Dear Mum and Da,
I’ve gone with Xylic on a little jaunt; No, Mum, we’re not eloping. We’re going on some sort of “quest”. I’m not really sure of the particulars, or I’d tell you, but I’m sure it can’t be too dangerous. Oh, and we’re being joined by an elf, a midget dwarf, and a half-ogre. I’ll be back in a few days.
Please feed Snowball for me!
On her trips to the green grocer, she began to notice a certain figure lurking around the center of town. He never really did anything that she could see; except observe the people and things passing by him. In one of those odd eccentricities, he was the sort to always wear a hooded cloak, and even though she initially distrusted the overall effect, like a forest animal by and by he became familiar and non-threatening to her.
She observed him slyly as she would pass him most days, first finding it amusing that he never did anything, then frustrating. Then she decided an accident was in order, and Bactine formed a plan. She would run into him, spilling her bags of produce all over his person, and while apologizing profusely for her clumsiness, discover the inner workings of his being. This is the way of most women.
On the day of the proposed attack, he wasn’t there. She found this especially tiresome because on that day she had gone out of her way to buy an extra sack of onions, the perfect food for chaotic mess-free spilling. Later that day she was forced to explain to her parents why she had bought so many onions, which led to excessive amounts of onion soup for weeks. Her irritability was increased by the fact that over the next fortnight or more he seemed to have completely vanished; there was no trace of any sort of non-threatening hooded figure anywhere. There seemed to be only the threatening type of hooded figures, which are prevalent in any metropolis.
Finally, one day, as she was skulking to the grocer, he was there again. Something in the way he stood denoted an innocence and complete obliviousness towards her suffering in such copious amounts that she couldn’t abide it. Outraged, she approached him forthrightly, forgetting to spill anything at all on him amidst her anger.
“Where have you been?” she demanded brusquely. He seemed surprised, and she realized that was probably because he hadn’t the foggiest idea who she was or why she was demanding to know his previous whereabouts. His eyes narrowed slightly, and then he spoke.
“Do I smell onions?” he asked with slight bewilderment.
“It’s your fault!” Bactine spat, then turned on her heel and left as quickly as she could, embarrassment creeping into her cheeks in the form of bright redness.
Over the next several days, she avoided the center of town at the best of times; she avoided eye contact with him at the worst. As luck would have it, he seemed to be everywhere now, now that she didn’t want to see him at all. At last at the grocer, near the cabbages, she was forced to face her fears.
“Why is it my fault?” he inquired from behind, appearing out of nowhere and causing her to drop a cabbage.
She took full advantage of the need to recover the cabbage and apologize to the grocer in order to devise a way to explain without suffering ultimate humiliation. Unfortunately very little was forthcoming, so she assumed airs.
“Why is what your fault?” she asked, feigning.
“Never mind,” he said, and began to withdraw.
How infuriating it was that he would have no more curiosity than that! Perhaps even more infuriating was the realization that she wasn’t nearly as mysterious to him as he was to her. She compensated passionately by throwing a lime at his retreating form. He stopped, looked at the lime, and then looked at her. She was leaning casually against the counter, trying to appear as if she had never thrown fruit at anyone in her life.
He picked up the lime and approached her, and she took advantage of the opportunity to surreptitiously take him in. He was somewhat tallish, only a head or so taller than she, with unusually fine features, once close enough to observe. He looked young, and she would have placed him as being perhaps seventeen years old; just a year younger than herself.
“You dropped a lime,” he said plainly.
She took the lime and replied, “Thanks,” in a very curt way. Gathering her belongings, she made ready to leave, satisfied that she’d recovered enough dignity to avoid staying up nights.
“You probably need this, too,” he said, handing her an apple.
“No thanks, I’ve already got one,” she said.
“Do you?” he asked.
She looked in her bag and it wasn’t there. After a moment of silence, wherein Bactine tried to think of some sort of adequate reply, he began talking again.
“And you’ll need these,” he said, handing her ten potatoes. It really dawned on her, then.
“You’re … you’re,” she began, unwilling to say the word “thief” in front of merchants, since that tends to unerringly cause a stir. “You’re really good at that!” He only shrugged and made a quixotic face.
She didn’t know whether to be annoyed or impressed, so she chose the former for safety reasons, roughly took her potatoes, and, shooting him a fierce glance, left rapidly.
After a number of months, the stealing trick of his grew thin. She’d learned a few things about him over that time as every time she came through town she would stop and loiter with him because of nothing better to do. His name was Xylic, and he liked observing people. Mostly, however, it seemed he liked stealing increasingly difficult things from her. Since he always gave them back immediately, she surmised the reasons he was doing it were two: boredom, and to impress her. Unfortunately for him, it quit being impressive a long time ago.
On this particular day of wasting her time with him, they leaned against the wall of a building and watched people pass in comfortable silence for a while, until she got relatively bored of that.
She sighed languidly.
He replied by shifting his weight against the wall.
“Xylic?” she asked.
“Hmm?” he said.
“Do you ever want to just…” and she searched for the right words, “Do something?” She caught his expression, and continued, “I mean do something else… something new. I don’t know. Doesn’t this seem stagnant?”
He shrugged a little and resumed watching the people pass, and she found that very curious. Lacking the motivation to pry, she chose instead to buff her nails casually.
Between the two of them they had observed nearly everyone in town and knew them all, so they were both aware it was highly unusual that day to see an elf. Bactine had never seen one before, and spotted him from far off.
“Who is that?” she asked Xylic, but it was almost a rhetorical question, as she was transfixed by the grace of the elf’s movements. Xylic didn’t reply, at least not that she could hear, for the elf was beautiful.
He was all gold and sparkles, like the fluid waves of sunlight that play across your face through the thin and delicate whispering leaves of springtime. Bactine sighed, then noticed that he didn’t seem to realize how blatantly he stuck out in the city as his stride seemed a bit on the aimless side, and his expression leaned towards the oblivious. There was little more she found she could do but watch and breathe, as he was suddenly passing by she and Xylic, and his clueless glance met her gaze, and then he smiled at her. It was nothing; it was just a smile, but she felt she might drop to the ground under the weight of its brilliance. When the stars finally faded from her vision, he was gone.
Xylic was giving her a very critical eye.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
She tried to look as if she had no idea what he could be referring to. “I don’t know,” she said, “An elf in the city? What next, a midget dwarf?” She punctuated this with a laugh that come out sounding far more nervous than she intended.
“Have you never seen an elf before?” he asked her, and she noticed his voice sounded a little strange.
“No, have you?” she asked.
“Occasionally,” he finished cryptically, and turned his gaze to the passing city as a signal that this conversation was over.
Bactine didn’t agree that the conversation was over.
“Where?” she pried.
He lifted one shoulder in a languid shrug and replied, “Around.”
“’Around’? You don’t just see elves ‘around’,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d have seen several at least, wouldn’t you think?”
“Well, I guess they kind of keep to themselves,” he said.
There was a pregnant pause.
“Why don’t you ever tell me anything about yourself, Xylic?” Bactine asked.
He gave her a sharp look, and then he left. Bactine stood there, against the wall, watching him disappear in the bustling crowds and her mind wandered in the other direction. She looked the other way, but there was nothing left of the elf who passed, not even a fading sparkle. She suddenly felt extremely solitary and plain and went home to feed her cat.