Prologue: In store before us would be a happy joining of kin separated for nigh on a year, and in this courtyard would this joyous occasion occur, but for the rumblings that threaten the very walls, nay the foundations of this empire, to be found ear in this hall by coincidence.
Players: Psst !
But for my part, I am called, and must needs be gone. In my most briefest of absenses, think ye ‘pon this and decide for youselves: Is’t all this the work of coincidence, happenstance, fate, or by powerful hand I shall leave to thy imaginings.
Prologue: I am gone, answer me not when I return, for I shall have another face anon!
A hall in the citadel of Susa, that same day
Enter Mordecai solus
Mordecai: These palace walls sturdy, thick and high, set to withstand siege, ram an’ hurled boulder from without, yet makes equal strong a dungeon for those kept within. Ay, a cage, though gilded in gold and hung with rich and fine linen, holds the finest of birds to sing for its master anon.
My bird, Esther, so young and tender, doth perch and preen amid snakes and lions that doth fill these halls. So stuffe’d with plots and intrigues, to set one ‘gainst the other and bask in glorious triumph at th’ ashes left to mix with th’ dust. I pray that my cousin doth walk these halls with the grace of a deer, but the cunning of a leopard.
Soft! Comes now two officials. Conceale’d shall I render myself and mayhap o’erhear some news of the palace within.
Enter Teresh and Bigthana
Teresh: Suffere’d we enough of our noble king’s whims and fancies. Whilst we doth scrape and bow to earn our position at palace gate, to be raised to chamberlain above the rabble at Susa, our crowne’d lord opens the gates of our charge and floods the palace with all manner of vulgarities.
Bigthana: Ay, an’ with such revels and canterings that all are equal to the wine steward, none favore’d by rank nor race as ‘t were a riot of rodents.
Teresh: A mockery made of our post and position, as we stand at gate whilst every donkey herds through, braying us to our shame.
Bigthana: I spit ‘pon the gates of our charge—
Teresh: I vomit ‘pon our charge—
Bigthana: A pox ‘pon the seal of our charge—
Teresh: A plague ‘pon its bearer—
Bigthana: Ruin ‘pon his throne—
Teresh: Join thou me in this endeavor? To see it through without a second measure?
Bigthana: What say you? We conspire to spitting an’ vomiting an’ plagues?
Teresh: Soft you, my thick witted companion, let’s to the shadows where conspiracies in hushed tones are best woven. Undone are we by the scepter of this citadel, his pride displaye’d for two season nigh, his royal vanity so stuffed and gorged and yet will he not cease in these reckless excesses? All the while outside his high blooded sight all manner of taxes and tariffs are collected to fill his noble gullet.
Take the instrument which we enforce our charge, lift up thy spear, and give challenge to all who are unworthy to pass through the gates into our fair citadel.
Bigthana: What ho!
Teresh: See there at th’ gates, crowne’d with gluttony; vaingloriously puffe’d with mouthfuls stolen from the tables of others; the spoils of the provinces gutted and prepared for his private pleasures! The bejewele’d pig at his royal slop trough!
Bigthana: Zounds! He doth reek! My nose! I choke!
Teresh: Take you, this spear, issue’d to slay the enemies of our great kingdom.
Bigthana: I would poke this beast ‘til its pustulous entrails spille’d forth into th’ halls, these walls flooded with its putrid, sour resplendence.
Teresh: Swear to me, thy oath upon this action, and then let’s away to detail our design.
Bigthana: By the earth and sky my word; we are agreed.
Teresh: To the garden, then, where the seed of our plots may take root and bear an wholly sweet and bitter fruit.
Bigthana: Ay, and ferment its pressed juice that we might be intoxicate beyond reason and allegence an’ carry out this duty of valor.
Teresh: To the king! (Thrusts weapon)
Bigthana: Ay, to the king! (Thrusts weapon)
Exuent Teresh and Bigthana
Mordecai: Never have I held such poison in mine ear! Be still, my quivering hand that didst keep me in hiding, though I am thy master, my will falls dumb ‘pon thee. These trunks ‘pon which I stand doth sway and tumble as ‘t were sea tossed ‘pon some Phonecian vessel! Stay! Stay! I command thee! Alack, I am mutined!
My heart doth pound like the hammer ‘pon the anvil and my head doth answer to its ringing. Black, O, Black and villainous is this day…
Enter Esther and Hegai
Esther: My heart doth pound like the hammer ‘pon the anvil and my head doth answer to its ringing. Sweet, O Sweet and joyous is this day… Cousin? Say you, is this not the place?
Hegai: It is.
Esther: Said you not, this is the time?
Hegai: Then what cruel fate, what callous chance has kept me from this happy meeting with my beloved cousin Mordecai?
Mordecai: (Aside) What’s this, cousin to Mordecai? What voice is this that rings ‘pon my ears, too happy and sweet to sound out this darkness in which I am mired. Who calls? Who is there?
Esther: Cousin! These twelve month I have watched the moon wax and wane, and each night I have marked it rise and fall, an’ as ‘t were a messenger I did dote upon it my goodnights to thee! Now those months are but a wink having seen thee again; my heart is refreshe’d as the oasis water doth the weary desert traveler. Dear cousin, my cousin.
But what’s this? Why dost thou tremble so?
Mordecai: O, draw me up from the depths of my sleep; for I was cast into the most horrible nightmare; shudder do I to think ‘pon its dark hand.
Now the coarse curtain is but drawn away and I find myself dazzle’d with this glorious vision: this sightly creature raised up and radiating the wonders of paradise has stepped down from its glorious and unfathomable gates to quench my troubled soul. She is likened unto my cousin, in her eyes I see her virtue and she doth call to me in the voice of my dear kin and, indeed, speaks unto me “cousin”.
O Jehovah, thou art merciful and kind for this sending.
Hegai: Dear flower, thy patron is a seer? A prophet?
Esther: Cousin! Cousin! I am neither of paradise, nor art thou in slumber. We stand here outside the king’s gates, where, I am told, this is not an unfamiliar place for thee at this time of day and I have come in search of thee. I have been allowed this hou rby my sponsor in the king’s harem, a eunuch named Hegai who stands here before thee.
Mordecai: Good sir, I do thank thee for bringing me this fine vision; my soul is restore’d an’ my wit hath returned unto me.
Hegai: I am thy servant. For to be slave to thy ward is but a happy charge.
Mordecai: Now doth thou share my secret to long life. I ask for thy pardon, for I have been a stranger for these twelve months: but dost thou tell me true that this is indeed my kin, Esther?
Hegai: Faith, she is that and more. Groomed for review by the king, she has transforme’d outwardly; I bid thee cast into her eyes and command her smile and confirm that which hast been familiar to thee nigh many a year in a more mundane time.
Mordecai: I doubt it not. Nor doubt I the king’s choice when he doth review his conscription. My thanks for thy credit extended to my cousin: I promise to thee like amount with great interest in return.
Hegai: Rest assured I am paid in full; I accept and return thy promissory
Mordecai: Thy kindness shall not be forgotten unto the end of my years.
O daughter of mine, draw aside with me anon. Hast thou kept faith with me and my most urgent instruction?
Esther: I have, cousin. Even to the vexing of one who loves me greatly and who has taught me all form of protocol and court etiquette.
Mordecai: Bend thine ear and hear one more counsel. I have just heard within a few heartbeats the keepers of the palace gate, ay, the king’s own chamberlains: from their mouths did pour the most black and foul design upon the crown.
Esther: What plot is this?
Mordecai: Heed what I say! By whatever means available thou must gain the royal ear and expose this treachery. In this, thou wilt seal favor in thy standing whether thou doth solicit the king’s wifely selection or no.
Esther: How shall I carry out this charge? I am but a grain of sand in the desert of the king’s harem.
Mordecai: Thou art a flower in that desert, by all the winds. By whatever opportunity affords be prepared and rehearsed with thy message and thy method. Mind thee, trust not in couriers nor in delivere’d messages, for when the grape rots in the sun, it sours along the vine.
Esther: I shall be careful, my protector.
Mordecai: Take pains to be cautious for the lion will kill more than once ‘ere the moon turns.
Esther: Be assured, cousin.
Mordecai: But be not too slow, neither, for swift is the scorpion when it stings--
Esther: By thy word I will do all thou hast instructed me.
Mordecai: I have no doubt as to thy means, for thou art a jewel amongst the dust in wit an’ ways as well as beauty. Now hie thee off, to prepare thyself and thy tidings. Go now, and remember all that I have charged thee.
Esther: Good morrow cousin. Jehovah is my Protector. Make thy prayers and sacrifice for me and I shall have the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, and the strength of Samson. Come, Hegai, I have needs one more preparation before I am royally presented.