The Village of Hope (part four)

Kamali sat by the hearth at Dianthe's cottage, trying to warm herself after the drenching. Dusk was falling outside, she could hear the gentle lapping of the lake against the shore. Ramiel and Dianthe sat nearby; Kamali had to practically drag Ramiel over to the cottage so Dianthe could treat the gash on his forehead. "It's just a scratch," he had insisted. A second later he had collapsed in the dirt, dizzy from blood-loss.

He winced as the old woman washed the blood away and wrapped clean linen strips around his head. His hair stuck out in odd places; oblivious to this, he looked questioningly at Kamali's amused expression.

After they had eaten a light supper Kamali retired to her room. "What a strange boy. . ." she thought sleepily. "Doesn't he know how broken I am? Can't he tell just by looking at me that I'm so -- imperfect? Why would he care about me?" But, for some reason he did care about her, and with that peaceful thought she drifted off to sleep.

Late in the night she was awakened by sharp rap at the window.

She sat up, "Ramiel?" she asked groggily. She looked out the window and her heart gave a terrified leap. It was a statue. The statue. It was alive and carrying a greenish lantern, beckoning her. She felt as if she would faint. No, she would not do this again. She had finally found peace and friendship, but now her demon had returned to haunt her pitilessly. It spoke to her through the window.

"Kamali . . . no one can hide from me. Did you really think you could escape? You must be punished for what your father did. He defied me and paid the price for it, but that isn't enough. You must also suffer . . . your father failed to sacrifice to me, and I will take out my anger on your pathetic human body. Come with me, or your precious villagers will be penalized for you. I'll kill them, every single one."

At this, Kamali's resolution failed and she hung her head. "No, don't hurt them. I'll come." Quietly she crept out the window, following the demon-god. It floated along the ground, its lantern cast an eerie glow over the path. He led her deep into the darkened forest to a huge, gnarled tree. Its branches were bare and it looked menacing. Kamali knelt in the dirt to receive her beating. The demon whipped her mercilessly for running away, worse than she ever remembered. The lash tore at her arms and legs leaving ragged wounds. Sweat dripped into her eyes and she cried out. Finally it was over, the sun began to peek over the horizon. The statue vanished in a puff of smoke.

Weak and shaking, Kamali picked herself up off the ground and stumbled along the path back to the village. When she reached the village gate she couldn't take another step; her vision grew dark and she collapsed. Vaguely she heard the distressed cries of villagers and felt people gathering round her. Suddenly someone broke through the crowd and knelt beside her.

"What happened?" he asked severely.

"That would be Ramiel . . . " thought Kamali, dreading his reaction. She looked up at him, he was bending over her anxiously, protectively.

"Calm down," Kamali mumbled. "I'm fine. Jus' tripped again," her voice slurred a little.

Incredulous, Ramiel stared at her. He looked as though he was going to protest, but then seemed to set the matter aside for the moment. Obviously aggravated, he merely sighed, and nodded at her pathetic excuses and reassurances that everything was all right. Slowly, he helped her limp back to Dianthe's cottage.

Three days passed thus: every morning Ramiel found Kamali collapsed just inside the village gates. With every day that passed the injuries she returned with grew progressively worse. Each day she gave her hackneyed excuses in a strained, falsely cheerful voice. When Ramiel worriedly demanded an explanation, she exclaimed that he was clearly overreacting. Everything was just fine, she said would say, almost convincing everyone. But Ramiel knew better. Time after time Ramiel approached her with leading questions, each time he received phrases such as: "I was out for an early morning jog, when I stumbled and rolled down a hill." He even caught her trying to pass off her injuries as "a vicious recurring rash." Kamali quickly grew tired of trying to keep all of her excuses straight and soon gave up on it, simply refusing to answer.

On the evening of the fourth day Kamali sat motionless as Dianthe busily tended to the injuries she had returned with that morning. Kamali endured the occasional tut-tuts and exclamations of dismay that Dianthe uttered under her breath. Kamali was completely silent, not answering a single word to the questions with which Dianthe peppered her. Ramiel sat with them as usual, glaring at Kamali from across the room. Kamali stared at floor, refusing to meet his gaze. Her cheeks blazed with shame, but she absolutely refused to explain what had actually happened. She could how see much Ramiel wanted to help, she could see in his eyes that he was in agony. But that was the problem, she feared that he would stop at nothing to save her. If he were to do anything to defy the demon statue, she was certain that the demon would kill them all.

When Dianthe had finished, Ramiel stood up.

"Dianthe," he said quietly, "may I please speak to Kamali, alone?"

Dianthe nodded and left the room. Ramiel walked over to Kamali and stood silently for a moment. The fire crackled in the hearth, the sound of a distant owl came in through the open window. Kamali braced herself for the exchange she knew was coming.

Finally, Ramiel spoke.

"Kamali, what is going on?" His voice was pained.

She shook her head. "I can't . . ."

Ramiel looked at her pleadingly, "Yes you can! You must! Please . . ."

"No," Kamali said sadly, "Ramiel, this is something I have to deal with by myself. I'm sorry."

Ramiel threw up his hands, exasperated. "Let me help you! I can't stand it, I can't stand seeing this happen to you."

"Ramiel, I'm sorry . . ." she repeated in a whisper. Tears began to well up in her blue eyes.

Ramiel's eyes softened for a moment.

"Don't cry . . ." he said, "I'll protect you, I promise. Please, I'll do anything, just tell me what's happening."

She wept even more at his words. She was left in wonder at his kindness. But he had proven her point. He would do anything, perhaps even die for her. Kamali's heart was sickened at the thought of him lying still and lifeless.

Once more, she declined to tell Ramiel how she had been wounded. At last Ramiel quietly accepted her unwillingness to explain. Visibly shaking with emotion, he turned and walked out the door.





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