Part 5: Perceptions
Six days later
Ezra paced through the castle’s private garden. It was a thick, deep garden of flowers, bushes, and trees. If one stood in the center, the castle walls were completely hidden from view. It gave the illusion of being in a true forest. Ezra liked that. It made him feel less…scrutinized.
Six days. He’d had been at the castle almost a week and still Lady Morgan wasn’t satisfied with the information he’d given her. She wanted the king to suffer. No ordinary punishment would do. She wanted to find what would hurt the king more than anything and demoralize his men at the same time. He was doing his best, but, as usual, it wasn’t good enough for her. Ezra was suddenly snapped out of his revelry by shouting.
“OW, OW, OW! Stop it! Let me go! Somebody help me out here! OW!”
Ezra rushed through the garden, drawing his sword in preparation. He came upon a small clearing to find Sir Buck and his young cousin. Sir Buck had Sir JD’s head in a strange grip. The young man was struggling fiercely.
“Sir Buck. I suggest you release the boy this instant.”
“What are you going to do if I don’t?”
“I’m going to humiliate you like I did on the jousting field.”
Buck thought Ezra was just getting in on the fun at first, but he could now tell from his cold expression that he was deadly serious. Ezra didn’t realize they were just fooling around!
“Don’t make me repeat myself. Release him now.”
Vin and Josiah were nearby and had heard the exchange. They hurried to the spot where the three stood tense.
JD was confused. Why was Ezra so angry? He wiggled out of Buck’s now-loose grasp. “Hey, Ezra. I’m fine. He wasn’t really hurting me. Well…not much, anyway. He does stupid things like this to me all the time. He’s been picking on me ever since I was a little boy.”
“You still are.”
“Shut up, Buck. You’re the one trying to wrestle my hat away from me like a little bully. That’s real mature.”
“It’s an ugly hat, Boy. You need to put it down before it bites someone.”
“It’s a little worn, but it’s not that bad. Besides, this style’s really popular in Londinium. Everybody’s wearing one.”
“It makes you look like a farmboy!”
“What’s wrong with looking like a farmer?”
“Nothing if you’re a farmer. You’re a knight! You need to look more dignified…like me.”
“YOU?! You’re always strutting around here like a rooster. That’s dignified? And look at that outfit! Did you get dressed in the dark?”
Vin shook his head as the two argued. He saw Ezra watch them with fascination. Vin nudged the young lord good-naturedly. “Haven’t you ever done a little horsing around, Ezra? Couldn’t have been too long ago that you don’t remember?”
Ezra recovered his equilibrium quickly. “Good Heavens, no! And get my expensive clothes soiled? Really, Sir Vincent. One must take care of one’s garments.”
Vin frowned at that. Ezra made it sound like he never got to play. A little boy that never got dirty? That wasn’t natural at all. Maybe noblemen’s children were too dignified to play. Or maybe they weren’t allowed.
Nathan came towards them from the main path brandishing two gleaming daggers. “What’s going on over here?”
Vin noticed how Ezra’s eyes widened at the sight of the other man. “Nothing’s wrong. Just Buck pestering JD again.”
Nathan looked around before his gaze settled on Ezra. Ezra felt distinctly uncomfortable. “Well, uh, since everything here seems to be in order, I think I’ll retire for the evening. It’s been a long day. Good evening, Sirs.” Ezra bowed slightly to the assembled knights. With a swish of his blood-red cloak, he strode up the path that led back to the castle entrance.
Nathan put his knives away with a look of disgust on his face. “That fancy lordling thinks he’s too good to associate with the likes of me.”
“Did you see the way he was looking at me? The way he always looks at me? I know what he’s thinking—filthy ex-slave, unclean foreigner, black devil. I’ve heard them all before, Josiah. And I’ve seen plenty of his kind.”
Vin shook his head. “Don’t think he was disgusted to be around you, Nathan. I think he’s afraid of you.”
Josiah nodded in agreement. He’d noticed, but didn’t know if anyone else had. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Vin had seen it, too. That quiet young man was extremely observant.
Nathan just looked at him like he was insane. “Afraid of me? You’ve got to be joking!”
Vin looked up the path that Ezra had followed. “He’s a tricky one. Ezra’s real careful about his manners and his movements and his words—even his expressions. But he can’t keep his feelings out of his eyes.”
Josiah patted Nathan’s shoulder. “He’s not a cold man, Brother. He’s just very wary. It’s almost as if he’s afraid to show himself. I can’t imagine what kind of life he’s had that’s forced him to be so careful.”
Nathan sputtered. “What kind of life he’s had?! I’ll tell you what kind of life he’s had! The finest clothes, beautiful horses, rich food, imported tutors, fancy toys, personal servants, a down pillow, and a soft bed. I’m sure his life’s been real hard!”
Vin gave him a sharp look “Those are just things, Nathan. Things don’t mean much if you don’t have anything else. Jealousy’s a real ugly thing.” He turned and left the garden.
Josiah merely sighed. “They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, Brother. Watch his eyes.”
He and the others left, leaving Nathan alone to think. Why did talking to Josiah always make his head hurt?