Chris caught up to Vin in the courtyard. The younger man was watching a bunch of children chasing each other and laughing.
Vin knew who it was without looking. "You ever think Ezra watches those children play and wonders what it would've been like?"
"I'm sure he does. I know I do."
"It's not his fault."
"I know. It's just... The man aggravates me sometimes. Is he doing it on purpose?"
"Don't know. Maybe he just doesn't know how to act around you. You haven't been giving him any clear hints lately."
Why did Vin have to be so right about everything? Chris had been avoiding Ezra most of the time. Then he would feel guilty and force the young man to have a few drinks with him. Chris didn't always remember what he talked about when he was drunk, but he was pretty sure he scared Ezra. The boy would hide from him for days after one of their little talks. When was Chris going to learn that spirits tended to make him act like the devil?
Vin finally turned to look at the king. "You don't trust him."
"What? Of course I trust him. If I didn't, he wouldn't be one of my knights."
"Then why don't you take him on missions? You're always making him stay behind and guard the castle. How do you think that makes him feel? JD sees more action than Ezra. He isn't stupid. He knows you don't want him around. Pretty soon, he isn't going to be."
"I didn't think he'd feel that way about it. Ezra was still recovering. He needed more time."
"He's ready, Chris. He's been ready. Are you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You say you trust him. Then there's got to be another reason you don't want him fighting beside you. And the one about Ezra still recovering was pretty lame."
Vin waited. He knew this was something Chris was struggling with.
"What if he gets wounded? Or killed? I've just found him after all this time. I can't..."
"You can't protect him forever."
"I didn't get a chance to protect him to begin with! That cursed woman kept him from me and then stole his childhood!"
"You never got to watch over him when he was younger, so now you're doing it while he's older? I worry about him, too. We all look out for each other, but you can't smother him like that. No matter how many years he's been around, he's not really a child anymore. He's a full-grown man who doesn't understand why his king, his own father, won't let him fight with him."
Chris looked at the children running past and sighed. Even good parents of young children let them test their wings once in a while. "I've made a mess of things."
"It's not a mess that can't be fixed. Let's go find Ezra."
Just then a page ran up to the two of them. "Your Highness. A message from Lord Standish."
Chris ripped off the ribbon binding the rolled paper and unfurled the letter. "It seems we won't need to go looking for Ezra. He wants to meet me alone to talk at the end of the trail leading to the lake."
Vin shook his head. The lake again. What was with Ezra and the lake? He wouldn't do something stupid like before... No. Ezra was out of his head with fever that time. He wouldn't do that again.
Chris reflexively crumpled the paper in his hand as he met Vin's questioning gaze. "He wants to meet me alone, but I think we all need to have a talk with the man. Get the others. We're taking a little walk down by the lake."