“If I have to eat one more salad,” Alex said, breaking the stillness of the room, “I’m gonna throw up. This is all y’all ever eat.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” Xaxac said defensively.
“You ain’t gettin enough from it to make it through the day, though,” Alex said, “There ain’t nothin to you.”
“That’s cause I don’t never do nothin,” Xac said, “I don’t never work or nothin so I ain’t got no muscle.”
“I never do a goddamn thing and I don’t look like that,” Alex said, “Tell him you’re fuckin hungry.”
“I did,” Xac giggled, “He give me a bigger salad.”
The door opened and the human boy Xac had seen before stepped hurriedly inside carrying another stack of wood. He made absolutely no indication that he had seen them and instead knelt by the fireplace and began to stack the wood again.
“I can do that,” Xac said as he watched, “Hey. Hey, I can do that. Hello?”
The boy lit the fire, deposited the rest of the fuel in the container beside the mantle, then stood and left without a word.
“Ok,” Xac huffed.
“You know they ain’t supposed to talk to you, don’t you?” Alex asked as if he thought Xaxac was a complete fool.
“What?” Xac asked.
“They ain’t supposed to talk to you,” Alex explained, “Nobody ain’t supposed to talk to you. A good servant is invisible.” He paused, as if reflecting on something, then continued, “Oh, right, you worked in the fields. You might not’a been trained on that. But he ain’t supposed to talk to you. Folks can get in trouble for that.”
“Oh,” Xac said. That made sense. It made sense that that was a rule. Jimmy and Lee were really the only people who ever talked to him, and ever since Jimmy had started working for Lorsan he very rarely talked to him anymore. Maybe he’d be back and more social after Lorry went back to school.
The door opened again and Lee stepped inside, looking a bit more rushed than usual.
“Xaxac,” he said with the kind of authority that always made Alex scowl, and the scowl annoyed Xac because Lee had every right to do that. The butler controlled the house staff; he was his boss. Xac thought that maybe Alex was bad to think that he was above other people.
“Yes!” Xac said chipperly and sipped his wine.
“Is that outfit supposed to have a shirt?” Lee asked, not as if he thought Xac had done something wrong, but as if he was genuinely curious, “That might cause problems. That might not be appropriate for guests.”
“I don’t think it is?” Xac said, “I mean, I don’t think it’s supposed to have a shirt. I know it ain’t a uniform. It’s real comfy though.”
“The master wants you downstairs after dinner,” Lee explained, “In the parlor. I… just hurry up and eat. You might have to change clothes. Let me run and ask.”
“It’s cute though, right?” Xac stood from the table, held out his arms and spun, “It’s swishy.”
“No, I mean, the master will love it, but he wants… there are a lot of elves here, Xac, you really gotta be on your best behavior. You need to remember that. I mean it. No cryin, like you like to do. No breakin down. They’re here to look at you. If you don’t keep your shit together it’s gonna be bad for all of us.”
“No pressure,” Alex huffed as he took a drink of his wine.
“And you go back to your own rooms,” Lee told him.
“Can I eat?” Alex snarled.
“You really shouldn’t’a been in here all day,” Lee told him, “I’m bein nice.”
“Yeah you’re sure known for your kindness,” Alex huffed.
“Alex,” Xac pouted, “he is nice. I like him.”
“Eat your salad,” Alex motioned to Xac’s half finished plate, “Like Mr bossy over there says. Thinks he’s a fuckin elf…”
Xaxac thought that wasn’t really something Alex had any right to comment on, given how he commonly acted.
“I’ll be right back,” Lee said, closed the door, and Xac did not hear the turning of the lock. It seemed to him that they very rarely locked the door anymore.
“Asshole,” Alex said, stabbing his greens.
“I’m not sure… how I feel about everybody… all them elves,” Xaxac said, “I wish you hadn’t said that. That ‘no pressure’ thing. But also like… is it weird like… I dunno, vain or… bad if-”
“If you like folks lookin at you?” Alex smirked, “Yeah yeah, Thesis hates vanity and all that shit but Thesis made elves in his image, not humans. He ain’t our god.”
Xaxac stared at Alex in incomprehension, since he had very clearly lost his mind.
“What?” Alex asked, “Why you lookin at me like that? I’m right. Think about everythin you been told- hell, you of all people! Thesis created the elves in his image, not us. He set everythin in motion when he created the world, but we drug ourselves up, by ourselves. We got where we are; he didn’t do a goddamn thing. And if you want god to care about you at all, you better have pointy ears.”
“Thesis created Xren,” Xaxac said; he had never heard such blatant blasphemy spoken aloud before, “Everything on it. He made us, too.”
“How you know that?” Alex asked, “You read it? You read the holy texts? Cause Ky read um to me and I wouldn’t nary bit impressed. That feller cursed you, Xac, for something you had nothin to do with. Who gives half a fuck what he thinks about your outfit?”
“You’re gonna go to hell,” Xac said, aghast.
“I don’t paint the devil cause I’m scared of him,” Alex laughed, “What the hell’s he gonna do ain’t already been done to me?”
That was… actually a pretty good question.
“You’re thinkin too much,” Xaxac said, for lack of anything better to say.
The door opened again, and Xaxac saw that Lee was holding it open for Agalon, who seemed to be in some of the best spirits Xaxac had ever seen him in.
“Stand up, darlin, let me get a look at you,” he proclaimed, and Xaxac took in the way his words slurred a little, how big his pupils were, how he swayed ever so slightly on his feet.
Then he stood up and spun again, enjoying the sound of the metal tinkling and the swish of the fabric.
“That’s adorable,” Agalon said, turned, and spoke to Lee as if he thought he may have been the biggest fool to ever walk Xren, “How could you not like that? Look at him!”
“I just thought,” Lee spoke slowly, choosing his words with care, “that you might wanna get a look at it first.”
“He’s gorgeous,” Agalon said, “that’s what they’re wearin on the fire continent. Sakala said it was comin in, over here. That’s what they’re all gonna be wearin next season.”
“Next season is fall,” Lee said, and Xac judged it to be a knee-jerk reaction, that he had spoken without thinking. And he was right, the outfit made absolutely no practical sense for cool weather. If Xac tried to go outside in it he would be shivering within seconds.
“He’s more of an indoor pet,” Agalon said dismissively.
“It’s is so cute,” Alex said, dragging out the word ‘so’, “I want one so bad! I hope Ky gets me one! I wanna match!”
“I wish I knew how to do the makeup,” Agalon said wistfully, “Like they did on the fire continent.”
“Yeah,” Lorry said from the doorway, where he had apparently appeared, “Maybe if we hadn’t eradicated the fucking fire elves, we’d know how to do that. Hey dad, everybody’s moved into the parlor and the fucking cigar smoke is choking me. Can I please go to my room? I am done being a part of this. I went to dinner. I’m done.”
“Fuck’s sakes,” Agalon sighed, “Did you… why are you up here?”
“Because I am done, you drunk fuckwad!” Lorry snapped, “Pay attention! Thesis’s glowing eyes, you are always drunk! One fucking day, dad, give me one goddamn day!”
“I know you didn’t leave that poor little girl down there all alone,” Agalon said, and Xaxac opted out of the conversation, deciding instead to take his seat and quietly eat his salad, but he noticed that Alex was turned around in his chair, watching them, all ears.
“Stop tryin to get me to fuck your friends’ kids!” Lorry yelled.
“Volume!” Agalon yelled back.
“This is the worst system!” Lorry lamented, “It ain’t gonna work! And you don’t need grandkids that bad. You ain’t gonna see um!”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Agalon snarled, stepped forward, grabbed Lorsan by the arm and dragged him into the room, then kicked the door shut, “Stop screaming. Stop it. Now! You are the heir of the Duke of the Agricultural district. You ain’t got no excuse for actin like this.”
“Is this genuinely not buckwild to you!?” Lorry asked as he jerked away, “Really? You think this is an acceptable way to act? You didn’t even tell me this shit! I walked into that dinin room and you were like, ‘Hey, Cremia, this is my son, Lorry; he’s got a dick you can use to make a baby to inherit all my fucking materialistic bullshit,’ what the fuck am I supposed to say to that? You sprung that shit on me!”
“Lorsan, you have got two years,” Agalon said matter-of-factly, “You got two years till you graduate. You gotta start thinkin about this shit! You gotta think about your future! I got you an apprenticeship, and you- Thesis’s eyes, Lorry, why is this a whole big ordeal with you? You think I’m gonna be here forever? You think you’re gonna be here forever? You have a duty to produce an heir. Somebody’s gotta run this district.”
“Fuck this piece of shit podunk country-ass district!” Lorsan shrieked, “Fuck you, fuck the nobility, fuck you tryin to whore me out for whatever you’re gonna get outta this, fuck the whole system, you ape-fuckin, drunk-ass murder! I hate it here! I hate you! I hate this house! I wanna go back to mom’s!”
Xaxac put his fork down and drew into himself. He had lost his appetite.
“You ‘bought to calm your ass down,” Agalon said, quietly, cooly. “There ain’t nothin up there for you no more.”
“That’s my house!” Lorsan shrieked, “Mommy left it to me! I wanna go home!”
“Son,” Agalon said, and Xaxac did not like it, had seen him like this before and hated the energy. He wasn’t dangerous when he was angry, when he was screaming back; he was dangerous when he stopped screaming.
“Oh fuck off with that!” Lorry snarled, “I ain’t… I ain’t never been no son to you! I’m a goddamn link in a chain! You look at me like you can tell me where to go, what to do, who to fuck, how to live- I ain’t one of your fuckin humans!”
“This teenage rebellious bullshit is gonna stop.” Agalon said, “It’s ending. I’m ending it.”
“Teenage rebellion?” Lorry laughed, “More like, ‘I got big enough to realize I didn’t deserve to be treated like shit my whole life’. You can’t keep doing this! You can’t lock me away and forget about me! Boardin school in the fall, military camp in the summer- you don’t fuckin know me! You don’t know nothin about me!” He moved his hands rapidly to indicate the physical space between them, “This? This is not a relationship! Your goddamn pleasure slave loves his daddy more than I love mine!”
Xaxac froze and really wished Lorsan would stop pointing at him. Was he supposed to say something? He really hoped he wasn’t supposed to say something.
“You done?” Agalon asked.
“I’m goin to my fuckin room!” Lorry screamed.
“No, you ain’t,” Agalon said, “You’re goin downstairs, and you’re gonna sit there, and you’re gonna talk to Cremia, and you’re gonna be civil. You’re gonna play parlor games and act like you got some goddamn sense.”
“The fuck I am!” Lorry said, “I’ll cause a scene! I’ll cause a giant fuckin scene! I will tear my ass! I’ll throw shit! Don’t fuckin push me old man, you know I’ll do it!”
“There ain’t no reason for this,” Agalon massaged his temples with one hand, “What the hell did Cremia ever do to you? Why you out here tryin to ruin her night?”
“Just leave me the fuck alone,” Lorsan said, turned and began walking toward the door, “forever. Just leave me alone.”
“Do not,” Agalon warned, “touch that doorknob. Don’t you walk away from me.”
“Fuck off,” Lorry said.
Then he froze.
Then he fell.
He hit the ground in the exact same way Billy had hit the ground, so Xaxac turned, and sure enough, Agalon stood with one hand outstretched, the rings in his ears glowing.
“You have pushed,” Agalon said, “and pushed, and pushed. How much of this jackassery did you realistically think I was gonna take, Lorry?”
He took a step closer, and Xac noticed that, just like Billy, Lorry’s chest no longer rose and fell. His muscles were paralyzed. Xaxac wondered if his heart was beating.
“Now I don’t know what the fuck your mama told you,” Agalon told him, “But that ain’t her house. I bought that house. That pretty little merchant’s daughter didn’t have shit when she married me. I give her everythin she had, just like I give you everythin you have. Now I’m gonna let you up, and you are gonna pick yourself up, get your shit together, and you are gonna take your ass downstairs and act like you got some sense. You better understand me, boy.”
He lowered his hand, the rings in his ears stopped glowing, and he used his boot to nudge Lorsan so that he rolled onto his back, where he began to jerk, spasm, and cough. Lorry stared up at him, trying to work the air back into his lungs, trying to keep his head from swimming, trying his best, it seemed, to stay conscious.
“You understand me, boy?” Agalon asked.
“You,” Lorry said, “You done… you took my focus cause you… you’re startin to figure out,” he rolled onto his chest, shoved himself onto his hands and knees, then stood on shaky legs, “that I’m…” he leaned heavily against the wall and glared up at his father, “I’m damn near grown. And I’m a helluva mage. I’m bought big enough to,” he stood to his full height and narrowed his eyes, “Whoop. Your. Ass. It’s comin, old man. Might not be today, but it’s gonna happen. You wanna control me, you’re gonna have to put me in the ground. I’m goin to my room. Fuck you.” He jerked the door open, turned, and added, “Oh, and daddy? Mages can’t cast for shit when they’re drunk. I know how you like to drink. And I know where you rest your little head at night.”
He slammed the door, and he was gone.
Agalon was so filled with rage his body shook.
He walked to the table, and for a minute Xaxac was overcome with the irrational fear that he was going to hit him, but of course he didn’t. Instead, he picked up the bottle of wine that sat there, put it to his lips and threw back his head.
“You lock his ass in there,” Agalon said to Lee as he slammed the empty bottle on the table.