A.D. 33

By: Ted Dekker

Maliku returned to Judah’s cell periodically after that, rarely speaking more than a few words, asking only if he might offer any comfort. In a show of mercy, he ordered the guards to place straw on the mud and empty the bucket of waste every day.

Judah was tempted to ask Maliku if Maviah was still alive, but he didn’t think he had the strength to learn of her fate should she be dead.

Maliku continued to come, and Judah began to wonder if the man’s Kalb blood had finally prompted regret for his betrayal. To live in such terrible guilt might be a fate worse than a dungeon.

Only yesterday a new thought crept into his mind. If Maliku suffered such dreadful guilt, what might have triggered it? Maviah’s death. What else would cause such a turn in the man?

Maviah, the woman he cherished, was dead.

With that thought, Judah once again felt truly alive. For the first time in many months he could feel deeply. But the emotions crushed him, robbing him of breath so that he begged for his own death.

“JUDAH. You are needed.”

The voice was still far away in his dreams. Maliku’s voice.

Iron grated against iron and Judah slowly opened his eyes to see the amber light beyond the bars—torches held by three warriors dressed in black tunics and leather battle armor. Between them stood Maliku, watching him through the opened gate.

“If you would see Maviah, then you must come peacefully.”

Judah blinked. Maviah? They had her body? Or she was alive…

“You must come in peace.”

He pushed himself up, pulse surging. They were going to take him from the cell?

Maliku turned to the guards. “Free him.”

They hesitated, then came in, and when Judah made no sign of resistance, they bound his hands behind his back, unshackled the heavy chain from his ankle, and hauled him to his feet.

Judah cleared his throat. “Your sister is alive?”

A moment of silence hung between them.

“Maviah has never been more alive,” Maliku said. He nodded at the guard. “Bring him.”

Surrounded by warriors, Judah walked down the corridor in silence, mind crawling back to life, filled with an urgent hope. Maviah was alive.

At the passage’s end they were joined by two more guards, who led the procession up a flight of stone steps. Judah knew them well from his days as Rami’s warrior, when the palace Marid had been ruled by the Kalb sheikh.

They passed into light. A ray of sunshine through a window both unnerved and mystified him. He’d forgotten what sunlight felt like. And yet, they would surely return him to the darkness below.

Then they were at the door leading into the chamber of audience, and then they passed into the large room where Rami bin Malik had once conducted his business with sheikhs from all corners of the desert.

But his power and wealth now belonged to Saman bin Shariqat, great warrior sheikh of the Thamud. The massive chamber’s walls were covered by long silk drapes fashioned in the colors of the Thamud, yellow and red on black. Thick new carpets from Persia and India softened the fortress floor amid three elaborate pillars.

The tables were heavy with carved chests, overflowing with jewels and gold coins. Silver trays with matching tea sets from afar were on prominent display, likely gifts from merchants and rulers who’d passed through Dumah on their way to Petra or Egypt or Rome. Exquisitely stamped and appointed leather saddles, each separated by polished swords, daggers, and lances, lined the walls.

But silver and gold meant nothing to Judah now. He longed to see only one thing.

There was no sign of Maviah.

There was only Saman, dressed in the black fringed thobe of his tribe and seated on a large wooden chair banded in silver. On his head, a black agal bound a red-and-yellow headdress. Thick pillows with golden tassels rested on the floor, where those who came for audience would be seated. It appeared Saman had abandoned the customs of the Bedu for the ways of the kings.

Kahil bin Saman, the son who knew no mercy, stood at the window, hands held loosely behind his back, gazing out at the oasis of Dumah beneath the tall fortress. Judah wondered if this was the same window where he’d thrown Maviah’s son to his death.

Like a coming storm, Judah’s anger began to gather. And with it, nausea.

“Leave us,” Maliku ordered.

The guards left them behind closed doors.

“Hold your tongue,” Maliku said under his breath. “Trust me.”

He pushed Judah forward, and with that shove Judah knew the man wore two faces in this room—both Kalb and Thamud.

Saman watched Judah with piercing eyes, chin planted on the palm of his hand. Kahil turned and walked toward him, studying his frame.

“I’d nearly forgotten we still had you in the dungeon,” Kahil said. “You are what I do with dung collected on my boot. I can only hope that you will fully appreciate the sound and sight of twenty thousand dying women and children.”

“Enough!” Saman stood, glaring at his son.

Kahil dipped his head in respect and backed up.

Saman stepped off the platform, eyes on Judah.

“To raid and overthrow is a sheikh’s right in the sands. Did I not crush Rami and take all of his wealth? In the desert did I not subdue those who resisted my power? Am I not the rightful overseer of all the caravans that flow through my city now?” He spoke with sweeping gestures. “Answer me.”

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