The thick-shouldered man twitched one corner of his mouth and touched the knife at his belt. He shoved Elijah aside and sauntered past. He never looked back.
But the girls. Dirt. Torn shirts. Hair matted with mud or worse. Where’d they come from?
He backed up against the camel to give them room. As the girls squeezed past, a few raised their heads, but none met his gaze.
These girls needed his mother! She would wrap her arms around each girl and walk her down to the Yarmuk. She would call for Sheerah, Elijah’s sister, and they would steady the girl by the elbows and help into the water. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Then Sheerah would hold a fresh, clean robe for each girl while his mother helped her step into it.
But how could his mother hope to mend their numb, empty stares?
Pus oozed from a sore on one girl’s shoulder. She could be sister to Milcah, the girl next door. Adults talked of slave girls with one breath and Asherah temples with the next, but they never compared them with Milcah.
These girls were no older than Milcah or Elijah. He stroked his chin. A beard should show up any day now.
A second short man with thick shoulders and a knife marched beside the line of girls. Who were these men? That rope. Those knives. No wonder these girls didn’t talk.
A girl lagged. The rope jerked the ankle of the girl ahead. The thick-shouldered man slapped the back of her head and knocked her into Elijah. The odor of dried feces invaded his nostrils. He held her by the shoulders to keep her from falling.
A thick hand knocked the girl aside and grabbed Elijah. It shoved him hard against the camel’s ribs. Another hand flashed a razor-edged knife before his eyes. A blade that sharp could slice his jugular just as fast as his own butchering knife at home opened the vein of a goat. The hand rested against his chest, and the point of a blade entered the skin of his throat.
Elijah froze wide-eyed. He forced words out through clamped teeth. “Careful with that knife, mister.”
Elijah’s father sent a hoarse whisper. “Don’t move, Lijah!”
The camel puller advised. “That’s right, boy. 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 thick hands and the knife point maintained steady pressure.
“He don’t talk much, boy. What he wants is for you to back off.”
Elijah’s face grew hot. His head pushed against ribs, and the camel roared a complaint. The hands fell back, the knife point with them.
Elijah breathed deep. He wiped his hand across his throat and brought away a wet splotch of blood. “Filthy Midianite swine!”
The camel raised its tail and commented further with a cloud of gas followed by egg-sized pellets which collected in a short pile.
The thick-shouldered man flicked him half a grin, held his knife under Elijah’s nose, and rolled the hilt in his palm. He slapped the girl again, and she moved forward, her robe dragging across Elijah’s arm.
That’s no way to treat girls, Lord! It’s not right. Why do you let this man live?
How many girls were there? They kept coming around the hill.
“It’s safe, Nate. You can come out now.” Nathan would not feel safe among more strangers, but Elijah needed his big brother near and visible.
Maybe he and Nathan could learn to handle weapons. The two thick-shouldered men worked together, but Nathan was fast and brainy. As a warrior, his general aversion to people might even be an asset.
The faithful brothers would take sword lessons and prowl the King’s Highway for long lines of captives. Face down the slave drivers and deliver the girls to the care of Mother and Sheerah—and of Milcah. March into Samaria and knock down the Baal 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 five pieces of silver back into his palm. “Keep your money, mister. You only see evil because your eyes are evil. 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!” He picked up his lines, led his camels back onto the highway, and blended into the caravan—the faithful brothers’ first conquest.
Elijah bumped elbows with Nathan. “Thanks. That went well.”
A second puller waiting in the shade led fourteen camels up to Elijah’s wineskins and held up two fingers.
The girls at the tail of the line came through, squeezing between this new string of camels and Elijah’s ten donkeys.
A third thick-shouldered man strutted along beside them.
Could a faithful pair of brothers rescue these slaves? The image faded at the edges, yet Elijah glowered. “You’re not doing right by these girls.”
The slaver smirked.
Before Nathan could spring to his side, something solid struck Elijah’s right jaw. The slaver flickered and danced in front of Elijah’s face. Then darkness folded in around him.
This story in the Bible – 1 Kings 16:30-31
“Ahab … began to serve Baal and worship him.”