Friday, August 26, 2011

Chapter 83 - PATRICIA

I did indeed come down by the time we reached the town, but I still had enough energy to keep my feet.

Much to my delight, Patricia was there, along with the rest of the town’s people, to greet us and praise our success. I didn’t hear much of what was said and did no explaining. I left all that to Carm and Haines. All I wanted to do was hold Patricia forever.

This wasn’t to be, however. One of the many giants stepped between us and guided Patricia toward a woman who accompanied him. “There’ll be none of that now. There’s a time and a place for that kind of nonsense and it ain’t here or now, so you keep your hands to yourself.”

“What?” I asked. I recognized this couple, but I couldn’t remember their names.

“Miss Patricia’s working hard getting ready for her formal joining. Didn’t Master Durmas tell you anything about this?” said the man.

“No, he just said she’d come here to stay.”

He pulled me aside while the woman led Patricia away. She looked over her shoulder with an apologetic smile and waved. I waved back. “Can’t I even talk to her?”

“Yes, you can see her. You’ll be staying with us while you’re here, but you need to know what’s expected of you.”

“But… What?” I was still so very confused.

“Before you take a wife…” he started.

Wife? I was rendered speechless and it was all I could do to make the rest of the words he spoke mean something in my head.

“…must make sure that you can put a roof over her head. Of course, you could probably just make her whatever she wants, but that’s not the point. You must be sure you have work that brings in enough money in order to provide for her and the children she’ll give you. They must have a secure life and that is your responsibility.”

“What are you talking about? Of course, I would provide for her if I marry her, and now that you bring it up, I think I will marry her, but I haven’t asked her yet. I hadn’t even thought about it until now.”

“That may be so, but those around you have seen that you two are meant to be joined, so it is being arranged. It is the way things are done here. Master Durmas, with the consent of your father and mother, is sponsoring you in this union. Lorena, my wife, and I are sponsoring Miss Patricia since she had informed us that she has no other family.”

Eventually I learned that this man and his wife were Lloyd and Lorena Hanley. They ran about twenty milk cows and sold the milk, cream and butter at market every day. Mom used to buy some once in a while. They weren’t really cows; they looked more like moose without antlers but they produced a fair amount of milk. To me it tasted kind of green, but it was all right.

I had heard about some of the old-fashioned customs, but I never thought I’d find myself experiencing any of them. Patricia and I sat on opposite sides of the table during meals. In the living room, we were never allowed to sit next to each other, nor were we allowed to be anywhere alone. At night, she slept in a room that joined theirs. There was no such thing as privacy. I so wanted to touch her, to hold her, but I couldn’t even hold her hand.

Three days of this and I couldn’t take it any more. Haines, who was staying at the house with us, couldn’t stop grinning at my discomfiture. He never knew how close he came to having his toes braided.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chapter 82 - DANCING RAIN

The next morning, I got a better look at the damage this farmer had sustained. At least three quarters of his crops had been wiped out. I thought about recreating the fields. It could be done, but the job would probably compare with bringing water from the other side of the planet.

“Don’t worry about them,” said Carm. “They have plenty of friends. They won’t go hungry because of this.”

It started to rain and Carm cast a wary eye up to the clouds. “What’s wrong?” I asked, “Rain would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?”

“Its nearly harvest time,” he tried to explain. “A little rain would be fine right here but too much could ruin everyone’s crops.”

Of course, I came to the logical conclusion. “Tell me when enough is enough.” I strode out into the center of the blackened field.

“What are you going to do now?” Carm called after me.

“Watch this,” said Haines. “I think we’re going to be in for a real treat.”

“He’s going to try to gather all the rain, isn’t he?” said Carm in amazement.

“I think so,” replied Haines.

“Can he do that?”

“I’ve seen him do some amazing things with water, and all in play too. This may be tough on him so soon after the fire, but I think he can handle it all right.”

I let Haines brag for me. The praise felt good. By the time I reached the top of a small hill, my boots were covered with black mud; I’d poured a lot of water on this fire.

I stopped and looked back to where the others were gathered. Carm touched the ground at his feet and then gazed off across what remained of the field nearest them. I could see him put his head together with the farmer and nod and then he raised his hand and waved at me.

I began to dance. This was a far-reaching one. I reached out for all the rain in the sky; I searched for miles around me, and I whirled it around at the direction of my sword tip. Soon all the raindrops were orbiting me each in their own path until they splashed into each other creating new balls of water. Then I drew in the water-laden clouds and immersed myself in the fog.

With the water drops spinning through the wet fog, the cloud soon surrendered to the water, then I channeled it down between my feet and into the water table below me. For the next several hours, I was the center of another kind of hurricane. One, I’m pleased to say, was completely at my command.

When it was all gone, I lowered my sword. The task had left me tired and yet energized at the same time. The giddy feeling I had always felt after handling water with my magic left me feeling like I could fly. I knew I’d come down eventually, but I fully enjoyed it now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chapter 81 - FIRE

We reached the young man’s home first. His family was drawing water from the well and trying to get everything wet enough so at least some of it might survive the fire. From here, we could see the flames as they sparkled at the bottom of the cloud of smoke drifting over our heads, dropping hot ash on everything and everyone.

“Help with the buckets,” I yelled as I strode closer to the flames.

“What are you going to do?” asked Haines as he snagged my elbow.

“You…” I turned to him and saw the bucket brigade of giants behind him. I was going to send him back to help the others, but there was no way he would be able to keep up with them. “You, watch and keep me out of trouble. I’m going to put this fire out.”

“You’re going to WHAT?”

I wasn’t listening any more. I closed my eyes and called on the magic. I had done something this big only once before and I had done it without much thought. Working a disabled space ship was not the same thing as this, but I knew that I could do it; I just didn’t know if I had recovered enough. I had my doubts.

I didn’t have time for doubts. The land was dry for miles around. If I drew on the water table below my feet, I could drain the well behind me. If I failed here, the people behind me would have nothing to fight with. They would lose everything and very likely even their lives.

I reached far away and pulled the water from a mountain lake. I brought it here in a long stream that I used like a fire hose with many heads. With my hydra of water, I began to attack the flames and the ground in front of it with giant waterspout fingers.

When the water from that source ran out, I found another and began anew. I let Haines guide my feet as he pulled me back from the approaching flames. Someone must have handed him a wet cloth because he tied it over my face to keep out at least most of the smoke.

The next thing I knew, large hands were resting on my shoulders and a serge of new power rushed through me. Without question, I made liberal use of the power to begin making a brake. Ground out in front of the fire and around its flank began to explode and I used the airborne dirt and mud to help smother the flames.

I began to advance along the fire line just to make sure none of the flames had managed to get past my barrage of water and dirt. Hours later, there was no more open flame. I used the last of my energy to feel through the burned out acreage and douse any hot spots I could find.

I remember turning to look for more embers, but hands restrained me. I turned to see that they belonged to Carm. He and the others around him were blackened with soot to the point of being unrecognizable, but his voice and his words told me who he was.

“No, Liam, we’ll take care of the rest. You let go and stay here. You’ve done enough.”

Let go? Enough? I turned to face the fire again and…I don’t remember what happened after that.

The odor of smoke woke me, but my befuddled brain couldn’t figure out why I would be smelling smoke and still be lying in bed. There was no commotion, no alarm around me, I was comfortable, and yet smoke seemed to be everywhere. I came to the conclusion that I ought to do something, so I shoved the blankets aside and rolled to sit up.

A woman came in with a large platter of meats and cheeses. She was smiling and saying something. I tried to tune into her words while concentrating on what was in her hands. I was so hungry.

It took me a moment (and several mouthfuls) before I noticed who was standing behind her. Tsan was standing in the doorway gnawing on a leg of thopper; it looked like a turkey leg in his massive hand.

“That was an awesome thing you did, kid, taking on a fire that size by yourself. I never felt such a rush as that. Well, I did once, but it was only a tickle compared to today. Are you doing all right?”

“That was you?” I managed between mouthfuls of cold meat.

“Yeah, me and Larak. You pulled him right down to the ground. He’s still sleeping in the other room.”

I was stunned and my mouth stopped working.

Tsan saw the expression on my face. “Don’t worry kid. He’s just sleeping. You’re the only one that fainted.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “When do I get as strong as you?” I asked.

He just laughed. “You’re already stronger than any of us. You just need to learn a few more things. You’ll probably have everything we can teach you safely tucked under your belt by the time the spring thaws come around again.”

I finished my plate and started to get up.

“Nah, go back to sleep. Carm and Steven are still out looking for embers. Take the time to rest.”

“I could help…”

“You’ve done enough, now rest.”

I did. I felt better, but I definitely had no problem going back to sleep. A full belly helped – a lot.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chapter 80 - INTO TOWN

I dressed in my best, which meant that I made myself a new set of leathers. I cut my hair and trimmed my beard. I even polished my sword. Then the three of us set off for town.

Our journey was only a little more dignified than the last time me and my three best friends had made this same trip so very long ago. Haines was hard pressed to keep up; even I was having more trouble than I anticipated. Carm’s legs had grown far longer than mine since I was last here.

As we traveled, I noticed some storm clouds building in the south. Carm kept a wary eye on them, but I didn’t think much more on it; it was cool today for a change and I had other things on my mind.

Before we entered the village, we jostled ourselves into some semblance of dignity, but our entrance was not what we had planned. About the same time I noticed the new well in the center of the market square, I also noticed a commotion near the inn.

When we reached the gathering, a much-disheveled young man saw us and ran up to me. Much to my surprise, he bowed to me and addressed me quite formally. “Master, it is fortunate that you have come. My father’s fields have been struck by lightning and they are burning. Please, Master, will you come and help?”

The storm clouds and lightning, and I don’t remember the last time it had rained. With everything so dry, a fire could wipe out miles of farmland and killed people and livestock. “Where? How far?” I asked. All thoughts of love were wiped from my mind.

He pointed and answered my question, but I didn’t hear his words. I could see the growing pall of thick smoke that was feeding the black thunderheads overhead.

I was running. I had no plan. I had never seen a wild fire before, though I had heard of them. I had learned to control fire to a certain extent, but could I do anything with a fire this big? I had no idea. Thoughts of this sort raced through my mind as I raced across the land toward the wall of smoke.