Banished (Forbidden)(7)By: Kimberley Griffiths Little
Nearly a year ago, Kadesh had uncovered this very well, filling bucket after bucket for me and Leila so we could drink and wash after the scare the Edomite bandits had given us.
All was silent this time. No Edomites galloping on their sleek steeds, demanding payment—or my virtue—for a chance to drink.
When Shay was finally satisfied and began to nibble sprouts of winter grass, I filled the buckets again to wash my hair, combing out the tangled strands with my fingers and rinsing until the dirt and sand was gone. Then I washed my face and clothes, sitting in the sun to dry. Blood from Gad was stained permanently into the fabric of my dress. My hems were ragged, my fingernails broken, my hands and feet callused. I hadn’t used any lotion or creams since leaving the temple months ago, when we’d traveled to Mari to find Sahmril. I was sure I looked like a wild woman.
A shadow moved within the rock fissure up ahead and I was on my feet in an instant.
Tying off the leather water bags, I grabbed the halter and jerked Shay closer so I could mount. The camel complained so noisily I was sure she’d wake the dead. If the local tribesmen had not previously been aware I was here, they knew it now.
After climbing onto the camel, I wrapped Kadesh’s cloak around my shoulders. Lifting the hood, I tucked my hair inside. “Go on,” I commanded, forcing my voice not to shake.
Spitting out protests, Shay jerked her legs forward. We swayed around the next bend in the narrow canyon in hopes of finding a hiding spot.
And walked straight into a mob of Edomite tribesmen.
A scream hovered in my throat, every nerve so taut I couldn’t draw a decent breath. But the Edomites didn’t gallop forward to encircle me. They weren’t stopping me at all.
At least forty men, all with swords on their belts, had lined themselves along the narrow canyon path. Each horse stood by its owner, the halters held stiffly at their sides.
The Edomites’ eyes bored into me, watchful, curious, but not hostile. If they wanted to, they could cut me into a hundred pieces before I managed a single cry. With small movements I pulled Kadesh’s cloak closer around my shoulders.
Holding Shay’s halter between my sweaty fingers, I made my way through the strange and silent gauntlet. My camel appeared completely unaffected, plodding her usual, slow gait.
The Edomite tribesmen were watchful, but not warlike. Then one of the men came forward and I sucked in a gasp when I recognized him as the same man who had robbed my father of our camels to pay for water rights. A second man I didn’t recognize quickly followed.
I tried not to shrink into my cloak, but my hand went instinctively to my leg. The man’s black eyes flickered to the spot as well and I bit back a whimper. I despised him for humiliating my father when he’d threatened to slit his throat, shaming my father in front of his own family.
“If you’re a woman, let your hair show,” he commanded.
I didn’t speak, afraid to admit who I was.
“Pull down your hair,” the second man said, waving a hand to dismiss the first rogue, who slunk back to his horse with a growl. The older man faced me with piercing gray eyes. “You haven’t fooled us, woman.” Despite his orders, his voice was gentler, his eyes a shade kinder.
I sat taller on Shay, a weary indignation rising inside me. This man had no idea what I’d endured to get here. The brutality from Horeb; the humiliation of the temple bedrooms with Leila as victim; the loss of almost my entire family; the High Priestess Armana, the woman who wanted to chain me to the goddess statue of Ashtoreth; and finally, the death of Kadesh at the hand of my betrothed. The past year flooded my mind and strengthened my resolve.
I wasn’t going to let the men of Edom harass me. They would not have me. Not alive, anyway. I’d already learned there were worse things than death.
I locked eyes with the older Edomite and slowly pulled back the hood of my cloak, loosening my tangled, long hair. There could be no doubt as to my gender, but I was dirty, my face chapped red from the wind, my eyes bloodshot from sun and lack of sleep. I wavered on my camel, more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life. It took every ounce of strength to stay upright and not slide into a heap on the ground.