Old Jamin, the elder from Shechem, stood behind his cane with a twinkle in his eye. “A cave, young man. Hide people in a cave.”
22. Do You Pray?
Gera’s Courtyard, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah raised a hand against the elder’s words. “A cave. With all due respect, sir. You can’t stuff people into a hole in the ground. Narrow. Wet. Cold. No air.”
The elder straightened behind his cane. “The Lord made caves with air, young man. My father took our family to explore caves on Mt. Carmel, by Megiddo, and up in the Galilee.”
“Your father, you say.”
“Since I was three. My grandsons and their children explore still those caves, plus the Qesem cave on the Shephelah.”
Obadiah stopped his chariot at the edge of the Megiddo market and felt beside him for Yedidah’s fingers. Three days ago old Jamin had listed the Misliya cave by the Megiddo turnoff. “We’ve got to have someone we trust, and Yeskah lives close. But will she help?”
“Yessie will help.” With one hand, Yedidah gripped the rail and with the other she shielded her eyes against the early morning sun. She rose on tiptoes and scanned the crowd.
“Fresh cantaloupe,” vendors called. “Hot roasted chestnuts!”
The aroma of baking bread touched Obadiah’s nostrils. Crows squawked from brown trees and watched for an opening to steal a pita. High on a distant thermal, a pair of common kestrels challenged a black kite.
Obadiah’s skin prickled. He had let Hiel’s quarry make him forget. Their ancestors hid in caves from the Midianites. Plus, four hundred men in the cave of Abdullah had watched David cut the tail from Saul’s robe.
Buyers fanned themselves against waves of heat as they picked over piles of pomegranates and peaches. Chickens clucked in their cages. Sparrows hustled for crumbs as they fluttered ahead of scuffling feet.
“She sees us.” Yedidah waved furiously. “She has Ruthie with her. By the cantaloupes.” She hopped from the chariot and ran to her sister with three bodyguards following.
The two sisters hugged and put their lips to each other’s ears. They nodded several times and twitched smiles at the guards while Yeskah’s daughter clung to her side.
A boy approached Obadiah’s chariot and hoisted meat on a stick. “Mother’s roasted mutton with garlic and peppers.”
A second boy lifted a basket and pulled back the corner of a light gray cloth. “Best almonds in Megiddo, sir. Hot from the fire.”
Zak dismissed them. “Maybe later, boys.”
Obadiah held his breath while he played his gaze over the crowd. No Moloch or Asherah insignia. But his gang of guards drew the attention of the wrong people. He descended to the pavement with two guards and tapped his driver’s arm. “We’ve got the market staring at us. Put the horses and chariot away.”
The driver walked his team to the livery.
Arm-in-arm, the sisters and their guards made a path through the crowd to Obadiah.
Ruthie broke free and ran ahead, her black curls bouncing with her strides. She swung on Zak’s arm and kept her voice low. “I know the cave Aunt Yedidah’s talking about. The Misliya.”
Zak growled low. “Best not be talking in this crowd, Ruthie.”
She whispered. “It’s so scary. Reaches back under the mountain forever. Nobody goes there.”
Obadiah scratched his whiskers. How to keep a secret with this chatterbox at his elbow?
When the sisters arrived, Ruthie moved to her mother’s arm. “I can buy the food for those men that Uncle Bi—”
Yeskah’s face went ashen. “No, baby. No. The queen’s men kill anyone they think is helping bubblers.”
She reached, but Ruthie bounced beyond her grasp. “Who’s going to suspect an eleven-year-old girl, Mommy?”
Obadiah stifled a grin. “Keep your voice down, Ruthie. One little girl buying so much food. People will wonder. You’d have the queen’s goons on you before the week was out.”
But Ruthie shrugged.
Obadiah paced a tight circle around the little group. Asking Yedidah’s sister to buy food for his fugitives put her in enough danger. He didn’t need surprises from her daughter.
Behind him, Ruthie tugged on his robe. “So, we get helpers, Uncle Biah. Everybody buys a little, and nobody notices.”
“Ha! Who can you trust?” Obadiah’s words rushed out on their own.
“Biah!” Ruthie’s mother stared at him slack-jawed.
Yedidah slid her hand over her mouth but couldn’t disguise the twinkle in her eyes.
“Friends, Uncle Biah. I’ve got friends who’d love to help feed your bubblers.” She swung around. “Don’t I, Mommy. Loads of friends.”
Obadiah cocked his head to the side. Although Ruthie seemed fearless, she must have healthy fear in her. Or did her boldness cover fear?
Her mother shook her head. “I’m not letting you get involved, Ruthie.” She gave a nervous giggle and exchanged glances with Yedidah. “She does have several friends. Older than she is and younger too. The way this petty dictator runs her gang makes Hammer Hummy look like a kitten. I fear for our freedoms if she ever came to power.” i
“Hammer?” Obadiah squinted.ii
“Hammer. Hummer. That old Babylon king.”
He pursed his lips. “Hammurabi.”
“That’s it,” Yeskah said.
Yedidah snickered. “Sounds like her mother. Dishes it out to anybody and takes it from nobody.”
Yeskah wrinkled her nose. “Look who’s talking.” She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned at Obadiah. “It’s too dangerous. I know people need to eat, but I don’t want to think what those monsters might do to my baby.” She shuddered. “You can’t trust anyone.”
A peach-fuzz faced boy strolled up to the guards. He held the two halves of a prickly pear skinned and speared on twigs. “I cleaned this prize for you mighty warriors.”
Yeskah’s neck flushed a deep pink. She kept her back to the boy and whispered to Obadiah’s chest, “See what I mean? A spy.”
Obadiah kept a straight face. His sister-in-law could see a baby burner behind any bush.
The boy thrust the fruit at Zak. “Please try one, sir. You strong troopers enjoy the deep flavor of fruit from the Jezreel Valley.” After he sold Zak two for each person in Obadiah’s circle, the boy took his prickly pears to the next knot of people.
Yeskah watched him go. “That boy carries everything he hears straight to the queen.”
Obadiah took a long breath and turned to Ruthie. “Sorry, dear. Your mother’s right, we can’t be too careful. A buyer must never know who else is buying. If the Asherah officials catch one, they’ll go from friend to friend and kill every one of you.”
Yeskah spit her bite of prickly pear on the ground. “Biah!”
He rubbed his neck.
Yet, Ruthie’s eyes sparkled as if her Uncle Biah had announced the Feast of Booths came early this year. She took her mother’s arm. “Right. We don’t know who to trust. So, we don’t ask anyone to help. We do like old Samuel.”
Ruthie stared up at her mother. “You remember. The Lord said, ‘I will send a man.’ The way Daddy tells it, old Samuel pulls a pomegranate off the tree and while he’s getting juice in his beard, up walks Saul.”
[Her mother….Yeskah reaction?iii]
Ruthie shifted her gaze to Obadiah. “If the Lord can send a king to save the nation, he can find helpers to feed a few bubblers.” She parked her face in front of his nose. “Do you pray, Uncle Biah?”
Obadiah dangled the empty prickly pear stick from his fingers. “Do I pray? Um, well.” He cleared his throat. “My conversations with the Lord may lack the poetry of David or Solomon. Sometimes I ask him to listen in on my thoughts.”
Ruthie hunched her shoulders. “Was that a yes or a no? Do you pray?”
Obadiah sighed at Yeskah. “Little Hammurabi?” He took a long breath. “Yes, Ruthie. I pray.”
“Then don’t look for helpers.” She swept her arm toward the courtyard of Elder Heman. “Ask the Lord to send them.” Ruthie took her mother by one hand and her Aunt Yedidah by the other. She beamed into Obadiah’s speechless face and beckoned to the guards. “Come on, guys. In close, so the entire market doesn’t hear Uncle Biah pray.”
As the guards closed in, Yeskah draped an arm around Ruthie’s shoulders. A tear crossed her cheek. iv
Obadiah stole a glance at Yeskah. Why was his sister-in-law allowing her daughter to direct? The Lord used prayer to softens hearts and nudge us toward Him. Had Yeskah touched a turning point? He gripped Yedidah by the hand and looked up. “Lord, please send Ruthie the right helpers.”
“Amen” came from Ruthie, Yedidah, and the guards. Yeskah said, “Amen, Lord. The right helpers.”
Ruthie jumped into the middle of the group and whispered. “Uncle Biah prayed, and we agreed with him. So, I wait by the onions. If someone asks how to help me, I tell them. But only if they ask. Does everybody understand?”
Faces were blank.
Yeskah scowled at Yedidah and pulled Ruthie to her.
“Um. No.” Obadiah coughed. “I… I don’t understand. You’re not a cripple, and you’re not carrying a sign. Your scarf and robe are like other children. Why should anyone think you need help?”
Ruthie clapped her hands. “Oh! You do understand, Uncle Biah! The only way anyone will think to ask is if the Lord gives them a poke. And when they ask, I tell them I need secret help buying bread. I give them a handful of your silver—pitas for three men for three days.”v
She pointed to Elder Heman’s courtyard by the livery. “Why don’t you go sip wine with your muscle men and ask the Lord to send me shoppers.” [vi]
The guards and the sisters gawked at Obadiah.vii
As he led they way into the courtyard,viii Yeskah opened the gate. Perhaps she wanted to see how the Lord might use her daughter.ix
Out in the market, women whose arms dangled with woven-reed bags examined a farmer’s large pile of yellow onions. Beside them, Ruthie adjusted her scarf over her curls and hooked her arm through the handles of her own bag. She picked up an onion and turned it over in her fingers.
Obadiah’s shoulders tightened.
Yeskah whispered, “When you first mentioned secret shoppers, I pictured little old ladies in the dark of night, not my baby girl.” She took a deep breath then eased it out.
Obadiah EMPATHY BEATx. So, Yeskah feared for her baby girl, even if she allowed her this adventure. He squinted. “Okay, Lord. Ruthie’s in place. Where are her helpers?”
A woman picked up a large onion, waited while the other women strolled over to the cucumbers, and turned to Ruthie as if she were speaking to her.
Yeskah whispered, “The blacksmith’s wife. Good people.”
The woman cupped Ruthie’s chin and turned her face up.
Obadiah leaned forward. “The silver, Ruthie. Show her the silver.”
Ruthie dug her fingers deep in her bag.
The woman’s robe shielded their hands.
The woman looked down then squinted.
Ruthie bobbed her head.
The blacksmith’s wife opened her mouth, peeked around the market in a hurry, and closed her robe. Then she marched straight to the baker and loaded three tall stacks of pitas into the bag on her arm. xi
Yeskah breathed out. “Nice job. Men eat lots of bread.” Mother sounded like she was used to her daughter recruiting buyers.
The blacksmith’s wife stopped next at a pile of squash.xii
Obadiah turned to Yeskah. “Did I tell Ruthie no fires in the cave and squash needs to be roasted?”
“Yes, Biah. Twice. I’ll help Ruthie find a way to cook squash for a caveful.”
The blacksmith’s wife transferred the pitas and squash to Ruthie’s bag.
Yedidah sighed. “This won’t work. I’m sorry, Yessie, but her bag is already bulging. Over and over, shoppers meet with Ruthie, buy her bread. People notice. Spies will hear about the little girl with too much food.”
Yeskah shook her head. “Don’t be in such a rush, sister. So, we haven’t worked the wrinkles out. Give us a moment. We might have to bake the pitas at home. Or Ruthie could get up a network of helpers who bake pitas.”
Obadiah raised his eyebrows to Zak. Yeskah had begun by telling Ruthie, “No.” She had progressed to “we” as she directed her daughter’s skulduggery. Zak gave a shrug. Who knew the inner workings of a mother’s decisions? xiii
A young girl made a path through the crowd to the onion pile and gripped Ruthie by both arms. She spoke and laughed in Ruthie’s face.
Ruthie tossed her head back and responded with laughs of her own, her lips moving too fast for Obadiah to understand.
The new girl shot glances in several directions.
Ruthie opened her bag, sheltered their hands from view, and then thrust deep into her cloak.
Yeskah raised her fingers to her lower lip. “Is it okay if a friend helps with the buying?” xiv
Obadiah let out a sigh. “If the Lord sends a friend, we can’t say no.” He raised his hands. “Thank you, Lord. Please show Yeskah how to get the food to the bubblers.”
When Ruthie left the onion pile and joined them, Obadiah glanced around the plaza. “Can you show me the cave? Maybe not. People will see where we’re going.”
“Relax, Uncle Biah. If we go now, while the sun’s hot, the path will be empty. Just you, me, and my mom. Can we leave Zak and the guys here with Aunt Yedidah?”
As Obadiah and Yeskah followed Ruthie out the gate, he glanced back at his bodyguards. He had never before wandered this far from their protection. And he was trusting himself to his niece. “Who are we kidding? Will bubblers follow our little Ruthie?”
Yeskah grinned. “No, but they’ll follow Hummer… Hammer… the dictator.”xv
Obadiah tipped his face up.
The place for a man to hide was lying on his back in the smell of blossoms. Where tall, brown grasses tickled his face and empty clouds scudded across a pale blue sky. Buzzards soared, and a swallow-tailed kite screamed. Three times it fought off a hawk, yet the hawk returned for more.
Hawks didn’t circle in a cave. Flowers never bloomed.
Rats scurried and bats fluttered. Mold crept over everyone with no way to scrape it off.
And there was nothing to drink. “Why didn’t we bring a skin of water?”
Yeskah shook her head, but Ruthie glanced back. “You can drink in the cave.”
The child didn’t understand. Cave water sat stagnant in puddles floating with slugs and snails that died and turned to slime.
Obadiah’s skin crawled, and he brushed at his arm.
Ruthie looked back and pushed her scarf up on her head. “You okay?”
Obadiah’s legs dragged.
He stopped mid-stride.
It wasn’t right to ask healthy young men to bury themselves in such a putrid place. “Maybe this cave isn’t—”
“Don’t chicken out now, Uncle Biah. We’re too close.” She skipped along, her curls falling around her cheeks.
He tightened his fists and caught up.
“Here we are.” Ruthie looked up at several dried up coconut palms by the Megiddo cutoff. Their once-green fronds rattled in the breeze. At their base, shriveled leaves clung to flimsy limbs that would not bob with pomegranates this year.xvi
The call of a hoopoe came from behind Obadiah.
Ruthie re-tied the scarf over her curls. “Follow me.” Then she struck off through the trees.
An extra stride landed Obadiah beside her. “I don’t see any cave.”
She flicked him a sober look. “No talking.”
Not another person was in sight. Did she sense someone eavesdropping, or did her gang of friends enjoy mysterious commands?
Obadiah left the road with Yeskah. [I thought she stayed behind at the market with the bodyguards?]xvii As he followed Ruthie into the trees, the wind ruffled the leaves. Then a stream gurgled. No doubt slithering in slime.
“The water’s good to drink.” She pointed through the bushes. “No tracks by the edge, please. I want this looking undisturbed.”
The ground held no path. Their footprints would be the first.
As Obadiah trailed Ruthie through balm bushes, the sun sent a bead of sweat trickling down his brow.
Many paces into the grove, she pointed to a bed of rocks at the edge of the stream. “Step only on the large stones. Follow me.”
Yeskah stopped. “You go ahead. I’ll wait for you here.” Her flash of a smile stopped short of her eyes. “Take good care of your uncle, Ruthie. And if you need help, yell real loud.”
Obadiah studied his sister-in-law. Bubblers who felt confident following an adult might wonder if little Ruthie led to protection or into torture. He shrugged. As men resigned themselves to obey the only one who offered help, they would place their feet where Hammurabi directed.
Sure-footed as a deer, she crossed on the large rocks and stepped into the tiny current.
Obadiah cringed from the icy flow, but his toes showed wavy and clear.
No slime. Nice.
His guide followed the stream to the base of a limestone cliff. Her feet splashing in the stream, Ruthie ducked under a wide hole as high as his chest, and he followed her into the dark.
As his eyes adjusted, Obadiah stepped onto the bank and looked back toward the faint daylight which crept under the cliff.
With her feet still in the water, Ruthie pointed into the deep darkness. “They’ll have to stay back inside where it’s cold.”
“What do you think, Uncle Biah? Will your guys stay put? Let’s do this. Pretend you’re a bubbler in here alone while I wait outside.” She picked her way downstream and disappeared through the opening.
The stream bubbled.
The darkness closed in.
“Lord, let me out of here.”
Obadiah lurched down the bank and tripped, crunching hands and knees into the gravel stream bed.
Blubbering and blowing, he pulled his face from water. “Ruthie?”
iYes’s face softened. Was she beginning to see her daughter’s strengths?
iiSo although Mother Yeskah tried to control her, she acknowledged Ruthie as a capable leader.
iiiBecause she’s staring up at her mom here, might be a good time to let the mom react right after this paragraph. ???
iv***this is good. She’s starting to listen.***
v***Maybe have her mom looking uncertain here, or say a “maybe,” or “wait a minute,” or something. Just add something to show she’s wavering. Is wavering spelled right?:)***
viWas Yeskah okay with this? Obadiah couldn’t believe the change in her countenance. She went from stone-faced to peaceful in the span of their brief conversation. Had prayer really changed her mind? Or whatever….
vii***Again, just something to show her mom coming just a little closer. I’m sorry. I can’t think of what words or gestures exactly to have her do.***
viiiWhen did he give her the silver?
ix[Here could also be a reaction from Yeskah. Perhaps her agreement to go with Obadiah and stand to the side shows she’s willing to see what God will do through Ruthie.]
xObadiah EMPATHY BEAT. So, Yeskah feared for her baby girl,
xi***Question: they haven’t got people in a cave yet, have they? Is this bread going to stay good? Will they have people soon?***
xiiIMHO, if this is going to work the way you said, this should be someone different. ???
xiii***Maybe somewhere in here have her mom say something about how her daughter’s faith has strengthened her own.***
xivErma asks, Didn’t Ruthie say above that she’d have friends help her? – so I need to clarify
xv***I say keep this guy.:)***”
xviThe drought is on- She pointed to coconut palms at the Megiddo cutoff. Their once-green fronds rattled in the breeze. At their base, leaves shriveled on flimsy limbs that would not bob with pomegranates this year.
xviiObadiah left the road with Yeskah. [I thought they had stayed behind at the market with the bodyguards?]
xviiiI think the Hummer Hammy nickname is funny, and you’ve showed in the dialogue what she meant.
I know you’re worried that Yeskah’s changing her mind too late in the scene, but it doesn’t seem that way to me at all. When they prayed halfway through the scene, Yeskah started to warm to the idea. You’ve done a great job of showing that.
If Yeskah’s role still isn’t working for you, what if you made this scene two different days? Here’s an idea… The first day, maybe everyone back-peddles, worried that it won’t work. Yeskah refuses to let Ruthie get involved. But instead of going home, Obadiah returns to the market the next day, Ruthie gets her helpers, and Yeskah is more open to the idea.
But really, this scene works great as it is. I don’t think you need to make it two separate days, but the idea is there for you to take or leave. Great work on this chapter!