Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 8
You can’t choose family
“Ten years!” Orpa yelled as she threw a copper bracelet at Kilyon’s head. “Ten years with an insufferable Hebrew and what do I have to show for it?”
“It is not my fault, my love,” Kilyon pleaded, deftly ducking the flying bracelet. The bracelet bounced off the wall of their palace room and landed on one of the embroidered pillows on the stone floor.
“Are you saying it’s my fault?” Orpa yelled. “Well, listen to me you Judean misfit. This womb,” she held her flat stomach, “can produce a dozen children. It is you that’s a sterile mule.”
“What do you want me to do, Orpa? We have tried everything. Concoctions and soothsayers, sorcerers and healers, no one has been able to help us. Perhaps we should end it. In Judah, if a woman cannot produce a child after ten years, the man is told to leave her. Do you want a divorce?”
“You ingratiate! You filthy Hebrew slave! My mother was right. We should kill all of you. You live like a prince, you can’t give me a child, and now you want to get rid of me? If it weren’t for Jalet’s generosity, you’d be living on the street. Your mother is the only good thing to come out of Judah.”
“I thought you hated my mother?” Kilyon asked in confusion.
“I hate you! Your mother is nice. Except for Ruth, she’s the only nice person in the entire city. Go. Go to your drinks with my brother. He hates to be kept waiting. Come here,” Orpa said, suddenly tender. She approached Kilyon and straightened out his tunic. “Your tunic is askew. You can’t go out like that. Let me fix it.” She kissed Kilyon on the cheek and sent him out of their room.
Kilyon walked out of their room, bewildered. “I will never understand her,” he exclaimed and made his way to Crown Prince Zipor’s quarters.
The guard to Zipor’s door let Kilyon in. Mahlon was talking to Zipor in an airy room filled with scrolls and weapons.
“Ah, brother.” Zipor embraced Kilyon. Zipor had grown to the height of his father, Jalet, yet retained the dark coloring of his mother, Queen Neema. “Just on time. Are you ready for our yearly toast?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.” Kilyon mentally steeled himself for the foul wine Zipor insisted they drink to honor their wedding anniversary. A tray with three goblets was set on the table. One golden-edged goblet and two silver ones. Zipor was always careful to take the golden cup and eyed the brothers closely until they drained their own bitter cups.
“To a bright future for the Kingdom of Moab and its princes!” Zipor raised his glass.
“To our gracious brother-in-law and his thoughtful hospitality,” Mahlon raised his.
All three men finished their drinks. Mahlon and Kilyon grimaced, still not used to this strange brew even after ten years. Zipor grinned in satisfaction.
“How is your bride?” Kilyon asked to make conversation.
“The princess of Ammon is beautiful but difficult,” Zipor admitted. “I don’t understand her. Father was wise to arrange such a marriage, but I suspect she misses her mother.”
“Perhaps you should invite her mother to visit here?” Kilyon suggested.
“The Queen of Ammon, here?” Zipor raised his eyebrow. “What an interesting thought, Kilyon. I think I may propose such a visit.”
“What is keeping you busy these days, Zipor?” Mahlon asked.
“I think I am finished with my training. My father has arranged private lessons in history, languages, philosophy, music, weapons, hunting, writing and even cuneiform. He has sent me to every major city from Zoan to Nineveh. I have met and befriended every serious monarch in the region and now I am ready for new challenges.”
“You are very fortunate, Zipor,” Mahlon said. “For one so young to receive such training is unique. Your father has truly invested much in you.”
“Yes, I realize. And I do not plan on wasting his training. I will make him very proud of the monarch I will become.”
“Your enthusiasm is commendable for an event that might not take place for many years to come,” Mahlon complemented the young prince.
“One must always be prepared. Royal life is always so tenuous, isn’t it?” Zipor looked at the brothers. He reminded Mahlon of a wolf waiting for its prey.
“Would you pass the white thread, dear?” Naomi asked Ruth in the store. The two of them sat in the back of Ashban’s garment store, sewing. It had occurred slowly, but Naomi had overcome her objection to the marriages of her sons. She especially liked Ruth. Ashban’s business had flourished since Naomi joined Ruth in the store. Naomi had demonstrated a talent for creating new dress designs, and wealthy women from the entire east bank of the Jordan River sought her creations.
“You know, dear. Our ancestress, Sarah, when she could not provide Abraham with a child, gave her handmaid to her husband.”
“I hadn’t heard that story before. How did that work out?” Ruth asked, not taking her eyes off the turquoise dress she was sewing.
“Our elders seem to think it turned out poorly, as it created endless animosity between Sarah and the handmaid, Hagar, and then between Sarah’s son, Isaac, and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, and their descendents afterwards.”
“And why are you telling me this?” Ruth tied a knot in the dress and sought a blue thread for the hem.
“It’s been ten years.” Naomi stopped sewing.
“You are without child.”
“I know.” Ruth continued avoiding her mother-in-law’s gaze.
“It’s a long time.”
“What would you have me do?” Ruth stopped her own sewing.
“Bring a handmaid to Mahlon.”
“I would not compete for his love.” Ruth looked her mother-in-law in the eye.
“He needs to have a child. We need to have a child. The line of Nachshon must continue.”
“Have there been wives who did not hate their handmaids?”
“Yes, our Matriarchs, the wives of Jacob. He had two wives and two handmaids. As far as we know they lived amicably enough. The tribes of Israel are their descendents and we get along most of the time.”
“What would you do, mother?”
“I cannot answer that fairly. I’ve never been placed in that situation. It’s easy to theorize that I’d do the right thing, that I would make way for another woman in my husband’s life. I don’t know if I could have. But having children is a supreme imperative for us – it’s actually the very first commandment in the Book of Moses. If it were a woman that I liked and that respected me, it might make it easier. I don’t know, dear. I just know that it’s important.”
“But you think it’s the right thing to do.”
“Then I will find someone.” Ruth stood up, placing the unfinished dress on the workbench.
“Now?” Naomi asked. “I didn’t mean right now.”
“Then when? If it is the right thing and it is as important as you say, how can I wait? I shall find an appropriate woman for my Mahlon and help provide a descendant for this Nachshon who seems to touch your lives, generations after his death.”
“You are a special woman, my daughter,” Naomi said.
“But I can’t fulfill my basic obligation of bearing a child.”
“That is in God’s hands.”
“I don’t understand your God.”
“Neither do I.”
“That’s not comforting.”
“I am not trying to be.”
“Yet you would follow His precepts no matter how difficult?”
“We are not called a stiff-necked people without reason.”
“Then I will find a woman for my stiff-necked husband, for your unseen God and his difficult demands.”
“May He be with you.”
Ruth left the store leaving a pensive Naomi thinking about the hidden strength of her daughter-in-law.
Mahlon oversaw the arrival of the new colts from Egypt. He stood at the entrance to Jalet’s stables. Mahlon had quickly been elevated to master of the stables and took special pride in the health and strength of his charges. The new horses were skittish in the unfamiliar surroundings.
Be calm, Mahlon thought to them. This is your new home and I will care for you. The horses immediately quieted down and each sought to be patted by Mahlon’s gentle hand.
The stables were cleaned daily, a change Mahlon had instituted early in his tenure, as per the request of the horses. They loved him and constantly jockeyed for his attention. But his favorite animal remained the donkey Chamra. She had been with him since his youth and throughout his travels. She was his most trusted friend and his regular companion.
The Egyptian colts said what to you? Mahlon thought in response to Chamra.
That your kind is leaving Egypt and returning to Israel, Chamra explained.
It seems the famine has ended. The watering holes are full and there is fresh grain once again.
Perhaps we should return as well. Mahlon thought. I could use a change of location. It might be good for Ruth as well. Mother would be ecstatic. She has never been happy in Kir Moav.
I am happy wherever there is hay, Chamra gave her opinion.
I shall have to discuss this with my brother. We should decide together how best to proceed. His mate may not be so keen to leave.
I don’t understand human females. They seem so erratic, Chamra noted.
That’s why I prefer the stables. Enough talk. I need to see to these new colts. Mahlon left his pensive donkey and greeted his new acquisitions from Egypt.
Tendrils of smoke filled the small dark house. Sumahtrid tended the fire under the sizzling pan. Beor, now a teenager, but with the body of a man, sat in a corner sharpening his arrowheads. He watched with bored disinterest the figure in the smoke speaking to his master.
“You have done well, my disciple,” the ghost of Dirthamus told Sumahtrid. “You have kept the marriages of Nachshon’s brats and the daughters of Eglon from bearing fruit. All without doing harm or arousing suspicion.”
“It is as you commanded, master.”
“Yes, but now matters have changed. My demons have informed me that the sons of Elimelech are doomed. Their failure to return to their land has brought upon them a divine death sentence. They are to die by fire.”
“Fire,” Beor repeated, his eyes lighting up at the mention of the gruesome fate.
“When?” Sumahtrid asked.
“This week,” the ghost smiled a smoky grin. “This week was their last opportunity. It has been ten years and it seems the divine patience has run thin. We were right to lie in wait. Now they are open targets.”
“How should I proceed?”
“Cautiously. There is another player to consider. Young Zipor. He has grown in strength, in power and in ambition. It is a dangerous combination. Keep a close eye on the brothers and when the opportunity presents itself, strike. But you must keep your distance. Furthermore, the daughters of Eglon must not be hurt. Their fate is not yet clear to me, but it remains important, even vital, somehow. But today is a happy day as we declare the end of the Nachshon clan!”
The ghost of Dirthamus disappeared as if it had never been, leaving merely a smoke-filled house.
The Red-footed falcon glided silently over the desert valley opposite Kir Moav. Its blue-grey plumage contrasted starkly with its red talons. Wary prey scurried for cover. Doves darted for the sparse shrubs of the cliffs while lizards scrambled under rocks and gravel. The falcon spotted a small hedgehog racing to the exposed roots of an acacia tree. The falcon commenced its dive, dropping rapidly to intercept the slower hedgehog. The falcon cried in exultation over the imminent kill. The falcon was therefore immensely surprised by the arrow that pierced its breast, as nothing of the sort had ever happened to it before. It cried one last time in frustration as it dropped to the desert floor, missing the hedgehog whose life was unexpectedly spared.
“Good shot, Zipor,” King Jalet exclaimed. “You have truly mastered the bow. I know of no other soldier with such marksmanship. You make me proud, son.”
Jalet and Zipor stood on a narrow outcropping on the cliff face. Zipor had asked his father to join him hunting. Their father-son outing had become a monthly ritual. Jalet enjoyed the exercise, which had become too infrequent with all his responsibilities and he enjoyed the rare interaction with his grown son. Zipor had excelled in all of his studies and exceeded Jalet’s expectations. His only concern was Zipor’s sometimes somber demeanor. He was too serious for someone so young.
“Thank you, Father. It is my goal in life to make you proud.” Zipor notched another arrow in his bow.
“Then you have succeeded. We shall have to find new challenges for you.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I don’t know yet. I was thinking to perhaps send you to the Philistines. They have advanced metal-working techniques that would be advantageous to learn.”
“I tire of learning. I am ready to reign.” Zipor turned his body towards his father, bow still in hand and pointed at the ground.
“Learning is a lifetime pursuit. Do not be in such a rush to take on the mantle of leadership. I would have been happier had Eglon lived longer.”
“I grow impatient. I would bring Moab to the heights of power as Eglon once did.” Zipor raised the bow a little higher, the arrow pointing at his father’s feet.
“You will just have to wait, son. I’m not going anywhere so soon. Watch where you point that thing.”
“There is only one thing that stands in the way of my rule.” Zipor aimed the arrow at Jalet’s chest.
“Zipor! Stop this nonsense right now. I do not appreciate such jests. Put the bow away before we have an accident.”
“That is exactly what people will call it: a hunting accident. Thank you, Father, for all your instruction. I shall become a monarch that will make you proud. All will proclaim Zipor son of Jalet as the greatest King of Moab.”
Zipor pulled on the bowstring and Jalet finally realized his danger.
“Sumahtrid?” Jalet asked in surprise, looking behind Zipor. Zipor turned around to find nobody behind him, but it was enough time for Jalet to close the distance and knock the bow out of his son’s hands.
“There is still a trick or two you can learn from me,” Jalet said as he punched Zipor in the face. “You ungrateful wretch. This is how you pay back my love, my caring – by trying to kill me?”
Zipor fell to the ground but quickly got up, wielding a knife.
“You will find, I’m not so easy to kill,” Jalet said as he looked at the knife and drew his own hunting knife.
“I’m glad you’re putting up a fight, old man,” Zipor said, as they inched closer to each other on the narrow cliff ledge. “I would have felt some guilt just executing you.”
Zipor lunged and Jalet parried. The knives flashed in the air, Zipor demonstrated greater speed and stamina, while Jalet showed more skill and experience. Soon both were drenched in a mixture of sweat and blood, thin knife-slices criss-crossing their arms and torsos.
“I have an advantage, Father,” Zipor panted.
“And what is that?” Jalet said breathlessly.
“You are not going for the kill.”
“I’m hoping a good beating will knock some sense into you.”
“You hope in vain. You are already dead.”
“How is that?”
“My blade is poisoned.”
“Even Eglon was not so despicable.” Jalet moved back, unsteady on his feet.
“That is why I will surpass him.” Zipor smiled.
“Treachery will find its own reward and you will be surrounded by those even more despicable than you. You will discover that the hard way. How was I so blind to your perfidy?” Jalet wobbled and fell to his knees.
“You trained me well in the arts of deception.”
“You will be cursed for this. You have doomed our line.” Jalet collapsed on the ground. “Fool” he uttered with his last breath and was silent forever.
Zipor approached his father’s body and rolled it with his foot over the edge of the cliff. The body fell to the valley below, bouncing on jagged rocks along the way. It was barely recognizable when it hit the bottom.
“Long live the King,” Zipor said quietly, as his father’s corpse lay next to the Red-footed falcon, both dead by the same hands. “Now to secure my monarchy.”
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