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Guardian of the Gates
Eleventh Century BC—City of Gaza
The moon finds me at the window. I cinch my tunic 's sash and pass a hand over my long hair and beard, but the scents of lavender and perfume refuse to let me go. This is no place for a Hebrew male, in this room at the top of the stairs, in this city that belongs to our enemies.
The Philistines have oppressed us for generations, making slaves of my people, enjoying the fruits of our labor. King Balek and his prince know me well, and my names here in Gaza are many.
Each has a story with its measure of glory and shame.
I am also called Son of Manoah, but this dishonors my father 's memory. He and my mother, even more than my tribesmen, heaped their expectations upon me. They believed through and through that I was called of God, and to what end? Death and destruction, that 's what. Loss and sorrow and pain. Despite what some may have heard, I am only human. I too carry scars. This life cuts me to the bone the same as it does to anyone.
A breeze parts the curtains, ruffling my beard, and I ignore the husky female voice from the shadows. My gaze is fixed just beyond the city gates, where cloaked shapes crouch and wait. I recognize a few faces. It was men such as these who murdered my fiancée before we had even one night together as husband and wife, and all these years later they still want to finish me off.
No, not now. Not with this perfume still clinging to my robes.
"What 's bothering you?" asks the woman at my back.
"Did you tell anyone I was here?"
"I 'm no fool. My business is my business, and I keep it that way."
"There are men outside."
"The watchmen probably, making their rounds."
"It 's an ambush," I tell her. "That 's what it is. You swear you told no one?"
"No one. But your comings and goings, they are hard to miss."
Her words send a shiver through me, and for a moment I consider giving myself over to the Philistine horde. My sins are here in the stink of this room, in the bottom of the wine glass. Let them wash it all away in the scent and splash of my blood.
Outside the gates two men chuckle about something until the others quiet them with harsh whispers. If Balek sent them, he should be ashamed. They 're a ragtag group, disorganized.
I turn. "Do they think I 'll just wander into their trap come morning?"
"Go, Samson. Please. Don 't involve me in your troubles."
Her request is reasonable enough. I pull on my sandals and descend the stairs into the alley. No one seems to see me. Shaking off the effects of this evening 's frivolities, I make my way to the gates. They are locked of course. No one in or out.
"Open up," I command the guard.
He snaps awake, fumbles his spear, and peers at me. "Samson?"
"Let me pass."
"I can 't do that. Surely you know this."
"You aren 't the only one who recognizes me. Those men outside, they wait to attack me."
"What men? It 's the middle of the night."
From deep within I feel it, and my hands begin to tremble. "Enough with you. Let me through." And here it comes, the familiar rush of power, thunder raging in the clouds from the western seas, waters flooding through the wadis in the desert. It 's in my control, born from my own sinew and limbs, but it courses through me in unexpected ways. It 's a rushing, mighty wind that catches me in its vortex and unleashes me like a tempest.
I reach for the gates. My callused hands pry them loose from their posts as the watchman scrambles away. Wood and metal shriek, bolts clang onto the stone beneath my sandals, and I heft the entire load on my shoulders. Motionless, my enemies huddle in the moonlight outside the walls.
"The jackal," I say, "is breaking free. What 're you waiting for?"
Their eyes are wide, their weapons raised. I growl, hoping to scare them off for good, and only then do I hear movement behind me. I twist around, caught off balance by a rush of men with clubs and swords. They come at me from all sides now. Was the watchman part of this ruse? Is the king or his prince behind this?
I 'm dropped to one knee by Philistine steel, some of the finest in all of Canaan. I reposition the huge slabs of wood on my back, then stand and spin. The gates snap the ribs of the nearest ambusher, catch the head of the next. They come at me again. A second blade catches my thigh, a club connects with my forearm, but my whirlwind of wood is unstoppable, and in short order my work is done. I ignore my victims ' moans, take a deep breath, and angle eastward. Tonight this enemy capital lies exposed. Tonight I am the guardian of their gates.
Chosen by God?
Forgive me, Mother, I can only hope it is so.
But feared by men?
Of that there is no doubt. Behind me a dozen foes have been vanquished, and the only figure that dares follow me is small in stature and concealed by a blue hood. Am I surprised? No, I 've seen it time and again. These women who shrink from my violence are drawn by my physical prowess.
I march beneath the stars, hour after hour, the gates growing heavy on my back. Slivers bite at my skin, blood seeps from the wound on my leg, and sweat drips down my brow. I am reminded of the priest who years ago poured oil over my head, consecrating me as a judge. Was it a mistake? Have I shown myself worthy? Even a judge is not immune to choices and consequence.
Dawn is on the horizon when I crest the hill opposite Hebron, a natural divide between my Hebrew brothers and our oppressors. I drop onto hard sand, and the gates land with a thud beside me. Here they shall remain as a warning. Do you dare cross this line? If so, I, Samson, of the town of Zorah and the tribe of Dan, will stand against you. In these last twenty years I 've spilled more than my share of blood, and I won 't hesitate to do so again.
In the first glimmer of daylight my head meets the earth. I catch a swish of blue fabric and bejeweled fingers, and the voice purring my name is far warmer than that woman 's back in Gaza.
"Samson? Oh, dear Samsom."
I look up, my vision clouded by pain and exhaustion.
"Here," she says, "let me help you. I am Delilah."
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