I don't know how long I slept. I vaguely remember someone pulling me out of the chair and propelling me to a bed. I might even have eaten something, but I don't really recall. When I woke, I was alone in the bed. It took me a moment to figure out why I had come awake so fast.
Then I heard a voice. "I found the others and came as soon as I received your message. How is he?
"He's just fine," I said, as I pulled myself out of bed. I felt stiff and sore, but otherwise rested enough I guess.
I changed the sleeping gown I wore (someone keeps changing me into that thing) for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and went to see who had come.
At first, I didn't recognize the three men who stood facing me. Haines had just handed the last of them a glass of something when I entered the room.
"You're still a shrimp. Do you still make what you call apples?" said one of them.
Then, almost as if a veil had been lifted, I realized who these men must be. "Carm, is that you?"
"Yup, it's us. How come every time you come back here, you're all messed up?"
I didn't answer his question; I just went and gave them a big hug. At least it was as big a hug as I could, considering I could scarcely get my arms around them. It was good to see them again. I had missed them. They had grown so big.
Durmas appeared then. "Good, the team is back together again." He too greeted the three newcomers, but in a more formal manner. "Are you all ready to take up where we left off?"
Brom was the first to speak up. "My wife is expecting our third child. I'm afraid I cannot stay long, But I couldn't think of staying away when I heard the news."
"Your wife has you tied too close to her apron strings. Mine insisted I come. I think she wanted me out of the way for a while. She says I don't get out enough," said Lagge.
"That only means you're a pest," said Carm. "She runs that store much better than your father ever did."
"Store? Your father didn't run a store," I said.
Lagge turned to me. "After you left, the guards gave our families a lot of trouble, so Master Durmas moved us out of the village to another town over the mountains. He also arranged the sale of our families' properties. My father used the money to buy into a store. Eventually he bought out the original owners completely. Now my wife and I run it. Brom married the blacksmith's daughter and has been working in the smithy ever since. Carm here is still unattached because no woman will have him. He works the vegetable farm his parents started."
"Your mother would send us news of you from time to time," said Carm. "I'm impressed that you were working so close to your emperor. You must be the best."
"If I were the best, I wouldn't be in the condition I am now. I have a lot to learn."
"Yes you do," said Durmas as he invited everyone to sit at the table that was conveniently large enough for all of us. As soon as everyone was seated, (Patricia was nowhere to be seen) Durmas touched my hand. "Are you up to a meal?"
"Oh, of course." My friends had traveled a long way, it was only right that I should greet them with a full table. I reached for the elements I needed to fulfill my desire; I found my hands shaking. I could feel Durmas watching me closely, but he made no comment about the tremble he surely saw.
When I was finished, I was glad to be sitting. The meal was one I had learned while living in the 'empty' palace that had belonged to the emperor's mother. I wanted to treat my friends to some of the outside, even if it was only unusual food.
The meal was a success. Everyone said they liked it and I actually felt like they meant it and weren't just being polite. I thought it tasted good too, but it didn't seem to satisfy me like I was used to food doing if I got enough.