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The Meaning of Life

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I.

When Alanna returns to Tortall, things are surprisingly quiet.

I've become too used to mayhem, she thinks wryly. The queen has died from illness and the king has followed her to the Black God, and Jon is maybe not quite ready to be king himself, but he has Duke Gareth and Myles and George and all their friends. Tortall is in good hands.

She asks Thom, later, if anything had happened while she was away.

"Oh," he says, and smiles. "Lady Delia was pestering me," and it is then Alanna realizes she hasn't seen the woman since returning.

She shivers.

***

II.

Thom folds the letter in his hand sharply. He pulls out the seal he has not yet had cause to use, drips wax on the fold, and impresses it with the Trebond sigil in small, quick movements. He never looks down at what he is doing, never looks at the letter at all, and he walks down to the stables and hands it off to George's man without ever saying a word.

Inside, there is only one line:

I cannot fix this by myself.

Thom does not like to ask for help, but Si-cham has always given it anyway.

***

III.

If there is one thing Thom hates, it's being played for a fool.

That's what he concentrates on all throughout his fever, all throughout the drama of Alanna's return, all throughout the revelation of Roger's duplicity.

Thom shouldn't be surprised, but somehow he is. He feels his old paranoia return full force, and he wonders where it had gone, and with that wonder comes anger.

Roger has made one error: he has left his Gift with Thom.

During the coronation, Alanna finds Thom laughing hysterically in his room, and finds nothing at all in the catacombs.

Connections work both ways.

***

IV.

In the end, they all remember that he really was the rightful ruler in the first place.

King Roger looks at his lover and thinks, There are many forms of duty. "Don't you think it's time to unseal the Chamber?" he says aloud.

Thom's drawn face never changes expression; Thom's haunted eyes slide sideways to regard Roger. The younger mage does nothing obvious, but Roger feels the ripple of magic sweep from the room towards the Mithran chapel.

"Thank you," Roger says. He did not ask for this, which makes it all the more precious.

Roger inters Alanna's corpse himself.