878 BC. Sidon
From her place behind the gauzy curtain, Jezebel took in his general appearance–his bland expression, graceful fingers that constantly pushed stubborn locks off a strong forehead, and deep pink lips that were pressed in a flat line. He was the youngest at the gathering, maybe a few years older than she was.
“What has captured your interest, dear girl?”
Jezebel dragged her eyes from the perfect vision and met her mother’s harsh gaze. The only soft-looking thing about her appearance was the curtain of black hair that fell forward as she bent her tall frame at the waist, dwarfing Jezebel’s thirteen-year-old figure.
“Who is that?” Jezebel glanced at the boy’s direction.
At that precise moment, he wove his fingers through his hair, making Jezebel almost swoon at the suave gesture. His hair was the first thing she had noticed about him; it was deep brown and hung to his shoulder in gentle curls. When he turned to face his father, his dark eyes reflected the glow of the lamps, making him look even more beautiful.
“Why do you ask? Does my little desert flower find him interesting?” Her mother’s voice was sweet but there was a subtle lining of hardness around it that Jezebel did not miss. It was obvious she was displeased with her interest in the boy, but Jezebel was too smitten to care.
“He is so beautiful, mother. I like his hair, I want some of it,” Jezebel replied simply before turning again and gazing at the boy in awe. At the moment, he was swirling the content of his cup as he stared into it, looking lost in thought. His brooding nature only endeared her the more.
Jabhal’s laughter was sharp enough to cut through Jezebel’s enthralled thoughts. “His name is Ahab, the first son of King Omri of Israel.”
Her smile broadened as her interest soared through the roof. He suddenly looked in her direction, gazing at the curtain as though he could see through it.
Jezebel stepped back with a surprised gasp. Surely, there was no way he saw through the filmy material. She placed a hand over her racing heart and sighed when his eyes swept over their location with disinterest. He looked dreadfully bored as he tapped a finger on his goblet and played with a small hoop earring that hung from an ear.
I’ll save you.
“Well, isn’t that pitiful?”
Jezebel turned to her mother with a slight frown. “What is, mother?”
Jabhal shook her head then gripped her arm. “Come.”
Dragging Jezebel along, she didn’t slow her pace as they walked past the corridor of her father’s palace. Jezebel took in slow breaths as she struggled to keep up. Mother was cross for some reason and she had no intention of increasing her ire.
When Jabhal shoved her into her chambers, Jezebel stared up at her in confusion.
Jabhal’s ruby-encrusted gold necklace swayed as she bent to her daughter’s eye level. “Look at your reflection!” She said through gritted teeth, stabbing a finger in the direction of her mirror.
Jezebel obeyed and stared at the mirror like it was the most interesting thing on earth. It was an oval-shaped silver piece with gold curvilinear around the rim.
“What do you see?”
“I see myself and you, mother.”
“Wrong! Listen to me carefully. You are a princess, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians.” She swept her daughter’s long raven hair away from her face and brought her lips close to her ear.
“You are royalty, the most beautiful amongst your sisters.” She whispered fiercely. “You are never to fawn over a man, no matter how handsome. We are stronger than that–we are the ones who wield the power of Baal himself. We control our emotions and not the other way round. Do you understand?”
Jezebel nodded as she stared at her reflection. A fire rekindled in her grey eyes. “Yes, mother. I understand.”
“Good. Now sit. When I fix your face, you will go out there and get what you want.”
Jezebel dared not speak the entire truth. Her mother’s advice was coming too late. She was already enthralled–swept away by a boy she hadn’t even spoken a single word to.
Ahab stifled another yawn. How he itched to stand. He had been sitting at the reclining rug with his legs folded for quite a while and was beginning to lose all sensation on both limbs. If his father noticed his distress, he didn’t show it; he kept laughing and drinking with king Ethbaal and his officials. The Sidonian king stood out in the gathering. His shiny tattooed head reminded Ahab of a sparrow’s egg, and his laughter was full-bellied and loud.
Ahab looked away. Observing their merrymaking and the boisterous conversation would only increase his annoyance. He observed his environment instead. The long red curtains at the windows swayed in the cool evening breeze and the place smelled of basil and mint–a mixture Ahab was increasingly beginning to find suffocating.
He swirled the wine in his cup again as he stared at the ceiling. It was decorated with a large painting of strange, frightening-looking figures. He cocked his head to get a better view of the main image. It looked like a bull-human with abnormally large muscles, a heavy head, and blood-red eyes–eyes that looked almost alive. He shuddered and snatched his gaze from the disturbing sight. Sidonians were too superstitious for his liking.
Ahab chanced another sip of his wine. He hated the drink. When he turned sixteen a year ago, his father assumed it was time he started taking the drink of men. Ahab disliked the taste, it was bitter and burned on its way down. Maybe as time passed he might develop a liking to it.
“Maybe…” He mumbled then sighed. It would seem a full bladder had joined the list of his discomfort. Not being able to take it anymore, he waved a hand to draw his father’s attention.
King Omri was a burly man with a thick brown beard, terrifying deep-set eyes, and a booming voice. It was a pity Ahab hadn’t taken after his father’s fearsome appearance. He had ended up with that of his mother–a lean figure and a face that looked more like a woman’s.
“What is it, son?” His father gave him a fond slap at the back, causing Ahab to jerk forward and nearly spill his drink.
“Can I be excused for a moment?” Ahab cleared his throat and glanced around the gathering. They stared in his direction for an instant before resuming whatever they were cheerfully discussing amongst themselves.
One thing Ahab was grateful for was his father’s regard, the man actually saw him as a worthy heir. He strung him along wherever he went, dogged to mold him into the king he hoped he would be someday.
His father nodded at Ahab’s request, a proud smile brightening his bearded face. “But of course, boy! I know where all that wine would end up.” He gave an exaggerated wink and laughed heartily. The rest at the reclining rug joined in.
Ahab only smiled and stood to leave. He was more than glad to be rid of their company, even if it was for a short while. As the servant led him out, he looked around. He was quite impressed with the Sidonians, the place was beautiful. Their garden appeared vibrant and immaculate even in the dim light of the lamps. The stone floor was polished to perfection, and the walls were painted in shades of blue, red, and yellow.
After relieving himself, Ahab resolved to take his time going back. He was not eager to join the gathering. They had not spoken anything of interest since their arrival late in the afternoon.
Curiously, when he stepped out of the heavily incensed latrine, the servant who followed him was no longer waiting at the door. He shook his head at the poor service and started retracing his steps in the slowest pace he could muster and still look sane.
“So… you are a prince of Israel?”
Ahab turned then frowned. A slender girl who looked to be around twelve or thirteen was leaning against a pillar with arms folded across her chest. He lifted a brow at the veil that covered half her face, exposing her eyes and forehead alone.
“Who are you?”
She pushed away from the pillar with a single graceful movement and sashayed towards him. He marvelled at the ways of the Sidonians, even at a young age their girls acted as brazen as full-grown women.
Was she a prostitute? He nearly spat in disgust. Using one so young was deplorable, to say the least. He shifted on his feet when she finally stood before him.
“But you’ve not answered my question. Are you a prince?” Her voice was smooth, and in the soft glow of the amber light that washed over them, he could see she had lovely grey eyes. He blinked and took a step back. He found her presence both unsettling and compelling.
She chuckled lightly and drew even closer. “Go on. Answer my question.”
Ahab had to think for a while before recalling her question. “Yes. I am a prince. Now would you answer my question? Who are you?”
Ahab watched with caution and mild surprise as the girl lifted a hand and touched his cheek. He couldn’t tell if she was smiling or not, but it seemed her eyes lit up when her palm came in contact with his skin.
Definitely a prostitute.
“I am glad you do not look like your father.”
Ahab lifted a brow at her statement. He didn’t know if he was to be pleased or insulted by her statement. “And why do you think so?”
She chuckled again, causing her deep blue veil to sway. “I would keep that little secret to myself.” She swept her thumb over his cheek before withdrawing her hand. For some reason, Ahab missed the little contact.
“Sometimes, when I meditate I see red–crimson everywhere, but I find it peaceful.” She stared at him intently, grey eyes commanding his attention. Ahab was finding it increasingly difficult to see the girl as a thirteen-year-old. And why was she speaking of a colour?
“Today, when I looked at you through the curtain, I found peace. I didn’t see the red but I still felt the calm; I even feel it now.” She raised a hand to touch him again but this time he caught hold of her small wrist.
“Are you alright?” Ahab allowed his worry to show on his face. The girl sounded disturbed.
“No, I’m not,” she answered before pulling her hand from his grip and carefully removing her veil.
Ahab sucked in a breath.
In all his short years, he had never seen a girl more… pleasing to look at. She still had a young face but her catlike eyes, pert nose, and small lips were arranged in such a way that was almost too perfect. So mesmerising–unfairly so. Now he understood why the veil was necessary.
“Put it back on,” Ahab said in haste, looking around at the same time. It was abnormal for a Sidonian to unveil her face to a stranger.
“What? You do not find me beautiful?” She sounded self-conscious and sad, a sharp contrast from the forward front she was putting up earlier.
Ahab shook his head then forced a smile. “I would give you the answer if you put your veil back on.”
She first eyed him with suspicion then carefully replaced her covering. “So?”
“Yes, I find you beautiful.” Ahab blessed her with a quick genuine smile, hoping to make her feel better. She took in a sharp breath before looking away and bouncing on her feet. They were silent for a moment before Ahab realised he had to return to his father.
“What is your name?”
She shook her head then looked up at him in a coy manner. “If you let me touch your hair, I’ll tell you my name.”
Ahab laughed at the odd request, he was yet to understand females’ fascination with the thing. “Okay, go ahead.” He bent slightly and let her have her desire.
She rubbed the tresses between her fingers for a moment, choosing to speak as she did so. “I am Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, princess of Sidon.”
Then she let go and walked away, leaving Ahab staring after her with a small smile on his lips.
She was definitely not a prostitute.