In the weeks which followed, I rose and took my tunic and head wrap and betook myself to the baths down the stairs and through the refectory. No one, by word or look or motion, tried to stop me. In the quiet of the baths, I stretched thoroughly and attempted the tumbling I deemed controllable in a room with steam-slicked marble floors
When I finished, I returned to the dormitory. There I waited on my neatly made bed for the corps to finish waking up, and the smell of roasting lamb to signal the beginning of our work day. I looked forward to my time in the workshop. I continued to assist Oreget Rivka with her administration and calculation until differently assigned.
I kept the lists, tags, and charts of weights and lengths all readied at hand. I made every effort to anticipate the things I could, and learn from those I hadn’t seen before. The less Oreget Rivka recited the clauses stipulating the labors of the Oregot under her breath, the better I had performed in easing her burden of leadership and logistics.
When Hoshana Rabbah had drawn to close, the help Mariamne had promised to find began arriving. Oreget Dinah complained that however many eligible virgins of the Tribes she sent, it would still be too little and have come too late in the year to allow the corps to catch up with its standing schedule. Oreget Rivka shook her head and had a number of junior Oreget pulled from their assignments to take the new girls around as Yoana had taken me. I counted as too new to be a guide to the freshly arrived.
Between four and eight turned up each week. Soon the only beds left were near Abigal and the chamber pots, and the drafty open doorway from our dormitory into the rest of the Erzat haNashim. Before we had finished Hanukkah, which involved eating fried lentil patties with the fresh herbed cheese I liked so much and more singing and listening again to the tales of the valiant Maccabees, the beds had all been filled and the senior Oregot spoke of putting pallets in the corridor.
The extra pairs of hands for every task would have been more helpful had they come to Beit haMiqdas trained. Carding and spinning were within the skill set of nearly every girl Mariamne found. But only a few had ever worked a heddle loom, and fewer still had dyed fabric, let alone unspun wool and flax.
“It is better than it was,” Oreget Rivka said to Dinah one brief, Shabbat-at-sundown, winter afternoon.
“And yet, though we have nowhere else to put the junior Oregot, we are still behind by weeks. Each one of them has hands made of thumbs, and they are left hands all. I only pray Mariamne received word from us and knows we acknowledge she has fulfilled her vow. If she were a Nazarite, I would say it is time for her to cut her hair,” Oreget Dinah pronounced, her words dripping acerbity.
“If we only had more hands with some actual skill,” Oreget Rivka muttered more to herself than anyone.
“Would you have somewhere to put them? If there were senior Oregot? More of them, I mean,” I asked with a purpose.
“Of course we have somewhere to put them. The High Holy Days are over. We survived the influx of wives, widows and daughters at the Hakhel, even.” Oreget Dinah answered though I had probably aimed my question at the friendlier, less rigid Rivka. “Those halls are only stacked with the pallets and tables we provide for the seasonal guests and pilgrims in number. Why do you ask, miracle child?”
“Could you not ask Mariamne to spread the word of your need for former junior Oregot? Hardly anyone is so prosperous that they would forgo their widowed mother or aged grandmother finishing her years in devout productivity and contemplation-- at the expense of Beit haMiqdas. If, that is, they knew there was an urgent call to succor the scheduling deficiencies of this year’s Parochet.” I essayed this, because we had got all the girls we could manage. And I had seen Oreget Rivka’s master schedule. Work finished lagged behind work targets alarmingly.
“How would they be able to contribute to our labors? Our chairs and benches are crowded. They would have to work at night,” Oreget Dinah objected.
“Yes, exactly. They are experienced, less in need of guidance and discipline. They could choose either evening shift, to begin after the service is concluded, or an early shift which would finish when the junior Oreget took the floor,” Oreget Rivka jumped in. “Old women don’t sleep much anyway, they won’t mind odd hours if they don’t have to tolerate being bossed around by their children and daughters-in-law. They don’t eat much either, which will keep the kitchens from rising up”
Oreget Dinah shook her head in rueful commiseration with that last. Then the two of them began to sort out the old lists of junior Oregot, looking for the places where many had claimed their hometowns or villages. Mariamne would have more success if she put the word out where the most candidates would be likely to hear of it.
“We will be in debt to those zon’ot at Tzor if we set Virago Mariamne bat Halfi to this labor on our behalf,” Oreget Dinah said to Oreget Rivka.
“Qedesh’ot, not zon’ot. Not when we are asking them for the favor, Dinah” Oreget Rivka chided lightly.
“Well, I don’t like it. And I hate to think what the Kohanim would decide if it came to their ears,” Dinah continued.
“You don’t have to like it. You, Dinah, have to assist me in seeing the Parochet hung on the first of Nisan. This year, we will do so by any means necessary.
“Furthermore, I don’t see why any of this should come to the attention of the Kohanim. For the most part, they are fully satisfied by a workshop which produces the desired objects on the correct schedule with a minimum of oversight. If we don’t tell them, who is to know?
“Hanna knows better than to say anything to anyone not here present. This is her aunt we speak of as well. The miracle child has been successfully trained to support and augment the will and aims of her family-- albeit not the lineage traced through her father. She won’t go gossiping to her cronies, or accidentally drop hints in front of those who would only turn this project into a chance to implement regime change.”
Rivka smiled at me to reinforce her words of reassurance. Predictably, Dinah scowled. All would be well. An influx of trained, eager hands able to work all the hours that were given. They might begin arriving before another month had passed.
“I will compose our request to Mariamne, and send it out with one of the guards at the next shift change. If we send the letter to the Osey haTorah where she stayed earlier in the season, they will know how to send it on so that it finds her. I will include an inducement of shekels for the guard. The Osey haTorah need no lubrication to do their best, a cost-effective choice on Mariamne’s part.”
Oreget Rivka began foraging for ink, quill and any blank margin of parchment she might cut away to make the body of her note to my useful aunt. I only wanted the Parochet to be finished on time in order to see poor Oreget Rivka relax, and some of the furrows in her brow lessened. I wouldn’t have been dismayed to discover Oreget Dinah could become less edgy with an improvement in the actual progress on the workings against the annual master schedule. But I didn’t care either.
Only days after the note had left the grounds of Beit haMiqdas, the fruit of Mariamne’s second round of recruiting began to appear at the doorway of the workshop. Each of these unascended Hecatoi was escorted by an unenthusiastic guard. Each brought with her the few bundles of what would fit in her assigned wicker chest. Each arrived ready to set down her packs at her new bunk, and pick up her labor that very day.
Immediately, the pace of the Oregot’s accomplishments sped up. The quality of the work required less constant inspection when it was produced on the senior Oregot shifts. But there were unforeseen consequences attendant on this wave of returning alumnae.
“We never used to do so when I worked here as a girl, and at your very side, Rivka. Excuse me, Oreget Rivka,” was heard at least once a jar, and sometimes twice, in every elder workshift. I was often asleep when these objections were made, but I listened intently whilst filing the charts, or calculating a freshly received wool yield. As in my childhood at Migdala, the adults forgot my proximity, and I eavesdropped whether I wished to or not.
At first, Oregot Rivka and Dinah were only more tired and more frayed than they had been. This came of launching both night and pre-dawn shifts with neither planning nor lead time. The logistics of keeping the right number of people with their various skill levels busy at the sequentially interlocked tasks would have fretted an Osey haTorah.
Certain tasks could not be undertaken on the night watches: dying with the snail juices, color matching batches of finished yarn to weavings in progress on the looms. All the rest were both possible and faithfully attempted. Once the updated techniques and timing had been adopted uniformly, the stresses of accepting so many new Oregot all at once were balanced by the forward progress we made against the master schedule.
The final months running up to the first of Nisan were filled with challenges. There were hectic work orders, shadow-eyed laborers on every shift, and the insidious flow of gossip. Much of it regarding the grasping ways of the Treasury, and their perfidy concerning the budget for haOregot and the workings thereof. All of this became complicated by a series of escalating complaints from other branches of the weaving corps.
Everyone found themselves shorted in materials and labor. The bursary merely shrugged its bureaucratic shoulders and continued to ‘lose’ requests and delay hearings. Poor morale set in from the lowest, floor-sweeping chalalah to the greatest grandmother of the Oregot housed in the Erzat haNashim.