It was around the Gallagherian dinner table that the subject of elves was raised.
“There’s a what in town?” asked Mrs. Gallagher, making conversation as she spooned a ridiculously large portion of potatoes onto Xylic’s plate.
“An elf, Mum,” said Bactine, buttering a piece of bread. “Have you ever seen one before?”
“Once or twice,” her mother replied, enigmatically.
“Elves? What are elves doing here?” demanded Bactine’s father, looking tired and worked, as every other peasant father did.
“Not ‘elves’, Da. An elf. One,” Bactine said, then she stuffed bread in her mouth.
“Well, elves are nothing but effeminate namby-pambies, and if they never come this way, we’re all the better for it,” said her father, punctuating his sentence with a bite of potatoes.
“Please pass the butter,” Xylic said in a strained voice.
Bactine would have replied to her father, but she had a very large piece of bread in her mouth and instead she sort of choked. So in her stead, her mother went on conversationally as she cut more butter than Xylic could possibly use onto his plate.
“What is an elf doing in town?”
“Looking for a tailor,” Xylic replied.
“What did I tell you?” said Bactine’s father, looking very justified. “Namby-pambies, the whole lot.”
“I don’t really think he’s looking for a tailor,” Bactine objected. She felt very awkward for some reason she couldn’t define about the whole thing, and didn’t continue, opting instead to push the corn around on her plate with her fork.
Her father watched her suspiciously for a moment, then her mother continued to talk.
“I’d like to know why an elf would be here. Do you think he’s still in town?” she asked.
“Probably,” Bactine said.
“Why don’t you ask him?” her mother said to Bactine, and smiled in a very motherly way.
“Well, it’s not like I know him,” Bactine said, somewhat embarrassed. “He just asked us for directions once.”
“To a tailor,” said her father, with curious distaste.
“Yes,” Bactine affirmed, “But he didn’t really like our suggestion.”
“Who did you say, dear?” asked her mother.
“Jandlin the Cordwainer,” said Xylic.
“No, I wouldn’t suppose an elf would like Jandlin the Cordwainer at all,” her mother said, in a thinking-out-loud sort of way. Bactine’s father looked over at her mother oddly. “You have to understand, Bactine. Elves have… oh, finer tastes. Finer than what we’re accustomed to.”
“Well, I’ve no idea where to send him, then,” Bactine said, and her mother went on as if she wasn’t listening to her at all.
“It think it has to do with their long lives,” she said, dreamily.
“Long lives?” inquired Bactine.
“Oh, yes. An elf can live a thousand years, you know,” her mother smiled at her.
“I had no idea,” she replied.
“I’ve even heard of some living far longer than that. Can you imagine? Twenty generations of humans, come and gone, in your lifetime alone.”
“I would think they’d be very wise,” Bactine said, for lack of anything else to say.
“You’d think that,” said her mother, and then she added: “Sometimes they marry humans.”
Her father sighed in exasperation.
“Oh,” Bactine replied.
“But not often,” her mother went on. “I would think it’d be more trouble than it’s worth. Would you like more potatoes, Xylic?”
Xylic looked at the large pile of potatoes lying moodily on his plate.
“I’m fine,” he said.
“Well, if you see him, find out, Bactine, because you don’t run into that sort of thing every day,” said her mother.
“His name is Sangwine,” Bactine added to the conversation, for no reason whatsoever.
“What a curious name,” said her mother. “It reminds me of humors. Does he seem cheerful, or passionate?”
Bactine blushed to her own chagrin at the thought of that elf being passionate, even though she knew her mother didn’t mean passionate in that way but just passionate about life in general, but it didn’t matter. Just the mention of him and passionate in the same sentence made her mind reel and she accidentally flipped her fork off of her plate onto the floor.
“I- I don’t know, Mum,” Bactine said, “He really just asked us for directions. Although… he does smile fairly often.”
Xylic handed her another fork.
“Next time you should ask him more questions,” said her mother simply, and she cut some more slices of bread, handing three of them to Xylic, who took them politely.
“I guess he is a curious individual…” Bactine meandered, trying to seem placid about the matter.
“Good, then,” said her mother, with a pleasant smile. “I have a list of things I need you to get in town, so you can get started on it right away.”
“But it’s almost dark-,” Bactine began.
“Xylic can go with you,” said her mother, “Can’t you, Xylic?”
“Um, yes, Mrs. Gallagher,” he replied.
As they walked down the wandering lane leading towards the city’s gates, it was late afternoon again, and the rays cast everything in a golden sheen. Bactine had a stick in her hand and used it to swipe at passing tall blades of grass.
“Who would have known my mother would be so interested in elves?” Bactine wondered aloud. “I mean, where did she learn all of that? I’ve never even seen one, let alone heard much about them at all. What about you?”
“I’ve heard some things,” said Xylic. “Mostly rumors, which are often false.”
“How would you know?”
“Isn’t that the way with rumors?”
“I guess you’re right,” she said. Then she grew agitated as memory struck her. “How embarrassing that Mum wants me to pry into that elf’s life. He probably thinks I’m a moron as it is.”
“Why, because you’re so dumbstruck every time you see him?” Xylic said, not even trying to hide the smirk in his voice.
She looked at him, a little surprised. Xylic didn’t usually show much emotion, so this was new. “I’m not dumbstruck,” she said, lying mostly outright.
He did little but use a smile back at her, in a lopsided way, with which he said a great deal without talking at all. She rolled her eyes.
“He’s pretty,” she said defensively, yet admittedly, and then she began smacking passing grass with more fervor.
“I didn’t know you liked that sort of thing,” he said, and she couldn’t tell if he was sincere, or having some sordid amusement at her expense.
“I like all sorts of things, Xylic,” she said, casting him an annoyed glance.
“Really?” he asked, sounding curious.
She suddenly felt defensive and instead of replying, she brushed some stray lint from her sleeve. Fortunately she didn’t have to find anything else to say, because they’d arrived at the city gates and were surrounded by the distracting bustle of city traffic once again.
They fulfilled the errands of Mrs. Gallagher dutifully, and Bactine couldn’t help but feel awkward and tense at the expectation that she should approach the wandering elf should he appear again. Much of her truly hoped he wouldn’t appear again, in order to spare herself a great deal of embarrassment. There was also the humiliation that would doubtless come from Xylic’s smirking eye as she should attempt to pry into the life of the elf named Sangwine, not to mention her nerves at actually addressing the elf directly. All in all, she was on edge, and dropped several things as a result, at varying times.
It was one of these times when she dropped something that she looked up to see her friend Violet coming her way.
“Bactine!” Violet cried and waved, walking towards her. Then she looked at the muddy parcel in Bactine’s hands. “Your mum won’t be pleased you’ve dropped the broadcloth in the mud.” Violet’s hazel eyes widened as if to accentuate how sincere she was that Bactine was going to be in trouble for her clumsiness.
“I can’t help it,” Bactine fretted. “There’s this elf, and he’s-,”
Violet cut her off as she looked over at Xylic, standing beside Bactine, with things in his hands.
“Hi, Xylic,” she said, smiling warmly.
“Hello,” said Xylic blandly.
“What are you doing,” Violet asked, “Shopping? I didn’t know you like to shop. You never go shopping with me.” And she pouted in his direction.
“I hate shopping,” he replied. Bactine glanced at him, but remained impassive.
Violet glanced at Bactine, and then Bactine shrugged.
“I strongarmed him into it,” she said, hiding any sort of smile carefully. “It’s only because he hates it so vehemently that I find pleasure from forcing him to do it. Just look how miserable he is.” And she then indicated Xylic with a parcel-filled gesture. He did his best to look the very definition of misery, but really just looked woe-be-gone.
Violet wasn’t moronic, so she caught on rather quickly and giggled. Xylic winced at the sound.
“Violet, have you seen an elf around?” Bactine asked.
“An elf? No! Should I?” Violet seemed excited at the prospect.
“Well, there is this elf…” Bactine began, but she didn’t really know where to go with it, and so she ended up gazing over Violet’s shoulder to the passing traffic beyond, searching with some trepidation. Nothing was forthcoming, so she returned her focus to her friend. “Never mind, it’s just something silly.”
Violet gave her a funny look and said, “If you say so.”
Bactine made a non-committal noise in response, and the burdened Xylic shifted his weight.
“Well, we should get this back to Mum. See you, Violet,” Bactine smiled, and turned swiftly on her heel, towards the city gates. She didn’t check to see if Xylic was following her, because she knew he would.
As she drew nearer to the gates she felt relief wash over her.
“He wasn’t there. Maybe he’s gone home,” she said to Xylic.
“Maybe,” he replied.
She closed her eyes and whispered, “Thank heavens.”