Winch secured the aviary netting above the paddock for Blueridge and patted his head. The Griffon chirruped and nudged his leg. Winch let out a little of his own magic and mentally touched the griffon’s mind. Thoughts floated across the connection.
The boy is going to be trouble, Beau.
“I know, but I can’t just leave him. I owe his father.”
He’s going to be trouble. I don’t mean your general trouble. Having the boy around is going to make sure you never get a good night’s rest again.
“Yes, I know. I just became a father.”
If that’s how you want to see things, you’re going to have a harder time raising him. He’ll fight you at first. He’s not going to understand why he has to hide himself or his magic.
“I’ll have to tell him the truth, then. From the very beginning.”
You’ll have to tell him more than the truth. You’ll have to show him.
“He’ll show himself the first time he gets cocky and runs afoul of the wrong people.”
And You’ll be there to clean it up. The griffin shook his head and nudged Winch.
Lord Baxter is going to kill him, the first chance he gets. The boy isn’t safe in the Capital.
“If that’s where Moriah says he has to go, He has to go there. I’ll tell you everything when I get back. Stay in the aviary. I know you sneak out.”
That stings. I always stay in the aviary.
“You’re still a terrible liar. You ruffle your feathers whenever you lie.” Winch said and the griffin didn’t bother to respond. Just ducked his head and started grooming his gold feathers. Winch chuckled on his way out of the paddock, grabbed his things and wound his way toward the tower that loomed over the town. Winch nodded to people he knew, and stopped at a stall that sold herbs. He nodded to the tower and the elderly herb seller smiled so big her eyes crinkled at the corners. She plucked a branch of horider and held it to him. Winch grinned and handed over his money to the woman. With a wave, Winch was off and making his way toward the tower again.
“Good luck, Beau!” The Herb woman called after him with a smile. Winch turned and smiled.
“I don’t need luck when I have you, Glinda!” He waved at her again as she laughed. Winch pushed himself in to a jog, saddle bags slapping on his back. The local watch Captains waved as he passed and the one with brown hair nudged his counter part and called out.
“Going to see the Lady, Winch? Better hurry, I think she had another gentlemen with her!” The two Captains started laughing.
“That boy happens to be my son, Raife, watch your mouth.” Winch stopped and said to him. Raife’s eyes went wide and he stammered out;
“My apologies, I didn’t know you had a child.”
“Forget it, Raife. I’m a little punchy. I just learned of the boy.” Winch said.
“Just learned of him?” Raife’s partner Sam asked.
“His mother and I.. ten, eleven years ago. I was still in the Watch then. You remember.” Winch said and both Captains nodded. “Anyway, She fell with the latest round of Marsh Sickness and her parents sent him to me.”
“I’m sorry, Winch. That has to sting.” Sam said.
“It is what it is. He’s gotten the sickness himself, that’s why I brought him to the Lady.”
“Good choice. No one’s better than our Lady of the Woods.” Raife said and Sam nodded his agreement. Winch waved and started walking again.
“That’s what I’m hoping for, Raife.” The Captains saluted Winch and went off on the rest of their rounds. Winch nodded to himself at his cleverness. Now the rumors about Ethan being his son would be around the kingdom by the end of the next fortnight. He knew his old squad. They were some of the biggest gossips in the land. Not even his mother could keep up with that crew. Winch set off at a jogging pace again and this time managed to make it to the door of the tower before someone caught up with him. A blow from behind stole Winch’s breath and he slammed to the door, splinters digging in to his cheek. Winch pushed against the door, shoving with all of his might. It caught his attacker off guard and gave Winch enough time to turn the tables. Grabbing the man who attacked him by the wrist, Winch flicked his hands just hard enough to break the other man’s wrist. A loud yelp came from the other man and then Winch heard,
“Damn you to the underworld, you old codger!” Winch was so startled by the voice he dropped the man and stepped back. Winch stared down at the black-haired man with a full beard that was specked with gray along his strong jaw line. The man’s gray eyes were angry, filled with pain and he smelled of alcohol.
“Gabe? You bastard! You should know better than to sneak up on me!” Winch shouted.
“Well if I knew you were going to break my fucking wrist, I’d have announced myself sooner by knocking you on your ass.” Gabe snarled back at Winch. A chuckle rose in Winch’s chest and then turned in to full on laughter when Gabe threw a rock at his head.
“Come on, let me help you get up and I’ll take you to see the Lady. I’m headed there now. My son is in there.” Winch said. Gabe was about to say something when he stopped and looked up at Winch. Studying his face, Gabe looked over Winch’s square jaw and green eyes for signs of stress.
“You’ve no son. You’re not old enough.”
“I’ll explain when we get you inside, Old man.” Winch said.
“I’m not that old, youngling. I can still kick your ass if I wasn’t six sheets to the wind.”
“Well that makes you twice as stupid for ignoring rule number five.” Winch replied as he hauled up his former Captain and helped him dust off his leather riding pants and short coat.
“You don’t have to quote my rules at me, I know them well enough. I taught them to you.” Gabe grumbled and Winch wisely kept his mouth shut. Gesturing to the front door of the tower, Winch was just about to open it when it swung open and Lady Moriah was standing there with her hands on her hips.
“And just where have you been? Ethan’s been asking about you, I’ve got supper waiting and..” She trailed off when she saw Gabe cradling his wrist. “Oh for the goddess’ sake! Haven’t you got any better sense than a mule in heat? Get in here and don’t forget to wipe that muck off your boots!” Gabe watched her storm off toward the interior of the tower and then looked over at Winch.
“You married that?” He asked. Winch slapped the back of Gabe’s head.
“I’ll let that go, seeing as how you’re drunk and I respect you. Don’t talk about my wife like that.” Winch said as he helped Gabe wipe his boots off and enter the tower. Winch cleaned his boots and strode in, only to nearly be knocked over by a 60 pound bundle of tears and anger.
“They’re all dead! How could you let them die?!” Ethan cried. Winch knelt down and held Ethan out at arm’s length.
“Because I had a duty to your father to see you to safety. He asked me to take you away. He knew what was going to happen if I left the village without you. I didn’t want to leave. Understand me?” Winch said. “I left because your father wanted you away. You and your sister. The only thing I regret is that I wasn’t fast enough to come back for her.” Ethan collapsed in to Winch’s arms, sobbing.
“I don’t want them to be dead.” he cried.
“I know. I don’t want them to be dead either.” Winch said as he picked up Ethan and patted his back. “You cry it out, it’ll make you feel better.” Gabe snorted and Winch pointed a finger at him. Gabe quieted down and looked at Moriah. She shook her head at Gabe.
“Come on, Gabe. Let’s get that wrist set properly.” Moriah said.
“Oh, Moriah. Wait,” Winch said and he fished the horider out of his pocket. Lady Moriah Cried with delight and snatched the herb out of his hand.
“Clever man! I needed this!” She clutched the herb and looked up at Winch. “You much have been to see Glinda.” Winch laughed and nodded. Moriah kissed his cheek and hooked her arm through Gabe’s, leading him up the stairs.
“You married that?” Gabe asked Moriah and she laughed as Winch shouted a rude retort up after them. Their laughter floated down to Winch as he held a crying Ethan.
“Why?” Ethan choked out through his tears and Winch sighed. Leave it to the boy to ask the one question he couldn’t answer honestly.
“Because Lord Baxter is a bad man who wants what he cannot have.” Winch said as much as he could without triggering the pact that would kill him if he revealed the truth without the death of his master. Ethan pulled back to look at Winch’s face.
“Do I call you Dad now instead of Uncle?” Ethan asked after a few moments.
“Did I ever tell you how clever you are?” Winch asked. Ethan smiled a watery smile.
“I’m nearly eleven. I’m supposed to be clever.” He replied and then wiggled down. “Moriah said I can have sugar petals if I wash my hands.”
“Maybe I’ll get them too if I wash mine.” Winch said as he followed Ethan up the stairs. Ethan stopped and looked back at Winch.
“I’m going to be sad for a while, aren’t I?” Ethan asked. A heavy sigh come from Winch and he nodded.
“Yeah, you are. So will I and that’s okay.” Ethan nodded and then continued up the steps.
Winch and Ethan entered the room at the top of the tower, four flights up, after washing their hands and Ethan left Winch’s side to go off and explore. Winch shrugged and left him to his wonder.
“Where’s Ethan?” Moriah asked as Winch sat down next to Gabe, who was scratching at the bandages on his wrist. “Stop that, you know the rules. It’s going to itch for the first day or so.”
“But,” was all Gabe got out before Winch shoved a roll into his mouth.
“Eat something, my friend.” He said and turned to Moriah. “He’s off exploring. I didn’t have the heart to make him come eat when he’s currently trying not to touch your globe of goblin blood.” Moriah flinched and hustled off to stop Ethan from breaking something she couldn’t replace.
“That was sneaky, Winch. I taught you well.” Gabe said after swallowing his food.
“She’ll forgive me and he really was about to touch that globe.” He was about to say something else when he heard them arguing as they walked back to the table.
“Was it really full of goblin blood? Why can’t I touch it?” Ethan demanded.
“Yes and it would have turned you to stone if you had broken the seal.” Moriah said and Ethans eyes went round as he sat down and stared at her with wonder. Gabe nudged Winch.
“He has the same look you had when you first met her, Winch.” Winch chuckled with his friend.
“Yes, but I got the girl.” He reached out and snatched up Moriah’s hand, turned it over and kissed her palm. Moriah smiled.
“I got the guy all the girls wanted.” Moriah said and kissed him. Gagging noises made Ethan giggle and Gabe grin. “That’s enough out of you. Aren’t you supposed to be the old, wise one?”
“Old, yes. Wise? Not so much.” Gabe said with a grin. “You know me, Moriah. I was never one for marriage, but the kids? I’m everyone’s favorite Uncle.”
“That’s because you never grew up, only pretended you did.” Winch said and shoved another roll in to Gabe’s mouth before he could say something else. Ethan giggled, then stopped and looked up at the three adults.
“It’s okay to laugh, even though they’re gone, right?” He asked and ducked his head. The adults looked at each other and then back at Ethan. It was Gabe who spoke.
“Yes. It’s okay. They’d want you to be happy, Ethan. There’s no shame in laughing to make your load lighter. Even old soldiers like me laugh though we’ve lost so many friends along the way.” Moriah nodded at Gabe when he looked at her and she moved off to the kitchen to get dinner. Winch followed her and when they got to the kitchen, he hugged her when she stepped in to his arms.
“He’s so sad, Beau. So sad and trying to hide it.” Moriah said. “I’m so sorry that he can’t stay here forever and just be a little boy who laughs at silly jokes and tries to touch things he shouldn’t.”
“I know, Joh. I know.” Winch said and he kissed the top of her head. Moriah looked up at him.
“You haven’t called me that in a long time, Beau.” She said. Winch smiled and kissed her nose.
“I know. I haven’t been around much so that I could say it.” Ethan’s laughter drifted down the stairs from up in the tower.
“It’s nice to have that sound here.” Moriah said and Winch nodded.
“Maybe we could give him a sibling next year,” Winch murmured in to her ear. Moriah sighed.
“That would be lovely.” She rose on her toes and kissed him. “Dinner now, fun later.” Winch grinned and helped her carry the dishes up the stairs where they entertained by a little boy and his new-found favorite Uncle until bed time.