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The Prince of Gilead

Despite his word to Joseph, Abdullah was in no particular hurry to reach Gilead. Loaded with Joseph's gifts of money and donkeys, Abdullah was indeed a rich man, and rich men need not hurry.

Since he could well afford it, he had taken advantage of the markets of Avaris to equip his caravan in princely style. Spending days buying beautiful women and other things for eventual sale or his own pleasure, he became the delight of the traders and was treated like a visiting prince. Plied with wine, honey-cake and traders' daughters, Abdullah found the good life so much to his taste he momentarily forgot his errand. He took to parading about the markets in a gorgeous, many-colored robe, with half-dressed pom pon girls lifting his train from the dust. It made quite an impression when his maidens cried out "Abrek! (Bow the knee!)" as he paraded about the markets.

One day a caravan from Gilead arrived with a message from Abdullah's elder brother at Succoth.

"Your brethren are dead. Only the eldest and youngest are spared," was the cryptic message a scribe read out to him as a celebrating crowd of Abdullah's friends looked on.

Abdullah looked out at the mass of smiling, laughing faces and saw nothing for a moment but trees, upside down, waving their grotesque roots in the sea breezes. He seemed about to fall, but his closest companions steadied him and led him to the welcome shade of a nearby tavern.

"I will return at once to my home and avenge my brethren!" he cried over and over to his friends who did not understand and urged him to take more wine and forget his troubles.

When he had sobered enough, Abdullah gathered together men-servants and taking only several of the pom pon girls along departed from the city. But his journey had only begun when it was rudely interrupted.

"We will not go any further with you, you greasy little sand-rambler!" cried the Mizraimite dancers. "Never will we leave our own beloved country for yours!"

"Nor will we!" shouted Abdullah's men-servants who had been hastily recruited from an inn where he was staying.

Enraged since he had paid fine prices for the women, Abdullah jumped down from his fine, white mule and would have taken a whip against everyone of them but they suddenly banded together and he was facing hopeless odds. After beating him senseless, the men stripped him of his fine clothes and necklace and rings, even taking his linen breeches, and riding off on his animals the Mizraimites left him for dead carrion to rot on the road.

After a time Abdullah came to himself. Groaning from his hurts, he got back on his feet, but he looked and there was no sign of all his people and animals and goods. Too Ishmaelite to think of returning to Joseph in his sorry state, he sank down on the ground and was sitting there as Ken'anite caravan approached. He looked up from his misery to see passers-by pointing at him and jeering because he was sitting there so stupidly without any clothes.

Rising, Abdullah looked for his garments and could find only a dirty, torn saddle-blanket his own donkeys had trampled. It was useless without a girdle, and moneyless he could not get any, not even a length of rope. But he was fortunate, another caravan approaching.

Without any forethought, Abdullah took cover by the wayside behind rocks and noticed how several donkeys, as it happened commonly, had come loose and were trailing the caravan at some distance. With a stick Abdullah drove them off the road into the wilderness before the caravan could send men to stop him. He did not stop until he and the donkeys were so deep in wilderness no one could overtake him. Only then did he take some rope and tie his saddle-blanket on for the sake of male dignity.

Apt to encounter the Customs House on caravan route, he stayed clear and went round the Bitter Lakes and finally gained the wildernesses of Shur and Zin. Wary of the Hyksos-patrolled Negev, he intended to skirt the area and pass over the Vale of Arrabah at the town of Zoar. If he could reach the well-traveled King's Highway, he knew he would then be well on his way north to Gilead and home.

Coming upon the ancient watercourses of the Negev, he noticed a lone, human figure crouched down on the dry bed of an irrigation channel. She saw him and fled among the rocks, seeking to hide, but Abdullah was faster.

Supposing her defenseless, he threw himself on her, wrestling her into submission. Abdullah was overjoyed that the woman suddenly ceased to resist him, but before he could do with her as he willed he found the woman's dagger pressed against his beating heart.

Since he knew that only one small push would do him grave injury, he released his hold on her, and the woman arose and confronted him.

Suddenly he was aware of someone looking down at him, as if he were a child and the woman his mother.

"What is it you want with me?" she asked, in a language that, though strangely accented, was akin to his own.

Abdullah grunted and looked away, gaining time to think the matter over. But he had not long to consider the woman's fate before she nudged him with her jeweled toe.

"It is time, my lord, for us to go." the woman said. "Caravans pass by here no doubt, and they will think it strange for us to be dawdling here, while all about prowl the wild creatures of this place. Perhaps the men will beat and rob you of your donkeys and myself if they discover you here."

Instantly, the Ishmaelite was on his feet, looking alert and scanning the the wilderness in every direction; there was nothing, and he turned back to the woman with annoyance.

"I do not want the likes of you along!" he barked. "Begone!"

"You wanted me enough to want to bow upon me!" the woman retorted. "And afterwards if I had returned to my home in that state, my menfolks would have searched the world for you until they found you, and then you would have died miserably like a dog."

Surprised by the woman's remark, Abdullah swung his head about and began to curse. Then he rubbed his face while looking at her, cursed again, and jerked a thumb toward the donkeys. The woman, without a word more, climbed quickly and mounted a donkey.

And so the woman rode while Abdullah walked, all the way to Succoth in Gilead, and even there would not be put away from his bed and house despite all the evil things he said to her.

When he finally was resigned to having a woman who could bend his will to hers, he asked her name, and she said, "Zarah," which everybody knew meant "Dawn Flower."

Only then, as Abdullah's wife, did she reveal her handsome dowry and begin to wear outwardly the very fine rings and jewels the princess had bequeathed her.

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