She’s smart and beautiful and fierce and inquisitive, and I love her desperately. He wrote it in a rushed, sloppy hand, then practically threw the quill away from himself, and closed the journal hard, as if doing so would allow him to close his eyes in the face of this whole affair and pretend it doesn’t exist. He hoped the ink would smear, and if he were lucky, maybe the words would become illegible, and then he could try to convince himself it wasn’t true… that he never wrote it at all. That he never thought it… every day. Constantly.
His elbows were on the desk and his hands were in his hair, and he was immersed in a brooding study of the outside of his journal. One of many journals, for he’d been around much longer than he looked. That was part of the problem, really. No… that was the problem.
His father trained him from a very young age how to hide what he was. It was engrained in him; entwined in the fabric he was cut from, like those golden threads in that scarf she seemed to like so much. Or maybe it was more like a poison. He was trapped between loyalty and habit and logic. However, he was something that belonged to no school of logic.
Years of solitude; he was used to being alone, or at least he had been. He’d liked solitude, and he supposed in some ways he still did and still clung to it even when he was around other people. He was well schooled in closing himself off and in cutting short inquiries. There was none better at the art of aloof than he.
His father died long ago, of old age, because he was human. He knew the same thing would happen to her, and it frustrated him. It frustrated him not only because he was powerless over it, but because he actually cared. He’d loved her from the first time he saw her, blithely making her way through the crowds with that purposeful way of hers, always slightly anxious and observant of everything around her. She’d noticed him quickly, where most don’t. She looked at him, and one of her delicate eyebrows crooked in a gesture of both challenge and curiosity. Right then he lost his mind. It made him miserable.
Somehow, by and by, her family had become family to him. Her mother especially treated him in a way he found profoundly comforting, and her father endured him, which is more than he did with most things. It was a horribly comfortable situation, and that in itself made him pointedly uncomfortable. For all this time he’d been unable to stop it and to leave her alone. They’d grown accustomed to each other. She was completely at ease around him, and he – in his stilted way – was entirely at ease around her. She knew very little about him, that was certain because he never let anything go, but she knew him better than anyone else ever had without even realizing it. He couldn’t tell her that, though. He couldn’t tell her anything.
Or could he?
Could there be someone who he could finally tell everything to? Could he even bring himself to do that? As the saying goes, old habits die hard. The idea of telling anyone, even her, made him break out in a cold sweat. How many countless years had he hid himself from everyone? He drew a very long breath and let it out, covering his eyes with his hands.
He looked down at his journal, the treacherous thing, and scowled.
What use is worrying about it, if it doesn’t matter in the end? She’ll die, like the rest of them, and he’ll go on alone, as he always did. Why should he tell her? He can’t tell her he loves her, or rather, he can’t love her. Then she would know, and then their children…? The very idea made him shudder with anxiety, to force his fate on anyone else. On more than one? Several? It would be impossible. And she would age, while he did not. She would be forced to live secretively, like he has. Either that or… they could leave.
He trembled slightly and pushed that thought away, but it pulled back at him. He hovered on this cusp between conscious and pushing until finally he succumbed and thought of how, as many times before, he’d considered leaving the city forever and finding somewhere else. Something else. There had to be something else better than this. And with her…
Sighing, he took the journal and stood, replacing it on a shelf laden with journals.
He couldn’t tell her. She was oblivious. He couldn’t tell her.
The next day, Bactine saw Xylic at the gate as she came into the city.
“You’re up early,” she said to him, looking amused, because he actually appeared quite tired. “What have you been doing?”
“I took up sculpting,” he said, and she laughed.
Following this, they went back to the market, where Bactine mooned over that particular scarf from a distance, not wishing to upset the market hag with her proximity. After a while her thoughts turned to the elf.
“Have you seen him?” she asked.
“Not once,” he said.
“I wonder if he has left,” she said, at once disappointed and relieved.
“Do you want that scarf?” Xylic asked her.
She looked dubiously at him.
“Well, besides the fact that it is exorbitantly expensive, didn’t she say it’s cursed?”
“I think she described it as ‘magical’,” he replied. “That doesn’t necessarily mean cursed, but I suppose it can. Do you want to take your chances?”
“What are you getting at?” she asked him.
“I’m just saying I could get it for you,” he said, as casually as possible.
“Where would I wear that? To my finest laundry-hanging?” she laughed, then looked over at the table, where the silken scarves lay, and her voice was wistful and wan. “That isn’t for me.”
“Why isn’t it?” he asked her.
She had no answer for him, and for some reason the very subject made her feel horrible and she turned away and began walking just to hide her reaction from his scrutiny. Inexplicable tears stung her eyes and they made her furious, because she had no reason to be crying, and no reason to be upset at all. She walked faster, and ended up in an alley, alone, crying against a wall.
Time passed, and as it did her anguish turned into a resigned calm. As she emerged from the alley, after having made extra-sure there were no lingering signs of her weakness, she saw the elf again, because he was standing a foot away from her.
She was instantly impressed by how marvelous he smelled, but wasn’t allowed to linger on this detail because his attention was focused on her.
“Are you alright?” he asked, strangely.
“What?” she asked in confusion.
“You look like you’ve been crying,” he said blatantly.
She made an inner note that this was not her day.
“Ha-ha, no. I’ve been, ah, running,” she said.
His eyes made another sweep of her features, and he replied slowly, “Oh.”
To change the subject, the demands of her mother came surprisingly easily.
“I’m curious why you’re here, Sangwine.”
He began to say something, then stopped, hesitant. She watched his expressions change, unconsciously savoring every delicate movement as a memory seemed to pain him then he deliberately smoothed all expression from his face, which she supposed he did to hide his discomfort from her. She wondered if all elves were like this. Beneath his greenish cloak he wore a pale linen shirt open at the neck, and while waiting for him to reply, she grew transfixed by his clavicle.
It was perfect. She’d never seen another clavicle like it. The form; the curve. If she had any hidden talent for sculpting in the unknown recesses of her mind, she would have taken it up for the sole purpose of recreating the perfect form of this particular clavicle. She wondered what it would be like to touch it; to run her lips along the length of it; to breathe into the delicate hollow at the center, and then she heard something very far away. It was him. Oh cripes, he was talking!
She suddenly had the odd sensation of breaking the surface and gasping for air after nearly drowning.
“Um, what?” she replied with scant dignity, ignoring the burning in her cheeks.
His smile was nothing short of bemused.
“Bactine, there you are,” said Xylic.
Bactine was incredibly thrilled to see Xylic at this moment.
“Xylic! Ah, there you are,” she said, taking his arm and smiling gregariously. “I was just asking Sangwine here why he’s come to our city.” As an aside to Sangwine, she added: “Since there are rarely, if ever, any elves here at all.”
“I have noticed I do seem to be an oddity here,” Sangwine admitted.
“Are you lost?” asked Bactine, in a useless way.
Sangwine began to answer, but Xylic stepped in.
“Where are you from?” he asked pointedly.
“Schloeffelonia,” said Sangwine.
“I’ve never heard of it,” said Xylic, dismissively.
“It sounds exotic,” said Bactine, continuing her useless contributions to the conversation.
“I … guess,” Sangwine said, apparently not very sure how to reply to that.
“Why are you here?” asked Xylic, and he seemed to Bactine to sound unusually demanding in his questioning.
Sangwine didn’t seem to like the question, because he became distantly placid, so Bactine interrupted whatever retort was coming.
“We’re just curious,” she said, smiling reassuringly at the elf. “Xylic is just a little over-zealous today. He gets that way when I let him have candy.”
Xylic stared at Bactine, who implored a response from Sangwine with a look, who in turn seemed to relax.
“I’m here because I have been exiled,” he said, as if people say that every day.
“Exiled?” asked Bactine.
“Yes, you know. Banished from my country by force of circumstances,” he defined.
“Yes, I know what it means,” she said, then she briefly wondered if this elf was actually being short with her. She dismissed the idea right out, sure that elves are doubtless far too refined to be short with people. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story,” he said in a way that denoted she wasn’t getting any more details.
“What did you do?” Xylic asked blatantly and possibly a bit forcefully.
Something about this question obviously offended him, for Sangwine glanced over Xylic once, as if in judgment, then said shortly, “I did nothing, unless you count being born prince of Schloeffelonia a crime.”
At that, the elf turned on his heel and walked away from them.
“Were we just… dismissed?” asked Bactine incredulously.
“I think we were,” replied Xylic.