Daniel and the Village Elders

Note: This is a short story sort of in the style of the apocryphal stories of Daniel. Not all such stories are consistent with the basic Daniel story in the Biblical book, but I have tried to stick with what can be fitted in. I have added references for the two Biblical laws that Daniel cites, though you can be certain he didn’t quote chapter and verse from material that hadn’t been so divided at that time.

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It was evening as Daniel approached the village, one of the camps occupied by Judean exiles. He was returning from a mission for King Nebuchadnezzar, and as was often his custom, he hoped to stay with his own people for the night before returning to the palace the next day. But tonight was to be different.

As he approached the entryway to the village–it would be too optimistic to call it a gate–he could see that the elders were gathered. A young man was standing there with head hanging, clothing torn and dirty, and a large bruise on the side of his face. A few paces away toward the gate was a body crumpled, and apparently ignored. Two men, better dressed and uninjured stood next to the young man. One of them was speaking.

“. . . He struck down our servant, slipped from the tent, and when he saw Azariah here he began to run toward the gate. He’s the murderer, alright, and he should be stoned. He probably raped her as well!”

Daniel saw a gleam of triumph on the man’s face that didn’t fit with the sorrow that would accompany losing a loved one or even the concern over financial loss that would result from losing a valued slave. There was clearly something wrong here–besides, that is, the shameful treatment of the body. He doubted there was a Levite in the camp to explain the law to the people and help see that it was carried out. He looked at the body. There were specks of blood on the clothing, but he could no sign of the type of blow that would kill someone quickly. The head appeared to be whole, where it was not covered by cloth, and there was no large mass of blood.

“Pardon me, my lords,” he said. He could see them calculating how to react to him. He was dressed as a Babylonian courtier, but he addressed them in Hebrew. That left them uncertain as to how to react. Exiles were left pretty much to manage their own affairs, and they would see no reason for a Babylonian to interfere. But a Babylonian official who spoke Hebrew might be different.

“Yes, my son?” said the man in the center who appeared to be the village chief. He looked old enough to Daniel that it was likely he had been an elder back home.

“Is it permitted for a visitor to ask a question?”

“He’s an outsider! What does he have to do with our laws?” The witness who had just finished speaking jumped in before the elder could speak. Daniel could see that had been a mistake as the elder reacted to this challenge to his authority.

“He can speak,” said the elder. “We must hear everything before we condemn someone to death.”

Daniel turned to the witness. “Do you swear by the God of Israel that you personally saw the things to which you testified just now?”

The man hesitated. “I saw them,” he said.

The elder spoke again. “Do you swear that by the God of Israel? That’s what you were asked.” He looked concerned.

“It’s true,” he said. “But I didn’t see everything with my own eyes.” He looked angrily at his companion. “I’ll take your word, but I won’t swear by the God of Israel and testify falsely.”

“So you believe what you said is true, but you didn’t see it with your own eyes?” The elder was now angry.

“Yes.”

“But we still have two witnesses who say that this young man killed the girl,” said one of the other elders.

“Only one witness,” said Daniel. “Only one person witnessed the event and can properly swear and give testimony.”

The second elder spoke again. “But do any of us doubt the veracity of Ehud, our countryman? Surely we still know that this young man is a murderer. We cannot release him!”

The chief elder hesitated again.

“My Lord,” Daniel spoke again.

“You may speak,” said the chief elder. He enjoyed the respect that this young man gave him. He’d been prepared to be angry at the intruder, but now he noticed that this young intruder was the only one giving him the respect he was due.

“The law says, ‘A single witness shall not be sufficient to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing. At the word of two or of three witnesses shall the accusation be established’ (Deuteronomy 19:15). Only one person witnessed the crime, and it cannot be established by the testimony of one who did not actually see the crime.”

“I disagree. We are here in a foreign land. We cannot afford to break trust with our fellow countryman Ehud. I believe his testimony, and I will take the word of his companion in establishing his testimony,” said the second elder.

“My Lord, may I ask another question of the witnesses?” Daniel’s voice was respectful, and he clearly addressed the chief elder.

“Go ahead.”

“With what weapon did the young man strike the girl?”

“With an axe,” said Ehud quickly, as his companion’s mouth opened and then closed.

Daniel walked over to the body. He knew that what he was about to do was shocking. He settled in his mind that he would not be staying in these people’s camp that night. Everyone else might forget, but he remembered such of the laws as he’d learned before he was taken into exile. There was no priest and no temple to go to for purification, but he’d do what he could do after he had handled the corpse.

He reached down and tore the robe from the back of the victim, leaving her back exposed as a gasp went up from the gathered villagers. The gasp was for his audacity in handling the body and in uncovering her in that way. But then there was another gasp as the gathered people saw that the girl’s back was beaten to a pulp, with pieces of her clothing still clinging to the wounds. Everybody could see in a moment that she had not be killed with an axe, but instead had been beaten to death.

It took only a few moments for the verdict to be given for the accused young man to be released. The girl had no family there, but the elders determined to bury her properly.

The chief elder turned to Daniel. “Can we not convict this man of the murder of the girl?” he asked, now convinced of Daniel’s wisdom and learning.

“Not unless there are witnesses that he was the one who beat her. But you can convict him of bringing false testimony. The law also says, ‘You shall do to him as he planned to do to his brother’ (Deuteronomy 19:19). We do not have a temple, but I think it would be right to follow this law even here.”

Ehud’s face turned white as he heard the village elders, one after another, agree to the verdict based on their own witness to the false testimony.

All in all, thought Daniel, it was not the restful evening he’d hoped for. But justice was done, however unpleasant.

The Testimony of Sunday Lunch

(Note: All characters, and churches portrayed in this story are, as always, fictional. The attitudes, unfortunately, are not.)

Don’t forget hospitality, because by it some have unknowingly entertained angels. — Hebrews 13:2

The sermon was about love and hospitality. Sam was unusually touched by the message, and as he and his wife Joyce exited the church, they saw the middle aged man, alone, taking the fastest way to the exit of the church. Sam was pretty sure the man was a visitor. He’d never seen him before, and he did tend to notice these things.

“Let’s treat him to lunch,” he said, turning to his wife.

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Simple Risk

Jerin, legal advocate, could not quite believe the young woman facing him across the table. They were in the Aagerinar city jail, and he had been asked to take her on as a client.

“Marita, heir to the Earl Northmarch, and also third in line for the Duchy of Aagerinar,” he said, reciting the known data. “How old are you, anyhow?”

“Rumor has it I’m 15.” Her expression didn’t change. She was relaxed, even serene. There was no sign of the tension he would expect of a young woman under arrest.

“Rumor has it? Don’t you know?”

“My adoptive mother guessed I was eight when she adopted me. That was seven years ago. In actuality, nobody knows for sure.” Very slight amusement showed. He suspected that if this girl did know, she wouldn’t be telling. “But none of this is important right now. I need you to do some work for me.” Not “represent me” or “defend me.”

“If I’m to represent you,” he said, “You’ll need to follow my instructions exactly and trust yourself completely to my care. You are charged with a serious crime, and it’s under the city jurisdiction, not the ducal, so you it won’t be easy.”

“On the contrary,” said Marita, “You’ll do exactly as I say, speak when I tell you to, and be quiet when I want you to. You will merely be a voice.” It was amazing how, when you started from the original serenity, slight changes could convey a great deal of meaning. Now there was a hardness in her expression that would permit no argument.

“Someone your age can’t do that!” he said. “The legal system can be complicated, and you can’t count on your birth to save you from this one. City judges aren’t chosen by the Duke, and aren’t susceptible to the kind of influence you’re used to using.”

“I can get someone else. Or you can sit beside me, win this case, and get the fame that results. It’s your choice. But remember, I don’t deal well with disloyalty. You’ll agree to do things exactly as I say.” Still that hardness around the lips.

Jerin considered for a few moments. He could end up looking like a fool, but on the other hand, Marita had the reputation for living a charmed life, she was close friends with the Ducal heir, her mother was the High Priestess and founder of the Ecumencial Temples of the Sun, and her father was the Earl Northmarch. The odds she was going to end up swinging by the neck from the end of a rope were probably small.

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One Young Voice

Tia froze in place as she saw the group of kids gathered in the High School parking lot. Normally she was happy to join any group of young people. An excellent student and athlete, as well as beautiful and friendly, she would normally be welcomed just about anywhere on campus.

But today was different. Today was the day of the story. She had heard the whispers, and the cut off conversations as she approached. The words “hypocrite” and “slut” had come through. She had no idea what had started it, but it was clear that somewhere between first period and lunch she had turned from everybody’s friend into a hypocrite. And she didn’t have any idea how it had happened. The one good thing was that it was the end of the day, and she was about to drive home. But now between her and her car there was this group of students, and she knew she wasn’t going to be able to escape.

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Susanna: A Transformation

For a literal translation of Daniel 13, “Susanna” see USCCB – NAB – Daniel 13. This is not a translation or even a paraphrase. One might even call it a “transformation.” What I am attempting to do is to rewrite this short story into a modern form. I allow myself to alter the order of the telling, what is told and what is ignored, but not to alter the facts of the story as recorded. I also allow myself to add some details and to exchange telling the story for created conversations. I chose names for the unnamed players at random from Chronicles. For this story I assume that the Daniel of the story is the same as the main character in the book of Daniel, though not all interpreters would agree. You can judge the results.

The elders gather outside what would have been the city gates, if only they had been back in Judah, and this had been a city with gates. As it was, it was a quite prosperous little community for exiles from Judah living in Babylon. Those who lived here were the elders, people of importance in the community, and many who had good jobs working for Babylonians and thus had money to live relatively good lives in exile.

Daniel stood to the side of the group of elders, watching with interest. His position in the court of Babylon gave him entry to assemblies such as this, but he was still too young to be invited to participate. He felt his chest tighten, and anguish gripped him as he heard the elders call for Susanna. Susanna was the wife of the well-known businessman, the most prosperous member of the community, Joakim. Nothing had ever been even whipered against the character of Joakim and his wife. Behind her followed her father Hilkiah and his wife, along with other members of her family, all weeping.

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Convenient Timing

The new arrival joined the crowd in the bar of The Featherless Parrot, one of Shalem’s business inns. What was meant by a “business inn” was simply a place where it was more likely that the patrons were making deals than that they were being entertained. It suited the visitor to be in such a place.

Those who watched him—and there were many—saw a youngish man with a slightly effeminate look. It was so obvious that he didn’t really belong in this place, that most assumed that he really did. Nobody could be as weak and inattentive as he looked, and yet alive, unless he was very competent indeed.

It was some time before anyone decided to contact the visitor. Making contact with a stranger in a business bar could be dangerous, though this one didn’t look like he was waiting for anyone in particular. He seemed to be just enjoying a drink and some dinner, as unlikely as that might be. It was possible he was looking to hire, and was waiting for someone to contact him.

“Welcome to Shalem.” The tone was not welcoming, but the visitor looked up into the face of a middle aged man.

“Really?” he said, with a slight twinkle in his eyes. “I kind of doubt it.”

“Well, as welcome as anyone is here. Why are you here?” It was abrupt, but one approach was as good as another.

“I’m just looking around,” said the visitor. “I’m in from Malethia via Aagerinar, security consultant to the East Coast Commercial Guild.”

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Who Will Protect Us?

Our frenzied packing was interrupted by the arrival of the royal messenger.

“Good news!” he said. “There’s a cease fire. You don’t have to leave.”

We all stood around watching him, foolishly holding precious possessions in our arms, and looking at the wagons, mules and donkeys that were partially loaded.

“What happened?” I asked.

“A cease fire,” he repeated helpfully, spurring his horse. Then he stopped and wheeled around. “Oh,” he added, “it wouldn’t have done you any good to run. The giants are already northeast of here, and were moving around your village to cut off the impies to the south.” He nodded as though thoroughly satisfied with this speech, then spurred his horse again and was gone.

I had noted the Eselena Royal uniform, but many of the villagers had not. “Impies?” they asked. “Should he call them impies?”

“We always did in the Guard,” I tell them. The Eselena Royal Guard had a proud tradition. Proud, that is, other than having been conquered by the Ardenean Empire several centuries back. We had always thought ourselves more disciplined than the imperial troops. Man for man we were more than a match for them. Too bad they had about 100 men for each of ours! But independence was so long lost as to be a legend, and the Eselena Royal Guard had fought for the empire alongside those impies proudly and well.

I watched uncertainly as villagers began to unpack and return wagons, donkeys and mules to their usual places. It was only three days since we’d first realized a war had started. A young royal had ridden into the village, tired, dirty and wounded.

“Giants pouring across the border,” he’d gasped.

“Why?” was the question on everyone’s lips.

“Because they don’t like us!” he said.

I was called upon to tend his wounds. People assumed that someone retired from the royals (the army, they called it) would know how to tend wounds. I didn’t mind. It gave me a chance to question him.

“I’m to take a message to our headquarters, get reinforcements,” he told me.

“Is it true it was unprovoked?” I asked. It had been many years since the giants had attacked, and normally the wars were started by our people, not by them. Every so often someone on the imperial staff would decide the giants of Kachadhaz were a threat which should be dealt with proactively and off would go an army to attack. And back would come a bedraggled army much smaller than when it had left. But the giants never pursued them very far before they tired of the chase and went home.

“Well, no, not exactly,” he replied.

“How ‘not exactly’?” I asked. “One either provokes or one doesn’t, it would seem!”

“Well, you know about the invasion of Sinedan, don’t you?” he asked.

I didn’t. I had an idea that Sinedan was off to the east.

“We decided to take back Sinedan. Most of the reserves were sent in that direction for the invasion. I’m going to ask for reserves, but I know that they aren’t there. What we have left is 200 kilometers behind the front lines. But as for provocation, Kachadhaz reacted badly to the invasion. They sent forces into Arden to attack our flank. Some idiot of a general or another ordered an attack on the border by the impy border guards, reinforced, he assumed, by mobile reserve units, the ones 200 kilometers from here. You can guess what happened then!”

“And the giants are pursuing?” I asked. It was doctrine that the giants couldn’t keep their concentration long enough to take much territory.

“I don’t know how far, but they’re organized,” he replied. “They didn’t break under charge or heavy crossbow fire. They held their line and rained arrows on us. With their bows, if they do that, we’re nearly helpless. Our casualties were staggering. I barely escaped with my messages.”

I didn’t feel the need to interrogate him further, but I had gone immediately to the village headman and told him to warn people to be ready to move. In my day it had been doctrine that the giants wouldn’t pursue for long, that they hadn’t the patience to sustain a barrage of giant longbow fire, and that a determined cavalry charge would either spook them, or provoke them into a loose charge. Their firepower, combined with organization was too frightening to contemplate.

Just as ordering border guards to attack them was too stupid to contemplate.

But the young soldier’s eyes spoke truth.

Then had come the ragged bands of troops running ahead of the giants. That was two days later. The retreat was pretty much at the forced march pace. The fleeing troops didn’t say much, except to demand supplies and then continue to run. What could we do about it? We had no weapons. By the time the stragglers had all vanished to the north, we had few supplies left. Fortunately they had not found everything.

So we were happy not to run, but surprised at the cease-fire. Another doctrine had always been: “You can’t negotiate with Kachadhaz.” But apparently one could!

That night several horsemen rode into town. They rode in from the north, looking fresh and well kept. They obviously hadn’t been in the fighting. There were about 80 of them, looking fine in decorated uniforms. I wondered if they had ever seen combat!

Their captain called our headman out of his house. No respect to his rank, age or position. He demanded housing and food. “We’re here to protect you,” he said as though that were an intolerable imposition on his time. “It’s only right that you take proper care of us.”

So we offered them such shelter as we had. What else could we do? We offered them such food as we had left, and little enough there was of it.

They weren’t satisfied. They said they must be properly fed to defend us. They announced that we were likely treasonous traitors (their redundancy) and that they would have the food out of us. Then they organized a search of the village. When it was done, they had what was left of our food.

They returned to the village square where they were holding the headman. Faster than anyone could respond, they threw a noose around his neck and the rope over a tree branch and hoisted him slowly off the ground, not so his neck would be broken but so that he would strangle.

The captain announced: “That is what happens to traitors who try to hide needed supplies from the troops in time of war.”

Technically, he was correct. Concealing needed supplies was a crime and could be considered treason. Likely, I thought, he can get by with this. Who are we here in this village? Who in the imperial government will care about us? A little shading of the facts and we were all collaborators.

The captain announced that he was in charge and the village was under martial law. “Anyone else who tries to hinder us in our duties will meet the same fate.” The headman was not dead yet. He was going to die slowly.

It was not until evening that the screaming started. I don’t know in which house. But I realized what was happening and stepped out to look around. The troops were lounging around the village. Apparently they were not concerned about legality. You could hang traitors, but you couldn’t rape the women or kill just anyone. I could see the body of our headman still hanging in the tree. In the door of one house, I recognized our blacksmith fallen across his own threshold. He looked dead. The exits from the village were guarded.

To the northeast I could see a fire. It looked like a large one. The enemy camp? Very likely.

I huddled in my hut, feeling the shame. I, the sole warrior of the village, too old and slow to do anything about what was happening. Would they kill all the witnesses? Would we all die?

There was a scraping at my back window. I went and pulled aside the board that blocked it. Outside was the blacksmith’s wife.

“You must do something,” she whispered. Then she held her finger to her mouth. “They’re not letting us move around any more,” she continued.

“What can I do?” I asked. “I’m old. I couldn’t fight you, much less those soldiers out there.”

“You can go to the camp,” she replied.

“What camp?” Then it dawned on me. “You mean the giants’ camp?” I was stunned. One didn’t ask the giants of Kachadhaz for anything. If one asked, one didn’t get it. Or perhaps one got killed for one’s pains. It just wasn’t done.

“The giants’ camp,” she confirmed.

“They won’t help us. You’d better put your hope in the arrival of higher ranking officers or a unit that respects the law.”

“There won’t be any,” she said with conviction. “The captain told me we were at his mercy for several months. He seemed pretty happy with the situation.”

I thought about it. The giants were pursuing. The giants were negotiating. But still, I couldn’t go ask the giants for help!

“They raped my Mona; they killed my husband when he tried to protect her,” she said. “Anything would be better than this!”

I couldn’t argue with her on that. The giants weren’t known for casual killing or for raping human women. Actually, they’d rarely had the chance.

“What do the other people think?” I stalled.

“How am I supposed to find out?” she asked.

There was a bellow from the direction of her house. I could see her back yard from my hut. A soldier was in the yard looking around. She broke and ran toward him. He knocked her to the ground and then dragged her back toward the house by her collar. I knew what would happen.

“Can an old soldier still do anything?” I asked myself. Certainly I couldn’t fight, but could I sneak past the guards. Were the giants a better option for the village than what we had? I saw the headman hanging in the tree. I saw the body of the blacksmith, guilty only of protecting his daughter, lying dead on his own doorstep. I saw again the arrogant look in the eyes of the young captain. Somehow I knew that nothing could be worse than months of living in a village where he was the law.

I grabbed my knife and checked myself over for any obvious effort I could make at concealment. The years out of the royals had loosened some of my careful grooming. I was dusty and dirty enough to move around in the dark. Things were as good as they were going to get.

I climbed out the back window, and started sneaking toward the edge of town. Slowly I made my way from cover to cover. We didn’t have a wall, only a palisade of poles. I knew where I could slip out, provided there was no guard there. As I approached the wall, I heard an exclamation. One of the impies!

“Did you hear something?” I heard him say.

“No,” said another voice.

“I think I did,” he said.

I huddled even deeper into the cover I’d found, wishing myself smaller and invisible.

He nearly stepped on me. He was drunk. I could smell his breath even from my hiding place on the ground with him standing. Finally, he turned and left me. He and his companion walked back further into the village.

I made my move. Slowly, up to the fence, then quickly through the hole I knew was there, then out onto the plain.

It was painful to crawl. My old joints didn’t appreciate crawling close to the ground, but there was no cover. I had to get hundreds of meters away from the village before I would feel safe to stand and walk normally. At one point I thought I heard a crossbow bolt fired from the town, but I couldn’t be sure. I just kept on moving.

I went toward the supposed giant camp. Now it occurred to me that I didn’t really know it was a giant camp. I just assumed it was. But as I approached I soon knew for certain. I decided that there was no point in sneaking. I’d just walk up to the camp and let them spot me. I’d see what they did.

I wasn’t far from the camp when I heard a whistle. Further up the path a giant jumped up at the whistle and looked my way. It took him some time to spot me. Then he came toward me, looked me over carefully and said, “What have we here?”

I said, “I am Karano, from the village of Buyul. I have come to ask your aid.”

“Our aid?” he said doubtfully. But he didn’t laugh.

“Yes, we need help. The imperial troops have come and killed our headman and they are raping our women.” I paused and watched his face. His expression didn’t change.

“So?” he shrugged slightly. His face slowly changed into what I took to be a puzzled look.

“I have nowhere else to turn!” I told him.

“But that is imperial territory. We agreed not to take it. You want us to invade the empire again.” He said all this very slowly, almost as though he wasn’t sure what it meant. Though he obviously was sure.

He paused, shook his head, and stared at me some more.

“I think you need to see the commander,” he said. “Come!”

I followed him. The commander was just about the largest giant I had ever seen, with a fine suit of armor, a giant longbow nearby, a very expensive looking giant sword, and a barrel (from my perspective) of ale held in both hands. Casually sprawled on the ground near him was a human girl, in her late teens I guessed. Her only weapon was a dagger, but she looked more vigorous and efficient than decorative.

Several more giants were either sprawled around the area or standing watch around the camp. A couple of Ertzlu, dressed in Greenhaven style clothing which I still recognized, were sitting on a log, also near the commander giant. I knew this group of giants could take care of the force in our village easily, if they wanted to.

I repeated my tale.

“You’re asking me to invade some more, eh?” he asked.

He looked faintly amused.

The girl said something in a foreign language. We’d been speaking imperial standard. I didn’t even recognize the language. He gave a bark of laughter and then said something more in the same language. She made a gesture at him that, from the look on her face, I took to be obscene. Another bark of laughter.

He turned back to me. “Because this most beautiful of human females (obscene gesture from the girl) wishes me to save your helpless human females, and because I generally dislike all things imperial, I will save your village.”

He hollered an order. Giants dropped barrels of ale, grabbed weapons and went on alert. A few more curt gestures and commands and they all took off running in different directions. A more confused scene I would have trouble imagining! Some time during all this, the two Ertzlu disappeared.

The girl startled me by touching my shoulder. “Come along grandpa,” she said in faintly accented imperial standard. “Let’s go watch the fun, or at least as much of it as won’t be over before we can get there.”

She had thrown a leather shirt on, and grabbed a staff. I saw that besides her dagger, she had a small hand crossbow. She must be a priestess of some sort, but damned if I could remember more than a few of all those foreign gods.

We walked slowly, at my pace. I wondered that the giants, seeing as they had a priestess, were willing to go into battle without her.

By the time we got to the village it was all over. In the town square, the imperial troops were standing in a group in the square. Several of them were dead in the streets. The captain was being held immobile.

The young priestess ordered us all to go to bed and stay out of the streets.

The next morning, we were all called to the square. The giant was sitting on a large, improvised chair. Before him stood the captain of the imperial company. The priestess brought several witnesses from the town and led them through testimony about what the troops had done. At the end, she asked the captain if he had anything he wanted to say. He started in with a speech about this being imperial territory, him being the law, and the giants being invaders.

The giant held up his hand. “I’m a successful invader and you’re scum,” he said. He flicked his fingers at the captain and three giants grabbed him and started to beat him up and kick him through the street. While this performance was going on, the next imperial soldier was brought forward. As the blacksmith’s wife got up to accuse him of murder and rape he fell on his face and began to plead for mercy. A flick of the giant’s fingers and he joined his captain in the street. I imagined that the captain could no longer be alive, but the giants were still playing with his body.

I’m afraid it horrified me more than what the imperial troops had done at the time. Afterward, when I wasn’t watching, I started to feel a sense of justice in it. Most of the village had not even been disgusted when the giants were kicking the miscreants through the streets. They cheered! I understood how they felt, even through my revulsion.

All those who had personally participated in any of the atrocities of rape or murder were executed in the same manner. Some who had only played a peripheral role were beaten less severely. All were disarmed and sent from the village. The giant commander took over. To us, he was a friend.

It was two days later that a lieutenant in royal uniform with a small cavalry patrol approached the town. He signaled a parley. All he wanted to do, however, was read a royal decree.

Eselena declared itself independent of the Ardenean Empire, it said. Eselena had officially requested the protection of Kachadhaz from the depredations of imperial troops. The Kachadhaz government having granted this request, all royal Kachadhaz and allied forces were permitted to operate freely in our territory, and all officials of the Eselena government and its subordinate chartered entities should cooperate in every way with duly constituted Kachadhaz authority.

Then he and the giant shook hands. And he and the priestess. A while later he found me. “Grandpa,” he said, “you saved this village.”

“I suppose I did,” I replied.

“Everything will be OK now,” he said.

“You’re sure?” I asked. “What will these giants do with what they’ve taken?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but it sure can’t be worse than what the imperials did to us.”

I thought I’d heard that somewhere before.

A Killer of Kings

Note: I wrote this in 1986 when thinking about how the time of the judges in Israel would have looked from a Canaanite perspective. I have woven into it a critical understanding of the authorship of Psalm 29.

“The voice of the Lord is loud . .
Psalm 29 (Author’s Translation)

“The Canaani are not welcome here,” admonished Miryam’s mother, “go carefully, and avoid meeting any strangers.”
“Yes, Imi.” Miryam shouldered the water jug with ease born of long practice, and walked away from the tents and the animals, up toward the stream Just across the rise. It was typical of her father that he did not want to set up camp next to the stream. “The walk is good for you, daughter,” he had said. The few servants her family claimed were caring for the sheep and goats, helping to keep track of them as they consumed the sparse vegetation which grew amongst the rocks.

The walk across the hill was invigorating, the stream beautiful, its limited flow seeming a torrent in the barren land. “It is too near the land of the Reuveni,” she heard the echo of her mother’s voice, then her father: “They are no longer so strong. They will not bother us. Besides, the territory is open, north of their land.” She hurried her steps. She could almost sense the presence of enemy, not enemies, Just the feeling of hatred, undirected and uncontrolled. Where she drew the water, the stream fell in steps over a small cliff, dropping a total of about 30 feet in all, in easily climbed steps.

Miryam paused, examining the floor of the small valley below. Surrounding the brook were the ruins of a small town, the tilled area around it still apparent, but covered by some years of growth. The stream bed had changed, leaving a path amongst the fields, and this new path stretched through the ruins, carrying away the stones, laboriously brought there by men. Miryam felt a stab of sympathy, feeling the weight of the water-filled jug on her shoulder. Then she noticed the statue.
It was not clear what it was, the distance was too great, but where the stream had carried away several buildings, there was one which had left walls on both sides, and a piece of floor, forming an island in the middle of the stream. On that island was a column, short, randomly placed where no column belonged, but standing straight. Its pose sent a shiver through the girl on the hill, as she stiffened with the jug on her shoulder, imagining herself standing alone, surrounded by water, a sentinel against the ravages of time and weather.

She saw the valley filled with life, the men coming home from the fields, the king sitting in the gate, greeting his people by name as they returned, the children playing joyfully in the streets. She felt surrounded, as men in armor, spears at the ready, crept down the staircase upon which she stood, silently approaching the village. The elders were gathering, people were beginning to feast-not a celebration, just an evening meal. From the brush around the town rushed the men, now vanished from the watery staircase.

She saw a spear enter the king’s chest. He did not die quickly. His lips moved. “Give me revenge,” said the king.
The scene faded, and a wayward breeze fluttered amongst the ruined stonework, shaking the leaves of grasses and shrubs that were violating the works of men. Yet the statue stood sentinel over the valley, its platform splitting the destructive stream, its pose indicative of life and direction.

With wordless fascination Miryam set down the jug, warnings forgotten, the image of a king and a rock etched in her mind, the sight of a village in flames; men, women, and children dying on the edge of blades; shrines desecrated. She walked down to the village, and threaded her way through the ruins of the houses to the place where the statue stood. It had once been shaped, she could tell, but it had been defaced. It stood on the piece of floor in the middle of the stream, not attached, but simply fallen there, remaining as a sentinel over the dead. Miryam removed her sandals and stepped into the water and across. She knelt before the statue, in examination or worship, she did not know. Besides, who could tell what god was represented there? She thought it was Baal, lord over the water, but she could not tell with the face removed.

How long she knelt, she did not know, but she was brought back to consciousness by the sound of horses’ hooves. In this part of the country, that could only mean Reuveni; rich Reuveni. She looked around, wondering which way to go, feeling disoriented and confused. She picked the shoreline nearest, only a few feet away, and the welcome rocks of the ruins. She could hide amongst them. She was small and agile. But she continued to see the village double, triple, never properly.

She splashed to the shore where her sandals were, and took one step inward to find a hiding place and stumbled directly into the arms of a man who grasped her by both shoulders. She looked up, not into the face of the man who was holding her, but into the eyes of the one on the chariot, the one drawn by two horses, the one she had somehow missed while walking ashore. Had it come around the corner? She couldn’t move her eyes from his, because she was sure she had seen them before, recently.

“Look what we’ve found here!” said the man in the chariot to his slave on the ground. His accent was the rough southern sound of the Reuveni and their allies, his voice and tone smooth and anticipative. “Even the daughters of the Canaani can be beautiful, is that not true, Huz?” he continued, indicating the man who was holding her, “a fit treasure to find on the scene of my father’s victory.” The man reached to fondle her, one questioning eye on his master, indicating with wordless sounds his appreciation. Miryam kicked him in the shins. In a flash, the charioteer’s spear butt swung around, striking her in the belly, and forcing her to the ground, doubled up and choking. She had never felt such pain. The man who had been holding her let go, and threw a kick, laying her out flat on her face on the ground.

He then grabbed and lifted her dress, expressing delight as he did so at the smooth thighs and the promising curves. As he reached his hand in to feel what he had found, it sank into her that the unthinkable was about to happen. With more determination than hope, she jumped to her feet, leaving the slave leaning forward foolishly above bare ground, the quarry gone. She ran across the stream, and threw herself at the base of the statue, hugging it around its ankles, above its missing feet, and turning her eyes back to watch the approach of the inevitable.

The charioteer whipped his horses, sending them into the water. At that moment his right wheel gave way, dropping him from his chariot to the ground. His curses were louder than the whinnies of the horses, or the sound of their hooves, and the echo of the crack of wood as the axle dug into the ground.

“That damned Egyptian horse merchant,” he yelled. “I’ll kill him for a liar next time he comes through.” He turned to Huz. “So get my chariot,” he ordered, “I’ll attend to the girl.” He looked once after the slave, running hopelessly after his horses, then at the broken chariot. Even the loss of his conveyance, symbol of high status, could not deter him from his purpose.

Miryam lost sight of the ruins. The fields again were verdant. She was no longer in the middle of the stream. The king sat at the gate, greeting his people, asking about their health, passing wise judgment in the tradition of the kings of the Canaani. She did not notice the man grabbing her, forcing her face to his mouth, letting his desire for her body fill him, commanding her to let him in. He wondered why she did not notice him, why she looked beyond as though he was not there, until he heard the clash of arms, and the sound of a village alive, not ruined.

The king looked up from his talk with the elders. “The Reuveni are upon us,” he shouted, grabbing for his weapons. When the spear thrust came, he was ready, parrying the blow deftly with the skill required of a king. The charioteer watched in disbelief as troops who had stormed the town 20 years before, men he knew as elders and teachers, fell before his eyes in an unruined town. His father had made his fortune in this part of the world in that sack. The chief had granted him this land because he had slain the king. His father’s body now lay bleeding on the ground, his eyes were forced to it in fascination, but his body was immobilized by unbelief.

The warriors of the town came back, and stepped in front of the shrine to Baal, where his statue stood, keeping watch over the town. They saw there a Reuveni young man, his hand on the arm of a Canaani maiden, her clothes suggestively disarranged.
Miryam’s attacker screamed, trying to fend off their weapons, never understanding why they never missed, as though they knew how he would avoid, yet he lived on. In terror and agony, the pain of many blows, he fell fainting to the ground.

Miryam watched the body from above and below, mumbling alternately “Hail rider of the clouds,” then “hail lord of the shades.” She could not tell whether she was disoriented or better oriented than ever before, able to see the scene as a whole.
The charioteer fell on his face in the water, and never lifted it, only coughing a couple of times as he drowned in inches of water. The statue looked normal again, missing feet, hands and all features of the face. But one of the last evening rays of the sun fell on it, casting a clutching shadow over the son of the killer of kings.

“The Lord sits above the flood-waters,
Yes, Baal sits as king forever.”
— Reconstructed Canaanite Hymn
— (also Psalm 29:10)

Copyright © 1986, Henry E. Neufeld