Omir the Storyteller

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Unexpected Dowry


Aldo was a young man in trouble.

His troubles were very personal, and he was reluctant to talk about them. Luckily for him, he had a friend named Nicholas who could tell that something was wrong, and urged him to talk about it.

Finally, after some persuasion, Aldo sat down with his friend to unburden himself. "It's Anna," he said. "We are in love and we want to get married."

"That's wonderful," Nicholas said. "What's the trouble in that?"

Aldo sighed. "The trouble is with Lucian."

Aldo swore his friend to secrecy, and then told his story.

Now before we get into Aldo's story, let me tell you a bit about Nicholas. He was born in the latter half of the third century and lived in the town of Myra, which was in the Roman province of Lycia in what is today the country of Turkey. Nicholas was the son of rich parents who had set him on the path of studying the best books -- and to them, that included the scriptures of a religion banned throughout the Roman Empire. His parents died when he was young, and let him a legacy that included not only a small fortune, but a duty to use it wisely.

And now that we know something about Nicholas and the times he lived in, let's continue with Aldo's story. He told Nicholas of Lucian, Anna's father. Lucian was a merchant, and had recently lost everything due to a bad turn of events. Such men often regain their wealth, and indeed Lucian fully expected to do so, but such things take time, and in the here and now, Lucian had three daughters to support. All three were of marriageable age, and indeed all three had suitors who would marry them at the first opportunity; but in those days a woman was expected to have a dowry before she could marry. Faced with lean times and three mouths to feed, Lucian faced a situation where his daughters might end up having to take up one of the few jobs available to women who needed money and had limited means to get it.

"I see," Nicholas said when Aldo had finished his tale. "Don't worry. God will provide."

Two days later Lucian awoke after yet another night of sleeping fitfully. His troubles had conspired with the hot weather to make it difficult to sleep. He stretched, and then through the haze of sleepiness something caught his eye. It was a bag, sitting underneath a window left open to let the cool night breezes blow through. Lucian went to the bag, and it clinked as he lifted it. The weight and sound of it left no doubt as to what was in the bag -- gold! He open the bag and inside was a note:


Excitedly, Lucian called his oldest daughter over to him and showed him their good fortune. She and her beau were married within the week.

Now of course Lucian told no one what had happened, but it's impossible to keep such things secret, especially when a few days after Maria was married, Lucian heard a loud thump and rattle in the middle of the night. He ran to the window, and there again was a bag. He took the time to look to see whether he could find his mysterious benefactor, but the streets were as dark as they could be during a new moon. Inside Lucian lit a lamp and looked into the bag, and there again was a note:


Of course he called his middle daughter over to him right away. They danced for joy at their good fortune, and again Felicia and her suitor wasted no time in tying the knot.

That left Lucian and Anna, his youngest, but it also left a problem. Word was getting around that sums of money were appearing in the middle of the night in Lucian's home. People started hanging out near his house, watching for signs of unusual activity. Lucian's creditors were beginning to wonder out loud why it was that his daughters suddenly had enough money to be wed when he was unable to pay them. Most did not accept the idea of a stranger in the middle of the night who handed out money unasked and unseen. Roving bands of street youth began searching men wearing voluminous cloaks -- anything big enough, say, to conceal a bag of money.

Every night a group gathered near the merchant's house to watch the windows. After several nights with nothing happening some of the crowd thinned out, but there were always still a dozen or so onlookers.

One night, about two weeks after Felicia had wed, the usual crowd was gathering. There was a full moon out, and the streets were brightly lit. It seemed as though no one would be foolish enough to show up that night, but the watchers had developed into a sort of social club by then and were exchanging the latest theories and ideas on who the donor might be.

Suddenly the air was punctuated by the cry of a boy. "Look! Down there by the river! Someone has just thrown a bag!"

"There he goes!" cried a second voice.

The crowd turned as one and headed toward the sound of the second voice. A half a minute or so later, after he made sure everyone had gone, a cloaked figure walked up to the house, took a bag of coins out from under the cloak, and lobbed the coins into an open window several feet abo2ve the ground.

The figure then turned -- and came face to face with the one person who had not followed the crowd: Lucian.

They stood for a moment, looking at each other, and then Lucian wrapped Nicholas in a grateful embrace.

"You have saved my family," he said through his tears.

"No," corrected Nicholas. "God has saved your family. I'm just the instrument by which He did so."

"Come, let's go before you're discovered," Lucian said. "That was a very clever ruse you arranged."

"Beat pair of silver coins I ever invested," Nicholas laughed. It was a deep, happy laugh, and sounded just a bit like ho, ho, ho.