It was Brom who watched over me that night. I’m not sure that I stirred though; I don’t even remember dreaming. It was also Brom who woke me. He prodded me. “Breakfast’s ready, Liam,” he said amiably. “Are you up to eating it yourself?”
I sat up and glowered at him, I might have had some remark to add to the look if Carm hadn’t started sneezing again.
I made sure I thanked Durmas for the food; I didn’t really want to walk into the house half wiped because mom would spot it right off, and I didn’t want to scare her any more than she already was. I was scared enough for both of us. I’m sure Durmas was thinking along those same lines.
“I have heard a little about your parents,” said Durmas. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what it is that they do.”
“Mom and dad study people,” I supplied between bites. It was a very simplified way of explaining what they did. “They work for the government of the empire. They and other people like them are all across the empire studying any and all of the local intelligent life forms and whatever effect we may be having on them.”
“I see,” he said slowly. I wasn’t too sure how much he really did see, though.
We walked into the village a couple hours later. Lagge had led me directly off into the pastures and fields from my house instead of going through the village.
When the house came into sight, I was appalled to see that it appeared to be under guard. Two big clansmen stood in the front yard with their arms folded and I’m sure that there were more in back. I ran forward, leaving the others to follow at whatever pace they wanted.
I burst through the door unceremoniously. “Mom! Dad!” I called, but I needn’t have bothered because they were both sitting there in the living room on the couch. Mom looked like she was long past crying and dad just looked old.
They both leapt to their feet and mom rushed over to me and wrapped me in her arms. Dad was right there too, but he had always been more reserved when it came to this kind of display. I extended my hand out to him anyway and he gripped it as if he were a drowning man badly in need of a straw.
“Oh Liam,” gushed my mom sounding really close to tears again. “Where have you been? What happened to you? The elders have been saying such crazy things.”
My eyes landed on the fruit bowl mom always kept on the buffet and I disentangled myself long enough to scoop up two of its offerings before answering. Seeing that I was hungry, mom led me into the kitchen and settled me at the table. Dad poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down too. Mom might be a scientist, but she was also a mother and feeding her hungry child was probably the most comforting thing she could do right now. I wasn’t about to complain.
“I’m sorry, mom, dad,” I said as I made short work of a pear. “Lagge came and got me in the middle of the night telling me that there was someone he wanted me to meet. If I’d known that I wasn’t going to be back by morning, I might not have gone, or at least I’d have left you a note.”
“You shouldn’t have snuck off in the middle of the night at all regardless of how soon you thought you were going to be back. Who was it that he wanted you to meet?” said my ever-practical mother as she set a big fat sandwich down in front of me along with a tall glass of milk.
“Where did you get that outfit?” asked my father before I could answer my mom’s question.
Mom’s question caused me to look around and I realized that no one had followed me into the house. With my mouth full of sandwich, I held up a finger and went to the door to see what had happened to my companions. Durmas, Brom, Lagge and Carm were waiting patiently in the front yard. The men who had been guarding the place were not in sight. I swallowed my food and waved them in.
Back in the kitchen, I made my introductions. “Mom, dad, this is Durmas.”
“Master Durmas,” he corrected and accepted the hand of my mother and then my father in turn.
“Master Durmas, this is Lydia McTavish and James McTavish.” I filled in their names as he shook their hands. Introductions over, I offered him a seat between mom and me. Brom, Lagge and Carm filled up the rest of the table, making it look suddenly like a coffee table. Fortunately, the chairs were made quite sturdy.
Durmas opened the conversation. “As I understand it, you are here to study us. Obviously there are certain aspects about us you do not yet know.” He launched into a detailed description of who and what he was, as well as what he did, including my involvement now. My parents absorbed it all; my dad even got his notebook out and started taking notes. I just stuffed my face – mom makes really good sandwiches. Brom reached out and tasted my milk. It was one of the few off-world products mom kept on hand. He made a face and set the glass back down in front of me.
When the conversation finally progressed to the point where Durmas started to outline his plans for me, I started to listen again. My sandwich was sitting happily in my stomach and the milk was rapidly joining it.
“Liam will be taught the sword, staff and bow as well as how to control and use his magic. In two or three years he should be ready to be out on his own.”
Father interrupted. “You make it sound like you expect Liam to go with you again when you leave here. He can’t neglect his formal education. He’s a member of the empire and in three years he must be ready to enter college.”
“Mr. McTavish, if Liam doesn’t learn how to control his magic, he could make mistakes that could very well cost lives. He must learn this control. Training with weapons is an integral part of learning the discipline necessary to control the basic aspects of the magic he’ll be using.”
“My son was doing just fine without your magic before he met you. I’m sure he’ll continue to do just fine without it now. You must forgive me if I have other plans for my son.” My father spoke more forcibly than I’d ever heard him before.
Durmas didn’t reply right off; his face just went still. “I don’t understand you. Any man in this village would be very pleased to have his son trade places with Liam.”
“Then select another young man and allow him to trade places with Liam. Liam has other obligations,” replied my father.
“We are not talking about a limited number of seats to fill on the council. There are no others who are eligible for this training at this time. We are not talking about eligibility either. We are talking about Liam. It is he who must have this training. It is vital.”
“Thank you for your concern, but it’s not going to happen. May I show you to the door?” That was dad’s way of indicating, in no uncertain terms, that the conversation was over.
Durmas stood to leave. “You may come to regret this decision,” he said, and then he strode out of the house.
Brom, Lagge and Carm had to leave too. They’d been away from home for a week now and had to get back to their chores. I thought they looked disappointed though. I think a part of me was disappointed too, but just now, I was glad they were all gone.