Banished (Forbidden)(4)

By: Kimberley Griffiths Little

I woke in the late afternoon with an ache in my back. My legs were sore from the chafing, red bruises forming like blisters on my inner thighs.

I kept on, desperate to put more space between me and Mari before stopping for the night. Orange and purple twilight shot across the western sky. Day turned into dusk and still we rode, silent and exhausted.

Loneliness I could handle, but knowing I was alone as far as I could see wreaked havoc on my mind. The insidious torture of your own thoughts was the reason people went crazy if they got lost in the desert. I shoved the stories out of my head, but they slithered back like snakes to torture me. Stories of corpses found off the trail. Skeletons half-eaten by wild animals. Travelers going mad when they panicked.

When darkness swallowed the world around me, a jiggle of fear crept along my spine. A small hollow near the edge of the plateau looked like it would make a secure place for sleeping. There were clouds to the west so I knew that sometime during this week I’d end up drenched. But rain also meant water.

I tapped Shay’s neck with my stick and dismounted, tying her to a fat shrub. “Now for a fire,” I said out loud, to comfort myself.

Using my flint and knife I managed to get smoke, then a tiny flame. I blew on it, feeding it dry leaves. I was glad to see clumps of dried camel dung, good for my fire, not far from my little camp—a strong sign I was still on the correct trail. Camel dung meant others had passed along this way.

The stars were in full bloom by the time I snatched a lump of hot doughy bread from the coals. I broke the bread into steaming pieces to eat.

I checked the constellations and was relieved to see I was on course. Day one was over. I finished the bread, ate a handful of dates, and drank a cup of water, making sure to pull the spout’s strings tight so the skin wouldn’t leak.

I unwrapped my last piece of frankincense and marveled at its comforting spicy smell, remembering Kadesh’s warm strong hands when he’d poured the handful of nuggets into my palms so long ago.

After I mixed the frankincense shavings with two drops of water to make a paste, I rubbed it into the abrasions on my hands from the leather halter. Next, I sewed up the front of my dress where Gad had torn it, using my finest bone needle and thread.

A chill winter wind swept down from the north and I curled around Shay’s body, holding Kadesh’s cloak to my face to breathe in the last of his faint smell.

My first dance of womanhood had only been a year ago. The dance that had sprung a well of emotions and strength I’d never known before. Joy for womanhood and marriage. Grief for the death of my mother and baby brother, Isaac. Pain for Horeb’s violence. Longing for Kadesh. And now fear for the most dangerous journey of my life.

Emotion seared the back of my eyes when I thought of my baby sister, Sahmril, who was now with the Mari nobleman Thomas, and his wife, Zarah. “My sweet sister,” I whispered. “I promised to take care of you. I promised so many things to so many people and failed you and Leila. That’s why I have to make this journey. So I don’t fail Kadesh, too.”

An eerie wind moaned across the hills and dunes. Reaching out from my bed, I added a stick to the fire. My hair whipped about my face like a loose veil. Under the shelter of my blanket, I slipped off the heirloom ankle bracelet Kadesh had given me, studying the symbols of the gnarled tree and halo of sun etched into the silver under the moonlight.

The tree and sun was a symbol of his tribe, and a promise of his love. Even though hunger squeezed my belly I’d rather starve than give up the precious gift.

As I tightened my fingers around the finely crafted chain, a swelling of devotion surged through me. My destiny lay in front of me on an unknown road. There was no going back, no matter what secrets Kadesh might be hiding in the caves of the Edomites.

I awoke before dawn and ate a piece of leftover bread, buried the fire under the sand, and was on the road before the sun hit the distant horizon. In the summer months we rarely traveled during the heat of the afternoon, but in the winter months it was possible. During daylight I could see the trail and the sun’s course more clearly.

Over the next few days, I kept my path southwesterly, passing craggy hills and even a stretch of shale and black volcanic rock. On the fourth day, after a rain-filled night, I awoke to see outlines of figures coming out of the north behind me: camels with riders. My fingers fumbled with the harness and my gut curled into a tight knot. Even though I was weary riding late into the evening and then rising before dawn, I had to stay ahead of Horeb. The Edomites my family had encountered the previous year were unruly thieves, but there was shelter in their caves and a place to hide from Horeb’s army.

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