The last time Yan had felt horribly guilty was when he was Va’il’s age. An incident happened with his brother one day. The two boys were only a year apart, Yan being the older one. His brother was up in a tree, asleep on a low branch. Yan had just lost a footrace the day before, and so planned to take his revenge this day. He climbed up the tree until he was right above his brother. With all his might he roared at his brother below him. The boy woke up startled, and only glimpsed Yan laughing as he slid off the branch. Yan felt his smile turn into a grimace as his brother fell, and the horrible feeling of guilt became entrenched in his being when he heard the snap of an arm. Yan felt a little cold as the old memories were surfacing for the first time in years. Older, and wiser, the two boys had made up long ago, but the impact of what real guilt felt like sickened Yan.
Here and now, Yan’s comments were accurately dissected by a young child that Yan had casually dismissed as someone too young to understand adult matters, and thereafter an acute and depressing conclusion was drawn from them. Yan steadied his being for a moment, and tried to stutter out a word or two, but he could only open and close his mouth without word. He lamented that he didn’t yet have the training and mental resolve needed to guide a younger child’s heart.
“Hah, of course he couldn’t be the priest! That’s a noble position, isn’t it? Someone so important, of course not. But this priest job sounds interesting!” Va’il laughed twice at his comments, and then patted Yan’s shoulder. “So, what about your father Yan? I don’t know mine, other than that he is a human and alive.”
Yan looked at the boy, and searched for a tone of sadness or hidden depression in his voice. But he could find none. He wondered if the comments Va’il had made were simply casual comments, or if they shared a deeper meaning. Two things occurred to Yan. First were Va’il’s comments to the king at the musical, which Yan had attended as part of his duties to the school. They were direct, and devoid of malice. Simply true, was the impact that Yan had received at the time. The second thing was something much more obvious, which had completely passed Yan’s observation.
“You’re a half,” Yan said.
“Yes,” Va’il replied, “but that’s obvious.”
“That explains a few things. I wasn’t thinking before. I grew up around lionel only, so fortunately I lack the prejudice that you must surely be subject to.”
“Really? Well sometimes, but I try not to think about it a lot. I can always cry with Mai’ou on the days it’s really bad,” Va’il said honestly. It was also the first time he told anyone but Mai’ou that he felt bad when people talked about him.
“I’ll have to avoid making you my idol,” Yan said with a slight laugh, “even I have reservations about making such a small boy a person I look up to. It’s a height issue. How old are you, anyways? Nine?” Though Yan was joking, Va’il also found it quite funny to somehow be the idol of the school’s idol.
“You’ll address me as senior from now on,” Va’il said arrogantly, “even though I am only a small boy of just eight. I turned eight just last week.”
“Five full years and more younger than me?” Yan barely managed to keep his voice down. He had almost forgotten that it was the middle of the night, and other kids were still sleeping.
“I’m the youngest in my class, and I think in our grade. Even my two friends are about a year older, each. Apparently, it’s because I’m a half. I develop faster. Mum has been finding more stuff about halfs, and explaining it all very clearly,” Va’il said proudly. For once, he had a chance to impress someone by being a half, instead of the usual degradation and insults about his parents that he had to suffer.
“Well, I’m quite impressed,” Yan said. “Let me answer your question from a while ago, now that I’ve heard about you some. My father owns a very large vineyard. He sells grapes and wine. He wakes up early, works hard all day, and falls to sleep quickly. He has his own rules about how everyone else should live, and no one argues with his rules. Really, he is my hero.”
“Hero? Rules? I don’t see how the words are related,” Va’il replied smartly. Va’il smiled a bit, since he knew that truthfully, Mai’ou made rule after rule for him, and he regarded her as his hero.
“Yes, really,” Yan replied. “He is a strong person. He is completely reliable and utterly loyal to his family. He does his work without letup. He is determined to work hard. Because he is so strong, he makes the rules, and the rules usually work. He can seem stubborn, but that’s only until you realize that he works hard in all matters. If someone doesn’t like him, he does what he can in his own way to change their opinion, and always in his own way. I cannot help but respect him, especially since he lives his life daily, simply, and consistently.”
Yan and Va’il remained silent for a while, only speaking again when they said goodnight. They both walked back to their tents. Yan looked at the other three boys in his tent before he rested. Here I am, he thought, idolized and admired by friends and schoolmates, yet even these three know nothing of the words I spoke to a child so much younger than me.
Yan mulled over the thoughts some more, and decided that he should eventually become good friends with Va’il. The priest in him had pulled out some of the more personal thoughts of the younger boy, which Yan was grateful to hear. In turn, the frankness and truth Va’il emanated helped pull out emotions Yan hadn’t had in a while. And never once did Yan feel or smell the thing that had originally woke him up.
Before talking with Va’il, Yan had suddenly woken up, fully alert. Someone, or something, was moving in the area. In the air was a faint smell that Yan had trouble making out. But he eventually did. It was a small bit of fear in the air, coming from someone who was outside. Yan listened carefully, but he couldn’t hear anything after he had woken up. He knew something had disturbed his sleep, but it hadn’t woken him until it was already gone. He had gotten up as fast as he could while still being silent, and left the tent. When he walked out, he smelled something in the direction of the forest, but he wasn’t sure. He then saw something shimmering in the moonlight. Shining blue hair and tail; it was Va’il bathed in soft blue light.
As he drifted off to sleep again, he understood what had happened. Va’il had walked around, which didn’t wake Yan, only set him on guard. It also spread Va’il’s scent around. The faint bit of fear was Va’il’s homesickness. Finally, what woke Yan was that everything stopped. The walking, the smell, and the fear all stopped around the moment Va’il sat to stare at the moon. To a beast on its guard, any change from one instant to the next can be interpreted as something being wrong. Things were definitely wrong.