“Doctor? I thought you said King Ahasuerus was one of the good guys, relatively speaking, anyway.” Nyssa peeked out at the square from behind the buttress that marked the end of the alley the Tardis had landed in. There was an enormous gallows being erected, dark-robed overseers shouting orders while unfortunates in loincloths sweated at ropes and timbers.
The Doctor looked over her shoulder at the busy crowd. “Oh, dear. Unless I am much mistaken, that is Haman’s handiwork we are seeing. What I was aiming for was Queen Esther’s banquet after ‘the winter harvest of surpassing plenty’. I’m afraid we’re two years too early.”
“Haman? Tegan told me once about a ‘Haman the Evil Vizier’ who got a thorough comeuppance. That Haman?”
“What? Oh, yes. That Haman.” The Doctor said absently, “Ahasuerus’ vizier.” He furrowed his brow for a moment, then abruptly turned and made for the other end of the alley, saying brightly, “Still, Esther is queen now, and her palace is this way. Come along!”
Nyssa followed him, shaking her head in fond exasperation.
As they emerged into the sunlight at the other end, they were intercepted by a slim and startlingly red-headed woman. “In here, quick!” She caught at their sleeves and urged them with surprising strength under an arch and into a small courtyard. “Doctor! Goodness, it is you. I was sure Mordecai was mistaken, but he’s seen more of you than I have.” Without waiting for the Doctor to respond she turned to Nyssa “I’m Rivkah, of Mordecai’s household, and we need your help.”
“Nyssa,” said Nyssa, both startled and charmed, “of Traken. What can we do?”
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to be surprised at Nyssa’s ready agreement, but only momentarily. “Certainly. Yes. And Mordecai is …?”
Before he could finish the question, Rivkah broke in, “Our favorite beak-nosed reprobate is currently being paraded about the city, dressed in the king’s robes, riding one of the king’s horses, being lauded as a ‘man the king delights to honor.’ Haman is beside himself. He’s leading the procession, on the king's order.”
Now that she listened, Nyssa could hear sounds of music and cheering in the distance. She thought furiously, trying to remember the details of the story. Tegan had been telling her that Earth did have awesome women, even in History. Esther was one of her favorites.
Rivkah went on, “You saw the gallows?” They nodded. “Esther must be told, and before the feast starts tonight. I can’t go, because Haman’s spies know me, and would never let me in in time.” She smiled at Nyssa. “But as a palace maid accompanied by one of the kings eunuchs, you can. Will you?”
The expression on the Doctor’s face was a study, but Nyssa answered before he could say anything. “Of course we will.”
Just as Rivkah said, once arrayed in the right clothes, Nyssa and the Doctor made their way easily past the main gate and through the gardens and colonnades to the queen’s palace. Esther (no older than Nyssa herself, if that, as well as gracious and beautiful) heard them out with determination.
“Well,” Esther said, when they had finished, “That is certainly of a piece with all the rest of his villainy. Thank you.” She sighed, and then straightened, every inch a queen. “Haman and the king-my-husband will be here very soon for the feast. Will you stay, and be Rivkah and Mordecai’s eyes for me? Haman might very well try something desperate.”
Indeed, Haman did try something desperate — the story has it he begged Esther for mercy, and happened to fall on her couch in the process, but Nyssa recognized it as the attempted assault it was, and fetched the king in from the garden in time to stop it from being more.
As Nyssa was helping Esther put herself to rights, the other maid-servants too shocked to be of use, much less comfort, the king raged, quite scarlet in the face. Haman cowered on the floor. The Doctor stepped forward, catching the king’s attention and with a very few words exposed the full scope of the plot, gallows and all. (How it was that he didn’t look ridiculous with a turban and a robe over his usual red and white stripes, Nyssa had given up trying to fathom.)
Once Haman had been bundled out by the king’s guards, to be hanged on the very instrument he had intended for Mordecai, Ahasuerus calmed down, and was disposed to be grateful to the two strangers who had stepped in to help. Esther invited them to share the feast that was already laid (for they had hardly gotten started before the excitement commenced), and the evening ended quite merrily.
An escort saw them back to the courtyard where they had met Rivkah. As they were saying goodbye to her and Mordecai, a clamor arose in the street. Haman’s wife and sons careened around the corner. Zereth shouted “There they are, the ones who betrayed your father! After them!”
"Run, Nyssa! Back to the Tardis!"
Rivkah hugged her quickly. “Yes, go! Be well!”
Nyssa bundled up her skirts and ran, glad the lovely robes were light enough to run in. Behind them, Rivkah and Mordecai glanced at each other, then stepped in to delay the pursuers without a word said.
Nyssa and the Doctor made it to the Tardis and through the door before the angry men could get past to catch them, and leaned on the console catching their breath.
“Well,” said the Doctor, straightening his coat and adjusting the stalk of greenery on the lapel, “shall we try for two years from now? It really is a lovely banquet. Or go somewhere else?”
Nyssa thought a moment. “If I understand the story Tegan told me aright, things will have settled down by tomorrow, and we can stay for a little while. I would like to see Esther’s gardens properly. But I think we had best be gone by the 14th of Adar.”