His eyes itched and sunk into their sockets at the first rays of light which struck his upturned face. Movement stabbed bright bolts of pain down his spine when he tried to move. Sensation returned to him by degrees.
The liquid brush of silk beneath his skin was a surprise. He lifted a trembling hand and tested the fur throw which covered his lower half, taking a cautious pleasure in the comfort it offered. Eilhu shifted upwards and looked around him. The stone walls held ornate tapestries, woven with threads of silk and dyed wool. Patterns and sigils of various houses, some of whom were apparent in his memories and the fragments of education afforded him. Perspiration clung beneath his arms and the backs of his thighs.
‘You’ve become quite the young man, Eilhu.’
The man sat in the corner of the room, with long, black hair tied away from his face. He had gleaming, crystalline blue eyes set in their sockets like precious stones. The years had burned excess flesh, and each swallow showed the shift of his anatomy. Tendons shifted in his throat and muscles throbbed along his jawline. He wore a simple hooded robe and his feet were bare, and through the veil of years, Eilhu recognised the man.
Eilhu’s eyes brimmed with tears as he brought his hand to his mouth.
‘How did you find me?’ he said.
The corners of Paul’s mouth turned upwards and he entwined his long, ink-stained fingers together, rested his forearms on his thighs.
‘I never stopped looking.’ He said.
Paul’s voice was a terse whisper, a bulwark against the pain of his injuries, and the years which imposed upon them.
‘Where are my parents?’ Eilhu said.
Paul lowered his head and pressed his palm over his heart. He grimaced and Eilhu watched the controlled shudder which wrestled his control from him.
‘Their suffering is over. If only they were here to see this day.’ He said.
Eilhu blinked and laid still, pinned beneath the point of revelation as it struck him through his middle.
‘How long?’ Eilhu said.
Three years. His mother first, then his father.
‘Grief and loss take their toll, Eilhu. They grieved for you without pause or restraint. Or appeared to.’ He said.
Eilhu touched his throat, the skin still burning from where the length of rope had bitten into him. The injury of Paul’s words compounded his physical injuries and made him turn onto his side, bringing his knees to his chest.
‘They searched for me? All this time?’
Paul shook his head, lines cutting into the white skin of his forehead.
‘No, I did.’
He ran his tongue over his teeth and sat back in his chair.
‘Eilhu, your parents loved you. Your kidnap took a great deal from them.’ he said.
Eilhu’s ear heard an unspoken sentiment, polite in waiting its turn for acknowledgement.
Paul stared around the room.
‘But death and time demand truth, so I say this to you, they were weak.’ He said.
Eilhu flinched and swallowed, the prickling burn in his throat made acidic by the sorrow which coated each breath.
‘Their weakness was their narcissism and self-obsession. Too absorbed to see the damage they did to everyone around them.’ he said.
Eilhu leaned forwards and clutched the fur.
‘You kidnap me, bring me here and tell me this? Why?’ he said.
Paul’s face was a composition in control.
‘So you understand.’ Paul said.
Eilhu hummed with dread as he sat there, pulled apart by a conflicting series of emotions and taunted by events.
‘I ran away, Uncle.’ He said.
Paul gave a slow nod and stared at his nephew.
‘You were a child. Subject to wild, powerful magic and unable to resist its call.’ He said.
Eilhu shook his head.
‘I asked if I could leave with him.’ He said.
Paul hid his surprise but Eilhu caught its passing.
‘You were afraid of your father’s response.’ Paul said.
Eilhu nodded. Warm pride arose within him, bound by the fresh manacles of obligation and injury.
Paul’s impassive expression darkened into a tight, pinched scowl.
‘Eilhu, I had reason to believe otherwise.’ He said.
The implication leapt between them. In his imagination, it bared sharp, blood-stained teeth and drew claws across the flanks of his soul.
‘What have you done, uncle?’ Eilhu said.
Paul stood up, wincing with the effort as he looked at Eilhu.
‘I did what was necessary. Nothing more.’ He said.
He opened the door, a maid brought a bowl of rich broth, a clay flagon of water and set fresh clothes at the foot of the bed. She did not acknowledge Paul or Eilhu beyond a casual look.
Eilhu noted how she shivered in their presence and wondered what form the rule of his uncle had taken.
Paul stepped out of the chamber, eyes glinting with a cold, implacable regard as he looked at his nephew. The maid stood there.
‘You have no cause to fear me.’ Eilhu said.
The maid blushed and looked at her feet.
‘No, your highness, I don’t.’ she said.
Eilhu prepared to ask her more, but she left him alone. He was not hungry, but the water soothed his throat and the clothes fitted him.
Paul had thought of everything.
Eilhu was unsure, but the thought terrified him.
He dreamed of maidens, giggling and playing in cool, clear streams. The rhythms of their bodies stirred his appetite into anaesthesia, which remained in place as the cell door opened.
‘You took care of him.’
The manacles rattled and both men looked at one another.
‘He was a boy and I saw the gold inside him.’
The man stood with his hands by his side.
‘It was not yours to take.’ He said.
In the dark, chained and exhausted, he smiled at his captor with a fierceness of spirit.
‘You might chain me up in darkness, ignore me but you know who I am, and how I will rise again.’
The man chuckled.
‘Not this time, Wild Man.’ He said.
The cell door closed and in the darkness, he waited.