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22: A Discovery

Larke, 1182

The next morning, Dean came to my room as he did most days. He knocked on the door, politely said hello, and we walked side by side to go get some breakfast. The walk to the great hall, where most meals were taken, was awkwardly silent. I knew he felt uncomfortable about how close we’d gotten last night, and I knew it would continue to be that way until we addressed it. Problem was, I always felt so uncomfortable in social confrontations. Give me a weapon, and I’ll know exactly what to do. Arm me with words, and I’m useless. I had no idea what to say.

We sat down across from each other, each staring at a breakfast of soft, freshly baked bread, laid carefully next to a small pile of assorted fruits and nuts. It looked delicious, but I didn’t know how to break this tension, this awkward silence.

“So… I must admit, I have something to confess.” He wouldn’t look at me but was instead fiercely examining his fruit.

I didn’t say anything, just raised my eyebrows in surprise, waiting.

“I have my own secrets… ones that I’ve been keeping from you. Since we’ve become…close lately, I feel I should share them, otherwise our… friendship… would be built on lies.” He looked at me pointedly.

Still, I said nothing, waiting for him to continue. I flexed and clenched my fingers under the table repeatedly, my jaw held tight, pressing my molars together. I couldn’t speak right now if I wanted to. I glanced around the room, confirming the quickest exit, planning a route of escape, just in case.

“We make Spate here, in this very manor.” Very calmly, he held my surprised gaze.

“How do you know that?” I asked, already aware of this. But why was he telling me this now?

“I helped create it.”

My jaw dropped slightly, eyebrows raised, as I processed the information I’d just heard. He was the one behind the creation of Spate? I never would’ve guessed.

“Re… The Raven and I invented it several years ago, as a way to make money for the Naga, through a combination of our magics.”

I composed my face, rearranging my features so as not to look so shocked.

“Both of your magical talents?” I questioned, curious. Very rarely were mages known to work together, let alone to create something like they evidently had. I was burning to know more.

“Yeah, both of ours. I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s saved our lives.” Finished with his piece, he folded his fingers together and set them on the table. He leaned forward, and whispered quietly, “Look, I’ve told you something important, something I’ve kept from you.” He said apologetically, “So now it’s time you told me who you really are.”

I blinked rapidly, stunned, unable to answer.

“I know you’re not a widow. Tell me, who are you really?” His tone allowed for no evasion.

I would have to tell him the truth. Or at least, some of it. The irony was that, except for that small lie about my intentions here, I had been myself around him. Everything he knew about me as a person was true.

“I’m… just me. Larke.” I sighed, “You’re right, I’m not a widow. It was just easier to pretend that I was.” I couldn’t meet his eyes, and to reassure myself, squeezed my hands together under the table. “I did need the Naga’s help, really. But I didn’t need money to pay off a gambling debt. I needed a place to stay, and that lie was just a means to an end.” I took a pause to glance at Dean’s face, only to see his poker face staring back at me. “I know that’s awful, a terrible thing to lie about, but it was easier to lie to you than to admit the truth to myself.”

“So, what is the truth?”

His patient, even voice surprised me; I was sure he would be angry. He still wore his blank expression, no emotions marring his perfectly still features.

“I’m not a widow, but I might as well be. I have no family to speak of, I have maybe one friend, I’ve isolated myself to the point where all I have is me… and I don’t know if I like her. I don’t know if I like… me.” I surprised myself with the last sentence, and I stared down at my untouched breakfast, still perched on the plate, waiting to be eaten. I’d lost my appetite now, my stomach turning over and over.

Dean said nothing, but reached across the table with an open palm, waiting for my hand to be put in his. I looked at, unsure if I should accept his small offer of comfort. I couldn’t decide if I deserved it.

“So, what did happen to your family?” Dean asked, withdrawing his open hand from the table, instead using it to tear off a piece of his bread.

I had told him this yesterday. Was he testing me now, to see if my story would be the same? Would it surprise him to know that I had told him the truth even then?

“That’s the thing; I really don’t know. All I can do is hope that what I’ve done for them was enough.”

He chewed the bread thoughtfully. His right eyebrow raised, head tilted sideways, as he considered my statement.

“I believe you,” he said quietly, staring softly into my eyes. “How long has it been?”

“Fifteen years. I don’t think I’d even recognize them if I saw them on the street, right now.” I felt the melancholy of those years manifest as tears in my eyes. “I doubt I’d ever be allowed that luxury.”

At this, Dean reached across the table, further this time, and squeezed my right bicep. Surprised, I looked down at his hand, and placed my left hand over top of his. Still watching our hands, he took my left hand in his, and sat back down. Our fingers were intertwined, resting in between our meals.

We stared at each other, silent. His eyes held a promise, one that I dare not examine too closely.

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