Chapter 33: The Frightened Boy
“Are you confused about life,
Don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come,
have dinner with me!”
PROVERBS 9:4 MSG
For the remainder of the day, Kester endured Lemuel’s shifting moods. Fear turned to fury. Embarrassment gave way to stormy looks and noisy sulking. But as evening drew close, the prince lapsed into pensive silence sprinkled with excuses.
“I am sick. I will stay here,” he said.
Kester answered, “Your father wants you.”
“He has many sons. Let his favor rest on one of them.”
The way he said favor made it sound like anything but a blessing. Kester tried to sort out the source of Lemuel’s dread. “In Asaph’s archive, the king is not a king. And his servant is no longer a servant.”
“Is that meant to be a riddle? It’s a terrible one.” The prince stood upon a stool so he could see out the high window in Asaph’s room. Like a prisoner longing for escape.
“Not a riddle. But something rare.” Kester leaned against the wall under the window, the only spot in the room to which Lemuel couldn’t turn his back. “My mentor is your father’s friend.”
The boy snorted. “Servants have to smile and say pleasant things. But you should hear them when they think no one’s listening—mean words and lies. They are gossips two faces, and I find both ugly.”
Kester wanted to protest that Asaph was not two-faced, but could he? What he hides is not ugly. Trying again, Kester said, “My mentor and your father have been friends since childhood. Their bond endures because it is genuine.”
“They do not pretend,” said Kester. “In the archive, they stop pretending. Come and see.”
“To watch Father consort with commoners?” The princely haughtiness was back. “I want to go home. This isn’t where I belong.”
The door opened, and Asaph entered. He greeted the boys with a sleepy smile, then busied himself at his table.
Kester lowered his voice. “In my mentor’s archive, a prince is no longer a prince.”
Lemuel’s answer came with a sneer. “Don’t forget your place. You’re a servant, and you’ll always be a servant.”
“Most assuredly.” Ignoring the faint twinge of disappointment deep within, Kester made his meaning more clear. “But you will be a boy, and Solomon will be your father.”
The prince’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “King Solomon is the most powerful man in the world.”
“But he does not wear his crown in the archive.” Kester adopted a coaxing tone. “He wears soft robes, and he smiles freely. He sits on the floor, and he sings lullabies.”
A blink. A second blink. “Father sits on the floor?”
“Come and see,” Kester repeated.
And this time, Lemuel muttered a huffy, “Fine.”
In the archive, Kester once more became Lemuel’s shield. But clinging to the young angel did the prince little good. In fact, the arrangement served Solomon well. From his seat amidst floor cushions, the king held out his hand. “Come here, Kester.”
Obedience brought both boys near.
Kester ignored the firm grip Lemuel had on the back of his tunic, his attention caught on the lion’s head harp resting on Solomon’s knee. The young angel’s fingers twitched. “Will you let me play?”
“Perhaps later.” With a rueful glance at Asaph, he said, “Father took delight in those children who showed an interest in music, and I would have done anything to spend more time with him.”
“You can play?” asked Kester.
“Not with your skill, but yes. I am the Harper’s son.” He plucked a few notes, soft and light. “Father rarely told a story without this in his hands. Come, children. Sit with me. Refresh yourselves. There’s a story I want my son to hear.”
Lemuel shuffled in Kester’s wake and plunked down on a pillow at the farthest edge of the heap. The prince sat with fists clenched and eyes downcast. Asaph passed bowls of dates and nuts, then poured cups of something fruity and honey-sweet. Tempted by the treats, Lemuel edged closer to Kester but stayed behind him. And once the prince relaxed enough to nibble and sip, Solomon launched into his tale.
“In times half-forgotten, Israel was at war, and her greatest warrior was King David. He and his mighty men ranged throughout this land, driving back the enemies of God. Our peace was bought with the blood on his hands. Yet he never failed to say that the battle was the Lord’s. Every victory belonged to God Most High.”
The captain slipped into the archive and sat at the foot of the stairs. Asaph quietly rose to serve him as Solomon’s story continued.
“One day, my father returned from his campaign earlier than he would have liked. I could hear him arguing with the captain of his bodyguard.” Solomon’s gaze flashed to the man on the stairs. “He wanted to go back to the battle, but Benaiah was the only thing keeping him on his feet. There was so much blood.”
“Not all of it was his,” interjected the captain. “But he was done in. If it wouldn’t have wounded his pride, I would have carried him through the gates.”
Lemuel nudged closer to Kester. “King David?”
“Your grandfather, my father,” said Solomon. “I adored his stories, his teasing, and his songs. But on that day, he was not my father.”
Kester leaned forward. “How could that be?”
Solomon’s fingers wandered across the harp strings, and his gaze slid out of focus. “He was not Father; he was the warrior-king of Israel. When I ran to greet him, the battle was still fresh in his mind. His blade was before me in an instant, and holy wrath burned in his eyes. He was terrible.”
“What did you do?” whispered Lemuel.
“Wet himself,” drawled Benaiah.
“I ran,” said Solomon. “And I hid. But he knew. Even with all his wives and children, he always knew if one of his flock was missing.”
Kester asked, “What did he do?”
“He searched until he found me.”
“While he should have been recovering,” grumbled the captain.
Lemuel asked, “Then what?”
Solomon’s expression warmed. “He crawled into the lambs’ pen with me and gathered me into his arms. He tickled me and told me stories about his mighty men. And he sang to me about God, who is both fearful in His majesty and tender in His mercies.”
“Because he was both, too?” ventured the prince.
“Yes, I’m sure that’s what he wanted me to understand.” Solomon tilted his head to one side. “Are you as clever a child as I was, Lemuel?”
Solomon’s laughter was rich and rolled like the tears down his cheeks. Surrendering the lion’s head harp to Kester, he opened his arms and asked, “Are you braver, then, beloved son of my Beloved?”
With a sniffle, Lemuel crawled out from behind Kester and into his father’s embrace.
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Author’s Note: This story is a prequel to Christa Kinde’s Threshold Series [Zonderkidz] and updates on Mondays. More information can be found on the Sage and Song index page. Sage and Song, © Copyright 2015–2016 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.