“After we see Mother,” Nathan leaned into him, “I’m taking you on a special hike.”
Tishbe, Gilead, Israel, 871 BC
1 Kings 19:15
Elijah trudged into Tishbe, Nathan at his side, and stopped in front of the potter’s house while the sun still stood high out over the sea.
The fragrance of the potter’s flame tree touched his nostrils, and in the noon heat, bees buzzed around its brilliant red blossoms. At the tip of an upper branch, a blue-winged warbler paused its hunt for insects and sang beee-bzzz beee-bzzz.
Behind the garden fence, something moved.
Elijah blinked. “Rocky?”
Racham poked his head up. “Hey!” He dashed out the gate and wrapped them in an enormous hug. “You guys.”
Elijah stepped back, teetering on his heels, and grinned. Faint crows’ feet marked Racham’s temples. Elijah tipped his head toward the garden. “The rain make your weeds grow?”
“Glad of it, too.” Racham reached for Elijah’s cheeks. “Beard looks good. What happened to your eyebrows?” He slapped his thighs and turned to Nathan. “Where you been hiding yourselves?”
“Nathan! Elijah!” Sheerah looked down from a window. Several moments later she tottered out the door, lugging a baby in each arm.
Racham met her on the path and spread his arms. “Give me the girls.”
She pushed her face into his chest and let the babies nestle in his elbows. She flicked her gaze from Elijah to Nathan and back again. Her mouth opened and closed. She buried her face first in Nathan’s tunic, then in Elijah’s. “Oh, my tall little brothers. I missed you so bad.” She gawked at Elijah. “What happened to your eyebrows?”
“Long story.” Elijah held both her hands. Where to begin with the events on that far away mountain? “Mother. How’s Mother?”
Sheerah blinked. “Fine. So’s Dad. We’re all good.” She rested her hands on her hips. “Three years. Where? Why?”
Elijah swallowed. Worry lines etched across her forehead, and he was to blame.
Nathan rapped a loose fist against his mouth. “Where we’ve been is not to be talked about. You understand, Sheers?”
She pursed her lips. “We figured as much.”
Elijah glanced up and down the street. “Seen any black tunics?”
“None today.” Racham scowled. “Black tunics disappeared when that crowd at Carmel butchered a big bunch of the queen’s men. The scum she hires, though. When the queen flexes her muscles again, they’ll bring out their black tunics.”
Sheerah frowned. “Enough of that ugly stuff, boys.” She beamed a huge smile up at Elijah and handed him the youngest baby.
He cradled her in an elbow. “Well, Rocky, how did you convince Dad to give up our sister?”
“Took me forever to work up the courage.” Racham’s face grew red. “Dad was helping me hoist a monster wineskin up to Balak’s packsaddle. ‘May I marry your daughter, sir?’”
Sheerah’s eyes twinkled. “Dad had to let go of me or the wine. He kept the wine.”
“That’ll be a good story to tell—what’s this child’s name?”
Sheerah cupped her fingers over the baby’s head. “Elisheva.” She laid the older child in Nathan’s arm. “And Natania.”
Elijah and Nathan held their namesakes up at eye level and declared in unison. “She’s beautiful.”
“Come with us to the house.” Elijah cuddled Elisheva in one arm, hooked the other into Racham’s elbow, and led him onto the village path toward home. “Elisheva looks like you, Rocky.”
Nathan and Sheerah fell in beside them with Nathan cooing softly to Natania.
Elijah turned to Sheerah. “What have you heard about Bernice?”
She squinted and tossed her head back. “Ber… The butcher’s daughter? Why do you…?”
“Tell her about Neetz, Nathan.”
Nathan’s eyes grew bright. He put his head down then glanced up toward the ridge.
Elijah shifted the baby to his other elbow. “Sheers, the young lady our brother wants to marry lives in Zarephath, not Ramoth.”
“Marry?” A huge grin splashed across Racham’s face. “Nathan’s a mere child.”
Sheerah batted her lashes at him. “This is serious, Rocks. Dad’s old friend. Hmm. Bernice. You see…” She turned to Nathan. “Really, Nate. Zarephath?”i
Nathan blushed. A sheepish grin took over his face.
Elijah grimaced. “She worked with us in the grapevines for three years. When her father heard about Bernice, he wouldn’t allow them to marry.”
“Thanks, Lijah.” Nathan’s blush faded as he turned to Sheerah. “Tell us about Milkah. Our little brother’s all concerned about Bernice holding me back from Neetz. But he’s afraid to ask about Milkah.”
“Boys. My boys.” Dad pushed the gate closed behind him, dropped Balak’s lead line in the path, and jogged to them. More gray at the temples, he moved slower, but still breathed easily. His face tanned like always. A new wrinkle might have found a foothold on his forehead. “Nathan.” He wrapped Nathan and Natania in his thick arms, pulled them to his barrel chest, and cocked his head back to gaze into Nathan’s eyes. “The dead’s alive. The lost is found.”
Balak arrived and nuzzled Nathan’s sleeve then Elijah’s.
Elijah bent, pressed the old donkey’s nose against his cheek, and inhaled his sweet breath.
Dad unwrapped from Nathan and turned to Elijah. “What happened to your eyebrows, Son?” He placed his hands on Elijah’s shoulders and gazed up into his face. “Never mind the eyebrows. Did you listen for the voice of the Lord, and did you do the right thing?”
“I did, my father.” Somber-faced, Elijah leaned forward as far as Dad’s grip allowed. He bowed his head. “Most of the time. With my brother’s help.” Elijah tilted his head on one side. “Dad, how long since you’ve seen your childhood friend the butcher?”
The pitch of Dad’s voice rose. “In Ramoth?”
Nathan folded his arms across his chest. “What about Milkah, Dad? Does Milkah still—”
“Nathan! Elijah! You’ve come home.” Mother threw the gate open and hoisted her tunic, hopping and skipping down the path.
“Mother.” Nathan handed Natania to Sheerah, dashed up the path, and threw his arms around her. He rested his chin on her shoulder, swayed, and emitted tiny groans. “Mother. Oh, Mother.”
She lifted his arm and settled her gaze on Elijah. “What happened to my little boy’s eyebrows?”
He ran his fingers along his naked brows. Would they grow back? He moved into her embrace and joined Nathan’s groaning.
Still in their embrace, Elijah murmured. “How long since Father has seen his old friend in Ramoth?”
“No.” Nathan covered Elijah’s mouth with his hand. “Where is Milkah?”
Mother turned Elijah’s head toward the gate. “You said you’d tell Milkah as soon as you got back.”
Elijah’s shoulders drooped. Why hadn’t he climbed the ridge and let Milkah know he was going to tell the king? She understood killing babies was wrong and might have wished him well. At least she would have known where he went.
A familiar squeak came from the ridge behind the house. That old rock coney knew to stay home and guard his own, but Elijah had left his beautiful shepherdess and marched off to the fort.
No girl with a smidgen of sense would have wondered for three and a half years about such a self-important boy. So, while Elijah planted grapevines in Zarephath, had Milkah married the butcher’s son in Jabesh?
Elijah had dreamed of children with her, “so many we can’t count.” But that dream was sunk like the sun that was disappearing into the sea.
Sheerah and Racham came up the path holding Elisheva and Natania.
Dad approached with open hands. “What?”
“Nathan has a…” Elijah pushed his fists into his eye sockets and gulped back tears. “Dad, you really need to… to help Nathan.” Milkah was out of reach, but hope still lived for Neetz. Elijah turned to Mother. “Let’s go home.”
The sun hesitated above the sea as Mother took his arm. “I have a brick of pressed figs that I’ve been saving.”
Elijah paused at the fluttering in his belly. “Figs, Mother?”
iMP – She seems happy. Busy these days.