Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin
Chapter 3: Traitorous Deceptions
Rhogag of Amalek scratched the brown stubble on his chin as he gazed aimlessly to the north, across the mountainous desert. Sand and stone and the tents of his men were the singular vista in the wide canyon that Rhogag guarded. A single road from the north was the sole source of potential conflict. He hated his post. He had been assigned to this empty border as punishment, with a lone garrison. Rhogag had made the presumptive error of letting his interest in the Princess Neema become public knowledge. As a popular and efficient captain, Rhogag had made a name for himself in the last skirmish with Moab, three years earlier. A band of Moabite raiders had made a foray into Amalekite territory. Under Rhogag’s inspired leadership, the Amalekites waylaid the Moabites in the desert, utterly humiliating the Moabites, and earning Rhogag a rapid promotion within the Amalekite army. However, his indiscretion had received unfavorable consideration by the royal family, hence his exile to this sleepy, untraveled border.
Rhogag was therefore surprised when a column of dust descended from the mountain range and headed rapidly towards his garrison.
“Alert!” Rhogag commanded to his troops.
Ninety nine other spears woke up and pointed north at the approaching dust.
The dust quickly resolved into men on chariots, riding fearlessly to the garrison. There were ten chariots, with three riders on each. Not an insignificant force, but one Rhogag was confident he could repel. He did not notice a thin layer of dust rise on either side of the garrison.
“Steady, men,” Rhogag droned. “We can handle them. Perhaps it’s some type of delegation. Remain firm.”
The chariots came closer. Rhogag noticed a tall pale man with a thick golden necklace in the lead. The red tuft of hair protruding from his otherwise bald head marked the leader as none other than Eglon, King of Moab. Eglon was smiling broadly.
“What business brings the monarch of Moab to our humble border?” Rhogag called out when the Moabites were within earshot. Rhogag was backed up by ninety nine spears pointing at the enemy.
“Oh, we are simply here to conquer your land. And whom do we have the pleasure of addressing?” Eglon called back.
“I am Rhogag son of Kelim, Captain of the Northern Ridge garrison.”
“Ah, the famed Rhogag! What a wonderful happenstance. I have heard that you are a most intelligent soldier and a strong leader of men. This shall make our task much simpler. But why have you been assigned to such a lowly post? Wait, let us guess, that scandal with the princess. Yes, my spies regularly inform me regarding intrigue in Nahish’s palace. This must be your punishment then. How fitting.”
“Honored king, spare me the diatribe and state your business before we run you through. Rumors had it that you were about to attack Amon. Now you show up at our doorstep?” Rhogag raised his own spear, pointing it meaningfully at Eglon’s large frame.
“Patience, patience, man. The rumors of our attack on Amon were purposely premature. We have one other matter to prepare before we can swallow that prize. Now, you must not make such momentous decisions so hastily. Do you truly wish to lose your life by threatening me, or will you not instead listen to reason. Have you noticed the man by my side?” Eglon motioned to the short man in his chariot holding two flags, a white one and a red one.
“Now you notice, hasty Rhogag. You see, the red flag is to alert to the mass of my force that now surrounds you, to fire their arrows into your bellies.” Eglon paused to give Rhogag and his men time to realize that they were indeed surrounded by hundreds of men who had stealthily approached the garrison while Eglon had distracted them with his entrance. The Moabites lay on the dusty terrain, arrows cocked and pointed at the Amalekite garrison.
“There are several hundred cavalry as well just beyond the ridge.” Eglon motioned to the flag bearer. The flag bearer raised the white flag and waved it vigorously. Five hundred horsemen, all in one long continuous row, galloped slowly over the crest of the hill. They stopped when they were in full sight.
“So you see, Rhogag, you are outnumbered approximately ten to one and you have lost all tactical advantage. You can fight a hopeless battle, during which I promise that each and every one of your men shall suffer painful death. Or you shall assist us.”
“My liege,” Rhogag dropped his spear and fell to one knee. Ninety nine other spears dropped, followed by their owners’ knees. “We are yours to command. I shall personally lead you to the palace itself and advise you as to how to successfully conduct your campaign amongst our people. All hail, King Eglon, the Great!”
“Hail, King Eglon, the Great!” Ninety nine voices echoed.
“Most of our troops, I would say over one thousand, are stationed in the northwest, where you have given us the most trouble in the past,” Rhogag said as he rode next to Eglon’s chariot towards Nahish’s compound.
“We know,” Eglon stated. “The real question is how many men protect Nahish at his palace and how many of them are willing to give up their lives for him. If we control Nahish, we will control his army.”
“There will be at least three hundred men protecting the palace and I would assume at least half of them would readily fight for him.”
“I wish to avoid direct conflict. Though we could overcome such a force in battle, there will be no need for bloodshed if we are wise.”
“Nahish will not willingly give up power.”
“What is his weak spot? Like that news of the Greek Achilles, how can we penetrate Nahish’s protection?”
“His water supply. It comes from outside the city.”
“You suggest we cut it off? I have no interest in a siege. For us to succeed we must move swiftly. Nahish surely has reservoirs of water.”
“Then perhaps through his daughter. He dotes on her excessively.”
“Princess Neema? The one you wished to marry? How can we get to her?”
“She does have certain affection for me.”
“And what will that do for us? Nahish has demonstrated his dislike for you.”
“If we could somehow reestablish my candidacy as her spouse and then dispose of Nahish, I would rule Amalek by right. The army of Amalek would be at your command.”
“I don’t have time for political romance. We need a decisive action that will turn the tables. A quick kill where the men will have no other alternative but to follow me. Who is closest to Nahish, who does he trust most?”
“His brother-in-law, Harpag. He is Nahish’s chief advisor and general of the army.”
“What is his price?”
“Harpag is loyal to Nahish. They have fought side by side for decades and Nahish has given Harpag wealth, property and responsibilities.”
“Come now, Rhogag. Every man has his price. Is not Harpag jealous of Nahish? Does he not covet the wealth, the power and glory of rulership? Does he not seek new vistas, new domains outside this barren desert?”
“Perhaps, but Harpag is wise and practical. He would not be easily or cheaply bought.”
“I know what to do. Power and its allure is something I know how to wield. You shall go ahead alone to the palace and we shall implement my plan. I shall call on our priests. Their powers of spirit and medicine may prove helpful.”
“Pour these roots into the water source,” the priest said to Rhogag as he handed him a bag full of smelly damp root cuttings. They stood with Eglon by the chariots just out of sight of Nahish’s compound.
“It shall heighten their fears and suggestibility,” the priest explained. “Those who drink from it, within minutes shall be most amenable to following strong and direct orders. We generally use rhythmic music as well, but you of course won’t have such tools at your disposal.”
“How long will the effects last?” Rhogag asked nervously.
“That depends on how much they ingest, but usually not long. The root itself is poisonous and their stomachs will be disturbed afterwards just from drinking a diluted amount, but it should be enough to give you an advantage.”
“You know where to place it? Eglon asked.
“Yes, I know exactly where.”
“Good, let us go to Dirthamus now. He works on the spirit.” Eglon led Rhogag to a wagon with a small makeshift tent built on it.
Eglon and Rhogag climbed into the tent on the wagon.
A bundle of rags came to life. A skeletal figure turned to the visitors.
“Describe the man,” Dirthamus hissed to Rhogag.
The orbs in Dirthamus’ eye sockets were completely white. Long dirty white hair escaped from under his robe’s hood. Rhogag’s skin crawled involuntarily in the presence of Eglon’s priest. Rhogag looked at Eglon in confusion.
“Dirthamus can read the hearts and minds of men,” Eglon explained quickly. “It makes him impatient and brusque. Describe your general to him.”
Rhogag grew fearful but took a deep breath.
“General Harpag is of medium build. He has short grey hair and is shrewd and practical. He has been a loyal aid to Nahish his entire life.”
“That is sufficient,” Dirthamus said softly. “I can see him. He is strong willed. But not strong enough. Highly intelligent. He will make an excellent pawn. Appeal to his reason and to the greater good. At the end his ambition will also contribute. But go quickly; I can only hold his will for so long.”
Rhogag was happy to exit the claustrophobic tent. He could hear Dirthamus murmuring as he departed, “retzoncha retzoni…”
“Captain Rhogag,” the guard at the gate of Nahish’s compound saluted Rhogag. “What brings you alone from the border?”
“I have urgent news for General Harpag. Where can I find him?” Rhogag asked from atop his horse.
“He is most likely in his quarters. They have just finished their daily briefing. You must be thirsty from the road. Can I offer you some water?” the guard pointed at the nearby well, beside the formidable gate.
“No,” Rhogag said quickly. “I still have my own supply. Thank you.”
Rhogag rode to the compound stable, dismounted, tied his horse by an empty stall and sought Harpag. Rhogag was thankful for the hot day. The soldiers he passed were all drinking thirstily from the freshly drawn water. Eglon’s plan may work, he thought. Let us see if Dirthamus is as powerful as Eglon believes.
Rhogag knocked on the heavy oaken door of Harpag’s quarters.
“Enter,” the steely voice answered.
Rhogag opened the door and stood at attention. He was happy to notice a jug of water on Harpag’s table and an emptied copper cup.
“Rhogag? What is wrong? Why have you left the Northern Ridge? I had no reports of any trouble.”
“No trouble, General. Some changes, though.”
“Changes? Speak clearly man! Why have you left your post?”
“I have been promoted.”
“Promoted? By whom? What nonsense is this?”
“There will be a new regime shortly, and I would have you on the winning side, General.”
“What is this treasonous talk? Nahish is still strong and in the prime of his life. There may be some discontent with his rule, but there are no internal threats or usurpers. We destroyed the last rebellion years ago.” Harpag stood up and placed his hand on the pommel of his sheathed sword.
“Calm down, General. Hear me out.”
“Speak quickly, or you shall lose more than your dangerous tongue. This better not be some elaborate retaliation for your posting. You are a promising young captain and in due time that shall be recognized.”
“There is a new wind spreading through our world, General. The flame of the Israelite conquest has dimmed. Other powers are rising. The Egyptians are reasserting themselves and there is a new power that will rule our area.”
“Eglon? He’s busy plotting against the stronger Amonites. Against which I’m not even sure he’s a threat. I had heard he had allied with the Egyptians and that they were supplying him with chariots, but chariots are not enough. One needs men, and swords and money. Let him squabble with the Amonites and leave us be.”
“He is here.”
“Eglon is right beyond the hills around this compound with a thousand soldiers.”
“You traitor!” Harpag drew his sword and held it at Rhogag’s neck. “You let them through Northern Ridge! What happened to your men? Where are your soldiers?”
Rhogag did not flinch. Let’s see if Dirthamus can really deliver on his boast, Rhogag thought.
“We have joined Eglon,” Rhogag said slowly, looking deeply into Harpag’s eyes. “He will be the master of the region. He is cunning and powerful and I choose to be with the winners. I am telling you all of this for a purpose, General.”
“And what might that be?” Harpag lowered his sword slightly, looking confused.
“You can kill me now and alert your men, but you would still lose. Eglon would intercept any messengers you send to the rest of the army. You could not long last against the Moabites, especially as they have poisoned your water source.”
“Poison!? That’s monstrous! I must warn Nahish!” Harpag sheathed his sword and made for the door.
Rhogag grabbed Harpag’s arm.
“It is a slow acting poison. There is some time. Let us discuss our collaboration.” Rhogag twirled a dagger in his other hand.
“What do you suggest?”
“To aid Eglon and join his confederacy.”
“What does that mean?” Harpag asked as a milky film spread over his eyes.
“An alliance. We shall join forces with Eglon and join him in his conquests.”
“Nahish will never agree to such a thing. He will not be the puppet of another man and has little interest in foreign adventures.”
“I know. That is why you must kill him.”
“You presume much, Rhogag. And who shall rule after him, you?”
“Yes. Upon his death, I shall be married to the Princess Neema. I shall be the rightful ruler of Amalek and shall then ally with Eglon.”
“I don’t know that Neema would take a traitor as a husband. When do you propose committing such a dastardly deed?”
“Husbands typically kill the affection daughters have for their fathers. I shall only hasten the process. The deed must be done today – now. Otherwise all within the walls shall perish. General, you can save all our people with one stroke and only lose one man. Otherwise you doom the people of Amalek to death and destruction at the hands of Eglon.”
General Harpag stood stoically, apparently frozen. His eyes glazed over completely.
“Yes,” Harpag finally said with a dull smile. “We shall do this. But how will Eglon reward such a fateful action?”
“Eglon has considered your reward hard and long. If you do this thing, you shall be Viceroy of an Empire!”
“Very well. To the throne room then. You shall assist. Today we shall change the monarchy of Amalek.”
“Young Rhogag,” Nahish welcomed the captain warily. “What brings you back from your post?”
“He brings important information, my liege,” Harpag explained.
“What is it?” Nahish sat up taller in his throne.
“It is about a traitor and it is best the information remained secret,” Harpag coughed.
“Guards, servants. Leave now!” Nahish commanded urgently.
Two guards and three servants scurried out of the throne room. Harpag closed the large oaken door behind them and slid the bolt to lock the heavy door. The bolt clanged heavily. Harpag returned to the king’s side.
“Who is this traitor?” the king asked Rhogag.
“The traitor is one that has opened us to the attack of an enemy,” Rhogag answered. “He has betrayed our defenses and weakened our people. He has been asleep, negligent in his duty. He has been more concerned with his own power and pleasure than for the welfare of his people. He is a failure and deserves to die.”
“Yes, yes. Who is this disagreeable fellow?” Nahish leaned forward on his throne.
“It is you, Nahish!” Rhogag drew his sword.
“How dare you!?” Nahish rose from his throne. “You insult me and threaten me in my own throne room? Harpag! How can you allow this thankless jackal in here? Behead him!”
“He has a point, my liege,” Harpag murmured.
“What? You too join my enemies? My most trusted councilor? The general of all our troops? Is this how your repay me?”
“Rhogag is right. You have led us to defeat. As we speak, enemies surround us.”
“Eglon with a thousand Moabites.”
“We shall fight them!”
“We would lose.”
“You? A defeatist?”
“No, a realist.”
“What will you do?”
“This.” Harpag stabbed Nahish in the back, right above the kidneys. Nahish fell into his arms, blood soaking Harpag’s hands. The cloudy film lifted from Harpag’s eyes. He looked at his lifelong companion, friend and liege, dead in his arms, and said to himself in quiet horror: “What have I done?”
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