Another entry for a recent FaithWriters.com weekly writing challenge. This one at least got an "Editor's Choice" award.
It's called "Love's Labour is Not Lost", but has nothing to do with Shakespeare's famous work.
Young Johorem, son of Jareh, laughed as he watched his fellow-slave toiling hard at the woodpile.
‘I will never understand you, Eliabin, son of Yonahan,’ he mocked. ‘Master and mistress are gone to Shiloh until Shabbat, yet you still break your back as though Pharaoh himself was behind you, whip in hand. A true slave indeed you are! Are you not a son of Abraham? We have long forsaken the land of bondage! Has my lord Nahshon commanded you this?’
Eliabin paused in the act of attacking the stubborn log before him. He wearily wiped the sweat from his eyes without looking up. He spoke with restraint but gripped the axe hard.
‘No he has not, Johorem, you sluggard! But winter comes on apace, and the household must keep good store of wood.’
‘Sluggard, am I? Ha! At least I am no fool! Will the master thank you for it? I think not.’
‘A fool, am I? Then, so be it!’ retorted Eliabin with an angry glance. ‘I do it for the love of my master, my mistress and above all, for Yahweh the Lord.’
Then honesty compelled him to add softly: ‘…and to keep Bathamah warm.’
He turned his eyes wistfully toward the scullery.
Johorem burst out laughing.
‘You?! Do you still dream of possessing her? When she has eyes for none but me? Am I not far taller and fairer?’
The other glanced at his own plain but pleasant image in the well nearby.
‘It is true,’ he sighed. ‘She deserves her good fortune.’
He resumed his chopping.
‘Good fortune…. yes! Am I not the son of Jareh, mighty man of valour?’ cried Johorem pompously. ‘It is only one moon until the Year of Release. Soon we shall all be free again! The chains of tyranny we cast off! I shall become rich. I shall wed the fair Bathamah and raise an house and name that will rival Nahshon’s himself!’
It was his rival’s turn to look scornful.
‘How shall this be? You have few skills, even though master has tried to school you. His patience is unbounded! He is no tyrant, nor is our mistress. She treats the fair Bathamah more as her own daughter, rather than her handmaid. You chose to be a slave, as did I when our sires died impoverished. My lord will release us with a gift also, as decreed by lord Moses. But what will you do with your freedom then? You boast much, but will you succeed?’
But Johorem was flying high.
‘I shall rise to be an officer in lord Joshua’s army when we defeat these accursed Canaanites. I am bold and courageous! A mere shepherd, farmer or herdsman? Never!’
Observing the lack of enthusiasm in his audience, he paused in his boasting, and sneered.
‘And you, O ant-who-stays-not-his-labours? Will you be content with a few sheep and goats? Will you till the earth until you die?’
Eliabin took a breath and faced him, resolution in his eyes.
‘I shall not leave my master. I shall go to the door, and be marked as his servant forever.’
He returned to his labour with even greater vigour.
The other gasped and stared at him.
‘Are you sun-crazed? The awl-pierced earlobe? Is there no end to your folly? Why?’
‘Perhaps he understands the value of love better than you, Johorem.’
The gentle, clear voice behind them made them both spin around. The axe fell from nerveless, shaking fingers.
Even in modest handmaid’s garments, Bathamah could not conceal her beauty, grace and sweetness. Both men gazed at her hungrily.
Johorem strode forward and took her hands possessively.
‘What, my beloved? Fear not. Soon we shall both be free and wed. Then you shall know what love truly is.’
She pulled her hands away and stepped back, looking solemnly into his eyes.
‘No, son of Jareh. I also shall go to the door, and serve my mistress forever.’
‘It is true that I was captive to your manly charms when we first met, Jehorem,’ she replied, gently but firmly. ‘I wish you well. But I now desire a man of honour, kindness, diligence – not a wild man of war.’
She glided slowly over to Eliabin, who stood stunned, and took his roughened hands between hers.
‘You have laboured long and hard for six years to win my heart, little though you knew, son of Yonahan. It was a labour of love for our master, for Yahweh the Lord, and for me.’