Today was the most pleasant in Justine’s twelve years of memory. The aroma from two quails roasting impaled upon a green willow stick above a small evening-cook-fire promised a satisfying addition to his shepherd’s fare. Night would soon bring crispness and innumerable twinkling stars to this Judean hill. And wolves would come to prowl across the meadow.
Kala, Justine’s white jenny stood head down, her blue eyes half-closed. Although she appeared asleep, Justine knew better. Nothing escaped her attention. Justine and Kala’s wooly playmates would be defended against any perceived threat with blood in its veins.
The quails were ready to be removed from the spit when Kala threw her head up, pointing her long ears forward. “Eee-hawww.” The coughing, raucous sound rolled like thunder across the pasture toward movement in the distant shadows. An answering bray came back.
Justine glanced at Kala and then in the direction she looked. Someone was riding into view, coming over a ground swell on a dark colored donkey with white eye patches. As they came close he recognized his father.
“God’s peace, my Father. Is all well?”
“God be praised, it is so.”
After exchanging hugs and kisses Justine asked, “Will you share my humble meal? Surely you have not already eaten?”
“I will not only share it but add to it.” Retrieving a leather bag from behind his donkey’s saddle, he handed it to Justine. “Your mother sent this. I can testify, the fig cakes are excellent.”
Later, their meal finished, wood was added to the fire and they sat wrapped in warm cloaks, talking. “Why are you here?, Father.”
“Justine, this will be hard for you to hear. But you are a man, so you will understand. I must take the white donkey. I will leave …”
“No, Father, you know you cannot. Why do you even ask?”
“My son, kings and rulers prize white donkeys with blue eyes above all other beasts of burden. The governor’s representative saw your animal and wants to buy it. He offered an excellent price.”
“But Kala is mine. He cannot have her.”
“She is but an animal. Our family will prosper from her price.”
“But you gave her to me.”
“Didn’t I tell you to avoid showing her off? Last week you raced her against another donkey when you were on the other mountain. The boy’s father whose donkey you beat works for the governor. He did not think any donkey could outrace his.”
“It was nothing. Just a race against another shepherd boy’s animal in a remote pasture.”
“The price is more than fair. The donkey I leave you is an exceptional animal.”
Justine shrugged off his cloak and retrieved a log to put on the fire. “You told me, my Father, that a man that does not keep his word is worse than an infidel? Is that not so?”
“That is true. But, we are family. And a son that does not heed his father’s admonition must pay a price. Family needs come first. This is an animal worthy of a governor.”
“Kala will be my donkey for life. Someday I may be a governor.”
“Ai yee! Who was your mother? Where do you get such ideas?”
“Do you think I will always be a shepherd? I do not.”
“My father’s father and my father were shepherds. It is who we are.”
“But you, my Father, also own a donkey herd. That is not something your father’s did, is it?”
“That is true. But you -- a governor?”
“Kala is mine. You gave your word. Now we must sleep. The sheep go to another pasture at sunup.”
“We will settle this matter in the morning then, without fail.”
Dawn came quickly, it seemed, and they shared a handful of olives, a wedge of cheese and some bread. The donkeys were socializing, rubbing their necks together, and the young lambs gamboling around their mother.
“Justine, I am leaving. God’s peace be upon you.”
“And may God’s blessings be yours my Father, if that is who you are.”
“Ai yee, my son.” Picking up his donkey’s pack-saddle he said, “If my son becomes a governor, it is best I do not offend him. It would not want him to think I was an infidel. Do you agree?”
Justine’s broad smile revealed white teeth against his tanned complexion. “Most certainly, my Father.”
Kala came and leaning affectionately against Justine, welcomed the new day with a song.
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