The following piece is one of 14 short stories I’ve included in my most recently published book, “An Intertwined Reality: Short Stories for the Already but Not Yet.” It will be available soon for $7.99 in paperback and $4.99 as an ebook on both the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites! Read more about it and my other book, “The Memoirs of J.W. Bresee: 1897-1906,” here.
Share this short story with your friends and family; let’s build excitement for “An Intertwined Reality”!
The Ammonite Messenger
Nehemiah squinted his eyes as he scanned the far reaches of the horizon. The small outline of a man riding a horse appeared, silhouetted against the reddening sky. The rider was still a good distance away; if it was not for the setting sun casting shadows over the landscape, Nehemiah would have been able to see the entire expanse clearly in the dry air.
The horse kicked up a cloud of dust as the rider disappeared below the horizon, blurring the sharp contrast between him and the sinking red desert sun. Nehemiah faintly discerned their shape racing toward them among the shadows. They were at the borders of what was, to Nehemiah’s ancestors, once the northern kingdom; it was now divided between various pagan rulers as the conquering Persians split up their territories. First the Assyrians swept over the land, then the Babylonians, and then the Medes, and then the Persians. The Babylonians transported much of the southern kingdom’s population back to their capital and into diaspora; the Persians, generations later, allowed the exiles to finally return to their home.
Nehemiah, serving in the court of the Persian King Artaxerxes, petitioned the ruler to allow him to return to the land of his ancestors in order to rebuild Jerusalem. The King even gave Nehemiah, along with the others going with him, several of his prized Persian horses for their journey home. The Babylonians and the Persians, extending their empire to the west, brought many more of these exceptional animals with them into the area.
The pounding hooves thundered closer. “Halt,” the rider yelled. “Halt!” The horse, a large, black, muscled beast, finally stopped in front of Nehemiah and the others. The trail of settling dust stretched all the way back to the horizon; the bottom edge of the sun was just beginning to dip below it. “You are now in the land of Ammon. By order of the governor of the land, Tobiah the Ammonite, installed by the Persian king himself, you must make yourself known!”
Nehemiah did not speak a word, but looked sternly at the rider from atop his own horse. He knew that the surrounding provinces would not like the idea of Jerusalem’s restoration. And even despite Artaxerxes’ blessing, Nehemiah realized that the bordering territories would do everything they could to stop them. They did not want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.
Nehemiah reached into the pouch beside him and pulled out a piece of parchment. As he handed the letter to the man on the black horse, the rider recognized Artaxerxes’ seal. Lifting it up to catch the remaining sunlight so that he could read, the man began to speak.
“To the governors of the province Beyond the River; to Sanballat the Horonite; to Tobiah the Ammonite; to Asaph the Keeper of the King’s Forest:
“My servant Nehemiah has served with much honor in my court as my cupbearer. He has asked me to allow him to return to the land of his ancestors to rebuild their city of Jerusalem. Because he has demonstrated nothing but great loyalty to me, I have granted him this request.”
The rider stopped reading out loud and studied the remainder in silence. Nehemiah continued to look at the man as the sunlight waned.
A minute later, the rider stopped reading the parchment. He had a disgusted, almost angry, look on his face.
“It appears you have done well for yourself in Artaxerxes’ court, Nehemiah. The King’s favor is upon you and this little project of yours. I hope you know that, because his favor is going to be the only favor you will get. Tobiah the Ammonite will grant you safe passage through his land, but you will get nothing else from him. And you will not get any help from Sanballat the Horonite either. Whether you have this letter or not, we do not want you Jews rebuilding Jerusalem. We will do everything we can to stop it from happening. We will wage war against you if it comes to it. Try to move one stone in place and we will attack.” The rider paused, shoving the letter back into Nehemiah’s open hand. “Go back to Artaxerxes, Nehemiah. We do not want you here. Your people do not even want you here.”
The Ammonite messenger, unhappy about the prospect of Jerusalem being rebuilt, picked up the reins of his black horse and pulled them to the side. The horse snorted as it reared its head back. The rider slapped the reins down and the horse bolted off in the direction the messenger came from. Nehemiah watched the man disappear over the horizon in a cloud of dust, taking the last of the red sun with him behind the skyline.
One of the men with Nehemiah turned to him in the fading light. “What will we do Nehemiah?”
“What will we do? We will arm the people building the walls! Jerusalem will be rebuilt. We have no need to fear pagan rulers and their threats. They worship powerless idols while we worship the true God.”
Nehemiah leaned forward, placing his hand at the base of the horse’s mane. He and the others moved forward, beginning their trek through the hostile land as they continued their journey to Jerusalem.