Quantify - Ten: Playtime
"Ah, Mr. Rincil! It's been a while." A man’s warm voice drifted out from the shop.
Ten-year-old Leslie Murkor straightened in alert. He threw down the stick he'd been swinging around in what he fancied to be sword practice and bounded for the house. "Rincil" meant that Jayden could be here, too. Jayden accompanied his older brother more often than not these days.
The boy peered out hopefully from the back room of the shop. His father was speaking with Mr. Rincil holding out a gleaming new blade for the elven man’s inspection.
“As you can see, my darling wife is on another rampage.”
Rincil held out a hand and Mr. Murkor offered him the blade. It had not yet been fitted with a hilt, but the elf took it by the flat. Leslie watched him run his fingers delicately over the intricate runes etched near its base. A faint blue glow traced itself into the etching, shimmered for a while, then dissipated.
“It certainly is an ambitious piece of work. She is quite talented,” he concluded, handing back the blade. “Of course, we know your work is, as well, sir,” he added.
Murkor smiled in polite embarrassment. “There’s no need to say things like that. Your family does business with many talented craftsmen, much more talented than us.”
“Less ambitious craftsmen don’t require elven materials for their work. My father is always glad to do business with you. And how is your wife? Is she at home?”
“Positively giddy. She stays in the forge when she’s onto something like this.”
“After a piece like this?”
Murkor sighed. “Tell me about it. But ‘It’s just not right,’ she says. I leave her too it. She’s good at what she does.”
“Indeed she is. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, you seem to appreciate her... enthusiasm.”
“‘Enthusiasm...’ I guess that is a good way to put it. And, you’re right. I can’t imagine her without it.”
“In any case, I assume her latest project is why you’ve called upon our services.”
“Indeed it is. She’s told me what she needs, but I’m sure it’s changed by now. If you don’t mind, why don’t you accompany me to the forge, and we’ll talk to her about it.”
“By all means.”
Mr. Murkor placed the blade back on the counter behind him, wrapping in its protective cloth before escorting Mr. Rincil to the forge.
Mr. Rincil hadn’t changed much over the last six years. Leslie knew the elven man was about the same age as his father, probably even older, but the elf didn’t look a day over twenty. The tall, slender form stood about a head over his father, and Leslie still found the sapphire eyes mesmerizing. Maybe the long, blue-silver hair was a little less blue than it had been in the past.
Behind Mr. Rincil followed the only elven child Leslie—or most people in the village for that matter—had ever seen. He remembered with some embarrassment the wonder and amazement he had felt the first time they’d met those six years ago. Unlike his older brother, Jayden had changed quite a bit since then. Leslie contrasted the shy four-year-old—hair deep turquoise not yet lightened with age, cowering behind his brother—with the boy before him now.
The elven boy's stock-still discipline meshed eerily with his seven-year-old appearance, but Leslie knew better on both accounts. The boy only looked seven to humans; he was really ten, just like Leslie. Leslie also knew that his friend was just as bursting to ditch this stuffy smithy as he was.
"Jayden!" Leslie greeted, forgetting that he was interrupting his father's business.
"Leslie, please," his father scolded.
"Sorry." Leslie sheepishly bowed his head taking a place behind his father, creating a mirroring formation of the visiting elves. His father still watched him, waiting. "And sorry, Mr. Rincil," Leslie continued, taking his father's meaning.
"That's quite alright," the older elf recited politely, but he was clearly annoyed.
"Um…" Leslie couldn't help himself, "Can Jayden play?"
At this Jayden ventured a hopeful look up at his brother. The elder sighed. "Very well."
Both boys jumped excitedly, Leslie characteristically more so, and dashed out of the shop.
"Fire! Fire!" A few small wisps of flame puffed from the space in front of Jayden's hands each time he declared the spell. Two boys and a girl shrieked in mock terror—though the screams probably came more from excitement at the display than their childish acting—and ran from where they had corralled the "dragon" against the edge of the woods. Taking the cue, Jayden turned the tables chased after them, stopping every now and then to shout "Fire!" and display his dragonly ferocity.
His brother would probably scold him later about such a gratuitous use of magic. But the other kids liked seeing magic whenever they could. Brother might even tell Mother about using the Human language for casting, and then he'd really be in for it; but the kids could understand it better and it made the magic weaker, which was good for their games. This talent had earned him quite a few highly coveted roles in their games, and the attention from other children was nice; there weren’t any children in his village right now. He was used to his family's lectures by now. He just wanted to play.
Eventually, Leslie came back from his house, bounding across the dry, grassy field, his stick in hand. The three children, still screaming, took cover behind him.
"Don't worry," one of the boys told his younger sister, "The great hero Leslie will save us!"
Leslie brandished his stick as heroically as he knew how.
"So, big dragon, picking on villagers again?" he taunted in his "tough-guy" voice.
"How dare you admonish me, vermin!" Jayden shouted back thrusting his hand in the air. "Lightning!" Lights crackled around his extended hand. Jayden's pride swelled a little at the wide-eyed looks on the others’ faces, particularly at the wonder on Leslie's.
Leslie recovered the quickest and replied. "I don't know what you just said, dragon, but your tricks won't work on me." He rushed at Jayden swinging his stick, being careful not to get too close and hit his friend.
The two boys danced around the grass showing off their flashiest talents. This became a show more than a battle, each eager to see the other's newest tricks as well as show off his own. The other three children clapped and cheered in delight, completely forgetting who they were actually supposed to be rooting for.
After a few minutes, Jayden and Leslie stood panting in front of one another in the stalemate they had carefully maintained for the whole game.
Finally Jayden declared, "You have done well, mortal. Join my knights, and I will protect these peasants as they tend my fields." Jayden had long since forgotten whether he was a dragon, king, sorcerer, or anything else. The others probably had too. That was how these games went. The "peasants" cheered joyously and danced around with their hero and new dragon-king-sorcerer-lord, though it was still uncertain whether their hoopla was acting for the game or excitement over the display.
The children ran, trotted, and skipped back to the village still shouting and chattering about the epic battle they had just witnessed. Soon they had found a ball and were kicking it around the dirt and gravel walkways of the village, causing many of the adults to scold them as they got in people's ways.
The girl kicked the ball to Jayden. He was about to pass it to Leslie when a heavy figure slammed into him. The assailant was easily twice his size and Jayden fell to the ground, hard.
"Heeey!" was the collective groan of his friends, and when he looked up, an older boy of about thirteen was tossing and catching the ball mockingly with one hand.
"Come on," one of the boys whined. "Give it back."
"What do you care? Pointy-ears here was playing with it," the older boy retorted. Jayden was stunned for a moment, suddenly self-conscious.
"All of us were playing with it, and you know it," Leslie stepped forward, his temper rising.
"Really? You're playing with this midget?"
Jayden got up from the ground and started brushing himself off, his face strangely void. It was undignified to become upset. That was what his mother taught him, and he wouldn't disgrace her that much.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Leave it to Leslie—oblivious. Had he not already set his face, Jayden would have smiled. "Give back the ball."
"You should start playing with the big kids. Let that baby find a rattle or something."
It was then that Leslie figured out what was going on, and he was having none of it.
"Don't talk about Jayden like that! Give back the ball and apologize."
The older boy sneered at him. The other children started shrinking away. "Or what?"
Leslie hadn't gotten there yet. He didn't seem to care. He stalked over to the older boy and repeated his demand. "Apologize to my friend."
By this point, Jayden noticed a few of the older boy's friends were starting to gather around them as well.
"Fine, if he wants the ball, he can have it." The boy hurled the ball at Jayden and turned to meet Leslie's unspoken challenge. He reached out and seized the younger boy's shoulder, but paused. Something wasn't right. He turned back to look at Jayden. The little brat had actually caught the ball!
Unnerved, he tried reading the elven boy's face, and failed. The boy's expression betrayed no emotion, no intent.
"I'm about to teach your friend here a lesson," he warned, hoping he was intimidating. He spat out the word "friend" with disgust. "You gonna do anything about it, tiny?"
He raised a fist to Leslie who started trying to break free, but had to look back once again when he heard the ball drop to the ground. He was just in time to see a blue shimmer streak at him, then
there was a tiny elbow in his side.
Caught by surprise, the older boy fell sideways, barely catching himself on his knees. Leslie almost fell with him, but Jayden caught him by the wrist, giving him balance.
"Jayden?" Leslie asked, half in surprise, half in concern. His friend was crouching on the ground, breathing heavily.
How did I manage that? Jayden had just enough time to think before he noticed the other older kids converging on them. Their playmates had long since vanished.
Leslie shook off their tormentor's hand and kicked him in the shin, sending him the rest of the way to the ground.
"You little—" Leslie didn't hear the rest because Jayden was already off running. Caught by the arm, Leslie ran as hard as he could just to not get knocked over.
Eventually, though, the shock wore off and he followed without being held even pulling ahead of his friend. Then too far.
He stopped short, turning on his heel to see Jayden struggling to catch up some twenty yards behind. The older boys were gaining fast.
He ran back and, once he passed Jayden again, slid along the ground stirring up as much dust as possible. Then he scrambled back to his feet, grabbing two handfuls of dirt and gravel on he way up. He hurled them at the boys as hard as he could and took off again after Jayden. This time, he ran ahead, dragging Jayden behind him by the hand.
"Head for the woods!" Jayden called out from behind him. It was then that Leslie realized he had no idea where they were actually running to. He had just kept running in the direction Jayden had pointed them. But now that he looked ahead, he could see that Jayden had indeed taken them for the forest.
The edge was pleasant enough, but inside got thick, dark, and crawling with beasts. It was dangerous, but Leslie trusted his friend. No human knew the forest like an elf, even a ten-year-old, and the boys wouldn't follow them far once they were in.
Leslie put on an extra burst of speed and charged into the edge of the woods.
At first, the only problem was avoiding tree trunks and they could hear the muffled voices of their pursuers behind them. But as the foliage got thicker, they began to see a shorter and shorter distance in front of them. Leslie shoved through anyway, forcing his way through branches and bushes creating a temporary path for Jayden in his wake.
"Bear left," he heard Jayden call. The voices behind them disappeared and they were hardly running anymore, but the leaves and branches scratched at his face and arms just the same.
Following Jayden's instruction, the path got easier. After several minutes, they toppled out of the foliage, breaking into a clearing.
The boys sprawled, panting, onto the ground, reveling in coolness of the moss beneath their backs. Jayden's rich turquoise hair, now tangled and littered with leaves, fanned behind him on the ground; Leslie's short reddish brown locks, always messy whether he'd been hurtling through a forest or not, fell unchecked into his closed eyes.
Leslie could stay here forever like this; he couldn't care less if he ever saw those jerks again. Unfortunately, when it was time for Jayden to go, they would have to return and be forced to deal with the older boys again. For now, though, he'd enjoy the time with his friend.
Jayden, on the other hand, was troubled.
"Maybe Mother was right," Jayden pondered.
"Huh?" Leslie inquired, still panting.
Jayden mulled it over a bit, regretting opening his mouth before he had caught his breath and before really knowing what he wanted to say. "Maybe… maybe we can't be friends…"
"Come on. You know why. You saw how those other kids were teasing you."
"They were teasing you, too."
"Exactly. And I know they tease you even when I'm not here."
"They'd tease me anyway. Dad says that just what older kids do."
"It isn't just the older kids. The adults talk about us, too."
Silence passed. Jayden didn't really want to say it, but it was true. "You're an older boy."
"You're an older boy, too."
"Older than who?"
"Me. And you'll keep getting older than me. Are you gonna start being mean to me too?"
"What in the world are you talking about?" Leslie was getting frustrated now. "You're older than me!"
"Just by a few months, but that's not the point. We're both ten, but… but…"
"If we're both ten, then we're the same age—"
"But we're not…" He couldn't quite figure out how to say it. "You're a human. I'm an elf."
"So… Elves live at least three times as long as humans…"
"I know that," Leslie asserted, becoming saddened by the fact he tried not to think about: that he would die before his best friend. That he would grow old and they wouldn't be able play together anymore. That his best friend would probably be lonely without him. And that, one day, one of them would grow tired of having to push that thought away and they would just stop being friends anyway. His parents had tried to discourage their interaction various times using this logic, but had finally given in to their son's stubbornness; parents can’t protect their children from everything. For now, he would hold on to his best friend and push those thoughts away for both of them. "That doesn't matter right now."
"'Right now.' That's not what I'm talking about. Everyone dies," Jayden said, knowing exactly what his friend was thinking about. Sometimes it bothered him too, but not as much as this. "That could happen even if you were another elf…. What I mean is… is… Well, I'll live three times longer than you… so… it's like… you're… three times older than me."
"Three times older…" Leslie mulled it over in his head. "But we're both ten."
Jayden growled in frustration. "I should have known better than to expect a human to understand."
"What was that?!"
Then Jayden realized what he had just said. "I…"
Leslie was sitting straight up, staring at him, eyes wide with disbelief, shock, hurt, anger and… disappointment?
"Leslie, I…" He didn't quite know what to say. Humans were shallow, fickle, and often stupid. Many of their mannerisms, he just couldn't stand. Elves could do magic; most humans simply lacked the focus, to say nothing of intelligence. They were reckless and impatient and course and loud and…
But Leslie was none of those. Well… some… but that's what Jayden liked about him: his energy. Actually, Jayden didn't know that many humans. Why did he think all that? Probably because of the rest of the elves in his village… and maybe his mother. And whatever other humans were like, Leslie was different. Leslie was his best friend while most humans saw him as nothing more than a kid, or another elf. He had no right lumping Leslie in with them.
"I'm sorry… that was wrong."
"… Probably… I guess the people in your village talk about us as much as my village talks about them."
Jayden was surprised by this. He knew it was true, but he never expected to hear anyone admit it. Then again, if anyone was going to, it would be Leslie. He was astute about things like that without even knowing it.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
"Me, too. And I'm sorry I can't understand what you're talking about. I'll try a little harder."
"Um… thanks…" That was the last thing he'd expected, but Leslie still surprised him regularly, even after six years. He'd learned just to go with it. Leslie's thoughts were often clumsy and slow, but if he followed them long enough, he usually stumbled somewhere into the realm of brilliance.
"When we met, were both four, right?" Leslie said after some thought.
"And were we the same age then?"
"I guess so."
"I may not completely get it, but if I was three times older than you, and you were four when we met, then I would have been…" Leslie paused and played with his fingers a bit, "... ten. I would have been ten, then. But I'm ten now, so I can't be three times older than you."
Jayden blinked, astonished, as he worked out Leslie's reasoning. It was flawed in too many horrendous ways to count, but still, it made a kind of sense. The math was wrong, but the logic was sound… or maybe it was the lack of logic. The fact was, he looked like he was seven to a human, not three and a half. And hadn't they seemed the same age when they met? Maybe the ratios weren't so simple. Maybe there were no ratios. Maybe neither of them grew faster or slower. Maybe they just grew different.
He simply laughed.
"What? What's so funny?"
"Twelve, Leslie. Four times three is twelve."
"Oh." Leslie's face fell, his beautiful proof effectively unraveled. But as Jayden continued to laugh, his spirits raised again. "Well, see? You're smarter than me and I'm bigger than you. It'll be okay."
Jayden stopped laughing. After all that, this is the conclusion Leslie had come to? 'It'll be okay.' Was that it? Faith? Hope? Would that be enough to hold their friendship together? Maybe. Yes. Leslie was like that. It wasn't just 'hope and faith.' For Leslie, even at such a young age, or perhaps because of his youth, hope and faith became raw determination. And Jayden could see, even the very first time they met, that if Leslie was determined to make something happen, it would. It wouldn't be easy, but he would find a way.
"Did I say something wrong?"
Jayden smiled. "No. Nothing at all." If Leslie was going to work so hard to keep them together, he would just have to as well. He would draw on that tenacity he could never muster on his own and it would be okay. They would make it ok; that's what friends did.
In the spirit of his new resolution, Jayden decided to tease his friend a little. "But… are all humans this simple?"
Leslie didn't take the joke quite as he'd expected. "Hm… Maybe not. I think I might be a little stupid."
Jayden laughed again, shaking his head as he got up. "No. I think you're the smartest human I know."
"Yep." It was true—in more ways than one—and like a candle had been lit in his head, Leslie caught its double meaning.
Jayden took off, already prepared for this, as Leslie scrambled up. "I'm gonna get you for that!"
"You have to catch me first," Jayden taunted, "And I'm faster than you in here."
"No, you're not!" Leslie called back, "You're just more… uh… argyle."
Jayden furrowed his brow as he ran. It was an astute observation… with one small problem.
"I'm more agile, Leslie."