—Grassland— Begin Again
Jonas, in a simple gray dress with her black hair flowing over her shoulders, cupped her hands around her mouth and called. “Onia! Where are you?” Anxiety fluttered in her chest.
Curious villagers weaving baskets, stirring bubbling cooking pots, tending to lines of dried fish, and other daily tasks swung glances her way.
After circling around her large thatched dwelling, she heaved an exasperated sigh and brushed strands of hair out of her sweaty face. Strolling through the dusty village of rounded huts and storage sheds, she continued the hunt for her youngest son.
Several heads lifted. Smiles crinkled in the corners of eyes, and lips curved in response to her plaintive quest.
A short, plump woman straightened before her loom and rubbed the small of her back. “If you find your son, maybe, you could find mine also? Send him home if you do.”
One grandmother called out in cheerful teasing. “Lose that youngest one again?”
Jonas controlled an urge to roll her eyes and merely shrugged.
The old woman pointed south. “When Eoban returns, he’s like the rain after a long drought—they flock to see what he’s brought and hear the news. I’ve seen many pass by this morning.”
Turning her head aside, Jonas caught her loose hair and braided it into a tight bun. She wrapped it with a dark woolen tie she pulled from her belt, squared her shoulders, and trudged on.
As the sun beat down, sweat trickled down her back. Her irritation building to the breaking point, she scowled. When she reached the edge of the village, a cacophony of voices met her ears, deepening her scowl. What on earth—?
Numerous boys and young men bustled around the framework of a new dwelling. Each youth appeared busy with a task. Two stacked mud bricks by an unfinished wall, three thatched a low roof, one braced a stout door, while two others dragged a wooden bench to the shaded side of the house.
Jonas stared, and her mouth fell open. As her gaze wandered, she found Onia, high on a rafter, patting thatch firmly into place. Her lips pursed, and she glanced about. Where is—
Eoban’s voice rose above the tumult.
With a quick shake, Jonas marched around to the back of the dwelling. She blocked the sun from her eyes.
His broad muscular shoulders barely covered by a sleeveless tunic, one hairy arm akimbo, and the other waving like a leaf in the wind, Eoban’s bushy beard moved in time with his words. His face crinkled in a grin. “Keep working, boys. That roof won’t thatch itself. Watch yourself there, son. Lay those bricks carefully. They’re worth all the time and energy it took to make them.”
Jonas’s hand dropped to her side as tension seeped from her body.
“No, be careful there, Malib! If you don’t do it just right, you’ll end up like a man I knew in Asher.” Eoban scratched his beard and propped one hand on a post. “He built his house so quickly; he thought he was a god, and everyone spoke of the marvel. Until the rains came and woke him from a sound sleep.”
Eoban turned his voice high and squeaky. “‘Never mind, I’ll fix it tomorrow.’” His voice returned to its usual rumble. “Then a cold wind blew and his walls cracked.” High and squeaky again. “‘I’ll take care of that in the morning.’”
Eoban spat on the ground. “Finally, the ground shifted, and the fool was just about to close his eyes—when the house fell in.”
The boys chuckled, all eyes fastened on Eoban.
Jonas’s irritation vanished with a laugh. She strolled over to Eoban. “You’re a wise teacher, my friend.” She swept her hand in the direction of the new dwelling. “Have you decided to move? Or do you build with someone else in mind?”
With a teasing sneer, Eoban waved her questions away. “No and no.”
Jonas poked his arm in mock severity, her tension rising again. “Don’t make me angry, Eoban. Tell me, why is every boy, including my son, helping you make a new house?”
Eoban stared at the sky, shrugged, and clasped Jonas’s arm. He led her aside, out of earshot of the bustling workers.
A gentle wind rippled the grass, and the smell of ripening wheat filled the air. A hawk soared across the sky and screeched as it dove toward a grove of trees in the distance.
“All right, I’ll tell you, but I wanted it to be a surprise.” Straightening, Eoban met Jonas’s gaze and puffed out his chest. “Lud and his family are moving here. They’ll be my neighbors.”
Her skin tingling pleasantly, Jonas inhaled. “Lud? And his family? That’s wonderful!” She squeezed Eoban’s massive hand. “I am so glad!”
Eoban grinned, his eyes beaming with joy.
With a quick pat, Jonas dropped his hand and stared over the horizon. “I only hope—”
Images flashed into her mind: Ishtar struggling with Haruz, and then her bloody body sprawled on the ground. Jonas swallowed and wrapped her arms around her middle. “After that awful night, I was afraid he’d never return. You know he only came for Pele. He couldn’t reconcile himself to her death.”
Eoban’s gaze floated west, across the river toward Ishtar’s village. “I wonder where he is now?”
She shivered. “She’s dead, and he’s gone. That’s all we need to know. I’m still frightened by the memory of that night. I’ll never forget it.”
Eoban ran his hand through his thick, disheveled hair. “It still baffles me too. But then, I never pretended to understand such things.”
“I had hoped that Lud would help Ishtar, but he left as quickly as he came.”
Eoban snorted and glanced into the sky. “No one could’ve helped Ishtar. Lud was right to return home.” He shifted his gaze to Earth and squeezed Jonas’s shoulder. “Lud’s a smart man—even though he is too skinny.” A smile twitched his lips.
Rolling her shoulders to release the tension yet again, Jonas faced Eoban. “So why does he want to move here, so near you, of all people?”
Eoban rubbed his nose like an abashed child and glanced about. “He never fit in back home. He’s seen too much, been too many places. He likes to welcome strangers and travel. His people don’t understand. They’re so suspicious. Even when I visited, they glared at me—like I was a monster from the deep. Can you imagine!”
A villager strolled by and waved.
Jonas waved back, glancing at Eoban. “Well, you’ve been known to intimidate even—”
Eoban raised an eyebrow and turned back to the half-finished structure. “We’re lucky that Lud married well. Dinah is a sensible, hardworking girl. They have three children all ready. Lud wants to enjoy the world as a gift, not a threat.”
Jonas chimed in, “A gift from God.”
With a noncommittal shrug, Eoban lifted a load of thatch and balanced it over his shoulder. “They’ll be good neighbors. Obed agrees. He says Lud is a unifying force since he’s been the slave of one clan, the rescuer of another, and a friend to all.”
Dropping the thatch against the west wall, Eoban lowered his voice. “I’ll stay closer to home now anyway. There’s more to life than trading and riches.” His eyebrows danced as his head tilted toward the assembly. “Someone has to train up the youth. Good warriors are good workers first.”
A cool wind swept through, and relief spread over Jonas, relaxing every muscle in her body. Affecting nonchalance, she suppressed an exuberant smile and merely nodded.
A shout and a sharp yelp turned every head.
Eoban jogged forward as a crowd gathered under a hole in the roof.
Jonas skirted around with one trembling hand clasped over her mouth and the other over her pounding heart.
Onia lay on the ground, peering through a mask of straw and mud. He attempted a brave grin. “Just slipped through a little hole.”
Eoban cleared his throat as he glanced from the broken roof to the boy. “Tell me, Onia, do you remember what I told you about laying thatch?”
Onia blinked, his mouth dropping open.
Eoban waved a finger, his voice rising. “What happens to the foolish builder?”
Onia’s eyes screwed up as he recited from memory. “Without a strong frame, the builder builds in vain.”
“Yes, that’s right.” Eoban swiped straw from the boy’s hair and pulled him to his feet. “Now go make bricks.”
Onia glanced at his mother and shrugged helplessly.
Jonas sighed as she watched her youngest son amble off to his next duty, knowing full well that by the time he got home, he would be too tired to be of any use to her.
She gripped Eoban’s arm. “You may have him until noon, but then I need him back. I have work for him as well. And feel free to tell your workers a little story about boys who help their mothers being the best of sons.”
Jonas and Eoban locked eyes in a struggle for dominance. Eoban broke first, and they both grinned.
Jonas turned toward home and peered over her shoulder. “You might want to check this house before Lud moves in, or he’ll be in for a few surprises.”
Eoban folded his arms high across his chest and surveyed his confused crew. He called after Jonas. “They do great work—you’ll see!” He nodded to the boys and lifted his hands like a warrior readying his men for battle.
Jonas walked backward, watching and grinning.
A fresh smile broke over Eoban’s face. “Back to work, everyone. Did I ever tell you about the Sun Keepers? No? Well, there’s a lesson in perseverance, let me tell you! You see, long ago…”
Jonas turned and strolled toward home, her arms swinging at her side.
For more of OldEarth Ishtar Encounter chapter two checkout Amazon Kindle books and paperbacks by A. K. Frailey.
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