One morning, a few months after his birthday, Perian woke up and realised that there was a chill in the air. He shivered, and snuggled more closely under his blankets. But he could not get back to sleep, so instead sat up resolutely, and flinched at the sharp stiffness in his shoulders. He looked around the familiar room. The walls were the same as usual, mellow golden stone just beginning to draw some richness from the waxing light of morning. The same trees were visible through the window. As Perian watched, a leaf detached itself and floated slowly down beyond his sight. He shivered again, pulled back his covers and lowered his feet to the floor. His knees hurt. His feet were cold. He noticed the thinness and pallor of his legs.

“I am old,” he said aloud. “I am old.”

He dressed, not calling his servants but hastily getting into whatever clothes came to hand, slipped cautiously through the still-quiet passages of the palace, saddled his own horse and rode out past the astonished, drowsy sentry towards the North Gate of the city. Here too the watchman was startled to see his king, but Perian gave him only a brief nod before heading away north as fast as Mela’s morning eagerness could carry him.


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