Warrior Prophets – Chapter 30: Wedding Crashers

Warrior Prophets Chapter 30

Wedding Crashers

Yered, still cloaked, watched the wedding proceedings from a nearby alleyway. Risto clung to his back, completing Yered’s disguise as a hunchback. Yered kept smacking Risto’s hairy tail that flicked in and out of the cloak. They were surprised by the velocity of the Philistine attack upon Bethlehem and the large armored man who had made it through the gates.

“Your former master, that is?” Yered asked Risto as they watched Akavish fight Caleb near the city gate.

Risto chittered affirmatively.

“Frightening, he has become.”

Risto agreed and chittered a few choice curses, caressing his own prosthetic wooden arm.

“Most dangerous, he is. Lessened, danger will be if we stop him. Small threat, Raskul is.” He pointed at Raskul slowly making his way towards the fallen wedding canopy, as guests and residents ran for cover. A handful of people lay dead or injured in the city plaza. Arrows rained down on Bethlehem from outside the walls. Joshua stood in the center of the plaza, immobile behind the wedding canopy. He stood with eyes closed, head and palms heavenward, guarded by Boaz, with Vered standing next to Boaz.

Risto jumped up and down under Yered’s cloak.

“Patience, Risto,” Yered told the monkey. “When absolutely needed, enter fray and reveal ourselves we will.”

Risto chittered wildly, pointing at a fallen Caleb on the ground. The clear blue skies suddenly turned overcast, with dark heavy clouds rolling in, as Boaz ran to intercept Akavish’s claw before it impaled the unconscious Caleb. Boaz knocked the claw aside with his sword, but could not get through Akavish’s metal armor and helmet. However, Akavish was unable to injure the faster Boaz. Akavish finally turned from Boaz and walked towards Vered with his claw pointed at her.

The entire city shook as the Philistine battering ram smashed through the wooden gate ofBethlehem, scattering the Israelite defenders. A river of Philistines poured into the city, with Boaz the only one in their way to stop their surge.

Yered saw Raskul approach Vered menacingly. Boaz looked wildly between the approaching Philistine army and his bride. Vered was threatened by both Akavish and Raskul. Joshua stood oblivious as a statue next to Vered. Thunder rumbled in the previously clear summer sky.

“Needed, we are,” Yered said as he removed his cloak. “To split up, it is time.”

Akavish aimed his claw at Vered and reached for the lever that would launch his poisonous projectiles.

“Boaz!” Yered yelled. “Protect your woman, we shall. Focus on fighting Philistines, you should.”

Risto jumped off of Yered’s back and with a wild screech launched himself at Akavish’s head, blocking his view. Akavish tried impaling the monkey with his claw. Risto climbed to Akavish’s back and wrapped his tail around the eye slits of Akavish’s helmet.

“Risto?” Akavish hollered incredulously. “You are stopping me? After all these years, this is how you greet me? I will squash you as the insignificant creature you are!”

“Greetings, seeker,” Yered addressed Raskul’s back.

Startled, Raskul turned around. “Ancient One? What are you doing here?”

“Harm I encouraged, preventing I am.”

“What harm is that?”

“Revenge. As friend to an enemy, you are appearing.”

Raskul’s face turned crimson. “I meant no harm. Just introducing myself to the lovely bride of my old friend.”

“Who are you?” Vered aimed her wooden pole at the ancient Yered.

“Of Boaz, an acquaintance. Yered son of Job.” He smiled, showing his golden teeth.

“You, I’ve heard well of.” Vered lowered her pole. “You saved Boaz from the mines of Timna.”

“To save again, I have come. In mortal danger you are.” Yered pointed at Akavish struggling with the monkey on his back.

Boaz looked from the rapidly approaching Philistine army, to Akavish and to Vered. There is no way I can split myself to tackle Akavish and his army. What do I do!? Boaz agonized. Then he heard Yered’s call and saw a wooden-armed Risto flying at Akavish’s head. Thank you, God! Boaz thought fervently. Please keep her safe.

Boaz ran into the approaching Philistine army and slashed recklessly into their front. Half a dozen soldiers fell from his first blow. A deluge poured from the sky as thunder and lighting rocked the walls of Bethlehem. Philistine soldiers slipped on the wet stones as the front line came to a standstill under Boaz’s onslaught. Boaz fought with a fury he did not recall. You come to my home? Boaz thought angrily at the intruders. You threaten my family? My bride? On my wedding day!? Boaz slashed and hacked through the Philistine lines, moving like a whirlwind. Dozens of Philistines fell to Boaz’s ferocity.

Elimelech ran back and forth on the western ramparts of Bethlehem, killing one Philistine invader after another. His men were holding up against the endless barrage, but he knew they would shortly falter. More scaling ladders were propped against the wall uncontested. More Philistine soldiers were reaching the ramparts and engaging his men. Most of the dead on the ramparts were Philistine. The number of the Philistine dead outnumbered the Israelites living. But soon the living Philistines would overwhelm the defenders of Bethlehem. Zuki had fallen, and his brother Achi with him. Lerel would never walk again and Drami would never see. Avli would not return to his pregnant wife and Brenyah would not rejoin his nine children. Friends, relatives and neighbors fell to the Philistine arrows and swords. Yet Elimelech pushed on, encouraging his men with his spirit and his sword. Somewhere inside of him, though, his spirit broke. He could not bear this tragedy, this hardship, this pain. Why, God? he asked, as he stabbed with his sword a large Philistine wielding a mace. How can you let this happen? Why must we suffer so?

As if in response, a bolt of lighting cracked upon one of the Philistine ladders, incinerating the dozen soldiers on and around it. Then another flash struck from the sky followed rapidly by yet another. Three, four, five fires burned in the pouring rain against the walls of Bethlehem.

Thank you, God, Elimelech thought, as the tide on the western wall turned to the Israelites favor. But why the suffering? Elimelech looked at his dead and crippled men. I cannot bear to see my people suffer.

Ploni awoke to the sound of thunder and the cold rain on his body. He saw the throngs of Philistines march through the broken gate, felt his own broken bones and fainted from the pain.

An arrow shot the flying Pinhas out of the sky. He landed hard on the eastern ramparts. He lost consciousness amongst the dead bodies of the Philistines and Israelites. Philistines overran the eastern wall, killing the last Israelite defenders on that rampart, and poured into the city. Krafus smiled from outside the gates where he could see his soldiers joining the phalanx in the plaza.

“No!!” Akavish howled at the rain, “the water will dilute my poison!” With his healthy hand, Akavish finally grabbed hold of Risto and threw him into the sky. Akavish shot his remaining poisoned darts at the monkey. Risto twisted mid-air and avoided the deadly barrage as he landed safely on one of the courtyard houses.

“Blasted monkey. I will deal with you later. First to kill the bride, while Boaz is occupied with my men.” Akavish step over the still prone body of Caleb on the ground, pointed his claw at the redheaded girl and let loose his stars of death.

Joshua felt the cold rain on his closed eyelids. God had given him the keys to the skies and he was determined to use it well. He sensed the thousands of Philistines attacking the walls. Through his closed eyes he saw the hundreds pouring through the destroyed gate. He felt every Israelite death and injury. Elimelech, leading the defense on the western wall, the hardest hit, was on the edge of despair. Joshua flicked his wrist and lightning struck a ladder filled with Philistines right next to Elimelech. Joshua moved his fingers again and another lighting bolt struck a Philistine ladder. Again and again Joshua expertly moved his fingers as a conductor guiding an invisible orchestra. Lightning fell upon critical attack points, stemming the tide of the Philistine invasion. He noted the curious monkey struggling with the metal beast, and the slowly stirring Caleb on the ground. He was pleased to see Boaz holding the center. He sensed Vered confronting two men. He turned his attention to the eastern wall in time to see Pinhas shot down and the wall overrun. We shall need assistance from another source, he told God, the bolts are not enough, as he continued to conduct the lighting from the sky.

“I must protect Joshua,” Vered said to Yered and Raskul as she stood closer to the praying leader amidst the thunderstorm. “He is bringing the lightning and the rain, and that is probably the only thing giving us an advantage.” She looked anxiously at Boaz sprinting amongst the Philistine army, mowing down line after line of soldiers. How long can he last? she wondered.

Raskul followed Vered’s gaze and saw her fear and longing for Boaz. He had never seen such a look of love. At once he was both amazed and insanely jealous of Boaz. Look at him risk his life, Raskul thought in wonder. Look at his speed. His deadliness. One man against an entire army. Scribes shall write of this. And she loves him, she truly loves him. What a woman. Brave and beautiful! How could I come between such love?

“Go to safety,” Raskul commanded, as he drew his long knife and faced the Philistines by the gate. “I shall watch over your leader.”

He turned in time to see Akavish launch a whirling metallic disc at Vered. Raskul jumped in front of Vered. The star of death cut Raskul’s arm and then embedded itself in Vered’s shoulder.

Both Raskul and Vered fell to the floor writhing in agony.

Boaz’s heart shattered as he saw Akavish launch his star of death at Vered. He was amazed to see Raskul jump to intercept the star and then heartbroken to see him and Vered collapse. Something in him died. Unconsciously he slowed down. What do I have to live for now? he thought morosely. One Philistine tripped him. A dozen fell on him. He was trapped under an avalanche of soldiers. This is it, Boaz thought. Both of us die on our wedding day. He shed a tear in the pouring rain.

Then he heard the trumpeting. It was a ram’s horn. Amitai! That’s Amitai’s horn. The militia. He has brought the militia.

“Boaz,” he heard Vered call out softly. She still lives! There is hope! I will not die by these uncircumcised heathens! Boaz hacked frantically at the Philistines covering him, and then spun wildly, slashing at the bodies around him. He launched himself off the ground powerfully and cut all around him like a tornado through a field of wheat. He saw Akavish walking to the downed Vered, apparently to finish the job. He saw Yered and Risto tending to Vered. Boaz ran at Akavish and tackled him, both falling to the ground, the metal of Akavish’s armor banging loudly on the wet stones.

Yered whistled loudly and shrilly as he kneeled next to the prone bodies of Raskul and Vered. In moments Risto was on his shoulder, chittering heatedly.

“Yes,” Yered agreed. “Poisoned, they both are. Seconds, we have. Your arm, give me.”

Risto opened the panel on his wooden arm.

Yered ran his finger quickly over the small compartments in Risto’s arm. “Thyme, Silverweed, Anise, Celandine, Alkanel, Buckthorn. Yes. Buckthorn. For poison, only hope. A few moments, it will take.”

Yered took the crushed leaves, placed them in his mouth and chewed them vigorously with his golden teeth.

“Risto. Cup and water, fetch,” Yered commanded. Risto shut his wooden arm closed to keep his store of leaves dry and hopped away. He returned moments later, sloshing water in a clay mug.

“Ancient One,” Raskul groaned. “Save her first.”

“My intent, it was,” Yered answered through a mouthful of saliva and leaves. “Though a noble act of yours, I did not expect. Fortunate, you are, that the rain diluted the poison. Otherwise, dead you would already be.”

“Boaz,” Vered moaned, her eyes fluttering to semi-consciousness.

Yered spat his mouthful of chewed leaves into the cup and stirred the mixture with his finger. He lifted Vered’s mouth and brought the cup to her lips.

“Fully, drink. Save you, it may.”

Vered drank greedily from the cup and lost consciousness, the grimace of pain easing from her face.

“I feel my life ebbing,” Raskul croaked. “There is no time.”

“A few more moments, hold on,” Yered ordered, as he stuffed fresh Buckthorn leaves in his mouth.

“No. I have been a scoundrel my entire life. I would rather leave having done something good. Farewell, Ancient One.” Raskul forced a dry raspy cough.

“To die, in such a rush you are?”

“I have nowhere else to go.”

Raskul closed his eyes, breathed a last rattling breath, and was still, forever.

“Bah!” Yered spat the leaves on the ground. “Taste of Buckthorn hate. Waste of good leaves, it is.”

He turned to see Boaz struggling with Akavish, the regrouping Philistine army and the lightning blazing across the sky.

“You will not succeed.” Boaz smashed his sword ineffectively against Akavish’s armored side.

“I already have. Your gate is broken. My army is on and within the walls. Your bride is dying in painful agony and shortly so will you.” Akavish answered with a slash of his metal claw to Boaz’s head. Boaz ducked, kicking Akavish in the midriff. Caleb, on the floor behind them, opened his eyes and looked at the fighting in a daze.

They heard the ram’s horn again.

“You hear that, Akavish?” Boaz said triumphantly. “God sends us our salvation.”

Smoke exploded amongst the Philistines at the gate. The rain, thunder, lighting and smoke completely disoriented the Philistine soldiers. When the smoke cleared, Akavish was shocked to see the Philistines split into two, with a wedge of Israelites cutting a swath through the Philistine ranks. Boaz saw Amitai and young Ehud at the lead, cleaving the Philistine army.

“I will not be denied!” Akavish head-butted Boaz with his metal helmet. Boaz, dazed, took a step back. Akavish pointed his claw at Boaz, ready to fire.

“Hey! Ugly!” Ehud called out. Ehud was a short brown-haired youth with a muscular build. He wore a simple, but blood-smeared, rain-soaked tunic, and held a short sword in each hand. Akavish turned to look at the new voice.

“Yes, you, metal-face,” Ehud continued as he approached Akavish. “I’m talking about you. Are you so horrific that you need to hide your face behind a mask? Is this the powerful King Akavish that is too cowardly to show his face?”

“I will kill you miscreant, for your affront.” Akavish fired his stars of death at Ehud. Ehud spun out of the way, letting the stars kill Philistines behind him.

“You’ll have to do better than that, loser.”

“Die!” Akavish yelled and ran at Ehud.

Ehud ran at Akavish, a sword in each hand and jumped into the air. With one sword Ehud knocked Akavish’s claw aside. The other sword he stabbed into the eye-slit of Akavish’s helmet.

“Argh!!” Akavish screamed in agony as the tip of Ehud’s blade blinded his right eye.

“Now, Boaz. His arm,” Ehud called.

A recovered Boaz together with Ehud grabbed the sides of Akavish’s claw and pulled forcefully. Caleb, fully awake, crawled behind Akavish, and grabbed both his legs. Ehud raised his own leg onto Akavish’s chest for leverage as Akavish struggled against the Israelite warriors, with Ehud’s short sword still stuck in his eye-slit. Finally the metallic arm came off, revealing a pink fleshy stump that ended a few inches below the shoulder.

As Caleb kept Akavish’s legs pinned to the ground, the large Philistine screamed again and clawed the wet air uselessly with his healthy hand. “My arm! My arm!”

“Do not fear, old friend,” Boaz said, turning the heavy metallic device around. “We’re borrowing it for just a moment.”

Boaz slammed the edge of the claw into Akavish’s pinky stump. The force of the impact let loose the five different poisons and acids Akavish had stored in his arm and launched the rest of his stars of death and arrows at point-blank range. Akavish’s shoulder exploded inside his armor leaving a blackened stump of dripping flesh. There was not enough flesh for all the different and now combined poisons Akavish had carried. A wave of black ooze quickly disintegrated Akavish’s chest, appendages and finally his head. A sickly dark vapor wafted up to the thunderous clouds. Nothing remained of Akavish except for an empty armor and his metallic claw. Caleb rolled away from the steaming armor.

“Good.” Ehud kicked the empty armor. “I had no interest in burying this sicko anyway.”

“The fight is not over.” Boaz clasped Caleb’s arm, raising him from the floor and turned back to the gate. Fresh Philistine troops arrived from the eastern wall, amidst the lightning and rain.

From outside the gate, Krafus raised his hand.

“Retreat! Retreat!” the Philistines called. “Akavish is dead! Retreat!”

Just as quickly as they had attacked, they pulled back.

Amitai and the Israelite militiamen pulled further into the city, letting the Philistines depart unchallenged.

“Make sure it’s not a trick,” Boaz told Ehud. “I’m going to Vered.”

Boaz ran and reached Vered, who was very still on the floor. Caleb followed behind him.

“Live, she shall,” Yered said to Boaz.

“What about Raskul?” Boaz asked.

“Dead. Saved her life, he did. Deep within him, good he had.”

“I told you he was likable,” Caleb added.

“I will treasure this act of his, no matter how poorly I thought of him,” said Boaz.

The lightning and thunder stopped. The clouds dissipated quickly on a gentle southern breeze. The sun was a bright red on the western horizon. Joshua awoke from his trance, his robe and white beard soaked. “It is over. They have retreated. That was close.”

“Thank God,” Boaz said.

“Indeed,” Joshua agreed. “Now we need to tend to the wounded and bury our dead. Yered, we are in your and your monkey’s debt once again. You have come to us unbidden in our time of need. First to rescue Boaz, and now to save Bethlehem and all of us. May God grant you all the blessings of your father Job, on you and your descendents.”

“Pfah,” Yered spat. “Blessings, already received, I have. Though, that you acknowledge my father, happy I am. To clear my conscience, I have come. Bless monkey instead.”

“Very well. Monkey, may God ease your pain.” Joshua touched Risto’s arm. “And may He reward your noble actions.”

Risto jumped up and down excitedly on Yered’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Yered agreed with Risto. “Well spoken this youngling is. Risto thanks you and to you and your people wishes well. Our time to depart, it is. Brave warrior, farewell,” Yered bowed to Boaz. “A long and blissful life with your bride may you have. An uncommon woman she is. Treasure her.”

Yered walked to the exit of the city, with Risto on his shoulder, waving his tail merrily in the air. They noted the residents of the city tending the wounded. The healthy soldiers covered the corpses and moved them outside the gates of the city. Two weary soldiers took the body of Raskul, while Vered’s parents returned to tend to the bride asleep on the floor.

At the broken gate of Bethlehem, Yered bowed to an old Philistine walking in, escorted by Amitai and Ehud. The two Israelites and the Philistine in the middle reached Joshua, Caleb and Boaz.

“I am Krafus of Ashkelon,” the old Philistine announced to them. “And I ask for parley. I wish to explain and to apologize, for we did not pursue this battle whimsically. We have been ruled these last years by a tyrant, the metal warrior Akavish. Our people have been in mortal terror of him. His madness, his paranoia, his hatred of the living, his random murders, almost destroyed our city and our people. We tried to depose him, to kill him, but nothing worked. Then we played on his hatred and fear of you Israelites, and you in particular, Boaz, in the hopes that you would do what we could not. If you did not kill him, we would have gained your territory. But our hope was that you would succeed. That is why we retreated as soon as the tyrant was destroyed. We had no wish to fight your lightning and sorcerer’s powers. We thank you. You have done us a great service.”

“You have done us great harm,” Joshua said, “to bring war to our homes. I do not believe that the Philistines are so peaceful or benevolent that you do not harbor further ambitions against us. But I see that you have achieved your prime mission of eliminating your ruler. Admirably crafty. He thought he had his army with him, when they were ever at a distance. Go in peace for now, Krafus. We accept your apology, but not your explanation. We shall ever be wary of you Philistines. Ehud, see Krafus safely out of our walls.”

Krafus bowed to the Israelites and left towards the gate with Ehud.

Boaz hugged Amitai.

“You came just in time,” Boaz said. “I thought this was the end. It was worse than when the Amonites ambushed us at Nurad.”

“I didn’t want to miss your wedding. How is Vered?”

“She will live. She rests.”

“I’ve had enough resting,” Vered said feebly from the floor. “What happened?”

“We won,” Boaz answered. “Akavish is dead and the Philistines have retreated. Raskul, Yered and Risto saved your life. Raskul died. He tried to stop Akavish’s star of death with his own body.”

Pinhas, Elimelech, Boaz’s parents and other friends and relatives returned to the wet and fallen wedding canopy. Pinhas winced with every step, a broken arrow shaft still protruding from his shoulder.

“High Priest,” Vered addressed Pinhas from the ground as her parents helped her sit up. “Would you still marry us? The marriage contract was penned for today and the sun has not yet set.”

Pinhas looked at Joshua and then answered Vered. “Today and this week will be a time of bereavement for many of us. All of us will have relatives and friends that have died today. Do you still wish to proceed, knowing that your week of celebration shall be a week of mourning for everyone else?”

“I share in the sadness and the mourning,” Vered said, standing up unsteadily, supported on either side by her parents. “But I want to show our city that this attack cannot stop us, will not stop us. They dared attack us unprovoked, and by the grace of God we were victorious. I will not compound our grief by denying our joy, our celebration.”

Joshua smiled and nodded at Pinhas.

“I take it neither you, nor Boaz has lost immediate relatives.”

Boaz’s father, Saalmon, spoke. “I have not seen my brother, Ploni. I do not know if he is amongst the living or the dead.”

“I saw him, brother,” Elimelech said. “He was badly injured at the gate, but he lives.”

“I will not hold up the sun for this,” Joshua said, “so I suggest we conduct a brief ceremony. The bride, groom, and their immediate families should have a modest celebration. The rest of us shall help with burying the dead, caring for the sick and comforting the mourners. This was a heavy blow for us, but the spirit of this new couple will soften the blow and put a smile on the face of the mourners. Life does go on!”

 “Boaz, the ring,” Pinhas asked.

Boaz searched the ground and, incredibly, found the ring right where he had dropped it. Joshua, Caleb, Elimelech and Amitai raised the tattered canopy above the couple.

“Boaz, place the ring on the second finger of Vered’s right hand and repeat after me: Hereby you are betrothed to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses andIsrael.”

Boaz gave the bloody sword he was still holding to Amitai and then gently slid the ring onto Vered’s extended finger. Though wet and dirty, Vered glowed joyfully.

In a powerful voice, Boaz declared: “Hereby you are betrothed to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel!”

“Betrothed, betrothed, betrothed!” everyone sang.

Boaz took Vered’s hand. “Finally,” he said.

“Yes. Finally. I’m glad you had your sword handy and just as glad you’ve given it to Amitai. Let’s go.”

Vered and Boaz walked hand in hand to their new house.

“May they build a steadfast house inIsrael,” Joshua blessed the departing couple.

“Amen,” everyone answered, as the sun set on the city ofBethlehem.

* * * * * *

Notes:

While there is no recorded battle betweenIsraeland the Philistines during the time of Joshua, there are multiple elements of the story that are drawn from the Prophets:

There were multiple battles (many of whichIsraellost) with the Philistines especially, during the times of the Judges, Saul and David.

We have a couple of instances of a man single-handedly defeating an army, most notably Samson against the Philistines.

Though there is no record of Joshua calling for additional miracles, the Prophet Samuel is recorded as having called for a thunderous lighting storm during a clear summer day.

Naomi (mentioned in last week’s story) and Elimelech do marry.

Ploni and Elimelech were uncles of Boaz.

The Midrash writes of the greatness of Elimelech but blames him for later abandoningBethlehemand his people in their time of need during the famine.

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