Fictions, Gratitudes

How Bilhah Found the Baby

wolf

Gratitude List:
1. Giving in–just taking the day off work. Sometimes you just can’t muscle through, and you have to ask for help.
2. Sleep
3. Ibuprofen–this version of the bug has every nerve and muscle aching
4. Featherbed
5. The way stories reach out and grab you

May we walk in Beauty!

This is what happens after a night and a day of flu-fueled half-sleeping/dreaming:

How Bilhah Found the Baby

Bilhah, the daughter of Gormlek the Mourner, found the baby one evening after she’d been working in the almond orchards outside of the city walls. She only told the story to her father, and then to the child herself, as she grew.

In preparation for the celebration of the Wolf-King’s birthday the following week, many of the regular harvesters had been conscripted to work in the palace kitchens and sculleries, so there were only about eight young women in Bilhah’s group that day, and none of them would work the far ends of the rows because of the rumors that a great and vicious she-wolf had been seen prowling along the river, down beyond the orchards. Bilhah, seeking solitude, found herself working alone in the fringe of trees where the others refused to go.

Keeping her ears peeled for the sound of the bells that signaled the end of the work day, Bilhah had a found a rhythm to the picking that kept her moving at a quick pace. She loved the skittering sound of the almonds clattering into her basket, and reveled in the scent of the nuts warming in the afternoon sun. At the very end of the row of trees, she paused, sighed, and lifted her eyes to the river. A thrill of terror mingled with excitement filled her: there in the shadows of the big rocks by the river, she could clearly discern the form of a large wolf. It was sitting quietly, as though it were simply one of the city dogs, patiently waiting for its human to finish working and come home. Had she imagined its tail thumping twice against the ground?

She slipped back into the orchard to the next row, three trees back, and began picking her way once more toward the end of the row. She could see Zoha and the others working the other way down the row, close to the safety of the city walls. As she reached the river end of the next row, she looked again for the wolf. This time, she clearly saw the tail thump, and the creature stood, took two steps toward her, remaining in the deep shadows by the rocks.

Bilhah had lived with dogs all her life, and something in the demeanor of this fearsome wild creature kept reminding her of her own beloved Tigo and Amona. Underneath her fear, she felt an undeniable sense that this wild thing was trying to communicate something. She took a few steps out from under the trees toward the large rocks. The wolf shrank back into shadow. Another step. The wolf bolted to the left, down the rocky trail toward the river, but stopped suddenly in the shadow of a large fig tree and looked back toward Bilhah. She wants me to follow her!

At that moment, the bells began to ring in the city, letting the harvesters know that the work-day had ended. She heard Zoha and the others calling her name down the row. She had made the decision before she realized it had been made. Making momentary eye contact with the wolf, she turned and headed back into the trees. “Coming!” she called to the others, slipping down the row toward them.

Breathless, she caught up with Zoha. “Can you take my basket back for me? I want to see if I can find some figs for Abba on those trees by the river.”

“Oh, please don’t, Bilhah,” Zoha pled. “You know they’ve been seeing that wolf down by the river.”

“I’ll be fine, Silly. I worked down there by the river all day, and no wolf has eaten me yet.” She managed not to lie, exactly.

Zoha took her basket begrudgingly: “If you aren’t back by nightfall, I’ll send Uncle Drago out to find you.”

“Thank you, Zoha. You don’t need to worry about me. You know Granny goes out to the river all the time, and she’s never been attacked by the wolves.”

She watched the colorful flock of her friends melt into the shadows by the city gates, and turned to walk down the row of trees. There at the end of the row, almost hidden in shadow underneath the last tree, was the she-wolf! She followed me! Another thrill of fearful horror overcame her, and she almost turned and ran back to join her friends, but again something in the expectancy of the wolf’s posture made her pause, take a breath, and walk toward the waiting creature.

As she approached, the animal whirled and dashed into the shadow of the rocks by the river trail. She followed steadily, the wolf retreating in short bursts, waiting in shadows for her to approach. Down the long path along the river they went, and Bilhah even managed to pick several figs from the low branches of trees to tuck in her skirts in order to give truth to her words to Zoha.

The sun settled lower and lower in the sky, and Bilhah began to worry that she would not make it back to the city before nightfall and the closing of the gates. This wolf might be friendly, but what about the packs that roamed the steppes at night? She had seen the green glow of their eyes in the dark when she had stood on the city walls with her father to look at the stars.

And suddenly the wolf disappeared. She had dashed into shadow by an outcropping of rock up a little hill away from the path, and Bilhah lost sight of her. She waited, uncertain, considering whether she ought to just start back down the path to the city and safety.

A wolfy whine startled her, and she could hear distinctly the sounds of tiny cub whimpers. She has led me to her den. The realization filled her with a new mixture of fear and awe. She stood frozen, wondering what her guide intended. Am I supposed to climb up and see her babies?

That was when she heard the human baby, a whimpering sound, not of distress but of demand.

Without thinking further, she began to scramble up the hillside toward the rocky outcrop. Shadows impeded her view as she peered into the space between the rocks, and her eyes took moments to adjust before she could make out the distinct shapes of mother wolf and cubs deep in the den. A lighter shadow moved among them. A human child, nursing with the wolf cubs. The baby looked to be only weeks old, but well-fed and carefully tended. The mother wolf’s eyes were glowing green in the shadows. Bilhah watched her tenderly licking her cubs, wolf and human alike. As the squirmy bunch settled down to milk-dazed satisfaction, the she-wolf raised her head to Bilhah, gave a little whine, and again licked the head of the child. She is offering me the child. That’s why she led me here!

Slowly, hardly daring to breathe or even to think, Bilhah eased forward into the tight doorway of the den until her body blocked the light, until she could touch the smooth skin of the child. Her nose was assaulted by the musky odor of wolf, and the she-wolf gave another doggy whine. As Bilhah reached to take the child, she felt the tender tongue of the mother wolf slide over her fingers as it gave its tiny charge one last kiss.

Bilhah backed slowly from the den. “Thank you,” she breathed, catching the green glow of the mother wolf’s eyes one last time as she turned to slide as carefully as she could down the rocky hillside to the path, holding her sleeping charge carefully in her arms.

She hurried as quickly as she could up the rocky river path in the growing dusk, filled with the wonder of her encounter and of the child she carried in her arms. How had she come to be there in the wolf’s den? Had the mother wolf stolen the child? Had a desperate mother, unable to care for one more child, left her baby girl there at the wolf’s den? Bilhah stumbled in the near dark and almost lost her footing, but managed not to fall. Panting, she stopped and held the baby tightly, fearing to fall and harm the child, but fearing to be left outside the city gates when the wolves began to prowl.

As she began to step more carefully along the path toward the orchards, she became aware of a light ahead, bobbing up and down on the pathway, and then she heard her father’s voice calling her name.

“I’m here, Abba!” she called, waking the babe, who gave a tiny squawk.

***
Gormlek the Mourner told his neighbors the story of his cousin’s daughter, out in the Seven Villages, who had become involved in an unfortunate relationship with a passing merchant. The child of their union would have been taken to the orphanage in the Market District of the city. Wanting to save the child from such a fate, he and his daughter had decided to take her into their home and raise her as their own. They named her after his late wife and Bilhah’s mother: Leeta.

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