The mistress was practically running toward Zara. Zara froze, fear gripping her. She wondered what she had done now.
“Quickly,” the mistress urged, grabbing her by the wrist and yanking her hard to get her to move. They basically ran down the hall and into the mistress’s chamber, then she was flung into the female slaves that were waiting there.
“Bathe her, dress her in fine garb and put perfume on her,” she ordered. Zara looked at her mistress in astonishment.
“And put a veil on her,” the mistress snapped. “Nobody wants to look at her ugly head.”
When Zara was ready, the mistress returned. “My son wishes to hear you sing,” she informed her, her disdain clear. She stepped right up to Zara. “If you value your life you will not lift your veil, you will not show him your shame.”
Zara bowed. Even if it wasn’t an order she would have carried it out anyway.
“Good. Follow me.”
Zara’s heart sped up when she saw Aadil. He greeted his mother with a kiss, but the smile fell from his face when his eyes landed on Zara.
“Why are you wearing a veil such as that?” he asked, frowning. “Take it off, I wish to see your face as you sing.”
Fear gripped Zara and she clutched the veil to make sure it was secure. “Please, Master,” she said, her voice trembling. “I prefer to wear the veil.”
“Leave the poor girl alone,” Alrisha said, feign concern in her voice. “If she wants to wear that type of veil then let her.”
Aadil didn’t look happy, but he nodded, conceding. Everybody sat as the musician entered. Zara sat in front of them, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths to try and calm her nerves.
Alrisha indicated for her to start and she began. She had only been singing a moment when Aadil stood up. “No, no, no. This will not do. I must see your face while you sing.” Before anyone could react, Aadil was standing above Zara and tearing the veil off. Both Zara and Alrisha cried out to stop him, but it was too late.
Aadil looked down at Zara’s bald head with horror. He turned to his mother. “What have you done to her?”
His mother stood, straightening her shoulders and thrusting out her chin. “You have no right to question me, it does not concern you what I do with my female slaves. She is mine, your father gave her to me.”
“What have you done!” Aadil bellowed, making Alrisha flinch.
“She did me a terrible wrong and this was how I chose to punish her.”
“Get out!” Aadil demanded. Alrisha stalked out the room, her head held high. Aadil fell to his knees in front of Zara. She bowed her head, shamed that he saw her like this. “Did you wrong my mother?”he asked her. Zara was crying too much to answer. Aadil shook his head. “I do not believe her. She is just jealous of your beauty. I have returned from seeing my sisters and they spoke of you scornfully, mocking you. They are all jealous of not only your beauty, but your voice. It enrages them that a slave could be so blessed.”
Zara shook her head, not believing his words. He was just being kind.
He placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face, forcing her to look at him. “This is why you have been avoiding me.” He sighed. “Zara, even without your hair your face is still as beautiful as the flowers that bloom in spring, and as radiant as the sun that shines in the sky.”
Zara shook her head at his lies. “Please,” she begged. “Let me replace my veil.”
He sighed and then nodded. “I understand if you no longer wish to sing.”
Zara wiped her eyes. “I will sing for you.” She replaced the veil and then continued the song she had started.
Afterwards, Aadil ordered food be brought out and he ate with her. They stayed up late, speaking well into the night, and for one precious moment Zara felt happiness once again.
Alrisha paced back and forth in her chamber. She had not left straight away, as Aadil had ordered, instead she stood in the hallway listening. She had heard his words, heard that he had said her face was still beautiful.
She was worried that her husband would still find her beautiful also, and take her to his bed. She would have to do something drastic, something drastic that would not incriminate her.
A plan struck her and a slow devious smile spread across her lips.
Alrisha handed the bag of gold to the male slave. “You understand what you must do?” He nodded. “You also
understand that if she makes a complaint I will have to look outraged and banished you from this house. That is what the gold is for.”
“I understand, Mistress.”
“Good. I will arrange for her to be alone in the garden tonight.”
A devious smile spread across the slave’s face. “It will be my pleasure.”
Zara looked around the garden anxiously. The moon was high in the sky and most of the household were asleep. Zara didn’t like the dark and was on edge as she crept over to the lavender plant. The mistress couldn’t sleep and wanted freshly picked lavender to help.
Just as Zara reached the lavender, a hand clamped over her mouth. The person who had her wrestled her to the ground and flipped her onto her back. He released her mouth to pin her arms. She struggled and thrashed beneath him, screaming.
He laughed. “Scream all you like, no one will hear you.” He started to lift the sackcloth above her knees and she gave up screaming, crying instead. “I have wanted to do this since —” the man fell off her with a loud ‘oomph’.
Zara sat up and scrambled backwards, pulling her robe down, her whole body shaking with her sobs. Aadil knelt in front of her, holding his hand out tentatively to her. She flinched when his hand touched her shoulder.
“It is alright, he cannot hurt you now,” Aadil assured her. He put his arm around her shoulder and helped her to her feet. He led her inside, ordering two large male slaves to drag the other slave inside.
Alrisha feigned alarm when Aadil burst into her chamber, his arm around a sobbing Zara.
“What terrible thing has happened?” she asked innocently.
“This slave has attempted to force himself upon your slave, Zara. Fortunately I stopped him in time,” Aadil explained.
“You have done a great service to this household, my son.” She looked at the two slaves holding the slave she had paid. “Take him and throw him outside the city gates. He is banished from this house.” The slaves left immediately.
Aadil turned to Zara and wiped the tears out of her eyes. “I will never let anyone hurt you,” he promised.
Rage at her son’s affection toward the slave coursed through Alrisha. She put on a concerned smile and wrapped her arms around the girl, pulling her away from him. “Retire now, my son, I will take care of her myself.”
“Thank you, Mother.” With one last reassuring smile toward Zara, he left the chamber.
Alrisha dismissed the other slaves with a sharp nod of her head and then locked the chamber door behind them. She then turned to face Zara, starring hard at her. Rage surged through her and she wanted to scream at the nerve of the girl. She was so worried about her own husband she didn’t even think to worry about her son, but this slave girl, this Hebrew girl, had the nerve to dream she could have her precious, wonderful, Aadil.
The girl looked up at her like she was coming out of a daze.
“I know what you are doing,” Alrisha snarled as she stepped forward slowly. “Did you really think a pretty voice would be enough to make my son, a son of a rich merchant, ever want to marry you?”
Zara’s eyes grew wide and she took a step back. Alrisha lunged forward and grabbed her by the shoulders. She slapped her hard on the face and Zara’s knees buckled from the force. Alrisha held her up and slapped her again. “You are a harlot!” she grounded out through her teeth, then she continued slapping her over and over again.
Alrisha pulled out a dagger. “Let us see if he will still think you are pretty now.” She plunged the dagger forward and cut a long line from Zara’s brow down to her chin.
Zara threw herself to the ground and started crawling away. Alrisha scrambled after her, grabbing her by the ankle. Zara screamed.
“You will not get away from me!” Alrisha screeched wildly.
Zara knocked up against something and a pot fell in front of her. She grabbed it and swung it around, colliding with Alrisha’s head. Her eyes rolled back and she slumped to the floor unconscious. Zara stared in disbelief at her mistress, her mouth and eyes wide, her heart pounding. A knock at the door brought her back to her senses. She stood quickly and made her way to the window. She scrambled out into the garden and fled, fearing for her life.