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The Weight of Secrets

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Quentyn had never believed in doing things too fast. It was the sort of thing that grated him about Arianne. He could not understand how anyone could do anything without first having given it a good, long think—and then, possibly, deciding not to do it.

This was a frequent exasperation to those around him, Arianne especially. As a child, he had always been the one who lagged behind, studying blades of grass. This had infuriated his first master-of-arms, who had claimed he was too much of a dreamer to be a good swordsman. It was lessons from his uncle Oberyn that had fixed that, lessons that had numbered too few before he was sent to Yronwood.

"He is too young," his mother had said at the time, though Quentyn hadn't felt too young. He also hadn't particularly wanted to be fostered, either—but making his age the issue had offended him and he had begged to go.

And he had been glad of it, for Lord Yronwood had been like a father to him, his son and nephew the brothers he had always wanted. He could trust them, as much as he could if they'd been of his blood. Even though he had been sent to repair the damage done by his uncle all those years ago, he was sure of this much.

The Yronwoods were like his brothers, yes, but Gerris was another matter entirely. He was bold in all the ways Quentyn wasn't, always making his opinions known. The admiration had started almost immediately from their first meeting. Quentyn studied Gerris, trying to see how his easy manner came to him. He had swiftly concluded, as young as he'd been, that he would never be like Gerris. It was simply something innate, something that would never be his.

It was not until he came of age that he had come to the realization that those feelings of admiration were indicative of something entirely different. This thought, that his feelings for Gerris might go beyond pure friendship was summarily dismissed, shut up in the lockbox in his mind. It did no good to dwell on it; there was no way it could come to pass. Not with the knowledge in his father's letter, that he would one day rule Dorne.

And all of that meant little when he remembered that Gerris most likely didn't feel the same way. So, it would be Dorne, not Gerris, and it would not even be Quentyn's choice to make, which, in a way, made it easier to carry on. At least, when he did rule Dorne, he would have the loyalty of the Yronwoods and the Drinkwaters and it would be a valuable thing indeed.

He was sitting outside, enjoying the sun. It was a secluded spot he didn't think anyone else frequented and it allowed him to be alone with his thoughts when they were at their most troubling. He tilted his head back to catch the sun. It was not so brutal now that evening was coming and the orchard was cast in long shadows. Soon he would be expected at supper with Lord Yronwood, but he wanted to take a break for himself now. He had spent all day with people and would spend all evening with people. Some time by himself was a welcome relief.

His mind drifted as it so often did to Gerris. At least he could think about Gerris uninterrupted here, without anyone (especially Gerris) talking to him.

All of a sudden, there was a thump on his shoulder and an orange fell into his lap. He looked up, squinting into the tree's dark branches. There was a figure jammed between them with a very sheepish expression on its face. It took Quentyn a moment to recognize Gerris, perhaps because he was the last person he'd expected to see lurking above him when he'd come to the orchard to think.

"Sorry about that," Gerris said. He made no move to come out of the tree.

"What are you doing up there?" Quentyn asked. He thought it was a natural question.

"Oh," Gerris said. "Just looking at the oranges. Would you like one? Another one, I mean?" He held up a round, ripe fruit.

"Sure." Quentyn opened his hand and Gerris dropped the orange neatly into his palm. He held it awhile before unpeeling it. "Why are you looking at the oranges?"

Gerris was draped over a branch with his own orange. "You learn to find good hiding places when you have two older sisters. Besides, I like oranges."

Quentyn tried to imagine how it would be to have two of Arianne. His cousins were bad enough. "You can come down," he said. "I won't bother you."

"Are you sure? You won't try to make me wear a dress? That's what they used to do with me, dress me up."

Quentyn tried not to smile. "I promise."

Gerris slithered down the trunk so he was sitting next to Quentyn. His arm brushed his shoulder and Quentyn shivered. Gerris was completely oblivious and he could do nothing to betray the fact that the simple touch had sent fire coursing through him.

"So," Gerris said, digging his thumb under the peel of his orange. "I told you what I was doing here. What are you doing here?"

Quentyn was saved from having to answer by the first orange slice he popped into his mouth. He chewed slowly, pretending to savor it while he came up with an answer. "Sometimes I like to be alone. To think."

Gerris looked amused. "Really? Aren't you doing that all the time?"

"It's easier when it's quiet."

"Oh." Gerris moved to stand. "Then I should go. I make a lot of noise."

"No," Quentyn said, hoping he didn't sound too forceful. "I don't mind you."

"Well then." Gerris grinned and slumped back against the tree. "You want to tell me what you're thinking about?"

Quentyn did not know what to say to this. He merely shrugged. "It's nothing worth hearing."

Gerris laughed. "Oh, I doubt that. Sometimes I think you're smarter than the rest of us put together."

Quentyn frowned as he let another juicy orange slice keep him from having to answer immediately. "Do you really think so?"

"Certainly." Gerris shoved himself to his feet and began pacing, as though he needed to be moving. Quentyn watched him, the way the sun dappled on his blond hair. "I've taken lessons with you. You understand those books, the High Valyrian better than I ever will."

It was true, but understanding old books would not help him rule Dorne.

"You do, don't you?" Gerris asked. "You understand it all."

"I suppose I do. Well enough." Not as well as he could, of course, but there were few things one could do as well as he wished to do them.

Something about his manner must have seemed detached, because Gerris said, "I'll leave if I'm bothering you. Promise."

"No, you're not." Quentyn forced himself to look up, into Gerris' eyes. He would need all the support he could get if he was going to follow his father as Prince of Dorne. Even if he couldn't tell Gerris this, it seemed important. He wanted to take his seat knowing he had friends. "You're nice to have around."

Gerris laughed and sat down again. "That's one the nicest things anyone has ever said to me." He stretched his legs out, long next to Quentyn's. "How's the orange?"

"It's good." Quentyn went back to eating it slowly, trying to make it last, so that he would not ever have to leave this spot beside Gerris, so that he would never have to get up and go in to supper and face the rest of his life.

"They're not as good as ours. At Drinkwater Keep." He paused. "But I suppose the ones at Sunspear are better still."

"I'd like to see it one day."

Gerris looked at him. "See where? Sunspear?"

"Your home. Drinkwater Keep."

Gerris shook his head. "You don't want to bother. It's not fit for a prince. My father's just a landed night, nothing more."

"Still, I should like to see it," he said, feeling his confidence grow. "When I—I'd like to meet all of my—my father's bannermen. To see all of Dorne."

Gerris looked at him curiously. "Is that so? What do you plan to do, anyway? If your sister succeeds your father, what does that make you?"

Quentyn considered that. His father's plans were a secret of the utmost importance. He could not even tell the Yronwoods, much less Gerris. But he would be able to trust Gerris with the knowledge one day. That thought warmed him, that even though he would find himself thrust into a role he was not prepared for, he would have good men at his side.

His tongue felt thick in his mouth with all the things unsaid. Gerris was peeling himself a second orange, oblivious. That was when Quentyn remembered that there was something else he needed to say.

"I suppose it makes me a man who can do what he likes." The lie chafed but he had no other choice. Gerris had asked and he needed to answer. "My uncle Oberyn does."

"True," Gerris said thoughtfully. "I suppose I can as well. Thank the Seven for sisters."

"What would you do then?" he asked, hoping that getting Gerris talking would prevent his having to do so, to reveal some nonexistent plan he had not bothered to invent for himself.

"Oh, I don't know." He stretched lazily and popped an orange slice into his mouth. "I'd like to see the world. Perhaps we should when we're knighted. I'd like to see the Free Cities."

Quentyn nodded. "I should like to see the Free Cities one day." This line of thought led to other uncertainties about what might lie in the future. He glanced at Gerris. "Do you ever think we might go to war?"

"We might." Gerris looked intrigued by this possibility. "I didn't think you'd have such an ambition."

"I don't. I was just wondering."

Gerris seemed to study him for a long time. "You do wonder too much, don't you? Put the thoughts out of your head. We have a fine summer day ahead of us. What would you like to do with it?"

Quentyn knew what he would like to do. He studied Gerris' long face, trusting that he was not lingering too long on it. Or perhaps he was. What would Gerris make of it if he was?

He hesitated. The silence seemed to last forever, broken only by the hum of insects somewhere. A bird flapped out of the tree above them.

"Gerris," he began, knowing that he had to say something. He would face rejection or acceptance but to continue not to say anything was a lie of omission worse than anything he might neglect to tell Gerris about his future and his family. "I want to tell you—"

Before he could say anything, Gerris' lips were on his. Quentyn was so surprised that he froze and simply let Gerris kiss him. After a moment, Gerris sat back.

"Sorry," he said. "I can't bear it when you can't get the words out. Was that what you were going to say?"

Quentyn avoided the urge to touch his lips, to make sure that had been real. "That was near enough to it."

Gerris laughed again, one of his great, golden laughs that was as sweet as the fruit his kiss had tasted of. "I had to cut to the heart of the matter. You ought to learn to be more direct."

Maybe this was true. Quentyn smiled and kissed Gerris without saying anything. This almost seemed to take him by surprise, but he soon recovered, kissing back slowly, hands lingering on Quentyn's shoulders.

"This, too," Gerris said when they broke apart. "We can be free for this, if you want it."

Quentyn didn't bother to correct him. The future was nebulous and far off. Even supper was far off, here under the orange trees.

For once in his life, Quentyn decided to worry about something later. Perhaps things would have a way of working themselves out. And, even if they didn't, he would have Gerris, and he had the feeling that would prove more valuable than any title ever could.