The library was one of the largest rooms inside the Supernatural Coalition of the North East’s headquarters. The mansion itself was enormous, sprawling across acres of land with dozens of above- and below-ground bedrooms, lounges, and more. The library took up what Yani thought was an entire floor. The librarian was a lamia, and thanks to her extra senses, she could keep track of which book went where. Yani was clueless, since the library didn’t use the Dewey Decimal system or have any sort of searchable catalogue.
He chose an aisle and walked slowly along the stacks, reading any titles that happened to catch his attention. Nothing really jumped out at him, so he stopped at a random shelf and read all the titles on it. We Survived looked less boring than anything else on the shelf. Yani pulled the book down and headed back to the sitting area closest to the main door.
“I found one,” he said triumphantly to Aaron, but Aaron had his head buried in his own book and didn’t answer. Yani sighed and turned away to sit down on an overstuffed armchair situated nearby. He didn’t bother trying to engage Aaron in conversation again. It wouldn’t work—at least, not anymore.
Yani opened the book and started reading, hoping it would help pass the time and distract him from the difficulties in his life. It was a short book, only a hundred pages with fairly large print. It wouldn’t take too long to read, hopefully just long enough to fill the time before the hearing.
Esther wasn’t really a special girl. She wasn’t overly intelligent or particularly strong. However, she was beautiful, and she understood that her beauty could be used to compensate for what she otherwise lacked. Luckily, Esther wasn’t vain. She had been orphaned as a young girl and brought up by her cousin Mordechai, who had kept her grounded in the Jewish faith. Still, he knew how important a chess piece Esther’s beauty could be.
“All the beautiful maidens across the land of Persia are required, by dictate of King Ahasuerus, to come to the palace!” The town crier was insistent, repeating the latest dictate for the entire marketplace to hear. Persia was a vast land full of beautiful people, but King Ahasuerus demanded only the best for himself. He needed a wife, Mordechai knew. His last wife had been banished during the full week of drunkenness at the king’s recent party. Mordechai didn’t know the entire story, only the rumors that circulated the marketplace, but he had seen the now exiled Queen Vashti once before, and only Esther compared to her beauty. King Ahasuerus wouldn’t accept anything less.
Queen Vashti, the rumors said, had been asked by the drunken king and courtiers to attend to them wearing only her crown. Garments were not allowed. Vashti had refused, and in a drunken rage, the king had stripped her of her rank and exiled her from Persia. Now sober, King Ahasuerus was apparently having second thoughts.
The crier started to repeat his call, so Mordechai hurried from the market, heading back to his house in the Jewish sector of the city. He had to take a circumventing route. He was Jewish and well known as a leader of the Jewish community. People like him were not welcome in the more affluent areas of Shushan, the capital of Persia that Mordechai called home.
Esther was waiting for him outside the house she shared with Mordechai and his wife and three children. Teres, the man who had run to Mordechai to tell him about the crier’s announcement, was standing at her side.
“We have much to speak about,” Mordechai told them both. He led the way into the house as he spoke. Esther and Teres followed quickly. Teres sat with Mordechai at the table in the kitchen while Esther made tea.
“The king will want a bride as beautiful as Vashti was,” Mordechai insisted. “Women across the land will be traveling to see that they are made the new queen, but Esther, I think you have the greatest chance.”
Esther blushed and shook her head even as she pulled teacups out of the cabinets.
“Mordechai, I doubt he’ll choose me. I can hardly be the most beautiful woman in all of Persia, and besides, King Ahasuerus won’t choose a Jew for his wife.”
“He doesn’t have to know you’re Jewish,” Mordechai replied immediately. “Jews have held their religious ceremonies in secret before. You can certainly do that again in the palace as the new queen.”