OldEarth Aram Encounter
Book Excerpt from Chapter Thirty
A Curse You Share
In this book excerpt from OldEarth Aram Encounter, a final confrontation and the effects of generational sin set the stage for a tumultuous future.
Aram looked from Neb to Joash and back to Neb. He stepped aside and indicated that two warriors were to take Joash away.
The warriors grabbed Joash by the arms, thrusting him into the village.
Aram turned his palms up in a gesture of welcome and gestured for the old man to walk ahead.
Neb tottered forward as if ready to collapse.
Aram stepped behind him but peered over his shoulder and waved a new warrior to stand guard. Inside the large council dwelling, Aram faced Neb.
The flap rustled, and Jonas stepped in and sat down a little distance away.
Aram frowned. Oh, no…
Neb ignored the woman and seemed to withdraw into an inner world.
Eymard offered food and water, and then gamely positioned himself as an assistant.
Aram scratched his head and leaned in toward Eymard. “I’m surprised Namah hasn’t made it inside.”
Eymard’s eyes widened, clearly horrified.
Shifting into a comfortable position, Aram cleared his throat. “You’re welcome as a messenger of peace. As you know, Onias sacrificed his life to bring such a message to you. But before we speak of peace, I’d like to know more about you and your people. It’s always best to know exactly who we’re dealing with.”
Neb acquiesced, lifting up his trembling hands. “I am Neb, son of Serug and grandson of Neb the Great. Our home is on the shore of the Great Eastern River. Long ago, we lived among the trees in the far western lands south of the mountains. When my father moved from my grandfather’s clan, we traveled north to the hills and east through grasslands very much like those we crossed coming here.”
His shoulders slumping in apparent misery, Neb clasped his hands together. “We’ve been attacked so many times—we see enemies everywhere. A mistaken report warned our council that you had prepared an attack on our people. Only lately have we learned that your messenger of peace had been killed.” He sighed. “It was a terrible mistake, and the guilty should pay with his life. It’ll be my greatest joy to assure my people that we have established a peace treaty with you.”
Aram’s face flushed. His gaze dropped to his hands and he forced himself to stop clasping and unclasping them. Sweat broke over his forehead. He called to one of his men and whispered in his ear.
Straightening, he met Neb’s steady gaze. He spoke slowly—each word emphasized with deliberate force. “Tell me—do your women—bear many children?”
For the first time, Neb’s demeanor cracked. He frowned. “I don’t know why you ask, but the answer is a painful one. No, our women do not carry many babies, and even when they do, the babies come too soon and die quickly. It’s a miserable fate. Who told you? My son, Ishtar?”
Aram shook his head. “Not Ishtar.”
Neb’s eyes glanced aside as if searching for his son. “Even if a son lives, yet he may be as good as dead.”
Aram observed his clan members shifting in unease, murmuring aside to each other. Some men’s eyes were wide and sympathetic, while Obed and Eoban frowned in confusion. Barak maintained a stony silence. Only Eymard, sitting in the shadows, leaned forward, a knowing gleam in his eyes.
Aram folded his hands in his lap. He lowered his voice. “I’d like to tell you, Neb, son of Serug, who I am, so that we may see eye to eye in all things.”
His gaze returning inward, glassy-eyed and bored, Neb nodded.
“My name is a common one. I am Aram, and my father was Elath. My grandfather was Madai—and my great-grandfather was Neb the Great.”
Gasps bounced around the council chamber.
Neb’s knuckles whitened as he clasped them, his shoulders stiffened, and his head bowed.
Unperturbed, Aram continued. “Neb was considered evil among my father’s people. They lived in the southern hills for generations, but when my grandfather and his brother disagreed, our clan traveled into the forests while his brother settled in the grasslands. A pair of wild cats recently forced us from our land, and we’ve made a new home not far from here. The Grassland People sent their women and children across the lake to seek safety from your invasion. Seeing the threat to innocent people, we gave aid. I didn’t know until a few moments ago that I’d find a lost kinsman in such a conflict.”
The entire assembly murmured, everyone speaking at once. Neb remained still and silent, his gaze fixed on the ground.
Rising to his knees, Aram stared at Neb’s immovable form.
“We do not speak of our history—it’s been lost to all but a few elders who hold the truth deep inside. But as leader, I learned our history well, and I remember the tales told about your father. I know what forces formed you. I know why your women are barren. You accuse the gods in vain.”
Aram stood and called several men to his side. After giving curt, whispered commands, he returned to Neb. “Because it is the cause of so much torment, I’ll explain why your women suffer so.” He lifted his hands and turned to the assembly. “There is a plant that, when eaten, will kill the baby in the mother.”
His glare swung back to Neb. “Do you tell them that this toxic plant is good for them—or insist that the gods require them to eat it? What lies do you spread to achieve your ends? My grandfather never used this plant, and when my father learned of it, he would not allow it.”
Neb lifted his head, his gaze locking on Aram, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.
Aram spat to the side. “I see in your eyes that you have used it knowingly—as your father did.” Aram stomped away. “I was only a child when my grandfather died. I’m only sorry he didn’t end your evil line long ago.”
A warning shout rang through the air. “Attack! Fire!”
With a look of mad glee, Neb leaped to his feet. He shrugged, pretending helpless innocence.
A frightened youth scampered into the tent. “Warriors have come! They’re setting fire to everything.”
Eoban and Obed rushed outside.
Aram poked Neb in the chest. “You will inform your warriors that the battle is over—the curse has been lifted. You can go home and dispel the darkness caused by your terrible lie.”
With a stubborn purse of the lips, Neb shook his head as if he were a petulant child who would not mind his parent.
Gripping Neb by the shoulder, Aram shoved him toward the opening, but Neb wrenched free.
Aram stood back and allowed his enemy to walk outside into the bright sunlight. Three huts smoldered in smoke and flames. Aram growled. “Call your men! Tell them the curse has been lifted, and there’s no need to battle for slaves. If not, you’ll die at my hand right now, and utter darkness will consume you.”
Neb raised his hands in a dramatic gesture and called out in an alarmingly strong voice. “River Clan! I am Neb. You know my voice! Listen to me!”
The shouts and yells quieted to murmurs and sporadic screams.
“I command! Kill them all! Leave no man alive!”
Aram grabbed Neb around the neck and threw him to the ground.
Neb’s unnatural smirk of satisfaction froze Aram in place. With a gasp, he shook his head as if to release himself from an evil spell.
Leaping like a yearling lamb, Neb sprang at Aram and wrapped his fingers around his throat.
In turn, Aram locked his powerful hands around Neb’s neck. His eyes widened in horror at the strength of his opponent. He pictured Onias’s burial mound. The man died because he underestimated his enemy.
Eymard hustled behind Neb, a cudgel in his wrinkled, shaking hands.
Cold horror shivered over Aram as he thought of what Neb would do to the old men and the children. God Almighty! Give me strength!
Suddenly, a tremendous force bowled the two men over. Two young men landed on them at the same time. Barak and Ishtar grabbed Neb’s claw-like fingers and pried them away from Aram’s neck.
Aram rolled to the side as Ishtar grabbed his knife and held it against his father’s throat. He looked into Neb’s glaring eyes and whispered. “The only curse on our people was you!”
Neb cackled, his face breaking into a monstrous grin. “It’s a curse you share, my son!” Gripping Ishtar’s hands, he redirected the knife and thrust it into his own heart. Neb grunted on impact and his blood spurted.
With a strangled yelp, Ishtar sprang to his feet.
Exhaling a hissing breath, Neb’s head turned to the side. He shook one feeble finger at his son. His eyes glazed over and saw no more.
Ishtar stood rooted to the ground; blood splattered on his hands.
Barak gripped Ishtar’s shoulders and pulled him away. “It’s not your fault. The man was mad. Perhaps—it’s better this way.”
Falling to his knees, Ishtar’s gaze traveled from his father to his bloody hands. “A curse I share.” He howled like a wounded animal and crumpled, covering his head with his arms.
Still rubbing his neck, Aram stood by Ishtar’s prostrate form and surveyed the tail end of the battle. Neb’s warriors were being rounded up. The freed slaves had arrived, and the combined forces had made their victory inevitable.
Tears welled, blurring Aram’s vision. He spoke to no one in particular. “It didn’t have to end this way.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
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“The history is fascinating, the characters are uniquely intriguing, the plot is very rich, and the events are fascinating.” ~OnlineBookClub
“…characters walk in the uncertainty that characterizes real-life” ~Pam
“The vivid descriptions of different clans bring early humanity alive. While part of a series, Neb works well as a standalone” ~Rachel
“Fraley introduces historical figures and events in a way that is totally credible, while at the same time entertaining.” ~Charles
“a remarkably effective mix of bittersweet romance and murder mystery—via the personal perspectives of a family of intriguing characters.” ~Kirkus Review