“Weka! Weka! Weka!” Rhapdosis hissed to herself, pacing her tent. She was a fool. Carried away by fluttering heartbeats and handsome Egyptians like a child. Regret flooded her body as she replayed the events of previous day with Aksept.
How could she have gotten so carried away? He claimed he was a priest yet Rhapdosis was beginning to believe that he was more like a sorcerer, a demon sent from the underworld by Osiris himself. After the deaths of the royal family were announced, they stood in silence for a moment each lost in their thoughts. They remained there until the crowd dispersed each lost in their own thoughts. Rhapdosis move to leave first. She had yet to find her tent and needed to at least check in before anyone noticed her absence. She said these thoughts to Aksept who was still lost to his thoughts. He looked as if he was about to speak to her however, he was interrupted by someone calling for a healer. Rhapdosis used the distraction to leave hastily. She spared him one backwards glance. He was watching her retreating figure with a longing she didn’t understand. It was harder than she thought to walk away. Led filled each step. By the time she found her tent was exhausted.
Rhapdosis ceased pacing and threw herself on the make shift pallet in the suddenly stuffy room. As much as she tried to forget, her mind went back to the stolen kisses in his tent, the words they shared, and the promises made. She leaned back onto her bed, eyes staring at the ceiling but seeing nothing. He promised to help her, yet she never promised him that she would stop her plans to escape. The idea of crafting an escape plan and leaving now left a bad taste in her mouth. Throwing her face into her hands, she released a scream of frustration. She felt as if she was suffocating. Why should she wait for her freedom at his leisure? Why should she care about what happened to Egyptians? They were never friends of hers. As soon as the thought crossed her mind images of The General, the servants in his home that had been kind to her over the years, the young Thea, all Egyptians that showed her kindness… Was it her duty to help them? Would any Egyptian potentially sacrifice their freedom to save her? She doubted that wholly.
Rhapdosis stared at her carefully wrapped wrist. The pain had yet to return but there was a certain stiffness in the injured limb. Her mind danced with images of strong, graceful fingers wrapping her wrist with deft skill. She released another deep sigh, putting her thoughts to the side. Tonight, they would have a feast. The whole camp would be in attendance and she needed to prepare. By the fading light coming through the tent, she knew it would be time to gather soon. The day was spent with The Architect, finally putting her to use. After hours of planning and note-taking for the temple, she was chased out of his tent.
“It is past mid-day, child. You should get prepared for the feast tonight.” The old man spoke, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “We have made great progress. You deserve to enjoy yourself. You are too serious for a young girl.”
“I do not plan on attending the feast tonight, my lord.” Rhapdosis spoke softly, placing a top on the inkwell she had been using as she detailed The Architect’s words on paper.
“You do not plan on attending a feast?” He asked with surprise, “Surely you jest! What reason have you to skip? Is your wrist bothering you? I hear we have a talented healer in the camp.”
Rhapdosis felt herself flush, looking up sharply at the man who had a knowing smile on his wrinkled face. He was sly indeed!
“I have already seen the healer. I would rather rest and prepare for our arrival tomorrow, my lord.”
“I believe I told you to call me Imhoten and I will not hear of it.” Though his words were stern, they were softened with a chocolate placed into her palm.
“It is inappropriate, my lord.” She said carefully as she placed the treat into her mouth.
“Ah, indulge an old greying man. It has been a time since a girl as beautiful as you has spoken my name. I will escort you myself! If an old man like me can make it to a feast, surely you can as well. I’ll be at your tent just after sundown.” His soft smile made him look younger than his years.
Rhapdosis knew she was avoiding the feast to avoid him.She was in no mood for soul-wrenching talks and bewildering emotions. Instead, she wanted to spend her time coming up with an escape plan.
“My lord -,” Rhapdosis began but was stopped by a raised hand, “My lord, Imhoten I cannot- “
Rhapdosis was cut off by Imhoten resting a hand on her shoulder. “It is not up for debate. Times ahead will be difficult, you deserve some enjoyment. I have yet to see you smile. Now go, I will not be late.”
He dismissed her with a thunderous slam of his cane on the wooden table between them. At the noise, his servant boy came in as if used to the strange summons. The Architect turned to the boy having finished the conversation with Rhapdosis.
“Have Melin ensure that our friend Rhapdosis is prepared for the feast tonight. She will be seated with me.”
That was over an hour ago and Rhapdosis was no more prepared for the feast than she was when she first entered her own tent. She spent the time pacing and planning.
“Excuse me, are you Rhapdosis?”
Rhapdosis jumped, not hearing the small woman who spoke enter her tent. She was noticeably older than Rhapdosis yet thin as a reed. She was tall with long limbs, long grey-streaked locks arranged neatly atop her head. The woman was obviously Egyptian with a sand colored skin tone and beautifully brown eyes.
“I am,” Rhapdosis replied confused by the woman’s presence.
“I am Melin, I am to help you get ready for the feast.”
Rhapdosis stared dumbly at the woman. Being a slave, no one had ever helped her get prepared for anything. Had the woman not spoken her name, Rhapdosis would have told her she was in the wrong place. Surely, an Egyptian woman would not be sent to dress a slave.
“I uh, thank you?” Rhapdosis spoke, rising awkwardly for her bed.
The woman did not seem to hold any resentment for her task as she carefully laid out a bundle of cloth next to Rhapdosis. A fine, cream colored robe glistened in the candle light as the woman straightened it out for her.
“This cannot be for me.” She whispered in awe. Never had she seen such fine fabric meant for her. She ran her fingers over the bodice of the simple dress barely touching the fabric.
“Who else would it be for? The Architect sent this over just for you. You will be seated by the most important people here. You must look as if you belong there.”
Rhapdosis fingered the collar at her neck, suddenly uncomfortable. She might look the part but, she would never belong there. Rhapdosis said nothing as the woman asked her to take off her clothes. Quickly, Melin dressed her. Rimming her eyes with Kohl and brushing the wig atop her hair, Rhapdosis felt undeserving of the treatment. Just as Melin finished, the entrance of her tent breezed open to reveal Imhoten, dressed in his finery. He was trailed by a sullen Jordan who could barely meet Rhapdosis’ eyes. A flash of pain tightened in her chest at her old friend’s coldness. Yet, she could only blame herself. She lashed out at him the last they spoke.
“Ah ha! You look wonderful my child!” Imhoten bellowed cheerily, “Come now, we mustn’t be late!”
Rhapdosis stood gracefully from her chair, looking at Jordan who was studying the floor intensely.
“Yes, my lord.” She replied demurely, “Hello Jordan.”
He finally locked eyes with her and she saw his eyes soften slightly.
“Hello Ice.” He returned softly. He forced a smile that disappeared as soon as it appeared and turned out of the tent.
“We mustn’t waste time!” the Architect spoke hurriedly.
Rhapdosis found herself smiling at the old man’s excitement. Everyone loved a feast.
Jordan did not enjoy feasts. He preferred small family gatherings over loud rambunctious ones like this. A funeral feast was normally one a more somber celebration. However, as the arrival to the new capitol was a day away and almost no master’s were present, the servants, guards, and everyone else were truly enjoying themselves.
Jordan surveyed the table he was seated at. As a guest of The Architect, he was invited to eat at his table. The Architect had a jovial look on his face as he poured a pitcher of wine into Rhapdosis cup while speaking to her. He watched Rhapdosis unabashedly as neither of the pairs’ attention was on him. She switched a skeptical look from the Architect to the at the wine now in her goblet. Her river colored eyes took on an unearthly quality as the light blue mixed with the orange of the torches laid around. He always found her eyes bewitching. The fawn tunic she worse contrasted with her dark skin beautifully. He watched as she took a tentative sip of the wine. He was surprised as she released a shy smile and spoke to the smitten old man. He could not hear the words she said to him over the sound of music, conversation and dancing but he could hear The Architects loud rumble of laughter.
The man’s laughter diverted the attention of the other people seated at the table. A few of the Architect’s head builders, their wives, a Magi, a ranking soldier and the captain of the guard assigned to their large caravan. Jordan was seated across from the pair, between an unfriendly architect and an unfamiliar guard. Neither were conversing with him.
Again, Jordan returned his focus to Rhapdosis who was now sipping the cup of wine casually, much to the enjoyment of the Architect. She must have felt the weight of his stare on her person as her eyes suddenly found his. His heart beat skipped as her beauty always entranced him. He had her in his arms once yet now he felt as if he was looking at a stranger. ‘
Her eyes sharpened in his direction. Finally, she spoke to him loud enough for him to clearly hear her.
“What are you staring at? Surely, I am allowed a drink,” she bit out. He would have thought she was upset yet a small smile at the end of her sentence made him realize she was jesting.
“Is that your first drink?” he responded with a smile. There was the girl he used to know. The sharp tonged temptress that he grew up with.
Rhapdosis looked bashful as she admitted the truth to him and those at the table who now were listening, “It is.”
“How is that possible?” laughed a guard, seated closer to her. The flirtatious look in his eye did not go unnoticed by Jordan.
“I had no desire to lose my wits because of a drink,” She spoke haughtily, trying to cover her embarrassment. While her excuse sounded valid, Jordan knew that their former Master did not allow wine in his home. That did not stop a few who would sneak it into their chambers, but he knew Rhapdosis would not have done something like that.
She fingered her collar nervously, as the soldier continued to smile at her.
“Be careful, girls tend to feel the effects of wine faster than men. Who knows who you will be once you feel it?” The soldier spoke lecherously.
“Mind your words, soldier.” The Architect spoke with a firm voice, “You are dismissed.”
The soldier looked as if he wanted to reply but a sharp look from his captain made him think better of it. He rose with a stiff bow and departed.
“It is always the young ones,” The Captain said with a sigh. “Apologies.”
“None needed,” the old man replied
Breaking the sudden tension, a young child broke appeared at Rhapdosis’ elbow.
“Ice! Come dance with us!” he shouted, eyes bright unawares of anything but the girl’s attention. Another child appeared next, immediately burying his face into her back, shy of the audience at the table.
“What are you two doing here? I apologize.” Rhapdosis said to the kids reproachfully and apologized to the table. Though her tone was stern she still ruffled the meeker child’s hair.
The architect simply smiled good naturedly at the children. “It is no trouble at all, child. It is a celebration after all! Have fun! But first, you must finish your drink! It is custom.”
She eyed him sharply, “I am unfamiliar with this custom. It seems more like something from your mind.”
The old man now laughed openly, “Correct my child,” he barked in between laughter. It seemed as if the architect had already felt the effects of the wine himself. “Maybe wine will finally loosen you up. You should have some fun before we are hard at work in the city.”
Rhapdosis flushed in embarrassment, “I know how to have fun!” she said petulantly. Her goblet was now raised above the table indicating a servant to hastily fill it.
‘” Now there’s a girl!” the Architect hooted excitedly, “Come we all will join!” He held his goblet up as well. Soon the entire table joined in with full cups before them. The excited child whined to join in as well.
Before the adults could rebuff the child, Rhapdosis slipped him a drinking horn full of water. Her eyes twinkled at the child conspiratorially and she spoke to him excitedly, “The first one to finish their cup, wins!”
“Alas! It is. You will be a great mother someday!” the soldier next to Jordan jested.
Something unreadable flashed across her face for an instant. Had he blinked, he would have missed it.
“To the god Bes! We offer this to you. Fi Shihitik!” shouted the architect.
The table all joined in the cheers to the God of Wine and Beer and drank deeply. Out of the corner of his eyes Jordan could see Rhapdosis drinking, eyes scrunched in concentration. The boy next to her was gulping comically to the encouragement of his companion. The Architect was the first to slam his drink down and stood triumphantly. Walking stick forgotten. The rest of the table followed soon after, cheering and applauding.
When Rhapdosis drained her cup, she breathed heavily as if she had run across the desert. She let out a joyous laugh as the child next to her started coughing finishing his water. She gave him a sound thump on his back in aid.
“Dance! Dance! Dance!” the child said as soon as he could breathe again, laughing along with the rest of the table lost in revelry.
Rhapdosis stood and wobbled slightly, “Too fast!” She laughed, a smile on her face.
At that moment Jordan wanted nothing more to get up and dance with her. She smiled like she used to. Her face looked younger as she allowed each child to take a hand. He watched as she turned to address the table, though she began to address them formally, the architect waved her off. “Go! Act like someone your age for once! Pretty girls should be smiling and dancing!” The children tugged on her eagerly, leading her to the massive fire where people were dancing and playing games about. Jordan watched the sway of her hips on clumsy feet as she followed the children. Visions of her in his arm swam into his vision. Maybe the wine was affecting him too. He thought about going after her, his mind made bold by the wine. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, did the Architect address him.
“Jordan! My man, let’s play a game!” The drunken old man pulled stones and dice out of the folds of his tunic. “You as well, Captain!”
Unable to deny a request from the Architect Jordan resigned himself to at least winning a few coins off the old man before seeking out Rhapdosis. A servant refilled his cup as he waited for the Architect to shake the bones.
Rhapdosis felt as if her feet were dancing on clouds. She herself felt as if she was floating among water weightless. She threw her head back with laughter as the two children urged her to spin faster with them. The wine made her head swim, but she could not stop smiling. She decided she liked wine even more than she liked chocolate. Chocolate never made her feel like this. Weightless. Happy. Carefree.
Far away were the dark thoughts of the palace, the Vizier, and the dangers of the future. The only thing she cared about now was making this feeling last as long as possible.
The beat of the drums carried the deep horns and lutes played by the musicians at the camp. All around were men, women, children dancing and playing games. The heat of the large flame did not deter the fun as the desert would oft get cold and drafty at night. It was the most fun Rhapdosis ever had. She could only recall dancing and frolicking once before, and it was nowhere near as enjoyable as this one. She had dined with Captains, Magi, and The First Architect. Drank wine! And now she was twirling, skipping and shaking her hips along with everyone else. Life without master’s was joyous.
The music changed slowly. Bass heavy drums led a marching beat indicating that the dance of the funeral feast was to begin. People began to separate by gender. Rhapdosis would normally not join in but she felt her feet join the women forming a ring around the fire. She faced her two little dance partners join the men enthusiastically line up across from her. The young woman next to her pointed to the older men trying to jostle them out of the way to line up across from her.
“It seems you are popular tonight.” She laughed, causing Rhapdosis to giggle along. The feast put all in high spirts.
The children put up a fierce fight until their mother appeared and dragged them out of the circle. She smiled at the handsome young man that won his place as her partner. He answered with a goofy smile of his own.
He seemed struck by the Goddess of Love, Hathor herself. Rhapdosis couldn’t help but send a wink at him and flirtatious smile. She felt like her old self again. However, her burst of confidence was ended once the man she winked at was shoved aside.
The man turned to challenge the man who pushed him aside but immediately balked. Rhapdosis held her breath as she raked her eyes over the man who set her aflame.
Aksept was there. Tall, broad, fearless. He towered over the man in both size and strength. He chose to attend the feast shirtless in a skirt of finery befitting a healer. It rode low on his defined hips covering thick legs and stopping at his knees. The material shimmered in the firelight giving him an otherworldly appearance. At his waist hung a sheathed sword, an odd decoration for a healer yet it fit him well. He wore a turban as always, that highlighted the perfect features of his face.
Rhapdosis felt every bit of the alcohol she consumed or so that’s what she wanted to blame the feelings on. He rested his heavy stare on her, and she matched it. Tonight, was about having fun her wine addled mind reasoned. She glanced at other couples making eyes at each other. Why shouldn’t she be able to enjoy time with a handsome man like many other servants were? After all, here, he was just a healer she was not just a slave anymore. Resolved, Rhapdosis cast a confident stare at her newest partner. His eyes grew darker as he enjoyed her stare. She felt emboldened by his reaction to her and fixed him with a devilish grin as the lute followed the drums and they began to move.
The circle of women moved in time with the men. Rhapdosis enjoyed watching him move. Smooth and lithe, he kept time with the rhythm easily. She herself glided along with the women with each beat of the drums. The horns began their deep, sensuous tones as the couples came together a body’s width apart from one another.
“Rhapdosis.” He spoke to her as soon as she was within hearing distance. He eyed her boldly, tracing her curves with his eyes, heat in his voice.
They placed hands together circling one another as the music continued. First hand to hand, then shoulder to shoulder.
“Aksept.” She replied equally as bold. She loved the way her name sounded on his lips. She wanted to hear it again.
They switched direction, neither one breaking their stare.
“You are enchanting,” he spoke again, lightly trailing a hand across the small of her back.
That was not in the dance as she could recall. Her heart fluttered at the contact. Warmth filled her skin, wine fueled her actions.
“As are you…” Chest to chest they were again, both palms up touching. Yet, she trailed them courageously down his muscular chest stopping only when she came dangerously close to the waistband of his skirt. Rhapdosis enjoyed each ridge and valley of his frame. Soft skin yet hard muscle underneath. What manner of priest had this physique she wondered? He grabbed her wrist as they spun again.
“You are drunk.” He spoke confidently. Aksept raised a humorous eyebrow at her he enjoyed the challenge in her eyes. Sparking a now familiar twitch in him down below. She had a devilish grin on her face as she wretched free, showing him her back which the dress she wore exposed freely.
“I have enjoyed some wine tonight yes my lord.” She spoke slowly twisting her hips. His eyes drank the sight in hungrily. Even the way she said ‘my lord’ sent bedroom thoughts to his head. Rhapdosis knew not what her words did to him truly, but she relished the reaction she was able to illicit from him.
His arms shot out and pulled her against him so quickly she did not see it coming. Before Rhapdosis even had time to stumble she was pulled against his solid form. This was not a part of the dance either. However, most couples had already partnered up while others had disappeared. No one was paying the handsome couple any attention.
“I told you to call me Aksept.” He whispered roughly into her ear from behind. His tone sent strange feelings pooling low in her belly. Rhapdosis could not explain why but she quite enjoyed the prospect of him upset with her. He looked dangerous and she liked it.
Rhapdosis decided to push him. She never before felt so bold. While not unawares of her attractiveness to men, she had always seen it as a reason to hide from men. Tonight, she would use them as she pleased. And this man pleased her more than she cared to admit. As she moved her hips against the front of him, she gave him a heated stare. Rhapdosis imagined what it would be like if this man was her Master. It would not be as scary of a prospect to lay with him as it was for her with her true Master.
“Aksept,” She whisper groaned his name as his large hands found her slim hips and squeezed them tightly.
Suddenly, she was spinning. Forcing a laugh out of her as he twirled her weightless. She even felt herself being lifted from the ground. Rhapdosis was forced to place her hands on his shoulders as she was spun around to face him. She had to shut her eyes as the spins and the wine forced her vision to go blurry. By the time she was able to open them she realized she had been plucked from the fire and was now pulled behind the crowd. Aksept had her against a palm tree in the midst of the camp. A tent was attached but empty as everyone was at the feast. Those who lingered about paid them no mind.
Rhapdosis knew what was coming as a now familiar look was on his face. This time she decided she would be no blushing maid. Her face raised to meet his in a devastating kiss. His lips crashed down onto hers passionately. Her arms grasped his shoulders desperately as the now familiar fervor engulfed her. Aksept had one arm above her head holding onto the tree as the other circled her waist and pressed her into him. Their tongues danced and when they finally did part, he rested his forehead upon hers.
They both panted heavily. Rhapdosis smiled brightly, tracing her fingers over the sharp features of his face. She wondered briefly how she regretted kissing him earlier. This feeling was incredible, and she wanted more. Aksept palmed her back sending sparks of lighting wherever he touched. She arched her back into his chest as his touch grew bolder, surer in response to her reactions.
“You are bewitching.” He ground out, his dark gaze focused on her face as he leaned into her touch. Her hands drifted to the back of his neck as she felt the soft hair under his turban.
“You have twice accused me of witchcraft,” she giggled, “Are you not the one bewitching me? Healers are known for dark arts.”
Rhapdosis was jesting yet there was a twinge of truth to her words. She was unexplainedly drawn to him. Maybe it was the result of dark magic.
He nuzzled her neck as she laughed again, enjoying how carefree she felt. Was this how freedom felt?
“I want you.” Rhapdosis declared suddenly.
He froze. “What?” he withdrew abruptly from her, forcing distance yet he did not release her.
Rhapdosis did not know where the idea came from and the words were out of her mouth before she seriously considered them, yet she found herself repeating them.
“I want you. In the way a man wants a woman. In the way women want men.” She said again, more confidently. She tried to pull him in, yet he resisted. Barely budging under her tugs at his neck.
Aksept’s face was a flurry of emotions. Yet just as quickly did the appear did they disappear. She recognized want, desire, lust, yet she also saw anger, fear… disgust? Did he not like her offering herself up like a common whore Rhapdosis felt all the confidence and warmth that she has been feeling immediately leave her? Sobered immediately, she began running through the consequences of her actions.
She was already claimed; her Master and the Pharaoh had already seen to where her body could and could not be. She risked her life and possibly his by what she proposed. If he told someone or if it was found out it could surly mean death or worse… for her at least.
Rhapdosis felt a roaring in her ears as she began to panic. Her heart beat in her chest. Aksept looked pained. He opened his mouth but Rhapdosis could not bear to hear his words, so she spoke quickly.
“I-I apologize my lord! Forgive me! The wine took me from my senses.” She pushed him back, this time he allowed it. She gave an awkward bow and hurried away. Rhapdosis did not know where she was going but it was far away from here. Far away from him.