Taking him in his arms, Obadiah eased him to his feet.
The rider showed no wounds. As he sank against Obadiah’s chest, he forced a whisper. “Your father, sir … Syrians.”
Samaria City, Samaria, Israel
Obadiah croaked out, “Father.”
The ragged rasp of the Arabian’s breaths brought bodyguards running.
Gallant’s head hung low. Lather rolled from his bridle, and sweat dripped down his legs.
Zak crowded past Obadiah and laid a hand on the horse’s neck. He pointed at men. “You. You. You. Water!” Bodyguards thundered toward nearby wells and cisterns, while late shoppers jumped aside.
Obadiah shoved the collapsed messenger into Zak’s arms and cupped the man’s chin. Had Syrians killed his father? His mother? Burned their village to the ground?
The man’s eyes rolled up into his head, and Obadiah pushed him on Zak.
While bodyguards rushed buckets to Gallant and poured water over him from head to rump, Obadiah raced across the plaza, arms waving, toward the livery. “Give me a horse!”
His driver sprinted past him. When Obadiah arrived, the man was hooking harness to Obadiah’s chariot and shouting, “Horses! Horses!”
Obadiah shook the driver’s shoulder. “I don’t have time for this. Put me on a horse.”
“Pardon me, sir, but one horse will never make it. You need two horses pulling wheels.”
Obadiah threw up his hands. “Give me a horse, man. A horse!”
“And neither will you, sir. I’m driving you.” He shoved a harness at Obadiah.
While attendants led horses out of stalls, Obadiah knelt beside the chariot and picked through the tangle of leather in his hands. “Lord, help us.”
The horses arrived, and Obadiah fumbled, dropping straps and hooking clasps where they didn’t belong.
An attendant took the harness from him. “Please, sir.”
Obadiah clapped a hand over his quivering jaw and backed away.
Once the driver had hooks and bridles in place, he tested connections with quick tugs, then draped the reins over the rail.
Ahab jogged up. “We may have saved Gallant. The messenger revived. He only knows it was Syrians and—and your father.”
As Obadiah stepped into the chariot, his mouth twitched.i Ahab would follow him to Keslote to check on his grandfather.
Ahab’s hand on the rail trembled. “Look, just get there, okay? Don’t worry about—I mean, Gera can handle the groves. My father lies in his tomb. Everything else can wait. I’ll catch up with you after I’ve done what I can for Gallant and his rider.”
Obadiah laid a hand on Ahab’s. “Thanks.” He tapped his driver’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
“Hee-YAH!” Reins slapped. Obadiah’s team clip-clopped across the plaza, out the gate, and down the switchbacks.
Where the road leveled off at the bottom of the hill, Obadiah turned toward the Jezreel Valley, and his horses settled into a long-distance trot.
With his hand squeezing the driver’s shoulder, Obadiah bored his gaze onto the road. The sun was high. He should be in Keslote before dark.
Yedidah would be huddled in the fort with the kids, wondering if Syrians had killed her family. Were Syrians swarming the village?
He clamped his hand harder over the driver’s bony shoulder. Until he saw Keslote for himself, he would leave Yedidah in the fort without so much as a message telling where he was.
“Look, sir. I can only drive so fast. If I kill these horses, we’ll never reach Keslote.”
With a grunt, Obadiah released. He gripped the rail instead, and let his knees bend with the bumps in the road.
“Your father,” the messenger had said. Some of the best times with his father had been laying blocks up to add a room to their house. Ahab’s family across the path hired masons to build their house. But every time Obadiah’s father cut blocks at the quarry or built a wall, he had two boys at his elbow—Obadiah and Ahab—eager to join the fun.
Obadiah pictured cutting blocks and building a high wall around his family home, so he could tell his father, “You’re safe now.” But when he searched the house in his mind, he couldn’t find his father or his mother.
The driver stopped for water at the first village on the road. As the dust settled, guards hauled up buckets from the well and set them before thirsty horses.
Obadiah wrung his hands in the heat and paced beside the chariot. The messenger had said nothing about his mother or little brother. About Yedidah’s family or Ahab’s grandfather. Was anyone alive?
The driver stopped for water a second time, then a third. At each pause, Obadiah’s insides quivered.
The Jezreel Valley came into view. As the meadows and farms of the long expanse opened before them, the driver pointed left toward the fort. “We really need to change horses, sir. I’ve pushed these as hard as I dared.”
On both sides of the chariot, bodyguards drooped over their mounts—ready to swoon and cling to the manes like the messenger on Gallant. Obadiah was exhausted from his chariot ride, but in much shape than the guards. Their horses dripped sweat and trotted head down.
Obadiah twisted the driver’s shoulders to face him. “Can this team make it to Keslote?”
“They could, sir. But fresh horses…”
A new team would be faster and more sure-footed. While the men secured new mounts from the corral by the fort, he could bundle Yedidah and the kids into a chariot of their own. At the cost of three or four hours.
He released the driver. “We go with this team.”
As the chariot rolled down into the Jezreel Valley, the horses’ heads sagged. Yet they carried Obadiah and his men across the plain and climbed into the hills.
As Obadiah rolled past familiar rock formations and clumps of trees, the weary horses stumbled over bumps in the path.
The chariot climbed a grade and surfaced in the meadow which held Obadiah’s village.
A thickness filled his throat, and his breath bottled up in his chest.
The first houses looked undisturbed. His eyes prickled with tears.
People leaned out open doorways or rose from their knees in vegetable gardens to gawk at the chariot and the exhausted horses and riders. A few faces connected with Obadiah and burst into smiles. Then the smiles faded, blank and sad.
Crickets announced approaching twilight.
Obadiah passed the kiln of red brick in Yedidah’s front yard. The house looked untouched, as did the others. He should let them know their daughter was safe, but he could not pause three doors from his home. He tapped the driver on the arm, and the chariot stopped by the well in the middle of the path.
Obadiah stepped down, lost his footing, then stumbled through the gate on the left.
At the far side of his family courtyard, a fresh mound stood by the corner of the house. While Ahab’s father rested in a tomb cut into the rock, Obadiah’s lay in a heaped up hole.
Obadiah knelt and sifted dirt through his fingers. I should have been here for my father.
Keslote, a village of Issachar – Joshua 19:18
The Plain of Esdraelon – Joshua 19:10-23
iHis father lived across the path from Ahab’s grandfather. Asherah agents and Syrians on the Golan were far away, and the heat of a moment ago had cooled. The words he’d been spitting at Ahab tasted old and dry, like a forgotten dispute from their childhood.