Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 21
“Walk with me, Princess,” Seti, heir to the throne of Egypt, called to Ruth on the banks of the Nile River.
Ruth, at sixteen years old, had grown into a strikingly beautiful young woman. Her dark red hair fell in undulating waves down her back and over her shoulders. Her angular features gave her an exotic, yet graceful, appearance. Her green eyes sparkled despite the somber expression she wore. Ruth approached Prince Seti and walked beside him as the wide Nile flowed northward.
“Are you sad, Princess? It does not become you,” Seti said gently.
“Do I appear sad? Forgive me, I was just being pensive.” Ruth looked at the streams flowing away from the river to the lush fields on either side of the Nile.
“What are you pondering?” Seti asked.
“Your river is so wide and the land so green. We live in a dry desert.”
“We are both desert people. However, we are blessed with the power and life of the Nile and the strength of Ra.” Seti pointed at the sun.
“You are not dependent on the rains,” Ruth noted.
“We are not dependent on anything. Our gods are powerful. Pharaoh is powerful. Together they see to the well-being of our people. Our people and our allies. It is our enemies that are dependent. Dependent on our mercy and our interests.”
“If you are so powerful, why do you need allies?”
“You are intelligent and beautiful, Ruth.” Seti smiled. “Man must strive. Man was born to achieve. It is a sin to allow the gods to hand everything to us on a golden platter. We must conquer and struggle to reach the glory we were born to. Allies are a means to achieve greater strength. Your father has been most successful in his conquests. It is only because we admire his success that we have invited you.”
“But if you and your gods are so powerful, how did the Israelites escape Egypt and their god destroy your land and army?”
“Pfah!” Seti spat on the ground. “Those Hebrew slaves were a curse. The gods punished us for our lack of faith. We have rebuilt our land and our army since. We are at the height of our power once again. The plagues are no more than a memory. Tales mothers scare their children with. But the Hebrews shall be punished. You shall see. Come; let us return to the palace. Pharaoh shall be expecting us.”
“God, forgive us.” Avod fell to his knees outside the Tabernacle of Shilo. “We were wrong. I was wrong to follow the strange ways.”
The Prince of Simeon had come on a private pilgrimage to the Sanctuary. Tears streamed down his face as he prayed out loud.
“My own son does not recognize me. Bagdon is so enamored with the Moabite ways that he has no Hebrew identity. I am to blame. I embraced Baal. I paid homage to Ashtarte. I have forgotten You. I have betrayed You. And You have rightfully punished us. But this punishment of Eglon has become too harsh. He enslaves our children. He takes our crops and our flocks and kills us when we resist. My people are starving. They cannot feed themselves. Not just my tribe of Simeon, but all Your tribes of Israel. We all suffer as one under this tyrant. I am sorry. I am sorry, God. Please help us. Please!”
Avod sobbed violently as he crouched on the ground.
Pinhas, the High Priest, in his resplendent garments, exited from the Sanctuary and approached the fallen Prince.
“Rise, Avod, Prince of Simeon.”
“I am without hope for me or my people,” Avod said haltingly.
“Rise, Avod, for God has heard your prayer.”
“What shall I do?” Avod asked as Pinhas helped him back onto his feet.
“Return to your tribe. Strengthen them. Bring them back to God and leave the worship of idols.”
“Will that save us?”
“She is beautiful, is she not, son?” Pharaoh declared from his throne. He looked Ruth up and down as a jackal would survey a carcass.
“I would be pleased to make her my wife, Pharaoh,” Seti answered from Pharaoh’s side.
“Then it is agreed.” Eglon clapped his bloated hands. “My Ruth shall be wife to the next Pharaoh, uniting our empires, creating a force unrivaled in history!”
Eglon and Ruth were in Pharaoh’s audience hall. The hall was spacious, with large columns of marble supporting a tall ceiling. The feeling of airiness was pleasant despite the hot humidity outdoors. A team of black eunuchs in simple white tunics stood behind Pharaoh, mechanically waving large palm branches. Court elders and priests sat on either sides of the room. Eglon sat in his sedan chair. His weight had grown so much that he could barely move himself. It took eight muscular slaves, two at each pole, to carry Eglon about. The tongues of the slaves had been cut to ensure their discretion regarding royal matters.
Ruth stood next to her father in a simple white dress. Her mother, the Empress Neema, had insisted she wear something much fancier with threads of silver and gold, but Ruth had refused.
“Almost, Eglon. Almost.” Pharaoh smiled. “There is one other matter.”
“Yes, Pharaoh,” Eglon said, one heavy eyebrow lifting.
“We are most pleased with your subjugation of the Hebrews. We still remember the pain of their rebellion. The time is ripe for settling of accounts. Do this one thing, and we shall formalize our union. We want the head of every firstborn Hebrew.”
“The head?” Eglon asked in surprise. “You wish me to kill every firstborn Israelite? That is a significant number of slaves. And to transport so many heads would be a monstrously large undertaking. Perhaps a hand or a finger from each would be a more practical demonstration of evidence and a fitting wedding gift.”
“Hmmm.” Pharaoh held up his cleanly shaven chin. “Perhaps you are right. I understand the logistical concern, though heads would be most satisfactory. Let us make it ears then. One ear from each dead firstborn. Does that suit you, Eglon?”
“Pharaoh is most wise.” Eglon nodded. “Ears are compact and flexible and much simpler to transport. I shall deliver the ears of each firstborn of Israel, as the dowry for this union. Shall we set a date?”
“Let us make it a year henceforth, on the winter solstice.”
“Agreed!” Eglon exclaimed.
“Scribes,” Pharaoh motioned. “Set forth our accord. The daughter of Moab shall marry our heir, Seti. This shall forge an everlasting union between our peoples. It shall extend our dominion to Canaan and the lands east of the Jordan River. Our armies shall be a unified army. Together we shall quash the upstart Philistines on the coast and be rid of this intruder from the seas. We shall have a joint treasury to be divided as per our concurrence. And to seal the agreement and the matrimony, Eglon of Moab shall execute every Hebrew firstborn and deliver their ears to us as dowry for the wedding ceremony to be conducted on the winter’s solstice, here in our palace.”
Scribes drew cuneiform on long papyrus scrolls. Ruth stood impassively, looking down.
“Wonderful!” Eglon cheered. “This shall be an alliance of historic import. I have one small request, Pharaoh. I simply adore those structures of yours, those pyramids. I would like one made for myself.”
Pharaoh narrowed his eyes and frowned.
“The pyramids are the exclusive right of those of divine descent,” Pharaoh said frostily. “Perhaps we can make some arrangement in the noblemen’s City of the Dead.”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask.” Eglon shrugged. “Not that I’m eager for the afterlife, but it does seem a very impressive way to go.”
“Is there anything else, Eglon of Moab?” Pharaoh asked with a mild threat in his tone.
“Yes, this calls for a celebration. When can we eat?”
Prepare yourself, God said to Ehud in his dreams.
For what? Ehud asked.
The time approaches to end Eglon’s tyranny.
What am I to do?
You will discern the course of action. That is why I have chosen you.
But I don’t know what to do.
The tanner knocked on the door of Avod’s house. The dark splotches on the tanner’s hands highlighted the bones underneath his skin. He was emaciated. He did not recall the last time he had eaten. He had been a proud man once, skilled in his craft and successful in his business. He thanked all the gods, but was careful to start with the Hebrew god. He was a Hebrew after all. His grandfather had fought beside Joshua. His great-grandfather had been amongst those who had left Egypt and witnessed the might of the Hebrew god firsthand.
The tanner knocked again. Avod opened the door.
“Avod, I haven’t eaten in several days. I hate to intrude, but do you have something to spare.”
“Of course, come in, we may have a bit of soup left, if you want to call it that. Have a seat.”
Avod led the tanner to a table. He gave him a wooden bowl and poured some soup from a pot into it.
“Thank you,” the tanner said as he tried to sit as dignified as possible and sip his soup slowly.
“Thank God, not me,” Avod corrected. “Our God. Not the heathen ones. Our God is the powerful one. The rest are nothing and merely infuriate God and bring down his wrath. That is why we suffer so. Call to him.”
The tanner ate his soup quietly and stood up.
“You really believe this trouble is because of the other gods?” the tanner asked.
“I do. Only by getting rid of the gods can we hope to be free of Eglon.”
“Thank you again. And I thank God. I have been unfaithful to Him.”
“Why are you not joyous, daughter?” Eglon asked from his reinforced wagon as Ruth rode beside him on a chestnut mare. “You have been entirely too quiet this journey. Tell me, Ruth. What is on your mind?”
“Mahlon is a firstborn,” Ruth whispered.
“What of it? All the princelings are firstborns.”
“You will kill him.”
“I suppose. His ear is to be amongst the thousands upon thousands of ears that will be your dowry. They shall write songs about it.”
“It is horrible in so many ways.”
“How did I sire such a squeamish child?”
“What about your pet, Bagdon? He’s also an Israelite firstborn.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. It would be a shame to lose such a valuable officer. I suppose Pharaoh will not miss one ear out of so many thousands. We shall have to give it more thought when the time comes.”
“How will you kill so many Israelites? They will not come as sheep to the slaughter.”
“We will have to be careful. Cautious. Though we hold the Israelites in thrall, we must be circumspect until we strike. And then we must do so swiftly, ensuring minimal resistance. They must not suspect until the last minute. I shall have to call back all of our soldiers to give them new instructions. And there is one man that we must eliminate before we can start.”
“Who?” Ruth asked.
“Ehud son of Gera of Benjamin. Blacksmith and Prophet of the Hebrew god.”
Ehud hid in the mountains across from Eglon’s City of Palms. The walls teased Ehud. Come to me. Try me, they said. Your pitiful forces will not even dent me. See how I tower over the valley. See how I command the high place. You have no chance. Go back to your miserable life. I will quash your rebellion before it is even formed. Look at my ramparts. They are strong and well-manned. My portholes are filled with archers. The boiling pitch is ready. We are vigilant. We are prepared. We know you Israelites are chomping at the bit. We shall not release our iron grip. Even your God has forgotten you. The God of your ancestors is dead or slumbering. The God of your miracles has cut his allegiance.
You are alone. An orphaned Godless people. The only parentage you can claim are the long cold shadows of my walls.
Ehud studied the walls. The defenses were perfect. No direct force could overcome the city. Ehud noted the well-armed gate. Archers stood on the rampart with casual ease, professional soldiers bored by the flow of peaceful merchants in and out of the city.
I must strike you from within, Ehud thought.
I must strike the very belly of the beast.
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