Category Archives: Orpa

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21 – Romance with Strings

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 21

Romance with Strings

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

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

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

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

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

“What anguish?”

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

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

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

“Truly? What are they betting for?”

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

“Who’s betting against me?”

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

“What does Bilaam say?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter?” Sumahtrid asked.

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garto walked into the field towards Ruth.

“How are you doing, Ruth?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ploni?”

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

“What will you do?”

“Keep my distance.”

“She is special.”

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“You have killed many men.”

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

“Impossible.”

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

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

“It is the truth,” Ehud said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Garto, a word please,” Boaz requested.

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

“Understood. It will be done.”

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

“May God bless you, sir.”

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

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

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

“Thank you. Your advice was most helpful.”

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

“That is most kind of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

 

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 17 – Old Warriors

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 17

 Old Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three old warriors rode west, into Philistine territory.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You like this Boaz.” Orpa smirked.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ehud and Boaz looked at each other in utter incomprehension.

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

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

“We get ourselves captured, of course.”

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 11 – Bitter Sorrow

Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 11

Bitter Sorrow

Orpa looked back at the receding silhouettes of the two people she loved most in the world. She did not regret her decision. She was honest enough to admit she was not suited for a life of hardship. She loved Ruth and Naomi, but she would have to love them from the comfort of the palace. She could not trek through the desert, without as much as a copper piece or any provisions. She was not ready to settle as a foreign dispossessed widow in an enemy’s land. Orpa consoled herself that she too was taking a gamble. Zipor in his anger might still find some way to hurt her. He might yet enforce exile upon her despite any protection their mother could provide. Perhaps Ruth and Naomi were safest fleeing from his wrath.

Orpa watched the two women disappear into the haze of the dessert. She walked back tiredly to the walls of Kir Moav, exhausted from the shocks and tribulations of the day. She still grieved her husband’s murder. She would return to the city and see to their burial, despite Zipor’s hatred of them. She remembered the burial place of Elimelech and resolved to bury his sons in the same place and in the same fashion.

More tired than she had expected, she stopped by the side of the wide dirt road and rested. This was the first time she could catch her breath since the mad rush out of the palace, seeing Mahlon and Kilyon dead, standing up to Zipor, fleeing the city and finally the painful parting from Ruth and Naomi.

A wagon led by two horses approached Orpa at high speed from Kir Moav. Two men sat at the front of the wagon. Orpa stood up straight and waved her hand at the wagon. She would ask the driver to take her back to the palace where she could arrange suitable payment.

As the wagon approached she recognized Sumahtrid and was relieved to see the familiar face. Driving the wagon was a man she did not recognize with the face of a boy and vacant eyes. The wagon slowed down and stopped in front of Orpa.

“Princess Orpa,” Sumahtrid hailed and offered his hand. “Can we be of assistance?”

“You most certainly can.” Orpa accepted the proffered hand and climbed onto the wagon. “Please return me to the palace,” she commanded.

“Where is your sister?” Sumahtrid asked, looking further down the road. “And Naomi?”

“They are gone. They have gone to Judah to return to Naomi’s home and people.”

“That is too bad.” Sumahtrid held his clean chin and shook his head. “We shall have to deal with them separately. One sister shall suffice for now.”

“What nonsense are you talking about?”

“I’m afraid we are not heading to the palace, princess. Beor, if you would please handle the chains?”

“Chains,” Beor repeated as he grabbed Orpa’s arm with an iron grip, hauling her to the back of the wagon. Orpa noticed a variety of weapons on the floor of the wagon together with long chains and shackles. Beor chained Orpa’s arms and legs to the side of the wagon as she screamed and hammered her fists against Beor’s chest.

“What are you doing? Where are you taking me!?” Orpa turned to Sumahtrid as Beor took the reins of the horses.

“We are going on a journey, daughter of Eglon. You see, your bloodline is important and we now wish to combine it with another.”

“You are wasting your time,” Orpa laughed. “I have not been able to bare a child for ten years now.”

“I am to blame for that. We did not wish you or your sister to combine with the scions of Nachshon. But their time has now passed, complements of my disciple, Beor.” Beor grinned at the mention of his name. “My old master Dirthamus, whom you might remember, has given me new instructions. I am to take you to the land of the Philistines and we will test your true fertility.”

“You are mad!” Orpa lunged at Sumahtrid, only to bounce back against the wagon wall, reined in by the chains. “Dirthamus has been dead for years.”

“You do not know the powers you are reckoning with, girl. Dirthamus speaks to me from the netherworld. He sees much that is beyond mortal comprehension.”

“I don’t understand,” Orpa massaged her bruised wrists under the shackles. “Who will you mate me with? Why didn’t you just ask me?”

“Because you would refuse. We shall mate you to a selection of mighty Philistine soldiers and together with your blood, the blood of Eglon, we shall produce warriors the like of which the world has not seen since the days of Og King of Bashan.”

“No!” Orpa pulled on the chains harder until she was bleeding from her wrist.

“Yes,” Sumahtrid answered. “First we shall mate you, and then we shall fetch your sister. Ruth will not enjoy a long stay in Bethlehem.”

The wagon rode unperturbed, Orpa spoke no further, and Beor merely repeated, “Bethlehem.”

*

Ehud, my son.

I am here, God. Ehud answered in his dream.

I am pleased with you. You have done well. I have another mission for you.

Thank you, God. I am ready.

You must journey to Bethlehem, to Boaz. He will have need of you one last time.

For what? Ehud asked.

He will need consolation, but more importantly, he will need protection.

From what? Who?

Go to Bethlehem. Protect Boaz. And the Moabite.

Moabite? What Moabite? God, can you be a little more specific?

No further communication came to Ehud that night.

God, You know I can’t sleep when you do that.

*

Vered’s cough racked her entire body. She lay in bed under heavy covers, despite the summer heat. She knew the end was near. Boaz sat by her bed looking at her with anguished eyes.

“We had a good life together, my husband,” Vered said.

“Don’t talk like that,” Boaz pleaded. “Do not talk in the past tense. You may yet recover.”

“How else should I talk? I do not fear death. We have ever known its company and my tired bones do not reject its embrace.”

“I always thought I would depart before you,” Boaz said. “I was always the one running headfirst into trouble.”

“God must have other plans for you. My task is done. Our people have survived. We fed them. We saved them. They are our children, of sorts.” Vered cried fresh tears.

“Hush, my love.” Boaz took Vered’s hand. “Do not reopen that wound.”

“That is my one regret, Boaz. My one complaint. Can a woman not have one grievance towards God? Could He not have blessed us with one surviving child? Did we sin? Did you sin? Savior of Israel? Blessed of God? Bearer of His mighty gifts? Could He not spare this one precious gift? Is it so hard for Him?”

“Enough, my love,” Boaz said tenderly. “We cannot question God’s ways. We must do our part but accept his judgment. We’ve had each other and I for one am content with that.”

“I do not accept his judgment.” Vered sat up straighter in the bed. “Your line must continue. Take another wife after me. It is not too late.”

“You jest,” Boaz smiled. “I am older than you and will follow you shortly. I would not want another woman and what sane woman would want me? I do not enjoy this discussion, Vered. You are the only woman in my life.”

“Look at me, Boaz son of Salmoon.” Vered looked deeply into her husband’s eyes and grasped his hand tightly. “There is still life and strength left in you. Do not give up hope. It was not my fate, but there may be another whom God will bless. Promise me. Promise me, Boaz, that you will take another wife after me. That you will try.”

“How can I find anyone like you?”

“You can’t.” Vered smiled weakly. “Find someone younger that can bare children. It is the right thing. I feel it. Promise me.”

“I promise to try,” Boaz finally agreed.

“It is said that the undertaking of Boaz of Judah is as a done deed.” Vered leaned back against the bed and relaxed.

“I’m not ready to let you go,” Boaz said.

“It is not up to you or me, Boaz. I do wish I could see Naomi one more time. I miss her. How do you think they are faring in Moab? Do you think Mahlon and Kilyon took wives? Would they have found Israelites amongst those heathens? Perhaps they succeeded in continuing the line of Nachshon?”

“I don’t know, my love. Do not worry about them.”

“You are right. I’m not worrying about anything. Goodbye, my love. You made me happy. It was a privilege being your wife. Goodbye.” Vered closed her eyes, loosened her hold on Boaz’s hand and breathed her last breath.

“Goodbye,” Boaz answered. He laid her lifeless hand on the bed, stood up and wept. He stepped out of their house, a house that now felt strangely empty. He looked towards the gate of Bethlehem and noticed two strange women walking slowly towards the city. Their clothing looked more like rags and they carried nothing on them. They entered the gates of the city and a small crowd formed around them, blocking his view of the newcomers.

An outcry erupted from the crowd. Boaz walked in the opposite direction, his whole being consumed with the death of Vered. He thought his mind was playing tricks on him when he heard the name “Naomi” called out.

* * * * * *

Secondary sources:

Boaz’s wife died on the exact day that Ruth the Moabite came to the Land of Israel. – Tractate Bava Batra 91a

Boaz was eighty years old and never had children. – Ruth Rabba 6:2

Boaz made 120 feasts for his children but they all died during his lifetime. – Tractate Bava Batra 91a

Orpa went to the Philistines and bore six illegitimate children. – Zohar Hadash, Ruth 81b

As compensation for the four tears that Orpa wept for her mother-in-law, she gave birth to four great warriors (Goliath was one of them). – Tractate Sotah 42b

The night Orpa left her mother-in-law, she slept with one hundred heathens. – Ruth Rabba 2:20

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.