On another day, in Bactine’s front yard, she leaned against one of the old fence posts that framed her yard, comfortable enough with them to know that as weathered as they look, they’d still hold her weight. Besides: if they didn’t, at least something interesting would happen. Xylic was sitting on her front porch, in a chair leaned back on two legs, and Snowball was coiled in a fuzzy puddle on his lap. Animals seemed to instinctually like Xylic, and this she found odd because he wasn’t a welcoming individual.
She occupied herself with picking long, seeded blades of grass and twisting them in such a way to shoot the pods in Xylic’s direction. She’d only managed to hit the edge of his cloak once in about half an hour when her mother emerged from inside.
“Bactine!” her mother began, but stopped as she noticed Xylic, who hadn’t moved. “Oh, Xylic. Hello.”
“Hello, Mrs. Gallagher,” he replied, as inordinately polite as ever to Bactine’s parents. She never really understood why he showed this uncharacteristic politeness, but she didn’t question it, because it always put him in unusually good terms with her mother and father, and therefore she was allowed to do just about anything she wanted to in his company.
Her mother smiled and said to Bactine, “Hang up the wash, would you?” She then handed her a tremendously heavy basket full of wet clothes.
In the backyard, long lines stretched where hanging fabric was clipped and either hung sopping in the wind or some time later flapped lazily in the breeze.
“Hand me one of those, would you?” he asked, unceremoniously hanging a pair of stray wet pants.
She took one of the wooden clips from her mouth and gave it over, while keeping a hand on the shirt partially hung on her part of the line. They were side by side, empty minded in the domesticity of that particular chore, and then some pieces of white fluff began trolling by, carried by the air. Bactine was distracted by the fluff, which floated up, then down into the golden late afternoon sunlight. She gazed, and then began philosophizing.
“That fluff, Xylic…” she began, clutching an unidentifiable piece of wet laundry thoughtlessly to her bosom.
“Eh?” he said, pinning up a sock with great care.
“It seems so aimless and free, doesn’t it?”
“But it isn’t at all. That fluff has great purpose,” she continued.
“If you say so.”
“It carries a seed, and from that seed comes a plant, and from that plant comes more seeds, and from each of those seeds comes more plants, and it goes on and on as far as can be imagined,” she went on. “Inside that fluff is enough potential to fill the world with it’s own kind… but if I were to catch it, and to stop it, and crush it, what would happen?”
“No, I’d stop the chain. The great potential in that fluff, just for my own flight of whimsy.”
Xylic’s reply came in the form of inspecting one of Bactine’s bodices. She snatched it from him, then pinned it up on the line.
“I’ll bet you never thought about it that way before,” she said to him.
“No, I hadn’t,” he replied, sounding slightly bored. He pondered the now-empty laundry basket, then hefted it and took it inside without another word.
Regardless of philosophizing, she ducked under a dripping line and walked into the dusty rays of lingering sunlight and the few last stray bits of fluff. Catching one in her hand, she inspected it. There was a tiny, dark seed, and from it sprung fronds of white in a perfectly symmetrical pattern. The more she studied it, the more perfect it looked. The white fronds moved beneath her fingertip with only the slightest touch and were wildly delicate. They would break easily, but then the seed would fall to the ground here, in her yard, where doubtless any offending plant would be pulled up and tossed away. She turned to look at the nearby meadow, thinking it probably needed to make it over that way, in order to have a chance at all.
She lifted her hand, palm up, and blew the fluff. As luck would have it, it was carried away in the wind.
She turned to suddenly see Xylic was standing right beside her, and it made her start.
“Xylic, why do you always do that?” she asked with slight irritation.
“What were you doing?” he asked.
“Playing with fluff. Doesn’t everyone do that?”
“I suppose,” he said. “I’m going.”
And he left.
It was at least another few weeks before she saw the elf again. She and Xylic were loitering at the market, and he was stealing the same pebble from her over and over, as she tried to hide it in more and more inaccessible places. There was a woman who could only be described as a market hag, who was new, and the things she sold Bactine found very unusual.
“Oh, Xylic, look at this!” she said, holding up the end of a brightly colored magenta scarf with golden threads woven throughout the airy fabric. “It’s beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Don’t touch that,” the market hag said, looking highly irritated at the hands of Xylic and Bactine on her merchandise. “Do you have any idea how much that scarf costs, girl?”
“Um, no,” Bactine replied, somewhat sheepishly.
“Well, it’s twenty gold pieces,” the hag snapped. “That’s real gold in that scarf, you know, woven into threads and that is Kazadimian silk. Not that urchins like you would know anything about Kazad’sandish.”
Bactine cleared her throat and placed the scarf very neatly where it once was. The hag didn’t seem to notice and went on.
“That silk has magical powers, you know,” she said, then waited for either Bactine or Xylic to take the bait.
“Magic powers?” Xylic said, with some actually noticeable curiosity.
“Well, that’s what they say,” the hag meandered, suddenly interested in her own intentionally vague storytelling. “It’s never been proven, of course, because how do you prove a thing like true love?”
“Um, what?” Bactine asked, somewhat bewildered.
Xylic moved to inquire further, but a voice from behind stopped him.
“Pardon me,” said the voice. It was a pleasant voice, Bactine thought, with a strange hint of a slight accent. As she and Xylic both turned, she nearly swallowed the entirety of the market air as she was suddenly pummeled with the full intensity of the elf’s beauty. He was looking at her, his brow slightly inquiring, and asking something, but she really didn’t know what he was saying at all. She closed her eyes, hard, and took a deep breath, and once again sound returned to her senses. On opening her eyes, he then looked slightly amused in her direction, to which she felt very embarrassed.
Although, she wondered briefly, he is an elf. Maybe their customs are different, and he doesn’t know that I’m making an incredible fool out of myself. She held onto that idea for comfort and soldiered on.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” she asked him pleasantly, pretending she has always been, and ever will be, fully composed.
“I was curious if you two knew of a decent tailor in this city. I’m having the hardest time finding one, and you would think it would just be a matter of asking, but it just isn’t that easy,” he finished, speaking in run-on sentences. Somehow he made run-on sentences sound good, Bactine realized. She didn’t even ask why it wasn’t that easy, as he said, because the way he put it made her believe every word intensely.
“Well,” Bactine began, trying to think of tailors, which she rarely thought about, ever. She didn’t really jaunt over to the tailor for a new gown every day, since that was a fairly expensive practice, and she wasn’t exactly privy to much coinage at all. There was one she knew of, so she mentioned it. “There is Jandlin the Cordwainer-“
“Ah, yes, that one. No, that won’t really do,” the elf said, cutting her off without explaining why Jandlin the Cordwainer wouldn’t do, and Bactine didn’t think to question.
“Who are you?” Xylic suddenly asked the elf.
The elf looked at Xylic, who he previously hadn’t seemed to notice, and his extraordinarily clear blue eyes widened a little. Bactine thought something registered with him, but she couldn’t fathom what it might be. He glanced back at her, then lifted his chin slightly as he addressed Xylic.
A moment passed of unexplained discomfort.
“Who are you?” Sangwine asked Xylic.
“Jandlin the Cordwainer,” Xylic replied, staring at Sangwine.
Bactine barely caught a laugh, unaware of what was about to beset her.
He blushed; the elf blushed. Bactine thought her mind would explode. She turned back to the magical scarves and exotic knickknacks on the market hag’s table because she just couldn’t bear it, and began pilfering through the wares, hardly cognizant of the irritable hag’s protests.
Sangwine composed some sort of excuse or apology, and hastily retreated. She didn’t look around again until she was sure he was gone. There was only so much intensity she could take in any one day. She looked over at Xylic, who appeared troubled.
She didn’t ask him why, but she didn’t have to.
“He doesn’t belong here,” Xylic said.
“Ya think?” Bactine replied. Xylic gave her a dirty look.
“I mean, at all. I don’t like him either. What is he doing here?” Xylic said, his thoughts, for once, stated out loud. Bactine found that nothing short of remarkable.
“Maybe he’s …” Bactine realized she had no idea why he would be here, so she didn’t finish.
“Put that back!” the market hag yelled in Bactine’s direction, her patience clearly worn paper thin.
Bactine looked down at the midnight-blue and silver threaded scarf crumpled in her hands and quickly replaced it with an apologetic smile.
“Lovely wares you have, ma’am,” Bactine smiled lugubriously, then she grabbed Xylic by the arm and they went away.