“I wish to hear about the talentless’ take on the war,” Kenneth said. “What the war was like for you—and why it started.”
Thorn leaned against the wall, thinking over the memories of his first few years at the inventor’s college. He had always had a knack for working with his hands—well, hand, he thought with a rueful smile. Maybe it was because of his injury that he had wanted to go into engineering.
He could still remember the first prosthetic he had received, from a woman he had met when he moved from the orphanage in Allentown to one in Tiribek. The war had been over for four years. He had been 11.
“This will help you,” she had said. “It will take some getting used to, though.”
“Thorn?” Kenneth’s voice broke through his thoughts. “Do you want to hear too? If not that’s okay. I just thought…”
“Yes, that’s fine.” He had long thought about his childhood, how the war had affected his own life. But as to how it had begun…while he didn’t trust that anyone knew the full truth, it would be good to hear from Varlen.
If he started getting bad memories, he could always leave. He hated dwelling on the past. His life was tough. One of his deepest fears is that he would learn something related to his parents, something that would reveal that they had fought and brought the war to their home, and that was why they had died. He didn’t know what he would do if that were true.
But he couldn’t share those fears with Kenneth. Not yet.
“Before Jaquin, we were like the non-nobles are now. We could never really govern, and we had little say in the capital. But we were allowed to do our own things. Before the discovery of gunpowder, of electricity and technology, the mages ignored us. We didn’t have their capabilities.” Varlen gave Kenneth a nod that held no small amount of sarcasm. If Kennet noticed, he gave no sign.
“But is when we began to advance that the magi took notice. No longer did we have to live in lightless slums. We began living well, advancing with steam power. There were dreams then of achieving flight, of doing everything magi could do.”
Thorn liked to think those dreams were still alive.
“That was when the magi began passing laws. Certain inventions were forbidden—“no weapons of war.” Varlen made quotes in the air. “That meant no firearms. They forced us to hunt with bows and arrows if we wanted meat and had no access to a nearby farm. We would improve access, but inventions related to transportation were also forbidden. As soon as we began to show our true potential, the magi took notice of us and wanted to keep us down, where they thought we belonged.”
“But why?” Kenneth said. “Couldn’t the inventions have helped magi too?”
“Of course they could have,” Varlen snapped. “But when have humans ever been rational? The magi saw a threat to the status quo. We were there serfs, their peasants and servants. They wanted to keep it that way.”
“So that was when Jaquin began to talk of revolution,” Kenneth said.
“No, he talked of revolution after a group of magi destroyed the center of talentless learning at the time,” Varlen said. “The college of Lisandra would make this college, and even your collegium, look like a schoolhouse. It was where we learned how to harness the power of steam and generate electricity. It was a monument, and its destruction the ultimate insult. That was ten years before the war began—Jaquin was just a boy then. And now, talentless never even hear of it. So much knowledge was lost, because magi can’t tolerate their power being challenged.”
Kenneth was frowning, but he didn’t rise to Varlen’s bait. “So why did it take ten years?”
“You’re a fool like every mage,” Varlen said with a roll of his eyes. “To rebuild. To construct, in secret, the weapons for war that were forbidden, and to raise the funds, by selling you magi your heaters and lamps and steel, to pay the armies.”
Thorn shifted his weight from foot to foot. He understood, on one level, why Varlen insulted Kenneth. The waste and pain magi had put them through couldn’t be denied. But… “Kenneth wasn’t responsible for any of that,” he broke in. “So don’t insult him.”
Both Varlen and Kenneth looked to him in shock. Thorn lifted his chin. “Kenneth is my partner, and if you insult him you insult me.” Privately, he wondered why some talentless saw fit to insult magi so brazenly when magi could kill them without fear of repercussion.
Then again, perhaps the embers of war still simmered hot, especially here. And while the talentless didn’t want war, maybe the magi didn’t either. Both sides were wary of just such an occasion, when the wrong talentless would be killed and the memory of Jaquin would spring up again.
The realization sent a shiver through him.
“Thorn, it’s alright,” Kenneth said. “I’m used to it.”
“You don’t have to be,” Thorn said. “Magi may have started the war. Maybe they are ignorant.” He turned to Varlen. “But continuing to insult them and refuse to learn from them is just as ignorant in its own way. Now how about you continue educating us without insulting my partner?”
Varlen stared for a moment, the only sound in the room the clock ticking on the wall. “You know,” he said finally, breaking the silence. “If anyone is going to date a noble mage, Thorn, I’m glad its you.” He snorted a laugh and turned to Kenneth. “By the end of this, he’ll probably have you in a leash and collar.”
Kenneth’s face reddened, and Thorn tried to put the alluring image out of his mind. “So then,” he said with a cough. “What was the impetus for the first battle of the war?”