Noah’s eyes searched for any hint that someone in the village might be taking in what he had said. All glared back at him, laughter had long since turned to rage. No eyes looked at him with kindness nor hope. A heavy sorrow fell on him, almost bending his back with the weight of sadness as he thought about what was going to happen to all these people. He knew it was pointless but he had to give them one more chance to change. ‘This storm has already started in the hidden places beneath the ground, but it will be slow in building, maybe for years yet. There is still time! Do not harden your hearts. The God we serve and obey is not vengeful, He wants you to join us and Him on this boat. None who seek for shelter will be turned away.’ As he prepared to leave he noticed his middle son look up from his feet, not to meet his father’s eyes, but to search for another’s face. A quick glance back showed him the object of Ham’s stolen glance. A tall maiden, still young in years but striking in looks. A small smile crept across Noah’s face as he gripped Naamah’s hand. Surely there might be other ways to break down the misplaced pride of the village. Ham was last to leave, glancing back one last time before he left the edge of the flickering flight. His heart leaped as he saw her, watching his leaving with a confusion of unanswered questions filling her face.
They walked in silence, heavy hearted yet sure of each step. No one dared ask the obvious question, ‘Where now do we find water and food?’ For now their thoughts were filled with faces, faces that were creasing again in laughter and contempt: faces that would soon glare at them whenever they would meet, mocking and taunting them for their stupidity. But one face didn’t laugh, one face looked on them with growing wonder and fear. As days turned into months and years, the girl of the village would watch them, hidden behind the huge pile of severed branches. She was amazed at how hard they all worked, and with such focus. Whatever the weather, they were driven by a deep realisation that the end of this world was nigh, and that they were nowhere near ready. She watched the sons with fascination, the carpenter, the dreamer and the middle one; the one who somehow piqued her curiosity the most. His eyes seemed constantly to search for her, but she was too well hidden, not yet ready to reveal her interest nor her presence. She could see no madness, no ill-intent, instead she saw love, loyalty and courage. This strange family moved her in ways she could not yet comprehend. Her name was Bennai-athax-ed-it, it meant ‘beauty would surprise’.
As she watched in those early days, the family of the ARK had several immediate problems to overcome. The most important was water. Their flocks would need a regular source of water. After they had left the village and settled down to their rest, Noah couldn’t sleep and spent the night listening to the whispers that had guided him thus far. As dawn was breaking he stood staring into the deep pit they had been digging. The first beam of the rising sun lit up the wall of the pit, illuminating a small thick root that hung out from the dark soil. Its presence somehow jarred with Noah, it felt like something that should not be there. As his family started to stir in their tents, Noah suddenly jumped into the pit, grasping the root as he passed, it jerked him to a shuddering halt, and then his body weight began to shift it, ever so slowly until the end of the root began to emerge from the stony ground – leaving a thin hollow space, that to Noah’s amazement, seemed to change in colour and tone, as the smallest trickle of dirty black water began to flow. Noah scrambled out of the pit, his jubilant shout bringing the others running to see what had happened. Within hours the pit was filled with dark acidic water; and yet as the animals began to drink their fill, sweeter cleaner water rose to the top that was perfectly safe for the family to drink. Salt tears were added to this pool as Noah, Naamah and Old Methuselah wept openly at this wonderous mystery.
Word spread to the distant Oasis as though carried by the numerous birds who had started to hover over the huge expanse of fallen trees. Where once a dark, forbidden forest had fed their superstitions, now the villagers felt a new fear. ‘Who is this madman? How had he procured water from seemingly nowhere? How were these fools still surviving? Was Noah cursed or blessed? Was he mad, or could there be truth hidden in his folly?’ The village chief sensed the growing doubts of the unasked questions that beset his people. He didn’t doubt, he knew his own gods who, when properly appeased, assured him of long generations of chiefs who would rise up from his children’s children. His gods were true, if excessively cruel: mighty, if constantly hungry. He knew how to appease them, he no longer quaked at the cost. What was life but fleeting, it was the survival of the tribe that was paramount, not the individual. A price was sought and it would be paid, soon. He glanced at the faces around the firepit. Older faces that had seen too many winters; yet his gods never seemed keen to embrace these wizened ones. They preferred fresh faces, young faces, filled with life and daring to hope. His gods demanded sacrifice, and soon he would present it to them. The process of picking took time. It was critical that he chose well, the gods would show him how to rid his land of Noah and his cursed family. They would accept only the best, he would only offer them the very best.
His eyes fixed firmly on a fresh face, a beautiful face, one that was precious to him, one that his gods would certainly appreciate and approve of. His granddaughter was beautiful, she was already drawing the eyes of older men, but none save the gods would have her now. He watched her gazing pensively into the fire. She was a mystery, this one. She watched much and spoke little. She gazed casually around at her fellow clansmen, making sure she wasn’t being noticed, then silently she rose and slowly she walked to the edge of the camp. A quick final glance to make sure it was safe to leave, and she was gone. But she was unaware of her grandfather’s gaze as he watched in dreadful realisation that she was moving off, not towards the waste pits as might be expected, but into the valley. Even as the darkness swallowed her, he pictured her stealing her way to the camp of the madman. He smiled grimly to himself, perhaps his choice wouldn’t cost him as much as he had expected, if anything the decision was made easier and more final. Tomorrow night he would appease the gods, he would seek their guidance and their wisdom, and in exchange he would sacrifice his own granddaughter – Bennai-athax-ed-it.