4: Girl From (Hesse) Town
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Buck is weird, but he's not bad, Alexandra thought I really dont know what to make of him. Not after the pleasant breakfast and introductions they all made. In every way Buck acted like a polite gent- for someone who'd supposedly died, he didn't seem so worried about much of anything! And for what it was worth, she couldn't stand the thought of adding yet another man to the overwhelmingly masculine house. She could already feel her heart beating with the stress and the fact they had a guest! What would Grandma Willow think? She usually came by this time of year as the festivals started kicking off.

It had been a good few days since the man came to town. He claimed he was just about nineteen or twenty years old, but he couldn't tell Mother or Father or any of them what day he was born on. Not till he was told about the calendar, and even then he just said that he'd call the day he got there his new birthday. Something about being born again and making that his new birthday. Something about it being no more unusual to be born twice than it was to be born once. The idea struck her as bizarre, but then what didn't with that man? He found their way of dress- leaving their chests uncovered- somehow bizarre, yet he himself couldn't give any good answers for any questions that were asked of him!

Alexandra chose not to voice any of her thoughts on the matter. She couldn't deny he had a fine figure, and more than once she found herself pausing her chores and eyeing the man when he was chopping wood or hauling barrels. That toned, athletic body- It didn't match his polite and well-mannered demeanor, she thought. In her books the big and sturdy men were rough and tumble and uncouth. Buck said please and thank you, he never raised his voice unless it was to speak to someone far away, and after he got settled in he was the first to wake and last to sleep. The man worked like an ox. Adalard absolutely loved having the man around to go fishing with, and Alexandra let him "borrow" her fishing rod when he did. He respected all of Father's rules and even showed Mother a few new ways to cook food. In every way he slid into their family like a missing piece of the puzzle.

And that sort of thing only ever happened in books and fairy tales! Alexandra knew, she had books of them! And all the kids around town knew too, because she read them stories from her books. They loved the one about the dragon-riding knight and the tailor-made princesses. But even those small kids had put two and two together and asked questions that got the young lady glowing like the blacksmith's red hot iron! It frustrated her to no end, even if he didn't look so bad and worked hard. A little part of her almost wanted him gone.

She could think that, but her father obviously thought differently. The young man's spirit had won him over, and just letting him have a mat, pillow and bed on the kitchen floor wasn't enough. When Father sent the man off to trade some goods he'd always let him keep a little bit of change. When he’d earned enough of his keep, he took up a spot in the roof of the barn to ‘respect the family’s privacy,’ or something like that. To her father he might as well have been an eldest son he never had, for how well he treated Buck!

"Xandra!" Mother called early one morning, when the young lady went to bed late. "Get up, you need to head to the market!"

"Mother-" she pulled a book from her face, realizing she'd stayed up too late again reading her books under the moonlight. "Please?"

A chiding huff came from the other room, as the door opened and mother peered her head in. "Did you stay up late reading again?"

The beauty primer slid off her small bed and thumped against the floor. She buried her head under her pillows and groaned. Her eyes ached and her neck crooked like a shepherd got his hook on her. But that couldn't explain the tightness in her gut or the apprehension filling her lungs. She didn't want to get out of bed, she just wanted to read her books! A little bit of mucus dripped down her face, salty and disgusting as it hit her tongue. "I don't feel so good."

"Oh, poor thing." Mother sat on her bed and rubbed the back of her head. The dainty fingers parted her sandy hair. "Adalard, Edmund and Gus are all helping your father in the fields today, Xandra, you have to go to the market today."

"Mother... " Alexandra worked up a hacking cough.

"Xandra..." Her mother's face creased with disappointment.

Heavy footsteps resonated through the house. The door opened wider and Buck dipped himself inside. "Hey, is everything alright? I was about to go help your father- Xandra, are you sick?"

She made sure to play up the groaning noises she made. Her mother sighed. "Seems she's caught a bed-flu. Oh, I needed her to go to the market for me today-"

"-You did?" Buck stood up straight in her room, filling the place with his presence. "Well, I can go in her stead if you want."

"You will?" Mother perked up. "Oh you're such a sweetheart, Roebuck, there's a little coin purse. I just need some herbs and some honey. You can make a stop at the apothecary for a bed-flu remedy. She catches it often, just tell them it's for my dear. When Rodrick comes by I'll let him know where you went. Here, can you write what I need down-"

The two left Alexandra's side and entered the kitchen, leaving the girl alone. She swung over and pried her book from the ground. She swung her pillows over until she could catch some light from the window, illuminating the well worn pages. She'd gotten this volume a few months back, and grown ever enamored with its contents. What young girl wouldn't? An alchemist in search of youth and beauty had written it, and filled it to the brim with formulae calling for wonderous ingredients. Shavings off a unicorn's horn. Pixie's dust. Blood of a shapeshifter, even. She mentioned other magical ways, like transmutation spells, or even summoning demons, but warned against them. What girl wanted to be shackled to some crotchety old sorcerer?

...hell, she didn't even want to be shackled to a man in the first place, but where was a poor little farm girl like her going to get the money to go to a magician's college? Would they even accept a woman? She knew there were quite a few hedge witches trained in those places. But she could aim higher than that!

Alexandra groaned and laid with her head by the window, feeling the breeze pour in. She kicked her covers off herself to try and cool off. The sweat beaded off her body and dripped down to soak her sheets: whether it was from her sickness or the hot air, she couldn't tell. It just rolled down her, down the tiny bumps she called breasts. Her nipples stood straight out. She flicked one and sighed, wishing for once she'd been born anywhere else. She recalled even her mother's bosom had a little more... To work with. Why couldn't she have inherited that?

All she really had was Grandma Willow's talent for spellcasting, but that didn't help a lot!

Hesse- her part of the country- had a bit of a reputation for their "Heifers." It wasn't untrue, they made a lot of dairy and a lot of cheese, but it was a different kind of heifer. The provincial kind. Girls from Hesse were supposed to be buxom, not flat as a washboard. Some folks claimed the people of Hesse had a little minotaur blood in them. If they did, where was it in her? She'd spent years the tall and stringy one in her group of peers. They'd all grown up, but...

Well, she'd grown up, but not out! The teasing comments she got as a kid had faded, but it hadn't really helped. She looked out the window towards Brookheim: after taking her family into account, she could number all the men taller than her on her fingers. Eleven, actually, since Buck had come into town. The rest of her little town either looked up to her or had to settle for looking her eye-to-eye. It stung a little.

"Ugh!" She thrashed a little, still remembering how her little brother got his dirty hands on her books. Her parents supported her literary passion: every chance they got, they got her books. She couldn't help herself, drawn into fantastical situations and pushing her talent for magic further and further. If she had anything to be proud of, it'd be her self-taught magic! She knew all sorts of spells to make her mother and father have an easier life, for cleaning and sewing up clothes, processing food, and a lot of remedies for her rough and tumble little brothers. It helped no doubt: it's just that the men of the Hesse looked for other assets.

She stewed for however long she did, thinking venomous thoughts and then shaming herself. For every time she wished she could be a great warlock and burn Brookheim, she remembered all the love and kindness she'd gotten. When Eugenius grew sick, the Apothecary gave them a remedy out of his own kindness. They'd been blessed with food from their neighbors in times of poor harvest. She kept on with that until-

"Alexandra!" Buck's friendly voice boomed through the house. Was he back from the Apothecary already? She sunk into her bed: he always had a smile and something nice to say. "I'm back!"

She hoarsely coughed.

"I got your bed-flu remedy!" His heavy footfall got closer before stopping at the door. "Are you decent?"

"Decent?" Well she had her bottoms on, that was decent enough. Unless he meant- asking her to put a top on? In the privacy of her own home? What was he, so prudent he couldn't bear seeing a woman without her top even at home? "What do you mean?"

Buck cleared his throat. "Have you- well are you covered up? Got all your clothes on?"

"... Why?" She asked, genuinely curious. "It's hot and I'd get sweat on it."

"Well! I- you're sick and I don't want ta' just walk in on ya nekkid. Plus where I come from-" he chuckled "-ya, usually a woman's only nekkid at home with her husband, or alone. I'd just feel weird coming in and you being all- you know, like that!"

Alexandra laughed, then choked on mucus, then laughed uproariously when it cleared up. She grabbed the edge of her covers and pulled them over her breasts, leaving her middle exposed and just her lowerwear. Did this count as 'decent' enough for the prudish man? "You're weird! Does a blanket work?"

"A blanket is fine. Not tryna be all, y'know. Intrusive, on ya privacy." Buck kept on clearing his throat, before the door handily opened and he squeezed into the shared bedroom. He had bags in both his hands. Two things filled the room- the smell of pastries, and the man's presence. They were the tallest family in Brookheim: Buck made them look small! His broad shoulders blocked the door and he could easily touch the ceiling without getting up on his tiptoes or bringing his elbows above his head.

As he came in she watched his face turn red as easily as it always did. Buck donned the same sleeveless top she'd been tasked by Mother with sewing up. Why he insisted on wearing that but leaving his arms uncovered seemed beyond Alexandra. "I stopped by the baker and got ya somethin' sweet, and I went by the brewer and got a little cider, since I heard ya liked that. A lady at the Apothecary's, she said she hears you get sick all the time."

"How much did that cost you?" Everyone in the village knew her as the sickly girl on the farm. She leaned on the rough frame of her bed. Buck squatted down and set the bags on the ground, unwrapping the things he got. His eyes were on just the things he got, not her. "Was it a lot?"

"No, not a whole lot. When I was sick, what my mom got me was something sweet too." He straightened back up with his grin and offered her a roll, covered in a thin brown paper, and one of the brewer's home-blown glasses Then he retrieved the medicine and offered her that as soon as she'd set the sweet and the cider aside.

Alexandra raised an eyebrow even as she unpeeled the pastry. "Mother doesn't allow us to eat in our rooms..."

Buck put a finger to his lips and shushed her. "Well I won't tell nobody. Just our little secret, between you and me."

She blinked and nibbled the oversized thing, not quite caring that the blanket shifted down. One of her little pink nubs showed itself. Buck grabbed her chair and sat looking out the window, sipping on his own bottle of cider. "You won't?"

"No, no, I won't. You're sick, you deserve to be treated well so you can get better!" He beamed. That smile infected her, and she couldn't help but smirk. "I don't know how long this will last but I hear there's a big festival coming up, you've got to be in tip-top shape for that!"

" Mhm." The girl grasped her bottle of remedy, a foul, oily liquid, and took a swig of it. The stuff burned her mouth and tasted acrid going down. Even after she swallowed it left a terrible aftertaste that only half went away when the cider washed it out. "Ugh!"

"Oh!" Buck put his hands on his lap while he offered sympathies. "Does it taste bad?"

Alexandra scrunched up her face, downing half the bottle of cider to try and get it out. It helped but not by much. "Of course it tastes bad!"

"That's a shame." He shook his head. "Just like home, hah!"

The small woman crossed her legs over each other and pushed herself up, to lean against the wall. The blanket dropped off, leaving her top fully exposed. Buck glanced down then turned away, it seemed almost involuntary for him. She smacked her lips and took a few dry swallows while the remedy spread through her belly. The pastry and the cider worked, what normally made an empty stomach roil just got her insides turned sideways. She closed her eyes.

A minute or so passed. Buck was odd:  but he wasn't bad. Alexandra just thought him bizarre. He knew all sorts of things but magic totally eluded him. All those muscles came from somewhere, but he said he wasn't normally a worker- he just "worked out" and wanted to see himself get stronger! And perhaps the only thing she could admonish him for would be his appetite, he ate enough for three people! Guess that's how he got so big.

"You like to read?" Buck nudged her bed. "I heard it from your mother."

Alexandra nodded... and then shot up, grabbing for the small beauty book she had. When she couldn't find it she turned and saw that Buck had it in his hands. Closed, thankfully, yet the man still eyed the covers and the title. Genuine and Effective Formulae for Beauty, Wealth and Goodness, and it had a little emblem of a heart and potion flasks emblazoned in the tough leather on the front. It had cost her almost a month's worth of her money! "Give me that back! Please."

The man eyed the cover for a few long moments, then he placed it in her outstretched palms. The little woman snapped it up and held it to her chest. For as nice and polite as he acted he could've kept his paws off her books! "Woah-hey, alright! I was just curious what it was. It fell on the floor, you wouldn't want it getting dirty."

"...Thanks." She murmured, putting it aside, holding it close.

Buck sat there for a moment, looking her square, then he leaned back. His joints popping interrupted the quiet breeze she enjoyed. He idly sipped on his cider. She couldn't believe the man was just nineteen or twenty- right around her age, he acted so... worldly. Like he always had something to say or advice to give. Alexandra didn't buy the idea he was from another world: he went about things too easily, with little trouble. And besides... somebody from another world wouldn't know a thing about Ziva, the Goddess Unspoken. 

He hummed, and leaned out the window. "I think reading's nice. Wish I had more time for it back home. What do you like to read?"

Alexandra tightened her grip on her book. "Novels. Things like this. I think they're neat. I like the stories they tell, they take me out of this little town."

The man leaned to the side. "Really now? Is that unusual here?"

She nodded in return, scooting back and pulling her pillow up to get more comfortable. "Yes, if you couldn't tell."

Buck probably thought of something sage, and she half-expected him to offer advice: maybe reveal he had a mission from his other world, or that the book he kept (she'd tried to get into it, the locket wouldn't open!) had special directions just for her. The thought made her heart beat a little faster. Just a little bit. That may have just been her imagination, or the flu making her head so light it might float off. She fell into her pillow and cast him a look.

The next words surprised her:

"Well, would you like me to tell you stories? I've got a lot of them."

"You know... Go ahead. It might be interesting."