fairy stories, love, short fiction, women

In the garden (The Wild Man, Season 2)

Once Upon a Time Eilhu sat in the garden, mute and aching with loss. He had refused the barber’s blade against his cheek and the wound in his thigh throbbed without ceasing. A musk seeped through his pores, leather and warm skin as he would spend hours, still as a statute. His golden hair hung in his face, uncombed and tangled. Paul asked the gardener, Merritt to inform him of Eilhu’s movements but Merritt’s reports were uniform.

Eilhu sat amongst the flowers.

Eilhu sat under a tree, watched the flowers blooming and wiped his eyes when he thought no one was looking.

He did not speak above the words necessary to acknowledge others. Merritt tried to engage in conversation but Eilhu exuded a cold, raw blast of grief, harsh as the north wind which made Merritt flinch and turn away. It reminded him of his own losses.

It was a little before dusk when Merritt came to the garden, to lock the gates for the evening when he found Eilhu asleep, curled at the foot of a birch tree. Petals had fallen into the gold stream of his hair. Merritt stared at him, fighting the chill of melancholy which arose in sympathy with the young man. Despite his silences, Merritt liked Eilhu, he carried none of the airs and graces inherent to nobility but he could not let the man sleep in the garden. He tapped Eilhu on the shoulder and stepped back.

‘Sire, it’s getting dark.’ He said.

Eilhu made a sad noise in the back of his throat.

‘It’s been dark for a while now.’ He said.

He sat up, raked his hair from his face and managed a broken smile.

‘Sorry, I’m not myself these days.’ He said.

Merritt smiled and offered his hand. Eilhu took it, enjoyed the firm, callused grip of Merrit’s hand in his and got up. They stood together and appraised one another. Eilhu recognised the wan light of loss in Merritt’s eyes, and how it reflected his own.

‘Who is?’ Merritt said.

Eilhu turned his head and sighed.

‘I grieve, Merritt, and there is more to come. My parents are dead, and my–‘ he said.

He choked and put his hand over his mouth, closed his eyes as a breath, scorching in its intensity ravaged him from the inside. Merritt went to put an arm around him but stopped, reminded of the disparities in their station. Eilhu ignored the prohibition and brought his lean arms around the elder man’s waist. Merritt held him, fighting his discomfort but possessed of a gratitude to bless the young man with comfort. They drew apart, Merritt asked if Eilhu intended to remain in the garden. Eilhu glanced around him, with eyes welling up with tears.

‘It’s where I feel closest to her.’ He said.

Merritt knew Eilhu had come from somewhere else, the golden hair was a mark of his differences from other men.

‘I will leave you to it.’ He said.

Eilhu thanked him in a dry whisper and Merritt left him.

Grief is the love you never got to spend on another person. Eilhu had a few scraps of memories left to him, and he clung onto them with fervour. He watched Merritt leave and sat back under the tree.

The breeze stirred the branches overhead as he stared up at the evening sky, wondering if she could feel him, wherever she had gone to.

2.

Ernst walked into the council chamber, discomforted by the grandeur of the room. The blood on his blade was wet from a good morning’s hunting. Deer, not men this time. Paul sat in the chair, a goblet of steaming wine held to his mouth and nose.

‘What do we know?’ Paul said.

Ernst cleared his throat and rolled his shoulders.

‘They’ve appointed a regent. No announcements on the funeral, but I doubt you’ll let the boy go, will you?’ he said.

Paul glanced up, the flesh taut to the point of tearing across his thin cheekbones and bruised crescent moons underneath his eyes.

Ernst grunted and shook his head.

‘I’ve always followed you, your highness.’ He said.

Paul gave a rictus grin, pain and amusement following one another, like siblings lost in a deep, dark forest.

‘I’m sensing a but here, Ernst.’ Paul said.

Ernst frowned and folded his hands over one another.

‘You had the sense of a man who knew how the game, but of late, your highness, I worry.’ Ernst said.

Paul swallowed, the Adams apple in his throat bobbing, tendons visible against his pale, thin skin.

‘Worry about what?’ Paul said.

Ernst inhaled through his nose and gritted his teeth.

‘The rules of the game have changed. Without you or I being made aware.’ He said.

Paul chuckled, a grating, wheezing sound which raised the hairs on Ernst’s neck. He asked Ernst to accompany him downstairs.

The tunnel took them into the bowels of the castle. Paul knew the way and negotiated the journey without a light to guide him. Ernst kept pace with him, fighting the crawling urge to retreat towards the light. He did terrible things in darkness, but his soul was sunlight and good earth.

‘Ernst, I should have brought you in sooner. It was not a lack of trust, but you were right.’ Paul said.

He withdrew the key from around his neck and opened the door. Ernst knew the smell of dried blood, but beneath it there was a mineral, cold scent and a drop in temperature which bit into his lungs. Paul gestured for Ernst to follow him.

Ernst, in his peripheral vision saw something coalesce and thicken. He rested his hand on the hilt of his knife and drew back towards the door.

Paul closed it with a brush of his hand and Ernst swallowed, his throat tight with concern.

‘The game has changed. But I hold all the cards.’ Paul said.

Ernst did not have time to draw his dagger before the darkness reached out and grabbed him. He had time to cry out but nothing more, and The Dust was upon him. His cry fed the thick stones of the castle, another voice added to the terrible choir being conducted by Paul’s actions.

The Dust did not grant him death.

It did something far worse.

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beauty, fairy stories, love, short fiction, women

Kings Die like Flies(The Wild Man, Season 2, Episode 4)

Once upon a time, Ernst sat in an inn, drinking an ale of horn. He did not taste a single drop, but the lassitude it inspired kept his feelings inside.

The question he faced was a matter of position.

Paul had been a generous and protective lord, able to play the games of court without forgetting the men who enforced his will. His reputation, made visible by the injuries he endured, leavened the excesses of his brother and when the king and queen succumbed to grief, he stepped into the fold without ceremony.  In return, Paul knew he gave a word and action followed, inevitable as the change of seasons.  Ernst was the last thing enemies of Paul saw. He sat in the corner of the inn, drinking and scowling at anyone who met his gaze. It was a look borne once, then the other patrons found themselves occupied with food, drink or conversation. He kept the blade on his hip in its sheath, resting the meat of his palm on the hilt as a comforting gesture.

Ernst suffered resentment. Paul had sent him out to deal with a small band of thieves who were picking at supply caravans. He returned with a scar on his left forearm and a broken index finger on his right hand, along with the safety of the supply route.

The news of The Wild Man’s capture had unnerved him.

Pride made him sullen and incommunicative. He had captured The Wild Man, dragged him from his mud bed and put him into a cage.

The key had passed to the Queen.

The ball had rolled into the cage.

Ernst slugged down the ale, spiced and brewed until it stung his gums like salted meat. He drank to wash the feelings down, urinating or sweating them into a sharp, trembling scent.

He had asked Paul how The Wild Man had fallen into his capture, but Paul narrowed his eyes, smiled and clapped him on the shoulder, reassuring him of his station and reputation.

It was a hollow gesture. He served his lord with everything but it was no longer the same for him. Age, he told himself, took the shine off things. He laid there with a bellyful of ale and a woman asleep on his arm, hearing a rough, grinding sound in the air and realising it was his teeth working over one another.

Ernst loved the hunt, but he hated rejection. Ernst contemplated death with more pleasure than the unknown.

He ran his tongue over his lips and raised his empty horn. She poured a foaming portion of brown ale into his horn then moved onto another patron. Ernst reached into his tunic for a gold coin and tossed it in a lilting arc for her to catch without missing a step.

The man sat down next to him. The creak of his worn leathers drew Ernst’s attention.

‘Do I look like I want company?’ Ernst said.

The man chuckled and set a gold coin on the table.

‘Do I look like I want to drink alone?’ he said.

Ernst sighed, too awash with bleak thoughts to refuse the man. He noted the lack of dirt and blood beneath the beds of his nails and how the sour stink of unwashed nights did not feel embedded within the man.  He shrugged his shoulders and held his empty horn up for a refill. The maid brought him a refill and a fresh tankard for the other man.

‘So, if you’re to talk, make it quick. Otherwise, drink.’ Ernst said.

The man smiled and raised his flagon to Ernst.

‘A toast to your health.’ He said.

Ernst returned the toast without a sliver of cheer embedded within it.

‘And you.’ He said.

The man grinned and took a deep draught of his ale before settling it on the table.

‘So, you look like someone’s dumped on your day before it began.’ He said.

Ernst scowled and drank from his horn.

‘I don’t share with strangers, no matter how well-meaning.’ He said.

The man extended his hand towards Ernst.

‘Carrey.’ He said.

Ernst took the hand and shook it, measuring the man with a weighted glare before letting go of his hand and picking up his ale.

‘You’re from the West.’ Ernst said.

Carrey smiled and nodded.

‘Yes and looking to get far from the interesting times it’s going through.’ He said.

Ernst grunted and shrugged his shoulders. The drift in conversation had too much in common with his own thoughts.

‘A smart man would move towards them.’ Ernst said.

Carrey shook his head and drank more of the ale.

‘Who said I’m smart?’ he said.

Ernst furrowed his forehead and returned to his ale.

‘I ask myself.’

Carrey heard of the assassination, but passed on rumours Ernst knew. The answers hung before him like fruit from branches, but they eluded his grasp. His world had shifted, and his comfort with the ambiguous had lessened. Ernst was a simple man, used to simple tasks and his focus was immutable. Carrey’s cheer was abrasive to him but a strange comfort passed over them.

‘Kings die like flies.’ Ernst said.

Carrey frowned and finished the last of the ale.

‘Good and bad alike.’ Carrey said.

Ernst spoke about Samuel, his grief and his dissolution at the loss of his son. Carreyblanched and asked for another ale.

‘They died from grief? Is such a thing possible?’ Carrey said.

Ernst nodded but stopped and ran his tongue over his lips.

‘It must be.’ He said.

Carrey got up, wobbling and flushed from the ale and clapped Ernst on the shoulder.

‘Such a thing, for simple men like us to outlive kings. And their sons.’ He said.

Ernst smirked and shook his head.

‘No, not the son. Kidnapped by something in the woods, a fey creature and bound in cold iron.’ Ernst said.

Carrey held his demeanour until he went outside. He clamped his mouth to his face, trembling with shock at the turn of events and walking to the stables, working out what to tell Mirabelle.

Would she go to war for this man? Carrey had taken part in great battles started over lesser insults but he feared their arrival. Age and wisdom had tempered his thirst for blood, but not service and duty.

He stopped as the edge of the blade rested against his throat. The blast of wheat and hop-stained breath warm against his cheek.

‘Now, you can tell me who you are.’ Ernst said.

M B Blissett
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beauty, fiction, short fiction, women

To Guard A Golden Pond (The Wild Man 3)

The Wild Man walked through the deepest parts of the forest, far from the light of day or the scrutiny of determined men. Eilhu sat on his shoulders, staring at the twisted branches and clinging for dear life as they moved far from the kingdom he had known all his life.

‘Where are we going?’ he said.

The Wild Man stopped and reached up to clasp the child in his hands and brought him so their eyes met.

‘I have taken you with me as you asked. Why does it matter where I take you?’ he said

Eilhu looked away to hide the shame of his tears and the Wild Man set him down on the earth.

‘They would have beaten me but I miss them.’ Eilhu said.

The air tasted of moist, teeming leaf and turned, rich soil to Eilhu. The moss banks beneath him were thick like the fur from a hunting trophy and he sat down, lowered his chin and folded his hands in his lap.

‘You will not see them again.’ The Wild Man said.

Eilhu gazed upwards and The Wild Man tilted his head to one side, smiled with all his large, white teeth and stroked his beard in amused contemplation. Never seeing his parents again was too large an idea for his child’s heart and mind, but the Wild Man sat with him and the idea.

‘I have compassion for you. I have much to teach and possess treasures beyond silver and gold.’ he said.

His hand rested upon Eilhu’s head, the palm as large as the moon and he ruffled the boy’s hair.

‘We will start tomorrow.’ he said.

He set the boy on his shoulders again and carried on his journey.

These parts of the forest had no claim upon them. Creatures and plants of all colours and creeds  welcomed his presence. A large pair of amber eyes peered from the leaves at Eilhu then disappeared with a thin hiss.

Eilhu’s hands tightened on The Wild Man’s fur which made him laugh and reach up to pat him on the head for reassurance.

They slept on moss beneath a canopy of branches which blotted out the starlight. Eilhu curled up next to the Wild Man, lulled into sleep by the beautiful, perfect silence of the forest.

The next morning, Eilhu ate a salad of bitter leaves with a haunch of good venison cooked over a spit, all gathered and prepared by The Wild Man without waking him.

‘There is much nourishment in the low and dark places. Your first lesson.’ he said.

Eilhu nodded as his stomach roared with hunger. He chewed and swallowed with glee. After their bellies were full, The Wild Man led him to his first lesson.

A spring sat in the earth, shimmering and tranquil, wreathed in bright flowers as insects danced over the surface. The Wild Man bade Eilhu kneel before it.

‘We care for the sacred places in the earth here. Such a task will teach you things of use, Eilhu.’

Eilhu stared upwards, frowning with confusion.

‘What must I do?’ he said.

The Wild Man gestured towards the water.

‘You must ensure nothing contaminates this water. Its purity is the source of great magic, and to befoul it is a terrible thing.’

He would return each evening to check and strode into the shadows without a trace of his presence beyond his instructions.

The boy sat down at the edge of the spring. A golden fish and sometimes a golden snake appeared from within, and he took care that nothing fell into it. As he was thus sitting there, his finger hurt him, pinched by the iron key and he dipped it into the water. He pulled it out again, but it was gold. However hard he tried to wipe the gold off again, it was to no avail.

In the evening The Wild Man returned and looked at Eilhu.

‘What has happened to the spring?’

Eilhu held his finger behind his back.

‘Nothing, nothing,’ he said.

The Wild Man reached and pointed to Eilhu’s hand without a hint of surprise or recrimination.

‘You have dipped your finger into the water. This time I will let it go, but be careful that you do not again let anything else fall in.’

the next morning the boy was sitting by the spring and keeping watch. His finger hurt him again, and he rubbed it across his head. A hair fell down into the spring. He pulled it out, but it shimmered, covered with gold.

Iron Hans came and already knew what had happened.

‘You have let a hair fall into the spring,’ he said.

‘I will overlook this once more, but if it happens a third time, then the spring will corrupt, and you can no longer stay with me.’

On the third day the boy sat by the spring and did not move his finger, however much it hurt him. But time passed slow for him, and he looked at his reflection in the water. While doing this he bent down lower and lower, wanting to look straight into his eyes, when his long hair fell from his shoulders down into the water. He straightened himself up, but all the hair on his head was golden, and glistened like the sun. He took his handkerchief and tied it around his head.

When the man came, he knew everything, and pointed towards Eilhu.

‘Untie the handkerchief.’

The golden hair streamed forth, and no excuse that the boy could offer was of  use.

“You have failed the test, and you can stay here no longer. Go out into the world. There you will learn what poverty is. But because you are not bad at heart, and because I mean well by you, I will grant you one thing: If you are ever in need, go into the woods and cry out, ‘Wild Man,’ and then I will come and help you. My power is great, greater than you think, and I have more than enough gold and silver.”

Eilhu got to his feet, weeping until his insides burned like hot coals and walked away, tying the handkerchief around his head. He looked over his shoulder, saw the Wild Man stood there, eyes shining with compassion but unmoving and unwilling to call him back.

He walked through the forest, slept beneath trees and drank from rivers and springs, but even those meals grew sparse until he found himself in open ground, stinking and frightened, looking at the massive castle on the hill.

Eilhu stood before the castle gates, wiped the dirt from the back of his neck and ran his tongue over his teeth. The battlements reached high into the sky and he stared upwards. Desperation and hunger made him brave beyond his years, and despite his exile, the lessons of the Wild Man sat in his bones.

‘Why did you not teach me a bloody trade?’ he said.

The wind brought the gentle mocking laughter of The Wild Man to him, imagined over being heard and he scowled with frustration.

‘Why didn’t your father?’ The Wild Man said.

Eilhu was a prince once upon a time, but now he was a ragged, dirty beggar with golden hair he hid beneath a battered hat and a fingertip wrapped in a soiled length of rag. The answer did not come in word but memory, a strained indifference to the needs of a son in favour of spectacle and selfishness. A good king, but not a good father.

He knocked on the door and waited for an answer.

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