Authors: Diana Wallis Taylor
Tags: #C429, #Extratorrents, #Kat
men all over the world
who have been maligned, misunderstood, and shunned,
sometimes with cause, sometimes without.
You are loved dearly by God.
It is his desire that you become
what he created you to be:
a daughter of the King.
he early morning breeze lifted Mary’s shawl, exposing her long dark hair, and brought with it the tangy smell of seaweed. She stood with her mother, Rachel, on the bluff overlooking the harbor of Magdala. Although it was filled with merchant ships and the sea beyond dotted with the white sails of the fishing boats, there was no sign of her father’s ship. Mary was almost twelve, and teetering between child and young woman. Patience was not a virtue she embraced. With a sigh, she occupied herself by watching the seagulls dip and soar overhead. It was the fourth day they had come here to watch for him, and Mary felt surely it had to be this morning.
Her mother looked down at her. “It will be good to have your father home again.”
Her father, Jared, and his brother, Zerah, built sturdy fishing boats and occasionally small merchant ships. This time Jared had combined a maiden voyage and an excursion to seek out a new source of lumber for their boats. He had been gone a month.
When a small ship rounded the point and entered the harbor, Mary danced with excitement and pulled on her mother’s sleeve. “Mama, it’s here. There’s Abba’s ship.”
Her mother smiled. “Yes, Mary, I believe it is.”
As the vessel approached the dock, small figures threw mooring lines to secure it.
Mary noticed her mother’s eyes were moist as she looked out to sea. She knew her mother missed her father as much as she did and had tried to hide her worry. Storms on the Sea of Galilee could be fierce and dangerous for an untried ship.
With a sigh of relief, Rachel turned from the view of the sea. “Your father will need a special welcome today.” She motioned to the servant who stood silently nearby. “Eliab, we are ready to go home.”
The big African, over six feet tall, nodded. Women didn’t venture from the house through some parts of the city without an escort. Mary heard her father say one day that their city was a melting pot for unsavory characters, brigands, and Roman soldiers on leave to watch the games in the Hippodrome. They came to drink and patronize the dark streets of the slums where the brothels flourished.
“They’re blight on our city, Jared,” their neighbor Samuel had commented one day. “If anything will bring the wrath of the Holy One down on us, it is those places of iniquity.”
Jared nodded. “I understand, Samuel, but in a city this size, one will find all manner of evil.”
Now Rachel walked quickly and Mary ran to keep up with her. Eliab followed with long strides. Once or twice she glanced back and he smiled at her, but then his dark face became solemn again, his eyes moving back and forth, scanning their surroundings for danger.
As they walked, Mary heard the sounds of industry everywhere. Hammers sounded from the boatyards, merchants hawked their wares. With over eighty woolen mills in the city, a buzz of voices grew as workers streamed into the warehouses and factories. The scent of perfume wafted through the air from one of the stalls, mingling with the pungent odor of the day’s catch spread out in the fish market. Donkeys plodded patiently up the narrow streets, laden with baskets of shells strapped on each side, on their way to the dye makers. Sheep bleated loudly as they were herded into pens, awaiting buyers for the temple sacrifices. In cages along the street of the doves, there was cooing and the fluttering of wings. Mary looked around excitedly. With Eliab next to them, she could happily take in the sights and smells all around her without fear.
She glanced back at the huge man following them and murmured to herself, “I am glad Eliab is with us.”
Mary’s mind churned with questions she had wanted so much to ask the last few days before her father set sail with the ship. Why the unexplained looks that passed between her parents and why had her normally cheerful mother gone about her work so quietly? Her father, who enjoyed time with his family, appeared distracted and spent long hours at the boatbuilding yard. Fear tugged at her heart, a nagging disquiet followed her like a shadow.
Uncle Zerah had come the evening before the ship sailed. A gaunt man, with a short black beard, he stalked into the house as if loath to be there. When her father was watching, Zerah was the benevolent uncle, smiling indulgently at his niece, but his smile never reached his eyes. Mary knew her uncle was not what he seemed. She was courteous to him, respectful as all children were taught to be, but stayed out of his way.
That night Zerah glowered at his brother and was barely civil to Rachel.
“Zerah, we are brothers . . . ,” Jared began, as they ate. “We have the finest boatbuilding yard in Magdala. We must work together—”
“It was necessary to cut costs,” Zerah murmured, aware of Rachel and Mary nearby. “You don’t appreciate that I can increase our profits.”
Her father leaned forward. “At the cost of our good reputation, brother?”
Zerah started to answer, then with an imperceptible nod of his head toward Rachel, looked pointedly at his brother.
Jared followed his gaze and stroked his beard. “Perhaps the garden . . . ?”
Both men rose and strode outside, her father leading the way. Her uncle’s face was pinched and hard.
Mary helped her mother put things away and then went up to her bed but couldn’t sleep. Voices outside in the garden drew her to the window. Her father and uncle shared an animated conversation, speaking in fierce whispers. She couldn’t understand most of their words but caught snatches of the conversation. It seemed to have to do with the new merchant vessel.
“Change your ways, Zerah,” Jared admonished, and turned abruptly to return to the house.
Zerah looked after him, then started for the courtyard gate. Suddenly he paused and looked up to Mary’s window. His eyes narrowed when he saw her and his face clouded with anger.
The next morning as Mary helped her mother prepare the bread dough, her thoughts tumbled into a question.
“Mama, are Abba and Uncle Zerah angry with each other?”
Her mother slid the paddle with one of the loaves of bread into the clay oven and turned to her. “What made you ask that?”
Mary hung her head. “Last night they were arguing in the garden outside my window about the new ship. Abba was very angry.” She told her mother what she’d seen and what little she’d heard.
“They had a disagreement about something. A problem at the shipyard. There is no need to trouble yourself about it.”
Mary lifted her face. “I thought you and Abba were angry with each other. We hardly see him anymore. I was afraid.”
Her mother turned and drew Mary to her. “There is no trouble between your father and me, just a problem at the shipyard that concerns him.”
Mary leaned into her mother’s side, relief lightening the burden she had carried. She sent a quick prayer to HaShem, the God Who Sees, and thanked him for hearing her prayers. There was nothing wrong between her parents. It was just business. Her father was a good businessman. He would solve it.
Mary swept the courtyard, looking up at every sound as she waited for her father. When her father opened the gate, she dropped the broom and ran to be gathered in his arms.
“Abba, we saw your ship come in.”
“My little blossom, have you grown in the short time I’ve been gone?”
She giggled. “I am the same, Abba.” Then she beamed up at him mischievously. “Is there something in your pocket?”
He tried to look stern, but then smiled and produced a small, beautifully engraved leather box from the folds of his cloak.
“Oh, thank you, Abba.”
“And wife . . .” He held out a lovely scarf in shades of blue and magenta and, as Rachel approached, presented it with a flourish.
“Thank you, Jared.” She smiled at the scarf, but then, with a slightly anxious tone, “The voyage went well?”
“The . . . uh . . . problems we discussed were evident. I promised Demas that I would make the necessary repairs at no cost to him.”
“Oh, Jared, what are you going to do?”
He gave a slight shake of his head that said they would talk later and turned to Mary. “Tell me, my little flower, what have you been up to while I have been gone? Have you done your lessons?”
“Yes, Abba, I study hard. I have learned the Hebrew alphabet. I can recite it and write it. Would you like me to show you?”
Before Jared could answer, a familiar voice called a greeting and Mary looked up with pleasure. It was her childhood friend and tutor, Nathan.
A few weeks before her father decided to sail on their new ship, he’d approached the local rabbi of the
, the House of the Book. He sought a tutor for Mary. He wanted her to learn the Torah but knew girls were not permitted in the school. The rabbi had been indignant. “It is better that the words of the Law should be burned than that they should be given to a woman.”
“What is wrong with a girl learning the Torah?” Jared had argued in vain that Mary was his only child. “I don’t want her to be ignorant.”
Still the rabbi refused. When her father returned home, Mary asked him what the rabbi had said. Her father, still angry, said, “He told me it is not possible, that girls should be taught the ways of a household, to tend the home and children. He suggested there was no need to trouble your mind with things best left to men.” He stalked off to the garden.
Then one day Jared overheard Nathan, Mary’s childhood friend and now his apprentice, talking to her about the Torah. Her father took Nathan aside and hired him to come twice a week to tutor Mary. Nathan was admonished that it was best to keep news of the lessons to himself. The young man had agreed readily and the lessons began. Though Nathan was four years older than Mary, because he had grown up with the family, her parents did not think it unseemly for them to sit together in the courtyard. Her mother continued her work, but Mary knew she kept a watchful eye on them.
Nathan greeted Jared respectfully. “Your journey went well, sir?”
“Yes. We need to make a few repairs, but she sailed well.”
The young man frowned. Mary had never heard her father mention repairs to any of their boats before. Storm-damaged boats perhaps, but not new ones.
Jared nodded to the bench in the courtyard. “Perhaps the two of you would best begin your lesson.” He followed Rachel into the house.
Nathan turned to Mary, his eyes twinkling. “Good morning, my little friend.”
“I am getting taller, Nathan, you cannot call me little anymore.” She gave him an impudent smile.
He pretended to consider her carefully. “Ah, so you are. Should I call you my big friend?”
She put her hands on her hips. “You may call me, ‘my friend Mary.’ ”
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Very well, my friend Mary, should we get started?”
She loved having Nathan nearby. He was like the brother she never had. She happily anticipated each lesson.
Soon the two heads were close together as he shared the day’s lesson from the Torah. Nathan had her review the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, tracing them on a small tablet.
“Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth—” she murmured, concentrating on the symbols.
“Well done, Mary. Soon you will be ready for individual words. After that, we will learn whole phrases of the Torah.”
She was excited to learn the Torah. She knew how important that was to her father, but it was hard to keep her lessons secret from her friends. Yet she had promised Abba, and she would keep her promise.
Suddenly she frowned. “Will HaShem be displeased that I am learning the Holy Scriptures?”
He shook his head. “I think he would be pleased that you are working so hard to know him better.”
Warmth filled her heart. She would get to know HaShem better.
She glanced toward the house. “My father is upset about something. I think it has to do with Uncle Zerah.”
Nathan shifted on the bench and looked uncomfortable.
She lowered her voice and spoke in a fierce whisper. “You know something.”
He avoided her eyes. “I could get in trouble with your father if he knew I told you anything.”
Mary leaned forward and willed her voice to remain calm. “I can keep secrets.”
He sighed heavily and shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“Then tell me—please.”
He looked around furtively, then whispered, “There are problems. Zerah ordered cheaper wood to build the merchant ship.”
“That is not a good thing?”
“No, only good cedar should be used for the boats. We used materials of lesser quality, but your uncle did not reduce the price.”
Mary frowned, trying to puzzle out what Nathan was telling her. Uncle Zerah was doing something wrong, but she didn’t fully understand what it was. “My father found out what my uncle is doing?”
“Yes.” He shifted his position on the bench. “I don’t think I should say any more.”
“My father would never do anything wrong.”
“I know, Mary. The shipyard has a fine reputation and your father is known as an honest man.” He shrugged. “Your uncle’s actions could ruin their business.”
Her eyes pooled with tears. She didn’t like discord in her family. Her heart was troubled about her uncle, but there was nothing she could do. Then a thought came to her. She must pray. HaShem would help them.