loe chapter 16 pt 1
-Morning of the Third day-
A cold feeling overtook Joktan’s dream-like sleep as a draft of air from an opened door swept by him. He awoke slowly, remembering the savage wounds he had sustained. The sun’s light trickled its way through the circular opening in the countless floors above him. It offered no warmth but allowed him to view the extent of the Enlar bite.
There was nothing! He twisted his body in the light thinking it was some shadow that deceived him…but the wound was gone. Joktan ran his hand across the warm skin where the callused black infection once was. His heart beat faster as he unraveled the bandage around his wrist and discovered there was not even a scar left beneath the dried blood where Eber’s blade had pressed clean through.
A clatter of foot-steps resounded on the stone platform above the prisoners and an order echoed softly off the walls. The cage jerked suddenly and a wooden apparatus groaned as it cranked, lifting them out of the pit. Joktan turned to see his fellow prisoner on his knees, his lips aquiver with silent words. Through the wooden bars a shadowed form awaited their ascent. Two guards worked the lever while a third stood with a crackling torch held above his head, their faces hidden behind leather helmets. When the cage was in place, a bolt was removed and a guard beat the side of the cage with a club to urge the men out. Joktan moved warily from his suspended cell, glancing back to see the old man still on his knees in prayer.
“Out!” The guard gripped the first prisoner and yanked him away from the pit. “Are you deaf old man?”
After no response was given, the guard brandished his club and gripped the side of the cage to climb in after him. The impatient soldier struck the man once but the stubborn soul disregarded the interruption and remained in his humble pose. Before the soldier had a chance to brutalize him any further, the reverend man finished his prayers and exited the cell. In front of the captives stood a man draped in a dark-yellow cloak that hung to the floor. A sinister smile formed from underneath the jailer’s hood that obscured his other features.
“Good morning,” he offered in a shallow hiss.
After his curt greeting, the jailer nodded and the larger of the guards slammed his fist into Joktan’s gut. While he was still gasping for breath, the prisoner was urgently dragged to a wooden pole that was stained dark red. Joktan struggled as they tried to bind his hands above his head and received another blow, this time to the head. He slumped against the pole as he was suspended by his wrists with a leather cord. The same was done to the old man who went willingly but at his own pace which infuriated the guards even further.
“I have been hearing tales of late,” the hooded man began. “Metushelach would not attack Havilah unless he had…” The man paused to move in closer to Joktan. “…The Light of Eden?” The jailer sighed after waiting in the unanswered silence. “But of course you will be silent. Nevertheless, I will find out the secrets hidden in your mind—even if I have to cut them out.”
Hot coals filled a bronze plate that sat on a stone slab before the prisoners. A fourth guard was busily shifting the embers with a poker until the plate glowed a vibrant orange. The Havilan rotated the handle of a blackened sword protruding from the bottom of the brazier, and buried the blade deeper into the fiery blaze. The man with the torch strode to the brazier’s side and withdrew the heated weapon and held it before his eyes. The molten blade shone bright in the darkness as the masked soldier paced toward Joktan and halted behind his master.
The jailer continued to stare at his prisoner while he raised his hand to receive the heated metal. “You will have a new definition of pain after I am done with you!” he snarled.
With the grim threat still lingering on the jailer’s lips, the waiting soldier placed the heated end of the iron blade into the torturer’s outstretched hand. The man screamed in anguish as his flesh sizzled aloud. Hunching, he grasped the wrist of his seared hand while the pain spiked through his arm.
The two guards positioned on either side of Joktan stepped forward to assess the disturbance. The first caught a slash of the fiery blade across the neck and his single edged scimitar clanked on the stone floor. Joktan stretched his legs and tripped the second guard before he had a chance to swing at his foe with a mace. The soldier, who had been attending the burning coals, charged in from behind and sparks flew as he and the rescuer’s swords collided in a savage flurry of slashes.
Joktan slid the fallen guard’s blade closer to him and held it between his feet. While the man he tripped was struggling to rise, the prisoner braced his shoulders against the pole and lifted the weapon so his bound hands could grasp the blade. After slitting his binds, Joktan dropped to the floor in time to duck below the arc of a mace. The weapon’s bronze-head was savagely imbedded into the wooden pole where the prisoner had been a moment earlier. With his hands still bound, Joktan tossed the sword into the air so he could catch it by the handle. The Sorn then swiftly cut the second guard down before he had a chance to pry his weapon free.
The heated blade flew to the stone floor in a whirlwind of sparks as it was knocked free from its wielder’s grip. The final guard swung high at his unarmed opponent, hoping to finish him off with one slash. Stepping into his attacker, the mysterious fighter flipped his opponent over his back and onto the plate of hot coals. The man’s clothes burst into flames as he rolled to the floor and stumbled wildly away until he lost his footing and plummeted headfirst into the pit.
Joktan helped the holy-man down from where he hung and watched as their savior pulled the leather helmet from his head.
“Ehud!” Joktan exclaimed. “You sly hound.”
The reunion was cut short by the distant sounding of a bell in the corridors above. The jailer had crawled his way over to a section of the wall where he was fervently tugging on a suspended rope. In a quick sweep, Ehud retrieved his sword from the floor, rushed over, and pulled the man back by his cloak. He had his sword raised to run the demented man through when Joktan called out for him to stop.
“No more pointless bloodshed.” He took the trembling man from Ehud’s grip and then tossed him into the pit’s cage. “That is Metushelach’s way, not ours.”
“You’ll never make it out of here alive!” the jailer snarled.
Joktan spun and drove his fist through the wicked fiend’s head, causing him to drop hard to the cage’s floor.
Ehud raised a curious brow as his friend turned.
“Old habits die hard,” Joktan muttered.
The clamor of running soldiers above spurred the two Sorn into action and they sprinted to secure the only door in and out of the torture chamber.
“What are we going to do?” Ehud began barricading the entrance with whatever he could find.
Joktan urgently scanned about the stone-walled room for any way of escape until his eyes rested on the old man who had knelt to pray. He asked aloud for deliverance and stared up through the hole in the ceiling that transcended through the pyramid above. Joktan rushed over and leaped across the pit to the cage. After scaling atop, he peered upward. On the adjacent floor, a pulley held two sections of rope. One end was attached to the cage and the other end of the same rope connected to the wheel on their floor which could raise or lower men and supplies.
“Someone is going to have to stay behind to crank it up,” Ehud said, confirming what Joktan was thinking.
The door shuddered abruptly and men shouted curses from the opposite side.
“Here! Make haste!” Joktan shouted and helped the prophet up while Ehud jumped to the side of the cage and climbed on top.
“How is this going to work?” Ehud asked with a doubtful tone.
Joktan drew his sword and gripped one of the two ropes as the door to the chamber was broken down and a number of guards poured in.
Joktan concentrated on the task at hand. “Just hold on.”
Ehud and the old man gripped tightly to the same rope as Joktan raised his sword and placed his foot on the line that was fed through the wheel. He brought the blade down so hard that it sunk into the wood and was wrenched from Joktan’s hand as the cage dropped from beneath their feet. The three men were jerked into the air as the guards swarmed around them.
Ascending to the second floor within the span of a heartbeat, they let released their grips on the rope as the cage splintered on the bottom of the pit. The two Sorn warriors clutched the sides of the hole with one arm and then grabbed the holy-man before he plunged to the depths below.
When they had all clambered onto the second floor, Joktan peered down at the level beneath him. A bloodthirsty growl arose from the pit followed by a human scream which echoed throughout the pyramid. Ehud and Joktan glanced at each other and then at the old man.
“You see, justice belongs to God,” the prophet provided with a wry grin.
Joktan smiled awkwardly and scanned the dark room around him. They were in the same hall he’d been led down the day before. The wretched smell lessened since he had been breathing it for a full day now. He knew going out the same passage he’d entered was suicide—there had to be another route of escape.
“Come, this way!” Joktan directed, remembering the second doorway at the other end of the hall.
A dim light could be seen in the distance as they hurried along the passage. The darkness was suffocating and made it difficult to run blindly but the light at the end of the tunnel acted as a guiding beacon. The infuriated commotion of the returning soldiers could be heard on the steps below. Joktan could only pray that they reached the end of the hall before the jailers did. The old man moved swiftly for his age and soon they reached the opening—the door had been lowered, much to Joktan’s gratefulness. Torchlight rounded the corner and rushed toward the captives as they clambered up the wooden plank.
“Hurry!” Ehud stretched out a hand to help Joktan.
Both men grabbed a rope and hoisted the door closed, the guards a stride away. The outwitted men beat on the heavy wooden barricade with their weapons, but their efforts were futile. All three of the fugitives collapsed after the harrowing escape and surveyed their surroundings. It was a room identical to the guards’ quarters on the adjacent end of the prison with a passage of stairs near the far end.
“What is your name old man?” Joktan asked between heavy gasps.
“Noach, son of Lemekh,” he replied.
The stairway leading from the guards’ quarters was dark and sapped the energy from the three men. Sunlight welcomed them and they soon reached the surface. There was no more of the city behind the pyramid, just excavated dirt and rock followed by mountains of sand. A structure of barracks stood to the left of the stair’s entrance and only a training ground separated the fugitives from their freedom.
Joktan searched for a way past the twenty or more soldiers that were making sport with large double handed axes of bronze. The larger pyramid structure prevented escape to the right and the barrack’s walls boxed them in from the left side of the training grounds.
“My family is just beyond those hills,” Noach pointed straight across the training grounds. “Half a day’s walk.”
Ehud joined his leader’s side and peered over the last step. “I can hold them off while you make a run for it.”
Swift, as to not allow Ehud to react, Joktan grabbed their only weapon by the blade and tore it from the soldier’s hands. “If anyone is to go it shall be me.”
Joktan’s determined gaze studied what obstacles rested behind them. Above him rose an offset staircase that led to the pyramid’s peak and on the sides of the stair stood entrances which led into the base of the structure—crawling with countless Havilan soldiers, no doubt. And beyond that lie a city full of wickedness. Ehud was right, there seemed to be no means of escape but through the barrack’s yard.
“We have only moments before they break through down there or circle around to get us,” the stout veteran warned.
“We will have to fight our way through,” Joktan determined at last and gripped the iron blade. Ehud nodded in agreement.
“Do you not have faith in the Lord’s deliverance? You are his chosen—or have you already forgotten your vision?” The old man clasped Joktan shoulder to keep him from rushing to his death. “You cannot rely on your own strength, you must put your trust in God and He will light your path.”
Ehud watched in astonishment as Joktan stared at the bloodstained weapon in his hand before letting it drop from his fingers. Eyes lifted to the clear aqua blue sky, the Sorn commander rose from the cover of the steps.
“Wait here,” he said and walked slowly toward the soldiers who were not yet aware of his presence.
“You have just sent him to his death—alone,” Ehud scorned Noach for his counsel.
“What do we have here?” A bare-chested man resting the jagged head of an axe over his shoulder spied Joktan approaching.
The rest of the company turned to stare at the stranger. Without armor or helmets, the warriors were a ghastly sight. Their whole bodies, especially their faces, were covered with tattoos and piercings. Their appearances were savage and cruel like they were not even human. The warriors formed a ring around the lone Sorn while mocking the unarmed man.
“Help me, Great Father,” Joktan prayed as he stopped and waited for the soldiers to come to him.
A staff of ash wood was tossed to the Sorn and a willowy man stepped into the circle to face Joktan. His face was decorated with a plethora of carved bone piercings and green tattooed streaks. The Havilan wielded a staff similar to Joktan’s own and he spun the weapon menacingly as he came at the foreigner.
The staff swung wide and Joktan ducked beneath its arc and took out his attacker’s legs with his own stick. Shocked only for a moment by his opponent’s speed, the Havilan rose with an ignited rage and continued the match. The dull clacking of striking wood rose above the shouts of the spectators while the combatants engaged.
The Sorn fought well, but with no intent of hurting his foe, who was beginning to be put to shame for his inability to land a blow.
In an attempt to catch his opponent off guard, the Havilan warrior vaulted himself into the air with his staff and kicked the Sorn in the side of the head. Joktan stumbled away and regained his balance as the crowd around him cheered. He watched as the man shifted his weight in a side to side motion then re-attempted the same maneuver.
Joktan stepped into the attack this time and put all his weight onto the shaft of his opponent’s staff and snapped it in two with his heel while the man was within his flight. The Havilan crashed awkwardly on the side of his head and tumbled to his back.
Infuriated by the jeers of his fellow soldiers, the man discarded the broken half of his staff. Spitting out the dust that had collected in his dry mouth, he turned from the Sorn to retrieve a new weapon. Confidence and vengeance were mixed to create a grimace as the man turned. A shaft, like the staff he just had, was in his tattooed fists but now there were slender, pointed blades mounted on either end of the weapon’s length.
Disturbed dust from the parched ground rose to encompass the scene and Ehud took advantage of the cover as he helped Noach across the training yard. He tried to see through the circle but his friend was shrouded in the suffocation of the cloud. Ehud wanted to charge in and die with his master but he knew Joktan would honor his sacrifice if their places were reversed. He soon got Noach to safety and watched helplessly from a distance.
Joktan released a lung full of air. To what end this battle would leave him seemed grim. Noach’s words echoed in his head as the bronze edges of the shaft’s blades sliced through the air. “Deliverance,” Joktan whispered to the heavens.
In that moment, while the dust was gathered around and the Havilan’s weapon was raised against him, Joktan heard a great tong. The sound reverberated again and again, continuing in a steady pattern as the men around him stared at the smaller of the two pyramids behind them.
Two men were striking a great disk of brass in sequence with each other atop the pinnacle of the manmade mountain of stone. All eyes were lifted, blinking through the cloud of dust that engulfed them. Amidst the lure of the distraction, there sounded the dull thud of a wooden staff and the ring of soldiers returned their attention to discover that the lone Sorn had vanished.
A great cloud of dust, illuminated by the sunlight, enclosed on the walls of Havilah from the south. Joktan heard the distant thumping of drums and the earth quaking shudder of the marching thousands. Scrambling up a hill, he joined Ehud and Noach in hiding and followed their vacant stares. Not wishing to turn their eyes too long from the scene before them, the two comrades subtly exemplified their gratefulness to see each other again through a quick glance and a nod.
“It is a five-day march from Altenia, how did they get here so fast?”
“Metushelach must have sent them ahead, even before he attacked Morna.” Joktan shot the old prophet a glance. “He believes in the same God as you.”
“Even demons believe in God,” Noach muttered. “Metushelach, like the powerful spirit HaSatan, went from serving the Almighty to wanting to be almighty.”
“How do you know all this?” Ehud demanded.
“Metushelach is my grandfather,” the old man spoke with disdain. “Madness controls him now, and he will not stop until God himself strikes him down.” Noach looked up into the sky as he paused. “We must get to safety before it is too late.”
“The Sorn will not attack till the morning,” Ehud interjected. “Our men await you in the dead forest where I left them before infiltrating the city with armor of a captured scout. They are a half day journey around the city. If we find horses, then we can join the rest of the army before the attack—but we must leave now.”
“No,” Joktan said, pondering the situation. “I will see you back safe old man,” he promised and rose to help Noach to his feet.
Ehud rose as well and was about to object when Joktan placed a steady hand on his shoulder. “I need you to lead the men to this position behind the city. I will await your arrival at first light tomorrow.
Joktan returned his gaze to the distant force of men and giants. The dawn of a new age was close at hand.