Queenmaker: A Novel of King David's Queen
By INDIA EDGHILL
"What can he have more but the Kingdom?"—I Samuel 18:8
There are many who say that David loved me because I resembled my brother Jonathan. That is not true; David loved no woman, though he lay with many. Women loved him.
Even I loved him once. When I was young, my very bones melted for love of David.
Although I was a king's daughter, I did not think he would ever look at me. David was a hero. A hero should receive great beauty as his prize, and I was not beautiful. When I was young I was thin and dun-colored, like the summer hills. But I looked at him. When he and my brother Jonathan came riding their chariots through the streets in the pride of their triumphs, I was one of those who waved palms and threw flowers and cried his name. I had no eyes for my brother, it was all for David—David, who glowed hot as the sun, and was as far from my reach.
All the world knows David's story now—he always had a master's way with words, and always could tell a tale so that men repeated it to his credit. When I was a child I would sit at my brother Jonathan's knee and listen while David sang his songs. My favorite was the tale of the death of the Philistine champion Goliath. David had to be coaxed to sing that, but he would always laugh and give in, in the end. "What, that old tune again? Oh, very well—to please you, Michal."
"Five smooth stones," he would sing then, smiling down at me. "Five smooth stones did Yahweh put into my hand...." He always gave the credit to Yahweh, but I knew better. In those days, the god I worshipped was David.
"Let David, I pray thee, stand before me...."—I Samuel 16:22
My father Saul was not born to be a king. He was a farmer, as his father had been before him. He was a good man, too—so men said then.
We were Yahweh's people, and Yahweh's people were not like other nations; we had judges and prophets, not kings, to rule over us. This had always been enough. The priests and prophets said it would always be enough. But our borders were now hard-pressed by the armies of kings, and our warriors, answerable to no one, scattered before them.
At last our people tired of losses and cried out for a king to lead them. First the people called for a king, and then the judges too thought a king would make us stronger. At last only the prophets spoke against it. And the prophet who spoke loudest was Samuel.
Samuel was the greatest prophet in all the land, and heard Yahweh's voice most clearly. Samuel told the people that a king would bind them and command them, tax them and work them, take their sons for his army and their daughters for his house. But in the end even Samuel saw it was useless. A king the people would have. And so Samuel agreed to choose a king for them. Who else but Yahweh's most favored prophet should choose Yahweh's king?
Samuel was a tall man, and thin, with eyes that glowed with power—and, I think now, with shrewdness and cunning. Samuel's eyes were fearsome things the day he came to tell my father that Yahweh had chosen him—Saul, son of Kish—to be king over the people.
My father was sitting in the kitchen-garden, bouncing me on his knee, when the prophet came to him. I was barely three, but I still remember clearly the heat of the day, and Samuel's eyes, and how my father laughed, holding me tight against his chest so that the noise boomed under my ear.
"Me, king of Israel!" he cried, when he had done laughing. "Samuel, old man, you have been fasting in the desert too long. Come, let me have a place spread for you—fruit and wine, and in the shade. Michal, my little dove, run and get your mother, that we may do honor to the prophet Samuel." He set me down, but to go I would have to run past Samuel, and after I had looked far up at his eyes, I clung to my father's knee and refused to move.
Samuel lifted his heavy wooden staff and set it down with a loud thump. "Do not mock Yahweh or me, Saul son of Kish. You are to be king. Yahweh wills it so."
"Well and well," my father said. "Mind, Samuel, I think a king a good thing, and so I said when the judges asked us all. There must be one man to make the decisions in the field, or the Philistines will be supping in our houses in another year. But it was to be drawn by lot—or so my women tell me they are saying at the well." He patted my head absently. "And now you say Yahweh has chosen me."
"Well and well," my father said again. "But I am only the son of a humble man, and a Benjaminite—from the smallest house of the smallest tribe in all Israel. Why me, Samuel? Because I was once lucky with my spear?" My father Saul was the only man who had won a great victory since the days of the great judges. He had taken up sword and spear and saved the city of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites in the same year that I was born. "Yahweh's ways are not for us to dispute, Saul."
"I don't dispute them, man—but if the oil's to be on my head there are plenty of men who will!"
A pause. "Send the child away," Samuel said.
My father laughed again and picked me up. I buried my face in his chest, for Samuel was looking at me. "What? My little Michal? Oh, very well. Down you go, my dove, and off to your mother." There was that in his voice that meant no argument, so I ran, to get past the prophet safely.
It meant I heard no more, but I did not care. That summer I was only three, and the word 'king' meant little to me. It meant more to my brother Jonathan, though. I was playing with him when our father came up to the housetop later that morning and told him what had been said.
Jonathan was not our father's oldest son, but he was, I think, his favorite. He was some ten years older than I, broad and brown and solid as Saul was. Jonathan was not quick, or clever, but he was kind and gentle, and we all loved him well. Now he looked long at Saul. When he finished thinking, he picked me up, and held me close, his cheek against mine. Then he said, "I thought it was to be lots."
"It is to be lots, boy. But who rules the lots, eh? Yahweh."
Jonathan thought again. "You mean Samuel, Father?"
"Now, now, did I say so? But it's only sense for Yahweh to choose a man who's good with a sword, and who knows more of tactics than herding sheep. Sheep won't drive off the Philistines or the Ammonites, eh?" Jonathan frowned. "But, Father—"
Saul swooped me out of Jonathan's arms and swung me high. "King, by heaven! Now there'll be something done about that miserable excuse for an army—army they call it! And Michal here will be a princess with gold to glisten in her hair. Will you like that, my little dove?"
"No!" I did not know what a princess was, but I had learned that 'no' was a safer answer than 'yes', for then I might be agreeing to all sorts of unpleasantnesses, such as baths and braidings.
My father laughed again, long and loud, and thrust me back at Jonathan. "No, is it? You'll sing another tune when you're older, won't she, Jonathan?"
"There's never been a king in Israel before," was
all my brother said as he took me into his arms. My father did not like this.
"Well, by Yahweh, there's to be one now!" he bellowed, and stomped
off. Jonathan stared after him so long I became restless, and wriggled and
demanded to be put down. I was sorry afterwards, for Jonathan took me off and
left me to the care of the maid who was watching my older sister Merab. He
didn't even finish making my leaf-and-flower doll for me, and when I complained
of this the maid slapped me and bade me hush. The other two serving-maids had
just come back from the marketplace and could chatter of nothing but the search
for a king, and so no one had time for me. Even Merab, who was six, wished to
listen, although it could have meant little to her either. So I sat under one
of the beds and sulked, and no one paid me any heed. A king, it seemed to me,
was nothing but trouble for Michal.