It was a bright, summer day when everything changed. Atuel had been told the worst times come with waves of dark clouds, rain, and thunder that rumbled. But there was not a single puff of white in the sky that day. The weather was fair, and he had, at his early age, just returned home with a smile wide and vibrant.
His friends had just finished their daily play time, parents called them away, but his were not there that day. Atuel thought little of it, but it was a sign for future woes. Never had his mother missed this moment. She would alway be there for him, waiting at the edge of the playground with a gaggle of servants.
Her long robes shone with color as she sat on a palanquin made of dark wood inscribed with flowing serpentine dragons. They roared to the heavens as they wound around the pillars that kept the roof up.
Not this time though.
A pale servant had rushed him with as much decorum as she could. He could hear the whispers behind him, indistinct but like the buzzing of a fly. Everyone looked at him with weird glances, but he had been used to it. Who would not stare at the Son of a powerful family?
With his ball in hand, robes dirty, and a giant smile, he called, “Mother.”
The sound of a slap shattered his nearly perfect day. He had reached the door to his mothers room; the film showing shadows. A man, father, standing over another figure sitting on her knees.
“-you think I would believe such blatant lies, whore? Why would Ju place my mothers most precious jewelry in your drawers? Do you believe the world is centered around you?! She may be a concubine, but she is my concubine!”
“Please, Lord Husband. You must believe me!” his mother said in between sobs. “She is a scheming fox with an evil heart. She sent her servants to put the Black Jade in my-”
Atuel jumped with the sound of the slap. He felt frozen. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to do it? His father wasn’t supposed to do that, right?
“Get out of my sight.” His father whispered in a way Atuel had never heard before. It was filled with hatred and disgust that nearly brought bile to his mouth.
The door slid open. Atuel stood rooted in his spot, ball falling out of his hands without his awareness. His father stared at him with a look he did not recognize. It was something he never experienced before nor did he have any inkling of what it could have meant.
He sneered at Atuel. “Take this pathetic whelp with you.”
“No! No! Hu Bao!” His mother screeched. Atuel felt his ears ringing as he saw his mother on the ground struggling to crawl to his father's feet.
He kicked her away. “Neither of you has a place within this family. Nor will you receive any assistance from this day forth. Return to the filth you had come from.”
With that, his father left, robes fluttering in the light winds of a perfect day. It left them in a moment of terror. His mother rushed to him, hugging him close. He could feel her shake, with eyes wide as a rabbit being hunted and makeup a complete mess from the tears.
“Mom?” he called.
“It's going to be alright, little dumpling. Everything is going to be fine.” She chuckled, it was broken. He could see her eyes change color from his vantage point.
He reached up, touching her face. She flinched back. “Mom, your eyes. What's wrong with them? They’re turning white.” he felt a dam break, with it came a hundred questions. From why was his dad yelling, to what his look had meant. What did a scheming fox mean?
He got no answers that day.
Atuel later learned what that look meant. All the servants carried it on their faces as they were thrown out of the massive family home. There was no veneration as he was used to. No palanquin to carry them, no servants to care for their needs. All they had were the few things they owned and a sack of shingling coins smaller than what he had carried before.
Atuel saw a familiar face, the gate’s guard he always escaped from. A kind smile he was used to. “Uncle! Uncle! What’s happening?”
“Get away from me.”
Atuel froze as the kind smile morphed into disgust. The wrinkles only made him seem more unapproachable instead of a warm beckon of love.
“I don't have anything to give beggars.”
“Uncle-” before he could finish, his mother pulled him away.
For an entire month, they lived in the harshest environments that Atuel had ever been in. They slept on hardwood, no blankets to cover them from the night’s chilling winds. They ate soups of gruel instead of the white rice and savoury meat he was familiar with. The bread was more solid than the stone of his home…
And worse, his mother had become blind. She would weep every night, petting him like he would the animals. Whispers of what happened would reach his ears whenever she thought of him asleep. She would speak her heart out to the air, looking for any form of solace to which there was none.