Rhapdosis stared at her reflection in the simple looking glass in the servant’s bath, transfixed by her own reflection. She trailed a finger gently across her throat, stunned by the unblemished skin. Turning her head from left to right she looked for any physical signs of the time she spent with the Vizier, yet she could find none. Rhapdosis had been preparing herself for the worst, he had not held back when he struck. However, her skin was as smooth and clear as ever.
“By the God’s Rhapdosis, are you becoming vain with The Vizier’s favor on you?” Typhone sneered next to her, “He enjoyed his time with me as well. You are not special.”
“I am not vain,” She spat back in no mood to deal with Typhone’s petty jealousy, “I do not want his favor you can have it.”
Rhapdosis moved from the wall that contained the glass, sitting on a heated stone, she proceeded to wash herself with the rag provided to them. The cloth moved across her damp skin, soothing and calming her with every stroke. As she washed her face, her mind slipped back to the mysterious priest she met in the Temple. The High Priest she reminded herself. His words and promises repeated in her mind in the days since. The attraction she had to him pulled at her mind, ensuring he was never far from her thought despite it being two days since her poor escape attempt.
Aksept had taken her back to her chambers in the Vizier’s wing. As he led her through the winding halls of the palace, he only spoke to her once.
“You will see me again. Do not attempt to run. It is foolish.” They stood at the entryway into the Vizier’s wing of the palace. Distinguishable by the large cat statue that represented his station at the grand entryway.
He stroked a thumb against her cheek before turning on his heel and departing. That was the last time she had seen him.
Rhapdosis had not seen the Vizier since then. She was hopeful that her dark savior had kept his promise. In the Vizier’s absence, Rhapdosis had begun to officially take over the responsibilities of both being the Vizier’s official scribe as well as body slave. Keeping the ledgers was easier than expected. Despite the previous scribes’ attempt at sabotage, she found the ledgers uncomplicated and a little unorganized. Her task was to prepare and keep inventory of supplies needed for a long voyage. Where, when, and for whom the voyage was being prepared for she did not know, however, she was determined to show her worth. Rhapdosis believed hopelessly that she would be able to prove her value beyond bedding her.
“There you are girl!”
The woman looked up from her thoughts to see Heb at the door scanning the room for her. When he located her, his eyes narrowed.
“The Vizier will be returning shortly, we will greet him.”
Fear spiked through her like a flash of lightening. She dressed quickly, braiding her wild curls into something that could be hidden beneath her wig. A young slave girl was standing at the door with her dress and wig. She could see Heb just beyond pacing the halls, no doubt impatient for her. Rhapdosis slid the dress on quickly while the young girl helped with the wig on top of her head.
“Master is returning to the palace from the Pyramids. There will be a meeting in the throne room.” The curt man told her as soon as she emerged from the baths, “This is an honor, you are to take record and be silent.” He cut his eyes at Rhapdosis who was looking at him. She had worked hard to keep a neutral face. Ever since Heb had left her with the Vizier, she was reminded that he was nothing like Hapetset, the man who raised her. She would not forget that. One unexpected side effect of the incident was that Heb seemed to have more confidence in her.
The morning after, Heb arrived at her room in the morning before the sun had even peaked through the horizon. She had yet to sleep, replaying the events of the day before over and over. Despite Aksept’s promise, she continued to think of ways to liberate herself from her shackles. Heb looked her over thoroughly as she stood in the door way, taking in the dark circles under her eyes and the haunted look in them. However, when he ordered her to work, she did not complain and completed the tasks with vigor. Unable to find any flaw with her work, a begrudging respect for her was formed. Now, there was less bite to his commands, more trust in her handling of tasks.
Rhapdosis trailed behind the man, debating on asking the question on her tongue. Would he consider it disrespect? She decided she would take her chances. They were alone at the moment, meandering through the vaulted halls of the palace.
“Where has master been?” Rhapdosis kept her eyes on the ground. While she would not look up, she could feel Heb’s eyes on her.
“None of your concern.” He shot back at her, “A smart slave doesn’t ask questions.
“I only wish to know so that I may best serve Master. I didn’t mean any disrespect.” She monitored her tone closely, aware that her words would be judged harshly. There was a beat after her response. She chanced a look up and saw Heb staring into the distance.
“Some members of the royal family are ill,” he said through tight lips, “Master went to the old temple with the High Priest and the Pharaoh to read the omens.”
The High Priest.
Rhapdosis felt a warm sensation in her stomach at the mention of the priest. She briefly remembered the woman that she had seen in the Vizier’s hall mention that some of the royal family had fallen ill therefore he couldn’t have done that before they even met. Yet she still felt that the Vizier’s absence was not only due to their illness. She hid a smile as Heb continued to lead them through the palace.
They arrived at the main palace entrance to a flurry of activity. The main entrance of the palace gave an unparalleled view of the city of Thebes. The palace sat at the top of hundreds of steps. A warm breeze caressed Rhapdosis’ skin as she took in the view. From the palace, Thebes looked beautiful. The brown clay buildings were organized into neat rows some bordered by streets, others by the canals used to keep water flowing. The Nile sparkled like a rare jewel behind the city. The distance gave the allusion of peace and serenity, hiding the truth of suffering and chaos that the city’s lowest inhabitants lived through. A horn sounded in the distance, alerting those in the entryway that the Royal Party was approaching.
“Come here girl!” Heb yelled at her, snatching her from her sightseeing.
Rhapdosis hid her eyeroll as she lined up next to the man. She looked over the others gathered in the hallway. The Pharaoh’s servants and party were easy to distinguish. They stood at the head of the entry way. They were all dressed in more detailed garbs, telling the story of the royal family. The Pharaoh had the largest party waiting for him. There were a scattering of priests, servants and royal courtiers. The only common thread was all the slaves had their collars that gleamed in the sunlight.
The sounds of a royal arrival drew closer and closer. The activity in the entrance rose to a fever pitch. The sounds of the nearing approach were cut as a trumpet sounded.
“His holiness, a God Among Men, The Reincarnation of the Chosen one, the God King, the Morning and Evening Star, The Great Pharaoh Amun-Ra!” A crier called from the wings.
The entire hallway fell to their knees as the beginning of the party arrived. Various well-dressed lesser nobles entered first, followed by a large retinue of Magi, the pharaoh’s personal guard. Rhapdosis waited quietly on her knees next to Heb who was scanning the arrival party closely. She noticed a few priests straighten up as the next group broke through the entry way. She followed their line of sight. That’s when she saw him.
As soon as the name crossed her mind, he caught sight of her himself. As their eyes locked, Rhapdosis felt a now familiar heat coil in her stomach like a snake. He looked even better in the sunlight. He was dressed more formally than the last time she had seen him. The Priest wore his familiar headdress as he did during their first encounter. The robe he wore today differed from the skirt that he wore. It went to his knees in a fine royal blue. The golden trim hinted at the wealth and position a man of his station would have. He wore a gold necklace that stood out against his tanned skin. The robe allowed a view of a well-defined chest that could have been carved out of the smoothest stone. His dark eyes were hidden behind full lashes that were rimmed with kohl. The effect made it nearly impossible from her to take her attention from him. His eyes trailed over her figure casually. Was he as affected by her as she was by him?
“Avert your eyes, insolent girl!” Heb hissed nudging her sharply in her side, “You should not look to the High Priest at all! He is above your station.”
“Apologies.” She ground out, ignoring her rising annoyance. This was not the time to be reprimanded. She stared at the ground in front of her, determined to ignore the feeling of those dark eyes on her.
The Pharaoh’s golden carriage appeared then, carried by four bald slaves. The Pharaoh’s carriage was covered with large red drapes and more gold detail. Hieroglyphics around the edge told the story of the first Pharaoh, Osiris in grand detail. There was nothing quite like the grandeur of the Pharaoh. Two more carriages appeared behind the Pharaoh’s carriage. While smaller, they were not any less grand each needing four slaves to carry them. Rhapdosis’ heart panged at the thought of the effort the enslaved must have exerted to carry those carriages up the stairs. The slaves set the carriages down gently, and more slaves rushed forward. The female slaves laid petals at the entrance to the carriage while the males were taking various items from the party members who arrived. The Crier stepped to the Pharaohs’ carriage. He tapped a large lion headed walking stick on the ground twice. The sound reverberated through the hall drawing immediate silence.
“The Great Pharaoh Amun-Ra” He yelled as he slowly drew back the curtain.
“Em hotep Pharaoh” the entire room echoed. Slaves like Rhapdosis and Heb bowed deeply, touching forehead to stone, with arms stretched out in front of them. Those on their feet with status bowed deeply at the waist.
Rhapdosis could hear the rustling of curtain and the jingle of jewels and stones as she assumed the Pharaoh exited his carriage. They were not to look up until the Pharaoh had spoken to acknowledge them.
“Fine, fine” a nasally voice responded. Was that what the Great Pharaoh sounded like? A sick child?
When Rhapdosis heard Heb move she did the same. When she took in the scene before, she could only blink. She watched as The Vizier appeared out of one of the smaller carriages with an ancient man that looked as if he was one strong breeze away from the next world. The Pharaoh drew her attention. Rhapdosis had never seen the Pharaoh before. The General had never brought her to the palace, and she had not been allowed to enjoy any of the public festivals that Pharaoh would have blessed. In her imaginations the Pharaoh was a larger than life figure. The God King, The Morning and Evening Star, The God among Humans, would have to be a massive man to lead the mighty and powerful land of Egypt. Even the statutes of the Pharaoh that each Royal and titled home had a statute of “The Pharaoh” to protect them. The statue depicted a handsome, physically fit man. The man who stood in front of the gathering was nothing like her imagination had conjured.
He stood at the head of the hall, short and pudgy. Rhapdosis was unable to dispel the image of a pale fish from her mind as she perused the Pharaoh. His skin was pale and sallow, Thin lips were drawn in a tight pucker, as if he smelled something sour. His attention was not on the man whispering urgently in his ear but on the beautiful woman that had emerged from the third carriage. With a start, she realized that was the beautiful Kaya that had interrupted the Vizier who was strolling seductively over to the Pharaoh.
“Rhapdosis!” Heb spat at her. She was drawn from her daydreams at her tone. She realized now that he looked as if that was not the first time he had called her. Vaguely she realized that it might have been the first time he had said her actual name.
“What?” she replied curtly.
Heb seemed to anger more at her tone however he knew he could not reprimand her like he would’ve if they were alone. “The Vizier is summoning us.”
Heb decided that the look on her face at that news was enough punishment for her at the time.
The Vizier indeed was staring pointedly at the two of them. They rose silently, heads bowed to attend to their master.
“The Pharaoh will be making an announcement soon,” The Vizier said to them as soon as they were within earshot, “Girl, I trust you have been keeping up with your duties? I would hate to have topunishyou.” The tone suggested that the Vizier would not hate punishing her at all.
“Yes, master.” She replied demurely, eyes still on the ground. She was pleased that her voice betrayed none of the white-hot fear coursing through her just by being near him.
“Have you counted the grain supplies? Ordered the excess? Inventoried stock?” he said, tone taunting and sinister.
A sharp finger under her chin caused her eyes to meet with his dark one. Something unsettling ringed the edges of his iris. His breath smelled like day old wine. She winced as he smiled at her obvious discomfort.
“I missed my pretty little slave. Still not warmed up to me yet? Did you miss me?” he smiled evilly.
Rhapdosis tried to jerk her face out of his grasp but the motion only caused him to switch from a finger to him grasping her chin painfully.
“I asked you a question, girl.” He growled, annunciating every word. That strange double-timber returned to his voice as his anger grew.
“Y-yes master.” She struggled through clenched teeth. Would the humiliation ever end? Most people were still milling around the hallway busy with arrival duties and greetings though one pair of dark eyes were observing the interaction between the woman and her owner. Blue met black momentarily, the connection severed when the girl was released.
“Good little Bird, come along.” The Vizier’s tone instantly reverted back to his regular false cheery voice.
Rhapdosis pointedly stared at the ground as she followed behind Heb and her master. A strange sense of embarrassment fell over her. Was she embarrassed about her position as a slave? Was the embarrassment due tohim bearing witness to it? The royal party drifted to the throne room as the Pharaoh led the group. Slave women were furiously laying petals before his every step to ensure that the Pharaoh would not touch sacred ground.
As they entered the Royal Throne room, a male servant handed Rhapdosis papyrus and a quill. At her confusion he replied, “Are you not the Vizier’s scribe?”
She nodded quickly, taking the materials thrust at her noticing that Heb was watching her closely. The Vizier was talking in hushed tones to one of the Magi. The man was tall and strong. His black uniform was decorated with medals and coin indicating a high rank.
“You will record the Pharaoh’s words,” Heb whispered.
The crowd had filled the throne room, a cloud of anticipation lingered above. From the bits of conversation that littered about, Rhapdosis gathered that the King rarely held court, famous for his eccentric personality he was a bit of a recluse. The court hushed as the trumpet sounded.
“The Queen of the Nile, Her Majesty, Queen Nefertari!”
The queen strolled in with a look of annoyance on her face. She was as beautiful as the goddess she was named after. Tall, slim, with a long neck and sharp eyes, she was dressed to suit her position. Rhapdosis was in awe of her. The queen was trailed by her ladies-in-waiting, and a legion of female servants. Rhapdosis watched her former mistress trail behind the queen, a smug look on her face as she past the crowd. The Royals gathered around the thrones as the queen took her position. The Pharaoh himself paid little attention to the queen as she settled into her throne.
Rhapdosis felt a sharp nudge in her side. She turned to find Heb nodding urgently as the Vizier’s retreating figure, indicating she should follow him. She scurried behind him as he approached the great thrones. She noticed a few other servants and scribes to the left at a raised table with quills at the ready. As the Vizier took his place next to the King, the high Priest trailed slowly up the steps. His eyes again found hers. The warm feeling that he sent through her was now familiar. She quickly averted his gaze instead looking to Heb who was already frowning at her. Rolling her eyes, she readied herself next to the other scribes. The man immediately next to her scoffed and moved. Paying him no mind, she enjoyed spreading out her materials in the additional space. Rhapdosis would waste no thought or mind to the snub, familiar with the disdain of the other scribes in the palace at this point. Some did not like the fact that she was a woman, others did not like the fact that she was ajnabi – foreign, and the reset would not stomach the fact that a slave could read and write.
The sound of the horn blasted again through the throne room, signaling for silence. All eyes turned to the dais where the God King stood. A strange expression, part excitement, part disdain, was on his face as he scanned over his subjects.
“Egypt is rotting,” the man spoke as silence fell, “I now know why.”
The courtiers watched the king with rapture, to them he was a God. All Rhapdosis saw was a strange man with a funny voice.
His next words drew large gasps from the crowd. “The Gods of old no longer protect this land nor its people! No longer will we worship the god Ra of Thebes!”
Rhapdosis’ eyes widened in shock. The words the Pharaoh spoke were blasphemous. Her eyes darted to the handsome priest. While his expression was stoic, she could see tension in his carved jaw, his fists clenched at his side.
“I have visited the great pyramid with my architect, interpreted the signs with my advisors, spoken to thetruegods themselves. My royal proclamation is this;”
The Pharaoh raised his arms above his head, his eyes unfocused as he entered a trace like state. Rhapdosis and the other scribes readied their quills, prepared to do record whatever came out of the King’s mouth.
“I am no longer to be called Amun-Ra, I am Amun-ten, servant of Ahkten, Protector of the New Egypt! No longer will the capitol rest on this unholy land. We will move to the new capitol, El-Armana. It has been declared” His high-pitched voice rose as an unnatural excitement filled him.
The courtiers began to whisper furiously. No longer follow Ra? Move the capitol? Rhapdosis furiously recorded the Pharaoh’s words in neat hieroglyphics, thoughts moving as fast as her hands. The King’s words were unprecedented. To move an entire capitol seemed impossible. Rhapdosis paused her writing as memories and thoughts of the last few days clicked into place. She had been preparing the Vizier’s household for this move before the Pharaoh had even announced it. How was that possible?
She looked to her master at the right side of the Pharaoh. The Vizier was glowing with pride. Chest held high with his hand on his hips, he beamed at those gathered below him. Still, Rhapdosis could see the sinister edge to his pride. The taste of ash was in her mouth. Something about the man was not right and it unsettled her very soul.
“All Hail King Amun-ten, The Morning and Evening Star, Servant of Ahkten, Protector of New Egypt!”
Rhapdosis ignored the sinking feeling in her chest and the warnings signs going off in her head as she sunk to their knees with the rest of the room to repeat the words:
“All Hail King Amun-ten, The Morning and Evening Star, Servant of Ahkten, Protector of New Egypt!”