“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.
(Previously in “Idol Smashers:” Judge Deborah’s operatives were rescued from imprisonment in the Philistine city of Joppa and race to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle, the meeting-place with God was erected.)
Day Seven – Shiloh
The remainder of the journey went quickly enough, but when they arrived, the sun hung low in the sky. The Sabbath was nearly over. A sliver of doubt lodged in Caleb’s resolve. Had they misunderstood the portents? Had they misinterpreted the signs? Had the Philistines lied or changed their plans?
They were met on the road by the captain of the guard, known to Jethro as Gershon. He looked wearied.
“The day is nearly closed,” Gershon said. The last day had apparently allowed him no rest and he was ready for the threat to be over. “We’ve seen no Moabites, no cart as was reported to us.” He gestured to the tailings of worshipers who were lined up on the road to the tabernacle hill. At the close of the Sabbath, the evening sacrifices were beginning and the last of the day’s worshipers served. All around the hillside, encampments were set up as the worshipers planned to spend the night before journeying home at dawn. The familiar smells of the sacrifices burning on the altar offered some reassurance, a smell of normalcy.
In all, it was a scene that belied their panicked escape from Joppa and hurried journey here. Ammihud looked around anxiously, concerned that all may have been for naught.
“Has there been no trouble at all, none coming to the tent that look suspicious?” Maaz asked Gershon.
“None,” came the wearied reply. “It has been a Sabbath as all others.”
Members of the group reluctantly dismounted. They looked at one another with puzzlement. Perhaps their concern had been misplaced. Could the enemy have been alerted somehow that their plans had been betrayed?
“I don’t…” Micah started to say but was interrupted by a disturbance in the line of worshipers near the tabernacle. A donkey attached to a small wagon was braying loudly. It made hoarse cries, as if in pain. A man tried vainly to calm the animal, but somehow it broke free of its tack and began to jump and kick. All around, people hurried to either get out of its way or help corral it. The path was suddenly thick with people shouting and some cursing. A fistfight broke out, and then others were shouting angrily at one another. The ruckus seemed to spread like a sudden fire.
Gershon called to his men, “Come! Let us put an end to this! Call out the guard!” He and the four tabernacle guardsmen ran from the adventurers and toward the growing melee.
“This must be the distraction they planned!” Samuel said excitedly, remounting and drawing the short sword he’d been given by Deborah.
A horn sounded. Gershon had blown on it as he ran toward the sudden riot.
“Look! The guards and Levites are pouring out of their tents!” Ruth yelled, pointing to the structures next to the Tabernacle. In her excitement, she forgot to use her “man voice.”
Maaz squinted, following her gaze. “Guards. Guards? They are not coming from within the tents, but from behind it!” he shouted. “There is the enemy!”
“We ride!” Micah ordered. He scrambled back on his horse and the rest quickly followed suit. Spurring their mounts on, they left the road and skirted the melee, riding around the riot to the opposite side of the Tent of Meeting. There they saw men dressed like tabernacle guardians slashing at the outer curtain of the tabernacle with curved swords in one hand and attempting to set it ablaze with torches in the other hand!
Caleb dismounted on the run as he distrusted his skill to shoot effectively from horseback. Nocking an arrow, he prepared to fire.
At a corner of the tabernacle one of the false guardians set his torch at the bottom of one of the posts supporting the rods from which hung the curtains that boundaried the court of the Tent of Meeting. Clearly, he hoped to set it on fire.
But Samuel attacked the nearest enemy. From his mounted position he held the advantage. The sword flashed true, striking the man’s left arm and the torch he carried. The torch went flying and the man cried out as blood blossomed from the wound Samuel inflicted.
One of the would-be saboteurs swerved to go around to the north side of the tabernacle, out of sight from the oncoming horsemen who had suddenly appeared. Jezreel rode north following the man, but he did not dismount. Instead, to inspire and assist his mates, he raised himself as much as possible on the horse’s back and started to sing a psalm of victory. Exerting himself to be heard about the din of the distraction and the battle, the psalmist’s voice nevertheless rang clear.
The north side of the tabernacle was opposite the opening at the other end of the rectangle. There other treacherous enemies were already wielding their torches to set the curtain on fire.
Having had to resort to thievery on more than one occasion, Ruth preferred to meet an opponent from behind, or at least sideways. Head-on combat was for persons more powerful and experienced than her. Therefore, she rode to the west side of the tent to attack the enemies that she had seen turn to the north side of the sacred Tent.
Riding around to the west side of the Tent, Ruth surprised a pair of enemy combatants who were about to slash holes in the curtain of the Tabernacle. They looked up at her, eyes wide with maniacal intent. “HOLD!” she cried out in her most commanding voice. The man closest to her advanced, holding sword and torch out before him. His companion returned his attention to the curtain and used his torch to set it afire!
“How I wish I had a man’s voice!” Ruth muttered as she drew the sickle from her belt. She pointed her horse at the oncoming attacker and slipped off the side of the animal opposite her opponent. She let the beast come between them briefly, then struck out with the sickle as soon as the horse had passed her. The sickle blow struck the distracted man on his helmeted head. The blade did him no harm, but the impact stunned him a bit. Ruth gave no quarter and followed her slash with a kick Joseph had taught her; he’d called it a “roundhouse.” Her heel caught him in the neck and temporarily took his wind. The man staggered backward and dropped his torch to clutch at his throat.
While he recovered from her kick to his throat, Ruth had her best chance to vanquish her opponent. She slashed hurriedly at him with her sickle just as soon as both her feet were under her. The edge of her weapon caught his right forearm with sufficient force to create a deep and long wound, flinging his arm and his weapon away. Out the corner of her eye, Ruth saw the other man go through the curtain and set it afire from within. She stepped around her opponent to run after the other man, the one who was, for the moment, the greater threat to the Tabernacle.
Barek, Maaz and Micah spurred their mounts and rode around to confront the biggest group of the enemy, saboteurs in disguise who flowed between the barracks. They were quick to put the false guards on the defensive. Maaz rode straight at an enemy and the iron tip of the goad flashed, striking the enemy’s left hand. A shout of surprise escaped the man’s lips as the torch he’d held there flew away from him.
Barek dipped low in his saddle to swing the two-handed axe with his powerful right hand only. The blade turned a bit upon impact, but the handle still hit solidly on a man’s leg, staggering him. His momentum carried him into Balek’s horse’s flank and the false guard bounced off the large animal and was thrown to the ground.
Riding around the melee involving his brothers, Micah achieved the north end of the tabernacle in time to see an enemy slash a hole in the curtain from the rod to the ground. He disappeared through the slit, entering the sacred space inside. Micah drew the horse in to a sudden stop and quickly dismounted, drawing his sword. Without regard for his own safety, Micah stepped through the hole in the curtain created by his enemy, who was sprinting south, presumably to go to the open end of the Tent of Meeting. Every footfall of this pagan infuriated Micah more and he ran after the man. Upon reaching the corner, the man hesitated enough to turn. That was the instant Micah overtook him. Bull-rushing his hated enemy, Micah eschewed the weapon in his hand and slammed bodily into the man, driving him into the ground and knocking the air out of him.
Scarcely aware that he held a sword, not a club in his hand, Micah instinctively sought to bash his opponent’s head in with it, but the short stroke had too little power or leverage behind it, and the blow merely glanced off the man’s helmet, the blade burying angling off to bury itself in the turf. For his part, the would-be destroyer of the Tabernacle pushed and turned to try to get Micah off him, to no avail. Micah had an advantage of strength and mass to match his fury and he used it to keep his opponent pinned.
Letting go of his sword, Micah grabbed both sides of his opponent’s head with his hands and slammed it into the ground. He did this repeatedly until his enemy was dazed. When he felt his adversary’s strength slacken just a bit, Micah jerked the man’s head around suddenly until he heard his enemy’s neck snap. It was a sickening noise, but Maaz had it heard before; when his brother-in-law had done something similar to dispatch a dying animal.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, Micah shambled to his feet and tugged his sword from the earth. He carefully put the point underneath the layers of the prone man’s armor, just over his heart, and leaned on it to thrust it into the man’s chest. Every remaining sign of life pooled with the blood collecting under the body.
Micah sighed as he pulled his sword from the body of his enemy. He looked around and saw Ulla standing not too far off.
“That was disgusting,” the high priest commented, using both hands to hold up what was left of his ephod.
Letting out a long breath Micah replied, “There’s gratitude.”
Having wounded his opponent, Samuel chose to dismount and swung at him again. This time, his momentum took him a bit too far away and the slash missed. Though wounded, the man was a soldier and he kept his wits about him enough to lunge and strike at Samuel. His aim was better than Samuel’s but the blow glanced off Samuel’s shield.
Caleb chose as his target an enemy who ran forward to flank Samuel. His bow ready, Caleb let the arrow fly. It flew true, an unseen hand directing its flight. The arrow suddenly appeared in the middle of the running man’s chest. He broke stride and fell forward, bowling over his mate who had been entirely occupied with Samuel. The young fighter snapped off a kind of salute to Caleb in thanks for his timely assistance. Samuel delivered a coup de grace, nearly separated the man’s head from his body.
Ammihud huffed as Caleb had shot the very man he’d intended to shoot. Switching targets, his arrow also found its mark in the right shoulder another opponent. The man cried out and dropped his sword. Ammihud dropped his bow and drew a knife from his belt. He intended to finish the man he’d shot, but as he stabbed at him, the enemy managed to roll away and Ammihud’s blade only grazed his right side.
Sensing the battle going the way of his Israelite companions, Jezreel sang more loudly and passionately. He sang to the LORD, but fervently hoped the words of his psalm were inspiring his countrymen.
For his part, Caleb nocked another arrow and cautiously moved from the melee which Samuel and Ammihud seemed to have in hand. His bowstring as taut as his nerves, he moved cautiously toward the south end of the Tabernacle. There he saw men engaged in deadly battle, swinging weapons and limbs, grappling, fighting to attack or defend Israel’s most sacred object. From within, he heard a cry of “NO!” that sounded like Ulla’s voice. When he’d rounded the corner and saw into courtyard, Caleb beheld the high priest and an enemy fighting for possession of the ephod Ulla wore, the ceremonial breastplate that held twelve stones that symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel. He raised his bow but had no shot that safely took the enemy and spared the priest. Caleb hesitated.
Jumping off his horse looked deceptively slow because of the big man’s size, but Barek quickly crossed to his prone foe and with an overhead strike, buried the axe blade in his enemy’s chest. In spite of the man’s armor, the blade went deep. Blood gurgled out the man’s mouth instead of a scream. Putting a foot on his foe’s chest, Barek tugged his axe free from the body of his mortally wounded enemy and looked around for other opponents. To the north, he saw a youth holding a horse’s reins.
“Hold!” Balek roared, pointing his axe at the young man. The youth was understandably startled by the giant before him. So much so, his eyes grew wide with fright and he turned to leap atop the horse!
“I wish I could command people like Sara,” Balek complained. He whistled at his horse, with only a vain hope it would respond. Balek reasoned that the youth might be a messenger, charged with delivering a report of the battle to someone. The giant man of God resolved to capture the youth and find out what he knew. The horse did not exactly come to Balek, but it came near enough he could gather up the reins and throw his long legs over its sides. He heard someone call his name and wheeled the horse around to face them.
Ammihud and Samuel stood astride one another over a fallen enemy. “Where do you think you’re going?” Samuel called. “Yes,” Ammihud added, “there’s plenty of fight right here.”
Balek nodded in the direction of the young man who’d fled on horseback. “One got away,” he said, and spurred his horse in that direction.
Maaz brought his horse around and adroitly leapt off its back, pointing the iron-shod tip of his goad at his opponent. “You shall now die, defiler!” he said as he advanced on the enemy soldier. The man looked from Maaz to the tabernacle and swinging his sword, pierced the veil and tumbled through it. A sigh escaped Maaz’s lips then he shouted, “YOU CANNOT THAT EASILY ESCAPE JUSTICE!”
Stepping through the breach created by his enemy, Maaz saw his opponent desperately hacking at the hide-covered wall of the Holy Place. AS the herdsman stepped through, the man turned suddenly and swung at Maaz instead! The hurried attack missed Maaz but caused him to smash the iron tip of his short staff into the ground instead of his opponent. The two men circled each other for a moment, then the saboteur swung his sword over his head and attempted to cleave Maaz in two, but the herdsman dodged the blow as easily as he might’ve avoided a butting ram. Side-steppeding his adversary’s slash, Maaz brought the goad down hard, smashing both the swordsman’s arms.
A surprised look crossed the man’s face just before Maaz’s goad slammed into his abdomen on the upswing of a second blow. He fell to his hands and knees, vomited, and fell face forward into it, groaning piteously. Maaz had no pity for him however, and he brought his weapon down on the man’s head with a fury, splitting both helmet and skull. Pausing for a moment to collect himself, Maaz smelled smoke and looked up to see a spit of flame atop the Tent itself!
As he could see no opponents at hand, Maaz’s lust for battle suddenly left him and the survival of the Tent took precedence. Dropping his goad. he leapt to find purchase for both hands and hauled himself atop the tent, which swayed precariously under his weight. He saw a torch in the midst of a section of the hide roof that was smoldering and threatening to burst into flame. Heedless of any danger except to the Holy of Holies beneath his feet, Maaz snatched at the torch and threw it over his shoulder and far away from the Tabernacle. With his own hands he beat at the coverings to the sacred space, putting out the embers by swatting away glowing embers. In his single-minded devotion to the task of saving the structure, the big man did not see the place where the skins had parted until he fell through it. With a thud, Maaz landed in the middle of the Most Holy Place!
Having made quick work of dispatching the two men at his feet, Samuel looked up in time to see another enemy hacking off the rods attached to the corner post of the Tabernacle enclosure. One panel of curtain fluttered to the ground. Samuel’s feet found purchase as he raced to prevent further blasphemous damage.
Somehow Samuel’s enemy sensed his coming and turned to throw his torch at the young Israelite. Samuel swatted the flaming projectile aside and rushed his opponent. Samuel’s sword stabbed out from behind his shield, but his enemy was ready and side-stepped the attack. He delivered a blow of his own but the strike was not strong enough to part the hardened leather of the wristband Samuel wore on his sword hand; it merely parted some of the strings holding it on, and the wristband flopped about on Samuel’s sword arm.
Several more thrusts were made but parried or dodged. Samuel had the advantage having both shield and sword, but the advantage of arms was negated by the youth’s comparative inexperience in martial arts.
The two stood apart a moment to catch their breath. Seeing his opportunity, Ammihud, standing some paces away and with his bow readied, let the arrow fly. The shaft buried itself in the swordsman’s middle, finding a mark just underneath his leather cuirass. He dropped his sword, then dropped to his knees, attempting to break the shaft. A heartbeat later, Samuel relieved him of all worldly concerns by plunging his blade through the stricken man’s neck.
Caleb made his decision. He carefully aimed and shot his arrow. The shaft struck with lethal effect, piercing his enemy’s chest. His grip on the high priest relaxed instantly and he turned to face Caleb. When he bent over to retrieve his sword and attack the archer, he fell to his knees, then to his face, where he laid still as breath and life abandoned him.
Ulla was furious. He advanced on Caleb even as he held the damaged ephod to his chest. “You FOOL!” he cried. “How could you take such a shot?! You might’ve hit ME!!”
Startled out of watching the man die, Caleb replied off-handedly, “Oh, I had that all figured out,” he said. “I aimed at his legs.” A confused, angry look crossed Ulla’s face. “I figured if I missed, neither of you would be badly hurt.”
While his companion dealt with Ruth, a pagan soldier slashed through the outside curtain of the Tabernacle. He paused only a moment to set the breach on fire and then turned to hurl his torch atop the Tent itself. Steeling himself to stop anyone from extinguishing the fire he sought to start, he gripped his sword all the tighter and looked around, waiting for an Israelite to come.
He would not wait long. Ruth launched her slight form through the slash in the curtain that formed the court around the Tabernacle. She stumbled a bit as her foot caught on the torn curtain and she fell to one knee. Ahead of her was the infidel who dared step through the veil. He was a big man. Too big, for Ruth’s taste.
With a sneer, he set the torch down where the flame licked at the fabric wall of the Tabernacle. “Come save your sacred tent,” the dog growled. “Sacrifice yourself, man of Israel!”
Inspired, Ruth stood slowly and removed her helmet, dropping it to the turf. She loosed her hair and let the long tresses fall around her neck. “In Israel, we sacrifice animals, not people” she said, taunting her enemy. She shouted, “Know that today the LORD has strengthened a woman’s arm to spill your blood and defend His holy tent!!”
As she’d hoped, the enemy soldier was temporarily stunned by the sight of a combatant suddenly becoming a beautiful woman. She charged the big man, swinging her sickle with both hands, throwing her entire person at him. It was an attack of faith, what to an experienced soldier might seem a fool’s hope. Her slashing scythe found it’s mark as the big man’s left arm came up too late to intercept blow. The blade bit deeply into the base of his neck, the curve of the scythe completely disappearing in the place where throat and shoulder met.
Behind the blade was Ruth’s flying body; she had to leave her feet to even strike the blow. The impact sent them both sprawling. Scrambling to her feet, Ruth reached for the torch, the flames threatening to set the curtain afire.
Before she could reach it, a powerful hand grasped her ankle and hauled her away from the torch. Though blood spouted from the wound Ruth had inflicted, the pagan’s massive hand held her ankle like an iron manacle. Struggling to his knees, the man drug Ruth toward him as easily as anyone might tug a child. Breath was knocked from Ruth’s lungs when she’d landed bodily on the ground, her feet yanked from beneath her. Ruth’s attempts to get away seemed especially pitiful and she felt his hands virtually climb up her body. He hauled her close and clasped her throat in one of his incredibly large hands.
Her airway closed, Ruth struggled vainly, failing with hands and feet. Terror made her blows even less effective. Every thought was focused on dying at this monster’s hands.
His breath reeked of some food or spice Ruth did not know. “Molech take your soul!” the man rasped. “I will not be killed by any mere woman!” His blood flowed over Ruth as he muttered what must have been curses in a pagan tongue.
A long dark tunnel appeared before Ruth. A wan light illuminated its end. She wondered how this might be, what the vision might mean, but she was not prepared to die.
Suddenly, his eyes fluttered and his last breath escaped his lips.
Somebody shouted, “LET HER GO!”
The man’s hands went slack and with a violent twist, Ruth pushed herself away, falling down and gasping for air.
When she was able to get her wits about her again, Ruth looked to see Caleb running to get the torch away from the veil. He quickly slashed at the curtain, cutting away the part that had caught fire during the melee.
Ruth’s body shook uncontrollably and part of her mind wondered why men loved war so much when it was so vile and brutal a thing. After a bit, her vision cleared and so did her mind. She looked up and saw Caleb above her. He held her head on his lap, kneeling beside her. Something nearby smelled like vomit and smoke.
He stroked the hair from her face tenderly, and said, “Here now. We can’t have you running about with your hair down, can we?”
Samuel turned to Ammihud. “Let’s go check the tents,” he said. “In case there are reinforcements.” Ammihud took a moment to ready his bow and said, “After you.”
Day Eight – Mount Gerazim
The next day the heroes stood at the summit of Mount Gerazim. A man of Israel had discovered that an Asherah pole had been recently erected and there were signs of a recent encampment. He’d reported this offense against the land to the high priest. He had passed the information along to the group.
“They made prayers and sacrifices here,” Maaz said, poking the remains of a fire pit with his goad.
Caleb’s eyes darted over the scene, an angry look upon his face. “They no doubt sought a boon from their gods before infiltrating the camp and setting their scheme into motion.”
The youthful Samuel threw himself against the idolatrous pole, exclaiming, “This cannot be allowed to stand a moment longer.” Righteous anger was not enough to augment his slight frame and he was unable to pull it out of the ground.
Balek made a theatrical sigh. “You cannot use a twig to remove a log,” he said, and pushed Samuel aside. Contrary to his verbal objections, Samuel stood aside. The giant knelt and wrapped his big hands around the base of the Asherah. Using his shoulders and legs to lift, he drew it out of the hole and dropped it to the ground.
Ruth, once again in her masculine garb, cleared her throat and spit on the carved pole. Her friends watched for a moment, mild surprise on their faces.
Micah broke the silence when he clapped Ruth on the back, nearly knocking her off her feet. “Well done, Joseph,” he said mirthfully.
“Here is the same craftsman’s mark we discovered under the idols of Heshonib,” Ammihud observed. “It is the mark of Kanab, the Philistine idol-maker whose shop we visited in Joppa.”
The captain of the temple guard scratched a curse sign in the loose soil. “It is an appalling desecration of the sacred site of Mount Gerazim,” he opined, “the place where the division of the Promised Land between the twelve tribes was accomplished by Joshua by casting lots.”
“We must destroy it with fire” Jezreel said slowly, his voice conveying a solemnity they had not heard from the young psalmist before. “We must scatter the ashes and bury all the bones. This mountain must be made holy again.”
“Yes,” Samuel agreed. “As he said.”
A feast was arranged to celebrate the victory of the Lord and His people, with Deborah’s Eight (as the heroes of Shiloh had come to be known) the guests of honor. A tent had been erected and savory smells infused the camp as several ovens were set to work.
Ruth had to be persuaded to remain. On the road, she had learned attention and scrutiny were unwelcome as they threatened to expose her. Her dread of being drug back to be stuck in a loveless marriage was so strong, she wanted to forsake her new companions and return to her vagabond ways.
Everyone was shocked when Micah offered an alternative. “You could be my daughter. For a night,” he suggested, his usual gruff appearance gone and a tender countenance in its place. “Joseph may leave to reappear elsewhere. Tonight you could be Dinah.” As the gathering was a feast and not a “holy convocation” even Maaz gave his approval to this deception.
Some appropriately feminine festal robes were obtained and Ruth shed her disguise in private. When she appeared again in clothes appropriate to her heaven-bestowed gender, Micah explained, “You look like a Dinah!”
Their tent fairly roared with laughter as “Dinah” was welcomed to their fellowship. They roared again when Samuel offered to act as her husband. Their laughter had barely died off when the tent flap was thrown aside and the high priest Ulla stormed inside.
“It’s Deborah” he cried in genuine panic, “she’s gone!”