The harem of Xerxes the Great

Chapter 1 by airwreck airwreck

He was called by many names -- Xšayaršā in Persian, Ahasuerus in Hebrew, and Xerxes the Great as he was known in Greece -- but was always known as the fourth king of kings of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. His empire was vast -- stretching from Greece to Egypt to the Indus Valley -- and as such, his harem was populated with the most beautiful young women from the various lands he had conquered. He had so many wives that some woman would spend almost a year before finally sharing carnal pleasures with their King. The exception to the rule were the most beautiful of his wives, Vashti, his first wife and the Queen. The other women in the harem feared and loathed her not only for her beauty but also her wile and vanity, being the King's favorite wife, and that she was the great-granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar II, the granddaughter of King Amel-Marduk and the daughter of King Belshazzar of Babylon.

The King's father, King Darius the Great, founded the ceremonial capital of Persepolis as the splendid seat of the government of the Achaemenid empire and as its center for receptions and festivals. The capital -- consisting of several beautiful palaces, the royal tomb, a vast treasury, and military barracks housing the Immortal warriors -- was built near small river Pulvar on a terrace partial cut out of a mountain.

Every year to celebrate his birth, the King held a magnificent royal banquet, the Tukta, at the great audience hall at Persepolis, and granted gifts to his loyal subjects. Scores of nobles, ministers, and generals attended the grand occasion of eating, drinking, and wenching that lasted for several days. While the king celebrated with his men, his Queen held a feast for the wives of the nobles, ministers, and generals and the women of the King's harem, although without the debauchery. On the seventh day of the banquet, Xerxes, drunk with wine, ordered seven of his eunuch-chamberlains to summon Queen Vashti to come before him and his guests.

"Tell the Queen that she shall only wear her royal crown to display the full glory of her beauty to my men," the King ordered. The eunuch-chamberlains bowed, not daring to question the King's command that they knew the Queen would be furious at and take her anger out on them.

The nobles, ministers, and generals had stolen glances at the Queen on the rare occasions when she would appear beside their King for special ceremonies or feasts. She had lived up to her reputation as the most beautiful woman in the vast Persian empire -- at least her face because, other than the castrated eunuch guards and chamberlains, only the King have laid eyes on Queen Vashti's naked body. Any other man would be summarily executed and it was this knowledge that Xerxes's court hid their mixed anxiety and excitement with more wine.

"Where is my Queen?" Xerxes roared over the din of the feast when the eunuch-chamberlains returned without Vashti.

"Your Majesty, Queen Vashti refuses to come," one of the eunuch-chamberlains nervously replied and bowed deeply, fearing to see the King's anger.

"Why?!" the King yelled, silencing the merriment of the scores of his guests in the Apadana, the great audience hall.

Another chamberlain stepped up and bowed. "She said that only her King is allowed to see her full womanly beauty, Your Majesty."

Despite his drunkenness, Xerxes knew she spoke the truth and the law but she still disobeyed his order. "Is that all she spoke of?" he yelled at his men.

A third eunuch-chamberlain approached the King, Xerxes waved him forward to deliver her message to his ear, "Your Majesty, she pointed out that your command is both immoral and a political mistake."

Xerxes screamed and pushed the eunuch-chamberlain down the steps of the dais.

Memucan, another of Xerxes' eunuch-chamberlains and his most trusted advisor, saw the King's anger and cautiously approached to calm him to whisper, "Your Majesty, Queen Vashti should be punished for her disobedience. She had not only wronged the King but all of the men of Persia. Her action will encourage wives across your glorious empire to disobey their husbands."

"You speak wise words, Memucan," the King nodded. "How should she be punished?"

Memucan hid his smile. Now he had the opportunity to take revenge on Vashti for her years of abuse on him. "Your Majesty should bestow her royal crown upon another who is more worthy than she."

"I will not execute her!" Ahasuerus glared at the eunuch.

"Your Majesty, I merely suggest you depose of her and promote another of your many wives to be Queen," Memucan calmly replied.

What did the King decide to do?

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