Miri wrinkled her nose. She could see nothing in the darkness of the cavern where she and the household of David had taken refuge. Centuries of intermittant habitation by humans, bats and various species of animals had left a musky alien odour which hovered on the verge of being unpleasant. The cave was dry, but somewhere within one of the chambers hidden in the darkness, Miri could hear the splashing of running water. She could hear the goats milling about, nervous from ancient smells of unknown carnivores, held together from fear of the jackal, wolf, fox and dog smells mixed together in the dust on the floor of the cave.
Crouching, she bent to the task of sparking a flint against the dagger Manasseh had given her. At each strike, small sparks momentarily illuminated the pile of dry crumbled leaves and grass at her feet. Then darkness. And a shower of sparks. She rubbed the flint furiously, and soon tiny points of glowing orange appeared in the tinder. Miri bowed down on her hands and knees and blew gently on the tinder. A small flame popped up from the grass and Miri gently sprinkled more grass over the flame and it grew as she added new fuel. A few sticks of shaved wood brightened the fire, casting flickering shadows onto the cave walls. Her family was huddled together on a natural rock shelf, David still lay unconscious, breathing heavily, Yohanna sat with the baby feeding at her breast. Manasseh and Maacah slept peacefully in each others arms beside Sister Miriam and Martha. Salome knelt on the other side of the fire.
“Behold, the Goddess of Fire!” beamed Miri to the others.
“And I am the Goddess of Stone!” declared Salome as she bordered the fire with rocks.
“That must make me the Goddess of the Deluded Women!” came a voice from the shadows.
Miri looked up.
“Mermaat!” she called excitedly.
The old crone walked forward and unshouldered a basket. She reached into a cloth bag and held a dung cake up in each hand out to Miri. “I thought you could use these” she said simply.
Soon the fire burned merrily tended by Salome. Mermaat tended David, and Miri sat beside her to offer whatever assistance she could.
“Is he going to be alright?” she asked the old woman.
Mermaat looked deeply into Miri’s soul. “I can’t answer that, Miri. We must wait and do what we can. He is in the arms of the Goddess, and we must ask her to give him back to us.”
“Then she must give him back! We need him!” Yohanna whispered fiercely.
At that moment, David stirred.
Miri held her breath.
David opened his eyes.
“Miri!” His voice was weak and strained, his breathing difficult. He coughed. Yohanna moved instantly to his side.
“David!” she said happily, “David!”
His eyes fluttered as he turned toward her. “El-” he began to cough again. Blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth. His body convulsed with a gagging coughing and suddenly he sagged inward. His soul left his body, and he lay motionless on the bier. Yohanna cried out, startling the baby boy in her arms. The child began to cry. The noise awoke the others from their sleep.
“What happened?” asked Sister Miriam. No one answered.
“What happened?” she repeated.
Mermaat took the crying baby from Yohanna, and Yohanna fell upon the body of her husband and wailed loudly, her voice echoing through the cavern.
“What happened?” asked Sister Miriam.
Maacah turned to her and folded her arms around Sister Miriam.
“Your father is dead.” she said softly.
“No!” cried Sister Miriam, “He can’t die! He can’t!” Maacah held Sister Miriam tightly and rocked her. The girl kept repeating “He can’t die!” Martha began to sob.
Miri closed her eyes and tilted her head back. All around her she was wrapped in grief, awash in the depths of despair. In her mind’s eye the soul of David spoke to her it rose upward towards a bright faroff light, brighter than the sun yet softer, both hot and cold, an all-enveloping warm whiteness. And the bright flashing spark that was David drifted lazily towards it.
The wailing voices of her companions seemed far away, grew fainter, and she realized she was floating upward as well. She felt more alive than she had ever felt and knew David felt the same way. He came to her.
“Watch over them, Miri!” he said. His voice was inside her, as if he were whispering into both ears at the same time. “I will!’ she replied without speaking. She blended into that which was David, and she knew him more than she had ever known him in her lifetime and he her. There was no more need for talking. They both knew what the other knew.
The light which was David had been absorbed into the larger light and he was gone. Miri prayed for David’s soul:
“Holy Mother, full of Grace
Blessed art thou amongst all women.
Blessed are your children
For we are the fruit of thy womb.
Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven
Blessed art thou amongst all women
I beseech thy blessing in this,
My hour of need.
Holy Mother, First Daughter of the Moon
Blessed art thou amongst all women
Give David this day the milk of thy Breast
And the warmth of thy lap
And protect him from evil within the mercy of thy womb.”
Miri was startled from her trance by the chorus of “Amen” from her companions. She opened her eyes and they all were staring down at her. There was awe within their eyes, and she was puzzled by it.
“You fainted!” said Sister Miriam.
“We were afraid until you began to pray for David!” added Martha.
“Did you see him?” asked Yohanna urgently.
Miri smiled as Saloome supported her.
“He is well!” she said to her sister. “He is well, Yohanna. And he knows the child!”