Here, at long last, is the final chapter of the Insurgents, Chapter 12.
“Your name?” he asked again, more insistently this time.
I still couldn’t answer. What do you say to a man who has known you all your life, who saw you ride out in all the pomp that hope and a new prince could give you, and who sees you return like this now– alone, wounded, and defeated?
“Fine,” he finally said. “You won’t tell me your name, then I have to report you to the prince. Come along!”
Then I finally realized the meaning of what he was saying about the prince, the meaning of the flag that flew over the city, and the meaning of this conversation at the gate.
“You’re alive!” I finally said.
He looked at me kind of strange. “Yeah I’m alive. What did you expect?”
“Then we won the battle!”
He looked at me even stranger. “Yeah we did. Where have you been this whole time?”
“Unconscious in the marshes!”
“You are weird,” he said. “You have got to see the prince.”
“So…” said Baruch when we got there, “where have you been?”
“Apparently I was unconscious in the marshes for a fairly long time. Then I wandered into a place on the far edges of the marshes.”
“Which place?” Kohath asked. He and the other IGSIPOP were at the palace, presumably mourning my demise, but more likely telling jokes about the times when I had been the most vulnerable.
“Ohhhh…” said Kohath. “That’s where I’m from. How did you like it?”
“Uh… It felt like home. Plus I fixed my accent up. Then, after staying for a couple days and recuperating and renewing my strength, I came here.”
“Wow,” said Maher. “Looks like you must have recuperated not very well. You are still very pale. And how did you get that scar on the side of your head? It looks like the kind of scar you would get it you tried to attack an Insurgent and they tried to whack you and you ducked.” He demonstrated with his hands.
“Ummm… Venomousest tried to whack me and I ducked.”
“Ohhh…” said Meshech. “Then what happened?”
“Ummm… I went unconscious.”
“I see…”he answered. “So have you heard about anything that happened?”
“Not much,” I answered..
“Okay,” said Maher. “So a quick recap of what happened in the battle looks like this. After they threw that spear at Meshech, we knew we couldn’t hold back any more. We wiped out a lot of those Emirates, and the rest were glad to escape with their lives, their swords, and their friends. They went back up north and will never be heard from again. Meshech was recovered by the vigilant men of the unattached IGSIPOP, headed by the vigilantest Kohath, and Meshech got better fast.”
“Yup,” said Meshech. “They threatened to send me back to Iyr; what could I do?”
“We–we were pretty sure that you and all of your divert-the-ambush group had fallen,” Ariel said. “But oh, Josech, you’re not dead again!”
“No,” I said, and I wondered how I had ever thought that she wanted me dead.
“And so,” said Baruch, “everyone died, except for the ones who stayed alive, and the good guys lived happily ever after.”
Ah, Baruch. Being prince had changed him. It had brought more depth to those brown eyes of his. He had to face more responsibility now. After all, he had a princedom to rule! But at the same time, he was still the same old Baruch, in so many ways.
“What Baruch is trying to say,” Maher said, “goes somewhat like this.
“When Meshech fell, he was wounded, but not to the point of death. As a result, our erstwhile Regent is still alive, and is now the new colonel of regiment #2.
“Baruch was yelling at everybody, and he was the emir’s main target, especially after he put up your ‘prince’ sign on Jahaziel. But, he was moving so fast that they couldn’t hit him. As a result, he survived. As you know, he is our prince.
“Kohath was so hurt from losing blood that he fainted the first time he raised his sword against a guy. The guy died, and we thought Kohath did too. As we mourned over him–”
“We weren’t that sorry…” Meshech said.
“Of course not. He realized that we were making a big fuss over spilled blood, and so he decided to come back to life. If he can locate his family in this huge city, he is going to ask them what he should do with his life.”
I looked at him. I would have been awfully sorry if he had died, so I was glad that he had come back to life. “Do you have any ideas what you’re going to do?” I asked.
“Uhhhh!” he yelled. “Can people please stop asking me that! No! I may go and become a spice merchant if you don’t stop asking me!”
“That would be cool.”
He stared at me. “Seriously? How would you know?”
Maher ignored us and continued with his recap. “I never died, never got hurt, and escaped with minor abrasions and a few cuts. I’m doing excellent as the leader of my regiment and left hand man of the prince. Cause obviously Meshech is the right hand.
“Our brother Josech died, we heard, at the hand of Venomousest, who somehow also mysteriously died at the same time. We are still uncertain who died first. However, we will always mourn Josech, the first of the Insurgents to fail, the first of the Infiltrators to die…But you didn’t die.”
“Honestly?” said Meshech. “It’s short, sweet, and simple. As Maher told you, the IGSIPOR and those inside the city survived, but three-fifths of the remainder of the seven VIPOR died.”
“Math?” yelled Kohath. “And fractions? One thing I am not going to do, Josech, is become a math teacher. Okay?”
“Fine with me,” I answered. “So which ones died and which ones didn’t?”
“I will tell you…” said Maher. “We found–”
“Summaries are intensely necessary,” said Baruch. “The left flank moved up, the right flank moved back, we came to the field. Villainousest, Vehementest, and Venomousest died. We don’t exactly know what happened to Vengefullest and Vexatiousest, but we can only assume that they joined the rest of the emirates in their long march north. So we said goodbye to our enemies and came here! And now we’re all alive, and I’m so happy, but Josech…”
“Well…what are you planning to do?”
“Um…I’m not sure, You guys mostly have the rest of your lives planned out, while I’m waiting for the next adventure…Hey, what happened to Jair?”
“Jair!” yelled Kohath.
“Jair?” asked Maher.
“Oh, Jair…” said Meshech and Baruch together.
“Jair got minorly wounded, led a major victory, and survived. In fact, he’s probably at his house right now,” Baruch explained.
“Yeah, have you been to his house lately?” Meshech asked. “His front door is totally beat up. Looks like an Insurgent got to it or something.”
“Is this Jair…” began Kohath, and his voice sounded like he was trying to hiccup and sneeze at the same time, “a spice merchant, from Gibeon, son of Rechab, lately moved to Iyr, and firm supporter of the prince?”
“That’s the one!” said Meshech. “I gather you know him?”
“Well…” said Kohath, “I knew him a while ago. Back then, I called him Patri. You see, my father was a spice merchant, and my mother was a donkey merchant, and they lived in Gibeon beyond the marshes…”
“Ugh! Why is your donkey always the most tractable one?” I asked.
Kohath shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, “it’s because I know the most about donkeys?”
I kicked my donkey again, but he still didn’t want to keep up with Kohath’s.
“I don’t know. I should know something about donkeys by now! I mean, doesn’t this make the forty-fifth trip to Gibeon?”
Kohath shook his head. “Forty-seventh. The forty-fifth was the one where your donkey bucked you off halfway there and mine ran the rest of the way.” He laughed. “You had walked all the way to Kiriath before I found you!”
“At least I had sold thirteen pounds of spices before I got there! Your donkey had shaken off three of its bags!”
“Yeah…Patri was not happy about that time…but at least last time nothing too bad happened…”
“You’d think that after forty-six times, everything bad that could possibly happen would have.”
“Yeah…” said Kohath. We rode on in silence for a time.
“Do you remember,” he said, “the first time we rode this road together?”
“Like right after Jair said that you and I could go be his ambassadorial spice merchants to Gibeon and all the rest of the Prince’s princedom? Yeah, I remember.”
“Not then,” Kohath said, “The very first time. When we came to spy on the Insurgents–look, there is their fortress!”
I looked where we pointed. It was old, decrepit, abandoned, and falling apart now–just the way their other headquarters was in town. It looked empty, like no one had ever or would ever live there. The stone walls and the rusting fence showed its past use and future obsoleteness. Time had passed and had changed the princedom. For one thing, it was a princedom, and not the Regent’s Domains. It was a happier land now, though not free of its minor irritations. Like donkeys.
“Come on, Kohath,” I said. “What’s your secret with donkeys?”
“Ahh, well. My mother was a donkey merchant, and her father, and his father, and his sister, and her aunt, all the way back to the very beginning of the Regency. You could say that donkey riding runs very deep in my family. Your family is known for their militarism, ours is known for our donkeys. And our spices. But of course, the donkeys are much bigger than the spices, so they are much more obvious.”
“Yup?” he said.
“Things have changed, haven’t they?”
Kohath tilted his head and looked at me like I had just said that his hair was red. “Of course they have.”
“Does the princedom just seem different to you somehow?”
“Well…we have a prince. Maher and Meshech are in the guards, and you and I are out here on donkeys. That’s different. But Josech, that’s not the biggest thing, is it?”
I shook my head.
“No. The biggest change is that the Insurgents are gone. With no VIPOR, the people don’t have to live in fear that their lives will be forever destroyed by the coercion of a superlatively manipulative Insurgent, so they are ready just to enjoy life, enjoy their donkey rides, and enjoy spices. Say, did you hear what Matri told me at the wedding?”
“She said that they might have found a new kind of spice.”
“Oh. But we already have thousands of them. What kind is this one?”
He thought hard, like he was trying to discover how a snake would peel a banana. “Aha!” he finally said. “She said it was like a cross between cinnamon and garlic, thyme and anise, lemon and cayenne pepper, plus a pinch of cardamom and sage and nutmeg all in one.”
I stared at him incredulously. “And who would actually want a spice like that?”
Kohath shrugged. “Who knows? Matri said it could be very valuable. But actually, Ariel said the exact same thing as you when Matri said that.”
“Oh. What did Baruch say?”
“He said it sounded like it would be excellent in salads or smoothies.”
Kohath laughed. “That’s what Ariel said too. Do you think she’ll like being the new princess?”
I smiled. “Yeah, she will. She’s always been Baruch’s best friend, and she’s just the person he needs to keep him from going completely crazy. They’ll be the finest prince and princess we have ever had.”
Kohath nodded. “Josech,” he said, “I’ve been wondering…Do you ever wonder what Vengefullest and Vexatiousest are doing?”
“Nope!” I said. “In that battle, I whacked them both so hard that I doubt they survived. And if they did, they won’t be able to do anything against us for an extremely long time. We are undeniably safe.”
Kohath nodded. “Yup. Meshech was right all along, you know. Our God was with us. Even when we didn’t know it. Even when half of us were being coerced by Insurgents and the other half lived in fear of us. Even when our Regent was murdered and we thought we were left like blind rats without a compass. Even when the whole world seemed arranged against us in battle array, ready to annihilate us all, He still was with us. And that’s a good thing. You know?”
I smiled. It was something I was getting used to doing, now that I was just a spice merchant and not a commander of a regiment of the Regent’s Guards.
“Yup!” I said. “In the darkest time, when I didn’t know which side Meshech was on and when I felt like you were ready to kill me, He still was with us. And He will never, ever, ever leave us. Kohath, He is the one thing we can count on.”
“Yeah…” said Kohath absentmindedly.
“So perhaps someday we will look back on today, the thirty-second of Habib, only a year after I was so ignominiously entangled in the inescapable cords of the Insurgents, and remember that this was the culmination of our happiness after the beginning of our deliverance a year ago.”
“Yeah…” Kohath repeated, still not paying much attention. I ignored that and kept going.
“And it’s all because of our God.” I exhaled as I watched the road slip away under the donkey’s feet. Not literally. “I just hope we don’t forget.”
“Forget? Forget what? Forget that we were once Insurgents? Not a chance! I mean, I remember the motto, ‘Insurgemus Semper!’ or ‘We will insurge forever’. Not that they did or anything, just remembering their goal. And I remember how hot that furnace was, especially the time we crept in back. Ooowee! That was hot! And you didn’t want to leave! Now that is what I call perseverance! The perseverance needed to ride even the stubbornest donkey.”
I laughed, then remembered those days too. “We knew that our people would die if we didn’t. So we did. And it worked.”
“Yeah. And I remember how hard it was to get that door to the furnace to open. Speaking of which, did you ever see the way we did it?”
“Once, at the very start of Insurgency.”
“Yeah. You had to get the knife into the table just right to make it open. Villainousest–I mean Deuel–was the best at it. I practiced and practiced. Meshech and I had a contest going. By the way, did you see all the marks on the table where it looked like it had been chewed by a turtle?”
“I saw some marks…maybe not quite like that…”
“Oh, there was only one set of marks on that table. And they were all created by Meshech’s and my knife-throwing practice. Deuel and Pagiel kept saying that we would have to get a new table, but we never did. And then we fell apart, like dried roses in the coming evening, and behold! We were no more. Insurgency was over, and the new reign of Princedom has come. “
The sun was going down now, falling over the eastern horizon like melted butter on a bar of iron in a hot oven. It turned the northern hills deep red and gold and purple, the colors that to me meant freedom from all our oppressors on every side.
“We are free,” I whispered.
“Yes,” said Kohath, and I knew that he felt it too. These excursions to Gibeon weren’t just business trips, they weren’t just jaunts to sell spices. They reminded us, each and every time we went, that we were free. Free to sell Jair’s spices, free to make our own mistakes. Free to look at the sunset and know that no serpent was waiting to bite our heels, for we had vanquished them. The Lion of Iyr had won, and this was final.
“You know one other thing I’ll never forget,” said Kohath, “is this band on my arm. The kingdom is back together again and we have peace, but there still are–and will always be–men like us who have allowed ourselves to be coerced by injustice and wrong to serve the slithery men of the west, but who have now been set free by our conquest. Sixty years from now, we’ll roll up our sleeves and say to our grandchildren, ‘Do you know we once tried to overthrow Iyr?’ and the little ones will look at us with big eyes rounder than the moon, and the older ones will say, ‘Oh, yes, Grandpatri, we’ve heard it before.’ And they’ll treat all our stories of these days of old as merely a faded relic and a myth or an antique and a legend. Maybe they’ll forget the days of Ebiasaph, when the people lived in fear. But we will remember, Josech. We can never forget.”
We rode on in silence for some time, until Kohath said to me, “I think I’ve finally found the reason why my donkeys are faster than yours!”
“What is that?” I asked skeptically.
“I name my donkeys.”
“Name my donkeys.”
“And this one is?”
“This, my friend Josech, is the Honorable Donkey Oz.”
“It means strength. What do you want to name your donkey?”
“Um…I’ll name it Mosheh.”
“Okay,” said Kohath. “Now’s the test. We’ll race to Gibeon. Ready…set…go!”
And off shot Kohath on the strength of his donkey, racing down the road to Iyr, never once looking back to see if I was following.
And despite all my kicking and prodding and my naming, Mosheh stayed extremely slow and never caught up to Kohath. By the time we got to Gibeon, he had already sold all his spices and mine, and was just waiting for me to bring them.
And this concludes the complete tale of what happened in all our adventures during the Insurgency. I am setting it down here so that sixty years from now, as Kohath says, our grandchildren can read it and discover that there was indeed a war in these parts, and that from our own midst our prince came and crushed the head of the snake. They can learn from this letter that we got our snake bands and battle scars at a high cost, but it was not worth more than our city. When they think that the reign of our Princes has always been and will always be, they can look back at this book and remember the Regents–who died and fought with and for all of us.
But maybe what they will most remember is that after all, there were some around here who were ready to trust in our God and fight for our prince to our death. And that is what Kohath and Meshech and Baruch and Ariel and Jair and everyone else who wanted me to put their name somewhere in my book but whom I forgot would want everyone to remember, for eons and eons to come.
Completed the fourteenth day of Tisri in the first year of Prince Baruch ben Yusef and Princess Ariel bat Ezra of Iyr.
Josech ben Ezra
F.L.O.P. (Friends Loyal to Our Prince)
Attested to by Kohath ben Jair ben Rechab of Gibeon, also a F.L.O.P.