Friday, February 10, 2012
Fiction Friday, ONE MORE TIME, Chapter 37
Hamath stood and stretched. His stripes had healed. His paunch had disappeared replaced by muscle, and he had gotten used to the sparse meals. He had his own sleeping area in the shed with a ratty old linen blanket, but it was sufficient to keep him warm on these summer nights. Each night, they manacled him by one ankle to the back of the shed, but he’d learned to sleep with the discomfort.
Bildad rented the slaves to farmers or businessmen who needed laborers, and Hamath grew to anticipate those days with pleasure. When they worked for someone else, he could usually carry on furtive conversations with other slaves, and they ate better.
Hamath struck up a friendship with a young man by the name of Zillai, and he knew today they would be rented to a nearby farmer to build sheds for his sheep.
When they had been chained to the back of the farmer’s wagon and were far enough away from the slave holdings to speak safely, Hamath nudged Zillai. “How did you fare last night?” he whispered.
“Well enough.” Zillai chuckled softly. “The whip master must have been feeling kind hearted—not one lash.” Zillai was a more recent “recruit” than Hamath, and the young man hadn’t learned to hold his tongue yet.
“Where is your home—other than the slave sheds, that is?” Hamath asked.
“I’m an Arabian from Bozrah. I came to Jerusalem searching for the Man called Jesus. I came hoping to ask Him to heal my father.”
“Let me guess—you traveled alone?”
“Yes—mother often warned me I’m too impulsive, and this time I received the recompense for rash behavior. My father had been thrown from his horse, hitting his head on a rock, and wouldn’t wake up. I didn’t want to wait for a caravan. I jumped on my horse, told my mother where I was going, and left. Now Bildad has my beautiful stallion, Sultan, and I have a striped back. I know my mother wished me to learn a lesson, but I don’t think she planned for the lesson to be this severe. If I ever get free, I’ll go home and not leave so impetuously again.” He rubbed his shoulder. “I should also tell her she was right.”
“Did you find Jesus?”
“No. He left before I arrived in Jerusalem. I made a camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem not too far from here, and some men asked to warm themselves at my fire. I should have known better—it wasn’t cold. But I invited them to join me. I had a leg of lamb roasting on the fire. The next thing I knew, I was bound and they were eating my supper. You know the rest of the story.
“The worst is that I don’t know if my father is still alive or not. If he is, it’s at no thanks to my efforts. If he’s not, I’ll never have a chance to tell him goodbye or that I’m sorry for the times I disobeyed him.”
“That’s my problem, too. I hurt a lot of people. I’m even responsible for the death of two of my servants.” Hamath gulped and continued. “I desired one’s wife, and so I gave him to Bildad. Bildad said the man died of injuries. The other died trying to rescue me. This life is what I deserve. I do wish, though, that there could be a chance to say ‘I’m sorry’ to the people I hurt. That will probably not happen, now.”
“I won't give up. As long as we’re still breathing, a chance still remains that we might gain our freedom. Maybe some of our loved ones will send rescuers.”
“I hope not—I’m afraid they could wind up as we are. That’s what happened to me. I came to rescue the man I gave to Bildad, and here I am.”
“May the One God grant that we might have a chance to tell my mother, my father, and your people how much we regret our unwise actions!”
“Amen,” said Hamath.
The day ended far too soon. By the time the sun went down the sheds were finished, and the farmer took them back to Bildad’s slave compound.
“Did the slaves speak among themselves?” Chilead demanded of the farmer.
“If they did, I didn’t hear them,” the farmer responded. “Your slaves are silent. Why don’t you allow them to speak?”
“That’s none of your affair.” Chilead said. “It’s enough for you to know they’re not allowed to speak, other than to answer when you ask a question. Were they respectful to you?”
“Yes, they were respectful, and no, they didn’t talk among themselves.” The farmer sounded irritated at Chilead’s questioning. “Why do you grill me? I’m not your your slave. I paid for a day’s use of these men, and I don’t consider these questions part of the bargain.”
Chilead growled his discontent, but allowed the farmer to leave with no further questions. It wouldn’t do to kidnap someone this close to home—too many people would know where to come looking.
Hamath and Zillai had been returned to their shackles in the shed when a commotion began outside.
Bildad had returned. He and the men who went with him were talking—or arguing—with the men who had remained at the slave compound. Hamath could hear only snatches of the conversations. All of them were shouting at each other at the same time, but an occasional word would come through. “Ghost,” “slaves” and “no!” were the words most easily distinguished. Hamath felt curious, but thought offhand it might be nice if the whole lot of the slavers killed each other off. It was an hour or two before they ceased arguing, and the next thing Hamath knew, Bildad himself removed Hamath’s shackles.
“You are free to go.” Bildad said.
“I don’t care to be the sport of your men again, sir.”
“Go, or you will be whipped...” Bildad clapped a hand over his own mouth and looked around with wide eyes. “Just go. Go!” He stood and started toward the next slave.
“Wait—you stole my money and my horses and killed my servant. It seems you owe me.”
“Your servant, um, had an accident. Fell on his sword. Yes, that’s what happened. He fell on his sword.”
“That's a lie. I saw him killed,” Hamath said, despite the fact that he might be getting himself into increasingly hot water.
“Here—30 shekels. That is the payment for a slave. You are reimbursed. Now go. Leave this place, go home.” Bildad pushed Hamath toward the entrance of the shed, where several other slaves stood looking confused.
“Where are my horses?”
“Horses? The ghost said nothing about horses. Now get out of here. Or do you choose to remain a slave?” Bildad’s voice raised an octave.
Hamath thought he’d pushed Bildad as far as was wise. He left, walking south toward Jerusalem. For 30 shekels, he should be able to find a nag of some sort. Some of the other slaves were running now, outdistancing him, but Hamath picked his way with caution, not wanting to fall over a rock or a log in the dark. He hadn’t gone far when weariness overtook him. He and Zillai had worked a long hard day, and neither the farmer nor Chilead had fed them when they returned. In the confusion and dark, he didn’t see Zillai nor any of the other slaves that he knew.
Hamath lay down to sleep, wishing he’d had the forethought to bring the linen blanket in the shed. Ah, well, it felt somewhat warm this summer night.
He woke in the morning, his stomach growling. Maybe he’d use part of the 30 pieces of silver to buy himself a loaf of bread. He reached down for the bag of money Bildad had given him only to find it gone. Hamath searched where he lay sleeping, but the bag wasn’t there. He found footprints close to where he slept. He began to swear but caught himself. “Forgive me, Adonai,” he said aloud.
Hamath shrugged. No point in going south now. He turned, found the road north toward Nazareth, and began walking. He stopped at a farmhouse and asked for a crust of bread. The farmer’s wife eyed him in suspicion for a moment, but handed not only a loaf of bread but a piece of cheese and a skin of water as well. Hamath thanked the woman profusely and again followed the road north.
The going was hard. Many days Hamath went without food, and his stomach felt constantly empty. Whenever he met travelers or a came to a house, he begged for food.
“I’ll never again refuse anyone food who comes to my door, nor anyone who asks for help when I’m traveling,” he promised God aloud. Every crumb he received was gold.