The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 6 appeared
in issue 172.
|Chapter Seven: Yonatan|
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.
It was Yonatan who suggested to me and David that we should marry. I know that at the time he was David’s lover, although I knew nothing of it then; the suggestion of our marriage must have seemed to him the best solution for an impossible situation.
Yonatan loved me as a sister, as his closest relation, especially after the death of his mother and following his father’s illness, which hurt him badly. He loved David with the love of a body and soul which was incurable, both inescapable and unacceptable.
Yonatan was a rational man enough to know there was no future for his relationship with David. By making his love object a close relative he was able to facilitate the situation. I can only conjecture at his thoughts, because he never opened his heart to me about this particular subject; but I have a feeling he assumed that between the three of us there would be no contrast of interests. At the time I was too young and too absorbed in my own love for David to be aware of what was happening between my brother and my beloved.
David, I think, had never had too much moral sense to distinguish between what was right and what was wrong, personally or socially. I know that he was addicted to physical pleasures and did not keep himself away from indulging in them. He found his pleasures in many ways, having discovered their existence at the King’s court in Giv’at Sha’ul. He could never have had his way like that at his father’s home in Beit Lehem, the puritanical semi-desert area of Yehuda.
* * *
I suppose David usually preferred to hold in his arms a woman’s quivering, soft, plump flesh (Bat Sheva’s rounded body comes naturally to mind), finding pleasure in satisfying her. But there was that effeminate side to him which leads me to suspect he also loved to be held by the strong arms of a man, one who would be happy to give him pleasure. As I learned many years later, David held women in some contempt, for in his southern society they were regarded as inferior creatures.
Although he did not refrain from being aided by any particular woman when it helped him achieve a certain goal, he admired men much more. Being of medium height and inclined to chubbiness, he particularly adored those “manly” men like Avner, who had wide, muscular shoulders and narrow hips, or like Sha’ul and Yonatan, who were tall and slim with no extra flesh on their bodies.
Most of all, David appreciated military men, himself never having the courage to take part in an actual battle; I found it quite natural the way he let the sons of his sister Tzeruya romp freely, chasing and killing people either in cold blood or in playfulness, knowing very well he would never be able to do it himself. He might have seen it an honor to submit to the love of such men, who sometimes preferred boys to women.
I never knew and had no interest to discover whether David enticed Yonatan to his bed or vice versa. They were very close friends, and he must have been aware of Yonatan’s love for him; he may have invited him when he felt my brother was ready for the realization of his desire. Whether he was already thinking of the social advantages such relation could grant him, I can’t say.
David was a clever man, and no one knew like him how to make the best of a given situation. As the youngest and least important son of a family with many older sons, belonging to a tribe which adored the wisdom and social standing of older people, he had very little initial advantage in life. From a remote, scantly inhabited district of mainly shepherds and nomads, he arrived at Giv’at Sha’ul, at the heart of Israel, finding himself at the center of interest inside the ruling family. All he needed to do was to let things take their natural course with only a slight push to divert them in a desirable direction for himself.
* * *
Poor Yonatan! I cannot avoid asking myself what would have been his destiny had not David managed to escape from Sha’ul’s anger and had David been caught and sacrificed to Ashtoret as Sha’ul planned and as many people wanted. As the last son left to Sha’ul from Re’uma, Yonatan was highly loved and respected by the people. He was a good judge, had courage in battle and had more political wisdom than his father; and he had no less charismatic leadership.
If Yonatan had been crowned king, he might have given up his belief in Yhwh, sanctified his wedding with Ashtoret’s priestess and ruled in Sha’ul’s place. Having inherited Re’uma’s practical cleverness, Yonatan might have made peace with our neighbors through diplomacy rather than wars; and in the end, he might even have made a covenant with the southern tribes, especially Yehudah, and marry another woman from Beit Lehem or Hevron.
In his wisdom, Yonatan was able to answer the needs of the kingdom while overcoming his natural rejection of women’s love. I am sure such a rule would have been less bloody than David’s regime, and if the country might not have stretched up to Damesek, there would be enough room in it for good living for the people of Israel and Yehudah.
Idle thoughts! At the time of Sha’ul’s kingship there was no certainty of its being transferred from father to son, as is happening now. Actually, as the nominal ruler was Ashtoret’s priestess rather than her consort, the natural way for a man to become king was to marry that priestess’ daughter, namely — in this case — Mikhal. Did David think even then that his coupling with the inheriting daughter was the best thing happening to him?
I am sure Yonatan never thought, was never able to think, in that direction. He himself, even when he filled Sha’ul’s place as judge, never wanted to be king, never had any ambition for leadership or dreams of greatness. As I knew him, I think his only wish was to be happy in his own way, and that was never in his reach...
* * *
I think David estimated correctly Yonatan’s loyalty to his loved ones and his lack of ambition. In time, David rewarded that unbiased devotion in leaving alive Yonatan’s son Meriba’al out of the rest of Sha’ul’s family. David may have hinted to his lover about his wish to marry me, or perhaps Yonatan himself raised the idea as a desparate step to keep David at the Giv’a, when he realized his lover was planning to leave the King’s house. Only many years later did I learn from David himself that he had been thinking about it when he was in one of his worst moods because of Sha’ul’s relentless persecution.
My thoughts are getting muddled; my head is dizzy and I confuse the order of events. A glance at the window shows me the haze hanging in the air. The sun is invisible; only a blurred glow blinds my eyes, bringing in them unwanted tears. I check them with an effort, caressing with shaky fingers the golden face of Ashtoret’s image, trying to remember.
Following David’s arrival at Court, Sha’ul began showing recovery. Every morning, after an hour or two of music, the King sat for judgment until evening. Sometimes he called David when going to bed at night, to help him fall sleep to the strumming on the harp or the telling of a tuneful story.
Then, another war broke out, one of the endless wars with the Philistines, and Sha’ul decided to go out at the head of the army. Yonatan tried to dissuade him, explained to him how well Avner was doing, and how much the King was needed at home, but he would not listen. The father still regarded his son as too young and lacking in experience, ignoring the fact that during his illness it was Yonatan who had sat as judge and sometimes even led the army to battle at Avner’s side. He even forgot that at his son’s age he himself had led the army against the King of Amon. He did, however, take his son with him, as well as David who was excited to go out to his first war.
* * *
I am not a military historian, I hate wars, and I have no intention or knowledge to tell about even one of them in detail. Anyone interested in tales of war would better read the History Book of David which relates many stories of that kind. During his kingship, David had accumulated an army of scribes who put in writing all his own tales and those of his close associates about him. In that war in which Sha’ul, his son Yonatan and David took part, Yonatan distinguished himself in tactics which helped overcome the enemy. Sha’ul showed his usual determination and courage in battle and a rare endurance; and David went everywhere among the fighters, appearing before them as a creature from another world — I have no idea what he actually did. When the army returned crowned with victory, the maidens set out to welcome them according to custom; in their songs they acclaimed Sha’ul as a hero, but described David as a savior Angel of God.
Sha’ul instantly sank in deep depression, from which he awakened only into attacks of wild madness. In one of these he drove David away; in another he threw his spear at him when David had come to play for the King. After that last event, David went to Yonatan and told him he had decided to leave Giv’at Sha’ul.
* * *
Who can tell whether he had really meant to do it or not? It is hard for me to believe that he would have given up so easily the advantage he had already won, his closeness to the King and almost a lover to the inheriting princess. But Yonatan could not allow himself to test David. The idea to marry his friend to his sister was an obvious resort, and Yonatan did not hesitate to put it up before us, separately. Anyone can imagine David’s thankful reaction. I myself was overwhelmed.
“Yonatan!” I embraced him and kissed his cheek. He hugged me lightly, then pushed me away.
“Do you really want this?” he asked smiling, “you know he has no standing, no importance.”
“What do I care for standing? What importance does he need to have except in my heart.”
“Have you slept with him yet?” He asked with interest.
I blushed. “Not yet, but I am almost ready for it.”
“Wait until your marriage, then.”
“What difference does it make now?”
“It may make no difference, but it may raise your importance in his eyes.”
I did not understand his meaning then, but I was used to listening to my brother’s advice.
“But what does he say? Have you made the offer to him yet? David really wants to marry me?”
“Sure, why not?” That was no answer, of course, but I did not know it at the time, taking it to be an assent.
“Oh, Yonatan, Yonatan! You are so good to me!” I wanted to embrace him again but checked myself.
“But what will the King say? Did you ask Sha’ul?” I realized that the hardest opposition would come from that direction. I had concealed from my father my relationship with David, I feared his reaction if he had found out.
“Don’t worry about Sha’ul,” Yonatan calmed me down,” I’ll see to it that it will be all right.” I had learned to rely on Yonatan and did not doubt his words.
That evening, when I met David, he said before I had a chance to open my mouth, “Yonatan suggests we marry.”
“Oh, David!” I did not know what to say.
With all my love for him I was a little afraid of him; I had never dared approach him first, always waiting for him to address me with a word, a stretch of the hand, a caress. Suddenly I felt a new courage infused in my heart; I stretched my arms, took hold of his head and put my lips to his own. At once, I was held by muscular arms, my body held tight to his, his lips forcing mine open and his tongue rubbing against mine. A fire flared in my body when I felt his penis harden against my burning loins. As we were of the same hight, I felt the absolute fitness between us.
Then I remembered Yonatan’s words, and pushed David away. “No, Yonatan said we should wait for our marriage.”
He laughed then, a wild, harsh laughter. “If Yonatan said so, we’d better wait. Why not?”
I thought he was unsatisfied, but I was adamant. “We don’t have long to wait,” I comforted him and myself. He saw me home. I did not know where he went that night, but I suppose he found a bed and a body where he could release the pressure between his legs.
The next day, I went to Maakha to ask for her blessing for my marriage with David.
“I have nothing to say to you,” she muttered in a whispering voice. I waited. At last, she added, “You’d best go to the temple of Naaman, to ask for your mother’s blessing. You need that more than you need my words.”
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar