Rhapdosis found herself in increasingly peculiar situations the longer she spent in the palace. Her life was far from normal. She began her life the daughter of strangers in some foreign lands. Raised by the kind man who most likely directly caused her parents demise. Sold now to a psychopath who wanted her in ways that terrified her yet, recognized her potential as more than a just a bed warmer. Finally, on this strange evening, she found herself in the private office of the God King Pharaoh himself. In a room with the four most powerful men in Egypt; The Pharaoh, The Royal Vizier, The High Priest, and finally Imhoten, the ancient man she had spotted at the royal caravan’s return, was The First Architect.
The First Architect, a man supposedly touched by the gods themselves, a builder of the Great Pyramids that all the Pharaoh’s erected to leave proof of their prosperity, wealth and power. Pharaoh, now Amun-ten, was already revered for his great power. Imhoten and the Pharaoh had erected his first pyramid, the Great Pyramid of the Nile when the Pharaoh was just a boy of 16. It was the talk of legend. It was said that the Pharaoh used the entire kingdom of Phoenicia to build it as slaves after he conquered their country. The whispered tale spoke of the defeated king had been buried alive as a slave during its construction. Rhapdosis had heard tales of the monument’s sides that were as smooth as silk. Worn down by the labor of thousands the sides ran perfectly flat. She had dreamed of such a structure however it seemed impossible.
To see this man of legend in front of her, wrinkled, small and pale was disconcerting. A man capable of creating a marvel, anointed by the gods themselves, should not be as short as she was, nor should he be as hunched over as a camel. He sat in a stool before the Pharaoh who was flanked by The Vizier studying papers on the table. The High Priest was at the window in the Pharaoh’s study goblet of wine in hand, staring intensely at Rhapdosis.
His dark gaze penetrated her like a steak through the heart. He stood behind the Vizier who was studying the route to El-Armana. She was grateful her master could not see the way that the priest was looking at her. His eyes burned into her in a way that was far from holy. Getting lost in his dark swirling eyes was easy, fighting the all-consuming urge to fall into them was difficult. Rhapdosis knew that a fate worse than death would befall her should she even entertain a man. Her Master would enjoy every second of her punishment. The Priest seemed to have no fear of repercussions as his stare never wavered. There probably would be none for a man of his station to sleep with a slave girl. No, the fault, punishment, and blame would rest solely on her shoulders. The thought stirred a familiar anger in her, one that would always appear should her thoughts linger too long on her station as a slave. She rejoiced in her anger. It was an emotion known to her unlike the ones that the Priest stirred in her.
She wrapped her anger and frustrations around her like a blanket, the familiar warmth allowed for her to focus on the task at hand instead of wandering thoughts with confusing emotions. Rhapdosis looked to the papyrus in front of her. Her neatly written hieroglyphics detailed the intricacies involved in moving a capitol, the numbers of horses, mules, camels, food for the voyage, ships for royalty, and other items were spread before her. She was to be seen, not heard unless one of the men posed a question to her directly about something that had already been discussed. The Pharaoh only spoke of her once when she entered the room trailing demurely behind The Vizier.
“Have you brought entertainment, Ghebnut? I believe we have actual work to do.” The pharaoh’s high-pitched voice said with distaste as he eyed Rhapdosis with distaste.
The Vizier chuckled, “No, your Grace, I know your preference for Egyptianwomen. This is my new scribe, Rabbit.”
Rhapdosis’ eyes widened at the dehumanizing name he gave, embarrassed. Not even her name mattered to her Master.
“Emhotep, Pharaoh” Rhapdosis kneeled, greeting the ruler. She knew it was an honor that many people would kill for, being in a room with these men. However, she could not stop feeling as if she would kill to leave.
“An ajnabi female slave is your new scribe?” the Pharaoh asked incredulously.
“Take your place, Rabbit.” The Vizier said to her, then he addressed the Pharaoh, “She was a gift from The General’s widow. She is quite gifted.”
Rhapdosis took her seat at the scribe’s table in the corner of the room. She allowed herself to look at her surroundings. Egypt was a wealthy country and it showed in the Pharaoh’s office. Everything – including the table that she sat at was gold. Rubies, sapphires, and jewels she couldn’t name glistened in every corner. Golden statutes of Sphinxes, Anubis, and the New God Ahkten with glistening emerald eyes surrounded them. Intricate hieroglyphics decorated the walls in vivid colors. By smell, they were fresh, Rhapdosis could read the depiction of this new god’s rise to power, his anointing of the Pharaoh himself before the people of Egypt.
As she read the tale of Ahkten devouring Ra, defeating dark armies that had sent the sickness that was quietly spreading across the Egyptians, her eyes had fallen upon the Priest. His brow held high in surprise at her appearance. The scared girl with a fiery sprit sat before them, not a just a body slave as she had said, but a scribe as well. He was unfamiliar sense of pride that was welling in his chest. He knew she was special from the moment he first laid eyes on her.
“How much stone do you need then?” the Vizier’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts, though the question was not addressed to her, his tone put her on alert.
“15,000 Deben” responded the First Architect, his voice was full of gravel and soft.
Rhapdosis recorded the large amount wondering what that amount of stone would be used for in the new capitol. It was not enough to build a new castle, but more than enough for a large home. Transporting that amount would pose a huge issue. Rhapdosis’ mind began to play with the numbers in her head. It was strange, she always excelled at mathematics to everyone’s surprise. She enjoyed playing with numbers, finding different ways to arrange them in her mind was as fun as a puzzle to her.
They already had over 700 horses and 300 camels just to move the contents of the Palace and its’ people.
“How many carts and horses would that take? Can it not wait?” the Vizier spat, “You are wasting our time.” He spoke dismissively to the old man.
“Majesty, we must build a temple.” The Architect spoke to the king directly, ignoring Ghebnut, “The gods of old and new must be praised.”
“The gods of old are dead.” The Vizier spat, his anger grew at being ignored by the Architect.
The Priest now spoke, pulling his attention away from the siren in the corner pointedly ignoring him, “Be that as it may, all gods must be worshiped, or we risk their wrath. The Gods will see our lack of respect and punish us. Times are changing Ghebnut.”
“You don’t believe in the New God, you are sabotaging us!” Hissed the Vizier.
The High Priest approached the Vizier aggression radiating in each step. He looked more like a warrior than a holy man at that moment. Rhapdosis felt a rush a pleasure at the look of fear that ran across the Vizier’s face.
“Do not question my loyalty to the Pharaoh.” He growled, his deep timbre reverberating throughout the room.
“Calm down, Aksept. I know you are a most loyal servant.” The Pharaoh spoke offering his hand to the man. Aksept bowed and kissed the royal jewel on his finger. The Pharaoh then offered the ring to his Vizier “As is Ghebnut. We know you are… unhappy with the new changes. It is because of your loyalty I allow you your – initial hesitations. However, you are right. I am a God and we must be worshiped properly. Now, how many carts would we need?”
The men hesitated, and a quiet fell over the room.
“650 carts, 1,300 oxen, your grace” Rhapdosis spoke and all eyes fell on her.
“Are you sure, child?” the architect spoke to her kindly.
“Yes, my lord,” she hesitated at the title, not sure how she should address the man, “The General added a wing to his estate for Mistress, we imported stone from Cypress for it.”
“And you have a head for numbers?” he asked again, a little surprise colored his tone.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Ghebnut, let me borrow your slave.” The Ancient man declared suddenly.
Ghebnut barked out a laugh, “Surely you jest. She is mine! I haven’t even had the time to fully enjoy her myself! What would an old man like you do with her?”
Rhapdosis’ eyes widened at the sudden outburst. Her mind mused ruefully at the fact that men spoke of her as an object passed as easily as a goblet of wine.
“Surely, your carnal desires can wait in the name of the King.” The man spoke haughtily.
The Vizier paused, aware that The Pharaoh had not said anything and was observing their conversation with interest. The Architect had invoked the Pharaoh’s name, therefore he had to be careful with his next words.
“What do you mean?” The Vizier asked suspiciously.
“I need a scribe with a head for numbers. My mind doesn’t work as fast as it used to. I recently had to flog and dismiss my last scribe for an error he made that resulted in the delay of my next Pyramid. Just for the move, I shall return her to you after we are underway with construction in the New Capitol. I can guarantee she will remain untouched in your name under my protection.”
Rhapdosis’ eyes widened. Had her prayers been answered? Escape would be much easier from this ancient man than it would be the eagle-eyed Vizier. She cast a hopeful glance at the Priest who had yet to say a word after returning to his brooding spot by the window.
He was again looking at her with an unreadable expression. Did he have something to do with this?
“There are many scribes with heads for numbers. Get your eyes off of mine!” he spoke. Rage filled him. He was the second most powerful man in Egypt! Who dare try to take his things from him? He marched over to his slave and grabbed her by the arm roughly.
As much as she tried to fight it, she let out a quiet yelp when she tripped over the chair, she had been sitting in. Her shin connected with the solid gold railings of the fine chair painfully. Her eyes watered as she tried to keep up with her master on a throbbing leg.
The Priest appeared before them faster than she could keep up with.
“Release her.” He said placing a hand on the Vizier’s chest. At the connection his eyes widened in confusion, then surprise, finally they settled on anger. The emotions crossed his face so quickly, Rhapdosis doubted she saw them at all.
The Vizier released her quickly, shoving Aksept’s hands away forcefully.
“Do not lay your hands on me! You cannot tell me what to do with my own property.” The two men again faced off, tension palpable.
“Enough, enough.” The Pharaoh spoke though the men did not move. Rhapdosis stood frozen behind her master. She rubbed her arm where the Vizier had grabbed her. She could not tear her eyes away from The Priest. He was positively radiating with a rage that she had never seen before. It was entrancing. His anger made him appear larger, more dangerous. More lion than man. Over her? Even the Vizier seemed to balk before him. He glanced back to his slave.
She felt his gaze and quickly averted her eyes but, not fast enough. He saw the look of rapture on her face as she looked at the Priest. A different kind of anger filled him. He would teach her to never look at another man like that again.
“I said enough!” The Pharaoh’s voice bounced off the walls as he yelled and stood between the men. The immediately turned away from one another, The Vizier glared down at his slave who refused to meet his eyes.
“Your majesty, I just want to expedite this. Why interview and search for a scribe when we have one right here who has already served your most famed general, and your royal Vizier? I only wish to make the transition to El-Armana a swift one.” The old man spoke resolutely.
“And I shall grant your request,” answered the Pharaoh, “I have commanded it.”
The Pharaoh cut his eyes at the Vizier, “I do not like my advisors to lose control of themselves. Especially over slaves. She’ll come back to you, no one will touch her. She’s just a slave. There will be plenty to busy yourself with in the palace and many more women for you.”
“Yes, Pharaoh.” The Vizier bowed and placed a closed fist over his heart. His voice betrayed no hint of his emotions yet, when he righted himself, the look that he cast at his slave caused her breath to catch in her throat.
“Come child, we have work to do.” The ancient man stood, grabbing a golden walking stick with the emblem of a falcon on its head. He hobbled to the door without looking back.
Rhapdosis hesitated, unsure what to do next. The Pharaoh strolled back to his desk as if nothing had happened. The Vizier had yet to avert his angry glare from her person. The Priest again had his mask of indifference in place. Yet, his eyes never lingered away from the girl at the center of the conflict.
“Girl!” came another shout from the old man, this time at a larger distance.
“Pharaoh,” She bowed deeply in the King’s direction. He dismissed her with a wave and barely a glance in her direction.
“Master,” she rushed into another bow in the direction of the Vizier. She did not wait for a response, knowing she would not get one. Finally, she bowed to the high priest, “Hem-netjer“
Rhapdosis hoped that by addressing him by his formal title she would avoid angering her master further but would still be appropriate. Not waiting for a response, she hurried out of the room to catch up with the old man.
“Now, how much wood for the temple? Walk me through it.”
Sheets of blueprints fluttered as Rhapdosis flipped through the plans for the new temple.
“The outside façade will need at least 15 cubits per face, that puts us at 75 cubits, which will run at least 35 trees. Plus, the inside pool will need at least 25 cubits, and the alter, with renovations to the pillars....” she trailed off, arranging numbers in her mind “At least 250 cubits, 300 if you want to be safe, my lord.”
“Ah!” the wrinkled man exclaimed triumphantly, “Write that down and send out the order.” He clapped his hands and a young servant boy appeared. The First Architect placed a treat in the extended hand of the boy and left a second on the desk near Rhapdosis’ hand.
Rhapdosis wrote down the extravagant order and placed the royal architect’s seal on the closed note. It had only been a day since she had been transferred to the service of the First Architect and though she would loathe to say it aloud, she was enjoying herself. She handed over the note and immediately picked up the candy. Slaves rarely enjoyed the fine sweets from foreign lands. This particular one was called chocolate. After the old man had given her one when she first entered his office, she discovered a new weakness.
The old man was not as feeble as she initially believed. His mind was far from dull and she had a sneaking suspicion that the hunch-back and cane may be more for show. Rhapdosis thought that it would be easy to get away from a greying old man who traded people like objects. To her dismay, she found a sweet old man with treats in his pockets and a gentle smile on his face.
“Call me Imhoten child. I have already told you this. We will be working together for some time now.” He stood as he stretched his limbs. Pops and cracks filled the room as he bent in a way his cane suggested he could not do.
“That is inappropriate my lord.” She replied through a mouth full of chocolate.
He laughed, “So proper! Follow me.”
Rhapdosis was led out of the architect’s make-shift tent and into the heat of the midday sun. Workers, servants, slaves and craftsmen all clamored about as they secured various items to carts and animals. The men and women moved non-stop, shouting directions and questions at one another. They were to depart from the capitol in the evening and last-minute preparations were well underway. Rhapdosis followed Imhoten through the crowd, ducking and weaving through the myriad of people.
Sweat beaded on her forehead as she hurried to keep up with the man. She almost ran straight into him when she realized he stopped abruptly to observe something in the distance. Rhapdosis stood beside the latest man to control her fate as they observed the bustle, she could now see below them. The architect’s camp sat on a hillside behind the castle. To the left, the castle’s stables and the Pharaoh’s menagerie. To the right, the ground dropped dramatically providing an unobstructed view of the Nile and the Royal family’s private docks.
“I knew of you, child before you entered those chambers with Ghebnut.”
Though the question was addressed to her, his eyes remained overlooking the busy docks. His hand extended to reveal another piece of chocolate in her direction. She took it quickly and popped it into her mouth. She chewed slowly, hoping not to have to respond to the man’s statement.
She was saved when he continued, “I knew your master very well… I would even call us friends of sorts.” He chuckled bitterly at some lost memory.
Rhapdosis watched men load a decorative cargo ship that would carry the royal family to El-Armana while others who could not afford a boat would take the road. Its golden flag, and silk sails shone from the banks of the river. Many nobles and rich citizens would follow in their private ships to keep up with the royal family. She wondered vaguely how her Master would travel to the capitol.
“He never spoke of palace life and business with us, my lord.” She responded after swallowing the treat. Rhapdosis licked her lips as the last traces of the treat appeared, already craving more.
“No, he would not have spoken to you about much. But he did speak of you Rhapdosis, often.”
Her brow lifted in surprise. She did not know he knew her name for all he had referred to her as “child”. Her master had been kind to her, but he was kind to all who served him. She never thought her name had been spoken in rooms with men such as Imhoten.
“He cared deeply about you. What happened to your people… Weighed heavily on his heart.”
“My people?” Confusion colored her voice. Would someone finally explain where she came from?
“That is for another time. You will be safe with me it is what they would have wanted. I will keep you from Ghebnut as long as I can”
Her heart beat quickened, a foreign feeling swelling in her chest. Was this hope? Relief? She had not felt this way since she entered the Vizier’s control.
“They? Did the High Priest speak to you as well?” Rhapdosis cared not that she spoke out of turn. She would be free of the Vizier, she now had allies just as powerful as he.
It was the architect who now looked surprised, “I have not spoken to Aksept of you, nor has he said anything to me. Are you familiar with the High Priest?
Rhapdosis stuttered, casting her mind to find a justifiable reason for her words.
“N-no, my lord. I have heard… tales of his distaste for my master. I believed he may have spoken on my behalf after he attempted to intervene in front of the Pharaoh.”
She kept her eyes low to the ground, her words sounding feeble to her own ears. Would he except such a flimsy excuse? There was a beat of silence, then a hand holding a chocolate treat entered her vision.
She smiled in relief as she took the candy from his wrinkled hand.
“The priest is indeed a gentleman and his… distaste for your master is known to me.”
As she righted herself, she chanced a look in his direction. He was smiling softly at her, yet his eyes held a glint that let her know he didn’t truly believe her poorly constructed reasoning.
As she opened her mouth to respond a voice carried a name she hadn’t heard in ages.
Rhapdosis turned quickly, recognizing the voice immediately.
“Jordan?” she said shocked, her first true friend stood before her a free man.
Still as handsome as ever, he had cut his ponytail and now his ear length hair waived gently around his face. He was tanned and more muscular, probably from a better diet and working his craft in the months she had last seen him as a slave. His clothes were that of an Egyptian citizen of a good station; clean and well-made. She felt ashamed of her slave garb and shackles in front of him in all his glory. Freedom suited him well.
“Ah, so you know my newest blacksmith! Wonderful! He will be traveling with us as well.”
“I can’t believe it.” He whispered, approaching them slowly. He was transfixed by her appearance. Jordan had sent many prayers to the gods in her name after he was released, now she stood before him as beautiful as he remembered.
“Me either.” She returned, facing her oldest friend. Maybe her fortune had truly changed for the better.