Title: Baralai at 12
Notes: For wildejoy
Neeta still remembers the day Baralai arrived in Bevelle: just two years old, his chubby fingers held fast in the hand of the temple summoner who had brought him, and totally bald.
"They found him yesterday, in the wreckage of one of the houses," the summoner had said, "two days after the attack. The villagers were gathering the fallen for the sending, and they cleared some rubble and there he was -- barely alive, but alive. Unfortunately, both of his parents were killed, along with most of their neighbors, and no one left is able take him in. Is there a space in the temple orphanage?"
"Of course." Neeta looked down at Baralai, whose eyes were cast toward the pavement, hiding his face. The bare skin on the top of his head gleamed in the morning light. "So young to be left alone... we could never turn him away. But whatever happened to his hair? Did Sin--"
The summoner shook his head. "No, he had a full head of black hair when we found him." He let go of Baralai's hand and rested his palm atop the boy's head. "But when he woke up this morning, it had all fallen out. It's one of the ways a body can react to shock and loss. I've seen it before, although never with one so young." He stroked Baralai's head, letting his hand come to rest on his back. "It will grow back soon."
For the first time, Baralai looked up, first at the summoner, then at Neeta. His eyes were large, a startling dark brown in his small pale face, drawn with grief and two days without food or water. "Promise?"
Neeta knelt down, bringing herself to Baralai's eye level. "I promise," she said. "Baralai, would you like to live here with us?"
He was silent for a moment, looking around the temple, up at the spire. Then he met her eyes again. "Will I be safe?" he asked, his words unusually clear for a child of his age
"Indeed you will. And when you're a little older, perhaps we'll teach you more about Yevon, and how we protect all of Spira from Sin. How does that sound?"
After a short pause, he nodded. Neeta stood and held out her arms, and Baralai stepped into them; she hoisted him to her shoulder, and he put his arms around her neck. She hugged him to her, bid the summoner farewell, and took him to meet the matron.
Baralai had been a model child from that day forward: quiet, polite, respectful, attentive in his lessons. True to the summoner's word, his hair had grown back within a few weeks: thick, straight, and pure white, its color the only reminder of the terrible trauma. He claims not to be able to remember, when the other children ask; he says his memories begin with that moment on the Highbridge, meeting Neeta and being carried to the orphanage. Neeta has her suspicions though, especially on the sunny days when he doesn't show up for afternoon lessons. She finds him in the same place every time: on a balcony overlooking the training ground where the warrior monks sparred, his eyes shining with excitement. A single sharp word from her pulls him away from the wall with no argument; he never complains, or looks over his shoulder. But still, Neeta wonders. Tomorrow is his twelfth birthday, the day he will leave the orphanage to begin his training as a priest, and as she watches him pack, the question she purposefully left unasked comes forth.
"Baralai? Do you really want to be a priest?"
He turns to her with a polite nod. "Yes, ma'am. It's all I've ever wanted. You know that."
"I know it's the path we've always expected you to take." Neeta buries her hands in the sleeves of her robe and looks closely at him -- he is nearly as tall as she, now, his build slight, the shock of white hair standing out against his naturally tanned skin. "But from the way you watch the warrior monks, I sometimes wonder how freely this choice is really made."
He folds the tunic he is holding into a neat square and places it in the bag on his bed, then looks at her with brown eyes that are still too wise for his young face. "Miss Neeta, I thank you for your concern. I do like watching the monks, but I know I can never be one of them. Yevon has called me to be a priest, and so a priest I shall be. I owe Yevon my life; who am I to question how that life shall be dedicated?" He bows to her and smiles. "Now if you'll pardon me, ma'am, I have to let the matron know I'm ready to go."
Neeta follows him out and sends a small prayer to Yevon, hoping with all her heart that they have all made the right decision.
Research Note: Baralai's white hair is one of those things I've always wondered about. Probably the character designer made an aesthetic decision without really considering the causes or implications. Everyone knows stories about a person's hair turning white overnight from fright or stress, so I did a little research and discovered that the individual hairs don't actually change color. Instead, the colored hairs fall out, leaving the white or gray hairs behind, so the effect is that of the hair turning white. Since Baralai is so young, I figure he didn't have any white hair yet, hence the baldness.