Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 8
The Inadvertent Spy
Elimelech’s attempt to drown himself hadn’t worked. His leather armor was still drenched from the Jordan River and water dripped down the fringes at the corners of his garment, especially from the royal blue string amidst the other white ones. Elimelech sought the road to Bet Hayeshimot which he knew must be nearby. His damp beard dried quickly in the afternoon sun, showing his long bright red facial hair mixed with streaks of white. He walked on the eastern bank of the river off the northern coast of the Sea of Salt until he spotted the ancient road leading further east. Elimelech walked on the worn dirt road that cut through wild shrubs and the occasional tamarisk tree, his pack and short sword still at his side.
He saw the Reuvenite stronghold of Bet Hayeshimot in the distance. He sought their beautiful flag that he remembered flying on the ramparts; mandrakes on a scarlet background. Instead, he spotted a sand colored flag flapping in the wind. On the foreground was a city in flames with a curved sword over it. Moab. Moab is here, Elimelech realized.
As he cautiously climbed the road, he noticed hundreds of tents outside the walls of Bet Hayeshimot, and soldiers marching around the city. Elimelech jumped into the shrubs, out of sight of the soldiers.
Why is Moab here? Elimelech thought while hiding behind the shrubs as he examined the enemy force. There must be over two thousand troops here! How did he raise such an army? Why did we receive no word from Reuven?
Because we were busy fighting our brother Benjamin, Elimelech answered himself.
A tall, large-framed man atop a chariot rode out of the gates of Bet Hayeshimot with a broad smile. His pristine white robe, gold jewelry and his pony-tail of red hair from an otherwise bold scalp marked him as the famed King Eglon of Moab. Elimelech recognized Elders of the tribe of Reuven that ran slavishly after Eglon’s carriage.
I need to find out more, Elimelech decided. I need to find out how he captured this stronghold so quickly and easily and what his plans may be. But how? They will identify me as a Judean instantly. I must blend in somehow.
Elimelech looked around the shrubs to see what resources were available to him. He noticed a patch of dandelions and had an idea. He plucked a dozen dandelions out of the ground, careful to preserve the roots. He trekked through the shrubbery and trees and circled around to the back of Bet Hayeshimot. He crossed a small bubbly stream that led to the Jordan. He sought the garbage dump that was behind every city.
He found a clearing with a large pile of broken pottery, rotted wood and other waste from the city. He searched through the garbage until he found a worn out copper pot with a hole at its bottom. Elimelech raised the pot in triumph, then set it aside and continued the search. After he found two more equally worn pots, he gathered his treasure and built a fire next to the clearing with the flint from his pack.
He took the first two pots, placing one within another and warmed them over the fire, making sure the holes were covered. The softening copper bottoms of the pots stuck to each other. Not perfectly, but enough for Elimelech. He repeated the process again with the third pot and then took the still-warm amalgamation to the nearby stream, filling it up. Water dripped out of the bottom of his makeshift pot. He placed the pot on the fire, noting his reflection in the water, especially his long beard.
Elimelech pulled out his short sword and grasped the long tendrils of his beard. He remembered decades ago, as a teenager, his excitement when the first hairs had grown on his jaw. It had signaled his entering adulthood. As most of the Israelites, he had never cut or trimmed his beard. Mystics had hinted at a certain holiness attached to the hair that grew from a man’s face. The Egyptians religiously shaved their facial hair. The Canaanites often trimmed their beards, especially in the spring after the cold of winter had passed. The Philistines were also clean-shaven, though many had taken to the Canaanite ways.
I have in any case lost any holiness I might have laid claim to, Elimelech thought as he ran his sword through his beard. He sawed through his heavy beard, painfully cutting off hairs that had been a part of him his entire adult life. That life is over. Perhaps I can find redemption with the Moabites.
Elimelech looked into the pot to check the length of his trimmed beard, but the water had already come to a boil. He broke off the roots of the dandelions and tossed them into the pot. An acrid smell rose as the water quickly turned brown. Elimelech let the roots simmer in the pot as the water turned darker and darker. Satisfied with the color, he carefully removed the pot from the fire, allowing the liquid to cool.
After several minutes, Elimelech placed both his hands in the pot. He removed hands covered with a thick brown liquid. He ran his hands through his hair and shortened beard. He repeated the process until all the liquid was finished. He took the empty pot to the stream, washed his hands as best he could of the dye and refilled the leaky pot.
He placed the pot on the ground, and when the water settled, looked at his reflection again. He did not recognize the face that stared back. His mane of red that had been accentuated with a distinguished white was now a common, younger brown. The face was different from what he remembered. Harder, pained, unsure. And there was something in the eyes. He had trouble meeting his own gaze. Guilt drove him now. And was it madness? Was it madness hiding behind his eyes? Could he even be the judge of his own sanity? He pushed his murderous episode out of his mind and focused on his new self-appointed mission. He carefully hid the fringes at the corners of his garment into the folds of his tunic, making sure not even one strand, especially the precious blue ones, could be seen. He spilled the water onto the fire and walked to the entrance of Bet Hayeshimot.
Elimelech reached the tent encampment outside the city. Tents were spread out under a thin canopy of oaks outside the city walls. He walked casually towards the encampment. Moabite soldiers looked him over perfunctorily and ignored him. Elimelech saw a large pavilion near the city gate with the flag of Moab flying at its top. That must be Eglon’s tent. How can I get closer? Surely someone may question me.
He looked at the activity in the camp. Soldiers and civilians were walking purposefully throughout the camp and in and out of the city. He saw armor being repaired, supplies being replenished.
“Halt!” a burly soldier tilted his spear to block Elimelech’s path. “What’s your business here, Israelite?”
Elimelech looked down at his stained hands and in sudden inspiration, blurted: “Tanner.”
“Very well,” the soldier seemed satisfied. “The tanners are assembling east of the camp for new leather armors. Proceed.”
Elimelech walked eastward through the busy camp, and then, after passing half-a-dozen tents, turned to Eglon’s tent. He grabbed a fallen tree branch, sat behind Eglon’s tent, took out his short sword and started sharpening the end of the branch. He listened for voices from the tent.
“Thank you, Dirthamus,” a rich voice said. That must be Eglon, Elimelech thought.
“Will serve well, though unwillingly,” a raspy, wheezy voice answered.
“Most of my agents are like that. How many truly serve willingly?” Eglon asked.
“When there is a confluence of interests, we serve willingly, my liege,” a female answered.
“Ah, Princess Neema. Insightful as always. But now we must return to the business at hand.” Eglon said.
“Yeah, what’s the next move, boss?” a new voice asked. Elimelech thought he sounded inebriated.
“Galkak, that is what I love about you. You get right to the point. Our next stop is the tribe of Benjamin across the Jordan.”
Elimelech missed the bark he was cutting and almost sliced himself when he heard Eglon’s statement.
“My agents tell me that the men of Benjamin have been all but exterminated and the rest of the Israelite tribes are also weakened. Now is the perfect time to strike.”
“Are you sure, boss? I hear them Israelites are fierce fighters.”
“They are, and I would never have considered attacking them in anything but this much weakened state. Fortunately my agent was most successful in fomenting their civil war.”
Elimelech spluttered quietly. Eglon was behind it all? He contrived our war?
“Man, you’ve got agents everywhere, boss. Who is he? How’d you get him to backstab his own people?”
“Galkak, Galkak. You forget yourself. I cannot reveal all. Let us just say that he was well positioned to push matters in the right direction. Promises of money and power will lead a man to renounce even his own kin.”
This Eglon is most dangerous. I must stop him, Elimelech thought agitatedly. He stopped pretending to cut the branch.
“You are delightfully devious, my liege,” Princess Neema purred. “What about the Israelites of this unfortunate city? What shall we do with them?”
“I think we shall kill them. They are docile enough without their warriors and we have no real reason to keep them. Isn’t that in your Amalekite manifesto or something, Galkak? To exterminate all Israelites?”
Galkak made a choking sound on his drink.
He will kill them all? I must prevent that! Elimelech gripped his short sword tightly.
“You know us well, my liege,” Princess Neema said. “Though the Israelites also have a law to kill every single one of us.”
“It is well that we are allied then,” Eglon said. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend, and I wish for Moab to be very good friends with Amalek.”
“Can’t we put some of these Israelites to work, boss? Seems a shame to just kill ‘em. Free labor and all, now.”
“Galkak, you surprise me. At the walls of your own city you were a ruthless, commanding man of action and now within your enemy’s territory, with them under your control, you’ve become soft? Perhaps I was mistaken in placing you as king of your people?”
“No, no, boss. No mistake. I’m just tryin’ to think like you, the master. You’re so smart, always thinking of plans in plans. Why kill an enemy that you can’t bring back? I’m sure they’d be more use alive right now. You can always kill ‘em later if you change your mind.”
“My mind is made up. I do not wish to have loose ends. As soon as I step out of this tent, I shall order the death of every Israelite within this city. Then we shall invade Canaan proper and utterly destroy the hapless tribes of Israel.”
“NOOO!!!” Elimelech yelled as he cut through the wall of the tent. He saw large Eglon sitting comfortably on a cushion, a goblet of wine in his hand. Princess Neema sat to his left, her hand on Eglon’s arm. On Eglon’s right sat a hunched and cloaked thin man. King Galkak sat in front of Eglon, with a matching goblet in his hand.
“I will not let you do this evil thing,” Elimelech approached Eglon, short sword pointed at the smiling monarch. Elimelech did not notice the two soldiers on either side of the impromptu opening he made in the tent. As if expecting him, they grabbed his arms from either side. Elimelech looked in shock at the two soldiers.
“What exactly will you stop me from doing?” Eglon addressed Elimelech as he took another sip from his goblet.
“What? How did you? I will stop you from killing these innocent people, from invading the tribes of Israel,” Elimelech said.
“What is it to you? Are you Israelite? I should kill you just for threatening me.”
“The Israelites have done nothing wrong to you.”
“The injury is from long ago. My grandfather, Balak, was grievously embarrassed by your people. But you are correct. That is not the real reason. Shall I tell you why I will attack and subjugate the Israelites? Very simple. For power. He who commands the route between Egypt and Mesopotamia will share in the riches that pass through those two empires. From Babylon to Carthage, from Thebes to Antioch, I shall control the most important trade route in civilization. Those thieves from Tyre, those upstarts from Sidon will have to deal with the Moabite power if they wish for their ships to sail safely and transport their wares to the world.”
Elimelech looked at Eglon with utter incomprehension.
“Who is your agent in Israel?” Elimelech demanded.
“Ah, you get to the heart of the matter. As I will kill you, there is no harm in revealing my spy’s identity. He is a highly placed and respected leader. He is a trustworthy blacksmith from the Tribe of Benjamin, by the name of Ehud.”
“Ehud!? Ehud!? NOOO!!” Elimelech screamed. He yanked his arm out of one soldier’s grasp and punched the other soldier in the face. Free, Elimelech escaped the tent through the opening he hade made and ran out of the encampment.
“Hold,” Eglon commanded his soldiers. “Do not raise the alarm. Let him run.”
“Well played, your majesty,” Dirthamus hissed.
“Thank you, Dirthamus. I thought that was an exceptional performance myself.”
“You mean it was all a trick?” Galkak asked, mouth still open from the whole exchange.
“Galkak, in the short time you have known me, you know that I rarely use force unless absolutely necessary. This was all a sham to make use of the Judean prince that happened to approach our camp.”
“How’d you know who he was? Or that he was comin’?”
“A red-headed Israelite was spotted approaching our camp and we were suitably informed. Dirthamus was able to discern his aura and determined that it was none other than Prince Elimelech of the Tribe of Judah whom we believe may be going mad because of his role in destroying the Tribe of Benjamin. Learn this, my vassal. Fortune smiles on the one who creates opportunities. Elimelech will unwittingly create even more chaos, assisting our real agent and making life difficult for the one man who can stand against us.”
“You mean Ehud ain’t your agent?”
Eglon slapped his thigh and laughed heartily.
“No, Galkak. If you would meet Ehud, you would know he could never be our agent. A vassal, yes. He is pure and straight and honest with no deception in him. The Benjaminites admire and respect him and I’ve cultivated him as an ambassador to us for many years now. He will bow to me when he has no choice. But he is not an agent. He would never betray his kin. It is important to know one’s enemy well and to keep them close.”
“But why did you let Elimelech overhear that you are going to invade the Israelites?”
“To create further panic, confusion and despair. The Israelites may rally whatever remaining troops they have, but the timing will be off. We are going to conquer the Amonites to the east first and make sure the Israelites hear of it. It will discredit Elimelech when he is proven wrong. The Israelites will disband and then we will have no resistance and their two strongest leaders in disrepute.”
Galkak shivered visibly.
“Cold, Galkak?” Eglon inquired.
“No, no, boss. Just too much drink. I feel sorry for them Israelites. They won’t know what hit ‘em.”
“Gentle and compassionate, Galkak of Amalek? There is more to you than meets the eye, and Dirthamus has not succeeded in piercing though your thick skull. I shall have to keep you close to me.”
“Don’t worry, boss. I ain’t goin’ anywhere.” Galkak looked with longing at the opening Elimelech had cut through the royal tent.
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