A Village Near Gibbethon, Philistia
Obadiah flew along the narrow path, his elbows gouging his friend, Ahab.
As their sandals slapped the dirt, a brown hen squawked at the approaching danger. She collected her chicks into the safety of a low-spreading fig tree.
Obadiah shot between the stable guards the same moment as Ahab.
Together, the two friends thudded into the heavy door and pranced. “I won. I won.”
A red and black rooster emerged from a bed of anemones, crowed twice, and strutted with them.
As Obadiah led Ahab into the stable, he tipped his head back and breathed in the smell of horse and hay. A soft huh-huh-huh-huh greeted him, and smooth noses bobbed over stall doors.
Ahab pointed to the seventh stall on the left. “That bay mare from Akko. She’s mine.”
Obadiah laughed. “From Akko? That’s the one I want.”
Ahab marched straight to the door, raised on tiptoe, and peeked in. “Where’d she go?”
Seba, the stable boy, shorter and thinner than Ahab, yet with the same jet-black curls and eagle-beak nose, stepped from the next stall. “Oh, she’s out, sir.” He leaned a pitchfork against the low wall. “The captain took her.”
“What captain?” Ahab slapped the boy then poked him in the chest, knocking him against a post. “I never said anyone could take that mare.”
Seba put his hand to the mark on his cheek. He whimpered and wiped a dribble of blood from his nose.
Obadiah’s nostrils flared. He yanked Ahab around by the shoulder. “Pick on somebody your own size.”
“Yeah? Who are you?” Ahab aimed a fist at Obadiah’s chin.
Obadiah ducked. “That mare’s no more yours than she is mine.” He smashed his friend’s face with the heel of his palm then flailed his wrist against the pain.
Ahab cupped his nose, then gawked at the blood in his hand. He ripped Obadiah’s sleeve and screamed, “Stinking Philistine pond scum!” Ahab crunched his fist into Obadiah’s teeth.
As he stumbled back, Obadiah tasted blood. He touched his lips, and his fingers came away red.
A stable guard burst in and seized Ahab by the shoulders. Another guard latched onto Obadiah.
Ahab swatted. “What are you—?”
“Shush!” The guard pinched Ahab’s ear.
“Come along.” Obadiah’s guard dragged him out by the earlobe. He passed the spreading fig tree and a leafy bougainvillea. A ladder leaned against the stable wall. The commander’s office waited on the roof.
Obadiah jammed his hands into his armpits. “But—”
“Up. I’m right behind you.” The guard shoved Obadiah’s nose against the fifth rung.
Obadiah climbed, and the moment he stepped off the ladder, the stable guard jumped to the veranda beside him and clamped onto his ear. Two breaths later, Ahab stood next to him in the grip of the second guard. Obadiah glared at Ahab.
Weela-wee-ooo floated in from a high branch. A golden oriole. Obadiah twisted toward the call. “In you go.” Before he could glimpse the bird, the guard forced him through a doorway into a large, cold room.
The door shut out the rustle of the breeze in the bougainvillea. Echoes bounced off smooth-cut limestone walls. Sandals scraped a stone floor. Yet, the song of the oriole floated in through the window.
Five bodyguards grinned at the boys from stone benches shoved against the walls.
Obadiah’s guard propelled him forward. “We have something to show the commander.”
A bodyguard stood and disappeared through a door on the right.
Ahab squirmed. “You can’t—”
“Quiet.” The guard twisted his ear.
Obadiah studied the floor. To avoid more pain, he cocked his head on one side and held still. His friend had never hurt anyone before. The excitement from their foot race had spilled onto the stable boy.
Commander Omri entered and wagged his head from side to side. “My. My. What have we here?” The commander stood taller than his guards, and white hairs streaked his beard. Although the cloaks on the guards and the boys mixed gray and black from the sheep that donated the wool, the commander wore a robe of solid, dark gray.
Obadiah’s guard steered him forward. “Your son—”
A second guard jerked Obadiah back and pushed Ahab forward. “Pardon me, sir. Your son.”
The commander tipped Ahab’s chin up. “I should put a ring in this one’s nose.” He pulled Obadiah by the sleeve, so the two boys stood side by side.
As the pressure on his ear eased, Obadiah thrust his shoulders back. Nobody got away with giving the commander’s son a bloody nose. Obadiah would die before his ninth birthday. The commander would chuckle as the executioner’s broadaxe sliced through Obadiah’s neck. Obadiah’s father, however, would bury him under the pear tree next to his great-grandfather. And Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, would speak of him with respect.
“Chin up,” the commander snapped.
Obadiah tipped his head back.
The commander squinted at Obadiah’s split lip then ran a finger over the blood drying under Ahab’s nose. “‘The forcing of wrath brings forth strife.’” He turned to the guard who had brought his son. “Whose wrath brought forth this strife?”
“I found these two at each other’s throats, and Seba, the stable boy, whimpering by the stall.”
“That’s it? Nothing more to report?”
The guard shook his head. “Nothing more, sir.”
“Thank you. Return to your post.”
The two stable guards bowed and left.
The commander settled back on his heels. “Why was the stable boy whimpering?”
Obadiah drew himself to full height. Soon after the executioner’s axe sliced into his neck, the world would disappear. He set his jaw. Pain meant nothing. He had done right.
The commander shook Obadiah’s shoulder. “Did you hurt the stable boy?”
Obadiah’s mouth fell open.
“No squirrel up that tree.” The commander turned from Obadiah and lifted his son’s chin. “Did you strike the boy?”
Obadiah edged next to Ahab, so the crook of their arms nested together. His friend deserved only four or five lashes with the whip. Not enough to make him cry.
Ahab elbowed Obadiah’s arm aside and lifted his gaze to the far corner of the room. “The boy did nothing wrong. I pushed him. I slapped him. About a bay mare.”
“Look at me, son.”
Obadiah turned and followed Ahab’s gaze as he met the commander’s eyes.
“Ahab. They will pronounce the name with deep pride. A noble warrior.” The commander cupped his son’s jaw with his hand. “Know this. We do not slap a stable boy or shove him in anger. We treat him with respect because he fights by our side.”
Ahab squared his shoulders.
No whip? Obadiah scratched his chin. Ahab needed payback.
Commander Omri brushed Ahab’s cheek with his fingers. “Did Seba give you the bloody nose?”
“I did, sir.” As Obadiah touched his broken lip, his face burned. The stable guards hadn’t let him finish with Ahab. He thrust his head high. He was dead with nothing to lose. “I told you to pick on somebody your own size.” He gave Ahab a flying shove into the lap of a guard.
The commander shuffled back a step.
With a roar, Ahab swung for Obadiah’s nose. “Show you—!”
“Enough.” The commander waded in and gripped each boy by the nape of the neck. “Don’t spill your blood in here.” He dragged them like puppies and dropped them by the ladder. “Beat each other’s brains out in the grass and let me know who wins.”
Seba – Genesis 10:7
The forcing of wrath – Proverbs 30:33