Friday, February 5, 2010

Trouble at the well

Jericho echoed with the sound of the Gatekeeper’s horn. It was time to shut the city for the evening.

Salman casually turned around and observed Adin close the iron-plated gates in his customary routine. Too late to turn back now, he thought, even if I wanted to.

“So we sleep in the square, or take our chances with the locals?”

“Water first,” replied Phinehas as he unpacked a goatskin water bag, “because you never know...”

CRASH. The sudden noise caught them by surprise. A second gate made of solid iron bars slammed shut about twenty feet behind the main one underneath the stone archway.

“Well look at that!” Salman noted. “A clever trap don’t you think?”

“A cage for rats,” replied Phinehas. “Boiling oil from above, archers from behind. Eeesh! No thanks.”

“Come on, lets find somewhere for the night.” said Salman.

“Don’t you listen? Water first. We may have to leave in a hurry.”

It was difficult to disagree with Phinehas when Salman's own mouth was parched from the long walk.

The two men promptly headed towards the middle of the square, where an entire caravan of camels were drinking from several large troughs. One of the smelly beasts was pulled aside by its keeper as a matter of courtesy, to make room for the men to draw from the well.

It was an ancient but remarkably solid construction, with a circular stone wall, perfectly round and reaching up to waist height. A sturdy wooden beam across the top secured a large bucket suspended on a rope deep into the water underground. It’s clever builder had even thought to seal the mouth of the well with two wooden shutters, to stop small animals contaminating the water.

Just as Phinehas was about to draw water, Salman noticed the Gatekeeper pushing his way towards them through the camels, short tempered and ready to pick a fight.

“Hey! You filthy foreigners. That's not yours, its for locals. You have to pay for water at the Inn. You think we want your diseases?”

“What diseases?” Phinehas replied angrily.

Salman motioned for Phinehas to calm down. The Gatekeeper was either too stupid to consider the camels, or else he genuinely believed the men were inferior. Either way, it was pointless arguing.

“Where exactly is this Inn?” Salman asked.

”Over there.” Adin pointed towards a staircase on the right side of the wall beside the main entrance to the square. “Don’t worry, you’ll be well looked after.”

On closer inspection, Salman realized there were many houses built into the wall - three levels in fact. This meant the walls were hollow, and not nearly as strong as they first appeared.

“We don't want to cause any trouble,” said Salman casually. “Please excuse my brother, he's a bit slow. Thanks for your help.”

“The pleasure’s mine,” Adin replied with a disturbing politeness that seemed out of character for such a coarse man.

Naturally, Salman didn’t wish to reveal his deep ceded suspicions, nor allow Phinehas the opportunity for more trouble. So he promptly grabbed his arm and forcefully ushered his “brother” towards towards the staircase.

“Ok this dumb brother trick is really getting to me,” whispered Phinehas.

“No, I think it suits you,” replied Salman cheekily.

Phinehas scowled with displeasure. “And I won’t be the guest of a whore.”

“He didn’t say she was a prostitute.”

“Oh come on, ‘you’ll be well looked after.’ Whats that supposed to mean?”

“Well even if she’s a lady of questionable character,” Salman whispered, “please don’t kill her. Knowing your luck, all Hell would break loose.”

“Very funny,” Phinehas replied, gritting his teeth. “I’m bursting with laughter.”

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