A few stars still winked above Obadiah. He took short, halting strides to the banister across the front of the palace terrace. On the plaza below, seven thousand Hebrew soldiers woke and stirred. But messages from the fort said more than a hundred thousand Syrian troops covered the Jezreel Valley.
Biah paced from one corner to the other. He sat on a marble chair near the wall and crossed his legs. And uncrossed them. Wings fluttered over the rooftops. Mourning doves. Two breaths later, he popped up and strode back to the banister. He should have stayed with Didi and the kids, put off olive grove inspections, and let Ahab review troops on his own.
Ahab stomped through the door from the palace. He studied his soldiers jammed shoulder to shoulder below. “They’re waiting for orders.”
Biah shrugged. Teams hauled in water, collected food from the city, and maintained latrines outside the plaza. The troops followed camp orders, but Ahab want to give them marching orders. He eased into a low chair.
Ahab heaved a sigh. “Who’d have guessed Ben-hadad would flood his army into the valley the moment I hit the ridge road?” He hunched his shoulders and faced the door, then the threshing floor at the plaza entrance, then the troops. “We’re trapped.” He poked his lower lip at the vase of lilies by his feet.
Biah bolted from the chair and paced to the corner. His nostrils flared as he eyed Ahab. Ben-hadad had pulled off a masterful surprise by sneaking his vast army through the hills. Ahab needed decisions, not moans.
Ahab tilted his face to the waning moon still visible in the morning sky. “I’d love to make a dash to the fort.”
Biah shook his head and muttered. “You’d love to make a dash to the fort.” He took two steps away and whirled around on Ahab. “Why? So Ben-hadad’s scouts can call his troops and crush you at Jenin?” Biah opened his palms toward Ahab. “Think, man.”
Ahab’s shoulders sagged. “Right. His scouts cover the roads.” He shuffled over and slumped into a low chair. “Biah, you descend in a direct line from the miserable comforters of Job.”
“Don’t talk to me about comfort.” Biah took long strides to the banister and stared down on the plaza. “Not when Didi peeks over the wall at ten thousand Syrians sharpening their spears.”
Ahab hung his head. “I’ve got other things to think about.” He shooed at Biah with his hands.
“That’s where you’re wrong, my king.” A volcano of anger rumbled inside him. He plopped into a chair next to Ahab. “Didi’s problem is your problem. How many days before Ben-hadad realizes the fort has no leader? He’ll tear it down before breakfast, and by noon he’ll march into this plaza.”
Ahab swung around in the seat and turned his back.
But Biah rolled out of his chair and captured Ahab by the shoulders. He let his anger explode in Ahab’s face. “Are you listening? Ben-hadad will swallow us.”
Ahab flicked his hand again. But his eyes widened, and Biah followed his gaze down to the threshing floor. “Gera.” He shot to his feet.
Far below them, Gera, the manager of the district olive groves, pressed through the swarm of soldiers. What brought Gera to the palace? They had discussed the olive business at his home a week ago.
Biah joined Ahab at the banister. “Did you invite Gera up here?”
Ahab snapped. “Syrians thick as grasshoppers, and I want to talk olive oil?” He pointed with his chin. “Who’s that with him? I thought we got rid of that dew-nor-rain kid.”
A young man with messy brown hair bobbed along beside Gera, a slight lift on every step. His lips puckered as if he whistled. The chatter of the troops buried any tune, yet he moved to a beat. Tall and square-shouldered like the dew-nor-rain boy, but not smarty-pants. [In a previous chapter, Ahab and Biah labeled Elijah “smarty-pants” for his attitude.]
A surge of hope hit Biah’s heart. Lord, is this boy from you?
Biah elbowed Ahab. “I’ve seen that walk.”
The two climbed the marble steps to the terrace and bowed to the king.
Biah sucked in a quick breath. A message? Hope pinged his heart.
Ahab swept his arm toward the center of the terrace. A table displayed apples, grapes, pomegranates, and cheeses. A second held red wine, spring water, and fresh bread. “Enjoy our humble fare.”
Mikey gulped and stared at Ahab. “Thank you, my king.” He bowed, took a step back, and glanced at Biah and Gera.
Hands on hips, Ahab chuckled. “Relax. Any friend of Gera’s… Please.”
Mikey ignored the food but bounced on his toes. “Thank you, sir.”
Biah accepted Gera’s proffered hand. Gera, a good man with good news. Yet King David had declared Ahimaaz “a good man,” and moments later sobbed in horror at the message of his son’s death. Would Ben-hadad kill Biah’s two sons? Biah shook off the thought and rounded on Mikey with a smile.
Did this young man feel awe after threading though all those troops? Did his message have to do with the desperate situation? Biah took another look. Ah, yes. He had seen Mikey at Gera’s house. “I think we’ve met.”
“Yes. We sat shivah for Baruch. He used to call you Uncle Biah. Yesterday morning the Lord woke me and—.”
Before Biah could ask Mikey about “the Lord woke me,” Ahab raised his hand.
The buzz on the plaza below them had ceased. Ahab snapped his head toward the threshing floor. The sun flashed from a spear and shield advancing through the crowd. “My scout.” He jammed his hands into his armpits and tucked his elbows into his sides.
Biah’s shoulders stiffened. Although Ahab posted scouts on his periphery, he hoped never to see them. No doubt the scout would tell him Didi and the children were dead. Biah backed up to the wall, his shoulders curved forward, his head down.
Ahab touched Biah’s sleeve. “A courier.”
A man in a dark red tunic followed the scout.
The troops had ignored Gera and Mikey, letting them force a path. But they stepped away from the courier. They flashed their spears and turned their heads toward him. From his years in the ranks, Biah imagined the men icing the courier with their stares.
Mikey bounced. “Oh, I’m not here about the olive groves, sir. The Lord sent me with—.”
“Get this kid out of my hair.” Ahab growled. “The Syrians have found me.”
Yet a surge of energy lifted Biah’s head. No. He refused to fret because of these evildoers. He turned his shoulders toward Gera’s friend. “Mikey, let’s hear your—”
Ahab whirled on him. “Not now, Biah. Can’t you see? It’s Ben-hadad’s courier.”
Biah met Ahab’s eyes and nodded. He tipped his head toward the farthest corner of the terrace. Gera led Mikey by the elbow and stood with him beside the lilies.
Biah rested his chin in his hand and studied Mikey. Gera had sent several bubblers to Didi’s secret army of friends for safe keeping, but Biah had never met one. Did Gera’s bubblers include Mikey?
Biah turned his back on Ahab and pumped his fist. Yes! This poor man cried, and the Lord heard and saved him out of all his troubles. If the Lord had sent Mikey, then the Lord would open a moment for him to deliver his message.
The scout and the courier mounted the stairs in easy strides.
The scout bowed. “My king.” He moved aside and eyed the courier.
Ahab unwrapped his arms from his torso and leaned back, his hands loose behind him.
Biah smothered a groan at this new, relaxed posture. To act the brave, cocky king would not send the courier to Ben-hadad with a warning to back off, return to Damascus.
The Syrian took one slow step forward. The yellow-winged torch of Syria covered the back of his uniform. He looked at Ahab’s feet but made quick glances at his face.
Every muscle tightened in Biah’s body. The courier’s training required that his posture show respect, yet Biah dreaded his words. Had Ben-hadad already destroyed Ahab’s fort? Ransacked the headquarters and slaughtered the people?
Ahab crossed his arms and wrinkled his nose in a new show of bravado. “What does Ben-hadad have to say for himself?”
Biah shuddered. Ben-hadad started by hauling off money and family. But he finished by chaining kings to his chariot and shoving children into his copper mines.
Tendons stood out on Ahab’s neck. A vein pulsed. He stared beyond Biah and released a long breath. Then he refocused and faced the Syrian. “Please inform my lord, Ben-hadad, ‘Whatever you say, my king. I am happy to oblige.’”
Biah’s heart pounded. The Syrian demand angered Ahab but he capitulated, caught in the Syrian trap, hands tied behind him. Biah backed into the banister. The king acted the gracious host, the desert prince. On this stage, in this scene, the only role allowed. But Ahab played it far too well.