Category Archives: Ehud

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 4 – Bloody Brothers

Warrior Prophets 2: Chapter 4

Bloody Brothers

“Will you not deliver these criminals to us!?” Prince Elimelech ofJudahyelled across the future battleground, with the summer morning’s dawn.

“Never!” Prince Giltar of Benjamin replied, sword unsheathed, as he faced four hundred thousand soldiers, with little over twenty thousand at his back, in front of the city ofGivaah.

“We outnumber you twenty to one!” Elimelech pressed. “All the tribes of Israel are assembled against you. We are overflowing with soldiers. Give up the criminals and avoid this bloodshed.”

“It is you who is bringing bloodshed upon us. They are our tribesmen, our prisoners. Only by force will you ever retrieve them.”

“That man is stubborn,” Elimelech turned aside angrily to Boaz.

“One might say the same of you, uncle,” Boaz murmured.

“Now is not the time for second-guessing! We are committed to this path, but this assembly is truly too unwieldy. Where is that reclusive priest? I would seek God’s blessing and direction before we start. Pinhas? Where have you hidden?” Elimelech sought Pinhas amongst the princes and generals standing behind Elimelech as they faced the city of Givaah.

“I am here, Prince of Judah,” Pinhas stated stoically, as he approached in his full High Priest vestment. “What do you seek of me?”

“One of our tribes will be sufficient to overwhelm the Benjaminite rabble. Who should take the lead against them?”

“You are asking me this in my formal capacity?” Pinhas raised an eyebrow.

“Of course! What does God say?”

“Please formulate your question again, as the normative leader of most of the tribes ofIsrael.”

“Who shall go up first from amongst us to battle against the sons of Benjamin?”

“That is your question?”

“Yes, damn it! That is the question!”

The sadness in Pinhas’ eyes deepened. He closed his eyes and stood motionless in his rich blue raiment. His multicolored breastplate shone in the morning sun. The twelve precious stones, each stone representing a Tribe of Israel, glowed with an inner fire. The names and letters carved into the stones refracted the warm light. Suddenly certain letters lit up brightly, shining as a star on a moonless night. The letters flashed in a certain sequence. Pinhas nodded his head as if he had already anticipated the answer.

“Judah shall lead,” Pinhas stated with an ominous finality.

“Good,” Elimelech smirked tightly and faced the princes and generals of the united tribes ofIsrael. “You heard the priest! The tribe of Judah shall lead! The rest of you, take your forces and keep this perimeter secure. We shall move upon Givaah immediately, break through their defense and return with the criminals by noon. Dismissed!”

Boaz, troubled by the entire exchange, closed his eyes, drawing on the inner “sight” he had not used in many years.

He was struck by the black sadness in Pinhas. The High Priest’s white aura of inner peace was struggling with spreading tentacles of despair. Pained by the sight, Boaz turned to Elimelech. The Prince of Judah had a noble aura of a deep and regal purple, but with a growing red bloodlust that was overcoming his normally calm blue demeanor.

Boaz tried to perceive the emotions of the assembled tribes of Israel. He saw a dark red bloodlust in the troops that exceeded that of Elimelech’s, mixed with a deep green of arrogance and pride.

Boaz turned to the Benjaminite defenders of Givaah and could not tell the difference between their aura and the rest of Israel. It too was a mix of sharp red and green. He did notice the radiant blue pride of Prince Gilter. His attention was then drawn to a sickly yellow of fear, mixed with a grey steely determination. That’s Ehud! Boaz thought to himself. Ehud is the only one who could give me pause in battle. None in Israel could match my speed or reflexes, but Ehud has a natural cunning, an instinct in battle and strategy that might overwhelm my combat prowess. 

“Boaz,” Elimelech broke Boaz’s concentration. “Inspecting the enemy with your ‘sight’? Good. We are counting on you. With your speed and power you should be able to break their defenses single-handedly.”

“They are our brothers, uncle; not some foreign enemy. I shall strive to bring this fight to a quick end.”

“We are at war long-coming, Boaz. We have no choice but to kill and lay low this most arrogant of tribes. Once we have humbled them and they have accepted our judgment, we can welcome them again in brotherly embrace. Now go to your regiment. You will be in the lead. I shall launch the attack shortly.”

 

 

 

“Elimelech is neither subtle nor patient,” Ehud said to Prince Giltar as they faced the largest army in the history of their young tribe. The Tribe of Judah moved into formation opposite the gates of Givaah, while the rest of the tribes kept a perimeter, hundreds of thousands of men strong, around the entire city. “They shall send Boaz and his men first, thereby hoping for a quick victory. Boaz is uncommonly fast and deadly, and reacts instinctively to his enemies moves. It will be very hard to stop him.”

“You are the master strategist, Ehud. Advise us,” Prince Giltar ordered.

“I advised giving up the men, but that was ignored.”

“Do you aim to weaken our hand? Advise us in battle! It is both wrong and late to give up our men. They are our brothers. In any case, if it were not this issue there would be another that would bring them upon our doorstep. We shall have to hold them off to the best of our ability and teach them the price of forcing submission upon us. Now how should we proceed?”

“We need to neutralize Boaz as soon as possible, or he will wreck havoc upon our defenses. I will take a battalion of our sharpest sling throwers to deal with him. Watch out for arrows though. Elimelech is angry enough to start with a volley to soften us up. Shields at hand!” Ehud yelled as he assembled his sling throwers.

A regiment of Judah with Boaz in the lead ran towards the Benjaminite defenders of Givaah. Archers of Judah fired thousands of arrows in the air ahead of them.

“Shields up!” Ehud yelled. Moments later, thousands of arrows thudded into wooden shields. Not one defender of Benjamin was felled. Heartened, Ehud commanded: “Charge!”

Ehud saw Boaz speed ahead of the attackers. He’s not as fast as in the past, Ehud thought. Is it age, or is his heart not in this battle?

“Slings ready!” Ehud ordered as Boaz raced nearer.

“Wide spread on Boaz! Fire!”

A wall of stones shot out towards Boaz. Boaz turned to the side in a blur and raced the wave of flying projectiles. Boaz almost escaped the cloud of stones, when one struck him in the ankle, tripping him. Boaz caught his balance and continued to run ahead when two dozen stones hit him along his body. Boaz wobbled forward and finally three stones smashed into his head, dropping him to the floor unconscious. The Judeans paused in shock at the fall of their fabled commander.

“Forward!” Ehud ran towards the frozen Judeans, his battalion of sling throwers mowing down the attackers.

“Attack!” Prince Giltar yelled from behind. “All battalions engage the enemy!”

All the defenders of Givaah raced towards the Judeans, stones, arrows and spears flying. The Judeans, leaderless, as a man, retreated. The retreat turned into a rout. Benjaminite swordsmen slashed fleeing attackers. The Benjaminites cut into the main Judean camp as well as into the tribes holding the perimeter. In confusion, the tribes abandoned the perimeter, escaping the vicious Benjaminite counterattack.

“Fall back!” Ehud called out. “Fall back! We have done enough damage for one day.”

The other tribes continued to run in all directions from Givaah as the Benjaminites walked calmly back to their city. The battlefield was strewn with corpses. The soldiers looked for any fallen comrades, but did not find even one Benjaminite defender. Every single one of the dead was from the other tribes. Ehud was overwhelmed by the number of dead. He estimated it must be around twenty thousand. The Levites who would attend to all the corpses later in the day would place the number at twenty-two thousand. Never in the history of Israelhad a disaster of such proportions occurred. Ehud wept openly as he noticed familiar faces amongst the dead. Cousins of Boaz and Elimelech whom he had grown up with. Captains and officers whom he had trained. Even fellow brothers-in-arms from his days leading the militia. Is this the price? Ehud cried to himself. Is this the price of independence? To slaughter our brothers? This cannot be right!

Ehud sought Boaz.

Boaz lay in a shallow pool of his own blood. Rivulets of red trickled down the prone man’s forehead, gathering under his submerged ear. Ehud saw that Boaz was breathing. He ripped cloth off a nearby corpse, wiped the wound on the forehead and then tied a dry cloth around Boaz’s head to stop the bleeding.

Boaz moaned and opened his eyes groggily.

“The wound is not so bad. You’ll live, though you may not thank me for it,” Ehud said sadly.

“What happened?” Boaz sat up slowly.

“You lost. Badly. Levites are coming to deal with the dead and some of your men are coming to help the wounded. Tell Elimelech to stop. This is a catastrophe. He shouldn’t make it worse.”

Boaz looked around, surveying all of the corpses. Tears flowed from his eyes, cleaning a thin path through the fresh blood on his cheeks.

“How could it be worse than this?”

“He could win.”

Ehud patted Boaz on the shoulder and trudged wearily back to Givaah.

 

 

“We should never have relied on one man!” Elimelech banged his fist on the table in his tent. “It was a massacre.”

“Boaz has never been a supporter of this cause,” Gheda the Levite intoned.

“You would accuse my nephew? You think he wanted this? Twenty-two thousand dead? He led the assault. He almost died himself out there. No. Somehow they read our intentions and targeted their fire upon Boaz.”

“I have heard that he consulted with the enemy after the battle. That the son of Gerah himself tended to Boaz’s wounds.”

“Enough! Perhaps we must reconsider. For us to suffer such heavy losses against a smaller, weaker enemy is beyond bad fortune. It was reported that Benjamin did not lose a man.”

“You would stop now?” Gheda said. “Twenty-two thousand sacrificed for nothing!?”

“Let us consult with the priest. He has disapproved of this from the beginning, but he is not being open with me and somehow I’m asking the wrong questions of him. Let us seek Pinhas.”

Elimelech and Gheda left their tent and found Pinhas in the center of the camp of the Princes. A large mass of officers and captains sat on the ground around the High Priest, weeping and swaying. Many had ripped their garments in mourning. The pair made their way through the crowd to Pinhas. Pinhas sat on the ground, his garments intact, yet his face mirrored a heart sundered.

“Pinhas, I must consult with you.”

“Choose your question wisely, Prince of Judah,” Pinhas said without looking up. “Your words and thoughts are a channel of all of Israel to God. It is a heavy responsibility and one that has been both abused and punished this day. You may yet rue your position of leadership.”

Elimelech paused. He looked at the warriors sitting on the floor, crying like bereft children. Everyone he saw had lost someone they had known and loved, just hours before. In the morning the tribes had been so confident of their purpose and their victory. Elimelech tasted bile in his mouth as he warred within himself. We still have superiority of numbers, Elimelech thought.

“Should I once again go to war against the sons of Benjamin, my brother?” Elimelech asked with pain and humility.

Pinhas nodded briefly and closed his eyes. The letters of the breastplate shone once again, but in a different sequence. Pinhas hesitated, as if waiting for further details or confirmation. None came. He opened his eyes, but did not look at Elimelech. Then slowly, as if declaring a death sentence he announced:

“Go up against them.”

 

* * * * * *

 

Biblical Sources:

 

Book of Judges, Chapter 19:

12 And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying: ‘What wickedness is this that is come to pass among you? 13 Now therefore deliver up the men, the base fellows that are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel.’ But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel. 14 And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of their cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel. 15 And the children of Benjamin numbered on that day out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred chosen men. 16 All this people, even seven hundred chosen men, were left-handed; every one could sling stones at a hair-breadth, and not miss. {P}

17 And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword; all these were men of war. 18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to Beth-el, and asked counsel of God; and they said: ‘Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin?’ And the Lord said: ‘Judah first.’ 19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. 20 And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel set the battle in array against them at Gibeah. 21 And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites on that day twenty and two thousand men. 22 And the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves, and set the battle again in array in the place where they set themselves in array the first day. 23 And the children ofIsrael went up and wept before the Lord until even; and they asked of the Lord, saying: ‘Shall I again draw nigh to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?’ And the Lord said: ‘Go up against him.’

 

 

 

Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin. Chapter 2: Trial of a Tribe

Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin

Chapter 2: Trial of a Tribe

“We shall not relinquish the men of Givaah,” Prince Giltar announced at the assembly of Elders of Benjamin. “This is an internal tribal matter and we shall administer our own justice. The other tribes shall not dictate our actions.” Giltar, grey and proud, stood at the head of the council circle in the House of Elders. Two dozen men, with grey and white beards, sat in a circle on stone-hewn benches. A dozen torches protruded from a dozen pillars, brightening the white-washed walls of the chamber in the early summer evening.

“Will you go to war to defend such a right?” Ehud, the youngest of the assembly, stood up from the other side of the circle. “These men of Givaah are depraved. They have committed an act that only a child of Sodom would defend. I for one would hand them over to the tribes if it will appease them. Are the laws of Judah so different than our laws? Remember, it was a daughter of Judah that was the victim. They too have the right to justice.”

“Do you speak for justice, son of Gerah?” Giltar responded sharply. “Or for convenience? Or is it fear that drives you, Ehud? Do you so fear the might of the other tribes? Have you so little faith in the justice of our position?”

“There is faith, and there is wisdom, Giltar. I fear this decision lacks both.”

“You insult me in my own chamber?”

“I insult no man. I merely fear a disastrous decision.”

“Ehud, you are a trusted man of arms and a faithful delegate. This is the decision of the council. Except for Ehud, is there any man here that challenges this decision?” Giltar addressed the council. Silence answered Giltar’s question.

“It is agreed then. This is the position of the sons of Benjamin.” Giltar looked straight at Ehud and smiled grimly. “And I nominate you, Ehud son of Gerah, to be our messenger to the tribes at their meeting in Mitzpeh. As our official representative, you shall convey to them as follows: We are mortified. We are highly disturbed by this horrendous action by the men of Givaah. They have assaulted a woman of Judah, a concubine though she may have been, in a fashion that is indeed most appalling. The tribes should rest assured that these men will be judged and convicted according to the Laws of Moses. The tribes’ representatives are welcome to view our court deliberations. However, we shall not, under any circumstances, allow others to override the system set up by Moses and established by Joshua his disciple. We shall not placate, we shall not bend to the overbearing will of our brothers, and we shall not bow before their threats. If they wish to test our swords, they shall find that this youngest of tribes is not without strength. Do I make myself clear, young Ehud?”

“You are clear, Prince Giltar, though we may yet regret such an unbending position. I request the right to interview the men in custody, as the tribes will surely ask me for details, and I would prefer to give them first hand impressions.”

“That is acceptable. Speak to the prisoners. Take whom you wish to Mitzpeh with you. In the meantime know that we shall prepare for war. Do not fool yourself that the case of this concubine is the root of the matter. The tribes have resented our ascendancy. They have ever pushed for unification and imposition of their will – especially your friends the Judeans. Yes, I choose you especially because of your friendship to the Nachshon clan and his grandson Boaz. Perhaps you shall persuade them to desist, but I have little hope. This has been a storm long in the coming and the Judeans have found their rallying call. Take swift horses, as in their fury they may even strike down a peaceful delegate. Be strong and of good courage, Ehud. This Council of Elders is dismissed.”

Ehud strode quickly out of the chamber and found Tamir lounging outside amongst various captains and officers. Tamir had arrived that afternoon after having successfully delivered the copper from Moav to Ehud’s smithy.

“Tamir, find Yakshal and tell him we need four fast horses. We ride tonight to Mitzpeh.”

“Are we going to war?” Tamir asked with a mixture of excitement and fear.

“Not if I can stop it,” Ehud answered. “Now hurry up. You two did a good job with the copper from Eglon and you might as well see how this disaster develops. Go on now. Meet back here by the end of the first watch. See to provisions as well. I will bring our fourth rider.”

Ehud found the house where the accused men were held. It was an old squat stone structure that had belonged to a widow whose name Ehud could not recall. The house had been converted to a prison years ago, as the number of people awaiting trial for violent crimes grew. Most prisoners were sentenced to lashes. It was a painful and humiliating punishment, but rarely satisfying to the criminal’s victims or their kin. However, it was the best the judges could do with what were often few reliable witnesses. The number of repeat offenders had also grown. These coarse men had become immune to the lashes. It did little to dissuade them.

Ehud knocked on the door of the house.

“Who seeks entry?” A guard within asked.

“Ehud son of Gerah, by order of the Council of Elders.”

The guard unbolted the door. He wore leather armor and held a spear in one hand. A long sword adorned his belt. Ehud entered the poorly lit house where just a handful of torches jutted sporadically from the walls. He saw two dozen men shackled to each other and the wall. The smell of unwashed bodies hit Ehud like a wave. Ignoring the foul odor, the blacksmith in Ehud first sought to see the quality of the shackles. He immediately spotted his own handiwork, some of the first shackles the tribe ever used. He remembered regretfully their need and his distaste in creating them. Other blacksmiths copied his design and he was just as happy to let others make such instruments of imprisonment. He noted the work of Emri, one of his former apprentices, shoddy, but functional. Emri never bothered to hammer consistently and Ehud could see the uneven texture of many of the shackles. Ehud saw shackles that were cracked at the edges. That must be the work of Bargel, Ehud thought. Bargel rarely got his casting temperature right and his work often cracked too early.

Ehud then looked at the prisoners in their shackles of various qualities. There was a dull, yet rough look in their eyes. Their hair was long and unkempt. Their beards had pieces of leaves, grass and food caught within. These were thieves and marauders that had not performed a day of honest work in years. Ehud sought the cleanest looking man. He found a tall, bulky man with stray hairs of white in his black beard.

“What is your name?” Ehud kicked the slumbering man on the floor.

“Who’s askin’?” the man asked opening his eyes. They were black. The white of his eyes was a web of red.

“I am Ehud son of Gerah and by the authority of the council I ask that you answer my questions.”

“Go ‘way.”

Ehud kicked the man hard in the shin.

“Ow! Could’ve asked nicer,” the man growled.

“What is your name?”

“Znumeh.”

“Znumeh, tell me what happened that night.”

“We were just havin’ some fun, that’s all.”

“Fun you call it? Raping and killing a woman? “

“We didn’t kill no woman. She was still alive an kickin’ when we finished with her. Anyways, was her man we really wanted, but that coward threw her to us. Good lookin’ woman too. We just couldn’t resist.”

“Sick. You are all sick. All of you!”

“Now listen here smith. We know you. Don’t go on lecturin’ us now. You Elders think you’re all righteous and tellin’ us what to do. But Givaah is our town. We own it. We do what we like. Strangers come to town, they need to pay some dues. With their flesh. They don’t like it, then don’t come to our town. You Elders make a big fuss, give us some lashes, but then you’ll be gone, back to your farms and sheep, and Givaah will still be ours. Go bother someone else.”

Ehud kicked Znumeh hard in the groin. Znumeh doubled over into fetal position on the floor, groaning in pain.

“You idiot! Your lust may well bring war upon us! The Judeans want blood! If it were up to me I would hand the lot of you over to the other tribes and let them kill you, but the Elders are making a political stand out of this debacle.”

“Didn’t kill nobody. Just havin’ fun.” Znumeh groaned as Ehud stomped out of the prison.

 

Ehud, Yakshal, Tamir and the fourth rider reached the mountain of Mitzpeh at the break of dawn. Hundreds of thousands of small tents littered the craggy landscape. Leather-clad soldiers exited their tents and proceeded to break camp. Tens of thousands of new soldiers from the eleven other tribes arrived from the four compass points of the land of Israel to join the hustle and bustle of the camp. Enterprising youngsters roamed up and down the impromptu campground, selling fresh pita and loaves of bread. There was a certain bawdy excitement about the gathering. Young men who had grown up on tales of the conquest of Canaan arrived with their father’s swords. Old soldiers who had never adjusted to farm life came with a wildness in their eyes.

“Our prince received her arm,” a young man of eastern Menasheh was telling a crowd of soldiers. He spoke with a lisp characteristic to his tribe.

“Which one?” a fat soldier asked.

“Does it matter?” the young Menashite answered. “He rode throughout our towns carrying the smelly tender arm. He proclaimed at each town: ‘This is the arm of a young maiden of Judah! She was raped and killed by the men of Benjamin. Has such a horror ever occurred amongst the Children of Israel? Shall we allow such a deed to go unpunished? We march upon Benjamin to demand justice!’”

“We got her leg!” the fat soldier shouted. “We shall kill those Benjaminites! I heard it was a whole town of them that raped the girl. Those Benjaminites have had it coming for a while. Why those arrogant ruffians! They think they can get away with murder. We will show them!”

“It seems war has been decided,” Yakshal whispered to Ehud as they passed the excited group. The scene was repeated over and over as the Benjaminites made their way through the camp. Groups described different grizzly body parts they had seen and how all the able-bodied men had rallied to the call of war. It hadn’t hurt that the early summer harvest was done and most of the men could spare a few weeks until the late harvest would start in earnest. Shepherds were notoriously absent from the army, but many accompanied the tribes, offering from their flock to the hungry men.

The riders reached the top of Mitzpeh and dismounted. Eleven large tents of the princes formed a circle on the clearing. A twelfth, smaller, but more ornate tent was set slightly beyond the circle. It would be the tent of Pinhas, the High Priest. Inside the circle of the tents was a large circle of men. The eleven princes were in the innermost circle in crisp white robes, together with their generals and captains of thousands. Surrounding them were captains of hundreds, and other judges and officers. Ehud, with his small group, squeezed themselves through the crowd to the innermost circle. He found himself between the delegation of the tribe of Judah on his right and the High Priest with his retinue on his left. Pinhas wore the beautiful blue robe of his office with the breastplate of the precious stones upon him.

“You are brave to have come, Ehud,” a tall redhead whispered to Ehud.

“Boaz!” Ehud embraced quickly with his former comrade. “The situation looks dire.”

“Indeed. Are you then the representative of your tribe? Did your prince fear coming?”

“He felt I would best represent our tribe on this issue, though we have little hope. Who is that?” Ehud pointed at a tall yet portly man stepping into the middle of the circle.

“Why, that is your accuser, the Levite, Gheda, the one whose concubine was killed. We know him well. He is a man of no small influence. And the girl was my cousin, Dramital from Bethlehem. Our Prince Elimelech is incensed. If you wish to forestall trouble, speak quickly.”

“To avenge a crime of national proportions, we have assembled,” Gheda proclaimed to the princes. “We have gathered as one man, to exact justice, vengeance and retribution from Benjamin our brother, for the hurt, the pain, the unforgivable sin it has committed upon the body of Israel. Shall we let such crimes go unnoted? Shall those that protect evil remain without blame? Is there any here that is not of like mind?”

“We are not,” Ehud stepped into the circle.

“And who might you be, whelp?” Gheda retorted savagely.

“I am Ehud son of Gerah, messenger of Prince Gilton of Benjamin and representative of our council of Elders, and I say that you err.”

“I err? I err!? Pray tell in what do I err, young man? Do not the pieces of my beloved lay strewn throughout the tribes of Israel? Was I not attacked and almost killed by the vicious murderers of your tribe? Has not your tribe refused to bring these murderers to justice?”

“He lies!” Ehud addressed the princes, realizing who needed convincing.

“Do you know who I am?” Gheda’s pale face reddened. “Do you know my ancestry, you from the youngest of tribes? How dare you accuse me? What evidence, what witnesses do you bring that you would defame me so?”

“I bring your host,” Ehud stated, and motioned for the fourth rider, an old man, to step into the circle.

“Princes of Israel,” Ehud addressed the princes, looking primarily at Elimelech and Pinhas, the High Priest. “This is not a court and this is not a trial in the formal sense. Rest assured that we shall try the guilty from our tribe and they shall receive the maximum punishment according to the Law of Moses, the law that binds us all. However, given the extreme circumstances and sensitivity of the crimes that were committed I have brought this witness here, and I will testify myself as to my findings, so that the truth will be disclosed and calm decisions reached.”

All the princes looked to Elimelech of Judah. The tribe of Judah was the one personally hurt and was the natural leader from amongst the tribes. Elimelech nodded to Ehud.

“We recognize you, Ehud son of Gerah, of Benjamin. Speak. Speak truthfully and concisely, for we have little patience for further stories and delays. It is a great evil that has occurred in Israel and Gheda is correct that things cannot remain as they have been. We must take responsibility for our errant brother, even if it means a painful lesson.”

“It is true that the woman from Judah was assaulted by the men of Givaah. For that they will be punished fully.”

“That is no punishment!” Gheda exclaimed.

“However, when this man” – Ehud pointed at Gheda – “left Givaah and the territory of Benjamin, the woman still lived! I do not know what possessed this illustrious Levite to cut her up into pieces, nor do we know if she was alive when he did so. I will not conjecture as to his political motivations in bringing us to war. However, what I do know for certain is that the men of Givaah did not kill that woman. They may be guilty of other crimes, but they are not guilty of murder!”

“This man is a witness?” Elimelech pointed at the old man.

“Yes, sir,” the old man bowed to Elimelech. “I am Natol of the tribe of Ephraim, though I have lived for some years in Givaah of Benjamin. I was there that horrible night. I gave sanctuary to Gheda, his woman and his servant. It was a frightful night that I will not forget for as long as live. I feared the men of Givaah. They are criminals that take and pillage at will. Unless you pay them. They generally leave me alone. I am poor and give them a monthly gift from my meager purse. I knew they were capable of great evil, which is why I insisted Gheda come into my house quickly. Someone must have seen him enter my house. By nightfall the house was surrounded and they were demanding Gheda come out to them, just as in the story of Sodom. However, no angels came to save us. Gheda threw his woman out to the rabble as one would throw a piece of meat to rabid dogs. We heard the men’s laughter and the woman’s screams throughout the night. At least my daughter and I did. Gheda seemed strangely pleased with himself, asked for a bed and promptly went to sleep, untroubled.”

“That is untrue!” Gheda interrupted. “I tossed and turned the entire night. But what could I do for her? I decided I might as well get some sleep.”

“He then woke up in the morning,” Natol continued, “opened the door and tells the half-dead girl on the doorstep “let’s go”. I had never seen a more callous act in my life. The poor girl had probably lost her mind already. She looked blankly at Gheda and fainted. Gheda hoisted her like the side of a cow and laid her on the back of his donkey. He trotted off without as much as a goodbye. The girl was still alive when she left Givaah.”

“You would believe him?” Gheda shouted. “You would take the word of this worthless wretch over mine? Is this evidence? The drivel of one tribeless man against a Levite? Against me? You would believe me a villain? A city-worth of men rape my woman, cause her to die and you cast aspersions of immorality upon me!? I did cut up her dead body as a sign and a message. A horrible thing had been done in Israel. I needed to wake up the tribes from their morass. We are gathered all together now. Princes, you know me. We have worked for years on our unification efforts. We are finally united in a purpose and goal as we have not been since the days of Joshua. Princes, are you men? Decide here and now, in front of all of Israel!”

“We shall decide, Gheda,” Elimelech said. “Ehud, my cousin is dead and dismembered by members of your tribe. I will not be appeased; we will not be appeased until the guilty stand in front of us for our judgment. I do not wish for stories or witnesses or promises of weak internal justice. You have until the end of the day to bring them here or we shall come fetch them ourselves with an army of all of Israel behind us. What say you, delegate of Benjamin, to that?”

Ehud looked at all the princes. He noticed Gheda’s smirk. He noticed Pinhas sitting quietly and sadly. Pinhas had remained silent though morosely attentive throughout the discussions.

“Since the days of Moses and Joshua, no tribe has judged its brother,” Ehud responded. “We have coexisted peacefully. We share the bonds of faith and marriage. The Law of Moses guides us all and the Tabernacle is our central place of worship, though few remember that unifying place. You would unify by violence what you did not achieve in peace? You would force justice down our throat? Is your interpretation of the Law superior to ours? Is strength of numbers the equivalent of truth of purpose? God has ever shown us otherwise. We too are a tribe of Israel! In this our council is adamant. We shall not give up our right, our responsibility, to judge our own. Delegates of yours are welcome to observe the trial for themselves and see how we follow the Law of Moses. But under no circumstances will we give them up. Prince Giltar added that if you think to come to us in force, the sons of Benjamin will be prepared with sharpened swords.”

“You leave us no choice then, son of Gerah. You bring this doom upon yourselves. The next time we meet shall be upon the battlefield. Run now, child of Benjamin. Run to your tribe. Tell them that the sons of Israel have gathered as we have not gathered since the destruction of the kings of Canaan. We come for justice. We come for vengeance. We come to right wrongs and to clear the land of its filth. Depart!”

Ehud looked at the stern faces of the princes. Without further word he turned to leave, heartbroken. From the corner of his eye he noted Pinhas, the High Priest of Israel. Tears streamed down Pinhas’ eyes, soiling his beautiful priestly garments.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Book of Judges, Chapter 19

Book of Judges, Chapter 20

Special thanks to Dr. Yael Ziegler for her crash course on the Book of Judges and special insights into these stories. Many of the ideas here are drawn from her, particularly the horrific textual possibility that the concubine was not dead when she was dismembered…

Warrior Prophets 2: Assassin. Chapter 1: Copper Threat

Warrior Prophets II: Assassin

Chapter 1: Copper Threat

 

Eastern view of Kir Moav (in modern-day Jordan)

“Remember to keep your peace in Eglon’s palace,” Ehud warned Ashtom as they rode the rickety carriage east towards the Jordan River, facing the rising sun. Hawks high above cried greetings to the approaching dawn.

Ehud, the stout Benjaminite blacksmith, with his apprentice, tall Ashtom, entered the narrow part of the Jordan River at the height of the summer. The River had lost its former power. The pair of strong donkeys carrying Ehud’s carriage were able to navigate the crossing easily. The only fear was that the light carriage would be tossed by the river’s current.

“Sit on the back of the carriage to stabilize it,” Ehud commanded Ashtom as he navigated the donkeys over the slippery stones of the river. Ehud’s calloused and scarred hands held the reigns confidently. Ashtom scrambled onto the carriage to spread himself over the back of the wagon. His simple linen robe fluttered with the breeze.

“Why can’t I speak my mind if I wish?” the thin youth asked from behind, holding tightly onto the edges of the wooden carriage.

“Because your mind is still ill-formed and I fear that what may come out of your mouth will be at best nonsense and at worst highly offensive. You would disgrace me and our tribe. Shall I leave you outside the palace with the donkeys?”

“No, no. I’ll behave.”

“Promise that you will not say a word within the confines of the palace.”

“I promise, by God Almighty, that not a word will pass my lips.”

“Good. Eglon has been gaining power of late and we would be best served to keep our friendly relations.” Ehud ran his hand through his short dark beard. The brown of his beard matched his thick brown curls and his deep brown eyes. They contrasted with the white linen robe he saved for formal occasions. There was nothing he could do though to clean his darkened hands or soot stained fingernails.

“Are you afraid of him?” Ashtom asked.

“He has not given us cause to fear him and our militia is unrivaled amongst the tribes of Israel. Nevertheless, it is wise to be cautious with allies, and I’m sure he has not forgotten the ignominy his grandfather suffered at our hands.”

“You mean Balak? The one who tried to curse us in the desert? That’s ancient history.”

“The memory of a monarchy lasts longer than that of mere plebes, especially regarding injury. You can sit up front again.”

The carriage left the river behind and scaled up the slope towards the plains of Moav. Ashtom climbed back to sit next to Ehud. They rode on the well trodden path southward, the King’s Road, parallel to the glistening Sea of Salt, towards the capital of Moav.

“If you are so suspicious, why do we do business with him?”

“He is the best source of copper and we need copper to work.”

“Are there no friendlier sources of copper?”

“Friendlier perhaps, but more expensive as well. In any case, Eglon is friendly enough. We need not seek enemies where they do not exist. The days are tense enough as it is.”

“You mean with the other tribes?”

“Yes. Whatever we do or say seems to upset them.”

“Why should we care? The tribe of Benjamin is strong enough without the other tribes. We are the strongest!” Ashtom pounded his chest.

“Perhaps, but they are still our brothers.”

“If they don’t feel the same way, what’s the use of our ‘brotherhood’?”

“The problem is they wish for a stronger brotherhood, while our tribe is happy to remain independent, the way Joshua left us.”

“That is their problem, isn’t it?”

“For now. But their problems may become our problems.”

 

 

Ehud and Ashtom trotted down the long road through the Tribe of Reuben as the sun reached its zenith. Wide, sparsely vegetated pastures accompanied them to the left and right. They crossed the Israelite boundary, the Arnon River, and entered the dusty dominion of Moav. Israelite and Moavite merchants traveled both north and south on the King’s Road. The King’s Road was an ancient roadway that had been in continuous use for centuries. It started from the Kingdom of Edom in the south, passed through Kir Moav, Eglon’s capital, and continued north all the way to Damascus.

By late afternoon, Ehud could see Kir Moav in the distance. The fortress city was carved into the mountain. It sat perched on a massive cliff, at least a league high, overlooking the deep valley to the west. Vultures spiraled over some dead prey below. The thick tall walls of pinkish stone surrounding Kir Moav appeared as is if they had grown out of the mountain itself. Except for the King’s Road that ran north-south through the heavy gates of the city, there was no other access to the city. To the southwest was a treacherous ascent and to the east, miles of endless desert. On each visit, Ehud, the seasoned tactician, always contemplated how one might take the city by force, and always concluded it could only be done from the inside. No army could long lay siege in this unforgiving desert. The city’s weakest point, always the gate, was made of three reinforced layers of hardened copper. Ehud always marveled at the workmanship, his blacksmith fingers eager to touch the metal. Since the founding of the people of Moav, none had succeeded in conquering their stronghold. They had lost the plains to the north generations before to the Amorites, a people that Moses subsequently destroyed. The land, now twice conquered, was bestowed by Moses to the tribes of Gad and Reuben. Ehud suspected that the offense remained in Eglon’s memory as well.

Two armored guards at the gate waved Ehud in. Ehud led his donkeys through the busy sandstone streets of Kir Moav. Men and women in light robes with cotton head scarves walked purposely through the open marketplace of the main road. Stalls were filled with radishes, carrots, turnips, dried figs, dates, almonds, cinnamon and a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables and spices. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the streets, together with grilled meat. Ashtom eyed the fresh produce hungrily.

“We will eat from our own rations,” Ehud said, noticing Ashtom’s gaze.

“Their stuff looks so good,” Ashtom said longingly.

“Half of it is imported from our own fields and costs three times the price here. We will eat after we finish our business in the palace.”

Eglon’s palace commanded the southwest quadrant of the city. Large pink sandstone structures of previous generations made up the palace complex. Eglon’s addition was distinctly taller and grander, a testament to Eglon’s rise in fortune. Ehud was shocked to see over one thousand troops camped outside Eglon’s palace.

“He has never had so many troops before,” Ehud stated.

“Is this trouble for us?” Ashtom asked.

“He would be mad to attack us and he knows it. He is most likely preparing for an attack upon Amon.”

“Then we are not in trouble.”

“No. Not yet. Let us see if he is as welcoming as in previous years.”

Two guards recognized Ehud and waved him through the palace gates. They rode to the entrance of the palace undisturbed and stopped their wagon in the shade of the palace stables. A royal stableman rushed out of the stables and quickly grabbed hold of the reigns.

“How long do you expect to stay, sir?” the young stableman bowed.

“Just long enough to conduct our business and collect our yearly copper,” Ehud responded. He removed the sword with its sheath from his side and placed it in the back of the cart.

“You too, Ashtom,” Ehud pointed at the boy’s short sword. “Leave your weapon behind.”

“Why? I thought we needed them to protect ourselves from brigands.”

“That was on the road. Now we are in the King’s palace where we are under his protection. A lone sword will do little good if we are threatened. Besides, it is insulting for those not of his guard to bring a weapon into his chambers. Now stop arguing and take it off!”

“Fine,” Ashtom pouted as he removed the sheath and short sword from his belt.

Ehud grabbed a small copper vessel from the back of the cart together with a clay jug. He opened the jug and poured oil into the copper vessel and gave the copper vessel to Ashtom.

“Hold this carefully and don’t spill it,” Ehud commanded.

Ehud and Ashtom walked up the stone stairs to the palace.

Guards with spears stood on either side of the entrance. They allowed the visitors through, into a large antechamber. Tall marble pillars supported a high vaulted roof. High windows let a desert breeze into the room.

A short wizened old man stood erect next to the doors of the King’s audience chamber.

“Greetings, Benjaminite,” the usher welcomed Ehud.

“Greetings, Tramon.” Ehud bowed lightly.

“Is your station the same? Shall I announce you as in the past?” Tramon asked.

“My status has not changed. You may announce me as usual.”

Tramon opened the heavy door to the chamber, faced the king on his throne and with a voice that belied his size announced to the roomful of court attendants:

“Ehud son of Gera, of the Tribe of Benjamin! Blacksmith, Captain of Thousands, Representative of the Elders of Benjamin for matters of Trade to the Kingdom of Moav!”

 Ehud walked past more marble columns. Woven tapestries adorned the walls. One depicted a scene of the Patriarch Abraham looking in anguish over the city of Sodom. A second tapestry showed the destruction of Sodom with bright red flames and hailstones reducing the city to ashes. A third scene was an immodest couple in a cave, Lot and his daughter in one of the more famous incestuous stories from the Book of Moses. Lot was both the father and the grandfather of Moav, the founder of this powerful nation. For some reason Moav’s descendents relished the lurid story of their ancestor. The fourth tapestry showed Balak, King of Moav, Eglon’s grandfather, on a mountaintop together with Bilaam the Sorcerer, overlooking the desert camp of the Tribes of Israel. Ehud stared in appreciation of the fine workmanship as he slowly walked towards Eglon.

“Is it not magnificent, Ehud?” Eglon asked rising from his throne to Ehud.

“Beautiful work, your Majesty. Your taste in adornment is inspiring.”

“Ehud of Benjamin!” Eglon grabbed Ehud in a bear hug. “It is absolutely delectable seeing you. You are by far my favorite delegate.” Eglon let the shorter man go. Eglon was a full head taller than Ehud. Eglon was large and muscular though pale despite the desert sun. His head was shaved bald, except for a tuft of crimson hair that he wore in a tail Egyptian-style. He was swathed in a white cotton robe, with a heavy belt and necklace of solid gold.

“It is wonderful to see you as well, your Majesty. Putting on some weight?”

“Ah, Ehud. That is what I love about you. You will not fawn upon me as do these sycophants that surround me and visit me.” Eglon motioned with both hands at the crowds of attendants hugging the stone walls. “Yes. I have put on some weight. My mother always said I was too thin. I think the extra weight sits well on me, regally even.”

“It is certainly royal weight.”

“Ah, Ehud. I love it. What is that trinket I see in your servant’s hand?”

Ehud motioned for Ashtom to hand him the copper vessel.

“Your Majesty.” Ehud held the copper vessel with a flourish. “What can we present to a king so wealthy and generous? Knowing your fondness for things of high quality, we humbly present you with a small gift, of one precious item within another. Note this copper vessel. It is copper of the highest quality, from your very own mines, worked and polished until it almost shines like gold. However, this is no typical vessel for holding oil. Note two innovations. The first is the cover. No longer must you worry about insects flying or crawling into your dish. See how perfectly it fits over the dish. The second innovation, and this I have not seen by any other blacksmith, is that the cover is attached to the dish. You see how this hinge keeps the cover in place, yet allows the cover to be easily removed and replaced? This cover can never go missing. The two are joined forever in wholesome and complementary partnership. Within is the finest virgin olive oil, the first pressing, from the choicest grove in Benjamin, from my father’s own estate.”

Ehud handed the vessel to Eglon. Eglon played with the cover, opening and closing the vessel. He looked carefully at the workmanship, noting the lines of the engravings, the curve of the metal, the smoothness of the polish. He dipped his pinky into the oil and tasted it. His eyes lit up. He placed the vessel on his throne and with tears moistening his eyes gave Ehud another bear-hug.

“Ehud, this is the most precious, meaningful gift I have ever received. Your hands and mind made this vessel. Absolutely ingenious. I have always said you are the greatest blacksmith between Egypt and Aram. I am honored by your gift. And the oil is truly pristine. I shall savor every drop.”

Eglon sat back on his throne, placing the vessel in his lap. He snapped his fingers and a white-robed attendant was at his side. A moment later the attendant returned with a plate carrying freshly baked pita. He placed the plate on a low table next to the throne. The King of Moav grabbed the pita, ripped it in half, dipped the pita into the oil and stuffed a handful into his mouth. A beatific smile graced his face.

“Behold!” Eglon bellowed to the chamber as he chewed. “This is a true friend! A gift from the heart! What need I for gold or silver or poems about myself. A gift of intelligence, a gift of understanding – that is a true gift. Come Ehud, let us do our business. I know you have come on a long road. State your request.”

“Your Majesty, we merely seek the normal allotment of copper, as in previous years.”

“Of course, of course. Most reasonable, my dear friend. There is unfortunately a small complication.”

“Complication?”

“Yes. The demand for copper has increased significantly this past year and the supply has not kept up, with obvious results.”

“The price has gone up.”

“And the amount we can sell is reduced.”

“How much?”

“We can only provide you with half the allotment of last year.”

“Half!? Where has all the copper gone?”

“You might have noticed my troops outside.”

“I was going to ask about them. I presume you are realizing your ambitions over Amon.”

“Ambitions? No, no. I am the least ambitious of people. I merely seek to quell some disturbances with our unruly neighbors. There is nothing like several hundred copper swords to quiet a border. Of course it is not as good as the Philistine iron, but the Amonites will understand our message.”

“That is quite a force to send a message. It is a force that would even give a Tribe of Israel pause.”

 “Israel? That is the furthest thought from my mind. Why do you say such thing? Are the Benjaminites finally tired of their brothers’ unification efforts? Do you suggest an alliance against them?”

“No. Though we do not see eye to eye with our brothers, I would never dream of fighting them. The council of Elders will eventually sort out our disagreements. I, for one, merely have pity for the Amonites that will face your force. But please, let us return to the matter of the copper. How much will it cost?”

“The same amount as in previous years.”

“The same price for half the copper? That is robbery!”

“Come now, Ehud. You are a man of the world. You understand very well the mechanics of supply and demand. You are of course free to seek elsewhere. I understand the Egyptian supply at Timna remains strong, or perhaps the Philistines would be willing to part with some of their precious iron.”

“You know very well that the Tribe of Simeon has the exclusive concession from the Egyptians to sell to the other tribes of Israel – and they are charging a hefty price. And the Philistines that are ready to sell iron are charging extravagant sums. You know I have limited choices.”

“My dear Ehud, I do like you so. Because of our friendship, because of your exquisite gift, I shall grant you a boon. I will spare some more copper than I would have normally allowed. We shall make it three quarters of the usual shipment. Am I not generous? For the normal price in gold that I am certain you carry in your pouch there.”

A servant entered the chamber hurriedly and nodded at Eglon.

“See, the copper has already been loaded onto your transport.” Eglon smiled. “Let us conclude our exchange and end it in a friendly manner.”

“Your Majesty, I see you have seen the matter through. You are generous in your extortion. Here is my tribe’s gold, though I will have much to answer for upon my return.”  Ehud handed Eglon a heavy sack with gold. Eglon weighed the sack in his hands.

“Exact as always, Ehud.” Eglon smiled. “Now will you eat with us to celebrate the successful conclusion of our negotiations?”

“I am honored, but first with your permission, I will see to the quality and amount of the copper. Your servants in the past have not always been so exact or careful. Three years ago some foolish servant thought to convince me that ingots of lead were merely rusted copper.”

“Yes, I remember the ignoble fellow. I assigned him to the mine itself to teach him the difference. When you are done with your arrangements, please return for the evening meal.”

“Yakshal of Benjamin!” the old usher at the door announced. “Courier of the Benjaminite Elders!”

Ehud turned to see a tall muscular man in sweat-drenched robes approach. Yakshal bowed towards Eglon.

“Your Majesty,” Yakshal said breathlessly, “I carry a message for Ehud son of Gera from the tribal elders. I beg your pardon that I may deliver it, as it is of the utmost urgency.”

“Speak,” Eglon commanded.

“Ehud,” Yakshal faced him. “You must return immediately. There is talk of war.”

“War!? Against who?”

“The tribes of Israel.”

“What? What madness is this? I just left this morning and all was quiet.”

“We received word at noon that the tribes were assembling against us. Our elders have decided to repel these invaders. I was sent with our fastest horse to call you home.”

“What pray tell,” Eglon asked, hiding a smile, “has caused this threat of violence?”

“There was terrible incident in one of our cities, Givaah. A concubine was raped and subsequently died. Her master, a man of Ephraim, a troublemaker if there ever was one, cut her corpse into pieces and sent one to each tribe. The tribes assembled and vowed vengeance against us unless we give up the men of Givaah. Our elders refuse, claiming it’s an internal matter. As we speak, the combined armies of the rest of the tribes are gathering against us. Ehud, there is no time to waste.”

“Ehud, you will ride in the dark?” Eglon nodded at the setting sun outside the windows.

“I have no choice. Yakshal, I will take your horse. You and Ashtom return with the donkeys and the copper in the morning. Ashtom, make sure there are no errors with the amount. Your Majesty, with your permission, I shall answer to the call of my elders.”

“Of course, Ehud. May I offer some assistance? An alliance? We joked about it earlier, but the gods seem to have a wicked sense of humor.”

“I shall convey your generous offer to our elders, though my hope is that we can resolve this madness before coming to bloodshed. That I shall attempt, even if I stand alone.”

“Good fortune then, Ehud. I shall await with bated breath word of developments.”

“I am certain your spies will keep you well appraised. Goodbye your Majesty.”

“Goodbye my friend.”

Eglon hugged Ehud one last time, a single tear moistening his eye.

Ehud, Yakshal and Ashtom departed the audience chamber.

Eglon sat back on his throne and called for his chief-of-staff.

“Ritka, what are your thoughts on this development?”

“Beneficial.”

“Truly. We shall move up our attack on Amon. We march in the morning.”

“Yes, my liege.”

“Ehud is naïve to think they’ll avoid war. It’s been building up for years and that dead concubine is the spark that will light the fire. The Benjaminites have been too arrogant and their brothers will cut them down to size.”

“What role do you expect we shall play, my liege?”

“If we time our campaign correctly, we will pick up all the pieces. Benjamin and all the other tribes shall be mine!”

A hawk outside the city walls squawked in agreement as it swooped upon its prey. The unlucky desert rat squirmed in the hawk’s claws as the setting sun turned the world red.

 

* * * * * *