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07 The lord of hair

Elijah held his hand against his swollen jaw and marched into the kitchen. “Mom, I’m going to Fort Jezreel, and I won’t be back for supper.

Her coal-black eyes widened. “But, son! The queen’s men. Your father’s friends rescued you, but we don’t know anyone at the fort.”

Sheerah looked up. “You can’t leave now, Lijah. It’s almost the Day of Trumpets.”

He brushed past Mom and Sheers on his way to the pantry. “Trumpets? I’ll be back tomorrow. What those priests do is wrong, Sheers, and somebody’s gotta tell the king.” He stuffed pita breads into his pack. “Okay if I load up on these, Mom?”

Mom’s lips parted, and she stared at him.

Elijah plopped down between his dad and mom. He chomped on pita bread and cucumber. “Maybe I’ll discover David’s greatest moment.”

His dad laid his hand on Elijah’s forearm. “King David can wait. Fort Jezreel might be a longer hike than you think. And you haven’t been listening to your mother.”

Elijah turned toward his mom’s tear-brimmed eyes. He put one arm around her and waved the other toward Nathan, who sat with head in hands.

You see how Nate’s clammed up, Mother. I couldn’t stop them from killing Baby Omar, but somebody’s gotta tell the king.

Her cheeks paled. “Not my little boy.” She raised her fingers and brushed the crusted-over gash in his forehead. She touched his split lip and the puffy rims of his eyes.

Elijah withdrew his arm from around her. “They killed my brother’s friend.

He pulled a bowl of fresh figs over. “All right if I grab a few?” He opened his pack and dropped in six. Then two more.

Elijah stood by the door. “Dad, you still got that old goatskin robe?”

Huh! You don’t want that, son. Moths found it.”

Elijah slipped out the door into the cool light of dawn. He jogged past the well as a crested lark warbled its familiar whee-whee-wheeoo. “Good morning to you, too.”

In the donkey pen behind the wine building, he opened the door to the shed and found his dad’s old robe of goatskins sewn together with the hair turned out. He fingered several bare spots where moths had eaten the hair.

Back in the house, he shrugged into the rough skin of the robe. “Scratchy.”

Pee-ew!” Sheerah wrinkled her nose. “The lord of hair.”

He shucked the robe. “Just the thing.”

His mom’s lips trembled. “In Jezreel they’ll kill you.”

They’re not going to touch me, Mother.”

She stood and looked full into Elijah’s face. “But the fort. The king. You’re only a boy.”

Sheerah slipped her arm into his. “Does my little brother think he’s David, the shepherd lad, visiting the field of battle?”

Oh, yeah. That’s me, Sheers. I just can’t find my trusty sling and five smooth stones.”

Elijah opened his pack and folded in the robe. He wrapped a clean cloth around pitas and slid them in beside it. He opened the pantry. “Okay, Mom?” He added a small skin of red wine. He put figs, a brick of raisins, and a piece of cheese inside another cloth and laced the flap over it all.

Elijah’s dad held up a hand. “Your mother’s right, son.”

How to explain? Elijah stood silent for several breaths. Instead of seeking his parents’ blessing, he had bounced from shed to pantry. He had to do this, but not on his own.

He turned to his mom. The tears had spilled. Her eyes were dry and red.

He found his dad’s face and swallowed but held his gaze steady. “My father.”

Elijah took a deep breath and began again. “When that priest shoved the baby in the fire, I ducked into your arms. I did not save those babies. I hid. But I felt your sobs. Your tears.

My father, I need to tell the king how the Lord feels about burning up little babies. I’m going to Fort Jezreel, Dad, and I need your blessing.”

Elijah took one quick stride and bent over Nathan. “Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about Fort Jezreel.”

He headed out the door and raised the bucket from the well.

Sheerah followed and sat by him on the limestone wall. “Remember Ahimaaz?” She held a water skin open.

Elijah poured. “Ahimaaz. Fast. Show off. Wouldn’t stay. Had to run. That’s not me, Sheers. I like it right here. These limestone walls Mom and Dad laid up and this old well. Our vines, our wines, our customers.” He rose. “But I have to go.”

She held the water skin behind her. “Ahimaaz outran the Ethiopian but had nothing to tell King David. Just because you finally have a few whiskers doesn’t mean you have anything to tell King Ahab.”

You mean words?”

Of course, words, silly.” She put the water skin in his hands and her arms around him. “You can’t just say, ‘God’s gonna get you.’”

He pulled her head to his shoulder. “The words, Sheers. I…I’ll work on that.”

Elijah’s dad lifted Sheerah’s arm. “Let me embrace my son. Listen for the voice of the Lord, Elijah. The little shepherd lad did not sit in the pasture and write poems about Goliath.”

He put his hands on Elijah’s shoulders. “I borrow ancient words. ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.’”

Thank you!”

His dad pulled Elijah’s head down and kissed both his cheeks. “Do the right thing.”

Elijah embraced his mom.

She wrapped him in a desperate bear hug.

He wiped at his cheeks with his palm, unfolded his mom’s arms, and grasped the gate.

Milkah.” His mom laid her hands on the top rung. “Milkah deserves to know.”

The rising sun cast long shadows. Milkah would be leading her father’s sheep into the valley, and he could make a quick detour over the ridge to her pasture. But, no. His dad was right. Fort Jezreel might be a longer hike than he thought.

His mom released the gate and turned to Sheerah. “Perhaps you can take Milkah another bag of my figs.”

Elijah hugged his mom again, swung the gate open, and stepped through. “And I’ll tell her as soon as I get back.”

###

Elijah tramped into a grove of oak trees by the gate of Fort Jezreel.

He rocked from foot to foot and pushed on his puffy eyes. “So, Lord, do you have a few words for me to tell the king?”

Squirrels rustled the leaves under an oak tree, and a lark warbled whee-whee-wheeoo, both noisy enough. Why would the Lord be silent?

Elijah slipped into his dad’s too-short goatskin and frowned at how his knees and elbows poked out at the edges. As he stepped out from the shelter of the oaks, a breeze ruffled his scraggly beard, and he squinted against the early afternoon sun.

He took in a deep breath, let it escape through his open mouth, and held his hand against his swollen jaw. “Well, words or no words, Lord, here goes.”

Elijah trudged up the hill, over the bridge, and through the gate.

Farmers held small bags beside mounds of beets, cabbage, or melons. Geese gabbled in clusters, tied by their wings. Chickens clucked from bamboo cages. Shoppers stepped around puddles from the recent shower and clutched tiny purses.

At the front gate of the king’s compound, the shields of fifty royal bodyguards flashed in the sun.

Elijah clenched his fists, raised his chin, and headed toward the guards.

The shaggy cloak swung with his strides and bared his elbows and knees.

Two little girls giggled, and then laughter followed him up the street.

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