PRW Runner-up Tour: The Red Slipper by Megan Wilson
The sun was warm on her back as Rhodopis walked along the river, her sandals skimming over the harbour’s metal platform. She felt free, the wind blowing her golden hair about her face and brushing her bare arms. As she reached the end of a jetty, she heard someone call out from the watch tower. Perplexed, she looked up to see a man leaning over the edge, pointing down the river.
Rhodopis couldn’t imagine what could be wrong, nothing ever happened in their little fishing town. Then she heard it, the droning of engines and she turned on her heel. Surging up the lake was a hover ship made of cruel, black metal. She could hear people behind her fleeing from the pirate ship but she could do nothing but stare at it as it drew up alongside the jetty, sending a spray of water over her.
Finally, she persuaded her stunned legs into movement and she turned, fleeing towards the town across the empty harbour. There was the sound of many feet behind her, clanging on the metal. A hand encircled her arm and she was pulled to a stop. Rhodopis kicked out at her assailant but their grip was strong.
“I got one,” the man said to another, tall man who leaned down over them. “Will this one do?”
The second man leant forward and studied her. “Good. Take her on board.”
Rhodopis continued to struggle as he pulled her back to the jetty. If only she had followed the advice of her dear mother. “Don’t go down to the harbour by yourself,” she had told her, “you wouldn’t want to get taken by pirates would you?” She had ignored her mother’s warning and now here she was.
The engines of the hover ship were still running, assumedly to allow the pirates a quick escape if need be. She’d never been on a ship before but she didn’t have a chance to look around before she was pushed down into the belly of the vessel. Many eyes looked up at her from the darkness as she was led down and fell onto her knees amid them. Several more girls came after her before the doors were slammed shut and they were left in complete darkness.
Rhodopis took a deep breath and forced herself to remain calm as the ship rose into the air and lurched forward. Even at night the moon provided some light, but here there was none. The darkness pressed in on her. It was difficult to breathe.
She lost track of how long she was shut inside the room for. They stopped twice more and the room began to become cramped. Someone’s elbow or knee, she wasn’t sure which, was wedged into her side and she couldn’t move her legs for fear of kicking someone. Sweat trickled down her spine as the heat in the room began to increase. Her mouth was dry and she longed for water, even a sip, to satisfy her thirst.
After what felt like days someone came down and brought them food and water. There wasn’t much to go around though and it was difficult to organise in the darkness. She had a morsel of bread and a few gulps of water, nothing more.
Finally, the doors were opened and one of the pirates led them up onto the deck. The bright sunlight stung Rhodopis’ eyes and she had to close and reopen them several times before she could stand to keep them open. She had no idea where they were but everything seemed so strange. The buildings were sleek metal like the ones in her hometown in Greece, but some of them here were like triangles. What was the shape called? Pyramids? And there was sand everywhere, it blew in her face and swirled around her feet as they were led off the boat and ushered through the busy streets.
Before she had much time to take in what was happening she was being pushed up stairs and onto a round platform where she and the other prisoners were lined up. A crowd was gathered before them and many were shouting and jeering. A hand was placed on her shoulder and she was pushed to the front of the platform.
“Young girl, fit, healthy, capable of much work.”
Rhodopis gazed around her, stunned. The people were still shouting. The sun reflected off a nearby building and she struggled to see. Even in her tunic and sandals she was sweating in the baking heat. Unless, it wasn’t the heat and it was the fear and trepidation creeping up on her.
She looked around in confusion as she was led off the front of the platform and handed to an elderly man, her manacles being removed. He smiled at her and took her arm, leading her away from the shouting crowd and the platform where the other prisoners stood.
“What is your name, my dear?” the man asked.
“Rhodopis,” she replied timidly. “What is this place? What country?”
“Why, you are in Egypt,” the man said with a laugh. “Did you not know?”
Rhodopis shook her head and looked to the floor, feeling ashamed and foolish. “May I ask another question?”
“Why did those pirates take me prisoner? And why did they give me to you?”
The man gave her a quizzical look but answered her question. “They took you so you could be a slave, I bought you.”
Rhodopis’ eyes widened and she felt like she may be sick. Would she ever return home? Her family would be so worried about her, they may even think she were dead.
The old man patted her hand gently. “No need to worry, I’ll look after you well.”
Rhodopis didn’t have the heart to reply and let him lead her to a house overlooking a river. She was so wrapped in her thoughts, trying to come to terms with what was happening to her, that she hardly took in anything she saw.
The man led her to the back of the house and then let go of her arm and went to one of the trees. Then he lay down beneath it and closed his eyes. Not knowing what to do, Rhodopis looked around her and spotted three girls about her own age heading towards her.
“Who are you?” one of them demanded, her arms folded across her chest.
“My name is Rhodopis,” she replied. She couldn’t help but feel small under their gazes.
“Why is your hair so pale and curled?” one of the others asked, picking up a strand of her hair.
“And her eyes are so green,” the third added.
Rhodopis attempted to move away from them but they simply followed. Their hair was black and straight and their eyes brown like bark. She felt suddenly self-conscious about her appearance. In Greece, she simply looked like everyone else. Here, she was an oddity, a stranger. She longed to be back home.
“And her skin so pale.”
“You must do chores for us,” the first girl said, grinning. The others nodded in approval of the suggestion. “One of my robes needs mending.”
“And the floor in the parlour needs sweeping.”
“And the washing needs drying.”
“Are you not slaves too?” Rhodopis dared asked. She could sense the anger blazing in their eyes and regretted asking.
“Yes,” said one of them. “But you are new, and terribly odd looking, so you have to do the chores and prove yourself.”
Rhodopis spent many a day thereafter doing the bidding of the other slave girls. She looked to the old man who had bought her but he always seemed to be sleeping under the tree. There would be no help from him.
One day when she was sat by the river, staring out at the great expanse of desert before her and thinking of home, the old man approached her, holding something behind his back. “I have something for you.” Then he revealed a pair of red slippers which he held out to her.
Rhodopis gasped and beamed at the man. “For me? They are beautiful.” She hesitated, her hand held out to take them. Should she really accept such a gift? But they were so pretty and she took them from him, replacing her worn sandals with them.
As the man walked away back to his tree she looked up at the three girls watching her from the house. Swiftly, she turned away from them, not wanting to see the hateful looks in their eyes. As much as the shoes were beautiful, she almost wished he had not given them to her. Now they only had more reason to hate her.
As evening drew in she left her place by the river and returned to the house. She could hear the other girls chattering in the servant’s quarters and braced herself before entering. They were holding hands and skipping around with massive grins on their faces. They didn’t pay any attention to Rhodopis as she walked over to her bed.
Eventually she plucked up the courage to ask, “What is happening?”
The girls looked over at her with sour looks, but one of them answered her question anyway. “The Pharaoh is holding an event in Memphis and everyone is invited to attend! There will be singing and dancing and oh it will be wonderful.”
“When is it?” Rhodopis asked. After spending so much time in the house she was looking forward to going out somewhere, although she didn’t have any nice clothes to wear. Perhaps this was why her master had bought her the red slippers.
“Tonight.” It was only then that Rhodopis noticed the pretty outfits laid out on each of their beds. Her heart sank, for she had nothing so lovely to wear.
“You shan’t be coming of course,” one of them said as she helped the two others finish arranging their clothes. “There are clothes need washing and we expect them done once we return.”
“But I should like to go too,” Rhodopis protested.
The girl gave her a withering look. “Of course you can’t come with us. The chores need doing.”
Rhodopis watched sadly from the bank as they were carried away down the river in a boat, to the celebrations she would not be able to partake in. With a heavy heart she collected the washing from inside and set about her chores. She removed her slippers so as not to get them wet and sang of times gone by as she washed the girl’s clothes.
The chill, night air seeped into the bare skin of her arms but she hardly noticed. The moon shone bright, making silver ripples in the river. The trees and rushes swished in the wind and Rhodopis had to tie her hair back to prevent it falling in her face.
Just as she was finishing her work she looked up to see a falcon sweeping down towards her. She cried out in panic, certain it was going to sink its claws into her. Instead, it gripped one of her red slippers and flew off into the sky with it. Rhodopis sat there a moment, stunned, with her hand on her heart and waited for it to stop racing. Why would the God Horus take her shoe from her? She picked up the remaining slipper, a heavy sadness falling on her shoulders. At least the other girls could not be angry with her for wearing them, now, for she could not go round in one red shoe.
The Pharaoh, Amasis, looked out at the crowd of his joyous subjects, trying to look interested in the event. These kind of celebrations bored him and he leant his elbow on the arm of his throne. He was becoming tired of the whole thing. He would much rather be out riding his chariot.
Just then, something seemed to fall out of the sky and as Amasis peered closer he saw that it was a falcon, heading right for him. The nearby guards hurried to stand before him but the Pharaoh barked at them to move aside. It simply dropped something into his lap and flew away. The subjects nearest to him stared at what had been dropped, gasps ringing out through them. The advisors gathered around him were silent. In his lap was a small, red slipper.
“Surely, this is a message from Horus,” Amasis said, more to himself than anyone else, and picked up the slipper. He shot to his feet and turned to his advisors. “All the maidens in the kingdom must try on this slipper, and whoever so fits it will be my queen.”
“But, sir, is this really a wise way to choose a queen?” one of the advisors said timidly. “A political alliance would be a better choice.”
“It is a message from Horus,” Amasis replied, already heading up the stairs of the palace. “Get my chariot ready.” He strode across the entrance hall and a servant called for the elevator.
Once inside his rooms, Amasis removed the celebratory headdress and items, exchanging them for more travel appropriate clothing. When he reached the back of the palace his chariot was already waiting, with guards in two others to accompany him. The chariot hovered above the ground and shone with gold leaf. It was drawn by an energy ball that glowed red and hovered also.
Amasis climbed on board and they left the city, heading in search for the owner of the red slipper. After searching the land for three days with no success Amasis returned to the palace to speak to his advisors. “She must be here in the kingdom somewhere,” he said as he paced in front of the throne.
“Perhaps it is not to be. Maybe you are not meant to find her.”
“No,” Amasis said firmly. “It is a message from the Gods. The girl will be my queen.”
“Then take the hover barge and go up the river in search of her.”
Amasis grinned at the advisor. “Excellent, excellent idea. Prepare the barge, I will depart as soon as it is made ready.”
Rhodopis looked out at the river from the house. The other servant girls had said the event had been awful, and they didn’t even get to look upon the Pharaoh. Still, she wished she had been able to go. As she was watching the world outside she heard the sound of trumpets and round a bend in the river emerged some kind of hover boat like none she had ever seen before. It was adorned with gold and coloured silks and seemed magical as it approached.
At the sound of the trumpets the other girls joined her at the window and gasped. “It is the Pharaoh, he must have come so we can try on the slipper!”
“Try on the slipper?” Rhodopis asked.
“Never you mind,” they told her. “You stay out of the way.”
They hurried down to the landing where the boat was just pulling up. Rhodopis followed them part of the way and hid amongst the rushes, peering through the tall grass. From the boat stepped a man swathed in silks and wearing a red and white crown. The servant girls bowed to him and he held out a slipper.
Rhodopis’ hand flew to her mouth, it was her red slipper. How could the pharaoh have come to have her shoe? She was about to run from the rushes and claim it as hers but hesitated. The other girls would surely hate her even more if she did. She stayed where she was and watched the girls attempt to squeeze their feet into the slipper, even though they knew it to be hers.
As the Pharaoh took back the shoe and turned to go he paused. Rhodopis’ heart stopped as he began to walk towards her. He looked down at her where she was hidden amongst the rushes. “Will you try it on?”
Rhodopis looked at the furious faces of the servant girls but swallowed her fear and stood. She found herself mute, unable to find any words in the face of such a handsome, powerful man. He held out the slipper and she took it, sliding it onto her foot easily. Then, she took the matching one from out of her tunic and placed it on the other foot.
The Pharaoh’s eyes lit up and he took her hand, leading her from out of the rushes. “What is your name, child?”
“Rhodopis,” she replied quietly.
“She shall be my queen,” he announced to his attendants on the barge who cheered and bowed.
“But she is a slave,” one of the other girls exclaimed.
“And not even Egyptian,” cried another.
The Pharaoh looked down at her, a smile still spread across his face. “She is Egyptian, in her own way, for her eyes are such a dazzling green as the Nile, her fair hair the colour of papyrus and her skin pale and rosy as a lotus flower.”
Rhodopis’ heart swelled and she tried to calm her beating heart. She was sure she was blushing, but he didn’t seem to notice. After receiving such scorn from the other servants his compliments were foreign to her. It felt good to be appreciated, something she had not experienced for so long a time. She felt certain that the Gods had been watching over her, and she thanked Horus for what he had done for her.
The Pharaoh led her onto the hover boat and took her into a private area with walls of purple silk where they stood, he still holding her hand. A robot came over to them holding glasses of drink but he sent them away.
“My name is Amasis,” he said. “I hope you do not find me silly for making you my queen. My advisors do.”
“No I do not,” Rhodopis said quickly, not wanting to offend him. “May I ask how you came by my slipper?”
“It was dropped in my lap by a falcon,” he explained.
“The same falcon must have taken it from me,” Rhodopis exclaimed.
Amasis put his hands on her shoulders. “The Gods have brought us together for a reason, I think. You will be a good queen.”
“I do hope so,” Rhodopis replied. She suddenly felt very self-conscious, of her appearance and her station.
He put his fingers under her chin and lifted it up so she was looking up at him. “I know you will.”
Rhodopis hardly dared breathe as he leant down towards her. Their lips met and it felt like she was melting into him as he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. For the first time in a while she felt wanted. There would be no more of those slave girls laughing at her and telling her what to do. She had found her place, and by some miracle it was by the Pharaoh’s side.
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