Two days later, very late in the day, Captain Haines and two of the men who had been my guards during my stay at the palace came in with chains and a hood. I was taken to an electric car. I wondered what excuse they’d used for spiriting me away. Judging from all the chains, maybe I was going to my execution.
Once we were in the car the chains and hood were taken away. The windows were so darkly tinted; it looked like night outside. I had to ask, “Where are you taking me?”
“For your safety, we are taking you to a hiding place,” said Haines.
“But we walked right past the guards.”
“By the time whoever tried to poison you figures out that you’re not where you’re supposed to be, you’ll be securely hidden away.”
“There’s a paper trail to follow? If you’d said something it could have been done much cleaner.”
Haines turned around in his seat to look at me. “How so?”
“The easiest thing I could have done was make another opening through the back wall and walk out that way, but I could also cause a guard to be distracted or fall asleep, or I could dress in the appropriate uniform and change the color of my hair or whatever. I could have walked out of that cell in broad daylight and they wouldn’t notice anything as long as I didn’t have to discuss current affairs with the guard.
“Are you telling me that you could have walked past us any time you wanted to?” protested one of the guards. “Why were we guarding your door all that time? You didn’t do your magic thing on us, did you?”
“No,” I laughed. “I was a good boy. You all wanted me to stay in my room, so I stayed in my room.”
They took me to a walled compound at another location in the city where we were greeted by two more men I recognized. “This place was the home of the Imperial Mother until she died,” said Haines. “It’s been empty for four years now and no one but the emperor and us knows that you are here. You will remain here and do your schoolwork. I’m not sure what the emperor has in mind for you, but for now, this is where you will live. There is little if anything here, so I will arrange for supplies to be sent . . . .”
“Don’t bother with supplies. If you start sending supplies here, someone will find out; and with me spirited away from detention, someone will put it all together.”
Haines looked at me for a moment, but his question was asked by one of the other men. “You’re going to feed us without any supplies; how are you going to do that?”
I handed the man an apple. “Like that.”
He accepted the apple hesitantly and said no more. Haines only nodded and turned to leave. “I’ll be back from time to time.” I saw him to the door and before he left completely he turned to me and said, “I’ll bring you a phone next time I come. It’ll be connected through the palace so no one will be able to trace it here. I know you’ll want to keep in touch with your parents.”
I remained there for eighteen months. I did my schoolwork almost non-stop accomplishing three days of work in one day most of the time. What else did I have to do? I ran the perimeter of the compound wall to my heart’s content and lifted improvised weights every day too. In the winter, I kept the place warm, but with fireplaces in every room, my guards wanted to use firewood, so I made it and lit it wherever they wanted.
Meals started out with a meeting where it was decided what I would make for that meal. If we could figure out how it was made, that’s what we had. It took a while for them to get used to me making their meals, but they soon grew to like it.
I did a few other things too, but it was mostly small things like cleaning their clothes or replacing a button. I took to wearing my leathers again almost immediately.
Brian saw the tattoo on my arm and he decided he wanted one too. I gave him one of an eagle on his shoulder. When conversation turned to other tattoos, it was discovered that Leonard had an old girlfriend’s name tattooed in a rather sensitive place. He wanted it removed, but was too embarrassed to have it done. There was a good deal of teasing and laughter, but later that night, I went to his room and removed it for him. I don’t think he’ll ever get another tattoo there. Not if his life depended on it.
Haines came by about once a week and for my nineteenth birthday he brought my birthday presents. Mom and dad sent me a photograph of all of my friends back home; it made me homesick. Haines had it framed. Colin sent me a card with a letter telling me about all the new things in his life; he sounded so happy. The emperor sent me a nasty little weapon. Haines showed me how to wear it. It had rings that fit on all four of my fingers with two rings per finger. These were connected to each other by fine flex-steel bands across the back of my knuckles and were connected to a wristband that covered half of my arm to the elbow. He had it made to resemble the dragon on my other hand though he got the tail all wrong (it was cool though). On the palm sides of all the rings, were tiny sharp needles that looked something like cat’s claws. Haines said that it was made to deliver poisons but that wasn’t necessary; a slap would lay open someone’s face rather thoroughly. Why would the emperor send me something like this? I liked the way it looked though, so I made the ‘claws’ go away and wore it most of the time.