Megiddo-Beitshan Road, Jezreel Valley, Israel, 871 BC
Elijah’s jaw fell open.
Nathan stood before him, blocking the way to the river.
He threw his arms around Nathan. “Hey, you big pile of knees and elbows.” Elijah had left him sitting on a goatskin, unable to speak after the Moloch priest threw Baby Omar into the fire. What was he doing here? Elijah squeezed, let him go, and stepped back.
Elijah squinted. “Your sandals?”
He patted his bag and stared past Elijah, up the road toward the fort. “What about the soldiers?”
“Forget those guys. I’m putting your sandals on you.” Elijah pulled Nathan over to an acacia tree. He pushed him onto a rock for a seat and lifted his foot. “You’ve got a bad bruise. You kick a stone?” He frowned in Nathan’s face. “Why didn’t Dad put your sandals on you?”
Nathan leaned back and let out a loud breath. “Huh! You think he wants to lose two sons in one day?”
Elijah examined Nathan’s other foot and grimaced. “Your feet must hurt terrible.” He sucked in a quick breath. His big brother had hiked half a day—barefoot—to check up on him.
Nathan cringed. “How’s your jaw? That one-eyed goon knocked me out, but your face looks like he really tore you up.”
“It’s still sore.” Elijah laced Nathan’s sandals and then his tunic.
“Thank you!” Nathan took Elijah by the elbow and turned him toward the river. “Let’s get going.” Nathan limped along at a slow pace without complaint.
Without breaking stride, Elijah reached over and slugged Nathan on the arm. “Hey, I’ve got a fig and half a pita.” The voice in his head had said ravens would feed him. Elijah shook the memory off. “You bring anything to eat?”
“Raisins. And a few pitas.”
Nathan patted his bag. “Plus, a little water. We can refill our skins at the brook.”
“The Kerith. Tastes better than the river.”
Elijah swung his brother around to face him. The Kerith Brook again. Maybe Nathan had listened to that trick voice-in-the-head, but Elijah wasn’t about to fall for it. “Nathan, you don’t understand. I’m going home.”
Nathan grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the Jordan River again. “You are not going home. I’m hiding you.”
Elijah stopped, placed both hands on Nathan’s shoulders, and searched his face. “Is everybody okay? Why did you come?” Nathan must have some deeper for his barefoot hike and merely checking on his little brother.
Omar. Elijah shivered as the baby’s scream echoed in his head.
Nathan jerked his face toward Elijah. “Hey. Where’s the goatskin?”
Elijah pointed to his pack. “Only wore it inside the fort.”
“Nice trick.” Nathan took several strides. “Tell me about it. Did you see the king?”
“I told the king, ‘As the Lord lives, we will have neither dew nor rain unless I say so.’”
Nathan wrinkled his nose. “‘Neither dew nor rain.’ One of your finer compositions.” His face lit up. “And the goatskin … They’re searching for …” Nathan faltered. “No. They saw knees and elbows … a boy.” After several more strides, “Okay, what did the king say?”
Elijah laughed. “The king? I didn’t wait. You should have seen me. Market day, right? I stuck my face into a load of onions and crawled through fresh donkey doo. Felt the guards grabbing my heels, but I—”
Nathan looked over his shoulder.
Elijah looked back with him. “There’s nobody back there, Nate. Those guys will never touch us.”
Nathan stopped and pointed at a tiny track. “You know this place, right?”
Elijah shrugged. The path led between limestone houses, oaks, and acacias. A village like any other.
Nathan wagged his finger in Elijah’s face. “My little brother passed the Well of Harod and showed as much respect as an uncircumcised Philistine?”
“In there? Where’s the water? How was I…? Hey, I’m not as unlearned as you think.” He recited, “At the Well of Harod, Gideon chose men who cupped water in their hands, but those who got on their knees and sucked it in—like we do—he sent home.”
Nathan started them toward the river again. “Don’t give up your studies, young man.”
“There are moments, Nathan” —Elijah put both hands on Nathan’s throat— “when I could wring your scholarly neck. And if you think I’m going to that lonely brook, you’re nuts. We’ve got wineskins to load for Dad at sunup.”
“Ha! Dad’s hauled wine to the King’s Highway since before we were born. He’ll get Racham to help.” Nathan pushed him along. “That moth-eaten goatskin saved you for a few minutes, but the king’s men know who they are looking for.” He tossed another glance over his shoulder.
“Not true, Nate. Not true. Listen, a guard ran by, and he passed me again as he walked back to the fort. He never glanced at me. Not once.” Elijah thrust his chin up. “That’s when I realized what was King David’s finest moment.” He nodded at Nathan in time with their strides. “I’ll make Dad so proud.”
“Finest moment?” Nathan’s eyebrows came together.
“That time he hid right out in the open.” Elijah raised his palm. “Saul and his men went along one side of the mountain.” He raised his other palm. “David and his men on the other side. Hiding in plain sight, just like me.”
“You mean at Maon?” Nathan frowned.
“That’s the place.” Elijah beamed. “David kept the mountain between him and Saul.”
Nathan snorted and stared at Elijah for two paces. “Lijah, the only thing that saved David was the messenger who pulled Saul away to go fight Philistines.”
Elijah wrinkled his forehead. “You mean David didn’t just stay behind the mountain?”
Nathan stopped. “My fingers don’t tie laces, but your head…” Nathan tapped his own temple.
Elijah opened his mouth, but Nathan put a hand over it.
“One guard didn’t know your face? Means nothing.” Nate scowled. “Those guards are right behind us.”
Elijah ducked away from Nathan’s smothering hand. “There’re no guards—”
“No. Listen to me.” Nathan covered Elijah’s mouth again. “They’ve already tossed Dad’s goatskin out of the equation. They’re asking around for a tall kid with a big nose and a Gilead accent. Like the potter says, we’re all knees and elbows. Too easy to spot in a crowd, and we look like Mother.” Nathan propelled him by the elbow. “I’m not letting you put our mother in danger.”
“Mother.” Elijah frowned. “I promised Mother I would tell Milkah.”
Elijah jerked his head back and opened his eyes wide. What did it mean—that’s what he had asked the Lord. Nathan shouldn’t ask questions Elijah couldn’t answer.
Nathan squeezed Elijah’s elbow. “What did you mean by ‘unless I say so’?”
Elijah stared at a distant Gilead peak. “Well, all the way to the fort, I ranted about those guys who killed Omar, but the Lord gave me nothing to say. No words. Then I got there and saw the king’s face—he looks like Jubal, the smithy’s son—The words all just bubbled out, and I wondered if I’d said the right thing.”
Elijah’s eyes flew wide open. Bubblers were weird people with no control. Abnormal. Dad had told him to do the right thing, and he had confronted the king. He would go home, pick grapes, and load wineskins. Normal.
He stopped, caught up with Nathan again, and shook his head. “No, no. That’s not what I mean, Nate. What happened was, the words came to the surface and were out before I knew it.”
“Right. A bubbler.” Nathan gave a curt nod.