Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 20
Boaz thought of the young woman riding with him, her head at times leaning against his back when she became drowsy. He was uncomfortable with the close physical proximity of such an attractive woman. She was still wearing the elegant dress in which the Philistines had clothed her, in place of the rags in which she had arrived from Bethlehem. It was a light blue gown that offset her lustrous red hair. Boaz could sense Ruth’s comfort and feeling of security riding with him, so he did nothing to disturb her. But it made his pain at the recent loss of Vered sharper. He should not be riding with Ruth, he concluded. What will people say if they see us? Boaz thought. They approached the town of Socheh, Amitai’s hometown, yet his thoughts remained focused on Ruth.
Ruth the Moabite was an enigma to Boaz. He had felt an irrational compulsion to rescue her from King Perath of Ashkelon. He had recruited his dearest friend, Amitai, that canny, resourceful old soldier to accompany them. Together with Ehud they had managed to retrieve Ruth, but in the end, Amitai gave up his life to save Ruth from a barrage of arrows. Now Boaz needed to return the arrow-riddled corpse to Zelda. He did not look forward to that encounter, but at least it would be a reprieve from riding with Ruth. Ruth. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about her?
“You killed him!” Zelda shrieked as she pounded feebly on Boaz’s chest. “You took my Amitai away from me!”
Zelda was surrounded by her children, grandchildren and neighbors as the large stone to Amitai’s tomb was rolled shut. The assembly stood by the side of a hewed limestone mountain, now the site of an ancestral burial place. A hot wind stirred the tall oaks that guarded the remains of their ancestors. Zelda’s friends and relatives shifted restlessly, confused as to how to deal with the angry widow.
“Zelda, there is nothing I can say to console you,” Boaz answered gently. “I am deeply grieved by the loss of Amitai. He was my oldest, dearest friend. But know this. He died happy. He was more alive in Ashkelon than he had been in years. He single-handedly destroyed half of the Philistine fortifications. He used that brilliant intellect of his to fight our enemies. He did things most mortals could never dream of.”
“What do I care if he died happy,” Zelda retorted angrily. “He left me. He knew he wasn’t coming back, that scoundrel. He wanted to die and you gave him the opportunity. Oldest friend! Pfah! What good has that ever done for me?”
“Zelda, please believe me that Amitai loved you and loved life. But our mission was important.”
“Important? You are telling me what’s important? You go prancing around the country to reclaim some pretty Moabite heathen! You should be ashamed of yourself, Boaz. At your age? Your own Vered is not dead more than a few days and you’re already cavorting with this young thing? An elder of the tribe no less? Don’t lecture me about important missions, Boaz. You’re nothing but a dirty old man and my husband paid with his life for your wild escapade.”
Boaz stood flabbergasted at Zelda’s accusations. He looked guiltily at Ruth and at the attentive assembly, not knowing how to respond to Amitai’s grieving, irrational widow.
Ruth stepped forward and took Zelda’s hand in her two own hands. Zelda took a surprised step back as the crowd murmured at the impudent approach.
“Zelda, wife of Amitai the Maverick, of the Tribe of Judah,” Ruth intoned loud enough for the entire assembly to hear. “I too lost my husband not long ago. He was cut down in the prime of his years by a burning arrow to his heart. He was Mahlon son of Elimelech, Prince of Judah. I am, like you, a widow of Judah. But I am forever in your debt. In your debt and that of your heirs for all generations for the kindness and the sacrifice and the bravery Amitai showed me. I don’t know if we can ever be consoled for our losses. We can only strive to keep the memory of our beloveds alive, to pass it on to future generations, that they should know that such men existed. All of my offspring, should God bless me with any, shall know and honor the memory of Amitai the Maverick. That is all I can offer you. That and my friendship and the allegiance of one as lowly and humble as myself, should you choose to accept it.”
Ruth knelt at Zelda’s feet and kissed the older woman’s hand in the ancient ritual of submission and allegiance. Zelda looked in shock at the young Moabite at her feet. She looked at her family, the large family they had been blessed with. She looked at their friends and neighbors. She looked at Boaz, Amitai’s lifelong friend, and knew that Amitai had been ever happy during their adventures, even during their battles and important missions. Yes, she told herself, they had been important and he had surely relished this last one. Tears streamed down Zelda’s eyes, but they were no longer tears of anger or blame.
“Rise, my daughter.” Zelda put out both her hands to raise the younger woman. “Rise, Ruth of Moab, for now I see why Amitai gave his life for you. You are of noble spirit, like my beloved Amitai, and we need more of such spirit in Israel. Welcome, my child. Kneel in front of no person, for you are of noble descent.”
Ruth rose, and Zelda kissed her tenderly on both cheeks.
“I accept your friendship, Ruth. You have consoled me. May God, the God of our forefathers, bless you indeed with children, and as you say, may they carry the memory of my beloved for future generations. I will now sit in my home, as a mourner, and allow friends and family to comfort me.” Zelda looked meaningfully at Boaz and walked without looking back towards her home.
Dozens of people squeezed into Zelda’s small house. She sat on the floor together with her children, their garments ripped above the heart. Strange metallic and wooden contraptions hung from the ceilings and walls, clearly works of Amitai. One was a wheel that was perpetually in motion, but with no obvious source of power. Ehud scratched his head as he gazed at Amitai’s inventions.
Boaz was happy to see that although Zelda was sad she was no longer furious. Her children and neighbors were busy recounting tales of Amitai’s exploits. Boaz himself described in great detail how Amitai’s smoke bombs had saved one of the militia’s greatest confrontations with the Ammonites. Ehud recounted how Amitai had led the militia during the battle of Bethlehem and turned back the attack of the Philistines.
Ehud handed Amitai’s bag to the youngest son, Kewtai.
“He would have wanted you to have this,” Ehud explained. “You showed the most interest in his inventions. Be careful with that one!” Ehud blurted as Kewtai handled a heavy parcel. “Amitai destroyed an entire length of city wall with that device.”
“It really worked?” Kewtai asked excitedly.
“Yes,” Ehud confirmed. “But I think it was a combination of the power of the explosion and knowing the most effective spot to place it.”
“He must have been so happy.” Kewtai grinned. “He explained his theories of mechanical convulsions and wave propagation to me, but obviously never had a chance to test it.”
“Amitai did expound on what he was doing and was clearly delighted with the results, but we frankly didn’t understand him. I hope you will continue his important work, Kewtai.”
Boaz, Ehud and Ruth excused themselves from Zelda and her children as other neighbors came to comfort the family.
They walked to the two tethered horses. Ruth automatically walked towards Boaz’s horse. Boaz cleared his throat.
“Ehud, will you be returning with us to Bethlehem?” Boaz made it sound more like a request than a question.
“Yes, that is my plan. That sorcerer is still at large and he may yet try some further mischief.”
“Good. Perhaps it would be better if Ruth rode with you.”
“Of course.” Ehud nodded.
Ruth stiffened involuntarily and shivered slightly at the casual suggestion. Boaz mounted his horse quickly and started trotting ahead. Ehud mounted his own horse and helped Ruth up to sit behind him. She held on to the sides of the grizzled blacksmith, feeling the hard muscles underneath his robe, but missing the warmth of the older Judean.
“I will part with you here,” Boaz announced as they reached the gates of Bethlehem with the setting sun. “Ehud, would you be so kind as to take Ruth to Naomi’s house?”
“Of course,” Ehud said.
“Won’t you come to see Naomi?” Ruth suggested to Boaz. “You are her kinsman, are you not? She would be so pleased to see you, if not for some assistance.”
“No, Ruth. Not yet. I have known Naomi since we were children. She is very special, but she is also proud. A granddaughter of Nachshon, wife of a Prince, a beauty of Judah, she will not wish for me to see her humbled, me least of all. When she can lift her face again, then I will see her. It is painful for me, Ruth. Don’t think otherwise. But it is a greater kindness to forego charity than to foist it upon someone who will take it bitterly. But please return to my field, so that at least I can ensure you and Naomi will have sustenance. Have hope, Ruth, for yourself and for Naomi. With Naomi back in her house, God’s blessing is sure to return to her. Will I see you tomorrow, Ruth?”
“Yes, Boaz. I will come to your field. Thank you.”
Boaz trotted away, leaving a confused Ruth with Ehud. Ehud rode to Naomi’s house.
Ruth was surprised to find a new roof on the house and a solid door at the entrance. On the morning of her kidnapping the house had been nothing more than an empty shell. Ruth dismounted from Ehud’s horse, called a quick ‘thank you’ without looking back and ran to Naomi’s house. She knocked rapidly on the door. The door opened hesitantly revealing a sad Naomi holding a new broom.
“Ruth!” Naomi dropped the broom and hugged Ruth tightly. “I thought I had lost you! I heard wild reports of your being kidnapped. Are you well? What happened? Who would want to kidnap you? How did you get back? And what are you wearing? Let me look at you. Beautiful fabric.” Naomi expertly felt the smooth fabric of the dress as Ruth came into the house.
Ruth told her mother-in-law the entire story, except for God’s revelation to her. Ruth had yet to understand the implications of those visions and God’s word to her. Ruth complemented Naomi on the condition of the house. They sat on new chairs next to a solid oak table under a thick roof of thatch. Naomi listened attentively to Ruth’s story, amazed by the rescue and feeling a certain pride at Boaz’s involvement. She cried when Ruth told her of Amitai’s death.
“Oh, that dear Amitai,” Naomi said. “He was such a loyal friend. And poor Zelda. How will she manage without Amitai? But she is blessed with many children. They will take care of her.”
“She does have a large family, with many children and grandchildren surrounding her,” Ruth commented wistfully. “She was initially furious, especially with Boaz, but I think she has accepted Amitai’s death.”
“Good, but now we need to take care of ourselves. Will you return to Boaz’s field tomorrow?” Naomi asked.
“Yes.” Ruth answered, looking downward. “He requested that I return.”
“He has gone to inordinate lengths to save you and for that alone I am eternally grateful. It would be well that you continue gleaning in his field, at least until the end of the harvest. But we’ll need to make you another dress. It would be criminal to wear this to the fields. I bought some simple fabrics and will make something for you tonight. Don’t worry, Ruth. I’ve ordered a consignment of quality fabrics that should arrive by the end of the harvest and will allow us to support ourselves beyond the meager gleanings of the field. Just a few weeks more and our fortunes will change for the better, with God’s help.”
“Yes, with God’s help,” Ruth agreed, but she was more concerned as to how Boaz would greet her the following morning. Did he care for her? Would he push her away again?
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