Sometimes dreams come true in unexpected ways
Over the old city, dawn was slowly breaking. As the sun crept over the eastern horizon, its rays crawled across slate and tile roofs glinting and flashing on the spires and domes of ancient buildings. Warmth was already announcing its presence, heralded on the breeze from the harbor where the ships rocked lazily in their berths.
Neither the light nor much of the breeze made it through the narrow uncovered windows of the stone house, but the young maiden who slept there was already awake. She gazed longingly out the window, leaning her face against the cool stone window frame. Her attention was quickly diverted from the harbor, clearly visible, to the elaborate ivory, gold and marble structure some ways inland of it. She sighed.
The palace of King Jehusid was a wonder to be sure. Majestic and glorious, it dwarfed everything else in the city. It was rumored that there was a mysterious source of water that flowed into the fountains and gardens of the palace, which were lush indeed. Ornate gold and precious gems were intricately carved into the walls that surrounded it and the palace itself.
King Jehusid was a mysterious figure whom no one outside the palace had ever seen. His ministers performed all the duties required in governing and administering the needs of the residents of the city. Some said he didn’t exist at all, while others claimed he was some sort of phantom or ideal. Others stood firmly by their belief that he was, in fact real, though they were ridiculed for doing so. Still, his ministers were wise, kind and generous but firm in upholding justice.
The maiden sighed again, longingly drawn to the splendor of the palace and its grounds. How she longed to set foot inside it! Someday, she vowed, she would see it for herself and look upon the king.
Now to be sure, this was not just an idle fantasy she had created. Long ago, so long she could barely remember it, she had sat beside the bed of her ailing mother. Known as an honest and faithful woman, she had shared with the maiden her deepest secret. She had met the king, she said and he was a wonderful, generous and wise man, to be honored and loved. Of all the things she could leave her daughter, her most precious possession was the knowledge that the king was indeed real and the girl should make it her goal to meet him face to face. From that day to this, she had thought of little else, when not occupied with the everyday duties before her. She had yet to conceive a strategy for making it happen.
Noise from another part of the house snapped her from her reverie. Hurriedly gathering her hair and pinning it up, she rushed from the room down the stairs to the kitchen.
The old cook, busy over the cook stove, huffed when she saw the girl. “Late again, Julienna.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She eyed the floor.
“Well, don’t just stand there! I need some fruit for the pastries! Get down to the market!”
Julienna fled the house, gratefully. Trips to the market were her only respite in the life of servitude she had always known. It gave her time to wander freely, imagining she was one of the daughters of a wealthy merchant shopping for trinkets among the stalls. Often she stayed longer than acceptable and sometimes found a beating waiting when she returned. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was not her destiny. She would not be a slave all her life. Of this she was sure.
The market seemed unusually busy this morning, as Julienna lingered among the stalls. So many pretty things just arrived from far away ports! How she longed for the pretty beads, trinkets and hair ribbons on display. Admiring a beautiful silver looking glass, her attention was drawn by coy laughter.
A rather plain, but extravagantly dressed young lady was shopping at one of the nearby stalls. She simply pointed to the things she desired and the shopkeeper handed them to the large male slave who accompanied her. Her long, black hair was intricately woven with brightly colored ribbons and jewels, her dress of the finest matching silk. On her feet, she wore fine jeweled slippers.
Julienna recognized her as the daughter of the city’s wealthiest shipping magnate and landowner. By her side, however, was someone Julienna didn’t recognize.
His dark, curly hair was cut short. Bright, dark eyes shone with merriment in clear, olive skin. Clothed in well kept, but only moderately priced garments, he was engaged in animated conversation with the young lady.
Julienna had never seen him before, but she was sure he was the handsomest young man she had ever laid eyes on. They were heading toward her! She looked at her plain garment and bare feet and wanted to run, but there was no way to escape. Desperately, she looked around, like a frightened animal, but it was no use.
As they moved toward her, the young woman paid no attention, simply proceeding as though she were not there. Julienna rushed to step out of the way, bumping the corner of the table and falling to the ground. The young woman paid no attention and began to move to the next stall.
However, the young man stopped. He smiled kindly and extended his hand to help her.
Astonished, she accepted his hand and he pulled her to her feet. “Thank you.”
He simply nodded and bowed politely.
The merchant’s daughter, turned impatiently. “Don’t waste your time with slaves, Marcus.”
He winked at her and moved on.
Mouth open, Julienna gaped after him. Marcus! She was sure she would never forget him.
Over the next few days, Julienna thought of little but the handsome stranger from the market place, but had seen nothing of him. Certainly he would never pay her any attention anyway, what with the company of wealthy young women to enjoy. Still, there was something about the kindness in his smile that stayed with her.
She was browsing the stalls for some vegetables, absently picking one up and laying it down with hardly a look.
“You’ll never find anything that way.”
Turning quickly, she started. It was Marcus!
He was standing so close, it unnerved her. She blushed.
He smiled. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I… I…” She fumbled, looking at the ground, the crimson in her cheeks darkening. “Thank you for being so kind to me.”
“It was nothing. Anyone would have done the same.”
She nodded. Of course. Why should she think she was special to someone like him? “Well, not many people show such kindness to someone like me.”
“Someone like you?”
Still looking at the ground, she answered. “A slave…”
“Ahh,” He lifted her chin and looked directly into her eyes. “Some people have no sense of common decency. They think their money makes them better than other people. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have no value. You’re a very beautiful young woman. And you’ll not always be a slave, I think.” He placed several nice bunches of vegetables in her basket.
Now she was curious. “What makes you say that?”
“There’s something about you. You don’t have the bearing of a slave.”
“That’s what cook says. Too proud. It’s gotten me a beating on more than one occasion.”
His compassion was unmistakable. “Having a sense of oneself is not pride. Knowing you are destined for better things. I know, I was once a servant myself.”
Julienna’s eyes grew wide, taking in his well groomed appearance and fine garments. “You!”
“The man I served was kind to me. He had no children of his own, and my father was steward of his house. When he died, he left a substantial inheritance to me.”
“How very fortunate!”
Marcus smiled. “Yes. Now the father of the young lady you saw me with is investing in a business venture with me. I am headed to the new world where I expect to expand my fortunes.”
“That’s very exciting.”
Suddenly, Julienna gasped. “Oh, dear!”
He frowned. “What is it?”
“I really must get back. Oh, am I going to be in trouble!”
“I’m sorry.” He said.
As she turned to go, he caught her arm.
“I should like to talk with you again. Will you be here tomorrow?”
“Probably. If I don’t get a beating and locked in my room!”
“Very well. I shall look for you tomorrow then.”
She nodded hastily and dashed off.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as Julienna sat before her window, looking toward the harbor. It would not be long now until Marcus left for the new world. She had seen him several times in the market place where they had talked of his plans to build success in the new world. How she envied him!
Now though, after arriving home late three times in one week from the market, she had been thoroughly strapped and locked in her room for three days.
What if he left before she got to see him again? This was an unbearable thought! Yet, there was no telling when she’d be let out. What would she do?
Just then, she heard the key in the door. She was free!
It opened and Cook stuck her head inside. “You’re needed to go into the herb garden and get some herbs for dinner.”
Julienna nodded gratefully and quickly dried her eyes.
“I suggest you mind yourself. Mistress is still watching.”
She rushed downstairs and out into the garden. On her knees, she was carefully gathering the herbs into a basket.
“Julienna… “ the whisper was barely audible.
No one was visible.
It’s just my imagination, she thought.
“Julienna, over here!”
His form was barely visible in the foliage.
“What are you doing here?” She was incredulous, looking around frantically for fear of being caught. “If you’re caught, we’re both going to be in big trouble!”
“There’s a small park not far from the market. Do you know it?”
“Meet me there. Tonight.”
“It’s really important.”
She nodded. “Okay. But you must go now!”
“You’ll be there?”
“Yes. Yes. Go!”
He was gone.
She smiled as she rushed back into the house. All was right with the world once again.
Heart racing, Julienna was finding it difficult to settle herself. Checking her hair for the umpteenth time in the small, cracked glass on her small dressing table, she wanted to make sure she looked her very best. She paced. Would the house never settle down?
Painstakingly, she had forced herself to move slowly through her chores after the evening meal. To avoid suspicion, she had even helped Cook prepare the kitchen for breakfast in the morning and polished the silver. When cook had remarked that she couldn’t make up for bad behavior by doing extra chores, she knew she’d succeeded.
Now, it seemed, time had slowed to a crawl. Once again, she moved to the window and observed the garden. The torches were still burning brightly, meaning the house was not yet closed up for the night. Wistfully, she watched and waited. Would Marcus wait for her? Was it possible he was leaving in the morning and wanted to say goodbye? What would she do if she missed him? How would she know? The thought was more than she could bear and threatened to drive her to distraction.
Longingly, she peered toward the harbor. Though not visible at night from this distance, she imagined the ships berthed there and fantasized about what it would be like to get on one of those ships and just sail away. Oh, how exciting that would be!
Then her attention was diverted by the brilliant light illuminating the palace. It seemed they never slept there; no matter what time of night it was, the torches were always burning brightly. She wondered at it. Could it be that they were afraid of intruders? Or did they really have business that kept them working all night?
Stirring in the garden interrupted her imaginings. Talmus, the steward, moved through the courtyard, extinguishing some of the torches and dimming others. When he had finished, he walked to the gate and locked it.
At last! She thought. It would only be a little while longer now. Pressing her ear against the door, she listened carefully for Talmus’ footsteps going to his room. After she was sure he was settled in, she would creep down the back stairs to the kitchen, retrieve the key from beside the back door and hurry out to meet Marcus. Oh, she could hardly wait!
Never in all the years she had served her masters, had she even ventured out of the house after dark, let alone out into the city. Amazed at how easy it had been, she looked back frequently, certain she would be caught at any moment. No one followed.
As she approached the park, her pulse began to race and it was all she could do to keep from running. But it would never due for her to be running if anyone saw her. At all costs she should avoid any chance of suspicion. Apprehension quickly set in as she looked to and fro anxiously for Marcus, but didn’t see him. Tears threatened to overwhelm her as she went into the park and still there was no sign of him. Was she too late?
Turning round slowly, she searched in every direction. Empty streets glared back.
There was rustling, and then an urgent whisper. “Julienna!”
She wheeled around to find Marcus approaching from out of some foliage. “Oh! Why were you hiding there? You gave me such a fright!”
“I had to make sure it was safe, my love.”
Immediately pacified by the warmth of his smile, the brightness of his eyes and his endearment, she relaxed.
He reached up and gently touched the side of her face. “I’m glad you came.”
“You said it was important. What is it?”
“I’m leaving day after tomorrow for the new world.”
A knot formed in the pit of her stomach. Crestfallen, she looked at the ground. “Oh.”
Placing one hand on her shoulder, he lifted her chin with the other. “I came to ask you to go with me.”
A myriad of emotions fluttered and swam through Julienna’s senses. Disbelief, excitement, fear and elation were fighting for supremacy. She wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly. “What?”
“Go with me. We can start a new life together in the new world. You and me.”
“Simple. Just meet me here tomorrow night. I’ll take you to the ship and you can stay there until we depart in the morning.”
“But, what about my masters? I mean…”
“Oh, my love.” He soothed. “If you succeeded in escaping tonight, you can do so again tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you take me to the ship now? So I don’t have to go back?”
He shook his head, and in a patronizing tone, as though dealing with a naïve child, which in many ways she was, he said, “It would be too difficult for you to hide all day tomorrow. If they searched for you, they might find you.”
“But no one knows about us. They would never think to look on your ship.”
“We can’t risk it. If you were found, we would both lose everything.”
“Are you sure they won’t come after me?”
“Once we’ve left the harbor, we’ll be out of danger.”
The full impact of what he was asking her to do began to sink in and she was afraid. Still, she had known all her life she wasn’t meant to live as a slave. Perhaps this was the chance she’d waited for. How could she turn it down? But if she was caught…
Marcus could see the conflict playing out on her face. “Oh, my darling. Imagine the life we’ll have. We’ll be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. All the adventures of a lifetime are waiting for us just beyond that horizon. You’ll be my princess. Everything you could ever desire will be yours.”
A princess. Adventure. How wonderful it all sounded!
“Just say you’ll be here. That you’ll come away with me.”
His eyes were so kind; his tone so reassuring that it overcame her apprehension. “Yes. Yes. I will.”
“But now I really must be getting back. It wouldn’t do for me to be missed.”
“No. But you mustn’t be late. Promise?”
On the morrow, Julienna went about her chores with a diligence rarely seen before. So grateful that she’d been apparently unmissed the previous evening, she determined to keep her mind off the slowly passing time by throwing herself wholeheartedly into her duties. Barely able to contain her excitement, she seemed to float through the house, humming as she went.
“What’s gotten into you today?” Cook grumbled, crossly.
“Just happy to be out of my room and back at work.” She chippered.
“Hmmph.” She thrust the market basket at her. “Well, we need vegetables for dinner. Let’s see if you can stay out of your room.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Julienna answered, soberly.
“Well, get along with you then!”
Skipping off to the market, she was reminded that it would be the last time she would ever go as a slave. When she and Marcus got to the new world, she would go if she wanted to. After all, Marcus had monies of his own. Perhaps they would have servants as well. Then someone would carry her parcels as she picked out trinkets and finely crafted hair jewels.
Coming to herself, she determined that she mustn’t dawdle. It wouldn’t do to find herself locked in her room, missing her chance for freedom. As she finished filling her basket, she heard the trill of affected laughter. Looking up sharply, she saw the merchant’s daughter — and Marcus was with her!
Catching her breath sharply, she tried not to stare. What was he doing there with her? It was all she could do to keep from approaching them.
As they moved her way, she was unsure what to do. Should she stand there boldly and force him to acknowledge her? Or should she make a hasty retreat?
The merchant’s daughter paid her no attention as usual. Marcus caught her eye, winking slyly, then surreptitiously squeezed her arm as they passed.
Reassured, all was well as she rushed to get home before she was late.
Now she listened closely as Talmus once again padded quietly to his room. Looking at the little bag she had on the bed, she was apprehensive and giddy at the same time. She could hardly wait to be with Marcus, starting a new life. It wouldn’t be long now.
She had been secretly delighted by the look of surprise on Cook’s face when she’d come back early from the market. Quiet and coy, she’d gone busily about her duties after dinner and finished early. As quickly as she could, she’d retired to her room.
Undetected, she crept quietly out the back door and down to the gate. Looking around carefully and satisfied that she’d been successful, she went out and closed it behind her.
With increasing speed, she made her way down the cobblestone street toward the park. When she could see him waiting just outside the entrance, it was all she could do to keep from running.
Suddenly, there was the sound of rushing feet and the street behind her lit with torches.
“There she is! Seize her!”
Terrified, she turned to see Talmus coming up the street with armed guards. Unsure what to do, she began to run.
More quickly now, they pursued. It wasn’t long before they overtook her, grabbing both her arms.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Marcus,” she wailed. “Marcus, help me!”
“What would you have us do with her?” One of the guards asked.
Frantically she looked around. He was nowhere to be seen.
“We’ll take her to the mistress.”
Petrified, she squirmed, desperate to see if he would come. He didn’t.
“Stone her.” The mistress declared. “She’s too much trouble. I’m tired of her.”
Julienna’s eyes, filled with fear, were wide.
“We must take her to the king first. Only he can give final approval for the stoning.”
Tired and perturbed, the mistress waved a hand as if to dismiss her. “Very well then. Do with her what you will. Take her to the king, drown her in the harbor. I don’t care.”
“Shall I accompany them, madam?”
“Yes, yes, Talmus. I’ll expect a full detailing.”
Too shocked even to beg, Julienna allowed herself to be dragged through the streets to the palace. She’d always dreamed of meeting the king, but not like this. Now she was nothing but a runaway slave, ashamed and worthless. Surely, he would agree with the mistress and she would be stoned to death.
Silent tears began to fall as the guards pounded the great knocker on the palace gate.
A young man dressed all in white, with a countenance unlike any she’d ever seen, greeted them.
“We need to speak with His Majesty.”
He glanced at Julienna, nodded silently and beckoned them inside. He indicated a garden off the grand foyer. Then he disappeared, leaving them to wait there.
Even the beautiful foliage and the soft whisper of the sweeping stream fed by a waterfall couldn’t calm Julienna’s fears. It seemed a sad contradiction to her situation. Would she die here then?
It didn’t take long for him to return. Behind him was the most unusual man Julienna had ever seen. Garments so white they appeared to be lit from within were draped with a royal blue sash. His eyes at once appeared like fire, yet gentle and compassionate, filled with another force Julienna couldn’t identify, but it seemed to surround her, setting her at ease.
“Your Majesty,” Talmus bowed. “This slave has broken faith with her mistress. She was caught in the very act. The law says she is to be stoned. My mistress agrees.”
“Let the man among you who has never broken faith be the first to cast a stone at her.” He stooped down next to the stream and began writing in the soft sand.
So this was it, she thought. She had seen him face to face, but where was his kindness and generosity? Hanging her head, she prepared for the worst.
There were murmurs and nervous movement among the guards and the onlookers who had followed, but no stones cast.
“Young woman,” said the king at last. “Where are your accusers?”
Quickly she looked around. There was no one standing there but her. Speechless and bewildered, she gaped.
“Are there none left to condemn you?”
“None, my lord.” She stammered.
“Then neither do I condemn you.”
Julienna fell at his feet, head shaking involuntarily and tears falling. “Oh, my Lord, my Lord…”
He extended his hand, took hers and pulled her to her feet.
She didn’t know what to say or to think, so she just waited.
“You are free to go.”
Julienna gaped. She could leave, pursue the life of freedom she had always dreamed of? Suddenly she realized, apart from Marcus’ offer, she had no idea what that even meant. She hesitated.
“Or you can remain here, in the palace.” Before she could speak, he added. “You will have my love as a member of my kingdom, and my protection. But everyone here is a servant… by choice.”
For a moment, she pondered. A servant? She had always wanted to escape a life of servitude to a cruel, demanding master. But what else was there for her out there? Marcus had abandoned her.
With a sweeping gaze, she took in the opulence surrounding her. He had promised her love and protection, in exchange for her loyalty to serve him. She had already seen his mercy. The choice seemed clear. “Yes, my Lord. I will accept your invitation and serve you willingly.””
He smiled, his face full of kindness. “Then come, my child, and sin no more. Enter into the joy of your LORD.”