A woman defends her neighbor. Originally, this was written for the GentleApril story contest.
As soon as Ephrath had finished her morning chores, she packed some bread and cheese into a basket and headed outside. Her father’s laborers were out working in the fields, but none of them paid much attention to the woman as she slipped past them. No one ever really noticed the youngest and plainest of Adaiah’s daughters, and in a way, she was grateful for that. That invisibility granted Ephrath a sort of freedom.
It took her a long time to reach the boundary of her father’s property, but she enjoyed the walk. The air was warm but not sweltering, and a gentle breeze stirred her linen skirt. Ephrath hummed as she strolled toward an old olive tree. This was one of her favorite spots, and she settled onto the familiar shadow of the tree and opened her basket. She took out the loaf of bread, broke it into pieces as she gazed out into her neighbor’s field.
If her father had known what she was doing, he would have been furious. Tamar, the woman who owned the small parcel of land, was reviled by the community. Harlot, witch, sinner — all of those insults were lobbed at her on a regular basis. Although no one had ever told her the entire story, Ephrath had been able to piece it together from various sources. At one time, Tamar had been so beautiful that she had attracted the attention of the wealthiest and most powerful men. But she had spurned them all…until she had met him.
Ephrath didn’t blame Tamar for what she had done next. After all, who could resist an angel, a creature of pure beauty and light? If such a being had appeared before her, she would have embraced him as well. But most people didn’t agree with Ephrath. They despised her for her impure act, and their disgust only increased when the child was born months later.
She could see him now, the lone figure in his mother’s field. Kadmiel was huge, easily three times her height. And if his sheer size wasn’t enough to set him apart from the rest of humanity, there were two stunted, wing-like appendages on his back. The gold and white feathers shone with an almost metallic radiance as he bent over, plowing the earth by hand. Tamar was too poor to afford oxen, although from the look of it, Kadmiel was far stronger and bigger than several of the animals combined.
They had been neighbors for her whole life, but Ephrath had never spoken to him. She wasn’t sure of the exact reason, although there was certainly a fear of reprimand if her father found out. Also, despite Kadmiel’s handsomeness, he was immense and more than a little intimidating. Ephrath wasn’t sure if he would actually harm her, although she had heard all kinds of rumors. That Kadmiel and other angelic bastards were ill-tempered, even murderous.
So Ephrath merely watched him as he worked, beads of sweat glistening on his tanned back and shoulders. She finished her meal, but she didn’t move from her spot underneath the tree. Her thoughts were on Kadmiel, and she wondered what he was like. No one ever visited the tiny house, so she figured that he didn’t have many friends. Ephrath had trouble imagining that sort of loneliness, especially when she was often surrounded by her brothers and sisters and other family members.
Kadmiel had come to the edge of the field, and he was examining a tree with great concentration. As she looked on, he reached out with his big hands and pushed, the muscles straining in his arms and back. With a creaking groan, the tree toppled to the ground. Ephrath had to admire the power required to knock over a tree like that. Normally, it would take several grown men to do the same thing. He continued to clear the land, uprooting scrubby bushes and flinging them aside.
I wonder what it’d feel like to touch those arms, Ephrath wondered, and she felt a twinge of embarrassment for even contemplating it.
She finally decided to return to her house, but as she was standing up, she caught sight of three men. Almost instantly, she recognized Lotan and his friends as they strode across the field. Ephrath frowned, wondering why they were here. She didn’t know Lotan very well, but from her brief encounters with him, he seemed like a petty, pugnacious young man.
Kadmiel noticed the men as well, and he silently watched their approach, neither greeting them nor telling them to leave. His black hair was long and tied back into a messy ponytail, although several strands had broken free. He pushed them away from his face as Lotan swaggered up to him.
The size difference was immediately apparent; Lotan only came up to the other man’s thigh, although he didn’t seem frightened by this fact. Lotan had never seemed like a particularly courageous man to Ephrath, and it may have been the presence of his friends that boosted his confidence.
“Hey, you,” Lotan called out to the giant. Kadmiel narrowed his golden-brown eyes but said nothing.
“I think he’s deaf,” one of the other men said.
“Or stupid,” Lotan replied. “I wonder if there’s a brain in that big, ugly head.”
Ephrath expected Kadmiel to argue with them, but his broad shoulders just drooped as he looked away. His passiveness obviously encouraged Lotan and the others.
“My father was right,” Lotan declared. “He really is some kind of monster. Someone should put him and his slutty mother out of their misery.”
Deciding that she had had enough, Ephrath stormed toward them. Lotan and his companions stopped teasing the giant and glanced in her direction, surprised to see her.
“Leave him alone!” She shouted.
Crossing his arms across his chest, Lotan glared at her. “Mind your own business and go back home.”
Rage caused her heart to pound, her muscles to tighten almost painfully. Ephrath stared at them, knowing that she was outnumbered. But that didn’t stop her from bending down and picking up a large rock.
“What are you going to do with tha—,” Lotan was interrupted when she flung the stone at him, barely missing his right arm.
“You bitch!” He roared, launching himself at her. His heavy body slammed into hers, and when her head struck the ground, brilliant lights filled her vision. As the flashing lights cleared, she saw Lotan’s angry face. And above that, she saw a massive hand reaching down for them. She tried to speak out, to warn Lotan, but her tongue couldn’t seem to work properly.
Kadmiel’s huge fingers dug into Lotan’s tunic and he effortlessly lifted the smaller man up, dangling him like a kitten. Ephrath sat up, rubbing at the bruise on her head as Lotan screamed and kicked. His friends didn’t dare to move, their faces turning as white as their robes.
“Enough,” Kadmiel rumbled, and Lotan wailed shrilly, covering his face like a terrified toddler. If he wanted to, the giant could have torn the other man apart, or smashed his skull like a ripe fig. But Kadmiel just frowned and opened his hand, releasing Lotan. He landed with a loud thump and a soft squeal. Whimpering, he scrambled up and bolted, his friends quickly joining him.
The giant watched them flee, then looked down at Ephrath. She held her breath, nervous, as he squatted down and offered her a hand. For a moment, she debated what to do; then she placed her hand into his. Kadmiel’s palm was calloused yet warm, and his mammoth fingers engulfed her smaller fist. With a surprising gentleness, he helped her up.
“Are you alright?” He asked, and even though he was squatting down, he towered above her. She found herself forced to look up to see his face.
“Yes, I think so.” Ephrath continued to massage the sore spot on the back of her head, aware that he was studying her. Silence fell over them, and all that she could hear was his deep, steady breaths.
“I’ve seen you watching me before,” Kadmiel said at last.
Ephrath didn’t see the point in lying. “Yes.”
He reached upwards, and she flinched. But he didn’t hit her, as she feared that he might. Instead, he nervously stroked one of his tiny, malformed wings in what was probably an unconscious habit.
“I know what people think of me,” he muttered, and he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Ironic, isn’t it? My father’s an angel, and I’m…this.”
She wasn’t sure why she decided to reach up and touch his face; others would have been upset by the transgression. But Kadmiel didn’t push her away as her fingers brushed his cheek. Now that she was this close to him, she could see that his skin had a subtle golden sheen to it.
“I don’t think that you’re a monster,” Ephrath said quietly. “Quite the opposite, actually.”
The cheek beneath her fingertips flushed crimson. From his reaction, she figured that no had ever told him that before. Feeling strangely bold, Ephrath traced the angular curve of his cheekbone with one finger, and then moved downward, toward his mouth.
“You’re beautiful,” she said, feeling the fullness of his lips. His mouth was as immense as the rest of his body, but that didn’t make it unattractive. Ephrath leaned closer, and again, he didn’t pull away. She startled them both by kissing him, his lips tasting like salt and honey. The kiss lingered for several seconds; then he placed his hand against her chest, completely covering it. Kadmiel gently but firmly shoved her away.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” Ephrath apologized.
“It’s fine.” His voice sounded flat, distant. He stood back up, his size making her feel like a little doll. When he started walking away, she scurried after him, her sandals slapping at the ground. Ephrath forced herself to run faster so that she could cut him off, and he nearly collided with her.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, and before he could protest, “But I meant what I said. And, well, I’d like to be your friend.”
Kadmiel stared down at her, and she hoped that she hadn’t inadvertently insulted him again. Then the slightest hint of a smile appeared on his face.
“Do you always throw rocks at people?” He asked.
“Only at people who deserve it.”
The giant chuckled, and his laughter was thunderous and almost musical. “I see. Well, you’re certainly brave. And yes, I’d like the same thing.”
“I have to go back home before someone finally notices that I’m gone, but I can come back tomorrow morning,” she told him, and his smile slowly broadened.