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Authors: Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

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BOOK: He Who Lifts the Skies
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Still carrying the infant, Annah followed Shem up to the path traversing the hillside. By the set of his shoulders and his brisk pace, Annah knew that her husband was profoundly disturbed by the sight of this child. As if in response, the tiny girl emitted a thin, angry squeal of protest, her cry becoming louder and more shrill as Annah carried her up the path.

Annah’s discomfort grew with the child’s cry.

As she warmed herself near the glowing, crackling fire in the stone-lined hearth in the lodge, Annah studied the colorless infant girl. The tiny child was alert in her mother’s arms, her young eyes wide, flickering here and there in apparent wonderment.

“I believe she’s perfectly healthy,” Annah told Chaciydah. “She sleeps well, she cries loudly, she feeds well, and she’s watching everything. You shouldn’t worry, Chaciydah.”

“But her lack of color is dreadful,” Chaciydah mourned. “And look at her eyes. They aren’t even brown. They’re smoke gray!”

“Let me hold her,” Shem’s mother, Naomi, urged Chaciydah. “It’s always good to hold an infant.” Her silver hair gleaming in the firelight, Naomi crooned to the child. “I agree with your Ma’adannah, little one; your mother shouldn’t worry about you. Even now, your little mind is busy.”

As Naomi whispered to the child, Annah glanced at the men, who had gathered on the opposite side of the
hearth. Her father-in-law, Noakh, was sitting on a comfortable heap of mats and fleeces with Shem, Meshek, and Eliyshama. They were facing Metiyl, whose deep voice was rising with anger as he lifted his broad, work-roughened hands in the firelight.

“Now my horsemen-cousins ride through my father’s lands and threaten his tribes with new weapons they’ve made. Everyone’s afraid to oppose them. And,” Metiyl added ferociously, “their ‘Great King,’ Nimr-Rada, encourages them to take whatever or whomever they please!”

Annah felt her stomach churn at this news. Raising her voice, she asked Metiyl, “They take whomever they please to serve them?”

“To serve their Great King, Nimr-Rada—the Subduer of Leopards,” Metiyl snorted, nodding to Annah. “That Nimr-Rada has made himself ruler of us all, whether we want him or not.”

Annah shut her eyes, heartsick. She remembered Nimr-Rada as a young boy, dark, powerful, full of courage. He had always led his brothers and cousins during their games, and later, during their hunts. Even Noakh and Shem had been astonished by his physical abilities.

Now, however, Noakh shook his gleaming silver-curled head sorrowfully. “Nimr-Rada abuses the gifts of the Most High. No man should set himself above his brothers and use them for his own will.”

“But, Father of my Fathers, how can we stop him?” Metiyl pleaded, leaning toward Noakh, seeming almost desperate. “You or one of your sons should come and reason with him; perhaps he will listen to you and quit tormenting us.”

When Noakh remained silent, Shem answered Metiyl quietly. “Nimr-Rada has heard our words from the first
days of his life. He knows the stories of the Great Destruction and of the heavens that existed before this new earth. He knows the truth of the Most High, the Word. But he has chosen his own will above the Most High’s. Our words won’t change his rebelliousness.”

“Then listen, O Shem, Father of my Father; I haven’t told you everything.” Metiyl straightened, still indignant, his dark eyes kindling in the firelight. “Our Nimr-Rada has been given a new name. As if he doesn’t have enough names already! The young men who follow him are calling him ‘He-Who-Lifts-the-Skies,’ because they claim he protects them from the judgment of the Most High. Some are even saying that he’s the Promised One, who will free us from the curse brought upon us by our Adversary, the Serpent, in the Garden of Adan. Worse, Nimr-Rada allows them to say this. They even put their noses to the ground and all but worship him!”

Annah pressed her hands to her face, feeling as if she had been slapped. Unable to breathe, she looked at her husband and his father. Shem’s eyes had widened in shock.

Equally affected, Noakh groaned, “O Most High, how should we deal with this Nimr-Rada, son of Kuwsh?”

From her place beside Annah, Naomi huffed audibly. Her lined, brown face stern, she lifted an eyebrow at Metiyl. “Kuwsh
his son can’t be the Promised One, because the Most High revealed to my Noakh that the Promised One would be a son of our Shem’s son, Arpakshad. We have no choice in the matter. What does Kuwsh say about his ‘Great King’ son?”

Metiyl lowered his head, obviously unwilling to speak. At last, he said, “I’ma-Naomi, you won’t be pleased; Kuwsh rejoices in his son’s power. He encourages this adoration—though he knows it is wrong.”

Clearly disgusted, Naomi handed the colorless infant girl back to the anxious Chaciydah. Then she looked past the crackling flames of the hearth toward her husband, Noakh. “My dear one,” Naomi said stiffly, “we should send a message to warn Kuwsh and his ‘Great King’ son. They cannot be allowed to set themselves against the Most High; they invite another Destruction to pour down upon us all.”

“You are right, beloved,” Noakh agreed, his eyes distant, lost in thought. Quite suddenly, Noakh stood and, with a hint of an ancient limp, went outside.

Shem followed him, casting a sidelong glance at Annah, silently encouraging her with his eloquent eyes:
Wait for me

Annah knew that her husband and father-in-law were troubled beyond words. Shem and Noakh would consider the situation and pray at length before giving an answer. They had to be alone. To prevent Metiyl, Meshek, and Eliyshama from following them, Annah lifted her hands in a cautioning gesture. The men relaxed and waited, facing her. She was one of the First Mothers of all the tribes. They would listen to her.

Sighing, Annah spoke to Metiyl. “Your father, my own son Asshur, was like a brother to Kuwsh, and like a second father to Nimr-Rada. Why haven’t they discussed these matters? Why does Kuwsh allow his son to torment your father’s tribes?”

“Because, Ma’adannah,” Metiyl answered respectfully, “Kuwsh bows before that Great King, Nimr-Rada.”

“Ugh!” Naomi cried, outraged. “Since when does a father bow to his own son? I’m glad my Noakh left before he could hear such words!”

Annah steadied herself before speaking again. She
looked at Meshek. Keeping her voice low, she said, “You’re too quiet, Meshek. Has Nimr-Rada threatened your family, or the lands of your father?”

Meshek’s eyes flashed, Annah saw his rage and pain. Lifting his tapering brown hands, Meshek dropped them again, limp upon his knees. “Ma’adannah … my father too has bowed to Nimr-Rada.”

Annah swallowed hard. Meshek’s father was her youngest child, her last son, her baby Aram.
, she thought to Aram, unable to believe it was true.
Aram, why should you bow to another man? Didn’t your father and I teach you that the Most High alone is worthy of adoration? How can you bow to Nimr-Rada?

Meshek spoke again, disrupting her thoughts. “My brothers also follow Nimr-Rada. And their sons and
sons and their wives and children. They all follow him.”

“Eliyshama is the only son we have left,” Chaciydah added, tremulous. “Nimr-Rada has claimed the loyalty of all our others. That’s why I begged the Most High to give me only daughters from this time on. At least my daughters will stay near me. But then, look how this one’s afflicted!” Grieving, Chaciydah rocked the tiny girl.

Clearing his throat, Meshek said, “This is the reason for our visit, O Mothers of my Fathers.” Meshek faced Annah and Naomi, carefully enunciating each word. “I won’t give homage to Nimr-Rada. He’s taken enough from me. I’m bringing those who are left in my family back into the highlands to live.”

“We’ll be less than a morning’s walk from here,” Chaciydah added, as if trying to comfort herself with the thought.

“I’m sorry,” Annah whispered to Chaciydah, Meshek, and the others. She was unable to say any more. She longed to scream and tear at her hair. Their news was like hearing
of an impending death. Her sons, her grandsons, their wives, and their children were embracing other ways, shunning all wisdom and freedom itself. The peace and tran-quility of six generations were being crushed by the will of one man.

, she thought, wailing inwardly,
why are you doing this? Why do you accept the homage of others? You’ve been loved and admired from the first day of your life. Why wasn’t it enough for you?

Naomi’s voice shook. “I prayed I would not live long enough to see the children of my children hating each other. Now it will be as it was before the Great Destruction. All the violence, the hatred, the killing … My dear one, my Noakh, must be ill at the thought of it.” She began to cry, wiping away her tears with her aged brown hands. As Annah comforted her, Naomi patted her daughter-in-law’s hand.

Their silence was broken by the sound of footsteps. Noakh entered the lodge, followed by Shem. Annah turned, surprised to see them so soon. Shem met her gaze, calm and quiet, his dark eyebrows lifted, questioning:
Are you well?

Annah shrugged, looking away:
I don’t know. Beloved, how can I tell you that our youngest son, our own Aram, bows to Nimr-Rada? And our other sons and daughters are following him as well
.… Annah bit her lip hard, composing herself. If she thought about her children now, she would cry. She didn’t want to add to her husband’s distress—not in the presence of the others.

As if realizing that Annah could not bear his scrutiny, Shem spoke to Chaciydah reluctantly. “Daughter, have you named your little one yet?”

Chaciydah blinked, apparently shocked by his question.
“Father of my Fathers, how could we give her a name before presenting her to you and our Ancient Ones? And of course we couldn’t think of a name, fearing that she might die.”

“She won’t die,” Shem answered firmly. He approached Chaciydah, reaching for the infant.

In his comforting, reasonable voice, Noakh said, “We have inquired of the Most High. He is silent concerning Nimr-Rada. But this little one will live, and she has a name.” Lifting one long, aged hand, Noakh gestured to Shem, who stood apart from him. Holding the infant easily in both hands, Shem lifted her high, presenting her to them all, making the ceremony brief but formal.

“Sharah. She will be above all other women. She will cause great cities to be built. She will be lifted high.” Turning the infant to face him, Shem continued, “Sharah, you will be like a fortress, high and strong. This is what the Most High has revealed.”

As Shem spoke, Annah heard Chaciydah gasp in delighted disbelief. Even the somber Meshek smiled. Tenderly, Meshek took his daughter from Shem and gave her to Chaciydah. “Now, beloved, you won’t worry so much.”

But I will worry
, Annah thought, eyeing Shem. Her husband usually enjoyed holding infant children and naming them. This girl-child was an exception. Sharah troubled him, imposing upon him an unnatural formality.

Shem looked away, clearly avoiding Annah’s silent question, just as she had avoided his earlier. Irritable now, as if complaining, Sharah began to cry.

Sharah tensed in Annah’s arms. Her small, almost-three-year-old body resisted her great-grandmother’s every move
as Annah wrapped her in a warm blanket and carried her outside the stone-and-timber lodge to study the dawn. “It’s too early in the morning for you to be running loose,” Annah whispered to the restless child. “But look at the sky; lovely …”

Seeming persuaded by the note of wonderment in Annah’s voice, Sharah followed Annah’s gaze. Gradually her childish squirming subsided. Encouraged, Annah whispered, “Look, my Sharah. See how the Most High makes the sky beautiful for our sakes? See how He brings our servant Shemesh higher and higher in the heavens, until the stars fade away?”

As they gazed at the dawn, Annah continued softly. “Listen to the birds, now, my Sharah. They are singing for joy because it’s spring.”

“There … birds,” Sharah whispered in response, pointing one delicate, pale finger toward the nearby tree-tops, where birdsongs of every pitch and type emanated from every available branch.

Pleased that Sharah had appreciated something beyond her own wants, Annah kissed the little girl’s soft, translucent cheek and breathed in the sweetness of her shining noncolored curls. Sharah squirmed, impatient again. Annah carried her inside and released her from the blanket. “We should go wake your mother and your baby sister.”

Sharah pressed her small pink lips together. “I do it,” she told Annah firmly.

Before Annah could stop her, Sharah charged across the woven grass mats toward the thick leather draperies shielding the sleeping area. Alarmed, Annah hurried after her. The sleeping area was warm and dark. Annah was unable to see immediately, but she heard the thudding impact
of Sharah’s small body against the low bed. Annah also heard Chaciydah whispering to Sharah, her soft voice drowsy. “There you are, my little one. Come to I’ma. Be careful of the baby.”

As Sharah scrambled into the bed, Annah lifted the red deerskin covering away from the one small, squared window in the far wall. Daylight illuminated the snug, orderly room. Collections of intricately woven baskets, tanned hides, thick furs, and mats lined the walls. Garlands of sweet herbs hung above the low bed, lending a dry, soothing scent to the air. Chaciydah was nestled in the bed beneath layers of woolen covers and fleeces, nose to nose now with Sharah. The baby, a tiny one-month-old daughter, was safely tucked against the pillow behind Chaciydah, away from Sharah.

BOOK: He Who Lifts the Skies
4.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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