Rose for a Thorn

Two agonizing months passed, and the troupe returned to Thalas’talah. Keelath found an excuse to visit Mirium at least once every day. He was slowly catching on now, that despite the bold face she put on for her shows, she seemed to crave anonymity and quiet. So he learned to be low-key when he saw her, delivering the mail to her troupe, or taking one of the hawkstriders for its daily exercise near the fairgrounds when she just happened to be out and about. Sometimes he’d do no more than call a greeting to her and then leave just as quickly.

Tyrric seemed to approve. “You have to put some mystery in it, have to make her want to pursue you!” he advised Keelath.

It didn’t well stick in Keelath’s head. He was just content Mirium was paying him some attention now, and he was subtle only because it seemed to be what she preferred, not some elaborate plan to capture her heart.

Though he wished it would.

The holiday was over too quickly for everyone’s taste, and beyond an encore performance for the village’s children, the troupe performed no more plays. It stabbed at Keelath to find they would be moving on again so soon. Though he held in his heart that the troupe reliably came by every season, he pined to think of so much time spent away from Mirium when it seemed they were just now beginning to know one another.

“You never know,” his mother advised him, as she sat up in her bed to drink the broth he had brought for her. “You might find someone you like even more.”

“Mirium’s the one,” said Keelath firmly.

“You never know,” his mother repeated softly, and he didn’t want to bother her with another rebuttal as she slipped off into another dream-sleep, her wounds from the Troll Wars still troubling her.

The year slowly passed, and Keelath met Mirium again when the troupe was next in town. At his enthusiastic greeting, she made him promise not to try and act in any plays again, to which he said he wouldn’t, so long as she continued to see him on the side. His heart felt like it was trying to win a race when she accepted the deal.

She was growing more womanly, her form curvier and her jawbone firmer. During the next year, Keelath’s father began drilling him in earnest, too, and Keelath hadn’t noticed just how much training he’d done when Mirium blushed the next time they met and remarked on his broader chest. There was something different there, now, like some signal had gone off in their hearts. That year they spent more time off in the woods together, though less of it was taken up by watching the coursers and more so simply being together.

It was after Mirium left for the Noblegarden holiday the following year, which her troupe planned to perform in another village that spring, that his father called Keelath in to see him. He met Keelath in his study rather than the training yard, by which Keelath knew the matter was serious.

“I am due to retire,” Keelon told his son. “The time is drawing near wherein I will name you my official heir, and then it will be your duty to beget an heir of your own.”

While Keelath was blushing, thinking about it, his father pressed him.

“Tyrric tells me you are seeing one of the troubadour girls.”

“She’s hardly a girl now,” said Keelath, flustered.

“She is hardly a noble, either. I would much prefer you seek stock in the city.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but I don’t think my heart is meant for anyone but Mirium,” said Keelath quietly but firmly.

Keelon was silent for some time. “You may change your mind,” he finally said, and dismissed him.

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