Chris and Josiah sat by Ezra’s bedside as he tossed and turned with fever. Nathan was in and out, checking on him. The others had all taken turns visiting and staying by his side. It warmed Josiah’s heart to see that the others really did still care for Ezra even after everything that had happened.
Nathan checked Ezra’s eyes, shaking his head. “It’s just unnatural.”
“What do you mean?”
“He should be dead. I’ve seen the kind of poison that was on that blade before. There’s no way he should still be alive, but the fever seems to be letting up. It’s just unnatural.”
Josiah took the cloth from him and proceeded to wipe Ezra’s brow. “I think his exposure to magic has given him some protection. Just this once, I think we can be grateful to Morgan for her meddling.” Josiah shook his head. “What kind of monster would do such things to her own flesh and blood? Sometimes the evil of this world gives me little hope for the future of mankind.”
Chris never took his eyes off Ezra. He thought about all the things he’d been hearing since they retook the castle: how Ezra convinced Nettie to send her niece for help, how he’d kept Ella from killing the servants, how he’d thought to send them into the safety of the tunnels to protect them from her wrath. Ezra was a good man. Chris only hoped he had the chance to tell him that. “He’s alive and getting better, Josiah. Maybe that’s enough.”
“Perhaps you’re right. We need to take what hope we can get. Right now I’m glad he’s still with us.”
Vin came into the room. “Chris? They need us in the throne room.”
“Can’t it wait?”
“King Orrin’s there and he wants to talk to us all ‘officially’, he said.”
“I suppose we should go. We owe King Orrin. If he hadn’t raised an army to head off Lot and his reinforcements, we’d all be dead right now. Let’s go. You too, Josiah. I think I’m going to need my advisor. Nathan. Let us know if there’s any change.”
Ezra drifted in and out of consciousness, catching snatches of conversation here and there. His fevered mind latched onto parts that seemed to stand out from the others.
He should be dead
These words took root in his befuddled head, choking out everything else. He was a monster. They wanted him dead.
Nathan put a hand on Ezra’s arm, talking to him softly to calm him down. The young lord had suddenly become agitated for some reason. Nathan needed to mix up some more potion. It would help Ezra with his fever.
Ezra slumped in resignation. Maybe they were right. He should never have even been born. It would be better for everyone if he were gone. But not like this—helpless like a child. For once in his life he would decide his fate.
Nathan noticed that Ezra had calmed down. That was good. Nathan needed to go down to the store room real quick to get some more of one of the ingredients. He didn’t want to leave Ezra if he was thrashing around, but he seemed okay now. It would only take a few minutes. Nathan hurried from the room, intending to be back before his patient even knew he was gone.
Ezra heard birds singing. Water birds. There was water nearby. Water was the great purifier. He’d heard that somewhere. He stumbled out of the bed and over to the window. They were close. Churches baptized their faithful in water to signify the washing away of sins. Ezra had a lot of sins. He would probably need a whole lake to cleanse him.
With that idea fixed firmly in his mind, Ezra climbed out the window and followed the call of the birds. When Nathan came back, Ezra was gone. He had to get Chris and the others.
Ezra stood on a ledge looking down into a deep blue lake. That was a lot of water. Would it be enough?
“Ezra! What are you doing?”
Ezra turned to the voice. “The water will help me. It has to.”
Chris was worried by the confusion on Ezra’s face. He was capable of anything right now. “Ezra. Back away from the cliff. Come over here. We’ll help you. Just move away from the cliff.”
Josiah took a few slow steps towards him, never losing eye contact. “There was something that you wished for, Ezra, but you wouldn’t tell me what it was. You would only say that it was so far out of your reach that it was foolish to even think on it. What was that wish? Maybe we can help you with it.”
Ezra stared at them with fevered eyes. They were all standing together. Together like they belonged there. His heart ached. “You and the others… You’re not just fellow knights. You’re brothers. You look out for each other. I felt that at Levinshire. Just enough to want more. But I knew…I knew it wasn’t for me, never for me—a monster.” He looked down at the water. He shook his head…“never for me”…and stepped off the cliff.
“NOOO!” Chris was at the edge in moments, but looking down, he could see nothing of Ezra.
Ezra felt strangely at peace. He wasn’t in physical pain and his mind was clear for once. Where was he? What had happened?
You jumped into the lake.
Ezra started at the voice. How did all these people sneak up on him? He used to be so aware of others around him. What had changed?
A woman stepped forth from a dense grey fog that seemed to be everywhere. He could see nothing else but the grey.
You jumped into my lake to be precise.
He’d jumped into the lake? Why would he do something so foolish?
You were delirious.
You read my thoughts!
Oh. What else could he say to such a pronouncement? Where are we?
A place between. She saw the look on his face. No. You’re not dead. You’ve just entered my realm.
Forgive me. I am Viviane, Lady of the Lake. And you are Lord Ezra Standish, of course. Or should I call you Prince Ezra Pendragon, or Larabee, as Christofer prefers?
No! No. Standish is fine.
You said I jumped into the lake. I don’t really remember…purification, cleansing of sins. Oh. Not a very wise course of action, was it?
You were delirious. But they say the mad are touched by the divine. Many great men of history were thought to be mad.
I was simply delirious, not mad. And I’m certainly not a great man.
But you could be.
He was silent at that.
What had he said? Something about family.
You wanted to be a part of their family—the brotherhood of Chris’s knights.
Yes. That was it. He hadn’t planned on saying all those things—the words had just spilled out.
Why was she asking him all these questions?
Ezra sighed. Not really. I don’t think that decision is up to me, though. I’m probably going to be executed for treason.
You saved Chris’s life and it almost cost you your own.
That doesn’t make up for everything else.
He didn’t know. Was there anything that could?
They’re looking for you, you know.
They probably thought I was trying to escape.
No. They’re concerned.
Ezra raised an eyebrow. Why should they be concerned?
Did it ever occur to you that while you were forming a bond with them, they were also forming one with you?
No, that couldn’t be right. They were honorable, decent men. Why would they..?
You’re an honorable, decent man, too. Do you remember holding Chris’s sword, Excalibur? The sword would never have accepted your touch if you weren’t worthy. Evil cannot touch it. Look.
The grey parted and he could see the lakeshore. It seemed so far away. Chris and the others were searching the water for him. Was it a trick? Was he misunderstanding the expressions on their faces?
What you see is real. They do care. They want you with them.
Ezra watched, not knowing for how long. Their voices were filled with fear, their movements hurried with worry. Could it be? Could he believe..?
You have a place with them…if you accept it.
Ezra had jumped into the lake in a crazed attempt to purify himself. Perhaps he hadn’t been so mad after all. Perhaps this was a purification of a different sort.
He nodded without hesitation.
Close your eyes.
Chris stood at the shore, about to plunge back into the cold water to search again. He stepped back when the water in front of him began to violently bubble up. A beautiful woman emerged from the waves carrying an unconscious Ezra in her arms.
“Christofer. I believe I have something that belongs with you. You really should take better care of what’s important to you. I hope you’re not treating that sword I gave you so shabbily?”
Josiah took Ezra from her. Even soaking wet he was too light. “Is he..?”
“No. Just asleep. It’s been a trying day for him, to say the least. So, Christofer. What do you plan to do with him? Execute him?”
“Of course not.”
“Exile him, perhaps? Imprison him?”
“Send him back to Lot?”
“I wouldn’t put him within a league’s distance of that murderous devil!”
“Hmm. Do you think, maybe, you should have told Ezra that? Not everyone can read minds like I can. He thought he was going to be executed. You’ve done nothing to allay his fears. And in the tunnels, when he needed your support, you all let him know how uncomfortable he made you.”
Buck stepped forward. “That’s not true! We just didn’t know what to say to him. We would’ve talked to him later.”
“What do you think your silence and distance told him? That you despised him. He was so willing to believe the worst that in a fevered state he latched on to your stray words and gestures.”
Chris pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to fend off a headache. Ezra had heard them talking over his sick bed…and had misunderstood everything. Chris looked at his men, seeing his own worry reflected back at him. “We’ll take care of this, Viviane. We’ll take care of him.”
“It’s about time. He needs someone to care for him. He’s had precious little of that in his life.” Viviane placed a gentle hand on Ezra’s head. “He’s an unusual person, Chris. On one hand, he’s a courageous, kind, intelligent young man. On the other, he’s a lonely, frightened, confused little boy. Don’t forget either part in your dealings with him and maybe he’ll grow up to be the fine man he is.”
Vin smirked at that. The Lady of the Lake often said some strange things, but they usually made a weird kind of sense.
A smiling Viviane inclined her head towards Vin before turning back to Chris. “He has a good heart—an extraordinary heart to have survived Lot, Maude, and Morgan. Somehow he was able to hold onto something decent within himself. Maybe that was a spark of his father in him. Take good care of him, Christofer. If you don’t, I just may take him back.” She walked away, disappearing beneath the placid surface of the lake.