Giver of Wonders
A miracle once saved her life ~ will another give her a future?
Cyprus was little more than a child when a fall left her paralyzed…and when the boy known as the wonder-worker healed her. Ever since, she has wondered why the Lord spared her, what he has in store for her. But her pagan father thinks she was spared solely so she could be introduced to the wealthy wonder-worker, Nikolaos.
Nikolaos has never questioned that his call in life is to dedicate himself to the church and to God. Never, that is, until he and his cousin Petros meet the compelling Cyprus Visibullis. For years he struggles with the feelings she inspires…and with the sure knowledge that Petros loves her too.
Petros knows he will never be good enough for Cyprus’s father to consider him as a match for his favorite daughter not as long as Nikolaos is there. But when tragedy strikes the Visibullis family, he will do anything to save his beloved. Unfortunately, his beloved is determined to do anything to save her sisters ~ even at the cost of herself.
As the festival of lights bathes their Greek city in beauty, Cyprus, Petros, and Nikolaos celebrate the miracle of their Savior s birth together one last time. And in remembrance of their Lord’s greatest gift, one of them will make the ultimate sacrifice for the others…and a centuries-long tradition will be born.
She would die today, one way or another. Cyprus Visibullis risked one glance over her shoulder without slowing her feet. They still pursued, those lecherous sailors, shouting words at her that would make Mater’s face flush scarlet if she could hear.
Abbas, though—Abbas’s flush would not just be over the sailors chasing her. It would be over his youngest daughter having ventured to the port to begin with. Never mind she had been waiting for him. He would see only the disobedience.
“Get back here, girl! We only want to talk!”
A shiver spurred her onward, faster. Abbas would kill her if the sailors did not. Or worse, sit her down and lecture her about how fleeting was a woman’s virtue. Threaten to keep her from worshipping with Mater and the twins, since it apparently did her no good. Ask for the millionth time why she could not be more like her sisters.
“We intend you no harm!” one of the sailors shouted, though it ended with a laugh that knotted her belly. “Come, pretty one, stop running! We will give you the life of a queen!”
She darted around a corner and prayed to the Lord of heaven and earth that the sailors were not from Patara. That they would not know the streets and alleys as she did. And that God himself would strike her dead before he allowed those men to put hands on her.
How many times had her father warned her never to venture to this part of town on her own? How many times had he lifted a lock of her red hair and called it a curse? Strangers would steal her away, he had always warned her. Steal her and sell her into slavery at Rome—because no one the empire over was worth more as a slave in Rome than a redhead.
Tears burned the backs of her eyes. She would not cry, not now. But oh, when it was all over and she had escaped them—please, Lord God!—she may just curl up in a corner of her bedchamber at home and give in to that urge. Let the shaking come. Even let Alexandria and Rhoda fuss and croon and call her their little honey pot.
The thundering footsteps behind her held up, and harsh whispers slicked over her. She could not make them out, but she did not have to. The alley ahead forked, went around a building, joined together again. The sailors must know that, must be planning to split up and surround her. They obviously did know Patara as well as she.
Her throat went tight with all the things she could not afford to feel yet. She should bang on a door. Beg help from someone.
But no one in this section of town would help her. Everyone here knew her by sight, and none would give her aid—not being Abbas’s daughter as she was. Perhaps if he were here to invoke fear…but alone? No. They would say it served the merchant right to lose a daughter when he had shown no mercy to any of them in their times of need. That it was high time the stone-hearted Dorus Visibullis lose something precious to him.
Perhaps, just perhaps there were a few Christians among the poor in this neighborhood. They may help. But they did not know her either and always viewed her family with suspicion. Because why, if they were believers as they claimed, did they not gather with the brethren in fellowship?
No, no help would lay behind any of these doors.
She sniffed back the tears and latched her gaze upon a stack of wooden crates just ahead. Her family would not lose her. Not today, not to a bunch of seafaring slavers. Perhaps their legs were longer, their arms stronger, but she had youth and agility on her side. Rhoda kept warning that when her womanly curves began to develop, she would slow. But not today.
Cyprus scrabbled up the crates, latched hold of the roof, and kicked the stack over as she hauled herself up. If the curse from behind her were any indication, the sailor was not so good at scaling walls. And restacking the crates would take time. Time she would use to speed away. Pausing only long enough to stick out her tongue at him, she flew over the flat rooftop.
At least the houses around here were close together, their walls all but touching. At the edge of one roof she could simply jump to the next. And the next, and the next. The fourth one was higher than the others, but she managed that too. A crisscrossing alley loomed ahead though. Narrow, but still. If she jumped, could she make it? Did she dare?
“You think you can get away from us so easily?” The second sailor had run alongside the houses, and a glance downward showed a countenance dark with evil. “He will be behind you in a moment, and what will you do? Grow wings and fly away?”
Part of her wanted to stomp a foot and fold her arms over her chest, as she would have done a year ago. But she was not a child of eleven anymore. She was twelve—almost a woman. Beyond such petulance. And she had no time for it, regardless. She would not even pause to shout down, “Do you not know who I am? I am Cyprus Visibullis, daughter of Dorus Visibullis, wealthiest merchant in all Patara!”
Her father’s name would not help her today. No, the only thing that could possibly help her was a miracle from Almighty God.
Perhaps he would lend her those wings. “Please, Father. Please help me. I know I am not always a good girl, but I will be. I will be, I promise you. Please just save me.” She jumped over one last small division between the houses and sped over the final roof.
She had no choice. It was risk a jump or be caught by the men who would sell her so quickly into a life not worth living. Not daring to stop and think it through, she pumped her legs all the harder. Sucked in a breath. Held it.
For an eternal moment there was only wind around her, beneath her. For a moment, she could imagine the earth falling away and the sun growing close. Soaring over the sea, the hilltop, the whole world.
Then her foot struck the top of the roof across the alley, her other followed, and she was safe. Her heart soared on, though, so swiftly that she nearly laughed.
Curses stained the air behind, below. But she dared not look back again. No, there was only onward now, and on still more. Running, leaping, scarcely even noting when one roof gave way to another, when the wider spaces loomed. She was a bird, a hart leaping over the hills, a dolphin cresting the waves. And she rode them until the rooftops beneath her feet changed in structure, until the dome of the church loomed ahead.
The harbor and its cheap houses were behind her now. Once she was past the church, the neighborhoods improved, and then she would have to come down. The houses would get farther apart. Then, home.
Her would-be captors were nowhere in sight. She had to stop. Find a way down. As soon as she crossed one more chasm, she would.
The air caught her again, and she spread her arms wide to embrace it. Tilted her face up to receive the kiss of the sun on her cheeks. Arced up, up, stretched out her legs.
No rooftop touched her extended toes. Just air, and it rushed past her too fast. Gravity pulled too hard. She was not…she could not be—falling!
A scream tore from her throat, but too late. The ground struck, the sky wavered. Pain shafted through her, so fast and hot it would surely kill her.
Then nothing. The pain, yes, an echo that made everything gray. But behind it, the strangest feeling of nothing. Eyes open, she still stared at the blue of the sky above her. The white clouds scuttled overhead. She tried to breathe, but her chest felt too heavy. Tried to move, but her arms and legs would not respond. She could blink, could cry, but could do nothing to wipe away the tears. “Father God…”
Did he hear her, up in his heaven? She stared up at where he should be but saw nothing except the endless blue and wispy white. No loving face peering down at her. No gentle hand there to catch her. Nothing but emptiness, mocking and cruel.
Why had he given her wings only to let her fall now, when home was within reach? Why deliver her from the sailors only to kill her here?
Her eyes slid shut. Perhaps death was better than the life they would have given her. Perhaps this was the Lord’s mercy. His kindness. Perhaps—
Footsteps, loud and hurried. Two sets of them.
Tears choked her, pain blazed again. Get up, get up! But she could not. Could not move her arms, could not move her legs. They would come, they would laugh, they would grab her and…what? What would they do to her? See her broken form and deem her not worth it? Or take her and break her still more?
“There she is!”
A sob tore out before she realized it was not the rough voice of one of the sailors. Masculine, yes, but younger. Its accents more familiar, more like this place that had been home for the last few years. The footfalls grew louder, closer, shook the ground beneath her, and then two faces blocked out the sun.
Did she know them? They looked familiar, almost. Maybe. Older than she, but by no means grown men. Were they among the boys who tripped and teased? Who stared with moon-eyes at Alexandria and Rhoda?
“She is alive.” Relief saturated the tone of the boy on her right. He reached for something, lifted something. She saw her own hand in his.
But…but she could not feel it. No warm fingers gripping hers, no pressure, no gravity pulling on her arm. Nothing, she felt nothing. Her tears came hotter, faster. “I…I cannot…I cannot move! I cannot feel!”
Something shifted in the boy’s face, moved from relief to pity. He glanced over her, to his companion. “Paralyzed?”
Paralyzed? No. No, she could not be paralyzed. She could not. What would she do? Burden her mother with such a child for the rest of her life?
But it would be short. Abbas may dote on her, may call her his little darling, but he would never suffer being the father of a paralytic. He would toss her to the streets, leave her to die. Set her out on the hill to be killed by the weather…or the hungry dogs. Ripped to pieces, snarled over…
She squeezed her eyes shut. Perhaps it was a blessing that she could feel nothing beyond the tickle of her tears down her neck.
“No.” The second voice was so soft, so warm that her eyes came open again. She turned her head a degree to better look at him. No pity in his eyes. No sorrow. They shone a deep brown, steady as they locked on her face. “What is your name, little girl?”
Her lips trembled, the tears still clogged her throat. But she managed a whispered, “Cyprus.”
“Cyprus.” He smiled, touched his fingertips to her forehead, and her pain peeled back. Still there, but somehow no longer a veil between her eyes and them. “Get up and walk.”
He gripped her hand, tugged on it…and she was on her feet, the stones of the alley hot beneath her soles. The linen of her garment brushed her legs. The wind caressed her arms.
Tears surged to her eyes, and she threw her arms around the stranger. “I can feel!”
He chuckled in her ear and held her tight for a moment before setting her away. “Of course you can. Yours is not to live the life of an invalid, Cyprus, not today. Yours is to know the power of God.”
To know the power of God. She stared for a long moment at the stranger-boy and knew without asking who he must be. Not one of the adoring throng trying to win the hearts of Alexandria and Rhoda. Not one of the gang of boys who delighted in taunts and jests as harmless as they were frustrating.
Nay. She must be looking into the eyes of…of… “Wonder worker.” The words came out in a whisper.
The boy took a step back. “Just Nikolaos. Please. God is the wonder worker, not I.”
The second boy bumped a companionable shoulder into Nikolaos and stole her attention with a grin. “And his greatest claim to fame is, of course, that he is my cousin. I am Petros.”
“Petros.” Cyprus smiled up into his eyes, as clear as a gem, and then looked over to Nikolaos. He was the better dressed of the two, his tunic simpler yet of higher quality linen. His eyes were the same color as Petros’s, but different. Absent the sparkle of good humor. Filled instead with something she could not name. Something that at once made her want to be better and despair of failing in that. She swallowed and lowered her gaze. “I cannot thank you enough.”
“You need not thank us at all. Give your gratitude to the Lord.” Nikolaos angled away.
Petros moved into her line of vision. “May we see you home, young Cyprus? The streets are not safe for a girl on her own.”
She shivered, wrapped her arms around herself. That was a truth she knew now—and one she would never forget. “Yes, please.” She fell in between the two boys, taking comfort in how tall they towered, how confidently they strode. How normal they sounded as they jested and teased each other over her head.
They did not say how they found her. If they saw her running across the roofs or heard her scream. They did not ask how she came to be doing so, or how she fell, if they had not seen it for themselves. They did not ask what had brought her out on her own that day or who her family was. They merely turned where she turned, their words a buzz in her head as they mentioned uncles and parents and bishops and something about Ephesus and the sea.
Cyprus could not convince her hands to let go her opposite elbows. Her stomach hurt. Her eyes begged for the release of tears. She wanted to curl into her mother’s side and let the twins fuss over her. And yet…she also wanted to climb back onto that roof and shout to the world that God had healed her. That her nerves still sang with his glory. That her very blood felt charged with a song her ears had never heard.
She would get in trouble with Abbas if she told what happened today—but could she keep it to herself? Would that be a sin?
Darting a glance up to her left, to her right, she nearly asked her saviors what to do. They would probably be happy to tell her—men always were, were they not? But she could no more speak than she could let go of her arms.
Whatever consequences came, they would be hers.
It had been years since the heat had filled him quite like that. Years since he had felt that surge of Spirit in his veins. Nikolaos put one foot in front of the other along with his cousin and the girl, but his mind was still in that alleyway. On the knowledge that had filled him. The certainty that this girl was not meant to be paralyzed. That her purpose was to be well, that she believed she could be well—whether she understood already from Whom that gift came or not. That it was for the Father’s glory she be well.
He had wondered, those years in Ephesus, if God would ever ask him to do something like that again. If something in Nikolaos had changed, to make it impossible for him to reach out and let the Spirit heal through his hands. If his faith had weakened as he grew up and learned how rare miracles were.
But they need not be. If ever he had doubted that, he would no more.
He looked at the road beneath his feet while Petros kept Cyprus entertained, and he sent silent, uncountable praises heavenward.
He followed his companions around a corner and looked up into the afternoon sun with narrowed eyes. The girl led them down the most prosperous street in Patara—the very street his parents had lived on. The one he had lived on before their deaths six years ago, when he had moved in with Uncle. There, on the corner, was his old house. His step faltered for just a moment as he looked at it, as the memories swept through him. Mother, with her luminous eyes and ready smile. Father, with his deep laugh and gentle lessons.
He was nearly a man now—had gone away for his schooling, had just come back, was already a reader for Uncle in the church. He knew who he was, what the Lord was calling him to. But sometimes…sometimes he still awoke in the night and thought he was in that bed he’d spent his first eleven years in. Sometimes he thought the voices he heard in the hallway to be Mother and Father, laughing together. Sometimes he thought the missing of them would break him in two.
Sometimes he still remembered looking at their feverish forms, trying to heal them, and the cry that had wrenched him apart when he realized he could not. That it was not the will of God that day.
He flexed the fingers he had touched them with. No Spirit had warmed them then. And it had not since. Not until now.
Forgive me, Father.
God had spoken to him in other ways during those long years. He had heard his Lord calling him into service and had not doubted it. But the grief had been there all that time, a wall between them, and Nikolaos had not even known it.
Only now, with it in crumbles at his feet, did he realize he had drifted one crucial step away from his God.
Forgive me, Father.
When the girl between him and Petros came to a stop and tightened her arms still more around her middle, Nikolaos focused on the here and now again. Her current troubles were not something he could help. So he sent his cousin a glance that said, Work your wonders. No one could make people relax as quickly as Petros, with his quick wit and quicker smile.
And now Petros grinned and touched a hand to the girl’s arm to draw her attention. “Your name is Cyprus, you say? After the island?”
She nodded, and the sunlight caught on her extraordinary red hair. When they had heard the shouts of the sailors and had seen the white-clad figure flying overhead as they passed through the alley, it had taken only a moment to realize what was happening. The sailors spoke with the accent of Rome—and they were probably all too happy to steal a girl from her homeland and sell her for a tidy profit in Italy.
“I…” She paused, cleared the catch from her throat. “We lived there when I was born. My father is a merchant, and we have moved throughout the empire. They had just moved from Alexandria to Rhodes when my sisters were born—twins. So one is Alexandria and the other Rhoda. I am Cyprus. Mater jests that she was about to insist they move only to places whose names she could live with saying day in and day out, but…” Her fair cheeks flushed. “Sorry. You did not want my family history.”
Petros chuckled. “It sounds worlds more interesting than mine—I have lived in Patara all my life, as did my father, and his father before him. But for the years I escaped for school, I have never left it, and their stories are the same. We are Greek to the core. Where did your father grow up?”
One of her hands released her arm, though only so she could take a lock of hair in her fingers and worry it between them. “Philippi. Though his family came first from Rome. They scattered, if the stories are true, when the persecution of the church struck under Caesar Nero, and they have spread throughout the empire in the two centuries since.”
“You believe.” Nikolaos had not been sure her faith was already in the Lord. Sometimes God sent healing upon one of his children, a testament to their faith…and sometimes he touched a heathen, to draw him to Christ and redirect to him their existing faith in the dead gods of Rome. But a family that could trace its Christianity back two hundred years, to virtually the beginning of the Way—Nikolaos stood taller, smiled, and opened his mouth to ask if she knew any of their stories.
Petros burst into laughter. “Nik, you should see your face! Look at him, Cyprus—you mention Christian history, and he all but salivates. You have no doubt heard the tales of my cousin. How he was so pious from the time he was a babe that he fasted even from his mother’s milk on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that—”
“—when he was baptized, he stood upright—”
“I will hurt you if I must.” Grinning the grin that only his cousin could elicit, Nikolaos dispensed the obligatory shove to Petros’s arm.
His cousin laughed and turned his sparkling gaze upon the girl. “He no doubt finds it enthralling that a family with a long history of faith has settled in a town that had some of the earliest conversions to Christianity. And yet he is also probably wondering why we have not seen your family in church.”
“Oh.” She twisted her hair around her finger and drew her lip between her teeth, looking first at Petros and then at Nikolaos. “My father will not allow it.” Here she frowned and glanced at the house across the street from where they stood. “He is not a Christian, though his family was. He says he will follow the faith of the Augustus Diocletian. Though he never worships Jupiter in our home, he just…he just will not worship God. But he does not stop us from doing so at home. So long as we do not do it publicly.”
“Nikolaos’s uncle is Bishop of Patara. His parents, when they lived, did so right there.” Petros pointed down the street, to that beacon of memory on the corner. “Had they not caught the fever, you and Nik would have been neighbors.”
Amusement lit her eyes, and her hesitation melted away in the face of a grin. “Lucky for you, Nikolaos, you left the street before my sisters descended upon it. Their life’s work is to claim every young man in the empire as suitors.”
His cousin chuckled again. “He would have proven himself a challenge—if his uncle has his way, Nikolaos will dedicate his life solely to the church.”
It was not just Uncle’s way. He could still remember the first time he had heard the whisper of the Lord in his ear, when he was just a boy too young to realize everyone else did not hear God so clearly. When his faith was so pure and true that it never once occurred to him to doubt that the Lord could and would do whatever his children asked of him.
The years in Ephesus, learning all the great philosophy both of his Christian family and his Hellenist neighbors, might have called Petros to the law, but it had only made firm what Nikolaos had already known. This was his calling. His purpose. He would serve the church. Follow in the footsteps of the apostle and live a life unfettered by a wife and the concerns of a home. To go wherever the Lord led him, whenever he beckoned.
To be a conduit of the Spirit, whatever he asked him to do.
“The church is my home.” Nikolaos smiled and waved a hand toward the house their young friend seemed reluctant to approach. “But this, little Cyprus, is yours. Your mother and sisters will be worried for you.”
And her father, if that was who the hulking shadow in the doorway belonged to. A man stepped through, out onto the street, glowering just as Uncle did when Nikolaos spent too long poring over a manuscript and neglected his other duties. That distinct scowl that bespoke worry and love, not just displeasure.
She jolted, apparently not having seen him, and a smile warred with fear on her countenance. But after a moment’s hesitation, she crossed the street. “You are home, Abbas! We missed you dearly.”
With a glance at his cousin, Nikolaos followed Cyprus across the stone street, Petros now beside him. No whisper came to warn him that harm would befall the girl if he left, but still. He would see with his own eyes that she received no more punishment than was due a girl who had disobeyed her father’s order. She had been injured enough for one day.
Her father’s eyes smiled at her, though his lips did not. Then he looked to Petros and to Nikolaos. They were keen eyes, so dark a brown as to appear black—a far cry from the startling blue of his daughter. Keen eyes that noted Nikolaos’s fine linen and went calculating. “You can imagine my surprise, daughter, when I got home and we discovered you were not spinning in your room as you told your mother you would be.”
Red hair cascaded over her shoulder when she ducked her head. “I am sorry, Abbas. I only wanted to meet your ship.”
He would have words for her on that—he must. Nikolaos would have, and he had only known her for a few minutes. But her father rolled back his shoulders and produced a smile that he aimed at Nikolaos. “I have a feeling I have you fine young men to thank for seeing my daughter safely home. I am Dorus Visibullis.”
He held out a hand to Nikolaos. Visibullis…it sounded familiar. Nikolaos chewed on the name as he clasped the man’s thick wrist. He would ask Uncle where he had heard it. “It was our honor. I am Nikolaos, son of Epiphanius. This is my cousin Petros, son of Theophanes, who was my mother’s brother.”
“Epiphanius.” The glance Dorus sent down the street proved he knew the name, and to what house it belonged. “I met your father when business brought me to Patara, before we moved here. He was a good man.”
Warmth swelled in Nikolaos’s chest. “The best of them, yes.”
“I was sorry to hear of his passing when I brought my family. I had hoped—but never mind that.” Dorus renewed his smile and motioned them toward the door. “Come, let me repay your kindness with refreshment, and you can tell me how you found my wandering darling where she ought not to have been.”
It was on the tip of Nikolaos’s tongue to beg off—Uncle was expecting him back, and he wanted some time in the quiet of his chamber to pray and let this afternoon sink in—but he made the mistake of looking down into Cyprus’s face. She had her hands clasped in front of her, her blue eyes wide and pleading. No doubt she would want the buffer of guests between her and her father’s anger as long as possible.
Beside him, Petros’s lips twitched into a grin. No doubt at her silent begging. Nikolaos drew in a breath and nodded. “It would be our delight.” Except that, as he followed the two into their home, he had the distinct impression that something had just shifted in the fabric of his life, something other than realizing the Spirit would still move through him.
He very nearly spun and ran out again.
Cyprus looked up from the cloth on her bed that she had been studying with far more attention than it really needed. Mater stood in the doorway to the room Cyprus shared with the twins. She wore a smile that said, Do not be afraid. She held out a hand that said, Trust me.
But Cyprus still trembled at the thought of what Abbas might say now that their guests had left.
She slid off the mattress though and eased her way across the floor. Put her trembling fingers into her mother’s.
Calm settled over her, starting at Mater’s fingers and working its way through Cyprus until it stilled the quaking. She looked up the few inches that remained between her own height and her mother’s.
Mater smiled at her and squeezed her fingers. She was so beautiful—the twins had inherited her looks. The lovely dark hair, the gleaming brown eyes, the flawless olive skin and almond-shaped eyes rimmed with blackest lashes. But mostly when Cyprus looked at her mother, she saw not the beauty but the love.
It shone now, radiating off her as she slid her arm around Cyprus’s shoulders. “You took a risk today, my sweet, that you ought not to have taken.”
The quiet words pierced more than Abbas’s ranting and roaring possibly could. “I am sorry, Mater. I am. I do not know why I did such a thing.”
She did—of course she did. She hated being confined always to these walls, unable to step outside but for into their courtyard garden. She had seen Aella go out, skipping along to the markets on some errand for Helena, no doubt, and she had thought, The slaves can do what they want—Aella is no older than I am, and she goes about freely. Why should she enjoy what I cannot?
But she had been a fool. She had envied her slave and had nearly ended up one herself. Sorry did not begin to cover the shame that surged through her. Her impulsive actions had very nearly been her destruction. First with those sailors…and then the fall.
Mater rubbed a hand up and down her arm. “Your father is not that angry, Cyprus. He would have been, no doubt, had you not come home with that particular guest. But you will get off easy this time.” She halted them, leaned over until their noses nearly touched. “Do not take advantage of the leniency. Do not think it permission to repeat this foolishness. Do you understand? This is a very serious thing you did.”
Cyprus nodded, tears gathering in her eyes. “I know, Mater. I am so, so sorry. I will never do anything like that again.”
Mater kissed her forehead and pulled her in for a tight embrace. “I cannot lose you, my sweet girl. It would tear me apart.”
Cyprus clung to the familiar arms, breathing in the familiar scent of jasmine and love and Mater.
At Abbas’s voice, Cyprus pulled away. Mater smiled when she heard him calling her name. Cyprus cringed. The twins always said she was his favorite, the apple of his eye…but she had her doubts. They never did such foolish things. They never conjured up his temper like this. Which was why he would no doubt ask her, for the hundred millionth time, why she could not be more like them.
The old rivalry chafed now. It did not fit, somehow, alongside this new song in her veins. Forgive me, Abba God, for those thoughts.
“Come, sweet one. His mood will not improve with the waiting.” Mater took her hand again and pulled her down the corridor, into the main room with its familiar furnishings of the best woods, softened with plush cushions in bright colors.
Abbas, of course, was not sitting. He was pacing before the hearth, his face in hard lines, his dark hair mussed as if he had run his fingers through it one too many times. When he faced them, his eyes snapped.
Not with anger. With calculation. Which was so much worse. He held out a hand and pointed at one of the couches.
Cyprus slunk to it, grateful when Mater kept hold of her hand and lowered herself to a graceful seat at her side.
“You are lucky. Very lucky, Cyprus, that the great Jupiter was smiling on you today.”
Mater bristled. “Dorus.”
Abbas rolled his eyes. Within a day or two, Mater would have reminded him that the gods of the Hellenists would have no place in their house—but when fresh from a voyage, his lips always spoke as his sailors did.
“Forgive me, my love.” But his tone asked for indulgence, not forgiveness. He clasped his hands behind his back, eyes still doing whatever mathematics he had devised this time. “I have been hoping the son of Epiphanius would return from Ephesus. He is the single richest young man in the region.”
Mater dragged in a long breath through her nose. “He is the nephew of the bishop, under his tutelage. From what I have heard, his uncle has had him give away all his inheritance.”
“Bah.” Abbas waved that off. “Nonsense. His fortune was too great to just give it all away in one fell swoop. The boy is rich. And just of an age where his uncle should be making marriage arrangements for him. How fortuitous that we have three eligible daughters.”
“His uncle means for him to dedicate his life to the church.” Mater sounded weary.
Cyprus’s brows tugged down. Mater knew an awful lot about Nikolaos, for him having not even been in Patara since they moved here. And for the brethren keeping them always at arm’s length.
Abbas scowled. “You insist on Christian husbands for our daughters, Artemis—why do you argue with me trying to find them?”
“I am not arguing about Christian husbands. It is the hope of my heart.” As always, Mater kept her spine straight in the face of Abbas’s tempers. “And that is why I have been asking quietly around ever since we moved here, trying to find suitable matches. Hence why I know that this particular young man is not one. His uncle will never agree to a union with anyone.” Her gaze darted to Cyprus. “And I believe we have more important issues to discuss just now.”
Cyprus pressed her lips together. Mater could have just let it go. Let Abbas focus on marrying off the twins. Why must she draw his temper down on Cyprus’s head?
Because you deserve it. Because Mater is more interested in you learning to be good than in you being comforted.
She curled her fingers into her palms. Sometimes she wished her mother would be just a bit lazier about shaping her daughters’ characters. Just a bit. Now and then. Or that she would at least let go of Cyprus’s hand when she said such things, so Cyprus could just be angry with her instead of being too aware of the love behind her actions.
That strange song pulsed, stretched itself out inside her. Her fingertips tingled where they dug into her palm.
Abbas’s brows drew down, too heavy, over his eyes. “Indeed. Tell me what you were doing out without escort, young lady.”
Cyprus turned her eyes down to focus on her hand. On the perfect little crescent moons she had made in her palm with her fingernails. “I…I only wanted to see you, Abbas. I thought to meet you on the way from the port.”
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Of all the places she could have run off to, that was definitely the stupidest.
“Of all the places you could have…Cyprus, how many times must I say it?” His shadow fell over her. Then he crouched, so that he appeared in her downcast vision. He reached out and lifted a strand of her cursed hair. “You are a beacon to those sailors. A treasure to be stolen. Worth far more than they make in a year. In two years, or even three. You would be a coup for them, if they got their hands on you.”
She shuddered, the slimy voices of those sailors still echoing in her ears. “I know. I know. I was a fool, Abbas, and they nearly—”
“They? Who?” He stood again.
She tucked her chin closer to her chest. “I do not know. Two sailors. They saw me, and I ran. They chased me for a while, but I got away.”
Curses blistered the air in two different languages, and a few dialects she had never heard.
Mater slipped an arm around Cyprus’s shoulders. And reached up to cover her ears, as if she were still a baby who had never heard foul language. As if she could not hear perfectly well through her mother’s fingers.
“Dorus, please! Watch your tongue around the children. I beg you.”
“She could have been stolen away from us, Artemis!”
“But I was not!” Cyprus pulled her mother’s hands away and surged to her feet. Fully aware of the miracle that allowed her to do so. Feeling, more than she had ever felt before, the way her weight balanced through her legs, onto the balls of her feet. The way the floor, the earth beneath it, pressed back against her to hold her up. “It was a miracle, Abbas! A true miracle of God. I was running and I climbed up onto a roof to get away from them and I jumped to another, and all was well and then I lost them. I did! I lost them, and I was just thinking I needed to come down but then I fell. And it hurt so much, and then…then it still hurt, but it was even worse because I could not move. I was paralyzed, Abbas. But Nikolaos—he came and he touched me and he said I should rise and walk and I did, Abbas! Just like the stories Mater tells of the Scriptures. I rose and walked and I…”
Mater stared at her with wide eyes, fingers pressed to her lips.
Abbas scowled. “What have I told you about lying to me, Cyprus?”
“But it is not a lie! It is the truth, I swear it!”
“Do not swear, sweet one. Your yes is yes, which is enough.” Mater had stood too and rested a hand on Cyprus’s shoulder again. She closed her eyes. And her face went…joyous. “I believe you. I believe you, sweet girl, that you felt the power of God this day. I can feel it in you.”
Abbas made a scoffing noise. “She was obviously just stunned, Artemis. Nikolaos helped her up is all.”
It was not all. She knew it was not. She had not felt—and now she did, so very much. And this song pulsing through her veins with her blood…she had never felt anything like it.
It was a miracle. It was God, the one true God, reaching down and touching her through that boy’s fingers.
Abbas waved it away and turned back to the hearth. “Why would your God do such a thing? Much as I love you, Cyprus, you are just a little girl. The stories your mother tells you of such miracles are only ever about boys, or girls whose families are important and who need to be won over. And as I am not about to be won over…there would be no point.”
No point. No point in saving her?
The song faltered. Disappeared behind…noise. Cyprus sank down to the couch. “But…” She had been healed.
Mater sat with her, arm still around her. Into her ear she whispered, “I believe you, sweet one.”
Cyprus leaned into Mater’s side and closed her eyes when Abbas started talking about marriages and matches again. And she tried, she did, to hear those beautiful notes of heaven through his words.
But his voice drowned it out. And all she could hear was that question, pulsing with every beat of her heart.
Why. Why. Why.