This is a continuation from Chapter 7, where I left off. It took me a minute to figure out what I wanted Gael to have gone through to create the tense, distrusting, solo figure that he had become by the start of this whole story. I hope you like it! Critiques are welcome.
Here is the original chapter: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/AyumiGosu17/Kagiso--chapter-7-156234
Eleia smiled a little. She shifted next to him and kissed him on the cheek, light and brief. He couldn't help but smile a little. She settled down next to him again and sighed. After a few more minutes, she spoke through their spirits again. How did you come here?
It's a long story. It's not my favorite one.
Is that why you are angry?
He curled his nose and looked at her sideways. I'm not angry.
You are angry… at you. At the world. She smirked. I can feel it when we talk like this.
He sighed. "Yeah…" He closed his eyes and let the images run between them, memories from years ago…
He was a child then, but his skin was still as dark as copper. His hair was black and kept tied back, out of the way. At six years old, his hair had never been cut, and it hung past his shoulders. His mother and father at least agreed on his hair, that it could be kept as long as he wanted it. He came to understand hair as beauty and strength but also pride. His father was taller and paler than his mother, but he wasn’t a Man. He was a Magic One from the north, what the Men called Genver. He was tall and strong, with skin the color of stone and ears that were long and pointed. His entire physique was longer and leaner than the warriors and merchants he worked with. Gael’s father was at least a head taller than any of the Men in the city. His mother was relatively short and stout, a soft woman with skin as dark as tree bark. Her hair was black with calico highlights of red and brown. She was gentle and loving, but he remembered how she cried. She cried a lot, especially during the moons before the accident.
When Gael was eight, he started attending the school in the city, the one run by the Gwanaelan priests. His parents didn’t come for him one day, and after hours of searching, they were found. They were left lying in an alley near their home, with daggers in their hearts. Gael never returned to his family home. His things were taken from it, and he found himself in a larger home, with many beds crammed into single rooms and a couple of adults looking after dozens of children. They were all different ages, different skins, different languages. But they all had one thing in common: They weren’t happy. They wanted to be anywhere but here. Most of them shared a bed with someone else, and they were lucky to get two meals in the same day. Toys were scarce, so many of the older children took to the streets to create their own idea of fun. Some never returned.
A week after Gael was placed in the orphanage, they made him cut his hair. They cut it short, up to his ears, and it not only erased his last connection to his parents but it revealed his true parentage. His father had done well to keep his ears hidden, as most Genver were not welcome in the cities of Men. Although fifty years had passed, the Gwanaelans were still bitter about the war and distrusting of the Genver. Gael’s father had told him some stories about it, but he never seemed to think that the Genver were entirely to blame for the dispute. When Gael’s ears were exposed and the subtle points became visible, he was cast out.
Gael wandered the streets of Pagetonya. He tried asking for help, but he was often spit on and chased away. He tried covering his ears and begging, but he was rarely successful. He started rummaging through gardens late in the evening, stealing vegetables and catching fish in the river to get by, but it didn’t last. When he was ten, a soldier caught him and held him at the tower. The soldier was young and hot-tempered, and he had a public hatred for any who weren’t Gwanaelan. He wanted to kill him, the Genver bastard that he was, but justify it as punishment for thievery. The commander refused and took Gael home with him instead.
It was a house with a bed and at least two hot meals a day, but it wasn’t a home. The commander of the city guard taught Gael manners and politics. He tried to teach him reading and arithmetic, but Gael wasn’t interested. He took Gael hunting and taught him how to fight, but he emphasized that fighting was only for self-defense and providing for the home. He didn’t show affection, and he didn’t allow Gael to wander or mingle much. But he did let Gael tell stories his mother and father had shared with him and grow his hair back out. Looking back on it now, Gael understood why - that people of his blood were hated then - but in his childhood memory, it was just a prison, an enslavement disguised as a home.
When Gael was seventeen, the commander died, and Gael set out on his own. He rode through several towns, looking for work and finding nothing. His hair had grown much longer, and he kept the braids over his ears to help conceal them, but he still found nothing. He reached a village on the border of Gwanael and the Wastes, and he finally picked up work as a guide, hunter, and mercenary. He rode along with travelers and protected them, took boys on their first hunts when their fathers were either unable to or too timid to, and settled trivial disputes with his fist. But none of it brought him a sense of honor. None of it brought back what he had been missing for ten years.
Eleia touched his arm. “Show me the soldier again. The one who grabbed you.”
Gael opened his eyes and looked at her. He smiled thinly and shifted back to that memory. “You noticed him, huh?”
Eleia felt the image and blinked, gasping softly. “Is that…?”
Gael nodded. “It is. But he doesn’t remember me.”
Eleia watched him. “This… is how you know…”
Gael nodded again, looking at the stars again. “Yes. That’s how I know him, and how he is. I dread the day that he realizes who I am. Where I came from.” He glanced at her. “It’s why I stay to myself. I’ve come too far to go back now.”
Eleia bit her lip. She laid down next to him again, shoulder to shoulder. They watched the stars together. “How did you end up here?”
Gael spoke out loud this time. He exhaled slowly. “A troop of soldiers came into town one day, offering gold to anyone who would join an expedition in the king’s name. It was a lot of money, and it seemed like a good cause. The king of Gwanael wanted to use the expedition to branch out and meet other people, other cities and countries, bring in more… strangers like me. Make us feel welcome, and fatten the market with better goods. The first trip was more personal, just to explore and… learn the land. Hunt, discover, wander. A few of us signed up for it and came to the jungle, not expecting much, and… I was one of two who survived.”
Eleia blinked. “What happened?”
Gael lifted his shirt a little, exposing a scar on his side. “A dragon found us. My partners thought they could kill it for glory. It killed them and wounded me and the other boy. When we got home, we were paid for our service and parted ways. That’s when the commander here offered to pay me more if I would guide the real expedition.”
“Did you know it was him?”
“Yes, I knew. He was the one who offered to pay me.”
Eleia watched him. But he was wrong to you. Why help him?
Gael swallowed, and he lowered his gaze. I don’t know. I knew who he was, but he didn’t know it was me. He thought for a long time. He chewed on his tongue. He felt Eleia’s hand touch his, and he glanced at her. He sighed softly. “It’s hard to help someone who has wronged you before, but in a way, he also got me out of that hell I was living. I guess I… owe it to him, to an extent, and I want to feel like I have some degree of honor.”
Eleia cocked her head at him. “Honor? What is… honor?”
Gael looked at her. “Do you have hunters in your tribe?” She nodded. He continued, “Are some more… powerful? Liked?” Again she nodded. He smiled slightly. “It’s like that. Honor is having… strength, doing what’s right and good, being trusted.”
Eleia smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. “Then you have great honor.”
Gael blinked and laid still for her. He watched her for a moment, and he couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you…”
She fell asleep.