Father Caollin and I talked into the late hours of the night, but of what, I could not remember, as my subconscious descended into a foggy haze. Only the eyes of the father- which seemed to pulsate from a dull brown to a rusty orange- were burned into my memory. Under the influence of the potent drugs, everything else slipped from my mind, replaced with emptiness, and the cloying feeling that I had unloaded a great deal off my chest.
At some point I drifted off to sleep and began to dream, although I could not recall when or where it had happened. Of the dream itself, however, my memory was crystal clear.
I was standing in a stadium, lost in a crowd. It was a modern amphitheater, and as I looked around, I realized it was set up on the giant grass football field of my old college. The others in the crowd wore T-shirts, jeans, sundresses, and all the regular attire of college students. Even though it was only a dream, it felt good to be home, in my own time.
There was a stage in front, with spotlights shining down on microphones, guitar stands, amplifiers, and a giant set of drums in the back. Behind the drum set was a giant banner, emblazoned with a picture of David Bowie. He was covered in white makeup and holding up a guitar.
My friend Emily was a few yards ahead of me, weaving her way through the throngs of fans. Every few strides, she would turn around to confirm my location. “Come on Jilly!” she called after me. “Let’s see if we can get close to the front of the stage.”
I rushed to catch up with her. When I was close enough, Emily turned around and gave me a strange look. “Where did Malcolm get off to? He’s the one that dragged us to this concert in the first place.” She paused. “And who’s the kid that keeps following you around?”
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Thanks for taking me to the concert, miss.” I swung around to stare Ko’sa in the face. “You’re the best. The Outside is amazing!”
“Ko’sa! How did you…how are we…” I trailed off as the lights in the stadium dimmed.
“Quiet!” Ko’sa said, giddy with excitement. “It’s starting!”
The crowd noise fell to a hushed murmur as we all turned our attention to the center stage. Through the black, we could just make out the silhouettes of the band members as they walked out to their spots on the platform.
A single note from an electric guitar rang out from the speakers, hanging over the crowd.
Then the spotlights shined down onto the stage, and Malcolm smiled back from his spot in the center, a flashy red guitar strapped to his shoulders.
“How we all doing tonight?” he shouted into his microphone. The crowd responded with a monstrous roar. “Alright! We’re Malcolm and the Church of Lentempia, and we’re here to rock!”
More deafening cheers.
Malcolm beamed back at the crowd. “I dedicate this first song to my wife, Jillian Reynolds: the Angel from the Outside.”
The band broke into it’s first set, Malcolm trying his best to sing with what little vocal range he had. The crowd didn’t seem to notice his lack of talent though, and even Ko’sa began to clap along to the beat. “I love this song!” she yelled into my ear.
As he began to waltz around the stage, I saw a fire ignite across the giant poster behind him. The fire began to trace out words, as it did back at the Royal Palace, until the message had completed. It read,
DIE FALSE BOWIE
Then the drum set exploded, but instead of exploding into flames, a giant wave of water erupted from the center. I stood in the middle of the crowd, helpless, as a gigantic tidal wave rushed towards me, swallowing up the crowd in its wake.
“Miss Jill!” Ko’sa screamed, but then she was gone, and everything went blue. I was drowning again, my lungs filling with water, back in Caollin’s memory. My head broke the surface, and I saw a boat in front of me, just out of arms reach.
I tried to swim towards it, reaching out with my arms, but it was moving away too fast, roaring and coughing smoke, leaving a trail of white surf behind it.
It’s hopeless, I thought. I’ll never be able to catch a motorboat.
Then I sunk into the depths of the water, and everything went dark.
My body woke up, but my muscles felt numb and unresponsive.
It was a motorboat, I realized with a jolt. The one in Caollin’s memory. But then, what the hell was a motorboat doing in the childhood of a priest from a medieval world?
I tried to open my eyelids, but they felt cemented shut. Only my eyes underneath could move, darting behind veils of darkness. I wanted to scream, to flail, to do anything, but I could only lie still, trapped in a cage of paralysis. My breath quickened and I forced myself to relax.
This is normal, I told myself. This is the trial of the body, and I chose this. Every man, woman and child living in this world has gone through this paralysis, including Malcolm. Like them, I will overcome it.
I took a minute to take in my surroundings with what few senses I had available. It appeared that I was lying on a bed. It was soft, and padded with spongy cushions, so that my body had sunk deeply into the center of the mattress. Satin sheets were tucked around my arms like a cocoon. Under normal circumstances, it would have felt like heaven.
Using sheer will of mind, I tried to force my limbs to move. First was the face. If I really concentrated, I could get my bottom lip to twitch. A small movement, but progress all the same. Again and again I tried to force the twitch once more, but after that, my lips remained glued together.
Just when I was about to divert my concentration into wiggling my eyebrows, I heard a heavy door thrust open and bang against the wall, followed by the sound of footsteps thundering into the room.
“It’s…it’s her!” a voice gasped, and my breathing stopped.
A voice I knew all too well: Malcolm’s voice.
My eyelids fluttered, but only for a second, and then I was still again. After a beat, he continued, “Where did you…how did you…”
“The Gods act in mysterious ways,” a second voice responded, slow and deep. It was Father Caollin, I realized, speaking to my husband. “Truly a miracle, my lord.”
“Aye, the Gods have answered my calls.” There was a sound of liquid pouring, followed by the clink of a glass bottle being placed on a table. “She looks different Caollin. Is she sick?”
“We talked for a great deal last night. Apparently she has been traveling amongst the commoners, has undergone many hardships to arrive here in the palace. She even got caught up in the mess at the funeral.”
“Why are her eyelids twitching like that?”
“Do not worry, that is normal. She has elected to undergo the Baptism, and her body is fighting the effects of the neurotoxin.”
“What?” Malcolm’s voice dropped. “Wait, can she hear us right now?”
“No, she has been placed under a heavy sedative. It will be many more hours before she awakens.”
“The Baptism,” Malcolm said slowly, his tone darkening. For a moment the room was silent, then his voice cut through, now cold as ice. “And why was this done without my consent?”
“Sorry my lord, I thought it would be prudent-”
“You thought it would be prudent?” Malcolm’s voice began to rise. “Remind me Father, were you chosen to receive the Holy Tablet of Prophecy?”
“No, my lord.”
“Does the Holy Crown of Lentempia rest upon your head?”
“Of course not my l-”
“Do you think your King would have wanted to speak to the woman of his destiny as soon as she arrived? Perhaps before you put her life at risk and poisoned her?”
“Sir, the Baptism is a standard procedure in our faith. That is a touch dramatic, would you not agr-”
“Do not patronize me Caollin!” Malcolm screamed. “I AM King! Me! The Angel from the Outside does not need a Baptism if the King does not wish it.” I could feel his breath on my cheeks, hot and smelling of red wine. “I am in charge, not you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Of course, your majesty.”
I heard a gulp as Malcolm took a swig of his drink. When my husband spoke next, the shrill edge to his voice had left. “Do not misinterpret, Father. I am very grateful for what you have done for me today, and it will not be forgotten.” I felt a hand brush my cheek. “Jillian…she is to be my queen.”
“I thought so my lord. I would advise we still hold court tonight with the ensemble of potential suitresses, including Jillian. It would give the appearance that we are evaluating all candidates for your hand equally.” He paused. “We should also prepare a plan for the inevitable backlash when you announce your selection.”
Malcolm snorted. “We have been dealing with backlash since the day I stepped into this palace, my friend, but it has never slowed us down.” Another sip of wine, as the men thought. “Princess Alynsa will kick and scream about how I have pushed her bloodline out of the chain of succession, but there is nothing she can do to stop us at this point. If her father wanted to keep the line in the Urias name, he should have produced a male heir.”
“Indeed. I would advise you keep a close watch on the Baroness too. She believes herself the most likely candidate for your hand, and will not be happy when you name an Outsider as your queen in her place.”
“Well she is a fool then. But it is no matter, Nadia is utterly devoted to me. She will do as I say.”
“We can hope.”
I heard steps as one of the men walked away from where I was resting.
The footsteps stopped. “Yes, your majesty?”
“About that other matter.”
“You mean choosing the replacement for the High Pontiff?”
“Yes. You are absolutely sure you have no interest in the appointment?”
“While I am honored my King, you know I do not wish to bear that burden. I have no desire to hole myself up in the decrepit Citadel of the Nameless City, now a barren and dying town. My place is here, in the capital, amongst our people. By your side.”
“Understood. You have served me well, so I wanted to offer.” Malcolm paused. “So then, who?”
“Leave the position open for the time being, until I can produce a suitable candidate for you. One whose religious views match ours more closely than the last.”
After a pause Malcolm said, “We could always appoint Chancellor Hendrik.” They both laughed. “Very well Father. I will leave it to you.”
I heard the soft thump of footfalls on plush carpet, followed by the creak of a door, and then the men were gone.