31

The Engagement Party

"Malchus, it's time for the engagement party," Seth said as he peered into Malchusís doorway.

Hearing Sethís voice, Malchus picked up the package he had set on the kitchen table and placed it under his arm as he headed towards the front door. "The cart is all ready for you and Ruth to take the food to the beach."

"Wonderful, I knew I could count on you," said Seth as he started toward the cart.

"Would you mind taking this package along with you as well?" asked Malchus. "I want it to be a part of my gift for Rachel."

"Most certainly," said Seth as he slipped it out from under Malchusís arms. "Let me guess what's in here," he said as he held it up to his ear giving it a slight shake.

"Even if you do, you had better swear not to tell a soul about it," said Malchus with a half-threatening and half-teasing tone.

"Iíll secure it beneath the seat so that nobody else notices it," said Seth as he unraveled a rope that had been coiled in the back of the cart. "I'll be on my way to pick up Ruth and the food now." After securing the package, Seth mounted the cart and took the reigns in hand.

Anxious to be on his way as well, Malchus gathered a few last minute items, then made sure that the door was closed behind him before heading over to his parentsí place. When he arrived, they were all ready to go. In her basket, Brigitte had packed the six gold chalices that she had received as a wedding gift in Gaul, thinking that Malchus might like to use them on this special day. Together Malchus and his parents walked over to Rachel's house to see if she was ready. Seth and Ruth had already left, so it was Rachel who answered when Malchus knocked.

"Just a few more moments," she called out from the back room. Malchus and his parents took a seat in the common area and talked about what a beautiful day it was. When Rachel came out, Malchus took a second glance because she looked like she never had before. Her black hair, no longer pulled back, was swept up on top of her head with loose tendrils falling gently forward and framing her face ever so beautifully. Rachelís slender body moved gracefully beneath the smooth lines of her purple silk robe. Malchus recalled his first meeting with Rachel when they were both fourteen. On that day she had worn purple. He had thought then that there could be no one more beautiful. The sixteen-year-old standing before him now was fully a woman, and, yes, more beautiful than ever.

Malchus felt a tingling throughout his body as he walked toward the beach with his parents and Rachel. The cool fall breeze further enhanced the pleasure of this moment. While all four participated in the conversation, more words were spoken by Rachel and Brigitte.

By the time they reached the sand, Seth and Ruth had already spread the cloths and placed the baskets of food in the center of them. The smell of fresh bread and lamb permeated the air as everyone sat down to partake of the meal. Malchus broke off some of the bread and passed it around the table. The lamb was delicious and tasted even more tender than it looked.

Even though everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, Brigitte sensed that her son was a bit nervous. In an attempt to put everyone at ease, she told about the times when Malchus would go down to the beach at Barcino to spend time in thought. She asked, "Malchus, do you remember when you asked the questions about the handful of sea shells you had gathered?"

"Oh, mother, I was just a boy then."

"Thatís enough," Brigitte thought to herself, "Iíll just let him be." Rachel seemed not to be paying so much attention to the stories as she was to the white gladiola that Malchus had placed beside her plate. While she was twirling it beneath her nose between her index finger and thumb, Malchus motioned to Seth with his hand, and Seth, seeming to know what Malchus wanted him to do, stood up, went over to the cart and untied the package that he had secured beneath the seat. Seth then brought the package over to Malchus.

After Seth had sat down again next to Rachel, Malchus began, "Seth, as you know Rachel has been very close to my heart since the day that I met her. In the time that I have known her, I have only grown more and more fond of her. I realize, of course, that Iím not as rich as the son of Caiaphas's friend might have been, but I do believe that I have potential and that together Rachel and I could make a good life. So what Iím trying to say, Seth, is that I love your niece and would like for her to become my wife."

Seth, realizing the importance of the moment, seized the opportunity to begin, "Malchus, you are a man that I greatly admire. You have taken what you have been given and caused it to multiply. This, to me, is the sign of a successful man. I know that all you put your hand to will most certainly prosper. Ever since I have known you, you have been telling me of your love for Rachel, and I am convinced that you are sincere. Your recent conversion to Judaism has spoken to my heart of your desire to be a husband to her."

"Then, Seth," said Malchus as his heart raced, "you will accept the covenant of my love for Rachel?"

"What exactly is it that you are promising?" asked Seth, hoping to draw out Malchus even further in the expression of his love for Rachel.

"First of all, I would pledge my love to her and her alone. I would promise to be the kind of husband that would make her proud to be around and the kind of father who would adore his children. I would promise to share with her all that I have and to make sure that she had a roof over her head and plenty of food to feed the household, as well as any strangers that may come to the door. I would also promise to care for and look after her family until the end of my days. I would pledge to stand with her for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health until death separates us."

As he spoke, the gladiola that Rachel had been twirling slowly came to a standstill as Rachel was struck by the depth of his commitment to her. Malchus, sensing this was the time, reached into the package that Seth had brought over for him and pulled out a wineskin of vintage wine. Tilting the wineskin forward, he filled the golden chalices his mother had brought back from Spain.

Seth, believing all that Malchus had pledged to be true, reached out and lifted his chalice to the heavens. Ruth and Rachel, following his lead, lifted theirs as well. Then with a hearty, "So be it," Seth accepted the conditions of the covenant that Malchus had put forth. Wanting to join in, Malchus, Justin and Brigitte tapped the chalices of the others, then they all drank. A lightness filled the air as they anticipated the happiness in life that Malchus and Rachel would experience together.

Seth, remembering the jingling he had heard in the package he had shaken earlier, cleared his throat, then in a low, more serious tone asked Malchus if he could require of him the answer to one more question. Somewhat apprehensive as to what Seth had in mind, Malchus answered with a reluctant, "Yes, go ahead."

Then Seth proceeded, "Knowing that it's going to take you a good bit of time to prepare a place for the two of you to live, how is it that you intend to insure that Rachel will still be waiting by the time you finish?"

"Itís funny you should ask that question Seth, and, believe it or not, I did take that into consideration. That is why I have purchased this for her." Malchus reached into the now opened package and pulled out a linen bag, which he handed to Seth, who handed it to Rachel.

Excited to find out exactly what was inside, Rachel loosened the drawstrings and pulled out a small, intricately carved wooden box. "It's so beautiful, Malchus," she exclaimed as she ran her fingers over the top of the box.

"Open it up," Malchus said, "and see what's inside."

Wanting to extend the suspense, Rachel lifted the small wooden box up to her eye level so that she alone could look inside. Then she opened the box.

"Oh, Malchus, they're absolutely beautiful. How did you know that I love bangles? And gold ones at that!"

Malchus just smiled as she slipped the bangles over her petite wrist and admired them at arm's length. "They're truly lovely, Malchus, thank you."

"Youíre welcome, Rachel. Now, all that I want to know is - will you wait for me?"

"Of course, I will," she said with a new warmth in her voice.

"Good," said Malchus, "as I have already been granted permission by the governor to purchase a portion of land right next to my parentsí home. My intention is to build us a house onto my parentsí house, and my father has agreed."

Seth, happy to see that Malchus was already making the proper provisions for Rachel, reached over and patted him on the back saying, "A good man you are, a good man."

"But that isn't all," exclaimed Malchus, "I plan to purchase a piece of land right next to ours for your mother to build a house as well."

"Oh mother did you hear that? You will be able to live right next to us."

Ruth, overwhelmed with the news, felt her eyes welling up with tears as things were turning out better than she could have ever imagined for both her and her daughter. All she could do was look up to heaven and say thank you to her God, Jehovah.

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