“Is it too late to save the vineyard?”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “That depends on how much water we find.”
Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BC
Elijah pulled a leaf from the top layer of a vine. The once-green velvet had dried to a skeleton of tiny veins that crumbled in his fingers.
The professor had mentioned a spring. Elijah, Nathan, and Zim huddled together in the center, each with a pole in his hand and two empty buckets at his feet. Long brown rows of leaves descended from the blue foothills of Mt. Hermon to the shriveled gardens by the city wall.
A man plodded out from between the broad stone pillars of the north gate and headed toward the foothills. Two buckets dangled from a pole on his shoulder.
“That man will lead you to water.” Elijah touched Zim’s elbow.
The boy picked up his buckets.
“Can you follow him?” Nathan bumped Zim’s shoulder with his fist. “Leave your buckets here. We’ll wait for you.”
Zim scurried after the bucket man and waved as he disappeared behind a fold in the hill.
A kestrel overhead dived at a circling hawk and screamed like the kestrels of Tishbe. A crested lark sat on a post and warbled over the vines with the same whee-whee-wheeoo as the larks of home.
Elijah shook his head at Nathan. Vines in the morning. Yet, instead of the familiar tang of ferment from a few grapes hidden among the leaves, the scent came dry and barren.
Nathan tipped his head toward the city gate. Neetz and the professor hiked out on the same path as the bucket man but turned to Elijah and Nathan waiting in the vines. Neetz carried an empty bucket in each hand, and the professor carried a pole.
“Your knees and elbows are hidden from view here in the vines.” The professor raised his eyebrows. “Neetz?”
Neetz gazed briefly at Nathan. “Yes, Daddy.” She lifted her two buckets.
“My daughter would like to help water the vines, Nathan.”
Nathan’s cheeks flushed. “Very good, sir.”
The professor smiled. “Thank you. My wife doesn’t have time to perform chaperone duty, but how would you feel if I were to hire Zim’s mother to work with you?”
Nathan turned to Elijah. “Does it seem good to you that the widow works with Neetzevet?”
“I suppose so, yes.” Elijah crossed his arms over his chest. Nathan used Neetz’s full name like Dad with Mother. Elijah’s aunts and uncles called her Shoshi, but Dad used her full and proper Shoshana.
Neetz edged closer to her father, and from the shelter of his side, her doe eyes peeked at Nathan like the girls in Jabesh who gaped as he walked by.
Zim reappeared at the base of the hill. He waved and jogged toward them.
A man emerged behind Zim and lugged two full buckets on a pole from his shoulders. He took the path toward the gardens by the city gate.
Nathan waved back. “It looks like our man has found water.”
The professor nodded along as Nathan spoke. “We used to hear talk of a spring back in those hills.” He focused on Zim’s approaching blond head. “I’m glad you’re giving that boy responsibility. I’m off to the market for four more donkeys, and I plan to talk with Zim’s mother.” He pinched/rubbed his chin. “Meanwhile, Neetz, we’re safe from gossip today if you stay out here in the middle of the vineyard.
“Okay, Daddy. Bye.” She ducked her head.
“I’ll see you men tomorrow.” He turned toward the city gate and marched off through the vines.
Neetz watched him as far as the edge of the vineyard and then pointed herself toward Nathan, batted her lashes, and touched her face.
This couldn’t be happening. Elijah turned away. He planted his feet wide and cracked his knuckles. When strangers discovered his brother’s social foibles, they drew back in fear or mocked him from the shadows. So, by keeping girls at a distance, Nathan avoided the pain. But this one had found a way to work by his side.
Zim jogged up. “I found where he gets water.” He gave a frustrated shake of the head.
Nathan bowed low. “Show us, please, oh Master.” Was big brother showing off for Neetz?
Neetz laughed. “Yes, please, Zee-zee. I’m thirsty.”
Nathan smiled and tilted his head toward Neetz.
She lowered her eyes.
Elijah wrinkled his nose.
Zim giggled and grabbed her hand. “There’s enough to give you a drink, but that’s about all.” He led them between the hills to a boulder where water seeped into a hole the size of two buckets. Flies buzzed in the heat.
Elijah dipped a bucket in and pulled it out full. He tried to dip the next bucket, but the water had fallen so low the edge of the bucket could not submerge. He gave a heavy sigh. “This is not enough to rescue the professor’s vines.”
Zim pointed to the large happy grower of figs and apples coming up the path in his patches-on-patches tunic. “Where does our friend get water?”
Elijah scratched his chin. “Nate?”
Nathan squinted at the grower. “You do the talking, Lijah.”
“Sure thing.” Elijah’s stomach soured. If they were in home in Gilead, Nathan would have moved ten days’ journey from any girl who got this close.
Wait till Mother hears.
The grower stopped by the tiny water hole and leaned on his hoe handle. “Not a bad place to drink.” He laughed. “If you like to lie on your face.”
“Too slow for filling buckets,” Elijah replied. “How are the figs?”
“Well, young man, again those trees fed my wife and children.” He hoisted the hoe to his shoulder. “Come with me. I’ll show you where to fill those buckets.” The farmer walked off toward Mt. Hermon.
Elijah turned to Zim. “Hang onto Neetz, now, and don’t let her get lost, okay?” Maybe with a little help, Nathan could evade this girl.
“Stick with me, ma’am.” Zim took Neetz’s hand and thrust out his chest. “I’ll protect you.”
Elijah tugged Nathan by the elbow.
Elijah led him over to their large grower friend. “Um, sir, the professor hired us to rescue his vines from this drought, but we don’t want to steal water from your figs.”
“I hope you lads can save a few vines.” The big man stepped toward the hills. “But before you talk about stealing water, come see the spring.”
Elijah took a firm grip on Nathan.
Nathan rolled his eyes and came along peaceably.
The grower led them among rises and hollows of the hill. “In here, boys.” He pushed through bushes at the edge of a small group of plane trees and stopped by an oblong pool about the size of the professor’s roof. He touched two buckets hanging from a limb. “For my trees.”
Elijah guided Nathan to the edge of the pool.
Nathan gawked. “Water. Thank the Lord. Wow.”
Neetz stood with Zim a few paces behind Nathan. She smiled at the grower when Nathan smiled, leaned forward when Nathan leaned, and nodded in sync with Nathan.
Nathan side-glanced at Elijah but never looked toward Neetz. A flush crept up his neck and a twinkle liti his eyes.
Elijah jerked his hand up and brushed hair from his face. Did Nathan have eyes in the back of his head? Was he twitter-pated?
The pool seemed to move.
“Watch.” The grower tossed in a small branch. In silence, the branch zoomed to the other end and disappeared. The water swelled and sank with tiny gurgles while acacia leaves fluttered and a yellowhammer melody entertained the little group.
Elijah tossed a stick onto the pool and watched it disappear. “I never saw such a spring before.”
“Don’t know where it comes from and don’t know where it goes. Just know it flows in this drought.”
Neetz and Zim stood with Elijah while Nathan stepped up to the farmer. “But where’s the line of people carrying water to their garden plots over by the city wall?”
“Oh, son. Most of us in this long village are fishermen. I’m the rare duckii who grows things in the dirt.” His belly shook with a laugh. “As long as my cousins can hold a yard arm in one hand and a rudder in the other, they’ll trade fish for cucumbers from the north, where farmers still have rain.”
Elijah tossed a stick onto the pool and watched it disappear. “I never saw such a spring before.”
“It’s the limestone hills, my boy. Springs farther east rise in caves. I can show you rivers that never see the sun.”
Elijah beamed at Nathan. “How many donkeys and water skins can our little crew manage? We’ll never drain this hole.” This was like old times to work with his big brother in the vines.
Nathan knocked knuckles with him. “Let’s do this thing. We’ll start with one donkey per person and go from there.”
From behind Elijah, Neetz murmured, “Yes. One feels right.”
Nathan knelt and dipped a bucket into the flow. “Let’s carry what we can.” He set the full bucket on the bank. “Can you carry this much, Neetzevet?”
Neetz dipped her lashes. “I’ll carry as much as I can, Nathaniel, but we mustn’t overload our Zee-zee.”
Elijah curled his lip. Our Zee-zee? His finger paused on its way to his open mouth. Nathan was too far gone for that kind of warning. Elijah hadn’t seen this coming. Had the Lord?
Zim filled a pail and snapped his chin up. “I can carry as much as anybody, Mr. Nathan.”
Elijah shouldered a pole with two full buckets and led the way back to the vines.
In the center of the vineyard, the widow waited with a shovel in each hand. “The professor said I’d find you here.”
Zim jumped to her side.
She handed him a shovel and pulled him in. “Did my boy find water?”
“Found a whole ocean of water, Mommy. And Mr. Nathan’s gonna show us how to rescue the vines with it.”
Instructor Nathan pointed with his arm. “Watch how my brother gives the vine a drink.”
Elijah set his two buckets of water on the ground and accepted a shovel from the widow. He knelt by a vine.
Neetz, the widow, and Zim hovered around Elijah as he shoveled a small basin around the stem of a vine. He filled the basin with water, which disappeared immediately into the soil. “I’m tempted to pour all my water on this one vine—it’s so dry. But the next vine needs water, too, so I only fill this hole three times. Right, Nathan?”
Elijah slapped Nathan’s shin. “How did I let your sandal come unlaced? Give me that foot.”
As Nathan turned his foot toward Elijah, Neetz asked, “Is this a Gilead thing? Or just with you two?”
Elijah coughed. He should have ignored the laces. “Um, well, watch what happens when I pour water on this other vine. See how the soil—”
“I’m not side-stepping this, Elijah.” Nathan put his hand over Elijah’s mouth. “Neetzevet, I never learned to lace my sandals, so my brother helps me.”
iDoes a twinkle light the eye? Or is a twinkle a lighting effect in the eye?
iiYes, it’s a modern phrase.