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Thom of Trebond is batshit insane. There is no other way to phrase it.

Roger blinks spots from his vision and surveys the mess the page in question has made of his classroom and thinks that, if anything, all of Duke Gareth's dire warnings were understating things.

The classroom is flattened. It sinks in, really sinks in, for the first time, that the palace really was nearly leveled a few short months ago, that this is the page who nearly leveled it.

The other Gifted pages are picking themselves up from behind the remains of the desks with the equanimity that only long experience can bring.

Thom is just sitting there almost primly on the only chair still standing. He is looking at his hands, the perfect picture of the accidental miscreant, but Roger can see the corners of a wicked grin and knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Thom did this deliberately.

After all, the harmless light spell they were practicing shouldn't have done this.

…Clearly, he is not going to be able to get away with crippling their education. Roger scraps that plan with a mental sigh, and shoos the pages out the door.

Thom is the last one out, and he is whistling, horribly off-key, as he goes.


Thom of Trebond is batshit insane. Roger has always known this, from the moment a scrappy young page walked into his classroom and promptly took it to pieces.

Somehow, Roger didn't quite expect this.

The point of Thom's sword never wavers from Roger's throat, and it is a horrible irony that the only reason Thom was even competent enough to best Roger is that Roger was the one who finally forced him to learn.

Roger can't claim all the credit for teaching Thom how to stop him. Some has to go to the mages of Carthak, who helped train the untrainable.

Roger wonders if his defeat would be easier to swallow, had he been its sole, if inadvertent, architect, or if that would make this even more bitter.

There is no pity in Thom's eyes, no regret, no sadness, no loss. Roger didn't really expect it, but it would be nice if some flicker of something were there, some tiny acknowledgment of the relationship they'd built up over three and a half years of page training and four years of squiredom.

"Why are you doing this?" Roger asks, just to break the silence.

Thom's eyebrows rise toward his hairline. "I'm a knight of Tortall, now," he says, and it is a mark of how long they have known each other that Roger actually gets his meaning. A ghoulish smirk tugs at the corners of Thom's mouth.

The mad light never wavers in Thom's eyes as he stares fixedly at Roger. Roger is immune to that trick - enough exposure accustoms one to anything, even disconcerting attentiveness - but there is something in Thom's utter stillness that unnerves Roger far more.

The silence thickens again, and again Roger needs to break it. "You were never precisely loyal. Or obedient, or, for that matter, overly fond of my cousin."

"You forgot 'unscrupulous'," Thom murmurs. "Which is why you tried to turn me. But I have never been stupid."

"Tried." Mithros. Roger'd thought he had turned the lad. If he'd known he hadn't, he'd've found a way to neutralize him.

The pang of regret at the thought surprises him.

So does the sour pang of betrayal, as it sinks in that the boy who had blithely sat across a desk from him and enumerated all Roger's reasons for seeking the throne had been nothing more than an illusion. Or, Roger thinks, precise even inside his own head, not precisely an illusion, but a carefully crafted trick nonetheless.

Roger thinks, inanely, of the old Carthaki tales of the Tree of Life and its deadly serpent, who never lied but never, precisely, told the truth either, and he can't help but chuckle at the comparison.

The light, cold brush of steel on his throat as it moves with his laugh is enough to bring it to an early death.

Thom's eyes haven't wavered. Roger's mind is filled with the clarity that only comes with imminent death.

"You were never as crazy as you acted, were you?" he murmurs.

Thom's smile is a razor. "I am as crazy as I need to be," he replies.

Thom sheathes his sword, and it isn't until his former squire is out the door that it sinks in that he's still alive.

"Well played," Roger whispers to the echo of Thom's footsteps. Roger sinks to the floor and wonders, idly, why his hands are shaking. "Well played, indeed."