Chapter 16:

Knock knock

The Journey

Standing in front of him, the only other person present there was his father, who stared directly at his eyes, without uttering a word.Bookmark here

He tried to move, but couldn’t. His arms were shackled to a giant, never ending wall. A wall of glass, beyond which was a land which he could not see.Bookmark here

He opened his mouth and said something.Bookmark here

In his mind, the words echoed, but outside it, they couldn’t be heard. Bookmark here

Then, after he shut up, his father pointed at him.Bookmark here

“No, you’re doing everything wrong, you…”Bookmark here

Nico heard carefully as he spoke, but what came out after weren’t words at all.Bookmark here

A loud, repeated noise, which at the same time that it seemed like it was faded out in the distance, it also seemed like a big, strong hit directly at his head.Bookmark here

His father began to disappear, and in its place, was a dark green canvas. Then, more and more, one after the other, knocks could be heard. Bookmark here

Unless he had overslept, this was still very early, so this was really weird… Was it Gian? Did he need something?Bookmark here

His hands searched for support, leading him to realize they were free now, as they touched the ground and he started to, still dizzy, get up, as whoever was at the other side of the door continued with his knocks.Bookmark here

Honestly, this was a little strange. There was no need to knock so much, he had already woken up, he thought as he rubbed his eyes, and then there suddenly was a weird moment of silence, where no knocks were to be heard.Bookmark here

Weird as it sounds, it was as quiet as it could get, not even the noise of the wind could be heard.Bookmark here

He walked slowly up to the front of the door, and then took a deep breath. He would now open it and say hello to whoever was bothering him with all these knocks, when, out of nowhere, a thunderous sound suddenly echoed.Bookmark here

Then another, and another. Each time, the door would form a curvature towards the inside, and small cracks would be heard.Bookmark here

“Open it, infidel!” “It’s all your god damn fault!” “You are killing us!” “Leave or we will put this on fire!” “Cursed heathen!”Bookmark here

They wouldn’t stop shouting. From all directions, they wouldn’t stop shouting. His body was shivering, and he could almost feel the tent trembling. Bookmark here

Slowly stepping back, his legs faltered and he fell with his butt on the ground. What would happen to the canvas? It was strong, for sure, after all it did have to resist the winds, but so many people, with whatever they had in their hands, might be able to do something against it. He could already see it in his mind, they would tear apart the canvas from one side, opening a big hole on it, where a tall, strong man would then enter inside the tent, with a large, sharp knife on his hand, and kill him.Bookmark here

Slowly, he crawled to the opposite side of the tent, in between Gray, who lay on his bedroll with his eyes open, terrorized, and Natta, who was curled up at the corner, trembling, with her eyes shut.Bookmark here

It seemed like only a matter of time until they would break in, with knives, rods of wood and steel, and whatever else they had brought there. What would they do then? What would happen to Gray? Would they murder all of them? He wondered.
Soon, he started to feel something in his eyes, they were wet and wavering, and he had his head buried behind his legs. With his eyes closed, he tried to find some solace, but the sounds wouldn't go away, so he covered his ears with his hands, but even then, they didn’t disappear.Bookmark here

This was all too sudden, it came like a storm, and even now he didn’t know at all what was happening. Would they break in? Would they do something bad to them? Would they be safe?Bookmark here

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, the tears started to flow and he started to cry, sobbing. He didn’t know what would happen to him or what he held dear and the fear was, for him, too big.Bookmark here

So, he stayed there, curled up, contorted right opposite to the entrance of the tent. Waiting for it to either go away, or finally finish them off. Not knowing what would happen, at this moment he wished he had the strength to stop this, to stand up and protect himself and Gray.Bookmark here

But he didn't have it, so all he could do right now was cry helplessly.Bookmark here

At one point, he heard another person shouting, a voice different from the ones from before, and then things seemed to calm down, returning to silence.Bookmark here

He stayed there though, silent, without moving not even a bit.Bookmark here

Why did this need to happen?Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

After what seemed like hours, not that he had really kept track of them at all, there was another knock at the door. Bookmark here

This time though, different from before, it had a different sound to it, not violent, nor too strong. Instead, it had a, now seemingly somewhat unusual to Nico, gentle touch to it, as if the person at the other side of the door feared to scare him.Bookmark here

“Nico!” he heard Gian’s voice shout. “Are you there? Are you okay?”Bookmark here

He slowly raised his head, looking at the door. There was a small hole in it from where a small shaft of light entered as the only form of illumination in the dark inside of the tent.Bookmark here

“Uh-uhum” he said, with a voice that had a lethargic weight to it, and probably could barely be heard from outsideBookmark here

He didn’t really want to talk right now.Bookmark here

“Could you open the door?” Rocco shouted after his father.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Nico?”Bookmark here

“…Later” he finally answered.Bookmark here

They exchanged a few words, but soon Gian and his family went away, to their tent right next to Nico’s and Gray’s, as Nico didn’t seem very comfortable talking.Bookmark here

They probably had heard all of it too, and they must also have seen the mob, probably… Or, actually, did they also get targeted?Bookmark here

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It was only at that moment that he remembered: he couldn’t just stay there, curled up, forever, he needed to stand up. So, first one foot, then the other, he did this and finally started doing something useful, changing the cloth on Gray’s forehead for another, wet one. As he did this, he also noticed that Gray’s skin was way too hot, maybe thanks to the nervousness inflicted by what they had just gone through. Bookmark here

Actually, looking at his face, you could almost visually see his head aching, so Nico rubbed the tears he had on his own eyes and put his hands to work, preparing the medicines the Shepherd had taught him. It didn’t take much time, and soon he had finished, giving the mix of tritured herbs which now constituted some sort of rough paste to Gray.Bookmark here

“Take this,” he told him, quietly. “Sorry for not giving it to you earlier.”Bookmark here

Yes, he should have done it earlier.There were no excuses.Bookmark here

With difficulty, Gray’s trembling eyes were directed at Nico and he gave a hesitant and weak nod.Bookmark here

…Yes, he also was probably scared.Bookmark here

Nico lowered his two knees in the ground, and then cautiously held Gray’s small, skinny shoulders as he raised his upper body. Graywas surprisingly light, and, right now, his members seemed extremely fragile.Bookmark here

“Here” he murmured, as he extended his arms around him, embracing Gray in a hug. “Don’t worry.”Bookmark here

Yes, Gray had already worried enough. He should rest.Bookmark here

He didn’t have to pass through this. He deserved a quiet, calm life.Bookmark here

Instead, he was the one who should assert that everything will be okay. It was his responsibility now, not Gray’s.Bookmark here

He would take care of him, and he would make sure everything would be alright.Bookmark here

He would do whatever it was needed, whatever that needed to be done, then everything would be okay…Bookmark here

And he would enjoy a happy life, taking care of him… Bookmark here

Gray would recover and they would talk all day, until one day when Gray would die of a very old age, and he would live happily knowing that thanks to him he didn’t pass through any other rough times…Bookmark here

…Right?Bookmark here

At this moment, he felt a weak touch, and a trembling embrace of slender arms welcomed him.Bookmark here

“Here…” a rough, dry voice of an old man said.Bookmark here

Once again, the tears started to form, and he began to cry. He sobbed, and Gray’s slender hand caressed his head, comforting him until the moment he would stop. And so they came out, one after the other, until his eyes went dry.Bookmark here

“Thanks…” he murmured, as he left his arms and lowered Gray’s upper body until he was laying back on the bedroll, and then stood up once more.Bookmark here

So, once again, he failed in doing anything. And once again, Gray had to worry for him.Bookmark here

He, who was ill, and whose skin was burning with the most intense fever, was the one who comforted him as he cried. Bookmark here

Only him.Bookmark here

Yes, ends up that even in comforting Gray he had failed.Bookmark here

He took a peek at Natta, who was still there, pretty much in the same position as before, although she seemed a lot calmer now. Bookmark here

Even if she was a cruel, terrible person, she didn’t bring problems to others.Bookmark here

At that moment, he wished he were able to do something about this. Maybe if he were his father, or if he hadn’t caused this in the first place…Bookmark here

Yes, he now knew why this had happened, and whose fault it was too, for that matter.Bookmark here

He let out a sigh, when would this end? Or, would it even end to begin with?Bookmark here

…Maybe the responsibility to end this was upon him. Bookmark here

Then, soon there was another knock on the door. He stood up and then walked to the door. There was a small hole, where he put his eyes and took a peek at the other side.Bookmark here

A tall man, dressed in a white robe, awaited for him at the other side. But, behind him was Rocco and his family.Bookmark here

“Hello…” he welcomed them as he opened the door and stepped forward. “Sorry for not opening befo-“Bookmark here

Before he could finish, he was suddenly interrupted by a boy around his age who jumped right at him in a hug.Bookmark here

“Nico! Are you okay? These people said a lot of scary things…”Bookmark here

Rocco’s arms were pressing him strongly against his chest, in a very tight embrace, and he was having a little bit of difficulty breathing. Bookmark here

“I’m not hurt, so get off me, please…”Bookmark here

“Great!” Rocco exclaimed, and the worried look he had just a moment ago turned into a wide grin while he got off Nico, as if nothing bad had happened just hours ago.Bookmark here

This attitude… Usually, he would like it when Rocco acted like this, but at this moment, it annoyed him a little. It’s not like just forgetting about it and continuing as normal could do much for him right now.Bookmark here

Anyways, no need to get mad over this though.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry,” now said Gian, who, at this moment, was skinnier than ever. “I said we would help you take care of Gray, but there was nothing we could do this time.”Bookmark here

“You’re not supposed to help him …The one who should’ve acted earlier is me,” the Shepherd interrupted, with a voice that seemed to have a hint of guilt behind it. “I’m very sorry, Nico,” he finished, bowing slightly.Bookmark here

“D-don’t worry …I’m sure you did everything that you could. Y-yeah,” Nico stuttered, surprised. The Shepherd didn’t say ‘sorry’ very often, as far as he knew, after all.Bookmark here

And so, they continued to talk for some time. Gian and his wife trying to comfort him, and Rocco being just his own usual self. Yesterday they had reached a pillar, so there was no need to walk for most of the day. At one point though, there wasn’t much to be said, and they went back to their tent.Bookmark here

“Well, bye Nico! Are you sure you don’t want any of us to go help you with Gray today?” said Gian, half ready to leave already.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, there’s no need to.”Bookmark here

“Okay then, bye” he said, wavering at him, even though his tent was right next to Nico’s.Bookmark here

“Well…” he said, turning to the Shepherd, the only one remaining there, and who also hadn’t spoken much during this time. Bookmark here

You’re not going to leave or what?Bookmark here

“Actually…” he replied, as if he had read his mind, “I wanted to talk more with you. Do you mind going for a walk?”Bookmark here

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“Why?”Bookmark here

“Nothing special. It just felt more adequate.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.