Zebadyah would rather fight than see me taken for what may or may not be proved in front of witnesses. My father’s face reddens. His veins pump blue and throbbing. His chest swells like a pheasant at a mating match. The next thing he does will change the world around us forever. He knows this, but his honor and the name of Migdala, and the tribe of Naphtali itself maybe, are in question.
Shelomit stands proud on her stilts. My mother’s tunic bears a pair of jousting gazelles and a pomegranate tree on the back. Its front depicts a pair of mourning doves and a sheaf of flax. These images stay in my heart. They are of her goddess and the symbols of her husband’s god also.
“My father comes. He will see your iniquity. His justice is merciless as the sun for whom he is named!” Marta exhorts in her certain voice. The menservants grip me more tightly as their mistress’ words ring across the knot of people shifting uncertainly in the dusty high street.
“A pearl is a treasure unique to the world made by creatures with no senses, yet beautiful beyond the wisdom of prophets or the eloquence of poets,” comes a piping voice from near me, but behind my line of sight. Our family looks to see what youth will challenge the very Children of the Sun in their outrage and apprehension of a criminal.
I turn my head and see a boy with hair as curly as mine, but gold and shining like the harvest wheat stalks in Marta’s hair. Eyes green as Yam haKinneret on a day overcast and windy. No taller in stature than my mother, but with the awkward hands and feet of a child in the way of becoming much bigger before all is said and grown.
“Since each pearl is unique, maybe these on her tunic will show us something of the infinite creative impetus from the One on High in their particulars. In doing so, they may help us decide if this poor child wearing them is a thief or only suffers the ardor of mistaken recognition.” The calm presence of this lovely person, his warm essay accusing none but including all in his effort to discover the truth, these disarm us all and dispose everyone present to allow his next actions and discoveries.
“Is it Gabura?” the young stranger asks my reddest haired brother.
“Y—yes, that name is mine,” he pronounces bravely in the face of this seer.
“Have you the lens your Aunt Mariamne brought you the last time you saw her? Will you fetch it quickly?” he asks earnestly in an accent different from any I know at that time. Gabura looks lightning struck.
“I have the, the lens. I will return with it in a moment only,” he shouts over his shoulder, shoving and dodging his way through the folk of Migdala.
The moment becomes long. Dust rises in the street before it consents to settle.
Fine grit settles on our arms, faces and legs. A ripple and murmur through the crowd heralds Gabura’s return. A cry and a low susurration, the sound of clothing on those who bow deeply, brings news of a different arrival from the side of Migdala closest to the villas of the Children of the Sun. Sham-Sun Baal approaches with my brother’s own speed.
“Why do you hold this thief? Why should I not schedule the severing of her neck from her head now? She wears my daughter’s stolen pearls. She must surely die for so grave a crime. This is the law of the Children of the Sun, and I am the seed of the Seed of Gold. I serve the Lion and the Raft. And so do all my children also,” the prince pronounces in a voice expecting easy victory.
“The necklace of your daughter is taken. This we know. But these pearls may be pearls other than those which you cannot find at home. Let me show you a simple proof, servant of the Lion and the Raft. Judge the nature of these pearls for yourself. Please honor us with your wisdom, oh seed of the Seed of Gold,” the deus ex machina invites.
The golden child grabs the lens Mariamne bat Cleopas gave Gabura. He brings it to the beading around the hem of my linen tunic. His beckoning gestures bring the Prince of the Sun to his side, to stare through the lens.
“With the eye of the Vulture and the heart of the Lion, surely you already see these pearls are hand-knotted and not threaded as the beads beside them are. The pearls from your daughter’s necklace have the superior distinction of the delicate craftsmanship required to pierce each irregular gem from end to end. These still carry the grit of the tide in their crevices and cannot be compared in any way to the fine pearls so basely taken from your daughter,” the foreign youth assures Marta’s avenging, princely papa.
The servant of the Lion and the Raft finds no flaw in the reasoning of the golden child. He sees the pearls on my tunic reside there by reason of knots. The pearls are virgin and show no exposure to the jewelers’ drill. Gabura’s pearls are not the pearls of his honored daughter’s lost necklace.
“This child is innocent of the theft of my daughter’s pearls. The mercy of the Children of the Sun may not be equaled throughout the kingdoms of men. We release this person wholly and present her people with a purse of gold and our wishes for a prosperous New Year.” So saying, Sham-Sun Baal drops a sizable silken purse into Zebadyah’s calloused hands. The seed of the Seed turns and grabs his older daughter firmly as he makes his way through a sea of villagers parting miraculously as though Moshe and the One on High are both at hand.
The shofar still blows.
Unsteadily, our procession resumes. First one tambour, then another. Next a flute pipes and the stilt-walkers resume their wading-bird strut to the end of our village and the blessing of the Kohen. We don’t regain our former ecstatic reverie, but none of us so much as stumbles.
From the corner of my eye, I see Zebadyah with an arm around our child advocate. I hope my father invites him back to our home. I want to meet and thank the messenger sent to save our honor and clear our name. In that moment, I walk the stilts and keep my balance and focus on a good flax crop for the year to come—like every person walking with me.