Ishmael worked the salt farm. When the old bull grew weary, he pulled the plow by hand. When the rains came, he collected it in trenches. The rainwater would irrigate the salt plants should the river he relied upon become dry. Without the river, the salt farm would not last the season. Without the river, Ishmael’s family would likely perish.
As it almost had once before.
This season, the salt plants grew steady and even. The sturdy green stems so heavy with salt, they sagged like the branches of the willows that dotted the road to the village.
Every day he thanks the Gods.
Ishmael harvested a grand salt crop and he and his wife celebrated with dance and drink. They made sacrificial tithes to the Gods, giving thanks for their successful harvest. There would be heat in his hearth and food in his larder for another year and this knowing gave Ishmael comfort.
It gave Ishmael hope.
He remembered the year the Gods punished the village, sending the dragons whose fiery breath dried the river to barely a stream. His salt fields burned into the earth giving him a harvest of charcoal.
Ishmael and his wife lived on the bits of charcoal, making teas, thin breads, and gruel; their bodies begging for any nutrients they knew the salt could give, even in its blackened state. In time, their bodies withered to mere bones and skin. The days grew thin, still and hollow.
As fate would lay its heavy hand, the year the Gods sent the dragons was the year they birthed their first child; a son. Knowing he would surely die; Ishmael took his son to the caves where the dragons slept and laid him upon the bare ground, begging the forgiveness of the Gods.
His heart had never been as heavy as it was when he turned his back and walked away from his infant son, left lying there on the cold, cold ground. The babe’s jerky, desultory movements created a gentle susurrus of the swaddling which filled Ishmael’s ears as he made his way down the path.
He never cried…his son. A sign of courage, Ishmael hoped, picking up his pace lest he lose his own.
His son…even in his newness to the world…was brave, Ishmael told himself. Maybe he would’ve wielded a warrior’s sword had he grown, Ishmael mused, instead of a mere farmer’s trowel, like his father had, and his father before him. This belief Ishmael held in his heart like a sort of comfort or punishment. He wasn’t sure which.
Ishmael’s sacrifice succeeded in pacifying the hunt of the dragon, and restoring the rage of the river. The blackness of the salt fields turning back into browns and then greens again, the work resumed and with every new day, they did their best to put their sacrifice behind them.
Their sacrifice…nay, their son.
At night, after supper, his wife would put on a kettle and boil water for tea. They’d sit across from one another in silence, just sipping quietly. Sometimes she’d be weaving. He’d smoke, and in the quiet of their busy keeping, with hearth full of fire, and a field full of salt, Ishmael thought that maybe it was time to make another warrior.