32. The King Is Dead
Ramoth, Gilead, Israel
Obadiah rested a hand on Ahab’s chariot.
“Biah!” General Jehu called from the darkness.
Obadiah followed the voice and found Jehu by his chariot at the edge of the grove. “We leave no one behind, General. I need you to form teams. Bring our wounded and our dead, our horses and our chariots.”
“Sir. Yes, sir.” The general stepped back into his chariot and drove into the dark.
Zak appeared. “Your bodyguards are here, sir. A few cuts and scrapes. But alive and well.”
“Help me with this arrow. I don’t want to further damage our king on the trip home.”
Zak leaned inside the royal chariot and grasped Ahab’s shoulders.
Obadiah gripped the arrow with both hands and pulled. The shaft and arrowhead came straight out, glistening wet. He cleaned the arrow and tucked it under Ahab’s leg. “We two struggled, but I never dreamed of wiping his blood on the grass.”
Zak knelt next to him. “You loved the man.”
“I love him still.”
King Jehoshaphat marched in out of the dark and stripped off his royal purple cloak. “Our friend Ahab needs cloth befitting a king.”
While Obadiah and Zak stood Ahab up beside the chariot, Jehoshaphat fit Ahab’s arms into the robe and tied it closed at the throat.
Obadiah wiped tears from under his chin and turned to Ahab’s chariot driver. “Which horse can carry the king?”
“The big black on the left, sir.”
But Zak draped an arm over the horse and shook his head. “Swing the king’s legs over one side and dangle his head on the other while his rump points to the Big Bear and her cubs? Not if you love the man.”
“Right.” King Jehoshaphat said, “A disgrace. Help me seat the king in the chariot.”
With Obadiah holding one arm and Zedekiah the other, they lowered Ahab, so he sat next to the javelin basket on the deck with his feet poked over the edge.
The driver stepped in beside Ahab and nodded.
Zak brought rope from his own chariot and tied Ahab with his back against the front panel. Obadiah checked Zak’s knots. When the Philistines had found King Saul and his sons lying dead on Mount Gilboa, they cut off their heads and displayed their corpses on the Beitshan city wall. “No way am I letting you roll out.” He stroked Ahab’s face. The cheek was stiff.
Foot soldiers trudging home stopped in the acacia grove and asked if the king had died. Several more chariot fighters gathered. Obadiah looked up in the dark. “Where is Jehu?”
General Jehu stepped in close with Bidkar beside him. “We have six teams searching the battlefield for our own. We’re bringing everyone home, sir. Horses and chariots too.”
“Can your teams complete their work without you?” Obadiah laid a hand on Jehu’s arm.
“Yes, sir. Six strong leaders.”
Obadiah turned to Bidkar. “Can you keep up with Jehu’s driving?”
Jehu flashed a grin, but Bidkar scowled. “When his fingers touch the reins, sir, the general becomes a mad man.”
“I need you two to stick together and push ahead to prepare. No linens. We’ll lay the king out in full battle dress. Plus his royal robes. I want myrrh and aloes. Top grade. And make sure the royal tomb is clean.”
Jehu nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Obadiah slapped the rail as if to go but paused. “I need you to ask around for the artist who carved King Omri’s ossuary, if he’s still alive. King Ahab’s bones should rest in a box of the same design.”
“We’ll do that, sir.” Jehu nodded. “And wailers? Shall we hire wailers?”
Obadiah tsk-tsked. “Talk to old Gera, the olive grove manager. Farmers around there do wailing when they’re not busy with crops.”
Jehu and Bidkar swung into their chariots and slapped their reins. They wheeled around toward the Jordan River and into the night.
Obadiah tapped Ahab’s driver on the shoulder. “Lead the way.”
“Sir.” The driver turned to him. “Some of these men are wounded.”
Obadiah lifted his voice to the collected fighters. “We need a rear guard of five. We’ll not allow Ben-Hadad’s scavenger squads to pick off stragglers. Step forward.”
Seven fighters approached.
“Choose your leader, stick right in our tail, and report to me in the Samaria palace.”
Obadiah dismissed them and raised his voice to the group. “I need you to check the three men next to you for wounds.” Heads turned. Mutterings floated. “I want two healthy men to drive next to each wounded man. We’re not leaving anyone. Or his chariot or horse.”
The group mixed and chatted. When the buzz died, he asked, “Are we ready?”
Darkness had settled over the grove. The battlefield was quiet.
One man answered, “We’ve got ourselves sorted, sir.”
“Follow the king.” Obadiah waved at Ahab’s driver and gave a morbid chuckle. As always, though Ahab couldn’t tell him what to do, he followed.
King Jehoshaphat in his chariot fell in behind Obadiah. Mounted guards surrounded them.
Ahab’s chariot fighters formed a column behind Jehoshaphat. As they descended the gullies and canyons of the Jabbok River, the stars shone brighter, and the fresh aroma of the Gilead hills replaced the battlefield odors of blood and excrement. They followed the Jordan River south and splashed through the ford at Gilgal.
As Obadiah mounted the west bank, Hiel stepped out of the dark. “I hoped you would cross at our ford.”
“Hiel, my brother.” Obadiah paused the procession. “The king is dead.”
The elder of Bethel gazed into the back of Ahab’s chariot. “Oh, my king.” He pulled a cloth from his pack and wiped the dust of Gilead from Ahab’s face. “We have lost a noble warrior.” Then Hiel climbed into his chariot and joined the column.
The stars faded, and dawn broke. With the sun at their backs, they turned onto the Ridge Road then rolled into the outskirts of Samaria City at noon.
The king is dead – 1 Kings 22:29-39