Copyright © 2016 by Anna-Marie Barendt/A.M. Morse
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author and publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Seen from above, small, dark shapes labored around an enormous, circular wickerwork boat, a gufa, sitting in the middle of a barren patch of land. This was the same as any of the gufas used to haul people and goods through the marshes around Uruk, with one exception — this was, by far, the largest. This was Noah's Folly. The Ark.
Nothing could sway Noah from his path, not lectures from his peers, not the loss of his youngest son, not thievery by his slaves. He had worked on this vessel for over a hundred years. It stretched across the land and still was not finished. The size alone was enough to cause any onlooker to question its purpose. One hundred and fifty cubits wide and deep with walls fifteen cubits high. Logs as big around as a man created a network to hold the bottom of the vessel off the ground supporting it just high enough so slaves could work underneath it.
Every day they applied sticky, black pitch to the underside of the vessel helping to stiffen and waterproof the fabric that was attached to the woven rope base. The rope, made from heart of palm and Tree of Life, was woven around like a basket between the boat's slender gopher wood ribs.
Everyone knew the round vessels were built with rushes and reeds only, but Noah, declaring it God's will, insisted on using wood.
For years upon years, all watched as the Ark was built; as the massive ropes were woven and spliced; as stout beams were rammed into the earth to help keep the sides stable; and, as the tension in the ropes was adjusted again and again, bending the wooden ribs in a gentle, upward curve.
Slowly it grew, becoming the vessel meant to fulfill God's prophecy.
Looking down from his perch on his dragon, Japheth could see the half-finished planking on the upper deck. He remembered walking with his father, stretching out rope, marking the vessel's outer circumference. The Ark had come a long way since he last saw it.
Slaves, frightened by the shadows of the two large dragons sweeping over them, dropped their bundles and ran to the protective cover of the Ark.
The black dragon circled lazily catching the updrafts with his large wings. The smaller, slender beast undulated on the currents using the diminutive wings between her forelegs and body to help her glide through the air. She carried Japheth perched snugly behind her horns as she looked for a place to land. Japheth saw how the dragons' large, dark shadows broke up the sun's relentless glare as they flew overhead and how the downdraft stirred up dust and debris. He was just a tiny bump in the smaller beast's silhouette.
You will be fine with your father, Japheth. This is your family after all. Think, you too can take a mate. It is what we are meant to do when we come of a certain age. The voice echoed in his head as she turned her face side to side, causing her blue tendrils to toss wildly in the breeze, and began her descent to the ground.
Ismi, I do not want a human mate. You have filled my heart ever since I caught you; there is no room for another. Japheth stroked the dragon and watched her skin turn from dark green to orange to purple under his touch. He had been with her far too long to not understand her colors: green, concentration; orange, a flare of dismay; and purple, love and peace. He smiled.
When she felt the small glow of triumph her color shift created in Japh's mind, her body turned red with anger. You will get off me here, Japheth, and take all your human things with you. The dragon gave a little huff. Shaking her body to and fro, she lowered her serpentine neck to the ground.
Japheth scrambled off his perch from behind her horns his small pile of belongings landing with a thud at his feet. Could you not have at least taken some care? You almost broke me in your haste, Ismi.
The slender dragon, Ismi, did not reply. She stomped her five-toed foot and shook again, causing her bright red dorsal mane to tremble and whip the wind. Effortlessly, she took to the air. Japheth looked up at her cream-colored belly as she flew higher. As they flew out of sight the black dragon, Ismi's latest suitor, sounded a triumphant roar.
Battered by Ismi's downdraft, Japh grabbed at his belongings. The slaves started to come out of their hiding places, creeping closer to the tall man with skin the color of honey and dark dreadlocks reaching below his shoulders. Around his neck was a cord, but whatever treasure it held was hidden under the man's dragon-skin tunic.
Japheth watched the slaves approach him. Seared into his memory at an early age, his family lineage spilled from his lips. "I am Japheth, third son of Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah, begat of Enoch who walked with God, who sprang from the loins of Jarad the son of Mahalalel begat by Kenan, who arose from Enoch out of Seth the Appointed, who was a man sent to Eve from God."
As Japheth concluded his recital, a second group of people made their way down the gangplank. The women in the group walked sedately behind the men who rushed toward Japheth. One was of medium height and muscular, his skin a dark umber; the other, tall and slender, his skin russet. Both wore the white tunics of the temple priests of Yahweh.
Japheth held up both hands, palms facing outward, thumbs and index fingers touching, pinkies spread, a sign of peace taught to all members of Methuselah's massive family.
The tall one grabbed him in a bone-crushing hug. "Is it you, Brother? Have you returned to us from the wild dragons?"
Japheth recognized the tall man as his eldest brother, Shem. He hugged him back.
Shem held him at arms' length. "Is this Japheth who was always covered in dirt and plants now standing before me covered in dragon-rider's clothing?" Shem glanced down, "With a knife strapped to his calf?" He pulled Japheth in for another tight hug. "The same knife made for you by our mother's brother?"
Just as had been done for his elder brothers, his uncle Tubal-Cain had crafted Japheth's knife especially for him. Tubal-Cain also embedded an oval cabochon of green stone in its handle to signify Japheth's life-long role as a plant priest. Shem's stone was pure white; Ham's, blood red.
"Do you still wear yours, Shem?"
Shem shook his head. "I put it away as I became older." He motioned, and one of the women gracefully walked over and stood beside him. "Let me introduce you to my wife, Sedeqetelebab, daughter of Methuselah."
Japheth's eyes widened as he looked at his new sister-in-law. He was having a hard time grasping that his brothers had adult lives now.
She stood tall and proud next to Shem. Her hair was pulled severely back from her face, and she was dressed in a serviceable green tunic embroidered with golden images of sheaves of wheat. She approached Japheth and gave him a brief hug, "Thank God you are safe, Brother. Many times I have heard Shem pray for you."
Japheth felt her press to him and move away. His head spun from all the people around him, talking to him, touching him. He managed to mumble, "I am pleased to meet you, too, Sister Sedeqetelebab."
"Sede, go to the house and let Na'amah know Japheth has returned," said Shem.
Na'amah. Their mother. Japheth's heart skipped a beat. During his time away, she was the person he missed the most.
Sedeqetelebab nodded at her husband's request and turned to go. As she hurried away, another man approached. He was shorter than the brothers and kept his head covered. Gingerly holding his tunic out of the dust, he looked at Japheth with curious eyes. "And who is this?"
"Tochen," said Shem, as he placed his arm around Japheth's shoulders. "Meet Japheth, Noah's youngest son."
"Japheth, this is Tochen, one of Noah's most trusted slaves."
Japheth executed a small bow, which the older man returned.
"Tochen, please go to the temple and let Noah know that his son Japheth has returned."
Tochen bowed in Shem's direction and kissed his thumbnail. "Certainly. He will be most pleased. I will sing praises to the Lord the whole way there."
As Japheth watched the man walk away, strong arms reached around his shoulders to grab him in a hug. "Now let me look at you, Little Brother," said a gruff voice near his ear.
Instinctively Japheth grabbed for the man's head and, with a quick twist, flipped him over his shoulder. The man landed with a heavy thud scattering dust into the air. The slaves retreated a step. A small gasp rose from Shem. The man on the ground coughed.
Japheth knew a moment of fear when he saw his other brother lying on the ground. "Ham," he said, as he offered his hand to help the man up. "Please forgive me. In the wild nothing good approaches from behind."
Ham squinted as he looked up into Japh's face and laughed. "You have filled out and gained height. Riding dragons seems to have made a man of you." He took Japheth's hand and braced his foot against Japh's. When he could not overbalance Japh, he let himself be helped up.
Once standing, he dusted himself off and smiled. "It is a blessed day for you, because I, too, stopped wearing my knife when I got one of these. Ne'elatama'uk, come forward and meet your brother Japheth."
Japheth watched as the second slender woman approached. Not as tall as the first, she still shared the same high cheekbones and full lips. Her simple tan tunic was covered with various shades of stains. She, too, wore her hair in a bun, but her hair had worked free forming a wispy halo around her face.
Instead of hugging Japheth, she stopped a few feet away, tucked her loose hair behind her ears, and wrapped her hands behind her back before she looked quizzically at him.
He felt like he was being searched while she gazed at him. Relief washed over him when she quickly nodded and smiled. Looking in her eyes, he returned the nod. It seemed her focus was on the clouds in the sky, not on him.
Ham slapped Japheth on his back hard enough to raise a small cloud of dust from his dragon-skin tunic. "Ne'elatama'uk is also a daughter of Methuselah. She was meant for you, but after my bride died and while you were not among the living," he frowned for a moment, "she became my bride."
Japheth nodded. "So it shall be, and Yahweh's blessing upon your union." He hoped he answered properly.
Ham looked at his brother for a moment and burst out laughing again. "Well said, Brother. Come to the house and let Na'amah find you a room."
Na'amah. His mother. Would she recognize him?
Ham led Japheth to the pasture's west side where there was a tall wall. An old gate, askew on its hinges, creaked mightily when Ham pushed it wide. Ham gave it no notice, leading Japheth into the inner courtyard of Noah's house.
After a brief struggle to close the gate, Japheth turned and saw his mother's garden. It had always been lush and orderly. The garden still stood, but now there were half-buried, broken bowls alongside tufts of weeds. What, he wondered, had happened to allow such disrepair? Tripping over an uneven stepping-stone, Japheth followed his brother and sister to the small courtyard fountain.
As they walked through the garden, a pregnant woman walked quickly to meet them, her slightly protruding belly clearing a path before her. Her mauve tunic indicated her high social standing, and the keys clinking together at her waist proclaimed her position of responsibility.
Japheth distractedly acknowledged her presence with a small nod, as custom dictated, but looked past her for his mother. He remembered his mother, tall and willowy, her dark hair intricately braided and wrapped around her head. Always smiling, she would wind her arms around him as she showed him a new plant, her breath tickling his ear as she described its properties. Had she changed much?
He shifted nervously as moments slipped past and no one else came. He looked at Ham.
"Let me introduce you to your new mother, Japheth." Ham smiled as he raised a hand toward the pregnant lady, "This is Na'amah."
Japh looked at the woman. She had his mother's name, but this was not his mother. A stone settled in his throat and prevented him from speaking. He looked at the ground and then back at the woman.
Ham, oblivious to his brother's despair, gazed at Na'amah for a moment. "Is she not pleasant to look upon?" His gaze traveled over her, "She recently married our father and looks forward to the day she can be relieved of her burden."
Japheth looked closer. She looked tired, and her skin was pale. He also saw a quick furrow of displeasure between her eyes and a slight tightening of her lips at Ham's brusque announcement. Most would have missed it, but living among the dragons, he had learned to be aware of little things that could mean the difference between life and death. He bowed again to the woman in front of him.
He swallowed the stone in his throat. "Forgive my manners, I..." He looked to the sky, blinking rapidly.
She nodded slightly, "It must be hard. We will talk later."
The soft compassion in her voice encircled him, supporting him as he processed the new reality of her existence and the existence of the babe she carried.
Ham slapped Japheth on the back, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had descended on the group. "Na'amah, this is your new, long-lost son, Japheth. He has grown from a sapling to a full-grown tree in the nearly fourscore years he has been gone. Is there a room you can make ready for him?"
Again the slight downward turn of her lips and a protective hand across her belly, but Na'amah nodded and disappeared inside the house.
"Come," said Ham, as he sat by the fountain, "let us wash the dust off our feet before we enter. Tama," he looked at his wife in her stained tunic and shook his head. "Make yourself useful and go help Na'amah."
As Tama made her way past the men, Japh looked at the fountain. Its chipped tiles, mossy grout, and scum-coated basin told of better days. However, the water flowing from its spout was fresh. He shivered when the cool water hit his skin.
"Yes, scrub your feet most of all. The women get so upset about bits of leaves and dirt being tracked in." Japh obliged as Ham waited, already finished.
Stepping through the doorway was like stepping back in time. The rooms had not changed, but everything seemed smaller than he remembered. He quickly ducked to avoid hitting his head on the doorway lintel. No, Japh amended, he had changed.
The floor covering, once brilliant and thick, was faded and worn thin. He used to count his steps as he crossed it; fifteen every time, now only five. He ran his hands along the rough stone walls as he followed Na'amah deeper into the house.
"We only have the storage room available." Na'amah looked at Japheth and then glanced away. "Since your brothers have married, they each need separate rooms for privacy." She opened the door next to the cooking area.
Japh looked inside. Slaves were finishing cleaning the room and making a pallet on the wooden floor.
"I hope you find it comfortable. Please put your things away and get ready for dinner. Noah will be arriving soon."
Na'amah left him standing in the room. It was not the original room that he shared with his brothers, but the worn pallet cover was similar to what he had grown up with. Similar enough to bring back memories of his mother lying beside him, holding him, and singing to him when he could not sleep. To shake off the impending sadness, he put away his belongings.
He had just finished putting his bundles of dragon hides and scrolls away and was changing into a clean dragon-skin tunic when his door burst open. He barely saw the pale skin and white hair of his father before he was caught up in his tight hug. Japheth flinched as he felt the arms go around him.
Standing rigid in his father’s embrace, Japh forced himself to stand still and remember this man who held him. Long-forgotten stories of how Lamech, Noah’s father, accused his wife of consorting with the Sons of God when he saw his newborn son’s snow-white flesh and violet-red eyes, flashed through his mind.
Lamech had also asked his own grandfather, Enoch the Prophet who walked with God, to find out the truth. When Enoch revealed Noah’s destiny, Lamech sent his son to live with his own father, the Prophet Methuselah.
Standing with apparent ease in his father’s embrace, Japheth thought of the changes that had happened since that time. He had gone missing. His brothers were married. His mother, replaced.
Abruptly, Noah fell to his knees and began to pray. “Oh Yahweh, merciful are You, looking down and shedding Your mercy on us.” Noah raised his hands and began rocking back and forth. “Today You have given back what was taken, restored the lost lamb to the fold. Your ways are ever righteous. Keep us and protect us in the days to come. May we sing Your praises always. Amen.”
Noah lowered his hands and paused for a moment. He stood and looked directly at his son his eyes changing from pale blue to red. “Welcome home, Japheth. Blessed be the One who returned you.”
Japheth looked into his father’s eyes for a moment, startled by their strange ways. As a child, he had never been able to tell if his father’s eyes really changed color or if it was a trick of the light.
As a full-grown man, he still felt uneasy when he saw the shift, but now he was able to hold his father’s gaze for a moment. “I will tell my dragon, Father. She decided to bring me home.”
Noah’s eyes narrowed.
Japheth sighed. Noah, at least, had not changed much over the years. His eyes were still unnerving; his skin still as pale as marble; his wild, white hair still stood out like a bush around his head; and he still had no room for humor in his heart.
“Let me look at you.” Noah walked around his son. “Yes, you have grown up strong and tall, like your mother’s people. But I see my mark on you in your dark blue eyes and paler skin.”
He patted Japheth on the shoulder. “Praise Yahweh. We thought you were dead once the female dragon had you in her talons. Your return is a testament to Yahweh. The end of the world will soon be upon us. There is much yet to do and we must work tirelessly to prepare.”
Noah, eyes flashing red, looked up and pointed to his middle son. “Ham.”
Japh turned to see his brothers standing by the door.
“Finish with your animals and then go and help the women prepare food for a feast day tomorrow after we go to Temple to give thanks. They will need more help, and the slaves will not be distracted from building the Ark.”
Noah’s eyes mellowed to a light violet color when he spoke to his eldest who also stood in the doorway, “Is it not exciting? Your brother has returned and the prophecy is closer to being fulfilled.”
Noah glanced again at Ham, “Is this enough to quell your doubts? Now go.” Before Ham could reply, Noah dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
Noah turned and placed an arm around Shem’s shoulder, pulling him close. “Start thinking of brides, eight are to travel on the Ark. We will send out runners after tomorrow’s celebration.” He patted Shem on the back one last time as Shem bowed and left.
Japheth looked at his father. Many years had gone by, and still the prophecy of the world’s end was his imminent concern. He worked to keep his voice level as he said, “It is good to see you, Father.”
Noah looked at him, glancing up and down the length of his son’s tall frame and around the room. His eyebrows furrowed when he saw the dragon-skin tunic and dragon-skin sheath holding its well-used knife strapped to Japheth’s calf. “I see you were able to keep track of your knife all these years.”
Noah shook his head silencing any response Japheth might have had. “We will catch up later, Japheth. The sun starts its descent. We have been caught unprepared to celebrate your return tonight, but tomorrow — tomorrow night we celebrate the new moon’s return, the Budding Flower Moon. Now we will have even more to celebrate: the culmination of the prophecy.”
Japh smiled. “I almost forgot that this moon cycle is called the Flower Moon. The dragons call this cycle the Dragon Moon, and the new moon is called the Hatching Dragon Moon and ushers in their mating season.”
Ham, who had not left when his father waved him away, chimed in, “Yes, we will go to Temple and sit piously with the high priests of Yahweh and sing, watch as High Priest Nir sacrifices an animal, and give thanks for the world’s coming destruction.” He grimaced. “And everyone else — even the dragons, apparently — will celebrate the celestial marriage of Inanna and the king by being joyous and free with their affection, helping to return fertility to the land.”
Frowning, Noah drew himself up tall, but still fell short of both of his sons. He looked a Japheth. “Forget the dragons’ ways. They are not welcome here.”
Still standing tall and his eyes flashing red, Noah turned to Ham. Grabbing him by his tunic, Noah pulled Ham close. He looked deep into his middle son’s eyes. “We will have no words of disrespect in this house. You are a priest of the God Most High. He wills how we celebrate the Budding Flower Moon. We will be saved through His grace and none other. For the last time, go help the women.”
Noah gathered his robes around himself and walked into the hall, his voice floating behind him. “I have much to do. I will see you at dinner.”
Before turning to leave, Ham looked at Japheth while rubbing his eyes as if to remove a mote. He shrugged his shoulders.
Japh nodded. Nothing had changed. His father still put the Ark and what it represented above everything else. He could not even take time to say: “Yes, I am well,” or “I have missed you.” His anger, righteous or not, was still a tool used to instill fear and obedience.
Na’amah appeared in front of Ham. “Noah bade me to come and show Japheth the Ark.” She looked once at Japheth, walked through the house, and stepped out into the afternoon sun. Japheth obediently followed.
In the afternoon heat, the noxious fumes from the steaming caldrons of black, sticky tar rose to meet them, as they walked toward the Ark’s hulking form. Mallet strikes rang out in the air causing a cacophony of noise.
The noise and odor did not seem to bother Na’amah as she strode to the Ark, but Japh covered his nose and did his best to ignore the din as he followed her inside. Once inside the sound of the mallets grew louder, as slaves worked to put in the wooden supports between the first and second levels.
“Your father is a blessed man, to be chosen by Yahweh to survive and usher in a new world.”
Japheth had to lean forward to hear Na’amah’s voice over the commotion. In doing so, he looked at her. The distant tone of her voice was at odds with her gently rounding belly, but not the protective hand she placed over it. “And you are blessed to be the one who accompanies him,” he replied.
She turned her face away and motioned to the vessel. “Each day brings the prophecy closer. The slaves work hard to fit the planks snug and sure to the supports and to weave the rope as dictated. Others finish the floors and the animal enclosures. Still more apply the first layers of waterproofing.”
“Yes,” answered Japh. “It is an amazing feat that Noah has accomplished.”
Na’amah nodded, offering a small smile.
When Japheth remained silent, Na’amah pointed to the top of the Ark, “You can see where there is going to be a smaller building on the uppermost level? It is a covered house. We will live there. Food and daily tools will be kept in it as well. Noah says even though we will be caring for the animals, we are to live separate from them to maintain our dominion of them.”
What do you think of that, Ismi? No indignant retort echoed in his head. Japheth frowned, disappointed.
Na’amah frowned slightly as she watched the men laying the flooring for the upper level. “Of course, there will be more storage below for seeds and the tools we will need when our time aboard the vessel is completed.”
Silently she led him up a small staircase that spiraled from the middle deck to the upper deck she had pointed to earlier. Walking around the upper level, Na’amah trailed her hand along the railing. “It is unknown how long we will be on this vessel.” Her frown deepened. “Hard to know how much to take, much less what to take, to start over in a new world.”
Japheth followed her to the railing, where she stopped and looked over the edge. The view from the Ark’s upper decks reminded him of being aloft on Ismi. However, instead of feeling like the whole world was expanded before him, he felt constricted by the inward-curving railing.
The thought of being confined to such a small space for an unknown time after soaring in the limitless sky made his heart pound, as he broke out in a sweat. He frowned. Would she ever speak to him again?
Mistaking his shiver as a reaction to the cool breeze, Na’amah continued, “Yes, the breeze is brisk up here. Come we will go below again.”
Japh dutifully followed her, eager to get off the Ark and lose the feeling of being trapped.
“Once the Ark is sealed, the men and women will live apart from each other. Noah says God’s way is wise, because it will focus us on the needed work and limit the number of mouths to feed.” Her hand found its way to her belly again. “Even the animals will be separate, male from female, so the Ark will not be overrun.”
“Well, I can see God and Noah have thought about many details.” He glanced around the curving interior of the ark, working to control his breathing, and thinking of how long it must have taken to build while his mother’s house was slowly falling apart. A small twinge of anger picked at his mind. He shook his head and cleared his throat. There was no changing his father’s mind now.
“Where will the dragons be placed?”
Na’amah looked at Japheth for a moment before looking at her feet. Carefully watching where she was walking, she led him around the curving walkway cluttered with tools, until they were standing in the completed section of the Ark. “I am unsure of the exact placement of each animal. Noah does not take me into his confidence in those matters. My nieces and I will take care of the human need. Ham will manage the placement of the animals and their feed. Shem, of course, works alongside Noah to bring items needed for holy worship and to save the temple writings and knowledge that Yahweh instructs him to bring.”
She paused for a moment and led him deeper into the belly of the Ark stopping at a room that held many shelves. A few shelves held tightly woven baskets, and there were even more cloth bags and clay pots scattered on the floor. She opened a basket and ran her fingers through the seeds it contained. “They have also been trying to gather plants, but it has been difficult. Since you have returned, you can take over their collection and storage.”
Japh looked at her. “Me?”
Na’amah returned his quizzical glance. “You have not forgotten you are the third son and belong to the priesthood?” She repeated what Noah had told him years ago. “The first son is for the high holy priesthood, to see to the needs of God. The second raises and inspects the sacrificial animals, ensuring none are blemished and all are worthy of their honor, which he also performs. The third tills the earth, raising, harvesting, and preparing the plants, holy and mundane, to be used as food and in healing and meditation. The remaining sons cause the blessed father’s quiver to overflow with wisdom, joy, and wealth.”
Embarrassed, Japh felt his cheeks and ears get warm. “Of course. I am the third son, you are right. I have even kept up my observations of plants in the wild. I have not thought of myself as a holy priest, though, in many years. I have thought of myself as a dragon rider.”
She looked at him disapprovingly. “You must wipe that thought from your mind or your father will do it for you. He does not approve of dragons or what they represent.”
Walking in silence, they made their way around the rest of the Ark’s interior. While Japheth would have loved to know Na’amah’s feelings about dragons and dragon riders, he did not want to have his father’s opinions repeated back to him. He remembered only too well the lectures he had gotten as a young child fascinated by dragons.
Noah had told him that dragons were an abomination from an unholy union between Lilith and Ha’Satan. Japheth, watching them soar through the sky, was not bothered by long-forgotten myths.
Noah told him how dragons steered men away from the teachings of Yahweh. Japh thought it unlikely that a dragon could control a man, since all the dragons he had seen flying around Uruk were burdened not only with a man, but brands, saddles, and slave bracelets on their ankles.
The day he saw Ismi fall from the cliff in her attempt to fly, the day he caught her and held her tight, changed him. Her body wrapped around him, and he listened to her plaintive cry of fear echo deep within his soul, though she had not uttered a single cry.
That day, he saw into her mind. He felt her emotions tear through him when her fear became an incendiary anger because her desire to soar on the wind had been denied. He felt her wounded pride.
Through her, he felt so much more that he had ever been allowed to feel and had marveled at it. That day his fascination with dragons could no longer be contained by his father’s dire warnings.
Na’amah’s words echoed back to him. You must wipe that thought from your mind... It seemed not much had changed.
They made their way down the gangplank in silence. It was not until Na’amah was leading him down the narrow path running from the Ark to the garden wall that he voiced his questions. “Has God given any more signs of the coming prophecy? Is Methuselah still alive?”
Na’amah slowed her steps and turned to look at him, her eyes troubled. “Yes…, my brother is still with us. He is well over nine hundred years old now. We get news regularly from Adataneses, the daughter of his old age. She says some days he surrounds himself with comforts of the flesh, yet other days he strongly defends the ways of God. We pray for his soul daily and that he keeps to the path set before him.” Turning and walking to the garden gate, she cut off their conversation.
When they reached the house, Na’amah, her hand in the small of her back, turned to face Japheth as he headed for his room. “Dinner will start shortly before sundown. I must overlook the preparations. I look forward to breaking bread with you, Japheth.”
Unsure of the etiquette, Japheth executed a small bow, a slight tilt of his torso and a nod of his head.
A small smile graced her lips, and she nodded in return.
Japh was unable to stay cooped up in his room. He strolled around the courtyard deep in thought and missing Ismi. Bending over, he picked up a broken bowl. It bothered him. It was not just the gate’s disrepair or even the broken bowls like the one in his hand. It was the weedy, overgrown garden and the mismatched tiles placed in a haphazard fashion on the roof that told him more about the state of things than his father or brothers could have. Only the urgent repairs were made; repairs to increase pleasure were forsaken. He felt the small spark of anger start to grow. Setting the bowl on the fountain bench, he left the garden.
He wandered around the grounds, looking at the slaves’ reed-and-mud shelters. He saw their tidy, meager gardens and skinny children.
At a distance from the huts, separated by trees and bushes, he saw the small cemetery. The cramped burial mounds covered with flowers and other displays of love indicated that the deceased were gone, but not forgotten.
Was his mother in that field? Noah and his brothers never even mentioned her. Why was that? Had she meant so little to them?
Lost in his reverie, Japh sat on a small knoll and looked out over his father’s domain. The sun continued its progression to the western horizon, causing his shadow to lengthen on the ground.
He was pulled from his thoughts by a shout from the Ark. A heavy bracing beam had slipped crushing one of the men who had been carrying it. He was pinned to the ground and crying out. Without another thought, Japh ran down and helped the others lift it off.
Women rushed to see to the care of the injured man. Since the sun was still up, the slaves returned to their labor. Lacking any other distraction, Japh followed their lead. Before he knew it, he found himself helping with the physical task of installing the beam. It kept his mind off Ismi’s silence and from wondering about his mother.
Japh looked up and saw Noah motioning him down from his labors. Ham and Shem stood beside him. “It is not your place to sweat with the slaves, although dragon riding has made you stronger than the lot of them. Come now, we must wash for dinner.”