“Not a word. Not at devotions, not to the horses, not at lessons- not even when Maddox meets him to steel and flesh. Not even sound. Just breathe as it’s forced out his lungs. " Baynton crossed and uncrossed his arms before his middle as his cuirass allowed. “I don’t understand why. He hasn’t been like this since he was small. At least then I could get him to smile.”
Roland looked impassively out the panels of glass-turned-gold by the late afternoon sun. It was the same expression Baynton was already sick of seeing. "He hasn’t smiled in weeks. Not at Cadfael, Uma, Colleen. Not at me. Not at Maddox. "
“Not at them. " The boy watched them more these weeks. He never missed his lesson with any of them, but he’d ceased to do any of the extra chores he’d seemed to assign himself around the grounds, nor had he been playing chase with the colts or kittens. He didn’t run much at all, not unless asked. His eyes were lightless, whatever drives or motivations had lit them before evaporated.
“When did it start?”
“Dinner, two and a half weeks ago. He ate as usual at first, then half through he dropped his apple from hand to table. Didn’t catch it, didn’t watch it as it rolled off the table onto the floor. Finn leaned down and grabbed it before it got too dusty, went to give it back. He was just looking out the main doors, mouthing something. Then he got up from the table and walked out of the Abbey into the pastures. He didn’t finish his apple or oats. He’s always hungry, Roland. "
Ardrain’s expression still didn’t change. He was pretty sure it couldn’t- stone couldn’t bend. The man was a statue. Maybe he should be glad and assured that it wasn’t a curse of blood afflicting all of the Warden’s line. "I checked on him at nightfall. He was curled against Hersa’s leg, and merciful Brothers the great charger was nuzzling his tangled mane like a hurt foal. He let me pick him up, didn’t answer a damn thing. Just looked at me. Not even nods. "
“Something must weigh on his mind.”
“You don’t suppose.” The words came out more wild and sarcastic than Baynton knew was polite or proper. "He’s a fucking copy born true of you as the Brothers’ own foals when one dies. Help me, Roland. You’re the only one with a shot of figuring close what is crossing his mind that would steal all words and hope out of him. Everything. I can feel it, feel what was building there just….fading. Light building even before he’s vowed formally. "
He’s perfect and we’re losing him, Roland.
“I haven’t spoken with the child in five years. I don’t know the lessons of your cannon. I can’t divine what is troubling him.”
“That’s it? You’ll listen and look serious as a righ’s court statue, but that’s all the fuck you can muster? He’s your-”
The Warden stood, shoulders set and resolute as his jaw. The paladin of the abbey was undeterred. “Son. Bastard or not. Given over or not. I’m out of options and I need help. Maddox is no good. He doesn’t give a shit if someone breaks and dies at the abbey anymore than he does if one of the guard does and throws themselves off the Cruach. His lessons haven’t changed whether the boy makes a noise or just lift his sword and attacks wordless as directed. If he’s even noticed that he’s getting thinner.”
“I don’t have to order him to eat yet, but he keeps just wandering off from it out to the pastures. Uma’s going to ask the Brothers into the Abbey near the table for meals. She thought maybe if he was nearer his food maybe he’d be reminded of it and finish it. Or Hengest or Hersa nose him to it.”
“He won’t sleep inside unless one of us brings him in specifically. If we do, he stirs at the mid of night and wanders out again. He’s not looking for something. He just finds one of the Brothers and stands or sit near them. Its been long enough he’s started falling asleep out by them” Exhausted and tattered. It doesn’t help that that robe is getting to be too short for his frame and that he hasn’t been brushed out unless caught for it.
“What does Cadfael think?”
Baynton shrugged, his epaulets ringing bells of the motion, “He suspects lore more than martial practice. They’ve been covering all the noble heraldry of Worthing Keep, Ardglass, and Kyffon Hall. All the houses of extinct title, blood and history to the riochts, as well as current houses, members, awards, vassal oaths and holdings. Maybe some bother about abbey titles not having much connection to the riocht? Maybe the numbers and heirs both him…he loves the old stories where many brother and sisters bear naked blades and face this or that on behalf of the herds. He asks often about empty beds and the last paladin before I oathed…Ser Naoise, died at least 4 years before I was bothering Cadfael to teach me to read and how to be a man of substance.”
“It seems to sudden a blow and drawing malady to be limited to small concern of historic comparisons.”
The paladin shifted, plainly annoyed at the word choice but in mastery of manners again to protest more concerned for the feedback than the slight. The nobles should take more concern of giving their unwanted to the churches instead of to poison, dagger tip or hillside. Baynton wasn’t certain which law had managed to save his student’s life before, as a blemish on this man’s honor that could have easily been erased and forgotten like so many other things not kept in abbey books, but he thanked whomever wrote that obscure and obtuse law. “So it does.”
“More likely related to the first, when he was first given to the Abbot.”
“He has a loving family now, many hands to lift him and arms around him. The mares have been in positive fits to have one so young that they’ve been able to raise as their own. "
There. There was the twitch at the line of Ardrain’s sculpted throat that said everything words from his mouth never did of pain, regret, jealousy and envy.