Jon stood up from his seat and placed a hand on Deon’s shoulder. “Could we talk in private for a second?”
“Sure,” Deon said with a shrug. They both walked towards a table at a corner of the tavern, as far away from everyone else as possible. “You know, it’s actually rare for only the two of us to be together. The rare times you aren’t by yourself is when everybody gets together like today. I can’t remember the last time the two of us talked.”
“I can. When you decided to treat our dormitory as a brothel room,” Jon said, well aware that his roommate wouldn’t take offense.
“That’s right, I remember now.” Deon laughed. “I feared you might explode from anger alone. And by the way, you never told me what Jesus Christ is.”
Jon didn’t want to get off track. “Nevermind that. You know, I...” he trailed off as he noticed Nevil and Aeron walking towards them, leaving only the women at the table.
“What are you guys talking about?” Aeron asked. He pulled a seat by Deon’s side while Nevil sat to Jon’s left.
Jon cursed his own luck as well as his nosy roommates. He didn’t change plans, though. “You know that the Winter Tourney will soon arrive, right?”
“Of course, and I can hardly wait for it to begin.”
That wasn’t the answer Jon expected. More than once, the foreign noble had made clear his disregard for the event.
From the look on their faces alone, it seemed that Nevil and Aeron were of a similar mind. “Since when do you care about anything other than whoring and drinking?” Aeron asked.
Deon gasped, acting offended. “Have you lost your minds? We’re talking about the only way of gaining a spot in the King’s Tourney, the greatest academic event of the year. Since its independence, every great hero in Gwynland’s history left their mark there. It is the chance of bringing glory to one’s family’s name. To some, this will be the greatest feat of their entire lives. Don’t you care about it?”
“Of course we do,” Aeron said. “We’re from Gwynland after all. The question is why do you care? You’re from Lisbleus.”
“Exactly,” Nevil said with a nod. “Even if you were to win the laurel wreath, I doubt it would make much of a difference to you. Your mother wouldn’t take you back just because of some foreign trophy, and you would still be banished from home.”
Deon gasped even louder, displaying all the talent of a third-rate actor. “Just some foreign trophy? I’ll have yo—” His voice cracked. “I’ll have you know—” Another crack and then he burst into laughter, no longer able to keep the obvious pretense. “Alright, alright, I admit. I don’t really care about any of the tourneys themselves. But I certainly do want to go to the capital in the summer.”
“Why?” Jon asked though he had no doubt as to what the answer would be related to.
“Let me tell you a story—”
“Just get on with it,” Aeron cut him off. “We are supposed to be celebrating with Bella, not listening to your drivel.”
“...Fine,” Deon said with a sigh that seemed genuine at least. “The other day I was talking to this fourth-year student. Grennan was his name. Fat like a pig and as ugly as one. I can’t even imagine how he can fit in a suit of armor. Anyways, he was telling me that he once took part in a King’s Tourney. Long story short, it was the tensest week of his life. Sleepless nights, constant lack of concentration, and a crushing sense of pressure that intensified with each passing day. Now take all of that and multiply it by the almost one thousand students from all the twelve duchies fighting in single combat alone, and you will understand what the tourney feels like.”
“We already know that. The question is when does the fucking figure in? When it comes to you, fucking always needs to be involved somehow.”
“I was just getting to it. Turns out, when you lock hundreds of men and women together, all anxious and tense, they need a way of relaxing. If not, they might find it difficult to cultivate, become unsociable, or simply go crazy. In short, they might become just like Jon.”
“And what is a quick and easy way of releasing that tension? Here’s a tip. It rhymes with ducking.”
Nevil shook his head. “Unbelievable. You want to be in the tourney just to bed a few of the other students?”
“A few? Grennan bedded a few, and he has more lard than a... barrel... of lard? I don’t know, the point is that he is fat. And even he didn’t return empty-handed. Only his balls were empty.” Deon alone laughed at what he thought to be a clever pun. “Just imagine how much more sex I’ll be having being as handsome as I am.” He made a show of brushing his growing hair back and giving a bright smile.
How the hell is he already an Archmage and I am not? Jon wondered. There’s no justice in this world.
“And did you consider the fact that the participants won’t be left unattended?” Aeron asked. “There will be guards to keep the contestants safe, and an army of servants to take care of anything they might need.”
“So, you mean to say it’ll be just like here in the academy?” Deon asked with a scoff. “The guards are a joke, just look at what happened to Jon back then. They were all too happy to look the other way so as not to offend the nobles. And they are all much stronger than us, each one of them a Paladin at least. As for the servants, I assume that forgetting secrets is a requirement to survive. Here and anywhere else. Whatever happens at the capital will stay there, trust me.”
Nevil paused, trying to think of a rebuttal but coming up short. Aeron drank from his tankard. As for Jon, he didn’t voice his feelings, still planning to ask for that favor.
As no one raised any more arguments, Deon took it as a sign of victory. “Now, what is it that you wanted to talk about Jon?”
Jon leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting over the table. “It’s about the Winter Tourney. You know how much I’ve been working for it, right? To ask for a boon from the duke.” Deon nodded and Jon continued. “Unfortunately, I’ve no way of competing against an Archmage as it is, so I’ll need external aid. Namely, triotium.”
“So you want me to buy the equipment for you?”
Jon nodded gravely. At that moment, all he cared for was getting that concoction. The first obstacle was convincing Deon. Jon was prepared to offer anything and everything. From paying it back with large interests in the future to even a promise of dropping out if they were to face one another at the capital. All that mattered was breaking through.
“Sure, I’ll buy it for you,” Deon said with a casual shrug.
Jon paused for a moment before asking, “Just like that?”
“Of course. That’s what friends are for.”
Not exactly how Jon would describe their relationship, but he wasn’t about to complain.
“What about me?” Aeron asked with a laugh as he thumped the now empty tankard on top of the table. “If you’re handing out gifts to all of your friends, then I would like some too.”
“Isn’t it enough that I helped to solve that grumpiness of yours? When was the last time you complained about classes or even the academy in general?”
“Getting me addicted is as far from a gift as it can get.”
“It’s not my fault that you can’t handle being away from the Ducal Chambers anymore. By the way, is Lady Rosynne still angry at me?”
“After what you did? Of course...”
Jon stopped paying attention to the conversation as it turned to less important topics. Instead, he imagined himself becoming an Archmage after the tourney. The possibility, now greater than before, brought a smile to his face. He tapped Nevil on the shoulder, gesturing for them to return to the other table while leaving Aeron and Deon to their conversation.