You asked, and ye shall receive (Biblical pun intended)
Here is an excerpt from my novel, Conquest of Canaan: Og.
Book one in this historical fiction trilogy.
Hope you like it :)
It Dawned on Me
By dawn, my eyes and fingernails sting. My headache is worse. I mope into the kitchen with a limp, obviously the first one awake. Locating the kettle, I make a pot of mint tea over a fire. It is unexpectedly satisfying. I drink another two cups before the Roteruths and the others rise. Yespin carefully arranges breakfast, but I can’t find it in me to eat. My stomach feels worse than the bruises.
“Have trouble sleeping?” Gring asks me.
“Something like that.”
Hart tells us the villagers will host Avoca’s survivors at the tabernacle, and that we may search for our loved ones there. Travin is the first to leave, Bronwynn only a half second behind him. I exit the Roteruth’s home because I have no reason to remain within it, following Travin toward the tabernacle. The twins, Yespin, and Hart join us. The streets are crowded by the time we arrive. There are guards, armed guards, and patrons organizing family searches. Their organization reminds me of Mikyla Rox, working diligently for the people of Avoca.
I avert my eyes toward the northeast horizon. Billows of dust grab my attention. Gring and Grond Bottker, who have made a habit of staring at me, follow my gaze. Grond tugs on Hart’s sleeve and points. It is not dust, but smoke. Something is on fire.
“The city is burning,” Yespin mutters in fright.
By now, the greater part of the Taavetti populous sees it. Travin and I exchange glances. Accompanying the smoke, the ground starts to rumble.
“Look!” Gring states.
Across the desert hills, below the thick black smoke swallowing the blue sky, fresh dust from the earth swirls as the infantry of an army comes into view. They are marching toward us. Chariots follow, with more men on horseback. Their numbers are beyond measurable. They cover the entire landscape, like shadows from the clouds. Behind them, the smoky haze of the burning city increases. It is a sight I cannot describe in the words of man.
“They march from Heshbon,” Grond says mutedly.
“They’ve destroyed it,” Hart agrees.
All I can think is that the Canaanites have come to butcher us all.
And yet, frozen in awe, I gape at their majesty.
Smoke covers the sun until it appears to be dusk, though it is only daybreak. A dust storm ensues from their footpaths, causing some of the Taavetti women to return to their homes, ushering little children indoors. The soldiers advance faster than imaginable, by the thousands, until they are upon the parish. Chariots and horses ride into the streets. More men than I knew inhabited the earth take up positions around the perimeter, establishing a blockade so no person from Taavetti may go forth unto the wilderness. Soldiers, in an exceedingly sexy man-wears-loin-cloth kind of way, march unto the steps of the tabernacle. Their armaments offset the sepia of their skin, long hair glistening under the ocher sky.
One man emerges, atop a beautiful stallion. He gallops in front of the infantry, coming to a halt before us. A man on foot steps beside the horseman, carrying a shield. The villagers and visitors fall so quiet I can hear Heshbon burning from miles away. I gape at the man astride his purebred horse and marvel. He is the largest man I’ve ever seen and not just by physical appearance. His horse is equally as spectacular. Dried blood covers the man’s body, sticky in his hair beneath a metal helmet. His upper half is layered in armor like unto the scales of an armadillo. The other soldiers are armed and bloodied from battle, waiting perfectly still, as they regard him with absolute reverence.
Everyone around me begins to murmur. Many of the Taavetti inhabitants drop to their knees.
I don’t understand.
The man on the horse starts to speak. “Arise, faithful servants.”
His voice echoes like thunder, commanding the attention of all who are in his presence. I have never seen an army, and I have never seen an army’s High Commander, but the image before me surpasses anything I could have envisioned. Each soldier stands erect, immobile, and alert. Breastplates and swords gleam under the saffron clouds. All of the equestrians cease their whinnying, their only movement the flick of their hair in the wind. The canvas behind them is like a scene from the underworld.
The High Commander continues, “I am Joshua, servant of the Most High God, High Commander of the Israelite army. We come from Heshbon, where we have destroyed the high walls that defended every city. Nophah, Medeba, Dibon, and all their lofty citizens have we put to death. And we did burn the cities to ruins. Sihon, King of Heshbon, is dead. And his spoils, and all the cattle, have we taken for ourselves.”
At this, several of the villagers cower. The Bottker twins, standing in front of Travin and Bronwynn, whisper in one another’s ear. Hart leads Yespin to the back of the tabernacle.
“The Lord has given us this land to possess it,” Joshua declares. “Our wives and little ones and our cattle shall abide here in these our cities. The country situated between Arnon of the south and Jabbok to the north, and the Jordan to the west, are under our possession. We will soon march on Bashan. Og, king of Bashan, has the height of a cedar and the strength of an oak. His cities are threescore, all with high walls and mighty fortifications. Nevertheless, I say unto you, Og shall fall because of his wickedness. The land on this side of Jordan, from the Arnon River unto the mount of Hermon, and every coast and all of the dirt our feet will step upon will be ours. All of the cities of the plain, even Gilead and those on the west of the Jordan, shall be ours, saith our God.”
Beside me, Travin is captivated. You would think he was staring at God Himself. He absorbs the words of this Joshua with the hunger of a suckling child. How is this man, this High Commander, more righteous than the bloodthirsty Canaanites?
I think of poor Maleah, possibly not making it safety, or out of Avoca, being scooped up by the hands of a nasty rebel. Being dragged behind an alley.
“Our army has gathered,” Joshua preaches, “over the goodly mountain. We have a stronghold in the valley of Shittim, led by righteous leaders. Our numbers exceed forty and a thousand. All worthy men of Taavetti aid us, and you shall receive land and provisions. Do not fear our enemies, for God will fight for us.”
All this talk of God makes me nervous. I’ve never seen Him, or met Him, or spoken with Him, which is why I don’t comprehend people who act like they have. Joshua seems rather convinced that he is acting for, and in behalf, of said God, and that the burning of Heshbon was a commandment. A smitten city, every living thing, young and old, sheep and ass, put to an end.
My chest burns at the thought of dying women and children and animals, Canaanites or not. A God who could command such a thing is frightening. And then I remember Joshua saying the Israelite army exceeds forty thousand soldiers. This frightens me more than God.
The Taavetti people don’t feel the same way, apparently. They run toward Joshua, begging to be received into the Israelite army. Gring and Grond enlist. Many young, able females also join them. To my dismay, some of the peaceful residents of Avoca desire to join the battalion of fighters. Unless perhaps, they are not so peaceful at heart. The kindest of souls, Trav, is one of them, Bronwynn in tow.
Our friendship has been at an awkward standstill, mostly due to the barrier Bronwynn has put between us since they began courting. I didn’t help matters with my comment last night, but I would like to share a farewell with him, at least.
I glance around at the strangers surrounding me, watching those interested in following Joshua evacuate the tabernacle. Even those who don’t join the army emerge from homes, congregate in the street, and praise the soldiers. Several holy men raise their graven images, chanting toward the darkened heavens. Joshua removes his helmet, trotting over to them.
“O, be wise,” he states. “Worshiping false idols is a sin in the eyes of God. Behold, there is to be a new law. We will teach you all the ways of the Israelites.”
I can smell the smoke. War. Destruction.
The Israelite army commences the process of enlistment. Several officers organize a conscripting site as the majority of the infantry retreat beyond the homes to tend to cattle and water their horses. Men, and some women, both Taavetti locals and my neighbors from Avoca, diligently join ranks with the soldiers. Glimpsing the rolling plumes of inferno over their shoulders, I don’t blame them. Would Joshua just as soon burn all of us if we resisted?
I’ve heard tales of Israelites ruining generations and eliminating bloodlines, or conquering evil and providing for their posterity, depending on who speaks of them. Rebby claims the Israelites protect the freedoms of the land and fight for a righteous cause. But Avoca was a free people. We sought no one else’s gain. A neutral territory has been destroyed, and the Israelites were not there protecting it.
All around me the faces of family members grieve and pray and smile proudly. I spy Travin near the recruits. He’s holding Bronwynn against him. She is sobbing hysterically, fingers clasping his tunic. His face is a fusion of anger and pain and something else. I feel no small amount of antipathy toward this God that Travin has lost so much. We both have.
Nobody stands next to me. No one will ever stand next to me, to worry over whether I shall return or not, unless you consider a lactating dairy cow that person.
I turn to the nearest tabernacle pillar.
“Good talk,” I quip and descend the stairs.
I think of my drawer of keepsakes back in my home. My jewelry box. The animals at Lucan Care. My beloved, beloved animals. The flaming banner floating above the street in Avoca, eviscerating my link to a home and neutrality.
On the street, I pace straight toward an Israelite officer and state vehemently, “I am going with you.”
The fierce warrior stares blankly at me. A glare of sunshine reflects off of his breastplate. I squint at it, my eyes darting between his stoic face and the girdle around his waist. His weapon is almost as big as me. Over his shoulder, a Taavetti female is signing up. My agnostic attitude is overruled by my vengeful one. I take the chance to persist, falsified in confidence.
“I’m only five feet tall, but I’m ten pounds of wheat in a five pound bushel. I have no remaining kin, and my occupancy and occupation have been destroyed. I need a place to live and food to eat. For imbursement, I can care for your beasts.”
In response, the Israelite officer takes my name and sends me toward the recruits who are being prearranged into four travelling companies. It takes the remainder of the day. Taavetti men and women donate belongings of use. Those, combined with the supplies of the Israelites, are divided and dispersed into each company. These companies are under the direction of an officer, each officer reporting to their High Commander. Joshua. I regard him in the distance, presiding over the people in a calm, benevolent, yet executive demeanor. Notwithstanding our differences, I owe this High Commander a bit of respect.
Amongst my company, I let the possibilities of my near future flash through my head. I am joining an army, where I will live alongside soldiers. I’m leaving home for the first time. I will see the world. What a vision will it be to behold? I will see the River Jordan. I will see . . . Bashan in conflagration, like Heshbon. What is war like?
Night falls upon us. I ignore any looks of judgment from the older, wiser, and stronger people and move into the congregation of my travelling company. Yay, the most difficult part of this enlistment will be tolerating so many people.
Around midnight, the four companies merge into the ranks of the Israelite army, depart the village of Taavetti. Our destination is Shittim, further east. Above us, the charcoal smoke of Heshbon hovers sinisterly. Avoca is left to memory. The people I worry may be left to memory also rise in my mind. If Mikyla survived the attack, she would probably stay behind as a successor and rebuild her community of peace. And Rebby, if he’s alive, I know I will see him again. He will be among Joshua’s men.
I wonder what will become of our neutral territory if it is overthrown by Canaanites. Somehow, I am glad I won’t be there to find out.
Excerpt from Conquest of Canaan: Og
Copyright Brittany Shannon Lemmon