Late that afternoon, Biah and Didi took their stair-step children to the stable. Joel and Amos took charge of Lavan and let their baby sister handle Shochar. They led the horses into the sunshine and the almond blossom breeze.
At the water trough, the horses dipped their giant snouts in and drank while the children worked their lips in sympathetic sucking motions. They tied their charges to the hitching post, and Biah handed everyone a curry brush. He stroked Lavan’s white head and neck while Joel and Amos brushed from withers to ankles. Didi worked on Shochar’s big black head while Sheva stood on a stool and brushed his broad back.
Before she could answer, Biah’s head bodyguard dashed up. “Sir, Mikey’s into something out at the gate.”
The tension in his voice made Biah’s hand stiffen. Lavan’s head bobbed. Biah shielded his eyes from the sun and faced the guard. “Um, what’s Micaiah doing?”
Sheva fluttered her lashes. “Mikey sings to me, Daddy.”
The guard tilted his head toward the gate. “Sir, Mikey’s not singing.”
“Go, dear. Mikey needs you.” Didi collected the curry brushes from Biah and Sheva. “The boys will help me with Lavan and Shochar.”
Sheva gripped Biah’s fingers. “Daddy, is something wrong with Mikey?”
Biah and Sheva followed the guard out to the plaza and over to a group of young men just inside the fort gate.
Mikey bounced up and spoke right in Yotam’s face. “I tell you, the Lord wants you to strike me with your weapon. Wound me.”
Biah knit his brow. What had Mikey been drinking? He would have to warn him about accepting drinks from riffraff on the plaza. “Daddy will be right back, Sheva. Stay here with my guard.” He untangled his fingers from her grip and pushed his way through the young men.
“Please, sir.” Mikey’s eyes pleaded with Biah, but his voice held steady, in control. “This is not your affair. This is the Lord’s doing.”
Biah stepped back, stunned but obedient. The Lord? He would not interfere.
When Mikey turned to Yotam, though, his voice shook slightly. “Really, the Lord wants you to strike me with your weapon. To give me a wound.” Mikey bowed and pointed to his head.
Yotam stared at Mikey and backed away. “No, no. I could never hurt you, Mikey. I can’t do that.”
Mikey sagged to his knees and wept. “Oh, Yotam, you really must. If you disobey the Lord and don’t wound me, the Lord says, when you leave here a lion will kill you.”
Biah’s head shot back. A lion? Just because Yotam wouldn’t strike him?
Yotam whimpered and glanced around wild-eyed. “Let me out of here!”
Biah pushed through the crowd. This tomfoolery had gone far enough. He would break it up before somebody got hurt. Biah rammed between two young men and reached for Yotam. “No! Don’t go. Didn’t you hear what Mikey said?”
But Yotam eluded his grasp and dashed out of the fort.
Biah shoved the rest of the way through and stood on the plank bridge over the moat.
The young men behind him craned their necks and gawked.
Sheva pushed between them and encircled Biah’s leg with her arms. “Daddy. Is Mikey okay?”
“Sheva!” She had escaped the guard. Biah hoisted her into his arms. “Mikey’s fine. What are you doing, baby? Where’s my guard?”
“He’s a nice guard, Daddy.”
Yotam’s strides took him down the slope, around the bend toward Bietshan, and for a moment behind a small grove.
A deep roar rolled up the grade.
Sheva screamed in Biah’s ear.
As Yotam emerged from behind the trees, a lion leaped from a boulder and knocked him on his back. Yotam yelled and flailed his hands at the giant head, but the huge jaws closed on his neck and twisted. Blood shot into the air as the teeth tore Yotam’s throat from his neck.
“Uhn!” A man gasped. Another sucked in his breath. Men turned to look away, covered their mouths, and turned back again, unable not to watch.
Yotam lay on his back, his eyes fixed on the sky, absent the front part of his neck. Blood pooled in the road, and the lion straddled his torso in silence.
“Strike me.” Mikey faced Tzvi in the middle of the group.
Biah whirled around. Not again. He pulled Sheva’s head closer to his shoulder. She’d seen enough for one day.
Tzvi didn’t waste a moment. He whipped out a big blade—“Remember, you asked for this”—and cut a big slice in Mikey’s scalp.
Mikey staggered and tried to stop the spurting blood with his hand. He wobbled up to Tzvi. “Thank you, my brother.” Mikey opened his pack and dragged out a white scarf. “Now please tie this scarf over it.”
Biah rubbed his eyebrows. Mikey had stuffed that scarf in his bag before any of this started. Biah shook his head. He rubbed Sheva’s back. “You don’t have to watch, honey.” She buried her face deeper in his tunic.
Tzvi knotted the scarf on Mikey’s bloody head, and Mikey jogged across the planks and down the slope. He stood by the road to Megiddo, out of sight of Yotam and the lion.
As if Mikey had ordered a coach, Ahab’s chariot rolled around the curve from Megiddo.
With blood dripping from his chin, Mikey pulled the scarf over his eyes and in a strange, high-pitched voice, called toward the approaching chariot. “They brought me a prisoner. Said if you lose him, it’s your life for his life. But I was busy, and the prisoner disappeared.”
Biah pulled Sheva closer. Why was Mikey acting like this?
The chariot stopped, and Ahab shook his head at the grotesque person in the bloody bandage. “Why bother me with this? You said it. A life for a life.”
Mikey pushed the bandage off his face. He leaned against the royal chariot. The guards relaxed. Everybody knew Mikey. But he had lost his bounce. He began to sob. “Oh, my king.” He turned his face up. “My king, the Lord says you let Ben-hadad go free, so now it’s your life for his life, your people for his people.” His tears watered the chariot rail.
Biah’s eyes grew big. He stared at Mikey and Ahab for several breaths and saw again Syrians in sackcloth kneeling at Ahab’s chariot. “He is my brother,” Ahab had said. “My brother.”
Ahab’s face lost all color. His shoulders drooped. His mouth hung open, and he slumped to the chariot floor.
The driver looked down at him. “Where to, my king?”
His chariot drove on.