A.D. 33

By: Ted Dekker

“Honor.” Kahil cut him with a cold stare. “This from a prince who betrayed his own people only two years ago?”

Indeed. But Maliku had long ago accepted this stain on his heart. He cast a gaze at his ruined father, whose head hung low, unmoving.

“Maviah must not be allowed to live,” Kahil snapped. “This sister of yours—this dog who calls herself queen—she leads twenty thousand now, camped only six hours south. If we allow her to live, they will be fifty thousand within the year.”

“That day will never come. We will crush her, but not until we have cause.” He took a deep breath. “You must stay your hand and allow Maviah to take our bait.”

“And if she does not?”

Maliku had underestimated Maviah once, and she’d humiliated him before the king of Petra and all of his subjects.

Never again.

“As much as I swore to you that I could deliver my father, I swear that Maviah will come upon us herself with all the fury of the gods.” He turned to Kahil. “And then you will have your blood, and I, my revenge. We must appear to be at odds before your father, Saman. Only play your part until I deliver her to you, brother. It’s all I beg of you.”

Kahil studied him with a dark stare, then grunted and yanked his dagger from his belt. He crossed to the slumped form of Maliku’s father, jerked his head back, and slashed the old man’s throat.

Blood silently spilled down Rami’s bare chest.

Kahil shoved him to one side and strode toward the door.

“Never call me brother.”

Chapter Two

I PATIENTLY listened to our council of twelve, the only woman among sheikhs, as they argued as only Bedu men can—with great passion, as if each word was their last. They sipped tea and leaned against saddles and emphasized their words with dramatic gestures. I sat both with them and apart from them on a nearby camel hide, legs drawn to one side, leaning on one arm.

We were gathered under the spacious black tent of our eldest member, Fahak bin Haggag, in the Garden of Peace, the small, verdant oasis that sat a mere six hours south of Dumah, where my father had once ruled.

Those present in this tent were the most revered leaders from among the Bedu tribes who had survived the Thamud slaughter. For two years they had heeded my counsel and resisted Kahil bin Saman’s tyranny. But they bowed to no king, and though they followed me as a queen, I would never rule them. This was neither their way nor my aim.

They had gathered to me because they heard the tale of my victory over the traitor Maliku, my brother—a victory granted to me by the power of Yeshua.

They had followed me because I offered them Yeshua’s hope and power in the face of Kahil’s sword. Though the Thamud had orphaned hundreds of children and seized our every resource, I made them a promise: as people of Yeshua’s kingdom we would have nothing to fear. We would be restored.

But today the doubters raised their voices.

There were no lavish appointments in our camp. None among us could afford silk or drink from silver or sleep upon thick pillows. The sheikhs were all dressed in plain, well-worn robes, showing their status and tribes only by the colors in the agals wound around their headdresses. My own dress was the color of the sand, and I rarely pulled my blue shawl over my head save to protect my long dark hair from the wind and sun. My sandals were made of goat hide, bound by leather thongs around my ankles, and my wristbands from stained skins cut into thin strips and woven together with cords from the red reed.

Most everything else of value we had long ago traded for food and for she-camels, whose milk provided much of our sustenance.

The contrast between our meager Bedu means and the lavish courts of Herod and Aretas, where I had lived for many weeks, could not be overstated. Our camels, our tents, and the oasis with its spring and small spread of date palms and pomegranate—these are what allowed us Bedu, who could wring life from a rock, to survive in the middle of the forbidding sands that had defeated many an army from the north.

Fahak lifted his cup from the flat stone beside his saddle and took a noisy sip of the hot tea. His frame was thin and his hair clung to his head and chin as if it were pasted there by mud, waiting for a stiff breeze to blow it all away. Then he carefully set his cup back down, just managing to keep it from spilling, and cleared his throat.

“Do I not know the greatness of Maviah? Was I not the first to accept her among all sheikhs? Though Thamud, did I not decry the violent ways of my own tribe for her sake? Did I not single-handedly save her from the jaws of the mighty Nafud so that she might bring back the power of her new god, Yeshua, to join with our gods, Wadd and Isis and Shams and Dushares?”

Much of what he said distorted the facts, and no amount of explanation seemed to help Fahak understand the truth of what gave me strength. He would only listen to me with a blank stare, then dip his head in agreement and praise his god for bringing such a woman with her new god to help him overthrow the enemy.

“But Maviah does not carry a sword. To march upon Dumah is to march with the sword. And so, however grateful we are to Maviah, the time for men has now come.”

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