The Sword of Apollonius
The daring action of Judas at Modin was a defiance to the rulers at Jerusalem, and felt to be so, not only by them, but by the whole country. It was followed up by active operations on the part of the patriots against the smaller towns of south-eastern Palestine. The population began to feel that it was safer to be on the side of the patriots than against them. Thanks to this feeling, to the genuine favour with which the movement was regarded, and to the perfect system of scouts which he had organized, Judas had early and trustworthy information of all the movements of the enemy. Apollonius had made up his mind that he must act if he was not to lose entirely his hold upon the country, and set about organizing a force so overwhelmingly strong that it must, he thought, sweep the insurgents before it. This intention, and indeed, it may almost be said, every detail of his preparations, was communicated to Judas. He, on his part, was determined that a heathen army should never again invade the mountain sanctuary. He would not await attack. His military instincts, which, indeed, were extraordinarily fine and true, warned him that boldness was now his best policy, and that he should go down and give battle to the enemy.
It was on the eve of the departure of the patriot army, when Seraiah might have been seen making his way back from a conference of the chiefs to the cave which served him as a dwelling. He was now recovering from his wound, but he was still too weak to support the fatigues of a march. Accordingly Judas had left him in command of the little garrison, scarcely, indeed, containing one able-bodied man, which was to protect the encampment. When he reached his home he found his nieces, Miriam and Judith, sitting with his wife, and watching the infant that was slumbering by her side.
"See," said Judith, as the child smiled in his sleep, "his angel is whispering to him. Oh, uncle, have you ever seen the angel?"
She prattled on without waiting for an answer. "Father sees angels, and they bring him words from mother, where she is in Paradise. And, do you know, uncle, last night he had a wonderful dream about a sword? He told it to us this morning. He often tells us his dreams. Sometimes he seems as if he were talking to mother; and he says that Miriam is so like her."
"Well, Judith, and what was the dream?" said Ruth.
"Father saw a mighty angel—one of the cherubim, you know, that father says God sends abroad to do His errands—come flying down, and the angel had in his hand a great sword. And he stood by father's bed, and showed him a name graven on the blade—it was the name which we may not speak, though it is part of father's name — and when he had done this he put the hilt in his hand and departed. Then father awoke, and found only his own old sword in his hand; and this, you know, is so hacked that it is not of much use, and is very weak, too, in the handle. Father never sleeps without it, and he must have drawn it out in his sleep, without knowing it, from under the pillow where he keeps it. But he says the dream will certainly come true. And now, Miriam," she went on, turning to her sister, for the little maiden was of the true housewife temper, "we must be going back to get father's dinner ready for him."
When they were left alone Seraiah said to Ruth, "It is as I feared—I am to stay behind."
Ruth felt a thrill of joy go through her, but was too wise a woman to show it.
"Old Reuben will not hear of my going. He says that I should be more hindrance than help, and perhaps he is right. The Lord's will be done, though I would fain have struck a blow in the battle that is to decide; for I am sure that as this battle goes, so will the end be. But I am to be in command of the garrison here."
"And you will not mind taking care of the women and children, dear husband?" said Ruth.
"I should be ungrateful indeed if I did," said Seraiah, as he kissed her.
Meanwhile the excitement in the camp had risen to fever heat. Scouts had come racing in at head-long speed with tidings that the enemy's army had started from Jerusalem, and that it numbered not less than twelve thousand regular troops, well-equipped, and furnished with a formidable supply of the engines of war. The patriots were in that state of exaltation in which men make little of the numbers opposed to them, and the disparity of forces roused no apprehensions. If any such were felt they gave way to rage when the messengers added that the hated Apollonius himself was in command of the hostile army.
Azariah and Micah were among a small company of chiefs who were standing outside the tent of Judas, and were discussing the prospects of the war.
"The curse of God light upon him!" cried Azariah. "Surely He will so order it that I may smite him down on the field of battle, and avenge the innocent blood! Surely the blood of my wife and my child cries against him from the earth!"
"Nay, brother," broke in Micah, "the task of the avenger of blood lies upon me, for I am next-of-kin to Hannah."
"Surely," replied Azariah, with some heat, "there is no kinship so close as the tie which binds husband to wife! 'Tis I that should be Hannah's avenger of blood."
"My brothers," broke in the voice of Judas, who appeared in the door of his tent, "you think too much of your private wrongs. Great they are, I know—none greater. But is there one soldier in this army that has not lost wife, or child, or father, or brother by the hand of this evil man? We will go, one and all, as avengers of blood, and the Lord will deliver him into the hands of him whom He shall choose."
Next day the army set out. On the evening of the second day they came in sight of the forces of Apollonius. Some of the more fiery spirits were for an instant attack, but the prudence of Judas, which was not less conspicuous than his daring, restrained them. His men were wearied with a long day's march, and they wanted food. And he himself had not had time to reconnoitre the enemy's position or receive any intelligence from his scouts.
Early next day the battle began. In one sense Judas was greatly overmatched. The enemy were superior in numbers—almost in the proportion of four to one—and in equipment. But, on the other hand, the Hebrew leader could rely implicitly on his soldiers. Anything that mortal man, inspired by zeal and the burning sense of wrong, could achieve, they might be trusted to do. To such a temper, of course, the policy of attack is best suited. Judas massed his best troops on his right wing, which happened to be opposed to what his eagle eye discerned to be the weakest part of the enemy's line. Apollonius saw his intention, and commenced a movement of troops which was designed to strengthen the weak point in his array. But such a movement in the face of a hostile force cannot be carried out without confusion. Judas saw his opportunity, ordered his men to advance at the double, and closed fiercely with the foe.
The Greek line broke almost at once, and the chief danger now was that the conquerors might press on too eagerly. The Greeks were not an undisciplined mob which could be treated with contempt. Some of them, at least, were veteran soldiers, in whom the sense of discipline was an instinct, and who, if not very enthusiastic in the cause for which they were fighting, were perfectly well aware that their best chance of personal safety was to be found in keeping together and holding their ground. Judas, in whom native genius seemed to supply the want of experience, appreciated the enemy with whom he had to deal, and kept his own men well in hand, though he was careful not unduly to check their courage.
The fortune of the day continued to declare in favour of the patriots; but Apollonius himself, surrounded by a picked force of mercenaries, still held his ground. Shortly after noon Azariah and Micah, who had kept close together during the battle, and had both performed prodigies of valour, gathering a company of their immediate followers, made a determined rush in his direction. The bodyguard, terrified by the fierceness of this onset, wavered and fled, leaving but three or four faithful attendants, who refused to leave their commander.
The Greek recognized Azariah, and called to him by his name. "Azariah, if you think that I have wronged you, I do not refuse you the opportunity of revenge. Come out from your companions, and I will meet you alone. You are a brave man, and would not take a soldier at unfair odds."
Azariah did not deign to answer; but one of his comrades replied, "Dog of a heathen! you forget where you are. We are not contending in your foolish games: we are the avengers of blood—the innocent blood which you have shed; and we will slay you as men slay a venomous snake. Such equity as you have dealt to others, we will show to you. Was it in fair fight that you slew women and children?"
Apollonius looked on the ring of scowling faces that surrounded him, and saw that there was no mercy or even what he would have called the courtesy of war to be hoped from them. "I only wish," he said, "that I had rooted out the whole cursed brood from the earth, and burnt the den of thieves which you call your city, and laid the shrine of the demon whom you call your God level with the ground!"
"Silence, blasphemer!" cried Azariah, as he whirled his sword over his head.
It was not the almost worthless weapon, with its dented edge and broken hilt, that he had carried into the battle. Early in the day he had cut down a Greek officer, and taken the sword of the dead man in exchange for his own.
As he spoke he beckoned to his countrymen. They stood back, even Micah recognizing the right of the husband to strike the first blow at the murderer of his wife.
Apollonius raised his sword to parry the stroke which he expected to be aimed at his head. With a rapid change of movement his adversary changed the blow into a thrust, and drove the point of his weapon through the Greek's heart.
Azariah was drawing out his weapon from the corpse, when Judas, who had been hastening to the spot not without some hope of himself crossing swords with the hated Apollonius, came up.
"A mighty weapon that!" he exclaimed, as the conqueror wiped the blade on the dead man's tunic. "Let me take it in my hands."
He poised it and judged its balance, tried the edge, and then narrowly scanned the markings on the blade.
"Ah!" said he, "how came you by this sword? I had observed"—and indeed his eagle eye noted every detail—"that yours was but a poor weapon, unworthy of your strength, and I wished to find something better for you."
Azariah told him how he had taken it from a Greek on the field of battle.
"And saw you this?" he went on, pointing to the Holy Name which had been engraved on the blade. "Doubtless this belonged to some Hebrew warrior in time past, for the fashion of the letters is somewhat antique; the heathen whom you slew had taken it, and now the Lord has given it back into the hands of the faithful."
Azariah then related his dream.
"The angel whom you saw," said Judas, "was, doubtless, the angel of battle, and the Lord has been faithful, as ever, to His promise."
He gave back the consecrated sword to Azariah, and took the weapon which was still grasped in the right hand of the dead Apollonius. "With this," he said, "I will fight as long as I live." And he broke out into the triumphal chant of the Psalmist—"The ungodly have drawn out the sword, and have bent the bow to cast down the poor and needy. Their sword shall go through their own heart and their bow shall be broken."