When Henry woke up that day, a chipped wooden ceiling was the first to meet his vision when they cleared. Pinewood and faint warm breeze tickling his nose like a bird's feather. Mellow light filtered through the tattered window and Henry could hear the chirps of woodland birds echo like the spring spirits singing praises.
There was something soft underneath him and Henry flinched, whole body feeling like lead as he sat up— the events from a few days? Blooms?— Henry lost track of time since he'd been drifting in and out of consciousness.
Looking down at himself, he noticed that he wasn't in his dark regalia but was dressed down in a commoner's outfit; A soft linen sleeveless white tunic and cotton black pants that fit him like a glove and made him want to scratch the faded material. Where had his favourite attire gone?
"Oh, you're finally awake. I thought you'd be meeting the gods with your raging fever." A voice somewhere in the room, on his right, spoke.
Henry looked over, blinking rapidly when he saw the man who had saved him from the thieves that had attempted to beat him to death leaning casually against the wooden doorframe. Out of all the people that would save him, it had to be this particular guy who made him feel queasy and confused with his weird habit and almost fluid vistage.
Atemu tilted his head, carrying a small wooden bowl in his hand that had steam clouds wafting up. "Calm down, don't strain yourself. You've only recovered from your second week fever."
Second week? Wait, what kind of counting system was that? "Second... Week? Second bloom?"
"Second week, second bloom. Whatever you call it in this language." Atemu shrugged as he went over and handed Henry said bowl which contained what look like water that was colored? Medicine? "Drink. You need it."
Henry took the bowl, staring at the contents with doubt clouding his mind. "I... What did I do?"
"Your fever was rather pesky and wouldn't leave no matter how much medicine was shoved in your mouth. You managed to punch me in the face one time when you began screaming and crying so congratulations.
To answer your question, you passed out in a field of white flowers after those knights and mages chased you while screaming something about a demon."
Henry's hands wrapped around the gritty texture of wood tightly, eyes not quite meeting that of Atemu's as the memories from his almost demise went through his head.
The dirt-stained soft sheets looked more interesting and Henry wanted to suffocate himself with it. Even the light coming from the windows made Henry want to vomit. Why didn't the world mourn with him?
The screams and the accusations came flying through, slamming him down with thoughts that he shouldn't entertain. And yet it did. It did unforgivingly. For how much he tried to keep his temper in check when power was handed to him, Henry, for the life of him, couldn't handle it due to the stress it brought.
He'd warned his mother, warned his brothers. And yet they wouldn't listen, now here he was paying the price of his mistake. After months of homesickness and stress with the news of your beloved queen and mother found lying dead on her bed? Henry lost himself in the sea of his untempered magic through his emotions.
"I— I am not fit to be governor," Henry swallowed the lump in his throat. "I hurt the people I reign over, I have no control over my emotions. I am a demon and I deserve to never return to the palace and the castle town."
And maybe Henry was much too absorbed in his hurt as words spilled past his trembling lips like water, his vision clouding as tears bubbled and welled in his eyes.
"I warned my mother, I warned everyone that I wasn't ready, that I'm not fit to rule. And what do I get? I rule and I paid the price of that mistake due to my foolishness in not keeping my emotions at bay. I don't like it, I never wanted it, and yet I pursued it, followed through it.
And yet I was chased out all because my mother died and I couldn't keep myself in control. I—"
A resounding slap and sting on his cheek followed. Henry bit his tongue, eyes going bug-eyed as his head was tilted up, meeting the stone-cold face of Atemu who was now cupping Henry's stinging cheeks with his dark hands. Since when had he sat down on his bed side and came so close until they were almost nose to nose?
There was no visible indication on Atemu's face about how he felt, but the pupils in his violet eyes were constricted and his dark lips were pursed. Henry wasn't sure about what that face meant but it seemed that Atemu was displeased.
"I dare say that you are sabotaging yourself, little Rose-Head. I will not tolerate such things coming from your mouth."
Henry continued to stare, wetness trailing down his cheeks, horrified, unbelieving, emotions brewing together at the words that this man spoke. What kind of foolery was this?
"You slapped me and you tell me you don't like what I am saying," Henry stated, tongue-tied. "Why?"
Why did you interrupt me? Why do you care so much that you'd stare at me and say those words? I don't know you and yet you scold me as if we're close. Why, why, why?
"I couldn't very well let you have your tirade any longer. You know yourself it isn't your fault. If you want to cry about it then do so and let it out. But don't you dare spout words of cruelty in front of me. Drink your medicine and then cry about it."
Those freezing hands that were on Henry's cheeks began to soothe the stinging burn with gentle circles and Henry cried. Cried for the loss of his mother, cried for the loss of his people, and cried for himself and the shame that he brought upon his royal family.
"Why can't people accept that I have my limits? Am I that cruel?" Henry sobbed out, choking on his hiccups and whimpers.
Atemu shook his head and wiped away Henry's tears with the pads of his thumbs, staring at him with the same unreadable expression.
Two night cycles went by, the continous chirp of the crickets and the noise of the whistling wind through rustling leaves didn't help soothe Henry's pain. If any, it only made it worse. Perhaps he should get out of this creaky cottage and get some air, maybe it would do him good. The crickets chirp and the song of the night owls were most inviting outside.
His companion was probably asleep in another room so he might as well have some time alone for himself. Better to talk to Atemu with a clear head rather than become an embarrassing blubbery mess.
Getting up from the soft wooly bed he had been stuck in for the past couple of days that stank with sweat and tears, he hobbled out of the empty hole-filled hall with an empty and desolate living room until he was outside, the biting cold of summer air chilling his bones.
The rundown wooden cottage was located in a dense forest of willow trees, fireflies circling round it and trailing to a particularly massive one that seemed to stoop low, its branches and leaves almost sweeping down the forest floor.
Henry shivered, wrapping his hands around his bare arms. The clothes on him barely provided protection and now he wished he had brought an extra layer of clothing. Although it was too late for him at this point seeing as the coldness grounded him to reality when his mind threatened to take him back to that dark place.
The prince walked forward, holding out his hand and pressing his palm on the rough and bumpy bark of the towering willow that was so close to the cottage, ignoring the fact that he could feel its core thrum and answer with a muted buzz.
Eyes of blood looked up at the white angel feather leaves, their softness caressing his hair and face.
The chirps of the crickets and the hoots of the nightly birds echoed like a harmony of quite peace.
"What is my purpose," Henry whispered faintly, staring at the tree as if it would give him answers. "When my people, my knights, my mages, don't want me to guide them?"
As expected, the tree didn't answer and Henry's heart sank. What's the point of talking anyways? He sounded like a crazy person. Perhaps he should just hide away, perhaps he just bury himself away, or perhaps he should be forgotten.
"Or perhaps... I can just become a wanderer. Maybe I'll train myself to control my magic," He looked at his hands, flexing them close and open. "Maybe I'll just become Henry and not a prince."
"Aren't you being a little too brash with your decision, Henry?"
Henry whirred around with a squeak, fist flying. A handful of purple hair and a dark face dodged to the side just as his hand was about to connect.
"Must you always try and hit me when I speak? How many times are you going to do that?"
"Stop sneaking up on me like that!" Henry hissed. "What are you? The boogeyman?"
"Close enough," Atemu crossed his arms, his white sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He was dressed in a white tunic and some pants along with his brown boots— were they brown? Henry wasn't sure— and he looked utterly bored. Or probably unamused again.
"But you should really get back to bed. After you've recovered, you may take your own path. Whichever you prefer anyways."
Henry blinked rapidly, looking down at the dark ground, kicking away at dirt and grass. Just how much had Atemu heard his ramble again?
"How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough to hear that you want to run away from your people and train your magic."
The air was suddenly too suffocating. Henry was on the verge of choking on it and he forced himself to take a breath, scratching his cheek and pinching it just to ground himself. "Are you going to ridicule me for it? Laugh? Perhaps mock me? Do it, I'll take it."
He then looked at Atemu, making sure his determination and anger was clearly conveyed on his face. "If my people won't want me then I might as well let them have their wish. Be that as it may, I will not bother their happiness, but know that I tried to give them the economy that was once stolen from them."
The crickets answered Henry instead, the wind blowing gust and making willow leaves fall beneath the starry night. And perhaps his message was clearly delivered because Atemu's face, although always in that stoic and calm expression, seemed to soften a little, the taut and sharp lines on his face slightly loosening.
"I won't mock you," Atemu replied.
Henry reeled back from shock, straightening his back. "Huh?"
"I won't mock you, Rose-Head. You have a noble purpose and for that I applaud you. You've convinced me that you only wanted your people to be happy. Although you do not want the crown, power overbears you in terms of responsibility.
You have a kind heart and a good soul. Alsha knows what else you could've done if you had the patience."
Wait, hold on, what was this man saying? Wasn't he going to laugh at him? Call his plan ridiculous? Kind heart? Good soul? Was he a clairvoyant?
"What in the bloody hell are you blabbing about? This sounds like mockery, Lilac-Head. Why aren't you running away or anything? You said I could choose my path. Why aren't you splitting away from me?"
"I would've if you hadn't brought up your purpose," Atemu shrugged. Back to his usual composure again, violet hair and eyes standing out like a demon within the shadows. "But I might as well teach you how to control your magic if you want to wander without hurting anyone."
"Ah, but on one condition," Atemu raised a finger, staring holes into Henry's soul. "Once you have controlled your magic and decide to leave under my mentorship while we wander, we will separate then and there, forget each other and pretend we never knew each other. Got it?"
Oh. Oh, that sounded good to be true and it was much too tempting, much too great. Henry eyed Atemu like he was being absurd, asking if he was serious.
Atemu didn't falter and tilted his head, serious, face stating that he wasn't doing any funny business. That he was determined to teach Henry. It showed on his body language with the way his stance was guarded, eyes never leaving Henry at all.
Henry felt his cheeks and ears warm, looking away from such an intense stare. Wow, talk about intimidating.
He cleared his throat, taking a step back and nodding. "Alright, alright. I'll... I'll accept it. But you better teach me something good! You're not getting any pay from me."
Henry could feel Atemu's eyeroll from a mile away. Ridiculous? Yes, but hey, opportunities like this didn't come by easily.
"As if I'd ever teach foolishness. Do we have a deal?" Atemu began.
Henry looked back, seeing a hand extended out to him for a handshake. Steady. Waiting. Unwavering.
Henry breathed in the crisp night air and sealed it by grasping Atemu's hand, shaking it with a firm grip.
"You have yourself a deal."
Waking up isn't always fun... And he himself couldn't believe that he was making a deal.