Obadiah stepped out the kitchen door followed by Ahab and the guards. The smell of roast lamb followed them out and lost itself in the intoxicating, buttery smell of almond blossoms. But it would take more than the lovely smells and fresh breezes of Fort Jezreel to cheer up Biah.
He led the way between the onions and the cabbage and refused to look at Ahab. Biah bit his lip. He should have given up on Ahab long ago. Did Ahab think a little sackcloth gave Ben-hadad the right to negotiate? It was Arza the bookkeeper all over again. Ahab thought Arza’s smarts could save them money. But King Omri got rid of smart Arza, the two-time loser. If only King Omri were still alive.
Biah lifted his head. This horrible situation had tainted his love for Ahab. He needed an attitude adjustment. Something to boost him out of the grumps. He raised his voice for Ahab behind him. “I put my office back here in the farthest corner to be free from your father’s spies. And when you became king, I kept it here for the same reason. But now that you’ve discovered your headquarters has a back door, maybe I’ll—”
Ahab’s foot brushed a cabbage as he pushed past him. “You’re funny, Biah. I could die laughing.”
Biah grinned to himself. Ahab had never learned to appreciated Biah’s lame attempts at humor. “I take it you’re still upset about Mikey’s message.”
Ahab growled. “I didn’t bring you out here to talk about that stupid kid and his dreams.”
“No, really. I don’t get why you kissed Ben-hadad good-bye and let him go free.”
Ahab gave Biah a stare to freeze the Ein Gedi waterfall.
But Biah opened the gate to the alley. “When all you had to do was lift his head from—”
“Just shut up about it, would you?” Ahab spit into the alley. “I brought you out here to show you a garden spot.”
Biah gave two solemn nods. “I shall refrain, my king, and we shall enjoy this beautiful blue-sky day the Lord has given us. So, where’s the garden?”
Ahab pointed to the other side of the alley. “It’s perfect. Right here by the kitchen. We could have carrots and spinach and melons—anything we want—triple our fresh fruits and vegetables at the table.”
Biah’s forehead wrinkled. Ahab pointed at Naboth’s vineyard. He set Ben-hadad free and now…. Not even another lame joke could make Biah smile. “But it’s a vineyard. Naboth’s. In his family forever.”
“I know.” Ahab slowly shook his head. “I offered him a better vineyard, much larger and in a much better location—right on the trunk road. I even told him to name his price.”
Ahab ignored Biah’s head shake and screwed his mouth up like he had just bitten into a sour fig. “He said, ‘The Lord would never let me trade away the inheritance from my ancestors.’” He gritted his teeth. “What’s so special about Naboth’s family that he can’t sell a piece of land?”
Biah closed the gate. After all these years, he shouldn’t be shocked at how little Ahab cared about their heritage. But that fact did not lessen his disappointment. He stood with his hand on the post. “You don’t know, do you?”
Ahab thrust out his chest and put his hands on his hips. His mouth twisted, and he wobbled his head back and forth. “I know he won’t part with silly old vines planted by his great, great Uncle Hiram. I know he’s a sentimental fool.”
“No, I mean you really don’t…know. You have buried yourself so deep in alliances with foreign nations and their gods…” he patted the gatepost “…that you are as ignorant of Moses’ teachings as this gatepost, my king.”
“Look, Biah. Just because we were kids together doesn’t mean you can badmouth me with impunity. I kicked that kid out of the fort and out of Samaria City, and I’ll…”
Biah raised his chin. The lame joke about royal spies still worked a little magic on him. He stared at Ahab with a twinkle in his eye. “Did you just say ‘impunity’?” His nostrils twitched and a slight upturn played at the corner of his lips.
Ahab knit his brows together and looked away for a moment. But then his eyes twinkled in return, and he slugged Biah in the chest. “You nut. You weird, hopeless nut.”
Biah held his palm up under Ahab’s nose. “Listen up, my king. Sentiment…” he scraped his empty palm with his hand “…has nothing to do with it. Got that? Naboth simply repeated what the Lord told Moses. Don’t sell property outside the family unless you’re in extreme poverty.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head in Ahab’s face. “Even then the land reverts to the original family at the Year of Jubilee. But Naboth is far from poor, so it’s not legal for him to sell.”
“You’re kidding. The Lord’s got rules about selling land? That’s insane!” Ahab put his head down. “Naboth’s crazy. You’re crazy.” He slammed the gate behind him and stomped up the path between the cabbage and the onions. “Hmpf. I want that for my garden.” He slammed the kitchen door.
Biah stood in the alley with his hand on his chin.
Woid-woid. The whitethroat scolded again.
Five days later, before any customers arrived, Biah pushed into Jashub’s spice shop and let the door slap closed behind him. “Did you get a letter from the queen?”
Jashub shot glances at the shop door and put his finger to his lips. “Hush, man.”
“Did you talk with Shimron about it?”
Jashub glanced up. “He got the same letter.”
“Let me see your letter.”
Jashub’s eyes widened, and he backed away. “I burned it.”
“Is this what it looked like?” Biah thrust a scroll under Jashub’s nose.
Jashub’s face blanched.
Biah opened the scroll and recited: “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels facing him and have them bring charges that he cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
Heat flushed through Biah’s body. The scroll in his hand shook. “How could you?” His nostrils flared, and he bared his teeth in Jashub’s face. “Joined hands with that whore from Sidon and killed your neighbor, a man who never did you any harm.”
“Biah, you don’t understand. I’ve got a wife and kids.” Jashub raised his arms over his head and spread his palms. “Remember what she did to Puah last year.”
Biah pulled Jashub’s arms aside. He stood over him and let heavy breaths land in his face. “Who’d Shimron get for his two ‘helpers’? I’ll find out anyway, so tell me.”
Jashub cowered under Biah’s chin. “You know Jeriel, that offside cousin of Rephaiah.”
“He’s not the kind to do as he’s told.”
“Shimron’s got stuff on him from two years back.”
Biah jutted his chin forward. “That’s one. Tell me, Jashub.”
“Of course, you know Jahmai. Count on him to do whatever Shimron tells him.”
Biah squinted. “And nobody called this scheme for what it was?”
“Couldn’t. Shimron didn’t invite that kind. Announced it at ten. Done by eleven. Believe, me, Biah. I didn’t like it, but I’ve got a wife and kids.”
“So you said.”