When Ethan’s wagon rolls to a stop Mary kneels down in front of me, so close that her knees are brushing against my paws. She places her two hands on my head.
“Tobias, Tobias,” she says, “don’t ever let other people tell you who you are. Their mirrors are so cloudy and distorted, the images all twisted by their own fears and misunderstandings. Your one true reflection is in the eye of your Creator. Oh, Tobias, in the beginning God saw all that was and all that would ever come into being. That’s when your own Creator said, ‘It is very good.’” Her fingers are tickling the fur behind both of my ears, and everything fits together, her words and the dance of creation and the feel of her hands on my head. It is all very good, and I am once again balanced in my proper place.
Then a shrill little voice calls out, “You, Girl, let me see that dog!”
There is a child standing behind the wagon. The setting sun flashes on the gold trim of her small sandal as she stamps her foot. “Now!, she shouts, and stamps her foot again. I have seen this one before, on the first day on the job when we met the caravan leader. She is the man’s daughter, and she is nine years old.
Mary rises from the ground in one graceful motion. Facing the child, she says, “Hello. I am called Mary.”
The girl says, “I didn’t ask for your name, I said I want to see the dog.”
Mary responds to this rudeness by smiling, stretching out her arm in my direction and saying, “Well, here he is. Behold!”
“I don’t want to see him just standing around looking stupid,” the girl snaps. “They say he ran with the speed of an eagle and attacked a whole band of robbers and left their bodies all torn to pieces and covered with blood. Everyone was teasing me because I missed it. So I want to see him attack something.”
Mary turns in a circle and looks all around. She says, “Sorry, I don’t see any bandits anywhere. Maybe later.”
“Not later. Right now!”, and the girl’s foot stamps the ground again. She is not an interesting child. She is rude and repetitive. I yawn and lie down.
She walks over to me and pokes at my paw with her little sandal. She does not seem afraid, and I am tempted to snap at her tiny exposed toes to correct her behavior. But Mary is still smiling, so I lay my head down and ignore the irritating pup.
“If there aren’t any bandits he’ll have to attack something else. Tell him to kill one of those donkeys over there,” she demands.
I raise my head from its resting place and focus on the child. I am not fond of donkeys, but I have a code of honor. Roman war dogs do not run wild and harm innocent non-combatants, especially not on the orders of small and annoying children. And besides, my friend Ethan loves these donkeys as if they were his own sons and daughters.
Mary’s smile is gone now, and her face is troubled. “These donkeys are God’s creatures, and they serve us well and faithfully. If anything happened to them their owner wouldn’t be able to make a living, and he’d have to go hungry. .And besides, he really loves them, so it would make him very sad. Please think carefully. Do you truly mean to harm them?”
The child turns toward Mary and the small foot stamps down again, her heel so close to my mouth I can almost taste it. “You heard me, Girl”, she shouts. “Command your dog to attack. How dare you question me! My father is the leader of this whole big caravan, and you’re nothing but an old woman’s servant!”
I send out a low warning growl, but Mary stops me with a look. She gets down on one knee in front of the child and bows her head. “What you say is true,” Mary says. “I am a servant, a handmaid with no earthly power at all.” Now Mary raises her head and looks up into the eyes of the child. “I serve the Lady in the wagon, but there is a Lord all of us serve, you and I included, and His command is mercy and kindness. This is the command I follow, and I know this command is planted in your own heart, too, if you seek for it. This is my prayer for you, that you will find mercy and kindness hidden within you.”
The child stands perfectly still, and Mary and I wait in silence. Suddenly the girl begins to make a sound like a screech-owl. She breaks and runs, and her wailed words fade as she dashes away. “I’m telling! I’m telling my father! You’ll be sorry! You’ll be so, so sorry.”