Banished (Forbidden)(3)By: Kimberley Griffiths Little
When we raced out of the small clearing, I stole a glance behind me. Clutching at the wound in his belly, Gad fell to his back, groping for his sword. The hyena paused and sniffed at the scent of fresh blood pouring from the hole in his stomach.
“Oh, dear God in heaven,” I moaned. I’d wielded my knife out of pure desperation. But even if Gad managed to fend off the wild hyena, I knew he didn’t have long to live.
Burying my face in my camel’s neck, I shuddered with sobs. Not a moment later, Gad let out a chilling, unnerving scream. I could hear the hyena’s fierce teeth crunch down on bone, imagine the slobbering mouth and powerful body pinning the Nephish tribesman so he couldn’t fight back.
“Go, go!” I urged the camel, closing my ears to the man’s agony. I couldn’t have fought both Gad and the hyena and stayed alive, but I was flooded with guilt.
After weeks of fear and loneliness in these hills while I crafted my plans to search for Kadesh, I’d just survived my first deadly encounter.
Tears of terror were cold on my face, wind smearing the salt across my cheeks. My camel tore headlong down the rocky hillside. I swore the ride jolted the bones from my skin. Every ounce of strength washed away, leaving me limp as a worn rag.
When we slowed at the bottom of the hill, the words of Hannah, the desert woman I’d met many days ago, echoed through my mind. I latched on to them as though I was a child again, clutching my mother’s nightgown when I had a bad dream. Hannah and her husband, Gedaliah, with their young children had traveled through the Edomite lands three moons ago.
They had told me the story of a man who wouldn’t show his face, but who healed their son’s arm with frankincense. Frankincense. Such an unusual possession. Not many people in these poor deserts owned the expensive nuggets.
The woman’s voice came to me again: . . . and he owned the most beautifully decorated sword.
Instantly, I had pictured Kadesh’s Damascus sword with its etchings and the imprinted symbol of his frankincense tribe. The man Hannah described had to be Kadesh. Somehow he’d survived Horeb’s attack and ended up back with the Edomites. Not the wild men who’d tried to kidnap Leila and me and stolen our camels on our migration to the summer lands, but someone he trusted. A friend I had forgotten Kadesh mentioning long ago.
Once we were out of the Mari hills, I urged Shay forward to find the southern trail and start our journey for answers. If there was only a small chance Kadesh was actually alive in the Edomite city, I still had to know the truth—even if the perils of the desert tried to destroy me.
The sun was past its high point when I reached the foothills on the far side of Mari. I allowed my camel to find her own path down to the valley floor while my face crusted with dried tears.
I’d killed a man.
The knowledge horrified me, but Gad would have taken my frankincense, attacked me, and then dragged me to Horeb for his reward. I wanted more than a dagger now. I needed a sword, and I needed to learn how to fight with it. Because Horeb would find me. Just as Gad had.
After fleeing the death scene of my campsite, I’d scrubbed Gad’s blood from my dagger and strapped the weapon to my leg again, then dug my heels into the camel’s sides. The city of Mari was soon a distant mirage. Before I reached Tadmur to the west, I planned to follow the trail of wells to the land of the Edomites, but the crossroads was still several days away.
It soon became obvious Shay hated traveling as a solitary camel. She didn’t have the comfort of other camels, just as I didn’t have the consolation of other humans. She roared and shot evil looks at me over her shoulder. At one point she tried to turn around and head back to Mari. The skin of my palms became battered, my arms drooping around the leather halter to keep her moving forward.
“Silly girl,” I scolded. Banishing the unknown that lay ahead, I wondered if I’d lost my mind. After all, I’d watched Kadesh and Horeb fight in front of me, with a dozen witnesses. The blood-soaked cloak Horeb had tossed at me as proof of Kadesh’s death now wrapped my shoulders in an irony of comfort and despair.
A scorching sun baked the earth. Sweat oozed in slow trickles down my back. Closing my eyes, I bowed my head, maintaining my balance by stretching my arms over Shay’s sides and lying on my stomach.