Chapter 3:

A day of dreams, doubt and dejection

The Journey

As they got out of the tents, they felt the cold in their skin, which together with the wind created a freezing sensation. Bookmark here

Nico, Gray and Natta had woken up and now, like all the other people, were dismantling their tent and organizing their stuff for the walk. It was way too much to carry everything with them, but luckily they had a cart to help get the job done.Bookmark here

As everyone finished their preparations, a man came from the front of the column of people that is the Flock. He was using a pan to make noise and gather attention as he shouted that it was time to start the walk and in which direction they were going. After everyone was already in the move, he went back to his previous position in the column.Bookmark here

Apparently, today they were going to pass through some hills and then go to a small valley to their right, turning to the left when they get to a hill at its end. The people responsible for the reconnaissance today had said that, going this way, they should get to one of the crystal pillars in a few days. There, as always, they would have some days to rest and be able to replenish supplies.Bookmark here

Besides that, later in the day Nico would meet the Shepherd, who would also hold a funeral to Nico’s parents and ask different families to help the orphan child. This was supposed to happen after dinner, which happens when the Flock stops their walk for the day, but Nico, Gray and Natta were supposed to be there before the event, so they had to walk faster than the others in order to reach the front of the column before dinner. Bookmark here

As they walked, Gray tried his best to talk with Nico, trying to cheer him up a little bit.Bookmark here

“Uhh, hey Nico, you see this cart here?”Bookmark here

“Yes? “Bookmark here

“I have to give my thanks for you, for your dad is the one who gave it to me. It helps me a lot.”Bookmark here

“…I’m not my dad, you shouldn’t thank me.“ After murmuring that, Nico went dead silent.Bookmark here

And so they both stayed there, without saying anything, until Gray started talking again:Bookmark here

“So… hm… Nico, have you ever tried climbing one of the pillars?“ Nico couldn’t see Gray while he said this, but just for the way he was speaking, he could see how restless he was.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’ve tried once. It was fun…”Bookmark here

“At such a young age… You’re really brave aren’t you?”Bookmark here

“Am I?“ He said in a humble manner, but with the slightly upward corners of his mouth, it was possible to see a smile of self satisfaction on his face.Bookmark here

“Haha, definitely!“ Gray answered while laughing, and then added: “Your dad also was the same.”Bookmark here

As soon as he said that, Nico went silent again. Why was he so keen on mentioning his father? Did he know him? No, everyone knew his father, there was no need to wonder about this. But, even then, it was a strange attitude nonetheless.Bookmark here

“…Say, why do you keep mentioning my father so much?”Bookmark here

As soon as Nico asked that, Gray stiffened up. He shouldn’t mention Theo so much and he knew that, but he couldn’t help it.Bookmark here

“He’s a very important person to me, even if I wasn’t that close to him. I’m in debt with him. Maybe taking care of you is my way of repaying him for what he did.“ As he said all of this, Gray seemed… different. He didn’t look like he was nervous anymore, instead, he was looking up, with a guilty look on his face, like he had something from long ago.Bookmark here

Hearing this made Nico somewhat curious. But at the same time, he felt a little dejected. So, to Gray, helping him was only a way to feel better about what happened with his dad? In the end, he himself didn’t matter at all then. Bookmark here

And so, he ended up silent anyway. And Gray did the same. That is, until he, again, opened his mouth to say something.Bookmark here

“Hm… what do you think of going to play with the other kids? They must be starting to meet by this hour.”Bookmark here

Nico went silent for a moment, but his expression wasn’t sad at all, but he also wasn’t in the mood for playing at all. That said, he wasn’t enjoying the presence of Gray very much either, so he made up his mind.Bookmark here

“I’ll go play with them then.”Bookmark here

He father died, but it wasn’t like this suddenly meant all his friends disappeared, nor that Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

As he walked, searching for the other kids, Nico saw someone going towards him from the front, opposite to the direction everyone should be going.Bookmark here

“Hey Nico!“ The person shouted while running, waving to him. Bookmark here

As he got closer, Nico could now see it was Rocco, a friend of his and son of a friend of his father.Bookmark here

“Hi Rocco…”Bookmark here

“How are you?“ Rocco said, with a big smile on his face. But at the very moment he said this, suddenly his eyes widened and he raised his eyebrows, as if he had just remembered something important that he forgot.“ So… hm…“ He murmured embarrassed, without managing to say anything cohesive, as he looked away and rubbed his own nape“ Sorry for your loss… It must be very tough and… hm… I hope you’re alright.Bookmark here

After saying this, he took a peek at Nico’s face, trying to see his reaction. In his face, besides a lingering feeling of sadness, one could easily see his confusion, for all this change of mood was very sudden for him, who didn’t know exactly what to do now.Bookmark here

“…Thanks?“ He mumbled.Bookmark here

When he finished saying this, Rocco’s eyes were glowing with excitement as he leaned forward and immediately said:Bookmark here

“So everything is ok now, right?”Bookmark here

“Huh… you can think of it that way if you want…“ Nico answered without facing him directly.Bookmark here

At the exact moment Nico said this, Rocco jumped at him in a hug and both of them fell to the ground. Now, what they were carrying now was spread all over the place.Bookmark here

“…Be a little more cautious, please.“ He said, somewhat annoyed.Bookmark here

“Sorry, sorry.“ Rocco said as he stood up, picking his stuff from the ground“ Wait… Hey Nico! Look, look!“ He said while shaking Nico’s shoulder, nearly making him fall again.Bookmark here

“What is it?“ Nico said, annoyed.Bookmark here

“Look, do you see this hill there?“ Rocco said, pointing towards a small hill near them “If we can get there we’ll be able to see all of our surroundings from above and also make a shortcut to the front of the column! No, maybe we can get there before even the front of the column! What do you think?“ He turned his face back to Nico, waiting for his answer.Bookmark here

“…Maybe… I don’t know if I want to play-“Bookmark here

“Oh stop being such a coward. Let’s go!“ He interrupted.Bookmark here

He started running and, behind him, was pulling Nico by his arms. It looked like whatever Nico said didn’t matter at all. In fact, it looked like he couldn’t even notice that Nico was in a bad mood at all, but at least, as time passed, he looked more annoyed than sad, so Rocco’s attitude was having a positive effect.Bookmark here

“Hey, don’t do this!”Bookmark here

“I can’t hear yoou!“ Rocco shouted, laughing as he ran. Bookmark here

While running, Rocco started looking towards the roof that covers this world, or at least raising his head towards it, for he was with his eyes closed. Bookmark here

On the other hand, Nico was making his best to not stumble and fall over the ground, but Rocco didn’t seem to take notice of this at all, for he seemed lost in his own world now.Bookmark here

There, running towards the top of this hill, he could feel the wind going through him and imagine the faint light of the crystals illuminating the rocks. He seemed happy, no, he seemed like he was filled with nothing but pure joy. There was something special to him about the simple act of playing in this uniformly gray world that couldn’t really be grasped at. Yes, it was a desolate, inhabitable land, but to him, it was something akin to an extension of home. It’s empty vastness had its own unique sense of beauty.Bookmark here

One could say that, limited by all sides, it was nothing more than a glorified jail, filled with nothing but an endless sea of cliffs, hills, valleys and plateaus, but because of that, to Rocco it seemed like something bigger than life itself. If there was a philosopher in his place, he would see a world of nothingness and nihilism, but a simple child like him would only see a playground. Bookmark here

As they reached the top, Rocco finally opened his eyes. He could see all of the Flock wandering through the valleys and hills. The beautiful picture his imagination had painted in his mind was now getting a physical form. To him, this sight was truly magical.Bookmark here

“Looking from here, you can see so much that you can't see from the ground…“ He said as he stopped, and then, with a grin of pride and satisfaction on his face, added: “It’s like I’m the ruler of the world! I can see everything that this land has to offer.“ After finishing saying that, he nodded to himself, in approval of his own words.Bookmark here

All the while, Nico was by his side with his hands on his knees. All of that running had left him exhausted.Bookmark here

“Hey, look! The other children are coming here too to play with us!“ Rocco said while pointing towards a bunch of small figures at the base of the hill. “Before they come here, ask me something about this place! The king who can see everything will tell the answer only to you!Bookmark here

“How do you have so much energy after running to the top of this hill?”Bookmark here

“Booooring“ He said and rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner“ Ask something else, quick.Bookmark here

“Ok, ok…“ he first acted annoyed, but after a short sigh, continued: “Let me see…“ After saying this, Nico went silent for a while, thinking about what to ask. When he decided on what to do, he then said, with a more serious voice: “There’s a weird man who helped me some days ago when I was lost… He was different from everyone I’ve ever seen… His skin was brownish and he taught me to use rings in my fingers. Do you know who he is?”Bookmark here

“Hm…“ Rocco stayed silent for a moment, thinking. His furrowed eyebrows and the way he had his hand on his chin showing that he was struggling to find an answer “Well, it must be someone the Shepherd sent to find you and your family right? Although I’ve never seen someone like you described… Hm, maybe you just didn’t see his face properly and his skin wasn’t this color at all? After all, there isn’t anyone with brownish skin. For the ring maybe he’s just a very weird guy or something like that…“ After saying this, he finally added, nodding to himself in approval “Yeah, that’s probably the case.”Bookmark here

“…But Gray said no one was sent to help us…“ Nico said hesitantly, looking to the side.Bookmark here

Hearing this, Rocco let out a frustrated yell and sighed before saying:Bookmark here

“Let’s not talk about this. I dislike things that I don’t know.”Bookmark here

With Rocco shutting down this conversation without arriving at any conclusion, Nico seemed very unsatisfied, but even then, he resigned himself and didn’t say anything.Bookmark here

“Look! They’re already nearly here!“ Rocco said, indicating with his hand four kids who were around the middle of their way there to Nico.Bookmark here

“They aren’t near at all though…”Bookmark here

“Then let’s go towards them!”Bookmark here

As Rocco said that, he started to run downhill, with Nico following suit. Bookmark here

The other kids saw them coming and waved at them. They put what they were carrying on the ground and started running in their direction. Then, as soon as he knew it, Nico stumbled into someone, who touched his arm and ran away. It wouldn’t take more than a minute and they all were playing catch together.Bookmark here

Everyone had a smile on their face, even Nico. Some were laughing all the way through. It was so much fun. The weak but freezing wind was blowing between them, giving everyone chills because of the cold, but they didn’t care at all. The only thing on their mind at that moment was playing and having fun together. For a moment, his parents didn’t matter. For a moment, he was his normal self, playing like a normal kid.Bookmark here

Nico had so much fun, he wished this could last forever.Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

They played for a long time, but no matter what he wanted to happen, at some point he had to go back, for the column was already well ahead of them. So, even if he was already tired of playing with the other kids, he, just as them, took his package and started to walk to catch up with everyone else.Bookmark here

It did take some time, but he managed to do it, reuniting with Gray and Natta, and then, after some hours, they finally got to the front of the column. Bookmark here

There, they could see the carriage of the Shepherd. It was all white, covered by fabric of the same color. Bookmark here

As they approached, a man saw them and looked into the carriage, saying something inaudible in the distance. After he did this, a tall man in a white mantle came out of the carriage carrying a wooden staff.Bookmark here

“Hello and welcome” he said as he approached the three. “You’re Nico, Gray and Natta, correct?”Bookmark here

“Yes” answered Gray after slightly bowing his head to the man.Bookmark here

“Good. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve been waiting for this encounter.”Bookmark here

“I could say the same.”Bookmark here

“Awesome! Well, it’s already getting late, so shall we have dinner?” Asked the man, who, after being answered with a nod on Gray’s part, turned back and started walking towards a brazier. Bookmark here

The three of them followed suit, and there, everyone sat around the brazier, where the food was being cooked personally by the Shepherd.Bookmark here

As the food still wasn’t finished, they started chatting. That said, Nico was the only one of them who remained silent. Without gathering the courage to look directly at the Shepherd, who sat opposite to him.Bookmark here

Noticing this, after some time, the man decided to speak directly to the kid:Bookmark here

“I’m really sorry for you… In my life, I’ve talked a lot with your dad, although I don’t think I can say I was close to him. But there’s one thing I’m sure of, and that is that he really was a great man. He may not be with you anymore, but you don’t need to worry, for his spirit will be always here, guiding us through our never ending journey, and just like this, he will also be with you, always showing you the right path.“ Nico couldn’t see it, but at the face of the man, was a gentle and honest smile, one of true kindness.Bookmark here

Everyone stayed silent for a while, but soon the meal was ready. They all gave their prayings to Ahura Mazda and ate silently out of respect. Bookmark here

When they finished, they could already see people showing up to the funeral. Like in most events in the Flock, attendance was optional, but when it was the funeral of someone as well respected as Theo and Hilda, people who did so much for the community, not coming to something like this was frowned upon by society.Bookmark here

As people came, they all helped in making a funeral pyre, each one contributing a little, and some of the people closer to the deceased also talked a little to Nico, giving their condolences to him.Bookmark here

When they lit the pyre, everyone distanced themselves from it, giving space to the Shepherd, who positioned himself in front of it in order to give a speech. The only person at his side was Nico, as he was the only remaining member of the direct family.Bookmark here

“First of all, I would like to wish everyone a good day and thank all of you for coming today. It’s an honour to be the one responsible for hosting this funeral.“ He said and then paused for a moment, taking a look at the funeral guests and their reactions “Tonight, we’re going not to lament the end of two great people, but celebrate their passing to the realm of the spirits…”Bookmark here

Even though the Shepherd said this, to Nico this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.Bookmark here

Soon, besides the Shepherd, he couldn’t hear anyone or anything anymore.To him, even the wind itself seemed like it wasn't blowing, as if even the forces of nature itself silenced themselves out of respect for his loss.Bookmark here

The Shepherd was now telling stories about how his parents saved the Flock by being the firsts to notice and warn everyone when parts of a cliff to their side were going to fall down because of the strong wind, or the times when they donated a large part of what they had to help friends in need, and all of that besides many, many others of their feats.Bookmark here

But as time went by, lost in his own mind and thoughts, he couldn’t hear even the Shepherd anymore, for no matter what he said about how great his parents were, or how, as spirits, they would guide him and everyone through their lives, this didn’t help him even a little bit.Bookmark here

In all of these words, he couldn’t see a solution to his situation, nor a way out of his sense of loss. To him, saying that just continuing life as normal would make everything alright didn’t make sense at all. He had lost something, no, not simply “something”, it was more like he had lost a half of himself. Something changed and he needed a new direction, and letting the function of giving him one to a spirit simply wasn’t a solution to this problem. But it’s not like he could give him a clear direction either, unless he could truly convince him and make him wish to follow this path himself, for if he couldn’t, then it would all be a lie, a fake.Bookmark here

So, no matter the beautiful words the Shepherd said, no matter how kind he was, no matter how much he believed in what he was saying to Nico, he could never be like the mysterious man from that day. Bookmark here

“Now, some words of gratitude to the deceased from the family.“ Nico suddenly heard the Shepherd say while looking at him from above at his side.”Bookmark here

At first, he was a little confused. Then, he tried to say something. Bookmark here

“My parents… mum and dad… they were, they were everything for me… So…”Bookmark here

So now I don’t have anythingBookmark here

I only have memories, and a feeling of loss that never goes away.Bookmark here

He completed, or at least, tried to, because instead of words, there only was the sound of sobs coming from him. He tried to refrain himself, but to no avail, the only thing he achieved with this was, on the contrary, to start crying.Bookmark here

He cried. Tears were coming from his eyes, sobs from his mouth, and mucus were running down from his nose. He then also fell onto his knees, all the while, his hands covered his face. Bookmark here

Everyone stayed there, silent and still, observing the kid cry. Some of them, sympathizing with him, had a melancholic look on their faces, others, who were there only because of the societal pressure, didn’t care at all, but one, not even a single soul, dared to say a word. Bookmark here

After a while like this, he felt something touching his shoulder and, when he turned his head to see what it was, he saw Gray.Bookmark here

With help from him, Nico stood up. He wasn’t able to show gratitude to his parents in the way tradition required, but as he was a child, no one really showed to have a problem with it, and the ceremony proceeded as planned.Bookmark here

Now, some men came and put various herbs on the ground, distributed in a circle around the pyre. Inside this circle, the only person allowed to enter was Nico.Bookmark here

Then, one by one, the Shepherd lit the groups of herbs on fire, creating a smokescreen, occulting Nico and the pyre inside the smoke circle.Bookmark here

As the smoke spread inside the circle itself, the semi occulted flickering flames of the pyre started to take form. First he could see his father, who was holding him in the air with his hands. They were both happily laughing and going around in circles.Bookmark here

Then, he disappeared, being substituted by the sight of his mother, who, with a wide smile on her face, was observing him from a distance playing with his friends.Bookmark here

With time, she also disappeared, now he was alone with his friends, and both of his parents were nowhere to be seen. But even then, he had a smile on his face just like everybody else. Bookmark here

At last, the other children also disappeared, and there was only him. But, far away, he could see a hill taking form, and on top of it, there was a dark and mysterious figure. Bookmark here

There was something about it, about this mysterious being, that attracted him, that made him compelled to go towards it. Bookmark here

He went one step further in it’s direction, and then, he realized it.Bookmark here

It was the man from that day.Bookmark here

As soon as this clicked on his mind, he started running towards the man. Seeing him, from deep within, something screamed in his mind “He is real!”. He wanted to see him again from the bottom of his soul, he couldn’t let himself forget him.Bookmark here

Then, he disappeared. There was no one to be seen there. He looked back, and saw he had crossed the smokescreen.Bookmark here

He stayed still for a time, dumbfounded. Somehow, he really expected to go there and see this man who shouldn’t exist again. Disappointed, the happiness which just now filled his soul now had disappeared.Bookmark here

When he finally came back to his senses he looked around to see if someone saw him. Thankfully, there wasn’t anybody there, no one had seen what he had done. If he did, they would surely think he was crazy.Bookmark here

He then returned to the smoke circle, and on the ground, he could see the most varied food. It was the sacrifices from the guests to Mitra, who was the god of life, death and fire, and Ahura Mazda, god of food and family.Bookmark here

Even though he was feeling dizzy and was having difficulty breathing, he put all of it in the pyre, in the same way it was expected from him at this moment.Bookmark here

As soon as he did it, the flames then took form again, but that time, it didn’t look like anyone he knew. Instead, he could hear a voice in his mind:Bookmark here

“Hello, child of man! I’m Mitra, a god and the great patron of mankind! As you invoked me, I’ll grant you a wish.”Bookmark here

Nico looked at what he was seeing, speechless. He couldn’t believe it, honestly, this just looked like a fever dream.Bookmark here

“Are you… real?“ He asked hesitantly.Bookmark here

“As long as you believe in it, I am. Now, what’s your wish?”Bookmark here

Nico stayed silent for a moment. A wish, he thought, what could be his wish?Bookmark here

“I… I want to know… Is the man from that day real?”Bookmark here

“Good question. But, I assure you, he’s indeed, real.”Bookmark here

“So I don’t need to have doubts anymore?”Bookmark here

“Only if you accept it within your heart. Only if you don’t let others decide things for you. Can you do this?”Bookmark here

“Yes I ca-“Bookmark here

“No you can’t. And this mysterious man? It doesn’t exist.”Bookmark here

He was suddenly interrupted before he could give his answer. The one responsible for this was a weird voice. It was coming from behind him and looked like a strange mix of the voices of all the people he ever met. Bookmark here

“Who are you?!“ Nico turned to his back and asked. Now seeing the shadow of a young boy in front of him.”Bookmark here

“I’m the same person as this guy over there.“ He said, but now with a different voice, one of a kid, and the same as the one from the god behind Nico“ But he has his own dreams, beliefs and desires. On the other hand, I gave up on them.Bookmark here

“What? What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“Let’s make a bet. Will you choose me or yourself, I mean, this guy over there? The loser will be the only one to appear next time, unless you reject him completely, then there will be you, and only you. I bet you’ll choose me.”Bookmark here

What was happening? What was all of that? A bet? None of this made sense. Bookmark here

But before he could get an answer, he opened his eyes.Bookmark here

None of them, the god and the shadow, were there. Instead, there were a lot of people around him. He was lying down on the ground, and in front of him was the Shepherd. Bookmark here

“So you returned to this world...“ The Shepherd then added: “While the holy smoke filled your lungs, did you meet the spirits and gods and found your way through your loss?“ Asked the Shepherd.Bookmark here

“Yes...“ Nico murmured without looking directly at the Shepherd. To the Shepherd, it was an answer, but, in reality, Nico was somehow feeling even more lost and disoriented than before.Bookmark here

“That’s great!“ Said the Shepherd with an honest smile, seeming genuinely happy“ So, let’s wrap up things for today with the final meeting.“ He finished, while helping Nico to get up.Bookmark here

The Shepherd then walked to a vacant space in the circle, with Nico following suit. Now it was the time to decide what to do with him.Bookmark here

From his position, he took a look at the elders and the head of various families. They all had keen eyes on him, and as he was the son of Theo and Hilda, most of them had an active interest in helping him, but only if he matched the expectations put upon his shoulders. On the other hand, adopting someone was considered a taboo and rarely ever occurred. His best shot was that someone might decide to arrange a marriage between him and his daughter so he’ll be welcomed into the household without being adopted. The other option was that someone would take care of him and welcome him to his household without doing either, but that was improbable.Bookmark here

Anyways, the Shepherd started the meeting.Bookmark here

“So, as you all know, Nico, son of Theo and Hilda, is now an orphan. Both his parents didn’t have brothers, so he doesn’t have any family at all anymore.“ He went silent for a moment, looking at the reactions of everyone present, including Nico, who seemed concerned, but also a bit lost since he woke up. Bookmark here

As Nico looked at the people observing him, he noticed one who seemed specially interested. He was an old man, already in his sixties. He was called Marco and already had great grandchildren, although these were all under 10 years old. He seemed like a reserved and cunning man, and didn’t really seem like a nice person to Nico. From the necklace he was wearing, it was possible to know he was a man of vast possessions.Bookmark here

The Shepherd then coughed a little to catch everyone’s attention again and continued:Bookmark here

“Knowing that, Gray kindly took care of him for some time and we’re all very thankful for that. But it still hasn't been decided what will be of the kid after that. It’s very important that we don’t let the children of the Flock unsupported and starving, and as the Shepherd, I won’t let that happen. So… does anyone have an idea of what to do?“ He then turned to Nico and added“ If you want to say something you can too.Bookmark here

Lots of people started to express their wish for Nico’s well being and give him small donations. In some aspects, this made him grateful, for a lot of people, if in his situation, would probably be left without basically nothing. People weren’t kind to orphans. On the other hand, looking at these people, he knew they didn’t see him as a person at all, instead, that only was their way to look good to the community for helping “Theo and Hilda’s son”. At best, some people were doing this because they felt like they were in debt with his parents, like Gray. Well, it’s not like he could ask for much more than that either, as no one knew him personally, and in accord with the traditions of the Flock, a child was nothing more than an extension of his parents. An orphan child was just an incomplete person, without a self of his own, someone who will be forever missing his other half.Bookmark here

After thanking for all the things he received, which amounted to something around two weeks worth of food which he had no way to carry on his own, the Shepherd asked if this was everything. It wasn’t explicitly said, but it was obvious to everyone what he meant: Would he be left to his own devices now, making do with what he had and the donations, or someone would offer to take care of him? Bookmark here

Someone then stood up, and started to talk:Bookmark here

“I, Marco, would like to welcome the poor kid into my household.“ Said the old man. He had a smile on his face, but it seemed strange, artificial. Not only that, but he didn’t even look at Nico, instead, he was positioned towards the Shepherd, barely taking a peek at the kid.Bookmark here

“…Well, you really have the conditions to take care of him…“ murmured the Shepherd who tensed up, before adding softly, in an inaudible manner “but…”Bookmark here

“Amazing! Well…“ Marco then turned his face towards Nico, looking at him from above“ I only would like to add that I would like it if he married my great granddaughter, Anna. As he doesn’t have a family to decide for him, the choice is up to you, Mr Shepherd. Bookmark here

As Nico looked back at the man, his mouth was slightly open, and his eyes slightly narrowed in despair. He was in fear of what would happen if the Shepherd accepted the proposal, for the man looked at him as if he wasn’t even a human, but an object.Bookmark here

The Shepherd was about to agree, when someone interrupted him.Bookmark here

“I would also like to continue to take care of him!”Bookmark here

It was Gray who said that, having suddenly stood up. He looked determined, with his gaze fixed at Marco.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, but are you sure?“ Replied the old man“ I have my doubts about if this is a good idea.Bookmark here

“Yes, I’m sure of my decision.“ Gray affirmed. It didn’t look like he was going to back off.Bookmark here

“Well, you aren’t exactly someone with what to spare feeding and taking care of him. Your wife is long dead, you’re already in your fifties, and your daughter's marriage… didn’t go well, to say the least. Are you planning to marry her to an eleven year old to make up for that?“ Marco replied. He had an angry expression on his face, which surely was in line with his attitude, considering his aggressive retort, but somehow, seemed strangely calculated.Bookmark here

“Unlike you I don’t plan on marrying a child to anyone against his wish if I’m not even part of his family. And as someone who knew Theo since his childhood, I’m sure he wouldn’t want this either.“ If Marco was being confrontational, then Gray seemed like he was about to lose it. His fist was clenched and was shaking uncontrollably. Nico didn’t know why he was this angry, but from the look of it, it seemed like something had happened between the two in the past.Bookmark here

“Wait, calm down you two.“ Said the Shepherd, worried about the aggressiveness of the two “Let’s think about all of this better, ok?”Bookmark here

The two of them stopped themselves, recovering their composure, and nodded to the Shepherd.Bookmark here

“Well, Marco, I really am not keen on arranging a marriage for him when he’s still eleven years old and we’re not even family related. That said…“ He then turned himself towards Gray. “I also have my doubts on your abilities to take care of him, so I’m not really sur-“Bookmark here

He was interrupted by the feeling of something pulling his mantle. It was Nico, who quietly, but clearly, said:Bookmark here

“I want to be with Gray…”Bookmark here

For a moment, everyone stayed silent. Then, Gray left a sigh of relief, while Marco directed his gaze at Nico. He didn’t express anger directly, but his expression seemed neutral, way too neutral. With his eyes locked directly on Nico’s, it was possible to see, no, to feel, the contempt in his passive-aggressive manner. Bookmark here

“It’s decided then” the Shepherd said and his body relaxed.Bookmark here

When the Shepherd said that, all discussion was closed. Nico would stay with Gray. Bookmark here

People were already starting to get out when he decided to ask the Shepherd something.Bookmark here

“What is it, Nico?”Bookmark here

“…Two days ago, when my parents died…“ He hesitated for a moment, gulping before continuing while he looked at the Shepherd's feet “I came back to the Flock with someone’s help…”Bookmark here

“Someone’s help?”Bookmark here

“The person was tall and strong… and had brownish skin …He also used rings like this.“ he added while showing his right hand, where he had the ring on his index finger.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure of what you’re saying?”Bookmark here

“…Yes.”Bookmark here

The Shepherd sighed before continuing:Bookmark here

“People with brownish skin don't exist. And nobody went in search of you and your parents.”Bookmark here

“But-“Bookmark here

“I don’t like saying this, but it seems like I’ll have to do it again… No one went in search of you that day.”Bookmark here

Nico was starting to raise his voice in desperation, and tears were forming on his eyes.Bookmark here

“But-!”Bookmark here

“Not even a single person like this in the Flock exists or went in your search.“ The Shepherd said again, with the intention of shutting this conversation down once and for all.Bookmark here

“Then he exists outside of the Flock!“ Nico shouted and then started crying.Bookmark here

The moment these words left his mouth, everyone turned his attention to him. Someone outside of the Flock? That didn’t even make sense, how could someone exist outside of humanity? How could a person survive in this gray land all by himself? Saying something like this was simply being delusional. As everyone looked at him, with a mixture of surprise, confusion and scorn, everything stayed silent. Bookmark here

Then the Shepherd spoke up, seeming truly angered for the first time ever. On his face, it was possible to see his expression of pure terror.Bookmark here

“Blasphemy!”Bookmark here

After saying that, the Shepherd immediately raised his hand and landed it on Nico’s face, slapping him.Bookmark here

“Come here! Now!“ Next said Gray, nearly shouting.”Bookmark here

As Nico went to his side, Gray took him by his hand and after saying goodbye to the Shepherd, started to walk away. At this moment, Nico raised his face for a moment, taking a look at everyone around him. They all were looking at him like he was the most appalling thing they’ve seen today. Bookmark here

As he walked, he could hear someone saying:Bookmark here

“He’s not like his father. Coming here was a waste of time.”Bookmark here

At last, he saw Natta. Her face was dominated by only two feelings: Pure hate and disgust.Bookmark here

Walking by her father’s side, she aggressively asked, even if she knew she wouldn’t receive an answer at all: Bookmark here

“Tell me, in what sense is this crazy kid better than him?”Bookmark here

When saying this, she didn’t turn her face towards either him or Nico, and still wouldn’t do this for the rest of the entire thay.Bookmark here

After preparing their tent somewhere near there, none of them said a single word, and immediately went to sleep.Bookmark here

And so, alone and solitary, even when in the same tent as other two persons, he finished his day.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.