Idol Smashers (Number Eight)

asherah

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Day Two – The Cave

 (Previously, in Idol Smashers: Though they are idolators, liars, and pagans, the Heshonibites put up more of a fight than expected.  Two of our heroes are out of the fight.  Those still standing struggle to execute God’s will.)

A moment of clarity intruded upon the fog of war that dominated Maaz’s conscious thoughts.  He was aware, in that moment, that the battle was going in their favor.  Wounded and frightened villagers were retreating to the opposite side of the cave.  For the first time, he heard their screams, the cries of their children.  His assessment of the situation was interrupted by Barek bellowing from behind him.

“THEY HAVE MADE AN IDOL!!”

He pointed to an unfinished Asherah pole hastily erected in the middle of the cave.

Samuel would have turned to look at it, but two of the villagers were moving to flank him.  They were about his age and in another circumstance, might have been competitors in an athletic contest.  Now they intended to attack Samuel from both sides, trying to gain an advantage in a contest with a more deadly outcome.

Waiting, Samuel bade his time.  They attacked, rushing the Israelite from both sides simultaneously.  Samuel fell to one knee and swung his scimitar at the one on his right.  The arcing slash caught the onrushing youth diagonally across his side.  The fighter’s momentum and sudden wound made him stumble away from Samuel.

He’d hoped that by dodging and attacking, Samuel could make his attackers miss him and run into one another.  However, the villager coming from his left was more adroit than that.  He side-stepped to avoid his falling comrade, and slammed into Samuel’s back.  The two tumbled to the ground.  There they grappled, each holding aside the blade of the other in his off hand.

It was in rough form to be sure, but the wooden column before Maaz was surely an Asherah pole.  Righteous indignation stirred within Maaz, adding more heat to the flame that battle had already ignited.  Any pity he might have felt was now replaced with an implacable rage.  These people, even in their captivity, had constructed another foul idolatrous image.  The grotesque multi-breasted female figure was lewd and foul, the very antithesis of all that was right.

Maaz hefted his staff and turned toward the remaining villagers.

A man fled before Micah, retreating from the flashing arc of the Isrealite’s sword.  The fight was clearly gone from him and he instinctively sought the imagined safety of numbers.  He would never know safety again, as Micah’s sword swung and cut the villager nearly in half.

Caleb rushed forward.  He gaped at the idol, then shook his head in disbelief.  “Where did they even get a tree trunk that size?” he wondered aloud.

Seeing no nearby opponents, Ammihud knelt to check on Jezreel.  The psalmist was unconscious, but seemed to be breathing.  Ammihud prayed.  His experiences in life had not prepared him for this kind of melee and his mind was awhirl.  He earnestly prayed that the younger man would be fine.

Barek tore his gaze from the idol, noticing Samuel grappling with one of the villagers on the cavern floor.  Barek strode over to them.  After only a moment’s hesitation, he reached out with his free hand and plucked Samuel’s attacker off him.  A swift stab with his sword dispatched the young man.  He let the body fall.

Samuel hustled to his feet, the excitement of the battle boiling his blood.  “What’d you do that for?” he queried Barek angrily.  “I had him!  I had him.”

Barek smiled and said, “It looked to me like you had each other.”

The big man’s friendly banter stood in contrast to the bloody, furious action they’d just seen.  Samuel sighed, a sudden weariness in his shoulders.  He returned Barek’s smile.  “That’s so.”

Barek put his free hand on the younger Israelite’s shoulder and said, “Well done, then.”  He cocked his head in Maaz’s direction.  “Have you seen the idol?”

Samuel turned to look where Barek was indicating.  The two men warily beheld the idol as they walked toward Caleb.

Caleb turned his attention turned to Maaz.  “Brother!” he called out to the older Israelite.  “Hold!”

Maaz continued his slow advance on the Heshonibites, apparently oblivious.

“MAAZ!” Caleb called out.

Stopping and then turning to him, Maaz said with irritation, “What?!”

“A moment, brother.  We have them in retreat, most of their fighting men dead.  Let us finish this in a coordinated attack.  Again, archers first.”  Caleb held up his bow, as if Maaz needed reminding what archers attacked with.

He considered Caleb’s advice briefly, then breathed, “Fine!”  He turned back to face the enemy, but did not advance.  The staff was a restless thing in his hands, turning slowly.

Ammihud turned Jezreel over and lightly slapped his hands.  “Awake, Jezreel.  Awaken.”

The psalmist’s eyes fluttered, then blinked once and snapped open.  Jezreel sat up much too suddenly and felt the pain the pot left behind.

“My head!” he groaned, running a hand over the back of his head.  “Is it still of a piece?”

Ammihud steadied Jezreel.

“You’ll be all right, I suppose,” he offered uncertainly.

“Is the battle over?”

“No,” Ammihud replied, looking around.  “There’s a lull.  The rest of the village is huddled as far away from us as they can get.  You have a moment to get your wits about you again.”

“Not too many moments,” a voice behind them said.

Jezreel and Ammihud turned their heads to see that Joseph had sat up.  He was in some sort of meditative pose.  His eyes closed and he was breathing deeply, marshaling some inner strength.  Or praying.  Maybe both.

“Heh,” Jezreel laughed, “for all your art, you fared no better against the pot-boy than I!”

Joseph opened one eye and regarded the psalmist solemnly.

“How’s a man to meditate with a strutting crow cawing at him?”

A sigh escaped Ammihud.  He failed to see how this was a time for levity, and was about to say so when Joseph stood.

“No matter.  The rest of this task remains undone.  May the LORD deliver us from any more pots until we are concluded.”

Jezreel would have nodded in agreement if his head weren’t already swimming.  Ammihud helped him stand, then retrieved his bow.

“Now you two,” he said.  “Let’s go see what the plan is.”

The three men strode purposefully to the middle of the cavern and regarded the unfinished idol.  Ammihud made a hand sign against evil.

It was Barek who spoke first.  “I count barely a dozen remaining.  They are cowed with fear.”

“Let’s have a couple volleys of arrows,” offered Caleb.  “Then the rest can move in to finish…”  His suggestion went unfinished as he stared at the surviving villagers.

Fewer than thirty paces away, each man saw something so horrible they would take the memory to their graves.  The Heshonibites were praying before their rough-hewn idol.   The two men who survived the initial melee wrested babies and children from the grip of distraught mothers and spilled their blood, offering their own children as sacrifices to Ashoreh.  They killed their children in a desperate gambit to save their own skins!

Fighting bile rising in his throat, Micah said in a low voice.  “Archers, then.  We kill these pigs.  These vile pigs.”

Caleb, Barek and Ammihud quietly nocked arrows while the others prepared their weapons.  When the three archers raised their bows and sighted targets, their aim was disrupted by a loud, unearthly screech from behind them.

“NO!  NOT MY CHILDREN!  YOU WILL SLAY NO MORE!”

As one, the men of Israel turned to see who it was that screamed at them.  The Asherah pole was no longer leaning against the pillar.  Instead, it was standing on two stout wooden legs!  With a cracking sound, two pairs of arms separated themselves from the body of the now-animate idol!  With a shrill shout that sounded like a thousand tortured souls, the immense head twisted and pulled itself up from the body.

Wooden lips issued a bone-chilling scream and vowed, “MEN OF ISRAEL!  YOU SHALL NOT LEAVE THIS PLACE ALIVE!!”

With that oath, the idol flung itself at the fighting men of God, wooden arms flailing, wooden claws slashing.

Out of reflex, Ammihud loosed his arrow at the onrushing idol, but his shot flew wide.  Guessing that the giant strides would gobble up the distance between them in seconds, he threw down his bow and reached for his dagger.  Though only God knew what good either weapon would do against such an adversary.

Indeed, with only a couple strides of it’s legs, the false god was upon Samuel.  The youth had the presence of mind to duck under the assault of wooden claws and they scratched the air harmlessly above his head.

A sulphurous odor assaulted Jezreel’s nostrils as he moved in to attack the creature’s flank.  His staff struck the formerly inert object in its side.  But instead of merely striking the idol, his staff stuck to it!  More amazingly, his wooden weapon seemed to melt into the wooden body of the idol.  As Jezreel watched in horror, his staff became an extra limb on the idol’s body!

Charging from the other side of the creature, Maaz did not see the result of Jezreel’s attack.  He only knew that an unholy foe was waging war on them and he must strike!  He gouged the wooden giant with the metal tip of his staff and it let loose an unearthly cry, turning on him.

With the bow and arrow in his hands, a thought came to Barek.  He ran to a nearby torch stuck in the wall of the cave.  Setting the bow and arrow down, he cut a strip off his cloak with his dagger and bound it around the tip of the arrow.  Setting it aflame in the torch, he nocked the arrow in his bow and turned to face the idol.  It was leering at him.

Standing apart from the melee, Joseph looked at the scene differently than the rest of his comrades.  Somehow he knew that this immense adversary was not really made of wood.  It’s true nature was spiritual evil.  A demonic host animated the idol.

So Joseph knelt to pray.

The idol turned and screamed at him, but Joseph did not waver.  He knew that prayer to the Almighty One was the best weapon to wield against such a foe.

Micah saw what Joseph was doing but it did not occur to him to battle with prayer.  He was too experienced a warrior to think of any solution that did not first test his sword.  Swinging above Samuel, his blow did little to parry the creature’s own savage strike, which sent Micah sprawling.

He stood and threw his sword into the ground, burying the point and standing it up.  Micah took the axe from the leather strap looped over his shoulder and readied it saying, “I guess chopping down a tree requires an AXE!”

The idol’s attention to Joseph indicated it saw him as the greatest threat.  It turned and reached for him.  Sweeping him off the floor in its claws, it shook Joseph like a child playing with a cloth doll.  Years of training in concentration paid much-needed fruit and Joseph continued to speak aloud his petition to the God of Israel.

The wooden claws closed about him like an iron vise, nearly cutting off his breath.

Joseph still prayed.

Now free from the idol’s onslaught, Samuel stood and attacked the creature’s flank.  His scimitar bit deeply in its wooden body, but the idol seemed oblivious to all else save crushing the life out of Joseph.

When the creature turned on Joseph, Jezreel had to move quickly to avoid being knocked over by what had just been his staff.  A grin spread across his face as he realized what Joseph was doing.  Summoning from memory a psalm of victory, Jezreel’s strong, clear voice competed with the screams of the idol.

Maaz saw Samuel’s blade slash a furrow across the body of the creature, but it had little apparent effect.  Undeterred, he ran forward to wield his staff again.  This time his blow landed just below the iron-shod tip of his staff.  The wooden part of his weapon stuck to his hellish adversary’s wooden frame.  Maaz tugged vainly at his staff and saw, to his horror, that his weapon was becoming part of the creature!

Ammihud realized that he held a more potent weapon than the puny dagger clutched in his hand.  He was aware of Joseph’s fervent prayers and Jezreel’s psalmistry.  His voice joined with his fellow Israelites.  Dropping the dagger, he lifted his hands and head in prayer.

The creature bellowed.

It raged and shook Joseph violently.

Joseph did not waver.  He petitioned the Almighty for deliverance from this evil, for the power to smite it, for the defeat of all the enemies of God.

The words of his prayer reached Caleb’s soul and he shook slightly as he was suddenly aware of something other than the terror of that creature.  The bow and arrow, which had slackened in his hands, was now an instrument of divine power.  He prayed aloud as he sighted in on the evil thing’s immense head.  His arrow flew true and buried itself in the side of the horrible hate-gripped visage.  It howled in pain and terror.

Ammihud wanted to shout to his brothers that prayer was needed to defeat this foe, but he dared not stop praying.  “Let the others inflict damage on the thing’s body,” he thought.  “I will strike at its dark soul.”

The creature flung Joseph to the ground with all its might.  He hit the floor, tumbled into a heap as if a discarded rag.  No more prayers issued from him and the creature turned on Samuel and Maaz.

Like branches whipped by a fierce wind, the wooden limbs flailed at Maaz, but he rolled underneath them.

Samuel took advantage of the opportunity to strike at the limbs that had once held Joseph in a crushing grip then flung him to the ground.  The scimitar struck the lower limb and severed it.  Once it fell to the ground, it became an inanimate stick.

Emboldened by this success, Samuel shouted, “Go for the arms!”.

Jezreel sang with all his might.  Faith swelled in his heart and he directed his powerful voice at the creature, wielding it as a spiritual weapon.

He succeeded in getting its attention.

Growling in rage, Micah only half-heard Samuel’s advice as he rushed up beside the youth and swung at the idol.  His axe struck one of the stout legs supporting the idol, driving the blade deep into the wood.

The creature tottered on its injured leg.  It reached down and swept Micah away, knocking him back a dozen paces.  Micah sat up, but the cavern swung around him and he felt blood running down his eyebrow and into his left eye.

The idol snatched up Maaz and held him in a crushing grip.  Rearing back, it threw Maaz across its body, with Micah the intended target.  The big man smashed into his brother-in-law, knocking him to the ground.  Maaz tumbled in the dirt, finally coming to rest, laying on his face.

Looking down, the idol reached down with its remaining right arm and yanked the axe from its leg.  The wooden handle of Micah’s weapon melded with the fingers of the hand and it became part of the giant limb.

Seeing all this over the end of his flaming arrow, Barek prayed, “Adonai, guide my hand.”

The flaming missile embedded itself in the middle of the idol.  Its flailing limb actually helped spread the flames and it was becoming engulfed in the fire.

Ammihud strode toward his demonic adversary, seeing by faith its true nature.  “BY THE LORD OF HOSTS, YOU MUST FALL!” he shouted.

The spreading flames instantly engulfed the entire apparition.

With a final spirit-rending scream, the idol fell to its knees and then face forward to the ground.  The thump of its impact resounded in the cavern.

Something black and viscuous seemed to drain from it into the earth, receding down a crack in the ground, and then was gone.  What remained was a brightly burning, roughly carved log with branches sticking out of it at odd angles.

Jezreel began a song of praise as the men of Israel moved to examine the thing.

“Is it dead?” Caleb asked.

“It was never really alive,” Barek answered, striding over to the burning remains.  “I would guess a demon animated it.”

“I concur,” Ammihud added.  He sheathed his dagger.  “I saw the thing in it.  It was an evil creature, sent from the Abyss.”

Samuel was bent over Joseph’s still form.

“I think he’s alive.”

“That is well,” Barek said.  “It was his quick thinking that saved us.  He was the first to pray.”

Ammihud nodded his agreement and joined Samuel in caring for Joseph.  They turned the man over and Ammihud poured some water from his flask on his face and into his mouth.

Joseph sputtered, spraying water.  His eyes came open and then closed again.  “Leave me alone,” he said in a small voice.

Near the far wall of the cavern, Maaz shouted, a cry of frustration.

Everyone but Joseph turned to look at him.  Jezreel even stopped singing.  Maaz knelt above the unmoving form of Micah, cradling his brother-in-law’s bloodied head on his lap.

Caleb spoke first, but low, “Is he…?”

Maaz’s gaze focused on Caleb.  “What?”

“Is he dead?  Did it kill Micah?”

Maaz was annoyed.  “What?  No.  Micah will be fine.  I’ve seen him hurt worse.”

Ammihud shrugged.  “Then what are you…?”

“THE VILLAGERS!”  Maaz yelled in frustration.  “The idolators have got away!”

Like a sudden blow, it hit them.  They were alone in the cavern!

“They ran while we were fighting the demon!”  Ammihud exclaimed.

“Maybe Mattan…” Jezreel said.  He turned on his heel and ran for the corridor that led out of the cavern.

Maaz snorted at the psalmist’s retreating figure.  “Mattan.  I doubt it.”

“He’s right.  Mattan is no warrior,” Samuel said.  “Chances are, they overran him and have fled to the horizon.”

Ammihud told him, “It doesn’t matter where they run.  They cannot hide from the Lord’s vengeance.”

“Yes,” Barek agreed.  “Besides, I have a pretty good idea where they’re headed.”

Caleb looked at him quizzically.

“Joppa.  There is a trail of guilt that leads from Heshonib to Joppa.”

Caleb thought about that, but said nothing.

Moments of silent consideration of the day’s events was interrupted by Micah, who moaned softly.  Maaz withdrew Micah’s “secret” wineskin from his sash and measured out a few drops into his mouth.

“You deserve this, warrior.”

Micah coughed on the liquid, then licked his lips.

“I deserve that and more.”

Maaz laughed, a short, forceful bark.  He sat Micah up and handed him the wineskin.  “Follow your own conscience,” he said.

Micah took a long draw on the skin and then rubbed his forehead.

“What hit me?”

“I did.”

“You?” he said slowly, looking up at his brother-in-law.  He sighed heavily.  “Not again.”

“It was not my fault,” Maaz protested.  “The… thing… the cursed idol flung me at you!”

Jezreel entered the cavern suddenly, half-carrying Mattan.  He guided the dazed trader to the rest of the group and unceremoniously dumped him near the burning idol.

“Guess who let the Heshonibites run over him in their haste to escape.”

“I need no guess,” Maaz said derisively.

“This is a nice fire,” Mattan said, sounding a little distracted.  “What is it that…?”  He recoiled from the fire and jumped to his feet.  He pointed to it with a fluttering finger.  “My masters!  Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes, it is an idol,” Ammihud said.  “Where would they get a log this size here in a cavern?”

“Ah,” Samuel said remorsefully.  “The LORD forgive me.  They said they needed wood for making braces to shore up the caves.  And fires against the cool of the cave.  I gave them the wood…”

“And I gave them the tools,” Mattan added.  “Ah me.  My masters, a thousand pardons.”  Looking again at the idol aflame, Mattan asked, “What… what did happen here?  The villagers surprised and overwhelmed me.”

“We’ll tell you about it on the way back to Aphek,” Barek said without facial or tonal expression.

“There will be plenty of time for explanations on that trip,” Jezreel said, his arms crossing his chest.  His gaze was directed at Mattan.

“Ah.”

“What do you mean?” Caleb queried.

Jezreel only cocked an eyebrow at Mattan.

“They took the horses,” Mattan said.  “A thousand pardons on my humble head.  I am bruised,” he said, pointing to his disheveled pate.  “I am bruised, to be sure.  I bear the marks of their vicious assault.”  Opening his cloak, Mattan was as surprised as anyone to find the side of his robe stained with blood.  “There…” he squeaked.  “You see?”

Jezreel reached out to steady him.  “We need to give thanks for our victory, pray that it will be completed, then return to Aphek to get a proper healer for our… warriors,” he said, giving Mattan a doubtful look.

“Yes,” Joseph said, sitting up.  “That is what we must do.”

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