Absalom looked out over the table. The feast would be magnificent; he had outdone himself. It was only proper that it be grand; the sons of his father would eat here. Princes ought not dine on dirt. The blood of a proud king would be here tonight.
He did not speak to the servants who prepared the meal; instead, he nodded, his neck taut beneath the weight of his hair, and left. The room breathed in relief: the prince was pleased.
The day was hot, and Absalom stayed inside that afternoon, writing letters. He loved letters, more than his father did. His father had always believed in the spoken word more than the written, but Absalom saw the truth. Ink was just a transference of power, like everything else.
His father didn’t understand that, like so much else. He wondered often if his father understood anything. He certainly couldn't comprehend his children.
He set aside the letter for Tamar. He would seal it later, with something better than wax.
Evening came too slowly, but it came. Absalom forced himself to wait until sunset, but even that was nearly unbearable. Two years of waiting had passed him by, but it was no easier now than it had been on the first day, when Tamar had come to him with her blood and bruises and tears.
Finally, he could wait no longer, and went to dinner, leaving one letter unfinished, under the fading light of the scarlet sky.
Many of the king’s sons were drunk when he arrived. Food fell from their lips, and wine dribbled from their chins. From here he could hear their murmur, as they spoke and laughed and whined. He could see them all, like a cat watching mice. They were all so simple. And so ugly.
Absalom’s eyes drifted, and finally saw his brother, his face drowning in a cup.
David’s eldest son never could resist his love for wine. Amnon never resisted his love for anything.
Absalom kept his hands steady, but one finger twitched.
He stalked forward and the crowd parted like a sea, until he was staring Amnon in the face. His brutish half-brother had their father’s strength, but he never had David’s charisma or handsomeness. He was an animal…but also the eldest. This creature would someday rule.
“Hello, brother,” Absalom made himself say—the first words he’d spoken to Amnon in years.
Amnon’s reply was characteristically stupid, and he didn’t see Absalom motion the king’s sons to back away, so that he and his brother stood alone: an island in a sea of royal blood. As Amnon blustered, Absalom’s men coalesced from the crowd of princes. They carried knives.
It took Amnon a moment to see what was happening: to see the fire in his brother’s eyes. He stuttered into silence.
“Strike him down,” Absalom commanded his men, and they did. The princes wailed, and soon enough Amnon lay on the ground, helpless. Absalom stood over him.
“I swore I would not spill your royal blood myself,” he said, and snapped Amnon’s neck. “Tamar sends her love.” He stood and walked away.