Esther Kidnapped: A Girl & Guardian Sample
THE NEXT MORNING, Mordecai lumbered out of the house and turned to see the sun climb over the Zagros mountains and bathe Susa’s white buildings in its morning gold. The mountain air ensured that the city wasn’t too hot at dawn. By midday, however, the city would be baking.
Hadassah was still in her bedroom when he closed the door and began his walk to the citadel. He regretted not being able to apologise for his role in the argument the night before. Oh well, I’ll do it tonight.
The workplace emitted a strange vibe that day, and he found himself scratching his head as whispers leaked from behind the doors of his superiors about something called ‘the roundup’. He began looking for answers after the midday meal. He was dictating a purchase order to secretaries when the building rumbled. Dozens of soldiers galloped past the office, and everyone in the room looked to Mordecai for an explanation. He did not have one. That many soldiers usually meant violence.
For a brief second, he feared for Hadassah. No, there’s never violence of that type in the Jewish quarter, he reassured himself. He was, however, frustrated enough to ask for an explanation from higher up, so he crossed the citadel to the office of Susa’s Satrap. Typically, the secretary would be all a visitor saw. Mordecai, however, had ascended high enough to warrant a notice making its way back to the Satrap’s desk. After a ten-minute wait, the office doors swung open. Mordecai entered.
The room had all the ornaments one might expect of a Persian ruler. Whoever had designed the room had undoubtedly wanted to impress—if not intimidate. The Satrap grinned from behind the finely carved table. ‘Greetings, Mordecai! How's our youngest and most prodigious of administrators?’
Mordecai was put at ease by the Satrap’s warm greeting and bowed. ‘Your Greatness, I’m busy, but well.’
‘You labour for the King. Good. How can we help you?’
‘Your Greatness, I seek an explanation of today’s events. Soldiers galloped from the citadel into the city. There are whispers of a “roundup”, and I’m unable to reassure those who work under me. Are we bringing in a network of rebels or criminals?’
The Satrap plucked a grape from the silver bowl on his table and looked at Mordecai thoughtfully. ‘You have nothing to fear. There is no big rebellion. No sedition.’
‘I’m relieved to hear it. But what should I make of the soldiers?’
‘Mordecai, my boy, you serve the Empire well, but the nature of this operation demands secrecy. Panic erupts easily, and we want to guard against that.’ He swallowed the grape and sucked his teeth with epicurean relish. ‘You see, the Emperor is in want of a new wife, and the magi have proposed a new method for selecting one—a strategy that the stars say will bring great blessing to the Empire.’
‘His Majesty won’t arrange a marriage with a royal princess in the traditional manner?’
‘That’s right. Remember how things with Vashti ended? She was a powerful princess. Our Emperor found her beautiful but rebellious. Between you and me, princesses and aristocrat daughters can make spoiled wives.’
‘All of this makes sense Your Greatness, but what has this to do with the soldiers. Will they escort the new bride to the palace?’
The Satrap’s grin widened. ‘Escort her? Well, after a manner, I suppose. You see,’ he lowered his voice, ‘The King hasn’t chosen the girl yet. He will hold a contest to determine who will be the Queen.’
‘I suppose it’s fine to tell you now. The news will explode soon enough. As we speak, soldiers in Susa, Pasargadae, Persepolis, Anshan, Babylon, and in each of the cities of royal status throughout the Empire are rounding up that city’s ten most beautiful maidens from non-aristocratic families. They chose these girls weeks ago, but we’ve waited for the right moment to snatch them all up. We escort them, as you say, back here, and then the Emperor chooses his Queen from among them.’
‘What a wise idea.’ Fears scurried through Mordecai’s mind like rats across a dirty floor. ‘It’s so deserving of our great Emperor. How, may I ask, will His Majesty select from among them?’
‘How? How do you think? The eunuchs will beautify the girls with treatments and, when they are ready, each girl will have her night with the Emperor. The girl who pleases him the most will become the new Queen.’
‘He’ll spend a night with every girl?’
‘Yes, Mordecai. How else would he do it?’
‘I, um, suppose most men would not be adequately sympathetic to the great challenges our glorious King is willing to undertake for the good of the Empire.’
‘The King is noble in all he does.’
Mordecai forced a nod. ‘Of course. And what, may I ask, will happen to the girls not chosen to be Queen? Will the palace return them?’
The Satrap coughed on his grape mid-swallow. ‘Have you hit your head!? Returned? To their families? A man of your position in the service should know better. The palace never returns its girls. What if she were to one day marry, and her new husband said, “I sleep with the same woman the Emperor once did.” That would be a disgrace! I’ll forget you asked such a question―but only this once.’
‘Thank you. So that means the girls—’
‘Yes, the other girls will live out their days in the royal harem.’
‘Thank you, Your Greatness. I have taken up enough of your time with my foolishness. I must hurry back to work.’
‘Yes, I think that would be best, Mordecai. Get some rest.’
‘Thank you, Your Greatness,’ Mordecai said, getting up and hurrying out of the room. When he got out of the building, he started running. He did not stop until he reached his empty home.
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