A.D. 33

By: Ted Dekker

Judah offered the sheikh a nod, because this much was true.

“And yet even now they hover, twenty thousand beggars of all tribes, camped like stray dogs in the southern oasis. For a month now. On which winds did this illness infect the desert?”

“An illness that must be eradicated,” Kahil said absently.

Maviah. It had to be! No one else could have gathered so many.

“She calls herself the queen of the desert,” Saman scoffed.

Judah’s heart pounded.

“She is no more than a fly to be swatted,” Kahil said.

Saman’s brow arched. He retreated to his chair, sat heavily, and sighed. “You see what I have,” he said to Judah. “A son who cannot lay down his sword long enough to enjoy his spoil, and a traitor who would give me council.”

Judah looked at Maliku. What standing did the man have among the Thamud now? A traitor was a traitor, even in the eyes of those he’d benefited.

“Maliku claims that she will come unarmed.”

“This is the expectation of our informant,” Maliku confirmed.

“Only fools would come unarmed.” Kahil sneered. “But let them come—it will save us a march.”

“Cutting down twenty thousand unarmed Bedu, twelve thousand of whom are women and children, might be”—Maliku searched for the right word—“misunderstood.” He turned to Saman. “Would you have their blood on your hands, my sheikh?”

“We’re already drenched in blood!” Kahil said. “What is a few more?”

“Peace will change the story that is told about the Thamud,” Maliku said. “It will change the tale for generations to come. Peace offered by Saman bin Shariqat of the Thamud. Not by Maviah, who is Kalb.”

But peace was not in Kahil’s blood.

“Do you think they will simply vanish into the sands because we offer them peace?” Kahil demanded.

“They need some compensation for their loss. Many of their sons and daughters have been slain. But this might be a small price to pay for a legacy among the Bedu.”

Kahil’s face darkened. “They won’t stop until they’ve retaken Dumah!”

“I only offer my opinion to the great Saman.” Maliku bowed before the sheikh.

Something had tested and changed Maliku, Judah thought. Here stood a wiser man, tired of bloodshed. Could he be trusted?

Saman spread his hands. “To slaughter or not to slaughter. What do you, mighty warrior of Rami, have to say to this? Maliku insists that you are the prize Maviah would seek.”

Judah stared at the sheikh. To think they’d brought him into audience for his advice was absurd. Something else was afoot.

“Well? Have they cut your tongue out as well?”

Judah cleared his throat. “Though Maviah is a warrior, she has no thirst for blood.”

“And what of you?” Saman asked.

“I only say what I—”

“Do you have any thirst for blood?”

Did he? An old, seething rage churned in his bowels. But he dared not betray it.

“If there’s any thirst left in me, it’s for the blood of those who oppress my people in Palestine.”

Kahil grinned, brow raised. “And the woman who calls herself queen? You have no thirst for this whore?”

The rage in Judah’s gut rose, heating his face. But he would not lash out, not until the day when he could drain the blood from both Kahil and his father. That day would come.

He spoke in a soft tone. “Am I to be ashamed of my love? To sit by the fire once again with a song in my heart and Maviah by my side…I would trade all the swords in the world for one night of peace with her.”

“You are a fool.”

“Do not underestimate him,” Saman said. “Bedu like Judah know only how to seek revenge.”

The sheikh sagged in his seat of power, eyeing Judah with suspicion as he absently twirled strands of his beard.

“There cannot be two rulers in this desert.” He paused, lost in thought. “We will march tomorrow.”

Chapter Four

TWO THOUSAND black tents covered the rolling slopes of sand beyond my tent. I watched tendrils of smoke rise to the sky as women tended fires fueled by camel dung. Beneath a layer of coals and sand they would bake unleavened breads to be spiced, buttered, and rolled with dates. Few men were in sight; they were behind a partition in those same tents, doing what Bedu men did when not hunting or raiding: exchanging embellished news of their past exploits and fearlessly proclaiming the imminent defeat of the Thamud.

I had to find Saba now. Saba, my tower of strength, who was with my son Talya, now eight. I’d adopted Talya after coming upon him abandoned among the Banu Abysm tribe, the same tribe of my mother, who was now dead.

If Saba wasn’t by my side, he could be found in the hills alone or with Talya, who had become like a son to him. Politics and conflict offered him no intrigue.

I descended a sandy slope and approached the small, spring-fed pool that brought life to the reeds and green palms and bushes. The camels were bunched around the drinking trough just south of the spring, or strewn across the sands, searching for stubborn tufts of grass, or sleeping in the sun.

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