In a location unbeknownst to Otis, he woke within the soft grasp of a cloudlike bed. He disentangled himself from the thick comforter and silky sheets and examined the dim room, taking note of a large dressing wrapped around his arm. Hanging near the bed was a fresh change of clothes with a small note attached to the front.
If tonight happens to be the night
you wake up, please join us in the
ballroom. We are having a party and
would be delighted by your presence. If
you are not feeling up for it, please
remain comfortable as long as you like.
King Calvin and Queen Elizabeth
Otis was overcome with delight at the note’s final line. He had known King Calvin and Queen Elaine, and they were friends, even having attended his and Penelope’s wedding. Otis stepped outside his room and into what seemed to be an endless hallway. The party was reaching its peak, and the noise was undoubtedly coming from the right. Once he’d reached the end of the hallway, a grand staircase led him down to the ballroom. Chitchat, live music, and hundreds of dancing townspeople between the ages of five and seventy enjoyed a vast, wholesome party.
Remarkably approachable despite extravagant, flamboyant crowns and wardrobes, King Calvin and Queen Elaine mingled with their gracious guests. Otis wandered in the room, swimming inside his borrowed outfit. He tried to blend in as best he could but was spotted immediately by his hospitable hosts.
“So. He’s alive,” King Calvin said, grinning.
Otis stopped and approached them softly.
“Thank goodness,” Queen Elaine added. “We were really starting to worry about you.”
“I suppose I have you two to thank for the lavish accommodations.”
“You’re very welcome,” King Calvin said. “Think nothing of it. I’m Calvin and this beauty here to my right is my wife, Elaine. We are the king and queen here. But you don’t have to address as such. Pleasure to meet you, mister…”
Elaine locked eyes with the mysterious stranger and watched him closely as he toiled over the answer.
Having been punished severely for both lying about his name and telling the truth about his name, Otis wasn’t sure how to answer. He knew the king and queen. And they had been allies in the Trojan War. Observing the surrounding crowd, however, Otis couldn’t shake the paranoia that comes with knowing that a favorite hiding place of enemies is among those who think they’re friends, so he decided to lie—sort of.
“Otis,” he said hesitantly, looking around the room and noticing a plethora of rose-filled vases. “Ross. Ross Otis.”
Otis’s stumbling didn’t go unnoticed by either of them.
“Well, Mr. Otis,” Elaine said. “Do make yourself at home as long as you like, and enjoy the party. If you’re hungry, we’ve got plenty of food. If you’re thirsty, you couldn’t be in a better place than you are right now, and if you’re eligible—refer back to what I said about being thirsty.”
“How long have I been here?” he asked, smiling bashfully at her last remark.
“We found you on the beach the morning before yesterday,” Calvin said. “Your eyes were open, but it didn’t look like you could move all that much.”
“That scratch on your arm,” the queen added. “I’ve never seen anything like it…what happened?”
“I’m not sure,” Otis said.
King Calvin stared with half a grin. He knew that this was the second time his bearded guest had lied to his face.
“So what’s the occasion?” Otis asked. “This is quite a party you’ve got going here.”
“You must be far from home if you’re not familiar with this party,” Calvin said. “We throw it once a year.”
“And every year more people show up,” Elaine added. “On this day, fourteen years ago, the biggest war this country has ever been involved with came to an end.”
“Fourteen years,” Otis said. “You must be talking about the Trojan War. That certainly is something to celebrate.” Fourteen years. Has it really been that long?
Otis stood dejected for a moment, drawing even more suspicion from his royal hosts, causing them to exchange a private glance while he looked down at the busy dance floor. “Well. Thank you again. But I am—” As Otis looked up, a large eerie painting caught his eye. It was a little girl—the same little girl he had been led to by the white rabbit. “Who is that?” Otis asked, growing frightened and having no idea why.
King Calvin put his arm around the queen. “That’s our daughter, Alice,” he said, deflated. “She was taken from us a few years back.”
“I’m so sorry,” Otis said. “I can’t imagine.”
The energetic party did little to drown the silence percolating between the three.
“Do you have children, Mr. Ross?” Elaine asked.
“I have a son.”
“What’s his name?”
Otis rubbed several beads of sweat off his forehead and grew pale. “His name? I’m sorry. I’m not feeling all that well,” he said grabbing a lump in his throat. “Would you excuse me?”
“Of course,” Calvin said, stepping aside.
The two watched Otis stroll away, casually studying the room, as though he’d eventually be quizzed.
His failure to disguise half truths as whole ones urged him to get away from the king and queen, fearing their continued line of questions would reveal his true identity. He sought out and meandered to the nearest exit. Down a small flight of stairs on the back side of the extravagant castle, velvet sand awaited. The private beach was lit by a full moon and several lonely bonfires struggling to survive an onslaught of clashing whirlwinds. The bonfire farthest from Otis, however, was thriving as if fueled by the huddled energy of the dozen or so people standing nearby.
Closest to the fire and illuminated by its chaotic dance, a blind man with a tattered robe and dark spectacles reflecting the flames had everyone captivated.
“Robin Hood,” Otis whispered.
With a cold and demanding tone of wisdom, Robin Hood continued his impassioned anecdote. “Everyone was as scared as they’d ever been. No exceptions. Especially the younger fellas. They knew we were outnumbered. They knew we were outarmed. And there was a lot of doubt as to whether or not the horse was going to work. It was plain as day on all their faces. But the great Otis Seehus had this strange ability to put ease into everyone’s mind.
“I know all of you have heard of Otis. But has anyone ever met him?” Robin awaited an answer, only to be answered by silence. “Well. Otis was the kind of person we used to refer to as a high-tide guy. The men’s morale was always high when he was nearby or had any involvement with plan or strategy. And that evening, with what was sure to be the most important battle any of them would ever fight, he did what he always did and put ease into their minds.
“He said, ’I know, up to this point, it hasn’t seemed like it’s a fair fight. Well, so far—for us—it hasn’t been. It hasn’t been a fair fight. They’ve outnumbered us, they’ve outfoxed us, and they’ve got a lot more gadgets than what we’re able to bring to the table. To put it bluntly, they’re the favorite. They are the favorite. But the upset is always in the mind of the favorite, and there’s one thing that we have that they’re not going to be ready for: the surprise. I know some of you are scared. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared, too. I’m a little scared before all of ’em. Always have been. That probably won’t change until I’m too old to fight. But my desire to live keeps me brave in battle. My desire to see my wife and son keeps me brave in battle. So tonight, when you encounter your enemy out there and show him the surprise of his life, he’s going to be more afraid of this fight than you ever thought you could be. And you’re going to know it because it’ll be plain as the white in his eyes.’”
Robin paused with emotion and wiped a tear from his cheek.
Otis looked around the crowd and noticed some of them were crying as well. He didn’t know it at the time, nor would he have been able to comprehend it, but Otis Seehus was a famous man. Had someone told him at this moment that he was a household name, and that the term Trojan Horse would be used literally and figuratively for centuries to come, he would have deemed that person mentally unfit.
Robin continued. “Otis told us that a man’s arrogance is only fueled by the weakness of other men—which, in turn, means that arrogant men, by definition, are weak. ‘The Trojan king and his soldiers are the most arrogant in the world,’ he said. ‘They know we’re vulnerable right now, but if we present ourselves as weak—convincingly—they’ll no longer see us as a credible threat. But you can bet your ass, and the one on the guy next to you, that we are a credible threat. They have no idea what kind of monster they’re about to let through their gates…but they will soon enough. Because the upset is always in the mind of the favorite.’”
The fire’s reflection raged in Robin’s spectacles. The audience ranged in age, but all of them swelled with a patriotic pride at this soldier’s presence and willingness to share his stories. Once the dust from his words had settled, many from his audience approached him with ear-to-ear smiles and asked for his autograph. The only man who didn’t seem to share in their giddiness was Otis. He lowered his eyes to the sand and disappeared from the reflection in Robin Hood’s spectacles. Otis thought that he’d slipped away unnoticed, but Calvin had been studying his reactions from afar and growing more concerned that he may have a rogue wandering his party.
Once away from the bonfire and entirely out of sight, Otis found a private spot on the thunderous beach and looked out to the raven-tinted sea. “I’m coming home, Penelope. I’m coming home to you and Mac just as fast as I can.”
At this time, Penelope was two days removed from her last sip of laudanum, and even though her concern was solely on Mac and Otis, she was still feeling the effects of its dissipation. On those rare occasions when she let her bottles get low, much of her day would be bothered by this very thought. When can I get another one? How should I spread this remaining amount for consumption? When will you do what you are always thinking about, and quit? All these questions haunted her, but that last one made her really think. Penelope didn’t feel like she wanted it anymore. If anything, she felt as though she had a tiny demon living inside her, and his sole purpose was to acquire the next sip.
The first morning Penelope had decided not to feed him turned out fine. But once she’d reached a certain point in the day and realized that a major part of her routine was gone, she started to feel a little restless. At first she convinced herself that it was really just the flavor she was missing, maybe the smell. Smelling empty bottles and their caps only made her want that feeling more.
By day two, her sheets were filled with sweat, and her night was empty of sleep. She got out of bed the following morning earlier than usual. She wanted the flavor. She needed the relief. Nonetheless, Penelope stayed strong and resisted, reluctantly allowing her mental state to slip further into an emotional limbo in which she couldn’t maintain balance. She told herself repeatedly that this was all a matter of time and dosage. These morbid feelings of turmoil and sporadic jabs of pain stabbing the inside layer of her skin were all inside her mind and would go away with time.
Penelope stepped outside for some much-needed fresh air and looked over her balcony at the blushing predawn sky. “Otis,” she said, looking out at the calm sea as violent waves crashed on the rocks below. “Where are you?”
Startled, she stepped away from the railing and glanced toward the direction of the mysterious deep voice. “Oh,” she said, still shaking the surprise from her voice. “Eury. What are you doing in here?”
“I’m sorry to just barge in like this, Penelope. But I’m afraid I’ve got something to discuss with you, and I can’t imagine you’re going to like what I’ve got to say.”
“What is it?”
“I’m afraid I’ve got some rather bad news about Mac.”
Penelope’s heart stopped. The worst feeling she’d ever had up to this moment was a brief stretch of time in which Mac was as moody as she’d ever seen. Penelope could tell that something was eating him up inside, and she didn’t know what it was. What’s worse, he didn’t think highly enough of her to share what had been bothering him. Not being able to help when she could clearly see that Mac was hurting from pain that was well below the surface was one of the most excruciating experiences she’d ever had to endure.
“What about him?” Penelope asked.
“He’s out on a Lost Boy ship sailing the open seas, looking for Otis.” When Eury uttered these words, Penelope was convinced the ones to follow would include something about Mac’s death, but they never came.
“Oh my.” She tried to express some form of shock, but stage performing was never her strong suit. “Thank you, Eury. I…I…”
“If you need anything, you know where to find me,” he said in a quiet, comforting manor. He left the room and shut the door behind him, releasing a foul smile.
Penelope returned to the balcony and looked back out to sea. She knew it was only a matter of time before others learned of this information and shared it with her in hopes of earning her love and respect. The grim reality, however, was that the further this information spread, the more danger it would bring to Mac. They knew he was becoming a man and that he was not going to lie down while they stumbled over one another trying to steal his birthright. After several moments, she sighed. Think, Penelope. Think.
“Otis,” she said with more desperation in her voice than ever before. “Where are you?”