Banished (Forbidden)(9)By: Kimberley Griffiths Little
My camel grunted, impatient for me to dismount. “Not yet,” I said, but Shay folded her legs and kneeled to the ground, giving me no choice but to jump off.
Walking on my own, I peered into numberless hollows along the walled avenue. The air turned motionless. Not a breath of a breeze. Prickles rose along my neck and arms. Each cave opening was like a single dark eye watching my every step. My camel ignored the surroundings and chewed her cud, sighing and grunting behind me.
“Silly girl,” I told her over my shoulder, and my voice echoed in my ears.
Just then a shadow moved above me. My heart stuttered. Swallowing my anxiety, I spotted a second series of rough-cut steps. Using my hands, I climbed the staircase, breathless.
“Is someone there?” My voice was strangely loud in the utter stillness. Someone was watching. I could feel it, sense it. “Kadesh?”
The shadow didn’t confirm or deny the question, but a man spoke from the darkness, the timbre of his voice low and rough. “What is a lone woman doing in the land of the Edomites? Don’t you know the Edom men are savages? You might not be alive until sunset.”
My pulse thudded in my head, but I wasn’t going to leave until I knew for certain the man Hannah had told me about wasn’t Kadesh. I moved to the opening, his heavy rich cloak swishing about my feet.
The past month of travel dragged like weighted chains tied to my ankles. It was all I could do to climb the steps of the cliff. How horrible I must look with my wild, tattered hair and bloodstains on my worn dress. “You can’t frighten me,” I said, my voice echoing off the dense walls. “Chemish gave me permission to search this land.” I took three small steps upward. “I’m Jayden, daughter of Pharez and tribe of Nephish. I’m looking for someone and I thought you might know—”
I caught sight of a shadow crossing the blackness of the cave. Quickly, I climbed the last ten steps, my heart jammed in my throat.
“I know who you are,” said the man, and his voice was suddenly right there next to me.
And that was the moment I knew. This was the voice I’d heard in my dreams all these long and terrible months. My voice broke despite my resolve. “And I’d know you anywhere, Kadesh. I’m wearing your cloak. Marked with your own blood.” Under the sinking afternoon sun I laid the last nugget of frankincense on my outstretched palm. “Frankincense brought you to me the first time—and frankincense helped me find you again.”
His laugh was strangely callous. “How could that be?”
“A family of the desert told me of a stranger who healed their son with the power of the frankincense.” When he made no response my trepidation grew. “Kadesh, I’ve grieved for so many months over your death, too many to count. But you live. You live!”
“If you can call this living.”
His aggrieved answer left me unbalanced. This was not the reunion I’d been longing for. “What does that mean? What are you saying?”
His next question was abrupt. “Who gave you my cloak?”
He was mere steps away from me, but locked in the cave’s darkness. Purposely keeping me at bay. “Horeb gave me your bloodstained cloak as a wedding gift. Proof of your murder.”
His voice held a strange despair. “My dreams have always been filled with you, Jayden, but any hope was stolen when your betrothed attacked me that last night in Mari.”
“And I watched it all—locked inside Dinah’s house! But if you live, Horeb can never take anything away from us again. I’m here. I found you.” Tentatively, I stepped into the cave’s opening, unsure of myself. Wanting to run to him. But something was clearly terribly wrong.
Kadesh’s shadow paced the stone floor. “After Dinah and Nalla dragged you back into the house, Horeb’s soldiers held me down while he plunged his sword into me and left me to die. For Horeb’s plan to succeed—to rule the western deserts from Akabah to Damascus—he needs you as his wife. You give him the security of a tribal law fulfilled. The decency of family and stability on the throne.”
“I know how ruthless and vile he is, but how did you escape? Both Horeb and Nalla told me you were dead.”