Obadiah stepped into his chariot and beckoned to Nathan. “Hop in with me. Your brother’s going to need you sooner than he thinks.”
Mount Carmel, Israel, 871 BC
1 Kings 18:2-19
Elijah closed his fingers over the intricate House of Omri design stamped into the bridle of the king’s lead chariot horse. The damp odor of this prancing beast smelled like a drizzly day with Balak, the humble donkey he had left in Tishbe.
Let Nathan mutter about hornets’ nests. Give old Nate time, and he’d come unstuck from the past. He needed Elijah to show the way. Just like the king needed Elijah to explain the new order to the queen.
Knees bouncing high in step with the horse, Elijah let his laugh boom out ahead. He thrust his shoulders back and stuck his chest out. No going back to Baal worship. No false gods of any kind. Not anymore. The people asked, and the Lord sent the proof. Everyone could see the Lord was the one true God.
When the team cleared the trees and hit the open road, a blast of wind knocked Elijah into the horse. The flowing mane covered his face and the huge neck muscles rolled against his chest. “Sorry, boy. You okay?”
The horse took the jolt and the gusts in stride.
Cold. He never should have tucked Dad’s goatskin back into his bag. Maybe he could fish it out while he jogged and… Nope. Bad idea. Okay, so he’d been cold before.
He put his head down, kept his hand on the bridle, and jogged for his Lord and his people.
At the first crossing of the Kishon, he splashed through ankle-deep water. But at the Megiddo turnoff, where the road crossed another bend in the river, Elijah’s thighs pushed through fast, frigid water.
He raised his chin. The ball of fire that fell from the sky a couple of hours ago had redefined everything. This had to be right. He was in the center of the Lord’s will, wasn’t he? But maybe he would be warmer if he had found a bed for the night in tiny Jokneam, at the foot of Mount Carmel.
His teeth chattered. He shivered.
The rain hit him like slabs of ice.
He lost his grip on the bridle, stumbled ahead, and found the strap again. His shoulders slumped. His knees sagged.
When the king’s seven chariots turned up the hill to the fort, Ahab’s team climbed too fast. Elijah grasped the bridle for support, but the horse jerked its head away and let him wobble to the side. He slowed from a jog to a walk then stood panting at the gate with his head down and his hands on his knees.
The seven chariots rattled over the plank bridge without him.
Elijah gasped for breath and staggered into the fort.
The giant door of the gate slammed shut against his rear and shook his spine straight.
He snickered in the dark. If the gate guards had known the importance of his mission, they would have waited for him to clear the gate. As Dad would say, “Small matter, Pal.” The guards would have plenty of time to get to know him as he came and went on the king’s business.
Elijah stepped onto the plaza. On his only other visit, farmers had gossiped, geese had gabbled, and little girls had giggled at Elijah’s protruding elbows. This visit, sheets of midnight rain pounded the pavers, and wind howled past the pillars.
At the far end of the plaza, torches waved. In the flickering light, guards stepped from chariots and formed an oval around the king. They hugged themselves in the rain and bounced on the balls of their feet in front of the little iron gate.
Hugging himself and willing his frozen feet to move again, Elijah trailed them up the street.
With Elijah halfway across the plaza, the gate to the headquarters compound opened, the king and his guards hustled through, and the gate closed behind them.
Elijah walked faster. He would arrive a few moments late, but the guards would open for the man who ran at the head of the king’s horses. As he neared the gate, he stood tall and pulled back his shoulders and chin.
The guards straightened and clacked spears together in front of Elijah. He looked from one guard to the other. “Um… the king. We, ah…”
Not even his brother Nathan sounded so timid. Obadiah’s chariot would be following the king’s, so Nathan was on his way.
Elijah peered over their spears at the door of the headquarters building. The king must have hurried in to wake the queen and explain the new situation. Elijah should be there to help, but these gate guards had not been informed.
From a campfire several paces away, a guard stepped over to the entrance. “Son, don’t hang around the gate guards. One of these young studs might think you’re dangerous. And if they don’t slice you open, this rain will freeze your gut shut. Come, boy. Get warm.”
Elijah followed, rubbed his hands in the flames, and turned his back to the heat. He held each foot to the fire for a moment and then dug Dad’s goatskin out of his bag and slid into its protection.
The guard pulled a clay bowl from his pack and dipped it in a large iron pot standing on three stones at the edge of the fire. “Lentils.” He reached over to Elijah. “With those hot peppers from the valley, you know?”
Elijah took the bowl. “Thanks.” He sipped broth and sucked lentils from the edge of the bowl. “Um, thank you, sir.”
“Hot soup is what we need now, eh?” The voice came from across the fire, where fingers stretched toward the flames. Several faces circled the fire behind arms and hands that shifted in and out of the heat.
“Takes a night like this for old cousin Esau to make sense. ‘I’m dying, little brother. What do I want with a birthright?’” Chuckles came from all around.
“‘Just give me a hot cup of those red lentils, Jake.’” Eyes around the fire opened and teeth flashed with the laughs that followed.
“And the inside of a tent with a large dry cloth. About had my fill of rain for one night.”
“Ain’t you the one who was complaining this morning about the drought?”
“Twas I, sir. But this rain’s so cold.”
One end of Elijah’s mouth curled up, but he hid the laugh.
The gate to the headquarters compound remained closed, but the king would come out and ask for the man who ran at the head of his chariot. Any moment now he gate would open, and the king would say, “Elijah! Come in out of the rain.” Ahab would turn to the gate guards. “This is Mr. Dew-nor-Rain. He made the fire fall. From now on, this man is my personal assistant.”
Elijah would step back and bow his head. When Nathan showed up, Elijah would introduce him to the king. “My brother, sir. He’s actually brilliant.”
The king would appoint a chariot for them, one with the House of Omri insignia on the panel. Elijah smiled. Nathan would ride with him in the chariot to Tishbe, to bring Dad and Mother to live with them in the fort.
Elijah squinted. Why was Nathan frowning? Why were Dad and Mother wearing such awful scowls, folding their arms, and backing away?
Elijah dismissed the chariot and its driver.
Dad shook his head, and Elijah let the king turn and go back into the compound.
Mother cringed and shrank back, so Elijah gave a push, and the gate to headquarters snicked shut.
As Elijah stretched his fingers toward the fire, his chin trembled. How had he ever dreamed such a selfish fantasy?
The guards at the headquarters path clacked their spears together, and the gate creaked.
Elijah held his breath and squeezed his eyes shut. Another daydream?
A familiar voice called from the gate, “E-li-jah!”