Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 23
Clouds of War
Mahlon narrowed his eyes as the Amalekite delegation trotted towards the royal stables. They are worse than the Moabites, Mahlon thought. They would kill us just for fun. He focused on the white mare of King Galkak. Shake him off, Mahlon requested of the mare. The mare shook its head. Shake him off! Mahlon commanded. The mare neighed, stood on its hind legs and pawed the air with its forelegs. Galkak fell off the horse, but somehow landed on his feet. Mahlon gritted his teeth.
“Easy, girl,” Galkak soothed his mare. “What happened to you?”
The mare neighed and pointed its head in Mahlon’s direction.
“Did he scare you?” Galkak asked as he led the mare towards Mahlon in the stable.
“Perhaps the horse no longer likes its rider,” Mahlon said to the approaching Galkak.
Galkak stopped and looked deep into Mahlon’s eyes.
“What do you want, Amalekite?” Mahlon spat to the side.
“I have had dealings with Elimelech, your father,” Galkak said quietly. “He is a great man. I’ve also known your uncle Boaz well, young Judean. You may find that we are not all as we seem, my impetuous Mahlon. Save your power for the true enemy. Now take care of my horse.” Galkak handed the reins to a speechless Mahlon. “I have business with the Tyrant.”
“Galkak!” Eglon announced cheerily from his throne. “Come sit next to us.”
Galkak walked in slowly, with half a frown on his face. His right hand shook intermittently. He sat to the left of the massive Moabite. Dirthamus the necromancer sat to Eglon’s right.
“You are looking gaunt, King of Amalek,” Eglon said with some concern. “What has happened? Soon you shall look like our cadaverous Dirthamus. Bring him some wine!” Eglon commanded his servants.
“No thanks, Boss.” Galkak put his hand out. “I’d rather not.”
“Who is this impostor?” Eglon squealed. “Where is the true Galkak? I have never in my entire life seen you refuse a drink. That is one of your more endearing characteristics. Are you ill?”
“The rumors are true, then,” Dirthamus hissed from the side, a cruel smile on his face. “He has given up the drink. See how he shakes. He must still be suffering from the lack. If he’s not careful, he may die.”
“Galkak,” Eglon said with more iron in his voice. “I have summoned you here for various reasons. First, I wanted to see for myself if the rumors were true. Will you not have a drink? For old-times’ sake?” Eglon offered his own wine skin.
“No, Boss. No. Please. Don’t.” Galkak forced the words out of his mouth as his eyes started to tear.
“I see. And what is this I hear of rebellion of the Amalekites against you? Know that rebellion against you is rebellion against me. You have been a loyal and steadfast vassal all these years. Almost eighteen years since we conquered Canaan together and subjugated those restless Israelites. You have been by my side throughout and now I need you to remain strong. We have one last effort to safeguard our Empire forever.”
“You know me, Boss.” Galkak gripped his own thigh to keep his hand from shaking. “I’m tough as nails and no unhappy subjects are goin’ to stop me. Just tell me what you wan’ me to do.”
“I knew I could count on you.” Eglon clapped his hands, his enormous girth shaking and his triple chin wiggling. “I want you to bring all your soldiers here, to the plain of the Jordan. We shall punish the Israelites with a massacre they shall not soon forget and that shall forge the union between us and the Egyptians.”
“I don’t get it, Boss. What’s the connection? What’s the plan?”
“I want you to meet the new commander of my army. He is a brilliant young tactician and a fearless warrior. Call General Bagdon!” Eglon ordered.
Tall, dark-haired Bagdon entered the audience chamber. Only a thin scar from his ear to his mouth marred his otherwise handsome features.
“General Bagdon,” Eglon said. “Meet our vassal and ally, King Galkak of Amalek.”
“Galkak the drunk,” Bagdon said, as he looked at the Amalekite with disgust. He then looked at Galkak closely. “You remind me of someone.” Bagdon contorted his face as he tried to recall the connection.
Dirthamus looked from Bagdon to Galkak and couldn’t help but notice a resemblance.
“Bagdon son of Avod, Prince of Simeon,” Galkak stated loudly. “Your reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness precedes you. My congratulations. But Boss, can an Israelite, can a son of a prince no less, be trusted with this new plan?” Galkak turned to Eglon.
“Bagdon has my complete and utter trust. He has proven himself countless times that he is a son of Moab. He has earned his place on the backs, blood and corpses of the Israelites. I think they may even fear him more than they fear me. No, Galkak. Bagdon is the right man for the task. And once our union with Egypt is complete, I have promised him my daughter Orpah as wife.”
“So what is the plan, then?” Galkak asked, holding his thigh tighter.
“We are to assemble all the Israelite firstborns on the Jordan plain, shortly after the upcoming Tribute,” Bagdon answered. “Then we are to kill them all. Their ears will be collected and sent to Pharaoh as proof of the slaughter and as dowry for the marriage of Princess Ruth to Seti, Pharaoh’s heir. Thereby the Empires of Moab and Egypt shall be united. We shall be the greatest power in the world.”
Beads of sweat formed on Galkak’s brow and his skin turned greenish.
“Are you unwell?” Eglon asked.
“It’s nothin’, Boss. Just the lack of drink. It happens sometimes.”
“What can we do?”
“I jus’ need some fresh air, that’s all. Please excuse me.”
“By all means, Galkak. Go and return when you’ve recuperated.”
Galkak rose from the chair and walked unsteadily out of the chamber.
“Strange,” Eglon said.
“Indeed,” Dirthamus agreed. “I shall have to investigate further. Excuse me, sire.”
“Yes, yes, Dirthamus. Go make sure he is well. We cannot afford for Galkak to fail us just now.”
“Certainly, sire. We cannot afford any weakness.” Dirthamus hobbled out of the chamber, his wooden staff clattering loudly on the stone floor.
Mahlon was surprised by Galkak’s early return.
“I’m sorry, I was rude –” Mahlon started saying.
“Never mind that.” Galkak grabbed Mahlon by the arm and whispered. “Eglon is planning to kill all the Hebrew firstborns.”
“When? Why are you telling me this?”
“After the Tribute. Why am I telling you? I will reveal a secret to you, young Mahlon. A secret that has been eating me alive for eighteen years. I am no Amalekite! I am Galkak of Simeon. I fought in the Israelite militia alongside Boaz, Amitai and Ehud. I must warn Ehud of Eglon’s plan. The time has come for us to fight back. This planned massacre cannot be God’s will. Have we not suffered enough under Moabite tyranny? Does your family, does Elimelech not cry out to God for salvation? I’ll inform Eglon that I’m leaving to bring my troops. You must alert the other loyal princelings and get the word out to the princes. Beware of Bagdon. He suspects me. He doesn’t realize I am related to him. Prince Avod is my cousin, though I haven’t seen him in more than two decades. If Bagdon unmasks me, my effectiveness will be neutralized. Be strong and of good courage, Mahlon son of Elimelech son of Nachshon the Brave. We shall need every man we can get, and I suspect you are well placed to save Israel.”
Without another word, Galkak mounted his horse and rode out of the stable. He found his Amalekite retinue, gave them orders and rode out of the City of Palms.
Dirthamus hobbled into the stable a few moments later.
“Mahlon, blast your inscrutable mind,” Dirthamus rasped. “Have you seen Galkak?”
“The Amalekite King?”
“Is there a different Galkak, you dimwit?”
“No, I haven’t seen him.”
“Prepare me a donkey and my wagon,” Dirthamus ordered.
“Where are you going?”
“That is not your concern, Judean.”
“If you want me to harness the donkey properly, then I do need to know. Is it a short ride or a long one? Is it on trodden roads or on hilly terrain? If I attach the harness too tightly, the donkey will tire quickly. If I attach it too loosely, you’ll have a rickety ride.”
“I am going to the tribe of Simeon.”
“I know the road. Your transport will be ready in just a few moments.” Mahlon ran to his favorite donkey, Chamrah, his plan already formulated.
“Prince Seti,” Eglon exclaimed. “What an unexpected surprise.”
The heir of Egypt stood in front of Eglon in a resplendent robe of white linen woven with golden threads and adorned with colorful gemstone embroidered around the collar of the robe.
“You did not think we would merely allow our new ally to fend for himself,” Seti said. “We wish to provide whatever assistance you might need. And I of course have come for a personal reason. I wish to gaze again upon the beauty of my intended. I wish to see Ruth.”
“Call for the princess!” Eglon commanded. “In the meantime, Seti, please meet the commander of our forces, General Bagdon. I have promised him the hand of my second daughter should he succeed in this venture. That would make you brother-in-laws!”
Bagdon bowed to Seti. “It will be my honor to serve you and our grand alliance.”
“Bagdon,” Seti said pensively, “you do not look Moabite. What is your origin?”
“I am born of the tribe of Simeon and a loyal soldier of Moab.”
“Interesting, Eglon. You bring a Hebrew to quash the Hebrews. That is somehow ironic. In Egypt too, before your forefathers escaped, we made good use of the Hebrew leadership. They drove their own brothers in the slave pits. They were some of the harshest taskmasters.”
“My mission is to see to the glory of Emperor Eglon and now to Pharaoh as well,” Bagdon declared.
“That is encouraging to hear. Ah, Ruth,” Seti exclaimed as Ruth entered the audience chamber. “My beautiful desert flower. How are you? I have missed you.”
“I am well, Seti,” Ruth stated plainly. She wore a simple white cotton dress, with her red tresses pulled back under a white shawl.
“I have come to ensure your father’s success in his upcoming campaign. We are eager to receive the promised dowry.”
“Of course, Seti.” Ruth looked down.
“Are you unhappy?” Seti asked.
“I am distressed by this unwarranted massacre you are planning.”
“My love, you are young and do not understand,” Seti answered. “The Hebrews are slaves. For generations they were enslaved to Egypt. Then, under the influence of that renegade, the sorcerer Moses, they escaped. But it was not merely an escape. Those thankless upstarts, those crude thieves, looted Egypt. Every ounce of gold, every talent of silver was stolen. We clothed them, we fed them, we employed them and this is how they thank us? Devastating plague after plague ruined our beautiful land. The Nile ran red with blood. Animals and pestilence destroyed our crop. Fearful hail and petrifying darkness attacked us. And then the firstborns. They claim it was their God, but every firstborn of Egypt died. Every one. This cannot go unavenged. This is our opportunity. And the death of every Israelite firstborn will be our vengeance. It will signal our ascendance, Egypt’s return to its full strength versus man and god.”
“Splendid, Seti,” Eglon interrupted. “I could not have explained it better myself. Now what assistance did you have in mind? We have sufficient troops, do we not, Bagdon?”
“Our united forces,” Bagdon explained, “including the Amalekite and Ammonite regulars, number ten thousand men. That should be more than enough against unarmed rabble. We could use more horses however.”
“We have horses aplenty,” Seti stated. “What type do you need? We have Arabian, Barbs, Hunters, Nubian and Tarpans.”
“A horse is a horse,” Bagdon said in confusion.
“This is the commander of your forces, Eglon? A man who does not understand the difference between horses? Bring someone who knows the difference between a stallion and a mare,” Seti stated.
“Call for Mahlon, the Royal Stable Master,” Eglon ordered. “He is the best with animals.”
Ruth’s face brightened at the mention of Mahlon.
“Prince Seti,” Eglon cleared his throat. “Mahlon is a masterful stable-man and there is no one with better command of the horses. However, he is Israelite and I am not certain of his allegiance.”
“I understand. I shall keep my discussion with him purely technical.”
A few moments later Mahlon entered the chamber.
“Mahlon, bow to Prince Seti, heir to Pharaoh and future husband to Princess Ruth,” Eglon commanded. Mahlon bowed stiffly. “Seti is going to supply us with horses for our troops and we wanted your opinion as to the disposition of the horses.”
“How many horses are we talking about?” Mahlon asked.
“As many as you need to reinforce your cavalry,” Seti said. “What types, man, tell me what types.”
“We could use a dozen Arabians for the commanders,” Mahlon said. “Two dozen Nubians for the front line riders, half a dozen Tarpans for the scouts and as many Barbs as you are willing to part with.”
“Barbs?” Seti raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, they are not as pretty as the Arabians, which is why I only requested the Arabians for the vain commanders. The Barbs are the hardiest breed and do best in our desert.”
“This is a man who knows his animals,” Seti declared with obvious admiration. “Perhaps you will let me take him back to Egypt. We can use a man like this ourselves.”
Ruth looked at Mahlon in a mild panic.
Mahlon looked at Ruth in confusion. She doesn’t want me to leave, he realized.
“Mahlon is one of our royal hostages and his absence at this stage would be noted,” Eglon explained. “Perhaps in the future he can be spared.”
Ruth sighed softly in relief. Why is she relieved? Mahlon wondered. She is sad. She knows about the upcoming massacre and is against it, he sensed. She doesn’t want to be married to Seti. She is still a prisoner, after all these years.
“You did not request any Hunters,” Seti noted. “We find them to be formidable animals.”
“They are cruel and ill-tempered animals that will just as quickly trample their own rider as their prey. The Moabites are not proficient enough riders to control such wild and dangerous beasts. They would end up biting the backs of the other horses and create havoc in the cavalry.”
“You are wise as well as knowledgeable.” Seti smiled. “Eglon, make sure to save this royal hostage for me. I think our business for today is done. My Princess,” Seti curtsied to Ruth and exited the chamber.
“You are dismissed,” Eglon said to Mahlon.
Mahlon bowed lightly to Eglon and looked into Ruth’s sad eyes. She seemed to be saying to him, get away from here, but he already had other plans as he backed out of the chamber.
“Galkak? What are you doing here?” Ehud asked as Galkak entered the smithy quickly.
“Eglon means to kill all the Israelite firstborns,” Galkak answered breathlessly.
“How do you know? I just found out myself. He means to assemble and massacre them all after the Tribute.”
“God came to me in a dream. He told me of Eglon’s plans.”
“What else did He tell you?”
“We are going to fight.”
“I’m working on it.”
“Well, you better work quickly, because you’ll be fighting against ten thousand trained, armed and brutal professional soldiers. You don’t have any weapons! What are you going to do?”
“Cut the head off the snake.”
“And then what? That Bagdon seems fairly vicious and they have Egyptian backing.”
“We need to make our effort and God will take care of the rest. I am quietly trying to assemble an army. We will attack the day of the Tribute, right after we’ve delivered it to Eglon. I think now may be the time to use your influence on the Amalekites against Eglon.”
“I will. Also, Elimelech’s son is in charge of Eglon’s stable and I believe he can be of some help.”
“Yes. He has some mental power. We will need everyone’s help in the end.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Go, Galkak. Have faith. The time has come. The day you’ve waited for all these years is approaching and your painful toil has not been in vain. You will use your position to save your brethren. Go. Pit the Amalekites against the Moabites and that may ensure our victory. Perhaps get word to the Ammonites as well. All will be nervous about what an Egyptian alliance will do to their positions.”
“God better be with us, or it’s goin’ to end really badly.”
“Have faith, Galkak. Do you want a drink before you leave?”
“No, I’ve given it up.” Galkak said and left the smithy as quickly as he entered.
Ehud raised his eyebrow and said to the door: “If Galkak can give up drinking, there is hope indeed.”
Chamrah knew this human. He had been one of Bilaam’s apprentices many many years ago. The human was ill-tempered and smelly and avoided the light in his strange covered wagon that she pulled up the Arava Road. Mahlon had instructed her what to do. She liked Mahlon. He was the first human, except for the one episode with Bilaam, who understood her. Whenever she wanted more hay or water or a scratch behind the ear, Mahlon had been there. He often commented to her about her intelligence and her unnatural lifespan. She loved hearing his complements. Mahlon had often said she was his favorite animal in the stable.
Now he had given her an important mission. She was to strand this foul sorcerer in the Judean Mountains. It went against her nature, to abandon one of her charges, but Mahlon had convinced her that it was imperative, that this Dirthamus was on a mission of evil and that he needed to be delayed. That’s all he had asked for.
Chamrah knew Mahlon had cut into her harness. He had thought to her, when you leave the desert mountain and reach the trees of Judea, break free. Break free, leave him there and come back home.
“Blasted animal,” Dirthamus muttered. “Can’t you go any faster? It’s just like Mahlon to saddle me with a slow, stupid, sickly beast. Go!” Dirthamus whipped Chamrah’s backside. Chamrah instinctively quickened her pace. I won’t have any compunction about leaving you behind, she thought.
They climbed up the mountain road, accompanied on either side by pink and tan craggy mountains, rivulets of loose stones and a sprinkling of shrubs. As they ascended higher, the shrubs grew in number. Chamrah spotted a rare tree or two amongst boulders and rocks of various sizes. The road started to level and finally they reached the tree line. Wide oaks and tall ferns marked the end of the mountain desert.
Chamrah put on a burst of speed. Dirthamus, surprised, fell back into his wagon. Chamrah felt the leather of the harness tear, but not completely. She tried another burst of speed, but the harness held. Now what, she thought.
“What is wrong with you, you dumb animal? Dirthamus yelled and whipped Chamrah.
God’s not going to open your ears like he did your master Bilaam, Chamrah thought, so I won’t even bother with a reply. There’s the solution. Chamra spotted a fallen tree trunk by the side of the road. She ran towards the tree at full speed.
“Stop! Stop!!” Dirthamus screamed, seeing the large trunk ahead.
Chamrah jumped over the trunk. The wheels of Dirthamus’ wagon slammed into the fallen tree, sending Dirthamus flying out of the wagon. He landed on the hard road several feet away. Chamrah’s harness tore free from the wagon and she trotted casually to the fallen sorcerer.
“Come,” Dirthamus croaked and reached out to Chamrah from the ground.
I don’t know if Mahlon would have wanted me to do this, but I detest this human, Chamrah thought as she turned her back to the sorcerer.
“Come, beast,” Dirthamus commanded.
Chamrah kicked the sorcerer in the face, sending him back a few more feet, unconscious. I hate sorcerers, she thought. They’re so dumb.
Galkak had assembled all the Amalekite leaders. They sat around the large rectangular table in his palace. He would deal with their rebellion once and for all. He looked around at each face and calmly tried to take in each thought as Yered had taught him.
“You, the leadership of Amalek and the people of Amalek, are unhappy with my rule,” Galkak announced. A murmur of agreement answered his statement.
“But I am not the source of your unhappiness. It is Eglon. He is and always has been the source of my power. He tells us what to do. He holds us back from our old ways, from attacking the Israelites at will, from marauding caravans, from ambushing merchants. He has turned us into his guards and tax-collectors. Is this what you want?”
“No!” was the unanimous answer from around the table.
“Good. I admit I’ve been his puppet all this time. And that is only because I thought it was in our best interest. But I have learned something disturbing and this alliance, this subservience to the Moabites must come to an end.”
“What has happened?” one of the Amalekite leaders, Harpag, asked.
“Eglon has sold us to the Egyptians.”
“What do you mean?” Harpag asked.
“He means to ally with Egypt and attack his old allies, us and the Ammonites.”
“Why should we trust you?” Harpag pushed. “You’ve always been in Eglon’s confidence. How do we know this is not some elaborate ruse?”
“You ask a valid question, Harpag, and you have little reason to trust me. But let me ask you this. Why should I wish to betray the man who has given me power, if not to bring freedom to Amalek? It may be suicide, but I will risk it. Do you fear his might? Do you think that our forces cannot overtake him, if we have the element of surprise?”
“What are we going to do?”
“We are going to play along with Eglon. We are going to pretend we are still his loyal subjects. We are going to join Eglon in the upcoming attack against the Israelites, but then, when the time is right, we will turn on Eglon and the Moabites and regain our freedom. Will you join me? Will you all join me?”
“Yes!” was the unanimous answer. “To war!”
* * * * * *