The old king lay on his deathbed, his wives and sons around him. Incense burned in the antechamber, and priests chanted prayers for healing, but the old king knew he would not heal, not this time. He was old, and his life was over. He had fled from some enemies and defeated other enemies. He had captured cities and defended his people, and always before he had emerged victorious. Always before he had survived. He had survived plots and wounds and attempts on his life, but nothing could help him now, not the priests’ prayers nor their sacrifices and not the young virgin they had brought him to awaken his manhood. Her efforts did not bring his manhood back to life, and the priests’ prayers would not bring his body back to life. He had tried to keep studying to ward off the Angel of Death, but his strength even for studying, was gone. He was done, and he knew it. He had finally settled the succession of the throne and now he could die in peace.
Then the prophet arrived. He was no prophet the king had ever seen before, yet he knew who this prophet was. His very soul recognized this prophet, and his very soul knew that, if this prophet was coming to see him, he was truly and surely dying.
“I have come,” said the prophet.
“I am ready,” whispered the king.
“What are you saying, beloved?” said his favorite wife.
“Speak not,” said the prophet. “She cannot see me. Only you can see me; only you can hear me. Speak not, only listen.”
The old king closed his eyes and listened. Even with his eyes closed, he could see the prophet, for the prophet had come to him in spirit and spoke to him soul to soul, and only he could hear or see him.
“You have lived a good life, oh king,” said the prophet, “Except for your one great sin. You were a man of war, but you had no choice in this; it was your destiny, and it is not counted as a sin against you as you go to your rest. You have paid the price for the blood on your hands during your lifetime, all but for one; all but for your one great sin. For your one great sin, you shall have to pay the price over many lifetimes, for that was not according to your destiny; that was not necessary.”
The king opened his eyes in alarm and looked at his favorite wife.
“She, too, will have to pay, but not over as many lifetimes as you, oh king, for her sin was the lesser and yours was the greater. Go now to your rest, for you have earned it, and then go to your punishment for that, too, have you earned, and may the Holy One be with you always. Your name shall be for a blessing.”
With that utterance, the prophet disappeared; the old king opened his eyes and looked around him one last time before his spirit departed. The last thing he heard was the wailing of the women. The last thing he saw was the face of his beloved, a face that he was fated to see in many lifetimes but never again to possess fully until his punishment was completed.
And so it was.