21. Detour

Go at once to Zarephath by Sidon. I’ve told a widow there to feed you.”

He pressed his lips tight together and turned again to check on the approaching Nathan. With a detour through Tishbe, he could hug Mom, Dad, and Sheerah. Zoom over the ridge to tell Milkah about Fort Jezreel, and be off to Zarephath before the king’s guards caught his scent.

If Nathan would cooperate.


The Kerith Ravine, Gilead, Israel, 870 BC

1 Kings 17:5-9

Elijah sat in the dry creek bed. It would sure feel good to put this tiny ravine behind him. But Sidon? Zarephath? That’s where the baby burners came from. Where temples locked away dozens of girls and boys.

A widow to feed you. Were there no widows in Israel? What about the cobbler’s widow right there in Tishbe? Okay, so she wasn’t very well off, but he and Nathan were both hard workers, and—the ravens. The ravens could just as well fly flatbread and mutton to one side of the ridge as the other. He and Nathan could stand in the path that ran by the cobbler’s widow and show them her house.

Okay, the Lord had said a widow in Zarephath, so he’d have to settle for Tishbe as a stopover on the way to Zarephath. How to bring Nathan in on this detour?

Elijah peeked over his shoulder. Here came Nathan. Had the Lord given him the same message? As his brother sauntered up, Elijah’s skin tingled at the back of his neck.

Nathan dropped a fresh fistful of dandelion greens on Elijah’s lap and plopped beside him in the sand.

Lifting a green between his thumb and forefinger, Elijah glanced sidelong at Nathan. “I think I heard the voice of the Lord.”

Nathan paused with a half-eaten leaf in his fingers. “Not my kind of joke.” He pursed his lips. “Using the Lord’s name in vain.”

Not a joke.” Elijah swiveled. He set the leaf on his leg, held Nathan’s gaze, and forced himself to breath slowly.

What do you mean?” Nathan’s eyes narrowed into a squint and he studied Elijah. “The Lord spoke to you?”

Elijah responded with a slow nod. “As clear as you talking to me.”

What did the Lord say?”

His words?” Elijah stared at the empty creek bed twisting through the arid ravine. Nathan enjoyed brooding over words and dissecting syllables, but such a narrow focus could miss the full meaning. “Um, well.” He swallowed hard and enunciated in a soft voice. “‘Go at once to Zarephath by Sidon. I have a widow there who will feed you.’”

Zarephath.” Nathan stood and faced the north wall of the ravine. “That’s a three-day hike.”

Or four.” Six if he could convince Nathan to see Mother and Milkah on the way. Elijah wiped his sweaty palms on his robe.

Ravens swooped in two-by-two, gurgling and croaking as they opened their talons and dropped several flatbreads on the dinner rock.

I’ll never get used to this,” Nathan muttered.

More Ravens perched on trees and outcroppings. Huge black dots peppered both sides of the ravine.

The food pile grew to over thirty flatbreads. Then the large black birds flew down with five chunks of roast mutton and three of beef, permeating the air with the smell of garlic and onions.

Nathan’s eyes bulged. “For the trip?”

Elijah leaped to his feet. “Thank you for the food.” Good grief. What a huge pile of food.

Nathan stood beside him. “It’s delicious. So good. Thank you!”

The brothers waved to each family of ravens.

The ravens rose on the breeze, the deep music of their calls bouncing from the boulders.

Elijah stuffed bread and meat into his pack. “Thank you, Lord!” [they’ve pretty much just said thank you like three or four times in a row. Perhaps they could converse about what’s happened?]

Nathan patted his water skin. “Remember our hikes with Sheerah, how she taught us to keep our water skins full by stopping at every single brook?”

We can thank her today.”

Nathan took a step north. “Except the Lord sent us to Zarephath.”

Elijah turned away from his brother. “Thank her on the way to Zarephath.”

But the Lord didn’t say, ‘on the way.’” Nathan pinched his lips.

Good. Nathan was talking. Elijah only had to steer the conversation. “Quick hugs for Mother and Father.”

I don’t think that’s a good idea. Did the Lord say anything about a side trip?” [ In this part of the exchange you could probably add some more scene descriptions and physical action beats. They are walking now… what do they see? It’ll spread out the convo so it’s a bit smoother]

What? Come on, Nate. You want the Lord to spell out every detail for you?” Elijah placed his hands on his hips and scowled. “He brought us to this brook. Did he have to say, Drink? He provided bread and meat in front of us. Did you wait for him to say, Eat?” A knot grew in Elijah’s throat. He hated bullying his brother.

No, I mean—”

Elijah swallowed the knot and plunged ahead. “Check out those storks.” He pointed to several groups migrating on updrafts east of the Jordan River. “Do they have an angel hovering beside them? ‘Stork Family Number Four is assigned to this updraft 6820. No, not 6817. This one over here, 6820. Now on the count of three, everyone in Family Four sail over and catch shaft 6820.’”

But—”

We can’t expect the Lord to say, ‘By the way, boys, your dear old mother who’s been praying for your safety—on your way to Zarephath, stop and pay her a two-minute visit.’ The Lord expects us to work out a few details on our own.”

But, Lijah—” Nathan tilted his head. “—those guards might not know you’re from Tishbe. Yet. But they’ve been asking everywhere for a guy with knobby elbows and knees. If a guard sees us in Tishbe, they’ll be all over the village and in Mom and Dad’s bedroom.”

Elijah allowed himself an inner grin. Big brother had not set the brakes on his thought wagon. Elijah leaned in and lowered his voice. “We go around Tishbe. No one sees us. Then we drop in on Mom and Dad. Quick, quiet, and gone.”

Elijah marched off toward Tishbe through the brush with the noonday heat beating down on his turban. Would big brother follow? When Elijah crouched in the bushes at the edge of the path, Nathan knelt behind him.

Elijah muttered. “To get here was easier than a stroll through Dad’s vines. All this time we’ve been so close.” Maybe show the way a bit more. Sounds like they were right next door.

But what if the guards—?”

The guards search the ravine, not the paths, not Tishbe.” Before Nathan could object to his foolish claim, Elijah hit him with tactics. “But we don’t want to show our face in the village. Should we go along the ridge or through the woods?”

With his breath on the back of Elijah’s neck, Nathan whispered, “Neither. The Lord said Zarephath.” He sighed. “But if we’re going to do this, the ridge is better. Those woods are full of hills and ditches.”

Got it.” Elijah turned. Was Nathan coming along to protect his little brother or to see his mother? “Is anybody on the path?” [I’m not sure if Elijah is question if nathan is actually coming or acknowledging that he is coming but questioning his motives]

On the other side, a warbler perched on a bush and flipped its tail straight up. Zerlip, zerlip, zerlip. A mouse tiptoed through the tall, dry grass. Elijah imagined its whiskers tickling each blade. Thump. A red fox snatched the mouse, shook it twice, and trotted off with the limp form dangling from its teeth.

Elijah mouthed a silent “Wow.”

Nathan’s eyes opened wide, and he grinned.

Since they hadn’t spooked the mouse or the fox, perhaps no one in the village had heard them. Elijah thrust out his chest. His detour was working. In three steps he crossed the path in the still heat and into the undergrowth.

Nathan followed, and Elijah hugged him. “This evening we see Mother.”

And tomorrow, Milkah.

With Nathan following, Elijah climbed two-thirds of the way up the slope to where a soft breeze ruffled his hair. He struck out toward home over rocks and roots, from bush to bush, hidden from the path at the foot of the ridge.

A few houses appeared below, each surrounded by small plots of flax, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. “Looks like home, Nate. Figs. Cucumbers. You drooling yet?”

Elijah knelt behind a thick shrub. Why was Tishbe so quiet? No goats poked their heads through the flimsy poles and branches around the vegetables. No sheep nibbled the grass, and no smoke rose from the chimneys.

A cold sweat broke out on his neck.

Nathan shuffled to his side and pointed below. “Rocky.”

Racham, the potter’s son, whom Dad expected would ask for Sheerah on the third day of next week, crouched by a shrub in the lane next to his house. He turned his head left and right. Then he hunched over, jogged into his yard, and crept through the garden gate.

Next door, two men appeared from the pomegranate trees wearing black tunics and black robes with blood-red insignia over their hearts. Moloch enforcers. Thugs. The two followed Racham into the garden, led him out by the ears, and released him on the path.

Racham hugged six musk melons in his arms. When one rolled from his grasp, he bent to retrieve it.

A thug shoved him.

Racham sprawled in the grass.

The thug kicked him in the belly.

Racham struggled to his knees.

The next kick bashed him in the head.

He lay flat and did not move.

Elijah’s neck burned hot. He bared his teeth and clenched his fists against the rage that seared his belly. In leaps and spurts, he bounced down the ridge and reached for the biggest rock he could grasp in one hand.

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