03. NoGards

(epigraph)

In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years, six of them in Tirzah.

1 Kings 16:23

3. No Guards, No Race

872 BC

Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Obadiah rode out the gate of the fort with Ahab at his side. “Where are our bodyguards, my prince? Your father’s eyes drill through to the back of my skull. ‘Keep my son safe.’”

Ahab tipped his head toward the open gate. Black curls fell from his headscarf and glistened in the pre-dawn twilight. “They’re right behind us, Biah.”

“Invisible bodyguards?” Obadiah scanned the gray slopes of Mount Tabor for Syrians and reined his mount back toward the gate. “I can’t let you escape the fort without guards, my prince.”

Ahab leaned back. “Just this once minus my father’s chaperones.”

Obadiah’s insides vibrated. Not surrounded by fifty pairs of eyes? Hunker low and race like a village boy. Hammer his heels into his stallion’s ribs and thunder through the grass. Burrow into the wind-snapping flow of Lavan’s mane and scream, ‘Go! Go! Go!’

Then a picture rose of King Omri’s dewy glance at his son, and Obadiah shook his head. “No guards. No race.” Three days ago Syrian scouts had killed two farmers and a sentry in the foothills, and the king trusted him with Ahab’s safety. “Lord, protect us.”

Ahab smirked. “Our protection is about to ride through the gate. Let them find us.” He patted his stallion’s glossy black neck. “This big fellow needs to run.”

“Not without guards.” Obadiah scanned the hills again.

“Okay. Okay. Leave it to me, Biah.” Ahab wheeled his horse around on the plank bridge and trotted through the gate with his black, short-trimmed beard bouncing against his white robe.

Back home in Kishion, Obadiah’s father would say, ‘If you want a job done right, do it yourself.’ Yet Obadiah’s stomach churned at the idea of not trusting his old friend, the prince.

In a few moments Ahab returned. “A horse went lame. They’re selecting a fresh mount, and the captain says they’ll be with us before the sun’s out of bed.”

The entire contingent of bodyguards waited on one rider? Obadiah shrugged. Ahab was not in the habit of spinning a yarn, and the captain of the guards was a responsible man. He would bring the squad.

Obadiah clicked his tongue, and Lavan clip-clopped down the grade with Ahab beside him on Shochar. They turned toward the Gilead mountains where streamers in the sky announced the sun’s arrival. Lavan flipped his ears forward and back. Did the stallion smell intruders in the valley?

Ahab sat up straight on Shochar. “The Syrians are upon you. How will you defend our nation?”

Obadiah leaned back with his hands on Lavan’s rump. This week was Ahab’s turn to give the strategy challenge. When they were bloodying each other’s noses in Gibbethon, they quoted Delilah, “the Philistines are upon you.” But here at Fort Jezreel, they focused on Syria.

“By what route?” Obadiah asked.

“Through Akko and the Jezreel Valley.”

Obadiah guffawed. “Ben Hadad doesn’t have one friend on the coast.”

“Okay. Okay. So, you’re awake.” Ahab grinned. “They’re attacking us from Ramoth.”

“That’s easy.” Obadiah pointed his arm east. “We cross the Jordan and meet them head on with archers and foot troops. You and I lead the chariots.”

“So, Brave Leader, where will you find terrain open enough for chariots and javelins? Those trees and boulders by the Jabbok require swords and spears.”

Obadiah could help Ahab stretch their game with feints, traps, and ambushes, but King Omri’s fifty guards were missing. Obadiah lifted his headscarf, eased a jittery hand through his hair, and tried a verbal jab. “Careful you don’t push that tired nag too hard, my prince. Shame to stress such a weak old thing.”

“Stress?” Ahab snorted. “You sit on that sad excuse for a horse and talk stress?” He glanced back at the fort and frowned. Then slowed Shochar to a walk. “Those guards are babysitters, Biah. Two little ones wrapped around my ankles and another on the way, but my father treats me like a child.”

“Not so, my prince. The king wants his heir to continue breathing.”

“He calls Hiel a go-getter. Never mentions you or me.”

A hawk and a kestrel screamed overhead about who owned a particular piece of the sky.

Obadiah shrugged. “Save your pout, my lad. I’ve seen you make chariot captains turn and run. Hiel just happened onto Tibni first.

With Shochar reined to a standstill, Ahab shook his head. “It’s his practice with the javelin. And his arms. Like a baboon.”

“When did you ever see a baboon?”

Ahab snorted. “Get serious. Do your parents treat you like a child?”

Obadiah stopped next to him and leaned on Lavan’s rump. “My mother.” He glanced behind. Where were those guards? “You know how she hovers and knows exactly whose kids we’re playing with.”

Ahab nodded. “I like your mother.”

“She likes you. Well, Mother always stays awake until her children are in bed. Right?”

“Of course.”

So, when Yedidah and I take the babies home for first fruits, if we go out to see old friends in the village and return late, everyone is sound asleep. Except Mother. She’s sitting there with a lamp lit and only blows it out after we pull the covers up. She’ll be mothering us as long as she breathes.”

“May your mother outlive us all.” Ahab gave Shochar a light slap on the neck. The stallion whinnied and bobbed his head.

Obadiah blinked back the idea of Syrians.

“Lavan ready to run?” Ahab collected the reins. “He’ll have Shochar’s tail flapping in his face.”

Obadiah opened his mouth for a smart retort then closed his lips. The bushes moved. “We’ve no guards, my prince. We should return.”

Ahab followed Obadiah’s gaze. “Just the wind pushing the junipers.” He nodded toward a row of small stones under an ancient pine. “Here’s our starting line. Race you back.”

Wiping Syrian invaders from his mind, Obadiah pulled the reins short and aligned Lavan’s front feet behind the stones. The horse’s withers rippled under his hand. Obadiah sucked in the sweet fragrance of the lilies and barley grass then faced straight ahead. “My prince, this stallion is about to run the legs off that tired old donkey under you.” He shifted his heels, ready to pound Lavan’s barrel chest and thrust him into a gallop.

Ahab plucked a pine cone and guided his horse in beside Obadiah’s.

Their finish line rose in the distance, a pair of acacia trees by the fort.

As Ahab gathered the reins, and dangled the cone by Lavan’s ear, an arrow whistled past his throat and thunked into the pine tree.


Background

Hiel of Bethel – 1 Kings 16:34

Tibni son of Ginath – 1 Kings 16:21-22

Baboon – I Kings 10:22

Feast of first fruits – Exodus. 23:16, 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10, Numbers 28:26

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