Long Road Out of Ur

By Joel Thimell

Religion & spirituality, Action & adventure, Historical fiction, Crime & mystery

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426
4 mins

 

I cursed Abram softly under my breath. Not a real curse, it was no malediction from Ereshkigal, the ruler of the Netherworld. It was no call to the God of Noah to damn him. It was just empty threats. However, lives and human history are sometimes changed forever by such vague utterances—words once spoken that can’t be taken back.

My name is Lot. Yes, that Lot—the one who barely escaped the destruction of Sodom with his daughters—my wife wasn’t so fortunate. The Lot that Abraham rescued from the king of Elam, bringing me home tied to the backside of an ass with my arms flailing wildly in a vain attempt at maintaining my balance and my dignity. How dare he rescue me in such fashion in front of my entire family—even the self-indulgent have their pride!

There are those who say that I got a raw deal. After all I was the eldest son of the eldest son of the Patriarch. I should have been the chosen one, the one to lead the family and receive the blessing. But you won’t hear me say that. As my old headmaster Sheshgal literally beat into me: “friendship lasts a day, but kinship lasts forever.” I don’t begrudge Abram his success in the least; I just feel he should acknowledge my part in his.

Who do you think arranged for those parting gifts on our way back from Egypt? You think Pharaoh came up with that idea on his own? He was so broke by his never-ending war with the other Pharaoh up in Thebes that he wouldn’t give a drink of water to the Queen Mother unless she paid “in grain full-measure upfront.” And Abram, he was so embarrassed by his half truths to Pharaoh that he just wanted to slink out of the country in the middle of the night. He kept mumbling something about the God of Noah will provide. I didn’t doubt that, I just always heard that God helps those who help themselves.

So I took the risk of letting old Sherptak, the grand vizier and royal henchman, know that Abram’s God would not like us being sent down the road without adequate supplies for what may be an extremely lengthy journey. And before that, who devised the means for the whole family to escape Ur with fortune intact one step ahead of King Ur-Nammu the Usurper?

But that was years later. Now Abram was a skinny little runt in my care who had given me the slip for the last time if I caught him. Although Abram is my uncle, I am actually five years older than him. We were supposed to be watching Grandfather Terah’s sheep, but as usual Abram had other ideas. Like most twelve year old boys, he had grand dreams of adventure—unlike other boys he frequently acted on those dreams.

Where was Abram? Nanna, the moon god, was late in rising—probably dallying with his wife, Ningal—and the mountain path was nearly invisible in the darkness despite the torch I was carrying. I tripped over a loose rock and fell heavily. As it slid off the path it dislodged another loose stone and then another and another. By the time I regained my feet, shale and debris were cascading down the slope. Gathering speed the slide uprooted boulders and swallowed up bushes. Trees snapped like twigs before being swallowed whole by that terrible mouth of destruction. Dust filled the air, stinging my eyes and burning my throat.

Peering vainly through the darkness down towards the camp at the far end of the valley, I could hear the sheep bleating in fear as the roar of the slide echoed off the mountain walls like thunder. Dogs barked their alarm and torches danced wildly as the herdsmen ran to calm the stupid sheep. Fortunately, they were in no real danger as the avalanche extinguished itself in a mighty crescendo in the dry river bed at least 300 steps downstream from their resting place.

Calming the jittery sheep would be the easy part, I knew. The herdsmen were even stupider than the sheep—with their foolish superstitions and mindless rituals to appease their capricious gods and goddesses. They were sure to attribute this to the Galla—demons of the Netherworld—or perhaps Rabisu the Crawler who lurked in dark corners. Even now they would be clutching the amulets around their necks; even now they would be chanting the incantations some priest had sold them to ward off the ghosts of the improperly buried; even now they would be admonishing their wooden guard dog statuettes, “Don’t stop to think, Bite!” If I didn’t have to find Abram before he fell off a cliff or was mauled by a bear, watching them run in circles to ward off this supposed evil would be hilarious.

The worst part was they had warned me something like this would happen when I announced I was going to rescue Abram and asked for volunteers. “My cousin went out after dark last year and his body was never found—just a trail of blood...A friend told me that a neighbor’s brother had seen a ghost floating ominously in these very mountains not more than ten years ago.” And so on. These were brave men who had battled barbarians, fought wild animals and endured blistering heat and blinding sandstorms without faltering. Anyone of them would have gladly stepped in front of a spear thrust aimed at Abram, but their knees turned to porridge at the thought of venturing away from the safety of their fires after dark.

“Blast that Abram! How had I let him manipulate me again?”

It was emesh and we had led the flocks up into the Hursag Mountains to escape the searing heat of the plains and to find sufficient grass for the sheep. It had been a very dry enten and there wasn’t much grass in the foothills, so we had pressed on ever upwards, following the course of the great river that drained the rocky peaks of their perpetual snow. Only this year the peaks were barren and the river nearly dry and the sheep were bleating with thirst.

We were resting in the shade after lunch awaiting the return of Udul and Abram, whom I had sent ahead to scout for a spring to water the sheep. I had barely closed my eyes—I wasn’t asleep mind you—but couldn’t relax because it was much too quiet with Abram gone. That scamp couldn’t be silent any more than a hippo can tiptoe into a swamp.

Sitting upright, I surveyed our camp while I adjusted my tunic and fastened my sandals. This was a coveted grazing site which the family had jealously guarded for generations. Surrounded on two sides by steep walls covered with loose rocks and soft, dusty soil, a raiding party from above would be heard and seen hours before arriving in our valley. In good years, a small but steady waterfall trickled down the back wall of this valley and filled a small pool which fed a small stream that nourished a lush meadow dotted with clumps of oak, pistachio and almond trees. Gathering the nuts from these wild trees was almost as valuable to the family as the deep grass and the sweet water was to the flocks.

This was not a good year. The waterfall had nearly stopped completely. The pool was little more than a mud wallow which trapped the parched sheep as they rushed desperately for even a sip of water. If not for the amazing skill and tenacity of our dogs, half the herd may have been trampled in the near-stampede. Even so, it had taken all twelve of the herders a couple of hours to drive the herd away from the pool and pull those which got stuck to safety. Now bedded down two hours below the pool, the still-hungry and still-thirsty sheep had devoured the few brown morsels of grass in that portion of the valley within a few hours.

And so we waited anxiously for Udul and Abram to return with ever-more critical news. Circling overhead a handful of buzzards foretold the grim end that awaited our expedition without water. If we didn’t find a good-sized spring by tomorrow, some of the sheep would begin to die. Our own goatskins had begun to shrink and less than two days of water remained even though we were down to half rations.



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