ANOTHER night of self-doubt had cost Christophe, for after only a few hours of sleep he woke up to the challenge of stamina.
Between blissful thoughts of the magical kiss he had shared with the maiden and dreadful ones that had begun to form following the king’s announcement that the next day’s challenge would involve the remaining four contestants standing in place until one fell over from exhaustion, Christophe once again found himself questioning how in the world his weaker muscles were going to compete with the much stronger ones he was up against. Such tormenting thoughts had prevented him from enjoying the triumph over Denmark, and in his heart, the other three as well, since the princess had only fully opened her mouth to his.
But oddly enough, just as what had happened the night before, during his most desperate of hours when all hope seemed lost the gift of solution had entered his mind.
By no means was it a full-proof idea, and in fact it was one that he indeed did not look forward to using, but at this stage he was willing to do anything to return to the euphoric union that was he and Angelique.
By the sixth hour the muscles in Christophe’s legs felt as though they had walked the month’s journey to his hometown, nonstop. Soreness had turned to aching and the pain was now starting to cause slight trembling. Were the stronger men at his back having similar difficulties?
He wanted to believe in the adage Father Ramsey had passed along to him, but as he stood there in fear that his fatigue would cause the collapse of his body the thought the bigger the man the harder he falls seemed less likely to be true and more realistically to be a delusion. In what state they were actually in he had no idea, since each had been positioned to where their backs were to one another and facing each of the four directions.
And so the time had arrived for Christophe to put his plan into action. From beneath his sleeve he produced one of six concealed thistles and began to roll the small ball of prickly thorns between his thumb and fingers.
He had cut himself many of times, by accident of course, when tending to his Chardonnay grapes since the land of the Cistercians was full of them. But now the wounds would be intentional, so as to stay awake by adding a new kind of pain to this challenging endeavor. One that would hopefully keep him on his feet until one of the men at his back would put him out of his misery by falling to the ground.
Christophe decided he would work his way down, starting with the least sensitive index and increasing the level of pain with each new finger until he reached the most delicate of all, his pinky.
Gathering the willpower to puncture his own flesh and draw blood was proving harder than he first imagined, but with the help of the vision of he and his beloved royal engaged in the kiss his country was famous for, he pressed in, providing enough pressure for the sharpness to break through the protective top layer of skin and penetrate down into deeper tissue.
With the pain in his legs now dulled due to the excruciation in his fingertips Christophe’s focus remained razor sharp in what felt to be a tortuous state of purgatory.
Only with the changing of the guards was his sense of time restored, letting him know that his body had endured an incredible twelve hours of strain. How much more could he take? He dared not look down at the damage he had self-inflicted, even though he swore he could smell the puddles of blood that had been spilt.
This brought on the question as to how much more he could lose before fainting. And what about his throat? How dry it had become. How dehydrated he felt. Why couldn’t he shake these distracting thoughts? Had one of his competitors penetrated his mind? Ludicrous! He must be hallucinating… He must be…
The loud thud of a body hitting the floor…
No, please! It can’t be! I’ve fallen!
The blaring of horns brought Christophe back to reality, and as his eyes focused he realized it was not he who had fallen but actually the most handsome of all, Italy, who was now out cold on the ground below while King Philip announced the next day’s challenge.
So spent was Christophe’s energy that he barely heard the word ‘creativity’ come from the king’s mouth as he willed one foot in front of the other in hopes of reaching his chamber before passing out.
With distorted tunnel vision he failed to see the stunned looks on the faces he passed, unaware of the shock that all were in from the sight of his blood-dripping hands.
The last conscious thought in Christophe’s head before his body hit his bed was of the maiden, with the king’s voice echoing the word ‘creativity’ as he slipped into a deep sleep.
Chapter 6 will be posted shortly, with Christophe ready to play his ace!