The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 11 part 2 appears
in this issue.
Chapter Eleven: Yerushalem
part 3 of 3
* * *
So that was it. That was why Ahino’am had told Tamar about her parents, preparing her for mating with her mother’s half-brother, the son of the grandmother who had raised her as a mother, and of the man who had adopted her as a daughter. The story about me and my brother could certainly soften any objection to such relationship.
“What are you planning, then?” I asked, curiously.
“At the next Spring Festival, I shall celebrate the Sacred Marriage of Tamar with Amnon.”
“Ahino’am! But this is treason! What will David say to that?”
“I am not blind to the fact that he is the main obstacle. But it is high time he offered himself as a victim at the Summer Sacrifice; he is already old enough, unable to lead his people to battle and, as I heard — unable to sire any more children. If only I acquire the support of some of his close attendants, Amnon will sit on his father’s throne.”
I could not help feeling strong apprehension; having asked Tamar to leave me alone with my mother, I expressed my fears aloud. “What are you doing?” I remonstrated with her; “do you want to sacrifice your children to your yearning for power?”
“Mikhal,” she replied coldly, “I admit I used to have ambitions for power, but I would not sacrifice anyone for my own wishes. The sacrifice is for the Goddess’s sake.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, if we don’t all of us make a superior effort, we shall very quickly live under Yhwh’s absolute rule and nothing will remain of Ashtoret’s power.”
“Does it matter so much?” I asked, feeling her ambition as a remote, odd sort of cause to fight for.
“I can see it does not matter to you,” she said, with a tinge of hostility in her voice.
Luckily, I knew that feeling did not touch on the personal relationship between us.
“I think you forget to take into account the enormous support David has among the people,” I remarked after a pause.
“No,” she answered decisively, “I don’t forget. But some of his sons are very popular, especially Avshalem; there is no reason why one of them should not replace the King, and I and Ashtoret want it to be my son Amnon.”
“You want to crown him as a mate to the Goddess’s Love priestess?”
“That is clear, isn’t it?”
“You forget that the Sacred King is also the Goddess’s victim?”
“How can I forget?”
* * *
No one, of course, could say about Ahino’am that she had not calculated her ways. As a devout worshiper of Ashtoret, I suppose my mother was right in what she was doing. David was old, fat and decrepit, and it was no secret that his mating with the Love priestess had been nothing but a pretense for years. It was also true that the younger his Sacred Bride was (and they grew younger and younger each year), the less there was a chance for him to sire another child. Then a rumor had started going around that he had put his eye on Tamar, suddenly remembering that she was not his real daughter and there was no reason why she should not take her place at his side as the Goddess’s representative. Only with so many words and so much guile did Ahino’am manage to convince him that Tamar was still too young, that her time had not yet come to know a man.
Ahino’am, together with everyone else, had witnessed the fact that, since the unity of Yehudah with Israel, the majority of the people tended against sacrifices; David’s attitude to them did not help the situation. Since he had conquered Yerushalem, having eliminated Ishbaal and his kingdom and taken over the whole of Israel, David was compelled to follow the demand of the northern tribes and accept Ashtoret’s rule; but he did it in his own way, using the annual sacrifice as a means to annihilate the House of Sha’ul. One by one, year by year, the victims were first the sons of Sha’ul’s daughter Merav, then those of his concubine Ritzpa, and afterwards those of his cousin and Army chief Avner and other relatives.
Before his death, Avner had helped David to destroy Ishbaal and his court, but that act did not rescue him when it was his own turn to go on the altar as a scapegoat for David. In this way, the King had destroyed his potential enemies as well as avoided sacrificing his own relatives.
Basically, David had always been against religious sacrifices, rejecting totally the worship of the Goddess of Earth and Fertility. As a son of the tribe of Yehudah, the pure cult of the Spirit of the Desert was much closer to his heart and understanding. But in his ambition, he was a ruthless man, unafraid to use for his own purposes a situation he disliked.
* * *
Amnon, about twenty years old and in full vigor, had followed Ahino’am’s advice not to take a wife. Much of his free time he spent at the temple, saw his mother and his fair relative every time he came to make his love offering to the Goddess. He was a handsome boy — that young brother of mine who was destined to be my son-in-law. He was not very tall, but had a handsome, manly figure, wavy chestnut hair, warm brown eyes and soft, desirable lips. He loved women, and knew how to charm them with his tongue like his father. I know that Tamar loved him from a tender age, but I am not sure whether it was the love of the familiar and the pretty, or the love of a woman to the man of her choice. Whether they were good for each other — that we never had a chance to find out.
Throughout that winter the conspiracy worked in secret. I hated that atmosphere of furtiveness which oppressed me together with the hard weather of that year; rains and storms interchanged with snow, and when the sun shone occasionally, it pinched my body with its chill.
Eventually, the air softened with the first signs of spring; when the first preparations began for the Sacred Marriage Festival, Ahino’am asked David to relieve her from her function of its organizer.
My mother had planned for the Sacred Marriage of her granddaughter with her son to take place at the height of spring, in the Temple. David’s visit there had become less frequent, he had hardly left his rooms in the palace. That was how Ahino’am was able to guard from him the secret she had told only to a few of her faithful followers.
So, two Sacred Marriages were conducted that year: David’s and his new bride celebrated their mating in the Palace, Amnon and Tamar celebrated theirs at the Temple of the Circle of Arawna the Yevusite. I knew nothing of what took place at the coupling of the King with his young bride. About my daughter’s wedding, however, I heard from my mother. In her words, Tamar had brought her virgin offering to Amnon, her lover-uncle (her dod in both its meanings), and the two of them loved all night.
“What a wonderful couple they make,” Ahino’am came to tell me in the morning. “I only wait to see the beautiful children they will have together! They really love each other.”
“Ahino’am! Ahino’am!” one of the women burst running into my room, her hair and clothes disheveled; “David is roaring with rage. He heard of what happened at the temple yesterday, and he is ready for battle! He’s even waving his sword over his head, not having held it for good many years!”
“I am not afraid of David!” Ahino’am cried. “Amnon has supporters at court, and his right for the throne is great, both through his mother and his bride!”
“He may have the right,” Batsheva appeared, her eyes shining, “but I don’t think he has the power.”
The sound of her words was saturated with malicious joy; it was no secret that she expected her own son, as young as he was, to succeed David one day. The older woman turned vehemently to confront the younger one. “Batsheva! Did you tell him?”
“No,” she replied comfortably, “I did not need to. I suppose David has enough spies among your close faithful friends to tell him. Any way, the people are not yet ready to let David die. You don’t understand, he has turned into a myth himself! How could you think that anyone except Amnon’s mother would want to crown the young man in David’s place!”
Was the mother’s love blind? Had all Ahino’am’s wisdom turned to nothing when she was overcome by her ambition to crown her son as king with her granddaughter’s help? I sadly reflected in this way while the commotion was churning around me. Some of the women talked to Ahino’am sympathetically — those who had passed no royal rights to their sons, or had no sons to pass them to. Others turned to my mother full of jealousy, happy at her downfall as they hoped — those who thought their background could help place their sons on the throne.
“I think Avshalem will have something to say in the matter,” said his mother Maakha, who was the daughter of the king of Geshur and herself an Ashtoret priestess. The competition between her and Ahino’am was inevitable, and only my mother’s and her son’s seniority determined their advantageous position over Maakha’s.
Beside all this talk, David continued to grumble but did nothing to prevent any of the happenings. Amnon avoided the Palace, staying in the room Ahino’am had appointed for him and Tamar at the Temple. I heard from my mother that they spent their days and nights in lovemaking, but gradually, the apprehension seeped into their room as well.
It was Avshalem who put an end to Ahino’am’s schemes, and I do not know whether it was done with or without David’s knowledge and encouragement.
David usually preferred leaving a job of this kind to others, especially if it was dark and dirty. He had never been a real man of war, but he knew how to employ good and skilled men, especially the ones closest to him. He was cunning in his dealings but not inclined to physical cruelty, as were the sons of his sister Tzeruya. David also knew how to assume the glory of the deed when it suited him, as he had done years earlier, when his cousin Elhanan Ben Yaari killed the Philistine giant Golyat. To my knowledge, David had always shunned physical violence, never killed anyone with his own hand nor ever raped a woman.
His son Avshalem, though, was made of a different metal; and, being close in his age to Amnon, the feeling of rivalry was very strong between David’s two sons.
* * *
On the third day after Amnon’s sacred marriage with Tamar, Avshalem burst into Ashtoret’s temple with his soldiers. I shudder every time I recall the horrible events of that day. The men found Amnon naked in the room, unable to defend himself or the women in the Temple because, naturally, he was unarmed, as was the custom when paying a visit to the Love goddess. As he was looking for the loving couple, Avshalem let his men run wild. They turned the whole place upside down, tearing the fine draperies and breaking furniture and special ornaments, before turning to their most favorable action: raping the priestesses. It seemed that having sexual intercourse forcibly, without bothering with the conventional ritual or paying the so-called love-objects their due, was a special treat for the soldiers; afterwards, they expressed their seeming appology in the hypocritical saying, “It’s their profession, isn’t it!”
Avshalem, in the meantime, found his prey and took him easily with no battle at all, Amnon having been exhausted after a long lay. “We’ll have him as a fine Midsummer sacrifice,” Avshalem commented, giving his brother into the hands of the soldiers. Then he turned to Tamar, who had been lying on the bed, uncovered, staring with her grey, expressionless eyes at the man standing by her side. She made no effort to get up.
Was she comparing the two men to one another? Amnon was not very tall, dark-skinned like his mother. Side by side with Tamar, equal in their height and graceful built, they looked like a pair of young palms, one bright and one dark. But Avshalem was famous for his striking manly beauty. He was taller than Amnon by a head; his shoulders wide and his chestnut curls covered them like the waves of the sea. His green eyes, like his father’s, charmed any woman they met, young or old.
Like Amnon, Avshalem also was the son of Ashtoret’s priestess, and like his older brother, he had aspired to David’s throne; his astonishingly beautiful appearance and personal charm had added to his self-confidence and arrogance. Now, as she lay at his feet looking at him blankly, Tamar’s pink lips quivered, her body arched itself unintentionally toward her assailant.
“No doubt, the Love goddess in person,” he said, removing his clothes. Signing to the soldiers holding Amnon to stay in the room, he stretched on the bed by Tamar’s side, his maleness erect without any effort. He took her easily, she was as a doll in his arms, letting him do his deed with no reaction. He entered her smoothly — her body accepted him by itself — Amnon’s eyes gazing painfully, his teeth sunk in his lips drawing blood.
“Thank you, my lovely,” said the rapist, as he rose from the bed and put his clothes on; “now I also have a right for David’s crown.”
* * *
Afterwards, Tamar shut herself in the Temple, and I did not see her for many days. She was looked after faithfully by Ahino’am as she had been in her childhood; she was still unable to hate her grandmother, whose love had sustained her all the way and without her she would never have been able to go on living.
Some say, “The fate of the mother and the fate of the daughter is one.” Ahino’am blamed herself for Tamar’s rape, no less than she had been some factor in Mikhal’s rape. She began hating herself for bringing such destiny on her progeny.
That summer, Amnon was offered as sacrifice to Ashtoret. He was a fine victim, well accepted by Ashtoret’s followers both for his origin and for his appearance. Having recovered from the first shock of being caught and witnessing his beloved being taken by his brother, he assumed an expression of compliance; they told me that on his way to the altar he was wrapped with an aura of glorious reverence, touching on holiness. He was really his mother’s son. As to David, he kept his feelings to himself. He knew he had no choice but sacrifice his own son, who had betrayed him and wished to replace him, if he did not want to go on the altar himself; and he had no wish or intention to do that.
After Amnon’s death Ahino’am collapsed, and this time it was Tamar’s turn to support her grandmother. For days and weeks my mother lay on her bed in the Temple, staring at the ceiling, not talking to anyone, hardly taking anything to her mouth. One day she rose, concocted some hemlock herbs and drank it to her death.
* * *
That was the real tragedy. Ashtoret’s priestesses never used to kill themselves, whatever the disaster they had gone through was. It seems to me that Ahino’am felt she had let down not only her granddaughter, not only her son, but the Goddess herself. She was unsuccessful in fulfilling her function in crowning a king according to her own choice, and so she felt it was time for her to leave the stage. My mother was a woman who had always activated her own life; when she saw there was nothing more for her to do in life, she decided to activate her own death. I think it was the faith in her own power which had collapsed; and she had to die because she was not able to live with such a thought.
Tamar buried her grandmother at the Temple, and remained there to manage it. She saw to its repair and renovation, she encouraged the priestesses who had decided to stay in it after the disaster, and the new ones who came to serve there. She was still young in her belief in Ashtoret, and all that had occurred on the personal level did not seem to have touched her faith. Nevertheless, she was unable to fulfill her destination as a Love priestess. Since her rape she knew no other man, took no part in Ashtoreth’s Love offerings; she just took care of her priestesses, even hiring soldiers to prevent any such attack occurring again.
Tamar never conceived, never had a child either by Amnon or by Avshalem; and there is no chance she would do so in the future. After Ahino’am’s death, she started coming often to see me at the Women’s house, and the two of us became friends as we had never been in my mother’s life. I never treated Tamar as a daughter and she did not see a mother in me; but we were sisters in fate, we found many things to talk about between us, we shared many feelings and thoughts. Until today, when I crouch among my cushions with no one to talk to, I meditate on the many talks I once had with Tamar.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar