‘What’s wrong with him?’ Jarred wondered aloud as Pan gulped his water, Merrick refilling his glass with the pitcher from the table. It was set with tiny, glinting pieces of coloured glass that together formed exploding fire blossoms against a black sky. ‘Beron didn’t actually do anything, did he? Ravage his throat, or cut his tongue? He would’ve gotten in so much strife.’
‘Jarred, use your head,’ Darien said. ‘Master Beron never touched him.’
‘This is hardly untouched, Darien,’ Mal couldn’t help but murmur, taking Pan’s hand protectively. ‘And we can’t keep pretending Beron is the only one responsible.’
Pan’s face, which had faded from blotchy purple to a tone a few shades paler than his usual dessert cream, immediately exploded with blood, turning him not frock pink but ruby-red with shame. Why was this always being brought up?
‘Not now, Mal,’ Merrick said softly as Pan fought not to squirm in his seat. He longed to vanish, to melt into liquid and dissolve without a trace into Fen’s nice lounge. ‘We’re not pretending anything, but you can’t just spring that on him like this.’
‘Let’s keep to the matter at hand,’ said Darien firmly, ‘which is his voice.’
‘These issues are all connected,’ Mal began to protest, but Merrick hushed him, seeing as Pan began to sweat.
Darien faced Jarred, who was waiting even more curiously for an answer. Though he was Pan’s age and a willing escort, Jarred was not yet in master training – he had only come to the castle the year before. As such, he knew of Beron’s reputation, but nothing else. To Pan’s relief, Darien kept his explanation absolutely minimal, barely enlightening a somewhat disgruntled Jarred at all.
‘He has no physical ailment keeping him from speaking. It’s all in his mind. It’s all in your mind,’ Darien turned his attention to Pan. ‘Beron’s no longer your master, and everything that happened with Gain is long past. Making believe it never happened then dwelling on it endlessly when it comes up won’t help – you must move on, do you understand?’
How am I supposed to do that when he …
‘Master Fen, your physician,’ Darien continued, cutting off Pan’s flying hands. ‘All of us. We all want you to speak again, that’s why we’re spending so much time on you. The Directors too, Master Grange tells me they show keen interest in your progress. You are working hard, we know. But you’ll achieve nothing while you continue to stand in your own way. You have to stop being so afraid. Whatever you’ve been through, there is nothing keeping you from speaking. No one, save you.’
I know that! Pan signed furiously, hands whipping through the air so fast it was a wonder they didn’t slice it. But I can’t! I can’t make myself do it! Every time I choke! My voice is gone!
‘It’s not gone! You were speaking just before!’
Anger fading but so horribly embarrassed, disheartened by his failure and now feeling quite ill – the mention of Gain always had the effect of a mild stomach flu – he couldn’t bear to hear to their words of encouragement, particularly Darien’s. The number of times Pan had failed were too many to count, and he had witnessed them all. How could any of them be so sure he’d recover command of speech? What were the Directors thinking, making him stay there? He was going to be a mockery as a master!
‘You were speaking in front of us, all four of us! You’ve never managed that before, you’re doing very well. Those last ones were just a challenge. You need to work up to them, that’s all.’
He’d been working up to them for months now, and still fell short. I don’t want to talk about it, Pan let them know shortly, hunching and signing very harshly. Leave me alone. Get out of here.
But, as Jarred pointed out, they weren’t in Pan’s rooms. And Fen had granted all of them free use for the evening. He was quite stubborn about it, so while Merrick and Mal were hesitant they decided to stay, and soon began chatting about their upcoming women. Thinking he needed some alone time, they didn’t bother Pan when he slouched off to his room to sulk. Darien and Mal both kept a close eye on him until his door clicked shut.
Out of sight, Pan collapsed on his bed, losing to tears. He never cried in front of anyone; that was another souvenir from his time with Beron. But he could still weep alone, and he spent a few minutes wrestling with his pillow as he cried. He won easily.
It didn’t take long for him to feel very childish for his rudeness and venting. After another minute he wiped his streaming eyes, gave a long sniff, and pushed his door back open. Sitting next to Darien with a heavy sigh, Pan flicked out an apology with his fingers. Darien immediately put a reassuring arm around him. Pan rested his head on his shoulder.
‘It’ll happen,’ Darien told him. ‘You just need more time.’