And They Will Become One Flesh
The precious store of the last of the wine that Noah had brought on board the Ark sealed the unions sanctioned by him and, therefore, their God.
The brides, Egyptus and Rael, stood in the circle of their family, bedecked in flowers and scarves, and challenged each other with increasingly sensuous dance movements. They took full advantage of the one time in their lives that they were permitted to act publicly in such a way, swaying around the fire in the center of the circle. They absorbed the firelight in their eyes and bodies until they seemed to be flames that had escaped, burning only to entice their grooms.
Egyptus floated her arms over her head and slowly circled it with her eyes closed. She opened them at the spot where she knew Aram stood, licking her lips with satisfaction at the intensity of his gaze upon her. She turned her back to him then looked over her shoulder, as she lowered her hands to cross her breasts, glide across her stomach then massage her thighs. She reveled in the abandonment as the flute and drum and the clapping of her clan became faster and she twirled in her bare feet, allowing her skirt to fly around her, exposing her legs. The jostling of the men around her husband, congratulating him on such a wife, was her reward.
Not to be outdone, Rael spun until she stood in front of Cush and made a mask of her hands to come apart and reveal her face to him, making sure that the fingers slid over her parted lips. The long waves of her black hair nearly touched the ground as she leaned back and arched herself toward him.
Cush stood with a low growl and grabbed his bride around the curve of her waist. His cousins and brothers formed a smirking phalanx as though to prevent him from carrying her out of the circle and to their new tent. He muscled his way through, the determination in his dark brown eyes daring anyone to keep him from his goal.
Aram entered the circle and stood in front of Egyptus, asserting himself as the head of their household, as she dropped her eyes and bowed to him. He took the strip of leather that he had been softening for days and bound their wrists together—once for protection, once for honor and once for giving her children. The circle parted for him and his broad shoulders, as he led her to their tent, lit on the outside with many oil lamps and stuffed on the inside with pillows and coverings.
Away from the crowd, he discarded the dominant facade as he lowered her to the center of the pillows. He looked down on her face, both smooth and scarred, seeing only his chosen woman. He nuzzled her neck and murmured, "My wife."
Egyptus sighed as he drew closer, grateful for the whistling and catcalls from outside that would cover her first sounds of ecstasy. She knew it, even if her husband could not yet say it, so as his hands and lips traced her, she silently mouthed for both of them, "I love you."
The three fathers remained around the fire, under the bow that still glowed in the night sky, a multi-hued reminder of their and their father's contract with the Almighty El. They drank the last of the wine and reflected on the changes brought about by the marriages.
Technically, Egyptus was no longer Ham's daughter, but Shem's, and Rael was now Ham's child, rather than Japheth's.
They watched as the rest of their sons planned pranks for the newly-married, digging a small trench a few feet from one tent and adding some rancid water to the large pitcher outside of another.
"Admit it, Little Brother," prompted Japheth, grinning under the influence of the grape, "this life is better than what we had before."
Ham squeezed the wineskin to release the last of its juice and shook his head. He glanced up at the sky, more vivid without the watery canopy that had separated it from the earth. It was black now, dotted with many stars, and they had begun to enjoy distinguishing images in them.
The light from the moon silhouetted the trees in the distance, a jagged line of bounty in firewood, timber, fruits, nuts and strong, pliable vines for ropes. The clearing in which the family had settled seemed to have been set there just for them, large enough to accommodate their tents and for planting, edged by rocks from which they could make tools.
Ham pricked his ears for the whispering movement of the water from the turquoise blue lake behind them, then turned his head to the right for the contrasting roar of the surf. He sniffed for the scent of the beach, where the remnants of the Ark lay. They had taken from it what they needed and now the waves pulled a bit more of it into the sea each day, for it to become part of the watery crypt.
He thought of the ground, so easily turned, and the rich, brown soil beneath it. It had seemed eager to accept the return of its children in the seeds that he had begun planting, the renewed cycle of sunshine and gentle rain promising a healthy harvest.
"Yes, it is beautiful here and we can thrive, but at what price?" he asked. He saw the look exchanged between his brothers and knew he was once again the oddity but could not help expounding. "Have neither of you thought about it? Not just the people, but the homes, the walled cities and possessions just lying there in the water," he said, pointing toward the sea. "And who is there to remember any of it but us? And how little did we know?"
The sounds surrounding them seemed amplified as Shem and Japheth sat silent in response to Ham's question.
"I knew Eliakim and Adah. Aga, the silver monger, was kind to me. Japheth knew the gamblers and whores. All the rest is just gone, with no one to remember them. We will have their land but what they might have known, about planting or training beasts or the best way to knap flint, their songs, all of that is gone."
Shem scratched his jaw under his beard, seeing the opportunities in things that just depressed his brother. No one to remember? They could retell stories, enhancing the worthy parts and minimizing or eliminating the negative, with no one to challenge their veracity. Yes, their families would eventually spread to other lands, claim and name them and be rulers of the world. Why, he would one day hold the power of his father, not just over three sons and their families, but over generations.
He looked at his brothers. He loved them, but could he expect his great-great grandchildren to love theirs? Which one of them would have the family that could control the other? He would work to ensure that it was his own.
Japheth threw an arm over Ham and chuckled. "You think too much, Little Brother. Our father and our God have made sure that we have all we need. Even if we do not remember the names of people for long, we can remember what was good about them. Your son Phut has used most of the wood from the vessel to make a smaller one so that he can fish like Eliakim. His art as a fisherman will not be lost. I know all of the games that the gamblers did and most of the tricks of the whores, if you are worried about their skills being forgotten."
Ham had lowered his head after his latest lament. He lifted his eyes at his brother's remark, struck again at hearing such ribaldry from someone who looked so much like his father, with a grin seldom seen on the oldest person in the world.
Japheth's grin broke into a full smile, his teeth gleaming in the firelight. "Come now, this is no night for sad thoughts. Your beauteous wife will soon give birth to the first child in our new life and from the movement in those tents," he continued, with a laughing eyebrow and look toward the shelters for the newlyweds, "he will soon have cousins."
There was a sound of a feminine yelp, followed by masculine and feminine laughter from the tent for Cush and Rael. It set the young men outside whistling and calling out their admiration.
"Enough," ordered Shem as the brothers stood to retreat to their own tents. It is time to leave them alone. Off to bed."
The marriage couples' brothers and cousins dispersed with reluctance. Ham grinned and with a lighter heart, lay down beside his sleeping wife, rubbing her swollen belly that housed the child to replace the one that he had had to relinquish to marriage. To Aram, he added with the grunt that still and possibly always would accompany thoughts of his new son-in-law.
In their tent, Egyptus lay atop her husband, her head resting on his broad chest, as they whispered, touched and planned their life.
Her first instinct was to stretch with the ray of sun that suspended over her body like a bright shield and hum a contented note, but should she? Instead, Egyptus drew up her knees in the darkness of her covers and made herself as small as possible, as though she could reclaim her innocence.
She felt five coarse fingers on her bare back and then heard Aram's contented hum as he pressed close to her, a pleasant reminder that her days of innocence were behind her.
"My wife" he said in a husky whisper, nudging her to turn and face him.
She squinted at the yellow sunlight filtering through the tent's ecru fabric. The shift in position, Aram's arms around her, the brush of his breath over her, all brought back the feelings from the previous night and her body hummed.
She looked up into his early morning face as he held her in a half-reclined position and brought a hollowed-out stone cup with water to her lips.
Egyptus took a grateful draught, lifting her brown eyes that hinted green to see the look from last night. She had thought she knew what he looked like from their careful but chaste study of each other on the boat, but this was different.
His black beard seemed fuller. Aram had told her that he scraped over it with the flat of his knife to keep it under control. Beneath it, she saw the softening of his wide mouth and thin red lips that had tingled on her own.
The web pattern of his eyes disappeared behind the enlarged black pupils. She had not known that eyes could change like that...before last night.
She smiled at the hair that stood straight up on his head, then thought about how rumpled she, herself, must look. A self-conscious hand went to her hickory-hued hair, tugging on the tangled tresses.
Aram caught her wrist. "Do not change anything," he told her, lifting her torso closer. "You look beautiful; you look like a woman."
He lay her back among her share of the silk pillows that she and Livithia had made for years for their first nights with their husbands. Aram ran his fingers through her hair while kissing and nipping across her face and neck. His other hand kneaded her breast, while he pressed himself against her leg, creating a line of sensation over her body.
Egyptus closed her eyes and moaned, "It is daylight."
"Yes," Aram acknowledged, gliding his lips and tongue on her prominent collar bone, smiling as he felt her skin warm under his mouth.
"Our family stirs," she continued breathily, resisting the urge to trace her hand down the muscles of his back.
"They will hear us," she concluded, turning her head for her lips to meet the side of his face.
"They heard us last night," he mumbled, his mouth moving from the pulse point in her throat to her sweetly pounding heart.
"My sister," she breathed out reluctantly.
Aram's head halted its traverse. "Ah yes," he sighed on her skin, "your sister." He brought his face close to hers and delicately touched the puckering of her scarred flesh, fascinated by the gold veins in it produced by the morning light. "Are you happy, Egyptus?"
She raised her hands to caress the uncontrolled, pillowy beard. "Yes, my husband. Are you?"
"You may call me by my name, if you want," he said, the mouth under the beard lifting in a grin that she felt under her fingers. "I have been happy since you agreed to marry me. And now," he continued with a light chuckle, reminding her of their night together, "you have made me feel..."
Love, Egyptus said to herself as her husband shifted his eyes around the tent, as though searching for the correct word.
He returned his gaze to her. "I am most happy. And that is why I believe our God will have blessed us, not because your sister brings you a special drink, while you lie back with your legs squeezed together."
Egyptus dropped her eyes with a tiny exhale that was not quite a sigh. He did not understand.
He kissed her cheek. "Do not fret, my wife. I am not angry. I like the idea of Livithia serving you."
She raised her head back, the sun catching the hope and relief in her eyes.
"And moving might be uncomfortable for you for a while," he added with a smirk. It was a look that she liked. Yes, a thinned-out beard would allow it to be seen to better advantage.
Egyptus felt a sudden chill as the blanket of his body moved off of her. She looked up at him, seen in the day for the first time, and gasped. Once when she was a girl, her father had taken her to the market and she had seen a stone man. A statue, her father had called it. She felt that she was looking at one now, but where it had been crystalline, this one was olive-toned and in motion, glowing in the sunlight as it slipped a robe over its head, then knelt before her.
"Have your woman ritual," he said, slipping a robe over her head as well. "Rest, boast of our mastery," he added with a waggle of his eyebrow.
A slight titter escaped from her closed-mouth smile, as he leaned closer and whispered in her small, pink shell ear, "And be warm for me tonight."
She watched his awkward, pointed-toe step over and around the marriage cushions and smiled when he looked back at her. "Yes, my husband."
Outside the tent, Aram nodded to Livithia as she scurried inside with a sneer, then he walked a few steps toward the communal fire before...
"Ugh," he grunted, finding himself standing knee-deep in a small but effective trough. Guffaws and catcalls answered his shouts, as the yard filled with his kinsmen, laughing and pointing at the compromised groom.
On his right he heard a particularly loud chuckle and turned to see Cush, wearing his robe tied around his hips, standing outside his own amply-christened marriage tent. Still snickering, the other groom lifted a ladle from the water jug, then spluttered, spit and gagged, triggering another round of laughter from everyone else.
"Piss in my water?" he shrieked over the howls, "I should..." he stammered, unable to think of appropriate retribution for such an outrage.
"Patience, Cush. A sudden action is never as effective as a plan resulting from patience and observation," Aram said, repeating his father’s mantra that he had adopted as his own. Hoisting himself out of his snare, he assured his new brother-in-law, "Soon, we will make them all pay."
Egyptus giggled, as she stretched across the multi-colored pillows to watch the shenanigans from inside the tent. Livi, standing at the opening next to her, looked down and saw that her sister's robe was bunched around her waist, her rounded buttocks burnished golden brown in the sunlight.
Livi rolled her eyes as she lowered the robe over her sister's nakedness. Had he so changed her already? The tent smelled like an animal pen after mating.
Egyptus looked up at her and smiled, the unevenness of her teeth appearing instead as a dazzling display of joyful perfection. "Forgive me," she said with another giggle. "My husband just slipped the robe over me before he left." She crawled back to the center of the pillows and propped herself up, taking care to keep her legs tightly together, lest she lose their God's blessing of a child.
She had so looked forward to this when it had begun to seem possible—that she would have a wedding night over which to gush, rather than a sad tale of a man hurrying through his duties with a woman he did not desire. "Oh, Livithia," she began in a breathy voice, "it was so..."
Livithia poured the golden liquid from the urn which she had brought with her, bringing Egyptus a cup. Milk and honey mixed with sweet spices was the ceremonial drink for the new bride, to help ensure that a child would be born of the first union, a great blessing from their God.
"You seem content," she said, interrupting Egyptus's narration before it could begin. She had not been looking forward to this morning. She had no interest at all in what Aram might be like as a lover and loathed the idea that she might have to find out for herself.
"Content!" Egyptus exclaimed, gulping her fertility libation, "I am..."
Livithia began the massaging of her sister's limbs, as was required. The morning with the inexperienced girl of the bride's choosing was a tradition. It allowed the maiden to learn from a trusted friend or relative what it was actually like with a man, as the newly-initiated lay limp and transfixed, ostensibly only able to chatter of her great fortune.
"We have not talked since our landing, Egyptus, since you have spent all of your time with either him or Rael. He tells me that I am to be his second wife and that it was your idea."
Egyptus sighed, realizing that she was not going to have the customary morning after, in which the focus was on her. "I thought it would relieve you, Livithia. I know that you do not want to marry any of the other men here and if you are betrothed, then you do not have to worry about their pursuing you. My husband said if you should change your mind, he will release you from the betrothal."
Livithia got the cleansing oils for her sister. She sat on a white silk pillow, as Egyptus opened her robe for the inexperienced of the two to begin her ministrations. "I want a long betrothal," Livithia said, glancing around the tent.
The new wife tittered again, a sound that irritated Livithia coming from her modest twin. "You would not if you knew what he was like," she hinted, taking the opportunity to return the subject to her amazing night. "He was so..."
"That is why I want the long betrothal," Livithia explained. "I do not want to force him to take his attention away from you, the wife of his choosing. Perhaps in that time I will look more favorably on one of our other cousins. Do you think he will agree?”
Egyptus squealed, throwing her arms around her more beautiful sister whom, for now, she would not have to worry about her new husband preferring. "I am sure he will. Oh, thank you, Livi!"
Livithia returned the hug, limp with relief that she did not have to worry about a forced marriage and a man whose pride would compel him to find her when she left. She mentally added the slash through the four marks for moons that she had already recorded. "What was it like?" she asked, bringing forth a delighted smile from Egyptus, as she served her the eggs that she had boiled for the monumental morning after.