The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 7 appeared
in issue 173.
|Chapter Eight: Palti Ben Lyish|
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.
Of all my memories, that of Palti and Galim is the farthest, the most forgotten; a faint taste of a short-lived sweet paradise which had vanished forever from my life, although at the time it seemed to be lasting forever.
I close my eyes and let my spirit rise over the limp, old body lying among the cushions. For a moment it hovers, floating between the walls of the women’s house; strangers inhabit it now, Shelomo’s wives whom I have no interest in knowing. Then my spirit burst out into the wide spaces, and again I wander on the roads.
* * *
For a woman who had never wanted anything else but a man to love and a few kids to rear in peace, I have certainly travelled too many times in my life. Those journeys, although none of them very long, differed from each other, as did the goals I travelled toward: each of them denoted a change in my life over which I had no control. Today I am waiting, neither impatiently nor apprehensively, for the last journey which will take me to a place of peace and rest I have been yearning for all my life.
Thinking about the trip to Galim, the home of my new husband who was a stranger to me, I recall previous times I had been on the road.
First of all my journeys was that colorful midsummer procession to the temple of Naaman, to witness the ceremony of beauty and awe of Malkishua’s wedding and self-sacrifice to the Goddess.
After that came the terrible voyage in space and time to the Three Asses Oracle with my father, and the jolly winter journey to see Ahino’am and get her blessing for my marriage with David.
Then I remember my fourth journey, the most important one, to Shiloh, to marry David. The changeable spring weather of that time reflected my unstable emotional state, which hovered between apprehension and hope.
My most horrible journey, from Galim back to Giv’at Sha’ul, was still to come when I found myself on the road for the fifth time, after David’s flight from Sha’ul. Full of despair, I felt it was the end of my life. Barely twenty years old and just a couple of years married, I had yet to experience the happiness foretold to me by Devora at Naaman’s temple. I felt as if I was forced to offer the gift of my life as an alternative to the sacrifice to Ashtoret, which had been omitted that year. In one way or another, the main candidates had avoided becoming victims, and I was the one who paid the price.
* * *
The marriage caravan going to Galim was highly fitting for a king’s daughter. I was given two maidservants to take to my new home. We were equipped with three asses for riding, and two burden mules carrying not just provisions but also the trousseau prepared for me as a bride to bring to my husband’s house. And we were accompanied by three soldiers for protection.
Everything I had missed on my secret voyage to marry David was provided for me now, when I had no use for it or interest in it. I set on my way in a state of mental death, being severed forever from anyone and anything I had ever loved. I had no way of knowing that at the end of the road new birth awaited me, and the growth of a new life.
The distance between Giv’at Sha’ul and Galim does not run over one day’s journey, but I was in no hurry to arrive and had no misgivings when we tarried on the road, and twice stayed the night.
The company of the maids was a mixed blessing for me. One of them was my old nurse Naama, who preferred to join me in my new place rather than remain at the Giv’a to look after Sha’ul’s grandchildren. Many times, during my hardest hours on the road and at Galim, she proved to be my savior, and after my recovery I never stopped blessing her, as well as Maakha who, I was sure, had a hand in sending Naama with me.
My other maid was a young girl called Tzilla, who had not yet been trained for service. Every time I was stirred on the way from the fog surrounding my mind, I could hear her unceasing complaints about the heat, about the uneven road, about the mosquitoes at night, or anything else she could find wrong. She certainly was more of a hinderance than a help to my needs. Tzilla came with us because she was an orphan and not yet betrothed; she thought it a honor to be chosen out of all the girls to accompany me, be a personal maid to the King’s daughter.
In time, taken well in hand by Naama, Tzilla became a good enough servant; but throughout the journey she groaned and sighed, and in spite of the sweat running free down her face and body, out of some caprice she rejected the water skin offered to her. Naama had her hands full supporting her as well as me, and in the end, she was the main reason I was glad we had finally arrived in Galim.
* * *
Most of the way, as I have mentioned, passed for me in a thick fog, dimming my mind and burdening my heart. I ate almost nothing and drank only when my nurse forced some water down my throat. From time to time, this or that figure of my retinue burst out of the fog and glimmered in front of me. A donkey braying or the scream of a bird would stir me to look around, but soon the mist of turbid depression returned to cover my mind, and I sank back into the swampy marsh of despair.
The season was the period after midsummer, when the days are still long and burning hot and the moisture accumulates in the air to burden the body and cloud the mind; travelling away from the rainy, fertile area of Giv’at Sha’ul toward the eastern desert made things even worse. When the sun almost reached the zenith on the first day, the heat was already unbearable, and we found refuge in the shade of a little wood. There we stopped for a rest and a light repast, made up mainly of seasonal fruit, which revived me a little; Naama, seeing my condition, suggesting we remain there until evening. Staying the night was only a natural outcome, and we went back on the road only at dawn. I slept heavily, seeing only vague sights in my dreams, which I could not understand in the morning.
At the break of dawn bitter memories returned to plague me; as we advanced toward the rising, dazzling sun, the haze penetrated my mind again and I knew nothing that was happening until I found myself drenched in cool, fresh water. We had stopped at a crag on the side of a hill, where there was a cave and a spring flowing out of it, and Naama forced me to rinse the dust from my face and body. Again, it was an excuse to stay the night. We arrived at our destination on the third day before noon.
All I remember from our arrival at Galim is that I fell on the bed alotted to me, and immediately sank into a deep sleep full of dreams and nightmares. I remained lying on that bed for many days, occasionally stirring up without any wish to move. I would swallow a tiny morsel of food, sip a drop of drink and go back to my torpor, finding in oblivion a refuge from the harsh reality outside.
Still, only old people are able to stay sick for a long time; a young person has only two options: to get well or to die. Physically, I was young and strong; my body overcame the needs of my soul and forced me to recover. After a few weeks I was no longer able to lie in bed, to shut myself in my room, so I got up and went out into the world. Summer’s heat had begun to soften, the days grew shorter and the nights cooler. I have always liked the season of autumn, when the winds rush through the countryside, awakening nature from the death of summer, and the white spikes of squills, a sure sign for the approaching new year, pierce the air. For the first time I left the house in the company of my nurse, who drove curious people away from me and led me out of the village and on to the fields, my favorite haunts.
* * *
In contrast to Giv’at Sha’ul, besides being much smaller in size, Galim was also remote from the arena of events and important business. Even before it became the seat of the new king and his court, the Giv’a, close to the main Canaanite city of Giv’on, had been the central settlement of Israelite Binyamin, and the home of many of its important families. Galim, on the other hand, was a one-family place founded by Lyish, Palti’s father. They said that he really wanted to get away from the noisy, tumultuous life led by the Kish family, and this inclination even increased when the King’s house was built at the Giv’a.
The village consisted of a group of buildings surrounding one large court which served as the center point for house work, food preparation and family gathering; attached to it on one side was an enclosure where some of the beasts of burden were kept. The main building was a sprawling dwelling house, which contained rooms for family members and their servants; other buildings served as workshops, storage places and habitation for the field workers. Milking and shearing the sheep and goats were done in an enclosure erected for that purpose out in the pasture, where the herd grazed under the supervision of children.
I did not absorb all that on my first day out. At that time I only noticed the smallness of the place, the absence of crowds and the closeness of the village boundaries to the fields around it; in a strange way, I found all this comforting.
At that first period of my life in Galim I was not interested and asked nothing about my new husband; so much I ignored his existence, that I was not even glad for his absence from my new frame of life. Only a long time later my nurse told me how she had convinced him to stay away from me and let me recover from the trauma I had undergone.
In those days of mental recovery, I spent most of my time outside, as I used to do at Giv’at Sha’ul. When Naama saw there was no longer need to look after me, that I had no intention of ending my life in one way or another, she let me roam on my own, after I had promised her not to wander far from the settlement.
I started out by touring the place, as any stranger would explore a new site. Once or twice I went around the village, familiarizing myself with the landscape which was quite different from the area of Giv’at Sha’ul. Here, the hills were drier, rockier, and much wilder looking; there were fewer terraces stretched around them for farming, and the number of trees was much smaller. In the state I was at the time, I liked that sense of desolation, which answered well to my mood of dejection.
When I got to know the area and could discover nothing new, I began to join the shepherd children, going back in my mind to my own childhood; I played their games, helped them to watch the herd during the day and gather it in the evening.
After a while I found out that among these children were also two of Palti’s; but, having learned who they were, I befriended them without revealing my true identity to them. They saw in me a strange woman who preferred to join the children in their tasks instead of doing adult work; and, unlike adults’ habits, they accepted my odd behavior without criticism.
One morning, as I prepared to go out of the house, I noticed a change in the weather. The sky, which had been covered occasionally with light clouds swept by strong winds, was now heavy with layers of a dark blanket and, as I opened the door, a stream of water filled the air and burst into the room. The rain lasted a couple of days and I was forced to stay home; winter had come with its rain, storms and chill, and I had to get used to a new way of life, more internal, more sedentary.
Those were the days when I took up spinning. It had never used to be my favorite occupation. At Giv’at Sha’ul, when the weather was bad and no work in the field was possible, I would prefer more hardy, active jobs like looking after the animals, feeding and milking, or grinding grain and conserving fruit and vegetables. I had always looked at spinning as a sissy occupation fit for dainty ladies, which I had never seen myself as, much as I was a king’s daughter. But while in the busy life of Giv’at Sha’ul nobody paid much attention to what I was doing, here, as Naama explained to me, I was the Lady of the House; as such, manual work was no longer suitable for me.
She must have had an additional idea in her mind, for I found out that the fingers’ routine of spinning did much to calm my troubled heart and pacify my disturbed mind. The apprehension which had come over me while forced to sit at home, the awakening and increased sense of claustrophobia when unable to go out into the open spaces, were much reduced when I was working my fingers in company of my nurse and the girls. As I let my hands learn to do their job almost automatically, I also listened to the enless yarn of stories spun with the wool.
The general talk was mainly gossip, to which I only half listened, but my silence allowed the others run free with their tongues. Only now and then Naama would venture to silence them when the talk went out of hand. Thus, I came to hear a lot about my new family, and about my invisible husband. In this way I found out that he was highly appreciated by the servant as a good, nice man. I visualized him as an old grandfather, at least fifty years old, with a bent back and a long white beard. I thought to myself that all my function would be to supervise his health until he died and left me again to mourn my lost life. Maybe then, when I was more mature, a mistress of myself and my property, I would be able to meet David again, maybe even renew our marriage. Even today I am not sure whether I believed myself in those dreams or not.
* * *
On the third day of my imprisonment at home, the weather let up a little, and in the afternoon I was deliberating with myself whether it was worth my while to go out just for the couple of hours left of daylight. My thoughts were interrupted by a knock the door, which on fine days stood open, had been closed against the rain which kept continually dripping in, and we had to light the room with a couple of lamps. Naama called out for the person to enter, and a middle-aged man appeared at the door; I gazed from under lowered lids, peering at him curiously, unaware of his identity. He was the first man in Galim which I had seen closely.
The man was neither young nor old, neither handsome nor ugly; an ordinary-looking man with a short chestnut beard and soft, pleasant brown eyes. A sudden warm, pleasant feeling passed through my body, and I closed my eyes to stop a slight stirring in my heart. I knew who he was even before Naama had presented him to me; the unexpected excitement which had taken hold of me threw my mind off balance.
The fact that Palti looked under forty years of age instead of over fifty, that he did not look deformed but straight and healthy, made things very difficult for me. I was still desperately in love with David, thinking about him from morning till evening, dreaming about him at night; I still hoped to see him again soon, even though that hope was dimming as the days passed, as my natural reason was gradually overcoming my sweeping emotions. The fact that loomed suddenly in its full concreteness before my eyes, that I must forget my beloved and give my body to this strange man, was forced on me with all its power, shook my very existence, drenched my eyes with stinging tears.
It was well that Naama sensed my upset, rose and took me in her arms, comforted me as if I were again a little girl. At the same time she turned to look at Palti, with a few words asking him to be patient.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar