My name is Vashti. Some of you may still remember me. Some of you might have heard of me. Some, of course, have never heard my name. That’s ok. You see, it was entirely my fault…
A very long time ago, you may find this hard to believe, but I used to be the queen of Persia. My last name was Ahaseurus. I was called queen Vashti and I was wife to the greatest King of my time. My husband was the great King Ahaseurus, King of all Persia & Medes.
I was renowned for my beauty and celebrated as the queen of Persia. If you doubt me, then by all means, look me up in the book of Esther chapter 1 verse 11. The royal poets described the pulchritude of my person as thus:
Queen Vashti, of the alabaster skin… her pearly eyes overwhelms the hearts of mortal men
Our queen Vashti of wit and poise, ten thousand songs can’t sing your tale
Another poet described me as:
O behold the Queen Vashti
O behold the one endowed with the beauty of a goddess
But my favourite was:
“thou art the irreplaceable Queen Vashti; a peacock among queens. The stars bow to your star for your destiny outshines the fairest of them all.”
Whoa! How I loved that poem. I loved that poem so much that I named the fountain in my garden: ‘the Peacock of Fountains.’
The Poets of my time, all tried to out-do themselves with complimentary and many times, obsequious descriptions of me. Every day I got scrolls of poetry written just for me by the best of poets all trying to win my attention and O how I loved the jostle by ardent admirers striving to get their poetry to be read to me. It was all fun and an enjoyable part of being the queen of Persia.
As queen, it goes without saying that I controlled all the women affairs of my day. I remember how I used to hold court, sometimes in the west wing of my quarters, and many times in the majestic splendour of my garden famed for its rich variety of exotic flowers brought to me from all parts of the world. I can still see the fountain of peacock I commanded to be constructed for me right at the centre of my garden. It was constructed by the best skilled workmen of my days and no expense was spared in its construction. It was the poetic phrase ‘a peacock among queens’ that got me to build a fountain that was beautiful enough to pander to my ego and pride. The fountain was surrounded by statues of peacocks overlaid with pure gold and the peacock tail was overlaid with nothing but the best of precious stones. At night, the falling water from the fountain made the peacocks glitter like stars and in the day, the sun set-off the dazzling colors of the gem stones. Instead of stones, I had algum wood for my walk-ways and had bronze pillars made. Golden exotic flowers were placed on top of these pillars and statues of supple but athletic young men and nude young women were casted beside the pillars bowing down to a monument of myself in the middle of the Peacock fountain.
Because my husband the King had fleet of ships that went to places like Ophir to bring back rich cargoes of gold and precious stones, I was always decked in gold and gems of the best quality. I had gold & diamond beads stringed around my head and clasped about my neck. I never used silver as my jewellery because it was so much in abundance in my Kingdom, it was considered as nothing in my days.
I had music played to me from all kinds of musical instrument while I laid supinely on my ivory-casted chaise lounge. Musical sounds from the lyre, the harp, the ocarina and all kinds of musical instruments ushered my presence in and out of my gardens. My jewel adorned feet walked only on petals thrown by slave girls before my path. Exotic nude dancers covered only by scanty leaves, were brought to dance before me daily.
And I knew how to make an entrance too for when I did, all eyes stopped on me and all activities paled into insignificance; people always tried to drink in my beauty for I rarely stepped out for ordinary public functions only the most special of functions got me to unveil my beauty.
Was it conceit or was it arrogance? Call it what you will, I had it all. My king would do anything I asked and he gave in to my whims and impulses all the time for I was his beloveth queen and he refused me nothing!
Until I committed the unpardonable sin…
I had waited six months for King Ahaseurus to send for me during the one hundred and eighty day feast he had organized for all the kingdom of Persia. He didn’t. I waited all through the last day of the second feast and still he didn’t. Not until the very late hours of the last day of the feast did he send his distasteful eunuchs to come get me. I was so furious and piqued that I – the great, the beautiful, the legendary queen Vashti – was going to be showed off to his drunken officials like an expensive acquisition of the King. But I was even more upset that after all my wait for one hundred and eighty days, he only chose to summon me before the local citizens of Sushan on the 7th day of the 2nd feast. He dared to send for me on a day I also was entertaining the women of Shushan so of course when the summons came rather late, I was making merry with the women and had too much to drink. In my tipsy state of mind, I arrogantly refused to obey and I said no! I dared him and said no!
Now you have to understand who King Ahaseurus was to understand the gravity of my offence. He was commander in chief, ruler, and King over one hundred and twenty seven provinces from India to Ethiopia that made up the whole Persia and Media Empire. He was the most powerful King in the world at the time above all and sundry and no one had ever defied him and lived to tell the story. So when he decided to hold a one hundred and eighty day feast to display his majestic grandeur, wealth and might, it was no ordinary year. It was six lavish months of socio-cultural festivities, a display of the Persian might, the best that King Ahaseurus had to offer in every area of human endeavour – only the best of the best in activities such as sporting, artistry, dancing, poetry, culinary, beauty, you name it were offered. The who-in-who of all Persia and Media were there to behold a display never before seen in their life-time! It therefore went without saying that on a day of his choosing, King Ahaseurus would want to display his regal queen who was famed both far and wide for her legendary beauty and majestic fascination.
And I said No!
I dared to say no to my King in public! I dared to publicly say no to the King of Persia and Media; I dared to say no to the commander in chief of the whole 187 provinces from India to Ethiopia and with all my perceived intelligence, I chose the wrong time to say no – before all the great people who held the King in great esteem and whose opinions mattered to the king!
By saying no, I disrespected my husband and King before the whole world. By saying no, I humiliated the great King Ahaseurus, the conqueror and vanquisher of the great kingdoms and nations that made up the Empire of Persia and Media and before the very people he reigned over. What was I thinking! Was it the wine that said no? Was it my bruised pride that said no? Was it my arrogance or conceit that said no? Was it my exulted position that said no? Or was it the heady flowery compliments, and the grand picture of myself as a goddess standing in the peacock fountain that made me say no? I think it was all of the above.
I forgot my place – just for an imaginary moment. Maybe that moment was the gradual amalgamation of many conceited moments peaked into one decisive moment. Whatever it was, I lost my head and with one grave mistake, one word, one moment, one day, I fell from grace to grass.
After what I did, I heard the King was livid. I heard rumours and whispers from my serving ladies and even the king’s eunuchs that my matter was considered a serious violation of royal etiquette and was being deliberated upon by the royal council of the King’s advisers. I didn’t take it seriously. I laughed it off and told my maidens that the King had more important and pressing matters of the Kingdom than wasting time over a mere domestic matter between the King and Queen. And that he would cool down after a while. After all, what was a little tiff between the King and Queen – so I thought. I didn’t give it a second thought. I was the beautiful Queen Vashti after all. Where would the King find another beautiful Vashti like me! O was I proud. I even strolled to my Peacock of Fountain and made one of my ladies read to me one of my most favoured poems describing the uniqueness and rareness of who I was while I fanned myself with one of my petti-fans:
“thou art the irreplaceable Queen Vashti; a peacock among queens. The stars bowed to your star for your destiny outshone the fairest of them all.”
On that fateful day, the King’s eunuchs marched purposefully into my gardens with an unreadable expression while one of them held up a scroll and began reading the King’s edict out to me – was it Bigtha or Biztha, I can’t remember – as he read the edict, my heart stopped for a moment and I knew that my reign as queen Vashti was over! Just like that! They gave me the copy of the edict when they finished reading and turned and walked away. I read it again and again and again and it had the royal assent of my husband the King on it.
I dared to take my King and husband for granted. I allowed pride and vanity to gain the upper hand over me. I got carried away by the ceaseless flattery of adoration. I got carried away with my external beauty and forgot that beauty begins from the inside. I forgot my place as the queen was beside my husband. I was stripped of my royal status and banished to another part of the palace never again to stand before the great King Ahaseurus. I became ex-queen Vashti. Oooo to have been a queen of an empire as great as the Persian empire and then to become an ex-queen overnight was the most horrible and most painful humiliation ever to happen to any queen. It wasn’t that my King had died. It wasn’t that my King was slain or even deposed. There was no palace coup then I could have blamed it on a coup. I brought this upon myself. Better if I had never been queen; better if I had even been demoted to a royal concubine then I could have still seen my King and maybe work my way back but I was stripped, banished, exiled and relegated to a hidden obscured part of the palace, never to stand in the presence of my King ever again! All because I was proud and vain and foolish and my senses took leave of me for an instant!
Sob sob sob.
At the end, the King never found another Queen Vashti, no. He didn’t want another Vashti. Instead the King found a newer and better Queen Esther. People say, she was the fairest of them all. The King even named a holiday after her called ‘the Feast of Esther.’ King Ahaseurus found a better and finer replacement for the Peacock of the Fountain – he found – Hadassah the slave girl, orphan turned queen. And the Peacock, yes, I, the Peacock of the Fountain was never seen again!
Now mothers use my name to tell stories to their daughters about the consequences of a disrespectful wife. Vashti is now synonymous with everything bad-mannered. They sing with my name saying:
Vashti was a queen
Vashti was the Peacock queen
But Vashti had no sense
And Vashti tumbled down
Came Esther with a smile
And God was on her side
Esther was the beauty queen
Esther had a lot of sense
Queen Esther won his heart
Alas the irreplaceable Queen Vashti was replaced by a slave girl and diminished by the legend of Queen Esther – I hear she played a key role in the deliverance of her people called the Jews of Persia!
Ex-queen Vashti Ahaseurus
Chalya Princess Miri-Gazhi is a Nigerian whose short story fiction, titled, Kokosikoko, was recently published by Kalahari Review. An MBA graduate from the University of Hull, UK, she runs her own small business in corporate event facilitation while pursuing her passion for writing. She grapples often with the question of diversity, often exploring the strength of diverse influences in her multi-ethnic Nigerian nation.
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