Seven years had passed since the face of the earth had been stripped of its familiar landmarks. Young forests and other uninhibited plant life were rapidly reclaiming the land. In one small region of the planet, small bands of people lived in the wilds. Within that same area, three underground cities had also survived. Two of these existed peaceably within seventy-five kilometres of each other. The third, three hundred kilometres southwest, was headed by a leader who valued power and wealth above all else. Recently erected over this third metropolis stood a most unlikely structure.
Viewed from the east against the panoramic backdrop provided by the ever-changing waters of Lake Michigan, the Citadel of Shushan was a forbidding presence on the lonely landscape. Indeed, approached from land or lake, it was menacing.
And so it was that nineteen-year-old Esther, orphan from Abbeylea, strolled in her cloistered garden alongside the esplanade on that fateful December afternoon. Actually, she was nervously pacing, but she had been coached to convey an impression of carefree strolling even while wrestling with inner turmoil.
And she wasn’t, in fact, Esther, orphan from Abbeylea. She was Hadassah, cousin-ward of Mordecai the Jew of the city of Shushan, but she was sworn to secrecy…
… on this particular day in early winter, Esther was unable to find pleasure in the garden’s allure. She did not appreciate the contrast provided by cornus alba and dog wood exposing their naked stems of red and purple among the dormant greys and browns. Nor was she impressed by the bright berries of pyracantha and holly nestling among their leaves of shiny green.
Tonight would be her turn to display her charms and talents to General Ahasuerus. Trying to calm herself, she sat on a stone garden bench, pulled her woollen cloak closer, closed her eyes, and reminded herself to breathe slowly and deeply. She willed herself to allow the twittering of birds at the feeder and the feel of snowflakes caressing her upturned face, to envelop her senses.
Genre: speculative fiction, romance, espionage