Over the next few days I will be posting the first few chapters of The Times of Kerim. (The full book can be picked up here.)

I would love to hear what you have to say so feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.

1  WICKEDNESS

Kerim sat crouched in the locked cage in the master’s hut. She had been stripped bare and left alone for two days. Her body ached from the cramped conditions and the blood on her feet and fingers was still fresh. The small openings were covered with old, stiff animal hide which blocked the light but failed to keep out the cold. At the door hung a thick blanket, its hide was not that of an animal and she shivered to think what it was.

The conversations she had heard from the villagers, played over in her mind. She had to escape. Hour after hour she had kicked, pushed and picked at the bars. The burns on her hand were inseparable now from the other pains. Her body ached and trembled. Knowing what would happen was worse than she could have imagined. The entire village, except her own household and one other, were caught in the master’s sticky web. In the beginning the differences he bought were subtle, but now the contrast to life in the village was startling.

Recent life for Kerim had changed dramatically from days gone by. Her herd had become small, so small that she had been forced to trade the wide, lush pasture for food. The few sheep remained in the pen close to her father’s hut for their own safe keeping. Her father had also become increasingly tired and withdrawn, often refusing to eat the meagre meals she had prepared. Her brother now lived at the far side of the village near his master.

She had woken to the sound of her own screaming in the hours before dawn. Tears flowed down her dirty cheeks as she remembered how she had once rushed outside with a blanket wrapped round her. She was unsure if she cried now, out of grief or fear. Her only friend, Miriam, had been dragged by her hair down the track by the frenzied mob of villagers. The image was still very clear in her mind. There must have been twenty around her, declaring obscene things that should never be said about one she loved. Kerim’s father had appeared at her side and grabbed her about her waist before she could run down the track after her friend.

‘You can do nothing. They will kill you too. Please Kerim.’ he whispered urging her inside. ‘Hide.’

She had never seen her father look so weak and fragile. But his grip, however, was strong, and would not let her go. And so she had seen her only friend disappear, the one who knew her best and who agreed that what was happening was utterly wrong. Guilt plagued her. She had done so little to save her friend and now her error was being repaid.

Her father had kept her hidden ever since. And when she asked what had become of Miriam, he would not say. But Kerim knew, she had overheard conversations through her home’s thin walls. It seemed that the villagers were now at ease with the events. She shuddered to think of where the sheep had gone. Had they all been ritually killed? She retched at the thought of what happened to Miriam. The god of the mountain had taken those she loved. The whole village had taken some part in the evil the stranger had brought.

Kerim had not reacted well to captivity. She was used to the cloud filled expanse of sky as her ceiling, and the wide open space. Each day, confined in her home bought further trouble. The walls of her house had drained her of all energy and hope. The food had run low, but neither of them ate much. Kerim could no longer imagine life outside the house; yet she had not anticipated the torment she was now under.

What she first thought was her overprotective father and his insensible way, now gave her heart a sense of warmth. There had been no way of escape his watchful eye. He gave her privacy only when she needed it. Kerim had used those moments to expel her frustration. She wept now with shame for the muttering against her father and her inner rage filled with angry words. There was now little light left in her world, compared to her present darkness.

Somehow she always knew it would come to this. The terrifying memories would soon flood her. She could not hold them back. As she closed her eyes she willed them to disappear. The noise reverberated as if it was really happening. She clutched at her ears to block out the sound. She heard the chatter outside the hut as the restless crowd formed in front of the door’s path. And suddenly, she was there again, hiding in her home.

Kerim’s airways constricted as she focused on her brother. He and his hordes called to her father and burst through the blocked door. The wooden barrier burst off its hinges. Her father stood up, as the last line of defence. Outraged by his son’s intrusion, he demanded that they leave. Kerim looked at her brother’s vacant eyes. She no longer knew the man who stood before them. His warm smile was now replaced by a grimace; even his soft boyish features seemed hardened. There was an eager, hungry look in his eyes. She swallowed hard.

Any resemblance to the boy she had grown up with had vanished years ago. ‘What are you doing?’ Darius asked. ‘She is your sister.’

‘That means nothing.’ he said with malice. ‘Stand aside!’

Some others pushed their way inside. She could see a crowd forming outside.

‘I will not. What you are doing is wrong. This is all wrong. Please turn from this evil that has consumed you.’

Cackling, the broad body of her brother threw her frail father to the floor and snatched at Kerim. She dodged his hand and grasped the hot pan from the grate over the fire. She flung it at her brother, but it dropped to the floor in front of his booted feet.

He laughed at her attempt and bent down to try the stew she had been cooking. With an evil grin he lunged forward. She stared wildly.

Her blistered hands stung now as they clung to her ears as if to double the pain. She pulled them away and hugged her body. She found no comfort. The images didn’t stop.

Her brother grabbed her arm, and pulled her forcibly from the hut. She dug her heels into the ground, desperate to be left alone. Her traitor brother’s fingers dug into her soft flesh. Her strength outmatched, he presented her to the waiting crowd who cheered.

Kerim continued to struggle, but her brother’s grip was firm and vicious. He was leading her to the centre of the village.

There, perched on a large woollen rug decorated with gaudy, bright woven stripes, sat the master— a pale man adorned in a dark robe. He welcomed Kerim by flashing his row of pitted decaying teeth. Behind her, Darius appeared.

‘You can’t take her,’ he shouted staggering up the lane. ‘You can’t take my daughter.’

‘But we have.’ The master grinned. He reached out to fondle her hair.

Kerim cried at his touch. ‘Dad! Help me!’

‘This is wrong, it is evil.’

The crowd mocked and started to move away to prepare for the festivities.

‘This is wrong, it is evil.’

‘Please, my daughter!’ He ran after them shouting and pleading. ‘How can you depart so far from the truth? Please!’

A woman turned from the back of the crowd and struck Darius in the face knocking him to the ground, blood gushed from his nose. Her strength was unnatural. She spit upon the man and waddled around him.

‘Dad!’ Kerim cried. ‘Save yourself, get out of this place.’

Ashamed she sat now, with a wound across her own wrists, inflicted by herself. She would not even be given the dignity to end it here by her own means. She had no tools, but her fingers, and what remained of her blunt nails. She had ripped off the surface layer of skin when she gnawed at her wrists.

It was then, when she was at her lowest that she prayed. Her words were silent. She pushed back the horrendous images of what might come. The festivities, the celebration, the sheer evil. She would not be sacrificed for evil. Would it be the knife or the flames that would finally end it all? She would not give up; she could not give up; she had to escape.

He appeared silhouetted in the doorway. He strolled towards the cage with a white silk dress in his clawed hand and a bowl of stale bread and water in the other. The fabric as pale as his skin, draped loosely from his outstretched fingers. ‘Put this on!’ He demanded as he forced his hand through the bars. ‘The time is nearly here.’

He brushed his long fingers against her thigh. She shuddered at the filthiness of his touch. Her heart burned with anger. She pulled away as much as the cage would allow, and spat on her leg scrubbing at the place he had touched. His eyes shifted from her body to her wrists. He laughed as he fingered his grotesque necklace, ‘I see you have been busy.’

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