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Phoenix in Exile (Part 1 of 3)
The insults swirled around him. Aniel lay on the ground, pretending to be submissive. They would get tired and go away; they always did. Then he would go home to his aunt and uncle. He would clean off the mud and grime and pretend nothing had happened. For now, he simply had to pretend that he didn’t care about what was going on. The only difference separating today from other days was Anabell. She was watching today, watching him be humiliated. She would never love him, never even like him. Aniel winced, feeling another blotch of mud hit him. Instead of thinking of his ridicule, he thought of Anabell’s long blond hair and beautiful green eyes. Maybe she would like him when… but he wouldn’t think of that. No hint of that could ever reach anyone here, at least not yet.
He wrenched his eyes open as he heard retreating footsteps. The boys were disappearing around the bend, but Anabell was still standing there, just a few feet away, watching him. He sat up slowly, not breaking their eye contact. She appeared to be warring with herself, trying to decide. Her mind was made up swiftly and she came toward him. She gave him a hand up, careful not to get mud on her skirts. “Horrible boys,” she muttered.
He opened his mouth to say something, he didn’t know what, but she turned swiftly and left without another sound.
Aniel cursed and started wiping off the mud, wishing she hadn’t seen that.
This happened often. It had happened at least once a week for the past fifteen years. Ever since Aniel had shown up with his golden eyes and palely traced skin, the other boys had seen his oddities as a reason for ridicule. But Aniel would show them. Tomorrow was his sixteenth birthday, and he would show all of them.
He didn’t remember the day he arrived at his aunt and uncle’s house, though they had told him the story so many times, he could see every minute detail.
There was a knock on the door. Lacey went to answer it, thinking it was the village healer. Brandon had recently broken his leg and she needed the healer to take a look at it. What Lacey was not expecting to see was a tall, golden-haired man leading a little boy gently by the hand. The man was imposing, his yellow-slitted eyes taking in every detail. Eyes that matched Aniel’s. He stood in the doorway, studying Lacey. Finally, he spoke. “I am looking for Lacy and Brandon Kender.”
“I am Lacey Kender,” she replied nervously. What did he want?
“You are the sister of Amdan Kender?”
“My husband’s twin,” she acknowledged.
“Amdan and Amberly Kender recently died of the fever,” the man said, grief tainting his other wise hard and unforgiving eyes. “They left their only son, Aniel here,” he indicated the infant at his feet, “to the care of you and your husband.”
Aniel blinked. He could still hear his tormentors, even though they were halfway through the village by now. It was a small village. Doubtless they would come up with all sorts of new degrading nicknames at the tavern. The latest batch was unoriginal. “Strange eyes” was only stating fact: his eyes were golden and slitted like a cat’s or bird’s. “Scarface” was inaccurate. He had scars everywhere but his face, and they weren’t scars, anyway; they were birthmarks.
The eyes and the birthmarks, along with the story, were a talisman to him. They were proof that he wasn’t odd; there were people like him. Aunt Lacey repeatedly told him what Jefan, the man who had brought him to his relatives’ house, had told her to say.
“He will be different from others. He will look different; he will act different; he will be different. But tell him that he is not the only one. These differences are the gifts of his mother and he will love them, in time.” Jefan paused here. “Amberly, and now Aniel, were and are phoenixes. When all else fails, when he feels the most unusual, tell him that he is a phoenix, and he will be a part of our family when he turns sixteen. On his sixteenth birthday, I will come back for him.”
Tomorrow was Aniel’s sixteenth birthday. He didn’t know what was going to happen; just that he would come into his true potential as a phoenix. He couldn’t wait. The first thing he would do is show those boys how wonderful being a phoenix is. There was no sign of Jefan, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Everyone in the Seven Kingdoms had heard stories of how phoenixes could get from place to place instantly. Jefan would be here tomorrow.
But for now, Aniel had to get home. He picked his out of the mud, hoping his new boots weren’t stained too badly. Aunt Lacey would be horrified if he ruined them on the first day he had them. He knew she would already be worried sick, since he was so late getting home. Why did it always have to be Pick on Aniel Day? Why couldn’t someone else be the guinea pig?
Aniel sighed. It didn't do any good to wonder about this sort of thing. He had been contemplating these questions for years, now. It didn’t do any good. There were no answers. Instead, he thought about his birthday, and what it could bring. Would this Jefan who had brought him to Lacey and Brandon’s really come back?
Would Anabell like him when she knew?