Chapter 7
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Cale sat himself down in front of Magdalena and stared at her. She glanced up at him from under her long fringe, giving him a confused look. He didn't respond. He was too busy trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. Well, that had happened last evening.

He licked his lips and opened his mouth. Frowned. Closed it and brought his hand up to his face to drag it through his hair and then bite his thumb. He slouched in the chair and tapped his feet restlessly on the ground, trying to find a way to start this conversation that wouldn't lead to her thinking he was insane. 

Finally, he managed to blurt out, "Julius wants to marry me."

He covered his face with his hands and groaned. That wasn't how he had wanted to say it. Cringing, he waited breathlessly for her reaction.

"Well, of course he does," Magdalena drawled, "otherwise he wouldn't have asked my parents if there would be hard feelings."

"He asked your parents?" Cale asked. He looked up from his hands and furrowed his eyebrows. "Why would he do that?"

"To make sure they didn't intend to bring up the matter of our former engagement again," she shrugged out and looked up at him. They were in the garden outside, a light smattering of snow covering the ground. The sun bounced off the glittering snow and lit up the garden patio like tiny little stars. She gave him a scrutinizing look, from the tips of his toes to the top of his head.

"He wanted to do it the proper way," she said when he still didn't respond. She continued, "Make sure that he had all the relevant people's approval so that he could court you properly — like you deserve."

Cale shook his head. He sat up straight on the stone bench and threw her a confused glance. "But what am I supposed to do?"

She rose an eyebrow at him, her lips pulling into the beginnings of a smile. "Do you want to marry him?"

He snapped his mouth shut. Slouched down on the bench again and looked away. Trees were swaying gently in the faint breeze, the leaves long-since fallen from their branches. Snow about a decimeter deep covered the ground and reflected the sun's rays. There was nary a cloud in the sky, the early morning coldly beautiful, the high walls of buildings surrounding the tiny oasis of a garden.

Not many people were out here this early. Cale had certainly never been here before. But he had slept fretfully, waking up from a mixture of dreams and nightmares that left him feeling on edge, restlessly walking here in search of advice.

He didn't know what to do.

He wanted to marry Julius. That was bad of him, he knew. Disregarding the same-sex thing and the age difference, he knew that Julius had a future, one that he wasn't in. He knew that in the novel 'Fire & Ice', Julius had played a startlingly big role in the background, his unprecedented skill as a stone mage proving highly useful in times of combat.

He wasn't a regular in the novel, and he didn't really interfere in the major battles, but he had a future laid out for him. One where he ended up falling in love with one of the girls who were in unrequited love with Sayer, giving Julius' character a depth that was—Cale was thinking in circles. He rubbed his hand over his eyes and sighed, closing his eyes briefly to gather his composure.

Then he mumbled out, "Of course I want to marry Julius. I would have already sent a letter to my mother if not. I just... don't know how this can work."

"So talk about it with him," Magdalena stated, like the answer was obvious. Cale shrunk back on his bench and dragged his hands through his loose hair again. The color of it was startlingly similar to that of the snow littering the ground.

He lowered his gaze to the stone table in between them. Licking his lips again, he shook his head and bit down on the urge to whine. "I don't know how," he squeezed out.

He brought his hands down to his laps and splayed them out on his legs. Fiddling with the frayed edges of the thin coat that he was wearing, it hit him how odd it was. It was nearly minus degrees outside, yet he wasn't cold at all. The coat he was wearing was the same one he wore in the summer, when he had to have one on to be polite. He wasn't wearing any special winter shoes, or thick socks, or mittens or even a hat. 

But he wasn't cold at all.

If anything, he felt rather pleasant. Like a lukewarm spring morning, the temperature was just right.

Magdalena sighed and closed the book she was reading. He looked up at her. She faced his gaze head on with a determined one of her own. "Julius would never do anything to make you unhappy. If marrying him won't make you happy, you need to tell him. The sooner, the better."

Cale nodded. Then he frowned, a thought hitting him. "Didn't you think he was spying on me for Sayer?"

"That was before," she said and adjusted the hat on her head so it covered her ears again. "I've seen him with you. I've never seen him like that with anyone else before, not even Sayer. Also, I haven't actually seen him spend any time with Sayer for weeks now, much less seen them speak to each other. I'm pretty sure Julius just stopped talking to him. That seems like something he would do."

Cale glared at her. "Okay, okay, he wouldn't do that. To you. But that's what I'm saying! You mean more to him than anyone I've ever seen him around. Except maybe his parents. And if you're not sure, if you don't want to do this, then you should tell him."

He lowered his gaze to the table. She gave a low laugh, "He won't take it badly. You'll still be friends, I promise. And if not, I'll kick his ass for you."

Cale barked out a half-hearted laugh. He smothered it quickly before rising from his chair. She was right. Julius was a tactless, blunt person, who never said anything that he didn't mean. Having conversations with him was surprisingly easy, if somewhat frustrating, and this wasn't something that Cale could solve on his own. Even if he did feel like he was taking advantage of Magdalena; only seeking her out for her advice and ignoring her otherwise.

In the future, he should spend more time with her. Maybe they could take a trip somewhere, once the school year was over. From what he remembered, she would be graduating this year too.

"Thank you for your help," he said, "I'll tell you how it turns out."

She smiled at him, amused, and nodded. Then Cale set out to track down Julius, so that they could have a sorely needed conversation. Because really, if he was going to marry Julius, they had to talk about some things first. Like, did Julius even have any feelings for him? Cale couldn't really remember what had been said after the word marriage had left Julius' mouth, but he was pretty sure that no mention of emotions had come up.

And Cale wasn't going to marry somebody that didn't love him. Or that couldn't grow to love  him — that was, after all, what the courting period was for. Getting to know one another and a chance to let feelings sprout naturally.

His steps sped up as he increased his pace. The first place he looked at was the cafeteria, because it was still early enough in the morning that it was open for breakfast. Julius wasn't there. The next place that Cale checked was the library, because he was simply used to Julius being there so often. But he supposed that that was only when Cale was there too. In the end, Cale found him in Julius' dorms, the location of which he had had to ask of a passing student.

It made his stomach squeeze uncomfortably, when he realized that he didn't know where Julius' room was. Julius knew where his was, and he had helped out tremendously when Cale got sick. Yet, Cale didn't even know where Julius' was.

He had been so focused on studying that everything else had been neglected.

And he hadn't even realized.

But he didn't know what else to do. Studying was the most important thing right now, studying so that he could graduate this year and be out of the way once the main plot starts, preferably in a whole other country. Surely, in light of that danger, a little negligence could be excused.

Except, no, it couldn't. Cale was just trying to justify it for himself. He wasn't the best at maintaining friendships and he had been overwhelmed and he hadn't even tried to make any connections here.

But connections were necessary.

The idea of trying to make a familial connection with Calla's family, of upholding their bond, made him nauseous. It was a disgusting thought, to trick them like that when their son was, if not dead, then still utterly lost to them. They would never see Calla again. But familial connections weren't the only kind out their and especially in a society such as this; connections of all sorts were important. 

Friends, allies, people that could introduce him to other people, so that he could find a realtor to buy a house in another country, for example. And the only connections Cale had; he had been continually neglecting. For a good reason, yes, but still. He wouldn't blame them if they wanted nothing to do with him.

Which just made him question, again, why Julius would ever want to marry him.

Knocking on Julius' door, Cale waited. His hands were clasped together in his front and he turned them over restlessly, staring down at the ground and biting his lips. Taking a deep breath, he looked up when the door opened.

Julius stared back at him with cold green eyes.

***

"Sit down," Julius ordered, closing the door softly behind Cale and moving into the room.

Cale gulped, a need to pace starting to flutter in him, and he let it out without trying to quell it. There was a perfect space to pace in the middle of the room, as the room was more oblong than Cale's, and the layout of the furniture was different. The desk, for example, was at the foot of Julius' bed, and there was only a single bookcase. The bookcase itself was only half-filled with books, the other half boxes of various sizes and many small nicknacks. 

He grimaced as he walked back and forwards on the soft-looking carpet that he couldn't feel through his shoes. Before he knew what he was doing, he had already pulled the shoes off his feet, and his sock-clad feet settled on the carpet again.

It was soft. And fluffy. Certainly much nicer than the only carpet in Cale's dorm. He frowned and when he looked up, he found that Julius had settled himself on the desk chair, having spun it around so that it faced Cale, and was staring straight at him. Unabashedly, like he had nonsense of  shame at all.

Cale furrowed his brows and abruptly stopped in his pacing. "How will this even work?" he snapped out.

Oh. Was he angry? Maybe he was. 

"I'll court you, and by the time of my graduation, if you're agreeable, we'll settle on a date for the wedding," Julius said. Then he must have seen something on Cale's face, because he continued, "It doesn't have to be immediately. We'll wait as long as you want."

Cale let out a long breath, dragging his hands through his hair, ruffling it even further. He started pacing again. Back and forward. Back and forward. Then he turned suddenly toward Julius again and asked, trying not to sound desperate, "Do you love me?"

"Yes," Julius stated, like there was no doubt.

Cale furrowed his eyebrows and lowered his gaze. "Are you in love with me?"

"Yes," Julius stated softly.

Cale sat down. On the floor, because apparently there wasn't a chair behind him. Poor planning, that was. "How—why—when—how?!"

Then, when he could speak like a sensible person again, Cale burst out, "It's only been a few months!"

Julius nodded, as if that all made perfect sense to him. "It was a surprise to me too. I didn't think I would fall in love with you." Julius shrugged, and smiled softly at him. Cale felt his heart stutter in his chest and he looked away to protect his sanity. Julius continued, "I wouldn't have asked your parents for permission to court you if I wasn't in love with you. And I wouldn't have spoken  with you about it."

Cale gazed up at the ceiling. He swallowed the lump in his throat and made one last attempt, "But... I'm older than you."

"Nobody cares," Julius said. "And it's only four years, that's hardly anything."

Cale kept in the urge to point out that it was closer to a five year age difference between Julius and Calla, much less between Julius and Cale

"We''ll be courting for a minimum of two years, and it'll probably take around a year to plan the wedding. Meaning at least three years until we're married. In that time, I'll do my best to get you to love me, and prove that I am sincere. " Julius smiled again, the kind of helpless smile that made him seem his actual age. "I love you. I am in love with you. I want to marry you. I want to be together with you until we're old and grey. And if that's not what you want, I beg of you to let me court you. Let me try to change your mind.

"And if, at the end of our courting, you still don't want to marry me, I'll leave. I want you to be happy, Calla. And if I don't make you happy, tell me." Julius sighed and leaned back on the chair, staring at Cale while he waited for a response.

Cale licked his lips. He slowly moved to a more proper sitting position, though he was still on the floor. He crossed his legs and stared intently at Julius. 

That was... Cale didn't know what to say. Except, "I want to leave this country."

And he found that once he had started, he couldn't stop. "I want to be a librarian, or work in a bookstore, or just research at home. But I want to leave. I want to go to a faraway country, and I want to find a cozy house in the countryside, and live there until I die."

"Then we'll do that," Julius said.

"Why?" Cale barely managed to contain the urge to tear his hair out by the roots. Sometimes, for all that Julius was very straightforward, it was impossible to understand him. "Your life is here, why would you want to go to another country with me?"

"I'm a good mage, Calla," Julius raised an eyebrow and looked at him judgmentally. "I can get a job anywhere. I have a large inheritance and I'm not the heir to my family, I have two older brothers. Moving isn't an issue. I'm not particularly attached to this country, and my family is obnoxiously supportive. They'll help us look for a place if we ask them."

Cale stared at him. Julius looked back at him, a calm look on his face. He didn't appear to be disturbed or upset at all by the fact that Cale wanted to move. "I don't mean," Cale frowned and shook his head. "I don't mean that I want to move some far off time in the future. I mean I want to move as soon as I graduate, the sooner the better."

He clenched his hands in his lap and looked out Julius' window. Cale sighed. "I don't want to stay here a second longer than necessary."

When no quick response came, Cale looked over at Julius. Julius was frowning in thought, his green eyes faced toward the wall behind Cale. Cale furrowed his brows and brought a hand up to his face, unclenching it and rubbing his eye. He waited for Julius to say something.

"I will arrange to visit on breaks," Julius finally declared, his voice brokering no objections. "It will probably be a longer courtship, since we'll see each other less, but I'll move there when I graduate and we can make up for it."

Cale let out a groan and pushed his head down into his hands. "You're impossible," he muttered into them. "Are you truly alright with moving to another country? As soon as you graduate? Away from all your family and friends? Just on the off-chance I might fall in love and agree to marry you?"

"Yes."

"And what if I don't?"

"Then, if you'll allow it, well stay friends. If not, I'll go home and never bother you again," Julius said and shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal.

Cale twitched. "See? You just called this home."

Julius gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look, "You're grasping for straws, Calla. Any place with you will be home to me. So? Will you let me court you?"

Cale's hands drifted to the rug beneath him and his fingers started to card through it. "Ye—" he coughed and nodded, saying softly, "Yeah."

His fingers squeezed the fabric of the carpet. He resolutely kept staring down on his hands, even as he heard Julius' footsteps approaching him. Julius dropped down on the floor right in front of Cale and he held his hand out. Cale's eyes flickered to the hand held in the air between them, before he hesitantly placed own on it. He still didn't look up.

"Thank you," Julius said, words that Cale had never expected to hear from him. "I will make sure you don't regret this."

Cale looked up. His eyes met Julius' and he felt his mouth dry. He licked his lips and opened his mouth, but no words came out. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to do. How did courting even work here? He had never read anything about it in 'Fire & Ice'. Was it like dating? Would they go to dinner and watch a theater play? He swallowed and grimaced at the lack of saliva, casting his gaze back down to where their hands were still connected.

He stared at them. Julius hand was about the same size as his, the color far more healthy than Calla's pale skin. On his own, Cale could see his blue veins standing out, but Julius' was a tanned color.

"How..." Cale cleared his throat and felt Julius squeeze his hand a little. He started over, "How do we do this then?"

"We start simple," said Julius. His finger drifted along the edges of Cale's hand. "I'll take you out to dinner tomorrow at a restaurant."

"Tomorrow," Cale mumbled out, his hand feeling unbearably warm in Julius' grip. Julius' finger left searing marks after itself. Cale asked, "So soon?"

"Do you not want to?" Julius asked.

Cale shook his head. "It's fine," he said and turned the idea over in his head. A dinner date with Julius. Tomorrow. It was admittedly a tempting thought, and he asked, "Where?"

"It'll be a surprise."

Cale leveled him a calm look. "Not here in school though, right?"

"Of course not," Julius sounded disgusted by the mere thought, his nose wrinkling. Without any input form his brain, Cale's traitorous hand rose and poked Julius' nose, right where the wrinkling was the strongest.

Julius' skin smoothed out almost instantly and his eyes were unbearably soft. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Ah," Cale brought his hand down, lowering his gaze. He closed his eyes for a brief second, unable to believe what he had done. His hand was caught as Cale was about to place it in his lap, and he opened his eyes to see that Julius' was squeezing them both. Feeling a fluttering in his stomach, he bit down on his bottom lip.

Tomorrow, they would go on their first date.

***

It took Cale a distressingly long time to decide on what to wear for their date, in part because he didn't know what the dating — courting, and thinking of it that way was somehow more nerve-wracking — fashion was like in this world, and partly because he had never thought of himself as a person who dressed up for dates. None of the clothes that he had brought with him seemed particularly date-like to him, and he spent the time before their date trying to decide on what color to wear.

Eventually, after much hair-pulling and groaning, he settled on a semi-formal ensemble that fit his body perfectly, as it was tailored to his specific measurements. The fact that it was the first time in literally months that he wasn't wearing pajamas or the school uniform left him sitting down on the bed for a while though, his head resting on his hands as he forced himself to breathe slowly.

For the special occasion he had even changed his hairstyle from the low-maintenance braid to a simple bun held back with a ribbon. That had been a pain to put together and after three tries, he gave up and left it as it was. Even if that meant that several strands of hair was slipping free and hanging loosely around his face, it would simply have to do. He did not have the patience to redo it again.

By the time that the hour of their date was approaching, Cale was tapping his foot on the floor and pretending to read a book while he periodically looked up at the door. They had agreed that Julius would pick him up at Cale's room, so it was now a waiting game.

And it was wracking havoc on his nerves.

Snapping his book shut, Cale stood from his bed and started to pace. His eyes drifted involuntarily to the clock and he cursed under his breath when he saw that there was still fifteen minutes left until Julius' would come and pick him up. He was being impatient. 

But he couldn't help it.

He was going on a date with Julius. Julius Claymore, the kid that had an attitude that made one want to punch him, that said whatever he wanted so bluntly that he got stuff thrown at him regularly. The kid that idolized Sayer and was a prodigy stone mage. 

Cale pushed his head into his hands and let out an unintelligible noise.

Then he stood up straight, took a deep breath and nodded to himself. He needed to calm down. It was a date, no big deal. He had gone on dates before and they honestly weren't very special. Everything would be fine, as long as he kept calm and in control of himself.

Nodding to himself again, he walked over to the mirror in the bathroom and stared at his reflection again. Maybe, if one squinted and looked sideways, the strands of hair hanging around his face could be described as artistic instead of messy? He brought his face so close to the mirror that he could make out the small spattering of freckles across his nose, so pale they were almost invisible.

A knock. "Shi—!" Cale startled and bumped his head agains the mirror. 

The fact that all of this was very out of character for him hadn't been lost to him.

He straightened out and stalked over to the entrance to his room, taking a deep breath and pulling the door open. He would get himself together and stop it with this panicking business, it couldn't be good for his health.

Correcting the clothes so that they fit better due to a sudden suspicion that something had gone wrong in the twenty minutes since he had put them on, Cale looked up. Julius stood there in the doorway, dressed in clothes that Cale had never seen on him before. He was staring right at Cale, his eyes intense and penetrating.

Cale clenched his hands and exhaled. Then he smiled at Julius and asked, "Shall we go?"

Julius nodded. He stepped back and Cale walked through the door, locking it behind himself and then following after Julius who took the lead. As they walked, Cale forced his thought to calm down and shoved all of his worries to a corner of his mind, not to be thought of until the date was well and truly over and he was back in his room, alone. Julius gave him an odd look when Cale took a quick step to catch up with him, but he didn't ask anything.

Cale couldn't help himself from examining Julius' outfit. He was dressed in a suit that followed the lines of his body so closely that Cale gulped and licked his lips. His eyes were drawn to the long line of Julius' throat, the hair pulled up into a half-ponytail and the loose strands that curled around his neck. 

His suit was dark blue in color, the seams accenting his body perfectly. His feet were covered in leather boots perfect for the cold weather. He had a coat hanging open over his shoulders and it looked nice and warm. In comparison, Cale looked down at himself and frowned, finding that he was not as satisfied as he had been before seeing Julius. But there was nothing that could be done about that now.

"So, where are we going?" Cale asked, shoving his hands in his pockets and ignoring the fluttering in his stomach.

It was only a date. It would be fine.

"We'll start with dinner," Julius answered. His green eyes drifted to the side and he stared unabashedly at Cale for a long, heart-stopping moment. He continued, "Then we'll watch a play my brother recommended."

So Cale had been right? It was dinner and a movie? Well, dinner and a theater play. He turned his face away and smothered his laughter with his hand, the fluttering of tiny wings growing in his stomach, his heart squeezing in his chest. A warmth travelled through his whole body and when Julius asked, "Why are you laughing?" Cale was unable to formulate a response.

He waved the question away and once he had his facial muscles under control, he turned back toward Julius and smiled. "No reason," he finally said.

Julius gave him a suspicious glance-over, but didn't say anything more. Instead he nodded forwards, and when Cale followed his eyes, he saw that they were quickly approaching a large, heavy door, one that led outside. Apparently, time moved faster when one was panicking and experiencing a sudden burst of fondness.

When they reached the door, Cale took the initiative to open it. Julius being so willing to take care of everything was admittedly a very, very nice feeling, but if Cale was just passively going along with it, he couldn't imagine that Julius patience would last for very long.

He held the door open for Julius and grinned when Julius stared gravely at him. Then Julius shook his head once, sighed and said, "Thank you."

Cale bit down on his smile and let the door fall closed behind him. Together they walked over the winding path, surrounded by high trees and snow fallen on the ground. The sun was thankfully up, but it was still early enough in the morning the the chill of the night clung to the wind.

At the bottom of the path, they reached the gate. The Gatekeeper sat on a small boulder on the other side and when he saw them coming, he sighed so heavily that Cale could almost feel it. Then he stood up and dragged the gates open, the iron carving deep tracks in the unplowed snow. The Gatekeeper didn't say a word to them as they stepped through the open gate and Cale shivered a little when those ancient eyes swept over him.

Just a few meters from the gate, a carriage stood waiting for them, an unlucky driver sitting on it. When the chauffeur saw them coming, he hurriedly put away the book he had been reading and snapped to attention, sitting straight and looking dead-ahead into the air.

The two horses ignored Cale and Julius entirely.

The chauffeur opened the door for them when they got near, and Julius climbed up first, Cale quickly bounding up after him. There were two helpful steps hanging in the air below the door, and he once inside, he sat down opposite Julius. The carriage was much bigger on the inside than he had thought it would be, but not so much as to be unnatural.

Julius glanced at Cale, his eyes quickly sweeping over Cale's entire body, before he smiled softly at Cale and asked, "Is this fine?"

Cale nodded once, a sharp motion that coincided with the carriage starting to move. Slowly at first, but it steadily kept picking up speed and when he looked out through the window in the door, he could see nature swiftly passing by.

"It's more than fine," Cale answered.

He moved back from the window and directed his gaze toward Julius, watching those pretty eyes glitter back at him. Smiling, Cale leaned back against the backrest and let his eyes slip closed. Julius was still staring at him, but rather than making him uncomfortable, it was a pleasant sensation.

When Cale opened his eyes again half-a-second later, he was faced with Julius' soft facial expression and he felt his heart skip a beat. Ah... was that bad?

So, due to tapas' character limit, I've split every chapter posted there into 3 parts. Tapas has now caught up, and surpassed, every other place to find this novel. Because I post each part as soon as I'm done with them, if you want to read the next chapter as quickly as possible, that's the place to go.

Link here

If you don't have a tapas account (not needed) feel free to use my invite code: IVAN741Q

~Dez

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