Tishbe, Gilead, Israel, 872 BC
“Elijah, I need you this morning.” Mother handed him a bulging sack and stood back with a bright look in her eyes. “Please help Sheerah take these figs to Milkah.”
Elijah’s mouth hung open. For once he wouldn’t have to pester Nathan and Sheerah to chaperone.
Nathan lay back on his goatskin, entwined his fingers behind his head, and studied the ceiling. “‘The way of an eagle in the sky.’”
Sheerah gave his arm a shove.
Nathan rolled away. “‘The way of a serpent on a rock. The way of a ship in the midst of the sea.’” He covered his head with his arm.
Sheerah yanked his arm up and clapped her hand over his mouth. “And the way of a boy’s mother with a maid?”
Mother’s laugh bubbled. “If Milkah is half as wonderful as you children tell me, I want to give her my best figs.” She sat on a goatskin next to Dad. “And I want them to come from the hands of my daughter.”
Dad leaned back on his goatskin and stretched out his legs. “It’s fitting that you should send Milkah figs, dear. The potter’s son has been here so often I expect his formal request for Sheerah next week.”
Sheerah’s cheeks bunched, and she beamed at Dad.
He returned a solemn nod. “And girls in Jabesh stop in the middle of the street just to watch Nathan walk by.”
Nathan pulled his arm back over his head.
Mother ran her fingers through his wavy, black hair. “My humble son. A head-turner.”
“He’s cute like me.” Elijah brushed his hands over his tunic. “Plus, he’s got a real beard.” Elijah stroked the blond fuzz on his own chin.
Dad squeezed Elijah’s knee. “Just remember, son, at noon Nathan needs you to help prune vines.”
Elijah sighed. “Right, Dad. Noon.”
Nathan raised a finger. “With your permission, Father, if Elijah’s late, I can prune without him.”
Dad laughed and then sighed. “Elijah, you could learn kindness from your brother.”
Elijah stepped over a familiar rock in the fifth bend on the trail and grasped oak limbs where his fingers had worn them bare of bark.
Sheerah panted. “Slow down, long legs.”
Elijah stopped. “Our legs were way shorter than yours when you first led Nathan and me up this path.”
“And I said I wouldn’t carry you.”
“But you waited for us.”
Sheerah’s eyes twinkled. “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?”
“I really did, you know.” Elijah gazed up at a circling hawk and spoke in a soft voice. “I thought it was a sheep with two heads. Then Milkah’s curls bounced, and she said, ‘We’ve got company, Chops.’”
Sheerah giggled. “And you wore that dopey grin of yours. I thought I’d have to wipe drool off my baby brother’s chin.” She stepped back and pointed at him. “There. That’s the grin I mean.”
Elijah pulled at his lower lip. “It’s her eyes, Sheers, those big, round eyes.” He turned uphill. “Almost as beautiful as Mother’s.”
Sheerah laughed. “Oh, stop. You’ll be blubbering before we get to the top.”
“Men don’t cry.” He squared his shoulders, and a smile played at the edges of his lips.
As they crested the rise, a soft breeze sighed through the trees. Three clouds sailed over Milkah’s valley, and her flock grazed near a grove of acacias.
Elijah’s throat went dry, and his heart skipped a beat. He cupped his hands and broke the quiet with his call. “Milkah!” He rubbed the back of his neck and squinted into the valley.
Milkah stepped out from her shade tree and fluttered her hand at them.
Elijah stretched to full height and waved. He took Sheerah’s hand and helped her skid down the path to the valley floor and jogged with her to Milkah.
Sheerah stepped toward Milkah, clung to Elijah’s hand and laughed while she pulled him in behind her.
The smell of wool wax and the sound of teeth grinding grass surrounded them.
Sheerah hugged Milkah, took a step back, and held out her hands to Elijah. “The figs.” Her eyes twinkled.
Elijah pulled Mother’s sack of figs from his pack and put them in her hands.
With deliberate movements and a most sober look, Sheerah turned to Milkah.
Elijah caught his breath. What was happening?
Sheerah’s arms and shoulders flowed exactly like Mother’s. She held the sack of figs in both hands and extended them to Milkah. “From our mother. The best of the season.”
Milkah matched Sheerah’s purposeful moves. She reached and kept her eyes on the figs as they settled into her open hands. “Oh! Your mother. She is so kind. At each nibble, I will thank the Lord for her. Can you please convey to her my thanks?”
“I will, dear.” Sheerah’s face relaxed.
Elijah released his breath.
Sheerah stepped out and swept her arm toward the center of the meadow. “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.”
As Milkah strolled beside Elijah, he peeked at the touch of the breeze in her hair.
When they reached the center of the pasture, the sun still hovered close to the eastern mountains.
He pointed toward the top of the ridge. “You know the waist up there, where you can stand with a foot on this side and a foot on the other, see your sheep down here and our vines over there? That’s where I’m going to build our house.” Milkah had graciously welcomed his mother’s figs, but would she accept his house?
Milkah squared her shoulders and tipped her head back. “There? You want to build a house up there?”
Elijah held still and let the fragrance of her pour over him. “We’ll keep sheep in one valley and grow vines 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 latticed windows.” He waved both arms south. “We’ll gaze through the lattice work onto the vines.” He turned and waved north. “And the sheep.”
She cocked her head. A slight smile turned up the corners 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 kicked at 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 waited as a cloud floated behind the ridge. “I’m going to marry you.” There. He had said the word. The earth moved beneath his feet, and he forgot to breathe. He brought his gaze down to hers. “Will you? Will you marry me?” He never should have asked.
Milkah turned her back and leaned against his chest. “What did you mean about names?”
He raised an eyebrow and gave a sly grin toward the sheep. “What do names matter 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.” He glanced up at the ridge. Would Mother think this was proper behavior? “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.” She shaded her forehead with her hand and pivoted toward Sheerah.
This moment was theirs, not Sheerah’s. “You never forget a thing, Milkah. 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.”
Elijah leaned back and released a long sigh. “Before breakfast. Yes.” He raised his chin and sent a crisp nod toward the site where he planned their house.
The hawk circled. The sun moved over the Mediterranean. Elijah and Milkah’s shadows stretched beyond the center of the pasture.
“Nathan’s been pruning vines alone. It’s too late for me to help, but I need to take Sheerah home.”
She took his arm, and he led her back to the acacias.
Sheerah stood to meet them.
Elijah faced Milkah and held her hands. “Abdel, Berekiah, Carmel. The fathers of our village.” His lips twitched as he watched her eyes.
Milkah locked her sober eyes on his. She squeezed his fingers, released, and let a smile flicker. “Goodbye, Elijah.” She turned and gave Sheerah a hug. “Thank you, and thanks to your mother.”
With Sheerah beside him, Elijah climbed toward home. At the top, he turned to wave, but lost Milkah in the shadows.
1 Deborah and Barak, Judges 4-5
2 Gideon, Judges 6