There’s no cold like alienage cold, no heat like alienage heat.
Even in the summer—when the air gets still, and the smell from the Minrathous docks carries all the way to the agora, oil and fish and fish in oil, the sweat doesn’t gather under rough-spun trousers, that half-familiar stink. And the Imperium winter’s barely like winter at all.
Fevers come and go, just like the breezes; there’s little reason to let chills bother a body when fear waits at the head of another magister’s staff, not in the tightening of lungs, the creep of chokedamp, all the petty problems that used to make Feynriel’s eyes water or redden his nose.
‘It’s just not natural,’ Connor says. ‘Don’t you ever get sick?’ When Feynriel shrugs, he mutters something about elves, affection and frustration in equal measure, its own silly spell.
‘It’s not as though I do it on purpose,’ Feynriel tells him.
‘No,’ Connor agrees. ‘You could teach me how, if you did.’
There’s no fever like a mage’s fever, the days drawn short and the curtains drawn, too.
Connor isn’t afraid of it, not the same way his father might be afraid. He’s a young lad, not an old man, and what happened to the Arl of Redcliffe won’t happen to him—not if he can help it.
That doesn’t mean he enjoys the runny nose, the heat on his skin beneath the tight collar, the dreams that come and go like breezes in and out the window, or the fall of Feynriel’s hair tugged and twisted by the wind.
Revisiting old sins, Connor thinks, in his master’s voice, strong advice with no room for bending or leaning. Revisiting old mistakes. Take a long walk and clear your head, Connor.
Connor takes long walks, out in the garden beneath the bowers of flowering things, running wild the way his master likes them. No rose clipped, no thorn hindered, his sandals shuffling slides of simple sand.
He wipes his nose with the back of his wrist before he remembers boys do that—boys, and not men—the prickle of darkening hair on his upper lip reminding him what he should know by heart already.
‘All this magic,’ Connor says, ‘and you’d think some magister somewhere might be able to cure a simple cold. Maybe it’s all the damn dueling all the time, getting in the way of other things.’
He sounds funny, stuffed up and traveling from a great distance, from a place where seasons shift more obviously than sand.
Better to be susceptible to sneezes than to shades, Feynriel thinks, and offers his handkerchief: old crushed silk from Perivantium for show, to tuck into a belt buckle and look pretty at parties, or during a summer play’s intermissions.
Connor blows his nose into it. He looks guilty afterward, but that’s what it’s for, red nose and flushed cheeks and white silk stained in his spell-stained hand.
Feynriel presses his palm to Connor’s brow, cool enough to silence him—too swift, or too clever. Connor stares at his face until he grows cross-eyed, and asks, ‘Feynriel… What are you doing?’
‘Trying to see if there was a reason for all this complaining,’ Feynriel replies, fingers paler than undyed silk against Connor’s darker hair, ‘or if you’re making a big deal out of nothing—as always.’
‘That really wasn’t necessary,’ Feynriel says, instead of something normal, something like thank you.
He doesn’t know how long Connor spent on the gift—not even a gift, but a practical replacement—taking long walks not through the gardens but through the agora side-streets, heckled by merchants and bored to tears, nose running into a square of ruined silk.
It wasn’t easy to find a handkerchief that matches Feynriel’s hair and the robes he’s been wearing the past few months, the set with the light brocade at the elbows and the heavier weave across the chest.
Connor told him it looked stupid once, when what he really meant was, I like it. He wonders if what Feynriel really meant was thank you after all, but Feynriel always says what he means and means what he says, and he looks at Connor the same way he looks at the present, slip of green in his lap and in his hands.
Elves. Connor never has a plain idea of what they’re thinking.
‘You’re welcome,’ he says instead, stretching his arms above his head until the sorest joint in his neck pops, once, convincingly. ‘Don’t get too excited. It’s just a stupid handkerchief.’
Feynriel tucks it into one of the buckles at his waist, not enough to stand out but far too much to blend in, and Connor takes a deep breath, clean and easy through his throat, less raw than it has been the past few foggy days.