08 Gera the Grove Manager
Shemer’s Hill, Israel
Obadiah stopped under the lone oak tree on the south side of the hill, left it’s spreading limbs, and follwoed a narrow trail through five rows of olive trees. He stood with his bodyguards to a gate and called across the strange courtyard, “Hello, the house! Gera the grove manager?”
A short, plump woman dangling a long gray braid over her shoulder appeared at the parapet. “Are you boys from the king? If you’ll wait in the courtyard, Gera will be home in a moment.”
Obadiah stepped from his chariot. Better to leave this kind woman’s courtyard undisturbed and wait in the trees.
Two men trudged in through the olives. The older kept his eyes to the ground like Obadiah’s father home from a long day in the pear trees. A pruning saw hung at his belt, and a small bag swung from his shoulder. Black curls tumbled with white ringlets from his headscarf. The younger man carried a bunch of long-stemmed flowers with enormous, furry seedpods of deep blue. He nudged the older one and pointed to Obadiah.
The older man looked up and stopped. “It’s not every day I find the king’s right-hand man at my gate. Has my wife given you anything to eat?”
Obadiah made two long strides to the men and clasped hands with the older. “My name is Obadiah. Please call me Biah. The king sent me.”
Farmer style, the older man held Obadiah’s hand as he talked. “I’m Gera, a child of Ephraim, and my son is Liev. King Omri asked me to teach you olives.”
“Yes. Yes. Moab and Ammon always ask for more olive oil. Syria and Egypt. Orders have come in from Mycenae and Hattusa. You must have heard he bought the hill.”
“Word gets out.” Gera pulled Obadiah’s hand closer. “If I had two talents of silver or foreseen people’s desire for the oil, I would have bought this hill for my son.”
Liev laughed. “My father’s a generous man.” He jiggled the bouquet in his grip and glanced up toward the veranda.
Obadiah released Gera’s hand. “Here, here. I’m keeping you.” He opened the gate for Gera and Liev.
Gera hurried ahead and opened the stable door. “Tuck the chariot up next to the wall. No one’s going to come through the gate and roll the king’s wheels away in the night.”
He held the ladder while Obadiah and the guards mounted to the veranda.
Gera opened both hands toward his wife. “Allow me to introduce my wife, Hodiah.”
The older woman stood by Gera and beamed a broad smile on Obadiah and his guards. “This is our daughter-in-law, Keren.” A petite young woman with straight dark hair and a bulge in the middle of her robe stood next to Liev, holding his bouquet of blue. She pulled her gaze from his face and made a quick bow to the newcomers.
Obadiah bowed then turned to his bodyguards beside him. “These men are my old friends and will learn at my side.”
Gera pointed to goatskin mats piled near the door. “Please have a seat. We’re having mutton this evening.”
Obadiah and his men sat in a semi-circle with Gera and Liev.
Hodiah and Keren put plates of steaming mutton and cabbage in their hands then sat next to Gera and Liev.
Gera asked Obadiah, “What experience do you have with olive trees, young man?”
“None. My father taught me pear trees.” Obadiah jutted his chin toward his guards. “We know a shovel from a saw. Yet, how much knowledge can we carry from our valley to this hill? The pests we fight. Do we prune a tree the same?”
Liev’s shoulders came back.
Hodiah tapped him on the arm. “My Gera says our Liev is the best pruner he’s seen.”
Keren beamed at her husband, and Liev’s neck flushed.
Gera turned to Liev. How have I taught you to prune, son?
Liev faced Obadiah. “Well, sir, my father likes an open center to the tree.”
The youngest bodyguard blurted, “My dad says if you can throw a basket through from any direction, that’s good pruning.”
As everyone on the veranda turned open-mouthed, the red climbed up the young guard’s face. “I mean. Not that anyone asked.”
Gera waved a hand at the him. “I see we won’t be short on opinions here. I wish we had your father with us. But don’t stop, Liev. What else did I teach you?”
“The bottom, sir. You taught me to trim the branches up off the ground.”
Gera slapped Liev on the knee. “He touches on the basics, but with Liev, pruning is an art form. I’ll have him lead us on a stroll through the groves, so you can learn one section from another.”
After they ate, Hodiah stepped to the back of the veranda, to a line holding several thick rugs, and addressed Obadiah. “These are yours.” She raised an arm toward the hall. “Your room is the last on the right, and the other boys can sleep in the room across the hall.”
Shemer’s Hill – I Kings 16:24
Gera of Benjamin – Genesis 46:21
Hodiah wife of Ezra – 1 Chronicles 4:19
Keren-happuch – Job 42:14
09. The Curious Prince
Shemer’s Hill, Israel
Obadiah stirred to a voice in the dark. “Wake up! How long you gonna sleep, lazy bones?”
Fumbling with his headscarf, Obadiah stumbled into the hall looking for the fishmonger or Gibbethon.
“Wake up, right-hand man. I got the sun out of bed for you. And me with neither harp nor lyre.” Ahab’s voice came from far away.
Obadiah followed Zak out to the veranda, where a chorus of crickets greeted him, and he closed his cloak against the chill.
The courtyard gate rattled.
Ahab called, “The Syrians are upon you, sleepy head. While you concern yourself with fruits and oils, someone must defend our nation.”
Beside him in the pale light, ten royal bodyguards gazed over the wall and laughed.
“‘My entire life will I sing and make music.’” Ahab spread his arms and sang, “‘The Lord is my light and my salvation.’ Take the tenor, Biah.”
“My prince!” Obadiah scooted down the ladder. “It’s too early for your songs.”
“Tell me about early. Not all the Lord’s faithful get to curl up on a comfy rug warmed by the sun.” Ahab’s shoulders slumped for a beat. “We who shiver in the dark—we miserable ones must stretch on the dirt and tuck an old robe under our bones. For us, the morning never comes without our calling it.”
Open-mouthed, Gera gazed from the veranda. “Come in, my prince. Come in.”
Ahab pushed through the gate and wrapped Obadiah in a hug. “The king sent me. Said to make sure his construction is on course. He wants to impress me with his plan.”
Obadiah pushed back from his embrace. “Did Syrians attack you on the road?”
“Nothing so exciting. We got a late start and arrived long after dark. The only safe camp was with the cavalry. Tell me, what training do we give our troops that they camp on the cold side of this hill? I clutched my ribs and shivered, then rolled out, so I could flail my arms around.”
Hodiah appeared at the parapet beside her husband. “Children, cease your gossip and bring yourselves up here, so I can feed you fresh flatbread and olive oil.”
Obadiah turned to her. “Oh, ma’am. You don’t want—”
Ahab put a hand over Obadiah’s mouth. “What my friend means is, you’ve got Biah’s bunch up there, and if this army behind me makes the climb, you’ll think a cloud of locusts has settled in your wheat field.”
While Gera laughed, Hodiah planted a fist on her hip. “Child, I appreciate how your mother taught you respect. Bring your manners and your locusts up here, because I’ve got five ovens to feed and two goats to milk.”
Obadiah twisted a knuckle against Ahab’s ribs. “You’ve met your match, my prince.”
With a crooked grin on his face, Ahab waved his bodyguards forward. “Thank you, ma’am. I send you the best pita-baking crew this side of Mount Tabor.”
By the time Obadiah stepped off the ladder, a cloud hovered on the veranda—smoke from the ovens mingled with the aroma of fresh flatbread.
Hodiah stood over her subjects, patting shoulders and laying on praise.
Knives thumped blocks as four guards split firewood into tiny pieces. Five guards kneaded dough and fired ovens, while two more knelt beside goats, filling pitchers with milk and pulling contented humming from the does.
Gera flopped three goatskins on the floor in a triangle. “Welcome to our home, my prince.”
Obadiah, Ahab, and Gera sat facing each other.
Zak placed a tray of three cups in Obadiah’s hands and filled each cup with milk. “From the lady of the house.”
Obadiah handed cups of goatmilk to Ahab and Gera. “My prince, while you beat your arms against your sides in the dark, did you meet Shemer?”
“I did not. I had mercy and left the man buried in blankets. Quilts which he must have sewed during his years of shivering in the shade. Imagine building on the north side of this awesome hill. What’s wrong with people?” He glanced at grinning Gera. “The Lord has blessed you, sir, with a gracious wife and four rooms in the sun.”
Liev came from the hallway. His cheeks glowed as he glanced behind him at Keren. She averted her eyes from the men.
In three strides, Hodiah had an arm around Liev and Keren and turned them back into the hallway. “The cheese room, children. That wheel I’ve been saving from two years ago. And the hen house. Every egg you can find.”
As the two disappeared, she called after them. “Don’t touch Batya. She’s broody.”
Obadiah turned to Ahab. “So, what brings you to this part of the kingdom?”
“Curiosity, Biah. But I got a late start.” Ahab rocked from side to side. “I had one foot in the chariot when my father started telling how Shemer’s Hill is the perfect spot for his capital. High. Isolated from either valley. Central. And the double walls he’s planning. Cisterns. Tunnels.”
Obadiah stroked his chin. “I saw a bit of it taking place yesterday.”
Hodiah put a tray in Gera’s hands. The tray held a stack of hot pitas between a dish of olive oil and a dish of spices. “Gera will show you children how.”
Gera dipped a folded pita in oil then in the spices. “Za’atar. Salt and sumac mixed with sesame and hyssop. From Hodiah’s ancestors, time out of mind.” He nibbled the spiced end of the pita. “Mmm!”
Obadiah and Ahab each folded a pita, dipped in oil then in the spices. And nibbled. “Mmm!” The men nodded their appreciation.
“Pardon me.” Zak refilled each cup with milk.
Gera lifted his cup. “I should give you men a tour of the king’s construction projects on the hill.”
Wake up. I got the sun out of bed. – Psalms 57:8 & 108:2
The Lord is my light and my salvation. – Psalm 27:1
The morning never comes without our calling it – Psalm 130
Batya or Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh – 1 Chronicles 4:18
Milk – Isaiah 7:15, Judges 5:25, Deuteronomy 32:14
Za’atar – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Za%27atar