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05 The way of a maid

Elijah closed the gate on the donkey pen and came back into the house. “The donkeys are fed and watered, Nate. I can help with the grapes when you’re ready.”

Elijah’s mother emerged from the pantry. “Nathan, can you work without your brother this morning? I need him.” She looked at Elijah while she handed a bulging sack to Sheerah. “I want you to take these figs to Milkah.”

What was this? Every week Elijah pestered Nathan and Sheerah to take him over the ridge to see Milkah. But this was Mother talking. Were the weeks of Nathan and Sheerah gushing about Milkah starting to register?

Nathan leaned back and looked at the ceiling. “‘The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea—’”

Sheerah clapped her hand over his mouth. “And the way of a man’s mother with a maid.”

Elijah’s mother laughed. “If Milkah is even half as wonderful as you children tell me, I want to give her something from my pantry. And I want it to come from the hands of my daughter.”

Elijah’s father gave a solemn nod. “The potter’s son has been here so often that I expect him to ask for our daughter on Tuesday, and girls in Jabesh stop in the middle of the street just to watch Nathan walk by. It’s fitting that you should send Milkah figs, dear. Just remember, Elijah—at noon Nathan needs you to help pick grapes.”

No rush, Lijah.” Nathan sat up. “I’ll trim vines until you get here. It’s not every day you get to deliver Mother’s figs to Milkah.”

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Elijah led Sheerah up the ridge.1 He stepped over the familiar rock in the fifth bend on the trail. He grasped oak limbs where his fingers had worn them bare of bark. How many times had he climbed this ridge?

Sheerah gasped, “Slow down.”

Elijah stopped. “Remember when you first led Nathan and me up this path? Your legs were way longer than ours.”

And I said I wouldn’t carry you.”

But you waited for us, and when we got to the top, we all held hands and slid down to the valley. Nathan hung back, but you marched right out into the sheep.”

Sheerah rested her hand on an oak limb. “And you stopped to look at one with two heads.”

I did. I thought it had two heads. Then one seemed to detach. That was the first time I saw her.”

Sheerah nodded. “And she’s something to see. The way those loose black curls hang around her face. Her olive skin and that perfect nose from gorgeous grandmother Rebekah.”

Then she told that sheep, ‘We’ve got company, Chops.’ Of course, she stood up, and I saw those big, round eyes as black as Mother’s.”

Sheerah laughed. “Oh, stop. You’ll be dripping tears before we even get to the top.”

Not me, Sheers.” He stroked the fuzz on his chin. “We men don’t cry.”

A few strides before the crest, Elijah stopped. “Have you decided what was David’s greatest moment?”

Well it wasn’t when he sent for Bathsheba.”

And not when he was collecting Michal’s dowry.”

They crested the ridge. A soft breeze sighed through the trees. Three clouds sailed over Milkah’s valley. Her flock grazed near a grove of acacias.

Elijah cupped his hands and broke the quiet. “Milkah!” Was she there? She was always there. She had to be there. What would he do if she was gone?

Milkah stepped out from her shade tree and waved. They waved back and then skidded down the path to the valley floor and jogged over to Milkah.

Sheerah laughed big, hugged Milkah, took a step back and became serious.

Elijah caught his breath. What was happening here?

With a sober look on her face and deliberate movements, Sheerah reached into her cloak and brought out the figs. Her arms and shoulders flowed exactly like his mother’s. She held the sack in both hands and extended it to Milkah. “From our mother. The best of the season.”

Milkah matched the deliberation of Sheerah’s moves. She extended her arms and opened her hands. She kept her eyes on the figs and let them settle into her grasp. “Oh! Your mother! She is so kind. At each nibble, I will thank the Lord for her. Can you please carry my thanks to her?”

I will, dear.” Sheerah relaxed.

Elijah breathed.

Sheerah stepped out and swept her arm toward the center of the meadow. “Now if you two want to check the quality of the grass, I’ll be happy to sit here in the shade and let the sheep think I know how to care for them.”

Elijah guided Milkah into the pasture and pointed toward the top of the ridge. “You know the waist of the ridge up there? Where you can see vines on the left and pasture on the right? That’s where I’m going to build our house.”

Milkah had graciously accepted his mother’s figs, but what would she do with his house?

She squared her shoulders and tipped her head back. “There? You want to build a house up there?”

We’ll keep sheep in one valley and grapes in the other and have babies and give them all the names you told me so long ago.” He stole a glance at her. “And we’ll have windows.” He waved both arms south. “Looking over the vines.” He turned and waved north. “And over the sheep.”

She cocked her head. A slight smile turned up the ends of her mouth. “You know you’re crazy.”

We both know I’m crazy. And I want kids. Lots and lots of little babies that grow up around us.”

She looked down and kicked a clump of grass. “We’re just kids ourselves, Lijah.”

He spread his feet and thrust his shoulders back. “I’m going to build us a house right at the top, Milkah, and nobody will think we’re kids.”

Elijah let a cloud float behind the ridge. “I’m going to marry you.” There. The words were out.

He brought his gaze down to hers. “Will you? Will you marry me?” What if she said no?

What did you mean about names?”

He raised an eyebrow and gave a sly grin toward the sheep. “What do names have to do with it if you won’t marry me?”

Don’t get in a hurry. You always tell me you like the name Chops.”

Chops and Roast and Ribs. I like the name, Stew, too. But not for our children. We’re going to have so many we can’t count them. We’ll have to start our own village. And they’re going to have proper Hebrew names. The names you picked out.”

I don’t remember picking out names.”

You don’t forget a thing. Especially our children’s names. Deborah, Barak, Gideon—”

Oh, stop. I’d never saddle our children with names like that. They’d spend their whole life dreaming, waiting to do something grand. Our children will have common names like Abdel and Berekiah and Carmel, so they can get the weeds pulled and the water hauled before breakfast.”

A swallow-tailed kite circled in the sky, Sheerah sat by Milkah’s sheep, and Nathan trimmed vines alone.

When Elijah and Sheerah finally went home, they topped the ridge and turned to wave, but Milkah was lost in the shadows.

1

You can totally still keep it! 🙂 But I would rework, keeping in mind that both Elijah and Sheerah know what happened, and they’re talking as two people who shared the same experience. For example:

“Remember when you first led Nathan and me up this path? Your legs were way longer than ours.”

“And I said I wouldn’t carry you.”

“But you waited for us.”

Sheerah’s eyes rounded but she still smiled. “We are NOT going to slide into the valley this time.”

“Oh, come on. You’re not too grown up to have fun.”

Sheerah rested her hand on an oak limb, half-laughing as she caught her breath. “Remember how you stopped to look at a two-headed sheep? Maybe Milkah should hear that story, eh?”

“Hey, it really did look like it had two heads. Don’t tell her. When that sheep moved, I caught my first glimpse of her loose black curls. It’s a memory I treasure, and you’ll not embarrass us with it.”

Sheerah nodded. “She gets her perfect nose and olive complexion from Grandmother Rebekah. She was gorgeous, too.”

Just an idea for you to play around with. 🙂 I think I forgot to point out need for more sensory detail in my crit too. Does Milkah have a certain smell? Maybe there’s a breeze? as they’re looking toward the ridge?

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