The Anointed: Extracts

In the opening pages of The Anointed, Michal, King Saul’s daughter, recounts her first encounter with David.

I heard him before I saw him, strumming his lyre, the notes flowing through his fingers as smoothly as sand.  Merab and I listened from the safety of the courtyard.  Mother had forbidden us to enter Father’s chamber when he was possessed by the evil spirit.  Unsure what an evil spirit was, I pictured a Philistine god with a long, scaly tail, who could be caught as easily as a carp in the Sea of Chinnereth.  So I waited until Mother’s back was turned and crept up to the chamber, to find Father cowering in the corner, gnawing his hand, his eyes fixed on the empty air as if he could see something more dreadful than anyone had seen before.  I was fourteen years old and terrified.

         I ran downstairs, where Mother shook me as if I were the one possessed, before pressing me to her breast and assuring me that in time such spirits grew restless and moved on.  But whereas ordinary men could afford to wait, a king had to resume his responsibilities.  She did all that she could to hasten the process, wrapping bandages soaked in rose water round his brow and brewing him potions of hyssop, aloes and myrrh.  She even sought out one of the sorceresses whom Father had outlawed, promising that, if she restored him to health, she would be free once again to practise her magic, but whether through incompetence or malice she failed.   Then, as if to prove that he hadn’t deserted him, the Lord showed a way forward.  One morning while he was pacing his chamber, Father heard two Ammonite bondwomen singing a song of home.   My brother Jonathan, who was with him, described him standing stock-still, his face relaxing as if he’d taken off a helmet.  Jonathan immediately summoned the women and ordered them to repeat their song.  At first Father listened calmly, but all at once his mood changed.  He leapt up, throwing a footstool at one woman and taking a bite out of her companion’s leg.  They fled screaming.  Jonathan forced them to return, but their agitation was transmitted to Father, and any virtue of their singing was lost.

         With the tale of the bondwomen widely reported, Joab, my cousin Abner’s armour-bearer, proposed to send for his uncle David, a shepherd of rare musical talent.  No sheep-shearing, grape-gathering or New Moon festival in their home town of Bethlehem was complete without his songs.  No one, Joab insisted, was better equipped to restore the balance of the king’s mind.  Abner was dubious that a simple shepherd could succeed where wiser men had failed.  Merab and I were dubious of any claim made by such a boorish braggart as Joab.  My mother and Jonathan, however, were ready to try anything and, to my relief, their faith was rewarded.  David arrived and, according to Jonathan, showed no fear when Father bared his teeth at him.  The moment he began to play, the colour returned to Father’s cheeks like a sunburst after a storm.  This time, moreover, the recovery lasted.  After three days, he was deemed to be well enough to greet the household.  Abner trimmed his beard, since he was not yet trusted with a razor.  Jonathan and the twins bathed him.  Mother brought him sweet fragrances and fresh linen.  With Merab and our youngest brother, Ishbaal, I was one of the first to be allowed to see him.  Sitting straight-backed on his couch and wearing his crown, he beckoned us forward.  Merab and I moved to kiss him, but Ishbaal, who at ten was too old for such silliness, shrank back at the door.  Jonathan took his hand and led him to Father, who patted his head as if he had returned from routing the Philistines rather than grappling with an evil spirit in a world known only to himself.  

         I stole a glance across the chamber at the musician, who stood, gaze lowered and clutching his lyre like a shield.  To my astonishment, he was a young man, only two or three years older than me, although I brushed aside the comparison.  For all the boyish purity of his voice, I had expected any uncle of Joab’s to be middle-aged.  As soon as we returned downstairs, I resolved to address the anomaly, seeking out Joab in the gatehouse, where he was regaling the guard with his role in David’s triumph. He greeted me with a mockingly obsequious bow and asked how he might be of service in a tone that made the offer sound like a threat. 

Midway through the novel, Bathsheba, wife of the Hittite captain, Uriah, recounts her first encounter with David.

He smiles and I breathe again, whereupon he lunges at me, stinging my lips with a kiss.  ‘You’re right.  I’ll show you I’m a match for men twenty years younger.’  He grabs me with one hand, while with the other he wrenches the mantle off my back.  I try both to resist and shame him, thrusting him away and shouting:  ‘No, my lord, please!  Think of your honour… Uriah… your daughters… the Lord!’  My words have no effect as he grips the top of my robe, tearing Matred’s delicate embroidery.  My nail catches his neck and draws blood.  At once he smacks me across the cheek.  I am startled and hurt but above all relieved to have halted his attack.  I know that I must pay for my defiance.  He will banish me to the wastes of the Negeb, but Uriah will join me and we shall be free.

         ‘Make no mistake,’ he says.  ‘I am not a man who likes to fight for his pleasures.  I fought for the kingdom.  The rest I take as my right.’

         ‘Am I my lord’s subject or my lord’s slave?’

         ‘Both, if I wish it.’  He stares at me coldly, but the coldness in his heart hasn’t quenched the fire in his loins.  He clutches my mantle, now hanging off one shoulder, pulling it to the ground.

         ‘I shall scream.’

         ‘Go ahead.  This is a palace;  people are accustomed to screams.’

         Trapped and silenced, I know that I am lost.  He rips off my robe so brutally that I suspect he is picturing it as my flesh.  I am overwhelmed by his odour:  not the heavy smell of a day’s exertion but the reek of a stew left too long on the hearth.  His mouth catches mine and our teeth clack.  His hands squeeze my breasts so tightly that he seems intent on making them one.  He drags me to the bed, cursing as he trips on my trailing robe.  He sprawls over me, sweating and salivating, and his wetness is as loathsome as his weight.  I pretend that I am a doll, telling myself that I’ve been wicked and must be punished, as if this violence – this violation – were my own choice.  He presses his hand over my mouth and I wonder if I have spoken my reproach out loud or if the very quiver of my lips offends him.  I bite his palm but, with my mouth crushed, it’s a mere peck.  I look up at the stars and try to work out which is Kimah and which Kezil, but his sweat blurs my vision.  He rams into me as if he were storming a citadel.  Then, croaking like a frog before rain, he topples forward and rolls across the bed.  He grabs my under-tunic and covers his loins, less, I feel sure, to protect his modesty than his pride.

         He claps his hands and the summons is answered with dismaying speed by Jonadab, who compounds my shame as he passes me my robe.  Although I recognise it, I am uncertain what it’s for, as though the injury I’ve suffered is to the head.  ‘Do you want help?’ he asks, and the threat of his slithery fingers touching my skin rouses me.  I snatch the robe from him and pull it on, its rips matching my own.  I stand upright, aching even in parts of my body that the king hasn’t mauled, and stoop for my mantle, drawing it around me like a shroud.  Jonadab offers me his arm, which I slap away.  Looking hurt, he steers me towards the stairs, his hand a palm’s breadth from my shoulder.  Before going down, I turn to take a last – what I trust will be my last – look at the king, who lies slumped on the bed, not acknowledging or seemingly aware of me.  Jonadab leads me back through the courtyard, which is still lined with soldiers.  I feel an intense urge to shriek out my story, enlightening them about the king they serve, but I doubt that they would be shocked.  My life has changed more in two hours than in seventeen years, and I suspect that every man would be a David if he had the chance.