Here, at long last, I present the penultimate chapter of the Insurgents–and for some reason these chapters just keep getting longer.
“Go,” Kohath pleaded again, while his blood continued to flow despite my feeble attempts at bandaging.
“I’m not leaving you! Our God has promised to never leave us! He will take care of us now.”
Kohath was losing consciousness, drifting into an empty sleep of darkness. Desperately I tried to keep him awake.
The angry horde of Insurgents continued to pour out of the gates and they were only seconds away from reaching us.
I looked to the east, to the city, to the place where all seemed lost. Everything was lost for all of us now. Kohath and I would die here in the marshes, and all those in the city would die when the foreigners attacked. I looked down at the ground. I didn’t really believe what I had told Kohath–that our God would take care of us. The problems just seemed so big.
There were steps behind me now, the steps of a horse galloping over the marshes. It could only be the horse of that foreigner–but still I turned to look. It was a white horse, and I knew that the foreigners really loved white horses. Its mane and tail were flowing free as a lion’s, and I knew that those foreigners, unlike us, were free. And I could see a single rider on its back, coming steadily toward us, so that any minute now I would be able to look up and see his face of ignominious shame and treason and treachery and meaningless slaughter of our people, and I knew that that meant he was a foreigner because foreigners would never ride double.
Then I heard a yell from the man on horseback, and he pushed the horse to go even faster, which up till then I had not believed was possible. That yell I had heard before. It startled me, because I was not expecting to hear it then. It did not sound like an Insurgent yell. It did not sound like a foreign yell. It did not even sound like the yell of any normal Regent’s Guard.
No, this was the yell of Baruch.
“Hold on!” he yelled. “I’m coming as fast as I can!”
Suddenly, I saw a glimmer of hope. I had been right. Our God had sent to Kohath and me the deliverance we needed right when we needed it.
I stood up and drew my sword. I faced the Insurgents and prepared to meet their onslaught and try to hold them off till Baruch arrived. But Baruch’s sudden rush with the horse had outdistanced the Insurgents, and he was up to us before they were.
Baruch swung off the horse in the normal Baruch way. “Hey, guys,” he said. “What’s going on? Do you need some help?”
“Uh, yeah?” I said. “Let’s get out of here!”
Baruch climbed onto the horse and I lifted up Kohath so that Baruch could hold him. Then I climbed up behind.
“You know what?” said Baruch. “I had the strangest dream last night…”
“Baruch!” I yelled. “We are in the middle of a battle! Kohath is dying, and we’re about to be attacked right now. Can’t you just ride for the city?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Giddyup!”
And we were off across the plain towards the city, bearing our wounded comrade and the tidings of war from the north.
Now if you were on a horse with a wounded friend, and a band of your enemies were coming towards you, wouldn’t you go around them? Yeah, me too. But since when did Baruch ever think like everyone else? Never. Nope, his idea was to ride directly through the entire mass of those screaming, charging, sword-waving Insurgents.
So of course the guy in the back, the one not holding the friend, the one who was holding a sword, in short, me, had to fend off the attackers. Yup. Plus, while Baruch’s horse was powerful and fast, it was never meant to carry three people out of danger.
Somehow, though, it did it, and at last we crested the last hill and saw the city. It was about then that Baruch realized that Kohath was hurt. Then he headed as fast as his horse could take him toward the city, and in there to the Regent’s palace, and no Teman was going to stop him.
“Meshech,” he yelled. “We need help fast!” Several Regent’s Guards–including Maher–came out from the palace. Baruch handed Kohath off and dismounted.
“Whew!” he said. “That was tough!”
“What did you do?” Maher asked.
“Uh, just rescued a couple of spies who needed help. If it hadn’t been for Jahaziel, I would have been lost–and so would they have!”
“Right,” said Maher. “Who is Jahaziel?”
“My horse? I named her that because it sounds like a fast name, and she is a fast horse.”
“What did you find, Josech?” Maher asked, seeing I was the only conscious member of the party who had information.
“Where’s Meshech?” I asked. We had no time for this–for any of this! When the foreigners attacked, they would ruin our lives and our futures. And they were coming soon.
“He’s in his audience chamber.” He looked at me. “It’s serious, Josech, isn’t it?”
I nodded and swung off the horse, too. Then I headed to the audience chamber. Meshech was talking to the most of the colonels of the Regent’s guards. He looked up when I opened the doors. I guess it was natural; I didn’t open them very gently.
“You survived?” he asked, obviously relieved.
“I did. Kohath–well, they took him to the infirmary. He lost a lot of blood.”
Meshech’s face grew hard. “You were gone more than three hours,” he said sternly. “What did you expect?”
I shrugged. “I guess I expected that either both of us or none of us would return uninjured. What I didn’t expect…what we found.”
He asked me a question with his eyebrows. I answered it with mine.
He nodded slowly. Then he rolled up the map they had been studying and stood up. “Gentlemen,” he said. “We will speak of this again later. You are dismissed.”
Gazing curiously at me, the colonels left the room. These were the best of the Regent’s guards, men I had known all my life. They knew that I was now alive, but they did not know how it was that I was here now. They would find out very soon.
Baruch and Maher came into the room and shut the doors behind them. The head of the IGSIPOR was again in the same room. Somehow, though, something seemed missing and I knew that it was Kohath. Even in the short time that I had known him, Kohath had come to be an integral part of the anti Insurgent force.
I took a deep breath and looked up at Meshech, like I was preparing for a monologue. And in a sense, I was. “When we arrived inside the HQ of the VIPOR, we discovered them in conversation with an emissary of the Emirate of the North.” There, I had said it, in as few words as it was possible to say it.
And they knew it. It was all I needed to say. From that time on, they knew that the danger threatening our city was not like a stormcloud on our horizon. This was like a sky covered with cumulonimbus clouds, plus a tornado. Against the Insurgents, there was a possibility that we could end up victorious. Wounded, but victorious.
This added threat was like a crocodile and a snake against a lone wounded lion. We all knew it. The emirate of the North was not only formidable, it was just as slimy as the Insurgents. Their Emir was an autocrat and he ruled the country in his own crocodilian green manner. To our city, just then, green was probably the worst symbol of our imminent defeat. It didn’t help matters that the emirate’s soldiers wore green uniforms.
Short story: We were lost.
“You know?” said Baruch. “I think we are in trouble.”
Maher nodded. “Do you have any ideas or should we capitulate?”
Meshech didn’t answer and we thought he hadn’t heard. Meshech had this habit of withdrawing his attention from the conversation when he was thinking deeply, and we knew that if this was taking place now, the best thing we could do was be quiet.
“No,” he finally said. “We can never capitulate. We can never surrender. How can we ever give in to those Insurgents?” He seemed to be talking out his thoughts, not actually speaking to us. “Our God has promised to never leave us. He promised that–that this would be His land, and we would be His people. O our God, we are in great distress. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
“No,” Meshech said again, and this time he was speaking to us. “We are His people. To give in to the emirates would proclaim ourselves incompetent and unprotected. It would show everyone that we have no faith in our God who created us. No. We are going to stand. Against them, against all evil, against all reptiles, forever. That VIPOR may believe that they can defeat us, but they are wrong. VIGSIPOR, are you ready?”
“Maybe?” I said. “I’m hesitant to ask what VIGSIPOR stands for?”
“Ohhh…” said Baruch. “Yeah, you weren’t here then. We were discussing how the VIPOR had individual and important titles. We thought it would be excellent if we had similar titles. So VIGSIPOR stands for victoriousest, vulnerablest, voraciousest, vigilantest and… I forgot the last one. Maher, how did we describe me again?”
“What?” Maher asked. He had obviously not been paying attention.
“What’s my ‘v’ word?”
“Oh… we didn’t come up with one. We decided we’d go do something else and come up with that later, since our best suggestion was very weirdest. But, Ariel did say that she could probably come up with one if she looked through the dictionary in the Regent’s library. She was going to do that this afternoon, but…” His voice trailed away as he realized again the megalithic nature of the army that faced us. Sure, it doesn’t sound huge, but in a city of our size, it was enough to absolutely annihilate any hope we might have of success.
“Anyway,” said Baruch. “You are officially the Vulnerablest Infiltrating Guy Stopping the Insurgents Plotting to Overthrow the Regent. Maher is the Voraciousest, Kohath is the Vigilantest, and Meshech is the Victoriousest.”
“But if we don’t win this battle,” Meshech said, “Then not only will I not be the Victoriousest, but I will also be dead. And so, I fear, will the rest of you. Any ideas on how to avert this outcome?”
I shrugged. “They no longer have the element of surprise. So they lose that advantage, but–we basically have no options left. Ten thousand men in a week is more than we can ever muster. “
Maher nodded. “We have about 2000 Regent’s Guards. And that’s a stretch. There is no way that we can…”
“We faced about 2000 Insurgents a few days ago in the deadliest battle ever fought in this city. Josech, how many do you think are left?”
I shrugged. “Maybe 200? A lot of them came over to our side because they were no longer pressured, still others were killed. And those who remain are sincerely dissatisfied with the rule of Regents–no offense, Meshech.”
Meshech laughed grimly. “It won’t be enough. There’s ten thousand, two hundred Insurgents. There is no way we can stop them.”
“Oh yeah?” Baruch said.”Ten thousand Insurgents are nothing. I mean, Josech, Kohath, and I just beat at least fifty Insurgents, and Kohath wasn’t even doing anything.”
“And you were?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “Otherwise, who would have driven the horse?”
I did have to admit he had a point. But right then, in the heartbreak of all the people of the city, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
“We’ve got probably another fifteen hundred men we can arm in the city,” continued Maher. “That brings us up to thirty-five hundred men, or about a third of what they would have.”
“Oh!” said Baruch, “we’ll only be outnumbered three to one! That’s not too bad!”
“Baruch,” Maher said, turning to him in annoyance. “Why are you so cheerful all the time? Our city is about to be destroyed!”
Baruch nodded. “I know, “ he said, “but is there any reason to cry about it before it happens? The way I see it–oh, you know, I was going to tell you about the dream I had last night. You know how when you go to sleep every night, your Matri kisses you and tells you that she will never love any wild chimpanzees or kangaroos as much as she loves you?”
We all gave him really, really blank looks.
“Ok, so I was dreaming that my Matri had actually gone and adopted a wild chimpanzee just like she and Patri adopted me!”
We were almost ignoring him now, but that last sentence made Meshech stop and listen.
“You were adopted?” he asked in surprise.
“Yup!” said Baruch. “Just like the pet monkey!”
Meshech scrunched up his eyes really hard, like he was trying to remember something he had once known but now could only forget. I looked at Maher, asking him with my eyes what was up, and he shrugged.
“I have no idea,” he said aloud.
Just then, the door opened and Ariel came in. Unconscious of our danger, she floated in on the wings of the afternoon and came to tell us what she had discovered in her surveys of the Regent’s library. Then she noticed our puzzled and dismal faces and she paused on the threshold. It was Baruch who saw her.
“Oh, Ariel!” he said. “What did you find out?”
She half-smiled. This does not mean that only half her face smiled, or that her smile was only half its normal exuberancy. No, this smile was a smile that only was her mouth smiling, while her eyes were full of the worry that filled ours too.
“Baruch,” she said, “you can be the Valiantest Infiltrating Guy Stopping the Insurgents Plotting to Overthrow the Regent. I also found a book of genealogies, but…you are in the middle of something, and I will not disturb you. Only tell me, is there any way I can help?”
“The emirate of the North is joining the Insurgents in their attack against us,” Maher said.
Her eyes grew wider than they were before, which I had not formerly believed possible. “We…we…cannot do anything against them! They will entirely overrun our city!”
“Nope!” said Baruch. “They can’t! Remember: We have a promise, our God still cares, and our prince is coming!”
Meshech stood up suddenly and startled us all, “Ariel,” he said, “What did you say you found in the library?”
“A dictionary?” she asked, “Or..the book of genealogies?”
“Yes,” said Meshech. “Where is it? We must see it now.”
We all stared at him in disbelief. He was worried about a book of endless genealogies when he should be directing a battle?
“Uh, not to question your authority or anything, but shouldn’t we be planning a war?” Baruch asked.
“This,” said Meshech, “might change everything: our organization, our name, the Insurgents’ acronym, and even the outcome of the war. We must find that book!”
So we followed Meshech and Ariel out of the audience chamber to the library, which was down the same hallway as the Regent’s bedroom, right by the statue of the lion. As Ariel opened the door, we found what appeared to be a cavern–and then a spacious room which had gradually become filled with more and more books. There were many lion-colored books of varying shapes and sizes, with all sorts of useful things in them, such as the organization of the Regent’s Guards, who the colonels were three Regents ago, when the first prince married the first princess and how their firstborn son disappeared at the young age of three, how they had appointed their second son and his descendants forever as Regents till the eldest and his would be found, that he had never been found, and much more.
Then there were the green books. There were many different colors of green books, and they all dealt with the enemies of Iyr. Some dealt with the testitudinian avengers of the south and surrounding enemy lands (TASSEL), who the first Regent had overthrown, while others continued with the story of our fight against the foes on every side while we waited for the promise of our prince and held fast the city of our Regent without wavering. Doubtless, in those green books we could find the history of the Insurgency, and discover how Villainousest, Venomousest, and their hordes had created a pit of slime and darkness that our city was destined to fall into. In those green books, we could find the origins of the emirate of the North, the land that was marching towards us, who had come from the North and were ever endeavoring to edge their way southward and eke out their existence from their new acquisitions. The green books were fascinating, informative, and often even disgusting as we learned of the slime of former generations.
But the books that were the most important were the red books. It was these we had come for now. They were not red books like the red of a burning sunset or a tomato in the sun. No, these were the dark red of old wood, mellowed by age to their present state. They were the books of the history of our nation, the books of genealogy. They were the books that Meshech said could change our future.
Frankly, however, Maher, Baruch and I saw this excursion as a waste of time. We ought to have been planning a battle or fortifying a city or assassinating Insurgents, but instead we were in a library. True, if the Insurgents attacked while we were in there, we could throw books at them. But they would never find us anyway. We could hide among the books and remain completely hidden from all Insurgents and Emiratians.
“This is the book,” said Ariel, pointing to a tome that looked much like the rest.
“Ah, yes,” said Meshech, carefully turning the pages, in search of a name. “This,” he finally said to us, when we had well nigh despaired of ever getting out of there in the next hour, “is the book of the genealogy of the kings.”
“Oh.” said Maher.
“Oohhh…” said Baruch. “So what you’re saying is that your ancestors are in there?”
“Yes,” said Meshech, “and all the ancestors of the prince.”
We all knew it, of course. A book of the kings would have the ancestors of the prince in it, but somehow, the way Meshech said it, we knew that this was no ordinary book. This was a historic moment, and we were a part of it. The dust in the library seemed to hang in the air, and the thousands of books all held very still, as if they were waiting for Meshech to give a speech. At least, we were.
“The first prince,” said Meshech, “was Baruch the son of Yusef.”
“Oh,” said Baruch, “that’s cool! I’m named after a prince! Who would have guessed?”
“These books,” continued Meshech, “contain the names of every known prince since that time, all the way down to a man named Yusef, who died in a battle in the year of the Regent Ebiasaph thirty-nine.”
“Wow!” said Baruch, “that’s the year I was born!”
“…leaving his baby son, Baruch Johanan ben Yusef, an orphan.”
“That’s my middle name too!” Baruch almost yelled. “What happened next?”
Meshech deliberately shut the book. “What happened next,” he said, “is unknown to history.”
“Ohhh…” said Baruch, disappointed.
“All we know,” Meshech continued, “is that nineteen years ago, our prince, Baruch ben Yusef ben Mizraim ben Nahor ben Tisra…hold on, I forgot the rest…” he opened the book again and began flipping through to the pages.
“Oh!” said Baruch. “Wouldn’t it be really funny if the rest was like ben Abiathar ben Merari ben Rhesa ben Shealtiel ben Amram ben Jamin ben Noach ben Baruch ben Yusef?”
Meshech stood up, shut the book for a second time, and stared at Baruch. “Why would that be funny?” he asked solemnly and sternly, almost like Baruch was in trouble. Meshech was worried or something. I had never seen him like this. He almost looked like he was so happy he could squeeze us all around our necks like a python in the jungle, but at the same time he looked disappointed, like he had thought someone was giving him a pony for his birthday and then found out it was two feet tall.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Baruch. “That’s just the exact order of my family line.”
Meshech nodded. “And that is also the family line of the prince.”
“Wow!” said Baruch, “My family has all the same names has the prince!”
“Not the same names,” Meshech said to him, like he was a little child again who did not quite see the obvious fact that quf comes before tsadi in the alphabet. “The same identities.”
Then I saw it and Ariel saw it and Maher saw it and we knew that somehow this man we had played with all our lives–the one that we had known as a friend and served with in arms–in short, the Valiantest Infiltrating Guy Stopping the Insurgents Plotting to Overthrow the Regent–he was the one for whom we had been waiting for hundreds of years.
He was, in fact, our prince.
Baruch breathed in and out very slowly a couple of times. Then his face grew very white, very stern, and very nervous. “How?” he asked weakly.
“I don’t know,” Meshech said, and shrugged. “All I know was that I thought that perhaps this book might give us a clue as to where we could look for deliverance for our battle. And…it showed us our prince. But…”
He sounded hesitant, almost like he was afraid of what might happen if Baruch was in control of the city. But obviously, we who had known Baruch all our lives couldn’t be quite as worried as Meshech. Meshech had known Baruch for maybe a couple of years. But we remembered the old games of Regent’s Castle and Capture the Banner. It wasn’t hard to see Baruch as a prince. If you remembered only those things.
But then there were the times when he was just… Baruch. Our wild ride through the Insurgents. His long conversations with Teman about things they had never seen but wanted to. And his endless talks about dreams! This was Baruch too. And while all these things had seemed only annoying or frustrating at the time, now I saw that they were not just worthless. They were not just the petty things that combined to tear down our nation.
No, these were the very things that combined to make Baruch the prince–the prince who was to come, and was now here.
“I just don’t understand,” Meshech said. “I thought your parents were at the coronation.”
Baruch couldn’t answer. He was so distracted, he was trying to figure out how to tie his shoelaces together without using his thumbs.
“Those were his adopted parents,” said Maher, as if everyone in the world ought to know that, when in fact very few people did. “When Baruch was a baby, his current parents found him on their doorstep one evening. Or maybe it was a morning, I forget. In his hand was a cup with a handle and a lid, like the kind babies always drink from. But when they opened the cup, in horrors lest he should drink spoiled milk, they discovered inside a bunch of papers. Like a lot. And these papers contained the baby’s pedigree, all the way back to the first Yusef. And there was a letter from the second Yusef, who said that he was going into battle. If he returned, he knew he could find the baby at the house of Azariah ben Asa and Micaiah bat Uriel. If he didn’t, they could keep him.”
Meshech nodded slowly, finally understanding that the man who for years had been just a lieutenant colonel of the Regent’s Guards was today the commander of the entire force of Prince’s Guards.
Baruch inhaled and exhaled slowly, for what had to be the fourteenth time since he had realized it. “So…I’m the prince. What next, Meshech?”
Meshech shrugged. “I guess now we hold another proclamation and tell everyone that I’m stepping down and that you are our new prince. Then you can decide what you are going to do.”
Baruch nodded. “Oh, that sounds like a good idea. But what about if we didn’t hold a proclamation and instead got everybody ready and swept out of the city with all the guys we can get and we can meet the emissaries on their way before they ever get to the city?”
“Why?” Ariel asked.
“Well, that way there won’t be as much disaster in the city. Plus, there is that place in the marshes, right in between the road to the VIPOR’s headquarters and the extra marshy place on the right, which would be an excellent place to hold off the emirate. What do you think, Meshech?”
Meshech shrugged. He was getting fond of doing that. “You are the prince, Baruch. Figure it out.”
“Okay,” Baruch said. “So, I think it will take us about two days to get everybody ready and get them there. The emirates are supposed to be coming in a week, but they’ll be at that place in like four and six-seventh days. We can do this!”
And for the first time, I thought he was right.
“Next step,” said Baruch. “Unless someone desperately needs to know, don’t tell anyone that I’m the prince. So, Ariel, that means that you can tell your parents. Maher can go tell my parents, and Meshech can tell Kohath.”
“Who am I supposed to tell?” I asked, somewhat indignantly.
“Oh, Josech, don’t get mad. I’m not forgetting you! I was giving you the most important job. You know how you used to show me your writing in your journal, and how it was so much neater than Maher’s or mine?”
“Well, I want you to make a big sign that says ‘prince’ on it that you can attach to Jahaziel’s saddle without it being super annoying. Ohhh….” he said, realizing something new.
“What?” Ariel asked.
“I just realized the reason that I ride a white horse! It’s because I’m the prince! This is going to be so weird…
“Okay, here’s the plan. Ariel is going to talk to all the women she knows and tell them to tell their friends to get ready to fortify the city. But make sure you don’t tell anyone you don’t know. Because spies are everywhere.
“Maher, I need you to mobilize the Regent’s–I mean, the prince’s–okay, that sounds weird. We are going to come up with an acronym instead of calling them the prince’s guards, but right now we don’t have time for that. Instead, I want you to make sure that all the guards are ready to move. They need to have their gear, their horses, and their tents.”
“Their tents?” Meshech asked dubiously.
“Absolutely. Think about it, Meshech. If we make it there in two days, but the Emiratians starting from the Emirate take five days, we are going to have to wait for them at the pass for three days. So, Maher, also make sure that the soldiers have food and clothes and whatever else they might need. Oh, and tell them not to forget their swords. It is the most annoying thing when you forget your sword when you’re a guard. Believe me, I know…” Baruch seemed lost in reminiscence. He would never again be a Regent Guard.
“Meshech, you know who the main spies are for the Insurgents, right?”
“So, I need you to go and tell everyone else that we are moving out and that we are going to be gone for like five days, so to bring camping supplies and weapons and meet us at the south gate. Make sure they tell Teman that Baruch ben Yusef sent them. Then he’ll let them camp at the gate. VIGSIPOR—wait, I mean VIGSIPOP, are you ready? Let’s get them!”
Ariel, Maher and Meshech left to carry out Baruch’s orders. I stayed there.
“Josech?” Baruch said, sounding like the old Baruch again. “So I was wondering, do you know what ten thousand Emiratians would look like if they’re coming right at us?”
I shook my head.
“Good. Cause I was just hoping that we’ll know when they attack and be ready so that they don’t send an ambush or anything…You know, I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to this prince thing.”
“It’s okay,” I reminded him. “Remember, you didn’t think you’d ever get used to being a Regent Guard either. Or playing Regent’s castle. Or washing your hands when you came in from outside. Or eating with a fork instead of mashing food with your hands. You’ll get used to it.”
“Yeah,” Baruch said, and sighed.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Do you know how many people are out there?” he said. “They’ve been waiting for me all these years, waiting for some guy on a white horse to whip out his sword and save them all. Well, I have the sword, and I have the white horse, but I can’t help but wonder, Josech. Can I really save them all?”
“Are you sure this was a good idea?” I asked Baruch as we rode along the path to the marshes.
“What? Going to fight the Emirates? What else were we supposed to do? Wait for them to fight us?”
“Not that. I agree with you there. I’m talking about bringing him along.” I motioned to Kohath, who rode behind us. He had insisted on coming, but his face was as white as a cloud and he looked like he could fall over at any moment. I had offered to ride beside him to avert this catastrophe, but he wouldn’t let me.
“Come on,” Kohath protested. “Once a VIGSIPOP, always a VIGSIPOP. I will be the Vigilantest Infiltrating Guy Stopping the Insurgents Plotting to Overthrow the Prince, or die trying!”
“I think you’ll die trying,” I remarked.
“Don’t be so pessimistic,” said Baruch. “Look on the bright side. We have all the guards and the other guys, which means that the Insurgents and the emirates only outnumber us three to one. We’ve also had a great morale boost as a result of our proclamation that if we didn’t fight, the city would be doomed.”
“You think that’s a morale boost? That’s called determination and desperation!”
Baruch ignored my interruption. “And look at this.” he waved his hand at the thousands of soldiers surrounding us. “Doesn’t this look like an army enough to beat any other army?”
I had to admit, there were a lot of us. I just was afraid what it meant that there were more of them.
“Okay!” Baruch yelled. “We are approaching the pass where we are going to go between the marshy place on one side and the extra marshy place on the other. We are going to set up camp here. We will all fit, don’t worry. Be cautious, and don’t step in the mud. If you do, you’ll probably sink in it. So, that’s not a good idea.
“As we start here, we want to tread carefully. Avoid all reptiles. Avoid all marsh. Yell at first sight of the Emir’s men. Ready? Line up in octuple file and let’s get in there!”
Somehow, Baruch’s impassioned harangue made an impression on all those soldiers. They lined up and got in there and got camp set up faster than a cat can get out of water. I couldn’t wait until one of them actually saw the guys we were looking for.
We were all lying in our tents. For some reason, the army had always issued to each man his own tent, just long enough for lying down in. To get in, you had to open up the end, fall in (hopefully the right way), and then somehow close up the other end. The problem was that there wasn’t enough room to sit up to close the tent. So you could always get your friend to do it. Which meant that at the end of the night, there was always one guy who couldn’t zip up his tent.
Tonight, it was me. The sentries, from #17, marched around the camp in entirely random order. This was Baruch’s idea. He reasoned that if they did this, no spies could get in, because they would not know when the sentries would not be in a certain place. Somehow it made a lot more sense when Baruch said it.
So I waited there, in the starlit darkness, waited for the emiratians to come and attack us and destroy our army and our land and our city. Somehow, knowing that Baruch was the prince seemed like somewhat of a let down. I mean, all our lives, we had been waiting for some prince to come in with his army and swoop down on the Insurgents and their allies. We just hadn’t known that we were the army.
I fell asleep, dozed off and on. I just kind of couldn’t fall asleep that easy with an open tent, even if I did know that the sentries were guarding all of us around there. I opened my eyes again to the rosen goldy dawn of the next morning. I wondered what had awoken me.
Then I heard something. It was kind of like the sound of the thunders of many waters, or like the voice of a great multitude, but if it was, they were all chanting in rhythm a sound that sounded like footsteps.
“Baruch,” I whispered. “You hear that?”
“Yup,” he said. “What is it? I can’t unzip my tent!”
I crawled out of my tent and began to unzip my fellow VIGSIPOR’s tents.
I knew then, with a feeling like the feeling you get when you eat oranges and toothpaste at the same meal, that these were the Emiratians, the ones who were against us all. The battle was today.
“Wow!” said Baruch. “We got here just in time!”
“Mmhmm…” I said.
“People from the little broken down village of Iyr!” a foreign voice said very loudly. “Don’t be afraid of this big group of people. We will not hurt you if you will do what we say. Give us all of your money and all of your weapons and all of your families and all of your city, and let us do whatever we want to all of you, and we will have something kind of like peace between our peoples.”
Baruch seemed genuinely interested in this overture of peace.
“What do you mean, kind of like peace?” he asked.
“Well, it will be kind of like peace, except that all of you will not be alive to have it. I still strongly suggest that you surrender.”
“Okay,” said Baruch, “thanks for telling me. It was great to know you guys, but we are going to fight you and we are totally going to win. Have fun! And let the battle begin!”
They didn’t wait for anything else. They were on us, all ten thousand of them, before half of us were out of our tents. The sound of ten thousand soldiers can only be compared to the sound of five thousand soldiers doubled, or two thousand quintupled, or one soldier times ten thousand. It was like the sound that thunder would make in a megaphone. Deafening, distracting, and deadly.
“Regiments 17, 19, 21 and 23!” Baruch yelled. “Line up!”
The regiments got into place and began to fight as they had never fought before. The other regiments, who by now had emerged from their tents, got into line behind them. Whenever a guard fell, another stepped into his place. They knew that we were in this together.
There was only one place that the Emirate’s men could reach us. It was the narrow strip between the two marshes. To begin with, they didn’t know that. They came at us like a wave of the sea, rolling ever further inward, until they break and crash and disappear again. Many of them landed in the marshes and could not get out. Still others tried to pull our men down into the marshes.
But we held them back. For three long hours, our men held them back. Many–oh, so many–fell. Many of ours, many of theirs.
Then the numbers began to count. They began to push us back, step by step, toward the marshes. Baruch tried to rally the regiments, to encourage them to hold on just a little bit longer, until–but there was nothing to hold on for. We were the army.
The Emir’s men forced their way, step by step, through our men, past the edge of the marsh.
The regiments were failing. Then we heard a loud shout, like the one that you give when all hope is lost, and all the men from the city, led by Jair, leaped forward to join the fray against the Emir’s men. They pushed them back to the edge of the marsh, and back and back and back. More and more of the emirates kept coming closer and closer and closer, but still we held them back.
Finally, as the sun was going down, they held up a white flag. In the beginning twilight, it appeared almost gray. But Meshech saw it.
“Baruch!” He yelled. “The time is now! They are ready to surrender!”
At his shout, all the fighting ceased. The emir’s men pulled back and formed an expanse between our armies.
“Yay!” Baruch said. “Meshech, can you negotiate some great terms?”
“I can try,” Meshech said. He strode out into the clearing between our two armies, where a lone man stood with a white flag.
Too late, I realized what was going to happen.
“Meshech!” I yelled helplessly.
“What?” he yelled back.
The dark shadow of a spear flew from the emir’s men towards the guy holding the flag. It missed him. But it hit Meshech. Our erstwhile Regent, the former Insurgent, fell to the ground.
“No!” Baruch yelled. “Ok, that’s it! Back at it, guys. Their white flag doesn’t mean surrender. If we let them go on like this, they’ll just invite us out one by one to go talk with them and go kill us one by one.”
I looked at him, confused. Baruch was right that their white flag didn’t mean surrender. But if they had that many guys and could entirely destroy us, why try to kill us one by one? Unless…unless they had something different in mind. Unless this white flag thing wasn’t about surrender. It was about distraction. And I knew it.
“Baruch,” I whispered loudly.
“What?” Baruch yelled back.
“I think they’re planning an ambush!”
“What?” Baruch yelled again. “Stop whispering, Josech! I can’t hear you!”
“Come closer then!”
Baruch came closer.
“Baruch, I think this is a distraction! They’re planning an ambush!”
Baruch nodded skeptically. “Well, it’s always possible. I mean, it’s not like they wouldn’t try it if it would make them win. Wow, they are really fighting out there. I wonder if we can actually win.”
“Yeah. So Baruch, what do you want to do? I mean, we can’t just ignore the ambush!”
“Tell you what,” Baruch decided. “Take about a hundred guys and go see if they are actually having an ambush. If they are, come back and tell us. We’ll try to fight off these guys in the front and then come back to fight off the ambush. Sound good?”
“Yeah.” I said, “Okay, then, I’ll take guys from #2. We’ll try to get back to you as soon as we know if there is an ambush.”
“So long,” said Baruch. I gathered up the remains of my former regiment and we headed off in the opposite way of the furiously raging battle.
“What are we looking for again?” Gader asked.
“Just wait…” I said.
We crashed through the underbrush and came upon–nothing.
I had been so sure that this was the place, that they were going to do this here and now. But I had been wrong.
“Gader,” I said, “can you go back and tell Baruch that we found nothing and that we’re going to check around before we come back,”
“Sure,” said Gader. “I’ll hang around with him till you come back.”
“Okay,” I said, and Gader headed off back to the major battle.
I felt like I had been buried under a rockslide. I mean, I had so firmly believed that this was the ambush plan the bad guys had, and now there was nothing to indicate that had ever been their plan,
Then I heard a shout from one of the men.
“Ben Ezra!” he yelled, and I could barely see his hand wildly waving through the thickness of the trees and the darkness of the falling dusk. It felt like a heavy blanket, pulling us into the darkness that surrounded us.
“What is it?” I yelled back, running towards him. My men followed.
“It’s the Insurgents!”
With a sinking feeling that I couldn’t explain, I knew that I was right, and that it was wrong for all of us.
“Quick!” I yelled to a guard, “get back to the main army and tell Baruch ben Yusef that we are beset by…” I saw all of the Insurgents who had been planning to attack us, that they were on us, on us now. “We are beset by hundreds of Insurgents. And we have less than a regiment of guards. Tell him we need help! Now!”
I drew my sword and plunged into the fray. These weren’t the soldiers of the emirates like those we faced on the other side. These were the Insurgents who had come originally from our city. The guards knew who these men had been, and knew, unlike them, that any attempt to help the Insurgents win would result in the death of our city and all those who dwelt therein.
I battled them, fiercely, wondering in the midst of it, where the VIPOR was.
And then I wondered no more. They stood in front of me, all five of them, and I was facing them alone. Not with the IGSIPOP who had been at my side in all previous fights. This was a battle where I was alone with the men who had threatened once to kill my sister.
“Josech ben Ezra!” Pagiel yelled. “Need I remind you what we have said before?”
“You try to kill us, we will kill you!” Vengefullest added.
“Such a pity your lives will end here.” Villainousest remarked condescendingly. “I wonder if your helpless Regent would have sent you here to divert this ambush if he had known that we would send back to him nothing but the dead bodies of those he once commanded. Your people will be annihilated, Josech.”
“No, they won’t!” I said. “There may be few of us, but we are powerful.
“Regent’s Guards!” I yelled, facing them all for what might be my last rallying speech before we all died together. “We are the army of the prince! We are fighting for him and what he stands for. He will come to our aid as soon as he is able, but until then, we must fight! Are you with me?”
They yelled and ran toward the Insurgents. I did too, heading straight for the VIPORs who had begun this battle.
I battled Vengefullest while trying to keep track of the others as well. Villainousest was far to my right, while Vehementest was on the left, using his throwing knives. Vexatiousest was not far away, but I could not see Venomousest.
Then Vengefullest fell and I engaged with Vexatiousest. This was like no battle I had ever faced before. We were facing only the remainder of the Insurgents, but we had only a remainder of the regiment of Regent’s Guards.
Vexatiousest fell and I searched for the other VIPORs while simultaneously fending off multiple Insurgents. Zibeon was fighting Vehementest on the left and holding his own. Then Vehementest fell and I knew that we still faced two of the worst of the VIPORs.
“Venomousest!” I yelled, hoping that he would reveal himself. “Pagiel Benjamin Ben Ochran!” No one answered. In the furious clangs of the battlefield, there was almost an eerie stillness.
Then, I saw him out of the corner of my eye as he leaped on me with his sword drawn.
I had only time to face him and hold up my sword.
I thrust and parried while he drove me back, back past the line of battle, back from the forest, towards the road to their headquarters.
Then he slowed down, and I knew that meant his next cut would be the last one, the one designed to finish me, and that there was poison on his sword.
I ducked, but his sword still nicked the edge of my head.
“See?” he said. “You can never win, traitor!”
Angry now, I stood back up and whacked hard at him with my sword as I felt something hard on the back of my neck.
I hoped that last hit had been enough. I hoped that our men could win this battle and overcome this ambush. I hoped that Baruch was coming soon.
Then I fell to the ground, closed my eyes, and was lost in the darkness of unconsciousness.
The End. (of this chapter)
Thanks for reading! To find out what happens next, wait till next time! 🙂