Then the land had peace for forty years.
As if it were that simple. Drive a stake through a man's temple and there was peace.
Deborah wore the marks of that peace on her face, weathered from the sun like a man, but covered in the fine peach fuzz of a boy.
She was not a man. To have pretended would have shamed the rock, the God, who had begotten her, who had writhed in the birthing of her.
She wore the lines of that peace in her heart. The roaring wind of the roads abandoned. The empty spaces of travelers taking to winding paths. The thunder of village life ceasing until arose a mother in Israel.
Who had writhed in the birthing of her children. Been a wife of Lapidoth and sat under the sweet smelling palm of Deborah with its shade and many spines. She'd decided disputes while she suckled a child at her breast. Dandled her babe and changed his clothes, and kept the older ones from picking on the younger ones, and listened for the whisper of God's voice in her heart.
Because God was a mother too, and a father, but that was not the voice Deborah listened for. Because God was a mother, the sound of her children crying out under Sisera's chariot wheels was too much. So God whispered and Deborah listened. She sent for Barak while her own children were too young to fight and ended up going to war with them anyway.
Barack son of Abinoam from Kadesh in Naphtali wouldn't go to battle without her. Like a child who wouldn't go to bed without his mother checking for monsters in the dark. Who wouldn't so much as attack without Deborah saying, "God has given them to you, get out there already and fight."
And who in the end killed the great general?
Sisera, slain by Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, with a mighty blow from a hammer and tent stake. Best beloved of tent dwelling women, Jael killed mighty Sisera with the anchor of home.
Then Deborah anchored home.
Sisera's mother sat at her window and wondered where was her son. Where was her Sisera to bring her colorful robes? Dead in the dust.
There was peace on the land for forty years.
She wore the lines of that peace in her heart. The wear of rebuilding the roads. The scabs of ensuring that travelers might walk the smooth valley ways with their goods. The scars of village life restored and ordered and balanced by a mother in Israel.
Lines on her face because the older children would pick on the younger ones unless watched. None of them would stay still the moment her back was turned. She never turned it.
The babes she dandled became adults in the blink of an eye.
So must God see. So must God look for monsters in the dark. Midianites roaming the border.
Forty years of peace on the land and it would have to be enough.
She bathed in the palace, enclosed and surrounded by cedar lattice that filtered in the harsh sunlight. Surrounded by the wealth of her son. The son that lived.
She soaked in the water and breathed in perfumed steam. Remembered when she was young and beautiful and her flesh was firm. When she loved to bathe upon her rooftop where only she and God and the sky could see.
And David, God's beloved. Looking down from his palace. He looked down on her at her bath as she lay in God's light and tried to remember that she was a wife. Her husband at war. Endless war. Countless wars. And if his men slept in tents, and the Ark of the Covenant sat in a tent, and Joab and the generals slept in tents, how could Uriah the Hittite go home to his wife.
His waiting wife. Purifying herself of all scent but the smell of warm and young. Giving herself up to God's eyes as the only eyes she could give herself to. The cool breeze softly brushing the down on her skin. Cooling. Warming. Spinning around. The burning sun's rays an all touching lover's hand bringing sweat to her lip.
And David, God's beloved. Beautiful David. Such silken hair in the dark that had brushed her body. Such lover's hands that burned on her skin. Such lover's lips that whispered no promises and only sang of delight. That sang delight in night's tandem with her own breath. In and out with the gasps that made a child.
David, God's beloved, who God gave his Master's house and his wives and would have given David more had he but asked. But David wanted the woman on the roof, and she hadn't known. Hadn't imagined.
She'd imagined that God's sunlight was only for her, his breeze a soft touch for her, but that hadn't been it at all.
So the sword never departed from David's house, and Absolom, oh Absolom, poor Absolom. Poor Dinah. Even poor Amnon. All because David had despised God and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be his own. Her God, his God, their God, was a jealous God with mysterious ways.
She soaked in the hidden baths of the king, her son, the one that lived. The one that was born when David, God's beloved, comforted her after the death of their first child. Her and David and the sky to make a son. A second child born of the light.
Solomon. Her clever son. Her wise and beautiful son and she prayed that he'd stay clever and wise. His God, her God, their God, was a jealous God with mysterious ways.
God had made her beautiful. But Hegai showed her how to be beautiful. Six months they'd rubbed her in oil of myrrh and six months further with perfumes. Tinted her face with malachite kohl and ocher rouge. Powdered her and pumiced her and smoothed away who she'd been on the outside. But who God made her on the inside remained. Hidden as if under a couching robe. Made her beautiful and careful. Sent her into this palace of the King of the Persians.
Xerses had set his Queen aside because she hadn't come when called. Hadn't wanted to come to a banquet where the guests had drunk in their own way for one hundred and eighty days. Esther had never seen Queen Vashti. She was said to be beautiful. A lifetime of oil and myrrh and perfume pumice beautiful.
So through it all to each she said, "Yes. Thank you. If it pleases you. Please. What do you think best?" Watched the other women. Beautiful women. Confident women. Sultry women. Virgins one and all when they came to the palace. She smiled with her lashes thick with kohl, a fan to her cheek. She watched up through them and waited.
As she imagined God waited for the next foolish thing his people would do. Slaves now. Not much room for foolishness. Only waiting. Watching. Saying, "Please, Your Majesty. Am I pleasing in your eyes?" and let the robe fall. Let the work of God and man show. And she was pleasing and she pleased him and was a virgin no more. Made a prayer of her lips. Made a worship of her hands and trailed perfume with her hair and was pleasing.
So Xerses set a crown on her head and she was safe. Except that she wasn't. Plots at every doorway and she wasn't pleasing enough. Thirty days without being summoned to her husband, her king. The destruction of the Jews written in clay that he'd drunk to with Haman, who had seen him in less than thirty days.
She washed herself. She perfumed herself with oil and myrrh and made herself as beautiful as God and man could do. But she knew that Vashti had been beautiful.
But still she went. Unbidden to the banquet that had gone on for thirty days with each at their drink in their separate ways.
Although, no one was to go to the king un-summoned on pain of death. She went in her royal robes and she waited, patiently. Waited for her young king to see her.
He held out his scepter to her and she kissed it. Kissed the tip of it and made a prayer of her kisses. Made a worship of her hands. Trailed her hair of perfume that she might find favor in her husband's eyes. And she found favor, because he offered her even up to half his kingdom for her request unnamed. Her name a breeze on his lips. God's purpose in the tremors of his body.
But she only cast down her eyes, and asked if it pleased him to have a banquet for her and invite her enemy, though she didn't call him that. Then they had the banquet and they drank in their own ways.
She smiled at them both. Her husband, the king, and the prince who wanted to kill her did he but know it. She said, "If it pleases my king, if I have found favor with you, spare me, spare my people." She waited with her lashes fanned on her cheeks, and he didn't even know. How could he, she hadn't told him who she was. She'd hidden it from him. So she revealed herself, not by letting go her robe, or praying with her tongue, but by speaking. "It is he, this man Haman who wants to kill me and my people." Revealed herself as a Jew, as a waiting patient daughter of God.
Then she waited.
Her young king, her young husband, he left in a rage into the gardens, but she did not tremble on her couch. She watched, while Haman wept on her and clutched at her robes. For her king returned and found him clutching there.
It pleased her king then to take Haman away and hang him.
She fell to her husband's feet, weeping. Wiped his feet with her oiled and perfumed hair and blessed him. Pleaded for her people. And her king, her young king, once again extended his golden scepter to her and she kissed it. She arose and stood before him, like Eve's rib to her Adam. She whispered, "If it pleased him." And it did. "If he regards me with favor." And she did. "If he is pleased with me." And he was, very pleased, and when her name was a breeze on his lips, she asked for her people's lives. Her life on a proclamation. On a kiss. And he gave it, with a sigh against the cheek that God and man had made beautiful. Even unto half his kingdom.