characters: dove, abioye [ mentions of jahi and raiya ]
He wasn’t exactly sure what to think of the scrawny child that they brought in front of him. As the Keeper’s First it wasn’t uncommon for Abioye, affectionately known as Abi to practically no one in the clan, to have to deal with situations involving unruly children from both inside and outside the group. The Keeper had said it was important for him to learn how to handle everything, since he was going to be taking over one day, but Abi was fairly certain that was her way of saying she couldn’t be bothered to deal with it and therefore was passing the buck. He was barely in his teens, as if he knew anything about dealing with children. More often than not half the clan called him a child anyway, him and his usual group of his younger sister and his basically adopted older sister, so when it came to handling kids he was basically a fish out of water.
The child in front of him seemed to be able to smell his fear, or maybe the expression on his face was enough to let her know he was completely at a loss for her, and she took it upon herself to grin widely. She couldn’t have been more than three or four summers old, her scuffed up legs and awkward frame more than enough evidence. Also, she was tiny, like a small little chick with unruly hair that remind him of a discarded nest. A glance to the left and right only showed Abi that the adults around him were watching, like hawks to a deceased Halla, and he frowned at their expressions as he turned back to the little girl.
After letting out a long sigh, one he exaggerated to the point of nearly getting light-headed, he decided to speak. “What do you want from me? I mean what am I supposed to do with you?” A few adults frowned. He wasn’t doing this right, or at least not how they wanted him to. "Er, that is, how can I help you? What seems to be the problem?“ The little girl only looked up at him, the grin not leaving her face. Part of him wondered if she was fade-touched, seeing as she just stood there smiling, but that was hardly the case. If it was something as simple as that they wouldn’t require the Keeper or the First - someone else in the clan would take the child in and raise her as their own. The Clan took care of one another, even a screw up like him was most welcome. "Can you even talk?”
“Lil.” Came the voice, soft and unsteady. If she could talk it was obvious she didn’t do it enough, and now Abi wore the frown that he’d seen on his elders. "Not good, but try.“
Kneeling down to her height, as he was getting tired of staring at her, Abi motioned for the little girl to come closer. Her steps were a waddle, slow but steady and almost as if she was unaware how to properly keep her balance. "Why can’t you talk good? Didn’t anyone try to teach you?” Behind him someone cleared their throat, and he looked to see them shake their head. Either they were saying no one bothered, or they were saying he shouldn’t ask. Whatever. "My name’s Abioye. Can you say that at least?“
"Boe.” She looked so proud of herself.
He winced. “Not even close. Try again, or just call me Abi if that’s easier.”
There was a pause, and she opened her mouth. "Abi.“ Now it was his turn to give her the goofy grin, and a pat on that mound of curl. "Abi.”
“That’s right. What’s your name?” Another cough from behind him, and Abi turned on the elder. "Look, unless you’ve got a cold you need to either quit coughing or go see the healer. I’m trying to have a conversation here.“ All he got for his trouble was a tug on his ear from the Keeper, who magically seemed to appear just in time to scold him, and he cursed under his breath as he rubbed the offended spot.
"She doesn’t have a name. One of our hunters found her wandering in the woods, no far from where we set up camp.” The way the Keeper spoke had a mixture of pity and concern behind each word. It made Abi suspicious, not that he was already doubtful of this whole deal to begin with. "Apparently she was cast out from her clan. Probably has been living alone for a while, from the looks of things that is.“
Abi cleared his throat. The only reason a child would be out and about alone boiled down to two things: her clan was attacked and wiped clean, or she was gifted with magic and her clan already had too many mages to keep her in. The second seemed more likely, sicne she wasn’t injured in any way, and it disgusted him to think they’d so easily turn out a child this young. "We’ve already got three here.”
The little girl looked up at him and he was pretty sure he’d never seen such beautiful blue eyes. Aside from his own, of course. "I am aware. That’s why I’m leaving this to you.“ The Keeper reached down and touched the child’s face, causing her to draw back and closer to Abi.
"That’s cruel. Why’d you even bring her if it’d make too many?” The Keeper sighed as she watched Abi repeat her motion, though his pale hand on the child’s face didn’t result in her pulling away. Instead she practically dropped into his arms, a small chirp of either sadness or comfort escaping her lips. "You know I’m not going to let you turn her out. You brought me into this clan when I was about her age, or so you say.“ The Keeper smiled. Abi wasn’t sure what that meant. "You’re being creepy.”
“We hadn’t planned on turning her out. Our clan can handle more than three mages, thank you very much.” So had he passed her test or what? Was this even a test? Her words had Abi confused, but the Keeper continued. "If we can handle you than one more won’t even begin to be a problem.“ She chuckled at the end of her sentence. He wasn’t amused. "For the time being it looks like she’s going to be attached at your hip. As my First, I charge you with taking care of her until she’s properly settled and we can find someone to take her in."
"How long is that going to be?” The Keeper shrugged and Abi was sure he wanted to light her on fire. "Okay, fine. I’ll take care of her for now. Only for now though.“
The Keeper shrugged again. "Considering you basically raised Raiya until you were both taken in by another I think you’ll be fine with caring for a child.” If he had anything else to say to her it was pointless, and the Keeper turned and walked away into the dispersing crowd. Everyone had gathered to watch him and he bitterly cursed at how quickly they scattered when he needed help. Maybe after it was over he’d find Jahi and her mother, or at least Raiya, and see what to do.
But for now? "You planning on sleeping on me?“ During the conversation, as brief as it had been, Abi was sure he’d felt her weight change. It went from light to heavy, like a sleeping body, and sure enough to tiny frame that was clinging to his chest emitted a few snores here and there as she slept in his arms. "Fine, whatever.” It was no trouble to scoop her into his arms, her little head of golden hair tucking neatly under his chin, and he couldn’t help but blush happily as she squeezed her tiny fingers against his tunic. "You know, I think you need a name.“
She didn’t reply, clearly asleep, and Abi paused for a moment. "I think I’ll call you Dove. You flew right into my arms little bird, and I suppose I’ll take care of you.”