With every step toward Raguel’s house, Tobias struggled to word his argument in a way that wouldn’t offend Raphael. Should he flatly refuse to let Raphael speak to Raguel about marriage? Or should he try to reason? Seven men had died trying to wed this girl. The odds were not in his favor
“There’s the house.” Raphael pointed to a large, whitewashed, flat-roofed building. Only its upper story was visible above the vine-covered wall that enclosed the property.
Raphael quickened his pace, but Tobias slowed. A shift of light through one of the upstairs latticed windows gave him the feeling that someone was watching. He trotted to Raphael and caught his sleeve before he knocked at the gate.
Raphael turned, his fist poised to knock. “Yes?”
Tobias cleared his throat. “About that marriage offer . . .”
Tobias broke into a cold sweat. “I think –”
The gate opened, and a slender young woman leaned out, slipping a storm-gray shawl over her shiny black hair. Tobias froze with his mouth open as her dark, clever eyes assessed them. Raphael made introductions, but Tobias hardly heard.
“I’m Sarah, daughter of Raguel.” She opened the gate wider. “Step in. I’ll fetch my father.”
As Sarah swished into the house, they stepped into the tree-shaded courtyard. Raphael turned to Tobias. “What were you about to say?”
Tobias clamped his mouth shut. “Nothing.”
Sarah returned to the door and beckoned them inside. They followed her through a tiled entrance hall and down a wide hall to a reception garden perfumed by pink and white blossoms lacing the potted bushes. In the center of the garden a rotund man lolled on a floor cushion with a scribe at his feet. Sarah extended a bangled arm toward him. “My father, Raguel.”
The scribe scuttled out of the garden, and Raguel rose, eying Tobias. “Young man, you are a replica of my cousin Tobit!”
Tobias warmed. “He’s my father.”
“Ha!” Raguel returned to his seat as servant laid out floor cushions for his guests. “And Tobit is well?”
Sarah and her mother stepped in as Tobias told about Tobit’s blindness. The family frowned, shook their heads, and spoke their regrets. Then servants carried in trays laden with savory meats, dried fruits, and warm honey cakes. As they feasted, Raguel entertained them with tales of his relations. Daylight dimmed. Lamps were lit.
Tobias, well-fed and charmed by the evening, leaned toward Raphael. “Might now be the time to speak of . . . what we talked about?”
“Why not?” Raphael raised his cup to Raguel and made the proposal.
Sarah bit her lip. Her mother, Edna, grabbed her hand. Raguel leaned back, patting his full belly. “Nothing would please me more, except . . .” He exchanged glances with Edna.
“Except what?” asked Tobias.
“Except it must be done tonight.”
Tobias stared at Raguel. Tonight? He had expected a betrothal period. He knew his father would counsel him to be wary of a man too eager to make a deal. Raguel was not only eager, he was desperate. But with dark-eyed Sarah standing near enough for Tobias to catch the sweet scent of her perfume, he felt desperate too. He swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. “Tonight.”
Raguel saluted with his drink. “Let it be done. Wife, get the bridal chamber ready.” He refilled his guest’s wine cups, and the house became a flurry of activity.
When Raguel left the garden to find his scribe to write the marriage agreement, Tobias felt the blood drain from his face. He turned to Raphael. “What have I done?”
“You’ve arranged a nice match for yourself.” Raphael drained his cup.
“You mean I’ve arranged my own death.”
“Ah.” Raphael licked his lips. “The demon.” He narrowed his eyes. “Do you still have the goatskin pouch with the fish heart and liver in it?”
“And the gall?” Tobias nodded, wrinkling his nose. He wondered if it was his imagination or if he was really catching a whiff of it.
“Save the gall. You won’t need it tonight. But take the liver and heart with you. There’s always incense in a bridal chamber. Add the fish heart and liver to the ashes of the incense until the mixture smokes. The demon will smell it and flee, never to return.”
Tobias wondered if Sarah would smell it and flee as well.
“Then you and Sarah must kneel and pray together for protection,” said Raphael. “Don’t be afraid. She was destined for you from the beginning.”
“Are you sure?” asked Tobias. “How do you know these things?”
“I make it my duty to be informed.” Raphael refilled his own cup and offered more wine to Tobias, who drank another cup before Raguel returned with his scribe.
After the marriage agreement was signed, Sarah entered wearing a white wedding robe and flowers in her dark hair. With servants attending as witnesses, Raguel gave Tobias the hand of his daughter in marriage.
As they danced, ate, and drank late into the night, Tobias watched the worry creep into Sarah’s eyes, and his own fear grew. Would he have to fight a demon? What did a demon look like? Was Raphael trustworthy? Did he want Tobit’s son to die so he could gain access to Tobit’s money? By the time Tobias and Sarah were escorted to the bridal chamber, he was questioning his own sanity.
Raguel smiled stiffly as he watched Tobias and Sarah enter the bridal chamber. As soon as the door closed, he excused himself, went outside, and dug Tobias’s grave.
- to be continued -
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Based on The Book of Tobit, circa 200 BCE. Photo courtesy Dover Angels.
Read Full Post »