The three-part Eric Shaw Quinn series, as part of The Prince’s Psalm Blog Tour, concludes with Part 3 of 3: An Exclusive Excerpt on … And Then There was Sarah.
This is the post you’ve been waiting for. Eric Shaw Quinn, New York Times bestselling author and co-host of The Dinner Party Show, released on June 7th his most exciting and ambitious work yet: a biographical narrative of the powerful love between biblical heroes David and Jonathan. Now, you can read an EXCLUSIVE excerpt from the novel, right here.
The series began with an “in his own words” guest post from Eric, continued with an interview, and, finally, the best for last: an exclusive excerpt from The Prince’s Psalm!
Note: The below excerpt is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.
An Exclusive Excerpt from The Prince’s Psalm by Eric Shaw Quinn
Their small party sat on cushions on the cool tiles of the floor in Nitzevet’s sewing room. David played as the women spun wool and flax into thread for the winter weaving. The sun drooped lazily under the eyebrow of the thickly overgrown arbors that shielded the rooms of the large house. A breeze blew in from the central courtyard.
David’s voice and music were like pale wine. Sharp at first and then soothing. The pure sweet notes took away the late summer heat of the month of Elul and eased the drudgery of the mundane tasks the karmel demanded.
“Oh God, do you believe in me?” David sighed as he plucked absently at the strings of his lyre.
His mother looked up at him from under a disapprovingly arched eyebrow and then back down at her work.
“I know I believe in you, Lord,” he went on. “One has only to behold the night sky or feel the heat of the Hamsin winds or witness a streak of light fall from heaven and split an oak to feel your presence. But what would you have of me?”
“David,” his mother scolded gently without looking up. She sighed wistfully but remained intent on her task, twisting wool onto her distaff. “You mustn’t say such things.”
“Does the Lord know of me or care about me?” David continued as though his mother hadn’t spoken, making a song of it as he accompanied himself on his lyre. “Though I have many blessings from him, he’s never answered a single one of my prayers. Can he not hear me? Or does he just not care? How do I find comfort in either answer?”
“David, you are such a terrible boy,” his sister Abigail giggled, more amused than disturbed by her younger brother’s regular proclamations on such grand topics.
“Yes, it is most fortunate that he can play the harp and sing so well. God would surely frown on such presumption otherwise if he didn’t make it sound so pretty,” his eldest sister, Zeruiah, confided loudly to Abigail.
“The Lord could not frown on such a gamila,” cackled Maha, the serving woman attending the three ladies.
“Little girl?” David translated Maha’s Arabic slang indignantly.
“Pretty little girl,” Abigail corrected with a prim smirk.
“I may be the eighth of eight brothers,” David threatened, striking an ominous cord on the lyre strings. “But I am still a man in this house.”
“And you look better in a silk tunic than any of the women who live on your father’s karmel,” Maha sniffed as she refilled the water cups.
“Maha,” David said sternly, plucking two dissonant notes to echo his tone. “You forget yourself.”
“Indeed,” Nitzevet said sternly, still not looking up. “My son has the best legs in all of Bethlehem, not just the karmel.”
Even David had to smile as the roomful of women dissolved into a musical chorus of chirping laughter.
“Is it not bad enough that I must be treated this way by my father and all my brothers?” David moaned, resuming his playing with a doleful tune. “Sisters, even your sons regard me more as their aunt than their uncle. I was doomed by the Lord’s malice to be a servant of my brothers before I even learned my prayers.”
“David, practice your music,” Nitzevet said sharply, looking up. She tired of her son’s all-too-familiar verses. “It’s too hot for all this again just now. Play something soothing if you’re going to stay in here.”
With a respectful nod to his mother, the only person from Dan to Beersheba and all of Israel in between who could command from him more than a haughty head toss, David resumed his playing. He began an amusing song of a shy young shepherd extolling the virtues of his great love, who turned out in the final verse to be his finest sheep. Nitzevet only rolled her eyes at the clever lyrics and their implications. It was a little coarse for the company but easier to hear than David’s endless poetic writhing against his fate.
Though she knew there would be little for David at the time of inheritance, she took some measure of comfort in the certain knowledge that there would always be a place for David at Eliab’s table. Nitzevet gave thanks that her most precious one would always have a fine home and a comfortable future in his brother’s house. If only David could be more at ease with his place in the world, she thought in her own silent psalm.
As if in answer, David took up a bittersweet love song. His voice drifted out with the light breeze that cooled the fine limestone house. Set high in the hills above the city, Jesse’s imposing home commanded a fine view of the sprawling farm. The large open rooms inhaled the steady sea breezes that coursed in a heartbeat the three-day journey across the plains of Philistia. Ruffling the sycamores and scrub in the rugged shephelah and climbing into the hills of Judah, they arrived cool and calm in Nitzevet’s sewing room.
The music, the summer day, and the hard work lulled everyone into a drowsy repose. Nitzevet alone saw Eliab. She smiled in response to Eliab’s pleading sign behind David’s back. He stole in through the courtyard garden.
The house was at peace and in order. Then, David’s legs were flying through the air as his benevolent but unseen assailant tossed him over his shoulder kicking and screaming. The disturbance spread as Eliab ran away with his little brother.
David wasn’t startled for long. He knew his brother’s playful grasp all too well.
David had passed the days of his youth stuffed into oil jars, stranded on tree limbs, and tossed into every body of water large enough to get him wet and muddy. He had also had the best seat at every festival, sacrifice, and trip into town: his brother’s broad and sturdy shoulders.
Though three summers had passed since David had stood up as a man to read from the scroll, they had neither of them outgrown this, their traditional greeting. Eliab was of age to marry. Only his desire to go adventuring in the king’s army kept him single. His stay in town was filled with as many women as there were nights in his visit.
Still each year it was the same. Eliab abducted David; David screamed and struggled like a virgin being captured by Amalekites to be sold into slavery.
The custom was well kept that evening. David shouted the house down as Eliab bore him on a wild and circuitous ride to the mule trough. There, as always, he dangled David above the murky water until the pleading and threatening brought the intervention of ultimate authority—Nitzevet.
“Eliab, you put me down this instant or I will poison your wine at table,” David howled, swinging wildly and without much malice toward his brother, his arms too short to afford his fists any serious purchase.
“Ah, little brother,” Eliab teased, splashing water onto David with one hand and dipping him dangerously close to the water’s surface with the other. “Is that any way to welcome your loving older brother home? Besides, you look as though you could use a little mikveh, and the mule trough is so refreshing.”
“Eliab.” Nitzevet’s voice rumbled from the distance like thunder coming over the hills before a summer storm. Her determined stride drew her quickly nearer to play her part in the ceremony. She tried not to smile as she approached, happy and relieved at replaying the old fun and not the old fight.
“What about my welcome home?” David demanded. Still upside down, he folded his arms and looked up into his tormentor’s face. “Why not come home with a casket of jewels to show your affection for your favorite brother rather than this primitive rite to prove your manhood? I’m hardly challenge enough to be much of a trophy.”
“I think you’d make an admirable trophy,” Eliab said, holding his brother up for inspection. “In fact, I think I’ll have you dipped in bronze and mounted on marble like a little Canaanite god. We could keep you in the kitchen to scare away evil spirits, or at least vermin.”
Eliab laughed loudly and alone at his own joke, though it was an effort for David not to join in.
“Put your brother down at once,” Nitzevet shouted as she arrived, breathless. The contest always and inevitably ended at the stables. There were only fields, orchards, and hills beyond.
“Now you’ve done it,” David said, checking his nails for dirt and evenness as casually as if he was standing upright.
“Where is your father?” Nitzevet demanded, smacking Eliab on the back of the head as she caught up to them. “You two will turn me into stone one of these days, carrying on like a Philistine invasion.”
“I rode ahead so I could surprise my brother,” Eliab said, upending David and crushing him to his chest like he was hugging a Canaan shepherd pup. “And why scold me? You might have warned him when you saw me coming, if you’re so concerned about the state of your delicate nature and our refined household.”
“Mother!” David accused, joining his brother in shifting the focus of torment to her. “How could you?”
“Oh, throw him in, then,” Nitzevet called over her shoulder. Turning her palms heavenward, she raised her hands above her head as she stalked back toward the house. “Your father will be home soon. I need to speak with him about disinheriting you both.”
“Well, there goes nothing for me, though a sad loss for you.” David sighed. Eliab stood him upright before again crushing him in an overzealous embrace. “Let go of me, you big oaf.”
“Oh, little brother,” Eliab said, putting an arm around David’s shoulder and dragging him back up the hill toward the house. “You’re too pretty to worry about such practical matters as inheritance.”
“That’s easy to say when you’re the eldest and the ugliest,” David groused as he feigned a struggle against his brother’s iron grip.
“Perhaps you’ll marry a rich husband?” Eliab said, pinching David’s cheek. “Your sisters haven’t done so badly.”
“Neither have their husbands,” David said, managing to tuck the back of his brother’s robe into his sash unnoticed.
“Speaking of which,” Eliab said, freeing David enough to allow him to walk alongside. “I ran into your betrothed, Micah, after Rosh Chodesh at temple last new moon.” They paused as they came into the small, fragrant kitchen garden fringing the side of the house.
“You are such a simple beast.” David groaned, trying to hide his excitement about news of Micah. “Just because you were born in the country is no reason to act quite such the son of Belail.”
“Oh, so sorry to waste your time with my like,” Eliab said with a humble bow. Picking up his stride, he easily left David behind. “I guess you don’t care to hear any message Micah sent for you by such as me,” he called back over his shoulder.
“No, Eliab,” David said, doubling his shorter stride to catch up and trying not to plead. He pursued Eliab into the thicket of fig trees that sheltered Nitzevet’s kitchen garden from the wind. “Micah’s a good friend, and I have hardly seen him since we were in town for Passover worship.”
“Well, which is it, little brother?” Eliab demanded with a devilish gleam in his mahogany eyes. He wheeled so suddenly that David collided with him and was once again in the vise grip of his brother’s arms. “Do you want to hear the message from your sweetheart or don’t you?”
“Eliab,” David wailed.
“Which is it?”
“Micah’s off to join King Saul’s army for the spring campaign,” Abinadab said, emerging suddenly from behind the fig trees and smacking Eliab’s bare backside. His delight in spoiling Eliab’s torment of their younger brother was unconcealed.
“You jackal,” Eliab said, dropping David into a bed of coriander in the confusion. He struggled to untangle his robe from his sash and cover his naked ass as he attempted to capture Abinadab.
Eliab found this brother’s capture and punishment a more formidable task than the previous round. Abinadab, only a year Eliab’s junior, was almost as tall and more stalwart. They were as much in league as men as they had been as children. Nitzevet called them the twins, as one was always to be found about the same designs and mischief as the other. They were as evenly matched. Their battles grew titanic as they grew into men, splintering furniture and shattering crockery with their struggles to resolve whatever argument brought them to blows. The best anyone could do or hope for was to stay out of their way until they’d reached some truce or agreement or were just too tired to battle on. Most simply fled their clashes. Their father Jesse laughed helplessly. Only one possessed the bronze to still their storms like rain on a brush fire.
“Abinadab, David, Eliab bin Jesse,” Nitzevet bellowed, emerging from her kitchen like a she-bear from her lair. “Get out of my garden and stop that at once.”
The men scrambled like boys as they scattered and made to deflect the wrath of their beloved mother.
“Go and get yourselves cleaned up for supper, and don’t let me hear any more of this nonsense until after the harvest is in,” she said, striking Abinadab with the wooden spoon in her hand, simply because he was the nearest.
Eliab snatched David out of the coriander before his mother could see the damage. They all filed past under her withering glare. Each son kissed her check as they went inside. They left her to find water, oil, and linens and make ready for the homecoming feast they’d smelled all the way up the hill from Bethlehem.