03 December 2009


Surely the least of those around her, She is called the word which means least among sisters.
    When the word went forth that the king sought a wife, the old ones expected that none would be selected from among their clan-- for none of them were distinguished in natural gifts or practiced skills.  They were common not special; they were careful to remind her she was the least special of all.
    She was, therefore, unconcerned on the day the King’s Servant rode into town..  At the well with filthy sheep, she could only watch in amazement as he thundered to a halt on a giant Arabian stallion.  She waved the dust away from her face and watched the find horse drink the water she had drawn for her now scattered sheep.  He possessed all the apparel and weapons that indicated authority conferred, but he had just cost her a days work.
    “You will be at the gate at the ninth hour.”
    “All young women are to be at the city gate at the ninth hour.  I am the liaison to bring the rarest finest young women of the kingdom to the harem, that the king should select a queen for himself.”
    “My clan is ashamed of me and have excused me from attendance lest they be dishonored.  Forgive me, Excellency, but my Father’s sheep are now scattered and I will have to gather them and water them and see to the rest of the work.  There will be no time to prepare myself.”
    “These problems are yours; not mine.  Now I know who you are I expect your compliance.  The penalty for violating the King’s command is death.  The ninth hour!”
    Three sheep had gone missing., the fire had gone out in the oven, and playing children had overturned the water pot.  Now the ninth hour was upon her.  Fearing her father and uncles, she wished to stay home, knowing they had placed their bets on her cousin whose name meant beautiful and complete.  Fearing also, the King’s Servant, she knew she must go, for failure to comply could mean death-- more dishonor to the clan.  She splashed water on her filthy hair, hands, and face and traded her muddy outer garment for a gown and veil that had belonged to a fat aunty who had died before she was born.
    She felt the disapproval of everyone as she raced to the city gate--daring to attend and daring to show up late and unprepared.  She stepped on the gown and fell, crashing to the filthy stones.  Rising, she found that in addition to staining her dress, her face was scraped and her lip beginning to swell.
    Every girl she knew was at the city gate and many she didn’t know.  Some turned to stare at her.  They were eager to be chosen.  Chosen to leave home and all they held dear, eager to be taken far away, eager to have no choice.
    She grimly took her stand in a row near the back waiting to advance on cue.  The gentle evening breeze cooled her injured face and tired heart.  Eunuchs stood by to inspect  and evaluate every candidate.  The King’s Servant gruffly dismissed those with weak eyes and missing teeth.
    “It is you, Shepherdess.  Your appearance is unacceptable.”
    “Excellency, I know I have failed you.”
    “Indeed.  You dare present yourself to the King’s Servant covered in dung and blood; wearing the clothing of a woman twice your size.  Do you mock me?”
    “Truly, Master, I told you this morning I am the least of these and you doubled my work.  These are the only clean clothes available to me and I fell in my haste to obey the King’s Servant’s command.  I don’t mock you.  This is all I have to offer you, to the shame of my father, uncles and clan.”
    “Well said, Shepherdess.”
    And he was gone.  In the end, most went home.  He hadn’t given orders concerning her.  She stood alone, cold and dirty.
    A eunuch appeared and requested she follow him.  The visiting delegation of the King had tents for their accomodation.  The camp was filled with light and sound.  She couldn’t understand why they were here.   She could hear the voices of the chosen, rarest, finest women nearby, but they moved in another direction.  At last, they cam to a small, quiet tent.The King’s Servant has given orders.  You shall receive care for your wounds, a bath, perfumed oil for your hair.  I will be just outside that you may call for any reason.”
    “I do not understand.”
    “It is not important that you do.  Call to me when you are changed.  The Master will see you.”
    “My father will worry.”
    “Your father has given his blessing.”

Envoy Hesed, servant to the Most Revered King.
To the King, Trusted Ruler, Childhood Friend

     Please Receive the delegation returning from this region.  I will not be with them.  I will remain here.
     It is a favorable year for planting and I have resources to rebuild an old city.
     I will miss spending time with you, but I am rejoicing over the bride I have found.  She did not meet your criteria, I promise.  At the risk of angering you and receiving the punishment of death, I am keeping her for myself.  Her name is delightful to me.
     I send you the woman, Hadassah.

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