Chapter 19: Chapter (3)
Pincheno knew from one glance that the boy wouldn’t answer so easily, and so decided to speak first. “I’m called Pincheno. I’ve been traveling here and there through Debussy, so I’m… well, like this. Anyway, what about you? Are you the only one here?”
The boy looked around. The arrival of an outsider would have caused quite a stir, and the townspeople would have already poked their heads out of the windows to catch a glimpse of the old man. But not now. Now, there was no one. Pincheno didn’t press the boy for answers and simply stared at him.
“I… I think so.” At last, the boy answered.
“You don’t live here, do you?”
The boy really didn’t know how to answer this one. He couldn’t just run off to avoid answering, but he couldn’t quite explain his situation either.
“That right there… That’s my house.”
“And your parents?”
Deciding that he was towering above the boy, Pincheno stretched his (rather long) legs and stepped down from the rock and took one more step closer to the boy.
“I… I went into that forest.” the boy explained. “And when I came back… Everyone was gone.”
“Hmm, so that means there were people living here after all.”
Pincheno turned around to glance towards the center of the deserted town, satisfied that things were just as interesting as he had expected them to be.
“May I take a look around?”
The boy nodded, seeing no reason to refuse, and followed along as Pincheno began to walk. He started with the house next to the boy’s and went through all the houses one by one. Their excursion ended with the two entering the boy’s house.
“Hmm. Interesting. Appearance-wise, it looks like there were people living here up to very recently, but… Could they really just have ‘disappeared’?”
The boy felt some comfort knowing that the old man had reached the same conclusion as he had, so when Pincheno pointed at the cabinet and asked if he could eat some of the bread, he nodded without a second thought, going as far as to offering him a cup of water. And so, the two sat together and ate their small breakfast of bread and water.
“By the way, what’s this town called?”
“I don’t know.” The boy answered as he fiddled with his cup, “They just called it a peasant town.”
Well organized sentence structure along with adequate manners. Surely, thought Pincheno, he was a boy of learning.
“Are you literate?”
“…No.” The boy pretended to chew on some bread as to delaying his answer. He hadn’t learned how to read or write the language of this world, so he hadn’t really lied, had he?
Regardless of what the boy’s answer, Pincheno himself was quite excited. He hadn’t felt like this in quite a long time. People just “disappearing” from a peasant town and a boy who looked like he didn’t belong here at all? This was more than enough to spark Pincheno’s curiosity, but the boy was composed and polite and clever on top of everything else. It was simply fascinating.
“What were you looking at earlier?” Pincheno asked again.
All the boy knew about this old man was his name and the fact he didn’t really come off as a threat, but he had still been taught the concept of “stranger danger” in school, so the boy couldn’t help but be guarded as the conversation went on.
“The mountains,” he answered after some consideration.
“I thought that maybe… Everyone had gone there.”
“And that’s why you’re waiting?”
“That’s what I thought I should do yesterday… But I think I should go look for them now.”
“So why were you just looking, instead of going?”
The boy began fiddling with his cup again. He looked nervous as he answered.
“The adults said we were never to go there. Said that if we did, we couldn’t ever come back.”
There was no doubt in Pincheno’s mind that the boy was thinking of going alone if he had to.
“And that scares you?”
“…Yes, it does. But I still have to go.”
What an honest child.
“What if they’re not there?”
“Then I’ll go look elsewhere.”
The boy had decided to not give up, and Pincheno rather liked those unwavering eyes of his.
“Alright then, shall I accompany you?”
“I’m in no hurry to get anywhere, and I very well can’t let you go off into the mountains all alone. I think it’s my duty as an adult to look after children such as yourself.”
Truthfully speaking, the boy was taken aback by the old man’s kindness. It was a bit overwhelming.
“Um, they said it was a dangerous place.”
“Are you worrying about me? Thank you for that, but I assure you I’m not as weak as you may think, child. I’m strong enough to look after the both of us.”
Even as Pincheno reassured him, the boy couldn’t help but look at the old man’s wrinkly skin and hunched back, wondering whether he would have to support him as they traveled.
“You still have your whole life ahead of you. To be honest, I’d rather go to the ‘dangerous place’ by myself and tell you what I saw once I come back, but something tells me you wouldn’t like that. Am I right?”
It was a matter of course. The boy wouldn’t rest easy until he saw things for himself. Not to mention, should the townspeople really not be there, being present to confirm things would be the only way to decide the next course of action: to go to a different part of the mountain range, or to cross over it completely.
“That’s why I’m saying we should go together. So? Do you accept?”
It wasn’t a choice the boy was particularly keen on, but the mountains were uncharted territory. Thinking that having an adult with him could perhaps be better than going alone, the boy finally agreed. Pincheno’s wrinkles curved up as he smiled. “If you don’t have anything else to pack, we should get going right away. We might end up wandering through the mountains in the dark if we leave too late.”
The boy nodded and went into the other room to pick out some heavy, thick clothes to put in his backpack. The firewood he had gathered inside it lay strewn about on the floor, but neither of them paid any attention to it as they left the house. Pincheno kept pace with the boy by relying on his trusty cane, but his curiosity broke the silence once more. “Say, child. What is your name?”
The boy hesitated for a moment before answering. “…My name is Lucid.”
In that exact instant, the pendant at the boy’s neck began to glow, but it was buried too deep within the boy’s clothes for either of them to notice. The light was absorbed back into the pendant just as suddenly as it had erupted, and by the time Pincheno had turned around to look at the boy, perplexed by the sudden force he had felt, the pendant had gone back to being no more than an ornament.
“That’s a good name. Were you born at daybreak?”
“I’m not sure. Is that what it means?”
“The name Lucid,” Pincheno chuckled as he explained, “means ‘bright dawn’ in the ancient language of the south. It’s used to represent the beginning of a new day, as well as a morning of hope. I’m sure whoever named you did so with the hopes of blessing your future.”
This was the first time Lucid had ever been told of the origin of his name, and he silently repeated the phrase “bright dawn” to himself.
“So, who did name you?”
“I’m… Not sure of that, either.”
He had always just been “Lucid,” and he had never been told about who named him. Had it been his father? But the longer he thought about it, the more questions formed in his head. Neither his father nor his mother had ever taught him letters, let alone numbers and operations. His father had passed away two years before Lucid was sent to the other world. He had been only five years old at the time, much too young for his father to effectively teach him things. This, Lucid understood. However, that was not the case for his mother. His mother had never taught him anything, whether letters or numbers, and he had never seen her use them. That was why the only numbers he knew were the three cups and two chairs that were in the house, describing things indirectly if he ever needed to explain amounts greater than that. Even the small mountain behind the institute had had a name (Yongcheon Mountain), yet neither the forest he knew nor the tall mountains beyond had names. Even if they did, the boy didn’t know of them. No one had taught him about them. Yet, this ignorance had never really proven a disadvantage. There had been no issues carrying on with their everyday life. Even now, he knew that the only reason he was able to think this way was thanks to the education he had received during his year in the other world. Otherwise, it would have taken him much longer to realize his lack of knowledge.
Yet here he was, with a name derived from an ancient language. Something didn’t quite add up. Perhaps his parents truly had no knowledge of letters and numbers. But then, who had named him?
As the boy pondered over the meaning of his name and his parents’ identity, the two soon reached the forest that covered the foot of the mountains.
“You said you’ve been here a couple times, yes?”
The boy nodded in answer.
“Hmm, I see. Shall we go, then? Will you lead the way?”
Pincheno watched as the boy walked in front of him. He usually kept his distance from both children and adults alike, but for some reason, he felt rather fond of this child. Thinking of all the things Pincheno went through during his travels, it was madness to let down his guard, even towards children, but he couldn’t help but relax when he looked into the boy’s eyes. They were so full of that childish innocence, even when fully guarded, that Pincheno wondered whether the boy was from a different country altogether. Though thinking of it, the town had been quite far removed from the mainland.
“Have you ever traveled to other places? Other towns?”
The boy pushed aside a protruding branch as he continued to walk. It was a difficult question to answer, but his voice was nonchalant.