A.D. 33

By: Ted Dekker

I don’t remember who voiced the first objection, nor the impassioned exchanges that followed and would surely continue for hours.

I don’t remember, because in hearing my own mind spoken so clearly by Fahak, I knew the decision was already made.

The fear I had felt earlier returned with unexpected strength, like the scream of a demonic jinn in the middle of the night.

I was putting the lives of every man, woman, and child who’d followed me into the hands of the monster who’d killed my infant son.

Into Kahil’s hands.

And yet I had another plan.

Chapter Three

JUDAH BEN MALCHUS. It was his former name—he could remember that much, but darkness had swallowed the rest. Like a distant howl in the desert night, his old identity often haunted him, mocked him, then faded back into the void.

He was no longer son of Malchus of the Kokobanu tribe, those distant stargazers filled with wonder for the heavens and for the one who would, indeed had, come to save all of Israel.

He was now only son of bitterness, a man with no identity in which to place his hope or trust.

Judah lay unmoving in the pitch darkness next to a rough stone wall, only barely aware of the shackle around his ankle. The bars at the front of the dungeon were beyond his chain’s reach—a security measure put into place after he killed two guards when they entered to tend the head wound he’d received in Petra.

The floor was muddy except for the strip where Judah now lay. They dumped the food through the gate, just within reach if he pulled his chain to its end and stretched out on his knees. A wooden bucket collected his waste and was emptied only once each week.

But his misery came from the darkness. Nothing could torment any Bedu accustomed to sun as much as two years of perfect darkness. No torches lit the chamber, nor the passage beyond, except when they came with food.

In the beginning, he was confused by the nourishment they served him and the care they took when disease took root in his body. Only after many months did he understand their intent.

Kahil meant to keep Judah’s senses sharp and drive his mind into madness. Kahil inflicted no pain. No one discouraged Judah’s obsessive strengthening or spoke words of confrontation. Darkness and solitude and utter silence were Kahil’s tools of abuse. And these were unfamiliar enemies to Judah.

Realizing Kahil’s purpose, he spoke to himself often and filled his mind with graceful memories of the past, reliving each over and over.

The liberation near Mudah, on the southern Nafud, where, at barely sixteen, he’d single-handedly tracked twenty camels stolen from his tribe, cut down two Tayy warriors on the outskirts of their camp, and skillfully avoided pursuit in delivering the camels back to his tribe. The elders learned then that Judah was not a common man among stargazers.

The day Rami bin Malik had taken Judah into his tent as his second in all matters of war. They had slaughtered ten goats and two camels that night, singing his praise until the rising of the sun.

Fighting by Saba’s side in battle, knowing always that together they equaled twenty warriors. Were they not legend already?

Many such memories kept Judah occupied for weeks as he waited for deliverance, knowing that it would come in time. Saba was surely alive and free. Nothing could stop Saba.

The mighty sheikh, Rami, was also in captivity, but Judah had heard nothing of his fate. He served Rami still, but more, he served Maviah.


Nine of ten memories lingered on the woman he loved. Memories of her seated behind him after her camel had been swallowed by the storm in the Nafud. Her arms around his chest and her hot breath on his neck as he pointed out the stars that guided them by night.

Memories of her soft voice in his ear, asking him far too many bold questions for a woman. How he loved her for them all.

Memories of her lips upon his own, of her body pressed against his, seeking comfort and courage. Of her walking confidently into Herod’s court, however unsure her heart. Of rescuing her from Brutus. Of her standing tall before King Aretas. Could anyone deny that she was a queen?

These and many other recollections were Judah’s only companion for so long. These and his memories of Yeshua, the king who would liberate his people from Roman tyranny.

Yeshua, who had come with a sword to divide the people from their oppressors.

But in time, speaking became futile and the memories began to fade. Soon he could no longer recall what Maviah looked like without considerable effort.

Bitterness crept into his mind then, like a poison that at first fueled him, then began to eat away at his sanity.

Why had they not come? Or had they come, only to be defeated? But Saba would die before accepting defeat. So then, was Saba dead? The Thamud were still in control of Dumah. So then, had Maviah failed? And if so, was she still alive?

Eventually, the questions themselves drifted off into the darkness and he let them go, because he could not endure the pain they brought him.

It was then that Maliku started coming to his cell. There by the light of the torch, it had taken Judah a minute to recognize Maviah’s half brother, the man who had shown his true colors of betrayal by leading the Thamud into Dumah to crush his own father, Rami.

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