Act I Scene ii
An apartment of the harem in the palace, a year later
Enter Esther solus
Esther: O Jehovah, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we thy Hebrew people have sinned and done wrong.
Lord, thou art righteous, but this day we are covered with shame – the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where thou hast scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to thee.
Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against thee.
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of thy servant. For thy sake, O Lord, look with favor on thy desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; we do not make requests of thee because we are righteous, but because of thy great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act!
Hear the words of a poor banishe’d Benjamite: Forsake not thy children in exile. Let this daughter of Sarah walk behind thy protective hand and sleep under thy watchful eye. Like Elijah in the desert, here in this foreign land whose citizens heed neither Abraham nor Moses, though we pay the punishment for our disobedience in thy holy land, take pity ‘pon us and preserve thy remnant scattered to the four winds.
Enter Hegai and maids
Hegai: Come now, my desert flower, we have had these four seasons to prepare thee for thy blossoming, and I cannot but hide mine eyes for the radiance of thy countenance.
Esther: Hegai, I am no different than I was when thou took me upon thy favor and did lavish at the king’s expense the best of his perfumes and oils, the richest of his clothing, the most exotic of foods, these maids from the king’s palace and the best apartments of his harem. For all this time thou hast nowt told whyfore these dotings thou hast bestowed upon me and whatfore thou deem’st thy due.
Hegai: The gracious kind, may he live forever, shall rule as he whims, to bring favor upon this one, disaster upon that one – and in his grace he hath given me mine own private fair kingdom here to rule at my own whims.
Esther: Am I so merely a whim to you, then? To be tossed about by the winds of thy bidding? To do or not do, to be done or undone—
Hegai: Certainly not, my joy. Thou hast please’d me and I in turn am desirest to please thee; an amicable barter that I am empowere’d to arrange and execute.
Esther: For how have I pleaese’d you that this favore’d wind may blow my way? Do not tell me it is in that base way of men, for I do not think you so capable.
Hegai: Nay, that way of men is far remove’d from me, but I answer a higher calling. There is an inner countenance of thee that touches the heart; our last queen was beauty incarnate, but ‘t was her tarnished’d will that drove her from the king, and to her spectacular downfall. With this taste of women soure’d ‘pon his tongue, the king’s pallet shall turn to a queen of purity, of unseen qualities.
Harken thee unto my counsel: take not into thy presentation to our lord a costume to dazzle the eye, nor that thy flower of nature is thy adornment, and thy bearing and presence will capture his royal heart. Then will he in his own manly fashion bedazzle thee in dress with his own eye, and undress thee in his mind to enflame his passion and desire. Then shalt thou win his eye, heart, passion and mind an’ secure royal favor even as he adds thee as a star sapphire in the center of his bejewelle’d crown.
Esther: How comes thee to know this way?
Hegai: Men are blinded by the lust of their eyes; as I have been made no longer, such mist has cleared from mine eye and I see beyond the trappings of face and feature, of form and figure, and I tell thee truly thy beauty begins with none of these.
Esther: ‘Struth, my tutor, am I so lacking in any of the the former? For I hope to capture the eye of one so lustily blinded.
Hegai: Again, fear not on that account, for thy face and form are both satisfying to the most empassione’d of desires. E’en so, thy smile doth brighten like the morning sun, thy walk the gentle grace of the gazelle and thy voice like a sparkling brook whose seet waters hint of mint or some such herbage, for I cannot discern the flavor of thy heritage. From whence and where are the roots of my desert flower abedded, my sweet?
Esther: Thou canst flatter ‘til the desert turns to trees, but that, as thou doth know, is one secret I cannot reveal, try as thou hast for these months past.
Hegai: For all my love I have doted ‘pon thee these four seasons, methinks ‘t would earn e’en a dram or scruple of thy confidence.
Esther: Oh, so now thou bargain thy affections ‘pon me for secrets hidden in my bosom? For shame, thou shouldst be calle’d for a royal spy, thou pliest in seduction so.
Hegai: I am undone! Thou dothnot love me nor doth thou return my favors upon thee. My shame is so heaped upon my brow that I cover myself in shame. I walk the streets in such dispair that my head doth not deserve to see the ray of blesse’d sun.
Esther: Nay, come, mock me not thusly; I keep thee not from me for scorn’s sake, for I do love thee, truly, Hegai. Separated from my family ere these past twelve month, thou hast kept me happy and distracted and for thy attentions I am grateful beyond measure.
‘Tis not for lack of love for thee that I hold my secret so, but for a greater love for another.
Hegai: Oh? A suitor for my flower? A rival for the king? Is he of some great celestial lineage to turn thy eye ‘gainst ours, most noble and sublime?
Esther: Thou dost chide me so softly I die with kindness! Harken unto me! I keep my tongue seale’d at the bidding of my protector, Mordecai, who did undertake to raise me as an orphan; though he is my cousin, he has been like my paternal guardian for these many years and his wisdom is worth more than the finest gold or the most precious of jewels. Before parting under king’s command, he gave me this warning, that I neither reveal my nationality nor my family and forefathers.
Hegai: To what end? What purpose doth thy benefactor warn thee thus?
Esther: To these I know not, save for the urgency with which he did dispatch unto me this instruction. I know not if even he knows, save for that it is wisdom, and that is enough.
Hegai: That one who loves thee outside these walls is no secret. Every day ‘t is said, a man keeps his vigil outside the king’s gate, walking back and forth near the courtyard to get an account of events and how fares Esther of the harem. We thought he an anxious tho’ older admirer, he kept his watch so. No doubt that this is thy wise and devoted guardian.
Esther: Waits for me? Mordecai? O that I might see him before I am presented before the king! ‘T would be a cup of cold water after a long voyage ‘cross desert seas. What say you, Hegai?
Hegai: My lady I object; I am charged with thy conditioning, thy skin, thy face…
Esther: If thy orders are to best prepare me according to thy physic, then know this, gentle groomsman: the merest wisp of a passing moment with my dear Mordecai ‘t would be as ‘t were a balm greater than oil or cream, a cosmetic more than paint or dustings ‘pon my features. ‘Struth, if twelve month of oils have not worked theirmagicks upon me presently—
Hegai: I am won! I yield! Vex me not with thy siege, for I see in thy very eyes that joy that I could not refuse.
Esther: I do love thee, Hegai. So kind and so gentle a master could not be asked of God or fortune.
Hegai: Come. Thy visitor arrives anon, and there is much to be done ‘ere the sun sets.
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