Haven’s child they called me. I was well into learning my letters before I realised that ‘haven’ was not always synonymous with bastard, foundling, unwanted.
I had a roof over my head with the schoolmaster, but I was always aware I was an outsider. A burden. Fortunate not to have been left to starve. By no means would you have called it a home. The local children sometimes deigned to play with me, but I was always picked last for the teams, after even the kid who couldn’t catch or run. There’s a school of thought that says you can’t miss what you’ve never had, but I knew – I knew the way I grew up was different to most others. I knew they would go home at night to parents who loved them. The master never hugged me, but I yearned for some friendly touch.
Not to give the impression I was neglected, or beaten, because I wasn’t. I was treated scrupulously fairly by the school owners who had adopted me as their duty. I was fed, clothed, taught right from wrong, given free run of the town library when it became obvious I hungered for the written word.
But never once was I congratulated for getting good grades. It was just expected off me. There was no one to turn to when the local kids taunted me with names. The good-wives of the district would whisper about me at gatherings, before staring pointedly in my direction.
No one ever told me what I had done to deserve such treatment. Just the act of being left as a mewling bundle in a cradle on the guesthouse doorstep after the travellers had passed through town, was enough to condemn me.
Gypsy-get. I had wanderers-blood in my veins, so there was no point in getting attached to me. One day I’d just be gone, like my people before me. No loyalty to any but my own kind, the gossiping wives would mutter darkly, crossing the street so their darling children would not be polluted by my touch. No matter that I looked like no Traveller ever had, with my thick, curling soft brown hair, honey-pale skin and storm grey eyes. I still looked different to the village stock of tall blondes, and sometimes that was enough.
When they could look past the colour of my skin, there was still the problem of my charity status. Living off the goodness of others endeared me to no one. The stigma was there; haven had been claimed for me. Whilst no one would dare deny the right of all of god’s creations to claim haven, our region had grown apart from following the older ways. Automatic, unthinking hospitality had decreased as the wealth of the area increased. Where once I might have been absorbed whole-heartedly into the community, considered no different than a native child, now I lived on sufferance. I shamed them as I walked among them. And that endeared me to the populous even less.
Everything changed the day the priest drove into town…