Coluim stood motionless as his father left the room, powerless to stop him. What use is revisiting these horrible events, if I cannot change them? Eadwulf spoke, as if responding to Coluim, though he had said nothing. "No, young prince. I will not disobey the wishes of your father. He is headstrong, but an excellent warrior and leader. I am certain he and his soldiers will be victorious."
"Eadwulf, please, I know more than you think. You must ride. Help him instead of me!"
"Yes, Coluim, I agree. These barbarians lack the training your father has given his knights. They will regret this lack before the night is over." Eadwulf was engaged in a conversation that happened sixteen years ago. Coluim couldn't break through, couldn't break the pattern. And what if I could? As Eadwulf told me, this is in my head. I can save my father countless times there, HAVE saved him countless times. It does not matter. Eadwulf left the room, talking to a Coluim that was not there. "Come, young prince, let me show you the spell I'm working on..."
Now what? Am I to live this night out in real time? What purpose does that serve? Coluim was too restless to stay in this room alone, so he made his way to the top of the castle wall. He found himself standing in the same spot where he stood this morning, watching the sun rise with an older Eadwulf. The same spot where he came to stand on this night he was being forced to relive, waiting for his father's return. Anglia burned. There were still a few small skirmishes outside the castle walls, but most of the savages had ridden after the king and his men as they made their way directly to the enemy camp over the hills, intent on crushing this invasion at its heart. The battlefield was quiet. Coluim waited. He waited, and he thought.
My ancestor was right, but also wrong. I do remember my father as a happy man, alive and well. I remember his teaching. I remember his laughter. But these memories are weightless. They are as feathers to the sack of iron that is this night. The battle, my father's ride, the waiting...and what follows. Damn Eadwulf and his potion. I did not need his help to remember this. Always it hovers outside my mind, ready to slip in, ready to hold me hostage. Always I fend it off. But now I've nowhere to turn. Why would he torture me so?
After what felt like an eternity, a lone scream ripped through the silence from beyond the hills. Coluim could not move. A rider crested the horizon, pulling a wooden frame on a litter behind him. He rode to within earshot, out of bowshot, and climbed down from his horse, lit by the burning houses on the field. Even from this distance, Coluim could see that he was a hulking man, clad in tattered furs. "Fools of Anglia! Come forth and see your broken king! Come, and bow to your new king! Bow to Torfjald! Bow to the power of the Norse! Bow to my blood eagle!" Torfjald quickly propped up the square frame. The king was lashed to it hand and foot, stretched into an X, stripped of his armor. Torfjald moved behind him and drew his axe. He hacked into his prisoner's back. The king let out an anguished scream. Torfjald chopped a few more times; with every downward swing, Coluim felt unspeakable agony bloom in his back. In my head. Chop. An illusion. Chop. Not to father. Chop. Torfjald threw his axe to the ground. He yanked, and the sound of the king's ribs cracking open echoed across the plain. The king screamed once more, then fell silent as his head slumped forward. Torfjald reached into the king's wounds and pulled his lungs from his chest, stretching them to the top of the frame and tying them there. At that moment Eadwulf burst forth onto the castle wall. Torfjald was mounting his horse and turning to ride off. Eadwulf's arm shot out as his voice boomed across the countryside in a language Coluim didn't recognize. A geyser of flame erupted where Torfjald had stood, but it was too late. The butcher had escaped. Coluim's father remained motionless, tied to the frame in a vile parody of the eagle on their coat of arms. His ribs and lungs made hideous, bloody wings at his sides. Eadwulf broke the numb silence.
"He...I...underestimated these men. These animals. Coluim, young...king, what is your will?" Coluim neither moved nor spoke. "Yes, sire. I will retrieve him at once."
Coluim felt a pull from behind his navel, and suddenly flew across the Bloody Plain. He found himself standing in front of his father's body. The gore was unspeakable, but the king's face was unharmed and peaceful. Suddenly he raised his head and smiled. "My dear boy. It is so good to look upon you once again."
"Father...are you in pain?"
"No. No, Coluim, I am at peace. I have been, and I will be forever. I want you to remember that."
"I try, father, but always...this..." Coluim gestured at the frame.
"I know. And I am so sorry, my son. But you must let this go. Let me go. You could not have stopped my death if I fell from a horse, or if my heart burst at dinner. Nor could you stop this. You did more than anyone could expect at sixteen, and more than enough to make me happy. You rode out as a king with Eadwulf and your countrymen. You conquered Torfjald and his Norsemen so thoroughly that never again has anyone from their land sailed across our sea. You have maintained peace and justice in Anglia, and that has made my life worth living."
Coluim's eyes brimmed with tears. "Father, I feel so selfish. I have everything I want and yet—"
"And yet you feel like you should get more. I know, son. I had the same feeling. I was glad when the Norsemen appeared on our shores. I was eager to join in battle with them. You see where that led me. Be thankful. You have your family. You have your honor. That would be true if you were a farmer or a king. Wanting for nothing is a very good thing. Remember that, my boy."
Coluim nodded. As his father smiled upon him, he was pulled once more through the air into the night. A room materialized in front of him, brilliant with sunlight. Several people were gathered around a bed. The mood was subdued, but not sad.
These are my chambers. And that old woman—my wife? That man is my son!
Coluim then looked at the person lying under the covers.
That ancient man—me. And I appear to be dying.
To Be Concluded.