Slave girl

The slave girl from Jerusalem is a book in the series.Set in december 80ad.


Jonathan's sister, Miriam, is approached by Hepzibah, a girlhood friend from Jerusalem. Hepzibah is in serious trouble. Formerly a slave owned by the wealthy landowner Dives, she claims that she was manumitted (set free), but Dives has just died, and his heir, Nonius Celer, says he has no proof of her freedom and insists on keeping her as part of the estate.

Miriam asks Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus, to help prove Hepzibah is free. But they have barely started investigating when the town is upset by a series of murders: first, Papillio, one of the town Decurions, and then Mercutor, a freedman on Dives's (now Celer)'s estate.

Before long, Celer brings charges against Hepzibah for murder. His theory is that the Decurion would have confirmed that she was never set free; and the freedman must have suspected that Dives didn't die of natural causes – Hepzibah killed him. She had a motive: Dives was a soldier (as was Celer's father) in the legions that sacked Jerusalem during the Great Revolt.

Hepzibah is tried in the basilica; the children's old friend, Pliny offers to help, but withdraws quickly when Celer retains the legendary orator Quintilian to present his case. The children turn to their other friend, aspiring lawyer Gaius Valerius Flaccus ("Floppy").

During the first day in court, however, things do not go well; Quintilian is polished and smooth, while Flaccus's speech comes off as rehearsed and insincere. The evidence against Hepzibah is strong: witnesses say that Dives wanted to marry her, but she ran away, screaming that she hated him. Hepzibah is forced to admit this is true. Moreover, the two murder victims were killed by someone unfamiliar with a sword, most likely a woman.

Even worse, the children's old ally, local magistrate Marcus Artorius Bato, appears as a witness for Celer, and does everything possible to slander Hepzibah and her friends, including the children and every member of their family. Elsewhere, Celer's agents have been digging up dirt against the children to discourage them from helping Hepzibah, and Nubia is forced to go into hiding when it is revealed that her own manumission was not legally completed.

Before he died, Papillio managed to whisper a clue to Nubia to "find the other six." At first, Flavia believes that this is a reference to the siege of Masada, of which there were only seven survivors, including Hepzibah. But then she realizes that, under Roman law, a will requires seven witnesses. The two murder victims must have been witnesses to Dives's real will, and they have to find the other five.

On the second day, Flaccus rallies and gives a riveting oration, while Lupus and Jonathan search the town for the real will. But in the middle of the trial, Flavia solves the case, and whispers the solution to Flaccus, who is so overjoyed that he kisses her in full view of the gallery.

What really happened was: Celer knew he had been cut out of Dives's will, so he killed Dives and forged a will, then tried to eliminate the seven witnesses to the real will. Hepzibah had to be silenced, because Celer suspected that she might be one of the seven, or even that Dives's real will left the estate to her.

The proof? Flavia realizes that the wounds on Papillio and Mercutor's bodies show that they were both killed by a left-handed man – which also explains the killer's unfamiliarity with a sword, since left-handed men are not allowed to serve in the Roman army. Flaccus demonstrates, then points out that Celer is left-handed.

For the finale, Lupus and Jonathan deliver the copy of Dives's real will, which Flaccus reads aloud to confirm that Celer had a motive:

  • the estate is left not to Celer, but to one of Dives's Jewish freedmen;
  • Hepzibah's freedom is confirmed, and she is left a sizable portion of the income from the estate;
  • a similarly sizable portion is left to the synagogue in Ostia;
  • in mockery, Dives leaves a pittance to the sycophants and fortune-hunters who have surrounded him all his life, and to his so-called friend, Celer, nothing except a coil of rope, "with which he may hang himself."

The will also names the seven witnesses to it, including the murdered men.

Trapped, Celer confesses, but angrily says that he had a better claim to the estate than anyone else: Dives built his fortune using a relic looted from the Temple of Jerusalem; Celer's father saved Dives's life, at the cost of his own, when they were both trapped by a fire in the Temple; in exchange, Dives promised to make the elder Celer's family his heirs, but selfishly changed his mind later.

Hepzibah is acquitted, and several citizens step forward to bring suit against Celer. It is revealed that Bato received a large sum of money from Celer in exchange for his testimony. Quintilian, impressed by Flaccus's speech (and not at all abashed at having represented a murderer in court) offers Flaccus an apprenticeship with him in Rome.

But the novel ends on a tragic note: Miriam dies in childbirth at the age of fifteen, giving birth to her twin sons.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).