The 11th One

It was a cold night when I finally crawled into my tent. My master had sent me out with the least provisions. He wanted to pass across a message of peace in this delicate time of disobedience. For me, it meant barely enough room for my feet which remained out on the cold grass. And although I was warm inside, it was dark. My feet had the moon and my eyes the darkness of the tent. All the same, it was pleasant enough that I fell asleep despite the fears of what awaited me. I was the eleventh after all. Ten were sent out before me and all had returned bloody or broken. And yet, while knowing the same fate may befall me also, I was worried about what someone would think if they chanced on my fire. They would find a man crawled into a childlike tent with not enough room for his feet. They would think, ”Such a poor servant. Such a poor master.” But that was not the case. Oh well, what could I do about that? I closed my eyes, whispered hurried prayers and woke up the next day to a burning sun.

It was noon already, the sun a scathing reminder of what people would say now. ”Such a lazy servant. Such a kind master.” I quickly rolled up my sorry tent, strapped it on my back and started the last leg of my journey. I was in a forest barely a mile away from my destination. If I ran for most of it, then it wouldn’t matter how late I had woken up. Struggling through the undergrowth of the area, I started running past tree after tree in the dense forest. The only sight from miles were more trees and the little trails of occupants from nearby fields. The worry of what awaited me was still fresh on my mind but I calmed myself with thoughts of the meager weight on my back. I wasn’t coming to fight with them but to reason with them. Ever since the first of us was sent back empty handed, master stripped the next person and the next until me. I had only a tent, no food, no water, and nothing for this two week journey. If they didn’t see reason in Master’s actions, then I would try to reason with them.

When my feet finally grew weary, I had come upon the fence I was looking for. It was a long fence round a whole hill and valley that kept in the largest vineyard in the region. I spotted it instantly. Master had a certain love for the farms and designed his land in true perfection of this love. The rows were neat, the plants well trimmed and hanging with their bounty. I started walking along the edge towards a gate that was bound to lead me directly to the men I sort after. They had been hired three years ago as attendants of Master’s farm. It was now time to harvest and they had not brought in a single bushel of fruit. Even after master sent servant after servant to demand his right as employer over them. I found their actions very convincing of lunacy, but I couldn’t say as much.

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I made it to a simple wooden gate with fresh marks on the path of horses’ hooves and cart’s wheels. They had left the gate wide open for whatever it was they had sent out or received. Walking in, I stuck to the edge of the path as a shield of some sort. It wasn’t long before I found the centre with the houses and the people who tended the land. There seemed to have been a party going on. Men were sprawled on the ground and women were asleep on their stools. There was no evidence of something large brought in, so those tracks I saw must have been of something leaving. I walked cautiously through the snoring restlessness towards the main house. It was like most of those in this area. Thatched roof, single door, wooden walls, a trough of water outside, animals tied to a grass clearing and stones set as boundaries. Only difference being its position at the very centre of fifteen such houses. This one was also laden with some luxuries like lamps and mats showing just how successful the farm was. I stood before the door and knocked.

It wasn’t a hard knock or a loud one, but suddenly the men were waking up as if the moment of rest was one chanced on a battle field. They surrounded me just as quickly, all sleep forgotten. The women, left in the distance, hurried into their homes just as the door opened and I was face to face with their leader. He seemed surprised. He even seemed to shudder slightly before his face convulsed  in utter hatred.

“I see our master is getting poorer.” He said calmly and walked past forcing me to follow.

“He sent me to have small words with you.” I mumbled and followed him deeper into the open path. If my mind had been thinking clearly I would have noticed that he was cutting down all my escape routes. But I was so confident in the simplicity of my approach that I felt certain he would listen to me. Not to mention the hunger and thirst that started to burn when the sights and smells of various delicacies became clearer. I would need to ask him for provisions.

“Haven’t I made it clear.” He turned suddenly to face me when we reached the very center of the path. “Isn’t your master clever enough to know what my meaning is. This land is mine now, not his.”

“This land belonged to his father and the one before for many generations even after Adam. It is his and his son’s alone.” I didn’t want to sound angry, I was still in this man’s mercy. But surely he knew the law and he knew also the value of this land to his master. I inched in and in whispers, so the gathering men wouldn’t hear, I attempted my bargain again. “He only wants words and he will not take away what you love. He will leave you as attendant if you only hear what he has to say.” He inched away then added a step further like he was disgusted with me. Then he started laughing. The other men joined in too and I suddenly realized they were more than thirty. There must have been a recent harvest to warrant this many men gathered. This was something I couldn’t let slide. “Even after you have stolen from him and now harvest his own land to sell for yourself? Do you not see your crimes?”

“I take care of this land and that makes it mine.”

“That makes you servant over property that a master has put you in charge.” I spat, furious. The men grew quiet. “He is offering you and your men an opportunity to buy this property from him.” There. That was the bargain. Master was going to let them have it if they showed enough character to buy it from him. But after all this man had done, I didn’t understand why he would be given this property of so much importance. It is family land. The master’s son should get it. But even as I pondered the mercy of this act, the men started laughing boisterously like there was no better joke they ever heard.

“He has become desperate for money, hasn’t he!” The man spoke with the kind of venom that seemed to fill his men with more power. I didn’t understand it.

“He is giving you the property that has been in his family for generations. Would you not buy it?”

“I was curious about what master would do after I sent that last one to him with broken arms.” I shivered at the complete lack of remorse in his words. “What message should I send you back with?”

“Will you not have words with master.” I struggled to keep calm but they could all see me start to tremble and that made the men even more boisterous. I started getting new whiffs of drunkenness mixed in with their laughter.

“Why should I buy a property that is already mine?”

“He is willing to reduce the prices.”

Ignoring my words the man said, “I want you to get back to him quickly.” He turned suddenly and shouted out a name. A tiny woman came running out of one of the houses, trembling and wide eyed with fear. “Go get the horse from the stable. The new one. That will be my gift to my former master for this whole land.” The men nodded happily and it wasn’t long before the woman was running back with a brown horse that was actually trying to keep up with her. The horse was magnificent, tall, and muscular enough to have been a rare champion breed. When woman and horse were before me, I was handed the reigns. “This is my gift to him, a magnificent horse we captured together with this.” He pushed the woman forward and it was then that I got a good look at her. She was pretty, very pretty. But, she was little enough to be as young as fifteen. “The girl is daughter of a noble man who gave her to me.” The men sniggered at the word gave. I could tell instantly that this wasn’t the case. They must have stolen her and probably killed her family off. “I was thinking of marrying her myself but I will happily give this beauty to the master’s son. And let us have no more dealings with one another again.”

“This is an outrage.” I heard myself say then felt myself burst out in anger. “You do not remember the man you call master and it is for this reason that you would offend him with a horse and a stolen girl. Is there anything you can add to his stables that he doesn’t have? And are you foolish enough to assume he would marry his only son to a girl you stole.” The words came out of me in waves. But, only as angry as a servant like myself could manage. And it was probably wrong since I was barely twenty years of age myself. But I couldn’t stop it once it started. “He would give you his father’s land for money and you would offend him so outrightly. I hope he curses your name when he sees this outrage. Because I think you have outshone your ignorance.” The men had stopped, but when I finished talking they started laughing again. “Is there anything more you would do to anger him?” I felt my arm being squeezed again and turned to see the frightened face of the girl. She had been pleading with me to keep silent and I hadn’t sensed her. But I was grateful for the sight of her impeccable beauty. If only I had seen her much older and less frightened. She was the last sight I saw before a blindfold was strapped on my eyes and someone yanked me to the ground.

“There is one more message I want to send your master. He has to SEE reason.” I heard the man shouting over me and didn’t understand his wording until the blindfold caught fire. That distant smell that had been making me nauseous was gas and it burned right through to my skin and my eyes. I don’t know how long I had been screaming and writhing in pain before I blacked out. Maybe it was an hour, or the whole day. But when I woke up, I knew I was nowhere near those men. I could feel the sturdy walk of a horse I had been tightly strapped to. There was someone before me and my panicked hands investigated with open palms to confirm that it was a girl. She pushed my hands away and then struggled to regain control of the horse.

“I am taking you home to your master.” She said and then the horse came to a stop. I felt her turn about to face me. “How do you feel?”

How did I feel? I don’t know. My mind seemed to be shielding me from the pain with a drowsiness I couldn’t get rid of. But I knew it was there. All my senses made me aware that the pain was there and if I felt it, I would die. My hands started betraying me and I felt them reach up towards this horror. She caught them inches away and bound them in a silly knot I could have teared up. I let my hands remain still though, calmly on my lap, and then the horse started moving again.

It took longer getting back, and during the nights we stopped to rest the pain hit me. My whole body was tensed in anguish and tears that weren’t there wouldn’t stop spilling. When she tried to wash the wounds I felt her pull on blocks of healing flesh, forcing out more blood. I wouldn’t let her touch me after that. And then the strangest thought I ever had among all this misery was, how did I look before her. I wasn’t too pretty before but now, I was rotting. How did she see me? That thought passed quickly enough as I struggled to sleep by blocking back my screams behind shaking hands. Then the days were lost in my mind and I was only moving just because I wasn’t dead.

I was grateful when more experienced hands reached out to me.

I was put to sleep with a spiteful drink while I heard the muffled gasps of my friends and the angry words of my master. I was home.

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Time was all I seemed to have in the darkness of my mind. I remembered sunrises but all I had now was the warmth. I remembered music but all I had now was the sound. And I stayed in the silence while my body slowly healed. Some doctor commented, thinking I was asleep, that they had done a brilliant work of leaving my nose and ears untouched by the fire. The only part truly burnt on me was the strip of skin before my eyes. He even said that once in a while you could still see my eyes move around behind them. But there was nothing he could do. He just sealed up the wounds, scrapped out parts of clothing still embedded in them and let me heal as nature intended. And after a month I was walking around again, my hand gripping desperately to the girl’s as she showed me around an area I had known from birth. It was fitting though; hers was the face I remembered most vividly. Following her around was welcome to me.

I found myself before my master after another month. At this point I was already used to my new life. I could go out to the well, fetch water and bring it back without tripping on a single stone. Of course, I took so long to do it that they hardly sent me out. I had became the type of servant they sat on a mat out in the field and gave nutshells to pry open. And now I was to find out if master needed me at all. So I bowed, well enough despite the stick I held before me. Then his hands reached out and straightened me.

“I am sorry for what I put you through. You are too young to have suffered so much.” I started shaking my head instantly at these words.

“It was a good plan sending a young servant to convey your need for peace.” I smiled and that pleased him because he enclosed me in a tight hug then kissed my forehead after. “There is a prophet who could save your eyes and let you see again. I would spare no expense to send you to him. He is a Nazarene.”

“I am content as I am.” My response made me smile. It sounded so courageous.

“I understand. But maybe along the way you could take our young girl to her family and,” I could hear him struggling to keep still, “ask for her hand.”

“I…” It sounded unreal.

“She has expressed her desire to stay with us and more so, with you.”

“I…”

“And you already have my blessing, if you are ready to start your own family. It is little, but I hope to one day help ease the sorrow I have put you through.”

Tears kept pouring. Tears that weren’t there. “I am grateful master. I can leave today if…” I sounded too eager. He was laughing suddenly.

“Before you leave I would like your advice. I will be sending someone back to my farm to talk with those men.” My heart started thudding at his words and the fear that I had been keeping away filled me again. “I cannot leave it as it is. So I will send one last person and freely give them the farm. It would have been better to join our lands in trade but I think this is still well, somehow.” I breathed in quickly to calm myself and started listening to the sorrow of his words.

“Don’t send anyone. Leave them alone. Once you unite your lands they will be cut off from all trade partners and their land will dry up into nothing. That is a fate they deserve master.” I spoke honestly because I knew he listened. “They are beyond reason.”

“Maybe their reason is because I disrespected them somehow. I will send to them someone of great nobility and importance. And I will send that person with nothing on his back.” I could tell he was still thinking things through. “Otherwise, I would be abandoning my family’s most cherished land to decay and ruin and giving the same fate to those men and women and children.”

“You are too good master but I fear they will not listen.” I pleaded and somehow even got hold of his sleeve. “Besides, there is no one here with the nobility and importance that you have. And you cannot go yourself, not with all the business in this country.”

“I will send my son.” Those were the words I feared and yet he said them so confidently. But he was right. Maybe if he sent someone of such importance they would listen. And yet, they might not. They wanted the land for themselves and were not wise enough to see that something better could be within reach. I shuddered. “If it is my son, they will respect him and listen to him. They must listen.” I could hear him pleading with me now. It was below his station and power but I understood his sorrow. “I dug the land myself with what little I had then. I planted the fruit trees myself. But if they will not bare to give me my fruit then let them take the land not in anger but in peace.”

“When will he leave?” This were the only words left that I could say.

“Tomorrow. He will be there in a week’s time. When he is back, I will send word to you in Nazareth of what has become of it all.” He said and I nodded. He hugged me again, expressed his sorrow for my loss again, and sent me on my way with more than enough money, and the promise of a beautiful bride.

We travelled on a road a long time until we entered the Hebrew nations. We didn’t have to search for the man they had started calling Messiah. Everyone’s lips were full of the wonders he had done, particularly when he fed many people with a small basket of some fish and bread. It was fascinating and I lingered in the towns to hear more. Truthfully, it was much harder to find my companion’s family. After the raid, only her brother remained and he was bent up somewhere in a ditch with no money and no name. The girl knew him instantly though and the two embraced tenderly while I sought out a doctor from among the crowd to look him over. The poor boy was near starved. I was now very grateful for master’s provisions. I still had more than enough coin to buy a second horse to bring him back with us and feed him plenty. Then the girl started asking me to fulfil the last part of our journey. Getting my eyesight back. I was still blind and it troubled me in this big city, even though I had became so used to my new skin that they barely noticed my discomfort. And we had heard enough about the man Messiah to know he was capable of such an act. But I had one discomfort. Fear of the man himself! What if I wasn’t worth it? So, against her wishes, I was willing to spend one last night in Nazareth. Then, I would be back on the road, back to my master with only my new bride, my new brother and no sight.

It was on that evening that a messenger came to me with a letter stiff in his hands. He had found me alone, seated outside on a chair near our lodging. He told me that he had been looking for the only blind man in the city. I pried out the paper from his hands, opened it and gave it back to him to read aloud. “Our master’s son has been murdered.” He said words he knew, not those he had read. “Master is in need of us. He hasn’t stopped weeping since the body was carried in by the villagers. We need you back home.” The messenger was silently sobbing beside me and it wasn’t long before that drew attention from around us. I could hear footsteps of more people rushing out of the lodging. Then those words were repeated again under muffling sobs. Even though I struggled to control myself, my own sorrow burst out of me like thunder. Soon I was on the ground gathering the dirt about me. People struggled to pull me up but I only kept repeating, “Get the horses ready, pack our things, we are going back tonight.” I heard some of them hurry to comply but the girl remained by my side holding onto me while I wept without tears.

Then a hand held my head and in an instant, tears poured out. I could see my dirtied hands clutching on my robes in desperation. I could see the bare ground and I could see the last sight of sunset. This jolted me to my feet and brought gasps from those around.

There was a small crowd about, maybe forty or more people. Some seeming pleased, others shocked, others awed. But none were like the sight of the man before me. “Your master will be okay once you return to him.” The man said and this caused my tears to flow again. I blinked them out and trembled more so from the sights of the city, my lovely wife, a man holding horses who must be my new brother and the faces of many people. “You must go!” The man repeated and I reached forward to hug him as my wordless gratitude. He didn’t push back and only held on just as strongly before he started me towards the horses. I was soon galloping out of the city and only looking back in wonder.

 

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