Knighthood, 105

It’s Not So Bad A Thing to Lose Your Cool Once in A While

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“There’s no sign he came through Techen’s Stand,” Edwin assured the small crowd of people in the Hummingbird’s Spring, which was what the townspeople had renamed their only inn after Drew had been arrested.

“How do we know we can trust that?” asked a scared looking young man with long arms, which were crossed in front of him.

“Lee says everyone’s memories are unaltered, which means Drew wasn’t here.” Edwin gestured at the mage from the academy, who’d come with him to check everyone out.

“How do we know we can trust her?” asked Rosalyn. She looked scared too. They all did. Edwin couldn’t blame them. The guy who’d terrorized their town was missing.

“You don’t,” Lee said. She was a tall woman in tight clothes with her hair in a lot of braids. “And I wouldn’t if I were in your position. All I can give you is what I already have. I’m an expert in the kind of powers Drew has, and none of you have been touched by those powers in the last two months.”

“You guys have to trust someone,” Erik said. “If it’s not her and it’s not us and it’s not yourselves, who is it?”

Everyone looked at them quietly for a second as if unsure what to say. “I believe her,” Robby said after a second, twisting the black bracer on his arm just a little. “The kind of magic Drew uses is hard to use on the same person twice. He’d have had a hard time compelling so many people not to notice him when you’ve all already broken free of him once.”

Robby’s words seemed to be more convincing to everyone than Lee’s were, and Edwin wasn’t surprised. Fact notwithstanding that he knew exactly what he was talking about, people from small towns always trusted their own more than they trusted outsiders. Edwin would faster have trusted a boy from West Wood over something important than some woman from the capital who’d appeared to tell them everything would be fine.

“So where is he, then?” Millicent asked. Her parents hadn’t wanted her to come, but here she was, sitting on a stool, holding Rudy’s hand.

“We don’t know,” Edwin admitted. “We haven’t been able to find out where he went. The portals can only open to somewhere the person opening them has been before, and Drew hasn’t been that many places, but…”

“But what, son?” Merle asked, only a little gruffly.

It was fair. Edwin shouldn’t hesitate. This was important, and his own nerves weren’t. Erik touched his back, just for a second. “But I think he had someone with him. My servants kept repeating to me that they’d never seen Drew or any other intruders in the keep. The fact that he made them so sure that there hadn’t been anyone else makes me think there probably was. Lee is going to try and see if she can find out who it might have been if there was someone, but since we don’t know, it’s better to assume he had help, which means that person could have helped him go anywhere.”

“Not anywhere,” Erik said.

“Right. Anywhere there’s a portal set up,” Edwin amended. The problem being that they didn’t know everywhere a portal was set up. Multiple people had access to the rings.

“Is that meant to be comforting?” a man named Antonio asked, face ashen. “This psychopath is just out there and nobody knows where he is?”

“Drew’s not a psychopath,” Robby said quietly.

“It’s not meant to be comforting,” Erik said, while Edwin looked at Robby. His body language suggested he didn’t want anyone to comment on what he’d said, so he didn’t. “It’s meant to be the truth. There’s no point in shielding you from that.”

“We don’t know Drew’s mental state,” Lee said. “When I last saw him, he was so badly traumatized he was emotionally and physically nonresponsive.”

He was traumatized?” a woman named Molly asked in a sneer.

“Yes.” Lee just nodded and kept talking. Edwin could tell she was a teacher. “He can be a victim and a victimizer simultaneously. I don’t see any way he could have just recovered from the aftereffects of Lyren’s death and decided to go live on a farm for the rest of his life. Chances are he thinks he can recreate what he had here. Possibly even bring Lyren back.”

The hush that went through the common room when she said that hurt. “Can he?” Rudy asked, the only one who could move.

Edwin had brought Ned for this reason, and he glanced at him. Ned let out a breath. “It’s hard to say. I’m sure you all know that some people from the Citadel were here last night poking around. They didn’t find anything weird, which is good. Gods come back to life sometimes. We don’t have any sense that Lyren has or will.” He paused, shuffling his feet. Edwin nodded at him to encourage him, and Ned sighed. “In order for him to come back, Drew would have to come back here eventually.”

“So regardless of whether one monster is coming back, the other one will be at some point,” Millicent said, hand on her belly.

“Drew’s not a monster either,” Robby said, swallowing.

“Tell that to my sons,” Antonio said.

“I will. And I already have.”

“How can you defend him, Robby? After…”

“After what, Antonio?” Robby snapped, fury in his eyes now. “Why don’t you remind me what happened? I was a little busy being forced to enslave everyone I love during those four months.”

“Robby,” Edwin started.

“No,” Robby said, turning to face the other townspeople now. “I understand what he did. I understand it better than any of you do. I understand why you’re angry. I’m angry too. I understand why you’re scared. I’m scared too. But you don’t get to say that Drew’s some monster and call me a hero at the same time. Do you know why you need other people to tell your sons things for you, Antonio? It’s because they know you’re afraid of them so they don’t want to come home. It’s because they feel so guilty about what Drew made them do that they can’t stand to be in a place they love because everyone they love makes them feel more guilty.”

“And who’s fault is that?”

Not Drew’s!” Robby shouted, stomping his foot. He was shaking. “Don’t you understand that he’s just a little boy? He’s just like me. He’s just a stupid little boy who wanted someone to love him. Lyren was a god, nobody could have withstood his powers. Drew is a victim and you all have to stop blaming him for that.” He stood there a second, rubbing his arms. “He did terrible things and he should be punished for them. He’s dangerous and someone’s going to kill him for it. But he’s not a monster. He’s just a stupid little boy and when he’s dead he’s going to be a dead little boy and if you think that’s good then you’re the monster.”

And before anyone could say anything else, Robby stormed out of the inn.

“Edwin,” Erik said.

“I’m going.”

“Robby’s right,” Lee started to say, as Edwin followed after Robby. “Drew was very much just Lyren’s instrument. This doesn’t absolve him of what he did and it certainly doesn’t justify anything he might be about to do, but his mind was so subordinated to Lyren’s will it was barely present when I saw him…”

Robby was in the back courtyard, standing in the centre of it, hugging himself and crying. Edwin went over to him and put his hands on Robby’s shoulders. For a second he just stood there, letting Robby cry, squeezing his shoulders. Then, he said quietly, “You’re not a monster either, Robby.”

Robby started to bawl, and he turned around and hugged Edwin, holding him so tight Edwin almost couldn’t breathe. But he didn’t want to breathe when Robby couldn’t, so Edwin just hugged him and rocked back and forth and let him cry, not saying anything else but wishing he wasn’t wearing armour.

Edwin wished Robby hadn’t come out here. He knew why he had—this was where Lyren had died. But that was why he shouldn’t. Why would he have come out to somewhere so painful? But Edwin knew why, he held his brother as he cried and he knew why. It was because Robby had wanted to feel that pain. He thought he deserved it.

Edwin didn’t know what Robby was going through, not really, but he understood thinking he deserved to feel bad.

Footsteps crunched, but it was just Erik, coming out to stand with them. He put a hand on Edwin’s back and a hand on Robby’s, resting his forehead on Edwin’s head.

“There, there’s nothing we can do to help Drew, is there?” Robby said, still crying, but less now.

“No,” Edwin said, because it wasn’t helpful to shield Robby from the truth either. “I don’t think there is. If there is, we’ll find it, but I don’t think there is.” If Drew still had the powers Lyren had given him, and he still wanted to use them, there was only one way to stop him.

But Edwin wanted to believe there was another way, because he knew how much it would hurt Robby if Drew was killed.

Robby nodded, hiccoughing, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Someone’s going to have to kill him. I should have killed him before. I should have…”

“No,” Erik told him. “You shouldn’t have had to kill anyone. You did more than enough.”

“But it wasn’t enough and now he’s going to hurt more people and it’s going to be…”

“I am not ever going to let you say that anything Drew does is your fault,” Edwin told him in a stern voice. “You were right in there. Drew is a victim too. It would be easy to blame him and kill him, call him a bad guy. Recognizing that he was being hurt too and trying to help him was not a mistake, Robby. Being kind and wanting to give someone a chance is never a mistake.”

“Everyone in there thinks it was.”

“Nobody in there was out here when you had to make that decision by yourself,” Erik reminded Robby. “You can’t explain to someone who hasn’t been through what you’ve been through what it was like to feel what you felt. When you’re scared and alone and angry and sad, being kind is the hardest thing in the world, and you did that.”

Damn, he was good at this.

A long sigh. “Okay well,” said Robby, wiping his face. “I did stab Drew, so I wasn’t that kind. But I hear you.” Now he closed his eyes for a second.. “I have to go apologize for everything I said, don’t I?”

“No,” said Edwin, shaking his head. “You’re not wrong to feel how you feel and you’re not wrong to say it. But…you do have to go back in there eventually and it’s going to be kind of embarrassing so you should probably apologize for yelling, at least.”

“And maybe for telling Antonio that it’s his fault Aiden and Alexi haven’t come home,” Erik suggested.

“Yeah, I feel bad about that. Shit. Emotions suck.”

“Yeah,” Edwin agreed.

“But you know what?” Robby said, frowning at his hands now. “Lyren never let Drew, or any of us, feel anything but happy. No wonder Drew would want him back. He was happy all the time. He had to be happy all the time. Anyone would want to be happy all the time. But you can’t be. Sometimes you have to be sad or angry or scared. That’s how being a person works. We’re not going to be the ones who kill Drew. Lyren is. He started killing him as soon as they met and he stopped letting Drew have his own feelings. Lee said he’s been nonresponsive in jail. It’s because Lyren killed the part of him that mattered. And that’s probably what he wants now. To feel like he’s alive again. But he doesn’t know how. Maybe. I guess I’m just guessing. I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

“I’d say you know him better than anyone,” Edwin said, gently.

Robby nodded. “I think I know who’s with him. I think it’s that demon, Klaus. He was possessing Drew before, too. He probably thinks with Lyren dead, Drew belongs to him. But Drew’s a person too. He’s not a tool, he’s a person. And especially if we have to kill him, we have to remember that he’s a person and not a thing. Because…everyone treating him like he wasn’t real is why it was so easy for this to happen to him.”

“You’re right,” Erik told him, ruffling Robby’s hair. “And you have a much more nuanced understanding of why people do bad things than most knights. So I think you’ll be a good one.”

“Thank you.” Robby smiled, and took a breath. “Okay, let’s go. It’s super obvious that I was crying, right?”

“Yeah,” Edwin said. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. This is really embarrassing. Hopefully it’ll make them reconsider building a statue of me.”

Edwin didn’t think it should. His little brother was everything he could possibly want in a hero. He and Erik followed Robby back into the inn, where Robby hugged his parents and his sister and then went to talk quietly to Antonio for a minute, and Edwin had never been so proud of him.

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