Kerith Brook, Gilead, Israel, 871 BC
“Nate, there’s a deer watching us.”
“Ibex.” Nathan answered from beside him. “Nubian ibex. We’ve invaded his home.”
Elijah rolled to the edge of their rock slab and reached down. Pebbles. He sat, dangled his feet, and slid until he stood on gravel. He strolled through a few acacia trees to a noisy little brook, and refilled their water skins.
Back at the ledge he pulled Nathan to the ground. “I see dandelions.”
They munched on dandelion leaves, filled their fists with the greens, and then wandered into a small stand of acacias to inhale the fragrance of their yellow blossoms.
“Horses,” Nathan whispered. He yanked Elijah into the low green shrubs at the base of the trees.
Elijah held his breath.
Five horses clump-clumped through the tall grass. The last horse in line tossed its head and nickered. Short swords hung from the riders’ shoulders, shields and spears dangled from their saddles. The first man peered ahead, the next two searched the low ground around the brook, and the last two scanned the sides of the ravine.
When the five trotted out of sight around a bend, Elijah breathed again and cocked his head to listen as the hoofbeats died away.
Nathan clutched Elijah’s arm. “The king’s guards?”
“That’s how they looked in the fort. Same gray tunics and leather vests.”
As they sat on their ledge and nibbled dandelions, Nathan gave Elijah a shaky smile. “Greens do it for you?”
Elijah shrugged. “Better than grass and bark.” How much fun it would be to watch Nathan’s face as he told him about the voice that said ravens would feed him. But then he would have to admit the voice said to come to Kerith Brook. Bummers.
Deep, throaty kraa-kraa-kraa floated over the ridge. Six large birds with glossy-black feathers floated in and perched on a flat boulder two paces from Elijah. Their kraa changed to low, gurgling croaks as they lifted their talons and deposited two chunks of roast mutton and four pita breads on the boulder.
Nathan stood, and the birds flew.
They flapped over the ridge in another burst of kraa, kraa, kraa.
He shuffled over and picked up a pita. “It’s clean.” He tore off a piece with his teeth, chewed, and blinked.
“Nate.” Elijah coughed. “You were right to bring us here. The Lord tried to tell me the Kerith. He even said ravens would, um, feed us. I wanted to go home. I …”
Nathan grabbed a piece of mutton and spoke in deadpan. “You ignored the voice of the Lord, and I had to threaten to break your arms and legs?”
“I thought the voice in my head was a trick.”
Nathan draped an arm around him. “That’s okay, little brother.” He squeezed Elijah’s shoulders. His voice carried a lilt. “Next time I start by breaking your pinkie.” He pinched Elijah’s cheek.
Elijah kept an arm around Nathan’s waist and eased himself onto their ledge. “I don’t like this, Nate.”
Nathan dropped next to Elijah and nibbled on the mutton. “You prefer dandelions? This is yummy. The Lord sent those ravens to a cook who knows how to use garlic and butter.”
“No. The food is … Thank you, Lord!” Elijah dropped his head into his hands for several breaths.
He stood and paced back and forth. “They killed Omar. I marched to the fort to tell the king off. I thought I was just me being mad. But the Lord put those dew-nor-rain words in my mouth. Then he said Kerith.” He tested a pita with his teeth. “And ravens.”
Nathan stepped over and draped his arm around Elijah’s shoulders. “The Lord will work it out. He will.”
Elijah pointed to their ledge. “Your feet need to heal. Sit here and nibble while I get greens. If you hear horses, duck behind the dinner rock.”
“Keep your ears open, little brother. Stay near trees or boulders.”
That evening the ravens flew in with more bread and mutton.
Elijah and Nathan slept again on their ledge.
In the morning, ravens delivered bread and large chunks of roast beef. Nathan sampled the meat. “Different cook. Lots of pepper and onions. Good. Very good.”
Every third or fourth day, royal guards rode through, five men on horseback searching the ravine. The daytime skies turned sharp blue, and the nights chilly.
One evening, Nathan pointed to the new moon. “The Day of Trumpets.” He dropped his head on his chest. “I miss Mother.”
Elijah looked up at the fragile circle in the sky. “I can still hear Milkah telling her sheep, ‘We’ve got company, Chops.’”
Three days after Trumpets, Nathan pronounced his feet healed, and Elijah took him to explore the ravine. They nibbled wild asparagus and plucked leaves from tall salt bushes. The guards rode through, and the brothers dropped behind a boulder.
The tenth day after Trumpets, no ravens.
Elijah grinned. “Did the Lord explain the Day of Atonement to the ravens?”
Nathan shook his head. “The families that give them food are fasting.”
The next day, the ravens resumed their morning and evening deliveries.
Five days later, Nathan broke several small limbs from oaks and acacias.
Elijah laughed. “You think we need a booth? Isn’t our ledge camp enough for you?”
Nathan stripped bark from branches. “Come on. Have some fun.”
Elijah used Nathan’s bark strips to lace a branch into the crotch of a small tree and across to the next tree. Nathan laced another. Several branches and many bark strips later, they sat under a roof of branches and leaves.
Nathan poked Elijah in the ribs. “This is how our ancestors lived when the Lord brought them out of Egypt.”
“I liked it better when we did this with Mom and Dad and Sheerah out by the well.”
Day after day, week after week, they saw neither dew nor rain. They drank from the shrinking brook, ate bread and meat from the ravens, and munched on greens.
One afternoon they lay on their backs in the grass, and Elijah pictured Milkah saying, “Here? You want to build a house here?” As he closed his eyes to let her voice echo in his head, a familiar low grunt floated across the dry floor of the ravine.
A squat, plump rodent as long as Elijah’s forearm stood and stared at him over its pointy nose. It grunted, wiggled its tiny round ears, and grunted again.
Elijah scowled, his memory of Milkah interrupted by a rock coney.
Nathan laughed. “He acts like the one behind our house. You think they’re cousins?”
“Don’t try to cheer me up, Nate. Coneys are cute, but haven’t we been hiding long enough? Wouldn’t you like to load wineskins on Balak and Bilaam? You know me, Nate. I’m a patient person—”
“That’s you.” Nathan smirked. “The patience of Job.”
Elijah yanked a weed from the rock wall and ripped it to shreds. “But I miss Mother and Milkah. I’d even laugh at Dad’s pharaoh joke.” [How to show it?]
As the weeks passed with neither dew nor rain, the trees high on the sides of the ravine showed more brown than green. Each week, their search for dandelions, salt bushes, and asparagus took them farther from the dinner rock. Less and less water flowed through the brook. Ravens, however, kept flying in morning and evening with fresh pitas and delicious meat.
[They weathered the winter in Kerith? How did they keep warm? I’d imagine they would have to build a real house for that amount of time, and kill animals for furs. ]
On the first day of Aviv, Nathan reminded Elijah, “Passover in just fifteen days. We’ve been here over six months.” He left Elijah sitting in the stream bed and wandered off to pick greens.
Elijah massaged his temples. Over six months. Yet the king’s guards had ridden through only three weeks ago. Why couldn’t they forget him? It was time to go home.
He dug a hole with his fingers in the dry stream bed. When he had first arrived in the ravine, the brook had gushed like a river and bumped small stones into each other. After several weeks with no rain, a small stream glided along without offending so much as a pebble. Yesterday a trickle slipped through and made no sound, but today the water had disappeared into the sand.
A voice said, “Go at once to Zarephath by Sidon. I’ve told a widow there to feed you.”
Why was his brother joking about Sidon? Elijah swiveled, looking for Nathan.
In the feathery pink flowers of a tamarisk tree, a warbler flipped its tail. Across the ravine, a rock coney stood guard for his furry family. And at a far bend in the ravine, Nathan sauntered toward him with dandelion greens in his hand.
“That was you, Lord. You said Zarephath.”
He should leap to his feet and jab his fist in the air. “We’re outta here.”
Instead he squinted at his approaching brother. If they detoured through Tishbe, they could hug Mom and Dad and Sheerah. Zoom over the ridge, tell Milkah about Fort Jezreel, and be off to Zarephath before the king’s guards caught their scent.
Nathan plopped down beside him. Would he cooperate?