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The Gold Inside (The Wild Man, Season 2, Episode 4)

THE GOLD INSIDE
Eilhu’s throat burned with each swallow.

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.

His uncle.

Paul.

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.

2.

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.

 

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Hunting Shadows (The Wild Man, Season 2, Episode 3)

Once upon a time, Eilhu wandered through the forest, as far as he had when he was a child, lost and cramped from hunger.

He kept his bow slung over his shoulder, his sword in its sheath as he walked, searching for signs of The Wild Man’s passing. The trees reached overhead, their branches blocking out the wan traces of sun which hung in the sky. Roots emerged from the soil like bones and he took care to step over each one. Eilhu had known the auspices of nature, cruel in how they refused to spare the weak but beautiful in the abundance it provided to those who held the terrain in esteem. Birds sung to one another, the damp, restless struggle of small wildlife rose to his ears as he searched. He had tied his golden hair back, tucked under a leather hood and wearing boiled leather armour, in a myriad of shades.

It suited him to wear common clothes to hunt in.

His emotions growled and pulled in their restraints. He would wake in the mornings, suffused with a spreading bleakness, like an insect had bitten him in the night, suffusing his limbs with a poisonous gravity. Each breath wore the rime of winter upon it, but despite his lassitude, he moved with purpose. Eilhu wanted absolution to cleanse the taint of guilt which hung between him and Mirabelle. Had they spoken of it, he wondered?

He spoke through his actions, leaving the interpretation to others but hoping the meaning did not escape them. Words were not adequate vessels for the depths of his feeling any more than a tapestry could capture the roar of a wild beast. Eilhu was not a troubadour, but he knew himself and acted in it. He feared his silence would grow impenetrable, creating a barrier between him and Mirabelle but he feared her rejection for his weakness even more.

A crack of a branch to his left echoed towards him, rippling and turning on the still air. He glanced in its direction. The bow slipped into his hands with an arrow notched and ready as he dropped into a crouch. The sound captured his attention and he moved in its direction, his posture and attention transformed by activity. Eilhu, without the help of The Wild Man, bore his instruction well and with each angled step, he moved with poise and focus. His actions were a way to assuage his own feelings and to prove his innocence to Mirabelle.

The Wild Man, like all men, was unknown to Eilhu, let alone himself.

He circled a thick copse of trees, breathing in through his nose to keep himself calm without losing his aim, lowering the bow to improve his position.

The mastiff growled at him, its black lips pulled back over sharp, yellowed teeth as it lowered its haunches.  Eilhu stepped back and glanced about him.

He knew the dog; the breed had been a perennial favourite of huntsmen but his connection was more intimate and confusing. He respected animals, but he did not lower the bow.

The mastiff had one eye rheumy over, bisected by a thick, white scar which snaked down it’s muzzle but it appraised him with a trained attention. Ropes of drool swung from its mouth but it remained in position.

Eilhu took a step backwards. The mastiff stayed still and Eilhu’s intuition bubbled with concern.

The first blow took him upside the head. A fist aimed at his temple made his vision blur as he turned to address his attacker. His feet kicked out from underneath him and he hit the ground hard, the breath squeezed from his lungs as he rolled onto his side, hand on his sword and ready to fight.

His opponent had moved around, and before Eilhu could draw his sword, a length of woven rope snapped taut around his throat, dragged up to his feet as the rope bit deep. Eilhu grasped at the rope, kicking backwards as he fought for breath. His opponent grunted and shoved himself away without relinquishing the grip until Eilhu felt the edges of his mind darken and enclose upon him. Each breath was a promise unfulfilled but needed, and as he fought, his will to act ebbed. He gouged his fingers into the backs of the man’s hands but they brushed, useless against the black leather gauntlets he wore.

Eilhu fought until his breath left him and then knew no more. A blurred outline stood over him and slipped the rope from his throat, bound it over his wrists and knotted it with a languid expertise before he picked up Eilhu and dragged him further into the woods. The mastiff got to its feet and followed them both.

2.

Carrey did not dress as a noble when he set out. He wore rough leathers, with a crossbow and a pair of hatchets worn on his hips. The diction of his voice would betray him, but Carrey had practiced a regional accent. Riding out offered him a cogent means to connect with his purpose, but his mission weighed upon him with an unease he could not define. Eilhu was not like other men, but it presented a motive which made Mirabelle’s decision a matter of logic over emotion.

It carried the weight of betrayal, and Carrey moved slow to accommodate its burdens.

3.

The cold iron burned with each contact.

He remained silent, and their threats made him laugh at a volume thought to be madness.

His captors slipped out of the cell, locking and closing the doors behind them.

Within the womb of darkness, he sat there and waited.

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A Golden Gift (The Wild Man)

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.

2.

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.

 

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Into The Wound (The Wild Man)

Each movement of the black stallion connected Eilhu to the wound in his thigh, a sharp stab of pain which established itself atop the last movement. His nerves were an orchestra, playing a symphony of anguish, conducted by a single well-aimed stab of a sword. His hair laid atop his head, damp and listless as he sagged in his saddle, fighting the urge to drift away into the merciful embrace of unconsciousness.

He called for The Wild Man but the forest absorbed his call in its blanket of silence. There was the wind through the trees, the scratching of life at play but nothing else. Eilhu’s head swam with exhaustion and pain as the three days of trial and the final, terrible chase caught up with him.

Eilhu sagged forwards in his saddle, and unconsciousness claimed him in a terrible consummation.

Inside the blackness, Eilhu’s senses asserted themselves. He could not see, but he could feel and the wound in his thigh blazed like the sun, drawing him towards it with an inexorable gravity.

‘Wild Man, where are you?’ Eilhu said.

NOTHING IS COMING, EILHU.

The voice, paranoia given volume and timbre.

‘He came when I called before. Who are you?’ he said.

IT DOES NOT MATTER, EILHU. YOU AND I ARE AS ONE.

Eilhu fought the first twist of panic and it inflamed his sensitivity towards the wound. His senses registered the pull of the wound as though he had leapt in the air, or climbed a tree and forgotten the trick of landing. Upwards, he flew, ever upwards, into the world of his wound.

His sense of self evaporated and renewed in the same instant. A crude dis corporation which made him nauseous and weak.

‘I cannot die like this, I have too much to do.’ he said.

Laughter then silence ran through his soul.

THIS IS ALL YOU CAN DO.

Eilhu fought for his identity, his flesh with a force of will which would uproot the mightiest oaks from their roots and all of it for nothing.

‘What is it?’ he said.

YOU SUFFER, AS ALL MEN DO.

Eilhu shook his head and tried to pull backwards from his descent.

‘I know my wounds.’ Eilhu said.

THE TEETH OF THE KEY AGAINST YOUR FINGER, I WAS THERE.

He recalled the pinch of the metal against his fingers. It had faded in his memory, but his recollection lent it a renewed power and it punched into him with the force of a hurricane.

THE HUNGER AND FEAR YOU KNEW WHEN THE WILD MAN CAST YOU OUT

It returned, larger and bolder than the pinch of the key, the nights shivering under open skies, nursing a belly cracked in two with hunger and so much fear he wondered if a boy could die from such a thing.

In response, the tip of his finger, forever golden, hummed with a pleasant melody, more felt than seen. His scalp prickled and itched but he could not move to ease the sensation.

YOU KEEP THESE THINGS HIDDEN

‘I know my wounds, who would want to know them?’

YOU LIE

The image of Mirabelle floated before him, his heart turned in his chest, wrenching with a speed which took his breath.

YOU LIE TO HER

Eilhu wanted to cry, but he swallowed the urge down.

YOU LIE TO HER

‘She saw my golden hair and it amused her.’ he said.

YOU LIE TO YOURSELF.

Eilhu’s words were inconstant, fragile things. Blunt and toothless beasts outpaced by the speed of events.

He felt fingers tugging at his thoughts, pulling them apart in the way bones cracked open for their marrow. Eilhu recalled the crunch of sparrow bones beneath his teeth, the needle length of bone which had split his gum and turned his saliva pink for days.

‘She is a princess, what could she want from a simple man like me?’ he said.

SIMPLE? REALLY?

Eilhu was silent, wrestling with the import of the conversation.

‘I worked in the kitchens, then the gardens.’ he said.

FOR A KING. YOU SCURRIED AROUND HIDING THE THINGS WHICH MAKE YOU STAND OUT.

‘They gave me shelter and work. Nothing more.’ Eilhu said.

Silence.

YOUR GOLD IS PART OF YOU. SO AM I

Eilhu bristled with frustration. Emotions moved within him, leviathans and monsters which resisted his inward gaze.

‘I was -‘ he said.

The words stuck in his throat, no matter how much he pushed them upwards, like vomiting in reverse.

COME EILHU. YOU MUST TELL ME THE TRUTH IF YOU WISH TO PASS THROUGH ME.

Eilhu stared within himself and forced the truth to the surface of his soul.

‘I was afraid.’ he said.

AFRAID OF WHAT?

He swore beneath his breath.

‘She would see the gold and not the man beneath it.’ he said.

IS IT FAIR OF YOU TO PRESUME IT?

Eilhu shook his head and closed his eyes.

‘No, it is not but all these feelings within me, they were worse than hunger or pain, or fear.’ he said.

LOVE IS TERRIBLE TO THOSE WHO ARE BEFORE OR AFTER IT.

He shuddered and cried out as a violent wave of grief and desire smashed him beneath its fists. The want had been there from the start, the amused prettiness, the delighted play between him and all of it met with a mask and a cap to hide his glory.

FACE YOUR LOVE, IF SHE IS TOO FRAGILE TO BEAR IT, YOU WILL BOTH KNOW.

Eilhu glanced upwards, tears in his eyes, tender and open to the music of the universe.

‘And if she is?’ Eilhu said.

YOU WILL BOTH KNOW.

Eilhu wept with relief. Love held a terrible burden, requited or otherwise. He enjoyed the savage certainty of battle, the lassitude of kitchen work and the taste of ashes for their lack of ambiguity. Love, as he understood it, was to read the skies for changes in the weather or to follow the tracks of prey through shifting sands.

It took courage, persistence and grandeur of spirit. He did not lack such qualities, but the strength he drew from his scars was something he feared would disgust the likes of Mirabelle.

IS IT NOT HER DECISION? A WOMAN IS CHANGE AND SHE NEEDS STRENGTH TO ANCHOR HERSELF UPON.

Eilhu looked up, stared into the darkness and dared it to strike at him.

‘If only I could return to tell her.’ he said.

The darkness shifted, breathed Eilhu into itself and made him welcome.

He felt sunlight upon his face, the breeze ruffled his hair and his stallion snuffled with consternation before he sat upright in the saddle. His thigh blazed with pain but he was alive.

Eilhu called the Wild Man and he came.

‘You’re late.’ Eilhu said.

The Wild Man chuckled until he saw Eilhu’s discomfort but did nothing to address them.

‘No, I arrived when I meant to.’ The WIld Man.

The air was damp, like after a summer rain and The Wild Man helped Eilhu down from the stallion, then removed his armour and dressed him in his humble, gardener’s robes. Eilhu reached for his cap but the Wild Man shook his head and tore it into rags. He dressed the wound in Eilhu’s thigh with the rags, tight enough to allow him to limp without too much pain.

‘You went somewhere, Eilhu, didn’t you?’ he said.

Eilhu nodded and tested his weight on the wounded leg.

‘I hoped you might tell me.’ Eilhu said.

The Wild Man sniffed his fingers, dabbed the tip of his tongue against a fingertip and smiled to himself.

‘We will add it to the list. You took something from the journey, yes?’ he said.

Eilhu smiled and stood up, looked his friend in the eye and both men knew the truth of it.

Some things between men are better dressed in silence. This was one of them, and Eilhu limped back towards the castle. The Wild Man called his name and walked over to them, slipped three golden apples into the pockets of his tunic.

Eilhu laughed and embraced his mentor with his strength.

The bandage held but the long days, the scouring confession and his inward journey took their toll.

He made it to the garden, intending to give the apples to the children but his strength failed him and he collapsed, with the sounds of alarm faint as birds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Three Golden Apples

Once upon a time, King Peter and his daughter, Mirabelle stood in the throne room, shed their concerns like warm clothes in summer and traded them for different concerns.

‘It’s the garden boy, father, I swear.’ she said.

Peter grimaced, gripped the arms of the throne and leaned forward.

‘A garden boy rode a war horse, clad in black plate armour and leading a host of warriors.’ he said.

Mirabelle blushed and looked away.

‘It sounds ridiculous, father, but please. Did he remove his helm?’ she said.

Peter shook his head and sighed. Mirabelle emitted a tight, shrill cry of frustration. Within her, raged a delighted fury, at how he could thwart her interest without pushing her away.

Peter sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, rubbed his temples with his fingers and smiled.

“I will proclaim a great festival. It shall last for three days, and you shall throw a golden apple. Perhaps the unknown knight will come.” he said.

Mirabelle sighed and looked upwards, twirling a lock of her hair around her index finger.

‘Perhaps.’ she said.

A king’s power lies in the gap between thought and action.. Peter gave the word, and arrangements began, at first in the pronouncement and then the preparations. Eilhu kept himself apart from the others, but word reached him and he fought the subtle, winding thrill of anticipation which burned within his chest.

Eilhu went out into the woods and called The Wild Man.
‘What do you need?’ he said.
‘To catch the princess’s golden apple.’
“It is as good as done,” said Iron Hans. ‘And further, you shall have a suit of red armor and ride on a spirited chestnut horse.’
When the day came, Eilhu galloped up, took his place among the knights, anonymous in his scarlet armour. The elder nobles and warriors noted the design, borrowing from the designs of the Caliphate, in the engravings which ran down the greaves and braziers of the armour. The chest plate was without decoration and Eilhu had a one handed sword sheathed on his left hip as he sat astride the chestnut stallion. Its coat had the gloss of health and it obeyed Eilhu’s command without question.

King Peter had no real taste for the vulgar, he was, despite his title, a simple man. His people, however, demanded a celebration after the horror of war. His flags flapped in the breeze, people pressed against the barriers, clamouring for a good position to watch the events. Such trappings served two roles, one to allow for celebration and the other was to draw out a man who had beguiled his daughter and saved his kingdom.

 

He called for the first tourney, a display of melee combat with a pitched mob of warriors, knights and free folk lashing out at one another with varying levels of skill and experience. Eilhu drew his sword and strapped a shield onto his left forearm before entering the fray. He ducked beneath the whistling point of a spear and smacked his blade into the knee of the assailant, before giving a swift kick to the man’s head, knocking him into the earth before moving onto the next opponent. There was joy in battle, and after the sullen deprivation and mocking of the last few years, he took pleasure in the lack of nuance. He turned, yelled from the bottom of his stomach and charged at the next opponent.

He was the last man stood in the tourney. The chorus of cheers thrilled him, but he kept his helmet on. He accepted his victory in silence, taking in Mirabelle stood with the golden apple in her hand. Her favour, a small green silken scarf, dangled from her wrist as she tossed the apple into the air.

He was the only one who caught it, and as soon as he had it, he galloped away.

‘How did it go?’ The Wild Man said.

Eilhu chuckled and tossed him the apple. The Wild Man caught it. In his hands, it resembled a golden grape. He tossed it back and shook his head.

‘Will you keep it?’ The Wild Man said.

Eilhu laughed, said the gardener’s children would never forgive him if he kept it.

The Wild Man leaned forwards.

‘Same time tomorrow?’ he said.

 

On the second day Iron Hans had outfitted him as a white knight, with a white horse. He entered the joust which drew applause from the crowd, and whispers as he fought in silence, without giving a single clue to his identity.

He rode against Sir Carrey of Blood Lake, a man who rode with such skill, he was part horse himself. Eilhu held firm against him, even when Carrey struck him in his right shoulder and on the last tilt, Eilhu lowered the tip of the lance and drove it into Carrey’s pelvis, sending him crashing into the dirt.

Eilhu dismounted and helped him to his feet, clapping him on the back before leading his horse away. Again he was the only one who caught the apple. Without lingering an instant, he galloped away with it. Mirabelle watched him leave, parts of her in his possession and with few words spoken between them.

Peter called his knights into his throne room. He sat amongst them, face tight with frustration and embarrassment.

‘Each time, he comes, he wins and leaves without lifting his visor.’

He thought of his Mirabelle and soured with a father’s anger.

‘He must appear before me and tell me his name.’ he said.

Before anyone could object, he continued to address his men.

‘Tomorrow is the last day. If he catches the apple and flees with it, you are to give chase and order him, in my name, to stop.’ he said.

Sir Carrey raised his right hand, wincing as Peter glanced at him.

‘What if he continues to flee?’ he said.

Peter sat back in his chair and closed his eyes.

‘Stop him, but do not kill him. We owe him a debt for his actions.’ he said.

 

On the third day, he received from the Wild Man, a suit of black armor and a black horse.He fought in lance and melee, won both with undisputed victories aside from a mace to the side of his head from a brutish hedge knight and a lance knocked him to his left, but he remained upright and in the saddle, until the end of the tournament and he rode his black horse to claim victory.

Mirabelle tossed the apple to him. He stared into her eyes through his closed visor, struck by her beauty. She had not given her favour. Eilhu knew he could lift his visor and end the charade but he acted from a place within himself, resisting definition but requiring a rough-hewn faith in himself

He caught the apple and galloped to the woods.
Sir Carrey gave the first shout, his sword raised as he led a host towards Eilhu.

‘Halt in King Peter’s name.’ he said.

Eilhu pushed the stallion on but the king’s men were fast and experienced, flanking him on either side.

‘Why do you run? He wishes to honour you.’ Carrey said.

Eilhu kept the horse at a gallop. Carrey drew his sword, turning it in his hand with lethal ease. His face was tight with intention as he stabbed the point of his blade forwards.

The blade slipped between the plates of armour on his thigh. It glanced off bone, but the wound was true, enough to make Eilhu lurch backwards as agony seized him between its teeth.

His helmet fell off, and the knights, to a man, saw the mane of golden hair flowing in the wind before Eilhu tugged the sword from his thigh and roared out his pain. The horse gained an awful, final burst of speed and disappeared into the trees.

Carrey took his horse around and retrieved his sword from the ground. He raised it to his eyes, saw the smears of blood on the blade and sheathed it. He returned to the castle, puzzled and discomforted by the day’s events.

It was dark when they returned, and Peter summoned him for an audience. Carrey gave his report before returning to his own chambers.

Eilhu limped into the garden, head turning from left to right as he saw the head gardener’s children. He managed an agonised smile, retrieved three golden apples and held them out before him.

‘What a day I’ve had.’ he said.

He fell into a deep and instant faint, with the cries of the children’s alarm following him down into the darkness.

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beauty, fairy stories, short fiction, war, women

The Strange Knight (The Wild Man 7)

Previous episodes are here.

Once upon a time, the kingdom of Hearst celebrated the birth of Prince Roderick by declaring a war of expansion upon its neighbours. King Doran set out to expand his territory as a christening gift for his son.

Eilhu avoided Mirabelle but caught the whispers of war on the wind. He worked the garden when he knew she was away from her chamber and went out into the woods when she was there. His heart learned to shudder in the shadow of her absence. He grew tall and broad through the garden work, and he could sit with the older men, feel their blessing over their disdain.

Three days after the rumours of war became fact, Mirabelle stood with her father, Peter who addressed the court from his throne. He was a stout man, kind and generous in manner and he trembled with emotion as he spoke.

‘Doran has gathered a great host who gather on the borders of my kingdom.’ he said.

Eilhu stood at the back of the crowd. Peter’s voice carried, and he stood in shadow but his eyes returned to the princess. He tugged the brim of his cap lower and raised his chin.

‘My army is gathering. I call upon each able man to fight in its defence.’ he said.

The crowd fell into a deep, shocked silence. Eilhu’s heart pounded against his ribs. He stepped forward, raised his hand and shouted.

‘I’ll fight for you if you give me a horse.’ he said.

A ripple of laughter ran through the crowd.

The king frowned and turned to a lieutenant, whispered to him.

Eilhu’s gesture prompted volunteers. They would raise an army but it would not be enough.

He stood at the stables for three days. It was dusk on the third day before the stable hand went inside. His armour was whatever he could find, a motley of materials in different sizes but he stood tall and true.

The horse was a chestnut stallion, it limped forwards and regarded Eilhu with sad, hopeful eyes. Eilhu fitted a saddle and rode it out with pride. The stable hand laughed, but it faded with each hitching step away.

At the edge of the woods, he called The Wild Man.

The Wild Man walked out of the woods.

‘What do you need?’ he said.

Eilhu gestured to the horse.

‘They gave me this to ride to war upon.’

The Wild Man laughed, a rich ringing sound which shook the branches above his head. He turned and walked back into the woods. Eilhu felt the rumble of fast approach and watched the trees shaking as something moved towards him and the lame horse.

It snorted, lowering its thick head as it emerged from the trees. A violent light glowed in its eyes, and the black skin gleamed like black water. The Wild Man had a suit of black armour slung over his broad, furred shoulder. Eilhu took it, shocked by how light it was.

The Wild Man tapped it with a finger.

‘Crafted by dwarves, it is light but hard.’

He handed Eilhu a sword, its edges gleaming as Eilhu took the hilt. Its balance was perfect, and he swung the blade in smooth arcs before he stuck it into the ground and changed.

The rumbling intensified as men clad in iron marched in perfect columns, swords flashing in the twilight.

The horse came to Eilhu and lowered itself. He stroked the lame horse and thanked it before taking the saddle off and mounting the war horse. His heels struck the horse and he galloped to war, the columns of men moving to match his pace.

Doran had forced Peter’s army to the brink of defeat. Broken bodies laid in mud churned into frozen brown waves of earth, small groups of Peter’s men struck at the bristling tide of soldiers. Eilhu rose in his saddle, drew his sword and yelled for the men to attack.

The Wild Man’s armies charged as one. Blades rose and fell in perfect rhythm as Doran’s armies broke apart. Eilhu charged, swinging his sword against anyone in range as Peter gazed upon the turn of events with disbelief. Eilhu struck a soldier across the bridge of his nose with his sword, saw the spray of blood and bone chips as he rode past. Peter yelled for his men to attack, seized with a savage joy as they ran towards the retreating enemy.

Eilhu circled the field of battle and heard the horns of Peter’s army declaring victory. His body throbbed with exultation, perspiration dripping down the inside of his helmet as he saw Doran’s soldiers running. He grabbed the reins and took the war horse back to the woods.

The Wild Man petted the lame horse with a delighted focus. He smiled at Eilhu.

‘What do you need?’ he said.

Eilhu told him.

Mirabelle ran to meet her father. His face, streaked with blood and dirt and eyes wide with disbelief but he sat up in his saddle.

‘Father, congratulations on your victory.’ she said.

She wept with relief as he got down from his horse. He shook his head.

‘The victory was not mine.’ he said.

She clutched at her father as he kissed her on the cheek.

‘Another army came to our aid, led by a strange knight. They drove Doran’s armies away and then -‘ Peter sighed and shook his head.

‘What?’ Mirabelle said.

Her father lowered his chin.

‘I did not see him or his army.’ he said.

Intuition flared in Mirabelle’s heart, a candle lit against the darkness of mystery. She kissed her father again and ran to the garden.

The head gardener stood, grafting a bud of apricot to an apple tree when she asked him where his boy was. He bowed and fought the urge to laugh.

‘He’s just come back on that lame horse of his. Wearing his patchwork armour.The lads have been taking the…I mean, they’ve mocked him for cowardice, your highness.’ he said.

Mirabelle’s cheeks burned with heat.

‘And what did he say?’ she said.

He scratched his chin and chuckled.

‘He looked each of them in the eye and said he helped turn the tide. Boy’s got a way about him, I’ll give him that.’ he said.

Mirabelle thanked him. She went to the stables, heard the laughter ringing out as she approached. The sight of her killed it and when she asked to see the lame horse, the boys exchanged nervous glances before obeying her.

She stroked along its neck and sent the boys away. She put her mouth to the horse’s ear and whispered.

‘Where did he take you?’ she said.

Within her thoughts, she wondered who she was asking.

 

 

 

 

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beauty, fairy stories, love, romance, short fiction, women

The Smell Of Wildflowers (The Wild Man 6)

Mirabelle went to the garden often. When she was not there, she would think of it, visiting in her mind whilst her body went through the rituals of court and education. She had been sewing when a cascade of sparkling, golden light fell upon her, a shower of stars at the height of the day. She stood up and walked to the chamber window, watched the man kneeling on the ground. The tan planes of his back glowed like soft, golden fruit beneath the sunlight. His hat was in one hand, and from his head, flowed a mane of tousled, spun gold, glistening and sparkling in the light.

He raised up, looked around him

‘Boy, bring me a bouquet.’ she said.

He raised up and slipped the hat back on, tucking his hair away with a practiced sweep of his fingers before he reached to a crop of wildflowers, cut them with a clasp knife and tied them with a length of cord.

On the winding stone stairs to her chamber. Eilhu met the head gardener who pursed his lips and shook his head at the bunch of wildflowers.

‘Where are you taking those?’ he said.

Eilhu told him and he whistled, under his breath and went to take them from Eilhu. He stepped back.

‘The wild ones smell stronger. She will like them better.’ Eilhu said

He continued on, the head gardener watched him leave, amused by the boy and his certain manner.

Eilhu knocked on her chamber door. She called for him to enter.

She sat in a chair, facing the chamber window. Her auburn hair fell down between her shoulder blades and her long green robe shimmered, inset with garnets and flakes of gold. Her blue eyes fell to the flowers in his hand and she took in their scent.

Eilhu fought the stirring in his chest at the sight of her, the rich, sweet perfume of the flowers filling the room.

‘Who are you?’ she said.

Eilhu passed her the bouquet and bowed from the waist. Mirabelle chuckled at the formal gesture and held them to her nose, inhaled until her head swam from the scent.

‘I work here now, your highness.’ he said.

Mirabelle tittered and covered her mouth with her hand.

‘Aren’t you hot with the hat on?’ she said.

He frowned, touched the brim of his cap and lowered his eyes.

‘No your highness. My scalp, there’s a sore place upon it. It shames me.’ he said.

Mirabelle tilted her head to one side.

‘Take it off.’ she said

Eilhu shook his head.

‘I cannot, your highness.’ he said.

She was quick, motivated by amusement as she pulled the cap from his head. His golden hair rolled down, magnificent and fulfilling. He pulled away, eyes wide with fright but she took his arm and reaching into the purse at her belt, fed a handful of ducats into the pocket of his shirt.

He backed away. Mirabelle’s heart pounded, fierce and loud in her ears.

On his way down, he met the head gardener. Eilhu gave the ducats to him who took them with disbelief.

‘You could buy a lot with these, boy.’ he said.

Eilhu shook his head.

‘I have no interest in gold. Give them to your children.’ he said.

The next day, Mirabelle called for another bouquet and he took one to her. She did not wait for the door to close before she snatched the cap off. Eilhu caught it with both hands as the bouquet fell to the floor. She reached into her purse and gave him a handful of ducats. He walked away, putting his cap back on as he descended the stairs.

The gardener’s children enjoyed his gifts.

On the third day, she called him. They wrestled over his cap, but he smiled and snatched it from her grasp. They stood, inches apart from one another. She narrowed her eyes against the gleam of his hair, the warm determination in his eyes continued to hold her in place.

Her hand rose, fingertips brushing against the curve of his cheekbone before he stepped backwards, turned and left.

On the fourth day, she called and he did not answer. She looked down into the garden, and saw the head gardener, with his children assisting him in simple playful tasks. One of them gazed up at her, and she smiled at the ducats clutched in his hands.

It would be time before she saw him again.

 

 

 

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