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19 Detour – 2350

Be sure to see the critiques by Mike and Giles.


Elijah rolled over and opened his eyes to sunshine in the Kerith Ravine. He sat up and dangled his legs over the ledge with his feet on the ground. He stood, refilled their water skins at the brook, and grabbed Nathan’s hand. “Come on. I see dandelions.”

They munched on dandelion leaves, filled their fists with the greens, and then wandered into a small stand of acacias to inhale the fragrance of the yellow blooms.

Horses,” Nathan whispered. He yanked Elijah down into the low green shrubs at the base of the trees.

Elijah held his breath.

Five horses clip-clopped by the brook one after the other. Short swords hung from the riders’ shoulders, shields and spears dangled from their saddles. The first man peered ahead, the next two searched the low ground around the brook, and the last two scanned the sides of the ravine.

When the horses trotted out of sight around a bend, Elijah breathed again and cocked his head to listen. The hoof beats died away.

Nathan clutched Elijah’s arm. “Guards.”

At least that’s how they dressed inside the fort.”

As they sat on their sleeping ledge and nibbled dandelion greens, Nathan gave Elijah a shaky smile. “Greens do it for you?”

Better than grass and bark.” He looked up. “What’s this?”1

Six large black birds floated in and perched on a long flat rock a few feet from where Elijah sat. From their talons, the birds deposited two chunks of roast mutton and four pita breads.

Elijah stood, and the birds flew. He shuffled over and picked up a pita. “It’s clean.” He tore off a piece with his teeth, chewed, and blinked. “Fresh. Good.” Elijah raised his head. “Thank you, Lord!” He handed pitas and mutton to Nathan. “Wow, Nate. From ravens.”

Nathan nibbled on the mutton. “Who worried about running out of raisins?”

That evening the ravens brought more bread and mutton over the ridge, and in the morning they delivered bread and large chunks of roast beef.

As the ravens flew, Elijah stared at the ridge. How many years since he first crossed that ridge and beheld Milkah’s big, round eyes? With no donkeys to load and no customers to greet, Elijah couldn’t help but think of Milkah.

Nathan’s sore feet kept him close to the low ledge where they slept, but Elijah explored and picked greens every day. After that scare in the acacia grove, they stayed close to bushes or boulders which could hide them from horsemen.

Several nights later, Nathan pointed to the new moon. “The Day of Trumpets. I miss Mother.”

Elijah looked up. “Remember when Milkah told her sheep, ‘We’ve got company, Chops.’?

Nathan’s feet healed, so he and Elijah explored two little ravines off the Kerith where they nibbled wild asparagus. While they plucked leaves from the tall salt bushes, the guards rode through again. Elijah and Nathan dropped behind a boulder and listened to them pass.

Morning and evening, the ravens brought bread and meat. And he and Nathan drank from the brook. No rain fell.

Elijah pictured climbing the ridge with Milkah. They would stand on the narrow spot and gaze down at vines on one side and pasture on the other. “Here?” Milkah would ask. “You want to build a house here?” He closed his eyes to let her words of that day echo in his head. “Our children will have common names like Abdel and Berekiah and Carmel, so they can—”

A familiar low grunt floated across the floor of the ravine. A squat, plump rodent about as long as Elijah’s forearm straightened and stared at him over its pointy nose. It grunted, wiggled tiny round ears, and grunted again.

Elijah scowled.

That rock coney acts like the one behind our house. You think he knows us?” Nathan laughed.

You can’t cheer me up, Nate. Coneys are cute, but haven’t we been hiding long enough? Wouldn’t you like to load wineskins on Balak and Bilaam? You know me, Nate. I’m a patient person, but—”

Oh, the patience of Job.”

But I want to see Mother and Milkah.” Elijah yanked a weed from the rock wall and ripped it to shreds. I’d even laugh at Dad’s joke about Thutmose.”

Weeks passed. The pattern of their days continued. Bread and meat, brook water and greens. But no rain.

The trees near the brook continued green, but those higher on the sides of the ravine showed many brown leaves.

One morning, Elijah sat in the dry stream bed digging a hole with his fingers.

When he first arrived in the ravine, the brook gushed like a river and bumped small stones into each other. After several weeks with no rain, a small stream glided along without offending so much as a pebble. Yesterday a bit of water slipped through and made no sound, but today that trickle had disappeared into the sand.

Go at once to Zarephath by Sidon. I’ve told a widow there to feed you.”

What?” Elijah spun around.

In a tamarisk tree, a warbler flipped its tail. Across the ravine, a rock coney stood guard for his furry family. And at a far bend in the ravine, Nathan plucked a dandelion.

Is that you, Lord? Did you say Zarephath?” Elijah leaped to his feet and jabbed his fist in the air. “We’re outta here.”

Elijah squinted at Nathan walking toward him. On the way to Zarephath, they could detour through Tishbe and give hugs to Mom, Dad, and Sheerah. Zoom over the ridge to tell Milkah about Fort Jezreel and be gone before the king’s guards caught their scent.

They could if Nathan would show some flexible thinking.

Nathan dropped dandelion greens in Elijah’s hand.

Elijah inspected a green between his thumb and his finger, his heart thumping. “I think I heard the voice of the Lord.”

Nathan frowned. “Don’t joke like that.” He sat down and shoved a few greens in his mouth.

Elijah met Nathan’s gaze. “Not a joke.”

The Lord?” Nathan hopped to his feet, grabbing Elijah by the shoulders.

Elijah nodded, a smile spreading across his face. “As clear as you talking.”

So, what were the Lord’s words?” Nathan shook him like a cluster of wheat on the threshing floor.

Elijah scratched the back of his neck, staring at the dirt. Why did Nathan have to hover over words and dissect syllables? The Lord meant Zarephath by way of Tishbe, but if he focused on mere words, he could miss the full meaning.

Um, well, the words: ‘Go at once to Zarephath by Sidon. I’ve got a widow there who will feed you.’”

Nathan released his brother, staring into the distance. “Zarephath. That’s a three-day hike.”

Or four.” Six if they stopped off to see Mother and Milkah.

Ravens swooped in two-by-two and set several pita breads on the dinner rock. And then several more. After the pile grew to a few dozen pieces, they brought five chunks of roast mutton and three of beef.

The whole raven clan touched down on trees and outcroppings, huge black dots that sprinkled both sides of the ravine.

I’ll never get used to that.” Nathan confessed.

Elijah and Nathan stood and waved to each family. “Thank you for the food. Thank you. Thank you!”

The ravens flew off, the deep music of their calls bouncing off the boulders.

Elijah stuffed bread and meat into his pack. “Thank you, Lord!”

Nathan patted his water skin. “Remember our hikes with Sheerah, how she taught us to keep our water skins full by stopping at every single brook?”

We can thank her right now.”

Except the Lord sent us to Zarephath.”

Elijah faced Tishbe. “Thank her on the way to Zarephath.”

Nathan faced the Jordan River. “But the Lord didn’t say, ‘on the way.’”

Good. Nathan was talking. Elijah only had to steer the conversation. “Quick hugs for Mother and Father.”

I don’t think that’s a good idea, Elijah. Did the Lord say anything about a side trip?”

What? Come on, Nate. You want the Lord to spell out every little detail for you? He brought us to this brook. Did he have to say, Drink? He set bread and meat in front of us. Did you wait for him to say, Eat?”

Well…”

Check out those storks.” Elijah pointed to six flocks of migrating storks circling on updrafts beside the Jordan River Valley. “Do they have an angel hovering beside them? ‘Stork Family Number Four is assigned to this updraft. No, not that one. This one over here. Now on the count of three, everyone in Family Four sail over and catch this particular shaft of air. Got it?’”

But…”

So, we can’t expect the Lord to say, ‘By the way, boys, on your way to Zarephath, stop and pay your dear old mother a two-minute visit.’ The Lord expects us to work out a few details on our own.”

But by now those guards have been asking for us everywhere. If anyone in Tishbe catches sight of us, word will get back to the fort. They’ll come after Mother and Father and Sheerah. And Milkah.”

Elijah allowed himself an inner grin. Big brother had not set his wagon brakes. “So, we go around Tishbe. No one sees us. Then we drop in on Mom and Dad. Quick. Quiet. Middle of the night.”

It’s the middle of the day.”

Dad always says to get an early start. Your feet are healed, and it’s a teeny, tiny hike.”

Could Nathan resist the dare? In spite of the noonday heat, Elijah marched off through the brush toward Tishbe, and Nathan’s footsteps came close behind. When he finally crouched in the bushes at the edge of the path, Nathan knelt behind him.

I don’t like this, Lijah. What if the guards…?”

How long has it been since we saw guards? There can’t be guards this far from the fort. But we don’t want to show our face in the village. Go along the ridge or through the woods?”

Nathan’s breath touched the back of Elijah’s neck. “Neither. The Lord said, Zarephath.” He sighed. “But the ridge is better. Those woods are full of hills and ditches. We’d get lost. Take forever.”

Elijah’s inner grin threatened to explode into a guffaw. His big brother would forever maintain the Lord meant exactly what He said, but he would not let Elijah walk into danger alone. So, after Nathan told him he was wrong, he still crouched beside him and even offered advice.

Elijah nodded. “Got it. So, we’ll crawl along the ridge and then drop in on Mother.”

He watched the path for people, but a mouse tiptoed through the grass. Elijah imagined its whiskers tickling each blade. Thump. A red fox snatched the mouse, shook it twice, and trotted off with the limp form dangling from its teeth. Beside the path, a warbler perched on a bush and flipped its tail straight up. Zerlip, zerlip, zerlip. No villagers came along the path, but in the bushes beside him, Nathan sighed and pounded his fist on his forehead.

Elijah jogged across the path and disappeared into the undergrowth.2

Nathan groaned and followed.

Elijah stopped and gave him a hug. “Tonight3 we see Mother.”

And tomorrow, Milkah.

With Nathan following, Elijah climbed two-thirds of the way up the slope and struck out toward home over rocks and roots, from bush to bush, hidden from the path at the foot of the ridge.4 A few houses appeared below, each surrounded by small plots of flax and figs, pomegranates and apples, cucumbers and onions—like the plot beside his father’s donkey pen.

A cold sweat broke out on Elijah’s neck. He stopped and knelt behind a thick shrub. Something felt wrong. No goat poked its head through the line of poles and branches intended to protect the vegetables. No sheep nibbled the grass by the trees. No smoke rose from the chimneys.

Elijah’s scanned the village. “Why so quiet?”

Nathan shuffled up to his side and pointed below. “Rocky.”

Racham, the potter’s son who Elijah’s father expected would “ask to marry Sheerah on the third day of next week,” crouched in the lane between the potter’s house and the carpenter’s house. He turned his head left and right. He hunched low and jogged to his family garden, through the gate, and out of sight behind the flimsy fence.

From the trees behind the carpenter’s house, two men in black tunics followed Rocky into the garden and led him out by the ears. Rocky hugged six melons in his arms, but one rolled out and hit the ground. He bent to retrieve it, but the black-tunics shoved him. Rocky sprawled in the grass, and a black-tunic kicked him in the belly. He rolled onto his knees, but a kick landed on his head. Rocky lay flat and did not move.

A vein popped out on Elijah’s forehead. He face turned red. He clenched his fists. He bounced down the ridge in leaps and spurts, landing in a cloud of dust.

Elijah grabbed the biggest rock he could pick up in one hand.

1 This version of the chapter, assumes, without spelling it out, that Nathan is the messenger the Lord uses to tell Elijah (1 Kings 18:3-4 ) “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.” I might change it here. Have Nathan ask, “What’s this?” And then Elijah, looking at the birds in amazement, confesses that God had tried to tell him to come to this valley and that birds would bring him food. Maybe have him say the idea seemed like a fantasy, so he thought he had been imagining it? Hmm… This change does not fit with the Dew-nor-Rain chapter as written.

2 Is it cold out? Chilly? But no wind?

3Gave the impression we are in night time.

4 Does the wind pick up? Chilly wind?

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