Chapter 1- An eventful day
Continuous sounds echoed throughout the forest. Whack! Whack! Whack! It was the sound of someone chopping wood. From the hundreds of trees, one was already in the ground busily being hacked by a young man.
He had removed his shirt and the sweat glistened on his broad back. His red hair at the nape of his neck was already wet but he did not stop. He needed to carry a part of the tree trunk home before it got dark. The last time he had decided to chop the wood here in the forest and carried it as a pile earned him an encounter with the wolves.
With a last swing of his arms he successfully separated a region of the trunk. He let go his axe and stretched his back. He wiped the sweat from his face and took the tunic he laid down on one of the bushes and wore it. He would come tomorrow to pick up the rest of the trunk.
He wrapped the trunk with rope, not forgetting to include his axe too. And with a swing it lay at his back as he began trudging back home. They were other people in the forest. Hunters and woodcutters like him but they ignored him. Some even gave him disdainful looks. Gavin was used to it and didn’t let it bother him.
When he saw his house he heaved a sigh of relief. With an ample amount of time left, he could cook dinner, a rabbit he caught earlier, and weed the small garden he made at the back of his cottage. All before the sun sets.
Then he noticed the door was ajar. Gavin frowned. It was not as if there were some valuables in his home but he always made sure to close the door before he left.
Then he heard a horse’s neigh and saw a chestnut colored horse tied to the woodshed.
Gavin slowly lowered the tree trunk from his back to the ground. Careful so that it would not make a sound. He then grabbed his axe and move towards the door. This was not the first time someone got inside his house. Sometimes it was just some travelers that needed a place to stay the night but sometimes they were people from the village. And that was the kind of situation when he needed to protect himself.
He gripped his axe as he took a deep breath. He pushed the door slightly and it swung opened with a creak. As he stepped inside he noticed the stranger inside. It was hard to miss him. It was small house with only 3 furnishing; a bed, 2 stools and a table. And that stranger was sitting on one of the stools.
The man had brown hair and instead looking guilty at entering someone else’s home, the man looked quite relaxed. He was even rubbing his bushy beard with his thumb and finger while he looked at Gavin thoughtfully.
Gavin knitted his brows, “Who are-”
“I see you have grown to a fine young man, lad” The man interrupted. “Aye, you were tall for your age but look at you now! Why, you look like you can wrestle a bear and win!” The man gave a hearty laugh that echoed throughout the small house.
Gavin’s eyes became ad round as saucers. He knew this laugh, that infectious laugh. “Uncle Morgan?”
The man stood and spread his arms. “Come here lad and give your uncle a hug.”
Gavin dropped the axe and immediately went to hug his uncle. It has been a long time, a really long time, since he had experience an affectionate hug. He could feel moisture gathering in his eyes as his uncle embraced him back.
“Unbelievable! You were only up to my shoulder when I left and now you’re even taller than me! How old are you now? Twenty right? I guessed it correctly, right?”
Gavin let out a laugh as he let go his uncle. The last time they saw each other was four years ago. He left a little bit after his mother died.
He was all alone in these last four years and now his uncle finally came back.
“We should celebrate!” Morgan announced. “I have souvenirs for you and I even brought wine!”.”
“Calm down Uncle Morgan,” Gavin shook his head in helplessness. He was glad his uncle was still the same. His mother had often compared him to a storm. Quick to arrive and quick to leave but leaving all those involved confused and wondering what happened. “We have a lot of time uncle. It’s not like you have to leave imme-”
Guuur. . . guuur. . .
Gavin swiftly stopped his sentence. He picked up his axe and stood in front of his uncle. He recognized that sound. It was the growl of a wolf. He remembered it from the time he encountered them in the forest. He prepared himself as he faced the source of the noise and was startled instead.
The noise came from his bed. No, that was not what was surprising. On top of his bed laid a small child. It was a girl by observing the dress she was wearing but he couldn’t see her face because of her messy black that covered it. She was holding her stomach. The noise once again resounded in the room. The small hands squeezed her stomach tighter.
“Oh, are you hungry, lass?-”
“You will have to wait. Dinner isn’t prepared-”
“-yet. We still have that bread-”
“Damn it! Uncle Morgan, please tell me who is that?” Gavin could not keep the annoyance from entering his voice. His uncle didn’t seem willing to explain about this child. Is this also a souvenir?
“Gavin,” Morgan said in a scolding voice. “Do not curse in front of the child.”
Morgan suddenly felt a feeling of helplessness and frustration he hasn’t experience since four years ago. “Uncle just please answer me.”
Morgan paused for a minute before answering. “My daughter?”
“Why are you asking me?”
Gavin sighed. It was a long time already so he had momentarily forgotten but his uncle has always been like this. He loved him and looked up to him. But he was the type that moved at his own pace, often ignoring other people’s opinions and circumstances. When Morgan was just a boy he suddenly left their home only to come back a year later and then disappeared after 10 months. His whole life he only saw his uncle five times. He was always in the move disappearing then coming back with strange souvenirs.
“Uncle you have only gone for four years. It’s impossible for you to have a child this old.”
“She’s my long lost daughter?” Gavin only raised an eyebrow in reply.
“Fine I admit it.” Morgan said as he heave a long sighed. “She’s not my daughter.”
“I didn’t believe for a second that she was your daughter uncle.” Gavin replied with a dead pan expression.
“Ack! That expression! You really take after your mother.” Morgan exclaimed but there was a hint of gentleness in his voice when he mentioned his sister. Then he changed his tone of voice to a whining tone like a petulant child. “It’s just that I was afraid that you wouldn’t keep her if she’s not blood related to us. You have always been shy with strangers and I already promised the lass you would take care of her.”
“Uncle please,” Gavin felt an incoming headache. “Don’t say ‘keep’ as if she’s a puppy. She’s not a pet or- ooof!
Gavin felt someone tackle his side. There was no pain at all and he didn’t lose his balance. He was just surprised at the sudden action.
He looked at the girl who was holding his leg while looking up to him. He still couldn’t see her face but he could feel the idolization in her eyes. And when she spoke he felt the adoration in her voice.
“Gege, you’re going to be my gege right?”
“What?” Gavin was stunned. “What’s a gege? Some kind of caretaker?”
“Gege is a gege. I have wanted a gege for a longtime.” She said. Under that messy hair he could see a glimpse of white teeth as she smiled.
You wanted a caretaker? I know I chose to be isolated from others but is this some kind of popular game with the other people right now?
“First, let go of my leg.” Gavin said as he removed the arms of the young girl from his leg. He noticed how small and thin she was. He couldn’t help but wonder if she was eating well.
The little girl let Gavin remove her arms while still looking at him. Gavin could practically see excitement coming from every pore of her body. He couldn’t understand why she was so excited. Though her actions seem to remind him of something but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Next is this hair,” Gavin said as he squat to the floor making his line of sight the same with the girl. He began to brush her hair to the side with his fingers. White soft skin was exposed. A straight nose. Pink lips and small slanted eyes like a-
“SNAKE!” Gavin screamed as he fell on butt in surprise. The fear made his legs lose its strength but he still tried to crawl away with all his might away from the girl. The girl just looked confused. She glanced to her left and right as if looking for something.
“Uncle Morgan!” Gavin shouted his uncle’s name as he sticks his back to the wall, looking around the room while avoiding looking at the young girl. But Morgan wasn’t in the room. He was about to call out for his uncle again when he heard the whinny of a horse.
“What?” Gavin was stunned for a moment before he realized that the sound didn’t come from the shed but a bit further. Don’t tell me…
He ran to the door momentarily forgetting his fear. Right about now, there was something more important than a childhood trauma that he kept secret for years.
Exiting the door he immediately looked at the woodshed where the horse was tied previously. It wasn’t there anymore. He scanned the surrounding and saw, a distance away from the cottage, the horse with his uncle riding it.
When Morgan noticed that Gavin finally came out of the house he immediately started speaking. Morgan was practically shouting but his voice could be barely heard because of the distance.
“Gavin, lad, I’ll leave the little lass in your care. I still have something I need to do.” He said then waved his hand in goodbye. He then turned the horse with a pull of the reigns and galloped away not even looking back once.
“Nooo!” Gavin screamed as he ran toward his uncle. “Don’t go!”
Gavin ran and ran as he kept shouting his voice cracking, tears falling down his cheeks. “Uncle, come back! Please uncle!”
He stumbled and his whole body crashed to the ground. He stood up but it was already too late, the horse and his uncle were no longer in sight. He slammed his fist on the ground in frustration again and again.
“Why? Why did you come back only to leave again! What’s the point of returning then? Who do you think me for? Aren’t I your only relative left?” Gavin cried in frustration.
He wanted to say “if you were going to leave don’t come!” but he couldn’t say it. He felt that if would say it, his uncle will never come back.
“Gege?” A soft voice caught his attention. The young girl had followed him and was a few meters away from him. Her hair covered her face again but he could see a glimpse of her worried filled eyes from a slit between her hairs.
Right about now, he was experiencing a myriad of emotions, anger, frustration, disappointment, longing, loneliness. He was too emotionally exhausted and didn’t care about the young girl’s eyes likeness to snakes.
He stood up and passed by the young girl, ignoring her. The child just followed him, matching his large steps with her small quick steps.
He felt drained. He just wanted to lie down on his bed and sleep. He ignored the mess he left in front of his cottage. He went to his bed and saw a variety of items on top of it. A satchel, a bottle of wine, a map and a large rectangular item wrap in leather leaning at the edge of the bed.
He removed the items on top just letting it drop to the floor with a swipe of his hand. The bottle of wine rolled a few times in the ground. He then grabbed the leather bound item, intending to throw it to the other side of the room but…
“Oh?” He gasped. Surprising this item was very heavy. He didn’t want to brag, he was quite strong. He had wide shoulders, large arms, sturdy legs and a tightly muscled stomach. And yet he could only lift it when using both of his arms. He stared at it for a few seconds before deciding to unwrapped the leather.
I wonder what this is? In this moment, Gavin momentarily forgot what happened to his uncle. He couldn’t explain it but he wanted to see what was this object was. It was heavier than it looked. His whole mind was occupied with this thought.
With a twist and a tug, the folds of leather fell to the ground.
“A sword?” Gavin exclaimed in surprise. It was a large sword, longer and wider than any sword he had ever seen. Maybe because of its size it didn’t have a sheath. The design was simple. A handle long enough to fit two hands wrap in leather. The blade was almost a foot wide with a single sharpened edge. In the middle part of the blade, tied with cloth, was another sword but this time it had a sheath. Its sheath was polished black wood with patterns on it. The handle was wrapping in finely braided leather.
“Isn’t it needlessly large?” Gavin asked to no one in particular. He wrapped his fingers on the hilt intending to try swinging it around if he could. He suddenly felt dizzy. His surrounding seemed to blur and he could hear whispers echoing in his head.
“Why are they doing this? It’s not my fault?
“I hate them! I hate them! I hate them!”
“Please, no more, don’t hit me anymore! It hurts!”
“I want to kill them! Make them suffer.”
“Please help my mother. Please help her!”
“Cut of their legs, slash of their arms, behead them!”
“NOOOOOO!” From his hazy mind a screamed echoed and then he felt a sudden pain in his right hand. He let go of the sword, startled, his vision clearing.
He took a few steps back and looked at his hand. There was a distinct mark just above his wrist. It looked like someone sank his teeth on it.
“What? When?” He look at it the bite mark confuse, he couldn’t remember what happened. He looked to the front and saw the young girl with messy hair
She was standing in front of him with her arms to her sides. He couldn’t see her facial expression but he could feel that she was quite shaken with happened. Her chest was heaving.
“I’m sorry gege. You almost got controlled.” The young girl said in an apologetic voice.
“What in the he- what happened to me?” Gavin couldn’t help himself from shouting. He felt cold sweat at his back. “All I remember are voices and my vision being murky.”
The girl was silent. When she finally spoke he heard determination in her voice. “Gege just please don’t touch this sword again.”
Gavin frowned. “That isn’t an explanation at all!”
He felt frustrated and truthfully, frightened. It wasn’t just because of the voices and his vision blurring but because of the emotions he felt at that time. If he would have to sum it up, it was violence in its purest form. He felt like wanted to tear everything apart, he wanted revenge, he wanted to kill, he wanted to go wild, to swing his sword at anyone he sees.
“Stop saying gege! My name is Gavin!”
“What does gege mean? A nickname, a code, a title, what?” He screamed. He knew that he was straying from the topic but he didn’t care. So many things happened in just a span of minutes, his uncle arriving, a child appearing, his uncle leaving and now a strange sword.
Even if you summed up all the memorable things that happened in the last four years, it wasn’t as eventful as today.
“Gege… is a gege”
“That isn’t an answer!” He was frustrated. He knew he was being a jerk for raising his voice at a child but he was too confused to care. “What? Don’t tell me you can speak this language but you can’t translate that gege word for me to understand?”
“Gege is- a gege is-” the young girl said while holding her head with both of his hands. “Because gege is gege… that is why… he is a gege. Because… he is a gege that is why gege… is gege.”
“What the he- what is with that?” Gavin felt his whole strength leaving his body. The absurdity of that explanation calmed down his panic and anger. He slipped to the floor sat in a fetal position. His head buried on top of his arms that rested on top of his knees.
“Gege?” A voice worriedly sounded. Her voice was a lot closer than before.
“Don’t come near.” Gavin snapped. “I still don’t like you. I hate snakes. They slither and make weird noises.”
The child was silent and Gavin could hear the rustling of clothes. He took a peek from his arms and saw the young girl was sitting on the floor at least two meters away from him. The young girl kept glancing at left to right, as if looking for something.
Gavin could not help but be amused. “I was talking about you, you know.”
The girl stopped her actions and looked at him. She tilted her head to the side as if not understanding what he said. He was really reminded of something from her gestures but he couldn’t remember what it was.
“Snake.” Gavin said as he pointed at the young girl. He wasn’t really as frightened with her when her eyes were covered with her hair. He could normally talk to her as long as he didn’t see her eyes. “I’m saying you’re the snake.”
The young girl body shook in surprise. “No! I am not a snake. I am a xiao mei.”
“No! No! No!” Gavin quickly denied what she said with a wave of his hand. “Your eyes are small and slanted. I could barely see your pupils. Just remembering it makes me shiver.”
“No! Xiao mei! I am not a snake!” The child wailed. “Gege is mean!”
Gavin could not help the small smile on his face from appearing. For some reason he found himself enjoying this situation.
“I am a xiao mei. Xiao mei!” Not a snake. Xiao mei!” The girl kept protesting.
“Fine! You’re Xiaomei,” Gavin interrupted her tantrum. He had a feeling she will keep protesting until he gives in. “But call me Gavin. I don’t know what gege means but I perfectly like my name.”
“Eh?” The child immediately stopped her protest. “But ge-”
“I’ll call you snake if you call me gege.” Gavin said he changed into a crossed leg position. There was a smirk on his face.
“Snake or gege? Which will it be?”
The girl’s shoulders droop. He could almost see the pout on her lips as she spoke. Again, he felt her gesture was familiar. Where did he see it?
Gavin nodded his head in approval. He was glad he avoided being called by a weird name.
A growl-like noise rumbled in the room. The girl immediately held her stomach. With all the events happening earlier Gavin actually forgot about that this child was hungry. He remembered the rabbit he dropped outside earlier.
“Come on Xiaomei!” Gavin said as he stood up. “Help tidy me tidy up this room while I prepare dinner.”
He was about to walk towards the door when he noticed she was still sitting. He looked at her and noticed that she staring at him. He could see her jaw hanging.
She must be surprised. I kept showing her embarrassing actions not fit for an adult. I actually cried. Then I reacted strong because of her eyes. I’m sorry. I’ll try to be nicer.
“What?” He asked sheepishly.
The girl shook her head then smiled. She stood and followed him.
“Gavin, how did you catch the rabbit? Where will you skin it? Please don’t go too far away.” The young girl ran around him. She was quite energetic running back and forth, encircling around him, curious about what he was doing.
It was then he recalled what she reminded him of.
A puppy! The way she tilted her head, the way she droop her shoulders, the way she was always on the move reminded her of the puppy he had when he was young. Her stomach also makes growling noises. Hahaha!
The girl watched as Gavin leaned at the doorframe as he laughed loudly. It took a few moments before he was able to calm himself.
“You… Have you ever tried eating a rabbit?”
As they ate their dinner, thoughts about his uncle’s abrupt departure disappeared from his mind. He also forgot about the uncomfortable feeling the girl’s eyes gave him. Even that strange sword was overlooked. All he could do was stare at the little girl in front of him as she devoured her meal. The porridge, which he thought was more than enough for one adult and child, was solely eaten by her. She even complained that the food was not tasty at all.
“Were you that hungry?” Gavin said as he gave his own serving of rabbit to the little girl.
She tilted her head as she thought for a while before replying.
“No. It’s always like these.”
“What?” Gavin felt a sense of dread. “Don’t tell me you always eat this much?”
The little girl nodded as she ate Gavin’s portion. This made Gavin change his plans for the winter. He felt that if he didn’t they might starve within a few weeks.