The donkey balked at the stable door. Abidan planted his left foot and pulled on the rope, dragging the unwilling beast into the cool dim of the stall.
“I never thought to see old Nahor so easily overcome, brother,” came a laughing voice nearby.
Abidan gave another yank, eliciting an irritated bray from his prisoner. “Not everyone gives up as easily as you do, brother.”
The venom in his words was sour on his tongue, but he had given up trying to sweeten it. His father doled out enough honey to Jeriah; Abidan saw no need for false sweetness. A full cycle of seasons since Jeriah came back, and their father had yet to stop marveling.
“Uriel and I have harvested the south fields.” Jeriah reported, laughter banished from his voice. He stepped to Nahor’s other side, scratching the animal’s ears.
“We’ll be ready for threshing before next Sabbath.”
“Father will be pleased. Shall I invite the neighbors?”
The anticipatory grin on Jeriah’s face was like chaff against Abidan’s skin. As the largest land-owners, it was their responsibility to provide for the neighbors who came to share the work. “We cannot.”
“Surely you can’t expect to thresh all this with only old Uriel to help.” Jeriah laughed. “Even as hard a worker as you are –“
“We cannot because we have nothing to prepare for the threshing feast.”
He’d been hoping the words would bring his younger brother to his senses. Instead, he laughed again. Abidan tightened his grip on the rope. Yes, Jeriah could laugh at such things. He’d not been here for the worst of the famine. He’d not lived through harvests of doling out barley as if it were gold. He’d not seen the cold stares, heard the whispers of disgrace and ruin because of a younger son’s arrogance.
“Come, Abidan, we’ve enough to keep body and soul together – what more do hungry men need?”
“Not all of us are accustomed to pig slop, brother.”
That had the desired effect. A grimace tightened Jeriah’s face. Satisfied, Abidan turned to go. Let him consider that it was his own foolishness that had brought the family so low.
Jeriah was at his elbow. “Are there no sheep left in our fields? Are there no goats in our pens?”
“One does not feast on goats, Jeriah,” Abidan hissed. “You should know this. Did Father slaughter goats last harvest when you returned?”
Another grimace. Jeriah knew of the argument between Abidan and their father that night.
Abidan shook his head and pressed his advantage. “There is no fatted calf this year. There are few goats and fewer sheep. I will not shame our family by hosting our neighbors without a proper feast.”
“You disgrace them if you think they care more about the feast than our family,” Jeriah retorted, his voice firm though his face was pale. “They’ve welcomed me back even as Father did.”
“Don’t speak to me of disgrace –“
“Must I spend the rest of my days atoning for my mistake? I’ve begged Father’s forgiveness and received it. I’ve worked as hard this harvest as ever you did –“
“One year means nothing, Jeriah!” Abidan roared. Nahor let out a startled bray. “Do you believe that in one year you can undo all the injury you’ve done? That your tearful return and Father’s joy that you aren’t dead simply wipe out all the suffering and hardship your departure caused?”
Jeriah was trembling. Abidan waited for him to bolt as he had since his childhood. Walking away and leaving his older brother to clean up his mess was a trait well ingrained after so many years.
He didn’t walk away. Despite himself, Abidan felt a twinge of respect. Jeriah spread his hands palm up in a gesture of supplication.
“Will you never forgive me, brother?”
The tone wasn’t the plaintive whine of his little brother wheedling out of trouble. It was a man’s honest petition. It required a man’s honest response. The knot in Abidan’s chest loosened ever so slightly, but remained intact - for the moment.
“Ask me again after next harvest.”
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