The Day Before The Wedding by Andrew J. Müller

A Story for Easter

by Andrew J. Müller

Itzhak ran as fast as his sandalled feet would let him. Down the main street, over its rough cobbled surface, dodging in and out of the people going about their daily businesses. An old woman carrying a basket brimming with fruits stepped out in front of him and he bowled straight into her. The fruit flew into the air and splattered down onto the street around the woman who fell heavily onto her backside. Itzhak couldn’t stop though, he just couldn’t. So he left her in the street swearing at his retreating back. It was a nuisance, his pursuers would know which direction he was headed in.

He turned a corner and, at last, reached the Town Wall. He sped through the archway, past the guard stationed there by the occupying Romans, and across the defensive ditch which encircled the town. Behind him he could hear cries of "stop thief" from his pursuers who were getting closer all the time. At least he had escaped the town before the general alarm had been raised. He couldn’t believe that people would be so extreme in reaction to a simple bit of pick-pocketry, all he had done was lift the young woman’s money pouch and cut it free from her belt. He needed the money, and she obviously had plenty. He’d nearly got away with it too, if it hadn’t been for being spotted by the stallholder he could have snuck away to count his takings. As it was he had dropped the money pouch during his pursuit so now he wasn’t even fleeing for the profit, just to save his skin.

A shout from the gate reached his ears, "There he is!"

Risking a look over his shoulder he saw his pursuers, five of them, standing in the Town Gate, one of them pointing in his direction. He put on a spurt of speed and disappeared into the scrubby groves of olive trees. Perhaps he could loose them in the thicket around the river.

Kicking up a cloud of dust, Itzhak scrambled down the banks of the river, which ran in a loop outside the town, fast flowing and with deep pools it wasn’t a river which was very useful for trading or navigation and so it was deserted for much of it’s length. A few women might be doing their washing further upstream, but here the steepness of the banks and the inaccesibility of the river made it perfect for Itzhak’s purpose, which was to find a quiet spot and hide there until the heat was off.

The shouts of his pursuers seemed to be closer and Itzhak looked back to see them at the top of the steep bank down to the river. Unfortunately as he did so he lost his footing and began tumbling helplessly down the bank until he came to a splashing rest in the river. With a roar the five men were upon him before he’d even got to his feet. They started throwing punches and kicks without mercy, although Itzhak tried to explain and beg for mercy. After a few moments he began to sink into unconsciousness.

"Keep him awake!" cried one of the men, and Itzhak felt someone grab him by his tunic and pull him into the deeper water. Then he was thrust under the surface, the coldness of the water shocking him back into consciousness. He was pulled out again and gasped desparately for air, water and blood from a cut on his forehead pouring down his face. Then he was under the water again, hearing rushing water and the muffled shouts of his attackers.

"Drown him like the Philistine rat he is!" one of the men suggested angrily.

Itzhak was plunged back under the water and this time he felt the men holding him under the surface. He tried to hold his breath but slowly the precious air bubbled out from his nose and mouth and everything began to go fuzzy. He’d never been a particularly devout man, but now he rattled off a quick prayer in his mind, then the world went black.

********

The next thing Itzhak was aware of was floating to the surface and coming back to muzzy consciousness. He had drifted to the shore and was laying on his back in shallow water. Of his attackers there was no sign. Had they left him for dead? Had someone scared them off? Itzhak shakily got to his knees and felt the cut on his head, it was still bleeding profusely, so he had only been unconscious for a short time. He raised his other arm to try and steady himself and pains shot up it. He looked down and saw a bump in the skin which looked like a break in the bone. Carefully he cradled the broken arm and went to stand. Then he became aware that he was not alone after all. There was someone standing on the shore a few feet away watching him.

Itzhak narrowed his eyes to try and see against the low glare of the sun which was behind the figure and against the harsh reflections shining off the surface of the river. It was a man, tall and thin, wearing a long white robe, he could have been almost anybody. Itzhak shakily stood and moved towards the man.

"Did you scare those men away?" he asked when he got closer.

The man didn’t reply, but put out a hand to help Itzhak out of the water. His fingers were long and delicate, it didn’t look like he’d ever worked the fields or built a house. So he must be some kind of clerk. Itzhak’s heart momentarily jumped, perhaps this man was a tax collector for the Roman overlords. Itzhak hadn’t paid any tax for well over a year and really didn’t want to start doing so now.

The man took hold of Itzhak by the broken arm and steadied the thief as he clambered out of the water. Now he could see him clearly Itzhak could see the man was somewhat unusual in appearance. His hard was long and not very well looked after, he was bearded, but the beard was also straggly. Unusually the man’s eyes were cold blue, a contrast to his more typically olive skin. He wore a passive expression, but there was something about him that reassured Itzhak that this was no tax collector.

They stood together on the river bank and neither spoke.

"Thank you," Itzhak eventually said, "Thank you for saving my life. How can I return the favour?" The man regarded the thief with his brilliant blue eyes but said nothing, only smiled slightly.

"Who are you?"

The man raised one of his delicate hands and placed it on Itzhak’s forehead. Finally he spoke, in a quiet, almost inaudible voice with an accent unlike any Itzhak had ever heard. But he didn’t answer Itzhak’s questions.

He merely said "Remember me. You will see me again." Then he turned away and walked off along the river bank.

For a while Itzhak watched the tall man, and then he was gone around a bend in the river. It was then that Itzhak realised his head wound was not bleeding anymore. He raised a hand to his forehead and it came away dry. Then he remembered that the hand he had just raised was at the end of a broken arm. He looked down, the arm looked fine. He flexed it, waggled his fingers, there was no pain.

Itzhak looked down river to where the man had vanished from his view. Puzzlement creased his brow and then he decided that he could think about this bizarre encounter later. Right now he had urgent business. Somehow he had to get enough money to buy his cousin a wedding present for the ceremony the next day.

He scrambled easily up the bank and headed back into Cana.

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2009


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