Chapter 21: Forgiveness must be earned - Charl

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(Alternatively: it is better to forgive than to forget because if you forget they can do it again)

Charl stared at the fire, watching the flames flicker and spark. He was very close to it, but he couldn't feel the warmth of it.

"Charl."

He ignored Renzo.

"Charl."

"I'm not talking to you," Charl said.

"But you just did."

Charl growled. "I said I'm not talking to you."

Renzo sighed. "Alright, then can you listen?"

Charl continued to stare at the fire, listening to its crackles and pops.

"You need to learn how to use your magic, for your protection. I'm not capable enough to protect you on my own. Not from the extreme dangers."

Charl turned around. "But you did protect me!" He shouted.

Renzo stilled. "Barely. I barely managed to protect you."

Charl glared silently.

"And that's why you need to learn."

Charl pressed his lips together. "And that's why I'm not talking to you!"

Charl turned back around and huffed as he crossed his arms. Renzo just didn't get it.

"Everything I have done has been to protect you, Charl. It-, it's my job now, the one task I've dedicated my life to. Let me do it."

"You're not my dad!" Charl yelled. "Because if you were you'd be dead!"

Charl froze, realizing what he just said. He sucked in a deep desperate breath.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it," he said softly.

Arms he didn't want to touch him wrapped around his shoulders. "I know you didn't," Renzo said.

Charl hiccuped. "You could have found a way, though, you-you-you-you're an adult, you know things!"

Renzo sighed. "Adults are just children in large bodies pretending they know how the world works, I thought this was the answer, Charl, I really did. That's why I did it."

Charl refused to cry. "I hate you," he whimpered.

A sad chuckle and a puff of breath. "I hate you too."

Charl's tiny body shook with the effort of holding in his tears. "I love you," he whispered.

"I love you too."

Charl broke down and cried.

****

Renzo was meditating, focusing on his self, his image. He could feel it beneath his skin, the energy that formed his soul. It was golden bright and flowed, full of information stored in little bubbles.

He reached out and touched it, diverting the flow, changing the way his soul looked. He could feel his body reject the change though, so he pushed it back.

Renzo sighed. He could feel it, the information inside him, but he didn't quite know what it said, what it meant. It was hard to understand. He'd been trying for years, but all that knowledge had been lost, no one in his city knew how to change souls anymore.

He recalled the first time he glimpsed his wife's soul, when they first met. He had known instantly that they would be good together, he had felt it like something he knew from long ago, a fact that was always true.

He smiled sadly to himself, wishing he knew how to be better, do better, for Charl. Marigold would know, she knew so much about how to be kind, but Renzo didn't. He was a diplomat, a spy, not a caretaker.

He could never face her again, not in this life, but he could get Charl to her, to somewhere safe.

"Renzo?" Charl asked.

He turned to look at his ward. "Yes?"

"What's your wife like?"

Renzo smiled. "Her fur is golden beautiful. Her blue eyes match with the tunic she likes to wear and the mark on her back is an emblem of the sun."

Renzo felt a tear sink into his fur. "She's a caretaker, she looks after other people's children when they're too busy to do it themselves. She's so good at it, you'd think she was actually born to do it!" Renzo huffed out a laugh.

"We used to joke that it was her job to lead the young and my job to lead the grown, and between the two of us we could rule the world."

Renzo sniffed. "Sometimes, with how smart she was, I would almost believe it."

Charl stared up at him. "Why'd she marry you?"

Renzo was sure there was a bit of pointedness in the question, some half-unintended insinuation that he shouldn't be loved. That was okay though, Charl had every right to still be mad.

"She liked that I could play music and that I would dance with her. She liked that I lived more like the old ways. That I listened to my heart and not just my mind. She loved that I kept our species history intact, that I recited the ancient prayers to myself and lived like we weren't trapped in a tiny tiny city with not enough space for too many people. She loved that I loved her."

Renzo smiled. "I don't deserve her, and I hope she'll forgive me for what I've done."

"I won't forgive you." Charl's face was blank, nothing telling Renzo just how serious he was or was not.

Renzo smiled at him. "I know," he said calmly, almost sadly. "I don't expect anyone to forgive me. I've done some pretty bad things, betrayed so many people with the things I've done. I should never be forgiven."

Charl's face fell, his lip threatening to wobble, but he didn't say anything. That was fine, perfectly fine. Renzo hadn't expected him to anyway.

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