Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 17
Council of Shilo
“You have to see those Phoenician dancers,” Kaspa of Zevulun addressed the other princes of Israel sitting bundled in front of the Tabernacle at Shilo. “The way they move will drive you mad.”
“Isn’t their dance part of their worship?” asked Avod of Simeon, as the autumn wind rustled the leaves of the large oak trees behind them.
“Who cares about their worship,” Kaspa answered as he drew his rich burgundy robe tighter. “We have learned to adjust to the rituals of all who we deal with. Why, I can tell you the genealogy, powers and sacrifices for at least a dozen different gods. As merchants we need to keep abreast of all developments. There is a wonderful tale now being told about the gods and King Gilgamesh of Uruk.”
“Enough!” Pinhas, the High Priest shouted. “Have you so descended into the heathen ways that all you can talk about is their worship?”
“I’m sorry, Pinhas,” Kaspa said. “I was just making conversation as we wait for the mysterious Ehud to appear. Everyone else is here.”
The twelve princes of Israel sat together with Pinhas in a circle. The princes were accompanied by their tribal elders, and behind them sat the captains of their forces. On the cloudless morning, they still felt the strong eastern breeze, with no trace of salt from the Great Sea miles away. The naked grapevines whistled a mournful tune as the wind caressed the bare wood and traveled through the thick brush behind it.
“I would have expected Ehud to be the first one here,” Avod said. “He was the one who issued the summons.”
“Summons?” Kaspa said. “It was worded more like a command to accept Eglon’s subjugation and I can tell you already that the tribe of Zevulun will not accede to this request.”
“It is easy for you to say,” Avod replied. “It is the southern tribes that will bear the brunt of any fighting, while you merchants go gallivanting away on your ships. You’re just worried that Eglon will cut into your profits.”
“Yes. I am concerned for our profits. Our trade has been successful and if we let ourselves be subjugated by Eglon, then what? I say we fight!”
“And I say the cause is lost and subjugation is not so bad,” Avod replied. “Our brothers to the east, Reuven and Gad are already under Eglon’s dominion and they are unharmed. The cities of Benjamin are all but annihilated and Judah is about to fall. We of Simeon are next on Eglon’s menu. Eglon has promised to then bear his army upon the rest of Israel. Ephraim shall be after us and then Menashe. Do you think the rest of you will be spared?”
“What does Elimelech of Judah say?” Kaspa asked the red-headed prince. “You have ever been at the head of all fighting and your tribe is suffering the most now, yet you are strangely quiet.”
All eyes looked upon the seated prince. Elimelech looked pained as he cleared his throat.
“I am unsure how to proceed,” Elimelech said. “I have confronted Ehud. I was the one who saw him marching with Eglon and spread the report. I was the one who originally accused him of being Eglon’s agent, yet now I am confused. My own nephew, our great warrior Boaz, refuses to fight. Ehud said that our subjugation by Eglon is the will of God and punishment for our disloyalty to Him. As I hear your comfort with the strange gods, I begin to suspect that Ehud may be right. We lost so many at the battle of Givaah and we were wrong. I dare not make such fatal decisions again. I will abide by the will of the council but will not voice an opinion for or against. That is the position of Judah, which in any case does not have many sons left to sacrifice.”
“I do not believe my ears.” Kaspa stood. “Is this Elimelech son of Nachshon the Brave? Where is your spine? When did you become a sniveling coward?”
“Is it brave to sacrifice lives needlessly?” Elimelech asked. “I cannot bear to see the agony of my people further. I will not inflict death upon them, nor do I wish to witness their suffering. If that is cowardice, then I am guilty – I am guilty of much worse – especially pride and reckless bravery.”
“You have lost your spine and your brain, Elimelech,” Kaspa responded. “Do you think that your people, that all our people will not suffer under Eglon’s reign? Do you think he will not squeeze our land, our flocks, our people until we are dry and dream of Egyptian slavery? Come brothers,” Kaspa spread his hands to the other princes. “Elimelech has said that he will abide by the will of our council. We must fight! Even if it is hopeless. In other lands, they fight for much lesser causes. The Aegeans rallied all their allies and gods to destroy the Trojans just for one woman. And we fight for nothing less than our freedom! We cannot allow these foreigners to invade and infest our land unchallenged. I would rather die free than live under the foot of another! What say you brothers? Are you with me?”
Nodding and murmurs of agreement spread around the circle of princes until rustling from the oak tree nearest them made them turn around.
Ehud descended from the tree, his sword at his side, and walked purposely towards the princes.
“You were here all along?” Kaspa asked the approaching blacksmith.
Ehud walked grimly towards the circle and did not answer.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” Kaspa demanded as Ehud reached the circle. “What is this charade about?”
Ehud moved through the elders and captains of Zevulun to reach Kaspa.
“Say something, man!” Kaspa squealed.
In one fluid motion, Ehud unsheathed his sword and beheaded Kaspa. Kaspa’s body fell to the ground with a thud. His head landed right-side up, his mouth still open in shock. All the princes and their retinues stood abruptly.
“Does anyone else wish to die free?” Ehud turned towards the other princes.
“You, you dare kill a prince of Israel?” Avod stuttered.
“I have had enough! Enough of stubborn and foolhardy princes throwing our lives away. Enough of blindly following decisions of princes too ready to risk our lives.” Ehud looked meaningfully at Elimelech and at his own Prince Giltar of Benjamin. “I will kill more princes until I beat sense into your arrogant minds. Who else wants to sentence thousands more of our brothers to death?” Ehud pointed his sword at each prince in turn. “I promise you that I will kill the leadership of any tribe that insists on fighting until we find someone with sense.”
Ehud turned to the elders and captains of Zevulun and pointed his bloody sword at them.
“Who will take Kaspa’s place? Do you still wish to resist? It is easy enough to fight when it is not your life on the line. Well, I am bringing the fight to you right here and now. Who wishes to fight!?”
The elders and captains of Zevulun looked sheepishly at Kaspa’s beheaded corpse but did not answer.
Laughter erupted from the wild brush behind the desolate vineyards. Eglon stood up from the brush in a resplendent white woolen robe and walked through the vineyard, ducking and weaving under the suspended vines.
“Brilliant! Masterful!” Eglon announced as hundreds of soldiers emerged from the brush and followed him. Eglon strode through the council circle and approached Ehud on the other side. The Moabite soldiers surrounded the council assembly.
“My most loyal and effective servant! You are truly a prophet of your god.” Eglon announced. “I am most pleased by your performance, Ehud. You have acted perfectly in assembling your council and cutting the foolish resistance at its core.” Eglon kicked the head of Kaspa, which rolled gently towards Elimelech.
“My dear princes of Israel.” Eglon looked at the princes with raised eyebrows. “Can I assume that I will have your cooperation?”
Nods from the circle of princes were his answer.
“Excellent!” Eglon clapped his beefy hands. “Now let us make this new arrangement a bit more formal, shall we? First, I hereby declare Ehud of Benjamin as King of Israel. He shall represent all the tribes of Israel before me.”
Murmurs of disagreement spread throughout the circle. Eglon looked at Ehud in confusion. Ehud shook his head, as if to say, “bad idea.”
“God is our King,” Elimelech said. “If you would have us as cooperative subjects, you cannot place a king over us.”
“I see,” Eglon held his clean-shaven chin and spoke to himself. “Perhaps the wrong place to start. It is semantics anyway. Fine.”
“Ehud shall merely be our intermediary to the tribes of Israel,” Eglon said loudly. “He shall represent you in all your dealings with me and he shall be responsible to carry out my commands in regards to you. Is that more satisfactory?”
The princes nodded.
“Now to more mundane matters. I will expect tribute of one fifth of your harvests and flocks annually.”
A gasp of shock went around the circle.
“What did you expect?” Eglon asked with a smirk. “We can make it more if you feel I am being too soft a conqueror.”
The princes gave him attentive silence.
“Good. I knew you would see it my way. Besides the tribute, each city and village will house and feed a unit of my soldiers. If any soldier of mine is harmed, I shall burn the offending village to the ground with all its inhabitants.”
The gulps of the princes were almost audible.
“Furthermore, each prince shall send their firstborn child to be permanent guests of Moab. Whichever prince does not accept this most gracious of invitations will be killed along with his entire family.”
Mouths opened wide in disbelief.
“Yes,” Eglon continued. “This is a venerable tradition of conquering nations. I have studied much the arts of war and conquest. The taking of royal children is a wonderful practice. It leads to greater understanding of each other and peaceful relations, which is what we all wish for, is it not?”
“All merchants, and especially those of Zevulun, shall give tribute of one fifth of their proceeds. I will have special units assigned to oversee commerce and safeguard all routes. I do not wish for the Phoenicians to take advantage of our hard work that allows them to ply their wares. We shall tax the Egyptians, the Aegeans, the Assyrians and any other people that cross our dominion. All tributes shall be brought to the new capital of the Moabite Empire on the plains of the Jordan River. Cooperation shall be rewarded with life; resistance shall be repaid with death. Do I make myself clear?”
The princes nodded.
“I do not hear you.”
“Yes, we understand,” the princes murmured.
“That is not good enough,” Eglon grimaced. “I need for each of you to swear fealty unto me, loudly and clearly.”
“We hear and obey, our lord Emperor Eglon,” Avod was the first to state and bow down. The other princes in turn each bowed and repeated, “We hear and obey, our lord Emperor Eglon.”
“That will do, I suppose,” Eglon smiled at the princes.
“There is one last matter that you will indulge me,” Eglon purred. “At the entrance to every city and village you shall place a statue of Baal and you shall worship him. Any city found deficient in the worship of Baal will be subject to the customary punishments. Death. Burning to the ground. So on and so forth.”
“We hear and obey, our lord Emperor Eglon,” the princes chanted in unison. Tears flowed freely down the face of Pinhas, the High Priest. Eglon left the circle of princes who made way for the large monarch as he rejoined his army. Ehud, still holding his bloody sword, slowly followed Eglon away from the princes. Ehud clenched his teeth and turned the sword ever so slightly towards Eglon’s back. The gesture did not go unnoticed by the surrounding princes.
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