Here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming book David: Reign, Book II in The David Trilogy (Book I, David: Rise, is available from Amazon).
In David: Reign, I revisit many of the characters who populated the first volume – Joab and Michal, Abiathar and Abigail, David, of course, and others. But I also introduce several new characters – the Prophet Nathan, Bathsheba and Uriah, some of David’s warriors, and others. Here, I introduce a character that will later play a key role in David’s (and Solomon’s) kingdom, Benaiah, son of Jehoiada. The following excerpt is built from a tiny fragment in 2 Samuel 23:20-23.
I hope you enjoy.
I am Benaiah. My father was Jehoiada. I was one of the thirty. They say I was valiant man. I will leave that for you to decide.
Many tell the legend about me killing the lion. The story has been changed in the mouths of its tellers. Each time I hear it, the story becomes more wondrous: the lion grows, it doubles, it triples, its fangs and claws are long as swords, its mane a mountain. Its roar deafens.
It was, to be sure, no small beast. Standing on all fours, its head reached near my own. Rearing up on two legs, it dwarfed me, swallowed me beneath its dreadful shadow. It had eyes like wounds, eyes that carried bloodlust and anger. It would gladly have torn me to pieces, gladly have emptied my belly before filling its own. It did catch my one shoulder with the tip of its claw, and raked me deep right to my elbow. That bled a river. The wound did not heal well. My arm has a rope of scar knotted down its side that aches in cold weather.
Any man who does not hold respect for such a creature is a fool. Any man who does not hold regret for killing such a creature, an evildoer. The elders taught us that God makes beauty in many places and many ways. Beauty is inthose things we find beautiful at first looking – the way fruit begins as flower, the way earth hides stones that glow from within when you hold them to light. But also there is beauty in those things we find no beauty at first – a storm that can in moments undo what your hands have built over years, a sea that can swallow whole great merchant ships.
And a lion.
That lion had killed several men in our camp. It lay in wait for them, found each alone, sprung on one man as he squatted to his business, another as he gathered brushwood for his fire, another as he went to fetch water. It was no usual beast. It was like he was doing it for sport. And every killing laid us lower. It wasn’t only the losses. It was our fear. Fear gripped each man and started to live inside him. We found excuses not to go beyond the ring of our camp, so the camp began to have a dreadful smell from our unwashed bodies, from our waste laid too close to our tents, from our rotting middens not cast far enough away.
I feared the lion when it came near. But I feared even more what the lion was doing to us without needing to come near. It was a shadow in our minds. It walked in our dreams. It was defeating us without baring tooth or claw, before sounding a single roar.
We tried many times to track it, but its cunning was great. It seemed to shape-shift, to become something else at will. And this too played havoc in our hearts. Men began to claim that this old man, or that cawing bird, or even somedocile creature like a lamb – that these were the disguises the lion wore, to move among us at will.
It snowed one day, all day, until a cold whiteness lay thick on the ground and weighed down the branches of trees. Men built large fires from wood that hissed like snakes from wetness, and huddled near them, shivering, and still complained of the cold. But I knew what the snow meant. It meant that if the lion was near, it would carve with its own feet a path right to itself. I wrapped skins around my feet, to protect them as best I could, and set out seeking tracks. It took me many hours, and night was coming. I was close to giving up. Then I saw a several crescents of shadow in the snow, each like a puncture wound. I went close, and saw what I sought: a set of prints like a long rough seam of stitching, leading up over wild hillocks, down through tangles of low woods, out into a barren stretch racked by howling wind – here, I almost lost the trail. At last that lion led me to himself, to a large pit, narrow at one end, wide and deep at the other.
I had found the beast’s lair.
It was a site to chill me worse than the icy wind, the frozen ground.
That lion had been collecting bones, both piled and scattered, like trophies. And hardly an animal bone among them: no, but the long shank of this grown man’s shin bone, the shallow wide bowl of that women’s pelvis, the coiled drum of a large man’s ribs, the slender stick of a small child’s forearm. Bones beyond counting. Men and women and children beyond numbering. But this, most chilling of all: mounds of skulls, each with dark hollows where eyes once looked out.
I confess that I wanted only to turn and make haste my escape.
Before my fear consumed me, I leapt down into the pit. Down among the bones. I looked hard into the darkness of the lair beyond.
I heard the lion before I saw it. A low growl, almost a sound of annoyance more than threat. It grew louder from its approach. I braced myself for it to run at me. But it didn’t. It sauntered into the waning light. Looking almost amused. It was, I saw, going to enjoy this, every step of it, not going to rush a thing, to take me claw stroke by claw stroke, never too much at any one time.
And something came over me. Like all young lads in Jerusalem I had been reared on tales of the great king. Of David. Not a one of us would fail to tell, start to finish, on least prompting, his triumph over Goliath, and not a one of us ever tired of the telling or the hearing of it. But there were many other stories, and truth be told I savored these more than the one about the giant. There were stories of his outwitting Saul, over and over. Stories of his shrewdness with other kings. Stories of his ways with women. Stories of his merciful kindness. But my favorite was the story of his killing a lion with just a stone and a knife when he was just a boy.
That’s what came over me: David’s courage. His fierceness on behalf of his sheep. His refusal to give way to fear when someone had to act.
So I smiled at the lion, and spoke.
“You have stopped being a lion and become something else. For this you must die. The Lord of Hosts has sent me to do the deed. Many have you slayed. This day, you will be slayed. It is not even a choice. It is already decided. What is a choice is whether you submit or resist.”
To Be Continued…
David: Rise, Book I
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