My father shook me, rousing me from slumber. “It's time son.”
I pushed back the blanket and sat up, balling my fists against my eyes. I couldn't let Papa see the tears.
“Come, we must go.” My stomach growled and he handed me a seed cake and a few figs. I put the figs in my tunic for later and munched on the cake.
We walked out to the ancient rock walled enclosure surrounding the tiny flock. Ordinarily in the morning I would take my small staff and lead them up into the hills to graze, watching over them.
I wasn't any kind of cry baby, as my brother's supposed. My arms carried scars from close encounters with predators. And though I was only a small boy, I knew my God was great. I knew this in the very marrow of my bones.
Still I didn't understand this.
As soon as I entered the fold a tiny lamb came toward me. I watched it limp across the stony ground, one leg slightly shorter than the others. I reached out an arm and looped it over the lamb's neck. It bleated softly as it nuzzled my hand.
Papa came to stand beside me.
“But why this one, Papa? It's lame.”
“That's just it son. It's leg will never be right. It will have difficulty surviving. It's best we do this now. Best for all. Remember”, he placed a hand on my shoulder. “This we do for the Lord our God.”
I blinked and stared at the ground.
This lamb had followed me since the day he was separated from his mother, when he was only seven days old. It followed me now as we started down the road.
It was slow going up the side of the mountain under a hot sun and we stopped several times to rest. The lamb remained beside me. I couldn't look at her. I reached up absently to scratch her head when she rested it on my shoulder.
Step, drag, step, drag. I wanted to shut my ears to the sound.
It was midday when we finally reached the house of the Lord, where the priest lived.
“Wait here, son.” Papa indicated an outcropping of stone nearby. A small bush gave some shade and I watched, my heart sore and tears flowing freely as Papa put a cord around its neck and took my lamb to the priest.
When the priest went out of sight leading the lamb, I looked down at the ground.
“Lord, I know You'll take my little lamb to You and receive her into Your kingdom.” I waited for Papa.
Bees droned around me in the heat and with no water, I dozed heavily.
I startled awake suddenly. The priest came out to Papa and they spoke quietly. I could only hear a little of what they said.
“...lame...what can I do?”
“...nothing else we can do...best for all.” Papa glanced in my direction. His shoulders sagged.
A few more words were exchanged. The priest went back inside. Papa stood a little distance away, not looking at or speaking to me.
The priest returned and made a sign with his hand that I didn't understand.
Papa came toward me and I rose to leave. My heart felt like a stone in my chest and I dug into the dirt with my foot.
Papa stopped in front of me. He placed a hand on each of my shoulders and stood above me with his eyes closed. His lips moved silently. His face was perspiring great drops that ran down his cheeks.
He opened his eyes and turned me away from him toward the priest. The gray haired priest came to me and took my hand.
I turned my head to gaze up at Papa, questioning. The look I saw on his face was sorrow. My mouth tasted of sand and my heart began to beat in a crazy, mixed up way.
I looked at the ground. Papa's hands lifted from my shoulders and the old priest began leading me toward the house of the Lord. I looked back once and saw Papa's back as he bent, walking slowly back down the road without me.
Confused and fighting back tears, I followed the priest, my one good leg leaving a footprint beside the furrow scraped in the dirt by the lame one.
“Best...for...all”, I repeated, swallowing thickly as everything blurred before me.
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