A.D. 33

By: Ted Dekker

He let his words sink in.

“The sword is not the issue, Fahak,” the sheikh Niran said.

“Of course it is! Do you think Kahil would not slaughter eight thousand men who come to defy him without swords?”

“And do you think eight thousand armed men on haggard beasts can stand against Saman’s army of thirty thousand?”

“No man can defeat me!” Fahak cried. His cry faltered and ended with only a raspy breath, followed by several rattling hacks from his worn lungs.

“We must wait for more men to join our number,” Niran argued. “Another month.”

“We do not have the food to wait another month,” another sheikh said. Habib. “In two weeks the camels will begin to starve and we will need to slaughter them for food, thus compromising our mobility.”

“Then perhaps we march in two weeks, when we are at the end of our food but have more men,” Niran said.

“More men will only require more food,” Habib countered. “To go when we are weakest is not the Bedu way. Nor is it our way to confront the enemy without a sword.”

A fourth sheikh, Jashim, the youngest of the leaders, spoke evenly. “We must go in peace. There is no other way to restore Rami’s honor and liberate Judah, who is unjustly imprisoned.”

“We must go with the sword and demand restitution for the Thamud plunder!” Fahak snapped. “We are free to couch camel and clan where the sands offer grace. This is the right of all Bedu for as long as man has set foot on the earth. And yet Saman’s butcher son would slaughter us all. If not with the sword, then with starvation and poverty.”

“A ruler without subjects is no ruler,” Jashim said. “Our deaths are not in Saman’s interests. Who would remain to attend to the many spice caravans that pay his taxes? Or deliver the food and wares the city requires? Dumah is the jewel of the deep sands, but it cannot stand alone.”

“No? Except for your desire to disarm us you speak with a sane mind.” Fahak jabbed his forehead with a thin finger. “But Saman is mad. His son, Kahil, is worse. Are we to hope that the jinn who have eaten his brains will now spit those same brains back into his skull so that he might come to reason?”

The only member of our number who was not a sheikh, besides me, was Arim, servant of Fahak, who had helped save me from the deadly Nafud desert two years earlier. He had since sworn to protect me from any jackal who sniffed at my tent.

Seated behind the circle of elders, Arim raised his voice.

“Maviah wishes we march in three days’ time to rescue my blood brother, Judah, and it is my wish—”

“Silence, Arim!” Fahak snapped up a trembling, bony finger in warning. “Do you now speak for the sheikhs with your wishes?”

“I only say—”

“It is time for sheikhs to speak and for boys to be silent!”

“Yes, Fahak. Forgive me. And yet you challenge her wishes to—”

“Not another word!”

Arim bowed his head. “Forgive me, mighty Fahak, most wise one. I speak out of turn.”

“This is not news,” the old man said, then coughed again.

Under other circumstances I would have offered a glance of courage to Arim, whom I loved like a younger brother, though I knew he sought affection of a different kind from me. He was perhaps eighteen, long since a man.

And I would have smiled at Fahak’s antics, because, although he led the council, he did not seem to know the weakness of his aging bones.

Immediately the debate resumed, back and forth, around and around, bound by tradition and a pride that ran deeper than marrow. Should we go to Dumah in peace or with swords? Should we negotiate with Saman for restitution or seize it? Should we march in three days or in three weeks?

In my corner of the tent I held my tongue as they worked the fear out of their blood with words of bravado. Had I not known such anxiety many times? Did I not feel it even as I heard their doubts? Fahak was right: Saman’s son, Kahil, might well slaughter us without thought.

Kahil, the one who’d thrown my infant son to his death upon the rocks.

Kahil, the one who’d once blinded me.

I closed my eyes and let my fear swell. I did not rest it. This would only fuel the offense. Accept. Turn the cheek.

Had not a storm once threatened to crush me on the Sea of Galilee? Had not I faced my own death in the arena at Petra? And yet I had followed the Way of Yeshua and emerged unharmed.

Still I felt fear, for now twenty thousand had put their trust in me. Kahil, who’d taken the life of my first son, would now surely threaten the life of my second, Talya. And of all the orphans gathered to safety here.

Judah’s life was also at stake. Judah, my warrior and my lover, fading in the dungeons of Dumah.

Judah, my lion. My heart ached for him.

Talya, my little lamb. Forgive me. I would die for him.

Saba, my tower, stand by me. Yet he was not here to calm me.

Yeshua, my master, speak to me.

Peace. Be still…

I took a deep breath. Stillness came to my mind and I lingered there, drawing strength.

“…Maviah, our queen.”

Arim had spoken. I opened my eyes and saw that he faced me, standing.

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