The Light of Truth

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Chapter 29

CHAPTER 29

Sara and Micah’s home

Sara’s old gardener came along the lane and saw the donkey and cart. “Young man! Move your cart around into that side lane. If another cart comes along it will not be able to pass.”

“I am waiting for my mistress, she has gone to see the woman living here, and should not be much longer.”

“This is a house in mourning. Your mistress will likely be a long time comforting Mistress Sara. Put your cart where I said, and come in and wait in our kitchen.”

“But she will wonder where I am when she comes for me.”

“We will know when the visitor leaves, at least the servant-girls will. Now do as you are told and put the cart away safely, tie the donkey up and come with me. No one will steal your property.”

Malachi was grateful for the invitation, although worried he would miss Elizabeth. He had thought she would have been back out already to tell him when she wanted him to return to take her to the farm.

“So, that’s the truth of it,” Elizabeth finished.

“I cannot say I liked your husband,” Micah admitted. “But I never thought he was capable of such wickedness.”

Elizabeth looked at her sister and brother-in-law gloomily. “These last weeks have been like a nightmare, no, worse.”

“Well it was sensible of you to send her to Rhea, the hospitiums in Ephesus are either run by heretics or are dirty and harmful. So I have heard anyway,” Sara said.

“I was going to go to the farm and see Joanna, to tell her my father-in-law wants Esther to come home. What shall I do now?” Elizabeth asked, then remembered Malachi. “Oh dear! I have forgotten the lad who brought me here. I left him with the donkey and cart outside your courtyard gate.”

“I will go bring him in,” Micah said and headed out the back. Encountering the head gardener, he delegated the task to him.

“It is already done, sir. I brought him in when I found him out there waiting for his mistress. He is being looked after in the kitchen. Just summon a servant-girl when his mistress is ready to leave.”

“Thank you,” Micah said and went back to the house.

“I have told Elizabeth to stay with us while we work out what is to be done,” Sara said.

“I want my daughter back! Her father must be crazed. What can we do? Will the rabbi help?”

“I will send for him, but I am sure that he will say that the father has right to remove his child from relatives and take her with him.”

“But he has lied. He did not bring her home. I am not dead. His father’s health is the same as it has been these last few years, and Rachel is recovering after her father… the one who took Esther… beat her so badly she did almost die.”

“The rabbi will ask for witnesses. Are there any?”

“No one actually saw him beat her. Malachi, the lad who brought me here, usually works in my father-in-law’s shop. He was in the storeroom and heard the sounds. When he came out Rachel was lying on the floor as if dead, and Meshua was standing over her…”

“You know the law, Elizabeth. A man cannot be convicted without witnesses.”

“I do know the law, and I understand it is to protect a man from untrue charges, but in this instance it will protect a man who has done great wrong, then lied.”

“I will speak to the rabbi, Elizabeth, but do not hold out hope. The law is the law.”

“Thank you, Micah. I know you are right, but I hope you are wrong. Now, I must tell Malachi that I do not need him to take me to the farm. He might as well go to where he is staying.”

“We will send news to Joanna, that you are alive. They are in mourning also.”

“I am so sorry you have been put through all this pain, needlessly.”

“It is not your fault,” Sara said kindly.

Elizabeth sat and sobbed, “I want my younger daughter back with me. I do not even know if she is safe.”

“Your driver is waiting to give you the bag of your clothing,” Micah told her when he returned.

Elizabeth followed him and apologized to Malachi, “I am so sorry I left you waiting so long,”

“I have been in the kitchen much of the time, the head gardener found me and told me where to put the donkey and cart and to come inside and wait. Here is your bag that you brought with you. Send a message to Rhea when you need me to come for you.”

“Malachi, such things have happened!”

“I know, the servant-girls were talking about it in the kitchen. Everyone believed you and Rachel had been murdered.”

“You did not tell them anything, did you?”

“No, I did not. But may I tell the brethren what has happened?”

“Yes, please do. Her father must have taken Esther to Pergamum with him. My father-in-law said Meshua had a stall in the market there. I am told the rabbi will not intervene. Please ask your people to pray.”

“I will. And there are brethren in Pergamum. Perhaps they can find out if your younger daughter is safe.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. She took the bag and turned back to join her sister. Life recently seemed to have been one series of blows after another. She wondered what the old man, John, would have said. In the meantime, she had to wait until a message was sent to the rabbi and he had the time to visit. The waiting was difficult.

The next day

Sara and Micah’s rabbi was kind, showed concern, but agreed that Micah had told her the truth. Without witnesses, Meshua would remain unsought and unpunished.

After he left, and Elizabeth had recovered from her anger, her thoughts turned to Rachel. “What will happen if Meshua finds out Rachel is not dead? I wonder if he will try to return to Ephesus.”

“Surely not. You said his father had cast him off, and the synagogue approved,” Micah said.

“He would not know that though. I must find a way to protect Rachel. Now she will never want to return home.”

Looking at Micah for approval, Sara said, “She could come here.”

Micah nodded, “She would be welcome.”

“Sara, Micah, thank you very much, but no, it would not protect her,” Elizabeth said.

“I do not understand,” Micah said.

“He has already been here when he came to tell you his lies, then he went to Joanna and took Esther. If he finds out Rachel is alive, and she is not at home with us, he will look for her with my family. If he came for Rachel, you would not be able to stop him… a father wanting his daughter with him. You heard what your rabbi said.”

After a long, drawn-out sigh, Sara said, “I see.”

“We will have to think of something then,” Micah said practically.

“I cannot think of anything,” Elizabeth confessed, weeping. This nightmare was not over after all.

“We will have to marry her off… and quickly,” Sara said.

“Remember what I told you at the Feast, she is not yet marriageable,” Elizabeth whispered to her sister.

“Were there any approaches made to Meshua, do you know, Elizabeth?” Micah asked, not hearing the significance of the whispered comment.

“Yes, when he eventually returned, Meshua mentioned he had been approached. But what with him being cast off…”

“Talk to Rhea and have her make something for Rachel,” Sara whispered back. “You were going to see your healing woman.”

“I did, the day Rachel was beaten.”

“I will find out if there are any men in the synagogue who are looking for wives,” Micah continued, following his own thoughts, trying to think of a solution that would save his niece.

“I should return to Rhea’s home and arrange things.” When Sara protested, saying she should stay longer, Elizabeth replied, “I cannot. Thank you, but I need to do all I can to make sure Rachel is safe.”

“If Meshua comes back, we will not tell him Rachel is alive, or where she is,” Sara assured her. “So see Rhea, then return to Ephesus and warn Meshua’s father. We will say nothing to Joanna yet. When a marriage has been arranged, then we will tell her.”

Before Elizabeth could comment, there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Sara called.

“The lad who brought Mistress Elizabeth is here,” the servant told her.

“Did you send for him?” Micah asked.

“No, I hope nothing is wrong,” Elizabeth replied, then followed the servant out.

“I have had a message from your son,” Malachi told Elizabeth, hoping she remembered what he had confided in her while they were traveling.

“How did he know where you were?”

“He did not, but your father-in-law does.”

“I am surprised you have received a reply so soon.”

“I had not sent a message yet.”

“Then why has he sent you a message?” Elizabeth puzzled.

“He needs help and wants me to go to Patara as soon as possible. The man I helped in the warehouse must have spoken to him of me. Will you be able to arrange for someone else to take you home?”

“Malachi, if you can wait until the morning, I will come back to Ephesus with you. I have to see my father-in-law to arrange a marriage for Rachel.”

Malachi raised his eyebrows. He had heard from the people he was staying with the girl staying with Rhea and Mary was learning their faith.

Elizabeth misinterpreted his gesture and said, “It is the only sure way to protect Rachel from being taken by her father, like her sister. The Jewish law will not do anything because there were no witnesses against him.”

“I will wait until tomorrow. Do you want me to come here for you?”

“No, if you ask in the kitchen for some refreshment, I will pack and say goodbye to my sister and brother-in-law. I need to see Rhea about something and explain to Rachel.”

On the journey back to Rhea’s home, Elizabeth explained, “I had wondered how I was going to send for you.”

Malachi smiled, “We believe that God intervenes to help us.”

Elizabeth shrugged, this was not a God she knew. Then she wondered. Esther had been healed by his God, so had her nephew…

“I need work,” Malachi said. “As I told you on the way here, I do not think that your father-in-law wants me working in his shop anymore. Something the rabbi’s assistant said changed him.”

Elizabeth nodded, she knew that was true.

“But God knew what my need would be. Your son Timon had already sent a message to your father-in-law. He sent it to my mother, who contacted Naomi, and they sent a lad with the message to Rhea’s home.”

“I wish I had your simple, trusting faith,” Elizabeth told him. As they arrived back at Rhea and Mary’s home, Elizabeth remarked, “Oh, we are here already.”

“We have been talking, and your sister does not live far from the fellowship house.” He handed her the bag she had brought and asked, “You want me to come back for you in the morning?”

“Yes, please.”

“Why are you back so quickly?” Rhea asked.

“Is there somewhere we can talk without Rachel knowing I am back yet?”

“Come to my room.”

Looking anxiously about, Elizabeth followed Rhea.

“She will not see you, she is helping Hannah pack. What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Would you be able to make a mixture for Rachel… she has not yet shown the signs of womanhood, and she needs to be married.”

“As to a mixture, that is not necessary.”

“Rachel has... is…?”

“Yes, but I did not know a marriage had been arranged. Does Rachel know?”

“No, but she will have to be married, quickly. It is the only way Rachel can be protected from her father’s authority,” Elizabeth said, then went on to relate all that she had found out from her sister.

Rhea could imagine Sara’s fright. “It must have been such a shock for your sister to see you after being told such dreadful news about you.”

“It was, and I want to protect Rachel.” Elizabeth rushed into an explanation, “Sara and Micah have offered her a home with them, but if Meshua discovers she is alive, he would go to my sisters. Sara said that a marriage must be arranged, and swiftly. That is the only way she will be safe… if she has a husband.” Elizabeth paused for breath, then continued, “I will see if my father-in-law will talk to the man who had approached Meshua. I know Rachel will not like it, but she would like being taken by her father even less.” She paused again, then continued more slowly, “Micah said he would find out if any of the men in his synagogue were looking for a wife.”

“I think you need to talk to your daughter. There is a slight complication, but she should be the one to tell you.”

Rhea stood up and led Elizabeth to Rachel’s room. “Ah, Rachel, you have finished helping Hannah,” she said. “Do you feel well?”

“Yes, Rhea, thank you. I am growing stronger each day.” She looked up, “Aima!” she exclaimed. “I thought you were going to the farm for Esther.”

“It’s a long story, may I sit?”

Rachel looked puzzled and glanced beyond her mother to Rhea, who nodded her head.

“I will bring you both a soothing drink in a few moments,” Rhea said, leaving the room.

“What is the matter, Aima? Why are you back so soon?”

For the second time, Elizabeth sat and explained what had happened.

“I was right to be afraid of going home!” Rachel exclaimed when the tale was over.

“Your aunt and uncle have offered you a home with them, but I told them that would not give you the protection you need. They agreed. The only sure way to protect you is for you to be married. I am going back home tomorrow morning and will talk to your Saba about arranging a marriage. If the situation with your father has put off prospective offers, then Micah said he would look to the members of the synagogue here.”

“No, Aima!”

“I know you do not want to marry one of those young men from Ephesus, but you must marry or be at risk if your father finds out you are alive.”

“There is something I should tell you, Aima.”

“I know you have…”

“Aima,” Rachel interrupted, “I am learning their faith.”

Raising her hands to her mouth, Elizabeth’s face blanched.

“From what you said when you were here before, I will not be allowed to go home, nor do I want to go back there. But I will miss you and Saba…”

“I do not want to lose you, child. When I thought you would die, I did not know how I would carry on.”

“But you will not be allowed to visit me. I have already considered that.”

“But, Rachel, I do not understand. You did not want to go to the meeting. Before that, you did not want us to go to his house after Esther was healed. I was the one who felt I needed to find out why.”

“I did not want to go with you, Aima, because I already felt drawn to what he teaches. Remember, the old man, John, has come into my Saba’s shop for years. When I was working in the storeroom, I would hear my Saba teasing, or challenging this man. I heard his answers… I remember the first time I heard him explain something. It was like a light… pale, but shining. Then the next time it was there again. I was afraid of it, the truth, and although I wanted to close my eyes to it, I could not, so I decided not to think about it.”

As Elizabeth listened, a myriad of thoughts came to her mind. ‘Would this have happened if I had not taken her to visit John?’ ‘If I had not gone to the meeting…’, ‘What will happen now?’, ‘Have I caused this?’…

“The truth is like light, coloring the dark sky,” Rachel whispered softly.

“I need time to think about this, to find a solution. I will not lose you… Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“Yes, Aima. After talking to you, hearing about Jonadab still interfering, and thinking about how different things are in this faith, I made up my mind. I have been cared for by them for… what is it? ... I don’t know, four weeks now. I heard them talking as they were caring for me. They know the scriptures, the women, things that we do not learn because we are not male. Then, John came in and spoke to me every morning. Aima, it was like the sky was filling with light. I told him that and he said, ‘And the light shines in darkness…’ I asked him what he meant. He said it was about the Son of God…”

Rhea very quietly tapped on the door. If Rachel had not finished talking with her mother, she would ignore the tap.

“Come in,” Rachel called.

Glancing at Elizabeth, Rhea could see that she had been told of Rachel’s decision. “I have brought you both a warm herbal drink,” Rhea said, putting them down on the low table.

“I have told my mother, Rhea.”

Rhea looked at Elizabeth.

“I am stunned, Elizabeth said.

Rhea waited for an accusation of having set out to convert the girl. It did not come.

Elizabeth went on, “I do not know what to think. She will not be allowed back home. My father-in-law already said that if she took on your beliefs she could not come home.”

Rachel looked at her mother, “You did not say that before.”

“I told you, well… warned you what I had been told previously. Rhea, may I stay a night or two? I have a lot of thinking to do. I do not want to lose my daughter, but…”

“You will lose your home,” Rhea finished for her.

“Yes.”

“Stay as long as you need, Elizabeth. There are many rooms here, and Hannah is leaving tomorrow.”

“Oh, I told Malachi to come for me tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow is the Sabbath.”

“Of course! This news has pushed everything from my mind.”

“He will either go on the first day of the week, or wait for you. As I said, you can stay as long as you need, or go back with him.”

“I do not want to go back yet. My father-in-law does not expect me for two weeks. But Malachi needs to go back…”

“Please, Aima, tell him not to tell my Saba.”

“He will only return the donkey and cart and prepare to leave. He knows that he will not be wanted there any longer. He is going to work for your brother in Patara.”

Rachel started to cry, “I will not be allowed to visit Timon either…”

“We do not know what he will think. He knows that Malachi is… what he is. I must remember to warn him to say nothing about you though.”

“You should allow him to tell Saba though,” Rhea counseled. “He will pray for a solution to your situation, Elizabeth.”

“No!” Rachel exclaimed.

“But he is the Apostle of our fellowship,” Rhea replied, surprised at Rachel’s vehemence.

“Oh, I thought you meant my Saba,” Rachel explained.

“No child, I agree with your mother, and you have a lot to work out, so I will leave you to talk.”

“Rhea, please would you ask Bartholomew if I can be baptized?”

Elizabeth looked shocked.

“We will talk about that another time. First, talk with your mother.”

John’s family home

“So, that is what happened,” Malachi finished explaining to John.

“Being baptized will not stop her father from claiming her. It might make him all the more determined if he finds out.”

“Her mother said she was going to have to marry the girl to someone, to give her the protection of a husband. But now she will not be able to marry a Jew. Perhaps there might be someone in the fellowship there who would marry her.”

“Marry who?” Benjamin asked, carrying a sheaf of papers to John.

“’Old Simon’s granddaughter, who was here for two weeks being cared for after her father beat her,” Malachi replied. “Now I have to go and pack my things. I am leaving for Patara tomorrow. But Rhea said you should know so you can pray for Elizabeth, who will lose her daughter now, or lose her home.”

“I will, and thank you for telling me. God bless my boy. We will watch over your mother and brothers. Visit when you can.”

“Thank you, Saba. I will miss you… but I am looking forward to the new work, and I will always know where my father is now. I will know where his ship is going and what cargo he is carrying.”

“What does ‘Old Simon’ think of this?” Benjamin asked.

“I was not to go there, not to tell him. Her mother said he will not expect her for two weeks, and she wants to explain about Esther herself. I think she also needs time to understand what is happening. Now, Benjamin, Saba, please excuse me. I need to be ready to travel tomorrow. It is the only caravan leaving this week for the port of Patara.”

“Go, my boy, and may our God watch over you and bless you.”

“Thank you, Saba,” Malachi said and hurried away.

John smiled as he left. “A new phase of his life for that young man. Now, are those the copies I asked for?”

“Yes, Saba.” Handing them over, he asked, “Did I hear correctly?” Benjamin asked. “Was that really Rachel that Malachi was talking about?”

“Yes, my boy.”

“Please tell me,” he pleaded.

“I can only tell you what Malachi told me.”

Carefully, determinedly, Benjamin asked, “Is it true that Rachel, the one who was here, the girl who worked in ‘Old Simon’s’ shop has asked for baptism into our faith?”

“That is what Malachi said.”

“I have prayed,” Benjamin said, then his face broke into a smile, and he reassured his great-grandfather, “No, not as I prayed for Deborah, but that God would work with Rachel, according to His will.”

“It was obvious that you were interested in the girl…”

“And is it true the girl needs to be married to protect her from her father?”

“Yes, you heard that correctly… and I know what you are going to say, but you must pray about this, and discuss it with your parents.”

After what seemed like the longest week of his life, Benjamin sat with his parents and Saba.

“I have fasted, and prayed, and studied.”

“You have considered all the things we pointed out last week?” Samuel asked.

“Yes, Abba. And Aima, I know it will not be easy for her, coming back here to Ephesus, but I would like to go and talk to her. If she is agreeable, then I will ask her mother,” Benjamin replied.

“It is not the normal way we do things, son,” Naomi said.

“But this is not a normal situation,” Samuel pointed out. “She has no relative of our faith to consult, to ask permission from.”

“I have been pleased to see your restraint, my boy,” John said.

“It was hard to keep it between you and me, and God,” Benjamin admitted looking at his parents and great-grandfather.

“You do not know she will accept you,” Samuel pointed out.

Naomi smiled. She had seen the interest in Rachel’s eyes. She did not think her son would be disappointed in the girl’s response, but she held her peace.

“I am concerned that you will not have a long betrothal period to prepare,” Samuel said, looking at his son. “This is a commitment for life.”

“I know, Abba.”

“Then go to see her with our blessing,” Samuel said.

“I hope her mother is still with her or it could be awkward turning up at ‘Old Simon’s’ shop and asking to see his daughter-in-law.”

“‘Old Simon’ would only now be starting to expect her return.”

“Did Malachi return the donkey and cart?”

“No, He walked back here. Remember, Elizabeth did not want ‘Old Simon’ to know about Meshua taking Esther, not until she could tell him.”

“Then I could bring Elizabeth back in it,” Benjamin offered. Seeing the start of anxiety stirring in his father’s face, he said, “Oh. I see. Although ‘Old Simon’ will know that Malachi has gone, he will not expect one of our faith to bring her back.”

They all thought for a while, then Lois came in. “What are you all so thoughtful about?’

“We are trying to work out how Benjamin can take Elizabeth, and ‘Old Simon’s’ donkey and cart back.”

“Oh. You mean because of the rabbi’s assistant’s hatred of us?”

“Yes. Besides, I do not think it wise for Benjamin to go there, considering he was, in part, what triggered Meshua’s anger,” John said.

Turning to Benjamin, Lois asked, “Then why do you not bring the cart back here, and ask Noah to deliver it?”

“What a simple solution!” exclaimed Samuel.

“Not quite,” Naomi interjected.

“I will bring it back, and pay him to return it. He is Malachi’s brother, so that would seem logical.” Benjamin announced.

“You will need to bring Elizabeth here… if she is ready to come back to Ephesus.” Naomi thought it would be very difficult for the woman to explain about Rachel’s departure from Judaism to ‘Old Simon’.

“If she is, Noah can bring her and take the donkey and cart directly to the shop,” Benjamin replied, adding, “Malachi’s young brother is a sensible lad, and unknown to the Jewish community. He sounds ideal for the task.”

“I hope Elizabeth is ready to come back,” John said. “I know it will not be easy to explain but it would be wise for her to return now. Perhaps you should tell her that, Benjamin.”

“I will, Saba.”

Naomi watched her son, doing his best to contain his restlessness. She hoped he would not be disappointed, then corrected herself. She had seen the interest in the girl’s eyes. “Tell those who need to know, that you have talked with us, and have our blessing.”

“And mine,” John said. “I also thank you for completing the copying of my memories, son. I appreciate that you have finished them.”

They exchanged as significant look. Both knew that before long the seas would be safe. He could be taken to Rome.

Naomi was talking to Lois, and he was glad she seemed not to have noticed.

“What were you saying, Aima?” Benjamin asked.

“We were talking of potential problems for Elizabeth. I said that if she is as sensible as she seems to be, then she should come back, and say nothing to her father-in-law just yet about Rachel taking our faith,” Naomi said. “When you see her, Benjamin, please tell her to come and visit me when it is safe for her to do so. There are many things to work out, if your offer is accepted.”

“I will,” Benjamin replied, before bounding up the stairs to pack a small bag. He would set out in the morning. It was only a short walk for a fit young man, and he was looking forward to his departure.

“Arrange to stay with Bartholomew,” John called after him.

“I will,” Benjamin called back.

“I must go and do some sewing,” Lois said, excusing herself.

“I will come and help you later,” Naomi responded.

Turning to Naomi and Samuel, John said, “I am happy to see how much he has grown in these years since Deborah.”

“I admit, I am surprised at his restraint,” Naomi said. “When he told us last week, part of me expected him to want to rush off that morning, immediately after he found out.”

“I would not have been surprised either, Samuel admitted.

“While he is away, we need to hire a team of laborers to come and start a house for him on that vacant land that has been set aside for him,” Naomi said. It was easy for her to slip into a familiar aspect of her behavior, organizing.

“I must confess I thought it would remain your garden for the foreseeable future, Naomi,” Samuel laughed.

“Should we ask them to wait a few months?” Naomi wondered.

“They have more knowledge of each other than most betrothed couples,” Samuel observed thoughtfully.

Looking at Naomi, John said, “I do not think that the girl will feel safe waiting, knowing what her father has done, and knowing the Jewish law cannot punish him, or rescue her sister.

The mood became sober, as they remembered what Meshua had done to his daughter.

John spoke, “It is pointless to dwell on what we cannot change, we must be grateful, our prayers have been answered and she is recovering so well.” After a pause, he added, “Besides, I would very much like to see my beloved great-grandson married.” Before I am taken, completed his thought, but was left unspoken. He did not want to spoil the pleasurable anticipation. “You have waited a long time for a ‘daughter,’ Naomi,” he said with a smile, knowing she had come to admire Rachel.

“No matter how quickly the men work, a house will not be built for them such a short time…” she mused.

“We could make enquiries about a house for them to rent until it is completed,” Samuel suggested.

Caught up in her enthusiasm, Naomi nodded and added, “A few days before the wedding, Rachel could come back to Ephesus, and stay with Chloe… and Saba, and perhaps you would like to marry them.”

“Naomi, ever the organizer,” laughed Samuel.

“Let us wait until Benjamin has seen her, and her mother… and we are told that there will be a wedding,” John chuckled, then rose and made his way to the prayer room.

*****

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