Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 22
“Stable boy,” Bagdon called to Mahlon. Bagdon walked his large black stallion into the stable.
“It’s been years since I was the stable hand. I run the stables now, Bagdon. Do I need to be king for you to address me properly?” Mahlon asked as he rubbed the coat of a chestnut mare.
“You’re still a stable boy to me, Mahlon. And while we’re at it, you can call me General Bagdon.”
“What do you want, lout?”
“You’re insufferable. That’s why people avoid you. No wonder your only friends are these beasts. My horse is limping. What wrong with him?”
“What did you do to him? You’ve always been too rough with the horses.”
Mahlon rushed to Bagdon’s stallion and inspected its hooves.
“Its horseshoe is worn. You trotted on the stonework, didn’t you? I’ve warned you that it’s bad for the horses. I’ll have to keep him in the stable.”
“What? But I need my horse. Just replace the horseshoe.”
“We’re out of horseshoes. I’m expecting a delivery only next week.”
“Can’t the blacksmith just make a new one?”
“Katzor is a dunce and his horseshoes were injuring our herd. Eglon only trusts Ehud to make our horseshoes.”
“Ehud of Benjamin?”
“Who else? He’s the best in the Empire. Certainly after you killed his partner.”
“His partner? That other blacksmith? He was trouble and mouthed off at me. I needed to remind them who was in charge. I don’t care if he was a friend of Ehud’s. Eglon’s mercy may extend to his appointed agent, but it certainly doesn’t extend to the rest of the Israelites.”
“No, only the murderous ones,” Mahlon said under his breath.
“What did you say?” Bagdon asked.
Mahlon stared hard into Bagdon’s eyes. Bagdon stood transfixed for a moment.
“Never mind.” Bagdon coughed. “Just tell me when my horse is ready. I’ll take a replacement from one of my soldiers in the meantime.”
Bagdon hurried out of the stable without looking back.
“Dirthamus.” Eglon spoke softly from his throne to the ancient man on his right. “You know my mind.”
“Yes, sire,” Dirthamus rasped. “This is a most exciting development. I love the irony of it. But how will you lure all the firstborns to their death?”
“We shall conduct a census. Didn’t Moses count his people all the time? They will like that. They are used to the idea. First, we shall recall our troops and have them positioned throughout the plain. We shall then assemble all of the firstborns on the plain. It’s quite simple, once you think about it. Where can they go? The nearest Hebrew city is Gilgal. We shall block the mountain road west and the Jordan crossing. There is nowhere to hide on this plain. The Jordan shall run red with Hebrew blood.”
“Fitting that we should bring the first and last plague upon the Hebrews,” Dirthamus cackled. “But when will you do this?”
“Right after the next tribute. I shall personally command the princes to send their firstborns and then we shall have our dowry and our alliance with Egypt.”
“What shall we do until then, sire? Should we perhaps ease up on our tormenting them? Give them a lull? A reprieve from the subjugation before the final blow?”
“No, Dirthamus. We must continue to tax and squeeze and punish the Israelites. Their lives must continue as hard and miserable as usual. No one can suspect a change.”
“You are wise, as always.” Dirthamus smiled.
A dim sun descended through the mist over the land of Benjamin. Loud banging erupted from the smithy on the hilltop. “Keep it hot,” Ehud bellowed over the roar of the fire. Ehud’s burly hands held the molten ingot of iron with heavy tongs. He quickly placed the red-hot ingot on the anvil and banged it into shape with a hammer. Satisfied with his work, Ehud picked up the horseshoe-shaped ingot and dunked it in the barrel of water. Furious hissing escaped from the barrel as the hot metal boiled the water in a flash of steam.
“Keep them coming,” Ehud yelled over the sound of the hissing. Ehud repeated the process with the help of his three assistants: lanky Davneh on the bellows, big Perad by the hearth, and young Lerim packing the cooling horseshoes in wooden crates.
The Moabites had sent an order for new horseshoes. They were predictable, Ehud thought. Every spring they ordered six dozen iron horseshoes for their cavalry. They sent him an exact amount of the iron ore and paid him a pittance for his work. He did not complain. The alternatives were worse.
Ehud’s team efficiently finished seventy horseshoes. He took the remaining iron and melted it into a bronze casing the size of a newborn’s head. He melted the bronze casing shut and placed the bronze ball into the water barrel.
“Lerim, you know what to do,” Ehud said. “Be quick about it. They may be here any moment.”
Lerim grabbed the bronze ball and placed it on the dark smithy floor. He grabbed a spade, picked a spot next to the wall and dug a hole two feet deep. He dropped the bronze ball in the hole and covered it. He moved a workbench to cover the hole.
Ehud walked out of the smithy and greeted the setting sun. It was the first time he had seen it that day.
He could see the Moabite cavalry riding up the hill. Bile rose up his throat.
Yigal, how I miss you, Ehud thought. They were so cruel that day; those Moabites and especially that monster, Bagdon. Every time their cavalry trots up the hill I think of you, Yigal, and their cruelty. You stood up to them. You told them they were robbing us. In return, Bagdon had us chained.
And I remember what happened next. The way they maimed you. The way they toyed with you. They only spared me because they thought I was more useful, more experienced. And because of Eglon of course, curse him. They didn’t need two blacksmiths – only one.
First your hand. They burned your hand with a hot iron poker. I remember the smell of burning flesh. They joked that a blacksmith only needed one hand. They were careful to burn your left hand – not knowing you were left-handed.
Then your legs. A blacksmith doesn’t need legs, Bagdon had said. They savagely hacked at your legs. Your two stumps gushed blood onto the mud and straw, making a sick pattern of red and brown and beige on the ground. The chains cut into my wrists as I screamed at those merciless soldiers. I let them do it. I should have seen it coming. I should have known that those close to me would not be spared Eglon’s depravity.
They laughed all the time. ‘We expect to see some pots in the morning’ Bagdon called to you as your life seeped away. From this very hill. Five years now. And now their cavalry comes again.
But not for much longer.
Ten horsemen approached Ehud’s smithy.
Ehud walked from his porch to greet the riders.
“Welcome, noble sirs,” Ehud gave an awkward smile.
“Well met, Ehud,” the captain of the troop replied. “Are the horseshoes finished?”
“Yes, sir,” Ehud bowed his head. “But as usual, the iron you supplied was not enough. We were barely able to squeeze seventy shoes out of it.”
“Only seventy? Our blacksmith assured us the iron would be good for at least seventy two. See here, Ehud. If you are cheating us, you will pay dearly for it.” The captain placed his hand on the pommel of his sword.
“My dear captain,” Ehud answered unruffled. “If your blacksmith is so sure of himself, let him do it. But I know that fool Katzor always skimps on the metal and that’s why his shoes wear out faster than mine. If you don’t trust me, feel free to inspect my smithy.” Ehud opened his arms wide and pointed at his stone structure.
The captain looked at Ehud, at the smithy and back at Ehud. “If you were not the best blacksmith and Eglon’s agent, we would not give you such liberties. But never forget who lets you live in peace and freedom amongst your brethren. We shall punish any deception harshly, even if you’re favored by Eglon. Where are they anyway? Bring us the horseshoes.”
“What about my payment?”
“Yes, of course.” The captain grabbed a heavy cloth bag from his saddle bag and threw it at Ehud’s feet. The sound of coins was clearly heard as they hit the ground. “Don’t spend it all in one place.” The captain flashed a crooked smile.
“Davneh, Larim,” Ehud called to the smithy as he picked up the clinking bag, “bring the shoes.”
The captain nodded to his soldiers. Eight men dismounted their horses and walked to the smithy. Davneh and Larim shuffled out of the smithy carrying a heavy wooden box. Two soldiers grabbed the box from the two Benjaminites. Davneh and Larim avoided looking the soldiers in the eyes and hesitantly escorted the remaining ones into the smithy. Ehud counted in his mind how long the soldiers would remain in the smithy if there was trouble.
Three pairs of soldiers exited carrying heavy boxes between them. The soldiers loaded the boxes onto their horses and mounted.
The captain opened one of the boxes and took two horseshoes out. He clanged one against the other and listened to the ring of the medal. He smiled, “You are the best, Ehud. Keep out of trouble and you will be well rewarded.”
“Of course, sir,” Ehud bowed again. “I wouldn’t consider otherwise. Long live Eglon,” Ehud saluted. “May his reign flourish and grow.”
The captain saluted and smiled at Ehud. “Good man, Ehud. I shall report favorably as to your comportment.”
“Much appreciated, sir,” Ehud smiled back. He continued to smile as the troops trotted down the hill. He bared his teeth as he smiled.
Don’t worry Yigal, he thought. I shall avenge you and we shall be free of this tyrant. Soon.
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