Category Archives: Book of Ruth

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 23 – Romantic Threats

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 23

Romantic Threats

Boaz watched helplessly as Ruth left the assembly. He continued reading from the Torah scroll, pained by the anguish he had inflicted upon Ruth. He paused his reading and closed his eyes, searching for Ruth’s aura. He recognized the shimmering white of Ruth’s purity and nobility, but he saw a black despair penetrate her heart and spread through her aura like a sickly growth. Boaz sensed Ruth’s devastation. The revelation of Moses’ command against Moabites coupled with the antagonism of Ploni and the other Bethlehemites had destroyed Ruth’s hopes for living amongst the Judeans. No! Boaz thought to Ruth’s aura. There is good here in Bethlehem. Don’t let their hatred taint you! But the despair spread quickly until Boaz could barely discern any light left in Ruth’s aura.

Boaz felt his knees wobble. Ruth’s pain and desolation washed over Boaz like the flooding of a wadi. Boaz rolled the scroll closed and handed it to Ehud, who was standing next to him amidst the congregation of Bethlehem that eyed Boaz with sudden concern.

“Hold…” was all Boaz managed to say as he lost his breath. Boaz clutched his chest, thinking his heart would explode. Intense agony radiated throughout his body and then he collapsed, as a puppet whose strings had been cut, to the unified gasp of his audience.

*

“Boaz,” Vered whispered lovingly. “Boaz, my love. Your time has not come.”

“Vered?” Boaz asked the image of his dead wife. That was all he could see. Everything else was a white haze.

“Boaz, I will see you soon enough, but your work is not done.”

“Vered, I don’t understand.”

“You men are so thick sometimes,” Vered teased. “You need to marry Ruth. She is the one. You have my blessing.”

“Vered, I miss you so,” Boaz responded.

“I know, my love. I miss you too. But do not fear. We will have eternity together.”

“How can I love another?”

“Is your heart so small, that you cannot make room for someone worthy? I know you approve of her. She is a unique woman.”

“But Vered…”

“I am dead, Boaz. I am no longer amongst the living. It is to your credit that you honor my memory and if time allowed, you could do so longer. But time is running out. The line of Nachshon must continue. It must continue through you and through Ruth. It is the divine plan. But it is up to you, to both of you. God will put the pieces in place, but he does not interfere with free will. Other forces are working against you. You have met some of them. You must persevere, Boaz. For all of us. For our future. You must be strong. Now wake up, you lazy old soldier.”

Vered’s image approached Boaz and kissed him tenderly.

*

Ruth ran to the assembly and pushed her way through the crowd. People parted to let her through. People in their fine Sabbath garments stood around the prone body of Boaz. Ehud was on his knees, pushing his strong arms down on Boaz’s chest.

“What happened?” Ruth blurted as she got on her knees next to Ehud.

“He gave me the Torah, clutched his chest and then fell,” Ehud answered without looking at her as he rhythmically pushed on Boaz’s chest.

“What are you doing?” Ruth asked.

“Pushing the heart sometimes helps if it has stopped,” Ehud answered.

“What can I do?” Ruth asked.

“Pray,” Ehud said simply.

God, Ruth thought, as she closed her eyes. Don’t take this man away yet. You gave us a mission. I don’t know what it is, but we haven’t completed it yet, I know that much. Bring him back and give me a sign of what I’m meant to do. Give me hope.

Boaz suddenly coughed and opened his eyes. He looked straight at Ruth.

“You didn’t leave,” Boaz whispered hoarsely.

“Not yet.” Ruth smiled, thanking God inwardly.

“Please don’t leave, Ruth.”

“I will stay as long as you want me here,” Ruth responded.

Boaz closed his eyes, relieved. He noted that Ruth’s aura had returned to her natural bright white. The darkness that had engulfed her soul was gone.

“Good. It is good that you stay here with us. Now if someone wouldn’t mind helping me off the floor, I think I would be more comfortable at home.”

Ehud on one side and Garto on the other side lifted Boaz to his feet. They escorted Boaz back to his home. Ruth and Noami accompanied them. The assembly dispersed once the excitement was over. The whole town would talk about that Sabbath gathering for days to come – until the next chaotic incident entered their lives.

*

“Your agent has not been successful,” the ghost of Dirthamus addressed his old apprentice, Sumahtrid. As usual, young Beor sat in a corner, looking distastefully at the dead sorcerer in the dark smoke-filled room.

“I have given him a sizable sum and promised him much more should he bring Ruth back to us,” Sumahtrid answered, a tentative smile on his face.

“The critical moment is approaching,” Dirthamus croaked. “We cannot risk her being free. If the Israelite does not retrieve her, you will be forced to take direct action again.”

“Ehud protects her. He is powerful,” Sumahtrid whined.

“Your job this time will be simpler,” Dirthamus responded.

“How so?” Sumahtrid asked, one eyebrow arching questioningly.

“You will simply have to kill Ruth the Moabite. If the Hebrews do not let us retrieve her, then she must die.”

“That is much simpler,” Sumahtrid agreed. “Beor can shoot her from a distance with minimal risk. Right, Beor?”

“Yes,” Beor answered with a gleam in his eye. “Killing simple.”

*

“So am I allowed to be amongst Israelites or not?” Ruth asked as they sat in Boaz’s home. “I don’t understand. Your Moses wrote that we are not allowed. Yet you, Naomi and Ehud seem to be of the opinion that it’s possible.”

Boaz lay in his bed, recovering from his collapse. Ehud sat quietly next to Boaz. Naomi had returned to her own home after seeing that Boaz had made it safely and was being looked after.

“It is not simple, for a variety of reasons,” Boaz explained. “You are the first Moabite that I know of that has attempted to enter a community in Israel. There have been Israelites that have married Moabites before, but they had typically left their home and were frowned upon, to say the least. The text of Moses is of course problematic, but you must realize that there is an oral tradition that accompanies it as well. Naomi mentioned a valid point, that the text is prohibiting Moabite men and not woman, but our sages have not contemplated this subject in many, many years. We shall have to take it up again and I expect it will be a vociferous discussion. The sages as a group will need to rule on this matter.”

“Are you not one of the sages?” Ruth asked.

“Yes.”

“And what is your opinion?”

“My opinion is both obvious and biased.”

“Who else is on this council?”

“My uncle, Ploni.”

“His opinion is also well known.”

“Yes.”

“What will happen if the ruling goes against me?”

“You will need to leave Bethlehem and you will be forbidden from marrying any man of Israel.”

“Perhaps I should leave and spare everyone the heartache.”

“Your walking away already damaged my heart once, Ruth. I don’t know that I would survive your leaving again. Please stay. Have patience. Have faith. It will end well. It must.”

“I stay for you, Boaz. Though I’m not sure what that means. You know that Garto has been courting me and now this Danite has also proposed to me. I have two Israelites that would marry me, though my heart belongs to a third.” Ruth looked at Boaz meaningfully.

“Ruth,” Boaz shifted uncomfortably in his bed, ignoring Ehud’s smirk. “You have come into my life after the death of my beloved Vered. She came to me in a dream, as I lay unconscious in the town square. She… she said… well, it is not important right now. Give me a little time. I need to get back on my feet again, which I’m confident Ehud here will make sure of. He won’t let an old man die in peace. Know Ruth, that I am committed to your protection, your sustenance and your best interests. Stay in Bethlehem until the matter of your acceptability is resolved. Keep coming to my field where my people can keep an eye on you and where I know that you will be provided with sufficient food for yourself and Naomi. Garto is a good man and I asked of him that he accompany you, for your own protection. Just a little more patience, Ruth. Just a little bit more.”

“I trust you, Boaz,” Ruth said and stood up abruptly. “I think I’ll let you rest now. Feel better.” Ruth turned and left Boaz’s house. Once outside, she started to sob. She wasn’t sure why she cried. All she knew was that her heart was in turmoil, and Boaz was at the center of it.

*

“Naomi, my dear,” Alron whispered in front of Naomi’s house. “That was some excitement this morning.”

“I can do without such excitement,” Naomi retorted.

“True, too true. But I couldn’t help noticing Ruth’s concern for Boaz. It was quite… loving.”

“Boaz has been a great benefactor to Ruth.”

“It is more than that, Naomi. One would need to be blind not to see it. I think that Ruth has been stringing me along all this time. Me and that poor buffoon, Garto. Boaz has had Ruth’s heart all this time.”

“Then you see more than I do, Master Alron. I expect you will be happy for Ruth whatever her decision may be.”

“Oh no, not at all, my dear. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one right decision for Ruth. In fact, I would be quite distraught were she not to choose to come with me. I am not a pleasant man when I am distraught, Naomi. People have been known to have gotten hurt when I am disappointed. You wouldn’t want any harm to come to Ruth, or to you, would you, my dear?”

“Harm? What harm? See here, young Alron. Are you threatening me? Are you threatening Ruth if she doesn’t give in to your artificial graces? What kind of man are you?”

“I am a man who gets what he wants.” Alron inched his face closer to Naomi. “I get what I want, whatever it takes. I am not afraid to use persuasion, bribery, threats or even violence. That is why I am successful. I am generous to my allies and merciless to anyone who stands in my way. It would be in your own self-interest and that of your daughter-in-law to consider most seriously my offer. I trust you will use your considerable influence to steer her to the right decision. The alternatives, quite frankly, would be devastating. Good day, my dear,” Alron bowed with a smile, turned and left Naomi, leaving her standing in front of her house, mouth wide in shock.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 22 – Biblical Bigotry

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 22

Biblical Bigotry

“How… how do you know me?” Ruth asked the smiling Danite standing in Naomi’s house.

“Why, you are famous, my dear,” Alron stated, his voice at a high pitch. “Word is spreading of your daring escape from Ashkelon. It would not surprise me if King Perath doesn’t offer a handsome reward to the man that returns you. Your escape is a big embarrassment to him. I’m sure he will also want your rescuers killed.”

“How do you know so much about what the Philistines think?” Ruth asked, noting Alron’s delicate hands. They had never known a day of labor.

“I have frequent business with the Philistines. I am in and out of all of their cities. Why, I’m the largest buyer of their beautiful ceramic, my dear. Have you not seen their innovative two-tone designs? It is the latest trend in my tribe, and now I am selling to other tribes as well. I have actually brought one as a gift to your mother-in-law.” Alron gestured to the elegant wine pitcher on the table. It had an intricate black and red design on the ceramic that she had never seen before. Even from a few feet away she could appreciate the beauty of the pitcher.

“You would marry me merely on a rumor?” Ruth asked, uncomfortable in Alron’s presence. His teeth were unnaturally bright.

“Men of my stature marry based on much less.” Alron’s smile grew wider. “And now that I’ve seen your beauty, I am pleased by the decision. Say yes, my dear Princess, and you and your mother-in-law will live in great comfort for the rest of your lives. I have a mansion overlooking the Great Sea, not far from the wondrous city of Ashdod. I have servants that will wait upon your every whim. You will not even have to lift a finger. Say yes, my Princess, and be happy and comfortable for the rest of your life.”

Ruth looked at Naomi, seeking guidance. Naomi shrugged her shoulders, not deciding herself how Ruth should proceed, though pleased by the young man’s attention.

“Alron,” Ruth stated formally, “I’m honored by your offer, but this is all too sudden for me. I for one prefer to know my suitors better. Your offer is attractive. I have lived as a princess before, and I prefer the freedom of labor over the prison of indolence. Will you give me time to consider and to get to know you?”

“Of course, my dear. Of course.” Alron paced within Naomi’s house. “Let us agree to the following. I will give you until the end of the harvest. My business will not pick up until then and I can afford to lounge in this quaint city for a few weeks. But by the night of the harvest celebration, I will require an answer. My business will not wait further and I will need to know whether I return home with a bride or not.”

“Agreed,” Ruth said quickly.

“Wonderful!” Alron clapped his hands. “Then with your permission, I shall take my leave and make arrangements for local accommodations. Farewell, Naomi. It was a great honor to meet you. Goodbye, Princess. I look forward to our future encounters and for you to get to know me better. A very pleasant night to you both.” Alron bowed to each woman with a flourish and exited the house.

“Whoah,” Ruth exhaled as Alron departed. “I’ve never met a man so forward.”

“He is certainly direct,” Naomi agreed.

“There was something odd about him,” Ruth commented.

“He is an Israelite merchant that has adopted the ways of the Philistines and never worked a day in his life. He probably couldn’t tell you the difference between wheat and barley.”

“That is not it. I have met many merchants in father’s palace. It is something else. He was too eager. There is something duplicitous about him. I just don’t know what it is. We should be wary around him.”

“Well, we got a beautiful pitcher from the visit. Come take a look.”

Ruth sat at the table and looked at the pitcher in the candlelight. It was an intricately drawn work of art. It showed an army of Philistines with their feathered helmets riding their narrow boats, carrying long swords and round shields. They were killing their Egyptian enemies, their bodies hanging over the sides of the Philistine boats and drowning in the water. Ruth shuddered, picturing the horde of Philistines in the Ellah Valley she had seen in her vision. Suddenly, Alron’s marriage proposal seemed much more sinister to her.

*

Ruth spent the next several weeks in utter confusion. She arose every day at dawn, to be greeted by a smiling Garto. Their walks to the field were always pleasant. No men thought of harassing her anymore. Even the errant wild dogs scampered away from Garto’s large bulk. The women of the town approached Ruth and engaged her in friendly conversation. Ruth enjoyed the procession of all the farmhands, of the farmers with their horses and oxen, of the shepherds and goat-herders with their teams of freshly shorn animals going to graze beyond the bronze fields of barley. As the barley was harvested, the wheat sprouted in green rows reflected by bright summer sun.

At the field, with Garto’s helpful tips, she improved her gleaning skills. But throughout the day, Ruth sought Boaz, rarely seeing him. The few times he came, he stayed for a short time, typically just for the meal. He would sit on the other side of Ruth, eating little and saying less, consciously avoiding eye contact with her. Ruth didn’t understand Boaz at all. He looked pale and frail, as if some internal struggle were consuming him. What happened to the man that had risked his life to save her? What happened to her savior and protector who ensured she was well-fed?

In the late afternoon, Garto walked her back home where she was met by elegant Alron. As the shadows lengthened, Alron would walk with her on the streets of Bethlehem, regaling her with tales of his business acumen and success, promising her riches and delights if she would join him. Alron told her how his father was the first Israelite to engage the Philistines in business and the thirst the tribes of Israel had for Philistine handiwork.

“Have you decided yet, my dear?” Alron would ask. Ruth didn’t know why she didn’t say ‘no’ each time. She didn’t like Alron. He was an arrogant, self-centered aristocrat and his promises of wealth did not entice Ruth. But something told her that if she refused him too quickly, the repercussions would be disastrous. She felt she was buying time.

“It’s been a long day, Alron,” Ruth invariably said. “Let us talk more tomorrow perhaps?”

“Don’t think I haven’t seen you with that boor, Garto,” Alron said one evening. “He is little more than a glorified farm-hand. He can’t even afford a horse!”

“Garto is a good man,” Ruth said defensively. “He is a dedicated and hard worker. I am grateful for his assistance and attention.”

“A princess with a common farmer?” Alron laughed. “Come now, my dear. You can do much better than that. Perhaps not here in Bethlehem. Come with me to a real city, a cosmopolitan city. A city with more than just farmers and shepherds. Ruth, you are a woman of the world, why do you shackle yourself to this lowly existence. Why do you sully your hands with menial labor when you can command an entire retinue of slaves to do your bidding?”

“Tomorrow, Alron,” Ruth said quietly. “Let us converse more tomorrow.”

“As you wish, my dear. But know that the harvest festival is fast approaching and my patience is running thin. Good night.” Alron excused himself in front of Naomi’s house, leaving a flustered Ruth behind.

*

Ruth’s only respite was the Sabbath. Ruth loved the Sabbath. She loved how the people of Bethlehem gathered in the town square, opposite the gate, to listen to the reading of the Torah. Boaz walked to the assembly gingerly, embracing a scroll against his chest. It was one of the original scrolls written in the desert by the hand of Moses himself. Moses had written thirteen identical scrolls. He gave one to each tribe of Israel. The original copy remained with the Ark of the Tabernacle at Shilo. Caleb, Boaz’s uncle, mentor and the second Prince of the Tribe of Judah had received one of the scrolls. Before his death, Caleb had charged the scroll to Boaz. Over the years, many other scrolls had been copied from the one Boaz carried reverentially in his arms.

Boaz also seemed more like himself when he read from the scroll. His confident stance, his easy comfort, his natural joy all showed themselves when he read with his melodic tune. That is my protector, my savior, Ruth thought to herself as Boaz stood in front of the residents of Bethlehem.

A lot of what Boaz read was familiar to Ruth. Over the years of her marriage to Mahlon, he had shared many of the stories and concepts with her. Naomi, with her sharp memory and analytical mind had further added to her education. Ruth enjoyed the review of the stories and of God’s commandments and she also enjoyed discovering new ones she hadn’t heard before.

Ruth sat next to Naomi, amidst a group of elderly women, most of whom had reestablished their friendship with Naomi. Ruth recognized a number of women from Boaz’s field and from her walks from Bethlehem and back. She smiled at them shyly, happy for the smile back or the warm greeting of ‘Sabbath peace’ they bestowed upon her. However, there were a number of men who refused to look at Naomi and certainly not at Ruth. Foremost amongst them was Ploni son of Nachshon, Naomi’s brother-in-law. He had not said a word to Naomi since her arrival. Other neighbors had followed Ploni’s lead in ostracizing Naomi for having brought the Moabite daughter of Eglon the Tyrant into their midst. Noami paid no attention to Ploni’s silent anger and chatted amicably with her friends as people found seats to hear the reading.

Boaz read from the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the Five Books of Moses, the only one written in the voice of Moses as opposed to dictated by God. He read about returning the ox of one’s enemy. He read about the sentence of a licentious woman. Then he read about those that Israelites cannot marry.

“A man shall not take his father’s wife, and shall not uncover his father’s robe,” Boaz chanted in his firm voice. “He that is crushed or maimed in his privy parts shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord. A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of the Lord.”

Boaz paused suddenly, hesitating to utter the next words. A confused murmur arose from the crowd. Ploni smiled thinly.

“Go on, Boaz,” Ploni called out. “Read the next part.”

Boaz looked uncomfortably at the scroll, swallowed and read in a hushed tone, as if he were reading a curse:

“An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of them shall enter into the assembly of the Lord, ever; because they met you not with bread and with water on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Bilaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse you. Nevertheless, God would not listen to Bilaam; but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days, forever.”

Ruth sat dumbfounded. She was prohibited from marrying an Israelite? Not Mahlon, nor Naomi, nor even wise Boaz had ever mentioned this to her. Ploni stood up and pointed his walking stick at Boaz.

“You see?” Ploni bellowed. “It is right there. Ink upon parchment. By the hand of Moses himself. You sully yourself by reading these words from God yet bringing this heathen viper under your wings.” Ploni shifted his shaking stick towards Ruth. A murmur spread through the assembly. “Moabite” they said unkindly.

Ruth looked at the crowd. Boaz’s head was bowed, in sadness or resignation. Garto looked around as well, discomfort on his face. Alron, standing in the back of the congregation, took a step away from the unhappy crowd. Ehud sat pensively beside Boaz. Naomi looked at Ploni with fury.

“Listen to me. Listen to me!” Naomi called out amongst the growing anger of the people.

“Why should we listen to you, woman?” Ploni called back. “You are the one who brought this Moabite into our midst and allowed your son to marry her. You are the prime cause of this debacle!”

“I will be heard, last son of Nachshon!” Naomi yelled at the top of her lungs. The crowd quieted down. “Take your blinders of hate off for a moment. You are so bitter, Ploni, that the air you breathe must be bile. Be silent and let some light penetrate that dark and somber mind of yours. I have lived amongst the Moabites and I will tell you about them. It is true that their men are vile. Ruth’s half-brother, King Zipor, befriended my boys and then had them murdered. They are not to be trusted and if I had been blessed with daughters, I would never let them marry a Moabite. But the women of Moab are different and my daughter-in-law most of all. I have known only kindness and sacrifice from Ruth. She could have stayed with her people. She is of royal blood, but she chose to join us… us! The children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Will we turn away the righteous? Will the people of loving-kindness demonstrate cruelty to those that seek us out with nothing but love and goodwill? Have we deteriorated so low from the ethics of Moses our teacher?”

“Pretty speech, Naomi,” Ploni responded. “But it doesn’t change the fact that she is a Moabite and Moses commanded that no Moabite will join the nation of Israel, ever!”

“Wait!” Naomi pleaded to the renewed murmurs of the crowd. “We have a prophet of the Lord right here amongst us: Ehud son of Gera who saved us from the clutches of Eglon. He was the very assassin of Ruth’s father. Ehud, what does the Lord say on this matter? Speak! Do not be silent.”

The congregation as one turned to the squat grey-haired blacksmith. Ehud stood up and cleared his throat.

“Ruth is beloved to God. Naomi speaks truth. The Word of Moses stands but is not independent of the Oral Tradition. This matter requires further elaboration, but now is not the time or place. Boaz, continue your reading from the sacred scroll. This discussion is ended.”

Boaz cleared his throat and continued reading. He read how Edomites and Egyptians could marry Israelites, but only after the third generation. Ruth stood up and excused herself from Naomi, leaving the assembly and heading to her house. Naomi stood up as well, cast an angry glance at Ploni and followed Ruth.

“Ruth, my daughter. Wait,” Naomi called.

“They hate me,” Ruth responded as she slowed down and allowed Naomi to catch up.

“They are ignorant,” Naomi answered.

“They are hateful, and your own Law substantiates it. You are commanded to hate Moabites. Why did you never tell me of this command? How could you have lived amongst us? How can I live amongst you? I thought myself one of you, but now I see I was naïve. Boaz was so silent. Is that why he has not spoken to me all these weeks? Did he recall the Law after he had shown such graciousness to me? I must leave.”

“Leave? How can you leave? Where will you go?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps Alron is right. Perhaps I need a bigger place, where people won’t hate me or desire me because of my nation or my parentage. Perhaps Damascus. That is a big city. I could lose myself in such a city. Become anonymous. I would just be Ruth. Not Princess Ruth, not Ruth the Moabite, not Ruth daughter of Eglon the Tyrant, just Ruth.”

“If you leave, I will follow you,” Naomi stated.

“Follow me?” Ruth looked at Naomi in shock. “You have finally returned home. You are amongst your people, your relatives, your friends. Your house is finally in order. How could you leave it all again.”

“I will not lose you, Ruth. You are more precious to me than all the people of Bethlehem. If they cannot appreciate what I see in you, it is their loss.”

“My dear ladies,”Alron interrupted from behind. “I couldn’t help but overhear your moving conversation and I would like to offer my humble services. Ruth, your suggestion of traveling to Damascus is inspired. I have long sought to extend my business network to that great city. It will be my most glorious privilege to transport such important women as yourselves to that bustling metropolis. What say you? Shall we leave this backward town and explore the greater, more accepting world? I can have my wagon and horses ready momentarily.”

Ruth looked at Alron and considered his generous offer. She looked at her mother-in-law, who was willing to leave the animosity of Bethlehem.

“It is the Sabbath,” Ruth responded. “And the little I know of Hebrew law is that it is forbidden to travel today. Thank you for your most generous offer, but I think it would be better if we contemplated it tomorrow.”

“Ruth! Naomi!” Garto ran towards them, yelling and waving his arms.

“What is the matter?” Ruth asked as he approached.

“Boaz,” Garto said panting. “Boaz has fallen!”

“What happened? Is he hurt?” Ruth asked, her heart beating madly.

“I don’t know. He just collapsed on the floor and is unmoving.”

Ruth ran back to the town square, thinking only of Boaz, the thought of leaving Bethlehem already forgotten.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Boaz’s Torah reading is directly from Deuteronomy Chapter 23.

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21 – Romance with Strings

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21

Romance with Strings

Sumahtrid the sorcerer chanted the regular chant. He stood in a dark rented room in the Philistine city of Ashdod, a few miles north of Ashkelon. Young, man-sized Beor sat quietly, brooding in a corner. The flickering of the flames in the center of the room made his shadow delirious against the stone walls.

Smoke filled the room. Sumahtrid called to his dead master, Dirthamus, expecting warm praise for having delivered Ruth to King Perath of Ashkelon. Dirthamus’ silhouette took form in the smoke. Sumahtrid was pleased once again with his ability to call upon his master from the netherworld.

“You fool!” Dirthamus’ ethereal ghost yelled at Sumahtrid. “Ruth has escaped! She was rescued by none other than Boaz. Failure! This is an utter failure! You are a failure! Oh, why did I take on such an incompetent as an apprentice? Do you know how much you’ve embarrassed me in front of my own master? My existence here is bad enough without adding this shame.”

“What? Impossible!” Sumahtrid declared. “How?”

“It doesn’t matter how! The question is what are you going to do about it? My unbearable anguish has multiplied.”

“What anguish?”

“The anguish of the netherworld. The vivid, painful reminder of every mistake. The constant reliving of a miserable life. The meaningless failure my existence has been. Swallowing burning coals would be more pleasant than having your very thoughts and memories stabbed into your consciousness like hot daggers. My one remaining purpose is to spread misery, to promote chaos in the land of the living, and even that is failing.”

“And your master Bilaam is with you as well?”

“Yes. His torment is even worse. His failure grander. But he still finds time to look at me with an evil eye. They are laughing here in hell at my latest failure. Bilaam and the late Pharaoh are taking bets if you’ll succeed or not.”

“Truly? What are they betting for?”

“Nothing. Just an old habit and the minor pleasure of being right.”

“Who’s betting against me?”

“Pharaoh. He says once you start with the Hebrews, the end can’t be good.”

“What does Bilaam say?”

“He still has hopes for you. He was pleased with your naming your apprentice after his father. He said his father was a mean, cruel, backstabbing son of a jackal and he thinks young Beor may live up to such notoriety.” Dirthamus smirked in Beor’s direction. Beor looked through slanted eyes at the dead sorcerer.

“What should I do?” Sumahtrid asked in confusion.

“The direct method has not worked. Ehud is too powerful and he is watching Boaz and Ruth. You must find a secondary path. Derail their relationship. Understand their sensitivities and weaknesses and exploit them. Use agents. Under no circumstances can those two wed. It will restore order to Israel which we cannot allow.”

“I understand, my master. I will obey. I will not disappoint you.”

“Disappoint me? You are a living disappointment. I’m a dead disappointment. There is little that divides us. Agghh!”

“What’s the matter?” Sumahtrid asked.

“Just a more intense recollection than usual of how an Israelite drunkard outwitted me. It is always painful here, and they keep changing the level of pain so you never get used to it. I leave.”

Dirthamus’ ghost disappeared with a wounded looked on his face.

Sumahtrid looked over the fire where his master had stood and wondered out loud: “Is this what awaits me as well?”

“Yes,” Beor whispered from the corner. It was the first time during his cruel apprenticeship that he had uttered an original, non-repetitive word.

*

Ruth arose at the crack of dawn, thanking God for the solid thatch roof over her head and a bed she considered her own. She shuddered at the thought that she might have awoken in the bed of Perath, King of Ashkelon and been imprisoned to the Philistine by invisible chains, as her sister Orpah was. Orpah had sensed strong life within herself right away. The previously lifeless stomach now held the seed of a child. Did Orpah know the terror she would unleash upon the world? Did she have visions of the giant Goliath destroying all in his path? Ruth pondered her empty womb and the realization that after all these years she might yet be able to carry a child. She had been too busy with survival to give it much thought. But now that she had the shelter of Naomi’s home and the sustenance of Boaz’s field, she needed to consider her future.

A simple yet pleasantly sown dress waited for Ruth by her bed. Naomi must have stayed up through the night finishing it, Ruth thought. Naomi lay unconscious on her own bed and Ruth dressed and moved about the house quietly, so as not to disturb her mother-in-law.

She walked through the street of Bethlehem unmolested. The men kept their distance, remembering the beating she had given the last man impudent enough to touch her. Some of the braver women approached her. They complemented her on her new dress and inquired about the wild stories they had heard of her abduction and her subsequent rescue by Boaz. Ruth blushed and downplayed the events, attributing them more to misunderstandings than to some nefarious plot.

Ruth reached Boaz’s land and was surprised to see the overseer, Garto, greet her with a warm smile.

“Ah, Princess Ruth, I’m so happy to see you,” Garto bowed to Ruth. Ruth looked at Garto apprehensively. This was the man that had suggested that she lie with him so that she may glean from the field. Sensing her apprehension, Garto cleared his throat.

“I know that at our first meeting, I was perhaps less than appropriate,” Garto explained. “I didn’t realize who you were. I thought you were just some common wench. I didn’t realize you were a woman of importance. I apologize for my behavior. Let us start again. I am Garto son of Leshem of the Tribe of Ephraim. I sold my ancestral land to my brother and have moved here to Bethlehem. I am unmarried and seeking a wife. I am a hard, diligent worker, which is why Boaz and others have hired me to oversee their harvest.”

“I see,” Ruth said, not sure how to respond. “Well, I appreciate your apology, though I would expect one should treat all women with respect, no matter what their station. May I glean here today?”

“Yes, yes. Of course. Go right ahead.” Garto stepped back and let Ruth enter the field. She found Boaz’s maidens cutting the golden sheaves and gleaned behind them. Ruth looked around the field for signs of Boaz, but did not see him. Garto, with his sharp eye, called out to workers who had missed harvesting an area or who didn’t make it until the end of a row. He also kept an eye on the gleaners, ensuring that they only take what rightfully belonged to the poor.

Garto walked into the field towards Ruth.

“How are you doing, Ruth?” he asked.

“Fine, thank you,” Ruth responded, reaching for another head of grain without looking at Garto.

“There are a few more over there.” Garto pointed.

“Thank you,” Ruth said and picked up the grain she had overlooked.

“You know, if you leave a bundle by the side, no one will take it. That way you don’t have to drag it with you wherever you glean. Then, if you make a series of bundles you can gather them all at once. It will save you time and effort.”

Ruth looked at Garto with new respect. That was the most helpful thing anyone had said to her in the field. For the first time she noticed that most of the gleaners were doing as Garto had suggested.

“That was most kind of you to point out. Thank you, Garto.” Ruth looked him in the eye.

“It is my pleasure, Princess. I hope you will think more kindly of me. I am here to assist you as I might.” Garto bowed and returned to the shade of the guardhouse.

Ruth watched his broad receding back and thought to herself that the overseer was not so bad after all.

*

Boaz and Ploni stood facing each other in Boaz’s spacious house. An observer might have confused them for a mirror image. Ploni was the youngest and only surviving son of Nachshon the Brave. Boaz was the oldest and only surviving grandchild of Nachshon the Brave. The uncle and nephew were close in age, in looks and in body structure. They both had long thick white beards. They had both aged considerably from the time they had fought alongside Joshua. But that was the end of their likeness. Ploni had a permanent scowl on his face. The wrinkles of his forehead and cheeks attested to a skin that had rarely laughed. Boaz’s face was calm and passive yet quick to smile. He was not smiling now.

“The rumors are spreading like fire through a parched field,” Ploni accused Boaz. “You dishonor the last days of our family.”

“Since when do you pay attention to the gossip of housewives, Uncle?” Boaz responded.

“Since it was reported to the council of Elders. Multiple witnesses saw you riding with that heathen woman pressed to your back. Have you lost all sense of shame? People are saying that you have taken her as a concubine and old Zelda yelled to an entire crowd that you had Amitai killed to save this woman, a daughter of Eglon, no less.”

“Then listen to me, Uncle, and tell the Elders so that we may set the record straight. I have not had any relations with Ruth. She is a noble woman, as Zelda herself later attested. And Amitai, Amitai sacrificed his life that Ruth may live. She is a great woman and you and all others err to disparage her and distance her. She has come under the wings of our people and we must honor her.”

“A Moabite, a daughter of Eglon, will never be honored amongst us,” Ploni replied. “We shall be better off if she leaves.”

“You are wrong and you have detained me long enough.” Boaz rose. “I am sorry that you are of a different opinion, but I see that further discussion will be a waste. Good day, Uncle. I must go to my field.”

Ploni turned and walked out of the house, followed by Boaz.

“Do not make matters worse for yourself,” Ploni warned. “Distance yourself from this woman and do not sully the House of Nachshon in its last days. Let us die out with a good name if not with any progeny.” Ploni hobbled to his home, leaning heavily on his walking stick.

Boaz mounted his horse and rode out of Bethlehem towards his field.

“Mind if I join you?” Ehud asked as he caught up with Boaz on his own mount.

“Not at all, I would welcome some friendly company.”

“Ploni?”

“Yes. He has warned me to distance myself from Ruth. The council is upset.”

“What will you do?”

“Keep my distance.”

“She is special.”

“Indeed. Nonetheless, there is little to be gained by upsetting the Elders. I will let matters and rumors calm down. As long as she is safe and sustained, I am content.”

“Boaz, I think she must be the one from Joshua’s prophecy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Remember when Joshua said I would kill your future father-in-law?”

“You have killed many men.”

“Yes, but how many were as meaningful as my killing Eglon? She must be the one!”

“Impossible.”

“Think, Boaz. Remember Joshua’s words. Remember the joint vision we just had. I know who that young hero must be. He is your progeny. A descendant of Boaz and Ruth.”

“No!” Boaz stopped his horse. Dust from the road swirled around the neighing stallion. Ehud was slower to stop and rode back to Boaz.

“It is the truth,” Ehud said.

“Vered,” Boaz said simply, tears streaming down his face. “My dear Vered. She must have known. I can’t, Ehud. I can’t bring myself to even think such a thing. The pain, the loss, the wound is still raw. Don’t push me. Give me time. Let’s wait until the end of the harvest to discuss. Perhaps the pain will have eased by then. Besides, the Elders would likely stone me in their revulsion of Ruth. Let it rest, old friend. Let us be patient. If God could have waited all this time to bring us together, He can wait a little longer.”

“Very well. I will remain. I still need to keep my eye on the two of you.”

“I am glad for your presence, Ehud. Thank you.”

The two rode into Boaz’s field and to the guardhouse, where they dismounted and tied their horses. Garto greeted Boaz and gave him an update as to the harvest. Ehud left to scout around the field. Shortly thereafter, all the workers congregated by the guardhouse for the meal, including Ruth.

“Hello, Boaz,” Ruth said. “Am I still welcome at your meal?”

“Yes. Please. Partake.” Boaz gestured that she should sit down, finding it difficult to speak at length to her.

“Thank you, Boaz. I became concerned when I did not see you at the field today.”

“Business matters. Was occupied. Occurs frequently.” Boaz murmured, not looking at Ruth directly. Ruth sat where she had last time, next to what was Boaz’s regular seat. But Boaz went and sat at the other edge of the circle, where Garto previously sat, the furthest away from Ruth. Garto, seeing his customary seat taken by Boaz, gladly sat next to Ruth and started an amicable conversation with her, telling jokes and getting her to laugh. Boaz was relieved by Garto’s intervention.

After the meal, Ruth and the workers returned to the field.

“Garto, a word please,” Boaz requested.

“Yes, sir.”

“I am pleased that you have befriended Ruth. She has been without friends or defenders since her arrival and I may be limited in my interactions with her. There are many that do not like her and that would even do her harm. Please keep a close eye on her and also upon her coming and going from the field. I will add to your wages for this service.”

“It will be my honor to look out for Ruth,” Garto said with great sincerity.

“Very good, that is a relief. It will be easier for me to leave the field knowing you are watching her. I may be more occupied in town over the coming weeks, so I will likely come to the field less often than is my want. Also, Garto, tomorrow, bring swords, for yourself and the men. The sorcerer that attacked previously is still on the loose and may make a second attempt, so stay alert and organize the men to harvest closer to Ruth and the women.”

“Understood. It will be done.”

“Good. I will leave now. God be with you, Garto.”

“May God bless you, sir.”

Boaz nodded, untied his horse and rode out of his field, for the first time in his life feeling as if he were being chased out of his own property. He looked once to the field to seek Ruth. Their eyes met. Boaz broke the contact quickly and rode away. Ruth stood looking at the back of her protector, her savior, not understanding the distance. She returned to the gleaning and making of bundles, as Garto had taught her, happy with the distraction of her work.

Towards evening, Ruth took her respectable amount of grain to the threshing floor, crushed and winnowed the barley and put the day’s production into her sack. When all the workers had gone, Garto stood by the guardhouse waiting.

“You have gathered a worthy amount of grain,” Garto commented.

“Thank you. Your advice was most helpful.”

“Come, I will walk with you back to Bethlehem.”

“That is most kind of you.”

The two walked on the road as dusk settled over the Judean Mountains.

Garto told Ruth more about himself. About his hometown by the hills of Ephraim. How he tired of tilling his own small land. As one of seven brothers, they had each inherited small lots from their father, who himself had been one of six brothers. Garto had wandered amongst the tribes of Israel. He had first worked as a hired hand, proving himself in the field and learning from different farmers. He learned how to best space the furrows dug by the oxen. He learned how to best plant the seeds and at what distance from each other. He had experimented with irrigation, but it was not as efficient or reliable as the rains, except during a drought, of course. Then he had hired himself out as an overseer, with greater and greater success. He was saving up money and hoping to buy a large field for himself. He had placed his eye on Elimelech’s vast fallow fields and now that Naomi had returned, he might discuss purchasing them from her. He would need enough money for oxen, plows, seed, workers, scythes, a new guardhouse, a threshing floor, storage houses and wagons. He was hopeful, as he had a good name in Bethlehem and Boaz was proving a trusting and generous master.

With every word Garto uttered, Ruth was more impressed: his diligence, his ambition, but most of all his normality. He was not of any significant descent. He claimed to be a distant cousin of Joshua, but wasn’t sure himself exactly how. He was not of grand stature and had no mortal enemies. He was too young to have fought in any of the major battles, though he was large and strong and not afraid to stand his ground and defend his own. With each step they took, Ruth liked Garto more. Her womb reminded her of her need to fill it, and she thought perhaps Garto would make a good husband. He clearly liked her and he was behaving extraordinarily well. Let’s see, she thought. I shouldn’t rush it. I should get to know him better.

Garto walked Ruth to the door of Naomi’s house.

“If it is okay with you, I’d like to meet you in the morning and walk you to the field. It would be a shame if anyone else would try to kidnap you. I will be armed.”

“That,” Ruth stammered, “that is most unexpected, and noble. Why, yes, Garto. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you.”

“God be with you, Ruth of Moab,” Garto bowed.

“May God bless you, Garto son of Leshem,” Ruth responded.

Garto turned around with a smile and left to his own house. Ruth entered Naomi’s house happier than she had been in a long time.

“Ruth!” Naomi exclaimed. “We were just talking about you.” Naomi motioned to the elegantly dressed young man sitting at the table with Naomi. He had the clothing, long hair and clean-shaven look of a Philistine, but he did not look like a Philistine. He wore a dark purple robe with the fringes of an Israelite peaking out from under the robe.

“Princess Ruth,” the young man stood up. “Allow me to present myself. I am Alron of Dan and I have come to seek your hand in marriage.”

* * * * * *

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 20 – Mad Widow

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 20

Mad Widow

Boaz thought of the young woman riding with him, her head at times leaning against his back when she became drowsy. He was uncomfortable with the close physical proximity of such an attractive woman. She was still wearing the elegant dress in which the Philistines had clothed her, in place of the rags in which she had arrived from Bethlehem. It was a light blue gown that offset her lustrous red hair. Boaz could sense Ruth’s comfort and feeling of security riding with him, so he did nothing to disturb her. But it made his pain at the recent loss of Vered sharper. He should not be riding with Ruth, he concluded. What will people say if they see us? Boaz thought. They approached the town of Socheh, Amitai’s hometown, yet his thoughts remained focused on Ruth.

Ruth the Moabite was an enigma to Boaz. He had felt an irrational compulsion to rescue her from King Perath of Ashkelon. He had recruited his dearest friend, Amitai, that canny, resourceful old soldier to accompany them. Together with Ehud they had managed to retrieve Ruth, but in the end, Amitai gave up his life to save Ruth from a barrage of arrows. Now Boaz needed to return the arrow-riddled corpse to Zelda. He did not look forward to that encounter, but at least it would be a reprieve from riding with Ruth. Ruth. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about her?

 

*

 

“You killed him!” Zelda shrieked as she pounded feebly on Boaz’s chest. “You took my Amitai away from me!”

Zelda was surrounded by her children, grandchildren and neighbors as the large stone to Amitai’s tomb was rolled shut. The assembly stood by the side of a hewed limestone mountain, now the site of an ancestral burial place. A hot wind stirred the tall oaks that guarded the remains of their ancestors. Zelda’s friends and relatives shifted restlessly, confused as to how to deal with the angry widow.

“Zelda, there is nothing I can say to console you,” Boaz answered gently. “I am deeply grieved by the loss of Amitai. He was my oldest, dearest friend. But know this. He died happy. He was more alive in Ashkelon than he had been in years. He single-handedly destroyed half of the Philistine fortifications. He used that brilliant intellect of his to fight our enemies. He did things most mortals could never dream of.”

“What do I care if he died happy,” Zelda retorted angrily. “He left me. He knew he wasn’t coming back, that scoundrel. He wanted to die and you gave him the opportunity. Oldest friend! Pfah! What good has that ever done for me?”

“Zelda, please believe me that Amitai loved you and loved life. But our mission was important.”

“Important? You are telling me what’s important? You go prancing around the country to reclaim some pretty Moabite heathen! You should be ashamed of yourself, Boaz. At your age? Your own Vered is not dead more than a few days and you’re already cavorting with this young thing? An elder of the tribe no less? Don’t lecture me about important missions, Boaz. You’re nothing but a dirty old man and my husband paid with his life for your wild escapade.”

Boaz stood flabbergasted at Zelda’s accusations. He looked guiltily at Ruth and at the attentive assembly, not knowing how to respond to Amitai’s grieving, irrational widow.

Ruth stepped forward and took Zelda’s hand in her two own hands. Zelda took a surprised step back as the crowd murmured at the impudent approach.

“Zelda, wife of Amitai the Maverick, of the Tribe of Judah,” Ruth intoned loud enough for the entire assembly to hear. “I too lost my husband not long ago. He was cut down in the prime of his years by a burning arrow to his heart. He was Mahlon son of Elimelech, Prince of Judah. I am, like you, a widow of Judah. But I am forever in your debt. In your debt and that of your heirs for all generations for the kindness and the sacrifice and the bravery Amitai showed me. I don’t know if we can ever be consoled for our losses. We can only strive to keep the memory of our beloveds alive, to pass it on to future generations, that they should know that such men existed. All of my offspring, should God bless me with any, shall know and honor the memory of Amitai the Maverick. That is all I can offer you. That and my friendship and the allegiance of one as lowly and humble as myself, should you choose to accept it.”

Ruth knelt at Zelda’s feet and kissed the older woman’s hand in the ancient ritual of submission and allegiance. Zelda looked in shock at the young Moabite at her feet. She looked at her family, the large family they had been blessed with. She looked at their friends and neighbors. She looked at Boaz, Amitai’s lifelong friend, and knew that Amitai had been ever happy during their adventures, even during their battles and important missions. Yes, she told herself, they had been important and he had surely relished this last one. Tears streamed down Zelda’s eyes, but they were no longer tears of anger or blame.

“Rise, my daughter.” Zelda put out both her hands to raise the younger woman. “Rise, Ruth of Moab, for now I see why Amitai gave his life for you. You are of noble spirit, like my beloved Amitai, and we need more of such spirit in Israel. Welcome, my child. Kneel in front of no person, for you are of noble descent.”

Ruth rose, and Zelda kissed her tenderly on both cheeks.

“I accept your friendship, Ruth. You have consoled me. May God, the God of our forefathers, bless you indeed with children, and as you say, may they carry the memory of my beloved for future generations. I will now sit in my home, as a mourner, and allow friends and family to comfort me.” Zelda looked meaningfully at Boaz and walked without looking back towards her home.

 

*

 

Dozens of people squeezed into Zelda’s small house. She sat on the floor together with her children, their garments ripped above the heart. Strange metallic and wooden contraptions hung from the ceilings and walls, clearly works of Amitai. One was a wheel that was perpetually in motion, but with no obvious source of power. Ehud scratched his head as he gazed at Amitai’s inventions.

Boaz was happy to see that although Zelda was sad she was no longer furious. Her children and neighbors were busy recounting tales of Amitai’s exploits. Boaz himself described in great detail how Amitai’s smoke bombs had saved one of the militia’s greatest confrontations with the Ammonites. Ehud recounted how Amitai had led the militia during the battle of Bethlehem and turned back the attack of the Philistines.

Ehud handed Amitai’s bag to the youngest son, Kewtai.

“He would have wanted you to have this,” Ehud explained. “You showed the most interest in his inventions. Be careful with that one!” Ehud blurted as Kewtai handled a heavy parcel. “Amitai destroyed an entire length of city wall with that device.”

“It really worked?” Kewtai asked excitedly.

“Yes,” Ehud confirmed. “But I think it was a combination of the power of the explosion and knowing the most effective spot to place it.”

“He must have been so happy.” Kewtai grinned. “He explained his theories of mechanical convulsions and wave propagation to me, but obviously never had a chance to test it.”

“Amitai did expound on what he was doing and was clearly delighted with the results, but we frankly didn’t understand him. I hope you will continue his important work, Kewtai.”

Boaz, Ehud and Ruth excused themselves from Zelda and her children as other neighbors came to comfort the family.

They walked to the two tethered horses. Ruth automatically walked towards Boaz’s horse. Boaz cleared his throat.

“Ehud, will you be returning with us to Bethlehem?” Boaz made it sound more like a request than a question.

“Yes, that is my plan. That sorcerer is still at large and he may yet try some further mischief.”

“Good. Perhaps it would be better if Ruth rode with you.”

“Of course.” Ehud nodded.

Ruth stiffened involuntarily and shivered slightly at the casual suggestion. Boaz mounted his horse quickly and started trotting ahead. Ehud mounted his own horse and helped Ruth up to sit behind him. She held on to the sides of the grizzled blacksmith, feeling the hard muscles underneath his robe, but missing the warmth of the older Judean.

 

*

 

“I will part with you here,” Boaz announced as they reached the gates of Bethlehem with the setting sun. “Ehud, would you be so kind as to take Ruth to Naomi’s house?”

“Of course,” Ehud said.

“Won’t you come to see Naomi?” Ruth suggested to Boaz. “You are her kinsman, are you not? She would be so pleased to see you, if not for some assistance.”

“No, Ruth. Not yet. I have known Naomi since we were children. She is very special, but she is also proud. A granddaughter of Nachshon, wife of a Prince, a beauty of Judah, she will not wish for me to see her humbled, me least of all. When she can lift her face again, then I will see her. It is painful for me, Ruth. Don’t think otherwise. But it is a greater kindness to forego charity than to foist it upon someone who will take it bitterly. But please return to my field, so that at least I can ensure you and Naomi will have sustenance. Have hope, Ruth, for yourself and for Naomi. With Naomi back in her house, God’s blessing is sure to return to her. Will I see you tomorrow, Ruth?”

“Yes, Boaz. I will come to your field. Thank you.”

Boaz trotted away, leaving a confused Ruth with Ehud. Ehud rode to Naomi’s house.

Ruth was surprised to find a new roof on the house and a solid door at the entrance. On the morning of her kidnapping the house had been nothing more than an empty shell. Ruth dismounted from Ehud’s horse, called a quick ‘thank you’ without looking back and ran to Naomi’s house. She knocked rapidly on the door. The door opened hesitantly revealing a sad Naomi holding a new broom.

“Ruth!” Naomi dropped the broom and hugged Ruth tightly. “I thought I had lost you! I heard wild reports of your being kidnapped. Are you well? What happened? Who would want to kidnap you? How did you get back? And what are you wearing? Let me look at you. Beautiful fabric.” Naomi expertly felt the smooth fabric of the dress as Ruth came into the house.

Ruth told her mother-in-law the entire story, except for God’s revelation to her. Ruth had yet to understand the implications of those visions and God’s word to her. Ruth complemented Naomi on the condition of the house. They sat on new chairs next to a solid oak table under a thick roof of thatch. Naomi listened attentively to Ruth’s story, amazed by the rescue and feeling a certain pride at Boaz’s involvement. She cried when Ruth told her of Amitai’s death.

“Oh, that dear Amitai,” Naomi said. “He was such a loyal friend. And poor Zelda. How will she manage without Amitai? But she is blessed with many children. They will take care of her.”

“She does have a large family, with many children and grandchildren surrounding her,” Ruth commented wistfully. “She was initially furious, especially with Boaz, but I think she has accepted Amitai’s death.”

“Good, but now we need to take care of ourselves. Will you return to Boaz’s field tomorrow?” Naomi asked.

“Yes.” Ruth answered, looking downward. “He requested that I return.”

“He has gone to inordinate lengths to save you and for that alone I am eternally grateful. It would be well that you continue gleaning in his field, at least until the end of the harvest. But we’ll need to make you another dress. It would be criminal to wear this to the fields. I bought some simple fabrics and will make something for you tonight. Don’t worry, Ruth. I’ve ordered a consignment of quality fabrics that should arrive by the end of the harvest and will allow us to support ourselves beyond the meager gleanings of the field. Just a few weeks more and our fortunes will change for the better, with God’s help.”

“Yes, with God’s help,” Ruth agreed, but she was more concerned as to how Boaz would greet her the following morning. Did he care for her? Would he push her away again?

* * * * * *

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 19 – Visions of Goliath

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 19

Visions of Goliath

Ruth, Boaz and Ehud are on their way home, after their escape from Ashkelon, but are sidetracked by prophetic visions of the future.

“We’re lost,” Ruth declared to the moonless night as she fiddled with the compass. “Amitai’s compass was working perfectly, but it doesn’t make any sense now.”

“What’s the problem?” Boaz asked gently. He sat in front of Ruth on the stallion, following her directions as they trotted slowly on the barely visible road. They had reached an unfamiliar crossroad. Ehud rode quietly behind them on his own horse. He pulled the reins of Amitai’s stallion, still carrying Amitai’s punctured body. In their rush to escape the Philistines of Ashkelon, they hadn’t even stopped to remove the arrows protruding from Amitai’s back.

“It seemed to be pointing north,” Ruth explained, “but now it’s shifted suddenly and points in a completely different direction. I think it’s pointing southeast.”

“Interesting,” Boaz noted. “Amitai’s inventions often led to unintended consequences. Perhaps we should rest. I think we’ve put enough distance between us and any Philistine pursuit and dawn cannot be far off. We’ll be wiser when day breaks. What do you think, Ehud?”

“I’m curious as to where Amitai’s compass is pointing,” Ehud responded after some thought. “That is not normal behavior. If you have the strength, I would investigate further.”

“Fine. Onwards then,” Boaz said in the middle of the crossroad. “Where to, Ruth?”

“Right.”

Boaz led them slowly on the dark road. They crossed a stream, the horses’ hooves sloshing in the shallow water and making pleasant crunching sounds on the river rocks.

“Left,” Ruth announced. They followed the path of the stream eastward.

“Stop!” Ruth blurted. “The compass has gone mad! It is spinning wildly!”

“Let’s see what we can find.” Ehud dismounted and tied his and Amitai’s horses to a nearby willow. Boaz helped Ruth down from the stallion, dismounted and tied his horse next to Amitai’s, looking unhappily at the body of his beloved friend.

“Right here,” Ruth said by the side of the river. “The compass has gone berserk. I’ve never seen anything move so quickly!”

“Do you feel it?” Ehud asked Boaz and spread out his arms.

“Yes, the energy,” Boaz agreed, spreading out his arms as well.

“This location is of great spiritual force,” Ehud explained. “I have not felt anything this strong except for the Tabernacle at Shilo.”

“The Cave of the Patriarchs also,” Boaz added. Ehud nodded his agreement and sat cross-legged on the ground, beside the meandering stream. Boaz and Ruth sat facing him on either side.

Ehud closed his eyes and breathed slowly. After a few moments Ehud was in a trance.

Ehud, God said.

I am here, Lord, Ehud responded with his thoughts. What is this place?

It is a Defining Place. The history of the Children of Israel will be shaped here.

What are we to do?

Touch their minds and I will show you.

Ehud sent his thoughts to his two companions. Boaz and Ruth felt suddenly drowsy, closed their eyes and entered into a light trance. Boaz had felt God’s presence before, but Ruth shuddered at the new sensation. Her entire body tingled as she felt a presence at once foreign and familiar.

The three of them saw a vision of a massive army arrayed on a mountain range. Across the valley, on an opposing mountain range, with just a thin gurgling stream dividing them, stood a smaller, rag-tag army of the tribes of Israel.

Many years in the future, the Philistines will dominate the tribes of Israel, God’s voice echoed in their heads.

God? Ruth asked in her mind, petrified. Boaz and Ehud could hear her thoughts as well as God’s response.

Yes, my child. Do not fear. You have come under My wings and I shall safeguard you. My servants Ehud and Boaz have done well. And you, Ruth, are just beginning.

I am here, God.

Behold, your sister’s son.

A vision of a giant emerged from the ranks of the Philistine army. He had the looks and build of King Perath, but was at least twelve feet tall. He wore a heavy armor of copper that covered his entire body. Only his clean-shaven face could be seen under his helmet – his face and his eyes. Ruth recognized the eyes of Orpa in the gargantuan face. They were her own eyes. They were the eyes of their father, the cunning, vicious Eglon of Moab. Ruth shuddered and knew that no mortal force could destroy this monster. This was one of the warriors Sumahtrid had promised the Philistines and she understood immediately how the Israelites would cower before this giant.

But a savior shall rise up from Israel, God continued.

The vision moved to the Israelite camp. They saw the pavilion of the Israelite king, a tall man in armor with a long beard holding a sword in his left hand.

A Benjaminite! Ehud thought with some excitement.

Yes. A Wolf of Benjamin. He will perform mighty deeds, but for this giant only a Lion of Judah has a chance to defeat him.

They saw a young shepherd enter the pavilion. He was a handsome redhead in a simple tunic. He reminded Ruth of Mahlon. Then she saw the young man’s eyes and recognized her own eyes staring back. They contained the intelligence, the cunning, the controlled ferocity that was her bloodline. But they were mixed with a humility and faith that made Ruth think of Boaz.

This boy will overcome the giant? Ruth thought.

Only with the help of all of you, and others that I will call on at the Defining Place.

How, Lord? How will you do this? Boaz asked in his mind. How can we help someone that roams the world years after we are no longer here? These events are surely decades from now.

Time and space are the fabric of my creation. Just as I can carry a man from one edge of the sea to the other, so too, I can take him from the beginning of time until its end. I have done this with your forefathers and I shall call on them once again. Boaz, you shall be in the company of your ancestors.

What are we to do? Boaz asked.

You will each give of your particular strengths, your unique attributes at the time of need. You will infuse your spirit into that of my beloved, of my young lion, and give him the strength he needs to defeat his foe. Only with your combined efforts might he succeed and set the course of Israel’s destiny.

When will this be? Ruth asked.

You will know when the time comes. God’s presence left them. The contact between the three broke and they fell to the ground, unconscious.

Ehud was the first to reawaken with the coming of dawn. Boaz stirred, followed by Ruth. She looked around in a daze and saw the opposing mountain ranges from their vision.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“We are in the Valley of Ela, and this is the road to Bethlehem,” Ehud answered.

The blacksmith walked to the stream and absently started picking out rocks from the water. His experienced hands found the deadliest rocks for a sling-thrower. He thought of what God had said and of his own skills. Ehud was one of the best sling-throwers there ever was. He could knock a fruit out of a tree from inordinate distances, or kill a man with a single small stone. Ehud found five perfect stones and placed a small pile of them by the side of the stream together with a prayer.

Boaz looked at Ruth with newfound respect.

“God spoke to you,” he said.

“Yes, I’m still shaking. Has he spoken to you before?”

“In the past, but not so clearly, not so urgently.”

“But this is to occur years in the future? Why now? Why us?”

“It must be because of you, Ruth. Ehud and I have been in the area all along. What strength does God want from me in the twilight of my life? In my youth I could run like a gazelle. My instincts are still sharp, but you Ruth, you are the new factor in our lives.”

“We should go and attend to Amitai,” Ehud addressed Boaz and Ruth.

“Yes. Zelda will be distraught, but I think Amitai was truly happy,” Boaz replied.

The three mounted their horses with the rising sun and rode eastward to Amitai’s town. Ruth looked at the mountains of the Ela Valley on either side and recalled the vision God had shown her. She could remember the sound of the armies facing each other; the threat of destruction that the Israelites faced; the look of innocence yet determination in the redheaded shepherd, in the eyes so much like her own.

A gust of wind filled the valley as the sun rose higher in the sky. Sound reverberated off the mountain walls. Ruth thought her ears might be playing games with her, but she swore she heard the echo of a roar. She shuddered and said a silent prayer. God, may I be worthy, may I have the strength to do what you require, though I don’t know what that is.

I will be with you, was the silent answer.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 18 – Storming the Castle

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 18

Storming the Castle

Boaz, Ehud and Amitai enter Ashkelon to rescue Ruth from King Perath.

“Greetings Eglon’s Eldest. Welcome to my city. I am Perath, son of Akavish, son of Larus who came from the sea,” King Perath acknowledged Ruth as she entered the royal dining hall, followed by Orpa. Perath sat at the head of a long table with a feast laid out in front of him. A dozen guards and an equal number of servants filled the wide room. Small balconies adorned each side of the hall, providing a breathtaking view of the sea to the west and the mountains to the east, resplendent in the summer sunset.

“Sumahtrid did not lie.” Perath looked Ruth up and down. “You are as beautiful as your glorious sister. Tell me, do you have any other sisters that I should know about. It would please me to have the entire collection. The sorcerer gave me a good price for two daughters of Eglon. Perhaps I can get a bulk discount for any others?” Perath laughed at his own joke and tore hungrily into a roasted shankbone. Ruth shuddered at the mention of mad Akavish. She had heard stories of young Boaz’s nemesis, the metal-clad giant with a claw for an arm that had attacked Bethlehem decades before.

“Come, do sit down,” the large monarch requested in between mouthfuls of meat. He was one of the tallest men Ruth had ever met. Muscles bulged through his leather garments. He was clean shaven, with dark blond hair overtaken by grey. King Perath smiled at Ruth, displaying two fresh scars that ran from below his right eye down to his mouth. Ruth wondered how he got them.

“Yes, you see my battle wounds?” Perath replied to Ruth’s unspoken question. “It is a gift from your sister. She is a fighter, that one. She is sure to provide me with mighty progeny. You’ll understand if I take greater precautions with you tonight. We’ll make sure the chains are tighter this time.” Perath nodded knowingly to his chamberlain.

“I will not sleep with you,” Ruth said icily.

“Is there an echo in here?” Perath asked. “I could have sworn a daughter of Eglon said the same exact thing just a few days ago. But look at her now. Subdued. The wild woman has been tamed and has accepted her place in the order of things. You are my possession, daughter of Eglon. You will do as I please, whether you like it or not. You will bear my children and produce mighty warriors as the sorcerer has promised. There is no escape. This can be enjoyable or it can be unpleasant. It is up to you.”

Ruth said nothing in response.

“I am being quite civilized about this whole business,” Perath explained. “You see how I invite you to dine with me, treat you courteously, give you time to adjust to your new surroundings. Soon you will accept your fate as your sister has, and in time you will even appreciate it.”

Perath stared at Ruth impassively.

“What? No response? In the name of Dagon, say something, do something!”

A loud explosion rocked the palace. “Boaz,” Ruth whispered.

“What is it? Are we under attack?” Perath rose from the table and ran to the northern balcony. His guards followed him.

A large cloud of smoke and dust filled the marketplace. People screamed in pain and confusion. They could spot people through the cloud escaping the market in all directions.

“Captain! Take a unit to the marketplace!” Perath commanded. “Report to me at once any information about what happened.”

Ruth smiled as the captain and a handful of guards ran out of the hall.

“What is so humorous, daughter of Eglon?” Perath asked sharply. “You find my discomfiture amusing?”

“I am amused when arrogant men discover that all does not go as they planned.”

“Do you know the source of this attack?”

“I can speculate, but I’m sure powerful men like you do not need me to tell them who their enemies are, or who is capable of such an attack.”

“Curious how you are so talkative all of a sudden. I wonder if this is why Sumahtrid was in such a rush to leave. Did he know something I didn’t?”

“Your Majesty!” The captain returned with Boaz, Ehud and Amitai, surrounded by spear-wielding guards. Boaz smiled reassuringly at Ruth. Ruth felt her heart soar at the sight of the Judean. “The city wall by the market has collapsed,” the captain reported. “We have dead, injured and the population is in a panic. The people are yelling of invasion. It is complete chaos. I found these old Israelites at the entrance to the palace. They claim to know who is responsible, but demanded that they would only inform you personally. Only the grey-beard carried a sword.” The captain handed Ehud’s sword to the King.

“Well done, captain. Return to the market. Restore order. Kill anyone hysterical. The people must fear us more than any possible invasion, or all is lost. Send troops up and down the coast. There is no one threatening us from the sea. Has Ashdod lost its mind? Would they contemplate attacking us after we’ve just reestablished our alliance? Or is it Egypt? We would have had some prior warning if it was Pharaoh. I will interrogate these Hebrews and get to the root of it. Dismissed!”

The captain ran out of the hall, leaving half a dozen soldiers with their spears pointed at the older men.

“Speak!” Perath barked at Boaz. “What do you know of this attack?”

Boaz stepped forward and cleared his throat. He held his walking stick in front of him.

“King of Ashkelon, we know who perpetrated this attack upon your city, and furthermore we know the reason for the attack. It was not the Egyptians nor is it one of your fellow Philistine cities.”

“Is it the Phoenicians? I knew it. Those cheating money-grubbers. Their commissions are not enough. They want the whole pot.”

“It is not the Phoenicians either,” Boaz stated calmly as Amitai fiddled with a package in the large bag hanging from his shoulder.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Amitai whispered to Boaz.

“Then who did it? Spit it out already, man!” Perath yelled.

“We did it,” Boaz said.

Perath looked at Boaz in confusion. The Philistine’s face contorted to shock followed by anger.

“You and what army?” Perath raised Ehud’s sword to Boaz’s neck. “Did you use some Hebrew sorcery to bring down the wall? Your Joshua died long ago and he only did that trick once. Why? Why are you attacking me? Is it some revenge for my father’s attack of Bethlehem?”

Boaz’s eyebrows rose when he understood that Perath was Akavish’s son.

“Revenge was not our intent, though many good people died when your father attacked my hometown on my wedding day,” Boaz stated.

“Your hometown? Wedding day?” Perath stepped back. “It cannot be! Boaz? You are Boaz? The one who destroyed my father and drove him to madness?”

“Um, I had a part in killing him too,” Ehud raised his hand.

“Why are you here!?” Perath bellowed.

“You kidnapped a woman under my protection. I have come to retrieve her.”

“And do you have some magic that will spirit you and her out of Ashkelon and past my entire army?”

“Yes. Amitai!” Boaz ordered.

Amitai dropped one of his smoke bombs and threw two more to either end of the hall. Smoke quickly filled the entire room. Boaz twirled around, and with the edge of his walking stick smashed Perath and the spears surrounding the three companions.

“I’ll take my sword back if you don’t mind.” Ehud grabbed the handle of the sword from the much taller Perath.

“You’ll have to kill me first, Israelite.” Perath punched at Ehud through the smoke, grazing the blacksmith’s shoulder. Ehud smashed Perath squarely on the nose and retrieved his sword from the stunned king.

“You are not destined to die yet, Perath son of Akavish, and not by my hand, unless you bring my wrath upon yourself. Do not make the mistakes of your father, or your end shall surely be as ignoble as his.”

“Guards! Stop them! Kill the Israelites!” Perath shrieked. Ehud smashed Perath in the head with the side of his sword, knocking the big Philistine unconscious.

“Boaz! Where are you?” Ruth called into the thick mist.

“By your side,” Boaz whispered. “Were I blind, I would still find you, Ruth.” Boaz grabbed Ruth’s arm. “Amitai, get us out of here.”

“Wait, Boaz.” Ruth held tightly to his arm. “My sister is here. Orpa! Where are you? We can leave this place.”

“I’m here,” Orpa said from a few paces away. “I’m not leaving. I now belong to this place and will give birth to a Philistine prince. I’ll be somebody. Out there, even back in Kir Moav, I’m nobody. Go Ruth. Go and be blessed.”

“We’d better move fast,” Amitai said as Ehud took hold of the older man’s robe. “The smoke will dissipate very quickly and we’re running out of time.”

“Lead the way,” Boaz urged. He sensed Ruth nodding silently.

“Okay, seven paces to the right,” Amitai whispered.

Boaz closed his eyes and followed his old friend’s bright aura. Amitai threw another smoke bomb into the corridor as more soldiers approached. Boaz, sensing their dull brown auras tinged with a yellow fear, knocked them on their heads with his staff.

“Watch your step,” he warned as they walked over the fallen soldiers.

“Twenty paces to the right,” Amitai said in the smoke. He had memorized the way out of the palace.

“Fifteen paces to the left and then we hit the staircase,” Amitai announced with yet another smoke bomb. Boaz, with his eyes closed, knocked out more confused soldiers.

“We better hurry,” Amitai said as they exited the palace. Ruth let go of Boaz’s arm tentatively in the clear evening sky. Just a handful of stars peeked out of thick clouds. Soldiers were running to and fro, as people continued to yell and scream of invasion. Amitai insisted: “We have to be by the marketplace before –”

“Stop the Israelites!” a guard yelled from the balcony of the palace.

“Run!” Ehud commanded.

“You’re kidding, right?” Amitai asked, clacking his walking stick on the cobblestones.

Ehud looked around wildly and saw the fat merchant with the sedan chair and the four slaves chained to the chair. Ehud ran to the chair and knocked the merchant out of the chair. He then raised his sword towards the slaves.

“Transport my friends and then I will release you of bondage – or else you shall die where you stand!”

The slaves nodded mutely and followed Ehud.

Amitai and Boaz climbed onto the sedan. The slaves lifted them easily and followed Ehud and Ruth who ran ahead.

“Hurry up!” Ehud ordered the slaves. “Hurry up! Run as if your lives depended on it!”

They reached the marketplace and entered a realm of chaos. Stones were strewn all over the square. Homes and stalls were destroyed. People were still trapped under boulders. City residents ran to the gate to escape the destruction while people from outside ran inside for protection from the feared assault. The western side of the north city wall, beside the gate, lay in ruins. Soldiers assembled on the eastern side of the north wall, awaiting a non-existent enemy and orders from their superiors. Some of them had the presence of mind to light torches as night finally fell.

“It worked better than I expected,” Amitai grinned at the destruction he had wrought on the western side, “and we’re in time.”

“There they are!” a soldier pointed at the sedan chair as it approached the gate. “Kill the Israelites! Spare the Moabite!”

“Ehud, buy us a few more moments,” Amitai said. “The timing has to be perfect or we’ll never get out of here.”

Ehud grabbed a handful of stone fragments and slung them at the soldiers by the eastern side. He felled soldiers with deadly accuracy. The soldiers sought cover by the exposed wall to no avail. Some of them shot arrows back at Ehud, but were off the mark.

“Three, two, one. Now!” Amitai exclaimed. Nothing happened. Ehud and the Philistine soldiers stopped their volleys and looked around wondering what Amitai was counting.

Then a large explosion shook the entire city. A red blast from the western corner of the north wall sent pieces of stone into the air. The wall undulated as if the stones had turned to water and then stone fragments exploded into smaller pieces, killing half of the soldiers instantly and burying the rest.

“Perfect,” Amitai cheered as he threw another smoke bomb. The slaves followed Ehud and Ruth into the gate tunnel and exited from the other side.

“One more,” Amitai said to himself as another explosion reverberated in the tunnel. Stones came crashing down and a cloud of dust blocked up the tunnel. Just the guard tower above the tunnel remained intact, its torches shedding some meager light on the escaping Israelites.

“Shoot to kill!” a Philistine soldier commanded. A volley of arrows flew towards the Israelites. Amitai saw the starting point of the arrows, felt the speed of the wind on his cheek, knew the composition of the arrowhead and the geometry of the feathers, knew their range and in his mind’s eye saw that the trajectory would hit Ruth’s back where it would be in three seconds. Amitai was struck by a sudden vision and without thinking he jumped off of the sedan chair and intercepted the arrows with his body.

“Amitai!” Boaz yelled and jumped off the sedan chair, as Amitai rolled over on the path.

“Go, Boaz.” Amitai coughed blood. “My lung is punctured. I’m finished. It was a great way to go. I was tired of sitting on my porch being useless. Don’t mourn, my oldest friend. Tell Zelda I say goodbye and that I died happy.”

“I’m not leaving you here.” Boaz held back his tears.

“Get out of here and take care of that girl. I had a vision. Ruth,” Amitai motioned for her. “Come here, child.”

“You saved me,” Ruth said through her tears. “You don’t even know me, but you saved me.”

“Stop talking and listen.” Amitai rummaged through his bag and took out a small cup with a suspended lodestone. “This is a compass. It will show you the way when it is dark and starless like tonight. The tip points north. It will get you out of here safely. This is a gift for your line. You will have a descendant that will be the wisest man Israel has ever known. He will treasure this gift. He will use it to build God’s sanctuary. I have seen this and he will come from you, Ruth of Moab, daughter of Eglon the Tyrant. I am honored to have given up my life for you. Now get out of here.”

Amitai closed his eyes and died.

More arrows descended around the Israelites. The slaves kept the sedan chair between themselves and the city.

“We cannot leave his body to these heathens,” Boaz stated.

“We won’t.” Ehud lifted Amitai’s body and carried it to their jittery horses still tied outside the city walls. Ehud placed Amitai’s body on his grey stallion. The horse neighed uncomfortably under his master’s dead weight. Ehud then approached the slaves by the sedan chair. They cowered as Ehud raised his sword. Ehud hacked at the base of the chain against the chair, and one by one, freed the slaves.

“You are free to go,” Ehud said.

“Where?” one of the slaves asked in confusion.

“Wherever you want. You are free now.”

The slaves looked at each other in confusion and then nodded to each other.

“We will go back to our master. He fed us,” the slave said simply. The four slaves lifted the sedan chair and climbed back to the blocked gate of Ashkelon.

“We have to get out of here,” Boaz said. “The Philistines will open up that tunnel and come after us.”

“It will be easy to get lost on this moonless, starless night,” Boaz said.

“If you tell me which direction we need to go, I can tell you where it is,” Ruth declared as she studied Amitai’s compass.

“You’ve figured out how to use Amitai’s device?” Boaz asked, impressed.

“Yes, it’s simple. Let’s go.”

Ehud and Boaz climbed unto their respective horses. Ehud took the reins of Amitai’s horse in his hands. There was a moment of hesitation as Ruth wondered on whose horse to ride. She then turned to Boaz. Boaz offered his hand and lifted Ruth onto his horse, sitting her behind him.

“Hold on Ruth,” Boaz said. “We’ll get you home.”

“Home,” Ruth said as she held on to Boaz and leaned against his back, her loose red tresses flowing behind her. “That sounds nice.”

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 17 – Old Warriors

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 17

 Old Warriors

Ruth finds herself in the clutches of the Philistine King of Ashkelon while Boaz and Ehud pursue her trail and get some help.

Amitai sat on the bench of his porch, the summer sun feeling good on his old bones. He reminisced about old battles and old comrades. He lived in the town of Socheh, at the western edge of the tribal portion of Judah, on the low hills between the mountain and the plain. He looked up to the Judean Mountains to his east and thought of his cousin Boaz, and the news that Vered had died. We’re getting old, Amitai thought. We’re dying. I will console Boaz after our own celebration today.

“Amitai!” his wife Zelda screamed, interrupting his thoughts. “Come here and take these rinds out of my house.”

“I’m coming woman, I’m coming. You don’t have to yell.” Old Amitai hobbled out of his chair, his gnarled hand holding a sturdy walking stick.

“A warrior, Captain of the Militia, and now I’m relegated to taking out garbage,” Amitai mumbled to himself. He entered his house, ignored his wife’s bustling activity and gathered the tough rinds of the melons Zelda had cut for their grandson’s wedding feast. Amitai took the rinds to the compost heap outside their stone house.

Two men on horseback galloped right up to Amitai, kicking up dust as they stopped abruptly and dismounted.

“Ehud? Boaz!?” Amitai gasped. “What are you doing here? I was just thinking of you. I’m sorry about Vered. But shouldn’t you be sitting in mourning? What’s the matter?”

“There’s no time to explain,” Boaz answered rapidly. “We are in pursuit of a kidnapper. He has taken a woman that is under my protection. They are heading into a Philistine city. I need your help. Get your equipment and come with us.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Zelda bellowed from the porch of the house. “My husband is not going anywhere. We have our twelfth grandson’s wedding celebration today and Amitai is too old for any more adventures. For that matter, so are you, Boaz. Leave the rescuing to younger men. Ehud here can probably still play at these games. Come, Amitai. I have more rinds for you.”

“Amitai, I need you,” Boaz pleaded. “It is a matter of life or death, and time is of the essence. Their auras are getting fainter and soon I won’t be able to track them. Please, old friend.”

“I’m coming,” Amitai answered with a smile. “One last mission. Give me a minute to get my equipment. I have some new devices I’ve been working on. Even the Philistines won’t know what hit them.”

“Where do you think you are going?” Zelda stood upright, blocking Amitai from entering their house.

“Out of my way, woman!” Amitai shoved Zelda with his free hand. “Didn’t you hear the man? We’re in a hurry. I have more important things to do than to throw out melon rinds.”

“Amitai!? What about the wedding?” Zelda cried.

“Enough of weddings. There’s a woman’s life at stake and all you can think about is yet another wedding?” Loud noises escaped from inside the house as Amitai organized his devices. He exited the house with a heavy satchel behind his back. “I’m ready. I’ll get my horse from the shed and we can be on our way.”

“Amitai?” Zelda asked as her husband mounted his grey stallion. “When will you be back?”

“Who knows? Tonight? Tomorrow? Next year? Never? A soldier never knows where his orders will take him. Goodbye, my love. Give a kiss to the bride and groom for me. Let’s go!”

The three old warriors rode west, into Philistine territory.

“Come back soon, my love,” Zelda whispered to her husband’s back.

*

“Orpa!” Ruth jumped out of the bed and hugged her sister. “I thought I’d never see you again! What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in Kir Moav.”

“Sumahtrid kidnapped me a few moments after I left you.” Orpa let go of Ruth. “He brought me here to Ashkelon and sold me to King Perath. Sumahtrid promised the King that I would produce the mightiest warriors to ever walk the earth. They see us as little more than breeding animals. And tonight will be your turn. But I will make the most of this. I will ingratiate myself to him as Mother did to Jalet and to our father before that. I will be Perath’s Queen and not merely a concubine.”

“I don’t understand.” Ruth looked at Orpa, not recognizing her sister’s determination. “We haven’t been able to have children for ten years. What makes them think we will all of a sudden become fertile?”

“It was Sumahtrid.” Orpa laughed harshly. “He gave our husbands potions to keep them impotent, lest the daughters of Eglon have progeny from the descendants of Nachshon the Brave. Apparently, that would be the end of his world. But I am already with child. I can feel it.”

“How do you know? Ruth asked, shocked. “It couldn’t have been more than a few days ago.”

“I feel it.” Orpa grabbed her flat stomach. “I feel the power, the beginning of a life, a very strong life. I fear what this child will become. But I will make the most of it. If I am to be the mother of a grand warrior, then I will play the part. There is no sense resisting, Ruth. Together, you and I might wield greater control over Perath.”

“I have no intention to be used as some common wench,” Ruth stated.

“That’s what I thought as well, and I resisted with all my might.” Orpa showed Ruth her scarred wrists, caked over with dried blood where manacles had cut into her skin. “But for me it is too late. I don’t know how you can escape this fate.”

“Boaz.” Ruth somehow sensed his thoughts, searching for her. “He will come for me. He’s with Ehud and some other warrior.”

“Ehud? Our father’s murderer? And who is this Boaz? How do you know this?”

“I too can feel things, sister.” Ruth placed her palm over her heart. “I have met Ehud. He is a holy and somber man. I do not blame him for killing father, for father was indeed evil and Ehud acted on the commands of God. And Boaz, Boaz is Elimelech’s nephew, also a grandson of Nachshon, as Mahlon and Kilyon were. But Boaz is more. He is kind yet strong; wise and generous. He is what Mahlon might have been had he lived and left Kir Moav.”

“You like this Boaz.” Orpa smirked.

“Boaz? I admire him. But he is much older and just recently widowed. No, I am just grateful for his kindness, protection and concern. He saw me kidnapped. Sumahtrid attacked them. He probably wants Boaz dead as well if he’s a descendant of Nachshon. But he will come. I know it.”

“How will three men release you from a fortified castle in the middle of the Philistine’s strongest city?”

“They are not ordinary men. They are men of the Hebrew God.”

*

“She is there.” Boaz pointed at the palace on the eastern edge of the walls of Ashkelon. He sensed Ruth’s aura as a beacon on a distant shore. The palace was the tallest structure within the strong city walls and gave the King a commanding view of the city and for miles around. The King could see the walls of Ashdod to his north and Gaza to his south. Boaz, Ehud and Amitai rode towards the city of Ashkelon and its massive northern gate.

“The sea!” Amitai exclaimed as they glimpsed the water less than a mile beyond the city walls. The setting sun reflected upon the waves with shades of orange and purple. “It has been so long since I’ve seen the sea. God, how wondrous are your creations! Blessed be the Lord who created the Great Sea!”

“Amen,” Boaz and Ehud answered. The threesome tied their horses outside the walls and approached the gate together with a steady stream of merchants and visitors. Phoenician sailors unloaded cargo from the port and carried heavy baskets, jugs and sacks. They brought spices from Sidon, Egyptian grain from Zoan and precious iron from the Aegean. A fat merchant sat on a crimson sedan chair, on the shoulders of four black slaves chained to the chair who were struggling to carry the corpulent man up the ramp into the city. The merchant stuffed grapes into his mouth and spat the seeds at unwary passersby, giggling at their annoyed reactions.

The convoy of people entered the large tunnel within the wall of the city. The three Israelites entered unmolested, though their long beards and fringed garments received curious glances, as such traditional Israelites were not frequent visitors of the Philistine cities.

“Oh! I can get such good supplies here!” Amitai gushed as they exited the tunnel and entered the lively marketplace. “Will we have time to shop?” Amitai asked as he pointed at the stalls selling rare metals.

“I don’t think so,” Boaz responded, his gaze focused on the palace towering over the rest of the city, its walls red from the evening sun.

“Oh, Boaz, please! I’ll be quick. Look! A lodestone! Do you know how hard it is to get one of those? Please!”

“Okay, okay.” Boaz smiled at his old friend. “But be quick about it. We have a rescue to plan. We can come for serious shopping another time.”

Amitai shuffled loudly, walking stick clattering on the cobblestones, until he reached the vendor. They haggled excitedly until Amitai, grinning broadly, walked back with the prized lodestone in his hand.

“This is from Anatol!” Amitai waved the lodestone. “It has the most unusual properties. It was worth the trip just for this!”

“Um, Amitai, are you forgetting something?” Boaz asked gently.

“Yes, yes, of course. Princess to rescue, castle to storm. I’ve figured out how we can do it, though I still don’t understand why you want to save Eglon’s daughter. And what about that sorcerer you mentioned? He sounds like a particularly dangerous character.”

“The sorcerer is gone,” Boaz confirmed after closing his eyes and opening them quickly. “I can no longer detect his aura nor that of his companion. They left Ruth here and have departed.”

“That makes it easier then,” Ehud said, rubbing his neck as he remembered Sumahtrid’s men of barley who had attempted to suffocate him. “What’s your plan, Amitai?”

“First we’ll want a distraction, a big distraction.” Amitai pointed to the far end of the marketplace. “That wall is perfectly positioned and that balustrade is ideally cantilevered to give a balanced seismic reverberation at the exact sympathetic harmonic to engender a multi-dimensional contortion in the fabric of the rampart continuum so as to provide a cacophony of material distortions, audiological disturbances, visual conundrums and an overall sensory assault that should serve the purpose of frightening the population and which will confuse the armed forces, and give our rescue the chance of ultimate success!”

Ehud and Boaz looked at each other in utter incomprehension.

“Now I understand why you wanted to stop for him,” Ehud said to Boaz.

“He is very handy in a tight spot. Go on, Amitai. What else do you have in mind?”

“We get ourselves captured, of course.”

* * * * * *