Some Trust in Chariots
Malcus and Simay were married at the next available stop, a small city near Antioch in Syria. The ceremony was short and simple. When it was done, the new couple left the town with Seda and their animals, earning more than one side-long glance from the locals. Apparently the Syrians were not used to seeing such a motley crew trucking through their front yards.
Their little caravan continued on its journey towards the great desert when a series of expected events waylaid the tiny band.
“Malcus, the fire is dying, would you mind building it back up?” Simay called to her husband as she sanded the cooking utensils clean.
When no response came, Simay turned around to look at Malcus. He was standing very still, staring out into the darkness that circled their small camp. At first Simay couldn’t see what he was looking so intently at. The light of the fire kept her eyes from adjusting enough to see, but she thought she saw something moving – coming toward Malcus from the outer darkness.
Malcus drew his sword and brandished it at the shape. Whether it was animal or human, Simay could not yet tell, but her question was answered when it spoke.
“Is there room at your fire for a fellow traveler, sir?” the person – seemingly a man – said.
Simay’s ears honed in on the voice. It seemed to have a familiar sound to it, but it could very easily have been a combination of the night sounds, Seda’s tent flap, and the shuffling of the stranger’s outer robe.
“Who are you?” Malcus demanded.
“I am a man seeking refuge from those who would take my life.” He said with a now unmistakable accent.
At this Malcus looked critically at the man, his sword still extended.
“What is your name, stranger?” Malcus pried again.
“I call myself Sojourner.” Came the response.
“Why should I trust you, Sojourner?”
“I never said you had to trust me.”
“Go stand by the fire and take off your coat.”
The stranger obeyed and Malcus proceeded to search him thoroughly, producing the normal array of weaponry from the man: one sharp dagger, a hunting knife, a short sword, a slingshot, and a sturdy rod – probably a walking stick. There were no strange markings on any of his possessions. The only thing out of the ordinary that Malcus could find was a collection of scrolls written in Hebrew. He decided they were not dangerous and respectfully placed them back in Sojourner’s pack just as he had found them.
While Malcus was rummaging in the stranger’s belongings, Simay stared at the man thoughtfully. His skin was about the same shade as her own. His hair and beard were dark; his eyes were dark brown, but had a look of kindness about them that reminded her of the dream that she had never forgotten…
Seda poked her head out of her tent to see what the commotion outside was about. When she saw the stranger, her brow furrowed. His back was to her, so all that she could see was that he was tall of stature and broad-shouldered – not much information to go on. Since she didn’t know who he was or why he was here, she decided to stay in her tent and watch safely from there.
Simay noticed Seda’s inquiring face, but said nothing since Seda did not emerge from the tent. Malcus returned from searching the stranger’s pack looking a little more settled but still uncomfortable.
He addressed Sojourner, “I still don’t know who you are or why you’re here, and I’m not entirely convinced you’re not crazy, but you don’t seem to be a threat to us. But I still get to keep these.” Malcus pointed to the weapons he had confiscated, “At least until you prove to us that we can trust you.”
“I understand,” Sojourner nodded. “May I use your fire? I have my own food and tent.”
Malcus nodded and motioned for the man to go get his food from his pack.
“Would you object to me reading while I eat?”
“You mean the scrolls in your pack?”
Malcus thought a moment, “I don’t see why you shouldn’t.” he shrugged before throwing an assuring glance in Simay’s direction and adding, “But if you do anything that I consider threatening, you’ll feel the blade of my sword.”
“Understood.” Sojourner agreed before going back to his belongings and retrieving both food and scroll.
The stranger didn’t say much as he warmed his food, set up his tent, ate, and read. Simay watched him as he did these things and she still had the feeling that something about him was very familiar. The conviction began to grow in her gut that she needed to speak with this man, but it wasn’t the familiar voice of Diana that was prodding her. This simple fact almost made her want to reject the urge, but what harm could it do? All she wanted to do was talk with the man for a minute, so she chanced it.
“Sojourner…?” she ventured cautiously, taking two steps closer to him.
He looked up from his reading, “Yes?”
Again the look in this man’s eyes struck Simay. The face that framed them was entirely different, but the eyes were so similar…
“Is there something you wanted to ask me?” Sojourner said.
Simay stared at him blankly for a moment then realized that she had been spoken to. “Oh! I’m sorry. You just… looked familiar for a moment.”
Sojourner smiled. “You look like you might be from the same part of the world as I am.”
Simay nodded. “I grew up in Ephesus.”
There was a moment of silence as Simay sifted through the sand with her sandal and thought about what she should say next – if anything.
“What are you reading?” she blurted out suddenly.
“The words of the Prophet Isaiah.”
“Have you ever heard any of them?”
“Any of what?” Simay asked, a little confused.
“Have you ever heard any of what Isaiah said?” Sojourner looked a little more intently at the young woman.
Simay blinked a few times. To the stranger, she appeared to be thinking – remembering something.
“Yes… Yes, I have heard something of what he said once… a few years ago.” She paused, “Something like… ‘and with his stripes we are… healed.’”
“Yes, that’s a very small portion of what Isaiah said. He spoke of Messiah when he wrote that.”
“A strange thing for an Ephesian to know about.” Simay replied cautiously.
“Perhaps.” He agreed, “If I were the man I used to be.”
Before Simay got the chance to pursue Sojourner’s ominous statement, Malcus called her from the other side of the camp, and she was obliged to leave the stranger and their awkward exchange.
It was the middle of the night, and her ears rang with the shout, but the anxiety in her husband’s voice made her instantly snap awake.
“Stay here!” he yelled, sword in hand.
“What’s going on?!” Simay interjected into the mayhem, but Malcus had already run out of the tent and into the chaos outside. She bolstered her courage and took a look outside. What she saw sent a wave of terror running through her.
Sojourner was standing in the middle of their small camp, a broadsword in his left hand. His brown face was lifted up toward heaven as thunder and lightning coalesced into a rare and exotic thunderstorm. The rain pelted down in torrents on the Ephesian as Malcus ran to stand with him. Seda was already standing out in the rainstorm with her newly made bow drawn and aimed.
Men – dozens of men armed to the hilt with every weapon imaginable and some unimaginable – were descending on the camp.
Her fear escalated as the band moved closer and closer. Even in her fear, Simay was confused by Sojourner’s actions. He wasn’t even looking at the oncoming horde and he had let his sword fall to the ground. His face was still upturned and she could hear him saying something over the torrential storm. The ambient cacophony masked most of what he said. She only heard a few words here and there and one clear phrase, “open their eyes.”
She blinked. And nearly fell over in shock. The night lit up like a desert at midday. The light confused her eyes for a few moments as the threatening horde continued their approach. When her eyes finally adjusted she forgot about the band of men entirely.
Simay stepped out of her tent and turned completely around twice to survey the camp. The area was surrounded by men whose faces shone with heavenly light. Each man gripped a great sword in one hand. They needed no shield; no mortal man would ever be able to do them harm.
Every man looked different – almost as if they were human, but Simay knew in her heart that they were far from that and it frightened her to continue to gaze on the awesome sight. But as hard as she tried, she could not pry her eyes away despite the icy fist in her gut and the faint reprimand in her mind – from Diana she knew. The goddess was infuriated at this turn of events for some reason, but try as she might, she could not concentrate on Diana’s voice.
The rain continued to beat down, but in the brightness of the protecting army, the raindrops glowed as they fell in a torrent of heaven-sent stars.
Simay finally turned her face toward Sojourner to see what the stranger was doing. The Ephesian was still in the same place as he had been before, but he was on his knees, his hands raised toward the sky, his head bowed low. From his lips escaped a song that Simay did not know or understand,
"The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble;
the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
Send thee help from the sanctuary,
and strengthen thee out of Zion;
Remember all thy offerings,
and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.
Grant thee according to thine own heart,
and fulfill thy counsel.
We will rejoice in thy salvation,
and in the name of our God we will set up our banners:
the LORD fulfill all thy petitions.
Now know that I the LORD saveth his anointed;
he will hear him from his holy heaven
with the saving strength of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought down and fallen:
but we are risen, and stand upright.
Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call."
Malcus stared at the stranger for a long time, forgetting that a wave of men was about to come crashing down on them at any second. He remembered this psalm from many years ago – before he had left home. He had heard it read aloud in the synagogue and sung by the Levites, but he had never heard a Gentile utter those treasured words before. He did not understand why, but it sent a shiver up his spine.
Seda did not pay any heed to Sojourner. She did not appear to be able to see the glowing wall spread out before her. In fact, she appeared to still be fixated on the men flooding their way. Her bow was still at the ready and she was about to loose her first arrow when the band of men suddenly hit the wall of heavenly beings surrounding the camp. It was like ocean waves hitting sheer rock walls. No man passed the barrier, and no man who came into contact with the shining ones lived to tell about it.
The men – who were now close enough to be identified as a mix of bandits and renegade Roman soldiers – stopped suddenly when they saw that their fellows fell dead for no obvious reason at the feet of the singing stranger and his ragtag company. Some of the former soldiers began to circle the camp and attempted to come into the small space from different ways. They all fell dead onto the cold sand.
Suddenly, the looks on the faces of the bandits morphed from ridicule to terror as their own eyes were opened and they saw the awesome sight spread out before them. The company of angels that guarded the singing man was thick and all-encompassing. No bandit even had a hope of penetrating it, and when the shock melted off of their numbed minds the marauders fled for their lives, screaming and leaving behind weapons, provisions and costly treasures.
Upon the departure of the thieves’ band, the darkness of the night all of a sudden flooded over the little group again. The only light was the smoldering camp fire.
All eyes were fixed on Sojourner as he stood up and looked first at Malcus, then at Seda and finally at Simay before saying, “Get some sleep; we can clean up after them in the morning.”
Three open mouths and three sets of staring eyes followed the Ephesian back to his small, thread-bare tent.