47 Shillem

A familiar voice called from the gate, “E-li-jah!”

Fort Jezreel, Israel, 871 BC

1 Kings 18:2-19

Elijah fingered the scar on his forehead. How had that snake wiggled into the fort?

“Mr. Dew-nor-Rain. Goat-skin-kid. E-li-jah.” The voice belonged to Sakkar, the goon who had kicked Elijah in the head while the Moloch official was killing Baby Omar. Sakkar stepped into the torchlight. Elijah had killed four hundred fifty black tunics at the Kishon, but Sakkar still wore his.

Elijah rubbed the jaw Sakkar’s boot had kicked and pushed his fists against his temples to shut out the screams of babies falling into the flames of Moloch.

Sakkar spoke into the night. “Anyhow, the queen says this Elijah, Dew-nor-Rain, Goatskin person’s a dead man. Jezebel says by this time tomorrow if she ain’t sliced his throat just as wide open as he did to them Baal officials, she’ll let her gods do their worst on her. Ha. Don’t think that’s gonna happen.” The gate slammed closed.

Faces around the fire went from smiles to snarls. Conversation ceased.

Elijah tucked his arms in and hid his face. He hunched his shoulders higher and squinted toward the gate. A boulder sat on his chest. He pulled his elbows tight against his sides and focused on the coals at the base of the fire. There must be some mistake.

He may have failed to help the king understand his mission. Nathan was much better with words. But ‘a dead man’? If he could help the king explain to the queen what the Lord was doing, she would understand.

Fat chance with Sakkar in the way.

The eyes around the fire looked down. One pair shot a quick glance through the flames at Elijah. Then another. But no one held his gaze. No one spoke. The faces focused at their owners’ feet and gave the visitor permission to leave.

Elijah padded softly across the plaza toward the gate of the fort. How to get out? Away. Anywhere but here, where eyes accused him and Sakkar called his name. He crouched behind a pillar where the guards who controlled the heavy gate could not see him.

At the noise of a chariot out on the road, a guard spun around, pressed against the gate, and put his eye to the peephole. “Obadiah.”

Elijah tensed. Obadiah hid people from the queen. Maybe he would hide him. The moment the gate swung, Elijah squeezed through like a cat into the kitchen and staggered down the grade with his arms raised to halt the chariot.

But the full team of royal horses trotted up the rise straight at him.

“Obadiah?” He jumped aside. “No. Please, Lord, no.”

The horses and wheels shook the planks and clattered through the gate toward the dark belly of the fort. Then wheels clunked to a stop on the paving stones, and a wet, shivering form strode out between the heavy arms of the gate. “Lijah?”

Elijah fell against his brother. “Nathan. My Nathan.”

Would Obadiah come out and help?

Nathan stood Elijah up.

The gate closed on Obadiah’s chariot, shutting the king’s right hand man inside the fort.

Nathan turned Elijah back down the hill. “Shillem. I’m taking you to Old Shillem.” He cupped Elijah’s elbow in his hand and steered him through the cold rain. “Come on, Lij.” He pushed. “At this rate, we’ll freeze to death before we get to Rehov.”

Elijah pushed his legs into a jog at Nathan’s side, but after several strides, he slowed to a walk.

Nathan put his arm around Elijah’s ribs and took some of his weight. They walked and jogged and slogged through the storm.

On Rehov’s one street, the stars still hid above the clouds, and darkness covered the few signs which hung on doors.

Elijah sloshed with Nathan through the mud and the falling ice water. In the deep dark, Nathan ran his fingers over doors like a blind man. “Here.” Nathan pressed Elijah’s hands against a carving of grapes and a wheel of cheese. “Shillem’s Wine and Cheese.”

How to wake the family but not the neighbors? If Jezebel heard that Elijah stopped here, she would butcher Shillem’s whole family.

“There.” Nathan pointed to a narrow alley.

Elijah followed Nathan and squeezed with him into a shed.

Nathan moved six stacks of baskets onto a small cart.

Shivering in his wet clothes, Elijah lay beside Nathan, too cold to sleep.

Before first light a noise came from the shop.

“Let’s go see.” Nathan tip-toed out of the shed and pushed open the back door of the shop.

A candle on the counter showed a wrinkled, weather-beaten man behind a long brown beard and hunched over a broom. Old Shillem.

Nathan cleared his throat.

For several seconds, old Shillem stared hard at them.

Elijah’s teeth chattered as he peered over Nathan’s shoulder.

Shillem grabbed the brothers by the hands and pulled them toward the stairs. “We all know what you did at the Kishon,” he whispered. “Shush now. No one needs to know you’re in Rehov. Get up there and lie down in the second room. Go now.” He followed and tossed in an armload of dry robes, tunics, and loin cloths. “Quiet.”

Elijah rubbed off the cold damp and wrapped in the fresh cloth. He slid into the dry tunic and huddled in the warmth of the wool robe.

Nathan did the same, helped Elijah down to the sleeping skin, and pulled the bedding over them.

Elijah continued shivering.

Shillem came in with hot bread smelling of yeast, two wedges of sharp cheese, a small skin of Tishbe red wine, and a jug of spring water. “Give me those wet clothes, boys. We’ll dry them with our things. Now I want you boys to sleep. Only my wife knows anyone is up here. Eat and sleep all day. By tonight I’ll know what to do with you.” He left the room with his arms full of their wet clothing and pushed the door shut behind him.

Elijah quivered inside. Yesterday he had shouted to the crowd and directed the show. Last night he ran at the head of the king’s horses. But this morning, if Mother were to walk in, he would fall sobbing into her arms. “I don’t get it, Nate. I don’t understand.”

Nathan gnawed on a fragrant wedge of cheese and let crumbs of warm bread spray from his mouth. “You don’t have to understand anything right now. Just do what old Shillem says. Sleep.”

In Elijah’s dream he fled from Sakkar up a wadi of the Yarmuk River canyon but when he climbed out at the top, three Sakkars jumped from behind three boulders and grabbed his heels. He twisted away and sat up, awake and shivering. He slept again, this time until Shillem woke them in the evening.

Shillem drew his eyebrows together. “You can’t stay here so close to the fort. The queen’s team will be searching every room in Rehov by noon tomorrow. You need to go south. And you need to start before her scouts get down into the Jordan.”

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