Author: Susan L. Carr
The Romans call it Iamnia; its residents name their home Yavne. For many, the town was a refuge after the wrath of Titus destroyed their temple, for others it was a corner outpost in a remote province, where lonely legionnaires counted the days until they could return home to Rome. For one young girl, it was like a prison, just one small speck in a vast Empire waiting to be explored.
Willow, daughter of Ira the town's apothecarius and respected Council member, sat at the scribe's desk in her father's herbarium reading a treatise by the famous Greek physician Dioscorides. The scroll was written in the good doctor's native Dacian, but Willow easily read the distant land's language. She was taking notes on a small scrap of parchment, idly translating the names of plants into Latin, Hebrew and her native Aramaic.
It was late afternoon of early winter, the mild Judean sun beginning its final descent toward dusk. A basket lay on the clean sandy floor next to Willow, empty and forgotten as the redhead bent her head studiously over the scroll.
For the second time that day, Willow missed her mother calling her. She had snuck in the cool and dark room the moment her father and his apprentice left to meet with the Council as they did each afternoon.
Willow's mother strode briskly into the room. She was dressed in a plain, but obviously high quality blouse and skirt with a homespun kerchief covering her hair. "Willow!" she yelled again startling her daughter so the end of the scroll slipped from her hands, off the desk and unrolled until it was stopped by Sheila's sandal-clad feet. "What are you doing? I sent you to the baker an hour ago!"
Willow glanced guiltily at the empty basket sitting neglected next to her. "Um, well…just reading."
Sheila's hands left her hips and crossed over her heart in a gesture of heartbreak. She looked up at the rough-hewn ceiling. "What more can I do, O Master of the Universe? My willful daughter will be the death of me!"
Willow rolled her eyes at her mother's theatrics and she began to gather up the scroll. "I'll leave now and be back before you know it, Mama."
"You should have been back already," Sheila admonished. "What are you reading anyway? What's so important you have to disobey your own mother?"
"Dioscorides' new treatise," Willow said excitedly. "It's the latest herbal expanding his De Materia Medica. I was thinking I should translate the Dacian. Do you think I can borrow some parchment, Mama?"
"No!" Sheila said horrified. "Dacian? Since when do you read Dacian?"
Willow blushed. "Um, I found a book of poems by Ovid written in Dacian," she explained. "I compared that to his Latin version and, well…"
"Oh Willow," her mother said. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you. Your father has punished you time and time again for defying him. When are you going to learn?"
"I'm sorry, Mama," Willow said. She picked up the basket. "I'll go now."
Sheila watched as the young girl hurriedly left the room, her skirts swishing around her ankles, the basket now swinging from her arm. With a sigh she hurried back to her duties.
Willow walked quickly through the town. Merchants, artisans, servants, government officials and soldiers all crowded the street. Yavne had been an important center for the Jewish people since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem years ago. With the gathering of the Council, a group of elders, priests and important men who had survived the disaster, the town was turning into a thriving metropolis. The Council, which included her father, was working hard to preserve the traditions of the past.
Willow thought briefly about Daniel, the boy her family had betrothed her to when they were children. Daniel, along with many able-bodied Jewish men, had been taken from Jerusalem by the Roman who ordered the destruction of the temple. General Titus had given his father, the Emperor Vespasian, thousands of slaves who were immediately put to working building the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome. Willow heard the giant colossus was nearing completion and for his sake she wished Daniel had survived the harsh sentence he was given simply for being a young man living in Jerusalem at the time of the rebellion.
Willow and her family had been more fortunate. Her father's skill had spared him and his family and due to Ira's foresight, their flight to Yavne had been relatively effortless.
Fortuna favors the wise. Willow shook off the heretical thought and then noticed a small flock of birds pecking at a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the baker's. She suddenly remembered her mission and hurried down the street.