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paced the small chamber that he called home. He stared with blurry eyes at the
scroll in his left hand and pulled at his hair with the other. Helpless anguish
filled his heart as he reread the letter from his abba.
Second Year in the Reign of our Thirty-Ninth Candice
terrible has happened and I find that I can hardly bear to write this message.
My heart is heavy, but I must inform you of the events of the last few weeks.
Terror has reigned in our hearts since the first attack. Let me explain. Dogo’s
herdsmen have been plagued by a beast that suddenly appeared in the hills
surrounding the pasture land. Actually, appeared is not the right word, for no
one has seen the creature. It attacks with little warning and leaves no tracks
to follow. The only thing anyone has seen is an enormous shadow. The loss to
our taxilar herds is devastating, but even worse is the loss of friends and
brother was with our herds when the beast last attacked. We have not been able
to find him since. Whatever this thing is, we don’t believe it keeps prey
alive. Instead it devours everything it can get to satisfy its ferocious
your brother and have committed his soul to Melek. It is only the hope of seeing
him in heaven that has kept your mother and me from complete despair. We rest
in the hands of Melek and pray that He will be your strength in this difficult
received your last letter and are so thankful that you were able to convince
King Zedekiah to release Jeremiah. We pray for your safety through the capture
of Jerusalem. May Melek use Babylon to bring Yisra’el back to Himself. Serve
Him faithfully and pray for deliverance from the beast we face.
praying for you,
Twelfth Year of the Sixty-Seventh Candice
and his friend sat on a hill and gazed out at the taxilars. “I wish that I
could have a herd of my own,” Dawit said.
Brehane looked at his friend.
It’s better than slaving over a hot fire, banging metal into shape.”
thought you’d be happy to be a blacksmith like your abba,” Brehane said. “But I
certainly don’t blame you for wanting to be a herdsman. I love it. Someday I’m
going to have my own herd. It will be larger than my abba’s and I will earn the
respect of the elders of the village.”
be nice doing something you love.” Dawit frowned. “I mean, I don’t hate the
work of a blacksmith, it’s just a lot nicer out here under the blue sky every
reached over and patted Dawit on the back. “Maybe when we are older you can
choose to be a herdsman instead of a blacksmith. I would give you a few
taxilars from my herd to start your own. Then we could spend every day
will take forever!” Dawit complained. “I’m only nine and you’re just a year
stood up to get a better look at the grazing animals. Dawit stood beside him
quietly asked, “Do you ever think about what would happen if a taxilar died
while you’re out here?”
shivered at the thought. “Nah, that will never happen to me. My abba taught me
how to take care of them, and I’m good at it.” He playfully punched Dawit in
the arm for suggesting such a ridiculous thing.
Dawit pointed toward the north. “Is that kid supposed to be that far from the
Brehane jogged after the taxilar. “Stay here with the rest of the herd,” he
called over his shoulder.
that crazy taxilar go? Brehane knew the river lay ahead of him and fear shot
through his heart. Any animal that wandered too close to its banks would be
prey to a number of predators. “Come here!” Brehane desperately hoped his voice
would carry over the roar of the river. The bushes, trees, and vines made it
hard to get even a glimpse of the animal. Leaves slapped him in the face as he
rushed through foliage. When he drew a breath, only tension seemed to enter his
Brehane just saw its white tail disappear into the tall reeds on his left. He
sprinted toward it as quickly as he could, heart throbbing with fear. Pushing
back the black waves of hair that blew into his eyes, he continued to call the
wayward animal, but it ran closer to the bank of the green water. Brehane burst
out of the thin vegetation near the banks. He gained ground on the scurrying
kid. When it was just a few feet in front of him, it looked back and then
turned its gray-masked face to the water flowing beside it. The rush of the
river pounded in Brehane’s ears. Brehane reached out to grab the kid’s soft,
long hair when the air exploded with the alarm of hundreds of birds. Brehane’s
head snapped up. Several squawking birds flew out of the trees. He returned his
attention to the kid. His hand was just inches from the animal when a crocodile
surged out of the water, latched onto the middle of the animal, and ripped it
from the safety of the shore.
watched in horror. The bow and arrows on his back were useless as the croc
jerked the taxilar from side to side until it was torn in small chunks that the
beast proceeded to swallow whole.
end of the day, Brehane had no other choice than to return to the village. How
would they take his terrible news? He’d herded his abba’s taxilars for less
than a year. He was such a failure. He dropped to his knees at the outskirts of
Dogo. How could he be a great herdsman like his abba if he lost the animals so
his tears he saw Abba run up to him and pull him up into a tight embrace.
choked out the story of how he had lost the taxilar. Breaking through his
accusing thoughts, Abba’s gentle voice crooned, “It’s okay, Brehane. I’m glad
you weren’t hurt. The herd will be fine. You tried to get that animal away from
the shore. Sometimes they are just too stubborn for even the best herdsman to keep
Brehane determined that day not to lose another taxilar. He would be strong
enough and smart enough to do the job well, and ensure his future as a
respected herdsman of his village.
Nineteenth Year of the Sixty-Seventh Candice
watched his sister’s shadow bounce up and down in front of him as she skipped
alongside him. He was glad that Zema didn’t carry the jug they’d filled with
the cool water of Lake Tana. It had been a long, hot day under the blazing sun
and the promise of sundown was a welcome thought. The hot breeze blew his dark
hair into his eyes and he flipped it out of his face.
brilliant body of Spangle drew his attention away from his little sister. The
churis padded beside them on silent paws. Brehane watched the large animal.
Spangle’s vivid colors and graceful movements fascinated him. He reached out
and stroked the large cat’s silky head. His heart filled with pride as he
admired Spangle’s long silky strands of fur. Indigo blue stripes wove around
his caramel body and legs. Red spots popped out on his tail and tufted ears.
Spangle turned his head and barely lifted his chin to look Brehane in the eye.
He chuffed softly and pressed against Brehane’s hand.
go through the village today?” Zema looked back at him. She turned around and
walked backwards. She shuffled her feet and a cloud of dust swirled around
them. “I know it takes a little longer than if we go through the mango grove,
but then we can say ‘Jambo’ to everyone.”
sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “All right. We can go say ‘Jambo’
to some of our friends, but not to ‘everyone.’”
wait until I’m seventeen like you, then I will go to the village every day and
play with my friends,” Zema stated with assurance.
you have a while to wait since you’re only nine.” Brehane tapped her on the
entered Dogo, Zema ran her hand over the top of the wooden gate. Her little
finger caught in one of the thin vines tying the poles together. She tugged on
helped her pull her finger free. “I love to come to the village.” She smiled up
Brehane rumpled her hair. “I know you do.”
village noises were so different from those he heard in the pasture. Hammers
clanged, fires crackled, looms squeaked, and axes chopped. The smell of fried
fish floated on the breeze and filled his nostrils. Woven-grass huts spread
along the outer fence of the circular village, leaving the center open for
daily life and business.
one of many small villages in Flasha Mura where Gisbons dwelled. The average
Gisbon stood no taller than four feet. Brehane, like his people, had black
skin, eyes and hair. Both males and females had shoulder-length, wavy hair. A
layer of curly, black hair protected the bottom of their bare feet. Their light
tunics were of simple colors embroidered with bright thread.
all of the essential tradespeople: a tanner, blacksmith like his friend Dawit,
cloth maker, and wood worker. A few healers lived there and they knew all kinds
of secret remedies. Most of the remedies were made from plants that the healers
grew or foraged for.
nodded to Dawit who stood outside his abba’s blacksmith hut. Dawit smiled and
nodded back. Just then a girl walked around the hut and approached Dawit.
even a thought, Brehane’s feet changed course. “Zema, it looks like someone has
come to visit Dawit. Let’s go meet her.”
Zema beamed. “I love meeting new people.”
Dawit,” Brehane said as they approached. He eyed the girl curiously.
Brehane. Zema.” Dawit smiled.
beside him turned to look at them and Brehane was so shocked he tripped over a
rock and stumbled into Zema. “Watch where you’re going,” his sister huffed.
had the most striking eyes he’d ever seen. They were much lighter than most and
a completely different color. They vacillated between gray and blue. He really
couldn’t decide which color they were. Her hair was dark brown instead of
chuckle drew Brehane away from his observations. He quickly closed his mouth.
my cousin, Abrinet. Abrinet, this is Brehane and Zema.”
Brehane could swallow, Zema said, “It’s nice to meet you. I didn’t know that
Dawit had a cousin, at least not one that I didn’t already know.” She grinned
at the girl.
meet you,” Brehane managed to mumble.
pleased to meet you too.” Abrinet smiled at them. She looked down at Zema. “You
haven’t met me before because I live in Hamusit.”
never been there, but my uncle has been there on business for the Candice,”
opened her mouth to talk when a familiar voice called, “Brehane! Zema!”
turned. Aunt Adey waved at them.
Zema exclaimed. “There’s Aunt Adey and little Fana.” She yelled their names,
and ran as she waved both arms above her head.
reluctantly said, “Kwaheri, Abrinet and Dawit.” Then he followed Zema. It took
all of his willpower not to look back at Abrinet.
what a nice surprise,” Aunt Adey said. “And Brehane, too. What brings you here
Aunt Adey said. Her dark eyes said she understood.
carry Fana?” Zema jumped up and down by her aunt’s side.
handed the baby to Zema and relaxed her tense shoulders a little.
Brehane said. “Let me take the water jug for you.” He reached for the handle of
the rough clay jug and took it from his tired aunt. From behind him someone
snickered. He turned his head and saw Gedeyon and three of his friends. Just
what he needed.
look who it is,” Gedeyon sneered. “If it isn’t the perfect herdsman who never
loses his taxilars. Oh, wait! He did lose one when he was just a little boy.”
Gedeyon stuck his lip out in a pout.
felt his anger hover just below the surface. He determined not to let Gedeyon
get to him. Not this time. Instead he ignored him and followed Aunt Adey.
sucked in air. Hot gravel hit the back of his legs. He winced and hissed his
exhale between clenched teeth. It stung like crazy. He didn’t even need to turn
to know that Gedeyon had thrown it at him, or told one of the other boys to. He
did his best to ignore the pain and drew closer to the rest of his family. He’d
had too many confrontations with the boys to trust his own reaction.
they escorted Aunt Adey home, Zema shouted greetings to all who worked outside
their grass hut. Zema’s cheery shout was hard to ignore and most of the
villagers waved and smiled back. White teeth shone in their round black faces.
stepped into his aunt and uncle’s small grass hut. He set her large jug down on
the wood table that Aunt Adey wiped the grit from. Zema continued to chatter
and Brehane knew she wouldn’t want to go home anytime soon. He racked his brain
to come up with some way to get her to leave. Finally he had it. He leaned down
and whispered, “Remember, Uncle Mihret is coming tonight.”
eyes lit up. She handed Fana back and quickly said farewell to Aunt Adey.
Brehane smiled and kissed Fana’s cheek. He waved. “See you soon, Aunt Adey.”
weren’t far from the eastern gate of Dogo. As they left the village behind,
Zema bubbled, “I can’t wait until Uncle Mihret tells us the story he promised.”
of pink flamingos flew over them. Their noise almost drowned out Zema’s words.
either. I hope it’s about great Gisbons and wars!” Brehane thrust the jug of
water out in front of him like a sword.
hope it’s about princesses falling in love!” she said dreamily. She pinned him
with a look that dared him to say otherwise.
extra fast tonight, then maybe Uncle Mihret will begin early,” he replied. He
hoped to avoid the argument his sister wanted.
obstinate glint filled Zema’s eyes and she puckered her lips. She definitely
would not let this end peacefully.
eat any faster, the chickens will guard their grain when you’re around!” She
rested her slender little hands on her hips.
not everyone can take their sweet time eating like you do.” His voice rose in
annoyance at her taunt. “It’s a miracle you have time for anything between
came into view just in time to distract Zema from further comment. She skipped
ahead of him into the yard. Mama was bent over the cook fire in front of their
large hut. Birds sang from the tree that stood like a tall sentry on the far
right. Its fragrant red blossoms swayed in the light breeze. The smell and
bleating of the taxilars drifted from their pen around the hut. Spangle jogged
through the yard and into the trees that surrounded it. He was probably going
hunting for something to eat. Brehane drew a deep breath. The sounds and smells
of home seeped contentment into his heart.
got to hold Fana.” Zema stood up tall and proud. “Brehane carried the water jug
for Aunt Adey.
We had so much fun!” She bounced up and down on the balls of her
glad.” Mama smiled. “How is my sister?”
Fana is so cute. I just couldn’t quit kissing her chubby little black cheeks.”
sat down beside the cook fire and grabbed the bore bristle brush that was
always handy. He brushed the leaves and dirt out of the hair on the bottom of
his feet. The aroma of wat hovered above the cook fire and made his mouth
water. He walked over and peered into the pot. He stirred the wat. The spicy
stew had pieces of pork in it tonight.
of laughter drifted to his round ears and he turned. Abba and Uncle Mihret sat
under the tree. They looked toward the taxilar pens that were nestled behind
the hut. The birds above them chirped loudly in an attempt to scare them away.
set the brush down and jogged over to join them.
the herd today, son?” Abba clapped a hand on Brehane’s shoulder.
but if this heat continues, the pasture will dry up.” Brehane frowned. “The
taxilars’ appetite is already dwindling in the hottest part of the day.
“I had to
chase down a kid that got lost in the middle of the grove of trees in the east
pasture. Even though its mother called frantically to it, the kid wouldn’t move
without me dragging it.” He shrugged. “Overall, it was a normal day.”
this drought ends soon,” Abba said, “or we’ll need to shear the taxilars before
their wool has gotten long enough. I hope we can get an optimal price, but if
it’s too short that won’t happen. I have never seen a year this hot and dry.”
He gestured at the cracked soil.
looked around at the once green vegetation and frowned at the land that was dry
and brown. It looked very much like it was dying.
the pleasant weather we’re accustomed to.” Abba pulled at his tan tunic in an
effort to cool his sweaty body. Concern shone in his light brown eyes.
be grateful to see this exhausting heat washed away by a good soaking rain.”
Uncle Mihret sighed.
He turned to look at Brehane. “How many herds did you
share the pasture with today?”
were five of us,” Brehane replied.
get dinner,” Mama called from beside the fire.
wrapped his thick arms around Mama’s slender waist. “It smells wonderful,
smiled and her brown eyes shown with pleasure.
family had seated themselves on the grass mats, Brehane grabbed the clay jug
and poured water into the smooth wooden cups held out to him.
Mihret drained his. “Ah! That’s so refreshing in this heat.” He held his cup
out for Brehane to refill. But Brehane hadn’t filled his abba’s yet.
my brother, always cutting in line,” Abba joked dryly.
hardly noticed the spiciness of the stew or the tangy zip of the flat bread.
His mind was occupied by curiosity. What story might his uncle tell them?
Brehane jumped. Somehow he’d managed to knock over his cup as well as Zema’s.
The spilled water soaked into the dry soil and disappeared. His leg was cool
where it had been splashed.
all right, son?” Abba had a handful of food stopped halfway to his mouth. The
wat was about to drip out of the injera it was wrapped in.
Brehane quickly wiped the water off of his plate. Zema wiggled and looked
impatiently from one adult to the other. As soon as Abba set his plate aside,
Brehane jumped up and gathered the wooden plates and cups. Zema was right
behind him and helped him wash up.
returned to the fire, Abba, Mama, and Uncle Mihret stared at them. Their mouths
seventeen years that I have known you, you haven’t ever cleaned up this
quickly,” Mama said.
skipped to Uncle Mihret, grabbed his hand, and swung it.
Tesfa,” Uncle Mihret said, “what do you say we put the children to bed early,
and you and I can go catch noctilights.”
wasn’t fooled. His uncle’s mouth was quirked in a half smile and mischief
danced in his eyes.
Uncle Mihret! You promised to tell us a story,” his sister whined. She frowned.
She abruptly stopped swinging their uncle’s hand.
right, I did, didn’t I?” Uncle Mihret chuckled, a sound that rumbled inside and
then boiled out.
comfortable and I will begin.”
lay down behind Brehane and he leaned against the churis’ soft side. Zema
climbed into Mama’s lap, and Abba pulled one of the log benches over to share
with Uncle Mihret.
Uncle Mihret rubbed his chin. “I will tell you the history
of a people very close to my heart. They were not Gisbons like us, but Men.
However, I will begin with a remarkable woman.”
hope she’s a lovely princess,” Zema said. She clapped her hands in delight.
a princess, but she was a very brave woman, and she was beautiful. Her name was
had a big problem. She was married to Elkanah. But he was also married to
Peninnah. Hannah walked through life with a broken heart. Not because her
husband had two wives, but because she had no children. No matter what Elkanah
said or how much he showed her he loved her, she was sad. He even tried to give
her double of what he gave Peninnah. Still, he could not give her what she
really longed for.
sat by a tree just outside of the city of Shiloh and cried great heaving sobs.
her husband, rubbed her back. ‘Hannah, why are you crying?’
year when we come to Shiloh,’ Hannah hiccupped out, ‘Peninnah teases me
relentlessly. I don’t know why your other wife has children and I don’t. Have I
done something to displease Melek?’ she asked. Her eyes clenched as the tears
ran down her cheeks.
sure you’ve done nothing wrong.’ Elkanah soothed. ‘Am I not better than ten
sons?’ he asked. ‘I love you whether you have children or not.’
want a son to hold and to make you proud.’ She sniffed.
proud of you, my love.’ He lifted her chin and kissed her cheek. ‘Dry your eyes
and we will go together to the tabernacle and offer the sacrifice to Melek.’ He
pulled her to her feet and handed her a strip of clean cloth to wipe her eyes.”
up straight with interest. “They knew Melek too?” she asked.
way, they knew Him.” Mihret smiled at Zema’s eagerness. “They knew that He had
promised to send a savior for them, but Nikao hadn’t come yet.”
Zema said and snuggled back into Mama.
Elkanah stayed outside and made sure that the sacrifice was handled properly,
Hannah took her burden into the tabernacle.
walked past Eli, the priest, who sat in the doorway. Once inside, Hannah faced
the wall and poured out her heart to Melek. In her anguish she gripped the
soft, purple linen curtain that lined the wall. She wept. Her heart cried out,
‘If You will let me have a son I will give him to You for all the days of his
life. When he is old enough, I will bring him back here so that the priests may
teach him to serve You.’ She swayed and moaned.
other worshipers stared at Hannah and whispered among themselves. When Eli
realized what was happening, he became suspicious. He looked closely at Hannah.
Her lips moved but no sound came from them. With his face contorted with rage
and disgust, he stomped over to Hannah.
drunk. How long will you continue to drink strong wine?!’ he demanded.
eyes popped open in surprise. ‘My lord, I haven’t drunk anything. It is because
of my great sorrow that I’m pouring out my soul to Melek. Please do not think
poorly of me,’ she explained. She released the cloth and clasped her hands
tightly in front of her. Tears streaked her travel worn face.
expression softened toward her. ‘Go in peace and may He grant you your
request.’ He blessed her and sent her on her way.
Hannah left, her face was no longer lined with grief, but radiated peace. She
told Elkanah about her encounter with Eli, and he was relieved to see a smile
on her lips again.
next day, Peninnah whispered to Hannah, ‘Would you just look at what a great
abba Elkanah is.’ She smiled wickedly at Hannah. ‘It’s too bad you haven’t
given him any children.’ She placed her arm around Hannah’s shoulder in
started to get upset, but then she remembered Eli’s prayer. Instead she smiled
at Peninnah, tossed the arm off of her shoulders, and said, ‘You’re right.
Elkanah is a wonderful abba.’
and his family returned to their home in Ramah. Hannah left Shiloh with a
confident stride instead of the downhearted shuffle that she’d gone with before.
She waited in anticipation for the answer to her prayers. If only she had known
what Melek had planned for her.”
said, “Ooooh. She’s going to have a baby, isn’t she?” Her voice was filled with
you’ll just have to listen and see,” Mihret quipped.
life was just the same as before. Hannah worked hard to prepare meals, wash the
clothes, and tend to the animals. Through it all, the hope for a son swelled in
had a moment’s break from her work, she liked to walk in a dry riverbed near
their home. She could think and pray with some privacy there. Best of all,
Peninnah couldn’t follow her and spew venomous words into her ears. Peninnah
had to stay at home with all of her children.
winter’s day, a few months after she returned home, Hannah walked down the
river bed humming to herself. She carefully stepped on the uneven ground. Rocks
and boulders were strewn about, and she had twisted an ankle on more than one
occasion. She looked carefully for rocks that she could carve into little
statues. She found it relaxing to make figures materialize out of the rocks.
picked her way through a part of the bed that had very large boulders scattered
around. She placed her hand on a boulder to step between it and another, and
felt an overwhelming curiosity to investigate the other side of it. She had
passed that rock hundreds of times without giving it a second thought. She
shrugged and slowly walked around it. She bent over to look at a vein in the
rock. When she did, she noticed an oval opening large enough for a loaf of
bread to fit inside. She looked closer and saw sunlight reflect off of
something wedged in the opening. A turquoise gleam. Carefully she reached in
and pried loose a hard object. Hannah gasped in disbelief as she stared at the
turquoise dragon egg that filled both of her hands.”
asked, “Was it real?”
sat up a little to watch his uncle’s face as he answered.
certainly believed it was.” Uncle Mihret chuckled. “But there is something you
should know about dragons. They were prophets through whom Melek sent messages
to His people. Hannah marveled that Melek had chosen her to raise one of His
messengers. She had heard stories of others whom Melek had favored with this
privilege, but not anyone she had known. She tucked the precious egg in the
crook of her arm under her shawl. She danced her way toward home. The sound of
scattered rocks followed in her wake.
Elkanah! Come quickly!’ she shouted when she was in earshot.
husband raced around the corner of their tent. Concern etched every line of his
face. ‘What! What is it!’ he demanded.
smile on her face eased his anxiety. She rushed him into their wood and cloth
tent. ‘Melek has answered my prayers, only beyond what I hoped or imagined.’
With a flourish she flung her shawl back and exposed the beautiful egg cradled
in her arm.
staggered and reached for a chair behind him. ‘I-is-is that what I think it
is?’ he stammered.
huge grin split Elkanah’s face. The two of them danced around the room hand in
hand, giddy with joy. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, banged on the door post
with a stick. She pulled back the flap before they could answer and demanded,
shouted for joy, ‘Hannah and I are going to raise a dragon to serve Melek. He
has answered her prayers.’ At this announcement Peninnah turned ashen. She spun
and stomped back to her own house and her squalling babe. Hannah could not
suppress her giggle. She gently stroked the egg, and gazed at it in wonder.
returned to his work with a bounce in his step and a silly grin on his face.
my dear children,” Uncle Mihret said as he slapped his hands on his knees. “You
will have to wait until tomorrow night for more of the story.” He stood and
stretched. The thin loops in his earlobes dangled and swung as he got up.
exclaimed Brehane and Zema together.
little hands were back on her hips but her long lashes drooped with sleep.
Mihret held up both hands. “I need to get a good night’s sleep so I am ready to
balance the royal budget tomorrow. And you need sleep as much as I do.”
good thing you live close by,” Zema said. She got up and gave him a hug.
children,” Mama stood. “To your room! Tomorrow you can pester your uncle.”
chatted with Zema about Hannah and her dragon egg as he walked back to their
room. He glanced at Spangle who walked beside them with his ears turned toward
them. There was an intelligent light in those eyes. He wondered again if
Spangle could understand what they said.