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Friday, July 1, 2011

Fiction Friday: One More Time, Chapter 15


Previous chapters on previous Fridays...

CHAPTER 15 – MAY, 30 CE – HAMATH “VOLUNTEERS”

The lessons with the children progressed better than Sarah expected. Even the little girls could recite the alphabet and count to 100, and the boys had begun teasing each other using the short Greek phrases they learned. Every few days, she’d go see Jonas and get more lessons for the children from him. At the same time, she questioned him about the Hebrew laws, prophets, and Psalms, which were a favorite of Jonas. The time passed quickly at times, but when she wasn’t busy, her thoughts returned to Paul. Why hadn’t they heard anything back yet from his family? Surely they would be concerned about him, too. She could see why there’s been no word from his brother in Crete, since it was so far away and inaccessible except by boat, but his brother in Berytus and sister in Ptolemais weren’t so far away. She decided to ask Dorcas.

Dorcas came into the room where the children received their lessons the next day. “I’m pleased with their progress, Sarah. You’ve done well.”

“Thank you, madam. They’re all eager learners,” Sarah said, smiling at the children. She paused. “Madam, may I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Sarah.”

“Have you received any messages for me from Paulos’s kin?” she asked.

“No, I haven’t,” Dorcas replied, and a quick scowl rested on her brow. “It’s been some time since we sent the messages. I wonder if perhaps Hamath might have intercepted a message or two. I’ll ask him. And he will tell me,” she added with a smile that said it all. She left the room with purpose in her step.

Twenty minutes later she was back, two small parchment scrolls in her hand. “This might be what we have been waiting for, Sarah. Hamath isn’t here, but these were in a cabinet in our room, in a hole where he often tries to hide things from me. Usually, I look at whatever it is and put it back—after all, I wouldn’t want to discourage him from putting things there for me to find—and once you have read these, I’ll put them back again.”

She handed Sarah the scrolls, which Sarah eagerly rolled out and began to read. When she finished, she felt discouragement in every muscle of her body. “Both scrolls are from Paulos’ kin, and they haven’t seen him. Thank you, anyway, Madam, for finding and showing them to me.” She handed the scrolls back.

“You shouldn’t give up hope, Sarah. There’s one yet to hear from, isn’t there?”

“It’s unlikely any word from his brother in Crete will be any different, either. How would Paul ever get that far? He didn’t have enough money to pay passage on a boat to take him to Crete. Perhaps I should resign myself to the fact that he won’t return.” Sarah felt the words stabbing through her like a hot knife, and she cringed as she spoke them. She didn't realize how much she'd been counting on hearing Paul was safely in one of his siblings’ care.

Dorcas came over to Sarah’s side and slipped an arm around her shoulders. “You can’t give up. I realize that too often people don’t get to know their servants well, but I try to be an observant person. I cannot believe that Paulos would deliberately leave you and Tamara.”

Sarah shook her head. “We had a terrible argument that morning, Madam. Hamath had agreed to get a physician for him to reset his leg, and when I told Paulos, he was angry. I think he felt frightened, too, thinking about the pain he’d have to go through. Although I don’t think Paulos was so much afraid of the pain as he was afraid it would be reset by another charlatan that didn’t really know anything about setting a broken leg. Ane he said he wondered if I had promised Hamath...something in return. I didn’t, by the way.”

“A physician? Hamath said nothing to me about a physician.”

“Paulos disappeared the day your parents arrived. The physician was scheduled to be here the next morning. When I told Hamath Paulos wasn’t here, he was very angry.”

Dorcas had sparks in her eyes. “Hamath didn’t send for a physician. I handle the money, and he would’ve had to tell me. Something smells like a long dead fish here. Hamath is not home now, but we’ll have a discussion regarding Paulos when he returns. A serious discussion.”

Sarah felt her stomach tighten. “Madam, you surely don’t think that Hamath would have Paulos killed.”

“No, I don’t think Hamath would go that far,” Dorcas replied. “He is devious sometimes, but somehow I can’t see him going to that extreme. Besides, he’d have had to pay a lot of money for that, and like I said before, I handle the money.”

Sarah bowed her head. “Madam, there is something else. Hamath said I was to become his concubine if Paulos was, was d-dead, and I really don’t want to be, even if it should turn out that—that he...”

“Humph!” replied Dorcas. “A concubine? That will happen only over my dead body! You or any other woman, and I’ll make that clear to him, too. Despite his actions toward you, Sarah,” she smiled, “he likes my body and doesn’t want it to be even a little bit dead!”

“I don’t wish to become his concubine, either, Madam. I hope you believe me.”
Dorcas patted Sarah’s arm comfortingly. “No, my dear, I don’t believe you wish to be his concubine. Your body when he is present speaks volumes to me. You, I trust. Now, you go fix our evening meal, and I’ll await Hamath’s return by the door.”

Sarah could hear when Hamath returned. Dorcas was obviously reading Hamath the riot act, or whatever took the place of the riot act in this age. She couldn’t hear Hamath’s voice. Apparently he spoke little if at all, but Dorcas voice could be heard, and she sounded angry. Sarah smiled. She could almost feel sorry for Hamath.

When she served dinner, Hamath was a quiet, well-behaved mouse. Not one single surreptitious glance did he cast in Sarah’s direction, not one sound issued from his lips—and was that a handprint on his face? Dorcas’ dark eyes still smoldered. Even the children and the puppy seemed to be on extra-good behavior this evening, treading as though they noticed the fire already in her eyes. Hmm, thought Sarah with amusement, I wonder if Dorcas has a touch of fiery Italian in her blood?

When the meal was over, Dorcas signaled Sarah to her side. “I wish to speak with you, Sarah. Please come with me to the courtyard.” Sarah followed obediently.

When she arrived on the far side of one of the bushes, Sarah heard a faint giggle. A giggle? From Dorcas? Sarah couldn’t believe her ears.

Dorcas giggled again, holding her hand in front of her mouth to muffle the sound. “Oh, Sarah, Did you see the look on Hamath’s face? I haven’t had such a time hiding my amusement in years.” She sobered. “I have some good news, but I also have some bad news.”

Sarah steeled herself. “Yes, Madam?”

“As I thought, Hamath was at the heart of Paulos’ disappearance. Paulos is alive, so Hamath tells me, which is the good news. But he doesn’t know where Paulos is, which is the bad news. He gave Paulos to a slave master who planned to use Paulos to beg for him. He said the slaver is from Jerusalem. A cloth merchant was to carry him outside the city a mile or two where they would meet this man.”

Sarah's heart sank. Paul was as good as lost to her. She didn’t have the freedom to leave Tyre, let alone the money for the travel or to buy his freedom. She couldn’t leave her employment—she needed the home for her child. With Tamara’s delicate health, she couldn’t drag her across the countryside in search of Paul.

“Oh, Sarah, don’t look so despairing.” Dorcas put her hands on Sarah’s shoulders. “All is not lost! You see, Hamath has ‘volunteered’ to go after Paulos himself, find him, buy him back, and return him here. Hamath will to leave tomorrow on a fast horse. Our conversations tonight will be much happier than before our evening meal.” Dorcas had a sly sparkle in her eyes. “And he should return with Paulos within a month!”

Sarah beamed. “Oh, Madam, you’re wonderful. I’m forever indebted to you!”

Sarah almost danced as she went back to the cooking area. Tamara was still there, playing with some pans. Sarah picked her up, whirled her around, and squeezed her till she squealed. “Oh, Tamara,” she sang. “Hamath is going to go find your Papa.”

Tamara shrieked with joy. “Papa’s coming home? Is he going to be here tonight?”

“No, Tammy, but soon, a few days. We will need to be patient, but it won’t be too long.”

“I’m going to go tell Hamath ‘thank you.’” Tamara squirmed out of Sarah’s arms and ran into the house. Sarah made a move to stop her and then thought better of it. Maybe it would be better that Tamara and Hamath both thought Dorcas had only conveyed the positive side of Hamath’s change of heart. It wouldn’t do for him to think Dorcas had told her of his duplicity. And who knows? Maybe a little girl’s gratitude could work to soften Hamath’s heart.

She waited for Tamara to return, then the two of them walked back toward their house, Tamara chattering about Papa’s homecoming.

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