Chris and his knights waited outside the building that Nathan had turned into a hospice for the wounded. They waited for word from Nathan on Ezra’s condition. JD paced back and forth nervously.
Buck kicked up some dirt at JD. “Will you stop that? You’re driving me crazy!”
JD ignored his cousin. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around what had happened. “Saints, Buck! Why didn’t he tell anybody he was hurt?”
“Didn’t get much chance what with Chris knocking him up against a wall and yelling at him and all of us just standing there glaring at him. He probably figured we didn’t care anyway.”
“But that isn’t so! We care, right? He’s one of us!”
Buck swept the others with a look, his eyes finally resting on Chris. “Is he? Some of us haven’t exactly made him feel welcome.”
Chris exploded. “He came from Lot, Buck! Was I just supposed to open my arms in greeting and tell him all our secrets? Apparently I didn’t have to, though. You and your big mouth seem to be doing that job just fine.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about. My private life is just that—private. It’s not some adventure story for you to go spinning for everyone’s amusement!”
Nathan stepped through the doorway wiping blood from his hands. “Will you keep it down out here? I’ve got a lot of injured people inside trying to get some rest. What’s this all about?”
“Just discussing our newest brother.”
Nathan grimaced. “Not my brother. He deserted us in a fight. What kind of comrade is that?”
Vin walked up to him, face to face. “One who understands what it means to be a knight of the Round Table. He went to save two lives.”
“He should’ve signaled us, told us. Something.”
“He didn’t have time. What should he have done? Tapped you on the shoulder and said, ‘Excuse me. I’m going over there to rescue someone. I’ll be right back.’ That lady and her girl would’ve been dead by then.”
“He still should’ve…”
Vin cut him off. “You’re determined to hate the man, aren’t you? Just because he’s a nobleman. Didn’t think you were that petty, Nathan. He had to make a decision: stay and help six armored knights who knew how to fight or go save a helpless woman and child. I’d have done the same thing.
I know we’re like family and we look out for each other, but we’re knights and we have a job to do. Last I heard, our first duty was to the people. You let me know if that changes.”
Buck grinned at that. Vin didn’t talk much, but when he did he had a lot to say.
Josiah edged his way between Nathan and Vin. “I think enough has been said for now. We all need to do some thinking…and we all owe Ezra an apology.”
Chris’s jaw clenched. Curse the man! He would have to apologize. The smug little cur would probably make him grovel. Lot would love to see that.
Josiah sighed. So much anger. “How is our wayward brother, Nathan?”
“He’s unconscious right now. I took care of the wound best I could, but he’s lost a lot of blood.”
JD’s eyes widened. “Will he be alright?”
“I don’t know. Looks like he’s got the start of a fever. If he can live through that, he should make it.”
Chris ran a tired hand through his hair. “Do the best you can, Nathan.”
The next day, Ezra’s fever blazed out of control. He got very little restful sleep as he twisted and moaned in distress. All of the men had taken to visiting him—even Chris—but it was Josiah that spent the most time by his side. He’d felt himself drawn to the young man almost from the moment they met. His sense for things unseen had always been sharp, picking up on the whisper of sadness and loneliness that seemed to float around the boy. He sat by Ezra’s cot, wiping his sweaty brow. He marveled at how young and vulnerable the young man looked. Josiah had been trying to find the real Ezra, but every time the boy started to show genuine emotions or reactions, he would quickly rein them in. Then he’d hide them behind that blank expression or that cavalier attitude. What had happened to Ezra to make him so closed off? Josiah rinsed off the cloth and pressed it to Ezra’s forehead.
Wide eyes were suddenly staring up at him, red and unfocused with fever. Ezra whimpered and tried to move away from the hand on his forehead.
“Shh. Shhhhh. It’s all right, son. It’s Josiah. I’m just trying to cool you off a mite. Relax. Relax.”
“Please don’t hurt me.”
“No one’s going to hurt you, son. Just relax.”
“Please, please don’t! I can do it! Don’t make me older. I don’t want to be older.”
“Now, now. Everything’s fine. Calm down.”
“Please, please. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again! The Spell always hurts so bad. Please.”
Ezra’s whispered pleas tore at Josiah’s heart. He patted the young man’s arm and spoke to him softly for several minutes until he calmed down a bit.
Nathan came into the room to give him something to help with the fever. Josiah gently maneuvered Ezra into an upright position so he could take the medicine. But as soon as Ezra saw Nathan coming towards him, he seemed to panic.
Ezra clutched at Josiah’s tunic and practically burrowed himself into the man’s arms. “DON’T LET HIM GET ME!”
“Ezra. It’s just Nathan. He’s here to help you.”
“They’re not human! They’re black devils in disguise! They carry off bad children to kill them and eat them. Please don’t let him eat me!”
Josiah gathered the young man even closer, rubbing his back in a soothing motion. He spoke low to Nathan. “Leave it on the table. I’ll make sure he takes it.”
Nathan closed the door quietly as he left. He stood outside the room, shocked to the core. Had Vin been right at the castle when he said Ezra seemed afraid of him? Why? Nathan had never done anything to hurt him. Someone had filled Ezra’s head with a bunch of nonsense. It was a spiteful thing to do.
After several minutes of terrified crying and Josiah’s soft words, Ezra seemed to calm down. Josiah made sure he took the medicine. As the young man fell asleep, Josiah gently laid him head back onto the pillow.
He paced the room, finding it difficult to control his anger. Someone had hurt that boy—apparently with some kind of magic spell. The wizard was well aware of the many sadistic and painful spells out there. Had it happened when he was just a child? And then to terrorized him with horror stories about black devils and demons. They probably told him such things to frighten him into being an obedient, well-behaved child. Knowing Lot and his cold, manipulative wife, Maude, he shouldn’t be surprised. It still angered him.
He was about to leave the room before he did something foolish that would awaken Ezra when he spotted the young knight’s things neatly folded and sitting on a chair across the room. Something glittered in the afternoon light. Curious, Josiah walked over to see what it was. On top of his clothes lay a beautiful medallion. It looked very old and valuable. He’d never noticed Ezra wearing it, but he supposed the man just kept it under his tunic. Josiah touched it, feeling the tingle of magic run up his spine. It wasn’t just a medallion—it was some kind of charm. But what kind? One for success? Good luck? Or something stronger? Was it related to whatever spell had hurt the poor young man? The design on it struck a chord. Where had he seen such a thing before? Josiah studied it for a while until Nathan returned. He set it back. He would look it up later in one of his old books.