Narrow, dark green leaves coupled with deep pink flowers, rustled in the breeze above his head and Isaac’s chest softly rose and fell. Heavy, rheumy eyes, tinged pink with fatigue, fluttered open and through a glassy haze he gazed. Orange sunlight flooded the bower, as scattered evening sunbeams danced upon the flora, and a whisper lightly waltzed through the expectant crowd.
Isaac stroked the silken coverlet overdressed with gossamer lace, with gnarled, freckled hands and felt his heart whimper beneath his ribs. Time was running out.
Deep beneath the trees that surrounded his bower, whispers made it to his ears and he chuckled, a coughing and half choking sound that alarmed his family and made him want to laugh all the more. His muscles ached, a fever left him barely the right side of conscious, and his heart fluttered like the butterfly that settled on the clusters of pink flowers above his pillow. He closed his eyes and courted the sigh that rippled in response.
He felt a hand, a strong hand, grip his. The warmth of the hand pumped life into his cold fingers and his heart raced, leaping and bounding within the cage of ribs. His other hand was grasped with the same vigour, as his other son lifted his father’s hand to his lips and kissed it gently. Not to be outdone the first son placed a kiss on his father’s hand too and gently plumped the duckling down pillow behind his head.
As the two sons fought to outshine each other the sun slipped below the horizon and took its gold light with it. The moon’s silver touched the trees and sent glittering rays through the canopy. As Isaac opened his eyes again, he shook away his sons and painfully lifted his hands to his face. He rubbed his eyes and gazed across the glade.
Despite the warring clans, the neighbouring fae had sent an honourable representative and he stood beneath the sweet oleander and holly trees. He stood tall and unwavering and accompanied by his young wife. Isaac smiled, and nodded in recognition and then gazed at his sons.
Two golden-haired boys sat either side of him, both tight-lipped and taut, and instead of watching him they watched each other with glares of righteous arrogance.
Isaac sighed and both sons turned to stare, breath bated, hands again gripping his tight. Their expectant gaze vexed the fairy-king and he decided the choice would not be made.
He cleared his throat and watched the greed and hunger pool in their eyes, before averting his and speaking softly. He spoke so softly the boys had to lean in close to hear. They both sprang away in disbelief dropping their father’s hands like hot coals.
Isaac lifted his heavy head and touched his beard. His fingers ran through the thick grey hair, and he let out a laugh. He beckoned across the dell and the young fae knight dressed in embroidered silver frowned and stepped forward.
“Not you…” croaked the king, “your wife…”
His wife, not yet out of her teens, started like a deer and fingered her long ebony locks in nervous unease. Isaac nodded and she stepped lightly across the grass to his mossy bed.
She held out her hand as the king again ran his through his beard. “Your hair,” he murmured, “black as the night, ebony like the raven, as dark as mine once was.”
She nodded, anxiety clouding her face.
“You’re as beautiful as your mother, and not a product of your unseeded father…” He chuckled coarsely. “My sons can fight, can gouge each other’s eyes out, but neither are worthy of my crown. You, my dear, are married to an honest man, a man who can bring peace to the vale. And as my crown once sat upon my head of curls, it will spend its days upon your long black curls… It is fitting, young Daphne, that, along with my crown, the fragrant clusters above my head are yours, sweet daughter…”