Warrior Prophets 2 Chapter 27
King of the River
Jalet was an early riser. He loved to greet the sun from his palace in Kir Moav. He hefted his wide girth through the double wooden doors that led to the opulent porch and bowed formally to the monarch of the sky.
Life was comfortable. His older cousin, Eglon, Emperor of Moab, had assigned Jalet to administer the ancestral Moabite stronghold while Eglon reigned from his new capital in the City of Palms.
Jalet ate well. He was not nearly as large as Eglon, but he did make a point of enjoying every delicacy he could acquire. Eglon. Eglon had been on his mind of late. He had such mixed feelings about his wildly successful cousin. On one hand, he was appreciative of the trust and position Eglon had given him. Jalet was the king of Kir Moav and had very little to worry about beyond the petty squabbles and fights of the people within his walls. On the other hand he was jealous of Eglon; jealous of his extraordinary success, wealth and power. Eglon had risen from a simple warlord of the Moabites to the conqueror of Amalek, Ammon and all the tribes of Israel. He had become a major force in the world, controlling trade from Egypt to Mesopotamia. His upcoming alliance with Egypt would make him partner to what would become the strongest, largest empire in history. Oh, how Jalet wished for such power, such grandeur, such control of one’s destiny and the fate of the world. But here he was, relegated to what had become a minor outpost in the grand scheme.
Jalet noticed from his porch a line of travelers approaching the city. It was rare for so many people to arrive at Kir Moav at once. As they got closer, he saw it was mostly women and children. He recognized Moabites from the City of Palms. Then he spotted Empress Neema and her daughters on foot, in torn and soiled clothing, and he knew something had gone terribly wrong.
You have done well, my son, God said to Ehud in his dream. You have freed my people, and more importantly, you have restored their faith. They shall now serve me wholeheartedly. At least for a time.
I am your servant, Ehud thought to God. I am gratified that we were successful.
Yes. However, I have another task for you.
I am ready.
You are to go to Bethlehem and gather Mahlon son of Elimelech. I have given him a gift. A gift that you shall utilize.
I will have you send a message to Egypt. Evil thoughts and evil deeds shall not go unpunished. No one, not even Pharaoh is beyond my reach. They have forgotten. We shall have to teach them again. However, this time the message will be just for Pharaoh.
“I don’t believe it,” Jalet said for the tenth time, as Empress Neema sat in his audience chamber and described the death of Eglon and the fall of the City of Palms and the Moabite Empire. Ruth and Orpa sat on either side of Neema. Bagdon was in the chamber as well, pacing as Neema spoke.
“The city has been burned to the ground and all of our forces, all ten thousand soldiers are dead,” Neema concluded.
“We were betrayed!” Bagdon interrupted. “We were betrayed by Galkak. He turned the forces of Ammon and Amalek against us. But at least he is dead. He has paid for his betrayal.”
“Galkak!?” Neema screeched. “Galkak was the most loyal friend and ally Moab ever had. He was from my people. From Amalek. He conquered Rabbath Ammon single-handedly. He saved Eglon countless times. No. No, Bagdon. Now that I think of it, it is you, Bagdon, you Israelite that has orchestrated all of this. Eglon trusted you. He raised you as a son. He promised our Orpa to you. I warned him he could never trust an Israelite, no matter how many of your brothers you killed. But no, he wouldn’t listen. He fawned over you. He thought you were the ideal subject. You were his success. And now you have given us ashes. And you have the gall to accuse the one decent man we have ever known? Galkak was probably on to you and you killed him. Cousin,” Neema turned to Jalet, “get rid of this traitor.”
“But, but, I am general of the forces of the Moabite Empire. I should take over!” Bagdon stammered.
“And where are your forces, General?” Jalet asked quietly.
“I can rebuild them. We can reconquer those Israelite peasants. I will fulfill Eglon’s vision. I am his heir!”
Jalet shifted his weight on the throne, understanding the situation and knowing immediately what he had to do.
“Bagdon, you are young, and I will excuse your excitement, massive failure and potential treason. My dear, departed, cousin Eglon, did place his trust in you. Therefore, if you leave Kir Moav now and never return to Moabite territory I will not have you killed.” Jalet motioned the two chamber guards closer. They understood and pointed their spears at Bagdon. “However,” Jalet continued, “if you remain, we shall execute you, as per the accusation of the Empress – is that satisfactory, Neema?”
Neema nodded. Bagdon looked at Jalet, sensing his seriousness. He looked at Neema and finally at Orpa.
“I would have been a good husband to you. I would have made you proud,” Bagdon said to Orpa and stormed out of the chambers.
“Well, now that that’s settled, let us continue our discussion, Neema.” Jalet rubbed his thick hands. “Let us speak frankly. The Empire is finished. All that remains of the might of Moab is here in this stronghold which I rule.”
“I am Empress!” Neema stood up, knowing where Jalet was going.
“My dear, Neema. You were the Empress. And as you so correctly pointed out, you are Amalekite. That is where your true allegiance lies and as our nations are no longer united, I would recommend you return home. However, I am feeling magnanimous, so I shall give you the following additional choices: you may marry me and be a humble Queen of Moab as you once were, before the failed Empire was conceived. Alternatively, you and your daughters are welcome to remain as permanent guests of our palace. You will hold no office or rank, but it is the least I can do for the poor homeless family of my dear deceased cousin. In any case, you must recognize my succession to Eglon to the throne of Moab, on which I already comfortably sit.” Jalet patted the armrest of his chair.
Neema said nothing for a few minutes, looking angry, then somber and finally smiling.
“You have certainly inherited some of Eglon’s cunning.” Neema reached out and caressed Jalet’s arm. “You are both right and gracious in your suggestions, King Jalet of Moab. I have always been attracted to power. Now you have it and you have shown you know how to wield it. Give me some time to consider your offer. There is one other journey I must make with my daughters to explore our fortunes before I will be able to give you a reply. Would that be acceptable?”
“Neema, take as long as you need. My home will always be open to you and your daughters.”
“Ehud! How good to see you! How is Blimah?” Vered greeted Ehud warmly at the entrance to their bakery. It was late afternoon in Bethlehem.
“Blimah is relieved that Eglon and the Moabites are gone and my role with them finished. But she was a bit disappointed that I needed to leave home again so soon.”
“She’s a good woman. Make sure to get back to her as soon as you can. Boaz! Ehud is here!” Vered called to the back of the bakery.
Boaz entered the storefront and embraced Ehud.
“What brings you to Bethlehem?” Boaz asked.
“Mahlon? What do you want with him?”
“He has a power that will be useful for my next mission.”
“Yes. How is he adjusting to being back home?”
“I think he’s having difficulties, and Elimelech is a wreck.”
“I figured. That’s why I came to you first. How bad is Elimelech?”
“He is broken. He is a great man, but he has been on the wrong side of the major events of our times. He led the civil war, yet he did not support your effort against Eglon. His leadership has been disastrous, yet people still look up to him and he is filled with self-doubt. He will not be happy to see you.”
“I need Mahlon.”
“Elimelech will not stop you, but Naomi might. Her son has just been returned to her after eighteen years. She had thought him lost forever. She will not wish to part with him again.”
“This will be a short absence.”
“Nonetheless, she will object. Would you like me to come along with you?”
“Thank you, Boaz, but I think it better if I go alone. You two look good. Thanks again for your help in the battle.”
“I hope that’s the last one. I was almost killed, you know. If it weren’t for your man Davneh, I would have been skewered.”
“I know. He was a good man and I was sorry to lose him.”
Boaz and Ehud embraced again and Ehud walked down the road to Elimelech’s home.
Ehud knocked on their door tentatively.
Naomi opened the door. She wore a simple beige dress with thick red hair tied neatly under her headdress. Her smile quickly turned to a frown when she recognized Ehud.
“Ehud,” she said.
“Hello, Naomi. May I come in?”
“You bring nothing but trouble to our family.”
“I’m sorry you see it that way. The trouble is never of my making. I have an important mission I must talk to your family about.”
“Family? You want Mahlon, don’t you. I know he’s having a hard time readjusting, but that’s no reason for him to leave.”
“Naomi, please let me in, so we can discuss things calmly. Is Elimelech home?”
“Yes. He and the boys just returned from the field and are washing up. Come in, then. I will get them.”
Ehud entered the large common area. A long wooden table filled the room. Naomi went to the back of the house. She returned with Elimelech, Mahlon and his younger brother Kilyon. Kilyon had the same red hair and muscular build as his brother and father.
“What do you want now?” Elimelech asked.
“May I sit down?” Ehud asked.
“What do you want!?” Elimelech asked again.
“I need Mahlon for a few weeks, perhaps even less. There is something I must do, that he is uniquely blessed to help me with.”
Mahlon, already happy at the sight of Ehud, smiled even more.
“I’m happy to go, Father,” Mahlon said. “I could use a break from this Judean town.”
“You are not going anywhere, young man; and this Judean town is your home!” Naomi stomped her foot.
“What is it you need him for?” Elimelech asked.
“Our people’s enemies.”
“Is that all you ask of us?”
“That is all I ask.”
“Naomi, you know Mahlon has been uncomfortable here.” Elimelech turned to his wife. “We cannot cage him here. He is a grown man. I agree to let him go with Ehud, but on one condition.”
“What condition?” Ehud asked.
“That he returns to Bethlehem and makes a greater effort to be at peace here.”
“I agree, Father,” Mahlon said quickly.
“Can I go as well?” Kilyon asked.
“No,” Ehud, Elimelech and Naomi said at once.
“Why does Mahlon get to have all the fun?” Kilyon asked, but nobody bothered to answer him.
“Terrible about Eglon,” Seti said to Pharaoh in the audience chamber.
“Yes. He had so much promise. I will miss that fat, uncouth Moabite. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. What did we lose from the gambit? A few horses and a little gold? It would have been well worth it had he been successful,” Pharaoh told his son and heir. “Do not fret. Nature abhors a vacuum. We shall find some other agent to take up the reigns of power in the area and do our bidding. It may be time to further cultivate our relationship with the Ammonites.”
“Yes, Pharaoh. You are wise and far-seeing as always.”
“One must think in terms of generations and eternity, though I would have loved to see the ears of the Israelite firstborns that Eglon had promised. No matter. Time will furnish us with another puppet.”
“I am concerned about how thoroughly Eglon’s power was destroyed,” Seti said.
“Yes, it was somewhat of a surprise. Perhaps Eglon exuded power he did not truly possess. He was something of a charlatan.”
“Perhaps, or perhaps there is something we haven’t considered.”
“No. Eglon attempted to rise above his station and insinuate himself into our circle. He overreached and failed. It is as simple as that.”
“As you say, Pharaoh,” Seti said, unconvinced.
Ehud and Mahlon made good time to Egypt. It took them ten days on the road from Beer Sheva. They connected with the Sea road, and traveled undisturbed. They kept the great sea to their right and the Sinai desert to their left. Their mounts loved Mahlon, who knew exactly how to get the best speed out of them. He rested the horses when they needed it. He made sure they were fed and watered at good intervals but he also knew how to push them when they were getting lazy. Horses were notoriously lazy animals and they would use any excuse to slow down, wander off the road and nibble at wild grass.
The duo left the desert and entered the lush fields of the Nile delta. Vast irrigation ditches stretched for miles around the delta and south on either side of the northward flowing river. Black slaves from Sheba worked the fields, plowing for the summer crop. Ehud and Mahlon rode southwards, bypassing the city and Pharaoh’s palace.
They found a rocky, uncultivated stretch of land on the river bank.
“This spot should work,” Ehud said.
“I told you before, Ehud. I don’t know if I can do this at all. They are completely different creatures.”
“You’ll be able to do it. I have utter faith in you.”
“That’s nice, but I don’t have faith in myself.”
“Let’s find out.”
They dismounted and tied their horses to a nearby willow tree, its long curved branches touching the rushing river. Mahlon approached the water, lay down on the mossy ground and closed his eyes. Mahlon sent his mind out to find the creatures nearby. He felt the warm familiar minds of their two horses. They were happy to rest and were already becoming drowsy after the long journey. He felt some sparrows hiding in the willow, chattering to each other inanely.
Mahlon pushed his mind to the river. He sensed a catfish nearby, but was unable to comprehend its thoughts.
“I can’t do it.” Mahlon rolled over, opened his eyes and massaged the temples of his head. “They are completely alien. It’s a foreign language. It’s one thing to talk to mammals, but these creatures are completely different.”
“Keep trying,” Ehud encouraged.
“Fine, but I think your whole plan is crazy.”
“Just talk to them.”
Mahlon rolled back onto his stomach, closed his eyes and sent his mind once again to the river. He found another catfish and tried to understand its thoughts. There was a familiarity to its mind, but at the same time, something completely different. Mahlon imagined himself in the water and tried to feel what the catfish was feeling.
Then he heard it. The catfish was thinking “move, move, move,” over and over again. Mahlon understood. It was a much simpler creature, without the sophistication and complexity of the mammals he had known his whole life.
Mahlon reached further and found a water snake slithering in the river. He heard its “hunt, hunt, hunt,” as it scoured the river bank. Now for the king of the river, Mahlon thought.
He sensed one a mile upstream, a massive crocodile. It herded a school of carp against the side of the river and snapped its powerful jaws from side to side, scooping up the flailing fish in its large mouth and chomping them quickly. Mahlon waited until the crocodile had finished its noisy repast and calmly floated downstream. Mahlon sensed the reptilian intelligence and spoke to the crocodile’s mind.
You are powerful, Mahlon introduced himself.
Yes. I fear none, the crocodile thought back.
Truly? There are none that threaten you?
I am the largest of my kind. Only the hippo, Taweret, is dangerous, but she is far now.
What is your name?
I am Timsah, father of Garwe.
I am Mahlon, son of Elimelech.
You are curious. I have never communicated with man like this.
I have a special ability.
It is interesting. I would learn more of man. They dirty the river, divert the water and change the course of my home. Why do they not stay on the land and leave the water to me?
Does not Timsah also come onto land at times?
Only when water hunting is poor.
It is the same for man or even more so. I will tell more if you will do me a favor.
Perhaps I shall eat you instead.
Do you eat all men that you encounter?
No. Only annoying ones, or if I am very hungry. Your meat is too soft and your bones too hard.
Will you do me this favor?
It depends on what you ask.
Approach and I will explain.
Timsah swam towards Mahlon and Ehud, moving its tail and body sinuously.
All Mahlon could see of the king of the river were his eyes, ears and nostrils. Otherwise he was invisible. Ehud jumped as Timsah crawled suddenly onto the river bank. Timsah was the length of two grown men. He had a dark bronze scaly skin sprinkled with black spots. His sides were a pistachio green and he walked firmly on four short splayed legs. Bright green eyes stared at Mahlon.
Greetings, Timsah, king of the river.
Greetings, Mahlon son of Elimelech. It is surprisingly pleasing to speak to man in this fashion. Who is this man next to you? Does he not speak as you do?
This is Ehud, Mahlon motioned. He is my friend and he is the favor I require.
Pharaoh rose with the sun, Ra, his fellow god. Pharaoh loved the early morning. It was the only time during his busy day he had to himself. Since time immemorial, all Pharaohs performed their morning ablutions in solitude. He went to the river bank outside his palace and washed his face with the life-giving waters of another friend from the pantheon, the river god, Hapi son of Horus.
As he rinsed his eyes, Pharaoh beheld a sight more wondrous than any he had ever seen in his life. From the river in front of him, a man rose from the water atop the largest crocodile he had ever seen. The man spat out a hollow reed from his mouth and still dripping from head to toe, stepped calmly onto the river bank.
“Are you a god?” Pharaoh asked Ehud.
“I am a messenger of God,” Ehud answered, shaking water off of himself.
“There is only one God. The God of Israel.”
“Israel?” Pharaoh took a step back, frightened. “Who are you? What is the message?”
“The message is actually for your son, the new Pharaoh.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand!” Pharaoh screamed, starting to panic.
“Clearly.” Ehud unsheathed the sword strapped to his back and stabbed Pharaoh. Pharaoh collapsed to the ground, dead. Ehud raised his sword and cut off Pharaoh’s ear. Ehud took the dismembered ear and placed it upon the palm of Pharaoh’s prone hand. Ehud then impaled the ear and the hand, leaving the protruding sword like a flag upon the battlefield.
“There is your firstborn’s ear, Pharaoh. Perhaps your son will think twice now when contemplating harming the children of Israel.”
Ehud stepped onto Timsah, who had been waiting by the river bank, and disappeared into the water of the Nile.
* * * * * *
The Nile crocodile is called Timsah al-Nil in Arabic, Mamba in Swahili, Garwe in Shona, Ngwenya in Ndebele, Ngwena in Venda, Kwena in Sotho and Tswana. (Wikipedia)
Taweret is the hippo-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility.