The king squints at the sun, and when that fails him he raises his hand, shielding his eyes from the blinding glimmer. Then he takes hold of my shoulders, which at once makes me feel small. I cannot stand it, being under his thumb.
He turns me around and tells me, “Behold, boy. Here, before you, is the valley of Elah.”
So I study the terrain. Alas, our side of the valley is steep, and the path—slippery.
It twists around this ridge and that, tunnels under boulders big and small, falls deeper and deeper into the abyss, till at last it drops completely from sight. The king must know: if he sends our soldiers down that path, they may find themselves in the end with their backs to the wall. There would be no escape, should the battle turn against them.
By contrast, the opposite side of the terrain has a more gradual slope. Right now it is swarming with enemy soldiers advancing slowly, steadily, one massive wave after another, descending as one into the depth of the valley.
His chin hangs over my shoulder, jaw tightly clenched. Together, the king and I are standing here, looking at the arena of war, at what is sure to become our defeat.
“So,” I muster the courage, at last, to breathe in his ear, “you need me.”
In turn he breathes, “I do.”
“You need someone whose ambition drives him, straight ahead and without hesitation, to be completely foolish.”
“You listen well, the devil that you are!” He chuckles for a moment, then turns serious again. “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I say. “I am. But now, before I go, there is one request, one last thing I must ask you.”
“Anything,” he offers, and this time there is a new tone in his voice. It is full of pity.
I close my eyes, and at once I conjure up a lovely, bubbly girl, hair and bust pointing upward. Of course, I am not the first soldier to dream about the princess. Imagining her beauty, her open arms, her embrace must have helped many of them stomach the idea of going to battle.
I take a moment to think about the fallen, down there at the bottom of this valley. Her name must have been the last thing quivering on their lips. Merav.
So I take a deep breath, and before I have a chance to regret it, the words roll off my tongue. Both of us listen to them in utter disbelief.
“What I want,” says my voice, “is your daughter.”
“What?” he doubles over, cackling in surprise.
Somehow I gather the courage to say, “Yes! You heard me.”
He pushes me away, full force, which makes me flail a bit to regain my balance. There I am, nearly tipping over the lip of the ledge.
He says, “She has royal blood in her veins, and you... Who the hell are you?”
For a moment I contemplate mentioning what everyone knows: Saul was anointed while looking for his father’s three asses. Coming from a lowly farm, he has no royal blood in his veins, and neither do any of his offspring.
Instead I say, “But... But have you seen the way she looks at me?”
I cast a look at him which is just as surprised as his look at me. I have to control myself, which is utterly impossible.
“Michal?” I blurt out. “Of course not!”
And he says, “Why the hell not?”
And I say, “Who on earth would want a flat-chested, grumpy Jewish princess like her? No, no way! The one I want is Merav!”
“Goddamn it, who cares,” he dismisses me with a wave of his hand. “I have high plans for both of them. Quite soon, in fact. Michal shall marry a prince, and so will Merav. Nothing personal, you see. This is purely about politics.”
“Stay away from my daughter.”
“You’re a nobody.”
“So? What’s the difference to you? Most likely, I’ll not live to see my reward.” Now I wipe a tear from the corner of my eye, as theatrically as I can. “Your majesty, I’m as good as dead... Do I ask for much? Forget medals, forget colored ribbons! Let me have her!”
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"Somehow, even though we know the outlines of the story, we become completely engrossed, wanting to know how the story we are familiar with will be filled out. On my first reading, I became so engrossed as I read it on a bus that I missed my stop."
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