It felt like a cat ‘o nine tails. The pale, white-haired boy ran, crashing through a stand of silverthorn trees near his home, desperately trying to outrun the fates.
He’d been skulking around the village square, trying to avoid being seen. He did that a lot. When the other villagers saw him, they threw things that hurt. Sometimes it was words. Other times, stones. This time he was lucky, they didn’t see. Instead, he heard two young women talking, trading gossip. They spoke approvingly of the men from the village going to visit “the halfbreed” and his mate. Said they were going to deal with them once and for all. He wondered who they meant until they mentioned “the silverthorn boy.”
They were talking about him. His parents.
So he ran. Right through the silverthorn trees, with their gray thorns longer than two handspans that ripped at his face and arms. The trees that gave him his cruel nickname. He passed through, only to see a group of maybe a dozen men dragging his father from their home by his deep blue hair. The boy stumbled at the sight, skidding to a painful stop several feet from the mob.
The men turned towards the commotion and hesitated, one said, “That’s his son.”
From the other side of the group, another one answered. He was tall, with cyan hair and violet skin. The whole group listened when he spoke. “Good. He needs to see this.”
“Tyros…” said another, still hesitant.
The one named, the one they listened to, replied, “He needs to see it! He needs to remember! This is what happens when we mix with lesser people.”
“Tyros, he’s just a boy,” said another man.
“He’s an abomination is what he is! Look at him! His mother betrayed her own kind and lay with a beast, and that boy,” he jabbed a finger towards the white haired figure laying in the mud, “He is the result. And so is this.” And then he began to kick the prostrate figure repeatedly. In moments, the rest had joined in. Some enthusiastically, some no doubt in fear of being next.
Laying nearby, the boy on the ground screamed as his father was kicked to death by men whose fathers and grandfathers had looked just like their victim. A fact they desperately wished to deny. So over and over, they drove their boots into the blue-haired man, until his cries stopped and he lay still. A final stomping kick, aimed at the man’s face, broke one of his tusks near its base. It went flying, and one of the assailants fumbled to retrieve it.
Tyros, the ringleader, spoke up, “I’ll have that. Makes a nice reminder.” Then he glared at the boy laying to the side and added, “For everyone.”
The boy scrambled to his feet, rushing to his father’s side. The man was bloody and bruised all over, and had breathed his last long before the mob had stopped beating him. The boy, in shock, sank to his knees and stared at the unmoving form.
Tyros, the ringleader, stepped between the boy and the ruin of his father and knelt. Holding the boy’s gaze, he said, “You’re lucky you don’t look like him, silverthorn. You look bad enough, but if you had the tusks you’d be right there with him right now, you understand?” He got a dull nod for his trouble, and went on, “You remember this in the years to come, boy. You watch who you try and mix with. You ever have issue that looks like him, we’ll pay them a visit too.” The boy could only stare, wide-eyed with fear, at the lifeless form of his father.
Rising and turning, Tyros led the group of thugs back to the house. As he approached he shouted out, “You have only yourself to blame, Ayella. You had to have known this would happen.”
Ayella, the boys mother, stepped out of the small house, where she had cowered in terror as the mob murdered her mate. She licked her lips and darted her eyes around. Like the men she faced – unlike her mate – she had no tusks. Her features were fine rather than coarse. Her nose was small, whereas his had been a beak-like projection that jutted from his face. But she had loved him more than anything in the world, save their odd-colored son. She also knew that to say so would enrage the men.
Finally, she spoke, her voice shaking with fear, “Tyros, you know me. I wouldn’t…do that.” She gestured towards the lifeless form of her mate. “He forced me, right? He had to, you know that.” Her voice shook and her eyes showed the lie for what it was, but she hoped these men would accept the show of loyalty. Eyeing her skeptically, Tyros turned his gaze towards the east wall of the home. Hanging there, in a place of honor, hung the braid. It was composed of the plaited hair of Ayella and her mate, the dead man outside. The ropes of brilliant blue and cyan twined together, symbolizing their union. An old tradition, that come from their forbears. Forbears these man wanted to erase.
Straightening, Ayella strode over to the wall and pulled the braid from it. Looking at the mob defiantly, she tossed it at the hearth. The dry hair burst into flames immediately, filling the small house with noxious smoke. The mob hastily stumbled out, coughing. The pale boy, still sitting next to his father’s corpse, inhaled the smoke as it washed over him. The smell was horrible, indescribable.
The mob finally broke and ran, the foul-smelling reek doing what their own shame could not do; drove them away. Tyros walked away more calmly, head held high, triumph in his stride. At the end of the path, he turned back and shouted, “We’ll have to see about finding you a proper mate, Ayella!” He grinned as he walked off into the trees.
Under her breath, she replied, “Crack your teeth, dung-eater. It shall never be you.”
With great effort, Ayella steeled herself, making her way to her fallen mate. She had to be strong for her son. Soon she stood over the body of her beloved staring at it blankly. She had no idea what she would do. She knew only that she had her precious boy to think of. She reached out to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. He did not move or speak.
Finally, she said softly, “Kal?”
Thousands of steps and an uncounted number of years later, Kalithil Silverthorn’s eyes flew open. Beside him, a woman with hair the color of the southern seas had awakened him with a hand on his shoulder.
Softly, he replied, “Nothing, Lily. Just an old dream. One I’ve not had in, well…a very long time.”
“Will you be all right?”
“I already am,” he lied.