Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week: Tuesday

from The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

‘“Call it what you like," Daniel said impatiently. “All I know is I hate the Romans. I want their blood. That is what I live for. It's all I’ve lived for since—“   
“Since what, Daniel?” Joel urged.
“Since they killed my father and mother.”
There was a silence, and then Malthace said, very gently, “Tell us, Daniel.”
Daniel wavered. He was torn, as he had been torn that first day on the mountain, between the desire to stay in hiding and the need to speak to them. No one in the cave knew all of his story. He never spoke of it. He dreaded to bring it up out of the secret places of his memory, but even more he longed to share the burden that he had carried alone for so many years.
"It's not a good story for a girl to hear," he said.
"Is it about your mother?" asked Malthace.
"About them both."
"If it's about my own people, about another woman like myself, then I can hear it."
Daniel stared at the blur of her face against the wall. Her eyes shone deep and steady. Was she for him or against him?
He began to grope his way back, far back to the beginning. "It was when I was eight years old," he told them. "I was in the synagogue school then. My father was the overseer of the vineyards. It was a good job. I don't remember ever being hungry or afraid. He used to tell us stories after the evening meal. He knew them all by heart. My sister was only five. She had yellow hair and blue eyes like our mother. That's because my mother's mother was a Greek slave who married her Jewish master. But my mother never knew any foreign ways. She believed in the God of the Jews. She taught us verses from the scripture, and made us say them after her. I think we were like all the other families. Perhaps it is still like that, in the houses in the village."
     Joel nodded. “It was so in our house,” he said.
“My father had a brother, younger than he was, and they were very close. When I was very young my uncle lived in our house with us, but then he married and went to live in a house of his own not far away. I can remember the wedding. They let me walk in the procession, and I was so excited that I dropped my torch and burned a hole in my new coat.”

 Daniel stopped and waited for a moment. This part, the good part, had been buried very deep. The others did not speaking, letting him find his difficult way back at this own halting pace.
“My uncle was so proud of his wife. When their first baby was born, a boy, you would have thought no one ever had had a son before. He did a very foolish thing. It was almost time for the taxes, and he took part of the money he had saved and bought his wife a present, a shawl with gold thread in it for her to wear to the naming. He planned to find extra work and make up the money. But that year the Romans were building a new section of road, and the collector came early. My uncle should have come to my father, but he was ashamed, because of course none of us ever had money to spare. So he tried to argue that it was not time. He was a very excitable man, and the collector was angry, and reported him. The soldiers came and put him in the guardhouse. As soon as my father heard, he went to all his friends and collected enough money for the tax. But my uncle had lost his head and tried to fight his way out, and the soldiers would not let him off. They said he would go to the quarries to work off his debt.
“We all knew they would never let him go, or that he would fight them and get killed. His wife was almost out of her mind. She came and put her arms around my father’s knees and screamed at him. So my father made a plan. He was a peaceful man, but he armed himself. He and four others hid in a cornfield and waited till the Romans started for the city with my uncle, and then they attacked. Of course they were all captured. One of the soldiers was cut with a sickle and he died that night. They wanted to make an example, for the village. They crucified all six of them, even my uncle, who had not done anything because his hands were tied behind him.”
There was a sound like a moan from Thacia. Joel did not move. After a moment Daniel went on.
“My mother stood out by the crosses all day and all night for two days. It was cold and foggy at night, and when she finally came home she did nothing but cough and cry. She only lived a few weeks.”
“Were you there too?” asked Thacia under her breath.
“Yes, I was there. After my father died I made a vow. Maybe they would say a boy eight years old couldn’t make a vow, a real one that was binding. But I did. I vowed I would pay them back with my whole life. That I would hate them and fight them and kill them. That’s what I live for.”
When he stopped speaking he realized that he was trembling all over, and the wretched cold sickness was climbing up into his throat. He wished they would go away now and leave him alone. But Thacia questioned him again.
“Who took care of you after that?”
“My grandmother. She made me go to school for five years. But then she was ill, and there wasn’t enough to eat, and she sold me to Amalek.”
“What about your sister?”
Daniel hesitated. Yes, they had to know this, too. “I told you she was only five. That night she got away from a neighbor and ran out. They didn’t know how long she had been there by the crosses before they found her and took her back. She used to scream in her sleep. Then she refused to go out of the house. If we tried to make her, she would howl till she was blue and fall into a sort of fit and we would think she was dead, and then she would be ill for days. So we gave up. She has always been sickly. She doesn’t eat enough. I think she has forgotten everything, but the demons will not leave her. She has never gone out of the house.”
He stopped, helpless in his longing to make them understand Leah. “She is very gentle and good,” he added, looking humbly at Malthace.
     To his surprise, her eyes glistened with tears. He had to look away...’

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