"You freaking bastard!! Do you want to die? Getting in the way of my hunt??"
The sound of angry shouts immediately erased ZaiWin's smile and he took a step to the side, instinctively placing himself in front of the small child, turning to face CarFan who was furiously marching towards them.
"Hunt? And what are you hunting, exactly?" he demanded, a deep frown marking his forehead, his energy he'd just gathered responding to his emotions and immediately reaching out for his more aggressive daitai.
"And what's it to you? I saw a prey that caught my eye and was aiming for it! How dare you step in my way?"
"Was this your prey?" he questioned, allowing him to see the child hiding behind his back, and CarFan's eyes grew colder, that crazed glow resurfacing.
So he had known!, ZaiWin confirmed, anger boiling in his chest. Taking a quick look at the frightened and unsure expression on the girl's face it was easy to conclude she had known too, reason why she had tried to stop him.
ZaiWin had seen more than his fair share of children like the little one hiding behind him. Children that had no home, no parents to look after them, no food to fill their empty stomachs and no clothes to wear. His Province had been riddled with them. He had seen them dying on the streets, their small, scrawny corpses being eaten by wild dogs and birds. Back then he himself had been no older than them, and suddenly all the horrible things he'd been through hadn't looked as horrible at all. Even now, after all his hard work, after all ZenTar and him had accomplished, he knew that every day children still died of hunger and disease in Nox. And so, more than most, he could not stand that a rich, arrogant bastard like CarFan would try to hunt one of them down just for the heck of it! He really wanted to kill him right there!
A small tug on his clothes surprised him and he looked down to see that the child was still staring up at him. Those black eyes were bottomless, unwavering pits. The hair covering the child's head was really short but so dirty that it looked gray, some places darker than others. An yet, even when faced with those strange, dangerous people, he still looked apparently serene, taking into account his small age and the present circumstances. Even more strangely, that cold serenity seemed to seep into him, and he was able to calm down and think things through more thoroughly. If the kid had been crying in fear he would have probably killed CarFan where he stood.
"That filthy thing! He scared my prey away!" CarFan accused, quickly finding an argument that would erase his guilt, and ZaiWin frowned at him again.
"Even if that was the case!" Which they all knew it wasn't. "Haven't you heard what the Calzai told us? Should we find any of the locals we are not to interfere with them!"
"Locals?! That little beggar? He was probably out here trying to steal from us!"
ZaiWin clenched his fists, forcing himself to keep his anger under control.
"If your prey got scared away then that's your loss! Go and find something else to hunt! Or do you intend to punish this child for an act he did not commit?" he asked, lowering his voice, making sure it sounded threatening enough, allowing the darkness he held inside him to spill out a bit, and CarFan's eyes widened in fear as he quickly took a step back.
"What … what the heck …" he mumbled and the girl that had accompanied him held his arm, pulling him even further back, looking even more frightened than him.
"You should heed my advise. Because I will not let you touch this child!" ZaiWin clearly added and CarFan frowned angrily, but he kept walking back.
"I'll deal with you later, you damned bastard!" he spat, an obviously empty threat, before he finally turned around and stormed away in angry steps.
ZaiWin sighed, allowing himself to relax. And then he remembered the child, and quickly looked down fearing he might have frightened the kid as well. But, if he had, those black eyes didn't show it at all.
With a more honest smile on his lips, he bent forward, hands on his knees, to be closer to child's height.
"There. He went away and won't bother you anymore. Were you collecting berries?"
The child released his clothes and took a step back, finally averting his gaze, looking cutely embarrassed.
ZaiWin chuckled. So the kid could deal with death threats and attempts on his life with stoic face, but he got all flustered when someone actually talked nicely at him.
"Are they any good?" he asked and the child nodded, still avoiding looking at him.
Twisting his nose, ZaiWin picked up a small berry, smelled it and threw it in his mouth. It was juicy, but as sour as lemon, sending a shiver throughout his entire mouth, making him pucker his face.
A small sound made him look at the child and he saw that the kid was silently laughing at him, his small face brightening up, looking innocent and cute like any child should look.
"You like this stuff?"
The child nodded eagerly and he sighed in resignation.
"Anyway, you shouldn't linger around here anymore. During the next four days older kids like that one will be marching through this forest and they're not very nice people. It would be much safer if you went back home for the time being," he told the child with a more serious expression, and the little one's face mirrored his seriousness as he attentively followed his every word. "Here! This is all I have on me," he went on, taking out all the food he had been carrying with him.
They were mostly fruits, but there were also some wild mushrooms and some cattails' leftovers. If the kid was out there looking for food maybe these would be enough to convince him to return home. He could always pick up more for himself, while he hunted.
The black eyes stared at the food at his feet with amazed wonder.
With a second thought, ZaiWin took out his orienting flask, his water flask and his knife, and filled his backpack with all the fruit, including the berries the child had gathered.
"There's also a blanket in there. The nights are getting chilly so make sure you use it," he declared, giving him his backpack but, since the child didn't move at all, he ended up helping him put it on. It was too big for him, reaching all the way to his knees, and he hoped it was light enough for him to carry. "There. Now go home before that idiot comes back."
The huge black eyes looked up at him one last time and then the child finally walked away, holding onto the backpack's straps, trying his best to carry the additional weight.
ZaiWin was sure that the food he'd given the child would keep him fed for at least a few days, long enough for that stupid Gathering to end. He only wished he'd already hunted down some prey, or maybe fished some fish. He would have gladly given it to the kid as well. That child was way too scrawny, only skin and bones. Not healthy at all. And yet, it still amazed him how kids like him could still happily smile, even laugh. Even though he had never been in such dire situation as them, he had long lost his ability to smile like that.