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Inside the King’s Court: A New Novel Takes Esther’s Point of View

The following is taken from Rebecca Kohn’s debut novel, “The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther” (Rugged Land, 2004). It has been excerpted with permission.

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The king said, “Let him in!”

I watched Haman push past the guard, his tall turban rising far above the king’s own uncovered head. He did not prostrate himself before the king or acknowledge me, though I held the king’s arm. Taking no notice of the scribes or the scroll, he hurried across the room without even seeking permission to approach.

I knew his purpose, yet could not prevent him from voicing it. But before Haman even opened his mouth, the king spoke.

“You are just the man I need!” the king exclaimed this with a cheerfulness of spirit, as if all of the wild restlessness and anger of the past hours had been a trick of my imagination.

“I am honored,” Haman replied with a slight bow. He stood so close to me that I could smell his musky perfume.

“Then tell me this,” the king asked, “what should be done for a man whom the king desires to honor?”

Had not my cousin’s life hung in the balance, I would have laughed at the spectacle that followed. For though the king spoke of Mordechai, I saw that Haman believed the honor was for him. His shoulders drew back in pride and his cheeks expanded as if he held a pomegranate in each. A victorious smile crept across his face, though no battle had been fought. His desire for Mordechai’s death gave way to the prospect of increasing his own honor.

“The man whom the king desires to honor…” the Elamite echoed. His voice broke off as he savored all the possible rewards for which he might ask. And as I looked from face to face in the room, I saw no surprise at the advisor’s lack of deference. No one else dared speak to the king in such a manner. Yet so elevated in his own esteem was Haman the Elamite that he acted as an equal to the king. Nor did the king seem to take offense. Scorn crept into my heart. A king who allowed his stature to fall so low in the eyes of his court was a weak man and a poor leader.

At last Haman began to speak, his eyes gleaming with ecstasy. “Let the royal robe be brought,” he said, “the robe that the king himself wears. And bring, too, a horse upon which the king has ridden, with the royal headpiece upon its head. Let the robe and the horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble courtiers and let him attire the man whom the king desires to honor. Let the noble courtier lead the horse around the city square. And….” Haman paused, relishing the image, “let the courtier proclaim: ‘This is done for the man whom the king desires to honor!’”

The king kissed his advisor on each cheek. “Hurry!” he commanded, “take the robe and the horse as you have described. Do this for Marduka the Jew [Mordechai], who sits in the king’s gate. Leave out nothing from what you have said.” And then the king dismissed everyone with a wave of his arm. I glanced at Haman. He looked as if he had turned to stone, the expression of pride frozen in his face. What he had imagined as his own coronation, wearing the king’s robe and riding the king’s horse, would be his enemy’s honor. The words that brought such pleasure to his tongue—the man whom the king desires to honor— had turned to poison.

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