Insecure, Hesitant and Unwilling
Lud sat hunched on a bench next to Obed, in the center of the village. He glanced at Eoban who stood before them. They’re going to fight. I know it. He scooted to the edge of the bench.
Eoban faced Obed with his chest out, head up, and feet firmly planted on the ground. “I’m not going to continue in the trade business, and I never travel for fun. I plan to settle down. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get married.” He glanced at a group of women off to the side and grimaced. “Jonas will be so happy.”
Obed rose, slapping his hands to his sides, and faced Eoban. “So why—?”
“I must.” Eoban glanced around and met Lud’s gaze. “You understand, don’t you, Lud?”
Obed stomped closer. “Why are you asking him, since I’ll have to bear the burden—”
Eoban nudged Obed in the shoulder, one eyebrow rising. “A little adventure wouldn’t do you any harm, either.” He turned away. “I don’t trust things as we left them, and besides, Barak has taken responsibility for Ishtar’s sons. They have the right to know what happened to their father.”
Obed’s eyes narrowed as he placed his hands on his waist. “I never had much faith in Ishtar, and his degeneration merely proved his real quality.”
A memory flashed through Lud’s mind…Ishtar patting his arm, comforting and encouraging him on the day they walked away from bondage. Lud straightened and refocused his attention. “It’s true, Ishtar did disgrace himself. But Eoban has a point. When Ishtar helped free the slaves, he defied not only his father but also an evil within that would’ve doomed a lesser man. His bravery and decency saved my life.” He dropped his gaze. “The fact that he fell to the charms of an enchantress was partly my fault. My family rejected him. The insult was more than he could bear.”
Obed flicked his fingers dismissively. “From father to son. Who could trust such a man? I know I can’t!”
Exploding into wild arm waves, Eoban pounded forward. “Obed, you don’t have to trust Ishtar! I just want to find him, and if he’s alive, learn his plans. We’ve got to forge a new future without the fear that he might return someday. Certainly, his sons need to know the truth.”
Obed tilted his head, a wary expression in his eyes. “I never noticed you giving them much attention.”
“I’ve watched and listened. They’re better boys than I had dared to hope. They must’ve inherited their temperaments from their grandmother. They’re nothing like Haruz or even Ishtar, for that matter, though Amin does tend to brood at times. Who wouldn’t under such a cloud? That’s why I must go.”
Obed shrugged. “It’ll be a waste of time, but let’s tell Jonas and see what she has to say.” He strode sedately across the village, toward his wife.
Locking his hands behind his back, Eoban paced before the bench.
Lud glanced at Eoban. “You knew he wouldn’t like the idea. Why didn’t you just go alone on one of your famous journeys? You’re a free man.”
Bending low, Eoban met Lud’s gaze. “Because I don’t know what I am getting myself into, and I’d like traveling companions.”
Lud’s heart lurched into his throat and lodged there.
Obed followed behind Jonas. She marched up to Eoban, her brows furrowed, and her arms swinging like scythes ready for harvest. “What madness! You want to look for Ishtar? A risk for no gain—it’s not like you.”
Standing his ground, Eoban drummed his fingers on his leg. He turned to Obed. “If you’re going to call in Jonas, I’m calling in Namah.” He huffed, clearly put out. “While we’re at it, we’ll call in Barak and Amin…and Caleb too.”
Lud dragged a hand over his mouth, smothering a sigh.
Eoban swung his glare from Obed to Jonas. “What do you say? I’ll gather everyone, and we’ll meet tonight.”
Eoban nudged Obed. “Mind if we convene at your place?”
Obed shrugged. “You’re playing with fire, Eoban. But fine. The outcome will affect us all.”
Lud slipped off the bench and watched as Obed and Jonas strolled away. He turned to Eoban. “Why make this even bigger…and harder?”
Eoban sighed. “It’s not going to get any easier for a long while yet.”
Lud lifted his hands in surrender. “Long as I don’t have to join in your madness.”
Jonas peered at a spectrum of colors ranging from pink to purple. She exhaled a long, slow breath. Tree branches stretched into the sky, creating a vision of contrasts. The black horizon etched the contour of the low hills, while the world around blended all the hues of the universe into one vast sheet of darkness. She murmured under her breath. “If other beings do exist, we’ll learn the truth of it…whether we hope to or not.”
Obed strode up from behind and squeezed her shoulders.
“Chatting to your invisible friend again?”
Jonas stiffened and faced her husband. “A blind man doesn’t know what he can’t see.”
Barak stood outside his house, his thoughts trailing into the distance.
Eoban, silhouetted against the dark sky, strode forward. “Contemplating your existence?”
Barak rubbed his jaw. “As a matter of fact, I was just wishing for warriors.”
Eoban grinned. “Now you’re speaking my language!”
Pointing to the bench, Barak paced before his house. “Sit down, and we can discuss the foolishness of being unprepared.”
Eoban clapped his hands. “You’ve spoken the desires of my heart! But I know a better place…with an appreciative audience. Come, let’s go!”
A sudden pain twitched. Barak rubbed his neck and rolled his shoulders. “What’re you talking about?”
“I am talking about whatever it was you were talking about—but with more details. Don’t argue. Come on! Namah is already waiting, and it’s getting dark.”
“Don’t ask! Just call those two boys. Where are they?” He cast his gaze around the village. “Amin and Caleb?”
“What do you want with them? They’re fine. I’ve never seen them so happy.”
Eoban lifted his hands. “Don’t worry. I’m not about to put them in any danger. We just want to speak with them about their father.”
A rock settled in Barak’s stomach. He glanced at the children playing in the distance. “Amin! Caleb! Hurry up, boys! We have business to attend to.”
Amin and Caleb raced forward, grinning. “Hello, Eoban! Yes, Barak?”
Eoban’s voice boomed. “We have a long journey before us, boys, adventure!”
Amin’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll explain later. If I don’t gather everyone now, it’ll never happen, so hurry.”
The three traipsed to the lake.
Namah sat in a small boat gripping the edges. Eoban ushered the rest in and rowed across the lake at an alarming speed. By the time they reached the shore, the sun had set, and the glowing full moon rose.
Jonas laid wooden trenchers of minced goat meat, bread, honey, olives, dates, cheese and vegetables on a spread cloth. Carafes of spiced wine stood at the center.
Amin and Caleb dispensed with all formality, gathered what they could hold, and ate to their heart’s content. Eoban followed, gesturing for Barak and Obed to hurry.
When everyone had eaten their fill and became acquainted with Eoban’s plan, they fell into silence.
Pacing before them, Eoban clasped his hands behind his back. “So, who will come with me in search of Ishtar?”
Amin stood, his gaze following Eoban. “I will.”
“Then I go too.” Caleb gripped the edge of Amin’s tunic. “To keep you safe.”
Amin pried his brother’s fingers off. “No! You can’t. You’re too little.”
“Don’t leave me!” Caleb broke into sobs.
Jonas hustled closer and wrapped her arms around the child. “Don’t worry, Caleb. You must act like a man now and help keep the home fires burning. Milkan will need you more than ever if Barak is going away.”
The settled rock exploded in Barak’s stomach, and his eyebrows shot up as he glanced around. “Am I going somewhere?”
Jonas peered at Eoban. “If you’re determined to go, then you must take Barak along.” She looked Barak full in the face. “I know you have a lot to do, but please—” She glanced at Eoban. “He might wander places where wiser heads would avoid.”
Eoban winced and snapped a piece of thatch from the low roof. “Thanks for your confidence.”
“Oh, Eoban, you know you want Barak to go. Obed would be of no use. He’d think too much and drive you mad.”
Eoban tapped his fingers together, nodding. “I have no objection to Obed joining us. It might be good to have a thinking man along.”
Rising, Barak tossed a branch on the fire. “Thanks for your confidence.”
Eoban rolled his eyes and threw a stick at Barak.
Obed chuckled. “Contrary to all expectations, I’ll take up the challenge and go with you, Eoban.”
Jonas stared at Obed, her mouth dropping open.
Nausea rising, Barak folded his arms over his chest. “With Ishtar gone, I’ve been the leader of two clans. Would it be right for me to leave? And if Obed leaves…”
Eoban leapt forward. “No better time! Things are peaceful. Harvests have been good. We’re doing well.”
Obed nodded. “We’ll have to appoint someone to lead in our absence.”
Barak wiped sweat off his brow. “Who’s strong enough to manage three clans, wise enough to keep everyone calm, and completely trustworthy?”
All eyes swiveled toward Lud.
Lud raised his hands in protest. “Oh, no! I’m a former slave, and I have no experience. Please, you’d be mad to leave me in charge!”
A gleam sparkled in Eoban’s eyes. “Insecure, hesitant, and unwilling? You have all the qualifications, Lud. Congratulations!”
Lud glanced around with imploring eyes. “Eoban? Obed? Barak! You can’t be serious. Think what this could mean?”
Eoban patted his shoulder. “Lud, can you honestly tell Amin and Caleb that we can’t go in search of Ishtar because you’re afraid of managing things for a few days?”
Lud glanced from Amin’s sober face to Caleb’s red-rimmed eyes.
“Oh, all right.” He shot a glance into the darkness. “But I won’t know what I’m doing.”
Straightening, Barak heaved a long sigh.
The adventure begins where your plans end.
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