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A novel of ancient Israel

The soldier heaved me over his shoulder as if I were a spring lamb. "I am not Israelite!" I screamed. I beat his back, hurting my hands. "Let me go."

Adara has always longed to do the things that well-brought-up girls of her time are not supposed to do. She wants to learn to read and write - like men. And she wants the freedom to travel - like men - outside the boundaries of her sheltered life.
One day she awakens to a blast of trumpets as the Israelites and Arameans battle just outside the safety of her town walls. Curious, Adara sneaks out to see the battle. Little does she know that this will be her last day of freedom for a very long time . . .

Chapter 1: A Blast of Trumpets

I woke at dawn, to a blast of trumpets. This would be my last day of freedom, but I had no idea of that. I was only sorry we were all crammed together on the rooftop of our house in town, instead of sleeping in the sweet-smelling vineyards. Our family included my father, Calev; my stepmother, Galya, and her two little children; my grown half brother, Dov; Dov’s wife, Hannah; and our housekeeper, B’rinna (not actually a relation, but still part of our family). Then there were all the hired workers and their families.

Again, trumpets. I sat up on my sleeping mat. That was not the trumpet they blew from the town gates at sundown and sunrise. It was a whole chorus of trumpets outside the walls of Ramoth-Gilead.

“The battle!” exclaimed Dov, scrambling to his feet. “Father, it is starting.”

Within a few moments everyone else on the rooftop was up. Shading my eyes like the others, I stared at the eastern hills. The early light showed tents dotting the terraces where we had picked grapes yesterday afternoon. Something like a herd of thousands of cattle was moving over the slopes.

“The Aramean army is attacking,” said Dov.

“Lord God Yaweh, save us,” prayed B’rinna. “Holy Elisha, save us.”

“We will be safe enough,” said Father. “The Arameans are attacking the Israelites, not us. King Ahab must have brought the Israelite army into our wheat fields, although we cannot see them from here.” Turning to Galya, he patted her shoulder. “Dov and I go to watch from the town wall. We will return for the evening meal.”

Galya’s lip trembled, but she held up their baby, Guri. “Kiss your abba, good-bye, Guri.” To Father she said, “The battle will be over by sundown, will it not?”

Father shrugged. “Who knows? The grain harvest is in, we can be thankful for that. We will have plenty to eat, even if the battle drags on for a week. And if the cisterns run dry, there’s the underground well.”

I pricked up my ears. The underground well. I knew of it, but I had never been allowed to go down there.

“I hope it does not come to that,” said Galya. “What if we went down there for water and met soldiers?”

Hannah gasped at the thought. “They might find the passageway that leads under our walls, and follow it.”

Father made a brushing motion, as if sweeping aside foolish fears.

“This is not a siege,” Dov explained to the women. “The armies are fighting over Ramoth-Gilead, not against us. They know that after the battle, the town will open its gates to the victor. Is that not so, Father?”

Father nodded. “If you want to tremble,” he told Galya and Hannah, “tremble for our vineyard. The heavy-footed Aramean army is camped right in the middle of it. Well. Shalom, peace, then.” He raised his hand at the family in farewell.

“Shalom,” I chorused with the others. Weeks later, I would go over and over this scene in my mind, examining it as if it were a wall painting. I would think, There goes my father down the steps from the rooftop. There goes Dov, the good-natured half brother who taught me my letters. All I have of them now are memories.

Dov embraced Hannah and hurried after Father. He chanted a battle song as he disappeared down the steps:
"When you marched out, Ba’al,
The earth trembled, yea the heavens shook.
The clouds shook water,
The mountains quaked."

For weeks there had been rumors of war between King Ben-hadad of Aram and King Ahab of Israel. A few days ago a Phoenician merchant from Damascus, the capital city of Aram, had halted his caravan in our vineyards to dine with Father. I had listened to the men’s talk as I served them. Or rather, I had listened to the merchant Huram talk. Father sat without saying much, as usual.

Huram’s thin, mobile features and dramatic gestures had told as much as the words he spoke. “Pick your grapes quickly, my friend.” The merchant held up a warning finger. “General Naaman and the Aramean army are only a day or so behind me. And King Ahab is certainly on the march from Samaria, to seize Ramoth-Gilead for Israel.” He sighed heavily. “We men who make an honest living are always at the mercy of the mighty, is that not the truth? If Israel or Aram are not making trouble in the land, it is Assyria, or even Egypt.”

Now I sighed, too. Girls and women were even more at the mercy of the mighty, I thought. The men among the hired workers were following my father and Dov to the town walls. Meanwhile, we women and children had to wait at the house, crammed together like goats in a pen.

“Battle or no battle,” said Galya, “there is water to be drawn, and grain to be ground.” She looked around the rooftop as she spoke, but especially at me.

I knew quite well, without Galya reminding me, what my first chore of the morning was. I climbed down the steps to the courtyard and drew water from the cistern. Stale water, stored there since the winter’s rains. Ugh. I set the water jug down at the open edge of the kitchen, where strings of garlic hung from the lintel post. Nearby the wife of one of the workers had begun to grind flour for new bread.

Galya seemed to have forgotten about giving orders, for the moment. She sat at the bottom of the steps, sobbing to B’rinna and Hannah. “What if he is killed?” (She must mean Father.) “What if the town is sacked, and my little Guri” – she clutched the baby to her chest – “sold into slavery?” Galya’s three-year-old daughter Lila, clinging to a fold of her mother’s tunic, whimpered.

I tapped a string of garlic to make it swing back and forth. “Slave traders would not buy babies.”

B’rinna, sitting beside Galya and stroking her hair, looked at me with a warning finger against her lips. I bit my tongue. Not because I was wrong – obviously slave traders would want someone young enough to have a lot of work left in them, but not so young that they needed much care.

But that would not be a comforting thought for Galya. Enemy soldiers would not therefore spare the babies. They would slaughter them.

“Now, now,” B’rinna soothed Galya. “Remember what the master was just saying? Ramoth-Gilead is not fighting with either side. We need only keep safe until the fighting is over. If the Aramean army wins, we will open the gates. If the Israelite army wins, Governor Saadiah will have to flee to Damascus, but we will still open the gates.”

As Galya’s sobs quieted, B’rinna went on, “Of course you are nervous, Mistress Galya. That is natural, since you gave birth so recently. Mothers always worry about their children. Did I ever tell you about the time the holy man Elisha saved my sons from slavery?”

How I did research for "Adara"

Before I could write Adara's story, I had so many questions to answer. What did the people of Adara's time and place wear? What did they eat? How did they get their water? What was their weather like? What would it be like to walk all the way from Adara's town, Ramoth-Gilead (on the western edge of present-day Jordan) to the city of Damascus (now the capital of Syria)? And on and on.
I studied maps. I visited museums and stared at ancient oil lamps and ivory carvings. I learned how wine was made in ancient Israel, and what I would see if I walked into Queen Jezebel's palace. I learned how a slave-buyer would pay for a slave - not with VISA or MasterCard. Not even with coins, at that time.
In the end, I felt as if I were living in Adara's world. I hope you will, too, when you read this book.