Kenneth didn’t want to go back to the magi collegium, but he needed to give Thorn time.
The air outside the inventor’s college was warm and full of the gritty, smoky scents of the nearby slums. He had learned a lot about the twisting roads that led between the buildings, and knew enough to not lost or stumble into an area where a rich-looking mage on a fancy horse would get his pocket picked.
But there was no area in the slums where a mage like him would actually belong, save for by Thorn’s side.
Kenneth tried not to worry. He loved Thorn. Thorn loved him. If Saul was right, it would work out.
He clucked his tongue as he led Jade from the stables, pleased at her glossy coat and finely kept mane. Clearly the students who worked the stables to earn their keep at the inventor’s college took their work seriously. The stables themselves were cleaner than the ones at the collegium, Kenneth had to admit.
Jade swished her tail, and when they set off she pulled at the reins in the direction of the collegium, eager to run in the rolling hills that surrounded it. Kenneth clucked his tongue, pulling her back toward the slums. He supposed she felt out of place too.
Kenneth rode Jade away from the inventor’s college, his mind full of hope for his time with Thorn and with curiosity. He had learned a lot from Thorn, had heard the stories about talentless, but knew so little. He rode further, away from the places he knew, disregarding every bit of advice his father had given him when he had first begun to attend the collegium with the knowledge of the slums that lay beyond its grounds.
Wagons pulled by bony horses strolled past on the potted road, and smoke belched from a contraption that was attached to a house. More smoke poured from chimneys, from homes too poor to afford the engineer made heaters for hot water or for furnaces. Few people walked by, the homes boarded up or surrounded by shoddily constructed wooden fences. Noise, voices and arguments, streamed from the larger buildings, where cracked windows offered glimpses into families that were packed into tiny rooms.
Despite it all, a cheery tune played on a violin wound down the street, one Kenneth didn’t recognize, and the sun illuminated the city. Someone had painted on a wall, a drawing of a tree and some sort of flying contraption, or perhaps just a poorly drawn bird.
Kenneth’s father’s voice echoed in his mind. How could the talentless be happy living like this?
But no matter. They had their own lives, and could be happy despite what had happened during the war. The music continued, the violin joined by a flute and a drum, and Kenneth found the source in a small inn called J’s. J for Jaquin, certainly.
He didn’t go inside. It wasn’t his place to be.
Thorn could be happy without him, Kenneth knew. He didn’t want to believe it, of course. But the talentless didn’t need mages, and Thorn didn’t need Kenneth. In fact, Kenneth needed Thorn more than Thorn could ever need Kenneth.
He twisted the reins in his hand, the sun suddenly too bright and too hot. He had been foolish. He was convinced he had everything to offer Thorn, that his power and influence and money was enough, that his willingness to learn about talentless was enough.
But he had to offer Thorn more than just that. It was Thorn’s choice, of course. But fires, Kenneth cared about him. He loved him, and he had to show Thorn that. Kenneth wasn’t going to just give up without a fight.
Putting his back to the music, Kenneth headed back toward the inventor’s college.