Obadiah stood in the portico of the Asherah temple with Ahab and ten royal guards.
From around the corner of the temple came a loud banging.
Biah tipped his head toward the noise. “If you please, my king, this way.”
Ahab took a step back. “Where are you going?”
Biah offered a deep sigh. “Your customers enter through this glistening portico of top grade marble columns.” He gave Ahab’s arm a gentle squeeze. “What comes in the side entrance, my king?” In an olive tree at the corner of the temple, a bluethroat sang his little hweet-hweet. Biah stepped over puddles from the recent shower and led the way around the tree to the side of the temple.
Ahab followed, stealing glances over his shoulder.
A pace behind him, his ten bodyguards scratched and yawned. One polished an apple on his tunic.
Biah paused. “Hang on. I need to tell Zak.” He raised his chin toward his five body guards and driver on the other side of the plaza.
His chief guard opened his palms toward Biah and raised his eyebrows.
Biah raised both palms and shook his head “no.” Then he led Ahab along the side of the temple.
A thick, red-haired man banged on the temple door. Beside him, a line of little girls huddled next to the wall. A long chain linked the children together at the ankles. Their sunken eyes held to the ground, and they smelled of dried excrement.
The bodyguard with the apple slipped it back into his pack and closed his mouth.
Ahab turned up his nose and cocked his head back toward the portico.
Biah rested his fingers on Ahab’s arm. “I can understand how you would rather stay with the marble, my king, but please see what’s happening here.”
The red haired man stopped pounding, gave Biah and Ahab a quick glance, and spat on the ground.
The ten bodyguards eyed him, closed in around the king and grasped their spears with both hands.
Biah gave a soft chuckle. “You should explain to your men, my king, because you know the slaver presents no danger, since you’re the source of his pay. And you know he spits where he pleases because he takes orders only from King Ethbaal in Tyre.”
Ahab raised an eyebrow at his guards and nodded.
They fell back and returned their spear butts to the pavers.
Ahab raised his chin toward Biah, let out a noisy breath through his nose, and stared at the temple wall.
The slaver slapped the portal again.
A woman poked her head out and scowled. She pulled back and clapped her hand over her mouth.
The slaver muttered, “Nice to see you, too, Thera. Here’s your new girls.”
She squinted at the slaver, at the line of girls, and then at Biah, Ahab, and the guards.
The slaver nodded toward the door. “Tell your boss, two hundred eighty shekels.”
Biah clenched his fists and stared at Ahab’s immobile silhouette. In the far north, this slave trader bought kidnapped children and dragged them starving to the temple. He sold them to Ahab’s temple boss, not to put food in their bellies or salve on their sores, but to put silver in Ahab’s purse.
While Ahab focused on the unfolding drama, Biah pressed a fist against his mouth and puffed out his cheeks. He must remain calm. He would watch with his mouth closed.
The slaver angled toward Thera and growled. “Get the boss.”
She ducked inside and slammed the door.
Moments later, the temple boss stepped out. He gawked at the slaver and shot nervous glances all around the alley.
“You brought girls?”
“Forty. That’s two hundred eighty shekels.”
The Asherah boss shuffled his feet and coughed. “The last string was, um, four shekels each. So, that would be a hundred sixty shekels.”
A half smile curled the slaver’s mouth. “My cousin sold you that string at five shekels each, seventeen Kasran girls. You paid him eighty-five shekels. These come from Tadmor, and the price is seven shekels each. Two hundred eighty shekels.”
Biah sucked in a quick breath. Shekels for little girls on a chain while the Lord watched? “That’s not just wicked, my king. That’s insane.” Oh! He twitched his jaw. He’d forgotten to keep his mouth closed.
Ahab dismissed Biah with a wave of his hand and focused on the slaver and the temple boss.
The boss stared across the plaza. “What makes you think I need girls? Mine are doing fine.”
Biah sneered. What a useless negotiating ploy. The man had no compass. No ballast. The slaver would blow him over, poof, and toss him into a sack. Exactly the kind of man Jezebel needed to run her whorehouse.
Biah gasped and whipped his head around toward Ahab. The temple boss was Ahab on a smaller scale. Ethbaal’s daughter had brought her Asherah team and trampled his old friend. Biah’s shoulders slumped, and he stared down at his empty hands.
The slaver flicked a glance toward Ahab and sneered at the temple boss. “The king, here, ordered you to clean up forty girls and get them trained for his new temples in Jezreel and Jabesh.”
Biah shivered. He bit his lower lip. He turned away from Ahab and stared out past the guards, across the plaza. Jezreel and Jabesh, of course. Ahab hadn’t the guts to tell him about those temples, but what difference would it have made? King Ethbaal’s goons had Israel’s main cities in their plans months before Ethbaal had sent Jezebel to marry Ahab. Next Megiddo and Ramoth would have their temples, and Israel would be the Land of Asherah.
The temple boss wrinkled his face into a grotesque attempt at a smile. “Well then. Let’s see what you brought.”
The slaver chuckled. “First the silver.”