That was how it ended up with Elena spending every evening in the large hall upstairs. The clothes were not those that she was used to wearing for dance - there was no leotard, no skirt, no tights. Instead she had been given a tightfitting tunic of pale green and leggings of a darker green, the soft socks on her feet almost the same colour, so that they could hardly be seen.

"You look quite the part," said the master, looking at her. "But your hair is all wrong." He handed her a brush. "Do something with it, make it look nicer." She was about to disobey - after all, it was her only rebellion here - but realised how itchy her scalp was and decided that actually, she would quite like to brush her hair anyway.

The first evening arrived and she walked down to the hall feeling uncommonly nervous. It was odd, she thought, that dance could have survived when music did not. She had seen many performances, but there was definitely something missing. Music. That was what it was.

Just a fairy story.

But it wasn't. She knew that now.

The men whooped and cheered as she walked on, her feet light and fluttery like fairies. Perhaps if she danced well enough they would let her go, she thought. Perhaps if she did it right there wouldn't be trouble any more. And so she raised her arms and danced, flying across the stage in the way that she had not been able to for days. But there was nothing to tell her she was pleasing them. No cheers. They all stared, rapt and silent.

For an hour she danced, pausing only to catch her breath and take a short drink of water. The master nodded to her when she looked at him - she tried to pretend this didn't repulse her, curtseying as though he deserved her homage. But all the while she was desperate to be away.

"Let me stop now," she said to him, as night approached. "Please, let me stop. I need to sleep..."

"You can sleep with me," he told her, leering, and she backed away. "I joke, child, I joke. Well, one final dance and then you can go. Alone. But I want that last dance." And so she spun like a top, desperate to keep the nightmares at bay. It was the only way to stop them touching her - these pirouettes would save her purity...

"You may stop now," she was told, finally, and with a feeling of relief she ran off the stage. A servant greeted her, this one a woman. "You would like to bathe?"

"Oh, yes!" said Elena. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a bath, but the two-hour practise sessions had made her quite sweaty every day, and now she was simply drenched. "I can?"

"The master is pleased with you. Normally he has to have much less beautiful entertainment." She spoke without emotion. "Come, I will take you to the bath. And you may have clean clothes, too. He says so long as you dance you are protected."

Elena bathed, feeling as though every second in that tub was washing away one hour of boredom, one hour of hard work, one hour of sweat. But nothing could wash away the unclean feeling that their eyes had left on her. 

"Clothes?" The servant handed her a shirt and trousers, flexible enough for her to wear them to dance, too. Walking back to her bedroom under escort, Elena pondered the turn her fortunes had taken. Yes, so she had clothes and food and had had a bath. But that was only so long as she danced.

And I cannot dance forever.

The End

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