My stomach dropped. I’ve jammed myself into an impressively high number of tight spots over the years, but if I didn’t find some wiggle room quick, this one could serve as my tomb. Most of my ideas, at worst, left me with a sore backside from the discipline of my father. These men would settle for nothing less than separating each limb from my torso. Fighting four grown warriors was out of the question, no matter how many swords I had access to, which left only one option—run like hell.
The first goon’s body appeared around the corner of the wagon, and I leapt off the end of the trailer and soared over his shoulder. I landed awkwardly, but I scrambled to my feet and used the pure terror coursing through my blood to fuel my escape.
“Grab him!” Lahmi shouted, and I heard their boots striking the dirt after me.
I bolted past the wine casks and saw Isaiah still pressed against the wood. Burn it all! Why hadn’t he ducked out the moment I was discovered? I jerked my head for him to disappear down the side alley but didn’t dare stop with the Philistines so close.
As long as I kept them focused on me, he should be fine, but for an added assurance I craned my neck around. “I heard Philistines were easy marks,” I shouted back to them, “but it’s ridiculous how little effort it took to play with your toys!” Then with my head down I focused on increasing speed. As I turned the corner, the sound of wood tumbling over echoed behind me, followed by cursing from one of the men.
An elderly woman wrapped in a thin shawl stepped out right in front of me. She carried a basket of wheat stalks, and I barely managed to sidestep her. Yet the shock of our near collision rocked her on her heels, and she fell to the ground, her bundle spraying across the street.
I grimaced. Terrifying old ladies wasn’t the outcome I had envisioned at the onset of this escapade. “I’m so sorry!” I yelled without turning around, and continued my flight.
After running straight down the empty road for another two blocks, I chanced a look back to assess the situation. Only three men still followed me. All were shirtless, wearing nothing but long brown aprons and sandals. Two had disheveled beards and brown hair, but the largest of the bunch had the fiercest black mohawk I had ever seen. His nose pressed unevenly against his face, giving me the impression there may have been inbreeding with a boar somewhere in his family tree.
“Get him!” the boar-man yelled, and his voice identified him as their leader, Lahmi.
The only thing I cared about though was that I had gained at least another fifteen paces. I allowed the small success to spur me on and started working on my exit strategy. If I turned enough corners, I may be able to shake them, but with three of them pursuing me, if one fell behind and took a different route, he might accidentally cross paths with me again. There had to be a place for me to hide. I refused to sneak into a house and risk a family being brought into my mess, and the forest was too far out of town, especially if the missing man had left to grab a horse. I needed something here, something to get in their way…
A devilish grin crossed my face.
I headed to the far side of town, where our family’s flock waited to be sheared in a large pen, nearly two hundred ewes. Sheep may be the dumbest creatures ever created. Given the opportunity, they’ll follow each other off the face of a cliff, they’ll literally eat until their stomachs explode, and they are completely defenseless against the weakest of predators. They’re crops with legs that crap everywhere.
The gate to the pen was only three feet high, and I easily vaulted over it and into the gathered herd. The sheep barely all fit into the area, leaving almost no room for them to move about. I waded into the center of the corral, their bleating voices all around me, and waited for Lahmi and his men to come into view. The moment they did, I waved at them, winked, and then ducked down among the animals.
“Find the brat!” Lahmi ordered.
The gate squeaked open, and the sheep around me began to shift about as the men attempted to get to the center of the pen. I crawled to the sidewall of the corral, knowing the sheep were already too disturbed to give away my location.
“This is ridiculous, boss,” one of the men called. “I’ve already stepped in at least three loads of—”
“I’ll stuff your mouth with it,” their leader interrupted, “if you don’t shut up and search. He’s here, find him.”
I shuffled along the wall of the fence. If I could just make it another twenty feet without being spotted…
“Come out now, you little Israelite brat,” Lahmi goaded, “and I promise we won’t kill you. I’ll send you back to your dog breath of a mother with little more than a few bruises.”
My neck tensed when he mentioned my mother, but I withheld from taking the bait. And Eliab said I’d never start maturing.
“If I have to find you,” Lahmi said loudly from far behind me, “I promise it will be worse. The runt has nowhere to go, we just have to find…” His voice trailed off. “Damn it, turn around!”
He had figured out my plan, but it was too late. I already had crept out the front gate and was ten feet outside of the pen. I popped up and sprinted back into the city, hooting in victory. It would take them at least a minute to free themselves from the sheep, by which time my disappearance would be permanent. I dashed between several side streets before finally slowing down and tucking myself behind a green tapestry drying on a clothing line.
Bracing myself against the mud wall of a house, it took a moment to catch my breath. A mixture of exhilaration, relief, and accomplishment washed over me. If that had gone almost any other way…I shook my head to fling the ugly possibilities from my thoughts. Now, the important thing was to grab Isaiah and get back to our meeting spot with Eliab.
I checked the street and darted toward the alley Isaiah had escaped down. I wondered if he had any water left in his flask. The adventure had left me parched. It might take a little convincing, but I’m sure I could—
“Boss, I caught one!”
My body went rigid, and I whipped my head around, but quickly realized the call hadn’t been directed at me. It came from the next street over.
Sneaking down a side road, I peeked out to see what he was talking about. My heart sank. The Philistines had captured Isaiah.
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