Later that night, Bactine and Mrs. Gallagher had a conversation.
“So he claims he’s an elven prince?” asked her mother, peeling a potato. “Do you think he’s lying?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Bactine said dubiously as she swept the floor with a long, rough-looking broom with uneven bristles. “He looks sincere, I guess.”
“All actors tend to look sincere,” said her mother, making very little sense.
“I don’t think he’s an actor,” Bactine replied.
There was a moment where nothing was said.
“He certainly has the whole regal thing down pat. I mean, he practically dismissed Xylic and I just for asking questions. And for some reason when he talks, it sounds important, even though most of what he says isn’t very important at all now that I think about it,” Bactine went on, with a glazed-eyed poignancy about her words. “It’s also as if every move he makes was carefully thought out beforehand. He moves with such grace and purpose, one can’t help staring…”
Her mother looked at her, and Bactine blushed. However, she turned her back to hide it and swept the floor extra vigorously. She was relieved when her mother returned to peeling potatoes, but then she spoke.
“Bactine…” she began. “I’m quite aware of just how beautiful and compelling elves can be, but you need to be careful. Elves and humans are … well, they’re just different. To find a common ground of understanding is practically impossible.”
“Um…” Bactine said.
“What I’m saying is, well, don’t let him crush your heart.”
“Mum!” Bactine objected. “I’ve only just met him!”
“Because it can’t work,” she continued.
“Mum!” Bactine objected again.
“It never does,” she sighed.
“Stop that!” Bactine cried. “I’m not in love with the fellow!”
Then she paused, deciding a little earnestness was in order.
“I just…” she thought for a moment. “Have an appreciation for beauty.”
Her mother just peeled potatoes.
“Like art,” Bactine justified. “He’s a work of art I can appreciate.”
Bactine smiled, satisfied with herself, and swept another part of the floor, which she had already swept three times. Her mother changed the subject.
“So what time will you and Xylic be leaving?” she asked conversationally.
“Probably right after breakfast tomorrow,” Bactine replied. “He’ll be here, so make extra.”
“I always do,” her mother said.
“I’m nervous,” Bactine said.
“Why?” her mother asked.
“What if my teacher doesn’t like me? Or worse yet, what if I don’t measure up? What if we’re all wrong about me and I really don’t have any talent at all?” Bactine thought, looking pensive. “Or what if she sends me home early?”
“Then we can say we tried,” said her mother. “Isn’t that better than nothing?”
“It is,” said Bactine.
“If you don’t try anything, then you’ll never know what you can do,” said her mother, peeling another potato to add to a rather large pile. “I’ve known a lot of people who have told me, ‘I can’t do that’. But do you know what?...”
“What?” Bactine said, indulging her mother.
“They’d never tried it!” she said. “Can you imagine writing something off before even attempting to do it? Honestly, Bactine, we create our own worst limits.”
Bactine pondered that, and watched her mother peel potatoes and found herself wondering, for the first time, if that is what her mother wanted to be doing with her life. It seemed so plain and ordinary. Not extraordinary at all. But at the same time, it brought Bactine so much comfort; comfort she wasn’t even aware existed because it had always been there.
“Mum?” she ventured.
“Hm?” replied her mother, still intent on her pile of tubers.
“Do you like this?” she asked, looking around, and making her point clear with inflection and expression. Her mother smiled at her.
“Bactine, you and your father are my life,” she said.
“Yes, but,” said Bactine. “You could be out… in the world. You could have been a writer, or a poet, or…” she paused, trying to think of something else that her mother would do, but nothing was forthcoming.
“I could,” said her mother. “But upon closer inspection, that would be a very empty life compared to the one I have.”
Bactine didn’t really understand, because peeling potatoes didn’t seem remarkably fulfilling to her.
“Someday, Bactine, you’ll do it too,” she said. “And then you’ll know what I mean.”
During the conversation, Bactine had forgone sweeping for sitting at the wooden table near the stove. She presently had her elbow propped on the table, and her chin flopped into her palm. Her mother took a large bowl of peeled potatoes and put them in the middle of the table, then thrust a knife not altogether without violence into the wood of the table in front of Bactine, starting her out of her thoughts as the knife wobbled back and forth from it’s buried tip. Mrs. Gallagher grinned at her daughter.
“Cut those for me, would you?” and she walked out the back door to gather the laundry.
Sangwine wasn’t altogether pleased with the idea of fighting for coin. Alright, he hated the idea. Vehemently. It chagrined him to no end that now he had to practically beg for his keep. However, he was a Schloeffel, he thought with some pride, and Schloeffels were nothing if not resourceful. He supposed that all of those years spent sword fighting in his youth were not to go to waste.
As he walked into the predictably derelict hallway behind the door that held the parchment with atrocious spelling, he was struck with a horrible odor. Bolstering his courage, he pressed on. Eventually he made it into a room, in which a man sat, who hadn’t shaved for at least three days, and likely hadn’t bathed in three months.
“I’ve come about the sword fighting,” Sangwine said, in a very dignified way. Meanwhile, he was attempting to speak with as little inhaling as possible.
The man turned to him, and kept his seat behind a not surprisingly derelict-looking desk. He put his feet up on his desk, and regarded him some more.
“You’re an elf,” he said plainly.
“Yes, I am,” Sangwine replied, struggling to maintain his manners.
The man’s smile had a ridiculously wolf-like quality to it. It took everything Sangwine had to stop himself from rolling his eyes.
“What do you want with pen fighting?” the man asked.
“I have my reasons,” Sangwine said enigmatically.
His eyes flicked downward to Sangwine’s sword, which was remarkably well forged, and likely worth a fortune. Elven craftsmanship was legendary, if one could get one’s hands on it. The problem was getting your hands on it, since they were so frustratingly enigmatic.
“You’ll have to put something up as collateral,” said the man, with a lopsided sort of grin.
“No, I don’t,” replied Sangwine.
The man’s eyebrows raised, and he looked genuinely surprised by the elf’s reply. Sangwine continued.
“What you need is patrons, and what brings patrons is interest. I have a suspicion you’re lacking elves in your repertoire, and so I can offer you something you can’t get anywhere else,” Sangwine said. “So do you want it or not?”
The man looked equally chagrined and acceptant. He even sulked a little.
“Alright, fine. You start tonight,” he said.
“Good. Now, can you do something about the smell in here?” Sangwine asked the man, whose eyes widened.
“No,” said the man, more than a little outraged at the demand.
The man looked Sangwine over appraisingly.
“The name is Gilden,” he said to Sangwine, holding out a hand.
Sangwine looked at Gilden’s outstretched hand.
He tilted his head slightly and said, “Sangwine.”
“What brings you to this city?” Gilden asked.
“Sightseeing,” Sangwine lied.
Gilden gave him a look, and Sangwine occupied his glance elsewhere, being not very good with lying.
“Very well. You’ll start with Jend tonight,” said Gilden. “Don’t be late.”
“I won’t,” said Sangwine, and he left quickly.
As he emerged from the offending place, he leaned against the wall and drew in the quasi-fresh air outside. He couldn’t do this much longer; he didn’t know how he could bear it. He didn’t even bother to care who Jend was, almost entirely sure that the humans would underestimate him at first. He was smaller than the average male human; smaller and quite a bit faster. They’ll surely throw some fellow with a big sword at him, thinking that would overpower him right out. They never cease to be short-memoried and foolish.
After this little time among them he decided he really didn’t like humans at all. He didn’t before, but now he was quite sure.
But where else could he go?
The thought depressed him. He had to leave. He had to. But then what would he do? He didn’t dare go anywhere near Schloeffelonia again, because then Fang…
Fang. There was one day when Sangwine climbed a tree, and he was stuck in it. It was one of those situations where you can climb up, but then coming back down is a lot more trepidatious. Besides, he was only a few years old. He didn’t remember much from it, except he had been crying, but he remembered Fang, his arms outstretched and his face kind as he helped Sangwine escape his tree-prison. That was one of the few times he remembered Fang his brother. How did it come to this?
He exhaled, refusing to dwell on the madness of Fang because it was extraordinarily painful, considering his solitary and plebeian circumstances as a result. He did briefly wonder what Fang was doing now, and what he might be thinking. Fang’s crimes were well beyond the realm of Sangwine’s conscience to consider. He was beyond the point of being able to even imagine Fang’s state of mind. Sangwine could hardly lie with a straight face; Patricide was so much more that it didn’t even register.
Pushing it all aside, he went on, trying not to step in mud puddles.