Chapter 21

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Salome

When the men came back early that evening, Lib was with them.

My heart rejoiced at the sight of his golden hair catching the slanted rays of the evening sun as he walked amid the men. But I was angry at him too, for delaying us from pursuing Ardon. And I didn't understand why no one else was angry with him—with the possible exception of Ethanim who was still stomping around camp.

Keturah actually ran out to meet him, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly, a hug that was awkward because of her belly and his height, but not because of all that had happened. I watched her curiously. Did she not think she encouraged his feelings for her with her actions? Those feelings that had caused so much trouble and delay for us all.

But as I continued to watch through the evening, I noticed that for her at least, it had not gone beyond the hug. She did not touch him at any other time. She did not give him lingering, teasing glances. She managed to preserve her friendship with Lib by preserving the distance between them. This was how she was with Jashon, too. It was how she was with all the men, something she had probably learned while she had lived among them in the army.

It was how I handled Zed's kinsmen, too. I had always taken care not to let them think I was open to marriage, but I stared glumly into the fire thinking that perhaps I had deprived Ardon of something he needed because of my aversion to being ruled by a man I didn't love.

I became aware of whispers in the night behind me, and as I strained to hear the words the men said, I realized they were not intended for my ears. When some of the men questioned the impulsiveness of his betrothal to me, Jashon told them about Jacob, but not the things I knew of him. He told them terrible things Jacob had said on the night of Zed's death. Things he had said while drunk about going home to his brother's widow. Tasteless things that Jashon spoke of with clear disgust, and the other men murmured their understanding.

"You look awful sad tonight."

I looked up. "Oh! Jarom, I didn't see you."

He dropped to his heels next to me and tossed another small branch onto the fire. Sparks shot up through the night, the breeze swirling them and setting them off in different directions. Did he want to know if I had overheard them? Did he feel sorry for me? Did he think I was unworthy of his friend? I didn't feel I owed him an explanation for my pensiveness, but I found myself giving one anyway.

"I'm feeling guilty." I looked up at him, at the light flickering on his face, then back into the fire. "I was thinking that now, since Jashon will be Ardon's father, he will be more inclined to save him."

Jarom actually laughed. "That doesn't make a difference. We will save him whether he is one of our sons or not."

I twisted my lips. "I know."

"Salome?"

I looked up again, straight into Lib's face. His eyes bore a pensiveness that matched my own.

"I would like to take you for a walk, if you will agree."

My brows lifted a little, and I looked again to Jarom. He gave me a nod. "See you in the morning, Salome."

I stood and followed Lib to the edge of camp. We walked slowly around the perimeter in the dim night to get a little privacy, always keeping the fire in sight.

"I want to apologize to you," Lib said. "I mean, I want to ask you to forgive me."

"Me? But what for?"

"I delayed your search for your son by my actions. I'm sorry."

I bit my lip and thought for a moment. "I accept your apology, and of course I forgive you. I don't understand, but perhaps it is not for me to understand."

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