Warrior Prophets Chapter 16
Monkey in the Middle
Pain assaulted Akavish’s awareness from multiple points. His mouth was dry and sticky. In semi-consciousness he tried to open it, but his parched lips would not part. He groaned a deep pain-filled noise, but no sound reached his ears. He was light-headed. He had trouble organizing his thoughts. He remembered Boaz and a duel. He had been about to kill Boaz, once and for all. But something had gone horribly wrong.
Then he remembered. The pain just below his right shoulder reminded him. Boaz had cut off his arm. Tears welled up in his closed eyes. My arm? Akavish thought. Is it possible?
Akavish felt the bed underneath him and the clean sheets over him. He had been cared for. He still felt pain down his arm. How is that possible? Was it reattached somehow? Did I dream of losing it?
Akavish slowly moved his left arm towards the stump that was his right. His fingers drew back suddenly from the place where his arm should have been. Tears fell freely down his face. It is gone! Yet I still feel the pain!
Akavish sat up in his bed and opened his eyes. He saw Krafus sitting in a corner of the small room, staring at him with pained eyes.
“Water,” Akavish managed to croak.
Krafus brought a copper cup to Akavish’s lips and held the cup for him as Akavish fumbled it with his left hand. Akavish drained the cup.
“My arm,” Akavish stated.
“Yes,” Krafus answered, understanding the question. “It is gone.”
“But I can still feel it.”
“Yes, warriors who’ve lost limbs talk of the sensation. They swear they can feel their fingers or move their toes, but it is clearly gone.”
“It doesn’t grow back, does it?”
“Not unless you’re a lizard.”
“What happened with Boaz?”
“Your father stopped him and his friend and sold them to the Timna mine. They won’t last long there.”
“What about Risto? He was also hurt.”
“I’ve not seen your monkey since the fight.”
“I must find him.”
“You must recuperate first. You nearly died. And it will take you time to get used to your new condition.”
“You mean as a cripple?”
“No. Not a cripple. It is true you will be at a great disadvantage, and you can give up on the path of a warrior, but I have known many one-armed men who went on to lead productive lives.”
“I am a fighter and that is what I shall do.” Akavish got out of bed, only to fall back into it.
“What happened?” Akavish groaned.
“You lost much blood. If you try to get up slowly it might be easier.”
“Perhaps I’ll rest a little bit longer.” Akavish covered himself again.
“Not so dumb after all,” Krafus declared as he got up. “I’ll go fetch you some food.”
The boy hunted for green. His singular task in life was to find the green rivulets within the rock. The oil lantern was his only friend in his underground prison. He used a small chisel to cut the innards of the earth. He was careful to examine each crumbly grain of dirt. If he found the green, he was to place it lovingly in the bucket at his side. His masters had warned him not to lose any of the green, any of the precious copper. He had the whip marks to remind him. His back still stung from his recent lashing. His whole body was racked with pain and fatigue. He didn’t remember how long he had been digging. Days, months, years? His whole existence seemed a continuous stream of digging. He would collapse to the ground from exhaustion only to be kicked awake a few hours later. Upon awakening he was given a ladle-full of smelly water and a dried crust of bread and whipping if he didn’t start chiseling again quickly.
He tried to remember. Anything. But his mind was a jumble of thoughts and visions that made no sense. His name? He wasn’t sure. Boaz? Boaz. Yes. That sounds right.
What am I doing here? How did I get here? But he couldn’t think clearly. Not knowing what to do and fearing the whip, Boaz kept chiseling with less and less strength.
Risto slapped his furry little hand against his side. He rode on Yered’s shoulder. The old man had nursed the little monkey’s wound and allowed Risto to travel with him. Yered had even tied a thin branch to the stump on Risto’s right side. It was small comfort for the loss of his arm, but he somehow felt better with the branch on rather than off.
Risto was furious with himself. He had grown fond of Akavish. Too fond. He had been aware of Akavish’s many character faults, but had enjoyed the boy’s company and attention. The partnership had turned deadly in their last encounter with the other prodigy, and now both Risto and Akavish had lost an arm. Risto wanted to have nothing further to do with Akavish and decided to follow the eccentric, yet kind old man under him.
“Laugh at me, Joshua and Caleb will,” Yered grumbled to Risto.
Risto chittered at Yered.
“I know, I know. The only hope for Boaz and the Gibeonite, it is.”
Yered approached the Israelite camp at Gilgal, unarmed, except for a one-armed monkey on his shoulder.
“You saw Risto leave with the old man with the golden teeth?” Akavish asked the tavern-keeper.
“Yes. The old man woke up after your father smashed him against the wall. He tended to your monkey and said something about going to Timna.”
“To Timna? To the copper mines? What’s he looking for there?”
“I presume he wants to find his young friends. Perhaps you should seek some human friends, as opposed to chasing after some jungle animal.”
“That animal is my friend. The only one I have.” Akavish stormed out of the tavern.
“I’m not surprised,” the tavern-keeper said to Akavish’s back.
Boaz had brief moments of clarity. I’m being drugged, he realized. That is why my mind is so numb. I can barely think how to get out of this hole. I must retain clarity, but how? I already feel it slipping away. Boaz continued with his mindless digging.
“The son of Job?” Joshua asked incredulously.
“Hard of hearing, young Joshua?” Yered responded.
“Why should I believe your tale? Boaz is a very capable child. I can’t believe he would get entangled in a bar fight, and even less so, to be sold as a slave to the Egyptian copper mines.”
“Met Larus, you have not, nor into unconsciousness smashed, nor in iron chains taken, nor mind numbed from continuous drugs. Die, child will, if you do nothing.”
“How is it this creature is with you?” Caleb asked. “Last we saw him was atop the shoulder of that deadly little Philistine, who was so intent on killing Boaz.”
“Addled your brains, decades in the desert have. Of little monster, monkey tired. One handed, as well, is he. Much more interesting company, I make. Send troops to Timna to free them, if for boy’s life and his friend, the Gibeonite, you care. Otherwise, to certain, though slow and painful death, you doom them. To accompany you, am willing and ready am I. Suicidal it would be, going on my own. To give up on my inordinately long life, am not prepared yet.”
“Why should we believe you?”
“Chance that I’m right, are you willing to take?”
Krafus insisted on accompanying Akavish. They hired camels in Beer-Sheva for the long trek south to Timna.
Akavish rode unhappily atop the camel’s hump.
“How is one supposed to ride these infernal beasts?” Akavish asked.
“Much like a horse, I suppose. Point them in the right direction and make sure not to fall off.”
“They smell and this heat is suffocating.” Akavish tried to wipe his sweaty brow, with his lone remaining hand, lost balance, and promptly toppled off the camel, to the dusty, hard ground of the Negev desert.
Where is the drug, Boaz thought in his moment of clarity. The bread? What can they place in that dry piece of bark? The water? No, I’ve noticed the masters drinking from it as well. What is it? It must be something in the air. Yes. That must be why they cover their faces when they come in the mine. That is it. If I can raise my shirt up to my nose and take it off when they approach…
Caleb led a dozen of his best soldiers south along the shore of the Salt Sea. Caleb feared strange Yered was telling the truth and time was of the essence.
Krafus and Akavish could see the opening to the great copper mine of Timna. The red mountains were a stark contrast to cloudless blue sky. From the south, they could smell the breeze from the Sea of Reeds.
“Let me handle this,” Krafus told Akavish as a burly Egyptian overseer approached.
“You come for copper?” The Egyptian asked.
“Perhaps,” Krafus answered.
“This one not good for slave,” the Egyptian pointed at Akavish’s missing arm, “so better be to buy copper.”
“We seek information.”
“Copper prices have not changed.”
“We are seeking a man. A very old man. He may have had an unusual animal with him.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about. Wasting my time. Leave.” The Egyptian turned his back and walked back to the mine entrance.
“Is there a young boy here?” Akavish blurted. “An Israelite, red-head, about ten or eleven years old?”
The Egyptian turned around.
“All are young boys here. I don’t care for age, color or nation. Thinking that one-hand can probably also dig.” The Egyptian approached menacingly. Akavish noticed the whip in his hand and the large sword by his side. Half a dozen Egyptian guards, showing interest in the discussion, left the mine entrance and approached Krafus and Akavish.
“Never mind,” Krafus called out and turned his camel away, motioning to Akavish to follow.
“Not buying copper, not selling slaves, asking strange questions. By Ra! Spies or trouble-makers. Deal with each same way.” The Egyptians closed in on Krafus and Akavish.
Arrows suddenly protruded from the chests of each of the Egyptians. The Egyptians had just enough time to register surprise as they dropped to the floor, dead.
“Yered spoke the truth,” an Israelite voice called out. “There is the one-armed Philistine boy.”
Akavish looked up the mountain to see a dozen Israelite soldiers with Caleb, and fresh arrows in bows aimed at him. He was pleased to see his monkey on the old man’s shoulder.
“Risto!” Akavish called out. “Come to me.” Akavish opened his arms.
Risto did not budge off of Yered’s shoulder, but merely glared at Akavish.
“You four,” Caleb pointed at soldiers to his left. “Guard the Philistines. The rest, with me to the mine.”
Before Caleb could reach the mine entrance, they heard a commotion from deep within the mine. Suddenly, an exhausted, blood-drenched Boaz emerged, with a bloody chisel in his hand. Shakra, the Gibeonite, was behind him, together with dozens of children, teenagers and men, bedraggled, bloody and blinking in the strong desert sun.
“Caleb!” Boaz shouted joyously. “What took you so long? I thought I would live out the rest of a mindless existence down there.”
“It looks like you didn’t need us after all.” Caleb grinned.
“Truth, I spoke. Child fortunate.”
Akavish stuck his left hand in his tunic, but Krafus grabbed his arm with a vice-like grip.
“Have you learned nothing, child!” Krafus berated Akavish. “Do you wish to die so badly? You would attempt to kill this child, at which you have failed so miserably, while surrounded by four of his compatriots with arrows pointed at your heart?” Krafus released Akavish’s arm. “Perhaps you deserve to die. You can put your idiotic and misguided existence out of its short and tragic misery.”
Akavish looked back to Risto.
“Risto, please, come back to me.”
Risto jumped off of Yered’s shoulder, grabbed ahold of Yered’s water skin and filled his mouth from it. He then hopped to Akavish. Within arm’s reach, Risto spat a gush of water at Akavish’s face. Surprised, Akavish spluttered as the water dripped to the dry desert floor. Risto turned his back on Akavish and farted loudly. He hopped back to Yered and jumped onto his shoulder.
“That’s incredible!” Shakra exclaimed. “That animal really doesn’t like you.”
“There is nothing more for you here.” Krafus held Akavisk’s arm tenderly. “Let’s go home.”
Akavish looked one last time at Risto, his sole childhood companion and friend. He then turned to look at Boaz, and saw him as if for the first time.
Boaz, sensing a change in Akavish, called out:
“Do you still hate me?”
“Probably. But I hate myself more,” Akavish answered with the heaviness of truth. “Let’s go home,” he turned to Krafus.
Caleb motioned for the Israelite soldiers to let them go. Krafus and Akavish cantered their camels northward without looking back.
Caleb and Boaz hugged.
“When I could think, I thought this was my end.” Boaz cried. “That I would be doomed to this eternal hellish trance. I’m so glad you came.”
“You seem to have escaped on your own.”
“If those guards would have been at their posts and you hadn’t shot them, I’m not sure we would have had the strength to make it.”
“Well, we are safe now. Are you ready?”
“Yes, please. Let’s go home.”
* * * * * *
END PART I of WARRIOR PROPHETS