Once upon a time, Eilhu awoke in a chamber grander than anything he had known since childhood. It would have been a moment to savour until he shifted to accommodate a dull cramp in his lower back and felt a flare of bright anguish which made him gasp in surprise. He clutched his thigh, feeling the warm, damp brush of moss against his fingertips and underneath the restless heat of a wound seething with infection. His skin boiled against his bones, his eyes burned with fatigue and each swallow tasted of dirt and ashes. The furs laid atop him were heavy and thick, resisting his feeble motions to push them downwards.
‘Water.’ He said.
His voice was an ancient rasp, breathless and insubstantial as his cracked lips felt the silvered trickle of water against them. A soft, cool hand pressed against his forehead and the kind, musical whisper of a woman’s voice.
‘Slow.’ Mirabelle said.
Her fingers smelled of wildflowers and he smiled at the association. Thirst had him between his teeth, but he willed himself to slow down as the water trickled down his throat. A breeze stroked across his hair and he flinched, reaching to cover his hair. She laughed and the melody of it opened his eyes.
‘It might have worked three days ago, gardener’s boy, but not now.’ She said.
The sunlight hurt his eyes and he narrowed them against the glare as she moved her hand from his forehead.
Her eyes sparkled and she shook her head. Eilhu gazed at her, hollowed with pain and appetite, but still held within himself. She bit her lip, fought the urge to touch him again and stepped backwards.
‘Why did you hide?’ she said.
Her voice was gentle, but sharp with intrigue.
‘I had my reasons, your highness.’ He said.
She flushed and stepped towards him before she stopped herself.
‘I would like to hear one, if you wanted to tell me?’ she said.
Behind her station laid a woman as behind his golden hair, laid a man.
‘Just one?’ he said.
She smiled as her eyes grew damp with relief.
‘So taciturn.’ She said.
Mirabelle blinked and turned away.
‘My father wishes to speak with you.’ She said.
Eilhu shuddered and tried to sit up. His wound screamed at him, a single, unending note of pain played along the ends of his nerves and he collapsed against the bed, defeated by his body.
She turned, drawn by his cries and wrung her hands together.
‘I do not even know your name.’ she said.
She gazed at him, face taut and bloodless amidst the mane of golden hair which framed his face. His relative youth had faded, worn by decision and circumstance into a hard-won adulthood.
‘Eilhu, your highness.’ He said.
Mirabelle blushed and averted her gaze.
‘Thank you, Eilhu. I will let you rest.’ She said.
He raised his right hand.
‘Why am I in your chambers?’ he said.
Her lips curved into a smile as spots of warmth appeared on her soft, rounded cheeks.
‘Because it was closer to the garden where you fell.’ She said.
She left him and he closed his eyes, rehearsing the things he wanted to say to her but finding all of them inadequate to the depth of feeling within him.
Three days adrift on the sea of his weakness, and no sign of a shore in sight, but perhaps a face he might call home.
Eilhu gritted his teeth as the apothecary plucked away the moss from his thigh, sweating with the effort to control himself. He revolted when the apothecary examined the wound and nodded in quiet satisfaction before he turned and asked his assistant to bring him fresh water and bandages.
‘Is it healing?’ Eilhu said.
The apothecary nodded as his assistant handed him a clay bowl of water and a loop of silken bandages. He dressed the wound in silence, accommodating the gasps and grunts when Eilhu fought the pain.
‘Your fever has broken and you should be able to put weight upon it.’ He said.
Eilhu swallowed, as a fresh crop of sweat broke out on his forehead.
‘What’s happening?’ he said.
The apothecary pressed his lips together, furrowing his forehead in confusion.
‘It is not my place to say. I treat your wounds, nothing more.’ He said.
The assistant, a boy of the same age Eilhu had been when he was first taken on at the castle smiled at him. The expression raised his spirits, being without malice.
When they departed, servants brought him fresh clothes and drew water for him to bathe. Mirabelle was absent and he dressed alone with slow, grim concentration. He wore a shirt, breeches and pointed shoes, clothes of quality but not identity.
There was a knock at the chamber door, and when Eilhu limped over to it, Sir Carrey stood there. He wore a surcoat, shirt and breeches of red velvet with pointed shoes and the coat-of-arms upon his right breast. He was unarmed and unaccompanied, but Eilhu bristled with alarm. Sir Carrey laughed.
‘Shall we consider this even?’ Sir Carrey said.
Eilhu smiled back but held himself apart, wary of the noble’s intentions.
‘Sire, I had my reasons, I hope to plead my case.’ Eilhu said.
Carrey nodded and stepped backwards.
‘Then you must, young man, what a fine specimen has grown amongst the flowers of the garden you tended.’ He said.
Eilhu walked with him to the throne room. He felt the murmur of the gathered crowd, a tangible thing in the distance which grew depth and volume as they headed towards it.
‘Am I on trial?’ Eilhu said.
Carrey chuckled and put a hand on his shoulder.
‘Not for any crime I can see.’ He said.
They stood before the doors to the throne room, Eilhu’s heart pounded in his chest and he fought the discomfort in his thigh by focusing on his breath. In his head, he called for The Wild Man, but silence answered him.
With a slow, penetrating creak, the doors opened and Eilhu walked into the heart of the castle. He had attended here as a kitchen boy, his scalp itched in association and his legs shook with nerves.
King Peter sat on his throne, with Mirabelle to his left. He smiled with warmth and interest, beckoning Eilhu forwards before the gathered nobles of the kingdom. Eilhu froze but Carrey nudged him and he limped forwards, unable to meet the king’s gaze.
Eilhu stood before the king and raised his head.
‘We’ve met before.’ Peter said.
Eilhu took a deep breath before he summoned the will to speak.
‘More than once, but your highness, I beg of you–‘ he said.
Peter laughed and waved him off.
‘No, Eilhu, you have me mistaken. You are here for several reasons.’ He said.
Mirabelle’s face was a mask but as their eyes met across the room, the corners of her lips rose and she sat forwards, red hair tumbling down around her shoulders.
Eilhu bowed from the waist, an action which took effort but he held himself with distinction.
‘I beg your forgiveness for my actions, your highness.’ He said.
Peter smiled and shook his head.
‘You saved my kingdom and my life.’ He said.
Eilhu frowned and glanced between king and princess, father and daughter.
Peter glanced at Mirabelle.
‘But why the subterfuge?’ she said.
Eilhu’s soul sung with the memory of his conversation in the woods.
‘I am my actions, not my heritage.’ He said.
He looked between them, held their gaze without flinching and to show the gold within his soul as much as on his head.
Peter sat back and tilted his head, grinning with interest.
‘Who are you, Eilhu?’ he said.
Eilhu stood up, pushed his shoulders back and raised his voice.
‘I am the son of King Samuel and Queen ********, I have not seen them for many years, for I ran from them. I hid myself from shame but once I was here, something–‘
He gazed at Mirabelle, his lips trembled as he regarded her with such depth of feeling it pinned her to the spot.
‘Someone made me bold with purpose. I had help but my actions were my own.’ He said.
Peter folded his hands in his hand.
‘So, you take blame with the same force as you would take credit?’ he said.
Eilhu nodded and Peter stood up.
‘Then you will not bow, nor apologise. Ask what you would of me, I owe you my life.’
Eilhu looked at Mirabelle and smiled before he turned to Peter.
‘Your daughter’s hand in marriage, your highness.’ He said.
A gasp went up from the gathered nobles, Mirabelle flushed and wiped her eyes as Eilhu shook with nerves, afraid his presumption would be his undoing.
Peter clapped his palms together and stood up, shuffled down the steps and opened his arms to embrace Eilhu. He glowed from within, the highest aspects of divine rule alive within him and Eilhu basked in the blessing it offered.
Mirabelle followed her father, forcing herself into step with him when she fizzed with excitement. They gazed at one another and knew joy.
Eilhu felt the rush of air past his cheek, blowing locks of his golden hair askew before he could comment.
Peter gave a choking sound and bent forward at the waist. His hands crossed across his chest as though reacting to a surprise.
The arrow punched through his chest. It was carved from bone and engraved with symbols which glowed like it were lit from within. Peter threw a panicked gaze at his daughter, his mouth gaping open with disbelief before he fell to his knees.
‘Well, isn’t this–‘
He fell onto his side, a final exhalation twisting and rattling through the air as the court erupted in panic.
Eilhu, Sir Carrey and Mirabelle went to him but it was too late.
The cries went up, moved from celebration to grief in a terrible, final instant.
END OF SEASON ONE.