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02 Bareback

Obadiah reined his horse up beside Prince Ahab. “The king will kill me if he learns I let you roam the valley without guards.”

He studied the northern horizon. If Syrian scouts saw them—on their expensive horseflesh in their white linen tunics and purple turbans—they would think they had found King Omri’s twin sons.

What the king doesn’t know won’t hurt him, Biah. I need a little exercise.” Ahab leaned up and patted Shochar’s neck. “And so does this big fellow.”

Biah tipped his chin up. “Careful you don’t push that tired fellow too hard, my prince. Be a shame to stress-out such a weak old thing.” He scanned the lower slopes of Mount Tabor. Syrians loved those foothills.

Stress?” Ahab snorted. “You sit on that sad excuse for a live donkey and talk about stress?

Just remember, my prince. We came out here to run and have fun. So, relax.” Lookouts had reported too many scouts lately for Biah to put his heart into the banter.

Biah pulled the reins up short and crouched low over Lavan’s withers. Bareback. The only way to race. He gripped the barrel chest with his legs and thrilled to the ripple of Lavan’s muscles. He put Syrian invaders out of his mind and placed Lavan’s front feet on the starting line. “You ready?”

Prince Ahab pulled Shochar up beside Biah, also bareback. He gathered the reins, stretched an arm forward, and dangled a pine cone between them.

Biah nodded, and the cone dropped.

Biah’s heels hit Lavan’s belly, and the horse shot into a gallop. “Go, go, go.” Biah did not turn to see if Ahab was beside him. That look cost him the race three weeks ago. “Go, Lavan, go. This one’s yours.”

They thundered west through the grass beside the Beitshan-Megiddo road. As they rounded a boulder, a pair of acacia trees came into view—the finish line.

Biah leaned into the flow of Lavan’s mane and whispered in his ear, “You’ve got it, big guy. This one’s yours.

Lavan lowered his head, pointed his ears toward the acacias, and thrust ahead. A few more lunges would shoot them between the acacias.

A beautiful black nose edged up on the right.

Biah yelled, “Go, Lavan. Go, go, go.”

The black nose moved even with Lavan’s white and then a nostril’s width ahead.

The acacia trees shot by, and Lavan slowed.

Biah sat up and braced his knees to absorb the trot.

Prince Ahab bobbed beside him on Shochar. “You thought you had me.”

Biah waved at Shochar. “Where’d your old nag find it, anyway?”

Ahab slapped the black neck. “You’ll never know, Biah. You limp along on that sorry old scarecrow. But when that pair of acacias comes into view, Shochar just loves to reach inside and come up with one more win for the prince.”

An arrow whistled past Ahab’s ear and into a tree trunk. He ducked, and another thunked in beside the first.

Out o’ here!” Biah flattened out on Lavan and kicked him into a dash for the fort. Ahab sprinted beside him on Shochar.

The gate guards stepped aside. The eight hoofs of Lavan and Shochar rattled the loose planks of the bridge and clip-clopped across the plaza pavers.

The gate swung closed behind them, and a stable boy jogged out from the headquarters compound. “The king wants to see you both right away. I’m to take Shochar and Lavan.”

Biah glanced at Ahab and wrinkled his brow. No way could the king know about those arrows which just missed them.

Shochar and Lavan?” Biah waited until the stable boy faced him. “Let them drink two swallows. No more, understand? Brush them down and then let them drink two more swallows. No more. I’ll be out to check on both horses.”

They trotted Shochar and Lavan to the far end of the street and dismounted at the headquarters compound. Biah handed the reins of both horses to a guard. “For the boy coming behind.”

Biah and the prince jogged up the path and brushed past more guards and through the door.

Biah slowed his steps.

King Omri paced at the door, chin high, cracking his knuckles one by one. “You were racing in the valley alone. You left fifty good men in the compound who could have protected you. A mere scouting party from Cyprus or Syria could have cut down my right hand man and my son in one afternoon.”

Biah blushed and ducked his head. A proper show of humility never hurt. “My fault, your majesty.”

King Omri laughed. “Excuses later, Biah.” He turned to the prince. “Who won?”

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