“There he is.” Shalamar said. “Keep an eye on him.”
“What’s he doing?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t trust him. Why is he sneaking behind that pillar instead of joining them out in the courtyard?”
This was real trouble. With a nod to Guido he circled around behind Akbar keeping a sharp eye out for the presence of the enemy.
But Guido had already seen him and, with a flash of brilliant light, he swooped down upon the swarthy demon stationed upon the Temple wall behind Akbar. He was a massive spirit, dark and forbidding, but he was caught totally unawares. The frontal attack had its intended effect. The demon burst off the wall, desperately trying to escape, zigzagging through the pillars and porticos of the Temple out into the streets of Yerushalayim. Guido was right behind him, close upon his heels, his bright sword hungry, his eyes ablaze with the expectation of battle.
Shalamar had only a few minutes before reinforcements would show up. He settled down silently behind Akbar and approached him cautiously, wanting nothing more than to see what he was seeing and hear what he was hearing. Peering over his shoulder, Shalamar realized at once that Akbar could hear Benjamin teaching the people about Yeshua and he had stopped to listen.
Obviously he was now dangerous. Guido would have to keep an eye on him for the next few days until they could figure out what he was up to.
Neither one of them had noticed that Jubal was also in the crowd.
“Is everything ready?”
“Are you sure about this?” Jubal said.
Akbar had been gathering support for a direct move against Benjamin. Although he had the support of Ya´acov, the High Priest, he still had to be careful because, as old as Gamaliel was, he still had power in Yerushalayim.
“You were there. You heard him yourself.” Akbar could not keep the scorn out of his voice. “If you don’t have the stomach for it, I’ll find someone else.”
Jubal looked at Akbar, his eyes narrow and calculating. This arrogant, strutting pretender had better walk softly. He would only be pushed so far.
“Of course, I have the stomach for it. I just wanted to be sure there was no other way this could be handled.”
“There is no other way.” Akbar turned away with a final word, dismissing Jubal with a wave of his hand. “Make sure you are ready by noon.”
Jubal gritted his teeth, forcing himself not to react. There were more important things at stake. Still he wondered about his new partner.
It didn’t seem to matter that Benjamin was almost family. Every aspect of Akbar’s life was carefully thought out and Benjamin was no part of the picture. Benjamin’s sister, Ruth, would make him a fine wife. His courtship had been meticulously planned for he had every intention of gaining prominence in the community by becoming part of the famous Rabbi’s inner circle of family and friends.
Already there was a certain diffidence in the attitude of the other young rabbis toward him. His own blindness could not recognize that wariness for what it was – a worrisome fear that a shallow and proud young man was gaining a position of power that he didn’t deserve.
Jubal had been a friend of the family for years and he suspected that Gamaliel was far too kind to put a stop to Akbar’s pretensions. His granddaughter wasn’t so attractive after all, and she was getting on in years. He probably thought it was better to let things take their natural course and Ruth seemed to accept the idea well enough.
She deserved better.
Only Benjamin was opposed, and outspoken about it. But Benjamin was about to be taken care of. Akbar had quietly gotten a few of the more ambitious, head strong students together to do a little covert work in the old part of the city, and he had gotten permission to bring the Temple guards with him.
Jubal would go along to make sure the job got done right.
His sword was in his hand, ready, but Shalamar remained veiled. Only a glimmer of light would show a careful observer where he was. He had no way of knowing if he had already been marked, or whether the forces of the enemy were gathering. He would know soon enough.
He wasn’t worried for himself. It was for Benjamin, on his knees crying out to God there on the rooftop overlooking the streets of Yerushalayim. It was just that Benjamin wasn’t very subtle – or quiet – and, in enemy territory, being quiet was a good idea.
Enemy territory? Shalamar shook his head. Yerushalayim would never be enemy territory; not with warriors like Benjamin in the battle.
He glanced again at Benjamin’s kneeling form, weeping and crying out for his grandfather and for Yerushalayim.
The Presence is strong in this one.
Quickly, Shalamar sucked in his last glimmer of light as dark shadows passed overhead. He remained quiet but watchful in a tower overlooking the rooftops of the old city where Benjamin was praying.
The problem with Yerushalayim was obvious. The great brutes that patrolled the spiritual zone around the city marched and flew in formation, always in pairs, mimicking their earthbound counterparts. Their military demeanor was rough and cruel even to others of their own kind.
They had not seen Benjamin or they were ignoring him, Shalamar wasn’t sure which. Not that it mattered. It was only a question of time.
Still he watched them closely. They were large, formidable spirits, scarred and ravaged as much from the corroding evil within as from their many battles with the hosts of heaven. They still had a dark beauty, their spiritual form reflecting their mission and position in the hierarchy of hell. These were warriors, trim and powerful, terrible in beauty, deadly in battle. Other dark spirits took on other forms that reflected their expertise: sloth, anger, jealousy, lust. There was nothing beautiful about them, no reminder of past glory only the cancerous degeneration of pure and unadulterated depravity.
Evil unleashed and violence unchecked, a fitting description of the invading armies, both human and spiritual, that overran the holy city.
But they weren’t the ones that worried Shalamar. They could be defeated with sheer strength and brute force. It was the special forces that concerned him, with their cold, unrelenting pursuit of the faithful, dragging them into the open from every secret corner and hiding place in the city, to be humiliated and beaten and sometimes killed. Their utter contempt for their enemies and their fearlessness in battle was enough to make even the most seasoned warrior think twice about an open confrontation.
Their form was more subtle, their depravity more advanced. They were dark and evil shadows living on the fringe of existence, flirting with their own self-extinction. They could harden themselves for a time into lithe and powerful warriors when the time for open battle came upon them, but that was not normally their way. They were deceivers, spies, consummate liars and specialists in intrigue. They were whisperers, experts in the nuances of deception, skilled in the shaping of perceptions. They were evil beyond even their evil brothers and they reveled in it.
So far they had left Benjamin alone, but that was changing. He had been protected by the fact that he was the grandson of Gamaliel, a prominent leader of the Sanhedrin. They simply had not expected any problems there. That was what had given Shalamar his opportunity.
The ground work had taken years. A deep yearning and love for Yerushalayim, some forbidden manuscripts, a few stories and the natural curiosity of a sharp young mind had led Benjamin on a quest for truth that ended on his knees. It was a moment of great triumph for Shalamar but it had all been done quietly, until now.
The faithful had taken to going out in pairs and Shalamar was thankful for the extra caution. But Benjamin was impossible. He often walked through the streets as if there were no war zone, as if the city were his, as if his quiet talks with the people in the Temple courtyards had gone unnoticed.
His fearlessness both thrilled Shalamar and worried him. The attack would come today and today he was alone.
No, never alone, he reminded himself, looking once again at Benjamin’s kneeling form, especially when he had good prayer cover.
Anything could happen.
Actually, it had all been a terrible, wonderful mistake. He had discovered Benjamin’s involvement with the Galilean heresy quite by accident one day in the Temple.
Waiting to speak with Gamaliel, Akbar had overheard the whispered discussions about that hated impostor, Yeshua bar Joseph, a common carpenter from Galilee of all places, claiming to be the Maschiach. From behind a column of shaped masonry, he took note of the faces that were there listening eagerly like the stupid peasants they were. The rest was a question of having Benjamin followed.
Today would be the day. Benjamin was in the habit of praying on the rooftop patio of his grandfather’s small home in the ancient city. Gamaliel always kept a place in the old part of the city as a retreat for prayer and contemplation, building a kinship with the past.
At first Akbar thought of tracking down one of the key leaders of the Galilean heresy by keeping an eye on everyone who came to talk with Benjamin. More freedom was being given to harassing the Christ-followers and it had driven them underground. It would be a real coup for him to drag one of the key leaders in front of the Sanhedrin for a good beating and put him in prison. Natan´el would be the one.
In the end, his hatred and envy of Benjamin won him over and he decided to strike quickly and decisively. Benjamin would be beaten, and exiled from Yerushalayim. Gamaliel would have to disown him publicly and Akbar would be given a free hand to do as he wished in a place of honor in the family of the great Rabbi.
It was a game the demons loved to play. Shalamar had witnessed how they goaded and enticed their earthbound charges with thoughts of promotion and grandeur. They would compete with one another to see what great evil could be done. First one and then another. The Romans against the Jews, the Sadducees and collaborators against the zealots, the Pharisees and scribes against everyone and the followers of the Maschiach the easy scapegoats. Shalamar could feel the spiritual tension in the air.
Strategies and devious intrigues, lies and deceptions, plans within plans, corrupt politics and self serving religious leaders. It was a dance of deception, a demonic game of intrigue that had no winners. They could do nothing without the assent of these humans but it was so easy to manipulate them that they found it to be quite entertaining.
The Special Forces which haunted the shadow world of Yerushalayim had refined spiritual pride to an art form in this most religious of cities. It was a homage paid to their great leader who, himself, had pioneered that art at the very beginning of time. To take the beloved city of the enemy and turn it into this parody of religious worship was the height of hypocrisy and, no doubt, the most enjoyable demonic revenge conceivable.
One thing was becoming clear. Yerushalayim was being abandoned. The Presence was no longer so strong, the angelic ranks had thinned out and the demons generally had the run of the city.
Cautiously at first, but then with more and more abandon, the ugly forces of evil began to harass and persecute Christians and Jews alike, often using one against the other and the Romans against both. It was a demonic orgy that would last almost a generation. Then the great destruction that evil brings upon itself would come, and Yerushalayim would be no more. That was the prophecy of the King, himself, but still Shalamar harbored the secret hope that somehow, someway, Yerushalayim would be spared and retaken for the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps, one day, he would fight alongside the great archangel Gabriel or Michael and fight for the liberation of the Holy City. It was a dream worth keeping.
Until then, it would be the deadliest of games and the ugliest of battles.
Shalamar watched as Akbar and a group of students and Temple guards made their way up the street towards the house where Benjamin continued to pray.
Shalamar looked anxiously around for the demonic forces which should be supporting this operation but he couldn’t spot even one. He glanced quickly over his shoulder, sensing a trap.
He decided that there was no point any longer in remaining veiled and in an explosive blaze of glory he unfolded his wings and, raising his sword to the sky, shouted the ancient battle cry, “For the Lord and his anointed!”
Almost immediately, the sky was filled with demons as they responded with howls of rage and glee at the trap they had sprung. Shalamar was obviously outnumbered which made even the most timid of his foes brave for the moment.
Shalamar twisted and dove as he fought, swinging his sword and knocking the nearest demon into the one behind him. With a strong backstroke he took the head cleanly off the demon about to strike him from behind. Twisting forward again, he barely had time to ward off another attack, parrying blow after blow, his face tight with the tension of battle, off balance, retreating.
A pause in the fighting gave him time to regain his momentum and he renewed his attack, trying to take the offensive. His fiery blade cut an arc through the air but it was met by a stronger blade and the blow sent Shalamar spinning towards the earth. Snapping his wings tight, he rolled, turning to face his assailant. He looked up into the dark eyes of more power, more evil than he could handle alone. It was the hated Special Forces. The dark, massive spirit hovered above him, relishing his power over Shalamar, taking his time.
The demons were trying by sheer force to move him away from the center of the real battle on the rooftop by Benjamin, and Shalamar could sense it.
There are too many of them, was his first thought, and then, immediately after, my place is with Benjamin.
Banking to his left, Shalamar intended to slip away and get back to Benjamin but he was not quick enough. A demon thrust his dirty blade into Shalamar’s leg from behind and he bellowed in pain. Another plucked a fist full of white feathers from his wings and Shalamar arched his back in pain. Desperately he kicked the small, hideous spirit aside, turned back toward the demon hordes and pointed his sword at the encircling mass of darkness, attacking ferociously.
Spinning his copper sword above his head in a circle of deadly light, he raced for altitude, tracing a golden trail of light behind him. He burned with the fervor of battle as he flailed left and right, thrusting and parrying blow after blow.
He broke through and the demons fell back. Without another thought, he raced for the side of Benjamin.
They were playing with him, he realized. He could not hold them off for long, but he would not give up.
Shalamar stood beside the kneeling form of Benjamin, his leg bleeding, the demons hovering in the air above him. The stink of their rotting carcasses was overpowering, but Shalamar didn’t care. He would send his share into the dark void of hell before this day was out.
After a moment, Shalamar moved to the edge of the roof to check on Akbar and his mob while keeping a wary eye on the demonic forces at the same time. Down below on the street, he could hear Akbar call out to Benjamin on the roof.
“Benjamin, Benjamin, open the door. It is I, Akbar.”
Akbar had carefully hidden the rest of the mob under the canopy of the open door way and around the corner out of sight of anyone peering down from the rooftop. The hot, hazy afternoon sun beat down on them as they sought the shade. The quiet was due as much to their secrecy as to the fact that everyone was indoors during the hottest part of the afternoon. The flies, buzzing lazily against the stone wall of the house where they crouched, added to the heaviness of the day.
Akbar had planned well. There would be no interference, no witnesses. He stood out in the open in the heat of the sun waiting for Benjamin to answer his greeting.
Benjamin didn’t even bother to look.
“Come up here, Akbar. I am on the roof.”
There was a stairway on the outside of the house leading to the roof and Akbar and Jubal began to climb it carefully and quietly with the others close on their heels.
“Remain here while I go to greet him and make sure that no one else is here.” He whispered his instructions. “When I accuse him of heresy, run up and arrest him.”
Shalamar could see Jubal nod his agreement.
He could also see that Akbar was enjoying his moment.
The demons were as well. They weren’t worried about him. He was hopelessly outnumbered and they wanted to watch the real action. Shalamar could only do the same thing.
Akbar walked up the last remaining steps and greeted his future brother-in-law with a kiss and the traditional greeting.
“Peace be with you, Benjamin.”
“And with you.”
The demons howled with laughter knowing that he brought nothing but violence.
Shalamar blazed ferociously at them for a moment but they remained at a safe distance and laughed.
Akbar was talking again and he got straight to the point. “I know about you and your friends. Did you think that you would escape your punishment just because you are the favorite of the great Rabbi Gamaliel?”
Strangely, Benjamin remained quiet.
Nothing so angers an accuser than silence in the face of his accusations.
“You call yourself a Jew.” He began to shout. “And yet you defile yourself with this heresy. I caught you in the Temple courtyard teaching about that heretic, Yeshua. I brought witnesses to hear you and sit in the crowd at your feet and they will testify against you.”
He was well prepared but his voice mounted as Benjamin remained quiet. Shalamar was so proud of his young charge.
“You will be beaten. Gamaliel will disown you. You will be finished and I will be rid of you forever.” The last part of the sentence came out as a scream as Akbar began hopping about.
“Heretic! Heretic! Heretic!” Each accusation louder than the last until his throat was hoarse, his finger repeatedly punching the air in Benjamin’s direction.
He expected something to happen, but it didn’t. He hopped over to the parapet wall, his accusations losing their power, and looked down to see the stairs and courtyard empty. A moment later, Akbar’s vomit splattered onto the stairs and courtyard below.
It even took the demons by surprise. They had been so engrossed in this hopping, screaming caricature of humanity that they weren’t watching anything else.
Shalamar smiled wickedly. Something was going on. He didn’t know what, but something was definitely going on.
As Akbar disappeared up the stairs to confront Benjamin, one of the Temple guards had noticed an old man walking slowly toward them. When the old man saw them, he looked startled, and had stopped.
Jubal recognized him.
“Hey, that’s Natan´el, the leader of the followers of Yeshua.”
Suddenly he was desperate for a way out, some excuse not to face Benjamin. “If we could grab him…” The words tumbled out of him without conscious thought.
The idea hung in the air for a moment like a heady fragrance as they swayed between their duty and the chance for glory. But the temptation was too strong and the entire company quickly left the stairs and the courtyard to race down the street where Natan´el had been spotted.
Natan´el woke from his afternoon sleep with the sound of a voice in his ear. He had been summoned and he knew the voice that called him.
“I am ready, Lord.”
But he felt in his spirit that something was left undone. The name of Benjamin was on his tongue and he thought about the young boy for a long moment.
The voice was clear and unequivocal.
“Go to him.”
Natan´el decided that the best place to look for him was in the home of his grandfather in the old part of the city. Benjamin often met with Natan´el there.
Natan´el was old and slow, but today there was a sense of urgency in him that he responded to the best he could. When he turned the final corner, he saw the courtyard full of soldiers and students. Benjamin had been found out.
He stopped and stared, wondering what to do. He watched as they looked at him suspiciously, paused for a moment to decide what to do, and then scrambled down the stairs and began to move towards him.
I will not run. I will go to Benjamin, if the Lord permits me. Suddenly, there at his side, as if he had been there all along, Natan´el saw the most beautiful person he had ever seen. There was a diffused light emanating from his whole body, his wings, clean and bright, unfurled and ready for action. Natan´el trembled to see him and trembled even more to hear him speak.
“Greetings, in the name of Adonai Elohim the Almighty, the Anointed One of Isra´el. My name is Gabriel, and it is my privilege to bring you into his presence where you will live forevermore.”
His voice was like soft velvet and a symphony of music all at once, but there was steel there as well. “We have one last task to perform, you and I. Benjamin will be safe and he will fulfill the mission you have prophesied for him to do.”
Gabriel began to grow in stature and breadth and extended his two great wings to envelope Natan´el in the cloak of his embrace while his enemies raced past him unseeing and unawares. They would go on a few blocks and then confusion would set in and they would wander the back streets of Yerushalayim in a daze for the few hours that were necessary for Gabriel to complete his mission.
Upon the rooftop, Shalamar could see the growing confusion and anger of the demonic Special Forces. He had taken the time himself to glance sharply down into the courtyard and had been just as surprised as the rest to find it empty.
In his spirit he sensed that something else was about to happen and, as he looked carefully around, he glimpsed a face he hadn’t seen in a long while smiling up at him from the far side of the street.
Shalamar’s heart soared. His Master would never leave him to battle the forces of evil alone. He had sent the greatest warrior of all to fight at his side.
With a nod from Gabriel, Shalamar burst off the rooftop in a precisely synchronized move, the flashing presence of Gabriel forming up with him. They aimed their sharp two-edged swords at the center of the mass of demons and struck with the full power of heaven behind them. The surprise was total and the evil ranks split wide open, the demons scattering. Splitting off left and right, Shalamar and Gabriel went to work. They wrecked havoc on the forces of evil that day and the battle was seen all over Yerushalayim.
Demons by the tens and hundreds streaked to the scene of battle trailing dirty, black shadows behind them. From all parts of the city, blue and yellow and bronze and gold streaks of light intercepted the demons and fought a battle such as had not been seen in Yerushalayim since the days of the Divine Sting.
Shalamar laughed as he swung his sword, striking again and again, attacking and vanquishing gruesome demon warriors he normally would never have dared to fight.
“The battle is the Lord’s,” he cried over and over again.
Until finally, Gabriel lifted his trumpet and called the retreat.
Shalamar almost didn’t respond, but he checked himself and flew to the side of Gabriel.
“Well done, Shalamar, my brother. Your sword is as bright as always, I see.” Gabriel’s smile was a welcome sight. “Disperse the troops and attend to young Benjamin. I will come to you soon. We have work to do yet.”
It was not a time for discussion, and Shalamar obeyed instantly.
That night, as Benjamin slept, Gabriel and Shalamar discussed the strategy for the upcoming mission.
“Melanchor will be with us inside the house. He has authority there.”
Shalamar nodded in agreement but he had other things on his mind. “I had thought that with your presence we would retake Yerushalayim for the King,” he said, his head bowed.
“You and your brothers were ready and able,” Gabriel said, “but that was not our mission. Don’t forget the prophecy about this city. It is to be destroyed.”
Gabriel went on. “Our mission has to do with the Rabbi Gamaliel. I’m not sure what will happen, but we are to stay quiet and watch, acting only when we are bidden to by the Holy Presence.”
Shalamar sighed. It was difficult to get used to the idea of losing Yerushalayim to the enemy. Looking up at Gabriel, he reminded him. “The Passover begins tomorrow.”
The Temptations of the Cross by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.
The Desert Warrior