THREE DAYS, THEN A FOURTH.
Once Upon a Time, Eilhu laid in the garden and stared at the sky. His insides hummed with a persistent fear, an acidic burst of hot, squalling concern which made itself known with each breath he took but he willed his face to remain calm, even bored. The servants had instructions not to disturb him, handed down from the king, but they watched him with a growing unease. For three days, he exuded a cold silence which stopped anyone from approaching him as he laid in the garden.
The sounds of his grief travelled across the castle like migrating birds.
Eilhu laid in the same spot each day beneath the largest willow, staring up at the gentle dance of the branches as petals made wistful arcs of descent into the ground beneath. The good, soft earth bore the outline of where he laid, blades of grass flattened in all directions and underneath it, a small divot of earth replaced by hand. Eilhu laid atop it each day as his head throbbed with the weight of secrets and a child’s faith.
Dusk fell on the garden, made the shadows thick and strong as Eilhu sat up and patted the ground underneath him before he got up. He glanced around, saw he was alone and allowed himself the grim luxury of a smile before he turned on his heel and spat onto the ground then worked the saliva with the heel of his boot before walking away with his hands behind his back.
The courtyard stunk of burned hair and flesh. Eilhu held his breath until he was back in his chambers and closed the door behind him. He washed his hands and face and walked over to the window which looked out onto the garden. Paul had The Wild Man’s corpse tied to chains and dragged up through the castle, teams of soldiers working in concert before being hung by the ankles from a large wooden frame. Eilhu turned his gaze at the first flash of the blade and the joyous howl of the court made him nauseous. Paul pronounced the sentence, but he knew the crowd were beyond the call of reason so he played to the theatre of the event, talking about the Wild Man’s crimes against the kingdom. He retold the story of Eilhu’s abduction, emphasising his brother’s grief and how it had stolen the breath from their lungs.
Eilhu held himself in check as he watched his uncle. His teeth gritted together and his hands were fists, bouncing against his lean thighs as he played the grieving, wounded son. His hand strayed to the tuft of hair held in the pocket of the tunic as he waited for the celebration to conclude. He made himself watch it all, including the point where they decapitated him, two soldiers with axes who worked in concert to compensate for The Wild Man’s thick neck. His insides were ash by the end of it, but he made himself walk to the garden afterwards and stand underneath the willow tree.
He dropped into a crouch and with his right hand, dug his fingers into the earth and pulled the grass up, tossing it aside before he scraped into the dirt with his fingernails. He buried the tuft of hair in the hole and covered it with a sweep of his hand then laid down, covering it with his body as he stared up at the sky.
The anger was bitter medicine, boiled on the fires of his grief for Mirabelle, blended with the bitter berries of suspicion and sweetened by the promise of revenge.
Justice was for kings and courts. Eilhu’s need was base and crude, but it gave him the will to get up and fight.
On the fourth day, he did not go to the garden but instead joined Paul at petitions, which drew concerned glances from the court but his presence lent Paul vigour and generosity of spirit. Eilhu joined him for a cup of wine afterwards, asking questions which showed his understanding of the questions and decisions made during the hour. He followed Paul for the rest of the day, retiring to the garden at sunset to sit in his usual spot before he went to his chambers for the rest of the night.
Paul laid on his narrow bed, tracing the silver scar where the arrow had punched into him all those years, the flesh puckered and warped from where the shit had gotten into the wound, ravaging his body and eating tissues like a starved man at a feast. It ached at night alongside his other injuries but this held special associations for him. It had been mortality’s first and lasting gift to him, a transition for boorish warrior to the man he was now. He laid there, awash with a cautious optimism which he forced himself to deny to avoid disappointment during the last few years.
The rumbling began and Paul got up from the bed, staggered over to the window and saw a column of earth shoot upwards, filling the twilit sky with clouds of spilled earth. He bellowed for his guards and shielded his eyes from the dirt which flew in every direction. He thought it sounded like a roar, such was its volume. He accompanied his guards to see what had happened.
The garden was a crater which went deep into the earth. All the plants and earth evaporated into dust. Paul took charge and assigned soldiers to clear it away. He retired at dawn, tight and fragile with pain.
An hour passed when Paul heard the rap of knuckles on his door. A guard entered with fearful eyes as he bowed to his king and when he gave his news, his voice was a broken, fragile thing.
‘Eilhu isn’t in his chamber.’