Category Archives: Mahlon

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 10 – Mother’s Loss

 Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 10

 Mother’s Loss

“How can you leave me?” Neema asked her daughters as they packed their belongings in their room.

“We follow our husbands,” Orpa stated, as she placed a gold pin in her bags.

“Your husbands have been perfectly happy here for ten years, why do they need to leave now?”

“I fear Zipor.” Orpa looked at her mother straight in the eye. “I fear that his new-found power has made him mad, if he wasn’t mad already.”

“I can always protect you from Zipor.” Neema did not contradict Orpa’s claim. “He will never hurt me or mine. No matter how ambitious he may be, my daughters will always be safe.”

“Nonetheless, our husbands return to Judah and we follow them,” Orpa said simply.

“How will you live there? They hate our kind. They detest our worship.”

“What do I care about our worship? I was unmarried too long to risk losing a husband. I will follow him as long as he is there to follow,” Orpa answered.

“What about you, Ruth?” Neema asked. “You’ve been unusually quiet. Will you be happy amongst Judeans and their ways? Is a man all you think about? I have lost two husbands, yet have never given up our traditions. The Judeans will not allow worship of Molech or Kemosh.”

“I like the Judean ways,” Ruth said softly. “Mahlon has taught me a certain gentleness, a certain peace that I like. I see little value in the worship of the old gods. The God of the Hebrews is powerful and protects His Children. We have seen it with our own eyes.”

“So you leave me?” Neema asked with growing anger. “This is the gratitude you show me after everything I’ve done for you? You abandon your own mother in her old age?”

“You will be fine, mother,” Orpa waved her hand. “And Judah is not so far away. Perhaps, once Zipor settles down, we will visit from time to time. There are merchant caravans coming all the time. We will see you soon, mother. Don’t worry and don’t be upset.”

“I see your minds are set.” Neema breathed out through her nose. “Well, if you change your minds, you will always have a room here, even with those Judean husbands of yours. Make sure to visit soon in any case.” Neema kissed her daughters and left their room.

Orpa and Ruth walked to Naomi’s room and saw that she was packed herself. Naomi was wrapping some last cloths into a bundle. Ashban had sold Naomi a few bolts of fabric at a reasonable price and Naomi and Ruth had already discussed the types of dresses they would sew for a Judean clientele. Ashban had promised to supply them with more fabric at a fair price if the demand was strong.

“Greetings, my daughters,” Naomi smiled at the two Moabite princesses. “How did your mother deal with the news?”

“Unsurprisingly,” Orpa answered. “She will be fine. She made a big deal about it, but I think it’s her way of showing she will miss us. We’re ready.”

“Good. You are very brave to undertake this move, but I think it will be good for all of us, especially for Mahlon and Kilyon. They should never have left Judah.”

Naomi held her throat suddenly and coughed violently, doubling over.

“What’s the matter?” Ruth asked and held Naomi up.

“I can’t breathe,” Naomi said hoarsely. “Mahlon and Kilyon, they’re in danger!”

“Where? What? How do you know?” Orpa joined Ruth in holding their mother-in-law up.

“I suddenly sense it. They’re in a fire. They can’t breathe. We must go to them!”

Naomi ran out of the room and into the palace hallway. From the tall windows she could see smoke rising from the northern end of Kir Moav. She ran out of the palace, with Ruth and Orpa following closely.

People fled southward, away from the fire, as soldiers moved in closer, carrying buckets of water from the wells.

Naomi was panting heavily as they reached the street that was the source of the blaze. Nearby animals seemed to be in a craze, attacking any soldier they could see. Naomi clutched her chest and fell to the ground. She spasmed again as if an arrow had entered her heart. Tears poured freely down her face on to the Moabite cobblestones.

“No,” she wept. “No. Not my boys.”

“What happened?” Ruth asked, as she and Orpa raised her from the ground.

“They are dead. I can feel it.”

They walked slowly down the road, the Moabite sisters on either side of their mother-in-law. They reached a scene that at first they did not comprehend.

The house that Elimelech had rented all those years ago had burnt to the ground. The fire was spreading to nearby houses. Moabite soldiers were throwing buckets of water on the fire. Over twenty Moabite soldiers lay dead on the road. And then they saw Mahlon and Kilyon, both dead with still-burning arrows in their heart. The newly-crowned King Zipor, Ruth and Orpa’s brother, was directing the soldiers putting out the flames.

He spotted Naomi and approached with anger in his eyes.

Before he could open his mouth, Naomi slapped him hard across the face.

“You killed them, you evil creature,” Naomi said with quiet rage. Zipor looked at Naomi in shock and then the anger returned to his eyes.

“I did not, you witch, but I intended to. They were wild dangerous men. If you do not leave the city immediately, I will kill you where you stand.”

“What is wrong with you, Zipor!?” Orpa finally found her voice. Ruth knelt beside her murdered husband, extinguished the burning arrow and wept quietly.

“You will address me as ‘Your Majesty’ or ‘Your Highness’ from now on, sister. I did not approve of your choice of husband.”

“So you burned down the city?”

“Do not use such a tone with me, Orpa. I am now the ruler here.”

“You are nothing but a cowardly sniveling little runt pretending to be a man.”

“Enough, sister! I banish you as well, on pain of death!”

“I’m leaving this decrepit city, anyway. If you’re running things now, you’re likely to destroy the whole place in less than a week, Your Majesty.” Orpa said his title with as much sarcasm as she could muster.”

“Begone then, begone!”

“Not before I say goodbye to Kilyon.” Orpa knelt by her husband’s corpse. The fire of his arrow had already gone out. She closed his vacant eyes and kissed him tenderly on the cheek.”

“Goodbye, Kilyon,” Orpa said with a heavy voice. “I will miss you. Come, Ruth. We must get out of here.” Orpa grabbed her sister and tore her away from her husband’s body.

“We can’t leave them here like this,” Ruth protested. “They must be buried, as per their tradition.”

“Zipor is mad,” Orpa whispered. “If we stay any longer he will kill us and Naomi. We must leave now.”

“Know this, Zipor son of Jalet,” Naomi said as Orpa and Ruth joined her. “My sons will be avenged. If I had the strength, I would kill you where you stand. There will be a blood redeemer for these deaths. If not from my family, then the God of Israel, the God who took us out of Egypt and gave us the Land of Canaan. He will avenge the deaths of Mahlon and Kilyon. If not upon you, then upon your descendants. Our God has a long memory and he does not forget the injustices committed upon His children. I curse you, Zipor that you should never know relief, that you should never know peace until this crime is avenged. God shall take you down to the pits of Sheol and you will never know joy. My grief is beyond description – may you taste it soon.”

Naomi turned abruptly and left a wide-mouthed Zipor behind. Orpa and Ruth followed quickly, after a mother-in-law the likes of which they had never encountered before.

The threesome left the city, with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Naomi’s bravado had run its course and now she walked slowly, hunched over in grief, looking blankly at the desert road. They walked wordlessly northwards until the road that led westward, to the Tribe of Judah.

“Leave me, my daughters.” Naomi awoke from her reverie. “Return to your mother. She will protect you from your brother’s madness. Judah is no place for princesses. Go, my daughters. God should deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. Go. Find new husbands. Find rest and peace.” Naomi kissed both sisters. Ruth and Orpa cried.”

“No,” Orpa said. “We will return with you to your people.”

“Go back, my daughters.” Noami shook her head. “Do I have more sons in my womb that might be husbands for you? Go back, go home. I am too old to have a husband. Even if I were to marry tonight and bear sons, would you wait until they were grown? Would you lock yourselves up and have no husband until they were of age? No, my daughters. I grieve for you as well. You have suffered along with me. The hand of our God has gone forth against me and you have lost as well. Think well. Go home.”

Orpa and Ruth hugged their mother-in-law and wept with her.

“How can we leave you?” Orpa asked.

“How can you follow me? You doom yourself to a life of poverty and loneliness. It will not be easy for you to find husbands amongst my people. Stay. Return to your mother, return to the palace. Return to your comforts and marry from your own people.”

Orpa looked at Kir Moav, a dark plume of smoke rising to the blue sky. She then looked west to the barren rocky desert they would have to cross to reach Judah.

“Perhaps you are right,” Orpa said. “Without Kilyon it makes less sense for me to leave the palace. Zipor will calm down and I will seek a new husband. But how will you fare?”

“I will return to my people, to my family and I will know peace, though perhaps never joy or contentment. Leave me, my daughters. Go back to your mother with my blessings.”

Orpa kissed Noami tenderly on the cheek, nodded, bowed down lightly and left her, as if departing from monarchy. She walked slowly back towards Kir Moav. Ruth did not budge from Naomi’s side.

“Ruth,” Naomi said gently. “Your sister has returned to your people, to your god. Go back with her.”

“Do not ask me again to leave you or to stop following you, mother.” Ruth shook her head. “Wherever you go, I will go. Where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people will become my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May God, the God of Israel do so to me and more if anything but death parts you from me.”

Naomi looked at Ruth as if seeing her for the first time. This was not the act of a Moabite. But this was the act of Ruth. All the years of kindness she had perceived in Ruth, all the generosity, the loftiness of spirit and the hidden strength had come forth at this moment of choice. Naomi cried again. But not tears of grief. Rather she cried tears of relief, tears of joy, and tears of companionship, as she experienced a loyalty she had never known even amongst her own people.

Wordlessly, Naomi walked towards her homeland, followed by a woman she thought was now closer to God than any Israelite in the Land of Canaan.

* * * * * *

Biblical Source:

 

Ruth Chapter 1:

5 And Mahlon and Chilion died both of them; and the woman was left of her two children and of her husband. 6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return from the field of Moab; for she had heard in the field of Moab how that the Lord had remembered His people in giving them bread. 7 And she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law: ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house; the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. 9 The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.’ Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. 10 And they said unto her: ‘Nay, but we will return with thee unto thy people.’ 11 And Naomi said: ‘Turn back, my daughters; why will ye go with me? have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say: I have hope, should I even have an husband to-night, and also bear sons; 13 would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would you shut yourselves off for them and have no husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieves me much for your sakes, for the hand of the Lord is gone forth against me.’ 14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth cleaved unto her. 15 And she said: ‘Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her god; return thou after thy sister-in-law.’ 16 And Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; 17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.’ 18 And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her.

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 9 – The Trouble with Brother-in-laws

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 9

The Trouble with Brother-in-laws

“Are you mad?” Orpa sneered at her husband in their quarters. “Why would I leave palace life to go live in the mud-hole you crawled out of?”

“Perhaps a change of location will change our fortunes?” Kilyon volunteered.

“Hah! How can my fortunes get any worse than being married to you? I know, surround myself by your wretched relatives and tribesmen. I am the daughter of a king, an emperor! I will not live in some hovel with a misfit Hebrew that should never have been released from the slave-pits of Egypt. Is that the answer you were looking for, my love?”

“Never mind. I’m sorry I asked.”

“And I’m sorry I ever saw you. Leave me alone. You’ve upset me with your silly questions and now I need to rest.”

“That’s a good idea. You rest. I’ll be back later.”

“Don’t hurry back,” Orpa said as Kilyon left their room.

*

“Zipor? What happened? You look terrible,” Queen Neema hurried to Zipor, bleeding and cut up, climbing the steps of the palace.

“Oh, Mother. It was terrible. Father and I were out hunting. He slipped off the cliff ledge. I jumped after him and barely escaped with my life. There are sharp stones on the side of the cliff. But, Father. He didn’t make it.” Zipor choked up, holding back tears.

“Jalet? Jalet is gone?” Neema said, shocked and looked vacantly at her son.

“I somehow feel like it’s my fault,” Zipor admitted. “I’m the one who pushed him to go hunting. If he would have stayed in the palace he wouldn’t have fallen.”

“Oh, my boy, don’t blame yourself. Jalet knew the risks. Don’t ever blame yourself. I’m sure you did everything you could.” Neema embraced her son. “Now what?”

“I have sent the guards to retrieve his body. We need to prepare for a royal funeral. We shall send invitations to all of the monarchs. It will be a funeral worthy of my father’s memory.” Zipor left his mother’s embrace.

“You are a good son, Zipor. It is so sad that you should lose your father so young. Now all the responsibilities will fall on your shoulders. But do not worry. I will be here to guide you. I have been Queen to two kings already and I am well-practiced in assisting those in power.”

“I knew I could count on you mother,” Zipor said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some urgent matters to attend to in order to ensure a smooth transition. Perhaps you should be with Ruth and Orpa so they will not be overtly upset about the news.”

“Of course!” Neema said. “I must tell them immediately. He was so good to them and to those Judeans. They will be distraught by the news.”

“No doubt,” Zipor said and walked purposely towards the palace stables.

*

“You have my condolences, Neema,” Naomi sat next to the mourning Queen in the royal audience chamber. “Jalet was a kind and hospitable man and I was grateful for his taking us in. I admit I did not expect such hospitality from our old enemies.”

“He was a good man,” Neema agreed. “Not as ambitious or as wild as Eglon, but I think perhaps wiser. It is such a tragedy. Especially for Zipor. He is so young and there was so much more he could have learned from his father.”

“Zipor seems to be taking things remarkably well,” Naomi noted. “I see he has assumed quick charge of the soldiers and is busy with all sorts of arrangements. How are you doing, girls?” Naomi asked Ruth and Orpa sitting on the other side of Neema.

“He was generous to us,” Ruth said.

“He let me buy dresses,” Orpa added. “But now Zipor is scaring me. He’s become so intense. It’s like he’s a different person.”

“It may just be his way of grieving,” Naomi suggested. “Perhaps he just needs some time.” Naomi got stood up and excused herself from the Queen.

“Let us walk you out,” Orpa offered, pulling Ruth along. The three women left the audience chamber as other local noblewomen entered to console Neema.

“I need to talk to you,” Orpa whispered to Naomi as they walked in the hallway.

“What is the matter, my daughter,” Naomi asked.

“Kilyon asked me if I would move back with him to Judah.”

“That is an unexpected development.” Naomi stopped walking. “What was your answer?”

“I told him no,” Orpa admitted. “But now that Zipor is king, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to give him some space.”

“Do you fear your own brother?” Naomi asked.

“I don’t know. There was something frightening in his eyes. He sounds polite and kingly, but he seems more like a coiled cobra waiting to strike.”

“He would never harm you.”

“He is a cruel, selfish, egocentric, power-hungry child. I know because I am just like him, except that I don’t crave power in this world of men. He will harm anyone he suspects may get in his way. I think we should leave.”

“I would follow you and Mahlon to Judah,” Ruth said to Naomi.

“My daughters.” Naomi sniffled. “I had given up hope that I would ever return home, that my sons would be chained to this land because of you and now it is you that suggest we return? God truly has a sense of humor. You must inform your mother. How will she take the news? Especially after the death of her husband?”

“She has always favored Zipor, the future king,” Orpa answered. “Now that they have their wish, they should both be content. We should go soon while change is in the air. It’s agreed then?” Orpa asked.

Naomi and Ruth nodded and the three of them walked faster through the palace corridors.

*

Mahlon and Kilyon met with their spouses in Naomi’s room.

“We should inform Ashban,” Naomi said to Ruth. “Do you think he would let us take some of his fabrics with us? Perhaps we can open a store in Bethlehem.”

“I need to organize matters in the stable and appoint a new stable-master that Zipor will approve,” Mahlon said.

“Well, we’ll be meeting him shortly, so you can discuss that with him as well,” Kilyon said.

“What meeting?” Orpa asked.

“He said he had an urgent matter to discuss with me and Mahlon and wanted to meet in that house that we had rented when we arrived at Kir Moav. Seemed like an odd request. We should get going Mahlon, if we don’t want to be late.”

“Be careful, my love,” Orpa said. “Something doesn’t sound right.”

“Don’t worry, dear. Mahlon and I can take care of ourselves. We’ll be back soon and finish packing up.”

“Hurry, my love,” Orpa pleaded. “I want to get out of here already.” She looked at the bare walls of Naomi’s room, feeling that they were closing in.

*

A dozen soldiers stood idly at the beginning of the road. A cat screeched at a nearby rat and pounced on it. One of the soldiers kicked the screeching cat, enabling the rat to scurry away. The cat hissed at the soldier and watched in frustration as the rat climbed to the rooftop of a house.

Kilyon remembered the street well. Each stone seemed frozen in time, reminding him of the night of Elimelech’s murder. He thought somber thoughts and did not notice another dozen soldiers at the other end of the street.

“This doesn’t feel right,” Mahlon said, as they approached their one-time residence.

“Everyone worries too much,” Kilyon answered. “Let’s just meet Zipor and move on.”

Mahlon closed his eyes and tried to get a sense from the animals in the area. There were cavalry horses on either end of the street, but they had not paid attention to what their human masters were planning. A nearby cargo donkey had noticed strange work done to their former house. A street rat squirmed in terror until a knife thrust ended his scurrying life.

Kilyon knocked on the new solid oak door.

“Enter,” Zipor requested.

Kilyon and Mahlon entered the house. The afternoon sun shone through the single window of the house. A diamond of light hit the floor, reflecting Elimelech’s ten year-old blood stain that was never removed. A criss-cross pattern of shade announced that there were metal bars on the once-plain window. There was no furniture in the room and nothing on the walls. The roof had been re-thatched. Zipor stood in the center of the room with six other soldiers, all wielding their swords.

“It’s a trap,” Mahlon said.

“Now you tell me,” Kilyon answered.

“Welcome, brothers.” Zipor smiled. “It was so kind of you to accept my invitation.”

“What is this about?” Mahlon asked.

“You are enemies of Moab,” Zipor stated. “My father was overly generous in giving you my sisters and treating you like royalty. You are a threat to my rule and I will now dispose of you.”

“Why here?” Kilyon asked.

“I thought it fitting that the sons die where the father did. I like to go with what works.”

“We are not a threat,” Mahlon argued. “We are your friends, your sisters’ husbands. We are family.”

“It is exactly that relationship that is a threat,” Zipor said. “Should my sisters have children, they would be candidates for the monarchy. I have not allowed that. Now I want to remove the possibility altogether.”

“How have you not allowed it?” Kilyon asked.

“What do you think were in those drinks I’ve served you every year? It was a potion to kill your seed. But I find the charade tiresome. Now, if you will move aside, please.”

Zipor’s soldier’s raised their swords at Elimelech’s sons, guiding them towards the back of the house, as Zipor and the soldiers exited. The heavy door was bolted from the outside.

“What are you doing?” Kilyon ran to the barred window.

“Sumahtrid once told me that you people have some special protection and that it is dangerous to harm you directly. I am just being cautious. I shall make sure to comfort my sisters. I can’t say that knowing you was unpleasant, but I am relieved to see you go. Torch it!” Zipor commanded his soldiers.

Kilyon noticed more than two dozen soldiers outside the house. Several of them tossed burning torches onto the thatch roof. The roof quickly caught fire filling the house with smoke.

Kilyon tried shaking the metal bars to no avail. Mahlon slammed into the wooden door making a loud clatter. The Moabite soldiers jumped back at the sudden noise and drew their swords, awaiting what may exit the door.

“Kilyon, together,” Mahlon called.

The two of them smashed into the door. The hinges creaked and the door frame loosened.

“They will kill us the second we step out.” Kilyon coughed in the thickening smoke. Pieces of burning thatch fell into the house.

“I have an idea.” Mahlon closed his eyes and thought to all the animals he could reach: Help!

The cavalry stallions were the first to neigh and drop their riders. Donkeys and camels trotted into the thin road, their angry owners whipping them uselessly. Dogs ran towards the house, howling madly and cats jumped on nearby roofs.

“I will lift you,” Mahlon jestured to Kilyon.

Zipor’s soldiers looked in panic at the crazed animals around them. Suddenly, Kilyon flew out of a hole in the burning roof, fiery thatch on his arms and shoulders. He landed in a roll outside the house and was on his feet just as Mahlon smashed open the house door. The brothers ripped their burning tunics off and stood side by side bare-chested and furious. Attack! Mahlon thought to his animal troops.

Mahlon and Kilyon lunged at the startled Moabite soldiers. They each grabbed a sword and hacked at Zipor’s troops. The animals joined in on the fight. Horses and donkeys kicked and bit the soldiers, breaking bones in the process. Dogs bit at the men’s shins and cats jumped on their heads and scratched their eyes. One aggrieved cat stuck its tail down a soldier’s throat, choking him to death. The cat had remembered the foot that had kicked it.

Kilyon slashed wildly and became separated from Mahlon. A ring of soldiers surrounded the younger brother. One soldier cut deeply into his torso. Kilyon’s eyes brightened with madness and he frothed slightly at the lips. Then with an animal roar he turned into a whirlwind of movement, killing all the Moabites around him. Zipor thought he saw the specter of a lion behind Kilyon.

“A berserk! A berserk!” the surviving Moabites yelled, seeing the carnage around Kilyon. They retreated from him only to be cut down by the level-headed Mahlon. Soon there were no soldiers left standing and only Zipor remained cowering behind the bodies of his dead men.

“You picked on the wrong people.” Kilyon approached Zipor with gritted teeth and raised sword. “We were no threat to you. We were even planning on leaving Moab. We would have left here peacefully, with no harm to you. But now it is too late.” Kilyon was about to slash at Zipor when a burning arrow pierced his chest. Mahlon turned to the source of the arrow only to find a burning arrow now embedded in his own torso.

“Too late. Too late,” Beor commented from the roof, bow still in hand, as Mahlon and Kilyon dropped to the ground, felled by fire. Sumahtrid stood next to Beor, surveying the carnage with approval.

“So die Mahlon and Kilyon,” Sumahtrid told Beor, “the powerful sons of Elimelech. There is a lesson here, my apprentice. They left their homeland during its time of need and married foreign women against the precepts of their people. Though they had the blood of Nachshon in their veins, though they commanded such power and such potential, their lives did not meet the standards of their ancestors. However, I perceive that their deaths signal the beginning of a new story. A story that may change the Israelite nation forever.”

Sumahtrid looked to the palace and sought in his mind the fresh widows, the daughters of Eglon.

* * * * * *

Sources:

Yoash and Saraf were Mahlon and Kilyon. Yoash because they had given up on redemption, Saraf because they deserved the punishment of burning (for marrying gentiles). The were named Mahlon and Kilyon. Mahlon because they made themselves unholy (by living outside the Holy Land), and Kilyon because they deserved destruction (for leaving the land of Israel). Baba Batra 91b

Mahlon was named so, because God eventually forgave him, as he argued against the wrongs of his father. Zohar Chadash, Ruth 78a

They (Ruth and Orpa) neither converted nor ritually immersed. Ruth Rabba: 2:9

 

 

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 8 – You can’t choose family

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 8

 You can’t choose family

“Ten years!” Orpa yelled as she threw a copper bracelet at Kilyon’s head. “Ten years with an insufferable Hebrew and what do I have to show for it?”

“It is not my fault, my love,” Kilyon pleaded, deftly ducking the flying bracelet. The bracelet bounced off the wall of their palace room and landed on one of the embroidered pillows on the stone floor.

“Are you saying it’s my fault?” Orpa yelled. “Well, listen to me you Judean misfit. This womb,” she held her flat stomach, “can produce a dozen children. It is you that’s a sterile mule.”

“What do you want me to do, Orpa? We have tried everything. Concoctions and soothsayers, sorcerers and healers, no one has been able to help us. Perhaps we should end it. In Judah, if a woman cannot produce a child after ten years, the man is told to leave her. Do you want a divorce?”

“You ingratiate! You filthy Hebrew slave! My mother was right. We should kill all of you. You live like a prince, you can’t give me a child, and now you want to get rid of me? If it weren’t for Jalet’s generosity, you’d be living on the street. Your mother is the only good thing to come out of Judah.”

“I thought you hated my mother?” Kilyon asked in confusion.

“I hate you! Your mother is nice. Except for Ruth, she’s the only nice person in the entire city. Go. Go to your drinks with my brother. He hates to be kept waiting. Come here,” Orpa said, suddenly tender. She approached Kilyon and straightened out his tunic. “Your tunic is askew. You can’t go out like that. Let me fix it.” She kissed Kilyon on the cheek and sent him out of their room.

Kilyon walked out of their room, bewildered. “I will never understand her,” he exclaimed and made his way to Crown Prince Zipor’s quarters.

The guard to Zipor’s door let Kilyon in. Mahlon was talking to Zipor in an airy room filled with scrolls and weapons.

“Ah, brother.” Zipor embraced Kilyon. Zipor had grown to the height of his father, Jalet, yet retained the dark coloring of his mother, Queen Neema. “Just on time. Are you ready for our yearly toast?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.” Kilyon mentally steeled himself for the foul wine Zipor insisted they drink to honor their wedding anniversary. A tray with three goblets was set on the table. One golden-edged goblet and two silver ones. Zipor was always careful to take the golden cup and eyed the brothers closely until they drained their own bitter cups.

“To a bright future for the Kingdom of Moab and its princes!” Zipor raised his glass.

“To our gracious brother-in-law and his thoughtful hospitality,” Mahlon raised his.

All three men finished their drinks. Mahlon and Kilyon grimaced, still not used to this strange brew even after ten years. Zipor grinned in satisfaction.

“How is your bride?” Kilyon asked to make conversation.

“The princess of Ammon is beautiful but difficult,” Zipor admitted. “I don’t understand her. Father was wise to arrange such a marriage, but I suspect she misses her mother.”

“Perhaps you should invite her mother to visit here?” Kilyon suggested.

“The Queen of Ammon, here?” Zipor raised his eyebrow. “What an interesting thought, Kilyon. I think I may propose such a visit.”

“What is keeping you busy these days, Zipor?” Mahlon asked.

“I think I am finished with my training. My father has arranged private lessons in history, languages, philosophy, music, weapons, hunting, writing and even cuneiform. He has sent me to every major city from Zoan to Nineveh. I have met and befriended every serious monarch in the region and now I am ready for new challenges.”

“You are very fortunate, Zipor,” Mahlon said. “For one so young to receive such training is unique. Your father has truly invested much in you.”

“Yes, I realize. And I do not plan on wasting his training. I will make him very proud of the monarch I will become.”

“Your enthusiasm is commendable for an event that might not take place for many years to come,” Mahlon complemented the young prince.

“One must always be prepared. Royal life is always so tenuous, isn’t it?” Zipor looked at the brothers. He reminded Mahlon of a wolf waiting for its prey.

*

“Would you pass the white thread, dear?” Naomi asked Ruth in the store. The two of them sat in the back of Ashban’s garment store, sewing. It had occurred slowly, but Naomi had overcome her objection to the marriages of her sons. She especially liked Ruth. Ashban’s business had flourished since Naomi joined Ruth in the store. Naomi had demonstrated a talent for creating new dress designs, and wealthy women from the entire east bank of the Jordan River sought her creations.

“You know, dear. Our ancestress, Sarah, when she could not provide Abraham with a child, gave her handmaid to her husband.”

“I hadn’t heard that story before. How did that work out?” Ruth asked, not taking her eyes off the turquoise dress she was sewing.

“Our elders seem to think it turned out poorly, as it created endless animosity between Sarah and the handmaid, Hagar, and then between Sarah’s son, Isaac, and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, and their descendents afterwards.”

“And why are you telling me this?” Ruth tied a knot in the dress and sought a blue thread for the hem.

“It’s been ten years.” Naomi stopped sewing.

“So?”

“You are without child.”

“I know.” Ruth continued avoiding her mother-in-law’s gaze.

“It’s a long time.”

“What would you have me do?” Ruth stopped her own sewing.

“Bring a handmaid to Mahlon.”

“I would not compete for his love.” Ruth looked her mother-in-law in the eye.

“He needs to have a child. We need to have a child. The line of Nachshon must continue.”

“Have there been wives who did not hate their handmaids?”

“Yes, our Matriarchs, the wives of Jacob. He had two wives and two handmaids. As far as we know they lived amicably enough. The tribes of Israel are their descendents and we get along most of the time.”

“What would you do, mother?”

“I cannot answer that fairly. I’ve never been placed in that situation. It’s easy to theorize that I’d do the right thing, that I would make way for another woman in my husband’s life. I don’t know if I could have. But having children is a supreme imperative for us – it’s actually the very first commandment in the Book of Moses. If it were a woman that I liked and that respected me, it might make it easier. I don’t know, dear. I just know that it’s important.”

“But you think it’s the right thing to do.”

“Yes.”

“Then I will find someone.” Ruth stood up, placing the unfinished dress on the workbench.

“Now?” Naomi asked. “I didn’t mean right now.”

“Then when? If it is the right thing and it is as important as you say, how can I wait? I shall find an appropriate woman for my Mahlon and help provide a descendant for this Nachshon who seems to touch your lives, generations after his death.”

“You are a special woman, my daughter,” Naomi said.

“But I can’t fulfill my basic obligation of bearing a child.”

“That is in God’s hands.”

“I don’t understand your God.”

“Neither do I.”

“That’s not comforting.”

“I am not trying to be.”

“Yet you would follow His precepts no matter how difficult?”

“We are not called a stiff-necked people without reason.”

“Then I will find a woman for my stiff-necked husband, for your unseen God and his difficult demands.”

“May He be with you.”

Ruth left the store leaving a pensive Naomi thinking about the hidden strength of her daughter-in-law.

*

Mahlon oversaw the arrival of the new colts from Egypt. He stood at the entrance to Jalet’s stables. Mahlon had quickly been elevated to master of the stables and took special pride in the health and strength of his charges. The new horses were skittish in the unfamiliar surroundings.

Be calm, Mahlon thought to them. This is your new home and I will care for you. The horses immediately quieted down and each sought to be patted by Mahlon’s gentle hand.

The stables were cleaned daily, a change Mahlon had instituted early in his tenure, as per the request of the horses. They loved him and constantly jockeyed for his attention. But his favorite animal remained the donkey Chamra. She had been with him since his youth and throughout his travels. She was his most trusted friend and his regular companion.

The Egyptian colts said what to you? Mahlon thought in response to Chamra.

That your kind is leaving Egypt and returning to Israel, Chamra explained.

Why?

It seems the famine has ended. The watering holes are full and there is fresh grain once again.

Perhaps we should return as well. Mahlon thought. I could use a change of location. It might be good for Ruth as well. Mother would be ecstatic. She has never been happy in Kir Moav.

I am happy wherever there is hay, Chamra gave her opinion.

I shall have to discuss this with my brother. We should decide together how best to proceed. His mate may not be so keen to leave.

I don’t understand human females. They seem so erratic, Chamra noted.

That’s why I prefer the stables. Enough talk. I need to see to these new colts. Mahlon left his pensive donkey and greeted his new acquisitions from Egypt.

*

Tendrils of smoke filled the small dark house. Sumahtrid tended the fire under the sizzling pan. Beor, now a teenager, but with the body of a man, sat in a corner sharpening his arrowheads. He watched with bored disinterest the figure in the smoke speaking to his master.

“You have done well, my disciple,” the ghost of Dirthamus told Sumahtrid. “You have kept the marriages of Nachshon’s brats and the daughters of Eglon from bearing fruit. All without doing harm or arousing suspicion.”

“It is as you commanded, master.”

“Yes, but now matters have changed. My demons have informed me that the sons of Elimelech are doomed. Their failure to return to their land has brought upon them a divine death sentence. They are to die by fire.”

“Fire,” Beor repeated, his eyes lighting up at the mention of the gruesome fate.

“When?” Sumahtrid asked.

“This week,” the ghost smiled a smoky grin. “This week was their last opportunity. It has been ten years and it seems the divine patience has run thin. We were right to lie in wait. Now they are open targets.”

“How should I proceed?”

“Cautiously. There is another player to consider. Young Zipor. He has grown in strength, in power and in ambition. It is a dangerous combination. Keep a close eye on the brothers and when the opportunity presents itself, strike. But you must keep your distance. Furthermore, the daughters of Eglon must not be hurt. Their fate is not yet clear to me, but it remains important, even vital, somehow. But today is a happy day as we declare the end of the Nachshon clan!”

The ghost of Dirthamus disappeared as if it had never been, leaving merely a smoke-filled house.

*

The Red-footed falcon glided silently over the desert valley opposite Kir Moav. Its blue-grey plumage contrasted starkly with its red talons. Wary prey scurried for cover. Doves darted for the sparse shrubs of the cliffs while lizards scrambled under rocks and gravel. The falcon spotted a small hedgehog racing to the exposed roots of an acacia tree. The falcon commenced its dive, dropping rapidly to intercept the slower hedgehog. The falcon cried in exultation over the imminent kill. The falcon was therefore immensely surprised by the arrow that pierced its breast, as nothing of the sort had ever happened to it before. It cried one last time in frustration as it dropped to the desert floor, missing the hedgehog whose life was unexpectedly spared.

“Good shot, Zipor,” King Jalet exclaimed. “You have truly mastered the bow. I know of no other soldier with such marksmanship. You make me proud, son.”

Jalet and Zipor stood on a narrow outcropping on the cliff face. Zipor had asked his father to join him hunting. Their father-son outing had become a monthly ritual. Jalet enjoyed the exercise, which had become too infrequent with all his responsibilities and he enjoyed the rare interaction with his grown son. Zipor had excelled in all of his studies and exceeded Jalet’s expectations. His only concern was Zipor’s sometimes somber demeanor. He was too serious for someone so young.

“Thank you, Father. It is my goal in life to make you proud.” Zipor notched another arrow in his bow.

“Then you have succeeded. We shall have to find new challenges for you.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know yet. I was thinking to perhaps send you to the Philistines. They have advanced metal-working techniques that would be advantageous to learn.”

“I tire of learning. I am ready to reign.” Zipor turned his body towards his father, bow still in hand and pointed at the ground.

“Learning is a lifetime pursuit. Do not be in such a rush to take on the mantle of leadership. I would have been happier had Eglon lived longer.”

“I grow impatient. I would bring Moab to the heights of power as Eglon once did.” Zipor raised the bow a little higher, the arrow pointing at his father’s feet.

“You will just have to wait, son. I’m not going anywhere so soon. Watch where you point that thing.”

“There is only one thing that stands in the way of my rule.” Zipor aimed the arrow at Jalet’s chest.

“Zipor! Stop this nonsense right now. I do not appreciate such jests. Put the bow away before we have an accident.”

“That is exactly what people will call it: a hunting accident. Thank you, Father, for all your instruction. I shall become a monarch that will make you proud. All will proclaim Zipor son of Jalet as the greatest King of Moab.”

Zipor pulled on the bowstring and Jalet finally realized his danger.

“Sumahtrid?” Jalet asked in surprise, looking behind Zipor. Zipor turned around to find nobody behind him, but it was enough time for Jalet to close the distance and knock the bow out of his son’s hands.

“There is still a trick or two you can learn from me,” Jalet said as he punched Zipor in the face. “You ungrateful wretch. This is how you pay back my love, my caring – by trying to kill me?”

Zipor fell to the ground but quickly got up, wielding a knife.

“You will find, I’m not so easy to kill,” Jalet said as he looked at the knife and drew his own hunting knife.

“I’m glad you’re putting up a fight, old man,” Zipor said, as they inched closer to each other on the narrow cliff ledge. “I would have felt some guilt just executing you.”

Zipor lunged and Jalet parried. The knives flashed in the air, Zipor demonstrated greater speed and stamina, while Jalet showed more skill and experience. Soon both were drenched in a mixture of sweat and blood, thin knife-slices criss-crossing their arms and torsos.

“I have an advantage, Father,” Zipor panted.

“And what is that?” Jalet said breathlessly.

“You are not going for the kill.”

“I’m hoping a good beating will knock some sense into you.”

“You hope in vain. You are already dead.”

“How is that?”

“My blade is poisoned.”

“Even Eglon was not so despicable.” Jalet moved back, unsteady on his feet.

“That is why I will surpass him.” Zipor smiled.

“Treachery will find its own reward and you will be surrounded by those even more despicable than you. You will discover that the hard way. How was I so blind to your perfidy?” Jalet wobbled and fell to his knees.

“You trained me well in the arts of deception.”

“You will be cursed for this. You have doomed our line.” Jalet collapsed on the ground. “Fool” he uttered with his last breath and was silent forever.

Zipor approached his father’s body and rolled it with his foot over the edge of the cliff. The body fell to the valley below, bouncing on jagged rocks along the way. It was barely recognizable when it hit the bottom.

“Long live the King,” Zipor said quietly, as his father’s corpse lay next to the Red-footed falcon, both dead by the same hands. “Now to secure my monarchy.”

* * * * * *

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 6 – Bittersweet Weddings

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 6

Bittersweet Weddings

“That kid,” Mahlon whispered urgently to Kilyon, their mother still grasping Elimelech’s corpse. A pool of sticky blood was under Elimelech’s body. There was a child-sized hole in the thatched roof above them, where Beor had fallen through and stabbed their father. “We need to find him.”

“He’s some sick pup,” Kilyon whispered back. “He sliced my hand when we arrived this morning.”

“He stole my pouch in the market and led me on a wild chase,” Mahlon retorted. “There’s something not right. I’ll stay with Mother. You see if you can track him. If not, call the city guard and inform them. They need to know and then we need to arrange for Father’s burial.”

“Right.” Kilyon nodded and hurried out of the house. He looked up and down the stone-paved road as dusk set in. Some torches were lit on the main road of Kir Moav, causing a flickering of shadows to fall on the poorly lit side-street.

Kilyon saw merchants and townsfolk heading to their homes after a day of work, but no sign of the deadly little child. Kilyon reached the main road and headed towards the gate of the city. Four soldiers were on duty, watching the flow of travelers in and out of the city. Both empty and full carts left for nearby farmsteads. Anyone traveling further had already left earlier in the afternoon. Kilyon grabbed the closest guard.

“There’s been a murder!” he announced.

“Where? Who?” the guard asked.

“In our home. My father. Elimelech, Prince of Judah.”

“The Judean Prince?” The guard’s eyes opened wide. “The King will want to hear of it. You two remain here.” The guard pointed at two of the guards. “Kramu, you inform the palace. I will go with the son to the scene of the crime.”

*

“How unfortunate,” King Jalet said as he paced the small house of Elimelech’s family. Mahlon and Naomi had covered Elimelech’s body and cleaned the blood to the best of their ability. The packed-earth floor still had stains of deep red that shone under the torchlight. Naomi sat in a corner of the house, oblivious to the discussion. Jalet, with three of his soldiers, addressed Mahlon and Kilyon.

“A child, you say, fell from the roof.” Jalet pointed at the hole. “How unusual. I have heard reports of some wild orphan running loose in the city, but I thought him mostly harmless. We cannot watch every vagabond or peddler that comes to our city, no matter how young. Still, this is an unexpected event. I will conduct a funeral with royal accoutrements for the Prince.”

“That is most kind of you,” Mahlon said. “But we would prefer to bury our father as per our own customs. Is there some field or cave that we can purchase as a burial plot?”

“Yes, yes. Of course. As you wish. Right outside the city, east of the main road. I have land that may be suitable. I will show it to you in the morning.”

“Thank you, your Majesty.” Mahlon and Kilyon bowed to Jalet.

“While I am here, I am anxious to hear your reply to my offer of Eglon’s daughters. It is still in effect.”

Mahlon and Kilyon looked at each other. They looked at their father’s fresh corpse covered in shrouds and at their mourning mother, no longer aware of the world around her. They nodded imperceptibly.

“We accept,” Mahlon answered. “We will marry the daughters of Eglon.”

“That is a wise choice, my sons.” Jalet smiled. “I already feel kinship towards you. You will be my stepsons-in-law and you shall have the many privileges and pleasures of the palace. We should organize the wedding already. Shall we make it for tomorrow? Or the next day?”

“Please give us a week, your Majesty,” Mahlon asked. “We will need a week to mourn our father.”

“Agreed!” Jalet clapped the brothers on the shoulders. “We will meet tomorrow to arrange the plot for your father and then we will look to the future. Until then!”

Jalet took one last look at Elimelech’s body and shrugged as he and his soldiers entered the night of Kir Moav.

*

Naomi was barely aware of existence. All she felt was a terrible loss. People around her spoke and moved, but it held no meaning for her. She saw Mahlon taking charge and somehow that felt right. They were outside the walls of Kir Moav together with a royal entourage. Mahlon and Kilyon carried the wrapped body of Elimelech, which was no longer Elimelech. It was now just a dead body that had carried the spirit of her husband. The desert wind blew grains of sand into their face. It felt like needles upon her skin. The physical pain gave her a semblance of life.

They stood in front of a shallow cave. Mahlon and Kilyon dug deeply into the walls of the cave with the Moabite-borrowed shovels. Naomi noticed Ruth and Orpa looking somber. Mahlon and Kilyon placed the dead body in the fresh grave and then blocked up the entrance to the cave with large boulders. He was gone, as if he had never been; the two strong sons the only evidence that an Elimelech had existed.

They returned to their blood-stained house, a ray of sunlight shining through the hole in their roof. They sat on the ground, alone. Naomi and her two sons. No neighbors came to console them. No relatives asked about their needs. It was a foggy existence – days and days of silence, with the single exception of a visit from Ruth and Orpa on the third day.

Ruth and Orpa arrived with parcels of food. Mahlon and Kilyon started to talk. They told their brides-to-be about Elimelech. They remembered the leader, the stern father, the protective husband. They did not know of his utter failure and massive loss in the battle against the Benjaminites. They were not aware of his failure to support Ehud against Eglon. They did not judge his cowardice in abandoning Judah at its time of need. They merely polished the fragments of memory they had, leaving behind the detritus and disappointment that was the true Elimelech.

Naomi started to cry. She mourned the real Elimelech, her imperfect husband. His pride, his arrogance, his self-righteousness. He had been courageous, even when he was wrong. He had been stubborn. He had exercised leadership. He was a great man during difficult times whose judgment had been poor. He had such greatness in him, but it was never fulfilled, always twisted by his fears, his insecurities and his doubts. He knew he would never live up to the standard of his father and that had poisoned his mind and his heart. Naomi said all these things only to herself as she rocked back and forth on the floor and wept bitter tears.

*

“Congratulations!” King Jalet proclaimed to all the guests in the palace. “Congratulations to the young couples! May they fulfill the blessings of their esteemed ancestors and usher in a new era of peace between our nations.”

Naomi wandered amongst the guests, staying near the back of the hall. The sound of flutes and lyres filled the air, but did not penetrate her senses. She was in a daze. She was still upset with Mahlon and Kilyon for agreeing to the marriage. Mother-in-law of Moabites? Naomi thought to herself bitterly. Related to that Amalekite witch? Naomi looked at Queen Neema with open disdain. How low can I fall? Where did we fail, Elimelech? How did our children so quickly abandon our ways? Naomi did not eat from the banquet, but rather stood alone and friendless at the wedding of her sons.

*

“Congratulations, Prince Zipor,” Sumahtrid said to the young prince. Zipor sat at the end of a long table, biting lustily into his flank of meat.

“Thank you, Sumahtrid. I’m only the brother of the brides.”

“Yes, and this marriage weakens your position.”

“What do you mean?” Zipor stopped eating. “Father said the Israelites were no threat.”

“Your father is shrewd. The Israelites are not a threat to him – that is true. However, should they produce a child they will certainly be a threat to your reign.”

“I had not thought of that.” Zipor dropped his meat. “What can I do? I can’t kill them now. Perhaps after the celebrations.”

“No, no. Killing is too extreme. It is unnecessary and may upset the balance that your father has finally achieved with the daughters of Eglon. No, I have a simpler and less lethal solution. Listen carefully, my young prince.”

*

“So, Mahlon, Kilyon, my sons,” Jalet addressed the grooms at the head table, as the music played on. “It fills my heart with joy to see my step-daughters married and in bliss. You see, Neema. Look at what attractive couples they make. It was well worth the wait for such upstanding men, was it not? Now tell me, boys. What practical things can you do? I do not tolerate idleness by our menfolk.”

“I am very good with animals,” Mahlon said. “I was head of the royal stables in Eglon’s day and would be very happy to assist you with your animals.”

“Excellent!” Jalet clapped his hands. “We can use a good man there. What about you, Kilyon.”

“I’m a farmer. Um, I’ve also developed some novel ways to harvest faster.”

“Wonderful! We would certainly benefit from some help on our meager fields. Very good. After the wedding celebrations I will assign each of you to work. Good choice, Neema, I tell you. Wonderful choice.”

“May I interrupt, Father?” Prince Zipor approached, holding a tray with drinks.

“Of course, my son. Of course. What is it?”

“I would like to propose a toast to my new brothers-in-law.”

“How thoughtful!” Jalet beamed. “Good for you, Zipor. That is showing great character. Great initiative. The things that kings are made of. Go ahead.”

Zipor handed to Mahlon and Kilyon a goblet each and took one himself, placing the empty tray on the table.

“To Mahlon and Kilyon.” Zipor raised his goblet. “My new brothers. You know, it’s a drag sometimes having only older sisters. They can be such worry-warts and don’t have insights into a man’s world. I’m pleased to now have older brothers who can give me advice and guidance about the wider world. Welcome, brothers.” Zipor drained his goblet.

Mahlon and Kilyon followed suit. Both grimaced lightly and coughed at the taste of the wine.

“Thank you, Zipor,” Mahlon said, coughing again. “That is most kind of you. Interesting flavor, this wine. Where is it from?”

“Local vintage and a special recipe.”

“Very considerate,” Kilyon said, as a tear trickled down his eye. “You’re one tough kid if you can handle this wine.”

“If only you knew.” Zipor waited until he was sure the brothers had finished their goblets and then excused himself.

“Come, my husband,” Orpa said, pulling Kilyon from his seat. “I’ve had enough of all these speeches. Let’s dance.”

“I’m with you.” Kilyon got up quickly, accidentally stepping on Orpa’s foot.

“Ow! You oaf!” Orpa screamed. The music stopped. “You Israelite brute. Don’t you Hebrews know how to walk? I think you broke my foot! On my wedding day! You’ve ruined my wedding!” Orpa stormed out of the hall, limping on one foot.

Jalet motioned for the music to continue. Sumahtrid, Zipor and Naomi all smiled at Kilyon’s obvious embarrassment – each for different reasons.

* * * * * *

Biblical Source:

Book of Ruth, Chapter 1:

3 And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpa, and the name of the other Ruth; and they dwelt there about ten years.

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 5 – Match-destroyers

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 5

 Match-destroyers

“I beseech you, Jalet.” Queen Neema was on her knees in front of her husband, a tear-stained kerchief in her hands. “Consider Captain Lekut. He is not of such noble stock.”

“Lekut?” King Jalet of Moab raised his eyebrow. “No. He is a good man and it may give him delusions of grandeur. I cannot risk it.”

“Damn it, Jalet!” Neema threw the kerchief to the marble floor of the audience chamber and then stood up, stomping her feet loudly. “You doom my daughters to eternal widowhood.”

“I’ve told you before, my dear,” Jalet said calmly. “You must choose someone that is not a potential threat. I shall have no objection. I will even pay for the wedding celebration.”

“Yes. But anyone who is not a threat in your mind will be of lowly stature. How can I allow my daughters to marry some commoner?”

“That is a choice you must make. I am being completely reasonable. Are they not willing to marry men that I approve of? It is you who is restricting them.”

“That’s not fair, Jalet. Imagine they were your daughters. Would you let them marry some peddler?”

“But that is exactly the point. They are not my daughters. They are the daughters of Emperor Eglon and all will remember that. My hold on my cousin’s kingdom is not so strong that I am willing to enable other contenders for the throne. No. Our son Zipor will inherit us. I wish to reign unopposed and unthreatened and to leave him the Kingdom of Moab in an orderly fashion. Enough! I tire of this discussion.”

“Your Majesty,” Captain Lekut called from the entrance a guard had opened. “I have some news of interest.”

“Approach.” Jalet smiled.

Captain Lekut walked purposely to the King’s throne and whispered in Jalet’s ear.

“How interesting,” Jalet said with surprise, looking at Neema with a smirk. “Invite them to the palace. We should make them feel welcome.”

 

“Hurry,” Sumahtrid said to Beor. “We must make sure the Princess and the Judeans do not meet. To the market!”

Sumahtrid ran through the narrow streets of Kir Moav until he reached the busy marketplace. He looked up and down the rows of vendors until he saw Mahlon in the distance, pacing restlessly in front of a cloth vendor.

“That is the store where Ruth works!” Sumahtrid hissed at Beor. “Perhaps he hasn’t seen her yet. We are just in time. Beor, draw that man away from the store and I’ll deal with the Princess. Go, go. Get him away from the store. I don’t care how – just don’t hurt him.”

Beor grinned mischievously and weaved his way quickly through the crowded market. As he approached Mahlon, he grabbed the money-pouch attached to Mahlon’s belt and knocked Mahlon over.

“Hey! Thief!” Mahlon yelled and chased after the smiling boy.

 

“Ruth?” Naomi said, catching her breath in the rainbow-draped store. This is the Ruth! She thought. This is the girl Mahlon keeps talking about. No wonder he was enamored with her – she’s lovely. But I can’t let him meet her – she’s not of our people.

“Do you know me?” Ruth asked.

“Why, of course not. We’ve just met.” Naomi shifted her eyes downward.

“Do you know Mahlon son of Elimelech? He is the Judean that I knew.”

“Mahlon? Yes, he is well known,” Naomi said slowly.

“You know him? Do you know where he is? How is he?”

Naomi glanced outside the store, but did not see her son.

“I can’t say I know where he is,” Naomi murmured.

“Oh,” Ruth sighed. “He was the one ray of light in a dreary existence.”

“Princess Ruth!” Sumahtrid burst into the store.

“What, Sumahtrid? What’s the problem?” Ruth asked.

“You!” Naomi stepped back from the black-robed sorcerer.

“You know each other?” Ruth asked.

“I am too late.” Sumahtrid eyed Naomi warily.

“Too late for what?” Ruth narrowed her eyes.

“To prevent your meeting.” Sumahtrid did not move his eyes from Naomi.

“What is so objectionable to our meeting?” Ruth asked with an edge in her voice.

“This is a family you should have nothing to do with,” Sumahtrid said.

“I agree,” Naomi said suddenly and fled from the store.

“What? What was that all about?” Ruth asked incredulously.

“Let her be, Princess. The family of Elimelech is nothing but trouble.”

“Elimelech!? That means Mahlon must be here! She lied!!” Ruth ran out of the store.

“She didn’t know?” Sumahtrid asked himself. “What have I done?”

 

Naomi found a breathless Mahlon panting by the area of the blacksmiths.

“Where did you go off to?” Naomi asked angrily.

“Some street urchin stole my money-pouch.”

“Did you catch him?”

“No. But when he saw me closing in on him he threw it back at me, though he managed to take out a few coins beforehand, that little thief.”

“Never mind. Let’s find your father and get out of the market.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing. I’m just tired and would like to rest. I hope he found good accommodations. There he is.” They saw Elimelech and Kilyon on their wagon, slowly making their way through the crowd of the market.

Naomi and Mahlon walked through the midday bustle and reached the wagon. As Mahlon put his hand on the wagon another hand overlaid his.

“Mahlon!” Ruth exclaimed.

A shock of energy coursed through Mahlon as he heard his name and felt her touch.

“Ruth? You’re here? Wow! That’s fantastic!”

“Oh, I’m so happy to see you too. You can’t imagine!”

“I imagined you married a Pharaoh by now. What are you doing in the streets as a commoner?”

“I am now lower than a commoner; for the king will not allow me to marry any of noble blood and my mother will not allow me to marry anyone else. It is so good to see you.”

“Yes. Likewise.” Mahlon blushed and slid his hand from underneath Ruth’s. “Um, meet my parents, Elimelech and Naomi.” Mahlon gestured at his two scolding elders. “And my brother, Kilyon.” Kilyon was grinning openly.

“Hello, beautiful.” Kilyon bowed from atop the carriage. “Do you have a sister by any chance?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Ruth smiled.

“Elimelech of Judah?” Captain Lekut approached the wagon on horseback with half-a-dozen men.

“Yes,” Elimelech answered, somewhat relieved by the intrusion.

“King Jalet has extended an invitation that you visit him in the palace,” Captain Lekut motioned to the towering structure down the road.

“That is most gracious,” Elimelech said. “However, we have just arrived and I am eager to secure our new accommodations and rest a bit. Tomorrow perhaps we shall pay his majesty a visit.”

“The king does not like to be kept waiting,” Lekut placed his hand on the pommel of his sheathed sword. “And tomorrow is a long time away. Much can happen in a day.”

“Very well, then. We are your guests. Lead us.”

The half-a-dozen men surrounded the wagon as the captain trotted ahead of them. Naomi got on the wagon. Mahlon walked side by side with Ruth, chatting quietly.

“How have you been?” Mahlon asked Ruth as a familiar black-robed figure ran ahead to the palace.

 

“What do I care for your dark prophesies, Sumahtrid. Leave me alone.” Jalet waved off the sorcerer. “Your master’s powers did not help Eglon who was so fond of him. I must proceed with political expediency. Not some fortune-teller’s reading of entrails – no disrespect, of course. But no. My course is clear and neither you nor Neema shall dissuade me.” Jalet looked at his pouting queen sitting next to him.

“They are here,” a guard announced.

“Bring them in,” Jalet ordered.

The family of Elimelech together with Ruth entered the audience chamber.

“Excellent!” Jalet smiled. “Ruth is here as well. Call for Orpa and let us close matters.” A guard ran out of the chamber to fetch the other princess. Ruth stood next to her mother who was seated by Jalet’s side.

“Welcome Prince Elimelech of the great Israelite tribe of Judah.” Jalet stood up. “It is quite a rare and unexpected surprise for one of such great stature to come unannounced. What brings the great and mighty to our humble city?”

“You are most gracious King Jalet, to welcome so honorably one undeserving of such honor. I have come with my family to reside in your fair city for some time, if that is agreeable to you.”

“I have no objection.” Jalet sat back on his throne, hand on his chin. “But may I ask for what purpose have you come to Kir Moav? Should we be expecting more Judeans?”

“The pressures of my role have been too much for me of late. I require a respite. I do not expect any of my brothers to follow me.”

“I see. No, I perfectly understand. At times I too wish I could just lay down my crown and have the cares of a simple man once again. You are both brave and fortunate that you are able to abscond the way you have. You are most welcome amongst us.”

“That is most gracious of you, King Jalet. I thank you.”

“And you are welcome. However, I have a proposition, even a request, for you.”

“Yes, your Majesty?”

“I see these two handsome powerful-looking men beside you. I take it these are your sons?”

“Yes. Mahlon, my eldest, and Kilyon, his brother.”

“Mahlon and Kilyon. And is it true you are all descendents of the fabled Nachshon the Brave, the man for whom your god split the Sea of Reeds for your people.”

“We are all of the blood of Nachshon.”

“You see, Neema.” Jalet turned to his queen. “Princes of noble birth with an illustrious ancestor. You cannot ask for better.”

“I must object, your Majesty,” Sumahtrid interjected. “It is that very blood that makes them so dangerous.”

“Listen to the sorcerer, Jalet.” Neema placed her hand on the king’s arm. “You cannot be serious. My people are sworn to destroy them and you would propose this?”

“Silence!” Jalet roared. “I will not be argued with in front of guests.”

“What are we talking about?” Elimelech asked.

“Let us speak as men, Elimelech, not as leaders.” Jalet leaned on his throne. “As one head of a household to another.”

At that moment, Orpa, dressed in a shimmering green gown entered the chamber. Kilyon’s eyes widened as he saw her. Orpa batted her eyes at his open gaze and strutted towards the throne to stand beside Ruth at her mother’s side.

“Ah, perfect timing, my dear.” Jalet gestured at Orpa. “You see, Elimelech. I have a complex situation to deal with. You of course must remember my queen Neema from your days under the subjugation of my dear departed cousin Eglon. Now I have these two beautiful beloved step-daughters, whom I treasure as if they were my own. And here is the dilemma. Some amongst my people have questioned my succession to the throne after Eglon’s unfortunate and sudden demise. If someone of noble blood or with royal aspirations were to marry my dear step-daughters it may put me in a tenuous situation. They might claim that as the son-in-laws of the former Emperor they should have a right to the throne. It is of course unreasonable to place myself in such a position. To complicate matters, their dear mother, my queen, is quite selective, as every mother has a right to be, as to who her daughters marry. So we find ourselves many years now unable to find suitable matches for our girls.”

“What are you proposing?” Elimelech asked in a low voice.

“Why, I think it is obvious. Your sons are a perfect match for the daughters of Eglon. Your boys are of noble blood, yet no Moabite would consider them as heirs to the throne, hence they are not a danger to me. I propose we arrange the ceremony as soon as possible. I will even cover the entire expense of the wedding party!”

“This is a most difficult offer.” Elimelech took a step back. “You may not know, your Majesty, but amongst our people, we do not marry those outside of Israel.”

“Yes. I have heard about your reticence to marry others. But I have also studied your history. Did not Joseph marry an Egyptian? Moses a Midianite? Both of them daughters of high priests of other nations. And Joshua married Rahav, a Canaanite of Jericho. So there are certainly exceptions and I think Ruth and Orpa are clearly beautiful and regal exceptions.” Jalet saw Elimelech tensing up. “Be careful what you answer Elimelech. Our hospitality may depend on it.”

Naomi grabbed Elimelech’s arm and stepped in front of her quickly reddening husband.

“That is a most gracious offer, your Majesty,” Naomi said. “As you know, we have just arrived from a long and tiring journey. Please let us rest a bit and let us discuss it further after we’ve had some more time to get comfortable. I see that your queen and your, ah, advisor are likewise uncomfortable with your plan, but we shall give it due consideration, if that is agreeable.”

“Yes, wife of Elimelech. You are wise, though forward. Perhaps I have pushed this idea too quickly. That is the burden of leadership at times. To think too fast, too far ahead of everyone else. I must give my subjects some time to see things as I do, to catch up to my thinking. Yes. Tomorrow I will require an answer. Do you have accommodations?”

“Yes, your Majesty,” Elimelech said, regaining his composure. “We have found a suitable place and will give you our response tomorrow.”

“Until then.” Jalet motioned to the guards to escort the Judeans out.

“With your permission, your Majesty, I will also excuse myself,” Sumahtrid asked urgently.

“Begone.” Jalet waved the sorcerer away, recalling having tried unsuccessfully before. Sumahtrid rushed out of the audience chamber.

“You cannot mean to go through with this, Jalet. Is this part of some new plot that I cannot fathom?” Queen Neema asked.

“Why don’t we ask your daughters what they think of my proposal? Ruth? What say you? I saw you looking longingly at the eldest.”

“I would marry him,” Ruth said, not daring to hope.

“That was straightforward.” Jalet smiled. “What about you, Orpa? The younger one clearly had eyes for you.”

“He is handsome,” Orpa answered. “He has a certain vibrancy to him. I would not refuse an offer.”

“There we have it,” Jalet clapped his hands. “Your daughters agree. They even like them. They are fine upstanding young man, strong and smart, with fire in their eyes. They are of noble birth, yet are not a threat to my monarchy. You will not find better grooms than these again, Neema.”

“They are Hebrews.” Neema spat the word.

“And you are Amalekite. So? Your daughters are Moabite. We live in a new world. The Philistines control the coast. The Egyptians are diminished. The Hittites are no more. The Midianites are becoming civilized. So what if these boys are Israelites. They are here to stay and your old enmities will not serve you well.”

“My ancestors would cringe to contemplate such a union.”

“Your ancestors are dead and their hatred did them no good. It is to my advantage, to your advantage, to your daughters’ advantage and even to the Judean advantage for these unions to take place. It is wise.”

“Elimelech did not seem pleased either,” Neema argued.

“He is a smart man. He will see the wisdom and the advantage of the offer despite his tribal misgivings. You will see. Tomorrow we shall announce the engagement. Congratulations girls!”

“Let’s wait and see,” Neema said, hoping Elimelech was as stubborn as she thought.

 

Sumahtrid reached his house before the Judeans arrived at theirs. It was early evening and the setting sun turned the pink stones of Kir Moav to red.

“Good, Beor. You’re here,” he said to the boy, gnawing on an old bone with one hand and fidgeting with his knife in the other. “I have another task for you. Listen to me. You will climb on to the roof of the house across the road. Make a small hole in the thatch so you can hear what they say and perhaps even see something. You will be my eyes and ears. I will be with you in here.” Sumahtrid touched Beor’s head. “I will see everything you see and hear everything you hear. I must know what Elimelech will say and decide. I hope that he will stop this marriage that he is clearly against. Perhaps I should advise him to leave Kir Moav. But no. He will never listen to anything I say. I’ve interfered too much already. Go. Go to the roof and let’s see what they say.”

Beor scampered out of the house and quickly climbed onto the roof. He found a thin stretch of thatch and used his knife to cut through it until he could see clearly into the common room. He felt an annoying buzzing in his head. Beor scratched at his head, but it did not help. He sensed the presence of Sumahtrid watching what he saw and hearing what he heard. Beor tried to ignore the feeling. He twirled his knife reflexively as he balanced himself on one of the beams and peered down into the house.

Elimelech’s family entered quietly. Then they all spoke at once, a loud crescendo of noise filling the evening sky.

“Quiet! Quiet!” Elimelech yelled. “I will speak and you will hear me. You shall not marry those Moabites, daughters of an Amalekite that we are commanded to destroy. It is an abomination. How can you even suggest that we would consider it?”

“Would you rather Jalet execute us?” Naomi asked.

“Yes. I have not stood for much of late, but I will not stand for my sons to marry outside our people.”

“Father, aren’t you being excessive?” Kilyon asked. “They are princesses. Rich and beautiful. We would live very comfortably in our exile.”

“Absolutely not! At least your brother has the sense not to suggest a marriage. He knows them well. He lived amongst them for many years. Isn’t that right, Mahlon?”

“Ruth is the only woman I’ve ever cared for,” Mahlon said with a faraway look.

“And her sister is gorgeous!” Kilyon jumped in. “Come on, Father. Stop being such an old stick. We are no longer amongst our people. Who else should we marry? Do you expect us never to marry?”

Elimelech was quiet. He looked with pained eyes at his sons and his wife.

“God has been quick to punish me for leaving our people. We are here just a few hours and already my sons are ready to marry heathens. Perhaps you were right, Naomi. Perhaps we should have stayed. But the deed is done and I will not go back. It would be an even greater embarrassment. But my word is final. While I have breath in my body, I shall not allow this marriage to take place. Over my dead body!” Elimelech yelled.

The presence of Sumahtrid in Beor’s mind was startled by the yell and became confused about his surroundings. Sumahtrid’s mind left Beor’s body. The boy lost his balance and fell through the thatched roof, clutching his knife and falling atop Elimelech. “Dead body!” was all Beor remembered hearing. Elimelech crumpled to the ground. Beor lifted himself off Elimelech and drew his knife out of Elimelech’s back.

“Dead body!” Beor repeated and ran out of the house, before the shocked family could react.

Elimelech looked up in confusion and coughed blood. Mahlon ran to his father and saw the stream of blood oozing out of his back. He placed his hands firmly against his father’s back, but knew it was futile.

“Elimelech!” Naomi cried, on her knees next to him. “Elimelech!”

“I forgot,” Elimelech whispered. He clutched his chest, knowing the end was near.

“What?” Naomi asked through her tears.

“Everything. Everything my father taught me. I should have been strong in God. I tried to be strong in myself, to make up for my weakness, and now it ends like this. I was wrong to fight the Benjaminites. I was wrong to fight Ehud. I was wrong to leave our people. Am I wrong about the boys?”

“No, my love.” Naomi grasped his hand. “You are not wrong. It is our way. Your father would have been proud of you. Of the strength you showed against the King of Moab.”

“I can’t see clearly anymore.” Elimelech coughed more blood. “My eyes have misted over. What have I done? I’m sorry, Naomi. I loved you. Not as you deserved. But I loved you in my own way. Goodbye, my love. Don’t…”

“Don’t what, Elimelech? Don’t what? Don’t leave me! No! Elimelech! No! Not here! Not now! No!!” Naomi buried her head in Elimelech’s still chest.

“Come, Mother,” Kilyon hugged Naomi. “He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do now. We have to let him go. Come.”

“No! No. No. No. No.” Naomi wept, convulsing in her grief.

“Mother, he is gone.” Mahlon stood up, his hands and clothing soaked in his father’s blood. “We should bury him. Bury him as our own people do – not like these heathens. He would have wanted that.”

“Yes, yes, of course we need to bury him. But not just yet. Give me a few more moments with him.” Naomi placed her head on his cold chest, feeling more bereft than she ever had in her life. Little did she know that this was not the last loss she would suffer.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Book of Ruth, Chapter 1

1 And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the field of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Kilyon, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. And they came into the field of Moab, and continued there. 3 And Elimelech, Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 4 – Choice Neighbors

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 4

 Choice Neighbors

“They’re here!” Sumahtrid paced vigorously around his small, dank house. “This is terrible!”

Little Beor, on his short legs, kept up with Sumahtrid’s circling, thinking it a game and calling merrily after him, “Terrible! Terrible!”

“What are we to do?” Sumahtrid asked the room more than his young apprentice. “We cannot show our hand. We must tread carefully. What are the chances that they would marry? Perhaps it will be a short stay and they will not even meet. I still don’t understand why Elimelech came to Kir Moav of all places. But I must be calm, Beor. It is good that we are here to monitor things. We shall have to watch closely, and intervene when the time comes. Why are you following me like that? Stop it. Stop it!”

Beor looked up happily at his mentor, thinking he had won at the game, and chirped back, “Stop it! Stop it!”

 

She’s probably married to an Egyptian prince, Mahlon said to himself for the tenth time. Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Kilyon rode into the walled city of Kir Moav uncontested. Since the catastrophic defeat of the Moabite Empire to Ehud’s attack there had been an unspoken but uneasy peace between the diminished Kingdom of Moab under the rule of Jalet and the tribes of Israel. Commerce between the nations had returned with much better conditions for the Israelites than under Eglon’s rule. A steady flow of finished goods crossed the Jordan River from Israel to Moab. In the other direction, the mines of Moab furnished metals to the Israelites, especially copper.

What are the chances that Ruth is here? Mahlon wondered as he gazed at the height and thickness of the Moabite walls in the stark desert.

“We must find a residence first,” Elimelech announced.

Naomi, her face puffy from constant crying, said nothing.

“Mahlon, go to the market with your mother and see what the price of food is here. I’ve heard they may be getting supplies from Egypt. Kilyon and I will look for housing. We’ll find you when we’re done.”

Elimelech and Kilyon rode the wagon with their supplies down a residential street.

The houses were constructed of large pink stones with thatched roofs. Young children played in the road on the polished stones, grey from use. An elderly man approached the Judeans.

“Greetings, strangers.” The man bowed low. “May I be of service to you?”

“Why, yes. That is most kind of you,” Elimelech answered. “We are looking for residence.”

“The gods must be smiling upon you today,” the old man grinned toothily. “As fate would have it, I have a house I am vacating this very day, that I would be most pleased to rent to you. How long do you think you shall be needing it for?”

“The gods? How long?” Elimelech said confusedly. “I don’t know. At least for one harvest, perhaps longer.”

“Excellent!” the old man clapped his hands. “One harvest is excellent. That will be five silvers and I will charge you only four silvers for every harvest thereafter. Come, let me show you your new home.”

The old man grabbed the reins of the donkey-led wagon and walked a befuddled Elimelech a few feet away.

“Here we are,” the old man motioned to the door of his house. “Come right in. See for yourselves. We haven’t started packing, but now that you’re here, we’ll be out in no time at all. Come, make yourselves comfortable.”

Elimelech and Kilyon followed the old man, Elimelech limping on his injured leg. They entered a cozy house, where a pot of stew simmered over the fireplace.

“When did you decide you were moving?” Elimelech asked suspiciously.

“Oh, it was a very sudden decision. A business opportunity came up.”

“Really? What business are you in?” Elimelech asked.

“Um, I’m a herdsman.”

“And you’ll be taking your herd elsewhere?”

“Yes, yes. Greener pastures and all that. Anyway, do you have the money or are you one of those charlatans? I can find another tenant easily enough.” The old man crossed his arms and pouted.

“We have the money, and we will take the place.” Elimelech calmly took five silver coins out of his pouch.

“Excellent.” The old man counted the coins greedily. “Just give me an hour and we will clear our things.”

Elimelech and Kilyon exited the house. Kilyon saw boys playing ball down the road. A young boy examined their wagon intensely.

“Boy, come here. What’s your name?” Kilyon called to the little boy by the wagon.

“Beor.” The little boy approached, unafraid.

“Do you live around here? We’re going to be neighbors.” Kilyon put out his hand in greeting.

Beor put out his own hand and slashed Kilyon’s palm with a short blade he had concealed.

“Neighbors!” Beor yelled and scampered away.

“Ow!” Kilyon yelped and held his bleeding palm. “That little runt is mad!”

“Strange people these Moabites,” Elimelech commented. “Let’s find your mother and brother.”

The Judeans did not hear a furious Sumahtrid admonishing Beor from the house across the road: “Beor, how many times have I told you not to play with your victims…”

 

Mahlon and Naomi rode their donkeys down the main road to a bustling central market. They dismounted, tied their donkeys to a public stand and entered the market on foot. Past the market they could see the imposing structure of the pink-stoned palace of Kir Moav.

Naomi revived as she encountered the smells and noises of the marketplace. There was a broad array of spices: ginger, cassia, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon. There was some grain and even some fresh bread. Everything was expensive, but not at the famine prices of Israel.

“Where is your grain from?” Mahlon asked one of the vendors.

“Egypt and some from Ammon too.” The vendor looked at Mahlon strangely. “You’re not from here, are you?”

“No. We’re Judean,” Mahlon answered.

“You don’t say.” The vendor took an involuntary step back. “Except for salesmen, we don’t get too many of you here.”

“There is a famine by us and we’ve sought fresh fields.”

“Then you’ve come to the right place.” The vendor took a step closer. “Business has been very good lately. Our mines are at full production and commerce is strong. Even the Midianites have been conducting legitimate business with us and we get regular visits from Damascus and beyond. My friend, because you’re new here, I’ll give you a special price on the grain.” The vendor offered them wheat at twice the rate other vendors had quoted.

“That’s generous. Thank you.” Mahlon smiled and moved on.

“Well, there’s more grain here than in Bethlehem,” Mahlon said to Naomi. “I think we’ll be better off here.”

“You don’t understand, Mahlon,” Naomi responded, her eye catching the fabric vendors down the road. “We have left our home, our ancestral land, our people. We have turned our backs on our brothers and sisters at their time of greatest need. We were making a difference in their lives and now we have abandoned them. To live amongst these idol-worshipers? How is this better?”

Naomi stopped at a fabric vendor showing rolls of colorful silks and cottons: sky-blue cotton with lines of dark green and pure white, yellow silk that shone like the sun with pink edges. Naomi saw color combinations that she had never imagined.

“These are beautiful!” Naomi held the soft fabric in her hands. “Where are these from?” she asked the vendor.

“My lady is obviously a woman of very great taste. These are from Sheba. They have a new process for weaving the threads so the fabric appears seamless – like one piece. I have a seamstress inside who can cut and sew a dress for you while you wait.” The vendor motioned further into the shop where an array of even more colorful fabrics beckoned.

“Mahlon, wait for me here. I’ll be just a moment.”

Mahlon tapped his foot impatiently as his mother entered the vendor’s shop. Naomi’s mouth opened in awe at the rainbow of colors that surrounded her. A woman with tightly woven red hair and a simple dress was busy expertly cutting and sewing fabric.

Naomi looked at the fabrics and then at her own simple Judean dress. She felt pangs of guilt at the luxury she was contemplating. She held a rich purple fabric that flowed like water in her hands. The price of this fabric could feed a Judean family for a month, she thought. She then fell to her knees and cried.

“What am I doing here?” she sobbed, fresh tears running through the path of the old ones. Why am I amongst these heathens? Naomi thought miserably. How can we remain here when our people are starving? What will happen to my boys? Heaven forbid if they marry one of these idol-worshipers. Naomi shuddered at the thought.

The seamstress, startled by the client’s reaction, put down the fabric she was cutting, got down on one knee and patted Naomi gently.

“Don’t cry, mother,” the seamstress said gently. “Ashban will give you a fair price. You are fortunate you came into the store of one of the few honest merchants. I’ll make sure you get a good price. It’s nothing to cry about.”

“Oh, that is sweet of you to care, but that is not why I cry. I cry for I am away from my people and I fear for those I left behind and perhaps more so for my sons that we have brought here. We do not belong in this place.”

“Where are you from, sweet mother, that you would cry so over your home?”

“I am from Judah, where there is now a famine. My husband has brought us here, to spare us, and what choice do I have but to follow him?”

“From Judah?” the seamstress stood up, raising Naomi by the hands. “I will make sure that you and your family are taken care of. You see, a Judean was kind to me once, and I shall never forget it.”

“What is your name daughter, that you are so kind and considerate?”

“I am Ruth, daughter of Eglon, once Emperor of Moab.”

Naomi’s skin tingled all over. She did not know if it was excitement, fear or something stronger, but she knew that this woman would change her life forever.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 3 – Dangerous Charity

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 3

 Dangerous Charity

“Excuse me. Pardon me,” Vered requested mildly, as she pushed her way through the crowd around Naomi’s house. She couldn’t believe how large the crowd was, barely two hours into the day. She recognized most of the people as her fellow residents of Bethlehem. However, there were several from other Judean towns and there were some that she didn’t even think were Judean at all.

Vered had long ago lost her height and her bright red hair. But she had not lost her verve and strength of purpose and made her way through the hungry beggars outside Naomi’s door. Wearing her short white hair bundled under her tan scarf and a simple tan dress, she passed an anxious old man at the door and entered Naomi’s house.

“Oh, Vered,” a frazzled Naomi greeted her, handing her a tray with freshly baked bread. “Thank God you’re here. If you could give out this batch, I’ll take the next one out of the oven.”

Vered looked in astonishment at the trays of fresh bread throughout the house.

“Where did this come from? When did you make all of this?” Vered asked incredulously.

“What? I don’t know,” Naomi answered absently, as she removed another loaf from the brick oven with the bread paddle. She burned her hand lightly as she touched the metal edge of the paddle, trying to keep the fresh bread from falling off. Her hands and arms were filled with small blisters. “I haven’t slept. I’ve been baking the entire night. Just when I think I’ve run out of dough, there’s more. And there are more and more people to feed.”

Vered gave a loaf to the old man she had passed, and then to a young girl behind him, to a widowed young woman after her and to every person that appeared at Naomi’s door. She looked out the door to view the sea of people around the house.

“Elimelech is going to find out,” Vered said to Naomi. Naomi was busy kneading more dough as Vered gave out another tray’s-worth of bread.

“I know,” Naomi said. “I don’t know what to do! He was right and he’s going to be furious. But I can’t stop. I can’t waste this blessing.”

“Elimelech is a great man. Perhaps he’ll understand,” Vered suggested.

“No. Elimelech is blind to the blessing. He has given up and only looks inward. We must feed these people and get them out before sunset, before he returns from the fields with the boys.”

“Maybe Boaz can talk to him. Boaz could convince him that you’re doing the right thing,” Vered said hesitantly.

“That is sweet of you to offer, dear. But if your husband were to approach Elimelech, it would only make matters worse. Elimelech is very proud and much wounded.  It would make him even madder. No. Let’s feed these poor souls and hope for the best. If I don’t collapse from all this work, I’ll fall apart from worry. But I have no choice. What would my grandfather have done? What would Nachshon the Brave do?”

 

“I swear there’s more grain in the field today than there was yesterday,” Elimelech said as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He stood with his sons in the middle of his vast fields, reaping the summer harvest.

“How is that possible?” Mahlon asked.

“Who cares?” Kilyon replied. “It gives me more to cut. You think you’re so good with the oxen, watch me with the scythe. Here’s a new move I came up with.”

Kilyon jumped into the thick stalks of wheat and twirled around with the scythe held out. A ring of sheaves fell around him.

“How’s that?” Kilyon grinned. “You saw how quickly I cut them? I figured it would take me half the time it takes you.”

“Maybe,” Mahlon answered. “But look how much you left behind. You’ll have to do the inner circle again.”

“We have so much wheat, what do we need the inner circle for? I just want to do it quickly and get out of here.”

“The rest of the world is starving and you want to leave wheat behind?” Elimelech asked sharply. “What’s wrong with you Kilyon?”

“Watch me again, father. Watch how quickly I can cut. I tell you this is going to be a new way to harvest.”

Kilyon jumped into another thicket of wheat and twirled himself and his scythe rapidly. Suddenly, the sharp metallic head of the scythe dislodged from the wooden handle and went flying towards Elimelech. Elimelech tried to jump out of the way, but his old body no longer had the reflexes of youth. The sharp edge of the scythe cut a long gash across Elimelech’s thigh and then fell to the ground. Elimelech yelped in pain.

“Kilyon! What have you done!?” Elimelech screamed as he pressed on his thigh, trying to stem the flow of blood.

Kilyon looked with mouth ajar at his pole, with the absent head of the scythe, and then at his father and the scythe-head on the ground. He ran towards his father. Mahlon was already at his side, having ripped a piece of his tunic off to made a crude bandage for their father’s leg.

“Take me home,” Elimelech commanded, grimacing in pain. “Your recklessness could have killed someone. What good is all this blessing now if we can’t harvest? To waste a blessing is worse than being cursed.”

“I’m sorry, father,” Kilyon said as he got under Elimelech’s arm. Mahlon was already supporting him from the other side.

“You’re not nearly sorry enough. There will be repercussions, my son.” Elimelech winced as his sons carried him, never realizing how right he was.

 

Naomi and Vered worked tirelessly. They took turns kneading, baking and handing out fresh loaves to hungry Israelites. Vered recognized people from the nearby tribes of Simeon and Benjamin and even from Ephraim, a full day’s journey away. The crowd only seemed to grow as the sun reached its midday height.

“What is this!?” Elimelech’s voice roared over the din of the patient mob. The sea of people parted, letting Elimelech through. Elimelech hopped on one leg, the other bandaged, with fresh blood seeping through the bandage. He was supported on either side by Mahlon and Kilyon.

“Why are you all here? What do you want from me?” Elimelech asked the crowd.

“Bread. The house of Elimelech has bread,” one boy volunteered.

“Naomi,” Elimelech hissed through gritted teeth and hopped to the house. No one stood in the way of the angry husband.

“Naomi! What have you done!?” Elimelech bellowed, as Mahlon and Kilyon helped him into the house. Kilyon closed the door behind them.

“I’m sorry!” Naomi fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face. “You were right, I know. But we had all this flour and all this bread and they were so hungry. How could we not feed them?”

“Have you seen the mob outside? That is exactly what I feared. Exactly! Will you single-handedly feed the entire nation? It’s hopeless.”

“Elimelech, please listen,” Naomi cried. “A miracle has been placed on our doorstep. I’ve been feeding dozens, hundreds of people and the bread doesn’t run out. How can we stop?”

“Are you mad? Are you imagining things?”

“Elimelech, it’s true,” Vered interceded. “I’ve seen it myself. It’s a miracle. The flour doesn’t end. Your wife has been able to give a loaf of fresh bread to every single person who has come to your door.”

“Vered,” Elimelech addressed his nephew’s wife. “I will thank you not to get involved in our personal matters. Please leave my house.”

“Bread!” was chanted from outside the door. “Elimelech! Bread! Elimelech! Bread!”

“You see, Naomi?” Elimelech looked around wildly. “They will attack us like locust and still they will not be satisfied and we will be destitute. This is what you’ve brought upon us!”

“Bread! Elimelech! Bread! Elimelech!” The crowd banged on the door and pushed against the stone walls of the house. Dirt from the thatch roof fell as stones from the wall moved. Naomi got off her knees and grabbed a towel to cover the dough to make sure it did not get dirty.

“Stop!” Boaz’s voice called out from outside the house. “Are we in Sodom that we assault the house of our neighbors? Is this Givaah, where residents are attacked for their hospitality? Go home! The house of Elimelech will reopen its doors when it is ready to assist again. Go home!”

The crowd dispersed, shame-faced, looking downwards and hungry. Dirt from the roof stopped falling and people moved away from the house.

There was a polite rap on the door.

“It is I, Boaz,” a firm voice announced.

Mahlon opened the door for him.

“Thank you, Boaz,” Elimelech greeted him. “Your intercession is appreciated, though we could have handled matters well enough ourselves.”

“It looked like a riot from my side, uncle,” Boaz responded. “I feared that in a few more moments they would have broken the house down altogether. There were a lot of hungry people.” Boaz looked at the fresh loaves of bread throughout the house accusingly.

“We cannot feed everyone,” Elimelech answered the unasked question. “There will be more riots if we do. God will have to provide to each their allotted portion, as he did with the manna in the desert. I cannot bear this burden.”

“You know quite well the days of the manna are long gone. If you have been blessed with a surplus, uncle, I think you have a responsibility to share as much as you can. Will you gorge yourself on all this bread as our brothers starve to death?”

“Do not lecture me, nephew,” Elimelech said, standing taller. “I will not be held responsible to feed all the less fortunate, nor will I be made to feel guilty over my own good fortune. But I see that is no longer possible here. You and all our neighbors will look to me for support. All the tribes have probably heard of Naomi’s largesse and will come flocking to my door. We must depart. We cannot stay here.”

“Depart? Where will we go?” Naomi asked in confusion.

“I don’t know; certainly not within Judah. They will look to me as their prince and demand food when there is none to provide. The other tribes are not good either. They all know me and will make demands as well. We must go into exile. We must go someplace where we are foreigners and where there will be no expectations, no responsibilities. I am tired. I am tired of carrying the burden of my brethren, my people, on my shoulders. Woefully unqualified shoulders. I am not my father. I was never as wise or as brave as Nachshon.”

“Leave?” Boaz asked. “How can you leave?”

“You see, Boaz. Even you expect me to stay. You, who has seen all my failures from up close. You, a better leader than I ever was. You would still keep me as your head when I lost the right to such a title so long ago. No, Boaz. I must leave. I must leave now. Naomi, pack only what we can carry. Take our jewels, our valuables and our gold. Pack up the bread for our journey. Mahlon, ready the animals. We take them all. I will ride in the wagon. Kilyon will take me to the healer to deal with my leg and then we will leave.”

“I don’t believe this. Where are we going!?” Naomi sobbed.

“To the only other place and people that our family knows.” Elimelech looked at Mahlon. “We’re going to Moab.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Book of Ruth, Chapter 1

1 And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the field of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Kilyon, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. And they came into the field of Moab, and continued there.