Samaria City, Samaria, Israel, 868 BC
1 Kings 18:3
Obadiah led his five bodyguards up the path through the olive trees to Gera’s courtyard.
Liam met them at the gate. He had his father’s strong chin and black beard. A young replica of Gera. “Uncle Biah! Hey, I’m going for Keren’s fish.” He slapped an empty jar that rested in the crook of his elbow. “Dad’s out pruning vines. You know Dad. Sixth day. Early start.” He turned— “But come in.” —and led them back across the courtyard.
Liam opened the door and stuck his head in. “Mother, Uncle Biah’s here.” He glanced at the basket of pomegranates hooked over Obadiah’s arm. “And he’s brought something from Yedidah.”
Liam’s mother, Hodiah, threw open the door and turned her face up in a huge smile. “Biah!”
Obadiah handed the basket in and then squeezed into the tiny entry with Liam. He left his guards outside.
She smiled at him with her soft gray eyes, buried her face in the heap of fruit, and inhaled an exaggerated sniff. “Oh, Biah, the Lord guided your eyes the day you found that wife of yours. She sends the most wonderful gifts. Please, you must thank her for me.”
“Amen to that.” His smile stretched across his face. “Except—”
“I know. I know. She’s the one who found you. I love that story.”
A squeal came from a bedroom, and a three-year-old ran in. “Uncle Biah.”
Obadiah slid his big hands around the tiny rib cage. “Up you go.” He and Liam stepped into the kitchen, and he raised the toddler eye-level.
“Higher, Uncle Biah. Higher.”
Obadiah tossed, caught him at the peak of his rise, and pulled him to his chest.
The boy giggled and squealed, “Again, Uncle Biah. Higher.”
“Tonight, young man. When we start the sabbath. Grandpa Gera’s waiting for me to help him in his grove.
Liam’s wife, Keren, a petite, pregnant young woman with straight dark hair, leaned against the bedroom doorpost. Her long, loose tunic showed her baby lower than Obadiah’s visit a month ago. She gave him a brief smile and settled her eyes on Liam’s eager face.
A two-year-old dashed past. “Uncle Biah.” He crashed into Obadiah’s knees and wrapped them in his chubby arms.
Obadiah knelt and cradled each child in an arm. “You boys are getting so big.”
Liam floated a kiss to Keren and then peeked across the courtyard. “I better hustle, so I can help Dad prune.” His gaze returned to Keren.
Her hair fell across her face, and she brushed it back, sending him a soft smile.
Liam beamed at her as if they stood alone in the room. He whispered a line from a song. “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
His mother laid a palm against his cheek and pushed his face around toward the courtyard. “Go, now.” She tapped his empty jar. “Keren needs those fish. Be sure to dip plenty of juice from the barrel. And bread. Don’t forget bread.”
Liam patted his mother’s hand and blew one more kiss to Keren. He tucked the empty jar under his arm and stepped into the courtyard.
“Tonight then.” Obadiah addressed Hodiah and let the boys down.
They pushed the door open and ran after Liam. “Daddy. Take us with you, Daddy.” Liam knelt and hugged them.
Hodiah took each child by a hand. “Daddy’s coming right back. Your mommy needs you.”
Obadiah walked with Liam through the trees. “My wife had that same craving for pickled fish.”
Liam laughed. “She even drinks the juice.”
As they reached Obadiah’s chariot, a tiny bluethroat flexed its delicate iridescent bib and sang to them from an olive tree alongside the path.
Liam paused. “I’m composing a song about Keren and that little bird.” He waved and strode up the hill toward the shops as Obadiah stepped into his chariot surrounded by his guards.
“Take me to Gera.” When Obadiah took over King Omri’s olive oil business, Gera was among his first hires. Skill with trees made Gera’s grove produce more than others, and his integrity and dependability so impressed Obadiah that he appointed him chief grove manager.
The driver shook the reins, and the horses broke into a trot. They wound among hills and splashed through puddles. Olive leaves flashed a silver sheen from their undersides where the sun projected the moving silhouette of Obadiah’s horses and chariot. An occasional limb reached in and brushed a wheel.
Obadiah stopped at a small wooden shack that overlooked the Shechem valley, and Gera stepped out. Some people might have mistaken him for Obadiah’s older brother. The same thick beard, but white mixed into the black. High cheek bones and sharp coals for eyes. More gray than black among the ringlets on his head. Broader chest and shoulders. Bigger biceps. And half a head shorter.
Gera leaned on the wheel of the chariot. “Think you can inspect five groves? I told the managers in the southwest district to expect you.”
“Depends on how much leaf spot we find, but we’ll try for five.”
As his chariot rolled away, Obadiah turned. “I just came from your place. Liam’s gone after fish for Keren, and I suspect he’s writing a poem.”
In mid-afternoon, Obadiah returned to Gera’s shack and eased onto a bench beside his old friend. A breeze wiggled the long purple spikelets of bunchgrass. A few clouds drifted in but without the cool scent of a Mediterranean shower.
Obadiah smoothed the front of his tunic. “We made fast work inspecting three groves, and then at Qayin’s we ran into tree after tree infested with scale. Not leaf spot this time, but scale.”
“That’s Qayin’s neglect again.” Gera shook his head. “I’m working on that boy.”
“He’s your project.” Obadiah chuckled. “But I’ll take my men back tomorrow and cut and burn for a few hours. How’d your pruning go?”
“Liam never made it, so I’m less than half done.” Gera rubbed the back of his neck. “Keren’s due any day now.” He slapped Obadiah on the knee. “Well. Let’s go bring the sabbath in.” He squeezed into the chariot with Obadiah and his men.
The driver flipped the reins, and the team trotted off, jostling the chariot wheels through the ruts and around the hill. They took the road into Samaria City and parked in front of Gera’s house. The sun hovered well out over the Mediterranean but still promised plenty of daylight.
Gera jumped off and headed up the path.
Three thick men with red hair strode out—the slave traders who had sold the little girls to the Asherah official.
Gera dashed around them.
One leered at Obadiah. “Looking for somebody?”
Obadiah clenched his jaw and growled. His guards jumped off the chariot gripping their spears with two hands.
“Stand down, men.” Obadiah lifted his chin and crossed his arms. “That scum belongs to King Ethbaal in Tyre. I can’t touch them.”
Cackles floated back from the three as they strode up the street toward the plaza.
Gera’s scream cut the air.
Obadiah’s gut churned. He and his guards thundered through the trees to the gate.
Gera knelt by Liam on the other side of the courtyard. Liam lay on the doorstep with his mother, Hodiah, sprawled next to him. She sobbed and pressed her cheek against his face.
Obadiah flipped the gate open and flew across the courtyard. He knelt beside Gera and stared open-mouthed at the large slit in Liam’s throat.
Gera stroked Liam’s chest. “My boy. My boy. Look what they’ve done to you.”
Not our Liam.
Keren waddled out the door with her hand at her back, the new baby riding low in her tummy.
Obadiah raised his hands to keep her inside the house. She shouldn’t see the blood crusted on Liam’s tunic of his purple face. The whole scene was wrong for her. Wrong.
She brushed him aside and knelt next to Liam and tried to close the gap in his throat with her fingers. She clenched her fists, threw her head back, and glared into the sky. Her mouth opened wide, but with no sound. Bending her head low, she took a deep breath, raised again and screamed.
Liam’s three-year-old tumbled out the door and spread his arms. He leaned his face into his mother’s robe and rocked with her cries. His little brother whimpered in the open doorway.
The next-door neighbor dashed up the path, and the guards stopped him at the gate. “It was those slavers, Biah.” He shouted across the courtyard. “They were kicking a little girl, and Liam made ‘em stop.” Obadiah waved him in. He jogged over and knelt with the little group. He wept and clutched Obadiah’s arm.
Sharp pangs gripped Obadiah’s chest. He clutched his head with clenched fists. Pain rippled through him, and he yelled an ancient complaint into the sky. “Why, Lord? Why do you stand so far off?”1 Obadiah’s cry died in the trees.
Hodiah clutched at Gera’s arm and tangled her fingers in his beard. “Oh, Gera! Gera!” She smothered her face in his shoulder. “I just sent him out for bread and fish. That’s all. Just bread and fish. And he didn’t come home, and he didn’t come home. We thought you took him to prune the trees.”
A tear dripped from her cheek. “Bread and fish, Gera. Just bread and fish.”
1 Psalm 10:1