01. The Forcing of Wrath
A Village Near Gibbethon, Philistia
Obadiah flew along the path, his sandals slapping dirt and his elbow gouging Ahab’s ribs.
A brown hen squawked at the approaching danger and collected her chicks into the safety of a low-spreading fig tree.
Obadiah shot between the stable guards, raised his chin, and thudded into the thick door at the same moment as Ahab.
Both boys pranced. “I won. I won.”
A red and black rooster emerged from a bed of anemones, crowed twice, and strutted with them.
As Obadiah led Ahab into the stable, he tipped his head back and breathed in horse and hay. A soft huh-huh-huh-huh greeted him, and smooth noses bobbed over stall doors.
Ahab crowded in beside him. “That bay mare from Akko. She’s mine.”
Obadiah laughed. “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?”
The stable boy, shorter and thinner than Obadiah or Ahab, stepped from the next stall. “Oh, she’s out, sir.” He leaned a pitchfork against the wall. “The captain took her.”
“What captain?” Ahab slapped the boy then poked him in the chest, knocking him back against a post. “I never said anyone could take that mare.”
The stable boy put his hand to a fresh red mark on his cheek. He stifled a whimper and wiped a dribble of blood from his nose.
Obadiah’s nostrils flared. He yanked Ahab by the shoulder. “Pick on somebody your own size.”
“Yeah? Who are you?” Ahab jerked Obadiah’s sleeve, swung him around, and aimed a fist at his chin.
Obadiah ducked and grabbed Ahab’s robe. “That mare’s no more yours than she is mine.” He smashed his friend’s face with the heel of his palm then flailed his wrist against the pain.
Ahab cupped his nose, then gawked at the blood in his hand. Ripping Obadiah’s robe, he screamed, “Stinking Philistine pond scum!” He crunched his fist into Obadiah’s teeth.
Obadiah stumbled back and tasted blood. He touched his lips, and his fingers came away red.
A stable guard burst in and took Ahab by the shoulders. Another guard seized Obadiah.
Ahab swatted. “What are you—?”
“Shush!” The guard pinched Ahab’s ear.
“Come along.” Obadiah’s guard dragged him out by the earlobe, around the spreading fig tree and a leafy bougainvillea, to the ladder against the stable wall. The commander’s office waited on the roof. He shoved Obadiah’s nose against the fifth rung.
Obadiah jammed his hands into his armpits. “But—”
“Up. I’m right behind you,” the guard growled.
Obadiah climbed, and the moment he stepped off the ladder, the stable guard jumped to the veranda beside him and latched onto his ear. There would be no escape. Two breaths later, Ahab stood next to him in the grip of the second guard. As Obadiah glared at Ahab, the guards led them to the center of the veranda.
Weela-wee-ooo floated in from a high branch. A golden oriole. Obadiah twisted toward the call, but before he could glimpse the bird, the guard forced him through the doorway into a large, forbidding room. “In you go.”
Sandals scraped the stone floor. Echoes bounced off smooth-cut limestone walls. The door shut out the rustle of the breeze in the bougainvillea, but the song of the oriole floated in through the window.
Five bodyguards on stone benches shoved against the walls grinned at the boys.
Obadiah’s guard propelled him forward. “We have something to show the commander.”
A bodyguard stood and disappeared through a door on the right.
Ahab squirmed. “You can’t—”
“Quiet.” The guard twisted his ear.
Obadiah studied the floor. To avoid more pain, he cocked his head on one side and held still. Why had his friend slapped the stable boy?
“My. My. What have we here?” Commander Omri entered, wagging his head from side to side. He stood taller than his guard, and white hairs streaked his beard, trimmed to jut from his chin. He wore a dark gray cloak and headscarf over a light gray tunic.
As the pressure on his ear eased, Obadiah thrust his shoulders back. Nobody got away with giving the commander’s son a bloody nose. He would die before his ninth birthday. As the executioner’s broadaxe sliced through Obadiah’s neck, the commander would chuckle. Obadiah’s father would bury him under the pear tree next to his great grandfather, and Yedidah, the potter’s daughter, would speak of him with respect.
“Chin up,” the commander snapped.
Obadiah tipped his head back.
The commander squinted at Obadiah’s split lip then ran a finger over the blood drying under Ahab’s nose. “‘The forcing of wrath brings forth strife.’” He turned to the guard who had brought his son. “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 guard shook his head. “Nothing more.”
“Thank you. Return to your post.”
The two stable guards bowed and left.
The commander settled back on his heels. “Why was the stable boy whimpering?”
Obadiah drew himself to full height. When the executioner’s axe sliced into his neck, how long before the world disappeared? He set his jaw. Pain meant nothing. He had done right.
The commander shook Obadiah’s shoulder. “Did you hurt the stable boy?”
Obadiah’s mouth fell open.
“No squirrel up that tree.” The commander turned from Obadiah and lifted his son’s chin. “Did you strike the boy?”
Obadiah edged next to Ahab, so the crook of their arms nested together. His friend had never hurt anyone. He’d spilled excitement from their foot race onto the stable boy. Ahab deserved only four or five lashes with the whip. Not enough to make him cry.
Ahab elbowed Obadiah’s arm aside and lifted his gaze to the far corner of the room. “The stable boy did nothing wrong. I pushed him. I slapped him. About a bay mare.”
“Look at me, son.”
Obadiah turned and followed Ahab’s gaze as he met the commander’s eyes.
“Ahab. They will pronounce the name with deep pride. A noble warrior.” The commander cupped his son’s jaw with his hand. “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. Ahab needed payback.
Commander Omri brushed Ahab’s cheek with his fingers. “Did the stable boy give you the bloody nose?”
“I did, sir.” As Obadiah touched his broken lip, his face burned. The stable guards hadn’t let him finish with Ahab. He thrust his head high. He was dead with nothing to lose. “I told you to pick on somebody your own size.” He gave Ahab a flying shove into the lap of a guard.
The commander shuffled back a step.
With a roar, Ahab swung for Obadiah’s nose. “Show you—!”
“Enough.” The commander waded in and gripped each boy by the nape of the neck. “Don’t spill your blood in here.” He dragged them like puppies and dropped them by the ladder. “Beat each other’s brains out in the grass and let me know who wins.”
Obadiah and Ahab – 1 Kings 18:3
The army at Gibbethon – 1 Kings 16:15
The forcing of wrath – Proverbs 30:33
Parapet – Deuteronomy 22:8