for Shawna Carboni
and for Irmgard Zagel
ACT ONE SCENE ONE ((((( Susa, the capitol of ancient Persia, 476 BC
The Queen's chamber, a late evening in spring.
ESTHER ((((( Queen of Persia, a dark beauty in regal dress, 23
NAIGRA ((((( lady in waiting, a Negress, plain but voluptuous
As with all scenes, the setting is indicated wholly by a few spare items of furniture, here an Ottoman, four chairs, and a vanity. All enter and exit through curtains, stage left and right. As the scene opens, Naigra is brushing Esther's hair.
Another day has shuddered (( NAIGRA
Dear Esther, Queen of Persia.
STILL no summons from the King.
Another day, (( ESTHER
(talking to her reflection in the vanity)
In truth, the child comes on (( NAIGRA
The little intruder.
My disgrace. (( ESTHER
And yet your joy. (( NAIGRA
Not mine, my Naigra. (( ESTHER
Not the King's.
Come now, I see your face. (( NAIGRA
In seven months
You'll be a mother.
DEAD mother. Don't be coy. (( ESTHER
You should go to him. (( NAIGRA
Ahasuerus? Risk his wrath? (( ESTHER
What choice is there? (( NAIGRA
Bring him to bed or that man's known
And certain cuckold
By a stranger.
Hardly a stranger. Second (( ESTHER
And where is the greater danger?
In all of Susa
No one entertains such retribution
As were to journey to the King unbidden.
Thus far my treachery is hidden.
And when your belly's ripe (( NAIGRA
With Haman's seed?
I'll find a way to hide the deed. (( ESTHER
Come. (( NAIGRA
'Tis obvious truth when wench is plowed,
No less the Queen.
When belly's big
Then SOMEONE'S proud.
'Tis some mean fiction that you'd
Settle on this court.
He'll call me yet. (( ESTHER
The time is short. (( NAIGRA
Naigra, to think (( ESTHER
That old spotted goat
Would wield a scepter
Over twenty million hectares
Of green earth,
And arbitrate the fortunes
Of a million million souls,
And dictate what is death
And what is birth,
That at his whim ride thousands
Into ruin and decay
Each day he breathes,
And hundreds into fortune and renown,
That even under this silk gown
My sex is ruled
Upon his arbitrary bent,
His to have bartered, lent,
To any knight in Susa on a sudden disposition,
And even then dispense the cruelest
Judgment he deems fit,
For lapse of wit
Or mildest error, wield terror
By his failing sight,
Condemn to night,
Or raise to light,
Simply by a twitch of humors,
Subservient at last
To innuendo, rumors,
A cruel remark from some foul eunuch in his keep,
No more to service woman 'neath
The latter's tunic
But a hint of gossip
Or a stink of pride.
Some call this Ahasuerus God.
His focus is the world's, a nub
Of wrinkled flesh
That seldom stiffens
But in sleep.
All that, my lot to be his consort,
Keep a soft sullen watch
Over the temperature of lust
That waxes some ODD hour of the night
Or wanes for months, a mystery
Of phases in the moon
I don't presume to fathom or ignore.
I'm one part wife and nine parts whore.
An early mistress (( NAIGRA
Fared no better.
'Tis said he had his Vashti put to death.
'Tis rumored thus. (( ESTHER
And what then you, or one of (( NAIGRA
Naigra, (( ESTHER
I am the woman who replaced her.
All she dared was violate his summons.
Merry with wine, he called
Her to the court, and, indisposed,
She took herself to bed.
His Memucan advised him to remove
Her from the throne,
And though they say he loved her
All ties of marital regard,
Judgment to unseat her from her large estate
To penury, at last
To banishment, and then . . .
Death. (( NAIGRA
This much is certain. (( ESTHER
No man has ever lived to see her SMILE.
And yet it was YOUR fortune. (( NAIGRA
To be chosen . . . over thousands. (( ESTHER
Anointed some six months with oil of myrrh,
Six months with spices, lotions for the skin.
Summoned by Hegai to the court
And an old man's delectation.
Some thought me favored
Simply by my beauty,
Some my pride.
In truth, 'twas chance alone
That raised a concubine to queen.
That year I earned a diadem,
And barely seventeen.
Six years (( NAIGRA
An old man's chill caress.
No wonder you love Haman.
SMALL wonder. There were (( ESTHER
Believe me, even an ass could capture my affections.
I'd coupled with a snake,
Planted kisses on a lizard
Were he young and smooth of limb,
Spread thighs for dogs
Just to keep my thought
From eating at the banquet
He'd provided in the flesh,
If flesh it were indeed,
That mottled old leper.
Haman's no angel, but he's read the book.
Faith knows he's fed this belly
More than simply look.
I love that noble knight far more than lust.
And'd copulate with fire before I'd let
Him come to dust.
(begins to sob)
Here, Esther, darling, (( NAIGRA
Take this tissue.
Yield SOUL to fire before his (( ESTHER
Then gird your soul and brave (( NAIGRA
A king's caprice.
(then aside softly and to the audience)
But yield your LIFE, it's my disease.
Nothing would please me better could I phrase a fact.
Proud Haman loves your lady
Though her skin be black.
ACT ONE SCENE TWO ((((( the Queen's chamber, moments later
HAMAN ((((( second in command to Ahasuerus, a handsome man in the prime of life
I hate (( HAMAN
(entering from stage right in a state of agitation)
To venture on your privacy
When toadies dare to urge me quit your presence.
(crossing his arms and abruptly taking his seat on the Ottoman)
'Tis the same sullen Jew
Who baits my rage.
A Jew? (( ESTHER
The bastard goes by (( HAMAN
And thinks to slander my estate,
More blood in my Medean second toe
Than in his whole Jew hide.
I hate the race.
But surely you're mistaken. (( ESTHER
He tried to block your way?
Made verbal innuendo of the (( HAMAN
That I might hanker
For your flesh.
Fresh ape, I'd have his throat
With my own fingers
Were it not to sully my own skin.
Haman, sweet knight, (( ESTHER
Be not distressed
By an old man in his dotage.
I'm sure he meant no harm.
I'd burn the utter tribe (( HAMAN
To rankest ash
And drink the grease.
There is a nasty obsession about them
That would tease our just estate
By some unfounded arrogance of blood.
'Tis said they cannot touch our person
Lest they cleanse their very skin
And make repentance
That same night to some foul prophet
With a load of cant.
I've heard the thief is Moses,
Yet hesitate to mention that dark growth.
'Tis prayer for Jew,
For humankind 'tis oath.
(Esther sits at his side to take his hand; Naigra turns away at this to face an exit)
Come now, mighty Haman, (( ESTHER
This spite's beneath you.
'Tis an old man, no more.
Seven months have passed (( HAMAN
Since Ahasuerus elevated me
To second in command,
His will explicit in the matter,
That all this city
Should endure my slightest whim,
That Persia and Medea, all our reach
Should tremble at my step,
As if I were his son,
That islands in the deep declare all tribute
To an Agagite,
Haman, son of Hammedatha,
Revere his noble mien,
Invest his form with pregnancy
Obeisance to his glance and gesture.
Small wonder insult festers
In the person
Of this Jew, who from the first
Refused to doff his hat,
Or chastely incline his grizzled head,
Or even mutter some soft token
Of regard when greatness
Passed him in the street.
This Mordecai needs humbled.
To think he'd raise
His glance above my feet,
Or dare, mind you, to QUESTION my proper
Role here in your house.
The man were mad
I'd slap him into stocks until it lessened.
He's sane as this broad hand
You're pressing, spiteful with the arrogance of blood.
A leak of abscess
Like his God.
(Esther starts at this, withdraws her hand)
His God? (( ESTHER
Like his faith (( HAMAN
And all it settles on,
A vomitus of spirit.
Sweet Haman, don't speak such. (( ESTHER
It is beneath you.
Your anger I can trace with some regard . . .
Our infant—can it be?
Just twitched at your remark.
He is ashamed.
You'll have me soft? (( HAMAN
I won't be tamed.
Then have some moderation (( ESTHER
In your speeches
That would slander
That weak soul's support.
All Gods endure
The misconceptions of a race
And answer prayer if framed in good intent.
'Tis not the letter of a faith
That brings contempt
But falsity of purpose.
Even the God of brave Medea
Understands what litanies purchase,
Be Hindu, Greek, or wide EXTREME of faith
As this old Jew.
All prayer comes truly from the heart
When uttered in the sanctity
I can't tell what's come over you.
Your voice is older than your years
And bitter with disdain
For weaknesses more human
Than the weakness they incite.
This anger is unseemly,
And your son takes fright.
Mind me well. (( HAMAN
I'll not be moved to love a Jew.
Then love your Esther (( ESTHER
As her heart loves you.
None of this speaks to the (( HAMAN
The issue is your child. (( ESTHER
He'd venerate his father.
Come. Enough of voices (( HAMAN
Yet to speak in this fierce world.
You'd have him frame a prayer
Before he walks.
WE'LL off to walk the garden.
Naigra, guard an empty chamber.
Your mistress can be forgiven
For an empty HEAD, much more a wilting heart,
For that's small danger.
Esther, my hand.
Forgive my wrath.
(they exit, hands clasped)
Look how love departs. (( NAIGRA
In truth 'tis but a half of that emotion,
And all that's Esther's.
Greed festers in his heart who covets
All her leverage on the throne.
Hateful to see him lavish
Such sweet grip
On that chill drone.
He loves his Naigra more.
Ten sons by Zeresh bled that lawful wife to dust.
Such was the official bond,
That lately bleeds again,
And there the whore,
More to the purpose coupled to a senile king.
That geriatric lord
Is more than she can master on a silken sheet.
He'd get it up in vain for such a priss
To boast about her heat.
All agony to watch my Haman take and eat.
All agony to sense it buried to the hilt.
If that wench shudders then she's wrenched by GUILT.
Naigra will taste his juice
And spit it out.
Our worship's total, and the prayer's devout.
He'll call me to his bed before
He's cleansed her meager
Leak from off his sword. Ambition tires
When flesh is bored.
All truth to fact!
The lie's her lust. She HATES the act.
ACT ONE SCENE THREE ((((( Queen Esther's chamber, the next afternoon
MORDECAI ((((( a minor official in the kingdom, Esther's natural uncle and adopted father, an old bearded man with a limp
A SERVING WOMAN
As the scene opens, Esther is at the vanity, Naigra standing in attendance.
Queen Esther, (( THE SERVING WOMAN
(entering stage right)
Pardon my intrusion,
But 'tis Mordecai, the Jew.
He wishes to be admitted to your presence.
The man presumes (( NAIGRA
Upon himself and us.
Girl, have him off.
Yours (( ESTHER
(haughtily; she stands)
Is the greater presumption.
No, show him in.
(the woman departs; Mordecai enters)
Naigra, be kind enough to take
Some moments in the garden.
This man and I would talk.
Just as you wish. (( NAIGRA
(she exits and returns)
Mistress, I am summoned to a friend.
Some distant relative that's ailing.
It slipped my mind just now,
But shortly I've been summoned.
If you might grant permission?
The visit won't take long.
God speed and forgive my (( ESTHER
I love you dearly.
(they kiss; Naigra exits; Mordecai makes to stand)
One moment, uncle.
See that she departs.
(he crosses to the exit, looks out, returns to embrace the Queen)
My daughter. (( MORDECAI
My fairest queen.
Dear uncle and my father, (( ESTHER
Adopted father though you be,
You see this life,
The riches I must bear,
Ill fit a Jew.
But entering this house is rash.
It seems you bear ill TIDINGS
Or would not presume
To air our bond to heathen view.
I cover you as an old friend,
And not my blood.
That much is good. (( MORDECAI
(takes the Ottoman)
Here, by my side.
The story I'll proclaim would try your womanhood,
For is evil past all mortal reckoning.
That pompous Haman wills to have us dead.
(she is on her feet to whirl and face her father)
Dead? Us? (( ESTHER
A worthy Jew directly. (( MORDECAI
He is your Mordecai.
Thus far the threat to you is general,
A state-wide pogrom of the people.
The people? But why? Why (( ESTHER
Some slight imagined insult (( MORDECAI
Has inflamed him.
He would proclaim my guilt
To such degree
A 50 cubit gallows is completed
By his villa
Where I'm due to hang.
The time is not determined
But can't last
Beyond the coming morning.
As for the race, some 10,000 silver
Talents has he offered
Ahasuerus to assure us death.
Is drawn and sealed with the King's
Shortly proclaimed throughout the land.
They cast the pur,
And it gave Adar for the month,
The thirteenth day afforded for the slaughter.
He'd have our people? (( ESTHER
All men, women, children. (( MORDECAI
Think not that you'll be spared,
But this is foul, perverse. (( ESTHER
Just yesterday he left my side.
It brews for months. (( MORDECAI
That one old fool refused to doff his hat
Or even dared presume
To ask his business in your house—
Just for that, for real
Or some imagined slight
He's willed to scorch the earth
And litter paradise
With our foul blood,
As he would deem it,
Sweeter than his own
Though he be born Medean,
Lately second to the King.
This total Susa wrings its hands, bewails,
And smears itself with dung.
There is sackcloth in the streets.
(Esther takes a chair, looks down at her hands)
But why entrust (( ESTHER
This tale to me, my father?
'Tis obvious. (( MORDECAI
The King is captive to your charms
And has no inkling of your past.
We'll fast and pray this day for your success.
You'll urge him quell this mission.
Under penalty of death. (( ESTHER
Uncle, I can't approach this man unbidden.
Lest he spare me with his scepter,
I am doomed.
No man, least woman, enters
The inner gate without a pass,
Without a summons.
What would it serve our cause should Esther perish?
Act now, for quick's too late. (( MORDECAI
It seems to me you cherish your estate.
My life sir. Upon that LIFE, (( ESTHER
And royal privilege? (( MORDECAI
'Tis dust to me. (( ESTHER
It catches in my throat, I swear it.
My regal daughter, (( MORDECAI
You are a QUEEN.
An empress (( ESTHER
Who'd rather be a whore.
Don't bait me thus.
I simply fear the wrath of Ahasuerus.
He'd thrust me into Hades
With his son.
Son? (( MORDECAI
Son, daughter, I carry it two (( ESTHER
(Mordecai stands, embraces her)
Then this life IS a curse. (( MORDECAI
The day he knows you Jew
His very progeny will burn.
He needn't learn. (( ESTHER
I put my nation over daughters. (( MORDECAI
You'll intercede on our behalf
Or offer up the secret
By these very lips, your father's.
You can't mean that. (( ESTHER
It would be hard, most hard, (( MORDECAI
A terrible thing.
And yet I could not spare a daughter
Whose foul reluctance damns a race.
Father, we're in this together. (( ESTHER
(strain in her voice)
Why then I take my leave. (( MORDECAI
And pray and fast for me. (( ESTHER
It is a fierceness.
No less for me than you. (( MORDECAI
I bid adieu.
Goodbye, my father. Perhaps (( ESTHER
(they embrace; Mordecai exits)
So QUICK to SPEAK,
As if to trap his love?
This thing needs thought, and thought in earnest.
(sits, stands, sits)
What irony that I am caught in this event.
I'd risk my life
To save dear Haman to the same extent
As this, if proven ripe,
Would well condemn him.
To ask to spare my people, if effecting,
Spares my child.
'Tis some wild and untamed mercy.
The father sought its very life
Unknowing, much more
The very loins from which it springs.
I fear an old man's breath
And dotage but must trust it in the end.
This whore would save her people
From her closest friend.
And save the friend in turn
By SOME event.
And capture an old man's heart to the same extent.
ACT ONE SCENE FOUR ((((( Haman's villa, the same afternoon
Here are three lesser chairs and one large ornate chair facing. There is a cot. Haman is seated as Naigra enters, breathless, stage right.
You summoned me, my Lord? (( NAIGRA
(Haman stands and motions toward the cot)
To dalliance. (( HAMAN
Come join me here.
With pleasure. (( NAIGRA
But first I have a message.
A tediousness of a sort. (( HAMAN
That all Jews sweat?
(Naigra comes closer to embrace him and stand back)
I think we're BOTH aware of (( NAIGRA
That Esther's growing fat? (( HAMAN
'Tis no mystery.
She grows apace with child.
What has my Naigra, meek and mild,
That she'd unburden from her lips?
Simply that Mordecai and Esther (( NAIGRA
Are in conference.
THIS grips. (( HAMAN
But 'tis fabrication all too wide.
I speak in earnest. (( NAIGRA
It speaks collusion. (( HAMAN
We've often augured things between them,
The way he skulks about her door at all odd hours.
You'd have me think he brought
Or a diadem.
And what says Esther to that phlegm?
Master, (( NAIGRA
You called me off on threat of death.
'Twas but a joke. (( HAMAN
I did not linger at their side (( NAIGRA
I heard nothing.
Nothing to report? (( HAMAN
Nothing, in short. (( NAIGRA
But that they wage some business.
Business? (( HAMAN
'Tis but a guess. (( NAIGRA
But now, my Lord, to other things.
(indicates the cot)
This confidence has quelled my (( HAMAN
You yourself must hasten
To your Esther . . .
With some false report perhaps,
A means to pry her heart
For darker secret.
And fare you well with this I'll pry your thighs,
At truer bent and leisure.
Master, (( NAIGRA
I'd have some other treasure.
And what is that? (( HAMAN
'Tis not the first occasion (( NAIGRA
Aired the matter.
Your Ahasuerus bartered Vashti for another's arms.
You'd have my EAGER charms
Why then replace your Zeresh
With a proper wench.
I tire of coupling on a bench
(indicating the cot)
And seek your aging mistress's bed.
This tires me. (( HAMAN
(irritation in his voice)
As I have said . . .
I'm 31 and cannot WAIT (( NAIGRA
Till she is dead.
Have I no passage to your heart?
I rule your LOINS.
And Esther? What has she? (( HAMAN
A leverage of a sort. (( NAIGRA
She bears my child. (( HAMAN
Her Ahasuerus can't ignore his age,
Prolonged each day
That passes on this earth. And soon I'm King.
Why then I'll marry Esther
And legitimize my heir.
Why then this Naigra (( NAIGRA
Hasn't got a prayer.
TWO wives I'll have. (( HAMAN
The law's explicit on that (( NAIGRA
A thousand concubines and yet
One lawful wife.
I'll change the law. (( HAMAN
Two wives. And who be the (( NAIGRA
Why . . . Esther. (( HAMAN
Not on my life. (( NAIGRA
Come now, wench, (( HAMAN
Have you no judgment in the matter?
Your skin is black.
Black. I see. (( NAIGRA
And what if she be Jew?
Jew? Jew? (( HAMAN
Come now, 'tis serious implication.
I'll have some proof soon (( NAIGRA
Of that fact.
Come now. (( HAMAN
'Tis but the wildest supposition.
Impending fact. (( NAIGRA
I know it in my soul.
Your greed is such (( HAMAN
Your soul's to sell.
She bears my child.
And Zeresh bore ten sons. (( NAIGRA
What need have you for mongrel?
'Tis hateful, this speech. (( HAMAN
And if I furnish proof? (( NAIGRA
The proof be without blemish, (( HAMAN
As this hand I lay upon your face,
Why then you're Queen.
Truth is not always pretty, Lord. (( NAIGRA
When truth is fact
The fact is oft obscene.
Esther a Jewess? (( HAMAN
To think I offered talents that would make her burn.
Bitter enough, (( NAIGRA
I heard it in the streets.
Return now there and hasten (( HAMAN
To your mistress.
Hence to your Haman
With this awful cognizance and proof.
A plot's afoot.
I'll stay to pray you harbor some mistake.
Medean Gods, I'll shake
For some sweet fruit
Than that proud Haman sired a Jew.
Come, wench. Off.
I'm caught in thought.
She makes to kiss him but misses his lips; she departs; Haman takes his chair, stands abruptly, strides to the exit, turns back.
Would lurk in this event?
She wills my bride a Jew.
And yet . . . and yet . . . would promise
Me certainty, some fearful proof
Of Esther's tainted birth.
(sits again, stands, sits, stands)
And what of Mordecai?
'Tis certain some foul bond foments between them.
Perhaps, and this is bitter thought,
I'd rake the sky for that official
And his like,
Pluck them from the lower rungs of Persia's vast estate
And into fire,
There to burn forever with their wayward oaths.
They pray each day
To some obscenity and covet regal blood.
That dark fierce beauty Jew?
Her name's not Jew.
'Tis quite above suspicion.
And though her origin is humble has no stink
Of Jew about it.
Could dazzling beauty spring from some foul beast?
What was the rancor of her father?
What the grace?
Would seed such broad mutation in the womb
She is alive, and fairer than my mother.
'Tis mystery I can't plumb
With all my wisdom who has studied Jew, a paradox
That stares unblinking at my soul
Till I might stab the very pupils.
This day makes little sense.
'Tis fabrication of the widest sort. Immense . . .
And yet . . . And yet . . .
If truth is fact, my Esther shall regret.
ACT TWO SCENE ONE ((((( the Royal Palace, that evening
AHASUERUS ((((( the King, a senile old man
HEGAI ((((( his eunuch, fat, balding, effeminate
The setting is conveyed by a large gilt chair and table on a raised platform, five lesser chairs facing. The guards stand stage rear at attention. All enter and exit through a curtain stage right, where a shelf supports several large scrolls. As the scene opens, Ahasuerus is seated on the gilt chair, gesturing with a golden scepter.
Ten thousand concubines (( AHASUERUS
Would spread legs
For this lean
And milk his manhood, that much over,
Simply at a twitch
Of this gold scepter—and yet, and yet,
Even a lawful wife I hesitate
To summon with the same gold rod to sire an heir.
The hour hastens toward some
I have no son
At this late age, perhaps forever.
Mighty Ahasuerus, scourge of bold Medea,
Monarch of the full known earth, the galaxies
That whirl, the void itself
That trembles at his step,
Reduced to this,
A nub of flesh
Most flaccid and demure,
This bit of meat
That dangles barely fit to service even wren
For worm, or starling,
Little inconsequent supper
And its spurt—some tidy drip of phlegm
And scarcely that, more droplet,
'Tis wayward—this—that out of royal loins
Cowers but intransigence,
And all the slits of hell could not suffice to get
It up . . . but here comes Hegai.
(who enters stage right with scrolls and potions)
Exalted King, some remedies (( HEGAI
(kneels, stands, sets them on the table)
Less EXULTED than exalted. (( AHASUERUS
My mood is scarcely over slime.
The underbelly of a fish.
I prove deep fens and scuttle for a pearl,
And you bring potions.
This flask (( HEGAI
(handing him a bottle)
Is pearl indeed.
Crushed pearl, with sapphire leavened
And a witch's sediment
From some secret passage unknown to mortal wench.
'Tis a condiment of high regard.
(Ahasuerus lifts another)
And this? (( AHASUERUS
Genitalia of aardvark with a dose (( HEGAI
This too minced quite properly
And blessed by three rabbis and a saint.
The latter was razed
From his own temple in the night
Sans gown, hymn, miter.
You might say he prayed himself to death,
But left this potion.
(Ahasuerus holds up another)
What insolence is THIS, (( AHASUERUS
A devil's leavings?
My contacts left the latter (( HEGAI
'Tis solid diamond from,
And ground by such, admixed with virgin's menses
And a touch of spit
From aging Ramses or his brother—
'Tis not certain.
Fully recommended nonetheless.
It added inches to the prince of Marladuk
In just five turnings of the sun.
He served some hundred wenches
The very night the fullest growth appended
With no attrition
Consequent or tended.
Fierce was his appetite
And fierce the ladies he upended.
I'll try all three and try the (( AHASUERUS
But these scrolls . . .
'Tis the manual I requested?
Come, Hegai, you sniveling wretch,
(Hegai reaches him an eyeglass from his robe and spreads a scroll)
Some WONDER THAT . . . 'tis lad or lass?
Methinks 'tis part of each. (( HEGAI
'Tis hard to see (( AHASUERUS
How such parts reach.
Look further. (( HEGAI
By faith, there's three. (( AHASUERUS
'Tis most instructive.
'Tis four. Or five? But strange configuration.
Where can such appetite
As this derive?
It stirs you? (( HEGAI
More to merriment than sex. (( AHASUERUS
I'm but one man,
And he'd have six.
Where are the couples in this script?
Read on. (( HEGAI
'Tis most peculiar (( AHASUERUS
How she's gripped.
This pleases me. And this. And this.
To think some
Trifle with a kiss.
To think that man would STOOP to plough.
I'll have the lot and have it now.
'Tis one grand obscenity, THIS mating.
And such a tongue THIS lass to reach that far.
'Tis more than paradise SHE'S baiting.
I'll have the lot.
He's turned her inside out.
Such prayer's devout.
SHE stooped to worship, then SHE
(Esther enters stage right on Naigra's arm; a guard slams a staff against the floor)
What impudence is this? (( AHASUERUS
(peers through his eyeglass at the trembling women)
'Tis known perdition to betray my trust.
(stands and sways about with his scepter)
Hegai, 'tis two wenches in the royal chamber.
I'll have them hanged.
Pity, (( ESTHER
(she is faint on Naigra's arm)
Great master, we knew full well the danger.
That voice? It is the Queen. (( AHASUERUS
It seems she faints.
What wench supports her there?
Pity, dear Lord, 'tis but my (( ESTHER
I languish on her arm.
Only her love for me would quell her fear
To visit her soul upon your majesty
Unsummoned by my side,
Unsummoned, ten, nay twenty years.
'Tis some ripe wench. (( HEGAI
(aside; and then to Ahasuerus)
Come sir, they mean no harm.
Favor them with your scepter.
Her majesty is dazzling in her terror.
'Tis but imprudence.
By faith, she melts.
And . . . quivers.
See the deep cleavage at her throat, the swell,
Her trembling charms?
Come, Esther, I am moved. (( AHASUERUS
(descends from the platform, leads her to a chair)
Here, the scepter laid upon your neck.
What will it take an old man to regret?
Your fright will reap a third
Of my estate.
If fear is summoned then forgiveness's great.
Half of my kingdom
Will I lavish on your limbs
For one sweet word.
Just name your need, my need's your sword.
Come, be mercy
On an aged king.
I'll grant you all the Eastern portion. The West?
Forgive an old man's folly
And be straight with your request.
Dear sweet Ahasuerus, mind me (( ESTHER
If I have found favor
Then your soul's to sell.
Not half a kingdom would I cherish from your heart.
'Tis simply a nation, and their death is hard.
The half I seek is whole,
The better half of pity,
For all the Jews that languish in this city.
For all the Jews that languish in this land.
For Mordecai, bent to the gallows
By your Haman's hand. He'd slaughter ALL.
The order's framed and scattered to the ends
Revoke the letter and the fierce intent.
Upon my birth,
I'll pay you back in coinage of the same extent.
And Haman ordered that? (( AHASUERUS
Haman. (( ESTHER
I'll mince the very scepter (( AHASUERUS
Of the wretch who urged this pain.
You say 'tis Haman
Turned my brain?
(she nods assent)
Why then I'll dice him with a thousand swords
And leak his juice to Hades
As a just reward.
Great King, you spare a nation, (( ESTHER
SPARE your soul.
Let no blood drain from kindness
If the deed be whole.
Offer your wrath to Esther
As a gift to her estate.
Serve mercy to her people.
Serve mercy, even Haman,
'Tis a noble trait.
I'd have his Zeresh and his ten (( AHASUERUS
What offers Esther in return?
Some melting of the spirit (( ESTHER
And a willingness to learn.
Hegai, (( AHASUERUS
Instruct these ladies in the realm of lust.
I'll have an heir.
All else is dust.
ACT TWO SCENE TWO ((((( Esther's chamber, the same afternoon
Again, four chairs, an Ottoman, a vanity. As the scene opens, Esther is sitting with Naigra on the Ottoman.
'Tis a foulness, (( ESTHER
This Hegai has described,
These rank perversities
Culled from Egyptian tribe.
I am his wife and no fierce slut
From off the streets
Of some Gomorrah.
He wills to damn us
By the rites of Sodom
With such dark gruesome caresses
As would motivate a stone to fornicate,
Even that mottled elder,
Ahasuerus, with his spotted flanks,
More fit for coffin
Than a proper bed and queen.
'Tis obvious truth he'd have me damned, obscene.
Small price to pay to serve (( NAIGRA
If I may assess it.
He'll have you whore, why then
'Tis but a momentary lapse
In an old man's mind and wisdom.
He'll opt for general pleasures
Sanctioned by the laws
The moment that you've kissed him
With your grace and lips.
No need a tongue to trace his hips.
Or milk his udder? (( ESTHER
The thought of it . . . I shudder.
(Naigra crosses to the vanity, lifts a scroll)
What moves me more (( NAIGRA
Is this solicitation for a PEOPLE
Most call rank.
Your name is Babylonian.
I thank the King's thesaurus
For the derivation.
In younger years, a scholar,
He compiled it for the Nation.
A weighty Persian designation, Esther,
Hails from Ishtar,
As this scroll insists,
All blood sanctified and holy, of the PROPER
Rank. Your mother had no mother
For a Jewess, mother
In turn to thank
For civil heritage.
It puzzles me by no mean spirit
Or indictment of a race.
I simply assay your NATURAL charms, your grace.
Naigra, (( ESTHER
That beast would have me banquet
On his leavings!
And a lady's (( NAIGRA
Why then, for your Haman's son and NOT a hated
Whence comes this love for Jew?
For Mordecai, whom Haman'd have in Hades.
You've heard his diatribe.
'Tis to the point if oft embellished.
He'd have them burn and have it relished.
Naigra, (( ESTHER
(breaking into tears)
That Mordecai is my own blood.
'Tis odd . . . (( NAIGRA
My very blood. (( ESTHER
My father's brother, if you would,
And since ten years, adopted father,
On my father's death.
And raised me in the faith and breadth
Of faith and customs simply Jew.
'Tis fearful secret I've entrusted unto you.
But Esther dear, (( NAIGRA
(embracing her mistress)
'Tis but the answer to our prayer.
Haman must forthwith share
This long-held secret. Let me hasten there.
Some proof you're daughter to a noble race,
He'll soften all his fierce intent
And argue your case to Ahasuerus.
Be certain, mistress.
Had Haman guessed this Mordecai your father
And your blood, 'tis hell itself
He'd braved to spare your tribe, your God,
Your customs, even your very scent.
And yet . . . your very name . . . 'tis . . .
Naigra, the name was lent. (( ESTHER
From a book.
My learned uncle was as cunning
As his years had made him wise.
And knew no king would gaze upon the eyes
Of Jewess. Fashioned me
With a humble past, but pure to Ahasuerus.
I knew it couldn't last.
See here this locket . . . here, open
The silver hasp—'tis Hadassah
Inscribed, my rightful name,
Full Hebrew in the designation,
Daughter of Moses and the Jewish nation.
Here, that likeness—'tis Esther,
Don't you think?
Hadassah at seventeen.
Three months later I was Queen.
Dear Hadassah, (( NAIGRA
This marries soul to bliss.
Your Haman will urge your case
Before the King.
He loves you dearly and would risk anything,
All wrath upon his head, risk death itself,
Perdition, hot flames of Ahasuerus,
Risk gallows, rack, risk crucifixion,
Simply to put aside this fiction
That you're Gentile stock,
And base your purity on truth—
NO base advances
From a mottled kingship,
Evince honor and respect,
All wealth and rightful womanhood, proper, refined,
Secure in deepest reverence,
Even that leper, Hegai, will relent,
Your master's blessing.
I'll hasten there at once.
To Hegai? (( ESTHER
He thirsts for my own ruin.
To Haman, (( NAIGRA
A proper man who loves you.
(kissing Esther, taking the locket)
That knight would raze a kingdom to ensure your life.
And when your Ahasuerus dies,
Why then you'll be his wife.
And mother to his son, full prince from Persia
To the gates of Hell.
Those ten by Zeresh he'll disown
And raise your progeny to fullest pomp and majesty,
To barter, sell, this writhing earth.
Your child be daughter,
Why then princess and of noble birth.
But what asks Naigra? (( ESTHER
Simply to suckle Jew on my black (( NAIGRA
I'll suckle legions
From your loins and nurse the rest.
(exits stage right)
It seems she truly IS a friend. (( ESTHER
How strange is life!
We face the future but endure the end.
ACT TWO SCENE THREE ((((( the Palace, that night
As the scene opens, Ahasuerus is seated on his chair.
Bring (( AHASUERUS
Me a cushion for these loins.
That part's on fire.
With lust? (( HEGAI
With these foul potions. (( AHASUERUS
I drank the lot at 3 past noon.
By 4 my bowels were splitting.
I've shat myself
Into deepest misery.
My hole's on fire.
Some potion YOU'VE served up.
I'll likely die before the need relents.
Dear Lord, (( HEGAI
I did not urge you drink the lot,
And all at once.
'Twas some fearful imprudence.
These are most powerful, each in its own scope,
And trusted only sparingly.
You erred to drink them like a goose.
Hence, scoundrel. (( AHASUERUS
A cushion to pad my parts.
I cannot bear this seat.
(a guard laughs and stiffens solemnly)
What bastardy is this
That even a royal guard would lapse
From studious state
To snicker at a king's misfortune?
Off, foul eunuch.
Bear me a cushion hither on your life.
For lapse like yours
I'd have a thousand scourged.
What impudence as this to have me purged?
(gesturing wildly with his scepter)
Hence and back.
I fear another run of the attack.
(Hegai races for the exit)
To think that all the wisdom of a witch in Egypt
Upon my bowels.
I sought relief from impotence.
(gestures toward the guards)
Look at the smirks upon those jowls!
God, this Hegai is a parcel
With his raw suggestions.
Perhaps he bears me spite.
I thought to sleep with Esther and to sleep the night.
(Hegai returns with a very feminine cushion)
Foul dog, you scoured nothing better?
Such dainty'd serve sequestered loins,
The swells of some fine maiden aunt,
Have you no better seat than this?
'Tis most soft, Lord, and appropriate. (( HEGAI
Here, I'll slip it under.
You heard me not by 5? (( AHASUERUS
The sound was rankest thunder.
Careful with that.
Be most discrete.
The world should shake when monarch
Takes his seat.
I've had the very devil of a run, by faith,
Three chamber pots were full before it passed.
Ah, but this is better.
'Tis pity that a donkey leads an ass.
Accept my deepest apology, (( HEGAI
I meant no harm.
All is moderation in this world, even in potions.
'Tis you that set my soul afire (( AHASUERUS
With random notions.
And now my very rim.
Come, to the business here at hand.
Refresh my mind . . . the Jew . . .
Mordecai. 'Tis him. (( HEGAI
Haman would have him hanged (( AHASUERUS
This very night.
And Esther . . . she argues that he live?
Refresh an old man's wits.
The memory's taken flight.
Much aid your loathsome remedies.
Speak, sir, and to the purpose.
Just yesterday you signed (( HEGAI
On a million Jews
From Karesh on the Western straits
To Moladah on the Eastern portion.
All men, women, children.
'Tis set for Adar, and steadfast proclaimed
Throughout the kingdom,
Mordecai to perish by Haman's very hand
On a 50 cubit gallows
He's erected for the purpose.
'Tis briefly said but the substance.
I swear it on my life.
What dotage (( AHASUERUS
Ordered up this rank confusion?
Begging your pardon, sir, (( HEGAI
The orders bear your signet.
And Mordecai. This Jew. (( AHASUERUS
How does he figure in the large design?
He can't have ordered his own death.
Don't hold your breath.
'Tis Haman pure and simple asked (( HEGAI
And you agreed.
Ten thousand silver talents would he pay
For the event,
And you declined.
Said you'd hang the Jew as a simple favor.
But this is madness. (( AHASUERUS
Ten thousand talents for the coffer,
And I turned it down?
You were hell bent for it. (( HEGAI
Hell bent? (( AHASUERUS
I guess you liked the flavor. (( HEGAI
And Mordecai? (( AHASUERUS
What has the wretch enacted
To deserve this end?
Done nothing. (( HEGAI
In fact, he is your friend.
Friend? (( AHASUERUS
Savior. 'Tis in the Chronicles. (( HEGAI
You had it writ yourself.
Then have them here. (( AHASUERUS
They're on that shelf. (( HEGAI
I'll study this. Over to the table. (( AHASUERUS
My memory has failed,
But wit is able.
Here, in this scroll. (( HEGAI
My glass. There. (( AHASUERUS
(studies the great scroll held in Hegai's hands)
Ah yes. 'Twas three years past.
A Jew in my command . . . here it is,
Mordecai by name,
Did foil a plot by eunuchs, Bigthan, Teresh,
And their train to sacrifice a king.
Tortured, they confessed . . . what's this?
Put to death.
What are you eating, potions?
I smell them on your breath.
(pushes back the scroll and stands)
My God, 'tis fire to gather up to my full length.
Summon this Haman
To ME, don't take the night.
I'll have an explanation
Or his hide at my own hands.
Pander no more to potions
And a king's demands.
This dotage nearly killed a million souls.
When memory's lost
Then greed's at the controls.
I trusted that Medean with affairs of State.
He'd serve me roasted children on a silver plate,
And hang my savior
From a 50 cubit cross,
And strut at large and crow about my loss.
Serve papers to the wretch who thwarts a king.
My wit remains,
And that's the thing.
Scour this world out for Mordecai,
If fled the whole night through.
He's bound for power though the man's a Jew.
ACT TWO SCENE FOUR ((((( Haman's villa, the same night
Haman is seated on the cot as Naigra enters, breathless, stage right.
I've gone through hell to reach (( NAIGRA
There is turmoil in the streets.
Some thousand Jew folk, their belongings,
Ass, dog, pig,
Wives and children, flee the city.
'Tis uproar fit to raise a curse on Haman's name.
The curse is theirs. (( HAMAN
There is no spot of land on this green earth
That can hide them.
Well they might curse MY name.
'Tis music to my ears,
I could well nigh have my death of it
Before I'd turn
In this grim matter,
Grim for Jew perhaps but gay for me.
I'm none the sadder.
'Tis not yet certain, proud Haman. (( NAIGRA
I hasten just this moment
From the Queen and bear a secret.
Come now. Secret? (( HAMAN
There are no secrets between us.
Why then, secret will out. (( NAIGRA
'Tis grave indeed.
Proceed. (( HAMAN
(Nairgra takes a seat on the cot, again stands)
Just hours back your Esther hatched (( NAIGRA
A plot upon your life
And braved assembly with the King.
Unsummoned? (( HAMAN
'Tis fearful, her imprudence, (( NAIGRA
And yet she forced me with her on the errand.
She steadied nerve
And valor on my arm
Straightway to the old man's clutches
And emerged the victor.
'TIS curious victory that. (( HAMAN
He spared her life?
As I stand here. We were not (( NAIGRA
And toward what end? (( HAMAN
Yours. The very end of you. (( NAIGRA
Come now, wench. You jest. (( HAMAN
This serpent dared to slither (( NAIGRA
In an old man's brain
And turn his soul against you.
He'll have these Jews that scurry
In the night all pardoned, all,
At her insistence,
Mordecai advanced unto the Royal legions
To infect his very household,
And Haman's life perched on a steep abyss
This very hour
Should he not hasten to the King.
'Tis wild (( HAMAN
And fearful tale, this story.
I hesitate to look it in the face.
Eye this. (( NAIGRA
'Tis comely visage for a rat. Eye this.
(hands him the locket; he opens it, fingers trembling)
Why, 'tis Esther. (( HAMAN
Somewhat younger in the likeness
But the same bright queen.
More rat than queen. (( NAIGRA
There is a shifty serpent in the glance.
Seems innocence to me. (( HAMAN
A soft clear look—
Small wonder Ahasuerus
Raised her up.
This pup would kindle saints to lust.
Prevail upon my trust.
What secret hides in a simple locket?
Regard the name. (( NAIGRA
'Tis fine but plain enough.
(Haman holds the locket to the light, then flings it from him)
A Hebrew oath. It pierces me. (( HAMAN
And well it should. Hadassah. (( NAIGRA
Hadassah. Like splinters
Though your heart be wood.
She dances this dark hour on your soul.
I asked for proof. This burns. (( HAMAN
Haman, you must act. (( NAIGRA
This very night she plots upon your sons as well.
She'd have them quartered
Like dumb beasts
And have their entrails flung to hell.
My heart is cut. (( HAMAN
(pacing back and forth in agitation)
See how my voice shakes?
I'd have my calm.
(gesturing toward the locket)
I'll have her THRUST in fire, her eyes, her cut,
To scorch forever.
Claw as she might at Satan's face,
She'll merely scar her fingertips.
Oh, fearful slut she be,
I'll wreak such vengeance
That the very earth will groan
To leak it out.
Stars tumble into the pit of night
To sear her cursed name
Upon all vileness, there forever.
I'll have her eaten by the dogs of hell,
And take to slumber by her oaths
And conjure a paradise upon her yell—
For mercy, mind you.
She will plead for Haman to be soft.
I'll crank the engines
That would mince her limbs
And send the juice aloft to stain the skies.
She'll whimper for some pardon.
I'll baste the gash between her thighs
With devil's broth and phlegm.
This Mordecai will wither at her corpse
And have it banished from his view.
I'll wrap it in
A leper's rag
Befitting such rank hag
And have it wafted back to him.
'Tis fine rhetoric, my Haman. (( NAIGRA
Better to have deeds speak.
My pretty slave, (( HAMAN
You'll be my princess.
This whole world over,
We shall rut,
Nine thousand quivers every corner
Of the deep, what's more, beyond.
I shall garner ripe fruits
From your sweet treasure.
I owe this wench my life!
And what of Zeresh . . . lawful (( NAIGRA
Out with that bag of bones to walk (( HAMAN
Or your ten sons? (( NAIGRA
I'll have ten hundred (( HAMAN
From your loins,
Then change the sheets.
But we must off.
The hour closes down.
You'll witness to the King
The treachery of sight.
That Esther can be Jew and Naigra white!
ACT THREE SCENE ONE ((((( the Palace, that night
Ahasuerus is seated on the great gilt chair, Hegai in attendance.
This torrent has abated, (( AHASUERUS
And my hole's at ease,
You may have this dainty.
(hands Hegai the cushion)
Should some fair wench
Have need to pad her parts,
Why, give it to her
With the admonition
That it serviced royal loins to great addition
And comes with commendation
From a king.
Nay, sire. (( HEGAI
That would level you, even to a slut.
'Tis a fine and serviceable cushion. (( AHASUERUS
I'll not malign it.
I am returned to a semblance of normalcy,
Ahasuerus in his dotage,
The usual rut.
Come. Aid my memory.
Was it not Haman we served papers
On the seventh hour?
Not served. (( HEGAI
But had sent in haste to do so.
And now await the answer,
For 'tis barely ten.
There is chaos in the streets.
Small progress is afforded in such surge
Of Jew upon the roads,
All bearing Jew's possessions,
Ass, wife, whore. Your reputation wanes.
They say the LATTER pissed upon your door.
Peed, sir. Be not profane. (( AHASUERUS
Pissed, peed—'tis the same deed. (( HEGAI
But meant as metaphor, not fact.
I speak of ignominy
And not the act.
'Tis not MY insult. (( AHASUERUS
I would prey upon no rightful
Citizen of Susa,
Much less his harlot.
'Tis Haman laid this curse upon us.
This wench . . . where has she fled?
I'll have her flogged.
Lifting a leg like some mean dog!
Sire, you confuse the matter. (( HEGAI
'Tis time you took some sleep
And reassessed the thrust of these events
By light of morning.
I doubt we'll summon Mordecai
This night and much less Haman.
The latter likely conjures
That you damn him.
(reaching the King a bottle from his robe)
Mind you well THIS potion.
It brings FURTHER slumber to a stone
And quells vibrations
In the heart of all mute matter,
Bethel itself where
Jacob dreamed of finding himself a ladder.
SUCH dreams you'll have,
Of angels winging up and down,
Proclaiming your descendents some great brood
As all the specks of dust
Upon the earth.
You'll wake as if refreshed from birth.
My memory may be faulty, (( AHASUERUS
But my rim recalls
Some foul damnation in these potions.
What need have I for angels in my head?
I've scarcely serviced five in seven years.
Such are the bliss of buck
In prime of life.
They'd have ME dead.
The birds I speak of are a play (( HEGAI
Of slumber on the mind
And no distraction.
They lull the soul.
You'd call for interaction.
'Tis again a case of literal bent,
In face of metaphor.
You scour earth for quibble
At a poet's fancy—
Perhaps I'll rhyme it
To give force to the effect:
'Tis sleeping potion, and one wakes erect.
Or has the very devil of a run (( AHASUERUS
The whole night through.
Feed it to Haman's dog or whore of Jew.
(waving his scepter)
Hence, off with WITCH'S piss and seed the toilet.
I'm locked in some intensity
Haman and Naigra enter stage right; a guard slams his staff against the floor; Ahasuerus fumbles for his eyeglass.
Great sire, (( HAMAN
(masking agitation; he kneels, stands)
I enter on an errand.
This wench has laid foul secret on my door.
(Ahasuerus regards Naigra with the glass)
More fair than foul. Yet dark. (( AHASUERUS
You fare quite well.
Some Hebrew lass has pissed on mine apace
I'd have her scourged, but wench has taken flight.
Bring this one closer.
There is something in the stance familiar.
Eyes brood upon such flesh.
Ah, 'tis one ripe maiden.
Comfort an old king's heart
To bask in such black radiance.
'Tis wench indeed, this lushness! Come hither,
(she settles at his feet)
Now, unto the onerous burden of a king.
I have but two questions
For my Haman.
Thou shalt reply—declaim or sing,
Makes little matter.
Just honesty itself.
I'll have the truth before I've had HER.
I bend upon your will. (( HAMAN
Then, if you will, what honors (( AHASUERUS
Should be dispensed
Upon such soul as king
Would will to raise above all mortals?
He means (( HAMAN
To have me blessed!
The door is parted, and I enter through the portal.
(then to Ahasuerus with great flourish)
Have the man robed in royal garb
The King has worn,
Full suited to a man of noble birth.
Address his loins with golden saddle
On the greatest steed
Throughout this earth and have him
Led by the King's own hand
Through city, land,
Proclaiming that man's worth—
Such is the honor should it match the DEED.
Deed? What deed? (( AHASUERUS
Whatever merited (( HAMAN
Such grand promotion.
I see . . . (( AHASUERUS
Why then we proceed to the second question . . .
(gesturing with the scepter)
And if we honor such soul thus,
Is reserved for the wretch who plotted.
That man's DEATH?
'Tis obvious (( HAMAN
Mordecai he frames with this.
If truth is mouthed, why then I'll kiss.
(then to Ahasuerus, haughtily)
Why hang the foul beast on a 50 cubit cross!
Why then (( AHASUERUS
You're hanged, and none's the loss!
(Haman is dragged screaming from the room)
ACT THREE SCENE TWO ((((( the Palace, moments later
As the scene opens, only Ahasuerus, Hegai, and Naigra are on stage, the latter prostrate before the King, grasping his ankles.
Dear Lord of Persia, (( NAIGRA
Spare your Haman,
For he loves you.
(Ahasuerus draws back in disgust)
Loves blood, lass. (( AHASUERUS
Enough of that.
Loves righteous blood
Like nectar in his gullet.
(she reaches up)
Hegai, my gown! The wench would tear it.
But spare his life. I ask no more. (( NAIGRA
You ask for cancer. (( AHASUERUS
Come, Hegai, show her to the door.
Be not unmoved, bold sire. (( HEGAI
The wench is comely.
This black bitch that grovels (( AHASUERUS
At my feet?
She'd rip my silk
With those sharp claws.
Our court has turned to madness
When such sluts ignore our laws.
But sire. (( HEGAI
She has some hot NEED for you.
REGARD that wriggle at your feet,
The ankles, arms.
Up, wench. Up, I say.
(pulling her to her feet; she stands, trembling)
Here, now. Make use of the very wit
That Nature granted
And address this lass.
'Tis certain she has charms beyond the common.
Regard her bosom, how it swells
With noble terror.
To disregard such beauty is an error large
As the misery you'd
Inflicted on the Jew.
'Tis a fulsome piece, this slut,
From lip to cut—
Here now she quiets. There . . .
(she extends an arm in supplication)
Makes peace with you.
(Ahasuerus studies her with the eyeglass)
Even her extremity . . . would seem
To adorn her figure.
She heaves an APPETITE of flesh.
Such swells are hardly meager.
(Ahasuerus moves closer with the glass)
'Tis true, Hegai. The bitch is ripe. (( AHASUERUS
And ripe for plucking. (( HEGAI
'Tis SOME temptation. (( AHASUERUS
And yet my thought is on the Nation.
She begged a cur be spared.
(taking her chin)
'Twas your intent? Come. Out with it.
(Naigra throws herself again at the King's feet)
Mercy for Haman, (( NAIGRA
For he hastens to his death.
Send troops to cease this violence.
You'll have my soul.
Her hips, her buttocks. (( HEGAI
Regard their stir upon her breath.
If sight has failed, (( AHASUERUS
Come up and to the purpose, wench.
This groveling sickens.
(Hegai pulls her to her feet)
'Tis but fierce reverence (( HEGAI
For your throne.
In yonder chamber
(gesturing stage left)
But wills I spare her Haman (( AHASUERUS
Like a bitch in heat.
I'd see the plate before I eat.
Send troops (( NAIGRA
(she is wringing her hands)
To spare an angel's life.
He studied at YOUR school.
Come, have my flesh, but don't be cruel.
The time is pouring through your fingers.
Please, sire, upon my life.
Upon all kindness.
Summon a large contingent toward his villa
With your firm intent
To spare his flesh.
And yours? (( AHASUERUS
I'll strip it bare. (( NAIGRA
(ripping the gown asunder and clawing at the under-garment to stand naked,
trembling before the King)
This flesh is FRESH. (( AHASUERUS
And teeming. (( HEGAI
You'll have bounty. (( NAIGRA
I must be dreaming. (( AHASUERUS
Can such exist?
It seems a fantasy has visited this house.
Master, she knows all WISDOM (( HEGAI
Of the flesh.
Behold what fullness lurked beneath that blouse.
Please, sir. (( NAIGRA
(she is weeping)
My mind returns. (( AHASUERUS
'Tis the same wench you taught
Egyptian rites with my queen . . . Queen . . .
Esther. (( HEGAI
And taught me well. (( NAIGRA
'Tis true, by faith. (( HEGAI
You'll scream yourself when you've caressed her.
And this lush comfort (( AHASUERUS
To my soul would spare a fiend?
She'll HAVE your soul. (( HEGAI
Even the rudder that would guide your legs.
You'll drink dark bounty, Lord,
And lick the dregs.
This slut requires a proper tongue.
She'll quicken more than that
Between your thighs.
You'll burgeon with her cries a PROPER length.
She'll give you strength.
And make me young. (( AHASUERUS
Summon a brace of guards and mounts.
Mercy is brief
For such as these.
We'll settle her accounts.
Spare Haman? (( NAIGRA
Spare the very whore of hell for (( AHASUERUS
Your black flesh.
Spare toads and vipers.
I'll have an heir
Before this king's in diapers.
But what is this?
(a guard enters with a bloody sword)
'Tis some sweet mischief I report, (( THE GUARD
We led him on the way toward half a league
From Susa's further boundary
When he broke, began to run,
And taxed the very lungs of mercy us
Down toward the riverbank,
Where I was lead
Upon his turning.
The bastard drew a dagger,
And I knifed him unto
Death with this lean sword.
Perhaps 'tis fitter fate,
And yet we'll hang him this same night.
Haman? My Haman dead? (( NAIGRA
Upon this sword. (( THE GUARD
It buried in his entrails.
Why then I'll marry him in HELL! (( NAIGRA
(runs naked onto the guard's extended sword and takes it in her belly)
ACT THREE SCENE THREE ((((( Esther's chamber, early the next morning
A SERVING WOMAN
As the scene opens, Esther is sleeping, fully clothed, on the Ottoman. She moans in her sleep, stirs, bolts upright.
Dear God, and what a dream! (( ESTHER
It was as if my Haman'd gone to hell.
Hanged . . . no, stabbed?
By a royal guard while fleeing toward some
Dark witch's gash, torrent of blood
That sucked him straight to Hades.
And moments later, Naigra
On the SAME fierce torrent,
To that dark throat
From which there's no return.
It seemed . . . ah, yes,
They coupled there and groaned
Like feverish beasts
To darkest laughter from the Fiend,
The very image of Ahasuerus,
And yet spotted with their blood
A crimson patter on his beard,
And darker leak
About his jowls, fierce teeth
That ate upon his knuckles
In their mad delirium
Till fingers stubs and spouting
The same vile fluid.
By faith, he ate himself, watching.
(she shouts now)
Where IS that wench?
Should hasten home by now, 'tis nearly dawn.
Some awful omen is afloat.
Cocks crow before their time.
And waken maidens to greater terror
Than their dreams.
This time is out of rhyme.
NAIGRA? Say, Naigra, speak,
I am abandoned.
Is no one there? Speak or leave me all afright.
This dawn's more fearful than the night.
(a serving woman enters stage right)
Dear mistress, (( SERVING WOMAN
Lay some patience on your soul.
'Tis nearly morning.
You thrust me from my slumber
And I nearly had
The death of stumble
Racing to your arms.
Dear mistress, calm yourself with these alarms.
Where is my Naigra (( ESTHER
Lagging this dark dawn?
I've had the death of SLEEP.
She carries on.
You sent her hence to Haman, miss, (( SERVING WOMAN
And with a locket.
I waited on her step till nearly three,
Then fell asleep
Even by the very gate.
Should step have stirred, I'd brought you word.
The lady's vanished.
Summon your pity for a diadem (( ESTHER
And seek her out.
My faith is nearly gone.
I know what doubt's about.
Off. Scour the outer garden. Thence to the city
And beyond to Haman's vast estate.
We err to think of purpose
When the path is straight.
I fear the light that shortly grips this chamber.
The serving woman departs with a lantern; Esther lies back on the Ottoman, coils over fetal to her side, then stands.
'Tis little use to seek more slumber
In this pitted hour.
The face of time is pocked.
Cold time devours.
(again sits, stands, sits)
Oh, pity on your Esther, greedy Fate.
We live to see meals fed,
Are what we've ate.
A devil breathes his purpose over all our days.
Once concubine, then queen, and thence
To suffer as she prays
For just one respite from the jaws of hell.
I've sold this dinner to some dotage,
But the feast? . . . God, what's that bell?
(Mordecai enters regally in robes of State)
'Tis simply summons to reward. (( MORDECAI
The King bears us good tidings
In my person. Bears news of Jews.
'Tis a mighty twist of fortune,
This last darkness.
In hours, light reveals his mercy.
But what's this garb? (( ESTHER
The signet on your hand.
Great Ahasuerus (( MORDECAI
Has me elevated to Prince of Persia,
Second in command.
And Haman. (( ESTHER
What is to be made of Haman?
(Mordecai pulls out a small scroll)
'Tis in this letter from the King. (( MORDECAI
Pray you . . . its contents. (( ESTHER
The seal is fast. (( MORDECAI
(hands it to his daughter; she struggles to break it open, trembling in her haste)
This night the Jews are saved
And elder Mordecai paraded through the city
On a golden steed
By Ahasuerus's hand itself.
That mighty soul did humble HIS own soul for Jew
To make full known his large regret
And summons into mercy.
Tomorrow horses from the King's own stable
Will be mounted to proclaim
Throughout this troubled empire
Of a foul demand that stained the tender spirit
Of that Lord
And nearly thrust him, crippled, into hell.
(the seal is broken; Esther holds the scroll to a lamp and reads)
Esther, by torchlight garlands rained
On your father's head
As he paraded in the streets.
Great oaths abounded by the rueful that we lived.
It was a sight, sweet girl.
Your Ahasuerus, lovely man, endured the reins
Of my broad stallion
Where royal medallion blazed
Like some wild star across the cloudless heavens.
But, still, you're ashen like a priest.
I'm sure we're only summoned
To a feast.
(smiles radiantly in his exaltation)
Father, be damned to grin, (( ESTHER
This letter cheats.
'Tis foulest rag, your grand promotion,
In my heart.
But here I am! (( MORDECAI
And daughter CURSED by what (( ESTHER
(falls faint to the floor)
ACT THREE SCENE FOUR ((((( the Palace, in winter
THE THREE GUARDS
As the scene opens, Ahasuerus and Esther occupy two identical gilt chairs on the platform. The guards stand at attention stage rear, Hegai facing the royal couple, Esther heavy with child. Hegai is rubbing his hands with obvious delight at Esther's condition. Mordecai has not yet appeared.
Dear honored sire, (( HEGAI
You have made dark merriment
At all my efforts
With odd potions, and yet the lass bears fruit.
This day she's fit to pop.
You'll be a father.
(Esther looks down at her hands and then aside)
PROUD father. (( AHASUERUS
Merry the manner
That I plowed her even a fortnight
After Haman's death.
Gave spur to it, that trouble with the Jews.
Gave spur to motion and a push to juice.
'Tis some large load she carries,
This sweet bride.
And honored apace to nestle by my side.
We make two birds enamored of a song.
Some 1,500 concubines fell into tears
As she was raised to this estate.
They shan't cry long.
The JUICIEST piece was slain (( HEGAI
The very night
That Haman fell.
It boded mischief, but it turned out well.
By several turnings of the sun
YOU'LL have an heir.
And pray for son and prize (( AHASUERUS
A noble blessing has descended
On our house.
All Susa eyes this beauty for an infant's yowl.
Our enemies are fled
To shriek and howl.
Regard the wench. She's shy as maidenhead,
Fulsome with milk and honey.
Such joy could not be had with ALL the money
In my coffers.
'Tis not as if I've had no offers.
Great sire, (( HEGAI
You're still a proper buck
'Tis luck for you the wench is handy.
Some caution is suggested by our doctors
This late hour,
And yet you rut, sly dog, prodigious.
I take my leave to speak in jest.
The school of life's behind you,
And you passed the test.
Some sweet melancholy is upon her for your loins.
You've writ the charter
For the club she joins,
And feast by day on belly burgeoned
With a fulsome load,
And gorge by night on beauty
Like an ancient toad.
Your similes are often strained (( AHASUERUS
I'd term the man a knight
With sword and fit to plough.
Or rooster smitten with a winsome sow.
'Tis past my understanding, (( HEGAI
Your sharp wit.
I parry with my blade,
But yours is sharper to the tongue and slit.
Esther, be not out of countenance (( AHASUERUS
With our raw jibes.
We languish for your smiles.
Come, a tender word for your gray master.
The future's ours to tease
Like some bright toy.
If girl, why then we'll shout.
If boy, when then 'TIS BOY!
This banter goads me unto death. (( ESTHER
I'm weary with the whole progression.
Your focus is a nub of flesh.
To make it stiffen your obsession.
But here comes Mordecai . . .
(who enters to a staff slammed on the floor)
The worthy Jew. (( AHASUERUS
(raising his eyeglass)
By faith, HE burgeons each day toward wider BLISS.
Come here, good sir,
Your master'd favor you with this large
Entertainment she's ENDURED.
The Queen is glum.
Perhaps she's bored. (( MORDECAI
Master, I bear large message.
Why then proceed. (( AHASUERUS
This whole world (( MORDECAI
(filled with a sense of his own importance)
Trembles at the step of Adar,
The month Haman assigned
For terror on the Jews.
And thirteenth day has passed
When pur was cast to that effect,
This very year falling on a day of rest.
Now to the matter's edge.
I'll spare all flourish
And begin—'tis news from messengers
Throughout the kingdom,
Borne on hot steeds in headlong gallop
Up the plains of Marduk, Salam, Kesh,
To mighty Susa.
This in effect—no DROP of Hebrew blood's
By counter procedure of the fullest note—
I'll read the list—
(pulls out a scroll and holds it to the light)
'Tis simply this:
In the citadel alone, 500 gentiles put to death,
All men in the prime of life,
Notably Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha,
Poratha, Adalia . . .
Should I continue? All ten sons
By Haman's Zeresh, forked in the groin
And hoisted to the gallows where
They fast begin to rot . . .
Come man, be not so vivid (( AHASUERUS
In the imaging.
You'd have me chuck.
Stick to the plain account and nothing more.
The raw statistic
I'll endure and not your patter.
Your Queen would grow quite faint
With this rude chatter.
In Moladah, (( MORDECAI
(raising again the scroll)
Ten thousand slain by Jew. No plunder.
In Ashtar, some nine hundred.
In Kobrik, seven thousand twenty-three
And still counting.
In Magdesh, ten hundred known dead.
Parad, nine hundred twenty.
Susa, as mentioned, some five hundred.
Kandos, four thousand five.
Belial, none left alive.
Kavash, men, women, children, all to the gibbet,
Some seven thousand there alone . . .
Enough. (( AHASUERUS
In Barthonasta, the city razed. (( MORDECAI
By faith, I've had enough. (( AHASUERUS
Enough is enough.
Why then, in short, (( MORDECAI
Dear sire, some 75,000 souls
And still counting.
A truce was called throughout the Western
Straits, and orders received
In the Northern province.
We've had a day of reckoning.
'Tis pleasant news for everyone concerned.
Most pleasant. (( HEGAI
Ah, yes. (( AHASUERUS
This day proclaimed (( MORDECAI
As Purim in the land,
When pur was cast that Jew would come to grief
For ill intent.
We'll mark it for all time to come,
Holy communion with our Moses
And the Law, a day of rest.
This day we'll mark. A nation blessed.
Mordecai exits with the guards; Ahasuerus gathers up with some difficulty and is assisted, stage left,where he turns.
'Tis late, dear Esther. (( AHASUERUS
Tomorrow gathers all too hard upon us.
Tarry not long alone in this great chamber.
I'll need your comfort to address
The danger of my dreams.
This Mordecai has strained my thought
This night with his accounting.
I hear the screams.
It seems they're mounting.
Sing your heart to slumber in your golden cage.
Tomorrow's fast upon us,
And I fear some rage.
Good night, old man. (( ESTHER
In your dotage.
(then to Ahasuerus)
Sleep the profundity of an ancient thought.
You'll face your dreams in time forever,
When the dreamer's caught.
(the two men exit)
This WAKING is a dream, I fancy, terror.
'Tis some mad wakening that we LIVE an error.
That thought adheres to motions
Of the vilest sort.
That living is our judgment, certain death the court.
Within my belly grows a tumor,
Some fruition of a madman's seed.
But ALL are mad, Jew, gentile . . .
Born to ravish, whelped to breed
Chaos, misfortune, and the very ocean, blood.
Deal death by numbers
And implore their God.
From whence this lust? POOR power
Lasts an instant in the human mind.
He LICKS his dust for worship
And a slut for prayer . . . in kind.
Ah yes, to bed. 'Tis noble, and the only
For morning breaks securely
With the issue, Haman's seed.
She'll grow apace toward beauty
Or endure a PLAIN-tive life.
And if son, will wield a scepter
Or a madman's knife.
And bury HIS seed in belly or be taken unto wife.
'Tis mystery this. 'Tis sadness.
'Tis a lesson rife
With pain and rife with bliss—
That we seldom shirk to slaughter what we always
Fear to kiss.
Come, Esther, live your burden.
'Tis a GRAND estate.
You'll eat your sorrow gently from a golden plate.
(exits stage left, head bowed)