Today is the day.
Today I shall go to meet the King! I’d seen him a couple of times. There was that time a few years ago cousin Morde had brought me along to a feast. The King had made a brief appearance at the ballroom, and Queen Vashti was with him. They opened the floor for the dancers. Then of course there was the incidental meeting.
I was walking in the garden behind the house of the women, reading a book. Suddenly I bumped into something solid and the book flew out of my hand, and my glasses flew out of my face.
“I am so sorry”
“Are you alright my dear?”
We spoke at the same time. At the sound of his voice I felt goosebumps all over. I’d know that voice anywhere. King Xerxes.
“So what do they call you, my fair lady?”
“I am Hadassah”
“That’s a lovely name. Keep your head up.” He smiled at me and left. I waited to confirm that he was out of sight and literally flew back to Hanna’s quarters.
“Child, you have the Lords’ favor upon you. Look how your journey has been.” Hegai told me with an indulgent look. “It’s your 23rdbirthday, and today you shall go to meet the King. You know you can ask me for whatever, to take with you, and I shall grant it”
“Hegai, what shall you have me take?”
“Thank you for your trust Hadassah. You have chosen wisely. Now listen carefully…”
“Hadassah, it is time.”
“Oh, I shall miss you so much, Hegai”
“Me too. It shall be well. Happy birthday Child” he said, hugging me and planting a kiss on my forehead. “Go with God”
“Hi,” King Xerxes said, rising from his seat at the end of the table.
“Hi?”I asked myself. And does he sound nervous to me or did I just make that up? He wiped his hands on his robes.
Does that even happen? Really?
“Ahem, please sit down.” He gestured to his right. Then instead of resuming his seat at the head of the table, he took the one opposite mine.
Does that even happen?
Dinner was arranged. It looked delicious! But I was not sure I could eat a bite with all those butterflies dancing in my tummy.
“I remember you, Hadassah”
I was taken aback “Your Majesty!”
“Please, Hadassah, call me Xerxes.”
I didn’t utter anything but I know my face said, “Seriously?”
“You know, I’ve been thinking about you since our meetup.”
“Ok, Xerxes. You remember?”
He passed a little golden bell to my side of the table. “Ring it when you’re ready to eat.”
“Can I do it now? I’m hungry” I said, smiling to cover up my nervousness.
“Sure, go right ahead”
“Ummm could we say Grace first?” Mordecai’s warning about my heritage rang in my head. But I went ahead. “Lord, thank you for the food, and this moment in time. Bless us. Amen.”
I rang the bell and the chef and his crew got to work serving us the first course.
“So, what do you like to do, Hadassah?”
“I love to read.” I said between mouthfuls of soup.
“That’s interesting. So what are you currently reading?”
What do you tell a King who has just asked you that? I am reading one of those scroll thingies by one of those scribe dudes?
“The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho” I said without batting an eyelid.
“Oh that’s a good one. I read it a few years back”
“Really?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, why?” “I thought you only read those scroll things by the scribes”
King Xerxes broke out into a hearty laugh. “Hahaha! I read material written outside the palace too.”
I could not explain the faster beating of my heart nor the sudden rise in body temperature but it annoyed me a little.
However time flew, as we both enjoyed the food and the conversation. Xerxes had been King for 14 years! “Does it ever become too much for you? Do you ever feel like quitting?”
He smiled. “I admit sometimes it does weigh heavily on me. But it’s my calling. I must serve my people. Besides I have a great support system. This team is awesome!”
When dinner was over, Xerxes led me to his moonlit patio.
“We have the band?” I asked with a smile He returned my smile.
The King’s band was legendary. The harpist started to harp, and they played. Xerxes extended his hands to me and asked with a slight bow, “Dance with me, M’Lady?”
I met his eyes, and with a subtle curtsy accepted his hand. “Much obliged M’Lord”
And the band played on as he led me in the dance. And gradually where there was one good foot of space between us there remained none. My slender 5’10” frame fit perfectly into his broad, sinewy, 6’4” frame. And we danced on comfortably, with bits of conversation here and there, not unlike friends who had known each other for years.
When we could not be on our feet another minute, Xerxes nodded to the band that they could leave. We went inside to sit on the cozy couch. We talked about everything and nothing. He asked me about my childhood. And he told me about how his father had died when he was still a young adult and he had to take over the kingship. Luckily, his mother knew very well all the inside affairs of the palace. She practically ran the palace the first few years of his reign.
Occasionally one of us would glance at the massive clock on the wall. We were both aware of the dawn creeping. The dreaded dawn. Would I be sent to the second House of the Women? Actually when it was one’s turn to meet the King, the handmaidens would pack up your things and they would be transferred to the Second House accompanied by just one handmaiden. I would sure miss my merry seven.
“… in the Book of the Chronicles. Hadassah?” Xerxes was giving me a puzzled look. “Are you okay?”
“Sorry Xerxes. My mind wandered off a bit.”
“No am fine. Are you sleepy?”
“I must admit, my dear, that I do not want this night to end. But it’s late and we should retire.”
He accompanied me down the hall and pointed to the last door on the right. “This my dear, is where you shall put up for the night”. I nodded. He walked me to the door.
“Thanks for a wonderful night, Hadassah”
I put my hand on the door knob and as turned it, he pulled me towards him, put one hand around my waist and touched my face with the other. Our eyes connected as he kissed me. And for a moment I closed my eyes and disappeared into bliss.
It was over too soon. As I got ready for bed then lay on the purple silk beddings I played the evening back in my mind. And wondered what the kiss meant.
“My Lady, there is someone here to see you.”
I was just finishing up my breakfast in the living room of the suite where I had spent the night. “Let them in” I said, wondering who on God’s good earth would be looking for me there.
“Hegai! Do you always come to escort the ladies personally to the second house?” “What are you talking about Hadassah” he gave me a blank look.
“Oh, you have no idea, do you?”
“What, Hegai, spit it out already!”
“I’ll show you.” He moved the small rug that was in front of the couch with his foot. “This.”
Right there on the floor tiles were the words ‘Welcome home my Queen’. “And this,” he went to the window and opened the drapes. The same huge words were in the middle of the floor to ceiling window. “And this”, walking to the small desk in the corner and pointing to the surface.
I would not follow him anymore. I could not. My feet would not move no matter how much I willed them to. And no words would come out of my mouth to express the myriad of thoughts in my head and feelings in my heart.
Hegai walked to me, put his arm around my shoulder and led me to the seat. He sat next to me and took both my shaking hands in his. He looked me in the eyes and said “It is you, Child. You are the One. Queen Hadassah.”
*** The End ***
Inspired by the Book of Esther: 2
I began writing this story on Sat, 19th Nov 2011. I had been reading the book of Esther for the umpteenth time. But this time I was inspired to write HER story. So as I sat in a church in town waiting for my friend to come over so we could go somewhere… The story just poured out of me.