Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 18
Storming the Castle
Boaz, Ehud and Amitai enter Ashkelon to rescue Ruth from King Perath.
“Greetings Eglon’s Eldest. Welcome to my city. I am Perath, son of Akavish, son of Larus who came from the sea,” King Perath acknowledged Ruth as she entered the royal dining hall, followed by Orpa. Perath sat at the head of a long table with a feast laid out in front of him. A dozen guards and an equal number of servants filled the wide room. Small balconies adorned each side of the hall, providing a breathtaking view of the sea to the west and the mountains to the east, resplendent in the summer sunset.
“Sumahtrid did not lie.” Perath looked Ruth up and down. “You are as beautiful as your glorious sister. Tell me, do you have any other sisters that I should know about. It would please me to have the entire collection. The sorcerer gave me a good price for two daughters of Eglon. Perhaps I can get a bulk discount for any others?” Perath laughed at his own joke and tore hungrily into a roasted shankbone. Ruth shuddered at the mention of mad Akavish. She had heard stories of young Boaz’s nemesis, the metal-clad giant with a claw for an arm that had attacked Bethlehem decades before.
“Come, do sit down,” the large monarch requested in between mouthfuls of meat. He was one of the tallest men Ruth had ever met. Muscles bulged through his leather garments. He was clean shaven, with dark blond hair overtaken by grey. King Perath smiled at Ruth, displaying two fresh scars that ran from below his right eye down to his mouth. Ruth wondered how he got them.
“Yes, you see my battle wounds?” Perath replied to Ruth’s unspoken question. “It is a gift from your sister. She is a fighter, that one. She is sure to provide me with mighty progeny. You’ll understand if I take greater precautions with you tonight. We’ll make sure the chains are tighter this time.” Perath nodded knowingly to his chamberlain.
“I will not sleep with you,” Ruth said icily.
“Is there an echo in here?” Perath asked. “I could have sworn a daughter of Eglon said the same exact thing just a few days ago. But look at her now. Subdued. The wild woman has been tamed and has accepted her place in the order of things. You are my possession, daughter of Eglon. You will do as I please, whether you like it or not. You will bear my children and produce mighty warriors as the sorcerer has promised. There is no escape. This can be enjoyable or it can be unpleasant. It is up to you.”
Ruth said nothing in response.
“I am being quite civilized about this whole business,” Perath explained. “You see how I invite you to dine with me, treat you courteously, give you time to adjust to your new surroundings. Soon you will accept your fate as your sister has, and in time you will even appreciate it.”
Perath stared at Ruth impassively.
“What? No response? In the name of Dagon, say something, do something!”
A loud explosion rocked the palace. “Boaz,” Ruth whispered.
“What is it? Are we under attack?” Perath rose from the table and ran to the northern balcony. His guards followed him.
A large cloud of smoke and dust filled the marketplace. People screamed in pain and confusion. They could spot people through the cloud escaping the market in all directions.
“Captain! Take a unit to the marketplace!” Perath commanded. “Report to me at once any information about what happened.”
Ruth smiled as the captain and a handful of guards ran out of the hall.
“What is so humorous, daughter of Eglon?” Perath asked sharply. “You find my discomfiture amusing?”
“I am amused when arrogant men discover that all does not go as they planned.”
“Do you know the source of this attack?”
“I can speculate, but I’m sure powerful men like you do not need me to tell them who their enemies are, or who is capable of such an attack.”
“Curious how you are so talkative all of a sudden. I wonder if this is why Sumahtrid was in such a rush to leave. Did he know something I didn’t?”
“Your Majesty!” The captain returned with Boaz, Ehud and Amitai, surrounded by spear-wielding guards. Boaz smiled reassuringly at Ruth. Ruth felt her heart soar at the sight of the Judean. “The city wall by the market has collapsed,” the captain reported. “We have dead, injured and the population is in a panic. The people are yelling of invasion. It is complete chaos. I found these old Israelites at the entrance to the palace. They claim to know who is responsible, but demanded that they would only inform you personally. Only the grey-beard carried a sword.” The captain handed Ehud’s sword to the King.
“Well done, captain. Return to the market. Restore order. Kill anyone hysterical. The people must fear us more than any possible invasion, or all is lost. Send troops up and down the coast. There is no one threatening us from the sea. Has Ashdod lost its mind? Would they contemplate attacking us after we’ve just reestablished our alliance? Or is it Egypt? We would have had some prior warning if it was Pharaoh. I will interrogate these Hebrews and get to the root of it. Dismissed!”
The captain ran out of the hall, leaving half a dozen soldiers with their spears pointed at the older men.
“Speak!” Perath barked at Boaz. “What do you know of this attack?”
Boaz stepped forward and cleared his throat. He held his walking stick in front of him.
“King of Ashkelon, we know who perpetrated this attack upon your city, and furthermore we know the reason for the attack. It was not the Egyptians nor is it one of your fellow Philistine cities.”
“Is it the Phoenicians? I knew it. Those cheating money-grubbers. Their commissions are not enough. They want the whole pot.”
“It is not the Phoenicians either,” Boaz stated calmly as Amitai fiddled with a package in the large bag hanging from his shoulder.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Amitai whispered to Boaz.
“Then who did it? Spit it out already, man!” Perath yelled.
“We did it,” Boaz said.
Perath looked at Boaz in confusion. The Philistine’s face contorted to shock followed by anger.
“You and what army?” Perath raised Ehud’s sword to Boaz’s neck. “Did you use some Hebrew sorcery to bring down the wall? Your Joshua died long ago and he only did that trick once. Why? Why are you attacking me? Is it some revenge for my father’s attack of Bethlehem?”
Boaz’s eyebrows rose when he understood that Perath was Akavish’s son.
“Revenge was not our intent, though many good people died when your father attacked my hometown on my wedding day,” Boaz stated.
“Your hometown? Wedding day?” Perath stepped back. “It cannot be! Boaz? You are Boaz? The one who destroyed my father and drove him to madness?”
“Um, I had a part in killing him too,” Ehud raised his hand.
“Why are you here!?” Perath bellowed.
“You kidnapped a woman under my protection. I have come to retrieve her.”
“And do you have some magic that will spirit you and her out of Ashkelon and past my entire army?”
“Yes. Amitai!” Boaz ordered.
Amitai dropped one of his smoke bombs and threw two more to either end of the hall. Smoke quickly filled the entire room. Boaz twirled around, and with the edge of his walking stick smashed Perath and the spears surrounding the three companions.
“I’ll take my sword back if you don’t mind.” Ehud grabbed the handle of the sword from the much taller Perath.
“You’ll have to kill me first, Israelite.” Perath punched at Ehud through the smoke, grazing the blacksmith’s shoulder. Ehud smashed Perath squarely on the nose and retrieved his sword from the stunned king.
“You are not destined to die yet, Perath son of Akavish, and not by my hand, unless you bring my wrath upon yourself. Do not make the mistakes of your father, or your end shall surely be as ignoble as his.”
“Guards! Stop them! Kill the Israelites!” Perath shrieked. Ehud smashed Perath in the head with the side of his sword, knocking the big Philistine unconscious.
“Boaz! Where are you?” Ruth called into the thick mist.
“By your side,” Boaz whispered. “Were I blind, I would still find you, Ruth.” Boaz grabbed Ruth’s arm. “Amitai, get us out of here.”
“Wait, Boaz.” Ruth held tightly to his arm. “My sister is here. Orpa! Where are you? We can leave this place.”
“I’m here,” Orpa said from a few paces away. “I’m not leaving. I now belong to this place and will give birth to a Philistine prince. I’ll be somebody. Out there, even back in Kir Moav, I’m nobody. Go Ruth. Go and be blessed.”
“We’d better move fast,” Amitai said as Ehud took hold of the older man’s robe. “The smoke will dissipate very quickly and we’re running out of time.”
“Lead the way,” Boaz urged. He sensed Ruth nodding silently.
“Okay, seven paces to the right,” Amitai whispered.
Boaz closed his eyes and followed his old friend’s bright aura. Amitai threw another smoke bomb into the corridor as more soldiers approached. Boaz, sensing their dull brown auras tinged with a yellow fear, knocked them on their heads with his staff.
“Watch your step,” he warned as they walked over the fallen soldiers.
“Twenty paces to the right,” Amitai said in the smoke. He had memorized the way out of the palace.
“Fifteen paces to the left and then we hit the staircase,” Amitai announced with yet another smoke bomb. Boaz, with his eyes closed, knocked out more confused soldiers.
“We better hurry,” Amitai said as they exited the palace. Ruth let go of Boaz’s arm tentatively in the clear evening sky. Just a handful of stars peeked out of thick clouds. Soldiers were running to and fro, as people continued to yell and scream of invasion. Amitai insisted: “We have to be by the marketplace before –”
“Stop the Israelites!” a guard yelled from the balcony of the palace.
“Run!” Ehud commanded.
“You’re kidding, right?” Amitai asked, clacking his walking stick on the cobblestones.
Ehud looked around wildly and saw the fat merchant with the sedan chair and the four slaves chained to the chair. Ehud ran to the chair and knocked the merchant out of the chair. He then raised his sword towards the slaves.
“Transport my friends and then I will release you of bondage – or else you shall die where you stand!”
The slaves nodded mutely and followed Ehud.
Amitai and Boaz climbed onto the sedan. The slaves lifted them easily and followed Ehud and Ruth who ran ahead.
“Hurry up!” Ehud ordered the slaves. “Hurry up! Run as if your lives depended on it!”
They reached the marketplace and entered a realm of chaos. Stones were strewn all over the square. Homes and stalls were destroyed. People were still trapped under boulders. City residents ran to the gate to escape the destruction while people from outside ran inside for protection from the feared assault. The western side of the north city wall, beside the gate, lay in ruins. Soldiers assembled on the eastern side of the north wall, awaiting a non-existent enemy and orders from their superiors. Some of them had the presence of mind to light torches as night finally fell.
“It worked better than I expected,” Amitai grinned at the destruction he had wrought on the western side, “and we’re in time.”
“There they are!” a soldier pointed at the sedan chair as it approached the gate. “Kill the Israelites! Spare the Moabite!”
“Ehud, buy us a few more moments,” Amitai said. “The timing has to be perfect or we’ll never get out of here.”
Ehud grabbed a handful of stone fragments and slung them at the soldiers by the eastern side. He felled soldiers with deadly accuracy. The soldiers sought cover by the exposed wall to no avail. Some of them shot arrows back at Ehud, but were off the mark.
“Three, two, one. Now!” Amitai exclaimed. Nothing happened. Ehud and the Philistine soldiers stopped their volleys and looked around wondering what Amitai was counting.
Then a large explosion shook the entire city. A red blast from the western corner of the north wall sent pieces of stone into the air. The wall undulated as if the stones had turned to water and then stone fragments exploded into smaller pieces, killing half of the soldiers instantly and burying the rest.
“Perfect,” Amitai cheered as he threw another smoke bomb. The slaves followed Ehud and Ruth into the gate tunnel and exited from the other side.
“One more,” Amitai said to himself as another explosion reverberated in the tunnel. Stones came crashing down and a cloud of dust blocked up the tunnel. Just the guard tower above the tunnel remained intact, its torches shedding some meager light on the escaping Israelites.
“Shoot to kill!” a Philistine soldier commanded. A volley of arrows flew towards the Israelites. Amitai saw the starting point of the arrows, felt the speed of the wind on his cheek, knew the composition of the arrowhead and the geometry of the feathers, knew their range and in his mind’s eye saw that the trajectory would hit Ruth’s back where it would be in three seconds. Amitai was struck by a sudden vision and without thinking he jumped off of the sedan chair and intercepted the arrows with his body.
“Amitai!” Boaz yelled and jumped off the sedan chair, as Amitai rolled over on the path.
“Go, Boaz.” Amitai coughed blood. “My lung is punctured. I’m finished. It was a great way to go. I was tired of sitting on my porch being useless. Don’t mourn, my oldest friend. Tell Zelda I say goodbye and that I died happy.”
“I’m not leaving you here.” Boaz held back his tears.
“Get out of here and take care of that girl. I had a vision. Ruth,” Amitai motioned for her. “Come here, child.”
“You saved me,” Ruth said through her tears. “You don’t even know me, but you saved me.”
“Stop talking and listen.” Amitai rummaged through his bag and took out a small cup with a suspended lodestone. “This is a compass. It will show you the way when it is dark and starless like tonight. The tip points north. It will get you out of here safely. This is a gift for your line. You will have a descendant that will be the wisest man Israel has ever known. He will treasure this gift. He will use it to build God’s sanctuary. I have seen this and he will come from you, Ruth of Moab, daughter of Eglon the Tyrant. I am honored to have given up my life for you. Now get out of here.”
Amitai closed his eyes and died.
More arrows descended around the Israelites. The slaves kept the sedan chair between themselves and the city.
“We cannot leave his body to these heathens,” Boaz stated.
“We won’t.” Ehud lifted Amitai’s body and carried it to their jittery horses still tied outside the city walls. Ehud placed Amitai’s body on his grey stallion. The horse neighed uncomfortably under his master’s dead weight. Ehud then approached the slaves by the sedan chair. They cowered as Ehud raised his sword. Ehud hacked at the base of the chain against the chair, and one by one, freed the slaves.
“You are free to go,” Ehud said.
“Where?” one of the slaves asked in confusion.
“Wherever you want. You are free now.”
The slaves looked at each other in confusion and then nodded to each other.
“We will go back to our master. He fed us,” the slave said simply. The four slaves lifted the sedan chair and climbed back to the blocked gate of Ashkelon.
“We have to get out of here,” Boaz said. “The Philistines will open up that tunnel and come after us.”
“It will be easy to get lost on this moonless, starless night,” Boaz said.
“If you tell me which direction we need to go, I can tell you where it is,” Ruth declared as she studied Amitai’s compass.
“You’ve figured out how to use Amitai’s device?” Boaz asked, impressed.
“Yes, it’s simple. Let’s go.”
Ehud and Boaz climbed unto their respective horses. Ehud took the reins of Amitai’s horse in his hands. There was a moment of hesitation as Ruth wondered on whose horse to ride. She then turned to Boaz. Boaz offered his hand and lifted Ruth onto his horse, sitting her behind him.
“Hold on Ruth,” Boaz said. “We’ll get you home.”
“Home,” Ruth said as she held on to Boaz and leaned against his back, her loose red tresses flowing behind her. “That sounds nice.”
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