Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 15

Hananel nodded. "Get the ink and the parchment," he said. "Ah, listen to this rain. What chance is there that I'll sleep under my own roof tonight?"

"You're welcome to sleep under our roof, my lord," I said, with James murmuring his fierce assent. Everyone took it up, the welcomes. My mother and Old Bruria were setting out pottage for us, and warm bread.

From somewhere deep in the house, somewhere above the first story, I could hear the murmur of women's voices. Even beneath the constant hammer of the rain. I saw Mara come back in when I had not even seen her go out. So Avigail knew of all this, my precious and anguished Avigail.

Aunt Esther brought the parchment, several loose sheets, and the ink and the pen.

"Write it up, write it all up," said Hananel airily. "Write up that everything pertaining to her inheritance from her mother is hers, according to every record public, private, written, and unwritten, known to tradition and unrecorded except by common consent, or according to the girl's own avowal, and in spite of the denials of her father. Write it up."

"My lord," my mother said. "This is all we have to offer you, I fear, only a little pottage but the bread is fresh and just warmed."

"It's a banquet, my child," he said, bowing his head gravely. "I knew your father and loved him. This is good bread." He beamed up at her, and then glared at James. "And what are you writing?"

"Why, I'm writing just exactly what you said."

And so it began.

It lasted an hour.

They talked, back and forth, of all the usual conditions and proprieties. James haggled mercilessly over every single point. The girl's property was hers in perpetuity and should her husband ever, no matter what anyone said, put her aside, her property would be returned to her and with such damages as her kinsmen would demand, and so forth and so on, as it was always done, back and forth, back and forth. Yet James drove every point home. Now and then Cleopas gave him a nod, or held up a cautious finger, but in general it was James who saw to it, until it was written out. And signed.

"Now, I beg you, my lords, to allow this bride to be married immediately," declared Hananel with a weary shrug. His voice was slurred now from the wine, and he pinched his nose as if his eyes ached. "In view of what the child has suffered, in view of the disposition of her father, let this happen at once. In three days' time or sooner, I insist, for the girl's sake. I will immediately seek to prepare my house."

"No, my lord," I said. "That won't do."

James gave me a sharp look, full of apprehension and distrust. But not a single woman in the room looked at me. It was plain enough to them what I meant when I spoke.

"In several months' time," I said, "at Purim, Avigail will be ready for the bridegroom to come for her at this threshold, properly arrayed for her new husband and beneath the canopy, with all our kinsmen to salute you and sing for you, and proceed with you and dance with you, and she will then be yours."

James stared at me wrathfully. My uncle raised his eyebrows but didn't speak. Joseph watched in quiet.

But my mother nodded. The other women nodded.

"That's over three months' time," Reuben said with a sigh.

"Yes, my lord," I said. "And right after Purim, after we've all heard the Scroll of Esther, as we should."

Hananel studied me, and then nodded. "This is good. We are agreed."

"But now, if I might," asked Reuben. "If I might for just a moment see the girl, speak to her, present to her this gift."

"What is this gift?" demanded James.

I motioned for him to back off. Everybody knew the betrothal wouldn't be final until Avigail had received Reuben's gift.

James stared at Reuben sullenly.

Reuben produced the gift dutifully, opening the silken wrapping. It was a gold necklace, very delicate and very beautifully made. It shone with gems. I'd seldom seen such a thing. It might have come from Babylon or from Rome.

"Let me see if the girl is well and able to speak to you," said my mother. "My lord, drink your wine, and give me leave to talk to her. I'll be back as soon as I can."

There were muffled noises from the room next to us. Several of the women came in. Reuben rose and so did James. I was already standing.

Hananel looked up expectantly, the light very bright on his slightly scornful and bored face.

Avigail was brought in the door.

She was dressed in a simple bleached woolen tunic and robe, and her hair was beautifully combed.

The women urged her gently forward. Reuben stood before her.

He whispered her name. He held out the silk-wrapped gift with both hands as though it was something fragile that might shatter. "For you, my bride," he said. "If you will accept."

Avigail looked up at me. I nodded.

"Go on, you may accept it," said James.

Avigail received the present and opened the silk. She stared at the necklace. She was silent. She was dazed.

Her eyes locked on those of Reuben of Cana.

I looked down at the grandfather's face. He was transformed. The cold hard look of scorn was broken and dissolved. He stared up at Avigail and his grandson. He said nothing.

It was Reuben who spoke in a halting voice.

"My precious Avigail," he said. "I've traveled many a mile since I last saw you. I've seen many a wonder and studied in many a school, and wandered to many a place. But through it all, I carried in my heart one most cherished memory with me, and that was of you, Avigail, of you as you sang with the maidens on the road to Jerusalem. And in my dreams, I heard your voice."

They stared at one another. Avigail's face was smooth, and her eyes soft and large. Then Reuben flushed red and hastily reached for the necklace, slipping it out of the silk in her hands which fluttered to the ground. He opened the clasp and he gestured: Might he put it around her neck?

"Yes," said my mother.

And my mother took the necklace from him and she closed the clasp at the back of Avigail's neck.

I stepped up and put my hands on the shoulders of Reuben and Avigail.

"Speak to the young man, Avigail," I said softly. "Let him know what's in your heart."

Avigail's face softened and heated and her voice came low and full of emotion.

"I am happy, Reuben." Then her eyes melted. "I've suffered misfortune," she whispered.

"I know this. . . ."

"I haven't been wise!"

"Avigail," I whispered. "You are to be a bride now."

"My young one," Reuben said. "Who of us is wise in such adversity? What is youth and what is innocence, but treasures that we're soon to lose in the world's trials? That the Good Lord has preserved you for me through my years of foolish roaming, I can give only thanks."

The women surrounded them, hugging them and patting them, and then they drew Reuben back, and they took Avigail away, to the far end of the house and up the steps.

I looked at Hananel. He was staring at me fixedly. His eyes were cunning, but his look was chastened and faintly sad.

It seemed everyone was on the move now in the room, urging our guests to make ready, if they wanted, for bed in a clean, dry room which had been readied for them, or insisting that they take more wine, or that they have more food, or rest, or whatever it was in the world they should desire.

Hananel kept his eyes on me. He reached up for me. I came round and sat down beside him.

"My lord?" I asked.

"Thank you, Yeshua bar Joseph," he said, "that you came to my house."

Chapter Sixteen

AT LAST OUR GUESTS were securely bedded down in their rooms, on the best rugs we had laid over straw for beds, with the few fine pillows we could gather, and the inevitable brazier of coals, and water should they require it. Of course they claimed it was more than they had ever expected, and we knew it was not, and insisted that we wished we could provide them with silken bedding, and they urged us to go on to sleep, and I came back to the main room where I almost always slept and fell down beside the brazier.

Joseph sat silent as before, gazing at me with thoughtful eyes, and Uncle Cleopas sat staring at the fire and savoring the cup of his wine, sipping from it, murmuring to himself.

I knew a wrenching misery. I knew it as I lay still in the silence and in the shadows, ignoring the coming and settling of my brothers Joseph and Judas. I knew it as vaguely as I was aware that Silas and Levi were there too and Little Cleopas with his wife, Mary.

I knew that Avigail was saved; I knew that somehow her misery was at an end. I knew that Hananel and his grandson Reuben would be good to her all her days. I knew that.

But I also knew that I had given Avigail away to another man, I'd given Avigail away forever.

And a wealth of possibilities now descended on me, possibilities which I'd glimpsed perhaps in the heated moments in the grove when I'd clung to her, possibilities choked off by necessity and decision. Now they came like the whispered taunts given an airy shape passing before my dulled eyes - Avigail, my wife, Avigail and I together with a house of little ones, Avigail and I amid trivial tasks and arbors of trailing vines, in weariness and with soft tender skin, dare one think of that, the brush of lips, yes, and a body crooked snugly against me in the night-to-night dark - ah, the essence of all that would have followed, and could have followed, if I'd taken her as my wife, if I'd done what every man in the village expected of me, what my brothers had expected of me long before the other men, if I'd done what custom and tradition required of me. If I'd done what my heart seemed to want from me.

I didn't want sleep. I feared sleep. I wanted peace, I wanted the day to come so I could walk, I wanted the rain to keep falling so that it would blot out every sound in this room, every spoken word. And why at all at this hour and after so much were they speaking?

I looked up. James stood glowering at me. Beside him stood Cleopas. My mother stood there trying to pull her brother away, and finally James let it out:

"And how are we to provide this bride with proper robes and veils and a canopy and all the attendants of which you so vehemently spoke, to marry such a man as the grandson of Hananel of Cana!" He rose off the balls of his feet in rage. "Tell me, what is it that lies behind your boast, you, who caused this disaster, this very disaster. How could you claim for her a raiment and preparations such as no one in this house could ever give to your sister!" There was a flood of words yet to come.

But I rose to my feet.

My uncle Cleopas spoke gently. "Why couldn't you have married her yourself, my son?" he asked pleadingly. "Who is it that asks this of you, that you don't marry?"

"Oh, he's too good for that," declared James. "He would do Moses one better and not take a wife; he would do Elijah better and not take a wife. He would live as an Essene but not with the Essenes for he's too good for them. And had it been any other man in that grove with the girl, she'd be ruined. But all know you, no, you would never have touched her."

He drew in his breath for another rush of words, but I stopped him.

"Before you make yourself positively ill with rage," I said, "let me ask my mother - bring here, please now, the gifts that were given to me when I was born. Set them here before us."

"My son, are you certain?"

"I am certain," I said. I kept my eye on James.

He went to speak and I said:


She went out directly.

James stood regarding me with cold contempt, ready at any moment to erupt. My brothers were now grouped about, behind him. My nephews stood watching, and into the room had come Aunt Esther and Mara. Shabi and Isaac and Menachim stood against the wall.

I looked unwaveringly at James.

"I am weary of you, my brother," I said. "In my heart, I'm weary."

He narrowed his eyes. He was astonished.

My mother came back. She held a chest which was heavy for her to hold, and Mara and Esther assisted her as she brought it forward and set it down on the floor in front of us.

Decades, it had been hidden away, this chest, ever since our return here from Egypt. James had seen this chest. James knew what it was, but my other brothers had never set eyes on it, as they were the sons of my uncle Cleopas, and they'd been born after me. None of the younger men had ever seen it. Perhaps the boys in the room had never even heard tell of it. Perhaps Mara and Little Mary didn't even know that it existed.

It was a Persian chest, plated in gold and exquisitely decorated with curling vines and pomegranates. Even the handles of the chest were gold. It shone in the light, brilliantly as the gold of Avigail's necklace had shone on her neck.

"It's never enough for you, is it, James!" I said. My voice was low. I struggled against my anger. "Not the angels filling up the night skies over Bethlehem, not the shepherds who came through the stable door to tell my mother and father of the angels' song, no, not enough for you. And not the Magi themselves, the richly clad men from Persia who descended on the narrow streets of Bethlehem with their caravan, brought there by a star that lighted the very Heavens. Not enough for you! Not enough for you that you yourself saw these men put this chest at the foot of my cradle. No, not enough, never enough, no sign ever. Not the words of our blessed cousin Elizabeth, mother of John bar Zechariah, before she died - when she told us all of the words spoken by her husband as he named his son, John, when she told us of the angel who'd come to him. No, not enough. Not even the words of the prophets."

I stopped. He was frightened. He backed away and my brothers shifted uneasily away from me.

I stepped forward and James stepped back again.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies