Otis sat on the beach not far from where he’d first landed, sinking in the sand with his face burrowing into his crossed arms. It was sad enough for Otis to know that she didn’t even recognize him, but actually hearing her say aloud that she was ready to move on placed substantial weight on his psyche.
“Hey,” Mac said gently. “How ya doin’?”
Otis raised his head but focused on the sea, actively avoiding eye contact to avoid the tears. “I suppose by now you heard.”
“Yeah,” Mac said. “It’s bad timing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go through with the plan. We can’t give up now.”
“Actually—I think that’s exactly what it means.”
“No,” Mac said.
“I’ve been sitting here thinking. And…your mom…if this is what she wants, I don’t know how good I feel about taking it away from her.”
Mac swelled with raw emotion. “Taking it away from her? She’s been waiting on you. All this time.”
“She didn’t even recognize me, Mac. You haven’t the slightest idea how that feels.”
“A shave and a haircut. That’s all it is.”
“No, it’s not…what we have planned—it’s gonna result in death. Carnage.” Otis looked over the disappointed young face before him, needing it to understand. “It doesn’t feel good to kill another man. It doesn’t feel good to destroy another man’s life. Even if you are the one in the right, even if there were…no other options, it never feels good.
“Once it happens and the dust settles, your mind races. You think about their ambitions, their hopes, their families. And you think about your own place in this world. Mortality. Morality. You spend enough time thinking, and you start to wonder if you were the good guy or the bad guy when it all went down. Your mom’s current wishes can help us avoid that carnage.”
“You’re not the bad guy, Dad,” Mac said. “Any one of those guys back at the castle would kill you in a heartbeat if given the chance. They’re in your home—right now, as we speak. Indulging in what’s rightfully yours, trying to steal your wife…and your fortune.”
Otis’s silence told Mac all he needed to know.
“So what then?” Mac asked. “Is that it? You’re just gonna give up?”
“I’ve weighed the options. There’s not much else I can do.”
“If you leave now, everything I know about you—everything I’ve been told—was all bullshit.”
Once again, Mac was met with silence.
“Go ahead, then!” Mac exclaimed. “I’ll sleep just fine because at the end of the day, I did everything I could to get you back here—and you just gave up.” His emotions sent several teardrops down his cheeks as he began to accept defeat.
“You can come with me if you want.”
“No, thanks,” Mac said, angrily.
“It may not be safe for you here, at least not right away.”
“It’s not. That’s why I’m going with the Lost Boys—start paying them back for all the work they’ve put in. You want to stay here and feel sorry for yourself, go right ahead. If you want to be a man and take back what’s yours, you know where to find me.”
Mac turned his back to Otis and began to storm off.
“Mac…for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I know that this decision puts the castle and fortune in jeopardy for you, but this is the way it has to be.”
Mac stopped in his tracks and turned back around. “Dad, I don’t give a shit about the castle or gold. I just want Mom to be happy. And I know she’ll be the happiest with you.” Mac wasn’t confident that he’d changed Otis’s mind, but he had no doubts that his words had left an impression. “Like I said, you know where to find me.”
Otis sighed as his son walked away from him for the first, and potentially last, time. He didn’t get much sleep that night.
Mac awoke the next morning before the red dawn began the day. Using a few smudges of mud and an oversized robe, Mac paid homage to his father’s disguise and wandered into town alone. There were so many people there as a result of Penelope’s announcement that he blended right in. Aside from the suitors, men and women came from all over out of curiosity. It was the social event of the year, and based on what Penelope had in store for the suitors, she saw no reason to deny the public access to this event.
The cathedral bell rang out at high noon. By that time, anyone who was anyone in Ithaca had already claimed their spot within the courtyard. Once the bell had finished its song, Penelope stepped out on a handcrafted podium, immediately capturing the attention of everyone in attendance. She saw a lot of familiar faces out in the crowd but didn’t notice Mac, concealed by his robe and tucked away within the ardent group.
She sent her voice out as far as it would carry as the silent crowd clung to her every word, the suitors with a bit more focus. “Good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for coming. To those of you in attendance who call yourselves suitors—I’m aware that a great many of you have been patient. But this process isn’t going to end today. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.
“This is only the beginning. I also know that I’m not as young as I once was when Otis first left—and that I have a son. But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to compromise on standards. And to be frank, I can already say with confidence that many of you here lack the discipline and strength that I’m seeking in a husband. So this is what we’re going to do.”
Everyone watched curiously as two servants dragged a large sheet across the ground to reveal a mysterious display. It was Penelope’s first test for the men. An exhibition of twelve axes stood upright, precisely placed in a straight line in holders specially designed for their handles. The glossy blades shimmered in the sunlight, as moderately sized circular holes within each of them created a tunnel that ran from the first ax all the way to the back ax.
“These axes placed before you were a gift to my husband, Otis, from the great archer, Robin Hood. Good marksmanship not only requires proper use of one’s strength. It requires a sharp eye, keen senses, and the type of discipline that I was referring to before. Any of the men here today who want to earn my hand in marriage must first be willing to perform this task. Not only that, but he must also perform this task successfully.”
It was at this point that the servants who had revealed the display rolled a cart roughly thirty paces from the first ax. On the cart was an unstrung bow and a barrel of arrows.
“First, you will need to string Otis’s bow, adjusting the tension of its string to achieve maximum accuracy. Once you’ve accomplished this, you may move on to the next task—shooting an arrow through the circular openings of the axes. Any man who can make his arrow travel through all twelve will earn a private dinner with me, where we can discuss our potential future.” Penelope paused to scan the courtyard before wishing them all the best of luck, and the contest began.
Much like any other sporting event, the crowd cheered the suitors as each took his turn. It didn’t take long, however, for the crowd to lose enthusiasm and interest as the lackluster performances unraveled. Shooting an arrow with the precision required to accomplish this feat was challenging enough on its own. As each man came up to take his turn, the shot seemed to be the primary focus. After the first five suitors were unable to even muster enough strength to string the bow, the confidence of many was starting to diminish.
For most of them, the past thirteen years had been filled with gluttonous portions of meat, pastries, ale, and whiskey. Had she given more detail as to what they’d be doing, and time to train for it, their true effort would have been exaggerated, skewing the genuine performance that she was currently privy to. Their slothful ways had turned much of their muscle to mush. Even the rare chiseled tone that remained among a few was a mere shell of its former strength and endurance.
Their eagerness to take their shots was quickly being overshadowed by their inept attempts to handle the bow and string. Some got closer than others, but no one had the strength or know-how to handle the tension with this particular string. Frustration mounted. Tension built. By the time half the suitors had given up on stringing the bow, half the crowd had become bored enough to leave. Penelope did notice, however, an older gentleman whom she didn’t recognize accompanied by five or six young men in their late teens or early twenties, whom she also didn’t recognize. From above, their presence was noticeable, but at ground level, they slithered in and joined the remaining spectators unnoticed.
As she turned her attention back to the contest, they spotted and approached Mac as he was still in disguise. “Hey,” he said. “I thought you guys were scrubbing barnacle off the Elvira.”
“Decided to come here for the wedding instead. Women love weddings.”
“This isn’t a wedding,” Mac said, puzzled.
“Still—just the idea of marriage’ll do it,” Peter said, craning his neck, forcing eye contact with the nearest women looking his way.
“Do what?” Mac asked.
Peter thought Mac was joking. “Do what? I’ll have to remember that one,” Peter said.
“There is a lot of talent here,” Slightly said, nudging Mac with his elbow.
Otis hadn’t left Ithaca yet. He’d claimed sanctuary on a barstool and sipped on a glass of whiskey, contemplating his future. It was bleak, to say the least. The saloon was empty when he arrived, but as more spectators grew bored with the suitors’ lack of showmanship, a new herd of patrons entered every few minutes. Growing claustrophobic and uneasy about the swelling crowd, Otis decided that after his second glass of whiskey was gone, he would be too.
In the past, whiskey may have chipped away at his fear to stay and his desire to leave, but it wasn’t happening now. And the harsh caramel liquid that hit his throat was actually doing just the opposite, confirming to himself that accepting defeat was the right thing to do.
Just as Otis slugged down his final swig, someone at the bar requested a bowl of olives to pair with her wine. When the bartender didn’t answer her right away, her impatience took on a demanding tone. “I need some olives, you.”
“You got it,” the barkeep said, each word fighting through growing chatter. His rough and hairy arm gently placed the bowl on the bar before sliding it in her direction. “Best in the world,” the barkeep concluded.
“They really are,” the woman said, placing that first olive between her ruby lips.
Suddenly, something within Otis began to shed the cloak of his defeatism. “This is my home,” he whispered. “This is my home.”
Back at the courtyard, the few spectators who remained in attendance watched the final suitor take his turn. None of them had much confidence that this attempt would be any more fruitful than the previous attempts. Eury, however, approached the barrel with a swagger that gave promise to those who had waited all day, desperately hoping to see at least one shot attempted.
He rubbed some warmth into his hands and picked up the bow and string. There was little doubt that if anyone were going to have the strength to perform this task, Eury would be the man to do it. Suitors who hadn’t been too embarrassed to leave looked among themselves as he started the process. His white knuckles gripped the string and pulled both ends with every fiber of his might.
He relaxed his shoulders and neck, took several deep breaths, and tried once more. Again, he just couldn’t stretch the tight string far enough to make it reach both ends of the bow. Unable to accept his shortcomings, he began to question as to whether or not this was some sort of trick, getting it into his head that Penelope’s deception was the root cause of his and everyone else’s failure.
He gave himself one more chance to complete this task, feeling the heat on his neck, the sweat on his forehead, and the eyes all around. “Almost got it,” he said, forcing the words out slowly. “There.” He finally managed to secure the string.
Pleased, he held the bow in the air, rousing the cheers of the handful who were still in attendance. He reached down for an arrow and closed his eyes, visualizing a successful shot. He opened his eyes and took aim, forcing the string loose and causing it to snap off into his face.
“Ow! God dammit,” Eury cried out, grabbing the space between his cheek and right eye.
Everyone, including Penelope, burst into laughter. “Shut up,” Eury said, feeling the world spin around him. “I said, shut up. I didn’t see anyone else do better.”
Penelope could feel his mood and the frightening impact it was about to have on the men nearest to him, so she stood and hushed the crowd. His nerves settled with their silence.
“Anyone else?” she asked. “Or will I have to choose another test, better suited to men of your skill level?”
Eury and the remaining suitors looked among themselves. Everyone was relieved to have a second chance, even though all remained embarrassed by their first.
“Let me shoot,” a random voice called out.
Penelope looked down and scanned the crowd, only to realize that the man requesting to shoot was the beggar man who’d come to visit the castle several weeks earlier.
Eury rolled his eyes and grinned. “I don’t think so,” he scoffed. “You really think this lovely, elegant goddess of a woman wants to marry some smelly, senile old bum?”
The suitors turned their laughter from Eury to Otis.
“Let me shoot,” Otis said, glaring at his developing nemesis.
“You shouldn’t even be here. You’re not welcome here. You were never welcome here.” Eury, bow in hand, stepped forward and shoved Otis. “I said leave.”
Before Otis could answer, Mac slid the hood of his robe off and stepped forward to reveal himself. “Let him shoot, Eury.”
All the attention funneled toward Mac. Eury attempted to browbeat his young opponent with his eyes but didn’t get the response he’d hoped for.
“Unless you’re scared some bum is gonna come in here and show you up,” Mac said. “And make you look like an asshole.”
“Not at all,” Eury said casually. “That’s just fine with me, young’in. You want this stinkin’-ass vagabond to be your new pop-pop? I’ll be happy to let him shoot.” Eury shoved the bow and string into Otis’s chest and stepped away.
Otis took both ends of the string and brought them inward, creating as much slack between his fists as possible. Next, he stretched the string, mysteriously extending its length before properly securing it to both ends of the bow. The suitors stood wide-eyed in disbelief as Otis plucked it with his fingers to play a little tune.
Eury was the most shocked. “What the hell?”
Otis looked over the bow and string and brought in a deep, emotional breath. “You know, ma’am. I recognize this bow. This was a gift—from Robin Hood. Not a lot of people know this, but way back, long before the war, Robin Hood taught Otis how to shoot a bow and arrow. And, as a result, Otis became one of the all-time greats. Otis taught you a thing or two, as well, if I’m not mistaken.”
Otis readied his arrow. “Otis never got to be quite as good a shot as Robin Hood. I mean, let’s face it. Robin Hood, before he lost his vision, was arguably the best archer of all time—a title that was well earned, and one that nobody will ever take from him.” Otis took aim, filling the air with tension as he pulled back on the arrow. “But I will say this about your husband, ma’am. While he may not be the best shot of all time, he’s in the top three.”
Otis released the arrow, and it cruised through the tunnel before piercing the wall in its path. The tension had been replaced with a powder keg of shock.
“Well,” Otis said, holding the bow casually to his side. “Isn’t anybody going to welcome me back?”
“Otis,” Penelope said, hushed by the ensuing chaos.
“It’s Otis!” a suitor shouted.
“That’s Otis!” shouted another. “He’s not dead.”
“I’m here to take back my family and castle. And shame on you for how you’ve treated them both while I’ve been away.”
The few remaining suitors began to scatter.
“It’s really him!” one of them yelled, hightailing it away from the property.
“Those of you who leave now won’t have it near as bad as those who choose to stay,” Otis said.
More suitors hurried away at the threat, but not everyone was willing to give up their shot at the castle—and all that came with it—just yet.