The quest is over. The battle’s won. What comes next?
For Harth, now king, the answer’s rebuilding. Helping his people, settling into peace, with his loyal magician Tris always at his side. And Harth wishes for a happily ever after for himself as well, though he’s afraid Tris doesn’t feel the same.
But maybe tonight, on a starlit night, Harth can find the courage for one last adventure: telling Tris how he feels.
Revelry, guitar and fiddle music, shouting celebratory voices, drifted up from the keep, and from the courtyard. Lights twinkled below, medium-sized glowing stones -- Tris had enchanted those; they’d fade by morning, he’d said, when Harth had fretted about rest and over-exertion -- alongside firegleam and wide-open windows and merriment.
The starlight lay lazy and serene over rebuilt walls, around them. The moon was up but slim and new, young and curious. The breeze rustled leaves further out, in the dim green smudge of the woods, and the flat deep shine of the river and lake.
Harth offered, low so as not to disturb the quiet, trying to guess correctly, “We can rebuild the School, next. If you want that.”
“I would like that, I think.” Tris shifted weight, fit himself more neatly into the circle of Harth’s arm. Harth put the other arm around him too.
Tris leaned against him, back against Harth’s chest. And tipped his head back against Harth’s shoulder, which caused messy black hair to tickle Harth’s cheek. “I never thought ... it’s not what I thought I wanted. What I used to want. But it’s needed. Someplace the mage-gifted can go, someplace we can help them ... there’ll be new students. The next generation. There already are some; that little girl we met in Summer’s Bay, for one. And they will need some training, and I’ll ... do my best.” He paused, added, “Somewhere my father’s laughing at the irony.”
Harth grumbled, “Your father doesn’t get a say.”
“Well, no. He’s very dead.” Tris held up a hand, pulled brief glittering light into existence -- dancing fire-flowers at his fingertips -- and then shrugged, and flicked his fingers, scattering stars.
Most mage-students did not know their parents; the School had claimed potentials very young. Tris had only known that his father was in fact the First Magician, the Head of the Order, because he’d once overheard the man complaining to another mage that his son was a disappointment, fickle, undisciplined, a waste of talent. Harth hadn’t known until the night the School had burned. Tris had said, staring at a blackened outline over dead grass and scorched stone, evidence of desperate battle with the Usurper’s three sorcerers, “It doesn’t matter. Not any more than all the rest of it.”
Harth still wasn’t sure that was true. But he’d let it go, then.
He said, “Tell me where you want the site, and we can start tomorrow.”
“Oh, give me a week or two to figure that out. We don’t have to do everything at once. It’s only been a month. We’ve only just won your kingdom back.”
“Ours. Yours and mine. I’d’ve been dead a hundred times if not for you. And that’s just in the first year.”
“I also,” Tris said wryly, “nearly got you killed at least twice. In that same first year. I really am sorry about the whirlpool. I didn’t think the lake would do that, with that particular incantation.”
“Hey, we made it out. And we crossed the lake without getting caught by those patrols. That counts as successful escaping.”
“I suppose. And I learned something about whirlpools and incantations and temperamental lakes.” Tris shifted weight again, winced. That injury had been magical, a cursed weapon meant for Harth, mid-battle; Tris had already been exhausted. He could heal himself, and he’d done what he knew, but he’d been too slow to stop it taking root. Harth hadn’t left his side, during the three days Tris had been unable to walk. He’d kept hovering even after that.
Too close. Too much hurt. A vulture on his shoulder, talons digging in, weight heavy as guilt.
He said, “It’s not what you want, you said. The School.” He meant: I love you, I love you, I’ll give you anything, please ask. Please let me do something. For you.
“Oh ... it might be. I don’t know.” Tris shut his eyes, opened them. “I don’t think it matters. Someone has to. And there’s no one else.”
“You don’t have to.” He touched Tris’s cheek, got his mage -- his heart, his other half, his hero -- to look up at him. “You don’t have to do anything. You can choose. Whatever you want, wherever you want to go.”
“Harth,” Tris said, more amused now. “I know.”
“Then tell me. What do you want?”