Kalal stoked the flames in the smoky hut in the farthest corner of the Rasheed estate. The busy street noise floated in with the dust. Medi was tied face down to a table and writhed like a snake against the bindings. He had a cloth stuffed in his mouth which stifled his screams. Jakira could taste sweat and vomit on the cloth that bound her mouth and it made her gag, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the boy.
“This one was a slave before, so you’ll need to scrape off his old mark and add a new one,” said Big Bulai to Kalal. She sat on a stool by the door, enjoying what little breeze there was. She lifted a heavy rock up and down, flexing her muscles, bored.
Kalal looked at the soles of Medi’s feet, found the mark and pulled a hot metal poker from the fire. He started to scrape at the boy’s flesh. Medi thrashed against the table. Tears fell from his eyes and sweat formed on his shaved head, splashing to the floor. The smell of burning flesh seared Jakira’s nostrils. Kalal put the poker back in the fire to allow it to heat up again and when it glowed red, he took it and drew an R in a circle on the sole of Medi’s other foot. Medi’s thrashing stopped and he went still.
“Passed out with the pain,” Big Bulai snorted. “Pathetic boy.”
Kalal smeared what looked like meat grease onto Medi’s soles and unstrapped him, heaving him off the table and laying him on the floor.
“Your turn,” Kalal said to Jakira as he approached her. She screamed through the sicky cloth in her mouth and fought wildly like the stray cat she and her mother had once trapped for food, when father had gambled his wage and there was no money for meat, but it was no use. Big Bulai came to help Kalal and together they strapped Jakira to the table. This is it. Once I am marked, I am a slave forever.
Medi’s golden brown eyes flickered open and he looked at her, the pain etched across his face. He looked away as Kalal pulled the poker from the flames.
“Here goes, little bitch,” Big Bulai said.
Jakira writhed and thrashed as Medi had done, braced herself for the pain as Kalal took her ankle and positioned her foot so he could reach the sole. She clenched her eyes and her fists and took a breath. She could hear Kalal grunting as his grip around her ankle tightened. But there was no hot, searing pain, no burnt flesh. Or perhaps it was so painful she could not feel it.
“Do it again!” Big Bulai shouted.
The flames sizzled as Kalal’s poker was shoved in the coals. Jakira slowly unscrewed her eyes. Medi stared at her, mouth gaping. She looked over her shoulder as much as the straps would allow to see the two slaves looking closely at her foot. Kalal pulled the poker from the flames and pressed it to her sole. She watched as he did it but she felt nothing. Why do I not feel the flames?
“What the fuck are you doing wrong?” The overseer grabbed the poker and thrust it against Jakira’s foot.
“She doesn’t feel it,” Kalal said with confusion. “It doesn’t mark her.”
“Impossible. You’ll feel this, little bitch.” Big Bulai used tongs to pick up a glowing coal and placed it behind Jakira’s knee. But Jakira didn’t feel it. The surprise on Big Bulai’s face made Jakira snigger through the cloth stuffed in her mouth.
“You think this is funny?” The overseer unstrapped Jakira and, with Kalal’s help, picked her up.
Jakira realised she was about to be thrown in the fire, and the fear of pain overcame her again. She struggled as she was launched into the flames, they licked up around her as she sat on the coals. She could hear Medi sobbing through the crackling of her burning sack tunic, but she did not burn. She simply stood up and stepped out of the fire and onto the dirt.
Kalal fell back, as if he’d seen God, but Big Bulai glared. Jakira looked at the skin on her arms, it had no new mark or burn or blemish.
Knuckles connected with her jaw and Jakira fell to the ground next to Kalal, whimpering.
“So, you don’t feel the fire, but you feel that pain don’t you. Kalal, hold her down. I’m going to carve on her mark.”
Kalal wrestled her to him and pinned her down. Big Bulai crouched and pulled out her knife, grabbed Jakira’s foot, and slashed an R in a circle on the sole. Jakira yelped with pain as the knife sliced through her flesh. When it was done, the overseer stood, her sack drenched in sweat.
“Bandage them and take them back to Jally Cook. Then clean up this mess. Master must know about this… freak.”
Kalal let Jakira go and she crawled towards Medi and slumped next to him, leaving a trail of blood in the dirt. The boy reached out a tentative hand and she grasped it.
The big male slave smeared grease on her sole, bandaged their feet and threw another sack at her to wear.
Later, after they had hobbled around the kitchen following Jally Cook’s orders for dinner, Jakira and Medi lay in the dark next to each other on mats in the children’s slave tent. There were three other children, boys, who avoided the newcomers.
“How did you do that?” Medi whispered. She could sense him close to her, but could not see him.
“Not feel the fire, not be marked by it.”
“I don’t know.”
He accepted her answer and went quiet.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For helping me today, for trying to stop them whipping me. I… I wasn’t a slave before.”
“I know, it’s obvious. I came from another household.”
“Why were you sold?”
“The master needed some money. My mother ran the kitchen and I helped out, but I wasn’t necessary.”
“Who was your father?”
“Who knows… another slave, the master, one of his sons, my mama never said…”
A sharp slap against the tent side startled them.
“Shut up in there!” shouted a voice Jakira didn’t recognise. “You want Big Bulai to flog us all?”
About The Sand Scuttler:
Ripped from her mother’s arms and forced into slavery, the beautiful Jakira is soon sold. Destined to become her new master’s bed slave when she matures, she’s put to work in the kitchen.
But whilst Jakira is being branded, she discovers she can tame fire.
Determined to gain her freedom and find her mother before she comes of age, Jakira uses her magic to ask the bloodthirsty God for a miracle.
When this fails, a desperate Jakira goes in search of a mysterious creature, the last of its kind, who lives deep in the vast desert. Known as the Sand Scuttler, it can bestow great power on the one it deems worthy.
For centuries it hasn’t met that one, until now.
Set in the same ruthless world as the grimdark, epic fantasy novel Melokai (In the Heart of the Mountains #1) and twenty years before, The Sand Scuttler tells of the early life of Ammad’s mother Jakira.
This adult fantasy novella can be read as a standalone story, no prior knowledge of Melokai is required.
Rosalyn Kelly biography
Rosalyn Kelly grew up in the magical New Forest in the south of England and has lived around the country as well as in the Middle East, and travelled all over the world.
She studied English Literature and Language at Oxford Brookes University before embarking on a PR and marketing career.
After ten years telling the stories of international brands and businesses, she decided the time had come to tell her own and her debut novel MELOKAI was written in 2016 after quitting her job, going travelling for four months and then writing solidly for the following four.
The inspiration for her epic fantasy trilogy came when she was trekking in the mountains of Nepal’s stunning Annapurna Sanctuary.
When she’s not putting her heart and soul into book two of the In the Heart of the Mountains trilogy, she daydreams about where to travel to next, paints with acrylic, reads voraciously and writes book reviews on her blog.
As well as MELOKAI, there are two novellas (THE FALL OF VAASAR and THE SAND SCUTTLER) and two short stories (PEONHOOD and THE TUNNEL RUNNER) also set in the same world.