Moran put down his quill, looking across the table at the bent head of the ash-blond boy. Justus had become a constant companion to Moran, helping him write down what knowledge they had, helping to make extra copies to better preserve that knowledge, studying all that Moran and others before him had written down before Justus’ birth, before he had been able to read, before he had come to Moran to study. The boy devoured histories, philosophies, and theories as if he were starving for the knowledge—and maybe he was; maybe they all were. Justus had often talked of finding what they had lost, recovering the old books and scrolls that must exist from the days before the Vatrins had been defeated by the Tirins, but Justus had not left Slobodazim to do so, any more than Moran or any other of the teachers before him had done.
Justus remained here, and he didn’t seem likely to leave. Moran confessed, “Tena thinks that you need a wife.”
Justus paused and looked up. His eyes were bright and clear as ever, pale as the mist off the swamp water. “What use would I have for a wife?”
“She’d carry on for you, care for you. You’re nigh nineteen now. You can’t spend an eternity in my library.”
“I don’t intend to,” Justus assured him. “When I have the answers—”
“Leith provided us the answers in Slobodazim,” Moran sighed. “It’s not safe out there.”
Justus argued, “We weren’t meant to hide,” his hand tightening on the quill.
“And we clearly couldn’t fight.”
“Careless mistakes were made. I won’t make the same mistakes.”
“The royal line is dead. Davor Tvorec is an Anvatrin, no power in him.”
“Maybe it’s time for a new royal line.”
“More than calling the current line dead?” Justus challenged.
Moran frowned. “Lately every conversation with you turns to confrontation,” he complained.
“We have much to be angry about.”
“We do. What would you do with a wife?”
A corner of Justus’ mouth turned upwards. “What every man does with a wife.”
“Could you love her?”
“I could love the right wife,” Justus decided after a pause.
“And have you met no girl to catch your eye?”
“Your daughter loves me,” Justus supplied since Moran did not say so plainly.
Hesitantly Moran nodded. “And could you love her?”
Justus nodded. “As she is your daughter, yes.”
“For her own sake?”
Justus leaned back, pressing the tips his fingers together and regarding Moran over them. “Is she worthy of my love?” he wondered.
“She’s the most wonderful girl in the world. She is even-tempered, loving, gentle. She will make some man a great wife. I’m just not sure,” Moran confessed, “that that man is you.”
Justus considered this. “She is set on me,” he guessed.
“She sees a great man in you.”
“She’s not wrong.”
“You’re the most intelligent, clever, and ambitious student that I’ve ever taught. You work yourself tirelessly. I’m not sure that makes you a good man—not for Nada.”
“I will court your daughter,” Justus decided. “I will see if she might please me, and I will let her better get to know me that she can see if I might please her.”
“Can I not dissuade you?”
“You brought it up, Moran. Let us try it.”
Moran sighed and consented.