The Book of the Prophet Joshua – Chapter Six

For earlier chapters in The Book of the Prophet Joshua, look here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The prophet, his deputy, and the abbess of Bethel met in the House of Justice. It was only a rough cabin, but

For earlier chapters in The Book of the Prophet Joshua, look here: 123, 4, 5.

The prophet, his deputy, and the abbess of Bethel met in the House of Justice. It was only a rough cabin, but the people of Bethel and Ramah had insisted on some permanent structure for the administration of law in their settlement. It gave their refuge dignity.

Joshua sat in the place of honor, and his chair was as close to a throne as the people could make it. If it made him uncomfortable, that only served to darken his countenance, which was appropriate. Alfred was to his right, the rifle leaning nearby, and Rebecca to his left. A pair of junior lawmen flanked the accused, and Bernard Matthis stood behind them as witness for the people.

“What are your names?” the prophet asked.

The taller of the accused, a dark bearded man thickly corded with muscle, answered from where he knelt.

“Gavin Buck. Usually just ‘Buck.’”

The man beside him, by comparison, was small and lean, but held himself with the easy confidence of a panther. He had no eyebrows, and hair was just beginning to show itself on a formerly shaved scalp.

“Peter Lafitte.”

Joshua turned to Alfred.

“Your witness?”

Alfred signaled one of the lawmen to open the door. When the witness entered, the prophet’s eyes went wide.


“Evening, Joshua. I guess the prophet business is going well.”

The prophet’s laugh was bitter.

“Well enough for the moment. I’m glad to see you safe.”

“Father,” Rebecca said. She gestured to the kneeling men.

“Of course. Adam, my deputy says you have an accusation against these men?”

“Just the one… father.” He spoke the last word uncertainly. He had seen power in the desert hermit, but never formality. “The big one. When I came to the Corsican lands, I found some bandits attacking a young woman. He was with them.”

“Is this true, Mr. Buck?”

The big man nodded.

“May I speak, father?” Lafitte asked.

“You may.”

“Thank you. If Buck has sinned, then I have sinned far more. I was a priest of the Serpent, and anyone who sees me can guess that. We don’t hide our past. We didn’t come here pleading innocence. We came here asking for the mercy of your God, the God of Hadochee.”

Joshua turned to Alfred.

“Did your men know this when they brought these two across the swamp?”

“No. The men were new recruits. They’d never seen a Serpent priest before.”

“They should have known better,” Bernard said. “I will speak to them.”

Joshua raised his hand.

“Thank you, Bernard, but that is for later. As a witness for the people, your duty is to testify to what happens here, not to take part.”

Bernard’s back stiffened at the rebuke, but he said no more.

“I’d appreciate it if he didn’t try to correct my men,” Alfred whispered. “They may have come with him, but they swore oaths to me.”

“We’ll discuss it later,” Joshua said, and turned back to the accused. “Mr. Buck, Mr. Lafitte, the LORD is merciful, but he does not let wolves in among his sheep. Repentance is a hard path, and we are under no obligation to trust you until you have proven worthy of trust. Do you understand?”

They nodded.

“Alfred, can you take responsibility for these men? Find places for them?”

The lawman rubbed his hand on a scar across one of his cheeks. It was a long moment before he answered.

“I know some men who can use good workers. Not easily taken in.”

“Good. I want you or someone you trust to check in with them two or three times a week. Rebecca, is this acceptable?”

“I trust your judgment, father. I would appreciate it if they didn’t come near the abbey, though.”

“Of course. Mr. Buck, Mr. Lafitte, these are the terms of your staying in Ramah. Do you accept?”

Peter Lafitte thanked the prophet profusely. As he did, and as the prophet dismissed the men, Bernard’s face grew increasingly red. The moment the two were lead from the building, the dam of his patience burst.

“What is this?” he demanded. “You let these unbelievers, these idolaters, go free among the people of God? They will corrupt the flock!”

Now that the formalities had ended, the prophet was eager to leave his seat. He stood up. He did not, however, cross the room to speak with the angry Matthis, but instead fixed him with his gaze.

“The LORD is merciful, Bernard. That is the god whom we serve.”

Bernard stared mutely back. He did not shrink before the prophet, but neither did he prolong the argument. He turned to the door and stormed out.


Ruth lived at Bethel Abbey, but she had not taken vows. The sisters served as laundresses for most of the residents of Ramah, and Ruth was among those who went to fetch the laundry on the days assigned, and returned with it when the washing was done.

The sky was blue, and the sun was shining bright as she reached the end of the final lane. Beth Davis thanked her very kindly and gave her a basket of plums to take back up and share among the sisters. When Beth had gone back in, she turned the mule cart around and labored back up the hill. As she did, she passed the woodcutter’s shack. A big, dark-bearded man was in the yard by the street, splitting rounds into firewood.

Ruth felt the earth shudder almost before she heard the screams. The mule stopped moving, its ears flat against its head. The stranger stopped swinging the axe.

The demon burst from an alley further uphill. It had the broad outline of a bull, but was far larger than even the plains buffalo, with thick, twisted horns, and eyes too large for its head. Something was wrong with its hide, and the hooves curved up and down again like claws, digging into the soft earth. The immense creature seemed to be wreathed in smoke. But Ruth thought it must be terror clouding her senses.

In the fragile moment before it charged, she realized it was not. The demon eyes fixed on her.

Around the corner, from the direction it had come, someone shouted. A gun fired. A mist of dark blood burst from the demon’s flank. It charged.

As the mule lurched towards a nearby alley, taking the cart with it, Ruth turned to run back down the lane. As she did, she saw the strange man step out of the yard and stand in the middle of the street. He bellowed a challenge. Black smoke rolled from the demon’s hide as it changed direction. It rushed onward like an avalanche toward the challenger. Ruth skidded to a stop, unable to look away.

It all happened in the blink of an eye. As the bull reached its target, the man darted to the side. He brought the axe crashing down on the creature’s neck, momentum hurling it forward and sending a back hoof flying out and around to clip the woodcutter on the shoulder. Both landed in the dust.

Ruth ran to him. He was on his back, blinking up at the sky. Bright blood ran down his shoulder. She removed her white headscarf and tried to staunch the bleeding. People were running into the street, crowding around her, chattering. She ignored them.

A few paces away, thick black smoke rose from the beast. The edges of its neck wound glowed red, flickered into flame, and spread outward, devouring the corpse. In moments, it was gone. No cinders remained, only a black sludge sizzling on the barren ground.


Joshua stood at the door and knocked.

“Come on in.”

He entered the cabin to find Alfred tearing off leaves from an herb and dropping them into a bubbling pot hung over the fireplace.

“What’s on the menu?”

“Venison. Take a seat.”

The lawman’s cabin was small, with just room enough for a bed, a roughly made wooden chest, a table with two stools, and the fireplace. Joshua took the nearest stool and watched as his friend stirred the pot.

“How’s the prophet business?” Alfred said without turning from his task.

“Quiet. How’s the Justice business?”

“You be careful calling me that. You’re liable to make somebody mad.”

Joshua chuckled.

“Alright. How’s the deputy business?”

“About the same. Not much to worry about, aside from the occasional drunk.”

“I’m surprised there’s still enough here to get drunk on. How are Buck and Lafitte?”

Alfred finished stirring and sat down on the other stool. There was a stack of cards wedged in between the logs making up the wall, just a few inches above the table. He tugged them free and started dealing.

“Well, you can imagine how Buck’s doing. Everybody in town loves him. He’s got that girl from the abbey ready to move down here.

Joshua surveyed his hand, his brow furrowed.

“Is she a novice?” he asked.

“Yeah, no vows yet, and not likely to be. She found herself quite the catch. It’s not every man has people calling him ‘Demon Killer.’”

“Not every man has the opportunity to earn that title. Those bull devils were supposed to be gone when I was young. What are we playing for?”

Alfred stared blankly at the table, then laughed.

“I plumb forgot,” he said, reaching for a box on the mantle and spilling out a pile of beads. He began dividing them. “I’d kill for some real chips, but this is what I can do at the moment.”

Joshua didn’t complain. He took an unruly mound, removed a few round tokens, and placed the first bet. Alfred matched it and raised. Joshua won the hand.

“That Lafitte, though,” the lawman said, “I don’t like him much. He’s working with the tanner, clear across town, but still visits Buck every day. I’d sure like to know what that’s about.”

“Old times?”

“That’s what Buck says. But how long do you reckon it was between Adam seeing Buck, Buck meeting that priest, and them both deciding to come out here? Not a lot of room for ‘old times.’”

“But you like Buck.”

Alfred nodded.

“I do. And I’ve seen him with that woman. Real gentle, considering the kind of man he seems to have been. She owns him. I doubt he’d do anything to mess that up.”

“But not Lafitte?”

“Not Lafitte. He’s not tied to anybody, as far as I can tell. He’s smart, too, and well spoken. I can’t imagine he’s just here doing nothing.”

“It makes you nervous?”

“You make me nervous. Shut up and show me your cards.”

Joshua won again.

“What I get for playing a prophet,” the lawman muttered.

“I’m not a fortune teller, Alfred. I only know what the LORD tells me.”

“Sure,” Alfred said, stretching the syllable as far as it would go.

“Shut up and deal.”

They played several more hands. Sometimes Joshua won, sometimes Alfred, their piles of beads growing and shrinking as the afternoon wore on. Eventually Alfred stopped to ladle out two bowls of stew. He watched as the prophet blew on the first hot spoonful, then tasted. He didn’t spit it out, and the cook was satisfied.

“Is Bernard still mad at you?” Alfred asked.

“He doesn’t speak to me, and started standing at the back during worship.”

“Yeah, I figured. Kind of man to hold a grudge.”

Joshua nodded, his eyes on the fire crackling under the pot. When he spoke, there was an edge to his voice.

“Some grudges need holding.”

Alfred was quiet while he thought that over. He looked at Joshua, whose gaze was still fixed on the wavering flames.

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“You don’t think so?”

“There might be a grudge worth holding. I don’t think every man’s fit to hold it.”

Joshua went back to eating stew.


The prophet walked the streets of Ramah as twilight fell on the makeshift town. He passed well-built cabins, haphazard shacks, and here and there a tent. Whatever might be said of the architecture, the streets ran straight and broad. Neighbors stood outside and visited. It was, in spite of all Hadochee suffered, a cheerful place.

A child ran in front of him, chasing a firefly.


The prophet turned to the house he was passing and saw a woman standing in the front garden, living sparks dancing around her.


John ran back to his mother, holding up his cupped hands to show her his catch. She knelt and marveled at the little glowing creature. When it escaped, her son laughed and followed it back into the street. She stood.

“It’s good to see you, Joshua. I don’t know how to thank you for everything you did.”

“Don’t. I’m glad to see you’re well.”

She smiled at him, and John’s laughter floated back to them on the breeze, mingled with that of other children.

“You should visit sometime. Adam would be glad to see you.”

Now it was his turn to grin.

“You’re married,” he said. It was not a question.

“You knew that?”

“I knew he would protect you. I hoped something more might come of it.”

Sarah looked down at her garden, and back at the little cabin that was her home.

“It did,” she said.

“Good. I should go home now, but I will visit. Tell Adam I said hello.”

“I will.”

The prophet walked on. For the first time since the founding of that refuge, the peace of the LORD was on him.


Alfred woke to knocking on his cabin door. He took a moment to get his bearings before getting up and placing his hand on the bolt. He hesitated.

“Who is it?” he asked. It was too late to mean anything good, or maybe too early.

“It’s Buck, captain.”

Alfred’s eyes strayed to his repeater, propped up in the corner next to a box of precious shells. The last embers of the evening fire gleamed off its barrel. He drew the bolt.

“What’s wrong, Buck?”

The man’s figure looked big in that doorway. If there was moonlight, his bulk stopped it from getting through.

“Can I come in?”

Alfred peered up at him. The man was shaking. It wasn’t cold. He was troubled.

“Sure thing.”

He stepped back, and Buck entered, stepping aside to let Alfred close the door.

“Now what’s this about?”

The big man shuffled uneasily. He wouldn’t meet Alfred’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Sorry for what?”

“I don’t want to be here, captain. I really don’t.”

“Okay. But you’re here. What’s wrong?”

Buck didn’t answer immediately. He didn’t try to loom, but he made Alfred look small and frail.

“It’s Lafitte. He said I had to.”

“Had to what?”

Alfred took a step back, back in the direction of that corner where his rifle sat. Just a step.

“He said he’d hurt her.”

“Hurt who? Ruth?”

“Yeah,” the big man choked. He was weeping.

He stepped forward and stabbed Alfred in the gut. Alfred fell.

“I’m sorry,” Buck sobbed. “I’m sorry.”

Alfred gasped with the pain. He tried not to let it overwhelm him, to prevent a spasm with the knife in his belly. He looked up to see his killer stepping back, eyes turned to the blood on his hands. There was no anger in Alfred’s expression, only understanding. Only pity.

“Buck,” Alfred wheezed. “Buck, listen to me.”

The Demon Killer, the hero of Ramah, was sobbing.

“Buck, it’s alright. You did it. It’s over.”

Buck shook his head.

“They’ll chase me.”

“No they won’t. Get gone. Get gone fast. Tell Lafitte you did it.”

“He’ll want proof.”

Another wave of pain seized Alfred’s gut.

“Go, damn it! He’ll have his proof. Go before someone hears.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. Go!”

Buck opened the door and rushed out into the dark. Alfred lay on the floor, panting, looking at the handle of the knife, and the inch or so of blade still jutting above his flesh. He put his hands around the wound and tried to stop some of the bleeding while he waited.

He waited a long time. He grew weak.

Then he took a shuddering breath, and yelled.

To Be Continued…

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