Faith snorted and bobbed her head up and down, bored of walking and especially bored of walking so far behind Nolan. Nolan had made it obvious that he didn’t want to walk near me, though, so I’d kept Faith back to respect his wishes. Now that I wasn’t as fired up about the rude band of travellers and their cruel treatment of Nolan, my guilt was chewing me to shreds over our argument.
I shouldn’t have called him weak and pathetic, I knew it for a fact, but there had always been a part of me that had seen him that way. Right from the beginning, I’d known him as the underdog, the outcast and the unwanted one, and had felt like I was doing him a great service by befriending him. I’d stood up for him when he was too passive to stand up for himself, and I’d fought to protect him in a few tricky battles. I’d always felt like the strong one in our relationship, but never in that time had I meant any disrespect or insult to Nolan.
Not even when I’d found out he was tangled.
He walked resolutely down the path in front of Faith, the wind gently tugging on the white gull feathers tied into his hair, and I sighed to see him alone. I hadn’t discovered that he was tangled until just a couple years ago, and it had explained much of Nolan’s past–especially why he had been disliked in his village.
Nolan had been born in the nearby Rindt Forest and had quickly grown into a healthy Wind Shaman child, having inherited his father’s gift for manipulating the wind and his mother’s peaceful temper. He was the typical Rindt boy, with long hair, pointed ears, pupil-less eyes, and a talent for magic, and his elders had predicted that he would grow into a strong, popular young man. But they hadn’t predicted his insatiable desire to help others, and that was what led him into the forest on a Path’s End morning.
Path’s End was the fifth month of the Rindt calendar, and the one month during which all the Rindt children were warned to keep out of the forest. It was named for its over-abundance of the knotted folk, who were born into this month and flooded the woods with energetic young. The knotted folk were considered devils or demons to most people in the towns, because if they ever touched a child’s brow, it was said that the child would die.
Nolan had told me about the knotted folk once, just in passing, and had explained that the child didn’t actually die, but was cursed. The curse affected the child’s blood kin and usually most of the village, and so most of the tangled, as they were called, were exiled from their homeland. What Nolan hadn’t realized, as he’d told me this, was that sometimes being cursed and being dead meant the same thing.
When a tangled child was cast from the village and wandered into the towns, they were often treated poorly, sometimes beaten and usually starved. The towns people didn’t know enough to see that the child was tangled–they saw only that they were different, and typically blamed it on some sort of dark magic at work. Until I’d had all of this explained to me by one of the town’s more isolated seers, I too had believed it was dark magic. I had been shocked when I’d found out that Nolan–sweet, gentle Nolan–was one of the tangled.
The day he’d wandered into the trees, he had been following one of the younger Rindt boys, one who didn’t know any better and was sure to get himself hurt. Nolan had caught up to the boy just as a pack of curious knotted folk young were surrounding him, and had been too late to stop the little boy from being touched and tangled. But when he’d shooed away the knotted folk and had picked up the little boy to carry him back to the village, he had drawn some of the tangledness into himself. The knotted magic took hold of him in a weaker state, making him only half-cursed, and technically only half-tangled.
So while the tangled boy had been outcast, Nolan had been allowed to stay because of his uncertain condition. He had started taking on the tangled symptoms, though, and that won him only distrust from the others in the village, which led to his eventual exile when I’d befriended him.
I hadn’t realized he was tangled for most of our friendship, though he had shown the signs. He was twitchy and flighty, always on the move, sometimes slow to understand social cues and often over-expressive with his face and his gestures. It made him seem less intelligent and different from everyone else–which is what I, as someone who grew up in the town, understood as being tainted by dark magic. But being tainted and being tangled were two very different things–though the Rindt folk thought that being tangled meant bad luck, like being tainted, it was according to seer lore that being tangled meant only that a person could no longer lead a straight and simple life. Their path had become confused and their fate was no longer straightforward.
What that meant for Nolan, I didn’t really know, but what I did know was that his tanglement, though not as strong, still affected others’ treatment of him. It was as if he had the word “tangled” tattooed across his forehead; people like those travellers could see the tanglement on him and treated him like dirt because of it. They thought he was some bearer of black magic and curses and were afraid that it would be passed onto them. That was why they’d shoved him to the ground. That was why I’d been angry.
It wasn’t Nolan’s intention to be tangled when he helped the little Rindt boy, but he was paying for a good deed with never-ending suffering. I saw this every time we went to town, and every time, I wished that he would stand up for himself. That he would refuse to be treated like garbage. I hadn’t tried to fight because I wanted to cause trouble–I’d tried to fight to help my friend. Yet he couldn’t see that, and it frustrated me.
Ahead, Nolan stopped. He stood at the end of the path, at the edge of the trees. Beyond was where the gypsy tribe lived, our destination.
“We’re here,” Nolan said, his voice hard and emotionless.
I looked into his pale green eyes, trying to communicate my concern, wishing he would understand. But then he turned away, and so I wordlessly nudged Faith forwards towards the dark, cool forest.
This is why Nolan was treated so harshly last chapter. People can very easily tell when someone is tangled, even if they don’t realize that it’s tanglement, because tanglement leaves a sort of trace–kind of a leftover aura from the touch of the knotted folk. So even though Nolan is only partially tangled, there’s still enough of it on him for people to distrust him, and assume that he’s somehow been corrupted by dark magic.
More LotSF to come this weekend, and this time with the gypsy tribe. I hope to get some more drawings of them done before then.
What was the last thing you drew?
May you find your way along your path, no matter how tangled it may be.