Elijah emerged from the house and brushed his fingers over his throat. No fresh blood. Only the raw memory of the little girl’s fear and the slaver’s arrogance. “I don’t get it, Lord. Why don’t you bring your finger down here and smush that guy?”
From across the vines, the last breeze of the night brought the scent of donkey fur and fresh droppings. East of the hill, light streaked the sky.
Elijah opened the gate. In the far north, children must be watching the same light grow into dawn. The Lord must care about them as much as children here in his village.
Balak and Bilaam, Elijah’s favorite donkeys, stood nose-to-tail and toothed one another on the back. Okay. So, the Lord saw those slavers put their heads together, and he heard their plans. But he did nothing about it?
A few donkeys sucked water from the narrow stream in the southeast corner of the pen, and others nosed around the feed trays lipping at small drifts of hay. But the face of the little girl on the King’s Highway swam before Elijah. The hopeless pain in her eyes sapped his strength. His knees gave way. He reached for the gate but missed. He sank and pounded his knuckles in the dirt. “Are you blind, Lord? Okay. I know better. But really—”
Nathan strode out of the house in his bare feet with his sandals in his hands. “Load ’em up, Lijah. Twenty skins of Tishbe wine for Dad’s friends in Jabesh.” He paused. “What’s wrong?”
“That little girl.” Elijah sat in the dirt.
Nathan’s voice dimmed. “I kept seeing her face all night.” He reached for Elijah’s hand and pulled him to his feet.
Elijah stared at the dirt. “The world’s wrong, Nate. And the Lord isn’t fixing it. Sandals, please.”
“Well, of course it is, little brother.” Nathan dropped his sandals by a stool.
“You wanta take on the devil? Hang on. One of those needs a new lace.” Nathan strode over to the shed at one end of the donkey pen and came out with a lace in his hand. He put a foot on the stool and handed the lace to Elijah.
Elijah inserted the new lace and tied Nathan’s sandal. “Why doesn’t the Lord send a whirlwind and toss those slavers into the ocean?”
Nathan took his foot down and put up the other. “Tell me why my fingers don’t tie laces, and I’ll tell you why the Lord doesn’t blow slave traders away.”
“Milkah?” Nathan wiggled his eyebrows. “Who said anything about Milkah?”
Elijah stood and tied Nathan’s tunic while the beginnings of a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “I’m going to marry Milkah.”
“You wish.” Nathan rolled his eyes. “Why should she marry a village boy when she can have the butcher’s son in Jabesh? He wears silk tunics and already has a beard.”
“Oh yeah? That beard better not come sniffing around these hills. If I even catch him on the ridge, I’ll… I’ll…” Elijah narrowed his eyes, and a donkey brayed from the pen.
“Uh-huh. That’s what you’ll do all right.” Nathan put Elijah in a headlock and ground his knuckles into his scalp.
Elijah ducked away, whipped his fist up and held it against Nathan’s jaw. “We’ve got ten donkeys waiting for wineskins.”
Elijah led five donkeys and Nathan led five, with two goatskins full of wine on each donkey for merchants in Jabesh. With Dad between them, they left their vineyard and set off through the tiny village of Tishbe.
“Dad, is the devil why that slaver has that little girl?”
“Oh, slavers have been importing children to Moab for years. It’s just that you boys haven’t been out on the highway to see it. The devil? You dad’s no theologian.”
“Why doesn’t the Lord just kill the devil?”
They trudged past the first houses in silence. Villagers weren’t out yet, but the grackles in the trees surrounded them with a rattling song.
Finally Dad spoke. “I asked my own father the same question.”
Elijah stomped his foot in the dirt. “But, Dad! Doesn’t the Lord see that chain? How it cuts her ankle? Doesn’t he smell that poop on her?”
“Yes, he does. The Lord sees. The Lord smells. And what that man does is terrible.”
“Doesn’t the Lord hate it? Why does he let it go on?”
“I know he hates it. That much I know. But why the Lord lets it go on? I don’t know, son. I really don’t.”
When they got to Jabesh, the sun still rode so low in the sky that the shops cast long morning shadows across the city streets. A few early shoppers joined the merchants going to open their doors.
“Good morning!” Elijah raised his free hand and gave the baker a broad smile. “Morning! Good morning!” He addressed the cobbler, the butcher, the blacksmith. He nodded “Ma’am” to any passing woman, and winked or grinned at every child.
Nathan, however, stared at the street. Every child in sight called to him. “Morning, Nathan.” He gave each one a nod and a smile.
Elijah squeezed his dad’s arm. “So, Dad, what do you say was David’s greatest moment?”
“The five smooth stones.”
Dad nodded. “Why so?”
Elijah laughed. “I thought you were gonna tell the one about Goliath’s four brothers.”
“Nathan outgrew that one. What moment do you choose, Elijah?”
“I like it.” Dad lifted his chin and his beard rose off his tunic. “My sons are scholars. Keep searching.” He looked ahead with a twinkle in his eye.
The mill came in view, their first delivery. The miller always met them at the door of the mill, his bushy white beard bouncing with jokes about dad’s too-tall teenage bodyguards.
Dad looked up and down the street. The twinkle left his eye. He poked the door open. “Where’s the miller?”