It was on a Tuesday afternoon that Fangline decided to invade Zedwig’s library, especially since the mage was in it.
As he opened the door, Zedwig was poring over a pile of papers that extended all the way to the floor but only studying the top few while sitting in a chair which moved on wheels. It was one of his own creations, which he said melded the best qualities of a chair with the best qualities of a wagon. Fangline wasn’t sure what the point was, but it seemed oddly mobile, if one cared for that sort of thing in a chair.
His silver hair was only slightly askew, which was extremely askew for Zedwig, who was always remarkably neat. His peculiarity made Fangline grin lopsidedly and he entered.
“Good afternoon, Mage,” said Fangline. At his voice, Zedwig jumped and looked a bit disoriented for being torn from his deep thoughts. He smiled, however, when he saw the prince.
“Prince Fangline, welcome,” he said agreeably. “What brings you here?”
“Hmm,” Fangline replied, glancing over a row of books shelved in the wall. “Not much, except boredom.”
Zedwig’s first response was to cast his eyes upon Fangline with some measure of disbelief, but he quickly hid it and said, “Well, then, I suppose…” and he glanced at his papers in his hands. “I have to admit I’m not doing anything in particular that would interest you, your highness.”
“How do you know it wouldn’t interest me?” asked Fangline directly.
Zedwig tripped briefly over his own insecurities in an attempt to withdraw his previous statement until Fangline stopped him.
“I’ve always had an interest in magic,” he said, and then, leaning his hands on Zedwig’s desk, continued. “It’s my aunt who always insists I study politics and diplomacy.”
At this, Fangline heaved a tragic sigh.
There was a long moment of Zedwig considering how to proceed.
“Well, Prince Fangline,” he ventured. “I suppose I could explain a few theories if you’d like, although I do warn you, it might make you decide your aunt has the right of it.”
“Let’s start with this,” began Fangline. “You’re a fairly brilliant mage, right?”
Zedwig blushed, which he was wont to do but wasn’t entirely proud of.
“You are. Everyone knows it,” said Fangline.
“Thank you,” said Zedwig, his eyes on his papers.
“What would you consider to be your forte?”
“My forte?” he said consideringly, then quickly replied, “Element manipulation.”
“Oh,” said the prince. “What do you do with that?”
“Various things, really,” he said. “I might coax things into growing a little better, or change the weather…”
Fangline thought about that for a moment.
“Can it be used defensively?”
“You mean for protection? Against a threat?”
Fangline nodded to the mage.
“Yes, definitely,” said Zedwig, entirely in his preferred line of conversation. “Air shields are remarkably effective in deflecting arrows, or what have you.”
“Have you used it that way before?”
“Sometimes,” replied the mage. “Even though we’re a peaceful kingdom, it never hurts to be prepared should someone attack, although really we’re quite safe here, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Fangline paused, feeling somewhat disturbed. Zedwig reacted, and it was almost instantaneous, with a curious insecurity as the prince withdrew. Fangline felt it happen and then compensated himself to assure Zedwig he’d done nothing wrong. Strangely, this all occurred without words or even gestures, and Fangline struggled to define it in his mind while he noticed Zedwig was almost entirely successful in hiding the fact that he was shaken.
The prince, still unable to be sure what just happened actually did happen, didn’t address it, but continued the interview, however his voice came out sounding different, weaker, and betrayed that he couldn’t suppress everything like he wished he could.
“Can it be used offensively?” he asked Zedwig.
Zedwig’s brow furrowed with delicacy and Fangline was then very aware of just how unusual Zedwig was. Everything about him was singular, but he spent all of his time hiding in the small, nondescript corner he’d made for himself. Fangline suddenly had an extremely strong desire to draw Zedwig out from the introverted cell he lived in, if only because he could see a glimpse of his depthless potential, and wanted badly to see it brandished and cruel, like a weapon.
Zedwig’s eyes widened at the suggestion, amethyst and brilliant. He appeared to be very concerned.
“I’d rather not perform any destructive magic,” he said stiffly.
“But it can?” Fangline pressed.
“Yes,” said Zedwig, glancing sidelong at Fangline. “Of course it can. You can use anything in either direction; it’s like a pendulum swing.”
“Then why wouldn’t you?”
“Because destructive magic is… what it sounds like,” said the mage. “Destructive.”
“Not if you’re using it on something like a wooden dummy or something, just for target practice, right?”
“No, your highness,” Zedwig told him gravely. “It destroys the outward and the inward. Both the one who receives it, and the one that casts it.”
“How useless!” Fangline said with an upward gaze.
“It doesn’t destroy the mage who casts it right away,” he said. “It’s more like a corruption, and when it goes on too long, it will drive him mad.”
“Have you ever seen this happen?”
“No,” admitted Zedwig.
“Maybe it doesn’t really happen that way, or maybe it’s alright as long as you’re using it for good purposes,” said Fangline. “There could be a lot of loopholes, especially for something you’ve never even experimented with before.”
“Well, I do have books…” began Zedwig.
“Can I read them?” asked the prince curiously.
“If you’d like,” Zedwig said, rising from his chair to retrieve a book from the wall. He was nearly in full control of the organization of his library, but not entirely, so when he made it to the targeted wall, he couldn’t find the book he wanted. After an undue amount of searching, in which Fangline joined in but was absolutely useless since he knew nothing about the library, Zedwig found the missing book propping up one leg of his desk.
It was here on the floor, with Zedwig and Fangline both on their knees, that he handed the book to the prince.
“You can start with this,” he told Fangline, and then, as Fangline drew the book to himself, Zedwig looked very curiously at him. “Why are you so interested in something we’ll never have to use?”
Fangline was very defensive of the fact that he relished power, and hid it from everyone, however at that moment it appeared to him that Zedwig knew it, if only because somehow the mage could sense him. It all began again, the push and pull of silent acknowledgement between them, and Fangline was on the verge of demanding furiously of Zedwig how he could read his mind when Geeves came in.
It must have seemed very odd for Zedwig and Fangline to be kneeling on the floor of his library, behind his desk, but Geeves didn’t show any sign at all that anything was out of the ordinary.
“A letter for you, your highness,” said Geeves, handing the letter to Fangline as he rose and crossed the room to meet the butler.
It was from Camilla. He flushed with remembrance of how he poured out more than he ever should have told anyone in that letter, and all because of her, and how she was so cursedly compelling.
Excusing himself, Fangline left to the gardens to read in peace.
I never expected to read so much out of you. I was thinking perhaps you might write something about the weather, or your new coat. I didn’t expect a soul-bearing. Are you that alone? You don’t have to be, you know.
I think you impose it on yourself. You’ve always been a brooding sort, Fangline, one who withdraws into himself and sulks. Even Al’bert you keep so much of yourself from. No, I didn’t let him read it.
Did you expect me to smother you with sympathy? I’m not going to. I think you’re perfectly capable of solving your own problems, once you pull your head out of your self-centered grieving over what you do and do not have.
You have everything, Fangline. So do I. Why should we allow ourselves to believe we don’t? The world is ours; well, at the very least it is mine. You can decide what it is you want to do with yours.
If my secret is safe with you, then yours are safe with me.
I’ll see you next week, but only if you buy me a watch.