However, I am not certain of the truth of matter, Adonai, and crave your help in determining what direction I should take in this situation.”
In his mind, Daniel went over the events that had happened earlier in the day which were now causing him to petition God for His help. The day had began quietly and without incident, as Daniel worked on a number of the countless civil functions necessary for keeping the great city of Babylon running smoothly.
Things changed considerably when Aliyeh, his personal scribe, entered his quarters while he was in the middle of a project. Because Aliyeh had been with him for many years, Daniel knew that she would not have entered unless the matter was important.
“There are three people here to see you,” Aliyeh explained. “They say it is most urgent.”
“Do I know them?” Daniel asked.
“I do not believe so,” Aliyeh said. “At least, you have never mentioned them in our conversations. But I am certain you have heard of them, or at least one of them. It is Joakin, the merchant, his wife Susanna, and her father Hilkiah.”
Aliyeh had been correct, Daniel had heard of Joakin, who was one of the richest men in Babylon, and by extension, one of the most influential. Although Daniel himself wielded considerable influence in many quarters, Aliyeh had also been correct in that his path had never crossed with Joakin’s. Until today.
“Did they tell you why they wished to speak to me?” Daniel asked.
“No, they informed me that they could talk only to you about the matter,” Aliyeh said. “However, given the gossip that has been running through the streets today, I think I can hazard a guess.”
Daniel nodded. He too had heard the stories which had spread through the city throughout the day like an uncontrolled fire.
“All right, my curiosity is piqued,” Daniel said. “Show them in.”
Aliyeh stepped out of the room, and returned a short time later. Behind them came two older gentlemen, both in their 50s, and a woman who was carefully robed and veiled as custom dictated. But despite the heavy clothing, Daniel could tell that the woman was considerably younger than the men.
“Lord Daniel,” the first man said, bowing courteously. “I am Joakin, and I thank you most humbly for granting our request. This is my good wife, Susanna, and her father Hilkiah. I assure you we would not trouble you with this matter unless it was of the most urgent nature.”
“Of course, sir,” Daniel replied.
“We were wondering if you could arrange for us to have an immediate audience with the king,” Joakin explained.
“The king? I am afraid that your request is not a small one. May I inquire why it is so urgent that you must see his majesty on such short notice?” Daniel inquired.
Joakin and Hilkiah exchanged worried glances, and Daniel observed that Susanna also seemed to tense up.
“My most sincerest apologies, Lord Daniel, but the matter which we need to address to his majesty is not only urgent, it is also most delicate,” Joakin explained smoothly. “I give you my word of honor, though, that the reason is not frivolous it is … it is a matter of life or death.”
“Hmmmmm. I believe you,” Daniel replied. “But I am afraid that would still not be good enough to see the king on such short notice. It is true, I am an advisor to the king, one of many. I would have to give a reason for my petition to his majesty, and even then, he may decide to reject it.”
“Is there not anything you could do,” Joakin persisted. “If it would be a matter of monetary consideration…”
“If your case is as urgent as you say, such an offer is unnecessary,” Daniel said pointedly, who, had experienced many such offers in his role as a civil servant. “In any event, sir, you do me an injustice. I would never stoop to taking a bribe in the course of my duties.”
“Of course, my lord, of course.” Joakin said hastily. “But you misunderstand me. I meant that I would be willing to provide his majesty with a considerable reward, if he would quickly hear my case.”
“Ah, I see. Well, of course, there are kings who are not immune to bribery, but I am afraid his majesty is one of those rare exceptions,” Daniel continued. “He demands honesty in government from those under him, and believes in setting a good example for those he rules. But I have an alternative suggestion. I know this must be very difficult for you, but perhaps you could take me into your confidence? You have my oath that what you tell me will stay between us, and if the reason is sufficient, I will present your case to his majesty.
Joakin turned and looked at Susanna and Hilkiah. Both gave short nods in silent agreement. Daniel made a signal to Aliyeh, who sat down at a small table in the corner of the room, pulled out a piece of parchment, and sat ready with an ink-pot and stylus.
“Aliyeh is my personal scribe,” Daniel said smoothly, noting the look of concern on Joakin’s face. “She had been with me for many, many years. What you say before me, you can say before her and trust to the same discretion. When I conduct business, I always have her record the conversations. It has proved invaluable to me on more than one occasion. But again, I assure you, what you say here will remain within these walls, inviolate.”
“Very well, Lord Daniel,” Joakin said. “The reason it is so urgent we see the king is because my wife has been unjustly accused of adultery. If convicted – as she most likely will be – then by our laws her sentence is to be stoned to death.”
“Ummmmm. Yes, that is indeed most serious,” Daniel observed. “But what makes you so certain that she will be found guilty of such an offense? Surely, if she had been unjustly accused, as you contend, then she should have no trouble proving her innocence.”
“That is the problem, Lord Daniel,” Joakin explained. “She cannot prove her innocence. It is merely her word against two elders, men whose words are normally taken by others as the absolute truth.”
“I see. Yes, this is a most serious thing indeed,” Daniel observed. “And I understand why you would wish to speak to the king on the matter. Unfortunately, I am certain that his majesty will decline to intervene under the circumstances. You see, it has always been his policy not to interfere with the internal civil or religious functions of any specific group of people within the realm. I am afraid your wife’s case falls into both categories.”
“Then what can we do?” Joakin said, almost pleadingly.
“Perhaps if I heard from Susanna specifically what occurred, I might be able to provide advice on a course of action,” Daniel suggested.
Joakin gave a short nod of approval and Susanna stepped forward.
“Lord Daniel, I …” she began.
“My lady, I apologize for what I am about to ask of you,” Daniel interjected. “But under the circumstances, for a matter this serious, I find it necessary to view the face of the person to whom I am speaking.”
Susanna glanced at her husband, and again Joakin gave a short nod of approval. Carefully, she unpinned her veil and removed it, exposing her face and hair. Daniel found his gaze being met evenly by a pair of clear almond eyes, and her raven-black hair perfectly framed the woman’s beautiful face.
“Is this satisfactory, Lord Daniel?” Susanna inquired boldly.
“Quite satisfactory, my lady,” Daniel replied. “Now then, tell me what you can about what occurred.”
“It happened last evening,” Susanna began. “It was late and I was in the garden, preparing to bathe.”
“The garden of your home?” Daniel asked.
“Yes, that is correct,” Susanna replied. “It is large garden, completely surrounded by a fence, to guarantee privacy. In the middle of the garden is a fountain large enough for a person to bathe in. I use it on a regular basis.”
“It seems unusual for a person to use a fountain to bathe in,” Daniel observed.
“I can answer that, Lord Daniel,” Joakin interjected. “Susanna has always been a bit … shy, about such matters. She is not comfortable using the public baths, so I have – shall we say — indulged her on this matter. The water in the fountain is heated, allowing her to comfortably bathe in it on a regular basis.”
“So the fact that she bathes in the fountain is common knowledge?” Daniel inquired.
“Yes, I do it every night, Susanna said. “My servants help me prepare, but leave me when I bathe.”
“But last evening, something happened?”
“Yes,” Susanna said, her face showing the strain as the memories came back. “I was in the fountain, bathing. My handmaidens had left, as they normally do, and would have returned within a the hour. They were gone but a few moment when two men approached me.”
“Approached you? How did they gain entrance?” Daniel inquired.
“They did not tell me, but it was probably through one of the side gates,” Susanna said. “If they had come through the house, someone would have seen them.”
“This is true, Lord Daniel,” Joakin explained. “There are two small gates in the walls which a person – or persons – could have easily entered. Those gates are not very well secured, because I never thought it would be necessary to have them reinforced.
“I see. What happened when the two men approached you?” Daniel asked.
“Well I wanted to scream but they assured me they meant me no harm,” Susanna said. “So instead I picked up a cloth that I had intended to use to dry myself and wrapped myself in it. Then I asked them what they wanted of me. One man said his name was Zarach and the other identified himself as Nahar. They informed me that they are elders and that I was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen.”
“Do you know these two men, Lord Daniel?” Hilkiah asked, speaking for the first time.
“I have heard of them, but I have never had any direct dealings with either man,” Daniel said. “Still, it seems most unorthodox that two elders would invade the sanctity of your house and violate your privacy in such a manner,” Daniel observed.
“So I told the two of them, although not as politely as you just said it, my lord,” Susanna said. “I told them what I thought of their actions, and demanded they leave immediately. But Zarach told me they could not leave – that they had been planning this for months; and that now they were committed and a decision would have to be made.”
“A decision? What did they have to decide?” Daniel asked.
“Not them, my lord. Me,” Susanna explained, her face taking on an expression of distaste. “They told me that I was so beautiful they had fallen in love with me, and their passion was so great they had to possess me.”
“The miserable dogs!” Hilkiah interjected. “If I had been there, I would have…”
“Please Hilkiah, my rage is as great as yours,” Joakin interrupted. “But it is of the utmost importance that Lord Daniel hear the entire story.”
“Of course, my apologies.” Hilkiah said.
“Please continue, my lady,” Daniel said.
“They told me, that if I did not agree to become their lover, they would swear they had seen me with a young man, behaving with him in an inappropriate manner.,” Susanna said. “Nahar said the penalty for such actions is to be stoned to death. But if I agreed to become their lover, no one would ever know about it.”
“I see,” Daniel said. “And then what happened?”
“I refused,” Susanna replied, a hint of indignation creeping into her voice. “I told them in no uncertain terms would I allow them to touch me and dishonor my husband’s name. The two of them grew ugly, and threatened to force me. I turned and ran into the house, screaming for the servants. Unfortunately, no one was in the house at the time. The servants returned a short time later, but when we searched the garden, the two were gone.”
“They must have fled when Susanna entered the house,” Joakin said. “Sadly, she said nothing to me about the incident when I returned home, believing that it would be for the best.”
“What happened next?” Daniel asked.
“The next morning, a group of elders appeared at my door,” Joakin continued. “They informed me that Zarach and Nahar had claimed they had seen Susanna acting improperly with a man the evening before. They said the two had demanded an inquiry in the name of propriety.”
“Propriety!” Hilkiah fairly spat. “Those two are accusing my daughter in an attempt to cover their own disgraceful actions.”
“That would be my guess,” Daniel observed. “Is there any way to disprove Zarach and Nahar’s claim?”
“No, nothing we can think of,” Joakin said. “We know of no one who could swear to seeing Susanna during the time those two claimed to they saw her acting inappropriately.”
“Hmmmm, most unfortunate,” Daniel observed.
“Will you help us,” Joakin said, almost pleading. “I have been told that the Lord resides with you, and surely He would want you to set things right in this matter.”
“The Lord resides with all honest people,” Daniel replied. “Still, you are correct in that He would want to see justice done. Let me dwell on this a bit through prayer, and I will give you an answer shortly.”
After the three had left the premises, Daniel remained seated at the table, deep in thought.
“Are you going to speak out in the woman’s behalf?” Aliyeh finally asked.
“I do not know, yet,” Daniel confessed. “Susanna’s story rings true, yet the evidence is hard against her.”
“Two older men who lusted after her? Surely anyone with sense could see…”
“The men are elders,” Daniel reminded. “According to my faith they are suppose to be beyond reproach. Their word carries a great deal of weight against her.”
“Surely, if you speak out for Susanna, that would be sufficient,” Aliyeh observed. “After all, your word carries even greater weight with your people.”
“Not without proof,” Daniel countered. “If she is brought before a council – and she most certainly will – those serving on it would demand that I prove her innocence.”
“Why should she lie?” Aliyeh asked.
“To save herself. Do not look at me like that, Aliyeh,” Daniel said. “Without proof, the consensus would be that Susanna made up her accusations against Zarach and Nahar to save herself from a death sentence.”
“So what are you going to do?” Aliyeh asked.
“I am going to pray to the Lord for his assistance in this matter. “I hope he will provide an answer, for it would greatly help me make my decision,” Daniel said. “In the meantime, I have a task for you.”
“And what would that be, oh mouthpiece of the Lord?” Aliyeh asked.
“Do not mock me, I have told you before the Lord does not like such actions,” Daniel said, but smiling as he did so. Aliyeh was Babylonian by birth, and as such often treated her master with the less than formal respect he usually received from his people. However, Daniel actually appreciated her gentle teasing because he often found the daily formalities required by his office to be rather wearisome.
“What I would like Aliyeh is for you to go to the market place and ask around about the situation,” Daniel said. “See if you can locate someone who knows something what has occurred, or who knows something about those involved. In a case like this, even a smidgen of information could prove invaluable.”
“All right, I will return within an hour,” Aliyeh assured.
More than an hour had passed since Daniel had begun his prayers after Aliyeh had left, but he continued because he was sorely troubled.
“Oh mighty Yahweh,” Daniel continued. “Hear my plea, I beseech you. In my heart I believe Susanna, but the hearts of men have been deceived before. Am I sympathetic to her cause simply because she is so beautiful? I have not directly heard the elders’ accusations against her, and yet they are strong because these men are elders. As liaison to the king, I serve as important link between him and our people. But that could all be destroyed if I take up Susanna’s cause and it turns out she is guilty. So I ask you, oh mighty and just Yahweh, to provide me with a sign to show me which direction I should take on this matter.”
Daniel waited several minutes, but all he received was silence. With a sigh he concluded his prayers, knowing that there were times the Lord did not answer such appeals, for reasons known only to Him.
When he entered the outer chamber, Daniel found Aliyeh had returned. Also in the antechamber were two older men, and Daniel could see from the way they held themselves that they were men of great importance.
“Ah Lord Daniel, the first man said, skipping the formality of allowing Aliyeh to introduce them. “Please forgive this unannounced intrusion, but my colleague and I heard talk about you that concerned us, and we felt it would be best to speak to you on the matter.
“Oh?” Daniel said. “I am unaware that my duties at court have brought me into your sphere of influence. Of course, if I knew who you are, it would be helpful in making such a determination.”
“A thousand apologies for the oversight,” the first man said, bowing low. “I am Zarach and this is Nahar. We are elders who serve on the high council of our people.”
“I see,” Daniel replied smoothly. “And what is it that has brought such distinguished men as yourselves to my attention?”
“Lord Daniel, you do not have to pretend ignorance,” Nahar said. “We know that you spoke earlier to Joakin the merchant concerning his wife Susanna. We were merely wondering what course of action you were doing to take on the matter.”
“I have not yet decided,” Daniel replied. “They told me — certain things, and I informed them I would take the matter under consideration.”
“Oh Lord Daniel, we assure you that Susanna is lying,” Nahar said. “We definitely saw her with a younger man last night, and the two of them were in a compromising position. It is our duty and responsibility as elders of our people to report such matters and insure that the necessary action is taken. If you were to oppose us on this matter, well, it would not only be wasting your time, but holding you up to ridicule as well. I doubt very much that his majesty would appreciate one of his ministers getting his good name smeared in such a trifling case..”
“Well, I am certain that Joakin and his family would not consider the matter trifling,” Daniel observed. “Still, you need not worry about the king being called into the matter. I already told Joakin that his majesty does not like to interfere with civil or religious matters of a particular group of people.”
“That was very excellent advice you gave them, Lord Daniel,” Zarach said. “We intend to pursue the matter further before the council, and we believe it would be best if we handled the matter amongst ourselves.”
Bidding Daniel farewell, Zarach and Nahar bid Daniel left the building without further comment.
“I do not like those two,” Aliyeh said, after the two were safely out of earshot.
“Well, personal opinion is not a legitimate way to determine innocence or guilt,” Daniel observed. “Did you find out anything at the market?”
“Nothing specific,” Aliyeh admitted. “I only heard gossip and rumors, but nothing that could be verified. But there are some dark stories floating around concerning those two.”
“Unfortunately, we cannot use such information if no one comes forward.”
“How about you? Did the God of your Fathers provide you with a sign to convince you to take up Susanna’s cause?”
From the way Aliyeh phrased her question, it was evident she expected a negative answer.
“Why yes He did,” Daniel replied, and could not resist the feeling of pleasure he received from the surprised expression on Aliyeh’s face. “If you would please send a messenger to Joakin’s house, and inform him that I will plead for Susanna when her case goes before the council, and I will do everything in my power to prove her innocence.”
Aliyeh delivered the message herself, to the great joy of Joakin and Susanna, as well as the rest of their family. Although she had initially vowed not to give Daniel the satisfaction, Aliyeh’s curiosity finally got the better of her, and asked him what had convinced him of Susanna’s innocent.
“The way Zarach and Nahar reacted,” Daniel explained. “I could tell those two were worried, particularly that the king might be drawn into the matter. If their story was true, why should they be so concerned? They were very relieved when I assured them I would not be consulting the king about the situation. Also, they were doing everything in their power to convince me not to represent Susanna. Again, why should be they be so concerned, unless they have something to hide.”
“But just how did the God of your Fathers work such a miracle? After all, you could have determined that yourself,” Aliyeh observed.
“Why, by sending the two of them to speak to me,” Daniel replied. “I asked for guidance, and He provided the necessary source of information to make my decision. After all, if Zarach and Nahar and not spoken to me, I’d still be uncertain about what direction to take on this matter.”
A few days later, Joakin again entered Daniel’s establishment, this time alone.
“A thousand thanks, my lord, for agreeing to represent Susanna before the council,” Joakin said.
“Under the circumstances, I believe it is for the best,” Daniel replied.
“Your word will definitely carry weight with those on the council,” Joakin said. “However, I may have an alternative solution which would eliminate such unpleasantness entirely.”
“Oh, and just what do you propose?”
“Well, Lord Daniel, I was thinking that perhaps we should just accept Zarach and Nahar’s allegations, and let me handle the situation. Wait, I know what you are going to say, but hear me out first, please,” Joakin explained. “I am certain that Susanna is telling the truth, and that those two are trying to cover their acts by spinning the most heinous lies. But as I understand it, there is no guarantee that the other elders on the council will accept the truth of Susanna’s story.”
“That is correct,” Daniel said. “Both Zarach and Nahar are elders themselves, and as a result the other elders will be very inclined to believe them over Susanna, unless we can prove otherwise.”
“That is my great concern,” Joakin explained. “My very great concern. If the council finds her guilty, she would be put to death by stoning, even if though she is innocent.”
“That is also correct,” Daniel said. “And it is something I will do everything in my power to prevent.”
“Of that, I am certain,” Joakin said. “But as our holy books say, nothing is certain, except that we are all destined to die. And I do not wish to see my wife stoned to death because those two carrion lusted after her and she rightly refused them. So I thought perhaps we could inform the council that we accept Zarach and Nahar’s story, but let Susanna’s “punishment” up to me. Of course, I would not do anything to Susanna, but I would spin some elaborate tale about her punishment to satisfy the moral outrage of those involved, along with assurances that she was repentant and contrite and would never stray again. I admit it would be difficult for both of us, but it would definitely be preferable to Susanna facing the death penalty.”
“That is very generous of you, particularly for a man of your reputation,” Daniel observed.
“Well, I will not be the first old gander who has been cuckolded by a young rooster,” Joakin said. “Or at least, that is what everyone will think. But let them. Susanna and I will be able to live it down and continue with our lives.”
“ I wish things could be that simple,” Daniel said. “Sadly, once Zarach and Nahar made their accusation publically before the Council of Elders, it has become an official matter. The law requires that her case now be brought before the council to determine her guilt or innocence. So we have no choice now but to state our case during the trial, and hope we can present enough evidence to convince those on the council of Susanna’s innocence.”
“Do you believe you can do it?” Joakin asked.
“Well, I shall call on the Lord and hope He provides whatever assistance possible. This will not be the first time I have asked for His help, and he has seen me through some very grim situations through the years. So I what I advise is for you to pray and trust in the Lord in this matter,” Daniel replied.
Two days later, Joakin and Susanna received a summons to appear before the Council of Elders. Both were surprised at how quickly the council had been called to hear the matter, and how they were to immediately appear after the summons was issued. However, they knew that to refuse to appear under any circumstances would weigh heavily against them, and so they quickly followed the messenger who had been ordered to escort them to the council chambers.
Once they arrived, Joakin and Susanna observed that nine elders were serving on the council who would hear Susanna’s case, including Zarach and Nahar.
“My learned Elders,” Joakin said as the proceedings were called to order. “I must ask why Susanna’s accusers are being allowed to serve on the same council as those who judge her.”
“I must protest the noble Joakin making a statement during this or any time during these proceedings,” Zarach said. “Although his actions are understandable under the circumstances, as everyone on council knows, it is against the law for a husband to speak on his wife’s behalf when she has been charged with adultery.”
“My esteemed colleague, Elder Zarach speaks correctly,” said an older patriarch, who was sitting at the center of the council table. “I am Nicodemus, the high elder of this council,” he continued, introducing himself. “Although I do not necessarily agree with the law, it must be enforced as written. According to the law, Lord Joakin, you cannot speak on your wife’s behalf during this hearing.”
“My Lord Nicodemus, hear me, I beg of you,” Joakin pleaded. “My wife was suppose to be represented by Lord Daniel. Sadly he has not shown up. If he is not there, there is no one to defend my wife except herself.”
“Lord Daniel? Do you know why he has not arrived?” Nicodemus inquired.
“No Lord Nicodemus, I do not,” Joakin replied. “I sent word to his house when we were summoned, but no one was in residence. I have sent servants out to look for him, but I do not know where he is at this time. Would the council be so gracious as to grant us a delay until Lord Daniel can be found?
“My fellow Elders, I must protest such an action,” Elder Nahar said, before Nicodemous could speak. “As my colleague Elder Zarach pointed out, when a wife is accused of adultery, a husband cannot speak on her behalf or even plead her case in such circumstances. If we were to grant such a request, we ourselves would be in violation of the law. In addition, we only have Lord Joakin’s testimony that Lord Daniel is interested in this case. Lord Joakin’s reasons for wanting to delay this trial are indeed understandable and forgivable, but Lord Daniel’s absence under these circumstances are quite suspect. I insist that we continue with this matter and see that it is concluded as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
“How say the rest of the council,” Nicodemus inquired.
All the other members agreed that the trial should continue.
“Although I am inclined to grant Lord Joakin’s request, I cannot go against the will of the rest of the council,” Nicodemus observed. “Therefore, we shall begin by taking the testimony of all the parties involved.
The testimony did not take long. Both Zarach and Nahar told their story to the rest of the council – how they had observed Susanna with a younger man, embracing him, kissing him and behaving in other ways that suggested she was being unfaithful to her husband. When it came time for her to speak, Susanna told the council how she was accosted by Zarach and Nahar while she was bathing that night in the garden. Joakin felt his heart growing heavy, for he could tell by the expressions of most of the council members that they did not believe her story.
Nicodemus asked a number of questions during the proceedings, but no significant information was produced from this. After all testimony was given, the question was called, and the vote was unanimous.
“Lady Susanna, this council has found you guilty of behaving in an inappropriate manner with a man who is not your husband,” Nicodemus intoned. “It is a most heinous act among our people, and one which demands a swift and terrible sentence. Therefore, in accordance with the laws of our people, I ordered that you immediately be taken to the outskirts of the city, where you are to be stoned to death. May the God of our Fathers have mercy on your soul.”
Zarach and Nahar stepped forward to take Susanna into custody. Joakin tensed, ready to throw himself at the two, even though he knew there were too many in the room to fight. But he hoped he could delay them long enough to allow Susanna to flee and hopefully find a safe place to hide. However, before anything could happen, a voice rang out in the room.
“Hold members of this esteemed council, I beseech you.”
In the doorway was Daniel in his best robes of office and at his side was Aliyeh.”
“Please accept my sincerest apologies, gentleman,” Daniel continued. “I was summoned before his majesty on a most urgent matter this morning, and was only able to leave his royal presence a short time ago. I was informed that Susanna’s trial had already began, and hurried here as quickly as possible.”
“Lord Daniel, you honor us with your presence, but I am afraid it is unnecessary at this point,” Zarach said quickly. “The council has already heard the evidence against the accused and we are now about to pass sentence.”
“Pass sentence? Already? Esteemed elders, what kind of justice is this?” Daniel asked.
“Lord Daniel, the council has heard the testimony of all involved, and based on that testimony, has passed sentence on Susanna, wife of Joakin,” Nahar said. “Now that the council has ruled, it would be unseemly to delay her sentence.”
“Her murder, you mean,” Joakin said, almost shouting. “Because if her sentence is carried out, that is exactly what it will be, a most heinous murder on the part of this council.”
Zarach, Nahar and several other council members all began shouting at once. For many seconds the room was in pandemonium as everyone attempted to be heard. Finally, Nicodemus was able to restore order.
“Lord Daniel, what was said earlier is true,” the patriarch explained. “The council has already ruled on this matter. There is a little point in you addresses any other issues on the matter.”
“Elder Nicodemus, grant me a small boon, I pray you. Let me confer a few minutes with Joakin and Susanna in private and then address the council afterward.”
“Well, I see no harm in that,” Nicodemus said, after a few moments thought. “However, I must insist that Lady Susanna remain here, with us, while you confer with Lord Joakin. You have my word that nothing will happen to her in your absence.”
Daniel agreed, and both he and Joakin went to a back room to talk. In many terse words, Joakin informed Daniel about what had occurred earlier during the trial.
“Esteemed Elders, I must protest in the strongest fashion your actions on this matter,” Daniel said firmly when he returned to the council chamber. “What I have heard from Joakin is not a desire to see justice done or the law properly enforced on your part. This council is instead simply allowing her accusers to use the law to their own evil ends.”
“Lord Daniel, I must caution you, those are very strong words and accusations,” Nicodemus replied. “Are you prepared to back them up at this time?”
“I am indeed, Lord Nicodemus, and I will do so now before this August body.”
“Fellow council members, again I must protest this,” Zarach said. “As has been pointed out, we have already passed sentence on Lady Susanna. If Lord Daniel wishes to defend his accusations, let him do so before us in a separate hearing at a later date.”
“Elders of this council, hear me,” Daniel said. “Your logic in this matter is flawed, terribly flawed. You allowed Susanna’s accusers to sit with you when heard her case, making her accusers her judges. All you heard was the testimony from her accusers, as well as her story, and you chose to believe them, without any attempt to test if what you heard was true. Although Zarach and Nahar are elders, the accusations against Susanna is so heinous and the penalty for such a crime so severe, that justice demands their stories be examined and their testimony questioned.”
“Those are strong arguments,” Nicodemus observed. “Very strong arguments. “Fellow council members, what say you? I am inclined to set aside our verdict and allow Lord Daniel to purse further information in this case.”
“One moment, if you please, Lord Nicodemus,” Daniel said. “I appreciate your offer, but before any further action is taken, I must demand that you recuse Elders Zarach and Nahar from this council for the duration of the trial, for obvious reasons. I am certain that two substitutes could quickly found to hear the additional information.”
“We protest such a request,” Zarach said, with Nahar nodding in the background. “To call our integrity into question is simply…”
“Lord Zarach and Nahar, I can appreciate your indignation on this matter. However, Lord Daniel’s point is well taken,” Nicodemus said. “I was in error myself not to realize it before. So I am exercising my authority as head of this council and ordering you two to step down for the remainder of this trial. As far as getting two new members, I do not think that will be necessary. Seven of us should be sufficient to rule on any matters that come up.”
The first thing the seven-member council ruled on was to agree unanimously to set aside Susanna’s verdict, allowing Daniel to gather further evidence in the case.
“But I must caution you, Lord Daniel, you have made some very strong accusations against two of our most respected members,” Nicodemus said as the proceedings began. “If you are proved to be in error, I am going to recommend that this council speak to the king about your actions and request that some type of discipline be lodged against you.”
“I understand, Lord Nicodemus, but I am determined to pursue this matter to its end.”
“Very well, then let the proceedings continued,” Nicodemus said.
“As a point of order, I wish that to be allowed to question Lady Susanna’s accusers separately,” Daniel said.
“My fellow elders, how many more attacks on our personal integrity must we endure,” Nahar said.
“Yes, the idea that we must be questioned and treated like a common criminal is unthinkable,” Zarach said.
“Again, my lords, I must insist on this matter, due to the serious nature of the crime of which Susanna has been accused,” Daniel explained. “If convicted, she faces the death penalty, so I must be granted a wide enough latitude to fully determine the accuracy of the charge brought against her by her accusers.”
“Very well, Lord Daniel, you shall be allowed to question Zarach and Nahar separately,” Lord Nicodemus ruled. “However, again I must caution you that the patience of this council is not without limit. “We have already given you considerable leeway in setting aside Susanna’s verdict and allowing you to pursue the matter further. But please be quick and do not attempt to further call into question Zarach and Nahar’s integrity.”
Daniel bowed in thanks to the council. Nahar left the room and Zarach took a seat in the center and waited expectantly.
“Now tell me, Lord Zarach, because I wasn’t here when you gave your testimony to the council. You say that you and Lord Nahar said the Lady Susanna with another man, is that correct?”
“That is correct, Lord Daniel,” Zarach replied.
“When was this?”
“Two nights ago, my Lord,” Zarach said.
On the night when the two of them spoke to Susanna, Daniel thought to himself. Of course, they would know that Susanna would not have any witnesses to verify where she was at the time.
“All right, tell me specifically what you saw,” Daniel said.
“Lord Nahar and I were walking home after conducting our day’s business,” Zarach explained. “We had just turned a corner near an old mastic tree, and saw two people standing next it. Lord Nahar and I saw it was a man and woman, and as we came closer, we could see the woman was the Lady Susanna, and she…”
Zarach stopped abruptly at this point, stared hard at something behind Daniel, then turned to address the council.
“My colleagues, before we continue, I wish to inquire what this woman is doing during the proceedings,” Zarach said, pointing to Aliyeh, who had been sitting quietly behind Daniel, her parchment and stylus spread out on a small table.
“My lords, this is my personal scribe who provides me with a written record of my ventures in my service as one of the king’s ministers,” Daniel explained smoothly. “Although this is not, strictly speaking, matters of state, I saw no harm in her recording this hearing so I could refer to it later, as opposed to relying strictly on memory.”
“Members of the council, again I must protest,” Zarach said. “Why should we have submit ourselves to the indignity of having our statements written down, to possible be read by someone in the future who has no business knowing these proceedings.”
“Since when does a person who speaks the truth fear that his words will be read by an outsider,” Daniel observed.
“Lord Daniel, please, I remind you that you have been asked to conduct yourself with restraint,” Nicodemus said. “Lord Zarach’s concerns are well taken. We do not wish to have this hearing bandied about after it is concluded, and perhaps misinterpreted by the wrong people.”
“Very well, Lord Nicodemus. But perhaps we could compromise. To assure the concerns of the council as well as Lord Zarach, perhaps you would graciously allow Aliyeh to record the proceedings, and at the end of the hearing, I will turn all the written material over to you, to do with as you see fit.
“Well, there seems to be no harm in that,” Lord Nicodemus said. “If no member of the council objects, I rule that we allow the scribe to continue recording the testimony.”
No objections were raised, although it was evident that Zarach was not pleased with this information. However, at the council’s instruction, he continued with his testimony.
“Nahar and I saw Lady Susanna with a man,” Zarach said.
“Could the man have been Lord Joakin,” Daniel asked.
“No, we are both familiar with her husband, and know it was not him. This man was much younger,” Zarach replied.
“You say it was at night. How could you see so clearly in the darkness?” Daniel inquired.
“There was a full moon that night,” Zarach said. “Even though it was the middle of the night, there was still plenty of light cast by the moon.”
“Do you know the identity of this man,” Daniel said.
“No, we had never seen him before,” Zarach said. “But we did recognize Lady Susanna.”
“What were they doing?”
“They were embracing each other,” Zarach said. “They were also laughing quietly to themselves. Lady Susanna was also behaving in a very inappropriate manner with the young man. Would you like me to provide a further description of her actions?”
“No that will not be necessary, I will take your word that what you claimed you saw was inappropriate,” Daniel said. “Can you provide a description of this man?”
“He was tall,” Zarach recalled. “Very good looking. He had dark hair. Unfortunately, we did not get that a very good look at him. We only saw him for a few moments.”
“Really? Then what happened?
“Well Nahar and I were so close to them when we turned the corner that they saw us at about the same time we saw them,” Zarach explained. “Lady Susanna screamed and the young man attacked us.”
“Did this man have a weapon?” Daniel said.
“No he just used his hands. However, as I explained earlier he was a big man and much younger and us. He struck us several times, so we thought it best to turn and flee.”
“You both decided this at the same time?”
“Yes, I guess you could say that. Neither Nahar nor I have ever played the part of the warrior, so we ran from the area and eventually made our way back to our homes.”
“You fled in a blind panic, and yet you were able to make your way straight back home?”
“Well we are familiar with that neighborhood, Lord Daniel. After all, our residence is nearby, so it was easy for us to quickly find our way back there, despite being in fear of our lives.”
“You two live together?”
“That is correct,” Zarach said.
“All right. What did you do after you arrived home?”
“Well, after we calmed down, Nahar and I discussed the matter at length, and we came to the conclusion that such a shameful act on Lady Susanna’s part could not go unpunished. A wife who flaunts herself with man is worse than a common courtesan, and we as elders have a duty to see that such immorality is dealt with strictly.”
“Of that I am sure,” Daniel observed dryly. “Did you speak to anyone about this matter before going to the council?”
“No, we reported the matter when the council met the next day.”
“Did it occur to either you or Lord Nahar to first speak to Lord Joakin about this matter?”
“We discussed the possibility, but thought it best to take the matter to the council as quickly as possible,” Zarach said. “There is the likelihood that the man who attacked us has friends, and that they might attempt silence us on the matter permanently.”
“I have no further questions of this man, Lord Nicodemus,” Daniel announced. “However, I restate my request that he leave the room during my questioning of Lord Nahar.
The switch was made, and Nahar took Zarach’s place before the council. Unfortunately, Nahar’s story seem to corroborate everything that Zarach had already told the council.
“Yes, that is correct, Lord Zarach and I came upon Lady Susanna and a man as they were standing under a tree,” Nahar explained when questioned by Daniel. “When the man saw us, he immediately attacked us and we fled the area and were able to quickly arrive home.”
“How was it that you were able to determine that Lady Susanna was behaving in an inappropriate manner with the man, given the fact he attacked you so quickly?” Daniel asked.
“Well, they were so interested in each other that for a few seconds, they did not notice us,” Nahar said. “Although it was only for a few seconds, Lord Zarach and I could definitely tell that what Lady Susanna was doing was not appropriate for a married woman.”
“When this man attacked you, did he injury either you or Lord Zarach?”
“I was not injured, and neither was Lord Zarach, I believe,” Nahar replied. “The man did manage to grab my clothing, but I pulled free and ran around the oak. Fortunately it had a large trunk, which prevented me from being grabbed again. Lord Zarach and I darted around for a few seconds, then ran down the street.”
“Did this man follow you?”
“I do not believe so. At least, I do not recall hearing any sounds of pursuit,” Nahar said.
“Now, during this fight, did you or Lord Zarach call for help from the city watch,” Daniel asked.
“Neither of us did,” Nahar said.
“Why not?”
“Well, things happened so quickly neither of us thought of it,” Nahar said. “We were running as fast as we could. If it had lasted longer one of us would have no doubt called for help.”
“Did this man say anything during the attack?”
“No, he just charged forward without warning,” Nahar said.
“Did he strike you at all?”
“Yes, he did strike me a few times in the face and chest, but it was not hard enough to injure me,” Nahar said.
“Seems rather odd that a man who charged forward would not strike you with at least one solid blow during such an encounter,” Daniel observed.
“Well it was night time,” Nahar reminded. “Even though there were enough moon light to make things out, it was still hard to judge distances. As you yourself no doubt know Lord Daniel, armies do not fight at night, they always wait until dawn before engaging in battle.”
This caused a ripple of laughter to pass through the room.
“Lord Daniel, do you have any other significant questions for Lord Nahar,” Nicodemus said.
“No, Lord Nicodemus, not at this time,” Daniel said. “However, I wish to make a statement to the council that will take some time to prepare. Given the lateness of the hour, I request that we recess at the hearing at this point, and reconvene here tomorrow.
“Very well Lord Daniel, the point is well taken,” Nicodemus said. “This hearing has indeed taken up much more time than anticipated, and many of us would like to return home to our families for the evening meal. However, I must inform you that whatever additional time you need to dedicate to this matter had best be spent before the council reconvenes because we will be rendering a decision tomorrow concerning Lady Susanna. Is that clearly understood?”
“Perfectly, my lord high patriarch,” Daniel said, bowing before him and the rest of the council.
Daniel quickly returned home and began to confer with Aliyeh, when the sound of the bell at the door announced he had a visitor. As Daniel suspected, it was Joakin.
“Is there any hope,” Joakin asked.
“I do not know,” Daniel replied. “Those two probably discussed their story at length before they went to the council, and so they do not seem to contradict themselves.”
“Then my wife is doomed!” Joakin said.
“Do not give up hope,” Daniel said. “I still have the night to study the information, which is what I really wanted when I made my request to the council. How is Susanna?”
“She is at home, resting,” Joakin replied. “The council agreed that she could stay with me, as long as I guaranteed her presence at the hearing tomorrow. Maybe we should flee the city and find some other place to live.”
“I would not attempt such a thing,” Daniel advised. “Your house is probably under observation and any unusual activities will no doubt be reported. Such an act would most assuredly be interpreted as an admission of guilt.”
“Well, anyway, thank the Lord you showed up in time before she was led away to the field of execution,” Joakin observed. “What was so urgent that the needed to consult with you so unexpectedly?”
“His majesty received a report of irregularities in certain matters I oversee for the kingdom,” Daniel explained. “Although he trusts me a great deal, his majesty insists that all his ministers be above reproach, so he wanted to clear the matter up immediately. I am afraid I had no choice when he summoned me, I had to go immediately. And, because of the delicacy of the situation, I was forbidden to send a message outside the palace until the matter had been cleared up. Fortunately, Aliyeh was with me, and she was able to demonstrate that the information the king received was definitely in error.”
“Hmm. Do you think it is possible that Zarach and Nahar arranged to have that report sent to his majesty?” Joakin asked.
“So that I would be prevented from showing up at the hearing on time? Yes, given what I have been sensing about those two, I definitely would not put it past them. Unfortunately, we do not have the time to prove the matter. Which is a pity, because that would definitely solve the problem. No, in order to save Susanna, I am going to have to find a flaw in Zarach or Nahar’s story, something that would prove conclusively that they are lying,” Daniel said.
Joakin took his leave to return home, and Daniel decided it would be best to spend some time in prayer, asking for guidance.
“Oh merciful and mighty Yahweh,” Daniel intoned silently to himself. “You have convinced me to take up Susanna’s cause, because she is innocent of any wrong doing. During the hearing today, I worked hard to uncover that Zarach and Nahar’s accusations were nothing but lies. But oh Lord, please forgive me, I was unsuccessful in finding any flaw in their stories. So I beseech you, once more, all-powerful Yahweh, aid me once more, your humble servant, that so that justice will prevail and an innocent woman’s life will be spared.”
Finishing his daily ritual to the Lord, Daniel went into the main room, where Aliyeh had laid out a simple meal.
“Any idea what you are going to say tomorrow,” Aliyeh asked as they ate.
“Right now, no,” Daniel replied. “Before those two went to the council, they undoubtedly went over their story very carefully. Given time, I might be able to break them down, but time is what we do not have right now. If only there was a witness who could support Susanna’s claim, or disprove Zarach and Nahar’s.
“You know, my father often argued cases in the courts,” Aliyeh said.
“Oh really, I wish he were here. I could use some advice on legal techniques at the moment,” Daniel said.
“Sadly, he has been dead for several years,” Aliyeh explained. “But one thing he told me that really stands out is a person can get so bogged down in a case he often overlooks many small details because they seem insignificant at the time, but are actually very important.”
“Small details,” Daniel mused. “Well, I am certain your father is right about such matters, but I do not know how such information can help me now.”
“It was just a thought,” Aliyeh said. “Do you want me to bring the transcripts to the hearing tomorrow?”
“Yes, the council will no doubt want them immediately at the conclusion,” Daniel said. “I’ve already created enough hard feelings, and it would not do to antagonize them more.”
Aliyeh produced the parchment, and Daniel began to read it over.
“You are a great treasure, Aliyeh,” Daniel observed, as he went over the what had been said earlier during the trial. “Very few scribes could have recorded these conversations as accurately as you, and with such great detail.”
“My thanks, Lord Daniel. A compliment from you is worth more than all the treasures of heaven,” Aliyeh said.
Despite her teasing tone, Aliyeh was actually very pleased to receive such praise from Daniel.
“Small details,” Daniel muttered, now lapsing into thought as he went over the day’s testimony. He read a few minutes more, then suddenly sat up, peering intently at the paper before him.
“What is it?” Aliyeh asked.
“Small details!” Daniel said again, this time with considerable intensity. “Let me see … yes, that it is it!”
Daniel then looked up at his scribe.
“Aliyeh, this is of the utmost importance,” he said quietly. “Are you absolutely certain that what you have recorded here during the hearing is completely accurate?”
“My lord, as you know, I have been with you for many years – more than I like actually like to count,” Aliyeh replied. “And you also know that my ability to record things accurately is legendary in the Guild of Scribes, as you just pointed out. That was the reason why you hired me as your personal scribe those many years ago.”
“My apologizes, Aliyeh, but I had to be certain,” Daniel said. “From what I just read, looking for those ‘little details’ you mentioned earlier, I have found the means proving Susanna’s innocence.”
The next morning, when Daniel appeared before the council, he noted with satisfaction that Susanna was in attendance with Joakin, as well as her father. He had been concerned that the two might attempt flight, despite his warnings. He would have liked to send word to them about what he intended, but as a precautionary measure, had remained silent because he was concerned that Zarach and Nahar might possible receive the information via informants. What he planned today depended on catching the two elders by surprise.
“Esteemed council, I thank you for the latitude you have granted me during these proceedings,” Daniel said, bowing low. “But once again, I ask you patience during this trial, because I believe I have the means of proving Susanna’s innocence.”
A murmur immediately arose from the council, which was quickly silence by Nicodemus.
“Lord Daniel, this is most interesting, if what you say is true,” he said. “What new information do you have that proves the Lady Susanna’s testimony is the truth?
“Not new information, my lord. Rather, evidence gathered from the testimony given yesterday before this council. But in order to present it, I would ask again that Zarach and Nahar not be permitted together in the room, so I can question them separately.”
“Very well, Lord Daniel, in the interest of justice and truth, I will grant your request,” Nicodemus said. “However, again, I must caution you, that the patience of this council is at an end. If you do not soon prove your case, we will make our ruling, despite all your protests.”
“Agreed, my lord,” Daniel said.
Nahar left the room and Zarach once again took the stand.
“Now Lord Zarach, to recall your previous testimony, you say that you saw the Lady Susanna late at night, with a man who was not her husband,” Daniel began.
“That is correct,” Zarach said stiffly. “If you are attempting to make me contradict what I previously said, it is doomed to failure. I know what I saw.”
“Of that I am certain,” Daniel observed. “Now, can you recalled exactly again where you saw Lady Susanna with this man?”
“It was on one of the side streets near my residence,” Zarach said with a shrug.
“Yes, but where exactly were they? You said they were near something when you saw them.”
“Oh, Nahar and I saw them under a tree.”
“What kind of a tree was it?” Daniel inquired.
“A mastic tree, I believe.”
“A mastic tree? You are certain of this?” Daniel continued.
“Reasonably certain,” Zarach said, a bit more cautiously. “Remember it was night.”
“Yet, by your own admission, there was a full moon which granted enough light for you to identify Lady Susanna,” Daniel observed dryly. “So if Lord Nahar said it was a different type of tree, it was just a mistake on his part — or yours — due to the darkness.”
“Well yes, I believe that would be a very reasonable assumption,” Zarach said.
“Indeed,” Daniel noted.
Zarach was dismissed and Nahar was summoned to the stand. But before he arrived, Lord Nicodemus raise a point of order..
“Lord Daniel, it seems to me that two men not being able to agree on what type of tree they saw – particularly in the dark – is a minor point indeed. Surely, you are not basis your entire contention on this fact,” Lord Nicodemus observed.
“On the contrary my lord, it is of crux of my case,” Daniel explained. “I asked the council’s patience at bit longer. Everything will be proved to your satisfaction, I assure you.”
“Very well, Lord Nahar, please take the stand,” Nicodemus said to the other elder, who had just entered the room.
“Now then, you say that the young man you saw Susanna with on the night in question ran after you and Lord Zarach spotted the two of them,” Daniel said.
“Yes, that is correct,” Nahar replied.
“And during the altercation, he grabbed your clothing, but you managed to get loose and you avoided him further by running around the tree,” Daniel said.
“Yes, that is right. It had a big enough trunk that I was able to run around it and avoid being caught again,” Nahar said
“And is it correct to say that you testified the trunk was large because the tree in question is an oak tree?”
“Yes that is right.” Nahar replied.
“What if I were to tell you that Lord Zarach yesterday said it was a different type of tree that you and he saw Lady Susanna and the man standing under?’
“It was night, it was dark,” Nahar protested. “He could have made a mistake, or perhaps I did, but we did see her under a tree with the man.”
“Very well,” Daniel said. Then he turned once more to Nicodemus and the rest of the council.
“Gentlemen, I would now like Elder Zarach to return to this room, and allow Elder Nahar to stay as I make my closing statements.
“As you wish, Lord Daniel,” Nicodemus said.
After Zarach re-entered the room, Daniel turned and faced the council directly.
“My most esteemed colleagues, you have heard the testimony of Zarach and Nahar, two elders of our people, whose word is suppose to be beyond reproach. It was this fact they depended upon when they spun their lies to you about the Lady Susanna’s virtue.”
The room became an immediate uproar, but Daniel shouted over the din until it died down.
“Yes, I said lies, members of this most learned council. Lies I can now prove. All of you are no doubt familiar with the majestic oak, which grows to such a mighty size that it is often referred to as the king of the trees.”
“Most of us are quite familiar with the oak tree and its size, but how does this prove…” Nicodemus began.
“My lord patriarch, a moment more, if you please. All will become clear in a moment.”
Nicodemus made no objection, so Daniel continued.
“As most of you also know, the mastic tree is not in the same family as the oak. It is in fact, little more than a shrub. No matter how dark it is, there is no way it could be confused with an oak tree.”
Pausing for dramatic effect, Daniel slowly turned toward Zarach and Nahar, both who had turned several shades paler with his latest words.
“Lord Zarach distinctly remembered that he said Lady Susanna with the man under a mastic tree on the night in question. When I called him into question, pointing out that Lord Nahar had mentioned a different type of tree, he brushed it off, saying it was dark. Lord Nahar made the same argument. He recalled the size of the tree, saying it was large enough to run around to avoid being grabbed by the man. That would, of course, have been impossible if the tree was a mastic. The man could have easily reached over or around it to grab Lord Nahar.”
There was dead silence in the room as the council and the audience hung on every word.
“In short, members of this council, Zarach and Nahar must have been lying about the tree, because there’s no way a mastic or an oak tree could have been mistake for the other. And if they are lying about the tree, it means their entire story is nothing but lies,” Daniel continued. “Let my accusations be proved by separating these two and having them individually show this council the exact spot where they saw Lady Susanna on the night in question. I would stake my honor that the spot each one would pick would not be the same.”
There was a long silence. Zarach and Nahar were aware that Nicodemus and the rest of the members of the council were watching them with cold hard stares. Zarach turned as if to whisper to Nahar.
“Silence,” Nicodemus said. “You two will not speak to each other at this time. Shall we take Lord Daniel up on his suggestion? I believe that would be a most appropriate course of action, given Lord Daniel’s accusations and statements.
“My lords, please. Surely you are not going to give credence to these wild accusations,” Zarach said.
“Under the circumstances, we must,” Nicodemus said. “A contingent of men will each take you separately and each of you will show them where you saw Lady Susanna that night.”
The contingents came forward, but before they had gone a dozen steps, Nahar rushed forward, babbling hysterically.
“Mercy, my lords. I did not want to do it. It was Zarach’s plan to accuse Lady Susanna. I told him it was wrong, but he would not listen!”
“Be silent, you fool!” Zarach roared, striking Nahar hard across the face. The two men were separated and turned to face the council.
“From your own mouths you are convicted,” Nicodemus said, obviously disgusted with the news. “To think that you two, elders of our people, should attempt to force yourself on this young woman. And when she spurned your advances, like the good wife she is, you both attempted to pervert the laws of our people have her executed, to hide your disgrace and your shame. By Adonai, the two of you sicken me!”
Nahar whimpered as if he were struck by a whip, while Zarach stared forward, stony-faced. Nicodemus thought for a few moments, then came to a decision.
“Members of this council, it is my recommendation, that Zarach and Nahar, having betrayed their trust as elders, and having attempted to pervert the law to their own evil ends, shall now suffer the same sentence that would have been meted out to Lady Susanna if she had been found guilty. How say you all?”
The vote was unanimous, guilty.
“Zarach and Nahar, you have been found guilty by this council and you shall immediately be taken outside the city where the two you shall be stoned to death,” Nicodemus said.
Both men were taken hold of and led away. Zarach said nothing, while Nahar continued to plead and beg for his life, but it fell on deaf ears.
“If Lord Joakin and Lady Susanna wishes, we can arrange for the two of you two witnesses the execution,” Nicodemus offered.
“Thank you my lord, but no. We merely wish to return and home and put this matter behind us,” Joakin said.
“As you wish,” Nicodemus said. “But one moment please. Lord Daniel, this council is in your debt. You prevented a terrible miscarriage of justice from occurring by standing by Lady Susanna’s side and never wavering in your devotion to get at the truth. For that, this council now grants you a distinction that has only been granted to a select few in the history of our people.”
Nicodemus rose along with every other council member and put their hands together in applause. The audience, including Joakin and Susanna joined in, and for over a minute, the only thing that could be heard was the sound of cheers and clapping.
“I think that was a very noble gesture on the part of the council,” Aliyeh observed later, after she and Daniel had returned home.
“It was indeed, more than you realize,” Daniel explained. “It is very rare that the council recognize an individual in such a manner, it is normally considered in very poor taste. My people believe that such praise should be reserved for the Lord alone, but there are rare exceptions, as you saw today.”
“I am very glad, because you definitely earned it,” Aliyeh said.
“Oh it was nothing. If it had not been for the Lord’s assistance, I would not have been able save Susanna. If I had known what the council was going to do ahead of time, I would have insisted they praise Him instead of me.”
“The Lord? Now just how did your god help you. If was you, going over my writings, that allowed you to spot the flaw in Zarach and Nahar’s story.”
“My dear Aliyeh, the Lord works through many intermediaries. I prayed to Him for assistance, and He answered. What you failed to realize is that you were the agent He worked through.”
“Me? I saw no divine light burst upon my brow. No one whispered in my ear with that information,” Aliyeh protested.
“Yes, and you make the same mistake that many others have made concerning the Lord. He often works silently through people, without them even being aware of it. I am certain that He had you speak of your father to me and mention the importance of the ‘little things’ during a trial, that set me on the correct path to prove Susanna’s innocence.”
“Well have it you way, then,” Aliyeh said. “But if I was your god’s agent, then I believe I should be entitled to a portion of this.”
Aliyeh handed Daniel a bulging leather purse. Daniel opened it, and discovered that it was filled to the brim with gold coins.
“Compliments of Lord Joakin,” Aliyeh explained. “He apologized for not turning it over to you personally, but explained that he and Susanna are going away to celebrate, and will not return for sometime. They were in a hurry to get started, so I accepted it, in your stead.”
“Aliyeh, you should not have done that!” Daniel protested. “I was doing the Lord’s work to see justice served, and as such it wrong to take money under such circumstances.”
“The Lord does not have bills to pay,” Aliyeh reminded. “This is but a small fraction of Lord Joakin’s wealth, he will never miss it.”
“Just the same, it was wrong of you to accept it, and it would be wrong for me keep it. I make a decent salary as a king’s minister. I must return it at once.”
“All right, let me put it to you this way,” Aliyeh said. “For the past two years the roof has been leaking like a sieve whenever it rains. Each time I mention about getting if fixed, you say we cannot afford it, and so we just put up with the deluge. I have no desire to continue feeling like I am sleeping under a waterfall every time it storms. So, as you mentioned earlier, just think of me once again as an agent of the Lord, who insists that you take this money in appreciation for a job well done on His behalf.
Daniel stared at his personal scribe for several seconds, then a low chuckle escaped his lips.
“Very well, Aliyeh, your point is well taken,” he said. “But I insist that a good portion of this money be donated to help the poor. On that point, I am firm.”
“But not too great a portion,” Aliyeh replied. “I know you, you would give it all, then attempt to convince me that is your Lord’s will. Well, as his agent, I guarantee you, that if you attempt such an act, your Lord will probably see you placed in a lion’s den.”
“Oh perish the thought,” Daniel said with a laugh.

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