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Daughter of Israel, Weep

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Daegaer wrote, @ 2003 03 23
Happy Birthday, Ria!
Happy Birthday, riarambles>!
Wishing you a nice cool breeze and working air conditioning!
Fairly close to canon, even!

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Michal is eleven years old, and is dancing before her lord father as he sits at meat. Only men of the family are present, which is why her lady mother has allowed this. Lord Abner, her fatherís cousin, ignores her, dipping the bread into the oil and speaking urgently in her fatherís ear. Abner can never rest, must always discuss tactics and strategies, even while eating. Her father does not appear to be listening, but is not watching her either. Often when he is like this the people say he is listening to the voice of the Lord Yahweh. Her older brothers, Malkishua and Ishbaal are laughing and elbowing each other as they eye up the servant girls. Only her eldest brother Jonathan watches her, beating out the time on his thigh, giving her encouraging smiles. Her father lifts his cup of wine, slowly, and stares into its depths, a puzzled expression on his face. Abner continues to whisper, words of great import for the state, about battles against the Uncircumcised, and enemies within, and the need to raise a larger army. Her father looks straight at her, and Michal knows that finally he will see her, see that he has a younger daughter. She does not favour her lord father in looks, but no one can doubt where her temper has come from. If she has never divided living oxen in pieces and led armies it is only because she is yet young. Jonathan has promised she will be a great warrior when he is king. Her father stands slowly, the cup forgotten in his hand. Michal spins a final time and stops before him. He takes a half step toward her, then pitches forward to lie full length, spittle running into his beard, twitching uncontrollably. As the servants scream, and her brothers and uncle cry out in alarm, Michal stands frozen by her fatherís head, her scarlet and blue tunic stained and ruined by her fatherís spilled wine.

Michal is twelve years old, and sits spinning in her motherís room at Gibeah. The fine thread stretches out under her fingers, is wound into a neat ball by her bored hands. She wishes that the servants could do her share, but the lady Ahinoam her mother would beat her, would say that a kingís daughter should astonish the world with her skill at womenís work. She looks with some envy at her sister Merab, who never seems to tire of spinning, or weaving, or embroidering. Merab, of course, is not so young any more, but is already fourteen. She has never dreamed of being a warrior, Michal is sure. A servant creeps up to her mother, whispers that lord Jonathan asks leave to see his mother. Ahinoam never refuses him entry; he is her first born and favourite child. When he enters, Jonathan kneels and kisses his motherís hands like a child, even though he is immeasurably adult in Michalís eyes, almost nineteen years old. His eyes are shining as he tells their mother that a sure and certain cure has been found for the kingís melancholy, a Judean lad whose skill at healing songs is well known in the south. By a great fortune sent by the Lord Yahweh, this ladís brothers and cousins follow the king and have recommended their kinsman to Abner. Michal shrugs, bored. Healers and exorcists and even a few magicians have been brought to Gibeah. She is overly familiar with their droning chants and the heavy scent of the herbs they burn to frighten off the evil spirit that troubles her father. None of them have succeeded. It is an obstinate and malicious spirit and it will take more than healing songs to make it leave.

Michal is thirteen years old. Her father is very nearly himself again, and if the spirit returns to trouble him it is easily driven off by the music of Davidís harp. She does not ever speak to David. She does not ever allow the bare name to cross her lips, but if she must speak of him politely calls him lord David, as befits a great captain in her fatherís army. In her own mind, she says David, David, David. He is not tall, like her father or her brothers. He gives the impression of being younger than his years, though he was born in the same season and year as Jonathan. He has a fine clear complexion and dark, dark hair. He is the greatest hero Israel has ever seen, she thinks disloyally. What of her father and brothers? They are nothing compared to the prowess of David. She loves him with all her heart and soul. Why should she not become his wife? It is clear to her now that she will never be a warrior, that Jonathan was humouring his baby sister. Since she started bleeding Jonathan will not even touch her for half the month. As she cannot be a warrior herself, she will be the wife of the champion of Israel, who took away their reproach. She knows Jonathan will approve, will help her to her goal. Everyone knows he and David love each other dearly. He will leap at the chance to turn his friend into his brother. When a servant tells her that David has been raised to a captain of a thousand, and that everyone says the king has offered his daughterís hand in marriage she cannot contain herself. She begs a lamb from Jonathanís flocks, has it offered up as a thanks offering to the Lord Yahweh. That evening her father tells the women of the house that he has offered her elder sister to David as a wife. Merab looks across the room at her, eyes flat and hard. Michal does not choke on her bread, does not scream in rage, smiles and congratulates her sister.

Michal is fourteen years old. Merab never married David, was suddenly married off to lord Adriel, one of her fatherís advisors. Michal likes to imagine a great scandal that has been covered up, but Adriel is a staid middle aged man who seemed surprised and gratified when the king made the suggestion. Michal cannot draw any details from her lady mother or from her brothers or even the servants, who scurry away if she asks. Gibeah is become a place of secrets. She hears the distant sound of harp music more and more often. The spirit has returned, and is no longer so easily dislodged by Davidís skill. I love David, she says. The servants stop up their ears and run. Her mother slaps her, hard across the face. Jonathan puts a finger against her lips, and looks worried. Malkishua shakes his head, refuses to speak to her. Ishbaal looks at her consideringly. He is not Ahinoamís son, but the son of Rizpah, her fatherís beautiful concubine. I love David, she tells him. I will tell Father, if you like, he says. Later, her father takes her chin in his hand, looks into her face, murmurs that she has grown tall when he wasnít looking. The next morning she hears that David has set out to complete an impossible task and win the hand of a princess. It is two months later that he returns, drops a blood stained sack at her fatherís feet and demands his bride. Her brothers give her strained smiles at the wedding feast, and a few days after the week of celebrations have finished Jonathan goes to their uncle Abner and begs him for the hand of his youngest daughter in marriage. Abner sees no reason for delay, and the wedding feast is held quickly. When Michal laughs and tells him he is easily influenced by othersí romances, Jonathan does not smile. When she wishes him joy he gives a bitter laugh, says he does not need joy, he needs an heir. She wishes him joy anyway.

Michal is fifteen years old. She has been married for seven months, and shows no sign yet of conceiving. Jonathanís wife is three months pregnant, and Jonathan has begun to smile at Michal again. He pats her head, as if she were a child and not a married woman. He smiles at David more now, too. David smiles back, his eyes clear as the sky. It is almost as it was before they became married men, except that both of them drop the smiles the moment they turn aside. The king smiles at neither of them. Michal glides through the house like one of the small lizards that sit on the wall and look at the people. She sees the whispering groups that divide up neatly, the men of her family on one side, the men of Davidís on the other. She suspects the bitter taste of the wine her servant gives her, the servant that once belonged to her mother and still speaks with great reverence of the lady Ahinoam. She renounces wine, says she has made a vow unto the Lord Yahweh. Her mother laughs sardonically at her rage a month later when she is still not pregnant. One night, men come to her house, ask if they might speak with lord David. She tells them he is not there, and they leave. Running, barefoot and silent up to the roof, she can see them waiting in the shadows. She runs back down, gathers up the servant and walks calmly to her fatherís house. David is within, drinking with her kinsmen. I have come for my husband, she says, boldly. The men laugh and jeer at David for neglecting his young wife. He reddens, but manages to laugh and puts a hand on her arm, leads her out. As she looks back, she sees the only one still laughing is Jonathan. David does not say a word till they are in their own house, turns to her angrily. She does not let him speak. Assassins, she says. My father means you harm, she says. He looks at her sceptically. Jonathan did not say anything to him, he points out. She screams in frustration. Jonathan does not know! The king no longer trusts him! He shakes his head, stands still as the knocking starts at the door. She sends the servant to say David is ill, come back in the morning, and shoves him into the bedroom. The window, quick, she says. She holds the sheet as he slides down and runs off into the darkness. In the morning her uncle Abner arrests her. At her trial she claims David held a dagger to her throat, threatened her life. Only Jonathan seems shocked; all her other relatives nod, blame themselves for not keeping their little kinswoman safe from such a madman. She is consigned to her motherís custody, is led away to the sound of Jonathan weeping.

Michal is twenty three years old. For the last seven years she has been the wife of Paltiel son of Laish, one of her fatherís friends. She wept and begged as her father stared at her with dull hatred. He has cast you off. Be glad I have found you a man who does not care you are no longer virgin. She weeps more when the news of Davidís new marriages reaches Gibeah, and the hero who took on a giant never once tries to reclaim his first wife. As she weeps, Paltiel strokes her hands. He loves her, which surprised her at the first and surprises her still. For many years her life has been full of tears. Her fatherís evil spirit never departed again, forcing him to cast his spear at Jonathan, to publicly call Jonathan a bastard. It drove the men of her family out to fight on the rocky slopes of the mountains of Gilboa, telling her father that the chariots of the Uncircumcised could not be used there. The survivors of the battle came back to Gibeah in a streaming rout, crying out that the enemy were upon them. She thinks sometimes of the dishonoured bodies of her father and her brothers nailed up on the walls of Beth-Shan, and prays that the brave men of Jabesh-in-Gilead who rescued them for burial may never lack for anything. She weeps when she thinks of Jonathanís first little son, who died, and his second little son Meribaal, dropped from a cart in the flight from Gibeah, whose baby legs were broken, and who has never walked properly since. She weeps when she thinks of Ishbaal, now king of Israel and losing all the battles he fights against David. She weeps when she thinks of her first husband, traitor, murderer and everything her father thought.

Michal is twenty four years old. Her uncle Abner walks into the womenís quarters, followed by soldiers. The servants lament loudly as his cold glance sweeps around the room. Up, girl, he says. I am taking you to your husband. She remains seated, a discourtesy to her fatherís kinsman. My husband is here, she says in a voice like a sword. Abner strides forward, hauls her to her feet, yells to the soldiers to grab a slave to act as the lady Michalís chaperone and pulls her from the house. Outside he flings her onto a donkey, and leaps onto his tall mule with a grace that belies his years. They set out, the soldiers dragging along a weeping servant. You will have servants aplenty in Hebron, Abner says. No need to bring the others. She screams at him, calls him the son of a whore, a traitor to her fatherís memory, a traitor to her brother on the throne in Mahanaim. Paltiel comes running, calling her name, begging the lord Abner have mercy, they are not important any more, can he not have mercy, by the life of the Lord Yahweh? All the way to the border, Paltiel follows, crying for her. She is not allowed to speak to him once. As they cross over into Judah, Abner dismounts, draws his sword, turns to Paltiel lazily. Michal screams Husband, husband, turn back. There is no mercy in this son of a dog. Paltiel steps back. Abner looks at him, a grim smile on his face, then turns again to face Judah. Three weeks later Abner is dead, murdered by Davidís kinsman Joab. Michal is kept under guard, deep in the womenís quarters in the kingís house in Hebron. Shortly thereafter Ishbaalís head is brought to David, who looks at his fingernails, and idly bemoans the death of a brother king. The elders of Israel look in fear at the might of the armies of the Uncircumcised, and beg David to be their king. He accepts, with great grace.

Michal is thirty two years old. Hebron was not big enough for David, who has captured Jerusalem and moved his court there. It is an old city, a Canaanite city full of impressive buildings and bright colours. David has shown mercy to the inhabitants, much to everyoneís surprise. He uses the cityís civil service to run his kingdom. The scribes sit and write from dawn till dusk. Michal has seen the wax tablets covered with scratched marks. David himself has learned to read and even write a little. He is very proud of this accomplishment. None of Michalís family had ever done such a thing, as he tells her more than once. She does not see the point of it herself. Is that not what scribes are for? David laughs at her, calls her a peasant from the hills. He takes more and more to city ways, forgets more and more that his family was no different to her own. And now he has brought the Lord Yahwehís Ark into the city, with great splendour and sacrifice. This final day, as the Ark weaves its way through the city, with the Canaanites looking on, David himself dances, naked and ecstatic. When her father did this, people jeered, called him possessed. When David does it, it is a thing of wonder and pride. Michal stands on the roof of the kingís house with the other women. She does not laugh cheerfully, as they do. All her mind is taken up with her tall, handsome father and her tall, handsome brothers. Little daughter, little sister, they say. We have failed you. As the sun goes down, Michal rushes out of the house. She will shame him, she will spit on his name before the crowd and he will kill her and she will have to see his face no more. How gloriously the king has acted this day, she cries, exposing himself before slave girls like a drunken boor. A new pattern for kings and princes in Israel has David set this day. David looks at her in surprise. No one has spoken to him like this in years. His face darkens and he steps close, whispers in her ear. Your father is dead, Michal, and was a pathetic man and a failed king long before his death. Do you really think I still need his daughter? As for your dear brother, what a pity he died before I could tell him what I really thought of him. He steps back, grinning, calls out loudly, Iíll debase myself before the Lord Yahweh, who better to debase myself before? And I gave the slave girls a good show, hey? The men around him laugh at the foolishness of women. He smiles at her fondly and claps his hands for a servant. Escort the daughter of Saul inside. The sun has this day been too hot for her, she is weary. He never visits her chamber again as long as he lives.

Michal is sixty seven years old. David is dead many years. His youngest son has proved himself a great murderer, surpassing even his father, for David did not kill his own flesh and blood, and Solomon revels in it. He has killed her very last cousin, after setting the man round with so many conditions that he could not fail to break one. Jonathanís son, Meribaal, who has grown up under house arrest in Jerusalem has not been seen for a very long time. The kingís hand is heavy on Israel, and light on Judah. There is no one left of her kin to say To your tents, O Israel. There are no heroes any more. None of Solomonís new men would creep up a mountain to take on a garrison of the Uncircumcised with only their armour bearer by their side. None of them would generously give of their own flocks and herds and lands for the support of their followers. None of them would even follow the example of the traitor her husband and dance lightly into single combat. Men have grown smaller in her lifetime, and the deeds of the men of valour recede into legend. She will go to be with them, soon enough, but she will leave something behind that Solomon cannot touch, that David cannot harm, being gone down to dust. She has learned to read since she was put away, and she has learned to write. She has learned their great use, which is in lying, and has become a very great liar. No one ever allowed her sister or her mother or herself to do a kinswomanís duty, to bewail the dead properly. Michal plans for her lament to be eternal, and has schooled herself to copy her dead husbandís hand exactly. Solomon grows wary of the temper of the nobility, is planning a record to show that he is the rightful king, descended from a rightful king. She has bribed a bureaucrat to put her parchment in with Davidís records, where it will be discovered easily by Solomonís historians. Her duty to her father and her brother will be performed as long as Davidís murderous family lasts, perhaps even further, who can say? That will be in the hand of the Lord Yahweh, who may remember her name and her family for good and not for harm, and who may not let their memory go utterly down to dust. This is enough for her. She will trust in the goodness and grace of the Lord Yahweh, who is the Living One of Israel, who safeguards old forgotten widows, and who knows the truth that lies in the hearts and lives of men and women.

The beauty of Israel has been slaughtered upon Thy High-Places:
How can the heroes have fallen?

Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon
Lest the Philistine girls rejoice, lest the daughters of the Uncircumcised make merry.

O, Mountains of Gilboa! No showers or rain upon you, you fields of treachery!
For there the heroes' shield was defiled, Saul's shield was not anointed with oil.

From the blood of the fatally wounded, from the fat of heroes,
Jonathan's bow did not retreat, and Saul's sword did not come back hungry.

Saul and Jonathan, loved and lovely. In their two lives and in their one death
they were not separated;
They were lighter than eagles, more heroic than lions.

O, Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul who put scarlet clothes on you,
Who ornamented your tunics with golden decorations!

How can the heroes have fallen in the midst of battle? Jonathan was slaughtered upon Thy High-Places.

I am distressed because of you, my brother Jonathan. You were very lovely to me. Your love for me marvellously surpassed womenís love.

How can the heroes have fallen? The weapons of war have perished.

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