Chapter 1: The Greatest of Treasures
In the house of the righteous
there is much treasure.
Kester sat back and rubbed at a smudge of ink on his finger. “I am finished.”
His mentor hummed in an interested way and strolled over to check the boy’s work. Neat rows of letters marched from right to left across the scroll: the lyrics of a song. “Very nice. An archivist couldn’t have done better.”
Flushing under Asaph’s compliment, Kester asked, “Is this a prayer?”
“Certainly. Are you curious about the inner workings of human hearts?”
“The idea of prayer is … pleasant.”
Asaph hummed again. “I wonder how many of them realize what a rare gift they possess.”
“David knew.” Kester gently tapped his record of the former king’s psalm. “He sings like an angel.”
“High praise, considering the source.”
Is he teasing? Kester stole a peek at his new mentor. Hair the color of peacock plumage framed a tanned face, and thick lashes drooped slightly, giving Asaph’s smile a sleepy quality. He often dropped his human guise when they were alone, perhaps to put him more at ease. No, Kester decided. He is simply considering the source.
After a thoughtful pause, Asaph asked, “Did you ever hear David sing?”
“I am too new.”
“Yet you call his singing angelic. Are you repeating hearsay?” Asaph eased onto the bench beside Kester. “People do flatter, hoping to please King Solomon.”
Since his mentor never rushed, Kester took his time framing an answer. “I do not need to hear David’s voice to know his song. Here it is upon the page. And he speaks as one who has heard the voice of God. Like an angel.”
Asaph skimmed the verses and smiled. “So he does!”
Much to Kester’s delight, he sang out the section with the loveliest melody line.
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars ….
The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.*
Kester asked, “How did he know?”
“Oooh, in his case, it probably was hearsay. For it is the privilege of angels to hear God, and it is the privilege of humanity to be heard by God.” Asaph gestured for Kester to roll up his scroll. Collecting his own day’s work, he said, “Let’s take these to their rightful place.”
When they left their room, Asaph looked human once more. Blue hair gave way to black, and emerald eyes dulled to an ordinary shade of brown. The Caretakers had found little to change when Kester was given to Asaph. Perhaps God prepared me for this grafting from the start. With his olive skin, black curls, and brown eyes, he fit right in with the children of Israel.
Not far along the passage, a guard slipped out of an alcove and fell in step behind them.
Even without turning to see who it was, Asaph greeted him pleasantly. “Good evening, Captain.”
Kester glanced at the tall soldier who often prowled the halls at night. He’d seen the man half a dozen times already, but this time he noticed something. His gliding steps didn’t match the creases on his face nor the silvering hair that strayed out from under his head covering.
Catching his eye, the guard said, “Hello, Kester.”
The boy blinked. He knows my name?
“Something on your mind, newbie?”
“I do not think you are as old as you look.”
“Older. Probably,” the guard replied offhandedly.
Kester checked on Asaph, whose sleepy smile remained in place.
The captain said, “Fear not, Kester. If you ever have trouble, holler. I’ll be quick.”
Not until the guard disappeared down an intersecting passage did Kester find the courage to whisper, “Is he …?”
“Someone you can trust,” Asaph said with finality. “Get the door, please?”
Hurrying forward, Kester yanked on the heavy ring. Two flights down, they entered a vast room lit by golden lampstands. Asaph strolled ahead, heedless of the decadent clutter, but Kester paused to consider an interesting jumble of polished stones. “Why does the king keep songs in his treasury?”
“What gave you the notion that this was the king’s treasury?”
The room was a trove of carvings, panels, rugs, goblets, tapestries, and jewelry. Indicating a delicate cask of priceless perfume, Kester asked, “Are these not considered great luxuries?”
“Yes and no. Given Solomon’s wealth, these count as lesser luxuries.” Asaph smiled faintly. “The royal treasury is kept under much closer guard. This is little more than a closet.”
“One of many.” Asaph crossed to a wall that was given over to orderly niches. He added their scrolls to the pile on the table and pulled forward an index. Waving in the general direction of the ceiling, he added, “Granted, these are luxuries Solomon keeps close. So they may be special.”
Something new caught Kester’s eye. A set of polished wooden pipes rested on a pedestal that had been empty the previous night. “Does the king like music?”
Asaph hummed. “Given our task, I would say he treasures it. See for yourself. He keeps many instruments in this room.”
While his mentor made notations, Kester drifted through the room, searching for signs of musical interest. A set of silver trumpets. Bright tambourines. Drums in several sizes. A curling shophar. He discovered another set of pipes, much humbler than the first. They were hardly more than a collection of reeds, and he picked them up for a closer look. Cautiously raising them to his lips, he produced a quavering sound that was more whimper than note.
Kester shook his head over the piteous noise he’d made. But it stayed with him as he moved on. He almost turned back to try again, but then he spotted a squat pedestal set apart from the rest. Prompted by heavenly whispers, Kester dared to tease loose the knots that held soft leather in place, and the covering fell away, revealing an old harp. Beautiful. He admired the carving of a lion’s head on its frame, then rested his fingers against its strings. Other Worshipers had harps. He’d watched them play. Perhaps this would suit him better than reed pipes.
The polished wood was a comfortable weight in his hands. Kester plucked a string and pouted in disappointment. Sour.
But this time, he didn’t give up. Crooning a more pleasant note to the instrument, he tightened one peg, then its neighbor, teasing the strings into pitch. Test and tweak. Hum and hone. By the time Kester was satisfied, he’d memorized each string’s voice. He made himself comfortable on the pedestal, crooking one leg and nestling the harp against his chest. Now the notes vibrated against his breastbone, and he plucked more sharply, letting the instrument sing boldly.
Notes became a cascade. Open chords became fragments of a song. Enthralled, Kester hummed along, matching the harp, but then he dropped into harmony. All at once, he was one angel with two voices. And it was bliss.
Kester impulsively switched from improvisation to the songs that had been reeling through his mind since his arrival on earth. David’s psalms. Forgetting himself, he pitched his voice to carry, letting the verses ring out. With each new melody, Kester’s fingers gained confidence. The harp drew out his best, and he offered the king’s songs to God in a voice pure enough for heaven’s reaches.
As he reached the end of a song as gentle as a lullaby, Kester heard a scuff. Sandal on stone. Eager to show Asaph the treasure he’d found, he turned … and quailed in dismay. Angels who lived as men were not supposed to draw attention to themselves. Were he and his mentor discovered?
Hugging the harp close, Kester looked from the king to Asaph and gasped, “Sorry!”
“Don’t stop, boy.” Solomon swept a tear from his cheek and earnestly exclaimed, “Surely, you have the voice of an angel.”
♦ Do you play an instrument? What kind?
♦ What kinds of things do you keep close? What do they tell us about you?
♦ Are there undiscovered, unappreciated treasures hidden away in your house? Where might they be? How would you recognize their worth?
Author’s Note: This story is a prequel to Christa Kinde’s Threshold Series [Zonderkidz] and updates twice a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays). More information can be found on the Sage and Song index page.
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