Steve looked down at the kneeling princess. He gave her a slight, benevolent nod and extended his hands to her, indicating that she could now rise. She waited a moment, as she was supposed to. Steve took that moment to glance covertly around the room. He took in the rich tapestries, the heavy, ornate clothing of the courtiers, and the over-the -top headdress of the princess. This is ridiculous, he thought. He looked to his left, where the production crew waited for him to take the princess' hand. "This is ridiculous, I can't-"
Steve was cut off by a loud voice announcing "Take Six". Steve sighed and rolled his eyes. Whoever said rock stars could get results at the snap of a finger was mistaken. He'd been trying to tell them for months that this was the stupidest video idea he'd ever heard, but no one would listen. They'd gone right on hiring actors, commissioning costumes and booking filming venues. But they had yet to explain to him what in the hell a Medieval wedding, royal intrigue and some damned "flaming forest of doom" had to do with his song. Oh, Sherrie had nothing to do with any of that. It was a love song. It could also be called a last-ditch attempt to save a crumbling relationship. But an epic tale of Medieval adventure, it was not.
Steve looked down at the "princess" again and sighed almost imperceptibly. All that belly-aching over not having been cast in the Separate Ways video and she didn't even accept the part of the princess. He'd jumped through countless hoops and threatened to lop off more than a few heads to ensure that she be given the part, and she hadn't even taken it! Too busy with her damned "personalized aerobics training course." "You should take one, too," she'd said. "Might help you lose those extra pounds you've put on." Steve had ignored the comment about his weight - one of many - but he couldn't ignore the fact that Sherrie's aerobics trainer had called on more than one occasion to ask why she wasn't coming to her sessions. He hadn't confronted her about it yet. He'd hoped that the song would get through to her and she would come to him on her own. So far, it hadn't worked. She'd even refused to come to today's filming when he asked her to. She couldn't cancel her "class." She's getting some personalized aerobics training, all right.
Steve sighed and clamped down on those thoughts. He was having a hard enough time concentrating without thinking about Sherrie's infidelity on top of it all. He tried to get back into character, but he couldn't focus. It had to be faced. I just don't want to do this. He was about to interrupt the shoot again when a violent shudder passed through him. Steve frowned. Where the hell did that come from? It wasn't cold in any way - especially with his heavy, stuffy costume on. Dammit, that's it! I've had it!
"Wait a minute. Wait a second, guys," he said, lifting the heavy crown off of his head. "This is ridiculous. I can't do thi-" Steve cut himself off with a sharp gasp, dropping the crown to the floor. He'd been about to tell Graham that he couldn't do this today, but Graham wasn't there. No one was. Not Fred, not Sheila, not anyone from the production crew. All the equipment was gone, too. Where had they gone? Steve looked back at the pretend wedding guests, his expression one of complete confusion. He was even more confused to see that everyone was gaping at him in total shock. Steve reddened slightly, then gestured toward the left side of the room. "Where are they?"
Shocked looks were replaced by puzzled ones. Steve felt a light touch on his right shoulder. He turned to see a man he'd never seen before. He was the same height and build as Steve, and his face was so similar to Steve's that they could easily have been brothers. He had auburn hair, green eyes and a splash of freckles across the bridge of his nose, but that was where their differences ended. His eyes and mouth were the same shape and their noses were identical. His hair was even cut in the same style as Steve's. Steve gaped openly. What the hell? Who ordered a stunt double? And why have I never seen him before? And what the hell is he doing in the shot with me if he's the double? And why the hell is he a redhead? And where the hell is the crew to answer all these questions?!?!?
The doppelganger drew uncomfortably close to Steve and whispered, "Are you all right, my Lord?"
"What?! No, I'm not all right! Where the hell is everybody?!"
A collective gasp arose from everyone present. "Sire, please," the red-caped "clergyman" said. Then, in a scandalized whisper, he said, "Your language."
Steve looked at the man as if he had lost even any vague remnant of his mind. "What are you, nuts?! What the hell is going on here?" Steve was greeted with more shocked and puzzled looks. "Okay, okay," Steve said, raising his hands in a gesture of defeat. "You got me. This has all been very amusing, okay? But it's time to stop now and get back to business. So just tell me where the crew is, okay?"
The red-headed stunt double exchanged worried glances with an elderly courtier who also stood on the podium where he didn't belong. "What ails you, Sire?" the younger one asked, a look of deep concern on his face. "Are you ill? And why are you speaking English?"
"What? What the hell else should I be speaking???"
The red-head looked at him, even more worried. "Portuguese of course, my Lord," he said hesitantly.
Steve looked at him as if he were insane. "Portuguese?"
The red-head and the old courtier looked at each other again. "Perhaps the heat has addled him, Your Highness," the elderly man said. Steve stared. The man was definitely speaking Portuguese. But Steve could understand him as well as if he'd been speaking English. But it was Portuguese. What the fuck?!?!??!? "Do you require a glass of water, Majesty?" the elderly man said.
Steve stared at him for a few more seconds, trying to make sense of the fact that he could understand what the man was saying. Finally, when he thought his brain would explode, he gave up, shaking his head vigorously. "All right, stop it!" he shouted. "Just stop it! This has gone far enough, okay?"
"What has, my Liege?"
"I said that's enough! Joke's over!" Steve stalked off the platform and strode purposefully to the area where the crew should be. "Graham? Fred?" he called. "Come out here!" Steve waited, but no one was forthcoming. "This isn't funny anymore," he yelled. "Come out!" He waited another moment, then let out an angry growl. He stormed to the far wall and started pulling on tapestries and knocking on the walls, searching for a hollowed out hiding place.
"Your Majesty, please. The guests grow nervous." Steve ignored the worried voice of the stunt double, lest he start thinking about the Portuguese thing again. His search for the crew grew more and more frantic. Everything seemed solid. There were no false tapestries or trap doors or any other kind of hiding place. Just solid wall. Steve swallowed. But if there aren't any hiding places... Steve shook his head. "It's not possible. Where are they?"
"Who is it you seek, my Liege?"
Steve jumped, then whirled to face the auburn-haired "courtier." "You know damned good and well who I'm looking for!" he yelled. "Now stop playing this game and tell me where my crew is."
The man glanced nervously behind him, then looked back at Steve. "Sire, the only crew I know of is tending the wedding barge."
Steve glared balefully at the man, his patience at an end. He grabbed the man by his silky tunic and yanked him forward so that they nearly touched noses. "I thought I told you to stop playing games," he said through clenched teeth.
The man gulped nervously. "S-sire, I-"
"Shut up!" Steve shouted, giving the man a jerk. "Now you listen to me, you little punk! I don't know how much they paid you to keep up his 'king' charade, but the next thing that comes out of your mouth had better be the whereabouts of my crew, or I swear I'll have your head!"
There were gasps from the phony courtiers, but Steve ignored them. He was too busy watching the person in front of him. The young man's eyes widened perceptibly. He glanced behind him as if searching for help. The elderly courtier who'd offered him water stepped closer. "Your Majesty surely cannot mean to-"
"Quiet," Steve snapped, not taking his eyes off the stunt double. "I'm waiting," he said in a menacingly low tone.
The man's mouth worked silently and the color drained slowly from his face. When he finally spoke, his voice was high-pitched and shaky with fear. "P-please, my Liege, I... I beg of you to believe me. I... I d-don't know how to answer you."
Steve recoiled, letting go of the man's tunic as if it were hot. He stood there, hands trembling - his face almost as white as the terrified man in front of him. Terrified. He's terrified. He actually thinks I'm going to cut his head off. Steve backed further away from the man, shaking his head slowly. "It's not possible," he said hoarsely. He looked around at the other people in the room - their faces full of confusion and fear. All of them completely sincere. Steve shook his head again, then bolted toward the door. He paid no attention to the voices calling after him. He had to get out. Had to see the street, the cars, the buildings. Anything to prove to him that he hadn't gone insane.
Steve slammed into one of the tall, heavy double doors and shoved it open. He stumbled outside and stopped short. No buildings. No cars. No street. Just an unbelievably huge lawn and a large bay about fifty yards away. A rich blue carpet extended from the church doors to a dock on the edge of the water. Floating peacefully at the dock was a large, wide boat covered with white flowers and streamers. A line of guards stood on each side of the carpet. Behind them was a throng of at least a hundred people, all bowing or curtseying as gender dictated. Steve could see hundreds more gathered around the shores of the bay, as if they were waiting for something.
Steve started to shake. Sweat dripped down the sides of his face, only partly caused by the heat. He staggered back and nearly jumped out of his skin when a strong hand grasped his shoulder. Steve turned to see the gray-haired courtier looking worriedly at him. The younger man whose life he'd just threatened stood beside him, still pale but looking at Steve with more concern than fear. Steve tried to pull away, but he was shaking too hard to be very effective. Finally, his legs just gave way and he collapsed into a dead faint.