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Skin Deep II foreward chapter 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 epilogue

Skin Deep II: The Dance
Chapter 0: Introduction -- The Roadies Set Up
by Mark McDonald
©2002 Mark McDonald -- all rights reserved

William was not one for remembering his dreams. They came and went with the passage of sleep, ghosts of some half-remembered somewhere that no longer existed shortly after the cobwebs were cleared from the corners of his mind.

The last few weeks had been a nasty exception. An observer watching him sleep would clearly have been able to delineate the span of time when the dreams began and ended. They would start, and William would begin to sweat in his sleep. His eyes would dance beneath his lids and he would pitch and roll fitfully, moaning and talking in his sleep. Upon waking, they threatened to follow him into the waking world.

In his mind, he found himself deep in a forest primeval, dark and full of unfamiliar sounds. He would stumble and run from the hungry growls of unseen beasts he was sure were waiting to tear the flesh from his body as nourishment for their own. He would allow himself only a moment to pause from time to time when the path split in two or more directions to decide the best course, and then blindly blunder along the undergrowth, banging shins on branches, and scraping calves on briars he could not see in the dark. The pain from the wounds on his legs was excruciating. He could feel the blood coursing down his legs in rivulets, making the pads of his feet slimy and slippery. Now and then he would fall face first bashing a cheek on the protruding root of a tree, or scratch his arms and face on the same briars that attacked his legs.

"HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME!" he would scream. At least that's what he meant to say anyway. What came out, what his ears heard was more along the lines of... "ASSISTANCE! WON'T THOU LEND ASSISTANCE TO THIS WRETCHED SOUL?"

Too confused to reckon the issue he blundered on, racing from the sound of animals larger, stronger and more numerous than he. He ran until his side ached with the pain of a stitch.

He ran until he finally broke into a beautiful golden sun-lit clearing. Here cherry blossoms fell in rays of white and golden sunshine. The smell was fresh, air so clean he could scarcely believe that this was air he was breathing. The clearing was long and only half as wide. Tall thick hard wood trees, Oak, Maple, Cherry and Dogwoods mixed around the pasture in a happy blend. They swayed softly in a cool breeze. The touch of this wind was as the kiss of a true love might be, gentle and soft, seeing that he was in distress and wanting only to comfort and nurse him back to health.

William collapsed on the soft and sweet grass. He could feel himself drifting off in his dream, a layer of sleep contained within another.

The pounding on the ground was what always woke him up. He knew what to expect. It would be him, the Knight, the man whose face he could not see behind the steel. He would be ordered up. "Up! Will thou permit the destruction of thine own family with an act of cowardice?"

He would be armored and mounted upon a horse and handed a lance. The pasture would be gone and in its place would be a grandstand full of cheering medieval spectators.

"I can't joust!" he thought he said. "This lance finds a hand with no experience Sire!" was what fell out of his mouth. Why can't you just say the damn words?

"Then lad, the family of this Prince will be sacrificed for the unhealthy deeds of fate. For there is no other than you who may undo the Wizard's curse. This is the day of your judgment! Hold fast to the teaching of your parents and understand that thou are the last hope of the house of Shipley!"

The Knight pointed across the courtyard and there would be his mother, chained and in rags, but as beautiful as he remembered her in his modern life. A guard raked a spear tip over her cheek and laughed as she tried to flinch away from it but too late. A fine scrape, a minor gash on her cheek oozed blood. William could see the blood collect at the lowest point of the abrasion and splash on to the floor of the caged wagon his mother was held prisoner in. On the staff of the spear was carved the word "Loneliness".

"MOTHER!" he would cry. She always looked to him with mournful eyes that said to his heart, I will understand if you choose not to fight for us! Save yourself child, we are through.

Anger and bile would rise up in him, burning his throat and bringing stinging tears just below the surface where they threatened to erupt. He would fight them back each night and steady the lance under his arm.

Where was his father? He should he here to defend the family, to break this curse! Why did this fall upon the youngest son of the Kingdom? That was it! His father must be the King. If that were true then he could not be his wife's champion in matters where he must be her judge. But his father was around here someplace; he just could never remember just where he was. It seemed such a simple thing. He had been here just last night, the Knight, the guard and his mother, everything the same. He could not remember where his father was.

There was a commotion at the other end of the gallery. The challenging Knight was there; the enemy that condemned her. His steed was stomping and pounding on the ground angrily, eager to start the match. Fear froze William's poor teenage heart. This man seemed so much bigger than life; it was impossible for him to reconcile this man's in his mind in his mind. William figured that he must be somewhere near eight or nine feet tall out of the saddle.

"Wait!" he screamed "That Knight, he must stand twenty hands or greater! What evil has descended upon me? What great trick of Satan has been thrust upon my family?"

He would get no answer, the crowd would chant as beads of sweat rolled down inside his helmet and into his eyes, blinding him. His horse would lurch forward to engage the sinister Knight as he tried to clear his eyes. There was a blow felt rather than heard, down the length of William's lance then a cheer from the crowd. William could only clear his vision enough to see the Knight's shield inches from his face, impaled to the hilt of his lance, the word "Mortality" engraved in a steel valance on the top of the shield. The Knight who's shield this was had fallen to the ground, the tip of William's lance buried in his chest plate.

He had won! William always wanted to cheer and celebrate at this point in the dream. He was alive and well and he had WON! The massive lance from his would-be attacker was felled and lay unclaimed in the trodden path on the challengers' side of the wooden jousting fence. The monogram "GAS" shone brightly under the coat of arms on the hilt.

'GAS...' William would think, 'that's funny we always teased Dad that his food gave us all gas, just like his initials predic...' The memory of where his father was always hit him with such strength as to knock him from his mount. He would claw and rip at his own helmet, flinging it finally to the ground. In his haste to get out of his armor he fell off the horse and landed with a metallic clank on his back next to his mount. He stumbled to his feet and tripped from the weight of the armor until he was at the Knight's side, kneeling, bending to slowly remove this noble Knight's faceplate.

Inside was the pale and dead visage of his father. 'No! This can't be. How was this going to save his family?' "Father?" he would always ask, were the man to awake suddenly from a dream. But no, he was dead with his son's lance run through him.

"Father, please." He would look about the gallery at the disapproving faces of his peers.

"William!" came the cry from the other side of the arena. He would look only to see the pained and tortured face of his mother, still in irons but dressed as a Queen. A sign that hung over her cage read 'Eternity'. "William, why would thou condemn your own mother to a life alone? Did you know not how so I adored your father? Did my eyes not display to thou the depth of my need for my King?"

The guards were moving the cage, which was on a wagon. They were moving her away from the arena. His mother would search his eyes for an answer and then slump in the corner of the small cage, trapped and alone with no champion to save her. Her King dead, brought down by the Prince.

Tonight however, it was different. The scene had played out just as before but now in the Royal box was another... another... 'Another what, Princess, some unknown member of the Royal Court perhaps? He didn't recognize her, so who was she?' he thought, and a voice answered back like the thunderous voice of God.

'I am Another! That is all you need know for now!' This voice was female and all in the gallery stands cringed at the volume, many took shelter from it. Several women wearing tall hats with many veils waived golden, jewel encrusted crucifixes about in the air and prayed.

This voice did not come from heaven however; it came from the girl standing at the Royal Pulpit at the edge of the staging area. She was looking at William.

'You can save them still, The King and Queen.'

William on his Knees next to his dead King was eager. "Save them? How?" He shouted at the young and powerful girl who must be a Wizard, perhaps THE Wizard spoken of by the Knight that finds him sleeping in the grass at the edge of the arena each day before battle.

'You must choose a road, a course of action to be taken to save them, for once upon it you will travel that road for the whole of your life.'

It was a trap! He knew it as sure as he knew his own name. Now, however, he had a chance to reverse what he had done and save his parents. He had his chance to save the King and Queen.

"A road? I see no road to choose? I wish to save my King and Queen but you speak in riddles. This is an arena. The King's highway is yet two leagues east."

King and Queen? Come on now, it's all a dream. In the morning your mother and father will be just fine. Logic broke his rationalization. If this is a dream, smart boy, how come you smell and feel? He felt confident that if he defied this Wizard Girl all would be well with the world in a few hours or minutes or seconds or however long he had left to sleep this one off.

'If it's a dream then how do you explain the pain from your briar wounds?'

Wizard-Girl spoke without moving her lips, yet all could hear the thundering voice. 'The road you choose is to do or not do. I will place your feet upon it once the time has arrived. Heed this well, once chosen, you will not be allowed to withdraw. Your worth will be measured by the honor of your intent. Say as much your intention to save the King and Queen and you will be honor bound to do so.

"Shut up Wench!" William cried. He could stand no more of her demonic taunts.

You're falling for your own dream asshole. This is not real!

'CHOOSE!' cried the Godlike voice. The villagers looked as if they wanted to scatter but were too tightly drawn into the web of intrigue. Many of the women as well as the men, priests and holy men from the look, fainted.

William dared the dream! "I choose the honor of my family and to save the life of the King and Queen."

There was a ripple in time... not much more than a blink really, but he was back on the horse. He felt different. He was sitting on the horse sidesaddle. Now why the hell had he gotten up here like that?

"I can't joust!" he thought he said. "This lance finds a hand with no experience Sire!" was what fell out of his mouth. Why can't you just say the damn words?

"Then lass, the family of this Princess will be sacrificed for the unhealthy deeds of fate. For there is no other than you who may undo the Wizard's curse. This is the day of their judgment! Hold fast to the teaching of your parents and understand that thou are the last hope of the house of Shipley!"

The dream was replaying itself. He thought he knew all the words by now, but something was out of order. Princess? Lass? What was this Knight talking about? He caught a glimpse of himself in the polished steel of his scabbard as he manoeuvred it over his horse.

Blonde hair? He steadied the scabbard and looked harder, his eyes widened at the sight and he let the scabbard fall to the ground.

"What evil is upon me?" he cried in a voice he did not recognize. He tumbled backward and off the horse landing on the dusty ground in a puddle of medieval gown. He lifted the dress that covered his legs not really knowing what to make of it at first. It didn't take long for him to realize that it was all attached to his waist and then to a corset laced there. "No! What hath thou done to me Witch!" he cried, standing, allowing the gown to fall to the ground around his feet.

'Saved your family... for all you seem to care you selfish child!'

The King, in his armor, was at the other end of the paddock again. "I can not fight this woman."


"This child is my daughter and the Princess of all the land."

"No." William whispered.

"The curse is lifted, surely happiness will seek us all out for the rest of our days."

"No!" William said defiantly.

'You chose girl. The future is coming for you. You can not turn back down the road from whence you came.'

William turned to see, to run back into the woods where he had emerged from and escape this fate. When he did he ran smack in to a stone cliff that reached to the clouds. He fell on the ground facing the sky; his dress billowed about him for a moment, and then the air left it and he was left alone staring up at the cliff. Carved in the living rock was the word "Sacrifice".

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William woke in his bedroom bathed in sweat, a scream caught in his throat. His hands flew over his chest and head searching for... what? The dream was fading. He knew it had been the dream he had been having for so many nights now. There was something he felt he should remember about this one... something...

It was gone. Whatever had terrified him so was now forever part of that shadow land that vanished with the sunrise of consciousness. William lay back down, not caring about the damp on his pillow. He was simply grateful that the dream was over. He could sleep now, peacefully. But sleep would elude him this night. He would finally get up around 4:00 am and make a pot of fresh coffee for himself, in the process he would wake his mother, Michelle Shipley, and they would spend a little while together trying to extract from his dream what had frightened him so. Then, they would spend the rest of the early morning giggling about absolutely nothing and trying not to wake the entire household. It was time the likes of which they had not spent with one another in a very long time. Both would spend the rest of the day tired but unexplainably satisfied and happy.

William would never dream the dream again. Next time it would be no dream. A path had been chosen; his feet were on the road. It would be nearly eight months before William would be called to try to save the King and Queen from his dreams.

Skin Deep chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Skin Deep II foreward chapter 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 epilogue
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