Banished (Forbidden)

By: Kimberley Griffiths Little

1


A dirty, callused hand slapped down over my mouth and the stale breath of a man hissed in my ear. “Don’t move or I’ll slit your pretty little neck.”

I clawed at the stranger’s cloak, trying to push him off, but he was too heavy. A moment later, I realized my ankles were tied together. I couldn’t run, couldn’t even move. Shrieks gurgled in my throat as if I was drowning, his hand cutting off my air.

Last evening’s fire was nearly extinct and a cold, wretched moon shone a pillar of silver across the hollow I’d nestled myself into. This was my last night in the hills of Mari before I headed into the desert with my camel.

Only one day into my journey to find Kadesh and I was already dead.

The sharp tip of a blade pressed against my neck, and I whimpered.

I’d planned to be gone by dawn. Leave behind the city of Mari, and Sahmril, my baby sister who was lost to me when her adoptive parents refused to give her back. The promise I’d made to my mother to keep her safe was broken.

“Give me the frankincense of the stranger we killed.” The man’s foul breath dragged across my face. He was referring to Kadesh, the boy I loved, who’d been murdered by Horeb, the prince of my tribe. I’d watched Horeb plunge his sword into Kadesh and then order his soldiers to drag his body off.

Shock flooded me when I realized who my attacker was. I wrenched his fingers away from my mouth and with a raw voice said, “Gad? What are you doing lurking about the cliffs of Mari?”

This man was a childhood friend of Horeb’s and one of my own tribesmen. His body pressed against mine, and I writhed in disgust.

There was only one reason Gad was in the foothills of Mari, far from the oasis of Tadmur where my tribe camped for the summer. He was a member of Horeb’s army.

Horeb, my betrothed. The man who’d attacked and scarred me. Blackmailed me for the murder of his father to hide the fact that he’d killed Abimelech so he could steal the tribal crown. He thought the kingship gave him the right to murder Kadesh—because Kadesh had stolen me away. Horeb was the boy I knew as a child, ran foot races with, fought with stick swords, and tended baby camels with.

He was now the king of the Nephish tribe, and he’d been hunting me for weeks. If he found me he’d either kill me or lock me up in chains as his wife. Guarded by soldiers so I wouldn’t slit my own wrists.

Nausea rose up my throat as Gad’s beard grazed my cheek. He smelled vile and filthy. “Tell me where the frankincense is,” he murmured, his hand hovering over my face. “If you refuse, I’ll shove my dagger into your heart—then strip you naked to find the nuggets myself.”

Flashes of that night when Horeb tried to rape me at the oasis pond crashed through my senses. I couldn’t relive such an attack again.

Gad grinned and I knew he was thinking the same thing. “It’s too bad Horeb’s paying a ransom to get you back. If not, I’d be doing more than just stealing your frankincense.”

I tried to swallow. “But I have nothing!”

“Liar! You were seen at the camel markets in Mari. You had frankincense and now I want the rest of it.”

“I spent everything on the camel—I can’t walk to Tadmur on foot!”

His fingers slinked along my waist and hips, fumbling in my dress pockets.

“Touch me and I’ll kill you,” I threatened, shifting as he searched, which freed my arm to reach the knife strapped to my thigh.

An amused smile spread across Gad’s face. “There’s a rumor that you’re fairly adept with a knife.”

I shuddered. So Horeb was bragging about the fact that he’d branded my body with a knife to claim me as his so nobody else would want me.

“Where is Horeb?” I asked to distract him. “I thought he and I would travel together.”

Gad’s laugh was scornful. “You’re a terrible liar.”

“And when I see him next,” I continued, “I’ll tell him you’re a deserter and a thief—and tried to attack his betrothed.”

Surprise streaked his ugly face. He obviously didn’t expect me to fight back.

“I know you’re on the run. Give me the wealth.”

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