I woke up gasping and struggling to open my eyes. A few moments later, there was a hand on my forehead, which made me flinch. "You're waking early," a soothing voice said. "Relax, don't fight it so hard."
I felt wool blankets over me and a pillow under my head, but I wanted to feel if the knife was still there. It wasn't. All I felt there was my racing heart and clammy skin: I couldn't even feel a scar or stitches - nothing buy my smooth skin.
I was still having problems opening my eyes, but my heart was slowing down and I was catching my breath again. I was drifting off to sleep before I realized that the face hovering over me belonged to a man I had never seen before, and behind it, was something blue.
Shortly before I woke again I remembered that his eyes were hugely dialed, and that his face glowed strangely in the blue light. I sat up abruptly, once again feeling where the knife had frozen its way into me. The blue light was gone, though I had no problem seeing my changed surroundings.
"You're awake," said a voice.
I looked up to find another man standing in the doorway of the chamber I was in. I was sitting in a bed near the center of a small cavern, and the man who had spoken was standing in its only entrance, a half-round aperture in the wall at the foot of my bed. "I must be having a bad dream."
The man smiled. "You're not dreaming. Come; I'm sure you must be hungry and we need to talk."
Reluctantly I got out of bed. Someone had dressed me in a sleeveless white gown that hung down to the floor. It was comfortable in a scratchy wool sort of way, but it was slit down to my navel in front and up almost to my waist on the sides. Needless to say, it left me feeling slightly under-dressed. I looked around for my other clothes, but the only thing in this room was the bed I had just quit. I shrugged and went into the next chamber. There was no other choice.
Sitting at a rough-hewn wooden table were four men. They were all adults, their bulk reminded me that my oversized friends were only kids. One had long hair that looked to have gone white long ago, and yet he didn't look decrepit. The other three were substantially younger, though they all showed some gray in their hair.
"Join us," said the white-haired man with a calm voice and a graceful wave of his hand toward an empty spot on the bench.
As soon as I was settled, I discovered a bowl full of stew in front of me. I could have sworn there had been nothing on the table a moment ago. Before I allowed myself to touch the food my stomach was screaming for, I asked, "Where are my friends?"
"You just eat. We'll explain everything when you're finished," said the man at my elbow.
I looked around at them, but it seemed as though they weren't going to start anything until I started to eat. In fact, they didn't say a thing until I was almost half way through my second bowl, which was also handed over from somewhere I hadn't seen. As soon as the first spoonful passed my lips, I had little attention for anything else.
When I began to slow from a starved gobble to something more polite, the white-haired man spoke. "Your friends are waiting for you in the outer chamber." He spoke as if no time had passed at all. "They have been waiting for you for four days now, and they were prepared to wait for several more. You're up early; most that come here don't wake for eight or more days, and some don't wake for weeks.
"My name is Durmas, sitting beside you is Tsan, on your other side is Larak and across from you is Oskan. They will be your teachers. I will teach you too, but mostly I will be your adviser."
Each man nodded his head in acknowledgment of his name; it was all I could do to put my spoon down during the introduction, I was starving.
"Tsan will teach you the sword as well as an assortment of other bladed weapons," continued the man who called himself Durmas. "Larak will teach you the bow and staff, and Oskan will teach you all he knows about hunting. They all will be teaching you how to control your magic.
Magic? Now that put my spoon down. "Magic?" I said aloud. "I don't know any magic."
"No, you do not know any magic, but you do have magic," said Durmas. "You may well have more magic than has been seen here in many generations."
If I had had this conversation the other day in the village, I would have been thrilled, but I was still recovering from the fact that someone had rammed a large knife into me. I wanted to go home. I wanted to immerse myself in something familiar, something...safe. Throwing my pride to the wind, I said, "That's all very interesting, but I just want to go home."
Durmas frowned, but it looked like he hadn't really expected me to say anything else. "It would be foolish of you to leave here now. You have been referred to us by several of the people in the village."
"You can't keep me here," I said. Fear was clenching my stomach and threatening the stability of my meal.
"No, we can't keep you here, but you must understand that, right now, you are a very magical creature. You must learn to control it."
I found myself on my feet and away from the table. My hand was over my roiling stomach, right over the place where that glowing knife had rested. "What did you do to me?"
"We awakened your magic. More than half the adults in the village have some magic and they could feel the strength of your own untapped capacity. They spoke to us about it."
I was angry now. "So you lured me out here and shoved a knife into me. I suppose, if you had been wrong, I would be dead right now. Why should I trust you?"
Durmas spoke patiently. "No, you would not have died. The knife would never have touched you. If your magic had not been strong enough, It never would have existed."
I didn't know what to say about that. "I still want to go home. My parents must be frantic."
"I'm sure your parents have long since been informed of these events, but you are a stranger to our land." Durmas rose from the table with a patient sigh. "I will go with you. Perhaps I can explain things to your parents a little better than the village elders have."
"You don't need to go with me. I know the way." I said. I wasn't too sure I wanted to see these men ever again. I expected mother would have us packed up and down to the spaceport in the blink of an eye.
"Someone needs to be around to control what you cannot."
What was he saying? "Are you telling me that I'm some kind of time bomb?"
Durmas wrinkled his brow in confusion. "I don't know what a 'time bomb' is, but you are dangerous and you are stressed. Telling you to be careful would be like telling a beam of sunlight to be careful and not burn your fair skin."
Reflexively I looked down at my bare arm; being a redhead had its drawbacks. I had yet to endure the summer without at least one sunburn, and more often than not. many.
"Come on," said Durmas patiently. "Go back to your bedchamber and dress, then I'll take you home."
I looked down at what I wore: it definitely wasn't suitable for any sort of travel, not mentioning the fact that I had no shoes. Not that I was concerned about going barefoot, but on one traveled far without shoes unless they had no choice. It was too rocky.
When I looked up again, the chamber was empty, only the table was left. I shook my head. Magic, pah. I went back into the chamber where I had been sleeping and found my bed neatly made. Folded on it, were some clothes. Some of them were my clothes, but not much. I found my underwear and my socks, but the rest was made of heavy leather. There were built-in pads covering my thighs and shins, and there were buckles to tighten it all down. After I put my socks on and then buckled on the boots - my tennis shoes were nowhere to be found - I buckled up all the buckles on my pants. This all felt very strange.
Next I pulled on a homespun cotton shirt, and then over that, the leather shirt that matched the pants. The front was tow layers thick. The left side of the shirt lay across my chest first and tied in place under my right arm on the inside. The other side lay over that and buckled under my left arm and at my shoulder. By the time I was finished buckling my sleeves down, I felt like a football player, though I've never played. I felt like I should be putting on a helmet, but there was none to be found, so I left. It felt strange walking in this heavy leather get-up, but the leather was soft and flexible and it was comfortable, so I wasn't about to complain.