3RD PLACE || 2022


by Ruth Shealy


In the busy town of Alexandria stood the lovely, great house of Cicero and his wife, Cecelia. A powerful nobleman, Cicero spent his free time dictating what the city should and shouldn’t do. Surprisingly, he seemed to follow his own rules to perfection.

He had many slaves, one of them a shy, quiet, sad, young girl named Aemilia. She had been taken from her family in Greece several years before, when Cicero had passed through her town with many soldiers. He had taken whom he wanted for slaves but had not taken her family because they had fallen ill in the midst of an epidemic sweeping the town. Aemilia didn’t know whether or not her family was alive, but she loved them very much, and her grief overwhelmed her.

Aemilia’s masters didn’t notice her much, so after her hard day’s work, she would creep into her bed and lie there, sobbing for her and her family’s plight. Gentle and loving at heart, she didn’t try to escape, but worked quietly.

Then one day, life for Aemilia changed.

While she was walking down a busy street, five Roman boys suddenly jumped out and pushed her! She knew that if she tried to fight back, it would make them tease and taunt her even more.

“Stop!” she cried miserably. “Please stop!”

Jeering at her, one of the boys declared, “Ha, fellows! Who does she think she is? No one tells us what to do!”

“We will!” A voice behind Aemilia cried valiantly.

Three Jewish boys stood there, and she stared at them in wonder. Who would dare, with only two companions, face five boys for a young slave girl? She watched with wide eyes as the three faced off the five with words and blows!

The Roman boys lost no time in retreating down the alleyway.

Smiling kindly in Aemilia’s direction, the Jewish boys stood out of breath and panted, but with no great harm done to their bodies.

Aemilia didn’t know what to say and felt awkward.

The tallest of the boys genially stepped forward.

“Hello,” he hesitated. “My name is Benjamin, and these two are Joshua and Matthew.”

Aemilia smiled uncertainly.

“I am Aemilia.”

“Pleased to meet you, Aemilia,” Matthew answered.

“Excuse me, please, but I am only a slave girl.”

Aemilia didn’t like the thought of losing her new friends, so she came forward with the truth about who she was. Joshua and Matthew appeared uncertain, but Benjamin felt pity for this poor girl. He smiled kindly.

The warmth of his smile comforted Aemilia. She had found someone in this city who cared for her. The boys helped pick up the basket that she had been carrying of her purchases, and they parted in friendship.

Aemilia was scolded for her late return, but no other punishment befell her, and her delay was soon forgotten.

While sweeping out her master’s chamber one day, Aemilia opened the closet. She swept calmly and quietly, but one energetic swoop threw her off balance, causing her hair to catch on a door, which flew open, revealing bags of gold! Aemilia closed the door, finished sweeping, and hurried out of the room.

Aemilia rushed through her chores that day to buy herself some time to think. Why would her master have gold hidden in his bedroom? The truth hit her like a hard blow.

Would he? Could he? It must be stolen! Why else would a man keep so much money in his room? Aemilia, wearied from questioning herself, fell into a restless sleep.

She woke early the next morning, slipping out to meet her new friends. Benjamin, Joshua, and Matthew were assembled in the place where they last met. An older girl and boy stood with them, and Benjamin introduced them as his siblings, Susanna and Caleb.

Later, Susanna exclaimed that their father had been robbed of five hundred denarii that past week. Aemilia recounted her discovery while the others listened in outrage.

“How could Cicero do such a thing when he preaches lectures to the people from atop that balcony of his?” Susanna exploded.

“I don’t know,” Aemilia answered. “But he’s definitely not who people think him to be.”

“Why, he is a regular hypocrite!” Caleb cried.

“We should form a plot to expose the truth,” Aemilia whispered.

A week later, Aemilia met her friends again to finish the details of their plan. Benjamin and Matthew would sneak into Cicero’s house, and then distract one of his guards while Cicero lectured. They would then escape through some back alleyway. Caleb and Joshua would distract the other guard in the same fashion, while Aemilia and Susanna would sneak into the house, run to the balcony, and tell the people what Cicero had done.

Their chance came five days later. Cicero put on his magnificent clothing in preparation for a lecture on honesty. He hoped it would go well. His face flushed as he remembered his secret.

When the girls reached the balcony, Aemilia shouted for all to hear, “This man is a hypocrite! He deceives, patronizes, and tricks you into trying to be perfect and honest, when he,” Aemilia pointed at Cicero, who was red with rage, “does not even resist stealing!”

The people gasped, and when Aemilia had finished, they revolted against Cicero.

Cicero and Cecilia threw themselves at Aemilia’s feet, begging for mercy. Aemilia was quick to forgive, and Cicero sent her back to her family. Cicero began to use his influence and money for the poor, and Alexandria was all the better for it.

Once upon a time, a little girl named Ruth lived in the Big Woods of Western Wisconsin with her Pa, her Ma, her two brothers, and her two sisters. She devoured every good book that came her way, and now she loves to write her own stories.