12. Keslote

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.

He knelt and sifted a handful of dirt through his fingers. I should have been here for my father.

The ladder rattled against the parapet.

10.2 Keslote

867 BC

Keslote, Issachar, Israel

Obadiah stood and steadied himself against the ladder while his mother descended a rung at a time.

“You came.” She held him by the shoulders and searched his face. In the fading light, her cheeks seemed dry of tears, but her eyes looked red and swollen. Weary from weeping. She wiped her nose with a cloth then wrapped him in a hug. “My boy. My boy. I didn’t know if they could find you.” She released him and slid her arm through his.

Skipping rungs, Obadiah’s younger brother, Tola, hurried down the ladder and landed—thump—on the sod. Although his face sagged and his eyes seemed vacant, he draped an arm around Obadiah’s rib cage and gripped him by an elbow.

Wedged between his mother and brother, Obadiah stared down at the grave.

His mother spoke. “He was out pruning and didn’t come home. When it got dark, the neighbors lit lanterns.”

Tola’s wife and five children appeared at Tola’s elbow. The children cast furtive glances at Obadiah. How had they come down the ladder without a sound?

“The baker found him. Over near the quarry,” Tola planted his feet wide. “His pruning saw was in the grass.”

Arrows flashed through Obadiah’s memory and sank—thunk, thunk—into pine. On the Beitshan road, Syrian scouts had targeted Ahab—out for a ride. By the same twisted logici, they had cut down Obadiah’s father at work in the pear trees.

“Biah. They found you.” Yedidah’s mother pushed through the gate with Yedidah’s father, brothers, and sisters. She hurried across the courtyard. “Oh, son. I’m so sorry. Your father was such a good man.”

Tola stood back and offered her Obadiah’s side.

[Jphn- Yedidah’s father marched in, followed by Yedidah’s brothers and sisters. He stared across the mound of dirt, his nostrils flared. “Still is a good man. The village’ll never be the same, boy.” ]

With Yedidah’s brothers and sisters behind him, Yedidah’s father stared across the mound of dirt. “The village’ll never be the same.”

Obadiah’s mother-in-law glanced up at him. “Yedidah and the kids?”

“In the fort. Safe. Messenger found me. Samaria.” The few words came out with a struggle. As he pulled her to his side, his knees shook. He rested his arms on the two mothers’ shoulders and sagged against them.

Tu-cu-chee-yo, a nightjar called, and a faint breeze touched Obadiah’s cheek.

From across the mound of dirt, Yedidah’s father cleared his throat. “Look at me Biah.”

Obadiah lifted his head.

The man frowned. “You’re exhausted. The whole gang of you. We’ll make room in our stable for horses, and we have rugs for your men.”

Mendel, Ahab’s grandfather, strode through the gate. He stood taller than Ahab or Obadiah, and a pure white beard jutted from his chin. “Such a racket of wheels. Buckets bumping the well. Horses breathing loud enough to scare a mountain lion. Your man Zak seems to be in charge out there. I turned him loose in the kitchen.ii He’s finding stalls in my stable and rugs in those rooms my son built to invade my privacy.”

Obadiah gave one soft chuckle for the old village joke. King Omri had posted guards, but the old man had sent them back to the fort.

Mendel’s big paw clamped down on Obadiah’s shoulder, jolting the two mothers from their grip and spinning Obadiah around. “So sorry your dad is gone, boy. The Lord makes none better. Not these days. Knew they’d find you. Just didn’t think it would take so long.”

Long? He’d left the moment he heard. Obadiah let his shoulder relax under the familiar grip. He bowed and let the too-loud voice flow over him.

“Did you get my son laid out in his tomb?” Mendel shook his head. “Don’t you start in on me about hiking across the valley and up into those hills just to pay my respects.”

Obadiah’s mouth twitched. When King Omri was planning his tomb, he had said, “My father will outlive me, but he’ll never visit my little cave.”

Mendel’s voice seemed to come from far away. “I let my son know square and proper, if he wanted his bones in a tomb, I couldn’t stop him. But he comes from farm stock, and an honest farmer takes his final sleep in the earth, like this good man beneath our feet.”

Obadiah turned to the pear tree where his own tiny plot waited beside his great grandfather’s grave.

Mendel’s face faded, and his voice moved farther off, humming in the background about his son leading battles in foreign places when Beitshan was far enough for any man to travel.

Obadiah closed his eyes and leaned against his little brother. He never should have left home. He would give Gera control of the olive groves. Let the boy whom Ahab slapped run the stables on his own. Put the accounts in the hands of the bookkeeper from Nazareth.

The teacher said everything was “smoke, fog, vapor.” He had let smoke and fog keep him from protecting his father. He sighed long. Someone else could be the king’s right-hand man.

His mother held the ladder. “The trip has worn Biah out. He needs to sleep.”

Sleep? Obadiah lifted his head from Tola’s shoulder. “I just got here.”

He yielded to Tola’s hand guiding his wobbly steps [iii sways / staggers to the ladder] and rested his head against the ladder. He searched the courtyard for Ahab’s grandfather, but Mendel’s face floated over the grave. Obadiah lifted a hand and let it drop. “Zak. Whatever Zak says.”

He stepped onto the first rung then leaned on against the ladder. “I just need…”

Tola scurried over him and up the ladder then reached down from the parapet.

Mendel and Yedidah’s father seized Obadiah’s arms and lifted him.

With his feet on the third rung, he made a desperate lunge upward.

Tola reached and steadied him by the hair.

With hands pushing his rump, Obadiah’s feet rose to the fifth rung. Tola gripped his wrists, dragged him up, and laid him belly down with his head hanging over the parapet.

“Sweet dreams, boy,” Mendel called. “We’ll talk in the morning.”

###

Obadiah reached through the dark and ran his fingers over the letters. While this block sat at the edge of the quarry, he had chiseled BIAH. Then at home, cheered by his father’s fond gaze, he had struggled with the block and slid it into place. He and his father had built this room together.

Faint dribbles of light strayed under the door.

He rolled to his knees, stood, and tiptoed into the main room.

Mother sat next to a tiny, flickering oil lamp, and he knelt at her side. “What did old Mendel mean? I came the moment I heard.”

In the shifting flame, the rings under her eyes looked deeper.

“I mean, when did…?”

“When did your father die? Say it, son.”

“How long ago was it?”

“No. You must say the words, Biah. He’s not lost. Not sleeping. I force the words, “He’s dead.” Yet, I find myself planning for tomorrow when he’ll be back from selling pears at Beitshan.”

“When… when did my father die? Two days ago?”

“Five. No, six. Oh my. Eight days ago. I miss him so.”

Eight days, and the message didn’t get to him until yesterday noon. Digging the grave and laying his father in with proper respect would have taken his brother only one day.

Tola padded in, sat next to Mother, and held her hand.

She sniffled and wiped her nose with a cloth. “We didn’t know how to get word to you. Your brother didn’t want to leave me alone.”

“As he shouldn’t,” Obadiah said. Tola’s first duty was to protect their mother.

Tola sat up straight. “The village hasn’t changed, Biah. The nearest horse is in Beitshan.”

Obadiah nodded. “Did old Mendel…?”

His mother squeezed his hand. “Oh, that boy should be so proud of his grandfather. He badgered the men up and down the path. It took him days to get up a little band to brave the trek to the fort.”

Obadiah pulled his mother to his shoulder. Brave indeed. If arrows could cut down a man in his pear trees, they could strike messengers on the road. “I never should have left you.”

We can’t waste time on regrets.” His mother patted his hand. “What would you like to eat? We have mutton, chicken, beef, pickles, beer, wine. The courtyard’s been full of friends for days, and they keep bringing food.”

Nothing tonight, thanks.” Obadiah sat and took in the tiny world shown by her candle. The words, “never should have left” had come easy, but this was not his home. Not anymore. He had laid up those blocks, but they were his no longer. Not the blocks nor the wall, the house nor the orchard. They were here for him to visit. But they belonged to his mother and brother.

And he really was the king’s right-hand man. His place was with Ahab. Although he hated Baal and Asherah, he served the king.

Obadiah stood, cupped Tola’s cheek, and kissed his mother’s forehead. “Will soon be light. Let’s get some sleep.”

iJohn – I don’t understand this.

iiJohn – Culturally this seems very odd. As a host, you bring food to your guests.

iii This sounds intentional. Like he’s trying to act drunk.

What about mentioning that he sways / staggers to the ladder, which will show drunkenness, and fit with his emotional state. – John

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