Warrior ProphetsChapter 27
House of Bread
“Stop it!” Vered giggled, as Boaz threw a sprinkling of flour at his bride-to-be.
“You’ve been in the sun too much,” Boaz smiled. “We need to get you back to your beautiful pale self.”
“Am I less beautiful because I like the outdoors?” Vered asked in mock anger. The two of them were kneading dough in Boaz’s bakery, in the town ofBethlehem. The bakery was a simple stone structure. A large brick oven with a roaring fire dominated the back wall. An open ledge at the front faced the main road ofBethlehem. A wide wooden table in the middle of the bakery was filled with kneaded dough. On the side of the table were large sacks of freshly ground flour and basins of clear spring water. The hot oven warmed up the entire bakery, taking away the chill of the early morning in theJudeanMountains. Their wedding day was just three weeks away.
Boaz, realizing he had yet again stuck his foot in his mouth, couldn’t figure out how to extricate himself. Flattery, he finally thought. Flat-out flattery always does the trick.
“You misunderstand, my love. You are beautiful when you are pale, as well as when you are bronzed by the sun.”
“First you call me ugly, and now you call me a fool, saying I misunderstand you?” Boaz couldn’t help hearing a sharper edge in her voice. He was never sure when she was teasing and when she was serious. He needed to pacify her, for his own sake, before he was further bewildered.
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, you are beautiful under all circumstances. And of course you are no fool. You are one of the smartest women I’ve ever met.”
“Are you implying that women are generally not smart? You’re saying I’m smart for a woman? Is that like saying you walk well for a cripple?” Vered threw the dough she was kneading hard on the table.
“No! That’s not what I mean at all!”
“Then say what you mean! Why are you so cruel and insulting?” Vered took her apron off. She dropped it onto a nearby stool, raising a thin cloud of white dust. She walked to the washing basin to clean her hands, arms and face.
Boaz stood with his mouth ajar. Just moments ago they were teasing each other playfully and now she seemed truly angry. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to sense her aura.
Her white essence was bright, but there was a swirling mixture of colors as well. Red anger, yellow fear, but also blue and green and purples he did not understand.
“Vered, my dear,” Boaz said calmly. “What’s the matter? Why are you angry with me? What have I done?”
“You’re going to leave me,” she said, not looking at him.
“Nonsense. I have no such plans.”
“My mother said men from your militia would be coming to look for you today, asking you to return.”
“How does she know that?”
“She’s friendly with Amitai’s mother, who got word that her son is arriving today. Why else would he come suddenly toBethlehemfrom his command?
“They don’t need me anymore. I saw to that. Amitai is doing a fantastic job. He’s a better tactician than I ever was. He has experienced, dedicated men. He said not to worry, and I will take him at his word.”
“But what if he does come? Promise me you will not go off with them,” Vered pleaded.
“We agreed, Vered. I would only go if they absolutely need me. How often can that happen? We’ve destroyed the major thieving groups, any survivors are disbanded and disorganized and Amitai has them all on the run. I don’t fear any major problems for a while. Relax, Vered. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I promise to abide by our agreement. Come, let’s get this batch in the oven and clean up. Customers will be arriving any minute.”
Though not cheered, Vered scooped up the dough she had kneaded and placed it carefully in the wide brick oven. Boaz, with his renowned speed, gathered his portion of dough and flung them into the remaining empty spaces in the oven.
The smell of the baking bread brought a smile back to Vered’s face.
“This is a good batch,” Boaz said, changing the topic.
“Yes. You’re getting better and faster. We’ve also received more orders for delivery.”
“It certainly is,” a gruff voice interrupted them from the front of the bakery.
“Father,” Boaz said to the tall red-headed man wearing a long beard.
“Good morning, son. It warms the heart to see you up before dawn, working on something not life-threatening, close to home. I haven’t heard of anyone dying from baking yet.”
“Good to see you as well, Father. How can I be of service?”
“Oh, nothing. I just wanted to check on you and Vered before I went to prayers. Don’t be late. It’s good you’re making a living, but don’t forget that God is the true Provider.”
“I won’t forget, Father. As soon as I’ve helped Vered sell our first batch, I’ll be right there.”
“Good. Don’t be too late. And a wonderful day to you, Vered.”
“Thank you, Saalmon,” Vered curtsied.
Boaz’s father strode away as a dozen women of all ages, carrying empty baskets, approached the bakery. On the thin road, Boaz could see other men in prayer shawls walking towards the local sanctuary for morning prayers.
With long, flat sticks, Boaz and Vered quickly scooped the hot, fresh bread out of the oven and placed them on the ledge at the front of the bakery.
“That will be three coppers, Marta,” Boaz said, as a matronly woman filled her basket with the steaming loaves.
“My sons love your bread,” Marta replied with a shy smile, as she dropped three small copper pieces on the counter. “My husband said he doesn’t mind spending the money to give me a reprieve from baking all these years. God bless you, Boaz.”
“Good day to you, Marta. Thank you.”
Boaz finished selling the first batch, as Vered started kneading a second one. The initial crowd of women dissipated as the ledge was cleared of the fresh bread.
“I’d better head to the sanctuary,” Boaz said, as he wiped the bread crumbs off the ledge with a rag. “My father will be annoyed as it is.”
“Boaz!” a panting breath approached the bakery.
“Amitai! What are you doing here? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said, catching his breath. “We need you. We found a Moabite stronghold right on the border with the Reuvenites. They have deep caves in the mountain and I need your Vision to tell us how many there are.”
“How dare you!?” Vered screamed angrily at Amitai. “How dare you barge in here right before our wedding, demanding Boaz help you. You have enough men. You don’t need him.”
“I’m sorry Vered,” Amitai said, looking down. “It’s just a matter of timing. We followed them to their caves and I left my men to keep an eye on them, but if Boaz could tell us how many there are and where they’re located, it could save lives. He doesn’t even need to fight. I can have him back before the wedding.”
“Don’t even think about it, Boaz.”
“Amitai, is this something that can wait?” Boaz asked.
“You know as well as I do that every day we delay gives these criminals more time to regroup, build themselves up and prepare for their next attack. While you are busy baking bread, they get stronger every day.”
Boaz looked at Vered.
“If you leave, Boaz son of Saalmon,” Vered said. “Don’t bother coming back.”
“No, Boaz. No. This is it. This is when you decide between your friends and me. Let’s see. Let’s see where you stand. Better I should find out now, than once we’re married. Well? What’s it going to be?”
“Vered, they need me. You heard Amitai. This may save lives.”
“Boaz, I need you.” Tears streamed down Vered’s face. “Why does Amitai need to chase and attack every thief in the land? Give them a break. Give yourselves a break. When are you going to build a home? Do you want to be a professional soldier all your life?”
Boaz looked from Vered to Amitai.
He closed his eyes and saw the raging inferno of colors within Vered. A hot red anger with a sickly orange of despair. Her bright white had been muted by confusion, longing and fear. He could sense Amitai’s grey guilt and steely blue need.
Vered is right, Boaz thought. And I need her too.
“Amitai,” Boaz said, as he opened his eyes. “You’ll have to find another way.”
Boaz could feel Vered’s love and gratitude over the heat of the bakery ovens.
“I’m not leaving Vered,” he continued. “We need our calm and quiet until at least after the wedding. And for the first year I will certainly not be leaving her.”
“You’re nice and safe here inBethlehem,” Amitai responded with some anger, “but on the periphery they bring the fight to us.”
“I’ve retired from fighting. Now I’m just going to focus on my work and my bride and some serenity.”
“This is disappointing,” Amitai said. “Now I’m not sure what we’ll do, but if your decision is final, I will have to find another way.”
“Don’t leave angry,” Boaz said. “Here, take a loaf for the road.” Boaz handed Amitai a warm loaf of bread.
“Thank you, Boaz. I don’t agree with you, but I respect your decision. Vered, I wish you much joy and happiness. I hope that one day I’ll find someone so passionate about me.”
“It’s easier if you’re not holding a sword,” Vered answered. “Women want farmers and shepherds, not warriors.”
“I hear you. Once I find and train my successor, I’ll give up the sword. In the meantime, I’ll excuse myself from you lovebirds, as I have some Moabites to deal with. Goodbye and may God be with you.” Amitai and Boaz clasped hands and hugged. Amitai then departed without further word.
“Thank you,” Vered said to Boaz meaningfully.
“Thank you,” Boaz responded. “I’m sorry I made you angry and even considered going.”
“Well, we have a lot of work to do before the wedding and I need to get this second batch of dough in the oven.”
“The wedding will be glorious,” Boaz said encouragingly. “Nothing will ruin it.”
Boaz and Vered looked at each other lovingly, not knowing their wedding day would prove to be the bloodiest day of the year.
* * * * * *