Drawn To Exile

A real Kelp knows no fear. They chant this mantra countless times like their lives depend on it. How could they not? Everyone seeks their security, even upon their own. The Kelp fight for everyone, young, old, or disabled when the threat arises. It’s their pride and burden, one that comes with being a warrior. The honor and privilege to serve for Velsa like no one else can.

Though I am not part of this elite force of men, I try to embed myself in the same standards. I clean before the sun comes out, out on the stream in the thick forest. The birds chirp to summon the sun for the day and I’d dress up quickly into my old clothes before anyone else sees me.

The Kelp warriors would bathe around the same time, down at the stream where it branches off into a waterfall. I’d make careful traversal in the thick foliage on my way back home, taking cover so I won’t be seen. The morning before the initiation, I met Geori. He wasn’t Kelp then, but as initiates they were given a chance to bathe and know what it’s like to live among fellow comrades. The gesture made newer members feel a part of something, though some wouldn’t make it with their lives at the end of the initiation. I was visiting my own stream because it was safe, though I was alone, knowing I’d never be a Kelp of my own.

Yet Geori’s figure appeared out of nowhere that morning, finding me poorly covered under the foliage.

‘Herrno, what are you doing here?’

I could not answer him. I trembled with fear, terrified at the thought of him telling the others I was out in the forest, the same time the Kelps bathed. Without further interaction, I clawed my way past him, chanting ‘I’m sorry’ countless times. He didn’t stop me. I didn’t look back. Our encounter would never be spoken of again.

As we’re headed to the Keyun ceremony, girls draped in gracious ornaments and luscious perfume lead the way. They are the youngest in the village, those to choose their future grooms out of will. Their white robes reflect the light, golden rings that hold them glistening in the torchlit evening.

Other women sing before we even reach the platform, flanking the sides. You can feel the earth shake, dancing to their moves. Most of them mothers to the brides, or the grooms, elated for the ceremony they waited the rest of their lives. We follow behind on a slow pace, but it doesn’t take long till we circle the platform, ready to witness the Keyun under the moon.

The priest stands on the platform, ready with his long staff and jiggly beads. He speaks of the moon up in the sky, how precious it is to have the gods light up the night in acknowledgement of the ceremony. The crowd cheers in response, merry of the moment we gather as one under its watchful eye. There is no doubt of the elation in the air and the atmosphere bloated by excitement.

The brides walk to the platform after the priest. Stand at the center, in a close circle, where their backs face against each other. The clang of their ornaments fill the air and it calls to the grooms who eagerly wait for their pick. A silence fills the platform as the grooms prepare to step forward, ready to be chosen.

Of all the warriors present, only a few will be picked. The anticipation leaves some bruised, but encourages the men to appear lustrous for their brides. I search among the initiates for Geori. I can hardly see him in the darkness, but there’s a person among the grooms holding his side. It must be him hurting after the accident. Guilt washes over me.

Shortly after the men assemble, the priest circles the brides, raising each and every one of their chins. As they look up to the moon, he chants a short incantation. His voice dances with the crackling of the flames and after he’s done, he whirls toward the crowd speaking of how a beautiful moment it is. Every word is a reminder of my failures. How I’d never have to wed the same way that these people would. Custom that if a father doesn’t approve of his son, he knows no wedding.

At his closing, the priest calls out to the brides and wishes them luck in picking their grooms. It is then that they break from holding hands, and advance at the grooms circling the platform. The women who were once singing break into a low hum and one by one, the brides pick their mates. In some instances, a male pulls the hand of a bride passing by and she draws his hand away. Several other males wind up alone, and the couples retreat back to the platform.

On his way up, Geori struggles to keep his feet under him. Once again, gasps come from the crowd watching him and he falls on the earth, shrieking. There’s no reason to believe it can be anything else. The knock from the beast had severed him more than he let us believe. His grunt gets louder every minute and the healers rush to him in haste. They try to cast spells and call to the gods, but before long his grunts turn silent. I try not to imagine the worst, but my own prayers are not answered. His bride’s wail is the signal we didn’t want to hear.

Before I can gather upon the tragedy, I feel a hand grip my arm. The grip is so strong, I feel like a Kelp holds me but I see a girl when I turn, not much younger than I am. She graces a stern look on her face.

“Come, you have to leave.”

“What do you mean? Can’t you see what’s going on?”

“Listen to me, this place is not safe for you anymore. We have to go now.”

No one ever talked to me the way she does except my mother. I have no reason to argue against her. As she turns and dodges past the crowd, I follow diligently, my heart racing at the cries filling the air. I have no doubt she means the people will think I killed Geori intentionally, but some things can only be left to the gods. It doesn’t take long for us to reach the perimeter at the edge of Velsa and the beginning of the forest. It is then that a horn sounds behind us, a signal for a hunt by the Kelps. Exciting as it seems, it only means I’m the prey.

End of Part 2

(See the beginning, Part 1, here)

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