How far would you go to free your mother from slavery?
Suzanna ben Ya’ir is a slave to the king of Hatra, the indomitable fortress city. She dreams of escaping the harem and finding her way back to Rome to find her son, but she is held prisoner by the king’s soldiers, towering walls, and untold miles of murderous desert. To escape she must earn coins as a healer among the common folk of the city and join forces with a Hatran guard who secretly loves her. But when the Roman legions arrive to besiege the city her hope of escape seems more unattainable than ever.
Theudas ben Ya’ir is a fierce warrior and a member of the Roman Emperor’s guard, but he also harbors a deadly secret – he is a Christian. Theudas longs to find his mother and rescue her from slavery, but the Emperor, his legions, and Plautianus – the ruthless leader of the Praetorians – are besieging the city where she is held captive. Now Theudas must break the Roman siege and infiltrate the hostile city, find his mother and help her escape. But doing so will mean committing treason against the Emperor. Will his quest cost Theudas his new-found faith and the life of the woman he loves?
With Suzanna’s life hanging in the balance, can she and Theudas defy the odds and reunite? And if so, can they hope to survive?
Suzanna wept with shame. She wept for the hope of escape that she knew to be false even as she clung to it. The paltry few coins she managed to save would never be enough to convince a merchant to risk the wrath of the king by smuggling her out of this city and across the wasteland surrounding it. The course of her life stretched out before her, as clear and brutal as the sandy, sun-baked road that led west toward the life she would never see again. She would go from the harem to the scullery as her beauty continued to fade, and finally, long after all color had been bleached from her life, to the grave.
She tried to reach for her faith, fumbled for it with groping fingers. She could brush it, could feel the residual warmth of the fire that once burned in her, but she couldn’t grasp it, couldn’t stir it to life again. Jehovah had forsaken her and so she knelt in a pile of rotting garbage against a filthy stone wall and wept.
Her pain seemed inexhaustible but her tears were not and finally her shuddering shoulders slowed and her sobs subsided. She was leaning against the wall now, her cheek against cold stone. In that moment, Suzanna felt a strange sense of clarity. She had two choices. She could lay here and die, or get up and go on. It was the hardest decision she had ever faced.
In the end, a dying man made the decision for her.
Tonight is the night Binyamin will pass from this world and I must be there to ease that passing. I must be there. I must get up. I must make at least this one last effort.
The heat of the day was fully gone now and she was stiff with cold. She struggled to her feet and stared up at the crooked slice of starry sky above. What time was it? Time had had no meaning while she wept. It could have been minutes or hours. But it was still darkest night. She still had time. She brushed at her the skirt of her tunic in a futile effort to wipe away the muck, then swept a sleeve across her eyes and beneath her nose. Stepping free of the alley she looked around, took her bearings, and started off at a pained shuffle.
Movement worked the cold stiffness from her limbs and she began walking faster as if trying to shake off and leave behind the depression and hopelessness that had threatened to crush her. She had a purpose this night, reason enough to live.
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. The proverb came, unbidden, to her mind. And along with it came a thought, a feeling, a whisper on the wind. Theudas yet lives. She couldn’t tell where the assurance came from, had no way to prove it as true, and yet she suddenly knew it. Knew it like her own name. She quickened her steps still more.
Where there is life, there is hope.
As a kid, Nathan D. Maki delighted in leaping through the door of historical fiction and into the adventure of the ancient world. In his teens, his love for reading birthed a desire to write and bring history alive for others. Nathan has always been fascinated with the monumental power and enduring achievements of the Roman Empire and its asymmetrical clash with Early Christianity. As a Christian, he is inspired by stories of triumphant faith in the face of persecution, and he hopes these stories will inspire others as well.
Character Interview of Suzanna ben Ya’ir
4. Birthdate and 5. Birthplace
Suzanna was born a slave in Rome in AD 161. She was descended from Jewish slaves captured in the Judeo-Roman war a hundred years before.
2. Job and 10. Most important goal
There, with the help of a sympathetic guard, she slips away at night to nurse the poor, hording the few coins she receives in payment in hopes of one day buying passage back to Rome with a caravan.
14. Secret desire or fantasy and 11. Worst fear or nightmare
Her secret dream is to be reunited with her son, while her greatest fear is that she will die alone and forgotten.