Tears in a Dry Land Ch. 03


"I do not know. This has pained me every night for the past few months."

"A muscle tear or sprain should not last that long. Has it got worse, or remained the same?"

"Worse, when I stretch it in bed before I sleep it spasms."

The girl frowned, "Let me see what I can do. If it pains you, as I work, tell me, so I can stop. I shall fetch the physician if necessary."

"No, please, no more drugs!"

Her hands first worked slowly over the skin of the calf, assessing, and exploring, then probing firmly to unlock the tendons, muscles and break down trapped toxins.

She nodded and quietly said, "No, no drugs."

She watched Sophia's face as she bit her lip but did not cry out with the pain. After several minutes working, the girl stopped kneading and her movements became gentler. "Is it any better?"

Sophia tensed the muscles, then nodded her thanks.

"I will return and work on the muscles in your neck if I may. I observed a certain tension in you just then."

The girl leaned over, allowing her hands to apply even, but gentle pressure on the side of Sofia's neck. "I was sure you would jump and run from my touch at first, but now you seem much calmer and at ease."

"You have been so kind. You have your Master's confidence and you offered me something I have longed for these many months – someone of my own age I could trust."

The girl smiled at her. "I am pleased to have been able to help you. Is there anything else I may do for you?"

Sophia sat up and looked around. "Could you help me dress?"

The girl cleaned her hands carefully in a bowl of scented water. "Certainly. Have you selected the garments you would like to wear?"

Sophia sat still feeling lost and helpless in her nakedness.

"I do not know your customs. I would not appear before your Master in clothes which would bring his disapproval."

"I would not have brought you anything inappropriate."

Sophia's eyes were glazing over again as another stream of memories assaulted her, "Not red, I cannot wear red. When I was here before they dressed me in red and gold - a dancer's dress."

There was a long pause as the girl finally realised who Sofia was and whose child she bore. "The dancers...." she murmured to herself, before continuing in a brisker tone, "all clothes here are fit for you to wear."

She held up a grey silk shift. "I think this one. It drapes so perfectly and is loose enough to leave you unencumbered. These are very loose too - and cool," she indicated a pair of grey silk trousers, gathered at the ankle. Then I think this long coat - it is in a coarser, rough raw silk from the furthest shores of China. The deep violet will complement your hair perfectly."

She helped Sophia dress in the garments she indicated then found a pair of jewelled sandals for her to wear on her calloused feet. Taking a tortoiseshell brush from the stand, she began to brush out Sophia's chestnut hair so it lay curled and free down to her waist.

"What do you recall about the dancers?" Her question seemed idle conversation, but Sophia immediately frowned, then recounted what she saw as if she were reliving it once more.

"It was dark. There were braziers burning because the night was cold but the dresses were made from the thinnest silk, concealing nothing. First we were to dance for the Master and all his guests, then we served the feast, each one of us serving a pre-determined man.

"After the food was finished, we danced again - a different dance. One designed to inflame desire in the heart of the man we danced for. We had to touch, to tease, to tempt, so the man would take us with him to his chamber that night.

"They warned me what would happen if the Master did not choose me. Assassins would be sent to kill not only my father and my brothers, but my sisters and their families as well. I danced for them when the dance began, but by the end of the evening, I danced for him alone because he was all I could see. He was my world."

The girl nodded thoughtfully, "and he chose you, I remember."

Sophia's gaze dropped to the floor, her face aflame.

"No, Sophia..Lady..." Her hands gripped Sophia's shoulders, forcing her to look at her, "There is no shame here for you. You did not seek this, it was forced upon you. Trust in My Lord, he is a good man."

"He did not force me," Sophia whispered, "that much I do remember."

"No, he did not force you, he would not. Even though it was so many years since he had taken any woman."

"I could not speak to him. I could not tell him who I was or what danger I posed to him. His hands were gentle – like yours and soon my body would not let me speak, even if I could.

"He thought me just another dancer brought for his pleasure. You always think the first time will be for bonding, for binding – not that there might be consequences." She rubbed once more at the shift where the child moved within her.

"Maybe he thought of you as a dancer at first, but he learned a little about you and sought you, but that is for him to tell you and he will."

Sophia looked shocked. "It was not by chance he came there - in the market place?"

"No chance, no hazard. He was there because he had spent much time and much money to find you."

"I had seen him come to me in a dream. I thought myself still asleep, walking into the square, waiting. I did not know who he was, but then he touched me and I knew it was his seed I carried."

"You saw clearly. He will explain more, for he has not told me everything and he will be growing impatient."

"Just one last question, if I may? How should I call you? So I may thank your Master for his kindness."

The girl smiled, her eyes twinkling mischievously.

"My name is Penelope, not a common name for this land. My father chose it from the legend of his people - the tale of the warrior, Odysseus."

Sophia nodded, "I heard the tale when I was a child."

"We should go now, my father waits," and with her arm supporting Sophia, Penelope led the way down the twisting stone passage ways to the small dining room where Killikrates was waiting for them.

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