Elijah pushed open the door, strode out to the well, and stood under the fading stars. He brushed his fingers over his throat. No fresh blood. Only the raw memory of the little girl’s eyes and the slaver’s knife.
He slapped his long, skinny waist. He should strap on a sword, for the next time he met a slaver on the trail.
The late night breeze from Dad’s small sea of vines smelled of grape leaves, donkey fur, and fresh droppings.
Elijah ambled over to the pen behind the wine room. Streaks of light rose in the east and chased away more stars. A few donkeys sucked water from the narrow stream in the southeast corner, and others nosed around the feed trays lipping at small drifts of hay. Elijah forked hay over the fence and into the trays.
A group of hot blue luminous stars refused to give way to the growing dawn. He quoted, “Can you bind the sweet influences of the Seven Sisters or loose the bands of Orion?”
The same stars had watched that little girl in the far north fields of Kasran, and the Lord had looked over their shoulders. Yet, when kidnappers snatched her, had the Lord turned away? Hadn’t he heard the thick man hammer that chain link on her ankle?
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 stabbed the pitchfork into the haystack.
Nathan’s voice dimmed. “I kept seeing her face all night.” He handed Elijah his sandals.
Elijah stared at the dirt. “That slaver hurts that little girl, Nate. And the Lord doesn’t stop him.” He knelt and laid a sandal on a stool.
Nathan slipped his foot into the sandal. “The Lord told Moses, ‘Whoever steals someone, … put him to death.’ But who’s gonna kill that slaver?”
Elijah laced up the sandal. “You and I, Nate. We’ll get swords and chase those slavers off the road.”
“We’ll take lessons. That knife jumped in my face. But we’ll learn. We’ll strike like… like… how’s that go about the Lord’s wind and fire?”
Nathan stood in his laced-up sandal, Elijah slapped the other sandal on the stool, and Nathan slipped his foot in.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind.
Your lightning lit up the world.
The earth trembled and quaked.
“That’s us.” Elijah pursed his lips together and pumped his fist in the air. “Lightning for the Lord.”
Nathan chuckled. “Yeah, right.”
Elijah tied Nathan’s second sandal. “Why doesn’t the Lord send a whirlwind and toss that slaver into the ocean?”
Nathan put both feet on the ground. “Thanks. You 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 gave him a sly grin. “Who said anything about Milkah?”
Elijah stood and tied Nathan’s tunic, letting the beginnings of a smile play 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? His beard reaches his chest, and he wears silk tunics.”
“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.” 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.”
With Elijah on one side of Dad and Nathan the other, they left the vineyard and set off through the tiny village of Tishbe. Elijah led five donkeys, and Nathan five. Each donkey carried two goatskins full of wine.
When they trudged into Jabesh, the sun rode low in the east and cast long shadows across the plaza. Shoppers smiled at Dad and then up at the two boys, each a head taller than their father. Merchants turned keys in shop doors and flung them open.
Elijah pushed through the blacksmith’s door with Dad and Nathan behind.
Tubal’s hammer and tongs lay by his goatskin bellows at the edge of a cold hearth. Instead of greeting them in the sunshine at the door with his usual jokes and smiles, he hid in the dark at the rear of the shop. His white beard drooped around his down-turned mouth, and he peeked through the gloom like a weary ghost.
Dad clasped him by the shoulder. “What do you forge today, my friend?”
Tubal brought his gnarled hand to his forehead. “Nothing. I’ve no orders.” He shook his head. “Only six farmers have wheat to sell. Many don’t even have barley for their family.” He turned to Elijah. “I might sharpen enough plow points this week to sell the wine from one wineskin. That’s all, son. One skin.”
Nathan backed Balak up to the shop, opened the door and held it open with his foot while he grabbed the back legs of a goatskin full of wine. Elijah grabbed the front legs. They eased it off Balak, into the shop, and onto its rack.
Tubal’s shoulders slumped. “We haven’t had good weather in months, but Sidon’s got an Asherah temple and a Moloch.” His mouth twitched as if he might smile. “Gives ’em regular rain and dew, good crops.”
Elijah took in a sharp breath. “Moloch! Don’t you know—”
Dad rested his hand on Elijah’s arm. “Tubal knows, my son. He knows.”
Elijah bit his tongue. It wasn’t his place to correct Dad’s friend.
Dad BEAT. “When those Sidonians get a month of good rain and dew, they thank the Baals. Then the rains fail, and they forget the Baals didn’t help.” He nodded toward the door to the blacksmith’s family quarters. “Thought about Jubal’s baby boy? They come with red ink and mark that boy’s wrist. Next week, into the fire. You want to burn your grandson, so you can turn a profit?”
Tubal scuffed the floor with his sandal. “You make it sound so….” He glanced up. “But they only want one child. What are the chances of me getting the short straw?”
Elijah gasped. Draw straws for whose baby they feed to the fire? Heat flooded his face, and he took a step forward, but Dad squeezed his arm. “You’ve read it, my friend. ‘Anyone who sacrifices children to Moloch — stone him.’”
Peleg the potter greeted them at his door. An open smile extended the slash on his red, wrinkled face. The usual spatter of red clay dotted his black beard, but for once he did not kid Elijah and Nathan about how their knees and elbows poked out. Instead, he waved his powerful clay-covered hands toward the racks of unsold plates and bowls. “No wine for me, boys. I haven’t seen three customers this week, and I don’t expect any next week. I can fire up that kiln all I want, but when the crops fail, people use their old, cracked ware.”
Dad cleared his throat and tapped his heel on the packed-earth floor. “Yes. Um. Tubal had this crazy idea. Said in Sidon they—”
“Sidon? Those shops in Sidon?” Peleg wiped his hands on a clay-filled rag and turned wide eyes on Dad. “Did Tubes tell you about the customers that Asherah temple brings in?”
“Uhn.” Elijah covered his mouth. The smithy and the potter talking up Moloch and Asherah.
Dad lifted his wide jaw. “What we need is another King Asa. He felled the Asherah pole that belonged to his own grandmother. Chopped it up and burned it in the Kidron.”
On the way to the fruit and vegetable shop, Elijah clenched his fists. An image floated in his head of the little girl with blood crusted on her foot who whimpered as she crawled away from the thick man with red hair.
Gaddi the grocer opened his door wide. “My old friends from Tishbe. Come in. Come in.” Even his droopy eye perked up as bright as the other.
Dad placed his hands on his hips and tilted his head back. “Tubal and Peleg send their greetings.” He let the words hang in the air while he tapped his foot.
Gaddi’s droopy eye closed. He blinked the other eye several times and combed his hand through his beard. “Um, well.” He turned to Elijah. “No wine for me today, boys. Not enough customers. Sorry.” He glanced at Dad. “So, yes, Tubal and Peleg. Don’t suppose you—”
Dad folded his arms across his chest and scowled. “They been talking crops with you? ’Cause you and I’ve had this conversation.” Dad’s scowl turned black.
Elijah sucked in a breath. Dad had left his friendly wine salesman persona in the street with Balak and Balaam.
Gaddi pointed to his shriveled-up apples and rotting cabbages. “It’s nothing personal, you know. It’s business.”
Elijah snorted and touched Dad’s arm.
Dad stepped aside and swept his arm toward Elijah.
The words flew from Elijah’s mouth. “What do you mean it’s not personal?” He took a step toward Gaddi. “You ever hear a tiny baby scream in the fire? See skin scraped off a girl’s ankle? The look in her eye?”
Gaddi cocked his head. “A boy like you can’t understand business.”
Elijah’s face burned. “Business?” In one stride, his lanky form towered over Gaddi. “You want to understand their business? Splash red ink on your own wrist. Jump in that Moloch fire yourself. I got donkeys out front talk more sense.”