Banished (Forbidden)(8)By: Kimberley Griffiths Little
The man studied me, his face impassive. I waited for him to arrest me for trespassing and stealing their water. Instead an unexpected smile quivered at the corners of his mouth. “We are probably distant cousins through the tribes of Abraham’s grandsons, are we not?”
I willed my voice to steady. “In Mari, where I’ve traveled from, I heard tales of a lone man—a stranger—living here in the caves of the canyon lands. Is this true?”
The Edomite leader put a hand on his sword belt. He scrutinized my face, my tattered clothing, and my beautiful white camel. “If this man you speak of wants to be known, he’ll let you find him.”
All at once my mind cleared, like early morning fog disappearing from the banks of the oasis pond. “Is—are you the man Kadesh called Chemish?”
I felt his surprise even as he tried to hide it. “Yes, I am Chemish. Which merely confirms my suspicions about who you are, woman of the Nephish.”
I sucked in a breath. He’d known who I was the moment I’d stepped foot into their canyons. I should have realized the sentinels with their horses had been gathering while I watered my camel.
“A solitary woman is safe in the canyon lands,” Chemish said, never taking his eyes off me. “Although she is a fool for traveling without her tribe. I advise you to stay on the main paths,” he added with a slight bow. Regally, he waved to let me pass, but before I could order Shay to move, the Edomite leader gave a small clap of his hands.
A young man about my age ran to the elder man’s side. “Asher, send a message through the ranks and to our sentries on the cliffs. The woman of Nephish is to remain safe while in our lands.”
“Yes, my lord,” the boy said, dark sympathetic eyes catching mine.
I flushed and loosened my grip on the reins, letting Shay take the lead. Passing the sentry of sober Edomites, I darted glances in every direction for signs of Kadesh. If he was here, why didn’t he come to meet me?
Perhaps I needed to face reality. That the hidden man who had healed the young Benjamin with frankincense was not the man I loved. That Kadesh truly was dead. It was the only reasonable explanation. But I was grateful Kadesh had told me about his friend. The older man was the reason I was still alive. The reason the rogue Edomites hadn’t swarmed and carried me off.
But the army of these fierce rose-walled canyons was lined up at the ready—as though they had been expecting me. The realization filled me with hope.
Soon I came upon the long narrow crevice I’d explored on my family’s journey to the oasis the previous spring. This was the same closed-in gorge where Kadesh and I had stumbled upon each other and he’d told me a little about his frankincense lands. The place where he had kissed my palms and told me not to be afraid. The day he’d gazed into my eyes with such meaning and whispered my name with such emotion, I’d had to look away for fear I would throw myself at him.
Those memories had sustained me for months. But those same memories had also become a torture.
I shook my head to cast aside the tormenting thoughts and entered the opening to the narrow path. The air stilled, our steps muted. Blue sky peeked through the rock slits overhead while the sheer walls twisted and turned. The ache in my heart spilled over. This place brought back a rush of emotion.
If the unknown healer was actually Kadesh would he still find me desirable—or be disgusted by the slash of Horeb’s scars across my chest? I’d hidden them from Kadesh when he’d found me at the Temple of Ashtoreth, but what about after we married? Could I hide my body in the dark of the marriage tent forever?
Shay plodded through the seemingly endless tunnel while shadows filled the passageway. My camel slowed when we finally entered the wide, open courtyard where I’d sat with Kadesh so long ago.
I was stunned once again by the flat limestone cliff carved like an enormous gate. So high I had to tilt my head back to see it properly. We paced the perimeter of the sandy courtyard, peering down other pathways branching off in the tumbling cliffs of the Edomite mountain kingdom.
I chose the path that lay more in shadow, following a gut instinct. A second area led to a myriad of dusky caves, stone steps cut into the rock side to reach them.