Although she knew it was risky, Elena went to the master and asked him if she could, tonight, have a different outfit in which to dance. He was a little surprised, but agreed readily enough, and an hour later she found herself wearing a knee length white dress with pale tights. She still had no shoes, but she had always danced in socks anyway.
Standing on the steps up to the stage - which was really nothing more than a platform - she felt all of her fears return. She would fall, she knew it, fall and land in their hands where nothing could save her.
In the past, she had always found that her nerves vanished as soon as she began to perform, but this was not a show for friends or other students. Now she danced for her life. Was it not understandable if she was a little apprehensive?
It was hard to tell whether she was in the air or on the floor while she danced, for she moved too quickly. Later, one man said to the master that she had seemed to be flying, a joyful young woman filled with a passion for her dance. Others commented on how pretty she was, her fairy-like appearance.
None of them suspected that she was a fourteen-year-old girl who danced because she would be killed if she did not. It never even occurred to them. They saw the desperation in her dance as acting, and never thought it could be real. Elena knew this. She also knew that she must keep up the deception to keep her tyrant master in a favourable mood.
It must have been midnight when they let her stop, and Elena could barely drag herself to the waiting bath. She wanted only to sleep, but it was not to be. She washed, got dressed and was escorted to the room by the young servant, and barely was she there that all her worst fears were realised.
She had sat herself down on the shelf and was pulling the blanket towards her when she heard the footsteps. Normally, any visitors were silent, and she didn't hear them until they were in the room, speaking to her. But this particular visitor didn't seem to care. Indeed, they marched up to the door and pulled at it, cursing loudly when it would not open.
They are not supposed to be here, she thought. It is one of the master's men who has found out where I am. He means to take me. To force me ... Though her terror was mounting, Elena forced herself to take deep breaths and focus on the wall in front of her. A tiny stain on the whitewash...
The footsteps retreated.
During the long boring days, she had learned to recognise the low electronic hum she could hear as the lock that held her door closed. Now, suddenly, it cut out, and the footsteps were coming back. She was vulnerable and unprotected, and nobody would ever know...
The man burst in, every bit the thug she had been expecting. She backed away, trying to scream, but no sound came out. Terror overwhelmed her and she gasped as the man walked a few more steps towards her. His trousers, she saw, were already around his ankle.
Surely there was no way out of this? She stood on the shelf in an effort to delay the inevitable. Somebody had to rescue her. They couldn't just leave her here. I'm stuck here, she thought, and this man will take me, and everything that I am...
He took another step forward; she could go back no further. She was trapped.