Chapter OnePerched on her grandfather's knee, Bathsheba tore off a piece of bread and offered it to him. Laughing, Ahithophel ate it from her hand. "She's becoming more like your mother every day, Eliam."
Her father watched her with a faint frown. "It's hard to believe she's growing up so fast. Eight years old already. It won't be long before I'll have to find a husband for her."
"A mighty man to protect a pretty young maiden."
She looked across the fire at the man who appeared, to her, like an angel from heaven. Tugging on her grandfather's tunic, stretching up, she whispered her heart's desire. "I want to marry David."
He laughed out loud and looked across at the handsome young man sitting across the fire. "David, here is another who has set you upon a pedestal." Heat flooded into her cheeks as the man she idolized looked back at her grandfather with embarrassed tolerance. Her grandfather kissed her cheek. "Forget David, Bathsheba. He has three wives already, my sweet." As he looked into her eyes, his amusement faded. His expression softened.
"Better to be the only wife of a poor man than one woman among many in a king's harem."
"Come inside, Bathsheba!" her mother beckoned. Her grandfather lifted Bathsheba from his knee and set her firmly on her feet, sending her off with a light swat on her backside. When Bathsheba paused to look back at David, her mother caught her by the arm and yanked her inside the tent, flipping the flap down behind them. "It's time for bed." She followed Bathsheba and drew up the blanket as the girl lay down on her pallet. Kneeling, she leaned down and kissed Bathsheba. Troubled, she stroked the wisps of black hair back from Bathsheba's forehead. "Some dreams can only bring heartbreak."
Her mother put her fingertip over Bathsheba's lips. "Hush, child." She leaned back upon her heels and rose gracefully. "Go to sleep."
Bathsheba lay awake, listening to the men's voices rumbling quietly outside. Others had joined them. She recognized Joab's voice and that of his brother Abishai. Both were commanders of David's army, and they often came to talk war with her grandfather, who had earned David's respect for his shrewd tactical advice. He knew a great deal about the Philistines and Ammonites and their methods of battle. He also knew the land of Canaan as well as the lines in the palm of his own hand.
"Saul was in our hands, David," Joab said. "You should have killed him when you had the chance."
Joab's brother Abishai was quick to speak in agreement. "Yes, you need to kill Saul! God gave him to us in the Cave of the Wild Goats. I would have slit his throat for you."
"And I told you why I didn't want him killed," David said. "He is the man the Lord God anointed as king."
"He'll keep chasing you," Joab said. "He'll never stop until one of you is dead."
"It would be better for the nation if you took the crown from Saul now," another said. Bathsheba heard the rumble of agreement among several other men sitting at her father's campfire.
"Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter," Joab insisted.
"What am I to do with you sons of Zeruiah?" David said harshly, and she knew his impatience must be directed at Joab and Abishai. "How many times must I tell you I will not raise my hand against the Lord's anointed!"
She heard footsteps moving away.
"I don't understand him," Joab said in frustration. "Speak sense to him, Ahithophel!"
"What would David have gained by murdering the king while he had turned his back to relieve himself?" Her grandfather spoke calmly in the face of the younger men's hot tempers. "When Saul heard David call to him from the cave, he knew David could have killed him-yet David allowed him to walk away with only his pride injured. Would a man who coveted his kingdom have done that? Of course not! Every man riding with Saul now knows David is in the right! And they know David was giving King Saul the chance to repent!"
"Repent! The fire in Saul's belly will be back soon enough, and we'll be on the run again. Should we spare a man who ordered the murder of eighty-five priests and their families at Nob?"
"Leave judgment to the Lord. David's course is a righteous one."
"You know as well as I that as long as there is breath in Saul's body, he will hunt David!"
"I know, too, that God will prevail, Joab. It will be by His efforts, not yours, that David will one day be king. The Lord is in command. Every day, more men join us. Why? Because they believe as we do: that God is with David wherever he goes. The Philistines, Ammonites, and Amalekites cannot defeat a man who has the Lord God of Israel as his shield."
"I want to see the crown on David's head!"
"So do we all, Joab. But let it happen in God's time and not before."
The men went on talking. Bathsheba's eyes were heavy with sleep. She dreamed of David dressed in royal robes, holding out his hand to her. Startled awake, she lay still, listening. Men were shouting in the distance. Probably another argument. She heard familiar voices outside. Rising to her knees, she peered between the stitches of the tent seam. David had returned and was sitting in the flickering firelight, talking with her father and grandfather.
"We'll join forces with the Philistines," David was saying. "When the fighting turns against Saul, we'll be in a position to turn the battle in his favor."
Her grandfather frowned in concentration. "How many do you plan to take?"
"All of them."
"Who will protect our women and children ...?"
Bathsheba gazed at David, her head full of dreams. She loved the way he tilted his head as he listened intently to what her grandfather had to say. She studied every line of his face.
Men shouted again. Her mother moaned softly, rolling over on her pallet. Bathsheba looked out again. David had his head turned toward the disturbance. A muscle in his jaw clenched. "These men are too much for me to manage!"
Her grandfather sat with his hands clasped between his knees. "They are a flock of sheep in need of a strong shepherd."
"Sometimes they behave more like a pack of wolves!" David shook his head and rose. "I guess I should do something." Sighing, he walked away.
"I don't understand him," her father said, tossing a rock into the darkness. "Why is he always coming to Saul's rescue even when it could mean his own death?"
"Have you forgotten that Saul's son Jonathan is David's closest friend? And David's first wife is Saul's daughter."
"Jonathan has chosen sides, Abba, and Michal is defiled. Saul gave her to another man. David lives in hope that everything will change back to the way it was before Saul went mad with jealousy. It will never happen."
Her grandfather poked the fire. "Joab's advice is shrewd. Saul's death would put an end to this war and place David on the throne. But there would be no blessing for David if he kills the Lord's anointed. Ah, my son, David lives to please God. His passion is for the Lord." He looked up, his face aglow. "If every man among us had the heart David has, what a kingdom God would build for us!" Tossing the stick into the fire, he rose. "Come, let's stand with our friend and hear what the Lord has given him to say this time."
Bathsheba knew David wouldn't shout orders at the fighting men, nor interfere with their arguments. Instead he would simply sit near them and sing. She waited, and after a little while, she could hear the sound of his harp amidst the shouting-a soothing melody played quietly against angry, discordant voices. Already the angry voices were dying down. Pulling at the seams, Bathsheba tried to see more from within the narrow view of her father's tent. Her grandfather always said that God gave David's words and music the power to lift hearts and minds from petty differences to God's majesty and the blessings He had poured upon His chosen people. She had heard David play and sing many times before, and she never tired of it.
Her mother was asleep. What harm if she snuck out and crept close enough to watch and listen? She slipped through the flaps and hastened toward the gathering, staying at the edge of firelight. Hunkering down, arms wrapped around her knees, she sat and listened. Her young heart trembled at the sight of David, his handsome face bronzed in the firelight. No one in the entire world could be as perfect as David, her beloved.
"O Lord, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth!" His voice rang out in the night air. His words grew indistinct when he turned away. So she rose and crept closer. One by one, men sat and reclined, gazing up at David as they listened, captivated as he worshiped God more openly than any priest. David stopped in the midst of his men and lifted his head, singing a wordless melody that made Bathsheba's heart ache. Then lyrics came again to him.
"When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers-the moon and the stars you have set in place-what are mortals that you should think of us, mere humans that you should care for us?"
Everyone was silent now, waiting as David bowed his head and plucked the strings of his harp. The sound and words pierced her so deeply that Bathsheba felt he was plucking the strings of her heart. "For you made us only a little lower than God, and you crowned us with glory and honor. You put us in charge of everything you made, giving us authority over all things-the sheep and the cattle and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents." David shook his head in wonder and looked up at the stars again, his face rapt. "O Lord, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth!" He played a few more chords on his harp and then lifted his hand slowly above his head, offering his words of praise to the God of all creation.
And the camp was quiet-so quiet, Bathsheba could hear her own heartbeat.
"Sing another psalm, David," her grandfather, Ahithophel, said.
Others joined in his appeal. "Sing to us of the Lord!"
Bathsheba rose and crept in among the gathering, slipping in next to her doting grandfather, seeking his warmth. "What are you doing up?" he whispered gruffly and put his arm around her, snuggling her close.
"I had to hear, and I was getting cold." Shivering, she looked up at him pleadingly. "Please, Grandpapa, just for a little while ...?"
"You know I can't say no to you." He pulled his cloak around her. "One song."
David sang another psalm, one she had heard many times before. His handsome face glowed in the firelight, and his words poured forth upon her thirsty soul. Unlike so many hearts around her, David's heart wasn't turned toward war. He longed for peace. He appealed to God for help and mercy and deliverance from his enemies. What would it be like to live without fear of a pursuing king, of Philistines and Ammonites, of the raiding Amalekites? She looked at her father and saw his eyes were moist as he leaned forward, listening intently. How many times had she heard her papa say God would uphold their cause? God would hide them in the cleft of the rocks and inside the caves of En-gedi and Adullam. God would sustain them with food and water. God would give them victory against every enemy. Why? Because they were with David, and David did nothing without inquiring of the Lord. David prayed his songs, and God listened.
David walked a few steps and stood for a moment with his head bowed. His eyes were closed. She watched his hands move gently over the strings, strumming softly and making her heart ache. He raised his head and looked from face to face. Would he look at her? Would he notice her sitting between her father and grandfather?
"The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need...."
When David's gaze fixed upon her, her heart leaped into her throat. She held her breath, staring back at him, but his gaze moved on, touching each man there as though every one was equally precious to him. She felt crushed beneath the pressure of her love for him, and dejected that he hardly noticed her among his throng of devoted followers.
You are my shepherd, David. You make me want something I can't even name. You lead us through the wilderness, but I'm not afraid, because you are with us. And I would do anything for you....
Someone gripped her shoulder tightly, startling her. "Bathsheba!" her mother whispered angrily.
"So you've been caught again," her grandfather whispered, unfurling his cloak from around her back and shoulders. Scowling, her mother scooped her up and carried her away, setting her on her feet when they were halfway back to the family tent. "You're lucky I don't take a rod to you!" Lowering her eyes, Bathsheba followed her mother through the darkness. Her mother swished the tent flap back. "Get inside!" Once past the opening, her mother gave her a swat on her behind. "Since I can't trust you to stay where you belong, you'll sleep beside me until your father returns." Her mother drew her close. "You know better than to disobey."
Bathsheba sniffled. "I'm sorry, Mama. It's just that I love him."
Her mother sighed. "I know you do. We all love David."
"Not like I do. I'm going to marry him someday."
Her mother's arms tightened around her. "Oh, my sweet one. Every girl among us wishes for the same thing. You must listen to me, Bathsheba. What you hope for is impossible. It's the idle dream of a child."
"Because David is too far above you."
Her throat tightened. "He was a shepherd."
"He still is a shepherd, but not in the way you mean. You must understand. David is destined to be king, and as such, he will marry the daughters of kings. You're only the daughter of one of his soldiers."
"Abba is a warrior, one of David's best warriors, and one of his closest friends. And Grandpapa ..."
"Hush! Remember, David is still married to Saul's daughter Michal, even though Saul gave her to someone else. And David is also married to Ahinoam and Abigail."
"Abigail isn't the daughter of a king," Bathsheba said stubbornly.
"No, but Abigail kept David from committing a great sin. He was grateful for her wisdom. And she is very beautiful."
"Do you think I'll be beautiful someday, beautiful enough-"
"Someday, you'll be very beautiful, and wiser than you are right now, I hope. At the very least, wise enough to understand that some things are not meant to be. Your father will find a good husband for you, and you'll forget you ever thought yourself in love with David."
Never! Never, never, never! Bathsheba blinked back tears and turned her head away.
"When you grow up, my love, you will understand the wisdom of worshiping God and not a man."
Bathsheba lay still until she heard the sound of her mother's deepened
breathing. Then she eased out of her arms and crawled to the other side of the
tent to peer into the night once more.