Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21
Romance with Strings
Sumahtrid the sorcerer chanted the regular chant. He stood in a dark rented room in the Philistine city of Ashdod, a few miles north of Ashkelon. Young, man-sized Beor sat quietly, brooding in a corner. The flickering of the flames in the center of the room made his shadow delirious against the stone walls.
Smoke filled the room. Sumahtrid called to his dead master, Dirthamus, expecting warm praise for having delivered Ruth to King Perath of Ashkelon. Dirthamus’ silhouette took form in the smoke. Sumahtrid was pleased once again with his ability to call upon his master from the netherworld.
“You fool!” Dirthamus’ ethereal ghost yelled at Sumahtrid. “Ruth has escaped! She was rescued by none other than Boaz. Failure! This is an utter failure! You are a failure! Oh, why did I take on such an incompetent as an apprentice? Do you know how much you’ve embarrassed me in front of my own master? My existence here is bad enough without adding this shame.”
“What? Impossible!” Sumahtrid declared. “How?”
“It doesn’t matter how! The question is what are you going to do about it? My unbearable anguish has multiplied.”
“The anguish of the netherworld. The vivid, painful reminder of every mistake. The constant reliving of a miserable life. The meaningless failure my existence has been. Swallowing burning coals would be more pleasant than having your very thoughts and memories stabbed into your consciousness like hot daggers. My one remaining purpose is to spread misery, to promote chaos in the land of the living, and even that is failing.”
“And your master Bilaam is with you as well?”
“Yes. His torment is even worse. His failure grander. But he still finds time to look at me with an evil eye. They are laughing here in hell at my latest failure. Bilaam and the late Pharaoh are taking bets if you’ll succeed or not.”
“Truly? What are they betting for?”
“Nothing. Just an old habit and the minor pleasure of being right.”
“Who’s betting against me?”
“Pharaoh. He says once you start with the Hebrews, the end can’t be good.”
“What does Bilaam say?”
“He still has hopes for you. He was pleased with your naming your apprentice after his father. He said his father was a mean, cruel, backstabbing son of a jackal and he thinks young Beor may live up to such notoriety.” Dirthamus smirked in Beor’s direction. Beor looked through slanted eyes at the dead sorcerer.
“What should I do?” Sumahtrid asked in confusion.
“The direct method has not worked. Ehud is too powerful and he is watching Boaz and Ruth. You must find a secondary path. Derail their relationship. Understand their sensitivities and weaknesses and exploit them. Use agents. Under no circumstances can those two wed. It will restore order to Israel which we cannot allow.”
“I understand, my master. I will obey. I will not disappoint you.”
“Disappoint me? You are a living disappointment. I’m a dead disappointment. There is little that divides us. Agghh!”
“What’s the matter?” Sumahtrid asked.
“Just a more intense recollection than usual of how an Israelite drunkard outwitted me. It is always painful here, and they keep changing the level of pain so you never get used to it. I leave.”
Dirthamus’ ghost disappeared with a wounded looked on his face.
Sumahtrid looked over the fire where his master had stood and wondered out loud: “Is this what awaits me as well?”
“Yes,” Beor whispered from the corner. It was the first time during his cruel apprenticeship that he had uttered an original, non-repetitive word.
Ruth arose at the crack of dawn, thanking God for the solid thatch roof over her head and a bed she considered her own. She shuddered at the thought that she might have awoken in the bed of Perath, King of Ashkelon and been imprisoned to the Philistine by invisible chains, as her sister Orpah was. Orpah had sensed strong life within herself right away. The previously lifeless stomach now held the seed of a child. Did Orpah know the terror she would unleash upon the world? Did she have visions of the giant Goliath destroying all in his path? Ruth pondered her empty womb and the realization that after all these years she might yet be able to carry a child. She had been too busy with survival to give it much thought. But now that she had the shelter of Naomi’s home and the sustenance of Boaz’s field, she needed to consider her future.
A simple yet pleasantly sown dress waited for Ruth by her bed. Naomi must have stayed up through the night finishing it, Ruth thought. Naomi lay unconscious on her own bed and Ruth dressed and moved about the house quietly, so as not to disturb her mother-in-law.
She walked through the street of Bethlehem unmolested. The men kept their distance, remembering the beating she had given the last man impudent enough to touch her. Some of the braver women approached her. They complemented her on her new dress and inquired about the wild stories they had heard of her abduction and her subsequent rescue by Boaz. Ruth blushed and downplayed the events, attributing them more to misunderstandings than to some nefarious plot.
Ruth reached Boaz’s land and was surprised to see the overseer, Garto, greet her with a warm smile.
“Ah, Princess Ruth, I’m so happy to see you,” Garto bowed to Ruth. Ruth looked at Garto apprehensively. This was the man that had suggested that she lie with him so that she may glean from the field. Sensing her apprehension, Garto cleared his throat.
“I know that at our first meeting, I was perhaps less than appropriate,” Garto explained. “I didn’t realize who you were. I thought you were just some common wench. I didn’t realize you were a woman of importance. I apologize for my behavior. Let us start again. I am Garto son of Leshem of the Tribe of Ephraim. I sold my ancestral land to my brother and have moved here to Bethlehem. I am unmarried and seeking a wife. I am a hard, diligent worker, which is why Boaz and others have hired me to oversee their harvest.”
“I see,” Ruth said, not sure how to respond. “Well, I appreciate your apology, though I would expect one should treat all women with respect, no matter what their station. May I glean here today?”
“Yes, yes. Of course. Go right ahead.” Garto stepped back and let Ruth enter the field. She found Boaz’s maidens cutting the golden sheaves and gleaned behind them. Ruth looked around the field for signs of Boaz, but did not see him. Garto, with his sharp eye, called out to workers who had missed harvesting an area or who didn’t make it until the end of a row. He also kept an eye on the gleaners, ensuring that they only take what rightfully belonged to the poor.
Garto walked into the field towards Ruth.
“How are you doing, Ruth?” he asked.
“Fine, thank you,” Ruth responded, reaching for another head of grain without looking at Garto.
“There are a few more over there.” Garto pointed.
“Thank you,” Ruth said and picked up the grain she had overlooked.
“You know, if you leave a bundle by the side, no one will take it. That way you don’t have to drag it with you wherever you glean. Then, if you make a series of bundles you can gather them all at once. It will save you time and effort.”
Ruth looked at Garto with new respect. That was the most helpful thing anyone had said to her in the field. For the first time she noticed that most of the gleaners were doing as Garto had suggested.
“That was most kind of you to point out. Thank you, Garto.” Ruth looked him in the eye.
“It is my pleasure, Princess. I hope you will think more kindly of me. I am here to assist you as I might.” Garto bowed and returned to the shade of the guardhouse.
Ruth watched his broad receding back and thought to herself that the overseer was not so bad after all.
Boaz and Ploni stood facing each other in Boaz’s spacious house. An observer might have confused them for a mirror image. Ploni was the youngest and only surviving son of Nachshon the Brave. Boaz was the oldest and only surviving grandchild of Nachshon the Brave. The uncle and nephew were close in age, in looks and in body structure. They both had long thick white beards. They had both aged considerably from the time they had fought alongside Joshua. But that was the end of their likeness. Ploni had a permanent scowl on his face. The wrinkles of his forehead and cheeks attested to a skin that had rarely laughed. Boaz’s face was calm and passive yet quick to smile. He was not smiling now.
“The rumors are spreading like fire through a parched field,” Ploni accused Boaz. “You dishonor the last days of our family.”
“Since when do you pay attention to the gossip of housewives, Uncle?” Boaz responded.
“Since it was reported to the council of Elders. Multiple witnesses saw you riding with that heathen woman pressed to your back. Have you lost all sense of shame? People are saying that you have taken her as a concubine and old Zelda yelled to an entire crowd that you had Amitai killed to save this woman, a daughter of Eglon, no less.”
“Then listen to me, Uncle, and tell the Elders so that we may set the record straight. I have not had any relations with Ruth. She is a noble woman, as Zelda herself later attested. And Amitai, Amitai sacrificed his life that Ruth may live. She is a great woman and you and all others err to disparage her and distance her. She has come under the wings of our people and we must honor her.”
“A Moabite, a daughter of Eglon, will never be honored amongst us,” Ploni replied. “We shall be better off if she leaves.”
“You are wrong and you have detained me long enough.” Boaz rose. “I am sorry that you are of a different opinion, but I see that further discussion will be a waste. Good day, Uncle. I must go to my field.”
Ploni turned and walked out of the house, followed by Boaz.
“Do not make matters worse for yourself,” Ploni warned. “Distance yourself from this woman and do not sully the House of Nachshon in its last days. Let us die out with a good name if not with any progeny.” Ploni hobbled to his home, leaning heavily on his walking stick.
Boaz mounted his horse and rode out of Bethlehem towards his field.
“Mind if I join you?” Ehud asked as he caught up with Boaz on his own mount.
“Not at all, I would welcome some friendly company.”
“Yes. He has warned me to distance myself from Ruth. The council is upset.”
“What will you do?”
“Keep my distance.”
“She is special.”
“Indeed. Nonetheless, there is little to be gained by upsetting the Elders. I will let matters and rumors calm down. As long as she is safe and sustained, I am content.”
“Boaz, I think she must be the one from Joshua’s prophecy.”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember when Joshua said I would kill your future father-in-law?”
“You have killed many men.”
“Yes, but how many were as meaningful as my killing Eglon? She must be the one!”
“Think, Boaz. Remember Joshua’s words. Remember the joint vision we just had. I know who that young hero must be. He is your progeny. A descendant of Boaz and Ruth.”
“No!” Boaz stopped his horse. Dust from the road swirled around the neighing stallion. Ehud was slower to stop and rode back to Boaz.
“It is the truth,” Ehud said.
“Vered,” Boaz said simply, tears streaming down his face. “My dear Vered. She must have known. I can’t, Ehud. I can’t bring myself to even think such a thing. The pain, the loss, the wound is still raw. Don’t push me. Give me time. Let’s wait until the end of the harvest to discuss. Perhaps the pain will have eased by then. Besides, the Elders would likely stone me in their revulsion of Ruth. Let it rest, old friend. Let us be patient. If God could have waited all this time to bring us together, He can wait a little longer.”
“Very well. I will remain. I still need to keep my eye on the two of you.”
“I am glad for your presence, Ehud. Thank you.”
The two rode into Boaz’s field and to the guardhouse, where they dismounted and tied their horses. Garto greeted Boaz and gave him an update as to the harvest. Ehud left to scout around the field. Shortly thereafter, all the workers congregated by the guardhouse for the meal, including Ruth.
“Hello, Boaz,” Ruth said. “Am I still welcome at your meal?”
“Yes. Please. Partake.” Boaz gestured that she should sit down, finding it difficult to speak at length to her.
“Thank you, Boaz. I became concerned when I did not see you at the field today.”
“Business matters. Was occupied. Occurs frequently.” Boaz murmured, not looking at Ruth directly. Ruth sat where she had last time, next to what was Boaz’s regular seat. But Boaz went and sat at the other edge of the circle, where Garto previously sat, the furthest away from Ruth. Garto, seeing his customary seat taken by Boaz, gladly sat next to Ruth and started an amicable conversation with her, telling jokes and getting her to laugh. Boaz was relieved by Garto’s intervention.
After the meal, Ruth and the workers returned to the field.
“Garto, a word please,” Boaz requested.
“I am pleased that you have befriended Ruth. She has been without friends or defenders since her arrival and I may be limited in my interactions with her. There are many that do not like her and that would even do her harm. Please keep a close eye on her and also upon her coming and going from the field. I will add to your wages for this service.”
“It will be my honor to look out for Ruth,” Garto said with great sincerity.
“Very good, that is a relief. It will be easier for me to leave the field knowing you are watching her. I may be more occupied in town over the coming weeks, so I will likely come to the field less often than is my want. Also, Garto, tomorrow, bring swords, for yourself and the men. The sorcerer that attacked previously is still on the loose and may make a second attempt, so stay alert and organize the men to harvest closer to Ruth and the women.”
“Understood. It will be done.”
“Good. I will leave now. God be with you, Garto.”
“May God bless you, sir.”
Boaz nodded, untied his horse and rode out of his field, for the first time in his life feeling as if he were being chased out of his own property. He looked once to the field to seek Ruth. Their eyes met. Boaz broke the contact quickly and rode away. Ruth stood looking at the back of her protector, her savior, not understanding the distance. She returned to the gleaning and making of bundles, as Garto had taught her, happy with the distraction of her work.
Towards evening, Ruth took her respectable amount of grain to the threshing floor, crushed and winnowed the barley and put the day’s production into her sack. When all the workers had gone, Garto stood by the guardhouse waiting.
“You have gathered a worthy amount of grain,” Garto commented.
“Thank you. Your advice was most helpful.”
“Come, I will walk with you back to Bethlehem.”
“That is most kind of you.”
The two walked on the road as dusk settled over the Judean Mountains.
Garto told Ruth more about himself. About his hometown by the hills of Ephraim. How he tired of tilling his own small land. As one of seven brothers, they had each inherited small lots from their father, who himself had been one of six brothers. Garto had wandered amongst the tribes of Israel. He had first worked as a hired hand, proving himself in the field and learning from different farmers. He learned how to best space the furrows dug by the oxen. He learned how to best plant the seeds and at what distance from each other. He had experimented with irrigation, but it was not as efficient or reliable as the rains, except during a drought, of course. Then he had hired himself out as an overseer, with greater and greater success. He was saving up money and hoping to buy a large field for himself. He had placed his eye on Elimelech’s vast fallow fields and now that Naomi had returned, he might discuss purchasing them from her. He would need enough money for oxen, plows, seed, workers, scythes, a new guardhouse, a threshing floor, storage houses and wagons. He was hopeful, as he had a good name in Bethlehem and Boaz was proving a trusting and generous master.
With every word Garto uttered, Ruth was more impressed: his diligence, his ambition, but most of all his normality. He was not of any significant descent. He claimed to be a distant cousin of Joshua, but wasn’t sure himself exactly how. He was not of grand stature and had no mortal enemies. He was too young to have fought in any of the major battles, though he was large and strong and not afraid to stand his ground and defend his own. With each step they took, Ruth liked Garto more. Her womb reminded her of her need to fill it, and she thought perhaps Garto would make a good husband. He clearly liked her and he was behaving extraordinarily well. Let’s see, she thought. I shouldn’t rush it. I should get to know him better.
Garto walked Ruth to the door of Naomi’s house.
“If it is okay with you, I’d like to meet you in the morning and walk you to the field. It would be a shame if anyone else would try to kidnap you. I will be armed.”
“That,” Ruth stammered, “that is most unexpected, and noble. Why, yes, Garto. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you.”
“God be with you, Ruth of Moab,” Garto bowed.
“May God bless you, Garto son of Leshem,” Ruth responded.
Garto turned around with a smile and left to his own house. Ruth entered Naomi’s house happier than she had been in a long time.
“Ruth!” Naomi exclaimed. “We were just talking about you.” Naomi motioned to the elegantly dressed young man sitting at the table with Naomi. He had the clothing, long hair and clean-shaven look of a Philistine, but he did not look like a Philistine. He wore a dark purple robe with the fringes of an Israelite peaking out from under the robe.
“Princess Ruth,” the young man stood up. “Allow me to present myself. I am Alron of Dan and I have come to seek your hand in marriage.”
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