You Can Only Endure
Ishtar walked among his people again. After visiting his son, he returned to the village and sat with the five members of the leadership council.
They welcomed him with smiles.
Perplexed by their obvious joy, Ishtar launched into a full recital of his adventures—including his madness—and concluded with a declaration of his healing through the kindness of Matalah.
The council members continued to smile, their eyes twinkling, their backs straights, and their chins up.
Ishtar considered the line of old men. No deceit there. He dropped his gaze and raked his hand through his hair. “Why do you smile?”
The eldest, Amos, grinned and lifted his hand as if in blessing. “We are glad to see you home safe.” He shrugged. “There’s nothing mysterious in a clan welcoming their leader—”
Jerking to his feet with a grunt, Ishtar paced away, his voice falling to a whisper. “But I betrayed you.”
Amos rose and clasped his hands as if in prayer. “Some may see it so…but not all do.” He gazed around the circle and then met Ishtar’s wide eyes. “We are warriors and conquerors, descending from a long line of such men. Your father, though he strayed from decency when he lied to us, maintained a close tie to his heritage. When you offered— ” He cleared his throat and glanced away. “Attempted to offer a child to the gods, you followed not the will of a woman but the call of our ancestral spirits.”
His jaw clenching, Ishtar swallowed and glared. “Spirits I no longer obey.”
Amos tipped his head. “You are now your own man.” When he lifted his eyes, he took one step closer. “Ishtar, we need your leadership. Now, because of the battles you have fought, you’re a stronger, wiser man.” A grin reappeared, brightening his face. “And that’s why we’re glad of your return.”
Peering up at the wide blue sky, Ishtar paused. Finally, he sighed, dropped his eyes, and met Amos’s unwavering confidence. “May you remain so.”
Ishtar met with leaders from neighboring clans the next day, and they discussed their plans in council with Lud.
Lud approved the plans, and after sending out scouts and closing the meeting, he stared at Ishtar in silence.
Distracted with his plans and anxieties, Lud’s fascination merely brushed Ishtar’s consciousness. But after a moment, he frowned and met Lud’s hard stare. “What’s wrong?”
“I think I know what’s so different about you. Even when you’re worried, you’re controlled. Almost at peace.”
With a snort, Ishtar snatched up his spear and a whetstone. He ran the stone along the spear tip. “I know now that I can survive madness.” He glanced at Lud. “Hope beyond despair is the best kind.”
A figure in the distance jogged toward. Ishtar shaded his eyes with his hand. “Who’s this now?”
Lud frowned and stepped beside Ishtar.
The sweaty, exhausted young man stumbled to a halt, bent over, and gasped heaving breaths.
Ishtar leapt forward. “Tobia!” He gripped his friend’s arm and glanced around. “Where are—?”
Tobia lifted a hand and huffed his words. “They’re with…Remy’s clan…safe. But—”
Lud stepped closer and pressed Tobia’s shoulder. “Catch your breath. There’s no news that can’t wait a moment.” He glanced aside at Ishtar.
Tobia shook his head and straightened with a wince. “The enemy is at hand, and they’ve—”
Ishtar shouted to men in the distance and a crowd hurried near. He drew Tobia forward. “Come, sit. Tell us everything.”
Tobia lifted both hands. “Listen! There’s no time! Obed has been taken. He’s tied like a hog ready for slaughter in the midst of a great host.”
Warriors with weapons in their hands jostled each other as they closed in, grunting and leaning forward, scowls on every face.
Lud blinked, his face draining of all color. “Where are Barak and Eoban?”
Tobia shook his head, a bewildered expression in his eyes.
Ishtar gripped Tobia’s shoulders and stared hard into his eyes. “Where’s Amin?”
Tobia’s eyes filled with tears. “Isn’t he here?”
Tobia sat before trays piled with bread, fruit, nuts, and berries. He set a bowl of sharp wine aside, feeling bitterness slide down his throat.
After nightfall, Ishtar, Lud, Jonas, Namah, and an assembly of councilmen and warriors huddled in Namah’s home and watched his every move.
Closing his eyes, Tobia sat back and sighed. “I can’t eat…I’m not strong enough yet.”
Namah patted his hand. “Take your time. You’ve been through a great deal.”
Tobia opened his eyes and stared at his mother’s anxious face. “Obed is still alive…that’s the good news.” He sniffed and dragged his fingers down his face. “But how he became a prisoner, I have no idea.” He sucked in a deep breath. “For a moment I thought that all of you had been— ” His lips quivered.
Ishtar nudged the bowl closer. “Take more drink and get some rest. Your descriptions of the host will better prepare us. It’s best we know the truth.” He sighed and met Tobia’s gaze. “I’m glad you made it home alive.”
Staring blankly at the back wall, Tobia shrugged. “I don’t feel alive.”
Namah and Jonas exchanged glances.
Namah rose first. “He’ll never sleep with a crowd watching.” She started for the door. “You’ve done well, Tobia. Surviving is no small thing in this world.” She crossed into the night air.
The councilmen and warriors rose and followed her example.
As Lud stood in the doorway, he turned and glanced back. “Death is like slavery. You can’t stand it, yet you can’t escape it.” He nodded at Tobia. “You can only endure.”
Ishtar climbed to his feet and peered at Tobia. “I’ll be just outside…if you need me.”
Jonas accompanied Ishtar to the door and dropped her voice low. “He told me about your journey together. I thank you for your service. It wasn’t what I looked for—”
Ishtar glanced over Jonas’ shoulder and met Tobia’s eyes. “He’s an extraordinary man.” He peered at Jonas. “God asks much of extraordinary men.”
As Ishtar passed over the threshold, Jonas stood silent, staring at the night sky.
Tobia rubbed his aching eyes. “Get some sleep, mother. We’ll need you fresh in the morning.”
Jonas padded to his side and kissed his cheek. “I’m so relieved you’re home.” Her voice caught. “I know Obed will be too.”
Only the sound of her footsteps fading into the next room told Tobia that he was finally alone. Shoving the trays aside, he pulled a blanket close, bundled it under his head, and curled into a ball. Shuddering in the evening air, he closed his eyes and finally let his tears fall.
“Survival is a privilege that entails obligations.” ~Simon Wiesenthal
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