The trip must have gone without a hitch because the next thing I knew I was waking and I felt like I had arrived home at last. I don’t know what it was; perhaps the planet has its own resonance.
“Liam, can you hear me?”
Her voice was there. She had come with me. I was relieved.
“Liam,” said another voice I hadn’t expected to hear. The emperor had come too. What was he doing here? Did he find his wife? I sat up and looked to see who else was here, but all was in darkness. There were no fireflies in my head. There should have been at least two. “Who all is here? Where am I?”
“I’m here too, Liam,” said Haines. “I uh…I had to come back. After I heard what happened to you…because of me…”
“For his crime,” said the emperor, “he will stay here with you for the rest of his life. Actually, his proximity to you is strictly between the two of you.”
“Where am I?” I asked again.
“We are here, Planet 663-457. This is where you wanted to go, isn’t it. It’s what your mother told us,” said Haines.
“I can tell that much, but where are we?”
“Liam, you never had any problem knowing where you are or who is around you,” said Patricia with concern. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know. It’s all dark to me. Perhaps my magic has died.” In a way, I hoped that was so. At least I would not be a danger to my friends any longer that way.
I tried to get to my feet, discovering that it was quite difficult. Hands steadied me and guided me to a chair.
“We just disembarked from the ship,” said Haines. “We’re still at the space port. The port authority gave us this room so we could have some privacy to wake you.”
“We need to hire a car. I don’t think I can walk very far.” Then I remembered that the emperor never went anywhere without a contingent of guards. “Actually, we’ll have to hire several cars, won’t we?”
“No, just one,” said the emperor. “By my own law, there will never be another show of military force on the surface of this planet, and I really must obey my own laws. I’ll be returning to Earth as soon as you are ready to depart.”
“The lifts used to come and go about once a week. You’re not going to hang around here for a week, are you?”
“He brought his own ship,” said Haines.
“Oh,” was all I could come up with to say. I felt awkward sitting here. I felt like I was the center of attention and everyone was waiting for me to do something. I pushed myself to my feet and felt hands steady me again. I felt so weak.
“Hold on,” said Patricia. She started to tug at my shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“This is a homecoming,” said the emperor. “You must be properly dressed.”
My shirt came away. It was probably pajamas anyway. I have no idea what I was wearing. When she started pulling at my pants, I had to object.
“Oh, all right then. I’ll turn my back and let Cap…Steven do it,” she said.
“You’re not a captain any more?” I asked, as he helped me shed my pants.
“Not any more,” he replied, as he helped me put on leather pants.
My leathers; they were dressing me in my leathers.
By some signal I didn’t catch, Patricia stepped up and helped me with my shirt while Haines buckled my boots.
“I thought… The blast… These can’t be mine.” The doctor had told me that my leathers had stopped much of the glass. Surely, there hadn’t been much left.
“The emperor had new leathers made,” said Patricia. “They’re not as heavy and the dragon is different, but it’s the best we could do from memory.”
When I stood up again, the emperor came forward. “Here, you might need this.” He reached around me, and with his own hands, he buckled a belt around my hips. “It’s a new belt too.” The weight and feel was so familiar that I didn’t have to ask what it was.
“My lord, why? You know I can never pick up a sword again.”
“I’m hoping that will change now that you are here. When it does, I’ll look forward to your return to my side. There’ll be lieutenant’s bars waiting for you when you get there.”
I couldn’t put into words that I expected to die here. Everyone expected me to pull off another miracle, but I just wanted to find a dark corner to curl up in and die.