The day had dawned cold and gloomy. It was raining, light but steady, just as it had been for several days. Levy’s heart was heavy within him as he stepped outside. He looked to his left, to where Sarah was bent over, working in her herb garden, little Jen sitting beside her. Sarah straightened a moment, her swelling belly becoming apparent. She glanced at him, but then bent back to her work. Levy’s heart sunk even lower. He turned away from her and walked on.
He crested the hill his house was built on. He looked down into the valley where his wheat crop was planted. Muddy water lay where wheat had sprouted only days before. Only as he walked closer could he begin to make out the young shoots, laden with mud. Levy’s heart hit bottom.
I’ll no doubt lose most of the planting, Levy thought. The shoots will damp off and then we’ll have neither seed nor crop. Why do we have such problems?, he asked, only partly to himself. Most of the winter wheat was taken south to help feed the soldiers during the war, leaving barely enough for food and planting. Without this crop, we’ll have to sell my tools to get through the winter, assuming we could even find a buyer. He looked heavenward. Is this fair? He turned back towards the house, disheartened.
At the top again, Levy glanced over at Sarah, still working in her garden. The sight, which nomally would have brought him comfort, if not joy, now merely added to the leaden weight in his soul. Married for over seven years, Levy wondered, and yet we still cannot agree on such a simple thing. How will we be able to agree on something like raising a boy? Or girl, he reminded himself; Sarah wants a girl. Levy sighed. We can’t even decide whether we want a girl or a boy, he mused. He almost laughed — good thing they hadn’t had to choose on the first three!
He lifted his eyes to gaze at the town ruins on the neighboring hilltop. Here and there among the shattered houses he could see the new buildings taking form. What a burden, he thought. They take our food, they take our men, and leave us to the scavengers. To add insult to injury, we don’t even have enough men left to properly rebuild the buildings the raiders knocked down. Levy snorted in disgust. It would take weeks just to haul off all the debris. Still, it had to be done before they can build the new houses, Levy reminded himself. Then, too, much of the debris could also be used in the new homes. In every obstacle there’s an opportunity, he reminded himself. You could build a lot of houses with what was lying in heaps on the distant hill. Just like the one Sarah wants.
Levy walked into the tool shed, to get his tools for the day’s work. The smell of metal filled his nose. Suddenly he longed to be back working metal, cutting it, selling his services to the highest bidder, like he had in his younger days in Dargon. In Dargon, he could make enough money to build a big house, with a separate bedroom for the children! He savored the thought of having privacy again — Eli, the oldest, was starting to notice the sounds at night. Not that there had been many of them lately, he mused ruefully. Again he glanced back at the herb garden.
What would be so bad about moving into the village, he wondered. With the war over the press gangs would again be banned, and a clump of houses would no longer seem an inviting target for food-gathering raids. Still, why crowd into town when all the countryside lies open and waiting? He had set his house apart from the others for a reason — Levy prefered some solitude. With life in town came problems not of one’s own making, the problems that other people brought with them.
But it can be good to be where the people are, he countered, taking Sarah’s side in his mind. Our children ought to grow up with other children to play with, to learn from. They have cousins there, and aunts and uncles (not to mention two solicitous grandparents). Besides, Sarah wants the hustle and bustle of town life. After growing up in isolation she wants to be with people now. Then too, the marketplace is there, with its goods and stuffs, which should be plentiful with the war past.
And the men would now be returning. He remembered the angry disputes in town, with some wanting to go and fight, and Levy insisting that war was not the way, not how the Barels had lived their lives in the past. Moving back into town would mean the returning soldiers and their resentment and hostility. Or perhaps not. Perhaps a few years in the field had taught them what Levy already knew — war was a waster, an enemy, not a gain or a glory. Or, Levy shuddered, perhaps they would not be coming home at all. He dreaded the thought of his little town, bereft of its men, its strength, its hope. Either way, town would not be an especially joyous place in the near future — at least not for Levy.
So many things to consider, so many points to ponder, he thought. Levy stood and stared into the distance for a long moment, weighing his feelings. Sarah’s got good reasons for wanting to go back, he finally realized, but I just don’t want to live in town. I want to live here. With his feelings again clear, Levy headed down toward his sodden ground.
The next day dawned clear and warm, outside at least; Sarah still wasn’t talking. Levy walked over the hill and down to the wheat field. He saw what seemed to be a large rat grazing on the far side. He stooped for a rock, then threw it, the near miss sending the startled animal off into the nearby brush. He stopped at the side of the field, where he found a surprise. Despite the silt weighing them down, thousands of wheat shoots had pushed themselves aloft, straining towards the sun.
Levy beamed at the sight.
“Well done, faithful servants. You push aside this world’s burdens as you fight for life.” Levy paused thoughtfully. Now there’s a thought. What burden am I laboring under? Am I a faithful servant? He sat there in a funk, part of his mind pondering this concept, part of his mind resentful at having been brought up short from its normal routine.
Lately I’ve been very aware of what I want, Levy admitted, yet I haven’t thought much of what anyone else wants. Eli, for instance. Have I ever considered that he might benefit from being around the other men? Or Eleya, the middle one, would she benefit from being around the women? Would they all be better off seeing their grandparents more often? Or the grandparents, seeing them?
He stared unseeing across the field. How often had someone complained about the long trip to his shop to have something fixed? A growing realization plagued him. Perhaps I’ve been putting too much of myself on others these years. During the war I’ve not been much help to many in town. Oh, I’ve helped Mattan and Father and the widows, but life has been hard for everyone, and I’ve been out here. The Barel way is to serve, not fight, and I can’t serve very well out here. Perhaps it’s time I served someone other than myself, he concluded, his thoughts returning to Sarah. He walked back to the house, deep in thought.
Levy walked to where Sarah was pouring milk into a large tank. He set aside the bucket, and took her in his arms.
“I’ve been thinking. Perhaps you are right.”
Sarah’s eyes were quick and distrustful. “Are we going to move into town?”
“If you think that would be best.”
She softened, her arms not as stiff. She returned his embrace, tucking her head under his chin. “What made you change your mind?”
Levy sighed. “Our heaviest burdens are the ones we make for ourselves. Mine finally got too heavy.” He looked into her upturned face. “I’d like to carry yours for a while, instead.”