It took Gil nearly an hour to backtrack, and he was almost in sight of his village when he spotted his pants hanging from a tree. He had only the vaguest memory of kicking them off last night – just a sense that soon after he had set out, they had begun to feel increasingly uncomfortable and constricting. Gods only knew how far he had gotten before discarding his shirt; he had not stumbled across it on the return journey.
Slinking down to the swimming hole for a proper wash, he had a stroke of luck: some other kid had left a shirt behind last week, when it had been sunny enough to wander home half-clothed. After scrubbing the remaining bloodstains off his skin, he was able to return home dressed – if not fully, then enough to avoid questions from anyone he passed along the way. By this time the sun was peeping over the horizon and the village was beginning to stir, but the only people he passed were thralls headed out to begin their day’s work in the fields, and they had no interest in where he was coming from or how he was dressed.
He almost breathed a sigh of relief as he reached his home without incident, but of course that was premature. It was too much to hope that he could slip in unnoticed. It began as soon as he opened the door.
“Look who’s slinking in at dawn. Been out getting in touch with your wild side?”
On the way home he’d had time to consider how to handle this confrontation, and he stuck to the plan.
“Sure, Modir. Studying the stars so long that I fell asleep. Real wild.” Plausible enough, since she knew he’d been considering joining a trading expedition when he was old enough, and had been learning what he could about navigation. Banal enough to discourage further questions.
“Well, you can’t blame a mother for getting her hopes up, can you? You know what it would mean, not just to us, but for the whole clan.”
He knew exactly what it would mean if everyone knew. That’s why he was determined to hide the truth at all costs.