Thorn’s feet thudded against the floor of the hallway, and the thuds turned to a steady rap as his path took him outside on the gravel of the entranceway, and finally to the stone path that led to the stables.
The fresh scent of hay and horses met his nose, and one of the animals whickered at him as he headed toward the far stalls.
His heart sank. He should have known. Jade's stall was empty. Kenneth was gone.
He whirled at the voice. Saul stood at the entrance, and his friend beckoned him out of the back of the stables. The day had wound on toward evening, the sun sending the sky into the red of a furnace with the promise of the purples of late dusk coming soon. By now Kenneth was probably back at the collegium already.
“Are you alright, Thorn?” Saul asked.
“I…yes. I’m alright.” He couldn’t help but look back at the empty stall where Jade had once stood.
“Kenneth left.” Saul’s words stung, even if they were obvious. Thorn looked down at the ground, at the dust on the floor of the stables that Kenneth must have walked through a short time ago. He hoped Kenneth wasn’t too angry. Or too sad.
“What happened, exactly, Thorn?” Saul asked.
The words brought back the confusion and uncertainty, but only for a moment. Thorn sighed, leaning back against the wooden wall of the stable. “George,” he said after a few moments. “It was a stupid…a stupid thing he did, and a stupid choice on my part. He broke some stuff in my room.” Saul’s eyes widened. “A gift Kenneth had gotten me. I got…scared, I guess, or angry. I told Kenneth to go.” He regretted it even more all of a sudden, the pain a twist in his shoulders.
“He did leave,” Saul said, and Thorn frowned. “I talked to him, though.” Thorn looked up. “He didn’t tell me much. But…” Saul rolled his shoulders, his artificial leg thudding against the floor as he shifted his weight. “Well, I know you’re hurting, or upset about George. But Kenneth…he only left because you asked him to, for what that’s worth.” Saul met Thorn’s eyes. “He’s not afraid of George. He just wants you to be happy. He loves you, you know. He told me.”
The words both warmed and stabbed Thorn’s heart. He had sent him away, stupidly, in shock at something someone else who didn’t even matter had done. “I know,” he said. And he did love Kenneth. He was certain of it now. Mages, talentless...it didn't matter. It never should have mattered.
He had to go after him. He moved away from his spot against the wall.
“What will you do?” Saul asked. “He’s a mage. Your life is going to change, a lot, if you live with him.”
“I know that too,” Thorn said. But now, it seemed somehow less important. “But who’s life doesn’t change after they find the person they love?”
Saul smiled. “You’d better go find him, then.”
Thorn nodded. It would be dark soon enough, but he knew the way to the collegium. Kenneth had wanted to stay with Thorn for a week, and that wouldn’t change.
He turned back, unlatching a familiar stall. Behind him, Saul called “Good luck.”
Soon enough, he was mounted up on Chocolate and heading away from the college, toward the road that would take him back to the magi collegium. The air had grown unseasonably cool, and beneath the shade of the buildings that made up the slums of his hometown, he shivered.
Saul supported their relationship, in his own way. Saul, a man who had every reason to fear mages. The thought made Thorn smile. George may not be able to see Kenneth’s kindness, his understanding, but Saul could.
If enough talentless could see the good in it, or at least more than those like George who couldn’t see past the war, then it would be fine. For a time, he wondered what his parents would have thought of Kenneth, had they survived.
But that didn’t matter. The past didn’t matter, or at least it shouldn’t.
Hoofbeats clattered on the road behind him, and he pulled Chocolate to a stop, craning to look.
The first thing he made out was Jade’s sleek, shiny green halter in the fading light of the dusk, and then the sight of his lover galloping towards him filled him with joy.