Chapter 17: The Night Watchmen
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
PROVERBS 15:3 NKJV
Kester ran his fingers along the edge of his new arm band. Smooth and cool to the touch, he found its unfamiliar weight distracting. And a little confusing. Was this not a token of the king’s favor? Yet as soon as Solomon placed it on Kester, his visits stopped.
Seeing the king three times in quick succession had shaped the young angel’s expectations. Hadn’t Solomon wanted to keep him close? Wasn’t he supposed to be playing the lion’s head harp? Kester rubbed his fingertips together. He missed playing the instrument, but the king’s absence bothered him even more. Is this loneliness?
At the sound of sandals on the storeroom stairs, Kester jumped to his feet, but it was only Asaph.
“I found them,” his mentor said, holding up the scrolls Kester had left behind.
Asaph waved aside the apology, returning to the shelves where the rest of his night’s work waited. Kester slumped onto a pile of rolled tapestries and went back to fiddling with the arm band. Solomon was the king. He probably busy with royal responsibilities. Things of greater importance than a not-so-ordinary boy who longed for sweet harmonies.
“What’s wrong, Kester?”
“I was sent away again.” This morning was the fourth time Ichi had refused to open the back entrance to the throne room. And for the same vague reason. “The king was not holding court. No harpist was needed.”
“Ah.” Asaph’s gaze held compassion. “That explains much.”
What was keeping Solomon away? When would he return? Kester fidgeted unhappily. Have I displeased him in some way?
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and Kester rushed to the door once more, only to stumble to a crestfallen halt. The captain took one look at his face and snorted. “You could try to hide your disappointment, newbie.”
“Welcome, Captain,” Asaph smoothly interjected.
Kester’s gaze dropped to the floor. “I apologize for my rudeness.”
“Relax already. Or cheer up.” Turning to Asaph, the guardsman said, “Can I borrow the kid for a while? I promised to show him the safe ways through the palace grounds.”
Asaph’s eyebrows arched. “At this hour?”
Benaiah shrugged. “The halls are quiet. Won’t take long.”
Something seemed to pass between the two, and Kester waited to see what his mentor decided. With a soft chuckle, Asaph said, “Permission granted.”
The captain strode out, forcing Kester to scramble in order to catch up. But once they were in the wide hallway above, Benaiah slowed his steps. “This is the oldest part of the palace,” he explained. “And the hardest to navigate. Pay attention.”
And so their tour began—unhurried and informative. The captain showed Kester which halls connected the network of courtyards and what sections to consider off-limits. The fish gate. The dung gate. The cisterns. The stables. Kester learned where the rest of Solomon’s exotic menagerie was kept and how to bypass the part of the palace that belonged to his many wives and children.
“And this is the quickest way up onto the walls,” the captain said, indicating a narrow stairway at the base of a guard tower.
“Am I allowed?”
“When you’re with me, yeah, but I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise. The guards would probably mistake you for one of the princes.”
Kester’s interest stirred. “Do I resemble the king’s sons?”
“With so many mothers, even the king’s sons don’t resemble the king’s sons. It’s tough keeping track of them all.” With a faint smirk, he added, “And tougher keeping them out of trouble. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had to chase Solomon’s brats off the walls.”
“I have no wish to cause trouble.”
“Good policy. Now stick close.”
Kester struggled to memorize their route, but he soon realized that Benaiah was leading him away from the palace. They climbed more stairs, finally reaching the outer wall, with its many gates and fortifications.
Pacing soldiers. Guttering torches. Low greetings. Kester shadowed Benaiah’s steps so closely, he bumped into him when he stopped directly over the city’s main gate. “Look there,” the captain said gruffly.
From this vantage, the sky’s expanse dazzled Kester’s eyes, a vast banner ablaze with stars. Its beauty made his throat ache, and he bit his tongue to hold in the song his awe inspired.
But the captain tapped his shoulder, then pointed down. “I meant there. Along the road.”
Kester spied a procession of torches snaking up the slope. Two horsemen broke away from the entourage, racing toward the gate. “Who are they?”
“Those two? Solomon and one of his generals.” The captain casually added, “He’s been away.”
The boy blinked several times. “The king has been away?”
“For the last few days. Didn’t anyone tell you?”
Kester shook his head.
Benaiah looked at Kester out of the corner of his eye. “Did you miss him?”
Still mute, Kester nodded.
“Come on. The stairs are over there,” the captain said with a jerk of his thumb. “You can welcome him home.”
“That’s the idea.” The old man dropped a hand on Kester’s shoulder and steered him toward the top step. “Pay attention, Kester. This is the part that makes waiting worthwhile.”
♦ What advice would you give Kester, who’s dealing with things like waiting and loneliness for the first time?
♦ Are you waiting for anything right now?
♦ We know how many wives and concubines Solomon accumulated. Have you ever wondered how many children he had?
Author’s Note: This story is a prequel to Christa Kinde’s Threshold Series [Zonderkidz] and updates on Thursdays. More information can be found on the Sage and Song index page. Sage and Song, © Copyright 2015 Christa Kinde, all rights reserved. If you want to receive an email whenever my stories update, subscribe to this blog. You can also watch for notifications on Twitter.