“Forget it, Kenneth,” Thorn whispered. “He’s just angry at…” he almost said “magi,” but didn’t. Kenneth knew anyway. It had been a mistake to come here. He should have had Kenneth at least wear talentless clothes.
“C’mon,” George taunted. “Why would a mage come here other than to show us talentless how dueling is done?” George’s opponent unclipped the wire that connected him to the battery. They were truly preparing.
“I’d be glad to try,” Kenneth said, taking a step forward. “I’m curious as to what these duels are like.”
“Have you lost your mind?” Thorn hissed, moving forward to intercept his lover. He pitched his voice low. “This isn’t a game to him, it’s a challenge. George clearly hates mages, Kenneth. He’ll try and hurt you.” He had heard it often enough from other talentless growing up. Some, like him, just wanted to move on. But there were others, even others his age, who still wanted revenge. “Those blades may not be sharpened, but they can still cut if he hits you hard enough!”
“Thorn, please,” Kenneth said. “I know this is a challenge. I know nothing about talentless dueling, but I know when I see anger. And sometimes you just have to face it.” He squared his shoulders. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes already. I want to learn, even if I get a little beat up.” He quirked a smile.
“Are you two done flirting, or are we going to do this?” George said. “You bring a mage here, Thorn, you let him make his own decisions.”
Thorn swallowed down nerves. At least this reaction meant none of the people here had been the one who worked with Alder. “Fine then,” he said. “Kenneth, please be careful.” Kenneth nodded.
“You’re not seriously dating him, are you?” Saul blurted. Thorn met his friend’s wide eyes as a buzz of whispers broke out around them, words flitting back and forth like bats.
“Dating a mage?”
“Didn’t his parents die in the war?”
Thorn’s ears burned, and he lowered his head. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t. The lifemate thing, and his chance to help people…they just didn’t get it. If they knew, they wouldn’t say that. If they knew Kenneth, they wouldn’t talk like that.
But fires, it still hurt.
“Thorn,” Kenneth said. His lover tapped him on the shoulder, pulling him away from the shock of the whispers. “I’ll only do this if its okay with you. I didn’t mean to...”
“Its alright, Kenneth,” Thorn said. “I…” He trailed off.
“Are we going to do this or not, mage?” George said. “You wanted to prove you’re better than us at a talentless art, right? Step up here and do it. Or try, at least.” He twirled the rapier in his hand, an obvious display of prowess. The chatter around them increased, and the hair on the back of Thorn’s neck rose. This was bad. This was a mistake, and he didn’t know how to fix it.
Kenneth met his gaze, his blue eyes wide. Thorn’s mind whirred like one of his machines. Every other time he had come here, it had been for fun, a chance to watch attractive men practice an ancient art of dueling with swords. Thorn was no historian, but it was fascinating. And apparently also a point of pride.
“I’ve never held a sword,” Kenneth said, raising his voice to address George. “I apologize if I’ve done something to offend anyone. If you’ll let me, I will try. If not, I will leave.” He spoke with poise and elegance, a diplomatic mage. Thorn was impressed, and hoped it was enough.
“You challenged me, you finish it,” George said. He took the sword from his previous opponent and held it out to Kenneth. “C’mon, mage. Or are you a coward, too scared to fight a talentless fairly?”
“Who says he’ll fight fair?” someone muttered.
“Very well,” Kenneth said. The curiosity and eagerness that had sparked in his eyes when he had first arrived was gone, and it hurt Thorn to see that as much as it hurt to hear what the others said about him. “I’m happy to try.”
“Hook yourself up then,” George said, pointing with his blade. “And take this.”
Kenneth hefted the sword, studied George’s grip, and then adjusted his own. Thorn hurried to his side, ignoring the whispers as he hooked up the metal clip to Kenneth’s robes.
“This will carry the current when the sword hits you,” he said. “It’s how we know when someone has made contact.”
“It’s ingenious,” Kenneth said. “Like everything you do.” Thorn’s face heated. “I’m just sorry I can’t enjoy it.”
Thorn backed away with a nod. He was sorry too.
“Ready, mage?” George said. He lifted his blade, the hilt to his forehead. Thorn wondered about the origins of talentless dueling. He had seen magi duel, the spectacular battle between Alder and Kenneth fresh in his mind. Dueling with swords was cleaner, faster.
But like most things that were part of the history of people with no magic, it had all but died out. Magi were the rulers now.
“Fight!” someone shouted, and George lunged forward, his sword faster than a blink. Everyone around them hushed quiet, suddenly aware of the mistake they had made. Thorn's stomach flipped.
“Idiot,” Saul said. His eyes were wide.
Blood dripped from the cut George had slashed open on Kenneth’s cheek.
George backed away, flicking specks of blood onto the ground from the tip of his sword. They weren’t sharpened, but with someone of George’s prowess, it wasn’t impossible.
Kenneth’s shoulders loosened, and he dropped his sword. “I suppose I lose,” he said. He lifted a thumb, wiping away the blood on his face, and the cut with it as he muttered some gibberish. George took a step back.
“Magi duel also,” Kenneth said. “And I know the procedure for that, at least. I grant you victory.” He unhooked the clip from his robes. “Enjoy the honor you have won.”
George frowned, and whispers buzzed as Kenneth headed back toward the crowd—back toward Thorn.
“He’s not going to take revenge?” Saul whispered, his voice shaking. “He could kill us for that. He’s a mage.”
“Not Kenneth,” Thorn said, pride and tenderness blooming in his chest as he moved toward his lover. “He’s not that kind of mage. Or that kind of person.”
Don't forget to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!
Don't forget to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!