Duke Gareth of Naxen was a pragmatic man. He had never believed in the tales some soldiers told, of recognizing former enemies years later, not when the enemies they spoke of were single faces among a whole horde of enemies. Not when those faces had been glimpsed for only moments during the tumult of a battlefield, here and gone again, lost to the turmoil of war, overwhelmed by the feel of a sword in your hand and blood all over and oppressive darkness or too-bright sun and the ground beneath your feet and the blows you gave and the blows you parried, and the many, many other faces you glimpsed for just as long.
Then he was part of a delegation to Carthak, and boarded the imperial galley, and caught a glimpse of the handsome older mage Numair greeted with his usual exuberance.
The man's name was very much not Scanran, and he had obviously been in Carthak for long enough to not only have achieved mastery, but to have taught Numair. There were a thousand things that pointed to him being just who Numair introduced him as, but Gareth knew. Flying in the face of all logic, he knew he'd faced that man down in some godforsaken forest once, knew with a rock-solid certainty that it was that man who'd cost him his finger and his favorite sword.
And when Lindhall Reed looked his way and flinched in surprise, Gareth was sure.
The conference in Carthak went … okay, for a conference with an egomaniacal emperor who managed to simultaneously piss off the gods, Numair Salmalin, and young Veralidaine. Gareth shook his head, leaning on the rail of the ship that would take them back to Tortall. He watched as the other members of the delegation slowly boarded, Numair helping along a still-woozy Daine, talking to…
Okay, yes, Gareth had known that Reed fellow was coming back with them, but he'd still hoped, when they'd returned to round up the mages after their little tantrum in the palace, that the man would give up and just stay. Apparently, Kaddar hadn't been able to bribe him, after all.
Gareth's hand tightened convulsively on the rail, and his son shot him a worried look. He sent Gary a reassuring smile, but Gary's eyes just narrowed, and Gareth silently cursed the gods for giving him a son as canny as his mother.
The newest member of their party gave Gareth a nervous bow, then practically skittered away, adjusting the straps of…
… That was not a Scanran war axe. Gareth blinked. Well, it might be; the mage certainly had the build to wield one. He turned to verify his initial impression, but the mage had, with remarkable speed, already gone belowdecks.
Gareth had, often, wanted to tan his nephew's hide, especially after some of Jonathan's childhood antics. But his nephew - and king, he forcibly reminded himself - had never come so close to provoking a rage as he had today.
"I'm sorry?" Gareth said, pinning Jonathan with his most piercing glare.
Jonathan exchanged a worried glance with Gary. "I said, Master Reed's offered to help us with the Royal University. He has also agreed to assist in training the pages, and Lord Wyldon has agreed to that as well."
Sometimes, being the uncle of a king had its privileges. Gareth turned and strode from the room without another word.
"Calm down, Gareth," Roanna snapped, stabbing at her embroidery with much more than the necessary force. "You don't even know for sure it's the same man!"
Gareth was in his rooms, pacing back and forth as dramatically as he could with a cane. He hmpfed.
"Besides, it's not like you hate him."
"I damn well do hate him, Roanna!" Gareth snapped in turn.
Roanna snorted, an unladylike habit she'd taken to expressive heights over the years. "I've seen you watching him."
"He's a Scanran raider!"
"Ex-Scanran raider, dearest," she said, and oh, she was really warming up to her argument if she was whipping out the endearments. "That was over thirty years ago."
"He cut off my finger!" Gareth said, waving his scarred hand in her direction.
"You and your excuses," Roanna said. She set aside her embroidery and rose, and Gareth flinched back at the dangerous look in her eyes.
"Come," she said, one hand clamping around his arm. "We are going to settle things once and for all."
Lindhall Reed was more than a little alarmed when the door to his classroom banged open, and the terrifying duchess of Naxen strode in, dragging her husband behind her.
…Damn. He couldn't make it to his axe in time.
"Now look here," she said, sticking a finger in Lindhall's face. "My husband has been making eyes at you since Carthak," - There was a noise of protest from the Duke, but a glare from the Duchess quelled it - "and I am fed up with him not doing anything about it. Therefore, I am leaving him in here, with you, and barring the door. I do not expect to see either of you for at least an hour."
With that, the Duchess unceremoniously shoved her husband into one of the students' seats, then strode to the door, before pausing and looking over her shoulder at Lindhall, raising one imperious eyebrow. "You don't have a class today, do you?"
It took Lindhall a moment to work up the nerve to respond. "Not this afternoon, no," he replied, mouth dry. He did not want to know what she'd do if he said yes.
"Good," the Duchess replied, closing the door firmly.
They listened in silence to the sounds of scraping, dull thuds, and the faint echo of the Duchess' imperious voice issuing orders to whatever unlucky fellows she'd roped into this.
Lindhall patted Bonedancer nervously, trying to ignore the man across from him.
Duke Gareth, for his part, was glaring ferociously at the other man, trying to put his wife's insinuations out of his head. He was not ogling the man; Roanna had been spending too much time with the flighty court gossips. Never mind that she was sharper than any person he'd ever met, and usually knew what he was feeling before he did. No, she was entirely mistaken.
A small clack from Bone caused Lindhall to turn just in time to see the Duke's eyes flicker down, then back up. The Duke caught his gaze, slightly startled, then cleared his throat and turned away, folding his hands over his cane, but not before Lindhall saw a faint blush touch his cheeks.
…So, maybe the Duchess had a point. At Bone's impatient tug, Lindhall rose and slowly approached the Duke, who turned steadily redder and redder. Lindhall, completely unaware of the seductive smirk curling across his own face, leaned casually against the table next to the other man.
"We seem to be stuck here, Your Grace," he said.
Duke Gareth muttered something incomprehensible and likely uncomplimentary about his wife. Lindhall, prompted by some hidden boldness, placed two fingers under the Duke's chin and gently tipped his head back.
Lindhall looked into the other man's lust-darkened eyes and grinned. "Maybe we should find some way to spend the time," he suggested, startled at the huskiness of his own voice.
The Duke paused for a long moment, considering, then hooked his cane around Lindhall's leg and yanked him forward.
Somewhere on the desk behind them, Bonedancer clattered happily. It was about time.
Outside the door, Roanna of Naxen grinned an entirely unladylike and unrepentant grin, and went off to divert anyone who might come looking for her husband or his mage.