So, I was reading the Bible in church the other day – yes, I do study, and I sorta stumbled on this. And a story grew. Enjoy…
Her father stood at the summit of the mountain, his arms spread out as though to fly or to catch a draft of the wind. The base wind tore at his robes, the air smoky and dense with ash and flinty sparks. At the foot of the mountain a fire seemed to rage, the reddish glow a foreboding backdrop to the man who stood with arms outspread.
“No…” she breathed as she ran towards him, the mountain seeming to become steeper with each step. Below she could hear the sound of jubilation, raucous laughter, the shadows of what seemed as waving arms all reaching for her father. Zelophehad grinned in the light of the flames below, the tongues dancing in his eyes, then he stepped off the edge of the mountain, his robes flapping wildly as he fell.
“Noooo!” Milcah screamed, her hands clutching the empty air as she reached for her father, to see him fall into the fiery darkness, and jolted awake.
It was dark. Looking through the flaps of her tent, she could see the sky, billions of lights danced across the dark blue floor of the firmament, Jehovah’s eyes; the portents of things to come. She got up from her bed, her clothes rustling as she made her way through the mess of pans and skinning knives to the entrance. Standing there, a willowy silhouette, she stared at the night sky and wondered what portent her dream might hold. I wonder how long Father has to foray this time. When would he come home?
Then she heard the scream.
Mahlah held the rabbit by the ears and slipping the knife into the flesh at the throat, skinned the entire animal in one cut. She dropped the skin into the bowl, and began to dissect the rabbit to remove the entrails. On the floor beside her was a narrow tipped, red fletched arrow, one of Noah’s. Several other animals lay on the dirt beside her, their eyes almost lifelike that one would almost believe they lived, but for the arrows sticking out of their throats. Thank Jehovah for Noah’s aim, and the extra food. Noah was easily one of the best shots among the people, everyone knew her aim was uncanny. Not once had she put many a boy to shame in an archery contest, her arrows finding mark in whatever she set her sights on. Oh, that she would find a man soon. Already she was eighteen.
The knife twisted through Mahlah’s fingers, her mind absent, yet her fingers deftly skinning the rabbits in expert strokes that broke no blood. Strange how she should be bemoaning Noah’s insistence that the time had not come to find or even be found by a man. She herself was to be twenty come next Hannukah and yet to be joined before the tabernacle. Though for her, it wasn’t a matter of decision, circumstances beyond her control had dictated it so. She thought of Obed then, and that fateful night as he stole into her tent, his scent filling the small space. She had awoken to his smell, the male virility that poured off him, washing wave over wave upon her desire. Her nostrils had flared, drinking him in, as she reached for his body, her body taut and stiffened peaks of need. Oh, how she had wanted him that day. The knife slid into the furrows of the last rabbit’s neck. But for the scream. Mahlah shook her head. And now, she could not marry. Not anytime soon.
It had been four months now and Obed rarely came back to camp, always out scouting the Promised. She knew he avoided her. Mahlah, put the skin into the bowl.
Tirzah sat upon a rock overlooking the camp. It was a favourite spot of most of the teenagers. The cliff-face of the rock gave a birds-eye view of the entire camp; tents and tents stretching to the lip where the earth kissed the sun. At night with the sky dotted with light, and one could see clearly through the crisp desert air, the beauty of Jehovah in the pillar of fire that rose into the sky. Oh hallelujah! Those were the best times. The camp lights flickering below her, the people moving about like gaily arrayed ants, above the angels flitting about the stars making them twinkle and sparkle, and from her father’s harp sweet melodies even the LORD could not ignore. Then they would dance, light feet skipping on the rocks, Zelophehad was the nimblest of men, his feet barely touching the floor as he twirled and spun, dancing from rock to rock. Tirzah blinked back tears. She said she wouldn’t cry again.
“Look! There she is, the sinner! Daughter of a sinner!”
Tirzah turned to see the boys as they walked towards her. It was Becher and Tahen and their brothers.
“Crying again? Your father was an evil man, perhaps your tears might save your own soul,” laughed Becher.
Tirzah got down from the rock, her back stiff as she tried to ignore them and walk away.
“Look! She is running,” it was Tahen. “He has to be in hell now. Only the souls of those whose hearts are pure may go to paradise. But those the ground swallows up are doomed forever. Cursed!”
Tirzah whirled, her plaited queue flying as she spoke. “You are an ugly fool, Tahen, and all your brothers. My father may be dead, but better than yours. Cursed is the man who lies with an animal, and surely your mother must be a pig because that snout you have can belong to none less ugly.”
Tahen reddened, his face contorting into a snarl as he lunged for her. Smoothly, she sidestepped to her left, her right hand reaching to smack the back of his head almost playfully as he sailed into the dust.
“I may be wrong,” she danced on the balls of her feet. “She may be a clumsy goat after all. Who else would fall for an oaf such as your father?”
The other brothers, all growling now, surrounded her, fanning into a semi-circle pushing her backwards towards a large rock that jutted out of the ground. Tirzah backed up. They were all larger than she was, but she wasn’t scared. Dan, Tahen’s older brother, brought out a switch, his evil face in a grin. That was when she knew they must have planned it before coming. Tirzah backed away some more, her heart beginning to race now. Maybe she had pushed them too far. Going into a crouch; all her weight on her left leg which she kept backwards, she kept her right foot forward and ready to be lashed out. Tirzah drew up her dress, exposing toned thighs the colour of warm caramel. Maybe she could take them, they were only seven. At that moment, an arrow whistled through the air and thudded firmly into the ground mere inches from Dan’s toe, the red feather fletching waving in the breeze.
“Don’t you think seven is a bit too much for one girl,” her older sister’s voice drawled.
Tirzah glanced up at the rock behind her, grinning widely. Noah sat there carelessly, a man’s breeches showing from underneath her dress as she swung her legs over the edge, another arrow already nocked almost lazily to the bow.
“You shouldn’t tease them so,” said Noah as they walked home, the line of sullen boys in the distance ahead of them.
“And you should teach me how to shoot, then I may not need to,” replied her spitting image of a younger sister.
Noah was beautiful in a dusky Midianese way, her olive green eyes wide and yet flinty, the long lashes giving them a smoky luster set off by the sensuousness of her lips. She was laughing now, her long limbs swinging as she skipped down the side of the mountain back to the camp.
“Father and I have already taught you Ramses fist, what more would you learn?”
“Milcah says it is more of a dance than an art of fighting”
“With Milcah, everything is a dance or a dream,” replied Noah.
“What has Milcah done now?” asked Hoglah, appearing suddenly from behind a rock outcropping, a basket of herbs under her arm. “And what have you girls done to the band of crybabies I saw walk past me cursing deeper than an army of Amalekites?”
The two other sisters, each a copy of the other, burst out laughing.
“What are Shemida’s men doing here?” queried Noah furiously as she burst into her sister’s tent, her olive eyes flashing angrily. Mahlah silenced her with a look. Noah fell silent, and went to stand behind her sister. The five of them; Mahlah, Noah, Milcah, Hoglah and Tirzah, all stood hands clasped in front of them and watched the man sitting before them being attended by six others in leather jerkins, heavy wooden cudgels in their belts.
Shemida looked up from the ledger being read to him, “Ah, my daughter Noah. Good, you are all here.”
“Yes we are, now get on with it.”
Noah started, staring at Mahlah. She had never heard such intensity in her older sister’s voice. That was usually her line. Suddenly she was afraid, whatever would make Mahlah so angry must be really serious.
Shemida paused for a second, his ingratiating grin never leaving his face. “Your father has been dead four months now, may his soul find embrace in the bosom of our father Abraham, and I have allowed you enough time to put your things together. According to the law, since he had no sons, all that he had, including you girls now belongs to me,” he licked his wet lips. “I have decided to take possession after the tabernacle meeting tomorrow, where I will make my intention known to the people. So do well to…”
“No! Never! You will never!” spat Noah. “Our father did no wrong! He never cursed GOD! He was not swallowed up!”
“It is the law child,” smiled Shemida as he sauntered out, his men in tow.
Milcah collapsed on the chair, her head in her hands. Her two younger sisters sat at her feet, eyes all turned to Mahlah. Noah opened her mouth to speak, but Mahlah raised up a finger. “Milcah, go make sure they’ve all gone, then come back. I have a plan.”
Eran crouched in the olive basket, his ears trained to detect the slightest sound. He had watched from the shadows as the little Zelophehad girl scouted the perimeter of their tent, then doubled on her to sneak into the basket. Heard when she announced triumphantly that there was no one about. Eran giggled to himself. No one indeed. Everyone knew who was the lightest footpad in all the people; trained by Caleb himself. He giggled again and listened to hear even further. They were hatching a plan just as Shemida had thought. Silly girls. Eran had to marvel at their bravery though, he almost felt sad for what Shemida would do to them.
The tabernacle of the Ark of Jehovah stood in the middle of the camp, the other dwellings radiating from it for miles around. It was a large structure, the huge tent which housed the ark surrounded by heavy wood pillars which fenced off an area around it within which the white-robed priest and blue sashed Levites could be seen moving. It was the law, upon a certain day, all were to gather at the tabernacle as they made their offerings unto Jehovah and asked for forgiveness of their sins and received instructions on what to do next. Shemida gave his orders quickly to his men, each of them placing a hand on the ram as they filed away. There would be no sin and whatever might be committed, the ceremony started soon and once the priest took the ram, their sins would be absolved as the ram was slain, and with it all ties to the Zelophehad line cut from the world. He could remember his joy that night when the scream had woken almost the whole camp; Zelophehad under all those rocks, not much more than his arms the only things showing.
“He has been swallowed up!” he had screamed too, first in genuine shock, then in earnest as he realized what that would mean.
The Hebrew man drew his kaffiyeh across his mouth as a wind blew from the west kicking dust and sand. Oh, he could not wait to leave this godforsaken desert and live in a city again. It had been forty years now, and though he remembered little of Egypt, he had been little more than a child at the Passover, but it had to be better there. Oh, look what the girls were making him think. Jehovah forgive me. He slapped the head of the ram. Take my sin. He would not be swallowed up.
Take my sin.
Hoglah walked in between the tents, through the back alleyways of the camp. Mahlah’s instructions had been explicit. For no reason were they to walk in the thoroughfare where they would be seen by all. As they made their way to the tabernacle, they would each go singly through the side ways in the shadowy corners, easy prey for those who would attack them. Or so it would seem.
Hoglah could understand. She had understood Mahlah’s motives without explanation, like Noah with her warrior’s mind, Hoglah thought herself to be adept with strategy. It had been their father’s bane to have no sons, but daughters. After their mother died, not long after the birth of Tirzah, he had begun to train them in the arts of the warriors and priests, and also feminine arts of music and dance, for Zelophehad had been a skilled dancer. Each of them could stalk a rabbit up to two paces, and could skin a bear if they had to, and kill a man when the occasion called for it. Her father, their dear father, all he had ever asked in return for the doting he showered, was obedience. Simple obedience. And that was where Hoglah had failed.
“Go get the herbs Hoglah.”
But she had wanted to play with her friends. It wasn’t like she couldn’t get the herbs and return. She had been stubborn. Disobedient. She hadn’t gone. And then there was no light left, and father had climbed the cliff face alone in the dark, so dark he hadn’t seen the crumbling handhold he had hewn in himself so long ago. So dark he didn’t see the fissure that had been growing in the rock. So late had he been climbing, so angry had he been at his stubborn daughter, it had been too late when he saw. And father fell, the landslide toppling rocks upon him, one after another, as his screams rent the night. Cursed is he who the land swallows. But it was the mountain who fell on father. And now, she would pick herbs all the time, for all who needed, all who asked.
Out of the shadows of one of the tents a figure leapt out, a tall man in leather, holding a cudgel and a wicked-looking knife. “Now girl, all you have to do is go back home, and I would not hurt you,” the man smiled.
Hoglah just kept walking towards him. The man lifted his cudgel to strike her. Moving with the swiftness of a cobra, she darted under his arm, the skinning knife flashing out from under her basket of herbs, striking him under his right arm. Twisting around his back, she tore the sharp knife across his back, ripping open leather, flesh and sinew. The man arched his back and neck as the beginnings of a scream began in his chest. Hoglah slit his throat from behind.
She was walking away, knife once more hidden in her basket of leaves when his knee thudded to the ground, his throat a gurgling mess.
“Make sure they attack you first,” Mahlah had said.
Tirzah slid between his legs, her knees scraping the dirt, and reached upwards as her knife sliced off his manhood. The man made to scream as Milcah leapt into the air, the flat of her fingers slamming into his throat paralyzing it in an Anubis strike. The man’s face went blue as he suffocated on the scream of pain his lungs tried to force upwards through the constricted trachea.
Across the tents to their left, the people thronged on the thoroughfare, none looked in their direction.
“Make sure they make no sound, we will not call for attention,” Mahlah had said.
The five men came at a rush, their eyes furious, mouths open in silent yells. Maybe someone had told them about their fallen comrades. Good. They were afraid. Slipping an arrow out of the quiver strapped to her side, she gripped it in her hand like a dagger and waited. The first man came and she lashed out with her right foot, kicking him to the side, her left arm blocking the thrust of the second man, the arrow in her hand plunging into his neck. She retrieved the arrow, already moving before the blood spurted. She sidestepped the next blow, got under the arm of the attacker and using her shoulder, she broke it and twisted around to stab at his neck from the other side, before dancing in again.
“Whatever happens, leave them dead,” Mahlah had said.
Mahlah walked into the congregation, her head bowed. The black shawl she wrapped around her head doing little to hide the determination in her eyes. Behind her, she led a small goat, the neck bound with sacrificial hempen. Two men dislodged themselves from the crowd and came at her from both sides. Giving no indication that she had seen them until one of the men made to grab her arm, she twisted her hand suddenly like a snake, her nails digging into the man’s flesh as she pulled him close. The force of the pull jerked him downwards and her knee caught him at the underside of his throat in a sickening crunch. The other fellow produced a knife. She dodged his thrust, leaning backwards, letting the knife hand sail in front of her. Then using her left knee to the small of his back, propelled him forward and yanking on his knife hand, plunged his knife into his throat. The man fell.
The crowd scattered, some running to the side, most yelling for Moses. Mahlah stood still as a loose circle of space opened up around her. She stood still even as her sisters joined her and the soldiers surrounded them, spears leveled at the ready. Her sisters seemed uninjured, though their clothes were bloodied and Hoglah was without her bag of leaves. All the while she had not let go of her goat. Moses stood before them, his eyes an angry white storm. “What have you done?” his voice was thunder.
“We have committed no sin here,” answered Mahlah, her voice cool. “We were attacked by men who would kill us and steal from us, would we not defend ourselves? These men were hired by him!” she pointed at Shemida, who had been trying to disappear into the throng. “And we have brought a sacrifice to plead for mercy.”
One of the soldiers, the son of Nun, grabbed Shemida out of the crowd and threw him at Moses’ feet. The white bearded leader ignored the pleading man. Moses glared at them for what seemed to be an eternity, then he gestured for Eleazar the priest to collect the goat.
“We also come with a grievance before the LORD, and we shall not enter the tabernacle to say it,” added Mahlah.
Moses raised a white eyebrow.
From the fourth book of Moses also known as the Book of Numbers, what comes next is found in chapter 27 verses 1 – 10.
- This is a work of fiction, all characters however are based on actual persons though dead, as recorded by the Bible
- All events may or may not have occurred however, depending on if one would attribute the source of my inspiration to the Holy Spirit of GOD
- I have never been accused of feminism, and in fact may be the most chauvinistic man alive
GOD bless you, and GOD bless Nigeria. Peace.