Read Mary Magdalene: A Novel Online

Authors: Diana Wallis Taylor

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Mary Magdalene: A Novel (2 page)

BOOK: Mary Magdalene: A Novel
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“Uncle Zerah acts strangely.” She looked out over the courtyard. “He is nice to me when my parents are nearby, but the look in his eyes frightens me.”

Nathan opened his mouth to comment, but just then Mary’s mother came toward them from the house.

“The noon meal is ready. Come and help me, Mary. Nathan, my husband invites you to join him for the meal before you return to the yard. We will have a special dinner tonight to celebrate my husband’s homecoming—you and your father are also welcome to join us then.” She paused, studying them both for a moment. “How are the lessons coming?”

Nathan and Mary exchanged glances. “Mary learns quickly,” he said with a smile.

Mary helped her mother serve the bread, cheese, and fruit, then bowed her head as her father prayed.

“Blessed are you, L
, our God, King of the universe, through whose word everything comes into being.”

Jared glanced up at his daughter. “So now you can recite the alphabet. Can you also read the letters?” He waited expectantly. She nodded and began to recite as she had done for Nathan. Her father nodded his head. “That is good. You are teaching her well, Nathan.”

Then, to Mary’s surprise, her father and Nathan ate the rest of their meal in silence. Mary caught Nathan glancing at her father from time to time, a puzzled look on his face.

When the men returned to the shipyard, Rachel sent Mary to the larger garden outside the walls for some leeks and garlic for their special dinner. Eliab followed, and like a bronzed statue, stood nearby, his arms folded, while he watched her fill her basket.

As she stood up to leave, Mary was surprised to see a man leaning up against the side of a house nearby. She couldn’t see his face clearly as he stood partly in the shadows, but he seemed to be watching her. She instinctively moved closer to Eliab and looked up at her protector with a question in her eyes. Eliab was also watching the stranger, his face like granite and his hand upon his knife.


achel, happy to have her husband home again, made her best dishes. The aroma of the lamb and lentil stew with coriander spread throughout the courtyard. She mixed millet with saffron, raisins, and walnuts and piled date cakes on a platter. Nathan came with his father, Beriah. Their close neighbors, Aaron, his wife Merab, Samuel, and his wife Huldah, joined them. Her uncle sent word he had unexpected plans for the evening and Mary was secretly glad. Without his presence the mood was lighthearted. Mary loved listening to the laughter and conversation that flowed as their guests dipped their bread in the stew and savored the wonderful meal. She watched her father carefully as they ate. From time to time a pensive look crossed his face.

At the end of the meal Mary bowed her head as her father intoned the prayer said after each meal.

“Blessed are you, L
our God, master of the universe, who nourishes the whole world in goodness, with grace, kindness, and compassion. He gives bread to all flesh, for his mercy endures forever. And through his great goodness we have never lacked, nor will we lack food forever, for the sake of his great Name. For he is God, who nourishes and sustains all, and does good to all, and prepares food for all his creatures which he created. Blessed are you, L
, who nourishes all. Amen.”

Mary felt comforted as she listened to the familiar words that thanked HaShem for taking care of them and providing their food. The Holy One watched over them.

The conversation was about the voyage, and her father talked about the arrangements for a new shipment of lumber and the ports where they had unloaded the dried fish for which Magdala was known. The women served and listened and then, when the men retired to the courtyard to discuss other topics, they gathered around the table and talked of the newest child delivered in the neighborhood, who was betrothed, and who was having visitors from other towns. Mary listened eagerly as the conversation flowed around her. Though she was only eleven, she knew that in only two years her father would be arranging her own betrothal. She imagined the faces of some of the young men who lived in their immediate neighborhood and one by one mentally discarded them. Her betrothed would be handsome and a hard worker. Without thinking, she turned and found herself looking at Nathan. Sensing her glance, he looked directly back at her and to her surprise she felt a soft fluttering in her heart. She looked away quickly, hiding the strange thoughts that now excited her mind.

Their neighbors at last rose and departed to their homes after profuse thanks to Rachel for a fine dinner. Jared waved them off, and then seeing Mary watching him, absentmindedly patted her on the shoulder and turned toward the garden where he went to pray and contemplate what was on his mind. She watched him leave and sighed. There was nothing she could do to make him feel better.

Her mother gave her a platter of food to take to Eliab. He slept in a small open room Jared had built into the corner of the courtyard. It allowed him to see anyone who came to the gate.

“Thank you, mistress.”

As he took the platter, she studied his face. Eliab was a strange man in many ways. When he was with their family, he was a gentle giant, but when in the role of their guardian, a warrior. She knew he had been a slave, captured by the slave traders near the African coast. He had fought in the Hippodrome. In fact, he’d fought so fiercely, her father told her, that Eliab won his freedom. As a gladiator he always had a place to sleep and food, but freedom had come with a sad price. When her father accidentally came upon him on his way home from the shipyard, he was sleeping in an alcove in the stone wall of the Hippodrome. The man’s dark face was glazed with pain from a wound on his arm that was infected and festering.

Jared brought the wounded man home and her mother nursed him back to health. In gratitude for their kindness, he surprised Jared by asking to remain with their family, swearing allegiance to her father.

When Mary returned, her father and mother were talking quietly. They stopped when they saw her. Jared blew out all but the one candle that was allowed to burn on a stand in the center of the main room of the house.

“Good night, my little blossom.”

“Thank you, Abba, for the little box. I shall keep my treasures in it.”

He turned toward the room he shared with her mother.

Rachel reached out and brushed Mary’s hair back with one hand. “Your father has much on his mind, Mary. We need to be understanding and helpful.”

She looked up at her mother’s face and nodded.

“You are growing into a young woman. Before we know it, your father will be arranging a betrothal for you.”

“Yes, Mama.” Mary turned and climbed the stairs, aware of her mother watching her. Marriage? That was far from her mind right now, or was it?

She hung her mantle and tunic on a peg and slipped off her sandals before padding over to the window to look at the moon—a waning sliver of light in the sky.
I wonder where God lives
, she thought, as a star twinkled here and there.
And where is heaven?
The Torah told her of a God who made many rules to live by. They were part of the Mishnah. Her father said God made the laws to keep his people righteous, but no living person could keep them all. They brought the lambs and sacrifices to the Temple to purge the sins of the people. How could she, a young Jewish girl, please such a righteous and holy God? He was called the God Who Sees. Did he see her? Did he know who she was?

Clouds crept across the moon, making the night inky black, covering the city like a shroud. She looked down at the garden’s mysterious shadows and a small shiver passed through her body. Father said there was more evil in the town on the darkest of nights, and she was glad to be safe in her own room. She turned from the window, said her prayers, and snuggled down in her bed to sleep.


zza waited until he saw only the dim light of the small lamp burning in the house.

“The problem is the huge one who guards the house. If we could knock him unconscious . . .”

The smaller man, Gera, frowned. “We must think of something, Uzza. There has to be a way. The man said it would take stealth.” He grinned. “We are good at that. Are we not?”

Uzza positioned himself in the shadows near the gate, while Gera tapped lightly. The noise was not enough to be heard in the house, but enough to wake the servant.

When the huge man opened the gate, he peered at them, then stood with his arms folded. “What do you want? The hour is late.”

Gera spread his hands innocently. “Forgive me for disturbing you. I have just arrived in the city and have lost my way. I seek the home of Barak the potter.”

“He does not live here. He is three houses down the street.”

“Ah, a thousand pardons. Would you be good enough to point out the house, my friend?”

The guardian hesitated, his brows knit fiercely as he eyed the man who waited politely in front of him. Finally, with a grunt of irritation, he stepped into the street and, with his back to the gate, pointed to the potter’s house.

Uzza quickly stepped out of the shadows and brought a club down on the servant’s head with all his might. The guardian slumped to the ground, unconscious.

The men looked at each other smugly. Gera retrieved the ladder they’d hidden and the two men crossed the patio quickly. They slipped into the garden and looked up at the window they’d been told to look for. They positioned the ladder underneath it.

“You’re smaller. You climb up, I’ll hold the ladder,” Uzza whispered.

When Gera reached the top, he peered through the latticework. The girl appeared to be sleeping. Small whiffling sounds emanated from her mouth. He pried the latticework loose, stopping suddenly each time he thought she might wake. In a few moments he dropped the lattice down to his accomplice. He climbed into the room, took the small vial from his belt, and moved quietly to the bed. With one quick motion, he poured the contents into the girl’s open mouth. As she sputtered, he put his hand over her mouth and pressed his dagger to her throat.

“Make one sound and I will slit your throat,” he growled.

The girl was wide-eyed with fright as the potion slipped down her throat, but she did not scream. Gera grabbed her arm and pulled her upright out of bed.

The potion quickly took effect and she slumped against him.

When Mary awoke, her head hurt. She was dimly aware of her surroundings. Her hands were bound with coarse rope that bit into her flesh. She gave up trying to free herself and looked around. She lay on a dirty pallet in a dingy room. The smell of perspiration and garbage assailed her nose. In the dark something ran over her foot. She gasped and tried to tuck her feet under her.

Where am I?
She began to whimper with cold and fear as she realized what had happened. Someone had taken her from her home! Something had been poured into her mouth. She screwed up her face at the aftertaste that lingered on her tongue.

Why hadn’t Eliab stopped them? He was their guardian. Large tears rolled down her cheeks and she leaned to wipe her face on the sleeve of her nightshift. “Oh HaShem, help me please. Send someone to find me.”

She prayed quietly for several minutes, then leaned back against the wall, listening for any kind of sound that would tell her where they were keeping her. Faint street noise came from a high window that barely let in the light. She hung her head. There was nothing to do but wait. Abba would find her. He must find her. Her father would turn the town upside down looking for her when he discovered her gone.

Men’s loud voices came from the next room. As she listened, they seemed to be quarreling. Her heart pounded. They were talking about her.

“What should we do with the girl? He spouts a lot, that vain peacock, but his plan better work or he’ll feel my dagger.”

“Have patience, Gera. It will work. The note will be delivered. The man said she is her father’s only child. The father will come surely. Then we’ll have our gold.”

“I don’t trust the man. What if he takes all the gold?”

“What if we kill the father and take the ransom money for ourselves?”

“And what about that fool who hired us?”

There was a snort of derision. “He cannot go to the authorities. What would he tell them?” Both men laughed heartily.

Mary sat back, stifling the terror that threatened to enfold her. What were they going to do to her? Could it be a plot to hurt her father? She whimpered softly, afraid they would hear her.

“We’d better check on the girl, the potion should be wearing off soon.”

Mary quickly fell on her side on the pallet, feigning sleep. The door creaked open and heavy footsteps crossed the room to where she lay. She kept her eyes shut and waited.

The footsteps retreated and the door closed again.

“She still sleeps. You gave her too much. If she dies, we lose the gold.”

“I didn’t give her too much. She’ll sleep it off.”

Furniture scraped the floor. “Let’s get something to eat. The door is locked and no one will bother her.”

“You go,” said the other voice. “If he comes, someone needs to be here.”

Footsteps moved away and faded into the distance. Mary lay quietly, but the need to relieve herself grew, as did her thirst. Should she risk calling out? Finally, her need overcame her fear.

“Is someone there?”

The door creaked open and a man stood looking at her. He was heavy and his clothes were dirty, He had a ragged beard and smelled of wine. “Awake now, are you?”

“Please, sir, I need to—”

“There’s a bucket in the corner. Do what you have to do there.”

She gathered her courage. “Could I have some water?”

His face showed annoyance, but he turned and went out, then came back in with a goatskin water bag. She didn’t want to think what kind of water was in it but was too afraid to say anything. He cut the bonds on her wrists and handed her the bag. She drank quickly. The water tasted brackish and warm.

She returned the water bag and the man’s eyes seemed to glitter in the dim light. “You’re a pretty little thing. Perhaps you could be of gain to us in other ways.”

She shrank back against the wall, her heart pounding. Just then a man’s voice called from the other room. “Leave the girl alone. Nothing is supposed to happen to her, remember? Come, I have bread, cheese, and some wine.”

The big man laughed and went out, closing the door firmly. Mary wept with relief.

A little later he brought her a piece of bread and a small piece of cheese. She hated the way he looked at her with contempt, but she was hungry and ate quickly.

“Thank you.”

His eyebrows went up and he sneered. “What nice manners we have. You’d better hope your father brings the money or you won’t need to worry about being hungry ever again.” He put one hand on his beard. “I could get a good price for you in the slave market. A beautiful young virgin could bring much gold.” His eyes narrowed as he contemplated her.

Mary whimpered, fear knotting her stomach.

He laughed, obviously enjoying her distress, and left the room with a smirk on his face. He hadn’t tied up her hands again. She brushed her hair out of her eyes, fighting panic, and looked around for some means of escape. The dim room had only one small window, too high on the wall to reach. Even if she was able to climb out, what awaited her on the other side? It could be high off the ground, or the part of the city around the building could be worse for her than staying here. She shivered again from cold and fear. As she wrapped her arms around herself and rocked slowly back and forth, large tears ran down her cheeks.
Abba must find me. He must.

The same man returned to the room yet again. He strolled over to the pallet where Mary crouched. Staring down at her with a sneer on his face, he said, “You’d better be worth the trouble we’ve gone to.” He pretended to study her. “Yes, you would bring a good price. You don’t have long to wait. When your father is out of the way, you’ll be sold. The brothels pay well for such as you. You will please many men. Who knows, perhaps I may be the first.”

Mary bit her lip to keep from crying out again. He left, and as he closed the door, she wept silently. If only she could think of a way to warn her father! She looked up at the glimmer of light in the window and bowed her head.

Oh HaShem, our God Who Sees, help me. Help my father and protect him so these men won’t hurt him. You are my only hope.

Mary lay on the pallet, hardly able to tell day from night with the dinginess of the room. After what seemed like hours, the door was suddenly opened and the man returned. Fearing what he’d come to do, she shrank back and wrapped her arms around herself. He grabbed her by the arm and jerked her to her feet. Placing a low stool in the doorway, he forced her down on it and tied her hands behind her back. He tied her feet to the stool so she couldn’t move and then, in spite of her pleading, took a rag and tied it over her mouth. She looked in front of her and saw that she faced another door across the room.

Then realization dawned. If someone came in that door, she would be the first thing they saw. The men checked their knives and glanced nervously at the door from time to time. They were expecting someone and Mary recoiled in horror as she realized who it was. Her two kidnappers talked between themselves and watched the street through a small window. When they weren’t looking, she struggled against her bonds. Her heart pounded in her chest. She had to get free. She had to. She twisted her wrists against the rope until they became raw and chaffed. Finally, she slumped on the stool as she realized it was no use. There was nothing she could do.

Hot tears rolled down her cheeks. She could only watch and wait.

BOOK: Mary Magdalene: A Novel
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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