Shying away from the crowd gathered around Robin Hood, and the bulk of the party’s guests in the ballroom, Otis kept to himself and wandered the halls as best he could without arousing suspicion. Eventually, he reached a room with an open doorway somewhat off the beaten path.
Once inside, Otis looked over a variety of colorful portraits. Beneath all of them were plaques featuring the person’s name and years, ranging from their birth to their death, unless they were still living, of course. Upon closer examination, Otis soon realized that each of the men hanging on the wall had one thing in common: they were high-ranking military officers who’d served in the Trojan War. Sure enough, one in particular happened to stand out.
A young “Otis Seehus” stared ahead into the mysterious distance with a studious look while the half-constructed Trojan horse stood tall behind him. The plaque stated the correct year of his birth, while a question mark signified the year of his death. Fearing that someone would come in and recognize him staring at his own monument, he promptly left the room.
He started back toward the party, stopping to admire the myriad of paintings and portraits he hadn’t yet encountered. In a busy hallway that opened up to the dance floor, another portrait jumped out at him. Otis stared up at the painting, then looked over to King Calvin speaking with a guest. Otis looked back up at the painting, then back to King Calvin.
“Heh,” Otis said, amused.
The painting was that of a massive, hairy beast, standing upright like a man and wearing an outfit identical to the one King Calvin happened to be wearing on this particular evening. “Something, isn’t it?” a familiar voice asked.
“What’s that?” Otis replied, looking to see who had sneaked up and concluding with a double take.
“Love,” Robin Hood said. “And the effect it can have on a person. The way you think. The way you behave. Decisions that you make. People are always trying to show me pity because I’m blind. Their attempts to avoid making it obvious only accomplish the opposite. I can always hear it in their condescending voices. But I’ve discovered it’s the ones who never figure out the true meaning of love that need pity. Whether they choose not to feel it, or just can’t. They’re the ones who are walking this earth truly blind.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Otis looked the man’s face up and down. “You’re Robin Hood, aren’t you?”
“Indeed, I am,” Robin said, grinning. “Do I know you?”
“No. Name’s Ross. We’ve never met before, but I’m a big fan of yours. I know how important you were in the war—keeping the men’s spirits up.”
“That’s kind of you to say, Mr. Ross.”
In the dance hall, the music stopped. A boisterous, muscular man in his midtwenties cupped his hands to his face. “Let the games begin!” His deep, burly voice nearly made the floor rumble, while the entire crowd showered the man’s announcement with applause.
“What’s this?” Otis asked.
“Follow me,” Robin said. “I take it this is the first time you’ve been here for a party.”
Robin led Otis down to the private beach on the back side of the castle, where a group of fifty or so strong and feral men ranging from their late teens to their late twenties stood in a sloppy single-file line that led to a sign-up sheet. Two hundred or so of the party’s guests had no intention of signing up but were starting to gather around to watch the upcoming festivities.
“Every year, toward the end of the night, anyone who wants to show off their strength and cleverness can sign up for the games,” Robin said.
“What are the games?” Otis asked.
“There’s a handful. Javelin, fencing, archery. And every year, they come up with a different puzzle. But—it all ends with the discus. There are five events in total. You can sign up for one event, or you can sign up for all five. If you win all five, you get thirty-three pounds of gold and sixty-six goats. But no one’s ever won all five. Care to sign up? Sounds like you’ve got some youth left in that voice.”
“Unfortunately, some is about all I got,” Otis said, observing the youthful strongmen playfully engaging one another in line.
A meathead in his midtwenties en route to the line, stepped between Otis and Robin, shoulder checking the both of them. “Hey Robin, you going to sign up this year? Or is your boyfriend going to have to win it for you?” The cocky alpha laughed all the way to the line and then cut to the front.
Seething over the intentional shoulder check, Otis looked toward the meathead, now ribbing and giggling with the other men in line.
“I like to think otherwise, but it seems to be a young man’s world,” Robin said with sorrow.
For the next several hours, a wide variety of men took their turn. The meathead, whose rise from obscurity made him a fan favorite, had dominated the first three games and edged out what seemed to be his only real threat during the fourth, which was the puzzle course. After he had officially taken four of four games, and with the discus supposedly being his specialty, talks of all five were bouncing around the crowd.
He stood in line for the discus sign-up. The youthful testosterone surging through his veins had him ready. He was on top of the world, already spending that gold in his mind. But Robin and Otis broke his concentration, attracting his wrath once again. As it had been before, the meathead’s attack was directed more toward Robin.
The meathead closed his eyes, extended his arms forward, and mockingly walked in place.
A few of the nearby competitors snickered. Otis was enraged, leaving Robin behind to approach the meathead.
“What do you want, lover boy?” The meathead pouted his lips.
“Before this day, if someone told me that there were people out there over the age of fifteen that make fun of blind people, I’d tell ’em they were full of shit. Then I met you.” Otis buried his eyes into the meathead’s, knowing that youth was the only real attribute this pompous reprobate had in his corner. “That man may not have his sight, but he accomplished more when he was your age than you will for the rest of your life.”
“You want to step over there and handle this like men?” the meathead asked. “I’d be glad to fight you. At the very least, I can accomplish that today.”
“No,” Otis said, still not backing down. “I don’t care enough about that to bruise my fists over it. He’s not my kid, and he’s not weak. Doesn’t need me to fight his battles. Or assholes like you. So know that this isn’t going to be about him. I just don’t like you.”
“What are you talking about, gramps?”
“I’m going to teach you a lesson in humility and respect.”
“By throwing a discus further than your simple ass. You can kiss your gold, and those goats, goodbye.”
“Is that so?” the meathead asked, raising intrigued eyebrows.
To build hype and draw more of a crowd, the men who read off the names were sure to place the meathead and Otis as the final throwers, and in that order.
The meathead wrapped his stocky fingers around the bronze disc and closed his eyes. The tiny sliver of nervousness he did carry was overshadowed by giddiness. He had seen every throw he had to beat, and he knew that there was no way some old man was about to outthrow him. The meathead took a deep breath and calmed his mind, confident that he himself was the only person who could stand in his way. He took one more deep breath, spun around, and launched the discus into the night sky. His feet landed perfectly within a chalk circle. When the discus finally landed, its distance had undoubtedly toppled that of the previous first-place holder. The crowd went wild with applause.
He turned toward Otis and walked away from the thrower’s circle. “All eyes on you, gramps. Good luck.”
The crowd settled as Otis stared at the disc in his hand, wondering when he’d last held one, unable to remember.
“You gonna kiss it or throw it, old man?” the meathead asked.
Otis took a deep breath.
“This ought to be good,” the meathead continued. “I think he really is gonna kiss it.”
Otis closed his eyes and took his deepest breath of the day. He looked over to the meathead, winked, and kissed the discus. After two spins within the chalk circle, he whipped the discus two times higher than the meathead and one and a half times farther. The meathead, other strong men, and spectators were stunned silent until everyone burst into another round of applause.
“How did you do that?” the meathead asked, his jaw still in the sand. “That was. I mean—that was. You threw that further than anyone here can see.”
“Foul,” the field judge yelled out.
Otis looked down at his foot. It had just barely broken the chalk fault line.
“Yeah!” the meathead yelled out in celebration.
“Your throw doesn’t count, sir. I’m sorry.” He was an older fellow who was genuinely remorseful and had been secretly pulling for Otis, having had some personal stake in the outcome of youth versus wisdom. While it pained him to have to be the one to say something, the simple fact was that Otis had stepped over the line. However unpleasant, however disrespectful, that young man had earned his gold prize and the first perfect score in the party’s history.
As the field judge announced the young man’s win by default, only a few in the crowd let out some uninspired claps. The meathead, initially too excited to contain himself, jumped up and down with joy. The crowd’s lack of response and immediate dispersal took the wind from his sails, until he saw Otis.
With a smile and another shoulder check, the meathead squared up with a visually disheartened Otis. “Thanks for makin’ it interesting, old-timer. I should probably give some of this gold to you for helpin’ me out back there, but I ain’t gonna.” The meathead cackled away as Otis accepted the loss gracefully and let time guide it further into the past.
Otis scanned the crowd in search of Robin, but Robin was standing behind him.
“There you are,” Otis said. “Win some, lose some, I guess.”
“In all my years, I’ve only known one man who can throw a discus far enough to draw a response like that,” Robin said. “And it’s probably no coincidence that you sound exactly like him. You’re name isn’t really Ross. Is it?”
Otis lowered his eyes to the beach. “No.”
“Then I say it’s high time you tell us who you really are,” Calvin said, stepping in. “And while you’re at it, maybe you can explain why you got so sad when Robin was telling his story earlier. Yeah, I saw that.” Calvin looked around, realizing he had attracted a lot of attention and sent it all in the direction of Otis. “I think all of us deserve to know why you show so much remorse while listening to a story that makes us swell with pride.”
“You’ve been so nice and generous,” Otis said, still looking down with shrugged shoulders. “I suppose I wouldn’t be a very good guest if I wasn’t willing to be honest with you. I’ll tell you who I am. And I’ll tell you my story. But I have to warn you, it’s not an easy one to tell. I can’t imagine it’s an easy one to hear. My name Otis Seehus. I’m the king of Ithaca, and I fought in the Trojan War.”
The crowd reacted with a verbal gasp.
“To those of you who don’t know me, I was part of the stealth team in the wooden warhorse. The horse…it was…I helped come up with the idea. The war went on longer than any of us had anticipated. There didn’t seem to be any signs of it stopping. And then, it was over within the blink of an eye.”
Over the next two hours, Otis captivated an audience that gained members by the second while never losing a single one. He told everyone how he’d been taken prisoner by a vile pirate named Captain James and how he’d been scooped up by fishermen, sold as live bait, and almost fed to a python before the queen of Calypso Island kept him prisoner for over a decade. By the time Otis had finished telling his story, his throat was sore, and his voice was raw, as he’d spoken more words in that hour than he had in the previous sixteen years combined.
“I’m not really sure what happened after that. I just remember waking up on the beach and feeling tired. Really, really tired. Then I woke up here. And I’m sorry. I really am sorry that I lied about who I was. But after everything I’ve been through, I just want to get home with as little attention as possible.
“I’ve heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I wonder—if my wife thinks I’m dead, did she move on? If so, will my son ever see me as his true father? He was only a newborn when I left. Now, he’s almost a man. I don’t even know what he looks like.”
Without warning, a small child began to sob and heave uncontrollably.
“Aw. I’m sorry,” Otis said. “Please don’t be sad.”
“That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard,” the child said, struggling through the tears.
“It’s going to be OK, though. Because I’m going home.”
“You certainly are,” Calvin said. “Anything you need. A vessel, provisions. Wine. It’s all at your disposal. We are going to get you home.”
The fire continued to rage by the beach, and all eyes remained so affixed to the great Otis Seehus, that no one noticed the curious pair of mermaids who had been eavesdropping from the water’s edge. If there was one stereotype of mermaids that rang true far more often than not, it was that they loved to gossip. And war hero Otis Seehus being released by the Calypso Queen after thirteen years of captivity was a juicy, juicy story. In fact, some merpeople knew of places where a story that juicy had monetary value.