He opened the door, the frosty wind fell into the room with a deft gust and danced in the fireplace, causing the fire to wave like a living creature.

He felt exhausted and fear took its toll, his whole body was tense and hurt, his muscles tired and sore. But he had the prey, he had the meat, even if he will have to cut even more rot from it, making the portions smaller. He will feed the family, and that was what counted most.

He tossed the sack on the floor and quickly closed the door, so the air didn’t become colder.

“Tiyan!”

“Mina” he smiled meekly and a small bundle of legs and arms and cloth attacked him with a vicious strength. Mina laughed, still was able to laugh, and whenever she was doing so, his world was becoming a bit better place. Even if she was underfed, she was finding good in everything, like only a child could. He regretted his childhood, even this weak substitute of it, was taken from him, on the battlefield. Even if it taught him a lot – but not necessary good things. The sight of his tvelve years old sister, being so thin yet full of strange optimism, which he didn’t share, was making both his heart ache and learn that not all what is cruel will destroy the spark.

“You brought the food,” said Mina, already checking the sack. “Eh, anglor again?”

“Sadly yes” he said with a tired voice and walked in, his feet carrying him closer to the fireplace. “They are the easiest prey, despite their weight and sharp teeth.”

Mina took the sack and took it to the kitchen.

“Mom, Tiyan brought rotten meat,” she said with an almost playful tone.

A head poked from the doorframe. Alina Markon was looking worse than her daughter, even if not that thin. Her hair was scarce and white and her face was torn by a large burned out tissue. During the war, she fought too, and the face was not the only place where she had scars. But the ones that still didn’t heal, were in her soul. Tiyan knew that she was captured by the lesser folk just after the High Fae conquered Avras. And that she never wanted to talk about it.

She sniffed the air.

“Anglor?”

Tiyan nodded with resignation. He didn’t know how she did it. Sensing scent. But she was right of course.

“I will try to hunt something more, so we have more… variety” he said, knowing how silly it sounds.

“If you won’t be able, don’t try” she replied, taking the sack from Mina. “You came back too late. Night is dark and full of monsters.”

Oh, Tiyan did know that. He just met some of them.

Alina disappeared in the kitchen and started to strip the meat from the rest of the rot, Tiyan was grateful that he didn’t need to do it now. He felt as his muscles relaxed and the worst tension left him. He sat on his favorite armchair and his body sunk in it, making him feel safe for the first time today.

Even if he wasn’t.

Mina sat too and observed him from narrowed brows. Her brows always seemed misplaced in her tiny, ethereal face – thick, long and black as coal.

“You are all torn” she eventually said and he realized that she meant his ragged clothes. Or not. “The anglor fought hard?”

“No… not really,” he sighed. “He was just heavy. And of course claws, they were everywhere.”

“You are scared, Tiyan” Mina had to be so observant, of all times, now.

Was that so visible? He fell even harder into the chair, not wanting to talk about it. He was indeed scared. If the small folk were now after him, they all might be endangered. And as he hated lying to them, exposing them to danger, he selfishly hoped that he won’t need to leave the village, like all touched by fairy attention. He naively thought that his family could protect him. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to not think at all.

Mina stopped being inquisitive. One knows when a case is lost.

Not thinking at all. That was what saved him. But won’t save him again. They fey already thanked him for his curtsy and now will just move to whatever vicious play they thought for him.

When Tiyan opened his eyes again, the meat was already cooked, and the scent of moss mixed with the scarce spices they had, filled the air in the room.

Tiyan’s father, Gravir, was sitting already by the table, boots in mud and snow, his gaze fixed on his son, in a much more intrusive way, than the curious eyes of Mina. Gravir Markon always was trying to amortize any shock that his family was about to get, but never lied to them. Tiyan, though… was used to roll his thoughts alone, never sharing any of his struggles, sometimes outright not telling them the truth. To the point that Mina never believed when he was saying he feels well enough, and his mother, looked at him with knowing gazes, when something even slightly looked out of norm.

Tiyan didn’t have to wait long, though, before Gravir said.

“You met the fairies.”

“Yes, father.”

There was no reason to lie. After all, it was not his family’s fault.

“They didn’t kill you.”

“No.”

“So they want something from you” was the grave answer of his father.

“How do you know?” Tiyan wanted to know, at least that.

“Alina sensed them on you.”

Ah, his mother. Her … “gift”. Something she didn’t want to talk about as well. Tiyan was almost sure that it was connected with her days of captive, so… also never asked.

“How did you escape them?” insisted Gravir.

“I… I tried the law of open mind.”

“You fool.”

Tiyan swallowed hard. Fool. That’s what he was. Yes, he was one. The small folk will come for him, if not tomorrow, then the other day. Or prolong it to give him hope and appear at the least expected moment.

“You gave them way to your feelings and memories, you stupid boy. They know now, what you fear most… and what you love most. Who you care for. That was a foolish step.”

“Should I allow them to eat me?” bursted Tiyan suddenly. His father’s gaze darkened, brown deep eyes drilling him through and through.

“Perhaps. Perhaps that would be better. Not for us. For you.”

And Tiyan knew it. Gravir was right. His life brushed against the horror but it was only the beginning of it.

He will get to know the fear yet. Deeply and painfully.

“Will you send me into the woods?” Tiyan had difficulty forming the sentence. If the answer is yes, he will be doomed, in every meaning of this word. But at the same time he didn’t want to endanger them. Not mother. And not Mina.

Gravir still looked at him intensely, a visible struggle inside him, fighting for common sense.

“No. No, Tiyan, even if in the eyes of the village, I should. But won’t do it. You don’t deserve an exile, just because you didn’t want to be killed.”

“But they can come for you too,” said Tiyan bitterly.

“Nothing that walks this earth is immortal, even if it claims so. I will fight for my home. And I hope you will too. Exiling… is not what I have learnt from our situation. We should all stick together, or the fear is what eats us before the feykind.”

Tiyan thought for a moment that perhaps it’s his father who is a fool. But he was grateful for his decision, which was coming from his heart, not mind.

Alina brought the pot filled with meat. Mina jumped to the table, sitting in her place. And Tiyan… Tiyan lost an appetite.

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