Warrior Prophets Chapter 25
Ambush of the Ammonites
Amitai stuffed dried leaves and twigs into the little pouch. He sat on the leaf-strewn ground of the forest, with the tall oaks above him and his supplies around him. He poured oil liberally into the pouch making sure it moistened the flint stone protruding slightly from the bottom of the fist-sized burlap bag. He added various other pieces of leaves, roots and bark. Satisfied, he tied the pouch tightly and proceeded to prepare another one.
“How many are you going to make?” Boaz asked his friend.
“As many as I can,” Amitai answered, not looking up from his work. “These little smoke balls have helped us much in the past. You never know when you’d like to disappear from enemy sight.”
“You worry too much. We’ve had one successful interception after another, with not even an injury, except for Gidal, who stubbed his toe on a root, if you want to count that. Our militia has become so popular I’ve had to turn recruits away. I can see enemies in the dark and from a distance.”
“Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. I’m going to give at least two of these to each of the men.”
“That’s over forty balls. Whatever makes you happy, Amitai. We’ll start marching at nightfall. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s attack. We’ve been building up to this for some time and it should put a stop to Ammonite attacks.”
Boaz closed his eyes and scanned his periphery with Isaac’s Vision. His men had the dull grey of tiredness, mixed with a strong blue of confidence and a bright orange of excitement for the coming battle. He noticed a lone figure in the trees above their position in the forest. It was an alert, anxious yellow of an enemy, an Ammonite. The Ammonite had followed them from a respectful distance throughout the night. Boaz extended his vision to Nurad, the town they were about to attack. Only one soul was awake in the darkness before the dawn. He was colored an aggressive red of anticipation.
They were just over the border from the tribal region of Gad. Boaz and his growing militia had destroyed multiple bands of raiders. Boaz’s success attracted new volunteers every month. After two years of trekking up and down the borders of the Israelite territory, he had made the land safer from bandits. The last battle had seemed even too easy. The Ammonites had retreated quickly, some of them appearing to have been sleeping before the encounter.
The Ammonites had been foraying into the Gadite territory and stealing flocks and anything else they could get their hands on. Boaz had decided to take the battle to Nurad, the base from which the Ammonites had been attacking.
From his hiding place in the forest, Boaz and his twenty men waited for dawn to break. His men were good, but fighting on a moonless night on their enemy’s home ground would be too risky. They waited as the pale red dawn colored the land.
Nurad beckoned to Boaz. Its undefended homes called out and dared Boaz to raid them. The lack of walls indicated either there was nothing to defend or that the Ammonites here feared nothing.
Boaz raised his hand and gave the signal to attack. His militia moved stealthily out of the forest and approached Nurad.
An unusual bird call was the first thing to alert Boaz that something was wrong. A second bird call responded from the town ahead. Boaz signaled to halt and closed his eyes again. Suddenly, he sensed hundreds of souls waking quickly to consciousness. Not only in Nurad, but also in the forest behind them. Ambush! Boaz thought. Somehow they anticipated our coming and hid their troops from my senses.
“We’re surrounded,” Boaz said urgently.
“Where?” Amitai, ever at Boaz’s side, asked.
“It’s a trap. You’ll see them in a moment.”
In moments, a fully awake and fully armed army surrounded Boaz and his men. Boaz counted a ring of over 500 soldiers, all with notched arrows pointed at the small Israelite group in the middle.
“Your harassment of our men is over,” an old man called out. He was thin and hunched over, with a wispy white beard. “Surrender peacefully and I promise all of you a quick and clean death. It’s not pleasant being hacked to death.”
“Now what?” Amitai whispered to Boaz. Boaz noticed that his men had all turned pale. They had never faced such a hopeless disadvantage before. I walked them right into this trap, Boaz moaned to himself, and I have no idea how to get us out. I can’t just surrender. Think! Fast!
“Before you calculate whether to resist or not,” the old man continued. “I’d like you and your men to consider the following. Boaz, we know of your extraordinary senses and supernatural speed and we have prepared ourselves accordingly. As far as the rest of you, according to my reports you are all human and can be killed as well as any man. The way back to the forest is blocked. Except for the trail you took to reach us, we have dug deep trenches throughout the length of the forest. At the bottom of the trenches are rows of sharpened spikes. The trail you came through is now defended by over two hundred men. Go ahead, Boaz. Close your eyes and confirm.”
Boaz closed his eyes and noted the two hundred souls, eager for blood. There were even more enemies spread out through the forest and throughout Nurad. There will be no easy escape, Boaz concluded. These Ammonites have laid an impenetrable trap.
“You see, Boaz. Your activities have been bad for our livelihood. It is nothing personal, but we realized, while you Israelites might find our way of doing business distasteful, your consistent destruction of our raiding parties needed to be stopped. We have banded together to lay this trap and to stop you once and for all.”
“How will you stop me?” Boaz asked, stalling for time.
“I thought you would never ask!” the old man said cheerfully. He chirped an authentic sounding bird call. Two soldiers exited a nearby house and walked towards the old man. In between them walked a woman. Boaz was shocked that he recognized her. Her bright red hair matched his own. Vered! His cousin, Vered. How in heaven did she get here? He thought incredulously. We are far from the tribe of Judah, where she should be safe on her father’s land.
“You can’t imagine the trouble and expense it took to find and capture a relative of yours,” the old man explained. “She’s a feisty one, but we’ve taught her some manners.”
Boaz noticed bruises on Vered’s pretty face. She looked at Boaz with both joy and misery.
“Now, Boaz,” the old man drew a dagger, held Vered in front of him and rested the dagger against Vered’s neck. “Surrender or I kill your lovely cousin.”
Boaz knew what he had to do.
“On my signal, form a ring with your shields, set your smoke balls,” Boaz whispered to his men, “and head back to the forest. I’ll try to get Vered and draw their fire.”
“Old man,” Boaz responded. “You bring out some red-headed wench and call her my cousin? You think that will hold me captive. She doesn’t even look Israelite.”
The old man seemed taken aback for a moment.
“Really? If she is nothing to you, then you will not object to killing her? Here,” the old man pushed Vered towards Boaz. “Shoot her where she stands. Then I will be convinced there is no relationship. Be mindful, that there are five hundred arrows trained on you, and if you miss by a fingerbreadth, it shall be the last arrow you shoot.”
Boaz notched his arrow with a prayer and aimed at Vered. How are we going to pull this off?
“Now!” Boaz barked as he took aim at the old man and let loose his arrow. The old man moved quickly for his age, but the arrow still struck him in the shoulder. At the same moment the rest of the Israelites scrapped the bottom of their smoke balls with flint and threw them between themselves and the Ammonites. Amitai threw one at Vered. They were all quickly enveloped in a thick cloud of white smoke.
Hundreds of Ammonite arrows flew at the surrounded Israelites who had raised their shields. There were too many arrows though. Boaz, with his superhuman speed managed to avoid the arrows as he raced to Vered. He lifted Vered up and kept running past the wounded old man and into the town of Nurad. He lept, with Vered still in his arms, on to the flat roof of a one-story house.
“Stay hidden until I come to get you,” Boaz said tenderly.
“Nice to see you too,” Vered responded, but Boaz was already gone.
Gidal was the first of Boaz’s men to fall. One arrow penetrated his thigh, bringing him to the ground. From alternate sides, a second arrow hit him in the lower back, while a third penetrated his lung. Tarel, to his right, tried to lift Gidal’s prone body, only to be shot as well.
Boaz could sense the lives of each of his men disappear. He cried as he ran and slashed at the ring of Ammonite archers. He had felled two dozen before the Ammonites realized what he was doing. One of the Ammonites whistled a shrill signal. Those closest to Boaz dropped to the ground in a pre-planned move. Those directly opposite Boaz shot at him as the only target. Boaz dropped quickly to the ground also, as he could not outrace all the arrows. The Ammonites next to Boaz then jumped on him. Before he knew it, his arms and legs were pinned down by three soldiers on each appendage and five on his torso.
The rest of the Ammonite army concentrated their fire on the retreating Israelites. Body after body fell. The retreating circle of shields got smaller and smaller as they left dead kinsmen in their wake. Boaz felt each death as a stab in the heart. Six, seven, eight of his men, butchered. Boaz struggled against his captors, but the more he fought the harder they held. Tears fell freely down his eyes. In his mind he could taste each death, the disbelief that they were gone forever. It is my fault. My pride and arrogance. Gidal, Tarel, Chanin, Leskiah, Elmol, Darnes, Bitam, Altor. Gone. And more if I can’t help.
Boaz relaxed his struggle, realizing the futility. What can I do? God! Help us!
The Ammonites on Boaz also relaxed the pressure on him, though still holding his limbs firmly. From the corner of his eye, Boaz noticed Vered approaching rapidly. She carried a heavy iron cauldron. With fire in her eyes, Vered smashed the cauldron into the Ammonites on top of Boaz. Six men fell over and into the other Ammonites on Boaz. Freed, Boaz grabbed his sword and moved like a whirlwind, killing all the Ammonites around him. He lifted the panting Vered in his other arm and sped along the line of Ammonites who were shooting at the retreating Israelites. His sword slashed faster than the eye could follow. Cursing and crying Boaz mowed down a hundred men in the fastest burst of speed he had ever reached in his life. The Ammonites, with all eyes on the retreating Israelites, had assumed Boaz had been successfully subdued. Boaz got closer and closer to the forest entrance, leaving a path of cloven and dismembered Ammonites along the way.
The Israelite ring reached the entrance to the forest under heavy fire. Amitai led the retreat and had the men release the last remaining fire balls at the Ammonites, blinding them. Amitai ordered a charge. The Israelites, now within sword reach of the Ammonites, hacked at them through the smoke. Boaz reached his men just as they had broken through the Ammonite ring and into the forest.
“Amitai!” Boaz breathed heavily. “How are you?” Amitai had a broken arrow shaft protruding from his left shoulder and another one in his thigh. Most of the men had at least one or two arrows in them.
“Clear the troops ahead and we might yet have a chance.”
“No!” Vered said suddenly. “There’s a better way.”
“Speak quickly,” Boaz commanded.
“There is a cave nearby. I escaped one day and hid there overnight. They never found it. They caught me the next day as I tried to go further.”
“Good,” Boaz nodded. “Amitai, follow Vered. I’ll try to recover the fallen.”
“Save the living.” Amitai looked at Boaz sternly. “The dead can wait.”
“You’re right,” Boaz agreed, fresh tears moistening his eyes. “I’ll engage the troops in the forest, while you make for the cave. I’ll then double back to the town and see what I can do.”
“That’s more reasonable.” Amitai clasped Boaz’s arm. “Don’t blame yourself. Let’s salvage what we can and then figure out what went wrong.” Boaz nodded silently and sped deeper into the forest.
Boaz took cover behind a large oak and closed his eyes to assess the situation. He could see his remaining men, a dark grey of deathly exhaustion following Vered. Boaz was amazed by Vered’s aura. It was a shiny white, a bravery and purity of purpose that reminded him of Joshua or Caleb’s aura. It was tinted by a deep purple of energy and determination. What a woman! Boaz thought in awe.
He could sense the Ammonites from Nurad regrouping and entering the forest. Boaz had destroyed half of their troops. The remaining soldiers were shocked by the carnage Boaz had left in his wake. Boaz could sense the red hot anger of the old man. That brilliant, conniving, old tactician almost killed us all. And we’re not out of it yet. Boaz turned his attention deeper into the forest. Two hundred fresh troops closed in towards the escaping Israelites. Boaz would have to deal with them first.
With a fresh surge of energy, Boaz ran in the opposite direction of his men, parallel to the approaching troops. He ran until he could circle around them unnoticed. Boaz still carried the sling from his childhood battles. He grabbed a handful of sharp stones and slung them with violent force and deadly accuracy at the back of the Ammonites heads. Two, five, eight, fourteen. The Ammonites fell to Boaz’s unrelenting attack. He moved and shot, moved and shot, so the Ammonites thought they were under attack by an entirely new hidden force. After the fiftieth Ammonite fell, the troops disbanded, fleeing chaotically in all directions.
Boaz returned to the edge of the forest in time to hear the fleeing Ammonites yell.
“There is another army of Israelites! They are bigger and more numerous! Flee!”
To encourage their fear, Boaz pelted the Ammonites at the forest entrance with a volley of his deadly rocks. They ran to Nurad, to the safety of its buildings, leaving their dead behind.
Boaz waited until the battlefield between the forest and the town was clear of the living. Hundreds of bodies littered the field. But only eight of them interested him. Eight that he recognized in death. Eight that he loved and missed. Eight that he would never forgive himself for having led them to this death.
He took a deep breath and ran to Altor, bringing his body under the protection of the trees. He repeated his sprint seven more times, ending with Gidel. Happy, clumsy, loyal Gidel. Boaz thought his heart would break to think how much he would miss Gidel.
Still carrying Gidel, Boaz searched for the live auras of the rest of his men, hiding in the nearby cave.
“I got them,” Boaz announced as he laid Gidel’s corpse tenderly by the cave entrance.
Boaz took six of the men that were still able to walk to bring back the other bodies. Amitai lay collapsed on the cave floor as Vered tended to his wounds. Boaz closed his eyes for a moment. I don’t see his aura! That’s how they must have tricked us. They must have realized that I don’t see auras of the sleeping.
Minutes later, the men returned carrying their dead and laid them in a row by the deep cavern entrance.
Boaz smelled the musty cave interior and felt a slight breeze.
“There may be another way out,” Boaz commented.
“We figured that already,” Vered answered while treating Barlo’s wounded abdomen. “But first we need to care for the wounded. We’ll place a guard by the cave entrance until we’re ready to move again.”
“Good thinking,” Boaz agreed, further impressed with this cousin of his. I don’t know why I never really noticed her before.
Boaz then collapsed on the floor face first, with an arrow he hadn’t noticed protruding from his back.
“How long can he sleep for,” a sweet female voice said in Boaz’s dream.
“After his superhuman feats, he’s usually either ravenous or exhausted.” Boaz recognized Amitai’s voice.
“Two days seems excessive.” It was Vered. How could I not recognize her voice?
“I’ve never seen him do as much as he did in Nurad. He may have lost much blood from that wound as well. Let’s give him another day.”
“Silly boy. He was always foolhardy.”
“You disapprove?” Amitai asked, offended.
“Do I disapprove of Boaz trekking up and down the land looking for a fight?” Vered raised her voice. “Do I disapprove of being kidnapped from home and being threatened and beaten? Do I disapprove of him trying to make up for the wars he didn’t fight? Of course I disapprove. Are a few lousy sheep worth eight men’s lives? You tell me!” Vered pointed harshly at the eight fresh graves in the cavern.
“Each of the men joined our militia willingly, knowing it was dangerous.”
“Did they? Boaz was invincible. Boaz was unstoppable. The men probably thought that just to walk in Boaz’s shadow would keep them from harm.”
“Perhaps. But now we know better. I suspect Boaz now most of all. He will take this very hard.”
“Good. Maybe he’ll come back home where he belongs.”
“You care for him.”
“Of course I care for him. He’s my cousin.”
“No. You care for him more than that.”
Vered blushed in the dark cave. Boaz couldn’t see her in his dream, but he could feel her warmth.
“Wake up,” Vered commanded Boaz, shaking him roughly. “Enough sleep. If we don’t get proper care for Barlo, he may die from his wound.”
Boaz groggily opened his eyes. In the dim light of the cave he could make our Vered’s fiery hair. “This is the most pleasant sight I’ve woken to in many a year,” Boaz said.
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Vered lied. “We’ve been waiting on you. Everyone else has been ready to move. You’ve been sleeping for three days. We found an exit far down this cavern that is within the territory of Gad. If we leave now, we should be able to get help for Barlo in time.”
“What happened to me?”
“You had an arrow in your back and you collapsed from exhaustion.”
“You saved me.” Boaz stated.
“No. The arrow was not fatal. Just hit some muscle.”
“You did save me. When the Ammonites had me pinned down.”
“I couldn’t just let them kill you.”
“I can’t just let the Ammonites or the Midianites or the Moabites or anyone else kill and pillage our people.”
“Haven’t you had enough?”
“Perhaps. I’ll have to think about it. I’ll have to analyze where we went wrong and adjust accordingly.”
“Will you ever give it up?”
Boaz closed his eyes. He looked closely at Vered’s swirling aura. That same deep majestic purple of energy and determination. Now it was mixed with a light pink of hope and anticipation, and a warm red he had never seen before. Is that the color of love? He could almost hear her heart beating, hanging on his every word. Underneath it all was that bright white of purity and bravery. I wonder how other men find their soul-mates without Vision, Boaz wondered. I can live with Vered’s aura for the rest of my life.
“I will give it up for the right person.”
“And who might that person be?”
“The person who saved my life. The person who stood by my side. The person who confronted my enemies unflinchingly. I would spend the rest of my life with that person.”
“You want to spend the rest of your life with Amitai?” Vered teased.
“No, woman. As soon as I have resolved this failure, as soon as I’m sure our militia is well organized, manned and led, I would spend the rest of my life with you, Vered. Would that be agreeable to you?”
“As long as you don’t take too long. I won’t wait around for you forever.”
“You don’t make a man’s life easy.”
“Is that what you were looking for in a wife?”
“I had hopes.”
“You talk too much, Boaz. Let’s get Barlo some care and then you can tell me how much you adore me. Get off your lazy back and let’s move.” Vered turned abruptly and helped lead Barlo deeper into the cavern, to the exit beyond.
Boaz was startled by Vered’s curt answer. He closed his eyes and noticed the growing glow of happiness within her. Even with the Vision, I may never understand women.
Boaz followed her towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
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