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07 The way of a maid – 872

Tishbe Vineyard, Gilead, Israel, 872 BC

Elijah came into the house. “Ready to help you prune, Nate.”

Mother emerged from the pantry. “Nathan, can you prune without your brother this morning? I need him to go see Milkah. I’m sending her my best figs.” She smiled at Elijah as she handed a bulging sack to Sheerah. “I need you to carry them, Sheerah.”

Elijah’s mouth hung open. What was this? For once he wouldn’t have to pester his siblings to take him to see the girl next door? Of course, Mother would not stop Nathan from teasing him about Milkah.

Nathan leaned back and studied the ceiling. “‘The way of an eagle in the sky.’”

Sheerah jumped up. “You and your proverbs.”

Nathan quoted. “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 boy’s mother with a maid.”

Mother laughed. “If Milkah is even half as wonderful as you tell me, I want to give her something from my pantry. And I want it to come from the hands of my daughter, my oldest child.”

Dad gave a solemn nod. “The potter’s son has been here so often that I expect him to ask for Sheerah 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.”

Nathan sat up. “With your permission, Dad, if Elijah’s late, I can trim vines. It’s not every day he gets to watch Sheerah present Mother’s figs to Milkah.”

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As Elijah led Sheerah up the ridge, the sun hovered close to the eastern mountains. 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. He almost tripped on his huge grin. How many times had he climbed this ridge?

Sheerah gasped, “Slow down.”

Elijah stopped. “Sheers, 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?”

Elijah gazed far-off and used a quiet voice. “It really looked like two heads, Sheers. Then Milkah moved, and I saw her curls.”

Sheerah nodded. “I think she gets her perfect nose and olive complexion from our gorgeous Grandmother Rebekah.”

Then she hugged that sheep and said, ‘We’ve got company, Chops.’ And she stood up.”

You got that dopey grin. I thought I’d have to wipe drool off my baby brother’s chin.” Sheerah giggled. She stepped back and pointed her arm at him. “There. That grin.”

Elijah pulled at his lower lip. “It’s her eyes Sheers, those big, round eyes.” His hand hung in the air while his face turned up ridge. “Almost as beautiful as Mother’s.”

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

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

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

Elijah cupped his hands and broke the quiet. “Milkah!” His throat went dry. His heart skipped a beat, and he held his breath.

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

Sheerah laughed big, hugged Milkah, took a step back and put on her serious face.

Elijah caught his breath. What was happening here?

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

Milkah matched Sheerah’s purposeful 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 her my thanks?”

I will, dear.” Sheerah relaxed.

Elijah released his breath.

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 and Milkah strolled beside each other into the pasture and let the breeze touched their hair.

He 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 welcomed his mother’s figs, but would she accept his house?

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

Elijah held still and let the wool-wax smell 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 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?” Oh, why had he asked? He held his breath.

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 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 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.”

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

When Elijah and Sheerah finally climbed the ridge toward home, they turned at the top to wave but lost Milkah in the shadows.

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