For The Sake of Your Son
Ishtar tossed the last shovelful of earth aside and stared at the long, deep trench. He wiped sweat from his brow, laid the shovel aside, and plopped down, leaning back on his hands.
A glorious breeze ruffled his long hair, and children called in the distance. He glanced up. Eoban and Obed marched toward him with Barak trudging along behind.
Ishtar scrambled to his weary feet, his gaze level as the men approached. “To what do I owe this honor? Three dignitaries coming to view my” —he glanced aside and shrugged— “ditches.”
Obed laughed. “That’s why we’ve come. Word reached us that you’re digging canals to carry water to your village.”
“It’s just an idea…something I saw while traveling.”
Barak shaded his eyes and surveyed the long trench meandering from the base of the hill to the edge of the village. “You saw this?”
“I saw how water travels down from the hills. And sometimes it reaches the people. Sometimes not.” He rubbed his chin. “It seemed that a little assistance might give us what we need in dry spells.”
Eoban glanced at Obed. “It’s a brilliant idea. Surprised you didn’t think of it.”
“Wish I did.” Obed turned to Ishtar. “But it’s all yours. Except…” He laughed. “I might steal it and do something similar in my village.”
“Feel free. I’m too—”
Amin sprinted into view, jogged around stray sheep, and stopped with gasping breaths before his father.
Eoban gripped the young man’s shoulder. “What in the world are you eating, boy? Whole hogs? You’ve grown twice your former size!”
Ishtar’s smile broadened.
Obed nodded his agreement. “You’ll be ready to take the mantle of leadership off Ishtar’s shoulders soon.”
Barak frowned. “What is the matter, Amin? You look upset.”
Gulping his breath, Amin gazed from one man to another. “It’s Caleb. He’s not feeling well.” He turned to his father. “I told him to rest. I’ll do his work today.”
With a nod, Ishtar’s joy dimmed. “Fine. It was good of you to think of it.” He pointed to his efforts. “I’ll show them my grand scheme and come home in a bit.”
Amin glanced at the field and nodded. “I’ll get to work but keep an eye on Caleb too.” He stepped away.
Ishtar waved toward the base of the hill. “Let’s go. I can show you what I’ve done. You might have ideas to add.”
Eoban and Obed fell in line behind Ishtar.
Barak stopped and peered back at Amin. “You think he’ll be all right?”
Ishtar grinned. “Caleb is a wonderful child…but sometimes he doesn’t like to work, and Amin is more than generous.” He bit his lip. “I’ll have a talk with the boy.”
The three trudged upland to a natural land basin where Ishtar had enlarged the width and depth and added a channel leading toward the village.
As the sun descended, Lud and Gilbreth joined them, and they followed the trench into the village, making suggestions and exchanging ideas.
As he loped along, Eoban scratched his head. “Looks like Gilbreth has grown as much as Amin. What do you feed your children these days?”
Barak chuckled. “Anything and everything. Boys are always hungry. Ask Milkan.”
Rubbing his stomach, Eoban winced. “Speaking of food…”
Glancing from Eoban to the other men, Lud laughed. “That’s why I was sent…to tell you that a repast awaits at my home if you’d like to join us.”
Eoban leapt ahead like a yearling goat. “Don’t be sluggards! The boys will eat it all if we don’t hurry.”
Ishtar reclined on the ground after the repast, and everyone grew quiet as they sat around a modest fire. The warm evening air stilled, and songbirds settled in for the night.
Eoban glanced at each of the men. “So much has changed since we first met.”
His eyes widening, Lud sucked in his breath. “More than words could ever say.”
Barak nodded. “Aram has been gone for so long, I forget his face but never his strength. I only hope that the future will bring us more peace and less anxiety.”
Ishtar watched the flames flicker and the sparks intertwine as they rose into the sky. “I, too, hope we will know peace, but I wouldn’t wish to live without burdens or trials. It was a heavy burden that brought me to a place I could not run from. It was a painful trial that forced me to face the spirits that haunted me.” He sat up. “We must continually strive to become better than our former selves, or we stagnate and corrupt. I pity the man who is satisfied with himself.”
Barak shifted, his voice dropping low. “Even Aram struggled to become a better leader. He never really knew how good he was.”
Lud dropped another log on the fire. “As a father, I agree. One is never done learning.”
Stretching, Eoban yawned. “Since I am neither married nor have children, it seems that I have an easy life, but I tell you—in truth—I’m married to the entire village. I’m father to the young, brother to my men, servant to every woman who needs an extra hand, and uncle to the children near and far. I am the most married man I know!”
Chuckles rose with Eoban as he staggered to his feet.
The setting sun spread a pink and lavender glow over the village. The rest of the company stood, said their goodbyes, and started to their homes. Silence, the companion of each, framed the village in quiet slumber.
Ishtar strode along the trail with his heart at peace and knew that, for once, joy united them.
Amin raced up to Ishtar in the darkness outside his house, his heart clenched into a tight ball both furious and afraid. “Caleb is worse. I’ve done everything I can think of. Water, wine, broth, food…but nothing helps. He vomits everything.” He wrung his hands as he trotted at his father’s side. “He said his belly hurt, but I can’t see any wound.”
Ishtar peered through the darkness as he stopped before the doorway. “Did you call for the healer?”
Amin nodded. “She made him swallow an herbal brew, and he fell asleep.”
Ishtar paced to Caleb’s side and knelt on the hard ground.
Sweat beaded Caleb’s forehead. His cheeks were flushed an angry red, and he tossed with his arms flailing.
Ishtar stroked his son’s head, but Caleb brushed his hand away. Swallowing hard, Ishtar turned to Amin. “I’ll get Jonas. If anyone can understand what’s wrong, she can.”
Amin nodded, terror biting at his insides as Ishtar hurried outside. He dropped to his knees, clasped his little brother’s sweaty hands, and watched his every move.
Time slowed to a standstill. An owl hooted in the distance and a wild dog howled.
Caleb fell into a deep slumber, his body stilled, and his skin paled to a deathly white.
Amin’s eyelids grew heavy. His head dropped onto the edge of the bed and exhaustion took him.
When a bird chirped, Amin jerked awake and rubbed his eyes. A sliver of gold-edged the horizon and the sound of shuffling feet drew him upright. He stood and faced the door.
Ishtar ushered Jonas inside.
Striding to Caleb’s side, Jonas touched the little boy’s face and arms, and then carefully worked her way down his body, peering intently at each limb.
Ishtar tossed kindling onto the dying fire, flaring it into renewed life.
Jonas beckoned Amin closer. “Did he fall? Any accidents?”
Amin shook his head, his stomach churning. “He was fine up until a couple days ago. Then he said he felt sick and didn’t want to eat. After a time, he said his side hurt…and then his middle. He got so weak he could hardly stand.” Amin glanced at the rising sun, tears filling his eyes. “The more I tried to get him to eat, the sicker he got. Once the fever set in, he didn’t even know me.”
Jonas rose, soaked a cloth with cool water, and sponged Caleb’s head and wiped down his body.”
Ishtar crouched at her side and watched her every move. Amin paced away and added fuel to the fire.
As brilliant rays of light streaked over the horizon, Caleb awoke. Appearing calmer, he peered through red-rimmed eyes.
Jonas backed away and let Ishtar kneel closer. “Caleb?”
With a weak smile, Caleb grinned as his father took his hand. “I felt terrible. But I’m…better now.” He glanced aside. “Amin?”
Amin shifted near, kneeling by his father. “I’m here.”
Caleb blinked and frowned. “It’s so dark, I can’t see you.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “But I can hear you.”
Choking on strangling grief, Amin stifled a sob. Tears flooded his eyes. “I’m here, Caleb.”
Caleb closed his eyes, murmuring. “Father’s back, you know… So glad.” He gasped a rattling breath and exhaled slowly.
Amin squeezed his brother’s hand, but it felt cold and lifeless.
Caleb’s head drifted to the side, his whole body falling limp.
Amin shrieked. “Caleb!”
Trembling, Ishtar wrapped his arm around Amin and held Caleb’s fingers in his own.
Jonas nudged in closer and pressed her ear to Caleb’s chest, her eyes wide and staring.
Tears rolled down Ishtar’s cheeks, as a low groan escaped. “Please…”
Jonas blinked back tears. “He’s gone.”
Dropping his head onto Caleb’s chest, Ishtar sobbed.
A stabbing pain pierced Amin’s chest. He rose and fled into the searing light of day.
Ishtar sat outside his dwelling staring at a gray fire pit mounded with dead ashes. Beyond that, in the distance, a small grave lay covered with large flat stones.
Footsteps shuffled near and a shadow crossed over him.
Tobia knelt at Ishtar’s side. “May I sit with you?”
Hollow as a drum, Ishtar didn’t care who came or went.
“The wedding ceremony was beautiful. Obed outdid himself. Even Eoban behaved well.” Tobia crossed his legs. “Wish you’d been there.”
With a feeble effort, Ishtar waved him off. “Kamila was with you. That’s all that matters.” He closed his eyes. “I’m very tired.” He stretched out on the bench and clasped his hands over his chest, lying like a dead man. Something small and hard pressed on his chest.
Ishtar opened his eyes and peered down.
A little wooden boy with his arms outstretched lay over his beating heart. Ishtar choked and struggled for control as he sat up and clasped the figure in his hand.
Tobia peered into the distance, his voice as steady as if he were telling an evening story by firelight. “Long ago, Eymard told me that our mighty Creator made this world and took all life back to Himself when he willed it. It sounded good and made losing my father easier to bear. But when Vitus died, and I saw so much death and horror, I shoved Eymard’s story away and grew angry at God.”
He paused as if the words stuck in his throat. “Did our Creator have the right to punish Vitus for his foolish pride? Did the elders deserve to see the last of their line suffer imprisonment and death? Who was this terrible God I prayed to?”
Ishtar peered into the azure sky and blinked back tears.
Tobia’s voice rose. “But then someone told me that I was thinking like a man and not like God. Someone said that no one knows what goes on between a soul and his Maker.”
Dropping his face onto his hands, Ishtar rocked in misery.
“Pele lives beyond our sight. The same is true for Aram. Is it not true for Caleb too?”
Dragging his fingers down his face, Ishtar lifted his gaze and met Tobia’s honest eyes. “Caleb showed great promise. He would’ve grown up to be an honorable man— perhaps a leader among men. Why was he taken and not I?”
Tobia peered at the horizon. “I can’t answer your question. And neither can you.” He glanced aside. “Repentance brought you home, Ishtar. Let hope keep you here, for your sake and the sake of your other son.”
Straightening, Ishtar nodded. “You are honest and true, my friend. I’ll be a man again, but—”
Tobia turned to leave. “God did not abandon Matalah. He will not abandon you.” With a nod, Tobia paced away. Rising, Ishtar gripped the figure in his hand and let the sun pour over him as fresh tears fell.
“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…” ~
A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)