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Talking Treason

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The Crown is never really all that sanguine about her little escapade in Scanra. Neal, as usual, is indignant on her behalf.

"Face it, Neal," Kel says, and she can't quite keep the heaviness from her voice. "They look at me, and they see a potential traitor. They always will."

Neal is silent, dead silent, and he is looking past her shoulder. Kel's heart freezes; she already knows who's behind her before she turns.

Lord Thom is standing there, leaning heavily on his cane. He inclines his head. "Walk with me, if you will, Lady Knight."

Neal, discreet for once, slips off without another word. Kel falls into step beside her old ethics teacher.

"I'm sorry, my lord," she begins.

Thom raises a hand. "Don't apologize for speaking what you believe is true, Keladry. Don't ever apologize for that."

They're down by the tilting ground before Kel tries again. "My lord-"

Again, he cuts her off. Thom stops, then awkwardly clambers up to perch on the fence. He stares out over the training grounds for a long moment.

"The first time I betrayed the Crown," he says in a harsh whisper, "it was an accident born out of misplaced affection." Thom's eyes are very dark, despite their light color.

A dull roar sounds in Kel's ears as she realizes what he means. She is too kind a person for her heart not to hurt for him.

Thom glances sideways at her, then, to Kel's surprise, smiles slightly. He clasps her shoulder briefly, in silent thanks for the pity.

The smile evaporates. "The second time, it was out of pure greed." He turns his head, slowly, and meets Kel's eyes squarely. "I wanted my Gift back."

That's not greed, Kel protests silently. That's just human.

The slight smile returns to Thom's face. "You're too kind a person, Keladry of Mindelan," he murmurs.

Kel can feel her jaw set, and Thom laughs. "And I recognize that mulish look. Okay, then. Back to our earlier topic." He regards her levelly. "Tell me something, Mindelan."

Kel waits.

"Would you do it again?"

"Yes," Kel replies firmly. There is no doubt in her mind. "That's why the Crown can't trust me," she continues. "I might do it again, or something like it."

"You might," Thom agrees. "But that's not the important thing. Was it worth it?"

"Always," Kel replies.

"Then it doesn't matter," Thom says.