As much as it pained Penelope to admit, and as much as she despised Eury’s threats, she knew he was right. As long as the appointed elders of Ithaca controlled the destiny of their castle and fortune, neither Mac nor herself would truly be safe. While most of the invasive suitors wouldn’t dream of usurping the castle by means of violence, or defiance of the elders or the gods, there were still plenty who lurked like sharks approaching bloody water. Each day, they grew more impatient with the process and less concerned with the prospect of having to face the gods. Living in that castle, enjoying its amenities day after day, year after year, some of the men began to feel that any punishment they would have to suffer in the next life would be well worth the lifestyle acquired in this one. If there is a next life, many thought.
If the suitors didn’t fear the gods, the elders didn’t stand a chance. Should they disapprove of such behavior, the suitors could just kill them and make way for the next batch. While this thought wasn’t one they’d spent much time entertaining, it was certainly in the back of every elder’s mind.
Penelope certainly didn’t want that. The elders had been so kind, appeasing her every request when it came to the timeline of getting remarried. They had been sympathetic and patient with the delayed progress of the shroud she wanted to make in honor of Otis. Any of them could have accused her of taking advantage of their kindness and making a mockery of her own request. If any of them had known she’d actually finished it, and it had been sitting in the top drawer of her nightstand for the past three years, they would have birthed kittens.
Not long after starting the shroud, Penelope realized that she was working much too fast. As the days came and went, she slowed her pace but was still moving too fast. So she slowed her pace even further, but on top of that, every day she would unravel half of the day’s progress. It was a trend she would continue for the next ten years.
Initially, Penelope had assumed and daydreamed that different elders would stop by to check on the shroud and how it was coming along, but none of them ever did. Even after she’d finished, she waited for someone—anyone—to stop by and ask about it. But no one ever showed.
The morning after a disguised Otis stopped by the castle to visit, Penelope lifted the shroud from its place in the nightstand and took it to a rocking chair on the balcony, where most of it had been embroidered. She sat and unfolded the magnificent cloth monument, recalling specific details the laudanum had rendered blurry.
A strange scratching noise shot over from the balcony’s ledge. She kept her eyes on the shroud and leaned forward to set it at her feet, exchanging it for a bow and arrow concealed beneath the rocker. It took a moment for her sight to maneuver past the teenage stubble before she recognized the cautious smile.
“Hey, Ma,” Mac said, holding his hands up on either side of his face while his eyes pointed back at the arrow’s tip. “It’s me. Please don’t let that go.”
She stood up and ran to him before rearing back and smacking his cheek sideways. It was the first and only time she’d ever hit him.
“Don’t you ever leave like that again, young man. Do you understand me?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, with a genuine timbre. “I won’t. Promise.”
“So…did you learn anything about your father?”
“No,” he said, still eager. “But I met a whole lot of people that he either inspired or helped during the war. He’s a hero—everywhere I went.”
“So you didn’t hear anything about what happened to him?”
“No,” he said. “Nothing like that.”
A mother can always tell when her child is lying, even though sometimes she’ll pretend not to.
“Look, Mom,” he added. “I know you’ve done what you could since Dad’s been gone. But it’s difficult to fight an uphill battle, especially by yourself. And that’s exactly what you’ve been doing all these years.”
“What are you saying, Mac?”
“I’m not sure, but I think I’m in a position—or getting close to being in a position—where I can help. I know that we can’t keep waiting around on Dad. And I know you don’t want to marry any of those slobs downstairs…I can help. I can help get rid of these guys. Then maybe you can find someone who actually deserves to marry you—for you. Instead of some asshole who just wants to live in this castle, and off your fortune.”
He walked to the ledge of the balcony and sat on the rail.
“Just make sure you don’t finish that shroud in the next few days,” he said.
Penelope looked down at the completed shroud but couldn’t tell him the truth. If anyone ever found out, if he were to accidentally let it slip in some conversation, it would’ve put both of their lives at risk.
“I know growing up here hasn’t been easy,” she said. “Especially without your father. But ever since the day you were born, my entire life has been dedicated to one purpose. And that’s keeping you safe—until you’re old enough to keep yourself safe.”
“Now it’s my turn to keep you safe, Ma.”
She glanced back at the shroud, then up to where Mac had been standing. He was gone. “You’re not that age yet.”
Only moments later, Mac and Jinni walked a remote beach and were about to pass a beggar man. Nearly looking past the mud on his face and the drabness of his brown robe, Mac locked eyes with the stranger and felt as though he was looking at the same sad eyes he’d seen in the mirror. While the rest of this shaggy man shared little resemblance, the likeness of their eyes was uncanny.
“Mac.” Otis stood still, stunned to silence.
“Dad?” Mac asked. “Is that really you?”
“Yeah,” Otis said. Tears began to stream down his heavy eyes. “It’s me.” After a long, heartfelt hug, Otis finally released his grasp. He leaned back and clapped Mac’s shoulders within his palms. It really was like looking in a mirror, albeit one that had the ability to enhance the powers of youth. After the tears had settled and the hugs were done, the air remained ripe with a raw sentiment. Otis took in a deep breath, finally leveling his emotions.
“It’s you,” Otis said, just now noticing Jinni.
“I told you I was one of the good guys,” Jinni said with an arrogant yet friendly smile. “Glad to see you made it out.”
“It’s so great to finally meet you,” Mac said. “We have a lot to catch up on.”
“You have no idea how much I’ve pictured this very moment—thinking it was never going to happen,” Otis said, feeling another round of tears moving in.
“I know, Dad. I know. And I wish it weren’t this way, but before we can celebrate, we’ve got some work to do. At the castle.”
“Yes,” Otis said, shifting to a more hostile tone. “I just came from the castle. What in the hell is going on there, and who are all those guys?”
“I’ll explain everything.”
“I hate to interrupt, fellas,” Jinni said. “And I know this isn’t exactly the busiest of spots, but neither of you should be out in view of the public right now.”
“No one recognized me at the castle,” Otis said.
“That doesn’t mean they won’t out here,” Jinni replied.
Otis nodded. “You’re right. I’ve set up a small camp. It’s not far. Follow me.” Without warning, a swarm of raindrops poured from the cloudless sky. A flash of lightning lit the beach, sending a clap that ricocheted and rumbled off every standing surface.
“Actually,” Jinni said. “We have a place. Indoors.”
“Great,” Otis said as the rain picked up. “How do we get there?”
Through a raging monsoon and a narrow channel that led to Ithaca’s main docks, Jinni and Mac paddled the Elvira’s lifeboat back to her home. Otis sat in the back with a pensive look that only grew more so, as incoming rain drenched the three of them relentlessly. Since the Lost Boys had a reputation to uphold, they came and went as they pleased, exaggerating those first few drunken nights. For Mac, the lifeboat was the only way to go to and fro without anyone knowing he was on the island.
As the soaking-wet trio climbed aboard and claimed shelter belowdecks, Peter was the only Lost Boy who had decided to stay in for the evening. He was alone in his cabin trying to sleep. He thought the sneaky visitors were there to steal—a thought that was only confirmed when the first face he saw in the darkness belonged to Otis, disguised as a vagabond.
Peter pulled a dagger from his belt, taking a deep breath and getting ready to pounce. “Stop right there.”
“Relax, Pete,” Jinni said, bringing a lantern to life. “It’s just us.”
With groggy eyelids and a cross demeanor, Peter looked the three of them over. “What…we’re takin’ in bums now? What the hell is this?”
Jinni smiled. “This is Mac’s father. Otis Seehus.”
“Well, shit,” Peter said, taking note of the brown robe and grubby appearance. “So much for us getting paid.”
“Don’t worry,” Otis said. “You’ll get paid. Mac’s told me all you’ve done for him. For us.”
“Yeah?” Peter asked.
“From the bottom of my heart, I just want you to know how grateful I am.”
“You’re welcome,” Peter said. “But let’s get back to the getting paid part.”
“My fortune is being looked after by elders that I appointed some time ago. Right now, they control it, but once I have access to it, you’ll have access to it.”
“Why don’t you go talk to them now?” Peter asked.
“It would draw too much attention,” Otis said. “I need to be…strategic in how I reveal my presence here. But rest assured, once things are back in order, you’ll be compensated generously.”
Slightly, Tootles, One, and Two burst down the stairs. The drunken cluster reeked of cheap whiskey and burned tobacco, and all seemed to be laughing at the funniest thing any of them had ever seen. But as it often did, Peter’s mood controlled the mood of the room. And when they saw their captain looking as serious as he was, their laughter lost its momentum.
“Fellas. Meet Otis,” Peter said.
They all tripped over one another, making obnoxiously drunken introductions. After several stern, fatherly looks from Peter, they all sat down and got quiet.
“And how long until things are back in order?” Peter leaned forward and interlaced his fingers.
“I don’t know,” Otis said. “All depends.”
“On what?” Tootles asked.
“Tootles. Shut up. On what?” Peter asked.
“If you fellas are interested in one more job, I got one that’ll pay enough to keep you set for several lifetimes. But it is going to be dangerous.”
“What even makes you certain you still have a fortune?” Peter asked. “Those guys up there in your castle. It seems they’ve been chipping away at it for some time.”
“No,” Mac said. “They haven’t. They haven’t even scraped the surface.”
“And how do you know?”
“I’ve overheard the elders share this information with my mom.”
“I did pretty well for myself when I was just about your age,” Otis said, with a smile of friendly arrogance. “If you guys help me get my kingdom back, you’ll be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You’re just going to have to have a little faith.” Otis looked over the group, taking note of their builds. “And a lot of training, from the looks of it. I’d be willing to bet there’s not one in the lot of you who can fight worth a shit. Except maybe you,” he said, pointing at Jinni. “But you’re no spring chicken, are you?”
Peter took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “So what’s your plan?”
“Don’t have one yet. But I’m thinking. In the meantime, how well are you boys conditioned?”
“Conditioned?” One asked. “Like when we get paid for a delivery?”
“That’s commission, retard,” Slightly said.
Otis smiled and stood up. “What do you say we all go for a little run?”