My sword was sheathed but my hand rested on my dagger at my back, ready to draw it in a moment should I need to. Mom and dad followed close behind me.
He led us through many winding back alleys with many twists and turns along the way. He also bought us several short rides on assorted transportation systems going different directions. As I watched him, I felt certain that he was doing his best to throw off anyone who might have thought to try to follow us.
Finally he led us into an inn not far from the docks and then up to a room on the second floor. Pip was sitting there at a small table looking quite used and much abused.
My guide went and stood behind him and I went forward to clasp his hand with relief. “Pip, I thought you were dead. They told me they had discarded your box at the docks.”
“They did. In fact, they discarded me among the freight almost at once. If it weren’t for Georgy here, I’d be dead for sure. Speaking of which, I think we are due for a few introductions.” He indicated the young man who stood at his shoulder. “This is my nephew, Georgy. I enlisted his help as possible backup in case something happened to me, or we got separated, and it’s a good thing I did. You, McTavish, weren’t supposed to spot him or even notice him unless he was needed, but I thought your reactions would be much better if I didn’t tell you otherwise.” Then he turned his eyes on my parents. “And you, Mr. and Mrs. McTavish, I’m glad you’re safe, but I think you should do a little introducing of your own. I think you owe your son an explanation.”
I was surprised. I looked at my parents. “What does that mean?”
My mother seemed to wilt and my father guided her over to the bed and sat down with her, but he didn’t offer to speak for her.
While I watched my mother wrestle with herself, Pip whispered something to his nephew who left the room quietly.
“Liam,” mom began with difficulty, “We . . . your father and I . . . were in no real danger. The baron wouldn’t dare. You see . . . he’s my father, and he never claimed any other heirs. He kept us incommunicado. We couldn’t get any messages out to you. We couldn’t warn you in any way. It didn’t occur to us that you might come looking for us. We just hoped that, in time, he would let it go and in the mean time you would be safe on that planet.”
I groped for the only other chair in the room. “What?”
“I’m sorry, Liam. I should have told you long ago, but I didn’t think it would ever matter,” continued my mother. “I was disowned when I married your father, that’s why we moved to Earth.”
Making my first sword hadn’t made me as numb as I was right now. I had to get out. I had to think and I couldn’t do it while looking at my mom’s face.
I left the room, passing Georgy on the stairs, and made it as far as a table near a cold fireplace before I had to sit down again. It was just as well; half the city was probably looking for me by now.
I sat there, churning over what I had just heard and what I feared would happen now. I had just killed my grandfather. My grandfather was a baron. My parents and I would be hunted by the entire empire, but there was no hiding; we were known - well known. I could think of no real justification, no real excuse for doing what I had done other than the fact that I could. What did it matter if he had had me whipped? What did it matter what he had wanted from me and how wrong it would have been to give it to him? Surely, I could have gotten us out of there without killing.
My father came down and sat down beside me. He laid my original sword belt on the table in front of me. “Mr. Pip said you might want this.”
I reached out my hand and touched the familiar wear spots, nicks and scrapes on the leather. I opened my cloak and unbuckled the one I wore. It was pristine. I coiled the belt around the sword, like the other one was, and laid it in front of my father. “You can have this one.” I let my hand linger a second, making the dragons disappear. “The dragons are mine. They need to be sharpened.”
Dad touched the back of my hand. “I’d like to get a better look at this.”
I unbuckled my sleeve and pulled it up as far as it would go and traced where the tail went for him to imagine since my sleeve wouldn’t go up that far.
“It’s beautiful. What made you get it?”
“I was throwing my credits around, using my name as much as possible. I was trying to attract attention. It worked. I don’t think I’ll do this again; it hurt. If I decide I want another tattoo, I’ll do it the easy way.” I pulled my sleeve back down and buckled it again.
“The easy way; what way is that?”
I just smiled and touched his chest. “Like that.”
With a bemused smile, he unbuttoned a couple buttons on his shirt and took a peek. On his chest I had put a small red heart, shot through with an arrow, written in it was my mother’s name.
He just smiled and nodded. “Your mother will like it.”
The mention of my mother brought me back to my problem. “Dad, what’re we going to do now? I really messed things up.”
His reply was interrupted by a massive hand coming to rest on the sword belt I had just given him. “It ain’t right that you should have two such fine get-ups. Why don’t you give one of ‘em to me?” The man looked like a football player only he wasn’t wearing padding; it was the muscles of his shoulders, arms and chest that stretched his shirt so far.
“No,” I said calmly. “I gave that to my father. You can’t have it.”
The man had been in the process of drawing the belt toward him, but he froze and looked me directly in the face. I’m sure he was seeing a young teenager trying to look much older than he was.
Someone from behind him spoke up. “Bart, if you start another fight, I’ll have to call the guard again. That’ll make it your third time here.”
Dad looked like he wanted to become part of the woodwork, but he stayed where he was. If he were to start moving away, everyone would follow his example and that would clear the way for a fight.
“Now boy,” the man said. “Think what you’re sayin’. You got two of them fancy outfits. What would anybody need with two?”
“You can’t have it,” I repeated, while staring the man directly in the eyes.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my father go pale, but to his credit, he showed no other reaction.
With a sly look coming across his eyes, the man named Bart moved the belt another inch and then grew suddenly pale as well, but for a very different reason.
My father had gone pale because he had been looking at the table, and he saw my sword melt down through its sheath as well as the table and out of sight without leaving a single trace of its passing. My antagonist went pale because he suddenly felt the point of that blade poking him in a very tender, very valuable place from under the table.
“Please remove your hand from my father’s gift.”
He did just that as if it were suddenly very hot. “Pardon me for disturbin’ ye, sir,” he said as he backed away. He left the bar shortly after that. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life wondering how I had managed to draw my sword without him seeing.
I stood slowly, brought my sword out from under the table and slid it back into its sheath, then I deliberately buckled it around my waist before sitting down again.
A barmaid came over with two small glasses full of some amber liquid. “The innkeeper says thank ‘e for breakin’ the fight. This is on the house.”
Dad nodded his thanks and tossed back a gulp with a grimace. After he set the half-empty glass back on the table, he drew the sword belt back in front of him and slid the blade out a few inches. “Just what can you do?”
I took an experimental sip of my drink. It was smooth as fine oil and kindled a nice warmth in my roiling stomach, but it tasted nasty. It was probably better than the one beer I’d had though. I turned back to trying to answer my father’s question. “Master Durmas told me that first day that I should consider myself an infant only just learning to crawl. It took me a few weeks to learn how to stand. I figure I’ve got a firm grip on walking now. I might even be able to run a little. I have no idea how far it will go; perhaps I’ll fly someday.”
Dad raised an eyebrow at my analogy and then ran his thumb down the few inches of exposed blade in front of him. “There’s no edge.”
“I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. It’s not hard to sharpen though.” I set a stone in front of him and then I brought out a small stone flask of oil and a small cloth. I had made each one of them under the table out of sight. It looked as though I was bringing them out of a pocket.
Dad smiled as he realized what I’d done. “You’re kind of handy.” Dad finished his drink and then he went back up to mom.
I sipped at my drink; it had been a gift so I intended to finish it, but I figured I’d not order it again.
I was just beginning to mire myself in my worries again when Pip showed up.
“You all right, kid?” he asked as he took the seat my father had vacated. He held up my father’s empty glass and the barmaid came over and replaced it with a drink of his own.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m glad you made it too. Tell me how you did it.” I figured listening to his tale would put off my worries for a little while longer.
He sipped at his drink. “Well, it took Georgy most of an entire day to realize we were missing. Then he had a heck of a time finding both of us. You were easy. They kept you in the back of the infirmary. They buried my box in one of the four cargo holds.
“By the time he found me and opened the damn thing, I had long since come to the conclusion that I was dead. I was hungry and thirsty and I couldn’t even call for help. It was all I could do to breathe. Despite the fact that my box wasn’t near as comfortable as yours, we thought that I should stay in it, just in case someone were to check once in a while. Georgy brought me food and water every day, twice a day if he could manage it. It gave me a chance to stretch my legs for a few minutes.”
“Then you were lucky. I was kept in the box, packed tight all the time. They shoved a tube down my throat and pumped me full of food and drugs . . . oh I don’t know . . . once a day I think. I think the worst part was that my magic wouldn’t let the drugs work.”
We sat in silence while Pip finished his drink and ordered another one.
“What now, Pip? I asked.
“I guess we see what your parents want to do.” He slid a key over to me. “I’m going to bed.”
Before he could leave, I asked him, “Pip, how did you find out about my parents?”
“I didn’t know, not until we got here. Too many things were too strange, so I did some checking. All the strange links fell into place pretty quickly after that. Your mom’s face is well known here.” He left then. “You should eat something,” he said over his shoulder.
Yeah, I probably should. I hadn’t spent much magic all things considered, and I was in such a whirl, I couldn’t even think straight enough to decide whether I was hungry or not.