With his hand pushed against his aching jaw, Elijah marched through the market-day crowd and up to the fifty royal bodyguards.
From behind three tight rows came a barked command. “Open.” Three guards swung shields left and three right.
Elijah sprang toward the gate. A donkey turned across his path, and he smacked into its load of onions. “Uhn!” The load tipped, and the donkey side stepped.
The woman leading the donkey turned and opened her mouth.
Before she could describe his clumsiness or the morality of his ancestors, Elijah grabbed the heavy onion sacks and pulled them back to the center of the packsaddle. He patted the donkey’s rump and spoke in the same tone he used while adjusting loads on Balak or Bilaam. “Sorry, fella. Better now?”
His next dash for the gate brought him to a cart of prickly pears. Elijah pulled up with his knees pushed against the side board and his arms arching over the load of pears. “Ah!” He would never make it through that forest of tiny spines.
Elijah took a step back. Where to go? On the right, two solid-looking men held an intense conversation about the price of apples. On the left, huge sacks of pomegranates blocked his path. Elijah dove under the donkey which pulled the prickly-pear cart. His knee slid through a pile of fresh droppings, and he poked his head out the other side.
A mother with a baby on her back gawked down at him. She tugged two dirty-faced children by the hand. He rose to his hands and knees. He looked the children in the eye. The taller child reached for Elijah’s nose. “Gah-gah!” Elijah shook donkey dung from his knee and patted the child’s grubby cheek.
Shouts came from behind. “Grab that goatskin!”
Elijah lunged for the gate, but a donkey stopped in the opening with a load of sweet potatoes hanging from both sides.
More shouts. “Hey, you, stop!”
He nodded to the donkey’s owner and squeezed past the bulging sacks of sweet potatoes. His sandals slapped the plank bridge, and he dashed down the hill into the trees. He ripped off the goatskin and jammed it into his pack.
“Thanks, Lord. But ‘neither dew nor rain’? ‘Unless I say so’? Is that really what you wanted me to say?”
Elijah turned his back on the gate, stepped into the flow of travelers on the Megiddo-Beitshan road, and stretched his long legs into an easy lope toward the river. He passed traveler after traveler but kept his mouth closed, his eyes on the road—no longer his father’s friendly wine salesman.
But a set of familiar knees and elbows blocked his way. “‘Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.’”
Elijah snorted. “I’m not your mother-in-law. Hey! You’re talking. You!” He threw his arms around Nathan. “Yesterday that guy knocked you out cold, and this morning you were just staring at the floor, not saying a word.”
He squeezed again, let go, and took a step back. “Look at you.” Nathan stood barefoot. “Your sandals. Are they in that bag? Let’s get out of the sun. I’ll put them on you.”
Nathan sat on a rock under an acacia tree and lifted a foot.
Elijah examined it. “No deep cuts.” He frowned in Nathan’s face. “Why didn’t Dad put your sandals on you?”
“Huh! You think our father wants to lose two sons in one day?”
He looked at the bottom of Nathan’s other foot. “So, you stuffed your sandals in the bag. Your feet must really hurt.”
Nathan cringed. “How’s your jaw? That guy tore you up so bad.”
“It’s still pretty sore.” Elijah tied Nathan’s sandals and stood. He tied the tunic and placed both hands on Nathan’s shoulders. He searched his face. “Is everybody okay? Why are you here?”
“Everyone is fine.” Nathan’s eyes flickered. “I’m here for Omar. I’m here for you.” A tear welled up, and he turned to watch a warbler on the upper limb of an acacia flip its long, tapered tail and call, zerlip, zerlip, zerlip. “Let’s get going.”
Nathan set a slow pace and didn’t complain about his sore feet, but after a dozen steps he asked, “Did you see the king?”
“Nate, I told the king, ‘as the Lord lives, we will have neither dew nor rain unless I say so.’”
Nathan wrinkled his nose. “‘Neither dew nor rain.’ One of your finer compositions.”
He took several silent strides. “But what did you mean by, ‘unless I say so’?”
“It just bubbled out. You were still in the house, so you didn’t hear Sheerah tell me I had nothing to say.”
“The shutters were wide open, Lijah. I heard Sheerah.”
“Well, all the way to the fort I was telling the Lord how wicked that priest is, but the Lord gave me nothing to say. No words. Then I got there and looked in the king’s face, and that’s what bubbled out.”
Dawning awareness BEAT For several paces, Nathan looked thoughtful. “So you’re a bubbler.”
“No, no. Not that kind of bubbler, Nate. I mean it just came to the surface and was out before I knew it.”
I KNEW IT BEAT “You’re a bubbler, Lijah.”