Authors: India Edghill
Wisdom’s Daughter: A Novel of Solomon and Sheba
Queenmaker: A Novel of King David’s Queen
File M for Murder: A Cornelia Upshaw and Fancy Mystery
St. Martin’s Press
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events
portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously.
. Copyright © 2009 by India Edghill. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America. For information, address
St. Martin’s Press,
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Map by Jackie Aher
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Delilah / India Edghill.—1st ed.
1. Delilah (Biblical figure)—Fiction. 2. Samson (Biblical judge)—Fiction. 3. Bible. O.T.—History of Biblical events—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: December 2009
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Dedicated to Constance Helen Foster,
March 1, 1951–March 17, 2006.
A woman of great heart, noble spirit, and high courage.
She was a true woman of valor.
Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn:
Of polished ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions through transparent horn arise;
Through polished ivory pass deluding lies
Although he knew many songs, he was famed for only one. Once that song had been his alone; now many sang it, but that did not matter to him. The song only he could sing truly remained his. No matter what else he sang, no matter how late the night grew, never would men or women—and as he grew older, he preferred to sing to the women—release him until he had sung that tale.
Always different, suited to the hearts and minds of his audience. Always the same, in the end.
And as the stars burned overhead, he would yield to those who listened, Hebrew or Philistine or strangers upon the endless road.
“Listen and hear of the deeds of Samson, strong and bold. A man who slew many men, a man whom many women desired. A man who loved a woman named Delilah, a woman who brought him low. A woman who gave Samson into the hands of his enemies—”
And men or women, Hebrew or Philistine or stranger, they listened. For everyone had heard tales of Samson, and many knew that only Orev could offer them the truth. Had he not walked beside Samson, and seen with his own eyes the wonders he now sang to them?
Sometimes, as he sang, Orev marveled at his own tales. That golden time seemed long ago and far away now, and truth elusive as a ghost . . .
“Long ago and in another land lived a maiden dark as night. Night she was named and night she was. And this maiden served a goddess bright and burning as the sun—and soft as shadows and midnight . . .”
Once I blamed the gods for the pain I endured. Later I blamed Samson himself. Only now, too late, did I lay the blame for what came to pass at the feet of the one whose fault it truly was.
Oh, it was the gods who began the game. Yes, all our joy and pain are no more than a game to them—what are men and women to those whose breath is the wind and whose eyes are stars, whose blood is Time itself? A jest drew them to my birth, urged them to bestow upon me their double-edged gifts. Jest and play to them, to lay such a boon upon a girl new-born, god-begotten daughter of chance.
I was named for that boon: Delilah. Night-Hair.
But that name never seemed to fit me well, despite my gleaming midnight hair. For always, from the moment I drew breath, I, night-born, was drawn to the day’s light. To the sun.
That, then, is what began it, set my feet upon the path that led me to where I now stood. After all that had passed, all that I had paid in tears
and in desire, I now stood alone—alone before a silver mirror, a keen-honed knife close to my waiting hand.
I was a child of the Grove, begotten on a full moon by a stranger upon the first and last night my mother ever spent in the Lady’s Grove. To be conceived beneath the full moon was a blessing, a sign of Our Lady’s favor. Not until I was a woman grown did it occur to me to wonder why a full-moon child had been named instead for moonless Night Herself. The Temple did not encourage such unruly thoughts; those of us who dwelt within its peace were meant to serve, not to question. And from the day I took my first steps, I dwelt in the Great House of Atargatis in Ascalon, Pearl of the Five Cities.
The Five Cities of Philistia ruled the rich land of Canaan; their laws governed all from the eastern hills to the sea that stretched beyond the sunset. Although a man or a woman governed each of the Five Cities, it was the City itself that was Lord or Lady. Decrees were made, laws proclaimed, and justice rendered in the name of Lord Gath or Lady Ascalon, Lord Ekron or Lady Ashdod, or Lord Gaza. By tradition, its highest ranking priestess wed each lordly city, and its highest-ranking priest became the consort of each Lady.
It was the mortal consort of the City who sat in judgment, who listened to the arguments and pleas of the council of nobles and merchants. Sometimes I dreamed of becoming Priestess-Queen to one of the Cities—but then I would have to leave Ascalon to dwell in Gath, or in Ekron, or in Gaza. I could not imagine ever abandoning Lady Ascalon; no, not even for another of the Five. I remembered no other home than Ascalon’s Great Temple of Atargatis, for my mother had given me into the Lady’s hands at Her own bidding.
“When I was fourteen, Delilah, I went to Our Lady’s House, and the Oracle asked the sacred fish to look upon my future. I was told that Our Lady would grant me long life and many children in return for a jewel of great price. ‘But I own no such jewel,’ I said, and the Seer-Priestess looked again into the pool and watched as the fish swam, and
said, ‘The Lady will provide the prize she wishes you to surrender to her. When you hold it in your arms, you then must choose.’ ”
My mother sighed, then; she always did when she spoke those words to me. For she was permitted to visit me once each season, and each time she did, she retold the tale of my begetting, as if I might have forgotten it, or her. I always sat quiet, and let her talk—although my mother was little more to me than a half-remembered dream. She was a married woman now, wed to a wealthy, indulgent merchant who had fathered half a dozen hearty sons upon her. When she came to visit me, she always wore a gown of gold-fringed linen fine and soft as water, and gems glowed like small bright fires against her skin.
But despite all she had been granted, my mother still looked upon me with hungry eyes. For she had traded her firstborn daughter for her own future; never again did she bear a girl child. The bloodline of her mothers would die with her. Now that it was too late, she mourned that eternal loss.
“Still,” my mother said, “you seem happy here, my daughter.”
“I am not your daughter. I am Our Lady’s daughter,” I reminded her, prim and pious as a Temple cat, and my mother’s eyes glinted bright with unspilled tears.
But her grief did not move my heart, not then. My mother had made her choice, and must live with the life she had created for herself. I wish, now, that I had been kinder to her.
“Of course,” she said, and managed to smile. “And you are already grown so tall—and so graceful. You will dance well before Her, Delilah.”
“That will be as Our Lady wills.” Although love of the Dance sang in my blood, and already my body swayed easily to music, young priestesses were not encouraged to flaunt their beauties or their talents. Not until we were fourteen were we permitted to look upon our faces in a mirror. I would not be given that privilege for another four years. My studies consisted of learning how to read and to write, to know the uses of herbs and flowers, to create scented oils, to choose a true gem from a false.
How to please Our Lady in greater things would be taught later, when I passed at last through the Women’s Gate.
I yearned for that far-off day—in that I was no different from all the other girls dedicated to the Temple. To walk through the Full Moon Gate into the Lady’s Courtyard, to wear Her scarlet girdle clasped about my waist, to paint my face into Her image; these things would prove my status as one of the Lady’s Beloveds, whom all the world desired . . .
“Delilah?” My mother’s voice held an odd mixture of timidity and rebuke. Clearly I had not heard whatever words she had spoken to me. But it was not her place to chastise me—a fledgling priestess—for error, and we both knew it.
I did not look at her, and I did not speak. Instead, I gazed down at my hands as I twined the end of my long braid about my fingers, over and through, as if I played at cat’s cradle with my hair. The scarlet cord that bound my dark, tight-plaited hair gleamed bright as blood in the sunlight. After a moment, I broke the silence between us with a question, one I suddenly knew I must ask, even if my mother did not answer. I lifted my head and stared into her eyes.
“If you had known you must give me away, would you still have asked Our Lady for the same boon?”
For the span of forty heartbeats, my mother did not speak. Then she said, “That is a hard question, Delilah.” She slid her eyes away from mine, and I knew her next words would be lies. “How could I have given you up, had I known?”