Zerubbabel left the room and took off his official smile. Abiud looked quickly at him, and as quickly away. His father hated to be fussed over, he knew enough to know that. His heart had sunk when he saw that cold tired whiteness around his father’s eyes and mouth, and the covert rubbing of the upper arm.
There was silence. The worst of the tension began to fade. ‘I’ve got a very mixed inheritance to give you, son,’ he said at last, ‘A very mixed inheritance.’
‘Tell it as it is,’ thought Abiud, ‘do not gloss or gild, keep it brutal, that easies him a bit.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, slowly, ‘Yes, a Kingdom struggling, divided, no hope I will be King or that we will have one in my life time – and helpful reformers arriving from Persia all the time with utterly impractical instructions which only make things worse.’
‘They know the wrong things,’ said Zerubbabel sadly, ‘They know how to be pure and holy and to make trouble and they don’t know how to keep things together and how to keep all the people on board. I dunno. Maybe it is me who is wrong. After all, none of my ancestors, none of the Kings of Judah, did a very remarkable job of getting it right. Except Hezekiah, maybe. They say he did.’
‘They say a lot’ said Abiud ruefully, ‘But I never think the past is that – well, look, people are people. None of us are that pure. And whatever they say about mixed marriages …’
‘I wonder if we could get somebody to write the lovely old story of Ruth,’ said Zerubbabel, ‘I wonder if we could show that even the old Kings came from a mixed marriage?’
‘We’ll try, Father, we’ll try,’ said Abiud, ‘And look, things ARE happening. The Temple IS going up – the walls ARE …’
‘The walls ARE more trouble than they are worth,’ flashed Zerubbabel, suddenly smiling again.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.