Chapter 12

Meea, Wiar, Luvi, and Iamica all sat in the carriage. Luvi on one bench, Wiar sandwiched between his loved ones on the opposite.

They were going home. None of them could be any use in arresting the Archduchess's servants and her Revel House collaborators, none of them could explain anything Liatsi didn't already know to the various ministers and nobles, none of them had enough self left to spend that they'd be useful to keep around for magical purposes.

"I've been assuming," Iamica said, after what had to have been an hour of unbroken silence. "Only assuming, I guess I should ask. You'll marry him, won't you?"

"Yes," murmured Meea.

"And then when you're gone I'll still - I'll look after him and - he wanted kids, he said, if the Princess didn't take him, and this is very like."

"We can adopt some kids," Meea said. "There's always kids who haven't been put into families yet. Two or three, if you think you can handle them with him dwindled and me liable to go any moment. Ma and Pa will help as they can, of course, but - you know. I'd rather not adopt in two rounds and leave some of them with fewer years - months, whatever - with me than the others."

"I can do three, I think, if they're five or six and not babies - let me help pick them?"

"Of course. It'll only be a formality that they'll refer to me as Ma, anyway," Meea said, looking out the window. "Unless I'm fantastically lucky. They'll be basically like your own. That even happens when the parents are both alive, Ma's boyfriend Sovar is practically -" Meea trailed off.

Wiar stroked Meea's hair.

"The Princess said," Iamica began.

Meea's jaw clenched. Wiar's arm went around her shoulders and he squeezed her.

"Sorry," murmured Iamica.

"I know what she said."

"But the part I was talking about was that she's going to shake down the Revel House to find out who saw him, and they may want to see him again."

"That'll be up to his scheduler."

"Meea. If you marry him you'll be his scheduler, by default."

"...I'll think about it," said Meea.

"I think you should let him see them. If they can pay per sitting. He loves them. It won't hurt anything."

"They destroyed him."

"He's right here. They only wanted to be loved. It was the Archduchess, the Revel House -"

"I'll think about it."

Iamica nodded. "And the other thing she said -"

"I know what she said, Iamica. I was there."

"You know she'll be visiting you, not just Wiar, don't you?"

"If I'm still there when she manages to get away. If she can convince the king of Niohain that she isn't sleeping with her redmage."

"Does that look more or less likely when she doesn't replace him? She said she wasn't going to... Anyway, she isn't sleeping with her redmage," said Iamica reasonably.

"I know that, and you know that, and Wiar knows that whenever he's in the room with her, but the question is does the king of Niohain know that."

"And I doubt the king of Niohain would even think to suspect that she's sleeping with -"

"Discretion. Please. I know Wiar and Luvi aren't going to repeat your words, but please."

"I'm sorry."

Meea leaned her head on Wiar's shoulder. She didn't say anything.

Meea's wedding was a summary business. Thrown together as soon as they got home, attended by family and immediately local friends. Lost in a flurry of activity after the fact, as they figured out revised living arrangements, as Wiar's vile programming was mitigated as much as possible by his greenmage sister. As they then adopted two boys and the last girl, blue white red, from the pool of unclaimed Temple-Guild children (now now now before Meea got a moment closer to death).

The royal wedding, months later, was a massive, public affair.

The bride invited her former redmage, who she had yet to replace. He was invited to bring his wife and attendant. Their children were left behind with their grandparents.

They went in a carriage with another, not yet retired goldmage who was being employed as extra security for the affair. Just in case. So that if something happened, help for the usual bodyguard was not days away. Meea could not hope to serve this purpose.

It meant they arrived a little early, and they might have had a little time.

But the groom, too, was there early. He couldn't be late to his wedding if the winds didn't cooperate with his ship; but they had, so he had already been in Cefax for a week. And, busy planning to wed the king of Niohain, there were only a few moments Liatsi was able to set aside, and those moments for only Wiar.

Wiar came back to Meea with a note in his hand, for whom he couldn't remember; Meea took it on a guess. It didn't have her name on it, but Wiar struggled to read these days, for the children's sake; it couldn't well be for him. Iamica didn't think it was hers. So Meea read it.

But there was nothing in it she didn't already know, carefully anonymized: Liatsi loved her. Liatsi missed her. They could not be caught; and on this of all occasions there was no space between doing nothing and being seen to do nothing.

Liatsi might be able to visit the Temple-Guild come next spring.

Meea read it twice, folded it, kissed it, put it in her pocket - and went to sleep on Wiar's right, Iamica on his left, in their guest room. In the morning Liatsi would be married and in the evening they would start home to the Temple-Guild and they'd kiss their children and move on with their lives, what was left of them, and Meea didn't have time to cry about this.

She snuggled up to her husband. What was there to even cry about? She loved, she was loved, she was still alive.

And the morning came.

Liatsi wore red, for love, and Meea tried not to cry. If she cried, anyone but Wiar might think it was from happiness, but Wiar would know and he might not recall the reasons to pretend differently. As it was he knew she was unhappy and kept throwing her looks of concern, and this with Iamica pulling him to lean on her instead of Meea.

The groom wore copper, for strength.

Tse Faix, the royal greenmage, performed the ceremony, and Meea did not know if Liatsi had gone to him in secret and taken the advice about making her prospective marriage less repellent, and did not know if she hoped one way or the other.

Maybe she had. Maybe Tse Faix had performed some gentle, voluntary magic, and Liatsi's smile was real, and the ceremony's words about a life of happiness were true.

Meea could not even be too upset about that. She wanted Liatsi happy, could no more reasonably feel jealous regarding the King than she did about Iamica, or Wiar's clients, or Mixi's girlfriend.

But that Liatsi might have needed to do that to be happy meant something was deeply broken. Something about politics, something about people, something about Meea.

The King of Niohain and Cefax clasped hands with the Queen of Cefax and Niohain. Liatsi's lips (red, for love) pressed to his in a kiss. Meea was sitting eight rows back and could not see if it was formal or meant or well-acted. Wiar would know, but by the time she could ask him he would have forgotten (the nature of the kiss, that he saw it at all, that Liatsi existed -)

Meea should have been a redmage. To live forever, to be an acceptable affair, to be -

But then Liatsi would have sent her home on the first day, for being tempting, for being vulnerable. What redmages were at home in their Temple-Guilds now who could have loved the Queen as much as Meea did and never got a chance? Did she envy them?

Meea applauded with everyone else.

Wiar put his arms around her and squeezed her, hard.

She pretended she wept for joy. He wasn't fooled.

Meea's daughter Tsira loved her.

The boys liked their ma fine, but it was known to everyone in the household that Meea wouldn't last, that while they should call her Ma they'd do best to focus their affection on Pa and Iamica. (That Meea was not worth healing if she got sick, was also impressed upon the little whitemage.)

But Tsira loved her. Tsira, afraid of the dark, had a vial of Godspring water to function as a nightlight whenever she needed one; and if she and Meea were both up late, a little red mote of light would creep to sit beside her on the sofa.

Meea would read to her, on those nights, snuggled up against the winter.

"If I'm very careful," she read, and then she stopped.

"Ma," whispered Tsira.

Meea didn't answer her.

"Ma," Tsira said.

The book slid to the floor.

Tsira put her hand on her ma's cheek but there was no updated burst of understanding, no little incommunicable tidbits of how this personality had changed in the last few moments.

Tsira looked at the peacefully still face.

Tsira knew she wasn't sleeping.

Tsira went to write her diary, quickly, before she forgot something.

The Queen visited her ex-redmage in the springtime.

And she met his children.

Tsira, gloves on, stockings rolled up high, curtsied shyly to her, and said, "I remember how Ma talked about you."

Liatsi's smile changed, just a little. "Do you?"

"Pa doesn't remember and Grandpa doesn't remember and no one else knows, but did you? Know?"

"I knew," said Liatsi.

"Somebody has to," Tsira said. "I'll forget. You won't, though."

"I won't," said the Queen.

And Tsira nodded and ran off to hide behind Iamica.

"Tse," said a little bluemage, newly dunked in the spring, to Nicixa as she toweled glowing blue water off of his hair. Some of it turned gold on her hands. "Why don't they get more kids? Then there would be more mages, and they could go get my friends too, I miss my friends, and then magic wouldn't have to be so expensive."

"We want it to be expensive," said Nicixa. "We need it to be as expensive as we can get people to pay for. Or how will we make sure, when we're all dwindled, that there will be anyone to look after us? How can we be sure that we won't be used up for silly, cheap things and then thrown away?"

"But if there were more mages..."

"Then," Nicixa said, "it would be worse to be a mage, and you wouldn't want it for your friends. Imagine if one of your friends were a poor dwindled greenmage, neglecting to drink water for a week - or a poor dwindled redmage, forgetting why they went into the kitchen - and there was nobody there to help them?"

"But people need magic help."

"And mages need money. Money and loving care and the understanding that they aren't being spent on silly waste. It would be one thing if we could be sure of getting all gold."

"Like you."

"Like me. I can live on my own, and if there were more like me, even if there were so many that my magic were worth barely any money, I could do something else. That would be all right, if there were a lot of goldmages."

"But you die."

"We die, yes. Sometimes very young. But only when we have to do magic, and we do magic only when what we're doing it for is more important than what we give up. At least, as long as we've been taught to be responsible."

"I have to be responsible too," said the little bluemage, "don't I."

"Yes. But eventually we all dwindle. And the Temple-Guild will be here to look after you, even once you can't work."

The little bluemage nodded.

"Now go meet the people who are looking for children to adopt, hm?"

Nod, nod, and off he ran.

Nicixa directed the next child into the spring, and the water ran gold.