“There it is!” Malluch pointed to an area of lush vegetation below while inside his heart pounded like a stallion in full gallop. Beside him, his longtime friend, Shechem, lifted off the saddle, craning his neck for a better look.
To the west, the Eden river exited the far side of the garden and stretched out in a four-fingered hand to form the great riverheads. He estimated the garden at about forty acres square, with the tributary running diagonally through the middle from southeast to northwest. At the center of the garden, in a clearing near the water’s edge, two trees grew apart from the others. According to legend, to eat of the fruit of one of these trees meant eternal life.
Two furlongs separated Malluch and his companions gathered on a sultry morning atop a Mesopotamian hill from their prize. Malluch, along with his father, brother, and friend, led a party of twenty-five men from Eden. They were joined by another twenty-five from the far eastern city of Enoch.
But Shechem, wearing a sand-colored tunic and newly fashion sandals, appeared disinterested in the trees, gesturing instead to something in the foreground. “What about him?”
A man dressed all in white stood at the east end of the garden guarding the path leading from the entrance to the clearing. A gold band girded his chest, and the blade of a long sword extended from his grip.
A flaming sword.
Malluch’s thick, wiry eyebrows dropped and he scratched his short growth of beard. He drove his donkey to the edge of the hill, scanned the area below, and returned. “We’ll stick with the diversion. But there are fifty of us. Against those odds, I wouldn’t care if he had a sword of lightning. Everyone ready?”
Shechem and the others nodded, only to be distracted by the approach of a company of men on donkeys and camels riding up the rise behind them. In the lead, a man whose snow-streaked hair and mid-length beard Malluch recognized. He met Noah and twenty-one of the elders of Eden when they reached the summit. “You’re a long way from the city, Preacher. Nobody for you to lecture out here.”
“I have a message for the men of Eden from my father, the governor.”
“Then by all means, deliver it and go.”
“Lamech has learned of your scheme to pillage the garden and has sent with me the elders to turn back their sons from this evil.”
He laughed. “Are these men not of age? Are they not free to make their own choices?”
The Preacher appeared to scan the faces of the men opposite him. “Age is no substitute for wisdom. And choosing to die is never a wise choice.”
“We did not come here to die.”
“No, you came here to steal.”
Malluch narrowed his eyes.
“But you will die, all the same, if you continue upon this course.”
“No Preacher. Each of these men will inherit the gift of immortality once they’ve tasted of the fruit of the tree of life.” Excited murmurs rose from among his men.
“Do you not even fear God, seeing it was He who placed the angel to guard the entrance to the garden?”
“I don’t believe in God or angels. What I see down there is a man. And a man, even a man with a sword of fire, can be defeated—or outwitted.”
“Enough.” One of the elders called his son’s name and ordered him to leave the raiders. One by one, the remaining patriarchs called out their sons, and one by one they joined their fathers.
Malluch’s jaw tighten.
When one son failed to move quickly enough, his father rode up beside him and kicked his mount in the right gaskin The donkey bucked, unseating its rider, leaving his adult son sprawled in the dirt. The son got to his feet and staggered a few paces before joining his father. After this, the remaining sons of Eden were swift to comply with their fathers’ orders.
By the time the parade of traitors finished cowering to their fathers, Malluch’s anger had switched to contempt. He sneered at them. “Well, I guess I should thank you, Preacher. Thank you for helping to separate the wheat from the chaff. But the rest of these men are from Enoch. How shall you persuade them?”
“With the truth, I hope. Do they know you have brought them on a quest from which they may not return?”
He straightened in the saddle, lifting his chin. “I doubt that.”
“Men of Enoch. I urge you in the name of YAH not to embark upon this path. It is folly to test an angel of God.”
Some of the men whispered among themselves, but their leader quickly intervened to reinforce their backbones, his voice rising. “There are still nearly thirty of us.”
“Thirty or three hundred thirty. Would God have placed the man there alone were he not able to defend himself against an army?”
Shechem’s face grew pallid, beads of sweat formed above his top lip.
“Remember the plan,” Malluch said. “Angel, man, or demon, he can’t be in two places at once.”
Malluch’s father raised his arm. “My son is right, men. The Preacher’s just trying to frighten you with superstitious fables. That creature’s no match for us.”
The Preacher, seeming to recognize Shechem’s fear, focused his gaze directly on him. “You all will be destroyed.”
Malluch stepped between them. “You said that.”
“Then let me say it another way. Should you succeed in reaching the tree of life, you may or may not obtain a chance at immortality. No one knows for certain. Greater is the certainty you will likely all perish in the attempt. Go back. Return to your homes to enjoy the lives you’ve been given.”
"If it’s the sight of blood that bothers you, no one’s asking you to stay and watch.” The mood among the Enochites lightened, some even snickered. He crossed his arms across an expanded chest. “Thanks for the admonition, Preacher. Now take it, and these cowards back with you to Eden.”
The Preacher shook his head as he, the elders, and their sons turned their mounts and headed east.
* * *
Shortly after the sun moved past its zenith, Malluch slipped into the water with Shechem and three Enochites 220 cubits east of the river access to the garden. They intended to remain low in the water, allowing the river bank and surrounding terrain to conceal them from the angel’s line of sight.
To their south, near the terrestrial entry, his father, brother, and the other members of the raiding party had organized a distraction. Close enough to draw the angel’s attention, but not so close as to trigger an attack. By the time the swimmers reached within fifty cubits of the entrance, the faint sound of musical instruments and singing voices told him all was proceeding according to plan.
Ten cubits past the edge of the garden, he stopped in the water and faced his companions. “Hear that?” The swimmers treading and the ambient sounds of nature around them provided the only noise discernible.
“What?” Shechem leaned in.
“The music. It stopped.”
Violent yelling, followed by loud cursing and horrific screaming coming from the south drove the men out of the river. Malluch’s co-conspirators looked to him for direction. “Go.” He pointed to the water. “Stick to the plan. Get to the tree.” He and his friend scurried up the bank of the river toward the sound of the commotion, leaving the men from Enoch to continue upstream.
They ran past the entrance and continued south. Just ahead, the angel clashed swords with three other figures while twenty-one bodies, charred black, lie smoldering on the ground around them. The two men froze in horror. The angel deflected a thrust from the last Enochite, tapping him on the arm with the fiery sword and completely engulfing him in flames. The man screamed and fell to the ground, writhing in agony. Shechem gasped.
Fending off another blow, the angel touched Malluch’s brother on the side with the point of the blade, incinerating him. Malluch felt the blood drain from his head and he reached for his sword. But his hand fell on an empty sheath, his weapon lost in their haste to get out of the river. Instead, he bent to pick one up from among the charred bodies, only to drop it when the steaming handle seared his palm and fingers. He cried out his brother’s name.
Enraged, Malluch’s father lifted his sword above his head with both arms and charged the angel while blaspheming the name of the Lord.
“Father. No.” Malluch screamed.
But it was too late.
The two blades clanged, and fire from the angel’s sword crossed over to his father’s. He attempted to drop the sword, but the flame jumped the handle igniting his arm and covering his body.
Malluch searched frantically for another weapon. Unable to find one, he charged the angel.
Shechem tackled him and the two wrestled among the smoking corpses before his friend subdued him in an arm lock. “They’re dead. And there’s nothing you can do—except to die with them.”
“Shechem, as my friend, I’m begging you. Let me go now.” He struggled violently once more to try to free himself from the hold.
“He’s gone.” Shechem helped him to his feet. “And I don’t mean he just ran away. He vanished.” The two brushed the soot from their clothes. They pivoted to the sound of more high pitched screams coming from the northwest. “The three Enochites.” He hurried to the diversion point and returned with two donkeys. “Let’s get out of here before he comes back.”
The bodies of Malluch’s father and brother lay at his feet. “I can’t leave them like this.”
His companion grabbed and shook him. “We’re unarmed. And that thing just wiped out our whole party. The angel and the tree will still be there. But we need to leave.”
Malluch looked behind him at the bodies, eyes tearing.
The two climbed the rise with the screams of agonizing men still fresh in their ears. Nearing the top, Shechem glanced over his shoulder. “I wonder if they ever made it to the tree.”
“What difference does it make?” Malluch said. “They’re dead now.” He swore and muttered a threat against the Preacher under his breath.
“What did you say?”