The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 5 appeared
in issue 171.
Chapter Six: David|
part 1 of 2
Mikhal’s life is a story of pagan worship and sacrifice, of love, wars, kingship and death. She is the daughter of the Biblical king Saul; her mother is Ahino’am, a priestess of the goddess Ashtoret. Born to a king, Mikhal is married to the future king David. She is separated from him and joined to another man, to whom she bears a child. She is then torn from her family and carried away by a criminal brother. At last she is brought back to her former husband, king David, in Jerusalem.
Mikhal thus lives out her life in the vortex of social, political and religious upheavals in the days of the first kings of Israel.
When I recall Re’uma’s death, tears spring in my eyes. Why? I did not love her for she never loved me; but Sha’ul’s pain and Yonatan’s sorrow touched my heart. The family’s mourning was great and deep. Re’uma had always been an important person in the circle of her family and acquaintances, appreciated by men for her down-to-earth cleverness, looked up to by women for guidance; even I missed her impressively strong presence.
More than any thing else, Re’uma’s death was one of the most important factors in Sha’ul’s illness. For a long time the conflict in his mind had brewed under the surface. Then, when he realized he was left without any earthly, practical support that might bring him closer to everyday life and be used as an anchor to the mental agitation attacking him from time to time, he sank into a pit of desperation, which led him to the alternate extreme states of depression and madness.
Of his close family, Sha’ul had now only Yonatan. Avinadav’s wife had accepted her loss for some time, married another man and moved away from Giv’at Sha’ul; Malkishua did not leave any family at all behind him. Merav, closer to me in her age than anyone else, had come of age and was betrothed to be married; looking much like her mother, she was even prettier, but had nothing of Re’uma’s brains and could never act as support for her father. By nature she was petty and quarrelsome, always trying to tell me what I should or should not be doing, and I liked her even less than her mother. Re’uma, at least, was always fair in her dealings, although hard and cold toward me.
* * *
So, it was Yonatan in whom Sha’ul found some solace, but only when his mind was clear; when he was overcome by his illness, the father did not even know his own son or anyone else around him. At the time of Re’uma’s death, Yonatan was married with one child. Still, he was notably paying much more attention to his father in his illness than to his own family. Even then there were rumors about the bad relations between him and his wife, but I did not know the reason for it.
Yonatan was fair and handsome like his mother, tall and slim like his father; but his soft, blue eyes looked at the world with some ashtonishment, for he had nothing of Re’uma’s practical approach to life or Sha’ul’s instinctive sense of justice. When people realized the severity of the King’s illness, they began turning to Yonatan to seek his help and advice. Sha’ul’s younger son was courageous in battle; Avner had taken Sha’ul’s place at the head of the army at a time of battle, but when Yonatan joined him sometimes, he showed an unexpected mind of resourcefulness and independence beside his attested bravery. Yonatan’s brain was also sharp enough to see where truth lay in judgment, but his heart was loving and sensitive: he lacked Sha’ul’s unbiased honesty and was liable to show mercy toward undeserving people.
Even then, when Sha’ul was obviously incapacitated, no one demanded his removal from the throne, let alone his sacrifice. I think it must have been the power of a symbol that was attached to him, causing people to accept him blindly any way he was.
* * *
In the year of Re’uma’s death, ceremonies were performed half-heartedly. Re’uma died in the autumn, and no one bothered about the festival of the birth of the year. At the Sacred Wedding on the following spring, Sha’ul had difficulty in performing the vital coupling act, although his love for Ahino’am had not diminished. At Midsummer, a child who had died of illness was used as the sacrificial victim, an act that angered Ashtoret’s followers. According to them, all these events were bringing bad luck on the people. Yhwh’s worshippers then found an occasion to announce that “The Spirit of God had forsaken Sha’ul,” denying the right he had acquired to be king in the name of Yhwh when anointed by Shemu’el.
In his appearance, Sha’ul did look as if some spirit, probably an evil one, pulsed in his mind. I shall never forget the time when and the first clear sign of my father’s illness erupted. I was present at court, then, a young girl at the point of puberty. I found myself in a rather disturbed state, with no mother to guide me. In my sensitivity, I was shocked to see, right in the middle of Reception, that Sha’ul was losing control of himself. Suddenly, he did not know the people around him; an indiscriminate wrath took hold of him and he started frothing at the mouth with his eyes flaming fire, seeing nothing; with his hands flailing in all directions he ran all over the house shouting, screaming, distorted, unrecongnizable words... When I recall all this, I shut my eyes tight and my body shudders with terror.
At last, exhausted, his limp body collapsed to the floor with his head bent and his face flooded with sweat, groaning and sighing. His frightened attendants paused before they came up to him, lifted him up and lay him on the couch. He fell asleep straight away, and when awakened, remembered nothing.
* * *
These attacks were repeated frequently. After that first one, the children were driven out of the hall at the merest sign, and I had no chance of seeing any more of them. Just the same, I knew everthing that was going on. Physicians, clairvoyants and sorceresses came and tried to help Sha’ul, but could do nothing — medicines, charms and incantations, prayers to Ashtoret or to Yhwh were of no avail. Yhwh’s priests came and cleansed the King’s house, but it made no difference. Avner paid handsomely to wise, famous women, but the madness continued to occur with no visible cause. At last, Maakha sent her maidservants to the temple of the Three Asses, and they brought back a negative answer. The prophetesses did not want to help Sha’ul for the simple reason that his fate had been sealed: he must be sacrificed; there was no way they could interfere with his destiny.
At last, when Yonatan could no longer withstand the emotional burden which had fallen on him — to sit in the place of his ‘mad’ father, as he was called by everyone, although not to his face — he came one day to my room to pour his heart out to the one person who was ready to listen in silence. He told me then that some people had been talking about putting him, Yonatan, on his father’s throne. My brother had difficulty in expressing in words his full resentment of the mere thought. His adoration of Sha’ul was more than a son’s reverence to his father; he grew up on Sha’ul’s greatness as a judge, and in his adolescence he witnessed his glamor as King. All his life he had aspired to be like his father, feeling himself undeserving; now, that illness had hurt him more than anything could ever hurt anyone. That is why he had decided, he told me, to go and roam the earth, to seek healing for Sha’ul.
Who whould have believed it, who would have dreamed how events were going to unfold when that pretty-eyed boy arrived at King Sha’ul’s court!
I cannot think about David without my thoughts turning into reflections about love. What is love? One moment of madness — then so many delusions of all kinds, going on for days, weeks, years, leaving, in the end, a bad taste in one’s mouth as they vanish one by one. Afterwards comes hate, devouring at one’s body, consuming the soul like cancer. Then, when even hate is wearied out, nothing is left but deep indifference, which is worse than the delusions, worse than the hate, for it is death without revival; when indifference appears, there is nothing more to live for.
I see David’s image in my memory as he was the boy coming to the King’s court; the golden hair burning on his head, the green, transparent eyes beckon to dive, sink into their depth, never to rise again... But then, I compare him to the man he was years later: clumsy and grotesque, whose overflowing belly and corrupt face declaim his many lusts, his many crimes — murder, theft, cheating — what not! With his bald head and the golden hair gone, his eyes so blurred that to sink into them would be like drowning in murky water... He even stopped playing the harp — he could hardly hold it in his arms! But it was not just physical impotence that caused the silence of his poetry; years before David had grown old the harp had been put in a corner, because not one faithful tune could be produced from it... All those marvelous songs, all those heart-rending tunes, gone forever.
* * *
In my youth, I thought that David had a genuine heart, that his songs were taken from inside his soul. If ever it had been so, it was before his ambition had began to push him in directions he had never thought about, toward distances and heights he had never dreamed of, before the idea of kingship was stirred in his mind and turned his head. Sometimes I wonder what would have been David’s fate if Yonatan had never discovered him playing his pipe in the company of sheep and goats.
“Where did you get that treasure from, Yonatan?” The people of our family asked him, at first genuinely, and then, repeatedly, as a rhetorical question expressing their wonder.
“In Beit Lehem — ‘House of Bread’,” was the short answer.
“Beit Lehem? What is that?”
“It’s a town on the border of the land of Yehuda,” Yonatan explained, “at the edge of the desert. The Canaanites who lived there used to worship Dagon, the god of wheat, who is the southern counterpart of Naaman.”
“But you say that David was a shepherd?”
“On the border of the desert, bread is scarce, that is why it is so sacred. It is grown only as an addition to breeding sheep and goats.”
I was not much intersted in these details. When I first saw that boy, two or three years older than me — about Merav’s age — I was captured body and soul, I submitted to him in my mind before I even knew I was going to submit to him in my body.
* * *
We were all captured. Yonatan was the first to be taken over by David’s charm on the spot, at Beit Lehem. When he heard the pipe music curling above the flock’s heads he broke his wanderings, remaining at the place all day in the company of the boy; in the evening he went with him to his house and was invited to a family meal. Later that night, when David took the harp in his hand and poured out his song in a painfully sweet music, Yonatan was overwhelmed. That night my brother asked David’s father, Yishy, for permission to take his youngest son with him to the King’s court; in the morning, they set out on their way together.
David’s charm did not depend on his character and was not a result of a spiritual charisma like Sha’ul’s. It was a purely physical attraction, sensuous, sexual. We were captured by his handsome appearance, by his charming voice and the sweet words he uttered, and by the enchanting music he produced.
His influence on Sha’ul was immediate. Three days after Yonatan and David left Beit Lehem, they arrived at Giv’at Sha’ul close to the noon hour. They found Sha’ul in one of his severest attacks: he was hallucinating, running amok in the house, hitting at anything he met on his way. Yonatan urged David to take out his pipe at once and start playing. With the first sweet sound the King paused in his screams, his odd dancing.
First, he opened his eyes wide, as if to swallow the player. Then he sat on the floor, hiding his head between his knees. When the music stopped for a moment and the player breathed some air, Sha’ul raised his head again, started rolling his eyes and emitting a strange howl. When the music began again, he calmed down; an hour later his behavior was completely normal, he was able to return to his business. From the next day onward, David’s order was to stand before the King and play for about an hour every morning, thus to ensure his sanity for the day.
David conquered and suppressed Sha’ul’s illness, and at the same time captured the hearts of the King’a family, in the same way he later captured the hearts of the whole of Israel. That evening, after Sha’ul had gone to his room exhausted from the day’s events, the young people of the Kish house gathered as usual around the family bonfire at the King’s courtyard, to spend their time together, roasting and cracking seeds and nuts and telling stories and gossip. For the first time that night, which was followed by many similar occasions, David took a central part by playing the harp or the pipe, by telling tales as only he knew how.
It was on such occasions that we heard how he had fought lions and bears to save the flocks, how he had defended his family camp from aggressive Bedouin, and how he had arrived when still a child at the battlefield to help his older brothers. In those days I never thought to question the stories, to estimate that he should have been at least a man of thirty years old to have accomplished all those wonderful deeds, and not the young boy he was. It was difficult to distinguish in David’s tales between myth and reality, and no one bothered to do that. The audience loved listening to him, his words were amusing, uttered enthusiastically to the accompaniment of singing and harping, pleasing the crowd. They were book-worthy stories, and as far as I know, they are actually being put in books today...
* * *
Many of the people, who met David, both women and men, fell in love with him. Merav had forgotten her betrothal and spent a few nights in his company, until it was discovered and the need arose to marry her in a hurry to prevent a great scandal. The maids from both the King’s house and the village spent some of their nights on his couch, as well as some of the boys... Married women acted like young girls in his company and David did not discriminate against any of them; I have since found out that he did not refrain from any chance for pleasure which had come his way, either with a male or a female.
At the time, I was not able to understand completely the rumors that had been going around, both because I was not mature enough, and because I myself was immersed in my first love for David. At King Sha’ul’s court he learned for the first time the scope of his power to attract anyone; as a stranger in a strange place, away from his family which could have restrained him, he felt free to exploit the situation to the full.
Only two people did not love David. From Maakha’s maids I heard what she had said about David: “You see that little one, with his wonderful blazing hair and clear green eyes, with the crafty smile and the enchanting tongue — he will go far, I tell you; and the road he takes will be paved with the bodies of his lovers. They will give themselves up to him, pave his way, and he will step over their corpses to achieve his goal...”
I did not understand, was unable to understand my great-grandmother’s words; I thought the maids had twisted them, and I was angry with them, did not want to listen. Maakha did not talk to me directly about David, she simply kept silent; and I kept silent as well and did not tell her about my secret, desperate love. She, no doubt, knew all about it, but wanted neither to encourage nor discourage me, so she said nothing.
Sha’ul also did not love David. I don’t know if he felt in his heart the awakening ambitions of the strange boy his son had brought, the boy who had driven away the disease from his head and stirred unwanted desires in his body; the boy whom the King’s good, honest heart had rejected with all its force but without whom he was unable to live.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar