Rhapdosis had experienced exactly two kisses in her lifetime before today.
The first was as a small child, no more than 6 summers old. Amari was the daughter of a kitchen slave and Rhapdosis’ partner in crime. They were around the same age and often assigned chores together in The General’s home. As children do, they often turned their chores into silly games. A rather vigorous game of feed-the-animals-while-hiding-and-seeking lead to a discovery that neither girl had ever seen.
One day, Rhapdosis and Amari stumbled upon a young couple in the girl’s favorite hiding spot. A small stall, tucked into the far wall of the stable was used for sick, injured or nursing animals, young children paying hide and seek, and apparently juvenile lovers.
Two servants, a girl dressed in house clothes and a stable boy in a degree of undress were entangled together. The curious girls exchanged mischievous grins as they creeped closer to the stall’s door. Tiny fingers grasped the edges as their eyes took in the scene before them.
The young couple were entwined with one another, laying on their sides. Their clothes were on yet rumpled from previous effort. They kissed passionately, the man’s hand held the girl’s hair tightly his other on her waist. Her arms wrapped around him securely as if space between them would cause pain. When they broke from their kiss, they said nothing to one another. Simply stared, lost in one another’s eyes. The children watched silently for a moment taking in the scene. They scurried away after a few moments. Cheeks pink at what they witnessed. They felt the rush of adrenaline that came with doing something they should not have been doing and getting away with it.
They ran to the safety of the kitchen laughing the entire distance. Amari stopped suddenly, grabbing both of Rhapdosis’ arms, forcing Rhapdosis to stop walking along with her.
“Ice! I want to try something.” Amari said playfully.
“What?” she asked, Amari always had the best games.
Amari placed her hands on both sides of Rhapdosis’ face peering deeply into her eyes in a youthful imitation of the scene they just witnessed. Her chubby face and missing front tooth was a far cry from the looks of the older servants. She could see the determination set in her friend’s eyes.
“What are you doing weirdo?” Rhapdosis teased, pulling at her friend’s wrists.
“Im going to kiss you!”
“Nooooo,” Rhapdosis whined dodging her friend’s first attempt at a kiss. It landed on her cheek.
The assult continued briefly until Amari’s mother screeched her name in shock as the girl’s attracted attention.
Rhapdosis froze, giving her friend the window of opportunity that she needed. Almost immediately, their lips touched. Silence fell in the busy kitchen. Rhapdosis managed to finally break-free of her friend’s grasp. She wiped at her lips comically and the room erupted in fits of laughter.
Finally, Amari’s mother stood between them. Though her back was to Rhapdosis, she could here Amari’s mother lecturing her. Rhapdosis felt an ominous tap on her shoulder. Looking up, the color drained in from her face. Hapetset stood a stern look on his face, arms crossed, and a thin reed in his hands.
Rhapdosis’ second kiss was with Jordan. The consequences were more severe than a few swatches across her thighs. Their punishment proved most effective. Jordan recovered quickly, mentally and physically. Though her physical scars healed mentally she was never the same. The incident caused her to grow up over-night. She vowed to protect herself however she could. There were no other kisses after that.
It felt as if an large wave of water crashed on to her, dulling all senses but one. Touch. Submerged in his kiss, she could feel him everywhere. His full lips soft against hers, his arm around the back of her head as he held her close. His other still held her to his beating chest.
No other kiss had felt like this.
The butterflies of her youth that Jordan used to set off in her stomach, paled in comparison to the roaring in her whole body now. Shock froze her body but the heat between them melted her right back into jelly. She leaned into him, her palm no longer splayed over his chest but grabbing at the material of his tunic bringing him closer.
At her touch, he shifted closer. Even on his knees, his lofty frame dwarfed hers in the stool she was perched on. The height difference forced her head back further. He took advantage of the new position deepening the kiss. Then, she felt his tongue caress her bottom lip.
One by one, her other senses returned.
Rhapdosis tasted the soup on his breath. She could smell the sand and heat of the desert on his skin, mixing with a scent that was uniquely his own. It reminded her of the incense of the temple.
She broke the kiss with a gasp- her thoughts of the temple snapping her to the present. Leaning away from Aksept she covered her mouth with both friends. She studied him carefully, both of their breaths heavy with desire. His broad chest peaked through his now-ruffled tunic with each breath he took. Their eyes met as he studied her through dark lashes. Neither moved or looked away.
Rhapdosis was no stranger to holding her tounge. She was a slave after all. Yet, his presence, his unreadable stare, confusing presence made her unsteady. She fidgeted in her seat under his unwavering gaze.
Why does he look at me like that?
She stood, suffocating in his presence. It was too much. These emotions in her chest were wild and raging like a storm over the emotion. Briefly, Rhapdosis wondered if this what desire felt like to men. It would explain their lack of self-restraint when it came to women. Rhapdosis was aware of what happened between women and men. She raked her eyes over Aksept’s figure flushing anew. There was no doubt in her mind that she desired him. To what end? What purpose would that serve? She was a slave.
She beat away the thought. She would either be free or she would die trying. Either option would prevent any meaningful connection between the two.
Rhapdosis was the first to speak, “I-I apologize. I need to check in with the master.” She mumbled. Her excuse was flimsy, but she needed to get out of his shrinking tent.
Bowing awkwardly, she turned to flee without waiting for a response.
“Stop,” his deep voice carried across the empty room, lingering over the space.
Her feet stopped immediately. Rhapdosis told herself it was because a superior gave her an order not because of who the superior was.
Fingers danced on her shoulder, causing her to jump in surprise. For such a large man, he made virtually no noise. A jungle cat was a fitting description of him. Rhapdosis turned to him, again taken aback at how close he was to her without her being aware. His intimidating frame towered over her, as his hand fell to his side. Rhapdosis took a step back from him. The closer she was to him, the farther reason ran from her.
“Why are you running from me?” He asked, eyebrow raised. There was no inflection in his voice, no clues to a hidden meaning.
Rhapdosis’ mind raced attempting to find logic in this chaos created by the Priest before him. Then, she felt the tendrils of ire building in her. It pushed away the chaos and confusion, giving her a thread to follow back into her right frame of mind. Her freedom would not be compromised by a handsome priest. Pretty slaves were everywhere. She could not afford this distraction.
“Do you want to bed me like my master wants to?” she asked with an even voice, “Are you intrigued by theajnabislave?” Rhapdosis trailed a finger down her arm as she referred to her dark skin. Ruefully, she observed his eyes trace the movement. “To what end do you want me here? Am I to warm your bed while my master is away? Perhaps you simply want me first.” She spat. With each word, she breathed more freely, releasing the anger behind it.
Aksept observed her rampage with a calm face then responded, “I promised to help you. I am trying to keep that promise to you. I am nothing like your master.”
“How are you helping me? You claim to help yet I have seen nothing. I. Will. Not. Go. Back. To. His. House.” She Annunciated every word of her final sentence clearly. “You seem to want my body. You can have it for my freedom.”
Aksept’s eyes deepened as his own anger began to surface making him look even larger, more dangerous. He took one step towards her, she gulped and took one back.
Rhapdosis’ anger slowly began to morph into fear. Had she gone too far? Spoken too freely? The priest recognized the growing fear in her eyes. They dimmed with fear instead of sparkling with rage. Her fists, once balled at her sides, began fidgeting with the hem of her dress. He halted his advances and turned to sit on the abandoned bench.
Rhapdosis did not move. Her mind begged her to flee to the safety of the architect’s tents. She should spend the time coming up with her own escape plan. It lacked any sense to stake her freedom on the word of a man no matter how powerful. Her body begged her to stay. Her confused heart ached at the idea of leaving like this. Her own emotions continued to baffle her. How could she feel so strongly about a man she just met?
“Come, sit.” Aksept pat the empty bench next to him lightly.
Rhapdosis did not move.
“I am not the type of man to force a woman, regardless of her position.” He spoke haughtily as if it was obvious that he was a man who was in no need of feminine attention.
Raking her eyes over his smug figure, she realized he probably did not have a lack of admirers.
Rhapdosis glared at his lazy smirk and relaxed posture. She slowly approached the chair across from where Aksept sat and stood behind it.
“Truly, I will not harm you.” Aksept spoke with a huff.
He paused only briefly, realizing she would not move any time soon, “I do not want your body for your freedom. I will not lie to you.”
At this she gave him a disbelieving look, but she allowed him to continue.
“I am drawn to you, Rhapdosis.” He breathed her name like it was a caress.
That warm feeling in the pit of her stomach began to unfurl hearing her name fall from her lips.
“I am drawn to you like I have never been drawn to someone before. I know you feel this too.” He motioned between them, eyes wrought with want.
Rhapdosis’ breathing became heavy. She was relieved to hear that she was not singularly affected by him. He felt her too.
“You are the high priest of Egypt.” She whispered aloud, though it was a response to him, it was also a reminder to herself. “I am nothing but a body slave in The Vizier’s home. I have no future here, while yours is bright and filled with riches and worship.”
“You will not be back in his home, I swear it.” Aksept spoke so fiercely that Rhapdosis believed that he truly believed it.
“How can you swear on something you have no control over. The Pharaoh himself told my Master I will return to him.”
“Will you please sit?” Aksept implored, “I wish to discuss all you have seen in your Master’s home.”
Rhapdosis gingerly sat on the chair before the High Priest, eyeing him suspiciously. He took in her stare, bringing a small smile to his lips. She reminded him of Nile. She was calm and beautiful on the surface. Once one swam past the banks of the river, hidden depths were revealed. An undertow could pull you deep into the dangers of the water, never to surface again. He could see her annoyance building, like a current forming beneath the surface, as her unanswered question lingered between them. Just when she was about to be overcome by her own impatience he spoke.
“I have suspicions of Ghebnut and his intentions.” He leaned back into the bench, the picture of comfort, “I believe he has nefarious plans. The relocation of the capitol could only be the beginning.”
Though he looked relaxed, Rhapdosis could see the tension in his jaw, the flexing of the muscles around his neck indicated he serious. She did not speak, hoping to hear his plans for her.
“By harvest, he will be gone, and you will be free.” He spoke resolutely eyes burning into her own.
Harvest was a month away. They were to arrive in the New Capitol in two day’s time. The Architect would release her to Ghebnut as soon as they were settled.
“I will be dead by then.” Rhapdosis answered unemotionally. Her decision was made before she entered the tent. She would be free or she would die trying before she set would allow the Vizier to own her.
Aksept’s eyes softened at her response, understanding her meaning. “That is something I will not allow.”
“I am not asking for your permission.” She spoke tersely, “Unless, of course The High Priest of Egypt interferes.”
“What is your plan?” he challenged, “Are you to escape while we travel? A womanh alone on this road may fall to a fate worse than death. That is if the thieves get to you before the guards will. Where will you go? How will you disappear with your looks? What coin do you have?”
Rhapdosis cringed at each question. She knew she did not have a plan, that is what she needed to come up with.
“I will figure it out.” She spoke haughtily, “I am not just an ignorant slave. No one knows me here or in El-Armana. Surly I am not the only ajnabiin Egypt.” She crossed her arms over her chest defensively, refusing to give into Aksept’s logic. No more men would control her life.
“No, you are not the only foreigner to be a servant in Egypt but -,”
“Slave.” She interrupted.
“I am a slave here in Egypt. He will bed me the first moment he can, then my child will be a slave too. How would I escape with a child? I refuse to force this fate on another soul. I would rather die than do that to my own child.” She spat.
At this, Aksept released a deep sigh, and sat up. He leaned forward, closer to Rhapdosis. He rested his chin in his hands as he spoke.
“I will not let him touch you. When we get to the Capitol, you will remain safe with the Architect at least until harvest.”
“How can you know that? He told the Vizier he would need me just for the journey.”
“We have already spoken on the matter. Worry not.” He began to reach out his hand as if he were going to touch her cheek.
She hated that she wished he did.
“The Architect told me he never spoke to you.” She breathed. Anger dissipating, desire growing.
“The Architect is a sly old fox,” he said with a smile. He loved the way she looked at him her eyes peered deep into his soul.
Truly, Aksept was already lost to the woman before him. He did not understand why. He had seen his share of women, both Egyptian and foreign. Before she stumbled into his temple , these emotions that stirred in his chest he believed long gone. They returned to him fiercely, almost painfully. Fighting it was impossible he already learned. Control and reason must lead him now. This was a dangerous time in Egypt.
He focused with that thought in mind, “Did you see anything suspicious in the Vizier’s home?”
Rhapdosis blinked at the sudden change in topic. She cast her mind back through her memories as she responded, “Nothing I can think of… At first I believed the amount of supplies he ordered was strange yet when the Proclamation was made it made sense.”
“The Vizier made large orders before the Pharaoh announced El-Armana?” the priest asked incredulously.
“Yes, Heb and I were going over inventory reports… There was a large amount of stone coming in from the Romans yet the payment was not recorded.”
“Interesting.” Aksept spoke deep in thought, his eyes on the ground, “Any strange visitors?”
Immediately, Rhapdosis felt the color leave her face as she remembered the one visitor she saw in the Vizier’s home. She spent much effort forgetting that night except for meeting Aksept. The Priest noticed her change in demeanor, concerned at the fear that flickered in her eyes.
“What is it?” he prodded gently. He did not like the fear he saw in her eyes. The need to remove it permantly over came him.
“The night you found me in your temple,” she spoke so softly the Aksept had to strain to hear her, “The Vizier had a visitor it is why we didn’t – he didn’t…” trailing off she dragged her eyes from the floor back to Aksept’s face. The concern she found there warmed her belly. He didn’t look sad for her, just worried. There was a hint of determination hidden in his jaw as well.
“She was royalty, I saw her again when you all returned from the temple… Kaia, Kaya?” she finished scrunching her nose as she tried to remember the beautiful woman’s name.
“Kiyah.” He spoke firmly. What was the king’s favorite concubine doing with the Vizier?
“Yes, that’s it.” As she spoke, she pressed her memories to remember the brief discussion she witnessed between the two. All she could remember was how scared she was. How fast she fled when he dismissed her. “I remember her being speaking on The Royal Mother and one of the princesses falling ill with… excitement.”
“Was she alone? What do you mean by excitement?” he pressed her to elaborate her comment.
“Yes, she was alone. She was not sad, she might have said it was a sign? I was… dismissed after that.”
The priest took in her words carefully. He could not find a reason for those Kiyah to visit the Vizier. Especially without a guard. She was the favorite royal concubine. Her own brother commanded the Magi that protected the king. Surely, he would not allow his sister to roam the castle unprotected. Unless he did not know. Unless he knew.
They sat in silence alone with their thoughts. Rhapdosis used the time to study Aksept. His eyes were back on the floor as he was deep in thought. His hair was still covered, yet the turban was beginning to slip, showing more and more of the thick dark locks tucked beneath it. A few curls peaked out, but she could see his hair was long enough to be pulled back. She wondered how long it was. His long eyelashes flooded her with envy. If she had lashes like that, maybe she would not be forced to rim her eyes with as much kohl when she was in the palace.
His body was tense, unintentionally causing the muscles to relax and flex, putting on an impressive display. She trailed her eyes over his long legs and powerful thighs. Jordan was always physically fit. He caused many of girls to detour around the blacksmith’s hearth to watch him mold metal effortlessly. Sweat drenched and muscles ripping, even Rhapdosis extended her tasks to see the sight. Still, the way she felt about Jordan paled in comparison to the way this man made her feel fully clothed. Her mind drifted to what he would look like without his tunic, drenched in the summer sun. She had to breathe deeply, to release the pressure of her quickly bleating heart thundering in her chest. She fidgeted in her seat as the longer she thought about him the less clothes he wore, making parts of her tingle that never showed interest in any man before. He looked up from his musings, catching her heated stare on his figure. As if he could see the direction of her thoughts, he released a breath-taking smile. One that relayed he knew exactly what she was thinking. His eyes darkened as they traveled from her face down her body, narrowing on her neck like her could see her pulse quickening.
The moment was broken by a thundering horn. Surprise racked both of their features as the sound of shuffling feet could be heard from the inside of the tent.
“Come,” he spoke, voice heavy with want. He held out his hand to help her out of the wooden chair. The horn meant that an announcement would be coming forth soon. It was rare that the horn sounded during travel. There was a different, much higher one used for alerting to an attack.
Rhapdosis took his hand after a moment of hesitation. He was Aksept, not the High Priest in this moment. She relaxed when their skin touched. The feelings that he inspired in her now at least comforted her. The look in his eyes let her know that he felt it too. As Aksept lead her from the tent, she realized that a lot of time had passed. The sun was setting into the horizon only leaving twilight in its wake. Aksept did not release her hand like she initially expected him to. It was not until they joined a gathering of servants did they reluctantly part.
“The Royal Queen Mother, Nefertari and Princess Tyiaphet have traveled to the next life!” Thundered a crier. “There will be a day of mourning, followed by a feast at next night’s ride. By command of the Pharaoh!”
Immediately after his announcement the crier rolled up the scroll he read from and headed to the next part of the camp. The news would be all around the camp in minutes. The slaves muted their excitement. They had no attachment to the royal families death. They would not have to feign it with the Master’s far away. The slaves excitement grew from the idea of a feast. They would be able to take part of the feast as decreed in burial custom. All of Egypt would celebrate Royalty returning home.
Aksept and Rhapdosis exchanged looks. What would their deaths mean for an unstable Pharaoh, a vile Vizier, and a troubled Egypt?