“Lee, run them back to the inn, then come and meet us at the bathhouse,” Agalon said chipperly as Lee struggled with the many bags it took to contain all of Xaxac’s purchases.
“Yes, master,” Lee said with no emotion that Xaxac could discern. “You gonna be getting the same private room?”
“I damn well better,” Agalon said and began to walk with Xaxac on his arm. This made the situation awkward, because Xaxac thought that they would be going in two different directions, but Lee followed behind them for a good while before branching off.
Xaxac snuggled into Agalon’s side and watched their reflections through the store windows.
“I actually trust Sakala to send things out when she says she will,” Agalon said matter-of-factly, “that kind of thing is important.”
“She seemed sad,” Xaxac observed.
“She lost her damn mind a good century ago,” Agalon said, “Well, longer than that. Her wife died in the war and she never did get over it. That happens sometimes. I’m actually shocked the grief ain’t killed her yet. She wants to think she’s still alive, let her think that. They never found a body. They never found most of the bodies. That whole place was covered in a boilin lake of lava. I reckon it’s still all messed up. Can’t nobody even go up there to hunt for bodies.”
“That’s terrifyin,” Xaxac whimpered and cuddled further into his side.
“I’ve seen things that’d turn your hair white,” Agalon said, “so I’m gonna enjoy the rest of my life. I think I got a right to just surround myself with pretty things and wile away what time I got left.”
“You got a right to do whatever you want,” Xaxac agreed. “I think Lorry’s scared of the military. He said that’s where you was when all that bad stuff happened.”
“I don’t need to be fillin your head with that kinda thing,” Agalon said, “and he sure as hell don’t. He don’t know what he’s talkin about. I really hoped the military academy would straighten that boy out. I mean, lord knows somethin has to.”
“He’s real loud,” Xaxac said.
“Takes after his mommy,” Agalon said, “that bird liked to chirp. Incessantly. All damn day and half the night. Don’t listen to him. I’m hopin he’ll have calmed his ass down time we get home.”
He led Xaxac into a large, flat building that he fell in love with instantly. The entire place seemed to be covered in tile, and a mixture of beautiful scents accosted him as they walked inside. Everything was clean and perfect, and there was a distinct difference between the people coming in and the people going out. The people leaving were universally content, relaxed, and beautiful. Once again, most of them were earth elves.
Agalon headed to a desk like the others Xac had seen in town, and spoke to a smiling earth elven boy who stood behind it looking the slightest bit disoriented. His pupils were blown wide open, as if he was drunk, and he swayed a little on his feet, but he smelled nothing like alcohol, in fact, he smelled enough like the earthy musk of some plants that it overpowered the scents of the flowers, soaps, and other clean things that Xaxac had taken a liking to.
“I’m Kailu Agalon, Duke of the Agricultural District,” Agalon told him, “I have a reservation.”
“Oh, word?” The boy asked as if this information was the most interesting thing he had ever heard. He looked down at a large book that had been laid out and stared at it for much longer than Xaxac thought it should have taken him. No one else in town had moved so slowly.
“Kailu Agalon,” Agalon said again, sounding a little annoyed.
“Right,” the boy said, “Sweet. Yes.” He finally seemed to find what he was looking for, turned, and bent to open a cabinet behind the desk. He popped up a few seconds later holding a stack of folded fabric that could have been towels or robes, on top of which was a key attached to a ring that bore a dangling piece of wood, onto which had been carved the number 5.
“Thank you,” Agalon said as he took it, “has it been prepared for me?”
“Uh…” the boy turned back to the book and Agalon rolled his eyes, “Yeah! I mean it says here- yeah. You got like… food, wine, and opium package, you got the rosewater salts and the flower garden package, right? Oh shit, you’re the duke!”
“Yes,” Agalon said patiently, “I am.”
“Oh, dude!” the boy said, “We got that ready at like 8 this morning. Yeah, it’s good. It’s all good.”
“Perfect,” Agalon said. “I’m leaving then. Away from you.”
“Totally the right decision,” the boy said, “have a nice day.”
“Thank you,” Agalon said, not sounding very thankful.
He got out of the room as quickly as he could, through the same door they had come in, and Xaxac followed on his heels.
Agalon led them around the side of the building through a beautiful garden full of carefully arranged rocks with a little stream running through it, and Xaxac wished they weren’t walking so quickly. He hadn’t expected to see such a place in the middle of town, and he would have liked to stop and really take it in.
But Agalon was unlocking a wooden door, and in less time than it took to tell it, he had disappeared inside, so Xaxac followed him.
This place was nothing like their bath at home.
The interior seemed to be made completely of wood, but it wasn’t a type of wood that Xaxac was familiar with. It was so light he was almost afraid to put his weight on it, and much lighter in color than he was familiar with. The large tub was made of stone, inset into a collection of reeds, and the entire place gave off a wooden earthy smell that made Xaxac think it had too much moisture too often without enough airing.
Like the bath at home, it had a series of benches and cabinets, but it also had a little table, on which were setting a great many things- fruit, cakes, two bottles of wine with four glasses, a box of matches and a long pipe very unlike the kind Xaxac normally saw people smoking. He assumed it was expensive, because it seemed to be made of some sort of ceramic, not the hollowed-out corn cobs most people used. This had been fashioned by an actual craftsman, not someone whittling in the night to wind down from a long workday.
The entire room smelled like roses almost strongly enough to overpower the scent of what Xaxac thought was rot or mildew, and he wondered if the scent hadn’t been introduced on purpose so no one would think about how bad an idea it was to build a room that was going to be wet out of wood.
He followed Agalon to sit down on the bench and undress while he watched him rifle through the cabinets. That boy had gotten on his nerves, but he was certainly over it now as he hummed and picked out their soaps and tinctures.
Xaxac was finished much earlier than he was, because all he had to do was undress, so he folded his clothes and made his way to the large tub with the rose-tinted water. He slid inside and yelped.
“What’s wrong?” Agalon asked.
“Hot!” Xac said as he hauled himself over the side of the tub, “Hot! It’s like… it’s like they boiled it!”
“It’s supposed to be like that, Honey Bunny,” Agalon explained, “It’ll cool off in a minute. You sit still it don’t feel as bad.”
“It’s hotter than hell outside!” Xaxac argued, “Why is the water hot? We gonna die! We gonna have heat strokes!”
“You ain’t,” Agalon giggled, “It’s good for you. Just get back in and sit still.”
Everything inside of Xaxac screamed that that was a terrible idea, but he slowly climbed back into the tub and felt his flesh sizzle as he began to sweat. He felt it running off of him and into the pink around him as he watched the rose pedals float and saw them waft with the heat of a mirage. He felt sweaty and disgusting, not clean. This was the exact opposite of a bath.
Agalon climbed in next to him, spread his arms over the side and sighed contentedly.
Xaxac stared at him with wide eyes trying to quell his panic because Agalon’s flesh was literally changing color from the heat. Everything below the water had turned a bright red, so different that it could not have been due to the water’s tint. That was a heat thing. That was what happened to people with light skin who spent too much time in the sun.
“It’s hurting you!” Xaxac announced.
“No, it ain’t,” Agalon said, “It’ll cool down in a minute. Just relax, Honey Bunny. The heat sooths out the muscles. You know… you really ain’t gotta be scared of every goddamn thing.”
“You’re changin color,” Xaxac whined.
“Yeah, that happens,” Agalon said as if it wasn’t anything to be concerned with, and Xaxac huffed as he watched him continue to ignore the problem. Agalon closed his eyes and sank in up to his shoulders, resting his head against the stone, so Xaxac mimicked him. He could feel his hair soaking up the sweat, and it had been so long since he had done anything to become so drenched with it that it made his scalp itch and he had to bring his hands up to scratch it.
He stared out the open door to the garden beyond and wondered if it would feel cool out there, after this. Maybe that was the point. He darted his eyes back to Agalon, sighed, and tried to mimic his posture.
After a few seconds that took an eternity he began to feel the effects Agalon had promised him. As his body adjusted to the temperature, or perhaps as the water cooled down, he did feel it flowing around him, and his muscles did begin to unclench, to relax. This was another one of those things where you didn’t like it very much at first, but if you kept at it, you’d learn that you actually liked it a great deal.
He was so relaxed he was sure he could fall asleep.
“Feelin better?” Agalon asked, and Xaxac opened his eyes to see that Lee had somehow appeared. He could be so quiet when he wanted. Had Xac actually fallen asleep?
The water was much cooler, or Xac felt it much less, as he crawled to position himself beside Agalon. Lee was pouring their drinks and it would make the process much easier for him.
“Thank you!” Xaxac said as chipperly as he could muster, accepted the glass, and took a sip.
Lee took the tray of food and set it on the tile near the side of the tub where they could both reach it, so Xaxac grabbed a pear and bit into it.
“Thanks again,” he giggled.
Agalon took one of the cakes and nibbled on it, but he didn’t seem to be paying particular attention to anything. He seemed as if he had shut off the world around him, as if he didn’t need to pay attention to it, as if he knew, instinctively, that nothing was dangerous, nothing could possibly hurt him. Xaxac had realized on this trip that Agalon’s title meant something; it meant something to be a duke, and however he had gotten that word in front of his name, whether it came from being kin to Xandra or from something he had done during those wars everyone talked about, the result was the same: power.
Agalon was a powerful man.
Agalon was such a powerful man that he could walk into any situation content that he was the most powerful person in the room.
And he loved Xaxac. He was going to take care of him. Xaxac was a pleasure slave to the most powerful man in Basilglen, probably the whole agricultural district, and that meant nothing was going to happen to him. It was a comforting feeling.
He breathed in the intoxicating scent of the rosewater and took another sip of his wine, then tossed his core onto the tray and picked up an apple. He sank into the water as deeply as he could while keeping his lunch dry and felt the heat from a lack of sobriety mingling with the heat of the water until he wasn’t entirely sure he had solid edges.
He tossed the new core with the old one and sat his empty glass behind him, then closed his eyes and leaned back to relax, to allow his body to freely float in the comforting, flowing everything that was the warmth inside and around him.
He opened his eyes and stared up at the stars, at the void between them stretching into eternity. All three moons were full, but one was bigger than the others, much bigger than it should have been.
Something was wrong.
The moon was on fire.
Whatever invisible force separated the sky from Xren, the firmament, had set the moon on fire! The moon had crashed into the firmament, and the crash was tearing it apart! Xaxac swam frantically for the shore as the sky exploded above him and fragments of the moon sizzled and shot from the body, falling faster than he could anticipate, falling around him, tiny, tiny things that hit the water and made it hot, hotter than he could stand, as he scampered onto the beach.
One of the fragments from the exploding sky washed to shore with him and was left there by the waves. He didn’t want to touch it, was afraid it would be too hot to touch, and it was so very small. But the composition surprised him. It was, without a doubt, a piece of metal. Was the moon made of metal?
“Xaxac!” the beautiful man with the blue skin and hair the color of sea foam begged, “Help me!”
Xaxac turned to trace the sound of the voice, but the man was gone. In his place was a chalice inset with gems that sparkled as if someone had tinted silver blue. Xaxac furrowed his brow and looked back to the fragment of the moon. It sparkled exactly the same, as if someone had not tinted silver blue. What did it mean?
He turned and walked toward the cup.
“Come here, Honey Bunny,” Agalon said, and Xaxac darted awake. He wondered, briefly, if the boy from the desk had been in the room, because it smelled so much like him, but he quickly traced the scent to the pipe Agalon was setting down beside their empty glasses.
“Come here and sit on my lap,” Agalon purred.