Chapter 11: The Old Friend
He who loves purity of heart
And has grace on his lips,
The king will be his friend.
PROVERBS 22:11 NKJV
“Friends?” Solomon stroked his beard, half-hiding a smile that matched the sparkle in his eyes. “I suppose they do have that claim on me.”
“Suppose?” echoed Asaph. “Would you deny us?”
“He can’t.” The captain claimed the last skewer of meat and shook it at the king. “We’re irreplaceable.”
“Don’t be too sure,” Asaph said mildly. “He has his eye on Kester.”
“Isn’t the kid a little young for the role of usurper?”
Disbelief painted Solomon’s face. “You know more than most the dangers of underestimating youth. How old were you when you met my father?”
“That was a long time ago. And this kid doesn’t have a slingshot.”
“He’s handier with the harp,” said Asaph.
“Deft and disarming.” The captain smirked. “Hard to say who’s at the mercy of whom.”
Do they misunderstand? Kester clambered to his feet and blurted, “I will not impose on your friendship!”
Asaph propped his chin on his hand and smiled. “Nor should the king impose upon ours.”
“Here it comes,” sighed Solomon.
The captain reached across the table to slap the king’s shoulder. “That’s the way. Take it like a man.”
“Let’s take it outside.” Solomon stood and stretched, then strolled out into the garden. He poked a finger between the bars of one of the many suspended cages. Clucking his tongue, he murmured compliments to a brightly-plumed bird before addressing Kester. “Don’t worry about your welcome. I already told you. You have your king’s favor.”
Executing a small bow, Kester said, “I am grateful for your forbearance.”
The king’s lips quirked, and he fixed Asaph with a bland look. “You knew I’d want him.”
“I know you very well, my king.”
“Then why withhold him?” Solomon grumbled.
Asaph placed his hand on Kester’s shoulder. “Must I say it again? My apprentice has been a great help in collecting your honored father’s songs. If you steal Kester, you’ll undermine my ability to carry out your own command.”
The captain spoke up then, his voice heavy with warning. “Those with everything shouldn’t take from those who only have one thing to cherish.”
Solomon’s gaze snapped to the old man’s face. “Nathan’s tale?”
“A rough paraphrase.”
“I’m surprised you’d bring that up.”
A careless shrug. A careful tone. “You’re a lot like your father.”
“Is that meant for a compliment?”
Solomon’s smile faded. “Asaph and his apprentice are safe.”
Kester tried to follow the conversation, which wasn’t as friendly now. A strange tension vibrated between the king and the captain. And Asaph’s grip on his shoulder was tighter than it needed to be. Sighing softly over his loss, Kester asked, “Am I to return to my desk?”
“Every afternoon, without fail,” Asaph replied, his gaze fixed upon the king’s face. “And every other morning, except the Sabbath.”
The king immediately brightened. “You’ll share?”
Solomon said, “Name them.”
Asaph inclined his head. “This child has been set apart. He worships God Most High and Him alone. Do not press Kester into service in the shrines to foreign gods.”
“So be it.”
“Also, this child is a child,” said Asaph. “To protect Kester’s innocence, he will not sing or play in or around your harem.”
“So be it,” Solomon repeated. Taking a few steps to another cage, the king reached inside and withdrew a monkey no bigger than Kester’s hand. The tiny animal wrapped its ringed tail around Solomon’s fingers and hugged his thumb.
Kester was fascinated by the tiny perfection of its fingers. They look nimble enough to play a harp … if one could be made small enough. Before his imagination could wander too far, Solomon surprised Kester by placing the little monkey on his shoulder. It immediately rubbed its cheek against his, then tried to curl its tail around his nose.
“Will you visit me, Kester?” Solomon coaxed.
“You’re wasting your time with critters,” the captain drawled. “You had the kid with the harp.”
Asaph remarked, “A set of pipes or a tumbrel might be just as effective.”
“Oh?” Solomon peered interestedly at Kester. “Do you play other instruments?”
“I would like that. And ….”
The king’s expression sharpened. “And?”
Kester ventured a question that had been on his mind since the previous night. “If I sang, would you sing with me?”
All the keenness melted from Solomon’s eyes. “Yes.”
“There’s more?” the king asked in teasing tones.
“Yes, please.” Kester had been transcribing songs since his arrival, but he’d never met David. “I want to hear more about the father you love.”
“In that case, you should pester Benaiah to join us. Even I haven’t heard all the stories he could tell about my father’s exploits.”
Kester shifted from foot to foot. “Who?”
Solomon glanced quizzically at the other men. “Weren’t you properly introduced?”
The captain rubbed at the palm of his hand with one thumb. “It never came up.”
“Why am I not surprised? Kester, this doddering relic is actually quite famous,” Solomon revealed. “He’s not just any captain. He’s the captain.”
Which probably would have meant something if Kester was an ordinary boy. He looked between the captain and his mentor, hoping for further enlightenment.
“Benaiah commanded David’s personal guard,” explained Asaph. “The mighty men.”
♦ Do you know what story the captain alludes to as “Nathan’s tale”?
♦ How are you at remembering people’s names?
♦ Why are boundaries so important … both in Kester’s case and ours?
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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