[Check the individual files to see if they are later revised.]
A fresh mound stood by the corner of the house. King Omri rested in a tomb in the rock. Obadiah’s father lay in a hole heaped with dirt.
Obadiah knelt and sifted a handful through his fingers. “I should have been here for my father.”
12. Keslote [1518 words]
Keslote, Issachar, Israel
Obadiah stood and steadied himself against the ladder while his mother descended a rung at a time. In the fading light, her cheeks seemed dry of tears, yet her eyes, red and swollen.
His mother held him by the shoulders as she searched his face. “You came.” She wrapped him in a hug. “My boy. My boy. I didn’t know if they could find you.” She released him and slid her arm through his.
Skipping rungs, Obadiah’s younger brother, Tola, hurried down the ladder and landed—thump—on the sod.
Although his face sagged, he draped an arm around Obadiah’s ribs and gripped him by an elbow.
Wedged between mother and brother, Obadiah stared with them at the grave.
His mother broke the silence. “Your father was out pruning and didn’t come home. When it got dark, the neighbors lit lanterns.”
Tola’s wife and five children appeared at Tola’s elbow. The children cast furtive glances at Obadiah. How had they arrived without a sound?
Tola planted his feet wide. “The baker found him. Over near the quarry. His pruning saw was in the grass.”
Arrows flashed through Obadiah’s memory—thunk, thunk—next to the young Obadiah and Ahab on Lavan and Shochar. Syrian scouts should return to Damascus satisfied with information on troop movements. But no. They needed to pick off a pair of young Hebrews or a farmer.
“Biah. They found you.” Yedidah’s mother pushed through the gate and hurried across the courtyard. “Oh, son. I’m so sorry. Your father was such a good man.”
Tola stood back and offered her Obadiah’s side.
“Still is a good man.” Yedidah’s father marched in, followed by Yedidah’s brothers and sisters. His nostrils flared as he stared across the mound of dirt. “The village’ll never be the same, boy.”
Obadiah’s mother-in-law glanced up at him. “Are Yedidah and my grandbabies…?”
“The fort. Safe. Messenger found me. Samaria.” The few words came out with a struggle. As he pulled her to his side, his knees shook. He sagged against the two women.
Tu-cu-chee-yo, a nightjar called, and a faint breeze touched Obadiah’s cheek.
From across the mound of dirt, Yedidah’s father cleared his throat. “Look at me Biah.”
Obadiah lifted his head.
The man frowned. “You’re exhausted. The gang of you. We’ll stable your horses, and we have rugs for your men.”
Mendel, Ahab’s grandfather, strode through the gate. He stood taller than Ahab or Obadiah, and a pure white beard jutted from his chin. “Such a racket of wheels. Buckets bumping the well. Horses breathing loud enough to scare a mountain lion. Your man Zak takes charge out there.”
Obadiah lifted a hand and let it drop. “Zak. Whatever Zak says.”
Grandpa Mendel’s enormous paw clamped on Obadiah’s shoulder, jolting the two mothers from their grip and spinning Obadiah around. “I made a token attempt as a suitable host and fried up the mutton for your gang. Then I turned him loose in the kitchen. He’s finding stalls in my stable and rugs in those rooms my son built to invade my privacy.”
Obadiah gave one soft chuckle for the old village joke—King Omri had posted guards, but his father had sent them back to the fort.
“So sorry your dad is gone, boy. The Lord makes none better. Not these days. Knew they’d find you. Just didn’t think it would take so long.”
Long? He’d left the moment Gallant had arrived. Obadiah’s shoulder relaxed under the familiar grip. He bowed and let the too loud voice flow over him.
“Did you get my son laid out in his tomb?” Mendel stomped a foot in the grass. “Don’t you start on me about hiking across the valley and up into those hills to pay my respects.”
Obadiah’s mouth twitched. King Omri had said, “My father will outlive me, but he’ll never visit my tomb.”
While Mendel’s hand rested on Obadiah’s shoulder, his voice moved far away. “I let my son know square and proper, if he wanted his bones in a tomb, I couldn’t stop him. But he comes from farm stock, and an honest farmer takes his final sleep in the earth.”
The grandpa’s face washed-out, and he faded to a distant hum—how his son had commanded armies in foreign places when Beitshan was far enough for any man to travel.
Obadiah closed his eyes and leaned against his little brother. His own tiny grave plot waited beside his great grandfather’s. Why had he left home? Gera didn’t need him in the olive groves. The boy Ahab had slapped ran the stables on his own. The bookkeeper from Nazareth did an admirable job with the accounts.
“Smoke, fog, vapor” the Teacher called these tasks. “How does all this labor under the sun profit a man?” Obadiah sighed long. Instead of working at his father’s side, he had run after smoke and fog. Let someone else be the king’s right-hand man.
His mother held the ladder. “The trip has worn Biah out. He needs to sleep.”
Sleep? Obadiah lifted his head from Tola’s shoulder. “Just got here.” He lifted a foot to the first rung of the ladder. “I just need…”
Tola scurried past him up the ladder then reached back over the parapet.
Mendel and Yedidah’s father lifted Obadiah by the arms.
With his feet on the third rung, he made a desperate lunge upward.
Tola reached and steadied him by the hair.
Hands pushed his rump, raising Obadiah’s feet to the fifth rung.
Tola gripped his wrists, dragged him up, and laid him with his head hanging over the parapet.
“Sweet dreams, boy,” the grandpa boomed. “We’ll talk in the morning.”
Obadiah reached through the dark and found the base of the limestone wall. He ran his fingers over the letters B I A H he had chiseled in at the quarry. Cheered by his father’s fond gaze, he had struggled with the block and slid it into place in this wall. He and his father had built this room together.
Faint dribbles of light strayed under the door.
He rolled to his knees, stood, and tiptoed into the main room.
Mother sat next to a tiny, flickering oil lamp, and he knelt at her side. “What did old Mendel mean? I came the moment I heard.”
In the shifting flame, the rings under her eyes looked deeper.
“I mean, when did…?”
“When did your father die? Say the word, son.”
“How long ago was it?”
“No. You must pronounce the words. Your father’s not lost. Not sleeping. Each morning, I force them out. ‘He’s dead.’ Yet, in the afternoon, I imagine he’ll walk in from selling pears at Beitshan.”
“When… when did my father… die? Two days ago?”
“Five. No, six. Oh my. Eight days ago. I miss him so.”
Eight days, and the message didn’t get to Obadiah until yesterday noon. Digging the grave and laying his father in with proper respect would have taken his brother only one day.
Tola padded in, sat next to Mother, and held her hand.
She sniffled and wiped her nose with a cloth. “We didn’t know how to get word to you. Your brother didn’t want to leave me alone.”
“As he shouldn’t,” Obadiah said.
Tola sat up straight. “The village hasn’t changed, Biah. The nearest horse is in Beitshan.”
Obadiah nodded. “Did old Mendel…?”
His mother squeezed his hand. “Oh, Ahab will be so proud of his grandfather. He badgered men all along the path for days and got up a brave little band who carried the news to the fort.”
Obadiah pulled his mother to his shoulder. Brave indeed. If arrows could cut down a man in his pear trees, they could strike messengers on the road. “I never should have left you.”
“Yes, you should have left us, son. That boy, Ahab, needs you at his side. Keep your eyes open, and you’ll see why you’re there.” His mother patted his hand. “What can I feed you? We have mutton, chicken, beef, pickles, beer, wine. The courtyard’s been full of friends for days, and they keep bringing food.”
“Nothing tonight, thanks.” Obadiah sat and took in the tiny world shown by her candle. This was not his home. Not anymore. He had laid up these blocks, but they were no longer his. Neither the blocks nor the walls, the house nor the orchard. They were here for him to visit. But they belonged to his mother and brother.
And Mother had it right. Ahab needed him. He served the king. Although he hated the Baals, he was the king’s right-hand man.
Obadiah stood, cupped Tola’s cheek, and kissed his mother’s forehead. “Will soon be light. Let’s get some sleep.”
Back in his room, he snuggled into the rug. Mother had said, “Keep your eyes open.” The latest version of the fishmonger.
“smoke, fog, vapor.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2
Attack without cause – Psalm 109:3
“let your enemies be scattered” – Numbers 10:35
Under every green tree – Deuteronomy 12:2, 1 Kings 14:23, 2 Kings 16:4
13. The Basics [1,579 words]
Shuthelah’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah accepted the tray from Elder Shuthelah and pushed the flat breads toward King Ahab. “Your father’s dream. King Ethbaal gives us ports on the Great Sea, and we ship our goods to markets in the west. Sidon gets a peaceful frontier and we get extra muscle to help in a brawl. An all-around win.”
Shuthelah winked at Obadiah then leaned into the king. “My wife wants to know if the queen really has fourteen hairdressers.”
“Hairdressers?” Ahab slapped his knee. “Her attendants hover and chirp, but I have no idea what they do.”
The elder shook his head. “My wife will be disappointed.”
Hesitant chords of a lyre wobbled onto the courtyard. The notes clashed with the song of a yellowhammer in the oak tree.
“My king, if you will excuse me, my grandson needs instruction on the lyre. Let my servants know what you need.” Shuthelah stood.
Ahab gave a slow nod. “Your grandson’s music is interesting. Tell him to keep playing.”
As Shuthelah disappeared onto his veranda, Ahab turned to Obadiah. “I couldn’t have clinched this alliance on my own. But I watched how my father negotiated with Ethbaal. It took me a while, but Sidon is our ally.”
More painful chords fell from the veranda. In the oak, a hoopoe flashed its barred tail but failed to sing with the wounded lyre.
Ahab looked side-ways at Obadiah. “The elder gave in to his curiosity, yet you’re quiet. Not on your usual quest for information.”
Obadiah dipped a pita in olive oil and spices then nibbled. “Can a know more than he ought to know?”
Ahab sat up straight. “Well, you better know the basics, Biah. Survival. You can quote Moses and Joshua at me all you want. Those old guys don’t understand survival.” Ahab’s eyes grew large, his voice tense. “I’m surrounded. He ticked off his fingers—Syria, Edom, Moab, Ammon, the Philistines. So I need an ally in Sidon.”
“An ally. Yes.” Obadiah sloshed a cucumber slice in olive oil then the spices. His opinion of Ahab’s alliance would change nothing.
“Out with it, Biah. Something’s been eating at your gut ever since you walked in. Spill.”
“Ha.” Obadiah flashed a grin. With fists or words, he and Ahab had never held back from the other. Obadiah aimed the cucumber spear at the king’s nose. “What ally tries to install a squad of four hundred Asherah priests in Fort Jezreel?”
Ahab’s eyes shot wide open.
Obadiah clamped his mouth shut, set the cucumber on the plate, and aligned it with the other. A king, no matter who his friends, is still a king. A boyhood chum might push too far, and a king could call a guard to silence his oldest friend.
“Ha!” Ahab jabbed a fist into Obadiah’s shoulder. “So she did, Biah. So she did. Only found room for thirty, so their mates camp by the north wall.
Biah wagged his head over their tray. “My daughter asked me a question. Not hairdressers.”
Ahab lifted a cucumber slice. “The girl whose black eyes snap? What interests that child?”
“Right. She asked, um, how Jezebel’s four hundred Asherah priests protect us from the four hundred thousand Syrian troops staring at us from the cliffs of Bashan.”
Ahab shook the cucumber under Obadiah’s nose. “Asherah’s part of the deal, Biah. Always has been.”
Obadiah looked into Ahab’s eyes. He had stepped close to the edge. “Haven’t your spies told you this week’s market day joke? ‘The sheep asked the wolf to protect it from the bear.’”
Ahab shoved the plate of cucumbers at Obadiah’s belly. “Cute, Biah. But my alliance with Jezebel’s father concerns business.”
“Business.” King Ethbaal bought children from kidnappers and forced them to serve in brothels. “You know my opinion of that man’s business.”
Ahab smirked. “Do you have any idea how much Jezebel’s father makes off his temples? He saw the flow of silver when he was a young Asherah boss. The moment he stepped up to the throne, he took over the temple.”
“Stepped up?” Obadiah grabbed Ahab’s shoulder. “Jezebel’s father slit the king’s throat and kicked his corpse into the ditch.” Too much. Too strong. He backed off and touched his fingers to his throat.
Ahab curled his lip. “You think I care? The man knows business.” Ahab clenched his jaw. “He stationed his lieutenants in the temples at Zarephath and Tyre. Nobody’s whispering numbers, but he’s stacking bags in his treasury from—”
Obadiah jutted his chin. Little children were hurting, and he was afraid of pushing his old friend too far? He took a quick breath. “Everyone at this end of the Great Sea gossips about the silver Jezebel’s father rakes in from his temples in Byblos and Cyprus. But your life’s worth more. Sing psalms in the morning and shove kids into brothels in the afternoon—Is that who you want to be?”
While King Ahab fixed his eyes on the cucumber in his hand, two pictures rose in the corners of Obadiah’s mind. Eight-year-old Ahab slapping a stable boy. Then the same Ahab stuffing pitas into the cloak of a dirty-faced child with his sleeves rolled up.
The king shoved the pictures aside. “You forget the basics. I’m surrounded. Troops and chariots require silver. Bags and bags of silver.”
A bitter tang rose into Obadiah’s mouth. Silver from kidnappings. Yet Ahab was not alone. While many Hebrews talked “fear the Lord,” they followed the gods of Syria or Phoenicia.
Obadiah took a deep breath. Neither friend was ready to change. Time for a new topic. “So, my king, how is life with this new wife?”
Ahab folded a flat bread and dangled it over the olive oil. “You’ll never understand what marriage is for me. Yedidah grew up with you in our village, and you earned her respect. Her love. My wives came to seal alliances with their fathers. Compared to how Yedidah’s eyes light up for you, they don’t know I’m in the room. None of them, and they never will. But they’re basic to the survival of our little nation.”
As Ahab spoke, Obadiah held steady eye contact with him. “You’re right. I’ll never understand.”
Obadiah’s driver spoke from the gate. “Twelve applicants for grove manager, Biah.”
“Thank you. Bring one in.”
With a quick nod, the man turned and jogged out.
“You want to hang around for this, my king? Twelve interviews.”
“Who knows? I might learn my olive business.”
“What you’ll learn is why I do a lousy job of managing your affairs at the fort while I try to I care for olive groves.”
Ahab scowled. “You’ve got twelve men out there. Hire them and get back to the fort.” He crossed his arms.
“You forget business basics, my king. I need three. The best three.”
The driver led a man around the puddles and into the courtyard. He pointed the man toward Obadiah then waited at the gate.
King Ahab stood. “Your next grove manager.”
Obadiah stood but did not speak. Merom? How did he get in here?
Merom strode in with long steps and extended his hand toward Obadiah.
Obadiah shied as if the hand came from a leper.
Ahab backed away and cupped his chin.
Merom’s face lit with a broad smile. “Good to see you again, Biah. I was glad to hear you’re hiring grove managers. You know my record. Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener and more olives. When shall I start?” He looked Obadiah in the eye.
The man seemed unfazed by silence. His normal front?
Obadiah rolled his tongue around to clean the disgusting taste from his mouth.
Merom jutted his chin toward the veranda. “Smells good. Garlic and onions on that?”
Obadiah looked him square in the eye. “We won’t be needing you. I’m sorry to waste your time, but there’s been a mix up, and we can’t use you.”
Ahab took a step back.
Merom looked at Ahab, the driver by the entrance, and the guards lounging over the courtyard wall. He turned back toward Obadiah, opened his mouth, but said nothing.
Obadiah raised his chin. “I’ve got another appointment, and I’m sure you have a full schedule. My driver will show you out.”
Merom followed the driver out the path. At the corner, he flicked a glance back under his eyebrows.
Ahab edged up to Obadiah. “Why did you turn him away?”
“Basics, my king.”
“The man’s been doing groves for ten years. Did I hear wrong?”
“You heard right.” Obadiah lifted his chin and spoke in a low voice. “Ten years at Shiloh. Every tree greener. More olives.”
“So why not talk with him?” Ahab stood in the gateway and faced Obadiah with folded arms.
Obadiah planted his feet wide. “Like I said. Business basics. He cheats on his wife. Any man who cheats on his wife will cheat on me.”
Ahab threw his hands up. “Ai-yah! You’re impossible.”
Fear the Lord but serve other gods – 2 Kings 17:33-39