The quiet tapping of feet mixed with the light jingles of metal cuffs echoed through the high ceilings of the Royal Palace’s empty hallways. Rhapdosis flew through the abandoned hallways blindly. With no knowledge of the palace’s design, the girl ran with only one clear thought; escape. She stuck to the shadows to avoid being spotted, thankfully the hour was late, and the hallways were clear. So far, no one had seen the terrified slave trying to escape the palace. Her mind was racing, thoughts circling one another, incomplete, fractured. The all-consuming fear that possessed her made rational thought difficult.
Seeing an unlit, smaller hallway, Rhapdosis scampered to it, desperate to catch her breath. She leaned against the wall with her hand over her heart. She forced herself to take deep breaths to calm her burning lungs. Gathering herself, she was able to quiet her chaotic thoughts enough to try to formulate a plan.
Looking around at the hallway she ducked into, Rhapdosis knew that the most important thing to do was to figure out where she was. It had been less than 30 minutes since she had fled the Vizier’s hall. She believed that no slaves would be looking for her tonight, Heb had left her with the Vizier after all. And the Vizier…
Rhapdosis pushed the thoughts of him away. Would he send for her after his visit with the beautiful Kiyah? She had no way of knowing how long that he would be with the mysterious woman, putting the pressure of time on her. The only thing that Rhapdosis knew about her location was that it was in the opposite direction of the Vizier and the quarters that she shared with Typhone. She estimated she was in the East wing of the palace. An area she knew nothing about as the extent of her tour was the Vizier’s wing, the main hall, and the baths. The thin hallway that she was in looked to be a servant’s passage. It would be dangerous to follow the hallway to its unknown destination. There was no way of knowing where it would lead to or who would be on the other end. Running into anyone would be potentially fatal. No one in the palace knew her, and she could not blame any servant for reporting a potential runaway. A noble wouldn’t hesitate to out her and a guard might flat out kill her because he could.
Poking her head back out into the large hallway, she looked both ways. It looked like every other grand hallway in the palace. She leaned back against the wall, throwing her head back in frustration, she let out a deep sigh.
What was she going to do? Fringes of regret began to color her thoughts. Rhapdosis doubted she could even make it back to her chambers if she wanted to.
“Gods help me,” she prayed quietly. Deciding to take her chances with the servants’ hallway that she was already in, Rhapdosis trailed her fingers lightly along the wall to feel her way. The deeper she went, the darker the hallway became. By the time Rhapdosis felt the smooth stone of the wall transition to the rough wood of a door, she couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face.
She delicately felt over the light wood, looking for a handle. Her hand froze when she touched cold metal. Grasping it tightly, she sent up another prayer before she pushed open the door.
An extremely tall man made an imposing figure in the dark. He was staring into the fire, a pensive look on his chiseled face. The scowl on his face would make it difficult for any observer trying to accurately guess his age. He appeared young, but the stern look on his face aged him greatly. The flames’ heat kissed tanned skin while the light illuminated a muscular body and darkly tanned skin. His hands were grasping the sides of the large bowl where the flame was housed. Such heat would normally bother a human, but the giant seemed unaffected. He looked as if he was searching through the flames for the answer to a question that only he knew. His ears perked up at the almost imperceptible sound of a door opening and closing in the distance. His scowl deepened at the intrusion. No one was allowed in the temple this late without his permission. He tilted his head towards the noise. He could hear a faint jingle in time with soft footsteps. He could tell that the mystery intruder was trying to cover the sound however, no one would be able to escape his hearing. He stood up straight, realizing that the intruder had entered through a servant’s entrance in the temple.
His annoyance slid to curiosity as he heard the light steps in a strange pattern. The person would take a few steps then stop, then proceeded to tip-toe again. The man stepped away from the fire and melted into the darkness provided by the large pillars of the temple. He would watch and see what the intruder had planned before he would turn them over to the guards. There were a number of enemies in the royal palace, he would prefer to know what this one needed.
The man was surprised when a small woman emerged from behind a pillar. Surly, if someone was sent to kill him, they should at least look capable of it. His interest peaked, he watched the girl take a few hesitant steps and look around. She approached the fire that he had just departed from. She held her hands to the flames. He stood entranced. As she warmed her hands, he was able to see her perfectly. She was not as small as he originally thought, though she was at least two heads smaller than him. She had the shape of a woman barely hidden by the thin and revealing shift she wore. He realized with distaste that it was what Ghebnut made his female slaves wear. A strange feeling of possessiveness rose in him as he imagined what the girl must endure serving him. He continued his perusal of her figure, eyes lingering on the bit of thigh and breast exposed by the outfit. When he finally dragged his eyes to her face, he felt that strange emotion swell more in his chest.
Without a doubt, she was one of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her light-colored eyes seemed to change color with every flicker of the flames. Just as he had been earlier, she was staring at the flames lost in thought. A dimple popped in and out of her cheek as she clenched and unclenched her jaw. There was another emotion on her face he realized, fear. He took a closer look at the girl, this time ignoring his carnal response to her. Even in the dim light he was able to see a series of dark bruises around her neck, barely hidden by the necklace she wore, and faint traces of blood spotted the corner of full lips. He nearly growled in anger, feeling rage build in himself. His distaste for the Vizier was already legendary around the palace, this only added fuel to the fire. On instinct, he took a step forward. His movements halted as the girl walked away from the fire.
Her head turned slowly as her gorgeous eyes took in the temple. Her eyes landed on the giant statues of Ra and Ma’at that stood impossibly tall in the center of the temple. He watched as the girl slowly made her way to them. In front of the colossal statue of the eagle headed god and his partner, the woman again appeared tiny. He watched with interest as she melted to the floor before them. She sat on her knees as she looked up at the gods. He could not see her face now as he was behind her however, he saw her shaking. Confused, he left his observation point moving silently closer to the strange beauty. The closer he came, the better he could hear. First, he heard her shaky breaths. Then, he realized, she was crying. She threw herself into a deep bow, genuflecting in front of the statues, sobbing audibly at this point.
“Please, please!” He could hear her loudly whispered pleas as sobs wracked her frame.
He should leave the girl to her own devices. He knew that he had work to do in this palace. It was beyond important for him to complete his task and this girl would undoubtedly prove to be a distraction. The best he could do for her was to leave her alone and not call a guard. Despite these being his thoughts, he found himself approaching her, drawn by a force beyond his control. The closer he got to her, the more overwhelming his attraction grew. He could smell her now. She smelled of flowers and the ocean. He was almost directly behind her still shaking body. Lost in her despair as she was, she didn’t even notice his presence. He reached out as if to touch her but drew back. She was frightened, his touch might cause her to scream, giving her own position away. The man moved a few paces back, rethinking how best to alert her to him.
The man took some decidedly heavy steps towards the girl, hoping to catch her attention. It worked. She stopped shaking and shot up immediately, looking around for the source of the noise.
At the sound of heavy steps, Rhapdosis searched the dim temple through tear filled eyes, looking for the source of the noise. She thought she saw a tall figure not too far away, though it was dark making it difficult to see clearly. She backed away, till her back hit the legs of the Ra statute.
“Who’s there?” She whispered harshly with false bravado.
“I could ask the same thing.” Came a deep response from the darkness.
Rhapdosis was surprised by the soothing quality of the rumbling voice. The partially hidden man emerged from the shadows. Rhapdosis’ heat jolted as he came into clear view. He was strikingly handsome. His beauty felt other-worldly. His skirt hung low on narrow hips, his hair was covered in a strange headdress. She knew that the headdress had some significance,
He was impossibly tall and ridiculously fit. His muscles protruded from him with sharp hard angles. High cheekbones and full lips on a face that seemed carved out of stone it was so perfect. Rhapdosis felt her mouth open and close as she floundered for words. He was staring at her intently, eyes roaming over her body yet not saying anything. She felt his eyes linger at her neck and face and watched with fear as a dark, dangerous look came across his face.
Though she had no way of knowing, the man heard her heart rate pick up again. He tore his gaze from the bruises and locked eyes with her. She had yet to respond to him, but he could tell that her body was. His mouth dried as his senses picked up her body’s response to him. He could hear her heart, see the goosebumps rise and nipples harden through the thin shift and her smell.
Taking a deep breath, he indulged himself in the smell of her attraction to her the smell of flowers and the sea intensified. He took a step closer, subconsciously, to her intoxicating smell.
Rhapdosis was terrified, confused, and warm.The mysterious man was doing things to her that she had never felt before. She was baffled by the strong pull she felt towards him. The attraction she had felt to Jordan in her youth was barely a drop compared to this man and he had barely spoken to her. She was frozen in place as he drew closer to her. His eyes were impossibly black, power radiating from them. Rhapdosis felt a pressure around her as he grew closer, as if the air grew heavier with his presence.
Now, an arm’s reach away he slowly extended his hand to her. Frozen in place and a flurry of emotions, she didn’t move. The dark stranger’s strength was obvious by his ripped body, yet he approached her as if approaching a wounded bird. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, igniting a fire in its wake. His eyes softened as he lightly traced a hand over the rapidly darkening bruises.
“What happened, little one?” He asked softly.
Tears threatened her eyes again, as she thought back to her near rape at the hands of her new master. She would not speak it. She brushed his hands off of her immediately regretting the loss of warmth but refusing to let another man control her.
“Do not touch me.” She hissed, “I do not have to answer you.” She stepped forward, hoping that the attractive stranger would move back at her approach.
He did not.
Though he would not say so aloud, he was proud of her courage. Many would not stand up to a man such as him yet, here was this servant who was physically standing up to him as well as speaking to him as if she was his equal. He grinned at her. Now less than a hairs’ length apart, the man leaned down so that he was closer to her height.
“Do you know who you are speaking to? Shall I return you to who you do answer to?” He meant to only tease her for he had not yet figured out what he was going to do with the beautiful servant. Yet, her reaction to his statement him regret his words immediately.
The fear that had left returned with a vengeance to her face. The blood drained from her face.
“Apologies,” Rhapdosis fell to the floor, forehead to stone in a deep bow, “Apologies p-p-please don’t tell him I’m here. I’ll tell you anything” She spoke quickly, words running together. If this man told the Vizier that he had caught her mid-flight, she feared punishment would be worse than anything she would have endured had she had just been killed for being a runaway.
She heard the man kneel next to her. She felt comforting strokes across her back as his hand lifted her head from the floor.
“I did not mean to frighten you little one. It has been a time since I have teased a person. I am Aksept, the high priest of this temple.” He was looking into her eyes now, genuine regret flashed through them.
Aksept the high priest. Thehem-netjer of the Royal Palace.
Rhapdosis stared at him cautiously. The priest of the royal temple would have a high position in the Palace, maybe second only to the Pharaoh himself. This man would know the Vizier well. She was determined to watch her words carefully with the strange, attractive priest.
“Who are you?” his voice whispered almost in awe of the beauty in front of him. He still had not removed his hands from her person. The fingers that were lightly tracing her halted as he realized that the necklace was actually no necklace at all, it was a collar.
“I am Rhapdosis,” she breathed. She cast her eyes back to the ground. It would not take a thinking man to put together her appearance and her reaction to understand that she was trying to run away. This man in front of her was confusing. She was unable to tell if he was friend or foe despite the unsettling attraction to him. He looked at her pointedly, waiting for more information from her.
A large part of her wanted to tell him everything. It was a disturbing feeling. The longer they stared at one another, the warmer she became. It was unexpected and uncontrollable. She wanted to believe that he would protect her, save her. If she told him everything, maybe the priest would be able to help.
“I am the new body slave to the Royal Vizier.”
Aksept felt a familiar anger start building in his chest at the confirmation of his suspicions. The Vizier was always a jackal. Slaves in the palace were an everyday part of life. Aksept could not figure why this particular slave struck such a chord inside of him.
“He hurt you. Now, you are running.”
Rhapdosis looked into his eyes again, trying to predict what he was going to do with her. Would he touch her too?
“Yes.” Was the simple reply.
The Priest’s hand now trailed gently from her bruised neck to her face. He gently ran a thumb across her smooth dark skin, fascinated by the contrast. She leaned almost imperceptibly into his touch. The movement so slight, he wondered if she even knew she had done so.
“That is foolish,” he whispered, her scent again drawing him in.
Rhapdosis was in a haze, every stroke of his thumb across her skin sent fresh shivers down her spine. Was he getting closer to her?
“I’m scared” she admitted.
The words snapped the Priest out of the spell the siren before him had placed. His hands fell from her face as he gathered himself. He had a task to complete. It was not like him to lose focus. Yet, he cared about what happened to this particular slave. He decided he would help the misfortunate girl, if only to remove the distraction from the palace.
“I will help you.” He stood and offered the girl his hand. She placed her smaller one in his. The now familiar rush of warmth that came with his touch returned, spreading from their interlocked palms to the rest of her body. He pulled her up with a strength that she had not prepared for. She stumbled awkwardly, tripping on her own feet, she fell into Aksept’s broad chest. He wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her. The heat between the two flamed immediately as electricity crackled around them.
Rhapdosis couldn’t help but feel the muscles of the man steadying her. His muscular arm flexed, pulling her in closely. Aksept was again ensnared by her scent, cursing the servant’s wig that covered her hair. He wondered what it looked like.
“Why would you help me?” Rhapdosis refused to be seduced to her death by a beautiful stranger.
“I am no friend to anyone who abuses women.” He spoke harshly “Ghebnut is no friend to me.” The way Aksept snarled her master’s name sent a shiver down her spine. She could not tell if it was one of fear or due to another carnal reaction to the man in front of her.
“Why should I give you my trust?” Her head tilted up at the man still embracing her.
At her question, the man stepped away from him, suddenly serious. Rhapdosis gasped in shock as the high-ranking man slowly sank to one knee before of her. He held both of her hands in his.
“You will give me nothing,” his lips left tingles on the back of her palms as he lightly grazed the tops, “I will earn it.”