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Christian, Tower Of Babel, Plain of Shinar, Global Flood, Noah's Flood, Language Split
Nimrod, Confusion of Language, God's Judgement, Young Woman, Fighting, Wilderness, Survival, Disobedience, Kidnap

Read a few pages. - Enjoy!

 

FOREWORD

When first approached to write the forward for this book, my first thought was: “How can an entire historical fiction novel be written, based on the outline of history given to us in Genesis 11:1-9?”

I quickly found out as I started reading the novel that Willow Dressel has succeeded admirably in crafting a totally plausible story, incorporating the historical people from the first eleven chapters of Genesis, while faithfully adhering strictly to the biblical account.

This book is exceptionally interesting in how facets of daily life are fleshed out in a convincing manner, while the unpredictability of the plot tightly holds the reader’s attention and makes it difficult to put the book down.

A very important facet of Of One Tongue is the weaving in of scientific subjects such as dinosaurs, the environmental and genetic components of the longevity of the patriarchs, real climate change, human migration, and early technology. Several appendices give succinct summaries of these subjects.

However the most important aspect of this book is its absolute fidelity in expounding spiritual truth as God has given it to us in His word the Bible. Of One Tongue is a marvelous vehicle to convey God’s truth in a very entertaining and positive manner. The final appendix lays out God’s plan for salvation. Of One Tongue deserves a wide readership and extensive dissemination to believers and non-believers alike.

 

Joseph Kezele, M. D.

President, Arizona Origin Science Association

Adjunct Professor of Biology, Arizona Christian University,

Logos Research Associate

 

 

one

 

“Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron...”

Genesis 4:22 (NIV)

 

One Hundred And Six Years After The Global Flood

The Year 2241 BC

The Month of Second Beginnings

 

Nabella dared a glance through a hole in the stained tent wall and gripped clammy hands together. Two men locked eyes, a third towered over them. Her father, Jokaan, stood arms crossed over his brawny chest. She knew that stance…he had reached his limit.

“Oh Father, be careful,” she whispered.

Her eyes darted to the thin man who confronted Jokaan. Pale eyes flashed at her father. She cringed from Ra'anel’s glare, though it had nothing to do with her. A slight shift of her eyes and she took in the third man. Cush stared down at her father. A deep scowl tumbled across his rough features, and ebony skin stretched taut over his bulging muscles. One hand encircled the largest spear she had ever seen. She couldn’t help but wonder if Ra'anel had brought him along only to intimidate.

Her lip curled. Scum. Both of them scum. Just the other day she had overheard her father speak with men he trusted. He had sought and received confirmation of his doubts about Ra'anel and Cush.

Her opinion matched theirs—scum. Worse than scum actually. Both were smart and educated, they were dangerous, for their ambitions seemed to outweigh their integrity.

All the more reason to secretly observe them despite Father’s warning to stay out of men’s business. The twenty-year-old tore her eyes from the hole and pressed an ear there instead. The muffled tones became clear.

“You think only of yourself. Perha-a-ps… you should be less egotistical.”

Nabella recognized Ra'anel’s voice. It dribbled overt piety. The corners of her mouth tilted down. He sounded so…intellectual, but something still bothered her. Father said Ra'anel possessed false humility, maybe that’s it.

“You’re not welcome here if you choose to speak in such a manner,” Jokaan’s low voice stiffened.

“You know there are great benefits to living in The Cit—”

“Ra'anel, you have been pushing me to move into The City for twenty years. You know I will not disobey God.”

“God, pah…He no longer rules like He used to. You know as well as I the benefits to living in The City. No more traveling to outposts endlessly carting your goods around. Just think. People would come to you…one central place that would benefit everyone, not just you.

“Let your workers live here in the orchards. Or your daughters’ husbands and their families. But you move to The City and set up a permanent shop…”  Ra'anel’s voice droned on and on. At last he paused. “Besides, you need a woman to care for you, Jokaan. It would be much easier to find another wife with all the people coming to you. You could devote time for…hmmm, courtship.”

“No, Danya was the only woman for me. And I already have eight daughters worrying over me,” Jokaan growled.

“You could be a rich man…”

“I already am a rich man.”

“Hmmm…I suppose, for one who has no sons.”

Nabella breathed in a small gasp the same time her fist landed on a hip. She could feel her father bristle, and his anger radiate against the worn walls of the tent.

Ra'anel pressed. “Surely though…you would move to The City so you can be close to the new temple to worship your God.”

“That tower’s blasphemy! God did not ask for such a thing,” Jokaan bellowed. “I’m this close to trading everything and moving far from here.”

Nabella chanced another quick peek. Jokaan had thrust his hand in front of Ra'anel’s nose, forefinger and thumb only a finger-width apart. Ra'anel stood his ground, eyes narrowed to slits. Cush stepped forward. Nabella jerked her ear back to the hole. Several strands of hair flew across her face and stuck to her lips. A shaky hand snatched the wisps away.

“That could prove to be very foolish.” The threat could not be mistaken in Cush’s deep timbre.

“In what way?” Jokaan ignored the warning. Nabella held her breath.

She shivered at the harsh laugh that erupted from Cush. “Do not be so offended, my friend. I only mean there are many dangerous animals out there. Nimrod has hunted most from around here, but you never know if one will show up in your orchards or by your house.”

Jokaan’s voice turned frigid, it reminded Nabella of the blast of bitter air before a storm. “I can handle anything that endangers my family. And God said to spread out. Even with the perils from living on the edge of the wilderness—or from people—I will not move to The City. Do not call me friend…and feel free to leave.”

Footsteps stomped toward the tent. Nabella gasped, twisted away from the hole and tripped over her youngest sister. She grabbed the child’s shoulders and yanked a foot from under small feet entangled with hers.

“Shoshan-”

Wide green eyes penetrated hers. “What’d they say, Bella?”

“Don’t worry about it, Shoshana, and stop biting your lip. Hurry, we have to look busy before Fath-”

The tent flap flew to the side as Jokaan stepped through. Flushed face and deep brown eyes that glinted betrayed his anger. The man clenched his hands then pressed thin lips until they disappeared into a full beard.

“You,” he jabbed a finger at Nabella, “Take food to your sisters, the two that are at the south end. And you,” he grabbed the smaller girl’s arm and shoved her toward a basket filled with figs, “Prepare food for the workers here.” He strode to the middle of the tent and rummaged through a bag that hung from the center pole. The girls scrambled to obey.

Nabella swung her loaded basket of bread, cheese and dried grapes onto her back then mouthed to Shoshana, “I’ll tell you later.” She ducked out of the tent and headed down the beaten path that extended into the grove.

“Nabella.”

She turned at her father’s call. In five strides he came abreast and extended his hand. Her eyes flew wide when she saw her mother’s old bronze dagger nestled in his palm. She raised eyes filled with unspoken questions.

“I know you overheard the conversation. I don’t trust those men and they can’t be very far. All your other sisters, save Shoshana, are married and under their husband’s protection.” Jokaan stared at the weapon, his mouth twisted into a sad smile. “It’s not the same as a husband, but it will offer some protection.”

Nabella’s hands remained on the basket. “But Father, I have Barukh.”

“He has not spoken to me yet. You are not betrothed nor under his protection. Take the knife, if only for a little while. And may this weapon serve you better than it did your mother.”

Nabella lowered her eyes at the pained catch in her father’s voice then took the proffered weapon and hefted it. It felt awkward, heavier and weighted differently than the food knives she used.

“No, like this.” Jokaan turned the grip in her hand. “And if you must strike, do so like this.” He lifted her hand and guided it in a narrow arc, then twisted it sideways. He sighed and turned to her, resolve etched deep in his eyes. “I will show you more when you return.”

He took the dagger, returned it to the sheath, slide it beneath her sash then pushed the weapon snug against her body.

“In many ways you have almost been like a son to me. Your stubborn, strong willed, always-plowing-ahead-no-matter-what attitude is very boy-like. And I mean that as a compliment…for the most part.” He gripped her shoulders and gave her a slight shake. “There were times when I have counted on you like a son. So now I ask, even with these men about, go to the end of the groves and report to me how many trees still need to be harvested. By the time you return, I’ll be back home. Most likely in the processing building so look for me there.”

Nabella peered at her father.  “Bu—”

Jokaan’s palm flashed upright in front of her face, his lips pressed tight. With a quick shake of his head, he turned and strode away. Nabella’s mind raced, but she gritted her teeth to stop the barrage of questions that threatened to spill. With furrowed brows she headed once more toward the orchard.

A slight breeze lifted damp tendrils from her forehead. She brushed the dagger with the tips of her fingers and scanned the trees ahead. Questions buzzed through her mind, and she fought the temptation to run to Jokaan. Would those men really hurt her? Were they still near? Nabella shook her head. No—I will not let this bother me…Father must feel it’s safe enough or he wouldn’t let me go. What could possibly happen anyways? There are workers everywhere. And he’s counting on me. Besides, if I were his son, I wouldn’t be afraid at all.

She slipped into the quiet of the wood. Each step pushed her worry farther behind. Nabella paused, closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. Then bit by bit she drew in a deep breath, the rich smell of ripened olives satiated her, and she opened her eyes. Sunbeams filtered between the petite leaves and surrounded her with a dappled radiance. She pivoted in place and the soft tilt at the corner of her mouth grew. There is a peace here that I can’t find anywhere else. Nabella touched the grip of her mother’s dagger, and confidence rippled through her.

Branches murmured in the soft breeze. Somewhere in the near distance a bird trilled. A song thrush. The first she heard this autumn. Winter is not far away….Nabella started, then shook her head at her distraction. With light feet she hurried down the leaf-covered path, and let her eyes rove over the trees planted by her grandfather. Nabella knew at over fifty years old, the trees were in their prime. How she loved it when a portion of her large family camped every other year at the southern section of their olive orchards. The gathering usually happened during the Month of Second Beginnings for the great harvests.

Feet skirted around small mounds of debris where earlier in the year the Euphrates River had spilled over its banks higher than Nabella could ever remember. She had heard that all the crops in the area hung heavy from the flooding and the abundant seasonal rains. It certainly held true for her father’s groves.

Rhythmic whacks caught her ear, and Nabella tilted her head in that direction. Friendly banter filtered through the trees. She hurried toward the sounds and could make out words long before she saw her extended family. She stooped under a low branch. Two of her older sisters, Adara and Elah, gathered olives off loosely woven linen. Jabari, Elah’s husband, had situated himself in the tree above them. Nabella watched him use a thick stick with antlers attached at one end to comb branches in search of stubborn olives. At the same time, the smack of Tomar’s long pole on the limbs pierced her ears. The two men created a rain of ripened fruit. By the looks of it, this year like every other year, the harvest would be enormous.

“Ah, there she is. We were just wondering if a lion ate you on the way here.”

Nabella furrowed her brows at Adara's husband. “Very funny, Tomar.” Despite herself, she peered over her shoulder. Laughter erupted. Nabella slammed the basket to the ground with a thud. Eyes ablaze, fists flew to her hips. “Tomorrow you can bring your own food, Elah. I’ll make sure there is enough bread left over from today for you.”

“Oh come on, Nabella, we were just teasing.” Her sister clicked her tongue. “You would really feed me moldy bread?”

In no mood to join in their jousting, Nabella ignored the comment. Without a word she tramped to the path.

“Don’t go back without a full basket.” Adara scolded.

“Just because you’re the oldest, doesn’t mean you get to push me around. I am not going back yet. Father asked me to check to the end of the groves.” Nabella darted away before she could be baited any further. She always seemed to end up the brunt of their jokes. Most of the time she didn’t mind…but sometimes, it got on her nerves. Like today.

Immersed in thought, Nabella studied her feet as they padded down the sun speckled path. It wasn’t until she stepped from the shade of the wood into the bright afternoon light that she realized the groves had ended and the task Jokaan entrusted her with remained unfulfilled. Nabella sighed and scanned the nearby branches that bowed under the weight of olives. Her lips tightened into a thin line. I’ll just have to check on the way back.

She stood at the southern edge of the groves and tried to soothe her wounded pride. Her eyes roved from the wandering Euphrates River in the west, panned over the vast plain of Shinar and rested on the eastern mountains beyond. A three day journey to those mountains. Maybe someday…but no—unless I can persuade Barukh to take me, it will never happen. A fist came to her hip, that means I’d have to talk him into marrying me first. A thrill ran up her spine. Oh how wonderful it would be to be married to Barukh.

At the thought of Barukh, Nabella veered to her right and stepped back into the trees to cut through the southwest corner of the orchard toward the barley fields. She could get a better view of his father’s vineyard from there. Perhaps Barukh would be there now harvesting grapes, maybe gazing in her direction. Even now she could see his deep blue eyes staring into hers. Her lips curved into a smile, and she felt heat rise at the thought of her intended. Well…soon to be my intended.

She trekked through rows of trees and stopped at the western edge of the grove. The Euphrates caught her eye. The mellow autumn sun glinted off the river and sparkled like the precious jewels that bedecked the celestial advisors. Nabella squinted. A faint shout floated on the gusting breeze. She shifted her gaze to the fields that stretched between the river and her father’s groves. Men trudged alongside pairs of oxen that pulled seed plows through the rich soil. Three men worked each team, urging the oxen forward while women and children dotted the fields behind them. Their arms swung in a slow arc as they scattered barley seed across the freshly turned earth. Near the edge of the fields, more oxen stood harnessed to two wheeled carts. Nabella couldn’t see the small kernels but knew children filled bags then raced to replace empty ones in the seeders’ hands. From the looks of it, they had nearly finished planting that far end of the large field.

Nabella shook her head. It seemed like so much work compared to picking olives. She turned and stood on her toes. At the far northern edge of the barley fields she could just make out Gideon’s vineyards.

The young woman tossed another glance at her neighbors then stepped into the barley field. Nabella clasped her jupe. Surely they wouldn’t mind if she paid attention to step over the sprouting green shoots. She just wanted a better view of the vineyards. Nabella shaded her eyes. But even after several tentative steps out onto the budding ground, she still couldn’t see anyone at Gideon’s place. With a sigh she gave up and turned back to the grove.

Nabella stopped in her tracks and gasped. A skinned and gutted animal hung from the corner tree. She relaxed, a hunter must be going through the orchard. She stepped closer, her brows pulled down. Something seemed…wrong.

Ah-he that’s odd, why isn’t there any blood under the carcass? Nabella scanned the ground around the dead animal but still no blood or entrails. If someone had hunted this animal, the guts would have been dumped on the ground next to it. And the meat would have been stripped away. Nabella stepped closer. It wasn’t even a game animal. She stared at the hind feet where it had been strung up…they were paws. And its head had been removed. Coldness crept from her stomach. Her feet shuffled backward. Something bumped the back of her head.

With a gasp Nabella spun around into the animal’s decapitated head. It swayed back and forth, drops of blood seeped from severed flesh. Empty sockets stared back at her where its eyes had been gouged out.

“Ah-h,” her stomach clenched and wrung out the soft cry. Nabella’s heart squeezed tight, and she reared back from the grisly sight. One hand flew to her throat as the other clasped and unclasped a fold in her tunic. She stumbled sideways to run around the head when dark loops caught her eye. Intestines hung from a branch to her right. She froze then forced herself to scan the other trees. The animal’s innards had been strung in a semi-circle around the carcass. Blood splashed on the tree trunks still trickled down the bark.

Hairs prickled on the back of Nabella’s neck. Her mind raced as she fought to keep her morning meal in her churning stomach. This must have just happened. Surely the carcass had not been there when she walked into the field. She froze in place, mind whirling. That meant…whoever did this had to be close by. Her chest squeezed out shallow rapid breaths. She pressed her eyes shut for an instant then bound away like a frightened deer. Faster, she pushed, faster. Dagger completely forgotten with heart hammering, she charged through the grove.

“Tomar…Tomar!” She collapsed on the edge of the worn sheet.

The tall man paused in his work, dark brown eyes that peered around branches penetrated hers.

“What’s wrong?”

When she only pointed and looked back in the direction she came, he climbed from the tree and strode toward her. “Nabella, what’s going on?”

Nabella stared at him, then pressed lips together as she tried to gather her thoughts.

Tomar grabbed her upper arms and hauled her to her feet. “Tell me! What is it?”

“There, there, is something wrong… at the end of the grove.”

“What do you mean wrong?”

Nabella could only shake her head. Tomar’s dark eyes glinted, and he shook her hard. “Tell me!”

“I-it just happened. When I was there, but I didn’t know.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“It happened while I was there, but I didn’t see them. They were there at the same time…” Nabella’s eyes darted about as she clasped and unclasped her tunic.

Tomar glanced at Adara. He turned back to Nabella, concern etched on his face. She sucked in a deep breath and smoothed her tunic with a shaky hand. How could she explain what she saw? How could she explain the menacing feeling? She swallowed hard and tried to speak, but her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She would just have to show them. Nabella yanked free of Tomar’s grip and stomped toward the end of the grove. She slowed long enough to make sure everyone followed.

“What did you see?” Adara panted as she caught up.

Nabella shuddered. “I-it was an animal, I think it was a ca—”

“Jabari, go back and get the poles.” Tomar barked the order then continued, “Was the animal frothing at the mouth, acting strange?”

“No—”

“Was there more than one?”

“No. Well, I don’t think so.”

“How big was it?”

“No, that’s not it. Just listen. It was dead, but a person killed it because it was hung in a tree and skinned and, and its head was chopped off.”

“Is that all, Nabella? It was just a hunter.” Jabari’s light brown brows furrowed.

“No—there’s something wrong about the whole thing.”

Jabari’s mouth tipped in a faint smile when he handed Tomar a pole. He turned to the others. “Everyone go back. I’ll handle this with Nabella.”

“No-” Nabella started to protest.

“Well, I want to see it now.” Tomar brushed past Jabari, his muscular frame just a fingers length taller than the younger man’s. Nabella looked at her sisters and their husbands. Her eyes sent a silent plea that beseeched them to understand.

“It’s…evil,” Nabella whispered.

“Evil?” Tomar laughed.

“Just wait till you see it.” Nabella’s voice shook, and she pushed ahead. Why didn’t people ever take her seriously? Well, they would see soon enough.

They stepped through the last of the trees, and Nabella thrust her hand palm up in the direction of the carcass. Elah grabbed Adara and shrieked. Adara's hand flew to her mouth.

Jabari stopped dead in his tracks. “What in the worl—”

“Adara, Elah—stay put.” Tomar’s knuckles whitened as his hand clenched the wooden pole.

Nabella couldn’t help herself. “I told you it’s evil.”

“Ah-he,” Tomar muttered. “What do you make of this, Jabari?”

The best hunter in the family squatted, face pinched and stared at the ground. Jabari ignored the skinned animal and flies that buzzed around the carcass. He leaned forward then gingerly tugged a leaf to the side. A small pool of blood. The solid man rose with slow deliberation then snapped a dead twig from a tree the length of his arm. He circled the dead animal and one by one uncovered five more small pools of blood that had soaked into the soil. Jabari squatted, leaned forward, and tilted his head near the ground. He sprang up and strode to the next tree at the edge of the grain field.

“Look...” he swung the stick, eyes narrowed, “…at the base of the trees.” A small symbol had been carved on the trunk.

Tomar leaned closer. “That carving represents sacrifice. I saw one like it on Ra'anel's staff. He said it was a symbol for his gods, whatever that means.”

“You mean the demons Father warned us about?” Elah whispered and glanced over her shoulder.

Nabella gasped. Her fingers wrapped around the grip of her mother’s dagger. A tremble ran through her as her mind flew to capture details. Elah pressed into Nabella and Adara, and the three sisters bunched together.

“I-I know that wasn’t here before.” Nabella took a step back.

Jabari whirled the stick around his fingers as he strode forward then thrust it in the direction of a tree. “This one has a carving too.”

Tomar’s voice thundered, “Everyone spread out, look for more!”

Elah looped her arm through Adara’s, and they crept up the edge of the grove. Adara’s head, just a fist above Elah’s, pressed against her younger sister’s. Tomar and Jabari scanned trees in the opposite direction. Nabella felt as if her feet had grown roots. She couldn’t decide who she’d be safer with. Just go, Nabella! She scolded herself and dashed to Tomar’s side.

“There’s two over here.” Elah’s voice shook.

“And three here.” Jabari called in a tight voice.

“That makes six all together.” Tomar grimaced and rubbed his browned forehead. “The number of the serpent.”

“And I bet….” Jabari moved back to the carcass and the others followed his lead. He poked the ground directly under the animal. “There is no blood here, and I’m right.”

Tomar balled his fist. “It looks like a ritual of some sort was performed here.”

Jabari ran a hand through his sandy blond hair and nodded. “Yes, someone drained and caught the blood. I bet if we go to the east end of the grove we’ll find the same thing there.”

Silent, Adara, Elah and Nabella stared at each other then hurried after the men. Jabari’s prediction proved right, and Nabella’s stomach churned as she stared at another sacrificial site.

Elah’s shoulder’s drooped, and a shadow passed over her smooth olive complexion. “Poor creatures. What do you suppose they were?”

“Caracal cats. They’re often used in pagan worship,” Jabari ground a fist into the palm of his other hand.

“Ugh…someone worshipped a pagan god in our father’s olive groves?” Indignation rose in Adara’s voice.

“Worse than that…I think it’s a curse.” Tomar paced.

“I’ll tell Father.” Nabella spun on her heels but a strong hand clasped her upper arm.

“No.” Tomar eyed the others. “We go back together.”

“What do you mean?” Jabari demanded.

“We are calling it quits for today.”

Jabari shook his head and the corners of his mouth drew down. “No we’re not. There is far too much work still to be done.”

Tomar hesitated and at last nodded in agreement. “Alright then, I’ll return with Nabella. The rest of you stay here. I’ll be back as soon as I can and be careful.”

“Tomar, Father went back home.” Nabella stared at the tall man.

“Then take a load of olives back when you go.” With a stern glance at them, Adara headed toward their work site. She tossed her head and a long raven braid flew across her back.

Nabella followed behind the men and strained to hear their quiet words. She pressed her lips tight. I should be included in this. When they reached the harvesting area, her steps dragged, and she hung back with Tomar and Jabari.

“Nabella, come help us.”

With an impatient sigh Nabella obeyed. Filling baskets couldn’t be more important than what Tomar and Jabari were planning.

The three women placed four, large, tightly woven baskets laden with olives into a handcart. Tomar slipped the broad leather strap around his shoulders then reached behind him for the handles of the cart. He leaned into the straps. With a creak the cart rolled forward then angled to one side. The man strained, and his large hands tightened to steady the tumbrel.

“Watch out.” Nabella and Elah called in unison then jumped to the side of the cart. The baskets shifted and settled. Jabari gripped the other end and helped to steady it. With a final shove he teased, “You’re on your own now, Tomar.”

The young woman lengthened her stride until she drew alongside Tomar. He grinned at her and grunted. “Adara would have me sleeping in the fields if I let that load dump.”

Nabella studied Tomar, and her heart warmed towards the commanding, burly man. He could be such a pain at times but then…oh no—the food!

She raced back to get her bundle. Nabella broke off a chunk of bread and cheese then grabbed a handful of the dried figs and caught up with Tomar.

“Some food,” she offered.

Tomar chuckled then said, “Stick it in my mouth.”

Even when Nabella helped push the cart, it took longer than expected to arrive at the processing buildings near their house. Tomar set the cart in front of several workers.

He glanced at Nabella. “My guess is Jokaan’s in the handling area. Wait here.”  The man strode towards the low, baked brick building without waiting for a reply. Nabella hesitated then trotted to keep up.

She blinked as she stepped into the dim, cool interior, and her nose crinkled at the overpowering odor of olive oil and human sweat. She followed Tomar as he headed for the storage area dug deep into the ground. When they neared the bottom of the ramp cooler air wafted around large vats of oil, the constant cool temperature kept her father’s goods fresh.

Nabella grabbed Tomar’s hairy forearm. “There,” she jutted her chin at a long line of men who maneuvered full clay vessels down a ramp on the opposite side of the room. Jokaan’s face flushed red as he struggled with a vat tipped halfway off the ramp.

Tomar frowned down at her.

Nabella cocked her head. “See. You needed me.”

Tomar shook his head. “Wait here and this time I mean it.” He wove his way through the crowded room.

Nabella clapped her hands over her ears. The clamor of so many people shouting above the rumble of rolling vessels made her ears hurt. She stood on her tiptoes to watch her sister’s husband. He dodged a man who spun an empty container toward an arched doorway and then disappeared from her sight. Nabella paced and stopped ever so often to scan the room. At last the men emerged from the crowd near the bottom of the ramp she stood on.

Nabella studied Jokaan’s drawn brow and thin pressed lips and knew Tomar had already spoken of the foul deed. When her father neared he glanced at Danya’s dagger, and Nabella watched a flicker of relief pass over his face. He motioned for them to step outside.

“I want to see for myself, Tomar. Not that I don’t believe you…but it would be better to report this as an eyewitness.”

“Before you do that let’s check out the north orchard. Jabari thinks there might be more.”

Jokaan nodded and ran a hand through dark russet, shoulder length hair. He brushed past Nabella, and jutted his chin toward three narrow tables. “You stay here and hel—”

“But Father! I need to see too…I found the firs—”

“Nabella,” Jokaan sighed and placed calloused hands on her shoulders, “Stay here on the grounds and help.”

She tightened her jaw and followed a short distance behind the men. They passed by long tables set near the building where women and girls stood on both sides and separated olives from leaves and twigs. She paused at the end of one table, stared at her father and strained her ears.

“First go see if the grandmothers need help preparing the evening meal,” Jokaan called over his shoulder.

Nabella sighed. Her brows pulled down in a tight V. She didn’t need to help with the meal, she needed to help the men. And besides she had a right to know; after all she made the discovery. She fingered the dagger and smiled as an idea swirled in her mind.

She found the grandmothers—both with dark, sweat-dampened hair—leaning over the tannur ovens. Three other women were finger deep in unleavened dough.

“Do you need another hand, Nahni? It looks like you already have several people helping you.” Nabella bent and gave each grandmother a kiss on the top of their heads.

“We can always use another hand.”

“Alright…but first I have to run a quick errand. If Father asks, I’m still on the grounds.” She lowered her eyes, I’m not lying, I won’t leave the orchard. Besides, if Father included me like the son he says I am, I wouldn’t have to do this. And God knows that so…He must want me to go.”

Nabella walked to the front of the courtyard then strolled toward the groves. Act normal…I’ll hide when I get to the corner of the orchard then I’ll be able to hear what Father says and plans to do, just act normal. Once under the cover of the trees she ignored the dirt road and wove her way through the wood. She raced toward the northern edge of the orchard, hand on the grip of her dagger.