“THE COUPLE WHO BROUGHT HER SAID they found her on the side of the road and knew nothing about her,” Father Elijah explained to Lady Isabella “Bella” d’Ibelin. “I’m not sure if they were telling the truth . . .”
“You think she was their own child?” Bella asked, going down on her heels to be at the same level as the little girl. Bella was only 19 and was dressed in a simple russet linen gown with a surcoat of unbleached cotton that hung loosely over her well-padded figure. She wore no jewelry and her hair was modestly covered by a gauze veil that shielded her throat. Although she had not yet taken holy orders, she had avowed her intention to do so—as soon as her father, the powerful Lord of Beirut, agreed.
The child looked like she was four or five. She had big brown eyes that stared at Bella solemnly, while her hands fussed with her unruly reddish-brown hair.
The Maronite priest reached out with gentle fingers to lift one of the little girl’s curls, revealing an ugly gash on the side of her head.
Bella gasped and looked more closely. Dried blood caked the hair around a swollen, jagged cut. She looked up with horrified eyes at the priest and he nodded. “She’s been abused, I think. The couple that brought her may be relatives or just neighbors that, knowing she was being mistreated, wanted to get her away from whoever was beating her.”
Bella smiled at the little girl and asked in Arabic, “Do you want to come with me? I think you need a bath and a clean dress, don’t you?” The child was in filthy rags and dust caked her bare feet and calves. Now that attention had been drawn to the blow to her head, Bella noticed that her dress was torn at the knees, revealing skin covered with scabs. She had probably fallen down when she was hit or when she had tried to run from her tormentor.
“I doubt she speaks Arabic,” Father Elijah told Bella. “She has not spoken a word to me yet, and many of the mountain villagers still speak Syriac.”
Bella looked at the old priest helplessly. She had mastered Arabic as a child because it was the language of many native Christians in Beirut, but Syriac was a language she’d had no exposure to.
Father Elijah smiled at her. “Kindness is its own language, my lady. All I ask is that you take her to the good sisters at the orphanage of Saint Martha.”
“Of course I will, Father,” Bella answered.
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