Obadiah stood. Syrian scavengers were scouring the battlefield, killing wounded Hebrews and stripping the dead. He must carry his king and his people home.
43. The King Is Dead
Ramoth, Gilead, Israel
Obadiah stood in the deepening dark and found Jehu. “General, our troops are scattering to their own homes. But we need to bring our dead and wounded.”
“Yes, sir. General Bidkar is directing teams with chariots and mounts across the battlefield. Six teams of good men. We’re leaving no one for the Syrians. Dead or wounded, horses or chariots.” As he turned to go, he tapped Obadiah on the shoulder. “You’re the right man to bring our king home.”
Zak leaned inside the king’s chariot and clapped his hand over Ahab’s shoulder. “The arrow, sir. You don’t want it to further damage our king.”
Obadiah gripped the shaft with both hands. “Hold him, Zak.” He pulled the arrow straight out, the head glistening dark redi with blood. After he cleaned the arrow on the grass, he laid it next to Ahab. “In all our struggles, I never dreamed of wiping his blood on the grass.”
Zak knelt next to him. “You loved the man.”
“I love him still.”
A path opened in the collected captains, and King Jehoshaphat trudged up to Obadiah with heavy steps. He slumped in the dark and wiped dirt or sweat from his face. “The king needs cloth befitting the dignity of his station.”
With slow, careful motions, he draped his royal purple over the seated Ahab.
“For his final ride. Thank you, sir.” Obadiah wiped tears from his cheeks as he turned to Ahab’s chariot driver. “Which horse?”
“The big black on the left, sir. He’s stronger.”
“No, Biah.” Zak draped an arm over the back of the black horse and shook his head. “Swing our king’s legs over the side? Dangle his head, and point his rump to Orion? Not if you love the man.”
“Perhaps the king would ride better where he is seated.” King Jehoshaphat turned to the chariot.
Ahab sat next to the javelin basket, with his back against the front panel, and his feet poking over the edge of the deck.
While Obadiah held one arm and Jehoshaphat the other, Zak used a coil of rope from his own chariot to tie the king’s torso tight to the panel.
The king’s driver stepped in beside Ahab.
Obadiah checked Zak’s knots. When the Philistines found King Saul and his sons lying dead on Mount Gilboa, they had cut off their heads and displayed their corpses on the Beitshan city wall. “No way am I letting a bump roll you out for the Syrians.” He laid his hand on Ahab’s cheek. The king’s face was stiff beneath his fingers.
Foot soldiers trudging home in the dark stopped in the acacia grove to ask if the king had really died. Several more chariot fighters gathered around Obadiah.
He scanned the surrounding faces. “Jehu?”
The general stepped in close, with Bidkar beside him. “We have several chariots and horses carrying dead and wounded. They’re all lined up to follow the king. Plus, our teams are still searching the battlefield, sir. We’re bringing everyone home.”
“What about Ben-Hadad’s straggler squads? We know they’ll be on our tail.” Obadiah raised his eyebrows.
Jehu said, “We’ve a rear guard of five. We’ll not allow Syrians to touch our dead or wounded.”
“Good job.” Obadiah leaned against the rail of Ahab’s chariot. “Can your teams complete their work without you?”
“Six good leaders. They will do a thorough job with our without us watching,” Jehu said.
Obadiah turned to Bidkar. “Can you keep up with Jehu’s driving?”
Jehu flashed a grin, but Bidkar scowled. “When his fingers touch the reins, Biah, the general becomes a mad man.”
Obadiah twerked a smile. People at home would listen to this pair. General Jehu and General Bidkar had fought to make Omri king and then followed him at Dibon. Bidkar’s army protected Megiddo, and Jehu’s, the Fort. “I need you two to push ahead to prepare. No linens. We’ll lay the king out in full battle dress. Plus his royal robes. I want myrrh and aloes. Top grade. And make sure the royal tomb is clean. Ahab’s wives and children. You’ll need to let them know.”
Jehu nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Obadiah slapped the rail as if to go but paused. “The artist who carved King Omri’s ossuary. See if he’s still alive. I want King Ahab’s bones to rest in a box of the same design.”
“We’ll do that, sir.” Jehu nodded. “And wailers? Shall we hire wailers?”
Obadiah tsked. [mourniv] “Talk to old Gera, the olive grove manager. Farmers around there wail between crops.”v
“Very good, sir. We’ll see you in Samaria City.” Jehu and Bidkar stepped into their chariots and slapped the reins. They wheeled around toward the Jordan River and into the night.
Obadiah tapped Ahab’s driver on the arm. “Lead the way.”
“Sir.” The driver turned to him. “Some of these men are wounded.”
“Yes.” Obadiah raised his voice to the group. “I need you to check the three men next to you for wounds.” Heads turned. Mutterings floated. “I want two healthy men to ride next to each wounded man. We’re not leaving anyone behind. Or his chariot or horse.”
The group mixed, their blended voices a steady murmur in the dark. When their buzz died, he asked, “Are we ready?”
One man answered, “I think we’ve got ourselves sorted, sir.”
“Very well. Follow the king.” Obadiah waved at Ahab’s driver.
As Ahab’s chariot rolled out, Obadiah swung into his own and gave a morbid chuckle. He was still the king’s right-hand man. Although the king couldn’t tell him what to do, as always, he followed.
Surrounded by mounted guards, King Jehoshaphat in his chariot fell in behind Obadiah.
Ahab’s fighters stepped into their battle wagons, clucked to their horses, and formed a column behind Jehoshaphat. As they descended the gullies and canyons of the Jabbok River, the stars shone brighter, and the fresh aroma of the Gilead hills replaced the battlefield odors of blood and excrement.
Under a rising moon, Obadiah followed Ahab’s chariot and walked his tired chargers into Jabesh. People stood in the dirt, lining the ditch and craning their necks in the dark as the royal chariot rolled through the town’s single street. As Orion settled toward the sea, Obadiah directed Ahab’s chariot south along the Jordan River. They came to the ford opposite Gilgal and splashed through in the dark.
As Obadiah mounted the west bank, Hiel of Bethel stepped out from a small crowd assembled on the path to Gilgal. “We hoped you would cross at our ford.”
Obadiah paused the procession. “Hiel, my brother. The king is dead.”
The short man with the famousvi arms nodded to King Jehoshaphat then gazed into the back of Ahab’s chariot. “Oh, my king.” He pulled a cloth from his pack and wiped the dust of Gilead from Ahab’s face. “We have lost a leader feared by our enemies.” Hiel pulled his chariot in behind Jehoshaphat.
As Obadiah reached Shiloh, the stars faded, and dawn broke. He rolled into Samaria City at noon.
The king is dead – 1 Kings 22:29-39
Orion – Job 38:31-32
Obadiah’s fingers froze on the knots as he searched the faces for Queen Jezebel. It appeared no Sidonian holiday had attracted her to the local Asherah temple. vii
Hiel loosened ropes from the other side of the chariot.
Body odor from the crowd clustered around them suggested King Ahab’s family had not dabbed on their favorite sweet-smelling lotions. A few women wept.
When the ropes fell from Ahab, Obadiah stood and forced his eyes to open. “Zak. Where are you, Zak?”
His chief bodyguard nudged Obadiah’s elbow. “Right here. The guys are close by.”
“Thanks. There’s a lot going on. I can’t…”
“We’ve got your back, sir.”
“The Lord bless you, man. I need you to follow up on the rear guard Jehu set to keep scavenger squads away. Jehu’s occupied. Send your most awake man and find their leader, so I can hear his report.” viii
Jehoshaphat rested a hand on Obadiah’s shoulder. “Don’t be concerned about the robe. I leave the burial preparations in your excellent hands. If you need me, I’ll be napping at Elder Shuthelah’s.” He headed off across the plaza toward the elder’s courtyard.
“Even a king needs his beauty rest.” Hiel winked. [feel?ix]
Jehu walked up. “The tomb is clean, and Bidkar bought the best spices. Some of the king’s wives and children are here. Um, if you don’t mind, they need to hear a few words from you, sir.”
A woman about Ahab’s age stepped free from the crowd. Amira. Not the first wife Ahab had taken, but one who made palace life adjust to her ways. She wore a tunic and robe of fine white linen with a matching headscarf. Like the others, she had stripped off her jewelry and scrubbed cosmetics from her face. Five children, seven or eight years old, peeked from behind her robe.
Obadiah gave the woman a quick smile and touched Jehu, Hiel, and Bidkar on the shoulders. “We will wash the king’s body. After we have dressed the king for burial, wives and children may accompany us as far as the entrance to the royal tomb.”
Jehu muttered in his ear, “Wailers. Bidkar hired wailers.”
“Yes.” Obadiah addressed the crowd again. “And professional wailers will be at the tomb, so….” His lips twitched.
Shoppers and shopkeepers drifted in from around the plaza and gawked.
Obadiah and Hiel grasped Ahab’s arms while Bidkar and Jehu lifted his legs. The king held his position—bent at the waist—as they carried him into the palace.
Women and children flowed around them speaking in hushed tones. Amira held a door open on the ground floor, and the four carried Ahab in.
“This way.” Bidkar directed them to a sitting room. A bear skin rug lay on the floor, and yellow lilies stood in tall marble vases along the walls. Cloths draped a marble chair, and the king’s royal blue robe another. They set him on a marble table in the center of the room.
Bidkar shut the door on the women and children. While he and Jehu held Ahab’s legs flat on the table, Obadiah and Hiel grasped the king’s shoulders.
“Sorry, my king. We need to lay you straight.” Obadiah and Hiel pulled the king’s torso down flat on the table and held him there. When the king rested without threatening to bend again, Obadiah said, “We’re asleep on our feet. But I need you men to help me lay our king to rest.”
Bidkar tapped Obadiah’s wrist. “Our final service to the king. We’ll keep each other awake.”
A knock came, and Mika lumbered in lugging large pails that stretched his arms and robbed his steps of their spring.
“Mika!” Obadiah wrapped him in a hug. The pails thudded to the floor and sloshed water on their feet. “The king had you locked up.”
The boy laughed. “Amazing how fast a jailer can unlock a cell when he feels Bidkar’s thumb on his windpipe.” He set the pails by Ahab’s table, left, and closed the door behind him.
Bidkar unstrapped a shoulder guard from Ahab. “Remember our king telling Ben-Hadad to hold his boasts until he took his armor off? I was on the terrace next to the stairs. The courier fell against the banister but caught himself before he went over.”
Obadiah said, “I wish the king were taking this armor off himself.” He and his crew washed and dried Ahab’s entire body, front and back—arms and legs, fingers and toes.
Jehu said, “We put the word out for the ossuary carver. If he’s still alive, he should show up today.”
Bidkar opened the spice bags, and they rubbed myrrh and aloes over Ahab and wrapped a clean cloth around his loins. They slid the blue linen tunic over his torso and cut holes for his arms. They strapped on the king’s armor, then draped him with the royal blue robe.
Obadiah tied the royal blue turban to the king’s head. “Your final ride, my king.” If only you had listened to Mika.
With Obadiah and Hiel lifting the king’s legs and Jehu and Bidkar his arms, they carried the king into the main hall.
Ahab’s driver opened the palace door and stuck his head in. “I washed out the king’s chariot, sir. At the pool by the wall.”
Obadiah flinched at Elijah’s soft voice in his head. “The Lord says in the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs will lick your blood. Yes, yours.”
With a crowd of Ahab’s wives and children, fighters and drivers, shoppers, shopkeepers, elders, and curious citizens following, the four men carried the king across the plaza, out the gate, and around the hill to the royal tomb.
A group of local farmers waiting at the tomb began their wail.
“Give me a hand with this, Jehu?” Obadiah left Hiel and Bidkar holding Ahab, while he ducked inside with Jehu to the shelf carved into the rock for King Omri. To make room for King Ahab, the two men slid the ossuary with King Omri’s bones to the end of the shelf.
Back outside with the crowd pressing on them, the four carried Ahab into the tomb and laid him on the shelf with his feet toward King Omri’s ossuary. Obadiah laid a javelin on Ahab’s stiff right hand.
As they left the tomb for the keeper to seal, Obadiah turned to Jehu and Bidkar. “I’m going to my room in the palace. You men need sleep too. If the wife Amira wants to act as host, let her have the main hall.”
Bone weary, Obadiah trudged through the city gate past snarling dogs who hovered at the pool by the wall. [SD condense, combinex]
The king is dead – 1 Kings 22:29-39
“dogs will lick your blood” – 1 Kings 21:19
45. Fire and Brimstone
The Headquarters Roof, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel
Obadiah closed his eyes against the afternoon sun. He lay on the northeast corner of the headquarters roof next to Yedidah. Twitching a smile at her soft snore, he tugged his headscarf over his eyes and snuggled deeper into his rug. [SD – show futurexi —Since this is years in the future, it might be nice to show the reader right away. Maybe he could run his fingers over his beard and feel the wiry gray hairs sticking out where there was once only dark hair]
Familiar sounds rose from the plaza below. Shoppers and farmers haggled over melons or mutton. Pedestrians greeted headquarters guards. Chariot wheels crunched against paving stones.
His bodyguards lounged along the west side, and elders of various tribes chattedxii in twos and threes at the roof’s center.
The odor from the stables mixed with wood smoke and the aroma of fresh bread from the bakery.
In Obadiah’s recurring dream, he lazed along on Lavan next to Ahab on Shochar. The boys poked fun at each other as if their mighty stallions were tired old donkeys. Obadiah always laughed and smiled through this scene.
A voice came from outside the dream. “Chariots headed our way.”
He brushed at the words as if a fly buzzed. Don’t interrupt. The race to the fort was about to begin. The prince and the king’s right-hand man were toeing their steeds to the line. The bushes had moved, but it was only the wind pushing the junipers. The Syrians were nowhere near. Next, the prince would dangle a pinecone by Lavan’s ear.
Something touched his arm. Who’s bothering me?
Anyway, this dream was wrong. Ahab had bled to death on the plain outside Ramoth. Obadiah had wept for days then tried to go on without him. His last full-on spell of sobbing had been years ago.
Obadiah squeezed his eyes tighter. The sunshine was his friend. And the light breeze. He would go back to sleep and run the old dream of Lavan and Shochar again.
No. The sweet fragrance of laurel filled his nose, and Yedidah’s fingers gripped his shoulder. She spoke full voice into his ear. “Chariots.”
The dream could wait.
Thank you, Lord, for this woman. A few times he’d asked Yedidah if she wanted to move back to the village. But, no, the fort was home. In Keslote, their children managed the pear trees and the pottery. In Samaria, Gera’s daughter-in-law, Keren, had worked by his side and become a proficient olive grove manager, then an effective boss of grove managers. Three years ago, Obadiah had turned over the entire olive oil operation to Keren and old Gera. One grandchild lived here in the fort and seven more an easy chariot ride to Keslote. His rug on the roof—
The scent of laurel gave way to clean-scrubbed skin with a hint of fresh sweat. Zak.
Obadiah pried one eye open.
His bodyguards cast glances down at him as they stared over the parapet.
Obadiah watched Zak’s lips.
“Chariots, sir. Coming on fast.”
With a grunt and a heave, Obadiah rolled to his knees.
Two guards pulled him up to stand beside Yedidah.
Elders lined the wall on Obadiah’s left.
Obadiah’s bodyguards watched over his shoulders.
He spread his arms on the parapet and scanned the plaza below.
In the open gate of the fort, young King Joram stood spraddle-legged, watching the road from Beitshan.
The elders beside Obadiah discussed their king below as if he were a steer or a ram.
“Didn’t he get hurt?”
“Maybe he should be resting.”
“The young heal fast.”
Obadiah sighed. Not one vote of confidence, and that child king down there must be unsure of himself. He might fear whatever raced toward him in those chariots yet would not know how to counter the danger.
King Joram stood alone in the open gate and squared his shoulders. He called into the fort. “Send a rider. Ask if they come in peace.”
Ask? Obadiah snorted then hid his face from the elders. Lord, forgive me. Israel’s enemies had talked about Ahab’s bravery and his brains. If a contingent of warriors had approach King Ahab, he would have sent a company armed with slings, arrows, and javelins. The king’s right-hand man might have known to give such counsel, but King Joram, son of Queen Jezebel, had never consulted with Obadiah.
The lookout called, “The rider reached them.”
Silence stretched out.
“He isn’t coming back.”
“Send another rider.”
King Joram was as naïve as his brother who fell through the lattice. At least Ahab wasn’t here to watch.
The lookout called over his shoulder, “The second rider isn’t coming back either. And the lead chariot drives like that maniac, General Jehu.”
General Jehu was a true servant of the Lord and had kept Jezebel from chopping off Obadiah’s head. The general loved to drive, but why had he hurried off on an all-day trip without his driver?
King Ahaziah of Judah stepped out the side door of headquarters and joined King Joram at the gate. The two young kings put their heads together, glanced at the fleet of approaching chariots, then strode into the fort.
Joram grimaced with each stride until he disappeared in the stable.
Yedidah dug her nails into Obadiah’s arm. “I hope our king is feeling better.”
As the two kings drove their chariots out through the gate, an elder pulled in his breath. “The King of Judah’s gonna wish he’d stayed home.”
Obadiah bit at the inside of his cheek. The kings had left as if going to a parlay—without one bodyguard. Lord, help us.
The lookout called, “They’re heading behind the fort.”
With Zak and Yedidah, Obadiah shuffled along to the southeast corner, and the others found places along the south parapet.
General Jehu drove behind the fort to the vineyard Ahab stole from Naboth, and the two kings pulled in beside him. Joram wore the bright blue of Ahab, and Ahaziah the deep purple of Jehoshaphat. General Jehu met them in the drab browns and grays of his mail. The chariots in Jehu’s train waited next to a patch of oak trees.
Directly overhead, at the center of a perfectly clear sky, a hawk and a kestrel screamed at each other.
“I don’t like this,” Zak whispered.
The three chariots had barely halted when King Joram wheeled his around and raced away.
From his chariot basket, General Jehu raised a recurved bow. A man would need the strength of an ox to bend such thick wood, yet Jehu notched an arrow to the string, aimed at the fleeing king, and drew the feather to his shoulder.
The arrow sank between King Joram’s shoulders, and he slumped over the chariot rail.
The row of elders gasped.
“Dear Lord,” Obadiah said. What had come over General Jehu?
Yedidah’s fingers dug into his arm.
Zak gripped Obadiah’s shoulder. “I’m getting you out of here.” The words came through clenched teeth.
While King Joram’s horses slowed to a halt, King Ahaziah raced away.
General Jehu pointed at the fleeing king, and a hail of arrows fell on Ahaziah’s purple robe. He disappeared around a hill.
While most of the chariots with Jehu left the oaks and raced after King Ahaziah, General Bidkar stopped his wagon at King Joram’s stalled horses. He dragged Joram’s corpse from the chariot and dumped him onto the field of Naboth in a pile of royal blue.
Obadiah covered Zak’s hand with his own. “This must look bad to you. [SD – not too worked up.xiii] But General Jehu’s a good man. Plus, I helped him get that new stable built up in Dan. Made sure he got the troops he needed when the Philistines surprised him at Hadera. Let’s wait a while and watch how this—”
Zak flung Obadiah’s hand off. “That’s foolish talk, sir, and you know it. You and General Jehu have been through a lot together. But Jehu just murdered the king, and that changes everything.Exactly like when Baasha and Zimri reached for the throne. By nightfall, the general will either be king, or his head will sway on a very tall stake. But he can’t go back.
“Your old friend’s got a list of new enemies, and you’re name’s at the top. Angels had to drag Lot out of Sodom, sir, and I smell fire and brimstone.” Zak yanked Obadiah toward the stairs.
Laurel – Isaiah 44:9, 14
Kings Joram and Ahaziah – 2 Kings 9:14-16
His brother fell through the lattice – 2 Kings 1:2-14
King Ahaziah raced away – 2 Kings 9:27-28
Baasha and Zimri reached for the throne – 1 Kings 15-16
Dragging Lot out of Sodom – Genesis 19:16
i What color? Bright red? Dark, almost purple? Crimson? SD Ask Vickie
ii SS – Good job of showing Biah’s affection for Ahab You could possibly shorten the section slightly about getting Ahab and the troops back to Samaria city. See what others say. I may be wrong.
ivSD “tsk-tsked” may sound too casual when he is supposed to be mourning his friend. Also, he’s so matter-of-factly arranging the funeral with such attention to details. It feels a bit cold. I know he’s a man and a warrior. But it might be nice to add one sentence among all the details about how the sorrow keeps rising within him but he tamps it down. Or he wishes he were home in his wife’s arms where he could weep unseean, but Ahab deserved the best funeral he could arrange.
v(Does this mean they wail between their crops or between the reaping season of various crops) EH
vi(Do we already know and remember that his arms are famous?)
vii(Does this mean Obadiah is at an Asherah temple attempting to find Jezebel?)
viiiI need to hear his report.” Do we get to hear it?
ix How does Obadiah feel about Hiel making jokes and winking when his best friend is dead? Does it make him angry? Is he too numb to care?
xSD- There’s a lot of good details about the battlefield and burial, but it does go on for a long time. The first two chapters could probably be combined and condensed a bit.
xi Since this is years in the future, it might be nice to show the reader right away. Maybe he could run his fingers over his beard and feel the wiry gray hairs sticking out where there was once only dark hair
xii Sounds very casual, coffee-house atmosphere word
xiii He doesn’t sound too worked up after just watching his best friend’s son be assassinated.