Obadiah sat on the banister and studied his old friend.
Ahab had charged at the point of the infantry wedge which shattered the front lines at Dibon. And at Qarqar he had climbed into his battle wagon and led two thousand chariots in a head-on clash with Shalmaneser.
Yet Ben-hadad had him trapped, with no chariots and with only seven thousand foot soldiers at his side. What would this man of action do?
With the Syrian courier gone, Ahab lost his square-shouldered bravado. He slumped against the palace wall and lowered his voice to a whisper. “They’ll eat us alive, Biah.”
“But, my king!” Jeph pulled loose from Gera and bounced over to Ahab. “The Lord says those Syrian troops—”
Ahab spun around and glared.
Jeph melted into the tiles.
The king snarled in a low voice. “What does this snotty-nosed kid know of war, Biah? Can he sneak my army out of the fort?”
Biah faced him. “Listen, Ahab, you—”
“Out.” Ahab’s face reddened. He pointed to the palace door.
Biah stepped closer. The kid could not comprehend war. But the Lord spoke of troops. “My king, you want to hear this boy. You do. His message is—”
Ahab stiffened. He whirled to the table, snatched the water carafe, and let it fly toward Biah’s face. “I’ll feed this boy and his message to the Syrians.”
Biah ducked, and the carafe splattered against the wall. He squinted and jutted his jaw at Ahab. When they were strapping big seven-year-olds, a skinny stable boy had let a captain borrow Prince Ahab’s mount. When Ahab struck the boy, Biah had knocked Ahab to the ground, straddled him, and told him to pick on somebody his own size.
Instead of slugging Ahab, Biah rubbed the knots in the back of his neck and let peace work through his muscles. “May the Lord bless you with an open mind, my king.”
Biah cocked his head at Gera, who steered Jeph into the palace. Biah followed. He had to hear what the Lord was saying. He planted himself in front of Jeph. “Young man, tell me again. Who did you say woke you?”
Before the sun moved beyond the meridian, Ben-hadad’s courier returned. “Tomorrow I will send my officers to search your house, and the houses of your servants. My men will select the best things you have and bring them to my house.”
Biah turned his back on the courier and hung his arms loose at the side. He had discussed threats as a siege tactic with King Ahab and King Omri. Ramp up the fear, so victims cannot organize their defense, and the city falls. A mere tool of war. It shouldn’t bother him. Yet Biah’s heart sank.
A vein popped out on Ahab’s forehead. He opened his hands toward Biah. “Search my house? Paw through my things?” He growled to his scout. “Hide this courier, or I’ll hurt him.” He cracked his knuckles.
A bodyguard came down the stairs from the rooftop and bowed. “Good morning, my king. The elders ask your presence.”
Biah shook his head. What do those shopkeepers and farmers know of war?
Ahab tilted his head back and glanced up at the parapet around the roof. “Um, yes. Thank you. We’re busy right now. Please tell the esteemed elders I’ll be up to see them as soon as possible.”
The guard bowed and climbed the stairs.
Biah’s mouth twisted. To leave the seventy elders out of the discussion had sounded great in his head, but dangerous when Ahab voiced it. “Let’s re-think this.” Biah took Ahab’s arm. “They can’t give you military strategy, but Moses founded the seventy, and they ask for your presence.” He angled toward the stairs to the roof. “I think you should see them.”
Ahab gave him a sharp eye, shrugged, and led the way to the roof.
Seventy elders sat in clusters in the sunshine. A gentle mid-summer Mediterranean breeze blew across the rooftop. Potted figs and pomegranate trees perched in the corners and along the parapet, where the elders’ bodyguards lounged.
Ahab addressed the council. “Esteemed elders of our land. You heard yesterday how young Ben-hadad asked for my wives and children, my silver and gold. I gave him the polite answer due any guest, and just now you saw his courier crossing the threshing floor. Ben-hadad is sending his men to take whatever he chooses.”
The elders scowled at each other.
One with a clean, black beard and smooth face under his grey turban stood. “Even if our king allows Ben-hadad to take part of his wealth, the Syrians aren’t going away.”
Everyone, even the young guards, scowled and jabbered to those nearby. When talk subsided, they turned to an elder at the center of the rooftop who wore a white linen tunic and a purple turban. His face of paper-thin wrinkles looked out from a full white beard.
A man next to the ancient elder prompted him, “Jamin?”
“Um, yes.” He angled toward Ahab. “Shechem. Tribe of Simeon. We serve the people, don’t you know?”
Biah covered his face with his hands. Not old, don’t-you-know Jamin. With the Syrians upon them? They didn’t have time for this. They should have stayed on the terrace.
Jamin gave a sharp dip of his head. “Puts me in mind of the… ’course, you’re too young—”
“Um, elder Jamin.” The elder next to him tapped Jamin on the shoulder. “Ben-hadad. If we give him money and people, will he go away?”
Jamin blinked twice. “Ben-hadad.” He turned his head left then right. “Ben-hadad will not go away. He will take everything we have and then put us in his slave gangs. We have two choices, don’t you know? Die as he loots us or die as we defend ourselves.”
The rooftop grew quiet. The trill of a warbler floated in on the breeze.
“Thank you.” Ahab and Biah returned to the terrace.
Ahab informed the courier, “Please tell my lord the king I cannot meet this new demand.”
The Syrian left but returned while the sun still rode high. “Ben-hadad says, ‘We will chop Samaria into pieces too fine for us to pick up with our fingers.’”
Ahab squared off to the courier’s face. He anchored his feet and tapped the hilt of his sword.
Biah shivered. Why the cocky stance?
A thin smile played at the edges of Ahab’s mouth. “Tell your king the one who straps on armor should not boast like the one who takes it off.”
The courier left, and Ahab collapsed on the banister. His chin hit his chest. “Answer a fool according to his folly, and you’ll be just like him. I’ve talked myself into a fight while my troops sit in Jezreel.”
“Chop you into pieces,” echoed in Biah’s mind. His gaze darted out to the threshing floor at the plaza entrance and back to the fountain that gurgled on the terrace. His breakfast asked for an exit.
Ahab curled his arms over his head and moaned. He reached toward Biah. His hand fluttered.
Biah raised his head. “Save us, Lord!” He turned to Gera. This had to be the right moment. “Bring us Jeph.”
Jeph bounced out the palace door and stretched out his arm to Ahab. “A song for our king.”
Ahab lowered his arms and squinted at Jeph.
Jeph planted his feet wide. “Why do the heathen rage?” His bass voice boomed. “The people imagine a vain thing.” The cups danced on the table. “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision.”
Ahab sat up. His mouth fell open. “Who is this child, Biah?”
“He’s a bubbler who’s been hiding from Jezebel. I don’t talk with you about it because they’re safer that way. But your spies keep you informed, so don’t pretend ignorance. We don’t have time for games.” He seized Ahab by the shoulders. “Do I have your attention? The Lord sent this boy to you with a message.”
Ahab squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and shook his head. “Games. Right.” Ahab’s face sagged. He turned an unfocused gaze toward Jeph. “The Lord? A message?”
“The Lord says: ‘Those enemy troops out there? I lay them in your hand. My gift. I am the Lord.’”
Biah jumped up. Adrenaline raced through his veins. He turned to Ahab. “See? ‘The Lord remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel.’” He clasped Ahab’s forearm.
But Ahab’s fingers hung limp. He pulled away and snarled at Biah. “Oh, he’s cute. And he should play a zither while he sings.” Ahab’s face hardened. “But my chariots and my troops are in Fort Jezreel.” He forced a laugh. “Who will fight Ben-hadad’s hundred thousand? Not my tiny cluster on the plaza.” He bowed and with his head in his hands.
Jeph bounced. “The Lord says, ‘The young men, the bodyguards of the seventy. These are your commandos.’”
Biah jerked his head back. Bodyguards as commandos? He must have heard wrong.
Ahab sat. He held his head in his hands and wobbled left and right, his eyes closed. “Son, those guards sitting up there are not commandos. They’ve had a really big day if they’ve stayed awake.” He leaned away from Jeph. “And they’re not organized for a fight.”
Jeph refused to deflate. He beamed. “That’s the best part.”
Biah leaned forward. His lips parted, and his eyebrows raised.
Ahab opened his eyes.