My wounds may have spared me from the punishment of our training, but I was still expected to attend. This reprieve didn’t last but a few days since I had problems watching our missions happen when I felt like I should be helping and not just directing. Thanks to my magic, I was back up to speed within a week.
About ten days later, the blacksmith’s daughter showed up. “Master Liam,” she said timidly. “There’s a man asking questions about you around town. My father thought you aught to know.”
She had addressed me as Master Liam. I hadn’t even had my sixteenth birthday yet. I think I was almost as much surprised by that as by the news she brought.
“What about the guards?” I asked as soon as my brain was working again. There had been no warning about the guards last time because they were my people and not seen as a threat at the time, not until after they had shown their desire to use force.
“The guards are still there. So far, he’s managed to avoid them. Father doesn’t think they are aware of him yet. They were ever so angry after you all got away. Anyway, since he doesn’t seem to be working with the guards, father thought you might be interested in meeting him. He doesn’t know I’ve been sent here.”
I looked at my friends. Their looks all said ‘why not’ so I nodded. “Tell him to head east out of town; we’ll find him.” I waved Oskan over to us since he had remained out of hearing for this conference. “Oskan, could you take her back to her father’s. I don’t want her or her family to get into trouble for being out of town suspiciously.”
He nodded and folded the girl in his arms and vanished. I really am going to have to learn how to do that.
We are not east of town so, after informing Durmas of our plans, we headed out.
We found him the next night by a small campfire. I waited until he lay down and then I slipped up on him and extinguished the fire.
Since the fire doused so quickly, he sat up abruptly and saw my form by the dim moonlight of the small second moon. “Who are you? Are you McTavish?” he asked.
“I am,” I said. “What do you want with me?”
“I thought Braxton was just trying to get rid of me when he sent me out here. Anyways, he sent me. He told me what you told him. I did a little poking around and found out some interesting things. Well no, I should correct that; it’s what I didn’t find that tweaked my interest. I found which ship your parents left on easy enough and where that ship made its next landfall, but somewhere between here and there, they vanished. They were on the passenger list when they took off from here but not when they landed there. Since they’re well known scientists, both of them, I thought it was rather odd that you were the only one looking for them. I also find it very odd that the village back there is swarming with imperial guards, and that all of them are looking for you, and yet there’s still no mention of a search for your parents. I know, I checked. You’d think they’d look for them before they looked for you. The way I see it, somebody already knows where your parents are - somebody big - and they don’t like you runnin’ around loose.”
I had to sit down while he spoke and was comforted to hear Brom move in closer behind me. I hoped that he had made that sound for me to hear because, if this had been one of Oscan’s exercises, we would be on the losing side very fast.
I saw that the camp had been a dry camp, so I made a cup of coffee and offered it across the coals to him.
He accepted it tentatively and drank it gratefully after he identified what it was.
“What is your name, sir?” I finally asked after trying without success to figure out what I should do next.
“My name? You can call me Pip, everyone does.”
“Mr. Pip . . . .”
“Just Pip. Mr. is just too much,” he corrected.
“Pip,” I started again, “What now? I want to find my parents, but I just don’t know what to do next.”
“Well, if I was a might shady, I’d say just give me your credit chip and I’ll try to find your parents for you, but since Braxton referred you to me, I’ll be a might more honest. You can’t do anything from here. I thought you just being here was bad enough, but you’re cut off from communication while you’re here, not to mention the fact that it looks like they’re trying to nab ye.”
“They have already failed once.” I thought for a while more, then I heard a soft creaking sound off to my right. I leapt to my feet and drew my sword only just in time to knock the arrow aside.
“You let me get too close, boy,” said Larak as he strode the rest of the way into camp and dropped Carm’s limp body at my feet. “You won’t be able to stop those little metal balls as easily as you did my arrow; not if you let them get that close.”
Carm was pulling himself onto his hands and knees with a groan. “Fine lookout you are,” I said, nudging him gently in the shoulder with my knee. He just groaned and reached for his head. This was something we had all endured many, many times.
I already learned that lesson, thank you,” I said to Larak. “Master Larak, this man may be able to help me find my parents, but he says I need to go with him. Do you think I can?”
Pip had jumped to his feet only seconds after I did, and now, assuming this giant was a friend, he offered his hand. “Pip, sir. Pleased to meet you.”
Larak made Pip’s hand vanish in his massive grip and then turned back to me with an appraising look. “You should go, and yes, I think you can. You’re far from finished with your training though, so I also think you should return as soon as possible.”
“We’ll head out in the morning then,” I replied, relieved that he had so much confidence in me.
“We?” said Pip in alarm. “Who’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about? I didn’t know there was more than one human out here.”
Carm had attained his feet by now and stood looming over my shoulder.
“My friends, of course,” I replied and I tipped my chin toward Carm.
“Listen, McTavish, he can’t go with you. This planet isn’t a full-fledged member of the empire yet, so these people won’t be able to leave the surface. Someone that size will attract too much attention anyway.”
“He’s right,” said Lagge as he too loomed out of the darkness behind Pip who whirled in surprise.
You have to understand Pip’s discomfort. I’m only a fifteen-year-old kid, but I’m still a bit tall for my age. Last time I measured myself, I had only an inch to go before reaching six feet. Pip was at least six inches shorter than me; that meant that Carm was a good three feet taller than Pip, and Larak was even taller. Brom was the tallest of the three.
“Even if we could smuggle one or two of them onto a ship, there isn’t a cryo-pod big enough to hold ‘em and I wouldn’t want to do a boost without one,” continued Pip.
I had a very good reason to agree with him, but just like laying my sword aside to go into town, leaving my friends behind in order to leave the planet would feel . . . odd.
Our extended silence must have indicated to Pip that we weren’t too happy with the idea. “I just don’t think it would be safe and it would hinder anything we tried to do.”
“That’s not it, Pip,” I said as I raised my hand to forestall further argument. “I understand and agree with what you are saying; it’s just that my friends remain in danger here as long as the imperial guards think they know where I am.”
The boys can remain with us until the guards leave,” said Larak. “Or we can relocate them to another village if we need to. We will keep them and their families safe.”
I was glad for the dark. No one would notice my discomfort. I wanted to pace. I wanted to go back and talk with Durmas. I wanted my parents to be safe.
Larak sat down by the coals and lit the fire again. With a motion of his hand, he had the rest of us sit too. After he made himself a cup of hot comak, a drink much like coffee but a lot stronger, I didn’t like it much, he said, “Liam, something strange has happened to your parents and it is right that you should go and try to help them. You have accomplished a great deal during your stay here. You have good control, though you may be a little timid, but that’s probably not a bad thing, considering the scope of your potential. You go with this man. We’ll take care of your friends here.”
To cover my discomfort, I made supper for all of us. Pip’s reaction was understandably one of shock. “How the hell did you do that?” he asked, afraid to accept the plate laden with food.
“Eat. It’s just food. You’ll get used to it,” I said, and pressed the food on him.
He took it. “But how did you do that?”
“I don’t want to talk about it right now.” We ate our meal in silence and just as silently, we bedded down for what was left of the night.