Sometime during the night, I woke abruptly, clutching at my middle. The sensation of the knife touching my heart (I know it did), the alarming feel of ice burning through my veins and then the burst of colors behind my eyes, was very real. I jerked into a ball that almost sat me up, but I realized that it had been a dream before I made it that far. I looked around; it was dark and a tiny pile of glowing coals was nearby. Around it, I could make out the forms of the others rolled up in blankets like mine. The stars twinkled overhead merrily, mocking the despair that was bursting out of my wounded heart. I rolled away from the light of the coals and finished curling into a ball. I cried that night. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted it. The only other person to know was Carm and I’m certain that he told no one at all.
Carm had stayed awake to watch over me. He had been sitting above my head and I hadn’t seen him. I hadn’t counted the number of sleeping bundles around the fire.
I discovered his location the next morning when I was wakened by his sneezes. Every single morning of his life has been greeted by a fierce fit of sneezes as soon as the morning sun touches him. It doesn’t happen if it’s a cloudy day or if he stays indoors all day (that doesn’t happen very often). It only happens when the sun touches him for the first time, and it makes me laugh every time I catch him. When I heard him sneeze, I looked up at where he sat on a small rock wrapped in a blanket. The sun hadn’t reached me yet. I started to chuckle, and then I started to laugh much harder. It’s really quite funny to watch someone who sneezes like Carm does, try to do it quietly, and then, thanks to my laughing at him, start to laugh too. Laughing and sneezing at the same time is very difficult to do. By the time he was finished, he had tears running down his cheeks and everyone else was awake too. The wall of ice that had developed yesterday had melted. We were friends again.
I, of course, was hungry again, but I wasn’t starving like I was yesterday. I had slept for sixteen hours or so, so I felt well rested, therefore I set about making breakfast the only way we had. First, I made everyone a plate; now this was work, so I made a cup of water next and drank it down in one long draft. Looking at the empty plates, I steeled myself; the stew yesterday had been very hard on me. Durmas just watched me; I hoped he was ready to lend a hand should I falter. In about fifteen minutes, all the plates were full of waffles, eggs and bacon – my favorite. I wanted to flop back on the ground and sleep for another ten hours, but I couldn’t keep doing this, so I picked up my plate only to realize that I had nothing to eat with except my fingers; everyone else had a belt knife. Every man, woman and child above the age of six carried one, except me; mother wouldn’t allow it. Durmas saw this and made us each a fork, it was a fork in the local sense because it was a narrow thing with only two prongs and this time they were made out of stone, but that certainly didn’t make any difference to me. As long as I could get my food from my plate to my mouth without getting my fingers all sticky with syrup, I was thrilled.
We rested a bit after breakfast. I wasn’t about to do the same thing I had done yesterday, so I didn’t try to get up until Durmas thought it was time to move on.
After about an hour, Durmas patted his stomach and stretched. “That was very good, Liam. You did very good this morning. You even succeeded in making it hot on your own. You’re learning fast. Shall we go?”
I felt a flush of pride at his words; I had done it all by myself. I couldn’t have done as well in my mother’s kitchen. Mom never let me cook anything in her kitchen. She said I made too much of a mess. I was brought back down to earth, however, when I stood up; I swayed precariously as the ground under my feet rocked. Carm’s hand on my elbow kept me on my feet though, and within a few breaths, I was ready to go.
As we walked, I prompted Durmas for more information. “Tell me more about the different magics.”
“Let’s see now,” he began, “Water Magic deals, of course, with water, moving it and using it. With the strength you are showing, you will be able to make water do most unnatural things one day. The fact that you were able to draw water into your cup without touching the ground on your very first day shows that, though you shouldn’t have tried it so soon. Fire Magic, your elemental opposite, deals of course, with fire. Now, that isn’t just the creation of fire, it is the control of temperature. You use Fire Magic when you freeze water, for instance. Earth Magic deals with the manipulation of solid objects, making your cups and plates for instance, and Air Magic deals with the air.” He paused here as if contemplating what to say. “You need to be especially careful with Air Magic. Air is most vital to everything around you. With Air Magic you can stop sound or magnify it, you can make something light enough to fly or too heavy to crawl, but if you are not very careful, all of those little wonders will kill anything subjected to it, so I beg you not to try it alone.”
I didn’t want to kill anyone so I thought I’d stay away from that. “What kind of magic was the food?”
“Making food is mostly Earth Magic. Everything we have eaten came from somewhere in the earth; you just changed it into a different, more familiar, form.”
Everything in my stomach did an uncomfortable roll over; I didn’t want to think about the things in the ground that I had changed into stew meat and bacon.
“Air Magic,” he went on, “is in everything, but there was more of it in your breakfast this morning than in the stew yesterday; your bread was quite fluffy and tender.” He had never heard of waffles. “There was some Water Magic too since it was all nicely moist and of course with Fire Magic, you made it hot.”
I digested that, and my meal, for a while. Thoughts of food were making me hungry again so I wanted to think of something else. “Why did you let me sleep for so long? We could have reached the village yesterday.”
“Using magic, Liam, takes a good deal of energy. It’s not unlike exercising. The more you do, the stronger you get and the more you can do. Right now, in terms of your magic strength, you must consider yourself an infant learning to crawl for the first time. It will tax you to the limit. And the best way to replace that burned up energy is sleep, food and sleep. I’m sure you’ve noticed that you get very hungry. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were hungry again right now.”
My traitorous stomach growled noisily just then. Surely, there was something else to think about besides food. Perhaps a snack would help take my mind off eating for a little while longer. I held my hand up in front of my face and thought of an apple. I hadn’t had an apple since before we moved here. They didn’t have apple trees here and the local fruit that was closest just wasn’t close enough, so, like an idiot, I made an apple. I tripped, stumbled and almost fell to my knees, but I had an apple in my hand, a nice big juicy one. I wanted to stop and sit down, but I forced myself to keep walking.
Durmas, who was walking a few steps in front of me at the moment, didn’t notice what I had done until he heard me bite into it with a very satisfying, juicy crunch. He turned and saw both Carm and Brom with a hand on each of my arms as I took another bite. I was in heaven, though I wasn’t walking too straight. He only shook his head and muttered something that sounded like “boys” and walked on.