The crates that Lorsan had brought with him were apparently full of root vegetables stored in dirt, because he pulled them out, looked at them, and stuck those that were not potatoes back into the dirt. When he had as many potatoes as he apparently wanted, he set them on the hearth, stood, and disappeared into his father’s bedroom. Xaxac suspected he was going to steal something else, but after everything Lorsan had done for him, he wasn’t willing to fight him. Instead, he sat, still on the towel on the floor, with the blanket from the couch covering him for the sake of modesty, knitting away at the baby blanket he was making for his sister.
Lorsan returned holding a full basin and chuckled.
“Watercloset’s clean as a whistle,” he said as he began to scrub the potatoes, “But I still don’t trust her not to poison you again. I bet she done that on purpose; she’s always been mean.”
“Always?” Xac asked.
“Far as I can remember,” Lorsan shrugged and set the potatoes out along the edge of the fireplace, “She’s older than I am, so… maybe not always. You feelin better?”
“Yeah,” Xac said, “Thanks… you’re… bein real nice to me. You been real nice to me, I think, since the beginnin. I wish we hadn’t fought so much.”
“It ain’t your fault,” Lorsan said as he looked into the fire, “It’s daddy’s fault. You humans are… it ain’t your fault.”
“Aggie’s always been real nice to me, Lorry,” Xac said defensively.
“It hurts my soul,” Lorsan said, “Cause… you sound like you really think that.”
“It’s true,” Xaxac said, “He got me this stuff. And he’s gonna let me give it to my sister. I kinda… didn’t think…” he stared at his hands as they went through the practiced motions, “Part of me didn’t think he would… want me to give it to her, on account of it’s so expensive and she’s… human. But I said I wanted to do that right in front of him and he told me, told Alex’s master too, that I could.”
“What is that?” Lorsan asked.
“A baby blanket,” Xac explained, “She’s pregnant. They’re real easy; whole things in garter on account of it’s thicker so it’s just one stitch, over and over. It’s a square. You can do it while you’re drunk; I mean, not when you’re shitfaced, but regular drunk.”
Lorsan looked as if he was in deep thought, in concentration, so Xaxac said, “I can show you, it you want me to. You need a pair of sticks. You can use a couple of my double-pointed if you want to. I guess you could make a scarf or something, might fit on um. Just don’t drop the stitches off the back.”
“It’s kinda weird that you can do that,” Lorsan said, “I know a lotta folks in the navy knit and they use pattern books. I didn’t know folks could do it in their head.”
“I don’t get a whole lotta use outta books,” Xac shrugged, “I liked the magazines they had at the clocktower place. They had a lotta pictures.”
“Daddy gathered up all the fur you shed when you shifted,” Lorsan said, looking into the fire, “I reckon he’s gonna sell it.”
“He’s gonna sell it?” Xac asked, “It can’t be worth nothin.”
“Xac,” Lorsan huffed, “Don’t play stupid. You’re a shifter. It’s angora- which is expensive anyway- from a shifter! Shifters are so rare half the folks round here don’t believe in um. He’s gonna make a fortune off that. And there’s a lot of it. You’re over six foot tall shifted. Pushin seven.”
“I wish I could shave,” Xaxac lamented, because the concept of his body hair reminded him of the hair on his face, “I don’t want Aggie to see me like this. He didn’t say nothin about it…”
“I like the beard,” Lorsan said, “When I’m runnin the place all y’all’ll have beards. Makes ya look human.”
“Makes me look old,” Xac argued, “It ain’t cute. I don’t want Aggie to see me like this.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” Lorsan said, “I don’t know nothin about it.”
“You reckon I could go downstairs here in a little bit?” Xac asked hopefully, “I wanna take a real bath.”
“You can go wherever you want, for my part,” Lorsan shrugged, “You ain’t gotta ask me.”
“You’re the only one here,” Xaxac argued.
“Only what?” Lorsan asked, “Elf?”
“Yeah, and the only one in charge, ‘cept for Mrs OfAgalon, and I know she won’t let me do nothin.” Xaxac explained as he turned the row and began to knit again.
“Well,” Lorry said as he leaned forward and poked one of the potatoes, “You can go wherever you want, for my part.”
Xaxac stood in front of the dressing mirror and ran the towel over his wet body and through his hair, before he set about the task of combing through the puffy mess. His beard had gone beyond stubble, it was really growing in, and Xac suspected that by the time Lee got back and he was allowed to shave again it would be as fluffy as his head. He couldn’t stand it.
Once he had his hair sorted, he turned to the pile of packages Lorsan had thrown out of the way to make room for the new wardrobes. If Agalon was going to be gone for days, he would have time to go through them all slowly, to really absorb each piece. He didn’t even really need to unpack any of them right now; with Agalon gone it was likely that no one else would come into the room. Even Lorsan tended to knock.
But Lorsan may come in to check on him.
Xaxac was beginning to think that Lorsan liked humans, even if he hadn’t when he was younger, as Agalon had said. People could change, and often did. Xaxac had certainly changed himself. And Lorsan would probably appreciate it if he wore clothes.
And Agalon would probably prefer it if they were all hanging up instead of still in packages when he came home.
Xac went to his new wardrobe and pressed his hands to the wood. It was the same size as the old one had been, but it was obvious that it was new. It was completely smooth and shining with the new varnish, and smelled like it too, a scent Xac wasn’t sure he liked. It was darker than the old one had been and the hinges were black instead brassy. He pulled the door open and peered inside at the back wall, as smooth and unbroken as the door had been.
Xaxac closed the wardrobe, stood up straight, walked to the bedroom door, and opened it. The sitting room beyond was quiet except for the crackling of the fire and the ticking of the clock. Wasn’t there supposed to be another clock? Agalon had ordered a clock for the bedroom, hadn’t he? Xaxac wasn’t sure. Sometimes he dreamed things and got them all mixed up with reality. It was difficult to know which memories really happened and which he had dreamed up.
He closed the door, in case Lorsan came in before he was dressed, and walked to the packages. It was already evening, and Agalon had said he wouldn’t be back that day, so Xaxac thought that if he moved slowly he could have enough to entertain himself for the entire time Agalon was gone with those packages. He had always been interested in clothes anyway. Part of him wished he had been able to actually talk to Mrs Sambres. He suspected they would like each other. But he wished he could talk to her… in a way that he couldn’t, that he knew instinctively he couldn’t, but could not really articulate why.
He wanted to learn from her. But he never would. That’s not how those kinds of things were done.
He wanted to know what she had written in her little notebook, how she made all the beautiful things she did, like those outfits in her store window. But Xaxac was fairly certain that… humans probably couldn’t do that. It was probably beyond his capabilities. She had done things that he would never be able to do.
He untied the first box and frowned. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it, it was that it was full of bland, banal practicality. He had unfortunately come upon what was likely the worst of the packages on his first try, full of folded up undershorts, which he dumped upside down onto the bed. They were a bit softer than he expected, but otherwise standard fare. But, he supposed, practical things had even more value than things that only existed for beauty. He selected a pair at random and slid them on, humming as he tied them to fit.
Then he opened a drawer of his new wardrobe and began to fold the rest neatly. He was engaged in this activity when he heard the door to the sitting room open and Lorsan stepped inside.
“Xac?” He asked.
“I’m in the bedroom!” Xaxac called.
“You decent?” Lorry asked.
“No, darlin,” Xac laughed, “I don’t reckon. Never again. After what I been through today decency’s kinda out the window, ain’t it?”
“You care if I come in there?” Lorsan asked, as if he had either not understood that Xaxac had spoken in jest, or maybe just didn’t find it particularly funny.
“Come on in,” Xac said as he stood to open another package.
“Smells a helluva lot better,” Lorsan said as he opened the door and stepped inside. Xaxac noticed that he elected to leave the door to the sitting room open.
“Right?” Xac asked, “I killed myself.”
“But you’re feelin better?” Lorsan asked.
“Feelin a hellvua lot better,” Xac agreed, “And I didn’t pass out, which shocks the shit outta me.”
He carefully untied the next package, opened the box, and found it to be full of undershirts, which he dumped onto the bed. Was the outfit inspired by the fire continent the only good one he got? Still, they were impeccably made and in a variety of styles and he had to admire Sakala’s handiwork. He began to fold them, but stopped in his tracks as he took in something he should have noticed with the undershorts.
There were just so many of them.
When he worked on the fields the family was only given ten yards of fabric to make underthings for the entire family. He did well to get two pairs of underthings a year, the lightweight for the warm months, and the flannels for the cold months. He was looking at a good five years worth of clothes. That Agalon had seemingly ordered on a whim.
He didn’t need these. They could have been split up, would be better used by people who didn’t spend most of their working hours without clothes. This didn’t make sense.
“You sure?” Lorsan asked, “You’re movin real slow. It ain’t like you.”
“Just…” Xac said as he went back to folding the shirts, “Thinkin too much. I get to thinkin too much sometimes.”
Lorsan looked behind him to see that both of the windows in the room were open, despite the chill of the early autumn twilight, so he walked over and closed them as Xaxac placed the folded undershirts in the drawer with his shorts.
“I been downstairs in the library,” Lorsan said, “Lookin through daddy’s records.”
“Neat,” Xac said, “What’s that?”
“Bunch of old ledgers and stuff,” Lorsan explained, “Tryin to figure out where you come from. He bought you up in the Sage Lake province, ‘bought fourteen years ago.”
“I don’t know where that is,” Xac shrugged. The information wasn’t particularly useful to him, but Lorsan didn’t seem happy to see his apathy. Xaxac wasn’t sure what kind of reaction he had wanted or expected.
“It’s up by the Sage Lake,” Lorsan said as if this would mean anything to Xaxac, “There’s cities there, big tourism place. They do a lotta fishin, little bit of farmin, but not commercially like we do. Bought a week’s ride out from Satra, another couple days out from the Sacred Woods, the Sacred Woods are right up on um. The treeline hits the lake.”
“Sacred Woods,” Xac said as he untied another package, trying to remember where he had heard that name before. Then his eyes grew wide and he said, “The Emerald Knight!”
“The legend is,” Lorsan said, “That about three hundred years ago, the Emerald Knight went into those woods. Before that, there was a town in there, there was a path in there, folks could go in there. But then there was an earthquake, completely changed the landscape. The woods grew back, grew over the path, and ain’t nobody goes there no more. Anybody that goes in them woods never does come out again.”
He leaned against the dressing table and continued, “Folks see monsters in them woods. They say you can’t even go around the treeline at night. Say you can’t never go up there on the full moons. Folks hear voices. Folks… see all kinds ‘a things up there.”
Xaxac had never given much thought to his birth parents. Families were split up and sold to different people all the time from those slave merchants. It was common for a child to be ‘bought in’ without parents, so he had always assumed that was what had happened to him. His birth parents had probably gone somewhere else to work, without him. He had never harbored them any ill will for that, because it wouldn’t have been their fault. He never really thought about them at all.
But the vet had said that shifting was hereditary.
At least one of his parents would have had to have been a shifter.
Was he a monster from those woods that had been cursed when the Emerald Knight killed a god? Had he wandered away somehow and been found by a slave merchant?
“Did them records tell how much he paid for me?” Xaxac asked.
“Yeah,” Lorsan said, “And it’s crazy. Five hundred gold.”
“I don’t know how much that is,” Xac said.
“Ok so…” Lorsan scrunched up his face in thought, “Most folks never see a gold piece, Xac. Most tradin’s done in silver. A skilled laborer, like, say, a blacksmith, makes about one gold a year. If we wouldn’t kin to Xandra… we could never afford you. That merchant’ll never have to work another day in his life. Daddy believed him. He thought you was a shifter.”
“He was right,” Xac shrugged.
“He’s never been good with money,” Lorsan huffed, “This place is hemmoragin money, and he’s out here goin on trips and shit.” He motioned to all the packages on the bed and the wardrobes, and possibly Xaxac himself, “Buyin stupid shit. Man spends money like it’s goin outta style. I’m gonna inherit a clusterfuck.” He crossed his arms and huffed, “But it’s fine, ‘cause we’re nobility. We’ll just take it in levies from everybody else in the district, I guess. Ain’t like we’ll ever actually go broke. Daddy spends all our money? Fuck everybody else livin here, right?”
“I don’t know nothin about it,” Xaxac said as he opened the package and pulled out a beautiful, thick, soft, green traveling cloak. He liked the texture so much he brought it to his face to rub it against his skin and realized he could smell some sort of fragrance he didn’t recognize.
“I’d say he drinks up most of it,” Lorsan lamented as Xaxac hung the cloak carefully in his new wardrobe.
“I like to drink,” Xac said, “I love bein drunk. I’d lay drunk if I could.”
“This oughta be the most profitable district in the mainland,” Lorsan said, “We’re literally feedin the nation. They’d die without us. We oughta have Xandra by the short hairs. We oughta wield way more power than we do.”
“Oh, on account’a we grow the food?” Xaxac asked, not really understanding what Lorsan was talking about, “That don’t make no sense. It ain’t who grows the food, it’s who’s on top. By that logic, the slaves in the fields oughta have the most power.”
Lorsan’s eyes shot open with an emotion that looked like he had just had some sort of epiphany, but Xaxac wasn’t paying much attention to him, he had moved on to the next package.