Tonight is the night! She has waited long months, and does not try to hide her excitement. Tonight she meets her lord. Tonight she becomes a woman. Tonight she seals her future.
She is meticulously prepared. Her skin is flawless, having been massaged daily with costly aromatic oils and rich perfumes. Her flowing robe hangs to the floor, shimmering and rustling daintily as she moves. Her olive skin is perfectly set off by gold ornaments. Bracelets chink at her narrow wrists, necklaces encircle her soft throat, jewelled earrings gleam against her dark hair. When she smiles her even teeth shine like pearls. Her manicured hands are decorated with henna in delicate floral patterns. She is perfection personified, a prize fit for a king.
She hesitates momentarily as the manservant opens the heavy door to the king's private chamber. She breathes a prayer to her god and steps across the threshold. Behind her the servant noiselessly closes the door. She kneels, keeping her eyes downcast until the king bids her rise.
She gasps in awe at the opulence of her surroundings. Cool breezes gently lift the gauzy curtains wafting the fragrance of incense around the room. Golden bowls of ripe fruit and pitchers of sweet wine sit on low tables inlaid with gold and ivory. Intricately knotted carpets bedeck the walls; equally elaborate cushions are arranged on every couch. Water splashes gently from a fountain flowing over stone steps and into a shallow pool. Its soothing babble helps to calm her rising anxiety.
She turns her gaze to the king. His heavily oiled black hair and beard frame a truly regal face. The deep forehead, straight nose and bushy brows communicate intelligence and authority. Lines around his eyes remind her that he is twice her age. Again she panics for a heartbeat wondering how she can be a pleasing wife to a man who could be her father? Then she catches sight of merriment twinkling under those bushy brows and she breathes again.
They share luscious pineapple and watermelon, washing them down with sweet red wine. The king enquires about her life in her homeland. He asks about her preferences in music and which designs she prefers to work in tapestry. The conversation puts her at ease, but her responses are meaningless to him, and he soon tires of them.
With a nod of his head he indicates it is time to retire to the bedchamber. As she slips out of her outer robe she tries to remember all she has learned about this act. The wine has dulled her senses and she moves somewhat mechanically towards the inlaid bed. She lies upon the beautiful down-filled cushions. Involuntarily she stiffens under the king's weight, and chides herself for doing so. She feels a sharp pain and moves woodenly in response to him before he grunts, rolls aside, and sleeps.
The moon moves forlornly across the sky. Geese honk in the kitchen gardens, and beyond the city walls wild animals sound their mournful cries. She is sore and stiff. She dare not sleep lest her lord awaken and find her unavailable. Neither dare she move lest she rouse him from his slumber. Through the watches of the night her heart grows heavy. She has met her lord, she has become a woman, she has sealed her future.
The king rises early to attend to affairs of state. He neither greets her, nor even acknowledges her presence as he goes to be bathed. She waits in silence until he has departed for the business of the day.
A maidservant comes to attend her. Once bathed and robed she looks around one last time, taking in the magnificently ornamented bedchamber of the king. Another woman will entertain the king tonight. Some day one will please him and be crowned queen. But this is not her destiny.
She exits through a different door, following the servant to a part of the palace that is new to her. Here she will live out her days among the king's concubines. She will lack nothing; her food, wine and clothes will all be provided from the king's treasury. Her days will be filled with female conversation and gentle diversions.
Yet she has lost everything. She will never know a husband's tender embrace, nor nurse a child at her breast. Spoilt and un-marriageable, she will remain forever hidden from society, a forgotten woman. In this most exacting beauty contest the winner takes all.
An imaginary tale built around Esther 2:14
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