Imri rubbed his eyes. “Mmm…. What’s up, Mikey?”
Mikey touched his finger to Imri’s lips and led him to the faint light at the mouth of the cave. On the bank of the stream next to the wall which closed off the outside world, they faced the narrow opening that allowed stars to shine in and water to rush out.
Bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet, Mikey puckered to whistle the psalm, “Why do the heathen rage.” But he glanced back into the dark. Better not wake them.
He whispered to Imri, “I’m leaving for a day or two. A message for the king. You can tell Zophal and the others.”
Imri’s eyes widened, and he sucked in a quick breath.
With a hand over Imri’s mouth, Mikey said, “Don’t wake the guys.”
Imri spread his feet, leaned in, and looked him straight in the eye. “You’re gonna run off? Just like that?”
Mikey set his jaw. “Remember that thug who runs the Asherah temple in the market? Did you interrupt me from telling him what he needed?”
Imri smothered a laugh. “Oh, Mikey. You big bubbling lump. I couldn’t interrupt you if I tried. But the guys need to hear this from you.”
Mikey crossed his arms over his chest and let his heels settle to the ground. The Lord had seen fit to let them sleep. “We can’t. The Lord told me to go. He didn’t say to wake everybody in the cave.” He leaned away from Imri.
Imri chuckled. “Mikey, you don’t want to walk away without a word. You really don’t.”
Mikey pressed his lips together, but Imri grinned at him. The faint light turned the stream a liquid silver. Stars winked at him from the night sky beyond the cave. Imri’s grin held steady.
“I don’t think so, Mikey. The guys love that one, but let’s tap them on the shoulders.”
The starlight at the cave entrance touched Nahum’s face. “Mikey will need food from the stash.”
Several moments later, men poked pitas, raisins, and figs into Mikey’s pack. Imri slung a small skin of red wine over Mikey’s shoulder.
“Think of it this way, guys.” Mikey stepped down into the stream and bent to fill his waterskin. “For two days, my whistling won’t bug you.” He straightened and jerked his head back.
The men had rearranged themselves by voice: basses, baritones, second tenors, and first tenors. Nahum raised both hands to cue their first note.
Mikey gasped. “Not here. Not here. Jezebel’s thugs will drag you out and slit your throats.”
Nahum shrugged. “The Lord bless you and keep you. One of your favorites. But we don’t want to meet friends of Jezebel.”
Mikey stood in the icy flow and laughed and howled. How he loved doing that song with the guys, but way back in a deep branch of the cave, not here at the entrance. He bounced and splashed his way outside, waved back through the opening, and turned to go.
A little girl with tight black curls around her face and a heavy pack on her back stood in his way. “What are you doing outside your cave, Micaiah?”
Oh, no. He should have snuck out before the first food delivery.
“I haven’t got time, Nefi.” Mikey stepped to the side.
She pounded her little fist into her hand and blocked his path. “Time is what you have lots of. I put you in that cave, and that’s where you belong.” She made a face with her bottom lip pressed into her teeth.
“You don’t understand. The Lord gave me a message for the king.”
Nefertiti snorted, tipped her head on one side, and did a high, nasal imitation. “You don’t understand.” She straightened and voice. “I understand Jezebel wants to kill you. I understand my mules keep you alive.”
Imri, Zophal, and Nahum splashed out of the cave and stood between her and Mikey.
Imri smiled down at her. “For real, Nefi. A message for the king.”
Zophal nodded. “Trust us, okay? Mikey needs to get out of here. We promise.”
Nahum blocked her line of sight to Mikey. “Come on inside. It’s not safe out here. And my feet are frozen.”
Nefi pushed Nahum’s arm up and frowned at Mikey. “This better be good.”
While the three men shepherded their little queen into the cave, Mikey pushed through the water to the bed of gravel and crossed on the largest rocks. He kept the splash of the stream at a slight distance and thrust through the bushes toward the road, parallel to the stream.
Mikey shook river gravel out of his sandals. The wind ruffled leaves overhead, several stars winked, and an owl hooted. The fragrance of pine swirled around him. It had been too long. He danced and laughed and cried and let the tears run as he sucked in deep, deep breaths of clean air.
The guys should feel this freedom. He sang softly, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky shows the work of his hands.”
As he neared the valley road, he followed the aroma of overripe pomegranates fallen on the ground and then whistled as he felt one branch after the other in the dark. He picked three large fruits from the branches and crammed them into his pack.
Mikey stepped onto the road, but when he turned toward the distant Megiddo cutoff, his whistle died. The hair raised on his neck.
A fire flickered, and someone stood by the fire. Smoke. Why didn’t he smell it when he pawed through the pomegranates?
He pressed his elbows into his sides and edged back into the bushes.
Guards ask questions. “A message for the king? Have a seat right over here, mister.”
If he snuck behind them, scouts would hear him break twigs and trip over rocks in the dark. But what if he crossed the road and circled out of sight? Bad idea. If he could see three sentry fires in this little stretch of the valley, several platoons must camp out of sight.
Secret paths. Imri had pulled out of Nefi that she and her mules lugged food to the cave by tracks well off the road. But she never mentioned soldiers. And Imri never asked how to find her hidden trails.
Old Gideon learned by listening. Mikey crouched low, felt with a foot forward for stones or sticks, and crept through the bushes toward the sentinel fire.
A second man stood at the fire and pointed up the road toward Acre.
Mikey froze. The two soldiers stared right at him. Did they see him move? Were troops coming up behind him? He didn’t dare look around. His shoulders tightened. Muscles cramped in his calf. He shifted his foot. A twig snapped.