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Chapter Four

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The first thing Valorous was aware of when he woke up was the pain. He felt raw and overwrought and fucking tired in a way that made his throat feel dry and hoarse, and his muscles were all so sore and heavy that moving slightly in the bed he was in made his eyes tear up.

His lips were chapped, and he grunted as he moved in the bed. His vision was blurring, the world in front of him seeming very bright and strangely white, and when a blue blur came closer to him he flinched, but all it did was adjust something beside him – an IV? – and then touch him.

The brush of fingers against his upper arm made him whimper in pain, but then the backs of them came against his forehead, cold where he’d been running hot, and a soothing cold dripped down his neck and through his body, making the pain withdraw.

He exhaled in relief, dizzied by the sudden change, and after blinking a few times his vision stopped swimming and began to focus up again. The man beside him was tall and slim, wore dark blue robes with a golden belt around the middle, and he had long, black hair that he wore loose, swept back from his shoulders.

He had gaunt, angular features, his eyes the colour of fresh fog and extremely large, so that when he looked down at you, as he was looking down at Valorous now, his gaze felt almost like a physical weight.

“You’ve been unconscious for a few days,” he said quietly – his voice was soft and had a slightly musical quality, although it seemed deeper than a man who looked like him should be able to produce. “Apart from your arm and the whole body ache, you might experience some stomach cramps and some pain there when you begin to eat in a few moments – the magic I just did is to soothe the nerve damage, and while it should be dulled, you’ll likely feel your stomach more intensely.”

“’Cause I haven’t eaten the past few days,” said Valorous. “’Cause… I was comatose.”

“That’s right,” said the healer, sweeping across the room with his skirts moving, and Valorous watched him as he picked up a gilded mirror, lifting it up and bringing it closer.

Ow,” Valorous cried out as he tried to push himself forward, and then he collapsed back against the pillows he was propped up on, gasping.

“That’s why I was getting you the mirror,” said the healer, and tilted it so that Valorous could see. He looked terrible, dark shadows showing under his eyes and his cheeks looking weirdly emphasised because he’d lost a little weight with being starved, but that was…

The scabbing wounds started just under his jaw, one fragment creeping up onto his face with the rest sliding thinner down over his neck, and then they thickened and showed more intensely as they curved over his shoulder and wrapped and wrapped around his arm, going down to his wrist, a little over the back of his hand.

The skin all over his arm was ugly and raw – in places between the lightning-shaped scabs it was peeling in sloughed bits like the skin off of a lizard, and the actual scabbing was all in different stages of healing, some of it showing the fragile pink skin that was new underneath, some it showing thick crusting scabs, and some of the bits were almost open wounds, showing the wet, gooey tissue underneath even though they weren’t actively bleeding.

“Do you know what this is?” asked the healer, gesturing.

“Spell damage,” said Valorous.

“Well done. Do you know what causes it?”

“Channelling too much magic.”

“Obviously,” said the healer dryly, arching an eyebrow and looking down at him expectantly. “But do you know what causes the injury itself, the process?”

“Um,” said Valorous, pressing his chapped lips together. He couldn’t move, couldn’t really feel his limbs – even when he’d pushed himself forward a second ago he’d felt weirdly numb, and his body felt heavy. “Channelling magic you’re basically concentrating it and then using a core of your body to focus it from – your belly, your mouth, your hands. When you channel more magic than your body can digest, can, um, can dissipate? It ends up getting stuck in your body, normally under the skin, and normally manifests like this. It makes the blood boil in your veins, kind of, explode out from the skin surface.”

Experimentally, he moved his uninjured arm, and found it moved easier than the other one – it hurt a little, but the soreness was an all-over kind of tired ache, not a concentrated agony, and he touched his chest.

He hissed in pain, but he did feel the scabbing on the surface – it was most severe at the base of his forearm, coming back from his wrist, so it was lighter on the side of his neck and under his jaw, but there was a thick bit of scabbing reaching toward his heart.

“Do you remember?” asked the healer.

“We were at the old industrial museum,” mumbled Valorous. “The… the car park is across the road, and it’s on a hill – there was a lorry going up, or, or stopped? The gate on the truck bed broke, and there was all his heaped stone. I just saw all of it coming down at us. I didn’t think, I just…”

He remembered it in flashes of sudden awareness – he’d been laughing as Angus took the piss out of one of the museum guides, remembered two of the girls were fussing over one of their skirts that had pollen on it from the yard outside, Ms Eckington was telling everyone to fill their bottles at the fountain before they got onto the bus, because it was warm…

He remembered the sound of splintering wood. He remembered the rumble and clatter of the rocks against each other, seeing the big rush of avalanching stone – he’d stepped forward, elbowed Sarah-Jane and Katie behind him and spread his hand, just thrown out raw magic and did his best to stop it.

He hadn’t even thought about it, hadn’t used a specific spell. He’d just channelled raw magic and focused on making it stop – he didn’t know how long he’d been there, couldn’t have been more than a minute or two, until two of the museum witches and some other locals had all come together to hold it back.

His vision had already been white, and at some point, it had gone black instead – there were flashes of awareness, screaming in pain when someone touched him, Angus carrying him. A stretcher, an ambulance siren, rain on his raw skin.

“Undoubtedly, some of your classmates would have died had you not intervened,” said the healer. “Even avoiding deaths, there would have been severe injuries.”

“It’s not like I could leave it,” said Valorous. “Just let it hit us.”

The healer smiled. He was clean-shaven, and he had thin, well-defined lips with a firm bow in the top lip, his jaw and chin and cheeks very well defined by the bone. Valorous didn’t like looking at his eyes, at the silvery-grey colour of them, but somehow he didn’t feel able to look away.

“No,” he agreed softly. “You will be in this hospital some months – I’ve alerted your family that you’ve woken, and I’m sure they’ll be in to visit you regularly enough, your cousins, your Aunt Noble. I will be here with you, too.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“I’m the king’s personal physician,” said the healer, and Valorous frowned at him, not understanding.

“The ki— King Arthur’s?”

“I’m the king regent,” said the healer, and Valorous felt his jaw drop. “My name is Myrddin Wyllt.”

Valorous stared at him, the pit dropping out of his stomach, and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t… He stared down at his knees, flexing his uninjured arm, and he nudged slightly on the pillows, and then looked back to the other man, who was still smiling.

He’d seen portraits of him, obviously – he’d never realised his eyes were that colour, or that his face was really so…

“Why?” asked Valorous.

“Why?” repeated Myrddin Wyllt.

“Why… Why am I here? Why are you?”

“How many people across these lands, of any age, do you think could wield the raw power you did last week?” asked Myrddin in his quiet, melodious voice, his lips thin and smiling, sharp as a blade.

“I don’t know,” said Valorous. “A few.”

Myrddin leaned forward, and his eyes looked like they were roiling somehow, the colour storming, his brow furrowing. His voice was so cold it stung as he said, “If I might give you some advice, young man, do not ever lie to me. I don’t care if you lie to deceive me or to project modesty – either way, it will lead to nothing good for you.”

“Yes, sir,” whispered Valorous.

Myrddin leaned back, and then smiled. “You must be hungry,” he said quietly. “Let’s attend to that, shall we?”

Valorous nodded, his lips parting, and he was almost hypnotised as Myrddin stood to his feet and moved away from him.

* * *

“Remind me why the fuck I have to come to this shit?” asked Cecil, and Valorous wrapped himself around his body, his cheek shoved up against Cecil’s shoulders, his hands interlocking over the fat cushion of Cecil’s belly.

“Because I’m gorgeous and I have a great cunt and you love me,” said Valorous.

“Uh huh,” said Cecil sceptically, looking at him coolly in the mirror, and he adjusted his collar, fixing the way it settled on his neck.

“How many tattoos do you have?”

“Just two,” said Cecil. “One on each shoulder – the one for Cymru-Loegr, and the one for the Third Scarlets.”

“You wear them like pauldrons,” Valorous said thoughtfully, reaching up and squeezing his upper arms through the fabric of his shirt. “Have you ever worn proper armour?”

Cecil laughed, and Valorous stood up on his tiptoes to frown at him in the mirror.

“Why’s that funny?”

“’Cause I never fought in a fucking arena,” said Cecil. “I wore light armour when I was marching – I never wore full-plate or even leather plate like the shit you wear. Speaking of— That’s what you’re wearing?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s not very human.”

Valorous looked down at the outfit he was wearing – a turtleneck that came right up to just under his jaw and a light leather jerkin, embroidered with a knight on one side and a dragon on the other. He remembered the village he’d bought it in, a little hamlet in the Queen’s lands.

“Is that bad?”

“Nah,” said Cecil, and he reached back, putting his hand in Valorous’ hair and digging his fingers over his scalp, scratching over the skin and making Valorous hum, tipping his head back into his palm. “Just wasn’t sure how much you want to blend in with your family, that’s all. You even have normal dress shirts like I have?”

Valorous pressed his lips together, thinking about it – he probably didn’t. All of his formal clothes were full military regalia, either fabric uniforms complete with epaulettes and insignia or ceremonial armour, and most of his clothes for appearing in public did look like this. Of his wardrobe, the vast majority was of fae make or at least magical weave – his hoodies were from mundie market, and a lot of his tracksuits, his exercise clothes, some of his trainers, but that was all.

“Last time I wore human clothes all the time was when I wore uniforms at school,” said Valorous. “I have some t-shirts, um, and some jeans.”

“You don’t like to wear them though, do ya?” asked Cecil. “They put too much of your scar on show.”

“I don’t mind if people see my scars,” said Valorous. Cecil stared down at him a second, looking surprised or uncertain, but then he tilted his head slightly to the side, and nodded.

“Okay,” said Cecil.

“I don’t,” snapped Valorous, and Cecil spread his hands, nodding.

“Okay,” he said again. “I’m not arguing, I just… I thought you hid them on purpose, that’s all. You wear hoodies a lot – yours or mine.”

“I like hoodies,” said Valorous. “I like being in them, I like… They’re comfortable.”

“They are,” agreed Cecil, so reasonably that Valorous wanted to hit him.

“Fuck you,” said Valorous. “Are we going?”

“Alright, lad,” said Cecil. “Lead the way.”

They got the bus over to Valorous’ Aunt Noble’s, drizzle getting them a little wet when they walked over but not getting them soaking wet, and Valorous opened the door without bothering to knock, gesturing for Cecil to step inside.

“No shoe rack?” asked Cecil.

“They wear their shoes inside,” said Valorous, scowling, and Cecil arched an eyebrow, looking amused at how annoyed he was, but Valorous just ignored him as he pushed the door closed behind them. He could see that Cecil was a little uncomfortable with the size of the house, how ornate everything was as Valorous led the way down a corridor and into the big salon, where music was quietly playing from a speaker and people were filtering between this room, the kitchen, the dining room, and the yard.

“Fuck me,” muttered Cecil, and Valorous looked around the room at everyone gathered – it was mostly family, Kings from all over settled around the room, but there were more people than that: he could see Oidhche Laithe sitting back in a chair with a martini in his hand, Impeccable perched on his knee, and two of his kids with him – Bridie Laithe and one of the older boys Valorous didn’t know the name of; Fiachra Renn was talking seriously over a counter with two Scots enforcers; there were members of some local fighting rings; the bookie for the underground arena that Valorous theoretically didn’t know about; a lot of real estate people, a lot of drug dealers. “This is a fucking who’s who of the criminal element,” said Cecil out of the side of his mouth.

“It’s a who’s who of Lashton,” said Valorous.

“Same goddamn thing.”

“C’mon,” said Valorous, and they picked through and into the dining room, where a lot of small tables had been set out instead of the usual big one. Aunt Noble and Uncle Jack were standing together, her with a glass of whiskey and him with a glass of champagne, and when she saw Valorous, Noble smiled.

“Hey, kiddo,” she said, reaching out, and Valorous hugged her, kissing her on both cheeks before he did the same to Jack.

Jack was a lanky man, built like a scarecrow and tall, where Noble was stockier and more muscular: he ruffled Valorous’ hair and then smacked his cheek as he pulled back.

“Happy anniversary,” said Valorous.

“He seemed to think a good gift was a fucking strawberry plant,” said Cecil. “We compromised and got you a strawberry liqueur.”

“Ooh,” said Jack, reaching out immediately, and Valorous laughed at how he immediately uncapped the bottle and brought it up to his nose to sniff it, fascinated. Uncle Jack wrote for the Lashton Beacon, and Cecil had remembered some op-ed he’d written years ago about his affection for weird alcohols and distilled flavours – he always remembered the Kings that married into the family, he said, because of their unusually usual names.

“Mr Hobbes,” said Noble, and put out her hand to shake.

“I think you can probably call me Cecil,” said Cecil dryly, without even flinching. “Not exactly a meeting at the parent’s evening table anymore, is it? Happy anniversary.”

“Thanks, Cecil,” said Jack, distracted as he sipped from the cap, and then he made a face. “Babe, try this. It’s like sherbet.”

“You’re won over that easily?” asked Noble, looking at him sideways, and Jack gestured vaguely.

“This was inevitable. If it was Prettiest or Luminous or Curious, one of our kids, or if it was Gorgeous or Efficacious, or if it was…”

“Dandy?” Cecil suggested, making Valorous stifle a snigger as he looked over to the man in question, who kept shooting Valorous irritated looks. He still hadn’t gotten over Valorous arresting him a few months ago, especially because he’d lost a lot of product in the process and got in a good bit of trouble for it.

“Or Dandy,” Jack agreed, “I’d be furious. But it’s fucking Valorous. We’re lucky it’s Mr Hobbes here, and not some half-monster he fell on top of in the arena. You going to hurt him, Cecil?”

“Don’t answer that,” said Valorous.

“Mmm, gross,” said Uncle Jack. “But he was never gonna do better than this.”

“Should I be offended by that?” asked Cecil.

“No, no,” said Jack, patting his chest and making Cecil raise his eyebrows and looking down at his black-painted fingernails and the various gothic rings he wore. “He should be offended, for you it was almost a compliment. Noble, try this.”

Noble took the bottle by the neck, drinking straight from it instead of the cap, and Valorous wrinkled his nose at the way it made Jack look at her, disgustingly loving like he always was when she did something weird or messy. She made a face at first, then seemed to rethink it, looking down at the bottle.

“Fuck,” she said. “It does taste like sherbet.”

“You gonna say thanks?” asked Valorous.

Thank you, Valorous,” said Noble, squeezing his jaw. “And thanks. Cecil.”

She gave Cecil a stout nod, which was more approval than she’d given a lot of his cousins’ partners, and as they moved away, Cecil put his arm around Valorous’ shoulder, pulling him close to his chest.

“How long do we have to stay here?” he asked without moving his lips.

“I don’t fucking know,” retorted Valorous. “Is twenty minutes too short? Can we do fifteen?”

“I think we have to stay for longer than that.”

“Fuck.”

“Forty?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Oh, look,” said Cecil, in a tone of some relief. “There’s your Uncle Heinous.”

Uncle Heinous, predictably, was hovering in the corridor, trying to stay out of sight of anyone else who might talk to him, but he gave Valorous and Cecil a subtle wave and stepped back out. Following after him, they dodged out of the main party rooms and into a small anteroom off the dining room – it was meant to be for service, and there was a mini table set up with plates of hors d’oeuvres and a rack of wine and champagne waiting, but Uncle Heinous and Valorous’ cousin, Courageous, had pulled in some chairs and camped out here.

“It’s not like you to avoid a party,” said Valorous, putting out his hand and bumping his fist against Courageous’, who shrugged his shoulders.

“Me and Uncle Heinous are catching up,” he said. “Everybody who’s anybody is here, and people keep trying to get me to talk business.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” said Cecil. “There’s cops here.” He nodded to Valorous, and Courageous laughed, showing off his perfect teeth.

“See, that’s what I keep saying,” he said good-naturedly. Valorous liked Courageous a lot – he was high-up in the family, and he used the handsome features nature had given him to their fullest, primarily working as a salesman. He fronted as a marketing design specialist, and he looked like one with his flashy suit and the big stud through one ear, his bleached-platinum hair. “How do you like the party, Mr Hobbes?”

“I’m not one for parties,” said Cecil, and he took a bottle of beer when Heinous came back with it, the two of them clinking their drinks together. “How about you, Heinous?”

“I strongly considered pretending to have missed my train,” said Heinous, sinking down into his seat again and pushing one out for Cecil. Valorous pulled himself up onto the counter, sitting with his legs hanging down, and when Courageous tossed him a prawn wonton from a plate of appetisers he caught it. “How are you doing, Val?”

“Cecil made me start therapy,” said Valorous.

Cecil made a face, like Valorous wasn’t supposed to say that, but although Courageous looked mildly surprised, Uncle Heinous didn’t, and the old man took it in very seriously, his lips pressed loosely together, slowly nodding.

“Well,” he said. “Good. How’s that going?”

“Only one session so far,” said Valorous. “But I’m pretty sure it’s bullshit.”

“Well, most things that are good for us are, love,” said Heinous, and Valorous smiled slightly as he took a bite of the wonton, chewing on it. You could always rely on Heinous to be gently serious, and it was funny, how much Valorous liked his company these days – last Christmas he’d spent forty minutes or so listening to Heinous talk about the Risk league he was part of at work, and it had been nice, had been fun.

“How’d you make him?” asked Courageous, tipping back his beer. “Threaten to give him detention if he didn’t?”

“I never gave him a detention at school,” said Cecil. “Knew it wouldn’t work.”

“Made him run laps?”

“I said I’d go if he went,” said Cecil, and Courageous laughed his beautiful laugh.

“Seems like you lost on that one, sir,” he said.

“You don’t have to call him sir,” said Valorous.

“Yes, he fucking does,” said Cecil. “He skipped every goddamn PE class he could.”

“It was never anything personal, Mr Hobbes,” said Courageous, sweet as sugar. “I just had better things to do.” Cecil tutted, and Valorous felt himself smile even before Courageous said, “And I don’t believe all that nonce shit.”

Cecil didn’t say anything for a second, just looked at Courageous for a long second, his beer halfway to his mouth.

Courageous shrugged his broad shoulders. “He was legal, wasn’t he? Consenting? And he wasn’t even your student?”

“Yeah,” said Cecil.

“Well,” replied Courageous. “Any guy with a brain in his head could see you’d been put in prison for GBH, not sex crimes, but you’d be hard-pressed holding your breath around here, waiting for people to grow brains.”

“Resounding praise, Cec,” said Heinous, and Cecil shrugged his shoulders.

“What about you?” asked Courageous.

“What about me?”

“How’re you holding up, getting kicked to the kerb by his majesty?”

Valorous shrugged, looking down at his knees. “I don’t know,” he said.

“No reason you can’t join the family business, you know,” said Courageous.

“You said that before.”

“I meant it then too.”

“I don’t want to.”

“There’s legal business, you know,” said Courageous, pulling a case of cigars out of his pocket and offering them to Heinous and Cecil – Heinous refused, but Cecil took one, and so did Valorous when his turn to take one came. “Or I could get you in at the arena.”

“I have a job,” said Valorous.

“Okay,” said Courageous, and didn’t push it. That was the difference between Courageous and some of Valorous’ other cousins, even Aunt Noble, sometimes – he made suggestions, put options on the table, but he didn’t harp on them if you didn’t seem into it, let you change the subject. Valorous suspected it was part of what made him good at marketing as well, getting people to come to him rather than the other way around.

He blew fire out of his mouth to light his cigar, making Courageous laugh and clap his hands together, but for his and Cecil’s he just reached out with a flare of magic, lighting the tips and letting them burn.

“You must miss it,” said Courageous.

“Miss what?”

“I don’t know,” he said, looking thoughtful as he hollowed out his cheeks, taking a slow drag. “The prestige of it, being known everywhere. Being a hero.”

Valorous shrugged, not looking at Cecil even though he knew Cecil was looking at him. “I don’t know,” he said. “It all feels the same to me.”

* * *

Over the past few months, Valorous really hadn’t done much more than sleep, eat, and use a bedpan. Every time he managed to eat something and swallow down his meal, he’d pass out again immediately after – even when he was awake, he couldn’t really follow most conversations for too long, almost always in a haze from the drugs he was on or from the pain.

Pretty much every day, one of his relatives would be in his hospital room with him – once a week, either Aunt Noble or Uncle Jack would set up at a desk they’d brought in and treat his room as their office – more often it was Jack, but only because Noble so often needed to be on the phone and was more likely to disturb his sleep.

Courageous came in pretty often, and sometimes Fanciful would come in with him – the two of them and Dandy were brothers, but Dandy would almost never come himself, because he and Valorous had never particularly got on. Courageous had always liked Valorous, had always doted on him a little – all his cousins that were closer in age never really understood him or got on with him as much, but Courageous was always easy.

Other uncles and aunts, different cousins, would filter in and out – they’d bring books he couldn’t read himself or concentrate on when they read aloud, and a few of them would bring toys or model sets he wasn’t really interested in and would just pass onto the next cousin his age that came in; mostly, they’d just talk, and he’d sleep or go hazy through most of it.

Myrddin would be there, always.

It was nearly four weeks into his recovery when he realised that he wasn’t in the Lashton Hill Hospital, like he thought he was, and that he was actually in one of the Camelot specialty hospitals, that made more sense. He hadn’t understood, hadn’t comprehended it – he was in and out of most of the Lashton hospitals often enough, had broken bones and had different accidents enough that he knew most of the A&E doctors and nurses by sight if not by name, but he’d never been in the ICU before, let alone on one of the longer-term recovery wards, and had just put his lack of familiarity with anybody down to that.

It meant that his family were commuting two hours each way to see him every day, for the most part – Uncle Heinous came in twice a week, which made sense, because he didn’t have to come from very far away, and so did some of the Kings that lived in and around Camelot – Uncle Indistinguishable, who was a doctor of necromancy at Camelot University; his Aunt Livid and her wife, who owned a farm outside of the city proper; a third cousin called Vermilion who worked up in Llallwg National Park, and he only came down to see Valorous three times, but Valorous always remembered because he brought his cat, a big Maine Coon with tufty paws, down with him on a leash and put him on Valorous’ feet.

He didn’t know if his family would still be visiting him, if they’d still be able to, if they’d still be allowed, because the car was pulling up outside of the palace, coming up to one of the side entrances that had a lift.

Myrddin supported him up the ramp, and Valorous was painfully aware of the heat of his thin, strong hand against Valorous’ hip and his arm around his lower back. Myrddin hadn’t spoken much over the past months, had never spoken to him at length like he had the first day Valorous arrived in the hospital – Valorous was always aware of him instead as a figure in the corner of the room or standing in the doorway, filtering through to check Valorous’ IV or his medication.

Funnily enough, Valorous was pretty sure most of his family hadn’t realised who he was either, anymore than Valorous had himself – Uncle Heinous did, of course, and the others who’d met him personally or closer up, but most of them barely realised he was different to any of the other doctors in the hospital.

“He needs to recover in a home, Mr King,” Myrddin had said to his Uncle Heinous, spreading his hands, “but even were he up to the journey back to Lashton, I believe he would struggle to rest quietly either in the home of Noble and Jack King, even were it not the case that his nightmares potentially put them at risk.”

He had to be drugged pretty heavily, throughout his hospital stay. Once or twice, the doctors would say that they were concerned about it, that they wanted to trial him on a lighter dose that didn’t knock him out as heavily – Myrddin would stay overnight when they made these recommendations, and it would be him that put out the fires Valorous started when he dreamed, stood between his magic and the rest of the building, him that put him back on the IV.

“You want to keep him in the palace?” asked Uncle Heinous.

“I have the resources available to care for him, to attend him,” Myrddin had replied. “If you would prefer to host him in your own home, or if you’d like to contact another relative—”

He’d passed out, hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation, but had heard fragments of Uncle Jack and Aunt Noble arguing about it, Noble saying they should bring him home, Jack saying he wanted to as well, but that they had to think about what was best for Valorous.

The room was nice. It wasn’t completely neutral – there were dark blue blankets on the bed, but there was also a fleece blanket printed with dragons. It was a little childish, but it was nice, the kind of thing he wouldn’t ever ask for, but—

But was nice.

“Am I going to be able to go home after this?” asked Valorous. He coughed a little after he finished talking, and Myrddin stepped back after helping him to sit on the edge of the bed – he’d stood on Valorous’ good side so that he wasn’t straining his arm.

His arm looked almost worse now than it had three months ago – most of the skin was healed with bright, thick scarring criss-crossing all over his wrist, his elbow, up his shoulder, up the side of his neck. There were a few scabs in places, but mostly it was just corded scarring, places where the skin was unusually smooth or unusually rough and textured, but either way the new flesh caught the light and reflected it. The worst part was the hair growing back – most of it had burned right off and he hadn’t even thought about it until it started coming back in the patches between the lighting scars, tickling or scratching at the scars, and some of the pores got blocked or full of dead skin and oil, a thousand times worse than any spot he could get on his face.

“I’ll be doing some meditative exercises with you to help you sleep better,” said Myrddin. “In the meantime, we’ll be weaning you off of the current tranquilisers you’ve been taking, and once I’m comfortable with your health and performance, we can see what method works to treat the disturbance. What efforts has your boarding school gone to in regards to addressing this?”

“Uh, I take two drops of a valerian and poppy tincture every other night,” said Valorous. “The nurses don’t brew it – they get it from an apothecary, I’m not the only one that takes it in the boarding school.”

“Are you the only one that takes it at that dosage?” asked Myrddin.

Valorous pressed his lips loosely together, and stared down at his knees, shifting on the bed as he flexed his elbow, his hand. His whole fucking arm hurt, and it made him grunt in pain, feeling where some of the skin stretched and pulled – part of the regime Myrddin had planned for him was making him exercise with it, make the skin… used to the muscle moving underneath.

“Meditative exercises,” said Myrddin firmly. “Were you at a school intended for young men of your power and potential channelling ability, you would have explored this already, but Idloes Sant is not equipped for that. There’s no mage of particular note or ability on the staff.”

“Idloes Sant,” repeated Valorous. Myrddin spoke English as though it were a chore, and on the occasions he used Welsh words or phrases, there was a music Valorous never heard in his English.

“Ti’n siarad Cymraeg?”

Valorous shrugged. “Tipyn bach. I speak more Scots Gaelic than Welsh.”

Myrddin smiled, looked genuinely approving, and the grey in his eyes shimmered slightly. Valorous’ mouth was dry – he’d never realised before that Myrddin Wyllt might be beautiful, might be… enchanting, strange to look at in the way that demigods and gods were meant to be, because he had an aura of something unexpected, indefinable.

Valorous’ skin prickled in a way that had nothing to do with the scarring up his arm.

“Will the med— Will meditating stop me having nightmares?” asked Valorous.

“They will lessen them,” said Myrddin. “At the moment, when you have nightmares, you sleep is disturbed – believing yourself to be under threat, you act on instinct, and you lash out with your magic, vaguely, violently, without specific direction and without control. The body and brain are a complex machine, and they feed into one another, create loops of stimulation and response to it. Your body floods with adrenaline, cortisol – your magic overflows, your heart rate speeds, your reflexes heighten. You have a nightmare, you lash out with magic, your body senses the sudden burst of magic in the room, your nightmare intensifies, you lash out with more magic… And each nightmare, your body remembers. It remembers that you were under stress, and it does not recall a satisfactory resolution. Do you understand?”

Valorous nodded.

“The exercises I teach you will bring your mind more in line with your body, your magic more in line with your mind. You will control it more finely, more tightly – this will also make you more aware of your limits, such that you don’t strain yourself again, as you have now.”

“On the valerian and poppy, I don’t remember the nightmares,” said Valorous. “It’s almost like I don’t have one.”

“You’re here to heal,” said Myrddin simply. “You are not here so that I can coddle your weaknesses as your so-called educators have been doing.”

Valorous stared at him, stunned, and then he slowly nodded his head. He reached for the fleece blanket, stroked his fingers over the green scales of the dragons printed on it, felt the soft texture of the blanket under his touch.

It was starting to rain outside.

* * *

There was rain streaking the window, thick, fat globs of it sticking to the glass.

“Is there anything in particular you’d like to talk about this week?” asked Dot, looking at him expectantly.

“Cecil says I’m insecure about my scars,” said Valorous. “But I’m not.”

He was sitting back in his chair with his hoodie pulled down over his knees, his hood up, his body rested back in the chair. He’d taken off his shoes, so that he didn’t feel nervous about putting his feet up on the seat – Dot had told him four times that he could before he’d actually unlaced them, and twice more before he took them off.

“Okay,” said Dot. “Let’s start there.”

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