Sons of Zeruiah: The Mighty Men of King David
Please enjoy this preview of Brian Lee Meyer's first novel.
I decided I would commit murder.
I was in agony for months. All my life I cared for two people above all others, Mishael, my closest friend since childhood, and Dinah, my cousin, with whom I was in love beyond reason. I confessed my love for Dinah to no one.
No one but Mishael.
For years I hoarded coins like a miser for her dowry. At night I lay in bed imagining the sound of her laugh and her dark, mischievous eyes. I was obsessed.
I remember the day when my share of the tithes was pressed into my hand, and I finally had enough coin to offer a decent dowry. At last I could ask my uncle for her hand.
At last she would be mine.
I ran to share my good news with Mishael. But he had his own news to share. He had asked for Dinah’s hand himself; they were to be married within the year.
My anger boiled up inside me. Before I knew it, Mishael’s mouth was bleeding. I do not even remember striking him, but I must have. My knuckles felt like they had been smashed with a mallet.
There was no anger on his face at being struck, only misery. I ran away, hot tears streaming down my face, not of sadness, but white hot rage. My heart was a smith’s forge, the bellows stoking it to burn away all pity.
I am a Levite. I keep the door of Solomon’s Temple. I am an usher to the pious and a guide to tourists.
“Wait just a moment, sir. Please, gentlemen, mind your sacrifices, don’t let them soil the porch. Very good, right this way, sir. The priest will see you now, sir. Gentlemen, please don’t touch the carvings. Yes sir, they’re solid gold, not gilded.”
I wake up hearing myself say these things in half-sleep.
On the day of Mishael’s betrayal, I tore my robe, collapsed into the hearth, and rubbed the ashes on my face and hair. I then went to the temple and fell prostrate before the altar. I asked Yahweh to kill Mishael and avenge me of my enemy. I told my father, a scribe named Anah, of my recent calamity and my prayer for retribution. He only clucked at me.
“Son, do you honestly expect God to answer a prayer like that?” he asked.
Ever practical, my father offered to arrange a marriage with a number of young women from good families among his connections. I demurred. How could I think of another woman when I had just lost the love of a hundred lifetimes?
I believed him, that God would not answer my prayer. Though I would have never blasphemed aloud, I considered God no more of a friend to me than Mishael now. I knew that if I were to find justice in the land of the living, I would have to see to it myself.
For several days I stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple performing my duties woodenly, speaking without conscious thought.
“Right this way, gentlemen. Sir, please mind your goat; that’s cedar it’s chewing on. The priest will be with you shortly, sir.”
I had been in awe when I first assumed my duties. The columns, the graven pomegranates, the golden cherubim, and carved palm trees struck me dumb. The air was perfumed with incense, and the sweet melody of psalms gave it an otherworldly atmosphere. It was a palace for God, and I had the privilege of seeing it every day.
But when you see something every day, it eventually loses its power to impress you. The monotony of my work wore away my sense of wonder, and the glamour of the temple lost its shine. I became annoyed at the gawkers staring up at the wonders of the Temple.
So what? I thought. It’s just a carving. You can buy a replica of it in the market.
But I was stuck. As a Levite, I could own neither land nor business. I was born into this vocation and would live with and live off the temple until I died.
Ten days after Mishael’s revelation, I was walking up the Temple Mount to perform my duties. It was raining, not hard, but still miserable. I was slogging through the mud when I had my epiphany.
I could run away.
I would kill Mishael, take Dinah, and together we could run to the city of refuge in Hebron and begin a new life together where no one knew who I was or what I had done.
No more would I sweep dung off of Solomon’s porch and shuffle commoners around the finery of the temple. I could learn a trade or purchase some land and start a farm. I still had my savings. It was not much, but we could make a start.
Best of all, I could make Mishael pay for what he had done to me.
It never left my mind. Even as I performed my sacred duties, I was consumed with thoughts of murder. As I watched the rain fall, I debated should I stab Mishael’s heart, or should I slit his throat? Did I need a special kind of knife? I knew nothing of violence. Generations of excusing Levites from serving in the army had bred martial knowledge out of us. But mania had me in its grasp. No matter the cost, I would find a way to kill my enemy.
A bent old man appeared, his long beard dripping with rain. The hand that held his staff had a prominent, pink stump where his finger had once been. He came to the porch and waited patiently for me to open the door and let him in. He knew what to expect, and I did not bother giving him instructions. He came to the Temple every day to pray for as long as I had served there, even in the rain. No one was in the queue in front of him, so I ushered him in without a word. He thanked me politely, as he always did, and left me standing on the porch alone.
Still damp, I began to feel a chill in the cool of the early spring morning. I stepped inside to warm myself. My father arrived, and we greeted each other. But for the old man, we were alone.
My father looked at the old man. “I see Abishai is already here.”
“Who?” I asked. “The old man?”
“That old man,” my father whispered. “Is Abishai, son of Zeruiah, nephew of King David.”
“The Abishai?” I asked.
Could it really be Abishai the mighty man of David’s host, the assassin, Abishai the avenger? He had been right under my nose every day, and I never knew it.
“The same,” he answered, pleased with my reaction. My father delighted himself in knowing important people.
I could not believe my good fortune. I needed to kill a man and had not the faintest idea of how to begin, and here was a man who had snuffed out more lives than probably any man living. If anyone understood my need for vengeance, it would be him. I could take him as my mentor. With him to advise me, nothing could spare Mishael from my ultimate and perfect revenge.
“I know you’ve been unhappy, son,” my father said. “Why don’t you talk to Abishai? He’s a man of God these days. Perhaps he can give you some guidance. Here.”
He put a gold coin in my hand. “Give him this, and ask him to give you his blessing.”
Surely this was a sign from God that my vendetta was just and that He was on my side after all. My own father was urging me to seek assistance from the old murderer. I bounced on the balls of my feet and drummed my fingers as I waited. I must have stood at the door for hours. How much could one man have to say to God? Had he fallen asleep?
At last Abishai wobbled up into a standing position and regarded the altar for a moment, his eyes glassy with regret, as if the sacred item brought up a painful memory. He tore his eyes away and shuffled toward the door.
“Abishai?” I began but then hesitated.
He blinked. “Yes?”
How do you ask a man to teach you to kill? I took a deep breath and handed him my father’s coin.
“Will you pray a blessing upon me?”
He smiled and his eyes twinkled as they regarded me, as if he was amused that someone would ask for his blessing.
“What kind of blessing did you have in mind?” he asked.
I felt my face flush.
“I don’t know,” I stammered. “I just thought a man...like you would know what to do in my situation.”
He raised his eyebrows in interest. “Oh! It’s a situation is it?”
He put a grandfatherly hand on my shoulder.
“Let’s talk about this ‘situation’ over a cup of wine,” he suggested. “My cottage is across the road. You can tell me all about it there.”
I followed him out of the temple.
Abishai had been generous calling his home a cottage. It was a mere shack. There was hardly any furniture, just a cot, a small table, and a couple of cushions. Still the place was clean and comfortable in a rugged, practical way. Coming in out of the rain, he seated me on a cushion and fetched the wine.
I poured out the whole story for my host. He never interrupted with a question, he just listened and nodded. I could not stop talking. All the hatred and bitterness I had stoppered up flowed out, until I even confessed my desire to kill Mishael and run away with Dinah.
He did not so much as raise his eyebrows but nodded with empathy, as if killing your closest friend was the most natural response in the world. I asked him if he would tell me how to kill Mishael, how to prolong his suffering and my gratification, and how to get away with it without being stoned as a murderer. He did not answer right away but stood, walked over to the door, and stooped to pick up something I had not noticed when I entered.
It was a spear. Its shaft had been snapped in half and had been leaning in two pieces beside the door. He placed it in my hands and resumed his seat on the cushion next to me. The wood was smooth, polished not by deliberate sanding of an armorer, but by years of handling, though it was beginning to rot. Even with my limited knowledge, I could see it was old-fashioned, a relic from another time, before iron weapons dominated the warrior’s kit. The bronze warhead of the spear had a light patina the color of algae, but it was still wickedly sharp.
“What is this?” I asked.
He laughed. “I know Levites are men of peace, but I thought you would at least recognize a spear.”
“I know it’s a spear, but how am I supposed to use it? It’s broken.”
“The story of that spear,” said he. “Begins in a brothel many years ago, when I was only four years of age.”
What did the king’s cousin, now a holy man, have to tell about a whorehouse?
“The story of the spear is my story,” he said, pouring more wine into my cup. “If you will indulge an old soldier, I will tell it to you.”
His gaze flicked from the cup to my face, and I saw that all mirth had fled from his eyes.
“And from my tale, I promise, you will learn everything you need to know of killing and of revenge.”
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