Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 6
“Don’t smell right, I tell ya,” Galkak said as he took a whiff of his neighbor’s jug of water and patted the filled skin at his side. “Mead’s my drink. Or some fine wine. Water’s fer animals.” Galkak burped unceremoniously.
“Suit yourself, you drunkard,” Agtar said as he took another swig from his jug of water. “You’re going to get sick from drinking that stuff all day, Hebrew. There’s nothing like some cool water on a hot day.”
Galkak of the Tribe of Simeon and Agtar the Midianite sat on the ramparts directly over the gate of the Amalekite stronghold, looking out to the craggy desert landscape in the valley separating the tribes of Israel from its eastern neighbors. Galkak’s bright red nose, rosy cheeks and slurred speech hid a sour disposition. Galkak fidgeted with his spice box as he looked northwards. He could see the southern edge of the Sea of Salt in the distance, not far from his tribal home.
“Sell anythin’ today?” Galkak asked Agtar.
“A few necklaces, a couple of earrings. For some reason the Amalekite women are not interested in anything besides gold. I’m having trouble selling my silver jewelry here. I did sell a nice silver bracelet to the princess. She’s a funny one. How about you? You’re far from home to be peddling your wares.”
“There’s war by us. I ain’t no farmer wit’ notin’ to do in the summer. The Prince of Simeon called all our men to march north ‘gainst the tribe of Benjamin. I went the other way. Didn’t help none though. Nobody’s buyin’ my spices today. I bring ‘em finely ground cinnamon from Egypt, I bring ‘em nutmeg from Damascus and I bring ‘em Safron from Tyre. People wrinkle them noses and jus’ say “not today.” I don’t know what’s wrong with ‘em. My stuff is good.”
“Let me smell that,” Agtar offered.
Galkak opened the wooden lid of his spice box and placed the compartmentalized container in front of the Midianite’s nose.
“You won’t be selling that stuff to anybody if that’s how it smells.” Agtar wrinkled his nose.
“Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout?” Galkak stuck his nose in the box. “Smells fine as ever! You’re jus’ as messed up as these Amalekites. You’re all sick or somethin’. I need to get outta this city.”
Neither Galkak nor Agtar noticed the soldiers on the ramparts falling gently to the floor.
Captain Rhogag rushed to his former monarch’s body and propped it up in the throne. General Harpag retrieved his dagger and wiped it off on the dead king’s robe.
“Let’s call Neema and see if we can complete this coup,” Rhogag said.
Harpag ran to the door and called out:
“Call the princess! Right now!”
They heard footsteps running away.
“What if she doesn’t agree?” Harpag asked.
“She will. Matters will become very complicated otherwise.”
“I am here,” a female voice stated, banging on the locked door.
Harpag unlocked the bolt, let the princess in, shut the door after her and bolted it again.
“What is going on? Rhogag? I heard you had returned.” Princess Neema then looked at the throne. “Father? Father!?” Neema rushed to the throne. She felt for a pulse at his neck and found none. She fell on her knees placing her head on her dead father’s lap. She sobbed in her father’s cold lap.
“Who did this!?” Neema turned around violently, her long black hair catching up with her face after a second.
“Who did this, I asked!”
“We did.” Rhogag stepped closer.
Neema rushed with arms raised towards Rhogag.
Rhogag stepped back, raising his own arms in defense.
Neema hugged the Amalekite captain.
“Rhogag, my love! You have freed me!”
“You are not upset?” Rhogag asked, confused.
“Upset at the demise of that suffocating tyrant? Upset by the end of my imprisonment? Upset by the loss of a father who only saw me as a tool of his political ambitions, seeking what marriage would be most advantageous? I am free. Free! Free to decide my own destiny, my own life! No, Rhogag, this may be the happiest day of my life!”
“Then marry me, Neema. Marry me now and let us cement a bright new future for you and the people of Amalek.”
“Marry you?” Neema laughed long and loud. “Why would I want to marry you, now that I’m free? I only encouraged your courtship as a way to free myself of marriage to someone of Father’s choice. You were merely someone of some small stature that Father might have considered, but that I could have controlled.
“It would be in your interest to marry me, Neema. You may have war upon you otherwise.”
“You threaten me, Captain Rhogag of the Northern Ridge?”
“You are a little bit behind the times, Neema. I am Rhogag of the Moabite army, which currently surrounds your city. A city whose water has been poisoned and whose only salvation is by your marriage to me and thereafter my allegiance with Eglon.”
“Is that all Eglon wants? Allegiance? I can spare us both a miserable marriage and merely give him our allegiance. You can join him and lead our men. You too, Harpag, though I am surprised you were so instrumental in the murder of a man you were so loyal to. I will sit here in our palace and do as I please.”
“You are naïve, Neema, to think you will remain unmarried or decide so simply how you live,” Harpag replied. “Though you have inherited the throne of Amalek, Eglon will not deal with a woman. He will only recognize a man as ruler of Amalek. If you do not take a husband quickly, Eglon may decide he would have you as a bride, or force you to marry someone of his own choosing. You will not easily withstand his influence. You are still an object of power and you have this brief window of time to choose your fate. Rhogag’s offer is reasonable. I suggest you consider it seriously.”
“Your majesty!” a guard’s voice from behind the door called. “Are you alright? We heard yelling.”
“We should open the door,” Neema suggested.
Harpag slid open the bolt. Guards and servants came rushing in.
“Guards! These men murdered my father! Confine them until we decide their fate.”
“Neema! Don’t!” Rhogag yelled. “Everyone will die. If I don’t return shortly, he will attack!”
“A few more minutes will not kill us, I hope. I need some moments alone to consider how to proceed. Guards, take them from my sight! And someone call the priests to take my father’s body.”
“Shall we prepare for a royal funeral?” one of the servants asked.
“Yes. No! Let us wait. In fact, do not tell anyone of his death. Say merely that he is ill. There is a certain king I need to speak with first. Do not let the prisoners speak with anyone. I may yet gain some further advantage out of this death.”
“What advantage, my lady?” the servant asked, as his stomach made a violent noise.
“Your queen, rather,” Neema corrected, looking at the man strangely.
“My queen. What advantage will you gain by this murder?”
“I can think of several. Bring to me Harpag’s second-in-command.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” The servant walked away with a sickly pace. He would collapse before he reached the unconscious second-in-command.
“Tell me, Dirthamus,” Eglon purred to his blind seer in his wagon-borne tent. “Has our pawn succeeded?”
“My influence on General Harpag was successful. Together with Captain Rhogag they have assassinated Nahish,” Dirthamus hissed from beneath his rags.
“Wonderful!” Eglon clapped his thick hands. “Then we can proceed.”
“There is a complication. The princess has locked up our pawns and is taking control to herself. She’s a feisty one.”
“So much for our romantic agent. No matter. With the king dead and the water contaminated, that is enough of an edge for us. Men! We march!”
One thousand Moabites together with ninety-nine Amalekites from the Northern Ridge outpost trotted southwards. They crested the hill and came within sight of the unsuspecting city.
“Is that the Amalekite army returnin’?” Galkak hiccupped as he asked Agtar.
“Hmm,” Agtar looked at the approaching army. “They seem to be in a rush.”
“That’s no rush! Their attackin’! Captain of the Guard! Ain’t nobody on duty? Close the gates?” Galkak called out, looking for the ever-present Amalekite soldiers.
The soldier at the gate was slumped on the ground. The soldiers on the ramparts had also collapsed. Below, within the city, he saw the bodies of both soldiers and civilians strewn on the ground. More were collapsing every moment.
“What’s happenin’ to everyone?” Galkak asked, his panic growing.
“I don’t know,” Agtar answered as he held his chest. “I’m not feeling so well myself.”
“Hey! Dontcha drop off on me now leavin’ me alone with an entire army. Run down and try to shut the gate! I’ll watch ‘em from here. Hurry!”
Agtar ran down the stone stairs of the ramparts and reached the open gates. Arrows whizzed by as he closed one of the heavy oaks doors. A spear pierced the wide folds of his robe as he closed the second door. A shower of arrows and spears wedged themselves against the closed doors as Agtar finally placed the heavy beam across both doors, locking out the attacking army. Agtar promptly collapsed to the floor, clutching his chest.
“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,” Galkak murmured rapidly to himself as the Moabite army surrounded the city. The majority of Eglon’s force concentrated on the gate and Galkak standing on the rampart above it. Galkak took a swig of mead from his skin and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He saw all the chariots with their riders, the cavalry and the hundreds of infantrymen. He noticed an unusual wagon with a tent over it, close to Eglon.
A woman, who could only be the princess, ran out of the castle towards the gate rampart, followed by a handful of servants and priests.
“Who rules here?” Eglon bellowed from atop his chariot.
Galkak looked down at the large man with utter horror.
The princess ran up the stairs, her long skirt in tow, followed by her escort.
“Who rules here, I say? Is there no one who speaks for Amalek?”
Princess Neema reached the top of the rampart and looked at the army surrounding her city. She looked along the ramparts and within the city. Bodies of Amalekite soldiers were strewn everyone. Poisoned. We have lost, she thought. There is not one soldier left.
“I rule here!” Neema called down to Eglon, as she stood next to the open-mouthed Galkak.
“Hah!” Eglon laughed. “You do not look at all like Nahish. I thought a man ruled Amalek.”
“I am Neema daughter of Nahish, and I rule in his place.”
“Is there no man left standing that can take the reins of your people? I shall not deal with a woman. What of your dashing Captain Rhogag or your General Harpag – those are capable men – I would deal with them.”
“Pfah,” Neema spat over the wall. “They are traitors and I will have them killed before the day is over. You shall have to deal with me or no one.”
“Very well, madam. Though I hate to kill such an obviously enchanting woman. If you do not produce a man that I may discuss the terms of your surrender with, then we shall fire all of our arrows into your lovely city, killing you and anyone unfortunate enough to have you as a leader. We shall then smash your puny gates and kill any survivors.”
Neema looked around wildly. There were no men stirring on the ground; just unconscious husks in armor or loose robes. The servants and priests on the ramparts with her had all cowered out of sight of Eglon. Only the strange inebriated-looking merchant stood at her side facing the might of Moab.
“Wait!” Neema pleaded. “He will represent us,” she pointed at Galkak. “He rules over us!”
“Ah, a man I can talk to,” Eglon grinned. “And what is your name and rank my dear fellow?”
“Um,” Galkak looked confusedly from the princess back to Eglon. “What’s that to you, fatso?”
“Are you referring to my girth? You insult your attacker? Is this any way to open negotiations?”
“Watcha want, big guy?” Galkak said with a little more verve taking yet another fortifying drink from his skin. “I figure you just want us to open them gates for you. Otherwise your nice little army will get tired real quick in this desert heat while we sit pretty and safe here. You’ll have to do better than that to scare us, right princess?” Galkak said with growing confidence.
“Your king is dead. Your army is poisoned and non-functional. It is true it would be a great inconvenience to lay a siege and break through your gates, but we shall, if we must. Are you open to negotiations?”
“Sure, fatso. Tell us whatcha want and whatchur offerin.’”
“Tell me your name first, you foul-mouthed ill-mannered drunk. I can see your drunken features from down here.”
“I’m Galkak! I’m the power here now, fatso. I have me an entire army at my command, so you better talk fast before I pour some burning oil over yer men.”
“Very well, Galkak, ruler of Amalek. These are my terms. I shall lift my siege of your city, I shall leave your people unharmed, I shall give all Amalekites free passage upon one simple condition.”
“What condition?” Princess Neema asked.
“Woman!” Eglon yelled. “Silence yourself and do not speak in front of your betters. Another word from you and I shall have my archers bring you down.” Eglon motioned to the archers near him who adjusted the aim of their bows to Neema.
“Galkak of Amalek, how do you answer?” Eglon continued.
“Sounds good so far. Watcha want in return?”
“You shall be a vassal unto me. You and your army shall be mine to order, to join me on the wars I wage and to fight the battles I command. Your land shall be mine. I shall determine who lives where, how resources are used and all tax collections shall be mine. Very simple really. Vassals or death.”
Galkak looked at the princess. She nodded her acquiescence.
“How do I know you’ll keep your deal, big guy? Once I open the gate you may have a change of mind?” Galkak ended his question with a burp.
“Ah, caution, thoughtfulness. I like that. I can see how you grew in the ranks of the army, my tipsy Galkak. You have no assurances, except this. I am a loyal ally and a generous master. It is in my interest to preserve Amalekite strength to attain my ambitions. You too will gain greatly from our conquests. I can use a man of your courage and intellect, Galkak. I shall make you a general of my armies where you will know fame and fortune. What say you, Galkak of Amalek?”
“If you wanted our strength, why’d you poison us, then, huh?”
“The poison will only have a temporary effect. Soon your men will be whole and well again. As another sign of my magnanimity I command that you release Captain Rhogag and General Harpag. Yes, I know that the princess has imprisoned them. My ears and eyes go far and deep. I do not forget my allies and I preserve capable men. What say you, Galkak? Let us avoid bloodshed, but rather unite under my banner for a glorious future.”
The princess looked around, wondering how Eglon had known. She nodded to her servants and indicated that they should release the prisoners. This Galkak is impressive, Neema thought. He has handled himself marvelously against Eglon, as uncouth as his speech is. But who are you? I’ve never seen you before. Are you even Amalekite? She nodded encouragement to Galkak to accept Eglon’s terms.
“Okay, fatso. We’ll go along with your deal, with one other condition.”
“You are testing my patience, man. Make a reasonable condition and let us be done with it. It is not getting any cooler out here.” Eglon wiped the sweat of his mostly bald head, his single ponytail of red hair having absorbed only some of his perspiration.
“I want the wagon,” Galkak pointed at the tent covered wagon near Eglon.
“What? What nonsense are you talking about, man?”
“It must be valuable, whatever’s in there. We’ll keep it safe as long as you keep your end of the deal. But if you start misbehavin’, then we sell or break or destroy whatever is so precious in there, big guy. Got it?”
Eglon doubled over in laughter.
“You are so precious, my dear Galkak. You remind me of a Benjaminite blacksmith I’m fond of. So perceptive. So sharp. Yet still does not know what he is talking about. The tent is non-negotiable. Open the gates and accept my terms or prepare to die. I tire of this discussion.”
“Okay, okay, okay – I just wanted to squeeze some more out of the deal. Hold onto yer horses. We’re opening the gate.”
Galkak ran down the rampart stairs and removed the beam from the gate doors. He swung the doors open and went to attend to Agtar the Midianite, still unconscious by the gate.
“What happened?” Agtar stirred as Galkak sat him up.
“You missed all the fun. You better get out of the way before the Moabites trample you.”
Galkak helped Agtar stand up and move out of the way of the approaching army.
Amalekite soldiers and civilians throughout the city stirred to consciousness.
Captain Rhogag and General Harpag ran towards the gate and the Moabite King on his chariot.
Eglon entered the city first followed by the tented wagon and the other chariots.
Eglon stopped his wagon in front of Galkak and Agtar. Rhogag and Harpag joined them. Captain Rhogag bowed low.
“Welcome, my liege. I greet you in the name of all of Amalek,” Rhogag said.
“Thank you, Rhogag. I give you credit for part of the job, but not the whole thing. This fellow here, Galkak, is now my representative for all of Amalek. But do not fear. I shall yet reward your efforts and give you a rank and responsibility commensurate with your skills. Greetings, General Harpag. I understand you were instrumental in the coup and that shall not be forgotten.”
Harpag bowed lightly to Eglon.
Neema came running down the rampart stairs and confronted Eglon.
“I am still a princess of Amalek and my place will not be denied,” Neema said.
“My dear, Neema.” Eglon smiled. “The royal line of Amalek has been suspended with the death of your unfortunate father. Galkak here is the new ruler of Amalek as you yourself declared on the walls of your city in front of your people and my entire army. It would be good for all of you to accept and encourage this new reality. My treaty was with King Galkak of Amalek and any enemy of his, my loyal vassal, is an enemy of Moab. You would do well to remember that. However, I am not an ungracious Emperor. I believe in maximizing the use of my loyal subjects. I am sure, Neema, that we can find for you an appropriate marriage worthy of your beauty, pedigree and temperament. But let us not be hasty. My friend Galkak, will you not host me graciously in your palace as is customary of a client state, or will you leave me to shrivel out here in the sun like a prune?”
“Of course, of course, big – eh, yer Majesty. Right this way.” Galkak walked towards the palace, hoping he’d figure out where the throne room was and that someone had at least cleared out the body of the old king.
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