“Male child, 7 summers”
“Market.” Was the nasally response.
“Stable hand, 14 summers.”
“Kitchen woman, 30 summers.”
“Is she attractive?” the bored voice rang out.
“If you like your women hippopotamus sized.” Came the reply.
“Market.” The voice called in response. “Where is the pretty one that he’s been keeping to himself? With the eyes?”
Rhapdosis’ heart sped up at the casual reference to her. She, along with a few of the other house slaves were huddled in a doorway out of sight of the two men sent to handle the Estate left behind by The General. Men in military gear were carrying various items out of the house. Some were being sold, some given away, while others were going to be placed in the General’s tomb for his journey into the Afterlife.
It had been two weeks since The General’s sudden death. The Lady of the House only came by once.
One could look at The Lady and know she must’ve been a great beauty in her time. She had pale skin that was slowly showing signs of her age. Tall, thin and elegant she sat gracefully at the side of her husbands’ form wrapped in the mourning shawl. Her lips were drawn in a thin line. The slight wrinkles around her mouth and lips showed traces of smiles and laughs past.
Rhapdosis had never seen either of those from her personally. The Lady was not cruel to Rhapdosis nor any slave. The General wouldn’t have allowed it. She, like most high-born Egyptians, treated her slaves as the slaves they were. She looked at cold body of her husband and then her eyes met those of Rhapdosis.
“A slave girl crying over her master?” Her icy voice slid over the words. “I wonder what is going to happen to you?”
“My lady?” Rhapdosis rubbed her red eyes. She couldn’t honestly say if she was crying over her dead master or her unknown future.
“The Royal Vizier has kindly offered to handle this Estate. I have no interest. Wehave no children.”She bit out, “The Queen has requested that I stay with her now and I don’t see a reason not to. I’ve told him to sell what he can. I will be taking everything I need with me.”
With that, she turned from the room.
The Lady commanded Rhapdosis to pack up her clothes, a few items, and shoes to send to the palace. Along with two servant girls, and the head Kitchen slave, she left the estate.
Rhapdosis buried the hope that The Lady would take her along. She never liked that her husband allowed Rhapdosis such freedoms and treated her kindly. Rhapdosis wondered if she would ever see any of them again.
“The Vizier wants that one to himself.”
Rhapdosis felt the eyes of the other slave girls snap to her. She put a smile on her face to hide her terror. Her memories of the Royal Vizier were not pleasant ones.
“Well at least that means I’ll live in the palace.” She whispered to the other girls. Some were older than her, most were younger.
“Do I need to go find her first? I can warm her up for him.” The man replied, something dark coloring his tone.
Rhapdosis’ heart continued to race.
Should I run for it?
The errant thought was erased as soon as it popped into her brain. One look at the innocent faces around her made her realize that it was impossible.
“Don’t think even think about it. The Vizier wants her untouchedlike The General bragged. Plus, she is the only one left who knows where everything is and goes.”
Rhapdosis was able to calm herself with that news. At least she’ll be in once piece before she is sold.
“Who’s left to sell?”
“There’s the blacksmith. He’s Egyptian. The slaves say he’s to buy his freedom soon.”
There was a thoughtful pause.
“Offer him his freedom today in exchange for a promise of work this harvest season.”
Rhapdosis smiled. At least there was some good news around all this death and destruction. Leaving the girls to listen out for their fate and the fate of the others, she made her way back inside the house where men were bustling about to sort items of value. Occasionally they stopped her to ask her questions but for the most part she was left alone to handle the personal effects left behind of the General and to give the Vizier’s men anything of value or appeared to be important. This task would have been Hapetsets’ had he been here. Rhapdosis’ eyes began to water as she thought back to the other man who raised her.
Hapetset volunteered to accompany the General to the afterlife. No one was surprised. Even though he did not show it, Rhapdosis believed that The General’s death was hardest on his childhood friend. When a man like the General died, it was not uncommon for ten or twenty servants to accompany him. Along with his favorite Hounds, some cats for protection, wealth, and furnishings, The General needed all of these for his eternity of peace. Prior to his death, The General stated that he didn’t want servants with him in the afterlife.
“I finally want to be left alone and in peace.” He teased.
Hapetset argued with the priests the best he could to honor his masters’ wishes. The Priests demanded that the appropriate number of slaves be sent to accompany a man of his position. A compromise was struck. Hapetset and 2 others that had been raised with The General volunteered. The final servant was one sent from the palace dungeons. He had stolen from the royal family and his punishment was this.
Rhapdosis remembered hugging Hapetset for the last time. His words forever ringing in her ears.
“I never told you this but hear me. When the master brought you home the first time, I told him to throw you in the Nile.” When Rhapdosis moved to respond he hugged her tighter, “One look at you and I knew you would forever be trouble and I was right.” He said with a laugh.
“There is something you don’t know. The General kept you alive for a reason. You are not just a slave.” Hapetset slid something cold into her hand. “This is yours, it’s from your homeland. Your beauty is a gift, but it will be a curse without us here to protect you. Be smart Rhapdosis.” He released her.
Rhapdosis looked in her hand to see a glistening cerulean jewel hung from a frayed rope. The jewel shimmered in the afternoon sun. She had seen her share of fine jewelry in her 20 years as a house slave to one of the most respected generals in all of Egypt. Yet, she had never seen any stone like the one now dangling in front of her. The item hypnotized her as soon as she laid her eyes upon it. Bringing it closer to her eyes for inspection, she stood transfixed. Rhapdosis would almost swear that she saw the insides of the jewel swimming. But that couldn’t be right, jewels didn’t have “insides”. Snapping out of her trance, she looked at Hapetset in shock.
“You may not care because you are heading to the afterlife sooner than me, but I cannot believe this is how you choose to get me killed!” Rhapdosis hissed at him. After trying and failing to get Hapetset to take back the jewel, she hastily stuffed it into the thin lining of the bandages binding her chest under her thin shift. “A slave holding any type of jewelry as that, death. A slave hiding jewelry, death. A slave possessing jewelry she definitely could not have purchased, death. A slave stealing jewelry, because that’s what they will think when they find it, death!”
Hapetset cut his eyes at her. “You have done many things in your younger summers that in any other household would have resulted in death.Now, you stand before me, almost a woman, and you’re scared of hiding a jewel? Where is the girl I had to give a thrashing to for hiding and sneaking food to prisoners? The girl who freed The General’s horse when he was to be put down? And these are only the things that you were caught doing! I know you have been able to hide many things from us for years.”
“I had to grow up. I learned that some consequences are not worth it.” She looked down in shame as she thought back to Jordan.
Hapetset lifted her chin gently with a wrinkled hand. A look of pity filled his eyes, making him look much older than when he was joking with her.
“Had master been home, the punishment would not have been so severe. You deserve happiness, Ice.”
“If everyone got what they deserved, the world would be a much different place.” She said coldly.
Hapetset looked as if he was going to reply to that comment, instead he said, “My time on this side is coming to an end. Slaves aren’t allowed in the temple where the ceremony and entombment will happen. This is goodbye. I don’t know much about that stone, your people, or where you’re from. I do know that The General did the best he could with you in his situation. This may help you reconnect. Even if it doesn’t, you deserve to have something of your own.”
He pulled Rhapdosis into another hug, this one much more brief than the first.
“Last thing child,” he said as he released her for her final reprimand, “Watch your mouth.”
Back in the Courtyard, Jordan was being informed of his fate. His heat sored to hear that the freedom that had been out of reach for years was now here. Months ahead of schedule. He could already see the smile on his mother face, the pride in his father’s eyes. He even had a little sister he now would get a chance to meet.
“Do you agree to the Vizier’s terms?” the small nasally man said to Jordan in a way that made him believe that it might not have been the first time that he posed the question to him.
“Good, he will be pleased.” The small man pushed a small bag of coins into Jordan’s hands. “Here is your freeman’s tax. On the first day of Harvest, you are expected at the royal blacksmiths’”
He let out an uncharacteristic whoop of excitement. Some of The General’s slaves who were littered about the open courtyard clapped in excitement and offered words of congratulations to him. His eyes searched for the one person he wanted to see the most.
“I would like to purchase Rhapdosis.” Jordan spoke, turning to the two men that had returned to the task of separating the household. At the man’s confusion, Jordan continued,
“Rhapdosis, young house slave, about 20 summers, sky eyes, if you are selling them at market, I would like to buy her here.”
The men exchanged sadistic smiles at one another as they realized who the young blacksmith was referring to.
“Now what could a poor blacksmith, from a poor family, with no house of his own, want with a beautiful house slave?” The man who had yet to speak to Jordan mused aloud.
“I can think of a few things, “came the little man’s response, “I know what I would do to her.”
Jordan took a threatening step forward. Instinctively, the small man took one back.
“She’s not for sale, blacksmith.” The other man interjected, “The Royal Vizier’s house hold needs her, specifically.The Lady of the House sold her to him already. I doubt you could afford a fraction of what that girl costs. Now, I suggest you walk out of here a free man instead of being dragged out back in chains.” With that the tall man glided out of the courtyard as the smaller man scurried behind him.
Jordan had no doubt that the man would follow through on his words if provoked. He was going to walk out a free man. He just had one thing to do first.
He found her sitting in Hapetset’s chambers. He didn’t disturb her at first. Growing up, she was rarely quiet. After the incident, she seemed to grow quieter. The ones who didn’t know her called it maturity. The ones that did, didn’t have a name for it but knew the cloud that hung over her was not a sign of maturity.
Today her hair was tucked under a dirty rag. Jordan knew it was to diminish the attention she received normally. It did nothing to hide her beauty. Her skin was a dark brown that glistened in the sunlight she was basking in at the small window. The blue eyes that were such a rarity in Egypt dance as she stared at nothing in the distance. The shift that the house slaves wore did little to flatter any figure, but it could not hide the roundness of her hips and backside nor the fullness of her chest. The small pudge of a well-fed slave rested lightly behind the material of the shift.
Jordan entered the room quietly. He was a large man that did heavy, demanding physical labor. Rhapdosis’ thoughts were keeping her other senses dull. Another time would have him arguing with her about her lack of awareness. This time, he hoped it would never end. He was almost within grabbing distance of her before she was even aware she wasn’t alone.
She gasped at Jordan’s sudden and silent appearance. He smiled at her like he always did. This time, there was a hint of sadness behind the warm brown eyes.
With that, she knew he knew.
“I’m free, Ice.”
She smiled at him. Her own feelings confused her. She was elated that Jordan was going to be free. It was the best news anyone had since the death of The General. There was another emotion swirling in the pit of her stomach gnawing at her heart. Something insidious, dark, and painful. Determined not to ruin a happy moment, she straightened her back and pushed away that feeling in her belly. She could analyze it another time.
“I’m so happy for you.” It was easy for her to say because she truly meant it. No one deserved it more.
She turned her radiant smile onto Jordan and his heart sped up. Nothing beat this feeling that she gave him with just a smile. She was so beautiful. Her face had a childlike softness that should have gone away at her age, but it hadn’t. The result was large chubby cheeks with a dimple on the right side. Full lips encased a dazzling smile. She should not be a slave was Jordan’s repeated thought as he gathered himself. He had to shake the effect that she had on him off before he could continue.
“I wanted to buy you-“
She cut him off before he could continue. “Stop that. Be happy for you.” She poked at his bare chest, “One life isn’t ruined. You get to be free, have a family, a wife-“
Now it was his turn to cut her off.
“I don’t want any of that without you” he grabbed her finger that was poking at his chest and pulled her closer.
She was so much smaller than him.
“I love you, Ice. Come with me.” She pulled away from him as if he burned her.
“Don’t be a fool.” She spat. This would be hard. Her whole life was hard. Rhapdosis wondered if she would ever be able to rest. She promised herself she wouldn’t get lost in useless emotions. The last time she did. Both of them could have died.
Love? She was a slave.
Hope? She was a slave.
Peace and rest? She was a slave.
Anger. Resentment. Those she could use.
Jordan was an Egyptian. Even if he did spend most of his youth as a slave he was an Egyptian one. He had a family that visited that he would be able to return to. He had a skill that would always provide for him. He would never be able to understand. He handled his life with the carefree arrogance only an Egyptian could possess.
What did she have? Good looks? A curse for any woman. It was almost certainly a death sentence or dooming her to other unimaginable horrors for a woman that was a slave.
“I’m not. I love you! I do! We could- “
Rhapdosis gathered her anger and resentment around her like a blanket on a cold night. “What could we do Jordan? Runaway together? I’m a slave. It is a death sentence for me and everyone else that comes from this house! You, the Egyptian would maybe stand a chance. I’m a foreign slave. I stand out everywhere. They would have me in days. For what? Love?” Rhapdosis rolled her eyes to keep from crying, “I’d rather be alive. I’d rather you be alive. “She turned away from him.
She had to focus on pushing away her darkest thoughts. It had become harder and harder to do so. She felt his arms wrap around her. He rested his chin comfortably on top of her head.
“You never said you didn’t love me”
When Rhapdosis moved to do just that he dropped his forehead to her shoulder.
“I don’t want you to say that now. I need you to hear me. I will save you Ice. We will be free together.”
Rhapdosis closed her eyes to hold the tears back. She pressed her back into Jordan’s front as he held her. She would allow herself this moment. She may never see him again. A large part of her hoped she wouldn’t. She didn’t think she could stand to see him free and have to see the pity in his eyes while she was still in shackles. Her mind forced images of the two of them, on her magic beach and happy. A curly headed child clinging to his father while his mother did the same. Happy, warn, content. When she opened her eyes, she looked over the city as the sun set in the horizon. This was the city that she was trapped in. This was the city that she would most likely die in. She welcomed the cold sting of the reality that she forced even her thoughts to live in now.
She turned around and put her hands on his chest. Jordan allowed her to push him back.
“The wagons will be here to take the last of us to the palace tonight everyone else is going to the Market tomorrow. You may want to say the rest of your farewells.” She said to him, refusing to meet his gaze.
“This is not me saying a farewell to you Rhapdosis.” Jordan said to her. He surprised her with the steel in his words as he said them, “I will see you again.”
Before she could react, he grabbed her again and forced his lips on hers. She gave into the kiss briefly before she could evaluate the consequences of their actions. He tore away from her suddenly and violently, both of their breathing ragged.
“I will see you again.” He said one last time then, he left.