Living up to your father’s pride can be a hard thing. Sons can grow to be warriors or a disgrace to their family. Every stage in growing up is dictated by it, dreams and aspirations driven by the will to become men. You can see the glint in their father’s eye when they’re born, the same emotion present during the initiation of Felks to be welcomed into the tribe.
I imagine my father wasn’t too happy when he saw me. His failure of a son was too much to bear. More so since he was part of the village council in Velsa. I was born with a birthmark covering half my face. Above all else, I was too shy around people. A weakling. It wasn’t long till I noticed I was never going to live up to his expectations. At a young age, he’d curse the gods in my presence, and my mother could do less to stop him from showing it.
Once, when I was seven, I stole a piece of venison from one of the villager's fire. The meat stared back at me from the rack where no one was outside to look over it. The kill was a sumptuous, red beast, fat dripping from it like gold melting from the prize. I ceded to my hunger in that moment and acted towards my temptation by approaching the meat.
The second I grabbed it so I could toss it inside my makeshift knapsack, a child, few years younger than me, came from one of the huts and screamed. I tried to hide my face as I sped into the forest. It was too late, and my birthmark was too visible to make me distinguishable from any other kid.
I came back home early the next morning smothered in guilt. No one had come looking for me to take me back to atone for my sin. They knew I'd be back when I needed food and warmth. They knew the woods weren’t safe for an odd-looking child in the presence of beasts, away from the comfort of the village.
Somehow, I had heard whispers in the night, calling to me. They were so many voices, most I could not understand. Mysterious as they were, they gave me comfort. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
As if he'd smelled of my presence, my father stood firm in the middle of the compound when I returned. It was so early I’d thought I'd seen a ghost. His chiseled arms crossed together in the dim light of dawn, he appeared in the light like a well made sculpture. The glowing torch behind him illuminated our home and the competing visuals made him look more intimidating.
I could not turn away from his presence. I had already brought shame to my family. My father, mother, and sister Sherry. I walked with my head lowered, meat outside the knapsack in my hand and uneaten. I came close to his presence, and spoke in a low voice, near inaudible. Offered an apology, in the words ‘I'm sorry father.’
I held out the piece of steak towards him, ready for him to take it and lash me for what I'd done. He walked away instead, and left me outside holding on to the pillage like the rotten meat I was.
I slept the next three nights without adequate food. Lean as I was, my skin fell in as if to stick to my very bones. It was hard to recover with my daily staple of porridge. I grew frail and lean. Nothing like the able-bodied youth of my age. In the test of manliness, to become a Kelp, I was set to fail even from a very young age. It would prove a challenge in my formative years.
I stand with the crowd cheering for Geori. The morning started off clear, but it is now obscured. Geori turns towards us with one such bravado of a stallion, and pumps his fist in the air to amass the cheers. You can hear the cheer bloat the atmosphere, louder than the lion’s roar in it’s most intimidating call. The roar is his fuel, more so since the screams come from the Velsa girls.
His father, Meoli, sits close to the other village chiefs with a smug on his face. Geori turns towards the four men sitting for judge, where my father tries his best to keep his cool. He points to his father, sitting beyond proud of him, and he nods in acknowledgement, more proud of his gesture.
At this moment, Geori goes for his final move to complete the test to become a Kelp. The bull rises from the corner, and recoups its strength to reengage in combat. After an enraged grunt to scare its opponent, it charges towards him, fuming with anger. Eyes bloodshot red. He braces for the bull with both his hands outstretched and waits for impact.
For a short moment, I notice Geori’s feet not spread wide enough. His posture, a pose to threat for the bull to knock him over with ease. I rise from my seat, amidst the dead silence, and shout for him to part his legs with all the air in my lungs. It might standard practice on the training ground, but during an actual standoff like this it also means death.
Distracted by the voice, Geori takes his eyes off the beast and looks to see who's calling. That small chance is all it takes for the monster to drive him into the air and send his arms flailing egregiously. A collective gasp forms from the crowd and everyone hinges to the moment in shock. The council and village chief, stand from their seats, and they beam their attention to Geori.
He lands against the barricades with a thud and the beast takes no time waiting for him to recover. Luckily, Geori's quick to notice. He rolls to one side and escapes the beast's charge, leaving the bull plunging into the barricade.
Geori pulls a spear from one end in the arena, and aims at the bull in its lower right region. It bawls from the pain from the spear driven to its side and staggers trying to shake off the pain. Geori takes ease watching the bull struggle to contain itself. The poison on the spear doesn't take long. The bull drills into the ground with a grunt, and the crowd cheers at the sight of the monster's defeat.
Geori's father, Yun, paces down from the platform and greets his son. His embrace takes a second before he raises his hand to the crowd which cheers for him. Geori is now a Kelp, a grown man serving his father proud. His whole village.
As the crowd breaks from the arena, I feel the piercing glares around me, sharp as knives. We await the next ceremony at the break of dusk, where the sun’s lips touch the Durne mountains. It is one that grants the girls of Velsa their future grooms, and there is no knowing if I could mess it up as I almost did with Geori.
End of Part 1.
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