“How did she do that?”
The old warden silenced his assistant with a hand-wave in the young man’s face. Walls, 60 feet high, were adorned with 20 foot tiled images of a black bearded potentate. Powerful lions and beasts lay subdued at his feet. Sentries stood strategically, still as if they too had been carved in place.
The two voyeurs, peering through the slightest gap in the burgundy curtain, were fixated on the subtle dance of the beauty queen and the glowing embers being fanned into flame in the eyes of the sovereign. The glistening gold and diamond headpiece was a natural finale to the breathtaking ensemble woven from the brightest dyes. Every subtle stitch was designed to capture form and light.
Only when the welcome was extended, across the throne room, did Hegai take his breath and answer. “She listens.”
“Hegai, you’ve left Xerxes as ravenous as a wolf.” The talkative side kick, laying prone on his stomach, persisted in his commentary. “Insisting on 12 months of beauty treatments, the best foods, the best seamstresses, the best maiden touches. Leaving the best choice for just the right moment.”
The old man straightened his stiff back and slowly rolled his shoulders to ease the tension. “Hadassah is fit to be queen. She will have her day.”
“I will miss her,” whispered Zethar. “She is like a Monarch set free from her cocoon. Shaashgaz better know how to keep this treasure glittering or I shall have his throat.”
Hegai bowed his head in thanksgiving to the unseen gods and when he raised his eyes again he saw Zethar slithering like a gecko into the maze of palace hallways.
For three years after the great holiday, celebrating the ascension of the new queen, Hegai caught glimpses of the crowned beauty moving in and out of Xerxes’ quarters. A constant flow of other temptations were flaunted before the ruler of the empire but his eye had been captured. The palatial women’s quarters, where the concubines stayed, grew cramped and snarly.
Distant battles were lost and a great internal wrestling for power crackled in the air. Conspiracies were uncovered and dealt with. The impaled bodies of Bigthana and Teresh still rotted outside the king’s gate where they had plotted their assassination of the king.
The king was distracted with grief for Vashti. He was distracted with anxiety about the intrigue all around him. His suspicion was high and his wrath was impetuous and without mercy. Few, apart from Haman, the Agagite, dared to call attention to themselves. A personal conflict with a Jew named Mordecai began to boil over and the palace servants kept their heads low.
The last shadows of the sun merged with night on the day that Zethar stepped out of the hallways and into the chambers where Hegai sipped his wine. “Master, I bid you life and health,” he began.
“And I you,” replied Hegai. “What is the news?”
Zethar bowed and began. “The supplies of oil of myrrh and all the perfumes and cosmetics you have ordered are secured. Vashti is seeking to restore her place on the throne. Another battle has been lost. Haman has set a date to destroy all Jews. The empire is thirsty for blood other than its own. The Jew, Mordecai, has recruited the queen to speak on his behalf.”
Hegai rose to his feet and eyed the messenger as if he were a serpent set to strike. “Surely, she would not be so foolish to risk her life for this?”
“You know master that Hadassah is his cousin.” Zethar kept his head bowed.
When no response came he continued. “Mordecai raised her from her early years. She has fasted three days. So have all the Jews in Susa. The time is now past. Shaashgaz has prepared her for audience with Xerxes.”
Hegai scurried past the bowing servant without hesitation. His words were clear. “I groomed her to be queen. The name Esther means hidden for a reason. I taught her everything. She is my greatest accomplishment. She cannot act now.”
The pair arrived too late. Queen Esther was already entering the king’s hall in her royal robes. The old man and his assistant crawled into the alcove behind the burgundy curtain. “Only her god can accomplish what is needed now.” And then the miracle. The king’s eyes and heart were captured again. His arm reached out the sceptre and Esther touched the gold that meant life for her and her people.
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