Joshabiah, captain of the bodyguard, searched the road to Samaria for the boy in the goatskin. He jogged past many farmers. Too old. Too short. No protruding elbows, and no goatskin.
Why didn’t I grab that goatskin boy the moment he glanced our way?
At Dothan, he turned around and arrived back in the fort after dark. He found the three guards who searched the other roads, and they all shook their heads. No goatskin boy.
Joshabiah pulled tiny spines from his arms and face. “Bad timing, I know. An hour later and that merchant would have shaved the spines off his prickly pears.”
He hurried to the headquarters lobby and was admitted to the front hall of the king’s apartments.
King Ahab entered. “Where’s the goatskin boy?”
“We covered the roads to Samaria and Nazareth, Megiddo and Beitshan. We found plenty of people, but but no farm boy with elbows like that one and no goatskin boy.”
“So, Captain, send runners to the tribes.”
In Joshabiah’s dreams that night, he chased goatskin boys one by one toward the gate of the fort, and each chase ended in the same cart of prickly pears before the spines were removed.
Next morning, he lined his fifty guards up in the courtyard. “You saw that boy and heard his voice, so I’m sending five of you to each tribe. Bring me the goatskin boy or tell me what they know about him.”
His fifty returned from the ten tribes eight days later, and Joshabiah again was admitted to the front hall of the royal apartments. “No one in the tribes has seen the goatskin boy, but tomorrow we search Gilead.” He motioned a guard forward. “Etam told me about the goatskin boy’s Gilead accent.”
King Ahab cocked his head. “Accent?”
“That’s right, sir. He said ‘years’ like they say it east of the river.”
“Just how did he say ‘years,’ soldier?”
“Oh, I can’t shape my mouth like they do. My grandfather told me old Judge Jephthah stopped our boys at the fords and asked ’em to say ‘siboleth.’ I can’t say it right, see.
“So grandfather, he told me those Gilead troops would have floated my corpse down the river with a vulture standing on my chest, pecking at my eyeballs.”
“All right, soldier. While you search Gilead, learn to pronounce ‘shiboleth.’”
The door behind the king opened, and the warm scent of cedarwood drifted over to Joshabiah.
Queen Jezebel looked in. “Captain, this is for the man who brings me that boy in the goatskin.” Her servant entered, and she stepped back into the royal apartments. The servant opened a small bag, and light from the sconces gleamed dull on pieces of silver.
Joshabiah gulped down a gasp and held his face straight. He and Etam left the royal hall and stood in the starlight.
“I’ve never seen that much silver before, Captain.”
“Did you smell that perfume?”
“Too busy looking at hair.”
Joshabiah led his fifty men through the river ford from Beitshan to Jabesh. In the early morning light, he shook one dripping leg and then the other. Then he assigned seventeen men to search the small towns of Gilead and sectioned off the thirty-three remaining men to search the cities—Ramon, Edrei, and Jabesh.
“I will lead the search in Jabesh. Ask every person you see. Knock on every door. Meet me back here at this same ford in seven days at noon. The queen has a bag of silver for one of us.”
In Jabesh, Joshabiah sent his eleven men to search the streets while he went to the city gate and addressed nine elders seated in their courtyard. “The king wants to talk with a boy who might be from here. Taller than me. Big nose.” Joshabiah squinted and splayed his elbows. “Gangly looking knees and elbows. A farm boy. Might be wearing a goatskin.”
The miller bowed his head and glanced around under bushy brows. Would the captain’s description alert the other elders?
He slipped out a side entrance, hurried up a back alley to the rear door of the fruit and vegetable shop, and stuck his head into the sweet smell of ripe apples. The grocer set down a basket of apples and raised both eyebrows.
The miller cocked his head. “Come.”
The grocer caught his wife’s eye and shrugged. He followed the miller into the back alley and over to the potter’s shop. When they entered, the potter looked up from packing vases into a basket. The miller and the grocer took him by the arms and steered him out to the alley.
The miller pulled the other two close. “The captain of the king’s bodyguard is asking about a tall farm boy with a big nose who looks like all knees and elbows.”
The grocer puckered and sucked in a breath. “We don’t want the captain talking to the Baal priest’s gorilla.”
The potter squinted. “How can we keep them apart?”
The miller jabbed his finger in the grocer’s chest. “You know Sakar’s family. Can you bring him?” He rubbed his chin and nodded at the potter. “Loan me your donkey.”
The potter led his donkey to the miller’s back alley and returned to pack vases in baskets. The miller selected four large baskets from his granary and laced them to the donkey’s pack saddle.
The grocer strode into the alley with Sakar, the Baal priest’s hired hand. “Young Sakar here is a hard worker. He’ll bring you the grain you need.” He put on a broad smile for Sakar. “The miller’s the man with the money. If I was a little younger, I’d be taking this job myself.”
The miller tapped the pack saddle and then each basket. “So, Sakar, bring her back before sundown with all four baskets filled. My customers want beans, lentils, or wheat. Be sure you go first to Ezer, Helek, and Segub.”
“But those farms are the farthest out.”
“Yes, son, that’s why they are late with their deliveries. Go now, before the sun gets high.”
He opened his hand and revealed the dull gleam of silver. He lifted his palm to Sakar’s face. “And when you bring me the four baskets full of grain tonight, these five pieces of silver go straight into your hand. I’ll take you out the back gate. It’s the shortest route.”
At the back gate of the city, the miller sent the priest’s hired hand on his way and then headed toward the elders’ courtyard by way of the main street. In front of the bakery, the captain of the royal bodyguard stood deep in conversation with the potter, the baker, and the cobbler.
As the miller passed the little group, the cobbler turned to the captain. “A farm boy, you say?”