Elijah’s father took a step toward the slave trader.

“My son means you no harm.”

The hand rested against Elijah’s chest, and the point of a blade entered the skin of his throat.

His father put his face in the slaver’s face.

“Put your knife away.”

The camel puller came half way toward them.

“He don’t talk much, boy. Just stand there quiet and leave the girl alone. Last time I seen a slaver pull a blade, he slit that Egyptian’s throat ‘fore the dog could put a hand on his sword. That boy just laid down and gurgled.”

The hands and the knife point maintained steady pressure. Elijah’s face grew hot. His head pushed back against camel ribs, and the beast roared a complaint. It raised its tail and commented further with a cloud of gas followed by egg-sized pellets which collected in a short pile.

His father moved in, his beard mingling with the beard of the slave trader. He spoke in a low voice.

“You hear me?”

The hands fell back, the knife point with them, and Elijah breathed deep. He wiped his hand across his throat and brought away a wet splotch of blood.

“Filthy Midianite swine!”

His father took a half step back toward the trunk of the oak but kept his eyes on the slaver. “You’ve no call to pull a knife on my son, mister.” His hands shook.

The man ignored Elijah’s father and flicked Elijah half a grin. He held the knife under Elijah’s nose and rolled the hilt in his palm. He slapped the girl again, and she moved forward, her ragged robe dragging across Elijah’s arm.

See that, Lord! It’s not right. Why do you let him live?

The line of girls kept coming around the hill. How many were there? Dozens? Hundreds?

Elijah patted Balak’s rump. “It’s safe, Nate. You can come out now.”

With so many new people this close, Nathan would look for a place to hide. But the two brothers should stand together. Maybe they could learn to handle weapons.

The two thick-shouldered men worked together, but Nathan was fast. And smart. The vines he pruned out-produced even the vines their father pruned. With a sword in his hand, his general aversion to strangers might even be an asset.

The faithful brothers would prowl the King’s Highway. Drive off the slave traders and deliver the girls to Mother. March into Samaria and knock down the Ba’al temple. Shatter the Asherah poles. Crush the Moloch furnaces. Chase the foreign priests back to Sidon.

The puller interrupted. “Days ’n’ days on the trail, boy. From them tribes up north. Your dad here been saying he’ll take you to that Asherah temple?” He leered. “Don’t you worry. Give ’em a week, and the older girls’ll have ’em cleaned up, ready to serve.”

“Serve?” Elijah’s father stood square in the puller’s face. “That’s not what happens to these children.”

He grabbed the puller’s wrist and jammed the silver back into his palm. “Keep your money, mister. Elijah, hold that wineskin.”

The camel puller raised his fist, but Elijah took three steps and glared in his face.

Nathan leaped to his side. “Little brother, if you need to insult this son of an Ishmaelite toad, please come up with something more profound than ‘filthy swine.’”

The puller shook his head. He threw the silver into his money pouch and thrust it deep inside his cloak. “Miserable Hebrew dogs!”

Nathan stood face-to-face with the puller. “You may not know, but Moses said to ‘Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.’”

The puller led his camels onto the highway and blended back into the caravan.

Elijah bumped elbows with Nathan. “Thanks.”

The next camel puller in line led his fourteen up to Elijah’s wineskins and held up two fingers. “I’ll take two skins, boy.”

The final few in the long line of girls squeezed through, and a third man strutted along beside them.

The image of faithful brothers to the rescue faded at the edges, yet Elijah glowered. “You don’t do right by these girls.”

The slaver smirked.

Elijah lunged.

Something solid struck Elijah’s right jaw.

The slave trader flickered and danced in front of him.

Darkness folded in.

1 Kings 17:1 – “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead…”

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