Israel Army Field Headquarters, Gibbethon, Philistia
Obadiah crouched, his coal-black curls glistening in the sun.ii He grasped a bar of the wrought-iron gate and reached a hand toward the stable door.
Ahabiii hunkered beside him. With one hand he clutched the gate. With the other he dangled a tiny white rock between thumb and forefinger. He sucked in a breath.
The pebble dropped.
Obadiah dashed up the path, his sandals slapping dirt and his elbow gouging Ahab’s ribs.
A gold and white hen squawked at the approaching danger and collected her chicks into the safety of a spreading fig tree.
As the racers shot between two stable guards, Obadiah raised his chin in a final thrust. He thudded into the heavy wooden door at the same moment as Ahab.
“I won. I won.” Obadiah and Ahab raised their arms and pranced.
A red and brown rooster strutted from a bed of anemones, crowed twice, and swaggered with them.
One guard leaned against the stable wall while the other grunted and unlatched the door.
Obadiah inhaled the sweet aromas of hay and fresh horse manure. As he entered, smooth noses bobbed over stall doors, and a soft huh-huh-huh-huhiv greeted him.v When the army had driven the Philistines out of town, Ahab’s father, Commander Omri, had taken this house for his headquarters and replaced the owners’ cows and donkeys with the steeds of his captains.
Ahab pushed in beside Obadiah. “I want to see that bay mare. The one from Akko. She’s mine.”
Obadiah snorted. “From Akko? That’s the one I want.”
Ahab marched straight to the seventh stall on the left, raised on tiptoe, and peeked in. “Where’d she go?”
“Oh, she’s out, sir.” A smooth-cheeked child, shorter and thinner than either visitor, stepped from the next stall and leaned a pitchfork against the wall. “The captain took her.”
“What captain?” Ahab slapped the boy(‘s face) then poked him in the chest, knocking him against a post. “I never said you could let anyone take that mare.” His cheeks flamed.
The stable boy stifled a whimper and wiped a dribble of blood from his nose.vi
Obadiah’s nostrils flared. He yanked Ahab around by the shoulder. “Pick on somebody your own size.” Heat rose in his throat.
“Go jump in the sea.” Ahab grabbed Obadiah by the sleeve, swung him around and aimed a fist at his chin.
Obadiah ducked and grabbed Ahab’s collar. “That mare’s no more yours than she is mine.” He smashed his friend’s face with his open palm. The impact shocked his forearm. He flailed his hand in the air against the pain.
Ahab grabbed at his nose. He gawked at the blood in his hand. Ripping Obadiah’s robe, he screamed, “Stinking Philistine pond scum!” Ahab crunched his fist into Obadiah’s teeth.
Obadiah stumbled back and tasted blood. He touched his lips. Bloody fingers came away.
A stable guard burst in and seized Obadiah by the shoulders.
The other guard grabbed Ahab.
Ahab swatted at him. “What are you—?”
“Shush!” The guard pinched Ahab’s ear.
“Come along.” Obadiah’s guard dragged him out by the ear, past the fig tree and the thorny bougainvillea to a ladder leaning against the wall. “Up you go.”
Obadiah spluttered. “But—”
The guard said, “I’m right behind you.”
Obadiah climbed, and the moment he stepped over the low wall around the rooftop living area, the stable guard jumped off the ladder beside him and latched onto his ear lobe.
Two breaths later, Ahab landed next to him in the grip of the second guard. There would be no escape for either boy.
Obadiah glared, and Ahab returned the look.
The weela-wee-ooo of a golden oriole floated in from its nest in a high branch. But before Obadiah could turn for a glimpse, the guard shoved him into a large, cold room on the roof of the stable. “In you go.”
The door closed and shut out the song of the oriole and the rustle of the breeze. Instead, the scrape of sandals on the stone floor echoed off the smooth-cut limestones.
Next to the walls, five bodyguards sat on stone benches.
A stable guard pushed Ahab forward. “We have something to show the commander.”
The chief bodyguard disappeared into a smaller room.
Ahab squirmed. “You can’t—”
The guard twisted his ear. “Quiet.”
Obadiah studied the floor. He cocked his head on one side and held still to avoid more pain.
“My. My. What have we here?” The commander entered and wagged his head side to side. [Maybe show us what Omri looks likevii?]
The pressure on Obadiah’s ear eased. He let out a hard sigh and bowed his head. This village boy had given the commander’s son a bloody nose. Commander Omri would chuckle while the executioner sawed at Obadiah’s neck. Would he allow his family to bury him under the pear tree next to his great grandfather?
Back homeviii in the village of Shunem, the commander had smirked when he talked about slicing heads from Philistines, and Ahab and Obadiah had both shivered. Yet when the commander announced his next campaign, Ahab had dragged Obadiah arm in arm and begged for them to tag along. “Biah and I can cheer the troops, Daddy.” (Was Daddy in use in this time?)
The commander had nodded. “Just don’t be thinking you’re shepherd boys looking for a giant to slay.”
Obadiah’s eyes had grown round. When they got back to the village, he could tell Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, about severed heads. (You could add something to let us know what sort of reaction he hopes to get from her.)
They’d been in Gibbethon a month and hadn’t seen one severed head or one giant. The commander made them stand on a hillock so far from the clash of battle that shouts drifted to them long moments after the troops charged.
Yet Obadiah’s head was about to bounce in the dirt.
“Chin up,” the commander snapped.
Obadiah turned his face up, and Ahab followed.
The commander ran a finger over the blood drying on Ahab’s mouth and squinted at Obadiah’s split lip. “‘The forcing of wrath brings forth strife.’” He turned to the guard who had brought Ahab. “Whose wrath brought forth this strife?”
“I found these two at each other’s throats, and a stable boy whimpering by the stall.”
“That’s it? Nothing more to report?” The commander pursed his lips.
The guard shook his head. “Correct, sir. Nothing more.”
“You men did well to bring them to me. Return to your post.”
The two stable guards bowed and left the commander with his five bodyguards.
The commander crossed his arms over his chest. “Why was the stable boy whimpering?”
Obadiah squeezed his eyes shut. The stable boy was Ahab’s concern. But the executioner’s knife would slice into Obadiah’s throat. How long would he feel the pain before the world disappeared? He stifled a sob. He would die before his ninth birthday. If only he could have told Yedidah goodbye.
The commander shook Obadiah by the shoulders. “Did you hurt the stable boy?”
As Obadiah lifted his face, his eyes widened, and his mouth fell open.
The commander turned away. “No squirrel up that tree.”ix He lifted Ahab’s chin. “Did you strike the boy?”
Obadiah edged closer to Ahab. As (insert space) the crook of their arms nested together, Obadiah read his friend’s thoughts. Ahab had never treated someone that way before, but the excitement of their foot race had spilled onto the stable boy. Ahab had done wrong, but he didn’t deserve to be whipped or whatever commanders did to discipline sons.
Ahab elbowed Obadiah’s arm aside and lifted his gaze to the far corner of the room. “The stable boy did nothing wrong. I shoved him. I slapped him. About a bay mare.”
“Look at me, son.”
Obadiah followed Ahab’s gaze as he met the commander’s eyes.
The commander cupped his son’s chin with his hand. “Ahab. They will pronounce the name with deep pride because you will be a great fighter and commander of troops. Know this. We do not slap a stable boy or shove him in anger. We treat him with respect because he fights by our side.”
Ahab squared his shoulders.
No whip? Obadiah scratched his chin.
Commander Omri brushed Ahab’s cheek with his fingers. “Did the stable boy give you the bloody nose?”
Obadiah gulped and touched his broken lip. “I did, sir.” He held his breath and willed his stomach to keep his breakfast. Maybe the commander would respect his confession, lace his severed head to his body, and send his two pieces for his father to bury in one grave.
Early Suggestions from Fellow Critics:
iI understood they were boys in the barn when the narrator mentions the visitors aren’t much bigger than the stable boy.
Obadiah and Ahab have been friends half their lives, so if Ahab is lying about the guards waiting on one mount, which seems unlikely, Obadiah should have an inkling. It would add tension because Obadiah has been charged with keeping Ahab safe, but Ahab doesn’t seem like the type of guy to be talked out of something once he has his mind set. And we know the prince won’t suffer the king’s wrath if Ahab is injured, captured, or killed. Obadiah will.
This is a good set up of these two characters and their personalities. – Ah ha! They are little boys. That explains Biah’s thoughts and Ahab calling Omri “Daddy”. Maybe look for a way to show their ages clearly in the first pages?
iiIt’s good to have a description of him, but maybe there could be a better place for it? It slows down the build-up to the race.
iiiIt seems a bit strange to me that Ahab is using the term “Daddy”. I’ve been picturing him as a young man.
iv I didn’t really recognize this as a horse sound (of course, I’m no expert when it comes to horses). I ended up reading the two sentences two or three times.
vIn the 18th and 19th centuries, stables were built so that the horses’ heads faced a wall that held hay, so their backsides were presented to anyone walking into the stables. I don’t know how stables were built in B.C., but I thought I’d share that tidbit.
vi So he slapped the boy so hard his nose bled? If so, I suggest the boy raise a hand to his nostril and then lower the same hand in front of his face to consider the blood on his fingers. Because the child cannot see the blood on his own face, he can only feel liquid running over his upper lip, and he will be curious about what is causing his lip to feel wet. For example, Is it blood or just a runny allergy nose? If I think through my own response when I get a bloody nose, I normally want to self-diagnose what’s wrong with my body and these folks probably do not have access to a mirror.
viiMaybe show us what Omri looks like?
viii I started to drift here. Is all of this information necessary? Maybe it can be turned into dialog to avoid telling?
ix I am not sure I understand this reference. Maybe elaborate a bit.