I awaken from my dreams when Solomon comes in. Here he is, standing over me. It must be very late or else very early, because the chamber is dark, so dark that even his freckles cannot be spotted.
I try to sit up in bed, but find myself humiliated by my frailty, as I cannot do it. Instead I raise my hand in greeting, and at once he places his inside mine, as if he were not a young man but a little child, craving warmth.
“Dad,” he says, “are you cold?”
“Not anymore,” I say, and mean it. At long last I feel connected to a son of mine.
My son leans over and for a brief moment, lays his face upon my chest.
“I need you,” he says, simply. “Don’t leave me.”
To which I say, more to myself than to anyone else, “I’m about to go the way of all the earth.”
Solomon says nothing, but his hand trembles in mine.
“Be strong,” I say, “and act like a man.”
“It’s not easy.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“But,” he says, “on second thought I think I can act like a man, even as I’m learning to be strong.”
I smile, but my heart aches to know that having been anointed, a change will soon come over him. He will soon sense it himself. The poet in him must stand aside and make way for a leader to be born.
How can I prepare him for that? I have so much advice in me, which I am not sure he would learn to accept. There is so little time! I fear I may stumble over my words in my attempt to teach him. So I take a deep, labored breath and tell him, “To mete out justice, you must harden.”
And he asks, somewhat reluctantly, “Must I?”
“Yes,” say I. “I’ve reigned forty years over Israel: seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. It’s time for you to sit on my throne. Let your rule be firmly established.”
Cutting in, “I have a feeling,” he says.
“What kind of a feeling?”
“You’re going to give me a lot of advice, aren’t you?”
“It’s now that I must give it.”
“Not sure I’m ready for it, dad.”
“You yourself know what Joav, son of Zeruiah, did to me,” I say and immediately cut myself off, because I cannot talk about the death of Absalom, not now. Perhaps, not ever.
So I start again. I say, “Joav supports your brother, Adonijah, and will always scheme against you.”
“That I understand,” says Solomon. “He’ll be a danger to me even if he serves me.”
“You know what he did to two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether.”
“He killed them,” say I, “shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet.”
I feel a shudder going through my child.
“Deal with him,” I advise, “according to your wisdom.”
Solomon raises an eyebrow. “So you won’t tell me what to do with him?”
“No,” say I. “You’re the king now, are you not? Just remember this: don’t let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.”
To my surprise, “Wait,” says the kid. “Let me write this down, so I can figure it out later.”
“This is not a quote for your Song of Songs,” say I. “You must understand it now, or it’s going to be too late for you.”
David's Dying Charge to Solomon by Ferdinand Bol
David's charge to Solomon, top, and David and Abishag, bottom
12th century illuminations from the Winchester Bible
Winchester Cathedral Library, England
The Ancestors of Christ: David, Solomon by Michelangelo
My trilogy is greatly inspired by art of all ages. Here is a lovely painting by Ferdinand Bol, depicting this quite yet dramatic moment of leaving the heir to the throne with a difficult charge: to kill the first in command. The artist uses light from above, light that highlights the pale face of the dying king and glows all around him, on the pillow, while his son stands in the shadows.
And below, an illuminated manuscript with the letter E depicting the same moment in a decorative fashion, and a detail from the Sistine chapel depicting David and Solomon by Michelangelo.
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