Prelude to War P2 Sample Chapter 1
FLASHBACK TO FAITH’S FUNERAL
Hairo Permaine V clenched his teeth and flicked water off his ears. It wasn’t enough he had to stand here at the graveside watching them lower his parents, but now he’d have to deal with wet, sloshy shoes. Oh, well. At least he wouldn’t be the only one wet. The rain would catch them all . . . wait a minute. It wasn’t the rainy season—it wasn’t even cloudy. How could it be raining?
Two more drops plinked on his ears. He looked up.
His aunt and uncle stood over him. His aunt had a handkerchief over her mouth, but her tears fell unhindered onto his ears. His uncle’s head was bowed, and tears streamed from his eyes, down his cheek, onto his whiskers, and plinked on Hairo’s ears.
Hairo flicked them again and turned his attention to the coffins. As men lowered them into the ground, the high priest of Isofell, god of Trainers, spoke nice words about his parents and assured the audience that Ania and Gorrtan, goddess and god of death, would certainly open their arms to receive these two into the afterlife, since they were such good people and all.
Hairo shook his head. He and his parents didn’t believe in all the Expermian gods and goddesses, but everyone else did. And since at seven, Hairo was declared too young to know what he was talking about, the adults had planned this funeral. So he had to stand and listen to this priest drone on and on about things his parents didn’t even believe.
And if that wasn’t enough, Charuse, Hairo’s traiungo, kept barking in his ear. Traiungai were often described as lizard-like mammals because of their long tails, the spikes on their back, and the way they could climb on every surface. Charuse was no exception. He crawled all over Hairo’s shoulders and head, stopping only to call into the coffins. He didn’t get that Hairo’s parents were dead and never coming back.
“Shut up, Charuse.” Hairo snatched him by the tail and gave it a tug.
Charuse snarled, but then crawled up to Hairo’s head and laid his head between Hairo’s ears.
Hairo sighed. How long did he have to be here? He didn’t know half of the people attending even though they were bawling their eyes out. It seemed so fake, an affront to who his parents were.
But they had to be there, according to his uncle. They were important people who came to honor the last real Silver Fox Trainer. For instance, the Grand Councilwoman stood at the foot of the grave. Beside her was her son, the General, and beside him was his son, Marviot Cunor, and another guy who had brown hair with blonde tips that Hairo had never seen before. He was in a military uniform like Marviot’s. This guy had two children Hairo’s age standing beside him, one on each side. Both kits had brown hair, but like Hairo they weren’t old enough for their hair to start changing at the ends.
One of the kits leaned over the grave, trying to see how deep it was. His father pulled him back by his collar and placed a hand on his head. The kit sighed and stood still.
The second one stood with his hands behind his back. He watched all this and shook his head. Then he looked in Hairo’s direction. Their eyes met.
The kit turned his eyes to the grave and then at Hairo. He lowered his ears and head slightly.
Hairo nodded. In his own way, without words, he said what everyone had been saying to him for two weeks, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Hairo was sick of it, but at least this kid was being sincere—that was more than he could say for the adults.
The first kit noticed his brother and whispered something to him. The second whispered back and gestured to Hairo. The kid who leaned over the grave turned to Hairo. He gave a half-smile and waved.
Hairo raised a hand to wave back but stopped. He didn’t want to make friends, and he didn’t want to be here. He wanted . . . he wanted his parents. And if he couldn’t have that, he wanted to go home.
“Auntie.” Hairo tugged at her toaga. “Can we go home now?”
“Hairo.” His aunt, Alsai, bit her lip. “The funeral’s not over yet.” She had honey colored fur and brown hair that faded to grayish-blue at the ends. Her gray-blue eyes were wet with tears.
Daion, Hairo’s uncle put a hand on her shoulder. He had reddish-brown fur and brown hair that turned a deep violet—almost black—at the ends. “Of course we can leave, Hairo.”
Hairo made his way through the crowd. The audience muttered and murmured as they parted for him.
“He’s leaving?” someone whispered.
“He hasn’t cried once,” another said.
Hairo let his ears tilt back and glared at the crowd as he passed. Charuse hissed at them, making them give him wide berth. No one wanted to mess with a traiungo.
Hairo made his way to the car, opened the back seat, and slid in. Charuse hopped off his shoulder and burrowed into the old blanket on the floor. Hairo couldn’t help smiling as he watched the mammal poke his head from underneath it. Charuse’s olive colored fur looked like someone had taken a black crayon and scribbled zig-zags on him.
The front door opened. Aunt Alsai slipped into her seat while his uncle circled to the diver’s side.
“Are you okay, Hairo?” Aunt Alsai turned in her seat.
Uncle Daion sat in the driver’s seat. He put his hands on the wheel, but didn’t start the car. “Hairo, I . . . I am so sorry this happened. Sometimes people do bad things, and those thieves . . . they were . . .”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Hairo picked up Charuse. The animal’s spines, which changed color with his mood, had turned periwinkle blue, and he didn’t struggle when Hairo cuddled him.
“Oh, Hairo.” His aunt reached back to touch his knee.
That simple gesture unlocked something. Hairo clutched Charuse as sobs erupted from him.
“Sweetheart!” Aunt Alsai flung the door open and raced to his side. Within seconds, she held him in her arms.
Hairo buried his face in her dress.
“I know you feel alone, but I promise your uncle and I will always be there for you.” Aunt Alsai held him close. “Always.”
“But it’s not fair!” Hairo let his tears fall into his aunt’s lap. “Mamai and Papai said our god is different than the other Expermian gods. They said he loves us and protects us. So why did their god let them die?”
She said nothing for a long time. “I . . . I . . .”
“We don’t know, Hairo.” Uncle Daion clutched the wheel so hard, the leather squeaked. “He was a faithful man. He was a good man—they both were good people. They shouldn’t have died.” He struck the wheel. “My brother shouldn’t have died like that.”
Aunt Alsai squeezed Hairo closer to her. He tried to imagine his mom holding him, but it didn’t work. “I don’t think I like their god anymore.”
Aunt Alsai rested her chin on his head.
Somewhere inside of him, a little Voice called to Hairo. He had heard that Voice several times before. It had comforted, chastised him, and even encouraged him at times. Pressed to it, Hairo would have labeled it a friend.
But now, for the first time in his life, Hairo ignored it.
© 2013 M.R. Anglin. Do not copy or redistribute. The print and ebook versions of Prelude to War will be available for purchase Nov. 2, 2013.