“For how long have you served with the Oregot, Hanna?” Yahya asked.
“I came before the High Holy Days. Mariamne brought me from Kriti by way of Eskanderejai,” I answered.
“You had seen and done so much before you came to Beit haMiqdas. Now you have worked to create the Parochet in strictures of purity and by means of traditional methods. What a richness for your soul! You and I and Yeshua all share a deep knowledge of other cultures and customs.
“I went to school all over Mar-Yam haMariahne, and visited places of worship in the four corners of Roma Imperia. Yeshua grew up where the world came to him in Nome Yudaica. Yusuf didn’t take up the family holding in Natzrat until Yeshua was eleven.
“That man ought to have found a school for haShem’s lamb in Eskanderejai. If he could think beyond the next cushy job, the next jug of table red, maybe he would have. Mariamne wasn’t there enough to stand foster parent to him.
“There was and is nothing up Har haKfitsa in that dusty, six-goat town for a person reared and educated in the shadow of the Mouseion of Eskanderejai. As a merchant captain’s apprentice, he will continue to learn. That is, if Yosif of the Ai-Rama Thea has any say in the matter. And on his own boat, he is captain of every soul sailing with him,” he shared with satisfaction.
“I never went anywhere on purpose. I mean, I knew why I was going to Kriti, but I hadn’t asked to go. I went to Tzor because Mariamne said I needed to, and Shelomit agreed. Though I had hoped to be a part of that life, rather than the wife of some Kohen,” I added as a sly dig at Yohanan’s own position, and that of his mother Elisava as well.
“And now you are here in Beit haMiqdas, no doubt due to the further machinations and interferences of Mariamne,” he concluded for me.
“Machinations? I don’t know about any of that. She continues to be right: I am the only daughter of this generation. And as you convincingly made clear, likely to stay that only daughter no matter how great in years you or Aunt Mimi should grow to be,” I objected. “Of course, my mother might have another girl baby-- but Bet Maryam doubts it.”
“Where would you be if she hadn’t come to fetch you on Kriti?” he persisted.
“Here, but not so quickly. If she had sent a letter, I would have done as it said. Bet Maryam does not question her own. We do what is best for the whole of our clan. Well, on the women’s side we do. I don’t know about you lot.
“You might not feel for the mothers as we other women do. You can live in the world of haShem and all his male attendants, judges, heads-of-household, professionals, guildsmen and tradesmen. There is no life for me in the Tribes. Only what I can make in the world of women and bring back across the barrier in the form of goods and money.
“Until you made your recent choice, you could have worked in comfort all your days. They see Aaron’s Tribe cared for and fed, laundered and housed.” I hoped he would hear not the rejection of haShem and the Tribes, but my reaching out for more than what could be found within the strictures of Ysrael.
“Some comfort, slaughtering animals for a living whilst mumbling prayers in a sacred language good for no other use than that,” Yahya shot back.
“Fair enough, but you didn’t object enough to quit before you had to. Remember how you have failed the line of the Mach’lakhah of Abijah, and all that? ...Was it you that bobbled the Parochet a couple of years ago? Yoana mentioned it was an Abijahan,” I interposed my own train of thought.
“What? Is that story still going around? It wasn’t like it sounds. And the Parochet was deemed still clean and fit to be hanged in the Kodesh haKodashim. I don’t know why everyone still fusses. Nothing happened, nothing at all,” he protested.
“So much nothing that they had to call for the adjudicator? That doesn’t sound like nothing to me. That definitely sounds like something,” I insisted.
“Mistakes were made. It might, I only say might, have been the tincture of mushrooms Hekat had given me the night before, to start our dinner off on the right note. Those mushrooms really were from Patmos, which is more often said than true,” Yahya supplied.
“By the Lady’s Cart, I have heard of those kinds of doctors. Does he know any actual medicine, this Hekat? Or is he only a purveyor of fine feelings and a guide to the realms of the senses-beyond-the-senses?” Now I knew why Aunt Mimi found these quacks to be so reprehensible. What help could they ever be when real healing was required?
“Hekat knows many of the fields of his trade. I have seen him drill holes in the skulls of his dinner guests to relieve the pressure of their brains within and increase the flow of life to all regions of the body,” Yahya said offhandedly.
“Did the guests agree to have holes drilled in their heads? Or did this occur after they passed out?” I asked shortly.
“So much acerbity in one yet young. I fear for your years to come, little one. Into what will you ripen with an attitude like this before you are even of age to serve with your temple’s qedashot?” He mused with false solicitation.
“So much lack of nonsense in one as young as me bodes fair for my future in the Hecatoi,” I volleyed back.
“If that’s all the further your liver can take you, then well enough,” he retorted.
“Again, I belong to the race of women. We have not so many opportunities and choices as have our brothers. Needs must where needs are found.” I paraphrased his own Grandmother Sobe with that parting aphorism.
“Sour before your time is what, Miss Needs Must,” he scrapped at me, as long ago Gabura and I had spatted in amiable dissent.
“Practical before my years. Unlike some of my cousins. Cousins who find themselves in the Court of the Metzoraim, for example. Not naming names, you understand. I don’t need to point a finger,” I mugged.
“Thank you, Miss Needs Must. That will do. We will speak of my debility as little as possible. I would prefer the gossip regarding my termination from the priesthood be somewhat vague. I don’t want it filled with what still may be gory details, if Hekat doesn’t come through before the gates are shut at sundown,” Yahya cautioned.
“I am not a tattle-tale, whatever else I may be. You already know that about me. Ask Rabban Shammai if he thought me eager to disclose the names of Abigal and Oreget Orpah to him?” I reminded my cousin.
“Then understand that I require greater discretion of you in this matter. I want this as quiet as possible for my mother’s sake. Thank haShem, Rabban Shammai is now involved. He will know how to manage in such a way that my mother’s sensibilities are protected as much as possible.
“I did not follow the traces of the Shekinah across the face of this world to bring my mother sorrow and shame. I did this because it had to be done. Better if it were accomplished by one with a name and lineage commanding respect. Like mine. Ours.
“No one could accuse me of being a disenfranchised revolutionary. I am a child of the house of Aaron on both sides as the Tribes count descent. I have no reason, as the Pharisees and Sadukim view things, to overturn the status quo,” he finished, pompous beyond his years.
“I know. You can’t help what you are, and you don’t want to hurt your mother on that account. I would have kept my mouth shut, anyway. And what happened to you,” I caught myself from saying ‘what you did to yourself’, “is not the kind of thing I would write in a letter to Bet Maryam or my mother,” I stated in some indignation.
“What about Yeshua?” Yahya asked a little hoarsely.
“What about him? You mean the other cousin I barely know? Why would we be correspondents? I am twelve now, but only just. You and he are grown men, or counted as such. Why would either of you write to me? And what’s so important about Yeshua?” I demanded.
“He and I are of much of an age, though I am the elder. The family, the community, the world compare us. He is sweet natured, giving, and compassionate. Those ideals give me a pain in my parts which has nothing to do with Thraki. I can’t be meek and mild and a friend to all.
“I am more a thundering doom from the edge of the desert kind of person. Not that anyone says, ‘I want to be a prophet when I grow up,’ not in these times. But that would be much more in accord with my temperament than trying to behave like Yeshua for so much as one jar’s length of time,” he asserted with passion.
“I have been disappointing one person or another with my talents, skills and activities since I was a tiny child.” I noted Yahya’s raised eyebrows, “Since I was a tinier child, then.”
“I have long been pointed out as a horrible warning, not a shining example. So rise above that focus in others and do what you alone are good at. If that becomes finding the Shekinah after seven hundred years, I have a hard time believing such an act wouldn’t be good for your personal credit with the Tribes,” I advised in my best Hecatoi manner.
“The Kohanim have senselessly performed a pantomime every Yom Kippur since Nebuchadrezzar desecrated the Kodesh haKodashim and shattered all of Yerushalayim. Those men will not want me to shout in the Court of Ysrael that there are bride clothes in plenty, but the bride herself has fled and turned her face from her promised bridegroom. These men will say in the Sanhedrin, under oath, that it is better to serve an empty pedestal than to take service wheresoever haShem should choose to manifest, no matter what the guise. These men like their sinecure in Beit haMiqdas. They would wet themselves if they thought there were any danger of coming face to Face with the presence of the One on High,” he thundered.
Yahya was right. He should have been a prophet, riding a chariot of fervor to speak face to Face with the One who made all. He might have been good at it, as Eliyahu was and Yona wasn’t. Some men resist serving as avatars for the One on High for a reason.
“Fine, neither will I say anything now, nor will I say anything later-- except ‘I told you so’ if I’m right and you aren’t. Since I am a daughter of Bet Maryam, I expect to find I am right, and you aren’t. However long that takes.
“In the meantime, is there a stick or two around here? We can play naughts-and-crosses in the dirt of the fig bushes,” I lightened my tone, wishing to draw off my too impassioned cousin from his over-focus on the self-important, self-satisfied, self-deluded priests of Beit haMiqdas.
There were sticks. There was dirt. We never touched, being careful to manage our limitations. I won some. He won more. It was good for him to win, so I held back where I could and let him dazzle me when he was able.
Before I had noticed the passage of time, a call came from the grille. I ran to see what Sarah had brought. I was disappointed at first, when I caught a glimpse of the newest habitue of the Court of the Metzoraim behind her. Then she waved a small package, and I smiled and pressed her with my thanks.
The package contained a salve, looking much like any bag balm. But there were also a number of separately wrapped herbal teas, with instructions for when to drink them and at what temperature and after steeping for specific lengths of time. Maybe this Hekat was more of a doctor than I suspected.
Yahya thanked me again and rushed off to heat water on a little brazier in his cell. I didn’t ask how he had come by that privilege. Instead, I walked to the grille and called for Sarah.
She told me which cell was mine on the top floor, but believed the warmth of our acquaintance excused her from making any exertion to show me in person. I didn’t care. I suddenly felt exhausted. Spending time with Yahya had drained me of a huge volume of energy. I needed a nap.