Kelda had heard stories about the strange woman and her witch-child that lived on the outskirts of town. How she danced naked with demons and that her son, with his blue skin and luminous eyes, was a result of it. Others said she was a terrible enchantress and she'd made some dark pact with ancient gods, and the boy was a product of that.
The stories went on and on, none of them nice, all of them fearful, but everyone would smile nervously when the woman would come into town. She was too young to remember when it started, when she carried her strange, tiny bundle with her. They were nearly the same age, Kelda supposed, though the boy was nothing like the other children in Nordberg. He was sullen, swaddled tightly and covered up in furs. His mother was cross and crisp with merchants and she never stayed long, and when Kelda was old enough to start to understand why everyone was afraid and why the woman and her son were strange, their visits had become more and more scarce. Sometimes the other children would complain that he was a bully, but he'd only ever looked at his boots in her presence. The other children, Kelda had long ago decided, were rubbish.
The last day they were both seen in town, she recalled, the smithy caught on fire out of the blue. Her parents talked about it in hushed whispers, how the Witch Boy had started it, how his mother had dragged him out of town by the scruff of his neck like a dog.
That was why she was outside of the walls, why she wasn't doing her chores like she was supposed to. Empire Taxes were starting to make everyone poorer and poorer, and her father stayed up late every night fretting and having his eldest look after the home. She had a younger brother, the reason their mother was no longer alive, and so it fell to her to try and sort it all out. What she wanted to do was learn to hunt, to play and have adventures, but instead she was stuck at home with her baby brother, and she was tired of all of it.
Surely the strange Witch Boy, with his cross mother and strange powers, could be a fine diversion from her dreary life. Her brother would be fine with the neighbors, and her father would be out hunting until sundown at least.
The location of the hut was no secret to anyone in town, but as she trudged up the steep hill, the wind brought her the sharp smell of burning. She hurried her steps, lifting her skirts, wishing she could just wear pants. Her father couldn't afford new clothes, however, and so she suffered in relative silence.
It was gone. Burnt down. Recently, even, a thin plume of smoke from the embers of the little cottage drifting off into the wind.
Kelda was cross a moment, thinking she'd wasted her morning trekking through the snow to find they'd been killed by stupid townsfolk, but she spotted the strange boy a moment later. He was sitting in front of the burnt-up house, huddled into a ball and shivering despite his thick furs.
"Hey, you!" she called out eagerly, hurrying towards him, "Witch Boy! Did you burn your house down? It must've been marvelous to see."
He turned to look at her sharply, his luminous eyes narrowed to slits, and he huddled in tighter to himself, digging his fingers into his tattered coat.
"Haven't you got gloves, Witch Boy?" she blinked at him, stopping short and tilting her head at him, "You don't talk very much."
The Witch Boy turned away, curled into as tight a ball as he could manage. Occasionally little puffs of vapor would curl away from his scarf-wrapped mouth, the only clue that he was a person and not just a lump of clothing in the snow. Something bad had happened, then? Maybe he hadn't burnt it down on purpose?
A small sniffle drew her attention away from the house again and Kelda frowned, going to sit next to the boy. He turned to glare at her a moment and shuffled away from her, but she followed gamely. The second time, he didn't try to leave, but he still didn't say a word, staring glumly at the remains of the house.
"Where's your mum at, Witch Boy?" Kelda asked after what she thought was an adequate silence, "She's going to be cross that you burned your house down."
He shook his head and his eyes fell down to his boots, which he picked at with his hands. Kelda frowned, trying to discern what he was trying to say without actually saying anything. It was a frustrating exercise, but perhaps she ought to ask only one question at a time.
"Did you burn the house down?" she asked, promptly rewarded with a nod.
She considered, and then asked, "Was your mum burnt up too?"
He shook his head no.
"So she's alive just... not here," Kelda frowned. He nodded, "Is she coming back?"
Another no and a brief, tight hug of himself softened Kelda's expression. She had been sad when her own mum had gone, though the reason was quite different.
"It's okay," she said, boldly taking his hand, which was freezing, "I'll look after you. I look after my baby brother, too."
He jerked his hand out of hers and got to his feet. Kelda scowled and stood as well. He wasn't very tall. Maybe he was younger than she was?
"Haven't you got mittens?" she asked him when he simply stood there glaring balefully. Some townsfolk got nervous when those yellow-orange eyes were fixed on them, but not her. He'd never done anything to her, so why should she be afraid?
The Witch Boy shook his head no and jammed them into his pockets.
"I'll get you some," she determined, frowning again, though gentler this time, "Do you want a hug? When my mum went, it made me feel better sometimes."
Another glare, and Kelda huffed, folding her arms over her chest.
"Well I'll get you some mittens, anyway, even if you're just a grump," she said, stomping back down the hill. It took her a few minute to realized he'd started following her. His expression was impossible to read thanks to his hood and scarf, but the way his eyes were slightly squinted told her that he was confused about something.
"Just because you're grumpy doesn't mean I won't get you mittens," she sighed, attempting to guess at the source of his confusion, "Your hands were really cold. Just because you're blue doesn't mean you like cold, right?"
He shook his head, and then his eyes widened. She didn't understand what for until she pitched forward suddenly, missing a step she would've otherwise noted to be treacherous had she been looking where she was going instead of the strange boy.
Kelda yelped as she tumbled down the steep hill, scrabbling at the loose snow uselessly as she tried to slow her descent. She'd crack her head on a tree or worse-! Something blue zipped past her, and then she hit something. Not hard, she noticed, but her tumble still stopped abruptly.
The Witch Boy had rushed ahead, somehow, and even though he was smaller than her he was holding her up in his arms while she stared at him wide-eyed.
"It's steep," he said. His voice was quiet and he carefully righted her, brushing off the snow. There was an awkwardness to his actions that made her think he wasn't used to touching others, but just now, he was game to try.
"Thank you," she said, smiling sweetly, "You're not just a grump after all, are you?"
He shook his head no and rather helplessly shrugged his shoulders.