Her father named her for a story. After a woman who strode into the enemy camp for the sake of her people, armed with honeyed words and a silver sword; a woman who returned to her people clad in enemy blood, carrying the general’s head as a trophy. And she was called most blessed, among all the women of the earth.
Judith does not know what lesson she was meant to take from the tale. The one she gets is: Someday, Adonai will send you a battle. Be ready to wield the sword.
But no one will give an adolescent girl a sword, so she makes do with a pair of sharpened daggers hidden beneath her cloak. The Sicarii teach her to stab, quick and clean as a needle, and then retreat, melt away into the crowd. No one suspects the demure Jewish girl, and she hides behind her mitpachat the way her namesake hid behind her ornaments.
All the Sicarii ask in return is that she hate the Romans, and that is easy enough—the brutish centurions, with their filthy stares; the fatted merchants with their greasy smiles and false devotion in temple; the Herodians, who must be nearly bent double in order to wrap their lips around Rome’s thick—
(And woe to the nations that rise up against her kindred.)
Judith is out walking when one of the many prophets in the square catches her eye. She does not know why she stops for him—there is nothing remarkable about his face, nor his speech. His is the same empty rhetoric of repent, repent, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (Why do they say “at hand,” she wonders, when it always seems to hover, a little out of reach? And why do the prophets merely speak of it, rather than fighting for it, shedding blood for it?)
She is about to walk on, to leave him. But then the dust-roughened prophet looks straight at her, a smile playing about his lips. I am the way, the truth, and the life, he says, his voice almost—almost—lost in the bustling square. No man come unto the Father, but by me.
Judith’s heart pounds, her ears ringing with the sound of distant trumpets. Adonai has called her forth, and Judith is finally ready to draw her sword.