For All the Trouble You’ve Caused
Eoban wiped his sweaty brow and came to a dead halt. “I’ve made a mistake.”
“What?” Tromping in front, Barak waved an insect away.
Eoban cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted, “I made a mistake!”
Barak stopped and turned around, frowning. “About what?”
“I should’ve gone with Obed. He won’t be able to find Amin. He’ll wander around the hills for years if I don’t help him.”
“Are you out of your mind? We’ve been traveling for hours! Obed is long gone in the opposite direction. Besides, what if there’s trouble at home?”
Eoban shook his head, feeling very much like a disgruntled bull. “You’ll find the way easily enough from here, and we’ve plenty of warriors to hold off an enemy until I get back.” He peered at the sky. “I’ll find Obed and get the boy.”
Barak snorted. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“Oh, all right, go on then. But look for Amin first. Frankly, I’ll be relieved if you do. I haven’t been so sure of Obed ever since he stepped out of that temple. In the meantime, I’m making a beeline for home.” Barak sighed as he shoved his bag high over his shoulder. “I’ll hold everything together until you return. Lud is probably ready to take my head off for being gone so long.”
“Jonas and Milkan, too, I imagine.”
“Always ready to offer a bit of comfort, aren’t you?”
“It happens to be the truth.” Eoban stepped forward and pounded Barak on the back. “Get going! I’ve lost enough time. It’ll be dark soon, and you know what happens in the dark.”
Barak swung his staff at a trailing vine. “Sing and nothing with any sense will bother you.”
Eoban turned away, muttering. “Who has sense these days?”
Eoban had not traveled far and wide for so many years without learning a few things. The next day, he found Luge’s new settlement. When he walked into the village, Luge strode forward, arms extended, ready to greet him.
They embraced like brothers, their eyes dancing in mutual amusement.
Luge called over his shoulder. “Lufti! Go find Amin. Tell him he’s finally going home.”
Eoban nodded at the boy. “There’s a tall handsome youth!”
Luge led the way to his hut, grinning. “Like his father, no doubt.”
As Lydia stepped outside, Luge waved at Eoban. “Meet the man who led me to my son!”
Wide-eyed, Lydia wiped her hands on her skirt and glanced from her husband to Eoban, her face flushing. “I owe you my life.”
Eoban gripped Luge’s shoulder. “Not at all. Your husband did the hard part. I just wandered where wise men wouldn’t go.” He met Lydia’s gaze. “I’m glad my foolishness paid a good return.”
Amin raced forward and skidded to a halt in front of Eoban, water dripping down his body.
Luge laughed. “You could’ve dried yourself!”
Amin grabbed Eoban’s arm, glancing around. “Where’s my father? Did you find—?”
Rubbing his forehead, the joy in Eoban faded like a plucked flower. “I’m sorry, Amin. We looked for him in the Stone City and even in the temple…but he wasn’t to be found.”
Frowning, Amin dropped Eoban’s arm. “Where’s Obed…and Barak?”
Eoban shrugged. “Obed was supposed to be here—to collect you.” He shook his head. “But, as I suspected, he must’ve gotten lost.”
Worry lines formed around Luge’s face. “And Barak?”
“He was in a hurry to get home…so he went on ahead.” He shifted his gaze to Amin. “There’s still light to see by, and I want to find Obed before he’s eaten by squirrels. So we best—”
Amin dug his toes into the dirt. “We’ll go home without my father?”
Eoban dropped his head onto his chest. “Listen, I’ve lost just about everyone on this journey.” He looked up. “Now I want to find Obed and get you home safe.”
With lips pursed tight, Amin nodded.
As they turned to go, Lufti stepped up and handed Amin a beautifully carved spear. “I would not be free today had you not convinced my father to enter the Stone City.”
Clasping his fingers around the ornate weapon, Amin’s eyes shone. “I didn’t do anything except act as a pest.” He smiled at Lufti. “But I’m glad you’re home safe” —he glanced from Luge’s kind face to Lydia’s gentle smile— “with your father and mother.” He faced Eoban, squaring his shoulders. “I’m ready.”
Eoban lifted his hand in salute to Luge. “Keep the enemy at bay and prosper on your next hunt.”
Luge’s eyes clouded. “There are rumors that the enemy is heading into new territory.” He frowned. “Watch your back.”
“If I can find my clansmen, I’ll die a happy man.”
“You do know where you’re going?”
“I know the way home. Surely, Obed’s headed that way by now. After all, he has eyes and can find the sun, can he not?” Turning, Eoban shifted his bag over his shoulder and flung an arm over Amin’s shoulder. “So, my boy, you ready to sing?”
Eoban marched into his village scowling. “Where is everyone?”
Amin trotted at his side, also scowling. “It’s much too quiet.”
Suddenly, Tannit pelted across the compound at full speed, shouting. “Eoban, you’re home! We’ve been worried sick.”
Dropping his bag to the ground, Eoban crossed his arms like a barricade as the boy skidded to a halt. “What’s happened? Where’s—?”
Tannit heaved a deep breath. “Enemies are on our doorstep, and the women and children have fled to the caves.” He glanced at Amin. “Hi, Amin! Glad you made it home safe.” His grin widened. “Your father’s been so anxious—”
Eoban choked. “Tannit? Do you realize who this is?”
Pursing his lips primly, Tannit glared at Eoban. “Of course! It’s Amin, Ishtar’s son.” He tipped his head toward the center of the village. “Ishtar’s been helping with preparations and watching over Tobia, who’s had a rough time of it. What, with Vitus getting himself killed and all. And then Obed being taken captive—”
Amin’s mouth dropped open. He glanced wide-eyed at Eoban.
Eoban, hot, frustrated, and confused, wondered if he would, in fact, boil over like an overheated stew. “Tannit, sometimes you—”
Amin cut in front of Eoban and grabbed Tannit’s arm. “Ishtar is here?”
Pointing, Tannit nodded. “Just over there, taking council with Lud.”
Eoban wrung his hands like a man practicing to wring a neck. “You said something about Obed?”
“You’d better ask Tobia. He saw Obed trussed up beside other prisoners taken by the enemy.”
Gripping Amin’s trembling shoulder, Eoban stared hard at Tannit. “Take us to Lud and Ishtar.” He swallowed a hard lump in his throat. “Then find Barak. I might need to apologize…”
Tannit waved as he turned. “Lud and Ishtar are over there.” He glanced back. “But no one’s seen Barak.” He winced. “I’m afraid Milkan will have strong words for you two.”
Eoban closed his eyes and stomped forward, gripping Amin hard enough to keep the boy from flying ahead.
At the sight of Ishtar and Lud standing together in conversation, Eoban felt the ground shift under his feet. His vision blurred. He gripped Amin’s shoulder tighter and leaned down to eye level. “Wait a moment. I want to speak to Ishtar alone first.”
Crossing his arms and clenching his jaw, Amin stood his ground. “Make it fast. I have something to say too.”
Eoban threw back his shoulders and strode forward.
Ishtar and Lud glanced over. Both sets of eyes widened. Lud exhaled a long breath and grinned.
Ishtar stood ramrod stiff.
Stepping up, Eoban met Lud’s eyes, his tone as dry as parched corn. “Glad you kept things well in hand while I was gone, Lud.”
Eoban turned his attention to Ishtar. “Ishtar, I’ve been looking for you.”
Ishtar nodded, his gaze fixed on Amin standing in the background. “So I heard.”
Like a dry stick about to snap, Eoban clenched his jaw, his teeth ready to crack under the pressure.
Ishtar turned his full attention to the warrior before him. “Do with me as you will.”
Lud stepped back and beckoned to Amin.
Amin ran to Lud’s side.
Swallowing, Eoban glared at Ishtar. “What under the sun does that mean? I’d like to beat you to a bloody mess for all the trouble you’ve caused.”
Maintaining their locked gaze, Ishtar nodded, his voice low and humbled. “And well I deserve it.” He stepped forward, his arms at his sides. “Beat me.”
Flinging his hands in the air, Eoban turned and pounded a few paces away. “By all that is decent and right in the world—do you have to take that tone?” With his head pounding and tears burning, Eoban glanced from Ishtar to Amin. “Do you know what you’ve done to your sons?”
His jaw clenching into a tight line, Ishtar shook his head. “I’ll regret my mistakes for the rest of my life, knowing that I never really can make up—”
Amin leapt forward. “I forgive you, father.” Halting right in front of Ishtar, he sucked in a deep breath. “I wanted to tell you that I don’t need you—”
Lud, Eoban, and Ishtar stared at the boy.
Amin swallowed and hung his head. “But it’s not true. I can’t manage on my own. I needed Barak and Luge…and—” He glanced up and met Eoban’s eyes. “Even Eoban.”
Amin peered at his father. “But I need you too. So does Caleb.” He glanced around, a frown building. “Where is he?”
Lud gripped Amin’s shoulder. “He’s safe in the caves with the women and children.” Glancing from Ishtar to Amin, Lud smiled. “You must have incredible stories to tell—”
Eoban snorted. “Stories? We’ve both seen too much!” He pounded his chest. “I don’t know about Amin here, but I’m thinking of settling down…maybe with a wife.”
A hint of a grin broke over Ishtar’s somber face.
Eoban pursed his lips. “I’ll make an excellent husband.” He peered at Amin. “Didn’t I take good care of you?”
Amin glanced from Eoban to his father. “He tried. It’s not his fault that he lost his entire company at one time or another.”
Eoban dropped his head onto his chest, exhaling a long, ragged breath.
With a snort, Lud patted Eoban’s back. “Don’t worry, Eoban. You can regain your honor by leading us to victory.” He gestured to the caves. “Jonas and Milkan are waiting. They’ll want to know what happened to Obed and Barak. Let’s go.”
Eoban lifted his head, all strength draining from his limbs. Shuffling along, he muttered. “Couldn’t we just go straight into battle?” Glancing aside, bittersweet grief made Eoban shake his head.
Ishtar clasped Amin’s shoulder and led his son home.
“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones—the ones at home.” ~Mother Teres
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