Secret shoppers

Maybe you could have one of the women she’s recruited as the one initiating the dangerous marketplace association and conversation? Show them in HQ at the side, away from Ahab’s quarters at the other end, by the kitchen. Fort north wall is directly behind HQ, so no snooping from there. Garden on left. Ahab’s quarters at other end, on right.

Maybe she/he remember when the Dew-nor-Rain boy delivered his message in this market?

Yedidah opened the door to her husband’s office. “Those men who arrived at the cave yesterday? I need to make sure they have food.” She stuck her head in and looked around. Her Biah was so smart to lay claim to this tiny room off the fort’s kitchen. Snoops had no way to listen in.

Biah grinned. “Gera says filling their mouths made him feel like Gideon trying to feed his seventy sons.” His face went sober, and he lowered his chin to his chest. “Gera. Gera. What those slavers did to Gera’s boy. Baruch used to call me ‘Uncle Biah,’ you know.” Biah groaned, rocked his head back, and lifted his hands. “Oh, Lord, deliver us from these evil, evil people.”

Yedidah captured him in her embrace. “Then they killed his friend with the loud voice. Two beautiful boys.” She held him by the waist and leaned back to look up into his face. “We can’t fix that, dear. But we can hide the boys who live. Keren sniffs out the bubblers, Gera sends them, and we tuck them into our cave.”

Yes. Yes. It’s coming together.”

She glanced at the door. “And no one must know.”

Biah huffed out a laugh. “Oh, the king knows, Didi. Spies everywhere. He learned from his father when we were boys.” His eyes narrowed “But Jezebel. We can’t alert her goons. Ahab and I served side-by-side in the army, and we still race the fastest horses in the valley. We can talk straight with one another when no one else is around.” Biah squared his jaw. “But if his queen thought I was defying her… Ahab is not the real master of his kingdom. My old friend would have no choice but to slip off my head.” His fingers stiffened and chopped at the side of his neck.

Yedidah shuddered as she cupped Biah’s face in her hands. “I shall do everything possible to keep this head in its place.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “Now, I want you to cheer up, dear. The Lord is on our side.”

One finger went up. “The queen’s thugs still have not found that boy in the goatskin who spouted off about dew nor rain.” Two fingers. “We haven’t had a drop of moisture in the whole land.” Three. “And we are hiding seventeen bubblers with more on the way.” The hand dropped. “But we have to feed them, and that’s what I’m going to arrange.

You have enough shoppers?” Biah pinched the skin at his throat. “We don’t want to raise eyebrows in Megiddo with only one person buying for a cave full of people.”

She gave him a playful grin. “Five. And I’m not telling you any names.”

Obadiah pulled her into a familiar embrace. “Didi, you are so right for this. You make everyone in range of your smile want to help.” He kissed her on the mouth and released her. “And best of all, the Lord is with you.” Biah opened his office door for her. “Watching you walk through the kitchen is still a great way to start my day.”

Yedidah glided down the narrow hall and into the kitchen. “Good morning, dears.”

The salad cook’s lips parted, and he held out a plate for her inspection.

She beamed at the celery sticks. “Little darlings.”

The soup cook touched his face and tipped his head toward the open fire.

Yedidah submerged her nose in the cloud of steam. “Ah, carrots!”

The roast chef reached out and took Yedidah’s arm.

She bent near the oven door and inhaled. “Mm, goose!”

Seven of the king’s cooks hovered at her elbows, and when she finally stood ready at the exit to the garden, they all reached to open the door.

The sauce cook stepped out ahead and held the door for her. “Need any help in the market today, Mrs. O?”

Yedidah paused with her hand on the door. Last month she dropped a slight hint and had a cook at each elbow all the way to the market and back. But if the king had spies everywhere, she wasn’t repeating that mistake. “Thank you so much for asking, dear. Only peaches today.”

Following the path between the onions and the cabbage, she paused at the gate and swung her arm in a wild wave to the cooks.

At his window, Biah tilted his head, smiled, and gave a flick of his fingers.

She returned a tiny wave of her own. “That man,” she breathed.

In the street, two ladies paused. “Good morning, Mrs. O.”

Yedidah joined them. “Good morning, dears. Buying cabbage, are we?” At the market entrance, she let them go ahead and gave an open smile to the farmer standing beside the peach display. “How do you bring us such beauties in this drought? I so admire your skill.”

If Biah were here, he would ask why she took time to praise a peach farmer. “Every person has something worth praising,” she would reply. “Even that Asherah official standing behind me in his smelly black robe.” Yedidah cringed. How did that evil person get in here?

The official watched her. His gaze slid down to her Biah, who knelt with his neck on the executioner’s block. Jezebel smirked at Yedidah and set her foot on Biah’s neck. The queen backed away to allow the executioner to raise his axe.

Yedidah must keep Biah’s head in place. She would escape this piece of Sidonian slime. Her fingers flew fast from peach to peach. She tried to smell for ripeness, but the scents blurred together.

The black robe loomed at her shoulder.

Invisible. She would wave a wand and disappear. Yedidah surveyed the market stalls and set a foot out toward the onions but jerked back and held up a peach. “Send me twenty of your largest, please.” She gulped. Mustn’t act any different from other market days.

The peach farmer nodded. “I’ll make them ripen over three days for you just like last time, Mrs. O.”

Yedidah forced her feet into short, deliberate steps toward the onions. It took ages, but she finally stood surrounded by shoppers who examined onions. She sidled up to a lady about her own age and height, who wore a bright yellow tunic with a bright yellow meadow safron peeking from the scarf over her hair. Yedidah pointed to a display of apples. Oh, look over there at the apples, dear. Excellent, today. Let me show you.”

Halfway to the apples, she glanced over her shoulder. Maybe the thug in the black robe was only shopping. His hands held a bag and dropped in peaches. The same hands which dropped babies onto the red-hot arms of Kronos.

Yedidah lowered her voice. “How’s your niece in Megiddo handling the responsibility? You still think an eight-year-old can keep seventeen men under control?”

That little dictator?” Her yellow safron friend winked. “Makes Hammurabi look like a kitten. Just like my sister. Dishes it out with a straight face and takes it from nobody.”

Let’s keep our voices down, dear.”

The Asherah official in the black robe moved toward the apples and stopped in front of Yedidah. The pink Kronos design on his shoulder jumped out at her. He showed his teeth and lifted his bag of peaches. “Good aroma, don’t you think, ma’am?”

Yedidah gagged. “Yes, um, good.” She whirled and knocked avodacos from the arms of a passing shopper.

Watch what you’re doing, lady.” He bent to pick them up, and his shoulder jolted the Asherah official’s hip.

The official barked out a few Sidonian words at the man with the avocados but smiled at Yedidah. “Nothing to be nervous about, ma’am. You’re clearly an astute shopper. I’ll be sure to follow you …for the best produce.”

He knew. And Jezebel would make Ahab slip off her Biah’s head.

The official moved on toward the apples, and the safron friend covered her face. “Oh, Didi. Such a horrid man.”

The market entrance beckoned. Yedidah would stroll calmly out the gate, through her lane, and up the path between the onions and the cabbage. She would tell the cooks to expect the peaches. Then she would saunter down the hall, latch the office door behind her, and throw her arms around Biah. They would run away to Egypt and hide forever among the pyramids.

No. She forced a smile for her safron friend. Yedidah would not hide. Yedidah would conduct business. She picked up a large grapefruit. “That man frightens me. Remember—tell no one what we’re doing.”

Oh, I don’t even talk about this with Keziah. You know, the friend who tells me how the queen’s agents murder anybody who spouts off for the Lord. Last night she reminded me how David and his friends hid in a cave at Ein Gedi. Next thing I know, she’ll be looking for an empty cave.”

We might need another… Keziah? Dear, we don’t tell each other names.”

Oh, that’s not her real name, but I have to call her something, and Job’s daughter isn’t using it anymore. Names help.”

Yedidah stared at the back of the black-robed official. What would be a good name for a person of pure evil? Rah. She would call him Rah.

We might need Keziah’s cave. How many can we fit in the one at Megiddo?” Yedidah held up a grapefruit and squinted at Safron.

Mm… forty, fifty? No more.”

Three women crowded around them and sorted through grapefruit.

Yedidah set the grapefruit back. “Let’s talk more about food. Maybe buy something here and then find me over at”— Rah lurked in his black robe by the sweet potatoes — “at the prickly pears.”

Yedidah ambled along with clammy hands and trembling lips. She would not show fear. She would not. She smiled at the first seller of prickly pears, and when Safron started toward her, she moved to a stall with no customers. “Mind if we stand in your shade?” Rah still hovered over the sweet potatoes.

The two women turned their backs on the merchant. Yedidah sagged against his cart of cactus fruit and pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes. But the merchant stepped in front of them and held the two halves of a prickly pear freshly skinned and speared on twigs. “I cleaned this prize for you two beautiful ladies.”

He thrust the fruit in their faces. “Don’t be bashful. You’ll like the deep flavor we get only here in the Jezreel Valley.”

Yedidah bought ten for herself and ten for friend Safron.

The merchant beamed. He must be a spy. On the take from Rah.

She forced a smile, took Safron by the arm, and glanced toward the mangoes. “Let’s try over… there.”

She led Safron into a busy knot of customers at a mango stand. With chatter all around, they leaned their heads together and spoke mouth-to-ear. Anyone could see they were talking, but no one could hear what they said. “Food. You said we have five people buying in Megiddo?”

That’s right. Five.”

Good. How do we haul the food to our guys in the cave?” Yedidah steered Safron to a cantaloupe stand and handed her the two largest. “Which smells better?”

Safron thumped a cantaloupe and put it to her nose. “Well, I don’t know what to think about this, but my controlling little niece has recruited a network of mules—that’s what they call themselves—little girls who divvy up the food and take it out to the cave at night.”

Little girls! When I first learned what my Biah was getting us into, I pictured little old ladies in the dark of night. Will those children be safe?”

Safron shrugged. “As safe as little old ladies.” She put the other cantaloupe to her nose. “This one.”

Thank you, dear. The best cantaloupe in the market for my Biah. I’m off for home now.”

Before you go, Didi. Some of these guys have families. If we shut them in a cave, how will their wives and children survive?”

My Biah has someone funneling funds. Who and how—not for me to know.” She faced the entrance and hesitated. “If this drought keeps up, we might have to feed our bubbly friends on prickly pears.”

At the entrance, she cast another huge smile at the peach farmer, but her breath caught in her throat as Rah’s black robe disappeared into an alley.

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