BOOK FUN MAGAZINE - FREE READ

MARY CONNEALY – Author of “PETTI COAT RANCH”




How did you start out your writing career? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?


Well, hummmm career? I like that. I wrote my first novel when I was 12. I'll no doubt have to answer for that when I go before God on judgment day, heaven knows how bad it was.


I wrote my first novel when my youngest child went to kindergarten. I look back on it now and wonder what was going on in my head. But I know what prompted me to start. My daughter (I've got four) was probably 10 or 11 and she wrote a book. A pretty good book really. I'm not telling you what it was about and of course it was too short and weak in all the writing rules, but she told a good story. I still think it's a good story. I've been wrangling with her for years to let me steal it. The brat. It was probably ten pages long. I thought, "If Wendy can do it, I can do it." So I did. I've never sold that first book but I sold the second. Ten years after I first typed, "It was a dark and stormy night" for the first time.


You'll note that Petticoat Ranch begins on a 'dark and stormy night'. :)


How did you get the idea for Petticoat Ranch? Did you come up with that title? If not, what was your working title name?

I hate to tell you the working title. It was all wrong. In fact, the book sold about four months after I submitted it for the first time under the title Petticoat Ranch. My agent and I brainstormed titles and decided this caught the cowboy and comedy of the book. But it won so many contests under it's old, awful title. One of the continuing comment's I'd get was, "Your title sounds non-fiction."

It was originally titled, "Room for God's Wrath" which is from the Bible verse that begins, "Avenge not yourself, but leave room for God's wrath because vengeance is mind says the Lord." There's a lot about vengeance in my quirky, lighthearted romantic comedy.


How did you prepare to write about this time period and about ranches?


I had nearly twenty books finished, sitting on my computer when I got my first contract. Included in those books is every genre, every time period, anything and everything that appealed to me. I decided…oh…about fifteen books in, that if no one was going to publish me I might as well write to entertain myself so I wrote anything that appealed to me.


Well, no vampires, but other than that, I've written everything. I've got a really cool demon possessed serial killer novel I hope someone will publish someday. Still, I can see how that might shock readers looking for Petticoat Ranch II so for now, no one's going for it. Big shock. I love that book though, it's one of my most fiercely Christian books, I think. But mean, really mean. Also a romantic comedy. Call me versatile.


Some writers plot out what they are going to write step by step and others say they write by the seat-of-their- pants, which style of writing best describes your writing? What inspires you to write?


I can do both plotting and winging it. To write for Heartsong Presents, a book club which has bought four book from me now, they want a chapter by chapter synopsis. So I had to learn to do that. I like HAVING the detailed synopsis but I don't like DOING the synopsis, so left to my own devices, I take the easy way out and wing it.


Did you find it difficult to write from a man's POV? What research did you to get inside their head for their thoughts and reactions? It was so good.

I hope it was well done. So much of Clay is my husband. My husband grew up in a family of all boys, seven of them. (I dedicated Calico Canyon to my mother-in-law) He is so clueless around the girls, sometimes he just watches them as if they completely don't compute. But honestly, can a woman ever know what's going on inside a man's head?


My husband says men think things through and woman talk things through, so I used that a bit in the book. Clay is very literal. The silly man believes what Sophie says, even when, to her it's impossible for him to miss her sarcasm. And he tends to think quietly then announce his decision, where as Sophie likes to bat ideas around, discuss the pros and cons. I wanted Clay to come off as clueless but not unkind, not a jerk. I hope I accomplished that.


And seriously, how can any of us really know if I got it right, and maybe it's an unfair generalization that men think differently than women. People are all different. So the rest is probably too broad and vague to have truth to it. Still, they do seem to think kinda funny….


Is being an author everything you thought it would be? If not, what has been surprising to you?


It is wonderful. I like to say, "I was a spinster for too long to be real picky when someone finally proposed." You're not going to find me complaining about an editor or a publicist or a book cover. To me it's a pure MIRACLE that I have any contact with any of them. I think they're wonderful and I am completely obedient to them because Barbour's got a terrific, professional, experienced team to work with.


What was your favorite scene in "Petticoat Ranch"? Which one did you have the most fun writing? Why?


I loved the fight they had before they got married. I loved the kids in church when the parson was yelling his sermons. I loved Sophie and her girls fighting the bad guys at the end. I think my favorite scene, both to read and to write, is a trip home from church in the wagon, when Clay is yelling about Sophie setting up the booby traps and he tells Sophie she's pretty. I liked the kids interrupting and Sophie trying so HARD to be obedient and humble, even though it really didn't suit her.


Can you tell me of 2 "Wow" moments you have had on your journey to being published and now afterwards? What made them a "Wow "moments for you?


There is no greater 'Wow' moment than the day I got my first contract. Every year Barbour gives out one contract at the ACFW conference. (American Christian Fiction Writers). In 2005 I knew I had a chance. They had been in touch several times about revisions to a book, which is very, very encouraging. Then, when the moment came, they called someone else's name. Okay, FINE! I've been rejected before. I can handle it.


Then, after Kathy Kovack got her contract, Tracie Peterson says, "And this year we're giving two. We're offering a contract to Mary Connealy." I got to go up in front, on stage, in front of 350 writings, all clapping, people coming as I stumbled up there, hugging me. It was so, so, so, so sweet. (wow, not enough so's)


I know your second book "Calico Canyon" is to be released on bookshelves soon (exactly when)? How was the writing experience different when you wrote your second book as opposed to what happened to you in writing the first?


The writing experience was pretty good because…tada…I had all three books in this series written before I got the first one published. Part of having twenty finished books on my computer. So I finished Petticoat Ranch then thought I should tell the flip side of this story. A woman in an all male world. So if you've just read Petticoat Ranch you'll know Grace and Daniel and his sons are in there, but they weren't at first. I was able to go back and put them in, then write Calico Canyon and add into Calico Canyon AND Petticoat Ranch bits of what would be in Gingham Mountain, which is coming next February.

Tell us something about "Calico Canyon" and what we can look forward to. What was your inspiration for this story?



Petticoat Ranch is my family, four daughters. Calico Canyon is my husband's family, seven sons. Gingham Mountain is my family eight of us, three boys and five girls. Calico Canyon is more of a flat out comedy than Petticoat Ranch. There is suspense in it, but the comedy is more prevalent.

What project are you working on now? When will that be out?


Well, I'm working way ahead. I'm actually two and a half books into the NEXT three book series. And I've stepped out of that because Barbour wants a cowboy Christmas book, which I'm ¾ of the way done.



I've also just finished a three book series set around a buffalo ranch in South Dakota and a three book series of cozy mysteries. There are part of book clubs so they aren't as easily available as the longer books. But I'm doing revisions on them as they come through the Barbour editors. So that's keeping me busy. And after Calico Canyon comes Gingham Mountain. I got the first look at what may be the final cover last week. More books and another sign post. I love it.

What books do you read and what authors inspire you? Do you read Christian Fiction? If so; who are your favorites?

This is a mean question because I read so much, how am I supposed to pick even a few?


I read widely in all genres. I'll list some of the Christian fiction authors I love.


I subscribe to Heartsong Presents and Heartsong Presents Mysteries. I usually get them all read, which is eight books a month…but they're short.



Hmmmmmm…. I love Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure. Camy Tang's Sushi for One. Rene Gutteridge's Boo series…I love everything she writes. I love Angela Hunt, I think she's got the best mind. She always surprises me.


Cathy Marie Hake. She's writing funny western romance and she made it safe for me to go in the water, you might say.




Missy Tippens and Cheryl Wyatt had their first Love Inspired novels come out this year and they were great. Debbie Giusti is writing Romantic Suspense for Love Inspired Suspense and she's really good. Janet Dean's Courting Miss Adelaide.


Outside of Christian fiction, I love romantic suspense with a little comedy. I'm a big Julie Garwood fan. I also love action novels like Clive Cussler writes and cop dramas like Faye Kellerman, but she's gotten too dark for me lately. Grisly.


Generally, I'd say if they're sassing each other and falling in love while they're running for their lives, then I'm happy.


How about you, Nora? Are you happy? I told you it was too mean of a question. I'll quit now. That is close to half of the authors I love.

Could you please share some of your faith journey with us?


I was raised in a wonderful Christian home. My parents were Christians in the best sense of the world. They loved all eight of us so beautifully, made us feel so special. Eight kids and no money, what a rabble we must have been, but mom always acted like she was so lucky to have each and every one of us. The woman must have been out of her mind. But in a Christian way— I remember hearing about Jesus in Sunday School and really recognizing the truth of Him very young. I made a public profession of faith when I was about sixteen. I don't want to sound like I was a faultless saint. I'm sure I gave my mom plenty of sleepless nights. But Jesus has always been part of my life, even when I've failed Him, He's never failed me.


TOP FUN THINGS YOU REALLY WANTED TO ASK MARY BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK SO I DID!.NORA SAYS
I asked Mary to answer these questions by putting down the first thing that came to her mind. After reading the answers to these questions - Mary, you are a woman after my own heart!!!

Do You enjoy Cake or Pies?

Pie,except I make the MOST amazing carrot cake.Seriously, used correctly my carrot cake could launch me straight into the Governor's chair. I wield my power very carefully. NORA SAYS: **OK, we're all coming over for carrot cake! We have to taste it to make sure it's the best. Ha! Ha!**

Do you enjoye Brownies or Cookies?


Brownies, no cookies,no brownies…what kind of cookies? You know, I didn't get into my generally oval shape by being all that picky.NORA SAYS **I'll have to remember that for my next interview – That's a good question - I should have thought of that in the first place. What kind of cookie is important I agree!**

Do you enjoy vanilla or chocolate? Hot or cold?

Vanilla ice cream. Hot fudge sundaes in particular, so that's kinda both. NORA SAYS - I agree

Do you enjoy the Beach or the Mountains?

I never get to go anywhere, beach, mountains, nowhere.
I'm going to ICRS in Orlando, want to bet I never get out of the hotel? The grocery store is a big outing for me.
NORA SAYS**Mary we definitely have to get you out more Ha! Ha! Next time you should come visit us at book club in person (instead of on the phone like this time )– that way you'll be out of the house and somewhere fun and laughing up a storm!!**

Do you enjoy steak or chicken?

A well done rib-eye steak is the BEST. We're beef farmers so I'm biased. But I eat a ton more chicken. It's quick and tasty. We mainly George Foreman them.
NORA SAYS: So then when someone asks me "where the beef?" I'll tell them it's at Mary's house! Ha! Ha!

If you've never seen this you've GOT to, the sweetest, funniest romantic comedy ever. NORA SAYS**My favorite too!!!**



Favorite book?That is just MEAN. I am a book-aholic. I'm not kidding. If reading was beer, my family would be holding an intervention.

A LANTERN IN HER HAND BY BESS STREETER ALDRICH.
I'd love to hear if anyone has ever read Lantern. I just want to know if you cried like baby.
NORA SAYS: OK, Mary, now I have to find this book and read it. One more book to add to the list!

Favorite Childhood book? I'm not sure about favorite book growing up,


I was always a fanatic reader. Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, The Happy Hollisters. But as an adult, reading to my children,I had four favorite books that I think everyone should have.

Tootle the Train, a little Golden Book. The moral of the story, "There are nothing but red flags for little trains who get off the tracks. I work with people EVERYDAY who are off the tracks, addictions, dropouts, jail, babies with no husband ever, no jobs, poor health, violence in their lives. And these people's lives are just full of red flags. Read Tootle to your child and MAKE SURE HE/SHE GETS THE POINT

The Big Orange Splot by D. Manus Pinkwater
…this is about loving yourself. It's a great combo with Tootle because staying on the tracks doesn't mean not being an individual and embracing what's wonderful about you

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, no reason need be given, it's simply the best. Memorize "The Swing" and recite it while you push your children on a swing. So fun.



Maude and Claude go Abroad by Susan Meddaugh, a book long poem that just sings with it's fresh, funny use of language, plus a great story about a big sister looking after her little brother.

What is one special quality, talent or event you've experienced that would surprise people? Please explain.

I think you'd be surprised to know how happy I am sitting behind my computer having both sides of a conversation myself. I'm getting practice speaking to groups but I always say things I wish I hadn't. If it was in my computer, I'd just hit delete and start over, but nooooooo. With real human beings involved in half the conversation, I've got to live with whatever bone head thing I say

What is the neatest place you have ever visited and why? What made it so neat, special, memorable to you?


I think my favorite thing I've ever seen is Carlsbad Cavern. There was just something about it that totally captured my imagination. I could SEE the first people who found those vast caverns. Imagine how dark, how dangerous it was. In some places the floor was as thin as paper and it had broken in spots and you could fall for a long ways. All of that was absolutely visible to me. I loved that place

If you had all the time in the world and just as much money; to do anything you wanted, what would you do?

I suppose I'd write. How dull, huh? I'd travel more, but I'm happy at home. I'd love to go into the Rocky Mountains, rent some cabin and just sit in the middle of beauty for as long as I wanted. See rugged mountains and snow capped peaks, eagles soaring and a herd of elk. I'd love that.

Knowing me, I'd last three hours and get itchy to read a book or write some more, but I'd get a chair and sit outside to do that stuff…unless it was hot…or cold…or there were mosquitoes. Maybe a picture window, huhHonestly, all my wealth fantasies include helping a couple of sisters I have who have money troubles. Making sure all four of my girl's college loans are paid off and they've got dependable cars. I'd like to give enough money to my church that we wouldn't always be skating on the edge. Do I NOT sound so nice???



I'd fund the radio network KLOVE so they could stop having those annoying fund raising weeks.

Maybe oh, gastric by-pass surgery. Except I just love to eat. And I'd sneakily go buy a couple hundred thousand copies of my books so Barbour would think I was really wonderful. Anyway, if I had all the money I wanted I'd do all that humanitarian and charitable stuff and still keep a fortune for myself. NORA SAYS***Sounds better than surgery to me any day! – Good choice !****


What is your favorite color? Black. It's slimming and doesn't show dirt.

If you could interview or hang out with someone for a day; who would you pick? Why?Oh, what the heck. I guess I'd hang out with Nora. Why not? What'd you think? I pick that spoiled brat George Clooney? No way.

NORA SAYS**I don't know Mary, you might want to re-think this one. Ha! Ha! I'd understand if you chose George;but then made some time for me tooJJJ I'm willing to share time with a good friend!!**


I've got all these writer friends I love whom I only see about once a year at a conference like ACFW. I'd love to spend hours talking with them…Nora could come. You know, if I've got all the money in the world—left from question 8—you could ALL come.

NORA SAYS: GREAT Mary!! I'm glad that you would include me in the writers circle!! After reading this interview I definitely would like to get to have the opportunity to hang out with your writer friends and you more!! Thanks for taking the time to share your heart with us. I'm very thankful for this opportunity. Thanks also for speaking to my ladies at book club. We all loved your book and we also look forward to reading the other types of books that you have in your stach that will be published very soon!!


Mary thanks again for sharing your heart and being such a great sport and answering all the fun questions. I know I asked some tough questions. You really rose up for the challenge my friend.

Until next time.

Nora:)

CALICO CANYON by MARY CONNEALY


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Calico Canyon

Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2008)

by

Mary Connealy



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

MARY CONNEALY is an award-winning author and playwright, married to Ivan a farmer, and the mother of four beautiful daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy. They live in Decatur, Nebraska. Mary is a GED Instructor by day and an author by night. And there is always a cape involved in her transformation.

Mary has also written Petticoat Ranch, Golden Days, and her latest, Alaska Brides that will debut in August.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Let yourself be swept away by this fast-paced romance, featuring Grace Calhoun, an instructor of reading, writing, and arithmetic, who, in an attempt to escape the clutchs of a relentless pursuer, runs smack dab into even more trouble with the 6R's - widower Daniel Reeves, along with his five rowdy sons. When a marriage is forced upon this hapless pair - two people who couldn't dislike each other more - an avalanche isn't the only potential danger lurking amid the shadows of Calico Canyon. Will they make it out alive? Or end up killing each other in the process?

Running from her Abusive foster-father, a man intent on revenge, the prim and perfectly proper Grace Calhoun takes on the job of schoolmarm in Mosqueros, Texas.

As if being a wanted woman isn't bad enough, Grace has her hands full with the five rowdy and rambunctious Reeves boys─tough Texan tormenters who seem intent on making her life miserable. When, in an attempt to escape from the clutches of her pursuer, Grace is forced to marry widower Daniel Reeves, father of the miniature monsters, she thinks things couldn't get any worse. Or could they?

Daniel Reeves, happy in his all-male world, is doing the best he can, raising his five boys─rascals, each and every one. Since his wife's death in childbirth, Daniel has been determined never to risk marriage again.

When God throws Grace and Danielt together─two people who couldn't detest each other more─the trouble is only beginning.

Will this hapless pair find the courage to face life together in the isolated Calico Canyon? Or are their differences too broad a chasm to bridge?

If you would like to read the first chapter go HERE

NORA'S REVIEW FOSSIL HUNTER BY JOHN B. OLSON


Fossil Hunter
By John B. Olson
Published by: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
ISBN# 13-978-1-4143-2195-0
355 pages

Back Cover:

Only the fittest will survive.When Paleontologist Dr. Katie James leads an expedition to search for an ancient whale fossil rumored to be in the Iraq desert, she has no idea her archrival, Nick Murad, will be searching for same fossil.

But then Kathie makes a groundbreaking discovery and is forced to collaborate with Nick to analyze the find before it’s destroyed by a fundamentalist government faction.

When Nick and Katie’s initial results fly in the face of current scientific theory, it seems the whole world turns against them, including those they thought they could trust. Then the fossil disappears sending Nick & Katie on a chase that could cost them their reputations, their careers – even their lives.

Review:

Reader Beware this is one breathtaking ride. Better buckle up get ready for some wild adventures. Author John B. Olson’s book is filled with suspense, action and drama. Watch out Indiana Jones fans; Dr. Katie James will capture your heart! She is working at University of Mexico and is a legend in her own time. Katie James is a woman who really knows her stuff, works harder than most in the male dominated field she is in; and is being blackmailed by the head of her dept. to go to Iraq to make the biggest find in history which will allow the University to keep it’s grant money.

Dietrich her Dept. head had given her strict orders not to share her faith with anyone anywhere. Can Katie take on this new assignment and not talk about how she feels regarding God? She soon will find out. “This was concerning her career which happened to be her only means of supporting her father. After what happened in Peru this was also Katie’s only avenue in which she would be able to clear her name. She didn’t have a choice.” Or did she?

Katie James races to Iraq ahead of schedule. She is desperate to make the find of the century when she bumps into Dr. Nick Muard. What was he doing here? Wasn’t he in Pakistan? How did he get to Iraq and why? It was her job – her discovery! It had to be that way – she needed the money. The competition was on. She had to find this fossil first so she could keep her grant. Katie was not afraid to go out and get what she wanted. She would follow her instincts and find that fossil – so much depended on her. Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes. Katie James was terrified of one thing and that was crowds. She feared lots of new people in the same location – shouting questions at her. The thought was frightening. She’d gladly take on a room full of snakes than a room full of people.

Nick and Katie are about the start the biggest challenge of their lives when the minister yells a warning , “Remember…you are in Iraq now. Nothing is ever easy, and nothing is ever what it seems!!”

Nick and Katie will keep you up late reading about their amazing fossil search; as they try to stay alive in such awful conditions. I totally enjoyed their adventures and think this book would make a GREAT movie. A female Indiana Jones I can see that and you will too after you read this exhilarating book.
Reviewed by:
Nora St. Laurent
Book Club Servant Leader

FOSSIL HUNTER by JOHN OLSON

Fossil Hunter
Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

John Olson is an award-winning novelist and speaker who lives with his wife Amy and two children in San Leandro, CA. John earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and did postdoctoral research at the University of California at San Francisco. After eight years as a director and principal scientist at a major scientific software company, John has quit his day job to devote himself full-time to a ministry of writing and speaking. He has won several awards for his writing, including a Christy Award, a Christy finalist, a Silver Angel award, and placement on the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

John's book is part of the Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed campaign. Ben Stein's movie Expelled is now available on DVD. Find more details at Expelled the Movie.

Visit his website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Katie braced her shoulder against the ladies’ room door. Heavy knocks pounded into her arm, rattling the metal door against its frame.

“Katie, come out right now!” Dietrich Fischer’s voice echoed through the tiled bathroom. “Already we are six minutes late. Everyone is now waiting!”

Squinting her eyes against the hard fluorescent light, Katie tried to clear her mind, but the faces wouldn’t go away. An old man in a brown suit. Bloodshot, yellowing eyes. A generous dusting of dandruff on his shoulders, more on the left than on the right. The Asian woman standing in the back with the Mi-nolta camera clasped tightly in long, manicured fingers. The fat man in the straining yellow polo. The four undergrads in the front row, whispering and nudging when she poked her head into the room . . .

“So what is it that is wrong? You are being sick?” Dietrich’s voice broke through the battery of faces. “Answer me!”

Katie lifted a hand to her cheek. Her skin was cold and moist. Her stomach felt like it was going to boil over. Maybe if she just told him . . .

“Katie?” Dietrich hammered on the door, three piercing blows that buzzed into her brain.

She turned to face the door. “I told you . . . an intimate seminar-—just for the department. You promised.”

“I did. I invited only the department. They made to put up the flyers, but I told them no.”

“But the conference room’s almost full. You know I can’t . . . We had a deal.”

“Katie, listen to me. These people are already liking you. They want to meet this smart, brave fossil hunter they read about in the papers. You should be happy to have such fans. What do you want? To disappoint them?”

“But I . . . you know I can’t do this. It’s too many people. I’ll just make a fool of myself. Maybe if I did a webcast for every-one. I could include pictures and all my data. They’d actually get a much better—”

The door pushed in on her, skidding her ridiculous heels clackety--clack across the tiled floor. Dietrich’s jowly face ap-peared in the doorway, squinty eyes darting around the room before settling on her with a frown.

Pulling herself up straight, Katie stared back at him. She wasn’t budging from the ladies’ room. If he wanted a confronta-tion, he was going to get it right here.

“Katie . . .” Dietrich cleared his throat uneasily. “Katie, I know you don’t like much the speaking to crowds. But I need you to do this. I and the whole lab. We need you.”

Katie searched Dietrich’s face. Something was wrong. Great beads of sweat were rolling down his expansive cheeks. His pupils were too contracted. “This isn’t about the depart-ment, is it? Something else is going on.”

“Nothing is going on with anything. It is a seminar. That is all. A simple seminar in which Thomas Woodburne just hap-pens to be in the audience. But not to worry about him. He’s one of your biggest fans. He told me this himself. Just tell the story of Peru. Show the pictures of the Pericetus. You’ll be very good.”

“Thomas Woodburne? The guy from the Smithsonian? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s very important in Washington. In the NAS.”

“Since when do you care about the National Academy?”

“Since always I care about the Academy. Our grant . . .” Dietrich’s face contorted into a scowl. He cocked his head and turned to face the wall. “Grant money does not grow on the trees, you know. This affects your research as much more than mine.”

“My research?” Katie stepped toward Dietrich, forcing him to look her in the eye. “You said they’d renewed the grant. You said it wasn’t a problem.”

Dietrich took a couple of shuffling steps backward until he hit the wall. “It won’t be. I’m filing an appeal. Once they find out about your new work . . .”

“So you invited Woodburne without telling me? Who else did you invite? Half of Albuquerque’s in there.”

Dietrich looked down at his watch. “Eight minutes late! We must go out there now.”

“Fine; go ahead. I’m not stopping you.” Katie turned to walk away, but a meaty paw pulled her up short.

“Just tell the story of Peru. The capture of the fossil thieves. That is just what they would like to hear.”

“But there isn’t anything to tell. They destroyed the fossil before I could even look at it.”

“Katie, please.” His hand tightened around her shoulder. “I need you to do this. Without the grant renewed . . . we’ll be out of money by November. I won’t be able to pay your salary. Hooman’s salary. Wayne’s, Peggy’s . . . No money, no re-search.”

Katie took a deep breath. The room was so crowded. . . .

“You want I should tell Hooman he has to go back?”

“Okay, I get the point. I’m being blackmailed.” She resisted the tug on her shoulder.

“Whitemailed only. I’m the good guy boss. Yes?”

Katie couldn’t help smiling. She stopped resisting and al-lowed herself to be led back to the door.

“This will be very easy. You will see.” He held the door open for her and guided her through. “They are all your biggest fans.”

Katie focused on her adviser’s voice as he led her down the hallway. She could do this. It was just like her thesis de-fense. The number of people didn’t matter. Four or four hun-dred. It was all the same—as long as she didn’t look at them.

Dietrich opened the auditorium door and the roar of voices filled her ears. God, help me. Please . . . She looked down at the floor, allowing herself to be guided to the front of the room. Her heart pounded in her chest, pulsing through her neck. She couldn’t breathe. There was too much pressure.

“Everyone, thank you for being so patient. . . .” Dietrich’s voice beat against the roar. Seats squeaked. Desktops clanged into place. Zippers, papers, the shuffling of feet . . .

Katie tightened her grip on Dietrich’s arm, leaning against his bulk for balance. One step at a time, she focused on each carpeted stair tread as she climbed higher and higher onto the stage. The murmur of voices assaulted her. She could feel thousands of eyes staring at her. She was naked, exposed, on display for all the world to see.

God, please . . .

“. . . earned her PhD in earth and planetary sciences here at the University of New Mexico, where she was the first to dis-cover . . .”

Katie gripped the podium with both hands and pulled her-self up straight as Dietrich introduced her. The Pericetus whales, the geology of South America . . . She could do this. She didn’t have many geology slides, but she could start with her latest findings and use them as a segue into her research on the Pericetus fossils. And then maybe, if everything was going okay, she’d tell them about Peru. It was the only thing people seemed to care about these days—even the other pale-ontologists were more interested in Peru than in her research. Nothing ever changed. Even behind bars the fossil poachers were still stealing her science.

A burst of applause washed through the auditorium. Flashes of blinding light. Katie stared determinedly down at the laptop on the podium. Her ears and cheeks were burning scar-let. Who was taking pictures? She was going to look like a blushing radish.

“Thank you for coming.” Her words came out strong and clear. “Before I start talking about ancient whale anatomy, which is, I’m sure, the reason you’re all here—” Katie took a calming breath as a ripple of laughter ran through the room—“I’d like to give a brief summary of some recent work I’ve done on the geology of South America.”

The auditorium was perfectly still. Katie relaxed her grip on the podium. She could do this. Piece of cake.

“As you all know, the Tethys Sea, which once covered In-dia, Pakistan, and most of what is now the modern Middle East, was home to the earliest archaeocetes we’ve uncovered to date: the pakicetids, ambulocetids, protocetids, basilo-saurines—”

“Katie, a tiny minute please!” Dietrich called out from the corner of the stage. “For the undergrads and guests . . . Per-haps you must explain the evolutionary significance of these early whales. What is it, the reason of their importance?”

“Okay . . .” Katie closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. She wouldn’t let him get to her. Now wasn’t the time. “Fifty years ago—” she chose her words carefully—“whales were held up as an argument against the evolutionary model. If modern whales evolved from terrestrial mammals, why didn’t we see any evidence in the fossil record? Why didn’t we see any intermediary forms?

“Since then, however, paleontologists have uncovered scores of putative intermediary whale forms. The pakicetids, first discov-ered in Pakistan by Gingerich in 1981, were fleet-footed land animals with very few adaptations for marine life except for a few features of their ears. They lived roughly 50 million years ago during the early Eocene sub-epoch.

“The ambulocetids, or so-called walking whales, also lived during the early Eocene of Pakistan. They too seemed primarily terrestrial and had well-developed limbs and feet.

“The protocetids of the middle Eocene, however, were pri-marily aquatic. The Rodhocetus, for example, swam using elongated, paddlelike hind feet and the side-to-side motion of its powerful tail.

“Later, during the late Eocene, we get the appearance of the basilosaurines and durodontines, which were fully aquatic and swam like modern whales using an up-and-down motion of their tale flukes. These archaeocetes differed from modern whales in that they had very small, almost vestigial, hind limbs. They also lacked blowholes on the tops of their skulls.”

Katie glanced over at Dietrich and received a curt nod. So far so good. “Okay, as I was saying before, most of the earliest whales have been found in and around the Middle East, but due to certain social and political, um . . . factors, most Western paleontologists haven’t been able to get into these areas for a long time. A few privileged scientists have obtained exclusive permits to go into Pakistan, and one scientist in particular, who shall remain nameless, has recently made some pretty amaz-ing discoveries there, but since the fossils aren’t allowed out-side the country, none of the rest of us have been able to verify them. So those of us who want to study ancient whales are pretty much out of luck. Until now . . .

“It just so happens that the geology of the western South American continent is very similar to that of the Middle East. In theory we should be able to find the same types of whales there that Nick Murad, our unnamed scientist, has found in Pakistan but without all the social and political factors that make expeditions to the Tethys region so prohibitive.

“As many of you know, I had the opportunity to explore a middle Eocene plain in Peru and was able to demonstrate the presence of whale fossils there. Unfortunately, the fossil I found was destroyed before I had the chance to study it. The part of the skull I could see looked fairly modern, but until we return to the area and uncover another one, we won’t know for sure whether the whale had hind limbs and nostrils at the front of the snout like a Rodhocetus or a strong swimming tail and a blowhole on the top of the skull like the more modern Perice-tus whales we’ve already found in Peru. The sooner we—”

“Katie, a question.” Dietrich called out. “Sorry to be inter-rupting again, but Dr. Webb has a question.”

Katie gripped the podium tighter. She could feel the pres-sure building in her chest. “Okay . . . Dr. Webb?” She kept her eyes fixed on the laptop keyboard.

“So what makes you question the age of the layer? Was it the appearance of the fossil or the geology of the layer itself?”

“I’m sorry.” Katie ran through the question in her mind. “I wasn’t questioning the age of the layer. It’s definitely middle Eocene. Several other finds confirm the geology report.”

“Then how can you question the morphology? If it’s middle Eocene, it has to be a primitive whale, an Archaeoceti.”

“How can I question it?” Katie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I question it because it’s not known yet. Until we find another fossil, we can’t know for sure what it will look like. For all we know, it could have the morphology of Shamu, the killer whale.”

A gasp sounded somewhere in the auditorium. So much for her attempt at levity.

“Dr. James,” a woman’s voice called out from the back of the room, “this whale you’re talking about—the one that was destroyed—it was the reason you were attacked by fossil poachers?”

“Yes, I . . .” Katie could feel the blood rushing into her cheeks. “With more and more private collectors buying fossils on the black market, fossil poaching is getting to be a huge problem, especially in impoverished countries where—”

“Could you confirm the report that you single-handedly captured five armed men?” A man’s voice.

“I . . .” Katie’s face was burning now. “Yes, there were five of them. But I . . .”

“How did you do it?” The woman again. “How did you stop so many men?”

“How did I stop them?” Katie sagged against the podium. Weren’t these people listening? “I didn’t stop them. I tried, but by the time I got back to camp, they’d already started digging. And then, like an idiot, I let myself get captured. By the time I got back in control of the situation, they’d already powdered the fossil. We think they were looking for teeth. A tooth from a T. rex can sell for as much as five thousand dollars.”

She hit the Page Down key on the laptop to bring up her first slide. “The whales I typically study, including the Pericetus whales I want to talk about now, don’t have teeth. They have baleen, which they use to—”

“But how did you do it? How did you get away?”

Katie gripped the podium tighter. “It wasn’t a big deal. They weren’t paying attention so I . . . whacked them on the head.”

A volley of flashes hit Katie in the face as a wave of shouted questions washed over her. She squeezed her eyes shut. Tried to tune out the voices. “Baleen whales—”

“Dr. James! Please! Dr. James!” The woman’s shouts rose above the roar, beating the other voices down to a low murmur. “Dr. James, please. How do you expect us to believe you hit five men over their heads?”

“Not all at once. They only had two men guarding—”

“Dr. James!” Webb’s bellowing voice. “Back to the subject at hand. You still haven’t answered my question!”

Katie looked up from the podium. The Asian woman in the back. Her hand was still raised. A man, freckles and thinning red hair, was holding out a microphone. The man with dandruff. The woman beside him, twisting a finger through her hair. Drooping earlobes with big dangly earrings. Mark Cranley from the White lab. Joe Sayers . . . They were all staring, watching. . . .

Katie’s stomach surged. Cold sweat streamed down her face. She felt dizzy. Couldn’t breathe. Please, no . . . not again!

Pushing away from the podium, she staggered across the stage to the stairs. A shoe twisted beneath her foot, sending her crashing down the steps. She hit the carpeted floor and rolled back onto her feet, running. Up the side aisle. Out the door.

The echoes of clacking footsteps chased her down the hallway and into the bathroom. Through the swinging door, into one of the stalls, she collapsed onto her knees in front of a toi-let.

Reporters . . . Dietrich was such a liar. He’d promised inti-mate, but he’d invited reporters! A shudder convulsed her body. She took a long, deep breath. It would serve him right if she walked into his office right now and quit. Let him find someone else to lead the next Peru expedition.

Katie stood up slowly, bracing herself against the stall par-tition. The pressure in her stomach was subsiding. She took a few experimental steps.

Of all the childish stunts . . . She tottered over to the coun-ter, pulled out a wad of paper towels, and started dabbing her skin. It’d serve him right if the visas were denied. She leaned against the sink, staring at the drain to avoid the reflection that hovered mockingly in the mirror. All those cameras. Thomas Woodburne. She’d looked like an idiot.

A knock sounded at the door. Katie spun around, bracing herself for another encounter.

“Katie?” It was Hooman, one of the grad students from Dietrich’s lab. “Katie, are you all right? Dr. Fischer sent me. He asked me to make sure you’re okay.”

Great . . . Does he have to yell? Katie took a step toward the door. Why didn’t bathroom doors have locks?

“He wants you to come back to the conference room as soon as you feel better, okay? There are some people in the audience who want to meet you.”

An unfamiliar voice sounded in the hallway. Another voice, this one female. Katie cast a glance back at the mirror. Tendrils of fine dark hair were plastered to the side of her sweat-beaded face. She was white as a ghost.

“Katie, are you there?”

Katie glanced around the room. A window was partially open. It looked big enough.

Tiptoeing to the back of the room, she slid the frosted glass panel all the way up and stuck her head out. The courtyard was three stories below her, but at least it was empty. And the ledge was more than wide enough. . . .

“Katie?”

Glancing back at the door, Katie kicked off her heels and tossed them through the window. Then, lifting a leg cautiously over the sill, she ducked through the opening and stepped gin-gerly out onto the pigeon-stained ledge.

An image flashed before her eyes. She was five years old, scaling a rocky cliff on the Navajo reservation. Her father was down below, calling up to her with a ragged voice. A geyser of panic surged through her body, freezing her against the dusty wall. Her father . . . She couldn’t lose her job. Not now. Her father needed her.

She swung a knee over the windowsill and ducked her head back inside. If Dietrich didn’t get his grant renewed . . . because of her freaking out . . .

Another knock rapped at the bathroom door. The murmur of anxious voices. How many people were out there? It sounded like the whole seminar room.

Katie’s head started to throb. What was the point? She took a deep breath and stepped back onto the ledge. Going inside would only make it worse. Throwing up on the reporters wasn’t going to get Dietrich’s grant renewed.

Gripping the bricks with her fingertips, she inched her way along the ledge, careful not to look down. Heights didn’t bother her, but if someone was down there watching her . . . if the crowd from the auditorium . . .

Flashing cameras lit her memory. The man with red hair. Orange-brown freckles framing pale blue eyes. The man with dandruff . . .

Stop it! Katie stared hard at a grainy line of off-white mortar. What had gotten into her? She was acting like a baby.

She worked her way around a projecting windowsill and si-dled to the corner of the building in long, determined strides. She swung herself around the corner and looked down at the roof of the adjoining building. Only a ten-foot drop. Piece of cake.

Pushing off the wall, she twisted her body into the shrieking air. Pain stabbed into her feet as she hit and rolled across a sweltering surface of gravel and tar. Hot! She hopped from foot to foot across the burning rooftop and flung herself at the edge of the building. Clinging to the blistering cornice work, she swung her legs over the side and climbed down the ladderlike arrangement of ornamental bricks before dropping onto the ground below.

Brilliant. Katie lay on her back, combing her feet through the soothing coolness of the grass. Jumping barefoot onto a blazing-hot rooftop. Katie James, brilliant fossil hunter. For her next trick she would jump barefoot into a hot unemployment line.

Nick Murad leaned against an outcropping of rock and wiped his face with the back of his sleeve. The dusty fabric gritted like wet sand-paper. His right eye burned as a drop of sweat rolled across his upper lid. He raised a hand to wipe his face, but his fingers were coated with a paste of sunscreen and dirt. His shirt, his hat, his pants . . . the grit was everywhere. Eating its way like hookworms into every crease and crevice of his body.

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head from side to side, flinging away drops of sweat like a big Labrador after a swim. Beautiful . . . Now both eyes were burning. What he needed was a shower. A hot shower using nonbiodegradable soap and a towel that wasn’t full of sand. He stood slowly, arching his lower back against the Pakistani sunset.

Tomorrow . . . less than twenty hours away. He checked his watch, automatically subtracting nine hours in his mind. It was almost 5 a.m. in New York. Cindy would already be at the air-port by now. He could see her standing in line at the flight counter dressed to the nines in an impossibly impractical but totally seductive skirt and blouse. He tried to imagine her car-rying twice her limit of suitcases by herself, but his mind’s eye kept drifting to her face. Soft, limpid eyes. Full, pouty lips. Her dark sapphire necklace caressing soft, creamy skin.

A hungry ache coiled around Nick’s chest, squeezing him until he couldn’t breathe. “Okay. Enough.” He dropped back to the ground and retrieved his geology hammer from the rocky shelf he’d been working on since noon. He’d see Cindy soon enough. But only a third of the whale vertebra was exposed. If he was going to get it pedestaled before he left, he had to hurry. He grabbed a chisel and started chipping away at the mudstone that encased the fossilized bone. His students wouldn’t have time to finish the excavation before their expedition to Iraq, but he at least wanted to know what it was he’d found.

A soft cry drifted up from the valley. Nick stopped chiseling and turned back to stare into the setting sun. The clank of metal on metal. Nick held his breath, listening.

Maaaah, maaaah. The bleating of sheep.

Diving for his pack, Nick pulled a radio out of one of the side pockets.

“Okay, people, we’ve got sheep!” He threw open the bag and started stuffing it with gear as the static of answering calls filled the air.

“Nick, this is Andy. Annalise is down by the ridge with Ahamed. Waseem, where are you?”

“Karl here. Waseem’s with me. We’re at the ridge, but An-nalise isn’t here.”

“Annalise, where are you? We’ve got sheep coming through!”

Nick swung the pack onto his shoulder and ran sliding and skidding down the gravelly slope. When he got to the bottom, he held the radio to his mouth. “Everybody, this is Nick. Get to the camp right away. Karl, tell Waseem I need him to find An-nalise now!”

Leaping a clump of polygonaceae shrubs, Nick took off running toward a point just to the right of the ridge excavation. If Annalise had gone off on her own to do some prospecting, she’d probably work her way west along the hills. That’s what he’d do.

A bell clanked—just beyond the rise. Nick, already panting for breath, pushed his burning legs to move faster. The bedouin tribes in the north were usually pretty friendly, but this close to the Afghanistan border all bets were off—especially after what happened to the GSP team in western Baluchistan.

A burst of static cut through the radio. “Nick, this is Andy. We’ve got Annalise. She and Ahamed were already on their way back to camp.”

Relief washed through Nick’s body, turning his legs to jelly. He slowed to a jog and turned back in the direction of the camp. “Okay, everybody. Stay inside! Have Waseem watch the trucks. . . . I’ll be right there.”

By the time Nick reached the campsite, only a half mile separated him from the advance guard of the camel-mounted bedouins. He risked another backward glance. Still too far to make out their features. Unless they had binoculars, they couldn’t be sure he was a Westerner. Lots of Pakistanis wore baseball caps.

He jogged into the circle of four tents and three vehicles that made up their camp. Karl and Andy were shuttling equipment from one of the transport trucks to the cook tent at the base of a rocky mound. Annalise was rolling up the win-dows of one of the jeeps.

“Michigan students out of sight now!” Nick leaned over, swept up a pack emblazoned with a big gold M, and tossed it into the cook tent. “Waseem, stay with the trucks. Ahamed, you’re with me. Make sure you keep your hands out of sight!”


Nick paced the length of the camp, inspecting all of their visible gear. Some pickaxes, a tripod and surveyor’s scope, a field laptop wrapped in a sheet of plastic . . . There was a lot of expensive -equipment, but nothing to indicate the presence of Westerners. Theft was the least of his concerns. Bedouins weren’t generally thieves—even the poorest of them. But with all the anti-American sentiment these days, he couldn’t afford to have their whereabouts leak out. Even if they weren’t harboring terrorists, bedouins liked to talk. And no news traveled like the news of American scientists prospecting alone and unprotected out in the middle of the Baluchistan desert.

The echo of Pakistani voices carried across the thin desert air. The clomp of heavy hooves. Nick hurried over to his tent and crawled past Ahamed, who was already sitting in the entrance, his right arm extended awkwardly back inside the tent like he was holding a concealed weapon.

“Okay . . . everybody quiet.” Nick hissed in a whisper loud enough to carry to all the tents. “I hear one word of English and I’m shipping you back to the States.”

“Jee haan maan.” Urdu for Yes, Mommy. . . . Nick couldn’t tell whether it was Andy or Karl. A feminine giggle broke the silence off to the right.

“I’m serious.” Nick put a hand to his mouth even though none of his students were there to see his smile. “We’ll pack this camp up and leave that Basilosaurus behind.”

A voice jabbered off to the left. The bedouins were almost even with the camp. Keeping well back from the tent opening, Nick angled forward until he had a clear view of the pass. It was getting darker. The shadow of the tents already stretched most of the way across the camp. If those bedouins didn’t hurry up . . .

A pang stabbed through him like a knife. Surely the bed-ouins wouldn’t set up camp so close to their campsite? He had to drive to Quetta in the morning. He needed time to shower and shave and get a haircut. Cindy would be there by noon. If he was going to have any time at all to clean the apartment, he had to leave by 5 a.m. Why hadn’t he gone with his instincts and cleaned up before he left?

Come on. Hurry up. Nick’s eyes strained into the shadows, willing the bedouins to appear. Maybe they’d already stopped for the night. At least that way the road would be clear for him. As long as they didn’t see him leave . . .

Beautiful. Two camel riders plodded into view—not more than a hundred feet from where Nick sat crouched in the shad-ows of his tent. The bedouins stared back silently at the camp, long rifles still holstered against the sides of their complaining mounts. Go on. Keep on going. . . . Nick repeated the words like a prayer as one rider after another passed, guiding a stream of dust-colored sheep.

One of the riders, a tall, lanky, dark-skinned man in a cloak of dusty brown, pulled his mount over to the side and stood facing the tents. He waved with his left hand, keeping his right hand within easy reach of his rifle. Nick crept around the back of the tent until he could see Waseem wave from one of the trucks. Waseem’s movements seemed wooden, like he was nervous . . . hiding something. Of all the stupid mistakes . . . He should have put Ahamed in the trucks.

He moved back to the right. The bedouin was just sitting there, staring at the camp. Nick shrank even farther into the tent. Of course the guy was staring. They should have been cooking, preparing for the approaching night.

A musical ring tone shattered the silence. Ahamed jumped like he’d been shot. Nick searched frantically about the tent, his eyes finally settling on his nylon pack. Crawling over to the bag, he ripped open the outer compartment and pulled out his satel-lite phone. Just as he was about to hit the Off switch, he no-ticed the name glowing on the display. It was Cindy. . . .

The phone rang again.

Had there been another travel advisory? Had they can-celed the flight? Please, no . . . She wasn’t chickening out again. Not now!

He stabbed at the green button and pressed the phone to his ear, turning away from the entrance. “Hello?” he whispered into his cupped hand.

“Hello, Nick? Are you there? I can’t hear you.” Cindy sounded frantic. Something was wrong. He had to talk to her.

“Hey, Cindy. I really can’t talk now. Can you call back in a few minutes?” Nick raised his voice to a hoarse whisper.

“Nick, is that you? I can barely hear you.”

“I hear you fine. What’s wrong?” His voice sounded like a shout in his ears.

“Must be a bad connection. Anyway, I . . .” Cindy was about to panic. He could hear it in her voice. “The Middle East is all over the news. New fighting in Iraq. Pakistanis protesting the president’s visit. I . . . It just doesn’t seem like a good time.”

“No . . . it’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” Nick knew he was talking too loud, but he had no choice. He couldn’t let her back out now. Not after all his plans . . .

“You’re sure? They showed a huge crowd on the news. They were yelling and burning American flags.”

“That’s just for the cameras. Just get on the plane. You’ll be safe. I promise. Okay? Just get on the plane. I’ve got every-thing planned. I even have a surprise.”

“A surprise?” Nick could hear the life coming back into her voice. “What kind of surprise?”

“Just get on the plane, okay? You’ll see when you get here.”

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

“I’m positive. I love you, okay?”

“Nick, I . . .”

“I’ve got to go now. Bye.” Nick switched off the phone and turned back to the opening of the tent. The bedouin was still watching their camp, his face lit by the faintest hint of a smile.

Ahamed turned and looked back at Nick, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “I love you too . . . honey.”

TRION RISING by ROBERT ELMER

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Meet Robert

For as long as I can remember I've always loved writing. When I was in grade school, I created a family newspaper, wrote essays for fun. In high school, I took every writing class available. My parents, both from Denmark, passed along to me a love of language and books. Writing naturally came from that kind of environment.

I graduated from Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord, California, then received my BA in Communications from Simpson College, San Francisco. I completed journalism classes from U.C. Berkeley extension, and a post-graduate program in Elementary Education at St. Mary's College in Moraga, California.

Then what? Right out of college I was a freelance writer, a public relations/admissions director and an assistant pastor. I also worked as a reporter and an editor for community newspapers, then as a copy writer for Baron & Company, a full-service marketing communications firm in Bellingham, Washington.

I now work full time writing and speaking, and my wife Ronda works as a receptionist at a pediatric dental center. We live and attend church in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and are the parents of three terrific young adults (one married).

I'm on the editorial board of the Jerry Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, and also serve as a mentor for young writers. Find out more about the Guild and their great mentoring programs for all ages by clicking here.

When I'm not writing I enjoy sailing, working on vintage boats, traveling and spending time with my family.

Click on the Interviews link here (or above) for more Q&A information.

For a list of my published books, start here.

Visit him at his website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714214
ISBN-13: 978-0310714217

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

I thought you said you knew how to fly this thing!”
       
 “I did. I do. Trust me.”

Easy for him to say. Oriannon could only grip her stiff bucket seat with both hands and count down the final seconds of her young life. She cringed at the buzz of a high-pitched warning.

“On present course, nine seconds to impact,” came the metallic warning voice. “Eight seconds . . .”

Ori wondered how she had let Margus Leek talk her into sneaking aboard the little two-seat interplanetary pod. It was fast, but built for speed and certainly not comfort. If she stretched her arms even a little she would elbow the pilot.

“Relax, Orion.” Margus Leek yanked the joystick to starboard, and their pod brushed by the antenna of a rather large telecommunications satellite. “I grew up flying these little things.”

“Tell me why I don’t feel any better.” Oriannon tried not to scream as they buzzed by another piece of space debris — an old fuel tank — leaving it spinning in their wake. “And my name isn’t — ”

“I know, I know. Sorry. You don’t have to tell me. It’s Or-i-ANN-on.” When he smiled, she could almost see his eyes twinkling through his scratched sun visor. “Oriannon, Oriannon. Don’t know how I can forget a VIP passenger like the esteemed and honorable Oriannon Hightower of the Nyssa clan.”

“It’s just Oriannon, okay?” she told him. “Forget all the other names.”

He laughed as they dipped below an orbiting solar collector, close enough to read the warning label on the underside. She closed her eyes and wondered what it would be like to grow up without all the baggage that came with being an elder’s daughter. If her father wasn’t an elite member of Corista’s ruling Assembly — 

But the impact buzzer sounded again, and she snapped her eyes back open.

“Whatever you say, Just Oriannon.” Margus smiled again. “And don’t worry. I’m watching where we’re going.”

Could have fooled me, Ori thought.

Now Margus readjusted his nav-system by passing his index finger across a colored grid screen and tapping in several coordinates from memory. The move doubled their speed and set them on a direct course to Regev, the largest of their world’s three suns. Anything not strapped down, including Ori’s lunch sack, crashed into the back of the small cargo area behind their seats.

“So how about a tour of the Trion?” asked Margus, sounding like a tour guide.

As they picked up even more speed, Ori frowned and twisted the family ring on her finger — the ring with the tiny, brilliant blue corundum stone set in the distinct diamond shape of Saius. As the second largest but most intense of their suns, the real Saius now filled her eyesight even more than it had back on the planet’s surface.

Unfortunately, she could also smell overheating deflectors, like burning rubber. Did he really have to jerk them around so much? This time the impact alarm insisted they veer away from a restricted zone.

“Immediately!” screeched the buzzer voice.

“What’s that all about?” asked Oriannon. Margus silenced it with a tap to the flashing amber screen.

“No problem, Your Highness,” he told her just before they flew straight into a blinding white light and every alarm in the pod went off at once.

“Margus!” Oriannon held a forearm to her face, but that did not help her as they tumbled out of control in a maelstrom of warning lights and screeching alarms. So this was how her life would end? She broke out in a sweat and gagged at the nose-burning smell of fried electronics.

“Do something!” Oriannon cried. She coughed and held on as the inside of the pod warmed to sizzling. In the blinding light she couldn’t even make out Margus sitting next to her.

“Just a sec,” mumbled Margus. And as quickly as the light had overpowered them, it suddenly blinked out, leaving them spinning slowly, silently, and in the dark. A lone alarm buzzed once then died to a pitiful whimper.

“Are you going to tell me what just happened?” Ori slowly lowered her arm and blinked her eyes, but the horrible flash of light and heat still echoed in her eyesight. It would take several moments to get used to normal space light once more. Margus shook his head and tapped at the control panel in front of him, as if he were trying to wake it back up. A few of the dials flickered, but not all.

“Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.” He looked around and behind them. “I think we got caught between two of those big solar reflectors, and — ”

“And what?”

“And, uh, it’s probably a good thing we didn’t stay back there.” He jerked his thumb and tapped the instrument panel once more. “Looks like it cooked us a little.”

A little? Ori swallowed hard, wishing she could just stop this ride and get out right there.

“Look, Margus,” she finally whispered, choking back the bitterness that curled her tongue. “I don’t know what we’re doing here, and my dad’s really going to be upset with us when we land. If we land. We’ve got to turn around right now.”

“That’s the one thing we can’t do.” Margus was sweating under his silver flight helmet visor too. “We can’t go back that way. Better just enjoy the view. There’s the Trion, see?”

The Trion — which meant “three lights” in the ancient Coristan tongue — was made up of three suns. Regev, a red giant, never blinked as it cast a perpetual rosy glow over the brightside of Corista. This rosy glow was offset by the white-blue of Saius, a much brighter and more intense flame. Between the two suns, the Brightside of Corista never saw darkness. Heliaan — the smallest, distant yellow sun some -people missed — stayed in the background. Together the three suns joined to create the flickering violet hue of the pretty Coristan sky, though it had turned darker the higher they climbed.

But right now Oriannon wasn’t impressed. She peered up through the clear plexi bubble over their heads, the only barrier between them and the cold vacuum of space and the searing light of one of those space mirrors.

“You sure we can’t just go back?” she asked, shaking off her jitters.

“I’ll get us back, Your Highness.” By this time he’d removed a panel and was yanking out circuits. “Just have to override a -couple systems, and we’ll be good to go. My dad showed me how to do this once.”

“While you were up here?”

He paused a moment before answering.

“Uh, no. Back in his shop. But it should work.”

So he wrestled with the controls as they bounced from one space mirror to the next, ducking behind them to avoid being fried all over again. Margus touched one wire to another, showering sparks in his lap but firing the ship’s thrusters as they glided — the long way — between the orbits of their home world and eleven other distant moons, all circling the big planet.

“I never knew there were this many of these mirror things up here.” Ori braced for the next deflector bump.

“Must be hundreds of them,” Margus said as he nodded. “I just don’t get what they’re for. There’s something strange about all this.”

Strange wasn’t quite the right word. But all Oriannon could do was look out the window as they dodged the curved mirrors, each one many times bigger than their little pod. She couldn’t pretend to care about the stunning view Margus had promised before they took off on this horrible ride. But if she cared to look, Oriannon would have seen the lush green landscape of Corista below, bathed in the trebly bright light of their three suns.

In fact, if she had cared to, she could recite every detail of the landscape. Sometimes her eidich’s memory came in handy, if she could just put aside all the mental baggage that crowded her brain with bits and details, faces and names, trivia and conversations that would never go away.

The Plains of Izula reminded her of a quilt her grandmother Merta had once showed her, decorated by patchwork fields of grain and orchards of every colored fruit a person could imagine: trees loaded with golden aplon, deep purple pluq, and her favorite, the lip-puckering orange simquats. And when she finally looked down, she couldn’t help catching her breath at the forest green, myrtle green, emerald green, fern and sea green, lime green, moss green, deep cobalt green, viridian-that-matched-her-eyes green, olive, and everything-in-between green. Here it stretched all the way to the horizon, which wasn’t far in this tiny, well-watered garden planet, Corista.

And there! In the Highlands, not far from the boundary between light and dark, was Seramine, perched like a jewel in the jade crown. Seramine, the capital city, her city. Were they finally getting closer? Even at this height she could imagine how the bright windows of grand whitewashed palaces and halls seemed to catch blue and red rays of sun, winking back at her. Did they know she was up here watching?

Once more, they bumped off the back side of another orbiting mirror, sending them spinning into the clear. Oriannon instinctively gripped the handle next to her seat, ready for anything.

“Sorry.” Margus pointed ahead. “But see? I think we’re all clear now.”

“Wonderful.” Maybe she didn’t sound as enthused as he would have liked. “I’m still thinking about what my dad’s going to say.”

“I thought you said he was always too worried about Assembly stuff to pay much attention to you. Is he really going to worry about one little borrowed pod?”

“You don’t know my dad. And the pod — are you sure you can land this thing now?”

She adjusted the headset of her comm and went back to peering out through the hard-shell bubble — just before a new screech of warning alarms pierced the tiny cockpit.

“So it needs a little maintenance.” Margus shrugged and replaced a circuit panel, bringing back the lights while spewing a plume of smoke at her feet. Oriannon could only hold her hands over her head and close her eyes. She hoped it would all just go away, and soon.

But once more the pod jolted and lurched to the side. And as Margus grappled with the controls, they once more spun out of control, falling like a delicate cerulean flower petal through the edge of the atmosphere. Even without looking she could feel the heat radiating from the bubble above their heads, but this time the fabric of her silver coveralls kicked in with coolant that flowed through its built-in blue tubing. If they were going to die in this little pod, at least they would die comfortably.

“I think,” she moaned, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“You might want to hold off on that a few minutes, Your Highness.” Besides that infuriating grin of his, he could also sound infuriatingly cocky. Maybe that’s why she liked him, though she’d never admit it. After a few minutes the shuttle spun a final time, then rocked from side to side like a hammock, before the scream of wind around the cockpit told Oriannon they’d dropped back down into Corista’s violet atmosphere.

“Forty-eight thousand klicks,” announced Margus, as they swooped ever lower, leaning dangerously to the side. And now he could have almost passed for a Coristan shuttle pilot, instead of a fifteen-year-old impostor who had hijacked the little pod for a silly joyride. “Forty . . . no, wait.”

He tapped on a dial with the palm of his hand. That dial wasn’t working, either.

“Margus — ”

“No worries.” Didn’t he ever worry about anything? “We don’t really need that thing. It’s just for show.”

“I don’t believe you, but listen — ”

He looked over at her with his eyebrows arched, waiting for her to finish.

“Thanks.” She finally got the word out.

“What, for getting you into trouble or for almost killing you?”

“No.” She shook her head. “For not giving up.”

He shrugged. “No wor — ”

“Don’t say it.” She interrupted him. But it didn’t matter now as they finally slipped into a landing pattern, a lineup of incoming shuttles and pods — each separated by only a few meters and held in place by point-to-point tractor beams. Oriannon wished she could slump just a little lower in her seat so the pilot in the larger shuttle behind them wouldn’t recognize her. But she could hear every word that now crackled over the comm line, which seemed to work.

“You’re out of order, Bravo One-Nine,” came the voice over the comm. That would be the guy in the shuttle. And it sounded just like someone complaining that Margus cut into the lunch line at school.

“Sorry,” Margus responded through his own headset. “We’ve got mechanical problems. Need to touch down right away.”

“Stand by,” came the voice again, and a moment later the shadow of the much-larger ship hovered over them, and they felt the lurch of a grappling pad pulling them up.

“Hey, ah . . .” Margus got back on the comm line. “We don’t really need a tow.”

We could have used one a long time ago, thought Oriannon.

“Relax,” the voice told them. “We’ll have you back to port in just a minute.”

Or ten. Either way, Oriannon held her breath until landing thrusters screamed and she felt a comforting thump as they finally landed, upside-down, in the midst of Spaceport Corista. While the engines wound down, a beehive of workers in blue coveralls bustled around the ships, attaching power cables and fluid exchangers, rolling up with floating lev-carts full of tools.

“So how do we get out of here without anybody seeing us?” she wondered aloud, raising her voice to be heard over the scream of still more engines.

“Too late for that.” Margus hit the canopy control so it lifted clear with a whoosh of air. “Follow my lead.”

“That’s what got us into trouble in the first place,” Ori mumbled, but she climbed out after Margus, and they hopped down to the tarmac. Her knees buckled for a moment as she readjusted to the planet’s light gravity.

“Coming?” Margus already had a step or two on her as they hustled past dozens of parked shuttles, pods, and cargo ships. They nearly made it to the hangar exit when one of the workers caught up with them.

“You! We didn’t get your flight plan download.” A tall Coristan with typical olive-colored skin and typical sunshades tapped his clipboard. “In fact, looks like you were flying through a restricted area, and I don’t even have an original flight plan for your unit. It’s still in the maintenance pool.”

“I know.” Margus had to crane his neck to look up at the worker. He inched toward the exit as they spoke. “We just had it out to test the systems.”

“You know that’s not how we do things. But, hey — ” The worker crossed his arms and looked them over a little more closely. “Aren’t you Supervisor Leek’s kid?”

By this time Oriannon was ready to melt through a crack in the concrete floor.

“Uh . . .” Margus had to be looking for a way out too. “We were on assignment from the Assembly.”

Oh, Margus, she thought, anything but that.

And sure enough, the worker threw his head back and laughed, long and hard.

“Nice try.” He finally stopped laughing long enough to notice Oriannon, and it probably didn’t do any good that she tried to look away. “You’ll come with me to the office, and we’ll . . .”

His voice trailed off, and he stared at Oriannon’s hand. Her ring, actually.

“Like I was saying . . .” Margus tried to explain once more, but this time the wide-eyed worker waved him off.

“I didn’t realize,” he muttered, backing up a step. “Sorry to bother you. You know the way out?”

Margus looked at the guy with an expression that said Huh? But Oriannon knew exactly what had just happened. She answered for the both of them.

“We know the way. Thanks.” And she didn’t waste any more time chatting. But a quick glance up at the corner of the huge hangar area told her what she was afraid of: A small, grapefruit-sized security probe hovered like an eye in the sky, its red light telling her that it had not missed a thing. In fact, the small silver sphere had probably recorded every word of their conversation with the maintenance guy.

“That was cool!” whispered Margus as the double doors slid open for them. “What did you do, some kind of mind control?”

She fingered the ring. “Something like that.”

Only problem was, she knew that what had spooked the hangar worker wasn’t going to impress her father.

And the trouble, she told herself, hasn’t even begun.


MARK OF THE LION SERIES by FRANCINE RIVERS BOOK ONE - A VOICE IN THE WIND

A Voice in the Wind

Tyndale House Publishers (March 1, 1998)(Re-released June 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Francine Rivers began her literary career at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism. From 1976 to 1985, she had a successful writing career in the general market and her books were awarded or nominated for numerous awards and prizes. Although raised in a religious home, Francine did not truly encounter Christ until later in life, when she was already a wife, mother of three, and an established romance novelist. Shortly after becoming a born-again Christian in 1986, Francine wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. First published by Bantam Books, and then re-released by Multnomah Publishers in the mid- 1990s, this retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea set during the time of the California Gold Rush is now considered by many to be a classic work of Christian fiction. Redeeming Love continues to be one of the Christian Booksellers Association’s top-selling titles and it has held a spot on the Christian bestseller list for nearly a decade.

Since Redeeming Love, Francine has published numerous novels with Christian themes – all bestsellers-- and she has continued to win both industry acclaim and reader loyalty around the globe. Her Christian novels have been awarded or nominated for numerous awards including the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997, after winning her third Rita award for Inspirational Fiction, Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine’s novels have been translated into over twenty different languages and she enjoys best-seller status in many foreign countries including Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa.

Francine and her husband Rick live in Northern California and enjoy the time spent with their three grown children and every opportunity to spoil their four grandchildren. She uses her writing to draw closer to the Lord, and that through her work she might worship and praise Jesus for all He has done and is doing in her life.


Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

The city was silently bloating in the hot sun, rotting like the thou-sands of bodies that lay where they had fallen in street battles. An oppressive, hot wind blew from the southeast, carrying with it the putrefying stench of decay. And outside the city walls, Death itself waited in the persons of Titus, son of Vespasian, and sixty thou-sand legionnaires who were anxious to gut the city of God.

Even before the Romans crossed the Valley of Thorns and camped on the Mount of Olives, warring factions within Jerusa-lem’s city walls had prepared the way for her destruction.

Jewish robbers, who now fled like rats before the Roman legions, had recently fallen upon Jerusalem and murdered her prominent citizens, taking over the holy temple. Casting lots for the priesthood, they turned a house of prayer into a marketplace of tyranny.

Fast behind the robbers came rebels and zealots. Directed by rival leaders—John, Simon, and Eleazar—the warring factions raged within the three walls. Swollen with power and pride, they sliced Jerusalem into bloody pieces.

Breaking the Sabbath and the laws of God, Eleazar stormed Antonia Tower and murdered the Roman soldiers within it. Zealots rampaged, murdering thousands more who attempted to bring order back to a maddened city. Unlawful tribunals were set up and the laws of man and God mocked as hundreds of innocent men and women were murdered. Houses full of corn were burned in the chaos. Famine soon followed.

In their despair, righteous Jews prayed fervently for Rome to come against the great city. For these Jews believed that then, and only then, would the factions within Jerusalem unite in one cause: freedom against Rome.

Rome did come and, their hated ensigns held high, their war cry rang across all of Judea. They took Gadara, Jotapata, Beersheba, Jericho, Caesarea. The mighty legions marched in the very footsteps of devout pilgrims who came from every corner of the Jewish nation to worship and celebrate the high holy days of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread—the Passover. Innocent tens of thousands poured into the city and found themselves in the midst of civil war. Zealots closed the gates, trapping them inside. Rome came on until the sound of destruction echoed across the Valley of Kidron against the walls of Jerusalem itself. Titus laid siege to the ancient, holy city, determined to end Jewish rebellion once and forever.

Josephus, the Jewish general of fallen Jotapata who had been taken captive by the Romans, wept and cried out from atop the first wall defeated by the legionnaires. With Titus’ permission, he pleaded with his people to repent, warning them that God was against them, that the prophecies of destruction were about to be fulfilled. Those few who listened to him and managed to evade the zealots in their escape reached the greedy Syrians—who dis-sected them for the gold pieces they had supposedly swallowed before deserting the city. Those who didn’t heed Josephus suffered the full fury of the Roman war machine. Having cut down every tree within miles, Titus built siege engines that hurled countless javelins, stones, and even captives into the city.

From the Upper Market Place to the lower Acra and the Valley of Cheesemongers between, the city writhed in revolt.

Inside the great temple of God, the rebel leader John melted down the sacred golden vessels for himself. The righteous wept for Jerusalem, the bride of kings, the mother of prophets, the home of the shepherd king David. Torn asunder by her own peo-ple, she lay gutted and helpless, awaiting her death blow from hated Gentile foreigners.

Anarchy destroyed Zion, and Rome stood ready to destroy anarchy... anytime... anywhere.

Hadassah held her mother, tears blurring her eyes as she stroked the black hair back from her mother’s gaunt, pale face. Her mother had been beautiful once. Hadassah remembered watching her take her hair down until it lay, glistening in thick waves, against her back. Her crowning glory, Papa called it. Now, it was dull and coarse, and her once-ruddy cheeks were white and sunken. Her stomach was swollen with malnutrition, the bones of her legs and arms clearly outlined beneath a gray overdress.

Lifting her mother’s hand, Hadassah kissed it tenderly. It was like a bony claw, limp and cool. “Mama?” No response. Hadas-sah looked across the room at her younger sister, Leah, lying on a dirty pallet in the corner. Thankfully, she was asleep, the agony of slow starvation briefly forgotten.

Hadassah stroked her mother’s hair again. Silence lay upon her like a hot shroud; the pain in her empty belly was almost beyond endurance. Only yesterday she had wept bitterly when her mother had uttered thanks to God for the meal Mark had been able to scavenge for them: shield leather from a dead Roman soldier.

How long before they all died?

Grieving in the silence, she could still hear her father speaking to her in that firm but gentle voice. “It is not possible for men to avoid fate, even when they see it beforehand.”

Hananiah had spoken these words to her scant weeks ago— though now it seemed like an eternity. He had prayed all that morning, and she had been so afraid. She had known what he was going to do, what he had always done before. He would go out before the unbelievers and preach about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

“Why must you go out again and speak to those people? You were almost killed the last time.”

“Those people, Hadassah? They’re your kinsmen. I’m a Benjaminite.” She could still feel his gentle touch on her cheek. “We must seize every opportunity we can to speak the truth and proclaim peace. Especially now. There’s so little time for so many.”

She had clung to him then. “Please, don’t go. Father, you know what’ll happen. What’ll we do without you? You can’t bring peace. There is no peace in this place!”

“It is not the world’s peace I speak of, Hadassah, but God’s. You know that.” He had held her close. “Hush, child. Do not weep so.”

She wouldn’t release him. She knew they wouldn’t listen—they didn’t want to hear what he had to tell them. Simon’s men would slash him to pieces before the crowd as an example of what became of those who spoke for peace. It had happened to others.

“I must go.” His hands had been firm, his eyes gentle, as he had tipped her chin. “Whatever happens to me, the Lord is always with you.” He’d kissed her, hugged her, then put her away from him so he could embrace and kiss his other two children. “Mark, you will remain here with your mother and sisters.”

Grabbing and shaking her mother, Hadassah had pleaded, “You can’t let him go! Not this time!”

“Be silent, Hadassah. Who are you serving by arguing so against your father?”

Her mother’s reprimand, though spoken gently, had struck hard. She had said many times before that when one did not serve the Lord, they unwittingly served the evil one instead. Fighting tears, Hadassah had obeyed and said no more.

Rebekkah had laid her hand against her husband’s gray-bearded face. She had known Hadassah was right; he might not return, probably wouldn’t. Yet, perhaps, if it was God’s will, one soul might be saved through his sacrifice. One might be enough. Her eyes had been full of tears and she could not—dared not— speak. For if she had, she was afraid she would join Hadassah in pleading that he stay safe in this small house. And Hananiah knew better than she what the Lord willed for him. He had placed his hand over hers and she had tried not to weep.

“Remember the Lord, Rebekkah,” he had said solemnly. “We are together in him.”

He had not returned.

Hadassah leaned down over her mother protectively, afraid she would lose her, too. “Mother?” Still no response. Her breathing was shallow, her color ashen. What was taking Mark so long? He had been gone since dawn. Surely the Lord would not take him as well....

In the silence of the small room, Hadassah’s fear grew. She stroked her mother’s hair absently. Please, God. Please! Words wouldn’t come, at least not any that made sense. Just a groaning from within her soul. Please what? Kill them now with starvation before the Romans came with swords or they suffered the agony of a cross? Oh, God, God! Her plea came, inarticulate and des-perate, helpless and full of fear. Help us!

Why had they ever come to this city? She hated Jerusalem.

Hadassah fought against the despair inside her. It had become so heavy, it felt like a physical weight pulling her into a dark pit. She tried to think of better times, of happier moments, but those thoughts wouldn’t come.

She thought of the months long ago when they’d made the journey from Galilee, never expecting to be trapped in the city. The night before they had entered Jerusalem, her father set up camp on a hillside within sight of Mount Moriah, where Abra-ham had almost sacrificed Isaac. He told them stories of when he was a boy living just outside the great city, speaking far into the night of the laws of Moses, under which he had grown up. He spoke of the prophets. He spoke of Yeshua, the Christ.

Hadassah had slept and dreamt of the Lord feeding the five thousand on a hillside.

She remembered that her father had awakened the family at dawn. And she remembered how, as the sun rose, light had reflected off the marble and gold of the temple, turning the struc-ture into a blazing beacon of fiery splendor that could be seen from miles away. Hadassah could still feel the awe she had felt at the glory of it. “Oh, Father, it is so beautiful.”

“Yes,” he had said solemnly. “But so often, things of great beauty are full of great corruption.”

Despite the persecution and danger that had awaited them in Jerusalem, her father had been full of joy and expectation as they entered the gates. Perhaps this time more of his kinsmen would listen; more would give their hearts to the risen Lord.

Few believers of the Way remained in Jerusalem. Many had been imprisoned, some stoned, even more driven away to other places. Lazarus, his sisters, and Mary Magdalene had been driven out; the apostle John, a dear family friend, had left Jerusalem two years before, taking the Lord’s mother with him. Yet, Hadassah’s father had remained. Once a year, he had returned to Jerusalem with his family to gather with other believers in an upper room. There they shared bread and wine, just as their Lord Jesus had done the evening before his crucifixion. This year, Shimeon Bar-Adonijah had presented the elements of the Passover meal:

“The lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs of the Passover have as much meaning for us as for our Jewish brothers and sisters. The Lord fulfills each element. He is the perfect Lamb of God who, though without sin himself, has taken the bitterness of our sins upon him. Just as the captive Jews in Egypt were told to put the blood of a lamb on their door so that God’s wrath and judgment would pass over them, so Jesus has shed his blood for us so that we will stand blameless before God in the coming Judg-ment Day. We are the sons and daughters of Abraham, for it is by our faith in the Lord that we are saved through his grace....”

For the following three days they had fasted and prayed and repeated Jesus’ teachings. On the third day, they sang and rejoiced, breaking bread together once more in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. And every year, during the last hour of the gathering, her father would tell his own story. This year had been no different. Most had heard his story many times before, but there were always those who were new to the faith. It was to these people that her father spoke.

He stood, a simple man with gray hair and beard, and dark eyes full of light and serenity. There was nothing remarkable about him. Even as he spoke, he was ordinary. It was the touch of God’s hand that made him different from others.

“My father was a good man, a Benjaminite who loved God and taught me the law of Moses,” he began quietly, looking into the eyes of those who sat about him. “He was a merchant near Jerusalem and married my mother, the daughter of a poor hus-bandman. We were not rich and we were not poor. For all we had, my father gave glory and thanks to God.

“When the Passover came, we closed our small shop and entered the city. Mother stayed with friends and prepared for the Passover. My father and I spent our time at the temple. To hear God’s Word was to eat meat, and I dreamed of being a scribe. But it would not come to pass. When I was fourteen, my father died and, with no brothers and sisters, it was necessary for me to take over his business. Times were very hard, and I was young and inexperienced, but God was good. He provided.”

He closed his eyes. “Then a fever took hold of me. I struggled against death. I could hear my mother weeping and crying out to God. Lord, I prayed, don’t let me die. My mother needs me. Without me, she is alone, with no one to provide for her. Please do not take me now! But death came. It surrounded me like a cold darkness and took hold of me.” The hush in the room was almost tangible as his listeners awaited the ending.

No matter how many times Hadassah had heard the story, she never tired of it nor lost the power of it. As her father spoke, she could feel the dark and lonely force that had claimed him. Chilled, she wrapped her arms around her legs and hugged them against her chest as he went on.

“My mother said friends were carrying me along the road to my tomb when Jesus passed by. The Lord heard her weeping and took pity. My mother didn’t know who he was when he stopped the funeral procession, but there were many with him, followers, as well as the sick and crippled. Then she recognized him, for he touched me and I arose.”

Hadassah wanted to leap up and cry out in joy. Some of those around her wept, their faces transfixed with wonder and awe.
Others wanted to touch her father, to lay hands on a man who had been brought back from death by Christ Jesus. And they had so many questions. How did you feel when you arose? Did you speak with him? What did he say to you? What did he look like?

In the upper room, with the gathering of believers, Hadassah had felt safe. She had felt strength. In that place, she could feel the presence of God and his love. “He touched me and I arose.” God’s power could overcome anything.

Then they would leave the upper room and, as her father walked the family back to the small house where they stayed, Hadassah’s ever-present fear would rise again. She always prayed her father wouldn’t stop and speak. When he told his story to believers, they wept and rejoiced. To unbelievers, he was an object of ridicule. The euphoria and security she felt with those who shared her faith dissolved when she watched her father stand before a crowd and suffer their abuse.

“Listen to me, O men of Judah!” he would call out, drawing people to him. “Listen to the good news I have to tell you.”

They listened at first. He was an old man and they were curi-ous. Prophets were always a diversion. He was not eloquent like the religious leaders; he spoke simply from his heart. And always people laughed and mocked him. Some threw rotten vegetables and fruit, some called him mad. Others became enraged at his story of resurrection, shouting that he was a liar and blasphemer.

Two years ago he had been so badly beaten that two friends had to help carry him back to the small rented house where they always stayed. Elkanah and Benaiah had tried to reason with him.

“Hananiah, you must not come back here,” Elkanah had said. “The priests know who you are and want you silenced. They are not so foolish as to have a trial, but there are many evil men who will do another’s will for a shekel. Shake the dust of Jerusalem from your shoes and go somewhere that the message will be heard.”

“And where else can that be but here where our Lord died and arose?”

“Many of those who witnessed his resurrection have fled imprisonment and death at the hands of the Pharisees,” Benaiah had said. “Even Lazarus has left Judea.”

“Where did he go?”

“I was told he took his sisters and Mary of Magdala to Gaul.”

“I cannot leave Judea. Whatever happens, this is where the Lord wants me.”

Benaiah had grown silent for a long moment and then he nod-ded slowly. “Then it shall be as the Lord wills it.”

Elkanah had agreed and laid his hand on her father’s. “Shelemoth and Cyrus are remaining here. They will give you aid when you are in Jerusalem. I am taking my family away from this city. Benaiah is coming with me. May God’s face shine upon you, Hananiah. You and Rebekkah will be in our prayers. And your children, too.”

Hadassah had wept, her hopes of leaving this wretched city dashed. Her faith was weak. Her father always forgave his tor-menters and attackers, while she prayed they would know all the fires of hell for what they had done to him. She often prayed that God would change his will and send her father to a place other than Jerusalem. Someplace small and peaceful where people would listen.

“Hadassah, we know that God uses all things for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his pur-pose,” her mother said often, trying to comfort her.

“What good is there in a beating? What good in being spit upon? Why must he suffer so?”

In the peaceful hills of Galilee, with the blue sea stretched out before her and lilies of the field at her back, Hadassah could believe in God’s love. At home, in those hills, her faith was strong. It warmed her and made her heart sing.

In Jerusalem, though, she struggled. She clung to her faith, but still found it slipping away from her. Doubt was her companion, fear was overwhelming.

“Father, why can we not believe and remain silent?”

“We are called upon to be the light of the world.”

“They hate us more with each passing year.”

“Hatred is the enemy, Hadassah. Not the people.”

“It is people who beat you, Father. Did not the Lord himself tell us not to cast pearls before the swine?”

“Hadassah, if I am to die for him, I will die joyfully. What I do is for his good purpose. The truth does not go out and come back empty. You must have faith, Hadassah. Remember the promise. We are part of the body of Christ, and in Christ we have eternal life. Nothing can separate us. No power on earth. Not even death.”

She had pressed her face against his chest, the rough woven tunic he wore rubbing against her skin. “Why can I believe at home, Father, but not here?”

“Because the enemy knows where you are most vulnerable.” He had put his hand over hers. “Do you remember the story of Jehoshaphat? The sons of Moab and Ammon and Mount Seir came against him with a mighty army. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and God said through him, ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ While they sang and praised the Lord, the Lord himself set ambushes against their enemies. And in the morning, when the Israelites came to the lookout of the wilderness, they saw the bodies of the dead. No one escaped. The Israelites had not even raised a hand in battle, and the battle was won.”

Kissing her head, he had said, “Stand firm in the Lord, Hadas-sah. Stand firm and let him fight your battles. Do not try to fight alone.”

Hadassah sighed, trying to ignore the burning in her stomach. How she missed her father’s counsel in the silent loneliness of this house. If she believed everything he had taught her, she would rejoice that he was now with the Lord. Instead she ached with grief, which swelled and spilled over her in waves, spreading with it a strange, confused anger.

Why did her father have to be such a fool for Christ? The peo-ple didn’t want to hear; they didn’t believe. His testimony offended them. His words drove them mad with hatred. Why couldn’t he, just once, have remained silent and stayed within the safe confines of this small house? He’d still be alive, here in this room, comforting them and giving them hope instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. Why couldn’t he have been sensible this one time and waited out the storm?

The door opened slowly and Hadassah’s heart leapt in fright, snapping her back to the grim present. Robbers had broken into the houses down the street, murdering the occupants for a loaf of hoarded bread. But it was Mark who entered. She let out her breath, relieved to see him. “I was so afraid for you,” she whis-pered with feeling. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

He pushed the door closed and sank down, exhausted, against the wall near their sister. “What did you find?” She waited for him to take whatever he had found from his shirt. Whatever food was found had to be secreted or someone would attack him for it.

Mark looked at her hopelessly. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Not a worn shoe, not even shield leather from a dead soldier. Noth-ing.” He started to cry, his shoulders shaking.

“Shhh, you’ll awaken Leah and Mama.” Hadassah gently laid her mother back against the blanket and went to him. She put her arms around him and leaned her head against his chest. “You tried, Mark. I know you tried.”

“Maybe it’s God’s will that we die.”

“I’m not sure I want to know God’s will anymore,” she said without thinking. Quick tears came. “Mama said the Lord will provide,” she said, but the words sounded empty. Her faith was so weak. She was not like Father and Mother. Even Leah, young as she was, loved the Lord wholeheartedly. And Mark sounded so accepting of death. Why was she always the one who questioned and doubted?

Have faith. Have faith. When you have nothing else, have faith.

Mark shuddered, drawing her out of her gloomy thoughts. “They are throwing bodies into the Wadi El Rabadi behind the holy temple. Thousands, Hadassah.”

Hadassah remembered the horror of the Valley of Hinnom. It was there that Jerusalem disposed of the dead and unclean ani-mals and dumped the night soil. Baskets of hooves, entrails, and animal remains from the temple were carried there and dumped. Rats and carrion birds infested the place, and the stench fre-quently was carried in hot winds across the city. Father called it Gehenna. “It was not far from here that our Lord was crucified.”

Mark pushed his hand back through his hair. “I was afraid to go closer.”

Hadassah shut her eyes tightly, but the question rose stark and raw against her will. Had her father been cast into that place, des-ecrated and left to rot in the hot sun? She bit her lip and tried to force the thought away.

“I saw Titus,” Mark said dully. “He rode over with some of his men. When he saw the bodies, he cried out. I could not hear his words, but a man said he was calling out to Jehovah that it was not his doing.”

“If the city surrendered now, would he show mercy?”

“If he could contain his men. They hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed.”

“And us along with them.” She shivered. “They will not know the difference between believers of the Way and zealots, will they?
Seditionist or righteous Jew or even Christian, it will make no dif-ference.” Her eyes blurred with tears. “Is this the will of God, Mark?”

“Father said it is not God’s will that any should suffer.”

“Then why must we?”

“We bear the consequences for what we have done to our-selves, and for the sin that rules this world. Jesus forgave the thief, but he didn’t take him down off the cross.” He pushed his hand back through his hair. “I’m not wise like Father. I haven’t any answers to why, but I know there is hope.”

“What hope, Mark? What hope is there?”

“God always leaves a remnant.”

The siege wore on, and while life within Jerusalem ebbed, the spirit of Jewish resistance did not. Hadassah remained within the small house, hearing the horror of what was just beyond their un-bolted door. A man was screaming and running down the street.

“They’ve ascended the wall!”

When Mark went out to find out what was happening, Leah became hysterical. Hadassah went to her sister and held her tightly. She felt near to hysteria herself, but tending her young sis-ter helped calm her.

“Everything will be all right, Leah. Be still.” Her words sounded meaningless in her own ears. “The Lord is watching over us,” she said and stroked her sister gently.

A litany of comforting lies, for the world was crumbling around them. Hadassah looked across the room at her mother and felt the tears coming again. Her mother smiled weakly as though trying to reassure her, but she felt no reassurance. What would become of them?

When Mark returned, he told them of the battle raging within the walls. The Jews had turned it and were driving the Romans back.

However, that night, under the cover of darkness, ten legion-naires sneaked through the ruins of the city and took possession of Antonia Tower. The battle had come to the very entrance of the holy temple. Though driven back again, the Romans coun-tered by overthrowing some of the foundations of the tower and laid open the court of the Gentiles. In an attempt to divert them, zealots attacked the Romans at the Mount of Olives. Failing, they were destroyed. The prisoners taken were crucified before the walls for all to see.

Stillness fell again. And then a new, more devastating horror spread through the city as word passed of a starving woman who had eaten her own child. The flame of Roman hatred was fanned into a blaze.

Josephus cried out again to his people that God was using the Romans to destroy them, fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets Daniel and Jesus. The Jews gathered all the dry materials, bitu-men, and pitch they could find and filled the cloisters. The Romans drove forward, and the Jews gave ground, luring the Romans into the temple. Once inside, the Jews set their holy place on fire, burning many of the legionnaires to death within it.

Titus regained control of his enraged soldiers and ordered the fire put out, but no sooner had they succeeded in saving the tem-ple than the Jews attacked again. This time all the officers of Rome couldn’t restrain the fury of the Roman legionnaires who, driven by a lust for Jewish blood, once again torched the temple and killed every human being in their path as they began plunder-ing the conquered city.

Men fell by the hundreds as flames engulfed the Babylonian curtain, embroidered with fine blue, scarlet, and purple thread. High on the temple roof, a false prophet cried out for the people to climb up and be delivered. People’s screams of agony as they burned alive carried across the city, mingling with the horrifying sounds of battle in the streets and alleys. Men, women, children— it made no difference, all fell to the sword.

Hadassah tried to shut it out of her mind, but the sound of death was everywhere. Her mother died on the same hot August day that Jerusalem fell, and for two days, Hadassah, Mark, and Leah waited, knowing the Romans would find them sooner or later and destroy them as they were destroying everyone else.

Someone fled down their narrow street. Others screamed as they were cut down without mercy. Hadassah wanted to jump up and run away, but where could she go? And what of her sister and her brother? She pressed further back into the darkening shadows of the small rooms and held Leah.

More men’s voices. Louder. Closer. A door was smashed open not far away. The people inside screamed. One by one, they were silenced.

Weak and gaunt, Mark struggled to his feet and stood before the door, praying silently. Hadassah’s heart beat heavily, her empty stomach tightening into a ball of pain. She heard men’s voices in the street. The words were Greek, the tone scornful. One man gave orders to search the next houses. Another door was smashed in. More screams.

The sound of hobnailed shoes came to their door. Hadassah’s heart jumped wildly. “Oh, God . . .”

“Close your eyes, Hadassah,” Mark told her, sounding strangely calm. “Remember the Lord,” he said as the door crashed open. Mark uttered a harsh, broken sound and dropped to his knees. A bloody sword tip protruded from his back, stain-ing the gray tunic red. Leah’s high-pitched scream filled the small room.

The Roman soldier kicked Mark back, freeing his sword.

Hadassah could not utter a sound. Staring up at the man, his armor covered with dust and her brother’s blood, Hadassah couldn’t move. His eyes glittered through his visor. When he stepped forward, raising his bloody sword, Hadassah moved swiftly and without conscious thought. She shoved Leah down and fell across her. Oh, God, let it be over quickly, she prayed. Let it be swift. Leah fell silent. The only sound was that of the sol-dier’s rasping breathing, mingled with screams from down the street.

Tertius gripped his sword harder and glared down at the ema-ciated young girl covering an even smaller girl. He ought to kill them both and have done with it! These bloody Jews were a blight to Rome. Eating their own children! Destroy the women and there would be no more warriors birthed. This nation deserved annihilation. He should just kill them and be done with it.

What stopped him?

The older girl looked up at him, her dark eyes full of fear. She was so small and thin, except for those eyes, too large for her ashen face. Something about her sapped the killing strength of his arm. His breathing eased, his heartbeat slowed.

He tried to remind himself of the friends he had lost. Diocles had been killed by a stone while building the siege works. Malcenas had been fallen upon by six fighters when they had breached the first wall. Capaneus had burned to death when the Jews had set fire to their own temple. Albion still suffered wounds from a Jew’s dart.

Yet, the heat in his blood cooled.

Shaking, Tertius lowered his sword. Still alert to any move-ment the girl made, he glanced around the small room. His vision cleared of the red haze. It was a boy he had killed. He lay in a pool of blood beside a woman. She looked peaceful, as though she merely slept, her hair carefully combed, her hands folded on her chest. Unlike those who had chosen to dump their dead in the wadi, these children had lain out their mother with dignity.

He had heard the story of a woman eating her own child and it had fed his hatred of Jews, gained from ten long years in Judea. He had wanted nothing more than to obliterate them from the face of the earth. They had been nothing but trouble to Rome from the beginning—rebellious and proud, unwilling to bend to anything but their one true god.

One true god. Tertius’ hard mouth twisted in a sneer. Fools, all of them. To believe in only one god was not only ridiculous, it was uncivilized. And for all their holy protestations and stubborn persistence, they were a barbaric race. Look what they had done to their own temple.

How many Jews had he killed in the last five months? He hadn’t bothered to count as he went from house to house, driven by bloodlust, hunting them down like animals. By the gods, he had relished it, accounting each death as a small token payment for the friends they had taken from him.

Why did he hesitate now? Was this pity for a foul Jewess brat? It would be merciful to kill her and put her out of her misery. She was so thin from starvation that he could blow her over with a breath. He took another step toward her. He could kill both girls with one blow... tried to summon the will to do so.

The girl waited. It was clear she was terrified, yet she did not beg for mercy as so many had done. Both she and the child beneath her were still and silent, watching.

Tertius’ heart twisted, and he felt weak. He drew a ragged breath and exhaled sharply. Uttering a curse, he shoved his sword into the scabbard at his side. “You will live, but you will not thank me for it.”

Hadassah knew Greek. It was a common language among the Roman legionnaires and so was heard all over Judea. She started to cry. He grasped her arm and yanked her to her feet.

Tertius looked at the little girl lying on the floor. Her eyes were open and fixed on some distant place to which her mind had escaped. It was not the first time he had seen such a look. She would not last long.

“Leah,” Hadassah said, frightened at the vacant look in her eyes. She bent down and put her arms around her. “My sister,” she said, trying to draw her up.

Tertius knew the little girl was as good as dead already and it would make more sense to leave her. Yet, the way the older girl tried to gather the child in her arms and lift her, roused his pity. Even the child’s slight weight was too much for her.

Brushing her aside, Tertius lifted the tiny girl easily and gently slung her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Grasping the older girl by the arm, he pushed her out the door.

The street was quiet, the other soldiers having moved on. Dis-tant cries rang out. He walked quickly, aware that the girl was struggling to keep up.

The air of the city was foul with death. Bodies were every-where, some slain by Roman soldiers pillaging the conquered city, others dead of starvation, now bloated and decaying from days of being left to putrefy. The look of horror on the girl’s face made Tertius wonder how long she had been cooped up in that house.

“Your great Holy City,” he said and spat into the dust.

Pain licked up Hadassah’s arm as the legionnaire’s fingers dug into her flesh. She stumbled over a dead man’s leg. His face was crawling with maggots. The dead were everywhere. She felt faint.

The farther they walked, the more horrifying the carnage. Decaying bodies lay tangled together like slaughtered animals. The stench of blood and death was so heavy Hadassah covered her mouth.

“Where do we take captives?” Tertius shouted at a soldier sep-arating the dead. Two soldiers were lifting a Roman comrade from between two Jews. Other legionnaires appeared with plun-der from the temple. Wagons were already loaded with golden and silver sprinkling bowls, dishes, wick trimmers, pots, and lampstands. Bronze shovels and pots were piled up, as well as basins, censers, and other articles used in temple service.

The soldier looked up at Tertius, casting a cursory glance over Hadassah and Leah. “Down that street and around through the big gate, but those two don’t look worth bothering with.”

Hadassah looked up at the temple’s once pristine marble, the marble that had appeared as a snow-covered mountain in the dis-tance. It was blackened, chunks had been gouged out by siege stones, the gold melted away. Whole sections of wall were broken down. The holy temple. It was just another place of death and destruction.

She moved sluggishly, sickened and terrified at all she saw. Smoke burned her eyes and throat. As they walked along the wall of the temple, she could hear a rising, undulating sound of horror coming from within it. Her mouth was parched and her heart pounded harder and faster as they approached the gate to the Women’s Court.

Tertius gave the girl a shove. “You faint and I’ll kill you where you drop, and your sister with you.”

Thousands of survivors were within the court, some moaning in their misery and others wailing for their dead. The soldier pushed her ahead of him through the gate, and she saw the ragged multitude before her. They crowded the courtyard. Most were gaunt with starvation, weak, hopeless.

Tertius lowered the child from his shoulder. Hadassah caught hold of Leah and tried to support her. She sank down weakly and held her sister limply across her lap. The soldier turned and walked away.

Thousands milled around, looking for relatives or friends. Others huddled in smaller groups weeping, while some, alone, stared at nothing—as Leah did. The air was so hot Hadassah could hardly breathe.

A Levite rent his worn blue and orange tunic and cried out in an agony of emotion, “My God! My God! Why hast thou for-saken us?” A woman near him began to wail miserably, her gray dress bloodstained and torn at the shoulder. An old man wrapped in black-and-white striped robes sat alone against the court wall, his lips moving. Hadassah knew he was of the Sanhedrin, his robes symbolizing the desert costume and the tents of the first patriarchs.

Mingled among the crowd were Nazirites with their long, braided hair, and zealots with dirty, ragged trousers and shirts over which they wore short sleeveless vests with a blue fringe at each corner. Divested of their knives and bows, they still looked menacing.

A fight broke out. Women began screaming. A dozen Roman legionnaires waded into the multitude and cut down the adversar-ies, as well as several others whose only offense was to be in close proximity. A Roman officer stood on the high steps and shouted down at the captives. He pointed out several more men in the crowd and they were dragged away to be crucified.

Hadassah managed to draw Leah up and move to a safer place by the wall, near the Levite. As the sun went down and darkness came, she held Leah close, trying to share her warmth. But in the morning, Leah was dead.

Her sister’s sweet face was free of fear and suffering. Her lips were curved in a gentle smile. Hadassah held her against her chest and rocked her. Pain swelled and filled her with a despair so deep she couldn’t even cry. When a Roman soldier came over, she scarcely noticed until he tried to take Leah away from her. She held her sister tighter.

“She’s dead. Give her to me.”

Hadassah pressed her face into the curve of her sister’s neck and moaned. The Roman had seen enough death to become hard-ened by it. He struck Hadassah once, breaking her hold, and then kicked her aside. Dazed, her body laced with pain, Hadassah stared helplessly as the soldier carried Leah to a wagon stacked with the bodies of others who had died during the night. He tossed her sister’s fragile body carelessly onto the heap.

Shutting her eyes, Hadassah drew up her legs and wept against her knees.

The days ran together. Hundreds died of starvation, more of despair and lost hope. Some of the able-bodied captives were taken to dig mass graves.

Rumors spread that Titus had given orders to demolish not only the temple but the entire city. Only the Phasaelus, Hippicus, and Mariamne towers were to be left standing for defensive pur-poses, and a portion of the western wall. Not since the Babylo-nian king Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Solomon’s temple had such a thing happened. Jerusalem, their beloved Jerusalem, would be no more.

The Romans brought in corn for the captives. Some Jews, still stiff-necked against Roman rule, refused their portions in a last and fatal act of rebellion. More grievous were the sick and weak who were denied food because the Romans did not wish to waste corn on those who would not likely survive the coming march to Caesarea. Hadassah was one of the latter, and so received no food.

One morning, Hadassah was taken with the others outside the city walls. She stared with horror at the scene before her.
Thousands of Jews had been crucified before the crumbling walls of Jerusalem. Scavenging birds feasted upon them. The ground on the siege work had drunk in so much blood it was as red-brown and hard as brick, but the land itself was beyond anything Hadassah had expected. Other than the great, gruesome forest of crosses, there was not a tree, nor a bush, nor even a blade of grass. A wasteland lay before her, and at her back was the mighty city even now being reduced to rubble.

“Keep moving!” a guard shouted, his whip hissing through the air near her and cracking on a man’s back. Another man ahead of her groaned deeply and collapsed. When the guard drew his sword, a woman tried to stop him, but he struck her down with his fist, then with one swift stroke, opened an artery in the fallen man’s neck. Taking the twitching man by his arm, he dragged him to the edge of the siege bank and pushed him over the side. The body rolled slowly to the bottom, where it took its place in the rocks amongst other corpses. Another captive helped the weeping woman to her feet, and they went on.

Their captors sat them within sight and sound of Titus’ camp.

“It would seem we must suffer through a Roman triumph,” a man said bitterly, the blue tassels on his vest identifying him as a zealot.

“Be silent or you will be crow bait like those other poor fools,” someone hissed at him.

As the captives watched, the legions formed and marched in tightly drilled units before Titus, who was resplendent in his golden armor. There were more captives than soldiers, but the Romans moved as one great beast of war, organized and disci-plined. To Hadassah, the rhythmic cadence of thousands of men marching in perfect formation was terrifying to watch. A single voice or signal could make hundreds move as one. How could any people think they could overcome such as these? They filled the horizon.

Titus gave a speech, pausing now and then as the soldiers cheered. Then the awards were presented. Officers stood before the men, their armor cleaned and gleaming in the sunlight. Lists were read of those who had performed great exploits in the war. Titus himself placed crowns of gold on their heads and golden ornaments about their necks. To some he gave long golden spears and silver ensigns. Each was awarded the honor of removal to higher rank.

Hadassah looked around at her fellows and saw their bitter hatred; having to witness this ceremony poured salt in their open wounds.

Heaps of spoils were distributed among the soldiers, then Titus spoke again, commending his men and wishing them great for-tune and happiness. Jubilant, the soldiers cried out their acclama-tions to him time and time again as he came down among them.

Finally, he gave orders that the feasting begin. Great numbers of oxen were held ready at the altars to the Roman gods, and at Titus’ command they were sacrificed. Hadassah’s father had told her Jewish law required the shedding of blood as an atonement for sin. She knew priests within the holy temple performed the sacrifices daily, a constant reminder of the need for repentance. Yet her father and mother had taught her from birth that Christ had shed his blood as an atonement for the sins of the world, that the law of Moses had been fulfilled in him, that animal sacrifices were no longer needed. So she had never seen animals sacrificed. Now she watched in grim horror as one ox after another was killed as a thank offering. The sight of so much blood spilling down over stone altars sickened her. Gagging, she closed her eyes and turned away.

The slain oxen were distributed to the victorious army for a great feast. The tantalizing aroma of roasting beef drifted to hun-gry captives across the night air. Even had they been offered some, righteous Jews would have refused to eat it. Better dust and death than meat sacrificed to pagan gods.

At last, soldiers came and ordered the captives to line up for their rations of wheat and barley. Weakly, Hadassah rose and stood in the long line, sure she would again be denied food. Her eyes blurred with tears. Oh, God, God, do as you will. Cupping her hands as her turn came, she waited to be shoved aside. Instead, golden kernels spilled from the scoop into her palms.

She could almost hear her mother’s voice. “The Lord will pro-vide.”

She looked up into the young soldier’s eyes. His face, weath-ered from the Judean sun, was hard, devoid of any emotion. “Thank you,” she said in Greek and with simple humility, with-out even a thought as to who he was or what he might have done. His eyes flickered. Someone shoved her hard from behind and cursed her in Aramaic.

As she moved away, she was unaware the young soldier still watched her. He dipped the scoop into the barrel again, pouring corn into the hands of the next in line without taking his eyes from her.

Hadassah sat down on the hillside. She was separate from the others, alone within herself. Bowing her head, she tightened her hands around the corn. Emotion swelled. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” she whispered bro-kenly and began to weep. “Oh, Father, forgive me. Amend my ways. But gently, Lord, lest you reduce me to nothing. I am afraid. Father, I am so afraid. Preserve me by the strength of your arm.”

She opened her eyes and opened her hands again. “The Lord provides,” she said softly and ate slowly, savoring each kernel.

As the sun went down, Hadassah felt oddly at peace. Even with all the destruction and death around her, with all the suffer-ing ahead, she felt God’s nearness. She looked up at the clear night sky. The stars were bright and a wind blew softly, remind-ing her of Galilee.

The night was warm...she had eaten . . . she would live. “God always leaves a remnant,” Mark had said. Of all the mem-bers of her family, her faith was weakest, her spirit the most doubting and the least bold. Of all of them, she was least worthy.

“Why me, Lord?” she asked, weeping softly. “Why me?”