15. A time to mourn

Samaria City, Israel, 868 BC
Ecclesiastes 3:4

Obadiah1Obadiah is the king’s right-hand man. glanced up. “The boisterous fellow coming our way. Help me with his name.”

The first evening of the seven days of mourning for Liev2Liev is Gera’s son. had begun. Clusters of mourners filled the courtyard with the buzz of greetings and condolences, and a few groups stood between the two wings of the house. In this recess, near the door, Obadiah sat with Gera,3Gera is chief grove manager. Hodiah,4Hodiah is Gera’s wife. and Keren.5Keren is Liev’s wife. Liev’s three-year-old sat on Obadiah’s lap and the baby on Gera’s.

Keren glanced at the commotion in the courtyard. “Oh, that’s Ulam. He’s good friends with Liev.”

“Hi there!” Ulam and a young woman at his side approached a knot of courtyard mourners. Ulam slapped one on the back. “Hey, buddy.” The boom of his voice turned heads.

“His wife is Cozbi.” Keren took the three-year-old.

As Ulam and Cozbi passed another group of mourners, he yelled to them, “Good to see you!” The couple carried their cups of wine between the wings and wound a path through chatting mourners toward Gera’s little group by the door.

Ulam zeroed his smile in on Obadiah.

Obadiah rolled off his goatskin and stood. “Ulam.”

“Uncle Biah. My wife, Cozbi.” Ulam’s voice rose over the conversations.

“Pleased to meet you, Cozbi.” Obadiah gave her a solemn bow.

Gera handed his slice of melon to Hodiah and shifted on his goatskin as if to rise.

“Don’t get up. Don’t get up. Good morning, Gera, Hodiah.”

A group of mourners four paces from him closed their mouths and gawked at Ulam.

He turned his bright beam on Cozbi and announced, “Uncle Biah’s the king’s right-hand man. Liev calls him Uncle, so that’s what I call him.”

Heads turned and eyes fixed on Ulam.

Ulam broadcast his words over the few remaining voices. “You’ve seen his big chariot at the palace. He runs the king’s enterprises, but he’s got nothing to do with those slimy thugs from Sidon.” Ulam curled his lip and gave a vigorous nod to Keren.

She took a quick breath. “Ngh.”

Chats between the wings ceased, and voices from the outer courtyard leaped into the silence.

A woman nearby gasped and slapped her fingers to her mouth. She turned and stared at Ulam.

Obadiah pursed his lips. Only yesterday slavers had slit the throat of this young man’s good friend. Did he not realize the queen’s spies gathered with those who mourn?

Gera sucked in a quick breath and glanced at the gate. Obadiah followed his gaze. Too late to lock out undercover agents.

Obadiah searched for normal words and spoke in a soft tone. “My men will inspect olive groves with me during the seven days of mourning.” He turned on a hyper smile to cover the tightness in his throat, retrieved the baby from Keren and nestled him on an arm. “But we plan to join Gera and this little fellow each evening. I hope to see more of you.”

Cosbi tipped her head to him, and Ulam beamed. “Thanks, Uncle Biah.” His eyes darted around the crowd. “See you soon.” He led Cosbi through the mourners.

Obadiah sat on the goatskin, and Liev’s baby resumed clambering over him. “Someone needs to teach our young friend the difference between caution and cowardice.”

Gera watched Ulam thread his way to two young couples in the outer courteyard. “He’s a good boy. Works with his father and uncles in their pomegranate and apple orchards.”

###

On the seventh day of mourning, Obadiah completed his grove inspections in the morning and met Gera at his door. “I would spend this afternoon with you, for early tomorrow I return to the fort, to Yedidah and our children. The men brought food for the mourners.”

Gera gave a grim nod and opened the door. Obadiah’s guards hauled out the table that held Liev a week ago and placed it in the outer courtyard. They scrubbed it with soap and water, rinsed it off, and dried it with a clean towel.

In the center of the table, the guards set a roasted leg of mutton and a jar of pickled cucumbers. On one end, a wine-filled goatskin beside a tray of fresh bread. On the other, baskets of apples, grapes, and figs. A guard invited mourners to the table while he used a broom to shoo away curious goats and chickens.

Obadiah selected two figs and joined Gera by the door, opposite Hodiah and Keren.

Keren cradled a child in her lap, holding the child the same way Yedidah had supported their babies.

Obadiah took in a sharp breath. With those hands, she had tried to cover the slash in her husband’s throat.

Obadiah paused with the figs in his fingers. What if thugs had slit his own throat while his wife was carrying their third child? How would Yedidah and the kids survive? He dropped the figs into a pocket of his robe.

The baby climbed down from Keren and marched straight to Obadiah, who cupped the tiny back and bottom in his palms and pulled him to his shoulder. Obadiah turned to Gera. “How long did Liev manage olive groves? He started during Omri’s reign.”

Gera pursed his lips. “Six years.”

“You know, if that boy found parasites he showed us. Didn’t want to hide a problem. He wanted to make it right.” He raised an eyebrow at two guards.

They nodded in unison. “Liev.”

Obadiah nestled the baby against his shoulder. “Sometimes he led me far outside the grove—whether I wanted to go or not—to a hole where he buried diseased olives he’d pulled off the trees. Liev hid nothing. He put everything in plain sight.”

Gera lifted his chin and shifted to look directly at Hodiah. “He even told his mother when he thought there was too much salt in the stew, didn’t he, dear? That boy couldn’t hold back.”

Her lips spread in a weak smile. “Our Liev has a way of letting the truth bubble out.”

“Yes, he does.” Keren cleared her throat. “I know how it happened.” She looked at Hodiah and then at Gera. “The day before…” A sniffle stopped her. She shifted on her goatskin, took a breath, and began in a louder tone.

“The day before the queen’s men….”

Talk paused. Heads in the outer courtyard turned.

She set her jaw. “…killed my husband.”

Hodiah and Gera locked eyes for a moment and then gave their attention the last living parent of their grandchildren.

Keren raised her voice a touch. “It bubbled out of Liev and his friends about how the Lord hates Asherah.” She glanced up at faces in the courtyard. “They were quoting Moses about smashing idols. So, when my Liev—saw that poor little girl—in the dirt. My Liev couldn’t hold back. He spouted off like he does.”

Hodiah’s face flushed, and she spoke, perhaps more loudly than she intended. “That’s our boy.” She ducked her head and glance around. Then she looked up wide eyed and continued more loudly than before. “Opens his mouth and spouts truth.”

She laid a hand on Keren’s arm and returned to a quiet tone. “We can talk like he’s still with us if we want to, dear.”

Obadiah stood holding the baby. “We will remember this boy’s father for how he put truth first.” He looked at Keren. How could he have helped Liev live? “I’m taking my men to our rooms while the sky is still light, for we leave at dawn. Dear, dear friends, goodbye for now.” He handed the baby to Keren and reached for Gera’s hand.

A man burst through the gate. “Ulam! They killed Ulam!”

The bolt knocked Obadiah on his rump.

Keren jumped up and dropped the baby on Obadiah’s belly. “Cozbi needs me.” She shoved a bodyguard toward the gate. And then another. “You’re coming with me.” She snatched her other child from Hodiah and plopped him in Gera’s lap. “You and Uncle Biah stay here.” She snapped her eyes at Obadiah. “Take care of my babies.”

The two guards knit their brows and looked at Obadiah.

“Go. Protect her.” He waved them toward the gate.

She jerked her mother-in-law to her feet. “Come!” The two women grabbed the messenger and scuttled out the gate with him between them.

In the new quiet of the inner courtyard, Obadiah took slow breaths.

Gera sighed. “Excuse my daughter-in-law stealing your men like that, but Cozbi needs her.”

Obadiah sat up on the goatskin and pulled the two-year-old with him. “If Ahimelech could feed David’s men the bread which only priests were to touch61 Samuel 21-31, I can loan my guards to Keren.”

Gera surrendered his thumbs to capture as he stroked the cheek of the child in his lap. “Count on being here a while. She won’t be back until she feels her milk ready for these two.”

“Why, Lord?” Obadiah let out a loud breath.

“I’m not the Lord. But Ulam spouts off like Liev. Hates Asherah and the slavers. Doesn’t care who hears. Plus, he has a loud voice.”

Obadiah rubbed his temples. Two precious young men murdered with the consent of the queen. Spouters of truth. Bubblers. Wasn’t the Lord supposed to protect the righteous? And that queen. “Oh, Lord!” He put his head back, and stared at the clouds. “Deliver us from these evil, evil people.”

“Why, Lord?” He repeated familiar words of anguish. “‘Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble, Lord?’” He hugged the baby and rocked on the goatskin.

Gera moved the baby in his lap to the same beat. “‘In his arrogance the wicked hunts down the weak. From ambush he murders the innocent.’7Psalm 10 Good words, Biah, but they didn’t help Liev or Ulam. They had no one to protect them.”

Obadiah groaned. He opened his arms as if to the assembled elders at the gate and let the baby roll onto the goatskin — “Boom, Uncle Biah. Boom, boom.” — The little one climbed back on his lap.

“Good men hide in hedgerows, Gera. They can’t… they won’t keep quiet. Children of my friends. And they starve or they die at the hand of the queen.”

His shoulders drooped. “How many more will not stay quiet, but speak the truth?”

“That’s what the queen is asking, Biah. And her thugs will hunt them. Plenty of good people would help protect those boys, but someone has to take charge.” Gera’s hints rang like a blacksmith’s hammer striking an anvil.

Obadiah slapped the doorstep where the slavers had thrown Liev’s body. “We’ll need a cave.”

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