Elijah strode into a grove of oak trees by the gate of Fort Jezreel.
“Sheerah was right, Lord. I don’t know what to say to the king. I hoped you might give me words, but…” He touched the scab on his forehead. “…I guess I’ve been busy telling you about that priest.”
He bounced from foot to foot and pushed on his puffy eyes. “So, do you have a few words…maybe…now?” Squirrels rustled the leaves under an oak tree, and a lark warbled whee-whee-wheeoo.
Elijah slipped into his father’s moth-eaten goatskin. His knees poked out at the bottom, and his elbows stuck out from the sleeves.
He held his hand against his swollen jaw, stepped out from the shelter of the oaks, and squinted against the early afternoon sun. The breeze ruffled his scraggly beard.
“Words or no words, Lord, here goes.” He took in a deep breath, opened his mouth, and let it out.
Elijah trudged over the bridge and through the gate.
Farmers held small bags of silver beside mounds of beets, cabbage, or melons. Geese gabbled in clusters, tied by their wings. Chickens clucked from bamboo cages. Shoppers clutched tiny purses of a few shekels and stepped around puddles from the recent shower.
At the front gate of the king’s compound, the shields of fifty royal bodyguards flashed in the sun. Elijah clenched his fists, raised his chin, and headed toward the guards.
The shaggy cloak swung with his strides and bared his elbows and knees. Two little girls giggled, and laughter followed him up the street. He marched through the crowd and up to the guards.
From within their tight rows came, “Let me see.”
Three guards swung their shields left and three right. The king looked out, and his face flickered into a smirk, then a puzzled frown.
Elijah leaned in between the guards. These guys could be fast, Lord. A head start would be really nice. With his hand pushed against his jaw, he planted his right foot behind him and aimed his left at the gate.
“As the Lord lives – the God of Israel whom I stand and serve – for these next years we will have neither dew nor rain unless I say so.”
Elijah dashed through the crowd and out the gate. His sandals slapped the plank bridge, and he jogged around the east side of the fort. He whipped off the goatskin and jammed it into his pack.
“Wow, Lord! Thanks!”
Joshabiah, captain of the bodyguards, dropped his jaw.
The king’s face turned red. “Get that kid!”
Joshabiah tapped three of his men. “Follow me. Grab that goatskin. Go! Go! Go!” The four dashed for the gate.
A mother with a baby in a sling on her back tugged two dirty-faced children by the hand. The thud-thud-thud of Joshabiah’s sandals bore down on her, and she froze wide-eyed.
“Look out!” His shoulder grazed her, and she sprawled in the dirt. As Joshabiah dodged a donkey loaded with sacks of onions, the wails of the children followed him. He glanced back at the fallen family and sprawled in a cart of prickly pears. Ouch. What’s that cart doing there?
Tiny spines from the pears clung to his tunic and burrowed into his face and arms. His three men pulled him to his feet, but he shoved them aside and jogged through the gate.
The four stood on the bridge over the moat. A breeze from the field touched their foreheads, and a herd of goats bleated from beyond the intersection. Travelers trudged in four directions, but none wore a goatskin.
Joshabiah brushed at the spines on his tunic and tapped his three men on the chest. “West, East, North. Grab that goatskin!” The three trotted toward Megiddo, Beitshan, and Nazareth while Joshabiah jogged south toward Samaria.
Elijah stretched his long legs and settled into an easy lope toward the Jordan River. “Lord, were you serious about ‘dew nor rain’?”
As he passed traveler after traveler, he kept his eyes on the road. No longer his father’s friendly salesman, his mouth stayed closed except for a few words with the Lord. The sun still rode high overhead. Maybe he could make it home before morning.
But a set of familiar knees and elbows blocked his way. “‘Entreat me not to return from following after you…’”
Elijah snorted. “I’m not your mother-in-law. Hey! You’re talking. You!” He threw his arms around Nathan. “That guy knocked you cold. You weren’t even talking.”
He squeezed again, let go, and took a step back. “Look at you.” Nathan stood barefoot on swollen feet. “Your sandals. Are they in that bag? Let’s get out of the sun and put them on you.”
Nathan sat on a rock under an acacia tree and lifted a foot.
Elijah looked it over. “No deep cuts.” He frowned in Nathan’s face. “Why didn’t Dad put your sandals on you?”
“You think our father wants to lose two sons in one day?”
Elijah checked Nathan’s other foot. “You just stuffed them in your bag. Your feet must hurt awful.”
Nathan cringed. “How’s your jaw? That guy really torn you up.”
“It’s still pretty sore.” Elijah tied Nathan’s sandals and tunic. “Is everybody okay? Why are you here?”
Nathan’s mouth twitched. “I’m here for Omar. I’m here for you.”
Then he opened up a big grin. “Everyone is fine, little brother. But tell me. Where is ‘here’?”
A tiny path led off the road among stone houses, oaks, and acacias. From an upper limb, a warbler flipped its long, tapered tail and called, zerlip, zerlip, zerlip.
“There are moments, Nathan, when I could wring your scholarly neck.”
“Just as I thought. You don’t recognize the Well of Harod.”
“This? Here? How was I…?”
Nathan wagged his finger in Elijah’s face. “My little brother loped through and showed about as much respect as an uncircumcised Philistine.”
“I’m not as unlearned as you think, okay? Old Gideon chose men who cupped water in their hands, but those who got down on their knees and sucked it in like I do—he sent them home.”
“Don’t give up your studies. But let’s get going.” Nathan set a slow pace on his sore feet. “So, did you see the king?”
“I told the king, as the Lord lives we will have neither dew nor rain until I say so.”
Nathan wrinkled his nose. “‘Neither dew nor rain.’ One of your finer compositions. Far better than when you called that slaver a swine.” Nathan took five silent strides and continued. “’Until I say so.’ Really?”
“It just bubbled out.”
“So, what did the king say?”
“Ha! I didn’t stick around for that part. You shoulda been there. A path opened like the Red Sea parting for Moses.” Elijah pumped his fist in the air. “In like lightning. Out like a whirlwind.”
Nathan hooted. “And did they tremble and quake for my little brother?”
“I sincerely doubt it. We have to get swords and chase those slavers out.”
“You’re still obsessed with…Hey, where’s the goatskin?”
Elijah patted his pack. “I only wore it inside the fort.”
His brother’s face lit up. “So, they’re searching for…. No. By now they realize there was a boy under that hair.”
“Not to worry. A guard came running by me and the others on the road. And he passed me again as he walked back to the fort. He never looked at me. Not once.”
“Lijah, my fingers don’t tie laces, but sometimes your head doesn’t follow logic.”
Elijah opened his mouth, but Nathan put a hand over it. “You know how Dad says, ‘Two little boys can hunt squirrels better than one.’? The guards at the fort heard those exact words from their own fathers, and they’ve already put their heads together. They tossed that moth-eaten old goatskin out of the equation, and if you wait here, ten of them will snatch you up before sundown.”
“Okay. So, we hustle.” Without breaking stride, Elijah reached over and slugged Nathan on the arm. “But, hey. You bring anything to eat? I’ve only got a fig and half a pita.”
“Raisins. And a few pitas.”
Nathan patted his bag. “Plus a little water. We can refill our skins at the ravine.”
“The Kerith. Tastes better than river water.”
Elijah stopped and pulled his brother around to face him. “Nathan, you don’t understand. I’m going home.”
Nathan snorted, grabbed his arm and started him toward the river again. “You are not going home. Dad’s moth-eaten goatskin saved you for a few minutes. But the king’s men won’t quit looking for you. Not ever.”
“But Dad’s depending on us to load wineskins.”
“Ha! Our father’s been hauling wine to the King’s Highway since before we were born. He’ll think of something.”
Elijah tried to slow their pace. “It’s almost the Day of Trumpets.”
But Nathan propelled him by the elbow. “You’re going to listen for trumpets with me at the Kerith. I’m not letting you put our mother in danger. They’ll be asking for a tall guy with a big nose and a Gilead accent. Like the potter says, we’re all knees and elbows. Too easy to spot in a crowd, and we look just like our mother.”
Elijah frowned. “Milkah.”
“Do not even think about a visit to that young lady.”
Elijah gave it one more try. “And when we run out of your raisins and pitas?”
“Know who you remind me of? When the Lord opened a path for our ancestors to escape from Pharaoh, some complained about not having garlic on their toast. Now the Lord helps you escape from Jezebel, and you bellyache about too few raisins? Open your heart, Lijah.”