Warrior Prophets – Chapter 29: Prenuptial Warfare

Warrior Prophets Chapter 29

Prenuptial Warfare

Raskul rode his donkey cautiously on the road to Bethlehem. He passed the city of Hebron uneventfully and tried to enjoy the view of the rolling vineyards and olive groves of the Judean Mountains. The cool summer breeze dissipated the heat of the afternoon sun. Nonetheless, he was anxious about the coming encounter. In the distance he could make out the walled city of Bethlehem surrounded by acres and acres of wheat fields.

A rider on a chestnut horse approached Raskul from behind. He was a tall man with a flaming red and white beard and a broad grin.

“Greetings, traveler,” the man called out as he matched Raskul’s pace.

“Greetings, my lord,” Raskul nodded to the princely man.

“My name is Caleb. Who are you?” The man inquired.

“I am Raskul of the Kenites,” he said, adding quickly, “no enemy of the Israelites.”

“Welcome, Raskul. What brings you to the tribe of Judah?”

“A wedding.”

“You’re an acquaintance of Boaz, then?” Caleb asked jovially.

“A f-friend,” Raskul stuttered.

“I’m his uncle and am also traveling to Bethlehem. Let us ride together to the city.”

Neither of them noticed a hunchback figure in a long cloak riding behind them. From the folds of the cloak a hairy tail peeked out.

“Why do we need to be on duty today?” Eran complained to Yashen.

“Someone needs to.” Yashen yawned.

The two of them stood on the eastern tower of the city gate. The gate of Bethlehem was a large stone arch with two swinging heavy oak doors. The gate faced north, towards nearby Jerusalem. They could barely make out the walls of Jerusalem through the summer haze.

“It’s a waste of time, I say,” Eran continued. “We should be down there mingling with all the guests.”

Yashen looked at the stonework city plaza within the gates where a growing number of people gathered. Long tables with freshly baked cakes stood next to the stone homes that surrounded the plaza.

“The whole Nachshon clan makes it look like a meeting of redheads,” Yashen commented. “I’d be interested in a Benjaminite brunette myself.”

“I think Naomi is the prettiest girl in town,” Eran sighed. “But looks like Elimelech has already made his move.” He pointed at the two redheads standing close to each other.

“Good day, men,” a commanding voice called to them from the gate.

Eran and Yashen turned around to see an old man with a long flowing white beard. Next to him was a middle-aged bearded man, with bright eyes. Both rode gray donkeys.

“Our Master, Joshua. High Priest Pinhas. Welcome,” Eran blurted.

“Thank you, young man. What is your name?” Joshua, the old leader ofIsrael, asked.

“Eran son of Haser.”

“Eran,” Joshua instructed. “Though I know you would much rather be down at the celebration, I would advise you to take your duty seriously. We have been blessed with years of peace here, in no small part thanks also to the recent efforts of our groom. Nonetheless, we must remain vigilant.”

“Yes, Joshua,” Eran said. “Though I hear rumors of a new warrior leading the militia together with Amitai.”

“Ehud of Benjamin. I have met him. Cunning and sharp. But I’ve also heard rumors of the Moabites regaining their strength and for some reason I have an ominous feeling today. Keep your eyes open.”

“Yes, sir!” Eran and Yashen responded.

“Good. Carry on.” Joshua commanded and rode off with a smiling Pinhas. 

“Hello, Boaz,” Raskul said nervously.

Boaz turned around from talking with his uncle Ploni.

“Raskul?” Boaz said, surprised.

“Yes, I thought I’d join you on this day of celebration.”

“Why, thank y-. Wait. Someone give me a sword! I vowed to kill you on sight, you backstabbing, traitorous wretch. How dare you come here on this day? Ploni, fetch me a sword.”

“Now, now, now, Boaz.” Raskul raised his hands. “Let’s not be so hasty. I swear, I won’t swear by any of the gods, which I know annoys you so much. You are a forgiving people. A gracious people. Is this how you would treat an old journey-mate?”

“What’s the matter, Boaz? What did he do? He seems like a pleasant enough fellow,” Caleb asked.

“He tried to sell me and Amitai into slavery. He is a snake that should be killed without hesitation. Ploni, what are you waiting for? Run into my father’s house and get me my sword.”

“On your wedding day you will kill a defenseless man?” Ploni asked.

“Perhaps you’re right. Get some rope and let’s bind him and I can kill him tomorrow.”

“One moment, Boaz,” Caleb interceded. “I realize this man has done you great wrong, and had terrible intentions, which in the end did not materialize. He has come to you on your wedding day, knowing your anger towards him, in order to make amends. I think that in the spirit of this day you should forgive him.”

“Fine. Ploni, please bring me my sword in any case. I don’t trust this uncircumcised lout for a moment. His coming is a bad omen. The sword will be a good reminder to keep him from wagging his idolatrous tongue. I will slice it off, Raskul, if you so much as think the wrong way.”

“You are kind as always,” Raskul mock bowed. “Where is your mate Amitai? He was always the better spoken one of you two.”

“Amitai is at the front leading the militia. If it weren’t for criminals like you, he might have been here to celebrate with me.”

“You are too harsh, Boaz. I never actively harmed someone. Perhaps I tried to make some silver off the misfortunes of others, but I never lifted a finger against someone in anger.”

“No, just out of greed. You are incorrigible, Raskul, and I will be happy once you leave.”

“May I stay to see you successfully married?”

“Yes. But one wrong word and you will regret having ventured toBethlehem.”

“Enough, Boaz,” Caleb interjected. “I’ll keep an eye on your friend. I see Joshua and Pinhas have arrived and the guests look ready. Let’s get started.”

Eran and Yashen looked dutifully to the east, across the Jordan River from where the Moabites would logically approach, while keeping half an eye on the northern road from Jerusalem. The eastern front was quiet as the sun started its slow descent to the west. A group of twenty cloaked horsemen trotted leisurely towards the gate. Eran was the first to notice them approaching the gate.

“More friends of Boaz?” Eran pointed out to Yashen.

“Must be. They are heavily armed. Either some militiamen or some former captains of hundreds or thousands. But why are they so covered up in this heat?”

“Something is not right. They are wearing heavy armor under their cloaks. Where is that trumpet. Pass me the trumpet, Yashen.” Eran said urgently. Yashen reached for the trumpet in the corner of the tower and handed it to Eran.

Suddenly, from amongst the riders, a giant of a man, completely covered in armor, with a metal helmet that enveloped his head, galloped at breakneck speed towards the gate. He aimed his right arm at the two watchmen. An arrow shot out of the man’s arm and hit Eran in the shoulder before he could blow the trumpet. The trumpet clattered to the floor as Eran fell, writhing in agony. Yashen reached for the trumpet, but was pierced by an arrow to the abdomen before he could touch the bright metal rolling on the floor. The last thing he saw was an army of thousands approaching Bethlehem from the west with scaling ladders and a large battering ram.

The other horsemen raced after their leader towards the open gate of Bethlehem.

Boaz stood under the wedding canopy that was erected close to the gate of the city. Vered walked around him slowly seven times, smiling shyly. They were both in white. Boaz wore a new long white tunic and Vered was in a flowing dress of white cotton, with gentle white lilies adorning her flaming red hair. Boaz and Vered’s parents stood under the canopy together with Pinhas, who was officiating. The canopy was constructed of a large white shawl supported by four long wooden poles. Joshua and Caleb held the front poles and Elimelech and Ploni held the back ones. A large assembly filled the town square.

“Do you have the ring?” Pinhas asked.

“Elimelech?” Boaz asked his uncle.

“Of course, of course. Here it is.” Elimelech retrieved an unadorned gold ring from his pouch. As he handed the ring to Boaz, they were distracted by the sound of loud galloping. The ring dropped and Boaz bent down to pick it up. An arrow whizzed by where he had been standing and struck an elderly man beyond the canopy. It hit the man in the leg. The man immediately fell to the ground, where he convulsed and then stopped breathing.

“Take cover!” Joshua commanded as he lowered the canopy to cover the wedding party. “We’re under attack!” Several more arrows punctured the canopy. One hit a woman’s arm. In seconds she was on the floor, dead.

“Poison!” Caleb yelled, as he looked at the victims.

They all saw the twenty horsemen approach the gates with a metal giant in the lead.

“Caleb,” Joshua ordered, stepping naturally into the role of command. “The gates. Pinhas. The walls. Elimelech. Ploni. Organize the men. Boaz, with me. The rest of you, into the houses.”

Caleb moved like a blur to the gate. He closed one door before the invaders arrived. As he was closing the second one, he saw the metal giant would make it in. He was surprised to see an older, familiar-looking attacker motion with his hands for the rest of the riders to slow down. The intruder made it past the swinging door. Caleb shut and bolted the gate shut. The metal giant kept galloping towards the wedding party and the fallen canopy. Caleb raced after the rider and launched himself at him, knocking him off the horse. The rider clanged heavily on the plaza stonework, cursing as he stood himself up. Caleb rolled as he fell and was on his feet in a moment facing the invader.

“I’m not interested in you, old man,” the intruder with the metal face said. Only two slits for the eyes and one for the mouth revealed darkness within. “But I’ll kill you just as well.” He pointed his arm at Caleb, turned a dial on it with his left hand and a metal dart shot out. Caleb ducked and the dart struck a young boy who had been running for cover. The boy fell, convulsed, and was still.

Caleb launched himself at the intruder and tackled him to the floor. Caleb struck a series of blows at the metal clad warrior to no effect. The intruder tried hammering at Caleb with his metallic arm, but Caleb was faster.

“Out of my way! It is Boaz I want!” the intruder bellowed.

“Akavish, isn’t it? Caleb breathed heavily as the metallic arm missed him by a hairsbreadth. “And that was Krafus with you.”

“Yes. I am King Akavish of Ashkelon and soon I will rule your people as well.”

Akavish grabbed Caleb with his massive healthy arm and tried to stab him with his metallic claw. Caleb wriggled and punched, avoiding the claw, but unable to escape Akavish’s grasp. Frustrated, Akavish threw Caleb above him into the air and then shot three darts in rapid succession at Caleb’s falling body. Caleb managed to contort his body and avoid all the darts, but as he fell he struck his head on the side of Akavish’s metallic arm, falling to the floor, unconscious.

Pinhas, the High Priest, closed his eyes for a moment as he stood behind the wedding canopy and then quickly levitated. He flew towards the gate tower, as he watched Caleb reach the doors. He saw two dead watchmen at the eastern tower, where he landed. On the western side thousands of Philistine troops ran towards the walls ofBethlehem. Pinhas spotted the tall scaling ladders and the massive, metal-tipped battering ram. Elimelech and Ploni approached the stairs to the eastern tower.

“Elimelech,” Pinhas called down. “Assemble your men at the western wall. The first wave of attackers will be there in moments. Ploni. You will need to get men to reinforce the gate. The Philistines have a gargantuan battering ram and your oak gates will not last long under their onslaught. Go! I’ll see what I can do from the air.”

Pinhas took to the air as the first ladder abutted the wall. Half a dozen men were on the ladder and one reached the top of the wall before Pinhas reached them. Pinhas flew feet first into the Philistine on the rampart and knocked him over the two-story wall. He then grabbed the top of the ladder, and with all the Philistines on it, pushed it backwards. Ladder and soldiers fell on the troops below. Pinhas flew and knocked over ladder after ladder, weaving in and out of a rain of arrows from below, until Elimelech reached the rampart, followed by a few dozen defenders.

“There are thousands!” Elimelech stood gaping at the hordes massing under the walls.

“You’re just in time,” Pinhas landed, exhausted. “I need a rest. Keep the ladders off as long as you can. I see they are massing on the eastern wall. I will hold them off until we can get reinforcements on that side. God be with you.” Pinhas flew to the eastern wall of the city as half a dozen new ladders landed simultaneously on the western wall, followed by a barrage of arrows.

Joshua calmly observed the maelstrom of metal jousting with Caleb. He noted the dead victims of the poisoned arrows and darts. He closed his eyes and sensed the thousands of Philistines crashing against Bethlehem like stormy waves upon the shore.

“Looks like your childhood nemesis has returned with some friends,” Joshua said to Boaz and Vered, all hiding behind the pockmarked wedding canopy.

“Akavish with Philistines? That metal monster is Akavish?” Boaz asked, incredulous.

“He has an amusing way of celebrating your wedding. We need to stop them, but we’re going to need some help. I’m going to pray. Guard me while I focus my attention. Salvation will come from the sky.”

Without further word, Joshua stood up, closed his eyes and turned his head heavenward. Boaz stood up, with sword in hand, watching for any arrows that might threaten Joshua as he concentrated on his communion with God.    

“You know this attacker?” Vered pointed at Akavish struggling with Caleb.

“He has wanted me dead since I was a kid. Last I heard he was king ofAshkelon.”

“Was he upset you didn’t invite him to the wedding? I told you to double-check your list.”

“Not funny, Vered. People are dying because of this madman.”

“Well, I’m sorry, my hero, but if I don’t make light of the situation, I will panic out of sheer terror. What’s Joshua going to do?”

“He said salvation will come from the sky. I don’t see anything. Stopping the sun won’t help us this time.”

“I see clouds forming,” Vered pointed at a dark cloud moving in from the north. “Perhaps he’ll make it dark.”

“No! Caleb has fallen. I must help him. I must hold off Akavish. Watch Joshua, my love.”

“Boaz, wait! How am I supposed to protect him?” Vered called to Boaz. But he had already jumped over the canopy and was speeding towards Akavish. He knocked the tip of Akavish’s claw away from Caleb’s prone body.

“Your timing was always miserable, Akavish,” Boaz stated as he smashed his sword against Akavish’s helmet.

“I think I might have gotten it right this time,” Akavish responded as he swung his claw at Boaz. “Great audience. All your nobles, princes and leaders ripe for the picking. Tell me, can I congratulate you on the wedding or was I too early? Can I kiss the bride?”

“You sick man. You stopped the wedding.” Boaz’s sword clanged off Akavish’s armor. “Are you causing all this bloodshed on a mere vendetta? You’ve dragged your people into this as well?”

“My people are mine to do with as I will. Your wedding was merely a good opportunity to attack.” Akavish kicked Boaz away from him, aimed his arm, and shot a barrage of darts, arrows and stars of death.

Boaz’s sword moved faster than the eye could follow, picking each deadly object out of the air.

“You have become faster,” Akavish said. “But you will not find a way to harm me. It is just a matter of time until you fall.” Akavish shot a second barrage of weaponry at Boaz. They all clattered to the ground, repelled by Boaz’s blade.

The sound of steel against oak resonated throughout the city as the battering of the gates began.

“My people shall be here soon and then it will indeed be a celebration. Where is that bride of yours? I would have you watch her die in agony before I end your miserable life.” Akavish turned away from Boaz and walked calmly towards the downed wedding canopy.

Vered grabbed one of the poles of the canopy and looked around frantically for signs of attack. She kept an eye on the duel between Boaz and Akavish.

“Can I be of assistance?” a leathery voice addressed Vered from behind. “We’ve never been properly introduced. I’m Raskul, an old friend of Boaz.”

“I’ve heard of you,” Vered pointed the pole at the older man, grateful for a manageable threat. “Stay away from me, or I swear I’ll knock you on the head.”

“So violent! A fitting bride for Boaz. And one who swears. A woman after my own heart. But you misunderstand me. I am just here to help. And it looks like you can use help.”

“Boaz said you were a greedy old man, capable of great mischief.”

“He would, and I am.” Raskul edged closer.

“Stay away, Raskul.” Vered backed away, noticing for the first time the long knife at Raskul’s side.

Ploni didn’t mind battle. He had fought in one successful battle after another with Joshua, soundly defeating the kings ofCanaan. But this was different. He had never been in a siege before. Never had to wait for an enemy to breach his last physical defense. This is what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end, he thought.

“Hold the doors!” Ploni called out, as together with a dozen men they held the crumbling oak doors against the Philistine battering.

“They’re breaking!” someone yelled. “The next hit will break through!”

“HOLD!” Ploni yelled, as he pressed his body against the door.

The metal of the battering ram crushed wood and bone as it smashed through the doors ofBethlehem. Ploni and the men around him were thrown from the gate like rag dolls. Ploni lost consciousness as hundreds of Philistines poured into Bethlehem.

Akavish smiled behind his helmet as he heard his troops at his back and aimed his metallic claw at the redheaded girl in the white dress.

* * * * * *

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