| Family First Serial |

Within My Walls: Chapter 45   

How strange. She is surrounded by armed guards, on her way to an interrogation, probable incarceration, and yet the storm inside is at rest


“Ride on!”

Leonora presses the horse’s side and her black stallion starts to walk, then trot. She is flanked by Ottoman officers on both sides, sheathed swords knocking as they ride. Ines rides behind her.

One of the officers looks at the sky and urges them onward.

The trot becomes a canter.

Overhead, the sky is dotted with clouds; white but turning gray in the distance. Leonora pushes her traveling cloak off her arms and shoulders, she is growing warm from the ride.

The guards allowed Leonora to ride her own black stallion, and she has strapped a leather traveling bag to the creature’s back, filled with a blanket, and spare clothing. She is wearing her strong winter boots. Not because she needs them, although the sky is beginning to threaten rain and the seasons are changing. But more because she has worn these boots through hard journeys, and with them, she had always come home.

She left Yishai with his jaw set tight, eyes not seeing at all, but turned inward. He will see securing her freedom as his challenge, she knows. His chance to prove himself, once and for all. She does not know what he will come up with, what connections he will draw upon. Usually, she would relish the challenge; thinking through the possibilities would fill her with a feeling of strength, the thrill of a pulsing life force.

But now, as she holds the reins, firmly yet loosely, trusting the horse to step over rocks and find the right angle down the incline, she cannot think of that at all.

Nor can she think of Amram, the rounded eyes, dark with fear and surprise and something more… helplessness? Sorrow?

The guards slow, and point vaguely over the hills, to where the Akko road begins. So they are going to take her via the coastal road. It is longer, but easier on the horses. And she will see the sea.

Ines trots next to her and reaches out. Leonora grasps her hand, feels Ines’s fingers, the way the skin bunches around her knuckles. Ines is an old woman. She should not be making this journey. But she is grateful that she is here.

“How do you fare?” Ines asks in a low voice.

Leonora simply nods in return. The officers return to their positions to the right and left of her, ending their discussion, and they continue. Ines falls behind, once more.

They pass a shepherd with his flock. It is her flock, half the ewes ailing, half nursing new life. There is nothing she can do now, for them.

She takes a deep breath, lifts her face to the wind and the sky, closes her eyes and feels the sun’s warmth.

Relief fills her.

Inside, something has quietened.

How strange. She is surrounded by armed guards, on her way to an interrogation, probable incarceration, and yet the storm inside is at rest.

All these years, whether during her waking hour and certainly as night closed in, she had been waiting.

For her reckoning. For the past to revisit her in some way, and if not, for some catastrophe to come. Perhaps it was this that led her, again and again, to the wine barrel, the warm, sweet, heady blurring of the harsh lines of her life.

Not that it worked. Because as the release came, the demons were loosened from their cage, and they rose before her, swallowing her into the shadows. She closes her eyes, and takes a gulp of fresh air.

Well, demons, here we are.

And it is not so bad after all.

For the calamity has hit her, not Yishai, not Amram, not the children. All that apprehension, the tautness of impending tragedy, has gone.

And as she rides, her body feels slack with relief.


Caesarea. The sea: gray and green and blue and silver, mirrors and stars, waves and calm.


The sea at night. Darkness, the face of the deep. The terror and calm of the endlessness.

The next day, as they climb the winding roads to Jerusalem in the late afternoon sun, she tries to plan.

According to the custom, as a woman of prominence, she should first be taken to the community leader of the Jews, for he is the arm of the Ottoman Empire over the Jews. Castro, then.

If Yishai has his wits about him, he will already have sent word to Castro. They will be strategizing together, forming a defense, a way to convince the kadi and the Sublime Porte in Istanbul that she is innocent. They will have formed a message, framed her actions in a way that make her seem impotent, or innocent, or insane.

Night falls as they arrive in Jerusalem. Leonora pulls on the reins and her stallion slows and stops. The guards halt suddenly, horses protesting.

Leonora lifts her arms and points. “The Wall.”

The place is lit by torches and small bonfires. Dark has fallen, but the work continues.

Leonora gazes around her. The wall. It is only is a half-built thing, but it is here. In some places it is no more than a few layers of brick, to mark the place. And in other places, taller than a man of height. Great timber platforms stand next to the perimeter, holding piles of rock and bricks, and on the ground, huge vats of cement are stirred by young men and old, children. Jews, Muslims, foreign workers. From the distance, she sees an armed guard on patrol. They do not wear the Ottoman uniform, but….

She blinks in recognition. Castro’s guards. The ones that she herself funds. They are policing the area. If they knew her, if she had some signal, they could attack her guard and free her. She throws back her head and laughs.

Not that she needs that. She sees it now. This is Heaven’s way of bringing her down to Jerusalem so that her own eyes could feast on this triumph.

Lishuatcha kiviti Hashem, for your salvation I hoped, O G-d.” She whispers. Her heart lifts and she feels that if she only stretches up, she could close her fingers around the starlight.

Her work. Her life’s work.

None of it was in vain, after all. The wall is rising.

She watches until the glow of the flames against the night sky brings tears to her eyes.


At Castro’s palatial home, liveried guards bar their entry.

Unconcerned, the Ottoman officers turn, walk toward the entrance and begin to converse. Leonora pushes her feet deep into her strong winter boots and calls for someone of consequence. The guards part for a servant, who simply waves her away.

Leonora raises her voice. “Tell your master that I have come. He is expecting me.”

The servant looks down at the ground as he nods and for the first time, Leonora is filled with doubt. Servants always look at her in awe, and it is rare that they pretend that they have not seen her.

The servant disappears, and returns with a man in the Castro livery: identical to that of the armed patrol. He speaks with an authority that can only come from having conferred with his master.

“My master says that you are to follow your guards, and not rely on his intervention.”

She stares, but the man is shielded by the night. How can he do this? Were it not for her, he would not be living in security and opulence. He would have been turned out of the city by a people angry and fearful for their safety. And now, he dares to turn her away?

She slashes her riding whip through the air. It hits the ground with a crack.

The servant does not flinch.

“Tell your master that I command him to attend me.”

There is a long pause, but the servant folds. He turns and disappears. It feels like a long wait until Castro himself appears, his silhouette outlined by the blaze of light within. His height is topped by a large turban that winks and glitters with jewels.

“You have arrived,” he says.

“Why do you not admit me?” she says. His figure is framed by the door. Inside all is bright and warm, servants crossing the hallway, the smell of fresh bread and safety. “You owe me this, at least. The officers here.” She gestures at the armed guards who have dismounted and are lounging by the gate, talking to Castro’s own guards. “They are threatening to take me directly to the Ottoman governor. By rights, I can be received here, at the head of the Jewish community.”

Castro inclines his head. “Indeed. I have been bestowed with some level of judicial authority.”

“Well then.” She points inward. “Will you allow me shelter and protection?”

He gives a slow shake of his head. “I dare not. It is regrettable.”

She needs no explanation. She knows why, and it is her own hand that has done it: If she is found treasonous, he, too, could be implicated. But that does not quell the rage that has suddenly sparked against the man.

She looks at him. “I have sent you gold coins, I have outfitted your soldiers, and I pay their wages. I have worked for your sake toward the building of the Wall. Where is your loyalty?”

“Forgive me, honorable lady. If I protect you, if I show to have any dealings with you at all, then what will be my own fate?”

He could easily be accused of keeping his own army. His liveried soldiers patrol the streets, scaring off thieves and vagabonds.

“But the money. The guards’ wages. Their weapons.” There is more. The whisperers, those who sowed fear in the kadi’s heart so that he would feel the need for the wall and promote it to Istanbul. The peace money, given to those whose homes stood in the pathway of the wall, and had to be demolished.

Who had compensated them, Jew and Muslim alike, if not she? How much of her fortune had been brought down to Jerusalem, coins in leather purses and diamonds sewn into sleeves; gold pressed deep into the  horse’s saddles and even property deeds that would give him the income from monthly rents, documents nestling deep within sacks of cinnamon and peppercorns?

He is what he is because of her, Leonora.

Jerusalem is rising because of her, Leonora.

So why is she standing like a beggar, surrounded by guards?

Castro lowers his voice. “Has it ever occurred to you what it is like to be a Jew, a dhimmi, a despised one, ruling but not ruling, under our Ottoman cousins? How every word must be measured, let alone every deed?”

She shakes her head, not understanding, not wanting to know.

He clicks his fingers in front of her eyes. “Like this you could cause my downfall.”

He cups his hands around his mouth and calls out. “Guards! Move her!”


The daily walk to the cave of Tzidkiyahu, where they take pickaxes to the stone wall, should only take a few minutes, but as they near the site, the chaburah slows. Yannai leans heavily on Eliyahu, and it seems that each step is more laborious; the day’s dread already weighing them down.

The others walk ahead and Eliyahu looks around. There is no one here. He lowers his voice. Not that there is something to hide, but he wants the chacham’s advice alone.

“There is a young woman here.”


“And I have begun talking to her.”

Yannai pauses. He turns and faces him, eyes piercing Eliyahu’s own. Eliyahu holds his gaze.

Yannai nods. He is weary, the man. He eats very little here in Jerusalem, and Eliyahu thinks that he should procure a pot and some grain and begin to cook the man a broth. He has noticed some wild herbs growing nearby, something that will give the elderly man strength.

Not that he would agree to eat it, he thinks with a wry smile, remembering the tea he had spat out in Eliyahu’s cave.

Yannai takes a step forward, “Is she a girl with faith?”

Is she? “I do not know.”

“Does she pray?”

What were her words? Only when I have no choice.

“Yes. She prays.”

Another step. Another.

Yannai stares straight ahead. “There is something that you are not telling me.”

“She is a tortured soul. Her father struck fear into her and… well.” He pauses. “It is hard for her to trust.”

“To trust who?”

“People. The world. The Almighty.”

He shrugs. “It is hard for anyone to trust in This World.” He walks on, breathing heavily. “You will teach her.”

Eliyahu blinks. This was not what he expected.

Yannai tugs his arm. “But why. Why should you?”

How can he explain? That behind her armor he senses fragility. That he sees in her a stormy, suffering soul and he wishes she could have peace? Tzippora was tranquil and still, the bearer of an inner wholeness. But this girl is a shattered survivor, when she walks you can all but hear the tinkle of shards of self.

“I do not know.”

Yannai plants his feet on the ground and gives an emphatic nod. Is that — could it be — a smile in his eyes? “Then this you will discover.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 833)

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