“Why did you make me leave? Why did you say you’d kill me? Why?” screams Gilon in front of me. Why? screams the child I once was, deep inside of me.
“I had to,” the tall elf says. “You were starting to change, to grow up. You were leaking magic.” He spits out the word as though it’s dirty, a curse. “You couldn’t control it. It put us all in danger. I had to get rid of you. If the humans found out, they would kill us all.”
“So you threw me out like a piece of garbage?”
The tall elf looks ashamed now. Good. “I didn’t want to, but there was no other way. If an elf-child starts leaking magic as he grows, you have to throw him out. It’s the only way to protect the rest of the family. Everyone knows that.”
I didn’t know that. I thought that I had been cast out from my family, ostracized and abandoned, because of some horrible thing I must have done without realizing it. I was too ashamed to talk about it with the dirty pack of other forsaken, homeless elf-children living like rats in the nooks and crannies of Elftown, barely eking out an existence. I assumed the others were orphans. Or had run away from parents who beat them. Or who couldn’t afford to feed them. I wished that I was an orphan, so I wouldn’t have to think about my family, living happily without me half a slum away.
Turns out the other street rats were just like me. Disowned.
It doesn’t make sense. Elves aren’t like that. We don’t abandon our children.
Except in Elftown. Damn, I hate that place. I’d burn it down twice, if I could.
“I’m not coming with you,” the nine-fingered boy tells his father.
“Ayda,” the tall elf says to the little girl. “Go stand beside your mother.”
The girl runs back to her mother, a worried expression on her little face. Gilon backs away from his father, into the breadseller. The merchant wraps her arms protectively around him.
“Gilon,” pleads the tall elf, moving toward his son. “It’s all right. We can fix this. Come to me.”
“No!” Gilon insists.
The breadseller rubs the boy’s dirty hair. “Are you sure?” she asks softly. “This is your family. Are you sure you don’t want to go with them?”
“I don’t,” the boy insists. “Ayda’s my sister. But them-” He nods toward his parents. “-they’re nothing. They hate me. They threw me away.” He looks up at the woman who cut his finger off yesterday. “Can I stay with you?”
“Of course you can,” she says. “Of course you can. I promised I would take care of you.”
“We don’t hate you,” whispers the boy’s mother. “We never hated you.”
“Who the hell are you?” Gilon’s father asks, scowling at the breadseller.
“She saved me!” Gilon screams angrily at his father. “She came and found me yesterday when I was hiding and brought me out of Elftown. I would be dead now, burned up, if she hadn’t. I never did anything nice to her. I stole from her. But she looked for me and found me and saved me.” The hurt returns to his face and he stares at his parents with a look of renewed betrayal. “Where were you? You knew everyone was leaving. Why didn’t you come save me?”
His parents don’t speak. But I see the answer in their eyes. They didn’t even think of him. Once they sent him away, they excised him from their world. From their hearts and minds. Maybe the only way they could deal with their grief and guilt was to bury any thought of him. I don’t know. It still seems shitty.
“Thank you for saving my son,” says the tall elf to the merchant, after a pause. “But we are his family. We will take care of him now.” He begins to move forward again. “Gilon, you’re coming with us.”
“No, I’m not!”
I’ve had enough. I move forward, intercepting Gilon’s father with my hand on his throat. Surprised by my intervention, he doesn’t resist as I propel him backward a few paces, slamming him against a tree trunk.
“Listen,” I snarl at him. “You gave up any right to parent the kid when you threw him out into the street.” He begins to struggle, reaching up in a futile effort to pull my hand off his throat. I pull him toward me a few inches, and then slam his head back against the tree. He moans and stops struggling.
“You’ve offered to take your son back. That’s fine. If he decides to accept that offer, now or later, you will let him come back. But the choice is his.” I tighten my grip on his throat. “Do you understand?”
The elf nods.
“And if the boy wants to visit his sister, you’re going to let him and not give him any grief, do you understand?”
He nods again. “Yes,” he says hoarsely. “You’re choking me.”