Wading on foot through puddles and mud, the king starts leading his stallion, and me on its back, towards the path going down into the valley. With every step I can spot how his crown—so close at hand, at this moment—is dancing on his head.
On our way we pass by a group of our soldiers. They are breaking bread. By its shape I recognize it: this is my mother’s signature loaf, which I have carried here earlier, and handed over to my brothers.
Startled, they snap to attention at the sight of the king. Perhaps they are wondering about his companion. Who, they ask each other, is this mysterious stranger, riding so magnificently upon his stallion, with a shining armor and a hidden face?
In a blink I spot my brother among them. He seems a bit confused.
“Eliab,” I cry out.
Yet, no one can guess that it has been a cry, because my voice comes out muffled.
With a big show of servitude, he bows deeply before me, before the king, before me again, scraping the ground each and every time.
By the expression on his face, he seems not recognize who I am, perhaps because of my ridiculous mask. But the sight of my clothes, peeking out under the bottom of the armor, must be familiar to him, and for some reason, it gives him the shivers. His jaw drops, bread crumbs and all, and he claps a hand over it. His eyes are bulging with dread.
I sit stiff, caged in copper. I cannot signal to him, cannot even keep my eye slits on him, as the horse carries me forward. But this I know: Eliab is in shock—and burning here, in this metallic furnace, so am I. Somehow I know what he must be thinking at this moment.
As a matter of habit, everyone here carries a bag full of loot, some of which has been lifted from the corpses of the enemy, and some—from the corpses of our own. Everyone here finds it justified, or at least necessary, to enjoy the plunder, and to accept the gifts of luck. Why? Because life is short, tough, and uncertain. So after every battle, they mend ill-fitting shirts, coats, and shoes that used to belong to others. They stuff their pockets full with coins inherited from the dead, which they, the dead, had inherited from others.
Eliab has survived numerous skirmishes, and he brags, from time to time, about his collection of the spoils of war. Naturally, the clothes I am wearing on my back make him jump to the wrong conclusion.
I hear his tearful voice from behind.
“I’ll be damned,” he wails in astonishment. “The little rascal’s gone! Oh David, David... Why, why did you have to be such a smart ass, why did you dare come here, to the front... You should’ve stayed with mom...”
And before I can think of a way to let him know I am still here, in the realm of the living, he goes on to moan, “Now it’s all my fault! What the hell shall I do, what shall I tell her?”
I wish I could shout back, What’s the difference? No matter what you say, she’ll kill you anyway!
David in Rise to Power
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Volume I: Rise to Power
Volume II: A Peek at Bathsheba
Volume III: The Edge of Revolt
The complete trilogy:
The David Chronicles (Boxed Set)