* * *
I reached into my pocket to retrieve the golden coin. I suspected it was to do something. I could’ve drank more of the cloudy nectar, but I wanted to maintain a clear head.
James stared across the table, picking at an unseen flaw in the glass. He looked to be waiting for a response to his tale. Slowly, I pulled the coin from the recess of my pocket. James nodded as I rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger. I lay it on the table, expecting the bust of a younger James to look off to the right.
I inhaled deeply, staring at the coin, its glowing contrast against the dark, wet grain of the wood. The bust I saw was no longer of James, but of myself. I recognized the tufts of hair that failed to be contained behind my ears. People had told me I had a strong nose, but looking at my profile, I suspected I had broken it once too many.
James leaned forward. “I’m afraid I have bad news, lad.”
I leaned forward too, not wanting to miss anything he had to say.
“Remember that little swim you took a few years ago?”
“I remember you didn’t stop me.”
James leaned back and crossed his arms. “You had a lesson to learn.” He drained the amber from his glass. “You just had to die to learn it.”
“Die?” I stammered.
“I just told you about my oldest friend. His death was like your death…” His voice trailed off and he regarded the empty glass.
“There are no crocodiles in the open water,” I insisted.
James let out a laugh and the room seemed to brighten, if only for a second. “Not the croc, lad, the water.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but I found I had nothing to say.
“I thought you had figured it out.” James turned the glass up-side-down. “You had that wonderful idea about the waterfall.”
I didn’t respond, so he continued. “You drowned that day you went for a swim. I told you then, and I’ll tell you now: You can’t rush ready. You weren’t ready then,” James stood. “But now…”
I pushed my glass away from me. I stared at the old coot, but deep down, I had to admit I knew there was something special going on. Something beyond life and death. “Tell me,” I squeaked. I cleared my throat, reached for the glass and finished its contents. “Tell me about the Ultimate Invincibility,” I said between coughs.
James again roared with laughter. “Nothing to tell, boy. You’re living it.”
I played with the edge of the coin that suddenly beared my likeness.
“Put that in your pocket,” he said. “We’ll make the boat ready.”
I shoved the coin in my pocket, wondering what James was going on about.
“At daybreak, we set sail for the Gate of Gods.”