Eda asked the child to follow her through the castle and along to Sir Malcolm’s living quarters. She was a mere twelve years of age. A scrawny little thing she was, and nervous too. Just like Eda had been eight years ago. She took the girl’s hand.
‘No need to shiver, little one. Don’t be scared of Sir Malcolm. He will happily welcome you into his home when he returns, as he did with me.’ Eda gave the girl a promising smile.
The child didn’t reply, but instead took in the sights of her new home, of knights sparring on the evening lawns with ladies observing, goblets in hand. Eda remembered the wonder that met her at the gates of Aralet Castle. The sights of glistening armour and fine ermine. The smell of sweet morning bread, and the happy hum of hard work in the mornings.
They stopped at Sir Malcolm’s doors. Brenner rushed out, his face flushed.
‘Eda! Thank god you’re here.’ Brenner sighed with relief and ushered her along. ‘Sir Malcolm has returned. He only asks for you.’
‘Is there something wrong?’
‘Well, Sir Malcolm isn’t quite himself.’
Eda sensed Brenner was holding something back.
Four of the female servants hung around the bedchamber door, worried for their master. Eda knocked and was told to enter.
The wooden bath had been filled to the brim with steaming water. A shower of petals floated red on the surface of the tub. Sir Malcolm’s sword, Harmony, hung up on the wall back in her home. Sir Malcolm leant against his four-poster bed still in full armour.
It was always Brenner that took off Sir Malcolm’s armour. Questions rose in Eda’s head.
Eda curtsied. ‘Good evening, my lord. I’m glad you’ve returned safely.’
‘Eda, you are looking well. I’m sorry for taking you away from your duties but my current situation calls for gentle hands, and I know no better.’
A whisper of a blush sat on her cheeks.
Eda set to unbuckling his armour. As beautiful as it was, Eda admired more the skin of the man beneath, tanned after mornings sparring in the sun, and creased by the lips for the smiles he gave as common as coppers.
When Eda had unbuckled him fully, she turned away to let Sir Malcolm remove his tunic and climb into the bath. Eda refused to let her eyes roam, like the other servant girls’ would. Her respect for the knight was stubborn, as was his for her.
Sir Malcolm sucked in a gasp through his teeth. He yelped.
Eda whipped around.
‘My lord are you—‘ Eda had no need to ask the question, as it answered itself.
She stood back, her mouth agape.
Sir Malcolm’s body had been attacked. No blood, but instead a thick pungent pus flowed from the wounds all over his skin.
‘I’m fine, Eda. How can I be called a knight without a few scratches?’ Sir Malcom jested, and pretended to enjoy the hotness of the tub. The bathing water took on an awful tint of green.
‘Pardon me sir, but you’re not fine. I’ll help you out of the tub and call for the apothecary.’
‘No. No, Eda. I’m fine.’ a new firmness carried under the softness of his voice. ‘I’m not going to cheat subjects who need a physician more than I do.’ He seemed to lose an ounce of consciousness with every word of protest.
The petals had lost colour and dissolved.
Sir Malcolm’s head slid under the water.
Eda’s tunic was soaked through and stained green. She shivered, not for the cold, but for her master. She had wrestled Sir Malcolm’s body out of the stinking tub. With the help of Hagias the court physician, she had lain him down on the bed. His muscles seemed to wilt under the stress of injury.
With the aid of a magnifying glass, and when some of the pus was wiped away, Hagias noticed that the wounds were instead runes covering the skin.
‘These injuries have enchantment written all over them. I’ve seen this in the northern kingdoms.’
She tucked her black hair behind her ears. A sheen of sweat had covered Eda, as she tried to keep clearing the wound of pus.
‘You must have a cure, Hagias. There isn’t another knight who deserves it more’
‘Your Majesty, I am sorry to inform you that none of my medicines can heal Sir Malcolm’s injuries. The wounds were inflicted by a charmed weapon. Only by killing the owner of that sword will Sir Malcolm the Modest survive.’
The Queen of Aralet sat above her audience of subjects. The corners of her eyes matched the red of her velvet throne.
Hagias spoke softly. ‘Considering the viciousness of the enchantment and his physique – Sir Malcolm will live for a month at best.’
Eda and the other servants hung by the wall, heads bowed. Her hand flew up to her mouth, pressing back the sobs. If etiquette and class could be tossed away, Eda would be beside Sir Malcolm in the stretcher. She would be begging the queen with every breath in her lungs.
The Queen silenced the grief of her subjects. ‘It was reported that Sir Malcolm’s injury happened a hundred miles outside of our castle. As much as I hold Sir Malcolm in esteem, the threat is not imminent for our kingdom. It would be wasteful to send forth more knights to fight this issue, and may invite evil closer to home.’
Eda’s hands clenched into fists.
The Queen continued, ‘Therefore, to honour Sir Malcolm the Modest and his memory, a lavish and dignified funeral will be provided at the expense of the court. Respects should be paid to his friends and family in this difficult time.’
Brenner entered the servant quarters and crouched by Eda’s bed.
‘I know you’re awake, Eda.’ He whispered into the sleeping quiet of the room. She had been crying.
‘I don’t understand how anyone can sleep when he’s suffering!’ Eda shut out the image of Sir Malcolm, supine and losing the battle against injury.
She sat up in bed, and crossed her arms. ‘He’s sacrificed so much for this kingdom.’
‘I know, Eda. It doesn’t matter. In a moon cycle we will have no work, and I’ll be damned if I have to serve that Sir Emeric again.’
Eda was distracted. She couldn’t hear Brenner over her own bustling mind.
‘And for our queen, to pride herself on her concern for her subjects!’ Eda spat. ‘I’ve never been so disappointed.’
This display of emotion was enough for any servant to be sacked, yet the two of them were friends. Brenner handed her a cloth to wipe the tears. ‘Just… do what you can for Sir Malcolm now. It’s your shift. It’s not like we can do much else.’
Sir Malcolm lay in the centre of his bed, looking paler than Eda had seen him hours before, and still lost to unconsciousness. He had not woken for days. His room had become a tulip field, made by friends and admirers. He liked to pin tulips to his cloak. Eda used to pick them for him.
She wrung a wet cloth and then spread it across his chest.
‘Why do the kingdom act like you’re gone, when you’re right here breathing, my lord?’
Eda cleaned his wounds and replaced bandages. The pallor of the man’s skin looked unnatural on him, like a flower growing black petals.
‘You of all noblemen deserve a long life filled with happiness and glory. If it wasn’t for you taking me into Aralet, my lord – I wouldn’t be around.’
Eda gently slipped her hand into his, seeing the contrast of her black skin and his paleness. She put her lips to it.
Harmony sat on the table, as restless as Eda was. She tucked it into her cloak. Harmony’s hilt was a forbidden feeling for Eda’s female hands.
‘I’ll bring back the head of your attacker, Sir Malcolm, or I will die trying.’
© 2017Elizabeth Brown All Rights Reserved