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It was his curse, Duke Gareth supposed, to be so old and yet outliving so many. He stood leaning on his cane, his son hovering by his shoulder and his wife a solid pillar behind him, watching as the pyre repeatedly failed to light in the damp.

It wasn't even a proper rain, Gareth thought numbly, his fingers cold on his cane. If it wasn't going to be ironically sunny, it should at least be a proper rain.

It was Numair who finally lit the pyre - with his Gift, consuming the whole thing within moments, and no one mentioned it, just like no one mentioned how peculiarly angry he looked at the stubborn tinder. Daine pulled him back before the magic-fueled fire could burn him, too.

They had put enough together about Lindhall Reed's background to figure out the man was Scanran, coy not-quite-protestations to the contrary. Thus, the funeral pyre, as close to accurate as they could manage, here in the warm south.

He wondered if they could manage to track down Lindhall's clan; that axe, the mage had said, had been passed down in his family for generations. It ought to be returned to them. They would be wondering about their son. They had been wondering about him for decades.

…That axe. That blasted axe, that had been gripped tightly in Lindhall's hands when the man died. Right now, it was off being cleaned and repaired; Gareth would not see anything of Lindhall's in less than perfect condition. Not now.

Roanna's hand clasped his shoulder briefly; she gave him a sympathetic smile, and Gareth realized he was crying. He knew his affair with the mage had been no secret; Lindhall had had no discretion (except that necessary to be a Scanran raider hiding right under the Tortallan king's nose, and that necessary to run an underground highway for escaped slaves, and that necessary to help a young Arram Draper flee Carthak's wrath) and Gary had not exactly been quiet when he'd discovered his father's newest relationship. But Roanna had always understood, had understood before Gareth had, and had, in fact, been the one to give him the courage to engage in the affair at all.

She had always known him well, which was why he was only mildly surprised when she steered him away from the funeral, back to his rooms, over to his desk where a familiar Scanran war axe rested, cleaned of blood and honed to perfect sharpness.

"It came back today," Roanna said, at his glance. "Your mage told me he wanted you to have it."

She left him, then, alone to his tears. He ran his fingers gingerly along the blade, remembering all too well how easily it could cut flesh and sever bone. It had taken his finger, long ago, before Lindhall was Lindhall. It had taken the lives of a number of the attackers who'd laid siege to the palace, not a week ago.

Gareth smiled faintly. They must've had the surprise of their life, when they'd broken into the mages' wing with Gift-repressing charms and found not a helpless group of gawky sorcerers, but a beyond-angry Scanran raider swinging an axe at their heads and verging on battle madness.

Whatever Lindhall had said about lacking practice, he'd lost none of his skill. It had taken two mages and a lot of anti-Gift charms to bring him down.

He squinted through blurry eyes at the surface of his desk. There was a small piece of paper pinned under the axe haft.

Throat dry as the Southern Desert, Gareth pulled it out.

I don't have any children, so you might as well pass this on to yours when I die.

Thank your wife for me; Her Grace offered to ensure you got this if I do die first.

Told you you're immortal,

Eirik Ludviksra

The name was unfamiliar, but that didn't matter, Gareth thought, because the note was typical Lindhall. He smoothed it out gently, wrinkled hands trembling, then ran his hand again along the axe.

He couldn't wait to see the look on Gary's face when he told him about this, Gareth thought, and wept.


Lindhall did not go to the funeral. He found Tortallan burials bizarre and faintly distasteful, even after so many years in Tortall, and while Duchess Roanna had extended an invitation, Lindhall was not so clueless as to think her son entirely approved. And Lindhall was not the type of person to intrude on others' grief.

Besides, he'd been there when Duke Gareth - the former, not the current - had died. He had, in fact, been the only one there. He didn't need any closure.

So Lindhall Reed sat in his locked classroom. He'd fed the iguanas, and the turtle, despite the fact that he was faintly sure he'd already fed them, and he was now sitting perched on the edge of his chair, a quill dripping red ink in one hand and a half-empty bottle of hard Scanran liquor in the other, and a stack of absolutely abysmal essays in front of him.

He took a swig from the bottle, relishing the harsh, familiar-but-long-forgotten burn and wondering where in the world young Nealan had managed to get it. It didn't matter; the burn was welcome, as was the dizzy fog taking up the space his brain once occupied. The world was going nicely gray around the edges; unfortunately, he could still read the essays stacked before him.

They were really, unforgivably bad, Lindhall thought viciously, scrawling comments along the margins. For good measure, he doodled some illustrations of what he wanted to do to the idiot who'd written it across the top; it made an excellent warning, he thought, and the drawings weren't half bad, either. That one actually looked like a person being shoved unceremoniously off the Needle.

"You know, giving that to young Jesslaw may not be the wisest thing to do," came a dry voice from behind him.

Lindhall spun, the world rocking unsteadily, and nearly followed Gareth's example and had a heart attack. Gary - Lindhall would always think of him as Gary, even if he was the new Duke - stood behind him, hands in his pockets, red-rimmed eyes still managing to glint in amusement.

"Even if he is as much of a hellion as his father," Gary finished, smirking faintly as Lindhall stared.

Lindhall looked at his classroom door. It was wide open. "I thought I locked that," he said uncertainly.

"You did," Gary said, in a good approximation of his usual cheer. "I picked the lock. Father taught me," he added at the older man's look, and Lindhall had to give him credit: his voice barely caught.

"Oh," Lindhall said, gesturing loosely to a nearby seat. Gary shook his head, losing his smile. He fidgeted with something in his pocket, then withdrew a paper and handed it to Lindhall.

Lindhall took it, numb. It was only two lines.

I do love you.


And the grief swept down on Lindhall all at once, and he was vaguely aware of Gary backing out of the room and discreetly relocking the door before the liquor bottle hit the wall and the tears came.