Esther's Song: A Novel
Esther’s Song: A Novel imagines a preteen Jewish orphan suddenly having to navigate the lethal corridors of the royal harem, withstand palace intrigue, and overcome religious persecution to marry Xerxes, King of Persia, and save her people from extermination. Dr. B. G. Brainard’s extensive knowledge of ancient Near East history brings rich detail to the familiar biblical account of Queen Esther. More
If Hadassah had known how her life would change the next day, she would not have believed it. Then her adoptive father Mordecai told her Persian royal couriers were on their way to take her to the citadel of Susa, along with other virgins King Xerxes might find desirable to be the next queen. Mordecai gave her a pair of Hebrew inscribed bracelets that belonged to her deceased mother, while he forbade her to reveal her Jewish background or nationality.
Couriers arrived and transported her to the palace. She was deemed acceptable after a Greek physician confirmed she was an intact virgin. She was scrubbed clean and escorted to her room in the second house of the royal harem. The next morning Great Queen Atossa requested Hadassah’s presence. Xerxes’ mother regaled Hadassah with stories of how her father, King Cyrus, twice escaped death at the hands of his grandfather. Although wary of the queen mother, Hadassah could not help feeling enthralled by the older woman’s attention.
The overseer of the harem welcomed the virgins and told them what to expect. Later while trying to retrieve the incriminating bracelets she had hidden during her physical inspection, Hadassah unexpectedly encountered King Xerxes. He told her not to be afraid and asked her name before his procession moved on. Later at the birth celebration for the deposed queen’s son Artaxerxes, Amestris scrutinized Hadassah with dark eyes cold as winter ice.
Hadassah received permission from the king to continue her language studies, due to ineptness at the dance and music classes. She made friends with some of the virgins, but aroused disdain in others when given a new name, magnificent apartment, and seven maids by Great Queen Atossa. Esther, as she was now called, finished her beauty treatments while Xerxes was off fighting the Greeks. While gone he had an affair with his son Darius’s wife. When he arrived back in Susa, deposed Amestris avenged herself on his mistress’ mother by having the woman’s breasts, nose, ears, and lips chopped off.
Great Queen Atossa warned the harem was a dangerous place, and then Esther was summoned to go in to see the king and chosen to be Amestris’ successor. She was crowned queen after a failed attempt on her life, which Esther felt had been instigated by Atossa. After being reunited with her father, Mordecai informed her of a plot to kill the king. She told her husband and the plan was thwarted. Xerxes appointed Haman as his new prime minister. When Mordecai refused to bow down to him, Haman devised a scheme to annihilate all the Jews.
Mordecai persuaded Esther to beg for the lives of her people. Knowing the penalty for going unannounced to the king was death, hope rose when he welcomed her into his presence. She invited him and Haman to dinner. Afterwards the king could not sleep and had the royal records read to him. He learned Mordecai was not rewarded for revealing the plot against him. To honor him, the humiliated Haman had to lead Mordecai around the city.
At the second banquet, Esther disclosed Haman’s plan to kill her people. Haman was hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. King Xerxes promoted Mordecai to prime minister. He also commissioned Mordecai and Esther to write a new edict in his name allowing the Jews to defend themselves and their property. Afterwards they decided there should be an annual celebration to commemorate this great victory and called it Purim.
Esther continued her chancellory work and the king expanded his father’s building program at Persepolis until he was assassinated seven years later. She feared for her life, but now Great Queen Amestris astoundingly allowed Esther to retire to her estate at Kukkannakan. While en route Esther reflected on other journeys and people she had traveled with. Their song and hers had become one. She thanked the God of heaven for all his blessings for such a time as this.
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