Mariam was among the first to be taken. She was out gathering herbs in the field near Yoshua’ s laboratory one morning when a Christian knight approached her.
–And what might you be doing, young one?
She ignored him, but he persisted.
–When a knight of their Catholic majesties speaks to you, you respond with respect. He was still smiling –or rather leering— and was confident that he would have his way with her.
Mariam gathered up her bundle and hurried off towards the city gates. The knight followed at a distance. Mariam was aware of this and made several unplanned stops on the way, picking up bread at her aunt’s house and some lamb from her cousin, who was the halal butcher for the community. But the knight persisted and eventually she had to return home.
Every morning after that for nearly three weeks he pursued her. Every morning she ignored him, becoming more and more careful about where she went and what she did. At first she did not want to worry her father or Shmuel. She had been followed and harassed by Muslim men as well and while unpleasant it was, it seemed, simply part of being a woman in a world dominated by men. Her mother had warned her of this. But after three weeks she became worried. An honorable man –or for that matter a sane one– would not be so persistent. And so she told her father what was happening and he decided to keep her in. But when the knight proceeded to station himself outside their household it was decided she would be safer hidden at Shmuel’s laboratory. They were, in any case, likely to be married quite soon, assuming that the odd young man overcame whatever reservations he suddenly felt. And he knew that Shmuel, in any case, would do his best to protect her. And surely the Knight would not go poking around a church looking for a young Muslim woman!
So Miriam busied herself incinerating and calcining herbs, dissolving salts and evaporating solutions, bringing near to completion the work which Shmuel had begun. He visited when he could, bringing her her favorite foods, but had to be careful lest he draw unnecessary attention to the chapel. And so the terms of their marriage were negotiated by means of letters exchanged furtively, hidden in the pile of sawdust in the outhouse behind the church.
Miriam, for her part, knew what she wanted: a marriage which would be recognized by their families and by the public authorities so that they could be together and discover and carry out their common work. Would she have rather it had been a Muslim or a Jewish wedding, or better still a ceremony which publicly declared their commitment to each other and to the cause of justice on their own terms? Of course. But this was to confuse the batin and the zahir. The deeper truth was secret for a reason. Humanity cannot bear very much reality. She was not even sure she could bear it, though she hoped she could, and carry it forward and extend it and make the seed of a better and more just world.
Shmuel, to be honest, didn’t really know what he wanted. The truth is that while he had fantasized about marrying Miriam, he had never really thought about it. And the two things were quite different. He had assumed that a public ceremony would never be possible and he had never considered weaving his life with Miriam into the fabric of his life with his family —much less with hers. It was part of the hidden life, separate from their families, where they were free. But again, this was just a fantasy. Much as he might disdain his father, he had never actually intended to cut all ties. And he loved his mother and sisters. Indeed, it gradually became clear to Shmuel that he had not thought anything through and that wild as it was, Ruben’s plan for ‘aliyah was safer and better considered than anything he had imagined —-especially his fantasies that he would become wise and just enough that his adversaries —the Pope and the Catholic Monarchy— would simply retire from the field of battle in shame.
At first Shmuel simply repeated the arguments he had made that night in the garden, just stripped of the anger and insults. But that got them nowhere. Indeed, Miriam simply declined to respond, writing back that he seemed terribly angry and that she understood that but that it was no basis for making decisions regarding their life together —or how they would serve humanity. And she told him that she loved him and yearned to be with him but that she could wait until he matured.
This went on for some weeks, but finally, in despair, Shmuel confessed his confusion and let Miriam guide him to a solution. They agreed to ask for a simple, private wedding with just their families, while allowing their fathers to be more public about their new business alliance. This was fine with her father, who was spared considerable expense, and with his, who was able to negotiate the unveiling of the new joint enterprise without interference from his crazy son. And because the wedding was to be simple and private, it could take place soon —in less than a month in fact.