Idol Smashers #10

wineskin

“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 Three – Aphek

 (A group of armed men appeared at the gates of Aphek, claiming to be blood relatives of the slain Heshonibites and demanding their right to vengeance.  The elders of Aphek offered Deborah’s men little in the way of protection, legal or otherwise, and a battle quickly ensued.   The avengers of blood retreated in the face of determined opposition, the men of Aphek drawn in when the avengers foolishly included them in the battle.)

Later, back at Mattan’s home, the healer finished her ministrations on Ammihud.  She had cleaned the freshly-stitched wound and was now putting away her instruments.  As she washed her hands with the water Mattan’s boy servant supplied, she pronounced, “This one cannot be moved.  His wound is not deep, but it is long.  He will tarry here and heal or bleed to death if he travels.”

There was no strength left in Ammihud to protest.  He didn’t know which was worse, the stark pain of being slashed or the lingering ache of the woman’s needle and thread.  Staying here was fine for now, if only they’d let him sleep.

From his pillow Mattan quickly offered, “I will stay with him, my masters!  Mattan will keep your friend safe!”  Given the carnage at the cave yesterday and again at the city gates today, the merchant had evidently had his fill of violence.  This job had fully tested his stomach’s resistance to gore as well as his loyalty to Deborah.

“Will the elders allow him to stay, given the trouble we’ve caused them?” Joseph inquired evenly.  His own heart was getting weighed down by the ephahs of blood spilt.

Mattan did not need long to consider his answer.  “Most of the men of Aphek are loyal Israelites,” he directed at Maaz, not Joseph.  Then he added, a bit more quietly, “A few coins will ease the concerns of the few who are less loyal.”

Casting a dark look at Mattan, Maaz’s impatience surged again.  “Then we waste daylight.  Mattan has our mounts.  Let us away!”

Barek crossed the room to pat Ammihud’s shoulder, but the small man was already asleep.  He left silently and the others followed him out the back door and into the courtyard/stable.

Day Three – Joppa

Travel and trade between Israelite and Philistine cities was not uncommon, but a group of armed men thundering down the road would attract attention in any circumstance.  Joseph urged a cautious pace of travel and an intemperate Maaz only agreed with him after he cited the fact that seven was a good number for a stealthy incursion but wholly inadequate for laying siege to a walled city.

“Yes,” Caleb had agreed.  “We need a reason to go into the city, he added, “for casual visitors and travelers without a particular purpose will be immediately suspected as spies.”

“We need to concoct some kind of story that will explain our presence in Joppa,” Micah announced.  When Maaz gave him a challenging look and opened his mouth, Micah continued, “I believe it is called a ‘cover story’.”  It was not exactly what he said, but the way he said it, that stifled any rebuttal from Maaz.

The party traveled in silence for a few paces, considering what fiction might cover their sudden appearance at the gates of the city.  It would take an elaborate fiction indeed to cover the appearance of six fighting men and a woman.

Ruth spoke first.  “I would say…” she started, weighing her words, “that some of you could ride in as slavers and the rest as slaves.  There’s a brisk trade in slaves on the docks of Joppa.”

Micah’s eyes narrowed as he turned to Ruth, “And just how would you know what happens in Joppa?”

Her chin jutted out defiantly as Ruth answered, “I’ve been there before, of course.”

Maaz snorted.  “Yet another reason not to trust this one.”

But Joseph waved him off, saying, “Hold on now.  If none of the rest of us have been in the city, a guide would be a valuable asset.”  Drawing his horse back to walk next to her, Joseph asked Ruth, “Tell me directly.  Can you guide us around Joppa?”

“Directly?” she mimicked.  “I tell you truthfully, I have spent several days in Joppa.  In spite of their suspicious natures, Joppans are easily… parted from their money.”

“I do not care for this one’s attitude,” Maaz said flatly.  He glared over his shoulder at Ruth.

“Nor do I,” agreed Joseph.  “But if she has seen the city, then both Ruth and her attitude may yet serve the LORD.”  Seeing himself in her eyes, Joseph became suddenly aware that he’d been staring at Ruth.  She was beautiful.  Too beautiful for him to behold for long.

For her part, Ruth was aware of the discomfiture she caused Joseph.  She understood it as a tool she would use to bend his will and one day make her escape from these men and their divine mission.  Ruth knew the best way to defend her freedom was to keep on the move.  It was also her passion.  An arranged marriage drove her from her father’s house to a life on the road, but it was her passion for travel, to see the world, to experience it firsthand, that kept her on the road.

“What would you suggest?”

Barek’s voice drew Ruth out of her reverie.

“What?” she replied.

“What would you suggest we do?” Barek patiently repeated.

Ruth turned to look at him.  She regarded the giant only for a heartbeat and replied.  “A slaver.  One or two of you should pose as slavers who bought our servitude for debts.  It’s a common enough occurrence.”

“I will be no slave,” Maaz muttered.  “Nor will I pretend to be one.”

Smiling quietly, Ruth decided to press her luck.  “No one would believe you to be a slaver, noble man of Israel, so a slave you must be.  But Joseph here, he could pass himself off as a slaver.  And I shall pose as his beautiful wife?  A pretty face distracts the guard’s eye, don’t you think, Joseph?”  Ruth could play a coquette when the occasion warranted.

Joseph’s face reddened.  “No…” he objected.  “That role is not for me.  Perhaps… Jezreel.”

The psalmist was startled by this and nearly dropped his lyre.  “What?”  Jezreel’s face took on a coloring similar to Joseph’s.  “No, I could not…”

“I will play at being your husband,” Micah declared.  “That way I can keep my eye on you, girl.”

That was settled immediately.  No one challenged Micah for a role they didn’t want anyway.

“This is stupid,” Maaz said in a surly tone.  “Who’s going to believe you two are leading a set of armed slaves into the city?  Even Philistines aren’t that dense.”

“Your weapons and armor will be stowed in the wagon,” Ruth said.  She met Maaz’s eye when he turned suddenly to glare at her.  “You are right, of course.  You should look like road-weary and helpless slaves.”

The conversation had to be ended abruptly as another party appeared ahead of them on the road.  There had been little traffic that day, but as they neared the city it would naturally increase.  A caravan was apparently leaving Joppa.  After the travelers passed by them, the company fell into the conversation again.

“I’ve been thinking about it, and I think she’s onto something,” Caleb pronounced.

Jezreel nodded his agreement, relieved to have Micah take the role of Ruth’s husband.  “As the proverb says, ‘Leave duplicity to those who practice it’.”

“It is too much to bear,” Maaz said resignedly.  “But if the rest of you agree with this mad plan, I ask only that I be bound to my goad and then loosely.  I want my weapon in hand when trouble starts.”

“Done rightly, this duplicity should steer us clear of trouble,” Ruth averred.

“We are agreed, then?” Joseph asked, his eyes searching all the members of the company.  Only Maaz did not consent.  “It is decided then.”

“Do we want to enter the city this late in the day?” Barek asked.  “I do not fancy being in Joppa after dark.”

“Joppa is but a little ways off,” Ruth said, surveying their surroundings.  “Just ahead and to the right is a gully that is nearly invisible from the road.  We can stop their to prepare our disguise or spend the night.”

“How…?” Micah began to ask, then stoppered the question behind his lips.  He’d decided the less he knew about Ruth and her travels the less he was discomfited by her.

“It is enough that I must endure this humiliation; must I also spend the entire night dreading it?” Maaz asked.  “No.  I will accept no more delays.  We have the tabernacle to consider.”

“Hmmm,” Ruth said, considering their options.  “Arriving late in the day will seem more… natural than showing up at first light.  And the gate guardians will be wearied by their day’s work, less sharp of eye, more impatient.”

“That seems reasonable,” Jezreel said, agreeing with Ruth.

“Then let us depart the road for a bit,” she said, goading her mount into a trot with her heels.  She passed Maaz, then veered off the dirt-packed road, angling off the right side.

 

Moments later they returned to the thoroughfare, with most of the horses tethered in the gully and the “slaves’” weapons and armor concealed under their goods in the wagon.  Everyone but Micah and Ruth were bound with a rope.  At his urging, Maaz had been bound with his staff across his shoulders, his hands tied to it.  The position was uncomfortable, but a fair trade for having his weapon at hand.  Their robes had been dirtied, their hair and beards disheveled.

Before she mounted her horse, Ruth instructed the “slaves” tied to the back of the cart.  “Now remember.  Look no one in the eye.  Endure all insult.  You’ve just been marched miles with no food and little water.  You’ve been mistreated and have no hope.  Act your parts as Micah and I act ours.”

Maaz rolled his eyes and grunted.  He had never seen the inside of a hated Philistine city and had only seen Philistines shortly before he killed them.  The herdsman and warrior was not about to accept too many limits to his right to defend himself.

It was about the level of cooperation Ruth had expected from Maaz.  She inspected the group of faux slaves.  The five men, even the giant Balak, had a haggard look.  Perhaps this might work.

Micah helped Ruth back atop her horse.

“The LORD forgive us this deception.  Adonai give us victory!” Joseph prayed.

All the men uttered prayers and Micah mounted his own horse.  “Let’s be at it, then” he said quietly and urged his mount forward.  Taking the lead of the horse pulling the cart, he watched as Ruth took a comb from her sack and worked it repeatedly through her long, lustrous hair.

She had scarcely completed her ministrations and rebraided her hair when Joppa appeared below them.  Beyond the large walled city lay the blue waters of the Great Sea.  Even now the wind carried the scents of the ocean up to them.  Ships crawled along the water’s surface, staying in sight of the shore.  The heathen Philistines knew their sailing.  Joppa was a busy port.

At their feet, the road snaked down the hillside to the North Gate of the city.

“I won’t have to pretend to be thirsty, my throat is bone dry,” Caleb complained.

 

The company approached the gate alone.  Normally, this late in the afternoon, only a few would arrive and fewer would leave.  Most prefer the security of the city walls to the uncertainties of the wilderness outside them.  Ruth had expected the gate’s guardians to be made indolent in the heat of the day and this close to the closing of the gates.  Instead, the whole squad of guards rose to meet them.  Three advanced to meet the company in the road.  Three remained near the gate, spears in hand.  To her eyes, they seem to be at a heightened state of alert.

“What’s your business here?” one of the guards demanded of Micah.  He spoke in Philistine and the tongue was foreign to Micah’s ear.

“We bring slaves to sell,” Ruth replied.  She’d picked up a bit of the language on her visit to the city.  It was not her place to speak, being only a woman, but she didn’t want the guard to be irritated by Micah’s lack of response.

“Israelite?” the guard said in Hebrew.

“Yes,” Micah replied, casting a big smile, pretending to be delighted to hear his language on the tongue of the Philistine.

“We are here to sell slaves.  We bought them from a debtor’s prison.”

The guard grunted.  “You Israelites.  You sell your mothers for bronze.”

Though Maaz was several paces behind him, Micah practically felt his brother-in-law stiffen with rage.  He kept his face downcast.

“We cannot sell them in Israel, so we come here,” Ruth said in the Philistine’s own tongue.

He scowled at her.  “You talk too much.”  He looked at one of his companions, then tipped his head toward the cart.  The man knew from constant repetition what this simple gesture meant, and he walked around to the back of the cart.  Jostling the “slaves” out of his way, he lifted the tarp and looked under the cart.

“You’ve got provisions for a long trip,” he said, eyeing the contents.

“We have a long way to go back,” Ruth offered.

The leader of the guards addressed Micah in Hebrew, “How long do you plan to be here?”

“Overnight,” Micah said.  “We will sell them in the morning and then leave.”

The third guard regarded Ruth with an obviously lecherous interest.  She returned his gaze for a brief moment, then dropped her eyes demurely.

At a signal from Ruth, Micah took from his belt the purse they’d prepared.  He held that out to the leader of the guards.  The purse was accepted, and then the lead guard looked back to his commander who lounged in the shade of a lean-to at the base of the wall.  He conferred with a civilian sitting next to him, then indicated his decision with an upraised thumb.

Turning back, the guard said to Micah, “Leave at this gate tomorrow morning.  Do you understand?”

Micah appeared to be entirely cowed and nodded without a word.

The guard shook his head and muttered, “Former slaves sellin’ slaves.”  He regarded Micah intently, looking for any sign of provocation.  Seeing none, he bore a look of disappointment and then stepped aside.  When he growled something in the Philistine tongue, the third guard was started and tore his gaze away from Ruth.  He stepped off the road, too.

Micah and Ruth urged the horses forward.

The spearmen parted for them to pass, but only barely.  One of them flashed the butt end of the spear and nearly succeeded in tripping Balek.  They laughed at the big man’s apparent clumsiness and swore at him in their tongue.

A few steps later, the party was inside Joppa.

 

“I don’t like the way they’re looking at us,” Maaz said in a voice that was, for him, a whisper.

“They do seem a little more edgy than when I was here last,” Ruth said, looking discreetly around her.  “But these people are more suspicious than most.  They need to be, for this city is full of cutthroats and is run by cutthroats.”

“I don’t like depending on this woman,” Maaz complained.

“Aha!” Micah cried, and for a moment, Maaz thought his brother-in-law might be agreeing with him.  Instead, the reason for Micah’s satisfied cry became apparent as he lead the party over to a vintner’s tent at the edge of the market street.

When Maaz started to utter a warning to Micah, Caleb silenced him by turning the larger man’s goad and thereby his head.  “We’re supposed to be slaves, y’know,” Caleb breathed.

Maaz grunted his assent but turned back to watch Micah anyway.  Micah was too weak-willed where drink was concerned; this encounter looked dangerous to Maaz.

Respectfully picking up a wineskin, Micah tried to gauge the vintage by the condition of the skin.  The vintner eyed him suspiciously and said something in the Philistine tongue.

But Micah only nodded.  He held up two of the Philistine silver coins they had taken among loot.

The vintner looked offended.

Wordlessly, Micah placed the two coins and added four more, one at a time.  The vintner finally nodded.  But when he reached out for the coins, Micah put his hand over them.

The vintner looked confused and then cross.  Micah drew in the dirt between them with the toe of his sandal.  He’d scratched the figure they’d found on the bottom of the terraphim at Heshonib.

The vintner regarded him with a newly suspicious look.  Micah added six more coins and a single word, spoken in Egyptian: “Where?”

Whether the money was speaking a universal language or the vintner possessed some Egyptian of his own, he seemed to understand Micah’s question well enough.  He pointed to his left and held up six fingers.

Micah looked around.  The six fingers certainly didn’t mean six paces, for there was no sign of the dancing figure anywhere in sight.  He may have meant six stalls or six doors down.  They’d have to find out as they walked that way.

When Micah turned back, the coins had already disappeared.  He gave the vintner a little bow and then kicked dirty over the drawing Micah had made.  Taking up the wineskin, he turned back to the party.

The first face he saw was Maaz’s and it bore a look of disapproval.  Micah knew why.  He shrugged.  “You didn’t want to spend the afternoon wandering around, did you?”  When Maaz did not return his smile, Micah shrugged again and headed back to the front of their column where Ruth awaited him, the picture of a patient wife.

Pulling the plug on the wineskin, Micah handed it up to Ruth, who still rode her horse.  She took it gratefully, parched from the dust of the road and the heat of the afternoon sun.  She took an unladylike long pull of the wine within.

“Is it any good?” Micah inquired.  “I wouldn’t trust these heathen to make a decent wine or even a beer worth drinking.”

Ruth shrugged her shoulders, “It’s wet.”

Micah laughed and took the wineskin from her.  Taking a long pull, he agreed with her opinion.  He’d paid a good deal for wine and simple information, so he carefully stowed it in the wagon, hoping to avoid any more cross looks from his brother-in-law.   Taking the reins of his mount and the donkey pulling the wagon, Micah lead the company in the direction indicated by the vintner.  They had passed five stalls when they edged out of the tented marketplace and into a section of respectable shops.  Above the door of the first shop on their right was a wooden sign with the dancing man carved into it.  Micah could not read the Philistine script across the top of the sign.  This did not surprise him, for there were few Hebrew words he could make out.  There was simply too much to do in life to bother with frappery like letters.

Lowering his voice to speak to the company, Micah said, “Ruth and I will go inside.  You five stay out here and keep a good watch.”  All five looked like they’d already had all they wanted of the life of a slave, but made no complaint.

Micah helped Ruth down and lead her into the shop.

Several aromas greeted them.  Hot metal, burning wood, stone dust, and wood shavings all hung in the air, undercurrents to a layer of incense burning as an offering to a large teraphim that took up all of the space in one corner.  The shop was probably a half-dozen paces long and wide.  It was lined with shelves and the shelves adorned with household gods of various kinds.  This idolater was a craftsman in varied materials and didn’t seem to care which gods he crafted.  Micah and Ruth examined a few of the idols, turning them over.  Each showed the other that the mark of the dancing man was underneath every idol they turned over.

The curtains at the opposite side of the room parted and a short, stout, dark-colored man entered.  He executed a broad, practiced smile and he made a bow in the Philistine fashion.  He greeted them with a string of Philistine words.  When he saw Micah’s confused expression, he stopped and regarded them with curiosity.

“We are Israelites from Tanaach,” Micah said in Hebrew.  “We don’t speak your tongue.”

The little man nodded, and holding up his hands for a moment, started over – this time in Hebrew. “Greetings, friends!  Welcome to the shop of Kanab, finest maker of teraphim in all of Joppa!  What gods do you serve and how may I help you serve them?”

Anger flared briefly in Micah.  This man knew their language, but apparently nothing about their faith.  The one true god was not represented in this shop, nor could He be.  Setting aside an angry retort, Micah  turned his attention to the man himself.  To Micah’s eyes he seemed rather young to be endowed with such skill and reputation.  But he was eager to help – or at least to make a sale.

Thinking quickly, Micah drew on his admittedly limited knowledge of idols.  “We have been told that you, Kanab, are most gifted by the gods.  We would like to… pay you… to make an Asherah pole for us.  A big one.  To put on a high place near our home.”

“Ah,” the little man began, searching for words.  “You are mistake.  I am not Kanab, but his brother Chenith.  Kanab is away and has left me to watch the shop.”

Micah stole a glance at Ruth.  She made a circular motion with her hand, encouraging him to keep the conversation going.

“That is too bad,” Micah said.  “When will… Kanab return?”

“No worry,” Chenith said, patting Micah on the shoulder.  “Kanab leave me in charge.  I show you little Ashorehs, you tell me which you like.  Kanab make big.”

When Micah looked at Ruth, she nodded discreetly.  Evidently she thought it best to keep the little man talking.  Well, perhaps this Kanab would show up while they were striking a deal.

Micah merely nodded, eager to avoid saying the wrong thing.  He let Chenith lead him from one idol to another.  They all looked alike to him, but Micah made a display of showing them to Ruth.  She disapproved of each one, pointing out something she’d prefer to be different.

After several minutes of this, Chenith’s stores of patience and Hebrew were beginning to run low.

Ruth turned the latest idol over and made a show of discovering the mark on the bottom.  “The dancing man,” she said, showing it to Micah.  “This is the man we are looking for.  He crafted the teraphim in our friend’s house.”

“Friend?” Chenith asked, sensing an opening.  “Who is this friend and where does he live?” he inquired eagerly.

“Heshonib” Micah blurted out.  When he saw the look on Ruth’s face he immediately wished he could take it back.  Apparently telling the truth was not always a good strategy.

For his part, Chenith looked disappointed.  “Heshonib?  Heshonib.  This place I do not hear of.”

Before Chenith could add another word, the door to the street flew open and someone called out Chenith’s name and, in an angry tone, asked what must have been a question, couched in the heathen tongue.

“Ah.  Kanab,” Chenith said to Micah and Ruth.  He gestured to the man who stepped into the shop and shut the door.  Noticing Chenith first, the man’s eyes narrowed a bit as he turned to take in Micah and Ruth with a practiced eye.  Micah felt surely that his gaze penetrated their feeble disguise.

“Chenith,” the man said, then more Philistine rolled off his tongue.

Chenith responded in kind, his tone of voice eager.  Kanab nodded as his brother described the conversation to date, his eyes never leaving the couple. When Chenith said the name “Heshonib” in the midst of some guttural rumblings, Kanab’s eyes narrowed further.  Then a thought passed and his countenance softened considerably.  With an annoyed wave, Kanab dismissed Chenith.  The younger man sighed loudly and disappeared behind the curtain, going into the back room.

Kanab’s smile was clearly disingenuous, as wary and off-putting as a snake’s grin. “So,” he began in halting Hebrew, “You have friends in Heshonib, do you?  Been there, have you?  Recently?”

Before Micah could answer, Kanab thrust another question at him.” Who do you know there?”

Ruth’s eyes were on Kanab and Micah looked for some assistance.  A plain man and a man of God, lying did not come naturally to him.

“Husband,” she said to Micah, “Shall I go to the wagon and fetch the idols of our…friends?  To show Kanab what happened to his handiwork?”

“Ah..” was all Micah could blurt out, glancing from Kanab to Ruth and back again.

“I’ll bring them all in, shall I?” she said sweetly.

Micah was still uncertain of what her tone implied, but nodded and said, “Sure,” smiling at her.  Ruth bowed and regarded Kanab with a fetching smile.  She left the room, returning to the street.

When the door closed after her, Micah turned back to Kanab.  The idol-maker’s eyes had apparently never left him.  “I don’t believe Chenith told me your name,” Kanab said as he moved closer to Micah.  His words were deferential, but his tone dripped menace somehow.

“Ah… I am… Micah,” the Israelite blurted out, then chastised himself inwardly for using his own name.

“Micah,” Kanab repeated.  “Such a typical Israelite name.  So many of you Micahs aren’t there?”  Without allowing Micah a moment to answer his rhetorical question, Kanab pressed on verbally and stepped closer.  “And the name of your friend in Heshonib?”

“Shunnam,” Micah blurted.  It was the first name that came to mind.

“Shunnam,” Kanab repeated.  “I know no such man.  Heshonib is such a small village.  I know all persons in Heshonib!”

With a throaty cry, Kanab produced a curved dagger from his sash and slashed at Micah!  The blade cut through Micah’s cloak easily enough, but was turned by leather cuirass he wore beneath it.

Micah grabbed Kanab’s knife hand as the arc of his slash passed, and the two men grappled momentarily over the weapon.  They were about equal in size, but Micah possessed the greater strength and girth.  On a sudden inspiration, he swung Kanab around, and pushed him toward the door.

“What are you doing?” Micah demanded.  “Are you mad?”

“Not so mad as to believe you know anyone in Heshonib, Israelite dog!” Kanab spat the Hebrew words out and them added a string of Philistine words, probably curses.  “You have come here seeking information, but you shall only find death!”

Kanab threw himself at Micah.  In mid-stride, the blade switched hands as the idol-maker hoped to catch Micah off-guard.  But Micah knew a treacherous knife-fighter when he saw one, and he grabbed for Kanab’s left wrist.  This only succeeded in deflecting Kanab’s blow, and he stepped away again.

“You made those idols in Heshonib,” Micah said flatly.  “Why?  What happened there?  Who are those people?”

Switching the blade back to his right hand Kanab sneered.  “May you die in ignorance.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Micah said in a calm that belied his racing heart, “Tell me what I want to know, and I may persuade the man behind you to spare your miserable life.”

Kanab’s eyes narrowed to slits as he held the knife point out to Micah.  “I am not so easily deceived,” he muttered.

The blow from Maaz’s ox-goad knocked the idolater across the room, smashing into a shelf of small teraphim, sending them flying in all directions.  Kanab slid down the wall, unconscious before he settled onto the floor.

Maaz grunted at the inert form of the idol-maker.  “I hope I didn’t hit him too hard,” he said.

Ruth was through the door right behind Maaz, her own dagger drawn.  When she saw that Kanab was already out of the fight, she shut the door behind her.

“You made enough noise to bring the whole city down upon us,” she said, chastising Maaz.  Crossing to Micah, she sheathed her dagger and then reached out to finger the slash in his cloak.

“Are you all right?” she asked, genuine concern touching her voice with gentleness.

It was as if Micah had not heard her question.  “What just happened here?”

“When Kanab arrived, Chenith told him we had friends in Heshoib.  Kanab was immediately suspicious.  He sent Chenith out, telling him to summon the ‘Black Cat,’ whoever that is,” she hurriedly explained.

“Well… the sneak,” Micah said disgustedly, eyeing Kanab’s crumpled form.

“He was trying to detain you until help arrived.  It’s a good thing he took no notice of me.  I brought Maaz in to help you, but I should’ve known the big lug would make a racket.”

“Listen here, woman…” Maaz started, but Ruth silenced him with a gesture.  “We must get out of here,” she said.  “This Black Cat will probably be more trouble that we can handle and certainly more attention than we can afford!”

Micah held up his open-palmed hands and said, “She is right, brother.  We must get out of this place soon.”  He slapped his hands together and said, “Wait here a moment!”  Over Maaz’s protest, Micah hustled out of the shop and moved out of sight as he moved away from the open door.

Maaz turned back to Ruth.  “You presume too much, girl.  You may have these others bewitched, but your charms do not hide your black heart from me.”

Laughing, Ruth put her hands on her hips and a defiant smirk on her lips.  “You are too wise for me,” she said mockingly.

The butt of the ox-goad came down hard on the floor.  “I do not yet know your tale, but what I do know reeks of a child-woman who has not learned her place!”

Ruth shook her head.  If only she had a shekel for ever time a man told her that.

Micah burst back into the room before the exchange could go any further.  Without a word, he sped around the two of them and went to Kanab.  He unstopped the wineskin and turning Kanab over, poured away the blood on the man’s right temple.  Micah poured a bit of the wine down the Philistine’s throat.  Kanab coughed a bit, but did not otherwise stir.  Pouring the remainder on Kanab’s hands and feet, Micah dropped the wineskin on the dirt floor and stood.

Making a hurried gesture to Maaz, he said, “Brother, carry him out the back door.  Ruth, guide Maaz to the closest inn.  If anyone asks, tell him Kanab is drunk.  We will follow you at a distance.  Get a private room if you can, or the common room for all of us.”

For a moment, both Maaz and Ruth stood there in silence, looking a Micah, then one another.  It was stunning that Micah had concocted this device on his own – and so quickly!

“Why are you just standing there?!” Micah demanded.  He hurried to them and pulled Maaz toward Kanab.  “Go, go!”

Maaz glared at Ruth.  “You have corrupted him.”

Thrusting his goad at Micah to hold, Maaz picked up Kanab, who now reeked of wine, and threw Kanab’s right arm over his shoulder.  Holding the slight and limp man upright with his left arm, Maaz took his goad back from Micah.  Striding toward the curtained exit, he paused only long enough to glance over his shoulder and say, “Come on then, woman.  Show me to an inn.”

Smiling at Micah, Ruth turned and sprinted through the curtain, Maaz dragging Kanab, close behind her.

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