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From Chapter One of the third book in the "Hannibal's Elephant Girl" series

Calogo, up to the age of five summers, played in the streets and on the steps of his neighborhood, without fear of harm. However, when his older sister, Tapaz, was beaten and raped in the Bruchium quarter, where she’d gone to the vegetable market, the family’s life changed profoundly.

Her father, Geodia, had gone before the Ptolemaic Greek magistrates, demanding justice for his daughter’s rape and beating. The girl was only thirteen summers in age, he told them.

The judges dismissed him, saying his daughter had been caught stealing turnips and only received the same punishment any Jew should expect.

Geodia packed up his tools and a small supply of silver, then took his wife and children on the road to Carthage.

The city-state, located on the shore of the Middle Sea was renowned for its openness to foreigners and presented many opportunities for skilled newcomers, even Jews, but it wasn’t a good environment for a slave.

Carthage had a population of half a million people, with almost a third of them being slaves. They performed the bulk of manual labor and suffered relentless brutality under their callous owners.

 

                                               * * * * *

 

With only a small goat, a little clothing, and a few pots and pans, the four members of Geodia’s family walked along a road following the coast, with little Calogo leading their goat by a braided leather rope.

Tapaz plodded along behind the goat.

“Why did we not seek passage upon a trading ship?” Jendayi asked her husband as she shifted her bundle of clothing to the other shoulder. Her long black cloak collected dust from the road with every step.

Geodia looked down at his wife. “Perhaps you have hidden in the bottom of your bean pot the two hundred shekels demanded by the boat captain to carry four people and one goat from Alexandria to Carthage?”

“How could I ever pry two hundred shekels, or even one shekel, from your bony grip to add to my imaginary bean pot fortune?”

“Did I not give you five shekels just ten days ago to purchase food? Your pot must have swallowed those in one gulp.”

Jendayi walked on in silence for a moment. “No, I wasted one of those coins on that skinny chicken for your dinner. The other four went with Tapaz to that accursed bazaar, where they were stolen, along with her innocence.”

Geodia glanced at his daughter, following along behind them, then reached for his wife’s hand, pressing it to his lips.

Tears dampened both their cheeks as they walked on into the gathering darkness.

When Calogo’s little legs could carry him no further,  Tapaz lifted her brother to her hip and took the goat’s lanyard in her free hand.

She stared at the ground as she followed mechanically in the footsteps of her parents.

After nightfall, Geodia led his family off the road and made camp in a thicket of thorn bushes.

Cleopatra, as the boy had named their goat, gave up a small cup of milk for Calogo’s supper, while his sister and parents went hungry for another night.

“Tomorrow,” Geodia said, “I’ll use a bit of our silver to purchase some food.”

“You need that silver to get us started in Carthage.”

“If we starve on the road, we’ll have no need of silver in Carthage.”

Jendayi watched Cleopatra chew a branch from a thorn bush. “How many days to Carthage?”

“From Alexandria to Carthage is almost twenty thousand stadia,” her husband said. “Perhaps two months walking.”

“Oy vey iz mir!” Jendayi exclaimed in Hebrew. “My poor feet can never walk for so many days.”

“I must think of something,” Geodia said.

Tapaz and Calogo fed sticks into the fire as they stared into the flames.

“Our poor Tapaz,” Geodia said. “I should have gone to that market in her place.”

“Then they would’ve killed you, Geo, for your four shekels.”

“But I hate seeing her in this melancholy state.”

“Tomorrow will be better,” his wife said.

“You always say that, but the future brings only misery and suffering for us poor Jews.”

“Not this time,” she said. “You’ll see.”

The goat pulled a withered bush from the ground to nibble the roots.

“Tomorrow,” Jendayi said, “we’ll eat that stupid goat.”

Her husband laughed. “Your son will fight you to the death over his goat.”

“He may have to.” She toyed with her silver bracelet. “Or we could sell my bracelet.”

“No. We’ll never sell your wedding bracelet.”

“We cannot eat sentimentality.”

“Quit twisting it around your arm.” Geodia watched his daughter remove her thin cloak and spread it over Calogo. “I’ll find a way to feed my family.”

Tapaz came to sit between her parents.

He father took her hand, holding it in both of his.

Her mother pulled her close, slipping her arm around the girl’s shoulders.

Tapaz sobbed against her mother’s breast.