Three days later, I screamed a scream of anguish and outrage. So loud and so long that the neighbors began banging on my door.
My son, my little man, the last gift from my husband was dead at my side. Blue and cold… The world stood still and everything in it. No breath, no heart beat, no city sounds… everything was draped in a death pall. Anguish like no other washed through me, leaving a blackness akin to that of the Dragon’s Dungeons. The Angel of Death had visited my house and left my first born dead. What had I done? People called me wanton for being fat, but that was as my husband wished, too. My eyes closed, I started a keening wail with my little son pressed to my breast. What was despair? It was joy and happiness beside what I was feeling. Darkness had the brightness of the noon day compared to where my heart plummeted. Oh, God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The prophet Job declared Let the day be darkness! Let not God look on it from above, nor let the light shine on it. Oh, God, let the day I was born perish and behold, let that night be barren and no joyful voice rise from it. Bile rose in my throat and I coughed it down.
I opened my eyes to gaze upon that little face that looked so much like my beloved husband and suddenly light returned to the sun. The world began again. My breath returned, my heart beat once again and the city was alive again for the babe in my arms was not my son.
“Agatha!” I screeched marching down the open hall to her room. I pushed on the door to storm into the room but something blocked the door. “Agatha! Give me back my son. You may steal my money while my back is turned but you will not steal my son.” She shrieked an ugly word but would have none with opening the door.
The next few hours I pounded and screamed. I thought I would faint from the anxiety and my throat ached with the force of my screams. Until the guards from across the street forced their way into the fracas. I was so thankful to hear a familiar voice, I called for them to sprout wings and fly up the stairs to knock down the door and rescue my son.
The door splintered and Agatha began a tirade of such utter nonsense that I would have laughed in her face if it concerned anyone else but my son. The wanton would not shut up. Her fat chins, all five of them, kept bobbing with her words and I was bereft of speech. She kept insisting that my child was hers and painted such a black tale of my murdering my own dear son that the guards could not make sense of any of it. One guard hefted my son to his shoulder and went down the stairs.
“Come back here with my son,” I screamed. “Where are you going?”
“Outside where your screeches do not bounce from the walls and ring my ears,” the guard shouted over his shoulder as he pushed through the outside door.
I scrambled after him, nimble even in my girth. Sincerely I pled my case and insanely she pled hers. I did not know this soldier so I could not rely upon his knowledge of my character. Since there was no one in the house to support the truth of my claim, I tried with all my persuasion to urge him to give me my son.
My child was whimpering and I knew that cry. I had heard it every three hours for the past four days. It was his, “I am wet and I am almost hungry,” cry. I tried to take him from the guard to make him more comfortable and to feed him, but the guard pushed my hands away saying, “It won’t hurt him to cry a bit. He may not live the week out anyway.”
Those words constricted my heart. How could I listen to those whimpers and stand it? I breathed a prayer for my son and for me, for I knew not how this tangle would unweave.
Today was the King’s Court day. On this day, any who had a case to be heard could bring it to the King and be heard. Since I had no witnesses in the house to help prove my case, I instantly decided to throw the case before our new king, Solomon. God willing, he would rule justly and fairly and I would get my treasure back. I looked up at the guard.
“Let us to the King’s Court. Today he hears cases and we shall let him discover the truth of the true and rightful mother of this babe.” I tugged at his arm and he fell into step beside me.
“Dinah, this won’t do. I refuse to let you bother the king with this trifling. It is my child not yours.” She waddled behind us, huffing her indignation at each step.
The court was bright and airy; the walls hung with silk from the East in purple hues. It looked like a dazzling cloud. I had time to think about what I would say as we waited for an audience. I determined to be the accuser for the burden of proof lay with the defendant. Agatha was deceitful and quick witted so the best tactic was to take the offensive. I was not a soldier’s wife for nothing. I could see God’s hand in this already. Elohim give me strength of wit and of tongue and guide your son, the king’s judgment. The prayer was all I had time for because the herald called my name.
I rushed to the throne and knelt at Solomon’s feet. They were clean feet. Strange, that I should notice that detail in my distress. His feet were shod in sandals of thick leather and his toes were relaxed. That was a good sign, for it meant that he was ready to listen and was not unsettled about something else. I had learned much about feet when I was a washing girl before I washed my husband’s feet and he lifted my chin to gaze at my face. His was a sweet expression and I will never forget his smile. My son would have that smile and he would bestow it upon some young virgin who would give me grandchildren. My resolve was strengthened in the space of those few seconds. I rose and stood before King Solomon. His face was impassive, but his eyes were alight with anticipation and some other light that seemed more like kindness.
I took a deep breath and rushed into my speech before the King could say a word, nor even Agatha either. “Oh, my lord, I and this woman dwell in the same house. I was delivered of a child with her in the house. On the third day after I was delivered, she, too delivered a son. We were together and there was no one else in the house; it was only we two in the house. During the night as she slept, she rolled over onto her babe and it died. In the middle of the night, she got up and took my son from my side whilst I slept and laid my son onto her bosom and laid her dead son in my arms. When I awakened in the wee hours to give my son suck, I discovered the child was dead. When I considered it, I realized that was not my son that I did bear, but her child that was dead.”
“Nay!” Agatha screeched although the King was but a few feet away, “The living is my son and the dead is your son.” She would have continued except the King spoke.
“The one says, ‘This is my son that lives and your son that is dead.’ The other says: ‘Nay, but your son is dead and my son the living.’” Solomon took only a second’s pause, then said, “Bring me a sword.” The guard stepped forward with his sword drawn.
“Divide the child in two and give half to the one and half to the other.”
Darkness pierced my heart that moment. Nay, it could not be that the King would so divide my son. I would not let that happen. I dropped to my knees placing myself between the sword and my son. “Nay, my lord, in no wise slay the child! Give her the living child.”
Agatha snarled, “Divide it! Let it be neither yours nor mine.”
I pleaded with my eyes for Solomon’s pity. I did not care for the woman raising my son, but where there is breath there is hope. I would that I could gaze upon the face of my son for many years rather than burying him as my husband had been buried. I love my son with every breath of my soul and I would die rather than that sharp blade should hack him in two. I was willing to barter my life for his which was better than my life without him.
Solomon’s lips curled in a half smile and his eyes filled with satisfaction. He leaned back and said, “Give this one the living child, for she is the true mother.”
The very brightness of the sun shone in my face as I picked up my son and gazed upon the exactness of my husband’s countenance. Thank you, Adonai, thank you!