The Secret Chord

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

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Authors: Geraldine Brooks
men’s hearts.” And I did learn from her, most especially about him. She wanted me to understand him, and so she bared to me those private matters that men do not usually share one with another. “You are young to leave your mother,” she said. “I do not say I can take her place. No one can do that. But if you everfeel lonely here, if you need a woman’s care—” I remember my face reddening. She smiled kindly. “Do not look so dismayed. You’ll be a man soon enough. But for now, you cannot be always underfoot among the fighters. David will call for you often enough, be assured of it. He uses every tool that comes into his hand.”
    That night, as I sat in my room in the silent palace, waiting to be used again in his service, I remembered Avigail’s kindness to me in those outlaw days. I remembered how she had extended her long fingers and raised my chin so that I was obliged to look right into the deep green of her eyes. I was young then, and embarrassed by the intimacy of it. I am sure she knew that, but she wanted me to understand our kinship. “We are alike in some ways, you and I. We have each of us been sent to him, to help him according to our means.”
    At the time, boy that I was, I thought she spoke literally. Having no sons of Navaal, she had inherited a share of her former husband’s wealth, and had brought it to David on their marriage. I knew they were bedmates, of course, but as I had yet to feel any stirrings of desire, that part of their relationship was obscure to me. Now, in hindsight, knowing about David’s childhood, I can see more clearly and understand truths that eluded me then. The difference in their age meant that Avigail was more than a wife to David. She was like a sister and, in some measure, a mother also, giving him the affection that he had been severed from as an exiled child.
    Directly after he sacked my village, David struck camp. He had looted ten times the supplies he had asked for. That was the way of it in those years. A temporary camp or a hideout in a set of caves. If supplies were not forthcoming, a punitive raid to secure them, and then on the move again, to keep ahead of Shaul, who hunted him constantly. Barely a week passed without the arrival of some new recruit, anxious to join us. Shaul’s erratic behavior was driving many good men to desert him. Some who were in distress, and some who were burdened by debts and some who were generally discontented or dismayed by the direction of his leadership. Such men gathered toDavid, and our numbers swelled. Sometimes, David would have me by him when a new man found his way to us. He would greet each of them, offer them honey cakes or wine, and draw out their stories. He lent a sympathetic ear, and made them know that he thought them patriots, not traitors. Avigail would be there, too, always, serving the food, unnoticed by the strangers. But I noticed her, and I noticed she missed nothing.
    I was there one such evening, as she gathered the uneaten rinds and crusts from the meal David had shared with a man who had described himself as a trader from Shechem in the north, dealing in purple dye. As this was a risky trade, necessitating travel along the Derek Hayyam, the Way of the Sea, which passed through Plishtim territory, the man claimed also to be skilled with arms and had offered us his services as a fighter. When David asked why he had abandoned the dye trade, he said that the king’s steward had reneged on payments, a large sum. When he tried to bring the matter before Shaul in person, the king had refused to see him. On the steward’s word alone, the king banned him from doing further business with the court, which ruined him.
    It had been an amiable meal: the merchant was a good storyteller, and kept the company amused by tales from his journeys. But now that the man had retired, David reached an arm out and drew Avigail down to sit with him. “What did

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