Chapter 16: "The Island King" and "The Turning"
Felix’s eyes snapped open, expecting to see chaos around him; the last thing he remembered was the sea chewing apart the boat and swallowing the debris…companions and all. He should’ve been dead. They all should’ve been dead. Felix rolled onto his side and coughed up a stomach-full of salt water. He gazed blearily across the beach of a palm-forested island and saw that his friends were all alive and with him. Though disoriented, it looked like most of the others were beginning to awaken as well.
But that was when Felix noticed the presence of another. And, despite the strangeness of everything that he had seen on this journey, this other figure was perhaps the strangest sight of them all. A man, wearing nothing but vine ropes and leaves, sat nearby on a stump. This man had painted his skin with muds and minerals to depict images that seemed to make no sense. He wore a headpiece crafted sloppily out of huge tree fronds and twigs. And, perhaps most alarmingly, this tribal character wore a pair of cracked and bent spectacles on the end of his nose.
The others, now awake, began to pull themselves from the sand and shells. Groans and cries rang out as they all began to discover the injuries that they’d incurred from the ordeal. The group, as a whole, was battered and bruised.
“Good morning to ye all. Rise up if ye can indeed. Rise up. We’ve much to speak on.” The odd islander spoke with a strange tittering voice. It was almost as though there was a laugh hidden behind each word.
Appropriately, the Old Man was the first to speak. “Hello, sir, we are—”
“—I know who ye are,” The man interrupted. “Ye were called to by the mysterious woman, were ye not? Eh?”
The Old Man nodded slowly.
“I thought it true. Those called by her always end up here. For this is the paradise ye were promised. And l, I am yer king now. This is my domain and ye are all my subjects. Fear not, I tell ye true when I say this is paradise.”
All the travelers were standing now. This Island King stood up from the log that he’d been crouched upon and held out a staff of some sort. It looked like the spine of some large animal with a number of shells and rocks tethered to the end of it. “Answer true, now wanderers. Will ye swear fealty to me, your Island King? Will ye join my kingdom in the palms? Will ye enjoy this lost paradise?”
Felix noticed that the Island King’s voice had that strange quaver to it again…but it didn’t bother him. It was actually quite soothing, comforting, inviting. Felix didn’t really know why, but he trusted the king. “I will!” Felix stepped forward, staring dumbly into the Island King’s eyes.
Then Claire shouted “I will,” at almost the same moment as Kori, both of them also looking deeply into the Island King’s eyes. Marielle clutched Kori’s arm, “What are you doing? This feels wrong, doesn’t it? Why doesn’t the Woman meet us if this is our destination?
The Island King climbed down from his perch and approached Marielle. As he laid his hand on her shoulder and met her gaze, he said simply, “Ye will be happy here; I give ye the word of the king.” Marielle, now looking into his eyes, nodded and bowed her head. The king then repeated this action with Sorell and then Asher and then Lesedi. Each of them, in turn, came to the same decision and relinquished their allegiance to the Island King.
The king rested his hand on the Old Man and began to speak—but the Old Man pulled away and averted his gaze. “Do not touch me, Island King.” The king recoiled slightly from the Old Man’s affront. The Old Man turned back to him, taking care not to make eye contact. “I’ve been warned of men like you…demons with the power to persuade. Your honeyed words will have no effect on me, I promise. I carry the song of the Woman within me.”
“No, ye don’t. I can smell an empty Soul when one sinks foot in my sand. What ye think is an angel or goddess is nary but a dream…a hope of something better. Ye have found it here; that is why ye don’t hear the song anymore. Ye don’t, do ye? She’s been silent since the sun rose up, eh? Since ye entered my realm. As I stated rightly before, this is the paradise that ye seek. And I yer king.”
Lesedi stepped forward and spoke, “This king speaks true. You have told me yourself that the Woman’s song has abandoned you.”
Then Felix stepped up beside Lesedi, “You’ve led us a good long way, just like you were supposed to. But a guide needs to recognize when he’s reached the end of the journey.”
Marielle pulled Kori forward with her, “Look at all we’ve done. We’ve seen evil and conquered it; we’ve been together for an eternity under the sun; and we’ve almost died…all of us. To get here. And now we are here.”
Kori squeezed her hand, “There is nowhere else to go. No boat and no Woman. If this isn’t where we were supposed to end up, then I cannot imagine how to carry on. Can you?”
Claire and Sorell came forward together, “Many of us have found precisely what we were looking for. We are happier now than ever before,” Claire said as she looked to Sorell. Sorell nodded her agreement.
Asher shrugged, “I’ve been in search of paradise for most of my life and I came on this journey to pursue that faith. I believe that this is what we were all promised in the scriptures.”
The Island King grinned and attempted to catch the Old Man’s eye again; the Old Man avoided the gaze once more. “Ye still refuse? Even with the words of yer own kin?”
“They are bewitched by a devil. Their words are not their own and I will never follow you, Island King.” The Old Man turned and jogged off along the beach as quickly as his old bones would take him.
The Island King shouted after him, “Ye will find that there is nowhere to go. There is only this island…and it is mine!”