Ezra had wanted to meet the king by the lakeshore alone, but Christofer apparently thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone. Seeing them all standing there, facing him, made him feel alone somehow--just as he had the day he jumped off the cliff in a fevered delirium. Ezra took a steadying breath and explained what the Lady Viviane had offered him. He forced himself to keep eye contact with the king, ignoring the others. No one said anything for several minutes.
Chris was the first to speak, his face unreadable. "So this...spell will make you a child again?"
Nathan smiled at that. Who wouldn't want a chance to undo past mistakes or start over? He could think of a few things in his own life he'd like to do over.
Chris frowned. "Is this what you really want?"
"It's a second chance."
"Is this what you want?"
"I... It doesn't matter."
Chris didn't like the sound of that. Why did Ezra always think what he wanted didn't matter? He'd said something similar the day the interrogated him in the catacombs. That cursed Ella Gainsborough or Morgan or whatever she wanted to call herself. But maybe it wasn't all her fault. Was Vin right? Had Chris given Ezra no reason to expect better?
Vin pushed his way forward. "And what happens to you?"
"I'll get to start over. I have a chance to become the decent, honest, loyal person everyone wants me to be...and the king gets his son."
"You're already a decent, honest, loyal person. But that's not what I'm asking and you know it. What happens to you? To the Ezra Standish I call friend?"
"I...I won't exist anymore. It's better that way."
"Well I don't think so! I'm not losing my friend!"
Nathan wasn't smiling anymore. Now he understood just what Ezra would be giving up. "What kind of fool idea is that? It doesn't sound much better than jumping off a cliff. Either way, Ezra Standish is dead. We're not just going to stand by and..."
"I won't be dead, Nathan. I'll still be here. I just won't be...me. This me."
JD looked like he was about to cry. "You can't do that! Please don't do it! We like you just the way you are. I'm sorry about the things I said. I didn't mean it!"
Buck nodded. "The kid's right. You're fine the way you are. We're the ones that need changing. I'm sorry about everything. Losing my temper, yelling at you, hitting you. Sometimes I don't think before I do things. From now on I'm going to be more careful. I don't want to keep hurting my friends by acting stupid. And you are my friend, whether you believe it or not. You're more than that--you're family. I don't want to lose one of my little brothers."
"I don't understand."
Josiah put a hand on Ezra's shoulder. For once, the young man didn't pull away. "We've been stupid, Ezra. We've all been trying to help you fit in by pushing and pulling you the ways we thought you should go. We didn't think to ask you what you wanted. We just ended up confusing you or hurting you.
Forgive me for being a stubborn fool, Ezra. I should've realized how my requests--no, my demands--were making you feel."
Ezra finally found his voice, but it was small and unsure. "I just...don't...want to wield...magic."
"I know. I understand that now."
"We've all been fools." Everyone turned to Chris. "I don't know how to talk to you sometimes, so instead I don't talk at all. And when I do, I make you uncomfortable or I rip you apart."
Ezra finally had the courage to ask something he desperately wanted to know. "Why...why do you always leave me behind? Are my skills not good enough? Don't you trust me?"
"It's not that at all! I didn't realize you thought that. At first, it was because you'd been ill. You were still recovering. Later...later it was because of my fear."
"Fear? Fear of me?"
"No! Fear for you! Every time I thought about taking you with us all I see was you lying on the castle floor after the battle, dying. Or you, sitting on that bench, blood oozing down your side. I've already lost one son. I didn't want to lose another."
Ezra was stunned. Chris had worried about him? He left him behind because he didn't want him to get hurt?
Chris continued. "It was unfair to you. You'd earned your place among us and I shouldn't have tried to take that from you. I just wanted to protect you. But you're not a child. I have to respect that. You're a knight of the Round Table. If you weren't a good and honorable man, you wouldn't be here."
Ezra was still confused, but he was sure some kind of smile was forming on his face. And he felt...lighter somehow. "Then you don't want..?"
Six men shouted in unison. "NO!"
Chris grabbed his arm. "You're not doing this. Lord Ezra Standish--THIS Lord Ezra Standish--is too important to us to lose."
They all circled Ezra and gently herded him back towards the castle. They would talk. Oh, yes. They would talk until Ezra understood.
Lady Viviane watched from a distance, unseen. She smiled in relief. It was good that Chris and the others finally figured things out. Despite what she'd told Ezra, she doubted she would've been able to undo Morgan's magic. It wasn't that the woman was more powerful, it was that she'd used more than one spell over the course of several years to age Ezra in spurts. It was a complex mess that even Morgan would be unable to undo.
Her smile widened. But Ezra and the others hadn't known that. Viviane's ploy had forced them to finally talk. Anyway, it wouldn't do at all for them to think there was something she couldn't do. The water rippled with her laughter as she sunk beneath the surface.