Rhapdosis’ head turned sharply as Vea, the hateful head maid, slapped her.
“Watch your mouth, you ajnabi khataht.”The middle aged woman had surprising strength behind her sinewy limbs.
Rhapdosis smashed her lips together to bite back her next response. She had been called a foreign bitch many times. This would not be the last.
“Watch your mouth. Watch your mouth. Watch your mouth.” She repeated internally.
Her first day in the royal palace was not going smoothly.
Rhapdosis righted herself, blinking furiously to avoid the tears that raced to her eyes from falling. She would not cry in front of this old khataht.
Steeling herself, Rhapdosis again locked eyes with Vea. She might not talk back again, but she was not going to apologize.
“You will do as you are told, wearing what you are told to wear, at the moment you are told to do so. If not, I will personally send you to that whore house you’re begging for,” Vea stepped closer, “I will make sure they take all the lip out of you.” Tossing the thin garment at Rhapdosis, Vea turned sharply on her heel exiting the bathing chambers that contained Rhapdosis and the few other female slaves taken into the house of the Vizier.
No one spoke as the footsteps faded down the hallway.
“I wish we went to market, they will do what they want with us here,” Came a whispered voice.
All eyes fell on her as the group of women looked to the speaker.
It escaped no one’s notice that all of the 10 slaves who had been brought to the Vizier’s house were all young and attractive. The speaker was one of the youngest of them, no more than 15 summers. She seemed to be of Egyptian descent. Straight black hair and big brown eyes made her look like a child. Her blossoming figure reminded many she was not.
She was shaking like a reed on the Nile as she held the thin shift in her hands.
The offending slip was the reason that Rhapdosis’ mouth ran away from her.
She, along with the other girls, had been stripped and roughly bathed the moment they stepped off the wagon to their master’s home. Throughout the rough treatment, she said nothing. She was determined to make Hapetset proud. She would not disturb his peace in the Afterlife.
She tried every strategy that was taught to her throughout her rebellious youth. When her clothes were ripped off in front of the head of house, the evil Vea, and a host of other slaves and guards, she counted as many numbers as she knew while they evaluated her like a piece of meat. When her hair was pulled out of her tight braids as they scrubbed her violently from head to toe, she recited the story of Ra over and over. She even pinched her thigh in sets of 5 when she felt was left of her precarious self-control slipping as unfamiliar hands rubbed her with strong smelling oils and shaved her entire body from the neck down. The new uniform however, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Naked, exhausted, violated, scared, and very angry, the words were out of her mouth before she had even realized they had been spoken.
“If the Vizier just wanted whores why did he bother with more house slaves?” Rhapdosis said in disgust of the revealing uniform. She was immediately slapped. The material was the thinnest linen that they had ever seen. Rhapdosis could see the skin on her hand through the garment with ease. It was the color of the sands and shimmered lightly in the light. Scandalously short, the dress was designed with slits on the side allowing for freedom of movement but also an unprecedented amount of thigh was revealed. Large swaths of material where a front and back of a dress would normally hide a girl’s modesty were missing. In the General’s home, the slaves were dressed modestly and comfortably. Long robes for the women, short thick linen skirts for the men. Slaves were not meant to draw attention to themselves. It seemed like whatever role the young women were to play was not one where they would go unnoticed.
“I’m so scared.” The same girl who had spoken to the silent room before continued to give voice to everyone’s feelings. The girl started crying softly.
Slowly, all the girls in the room began to pull on the offensive slip. The room was silent as everyone was lost in their thoughts. With a resigned sigh, Rhapdosis did the same. Once dressed, she made her way to the crying girl. Thea, she believed her name was. She used to be a weaver and field hand at the General’s estate so Rhapdosis never knew her very well.
“Don’t cry,” Rhapdosis placed an awkward arm around the girl, “it could be worse, they could have sent us to the mines.” Her attempt at humor fell abysmally flat.
“I would prefer death over this.” The girl sobbed, louder this time. “I miss my mother!” Sobs wracked her thin frame.
Rhapdosis pulled her closer allowing her to cry, she did not have any advice to offer the girl. Rhapdosis had entertained that thought and darker ones many times since the General’s death.
“Shut her up before she gets us all killed.” Came a harsh whisper.
This voice Rhapdosis did know.
“Typhone, she’s a child. I know it’s been a while since you’ve had a heart but try to care about someone besides yourself.” Rhapdosis hit back.
Typhone and Rhapdosis were around the same age and both ajnabi. They were forced together often as they grew up to show off the prowess of The General. It was rare to have two beautiful foreign slaves in a house. Only the Pharaoh and greater lords could claim such a thing. Rhapdosis’ dark beauty was contrasted by Typhone’s pale beauty. Unlike Rhapdosis, Typhone was sold to The General by a Roman ambassador to curry favor in war around the time she was 13. Typhone always knew her role as a status symbol and was comfortable. Higher than a common kitchen or house slave, but still a slave, Typhone always had a stuck-up personality and was lazy. After The General’s death, her position was thrown into chaos as well.
Rhapdosis trailed her eyes over her. Oiled, washed, and dressed in the thin shift, she was restored to her full beauty. Her gorgeous blonde hair was piled on top of her head and confined with a think leather strap. It took a closer look at the dark circles under her pale eyes, and faint bruises on her legs to see the wear of the last few weeks’ events on her. Rhapdosis felt an unfamiliar twinge of guilt when it came to her archenemy. Typhone was lashing out because she was scared too.
“I have a heart that I would like to continue to beat. I will not be cut down in a slave’s bathroom because she cannot stop crying,” Typhone bit back.
Rhapdosis’ response was cut short as the sound of jingling and footsteps drew everyone’s attention.
The head of house appeared. An older bald man, he stood rather short and pudgy. He wore the traditional skirt and belt however he had chest straps indicating his rank and position in the Vizier’s home. Despite his shorter stature, he had a commanding presence. Mouth set in a hard line, he ran a critical eye over all the women in the room. His eyes lingered on Rhapdosis first her hair, then her face, then a slow trail down the rest of her. She reflexively crossed her arms in front of her, trying to provide more coverage than allowed by the dress. She felt naked.
“You, Khem,” he said pointing to Rhapdosis, “bind your hair.”
Taken aback by the derogatory term for her dark skin, Rhapdosis’ jaw dropped. She barely had time to think before the man threw something in her direction. A thin strap of leather landed at her feet.
Rhapdosis recovered quickly, picking up the string.
Rhapdosis had thick curly hair that brushed the top of her chest. It took hours to dry at any given time. She was grateful to at least have been given the order while it was still damp. She did not know how the man would react to the time and struggle that would be Rhapdosis trying to manipulate the mass on top of her head dry.If she had to guess, she assumed his reaction would be violent.
Assured that she had taken to the task, the man gestured at something in the hallway that the girls could not see. Three female slaves entered the room carrying various objects. They were not dressed as were the girls from the General’s house Rhapdosis noticed as she worked her fingers through her hair, detangling as she went. The first had a large trunk that despite its size she did not struggle to carry. The second slave had a box containing various jars, while the last slave placed a smaller trunk, though similar in design on the ground.
Just as Rhapdosis tied a knot around the braid, the trunks were opened revealing the contents. The large trunk contained traditional Egyptian wigs, while the smaller contained various pieces of what looked like jewelry. As the box containing the jars was unpacked, Rhapdosis realized that it was the infamous face paint that the Palace women were known for. In what she had heard of palace life from the slaves that had visited with the General and his wife were what she thought were just exaggerated like fisherman’s tales. She would never imagine slaves wearing jewelry and face paint. She had sewn the mysterious jewel from her homeland into the scarf she wore to cover her hair in the General’s home. She nearly panicked when the removed it from her hair they were careless ass the tossed it away from her not seeing the jewel. She was able to retrieve it after her bathing in the guise of drying her hair with the rag. Her heart had not stopped beating. The jewel was now tucked safely in the braid that now contained her hair.
The slaves were now handing out the wigs to the girls. The skipped over Typhone who was annoyingly smug. What Rhapdosis thought was jewelry was being also being passed around. The jewelry reached her before the slave that was passing out the wigs did. She was given one thick golden circlet that appeared to be a necklace and four smaller ones that jingled with each small movement. Rhapdosis fingered the larger of the items first. A cold feeling spread throughout her body as she fingered the designs on the necklace. It glistened a soft gold that did not shine brightly. The light provided by the torches on the wall danced menacingly on its surface.
That cold feeling turned into one of disgust as she realized what the design on the necklace was. She applied pressure to a small ridge she felt on the rim of the necklace. As the necklace split in two, she realized that it was not a necklace at all.
It was a collar.
Bile rose in her throat as a darkness settled over her thoughts. The reality of her situation was hopeless. Maybe Thea was right, death would be better.
“Put them on.” Came the Head’s voice.
Rhapdosis didn’t have to look up to feel the weight of his stare on her form. This was the worse type of punishment that she had ever been through. She had seen her fair share of lashings and worse. But nothing compared to the feeling of shackling yourself. Marking your place as someone else’s property cause a flurry of emotions in Rhapdosis that she had never felt before.
She found herself again pushing down vomit as her unsteady hands fastened the collar around her neck. At the click of the two sides connecting, the sting of tears pushed against her eyes. A sudden yank by the collar that she just snapped cause her to yelp out loud. The head of house had pulled her up by her collar. She yelped loudly immediately gaining everyone’s attention. Her hands flailed wildly looking for purchase. The hard material held her weight painfully at her neck. She grabbed the collar with both hands to relieve the pressure. She was able to get her feet steady. The Head of house was no taller than Rhapdosis, so she was bent awkwardly at the waist, intentionally holding her at the uncomfortable angle. Violently and suddenly snatched from her thoughts as she was, the tears flowed freely from her eyes. She could not fight them. For the first time since she had been viciously taken from her homeland, Rhapdosis felt truly terrified. The memory of that incident was always fuzzy, but she always remembered the fear she felt. Even that fear faded over time. This fear was new.
“I heard you have a mouth on you.” He snarled at Rhapdosis, shaking her slightly to ensure her attention was fully on him. “If the Vizier didn’t have a special interest in you, I would have shown you what we do to mouths that don’t listen.” The Vizier laughed evilly at the petrified look on her face. With Rhapdosis still in his grasp he addressed the room of scared girls.
“I have heard that the General allowed his slaves some comforts and freedoms.” He ground out, “We do not award this type of behavior in the palace. You belong to the Vizier and I am his hand here. You have been chosen to work and live in the house of a God. You get to belong to the right hand of a God. Do not forget that ingratitude is a sin. You are in the House of the Grand Vizier. We cannot allow this behavior in his home. Show ingratitude for you position and you will be facing a punishment you won’t soon forget.” At this he released Rhapdosis.
She scurried away from him and pressed herself against the cold wall by the other girls. She felt Thea grab her hand. Rhapdosis couldn’t tell which one of them was shaking.
“You will be prepared for presentation to the Vizier at his dinner tonight there, you will be assigned your duties by the Vizier himself. You should be honored such a great man will personally decide your fate. Ingratitude is a sin. Sora will lead you out when we are ready for you.” The slave woman Sora stepped forward as the Vizier exited the room.
A strange sound somewhere between a whimper and a gasp escaped Rhapdosis as soon as she could breathe. She realized she had been holding her breath since he had grabbed her. No one spoke as the other slave women continued to pass out wigs as if nothing happened.
The Grand Vizier was having a great night. The General that had been a thorn in his side for years had finally done him the favor of dying last moon. He had been entertaining the idea of simply ridding himself of the nuisance however he was saved the hassle. The Pharaoh, who was growing more and more unwound, was listening more to him Ghebnut, than he was the priest Aksept. Teb, the other advisor was aging and could easily be convinced to Ghebnut’s side if he was given the right motivations.
Along with the General’s timely death, was the perk of the sudden opportunity to dissolve his estate. With Pharaoh increasingly leaning to his Vizier for advice, the queen did so as well. The Vizier chuckled to himself as he recalled the ease, he had manipulating the Queen and the General’s widow.
He proudly surveyed his dining hall, a buzz with guests and merrymakers. He hated this part of being a part of the Royal Court. Entertaining people who weren’t worth his time felt beneath him. He assured himself that this time of foolishness would come to an end soon enough. The Vizier could admit however, he enjoyed showing off every now and then. He took a deep drink from his goblet and sat it on the table. Scanning over his guests, he noted the people of import there.
His first wife sat at her table surrounded by her courtiers and the General’s wife while some of his favorites from his harem loitered around him. He raised a glass to Caius, the roman senator and Praetor who was becoming more and more useful. His eyes locked with a dark figure standing towards the back of the hall. A self-satisfied smirk returned to his face as he mockingly raised a glass to the man. In no surprise to him, the man turned from the Vizier and melted into the shadows.
The Vizier slammed his cup on the table. How dare he disrespect the Grand Vizier in his own home? One of the women jumped at the sudden action.
“Are you okay my love?” she questioned pushing her chest against his arm.
Annoyed at the fact that the Priest who disrespected him so openly was one of the few people he could not openly retaliate against the Grand Vizier searched for distraction. Seeing his faithful head servant, the Vizier beckoned him over with a raise of the fingers.
“Are they ready?” he asked him.
“Yes, Vizier.” He said after bowing deeply to him.
“Bring them in, I’m getting bored.” He said dejectedly. He stood up, not waiting for his wife to move, she fell ungracefully back. She huffed indignantly and folded her arms across her chest, pouting.
With a simple lift of both arms, the room eventually fell silent. The Vizier loved the feeling of power even one as slight as this.
“Em Hotepfriends, loyal subjects to the Pharaoh, and all guests tonight. Thank you for breaking bread with us tonight. In celebration of the Pharaoh’s godly awakening.”
The people in the hall returned the peaceful greeting dutifully, cheering at the Pharaoh’s awakening while waiting for the Vizier to continue. “I have a special offering that the Great General has sent to us from the Afterlife. Even as he lives in the land Ma’at, he still works in service of the Great Pharaoh.” The Vizier briefly thought he may have oversold his fake deference to the General, after all, it was well known that they were not great friends. However, in the haze of drink, greed, and the desire to curry favor, all guest in attendance roared in honor of the “Great General”. The Vizier looked over the widow and offered her a deep bow she gave him a graceful nod of the head.
The doors of the hall opened to reveal Heb, the head house slave leading a trail of slave women. Their bare feet chimed at every step due to the golden anklets around them. While they kept their eyes downcast, their beauty was obvious. Excited chatter broke out across the crowd. The Vizier slowly walked down from the raised platform that he was eating on while Heb whispered hushed instructions.
Rhapdosis kept her eyes firmly down. Whatever this new hell was, she was determined to survive it. She would not die in this collar. Not here. She heard the heavy steps of the Vizier behind her as he descended the steps. Her plan was to not draw any more attention to herself. Heb had given her all the attention she would ever need from anyone in this place. The Vizier started at the end furthest from her. Thea was on her right side, Typhone to the left. She leaned over to briefly touch shoulders with the younger girl. It was the most support she could risk. Typhone seemed to be the one handling this new environment the best. Her eyes sparkled at the finery she glimpsed on their entrance and through the glances she took. She even found herself suppressing a smile. This was the luxury she wanted to be surrounded by. She was tired of living on the outskirts of Capitol with the General. As lost in their own thoughts as they were, the girls barely heard the Vizier making his way down the row. He would ask the girls what they used to do in the General’s house and what skills they had then dismiss them to various parts of his house hold, some, he even gifted to people in attendance.
“Ah, the beauties!” the Vizier exclaimed loudly once he reached Typhone. The attention of the room refocused on the girls. Typhone looked up proudly at the title, while the other two continued to stare at their feet.
“Do you remember me little rabbit?” the Vizier’s feet came into Rhapdosis’ view almost comically lining up directly in front of hers. When she didn’t respond immediately, Rhapdosis felt a rough thumb on her chin as she was forced to look up. She fought the urge to jerk from his touch. “I asked you a question slave.” He spat quietly. He would not be disrespected by a slave.
“Yes, Vizier.” Rhapdosis replied, though the response was quiet and demure, something bothered the Vizier in the way she held his eye contact. This one he would have to have for his self. He would enjoy teaching her.
“I remember you as well Grand Vizier,” at that, his attention slid to the pale Grecian slave who had spoken next to the dark one in his grasp.
“Caius!” Called the Vizier. He released Rhapdosis’ chin.
Thea immediately grabbed for her hand. Even if she wanted to hide the contact, Rhapdosis no longer cared. She needed any comfort she could find. Her heart was racing.
Typhone was the only Grecian that Rhapdosis had ever seen. She couldn’t help the way she stared at the Greek man who appeared at the Vizier’s side.
Tall and physically fit, he had short brown hair peppered with grey that waved slightly. Dazzling green eyes stood out from strong cheek bones and a thick, neatly trimmed beard. He wore what she assumed Greek soldiers wore. A white tunic was covered by a golden breast plate that had the form a perfectly fit man on it. His skin was pale like Typhone’s but tanned from time in the sun. He wore a strange leather skirt that was made of multiple thick strips of leather and was decorated by various golden buttons and lion’s head. One look at the man let you know he was a warrior.
“Do you want a woman from your own land? After I’ve had her of course” The Vizier chuckled, “I’ve never bedded a Greek slave before.”
Caius perused over Typhone’s form. Emboldened by her eagerness to earn favor where ever she landed, she leaned forward, smiling suggestively at her countryman. Caius and the Vizier made lewd comments about her as they discussed the pros and cons of Greek women. They even went as far as exposing Typhone’s breast to debate various nipple coloring. Typhone ate up the attention, putting on quite the show. Rhapdosis held her breath hoping that Typhone’s show would pull all the attention that she wanted and more leaving none for her and Thea.
“I however have been with many Greek women, Egyptian women, and many in-between,” Caius’ voice boomed, at his suggestive eyebrow wagging, the room laughed. “I have not however been with a creature such as this.” Rhapdosis jumped at the sudden feel of a soft touch on her arm. “Where is she from, Ghebnut?”
She felt Thea’s hand tighten on hers. She knew better than to remove herself from his touch. She forced her eyes to remain firmly on the ground.
“She is from a place that no longer exists.” He said smugly, “We salted the land after rebellion. She however, is mine. I have waited yearsfor this one.” His intentions clear in the tone of voice. “The General refused me of this once.”
Caius stepped back from Rhapdosis. She tried to get her heart to stop racing.
“A man refused you and survived?” The soldier joked, “I would pay for her.” He said suddenly becoming serious.
It was a woman who spoke next. “Do not feel slighted gentlemen,” the widow spoke from her seat near the front of the room, “He never let anyone touch his favorite. He didn’t even touch her”
Rhapdosis hadn’t seen The Lady at the feast. She was still dressed in her dark mourning robes. Unfortunately for Rhapdosis, it seemed like time had little effect on her former mistress’ distaste for her. Rhapdosis directed her thoughts into seeing if she could make the floor open and swallow her whole.
“She has never been touched? What did you do in the house?” Hearing the hunger in his tone scared Rhapdosis. Not one to make the same mistake twice, Rhapdosis responded quickly stumbling over her words.
“I-I-I- helped The General keep the house and minded the children.” She rushed out.
“She’s being modest,” The Lady stood and glided to the floor. The Greek had never let his attention slip from the beautiful slave with the mesmerizing eyes. He noticed with interest as her dark skin seemed to pale as the lady drew closer.
“She balanced the accounts, managed orders, brokered deals and went to market for him,“ while impressive accomplishments for any slave, the way The Lady sneered made it feel as if she was accusing the slave girl of crimes. “We never dressed them up though. It’s a shame.” The Lady fingered the edges of Rhapdosis’ wig, lost in thought.
“I refuse to lose a smart useful slave, apologies Caius.” The Vizier beckoned Heb forward who silently watched the proceedings with a sharp eye, “This one will be my new body slave.”
The Vizier liked the way the slave commanded the Greek Praetor’s attention. Having a beautiful distraction around would always prove useful. It was simply a bonus that he would be able to do whatever he wanted to her, whenever he wanted to do it, because she would be at an arm’s reach. The Vizier had to steel himself before his arousal showed. This powerful feeling inside him grew as he was getting everything he wanted. He possessively snatched the slave girl pulling her close against him. The dark kohl the slaves had lined her eyes with made the striking blue pop out more against her dark skin. The earlier defiance that he spotted in her was no longer there. “I told you and the old fool that I always get what I want eventually.” He licked her ear causing Rhapdosis to flinch away.
“Caius here take this one. She’s young, she’ll be easy to train.” He released Rhapdosis and pushed Thea’s young form in his direction. She whimpered loudly as the Greek grabbed her, forcing her to turn.
“She’ll do for now, I still want that one when you’re ready to share.” With that, the Greek pulled Thea to his table and forced her on his lap.
The Vizier returned to his table leaving a shaking Rhapdosis locking eyes with a terrified Thea. The feeling of hopelessness returned. There was nothing they could do and there was no one who could help.
“I can’t believe he doesn’t remember me!” Typhone huffed, oblivious to the terror in Rhapdosis and Thea, “I’m going to be his favorite Rhapdosis. He might even make me a wife! You better stay out of my – “
Heb appeared interrupting Typhone’s one sided conversation. “I will show you to your chambers.”
“We get our own chambers?” Typhone said with excitement as they followed him towards the exit.
Rhapdosis kept eye contact with Thea for as long as she could. This was the only thing they could do for each other. This was possibly the last time they would see each other. Rhapdosis burned her image into her mind.
As she lost sight of Thea as they went further away from the crowd, Rhapdosis heard the only thing that could make her feel any feel any lower exit from Heb’s lips.
“The two of you will share a room.”