Here's the link for tomorrow's release. You can also pre-order today, if you wish. I'll be featuring some excerpts for these amazing books here and on my personal blog, www.aaronlazar.blogspot.com in the next few weeks. So stay tuned!
This book excerpt is from Uvi Poznanski's RISE TO POWER. I believe her writing is quite lyrical and poetic, and it really inspires me. See what you think, and if you want to read more, here's the link to the new book set:
Rise to Power
I hear the jingle of keys. To my ears, it is such a lovely sound...
“Come,” I cry out, “crack it, crack open the door! Step into my chamber... If my memory isn’t playing its tricks on me, you must be the first to visit me here for quite a long while…”
No one answers.
“Come in,” I plead, hoping that no one could catch the shaky tone of my voice.
My fever is gone. In its place, now come severe bouts of shivering. I try, as best I can, to control myself. I slow down the chattering of my teeth as I call out, “Of one thing I’m sure: Reading what I’ve been working on—which, for lack of a better term I would call a memoir—you would think me a madman.”
Suddenly I suspect there is more than one of them out there. Putting my ear to the iron door I hear them shuffling their feet on the other side, without uttering a single word. To make them speak to me I let myself admit, out loud, “You’re right. Perhaps I am.”
There, through the keyhole—I can somehow sense it—an eye is observing me.
There are limits to power. When afflicted by an unexplained illness, even a king can be placed in quarantine. The words freeze on my lips, Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony… My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
I am tempted to kick the door, to startle them—but the isolation in this place is such that it forces me to talk, because I need to hear a human voice, and I need someone to listen.
So I call out, “Perhaps it’s me who’s confused,” but I refuse to believe it.
The door creeks on its hinges, only to reveal two shadows stirring out there, one blurring the other. They let silence reign over me, so in spite of myself I start wringing one hand with the other.
I hang my head over these knuckles, over these pale, veined wrists which I hardly recognize as mine, finding myself overcome by a new enemy, one I never expected: the chill of old age.
In my youth I became famous for being a fine, eloquent speaker, with a particular talent for eulogies—but now it seems that my listeners have left me. Why write another psalm? Who would read it? Who would take it to heart?
Being abandoned is not something I take lightly. I want to tell the crowds to come back to me, and not only to take a listen—but to adore me, too!
Glancing at the shadows, “Come in,” I beseech. “Let me see, let me touch you. Talk to me… And let me tell you my story.”
Where will I start it? From my childhood, from the first time I came to the court. The moments of my life are vivid in my mind, too vivid to be dismissed as merely the wishful thinking of a locked up old man. My fingers still carry the sense, the cold touch of Saul’s crown, when at last I laid my hands on it. And I know, in a way that no one else can begin to imagine, how heavy it is.
This was the thing—or so I thought, back then—the very thing that would make me what I wanted: larger than life.
Larger than life? I start laughing, at myself most of all, only to be startled by echoes. I listen in alarm to the way they peel, pealing away from the walls.
“Listen,” I say, “whoever you are: I am a poet, a bard. For me, reality is a hard thing to grasp, at least your kind of reality: one that’s confined, as if by a straightjacket, to the task at hand. Trapped in such a life I would feel... Oh, what’s the right word? Condemned.”
Somehow I catch them, out there, holding their breath. They must be astonished by my unstoppable chatter, and by the unstoppable echoes of my chatter.
“Yes,” I stress. “Being a Philistine, you may think that such a reality sets you at ease, that it removes any doubt in your head as to your purpose here.”
One shadow separates from the blackness behind it, and all of a sudden he cannot help himself, and his voice bursts out, “Don’t call me a Philistine!”
I say, “A bit touchy, aren’t you!”
And he says, “I’ve killed my share of those bastards, out on the battlefield. Everyone knows I’ve earned my medals, being in your service for so many years. I’ve bloodied my hands for you! So now, listen to me: you owe me.”
I am in no mood to offer an apology. Instead I tell him, “You bloodied your hands for your own sake, for the thrill of the kill.”
He says nothing. Over his silence I say, “Now then, consider this: even as you’re trapped here, in this reality, your mind—just like mine—would misbehave. It would fly, swinging wildly to and fro, far away from this place. But enough about you. It’s me we are talking about.”
I can hear him taking a step back. In a minute he will slam the door shut.
To hold his attention, “True,” I grant him. “My grasp on life is somewhat looser than yours. For an isolated man it may be a strange thing to say—but trust me: it sets me free.”
“Ha!” he sniggers.
“Oh, stop it!” I wail. “What, you think I’m deaf? Don’t you laugh at me. It makes me doubt myself, question my own sanity.”
Then I bang, bang, bang the wall. I close my eyes. Here I am, a child again... And at once my ear catches a thud. Then come the echoes, shrill echoes singing all around the royal court, as the spear has hit the wall, missing me by a hair.
“Wake up,” says his voice, a bit softer now.
In a flash the wick of a candle is lit. It flares up and then, in an instant, darkness curls away into the far recesses of this space. The flame seems to lick the gilded decorations of the door as it swings open. Having stepped in, a man leads a figure clad in a dark coat into my presence.
He lays a hand on my shoulder, trying to steady me. Then he whispers, “You must be dreaming again.”
“No!” I shake my head. “No, no, no! If this were a dream, I would have forgotten it, the way most of us do come morning, which lets us focus on the task at hand. But what if your task—now that all is lost—is to remember? Reflect on it. Think of the ways the mind works, yours and mine. Perhaps we’re more alike than you wish to admit.”
“I’m nothing like you,” he insists.
It is then that I come to my senses, and by the scars on his hand I know who he is. Joav is my blood, my family, one of the three sons of my older sister, Zeruriah. He is the man I have trusted to become my first in command. But these days, he is a stranger to me. Everyone is.
“I thought you admired me,” I say.
“I did,” says he. “But this I know: it’s a risky place to be, stuck in your shoes.”
“And I thought that risk excites you.”
“No, not anymore. Risk is for the young.”
Thrashing around, I start kicking at this thing and the other. “I’m far from being stuck,” I shout at him over the metallic din. “And there go my shoes! Here, see? I’m barefoot!”
Over my words, Joav raises his voice. “Stop that,” he cries, which in any other royal household would be an unheard of thing to do in the presence of a monarch. He points the candle at the thing I have made fly, with such clink and clank, across the chamber.
Now I catch its glitter, flashing out from the shadow down there, in the corner, reflecting the dance of the flame.
“Why d’you kick the crown?” he grumbles. “D’you even know who you are? Do you? Then, tell me: what’s your name?”
“Guess it, will you?” I narrow my eyes with suspicion, refusing to confide even in him. “Can’t you see? I’m a boy, reaching for the crown.”
Joav bites his lips. Perhaps, like me, he is tired of this game. I know what he wants: recognition, which I am too stubborn to give. “No, David. You’re not a boy anymore.” He dares to contradict me. “And the crown is yours. I mean, it’s yours to lose.”
“Don’t I know it,” I sigh, gathering the thing to my chest.
Joav smiles at how hard I clutch it.
“At this point,” he chuckles, “the only power you still have is the power to give it away.”
“What? Give it away? I’ll do no such thing.”
“You’re going to depend on your successor,” he says, and there is a tone of warning in his voice. “Choose well, your majesty. If you do, perhaps he’ll let your legacy live on.”
With that, Joav turns around to face the figure standing there, so quietly, behind him. She is holding a pile of silk sheets and wool blankets. With a firm hand he pushes her forward, in my direction.
“Don’t be angry with me,” he says, removing the dark coat from her shoulders and flinging it aside. “I’m just following orders, and so does this girl. She’s yours to keep.”
“I have no use for a girl. What I need is a woman.”
“Bathsheba is asleep.”
“Really, she is.”
“She is? Is she, really? I haven’t forgotten how hard you fought for me. What have you become, Joav? A has-been war hero?”
He peers into my eyes, surprised to realize that I recognize him.
“In my name,” I press on, “you used to lead our nation into great wars, and now, look! Look at you, doing the bidding of a woman! I suppose my dear wife told you what to tell me. And she instructed you to cover me with blankets, and most of all, to keep me still.”
He gives no answer, other than hanging his head in shame before me.
“The Queen knows me all too well,” I growl. “It’s her I need.”
He holds himself back from repeating, Bathsheba is asleep. And I go on to groan, “She knows she should be here.”
“In her place, here’s the girl. Your wife told me to bring her.”
“I’m too cold for that—”
“The girl knows it,” says he, “and she knows her duty. I made sure of it.”
“What’s her name?”
“Abishag. She’s sure to keep you warm.”
With that he sets the candle down on the bedside table, and gives me a sly look under those hairy eyebrows of his, which seem to have thickened even more with age. Then he leaves the chamber, not before breathing in my ear in his coarse, scratchy voice, “Listen, why are you being so difficult?”
“I went to plenty of trouble to find this one. Virgins aren’t easy to come by anymore.”
I am just about to say, They never were—but Joav has already disappeared. So there I am, left standing opposite the girl, and finding myself drawn towards her, perhaps because of the fresh fragrance of soil and fruit emanating from her skin. For the first time I take a close look at her.
This is awkward. I take a step towards her, and can almost guess her thoughts. These words may be on her mind, “Don’t stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun… My mother’s sons were angry with me, and made me take care of the vineyards… My own vineyard I had to neglect.”
She turns her head, and her long, dark lashes flutter nervously over the cheekbone. By the flicker of the flame I can tell that they are unpainted, and so are her lips. She must have been brought directly here, to my chamber, with no proper preparations at the women’s quarters, let alone a dab of perfume.
Thank God for that! I hate proper preparations, and I cannot stand that nauseating mixture of fixatives and solvents they call perfume.
Her face and bare, slender shoulders have been bronzed by the sun. I notice that her feet are large, just like mine, and her toes are still soiled from the long journey, like some farm girls I used to know.
The girl is a long way from home. I know it, because so am I.
Later that night, when the girl has fallen asleep, I slip out of bed. The blanket keeps her warm, which you can tell by her moist, rosy cheeks—but it is of no help to me. Her pupils move under the eyelids, as she dreams of being somewhere else. She utters a cry in her sleep, and turns away from me. I take a step back. Then I start pacing back and forth across the chamber.
This palace is richly decorated, because such was my ambition in recent years: to show the world the finest of marvels in a new city, which is mine: the city of David.
Here, I thought, is a new center of power, commanding a view of our twelve tribes, yet set upon newly conquered territory, one that does not belong to any of them. With the divisions that afflict us, Jerusalem is yet to become a symbol of our nation, our unity.
At this point, the city has no history yet. Erected log by log, with cedar trees imported from Lebanon, and slab by slab, cut out of the hardest rocks in the Judea mountain range, this city will become my mark, my political statement. It will stand for hope.
Alas, it is so far from where I grew up. Bethlehem seems like a place lost in fog. I have lived in Jerusalem for decades. Still, it does not feel like home.
Without even knowing it, the girl has reminded me how I ache to see the soaring mountains, the rolling fields around the place where I was born. Even the trees smell different, back there. I long to go back. One thing is clear to me: this is not the first time in my life to be locked up—but perhaps it is the last.
I unfurl a papyrus roll, and start scratching minute Aramaic letters in it. The flame has died out some time ago, and already the tip of the wick has lost its glow. I stand up, stare around me, and in my confusion I think, What is this? Where am I?
I am an old man, it is late at night, and I am gathering my thoughts, somehow...
In exhaustion I curl on the floor, and peer at the darkness, at the way it tumbles over the ceiling, over the stone walls, painting everything gray.
It is an uncertain color, which reminds me of certain places in the Paran wasteland, the caves in which I used to hide back then, when I was a fugitive.
I remember: I could spot the fingerprints of other fugitives before me, mark upon mark, one blood smear over another fading into the decayed matter, trying to record a forgotten history, the history of those who had been conquered. I used to wonder who they were, and asked myself if I, too, am destined for oblivion…
At other times, these walls remind me of the interiors of burial places in depths of the pyramids. Great artists were summoned there to paint invented scenes, scenes from the lives of entombed monarchs. I tell myself, such is the way to ensure your legacy!
What is at stake here is the virtue of the office, the sanctity of the crown, which I tried to preserve most of the time—but certainly not always… My appetite for sin would get out of control, and threaten to undermine my best efforts to establish myself, establish my glory for all to cherish. Even so, future generations must revere my name.
I made sure of that.
At the time I gave orders to imprison quite a few of my court historians, for no better reason than a misspelling, or a chance error in judgement, for which they tried to apologize profusely. Of course, to no avail. They never saw the light of day again. I knew I was right, because who are they to strive for something as misleading as reporting the bare facts?
Both Saul and I were anointed to rule the nation, which without fail caused a civil war. We fought over something larger than the crown. Ours was a battle between two contending versions of history. The outcome would decide who would be called a hero and who—a villain.
And having won that struggle, I was not about to allow the scribes in my court to report any faults in me, any wrongdoings. My record would be clean. There was, I decided, no truth other than mine.
But now, quite strangely, I find myself in need of telling my story, of reporting it just the way they tried to do, those damn fools: with no spins. Faithfully. Perhaps it serves me right for throwing them in jail.
The tip of my pen is dull, and the ink has dried—but that cannot stop me from writing. Nothing will. I am grasping for power once again, but in a different way than I did back then. This time I can see, with great clarity, that power does not come from the crown. At long last I have no urge anymore to keep my grasp on it.
Now I know, power comes from within, from something else entirely: my skill with words. I wish I would have recognized it a long time ago, on my first visit to the royal court. Perhaps then I would have become a poet. Not a king.
It is still a long time from daybreak, and the girl’s breast heaves as she mumbles something, some unclear word. She is so close at hand and yet, so far out of my reach.
When I was first crowned king over my own tribe, I was such a vigorous young man that no illness could keep me away from my dear wives and concubines. If I would catch a cold, all of them would be sneezing. Not so this girl. Unlike all the women I have had since then, she is immune to my weaknesses. She is the one I will never know.
I am here with her, yet this chill is meant for me alone.
I hold my breath until she lulls herself back to sleep. Faint shadows start dancing on the wall. I read the shapes, trying to invent someone, a listener.
I whisper, Come in... Call me insane, who cares? Who really cares if you refuse to trust me, if you insist on clinging to your kind of reality, which is as dull as it is solid... Mine, I insist, is not a dream.
But even if it is... Even so, it is true! How can you deny it? Here is my story. I am opening it up to you.
I can see why at first glance what you see here—these letters which I jotted here, on these papyrus rolls—may seem scattered, even scary. I understand why you step back from my door, why you look over your shoulder to find the guard...
Come in! Will you? Will you read these scribblings? Can you see my sword, which I have drawn here, look! Can you see it the way I do, lifting out of the ink and into the air, turning magically over, around and around, right here in the center of the space?
If you can, then—by the flash of it—I shall take you along, to leap with me into the surface of the steely thing. Down into its depths. Into my reflection.