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The Heart Changer

By Jarm Del Boccio

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CHAPTER ONE

“RUN! RUN, MY DAUGHTER! DON’T let them see you!” Miriam’s
mother cried in alarm, shielding baby Zacchaeus in her long robes.
She watched, helpless, as her precious child ran to escape the oncoming
invasion.

Picking up her skirts, the young girl fled down the center of the
Shunem town market, following the frantic path of others, terrorstricken
by the billowing clouds of dust gathering in the distance.

As the villagers ran for their lives, baskets of fruits and vegetables,
nuts and spices were carelessly scattered on the parched ground. Carts
of fish and goat’s cheese were upset, the sound of splintering and
cracking adding to the mayhem as striped awnings ripped from their
doorframes. Goats and sheep scattered, and those who could not be
freed from their leads bleated in fear. Shouts of the Syrian army, and
the sound of clomping horse’s hooves on the stone pavement signaled
the enemy’s advance. Cries and screams escaped from the villagers as
they dropped a trail of precious belongings in their flight. A keepsake
and a fresh loaf of bread meant nothing. Only their lives mattered now.

Miriam eyed another overturned cart, its sweets scattered in the
dust, and swiftly darted behind it to evade the soldiers’ haunting advances.
She covered her face with the cloth from her head covering,
tucking it in to hide her maturing face. Heart pounding, she took a
deep breath, pressing her head against the rugged wood, praying no
one had seen her. At twelve, who knew what the enemy would do if
they caught her? Miriam shuddered as she heard the screams of women
and children running past. She wiped her palms and forehead with
the hem of her skirts, and shut her eyes tightly, trying to block out
the horrifying scene.

“Oh —Jehovah —help!” she pleaded, gasping with each word. “ALL
of us. Mother — Father— and— baby Zacchaeus. Shield us— from
our— enemies.”

“Miriam!”

Recognizing a familiar voice, Miriam instinctively stood up, just
as a soldier galloped towards her. Miriam froze, unable to avoid the
oncoming danger. Her heart beat wildly, mouth gaping as she watched
in seemingly slow motion the muscular legs of the horse moving in
rhythm in her line of vision, hooves kicking up the dust as they beared
down, threatening to trample her. As the soldier galloped by, she felt
herself being lifted off the ground, and in one smooth movement,
flung onto the front of the beast, knocking the wind from her lungs.
Miriam coughed forcefully, then drew in a deep breath, reaching
for the only thing within her grasp — the horse’s mane. Her legs
flapped against the equine’s flank, as the soldier’s sweaty arms encircled
her. Dizzy from the rapid motion, Miriam closed her eyes, confused
momentarily by shouts and screams mingled with the sound of crashing
and thuds.

“Trying to hide, eh?” the soldier said with a cruel laugh.

The horse and rider took a turn at the main street of town and
headed towards the open expanse of countryside, a trail of other soldiers
racing behind. As the village disappeared in the distance, the
sounds of terror and defeat turned to victorious whoops and cheers.
The rough bouncing of the horse’s gallop shook the delicately framed
young girl until hot tears flowed down Miriam’s cheeks. The dust from
the road enveloped her, sticking to her tears so she could barely see.
Anger rose within her soul.

“Where —?” Miriam demanded, her voice jagged and bouncy. “Let
me — my Mo—”

“You will see — and it will bring me a pretty drachma.” He shouted
over the clatter of hooves and gathering soldiers on their own steeds,
then laughed heartily. Miriam tried to block it out by squeezing her
eyes shut, as if they were ears.

Why, Jehovah? Miriam poured out her grief in a series of sobs, not
caring what her captor thought. Exhausted, she hung her head, her
shoulders slumping, while still managing to hang on. The images of
women and children running for their lives played over and over in
her mind, her ears still ringing with their screams. When would this
nightmare end?

It seemed like hours since they left the scene of the invasion. By
now, the sun was setting, casting its vibrant coral-colored rays onto
the parched ground. Miriam could see through greasy strands of hair,
smoke rising in the distance. She desperately hoped it was a camp. With
each bounce Miriam grimaced, her legs aching from hanging on. Her
entire frame felt heavy, each muscle and bone jostling, begging for rest.

“I can’t.” Miriam said in a weak, raspy voice. “I can’t stand any
more. Too tired.”

The rider slowed his horse as he came to a group of other soldiers
eating around a fire, coarse jesting and hollow laughs echoing across
the desert. They were throwing bones from their stew at one another,
and as they landed in the fire, or hit a head, laughter pealed once more.

“Where is the commander?” Miriam’s captor demanded.

“In the tent, Galius.”

The men fixed their gazes on Miriam. She
immediately turned away, burying her face in her sleeve.

“Part of the spoils, eh?” a soldier observed.

“Stop it. She’s a gift to the commander.”

Galius lead his horse away from the army’s tents, stopping by a
post to secure its reins alongside the other soldier’s horses, allowing
them to rest and graze. He dismounted first, then grabbing hold of
Miriam’s robe at the shoulder dragged her to the ground.

“I won’t tie your hands — walk alongside — you won’t get hurt.
Understand?” he said in halting Hebrew.

She did. Clearly. I am now a slave. Miriam nodded with her head
still bowed, in response. What will happen to me? Will I ever see home
again? What about— She dared not think of them. Miriam’s thoughts
continued to plague her as her feet kick up the dust and random stones
in the path. This day started with so much hope. Now despair covered
her like a heavy cloak, hiding any chance of redemption.

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