel. Your mother-in-law has agreed to send to Rhea for some of the mixture.”
“Oh, thank you.” Aminta wept. “Perhaps there is a God after all!”
“Rachel, you and I are to go to Aunt Sara’s home, see Rhea, and we will bring the mixture back tomorrow, early. Go and collect what we need from our booths, I will see your cousin and explain.”
Rachel jumped to her feet and went to do her mother’s bidding.
While Kyla made the arrangements, Elizabeth hastily sipped some broth, then located Dana and told her what she was doing. Belatedly, she realized she had not considered her younger daughter in her plans.
“Do you want Esther?” Dana asked. “She and Alisa are helping serve the people.”
“Dana, she will be disappointed I know, but I am going to Sara’s home to obtain some healing mixture for baby Jacob...”
“Esther can stay with us until you return,” Dana offered immediately, grateful to be able to help, even if it was in a small way.
“If you are sure. This is the first year that Esther has been able to join in the festivities. I would appreciate it, and I am sure she will too,” Elizabeth said, looking at the sparkling eyes of her younger daughter, who had come to see what her mother was talking with Alisa’s mother about.
Seeing Rachel approaching, Dana asked, “Do you want me to take care of Rachel, too?”
Turning to Rachel, Elizabeth said, “I should have asked... do you want to come with me? You could also join in the rejoicing.”
“Aima, I told you before, I cannot rejoice knowing not only that Jacob is desperately ill, but how anxious his family are.”
The young man assigned to drive them appeared at the kitchen doorway. “Mistress Kyla said I am to take you...”
“This is Thaddeus,” Kyla said, stepping forward and cutting across his words.
“Thank you, Kyla. Rachel, if you are sure, let’s go.” And her thoughts ran on, ‘And may the baby live till we return’.
“Aunt Elizabeth, here.” Kyla passed her a small bag of supplies. “No one at Aunt Sara’s home will expect visitors, take these supplies.”
“Thank you, my dear, I had not thought.”
“I have some clean clothing for us,” Rachel said, pointing at the little bundle she was carrying.
“Thank you, child, I am all flustered.”
Rachel smiled, “I am not surprised, Aima, let’s go.”
Elizabeth suppressed an amused look, “Yes, Rachel.”
As unobtrusively as possible, they followed Thaddeus outside the gate to where he had tethered the donkey.
As the young man helped them mount into the back of the cart, he apologized, saying, “I am afraid it will be a bumpy ride. There are many ruts in the road between here and where we are going.”
“You have traveled this way recently?” Frowning, Elizabeth tried to recall what Joanna had said about the young man not knowing the way. Studying him as he climbed up in the front and set the donkey to walk, she realized, he was not a kitchen servant.
“My home is in the same village as Micah ben Joram and his wife.” And, keeping his eyes fixed on the road ahead; that was all the information he offered. The donkey plodded along the dusty road.
“What is your work at the farm?” Elizabeth questioned, finding it strange to be setting out to travel such a long way without some form of conversation with the driver.
“I am employed as a helper near the home of Levi ben Nathan. When I am older, I hope to work in the fields.”
“What does a ‘helper near the home’ do?”
“I move things into the barn or take supplies to the kitchen storeroom.”
Rachel nudged her mother, and when she had her attention, shook her head. It was clear the young man did not want to speak.
Elizabeth inclined her head in agreement. Rachel had more experience in dealing with strangers. As for herself, she realized she had been trying to converse with him as though he was one of ‘Old Simon’s’ occasional helpers.
They traveled on in silence for a while, then Thaddeus brought the donkey to a halt.
“Where are we?” Elizabeth asked, looking around. There was no sign of any dwellings.
“I stopped because from here there are many ruts in the road. You are both sitting on the same side, it would be better if you sat opposite each other. Then when we bounce over ruts, you can hold on to the side rails.”
Rachel frowned. “There are rails on each side, why does one of us have to move?”
Patiently Thaddeus explained, “It will make it easier for the donkey, and spread the load. If we hit a deep rut, and you are both on the same side, the cart might topple.”
Elizabeth moved to the other side, guessing that as he was young and light, he and Rachel would balance the cart if they were on the same side, and she on the other.
“Safely seated?” Thaddeus asked.
“Yes,” Elizabeth replied.
Thaddeus set the donkey off again, at a slower pace, to cope with the rutted ground.
It had been bumpy and uncomfortable in the back of the cart before, but now it was much worse.
Holding tight to the side rail, Elizabeth asked, “Why is this stretch of road worse than the previous part?”
“No farmer owns it, and the village considers it too far away to look after.”
“The road we traveled from Ephesus was in much better condition than this.”
“The road from Ephesus to the turn leading to Levi ben Nathan’s farm is part of the way the Roman soldiers use. It is looked after. From there to the farm the master makes sure it is well kept. That is the road used to transport his grain.”
Rachel wondered what this road was for, but did not ask.
Elizabeth also wondered as she bounced uncomfortably in the back of the cart. This road must have been maintained once. It would have been the route the wedding party traveled when Chanan and Aminta were married, and no one would have wanted anyone in the wedding party to be at risk. Someone could have broken a bone in one of these ruts, walking this way at night. “It was not always like this, though?”
“No, mistress. At one time it was well-used. I do not remember it, but the master said there was once a thriving vineyard to the east, but the owner died. He had no sons, and no one was interested in buying it.”
“I believe it is hard work to maintain a vineyard.”
“I don’t know, mistress.”
Thaddeus lapsed into silence again as he concentrated on safely negotiating a section of road that was pitted with holes.
Wondering if she would be able to move after all the bumping she had suffered on the hard wooden seat, Elizabeth chose to say nothing. She feared that Thaddeus would think she was criticizing his handling of the donkey and cart. It would have been a long walk, but she wondered if she and Rachel would have been better on foot.
“The road is better from here to the village,” Thaddeus volunteered. “This section is close enough to be looked after.”
Rachel had been thinking while she bounced in the cart, ‘No wonder Aunt Sara said that she and Uncle Micah walked, and the cart with their goods went after them.’
As they neared Sara’s home, Thaddeus said, “Only a short distance now.”
Elizabeth asked, “Will you be staying at Master Micah’s home?”
“No, but Mistress Kyla said I can visit with my family. She said the return journey would not be until the morning.”
Elizabeth looked concerned but before she could speak Thaddeus volunteered, “I will be back to collect you as soon as the sun rises.”
“Will your family be at home?” Rachel asked.
“Oh yes, and they will be happy to see me.”
Elizabeth looked puzzled. If Joanna’s objection to Rhea was that she had not converted... then what about this young man’s family? Realizing it was none of her business, she fixed her thoughts on what lay ahead. She hoped that Rhea was, as Sara had said, managing the home in her mistress’ absence.