Northern Judean mountains
I pushed the horse as fast as it could go. The terrain was rugged amidst the dense forest, but I could make out a path. Even without the path, this forest had been my companion for years. Branches slapped at us, but they were no match for me and my beast. As surely as the sun sets in the west, I knew my way, and nothing would detour me.
Eight years. Eight years separated from Michal. Eight years without her in my arms. Eight years on the run, trying to protect me and my men from a vengeful, mad king. And now? Now it was done.
My men were not far behind, but I did not wait for them. A part of me knew it came from the sheer joy of the reunion with my wife, but the larger part of me knew that I did not desire anyone to cite reasons as to why it was a bad idea. King Saul was dead, and even though I mourned him and his sons, especially my brother and friend, Jonathan, his death meant freedom. I no longer had to hide among the enemy. I no longer had to be separated from my Michal.
I heard my name faintly to my left but did not cast a glance. There was still too much ground to cover if I planned to see her before nightfall.
“David!” The voice grew slightly louder. Whoever called out to me was catching up.
My horse jumped over a fallen tree and kept running without breaking its stride. Long gone are the days of trying to ride and steer a donkey, I thought to myself while patting the horse’s mane.
“David!” Closer yet.
It was Benaiah. He was the only one who could outrace me on a horse. I told myself it was all those formal years of training under Abner, King Saul’s commander, but really, Benaiah was simply good at anything he put his hand to do.
“David! We have news!”
The unstable path led to a clearing, and I grimaced. This was all Benaiah needed to take the lead. The dense forest was more my terrain, but sure footing was all his. The clearing consisted of rolling hills. I could feel the horse slow as it ran uphill. “No slowing now,” I commanded it.
“You have to stop!” Benaiah yelled just beside me. “The Benjamite’s garrison are positioned along their borders.”
“I am king now!” I yelled back without turning. “I do not have to do anything!”
Our horses started the descent down one of the last hills. Something on the horizon glinted at me, reflecting the sun. Benaiah and I must have heard the horns at the same time. He yelled, “David!” but it was too late. I was nearly upon Hebrew soldiers.
I yanked back the reins, but my horse could not slow in time. Just as I saw the drawn arrows and spears, I turned him to the right and plunged into a field of tall grass. “Whoa! Whoa!” The heavy grass nearly covered the entirety of the horse and aided in our stop. The horse panted, and I patted him again. “Sorry about that, my friend.”
By the time I maneuvered out of the thick grass, Benaiah was already waiting for me at the edge of the clearing.
“What are they doing here?” I asked.
“That is what I was trying to tell you. We heard this morning that Abner has stationed Saul’s tribesmen around the entire Benjamite area. They expected you.”
“But I am the anointed king.”
“And as such, I advise not leaving your men at the break of dawn.”
“I will take that under advisement, but the decision is mine.”
“How can we protect you if you are not around for us to protect? Remember, my king, not everyone sees you as theirs.” Benaiah indicated the large mass of men positioned to attack me at the command.
Irritation stewed within. “Enough of this. Saul is dead.”
“At least wait for more men.”
“Would that not come off as threatening? These men are my soldiers or soon will be.”
“They may not see it that way, and even if they do, they may be following orders.”
“Who would make those orders? Saul is dead,” I repeated the words, allowing the frustration to slip out.
Benaiah pointed across the field. “Him.”
My gaze followed where he pointed, and my heart dropped. “Abner.”
Abner, Saul’s commanding officer, sat on his horse, yelling at the men in the formation.
I gave a humorless laugh and shook my head. “Never-ending.”
“It will end, but we need to make smart moves. Let us wait for the others.”
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and sought the Lord. Should I go forward? Without waiting for an answer, I flicked the reins and told the horse to move. Benaiah sighed.
As I approached, Abner’s attention landed on me. I lifted both hands to indicate a peaceful greeting. He ordered his men to stand down.
“Abner,” I said, contemplating a bow. But that indicated submission, and as king, I needed to establish authority. So instead, I kept my gaze on his.
All those around us seemed to hold their breath. I needed to handle this correctly, but impatience fueled my frustration. “My men and I grieve with all of Israel over the death of King Saul and our brothers-in-arms. We weep with you.”
Abner gave a slight nod. “Is that all which brings you here?”
“We are en route to retrieve my wife. Gallim is in this direction.”
Abner raised an eyebrow. He seemed to weigh his words before saying, “That cannot happen. The king’s edicts are still in place until the new king establishes his throne. You can take up your cause with him at that time.”
My mouth opened in surprise, but I quickly shut it and steeled my countenance. “I am anointed king of Israel. You know this. Now is the time to put an end to this madness. Israel needs to heal. You and I were once allies. Let us be allies again.”
“You are not Saul’s son. He cut you off when he gave Michal to another. And you know that blood rules before marriage anyway. Ishbosheth is next in line. He is the rightful king. We can be allies as soon as you and your men accept this reality.”
I glared at Abner, my frustration leading to fury. “You mean to divide a kingdom?”
“No. All of Israel should be under one king. The son of Saul.” Abner paused, then asked, “Do you mean to divide a kingdom?”
“Ishbosheth as king is not God’s design.”
“According to who? Who decides Yahweh’s design?”
“According to Samuel! God’s prophet!” I yelled. “Now I demand my wife!”
“Samuel’s dead,” Abner said through gritted teeth. “Turn around David, and go back to where you came from. You are not king here.”
“And if I refuse?”
“As I stated, King Saul’s edicts are still in place until the new king is established. That means we have orders to kill you and your men immediately. You are still an outlaw and not welcomed here.”
“What a way to thank us for years of dedicated service to the kingdom. We are not done with this.”
“Why the anger?” Abner asked spitefully. “We could kill you right now, and yet, out of deference to our past relationship, I have ordered the men to momentarily stand down. And is that not Benaiah just off in the distance? He is a wanted man. He disgracefully ran from Saul’s army. I could order him captured this moment.”
I did not move for some time. My hands held the reins so tightly, the hide burned against my skin. My jaw hurt from being clenched so hard. My entire body became taut, and I thought of the many ways I could jump from my horse onto Abner and snap his neck.
“Leave, or Benaiah is ours.”
Knowing I had little choice, I turned the horse and made my way to Benaiah. I understood the reason for him staying several stones away. He ran from Saul’s army to serve under me. I cleared his name, but not Saul or Abner. Until I was king over all of Israel, Benaiah could not be exposed, and yet, that is exactly what I did. I swallowed back the shame.
“I take it things did not go well.”
“We need to leave, or they take you.”
“I would like to see them try.”
I did not doubt that Benaiah and I would cause massive damage to the troops, but this would not help my cause with the Hebrew people. “We cannot kill these men. It would look poorly upon us.”
“Then let us leave before Abner changes his mind.”
The two of us stayed on the edge of the tall, dense grass to quickly hide into it if necessary. We heard the thundering hooves before we saw a band of our men descending the hill toward Abner’s blockade. Would Abner think this was planned and consider it a threat?
I waved my hands to draw their attention to us. “Please Yahweh, let them see me.”
But the horses had already turned toward us as if my men already knew.
“They had scouts tell them of our whereabouts.” This did not surprise me. My men were good. They would never run toward Israel without making sure there was safe passage.
“Of course, they did. If you had waited, you would have known about this blockade, and it would have been avoided.”
I did not answer because there was nothing to say. My haste in seeing Michal would earn a sound tongue-lashing from them. And I deserved it.
“I see an opening into the forest up ahead,” Benaiah said. “Head there, and I will lead the others to follow.”
I saw it and pressed the horse to go faster. Shame heated my face, and I refused for others to see it. My urgency in retrieving Michal led to a rash decision that could have ended badly. As I traveled the trail, hours passed, and the day turned to dusk. The horse needed to rest, but I was close to the one place in Israel where I would be safe. “We are almost there,” I said to the beast. “We are almost to Judah.”
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