The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 11 part 1 appears
in this issue.
Chapter Eleven: Yerushalem
part 2 of 3
He did not sound sorry. He did not sound as if he felt anything at all. Had that strange man ever felt anything, or had he always known how to hide the coldness of his soul? I felt the hate growing in my heart toward the man who had helped destroy and replace the house of Sha’ul; the man who had coveted power and had no consideration for people.
Suddenly, my heart was on fire. All my troubles and pains gathered together, uniting into a lump in my mouth, and to get rid of that lump there was only once thing to do. I spat, and my spit sprayed on his face, dripped on his beautiful clothes. Like a black hole my hate for him burst out, sweeping away any other possible feeling.
Hands took hold of me, and if he had not waved his hand, they would have torn me up on the spot. Instead, I was dragged back to the Women’s house. My good, or bad, luck stood me, and the only evil I was not afraid of, I actually hoped for, did not come: I was not put to death. Instead, I was forbidden from ever going out of Women’s house. I have become a prisoner here, where I still am today.
It is not so bad, my prison, for I have had no need or wish to go anywhere since the one place I could long for — Galim — was barred to me. A couple of windows give me an outlook on the world outside: one of them overlooks the street, allowing me some vision of the world at large; through the other I can peer out onto the royal courtyard, watching the comings and goings of the palace. The open door of my room keeps me informed of everything that is happening in the corridors of the Women’s house, where the King’s wives and concubines, maids and eunics go about their daily business.
Sometimes I meet David’s other wives in our common room, and from the endless women’s talk I get the latest gossip. Ahino’am’s visits, and later Tamar’s, have constantly fulfilled the needs of my heart and soul, which are very few. Both the world and myself have regarded me as dead for a long time, and soon it will actually happen, at last.
A few months after I came to Yerushalem, I gave birth to my daughter, Tamar. Poor Tamar! Anyone whose fate is tied up with mine has to be called ‘poor’! I could not be happy when she was born. After my son had been so cruelly torn from my arms, from my soul, I was not able to raise the daughter to whom I gave birth in David’s Women’s house; I could not give her care and love.
Ahino’am was right. It really was a daughter, a beautiful spring girl. My mother was very eager to take her into her hands. To raise, educate her daughter’s daughter in the faith of Ashtoret — that was for her the true sign of the continuation of life. No son or grandson would satisfy her, as could do that expected granddaughter.
Tamar was — and still is, though not so young any more — one of the beauties of her generation, whose story is continually being told. She did not inherit her beauty directly from any of her ancestors, who had never had anything like hers; she seemed to have been the result of a particular blend which gave her that uniqueness. She has Sha’ul’s light-colored glowing complexion and Ahino’am’s red, desireable mouth, as well as transparent gray eyes, long but soft, rounded limbs, and a shock of golden curls.
That shade of hair (I suppose it was the combination of my own black curls and Ishbaal’s white plumage), led many people in court to assume that she might have been David’s issue — either daughter, granddaughter or at least a niece. The fact that she was none of these and did not have a drop of the King’s blood in her veins, did not deter him from regarding the situation as a good joke, in the end giving him the idea of adopting the child as his own.
It was David who gave Tamar her name, the name of the Mother Goddess dwelling in the desert oasis in the body of the fruitful date palm sacred to the tribe of Yehudah; there had been a remote ancestress of the tribe whose name had been the same.
Ahino’am, regarding her granddaughter as a future replacement for herself at the temple, a representative of the Love goddess, willingly accepted the suggestion of that name.
* * *
My mother evoked Ashtoret to grant her matronage over Tamar. These were the days when the ruling power fluctuated between Yhwa and Ashtoret, and Ahino’am hoped to strengthen the Goddess’s influence through Tamar. She was certain that she had acted correctly in joining David’s camp, for David had allowed her to build a temple to Ashtoret within the boundaries of the King’s House. In this act he again made good use of the ambition of one of his wives, for his own and his men’s benefit; for there was a great demand for a love temple among the military men who were the majority of people surrounding the King.
Ahino’am herself found no interest or any point in lying with David’s men. She, who had been the sacred bride to two kings, would not grant her favors to anyone; she was now chief priestess at the temple, supervising her holy harlots and dedicating most of her attention to her miserable daughter and her little granddaughter.
That temple, where Ahino’am lived together with the rest of the priestesses — rather than in the Women’s house like the other King’s wives — was built on the site called the Threshing Floor of Arawna the Yevusite. The expression Threshing Floor, or goren, does not denote a place for gathering or threshing corn; rather, it was a circular site in the manner of a threshing floor.
This goren was in ancient times a circle of sacred stones erected on the highest spot on the sacred mount of Moriyah to mark the changes of seasons and the rising and sinking of the moon and the sun. At the Ashtoret’s temple built on the spot, the priestesses worshipped both the Love goddess and the Underworld king Shalem, after whom the city had been called. When arriving in Yerushalem from Hevron with David’s court, Ahino’am immediately recognized the holiness of the site, and easily received David’s permission to build the temple and act in it as chief priestess.
* * *
As soon as Tamar was born, she was taken to the Temple to be raised and trained by her grandmother as the Love goddess’s priestess. All through her childhood and girlhood, Tamar lived at the Temple among its inhabitants; but as a child, her part in the ritual was more symbolic than actual. In her training, she was kept away from common soldiers so as not to debase her services, joining the rites only when a special personality came to offer his love to the Goddess.
At the Temple, Tamar grew in an atmosphere of love and comfort and did not know what trouble was. Some say that in order to withstand the suffering of life, it is good for a person to feel safe in childhood, to know only love and mental security. Others state, however, that only childhood suffering can prepare a person and grant resistance to the hardships of life. I have no opinion in the matter one way or another. More trouble in her early days might have helped my daughter to be ready for what was to come — I don’t know; but the past cannot be changed, and by now she has learned how to shape her life. Still, I am afraid the price of that learning was too high.
Part of Tamar’s education were her visits to me at David’s Women’s house, where the atmosphere was very different from that of the Temple’s. That atmosphere was thick with feelings of repression and eternal frustrations, constant bickering and fierce competition. A few of David’s wives were wise or kind; many of them, chosen either for their beauty or their powerful connections, were evil by nature or just plain stupid.
* * *
Like Sha’ul before him, David celebrated an annual sacred Spring wedding with a representative of the Goddess; unlike Sha’ul, he did not always bother to mate with an actual priestess. Frequently, he made his yearly choice according to the woman’s appearance, or according to some political or social status, or even by plain whim. Of those of David’s wives who had been taken for the purpose of political alliances, some belonged to various tribes of Israel, the marriage with whom was supposed to strengthen the unity of the people; others came from foreign royal houses intended to form ties abroad.
David rarely kept his connection with his annual mate for more than one year, and, when discarded — the once honored representative of Ashtoret would come to dwell in the Women’s house, among other inmates like herself, which she would never leave again. If she was lucky, she had conceived and had a son, in which case she was honored as a mother of the King’s issue; but a girl would not have the same importance in David’s court as she had in Sha’ul’s, as Ashtoret’s influence here is much reduced.
The unlucky ones among David’s wives, those who did not bear him a child, would rarely have another opportunity for it; these circumstances enhanced in some of the women their sense of frustration which, in certain cases, have developed into plain wickedness. Some of David’s wives found a way to overcome their frustration by continually flirting with the guard. The King was wise enough to ignore that phenomenon, which helped to reduce tension in the house, as long as it was done discreetly and as long as no illegally born child was presented as the King’s issue.
Some of the women living in the House were concubines, who never officially married David, but had children from him and thus won the respect and safety granted to proper wives. A very small number of women were especially favored by David, and for a time inhabited special tiny rooms with accompanying maids close to his apartment. As long as that favor lasted, he would visit them occasionally, until they were finally sent to live at the Women’s house, away from his sight.
The King never came to visit any of his wives at the Women’s house. After my meeting with him at the Palace when I first came to Yerushalem, I never saw David again.
* * *
I remember my first days in Yerushalem as my best time here, when I most needed Ahino’am’s loving support and received it in plenty. Suddenly I had a mother, which I lacked throughout the early part of my life; I turned mentally into the little girl I never was — dependent and clinging. In her wisdom, Ahino’am noticed that the more love she granted me, the more my self-confidence grew, until, after many months, I recovered some of my old free personality.
Still, I could never return to being myself completely, to being Sha’ul’s wild child or Palti’s loving and beloved wife. I matured, became fairly confident in my strength to take control of my needs, to know how to live without ambitions, without a future, without a man. In my mother, who came to visit me frequently, I found some of the affection lacking in my life; in a few of the women living in the House, I found some measure of friendship. In Tamar, I found some interest, although I had no maternal feelings toward her. She, however, never lacked love, given free to her by her grandmother, by the priestesses, by the men who visited the temple, and even by some of David’s wives.
Tamar, unlike myself who had been mostly left on my own to run free and wild, was carefully raised and educated. When I was a child, I had a confused notion who my mother was — oscillating in my choice between Maakha and Re’uma, getting quite bewildered when confronted by Ahino’am on her yearly Spring visit at Giv’at Sha’ul. Tamar, on the other hand, from quite a young age knew exactly who and what her parents were. I could barely believe my mother when I heard she had told her.
“How could you, Mother?” I protested.
“You can’t hide such things, and it’s better she heard them from me. Anyway, she knows that I am your mother, and that you are hers; what’s wrong in her knowing also that I am her father’s mother as well?”
“After what he did to me? Did you tell her that too?”
“Of course not! That child knows only love, there is no point in telling her of the way she was conceived, of your suffering or the evil her father did to you. But look at the good that had come out of that evil! There is no need to ignore that!”
Indeed, Ahino’am was always optimistic. Could that good atone for the evil it had sprung from? That question was for me the subject of hours of bitter meditation. Ahino’am had never suffered the way I did, so how could she understand me?
* * *
Tamar had been much in my thoughts, in a sort of detached way that a mother rarely thinks of her child. I could see that in her nature, she was different from both her mother and her father. She had learned from Ahino’am the simple fact of her parents being siblings, without the story of the rape, without the hate and the revulsion. The miraculous fact a brother and a sister giving life together to a child granted her a special look at that life. Part of the miracle was that none of her parents’ features had ever appeared in her, neither the perversion in Ishbaal’s personality, or the wildness that was the essence of Mikhal’s. She was a pliant, sweet girl, the essence of all the good and beautiful which must have been hidden somewhere in her ancestors.
Her knowledge of her strange origin from a brother and sister and of the double grandmother, who had brought her up, was only one of the many strange things that consisted of Tamar’s environment. There were also the circumstances of both her mother’s and her grandmother’s being the King’s wives; of her grandmother’s having been mated with two kings; of her mother’s being the daughter of the dead king and the wife of the living one. Beside all these, she knew that for some reason the King regarded her as his own daughter. He came often to see her at the temple to enjoy her beauty, remarking on her golden curls which, according to him, she had inherited from him after he had lost them himself...
I have mentioned that many of David’s wives also loved Tamar. She was a kind of entertainment for them when Ahimo’am brought her to visit me, and although I was unable to love, I could not avoid being proud of my daughter, both for her looks and her nature. She was raised to be a Love priestess, and her education, together with her natural character, affected her overall behavior. She was a butterfly child, happy, flying over the blossoms of life, gathering their juice and scent without being hurt by their thorns — at least, for the time being.
I think it was that loving nature of my daughter’s that enabled me to watch her without necessarily bringing to mind the abominable contact I had had with her father. But it was possible that the terrible suffering I underwent with the death of Avino’am had muted the memory of the rape and the revulsion I felt toward Ishbaal.
When Tamar reached her twelveth birthday, I began to understand Ahino’am’s purpose in her granddaughter’s destiny. “I want you to give her your blessing, Mikhal,” my mother said to me when she brought my daughter for a visit on that day.
I looked at Tamar with a flutter in my heart. She had a delicate beauty, almost not of this world. Her skin was clear and her figure slim — rounded just enough to add to her femininity; her golden hair flowed like a halo around her pale face, and her grey eyes shone like the silver of the moon, their golden lashes shading them with a glow. I saw her body ripen, her thighs fill and her breasts swell, and I knew the magic she would cast on any man.
“It is time to enter her into Ashtoret’s secrets,” Ahino’am sighed, half with pleasure, half with compunction.
“I know it all,” Tamar dared annouce, her voice ringing like a thin bell.
Ahino’am laughed. “In theory, of course; not in fact.”
“I can see she is ready,” I agreed, “but what is your plan, Mother?” I was repelled by the thought that Ahino’am was prepared to offer her to anyone who came to the Temple to bring his Love gift to Ashtoret.
“You don’t think that is what I have in store for my beloved granddaughter,” she protested.
“So, what have you in store for her?”
“I have Amnon ready to take her — my son, David’s eldest son,” she smiled, triumphantly.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar