Warrior Prophets Chapter 22
“That’s a city,” Raskul commented as they saw Bezer to their south. “And here I was thinking you Israelites only knew farming and shepherding. It’s a relief to the senses to come across a center of commerce and opportunity.” Bezer was a large walled city, sitting on the desert plain. Wide roads intersected in front of the city. Caravans of merchants entered and exited the large stone gates at a leisurely pace under the hazy autumn sky. Raskul, Boaz and Amitai plodded on their donkeys along the road that hugged the eastern shore of the meandering Jordan River.
“That is one of the six,” Amitai mentioned.
“Six what?” Raskul asked
“Six cities of refuge,” Boaz answered. “There are three on the eastern side of the Jordan River which Moses named before he died. I was barely ten when he set them up. There are three others on the western side which Joshua established, but all six of them became operational only recently when we completed this stage of conquest.”
“What do you need refuge from? You people are the aggressors and conquerors here. Unless you are providing refuge to your victims.”
“The peoples we have fought are not ‘victims’, Raskul. They are enemies,” Boaz responded. “As long as they hold fast to their idol-worship, we shall always be enemies and we shall show no mercy. These cities are for our own people, for inadvertent murderers amongst the children of Israel.”
“Inadvertent what? How does someone murder by accident? Raskul asked. “I know,” he exclaimed, raising his staff, and stabbing at the air. “Pardon me, sir. I’m so sorry for having killed you. I mistook you for a large watermelon. Is that it? And then the bumbling fool is allowed to stay safe in this magnificent city? Why, every cretin will make such a claim. Yes, your honor.” Raskul placed the outstretched fingers of his hand on his chest as he addressed an imaginary judge. “That man, with all the jewels and gold that I killed, you see, it was an accident. I thought he was my brother-in-law, who I truly despise and who owes me a great amount of money. That poor unfortunate soul just had an uncanny resemblance to my ugly brother-in-law. You can’t blame me for killing him. I didn’t mean it. With your permission I’ll keep the dead man’s money. He won’t be needing it anymore, and I’ll settle right here in your cozy city of refuge.”
“You don’t understand at all,” Amitai stated.
“What’s there to understand? You Israelites don’t make any sense!”
As they approached the city gates, a young white-robed man ran towards them.
“Thank God, you made it safely,” the young man grabbed hold of the reins of Raskul’s donkey and looked apprehensively behind Boaz and Amitai.
“Why of course we made it safely,” Raskul retorted. “Why would you think otherwise?”
“You weren’t pursued?” the young man asked.
“No. Who are you?” Boaz asked.
“My apologies. I am Hirham, the Priest. We’ve been expecting you. Come, we have accommodations ready for you and your escorts,” Hirham addressed Raskul.
“That is as it should be.” Raskul puffed up his chest. “Finally, a place that gives me the proper respect. I think I shall enjoy staying here for a long time.”
“You are taking your predicament very well,” Hirham commented as he rushed them into the city, continually looking backwards. “I’m inspired by your attitude.”
“Hirham, you are a joy! Please do lead us to our quarters.”
Hirham led the travelers through the busy city gate. He breathed a sigh of relief as they entered the gates. Hirham spoke in hushed tones to the two armored guards, pointing excitedly at Raskul. “You are safe now,” Hirham told Raskul.
“I have never felt safer,” Raskul said smiling, “with two strong escorts and an enthusiastic host.”
Boaz and Amitai traded quizzical glances.
The travelers passed the city center where merchants loudly offered wheat, barley and a rainbow of other grains and spices. Distinctive jugs of wines and oils were on display in the storefronts. The loud noises and strong smells seemed to overwhelm Boaz and Amitai. Raskul grinned, drinking in the cacophony arresting his senses, his eyes darting from one merchant to another, seeking who might be his next mark.
Hirham led them to a residential street.
“The escorts shall be sharing a room here,” Hirham pointed to a rundown hostel. “And you, sir, this is your residence.” Hirham led them into a new house. The house was simple, but clearly new and well furnished. They entered a small but neat courtyard. On one side there was a pen for animals, on the other side, a stocked storeroom. At the end of the structure, Hirham showed them the living area with a large straw bed to the left, a brand new wooden table on the right and an unused fire-pit in the middle.
“Why, these are the nicest and largest accommodations anyone has ever provided me with. Thank you, Hirham.”
“You may be needing it for a long time, and we wanted you to be comfortable.”
“How did you know I liked city life?”
“Sir, you are an inspiration. I shall let you get comfortable in your new home and we shall meet again. Make sure not to leave the city gates. I informed the guards and they shall likewise tell the next watch.” Hirham departed hurriedly.
Raskul, Boaz and Amitai tied their donkeys in Raskul’s new pen and walked in to the living area, each one grabbing a chair and sitting at the table. A bowl of fresh fruit awaited them in the center of the table. Raskul grabbed a fresh fig and bit into it hungrily, the juice flowing down his grey stubble beard. Boaz and Amitai each grabbed a fig, said a short benediction and bit into the figs neatly.
“I have never been received so royally!” Raskul exclaimed as he placed his feet on the table.
“Raskul, do you forget our mission, or your promise?” Boaz accused.
“No, no, no, my dear Boaz. We are very close to Moses’ tomb. I can smell it. He died very close to here. Everyone has said so. I expect it is no more than a few hours journey further and we shall be free of this mission and I shall be able to return and settle in this most welcoming of places. Oh, this is so good.” Raskul bit into another juicy fig.
“Fine. We shall spend the night here in Bezer and leave first thing in the morning. But why they should honor you so, is still a great mystery to me.”
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Raskul laughed. “At least that’s what the Trojans used to say.”
Raskul, Boaz and Amitai cantered towards the city gate at first light. As they approached the gate, the guards looked at them in surprise. They lowered their spears blocking the exit.
“What goes on here?” Raskul asked. “How dare you block my way? Do you know who I am?”
“You are not allowed to leave the city,” the tall guard on the left said, not moving his spear.
“I am an honored resident of this great city and I shall not be denied passage. Now move aside or I shall call that pleasant Hirham.” Raskul dismounted and pushed at the spear, but it did not budge.
“We should call Hirham, as he is the one that prohibited your departure,” the guard responded and nodded at his fellow. The squat guard on the right ran into the city.
“Are we allowed to leave?” Amitai asked pointing at himself and Boaz, who also dismounted.
“Yes. We were expecting the two of you to leave once you saw him comfortably settled.”
Boaz and Amitai looked at each other with questions on their faces.
“They can travel, but I cannot?” Raskul asked furiously.
“What is the problem?” Hirham asked from behind as he approached with the squat guard.
“This buffoon has misunderstood your orders and is not allowing me to leave with my companions,” Raskul placed his fists on his hips.
“The guards have understood perfectly. You are not allowed to leave.”
“This is ridiculous!”
“Calm yourself, sir. You know, you are the first. And I’m sure the process may seem strange to you. The truth is, I was so excited when I heard, though of course it was a tragic circumstance, and then when I spotted you outside the walls, I could barely contain myself to finally fulfill the mission of this city.”
“What are you talking about? What am I the first of? What mission?”
“I hate to discuss this publicly as I do not wish to shame you in front of others.”
“Speak it, man. What am I the first of? Why do you imprison me in this city?”
“You are the first inadvertent murderer to be given sanctuary in our city of refuge,” Hirham whispered.
“Me? What proof do you have? How do you make such an accusation? What is the sentence?”
“It was reported yesterday, that an older man, with an unkempt, shaggy appearance, and a criminal look, had accidentally killed a man in Yaazer. They said you had been attempting to break into a house with an ax. The ax-head flew off the handle and killed your accomplice. His family vowed to kill you.”
“I never killed anyone! I’ve never even been to Yaazer. These two will vouch for me.”
“You are not the murderer?” Hirham asked, clearly disappointed.
“No! I may be guilty of many crimes, but murder, even inadvertent, is not one of them.”
“Is this true?” Hirham looked at Boaz and Amitai.
“Yes, he is probably guilty of many crimes,” Amitai smirked.
“We have been his companions for weeks now and he has not been in Yaazer all this time,” Boaz added.
“Oh! What a horrible, horrible mistake!” Hirham cried. “To have assumed you were the murderer. I am so sorry.” Hirham fell on his knees and grasped Raskul’s hand. “Please forgive me, sir. In my enthusiasm I have shamed you terribly.”
“It’s no matter,” Raskul said magnanimously. “Usually, I am the one who brings shame upon myself. Now, if we could discuss a permanent arrangement in that quaint house.”
“That’s not possible.” Hirham stood up and cleared his throat. “The house is reserved exclusively for the inadvertent murderer, where he would live out his life or stay until the death of the High Priest, depending on the findings of the court, of course. I’m sorry. It’s best you go on your way, before others make the same mistake I did.”
“Let us go, Raskul,” Boaz said. “We have wasted enough time here with all the confusion.”
“Fine. Goodbye, young Hirham. I forgive you. I actually enjoyed all the attention. This inadvertent murderer will be a lucky guy to be in your care.”
“Goodbye, sir. I’m still inspired by you.” Hirham bowed to Raskul.
Raskul, Boaz and Amitai mounted their donkeys and trotted out of the gates of Bezer.
A cloud of sand approached them quickly on the road. They could make out three riders. The middle rider was a bedraggled, mean-looking, grey-haired man, escorted on either side by two younger men. Behind them, half a dozen angry men rode hard in pursuit.
“That must be the inadvertent murderer,” Boaz commented.
“Don’t assume,” Amitai said.
“Seriously,” Raskul agreed. “Do you think I really look like him?”
“You’re not that good-looking,” Amitai quipped as the harried riders passed them in a hurry.
“I hope he enjoys the house. I’m going to miss it,” Raskul lamented.
“He will miss his freedom,” Boaz noted as the angry posse passed them in pursuit.
“Freedom is overrated. Give me security. Give me comfort, and I will gladly give up these so-called freedoms.”
“That is why you cannot understand Israelites. We cherish our freedom. The lashes of the slave masters still resonate in our bones. But you are not Israelite.”
“Thank God,” Raskul answered, as they left the city of refuge behind them.
* * * * * *
Joshua Chapter 20
1 And the Lord spoke unto Joshua, saying: 2 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: Assign you the cities of refuge, whereof I spoke unto you by the hand of Moses; 3 that the manslayer that killeth any person through error and unawares may flee thither; and they shall be unto you for a refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 And he shall flee unto one of those cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. 5 And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver up the manslayer into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unawares, and hated him not beforetime. 6 And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days; then may the manslayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled.’ 7 And they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill-country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba–the same is Hebron–in the hill-country of Judah. 8 And beyond the Jordan at Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness in the table-land out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh. 9 These were the appointed cities for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person through error might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.
I did not find the phrase of looking a gift horse in the mouth to have any connection to Troy – though it would be funny. Destruction of Troy is estimated to have occurred around 1200 BCE, while the events in the book of Joshua were probably a few decades earlier. That’s poetic license…