Marilyn Friesen

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Around Smoldering Coals

Hi? Do you like stories about ancient history that are kind of scary? This is the book I am working on now, and if it appeals to you, you should check out my link(s) for a similar one that is already published.

  Tayletha crouched lower and inched her way over to the balustrade bordering the flat roof. Every so often, she flattened herself against the rough surface.
           “We have to be awful careful about what we say, Titus.” The fifteen year old glanced furtively about and lowered her voice, “If someone thinks we might be -you –know-what- we will be in deep trouble.”
Tayletha's six-year-old brother nodded soberly.  No one had to tell him what 'you-know-what' meant.  He shuddered at the thought of becoming supper for the lions. Some of Abba's (Daddy's) friends had died that way because of loving Jesus! He clutched the loaf of bread closer to his thin chest.
            Tayletha bit her lip. If someone looked up we could be spotted easily!  She saw some ragged beggars scavenging and the sentries on duty. Wheeled transportation was allowed to take over after the eleventh hour, but at that moment they were rumbling along in the busier sections. Her hand gleamed whitely as it groped for the top of the wall. She slowly eased herself upwards to peer over the edge.
            Far in the distance, hobnailed Roman sandals on cobblestone streets sounded loud in the stillness. Soon the eerie flickering of the patrolman’s smouldering torch briefly revealed some ragged beggar boys darting back into the shadows. Tayletha sensed that the boys knew they were in danger of being clouted with a brawny fist if they were caught slinking around. Scavenging in the garbage strewn corners could definitely wait for a safer time.
Tayletha slunk down until she was barely eye-level with the top row of bricks, and saw the boys conceal themselves in the deeper shadows. She wondered briefly how children could survive as beggars, but her own concerns snuffed out the thought.
            Just then, the sentries’ flame flashed high against the black night sky and she shrank back. Tayletha hardly dared to breathe as she listened to the receding footfalls until they were indecipherable then leaned over to get the attention of the beggars.
            “Yeled,” She beckoned then watched them stiffen and look around then up before spotting her. The whites of their eyes looked strange in the shadowy darkness.
            “Come here!” she called in a piercing whisper. They shrank back and appeared to be talking to each other.
            “Come here!” she pleaded.
            “What did you call us?” the taller boy, who looked to be about eleven, demanded.
            Tayletha’s cheeks reddened.
            “Yeled,” she confessed. That was the Jewish word for 'boy'. I need to be more careful to speak Latin. Can't give anyone any reason to suspect we’re followers of the Messiah.
            “Well, what ya want?”
            “Show us a secret way through the city.” I’m sure they know their way around everywhere.
            “Why should we?” The young lad never relaxed his stance for an instant. He was ever on the alert, his eyes darting this way and that and in every direction.
            Tayletha took the loaf of bread from Titus and showed it to them. “We'll pay you!”
            The younger vagrant leaped to his feet, lithe as one of the scrawny alley cats and gazed up at them. Tayletha wondered if his mouth was drooling at the sight of so much food. She watched intently as he turned his head to say something into his brother’s ear.
            Out of the corner of her eye, Tayletha saw an orange glow in the distance. The torchbearer had turned and was coming back! The older boy caught the movement of her head, and in an instant, both vanished. Tayletha and her small brother once again flattened themselves against the roof of the two-story building.
            “I'm cold,” Titus’ words were barely more audible than a sigh, but then his teeth started clattering. Tayletha pulled him close against her body for warmth and tucked her knitted palla around them both. They listened, breathing as shallowly as possible as the heavy footfalls below them became more distinct.
            “Where are those thieving rascals?” the guard growled. “They’re usually right around this here court-yard making a nuisance of themselves.” Tayletha felt herself tighten up. The harsh sound of his sword striking against stone made her cringe. Finally, the light disappeared and the sound of marching feet pounding along the cobble stone street diminished.
  Tayletha slid into a sitting position, and then froze. What is that scratching sound? Was it a nasty old rat? She hoped it was the boys.
            Tayletha looked carefully around. In the pallid moonlight the head and shoulders of two shaggy-haired boys were silhouetted with nothing below them. She gasped before realizing they were peering through some sort of trap door to the roof.
            “Come with me,” the older boy beckoned. “We’ll git you outta this court-yard, an' where ya wanna be.”
            Tayletha bit her lip. As much as I want to trust them, how can I be sure they’ll take us where we want to go? They had disappeared into the denser darkness of the ‘hole’ but the older one poked his head back up once more.
            “Well?” He demanded. “Ain’t ya coming? If you are, we must skedaddle. We have a long ways to go before first light.”
            “How do you know where to take us,” Tayletha whispered as she followed her younger brother down the fraying rope ladder.
            “Ain’t you one of them Christianus?” he asked.
Tayletha's grip weakened. “What makes you ask that?”
            “I knowed yer voice and that wine-colored palla you wear. We seen you before. Yer one of those pale-skins from the catacombs, aren'tcha? We seen you buyin' bread from that thar baker.”
            In the dim light Tayletha saw how he reached back to steady Titus. “We know there is a fish symbol on the baker’s doorpost where we spotted you but the big roses haven't seen it. They don’t know that he's a Christianus: not yet! Course others buy from him also.”
            Tayletha carefully climbed down after the disembodied voice somewhere ahead of her. “You-you won’t tell on that baker will you?”
            “No way,” The younger boy piped up for the first time. “He gived us his leftover bread jist before dark. That is if we don't come around too often.”
            “I think he says that because he don't want all the other beggars buggin’ him,” the older one remarked.
            “Or maybe he feeds some of the others on the days you're not supposed to come,” Tayletha suggested.
            “Quiet. We will have to cut through the court-yard. No one’s awake this late at night but you gotta be careful.”
            “’Cept the night watchman,” Little Brother reminded him.
            “Shh! But that’s not ‘til later. He is a bumbling old fool who drinks too much and won’t give us a lick o' trouble.”
Tayletha’s heart pounded as she raced lightly after the vagabonds. How do I know these beggars can be trusted? Maybe they intend to lead us on a wild pig chase until we are exhausted then steal the bread and run. I’m weary already. I wonder how Titus is doing. I have not heard a peep from him for a long time. She clutched her small brother’s hand when they slid along with their backs against a wall. She almost stumbled over a sleeping body or two huddled in doorways and after that watched her steps more carefully.
As they crept around the edge of the court-yard, Tayletha could soon make out the crouching form of the watchman. “Who goes there?” He muttered sleepily.
“You hush up, ole Barrah,” the elder brother scolded. “It is only Broken Nose and his kid brother, so go back to sleep. You seen us lotza times.”
“But who’s with yah?” he slurred while hunching himself up and peered bleary eyed at the four-some.
“Just some kids that got lost. I’m showing them this here shortcut to their home.”
“Yous be gone with you before you wake someone an’ I git blamed.”
Broken Nose twisted the wooden bar on a heavy plank door and cautiously peered out. He saw no one save for some beggars that he knew huddled in the archway. They appeared to be fast asleep. He beckoned to the others to follow him. They trailed silently behind him for a while before he spoke again. “We will soon be going down three crooked alleyways, and then will dart across a main intersection. It is not safe, of course, but there ain’t no other way. If you follow closely, we should make it. Do what I do. I'll show you a hedge to hide under ‘til the next leg o' the journey.”
Tayletha's eyes shone with nervous excitement as she crept after Broken Nose who continued on his way without looking back once.
            Surely someone will hear my hard breathing and slapping sandals! She dodged debris, bodies, and barrels in an effort to keep up with the speedy street dwellers.
            Once or twice they were nearly tripped up. Another time long arms reached out and seized Tayletha's dress and the sound of ripping cloth filled her ears as she fought to escape. The beggars whirled back and tackled the scoundrel as only street-wise vagabond knew how to. They managed to escape and be on their way again but by the time, they arrived at the intersection Broken Nose had referred to, the sky was beginning to lighten. The strips of rosy dawn between the buildings faded into an azure blue and the four-wheeled traffic thinned noticeably as the number of pedestrians increased.
            Tayletha kept her eyes on Broken Nose. To her amazement, she saw him dart into the early morning pedestrian traffic and allow himself to be seen by a guard before dashing off.
Her mouth hung open for an instant, and then she understood. He is using himself as a trickster so we can get to safety. We had better move. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Little Brother tear off in the opposite direction but did not waste any more time watching them. Tayletha motioned for Titus to follow her then pretended to stroll casually across the street. At the last minute possible, she dived under the row of bushes.
            Although concealed next to Titus, Tayletha was at a loss what to do next. By all appearances, the streetwise waifs were gone, but there was no way that she intended to be on the streets in such an unkempt condition even if she could figure out how to get home. Why hadn’t those boys told us what to do next? Tayletha strained her ears to hear something from the ruffians but she was exhausted and sleep overtook her.


If you are from another country than Canada or United States please let me know, and I can send you a different link. My website is down right now, but I'm hoping to get it up and running as soon as possible. 

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