Steve was awakened by a gentle kiss on his cheek. He smiled. How nice. Sherrie never used to wake him up like that. He opened his eyes and the smile froze on his face. Probably because it's not Sherrie. Prince Marcellus stood over him with a pleasant smile on his face. "Good morning," he said.
Steve managed to keep the smile plastered to his face despite his alarm at having been awakened in this place again. By a kiss from his double's brother no less. "Good morning," he said, barely remembering to speak Portuguese.
"Are you feeling well?"
"Yes, thanks," he lied. He sat up and looked around. "So. Am I allowed to get out of bed yet?"
Marcellus grinned. "I knew your cooperation wouldn't last long. Dr. Rivell said you should take things slowly today."
Steve sighed, pretending to be disappointed. Actually, he was thrilled. The less he had to do, the easier it would be to hide the fact that he had no idea what was going on. "Do I have to stay in bed all day?"
"No, but you aren't to do anything strenuous. All your audiences have been delegated to Lord Edward. You should have ample time to recover before we hold the wedding ceremony."
"Sounds great," Steve said, lying through his teeth again. He'd forgotten that he was supposed to be getting married. Steve decided to put off wondering what the religious ramifications were for being married in a fantasy universe. If I'm lucky, I'll be home before I have to worry about it.
"If you are ready to get up, I'll send for your attendants."
"Go for it," Steve said. Marcellus looked at him quizzically, but made no comment. Steve made a mental note to try not to be so casual.
Marcellus went to the door and pulled on a long golden rope hanging from the ceiling. Then he walked to the door on the left-hand wall. He turned, looking mildly perplexed, and beckoned to Steve. Steve got out of bed and followed Marcellus to the door. It opened onto a comparatively small room, in the center of which stood a large porcelain bath tub. At the far end of the tub, there were two low tables. One was empty. The other had a porcelain basin and pitcher on it. On the left side of the room, Steve could see several tall blue screens behind which he assumed he was supposed to undress. Next to the screens was another wardrobe similar to the one in his room. Along the right wall was a long, low bench with plush blue upholstery. Man, these people have a thing about blue, Steve thought, glancing back at the blue bed, blue chairs, and blue curtains in his bedroom.
Marcellus sat down on the bench and Steve sat beside him, though not too close. He could feel Marcellus' eyes on him, and he suddenly felt very nervous. They were lovers. The king and this doppelganger prince were lovers. Steve's Stomach started to churn. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to act? What if he gave himself away?
"Are you all right, Stephen?"
Steve jumped. "HUH?"
"Are you all right?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure. Couldn't be better."
Marcellus raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you sure? You seem a bit tense."
"Um... I guess I'm just a little stressed about the wedding," Steve said, hoping it sounded plausible. "You know. All those preparations everybody made, and now thanks to me we have to do it all over again."
"Don't worry about that, my love," Marcellus said, laying a hand on his arm. "It was an exceedingly hot day. No one blames you."
Steve didn't pay attention to the rest of Marcellus' statement. He was stuck on the words "my love." Those two little words had him in turmoil. He had never been called that by anyone before, and he wasn't sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, he knew Marcellus wasn't really addressing him. But on the other hand, part of him wished that he was. And that frightened him. "Um... but... um..." Steve tried to get back the thread of the conversation. "The... the princess must be upset that we had to postpone the wedding."
Marcellus laughed. "She is disappointed about the wedding, surely," he said. "But I seriously doubt she will mind holding off on the Bonding Ceremony."
Steve frowned, confused by the apparent contradiction. Maybe the wedding and this "bonding ceremony" were different? Whatever the case, it sounded like something the king would definitely know about, so he didn't ask about it. "No, I don't suppose she'll mind at all," he said, hoping he sounded natural enough.
"What did she call it?" Marcellus thought for a moment, then chuckled again. "Oh, yes. 'That frightful pagan ritual.'" Steve chuckled along with Marcellus, wishing fervently that he knew what the hell they were laughing about. "Lord Edward spoke to her yesterday," Marcellus said when they'd stopped laughing. "He wished me to tell you that she sends her regards and hopes that the morning finds you well."
"Well that was nice of her," Steve said. "I'd like to be able to give her my apologies."
"You can do that at breakfast," Marcellus said cheerfully.
"What?!" It burst out before Steve could stop himself. He managed to keep from cringing at Marcellus' surprised expression. Just play it cool, Steve. "Um... I mean... is it... do you think it's wise for me to be eating with a bunch of other people so soon?" So much for playing it cool.
"It would only be myself, Lord Edward, Princess Annette and one of her maids," Marcellus said, frowning a little. "But if it pleases you, I will inform the Princess that you do not feel well enough to attend breakfast."
"Please do," Steve said. The last thing he needed was more people around him with the ability to expose him as a fraud. "I'd... I think I'd rather it just be you and me this morning."
Marcellus smiled brightly, all the worry gone from his face. "Very well, my love," he said, stroking Steve's arm again. "I'll tell them right away." He kissed Steve on the cheek, then walked backwards to the bathroom door, bowed and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Steve waited until he heard the outer door close. Then he heaved a shaky sigh of relief. "Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?" He'd only been awake for twenty minutes and already his stomach was busy tying itself into all the knots he'd managed to ease out over the night. Before he could think much more about his situation, the bathroom door opened and four men came in. They were dressed in dark pants and white tunics. A small silver circle with a silver anchor and rope inside it was embossed on the left breast and the right sleeve of each shirt. Each man carried a glass vial of some kind of colored liquid. As they passed him, each man bowed from the waist and said, "Good morning, Your Majesty." Steve greeted them as well, trying hard to hide his embarrassment at being bowed to. Being praised and doted over by fans was one thing, but this was quite different. This actually passed for everyday courtesy where he was concerned.
Steve watched as the four men emptied their vials into the tub. They carefully placed the containers on the empty table. Then they walked backwards towards the set of screens. Two of them stood together in the center of the screens. Without missing a step, the other two went to the wardrobe. They bowed in unison, then turned and opened the doors. They each pulled out a towel and took up positions to the left and right of the screens. Then, again in unison, the two men in the middle clapped their hands loudly.
Almost immediately, another group of people came in. There were six boys of about thirteen years, each with a wooden bar over his shoulders. Buckets of steaming water hung from the ends of the bars. The whole contraption looked way too heavy for some thirteen year old kid to be carrying, but Steve made no comment. This obviously happened very frequently, even though he thought people in the Middle Ages were supposed to be shy of bathing.
The first boy sank to one knee in front of Steve, resting his burden on the floor. "Good morning, Your Majesty."
The boy ducked under his yoke, unhooked one of the buckets and poured some of it into the pitcher on the other table. He put the rest in the tub. Then he emptied the other bucket, put the wooden bar back on his shoulders, bowed to Steve and backed out of the room. As he left, the second boy knelt before Steve, greeted him and emptied his buckets into the tub. The process repeated itself until all the boys were gone and the bathtub was full of hot water and inviting looking bubbles. Steve smiled. A lengthy process, but it might just be worth it.
Steve looked toward the screens, where the four attendants were looking at him expectantly. He stood up and walked behind the screens. He took off his dressing gown and hung it over a screen. He then removed the knee-length, close fitting shorts that must pass for underwear and put them on the screen as well. Then he hesitated, unwilling to just walk to the tub stark naked in front of four strangers. He peeked around the screens and was relieved to see one of the attendants standing there, towel stretched and eyes lowered. King Stephen must be a private kind of guy, too.
Steve stepped into the towel and the attendant wrapped it around him and escorted him to the tub. Steve tentatively touched his toe to the water, then pulled back. Hot! Slowly, Steve eased himself into the water. When his waist was covered, the attendant took the towel away and stood to one side of the tub along with the other three. Steve forced himself to ignore them and enjoy his bath. The water felt wonderful, and the smell of almond and vanilla drifted up with the steam, soothing away his anxiety. He let himself drift for a few minutes, steering clear of any stressful thoughts. Finally, he decided he should probably actually bathe so he could go on with his day.
Steve sat up and looked around for something to wash up with. In an instant, the attendants had come up to the tub with sponges and soap. Steve fought the urge to run when one man started to wash his back. He was dreading the rest of his bath, but to his surprise, the attendant handed him the sponge when he finished. Steve thanked him and began sponging the rest of his body. All he had to do was hold up the sponge if he needed more soap. When he was finished, one of the attendants asked if he would like his hair washed. "Um, no, thank you," Steve said.
"Very good, Sire." They waited a moment, then the same attendant cleared his throat. "Would it please Your Majesty to stand, or will you stay a while longer?"
"No, no, I'm done," Steve said, standing up. One of them shielded him with a towel while another poured warm water over him from the pitcher. Steve stepped out of the tub and his attendant wrapped the towel around him. He patted himself dry while yet another of the attendants went back to the wardrobe. When he returned, he held a rich, royal blue robe trimmed in silver. The same symbol that had been on the servants' shirts was embossed on the left breast of the robe. Okay, obviously this is a seafaring kingdom, Steve thought. Maybe that explains the preoccupation with blue.
Steve allowed the attendant to put his robe on him, then followed them to his bedroom. Marcellus was there, sitting on one of the couches. He stood and bowed when Steve entered. "The preparations for breakfast have been made as you requested, Sire."
"Good. Thank you," Steve said, noting the fact that Marcellus used his title that time. Their relationship must be a big secret. Especially what with them being brothers and all.
The attendants greeted Marcellus, bowing not quite to the waist. One of them went to the door and pulled the golden rope, while the others went to the wardrobe and started bringing out clothes. "Remember, nothing too confining today, gentlemen," Marcellus said, taking a seat.
"Yes, Your Highness," they replied.
Steve stood and waited, feeling mildly uncomfortable about getting dressed in front of Marcellus. He sighed. There was nothing else for it. One attendant handed him a fresh pair of "underwear." Then another helped him into midnight blue tights. What happened to "nothing confining"? Someone raised his arms, then took the mother of all powder puffs and dusted his underarms with a fine, fresh smelling powder. Deodorant! He was fitted with a sky blue tunic and a pair of short, comfortable leather boots. Two of the attendants pulled a chair out to the center of the room. Steve sat down and watched while one man brought a table and put it near his chair, then put a basin, a pitcher, two little bowls and a towel on top of it. Another man brought a large silver tray from a drawer in the wardrobe. On the tray were several combs, two or three brushes, a pair of small scissors, an old-fashioned razor, several small silver bowls and a silver hand mirror. One of the attendants clapped his hands, and yet another boy entered the room. He carried a single bucket of steaming water. After bowing to Steve and telling him good morning, the boy poured the water into the basin and the pitcher. He held the bucket up and the attendant dipped the towel inside and wrung it out.
Steve's eyes widened when the attendant approached him with the steaming towel. A different attendant walked behind him and gently tipped his head back. Steve jumped a little when the other man wrapped the hot towel around his face and neck. With a great amount of will power, Steve was able to stay put until they finally took the towel away again. The next thing he knew, someone was coming at him with a blade. With an even greater amount of will power, he let the man shave him, rather than following his first instinct and bolting for the door. When that ordeal was over and Steve thought his jaw would lock up from being clenched so tight, he was given the steam towel treatment again. When the towel was lifted, someone else gave him a tiny silver brush with soft bristles, and held out the two silver bowls - one filled with water and one with power. Steve stared at the brush and the bowls for several moments before he figured out what they were all about. "It's a toothbrush!" he exclaimed.
"Er... yes, Sire," the attendant said, looking worriedly in the Prince's direction.
"It's all right, Eduardo," Marcellus said. "His Majesty is still a little dazed from his heat fever yesterday."
The attendant nodded and turned his attention back to Steve. Steve dipped the brush in the water, then the powder and brushed his teeth. He was provided with a cup of water and a bowl the instant he started to look around, and he rinsed. After he finished with his teeth, they started to work on his hair. All of the attendants except the one with the tray were in on this one. Steve was combed and brushed and fussed over. The attendants stood back and inspected him every five seconds, making sure he was absolutely perfect. It reminded him of getting made up for the video. All he needed was a make-up check and he'd feel right at home.
When they were finally done, one of the attendants walked to a small, ornate cabinet and pulled out a large, blue velvet pillow. On top of the pillow was a plain, silvery circlet with a single peak. It was a silver so bright and shiny that Steve suspected it might actually be made of platinum. The attendant carried the pillow with reverence, walking slowly to avoid jarring it. He knelt before Steve and held the pillow out to him.
Steve picked up the crown, marveling at how beautiful it was. The platinum was light and extremely shiny. When he looked closer, he could see that a line of waves had been finely etched around the circle. The anchor-in-circle symbol was etched on the crown's center peak above the line of waves. Hoping there wasn't some sort of ritual he was supposed to perform, Steve rested the crown on his head. The attendant rose and put the pillow back in its cabinet. While he was busy with that, another man held up the silver hand mirror for Steve. Wow. Not bad. Steve grinned. Being a king could do wonders for your self esteem. He adjusted the crown a millimeter to the left. Nice. Much nicer than that honkin' gold thing.
"That's good, thanks," Steve said. The attendant bowed and put the mirror on the tray. Then the tray was returned to its proper place and the attendants bowed and left.
"I've had breakfast brought to your study," Marcellus said.
"Sounds great." Steve headed for the double doors.
Steve turned and saw that Marcellus was standing by the door on the right side of the room, looking at him inquisitively. Steve smiled and shook his head. "Still a little foggy, I guess," he said.
Marcellus smiled. "Don't worry. Dr. Rivell says you should be right as waves in a few days."
"Well, thank goodness for that," Steve said. Right as waves? Marcellus opened the door for him and Steve walked into the new room. There was a small table in the center with two chairs and two attendants standing nearby. The majority of the walls were filled floor to ceiling with bookcases. The only other objects in the room were a huge mahogany desk, a large antique-looking globe on a mahogany stand and a small square table that looked like it might contain a chess set. Steve made a mental note to take a closer look at the globe later. Maybe he could figure out where and when exactly he was. Then he turned his attention to the breakfast table. Thanks to the painstaking process of getting dressed, he'd worked up quite an appetite. The attendants bowed, then held the chairs out for them. Marcellus waited for Steve to take a seat, then sat down himself.
Steve rubbed his hands together as his attendant placed a large covered tray in front of him and lifted the lid. Steve's grin faltered and he raised an eyebrow at the contents of his platter. There were three filets of fish, a pile of unidentified green stuff, several slices of avocado with a white dip, a small plate with what looked like corn tortillas on it and a bowl of grapes. "This is breakfast?"
"Does it displease you, Sire?"
Steve looked up suddenly, not intending to have said that out loud. "Oh! Uh... no, it's fine. I just didn't expect fish for breakfast." Marcellus looked at him like he was completely insane. Okaaay. Obviously they have fish for breakfast every day. "So much, I mean. So much fish."
"The attendants can take some away if you will," Marcellus said, still looking at him dubiously.
"That's okay," Steve said. "I think I'll be okay."
"Very well, Sire," he said. Then he looked toward the attendants and nodded. One of them took a small pitcher and poured some water into two blue cups about the size of shot glasses. Marcellus took one and held it up. Steve followed suit. "May the Spirit of the Great Waters bless this meal and those that partake of it, that their bodies may continue in life's flowing current."
Marcellus touched glasses with Steve then drained his cup. Steve tossed his drink and nearly choked on it. Salt water!?! By some miracle, he managed to resist spitting it out immediately. He gulped it down, coughing and looking at the glass as if it had intentionally hurt his feelings. "Are you all right, my Liege?"
Steve looked up at Marcellus, who looked mildly alarmed. "I'm fine," he said, clearing his throat. "Drank it a little to fast, I guess."
"Ah." Marcellus hardly looked reassured.
Steve sighed. He hadn't been awake for more than an hour and he was already giving himself away. Just eat, he told himself. How can you get that wrong? Steve managed to clean his plate despite the stress. The fish was excellent, as were the grapes and avocados. Steve approached the green stuff with trepidation and found it to be seaweed. In the interest of going home someday, Steve ate the stuff. It wasn't so bad, although it did taste strongly of the ocean. All through the meal, Steve watched Marcellus carefully and mimicked his mannerisms, lest he do something no one else here would. He also had to fake his way through Marcellus' conversation, hoping against hope that the Prince wouldn't allude to any sort of private events that the king would definitely know about. Luckily, the meal passed with very few puzzled looks, and no calling of the guards to cart him off.
"Would you like to take a walk through the gardens, Sire?" Marcellus asked. "It should still be cool enough."
"Sure thing," Steve said. With a sidelong glance that reminded Steve yet again not to speak so casually, Marcellus opened a different door from the one that led to Steve's bedroom. They stepped out into a large hallway, well lit by several huge windows. The walls were decorated with tapestries depicting naval battles and seaside celebrations. Steve walked beside Marcellus, trying to follow his lead without making it obvious that he had no idea where he was going. At the end of the hall was a wide staircase covered with navy blue carpeting. The two guards at the top of the staircase came to attention as Steve passed. Steve nodded at them and followed Marcellus down the stairs. They walked through several more halls before coming out of the castle.
Off to the right, a fair distance from the castle proper, was a long line of buildings. Steve wondered what they held. However, Marcellus headed to the left where Steve could see a long gray wall with a high, arched gate in the center. As they drew closer, Steve could see that the gate was crafted from white metal in the form of interweaving leaves and flowers. Nice, he thought. Very nice. Two guards opened the gates for them and they stepped inside. Steve stopped and gasped, looking around him in awe. There were flowers as far as he could see. The array of colors and scents were almost overwhelming. "It's beautiful!"
"Yes, it is," Marcellus said. "But why are you speaking English again?"
Steve's first inclination was to say, "What else would I be speaking?" Then he remembered where he was. "Um... I... I was just..." Steve floundered for an excuse, not even sure if he was supposed to know English.
"You spoke it at the wedding as well," said Marcellus, suddenly looking very worried. "Could it be a sign that the fever is returning?"
"No, no," Steve said, remembering to speak Portuguese. "It's not that. I feel fine, really. I don't know why I just did that. It just came out. But I'm fine, okay?"
Marcellus still looked doubtful. "I don't know. Perhaps I should take you back to your quarters."
Steve passed over the fact that Marcellus had called his rooms as "quarters", as if they were on a ship. "No, I'm telling you, I'm fine. I don't want to go back to my room."
"No!" Steve snapped, stamping his foot down. "I want to see the garden!" Steve stood there with his arms crossed, daring Marcellus to dispute him again. He felt a little silly standing there having the equivalent of a tantrum, but he really did think the garden was beautiful, and he wanted to see the rest.
Marcellus sighed. "Very well, my Liege. But the moment you grow tired, you must tell me. All right?"
"Fair enough," Steve said, smiling at having gotten his way. He strolled through the paved paths, stopping to admire the different flowers and the various fountains they came across. Now and then, a finely dressed man or woman would cross their path with a bow or a curtsey, and a "Good morning, Your Majesty. Your Highness."
After about an hour, it started to get hot. Marcellus kept hinting that perhaps they should go back to the palace, or at least take a rest. "I'm fine," was all Steve would say. They walked around for another hour or so. Steve seemed determined to touch and smell every single flower in the place. Near the far end of the garden, there were fewer flowers and more trees and hedges. Steve continued to stroll around, praising fountains and inspecting statues. Eventually, however, he started to get a little tired. He decided it might be time to heed Marcellus' warnings and go back to the palace. He looked around, trying to get his bearings, and realized that he had unwittingly walked into an actual hedge maze. "Uh-oh."
"What is it, my love? Is something wrong?"
Steve chuckled sheepishly. "I think I'm lost," he said. He continued to look around, wondering if he could figure out the way he'd come. After several seconds, he noticed that Marcellus hadn't said anything. Steve looked at him and saw that Marcellus' face was full of alarm. He put a hand to Steve's forehead and shook his head.
"You don't feel hot. Do you feel dizzy? Nauseous?"
"What? No, I'm fine. I'm just turned around, that's all." Steve couldn't figure out what the big deal was. It was a maze! Anyone would get mixed up in it.
"Fine?" Marcellus cried. "You tell me that you're fine, yet you are lost in a garden you've known like the back of your hand every since we were children?!?"
Oh. So that's the big deal. Steve was glad that Marcellus had already assumed that the heat was at fault for Steve's confusion. He decided to play it for all it was worth. He wiped imaginary sweat from his brow and swayed a little. Instantly, Marcellus' strong arm was around him, supporting him. "Ah! Fool that I am, I shouldn't have let you stay out so long!" Marcellus ushered Steve slowly around several winding paths, completely confusing Steve. Won't be coming into this place alone. Finally, they reached the front gate. "How are you? Do you need to rest before we go on? Shall I arrange for a litter?"
"A wha-... uh... no. I think I'll be okay."
Marcellus eyed him dubiously, then continued to lead Steve back into the palace. "Ho there!" he called to a young woman, passing on some errand. Steve tried not to stare openly at her, but she was dressed rather oddly. She was wearing what looked like a male outfit - tunic, leggings and boots. But since Marcellus didn't seem to think that anything was strange, Steve didn't ask about it. "Send four fanners and attendants with cold water and towels to His Majesty's quarters immediately."
"Yes, Your Highness," she said, hastily bowing and changing direction.
Marcellus took Steve back to his "quarters" and helped him into a seat. "Don't worry, my love," he said. "The fanners will be here soon. Would you like me to send for Dr. Rivell?"
"I don't think so," Steve said. "Now that I'm inside, I'm feeling much better."
"What a relief! I'm sorry, my love. I shouldn't have taken you out so soon."
"It wasn't your fault! I insisted, remember?"
Marcellus nodded, but he hadn't forgiven himself. "Still, I should have taken better care. And I will henceforth." Just then, there came a knock at the door. "Enter," Marcellus called.
The doors opened and two of the attendants from this morning entered, one holding a tray with a pitcher and two tall glasses on it. They bowed, then the empty-handed attendant brought a table over for the other to put his tray on, and poured two frosty glasses of water. Behind them came four small children, all about five or six years old, and each carrying a wooden pole with a wide fan at the end. Steve looked at them with interest. They all wore the aptly named pageboy haircut. Two were wearing green, and two were in blue. But that wasn't what caught his eye. He'd expected them all to look the same, but they didn't. Two looked fully Portuguese - dark hair, dark eyes and distinctly European features. The third looked European as well, but he had platinum blond hair and bright blue eyes. The last, however, had Steve raising his eyebrows. He was darker than the rest, and his features all screamed Native American. What was a Native American boy doing all the way in Portugal? Weird. The child caught Steve staring and blushed, glancing self consciously. Steve smiled, and the page relaxed a little. The boys bowed deeply, then spread out, two on each side of Steve, and began slowly moving their fans up and down. While the fanning felt nice, Steve was highly uncomfortable with these little kids standing there fanning him like he was some kind of... royalty. "They're not really necessary," he said, gesturing to the boys.
"Nonsense, Majesty," Marcellus replied, shoving a glass of water into his hand. "Of course they're necessary."
"But I'm fine now, really!"
"I'll be the judge of that. Now drink."
Steve sighed. He might as well be arguing with his mother. He sat back and sipped his water without further protest. The attendant pulled a chair over for Marcellus, then poured him a glass of water as well.
"You're welcome, Your Majesty."
"Guess I'm confined to quarters, huh?" Steve asked.
"At least until evening," Marcellus said.
Steve sighed. "Well, what do we do for excitement?"
"Would you like to play a game?"
"Bring out the game, please," Marcellus said to the attendants.
"Yes, Your Highness."
Steve watched the attendants go into the study and shook his head. "I'd be a mess if I had to do all that backwards walking."
Marcellus chuckled. "You always say that. And I always must reply that that is why you were born to be the King."
Steve gave a hollow chuckle. "Yeah. Guess so." In a moment, the attendants returned, carrying the square table Steve had noticed at breakfast. Steve shook his head. Weird. The men walked sideways so that neither of them had their backs to Steve. Steve glanced at the table and smiled. "Are we going to play chess?"
Marcellus raised an eyebrow at him. "Chess? The Englishman's game? We can play that if you like, but I thought you would prefer Armada."
"Actually, you're absolutely right," Steve said. "I'd much rather play Armada." Whatever the hell that is. The attendant set the game between them, and Steve inspected it, trying not to look like he'd never seen one before. Upon further inspection, Steve didn't know why he'd thought it was a chess set. First of all, the table was too big. It was the same size as a card table, but about three times as thick. The surface was made of a dark cherry wood, smooth and shiny. It seemed to be made of three parts: two large sections facing the two players, and narrow division in the middle. With a little covert searching, Steve found a latch on the front side of the table. He undid it and lifted up a panel, about a quarter of the thickness of the table. His eyes widened. Oh my God. The panel was divided into a grid with sections about half an inch square, each with a hole in the center. Lifting the panel, Steve had also revealed an identical grid perpendicular to the first. They were labeled from "A" all the way through "ZZ" across, and 1 through 48 down. There were no game pieces that Steve could see. Oh my God, he thought again. Steve took a deep breath and tried not to panic. How hard could it be? He looked at the grids again and sighed. I'm a dead man.
There were three drawers on the front side of the table, underneath the lower grid. Steve pulled out the leftmost drawer and saw several dark pegs. The middle (and largest) drawer contained about thirty or thirty-five miniature clipper ships, carefully placed, and seeming to stand of their own accord. Steve picked one up and saw that it was sitting in yet another grid, unlabeled and smaller than the two on the table. The ship was about two inches long. It had four pegs extending from the bottom, as well as four matching holes on the deck. Other than that, the little model ship was exquisitely detailed to look exactly like a real one. It had everything: sails, lines, cannons and even a working tiller. Steve put the ship back in its place and opened the last drawer. In it were more pegs, but made of a lighter colored wood. For a few seconds, he just sat there staring at the board and the pieces in a state of utter confusion, bordering on panic.
After a while, he began to think that the whole thing looked a little familiar, but he couldn't figure out why. He picked up another ship, this one a full four inches long. He stared at the ship and then back at the board, then at the little pegs. Suddenly, it happened. A memory. Ross' house. He'd been invited over a couple of days after one of the kids' birthday parties, and said kid was running around like a mad fiend trying to get someone to play his new game with him. The rest of the family was sick of it, since each of them had been forced to play nonstop for hours on end every day since the party. In fact, Ross was in danger of being put out of the house for getting the damn thing in the first place. Steve had never seen one before, so he played with a kid for a few hours, becoming everyone's hero for the day. Little plastic grids. Little plastic ships. Red and white pegs. Steve grinned. "Battleship!"
"Huh? Oh. Nothing. Nevermind." Still grinning from ear to ear, Steve made a mental note to practice keeping his big mouth shut, and concentrated on placing his pieces on the board.
"My Lord? Are you still arranging?"
Steve became instantly nervous. I'm taking too long. He'll realize it took me too long to get started. "Um... yeah. Sorry it's taking so long."
"Take your time. You usually do." Marcellus grinned mischievously, and Steve relaxed.
"I'm just trying to-"
"Build up my patience," Marcellus finished. "I know, I know."
Steve looked up sharply. Marcellus had finished his sentence word for word - exactly what he would have said. It frightened him to think that he and King Stephen were so much alike that they would say the exact same thing in a given situation. On the other hand, maybe it won't be so hard to impersonate him, he thought. If I can just get the everyday stuff together, maybe I'll be okay. "Okay," he said at last. "I'm finished."
"After you, my Lord."
Steve picked a letter/number combination, and the game began. "Armada", as Marcellus had called it, was played almost the same way as he remembered the mini-Ross explaining it to him. There was only one difference - you could move your ships. Each turn, you could legally move your ship forward or back as many spaces as there were free holes on the ship. Steve found out the interesting deviation from the normal rules when, after several frustrating misses, Steve accused Marcellus of moving his ships around. "Of course I am," he'd replied. "I still have two hits left." Then he'd ordered the fanners to move faster and told the attendant to pour Steve another glass of water.
After about an hour, Marcellus sunk Steve's last ship. "Man!" Steve cried. "That's it! I want a rematch!"
Marcellus laughed. "And I shall defeat you then as well, if I can help it," he said.
"Oooh!" Steve narrowed his eyes. "You are going to get it!"
"We shall see," Marcellus said, laughing again. "But shall we have lunch first?"
Steve nodded. He was disappointed to be robbed of the chance to beat Marcellus then and there, but he was glad to hear that there was food in the near future. Breakfast had been hours ago, and there had been much walking and worrying in between. Steve was proud of himself for having figured out the game, and evading discovery so far. But, my God, he thought. The day is only half over. He watched Marcellus ring the service bell to call for lunch, and wondered how he was going to make it through the rest of the day.