In a Milk and Honeyed Land

In a Milk and Honeyed Land

by Richard Abbott


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Life, love and conflict in the hill country

Damariel is apprenticed as a young man by the village priest, whose reckless actions lead to his disgrace. Damariel manages to avoid becoming implicated in the matter and carries on his training, marrying his childhood friend Qetirah shortly before they begin their shared ministry in the town.

Feeling ashamed of their continuing inability to have children, Qetirah becomes pregnant by the chief of the four towns, but the pregnancy is difficult. Damariel's anger and outrage spills over into the marriage. He holds the chief responsible for the situation but cannot see how to get either justice or revenge.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780993168420
Publisher: Matteh Publications
Publication date: 01/27/2016
Pages: 580
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.17(d)

About the Author

Richard Abbott lives in London, England. He writes about the ancient middle east - Egypt, Canaan and Israel - and has also contributed to the lively academic debate about these times.

He also writes science fiction set in the near future of our solar system. He has a keen interest in exploring how human and artificially intelligent individuals will combine and relate to each other.

His first book, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200BC. It follows the life, loves, and struggles of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath.

A follow-up novel entitled Scenes from a Life begins in Egypt. It follows the journey of a scribe as he travels to discover his origins. down the Nile from Luxor and finally out into Canaan.

A third book, The Flame Before Us, is set in the middle of calamity. New settlers are arriving from the north, sacking cities and disrupting the established ways of life as they come. This story follows several different groups each trying to adjust to the new situation.

Richard Abbott works professionally in IT quality assurance. When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Richard Abbott
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-2166-5

Chapter One


Kiraru Year 7—Etanim Year 10

I was in delight all those days, playing in his presence all the time, playing in the places where we live, delighting with the children of the land.

CHILDHOOD IN THE HILL country was an ever-changing round. Damariel ran with the other children to the little stream and splashed in it, all of them naked minnows together in the noisy water. It was the end of a cloudless Kiraru day, and was very hot outside the dappled shade of the short trees, their leaves faded and slightly shrivelled as they waited for the autumn rains. Several of the village women did aunt-duty from a vantage point off to one side, shaded out of the sun under a rocky outcrop. Long strands of creeper hung down from the top, reaching almost down to the head of the tallest woman. Like the rest, she wore a married woman's kef, with blue borders and diagonal weave. Damariel stopped knee-deep in the stream for a moment, watching her adjust the way her kef draped over her left shoulder and then retie it. He was suddenly caught by how the trailing greenery itself looked like the fringes of a kef, with the blue embroidery of the women's headscarves like flowers budding at the ends of the tassels. He turned to one of the other children nearby, excited and wanting to share this new insight into his world, but as he turned around a water fight started and the air was loud with shouts and laughter. He saw his two younger brothers in the middle of it, jumping up and down together to make their waves bigger. His friend Kothar was off to one side, calling out loudly, getting everyone involved except himself. No-one was interested in vines that hung like a kef over a rock.

His brothers were both summer babies, born almost exactly a year apart, and very alike in looks and temperament. They had dark hair, starting to wave like their father's. Damariel had something of his mother Yeresheth's face, or so he was told, but, of course, looked nothing much like Baruk and Bashur. They looked like their father Shomal. He didn't. Their little sister Sosanneth was too young yet to venture into the stream, and she sat with open mouth on one of the women's laps and pointed at the medley in front of her. She saw Damariel looking at her, waved her arms, and laughed, but all at once the fighting caught up with him and he was toppled into the water. He gasped and scrambled to the edge, running up the bank to Sosanneth who held out her arms as he approached. He picked her up awkwardly and dabbled her feet in a quieter part of the stream, a little away from the others.

The sun dipped behind a tree on one of the ridges above them and the women got up, calling and corralling their charges into some order, carrying the younger ones and leading the rest back up to the village houses, where the sun would linger some while longer. Qetirah's mother Kinreth was carrying Sosanneth on one hip and Qetirah's younger sister Laylah on the other. Qetirah and Damariel followed along behind. The minnow children went back inside by twos and threes, dried off and were made to wear at least some clothing. Damariel hung back from following his brothers into their house, and waited until Kinreth had set Sosanneth and Laylah down on the ground. Taking their hands, with Qetirah on the other side, he helped them across the door lintel, passing under the branches and bright flowers of the mimosa tree rooted beside the door post, draped amply above their heads. They went into the house. Damariel's mother was in the final stage of preparing bread, and a bean sauce simmered to one side. The two women talked for a while across the open kitchen space as baruk and bashur ran about, Sosanneth and Laylah giggled as they watched them, and the older two children began shaping the dough into flat circles on the griddle.

The village houses were all much of a pattern. The door led into a broad room running front to back. In here was a place to cook, a number of storage jars for water or foodstuffs sunk into the floor, stools and a table to eat at. On either side, left and right, were smaller rooms, mostly for sleeping places, or set aside for indoor work such as weaving, carpentry, or repairs. Some houses had another room or two tacked on to the long side, usually for some particular purpose; Qetirah's father Caleb used his for metal-work. Many of the extra rooms had been added when a daughter married, so bringing an extra man into the household; ideally the house never really stopped being extended in this way, though in practice few houses had added more than a couple of rooms for this purpose. Outside there might be a wooden or stone lean-to, or a small shelter for livestock. Most households used the flat roof area as extra living space, at least in the summer months, with a wide diversity of walls or windbreaks approached by means of a ladder outside or steep stair inside. The largest house in the village belonged to the seer and his wife, but Damariel had never been inside it and had no idea how it was arranged.

Damariel did not know it then, but that summer was the last time he and all his year would play naked together in the stream. When the springtime came again, the girls of his age had been separated out and seemed to move around only in close-knit, slightly intimidating groups, wrapped carefully in their plain white adolescent kefs. They had learned to tie these in the upland style, covering all their hair, tied below their chin, and lying loosely at shoulder-length over smock or dress. The boys spent most of the day working with the older youths and men. For them, a kef was more of a practical thing, convenient for keeping sweat out of the eyes. Shomal was quite particular about his sons wearing their kefs all through their waking hours, especially out of the house, but some of the other fathers were less strict. Walking around the village and the adjoining strips of cultivation you might see all manner of variations of style and habit for the men's headwear, but the women were much more consistent and discreet. For the meantime, however, Damariel's attention was focused on making the bread into even shapes. The two women finished talking, and Qetirah, Laylah, and their mother left for their own house.

Qetirah lived a little further down the ridge and off to the northern side. Her father worked with metal, mostly bronze but some silver when he could get hold of it, and Qetirah often wore a little brooch he had made once from a small piece of scrap metal. She lived near to Kothar, Damariel's closest friend. Kothar was bold and outspoken, and Damariel felt rather in awe of him on some days and quite shocked on others. However, he knew without a doubt that in difficulty Kothar would be loyal and confident. but just over the ridge from Qetirah's house, and a little to the west, stood two or three houses belonging to a family Yeresheth thought little of and spoke out against. Damariel was discouraged from making friendships with the children of these households, though the reason for this was never very clear to him.

Yeresheth's house was also on the southern side of the village, a little way down the ridge from the high place. Her sister Nerith—Damariel's aunt Nerty—lived in the house across the narrow alleyway with her husband and two children, a bright yellow rock-rose bush adorning her door. There was an uncle, too, but he had moved away to one of the larger towns along the distant coast before Damariel had been born, and he had never met him. Damariel had been told that his mother's mother used to live in Yeresheth's house, which of course had been her house in former years. But with Baruk and Bashur being born only a year apart, and Sosanneth born less than two years later, she had moved in with Nerith. He vaguely remembered her being in the house long ago, but for most of his life she had been a remote, rather shrunken figure who he saw only occasionally. Shomal, Yeresheth's husband, had no living relatives, and the house he had grown up in had been taken over by another family in exchange for a field with some olive trees at the extreme western end of the ridge, where it caught the setting sun and the fluttering wind blowing up from the coast.

The village relied on several different means of support. Most families had an area of cultivation—some like Shomal grew mainly olives or other fruit or nut bearing trees, while others mostly tended vegetables and other crops. Many mixed the two in one measure or another. Alloni cultivated a wide stretch of land that was perfect for grape-vines: it had belonged to his mother long ago, but as she had had no daughters it had passed to him and his wife to be tended. Either side of the central ridge, following the contours down a little way amongst the short trees and scrub, were terraced strips with grain and beans. Along with the crops, a few households had decent-sized flocks of sheep or goats. These were mostly pastured in groups during the day a little way off, north or south along the hillside, or else taken off all together for a few weeks at a time. Small noisy groups of chickens strutted around most of the houses.

The surrounding countryside was another source of food, and most of the women knew where to find wild berries and green herbs in season. A few of the men, like Kothar's father Labayu, hunted or trapped game as it roamed, regularly bringing rabbit and hare in numbers down to the village, with occasional deer for the festivals and other special occasions. The lowlands off to the west were much more generous, with large herds about in the denser vegetation, but the main targets down in the valleys were the storehouses of the villages there. Danil led a group of five or ten other men in infrequent raids to secure easy bags of supplies. They went armed, and spoke as though they were warriors, but rarely saw real danger. Stealth and speed of movement were the tactics of choice, and a real pitched fight with weapons could mean disaster for both communities.

There were a few craftsmen and women in the community, like Issi the potter, Caleb the metal-worker, or Shelomith-Rahmay whose embroidery could be found in most of the village kefs. Most of these people's work stayed within the village and was exchanged for other goods, but some of it went up the hill to Giybon to be traded further afield, supervised and organised by the chief.

Sometimes of an evening Yeresheth would recall for them the names of her ancestors, her mother and mother's mother, the men they had married, back as far as she could remember and the children retained interest. Damariel had stayed awake a few times when she had told the list of names back as far as the time the whole community had moved south, south out of the mountainous regions well to the north, where the winters were so much colder than here and the living was harder. He was never quite certain of the sequence when he woke up the next morning, and was convinced that she did not always tell the names in the same order. The names got stranger as they came from longer ago: names from the north that only a few in the village used any more, and no-one in Damariel's family. These were names like Daduya and Perizzi, Putiheba and Erwina-Teshub, and the oldness of them rolled around his heart as he slipped into sleep.

At the top of the village, serving as the spiritual and social heart of the community, was the high place, with its arc of standing stones nearly joining in a circle, leaving an open gap looking out towards the north. Beside the stones stood the altar stone, and the house of the village seer and his wife Qerith. Iqnu had been seer and priest much longer than Damariel had been alive, and Damariel only ever encountered him as a slightly vague, slightly fatherly figure at a distance. He heard him speak only at the opening of the great summer and winter festivals in which young children were involved. Next year he would be allowed to stay longer at these, and take part in the autumn and spring festivals as well. He was dimly aware that Yeresheth and Shomal had quite different opinions about Iqnu, and that Shomal usually changed the subject when the seer's name was mentioned.

The meal was ready, and before long Shomal returned from his field, his tunic speckled with olive twigs and leaf-dust, a bundle of tools gathered in one hand and a small bag of vegetables in the other. The children alighted around the food. Sosanneth was nearly asleep already, and managed only a little bread and a few spoons of stew before being settled in the sleeping room. Shomal talked at some length to baruk and bashur about the day just past, more briefly to Yeresheth, and finally to Damariel. Shortly after, the three boys joined the sleeping Sosanneth and spread out their own sleeping rolls from where they had been bundled against the side of the little room. As Damariel fell asleep, his inner sight still full of a rock wearing a kef, he heard the adults' voices quiet in the next room.

Outside, the village of Kephrath clustered along the backbone of the ridge. There were about a hundred houses straddled across the crest as it ran down from the high place and its stones towards the setting sun, spilling a little down either side into the valleys below. Households of clan-related families tended to cluster together to form islands in the community. Yeresheth would tell them that originally, generations before, the division into clans had been cleaner, stricter, but as the years had gone by the lines had blurred. Intermarriage was quite common, as was exchange of property as family wealth ebbed and flowed. The clan islands were no longer so distinct, but extended encroaching swirls into one another like cream being stirred into porridge. Perhaps twenty houses now stood empty and unused. The older inhabitants spoke of how this family and that had moved towards the coast, or how this family and that had merged with another and left their home vacant. No-one remembered a day when all the houses had been full, but the stories that had been passed down spoke of such a time, when even the several ruined, roofless houses up the ridge from the high place, along the track towards Giybon, had echoed with occupancy. But in some of these houses, even the door plants of the women had died back and withered.

Straddling the track up towards Giybon was the town gate. The gate stood on its own, not connected to a wall or any other building. It was ceremonial rather than practical; trade was conducted here, or formal decisions on behalf of the community, and it served more to represent the boundary between the village and the outside world than to divide or protect. The Mitsriy, who had governed the region for many years now, would not let walls be built in defence in most towns, and only those few who retained their older defences, with steep slopes and large stone blocks, were allowed to keep them. This gate was not a defence, but a gathering place.

Two summers later they mourned Yeresheth's mother and placed her in the family tomb. Damariel remembered the day as a very solemn one, with his mother and aunt supporting each other up by the stones as her body went into a dark cave. A group of men had rolled a great stone back across the entrance, and Iqnu had carried out some kind of ritual. A spatter of unseasonable rain had pattered across the group of villagers stood around, and that, together with the scudding wind, had prevented him hearing most of what was said. Afterwards, life continued in much the same way as it had before.

But the following year he had cause to think again about the number of people living in Kephrath. On this particular day he first saw the man who was the chief of the four towns, Yad-Nesherim. Yad-Nesherim lived up at Giybon, which therefore, just for now, was the head of the four towns. It had not always been this way: Yad-Nesherim's father, while still a young man, had wrested the chiefdom away from a family in Jarrar's town, Woodlands. That had been achieved without too much conflict, since the previous chief, Kabkabim, had become greedy and inept. Even the people of his own town had wanted him gone in the end, as his steady accumulation of wealth, his increasingly obstinate demands, and his refusal to be lavish with gifts and favours had settled opinion forcefully against him. He had been the fourth son of his line to hold the chiefdom, and the older stories never spoke well of such long lineages holding power. Two or three generations worked, but often after that the seed grew weak and the growth was twisted. Once, many generations ago, two chiefs had come out of Kephrath, and a woman who had written on behalf of the whole community to the Mitsriy governor, but not since. A couple of families, such as that of Shelomith-Rahmay, still asserted a lingering status through descent from a former chief, but although the family still held good standing in the community, the link was reckoned by most to have grown tenuous. Other families now held—or at least claimed—more sway and influence, such as Issi the potter and his wife Asherith, whose children Sophiret and Yusuf seemed intent on gaining status. But the rivalry for the privilege of chiefdom was between Giybon and Jarrar's town. They were larger than Kephrath or the fourth town, Meyim, and power seemed to follow size these days. Meyim was smallest, and had never yet produced a chief. Damariel had heard it said that Giybon, with the largest and most important high place of the four towns, was most deserving of having the chiefdom as well, but he had also heard others argue against this in the cool of the evening when wine was being shared. (Continues...)

Excerpted from In a MILK and HONEYED LAND by RICHARD ABBOTT Copyright © 2012 by Richard Abbott. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Postscript—Some Background and Glossary....................467

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In a Milk and Honeyed Land 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Richard_Abbott More than 1 year ago
What made the land so good it was said to flow with milk and honey? This review contains a synopsis of the background and first part of the plot of 'In a Milk and Honeyed Land' with no spoilers - enjoy seeing how it develops after this! The Background 'In a Milk and Honeyed Land' is a novel about everyday life about 3,000 years ago in the hill country of Canaan - now called Israel and Palestine - close to the end of the time of Egyptian rule of that province. It explores how the vast changes in lifestyle, politics, religion and music that occurred in that area between what archaeologists call the Bronze Age and Iron Age might have been mirrored by individual people's words and actions. The large-scale actions and military campaigns of the Egyptian pharaoh and other great kings are nowhere in sight; this is a story of the resources and people available within four small allied communities. It is set close to the end of a long period of comparative stability in the hill country of Canaan. The Egyptians - the Mitsriy of the story - have governed the region with a fairly light hand, on the whole. Population has declined, and towns and villages have dwindled in size as the occupants have moved out into the more prosperous lowlands. Within a hundred years or so, the political landscape will be quite different again, with the Mitsriy gone and small kingdoms arising to compete over the territory. For the time being, communities continue in their traditional ways, with local priests and chieftains chosen from among the people by merit rather than dynastic ambition. The book follows the life of a village priest in one of the towns as he struggles with timeless issues of life and love, loyalty and betrayal, greed and generous giving. The First Part of the Story Damariel is apprenticed as a young man by the village priest, whose reckless actions lead to his disgrace. Damariel manages to avoid becoming implicated in the matter and carries on his training, marrying his childhood friend Qetirah shortly before they begin their shared ministry in the town. Feeling ashamed of their continuing inability to have children, Qetirah becomes pregnant by the chief of the four towns, but the pregnancy is difficult. Damariel's anger and outrage spills over into the marriage. He holds the chief responsible for the situation but cannot see how to get either justice or revenge...