Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 5
“I beseech you, Jalet.” Queen Neema was on her knees in front of her husband, a tear-stained kerchief in her hands. “Consider Captain Lekut. He is not of such noble stock.”
“Lekut?” King Jalet of Moab raised his eyebrow. “No. He is a good man and it may give him delusions of grandeur. I cannot risk it.”
“Damn it, Jalet!” Neema threw the kerchief to the marble floor of the audience chamber and then stood up, stomping her feet loudly. “You doom my daughters to eternal widowhood.”
“I’ve told you before, my dear,” Jalet said calmly. “You must choose someone that is not a potential threat. I shall have no objection. I will even pay for the wedding celebration.”
“Yes. But anyone who is not a threat in your mind will be of lowly stature. How can I allow my daughters to marry some commoner?”
“That is a choice you must make. I am being completely reasonable. Are they not willing to marry men that I approve of? It is you who is restricting them.”
“That’s not fair, Jalet. Imagine they were your daughters. Would you let them marry some peddler?”
“But that is exactly the point. They are not my daughters. They are the daughters of Emperor Eglon and all will remember that. My hold on my cousin’s kingdom is not so strong that I am willing to enable other contenders for the throne. No. Our son Zipor will inherit us. I wish to reign unopposed and unthreatened and to leave him the Kingdom of Moab in an orderly fashion. Enough! I tire of this discussion.”
“Your Majesty,” Captain Lekut called from the entrance a guard had opened. “I have some news of interest.”
“Approach.” Jalet smiled.
Captain Lekut walked purposely to the King’s throne and whispered in Jalet’s ear.
“How interesting,” Jalet said with surprise, looking at Neema with a smirk. “Invite them to the palace. We should make them feel welcome.”
“Hurry,” Sumahtrid said to Beor. “We must make sure the Princess and the Judeans do not meet. To the market!”
Sumahtrid ran through the narrow streets of Kir Moav until he reached the busy marketplace. He looked up and down the rows of vendors until he saw Mahlon in the distance, pacing restlessly in front of a cloth vendor.
“That is the store where Ruth works!” Sumahtrid hissed at Beor. “Perhaps he hasn’t seen her yet. We are just in time. Beor, draw that man away from the store and I’ll deal with the Princess. Go, go. Get him away from the store. I don’t care how – just don’t hurt him.”
Beor grinned mischievously and weaved his way quickly through the crowded market. As he approached Mahlon, he grabbed the money-pouch attached to Mahlon’s belt and knocked Mahlon over.
“Hey! Thief!” Mahlon yelled and chased after the smiling boy.
“Ruth?” Naomi said, catching her breath in the rainbow-draped store. This is the Ruth! She thought. This is the girl Mahlon keeps talking about. No wonder he was enamored with her – she’s lovely. But I can’t let him meet her – she’s not of our people.
“Do you know me?” Ruth asked.
“Why, of course not. We’ve just met.” Naomi shifted her eyes downward.
“Do you know Mahlon son of Elimelech? He is the Judean that I knew.”
“Mahlon? Yes, he is well known,” Naomi said slowly.
“You know him? Do you know where he is? How is he?”
Naomi glanced outside the store, but did not see her son.
“I can’t say I know where he is,” Naomi murmured.
“Oh,” Ruth sighed. “He was the one ray of light in a dreary existence.”
“Princess Ruth!” Sumahtrid burst into the store.
“What, Sumahtrid? What’s the problem?” Ruth asked.
“You!” Naomi stepped back from the black-robed sorcerer.
“You know each other?” Ruth asked.
“I am too late.” Sumahtrid eyed Naomi warily.
“Too late for what?” Ruth narrowed her eyes.
“To prevent your meeting.” Sumahtrid did not move his eyes from Naomi.
“What is so objectionable to our meeting?” Ruth asked with an edge in her voice.
“This is a family you should have nothing to do with,” Sumahtrid said.
“I agree,” Naomi said suddenly and fled from the store.
“What? What was that all about?” Ruth asked incredulously.
“Let her be, Princess. The family of Elimelech is nothing but trouble.”
“Elimelech!? That means Mahlon must be here! She lied!!” Ruth ran out of the store.
“She didn’t know?” Sumahtrid asked himself. “What have I done?”
Naomi found a breathless Mahlon panting by the area of the blacksmiths.
“Where did you go off to?” Naomi asked angrily.
“Some street urchin stole my money-pouch.”
“Did you catch him?”
“No. But when he saw me closing in on him he threw it back at me, though he managed to take out a few coins beforehand, that little thief.”
“Never mind. Let’s find your father and get out of the market.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m just tired and would like to rest. I hope he found good accommodations. There he is.” They saw Elimelech and Kilyon on their wagon, slowly making their way through the crowd of the market.
Naomi and Mahlon walked through the midday bustle and reached the wagon. As Mahlon put his hand on the wagon another hand overlaid his.
“Mahlon!” Ruth exclaimed.
A shock of energy coursed through Mahlon as he heard his name and felt her touch.
“Ruth? You’re here? Wow! That’s fantastic!”
“Oh, I’m so happy to see you too. You can’t imagine!”
“I imagined you married a Pharaoh by now. What are you doing in the streets as a commoner?”
“I am now lower than a commoner; for the king will not allow me to marry any of noble blood and my mother will not allow me to marry anyone else. It is so good to see you.”
“Yes. Likewise.” Mahlon blushed and slid his hand from underneath Ruth’s. “Um, meet my parents, Elimelech and Naomi.” Mahlon gestured at his two scolding elders. “And my brother, Kilyon.” Kilyon was grinning openly.
“Hello, beautiful.” Kilyon bowed from atop the carriage. “Do you have a sister by any chance?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Ruth smiled.
“Elimelech of Judah?” Captain Lekut approached the wagon on horseback with half-a-dozen men.
“Yes,” Elimelech answered, somewhat relieved by the intrusion.
“King Jalet has extended an invitation that you visit him in the palace,” Captain Lekut motioned to the towering structure down the road.
“That is most gracious,” Elimelech said. “However, we have just arrived and I am eager to secure our new accommodations and rest a bit. Tomorrow perhaps we shall pay his majesty a visit.”
“The king does not like to be kept waiting,” Lekut placed his hand on the pommel of his sheathed sword. “And tomorrow is a long time away. Much can happen in a day.”
“Very well, then. We are your guests. Lead us.”
The half-a-dozen men surrounded the wagon as the captain trotted ahead of them. Naomi got on the wagon. Mahlon walked side by side with Ruth, chatting quietly.
“How have you been?” Mahlon asked Ruth as a familiar black-robed figure ran ahead to the palace.
“What do I care for your dark prophesies, Sumahtrid. Leave me alone.” Jalet waved off the sorcerer. “Your master’s powers did not help Eglon who was so fond of him. I must proceed with political expediency. Not some fortune-teller’s reading of entrails – no disrespect, of course. But no. My course is clear and neither you nor Neema shall dissuade me.” Jalet looked at his pouting queen sitting next to him.
“They are here,” a guard announced.
“Bring them in,” Jalet ordered.
The family of Elimelech together with Ruth entered the audience chamber.
“Excellent!” Jalet smiled. “Ruth is here as well. Call for Orpa and let us close matters.” A guard ran out of the chamber to fetch the other princess. Ruth stood next to her mother who was seated by Jalet’s side.
“Welcome Prince Elimelech of the great Israelite tribe of Judah.” Jalet stood up. “It is quite a rare and unexpected surprise for one of such great stature to come unannounced. What brings the great and mighty to our humble city?”
“You are most gracious King Jalet, to welcome so honorably one undeserving of such honor. I have come with my family to reside in your fair city for some time, if that is agreeable to you.”
“I have no objection.” Jalet sat back on his throne, hand on his chin. “But may I ask for what purpose have you come to Kir Moav? Should we be expecting more Judeans?”
“The pressures of my role have been too much for me of late. I require a respite. I do not expect any of my brothers to follow me.”
“I see. No, I perfectly understand. At times I too wish I could just lay down my crown and have the cares of a simple man once again. You are both brave and fortunate that you are able to abscond the way you have. You are most welcome amongst us.”
“That is most gracious of you, King Jalet. I thank you.”
“And you are welcome. However, I have a proposition, even a request, for you.”
“Yes, your Majesty?”
“I see these two handsome powerful-looking men beside you. I take it these are your sons?”
“Yes. Mahlon, my eldest, and Kilyon, his brother.”
“Mahlon and Kilyon. And is it true you are all descendents of the fabled Nachshon the Brave, the man for whom your god split the Sea of Reeds for your people.”
“We are all of the blood of Nachshon.”
“You see, Neema.” Jalet turned to his queen. “Princes of noble birth with an illustrious ancestor. You cannot ask for better.”
“I must object, your Majesty,” Sumahtrid interjected. “It is that very blood that makes them so dangerous.”
“Listen to the sorcerer, Jalet.” Neema placed her hand on the king’s arm. “You cannot be serious. My people are sworn to destroy them and you would propose this?”
“Silence!” Jalet roared. “I will not be argued with in front of guests.”
“What are we talking about?” Elimelech asked.
“Let us speak as men, Elimelech, not as leaders.” Jalet leaned on his throne. “As one head of a household to another.”
At that moment, Orpa, dressed in a shimmering green gown entered the chamber. Kilyon’s eyes widened as he saw her. Orpa batted her eyes at his open gaze and strutted towards the throne to stand beside Ruth at her mother’s side.
“Ah, perfect timing, my dear.” Jalet gestured at Orpa. “You see, Elimelech. I have a complex situation to deal with. You of course must remember my queen Neema from your days under the subjugation of my dear departed cousin Eglon. Now I have these two beautiful beloved step-daughters, whom I treasure as if they were my own. And here is the dilemma. Some amongst my people have questioned my succession to the throne after Eglon’s unfortunate and sudden demise. If someone of noble blood or with royal aspirations were to marry my dear step-daughters it may put me in a tenuous situation. They might claim that as the son-in-laws of the former Emperor they should have a right to the throne. It is of course unreasonable to place myself in such a position. To complicate matters, their dear mother, my queen, is quite selective, as every mother has a right to be, as to who her daughters marry. So we find ourselves many years now unable to find suitable matches for our girls.”
“What are you proposing?” Elimelech asked in a low voice.
“Why, I think it is obvious. Your sons are a perfect match for the daughters of Eglon. Your boys are of noble blood, yet no Moabite would consider them as heirs to the throne, hence they are not a danger to me. I propose we arrange the ceremony as soon as possible. I will even cover the entire expense of the wedding party!”
“This is a most difficult offer.” Elimelech took a step back. “You may not know, your Majesty, but amongst our people, we do not marry those outside of Israel.”
“Yes. I have heard about your reticence to marry others. But I have also studied your history. Did not Joseph marry an Egyptian? Moses a Midianite? Both of them daughters of high priests of other nations. And Joshua married Rahav, a Canaanite of Jericho. So there are certainly exceptions and I think Ruth and Orpa are clearly beautiful and regal exceptions.” Jalet saw Elimelech tensing up. “Be careful what you answer Elimelech. Our hospitality may depend on it.”
Naomi grabbed Elimelech’s arm and stepped in front of her quickly reddening husband.
“That is a most gracious offer, your Majesty,” Naomi said. “As you know, we have just arrived from a long and tiring journey. Please let us rest a bit and let us discuss it further after we’ve had some more time to get comfortable. I see that your queen and your, ah, advisor are likewise uncomfortable with your plan, but we shall give it due consideration, if that is agreeable.”
“Yes, wife of Elimelech. You are wise, though forward. Perhaps I have pushed this idea too quickly. That is the burden of leadership at times. To think too fast, too far ahead of everyone else. I must give my subjects some time to see things as I do, to catch up to my thinking. Yes. Tomorrow I will require an answer. Do you have accommodations?”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Elimelech said, regaining his composure. “We have found a suitable place and will give you our response tomorrow.”
“Until then.” Jalet motioned to the guards to escort the Judeans out.
“With your permission, your Majesty, I will also excuse myself,” Sumahtrid asked urgently.
“Begone.” Jalet waved the sorcerer away, recalling having tried unsuccessfully before. Sumahtrid rushed out of the audience chamber.
“You cannot mean to go through with this, Jalet. Is this part of some new plot that I cannot fathom?” Queen Neema asked.
“Why don’t we ask your daughters what they think of my proposal? Ruth? What say you? I saw you looking longingly at the eldest.”
“I would marry him,” Ruth said, not daring to hope.
“That was straightforward.” Jalet smiled. “What about you, Orpa? The younger one clearly had eyes for you.”
“He is handsome,” Orpa answered. “He has a certain vibrancy to him. I would not refuse an offer.”
“There we have it,” Jalet clapped his hands. “Your daughters agree. They even like them. They are fine upstanding young man, strong and smart, with fire in their eyes. They are of noble birth, yet are not a threat to my monarchy. You will not find better grooms than these again, Neema.”
“They are Hebrews.” Neema spat the word.
“And you are Amalekite. So? Your daughters are Moabite. We live in a new world. The Philistines control the coast. The Egyptians are diminished. The Hittites are no more. The Midianites are becoming civilized. So what if these boys are Israelites. They are here to stay and your old enmities will not serve you well.”
“My ancestors would cringe to contemplate such a union.”
“Your ancestors are dead and their hatred did them no good. It is to my advantage, to your advantage, to your daughters’ advantage and even to the Judean advantage for these unions to take place. It is wise.”
“Elimelech did not seem pleased either,” Neema argued.
“He is a smart man. He will see the wisdom and the advantage of the offer despite his tribal misgivings. You will see. Tomorrow we shall announce the engagement. Congratulations girls!”
“Let’s wait and see,” Neema said, hoping Elimelech was as stubborn as she thought.
Sumahtrid reached his house before the Judeans arrived at theirs. It was early evening and the setting sun turned the pink stones of Kir Moav to red.
“Good, Beor. You’re here,” he said to the boy, gnawing on an old bone with one hand and fidgeting with his knife in the other. “I have another task for you. Listen to me. You will climb on to the roof of the house across the road. Make a small hole in the thatch so you can hear what they say and perhaps even see something. You will be my eyes and ears. I will be with you in here.” Sumahtrid touched Beor’s head. “I will see everything you see and hear everything you hear. I must know what Elimelech will say and decide. I hope that he will stop this marriage that he is clearly against. Perhaps I should advise him to leave Kir Moav. But no. He will never listen to anything I say. I’ve interfered too much already. Go. Go to the roof and let’s see what they say.”
Beor scampered out of the house and quickly climbed onto the roof. He found a thin stretch of thatch and used his knife to cut through it until he could see clearly into the common room. He felt an annoying buzzing in his head. Beor scratched at his head, but it did not help. He sensed the presence of Sumahtrid watching what he saw and hearing what he heard. Beor tried to ignore the feeling. He twirled his knife reflexively as he balanced himself on one of the beams and peered down into the house.
Elimelech’s family entered quietly. Then they all spoke at once, a loud crescendo of noise filling the evening sky.
“Quiet! Quiet!” Elimelech yelled. “I will speak and you will hear me. You shall not marry those Moabites, daughters of an Amalekite that we are commanded to destroy. It is an abomination. How can you even suggest that we would consider it?”
“Would you rather Jalet execute us?” Naomi asked.
“Yes. I have not stood for much of late, but I will not stand for my sons to marry outside our people.”
“Father, aren’t you being excessive?” Kilyon asked. “They are princesses. Rich and beautiful. We would live very comfortably in our exile.”
“Absolutely not! At least your brother has the sense not to suggest a marriage. He knows them well. He lived amongst them for many years. Isn’t that right, Mahlon?”
“Ruth is the only woman I’ve ever cared for,” Mahlon said with a faraway look.
“And her sister is gorgeous!” Kilyon jumped in. “Come on, Father. Stop being such an old stick. We are no longer amongst our people. Who else should we marry? Do you expect us never to marry?”
Elimelech was quiet. He looked with pained eyes at his sons and his wife.
“God has been quick to punish me for leaving our people. We are here just a few hours and already my sons are ready to marry heathens. Perhaps you were right, Naomi. Perhaps we should have stayed. But the deed is done and I will not go back. It would be an even greater embarrassment. But my word is final. While I have breath in my body, I shall not allow this marriage to take place. Over my dead body!” Elimelech yelled.
The presence of Sumahtrid in Beor’s mind was startled by the yell and became confused about his surroundings. Sumahtrid’s mind left Beor’s body. The boy lost his balance and fell through the thatched roof, clutching his knife and falling atop Elimelech. “Dead body!” was all Beor remembered hearing. Elimelech crumpled to the ground. Beor lifted himself off Elimelech and drew his knife out of Elimelech’s back.
“Dead body!” Beor repeated and ran out of the house, before the shocked family could react.
Elimelech looked up in confusion and coughed blood. Mahlon ran to his father and saw the stream of blood oozing out of his back. He placed his hands firmly against his father’s back, but knew it was futile.
“Elimelech!” Naomi cried, on her knees next to him. “Elimelech!”
“I forgot,” Elimelech whispered. He clutched his chest, knowing the end was near.
“What?” Naomi asked through her tears.
“Everything. Everything my father taught me. I should have been strong in God. I tried to be strong in myself, to make up for my weakness, and now it ends like this. I was wrong to fight the Benjaminites. I was wrong to fight Ehud. I was wrong to leave our people. Am I wrong about the boys?”
“No, my love.” Naomi grasped his hand. “You are not wrong. It is our way. Your father would have been proud of you. Of the strength you showed against the King of Moab.”
“I can’t see clearly anymore.” Elimelech coughed more blood. “My eyes have misted over. What have I done? I’m sorry, Naomi. I loved you. Not as you deserved. But I loved you in my own way. Goodbye, my love. Don’t…”
“Don’t what, Elimelech? Don’t what? Don’t leave me! No! Elimelech! No! Not here! Not now! No!!” Naomi buried her head in Elimelech’s still chest.
“Come, Mother,” Kilyon hugged Naomi. “He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do now. We have to let him go. Come.”
“No! No. No. No. No.” Naomi wept, convulsing in her grief.
“Mother, he is gone.” Mahlon stood up, his hands and clothing soaked in his father’s blood. “We should bury him. Bury him as our own people do – not like these heathens. He would have wanted that.”
“Yes, yes, of course we need to bury him. But not just yet. Give me a few more moments with him.” Naomi placed her head on his cold chest, feeling more bereft than she ever had in her life. Little did she know that this was not the last loss she would suffer.
* * * * * *
Book of Ruth, Chapter 1
1 And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the field of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Kilyon, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. And they came into the field of Moab, and continued there. 3 And Elimelech, Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.