beauty, fairy stories, love, women

Have You Seen Your Heart (The Wild Man Season 3)

Once upon a time, Eilhu awoke from a thin, restless sleep. Beloved had pointed to a stack of cushions and told him he could sleep there. Her tone was light, but authoritative as she peered through the open door, cautious of more visitors. Her braids fell from her skull like vines as she shook her head and shut the door to the caravan.

‘He sends his troubles as single spies, but they arrive as battalions.’ She said.

Eilhu stooped within the caravan but Beloved negotiated the small space with a graceful ease, aware and cogent as she took a stoppered bottle and offered it to him. He took it and uncorked the bottle. It smelled of liniment and honeycomb, turning his stomach as he shook his head and passed it back. Beloved took a deep draught and swallowed with a deep grunt before she shivered with the bitterness.

‘Breakfast.’ She said.

Eilhu glanced around the caravan, hopeful she would produce a good haunch of meat or a crust of bread as a punch line to the general strangeness of the situation.

‘I’ve drunk my share of breakfasts but it smells potent.’

She smirked and shook her head.

‘It speaks to the second heart within you. We drink it every day.’ She said.

He took the bottle back and poured it into his mouth. It was thick, fermented with the pang of brine underneath the herbs and honey, coating the roof of his mouth as he swallowed it. He bent forward at the waist, struggled not to gag and kept it down. He shuddered before the warmth in his stomach smoothed out, turned the churning affront into a smooth, slow balm which made him glow from within. He stood up, banged the crown of his head against the roof of the caravan and winced. Beloved chuckled and opened the door, letting in the harsh curtain of sunshine as she stepped outside.

Eilhu followed her. The air hung with the matted warmth of worked horses, the smell of campfires and cooking meat but the sun hung high overhead and Eilhu appreciated the clean beauty of the morning as Beloved performed a series of stretches as other travellers and merchants acknowledged her with greetings in a variety of languages. Eilhu took a deep breath and glanced up at the mountains shrouded in mist.

‘We travelled far last night.’ He said.

Beloved kept her back to him as she dropped into a horse stance and sucked in the clear air, raising her chin to the sky and extended her arms to either side.

‘There’s no money in resting out here, Eilhu. The Wild Man has no use for commerce but us humans need a coin kept aside for food and shelter.’ She said.

Eilhu recalled the pale, fanged children who chased him through the woods. They had no use for commerce either. Beloved turned her shoulders and looked at him.

‘He sent you. I will train you and offer safe passage until we reach the harbour, but there are things you must offer.’ She said.

‘Such as?’

Beloved’s smile fell away.

‘Your truth. If you are to develop, then I must insist on your truth. Much of our training starts from here.’

She tapped her index finger over her breastbone with a controlled expression.

‘My breath?’ Eilhu said.

‘Your heart.’

Eilhu glanced away and made fists of his hands.

‘There’s no point.’ He said.

Beloved laughed and shook  her head.

‘Have you seen a heart?’ she said.

Eilhu recalled Paul’s knife, flashing in the afternoon light as it hacked into the Wild Man’s chest, how he had plunged his hands into the wet cavern of his open anatomy and pulled out a thick knot of muscle, dripping with blood. He grimaced and Beloved closed the distance between them and struck him. The blow was too fast to avoid and he staggered back, his sinuses sung with pain as he cried out.

‘What are you doing?’ he said.

She stood and appraised him with care, her hands by her sides.

‘Have you seen a heart?’ she said.

He nodded.

‘Can it break?’ she said.

Eilhu fought the threatened thump of his heart, the urge to retaliate charging through his muscles, compelling him to action.

‘You have faced greater odds than grief, Eilhu. The Wild Man raises no fools and I recognise my kin in you.’ She said.

Eilhu frowned as he rubbed his cheek.

‘And hitting me helps?’ he said.

She chuckled.

‘Would she want you to devolve into a mewling worm in her absence?’ she said.

He shook his head as an enormous grief weighed on his insides, like a slab dropped onto him from a great height.

‘ You slapping me changes nothing.’ He said.

She raised an eyebrow and stepped backwards.

‘Unless you try hitting me back?’ she said.

He shifted, uncomfortable with the invitation and appraised her with concern.  He sighed and brought his left hand up, jabbing at her with a speed which surprised him.

Her hands clamped on either side of his wrist and her fingertips found channels of agony which blazed down his arm. His head filled up with white agony and he fought the urge to cry out as he collapsed onto his knees. His left arm flopped down as Beloved relinquished her grip and stepped back.

‘Did you grieve in the moment, Eilhu?’ she said.

He grunted no and massaged his arm as he struggled to his feet.

‘No, can’t say I did. You said we were kin, what do you mean?’

Beloved smiled.

‘The Wild Man does not restrict his rescue efforts to princes, Eilhu.’

Eilhu flexed his left hand and put his hands up to defend himself.

‘Then show me what you’ve learned.’ He said.

She smiled and began his training.

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A Bleak Reassurance (The Wild Man, Season 3, Episode 4)

Once Upon a Time, Carrey stood with Liam, a reassuring hand on his shoulder as they stood before the closed door to the infirmary.  Carrey  wore black chain mail over leather since taking the throne as regent and had his familial sword Dawn sheathed on his hip. He had commanded a small group of guards to accompany him, their fear registered in the metallic tang of their sweat and the liquid, concerned eyes which met his gaze.  Carrey ordered his men to surround the door and enter, he squeezed Liam’s shoulder and pushed him forwards.

‘Whatever’s behind the door, we face it as men, understand?’ he said.

Carrey’s voice carried, lending courage to the surrounding men. The bodies at the inn had their entrails dragged and festooned over the ceiling beams and tables like pink and yellow banners of victory and the one survivor had injuries Carrey knew were common not in the heat of battle, but the aftermath.  Liam raised the guard. Carrey drew Dawn and held it to his eyes, admired the blonde–red sheen of the metal and took a deep breath. A cold, sinking dread which pulled at his insides as he ordered his men forward.

Blood welled underneath the door and the guard stepped back with his weapon drawn as another pulled the door open. They exchanged potent looks before they swept inside.

Carrey smelled the blood and shit, the stink of voided bodies and all of it packed like clay into each breath.  Liam pitched forwards and made a tight, mewling sound at the back of his throat as he held his sword ahead of him.

‘She said there was something wrong with the woman, your highness.’ Liam said.

There was no sign of Gwyneth but the walls and floor as the guards swept through, swords drawn and eyes narrowed to slits. Four men entered, ahead of Carrey. They stopped when they got to the rows of cots and Carrey heard someone gag with revulsion. He pushed past to see what had disgusted them. He regretted his decision in an instant.

It was the woman from the inn.

Most of her.

From collarbone to thighs, she was a wet, glistening ruin. The contents of her stomach shredded and pulled out, with glistening ropes of intestine dangling in all directions. Her last expression was one of  relief. Carrey peered at the remains of her pelvis and glanced in Liam’s direction. He asked him what the woman had said, and Liam repeated the words he’d heard.

There had been something inside her.

It had gotten out.

Carrey saw the horrors men inflicted on themselves and one another, it made him tactile with his children, patient with his wife and earnest with his men but this, much like the inn, showed signs of something inhuman.

The arrow fired without an archer.

Henry driven to murderous intent.

He had the men search the rest of the infirmary. They flipped cots, lit torches and moved furniture with the urgency of fear.

There was no sign of Gwyneth. Carrey strode outside, took a deep breath to fill his lungs with good, clean air instead of the miasma which clotted his sinuses and throat. A guard came to him, asked him for his orders and Carrey stared out into the night.

‘Double the patrols. Send word to the homesteads and huntsmen to report anything strange.’ He said.

The guard nodded and ran to enact the regent’s will.

Carrey wanted Eilhu, Paul or Mirabelle here. The former had a touch of wildness to him, and had manifested displays of prowess at the perfect time, Paul had tremendous wisdom and his daughter took after her father.  He sheathed Dawn, adjusted his gauntlets and walked back to the infirmary.

‘See she’s given a good burial. Find Gwyneth as soon as you can.’ He said.

The guard asked if they should wait until first light but Carrey grimaced and shook his head.

‘I doubt I’ll sleep so let’s use it for a purpose, eh?’ he said.

The guard bowed from the waist and ran to summon men and horses. Carrey waited until he was alone before emitting a slow, tight shudder.

Carrey’s education had been broad and involved. He knew the sigils of the great houses and the signs of a good steward but he also knew how to thread a fish hook and skin a deer. He knew the life cycles of insects and animals, and those lessons returned to him, taught again in the ruined bodies he came across.

Certain breeds bred by guile and force.

Some men too, he thought, but this was no man.  He recalled a species of wasp which laid its eggs in the flesh of others and waited for its young to eat their way out from the inside. His hand touched the hilt of Dawn for reassurance. Carrey had always set stock by the things he could touch or see but the fear which burned in his chest held sway over everything.

He sent a messenger to The Caliphate and another to the High Colleges before he prepared the court for what came to dog their steps. It was dawn before he slipped beneath the furs on his bed and his wife, Susannah woke up to find him staring at her, his eyes shining with tears as he pulled her close.

He pressed himself against her. Susannah knotted her fingers in his as he whispered how he loved her and wanted her. Their coupling was urgent in its passion and soon over but afterwards, he collapsed against her and fell into a deep, thick sleep. Susannah stroked his hair as she wondered what had frightened her husband.

He turned his head in sleep and muttered a phrase which made her flesh prickle with distaste.

‘There will be more.’ He said.

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The Flavour of Light (The Wild Man, Season 3, Episode 3)

Once Upon a Time, Mirabelle sat in The Grand Library of The Caliphate and stared at the growing stack of books which Asra deposited on the table in front of her.

‘Isn’t there a way you could just tell me what to do?’ Mirabelle said.

Asra beamed and shook her head. She deposited the last four volumes of Riz Al-Jabar’s diaries and stood back with her arms folded across her chest.

‘You will tell others what to do Mirabelle, but you will understand why.’ She said.

The rigours of the library were the work of The High Colleges across the water, men who sacrificed land and title to further knowledge but she noted the shimmer of headscarves as men and women acted on Asra’s will.  She reached to retrieve a book but Asra shook her head and passed over a pair of black velvet gloves to her.  Mirabelle slipped the gloves on and flexed her fingers.

‘These books must be old.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra swept to Mirabelle’s right-hand side and put her mouth to Mirabelle’s ear.

‘Poisonous too.’ She said.

Mirabelle shivered and folded her arms across her chest.

‘I’m not sure about this.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra untied the ribbon around a sheaf of papers and uncurled them onto the desk.

‘Always a good place to begin.’ She said.

Mirabelle peered at the writing, symbols arranged into groups of three or four, surrounded by ornate patterns of single slashes and dots which drew the eye with their intense detail. She looked up, feeling her cheeks flush as Asra traced along the patterns with her index finger.

‘I don’t understand it. I can read and write but this is High College work.’ She said.

Asra sighed and shook her head.

‘Knowledge is too precious.’ Asra said.

Her knowing smirk made Mirabelle’s cheeks hot. Mirabelle followed Asra’s finger as she translated the patterns.

They left the library, squinting against the light of the afternoon so Asra could partake of her prayers and then a light lunch served in the gardens. Mirabelle’s head swum with the dense, accumulated knowledge. A procession of horrors and myths which had reached out from the past to gouge their names onto the present.  Mirabelle thought the food was delicious, but it turned to ashes in her mouth as she remembered the sick, ugly light of the arrow and the afterimages of the symbols carved into it.

She remembered her father’s final expression of shock and disbelief.

Asra noted how she pushed her plate away and gestured to the food.

‘My fears used to go to my stomach too.’ She said.

Mirabelle blustered and picked up a cube of beef, dripping with a fragrant pomegranate and cumin sauce.

‘I’m sorry.’ She said.

Asra rested her hand on top of Mirabelle’s and gazed into her eyes. Mirabelle stared back, the dark, almond shaped eyes fringed with long curled lashes set into her fine, strong features were beguiling.

‘A coward and a hero have the same fear. Which are you?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle set the meat down and slipped her hand from Asra’s.

‘I’m neither.’ She said.

Asra tutted and shook her head.

‘In private yes, but before your people, you must appear to know the way of things.’ She said

Mirabelle looked away and Asra’s hand reached out to take hers again.

‘There is something else, isn’t there?’ she said.

Mirabelle swallowed and gave a small, tight nod.

She told Asra about Eilhu. To her surprise, she watched a slow wave of heat travel up her throat and into her cheeks.

Asra sat back and put her fingertips together.

‘Well that is fascinating. Did your father know?’ she said.

Mirabelle shook her head and blushed as hard as Asra. Asra leaned forwards, her full lips curved into a warm smile.

‘We go to such pains to deceive our fathers when we become women. Father had no choice to accept me as I am.’ She said.

Mirabelle agreed but her mind was awash with memories of Eilhu, whispered touches and the grand, rolling heat of desire.

His lips.

His touch.

She had known such warmth with him, and despite the distance, his attention still spoke to the hidden places within herself. Not a princess, not a queen but a woman.

She wondered if she would have his forgiveness if they survived these events.

‘Would you tell me about this man?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle’s mouth was dry and she gulped from the goblet of water to her right before she nodded.

‘Oh Asra, I’m sure your stories are more entertaining than mine.’ She said.

Asra gave a soft chuckle and leaned into Mirabelle’s space.

‘Yes, but I’ve heard all mine. Come, if we are to face darkness then we must know the flavour of light, do you agree?’ she said.

Mirabelle’s heart thumped, the internal conflict of grief, guilt and desire spun gossamer webs within her bones as she took a deep breath and spoke.

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its father’s eyes (the wild man, season 3)

Once Upon a Time, Gwyneth woke from sleep by the sound of strained whispers, slithering down the hall to where she sat, warming her dry, withered hands by the fire and watching the flames lick at the bundles of sticks stacked like sacrifices at its base. She opened her eyes, ran her tongue over her cracked lips and peered into the gloom past the warm light cast by the firelight. Her hips and knees protested as she stood up and called out to Liam, the guard who stood watches with her as they waited for the woman to regain her senses.

She had survived a terrible night, every patron and member of staff reduced to stain and gibbet and bore injuries of an intimate nature. Gwyneth arrested the worst of it, making a damp poultice and bandaging it in place between her bruised thighs then giving the woman a draught to send her into a deep and dreamless sleep. If it had been a time of war, she would have run an edge along the woman’s throat but the regent had insisted on her being kept alive to bear witness. Gwyneth shuffled down the hall, kicked Liam in the shin. He awoke with a panicked snort and got up, clutching the hilt of his sword and stared around him in surprise.

‘She’s awake.’ Gwyneth said.

Liam adjusted his helmet and blinked twice before he grunted.

‘Not sure what good I’ll be.’ He said.

Gwyneth chuckled. Men bore torrents of blood and broken bones but the bodies of women were still arcane to them. She shook her head and continued down the hall. Her lower body ached with each step, spurs of pain digging into each tendon like a thorn, but she carried on without pause. The woman tossed and turned in her bed, hands splayed over the tight, rounded drum of her stomach as she breathed in sharp, urgent spurts through her nose. Her hair was dark and damp with sweat, framing her pale, frightened features as she looked at Gwyneth.

‘There’s something inside me.’ She said.

Gwyneth bit the inside of her cheek. Survival was not the gift others believed it to be. The mind played tricks on the body which made the former a pleasing alternative. She had tended to soldiers who still felt the fingers on hands cleaved away in battle and the woman’s injuries spoke to a different grief. She reached for a length of cloth, dipped it in the bowl of water and daubed it across her forehead.

‘There’s no bastard in your belly.’ Gwyneth said.

She stared at Gwyneth, eyes white and bulging with shock before her lips peeled back over her teeth and she screamed. Her voice was raw and sharp, scraped and bleeding with need.

‘There’s something moving inside me.’ She said.

Gwyneth placed her palm over the woman’s distended belly. She consulted the long list of conditions which arose from trauma and battle, a small cut could end up ravaging a person from the inside but when the muscles of the woman’s abdomen pushed back against her withered palm, Gwyneth forced the shudder of horror downwards and turned to Liam.

‘Get someone.’ She said.

Liam nodded and ran, his armour clattering with each stride as he left the two women to their pain. There had been points emerging from within the woman’s belly and Gwyneth set the cloth aside and picked up a small hooked knife and held it against the length of her forearm as she leaned over and looked into the woman’s eyes.

‘Whatever’s inside you, it cannot suffer to live.’ She said.

The woman nodded and snatched Gwyneth’s hand, pulled it towards her sweating throat and stared into her eyes with the force of utter despair.

‘Kill me.’ She said.

Gwyneth closed her eyes and turned the blade so the hilt rested in the meat of her palm as she rested her other hand on the woman’s forehead.

The woman closed her eyes and gave a short nod as Gwyneth grimaced.

‘Be at peace.’ Gwyneth said.

She swiped the tip of the blade from left to right, slashing across both arteries with a steady hand before stepping backwards and clutching the woman’s hand in hers as she squeezed, bucking and choking on the bed as she bled out. Her last expression was not horror or surprise but relief. The convulsions stopped in sympathy with her heart and Gwyneth set the blade down, her attention focused on the woman’s distended abdomen. It sunk into a concave and Gwyneth went to find sage to cover the stink of voided bowels and spilled blood

Gwyneth heard the thick ripping sound call to her as she walked away, followed by the sound of a liquid splash and something soft slapping to the stone floor. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the glint of wet bone, curved into  five singular sharp points and flexing against the night air. The bloodied knife was next to the bowl of water and Gwyneth clamped her hand over her mouth as a black, emaciated arm glistening with scales and the blunt triangle of a shoulder emerged.

An eye stared at her, glowing with a terrible hatred and she ran from it.  She shouted for help as she heard the gelid slap of motion and the screech of sharp claws against the stone floor. Whatever had emerged from the anatomic ruins did so in full knowledge of its purpose. Gwyneth made it to the door before claws punched into the meat of her shoulders and shoved her against the door, clipping her chin and snapping the bones in her neck with a sharp crack as feeling fled from everything below her neck. It was a small, final mercy but the tiny, sharp claws raked through her hair and she heard the keening song of a predator taking delight in their work.

It had its father’s eyes.

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Have I Let You Down (The Wild Man Season 2)

Once Upon a Time Eilhu took a deep breath and walked in as the door closed behind him.

 

The Wild Man sat in the corner of the room. His wet fur scent filled the cell like fog and beneath it Eilhu caught the tang of burned flesh.

 

‘You’ve lost some of the light in your eyes.’ The Wild Man said.

 

Eilhu turned the knife over in his hands. He sucked in a deep breath and looked up.

 

‘You need a bath.’ he said.

 

The Wild Man laughed and pointed at the knife in Eilhu’s hands.

 

‘Is it for me?’ he said.

 

Eilhu looked up, his eyes were hard with feeling. His fingers curled around the hilt of the dagger.

 

‘I think it’s supposed to be.’ he said.

 

The Wild Man tilted his head to one side and gave a wistful smile.

 

‘A gift from your uncle. He’s a cunning man. Was he always like that?’ he said.

 

Eilhu turned and looked at the cell door before he strode over to the Wild Man and wrapped his arms around his thick neck. He put his mouth to the Wild Man’s ear and whispered as his eyes prickled with tears.

 

‘He’s done something terrible hasn’t he?’ he said.

 

The Wild Man nodded and Eilhu squeezed him tighter.

 

‘What scares me is what he’s done.’ he said.

 

The Wild Man tried to pat him on the back but the manacles bit into his wrists and a hiss of burning flesh. Eilhu stepped back and wiped his eyes with the knuckle of his left hand.

 

‘We can’t stay here.’ he said.

 

The Wild Man turned his hands outwards and sighed as Eilhu saw the silver spirals of scars down the length of his thick forearms from blood and pus. He drew them as far as the chains would allow and got up into a crouch. There was a warm fear in his eyes and it made Eilhu’s heart ache with anger.

 

‘I ought to walk out and drive this into his fucking chest.’ Eilhu said.

 

The Wild Man smirked and exhaled, like the rush of an autumn breeze.

 

‘You’d never make it past the courtyard.’ he said

 

Eilhu smiled. It was awkward at first because he had gone to the depths of himself through grief.

 

‘We did when I was eight years old.’ he said.

 

The Wild Man’s smile softened and he leaned forward.

 

‘I never took you. Part of me wonders what might have been.’ he said.

 

Eilhu turned around then glanced back at The Wild Man.

 

‘I asked you to take me with you. Whatever happened afterwards was my responsibility.’

 

The Wild Man beamed and nodded his head.

 

‘There is something of me in you. Now, we won’t do it today.’ he said.

 

He leaned forward and whispered into Eilhu’s ear. Eilhu listened and remembered. He stood back and snatched a tuft of fur from just behind The Wild Man’s ear. He roared and it made Eilhu stumble back.

 

Eilhu lifted the knife up and tucked the tuft of fur into the pocket of his tunic. He shook his head but the knife in his hand was steady.

 

‘Are you sure?’ he said.

 

The Wild Man nodded.

 

‘Have I let you down before?’ he said.

 

Eilhu shook his head. The Wild Man laughed, shaking his fists.

 

‘Then do it.’

 

Eilhu lunged forward, bringing the knife upwards, slipping it between the ribs thick as his own arm and feeling the muscles of the heart part beneath its kiss. The Wild Man gritted his teeth, exhaled and did not scream. His eyes locked onto Eilhu and tears fat as babies ran down his furred cheeks.

 

‘Thank you.’ he said.

 

Eilhu stepped back as the blade slid out with a wet suckling pop and the first fingers of blood sliding down from the wood. His blood was green like sap and he closed his eyes as though falling asleep before he sagged against his chains.

 

Eilhu collapsed onto his knees and wept. The door opened behind him and he felt his uncle’s hand on his shoulder. He looked into his uncle’s eyes and thanked him.

 

‘We have a lot to do.’ Paul said.

 

Eilhu held his gaze as he pulled his uncle into his embrace and looked past him at the body of The Wild Man.

 

‘Yes we do, uncle, yes we do.’ he said.

 

END OF SEASON 2.

(The previous episodes can be found here and here)

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I hope you’ve enjoyed The Wild Man thus far, if you’ve any questions, please ask them below because I am interested in what you think and feel about the stories.

 

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Cold Iron Burns (The Wild Man Season 2)

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.

2.

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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The Blind Appetites of Plants (The Wild Man, Season 2)

Once Upon a Time, Mirabelle awoke to the echoes of prayers reverberating around the chamber, pulled from a lustful, twisting dream like a fish from water. The air shimmered with the heat and she reached for the wide wooden bowl of water, washing away the grit from her eyes. Her travelling clothes were too thick for the climate, and she had a white robe and a Shayla, a headscarf which she put on with care, recalling how Asra wore hers. She walked around the room, marvelling at the woven tapestries, the furred textures and  colours were sensuous enough to take her breath away. Banners and tapestries at home were martial celebrations, fallen enemies and lauded victories in colours of blood and soil. The Caliphate was a place where sense and spirit were indivisible, knowledge seen as a weapon to equal the sharpest spear. Mirabelle was here on business, but the atmosphere had seeped beneath her skin.

Eilhu would love this place. The thought was bittersweet and she pressed her palm against her collarbone, fighting the ache of his absence.

‘Good morning, your highness.’

Asra stood in the doorway, without a Shayla but wearing a red loose gown which had the liquid sheen of silk, stressing the lean length of her physique as she smiled at Mirabelle.

‘Please, I am Mirabelle.’ She said.

Asra’s smile widened as she rolled her eyes, gestured towards Mirabelle with her tattooed fingers.

‘Mirabelle.’ She said.

Mirabelle’s nascent mood dived downwards and she recalled her father, both in life and death.

‘I owe you an explanation.’ She said.

Asra offered her hand, her dark eyes weighted with expectation and curiosity.

‘Over breakfast, then?’ she said.

Mirabelle took her arm and they went down to eat in the garden.

They took the long route through the qusur, a series of tunnels which ran through the reservoir. Mirabelle took it all in with awe as Asra showed her the gardens, but stopped at a corner kept apart by a large wall and a spiked metal gate with a large, ornate lock set into the centre. The change in temperature made Mirabelle shiver, but it was a pleasurable sensation to wander through the cool darkness.

‘I expected to meet the Caliph.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra nodded as she retrieved a key with a slow flick of her wrist and turned it in the lock.

‘All in good time, Sir Carrey sent word of what you needed and it is something I can provide.’ She said.

Mirabelle enjoyed the low purr of Asra’s voice, cultured and erudite with a note of dark power which resonated in the hollows of her bones. She fought the tender sparks of nerves which flew up within her.

‘You’re more informed than I.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra pushed open the gate and waved Mirabelle through.

‘You wish to know the face of your enemy.’ She said.

Mirabelle gasped at the variety and tumescence of the plant life.

Thick, purple vines with swollen berries dripping white, pearlescent liquid.

A horned bush which undulated in patterns of exploration, a sinuous, blind dance which unnerved and intrigued Mirabelle.

A tall bank of yellow flowers, which hummed, the pressure and volume pooling in Mirabelle’s sinuses until she swayed on her feet.

Asra put a hand on her shoulder and drew her backwards, which made the effect of the plants lessen until it became a curiosity.

‘What are those?’ Mirabelle said.

Asra took her arm and led her from the garden.

‘As an exercise, ask yourself the question and we can discuss your answers.’ Asra said.

Mirabelle frowned with polite distaste but Asra chuckled.

‘I offer knowledge but you must earn it.’

Mirabelle turned and faced Asra.

‘I’ve had to trick the people I love into believing me dead, Lady Asra, the least you can do is answer a straight question.’ She said.

Asra locked the gate and appraised Mirabelle with care.

‘You face an enemy who has feasted on the bones of Gods. Some idiot summoned it.’ She said.

Mirabelle paled and sucked the cool air into her nostrils, the hiss of a candle flame extinguished in a single deft pinch.

‘They murdered my father.’ she said.

Asra bowed her head.

‘No, I meant an idiot in they have unleashed something they cannot hope to control.’  Asra said.

Mirabelle thought of Carrey, Eilhu, her father. The people who loved her.

‘What does the garden have to do with it?’

Asra shook her head.

‘Ask yourself and answer it as we break our fast.’ She said.

They feasted on dates as sweet as stolen kisses, milk as thick and rich as a lover’s thigh. Asra asked Mirabelle for her answer.

‘They’re plants.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra nodded in agreement.

‘What does a plant want to do?’ she said.

‘Feed and grow.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra clapped her hands together.

‘Does it know reason?’ she said.

Mirabelle shook her head.

‘Then it becomes a matter as simple as black and white. What are you to do?’ she said.

Mirabelle swallowed, recalling the agonies she faced at the hands of this unknown antagonist.

‘Find out what it takes to kill it.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra smiled, as cold a gesture as a knife drawn across a throat.

‘I like you.’ Asra said.

(The Wild Man – Omnibus from the beginning. Season 2 is https://mbblissett.com/2017/08/11/the-wild-man-season-2-omnibus-2/.

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