47. Cart

While Zak stood and watched through the slits, he sipped wine, nibbled bread, and spooned soup from a bowl on the windowsill. “Here she comes.”


47. Cart

842 BC

The Bakery, Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Obadiah stood and set his plate on the table. The borrowed robe left his knees naked, so he stooped, then a draft cooled his legs from the back. He slouched and gained a finger’s width of cover.

Yedidah stood next to him in full dignity with a mottled gray robe covering her ankles.

You don’t look so bad,” Obadiah said.

Everyone knows you. Knees covered or uncovered, we’ll never make it to the gate.”

The door opened, and the baker’s wife blew in leading a tall woman with a wide, dark forehead. “This is Shiphrah. The farmers are heading home. We’ve got to move fast.”

Shiphrah stared at Obadiah and Yedidah then shook her head. “Lord help us.”

Obadiah opened a slit in the blinds.

Beside the bread counter a gray donkey switched its tail against the shafts of a cracked and weathered cart. Net bags of onions, melons, and apples sat in the cart next to a long, flimsy wicker cage holding three chickens.

Zak stepped up to the window. “There’s too much daylight out there.” He pulled back and jerked the baker’s rolled-up headscarf off Obadiah. “Hold still. I still smell fire and brimstone.” He draped the cloth over Obadiah’s head and neck then tugged it forward, so it concealed most of his face. He gave Obadiah a gentle slap on the cheek. There. Just don’t talk to anyone.”

The baker patted Obadiah on the shoulder and peeked out front. “That cart’s right out in plain sight. You’ll never—”

A pack of dogs yelped and howled. Men under Jezebel’s window yelled and kicked. “Git! Go on!”

The dogs yipped and howled.

Obadiah tipped a shutter open.

As three chariot captains crunched their feet into the dogs’ ribs, the curs let out mournful cries but tugged at a piece of the dead queen.

Go ’way! Mangy beasts!”

A black and tan short-haired mutt circled low to the ground then dashed under the captains’ noses.

“Get him! There he goes.”

While the dog trotted off with blood dripping from something between its jaws, five more dodged back toward the fresh meat by the wall.

The three captains dove on the fleeing mutt. Their struggle turned the far side of the plaza into a mound of yelps, curses, and growls.

There’s your distraction.” The baker shoved Obadiah toward the door.

But Obadiah stiffened as the Goatskin Kid’s soft voice sounded in his head. Jezebel. Dogs are going to tear her apart and devour the pieces right by the city wall.

Then he stumbled through the door and over to the bread counter. He hovered, sneaking glances at the dog fight while Yedidah and Shiphrah followed him out. The king’s right-hand man shouldn’t be seen in this skimpy robe or this miserable little cart. But how else could he escape? And who would smuggle out his daughter and her husband and child? How would their family in Keslote escape? Or the families of his guards? Lord, it’s too much.

While captains cursed and dogs snarled, Shiphrah lifted the cage of chickens. “Get in.”

As Obadiah stretched himself on the aged wood, Shiphrah nestled a bag of onions next to his nose. “Muh.” He couldn’t breath. He covered his nose with his sleeve.

Yedidah leaned in and laid a finger to her lips. “I’ll be right here beside you.” She pulled the baker’s ragged blankets over Obadiah, reducing his world to scents and vibrations.

Chickens next,” she said. “We shouldn’t talk now.”

As the wicker basket firmed the blankets over him, chickens fluttered then purred like his mother’s hens in Keslote when he cuddled them under an arm. The odor of feathers and manure tickled his nose. The cart tipped and creaked. Wheels ground against the pavers and hubs squeaked on the axle.

Across the plaza, blows struck bodies, followed by more yips and howls.

The cart bounced, and Obadiah hit the sideboard. As the onions had toppled, and the wicker slid against his side, chickens squawked, and the odors of onions, feathers, and manure filled his mouth and nose. He pressed the sleeve tighter over his face.

Such a jumbled load might attract attention. Obadiah should throw off the blankets. Send the chickens flying. Grab Yedidah and dash for the gate. But he ground his teeth and clenched a fist.

From the unseen world above his ragged blanket came a friendly “Ma’am.” Some captain must have decided to let the disorderly cart pass.

The cart bounced. Onions settled against his neck, and the odor of chicken manure invaded his nostrils. He pinched his nose shut, desperate to hold back a sneeze.

The captain said nothing more, and the cart continued to roll.

No doubt Shiphrah gave a modest nod, while Yedidah, the farmer’s helper, stood in her long robe and studied the ground.

The grinding of wheels on stones beneath Obadiah gave way to the rattle of planks over an empty moat. Then several beats later, the crunch of gravel.

The cart tipped forward, sliding Obadiah into the headboard. They were descending the grade. Were they turning toward Megiddo or Beitshan? Other wheels squeaked slowly past. A strange woman said, “Hello,” Her voice seemed normal, like any farmer passing another on the road.

Hoofs clip-clopped past and the crunch of fast rolling wheels. A chariot? A farmer in a hurry? This would never do. No bodyguards. No horse or chariot. Isolated in some village with no way to rescue his family or those of his guards. A search party would root him out. No doubt this Shiphrah person would toss his head over the wall to General Jehu just as the wise woman of Abel threw the head of Sheba to Joab.


Background

Shiphrah – Exodus 1:15

The wise woman of Abel – 2 Samuel 20:21

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