Warrior Prophets: Chapter 6
Death in Lachish
“I can’t keep lugging all this silver,” Akavish told his pet monkey, Aristo, as they entered the gates of Lachish with the early morning sun. “I should have taken the gold instead. But it looked like so much more as silver.” His pockets and bags bulged with the five hundred silver coins he had traded for the stolen god of Ashkelon. His thin wiry frame tired from the weight. The Canaanite city impressed Akavish. Ashkelon had been a port fortress, focused on the sea and the merchant’s wares the waves would bring.
As always, Aristo, the spider monkey, rode atop Akavish, as if glued to his shoulder.
Lachish was a different city. Lachish looked out over the rolling Canaanite mountains. It controlled a vast area of grain fields, vineyards and olive groves. It was much larger than Ashkelon. Akavish knew the farmers would leave their simple homes by their fields and seek the sanctuary of Lachish in times of trouble. Those times were here. Philistines from the west and Israelites from the east. Akavish was happy to be right in the middle.
The morning traffic into Lachish was heavy with merchants and farmers bringing their wares. Donkeys were their beasts of burden. They pulled carts with fruits, vegetables, and grain.
“I need to start using this money,” Akavish said to Aristo, as he looked at different establishments on the main cobblestone road of Lachish. A tavern, a hostel, a brothel, a blacksmith, a temple.
He was inexorably pulled to the clanking of a hammer pounding on an anvil. The fire of an open hearth roared as a giant of a man banged in front of his store front. The blacksmith swore merrily, drawing passersby to watch his performance.
Akavish was pleased to see sparks coming off a long sword in the blacksmith’s thick hands. The man was bulky, as were all of his craft. Akavish was surprised to see the blacksmith’s grey hair pulled back in Philistine fashion. A gaggle of children watched the blacksmith at work, while a one-eyed Canaanite soldier waited impatiently for what was surely his sword. Two teenage apprentices, not much older than Akavish, assisted the blacksmith, stoking the fire and bringing the blacksmith different tools.
Akavish approached the blacksmith.
“Are you Canaanite?” he asked, confused.
“Ah, a fellow seaman!” the blacksmith bellowed, recognizing the foreign accent.
“You’re Philistine?” Akavish asked, incredulous. “How long have you been here?”
“Years and years. I came with a wave that conquered the northern coast. But I sought new pastures on my own. The Canaanites here are happy enough with my blacksmithing and one god is very like another to me. The priestesses are just as attractive here,” the blacksmith smirked.
With sudden inspiration, Akavish blurted:
“How much would it cost to buy your smithy?”
“Hah! You jest little boy,” the blacksmith smiled patronizingly. “Go back to your father and play your little war games, my young Philistine.”
Enraged, Akavish jumped onto the blacksmith’s back. With his thin legs wrapped around the man’s broad chest, Akavish drew a dagger to the man’s thick neck. Aristo chittered nervously, eyeing the frightened spectators.
“I do not jest, old man,” Akavish whispered. “I will not ask again. How much for ownership of your smithy and your services?”
“I never thought of it before. I don’t know. This is my life’s work. I will not sell it at knife point.”
“Then you will die for it,” Akavish tensed his blade arm. The sharp dagger nicked the blacksmith’s neck, drawing blood.
“Wait! Think, you little blood-thirsty murderer. The smithy is worthless without me. We can make an arrangement. I can hear the clink of the silver on you. You pay my fee, I will teach you, and the smithy will be yours to do as you wish. I will work for your money and you will be lord of the smithy. Is that what you want?”
“Yes.” Akavish slid off the sweating blacksmith’s back and faced him, dagger still drawn. “Name your price.”
The blacksmith rubbed his neck and looked up and down at Akavish, as if seeing him for the first time. He noticed the bulge of his pockets, the weight of his bags.
“For my life’s work, to be the master of my domain, to order me around and to avoid getting poked by you, I will sell you the smithy, my services and an apprenticeship for six hundred silvers.”
“Six hundred? I only – no. Six hundred is too much.”
“How much do you have?”
“I… It is none of your business how much I have.” Akavish waved his dagger threateningly. “Are you trying to swindle me?”
The blacksmith grabbed his hammer and banged it loudly on the anvil in front of him.
“Look here, you young pup. You threaten to kill me, you demand my smithy at knifepoint, and now you ask me if I’m swindling you? I think the Canaanite sun has addled your brain.” The blacksmith lifted his hammer in the air. “Are you an Israelite that will bring doom raining down from the sky? I will not be caught off guard a second time. Approach me again and I’ll swat you like a fly.”
“I was wrong to threaten you. I do want to learn your craft and I do have money to use. Perhaps we can start again.”
“That is better, pup. What is your name?”
“Mine is Gargus. And you have wasted enough of my daylight. Come back here at dusk and we can discuss the matter rationally, like men. You and your furry friend.”
Akavish walked by the entrance to the temple. A sweet scent invited him closer while a rhythmic thumping of drums stirred his curiosity. Aristo, on his shoulder, bounced excitedly.
“I’m too tired for gods and their dancing priestesses, Aristo,” Akavish said as he walked passed the entrance. “I need some rest.”
They left the temple entrance and headed to the hostel. They did not notice a one-eyed soldier following them through the crowded street.
Akavish entered the large stone structure of the hostel. Three circular wooden tables were filled with merchants enjoying a midday meal of bread and meat. Akavish found an empty table in the back of the room and planted himself on the wooden stool.
“What do you want?” a raspy woman’s voice asked at his side.
“Um, some food and a bed for the night.”
“Do you have money, child?”
Akavish angrily slammed a silver coin on the table. The woman’s hand snatched the coin before Akavish could say another word.
“You should not make such a display, boy. Others may want your coin for no service. The second room on the right,” she motioned down a dark corridor, “is empty. I will bring your food now.”
The woman reappeared with a plate of stew, bread and a cup of wine. Akavish ate hungrily, all the time giving morsels and sips to Aristo.
A tall figure approached their table. “May I join you?” the one-eyed soldier asked.
Akavish motioned to the seat in front of him as he tore into another piece of the heavy bread.
“I was very impressed with your display this morning by the blacksmith. I have rarely seen old Gargus taken by surprise.”
Akavish continued chewing and nodding.
“The king of Lachish would appreciate your talent. He is always seeking new blood for his army.”
“I’m just a kid,” Akavish said through a mouthful of stew. “What does he want with me?”
“You are a born killer, fearless and very agile to say the least. You are also in possession of great wealth,” the soldier eyed Akavish’s pockets. “The creature with you is also most interesting. I have never seen one like it before.”
“Aristo?” Akavish petted his companion as his eyes narrowed. “He’s a monkey, from south of Egypt. What do you want, man? Speak plainly.” Akavish’s hand grabbed the pommel of the dagger by his side.
“You are a newcomer to this city. It can be a dangerous place to be alone. The king is known to do and take what he will. It is a time of war and all foreigners are suspect. Perhaps you are a Philistine spy, brazenly and openly walking our streets. The king may confiscate your money, take your pet, and kill you, just to be safe. I don’t believe you are a danger to us, but rather a resource. I am willing to be your intermediary with the king. To represent your interests and thereby protect you and your wealth.”
“And what will this service cost me?”
“Cost you? You are a shrewd boy. It will only cost you half of all your money. And the monkey.”
Akavish stood up and drew his dagger on the one-eyed soldier.
“This is robbery and I shall never part with Aristo.”
The soldier whistled sharply and quickly. Five soldiers with drawn swords entered the hostel. Merchants at their tables sat still until the soldiers had reached the back of the room, around Akavish. The merchants then quietly scampered out of the hostel.
“I would have preferred to reach an amicable solution, boy,” the one-eyed soldier smirked, as Akavish looked nervously at the large soldiers surrounding him. “I will make my offer one last time and then the nature of our services will be less to your liking. Half your money now, and the monkey, or we shall take all from your corpse.”
Akavish took Aristo off his shoulder and held him in his hand.
“You want the monkey!?” he yelled. “Here!”
Akavish threw Aristo at the head of the one-eyed soldier. Aristo bit into the soldier’s head and scratched at the good eye. Akavish furiously upended the table and stabbed the soldier to his right. The soldier crumpled to the ground.
“Get it off of me! Get it off of me!” The one-eyed soldier yelled.
Two soldiers wrestled with Aristo on the man’s head, while two others converged on Akavish.
Akavish somersaulted into the air above their heads, slicing the necks of both men as he landed behind them. He then stabbed the two men struggling with Aristo. Aristo jumped off his victim’s head and landed back on Akavish’s shoulder.
The one-eyed soldier was aghast as his one puffy eye registered the five soldiers lying dead at his feet.
“You still want to do business with me, soldier?” Akavish asked, still enraged.
“I knew you were a murderer from the moment I saw you,” the one-eyed soldier took a step back.
“I need to give you something to remember me by. It should not be said that you attacked me and walked away unscathed.” Akavish grinned evilly. “I know.”
Akavish jumped on the one-eyed soldier, knocking him to the ground. With surgical precision he slashed the soldier’s right arm, cutting through the bone with his sharp dagger.
“Now you will be known as the one-eyed, one-armed soldier,” Akavish laughed cruelly. “Tell your king I will visit him soon enough and we will have business to discuss.”
At dusk, Akavish, with Aristo tense on his shoulder, stood in front of the smithy.
“Get in here, pup,” Gargus hissed from the door to his workshop. “The entire city heard what you did to Balhad and his men. I’m surprised the king hasn’t sent his whole army after you.”
Akavish walked in. Gargus closed the door behind him.
“Did you really kill them all and maim Balhad?” Gargus asked.
“They wanted my money, and Aristo,” Akavish stated.
“Your jingling coins are a beacon for trouble and that pet of yours is sure to fetch a princely sum from some royal brat. You are wise to want to use the money quickly.”
“I will not be swindled!” Akavish pointed his dagger at Gargus.
Gargus moved with amazing speed for his massive bulk. He grabbed Akavish’s wrist and pointed the dagger at Akavish’s own neck.
“You ever threaten me again, pup, and I will kill you. I have no more patience for your outbursts. I don’t even know why I’m helping you. You may be a talented killer, but friendless, you will be nothing but shark bait. Now put your dagger away and listen to reason.”
Gargus released Akavish’s wrist. Akavish sheathed his dagger.
“Sit down,” Gargus commanded, pointing at a work stool.
Akavish sat, shoulders drooping.
“I am willing to help you,” Gargus explained, “though Baal knows why. I must be losing my mind in my old age.”
“Tell me what I should do.” Akavish said quietly.
“The first thing is to safeguard your money, or every ruffian from here to Jerusalem will be seeking your head. The next thing is to make an apology to the king or he shall hound you all the way until Egypt, no matter what war he’s facing. I can help with both.”
“We can bury your money here, though you should use part of it as your apology to the king. There is no apology as convincing as hard money.”
“What do you want out of all of this, Gargus?”
“What do you want to give me?”
Surprised by the response, Akavish sat straight, alert again.
“I will give you fifty silvers for your saving me and the money, and another two hundred to make me apprentice and partner in your smithy.”
Gargus smiled. “You are bright and generous, though still reckless, pup. I accept your offer.” Gargus put out his large hand. Akavish shook it, comforted by the hand’s strength and firmness.
“I would suggest, however, that you send a hundred silvers to the king with an apology and an offer of your services. That is the only thing that may appease him.”
“Now how should we start with your apprenticeship?” Gargus asked.
“I have a new idea for a weapon, a long distance weapon that will suit me.”
“What’s wrong with the arrow?”
“I’m not strong enough for a bow, and they are too big and bulky for me to sneak around with. I need something small and light that I can throw for long distances.”
“You can throw knives.”
“I’ve tried, but they don’t go far enough. I have another idea.”
“Draw it for me.” Gargus handed Akavish some old parchment and a piece of cold charcoal.”
“This is what I imagined, and why I wanted a smithy,” Akavish started by drawing a circular shape. “The edges of the points should be thin yet razor sharp. The middle should have a little more weight so it can fly further and faster.”
Gargus looked in horror at the drawing. “This is an instrument of pure evil. You cannot even pretend it has a constructive or defensive use. It has one purpose. Murder.”
“Will you make it?”
“Though all the gods will curse me, yes. I will make it. If it will help you. Though why such a nasty mind should enter my home I can only guess. Do you have a name for this horrific invention?”
“Yes. It is a star of death. And I’m getting closer to its ultimate victim.”
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