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Jonathan of Conte thought he had weighed the risks. He had agonized over the decision for days, determined to make the choice that would ultimately lead to the least amount of damage to his kingdom. Still, he wondered now if he hadn’t really understood the risks after all.  

He had known Numair would balk at going back to Carthak. He had accepted that the mage would tell him no. Despite being the man’s king, he didn’t fool himself into believing he could truly force the black robe to do anything. He hadn’t been prepared for the oxygen to be sucked out of the room, and the torches to flicker, but he supposed he ought to have been. Magic was tied to emotion after all, and Numair tended to be a highly emotional person. He certainly was a highly magical one.  

Jonathan tried to remain calm himself. He had, after all, anticipated that Numair would refuse. So he played the one card he had known would give him the upper hand. An upper hand he should have possessed simply by being the ruling monarch of Tortall.   

“I’m sending Daine.”

The torches in the room went out, and there was a loud crack, as all the air came rushing back in. Jonathan didn’t dare breath. Numair’s fists clenched, and he looked to be trembling. He stood, not looking at Jonathan...and then he was gone.  

It was hours later, but Jonathan hadn’t moved. He leaned forward in his chair, head in hands. He didn’t need to look up in order to know Numair had re-entered the room. The air vibrated. He felt the floor oscillate as Numair took the chair across from him. He wondered if the man had spent the entire day walking around the palace with his magic so exposed and tenuous.  

“I will go back to Carthak.” Numair’s voice was raw, as if he had been shouting. Jonathan wondered if he perhaps had. “That place holds nothing for me.” He paused. “I am beginning to think this place has nothing left for me either.” At this, Jonathan looked up at the man. Numair was staring at the window, and for a second Jonathan thought that he could see raindrops, rolling like teardrops, down the glass pane. He blinked and they were gone, the setting sun casting flickers of light and shadows across the cobblestone of the castle floor. He shifted in his seat.   

“I’ve always wanted to live by the sea. To move to my tower and spend my time creating things...” Numair held up his hand and flicked his wrist, a shower of flowers cascading from his hand. “Not destroying them.” Abruptly the blossoms turned to ash. “She means more to me than anything, and I’d be damned if I let her walk away from me.” His voice caught. “If I have to, I will go there...for her.” This time it was the mage who shifted, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “I will risk my life going there...for her.” The fire snapped, as a log fell, and sparks flew out over the hearth. Still, the mage sat eerily still, his gaze fixed on the window.   

“I could leave this place today.” Numair’s voice was flat, but he met Jonathan’s stare for the first time. “If only she would come with me.” Jonathan felt pressure in the room increase, as if the walls were closing in on them. “But if we survive, then I will stay here too ....for her. I will waste my life living here...for her.” This time there was no mistaking it, rain began to fall in earnest outside the palace walls. “But if she would choose to leave, I would follow.”  

There it was.  Thayet  had mentioned the possibility of this to him in passing, but he hadn’t believed her. He’s in love with her you know...he just hasn’t admitted it to himself yet. I don’t think he even recognizes it.”  

Jonathan didn’t think he himself would recognize it now, had it not been juxtaposed with the hatred in Numair’s eyes. Jonathan knew now the danger he courted. To lose one would ultimately mean losing the other.  He had a sinking feeling that he may have lost Numair, at least as a friend, regardless. He opened his mouth to speak.   

“Don’t worry your majesty,” Numair practically spat the title at him. “I didn’t ask it of her.” The mage stood, turning  towards the door, and not seeming to care that he hadn’t been dismissed. Jonathan sank back into his chair.  

Numair paused at the door. “But Jon...” The king looked up in hope at the use of his name. Perhaps their friendship wouldn’t be unsalvageable. Numair’s eyes were black when they met his. For a minute he caught a glimpse of the mage who could control his kingdom without so much as a blink. The power in the room was palpable.   

Numair broke eye contact. “If I thought for even a moment  Daine  would consider it, I would have.” The finality in his tone was piercing.   

With that, he was gone, and Jonathan of Conte was left to consider what sacrifices he was truly willing to make in the name of the crown. He wondered if he actually had chosen the path with the least amount of risk after all.