He stands naked before the wind. It pummels him with fists of gusting. It pulls his hair sharply back, tugs hard his flesh. It scours all that is loose in him. He opens his mouth to swallow it. It empties him and fills him. He anchors down his heels against the massive weight of the wind’s wild blowing, and pushes himself into it to stay upright.
The sensation is of flying.
Many things come hard for him – speaking with his father, dealing with his brothers, watching his mother’s mute anguish – but this comes easy: opening himself wide to the wind, the breath, the ruach. Bending himself whole to it. Letting nothing – no cloak, no shield, no armor, not even his tunic – come between him and whatever the ruach does in him, however the ruach does it.
Here he is in his element. Here all things are clear. Here all things are possible. He is truly fully undividedly himself.
He is David.
This is the best part of the day. The sun is down, but night still waits to spread its cloak. Darkness is only a rumor at the edge of earth. Colors drench the sky. Wind sweeps fields and drives out wilting heat. The white stones that knuckle the hillsides glow. Jasmine releases its perfume. Olive leaves, like handheld mirrors sending cryptic signals, flash silver.
And everything wakes. Birds burst with one last fanfare of song, one last flourish of flight. Insects in grass and sky whirr, and click, and thrum. Animals scuttle, groundlings slither.
The sheep rouse with fresh hunger.
And he rouses, too. The langor of mid-day falls off him in a rush. He is quick and light, keenly watchful.
Which is good. Which is needed. Because the lion rouses, too.
He loves this. This alertness in himself. His own sheer aliveness. The deep calling to deep within him, like the roar of a waterfall. The air shimmers bright, as if angels are about to sing. He steadies him, readies himself for come what may.
He rubs the pocket of his slingshot warm and soft, and then cradles in it one of the stones he’d plucked from the stream this morning. It’s round and smooth and green. It will be a shame to lose it. But an instinct, sharp and urgent as a thorn, tells him he’ll need it, and soon.
He’s asked his father Jesse three times for a proper weapon. A sword or a javelin. He knows his father keeps a smithy hidden in the hills above their farm. The Philistines have banned all smithies, to keep Israel from arming herself. Farmers who need a hoe or rake or adze made or repaired must travel to Gath or Ashkelon and hire a Philistine blacksmith, who charges double, sometimes triple the price. Then the farmer is checked as he leaves Philistia, to make sure he has paid no bribe to acquire a small sword or dagger. It is one of many reasons the people hate the Philistines. And it is one of many reasons they are starting to resent their own king, Saul: his weakness has reduced them to this thrall, this humiliation, this smallness. In taverns and fields, men whisper to one another a question that has dogged the king his entire reign: “Can Saul save us?”
Jesse has taken matters into his own hands. Every week or so, he goes out at nightfall to his smithy hidden in the hills and works until daybreak. The cover of night hides the smoke trail from his furnace that vents through a crevice of rock. He blocks the cave entrance with thick bramble and foliage to deaden the ring of his hammering on the forge. He comes down in early morning with a bundle on his back wrapped in thick cloth. When he unfolds the cloth, sword blades, spear heads, spikes clank out. He’s given weapons to his three oldest sons, and trained their hands for war. Now he sells weapons to other farmers.
He’s never given one to David.
“You are a shepherd boy. You have a slingshot. You have a knife. What more do you need?”
The sun-starched land turns blue with shadow. David rises to gather his sheep. As he steps down from his perch, he sees a deeper shadow move swift and furtive between rocks. A lone sheep is just beyond the fastness of those rocks. The sheep’s neck is bent to a lush tussock of grass. It is oblivious to danger. David runs down the steep incline, zigzagging, and when he reaches the valley floor he sprints straight.
The sheep is still grazing. The lion, he guesses, is still crouching behind the rock.
Then the lion, quick as thought, bursts its cover. David is still a hundred paces away. He cannot catch it. His sling hangs ready in his left hand. He begins the rapid switching motion in his wrist that makes the sling’s long tethers loop faster and faster. It becomes a transparent whorl of air, a thin sharp whistle of sound. He moves the twirling sling above his head, and then slightly behind it. The lion is so locked in its bloodlust it doesn’t hear him coming. The sheep raises its head, suddenly aware of death thundering down. It freezes.
David can see the lion slowing, coiling on its haunches, preparing to lunge. He picks a spot where he reckons it will be in the next few seconds, stretches his right hand to steady his aim, and looses the stone.
The lion crouches full on its hind quarters, and takes air.
He watches the stone pierce the dying light. It hastens like a messenger with news of war. It finds its mark, the back of the lion’s skull. The beast lands hard and staggers sideways with the blow. The sheep, snapped from its stupor of terror, bolts.
The lion shakes its head, slow and heavy. It gains its footing, and turns toward David. He still runs toward it. The lion stands wavering, confused. It takes a few massive leaps toward the sheep’s retreat, then wheels and comes straight at David.
He tucks his sling into his pouch and, still running, unsheathes his knife. The lion regains its strength. It runs at him full-tilt then shifts into a rearing-up motion, ready to sail at him. David has been counting on this, the animal’s precision of reflexes. He runs harder. When he and the lion are almost on each other, the lion leaps. David dives under it, spins on his back. The animal’s huge body eclipses the sun. Its shadow swallows him whole. As it flies over him, its taut underbelly almost grazing him, he plunges his knife in its stomach to the hilt. He holds on with both hands. He feels the massive body shudder through his blade. The lion’s belly opens like tent flaps. The insides rush out hot. David rolls away just before it spills out on him.
The lion hits the ground on its shoulders, and tumbles, and sprawls. It tries to get up, but can’t. David walks up to it, laid out in its own lake of blood. The lion turns its head and bares its teeth. No sound comes out. Its yellow eyes grow dim. It flops its great head to earth, panting. David places his hand flat on the warm flank of its heaving chest. He holds his hand there, feels the heart of the animal slow, slow, slow. The lion closes its eyes and stops breathing.
He walks over to where he first hit it. On the ground, his green stone looks up at him like an eye. He picks it up, rolls it in blood-warm hands, and then washes both in the stream.
He gathers his sheep and heads home.
Happy to have his sheep safe. Happy to have his stone back.
(David: Rise Book One releases late March 2020. Watch for early release details and specials.)