The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
|Chapter 1: Mikhal|
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.
Autumn: the year is drawing to its close. One sun ray flares for a moment from behind gathering clouds, lights up their lining; shadows lengthen. The wind rises, scatters the clouds like frightened sheep, stirs up the dust on roads. Leaves on the vine clinging to the wall of the Women’s House yellow, then detach themselves, drifting, one by one on the sweeping wind, slowly falling to the garden floor to cover the soil, which has hardened through the long dry months of summer. One by one the minutes of my life are draining, drawing it to its close; the memories yellow, detach themselves from my whole essence, drift away like the falling leaves.
* * *
As memories go, these cannot always be coherent. I try to convey my thoughts and my feelings besides telling my story, and sometimes they get all mixed up together. Graves loom in my memories; graves of relatives, friends and enemies: those of my father Sha’ul’s and his grandmother Maakha’s; of my mother Ahino’am’s and my husband David’s. With them in the Underworld are my half-brother Yonathan and my stepmother Re’uma; and lastly my son Avino’am and my brother Ishbaal who are tied together in the disaster of my life. Each one is enmeshed in my memories for good and evil, for grace or grief.
In a few days or weeks, with the first raindrop or the first cold wave, my own grave will join the long row. If I get my wish, the new king will fulfill my last request to lay my body by the side of David and Ahino’am in their burial place at the sacred Circular Place, the Threshing Floor of Arawna the Yevusite.
* * *
My spirit wanders. Looking for rest from countless unanswerable questions, it tries to trace the spirits of the dead: did they go down to the Underworld, to dwell under the wings of the Black Goddess who rules over the land of ghosts; did their soul rise to join the pale moon, their faces looking out through the face of the Queen of Heaven? Or was it absorbed in the howling Desert Spirit, strengthening the power of Yhwh in the land of Israel? I shall soon find out.
My time is near, and there is no sorrow in my heart; long gone the storms of the soul, both loves and hates have vanished, sadness and joy are no more. I still hope, though, to find my rest in the bosom of Ashtoret from which all new life springs, rather than be doomed to the eternal death without resurrection, as Yhwh’s worshipers believe it to be.
Many are the words I hear from the silent lips of Maakha, the little statue of the goddess left to me out of all my possessions; I can see all my loved ones and my enemies in the jeweled eyes shining at me, full of compassion. Maakha, I call it, after Sha’ul’s grandmother, the wife of the Father of Givo’n. She was my comfort in my childhood, when I grew up without a mother, when Ahino’am, priestess at the temple of Naaman, used to appear in our place at Giv’at Sha’ul only once a year, for the Sacred Marriage festival of spring; Re’uma, Sha’ul’s wife, was never a mother to me — even the title ‘stepmother’ was sometimes too soft for her.
But Old Maakha was much more than that: she was not only Sha’ul’s grandmother, not only my own great-grandmother, but the grandmother of the whole world. That was how she appeared to the people who belonged to the Kish family, and to the inhabitants of Giv’on, Giv’at Sha’ul and the neighboring villages. It was through her support that her favorite grandson Sha’ul became king, and because of her firm judgment he sacrificed himself in the end.
She was a strong woman, making sharp decisions and firm judgment; she used to hear my complaints, sometimes harsh words at which Re’uma would twist her face in disgust, without criticism, without reproach. Maakha only stretched her arms to hold me tight to her heart, to comfort me in silence. From her, many years after her death, I learned to accept things as they were, to bear them in silence.
* * *
I have grown almost as old as Old Maakha; I have long ceased weaving, I no longer spin; my shaking hands, age-weak fingers and cloudy eyes, do not let me do the sacred work. I spend my days lying on the carpeted floor among soft pillows in my chamber in the Women’s House, with one or two girls seeing to my needs. People at the Palace no longer remember me, no one needs me any more either as the daughter of King Sha’ul and Ashtoret’s priestess, or as David’s first wife. Still, no one is also likely to bother, or take the risk, to remove me from this world, as has been done to the rest of Sha’ul’s house.
Since my daughter Tamar left Yerushalem and found shelter in one of the Underworld temples in the Galil, I have no interest left in what is happening at the house of David. His son Shelomo is collecting a new set of wives, forming new ties with foreign kingdoms; he has no interest in his father’s household except in Avishag, the marriage to whom had made him king.
Times have changed, and the tunes with them — literally; according to the new order, the king is not obliged to maintain his connections with Ashtoret, and instead of human sacrifice to the Goddess, animals are brought to the altar in the name of Yhwh. But what have I to do with all this? When next spring comes, the season of the royal marriage, I shall be lying in the company of my mother and my first husband at Ashtoret’s temple where the Circle of Arawna the Yevusite once stood. Perhaps we shall celebrate the Spring festival in the Underworld — I can see in my imagination a new kind of marriage, both I and my mother take David as our shared husband; that would be some fun!
Still, we might all sit together with the Queen of Heaven, watching from above the changes made on earth, laughing at the folly of human beings who do not realize how short their lives are. Probably, they will have forgotten us by then — but zperhaps not, for even now the scribes are sitting and scribbling energetically in their books the history of all our deeds and misfortunes; but whether they write the truth or not — this I do not know.
* * *
One thing is very clear to me: with the kingship of Yedidya, David’s youngest son — even if his name has been changed to Shelomo, after Shalem, God of Evening and Death and the first King of Yerushalem — Yhwh’s rule has become stronger than ever.
Maybe in Egypt or in Aram people still worship Ashtoret together with her brother-lover Naaman; but here, this war has ended with the clear victory of Yhwh. The reign of the pure, blindingly bright light of the dry Desert God has replaced Ashtoret’s dark depths of the soul, where Death rules over Life and Life rises out from the rotting body of the sacrificial victim. In ancient times, sacrifices had a sacred function: they were offered joyfully by the victim himself, and hopefully by his people; since then, their meaning had been soiled, they became but means for political murder.
Until lately, before Shelomo rose to kingship, both the Land of Israel and I had never been free from wars. I never had any interest in them, but they kept plaguing me, determining the course of my life. In spite of my hate for wars, they form the basis for this story, peopling it with winners and losers. As is usual with wars — as it is with the battle for life itself — the winners cheer, while the losers cry in secret with no one to comfort them.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar