Hadassah puzzled over what her beloved cousin had meant by this. The market shifted and hollered around her, the vibrant colors mixing with the dust from the roads, choking the air with its fine, red mist. She ignored the sounds, smells and dust as she meandered through the crowd, lost in thought. On her hip, she bore a basket of now clean laundry, washed at the communal wash basin in the middle of the street, among the other Babylonian women. Could she ever pass as one of them?
Hadassah... Esther, slid around a couple of babbling women, wrapped in loose white linen, their servants trailing behind them with baskets of their purchases. 'I must get used to calling myself Esther,' she thought, the face of her beloved cousin swimming across her consciousness. She had been promised as a wife to her cousin since her father had passed. Her mother and Mordechai had decided on the arrangement, and her cousin had taken her into his home to grow into his wife.
But even now, as her body filled out and began to bleed as women's bodies do, Mordechai seemed to be avoiding the subject of their marriage. Oh how she wished to be his wife! She had studied long and hard with Memur, learning weaving, cleaning and cooking, all in preparation for one day soon being her wedding day.
'One God, I do not pray to you often, as I have no need to ask of anything, since my life is so blessed,' she prayed, finding it hard not to throw herself to her knees as she prayed. But she was Ether, the Babylonian, not a Jewish servant of the One God. Her prayers would have to be secret prayers, her religion held close to her heart. 'I pray to you now. I wish to become a wife. My life is so lovely as it is, and I wish it would remain so forever. I want to be the wife of my beloved cousin, as was promised. Please let this be so.'
There was no answer from the Heavens, no sign of her prayers come true, but she felt a little lighter, as though the One God was asking her to be patient.
'It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect,' she quoted to herself. It was one of her father's favorite sayings, and some nights, she heard this in his voice in her dreams. She repeated the line to herself, feeling her step become lighter as she rounded the corner. Ether the Babylonian smiled broadly at the three soldiers that stood in the street, and moved to slid around them.
She had managed to step around the third warrior, before a hand on her shoulder stopped her in her tracks.
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