Tammy Drabble #60

Choice

Jon had been back for weeks, but try as he might, Gary could not get him to talk about whatever was eating him. He'd fluctuated between melancholy and inexplicable anger so many times that every other friend had found an excuse to be as far away as possible. Gary did not have that luxury. His orders had come from King Roald and had been delivered by his own father – Figure out what his problem is and get him to deal with it in a proper manner, so he's fit for mixed company. As Gary watched his closest friend in another of his livid moods, it seemed unlikely he'd succeed at making Jon fit for company; Jon was barely fit for civilization.

Jon muttered under his breath and blue fire shot from his hand, igniting a tree above the targeting area. Gary gasped as it suddenly occurred to him that Jon might burn down the royal forest at this rate. But Jon did another spell that smothered the flames. Tickled by his own abilities, Jon let out a sound that was almost a laugh and the tree caught fire again, only to be doused by another spell.

That was the moment that Gary had had enough of trying to soothe Jon. "How old are you?" he asked his friend.

Jon stared at him incredulously. "That's a stupid question, Gary. Until your birthday, we are the same age."

"Interesting, because I could swear you have reverted in years – back to page-hood."

Jon looked surprised and then insulted. He glared at Gary like he might be ready to hit him. Gary waited for the blow, unmoving; but it never came. Jon only balled his fists and appeared to be counting behind clenched teeth.

"Don't you think it's time you either did something constructive with that anger or at least discussed the problem?" Gary goaded, folding his arms across his chest and setting his feet. His father probably wouldn't think much of this solution – picking a fight with the prince usually wasn't the way to get to the bottom of things.

Jon slumped against a bale of straw and began picking at the stems. For a few minutes, Gary was afraid he'd gained no ground.

"Alanna rejected me." The words had come so quietly that Gary had to reconstruct the sounds in his mind to come up with the sentence.

"Oh." Rejected him how? Jon and Alanna had been lovers for awhile – longer than Gary had actually known she was female. Comprehension dawned. "Do you mean you had intended to marry her?"

Jon didn't answer. Instead, he tore the spun bale apart, grabbing fistfuls and tossing them until nothing remained but a pile of disheveled stems.

Gary tried to imagine bringing the lady knight back to the castle and introducing her at court as the future queen. He had seen her in a dress, but very little about her was ladylike, and her language had become appalling while she'd trained for knighthood. The queen would have been horrified, the king beside himself. And the shield and sword that Alanna had worked so hard for would have been laid aside. All in all, this seemed like a blessing. But that might be the wrong thing to say.

"You are my lord, my future king, my cousin and my friend," Gary said at last, "So it is with great respect that I say this. I believe Alanna has saved you from a folly."

Jon's head snapped up and he stared at Gary with a look somewhere between shock and disbelief. Then his eyes narrowed. "Are you saying Alanna is not good enough to be my queen?" he roared, his voice tinged with anger.

"No. I'm saying that she is too good to be trapped in such a role, for trapped is what she'd be." Gary answered softly. "I thought you cared for her more than that."

That seemed to take all the wind out of Jon, and his mouth settled in a perfect "o".

"This is your father's kingdom and it was not ready to have Alanna earn her knighthood. Imagine what it would do with her as queen. You might change that someday, when you are king. Until then, you know as well as I do how duty can be sometimes. As your friend, I am sorry. Could you be with another?" It was the kind of thing no one else in the kingdom should hear, and Gary had kept his tone soft.

"Bed another, yes. Love another, I do not know," Jon answered frankly, his tone a defeated whisper. Gone was the rage, and in its place, a man who was hurt. Gary silently took back every wish to be elsewhere. "Isn't it funny," Jon continued, "that as Prince I can have everything I want – everything but choice."