When Darryn had been discovered to be living in Evanston, the king had sought Derek out, and Derek had felt honored. “They need a blacksmith,” the king had said.
“My king, of course I will go if you wish it,” Derek had said, and the king had nodded.
“I do wish it, Derek. I cannot go to the boy. He is too carefully guarded. The people with whom he has been placed will hardly give him up to a stranger. I need you to get close to them, get close to him if it takes that long. He is too young now. He won’t remember a time without you. You have to be there for him, Derek, and when the time comes, you will have to either bring me to him or send him to me.”
Derek had nodded. It was a weighty assignment but he had reveled in the idea that the king would trust him with it.
“Find him, Derek, and keep him for me.”
That had been some thirteen years ago now, and Derek had befriended both the adoptive parents and the boy, had laughed with them, eaten with them, played with the boy, protected them, had held the boy back from the inferno when he would have rushed in after his father. That night still gave Derek nightmares. It had been horrific. For all of them. He had heard the boy cry afterward. Derek and his family had sheltered Darryn and his mother while another house was built for them. He had held Darryn as he clung to Derek’s shirtfront, and he had tucked Darryn in and sat on the edge of the pallet while he had cried himself to sleep then had twisted himself in the blankets in the throes of nightmares.
He had sent word to the king then. He had told him what had happened. Derek’s wife Bridget had urged him to tell Darryn about the king, about the family awaiting him outside of Evanston then. Derek had bluntly refused, and he would not budge from his decision. The boy’s world had been shaken to its core, and news like that could have sent him spinning off of it, unable to find ground, unable to sense up anymore. He wouldn’t do that to him.
He had told the king as much when he’d written him.
He’d been half surprised that he hadn’t been pulled from the assignment then. He was glad that he hadn’t been pulled off assignment then. He had become as fond of Evanston as Darryn had in the time that he’d been stationed there. And he’d grown fond of Darryn besides.
He had worried when Darryn had disappeared with Aidan, but he knew before anyone where he had gone.
Word of his escape from the king had reached Derek in Evanston before he had seen Darryn himself. Derek had greeted Darryn warmly. He had expressed the worry that he had felt during his and Aidan’s absence, had inquired after Aidan, whom Derek was then invited to visit with Darryn, who had been on his way to him already.
Both boys had escaped.
Both boys had remained mum when questioned about their adventures.
And for the first time Derek hesitated to send the king any word of his grandson. For the first time he wasn’t sure that he wanted to, balked against the obligation.
And he had come wearily into the house, having gone with Darryn to see Aidan.
Bridget had confronted him. She had heard that both boys were back, had been told by the miller. She had said that they should write to the king.
And he had lied.
He had told her that he would, then that he had, and he still wasn’t sure that he would.