Once Upon a Time, Eilhu awoke from a fractious, confusing dream with perspiration beading in the hairs on his chest, breathing hard like he was in battle. His grief was a suckling infant with a voracious appetite. It fed until his bones were hollow but when he awoke, there was the hope within him of an accord being reached. He got up from the bed, went to the bowl of water and splashed water onto his face, snorted a little of it into his nostrils and looked out onto the courtyard.
It had been his home but the efforts to renew his connection felt forced and not by his own hand.
He recalled the golden pond and the shimmer of light on water was there whenever he closed his eyes.
The cerulean blue of Mirabelle’s eyes was there too, a splinter in his mind which hurt to contemplate. Eilhu’s palms hurt and when he opened his eyes, he saw scarlet crescents where he had clenched his hands so hard it caused him injury. He flexed his fingers and inhaled through his nose in a slow hiss.
Paul came to him after receiving petitions and found him in bed, his knees brought up to his chest and golden hair in a curtain falling over his face, mute with agony. He sat down with a sigh and waited for his nephew to acknowledge him.
‘It pains me to see you like this.’ He said.
Eilhu peered through the curtain of hair at him.
‘My pain is my own.’ Eilhu said.
Paul nodded in understanding, seeing the faint glimmer of connection renewed between them.
‘ If you wanted to talk, I would listen.’
Eilhu sat up, slow and cautious as a foal testing its limbs, brushed his hair from his eyes.
‘What does talking do? A man is his actions, not his words.‘ he said.
Eilhu’s lips drew back over his teeth and the beard around his mouth was damp as he got up from the bed.
‘I trust you will retire to the garden?’ Paul said.
Eilhu went over to the garden.
‘You misunderstand me, uncle.’ He said.
Paul’s heart danced with a small hope of reconciliation between him. He treasured his nephew through to his bones and late at night, he would whisper to the darkness of his hopes for Eilhu to succeed him. Eilhu turned his head and smiled at him.
‘I seek revenge, and I believe you hold the means to it.’
Paul swallowed, prickling with a caution which pooled in the wounds he carried, made them throb and sing as he debated whether to risk candour with his nephew.
He gave a small nod and Eilhu raised his eyes.
‘He raised me uncle, I can feel his presence.’ He said.
Paul folded his hands in his lap and pursed his lips.
‘He is here, bound in cold iron until I decide what to do with him.’
Eilhu came to his uncle and dropped to his knees, eyes bulging in their sockets as he took his uncle’s hands in his.
Paul sought to stuff down the flames of delight at such a turn in events. Their reunion had been stilted and disconnected, but now the parts of his soul which were a shrine to the boy glowed with a renewed faith.
‘I want to see him.’ He said.
Paul bit the inside of his cheek and squeezed his nephew’s hands. Eilhu’s face was tight with need as they gazed at one another. A revelation came to Paul’s lips, a confession which would change everything between and around them but he decided against it.
‘Yes, it is important for you to see him. The queen’s murder was by his hand.’ Paul said.
Eilhu swallowed and lowered his chin. Fat tears welled up and trickled down, dissolving into his beard.
‘Then I must see him. If only to know.’ He said.
Paul steeled himself for disappointment but this victory, silent and ethereal unmanned him. He asked Eilhu if he wished to see him straight away but Eilhu shook his head.
‘I must prepare myself. It’s not an easy thing to consider.’ Eilhu said.
Paul let go of Eilhu’s hands and placed his right hand on his shoulder.
‘Would you like me to come with you?’ he said.
Eilhu shook his head and rested his hand atop his uncle’s and gazed into his eyes with such depth of feeling it was like staring into the sun.
Paul got to his feet and smiled down at Eilhu.
‘I will show you his cell then leave you to it.’ He said.
He would not, he decided, but Eilhu deserved closure and Paul knew opening the wrong door would undo everything.
What haunted him afterwards were the consequences of opening the right door.
Paul walked with Eilhu, down through the winding tunnels into the bowels of the castle. Eilhu wrinkled his nose with distaste at the fetid, warm stench which clung to each stone like a jealous lover as they walked but kept his face still.
‘Why does it stink so much down here?’ Eilhu said.
Paul coughed into his fist and nodded before he spoke.
‘Cold iron burns.’ He said.
Eilhu grimaced and swallowed, tasted something dank and ugly in the air down here. They stopped outside a cell door and Paul unsheathed a dagger from his belt, flipped it over with a smooth, practiced flick of his wrist and offered it to Eilhu.
Paul’s eyes sparked in the gloom.
Eilhu took the dagger, held it up to the light and inspected the blade. The edges gleamed, forged from good steel and cold iron. He hid his feelings and gave a small nod.
Paul opened the door and stepped to one aside.
Eilhu took a deep breath and walked in as the door closed behind him.
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