The sun ascended above the village just enough to illuminate the sky with hues of blues, greens and gold. Thin strokes of white clouds floated throughout the sky.
What a beautiful morning, Martha thought, Praise Elohim. Content while riding into town on their donkey, she held her sleeping five-year-old son, Michael, on her lap as her husband, Joel, walked beside them.
â€śI could tie the donkey to a tree, over there, in front of the bakery.â€ť Joel pointed at two small oak trees as they entered the market. â€śYou and Michael will keep warm near the ovens until I return.â€ť
Martha nodded and then quipped. â€śThe smell of fresh bread baking just might get us hungry though.â€ť
â€śBread, Papa, bread!â€ť Michael said through a yawn.
â€śWell, look whoâ€™s awake,â€ť Joel said as he kissed his son on the forehead and then bowed, in jest, at Michael. â€śAll right, my lord; Iâ€™ll get some bread for each of us.â€ť
Martha and Michael giggled as Joel walked the short distance to the bakery, returning quickly with two small loaves in each hand. He handed one loaf to Martha and bit into the other.
â€śIâ€™ll return shortly.â€ť Joel headed in the opposite direction, to the carpenterâ€™s shop to replace a shutter broken during a recent storm.
â€śMamma, Iâ€™m hungry!â€ť Michael reached out for the bread.
Martha broke the loaf in half and handed a piece to her son. â€śHere you are. Eat it slowly.â€ť
A loud blast exploded from the nearby blacksmithâ€™s shop. Bang! Bang! Boom! Startled, Martha looked in the direction of the sound and saw sparks fly out from the kindling of a bellowed fire. A Romanâ€™s horse lunged back and forth, wide-eyed with fear, while its mount struggled to gain control of the large beast. It charged in the direction of the small crowd of shoppers. Terror was on their faces as they scattered out of the bewildered horseâ€™s path. It twirled around and ran again.
Marthaâ€™s donkey became anxious from the commotion. While Martha tried to sooth it she caught a glimpse of the soldierâ€™s horse heading their way. She reached out for her donkeyâ€™s rein, but could not stretch far enough to untie it.
â€śWe must jump!â€ť Martha yelled to her frightened son.
â€śMove! Get out of the way!â€ť the soldier screamed at Martha.
â€śMaâ€¦â€ť Michael choked.
Martha positioned herself to leap with her son, but the horse came upon them too fast. Rearing up on its hind legs, it flared its front hooves over them. Heading back to the ground, the horseâ€™s right hoof clipped the left side of their donkeyâ€™s head. The donkey brayed loudly and bucked, then also reared. Martha clutched her son tighter to her chest with one hand and grabbed onto the donkeyâ€™s mane with her other hand, but could not hold on. She lost her grip on both Michael and the donkey.
â€śAdonai...!â€ť Martha cried out, reaching for her falling son.
Joel heard screams coming from the direction he had just left and turned, just in time, to witness his wife and son falling. Martha fell backwards and hit her head on the tree trunk behind her, and his son landed hard on his back, onto the ground. Joel ran to them as their donkeyâ€™s hooves came to rest directly on top of Michaelâ€™s left leg. Joelâ€™s legs wobbled and collapsed beneath him. He crawled over to his wifeâ€™s motionless body, knowing already that she was gone. He could not help his family.
â€śWhy? Why? My Lord, why?â€ť Joel sobbed; he crept over to his sonâ€™s lifeless body and grieved his lost.
A shocked gathering of onlookers congregated around Joel, but no one moved to offer him aid until a young, veiled woman stepped out from the crowd. She walked over to Joel.
â€śSir. Sir,â€ť her voice was barely audible.
Joel did not respond.
â€śHeâ€™s alive. Look, see your son, heâ€™s stirring.â€ť
With still no reaction from Joel, she knelt down beside him and spoke louder. â€śJoel, Michael is alive.â€ť
â€śMartha,â€ť Joel mumbled. He thought he heard his wifeâ€™s voice. His stupor lifted. Michael stirred again. This time Joel noticed his sonâ€™s movement and lifted him carefully off the ground. Wary of Michaelâ€™s crushed leg; Joel cradled his son like an infant and rocked him to and fro.
Michaelâ€™s face turned blue. Joel panic.
â€śBreathe, Michael! Breathe!â€ť He did not know what to do. He pleaded to the young woman still kneeling beside him. â€śPlease, please, help my son. He isnâ€™t breathing!â€ť
She placed her left hand on Michaelâ€™s back and patted him across the shoulders, gentle at first, and then harder. Michael coughed and spat up a piece of bread lodged in his throat.
The young woman stroked Michaelâ€™s back as she whispered a quiet prayer. â€śLord, help your sons. Raise them up from this tragedy and heal them. Give them strength.â€ť
Joel glanced a moment at the young woman. Her dark hazel eyes seemed familiar. He looked back down at his son and kissed his cherub cheeks as he resumed rocking him.
â€śMichael, Michael,â€ť Joel cried softly, â€śwake up, my son, wake up.â€ť
Michaelâ€™s eyes fluttered open. He moaned at first and then started to cry with the resonance of agonizing pain.
An elderly servant woman came forth from the crowd, holding a blanket, and knelt where the young woman had been kneeling. She wrapped the blanket around Joel and Michael. Joel looked up to thank her and realized a different woman knelt beside them.
â€śWhere didâ€¦?â€ť Joel began to ask, but was interrupted mid-sentence. Two men from his village helped him up off the ground.