This chapter may contain attempted sexual assault which may be upsetting for some readers. Discretion advised.
The warm scent of spices danced through the evening air. The raucous hum of drunken revelry filling the dining hall. The host stood, his normally umber face tinged red from the wine. He raised his hands high to quiet the crowd.
“My friends, my friends, I am so happy to see you all enjoying the banquet!” He smiled broadly, looking over the now quiet faces attending him. “My wife and I have prepared some very special entertainment for this evening.” He gestured to the servants standing on either side of the large doors. “I hope it will give you at least as much pleasure as the drinks!” there was a collective chuckle from the more tipsy guests.
The servants pulled the doors wide and ushered in a brightly dressed troupe of musicians. They made their way to the front of the hall and began playing. It was a vibrant, lively song that wove its lilting melody through the celebration. From the still gaping entrance came a flash of fire.
A beautiful dancer swept in through the flames, her gauzy costume gliding through the air around her. The melody paused, she snapped her scarf in the air and it burst alight. The music picked up again with a fevered intensity as the dancer swirled the flaming scarf around her undulating form.
She moved with serpentine grace, the firelight fluttering across her soft, cinnamon colored skin. The music slowed as the song came to an end. She extinguished the flames with a gentle flourish.
She bowed low, stealing a glance up toward the host and hostess. She was pleased to see the hostess beaming down at her.
Her eyes slid over to the host. Something within her shrunk as she noticed the hungry gleam in his eyes. She dropped her gaze back to the floor. Bowing out of the hall once more she scurried off to the safety of her regular work in the kitchens.
The guests filed out soon after. Scattering back to their homes across the vast desert city of Eshiren.
The hostess burst into the kitchens, eyes shining. “Oh Neira!” She gushed. “That was simply incredible! Your dancing was absolutely hypnotic!”
Neira put on a cheeky grin, bending into an ostentatious bow. “Thank you, my lady. You honor me with your praise!”
“Oh you sassy creature! Stop all that my lady talk! There's nobody else here, you promised to call me Irayen when we were alone.” Irayen gave her a playful shove.
“Yes, but you never know when someone may be just outside the door. It doesn't hurt to use a little caution, Irayen.” Neira shoved her back, grinning at the familiar banter.
“Come on, you don't think I'm cautious?” Irayen pursed her lips, fluttering her lashes over caramel colored eyes.
Neira laughed, rolling her eyes. “Do you recall what happened with the honeybees on that trip down to Sechon when we were girls? As I recall you managed to set an entire hive on us. We only got away because you tripped over a rock and knocked us into a pond.”
“Ah, now that is an unfair example Neira! You and I both know it was more the goats fault than mine!”
“You mean the goat that you untied?”
“Well I needed the rope.” Irayen tossed her sandy hair with a haughty sniff. “Besides, that was years ago. I'm much more careful now.”
Neira shook her head with a smirk. “What about last week with the chickens?”
Irayen crinkled her face into a scowl and crossed her arms with a huff. “Okay, so I'm not great with animals, but that doesn't mean I'm not cautious. Besides, we always make it out just fine.”
Neira laughed. “All right, I concede, you are at least cautious in important matters. But you are definitely terrible with animals.”
Both women laughed together before settling into a comfortable silence. After a moment footsteps sounded in the hallway outside. They grew closer and Neira sighed. She gave Irayen a small smile.
“I suppose I'll be off to clean the banquet hall my lady.”
A small stream of servants trickled in, arms loaded down with dirty food platters and bowls. Behind them, a man stood in the doorway, a glower permeating his entire being.
“Slave, get to the banquet hall quickly. Enough of your dawdling.”
Neira lowered her eyes to the floor and gave a stiff reply.
Grabbing a broom from the corner she stepped past him. She wound her way through the corridors into the remnants of the nights festivities. The servants had cleared the bulk of the dishes, but the room was still a mess.
Neira leaned the broom against a wall and set to work clearing away the tables. She gathered up the few remaining dishes and turned to carry them back to the kitchens.
Turning to the doorway she saw Irayens husband, Rifat, leaning against the door. He was watching her, with that same hungry expression she had noticed during the banquet.
Her skin prickled, a shiver running down her spine. She lowered her gaze once more, bowing low. She waited for him to speak, hoping that he only had some task for her to complete.
“That was quite the performance you gave us this evening.” He moved toward her as he spoke, his voice a low purr.
Neira felt her heartbeat growing faster and louder.
“I thank you Master, for your kind praise.”
She saw his feet now directly in front of her and squeezed her eyes shut, foreboding flooding her being. His hand slid under her chin and tilted her face upward toward his.
Neira stood there, frozen, willing her body to move. She clutched the stack of dirty dishes in front of her. Her mind was a blank void of panic as Rifat stared at her with ravenous eyes.
He took the dishes from her and set them on the table, lowering his voice just above a whisper.
“Why don't we just leave those here for now.”
He turned back to her again, moving in closer.
“I'm supposed to be cleaning.” Her voice was small and unsteady.
“Don't worry about it right now.” He began stroking the bare skin of her arms and shoulders. “I think you and I should spend some time getting to know each other better.”
Neira stepped back, turning away to grab the dishes from the table. A tremor started in her hands, her breathing quick and shallow.
“I'd really better get these to the kitchen, Master. If I don't then Mr. Naseer will probably come looking for me.”
“I said don't worry about it right now.” He caught her hand as she reached for the stack, his voice taking on a menacing undertone.
Pulling her toward him he slid his other arm around her waist. Neiras stomach turned, her shallow breathing leaving her lightheaded.
“Please..” She whispered, her voice shaking as much as her hands.
“It's all right.” His breath was hot against her ear as he spoke. “I've made sure that Mr. Naseer will keep the servants busy in other parts of the house for a long while. I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know me better. I have a way of growing on people.”
She felt his course facial hair graze the skin of her neck and jolted. He held her tighter, kissing her neck. Neira jerked back, breaking her wrist free of his grip.
Neira managed to squirm free and began running toward the doors. Rifat quickly caught up to her and grabbed at her, catching her by her dress. Neira struggled harder, the fabric ripping as she scrambled to get free.
“That was a mistake, slave!” He hissed “I would have been gentle if you had only cooperated.”
He gripped her wrist so hard she was sure the bones would crack. Panic flooded through every inch of her body. Rifat dragged her up onto a table. Her head cracked against the wood. Piles of dishes fell the floor and shattered.
Neira flailed her arms and legs, lashing out like a cornered beast. Her nails met the soft flesh of Rifats cheek, leaving a score of gouges. He recoiled with a snarl and she scrambled to the floor in a desperate dash for the exit. Rifat caught her other wrist, eyes alight with fury.
Neira looked toward the open doors at the end of the hall. Staring back at her was familiar pair of caramel colored eyes, as wide now as her own. Irayen stopped for a moment, her mouth gaping at the scene before her.
Jifat turned, still gripping Neiras wrist. He smoothed out his disheveled hair and clothing before clearing his throat.
“My dearest, thank goodness you have come. This…” He glared down at Neira, squeezing her wrist even harder. “This wretched slave girl of yours just threw herself at me. I kept telling her that I would have no other woman than you but she tried to force herself on me.”
Neira looked at Irayen, whose expression had curled inwards, her hands balled into fists at her side. She shook her head, unable to make herself speak.
“I will let you punish her as you see fit, my dear.” Jifat looked at Neira again, a small smirk smeared across his face. Neiras stomach turned seeing Irayen look at her with such rage.
“I didn't! I swear I-”
“Silence slave! Enough of your lies!” Rifat glared at her. His hand was raised, ready to strike her again the moment she opened her mouth.