Chena’s Story Chpt. 4
July 24, 2020 at 9:26 pm #116581Kimmi@kimlikesart
~a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance~
An hour before the sun the next morning Chena got up with Itta and they started making breakfast.
To break several minutes of tired silence Itta asked, “Do you actually care about Ruben?”
Chena’s cheeks blushed a little, and she smiled, “Yes. I know it sounds different, since nearly all marry without really knowing their betrothed, let alone loving them. But, we’ve grown side by side. We’ve known we were to marry for three years, and we’ve set to forming the right kind of relationship.”
Itta’s serious face disappeared like snow in the spring, “You should have seen your face when I said Ruben was listening to the teacher? You were so funny!” She laughed, eyes sparkling. Her thin fingers released her wooden spoon, and it fell with a splatter to the dirt floor.
“Pick it up and stir.” Chena shook her head, hair swishing a little. She cocked her head down as the girl bent over to retrieve the spoon. Itta began the circular motion again, her young voice’s chatter continuing like whispers of the wind.
The girl went on for some time, Chena doing little but smiling and listening as she spoke. Then a question popped into Chena’s head, “Itta?”
She stopped her string of words and looked up at Chena.
“How did you end up here, in Bethlehem I mean?”
Itta smiled, “For the obvious answer, my master came to be counted after Passover. There are only a few months left before the emperor’s dead line. While here, word got around that a metalworker, master Abner, was in town. So he’s staying for the work as long as it lasts.”
Chena nodded, “How did you come by your master?”
Itta sighed, and looked to the soup, “It’s a very long story.” Her lips twisted, and her nose flared.
“We have time.” She looked down on Itta, and the girl nodded. So while the two made breakfast Itta told Chena her story.
“My mother died when I was born. So, my dad gave me to a man and woman, named Abel and Eve, who couldn’t have kids. I was only a week old at the time, so Mama taught me how to cook, clean and sew. She was my true mother. We were very poor. Our life together was peaceful for nearing four winters. After that, hard times set us. All Mama or I had time for was cooking and cleaning. We sewed clothes for others, and grew all our food in a garden. Every day we worked, we would work all day. We were busy staying alive; all of us working, and loving each other until I turned seven.”
Itta stopped her story, staring with big, widening, black eyes as Rachel pulled open the curtain separating her and Joab’s pallet from the rest of the home.
“Please go on deary. Don’t let me disturb you two’s bonding.”
Chena nodded Itta on, and the girl continued, “Well, when I was seven Papa died. Mama tried to continue caring for me a few more months, but she didn’t eat. She gave all our food to me. Eventually I didn’t even eat so she sold me to bar Abner. We didn’t have any money, and she thought he could take better care of me. I would have rather starved with Mama than have to move in with master Abner. He put me straight to work when I got to his house.” Itta’s nose crinkled. “It was the messiest house I’d ever seen—well, besides a pig’s.”
Rachel chuckled, and Chena laughed at Itta’s try for humor.
Itta missed Eve. The girl tried to hide it behind a smile as she continued to paint her story with words, but Chena could read the pain shadowing the back of her sparkly eyes. “I cleaned up all of it. By myself! It was so obvious why he doesn’t have a wife, but I didn’t say so. I mean, who’d want a slob for a husband?”
Rachel chuckled, shaking her head while removing the bread from the hot coals before Chena could reach for it. “You’d be surprised deary.”
Chena smiled back to the plump woman who’d become like a mother to her.
“Here Itta, set the loaf over on the table.” Rachel handed on the hot bread to Itta.
The girl yelped, and she almost dropped the food. Chena and Rachel both moved to catch it, but Itta caught the thing herself and put the steaming vessel where Rachel had specified. Rachel and Chena shared a look as Itta smiled, a blush filling her lowering cheeks.
She recovered in little time however, “It took me three whole days, to clean up master Abner’s house! I also had to cook his meals, and wash his fancy clothes.” Itta then cocked her head, “Though I suppose he’s quite a neat eater.” Itta smiled, and wiped her sweaty forehead on her sleeve, “He actually complemented me on my meals and the good job I was doing on his house.”
Rachel then stood up to look through a window into their courtyard. A few men, and one woman with a few young children were stirring.
Itta began ladling out the soup into bowls for the immediate family. Then Chena and Rachel served the few patrons who had paid a pretty penny to be given food. Itta finished her story while helping Chena, “Then, as you know, the Romans ordered the census. Master Abner, a descendent of something or other, from the line of somebody, and on and on. So here we are in Bethlehem before the twelve month time frame is over. We traveled with master Abner’s family. There were around thirty of us in all.”
Chena nodded, “That’s not unusual for entire families to travel together.” Then she smiled, eyes warming to the child, “Thank you.”
Itta smiled with her mouth, and nodded to the older girl. Chena couldn’t believe what a crazy upbringing Itta had had. Chena’s heart warmed with kindness, and she put an arm over Itta’s thin shoulders. “Well, I hope you can stay for master Abner’s entire stay in Bethlehem.”
“Me too.” She grinned. Then after a pause Itta asked, “I know that Rachel, and master Joab aren’t your real parents. Perhaps you could tell me how you’re related to them?”
Chena took a deep breath, biting her cheek a moment before giving an imperceptible nod. “It’s not a very good tale though.”
“I don’t mind.”
(Eitan, maybe I could put the first chapter (revised a bit) here?)
By that mark it was sun-up, almost everyone seemed to get up around then. As the multitude sat up and passed food, laughter, and grumbling among them, the three women were rushed to accommodate, and answer the many questions that were posed to them.
While people ate their break fasts, Chena went to feed their animals in the stable. She prayed for Jehovah Shalom to help Itta find His peace.
Chena had been such a coddled child! She had six full happy years with her true family. Itta had none with her real parents, and only seven with her step ones. And thoughs years were far from peaceful… Chena filled Bethany’s manger with hay, letting her mind wander in her thankfulness.
Ruben came out to the stable in a bit. He waved at Chena, leaning against the cold, stone entry while she started to carry the fresh goat’s milk back to the house. “Good morning Chena, how did you sleep?”
“Quite well actually. You didn’t snore nearly as loud as usual.” Ruben’s mat was just a few cubits away from Chena and Itta’s shared one.
Chena smiled as Ruben made a show of confusion, “I certainly did snore; but it wasn’t I you heard. There is no possible way you could have heard me over yourself?”
Chena’s lips parted in shock. She would have rammed her harmless fist into his shoulder if she were not holding the milk. Then Ruben took a step back, “May I take those?” He gestured to the buckets.
Chena, jaw set, obliged roughly as a shepherd. Then she was surprised when no sooner than taking the pails, Ruben set them on the dusty ground.
“Ruben?” Chena glanced from the milk buckets, up to Ruben’s face.
He was flushing, “Chena?”
Ruben made a sound that was between a groan and a laugh. “I’ve… I’ve been thinking…” he swallowed harder.
Chena’s chin lowered, and her eyes narrowed up at him, When had he ever been at a loss for words? “You’ve been thinking? About…what Ruben?” Had something happened?
He sighed, than blew some stray brown hair from his face. “I’d like it if we, err, you.” He cleared his throat, “Would you consent to a, if we had a, our betrothal ceremony in, err, soon? Quite soon? I, I want to get things started, you know? Maybe begin work on our house? Have a few kids before we’re too old and gray?”
A shocked smile split Chena’s face, and after a second she laughed as her eyes lit up. A spark went up the young man’s spine at her visual enthusiasm. “I consent Ruben! The sooner the better! And I can’t wait to see the house you build!”
Chena then charged into his chest, right foot brushing the bucket and sloshing milk. She pushed her head into him and squeezed. “I don’t think I can wait a year Ruben!” Her voice was muffled into his shirt.
He returned the embrace, muttering, “You can’t?”
Chena snickered, and pulled back an arm’s length, “It’s not like I have a choice. But I look forward to my life with you. So, in a year’s time, I’ll be fifteen, and we shall be married! Do you want a girl or boy?”
Ruben chuckled as he looked down into Chena’s eager eyes, “A boy; but Chena,”
“Then you’d better pray real hard for one, because I will be praying just as hard, if not harder, for a daughter. Maybe we can even call her Itta?”
Ruben cleared his throat, groaning a little. “Chena we’re not even betrothed yet and you already have us married with babes?”
She smiled up at him, hands clasped behind her back.“Do you not, dearest sir?”
Ruben’s blush deepened, and his chest tightened.
“I love you ben Joab.” She jerked up and kissed his lips, he was struck dumb as she ran off toward the house.
Chena skipped past Joab, and inside the back entrance. Chena’s mind was considering what type of fabric she’d wear for her betrothal ceremony. She was to be Ruben’s wife! Not in the distant future, but soon!!!
<p style=”text-align: center;”>~</p>
When Chena was gone from sight, Joab shuffled toward Ruben, feet dragging in reluctance of what he was about to do. “My son,” Joab swallowed hard as he rolled his next words through his head several times. He looked to the milk buckets at Ruben’s feet a moment before lifting his chin to meet the youth’s gaze. “I assume you asked her about getting your both’s ceremony under way?”
“Yes father.” Ruben’s smile was muffled as he felt the serious nature of the conversation settle in.
Joab was about to do something, the son could no doubt feel it. But to Joab’s chagrin, Ruben’s mind seemed somewhere else. But the father pressed on anyway.
“You’re grown up now Ruben.” Joab reached up and placed a thick warm hand to his son’s broad shoulder. His only son, his only child. The one who seemed to not care whether he lived or died. The son who had a faith in G-d that surpassed Joab’s own. A son who’d just told a beautiful young woman his intentions to finalize their promised marriage. A son who would have to put his recklessness behind him if he ever wished to have children, and give his parents grandchildren…
“I wish to tell you something.” Joab cleared his throat, and stared deep into his son’s young eyes. They held fear, a fear Joab had never seen before.
‘Please don’t do this‘, they begged.
But these words had a need to be spoken, “Ruben, once you’re married, you can’t be careless with your words or your sword. Even though you are only partly promised now…”
Ruben’s jaw tightened. Joab’s lips tensed, and he swallowed hard.
When Ruben’s head lowered a time later the father knew he had gotten the message.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>~</p>
Joab meant Ruben’s ‘escapades’ with the Romans, except they weren’t just ‘escapades’ to Ruben; they were so much more. They made him feel like he mattered. That he had stood up for something right and just. That he hadn’t gone along with the crowd.
He wasn’t sure he would stop. Even if he had a wife and children. The young man truly believed with his whole being that Jehovah would protect him. No matter what. Even if You do not choose to save me Hashem, I will not kneel before this idol. I will not let marriage keep me from Your call.
Ruben let out a large puff of air, unseen in the warming weather, “I understand your concerns father, and will search the scriptures you point me to. But, Chena will stand behind me if I choose to continue.”
Joab bit his lip, and nodded.
It was something…was it not?
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
Two days later.
After the noon meal, Ruben and Chena went down to the market. Chena wished to help Ruben decide on the fabric he was to wear at their betrothal ceremony. The smells of sheep and goat manure tripped over the delicious aromas of food baking, fresh fruit, leather, and spices. The sound of merchant’s shouting voices barely rivaled the donkeys’ braying, and the many sheep bleating.
The betrothal ceremony was set for three days hence. Ruben still had to find another, ‘better paying’ job. He’d have to save enough money to buy a plot of land on a merchant rout, and then he’d have to build a home. A home large enough to house an inn. All this was required before he could claim Chena to consummate their marriage.
But for now they were doing an ordinary thing. The couple spoke of numerous tidbits, looking around the stalls, and enjoying each other’s company.
Ruben smiled with pleasure as Chena oohed and ahhed over cheap, but well woven fabrics. She also pointed at produce in the market, commenting on what was a fair price and what was not. Ruben’s eyes sparkled, his chest pittering with happiness. He said little, pupils watching this beautiful young woman.
They’d been going along for maybe an hour, nothing more eventful than gladness and beautiful hopes for the future.
Chena was exclaiming over another beautiful fabric, a type she appariently had never seen in such a small town as Bethlehem, nor at the fine price. Chena didn’t even glance to a crowd as it began to gather; nor when voices became heated and colorful. However, Ruben’s attention honed in on it almost in an instant, and he tried to lead Chena away from the booth.
He wanted to find out what it was all about! See if he could do anything to better the situation.
“No Ruben,” she tried to pull back on his arm, seeing the growing rowdy group. “We’re here to shop. You can speak later.”
Ruben didn’t listen as his back and legs stretched to see what was happening. Then he froze, but only for a second. A deep fury rose up in his bosom and tension to his face at the sight. A frail, hoar-headed man couldn’t rise, for a Roman kept shoving him into the dirt.
When the elder could not even begin to rise the Roman began to kick him. Chena turned around to beg Ruben again, then froze. Her eyes grew wide at the sight, and her hand came to her veil-covered mouth. “It’s disgusting Ruben! Everyone is just watching this Roman beat this man!”
Ruben’s thoughts ran faster than wild horses. It was the Roman from just a few days before… L-rd, I doubt I can win in a fight against this Roman, especially with my leg. But please, if it will save this man’s life?
I will offer this Roman peace for Chena’s sake. But if the scum refuses, as no doubt he will, give me the strength to sacrifice. Save this elder’s wisdom for Your people. But, L-rd, please, I beg You, send someone else? Ruben gave a fleeting glance to Chena. Then he felt a whisper, or a solid impression.
It was real, strong, and an order.
Ruben couldn’t see the One who’d spoken, but he didn’t need to. He squeezed Chena’s hand a second before releasing it. Ruben then hurried, shoving through the multiplying onlookers.
“Ruben,” Chena jerked forward, grabbing his arm and trying to tug him back. He pulled against her grip, “Please don’t?!” Her voice was a wet whisper, but did more than a shriek ever could.
Ruben glanced back at her, the woman’s eyes were beginning to shine with salt. They locked gazes a moment. Then Ruben appealed to her conscience, “Would you have me do nothing Chena? Would you truly wish to have a coward for a husband? A man who would not defend the helpless in need?” He pushed her hands away from his arm.
“Please Ruben? I, I don’t want to lose you…” She tried to grasp Ruben again. “I am selfish, and a coward, but please?” He then let her pull him to herself one last time, guilt pulling his heart as the old man screamed.
“Chena, after it’s over, if no one steps forward to help the elder home, take him to mama and papa.” Ruben kissed Chena’s forehead, and then jerked from her embrace and headed toward the Roman.
Every second with Chena was another second that poor aged man was brought closer to death. Forgive me L-rd, for I am a weak human.
He glanced back. Her whole body was trembling in fear of the storm to come. “The great Hashem will guide my soul and yours Chena.” Her head bowed and he knew she was praying.
Ruben walked up to the Roman leaving only four cubits between the two of them. The zealot placed his fists on his hips. L-rd, please, if in Your will, lead others to stand beside me and fight. Let others act on master Abdiel’s counsel as well!
No one did, so Ruben faced the giant alone, “Stop this vile thing!”
The Roman ignored him. Ruben’s Adam’s Apple bobbed, “I adjure you, cease this vile beating of an innocent!”
When the Roman kicked the old man again Ruben drew his sword.
The crowd gasped. Chena held back a sob, putting a hand over the fabric already covering her mouth.
The Roman’s eyes paused, narrowing on Ruben for a second. He had his attention. “Put that toy away, and go tend the babes.”
The beaten man tried to crawl away. The accuser stopped the motion by digging his greave into the old man’s wrist. Piercing it with millions of tiny spikes. The old man’s cry shook hearts, but the lack of motion from the onlookers proved it was not enough to make a difference.
Ruben bristled, feeling the pain as it had once been his own. None had stood to protect him then; none but G-d. He was determined not to be guilty of the same offense as the crowd gawking around him.
You are nothing but Roman scum! Flames licked in Ruben’s eyes. “How can you beat a man who cannot even defend himself?” The Roman’s glare hardened on Ruben, the snake’s gaze unmoving. “The L-rd haShem says to stand up in the presence of the elderly, and to show respect for the aged. I adjure you by the Holy One Of Israel to leave him be.”
“I don’t believe that’s prudent. This man,” The Roman twisted his bloody foot, “has been skimping on taxes. Master Simon reported him. And on Simon’s coming to collect, thsi man openly insulted the entire empire.” The Roman cocked his head at the challenging youth, “But since you seem so eager to fight for him… do you wish to take his place?”
Ruben bit his cheek and did not move. “I will pay what he owes.” The words felt like wormwood in his mouth.
The Roman growled. He shoved hard off the man’s hand, causing a crack. His sword was grabbed and out in one swift motion. The Roman charged Ruben.
The young man lifted his own sword, blocking the strike that would have split an untaught man in two. Ruben defended, crying out to G-d as he thrust, then defended again. He could not expect to win this fight. If he killed the Roman he would be crucified. If he failed he would also be killed…
<p style=”text-align: center;”>~</p>
Chena made her way around the perimeter, trying to reach the old man and get him away from the swirling feet. Then she found him. She reached down, putting a hand underneath both his shoulders and began to drag him back into the crowd. She was praying the entire time.
As she reached the line of people two young men stepped forward, and pulled the old man back farther. The fight barely lasted a few minutes, but it felt like hours to Chena as she gave the two young men directions to Joab’s house. They took the elder away, and Chena watched in fear, biting her lower lip till it bled. Ruben’s hurt leg was a stumbling block. He tripped several times, close to dying every mishap. Yet somehow, beyond Chena’s understanding, he always caught himself in time to defect the next solid blow.
The only things that could be helping Ruben was his youth, and his G-d.
El Shaddai was with His faithful servant.
The Roman sneered at Ruben, contempt rushing into his experienced eyes, “You’re slowing Hebrew.”
Metal clanging against more metal. The fight was losing breath, like an old man struggling to say a last few words to his family before he parted from the world. The Roman made a hard swing and Ruben tripped, pulling his sword up to block his assailant’s blade moments before it would have penetrated his shoulder.
Then another hard blow with the same affect, and another. Then again, except this time Ruben stumbled, and couldn’t recover. He fell with a thud to his back, sword still clenched in the young man’s bronze hand. Chena screamed, hands cupped over her mouth. The Roman approached Ruben with his sword ready to strike through the inept man’s stomach.
It was over.
The Roman wore a huge smirk on his round face, “Drop your sword swine!”
Ruben spat, anger filling his soul like hot coals. He wanted to swing up his sword and continue the fight. But he would be extinguished in seconds. He threw his sword. Sweat trickled down every pore on Ruben’s face. The young man licked his salty lips, eyes wide, and chest heaving.
The Roman called out for help from two more soldiers. They converged within seconds as if from nowhere.
Had they been standing in the crowd the entire time? Even if Ruben had been able to get the Roman’s sword from him, the two other Romans would doubtless have pounced and killed the victor, not allowing a surrender.
Chena trembled harder, hands covering her face everywhere but her eyes. They were riveted on Ruben, Her love. Her beautiful one.
The soldiers hauled Ruben to shaky feet. They were no doubt glad to have another trouble-making zealot under their belt. One who had been a burr in their saddle for some time… The only greater troublemaker in Bethleham would be master Abdiel… Chena stood there unable to do anything, her shoulders quivering, and face wrinkled. Her veil stained with bitter water about her eyes, and blood about her mouth.
Looking back at Chena, Ruben cried out, “G-d will protect me Chena! Never doubt Him! Never doubt theL-rd Chena! Please,”
She fell to her knees then. Crying out to Jehovah Rapha, to somehow keep Ruben safe. To somehow bring him back to her. Please…no matter what it takes…
When prayers are spoken, they go up into Heaven. They pool as incense in golden bowls around the throne of G-d. That prayer would exist. It would burn until it was answered.
‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Wait’.
After a few minutes Joab appeared.
Joab’s face went blank then filled with fear and rage at seeing his girl crumbled on the ground wailing. His ears rung as Chena blubbed out what had happened. The bystanders who had clumped before, now clumped again.
They spoke up, clarifying what Joab misunderstood from his girl.
Chena’s head pushed into Joab’s shoulder, the rotund man put his hand on her back, trying to support her as he yelled to the crowd, face red as a cherry. “And no one did anything!?”
Joab held out his other hand to the gawkers. No one spoke. Eyes looked to the ground. Joab spat at their feet. Then he spat again.
His trembling hand ran through Chena’s dark curls which had fallen from her loosened veil. “Shh, Chena? Chena?”
The man somehow got her to where she could walk without stumbling. They held each other as they trudged toward their home.
Chena wept more upon her pallet. Rachel wept in the stable as Joab held her.
Itta tended the guests as best she could while the family mourned. Chena cried on her mat for a while more, then crawled over to Ruben’s pallet and grabbed his blanket. With the treasure in her fist she retreated back to her own bed. Then pressing the fabric to her face, she fell into a fitful sleep.
(Do you think they would mourn so privatly? Or would they weep on the side of the street? Or is this fine?)
The young woman was woken by a nightmare.
It was her father again, him lying dead on the floor. Her mother’s screams. Malachi spanking her, telling her to run. Her mother’s screams never stopped. Then they turned into Chena’s. Chena screaming as Ruben was beaten, and carried away. She ran toward him, but tripped over a body, her father’s. She woke up crying, Itta’s arms wrapping about her. The two girls held each other a long time. Chena missing the steady sound of Ruben’s snoring.
Around five the next morning Chena rolled from her strained sleep and crawled toward the fire as had been her mode for years. She joined Itta and Rachel who were sitting, staring into the flames.
Itta’s lips were almost gray and in a straight line.
Rachel’s eyes were red and puffy, the mother turning to Chena as she approached, “Are you alright sweetie?” Rachel let a bit of sunshine come through in a smile for the girl.
Itta leaned forward a little, eyes searching her friend’s face.
“Ruben’s gone. I, I’d hoped it was all just a..” dream. Chena sniffed, the tears starting again in her eyes. “No, I’m not alright.”
Chena then fell into Rachel’s chest, and the women embraced. The two wept anew. Chena comforting a woman who’d just lost her only son. Rachel comforting a young woman who just lost her promised one. Chena couldn’t even be called a virgin widow.
“I’m sorry,” Itta’s big black eyes held water in them too. Her big lower lip trembled.
A minute later Rachel swiped her pointer finger over her teary eyes. “Hannaniah is doing better. His hand and wrist are broken, he has many major cuts, and a few broken ribs. It’s a miracle we haven’t lost him. He, he requested to see you Chena.” Rachel opened her mouth to say more, but then shut it.
Chena’s voice quivered, and she almost shook her head. She wasn’t ready just yet, Even if the man had heard her weeping all the night…
“The last words Ruben said to me were that G-d would protect him. And not to ever doubt G-d. But, Rachel, how can I not question Him? How can I not doubt His faithfulness?” Chena’s face crumbled again.
Rachel shut her eyes a moment and looked up. Then she sighed and cupped Chena’s cheek in her left palm. “Ruben once told me, that questions and doubts are not the same. You may ask and think on questions, but always assume there is an answer… With doubts you’re assuming there is no solution, with doubts, you have no faith…” Rachel’s eyes held great sorrow, but beyond that there was a slight glimmer of hope. “Jehovah Shammah may yet protect Ruben, even as a prisoner and possible slave. My son is yet alive, is he not? Mayhap being a prisoner will teach him deference to those wrongly placed in authority over him?”
Chena shook her head, eyes downcast, and forehead wrinkled. Her father’s face playing in her mind like it hadn’t in years. “Until we meet again I will have a heavy burden lodged in my chest. I shall never stop praying for his strength and guidance, never.”
“Nor will I.”
Chena swallowed hard and set to work on breakfast.
Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.July 25, 2020 at 8:10 am #116587
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