Warrior Prophets Chapter 19
The Kenite Agent
“You promised my client 200 dinar for that saddle,” Raskul, the Kenite agent, demanded, waving his walking stick as he leaned on the tavern table, “and you will pay him for it. It is not his fault your horse grew so fat that she refuses to wear it.”
“I ordered a saddle that would fit my horse,” Baltar the blacksmith bellowed. “Is it my fault Torash is so incompetent that he doesn’t know horses change in size? I will not pay for such poor workmanship.” Baltar banged his palm on the table. The patrons of the Bet Shean tavern, all Canaanite, looked at the arguing duo and turned back to their drinks.
From the windows of the tavern, over the heavy fortress walls, one could see the Jordan River to the east. It flowed lazily southward under the humid summer sun. The sweaty patrons tried to forget about the new neighbors that surrounded them almost on every side. The Israelites had conquered most of the nearby cities and it was just a matter of time before Bet Shean would become a war-zone, as heavily fortified as it was. Only a small corridor to the west and a slightly larger one to the northeast, were free of Israelite dominion, allowing the Canaanites of Bet Shean the limited freedom of travel and commerce.
“I would hate for your good name to be soiled by word of your not honoring your contracts and not paying for work done and delivered.” Raskul stated.
“Do you threaten me? My word is good when good work is given. I will take this to the magistrate and he will see my point.”
“I have an idea,” Raskul said pensively, “in order for you to avoid any embarrassment. I understand that you are not happy with the saddle, which is a beautiful piece of workmanship, you must admit, even if it is the wrong size. Return the saddle to me and pay me a small token amount, say 50 dinar, for my client’s trouble and efforts, and we shall put the matter to rest. However, I realize that doesn’t solve your lack of saddle. As fate should have it, I may just be able to find a saddle of the right size – a highly prized piece, I assure you – and I will of course be happy to get it for you, though it will most likely involve much effort, for a symbolic amount of 250 dinar.”
“300 dinar!” Baltar shouted. “What are you? Phoenician? You would take 300 dinar for a 200 dinar saddle?”
“My dear, Baltar,” Raskul said soothingly. “Your powers of arithmetic are impeccable; however there are several parties involved, so please don’t confuse what may be complex for you. 50 dinar is for poor Torash, my client, who worked so hard on that saddle, which is now worthless. It would be a horrible sight for the two of you to go before the magistrate, for accusations to fly and for your good name to be smeared across the streets of Bet Shean. Imagine how much business you would lose. Much more than the meager 50 dinar, which I assure you, will keep Torash happy and quiet. The other 250 dinar is for a superior saddle, one that will fit your sweet horse as a sheath fits its sword. I will take only a sliver of profit for my extensive efforts in locating such a magnificent saddle.”
“Humph,” Baltar crossed his arms and weighed his money bag. “If it will quiet Torash and get me a badly needed saddle, I will agree.”
“Agreed!” Raskul’s hand shot out to grab Baltar’s and shake it firmly.
“By Ashtar,” Baltar grumbled. “This saddle better be worth it.”
“I assure you it is. However, I must insist on payment in advance, both for Torash and for the new saddle. I would hate for there to be a repetition of this misunderstanding.”
“This saddle better be perfect, Raskul, or I shall personally wring your neck.”
“I personally guarantee your satisfaction, and you shall have your saddle by the end of this day. Now for the payment, please.”
Baltar counted out 300 dinar into Raskul’s palm from the money bag at his side. Raskul discretely placed the coins in a pouch at his side and tied the pouch tightly.
“With your permission,” Raskul bowed to Baltar, “I shall return this defective saddle to Torash with your kind donation, which I shall ensure will keep him quiet, and bring your new saddle forthwith. Thank you.”
Raskul scooped up the heavy saddle in one arm and leaned on his walking stick with the other.
Two weeks later, Baltar chanced upon Torash in front of the temple of Ashtarte.
“How’s the saddle?” Torash asked, smiling.
“Are you addled?” Baltar responded angrily. “That saddle of yours was worthless, yet your agent made me pay you off anyway so you wouldn’t take me to the magistrate. Luckily he found me one that fit perfectly, but ended costing me much more. You’ve cost me 100 dinar, Torash, for your inept work.”
“What are you talking about? What agent? I gave that poor Raskul my saddles to deliver. He seemed like a reasonable and intelligent fellow. All he asked for was 10 dinar each to deliver. He explained how much time it would save me and allow me to work on more saddles in that time. It was true. I completed another saddle in the time it would have taken me to deliver the other two and he brought me all the money. I was happy to give him the 20 dinar.”
“Raskul did what?” Baltar’s face turned crimson as he clenched both fists. “By Baal and Ashtarte! I will kill that man.”
“What happened?” Torash asked, perplexed.
“Torash,” Baltar breathed heavily out of his mouth. “The day you sent me the saddle, who was the other saddle for?”
“Why, it was for Delmon’s donkey.” Torash answered, uncomprehending.
“That son of a jackal! Baltar yelled. “I will kill him! I will wrap my hands around his neck and choke the life out of him!” Baltar trotted towards the tavern with Torash on his heels.
“Where is he? Where is Raskul?” Baltar shrieked, drunk with rage. His voice reverberated off the tavern walls. “Where is that thrice-cursed agent? I shall squeeze the life out of him. I will pound him and stomp him and crush him until he begs for death. Where is he!!??”
Raskul could hear Baltar from the outhouse and thanked Baal silently that his call to nature coincided with Baltar’s wrath. Raskul quietly found his own donkey and slowly cantered out of the city of Bet Shean. He briefly mourned the possessions he had left behind, but he was quickly comforted by the heavy pouch at his side, the earnings from all of his unfortunate victims.
Raskul paced his old donkey carefully on the northward road towards Ashtarot. He had crossed the Jordan River and he could glimpse the Sea of Galilee. The swelling in his left leg was acting up. It always acted up when he needed to leave town quickly. He didn’t want to go to Ashtarot, but he had few other options. The good people of Bet Shean would surely have burned him alive had they discovered how many of them had been victims of his agency services. He had gotten sloppy. Usually he managed to milk the residents of a city for months, even years. This time, after just a few weeks he had been found out.
His reputation was no better to the west. Which is what now brought him northeast and through the recent war-zone between the Israelites and Canaanites. The aggressive Israelites were a people he hadn’t truly interacted with and he had no intention of doing so now. Bet Shean was the last free enclave in the area. Raskul just hoped he wouldn’t meet any blood-thirsty Israelite warriors before he reached the questionable sanctuary of Ashtarot.
Raskul looked apprehensively up and down the road as he entered deeper into Israelite territory. He looked to his sides to find quick cover, but was disappointed by the sparsely vegetated land of the river bank. He muttered a quick prayer to Baal, to Ashtarte, to Ilu, to Ra, and to the Hebrew god for good measure.
After trotting uneventfully for a few hours, Raskul spotted them just after a rise in the road. But they had seen him as well. Two Israelite warriors. Young and armed and heading his way quickly. It was too late to turn back and that would only mark him as prey. Raskul continued to trot nonchalantly and started to whistle a tune, though he sweated profusely in the cooling evening.
“Identify yourself!” a tall muscled red-head commanded Raskul, with extended sword.
“I am Raskul of the Kenite, your humble servant. There is no war between our peoples, so you do not need to threaten me so. I would know your name and mission and whether you are brigands or honorable men. If you are brigands, then let us be done with it, for I am a poor man, a refugee, with no means and less possessions and I would beg for your mercy. If you are honorable men, then I would press you for safe passage in this war-torn region.”
“We are no brigands, Raskul of the Kenite,” the red-head answered, sheathing his sword. “I am Boaz and my companion is Amitai, we are both of the Tribe of Judah.”
“Ah, the famous tribe of Judah. I have heard much of your tribe. Of your bravery in battle and your wisdom and mercy in peace. Let an old man pass unharmed and I will bless your names to all the gods.”
“We shall let you go unharmed, but do not invoke the names of your gods.”
“Does that offend you, master Boaz? What harm can a good wish and a blessing do? I shall thank your god too. Yahweh you call him?”
“Do not use his name in vain!” Boaz said hotly, reaching again for his sword. “Do not discuss any gods. It is sacrilege to us. Where are you traveling to? Go on and be off with you, before you start naming other gods.”
“By Baal and Ashtarte!” Raskul exclaimed. “I have never met such a strange people. You would skewer me just for stating harmless words?”
“I will kill you Kenite, if you don’t stay your tongue.” Boaz drew his sword.
“Calm, young master, calm. I shall not name any further gods. Not your Yahweh, not Baal, nor Ashtarte. Not the Egyptian Ra or nor even the unpopular Ilu. I swear by all the gods, on heaven and earth, of the trees and rocks and the streams and even the worms, that I shall not name any further gods. I am quite familiar though with the names of a host of demons and lesser angels, which I shall be more than happy to name –”
Raskul found Boaz’s sword edge against his neck.
“One more word. One more word, dear talkative man, and I shall have no choice but to slice your neck right here and now. Nod if you understand.”
“Good. It is possible to shut you up it seems. While we have your attention, we will ask for directions. If you answer anything other than the question, if you name a god, a demon, a dog, a flower or a gnat, I shall slice your neck with no constraint and consider having performed a service to my nation and perhaps mankind. Do you understand?”
“Excellent. Intelligent after all.”
“Here is the question. Remember to answer simply. I would hate to bloody my sword, but I shall do so if you err by a hairsbreadth. Kenite, which way to the tomb of Moses?”
Raskul’s eyes widened. He did not speak. He looked down at the sword by his neck. He put his fingers on the side of the sword and gently pushed it away.
“The vocal chords do not function with steel against them,” Raskul said softly.
“Speak. Plainly.” Boaz commanded.
“The tomb of Moses you seek. That is a holy site. Hard to find. Only the most determined, the savviest explorers may be privy to its secrets, its mystery, and its power.”
“Do you know where it is?” Boaz spat out through clenched teeth as he brought the blade closer to Raskul’s neck.
“No one knows where it is. But I know how to find it.”
“Will you take us?”
“For a price.”
“What’s your price?”
“Land in the tribe of Judah.”
“Then so will be finding the tomb.”
“Is there not something more reasonable you’re interested in?”
“How about re-sheathing your sword to start with?”
Boaz sheathed his sword.
“Name a reasonable price,” Boaz said.
“What do you have to pay? You don’t exactly look like a pair of princes.”
“We have a few coins, the weapons we carry, our clothing and our provisions.”
“Vagabonds. Not interested. With your permission, please allow me to pass.”
“But we must find the tomb of Moses,” Boaz pleaded.
“You wish to be guided to the most important, most secret location this side of the Jordan, for a pittance?”
“If you name something we can do, we will perform it.”
“Hmm,” Raskul looked Boaz and Amitai up and down.
“Here is my offer. It is my final offer. If you don’t accept it you shall have to either kill me or let me go. Is that agreed?”
“I shall agree to guide you in your search for the tomb of Moses, if and only if you agree to be my personal guards, to protect me from all harm, whether deserved or not, until we successfully find the tomb.”
“Agreed,” Boaz stated. Raskul put out his arm and they shook.
“You too, quiet Amitai,” Raskul said with outstretched arm. Amitai looked at Boaz, shrugged his shoulders and shook hands. “Agreed.”
“Now swear to it by your god,” Raskul ordered. “I will not be offended and I shall hold you to it.”
“We swear, by our God, Almighty,” Boaz proclaimed, “that we shall protect and guard you from all harm during our search for the tomb of Moses, as long as you guide us faithfully.”
“Amen,” Amitai agreed.
“That will do,” Raskul said. “Now I wish to make camp.”
“When we will search for the tomb?” Boaz asked.
“Tomorrow. Negotiating at sword point is hard work. I am weary and it is getting dark.”
“How long do you think it will take us to get there?”
“Patience, my young guard. I will disclose more tomorrow.”
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