Zara trembled as she followed the merchant inside the large stone house. He started giving orders to the waiting slaves, orders she couldn’t hear because of the sound of her heart in her ears. She was pushed into a chair and a pile of food was placed in front of her.
After eating as much as she could manage, Zara was taken away to be bathed and dressed so she would be presentable when meeting the merchant’s wife. She closed her eyes as a female slave tugged on the fine robes she had been given to wear, praying fiercely that this merchant’s wife would be different from the others.
“I have a surprise for you,” Ali masta told his wife as he helped her to sit, barely able to contain his excitement.
Alrisha smiled back at him as he sat beside her, showing him her delight. He never failed to lavish her with gifts, and she never failed to appreciate them.
She looked around the room. It must have been an extraordinary gift for her seven sons and their wives, and her three daughters and their husbands, were all in attendance, as well as her youngest, and most beloved, son, Aadil. He was handsome, strong in body and mind, and was known for his kindness. Many wealthy fathers had sought his hand for their daughters, but Alrisha was not ready to part with him yet.
Ali masta clapped his hands. A musician stepped into the room, followed by a meek, young girl. Alrisha swallowed hard, the smile sliding from her face.
Ali masta took her hand and patted it. “She is now yours,” he whispered.
She nodded her thanks and turned back to take in the girl who was undeniably beautiful. The musician began to play and the girl started to sing. For the first time in Alrisha’s life she knew what it was to be jealous. Alrisha knew her own beauty was great. She knew her husband loved her very much for he had not taken another wife or had a single concubine, but age was upon her and she feared that she would one day be replaced, her fear growing steadily as each year passed.
And it seemed that most feared day had arrived.
Zara’s eyes fell on her new mistress and dread washed over her. Her eyes were daggers aimed at her. Many women looked at her that way. Her mother had told her she was a threat, that her beauty was a threat. And even though she had never lain with a man, women acted like she was going to bed every husband that crossed her path.
Zara could feel herself starting to sweat and her hands began to shake. She had to look away, fearing she would lose her voice. But everywhere she looked she saw women looking back at her with scorn.
And then her eyes fell on the young man in front of her. His eyes were piercing as they looked at her, and he was smiling kindly. His face was the most handsome she had ever seen and she focused on it, his gaze giving her the strength to not only keep going, but to sing her best, for as foolish and hopeless as the thought was, she wanted to impress him.
Alrisha lay awake, her husband sleeping deeply beside her after their vigorous love-making.
Tears pricked her eyes. She had no doubt his desire for her tonight was due to that Hebrew girl, and it would only be a short time before he took her to his bed.
The thought gripped her with such intensity that she let out a gasp. She could not let that happen!
The first month in the house went by smoothly for Zara. She sung nightly and was praised by Aadil and the merchant for her efforts. She had a room to herself and was allowed to practise her singing in the walled garden. Many times Aadil would sneak out to speak to her, which always sent her heart fluttering, even though she knew he was just being kind and did not return her feelings, for a merchant’s son would never love a slave.
The mistress did not talk to her, still stared daggers at her, but Zara felt safe for the merchant watched out for her and was very kind. Zara was happy for the first time in a long time.
Alrisha watched her husband leave on his travels to sell his wares across the border. As soon as he was clear of the city, she ordered Zara to be sent to her. The girl trembled visibly as she stood in front of Alrisha, which gave Alrisha great satisfaction; at least she knew her place.
“To your knees,” Alrisha ordered.
The girl fell to her knees, bowing her head. Alrisha nodded to the servant who stood waiting with the dagger. The servant grabbed a handful of the girl’s hair and yanked it hard as she began to cut it off.
The girl cried out and tears welled in her eyes. Alrisha smiled wickedly, knowing the great shame it would bring the girl to have her head shaved. She turned to the other servant waiting and nodded. The servant disappeared and returned carrying a garb made out of sackcloth.
“We shall see how pretty you are now,” Alrisha hissed, tossing the coarse robe at the slave girl.
Zara was tired. She hadn’t slept at all, instead she had cried, mourning the loss of her hair. She stopped for a moment to rest when she heard Aadil coming. She ran and hid from him, not wanting him to see her shame. Her cruel mistress wouldn’t even let her wear a veil to cover her head.
“You lazy swine,” one of the mistress’s handmaidens snapped when she saw her hiding. “What are you doing? Why are you not working? The mistress is looking for you, you are to empty all the chamber pots.”
Zara quickly left to do as she was bid, afraid to get into any more trouble.
Zara had never smelt anything as disgusting as the chamber pots in the male slave’s quarters. And she had never thought her life would consist of this. She moved out into the hall, carrying a very messy and disgusting pot, and bumped straight into a large male slave, spilling the contents over the floor, her feet and the bottom of her robe.
“Clean that up you filthy girl,” he yelled, pushing past her.
She vomited as she cleaned up the muck, making an even bigger mess. Once it was finally cleaned up off the floor, she cleaned her feet. She had nothing else to wear so she was forced to go to the mistress to ask for something clean.
When she asked, the mistress looked at her as if she had just asked if she could cut out her heart. Her nose curled in revulsion. “As punishment for your stupidity, you can wear that dirty sackcloth for the rest of the day, tomorrow you shall have a new one. Now get out of my sight, you stink.”
Zara couldn’t believe it. She was just glad that Aadil was away from the house for the rest of the day.
When it was meal time, she could not eat for the smell turned her stomach. The other slaves taunted her, laughing and calling her cruel names. She didn’t know how much longer she could endure such treatment, and she begged for the master’s return in her prayers.