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PW #113: Adult Historical Fiction, Own Voices: BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS

Wednesday, 2 November 2016  |  Posted by Heather Cashman

Manuscript Status: Finished

Mentor Name: Holly Faur
Mentee Name: Hema Penmetsa
Category: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction, Own Voices
Word Count: 98,000


Sold by her family into a Muslim harem, Hindu girl Sundari must rise in power, even at the cost of losing herself, or be crushed by the harem’s brutal politics.



Hindu scriptures say forsaking one’s life for another is the highest form of sacrifice. Few humans are granted the gift of this ultimate redemption. I remind myself of this, clutching the Hanuman figurine to my chest, as keys rattle at the iron bars. I can’t tell how many days it has been since I was thrown into this dungeon, which stinks of feces and urine, slimy green mold breeding along its walls.

I rise, roll the piece of mat and set it next to the water pot.

“It be time.” A fat soldier in a dirty salwar-kameez lumbers inside. He grabs my arm, swamping me with the stench of stale wine and sweat.

“I’ll follow you, sipahi.” I shrug off his hand. “No need for roughness.”

He looks fully into my face—an insult for any respectable woman—with an insolent sneer and shoves me toward the doorway. I stumble against the iron threshold but right myself and step into the soft light of dawn. My eyes crinkle at the brightness; it’s more light than I’ve experienced in days. As a velvety breeze caresses my cheeks, I raise my face and inhale.

A high, circular wall hems us, and I crane my neck to see a bowl of clear, blue sky at the top. A flight of stairs coils upward to the ramparts of the fort. I’m obviously in one of the round watchtowers that had so fascinated me when I first saw them.

“Climb.” The soldier pokes my ribs with a spear.

Sweat breaks out on my forehead. I know what’s at the top of these stairs.


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