By: Kiusha Posted on: November 19, 2006
The winter was unusually cold in Shallam. Mothers dressed their children warmly, with dusty shawls and gloves they had had to dig up from the attic.
The day before Logosmas, Boy was playing in the streets with several other children when the snow began. Little flakes of white came falling down from the sky. Everyone stood still, gaping in wonder. Well, nearly everyone. One girl, that had recently moved to Shallam with her family, giggled when she saw the faces of the others.
"You guys look like you've never seen snow!" she said.
"This is snow?", another girl asked.
"You HAVE never seen snow!" the first girl said, doubling over in laughter.
"Cyrene has snow almost all year around." she said, catching her breath.
The first, soft, flakes turned into a blizzard, and soon a big pack of snow covered the streets of Shallam.
After their first wonder had passed, the children began to have fun in the snow. They had snowball fights, and built a snowman. A smile was never far from their small faces. Every now and then Boy cast an envious glance towards the warm clothes and shoes of the others, but he shrugged it off, happy that he was allowed to play with them.
The children played in the snow for most of the afternoon, until the sun sunk below the rooftops, and one by one they went home, until only Boy was left. The running and playing had kept him relatively warm despite his ragged clothes during the day, but now, with the sun sinking and his playmates gone, the cold started to get a hold of him. Tired, his clothes wet with molten snow, he started to look for shelter.
He walked across the empty streets, watching the beautiful Logosmas decorations that decorated every house along the way. One particularly beautiful Logosmas tree behind a window caught his eye, and brought back memories from long ago. The sight of the happy family around the tree gave him a pang of loneliness, and he turned away, still searching for a place to sleep.
He finally sat himself down on a relatively dry stretch of road underneath the northwestern rampart. The tall walls protected him from the still-falling snow and the cold wind. There he made himself as comfortable as he could, and soon fell asleep.
The pale figure in the bed resembled the mother he had known, but she looked so tiny and weak it made him pause. He gathered his courage and walked up to his mother.
She smiled up at him weakly. "My beloved..." she said, lifting her arms a few inches trying to reach for him.
"Mother..." he said, and embraced her carefully, nearly flinching at the frailness of the body in his arms. He sat down on the small stool beside the bed, and took his mother's delicate hands in his own, concern showing on his face.
"Habib... I am so sorry..." she said, and tears welled up in her eyes. "I fought so hard... but I can't. I can't anymore."
"It is all right, mother." he said, and smiled at her reassuringly. "I will be all right."
He took her in his arms once more, and held her for a long time. Her breath got quieter and quieter, and finally ceased.
Boy woke up with a start, tears streaming down his face. His mother's face drifted in front of his eyes momentarily, then faded into the white world around him. The snow-covered streets seemed unusually bright under the night sky, almost mocking the starlight above.
A shiver went through his thin body, and he got scared. He had never gone through a night this cold. If only he could go inside. But the shops were all closed.
Then a faint sound drifted into his painful ears. Soft, beautiful voices singing songs of praise could be heard from the distance. From the Basilica.
With difficulty, Boy raised himself from the cold ground, and leaned against the rampart wall for a moment.
Then he found some remnant of strength in his weakened legs, and set foot towards the Basilica. Only hope kept him going.
When he reached the grand gates, he paused, intimidated by their beauty. He felt his courage drop, and was about to turn back when a particularly biting gust of wind chilled him to the bone. He put his hand on the doorknob. His last hope.
He held his breath, and started to open the door when he heard a shout.
"Hey! What are you doing there?!"
A middleaged Rajamalan dressed in warm, richly embroidered crimson robes approached him with broad steps.
"You have no business here. I've seen your kind. Always taking what doesn't belong to you. And the Basilica, no less. Sacrilege!"
Boy cowered, watching the man carefully. "I.. I just wanted..." he tried to say.
The Rajamalan shaked his fist at Boy. "Wanted to get your hands on the shinies, no doubt."
Boy shook his head, but the piercing cold and his overwhelming weariness got the better of him, and he couldn't speak. He merely looked at the man with pleading eyes.
The nobleman didn't notice. His cat eyes turned to small slits, and he growled at Boy. "Clear off!" he shouted.
The menacing look on the Rajamalan's face was enough to make even the bravest child flinch. For Boy, weakened by hunger and hardship, it was too much. He turned away from the Basilica and ran south, towards Bridge Street. His heart was pounding in his throat, and his fear kept him on his feet until he finally collapsed on the snow-covered docks.
He curled up into a fetal position. He was shivering badly now, his teeth clattering constantly. Too fatigued to think, he merely cried in despair. The snow kept falling, slowly covering his body. Never ceasing to cry, he slowly drifted away into sleep.
His uncle put another log in the fire, and it started to crackle with fresh energy. The smell of hot cocoa drifted in from the kitchen, and Habib sighed contentedly.
"Turn, turn!" his cousin said, clapping her hands merrily, and her brother grinned, and turned the Draydel. Habib watched intently, and laughed out loud, when his cousin had to give up half of his hard-earned chocolate sovereigns. His cousin eyed the few sovereigns he had left, and said, "Okay, that's it. I have to eat these now, or I won't have any left."
Giggling, his sister took up her share, and threw a sovereign at her brother, which prompted a sovereign fight between the siblings. Habib grinned, shaking his head, and went to sit beside his mother on the couch, happily watching the candles burning in the Logosmas Tree.
His mother wrapped an arm around him, and smiling happily, Habib slowly started to drift into sleep, never taking his eyes off the Tree.
Many minutes passed and more and more snow covered the shape of the sleeping child on the docks. His dark hair had turned white, and patches of ice covered the skin around his nose and lips. His breath had become shallow, nearly unnoticeable.
A beautiful Tsol'aa woman dressed in a long, grey woollen cloak with a hood came up to the sleeping orphan. With concern she held two fingers in front of his mouth, and sighed softly in relief the boy's breath wetted her fingers. She took off her cloak, and gently lifted the featherlight boy from the snow, cradling him in her arms. She wrapped her cloak around him, shielding him from the cold. The boy stirred briefly. "Mother..." he muttered, and then his breath got deeper and his body fell still as his sleep turned to unconsciousness.
The woman quickly walked through the empty streets of Shallam, towards the Chrysalis Basilica.
Focusing her mind, she telepathically contacted Handel and let him know she was coming with an orphan. She warned him of the bad shape the boy was in and he reassured her he'd take the necessary precautions.
She speeded along Zaphar promenade and into the Basilica. When she reached the choir room, two Priestesses were waiting with a tub with lukewarm water and a blanket.
The three of them carefully undressed the small boy, and placed his limp form into the tub, allowing it to warm up in the water. Then they generously applied caloric salve to his frozen fingers, toes and ears. They wrapped him in a blanket, and carried him to the dormitory of the choir, where a clean, fresh bed had been made near the fireplace.
They tucked him in with a hot-water bottle. Then the Tsol'aa woman nodded and smiled at the two Priestesses who politely inclined their heads and went back to their duties.
The woman sat down on the edge of the bed, watching over the unconscious child. Two mugs of hot cocoa were brought in, and she sipped hers slowly, never taking her eyes off of the boy.
It was midnight when the boy finally stirred.
Boy opened his eyes drowsily, confused about his whereabouts. His vision came to him slowly, and everything was blurry at first. His head hurt, but he was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Feeling around himself cautiously, he sat up in the bed, slowly coming to his senses.
The happy voices of children singing drifted in from another room, and he realized he was inside the Basilica. As his vision returned to him, he made out the beautiful face of a woman, her brown hair shining golden in the light of the fire.
"Welcome back, child." a gentle voice said lovingly. The woman stroked his hair and handed him a mug of cocoa. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
"My name..." he said, accepting the drink with trembling hands. "Nowadays everyone calls me Boy, but my mother used to call me Habib."
"If Habib is who you was, Habib is who you'll be, beloved one." the woman smiled, recognizing the meaning of the name. "Welcome to the choir."
Habib merely smiled. The warmth of the fire, the voices from the choir in the other room, the sweet smell of the cocoa in his hands. The loving smile of the kind woman. No words could express his happiness.
A single tear ran down his face. He was home.