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Be Fruitful II

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The waves were monstrous, and the constant drip of water through the decks had all living things on board the ark on edge and short-tempered with each other. Whilst the men of the family tended the beasts, and suffered from being trod upon by their hooves, and paws, and scratched or prodded peevishly by their claws or horns, the women kept order in the human quarters, feeding the braziers with dried animal dung and carefully drying the next batch for fuel, grinding grain and baking small loaves that took on the flavor of the fires' smoke, and picking through the hair shed by the beasts for suitable fibres to spin. Everything stank of damp, and mould, of urine and dung. No living thing aboard could remember the touch of the sunlight upon their skin.

One dreary day Adataneses, the wife of Japheth returned to the company of the women after stretching her legs in the dimness of the lower decks, and said,

"My sisters, one of the beasts of the field greeted me by name as I walked about the ark this day, and asked after my health."

Na'eltama'uk the wife of Ham and Sedeqetelebab the wife of Shem looked at her in surprise, and drew back her head-covering to feel her forehead in case she had taken a fever.

"No beast has spoken to a son or daughter of haAdam in all the days since the world was made," Na'eltama'uk said in her soft, kind tones. "Perhaps you imagined the wind to be a voice." Even as she spoke the wind rose once more and they all seized hold of the struts nearest them as the ark tossed upon the waves like a leaf.

Adataneses held tight, watching her sisters-in-law, how their fear shone in their eyes and thought of the pleasant, light tones of the beast's voice, and how it had reminded her of the sun warming a rock. It was a terrible thing to want such comfort for herself alone, but what harm could it be, seeing that they did not believe her?

"It is as you say, my sister," she cried. "I was mistaken."

From that day, whenever the seas were calm enough to allow it, and she had time to slip away, Adataneses walked the lower decks and spoke to all the beasts of the field, though most of them did not deign to reply.

"You are happier, my daughter," Naamah the wife of Noah said. "It is good that you can find joy in this place."

 

"Adataneses has made a pet of bears and wolves," Sedeqetelebab said with a little laugh. "They do not scratch her as they do our husbands."

"Why should they?" Na'eltama'uk said. "Do we women not bring the beasts food and kindness, while the men force them from their stalls to effect repairs, and muck them out and so shame them before the eyes of their neighbours?"

"And do they speak with you still, Adataneses?" Sedeqetelebab said teasingly, giggling as Adataneses coloured in what seemed embarrassment.

"That was but silliness," Adataneses said, finding the blood rising in her cheeks in anger rather than shame. It was no one's business but her own, she thought, to whom she spoke, or who she called friend.

"The beasts speak with you, my daughter?" Naamah said, frowning. "It has been many years since the beasts of the field wished to speak with humans. Did one answer you when you greeted it, or did one greet you?"

Adataneses kept her eyes upon the fire, feeding it with pieces of dung. "It was just the wind," she said sullenly.

"Which beast was it?" Naamah said. "Which beast thought to break the silence that has grown between our kinds?"

"It was just a trick of the wind, my mother," Adataneses said, summoning her old smile to her face, and patting Naamah's hand. "Sedeqetelebab is right to laugh at my foolishness." Her smile grew more real as Naamah's frown eased, her pleasant face losing much of its concern.

"I know you are a good woman, my daughter," Naamah said. "Stay close to the fire today, is it not good to keep warm? Here, take this cake I made for Noah, let us share it together."

Adataneses thought of the many kindnesses of her mother-in-law and how she had comforted her when she had first married Japheth and left her own mother. So she kept her peace and ate with Naamah, and for many days stayed near the fires, leaving only to feed the nearer beasts, and to gather their dung and soiled straw for fuel to heat herself and her kin. At last, however, she tired of the conversation of the women that was of necessity much to do with the baking of bread and attempting to keep that bread dry. She tired also of the conversation of the men, for they complained of the beasts of the field, how no living thing had gratitude for having been saved from the destruction of all the earth. When Naamah tried to make them smile, saying that surely no living thing aboard the ark need be grateful to any other for surely they were all the righteous amongst their generations, her husband and sons mocked her, saying a woman's wit was but small, like that of a mouse.

"She is right," Adataneses said, hating to see her kind mother-in-law blush. "Even the mice are righteous on this ship; is that not why the Lord Yahveh chose them?"

"How can a mouse be righteous?" Japheth said. "The dung-smoke has pickled all your brains."

"By – by being the most mousiest of mice!" Adataneses snapped and strode away, calling over her shoulder, "I go to feed the beasts of the field, the mice included."

In the depths of the ark she paused, annoyed at the sea, at the eternal dripping of the water, at her husband and at herself. She leant against the pitch-covered side of the ark and sighed, telling herself that she would not weep, that it would not do to add yet more water to the world.

"Everything is so horrible," she muttered, wiping her eyes with her head-covering.

"That is certainly true," a voice said at the level of her head. "Peace be with you, Adataneses, I had thought you had forgotten me."

"No," she said, and turned round, looking into the dim reaches of the lower decks. "Naamah wished me to stay with her, that's all. I am here now; are you cold?"

"Here? Always," her friend said, and showed himself at last, uncoiling down from the struts above her to wind about her shoulders. "Ah, Adataneses, how I miss the sun! But you warm me, child, and one day we will see the sun again."

"Will we? Truly?"

"I do not lie. The waters will abate, the earth will be dry, the heavens will be calm and blue –"

"And what will we do then?"

Her friend's laughter was light and hissing. "Why, you will live, and we will all fill up the earth once more. You will become the mother of many children, of those who dwell by the coast, of all those who dwell on islands in the midst of the sea –"

"And Japheth?"

"He will be their father, who else?"

"And you?" she said, suddenly shy. "Why is it that you speak with me? Naamah says that no beast of the field speaks with the children of haAdam any more, and yet you do."

The shrug ran all the way down her friend's body as he shifted about her shoulders. "As to that," he said, "I am not like the other living creatures, who looked that day upon a crying girl and turned their faces away. I thought in my heart that you needed a friend, Adataneses, was I wrong?"

She shrugged in her turn, a little shamed that she should speak so freely to a man not of her family, even if he were a beast. Then she gathered her courage and said,

"But when the sun comes back and you are warm, shall we still be friends? Will the beasts not scatter to live in the world? Will you still speak to me?"

He turned his head and body to regard her from unblinking, yellow-green eyes. "If that is what you want."

"Oh, yes," she said quickly, and felt tears prickle in the corners of her eyes with relief.

"I will still talk to you," he said, sounding amused, his tongue flickering out to touch her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears. "Do not weep. Though men and gods think they have parted us and driven me away, I will speak to you and to your daughters and your daughters' daughters, and you will understand me, though few others will. Do not fear, Adataneses, I do not lie, though what people do with my words is their own look-out."

"Thank you," she whispered. "Tell me again how it will be, when you speak to my daughters and their daughters after them, and the name you will give them."

"Of course, child," he said, winding more comfortably around her. "Sit, and let us talk; let me tell you how things will be for your children and how the whole world will know of your daughters. Sit, my dear Pythia, and listen."

 


Minoan cult image of woman with snake, Knossos, c. 1600 BCE.
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