Anathoth, Judah 636 BCE
The rains held
off and there was plague in the city. Even the house
of an idolater was though safer for the young king than Jerusalem.
half a score slaves and the chamberlain as guardian, Josiyah came to
I saw him seldom.
He spent most of his time in Shallum’s inner court-
yard with Hanamel and Jeremiyah, and only one or two slaves
them, so that if disease possessed us it might not find him.
He was small for his age. I saw them
carry him in at night, wrapped
like a babe, and wondered that he could drive a chariot. And as for being “beautiful
as the moon”—well, I had less patience with old women’s tales, before I began to tell them myself.
And yet the next time I saw him, more than a week later, Anath’s
phrase came unbidden to my mind. Small he was,
but lithe as green
wicker. His dark hair hung flat to his shoulders and then curved under,
and there was a wave
at each temple that gave his sidelocks the look of
cupping his face. His skin was fair and clear. In all this one could
Meshullemeth, his grandmother. But his square forehead and chin came,
I hear, from stout old Manasseh, while
his nose, cut straight down from
his brow to his flared nostrils, was the nose of King David himself.
all this during the time of the afternoon sleep. My sister had
eaten too much, though I told my father it was a touch
of the sun, and she groaned on our pallet so that I crept out into the courtyard for peace. As I sat cross-legged in the shade,
I saw Jeremiyah and Hanamel creep out of the opposite door, led by Josiyah. Hanamel was already thick-bodied and a bit clumsy,
while Jeremiyah looked like any other boy—just a boy. The eye was held by the young king.
slipped from one dim portico to the next, working his way around
the courtyard toward the stable door, with the others
shadowing his footsteps. Hanamel stumbled over a pot and sent it spinning into the open with a clatter. Josiyah half turned
and smiled at him ruefully, such a smile as another boy might have given had he made the blunder him-
self. He gestured
them to a standstill. They stood like chicks under the
hawk, listening. I could see Hanamel’s face darkening with
the effort not
to make another sound. Then they crept on.
The groom was sleeping in the stable door. Josiyah
stepped over him
with a light sure foot. Jeremiyah went around him. Hanamel hesitated
between the two courses.
He debated so long that the other two returned before he moved. They led between them Shallum’s one horse, our master’s
pride. She was bridled but not saddled. She stepped as delicately over the groom as the king had, and the four made their
way across to the gate.
It was then that they saw me. After the first start, Josiyah moved
to go on. A little
slave girl was no more matter to him than a sleeping
groom. But Hanamel hissed at me, “Don’t tell, Aliyah.
Hold your tongue
and I’ll....” he cast about in his mind for a bribe, then altered to “or I’ll....”
Before he framed his threat either, Jeremiyah touched his arm.
“Hush, cousin,” he whispered. “You
bluster like a Philistine. Come.”
And with a smile at me he turned to help Josiyah lift the gate latch qui-
I followed them to watch. They had gone out the west gate, where
there was only the road to Jerusalem
and the empty hills. Even in
drought it was greener on this side than on the east.
At first they took turns
riding, then Hanamel, after his third fall, of-
fered to call their paces. They went on so for a while, the other two
about. Josiyah sat the brown gleaming back easily, Jeremiyah kept his
seat by clutching and bouncing.
“No, no, you’re kneeing her as though she were a mule,” Josiyah cried.
“Keep your legs
straight!” Of course, Jeremiyah had never ridden any-
thing but a mule or an ass, and could not seem to find the
proper pressure to use on a high-bred beast. At last Josiyah mounted in front of him, to let him feel with his own arms and
thighs how Josiyah’s grasped the mare.
Sometimes in my dreams I see them so, knee behind knee, elbow
cradling elbow, one intent face beside the other, with their flying hair
As they crested the
hill toward the south, they gave a shout and waved
to Hanamel to follow after. We two could just see them dismount as
ran; I, unobserved, twenty paces behind.
At the top I saw that a merchant’s caravan had come out
salem making its way north. They had not had much trade in the city, because of the drought and the plague,
and so were willing to stop for three well-born boys who might have baubles of value to trade. Josiyah spoke to them in lordly
Akkadian. I saw some smiles behind dusty mustaches and suspected that the boy-king’s accent was not so pure as perhaps
Hanamel went directly to a pile of fine cloths on an ass’s back and
began to finger the
materials, lifting a corner of the hide that protected
them, till a drover flicked a whip and growled at him in Aramaic
his dirty hands off.
Jeremiyah was looking at the camels, which we seldom
saw so close.
He ventured a hand out to the proud neck of one. She spat at him. The
traders laughed, and so did
Meanwhile the leader had opened a saddlebag and spread a selection
scarab seals from Egypt before Josiyah. Smiles or no, he had seen that this lad was accustomed to luxury.
“Ah, that is a fine seal, young master, very elegantly made. Pure jasper
it is, and —” glancing
shrewdly at Josiyah’s sidelocks and blue fringes —
“not an image on it, as you see. Only the fine
lines of the shaping and
scoring to give it its simple beauty. You have a discerning eye, sir. And
when you have
your name and rank inscribed upon it, and your father’s
name just here....” He pointed a grimy forefinger
and looked at Josiyah
Josiyah said, “It is for a gift.”
“Ah, yes, a gift for a lady, perhaps? Ladies like jasper, my lord, even a
young person favors a pretty seal to hang around her neck.” And he leered at me, where I stood sweaty and ragged apart.
Josiyah’s fine sun-flushed face went dust-colored as the blood left it.
he said, but softly, taking a step backwards so as to look in the
man’s face without craning upwards, “do
you think I dally here over a
slave’s trinket? This gift is for my lady mother, though from what you say perhaps
you think your goods not worthy of such honor.”
“No, truly, your Excellency,”
the man’s smile was back though his low
bow hid it from Josiyah. “I merely thought that Your Worship wished
display the generosity toward his inferiors which is so becoming to one of
The trader had judged his man well. Josiyah bit his lip and relented.
took some time, because the young king actually had sil-
ver coin about him. The trader coveted it and started too high.
end, the sale included not only the jasper seal but a bronze simlah pin,
with a head in the shape of a
serpent. It was not rich, but well made and prettily detailed.
When the trade was done,
Josiyah took the pin and held it out to me
with a friendly nod. Slaves might be of no account in his actions, but he
was always quick to sense a hurt. The Babylonian sun, even at its worst,
cannot penetrate my cold bones any longer,
and that pin holds the wool
to my throat at this very moment.
Hanamel traded his
knife for some purple linen, woven in Thebes and
dyed in Sidon, which had been carried up and down the route for two
trips at least, from the look of it. He was never allowed to wear it—even
Shallum would not let a boy dress
in purple—but I know well that he kept it for years under his bed until the rot destroyed it.
As for Jeremiyah, he never seemed to have either silver or valuables
to trade, nor to care. He spent the time
chatting with the drovers of the
sights they had seen and of their families and homes.
last we left them and made our way back to the gateway, all of
us on foot now, leading Shallum’s mare. The afternoon
was so low that
the caravan camped where it was, and cook-fires were kindling before we were out of smoke-range.
Once again the leader showed his shrewdness in this, no doubt guess-
ing that the boys
were truants from the great house of the village and
that he would get better trade there after the sun had set and
risen again on what had lured them.
Surely the sun set on many sore backs that night. The
gatekeeper and I all felt Ahibaal’s knotted rope out behind the vineyard
gate, but the three
young gentlemen were beaten in the courtyard before the gaping household. Shallum wielded the rods on his son and nephew.
The royal chamberlain, Nathanmelech, undertook the punishment of the king.
Before he began,
he lined the three of them up and upbraided them
for their lack of respect to the head of the house and of regard for
responsibilities to the people.
“If the king takes a demon from that
homeless rabble, may Yahweh
avert it,” he said, “then the three of you have cut off the line of David for
a prank, and bereft the House of Judah.”
Josiyah took his beating in sober silence. Hanamel choked back his
sobs as best he could. But Jeremiyah’s tears started down his face when
Nathanmelech spoke of the king’s
death, and the blows neither increased
nor diminished his weeping.
28 years later
They say that the battle at the end of days will be
Megiddo, and I believe it. The city mound looms above the fertile
Valley and commands all that Northern country. Time out of mind men
have held Megiddo against invaders both from the east and from the
coast. Its streets murmured like the sea, filled with Josiyah’s troops quartered in the ruins of Solomon’s stone stables.
The King sent a courier through the pass in the
Carmel with a chal-
lenge to Pharaoh Necho and we waited, I among the camp-followers
Jeremiyah with the Benjaminite slingers. It was the month of Tammuz.
Women wreathed in vine leaves mourned the god, strewing red anemones at the city gates and keening. I clenched my teeth and kept my mind on Yahweh.
Egyptian messengers came with Necho’s answer. General Gemariyah
Prince Eliakim went out to the walls to receive them, but we could all
what their spokesman cried; he made sure we would. In the harsh,
old-fashioned Aramaic Egyptians use he gave us Pharaoh’s message: “What quarrel is there between me and you, king of Judah? I have not come today to attack you; my quarrel is with another dynasty, and God has told me to hurry. Do not oppose the God who is with me any more, or else he may destroy you.”
The wind on the walls tore away the answer, but the movement of
Gemariyah’s hand told its burden. Josiyah was determined to fight. The
Egyptians left and we waited, in the city Assyria had used as a base to
rule Israel, the city Josiyah took as a youth though it had stood firm
against Joshua himself.
We did not wait long. Pharaoh himself was in the force that gathered
on the great plain, though the larger part of his army was left beyond the pass while he should swat this Judean fly. They began arriving in late
afternoon. We watched from the walls until it was too dark to see.
They built no fires, but bivouacked in the open
at their ease. All night
our men slipped out of the city on the other side
from the Egyptians and
mustered to the south. I could not sleep, and lingered
on the wall.
An old man serving sentry guard near where I stood grumbled to one
who relieved him, “The King must be mad. He’s going down to face that
Egyptian horde on the open plain. Why doesn’t he make a sortie from the walls,
now when they’re not expecting him, with just some fast picked horsemen, and
then back to safety before they know what hit them? He shouldn’t have come
to the city at all, he should have hidden in the hills and struck here and there,
all over them. I’ve seen gnats drive a cow half mad that way. That’s
the only way we can win.”
“The King doesn’t want to win,” said the other. “He knows
“‘Doesn’t want ...’! He is mad, then?”
“Yes, mad on prophets’ visions and tales of his ancestors. He wants to
delay Necho, hold him up here long enough to make him late in helping
against Babylon, some big battle they say is brewing up there.”
“And how do you know all this?”
“The whole city knows it. The city of Jerusalem, I mean. I came with
him from there.”
The old man peered at him in the rising dawn light and saw, as I had,
the bandage on his arm.
The Jerusalemite laughed coarsely. “Hurt
my throwing arm, I did,” he
said. “Accident in the stables. Don’t
know how I managed to stab myself
with my own javelin, but there it is. Hard
The old man spat and left the wall without answering. The other
laughed again, but less certainly.
I went away telling myself to think of some young family in Jerusalem
who would be glad to have back a husband and father with a wound on
his arm that would soon heal and a scar on his honor that they would
I thought of myself. I thought of Jeremiyah. I thought of Josiyah,
the prime of his life. To quiet the voices within I joined a small knot
natives who were going to watch the battle from outside the walls.
They stopped and crouched on a spit of the mound but I went farther
down the slope, closer to the plain. One or two shouted in warning, then
forgot me as the sun flung its arm into the sky, beyond Mt. Tabor, beyond the Lake Kinneret glinting on the edge of sight.
Before us spread the army of Egypt, only a tithe
of the great host
marching north. As it was, it looked like more men than I
Behind its mass on a foothill of the Carmel range was a smaller
their armor glittering across the distance as though some strange new
thicket of iron grew there: Pharaoh and his escort.
Then with a blare
of horns the army of Judah swept around Megiddo’s
shoulder and flew to
the onset like a flung spear. They were massed in
the shape of a spearhead,
too, with mounted swordsmen forming a point in the van, short javelins poised for
the fling of the first clash.
Behind them swelled the ranks of slingers—I searched in vain for
Jeremiyah—running with their arms swinging in an easy rhythm, like
harvesters with scythes, except that the arc of their arms swung over
Then came a wall of chariots, spearmen and archers balanced next to
their drivers, armor bearers beside them holding the long body shields, all expertly
swaying as the wooden wheels bounced over the rough ground.
And up and down the sloping ranks coursed Josiyah,
with a burnished
buckler and a horned helmet, riding like a Scythian on a great
taller than a man. “Yahweh!” he cried. “Yahweh!”
Still in trim order, they struck the broad Egyptian mass as it swayed
meet them, and pierced it like a dagger through a pillow. In moments
swallowed up as though they had never been, except that the
Egyptian host had
turned in upon itself, plucking and scratching like a
man who finds fleas in
Above me on the hill the palm trees blew in a roaring moan broken
here by a death-cry or there by a battle song. Only when the wind dropped for
a moment could I hear the noise from below, a giant rumbling with a shrieking shrill
over all like the sound of a gale through a stone embrasure.
But whenever the breeze
and the rustling masked the battle sound
again, there came the smell: dust,
and sweat, and hot metal, and ordure of men and beasts, and blood. The air bore up
the stench, and on its currents swept the circling vultures.
I crouched on all
fours, trembling, staring, tearing the grass with my
from the back of the Egyptian throng a single rider burst out, a
from his helmet, his great horse limping, but his short-sword
his head. It seemed to me I could hear his cry. It is
certain that soon after,
others followed, Judah pulling free of the moiling
mass of Egypt, rallying
to Josiyah, re-forming—only a slim javelin head
and at his gesture flinging itself once more into the
giant body that had as
yet only half turned to face it.
times they breasted the Egyptian waves, each time drawing the
south and each time emerging dwindled from the flood. Then they retreated behind
the eastern spurs out of my sight. The Egyptians lapped and frothed about the foothills.
I stood to move closer, then heard a cry far to my left and behind me. Wheeling I
stared, then began to whimper and to chew my knuckles till they bled.
Pharaoh and his escort had moved out from the Carmel into the plain,
the course of the battle. Now racing toward his flank was a
complement of chariots,
our chariots, the one in front blazoning the royal insignia.
Josiyah must have
left his lame mount, circled Megiddo, and rallied
this sortie in a desperate
cast to cut off the head of the Egyptian giant—
Necho himself. As they
cleared the mound I saw a footsoldier leap for the last chariot, cling dragging behind,
then crowd into it. Behind him in the dust lay flung the broad curve of a leathern
sling. I left off whimpering and began to run, just as Necho’s guard turned
to meet Josiyah’s charge.
Somehow I stumbled off the slope and onto the floor of the valley. I ran
across the place where the battle had begun, my feet slipping in nameless slime. Away from the trees, the noises of battle were clearer, both before and behind me. I could not look to see; I needed to watch the ground.
The dead were spotted across the fields like sleeping
sheep, only the
grazing was trampled and bloody and the bodies sprawled and
I saw some Egyptian corpses, most hewn about the head, for they wear
only stiff headcloths, not helmets, in battle. And there were the bodies
of their mercenaries: Cypriots with pointed helmets and Rhodians with
feathered crests like Philistines.
But there were many more bodies, and pieces of
bodies, in Judean
gear. I saw a javelin thong still tied to the wrist of one
with his beard
pointing to the sky and his open eyes glazed. There was a bandage
about his right arm; he’d been throwing with his left. A chariot had run him
down. As I ran on, I vowed to find that family in Jerusalem.
I was half-blinded
and choking from the stench and the dust, having
to pick my way about ghastly
obstacles. When at last my feet were on
clean grass again I looked up.
Pharaoh and his escort were making back for the hills, leaving ruin
them. Our chariots were smashed and overturned; some halt-
ingly dragged by
crippled, crazed horses; others splintered and still, like
The remnant were hobbling for the city.
They passed within a hundred cubits of me. In the royal chariot only
the driver stood upright. Gasping, I ran my eye along the others, search-
ing ... then again....
“Jeremiyah!” I screamed. At the head
of the rout I glimpsed a move-
ment. His head, Jeremiyah’s—stained
and staring as it was I knew him—
peered out over the edge of the royal
chariot. He saw me and called to the driver behind him. The second chariot swung
The armor bearer dragged
me roughly in, pulling my wrists till my
shoulders wrenched, and scraping my
shins against the wooden tail. He
was sobbing and cursing. There was no warrior
in the chariot. As for the
driver, he had no more thought of me, for good or
ill, than of a piece of
baggage. And so I felt.
For now, in line with
the others, I could see into the royal chariot.
Between its driver’s
feet, laid across Jeremiyah’s huddled lap, stretched
the body of our
King. Arrows jutted from his corselet like thorns in a
The chariots reached the base of the mound and began to mount to-
Megiddo. Beyond reason, the King moved. His eyes opened, and his lips. Jeremiyah,
bent close, looked up and spoke to the driver. The man shook his head and answered.
Josiyah stirred again, this time as though he meant to sit up. Blood spilled from
his mouth and he fell back, but he fixed his eyes on Jeremiyah’s face and Jeremiyah
spoke again to the driver.
The royal chariot stopped.
We others pulled near,
and the soldiers cried out for an explanation.
“Let’s get him to the city, where we can care for him,”
called my driver.
“He won’t go,” answered the King’s driver. “He says—”
controlled his voice, and went on, “My Lord the King commands
rejoin General Gemariyah’s force on the south and make for Jerusalem.”
“They’ll pursue us, they’ll kill
“The King will die!”
The protests rose all around, from men panting,
Josiyah’s eyes never left Jeremiyah’s. And it
was Jeremiyah who silenced
“The King will
die,” he said steadily. “Even now Yahweh holds him
in His hand.
Our task is to draw the Egyptians after us, to make them
think we plan to re-muster,
perhaps to find reinforcements to attack their rear. Every hour we keep them from
their northward journey is an hour of greater weakness for Assyria. And it was to
bring down Assyria that our Lord the King has offered his life. The sacrifice has
been accepted. It is Yahweh’s will.”
closed. He had lost his broken-horned helmet.
Jeremiyah fell to stroking his hair, gazing dry-eyed, almost dreamily,
across the valley at Mount Tabor, where once Deborah and Barak en-
camped and the very stars in their courses fought the enemies of Israel.
Behind us, on snow-capped Carmel, the women were mourning the
god of Carmel, called Hadad, or Rimmon, or Tammuz; the god who dies.
They moved the King from his war chariot to his
more roomy second
chariot. Jeremiyah kept his place with him. Prince Eliakim
household made for the Jordan Valley road to Jerusalem by the fastest
route. General Gemariyah coursed northward
toward Hazor, drawing an
Egyptian force after him. I followed the King’s
party southward on the
easy Beth-Haggan Road, on foot behind the limping chariot
At nearly nightfall we stopped to breathe the horses, by a curve in
the River Kishon. They were all soldiers there, no servants; the grooms
gone ahead with the prince. They stood uneasily about the King,
went to water the beasts.
I filled my waist flask and brought it to where the royal chariot stood
in the shade of a tamarisk. Jeremiyah took it from me with a word of
thanks. He moistened the King’s lips. I clung to the chariot tail and
They had drawn out what arrows they could and stanched those
wounds: one in his arm, one just above his collarbone, one in the side
of his stomach. But the one in his chest they had left in place, and when-
ever he drew breath one knew why—the air whistled through the hole in
his leather corselet.
The touch of cool water seemed to revive him. He looked up at
where Jeremiyah’s face still bent over him. I thought all at once that
Jeremiyah’s legs must be screaming with cramp and bruises after all this
time in one position, with Josiyah’s weight upon them in the bouncing
chariot, but the thought flew away again.
Josiyah spoke. He had to husband the breath for
each slow word, and
the sound came from his throat not his chest, so that he
creaked like an
unoiled wheel, but he spoke. “Forbidden,” he said.
Jeremiyah leaned closer. “Forbidden, my Lord?”
“Forbidden ... you,” he labored. “To
As Yahweh is my witness, he smiled. And Jeremiyah smiled also, and
answered, “True, my Lord, I must not mourn you,” and though he smiled his face put me in mind of the face of the man who stabbed himself with his
own javelin, whom I’d seen dead on the field of honor.
Gathering his last strength, the King spoke again,
more strongly. “You
were right,” he said to Jeremiyah. “Both
prophet and prophetess, right.... Tell Huldah....”
“... My grave ... in peace.” He ceased. Jeremiyah bent and kissed
his brow and his bloody mouth. Their eyes met again. Then Jeremiyah
moved back, lifting Josiyah so that he could see out of the chariot.
The King looked at the people gathered there and
... O Israel ... Yahweh our God ... is one.” The
sound whooped in his
throat, he jerked once, then lay still with fixed eyes
staring at the red sky between the evergreen leaves of the tamarisk where the white
manna wells up.
Jeremiyah closed the eyes, composed the hands,
and gently laid the
body flat as the keening rose all around—men’s
keening, dark and mournful. I alone sent up the women’s descant as Jeremiyah
got stiffly to his feet, lowered himself
from the chariot, and with quiet eyes and mouth pressed closed walked silently out
from among us.
That night he composed the Lament, which the singers sing to this