Elijah’s mother stepped out of the pantry and handed a bulging sack to Sheerah. “You must take Milkah my figs.”
Nathan leaned back and looked at the ceiling.
“‘The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, …’”
Sheerah clapped her hand over his mouth. “And the way of a man’s mother with a maid.”
“Well, if that girl is even half as wonderful as you children tell me, I want her to have something from Elijah’s mother. He has to take one of you along, and I want Milkah to receive these figs from the hand of my daughter.”
Every week Elijah pestered his brother and sister to go see Milkah. But this was Mother talking.
Elijah’s father gave a solemn nod. “The potter’s son has been here so often that I expect him to ask me for our daughter any day now, and seven girls in Jabesh have their eyes on Nathan. It’s fitting that you should send Milkah the figs, dear. Let’s just hope Sheerah brings Elijah back before noon, so he can help Nathan pick grapes.”
Brother and sister stopped at the well between the house and the wine building. They filled two small water skins and climbed the ridge.
Elijah stepped over the familiar rock in the fifth bend in the trail. His eyes focused straight ahead, he waddled under three oak limbs that blocked the path. How many of these trips had he made?
Sheerah gasped, “Hey, long legs! Slow down. You brought your short sibling today.”
Elijah stopped. “Remember when you first took Nathan and me up this path? Your legs were way longer than ours.”
“And I put on my big-sister look and said I would not carry you.”
“But you waited for us, and when we got to the top, you took our hands, and we all slid down to the sheep. Nathan hung back, but our big brave sister walked right up to the shepherd.”
Sheerah rested her hand on an oak limb. “And you stopped to look at a two-headed sheep.”
“I did. I thought it had two heads. Then one seemed to detach, and that’s the first I saw Milkah. Those loose black curls that hang around her face.”
“And the olive skin we women wish for. As well as her perfect nose from gorgeous grandmother Rebekah.”
“She told her sheep, for all of us to hear, ‘We’ve got company, Chops.’ Then she stood up and looked at me. Big, round eyes as black as Mother’s.”
Sheerah laughed. “Oh, stop. You’ll be dripping tears before we even get to the top.”
“No, no, Sheers. Look. My beard’s almost as full as Nathan’s. Men don’t cry.”
A few strides before the crest, Elijah stopped. “Have you figured out what our father thinks was David’s greatest moment?”
“I know it wasn’t when he sent for Bathsheba.”
“Or when he collected his dowry for Michal.”
They crested the ridge. A soft breeze soughed through the trees. Three clouds sailed over Milkah’s valley, and her flock grazed near a grove of acacias.
Elijah cupped his hands and broke the quiet. “Mil-kah!”
She trotted out from under her shade tree and waved. They waved back and then skidded down the path to the valley floor. They jogged over to Milkah.
Sheerah hugged her and took a step back. In slow motion, she brought out the figs. “From our mother. The best of the season.” She held the sack in both hands and placed it in Milkah’s two.
“Oh! Your mother! She is so kind. At each nibble, I will thank the Lord for her. Please thank her for me. Please.”
“I will tell her, dear. I will.
Sheerah swept her arm out toward the empty meadow. “Now if you two want to check the quality of the grass in the middle of the pasture, I’ll be happy to sit here in the shade and let the sheep think I know how to care for them.”
Milkah let Elijah guide her out into the pasture.
Elijah pointed south, up toward the top of the ridge between their homes. “You know the waist of the ridge up there? Where you can stand in one place and see vines on the left and pasture on the right? That’s where I’m going to build our house.”
She squared her shoulders and tipped her head back. “There? You want to build a house up there?”
“We’ll keep sheep in one valley and grapes in the other and have babies and give them all the names you told me so long ago.” He stole a glance at her.
“And we’ll have windows.” He waved both arms south. “Looking out over the vines.” He turned and waved north. “And over the sheep.”
She cocked her head. A slight smile turned up the ends of her mouth. “You know you’re crazy.”
“We both know I’m crazy. And I want kids. Lots and lots of little babies that grow up around us.”
She looked down and kicked a clump of grass. “We’re just kids ourselves, Lijah.”
He put a foot back and leaned into it as he watched a cloud float behind the ridge. “I’m going to build us a house right at the top, Milkah. And nobody will think we’re kids, and I’m going to marry you.”
He brought his gaze down to hers. “Will you? Will you marry me?”
“What did you mean about names?”
He raised an eyebrow and gave a sly grin toward the sheep. “What do names have to do with it if you won’t marry me?”
“Don’t get in a hurry. You always tell me you like the name Chops.”
“Chops and Roast and Ribs. I like the name, Stew, too. But not for our children. We’re going to have so many we can’t count them. We’ll have to start our own village. And they’re going to have proper Hebrew names. The names you picked out years ago.”
“I don’t remember picking out names.”
“You don’t forget a thing. Especially our children’s names. Deborah, Barak, Gideon…”
“Oh, stop. I’d never saddle our children with names like that. They’d spend their whole life dreaming, waiting to do something grand. Our children will have common names like Abdel and Berekiah and Carmel, so they can get the weeds pulled and the water hauled before breakfast.”
A swallow-tailed kite circled in the sky, Sheerah sat by Milkah’s sheep, and Nathan picked grapes alone.
When Elijah and Sheerah finally went home, they topped the ridge and turned to wave, but Milkah was hidden in the shadows. On their way down, just before they broke out of the trees into their back yard, Elijah and Sheerah stumbled in the dark.