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The Village of Hope (part two)
Kamali was dreaming, she knew it. But that knowledge didn't lessen her anguish. She lay hidden under a fallen statue in a dusky courtyard. Tears streamed down her pale cheeks and sobs burned her throat as she tried to keep quiet. She was watching two armed guards escorting a man through the powdery snow. The man walked proudly, even rebelliously, though it was evident he was walking to his doom. Kamali could hear the executioners readying their weapons.
"I hope you know what this means, old man," said one of guards, sick pleasure dancing across his face.
"I'm ready to embrace the consequences of my actions," the man said stoically.
"That's not what I was referring to," the guard flashed a wicked smile. "Your daughter . . . "
"N-no," the man stuttered in horror, "Not Kamali! Please she's just a young girl!"
"Yes!" the guard laughed. "Oh, yes. She must be punished also. Since she'll soon be an orphan, the temple god offered to take her in . . . " he trailed off, chuckling.
At this the man became violent and yelled in anguish, struggling to escape. The guards killed him immediately.
"Father!" young Kamali cried aloud.
The guard with the evil smile stared at her. "Well, what a pleasant surprise," he said as he straightened his cap and casually cleaned the blood from his sword. "Seize her!"
Kamali awoke with a violent start, her breath came in gasps and her pulse pounded in her ears. She was in a dark room, lying on a straw mattress. The moon shone through the window, illuminating her surroundings. A young man came striding across the room and stood beside her, a look of concern on his face. Suddenly the memories of her father flashed before her eyes, waves of heartache washed over her. Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around her knees as tears slid down her face.
The young man glanced at an old woman who lay sleeping near them, as if seeking assistance from her. The woman was, however, fast asleep. He was on his own. He sighed and sat down hesitantly beside the weeping girl, trying to build up the courage to comfort her. "I know," he said slowly, searching for the proper words to convey his sympathy. "I'm sure what you've been through must have been very painful indeed. But I promise that none of the people here will harm you." He looked at her with sad eyes, but he gave her a reassuring smile.
She sniffed, dragging her sleeve across her eyes. She was about to thank him when suddenly a warm, wet tongue began to lick her face. Startled, she recoiled.
"No, Wolf!" the young man said, noticing her discomfort.
When Kamali realized it was a dog, she smiled happily. She took its head in her hands and stroked its face, immediately falling in love with its expressive eyes. Presently, exhaustion came upon her and she collapsed back upon the soft pillows with Wolf curled up against her. Vaguely she saw the young man smile and walk towards a floor pallet on the other side of the room. Soon she was sleeping once more.
Wolf was sprawled across her when she woke up. Golden sunlight bathed the patchwork quilt. The young man and the old woman were gone. Softly she pushed the big dog aside and stood up, feeling shaky and unnerved. She had no idea where she was. Everything seemed innocent enough, though, no one had tried to hurt her . . . yet. But she still felt that she should be cautious, just in case. She washed her face in the water basin and stepped outside. When she looked around she was amazed. Everything was so beautiful. She was in a lovely little village that was situated on a sparkling lake. Lush green foliage surrounded the village and provided shade from the late August sun.
As she stared in wonder she noticed someone walking toward her. It was the young man she had seen the night before. In the brilliant sunlight she could make out his fine features. He had a slim, muscular build with chestnut colored hair that fell into his grey-green eyes. His face was somewhat ruddy with an honest, though slightly reckless, look to it. He greeted her warmly but tentatively, as if remembering the fragile state she was in when he last saw her.
"My name is Ramiel," he said.
"Hello . . . " Kamali said slowly, blushing. She inwardly wondered how big of a fool she had made of herself last night. "I'm Kamali."
"Kamali," he said thoughtfully. "I'm sure you must be famished. Will you join us for our midday meal?"
"I would be honored." she said gratefully, as her stomach gave a loud rumble. Ramiel raised an eyebrow and looked at her, amused. Kamali blushed again and stared at her feet, she couldn't remember the last time she had eaten. The two of them walked slowly down the warm dirt path to a charming cottage that had large windows facing the lake.
They ate at a large roughhewn table inside the cottage. Villagers were piling up inside, they all wanted to see the new arrival. On the table there were all kinds of things to eat which Kamali had never even heard of. Smoked fish, flatbread, goat cheese, dried figs, roast duck, and barley stew. Also, for dessert there was fresh fruit, strawberry shortcake and plum pudding, all topped off with sweet cream. Ramiel led Kamali to a seat next to an elderly woman, who, she assumed, was the same woman that had been sleeping in the room with her.
"Kamali," he said, "This is Dianthe. She was the one who cared for you most of yesterday."
"Pleased to meet you, Kamali." Dianthe said, her blue eyes sparkled warmly.
"Th-thank you for your kindness, ma'am." Kamali stammered, overwhelmed by friendliness and generosity. She was quite unused to it all.
Dianthe smiled and said, "My dear, it was no problem at all. If you ever need anything, just come see me."
After that a little bronze haired boy ran up to her excitedly. "Are you the one everybody's been talking about? Wow . . . You're pretty!" he said, smiling hugely. "Did you really come from the mountains? Will you tell me stories of them later?"
A slim, kind-looking woman came up behind him. "Nikolas! Stop pestering the young lady."
"Sorry Mom . . . " said Nikolas dejectedly.
The woman smiled at Kamali. "My name is Linnea, and this is Nikolas." she said. "We are all very happy to have you here."
"Thank you, it's nice to meet you both," Kamali said, embarrassed.
"My husband is sitting over there," Linnea said, gesturing. "His name is Hadrian."
Hadrian looked over at Kamali, smiling sincerely in welcome. "'Good to have you here, Kamali."
Later, when they had all eaten their fill, everyone's eyes turned to Kamali.
"Kamali, dear," Dianthe began, "we would all like to hear your story--"
"Only if you feel comfortable telling us," interrupted Ramiel, considerately. "We'd like to know if we could help you somehow . . . " Ramiel trailed off under Kamali's suddenly defensive gaze.
"They can't know," thought Kamali. She was sure that the temple demon-god would find her eventually, she would never be free of her torment. "These are the sort of people that will likely involve themselves, regardless of risk, if they discover what I've been through." The villagers had been so good to her; Kamali couldn't let them try to help her. This was her own problem, she mustn't involve others. Hastily, Kamali invented a story.
"Yes, it's true that I came from the mountains," she began, "as you can tell by my clothing. One day I was out on the stream . . . er, fishing, when it started to rain. There was a flash flood and my boat went out of control and took me rapidly downstream. The current was so strong that I couldn't paddle to shore. I just drifted for awhile; eventually I ran out of supplies and floated, unconscious, into your lake." She finished her feeble story abruptly. No one appeared to believe her.
One of the villagers, a portly man with a caring face, looked at her skeptically. "But how did you get all those scars?" he asked, scratching his bald head. Ramiel shot him a look; the man looked back at him, abashed.
"Well," she said, "I trip a lot. I'm extremely clumsy. Also, I used to have a pet bear. He was nice, but had sharp claws." Kamali looked around at the staring eyes, some people had their mouths open in shock.
Ramiel was entirely unconvinced. "A pet bear." he said flatly. Their eyes met and Kamali saw that, in addition to not believing her, he was grieved by her dishonesty. She felt guilty and ashamed, but it was for the best . . . wasn't it?