Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chapter 9 - LEAVING

Just as I suspected, mother booked us three positions on the next boost off this planet. It was a testament to how anxious she was to get away from here that she accepted a destination in an asteroid field two weeks away instead of searching for a more choice planet-fall. She requested a car to come get us and then ran around the house packing our belongings while father called their boss and arranged for a replacement. I overheard him saying that he’d forward a detailed report as soon as we were safely off the surface.
   
The car came for us at about three o’clock in the morning so I didn’t get the opportunity to see my friends one last time. Mom told me I could send my farewells back as soon as a replacement had moved in here who could take the call.
   
On board the ship, we were introduced to our cryo-pods and made comfortable inside. Since this was a PTS (Planet to Space) boost, we would be put in cryo-sleep until we had reached speed and then we would be shown to a stateroom. This was so that the company could save money on fuel. They could reach speed much faster if their live cargo was frozen solid during the brutal thrust.
   
Everything was in such a whirl that I forgot all about magic; that is, I forgot until things started to go horribly wrong and then it was far too late to think about it. I began to suspect something wasn’t quite right when I heard the engines fire up somewhere far below me. I looked over at my dad’s pod and saw his profile lying there quietly with his eyes closed. On the other side of me, my mom’s profile was the same. I couldn’t see anyone else though I knew that the rest of the crew was in here too; I had watched them all file in. I guess the pilot would sleep in her chair.
   
Within seconds, I knew I was in a lot of trouble and within only a few seconds more, I was sure I was dead.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter 8 - TELLING MOM AND DAD

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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Chapter 7 - TRYING IT ON MY OWN

It was early afternoon when we spotted the first signs of the village. It was summer and the baker must have been hard at work baking his breads. A single stream of white smoke was rising high up into the calm air. If it had been winter or later in the evening, there would have been dozens of lines of smoke there, but since it was summer and still early, the bakery was about the only fire going in the town. The blacksmith’s fire was always going too, but his fire was so hot that you seldom saw any smoke rising from it.

We were so close. We would be there in a few hours at this pace. I was starving again. I thought of one of my mother’s sandwiches, one of the nice big fat ones, and did like I did with the apple earlier. The sandwich was a success – I remember seeing it clearly in my hand – but my staying on my feet wasn’t.

Lagge slapped me awake some while time and pulled me to sit up. I remember Brom coming over to hold me up while Lagge spooned the stew into my mouth. I could barely focus on him. Hell, I could barely keep my eyes open. Obviously, sandwiches were harder than apples.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chapter 6 - THE ENERGY OF MAGIC

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.