Harrow is slumped against a man with long lashes and wavy brown hair. He was the quiet one with his nose in the book when I first met Harrow and his motley crew. Sirro, that was his name.
Sirro has a panicked expression as he struggles to get Harrow to the laboratory. Harrow, for his part, can barely stand. His head is slumped and every other step seems to give out with his feet dragging limply.
“What is—” Eldas turns and stops short. I see his whole body tense. The room is noticeably colder. “What is the meaning of this?” he says, his voice deathly soft.
“Harrow, he…” Sirro looks between me and the king. I’m surprised when his eyes land on me. “He told me to come here and find you.”
“He said you could heal him again.”
I curse several times under my breath. I hadn’t told anyone about that day. This certainly wasn’t how I expected Eldas and Willow to find out.
“Put him here.” I point to the stool I healed him in last time. “Tell me what happened.”
“We… Well, we…” Sirro glances between me and Eldas as he continues to bring Harrow forward.
“Whatever happened, I need to know.” I can only imagine the debauchery they’ve been up to. “I can assure you the king will be much more cross if you don’t tell me what’s going on and something terrible happens to his brother.”
“You do not speak for me,” Eldas says, perhaps mostly on instinct. I stick out my chin and glare at him. “But the queen is correct,” Eldas relents. I press my mouth closed to keep it from falling open in shock. He admitted I’m correct without prodding. “And I am most interested in why my brother is in this state. Willow, you may leave.”
“Luella, do you need—” Willow tries to ask but Eldas won’t let him get a word in.
“Luella clearly does not need help if she is healing him again.” The way Eldas says the last word tries to knot my stomach, but I suppress it defiantly. I’m not going to regret helping a man in need. “Go, Willow,” he barks.
Willow glances at me and hastily departs. Hook growls at Eldas’s tone, and likely because his belly scratcher was just sent running. I’m too focused on Harrow to worry about Hook or Willow right now.
“Tell me, Sirro,” I say and look the man right in the eye. There’s only you and me right now, I want to say. Ignore the mighty Elf King standing right next to you. “What’s wrong with him? What did he do?”
“We were out at Harpy’s Cranny,” Sirro starts, still glancing at Eldas.
“Harpy’s Cranny? That no-good—”
“Eldas, enough,” I interrupt the king sharply. “Sirro, look at me; what happened?”
He takes a deep breath. “Last night we went to Harpy’s Cranny, the four of us. Aria was celebrating because she just got a part in the Troupe of Masks and found out she’ll begin touring with them before springtime rites, starting in Carron in a few weeks. There was faerie mead and I remember dancers…” Sirro shakes his head. “I don’t…”
“You’re doing great,” I encourage. “Did he just have mead?”
“That’s all I saw. But he did go off with Jalic at one point? Maybe Aria? I’m not sure. I think that happened. Jalic was interested in some sweetchime I had. I gave him some earlier in the day. Perhaps they did that?”
“Sweetchime?” I’ve never heard of it.
Eldas grimaces. “It’s a pathetic substance that some say enhances the effects of alcohol. They hear chimes and laughter and dance with the spirits under the full moon on it.”
“It’s harmless. Or, I thought it was. You don’t think there maybe was something more, do you?” Sirro says worriedly.
The sight of Aria in the alleyway with the horned fae returns to me. I can’t let the fae’s attack on me prejudice me against Aria. If Eldas still hasn’t uncovered anything there—and I’m somehow certain he would tell me if he had—then I won’t worry. “I’m sure it’s just too much,” I lie and start for the conservatory.
“You may leave,” Eldas commands Sirro.
“Out!” One word sends Sirro scampering. I can almost see frost crackling along the glass of the conservatory as Eldas’s rage increases. I ignore it for the time being.
Once more, I go through the steps of making a remedy for the ailing prince. Once more, I add a leaf from the heartroot and other herbs to detoxify. I don’t know what sweetchime does, but if there was anything else that Harrow took then he can use all the help he can get cleansing his system. I also add in a few other herbs that come to mind based on my readings of the past queens’ journals. Eldas hardly watches me. Instead his arm is around his brother, supporting him as he teeters on the stool.
“What happened before?” Eldas asks as I bring over the concoction. “The last time you healed him.”
“He looked much the same. Of course, I couldn’t get any solid information from him.”
“Of course,” Eldas mutters. Worry is plastered across the king’s face, a frantic and pained expression I’ve seen once before—when he thought I was in trouble.
Harrow is barely responsive as I lift the mug to his lips. “Come on, drink.”
Eldas’s eyes flash blue. A chill whips through me like a winter’s gale. Harrow shudders and I see his throat tense as he swallows.
“What did you—”
“Focus, Luella. I assume he needs to finish that.” Eldas has yet to take his eyes off his brother.
Thanks to Eldas’s magic control over Harrow, we get the entire mug of potion down.
“Harrow!” Eldas says as his brother goes limp in his arms.
“He’s just asleep.” I rest my hand encouragingly on Eldas’s shoulder. It’s turned to rock with tension. “The potion will help his system clear everything up…but the best medicine is often rest and allowing the body to work on its own. I put in some herbs to help him sleep; with any luck he’ll stay asleep and wake up right as rain.”
“All right.” Eldas sighs. “Come on then, brother.” He shifts and lifts Harrow up with ease into his strong arms. I can see the outline of corded muscle bulging from under his tunic. The worry on his face is easing into relief. A relief I helped create. The thought brings a rush of joy I haven’t felt in some time.
This is what I was meant to do—help people. I miss my shop and Capton more than I have in weeks but I force the thoughts away. They’re sharper than they’ve ever been and I need to stay focused.
“Here, when he wakes he’ll need another dose. More rest…and then he should—”
“I cannot carry him and half the laboratory. Please bring what he will need and follow me to his room.”
Harrow’s room is the last place I want to be. But I can’t outright say so. And I can’t abandon a patient.
“I…sure.” I quickly load all the essentials I can think of, and then some, into a basket and follow behind Eldas. “Hook, go,” I command the beast. I don’t want to bring him to Harrow’s room. I wouldn’t be surprised if the young prince found out after the fact and tried to get Hook taken from me somehow as a result. Hook looks at me with his yellow eyes and tilts his head. “It’s all right, Hook, go back to the Fade. I’ll whistle for you later.”
Hook skulks between the shadows of the world as Eldas and I depart. We walk through the quiet castle and into the East Wing. I recognize the cramped hallways filled with relics and tapestries from dinner the night before. We arrive at a landing not unlike my own and enter into a wreck of an apartment.
Signs of debauchery litter the floor. Clothes are strewn about. There are remnants of a party long gone, waiting long enough to be cleaned that a stale smell hangs in the air.
Eldas pauses with a heavy sigh. He glances over his shoulder at me. “Sorry for this… The bedroom is right through here.”
We carefully step over suspect objects as we navigate through an archway paneled with sheer curtains. Behind is a large, circular bed that’s just as much of a mess as the rest of the room. Eldas sets Harrow down and I take the liberty of cleaning off a side table to arrange my clerical items.
“Tell me what he will need.” Eldas gently situates the blankets around his youngest brother.
“When he wakes, he’ll need to drink the rest of this. Then, after that, this powder should be mixed with water and he should get all of that down at once. But I can come back and see to his care.”
Eldas looks up at me from the edge of the bed. His knee almost touches my thigh as he shifts to face me more. I continue to focus on my herbs and salves.
“You would do that for my wretch of a brother?”
“Even wretches need care.” I pause and my eyes drift to Harrow. He no longer looks like the antagonistic terror I first met. Asleep, he looks younger and softer—vulnerable, almost. “No…he’s not a wretch, just a bit misguided, I’d bet.” The people who act the worst are often hurting the worst. “He especially needs care.” More than I can give. I suspect Harrow’s problems are deeper than physiological.
“He does,” Eldas agrees faintly. “It’s my fault that he is this way.” I stay silent as Eldas speaks. “Managing the spares to the Elf King has been tricky throughout history. The Elf King has always been able to ascend to the throne, thanks in part to the protections that surround the heir from birth. So spares have never been needed… Our brother, Drestin, was simple. He had drive and gladly accepted his post at Westwatch.
“But Harrow… Our mother has always been soft on him. He was the one son who she could cling to the longest. She dotes on him; Father did too. And I…”
“You resented him for it,” I finish.
“Yes.” Eldas presses his eyes closed and buries his face in his hand. “I was the heir to all of Midscape, and I envied my little brother.”