God Help Me
Tobia watched Ishtar lead the sheep to their watering hole. Exhaustion sapped his strength and sorrow confused his thoughts. A faint light of hope tried to spark, but he could not keep it alight. He glanced down. The pain in his chest should show through…somehow. “Ishtar?”
With his gaze fastened on the sheep, Ishtar coaxed them to the waterhole. “Yes?”
“What happened to Vitus?”
Once the sheep began to lap at the water, Ishtar halted, propped his arm on his staff, and looked at Tobia. “When he lost his mind or when he lost his way in the desert?”
A grimace spread over Ishtar’s face. “I’m the last person you should ask.”
Tobia’s eyes glimmered. “But he’s dead now—gone forever. I should’ve kept a closer eye on him.”
With a quick shake of his head, Ishtar motioned toward a rocky outcropping. He waited for Tobia to shift into the shade and leaned against the cool wall. “When I first came here, I was a shell of a man, not unlike Vitus. I had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. I was dead inside. But Matalah’s kindness rekindled a spark of life within me.”
“Was I not kind enough to Vitus?”
Waving as if to dismiss the thought, Ishtar glanced away. “Matalah gave me the freedom to decide—but I had to make the choice myself. In time, I decided to live and pay back his kindness. Only then could hope flourish.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Apparently, the Creator still has use for me.”
Tobia plopped down on the ground and sat cross-legged. “But it was God who struck down Vitus.”
“Are you sure?”
“Vitus called—demanded—that God speak with him and then lightning struck…”
Ishtar shook his head. “But He did not kill him, did He? Vitus followed in your footsteps for many a day after that.”
“But no one saved him when he wandered into the night. I didn’t even know he was gone until—”
Ishtar’s expression softened. “Tobia, you’re asking what happened between God and Vitus.” He peered over the horizon. “I can’t say and neither can you. All I know is— Matalah could not have saved me unless I wanted him to, and you could not save Vitus for the same reason.”
Pain tightened Tobia’s throat, and tears stung his eyes. “Ishtar?”
Ishtar met his gaze. “Yes?”
Longing tore through Tobia. “I want to go home.”
As a frolicking lamb nuzzled Ishtar’s hand, he patted it. “I’ll show you the way.”
Ishtar entered Matalah’s tent and bowed low.
Taking Ishtar’s hands, Matalah peered into his eyes, his face haggard and lined, looking older than his years. “Though my sons turned to evil, still, I pray on their behalf. May your fortune be better than mine.”
Ishtar blinked back tears. “I love you as I could never have loved my own father.”
Matalah nodded. “God knows…for I surely needed your love, my son.”
Ishtar and Tobia marched out of the tent, into the searing rays of a hot sun.
As they crossed camp, Matalah’s wife hurried forward, her long dress rippling at her sides. She called Ishtar’s name.
Ishtar and Tobia stopped and turned.
Gripping Ishtar’s arm, the petite, gentle woman bowed low. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for our family in our time of distress. I know that you leave with sorrow, but I pray it is not with regret. My husband will never understand his loss, and I’ll never stop grieving my sons, but still, we are grateful for your kindness.”
Ishtar dropped his gaze, a throbbing ache welling inside.
The woman straightened and her grip tightened. “Evil did not conquer you, and it will not conquer us. Go home now and take our blessings with you.”
Ishtar kissed her hands.
With another bow, she turned and hurried away.
Tobia sighed and started forward.
Ishtar circled around the blazing campfire, only glancing at the flames. He turned his gaze to the mountains.
Lud crushed his son in a tight hug, swallowing back a lump in his throat.
Gilbreth reciprocated the hug with equal intensity.
The two younger children whined and cried, scrambling to get a hold of Lud’s arm.
Women worked distractedly in the background, their eyes darting about, their foreheads wrinkled with anxiety.
The men huddled in groups, murmuring in low voices, sharpened weapons in their hands.
Facing his wife, Lud set his jaw against the pain clenching his heart. Unloosing his hands from his children, he wrapped his wife in a gentle embrace and peered over her head. “I was left in charge, and that means in bad times as well as in good. I’ll not let these people fall to slavery and death. I must lead them in this fight.”
Pulling away, Dinah wrung her hands, her eyes imploring. “We could all flee to the caves.”
Lud shook his head. “No, they’d only come looking for us. And I’ll not have our warriors backed into a corner.”
“I won’t go without you.”
“Be strong, Dinah, for my sake. Gilbreth will be at your side to help you.”
Pounding forward, Gilbreth gripped the knife tied at his waist. “But I’m old enough to fight.”
“Then fight selfish desires and learn the power of obedience.”
Dinah stared at the distant mountains and clasped her son’s shoulder. “Where are they coming from?”
Lud ran his fingers through his hair. “No one knows for certain…but rumors say they started from a city on the other side of the mountain.”
Dinah squinted. “That is a very long way.”
“They must be strong people.”
Turning, Dinah met her husband’s gaze. “Strong once…but the further they get from the mountains, the weaker they become.”
Lud considered her words, one eyebrow rising. “They’re far from the source of their strength.”
Lud nodded, admiration for his wife’s thinking growing by leaps and bounds.
A large gathering of clansmen marched forward, heading straight for Lud.
Taking a deep breath, Lud turned to them. He murmured under his breath. “God, help me.”
“You can turn your troubles into trust when you choose worship over worry.”
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