Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Do not come into my presence unless you bring my wife

As a poet I play with flowery expressions. As a politician I arm myself with them to achieve my goals. The more difficult it is to overcome my opponent in the war of words—the more I enjoy sharpening my weapons. 
All morning I have been recounting the reasons why Abner, the general of the other side in this uncivil war, should defect to our side. I have been turning words around, deleting and adding phrases, to suggest an idea that at first—without the power of expression—may seem absurd: his treason towards his puppet king, Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, would be cast by my court historians into a winning combination of wit and courage. 
But before I can seal the note and send it to Abner, his messenger arrives at my door, with an urgent plea. Which tells me one thing: the general is far more desperate than I have suspected. 
My victory is at hand. This time it is coming with barely any effort. Alas, it is all too easy. What a letdown!
The Benjamite messenger bows before me, while removing his hat with a fancy, flamboyant move. I note that it is not too dusty, and neither are his shoes, which means that he has come here, to my compound in Hebron, from a nearby place. Perhaps his master, Abner, is waiting there for him, eager to get word of how I would react to what he has to offer.
“Well?” I say, in my most commanding voice. “Speak quickly, will you? I don’t have all day.” 
And the messenger—a young fellow chosen, perhaps, because of his flair for acting—strikes a pose, the overly confident pose of a general with his hands tucked behind his back so as to thrust his breast forward, and his chin held so high as to risk falling backwards. 
“I speak for a great commander, famous for his unparalleled military mind, a fighter who is a worthy opponent, and an even worthier ally,” he says, in a splendid, grandiose tone. 
To which I say, tersely, “Cut it short.”
“He—not his king, Ish-Bosheth son of Saul—is the one who holds real sway over the eleven tribes of Israel, who are fighting against you.” The messenger claps a hand, ever so theatrically, to his heart. “I speak for my esteemed master, Abner son of Ner. He sent me here to ask you this: whose land is it?”
“That,” I say, in a firm voice, “is a question that needs not be asked at all. This is, without a doubt, my land! It belongs to me and to my rule alone, and to no one else’s. Your master knows it.” 
Which confuses the messenger. Shifting uneasily from one foot to another he gulps air once or twice and waves his hands about, flailing to find the words, just the right words for his prepared speech. They escape him for the moment. To baffle him even more I turn my back on him and start walking away. 
“Here’s my advice to your master,” I say, casting my voice at him over my shoulder. “You mustn’t fight too often with me, or you’ll teach me your art of war, which is why your side is suffering heavy losses.”
“Wait!” cries the messenger. 
But I keep my pace, and increase my distance.
So he runs after me, throws himself at my feet, and catches his breath long enough to say, “I beg you, wait! My master says, ‘Make an agreement with me, and I will help bring all of the tribes of Israel over to you.’” 
“Ah!” I exclaim. “Now you’re talking!”
Then I control myself. Why should I betray any sign of excitement? No one should suspect how badly I need Abner. 
I must have him on my side, so I can divide military power between him and my own first in command, Joav, whose ambition is starting to manifest itself. I must cross one sword with another, so not one of them will threaten me. Only then will my throne be stable.
So I say, with coolness in my voice, “With or without his support, I shall prevail against your master. Abner knows it, and so does anyone watching this war. The tribes of Israel will join my own tribe, the tribe of Judah, with or without him. It’s just a matter of time.”
For lack of a comeback, the messenger stutters, “But, but... Are you prepared to wait?”
“Is he?” I counter. 
His face is contorted with bewilderment. By now the messenger must have realized that his script is faulty, because it is lacking enough prepared arguments for a chance to win this discussion. 
I tell him, “Time is dear—and so is blood.”
Then, to help him out of his misery I add, “All the same, coming to an agreement with your master is an interesting idea—but it has its price.”
He holds his breath, so I press on. “Tell your master: I demand one thing of you. Do not come into my presence unless you bring my wife, Michal daughter of Saul, when you come to see me.”

Excerpt from A Peek at Bathsheba


Historical Fiction with a Modern Twist...
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