Copyright © by David Parks. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this blog or this book or parts thereof in any form. First Created in Foley, Alabama, United States of America in 2016.
Elijah stopped in a grove of oak trees outside the gate of the fort and pulled his father’s moth‑eaten goatskin from the pack. His mother had called it, “That ugly thing!”
He shrugged into it and touched the freshly‑crusted gash on his forehead and the swelling around his eyes. Then he pushed his hand against his swollen jaw and trudged into the fort. Where is the king? Tell him and get out.
Puddles from the usual afternoon shower glistened blue in the market dirt. Farmers stood by their piles of beets and cabbage, bamboo cages of clucking chickens, and circles of geese tied by the wings. Was that the king at the far end? Shoppers wandered among the farmers’ stalls and almost obscured the distant squad of royal body guards. King Ahab would be there.
The brothers entered the Kerith Ravine at dusk, and Elijah fumbled with their laces. “We can rest your feet here for a few days, and then go see if soldiers are really searching Tishbe.”
Nathan slipped his sandals off and washed his feet in the brook. “Rethink that one. We’re not putting our mother in more danger.”
Elijah plopped his face in the stream and sucked in water. He ducked his head in, rubbed his hands over his face and hair, and looked up. “How would Gideon like this?”
Elijah blew water off his lips and wiped his eyes. On a large, flat rock, the dim light reflected off midnight-black feathers. “What’s that—birds?”
“So it’s two caves, fifty in …” The chief of staff paused.
King Ahab leaned in through the door. “Good morning, ’Biah, Mrs. O.”
Obadiah gave the king a broad smile. He’s heard, and he’s sniffing around on his own. “To what do I owe this great honor?”
The king stepped into the room. The informers were right. He saw it in Obadiah’s eyes. “I just want my chief to know his old history lesson stuck. The commander of my guards has men searching Gilead because he thinks Mr. Goatskin talks like people over on the east side of the river.”
When Elijah first arrived in the ravine, he could stand back ten paces and hear the brook bump small stones into each other. After a long period or neither dew nor rain, if he sat next to the water and made no sound of his own, he could just hear it glide through—but without offending so much as a pebble. Then came a morning he could only hear the stream if he poised one ear a few inches over the tiny flow. Today even this trickle was gone, disappeared into the mud.
Elijah sat and dug a hole with his fingers. The water which seeped in was only a little muddy, so maybe they could drink after all. While the particles settled, he dug a second hole.
“Go to Zarephath by Sidon. I’ve got a widow there who will feed you.”
Elijah spread his hands. “How will Mother and Milcah know what happened to us?”
“Maybe the ravens will tell them? Right now I’m worried about Zarephath. Just the idea of all those people gives me the—but maybe we can stay outside the walls?
“Nope. The Lord shows us going right up to the city gate.”
“Not good, Lijah. Not good.”
Elijah stopped. “Listen, Nate. You’ll do fine. Just remember to stay back an arm’s length and don’t stare.” He looked up at the bluff. “This is a good place to practice. I’ll be the stranger, Okay?” He put on a fake smile. “Hi. My name’s Zimrida.”
Nathan reached out his hand. “Hello, Zim.”
Elijah and Nathan watched the people going in through the Zarephath city gate. Nathan shuddered. “At least in Jabesh I could hunker down with our donkeys.”
A woman went by carrying a small bundle of sticks, and Elijah poked his brother. “My sticks! I’ll ask her for water, just like Abraham with Sarah.”
“You mean Abraham’s servant with Rebekah.”
“I knew that.”
Elijah followed the woman onto the crowded road with Nathan close behind. “Ma’am, can we please have a drink of water?”
Elijah and Nathan followed Zim into the back yard. “Out here Mr. Nathan.” Zim laid both hands on the trunk of a huge tree.
Elijah waited outside the door, but Nathan joined Zim. “An Absalom oak.”
“That’s what we call them in Tishbe.”
“You mean like the Absalom who tried to kill King David?”
“The very one. You heard about that, Zim?”
“Professor Hashabiah says Absalom hung there for the longest time. But I never knew my tree was the one that grabbed him.”
In Tishbe, Elijah’s father stopped to talk with the potter. “My wife likes those plates you fired for her. We use them every day. The cups and bowls, too. How’s business?”
“Don’t you know? No rain, no crops, so everybody gets along with cracked plates. For a month now I haven’t sold anything but a few pots.”
“Oh, I hear you alright. Our vines are so dry they only make a few new shoots. Tiny grapes that never ripen. What little wine we got this year tastes strong, bitter. People let it sit around like they do your plates. They’ll drink everything but our wine.”
“They say we need to support the temple in Jabesh.”
“Do they now?” Elijah’s father stiffened. “I told them that priest would be asking for more babies to burn. …
Elijah sat on the stone wall of the well and filled water skins in the dark. He handed one to Nathan and one to Zim. “It will soon be light, and we can’t let any officials see us.”
How nuts was he, anyway? Risk capture just to get Zim a mezuzah? They should stay and hide, but Zim’s professor was named “Hashabiah,” and even in this heathen city the name had to mean a fellow Levite.
The widow stood with her hands on her son’s shoulders. “Zim, it will be your job to keep their elbows and knees away from prying eyes.”
The professor stood and frowned, but Zim kept talking. “And they brought us lots and lots of flour, see. And oil, too.”
The professor raised his palm. He raised his eyebrows. But Zim still talked. “Mr. Nathan can show your grapes how to grow.”
The professor walked over to Zim, scowled down at him, and put both hands on his shoulders. “Zim.”
“You wanta hear about their tree house, Professor?”
“Zim, what I want is for you to promise me that you will never, never mention these boys to anyone outside this house. Ever.”
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