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The Village of Hope (part one)
High up on a cold, snowy mountain there lay a gloomy little village. A stone temple stood in the very center of the village. Inside the temple a young lady sat watching the sun sink down into the West. As it grew darker outside, an all too familiar sense of dread swept over her heart. Her eyes travelled slowly to the gruesome statue sitting at the far end of the temple. The awful thing began to shudder and creak. Rising crustily, it made its way toward the girl with a long whip in its hand.
For thirteen long years, Kamali endured nightly beatings from this demon-god. She was given as an offering to the temple when she was very little, to suffer every night for something she did not do. Since then her life had been filled with nothing but pain and horror. She was utterly alone in her suffering, she had no friends or family, no one to comfort her. In fact, almost all of the villagers shunned and despised her. All except one, and his act of kindness changed her life forever.
It was a dark and cloudy morning. Kamali lay sleeping on the stone floor recovering from last night's beating. Her breath came in shallow gasps and she shook from the cold. A soft knock awakened her; she got up stiffly and walked to the heavy bolted door, curious. Someone unlocked it from the outside and it swung open. An old man stood before her holding a cloak and a sack of food. He held a finger to his lips and wrapped the cloak around her.
"It is time for you to leave," he whispered. He was a village elder who had pitied Kamali for many years. He hurried her out of the door into the frigid mountain air. It was early and the village was still asleep. Haste and caution were essential, for if anyone saw what they were doing, they would both be killed immediately. He led her swiftly down the mountain path; it was all she could do to keep up with her elderly guide. Kamali was breathing so hard she could hardly speak, though she had many questions burning inside her heart.
They arrived at the bottom of the mountain late in the night and walked to a place where a stream gushed out of the rocks. Lying on the bank was a small boat.
"Quickly," he said, "take the boat downstream and escape." The man handed her the bag of supplies and helped her into the boat. Kamali was bewildered. None of the villagers had ever shown kindness to her. Compassion was foreign to her.
"Why?" she asked, tears starting in her eyes. "Why are you helping me? They are going to kill you!" Her voice was full of grief: she didn't want her savior to die.
"Don't worry about me," he said as he pushed the little boat into water. "Goodbye!"
"Thank you, sir!" was all Kamali could say before the swift current carried her away.
* * *
Ramiel Hartwell was sitting on the veranda outside of his bedroom. The veranda overlooked a beautiful lake, the sun was rising and steam hovered over the glossy water. Ramiel had arisen early and sat with his big white dog at his feet, listening to the surrounding village come to life. A light breeze ruffled his hair and played with the fringes of his faded red nightshirt.
He had first come to this village when he was just a young boy, exhausted from hunger and blood-loss, clutching a bedraggled white puppy. His own village had been sacked by a group of bandits who murdered his friends and family, and burnt the whole place to the ground. Ramiel was the only one who escaped. He wandered alone for days, eyes hollow with shock and unspeakable grief. Eventually he found the village and experienced healing and friendship.
Ramiel was pondering these memories when his dog got up suddenly and sniffed the air. He whined softly and pointed his nose toward the lake. Curious, Ramiel looked out over the water and, as the mist cleared a little, he noticed that a small boat had washed up on the shore.
"How strange," he muttered under his breath. "Come, Wolf. There may be something of value inside."
They walked across the stony beach toward the little boat, the dim morning light revealed nothing until they were quite close. When they peered inside, Ramiel found something that made his heart stop. It was a girl, she lay in the bottom of the boat, unconscious and as pale as death. Stunned, he took in her unusual appearance for a moment. Long dark hair, slight frame and unfamiliar mountain clothing. But above all, he saw her scars. From head to toe she was covered in them, and Ramiel's heart was filled with sorrow as he imagined what might have caused them. With utmost care he lifted her out of the boat; her emaciated form was feather-light in his arms. Slowly she opened her brilliant blue eyes. Startled, she stared at him; her eyes were filled with fear.
"Don't be afraid," Ramiel said reassuringly. "You'll be safe here, I promise."
Weakly, Kamali nodded, seeming to believe Ramiel's impulsive claim. Then, exhausted, she shut her eyes and fell limp once again.