Chapter 27: The Court of Fools
Colin flinched as he was shoved again on the dais to face the screaming mob. Gunney cowered next to him as their calls echoed into the night. Mariselle’s smile faltered when she saw the princess was not among them. Mariselle turned to her advisor, Ananias, “Where is the girl?”
“She’s escaped, my Queen.” He frowned at Gunney, “I’m sorry to say one of my own had something to do with it.”
Gunney shook his head, “No M’lady never! Gunney’s loyal he is!”
The captain of the guard slammed his fist onto the back of Gunney’s head, silencing him. The little man whimpered and bowed low.
Mariselle leaned closer to the captain. “Find her, use all the guards if you have to, but she mustn’t escape, and Captain, do it quietly.”
The captain nodded and signaled for all but two of his men to leave with him into the castle’s interior.
“M’lady,” Ananias whispered. “Now may be an opportune time to finally claim what you’re owed by making an example…” he nodded at Colin.
“Yes, I know Ananias. Two birds with one stone.” Mariselle’s face changed to a wide smile as she turned towards the crowd. “Citizens of Gilead, I present the miscreants who befouled our market and brought chaos into the streets.” She made a sweeping gesture with her arm. The crowd cheered as she continued, “These two represent all that is wrong with our fair kingdom! They take what they want, with no regard for the people or property they destroy.” The crowd booed as Mariselle continued her accusations. “Even now evidence is coming to light that these two are responsible for the disappearance of the princess, a kidnapping the king and I have grieved over for a year.”
Colin shook his head, unbelieving as the mob pumped their fists and screamed louder.
“Reports are coming in that these two even orchestrated raids on incoming shipments of grain and supplies for the city!” Mariselle continued.
Colin glanced around, his mouth dropped as he saw the mob’s frenzy intensify, devouring every word she spoke. You’ve got to be kidding.
“That’s complete crap!” Colin called out, “you’re throwing me under the bus, you’re not even giving me a chance to explain!”
“Silence!” a guard slapped Colin and he bit his tongue.
Ananias leaned in and whispered in her ear. She nodded, “I’ve just learned before being apprehended in the great temple, they disrupted a unity ceremony and assaulted several priests. But I am fair - let it never be said I wouldn’t offer grace. So, in accordance with our just laws, let them answer for their crimes. Let them admit to their deeds - and they may receive some mercy.”
Gunney, wide-eyed, shook his head again. “No, please, Gunney ain’t got no complaint with nobody!” The crowd jeered at him and sent a few stones flying over his head.
A guard nudged Colin forward to address the crowd. He looked across the angry gaunt faces of the mob. How many of them were screaming at the world, at their own pain, as much as at him? They were starving children screaming at their mother for a crust of bread. They wanted answers to questions they didn’t know how to ask. They wanted completeness for a hole inside them that they didn’t know how to fill.
What can I say? How could I even start to explain how I got here or why? These people want blood. Colin looked down. There, just below the dais, was Samuel. The old man was again facing Colin with the same uncanny stare. Lightning crackled in the distance and thunder bellowed overhead. The crowd screamed louder.
Mariselle frowned and stepped forward, raising her hand to calm their voices. She turned to Colin, “Speak worm! You and your ilk have conspired against our kingdom, against our freedoms, against our unity. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Lightning flashed across the sky. Colin saw a slip of parchment carried in the wind floating high above the castle.
Drops of rain began to fall, and the paper dropped and dipped on the breeze before landing at Colin’s feet on the dais. Colin slowly picked up the parchment and instantly recognized the broken seal across its edges as Samuel’s, it was the same missive he’d carried the night before.
How the hell? Colin’s mind wondered for a second as a word appeared on the blank page. “Venia,” Colin mouthed.
* * * * * * * *
In an instant, the mob disappeared. Colin was floating in space, somehow alive and conscious, a tiny speck adrift in the infinite. The harsh screams of the crowd had been replaced with a silent emptiness that was both vast and suffocating. Before him the magnitude of a starfield pulsed and, with a resounding boom, the sun burst into existence. Colin covered his eyes, the glaring light surrounded him, broke through his hands, pierced his clenched eyelids and filled his mind. He expected to be engulfed in flames, but he felt no heat. The glare lessened. He slowly moved his hands away and drew his gaze to the void below him and saw a planet form from nothingness within seconds. A brown orb grew in size until it filled his view. Water swept across its surface and mountains formed. Atmospheric clouds lifted from the waters and the planet became lush and green.
In a flash he was standing on a grassy hill, surrounded by evergreens, overlooking the city of Gilead far to the west.
What is this? How can I be here? How? Colin’s mind raced as he watched the city’s walls grow like plants up out of the ground, gleaming white and new. The spires of the city rose like flowers and the castle, a white jewel in the center, built itself up.
Colin realized he was watching something, something he wasn’t a part of, like a time-lapse scene in a documentary, he was witnessing the birth of Gilead. Days and nights flew by.
My God, this is like virtual reality on steroids. His mouth dropped as he watched the city taking shape over what must have been hundreds of years. Clouds formed overhead, casting the kingdom in shadow. Time slowed to its normal course. Then a beam of sunlight broke through and touched the field in front of the city’s gates. A child in simple robes appeared before the city. His brown locks shined and his face glowed with light. Colin stumbled and knelt as the boy touched his forehead. For a moment Colin felt completely at peace. The gates of the city opened and people flooded out to surround the boy.
What’s going on? Colin wondered as he was pushed to the side. The child reached his hands out towards the crowd. People grasped for his touch, and as they did, their faces became joyful.
Colin stood amid the crowd, as one by one they bowed to pay the child homage. A mighty wind swept across the valley and the trees, in turn, bowed low. Colin looked up and saw the sun and stars appear together at once in the sky, seeming to bow in unison. The boy called to each star by name and then turned his gaze to Colin, breaking through the vision as if to say, “I know you, too.”
In the blink of an eye, the child was now a man. He was taller than Colin, bearded, and his locks hung low at his shoulders, but his eyes held the same light. The crowd now screamed at the man, in an instant they were striking his sides and back. Rioting around him, kicking and hitting him until he fell to the ground, bleeding. The sky turned black as lightning and thunder rolled overhead. The ground had become a lake of sewage. A mob had tied the child high to a gnarled old tree nearby.
Colin’s eyes opened wide. He screamed for them to stop, but his voice was silent. The man continued to stare at Colin, his gaze never wavering and amid the screams of the crowd his voice whispered to Colin’s mind. “You are a beast tamer, a mountain mover, and a speaker of the words.”
The mob jeered at the stranger as they stuck him again and again with spears. Blood gushed from his wounds and soaked down to the roots of the tree like a crimson waterfall.
Colin saw he was now standing amidst the blood, holding a spear that pierced the stranger’s side. He gasped and let the weapon drop from his hand.
The ground began to shake. Colin fell to his knees and watched as the mob surrounding the tree scattered in all directions. Thunder roared across the sky and a bolt of lightning shot down from the clouds striking the man and setting the tree ablaze in a fiery explosion. Colin was hurled back into the muck as the tree split down the middle.
He slowly opened his eyes and saw he was kneeling before the same tree, long since burnt and dead. Time had passed again. Centuries had flown by. He looked up to see the body was gone. Singed into the trunk of the tree was a single word, “Venia.” Colin’s eyes filled with tears as he realized it was his hand that had dealt the killing blow.
“I . . . . I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do this to you. I’m so sorry.”
* * * * * * *
Mariselle snatched the parchment from Colin’s hands. “Where’d you get this?”
Colin’s eyes refocused. He was standing on the dais again. The rain was pouring down. The mob was screaming for his blood. The vision had passed.
Mariselle screamed at him again as she grabbed the back of his neck. “Gaping at them won’t save you! Now, beg the mob for your life before I cut you down right here!”
Colin looked up towards the crowd, the hairs on the back of his neck still standing on end. His mind reeled, still in shock from what he had just witnessed.
“Venia,” he sighed. A slight breeze washed across the mob’s faces, and for a moment they became silent. Colin looked down to find Samuel’s gaze again. The old man still stood below the dais, his eyes locked on Colin’s face, and his mouth dropped at the sound of Colin’s voice; as if some great revelation had come to his mind. Samuel turned to the crowd and held out his hands.
“If you wish to kill a fugitive, kill me!” Samuel cried.
“It’s him!” Mariselle glared at the prophet then yelled towards her guards, “Samuel, traitor, kidnapper, arrest him!”
“I will have a word on the boy’s behalf,” Samuel called back, “then you may do what you will, Mariselle!”
The crowd watched on in silence as guards pushed forward to the old soothsayer, grabbed him and led him up to the dais.