In a time and place where his wrongness would lead to him being stoned or burned unto his death, Ezekiel found a way to fulfil all of his duties as given to be him by God, and yet still be true to himself.
This is the story of Ezekiel's Victory.
Constance kissed Charity lightly on the lips. "Do not fear, like all else it is a part of God's plan. Hold God in your heart and all else will happen as He wills. Now let us sleep for it is late and I am finding this travelling to be very tiring."
The family rose before dawn the next morning. They were concerned lest the farmer come to milk his cow and find Constance sleeping instead of Ezekiel. Samuel milked the cow by lantern-light while Constance managed to wake Hope and get her to feed. Then Constance dressed as Ezekiel and the family broke their fast with the last of their bread, some strips of beef jerky and some fresh milk from the cow.
They had just finished eating when they heard the farmer walking up the track with his buckets clanking. When he came into the barn, Charity was changing Hope's nappies, Isabelle was folding blankets and stowing them on the wagon while Samuel and Ezekiel were harnessing the horse to the wagon and then tying the lead rope of their cow to the back.
The farmer nodded in approval. "Getting an early start is a good idea!" he said.
"Last night's storm may have cleared," said Samuel. "But it looks like another may follow it later today. I'd like to get as far as we can this morning before we need to seek shelter again. God bless you and your family for your hospitality."
The farmer nodded again. "God be with you!"
"And also with you," echoed the family.
Ezekiel and Charity pulled the big barn doors open and Samuel drove the cart outside.
"Mother, will you ride in the back with us?" asked Charity. "I have some questions I would like to ask you while we travel."
Isabelle nodded and climbed into the back of the wagon with Hope. Ezekiel and Charity closed the barn doors, gave a final farewell to the farmer and climbed into the back of the wagon. Hope was allowed to crawl around over their legs while they dangled baubles in front of her to play with.
As Samuel steered the wagon down through the farm, the farmer's elder daughter came out of the farmhouse with some fresh bread and a pot filled with hot porridge wrapped in cloth to keep it warm. The family accepted the gift gratefully and blessed the girl and her mother for their thoughtfulness.
They decided to eat the porridge while it was hot and save the bread for later. Isabelle dug through the wagon to find some bowls and spoons and they shared out the porridge. Charity called to her father to stop and then ran around to the front of the wagon to deliver his bowl of porridge so that he could eat while he drove the wagon. Then she clambered back into the back of the wagon. They ate the porridge while the wagon trundled slowly down the track with Ezekiel and Charity taking turns to feed tiny mouthfuls of porridge to Hope.
Charity looked around to check that there was nobody close to the wagon and then spoke quietly.
"Mother, how difficult would it be for me to become a wet-nurse for Hope?" asked Charity.
Isabelle blinked and looked at her daughter. "It could be done. Why do you ask?"
"We have been lucky, up until now, that we have always been able to feed Hope somewhere private. If Hope had demanded to be fed last evening when we were in the kitchen with the farmer's family, it would have been awkward. If I were able to feed Hope that would solve the problem."
Ezekiel smiled and clapped his hands. "It would also help you become a true second-mother to Hope. I would love you to do that."
"Milk cannot be turned on and off like a lantern," said Isabelle with a frown of her own. "It could take many days of effort to start your milk and then once you have started, you would need to keep feeding her every day until she is weaned – or Constance is back and there is no longer a need."
"I understand, Mother," said Charity.
"I think it a grand idea," said Ezekiel.
"This may not be easy. Most wet-nurses simply take over feeding another baby as they wean their own so their milk never dries up. I have seen women start up their milk again after they have dried up simply by putting the babe to their breast and letting it suckle. For those women it can take anything from a day to a week, depending on how long since they stopped feeding their own child. I have never known a woman who has never born a child of her own to start up their milk, but I have heard that it can be done."
"So it can be done!" said Charity. "What must I do?"
"It would be easier for me to bring on milk since I have born children," said Isabelle.
Charity's lip began to stick out and quiver. "I would very much like to do this myself. After all, as Ezekiel said, I am to be a second mother to Hope and to the new child when it is born."
Isabelle nodded. "Very well. If that is what you wish. I will not stand in your way."
"So what do I do?" asked Charity. "I have heard women talk of bringing on their milk to become a wet-nurse but I haven't heard how to do it."
"We get Hope to suckle. And we get her to do it as often each day as we can for as long as we can. And we may have to do this for many, many days because you are yet to bear a child of your own. It seems that something about having a child suckle at a woman's breast is like a call that the woman's breast responds to."
Isabelle began scrambling in amongst their belongings on the wagon. She pulled out a blanket and hung it from the pile of furniture to make a small enclosed space. Then she took out a small pot of honey.
"It is not long after Hope fed, so she may not be willing to suckle for long, but we should make the attempt anyway. The sooner we begin, the sooner we will get results. You will need to unlace your dress."
Charity, her privacy secured by the hanging blanket, unlaced her dress and exposed her breasts. Isabelle used her finger to put a small dab of honey onto a nipple. Then they together lifted Hope and laid her in Charity's lap.
Charity offered her breast to Hope and Hope immediately latched onto it – enticed by the sweet taste of the honey. Charity's eyes opened wide as she felt for the first time that unique sensation of a babe suckling at her breast.
"Use your fingers on your other teat," said Isabelle. "Perhaps tugging and stroking like milking a cow will help."
Charity lifted her hand and did as her mother had suggested. But she did it in a distracted way for most of her attention was focussed on the sight and feeling of Hope suckling at her other breast.
"A younger babe will stop sucking if she doesn't get milk," said Isabelle. "Hope may be old enough to keep sucking out of habit. For now, we need to change her to the other breast. We need to prepare both breasts equally else your milk will not come in evenly."
Isabelle put a dab of honey on Charity's other nipple and then helped the two younger women move Hope around until she was happily suckling on Charity's other breast. Charity's free hand lifted to stroke and tug at her unoccupied nipple.
This continued for several minutes, then Charity looked up with joy on her face.
"She sleeps," whispered Charity. "Hope sucked at my breasts and now she sleeps with her lips still against me. Thank you, God, for this wonder."
Ezekiel smiled. "It is truly a marvel. You may not think it so when you have your own babe and must wake throughout the night to feed it."
Charity grinned. "When my milk starts, and your next babe arrives, I will help you in that task. We can take turns so that each of us is not excessively deprived of sleep."
Constance laughed. "Very well, sister/wife. I shall look forward to your help when the time comes."
Isabelle looked at Hope sleeping happily with her lips pressed against Charity's breast. "You have surprised me, today, my daughter. If we are finished, I shall go back to the front and sit with Samuel. It is a little cramped back here with all of us."
"I do have another question, Mother," said Charity. She looked down at the sleeping Hope and then looked back at her mother.
"I wish to have a child of mine own, that I may fulfil my duty to my husband and my pledge to my husband to give him a son."
Isabelle blinked and looked at Charity with surprise.
She thought for a moment.
"It will be difficult while we are travelling, but perhaps when we settle we can find you a new husband so that you may have a child."
Charity shook her head. "No, Mother. That will not do. For then, the babe would belong to that new man and not to Ezekiel."
Isabelle shook her head in confusion. "You should not lie with a man unless you marry him. And you will not have a child of your own unless you lie with a man."
"I need marry no another man, for I married Ezekiel, my brother," said Charity.
"But he is with God now," said Isabelle. "You are a widow and free to marry again."
"Ezekiel my brother may be with God," replied Charity. "But here beside me is another Ezekiel who I am content with. I will not marry again."
Isabelle was still confused. "But this Ezekiel cannot give you the child that you want."
Charity smiled sweetly at Ezekiel who shrugged.
"That is truth," acknowledged Charity. "But I am not concerned for I have found my answer in the place all answers can be found – in the Bible. I would like to do as Lot's daughters did and lie with my father that I might have a child."
Isabelle rocked back in surprise. She opened her mouth to answer and then closed it again. Finally she spoke.
"I doubt that Samuel will be pleased with this plan. It goes against God for a man to lie with his daughter."
Charity grinned. "I thought to do as Lot's daughters did and ply Father with wine so that he may know nothing of my actions. But to do that, I would need your aid."
Isabelle's eyes narrowed and she stared at her daughter as she thought deeply.
Finally Isabelle shook her head. "I cannot aid you in that. It seems to me dishonest to make a man insensible with drink so that he may be drawn into sin without his knowledge. And for me as his wife to assist with that – no! I cannot do it. Besides, Samuel is not given to drinking heavily. Moderation in all things – that is our way. You plan will not succeed with Samuel."
Charity hung her head for a moment, and then looked up again.
"It may be a sin for a man to lie with his daughter, but it is not such a sin in this case for I am no longer Father's daughter. When Charity was married to Symeon, Father gave her to him and she became his wife rather than Father's daughter. In the same way, Father gave me to Ezekiel and I became Ezekiel's wife rather than Father's daughter. Then Father stood before God and with the creatures of the fields as his witnesses, he pledged to hold me and keep me as the widow of his son."
Isabelle nodded to show she was listening.
"If a man is pledged to keep the widow of one of his kin, it is not a sin for him to lie with that widow," said Ezekiel – having grasped Charity's argument. "Indeed, some could say it is his duty. Even in our own village, we saw that. For when Joshua's brother died, Joshua took his brother's widow as a second wife. She bore more children and the village approved – for that is a woman's duty."
Isabelle looked at Charity. "Are you asking Samuel to take you as a second wife?" she asked.
"No, Mother, that would not do either, for then the babe would belong to Samuel and not to Ezekiel. I would remain married to Ezekiel, both of them – the one as his widow and the other as his wife. All I ask from Samuel is that he lie with me that I may have a child and fulfil my duty to Ezekiel."
Isabelle sighed. "I must think on this and I will pray to God for guidance for this is something new and I do not know how to respond."
Isabelle called out to Samuel to stop the cart. Then she climbed down, walked forward and climbed up onto the bench next to her husband. He raised his eyebrow at her as if to ask her about the topic of the discussion but she shook her head and stared off into the distance.
In the back, Charity waited until the wagon lurched into motion once more and then looked at Ezekiel.
"Well? Do you think Mother will help me?" asked Charity.
Ezekiel shrugged. "I do not know. I was expecting her to scold us both. You could take the lack of a scolding as a good sign, if you will."
Charity moved to place Hope into her basket, but doing so woke Hope and she struggled to escape from Charity's grasp. Charity laughed quietly and released Hope, then the two of them watched as Hope began to crawl around between their legs.
In all this time, Charity had sat with her dress unlaced and her breasts exposed. She looked down and ran a finger over one nipple.
"Mother said that I should tweak my teat and milk it as if I were a cow in order to encourage the milk. Will you help me? I am anxious to fulfil my duty as second-mother to Hope and provide her with my milk."
Ezekiel reached for one of Charity's breasts and did as he had been asked while Charity did the same to the other breast. They continued this in silence for a moment and then Charity glanced shyly at Ezekiel.
"Perhaps you could even suckle, for surely my breast does not know the difference between one mouth and another."
Ezekiel blushed. He closed his eyes and held still for a moment. Then he leaned forward and applied his lips to Charity's breast, suckling at it like a babe.
Charity's eyes widened at the sensation and her mouth opened as if to speak, though no words were forthcoming. She stopped all movement and lifted her head up high with her eyes closed, her hand now idle on her other breast. Her other hand moved through the air without purpose and then came to rest on the back of Ezekiel's head – stroking his hair gently as he suckled.
After a time, Ezekiel stopped and laid a gentle kiss on the breast of his sister-wife. He sat up slightly and glanced sideways to check on Hope.
"Why did you stop, my husband? I found that to be most pleasant," said Charity.
"Strangely, I also am finding this to be a pleasant task. I did not expect it to be so. But we must not overdo this at the start," replied Ezekiel. "Else you will become sore and not wish to continue. Besides, we must ensure we share time between your breasts or your milk will not come in evenly and your breasts will be mismatched. This is something I was taught when I first began feeding Hope."
Ezekiel used a leg to hook Hope away from the edge of the wagon. Charity put one arm loosely around the child so she would not stray. Hope sat there without complaint and was soon playing happily with the fingers of Charity's hand.
Ezekiel lowered his head and began to suckle at Charity's other breast.
They stopped before noon when Hope became restless and hungry. Isabelle came back and retrieved a small bowl from amongst their possessions.
She looked at Ezekiel. "Unbind your breasts and use your hands to squeeze milk into this bowl."
Ezekiel looked puzzled and then did as he had been instructed. Isabelle had a small strip of cloth which she rolled lengthways.
"I saw this done, once," said Isabelle. "It was done to help a new mother get her milk to start. Perhaps it will help here."
Isabelle instructed Charity to unlace her dress and put Hope to her breast. She dipped the cloth strip into the bowl of freshly squeezed breast-milk until it was saturated. She carefully slid the end of the cloth in between the edge of Hope's mouth and the skin of Charity's breast. In this way, Hope was suckling at Charity's breast and receiving milk from the cloth.
Charity sat there with joy on her face. "I am feeding Hope! God has surely blessed me in this moment. Mother, I thank you for this wonder."
Ezekiel and Isabelle were both smiling to see the joy and wonder on Charity's face.
Isabelle encouraged Ezekiel to keep squeezing his milk into the bowl. Isabelle would then resoak the cloth and return it to its position. This method of feeding took longer than normal, but none complained. In the end they put Hope to Ezekiel's breasts to drain the last milk from his breasts.
Shortly after lunch, Samuel guided the wagon into a village and stopped to ask directions of a group of men working to repair a roof.
An older man came over to the wagon and introduced himself as Jebediah. He nodded at Samuel's question and pointed down the track.
"This track that leaves to the West is the one you want," he said. "But you will not go further on this day. The bridge was washed away three weeks ago and the storm last night has raised the river level so the ford cannot be used."
Samuel grunted and looked at the sky.
"Indeed," said Jebediah the older man, "there will be more rain before the sun sets. It could well be two or three days before you can continue your journey."
"Is there a barn or some such that we can use to shelter in while we wait for the river to drop?" asked Samuel.
Jebediah scratched his chin. "We may be able to do better than that."
He looked around and called out to a stocky man who stood atop the roof they were repairing. The second man quickly scrambled down and the two men held a hurried conversation. Then the second man came over and introduced himself as Isaiah. Greetings and names were exchanged and then Isaiah spoke.
"We have an empty house up on the ridge," said Isaiah. "My brother was killed when the bridge washed away and I took his widow as my second-wife. She and her children now live with me. My brother's house stands empty and abandoned for a man can only live in one house. If you are looking for a new place to settle, perhaps you will consider staying here – we could use the extra people and the house is there already. If you would continue your journey, then the house will be a good shelter for you until the river drops."
Samuel grunted. "Thank you! God bless you for your generosity."
Isaiah nodded. "Head down the road and turn to the right up the track between the third and fourth houses. I'll meet you up there."
He walked off between the houses and started climbing the hill behind them while Samuel flicked the reins and guided the wagon following the directions he had been given. Isaiah was waiting for them up on the ridge outside a small building surrounded by slightly overgrown farmland.
"You are welcome to stay here for as long as you need. There is a small barn around the back. You may be able to fit your wagon into it without unloading. There's not much furniture inside the house and no cookware or linens, for my second-wife brought it all with her when she and her children moved into my house, but it looks like you have your own."
"Bless you, Isaiah. This is more than we could possibly expect," said Samuel.
Isaiah nodded. "I'll come back later and show you how to read the ford."
With that, he turned and strode back down the hill to rejoin the group mending the roof.
The family quickly inspected the house. They found it to be a simple two-room building, like their own had been, although this was smaller. The back room was a bedroom with a bed platform along the back wall which could be covered with mattresses. The front room had a similar platform at one end to provide extra bedding. A solid table stood in the middle and the kitchen end had a fireplace including a cooking hearth.
Isabelle quickly opened all the window shutters as the air inside was slightly musty from the being closed up for a few weeks. After a quick discussion, they unloaded things they would need for the next few days and then Ezekiel and Samuel took the wagon around to the barn at the back.
Charity picked up a bucket and filled it from the rainwater barrel. When she came back, Isabelle and Charity donned aprons and then set to scrubbing the tables and sweeping the floors.
As they worked, they discussed other tasks that needed to be done, what to cook for dinner and such like. At one point, Isabelle put the scrubbing brush down and looked over at her daughter.
"I have been thinking much and praying much about this thing between you and your father. I understand your reasons although I do not completely agree. You will need to speak to Samuel yourself. If you can convince him, I will not stand in your way. I warn you not to raise false hopes for I think Samuel will be difficult to convince."
Charity had stopped sweeping to listen to her mother. "Thank you, Mother. That is as much as I could possibly ask of you. As you say, I must convince Samuel of the rightness of my arguments."
In the meantime, Ezekiel and Samuel had brushed down the horse and released both animals into a small enclosed pasture to graze. They had to spend a little time repositioning two fallen bars of the fence around the pasture. Then they carried a ladder over from the barn and Ezekiel held it while Samuel climbed up and did some minor maintenance to the roof of the house. They carried some dry firewood into the house from the lean-to at the side of the building and then picked up axes to go and cut some fresh firewood.
Isabelle and Charity were sitting beside a pot, peeling and slicing potatoes when there was a knock at the open door. They looked up and saw two women standing in the doorway, each holding a small basket.
"Hello and welcome," said Isabelle as she and Charity scrambled to their feet. "Please come in." Isabelle then introduced herself and introduced Charity as her daughter-in-law.
The two women stepped inside and introduced themselves as Isaiah's wives, Prudence and Felicity. Felicity, Isaiah's second wife, looked around the room which was her old house and noted with approval the freshly scrubbed tables and swept floor, the neatly made bedding and even Hope playing happily on a blanket spread on the floor.
Prudence, however, focussed immediately on the two women and her mouth turned downwards in a poorly hidden scowl.
"Why are your heads uncovered?" she asked. "I took you to be Godly people."
Indeed, both women had their heads uncovered and their hair braided into a long rope which hung down their backs.
Charity nodded. "Our husbands instructed us to remove our head coverings while within our own home – and, for the next few days, this house is to be our home. It is our duty to obey our husbands in all things."
"We were not expecting visitors," explained Isabelle. "If you are offended, we will put on our bonnets."
"We most certainly are offended," said Prudence. Although she spoke for both, Felicity seemed more interested in watching Hope play on the blanket than the presence or absence of head coverings.
"We will wait until you are presentable before speaking further," said Prudence.
She stood with lips pressed together and furrowed brows while Isabelle and Charity looped their braided hair up onto their heads and put on their bonnets.
Once Isabelle and Charity were dressed to her satisfaction, she nodded and spoke.
"We came to offer our welcome to the village as is our duty," said Prudence, with a cold voice. Then she offered the basket she held. "Here is bread, for it is difficult to make while travelling."
Isabelle took the basket and gave her thanks and blessed her for her hospitality.
Then Felicity smiled warmly and spoke. "I noticed as your wagon drove past our window that you had no chickens."
"Yes," said Isabelle. "We slaughtered them and salted their meat to make the travelling easier. We will need to purchase some replacement chickens when we find a new place to settle."
"Well here are some eggs for you," said Felicity. "I offer them as a welcoming gift. They are fresh today so should keep well into the morning."
Charity took the basket from her and peeked inside. She beamed in pleasure at seeing the handful of eggs nestled within. Charity thanked the two women and blessed them both for their generosity.
Prudence let out a harumph. "I expect we should leave and let you get on with your preparations. God be with you."
She turned and walked out but Felicity did not follow.
"Why would your husbands command you to uncover your hair?" she asked, in little more than a whisper. "It seems like the strangest thing for surely it goes against God."
Charity giggled. "My husband did not fully explain himself and I chose not to question him. I believe God is more concerned about what is in our hearts than what is on our heads. Look to the Bible for guidance about what goes against God. Not everything our elders teach us comes to us from God."
Felicity gasped at the audacity of Charity's statement and then turned and scurried out the door as she heard Prudence huffing in annoyance outside.
Charity watched the two women make their way down the hill and then turned to her mother and let out a long breath.
"I am glad I am not the second-wife to such a woman," muttered Charity. "I fear I would quickly become unruly."
Charity defiantly reached up and whipped off her bonnet – flipping her braid over her back.
Isabelle chuckled as she removed her own bonnet.
"I suspect you are right, my daughter. The path God has laid out for you is already a difficult one. Having such a woman as first-wife would surely make it much harder. Though perhaps we should think on her more charitably. We may have arrived at a difficult time. It cannot be easy to suddenly take a second woman and her children into your home. I would think to do so would require some time to adjust."
The two women went back to work preparing dinner as they continued discussing the visit and the likely outcome of Prudence taking a dislike to them.
Isaiah came striding up the track and waved to Samuel and Ezekiel when he saw them out cutting wood. They put the axes away and came over to him.
"I thought to show you the ford," said Isaiah.
Samuel grunted and nodded. The three man walked down the track and followed the main road through the main village and over a slight rise. The river became visible as soon as they topped the rise and the road clearly stopped at the remains of the destroyed bridge. Isaiah pointed out a side track and they walked down it to join the river about one hundred feet upstream from the bridge.
"Do you see that large rock across the river? The water now covers nearly half of it. When you can see the base of the rock, the river is safe to cross with a wagon. You can just see the track coming up from the water immediately upstream of the rock. Line yourself up with this tree stump and head for where the track comes out and you will be in the centre of the ford."
Samuel grunted. "Seems simple enough. Thank you for showing me this."
Isaiah nodded. "Once you cross the river, the track rejoins the main road just through those trees. Are you heading towards the town?"
"No! I want to avoid towns as much as I can," said Samuel. "I hear too many tales of wickedness from towns and cities. I am a simple farming man. I would lose my way in a town."
Isaiah nodded in approval. "Soon after you rejoin the main road, you will come to a fork in the road. The North branch will take you into the town. Take the branch to the South and West and you will avoid it. The next village you will come to is a Quaker village. I do not hold with Quakers but they will not trouble you if you ride on through."
Samuel grunted and nodded. Then they all looked up as lightning flashed in the distance.
"We need to get back to the house," muttered Samuel. "I left the animals out in the pasture to graze."
"As did I," said Isaiah. "Walk with God!"
"Walk with God!" said Samuel and Ezekiel.
The men shook hands and parted at that point, striding off to return to the different houses.
Samuel and Ezekiel climbed back up to the ridge and quickly rounded up the horse and the cow. They stabled the animals and provided them with some grain from their supplies and a little of the hay that had been left in the barn.
The two men then returned to the house where they found Isabelle and Charity closing the window shutters and securing the house against the storm. Lightning flashed again and the rain started to fall shortly after everyone had retreated inside.
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