On Family Trust

by Baroness Aliyah bat Asriel ben Gilead

My father, Asriel ben Gilead, lied.

He made me marry. As his only daughter, I was brought to live with him in Jerusalem after the death of my mother when I was but six years old. Father had made arrangements to live his dream of living in the Holy Land, of making "aliyah" or a pilgrimage. That is why I have such an unusual name; he left shortly after I was born. It was his intention to bring my mother and I to live with him after he and my brothers established the business. He did not want my mother to travel so far with an infant. Unfortunately, she died before he was able to bring us to him. To his credit, he started for home the minute he got word of her illness, but he did not get there in time. He found me in the care of his dear friend ben Cormac who was in England introducing his new wife, Miriam, from Jerusalem to his family. Father never let me out of his sight from the moment he found me.

I traveled all over with him and many times acted as an interpreter to assist in business when Europeans came to him to deal. He loved to tease and took delight in not letting such traders know he spoke English as well as Aramaic, French, Italian, Gaelic, and Greek. He taught me languages as well as how to read and scribe. He often spoke of sympathy for my future husband regarding my lack of feminine skills. I always made him promise that he would not make me marry and besides, scripture says a wife should do good business for her husband and that I knew how to do. I was busy enough caring for him and his business. He would shake his head and ask for dinner. I had somehow learned to be an excellent cook.

One day, my father’s friend ben Cormac came to visit with his nephew, Áindle Ó Diarmada. Uncle Loki, as I’d always called ben Cormac, was a merchant trader and our link to trade in Europe and the Isles. Loki returned with his wife to live in Jerusalem shortly after my father brought me from England and has been a constant in our lives since. I am great friends with his wife, Miriam, who is only 7 years older than I.

Uncle Loki introduced Áindle and the men spent some time together drinking coffee and smoking pipes as is customary in this area. I saw Uncle Loki and his nephew several times over the next few weeks, but I kept my distance. Something was being planned by Loki and my father and I knew from experience to stay clear of their jokes. Little did I know.

To do business in an honorable and reasonable manner, it very important to establish relationships. So I was not surprised when after about a month of visits I heard Uncle Loki explain that Áindle desired to purchase camels. Now I knew why my father had suddenly paid the exorbitant amount of 40 silver denari each for the two smelly, sneaky beasts he’d brought home after the last time Loki and he were together. I knew my father’s businesses: sheep, fine textiles and spices, but I knew nothing of camels and my father had given them to me "as an investment."

This is how I happened to be standing outside my father’s tent wearing my oldest brothers robes. I had spent the morning retrieving the two nasty devils from the wash tent which they had managed to destroy. I had to grab a set of my brother’s robes after the larger of the two demons tried to eat me and I ended up in the wash tub. I could hear my father, Loki and Áindle discussing the purchase of my camels. I know it is not polite to listen through tent walls, but they are not hard to hear through. It soon became clear to me they were not negotiating camels! They were talking marriage and that meant me. It did not take long to figure out the foul four-legged brutes were a part of my dowry and tied to a bride-price of 200 silver denari. I was being sold as camels. So, even though I hated the camels and was sure they only wanted to eat me, I grabbed their ropes and the three of us left. Let them get cheated at the market. They could keep it in their family.

We went to Loki’s home since I knew the traitors would camp on my father’s lands until the deal was finalized. I told Miriam what I had heard and she laughed. It turned out that she knew what her husband - the snake - and my father - the viper - were planning. She told me it was past time and I should be glad to have such a match made for me. Apparently Áindle had been staying with them when not traveling and she was quite in favor of the deal. I felt lost and hopeless.

Miriam told me she would not force me and I could stay as long as I wanted. My father came with Loki that night. I refused to see or speak to him. They spoke quietly with Miriam and left. This pattern of events repeated itself several times over the following week. On the seventh evening my father came alone and Miriam insisted I speak with him. She left us alone. After several hours of negotiation (he taught me too well, he said), I agreed to his plan. I would return to his tent in the morning with the sand-blasted fiends.

The two camels were loaded and standing, like camels, outside my father’s tent when Áindle and Loki arrived. The viper presented the snake with the marriage contract. Loki carefully read it and declared it good. He turned to Áindle and said they had a deal.

My father called me to him and removed my brother’s head scarf - I had not been allowed out of my father’s sight since my return and so had not been able to change clothes. I had refused Miriam’s offer of clothing just because I felt betrayed by her as well and wanted no obligations. I looked at my father and saw no sadness, which angered me. He was happy for me and I was angry. There ensued a brief, whispered, well maybe not so brief, discussion with lots of arm flailing by my father. Eventually, I gave in, as he knew I would - I had to try. I turned my back on my father and stomped over to stand by my husband-to-be. My father signed the contract as did Áindle. We then proceeded to the city for the wedding.

The ceremony went forward without much ado. Loki translated for Áindle - like he needed translation - he was just like my father! I have to admit, he played the bewildered simpleton quite well, but I had faith that my father would not be that cruel. I hoped I was right. After the marriage was complete, we returned to my father’s lands. I imagine the men felt a celebration was in order. I did not.

So, for the past 25 years, I have been sharing Áindle’s tent and traveling with him. We have four lovely daughters, but alas, no sons. They all read and scribe and are quite good at business. I have promised them all they can choose their own husbands. Though I will never admit it to my father, he did not do badly for me. Áindle has given me great freedom and has treated me as an equal.

You can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered my husband truly did not know we were married. He has been very good to me. I have begun to teach him Aramaic. I think I will soon produce our marriage contract for him to practice reading. I can’t wait!

So beware, purchasing a camel or two in the Kingdom of Jerusalem is expensive for the inexperienced. It helps to know the people and customs of the area. I tease Uncle Loki that he made a better deal for Áindle than for my father. He always laughs and pats me on the head when I say that.

Oh yes, we now have 12 camels with which my brothers run a transport business. We’ve kept it in the family.

Aliyah and Áindle's wedding website