Like the walk to the training grounds, the trip to the bathhouse was spent in what Crow found to be uncomfortable silence. John seemed content with it though, so he stilled his tongue from interrupting the quiet with any unnecessary small talk. Instead, he let his mind wander to other things, such as the curiosity of what had possessed him to invite the knight to take a bath with him in the first place. As past experience had proven, they had little to nothing in common, and the only time the older man seemed interested in speaking with him was when he had something critical to say. The more he thought about it, the more he was starting to think there was no way this was going to end well.
So, by the time they reached the bathhouse, Crow’s mood waned, and he began to find the silence between them to be more pleasant, knowing that the alternative would have been worse.
As usual, the noblemen who were already in the pool wrinkled their noses at the sight of the former thief and hurried their attendants along to finish washing them before he got in the water. Crow paid them no mind as he stepped aside to strip off his grass stained clothes. Partially, he had been hoping that one of the other men might recognize John and strike up a conversation so he wouldn’t have to. But, of course, they were all too busy avoiding sharing their bathwater with a former peasant to pay any attention to his company.
The viceroy set his clothes down in a pile away from the water, wincing slightly as the effort of leaning over caused the bruises on his torso to smart. Suddenly more eager to get into the warm water, he turned back around to find that John had also just finished removing his armor and underclothes and was wading in ahead of him. He was a bit surprised that the knight had undressed faster, especially since he’d been wearing more layers, but he supposed he must have been moving more slowly because he was sore.
Casting the unimportant thought aside, he stepped over to the edge of the pool and climbed down into it. The water instantly soothed his aching muscles, and he sighed in relief. Leaning his head back against the side, he closed his eyes as he let the warmth relax him. This was definitely a better way to unwind after a sparring match than the old ways he’d used to lick his wounds in the outer villages. Even if he’d been lucky enough to take a nap, he’d always woken up feeling sore and lethargic afterward. Compared to that, the bath was a marvelous change.
Crow had expected the silence to last until he parted ways with John, so he was caught off guard when the knight broke it.
“You think too much,” John said, looking at him from across the pool.
The viceroy nearly scoffed. What else was there to do but think when talking would just make him look like a bigger fool? He was about to make the sardonic suggestion that Penelope’s father should come up with something else for them to do if he wasn’t allowed to speak or think, but didn’t get the chance before John continued.
Now it made more sense.
“You either get too lost in your head or you give in completely to impulse,” the knight analyzed. “You’re going to need to learn how to trust your instincts if you want to improve as a swordsman.”
“So I’ve been told,” Crow rested his arm on the edge of the pool, reminded of Penelope’s same advice to him in Younis. He’d thought he had improved since then, but maybe he hadn’t.
John grunted and fell back into silence. Crow watched him curiously. The knight’s sudden urge to correct him made him wonder. Until now, he’d thought the older man was content with the quiet between them, but perhaps he wanted to talk after all. Maybe he just doesn’t know how to start a conversation that doesn’t involve chiding someone, the realization struck him suddenly.
Taking a chance, he decided to take the liberty of speaking up. “Have you taught many knights before?” he asked. “You seem to be an experienced teacher.”
John turned back to him. “I taught my children,” he answered curtly, then paused before adding. “Despite the overthinking, you do have some talent as a fighter.”
“Thanks,” Crow blinked. Though it had been a little backhanded, that was the most flattering thing the knight had ever said to him. Relaxing a bit more, he grinned at the other man, “You’re not so bad, yourself.”
“I’ve been in this profession nearly twice as long as you’ve been alive,” John said, clearly missing the humor in the viceroy’s words.
Crow rolled his eyes, tempted to prod at the knight some more. Thinking better of it, he said simply: “It shows.”
John grunted again, and for a moment, Crow thought their brief conversation was coming to an end. However, the older man surprised him once more by going on.
“It’s unusual for the king to have you incorporate fighting into your studies so soon,” he said, eyeing the viceroy carefully. “Do you have any idea why he’s rushing your education?”
Crow lifted his gaze to the ceiling in thought. He hadn’t realized his father had been rushing anything, but now that he thought about it, Albin was hurrying him to learn all the skills he needed as soon as possible. “I think I do,” he admitted, meeting John’s gaze with a frown. Though he was hesitant to share what he knew of the king’s plans, this knight was Penelope’s father. The older man should know about the potential opposition standing in his daughter’s way.
He casted a quick look around to make sure they were alone—the other noblemen had long since fled the bathhouse when they had arrived—before he explained in a low voice: “My father told me he’s planning to send me to Gorm as soon as he deems me ready for the journey. He wants me to negotiate with the Gorman king to form an alliance in the war against Younis, so he can conquer their land with overwhelming numbers.” He sighed, leaning back against the wall of the pool. “Apparently his council agreed it was the best decision, and he sounded pretty certain that it was the course of action they’re going to take.”
“I see,” John mused, knitting his brows. “Well, you still have much to learn. There’s still time.”
“Mmh,” Crow shrugged, not quite as confident. He may have had a lot to learn, but he had already demonstrated to his father that he was a quick learner. It wouldn’t take him very long to cover everything he was supposed to know. He couldn’t intentionally slow down either. Albin was sharp. He would notice if his son’s performance took a sudden dip. The best they could hope for was that Penelope would outpace him in her efforts to garner support from the other high-ranking nobles in the kingdom.
Crow and John passed the rest of the time by speaking more with each other. By the end of it, the viceroy felt like he’d gotten Penelope’s father to warm up to him at least a little. The knight didn’t seem quite as tense, but it was hard to tell if it was because of his efforts or because of the soothing effects of the pool. Either way, he felt good about how the exchange had gone and was hopeful that he could convince the older man to see that he was responsible enough to court his daughter.
Once they were done bathing, Crow got out of the water and dried himself with a towel that he’d found near the edge of the room before putting his clothes back on. His tunic and trousers were still dirty, but at least he wasn’t covered in sweat and mud anymore. Plus, the ache of his bruises had faded to just a mild annoyance. Overall, he was feeling much better by the time he and John were ready to head to the Great Hall for supper.