While the rest of the Lost Boys were planning an evening of whoremongering and drunken debauchery, Tootles walked alone over a narrow strip of beach. Its dead end led him to the bottom of the cliff that held Otis and Penelope’s castle in the sky, and he admired it for a moment before something peculiar struck his attention.
“What the hell?” He leaned forward and squinted, barely able to make out the scene unfolding on Mac’s balcony. “Oh. Shit.” Tootles said. While the distance kept the details a bit murky, Tootles was sure that he was witnessing someone attempting to hang himself.
With both hands clenching the rope above his neck, Mac dangled, desperately trying to free himself from the noose. His hands had been ripped open, having squeezed the rope during the fall. What remained of both palms was shredded, and they would have felt as though they were on fire had it not been for the surge of adrenaline rushing through his veins. He’d willed himself to climb up enough to create enough slack to remove the noose, but the stubborn knot wouldn’t loosen enough to slip over his chin.
He reached into his boot for the dagger he had tucked away earlier when Jinni knocked on his door and desperately cut at the rope that kept him suspended to the balcony. Mac stopped cutting to reposition the dagger between his bloody fingers and watched in horror as it slipped from his grip and into the water below. He tugged the rope violently but lacked the weight and strength necessary to finish what the dagger had started.
Mac let out a sigh of disappointment, then one of determination, and began to pull himself upward. He was only five or six more pulls from being able to kick his leg over the side of the balcony, but with each pull, his strength wavered, and the fiery pain in his hands that was once going unnoticed was becoming unimaginable.
With his final destination just out of reach, Mac ran out of momentum and clenched the rope. Despite knowing what fate awaited him when he let go, he couldn’t gather the strength to climb any further.
Blood continued to pour from his hands, making his once-secure grip more slippery. Several hefty gobs slipped down his wrist as he closed his eyes and let out a tear. He let go of the rope and felt his stomach jump to where his heart should have been. As the rope’s harsh grip applied pressure to the top of his throat, Mac could feel his insides tighten from bottom to top. In that very instant, the rope snapped. His eyes jolted open, and his young blood boiled with shock as he fell into the water below.
Mac never saw what happened or how, but on the beach in the distance, Tootles just shook his head, threw his bow over his shoulder, and walked away, satisfied. There’s only handful of people in the world who could have made that shot. “You’re welcome,” Tootles muttered.
Mac’s fall took him just short of the ocean floor before the hopeful air in his lungs resurrected him, causing him to launch through the surface. He tilted his head back, grinned, and soaked in the sweetest ocean air he’d ever known before yanking the noose off his neck and tossing it aside like a week-old apple core.
“Thank you,” Mac said, unaware of how he’d struck such great fortune. “Thank you.” He let out a celebratory yell before the pain in his hands came back, only to be amplified by the saltwater in which they were submerged. His jubilant love affair with life was short-lived, however, as the realities of how he’d ended up there began to set in. What now?
Mac concluded that his best course of action was to stay quiet and lay low. As far as Eury was concerned, Mac was a corpse. And he figured that if Eury was willing to kill him once, it was unlikely that Eury would have any reservations about repeating the process. Mac also knew that his disappearance wouldn’t go unnoticed for long and was curious as to what the rumors would entail.
Mac swam around the long end of the cliff and in the direction of the town docks. It was a high-traffic area filled with tourists and avoided by most locals. Here he could blend in and likely go unrecognized by most he encountered. While the swim was no easy feat, his energy levels were in high supply, with him having just escaped the hungry fangs of death.
Once he’d made it to the other side, Mac took notice of the hustle and bustle and the docks filled with vessels of all shapes and sizes. Just as he’d hoped, no one had noticed him. He swam to the nearest boat, using it to conceal himself as he climbed up on the dock and merged seamlessly with the area’s heavy foot traffic. He walked down the line and admired the craftsmanship and vibrant colors of most of the vessels on display, but as he reached the end of the line, one stood out more than the rest. The ship wasn’t particularly nice or even well kept, but the insignia that it brandished held one of the most recognizable symbols of its time.
“Lost Boys,” Mac said, under his breath. As if on cue, Jinni entered his peripheral vision and stepped aboard the idle Elvira. “So he is a Lost Boy.” In awe, Mac gazed over the boat. Having heard countless bedtime stories involving the Lost Boys’ heroics, a nostalgic pride expanded within his chest and out to his shoulders. It quickly began to erode, however, as he felt the cold stare of strange eyes burrowing into his face. At first, he thought everyone was starting to realize who he was, and that any moment someone would shout, “Look, it’s Mac Seehus! Look! Look! The prince is out.”
Finally, someone approached him, looked deep into his eyes, and asked with genuine concern, “Are you OK?” Mac was relieved the stranger’s inquiry was more related to his appearance than his identity, but after a quick glance at his hands and his reflection in a nearby shop window, Mac became aware that he was drawing too much public attention and was in dire need of the medical sort.
“Yeah,” Mac said, awkwardly turning away. “I’m good.” He nearly tripped over his feet to get out of the public eye and sneaked down a back alley to claim a moment of privacy to contemplate his next move.
Onboard the Elvira, the Lost Boys were scattered about in patches as the crimson sun began to take its nightly swim. While at port, the only time they could all be found on the ship this early in the evening was when they were set to leave the following morning.
One and Two were in the process of rolling a barrel of wine into the cargo area. Its brute size and weight dwarfed those of the twins, so getting it to take off was a chore in and of itself. Once they had it moving and close to its intended spot, they propped it up, nearly losing their grip twice. After getting it upright, Two hugged the full barrel and attempted to scoot it backward, along with himself, rotating the bottom in half circles.
“Reeeeeeeeeeeeer.” Cecil shot up on all four legs and scratched Two’s ankles before dashing out of sight.
“Ah. Dammit!” Two yelled, stopping to fire a glance over his right shoulder. “Well, don’t lay there then. Goddamn cat.”
Toward the front of the ship, Tootles, Slightly, and Nibs passed around a bottle of whiskey.
“You are so full of shit,” Slightly said.
“Am not.” Tootles sat up, wide-eyed. “Ya know. Sometimes you just know, when you let an arrow go, that it’s gonna be a good shot. That’s not how this one went. I thought it was gonna whiff. But it hit clean. Guy dropped into the water like a stone.”
“The only whiff I’m getting around here is of your horse shit.”
Downstairs, in the dusty and dusky confines of the ship’s sleeping quarters, Jinni and Peter huddled around the flickering sanctuary of a small lamp running low on oil and resting on a map that both had practically memorized. They kept their conversation to a gentle hush, occasionally catching snippets of banter from Nibs, Slightly, and Tootles, as the three were getting noticeably louder by the sip.
Jinni kept his mysterious aura cloaked in the shadows of the darkest part of the room, his head and back pressed firmly against the wall. “I asked around, and no one knows anything.”
“Well, that’s disappointing,” Peter said with a contradictory tone.
“But,” Jinni continued, “I spoke with a farrier in town. He told me Otis’s last visitor was the carpenter who designed and built the Trojan Horse. Apparently, Otis and this carpenter got to be pretty good friends during the war.”
“So what does that mean?”
“Maybe nothing. But he’s one of the last guys to see Otis alive, so he may know something.”
“If he came here to visit Otis, he don’t know anything.”
“Maybe not. But guess where he lives,” Jinni said, leaning forward.
“Nestor Island.” Peter let out a half smile and leaned away.
“You got it,” Jinni said. “Nestor Island.”
“So I suppose you think that’s some sort of coincidence.”
“What are the odds of that? The last guy to come here to visit Otis happens to live on the island of our next scheduled stop.”
“Which part of the island?” Peter asked, crossing his lean, rugged forearms.
Jinni answered softly, knowing he was delivering unwelcome news. “The south end.”
“Are you serious?” Peter uncrossed his arms and leaned back out of the light.
“I know it’s a pain in the ass, but—”
“Is this really gonna be worth it? I mean, what do you think this guy’s gonna be able to tell you?”
“I really don’t know,” Jinni said. “But as long as we have a lead, we might as well follow it.”
“What about our cargo? You do realize it’s set to be delivered in the north?”
“It’ll add a day,” Jinni pleaded. “Maybe two.”
Peter replied with a roll of his eyes.
“Don’t do that,” Jinni said. “If you got something to say, say it.”
“I don’t. I just worry that this guy is gonna lead us to another guy, then another, then another…at what point do we cut our losses chasing this thing and get back to work? Believe me, of all people, I know how much fun it can be looking for gold at the end of a rainbow. But it just ain’t practical.
“And I did a little asking around on my end. Even if Otis is alive, and we get him back here, it’s hard to say how much he’ll be able to pay us. From what I heard, he comes back to claim this castle and fortune, he’s gonna have a hell of a fight on his hands. Getting paid might not be as easy as just bringing him back here.”
“Trust me when I tell you that he is alive,” Jinni said. “I can feel him. And since when are you afraid of a little fight?”
“I ain’t.” Peter smirked. “You know that. But I’m not getting anyone killed for what could turn out to be a so-so payday. If this feeling of yours is right, and he is out there, and he does need us to get him out of whatever hole he’s trapped in, we’re gonna need to talk turkey first.”
“I can live with that,” Jinni said. “I’m looking to get paid too.”
It was at this juncture that Mac crawled out from under a bunk, revealing his beaten and swollen face. “I knew you were full of shit,” he said, rising to his feet to square off with Jinni. “You didn’t know my dad at all. Did you? You were just here in search of a payday.”
After the initial surprise had worn off, Peter and Jinni examined the bruises and cuts covering most of Mac’s visible flesh.
“What are you doing here?” Jinni asked.
“And what the hell happened to ya?” Peter added.
“It seems your visit to the castle caused quite a stir,” Mac said. “Why didn’t you tell me you were a Lost Boy?”
“Didn’t think it mattered,” Jinni said.
“Well, it did. One of the guys at the castle thought I hired you to help me get rid of him and the other suitors, so I ended up getting my ass pummeled.”
Peter stepped forward, tilting his head to get a closer look at Mac’s cheeks and forehead. “Looks like he got your face pretty good there too.”
“Ha-ha-ha,” Mac said. “Hilarious.” His elevated voice roused the attention and curiosity of the Lost Boys, who were starting to come down the stairs.
“Holy shit. That’s him,” Tootles said.
“Who?” Slightly asked.
“Who do you think, hedge-creeper? It’s the guy who tried to hang himself.”
Jinni stepped forward, puzzled. “What?”
“I wasn’t trying to hang myself,” Mac exclaimed. “Eury wrapped a noose around my neck and threw me over the balcony.”
“Pretty impressive to see you’re still alive,” Peter said. “One. Two. Please escort Mr. Seehus off the Elvira and make sure he gets back to his castle.”
One and Two took one step toward Mac, and he replied by retreating two.
“No. I’m coming with you,” Mac said.
“I don’t think so,” Peter said.
“Because we’re not in the business of giving free rides to strangers. Especially spoiled princes looking to escape their ivory towers.”
Mac turned toward Jinni to plead his case. “I’m not looking to escape anything. And if you’re going out to look for my dad, I’m coming with you.”
“Sorry, kid,” Jinni said regrettably. “He’s right. This is no place for you—no life for you.”
“I’ll work. I can clean. I can cook. I’m good with a bow and arrow. I’m OK with a sword, but I’m a fast learner. At least take me as far as Nestor Island. If we don’t learn anything more from this carpenter guy, we can part ways, and you’ll be rid of me forever. Please. I can’t go back home. Not now. And I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
While the other Lost Boys were sympathetic toward Mac’s cause, Peter didn’t sound sincere when he finally agreed. “Fine. But you’re gonna earn your keep.”
Not even the purple surrounding Mac’s eyes could hide his delight. “Absolutely. Anything.”
Peter pointed Mac toward a vacant bunk and informed him that his chores were still to be determined. “And as for you,” Peter said, shifting his focus to Jinni, “ya better be right.”
“This feeling you keep talking about.”
“I’m certain,” Jinni said. “Whatever powers that run the universe are clear on that. I can’t describe it, but I can feel him. As if he were in this room.”
“Let’s hope you feel Otis better than you did him,” Peter said, tilting his head toward Mac. “’Cuz he was in this room. And the universe didn’t tell you shit about that.”