Obadiah leaned against the chariot rail. “If your father were alive, he would reprimand me for allowing you out in the valley with only five guards.”
Ahab held the rail and twisted toward Obadiah. “If my father were alive, he would be exploring the valley on a fast horse with no guard and only a light spear in the scabbard.”
They rolled out the gate of the fort, and Obadiah pointed to the valley full of brown grass. “Neither dew nor rain. Looks like that kid in the goatskin knew what he was talking about.”
“Two years now since his weather report. No rain, Biah. Not a drop. So my horses and mules go farther and farther into the hills for grass.”
As they left the fort behind, the sun barely peeked over the Gilead mountains, but when the chariot finally pulled up at the herd, Obadiah pointed to the sun high in the morning sky. “It took us half the morning to find the mules. But how long would it take the mules to find the fort?”
Ahab jumped down and strode up to a guard. “Captain, you’ve been soldiering long enough to know that when the next Cyprus flotilla puts marines ashore in Acco Bay, if my troops have to run off to these hills to look for my mules, we lose the fort and the valley.”
The guard stood straight. “Yes, sir. Your father himself drilled it into us. Yet every day we go looking for grass and end up pasturing the herd farther out.”
Ahab pointed to the herd. “How long would it take to bring them to the fort? Say a runner at dawn tells me enemy troops are landing. I send you a fresh runner, and my message gets to you in the middle of the morning like this. When would the herd arrive back at the fort?”
The guard kicked at the pile of five saddles and shook his head. “Best estimate. I saddle up our rides while the others take the hobbles off. Five of us pushing the herd.” He looked around at the other four guards. They shrugged, and he continued. “No Cypriot attacks. No horses stepping in gopher holes. We could arrive well before the next sunup.”
“We’re dead, soldier. You killed us.” Ahab stepped back into the chariot.
Obadiah climbed up beside him. “And it didn’t work when you sent the troops to the mules.”
“Oh, Biah. Men got lost in the hills. Showed up back at the fort days later. Some are still looking for spears and shields they stashed thinking they would pick them up on the way to the fight. A few saddles and scabbards, even.”
“Sounds like the prelude to disaster.”
“I might better slaughter most of the herd, Biah. Carry grass to a few mules inside the fort.”
As they rolled along the Beitshan-Megiddo road, the fort came into view and then the pair of acacia trees that marked their familiar finish line.
“Hey, Biah. Maybe tomorrow we can bring Lavan and Shochar out for a race.”
“A true race would be great, Ahab, but you shouldn’t torture yourself. That lame nag of yours just can’t compete with real horseflesh.”
“Yeah, right. The only thing that keeps your white bag of bones upright is the hot air from his rider.”
Ahab put his hand on the driver’s arm. “Stop.” The driver pulled the team into the grass beside the acacia finish line.
“Instead of—look, Biah.” Ahab swept his arm toward Megiddo and then back toward Beitshan. “In this valley there’s gotta be a few fields that hide tiny trickles of water and enough green grass to pasture my mules. Instead of racing Lavan and Shochar, you and I should get our bones out here and find those fields that have water.”
Obadiah nodded toward a chariot full of priests in black tunics as they turned off the road and climbed the hill to the fort. “More of the queen’s friends from Sidon.” Those servants of the queen killed anyone caught spouting off about the evils of Asherah or bubbling forth about the goodness of the Lord. Ahab knew from his spies that Obadiah protected bubblers from the black tunics. Why would Ahab want help from someone who was hiding fugitives from his queen?
“Why me, Ahab? I understand why we need grass. But you’ve got a dozen healthy lieutenants who would love to go with you and scout for pasture. Why ask me?”
Ahab grinned. “Jezebel asked me the same question. ‘Why Obadiah?’ She can’t figure why I put so much responsibility in your hands. Wanna hear what I told her?”
“I told her my father put you in charge of our olive oil business, and it’s made good money. But she said I have plenty of people who know how to make money.”
“I don’t need to hear this, Ahab.”
“The short version then. I said Biah’s honest. She asked how I know you don’t steal from me. When did I learn to read financial accounts?”
Obadiah chuckled. “She’s right. You don’t know a credit from a debit. Your father wanted me to show you the little I know, but you never stuck around for a lesson.”
“That’s why I told her about your women.”
Obadiah’s mouth fell open. “Women?”
“Right. She knows you’ve been the big cheese since our army days. So I told her you’ve always had your pick of women—shape, size, color—like bowls of grapes, cherries, or plums fresh on the table every morning.”
Obadiah rolled his eyes. “That would get her attention.”
“So I told her everyone knows Obadiah has never slept with anyone but his wife. Not when he was a young stud with hot blood, and not now when he’s going bald. That’s how I know he’ll do right by me.”
“Ever the practical politician, aren’t you, my king. No interest in doing right yourself, but you know what kind of people you want to work for you.”
“It’s like my father taught me. To govern1 people, you need fear, greed, the promise of security—and honest managers. But we need to bring those horses down here, Biah. That way you can talk religion and then Shochar and I can run the socks off you.”
1King Herod: “Only three things will govern a people – fear and greed and the promise of security.” Dorothy L. Sayers, in her play The Man Born to Be King. 1943.