Keelath wasn’t the only one standoffish and careworn the next time the troubadours rolled through. When they clasped hands, Mirium’s eyes seemed to slip past him, and she seemed particularly forgetful of their scheduling together. Anxiety over Tyrric’s words gnawed at him, and finally Keelath broached the subject to her.
“I wish you hadn’t said anything to your father,” Mirium admitted.
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“Not exactly. We both have responsibilities now, Keelath. I don’t know if I could commit to you.”
It was his worst fear, but Keelath refused to let it overwhelm him. “Do you not want to be with me or not?” he asked delicately.
“It’s not that,” said Mirium uncomfortably, “but, well, think about it. You’re a landed baron. Once you take the title, you have to stay here, govern your lands. I’m a troubadour. I travel from Havet to Steinheim every year. If I don’t, I make no money.”
“You could stay here,” said Keelath, and his heart leapt at the thought of having her around more often. “Live off of my wealth….”
Mirium, however, seemed less than convinced.
“I just don’t see how it would work out,” she told him.
The next day she was due to move on, and she gave Keelath an apologetic goodbye and a sweet kiss on the lips. Keelath felt his hopes rise again as he waved her caravan on.
The next year, however, the troubadours didn’t appear in Thalas’talah. Keelath was crushed between fear, doubt, and grief. He uneasily rolled back and forth in his mind if he should seek her on the road, but his father, perhaps anticipating that course of action, started trotting so many suitors through their cottage that Keelath had little time to brood.
“The taking on of my mantle is a massive responsibility, my son,” Keelon lectured.
“I know,” said Keelath.
“It is not just the ordering of our manor and the village. It is attending the Council of Heads in Greenwood, even answering to our allies, Tarith and the Shey Lands, when they call. It forces us to travel deep into the sweltering midlands of Talmenor, where little of our seed can last. You must act upon the possibility of an heir swiftly, if you do not want that heat to interfere with a woman’s cycling.”
“That’s a funny way to say you want grandchildren out of me,” replied Keelath.
Tyrric found him working in the garden later, still nursing a whipped rear. “Perhaps I could look for her,” Tyrric offered haltingly. “If you really are that worried,” he added when Keelath glared at him.
“You? You’re the one advising I should dump her.”
“Yes, but… you’ve been so morose lately. Maybe I was wrong. I could find out the truth for you, either way.”
“I should be the one to go,” muttered Keelath, though he knew his father would never let him.
“Trust me,” said Tyrric, coming around the deer fence and picking up a rake. “I won’t let you down. We’re brothers, and I got you a first kiss with her, easily enough. Right?”
“Oh, very well,” said Keelath unhappily. He paused in spreading the mulch, leaning on his hoe and staring off into the forest. He thought he could just see the gleam of an antler, a flash of sun off scales. “Please, give her my best,” he said softly. “And tell her to come back soon.”