Warrior Prophets: Chapter 3
The Capture of Ashkelon
The Aegus glided ahead of the rest of the fleet. The sleek wooden war boat rode the eastern wind, leaving behind its dozen sister ships, their sails wrapped up tightly for the night. The sailors on the sister ships drank and danced loudly around their fires. Big Larus had given the orders for revelry. In contrast, the Aegus cut through the water, dark and silent.
Akavish son of Larus blessed the moonless sky. He combed back his dark slick hair with his hands. Risto, his spider monkey, clutched Akavish’s shoulder as always. The light mist over the Mediterranean concealed their approach to the Ashkelon coast. Akavish had seen the Ashkelon walls miles from the shore. He was impressed. In his twelve years of life, he had never seen a city so fortified. Risto nodded his agreement, reading Akavish’s thoughts. The walls were thirty feet high, ten feet thick at the top and twenty feet thick at the bottom. It was impenetrable by conventional means. Constant torchlight patrols paced the top of the walls.
The Aegus steered towards a cove south of the city. A hill blocked the view of the cove from the Ashkelon sentries. The first mate quietly slithered the anchor down, where it nestled in the sandy bottom. Larus ordered the crew to sleep for a few hours, before the planned attack.
“You will stay on the ship, my son,” Larus whispered to Akavish.
“I am ready to fight,” Akavish whispered back. His voice pitched higher than he liked.
Larus punched Akavish in the stomach with a beefy fist. Risto hissed, feeling the pain. “The fighting will be short and brutal. If we succeed, it will save us a long and hard siege. Argue with me again and I’ll punch your pretty face next.”
Larus turned around without another word and headed fore towards the first mate.
Akavish limped aft and found a secluded spot on the long wooden deck.
“I will not be left behind,” Akavish told Risto. “I’m always left behind. Every raid, every ship, every council, father always leaves me behind. We have finally come to a new land, a new beginning and I will not be treated as a mere child. I will show him. I have not trained with Krafus for nothing.”
Akavish looked around. Nearby crew were snoring gently. His father was busy talking heatedly with the first mate, gesturing with thick fingers towards Ashkelon behind the hill.
“Hold on tight,” Akavish needlessly told Risto still on his shoulder. Akavish climbed over the side of the ship. He thought of using a rope, but that might alert someone as to his departure. His small fingers found impossible cracks on the side of the ship. He slowly climbed down the sloping side, his body upside down as he neared the bottom, until he reached the dark waters. He quietly sloshed into the cold waves. He looked up. Silence. No one had noticed his exit. His father would not think to look for him. Akavish swam thirty feet to shore. Risto dug his nails into Akavish’s skin. Risto despised getting wet.
At shore, Risto jumped off Akavish’s shoulder and shook violently, spraying water over the soft sand. His small teeth chattered.
“I know. The water is cold. But if we’re dead it won’t matter. Come on,” Akavish beckoned, “let’s take the city.”
In one jump, Risto latched himself back on Akavish’s right shoulder. The monkey’s head rested against the back of Akavish’s neck and his tail curved around Akavish’s right arm.
Akavish trotted lightly on the dark sand. His young eyes adjusted to night as he traveled silently to the walls of Ashkelon.
He knew other tribes had conquered Canaanite cities to the north. The tribes were like his. From the Aegean Islands, seeking a new home, leaving the growing anarchy of their crumbling empire. He heard the Canaanites called his people Philistines. City after city had fallen to Philistine war boats. Few could compete with Philistine weapons or tactics. These were mere farmers and merchants, mostly vassals to the Egyptian Pharaoh far south.
Canaanite sentries stood at the top of the wall looking nervously to the west at the firelight of the Philistine ships. Akavish could hear the revelry that carried across the miles of waves. Akavish hiked to the eastern side of the city wall. He noticed fewer sentries and their attention was to the west.
Akavish picked up several smooth stones and put them in a satchel on his left side. He patted his jagged knife on his side. He used it to gut and clean fish. Now he wondered about using it on humans. He gritted his teeth and started climbing the wall of Ashkelon. His thin frame moved easily up the rocks, finding hand and foot holds where most adults would not manage. He held himself lightly at awkward angles, his wiry muscles supporting the little mass he had. Risto was as if grafted to Akavish, an additional limb.
“I’m more concerned about the Israelites.” A nearby voice rumbled. Akavish held tightly to the wall.
“I don’t believe those stories.” A second, higher voice answered. “Just by yelling the walls of Jericho fell down? Supernatural powers? I think the stories grew by the telling.”
“My brother-in-law heard from his cousin, I tell you. He was one of the few that were allowed to leave Jericho. He was related to some Israelite spy. They massacred everyone. Women, children. They leveled the city. He spoke about men with superhuman speed. He fled to Egypt. He said they aim to capture all of Canaan and they will.”
“Well the Philistines are at our doorstep and they’re taking over the coast. Mark my words. They will yet challenge the Egyptians.”
“But it was the Israelites who trounced the Egyptians forty years ago. They have never recovered from that blow. The Israelites are strong, crafty and merciless. They are not interested in being in charge. They want to kill everyone. Did you hear what they did to Ai?”
“No. This was less magical, but equally vicious. They baited the troops to chase them and abandon the city. The Israelites then sent a second force and burned the defenseless city to the ground, killing everyone in it. They don’t want our wealth or our cities. They don’t even want us as slaves. They want us dead. Dead, dead, dead. At least the Philistines are reasonable. They kill the leaders, some of the troops, take over the palaces, and then it’s back to business as usual. I can live with that.”
“You forget that we are some of the troops.”
Akavish had heard enough. Enough to know these Israelites were also invading Canaan and were fighting for the same land. He grabbed a stone and gave it to Risto. Risto, understanding, dashed silently across the wall and tossed the stone down into the city. It rattled as it landed on an empty cart. A nearby donkey brayed loudly at the noise. The sentries left their post to check the disturbance. Risto joined Akavish and together climbed over the wall and down the inside of the wall. Akavish landed lightly on his feet next to an animal shed.
Akavish stroked Risto’s fur. Risto was a part of him. His father had captured the baby monkey together with the plunder of some fat merchant years ago. The merchant had claimed the monkey came from south of Egypt and was extremely valuable. Larus was more interested in the gold and weapons and tossed the little monkey to Akavish. Since then, the two of them had been inseparable. Risto ate what he ate, slept when he slept, saw what he saw.
The city gate must be north, Akavish thought to Risto. That is the only side of the city I haven’t seen. Akavish skulked like a wraith deep in the Ashkelon night. The only light were the torches of the sentries on the wall. They were all looking outward. Akavish passed squat stone houses with thick thatched roofs. Sheds held goats, cows and mules all sleeping. Large stones paved the narrow paths in-between homes.
Akavish reached a plaza in front of the gate. There were two dozen archers at various states of alertness on an inner wall around the perimeter of the plaza. A killing ground, Akavish thought. If the Philistine raiders should somehow breach the gate, they will be easy pickings once they reach the plaza. From the shadows Akavish examined the gate.
It’s open, Akavish thought in excitement, seeing torchlight blazing from the opening in the thick outer wall. Then he realized it was a tunnel. The tunnel was at least twenty feet long, eight feet wide and slopped downwards with a torch in the wall every four feet. The tunnel ended with two solid oak doors reinforced with copper brackets, and three copper beams across the doors. This needs to be an inside job. How did father expect to capture this city?
Still in the shadows Akavish crawled closer to the gate.
“This Joshua is fearsome.” Two sentries passed inches in front of Akavish. He held his breath.
“I hear that Caleb is an unbelievable swordsman.” His companion replied.
“And they say that Pinchas can fly in the air like a bird. How can anyone stand up to them?”
“They are all ancient though. Perhaps they’ll die before they get here.”
“No. I heard there is a kid also. A ten year old who can predict an opponent’s move before he makes it.”
“If the Philistines don’t get us first, the Israelites certainly will. What’s the kid’s name?”
“Boaz. A redhead firebrand that will kill you just by looking at you. If you meet a Boaz, run the other way.”
“I think it’s time to move to Egypt. I’d rather be a slave in Egypt than butchered here.”
The sentries moved out of Akavish’s earshot. He let out the breath he forgot he was holding. So the enemy has a name, Akavish thought. Boaz.
Akavish noticed metal pulleys at the entrance to the tunnel. There were chains that ran from the pulley the length of the tunnel and were connected to the doors. The doors could only be opened from the entrance to the tunnel. Smart, Akavish thought. It removed any defender from outside danger. The pulleys were on either side of the tunnel entrance. It would take two people to open the gate. The left pulley raised the copper beams, and the right pulley opened the heavy oak doors. Risto was not strong enough to pull either lever, so he couldn’t count on him.
Akavish reached the corner of a house on the outskirt of the plaza. He peered down the dark narrow alley. There was no one in sight. He crossed the alley and was suddenly grabbed across his chest. A hand clamped his mouth and dragged him into the alley. Risto jumped to the roof of the house.
“Tell your little monkey to come back,” an ancient voice whispered and let go of his mouth.
“Grandpa!” Akavish whispered at the thin muscular man. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve told you repeatedly, stop calling me grandpa. I was amorous with your grandmother, but I don’t know that I’m responsible for your family.”
“Yes, Krafus.” Akavish nodded. Risto jumped back to his perch on Akavish’s shoulder.
“Larus will be furious that you’re here. But let’s do some work. We have much to accomplish and Larus will be at the gate before dawn.”
“I don’t understand. What is the plan?”
“Simple. Kill the guards and open the gate.”
“And you were going to do this yourself?” Akavish looked incredulous.
“Their defense is better than I thought and I hadn’t figured out how to pull both levers, but now that you’re here, that’s solved.”
“What do I need to do?”
“First, send that intelligent pet of yours to fetch the torches from the tunnel. After that, follow my lead.”
“Won’t they shoot him?”
“Probably. They will also look for intruders and raise an alarm.”
“Are you sure you’re on our side?”
Krafus smiled. “We will know how to respond based on how they react. And unless they are especially gifted archers, your monkey will be too hard a target to hit.”
Akavish nodded and whispered a few words to Risto, pointing at the tunnel and the torches.
Risto shot towards the tunnel, invisible in the dark.
The torchlight in the tunnel moved and guards yelled.
Risto ran out of the tunnel towards the alleyway with four torches, two in each of his thin hairy arms. Krafus grabbed the torches and launched them at the soldiers standing on the inner wall. Three caught on fire and ran into their fellow soldiers. Two soldiers ran out of the tunnel.
“We’re under attack! Sound the alarm!”
A horn blast played counterpoint to the pandemonium of the Canaanite soldiers.
“Scale the wall and take out the soldiers on the left,” Krafus commanded. “I’ll do the right. Meet me at the tunnel entrance in five minutes. Your father will be waiting at the gate.”
“Kill them, you mean?”
“Use your knife. Cut throats. Most efficient.” Krafus ran across the dark plaza.
Akavish gulped and with Risto back on his shoulder scaled the wall. Miraculously, he was still undetected. The flames on the burning soldiers had been put out and the remainder looked around wildly for the intruders.
“The lights of the ship are gone!” a sentry yelled. “I can’t see the Philistine ships. Have they left?”
“You fool. They are probably approaching in the dark. Archers! Ready on the outer wall!” the Canaanite captain commanded. “Inner wall sentries, aim at the plaza and the tunnel, there are…” his windpipe was cut off mid-sentence as Krafus weaved his way through the soldiers.
Akavish trembled as he faced the back of a large soldier. Swallowing hard, he jumps on the large man’s back. Akavish tightened his grip on his knife, not wanting to kill his adversary. The soldier spun around and tried to cut at the body on his back. With moistness in his eyes Akavish sliced the man’s throat. He was off the man before the fresh corpse fell to the ground. Another soldier faced him, with sword drawn. Risto launched himself at the soldier’s face forcing him to drop his sword. Akavish cut the man’s throat as he tried tearing Risto off his face. Akavish grabbed Risto off the dying man’s face and put him back on his shoulder. One by one, Akavish weaved his way through each soldier on the inner wall, until all he saw were dead bodies. Part of him wanted to retch, but another part exulted in the power. The power of life and death. The power of a child over an adult. The power of agility and dexterity over a trained soldier’s strength and experience.
He scaled down the wall and ran towards the tunnel.
“They’re at the shore!” a sentry shouted. “They’re at the shore!”
Akavish looked up at the sky as a faint touch of pink announced the arrival of dawn.
“Hold your arrows!” a soldier yelled. “Wait until they’re close enough!”
Akavish reached the tunnel. From out of the tunnel, a long hand grabbed Risto violently. A short soldier put a sword to Akavish’s neck.
“What is the plan?” the short soldier demanded. “How are you taking the city?”
“I, I don’t know,” Akavish mumbled.
“Then you are no use to us.”
The short soldier fell down with a knife in his back. Akavish stabbed the taller soldier holding Risto and stepped back. Krafus dropped from the ceiling of the tunnel, retrieved his knife from the short soldier’s back and mortally stabbed the taller soldier Akavish had wounded.
“What took you so long?” Krafus asked.
“I’m new at this.” Akavish replied.
“Pull the lever. Your father’s timing is perfect. Having the fleet beach at dawn is the perfect distraction.”
Krafus and Akavish pulled on the levers simultaneously. The chains drew the copper bars up and opened the heavy oak doors. Two dozen men entered the dark tunnel with swords, spears and bows. In front was Big Larus, long steel sword in hand.
“Well met, Krafus,” Larus bowed to the thin man.
“Well met, Larus,” Krafus bowed back. “Your son was most helpful in this operation. It would have been difficult to complete it without him. Thank you for sending him.”
Larus looked at Akavish strangely. “I’m glad he was helpful.” Then he slapped Akavish across the face. “But I did not send him. If he implied otherwise, he is a liar and no son of mine. Come, we have a city to conquer. You,” he pointed at Akavish, “back to the ship.”
Larus marched into the city followed by his two dozen men. Akavish gave Krafus a pleading look, but Krafus merely shrugged his shoulders and followed Larus.
“I don’t need this,” Akavish grumbled to Risto as he walked down the tunnel. “I don’t deserve to be treated this way. I did not lie. I gave my father the city, killed for him and this is how he treats me? I will not go back to the ship. I’m a fighter, a killer. I will go where I’m appreciated.”
As he exited the tunnel, he saw the rest of his tribe’s fleet on the beach. A red dawn greeted them. The raiders walked up the pristine sand uncontested. The defenders were most likely occupied with his father’s force. The Philistines would rule Ashkelon as well.
The morning sun glinted on something in the wall. Akavish climbed the wall and found a small silver statuette of a calf nestled in a large crevice.
“This must be the Canaanite god,” Akavish said. “Didn’t do them any good and they won’t be needing it anymore.” Akavish grabbed the silver statue and climbed back down.
“This will fetch me a handsome price, I’m sure. I don’t need my father anymore. I need to follow my own path, Risto. That path lies east. If I am to make my own mark, it will be against the Israelites. The Israelites and their young hero, Boaz.”
* * * * * *
Joshua was not the only one to attack Canaan during his invasion. While the Children of Israel attacked from the east, shiploads of Aegean refugees attacked from the west, from the Mediterranean Sea. The people who would be called the Philistines conquered cities all along the Canaanite coast as far north as current day Lebanon. They become a force to challenge the weakened Egyptian empire (who had been the nominal rulers of Canaan at the time). The entire order of the ancient near east was changing, with the old empires crumbling.
The description of the city walls and gate more or less follow the existing remains of that ancient city. There is also a nook in the outer wall near the gate where archeologists have suggested a silver statue of a calf once stood.
Akavish is Hebrew for spider.
Risto is a diminutive of Aristotle.
Krafus and Larus had a nice Aegean ring to it.