The yellow-red flame of the low-burning fire was the only light in the room. The old woman moved slowly, placing the objects around the blaze, as monstrous shadows flickered and danced on the walls. The black-handled dagger, point facing west, the clay bowl of pure water, the small container of earth were all arranged with care on the low altar.
Once again, she peered with a suspicious glare at the hooded figure opposite her. She feared exposure to the king’s agents. The silver shekels the stranger offered, however, were real enough and coin had been scarce since Saul had cut off all spiritists and mediums from the land.
“Surely you know the king’s decree,” she reminded the man a second time. “Why have you set a trap for me to bring about my death?”
“As surely as the Lord lives,” he spoke, “no harm shall come to you for this thing.”
“Whom shall I bring up for you?”
“Bring up Samuel.”
Staring deep into the guttering flame, she began to mumble the ancient incantation; words from a dimly remembered time when Nimrod was king at Babylon and all men spoke the same tongue. She sprinkled a palmful of wormwood shavings onto the fire and it flared a brilliant blue. A generous pinch of the red poppyseeds from her pocket caused a thick purplish smoke to rise from the flame and fill the room with its sickly-sweet aroma.
She uttered the last guttural syllables of the spell and settled back on her haunches, eyelids fluttering rapidly. The purple smoke eddied and curled upward from the altar and a dim form appeared to take shape there. The witch’s scream pierced the stillness.
“You are Saul! Why have you deceived me?”
“What do you see?”
“I see a spirit coming up out of the earth!”
She fell backward with a piteous moan. The scent of the fumes was overpowering and Saul struggled with the urge to run screaming from the close confines of the chamber. Staring at the apparition before him, Saul fell on his face to the ground, heart hammering with terror, scarcely able to breathe.
“Why have you disturbed me?” A thin quavering voice filled the room.
“The Philistines come against me and God has turned away from me,” Saul babbled. “I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
“Why consult me, now that the Lord has become your enemy?”
“But He no longer answers me. What shall I do?”
“The Lord has taken the kingdom from you, as he promised through me, and given it to David. Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” The old man’s voice diminished as he spoke.
Saul trembled, prostrate on the dirt floor, weak from hunger and fear. A hand touched his shoulder and he flinched, whimpering as he did so.
“My king, you must eat,” the woman spoke.
He refused, but she set about preparing a meal and placed it before him.
The king of Israel ate his last meal.