16. Megiddo Road

PreviousMicaiah sent a hoarse whisper. “Cousin? Did you bring something to dig with?”

16. Megiddo Road

The Megiddo Road, Israel

Micaiah left his cousin in the bushes, thrust his shoulders back, and headed out again. He crossed the intersections for Ibleam then Taanach and stopped at the crossroads for tiny Jenin. Many times he had turned here to visit family in Akko.

A nightjar called ow-wow-wow.

Micaiah leaned against the trunk of an oak and shook his head. More useless waiting, his life on hold because the king had married that Sidonian head of hair.

His cousini loped up to the intersection and waved his left arm where a white cloth fluttered from the wrist.

Micaiah waggled his own left arm with its corresponding white cloth. “You okay? No cramps? Got enough food? You sure you know which palm trees to wait by?”

“Yes, Mother. Just fine, thank you. You’ll find me snoring under the palm trees.” His cousin took the west fork.

Their cobbler friend came next and waved his white-flagged wrist. “So, is this Jenin?”

“Welcome, city boy.” Micaiah pointed toward Fort Jezreel. “That way to the queen’s thugs. This way to a nice warm cave.” He waved toward the sea. Micaiah’s chest tingled. How could a dark cave be warm? But he slapped the cobbler’s son on the back. “See you there, man.”

One by one, fourteen more men wearing white on the left wrist strode up to the crossroads, and Micaiah sent each man west. He watched the back of the last one fade into the night and chanted in a low voice, “‘Blessed are they…’” After one hundred seventy-six verses, he started west himself.

The brilliant stars faded and, when Micaiah’s path dropped into the Jezreel Valley, the sun lit the sky from behind him. By the time the hill of Megiddo came in sight, the sky opened clear and blue. After the cutoff, three date palms rose from a grove of pomegranates, and a brown scarf waved from a trunk.

Micaiah pushed through the pomegranate branches.

Fifteen men lolled on the grass and stared at him.

A sixteenth rubbed his back against the bark of a palm. “Here he is, guys. What’s next?”

Micaiah hung his head. Next they had to crawl into a cold, damp cave. He sighed, raised his head, and pasted on a smile. “Uncle Gera said our guide would find us here in the pomegranates.” He kept his voice low. “We shouldn’t talk. But if anybody has extra food, maybe hold it up for somebody who’s hungry?” He yawned and shook his head. “Someone needs to stay awake.”

Avoiding the faces of the others, [why?] Micaiah stretched on his back between trees. His chin trembled. This view of sky would be his last.

Overhead, a swallow-tailed kite screamed. Three times the bird fought off a kestrel, and each time the kestrel returned for more. Here was the place to hide, where blossoms and tall grass tickled his face. Where kites and kestrels dived and clouds scudded across to drop tiny storms on unsuspecting hills.

A cave was the wrong place to hide because no hawks circled in caves. No flowers blossomed. Caves held rats and bats and moldy bread. If they had bread.

He licked out the last drop from his water skin. In a cave, stagnant puddles floated with yuck whose only purpose had been to crawl, die, and become slime.

A tap on his shoulder.

Micaiah sat up.

A little girl with a white cloth on her left wrist skipped up to the intersection and pushed her scarf back on her head. As she lifted a branch and squinted under the trees, tight black curls fell around her cheeks. She scanned every face then locked eyes with Micaiah. “Follow me.”

The child stopped and re-tied the scarf over her curls. Then she struck off through the trees. [why?]

No way could seventeen strong young men follow a girl who couldn’t be more than eight years old. Yet here in the pomegranates they waited like ducks in the yard of the fox.

Micaiah turned to his cousin . “I need you to bring up the rear. Make sure everybody stays with us.” Micaiah walked behind the child, and the others trailed him. The cobbler squeezed his arm. “Who is she?”

An extra stride landed Micaiah beside the girl. “Who are you?”

She flicked him a sober look. “No talking.” She led away from the path toward the gurgle of a stream. Only the wind ruffling the leaves or water rushing down chutes broke the silence. The girl paused. “No tracks by the water, please.”

The ground held no path. Their footprints would be the first.

She trudged ahead through balm bushes, keeping several paces from the stream.

The morning sun sent a bead of sweat trickling down Micaiah’s brow.

At a bed of rocks, she looked back. “Tell your men to step only on the large rocks. I don’t want footprints. Follow me.”

Micaiah relayed her message and followed.

Uncle Gera must have limited control over who helped him down here in the valley. This tiny girl could lead them to torture and death.

Sure-footed as a deer, their little dictator crossed on the large rocks and stepped into the stream.

When Micaiah put his feet in, he cringed from the icy flow, but his toes showed wavy and clear.

No slime.

Keeping to the center of the stream, their guide approached a large opening where the current gushed out of a limestone cliff. She led them into the dark.

Micaiah stepped from the stream onto the bank. Whether this cave was his new home or a terrible trap, it was warm.

The men followed and stood gazing back at the daylight.

The girl lingered in the icy water and pointed into the deeper darkness. “Stay back inside. No singing. No fires. This water is good to drink. The cave is warmer farther in.ii Food comes soon.”

She picked her way downstream to the rocks, waved, and disappeared into the bushes.

Their tiny guide had said nothing about whistling.

Micaiah puckered, but no tune came to his lips.

i“His cousin ” Can we give this kid a name?

ii [Is this a Steve note?] But the rest of that thought was that you probably want to work it out in your own head why that cave was warm.  That would be uncharacteristic of caves.  Usually they’re cool, like basements.  And usually, though not always, they’re damp if they are still acting as sumps for ground water.  

But! In many places around the world, people who have lived in caves have chosen the SW exposures of them b/c they are solar heated year around.  If you’ve ever visited Mesa Verde in the American SW, you’ve seen this principle at work.  Those caves are cut high on cliffs facing the sun most of the day light hours.  So the rock absorbs the heat and passes it back to the cave over nite.

And then there’s this:  there are caves and there are caves.  The ones that most people who dwell in them prefer have a high face that cuts a shallow curve to the back of a deeper cave, but that provides a lot of daylight at the front of the cave, as well as shelter from the elements.  People have been “connoisseurs” of caves for a long time.  They have come to learn which ones have which properties.  

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