18. Pickles

18 Pickles B2.docx Obadiah 1711 Words

18. A Jar of Pickles

864 BC

The veranda of Gera, the grove manager, Samaria City, Samaria

Obadiah filled his plate and glanced around the veranda. Although the sun still hid behind the mountains of Gilead, the dim light showed Gera at the far corner of the parapet. From behind him, the warble of a finch rose, fell, and ended on a high, emphatic note.i Obadiah sat next to Gera.

Liev and Keren entered the veranda on light, bouncing steps. Liev carried their youngest, and Keren led the older child by a hand. She snugged an arm around Liev and beamed up into his face. As they cleared the hallway, she withdrew her arm and moved behind him, bowed her head, and let her scarf fall around her cheeks. While Obadiah’s guards filled their plates, the young family stood and waited.

With his back to the couple and the guards, Gera steadied his plate on one leg and whispered to Obadiah, “Do you know the queen is killing people? Good men who speak out against her brothels.”

“I heard. In Jabesh and Beitshan.”

Gera’s voice rose. “No, my friend. No.” Then he glanced around and dropped his voice while he swept his arm west to east. “From Akko, all the way out to Ramoth. And in tiny villages along the way.” He gripped Obadiah’s shoulder. “Somebody’s got to do something.”

Obadiah brushed Gera’s hand off. This somebody’s got a wife and kids.

###

Bodyguards waited at the path with horses and chariot. Obadiah joined them, ready for a day of pawing through drooping olive trees searching for soot, wilted leaves stuck to the branch, scabs, aphids, scale insects—and enjoying the sunshine. But something was delaying Gera and Liev. He returned to the courtyard, mounted the ladder, and peeked over the parapet.

Gera cuddled his grandsons.ii “We’ll go higher and higher tonight, boys. It’s time to inspect Uncle Biah’s groves.” He set them on the floor.

As Liev approached the ladder, he tapped an empty jar. Tunk-tunk. “As soon as I get Keren her pickled fish, I’ll catch up with you in the grove.”

Keren came out and leaned against the doorpost. Since Obadiah’s grove inspections a month ago, the bulge in the middle of her long, loose robe had lowered.

Liev floated a kiss to her across the veranda.

She brushed her hair back from her face and sent him a soft smile.

He responded, “Rise up, my love, my fair one—”

With a wink at her daughter-in-law, Hodiah laid a palm against Liev’s cheek and pushed his face around toward the courtyard.

Obadiah ducked from view. “Sorry. I was looking for Gera.” He went back down the ladder.

Hodiah’s voice followed. “You children are embarrassing your Uncle Obadiah. Go, now, Liev. My daughter-in-law needs those fish. Be sure to dip plenty of juice from the barrel. And bread. Don’t forget bread.”

From the top of the ladder, Liev blew one more kiss. Then he joined Obadiah in the courtyard and Gera followed him down the ladder.

Obadiah pointed to the jar Liev cradled on his arm. “My wife had the same craving.”

Keren even drinks the juice.” Liev laughed and strode up the hill toward the shops.

In a tree by the gate, a tiny bird sang as he flexed the delicate iridescent blue of his bib.

Gera pointed. “See the singer? Liev is composing a song which compares the bluethroat’s beauty to Keren’s.” He pushed through the gate. “It’s a secret.”

At the chariot, Obadiah rested his hand on Gera’s shoulder. “A song? The look in that boy’s eye already makes his wife feel like the most beautiful of women.” He pulled himself into the chariot. “It’s time to inspect olive trees. Squeeze in with me, Gera, and on the trip home tonight we’ll put Liev on a horse.”

Pruning saw in hand, Gera stepped in. “That boy will author his own book of psalms, you know. Some of them are good. Right up there with Asaph and the sons of Korah. Of course, this is his father speaking.” His chest puffed higher with each word.

###

After long hours of pawing through olive trees in the heat and wiping sweat from his face, Obadiah collected his guards. The sun hovered far out over the Great Sea. He led the men to Gera’s meeting place, a tiny grape arbor overlooking the Shechem valley.

Gera’s eyebrows had become one black slash across his forehead. As he picked up his pruning saw, he pointed toward trees full with new growth. “I was saving this section for Liev, but my best pruner deserted me.” He held his quivering jaw with a hand.

“Maybe your best pruner is writing a song for his wife.”

Gera stepped onto the chariot. “I hope the baby came today.”

“A new baby. Let’s go.” Obadiah joined him, the guards turned their horses, and the driver flipped the reins. Obadiah’s team trotted off, jostling the chariot through ruts and around hills to the southern outskirts of Samaria City. The ancient oak came in sight that marked Gera’s house, tucked out of sight behind five rows of olive trees.

As the chariot slowed, three thickset men in new robes of dark gray sauntered out from the trees.

“Slavers.” Obadiah fumbled for the driver’s spear but left it standing in the chariot basket.

Gera leaped from the rolling chariot and crashed to his hands and knees. “Aaaargh!”

“Looking for pickled fish?” A slaver spit. “We brought your boy home.”

Scrambling to his feet, Gera lunged past the slavers and dodged between trees toward his gate.

The bodyguards leaped from their horses and crouched, spears pointed at the thugs. Zak growled, “Filthy Kasrans.”

With the chariot still moving, Obadiah jumped off. “Stand down, men.” Jezebel’s agents operated beyond his authority.

Spear butts slammed to the ground, scattering gravel over the feet of the guards. The driver hauled the chariot to a stop, grabbed his spear, and joined them.

The slavers strode up the hill, floating cackles back over their shoulders.

“Hyenas.” Obadiah stumbled after Gera.

A scream shot through the five rows of trees. From Gera.

Obadiah and the guards thundered through to the gate.

On the far side of the courtyard, Gera and Hodiah knelt by the ladder.

“What?” Obadiah flipped the gate open, flew to them, and dropped to his knees. “Please, Lord, no.”

Liev lay on his back.

Hodiah sobbed and pressed her cheek against his.

At her side, Gera stroked his son’s chest. “Look what they’ve done to my boy. Look what they’ve done.”

A large gash opened Liev’s throat.

“No, Lord, this is not right.” Obadiah clenched his fists. He had told himself there was nothing he could do about the killings in Jabesh or Beitshan. To get a day’s work done, he had shoved the murder of far-off boys from his mind. But a fire burned in his chest. He would find those slavers in the night and rip their arms from the sockets.

Above him, a gasp, and the ladder thumped against the wall.

Obadiah raised a palm. No. Keren should not see Liev all purple, his throat crusted with blood.

Yet she supported her protruding tummy with one hand and shifted herself over the parapet and onto the ladder. Ignoring his upraised hand, she descended, her sandals slapping the rungs.

With both hands cradling her belly, she waddled to Liev. “No, no.” Her voice grew louder. “No.” Keren dropped to her knees and pushed trembling fingers against the sides of his throat to close the gap. But the stiff hole sprang back open, flicking dried blood onto her robe. Fists clenched, she glared at the sky. Her mouth opened wide, but with no sound. She ducked, gulped a deep breath, and let out a scream that seemed to never end.

Liev’s mother groaned. With her eyes glued to Liev’s face, she reached to pull her daughter-in-law closer and tangled her fingers in Keren’s hair.

As the scream faded, a cry came from the three-year-old on the veranda.

Obadiah scrambled up the ladder. “Uncle Biah’s coming.”

The next-door neighbor dashed through the trees to the gate and shouted across the courtyard. “It was those slavers. This morning. I just heard. They were kicking a little girl, but Uncle Hiram says Liev tried to make them stop.”

Obadiah waved him in and yelled, “Zak, post my guys on the perimeter.”

Weeping, the neighbor jogged over. He crouched, clutching Gera’s arm. “When are we gonna wake up and do something about that wi—?” He glanced around the courtyard and put his head down.

Wake up? Obadiah glared down at the neighbor. Who are you to —? A sharp pain gripped his chest. Fists against his head, he shouted, “Why, Lord? Why do you hide when there’s trouble?”

Both babies squalled. With the limestone parapet cutting into his knees, Obadiah cupped their soft hair and tender skin as if to protect them from the evil below. He groaned and inhaled their fresh smell.

Keren turned a pale, tear-streaked face up to her babies then fell back on her husband’s still form. She stroked his face and arms.

Tears dripped from Hodiah’s chin. She smothered her face in her husband’s shoulder. “Oh, Gera! Gera! I sent him out for bread and fish. That’s all. Just bread and fish. Then he didn’t come home, and he didn’t come home. We thought you took him to help prune.” Her voice trembled. “Bread and fish, Gera. Just bread and fish.”

With the back of his hand, Gera wiped the wet from his cheeks. He stood and looked up at Obadiah. “Come help me put my son in the ground.”


Background

“Rise up, my love, my fair one” – Song of Solomon 2:10

Asaph – Psalm 50

The sons of Korah – Psalm 47

“Why do you hide when there’s trouble? – Psalm 10

iThere’s the “warbling song,” a fast, rising and falling string of 6-23 notes often sung while flocking. Males usually sing a “territory song” alone; it begins with a few notes on the same pitch before breaking into warbling and ending with a high, emphatic note. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Purple_Finch/sounds

iiBaby names: Eran and Zabad. Numbers 26:35

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