ALL ARE MORTAL

 

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Chapter 1

Abram was a man of peace. He spent his working day looking after his flock. His animals loved and trusted him. He used tough love to make sure they survived the constant raids by predators. Never hesitant to put their interests against those of his own, Abram was a pillar of his small community.

But he lived in a time of violence. Not only were his animals constantly attacked by large predators, so too were his family. These were the common animal predators of all those who graze their herds. In addition there were new predators. More mobile, vicious and powerful. These new predators were the armed men who roamed neighboring lands.   Their raids occurred without warning and were often very brutal and almost impossible to prevent. 

One day a well known raider band attacked Abram's settlement. They killed his animals then butchered them for their meat. Not satisfied with condemning Abram's people to certain starvation, they then attacked his tents. Women irregardless of age were raped.  Men were killed. All of Abram's property was looted. The raiders left with the children to sell into slavery.

At the time of the raid Abram was away with his nephew Lot. They had taken their youngest animals to the big city market. Both were happy with the outcome of the deal done in that market place. They traveled carefully knowing that bandits lurked in the hills who would steal their newly acquired wealth. There was no need to buy any new breeding stock as Abram's flock was heavily overburdened with females. This was the subject of their discussion as they traveled home by foot. Abram had started it by saying bluntly,

"We must decide on the female stock we can afford to butcher. The old ones will like the meat."

Lot was much younger so had more romantic notions about life. He said in a shocked tone of voice,

"Uncle you cannot kill our female stock. Where will we get our young ones in Spring?"

His uncle looked at the innocence in his nephew' eyes. It was time for this nephew to grow up, so this time Abram did not hide the facts of raw survival. He said in a harsh tone of voice,

"We have too many females in our flock. Do you think our males are so fertile that they can service that many? No, we must choose the least fertile females, then have Aaron the butcher kill them and prepare them for our celebratory feast. Remember that we have a responsibility to our old ones. When I am old I hope you remember that I will need meat occasionally. The old ones always eat bread with olive oil, drink the milk from our flock,  pick the fruit and vegetables they want from our garden. But you have seen their eyes light up every time the butcher prepares meat for the table."

During this long lecture, Lot had images only of a very young woman. She was the one he had chosen to be his wife. With this new family wealth there would be some for him to offer the neighboring sheikh who was her father. This meant that they could get married as soon as possible. So all that his uncle said passed over his head.

Abram was wise and saw where his nephew's mind had gone. Laughing he said in a teasing tone of voice,

"Besides, you forget that meat is an essential part of any marriage proposal. That sheikh is a greedy one. He will not give a prize such as little Izelle cheaply. But he has a weakness for good quality meat. Our meat is the best he has ever tasted. On his last visit he told me this in private."

Now his uncle had Lot's full attention. He said eagerly,

"Well if we have to thin our herd then so be it. Some of the older females have few breeding years left anyway. But how will you explain all this to your daughters?"

Now Abram had to stop walking to think on this. His daughters loved all the animals but they had grown up with the older females.   To butcher any of them will cause a storm of tears in his tent. Shrugging the shoulders of a father of girls, he said in a determined tone of voice,

"Tears from girls are inevitable. But a father's cunning can win them over. They are all very fond of their grandmother. My mother loves meat. I will use this to hush their wails and complaints."

Looking at his uncle with awe Lot said,

"Truly you are the wisest man I know. Never would I have thought of that your daughters will cave in to the demands of our grandmother."

Nodding his head Abram said sagely,

"Remember to work out who the most powerful female is in any tent. She is the one you must win over. Once that is done, all the other females will fall into line behind her to do your will...........But what is this I smell in the breeze? Who could be burning that much refuse from our camp?...."

 His nephew had the sharp eyes of the young, so he pointed to the far distance then shouted in alarm,

"LOOK UNCLE LARGE PLUMES OF SMOKE!!!"

Abram could not see this clearly but trusted his nephew's eyesight. Suddenly deep fear clawed at his belly. He exclaimed in a painful gasp,

"No not today when I was not there. God is not that vindictive. I only drank the wine to seal our deal. It is against our customs I know but surely not an offence in His eyes."

Not understanding what his uncle was saying, Lot danced about asking impatiently,

"Do you want me to race ahead to see what is happening?"

But now sure of the smell he was getting from those fires, he grabbed Lot's right arm before saying in a resigned tone of voice,

"No my son we will face this together. It will be better that I am there with you. But let us certainly walk as fast as we both can. There may still be some hope."

 

Arriving at the small hill above their camp, Lot was the first to find the dead sentry.  It was one of their tent slaves. A man he knew to be vigilant and brave. Now he was just dead. Looking down at the wound in his chest, he said in a confused tone of voice

"This is a spear wound. Who would do such a thing Father?"

This time it was Abram who was not listening. He was gazing down at a scene of horror. Not a particularly young man he had seen death before after many raids. But never had he seen death on this scale before. First, disbelief swept over him as he scanned the camp for any signs of life. Then despair gripped his heart, turning it to stone. Then anger flooded his veins. He walked slowly down to the smoking ruins of his camp. Faces of people he knew and loved stared blankly into the sky. His beloved animals lay dead with large chunks cut from their bellies. 

As his nephew caught up with the horror of it all, Abram walked to his tent. New depths of despair drove him to his knees when he saw his wife and older daughters. Their throats had been cut but not before other horrors had been visited upon them.  His wails of pain and anger rent the air. Soon his nephew was kneeling next to him, inconsolably  crying at the sight of his dead aunt and cousins. 

Abram stopped his noise but his anger continued to rise. He got up to check the outskirts of his camp. Sure enough he found the trail of the attackers. Then he started to walk after them. After awhile his nephew caught up, saying in a horrifically sad tone of voice,

"Uncle should we not bury them? It is our custom."

Abram only just heard these words of his nephew but in his anger he spun around to grab him by the throat. Lifting him off the ground he said,

"We will have our revenge THEN we will bury them. How can they rest if they are not avenged?"

Letting his nephew fall to the ground, Abram resumed his hunt for the slayers of his family. In his bubbling rage, he began to run. Ignoring all personal pain he kept up the pace. Then his luck changed. Their camp had been located near a natural spring. This was for the sake of watering the flock. Now it would provided Abram with one last favor. He could see a lot of people sitting near that well. Pulling Lot down to the ground he pointed. His finger was aimed at a man standing guard. This man they now both stalked.

When not feeding and caring for their animals these two men would often hunt down vicious predators. They knew how to creep up on an alert animal. Now they crept up on an human predator. As Lot sprung up one meter from this man's position to distract him, Abram slipped in behind his back. One swipe across the neck with his blade silenced this sentry. Now they sought a place to hide and wait for sunset.

The sun set in such a way to temporarily blind anyone looking westward. Knowing this, the two  stalkers crawled into the camp of the raiders. They waited for them to fall asleep. As these raiders went into a deep drunken sleep they moved from man to man. Soon the ground was deeply covered in blood.  Then Abram went to the only tent in that camp. He could see how the children had been caroled like animals to the east of the camp.  Now covered in blood he slid into the tent. There lying on his blankets was the raider's chief. This time Abram woke up his victim. When the man saw death in Abram's eyes, he reached for his weapon. But the gurgling sound that came from his throat signaled the way he was to die. 

Not knowing if there were others scouting ahead, Abram and Lot roused the children. At first the children screamed at the sight of such bloody apparitions but Lot calmed them with his voice. They left the oasis but did not go back to their camp. Instead they walked to the neighboring sheikh's land. Here they stumbled into his camp at midday. The children could hardly walk another step.  Abram and Lot saw them safely into the warmth of caring arms then fell dead tired to the ground.

 

When Abram woke, he was looking at the concerned face of the sheikh.  Knowing the answer before he heard it, the sheikh asked in a sad tone of voice

"Abram my friend and neighbor what happened? Where are your women? Was it raiders?"

Nodding, Abram said the dreadful words he could no longer hide from anymore. His sleep had been haunted by all their faces. He gasped in a painfully brittle tone of voice,

"They are all dead. Women, old men, slaves, all my animals. None survived the raid. I got the children back from the raiders' camp."

Now the sheikh saw something evil flash across Abram's eyes. He guessed what had happened to those raiders. How only two men could do such a feat was a mystery. But it was one he had no stomach to uncover. So he just said in a strong tone of voice,

"Your children are been tended by my women. Lot is being personally tended by my daughter Izelle. You are all welcome in my tent. We will talk later of this matter."

When the sheikh left, Abram rose from his bed of pain. He dressed to go and comfort the children. The problem of what to do with them had already been solved in his turbulent sleep. As he talked to each of them he saw their pale faces constantly seek out their new found carer. So this was to be their new reality. Abram accepted this as God's will. He had come back from doubting the greatness of his God. Had he not delivered all his enemies into his hands? No, his God was not responsible for this disaster. He alone was responsible. Abram would never forgive himself for such a lapse of judgement. From this moment he vowed to follow the will of God to the letter of the law.

 

Eventually Abram and his nephew were fit for travel. It was too painful to stay in the sheikh's camp watching the children forget their parents. Abram's own youngest daughter now called another man father. Accepting this as part of his punishment he now accepted the rest. Going up to the sheikh he said,

"God is sending me into exile for my failure to protect my women. Please can you keep my children here with you. They are already bonded to their carer families."

Shocked that a father would give up lordship over his daughter, the sheikh tired to get Abram to change his mind. But his stubborn refusals eventually wore down the sheikh.  So Abram took their meager possessions with them and walked westward from the camp. The parting of Lot from both his little cousin and his love was very painful. Both were now crying as they held out their arms to him. But Lot accepted his uncle's verdict. As he saw it, if his uncle was guilty of neglecting the safety of their women then so was he. This exile applied to them both as far as the young man was concerned. How could he marry someone as beautiful as Izelle if he could not guarantee her protection to her father. Two sad figures soon faded from sight but both men would continue to live in the hearts and minds of at least two females who longed for their eventual return.

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Chapter 2

After a long trip, the two refugees finally came to the gates of a city. It was called Sodom. They had stopped at their destroyed camp on the way to bury their dead. Abram and Lot lovingly dug deep graves for their family members. After observing all the death rituals, the two deeply saddened men walked away from that camp site for the last time.

The guards at the city gates recognized Abraham and his nephew. Yet they were puzzled to see them without stock to sell. The head guard asked this question,

"Why have you come back so soon? And where are your animals to sell? We have great need of live animals for our many temples to sacrifice to our many gods."

His immediate junior laughed before saying,

"Didn't you know? Abram here believes that there is only one God. Don't you Abram?"

Abram knew that he would have to endure their teasing, but was not prepared to hide his beliefs. So he said proudly,

"Yes there is only one GOD! I know because I have heard his voice."

The head guard did not believe his ears. He said rather sarcastically,

"You sure it wasn't the wine talking? We have all had too much to drink then heard voices. Though why mine always has to end in my wives yelling at me, I will never know."

Shaking his head, Abram said,

"It could not have been that as I do not drink anything alcoholic."

Now all the guards were laughing at him. They could hardly speak so just waved him on to move him from blocking the main city gate.

 

As they walked into the city, the two desert herders held their noses. They both knew that eventually they would no longer smell the evil odors of this city. But for now the assault on their noses was unrelenting. Manure, human waste, tanners pollution, fetid water, rotting food and other odors combined to send up a smell that made the eyes of any non-city dweller water.

There was an immediate problem That was distracting Abram and Lot enough to stop them from vomiting. Abram had given the Sheikh all the money they had got from their sales at the last market day city visit. This was to pay for the up keep of his daughter and provide her with a dowry. But that meant that Abram was without money for food and accommodation. Then a rare piece of good fortune came his way. As they passed a man looking for workers, Abram heard the city name for grave diggers. He joined the queue of willing applicants, with Lot just behind him. They made their way to the front of the queue. The man hiring was dismissing most of the applicants. Eventually Abram could hear what his main objection was as the man's voice became clear,

"GRAVEDIGGER! Not grave-robber you cur get away from me. I need honest men who can dig deep graves. If that is not you then go away."

When it came to Abram's turn, the man looked him squarely in the eyes. He exclaimed,

"At last an honest man. I can always tell by the eyes. Let me look at your hands..... Fantastic! Callouses and new blisters. These are just the sort of hands for digging graves. You are no stranger to hard, solid work I see. When can you start?"

Abram could not believe he got to the top of that long queue let alone get the job. So he said eagerly,

"At once. We were out looking for work."

Suspicious again the man said,

"WE? How many are there of you. I only have a modest side graveyard."

Abraham shoved Lot forward before saying,

"There is only the two of us."

Somewhat appeased, the man looked at Lot liking the sight of his muscles and young back. So he spat on his hand before offering it to Abram,

"Then the both of you are hired. The job comes with the gravedigger's hut. It is mainly food and shelter but there is always special payments from the rich customers. What do you say?"

Abram said in a grateful tone of voice,

"We are your men. Lead us to your graveyard."

He then spat on his hand before shaking the hand of his new employer. 

The walk to the graveyard took them past the worst sections of the city. It was still early morning so activity was confined to the few honest residents going about their necessary activities. The graveyard owner had worked out that his new employees were non-residents, so he warned them

"Never come to this part of the city after midday. If possible only walk this way very early in the morning. I am not targeted because they know I am the owner of the graveyard. But they will see you are both strangers to this city. That will make you their natural prey. I will show you how to go another way to my graveyard. There are also other city gates that you can use. Is that all clear?"

They did not have to have it all spelled out for them. In the marketplace they had always sold their stock to one buyer. He had told them horror stories of what happened in this place after dark. The haunted look seen in the residents' eyes confirmed those rumors. So Abram replied in a judgmental tone of voice,

"I can see what you mean. Why does the city ruler permit this way of life to go unpunished? It is against the laws of GOD!"

Scoffing at this show of foreign ignorance, the graveyard owner said,

"What god would that be you are talking about? In this city we have temples to over twenty gods. One is the god of these vicious people. Their priests encourage them to rape and kill. As for our city rulers, you will not hear me utter a word of censure against them out here on a public street."

This last part of his rant had a new tone to it that Abram recognized as fear. He worked out that the graveyard owner was scared of being overheard and his comments reported to city authorities.

The rest of their short trip was done in silence. This gave Abram the opportunity to notice a change come over the residents he now saw in passing. They now seemed richer and more industrious. When the graveyard came into view the immediate surroundings had even taken on a salubrious tone. This greatly surprised him. His people lived as far away from grave sites as humanely possible. So he asked his new employer in a puzzled tone of voice,

"Why do such obviously well off people live so close to the buried dead?"

Making a sign to ward off evil, his employer replied in a subdued tone of voice

"They are probably followers of the necromancer. It is one faith that is so very creepy. Can you believe that these people worship the dead. Sometimes they rent out my graveyard to host one of their religious black rituals. I make sure to take my family away to a place of safety on those nights."

Shaking his head in disbelief, Abram said to Lot in an apologetic tone of voice,

"Sorry but I seem to have brought you to a pagan dominated city. The one true GOD surely will not tolerate this city of Sodom for much longer."

 

After settling in to their new shelter, the new workers went for a walk up to the market they knew from previous visits. Here they were welcome, but with nothing to trade they soon moved on to the ruler's compound.   Arriving just as a large party was leaving, Abram caught sight of a woman's face and saw her ankles. He stopped staring when a man arrived to join her. This was obviously her husband as he placed his arm around this beautiful woman. Then his sharp eyes saw that an older man  was watching them from one of the balconies of the ruler's compound. This man was too far away to see his face clearly but Abram had seen the way he always faced the spot where the woman  was walking. 

People in the market had given him all the latest city gossip. One merchant said over a cup of the local brewed hot drink,

"They say the ruler's brother wants to supplant him.   The wife of the ruler is the holder of the scared gem of power. Whoever holds that gem holds the fate of us all if trouble flares."

A local buyer said as she was nodding her head,

"Yes, I heard that the ruler has already been poisoned but that the black witch had saved his life with her magic."

Then a resident said in a shocked tone of voice,

"My niece works in the kitchens. She says that the ruler has to have his meals prepared by his wife. Then only his daughter is allowed to bring his food to him. The kitchen staff are convinced that the daughter's uncle wants to seek to be both ruler and husband to the ruler's wiife."

With their heads buzzing with all this city gossip, the two newbies got food for dinner then walked back to their shelter at the grave site. It was just before sunset as they settled down to a unusually noisy nightly meal.

 

Not tired, the two men stayed up to watch the stars. After about two hours, they started to hear all the city noises. Sounds of revelry, debauchery and even murder drifted to their ears.  This did not stop until just before dawn the next day. Both Abram and Lot felt washed out from their poor sleep due to all that noise.

Still a day's full work beckoned. The two of them set to make an impression on their employer that was necessary to hold onto their jobs. As they were both exceptionally strong, they need not have worried. Graves were dug in record time. All the owner's customers were pleased by the speed of these new grave diggers. They complemented the owner on his good judgement. This also related into special extra payments or payment in kind. Soon he had stockpiled hills of eggs, unleavened bread, olive oil pots and even some chopped up meat. 

Weeks passed and Abram began not to notice the night noises. His sleep patterns were now only disturbed by the nightmares of seeing his wife and children butchered. Unnoticed was how all the grave digging was making him build up large muscles. Soon he was stronger than any man he met at the local watering hole.

Then one day his life changed yet again. It was to be the day when the ruler's son-in-law was to be buried. This was to be the biggest funeral in the city for that year. The two diggers were even given new clothes for the day. As they waited in the background, the ruler's family began to arrive. The sudden death of the husband of the ruler's only daughter had shocked even this city. All had seen how healthy he was at the city's annual festival. Just a few days after that came the announcement of his death. Rumors were rife of  foul deeds. One story out of the kitchen told to Abram at the market was that the son in law was given a meal portion by mistake. It was the first cut of meat from the festival meat. Traditionally the ruler received this first cut, but he was so sick that day he directed his son in law to be given it as a mark of respect. That show of respect cost the son in law his life, or so that kitchen rumor would have everyone believe.  

Last to arrive was the young widow walking next to the coffin. The rites of passage were preformed by one of the many priests in that city. Then these two powerful diggers and Lot lowered the casket into the deepest hole in the graveyard. They waited as the mourners expiated their grief. Then they fill up the grave.

The widow stayed on after everyone else left. Abram had to wait behind to finish off his job once she had left. After some time, she looked up at him to give him the nod. Unfortunately for Abram he had that minute begun staring at this remarkable woman. They eyes met and something happened. Neither of them knew it at that moment, but a great change had begun in both their lives. One look would change their futures and the future of many others. 

 

 

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Her name was Sarai. She was the only daughter of the city's ruler/ Her mother had been a Shrek's daughter. The dowry for her wedding was a fabulous jewel said to have mystical properties. The legend of this jewel was that who ever owned the jewel would rule all they surveyed.

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