"There is no shame in tears such as these." Nine year old Atem gently wiped the tears from the cheeks of five year old Biania. Then, ignoring the laughter of the other children, he bent to place a single shoshan lily upon the grave of the featherless bird the little girl had found dead after falling from it’s nest....
"Who are you to judge the soul of a man?"
Unbidden, the question echoed from the past in the healer’s mind. They had been among the last words Atem had spoken to her before his death. Impatient with the distracting memory, Biania flicked auburn strands of hair away from where they stuck to rivulets of sweat gathering on her neck. She had not thought of that conversation in years and now was certainly not the time to remember. Before her, the village chieftain’s wife lay on a bed of matted river reeds struggling against pain. With a gentle but firm hand she turned the woman’s face towards her own. "It is well that I was called." Fear registered in the intelligent brown eyes of the dark complexioned woman, calmly the healer continued, "The child is not coming as it should. It is turned in the womb." Then, quickly, lest the woman grew too alarmed, "This child will be brought forth! Together, you and I, will make it so."
Hours later, exhausted, the healer Biania pushed aside the hogweed matting covering the door to emerge from the hut of women. Ignoring the tight group of men standing nearby, she laid a restraining hand on the shoulder of a young girl on her way to the river to fill her jars, "Mora, where is the Zidonian woman who is to suckle the child until the wife of Hul is strong again?"
"Naamah, is within her mistress’s tent feeding her son."
Heth, husband of Naamah’s mistress and falcon faced brother of Hul whose wife had just gave birth, interrupted harshly, "Come, woman, tell us! The child is it a boy?"
Looking into the faces of the men in front of her, Biania marveled at the fortitude of the woman whose side she had just left. These men, the men of her village had no use for a woman, except to fulfill their needs or to perform those chores they considered beneath a man. She could not and would not endure that kind of life. For a moment she thought of Atem. He had been a good man. Perhaps, he would even have been a good husband. Sadness threatened to well up inside of her as she thought of how, five years ago; Atem had gone on a hunt with other young men of the village and never returned.
"Who are you to judge the soul of a man?"
Anger she had long thought cooled, sparked inside of her as memories turned to the question Atem had asked of her when she explained her reasons for not yet wishing him to approach her father with the offer of a bride price. She had thought him more understanding, more intelligent than the other men. Controlling the emotion, bringing her thoughts back to the present and allowing no hint of challenge into her voice, she answered, "Her mother wishes to call her Kista."
"All this for a girl?" Questioned the new father. "My brother has eight fine sons by his wife. His wife’s servant three. And my own gives me seven girls!" Then, he walked away. Hul, clan chief of these sons ofAram, had not even inquired of his wife’s health. Inwardly, Biania winced.
Resentment over her chieftain’s callousness moved her to the banks of the Golden River rather than immediately venturing out to instruct the servant Naamah. Reaching the marshy edges of the river, she noted the youthfulness of the sun, and almost relaxed. The view, as always, was spectacular. Early morning mists had lifted their veil from the valley hours ago, retreating to the highest peaks of the mountains. Bianna took momentary delight at the sight of yellow and white lilies growing in wild abundance in the surrounding meadows. Shoshan. They were sacred flowers. Deeply she inhaled their cherished scent as it drifted into the valley; but instead of relaxing further, past reflections once again pulled at her thoughts.
Biania clenched a small fist by her side at the foolishness she had allowed her mind to bend to in its weariness. The wife of Hul had labored long to bring forth a daughter. Time enough to deal with memories and lost sleep after death, back to the duties of the moment. Such were her thoughts as she turned from the river’s edge to seek out the wet nurse, Naamah, the very moment the strangers attacked. She had time only to note the odd designs painted in red ochre and black ash on their pale bodies before oblivion crashed down on her.
Darkness had fallen over the village. Overhead, dark clouds of a quickly approaching midday storm blotted out the light of the sun. Such sudden tempests were common to these wild mountains. Not common was the silence. From the dark clouds, the first drop of water, followed by another fell, while inside one solitary hut a child cried. Instinctively, two adults roused to the infant’s demanding summons. One, dazed and confused, briefly wondered at what held her hand. Both struggled to remain conscious.
What had happened?
Following the cries of the baby, Biania stumbled into the hut of women over the dead bodies of two strangers just inside the door. Visual testimony of the heroic struggle waged to protect the two occupants of this hut, which alone had escaped the fires the strangers had set to the rest of the village. But, it was what lay further inside, revealed by the first majestic crash of lightning ascending from the heavens, that filled the healer with true wonder; as from beneath the sheltering body of the village chief, anguished brown eyes lifted to meet incredulous green. The cherished wife silently grieved as healer marveled at how tenderly the dead, Hul, son of Aram, held the hand of Belit, mother of Nana, Aya, Irkalla, Mezulla, Sharis, Tallai and Kista.
Kista gave another healthy cry of anger. She was hungry.