In the first few chapters of the biblical book of 1 Kings, there are a few references to a young virgin named Abishag. She was the virgin that the aged King David's councilors sought for the king, so that she could "warm" his bed. The search for a virgin was done without David's knowledge. It was in the village of Shunam that the searchers found Abishag.
Excepting the few biblical verses in 1 Kings that mention Abishag, there is no further information concerning her. This novel is based on the idea that Abishag, the Shunamite, is also the Beloved Shulamite mentioned in the Bible's Song of Songs. Over the centuries in ancient Israel, the town of Shunam also was referred to on various maps as Shulam.
Solomon's mother, Bathsheba, is one of the major figures in the narrative that begins with the adulterous relationship she had with King David. The role of women during a time when men considered their wives and daughters as nothing more than personal property also is part of the story.
In the novel, after verifying that the fourteen year Shunamite was a virgin, the King's councilors bribe her family into allowing them to take her to Jerusalem to serve the king. The frightened young girl is first placed under the care of a woman who teaches her the healing arts and that of seduction. After completing her lessons, Abishag is presented to King David, who wisely chooses to protect the girl and her virginity; though he does keep her with him as his nurse. It is within David's royal quarters that Solomon and Abishag meet and fall in love. Just prior to his death, David gives the young couple permission to marry. Their plans are thwarted by Bathsheba, who wants no person in her son's life who might usurp the power she has over him.
When David dies, Bathsheba has Abishag abducted and returned to her home where her brothers banish her to a remote vineyard, making her tend the vines by herself. Solomon's search for Abishag is eventually successful, and the couple celebrates their wedding night in her vineyard watchtower. But the story does not end happily-ever-after; Abishag dies in childbirth. Following a year of despondency and self-pity, Solomon writes a song about his love for Abishag and their story. The eipilogue is about Solomon who never fully recovers from the loss of his beloved. He marries many wives, turns to concubines, neglects his children and the history of Israel is forever changed from what it might have been if Solomon had not lost his beloved, Abishag.
Each chapter in the novel is titled from the verses in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes that tell of the times in a person's life, such as A time to be born, which is the first chapter in the novel.
This story includes political intrigue, violence, murder, abuse, the most tender feelings and great romantic love.