There are seven steps to the temple entrance. I stand at the bottom, knowing there is still time. I could step out of the line, run back to the city, back to my mother and father, to my older brother. And then I'd be safe.
The noonday sun is hot. Drops of sweat run down my body; I'm naked beneath my white linen shift. But when I take the first step, the stone is cold under my bare feet. I can hear the whispering of the wind in the leaves in the trees above me. The shadow of the tall wooden pillar of Asherah falls across my shoulders, and I shiver.
Another step, and another. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Tamar; a small smile touches her lips. She has none of my fears. Another step. I can feel power coming, flowing like a river out from the door of the temple. Another step. The power curls around me like a snake; I can feel it vibrating. I look again at Tamar. Even her eyes are strong. Another step. Without looking, she reaches out, grabs my hand. We take the last step and enter the temple together. It is done.
The courtyard was dark and cool after the hot Jerusalem streets; Judith stood in the doorway and let her eyes grow accustomed to the dimness. She had changed her clothes and rolled her temple shift up tight like a scroll; she clutched it to her and tiptoed across the tiles to the stairs.
"Judith?" Her father's voice stopped her. "You've been out?"
"Yes, Father." Judith turned around. Her heart was beating like the temple drum. Had she interrupted him? Did he suspect? One didn't bother the high priest of Solomon's temple with trifles, even if he was your own father. She watched him come towards her.
"I'm sorry I disturbed you," she said, keeping her voice steady, trying to sound as strong as she had felt in the temple, trying to hold onto that feeling of power.
Her father shook his head. "No matter," he said. But Judith saw the lines gather above his eyebrows, and the cold gleam in his eye, and she trembled.
"You've been to the bazaar." He nodded, and then gave her a sharp glance. "You took Tamar with you, I assume."
"Of course, Father," she said, struggling to keep her voice low and properly respectful. She lifted her head, tossing her long dark hair back over her shoulder in one quick, impatient motion. He father was always treating her like a helpless child. But she let the lie stand. It would go much worse for her if he knew where she'd really been. And she did take Tamar with her. That part, anyway, was truth.