The lecture was boring, and it was even harder to concentrate when Thorn’s gaze kept getting drawn to Kenneth. Kenneth somehow made it look good to sit in a lecture hall, his legs spread and his arms draped over the backs of the chairs next to him. He looked like an arrogant, lazy mage that the talentless always made fun of, but he was Thorn’s to discipline.
When the lecture ended, Thorn shook off his distraction. He had work to do on his project, and he couldn’t let Kenneth take up all his time. Kenneth was supposed to be the one focusing on self control, after all.
“So, what was the duel you mentioned to Saul?” Kenneth asked as he stood up, smoothing his robes. Another student who passed by widened her eyes when she saw Kenneth, and hurried up the steps. Thorn sighed.
“Duel? What…oh. The duels we were going to watch.” Thorn laughed when Kenneth frowned. “It’s not what you think. Not like what you and Alder did.” A chill went through Thorn at the thought of the powers the two men had commanded, and how it had resulted in his fake hand getting crushed when he had shot Alder. He flexed the metal of the replacement, testing it unconsciously. “It’s fencing. With rapiers, for fun, and with plenty of safety measures. It’s just something we talentless do when we’re not working. No one gets hurt, not with the electrical system we set up.”
Kenneth tilted his head, a grin stealing over his face as they left the lecture hall and headed into the narrow hallways that led to Thorn’s workroom. The electric lights they passed began to hum. “Do you duel too? What about with pistols?”
“I don’t duel, no,” Thorn said, holding up his fake hand. “Those of us with prosthetics usually don’t. People think we’re either too handicapped or cheating. And no one duels with pistols unless it’s a real duel, not a practice bout.” He chuckled. “I suppose you mages can find ways to throw lightning at each other safely, but not with our weapons.”
“Makes sense,” Kenneth said. “I’m interested to see what its like.”
“Well, give me a few hours,” Thorn said. “I have some work to do, and we can grab dinner. Then we can check out the duels.”
He hoped Kenneth enjoyed watching them. It was always a good way to relax after a long day of work.
He also hoped no one minded Kenneth being there. Putting away the nerve-wracking thought, Thorn set to work, the presence of his lover heavy in his mind.
Thorn hadn’t been able to get much work done. Between catching the sight of Kenneth out of the corner of his eye, the mage gorgeous no matter what he did, and the intermittent distractions of something mechanical failing when Kenneth’s magic flared, it wasn’t the best environment.
But dinner went well, even if it probably wasn’t up to Kenneth’s standards, and now the two men headed out into the courtyard, the sound of cicadas growing deafening as they left the college doors. The usual crowd had already gathered, and two men stretched in the center of the crowd, their blunted rapiers shining in the electric lights that were strung on the trees. A generator hummed on one side, and wires connected to two boxes lay strewn on the ground.
“What’s all this?” Kenneth whispered.
“You’ll see,” Thorn said. He nodded to Saul. His friend’s gaze hit the ground after he saw Kenneth, but he still made room for them in the crowd. Thankfully, in the dim lighting and with all the milling people, Kenneth didn’t stand out as much as Thorn had feared.
“Take your bets!” a woman shouted. Henrietta, as usual. “Who will win the first bout of the night, Frederickson or my good brother George!”
“Don’t bet,” Thorn said. He never did because he didn’t have the money, but part of him was worried Kenneth would bet far too much. Besides, the last thing they needed was for Kenneth to annoy anyone, even by the small act of favoring one duelist over another.
The people around them shouted out their bets, anywhere from 1 to 2 coppers, most on George. He was a fine duelist, with quick fingers and fine, muscular legs. Before Kenneth, Thorn had thought him quite fetching, which is why he came to the duels at all.
“Alright,” Henrietta said. “No striking the head. When the lights go off, I’ll say so.” Thorn wondered how hard it would be to construct metal masks so the apparatus would work with them, but he thought that every time and never spoke up. “Begin!”
Kenneth leaned forward, clearly curious. Before he could even blink, the long rapiers struck, one two three with the sound of clashing metal, and the light on the right went off.
“Point for George!” Henrietta crowed. The crowd hummed with exclamations of victory or groans of defeat, and more money began to change hands.
“Amazing!” Kenneth said, too loud. “What makes the light go off?”
Titters of laughter bled into the sound of the crowd. “Is he a first year?” someone said.
Kenneth frowned. “I’m just curious.”
Too many people turned, and so did George, stepping away from the duelist’s strip, the wire still attached to his clothing. “So who’s asking…”
Then he saw Kenneth, and Thorn groaned inwardly.
“Mage!” he said, his mouth dropping open. People immediately backed away from them, the anonymity of the crowd dropping away. Thorn’s stomach flipped.
George stared at Kenneth, his gaze fixed. “What are you doing here?” he asked, his voice tremulous. Thorn wished he knew more about George. So many here had bad experiences with the magi, and he didn’t know if that was fear or anger on George’s face.
“I’m…just here to learn,” Kenneth said carefully. “I’m curious about this dueling game.” Thorn winced.
“Learn the game, huh?” George said. His eyes narrowed. “Why not step up and play, then?” He motioned with his rapier to the duel’s strip. “C’mon mage,” George taunted, his eyes wide but jaw set. “You can’t win if you don’t play the game.”
Thorn’s stomach fell. The expression there was definitely anger.