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© Copyright 2003 Richard S. Barnett  


The Force of God

Chapter Ten


by Richard S. Barnett




I hoped that Acsah would at least be pleased when I brought her brother back safely from Monument City, but that was not to be. Gedawr was only her half brother, but the unspoken rebuke in her eyes left me feeling that she somehow blamed me for his wound.
Rather than worry what I might have done wrong in Acsah's eyes, I still had to do something about capturing Monument City. At least, we now knew that we would not catch the soldiers of Monument City hiding behind their walls. They had two or more large forces to guard their city from the outside--over three thousand men altogether.
The fact that the Highborn had so many soldiers to defend Monument City showed us that Arbok of the Golden Bow or the leaders of his forces had learned something from our swift and easy conquests of Jerusalem and Hebron. We wouldn't surprise them as easily, and now I had to find another way to overthrow Arbok and capture his city with only two hundred men.
"Rifaz, my friend, we'll have to look around inside Monument City and find a way to take it from within," I told Rifaz. "Gera, while we do that, I want you to harass the Highborn and wear them down. Sting and prick them until they're ready to hide behind their walls again. Don't get drawn into a fight because they're sure to win--just worry them."
"We'll make them frightened of their own shadows," Gera promised.
"They're always fearful, sir," Rifaz told us. "They always want signs from their gods. They look for omens in everything--stars, dreams, lines on hands, the shapes that oil makes on water, the flight of birds, casting lots, or the guts of animals. They'll believe anything. Here's my plan, sir. I'll be an Egyptian fortune teller and you’ll be my servant. I'll teach you to juggle and do tricks that invite people to see me. Arbok will hear about us and send for us to read his dreams. We'll see the whole city and we may even find your brother, Kenabi."
"A fortune teller--such nonsense," Gera laughed; "The Lord of Israel rules all things."
"Yes, we know that, sir, but the Canaanites don't.
Our Lord makes fools of fortune-tellers,
all readers of signs, and stargazers!

"Likewise, he'll cast down all those who run after readers of dreams and omens. As a juggler, Othniel, you'll draw the Highborn to me like wasps to ripe figs. We must find you some different clothes so that they won't know you are a Hebrew."
"A juggler!" Gera cackled. "If you learn how, Othniel, I'll invite you to my wedding feast. All you have to do is toss four or five knives up in the air without dropping them. They'll love it all the more if you can do it while you stand on your head!"
"I foresee a quick death if I don't learn fast. Are you quite sure there's no magic in juggling, Rifaz?"
"Of course not, sir. There's no secret to fortune telling and reading dreams either. It all lies in listening and watching to find out who people are, what they want to know, and telling them what they want to hear."
"It all sounds like lies to me," Gera said.
"Not really, sir. Who's to say dreams have no meaning? It's the same with your hands. Here, please show me the palm of your right hand and I'll tell you your future."
Gera tried to hide his hand but Rifaz grabbed it. "Yes, here's your life for those who know the signs and what they mean. Now, do you see how this line crosses your palm and cuts the others? It tells me that you're a man without any crooked ways in your heart, and that you shoot straight to the mark. Now look here in the middle where these lines join the first. I see a wife and two sons, and your second born will become a great leader."
"That's enough, Rifaz." Gera said as he pulled back his hand. "You're making this up!"
Rifaz tried to look hurt. "I wouldn't dare, sir. Yet the Highborn have no idea how much alike juggling and telling fortunes are. We won't start with knives, though. We'll need five pomegranates instead."
I hated to waste my good pomegranates, but we agreed to attempt Rifaz's plan while Gera harried the Highborn soldiers outside Monument City.
"We don't have a plan to take the city from the inside yet," I reminded Gera, "but if you should see smoke or a big fire, come as fast as you can because it'll be our sign that the Lord has shown us a way."
Rifaz and I decided to go around Monument City and enter it from the west. We took a pair of donkeys, and Rifaz rode one while the other carried our food, costumes, and some gear for juggling and fortune telling that we found in Hebron. I left my spear with Caleb and took a staff instead. I kept my bronze knife in my girdle and bow and arrows in my pack. Rifaz wore his Egyptian costume and dressed me as his slave--if you call nothing but a kilt over a loincloth dressed. I hated letting him shave my head. I covered my head and hoped for once that Acsah wouldn't see me leaving.
The donkeys carried all our baggage and left my hands free to practice my juggling on the way. I had played with juggling as a child, and Rifaz was glad to see me finding the knack so quickly. I could soon juggle three pomegranates at once, and Rifaz gave me tips on working up to five.
"You'll be a master of the art if you can juggle seven or eight fruit, sir," he told me, "but five will keep these people watching with mouths agape. You can also learn some other tricks that will add more to your show. When you can juggle five fruit, I'll show you how to do something with knives and fire."
"Did you learn juggling in Egypt too?" I asked.
"Oh yes, sir. Nothing can beat juggling and such tricks for winning over your watchers and putting them in a friendly mood for some fortune telling."
"What do you mean by such tricks, my friend?"
"Oh, a few balancing and acrobatic feats, and even a little magic, sir."
"No spells and sorcery for me, thank you, Rifaz."
"Simple folk call my little games magic. They're really quite harmless, as you'll see. I can make a knife seem to vanish before your eyes and bring it back out of thin air while I tell our watchers that I'm reaching into the unseen spirit world around them. The next thing they always want me to do is read their dreams or see into their future."
"Don't they say, Rifaz, that the Lord sometimes speaks through dreams?"
"When that happens, sir, He'll show you the meaning. Otherwise, our dreams hardly ever mean that the Lord is speaking to us. Most often, they're windows into the heart's darkest places. When people tell me about their dreams, I can see how their fears and desires are shaping their lives. The Canaanites believe these forces belong to their unseen spirit world, and I have only to tell listeners what I see happening. To some, my readings come as a warning, while others see what the spirits will do to them."
"It must help to speak fast," I added. We both laughed.
"If only I could see beyond the hills into tomorrow, sir, we wouldn't have to go to Monument City," Rifaz admitted.
"If you could see that far, I would still not know what to do to take the city, my friend. It's in the hands of the Lord. We can only place ourselves in His hands and trust Him."
We took three days to swing north and come upon Monument City from the west. We hadn't even come within sight of the city when the Highborn stopped us. We had followed a trail from Eglon and Lachish where it leads through a valley into the foothills. We saw their camp set in a grove of tamarisks ahead of us. I counted no more than forty soldiers with nearly as many slaves. The Highborn had stopped a caravan of traders, who were just leaving.
"We could go around them in the night," I told Rifaz.
"Not this time, sir; we must test ourselves here. If we can't fool this lot, we'll never get into Monument City. Please remember not to let them see your knife."
Rifaz urged his donkey forward as if we were meeting friends and I followed behind the donkeys as a servant should.
"Peace to all in this place!" Rifaz greeted the three soldiers who stood waiting.
"Where do you think you're going?" snapped their leader, a gaunt, grey, stoop-shouldered man.
"May it please your honor," Rifaz answered, "your servant is Fariz, star gazer to the Pharaoh, a reader of dreams and teller of fortunes. Your king has need of my services."
"It pleases me not, dwarf," the leader grumbled. "Didn’t your Pharaoh teach you to get off your donkey when your betters speak to you? Your friend looks like a Hebrew to me. Let me see what you've got on these donkeys."
"It's only my slave, sir," Rifaz said as I helped him down from his donkey and began to open our baggage.
"He still looks like a Hebrew to me," the leader said after a casual glance into our baggage. "He's far too husky to be an Egyptian."
"Egypt has all kinds of slaves, your honor," Rifaz said. "Once you put a slave collar on them and shave their heads, they all look alike."
"There's hardly a scar on this one, dwarf," the leader argued. "Just look at this back--you've never had him properly whipped."
"I'm but a reader of dreams, sir. I'm not Pharaoh that I can beat a slave to death and buy a new one every day."
"You have two donkeys, haven't you, dwarf? I'll let you go to Monument City in return for a donkey or your slave."
"May it please you to take the donkey, your honor? Behold, it's worth more than a useless slave."
"I don't think so, dwarf. A slave can both serve you and carry your load like a donkey, but can a donkey serve you as a slave does? No! I'll take both of your donkeys. Now, get your ugly face out of my sight before I cut your throat and take your slave and everything else you have."
"May the great Baal-Hadad be gracious to you, your honor," Rifaz told him. "May he bless you in all your ways."
"Beat your slave more often, dwarf," the leader growled at him as he left. His soldiers took our donkeys and followed him laughing.
"Othniel, you'll have to pick those up and follow me!" Rifaz told me in a low voice, pointing to the packs. "You did well to remember that slaves have no feelings; nevertheless, the Highborn are still watching us."
He picked up my staff and shook it at me in mock anger. I did as he told me, but with many a doubt. "O Lord," I prayed, "I want to be your servant, but for the sake of Israel please don't make me end my days as a slave among the Highborn."
I was able to carry my load now that the full heat of summer had passed, and Monument City was not too far ahead, though it had worn me out and parched me with thirst by the time we reached the well outside the city. The long walk was harder for Rifaz and brought him close to collapse. We had brought our own leather bucket and rope for drawing water, so I took my turn at the well with the Canaanite women and slaves to draw water for Rifaz.
We went to the gateway after he had rested, but the guards at the foot of the ramp turned us away saying they had orders to keep strangers out of the city.
I observed that the walls of Monument City seemed different from the walls of other Highborn cities, and I asked Rifaz about them.
"They may seem like one huge stone," he laughed, "because the Highborn have plastered these walls to make them look stronger. They make a plaster of mud mixed with lime. It dries hard and smooth, but it breaks off easily. That goes to show things are never all they seem with the Highborn."
I set our baggage between the well and the gateway. Rifaz let me have a drink and wash my face before sending me to juggle and tell everyone I saw outside the walls that Fariz, the Egyptian reader of dreams would be ready at sunset. I chanted a verse he taught me:
"Wine spilled upon the floor
Gladdens the heart no more.
Dreams that fade at break of day,
Fariz will read at end of day!"

The children laughed and teased me at first while I wandered between the huts where the Canaanites lived. When the children tired of their game, I invited them to let me teach them juggling. A few followed me back to the gateway, copying my chant, until they gave up and ran off. Like the Canaanite children at Hebron, they looked as wretched and half-starved as the stray yellow curs I saw sniffing for waste scraps. I returned to the gateway and saw people working in booths or out in the open. Among them I saw the traders we had seen earlier that day. They had set up their tents and stalls and laid out their wares. I recognized them as Ishmaelites, men from the deserts east of the Jordan who had come from trading with the Sea Peoples at Gaza. They had brought pottery, jewelry, ornaments of carved ivory, wool and linen garments, perfumes, and spices from distant places. The Highborn women flocked to see what might be new and rare. The women took no notice of me but waved their fans to keep flies away and talked in loud voices as if they owned the world. Their servants kept the Canaanite children away as if they were vermin.
The word about Rifaz quickly spread into the city. When I went back to him at sunset, I saw a score of Canaanite women and girls standing around near where he sat in front of a small fire. They had long since filled their water jars and were lingering in case anything should happen.
Rifaz tossed me a knife that I caught and kept in play while putting down one pomegranate. I got rid of the other pomegranates as quickly as I could because Rifaz tossed two more knives for me to juggle. Their blades flashed so red in the light of the setting sun I couldn't help thinking they dripped with my blood.
Rifaz rose from his seat, walked to me, caught one of the knives, and made it vanish. He did the same trick with the other two. He then snapped his fingers and seemed to pull one out of a small girl's hair and tossed it back to me. The women and girls had been quiet, but now they giggled and laughed as he went around and made the other two knives appear out of nowhere. He slipped one knife into his girdle, drew out a purple sash, folded it, and cut it in half with the third knife. He shook the loose ends, and held up the sash for everyone to see it was still in one piece. The women laughed and shouted in wonder and called for more. I noticed a few men and boys coming to stand behind the women. One looked like a guard from the gateway.
"What else can you do?" the women asked Rifaz. "Can you eat fire?" "Can you cut a man in half?"
Rifaz held up his hand for silence. "Daughters of Monument City, behold! Fariz the Egyptian has come to read your dreams and show you what life holds for you.
Out of springs, water streams,
Out of your night pour dreams,
And the strangest of dreams
Tell us more than it seems
Of omens, fate's foregleams!"

Rifaz spoke in a deep, ringing voice that filled his words with hints of hidden meanings. I heard stifled giggles but no more outright laughter. The women still seemed unwilling to trust their dreams to Rifaz. He pointed to clouds touched by the last glow of sunset.
"Do not clouds tell you when the rains will come? Even so, daughters of Monument City, your dreams tell you what lies in store for you. They may be promises of blessings, or they may warn you of evil to come. In either case, it may be that your gods are speaking to you.
"Daughters of Monument City, though dreams fade away at daybreak, heed them while you may." He turned to the girl from whose hair he had pretended to pull a knife.
"Now, daughter, I shall tell you what you have drawn from the well of night." He took off his turquoise pendant and let it swing over her head. "I see you flying, soaring like the birds of the air!"
The child nodded her head and smiled.
"Yes, daughters; that's the dream of youth when we look forward to life with an eagerness that frees us from the bonds of fear. Yes, my daughter, I see your children's children bowing before you and blessing you."
I heard a gasp of surprise, and the girl ran off, leaving the rest giggling again. Rifaz beckoned to an older woman. "Peace be with you, grandmother," he said kindly.
"Off with you, young man. Can't you leave an old woman alone?"
"I see faded dreams and dark secrets that are best forgotten. I wouldn't dare to touch them, grandmother. You aren't too old to dream, and old age and wisdom have much to teach us."
"Thank you, my son, but things lurk in the shadows of my dreams, and I can never quite see what they are. Can you tell me?"
Rifaz held her hand and let his turquoise pendant swing above it.
"Dreams such as these, daughters of Monument City, spring from our hidden thoughts. Our open thoughts take form in them. Your dreams, grandmother, feed on fear because the sons of Arbah, your kings, have built this city on fear."
I heard gasps of surprise and shocked whispers among the women.
Rifaz lowered his voice as he told the women, "Do you think your king Arbok and your overlords can keep secrets from an Egyptian? No, daughters of Monument City, such things are like the lights of heaven that we see only by night. Look how your rulers, the Highborn, use their gods to hold you in bondage. Don't they say that their gods see every secret thing you do and that you have to buy their favor with your firstborn?"
The women could barely overcome their fear enough to make their signs for keeping away evil spirits. Rifaz intoned a mocking chant:
"Lingering fears, whispering fears,
waiting till darkness is here:
lingering fears, shadowy fears,
wait and thirst for blood and tears!"

The women left sobbing, and he taunted them, "Keep watch through the night, daughters of Monument City, because sleep and hope have fled your city. Weep through the night, for terror will come in the morning."
After everyone left, Rifaz whispered, "Your ravens have followed you, Othniel; even here they await you."
"Did you really have to frighten everyone?" I asked him. "How will that get us into the city?"
"Word will spread, you'll see," Rifaz answered. "I could have told them something sweet and pleasing, but a shock arouses interest faster than anything else."
I wasn't so sure, but I soon found out how right he was. Two of the Ishmaelite traders came to see him just as we broke bread before going to sleep. They welcomed our offer to share a bite, and it didn't take them long to ask about dreams. Rifaz took off his turquoise pendant, let it swing over their palms and began talking.
I asked him later about the turquoise. "How does this stone help you, Rifaz? Is it a charm?"
He laughed, "No, Othniel. The stone has no more powers than I do, but the sight of it makes people think that I'm a master of reading dreams and omens. They're so eager to know their future that they want to believe I'm a real master of the art."
The traders, at least, believed Rifaz and they left him a gift. Canaanites of all ages came to see him all through the next day, until the Highborn women sent for him in the evening. I walked ahead of Rifaz, juggling my pomegranates and singing:
"Dreams that fade at break of day,
Fariz reads by light of day!"

Two days of this sham showed us much about Monument City and the gulf between its rulers and the Canaanites. I observed that the city walls that outwardly seemed so massive were cracked, flaking and in need of repairs on the inside. The whole city had sunk into the same kind of mess. The guards and soldiers were untrained fat bullies and always drunk. Those on patrol outside the walls were mostly hired soldiers from the plains, and they seemed bored and more interested in taking tolls from travelers than in fighting. The Highborn ruled with a high hand and did as they pleased, just as at their other cities. At the same time, they had made themselves slaves to fear of the same gods they used to rule the Canaanites.
Rifaz told all the Canaanites that their dreams and omens meant that the day of the Highborn would soon end and that they should be ready to rise against their rulers. "Watch the ravens," he whispered, "for they'll know and tell one another. Rise when you see them gather; rise and cast out your masters!"
As for the Highborn women, Rifaz told them that all their omens and dreams meant that their doom was near.
The king's guards found us on the afternoon of the second day, just as Rifaz told one woman, "I see ravens flocking to a wild boar's carcass!"
The guards treated us roughly, prodding and hitting us with the butts of their spears while they led us up the ramp, through the gateway, and into the city. The more Rifaz protested that hitting a fortuneteller would bring bad luck, the more they laughed and bullied him. We passed rows of well-built houses on our way to the high point of the city. We came to an open place ringed with standing stones where a great pillar of polished black stone stood in the center, facing the palace of the king. Three more black pillars stood on each side of the entry to the palace. The guards herded us straight into the great hall of the king.
Arbok's hall was as big as the royal hall we burned at Chatsor, and no less grand. It stood two stories high, about twenty paces long and ten wide, and it had two rows of wooden columns running its length to hold up the roof beams. A fire burned in the central hearth beneath an opening in the roof, and a slave woman stood beside the fire, sprinkling fragrant herbs on it from time to time and chanting spells to keep out evil spirits. Windows at the top of the side walls let in light and air and let out the smoke of oil lamps. Brightly colored paintings covered every part of the plastered stone walls. On the nearest wall, many-armed sea monsters writhed among fish, sea-maidens, and seaweeds. Other parts of the walls had pictures of chariot races, hunting, bullfights, single combat, and battles--all about bloodshed. Arbok's throne stood on a raised platform at the end of the hall. He had the same kind of large, high-backed chair, carved in the form of winged lions and decorated in gold and ivory that every Canaanite king had in those days. A cheetah with a jeweled collar and golden chain glared at us from the left side of the throne where Arbok slumped, and on the right waited a tall, painted and bejeweled woman whom I guessed must be Arbok's wife. Behind them two girls waved fans of ostrich plumes and a third played a lute while others served him platters of tidbits (maybe you could descibe some tidbits…to add the local flavour) and wine in a two-handled golden cup. Four guards in plumed helmets and gilded armor waited in front of the throne, and more stood behind the throne and along each side of the hall. Their leader, wearing the gaudiest armor of all, stood behind the cheetah, which he held by a golden chain.
"O lord king, live forever!" said one of our guards while the others shoved us down onto the floor.
Arbok waved aside the girls but didn't bother to rise or look at us.
"Hebrew spies," he croaked, "who's your leader? Where's your army?"
"Lord king, may Baal-Hadad smile upon you. Behold, your servant is an Egyptian and a reader of dreams and omens," Rifaz answered.
"Liars!" Arbok rasped. "Bring in the slave!" His voice was so hoarse I hardly understood him.
Two more guards led in someone and thrust him onto the floor beside us. I couldn't see him clearly, but as wretched, nearly naked, and filthy as he was, I knew my brother Kenabi. That glimpse of him shocked me to my soul. After what the Highborn had done to him, I knew right away that I couldn't blame him for anything he might have told them.
"Speak, slave! Are these men the spies you told us about?" Arbok demanded.
"Yes, lord king," Kenabi pleaded. "They are Hebrews and spies, and they came to spy on your city! Behold, lord king, I have told you the truth. Now please, let me go!"
"Silence, fool!" Arbok coughed. "Haven't you already lifted your hands against us?"
Kenabi's voice rose in a shriek. "But, lord king, I found out the spies for you. I've served you well, haven't I?"
"I'll grant you this much, dog of a Hebrew: to watch these two perish on Anath's stone before you follow them!" Arbok signed to the guards and they dragged Kenabi to the side of the hall, kicking him to stop his screams.
"A dog like that would say anything to save his skin," Arbok grumbled hoarsely. "Now, dwarf, what about you? Are you a reader of dreams and omens or a spy?"
The leader of the guards whispered to Arbok, and he added, "Or both? Speak now!"
Rifaz rose to a kneeling position to answer in a deep, rich voice.
"O lord king, have I seven eyes that I can read the future and the mind of God? No, my lord king, and yet this much I will tell you, so that you may know I speak the truth:
"The shadow of the raven
touches you, O dying man.
Where will you turn,
who will lead you
or protect you
from the shadow of the raven?"

A raven cawed in answer above our heads and Arbok's woman screamed. The other women servants shrieked and made signs to shield themselves from evil. The uproar terrified the cheetah and made the chief of the guards struggle to control it. I looked up and saw a raven perched in one of the hall's upper windows. The very sight of the raven petrified Arbok with fright. I knew the Lord would give him into our hands if we only knew what to do next.
I rose, snatched a scrap of meat from one of the serving girls and held it up to the bird. The raven swooped down amid the shrieks of the women and girls, took the meat from my open hand and soared back to its perch. Arbok's guards shook with fright as they pointed their spears at us and surrounded us.
"Why do the birds of the air hear and obey you?" Arbok asked in an awestruck voice. He pulled himself onto his feet, and stood trembling and glaring at us through yellow-rimmed eyes. I saw for the first time that he was as tall as the other Highborn, but now gaunt and stooped. The yellow cast of his skin made it look more like a lizard's skin. "Do you come from Mot and Allatu, the lords of the underworld?"
"O king," Rifaz answered, "behold, like the ravens we serve the one God of Heaven who sees all wrongs and sends justice to water the earth. There is healing in his wings."
"Healing?" Arbok babbled eagerly.
His woman placed her hands on his shoulders and made him sit. "My lord," she said, "you fret yourself in vain."
"Let Anath take this pair with the other dog, my lord king," the leader of the guards suggested. "Three offerings in one day on the death stone will surely win her favor and lengthen your days."
"You'll only bring all the rest of the Hebrews down on us," the woman argued. "Can't you offer them a truce?"
"No, my lord," the leader of the guards said, his voice thick with anger. "Now is the time to smash the Hebrews and wipe them out."
"Just like your victory seven days ago?" the woman mocked. "You commanded better than three times their numbers, and yet look how they mauled you!"
"No, they did not--"
Arbok raised a limp hand to stop the argument. "Now, wait--both of you!" He turned to Rifaz. "Dwarf, I have to know. You said this god of yours has healing in his wings. Can he heal me?" his voice trailed off to a hoarse whisper.
"What are you talking about, my lord?" his woman scolded. "Didn't the dwarf just say you're as good as dead? See his raven still waits to pluck out your eyes!"
Rifaz rose to his feet, took the turquoise from his neck, and went to the girl who held Arbok's golden cup. He dangled the stone above the cup and let it swing. I saw Arbok's face turn pale when the turquoise came to a full, dead stop after one swing, as if caught and pulled downward by an unseen hand.
"What did I tell you?" the woman raved. "Mot and Allatu await you!"
"Quiet, woman!" Arbok yelled, pushing her aside. "Now tell me, dwarf, about this god of yours. Does he come on white wings of healing or raven wings of death?"
"Answer me this, O king, and I shall tell you:
Who guides the storks in their journeys?
Who lights the path of the owl by night?
Who bids the vultures gather?
Who sends the ravens?"

"Speak clearly and don't torment me with riddles," Arbok demanded. "Tell me plainly: does this god of yours come on white wings or black?"
"For you, O great King, there's no healing in His wings," Rifaz answered. "He sends His raven as a sign that He has plucked your kingdom from you."
Arbok slumped further down on his throne and withered a little more before our eyes.
" Guards, get rid of them!" their leader ordered.
"How dare you?" the painted woman shrieked. "How dare you torment a sick man with false hopes?"
"Hold your tongue, woman," Arbok croaked. "First, dwarf, tell me how you know. Give me a sign."
Rifaz looked down quickly before meeting Arbok's eyes. "The coming of your death is the only sign the Lord God of Heaven will give you, O great King," he told him.
Arbok cursed, snatched a knife from his girdle, and threw it at Rifaz. Arbok's sickness had weakened him so badly that he could barely toss the knife. I reached out, caught it in midair, and stabbed the nearest guard. I grabbed his spear and speared the next.
Rifaz drew a hidden knife from his girdle and threw it at the leader of the guards. It hit the man in the throat and he fell on the cheetah, which broke loose amid wild snarling and horrid cat noises. All the women and girls screamed, ran, and got in the way of the guards. Rifaz pulled two more knives out of his girdle, tossed one to Kenabi, and quickly knifed another guard himself.
"I'll get Arbok--you start a fire!" I shouted to Rifaz.
I fought through the other guards around me and jumped up on the dais to pull Arbok off his throne. His queen shrieked and clawed at me with her fingernails but I tripped her on her face and bound her hands behind her back with her girdle. Heaving her to her feet, I stuffed a veil in her mouth to stop her noise and made her support Arbok as I pushed them out of the hall. Rifaz had already spilled lamp oil on a wooden column, and flames leapt up its sides.
"Let's get this pair outside," I told Rifaz while I fought off the remaining guards.
Kenabi helped us by making good use of his knife. He had already taken a spear from one guard and stabbed two or three more. He was a foul and bloody mess, but he had a nasty grin on his face when he asked, "What next, little brother? How do we get out of here?"
"We could use a few more men to fight our way out of the city," I told him. "How many more of your men are here with you?"
"Only five, and they are all hurt."
"If they can walk, they can fight. Here's our shield," I said, pointing to Arbok. "The Highborn don't have anyone left who knows how to stop us. Let's go and get your men. Come on!"
Kenabi and I attacked the last guards blocking the doorway of the hall. Two fell and the others ran.
We saw two ravens perched on Anath's black standing stone, and more filled in the air above. Ravens, crows, and vultures cawed above us in a twisting, swirling cloud. Behind us, the first flames began to reach out of the windows of Arbok's hall. No one tried to stop us. Men came running toward the gateway instead, and we heard fighting in that direction.
"The Canaanites came when the ravens called!" Rifaz shouted.
"Just as you told them," I answered. "Let's get help before Arbok's troops come."
Kenabi led us around Arbok's palace to the pit where the Highborn had cast Kenabi's men. Their guards had run off, so we pulled the men out as fast as we could and hurried to the gateway.
Flames from Arbok's hall lit our way through the gathering darkness. The gateway stood ajar and Canaanites of Monument City had swarmed in and overcome the Highborn guards. They now surrounded the last small groups of Highborn soldiers and pelted them with stones. We saw bodies strewn everywhere and Canaanite women stripping them. Other Canaanites ran wild in their frenzy for blood and loot.
The Canaanites saw us with our captives and they howled and screamed for Arbok's blood. I think they would have torn us apart to get him and his queen if Rifaz had not stepped in front of us and raised his hands to command silence. The sight of Rifaz in his fortuneteller's costume still awed them.
"Friends," he said in his calmest voice. "Friends, the Lord God of Israel stands in judgment over these two. Look you now, the rest of the city is yours."
Although I heard grumbling, the Canaanites sheepishly heeded Rifaz and left us alone.
I heard a new sound from beyond the gateway--a ram's horn trumpet.
"Here's Gera," I shouted. "Praise the Lord!"


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