This week is it for me–I’m supposed to be done with this Esther book by Friday, and I’m on track to finish on time–provided I stay on track, that is. And yet it’s a busy week–appointments here and there, a minor medical issue to deal with, a hair appointment, and my SPCA volunteer day–I hope to squeeze it all in. Honestly, there are days when I feel like I am doing something in every single minute. Who needs to exercise? I burn plenty of calories just getting through my day, and I wear the armband to prove it!
Anyway–it’s time for my WIP (work in progress) update, and I wanted to share a scene from the Esther book. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this girl as I’ve been writing. Was she the winner of a beauty pageant? Was she a victim, raped by a pagan king? What was she, exactly?
I believe there are no simple answers, for whatever she was, she was young in the beginning and older and wiser at the end. She had been married to the king for five years by the time Haman came up with his dastardly plan, and I’m sure Esther came up with some way to cope with her marriage even though she was forced to marry a pagan king. I think there are many parallels between Esther and a lot of Christians today–we are living in a post-Christian society, some might say an anti-Christian society, just as Esther was living in what you might describe as an anti-Jewish society.
The Persian kings Cyrus and Darius had been good to the Jews, allowing them to return from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, but Esther’s king, Xerxes, listened to those nefarious Samaritans who wanted to stop the rebuilding of the city walls. So Xerxes put a stop to it, thus sending a signal to the Jews in Susa–Xerxes wasn’t as pro-Israel as his predecessors had been. (Sound familiar?) So Esther was in an uncertain society, which logically explains exactly why Mordecai told his cousin not to tell anyone that she was Jewish. Quite simply, he didn’t know what Xerxes really thought of the Jews.
So Esther was living quietly as a Jew in Susa, one of the capital cities of the Persian empire, while her guardian, Mordecai, worked for the king, actually within the royal fortress. And when she was taken, most likely against her will, she had to make peace with the situation–or maybe she had always thought of the royal Persians the way a lot of us think of the British royal family–with fascination. In any case, she found herself married, and loved, and cherished. And what woman would not respond to that on some level?
So here’s a scene of Esther’s rumination not long after her marriage.
As the night exhaled spring perfume, I snuggled closer to the warmth of my husband’s body. The king snored softly and drew me closer, gentle and sweet even in sleep.
I sighed and brushed his arm with my fingertips, then smiled as a realization struck me: I had fallen in love with the man who commanded me to marry him. Before meeting the king, I never truly understood what love entailed—I understood infatuation, for what young girl couldn’t identify with the intense yearning and erratic pulse of young love—but I never comprehended the relationship between Miriam and Mordecai. Their love was an almost tangible connection, anyone could feel the bond between them, but I had no idea how to form that kind of attachment to someone else.
When I had protested that I did not love Binyamin as a wife should, both Mordecai and Miriam assured me that my love for him would grow as naturally as a flower reaches for the sun. But because I had known Binyamin since childhood, I imagined that married love would be akin to the love a sister feels for a brother.
I had never imagined this.
I smiled and ran my fingertips over the wiry dark hairs along my husband’s arm.
What I felt for my husband the king was far more vital than anything I could feel for a brother. The urge to have his lips on my mine was so strong I often had my handmaids dress me hours before I expected his summons. I paced in my chamber, so eager to see him that I practically flew to the door when the eunuchs arrived to escort me to his presence.
The rumors I had heard, the old stories that filled me with dread and anxiety, vanished in the warmth of my husband’s smile. How could the man who laughed at my silly stories ever execute an innocent? How could the man who called me his tiny angel be ruthless or cruel? How could the man who slumbered in my arms be impulsive or bloodthirsty?
In truth, I saw my husband as a great king, a kind man, and a vibrant lover. He smiled when I entered the room; he ordered everyone else away and led me to his banqueting table, where we fed each other from fruit trays and drank sweet wine. With great concern he asked how I had spent my day; with equal concern I asked if he had any news he wanted to share with me.
He never did, but I never expected him to ask my opinion, for what did I know of empires?
Then he would ask if I was happy, and with a heart full of love I would answer yes.
He would hand me a scroll, a collection of love poetry or a romantic story, and I would sit at his feet and read to him. But before I finished, my husband the king would gather me into his arms and carry me to his bed. There I finally understood the passion in the Shir-Hashirim, the sacred scrolls written by Solomon, the son of David:
As the king reclines at table,
My nard gives forth its perfume:
To me the man I love is a sachet of myrrh
Lodged between my breasts;
To me the man I love is a spray of henna flowers
In the vineyards of ‘Ein-Gedi . . .
Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love.
I wish his left arm were under my head,
And his right arm around me.
As the long night faded into morning, the sunrise bringing my husband and I to wakefulness, I would press my ear to his chest to hear the strong beat of his heart.
A brave heart.
A loyal heart.
A king’s heart.
And when he was fully awake, my husband would kiss me again as my eyes filled with tears at the thought of parting from him.
But I had to leave him, for he had an empire to oversee, and I had to return to my handmaids for a day of lotions and dressmaking and hairdressing.
Partysatis, I thought as I walked back to the queen’s palace one morning, would be sick with envy if she could see me now. But Mordecai would not approve of my lifestyle, for I had thoroughly and unabashedly given my love to a man who neither knew nor respected the God of my fathers.
My mouth twisted at the thought of my long-neglected cousin. I had not been to the harem garden in weeks, though I was certain Mordecai still walked outside the garden walls every day. He was not the sort to forget a promise, even though he might have wondered if I had forgotten him.
Still, he walked that garden path to keep me safe, and when lying in my husband’s arms I had no need of a defender. I belonged to my beloved and he to me, and no one could touch me now. No one would dare.
Especially since I carried a secret.
For the past two months, my body had not bled in its regular cycle. My handmaids were atwitter with the possibility that I carried a new crown prince, and I had caught them whispering about the possibility that the king might elevate my son over Vashti’s children. I did not dare speculate about the future, but I sat in the garden and watched the royal children at play, imagining my own child among the mix.
What might my son look like? He would have his father’s strong chin, of course, and I hoped he would inherit the king’s tall frame. He would be strong, dark-haired, and dark-eyed, with shapely arms and olive skin. He would be the perfect little prince.
The king would want him to be fit and powerful, but I would be content if he were endowed with a quiet spirit and a kind heart. The king had exhibited nothing but tenderness toward me, though I knew he could be ruthless when he had to be. I would never forget what happened to Mushka.
I understood that a king could not rule so vast an empire with nothing but gentleness. Iron undergirded my husband’s velvet hand, or he would not have deposed Vashti and made me queen. Power lay in his fist, or he could not have avenged his father’s defeat in Greece.
I could only hope I would never feel the weighty force of his disapproval.
My husband expected his children to be strong, as well. While watching a group of eunuchs tutor the king’s sons, I saw that the princes were expected to be proficient in archery, spear-throwing, and horsemanship. When not exercising their bodies, their tutors drilled them about how to prevent evil, behave with good morals, and follow the truth. But what truth did they follow?
As I listened to the tutors discuss truth as if it were a tangible essence to be discovered and grasped, I found myself missing Mordecai. He found Truth in the word of Adonai, and I had never met anyone so wise.
I once asked Mordecai how he came to know so much. Instead of answering, he bent to pick up a scroll. His hands caressed the leather straps with reverent tenderness as he met my gaze. “The Tehillim,” he said simply, unrolling the scroll. Then, holding the scroll in a golden orb of lamp light, he began to read:
“How I love your Torah!
I meditate on it all day.
I am wiser than my foes,
because your mitzvot are mine forever.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
because I meditate on your instruction.
I understand more than my elders,
because I keep your precepts.
I keep my feet from every evil way,
in order to observe your word.
I don’t turn away from your rulings,
because you have instructed me.
How sweet to my tongue is your promise,
Truly sweeter than honey in my mouth!
From your precepts I gain understanding;
This is why I hate every false way.”
Mordecai lowered the scroll and looked at me with patient love shining in his eyes. “Do you see, Hadassah?”
I bit my lip, understanding but not particularly liking what I understood. “You are wise because you read the holy scrolls.” All the time.
He smiled. “If you want wisdom, daughter, know this: Torah is a lamp for your foot and a light on your path.”
I nodded, then pretended to hear Miriam calling me to help with the evening meal. And as I walked away, I heard Mordecai sigh.
Later, I had told myself. When I had married and begun to raise a family, I would listen to my husband read Torah and become one of the wise old women everyone respected. Until then, I had dreams to cherish and ideas to explore.
But as I considered a long and luxurious life with my royal husband, I found myself longing for the sight of Mordecai reading a Torah scroll by lamplight.