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Tent-Dwelling Woman


Daegaer wrote, @ 2004-08-13 15:34:00
Encore un fic
Belatedly for brandnewgun:


Jael the Kenite sat by the door of her tent, carding the wool she had a mind to make into a new cloak for her eldest son. He was almost a man, and soon enough his father would begin to talk to other fathers, seeking out a good hard-working wife for his boy. Jael wanted everyone to see her son dressed finely, so they knew what standard of women's work he deserved. She ran over virtues of the girls of the area. Some of them could weave very finely and would make good wives. She would tell Heber what she thought of them, and he would go to their fathers armed with knowledge. She was pleased by this thought, and imagined a pretty, clever girl who would give her many grandchildren.

Looking up, she saw a man staggering towards her, his sword arm hanging useless by his side. She rose to her feet, the wool falling to the ground, as she took in his fine clothes, the golden bracelet stained with his blood. Early in the morning, before dawn was more than the merest greying of the sky, she had watched the chariots from Hazor pass by, the ponies' brasses jangling, and the soldiers laughing at their coming victory. She had seen this man standing easily in the swaying chariot at the very head of the army. She looked about in fear and anxiety. Anyone might have seen him come to her tents. She ran out to seize his uninjured arm.

"This way, this way, my lord, don't be afraid," she said, and dragged him bodily into the tent, away from prying eyes. He stood there, about to faint, and she smiled at him as if he were a little boy. "Lie down, my lord, rest," she said, and helped him sit on the carpets.

He lay back gratefully, and she covered him over with a rug. She tucked it about him, remembering how as a girl she had begged some red dye from her neighbours and had woven the scarlet pattern on its edges carefully. She and Heber had lain under it when first they were married. It was old now, it did not matter if it stained.

"Please," he said in a harsh, croaking voice, "have you water? Just a little, please."

She rose and took up a skin of milk from the morning, opening it and holding it for him to drink like a child. At last he had had enough, and she smiled again at the sight of the white milk dribbled on his face. She washed his face gently, and made him as comfortable as she could.

"Sleep, my lord," she said.

"Please," he said again, in his polite city way, "stand in the doorway, and if anyone comes and asks if someone is here, say 'no'".

"I won't tell them you're here," she promised, wrapping the rug tight around him so that he could not easily roll over on the wounded arm. She went to the door, listening to his breathing quietening into sleep.

After a while she stopped looking out the door, for the sight of fleeing soldiers being cut down by their pursuers gave her no joy. She watched her guest instead, seeing that like Heber he looked a little foolish in his sleep. She had known from the moment she recognised him that Hazor was lost. If he saw this, Heber would stand wasting precious time as he spoke of his peace with the city and crying aloud over the conflict with his peace with Israel. Both bought metalwork from him, both were his friends. Jael had no peace with Hazor or with Israel, being a woman and thus beyond the sight of the men who made compacts together. Jael had sworn no words of friendship with anyone but her husband. She had no people to protect but her children. Israel would still buy her husband's metalwork, she thought, but only if they thought Heber was their friend in all they did. She watched her guest a little longer. She had fed him like a child, tucked him in like a child. But she had her own children to think of.

Slowly and quietly, Jael bent and picked up a tent peg and a hammer, and walked on silent bare feet towards the sleeping man.

* * * * *

Judges 4:17-22 And Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, "Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear." So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, "Pray, give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty." So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, "Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes here and asks you, 'Is any one here?' say 'No'." But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg and a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, till it went down into the ground, as he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, "Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking." So he went into her tent; and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

Judges 5:24-27 (an older text, from which the prose version probably derives)

Most blessed of women be Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite.
Of tent-dwelling women most blessed.

He asked water and she gave him milk,
She brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
She put her hand to the tent peg
And her right hand to the workman's mallet;
She struck Sisera a blow,
She crushed his head,
She shattered and pierced his temple.
He sank, he fell,
He lay still at her feet;
At her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, there he fell dead.

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