Friday, April 20, 2012

Chapter 117 - THE NEXT GENERATION


My father woke me up early one morning and dropped a pack on the foot of my bed. “Come on, son. It’s time I took you to meet the Masters.”

I dressed hurriedly and scooped up the meat pie mother had laid out for me. Father was already putting on his coat. I looked at my two sisters. They watched me with their big blue eyes. I was only twelve, but they were younger. Harvest was over, so I wouldn’t be missed too much during the winter, but what if I ended up being gone much longer? “Father, you need me.”

“We’ll get by,” he said. He had made up his mind and I didn’t push it.

It took us three days to reach the cave of the Masters. Father collected an armload of dry sticks before entering the dark mouth of the cave.

We built a small fire in a ring of stones we found just inside, but we weren’t to have much rest. They appeared at the edge of our firelight almost before it was going good.

Two of them were pretty much what I expected, older men with generous amounts of gray in their hair, but the third one was quite surprising. He was only a few inches taller than I was and really quite delicate by comparison. I’m sure if we were to compare hands, mine would be twice as thick as his. He had to be an off-worlder. Father had told me and my sisters many stories about the family that had lived in the village where he had grown up.

I was just wondering where he could have gotten that surprising shock of red hair when my father stepped up behind me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

The red-haired little man stepped through the fire as if it didn’t exist. He had his hand out as if he were going to pull my father’s arms away. I didn’t expect what happened next and I tried to back away, but my father was a solid wall at my back.

A heavy stone knife materialized in the little man’s hand and he slid it into my chest, into my heart. The horrendous burning stab of fire robbed me of breath to cry out and I clung to my father’s arms for support.

The little man stepped aside and looked behind him at an orb that had just lit up as if someone had touched it with a torch. In its fire, I saw that the stone hilt protruding from my chest glowed with the same fire, and then I didn’t know anything else.

I felt myself sag and I felt my father take my weight. Other hands picked me up and I felt them lay me out on cold stone.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Chapter 116 - BELOVED SHIELD


I woke again and gazed up at the glowing blue orb suspended over my resting place. I was beginning to hate that orb. Why wouldn’t they just let me die? I heard a stirring at my side and closed my eyes again.

“Come and have something to eat, Steven. He’ll wake up soon enough.”

I listened to the retreating footsteps until they were out of hearing and then I left. Once again, I didn’t have a destination; I just flung myself out across the surface of the planet. From there I began my search. It was early fall. The basilisks would be aggressive as they search for enough food to sustain their bulk through the winter when hunting was hardest.

I wanted a big one and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I found the biggest one on the planet.

It took me four and a half days to find one I considered big enough. I didn’t sleep or eat. I hadn’t drawn energy either. I did nothing to sustain myself. Only my determination kept me on my feet. Then, there it was. It would have put a semi-truck to shame with its size, and it was only a single rise away from a herd of baston.

I put myself on that rise. Behind me, the baston ran off at my appearance. The basilisk was hungry; they are always hungry. I just stood there and watched the monster come.

Suddenly there was a lithe figure standing in front of me, between me and my goal.

She turned around and faced me. “I won’t let you do this.”

It was Patricia standing there. The basilisk was going to be on her in seconds. I teleported forward and scooped her out of danger. “I have to do this. Stay back,” I told her as I set her down out of harm’s way.

I turned back to the basilisk, but she snagged my arm. “I won’t let you.”

I teleported away from her grip and back to the fangs I was seeking to impale myself upon. She was there in front of me again. This time she was only inches away from that gaping, fang-filled mouth.

Once again, I pulled her out of harm’s way. She clung to me. Her gentle voice directed my magic the way she used to so long ago and I couldn’t help but obey her. She took us away from the basilisk, and when we had left it far behind, she shook my shoulders before holding my face in her soft hands. “You can’t kill yourself. Your magic won’t let you and neither will I. Come on, dance with me. Dance a water dance.”

She began to sway and turn a hypnotic rhythm around me. I could only follow her. She spread her arms as I did and a few drops of rain hit my face. She spun faster and I had to do likewise.

I was just finishing when the others found me. I opened my eyes and reached for my wife only to see that my beautiful Patricia was no longer dancing with me. I sank to the ground sobbing; my arms were so empty. Steven knelt beside me and pulled me into a hug. When I had cried myself out, he helped me to my feet. “Let’s go back now.”

I nodded and Oskan took us back to the cave. I paused briefly by the orb and drew my fill, then I went to my room, closing off my chambers behind me. I woke early in the morning of the second day and went out to the table where I fixed myself a meal. I put a big chair in the corner and curled up in it to think, remembering that my Patricia had sat in another one just like it – once upon a time.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Chapter 115 - DEATH WISH


It was almost a month before I woke again. I reached up and felt the scar across my eye. I could tell that the bruising had healed and the stitches had been removed long ago.

“Well, so the sleeper finally wakes. How do you feel?”

I looked at the woman who stood over me now and searched for an answer to her question while she took my pulse. “All right, I guess. How long have I been sleeping? What happened to my face?”

“You’ve been sleeping for twenty-three days now, and you took forty-two stitches in your face when you fell. Don’t worry; there won’t be much of a scar. You just lie still now and I’ll go tell the doctor you’re awake.”

I lay there and stared at the ceiling. I thought about the thing I had done. It had been mindless and uncalled for. I wondered how many of them had died simply because they had shot at the most dangerous thing in the room.

The doctor came in then and saw my serious expression. He rested a comforting hand on my arm. “The emperor and his family are fine. Captain Wilson is fine too, all because of you. You did a very brave thing.”

I harrumphed. “I laid waste to an entire company of Imperial High Guard. There was nothing brave about it.”

“But if it weren’t for you, our beloved emperor could well be dead now,” said the doctor.

I threw the covers aside and sat up on the edge of the bed. “The emperor was protected. I didn’t have to do what I did. I’ve become too dangerous.” I dressed myself and left the room slinging my sword belt around my waist. I had no destination in mind, but my feet kept leading me upward.

Eventually, I stepped out onto the roof where the emperor kept his private lighter. Rain pounded down and I turned my face up to it.

Brian caught up to me before I reached the door to the control room. “Where are you going?”

“Nowhere, this place will do.” I opened the door. “Move the lighter to another landing field and take everyone with you,” I said to the crew inside.

To their credit, they looked to their captain for confirmation. Brian took one look at my face and waved them ahead.

I moved to the middle of the rooftop while the men scrambled into the lighter and took off. There were only enough seats for two men. The other three had to crowd in between the seats and the engine. Brian had followed me. “Go back down stairs, Brian. You can’t afford to be here right now.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Just go, Brian.”

I didn’t move until I saw him close the door behind him, then I drew my sword and began to dance. This dance was different from any other I had ever done. Never before had I been filled with such fatalism. This wasn’t a water dance. It was something much deadlier.

I didn’t know that Brian still watched and he didn’t realize the danger until it was far too late. I was not drawing on my Water Magic, I was drawing on the lightning above the storm and I was drawing with all of my might.



Connor took my charred body back to my mother. They all thought I was dead; I certainly should have been, but my father couldn’t resist opening the coffin. I was still charred, but he saw a slow but distinct pulse in my throat.

They took me to the house infirmary where I was hooked up to multiple IVs and my burns were dressed. My father called Haines to ask what to do; he had been there for my last hard recovery and this one could be so much worse. Of course, his advice was to bring me back the fastest way they could.

The first time I woke up, we were still underway, but I was in so much pain that I could barely identify my surroundings. All I knew was that I had failed. Pain tells you of life and I had sought death. I tried again, but obviously, I didn’t succeed that time either.

I’m told it took the crew four days to make the necessary repairs and then the rest of the trip went without a problem since I wasn’t aware enough to do any more damage.


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chapter 114 - THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING

The emperor’s private quarters were still keyed to my name, but it had been so long that I had nearly forgotten about it, so I was startled awake late one night to hear Connor’s voice raised in desperation. “Liam would never let such a thing happen. Send for the doctor right now.”

“Yes my lord, immediately,” said another voice.

“What happened, Connor?” I asked.

“Who’s that? Liam is that you? Where are you?” asked Connor.

“Yeah, it’s me. What happened?” I asked again.

“Someone managed to get a letter-bomb in here past the guards. Dad’s hurt real bad.”

I extended my magic across the light years and found the emperor lying, shaking in his son’s arms. It only took a little more energy and he was resting quietly. “Let the doctor clean him up. He’ll be all right now.”

“Thank you, Liam. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I can hear it in your voice.” I expanded my awareness and tried to figure out how this had happened and discovered that no alarm had been sounded. I sealed the emperor’s apartment and went to my mother.

“Mother, I have to go to the capital. I’ll be in touch.”

“All right dear, I’ll ready a ship.”

I was gone before she finished the sentence. It was foolish, but if I could do it once, I could do it again. I was never so glad for a carpet as my knees met it hard. I was shaking from cold, but I struggled to throw it off as I heard Connor’s voice again. “Liam, how did you get here?”

“Where’s your mother? Are your sisters still here in the apartment?” I asked.

“Yes, father insisted. He says that it’s easier for the guards to protect us if we’re not all scattered out.”

“Good, I need something to eat.” I crawled over to the emperor. He was beginning to come around. I wiped the blood away and helped him sit up. “Get your family together in an inner chamber of this apartment. Your security has been compromised.”

I leaned against the wall as Connor helped his father further into the apartment, then I closed my eyes and extended my magic through the familiar hallways. I found Brian’s flame in his quarters. It was very still, so someone had gotten to him too. “Brian, wake up.”

Connor came over to me and shook my shoulder. “Liam, are you all right?”

“Go back to your father. I’m fine. You’re my last line of defense. Go on.” I was very hungry just now and I really didn’t want him anywhere close to me.

I called out to Brian again and was relieved to feel him stir.

Someone tried to enter the apartment and found the door locked. After a few confused seconds, they started pounding on the door. I looked to see who it was. I didn’t recognize any of them, but that didn’t mean much. Since they never called out, I felt fairly certain they were up to no good, and my suspicions were mostly confirmed when one of them produced a hand-torch and began trying to cut the lock on the door. Still no one moved to sound an alarm.

“Brian, I need to know who these people are, wake up.”

I heard some coughing. “I’m awake, I’m awake,” he said in a muffled voice. He had something over his mouth. I watched him move slowly out into the hallway and lean against the wall.

“Brian, come on. The emperor’s under attack.”

That galvanized him. He pelted down the hall.

“Don’t even try to come here alone,” I warned.

“Obviously I’m not alone. When did you get here?”

“About ten minutes ago and I’m wiped.” I turned my attention back to the man with a torch. He wasn’t having any luck cutting through the door, but I put the torch out just the same.

“Come on. Get that door cut open. The shift will be changing soon and someone will sound the alarm,” said a man who stood looking over his shoulder. The man with the torch relit it and continued to try cutting through the lock.

That was all I needed. These men were out to get the emperor. I wrapped the leader in a rope that also gagged him and hung him from the ceiling, then I blocked their retreat. The man with the torch found himself hanging from his hands, which I imbedded in the ceiling not far from his boss.

That left three more men rattling around the room in a panic. I picked up one of them and pinned him against the door. “Start talking,” I said.

I allowed him to struggle without letting him slip. The others were crowded as far away from him as they could get. All I got out of him was meaningless blubber, which climbed to an equally meaningless squeal when I moved him higher up the door. I suppose I could sympathize with their terror, after all, I wasn’t in the same room with them.

I held him there while I raided the kitchen. I didn’t bother with formal fare; I simply consumed what I came across until I was full.

Brian showed up about fifteen minutes later with thirty some men from the barracks and started pounding on the outer door. “Liam, Liam, are you in there? Open the door.”

“Brian,” I spoke in his ear. “There are five men in there. Two of them are loose. I have the other three secured. As yet, none of them are talking, but I haven’t been asking too many questions.”

“All right, thanks Liam. Thanks for everything. Open the door.”

I did and watched as the two who could, willingly gave themselves into his hands. The one I held against the door had to be carried out of the room. The one hanging from his hands had fainted and had to be carried out too. Someone cut the leader loose and I allowed his bound body to hit the floor.

As soon as order had been restored, Brian knocked on the inner door. “Open up, Liam.”

I saw the emperor leaning on his son standing in the hallway leading to the inner apartment and moved to stand between them and the door I was opening. It was a good thing I did because someone behind Brian opened fire. Brian went down immediately and I took several bullets before my magic shielded me from the rain of led.

I pushed the emperor back out of sight and walked out through the door. I’ve heard the expression about ‘seeing red’ but I had always thought it was just a metaphor, until now. I did see red and as my magic expelled the rounds I had already taken, I walked out into the rain of bullets.

Friend or foe, I didn’t care; if they fired at me, they died, and believe me, there wasn’t much left after I was done with them. I regret to say that it was likely that more than half of them were friendly forces. I can’t say that I blame them. I’m sure they felt much like thoppers being attacked by a basilisk; the only difference was that they were brave enough to stand and fight rather than scatter.

Seven men were left standing by the time bullets stopped flying. The emperor stepped up behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder. “Stand down, Liam.”

The red film cleared from my vision and I swayed. I took a big breath and looked around at the carnage I had wrought, then I turned back to Brian. He had taken three bullets in the back and both of his lungs were compromised. He had his eyes open, but I’m not sure that he saw me. I rested my hand on his chest and wiped the damage away. He closed his eyes with a sigh and slept.

The med-techs arrived minutes later and swarmed over everyone in the room while I stood numbly in the center and watched.

I’m not sure when I shut down. I remember bodies being carried away and I know that the emperor and Brian were also taken away to the infirmary. Guards, emboldened by my stillness, moved around trying to make sense of the chaos. I think I remember Connor calling my name, but I don’t remember falling. Apparently, I hit the corner of the desk with my face and came close to putting my eye out; my face was laid open from my forehead to my cheekbone.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Chapter 113 - CAMBAY

When I felt recovered enough, I went with my mother back to Cambay. With the exception of the gold streak across the floor, all traces of my first visit had been wiped away, and to finish the job, I replaced that streak, and the rest of the floor, with a shiny black marble that my mother oohed and aahed over. I returned the gold to the treasury, which had been depleted what with the hunt for corruption, especially since such corruption didn’t feed it any more.

Of course, I got involved with the security here even more than I ever did while working for the emperor. There, all that had been asked of me was to protect the emperor from assassination no matter the form. Here, I poked around and made sure the men were doing all they could to ensure my family’s safety. They were good and they were loyal. According to the logs, very few assassination attempts had made it inside the palace doors and that record had improved over the years.

Mother tried to involve me in the government. After all, I was expected to be the next baron. I tried very hard, but it was like putting on a shirt of thorns; I was very uncomfortable with it. It was my duty though, and I hadn’t stood at the emperor’s shoulder and learned nothing.

I constructed a private office along much the same lines and began to lay in the infrastructure that made it all possible. It took a couple years, but eventually, I had spies and eyes in almost every place that concerned us, which included every bureaucratic office here on Cambay and other planets in our district, as well as every other great house in the empire. My magic was very handy in that. They wouldn’t be finding any mechanical bugs or cameras of mine.

I bought a small shuttle, and when my thorny shirt dug too deeply, I would go out into orbit and spend some magic where no one would notice. Most all that I did was turn off the life support and meditate. Cambay didn’t have a moon so I couldn’t construct a small chamber in its core to use, but this worked well enough. A rain dance can be very interesting in space at several hundred degrees below freezing.

Victoria didn’t have a shirt of thorns. Quite the contrary, she developed a crafty mind and a strong personality. All things considered, I wasn’t too surprised when the emperor offered a betrothal between her and his youngest son. I think it was his way of keeping his friends close, especially since he couldn’t convince me to come back to his side. I didn’t tell him that I still watched over him; but with everything else I was doing, it wasn’t a very close watch.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 112 - CATCHING UP


I was awakened by the sound of a gentle argument outside my room.

“Let him sleep, Victoria. He’s not well,” said my mom.

“But grandma, he said I was supposed to wake him this morning. He told me to; you heard him.”

“He needs to get up and start moving around,” said another voice further away, I think it was Oskan.

Mom must have resigned herself to being out voted because my daughter came bounding into the room. “Daddy, its morning; wake up, daddy.”

I pretended to remain sleeping and I watched her come closer with my magic.

She started to pull my blanket back in order to see my face better. “Daddy?”

I could hear the tremulous disappointment in her voice. I quickly snaked my arm out from under the blanket and scooped her giggling, wiggling form in beside me where I began to tickle her, which wrung helpless shrieks of laughter from her.

“What is this bug I’ve found in my bed? I think I’ll have to throw it out the door.” I got up and slung her under my arm heading for the door.

“Daddy, I’m not a bug.”

I walked past the smiling faces of the others in my living room toward the hallway that led outside.

“Daddy, it’s me,” she protested with giggles while she pulled at my arm.

I took a few more steps.

She began to wriggle a little harder. “Daddy, it’s me, Victoria.”

I stopped. “What?” I said as if I was surprised. “Well, what do you know? It’s not a bug after all. I could have sworn I had a bed bug. What did you do with the bug?” I turned her upside down and pretended to shake the bug out of her pockets.

She was shrieking and giggling again. “Daddy.” She was all breathless.

I turned her right side up again and held her out in front of me. “Are you sure you’re not a bug?”

“No, I’m not a bug.” She pushed her hair out of her face.

I swung her to my hip. “Well okay, if you say so.” I headed back into my living room.

“You look better,” said Connor.

Haines was standing there too and I stepped forward to shake his hand warmly. “I feel better. I guess you went and filed your report,” I said to Connor.

“Larak took me last night after you went to bed,” said Connor.

“And I had to come and see for myself,” said Haines. “It’s good to see you up and around again.”

After a breakfast that was made by Oskan at the direction of my mother, I dressed and went outside. “You’ll have to excuse me for a while. I feel the rain calling me.”

Only Connor seemed to take exception to it. “Hey, wait a minute. That’s no fair. I can’t compete against that.”

I just laughed and waved him to join me and the others followed to watch.

It was raining outside; the storm had rolled in during the early hours of the morning. Connor and I stood out in the gentle rain and crossed our swords like we used to do so long ago back on earth; it was only yesterday for me. The pause was only momentary. Connor was grinning like an idiot.

“Don’t let your excitement hinder your judgment,” I said, as I sized him up.

“No chance of that, old man,” he retorted.

“Old man, is it?” I stepped in and battered at his sword. I relished the exercise and was pleased to see that he was holding his own, though the smile was quickly replaced with a look of concentration.

As the rain dripped down through my hair, we sparred. He had learned a lot, but he had yet to develop his own style and act on his own instincts. The teachings of his instructors, myself included, were still strongly in his mind.

I didn’t press any advantages, nor did I let him have any, and I could tell that he was skilled enough to know this, but that didn’t stop him from trying.

Soaking wet, I couldn’t resist the urge any longer. When I said the rain was calling me, it was the truth. I needed a rain dance.

When Connor felt the first assault from the water, he cried out, “No fair,” but didn’t falter or back out of the fight. He shook the water out of his eyes and stepped up his attack.

Water soon began to pool around our feet and Connor slipped, but I didn’t let him fall. Finally, he relented and stepped out of my rain dance. I saluted him and continued on my own until I was pleasantly drained.

Larak was handing out towels when I stepped up to the group again. “You better do that up on the dark moon next time. When you reach your full strength, that’ll be the only way you’ll be able to tax yourself. We don’t need a tidal wave coming down out of these mountains.”

I laughed and patted him on his shoulder (which was over my head). “You’re probably right. Do you want to watch?” I made everyone dry.

“You couldn’t make me miss it,” he replied as he gathered up the towels.

I turned to Connor. “Sorry, Connor. I couldn’t resist it anymore.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “You had me beat anyway.”

We all went back inside where I made a large bowl of fruit. “Now, tell me. What all have I missed?”

I learned that Carm had two sons and another on the way. Larak and Oskan had gone out and fought two wild fires. Fall dry weather was prone to that, though most of the time the fires are out in the wilderness somewhere. Connor told me proudly of how he had helped to keep them out of trouble.

The village had been rebuilt and the inn was bigger than ever. Tsan was buried where he had died and now a small garden marked the place. Larak confessed that his left side still felt wooden. His arm and leg were flexible enough, but he had no feeling in them. When he did anything with his hand, he did it more by sight than by touch.

I offered to try and fix it for him, but he waved me off. “Maybe some other time, I’m used to it,” he said.

This was the first time I had really sat down and talked with my mother. My last visit was more of a bump in my honeymoon and she hadn’t wanted to bother me with her troubles. They weren’t the kind of thing to put into a letter either. Apparently, the transition from her father’s rule hadn’t been at all smooth. It had taken years to weed out the corrupt bureaucrats (most of whom had been family) so she wasn’t too popular with the aristocracy. She was still uncovering trouble spots, but she figured she’d be finding things like that until the end of time.

She told me that Colin had reached Master Sergeant in the emperor’s space militia and was in charge of seeing to it that the men could handle themselves under weightless conditions. He had kept in touch with my mother over the years and so knew of my latest trouble.

Jonathan Preston had never been found though there were still wanted posters in every port in the empire. Mom figured that he must have had a face job and changed his name. Even so, he had to be keeping a very low profile. I figured he never really made it off the planet regardless of the fact that he had been seen running away. Maybe Marell had exacted a final revenge on him. Maybe he had run into one of the local predators.

Connor told me that he had a younger brother now who was five years old. They had wanted to name him after me, but they thought I might think it was too freaky so they named him Daniel after his grandfather on his mother’s side. He hadn’t been back to see him yet. I was glad to hear that the emperor and his wife had been able to patch things up and I thought Daniel was a fine name for a prince.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Chapter 111 - DREAMS

It was late afternoon when my daughter’s voice penetrated my fog and roused me from my long sleep. There was friendly banter over the feast after that, but despite the energy I drew from the orb and the food, I tired quickly and they let me go to my room to sleep after only being awake a few hours.

“You aren’t going back to sleep again, are you?” asked Victoria, who had scarcely been far enough away from me to be beyond touch.

“Yes, I am. I’m very tired. But if I don’t wake up in the morning when you think I should, then you just come in and wake me up.”

She climbed up into my lap and wrapped her small arms around my neck. “All right, daddy,” she said in my ear. She drew back and rubbed her cheek. “You need a shave.”

I had to laugh, and then I laughed again at her expression of awed surprise when I made six years of beard vanish right there in front of her. I stood, setting her down. “You want to tuck me in?”

She lit up with enthusiasm and led me off to my room and with all the drama of a nurse, she made sure the blankets were just so before she left.

I was tired enough to sleep like the dead, but that wasn’t to be. I dreamed of my Patricia. I felt her tender touch. I heard her soft voice. We made long and tender love, and then we made wild and furious love. She danced for me, and then she danced with my magic and I laughed and danced with her. Then she stopped me. Her hands framed my face and she was suddenly very serious. “I love you. I will always love you. I won’t miss you though. I will never have to miss you.”

The memory of my foolhardy trip here played itself out in macabre slow motion. I held her so tightly. I had to save her. I had to get her to safety – to help. Somewhere along my long journey, she came alive in my arms and opened up my chest as if she were opening a set of double doors and then she simply stepped inside closing the ‘doors’ behind her.

I sat up clutching my chest, reliving the ache there that was only in my mind. I hadn’t lost her, nor had I consumed her, and yet she was part of me and would be forever. I got up and went outside where I looked up at the sparkling stars. “I will miss you. I’ll miss holding you. I feel so lost without you.”

A warm rush ran up my spine, but the spell was broken when I heard Larak’s voice. “You’ll do all right. Everyone misses loved ones when they die, but life must go on and you have a daughter to think of now. You’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the cave entrance where he stood. “I’m all right. I’ll be fine.” I looked back up at the stars gauging the time of night. “I better get back to bed. My daughter will be coming to wake me up in a couple hours.”

In the solitude of my room, I let my tears soak into my pillow as I drifted off to sleep again.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chapter 110 MEETINGS

I turned the lead weight that was attached to the end of my neck to find the source of the voice I had heard. She was so small but the hair and the eyes were the same. “Patricia?”

“No daddy, mommy died, remember.”

It was a child I was looking at and she was using words I was having trouble putting a meaning to. My mind felt like it was mired in cold molasses. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on moving other parts of my body.

“I don’t think you should go back to sleep, daddy.”

Daddy. She was calling me daddy.

“Victoria, where are you? Are you in here?” Another voice that was vaguely familiar. Who was Victoria? I couldn’t think.

I reached up a hand and raked my fingers through my hair. The move was slow but successful. My hair was long – real long.

“Liam, you’re awake,” said the other voice.

I found the new face. The gold hair now had a generous amount of gray in it and there were more lines in the face than I remembered. “Mom?”

“Oh Liam,” she said and then she began to cry.

I had made my mother cry. “Don’t cry, mom,” I said. I tried to sit up, but my effort was feeble to say the least.

“Oskan, Larak, he’s awake,” she called out. They were there in an instant, but where was Durmas? Where was Tsan? The other young man with them was definitely not either of them.

Oskan and Larak helped me to sit up. “Draw, Liam,” said Oskan.

I looked at him blankly. I’m sure if I weren’t so foggy I would have refused, but I could only do what I had been told to do. I drew on them. I imbedded my hands into the sleeves of their shirts and fed. They reached up and touched the orb over our heads and it flared to a blinding glow.

Minutes later, I was sated and I let go. I looked up from where I had curled up between Larak and Oskan to see my mother holding the frightened child who looked at me with Patricia’s eyes over my mother’s arm.

Mom saw my confusion and regret. “Liam, this is your daughter. Her name is Victoria.”

My daughter. Years had passed. Memories caught up with me in a horrible rush. Durmas wasn’t here because he was dead; I had watched him go. Tsan was dead too, he’d been unboned in a horrible torture that had killed him. My Patricia; her eyes watched me from out of the tiny face in front of me; she was dead too. I remembered the blood. All my grief washed over me in a tidal wave. I was helpless in its undertow. I sobbed. My mother’s arms were around me and a tiny body was in my lap.

When I looked up again it was just the three of us. The wide curious eyes of my daughter helped me pull myself together as she reached up with a small perfumed hanky to dry my face.

I drew a ragged breath and let it out slowly. “My daughter, you say. I’ve missed a lot. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, daddy. I can tell you all about it. Grandma said I could help you catch up on what you missed.”

Her clear child’s voice, being so practical, almost brought tears to my eyes again, but I wouldn’t let that happen again; I didn’t want to frighten her any more. “It seems like I’m always catching up.” I hugged them both. I was so glad they were here. I’m not sure I could have faced this wake-up without them. “I’m hungry. Let’s go find something to eat.”

Victoria jumped down and pulled me to my feet though I leaned on my mother for support. “I’ll bet you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten anything in…forever.”

I had to laugh at her childish drama. It felt good to laugh. Somehow, the bubbly little girl tugging on my arm washed all of my sorrows away into their respective graves.

The meal was a feast. I felt a brief pang of loss at the thought of those who weren’t here, but I was distracted by the new face. He had grown into a fine young man. His eyes were clear, his back was straight and his shoulders were wide and strong. The smile behind his proffered hand was genuine and lit up his eyes as well.

“Conner? Is that really you? You’ve grown.”

“Master Larak and Master Oskan have made sure that my time here wasn’t idle.”

“You’ve been here all the time?” I asked. I was surprised that the emperor would allow such a thing.

He nodded. His handshake was strong and hinted at a confidence he hadn’t had before. “Father wanted frequent reports on you and he thought I would benefit from exposure to teachers who did such a fine job on you. I can’t wait to show you all I’ve learned here.”

I looked at the sword that hung at his hip and wondered if he had magic too. I couldn’t tell.

“I don’t think I’m up to crossing swords with you today,” I said.

“Good,” said Larak. “That’ll give us all time to lay our bets.”

I turned to look at him. He had a wide grin on his face. “The last time you bet on me you lost.”

“I know, but it was still fun.”




Friday, February 24, 2012

Chapter 109 - DANCE WITH DEATH

I don’t remember anything about this time. All I know is what I’ve been told. Larak and Oskan felt my arrival. They told me that if it had been something in the visual range, it would have looked like a meteor strike. Neither one of them had ever seen one, but everyone has seen shooting stars, so they could imagine what it would look like to see one of those balls of fire hit the ground.

They had rushed out to see what it was and saw me standing there. They felt me gathering the last of my magic, and though they didn’t know what it was that I intended, they knew they had to stop me.

My magic reserves were so low at that point that they succeeded, but because of that, the conflict had almost killed me. They confessed to knowing of the risk, but they were willing to risk ‘almost’ as opposed to a certainty. If I had succeeded in throwing myself back into space, I would have died in seconds. Aiming for a known planetary body, even clear across the universe, stood a much better chance of success than searching for a miniscule speck of matter adrift in that same expanse regardless of how narrow the search parameters were. I didn’t stand a chance of finding her.

They carried me into the altar room and placed me beneath the orb. Then they tried to make me connect with it. Normally proximity is enough; sometimes a jumpstart is necessary and in bad cases, a flow of magic is needed to start things like Durmas had done for me after the explosion, and like I had done for Larak. They tried everything they could think of several times and in different combinations, but nothing worked. I had drawn myself into a cocoon too tight for them to penetrate.

They sent for Haines and he tried some more physical means of waking me, to no avail as well. He went back to the house to make some phone calls and found out what had happened. His news of my arrival here surprised everyone, but they were glad to hear that I was alive. At least, I was still breathing – for the moment.

They all fought to keep me alive until I came out of my cocoon enough to allow my magic to take over, but that never happened. The emperor, Connor and my father all came to see if they could do something to help, but the trip would take months. Connor had the idea that worked though, even though they could not be there to see it.

“I wish Miss Patricia were here,” he said. “She could make him do things with his magic. I saw it once; all she had to do was say something and it happened. She would make him do the most fabulous things with his magic; it was almost as if she were doing it herself.”

Haines remembered doing much the same thing a few times, though his commands had been much more practical. He tried it and I must have stirred. When his words alone didn’t work well enough, he slapped me. He hated it; hitting an unconscious man wasn’t something he ever pictured himself doing.

It was those blows that interrupted my beautiful Patricia’s dance. It was his blows that made me remember the blood.

Oskan felt me stir and he prepared to remove Haines from my reach. He had seen me lash out. He had felt my hunger. If I got my hands on Haines, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

Haines hit me again and I heard his voice for the first time. “Draw.”

Draw. It brought to mind some stupid western where the word ‘draw’ meant to draw your gun and shoot. I shot. It wasn’t a bullet, but the result was about the same. Oskan yanked Haines aside and a portion of the chamber roof crashed to the floor. I remember hearing the noise, but I didn’t bother to identify it.

Now that I had ventured out of my cocoon, Oskan didn’t let me withdraw again. He shook my shoulders as if I was a rag doll. “Draw you little twerp. Don’t do this to yourself.”

I felt a jolt and heard a voice cry out. It was my voice I heard; the pain in my throat told my numb brain that.

I sought the blackness and my beautiful Patricia again, but the voice of my captain wouldn’t let me go. “Draw, Liam. Do as I say and reach out,” said Haines in my ear.

I reached out for her to keep her from going away. She was right there in front of me, but she was dressed all wrong. I reached for her. She had always liked to wear her lovely blue gown. I couldn’t stand to see her in the tattered red thing she had on now. I was so hungry for her. I needed her so badly. She spun before me and her soft giggle echoed in my ears as I dressed her in blue, then she reached out to take my hand. I didn’t hear them as they quietly cheered their success. I didn’t see the globe over me began to glow dimly with a soft blue light.

They let me sleep then – they let me have my precious Patricia – they let me dance. There was nothing more to do but wait.

The emperor and a handful of the personal guard arrived as soon as space travel would allow, but he could only wait so long. Connor, however, elected to remain. As my sleep stretched into months, he was the only one to stay.

As soon as my daughter could travel, she was taken to my mother who named her Victoria. Every year my mother brought my daughter here to see me so she would at least know who and what her father was.

On one such visit, after six long years had passed, my daughter slipped away from her watchers and came up to me alone. She took my hand and said, “Daddy, wake up. You can’t sleep forever.”

Her voice was that of a child, but there was a quality in it that echoed of her mother’s voice. I heard it and looked for my Patricia; I opened my eyes and looked at the glowing blue orb above me. “I’m awake,” it was only a whisper, but she heard it.

“Daddy?”




Friday, February 17, 2012

Chapter 108 - LIFE AND DEATH

The nine months since my return to Earth passed in a blur. One night, Patricia touched me with her warm hand and said those words every expectant father thrills at and yet dreads. “Liam, I think it’s time.”

All the plans, all the rehearsals, everything vanished from my head. I wanted to pick her up and whirl her around in joy, and yet I was afraid to touch her.

She was so practical right now, ‘get her bag and get the car ready.’ Yes, of course. That’s what I was supposed to do. Then I watched her mouth go all tight with a contraction and I was lost again. She gave me a gentle push out of the bed and I was off down the stairs calling for the car and thanking god I wouldn’t be the one driving. I’d probably get us both killed.

The driver came out of his room pulling his jacket on and said, “You better get dressed, Master.”

Yes, of course. I dressed myself in jeans and a sweater. Her bag, I forgot her bag. I turned back to the room and saw the source of my confusion standing at the head of the stairs with the most wonderful smile on her face; she had her bag in her hand.

I ran back up the stairs and took the bag from her and then helped her down the stairs and out to the waiting car.

She had two more contractions before we reached the infirmary and thank god for drivers who could think; Jackson had called ahead, and they were ready for us.

Who was I to know if things were going all right or not, but judging from the calm efficiency of the people around me, things were doing as expected. Watching your wife in pain must be the worst thing a man can go through, especially when there’s nothing he can do to make it better, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows that he is responsible for that pain. I told myself that I would never put her through that again.

Then the wands that sterilized the immediate area came out and the nurse told the doctor that she was ready. Drapes were draped everywhere. Strange utensils showed up on a small table and another small table was made ready with an assortment of small things.

Suddenly (I’m sure much more time than that passed, but for the life of me, I don’t remember what all happened) there was this tiny squalling thing with two arms and two legs all waving around in the doctor’s hands…then there was large gouts of blood. The baby was whisked away and gentle but firm hands pushed me aside.

Her hand dropped limply from mine and she was gone in seconds. It wasn’t until everyone was suddenly still that the realization of what had just happened hit me.

“NO!” I cried. I pushed my way back to her side and scooped her limp body into my arms. I tried to fix the damage with my magic. I did fix it, but it was too late. I made more blood. I started her heart beating again, but as soon as I tried to let her live on her own, it all stopped again. She was gone. How could this happen? What did I do wrong? I tried again to no avail.

A hand rested on my arm. “She’s gone, Liam. I’m sorry. We did all we could.”

I don’t know who spoke. I didn’t care. My mind turned to the only other source of help I had ever known, the only other place where my disasters had been sorted out and made right. Surely, they would be able to help this time too. It was mindless idiocy, but I wasn’t thinking. I spent the magic gladly.

The distance was massive. I don’t think I ever knew exactly how far that little planet was away from Earth. I didn’t consider the distance for a second, not until I arrived. It was a miracle that I made it at all.

I collapsed in a heap on the grass out in front of the cave complex that had been my destination. “Master Durmas, help me.” I could only muster a whisper. Then I was beset with another horror. My arms were empty. I had lost her.

Now, I thought about the incredible distance. Somewhere along the way, I had lost my hold on her. It was inconceivable, but I did.

I pushed myself to my feet. I don’t know how. I was so weak. I didn’t see the men coming from the mouth of the cave. I looked up at the stars. “PATRICIA!” I called, and then I sought to fling myself back out there in search of her. I had to find her. That’s when I felt firsthand what it was like to be the focus of two conflicting magics. I’m sure that I screamed. It felt like I was being ripped to shreds. Being shredded in the mouth of a giant basilisk would have been like a waltz through a rose garden compared to this. All thoughts of my intentions were ripped from my mind. The waves of blackness that washed over me were a welcome retreat, though I didn’t go quietly.




Friday, February 10, 2012

Chapter 107 - LESSONS

Today was also the day I was ordered to attend classes in swordsmanship with Connor. It was obvious to me that he needed discipline and patience more than he needed to know how to use a sword. It was also obvious to me, and the instructor, a different man then last time, that I didn’t need these lessons, so I was here for a different reason.

It soon became apparent why I was here. I was supposed to help Connor learn the patience and discipline he so badly needed. Why did everyone think I was a teacher?

I found myself imitating Tsan in many of the things he said and did. It made me miss him. The sword master saw what I was doing too and soon the lessons changed. It wasn’t long before he turned the lessons over to me, so I did my level best to turn it into an indoor version of my own lessons.

The first things I did was arrange for the younger members of the royal guard to line up at the beginning of class. Connor’s task that day was to test or question them all until he could pick three he could work with. These men would hopefully mirror my own team, long since left behind. It was my intention that the team would remain together for life, so the lessons progressed accordingly. Only men long trained to the position could put themselves between their emperor and whatever danger might come against him, and a team trained to work together could be far more affective than the average soldier, no matter how well trained he was.

From that day on, the lesson was over when Connor and his team couldn’t lift a sword any more or when they had accomplished the mission of the day. I praised them highly if they could manage the task. Of course, if they failed the mission…well, they failed and I had to be nicer to them than Tsan ever was to me.

Over the next few months, I came home long after dark every night and left the next morning before the sun rose. Patricia’s belly grew, as did my pride in the miracle that was happening before my eyes. She made regular visits to the palace infirmary and I was given the time to be with her during those visits.

Hearing my son’s…correction, my child’s (Patricia was convinced it was a girl) heartbeat for the first time almost brought tears to my eyes. That night, when I got home, I danced a rain dance with her and then made long tender love to her. I almost overslept the next morning.




Friday, February 3, 2012

Chapter 106 - BACK TO THE BEGINNING

I gave Connor a moment to realize what had just happened. I needed some time too. Nothing had been done in the line of repairs, and a cold wind blew through where the window used to be.

Memories shook me, and I think they shook Connor too because he dropped to the floor and started shaking. “Make me trust you. Make me believe you’re not crazy like the doctor says,” I said.

He looked up at me. His eyes were bloodshot. He looked so young sitting there. “You don’t know what it’s like being the emperor’s son. I’ve grown up knowing that this empire will be mine someday. It’s so…big.”

“But you are the emperor’s son. You have a lot of time to learn how to manage this ‘big’ empire. Your father seems to be very good at it and there’s always the chance that you could be better if you tried. Bringing about that transition early only hurts everyone and ‘everyone’ is a lot of people. Do you really want that?”

“No, I don’t, not really. I just get so confused and so angry, and I don’t really know why. I am crazy like the doctor says; I just don’t know what you can do about it.”

It was cold in here. I remade the window the way I remembered it and lit a fire in the scarred fireplace.

Connor leapt to his feet in astonishment. “How did that happen?”

“Connor, think a minute. Who do you trust; someone who knows you well.”

He looked at me in surprise and pointed to the window. “Didn’t you see that? This place is haunted.”

“No it’s not. Come on, settle down and help me here. We need to work this out.”

He backed away from the window, which brought him closer to the fireplace. He started to run from the room when he noticed that there was no wood there to support the fire.

He ran into me. I grabbed his shoulders and gave him a shake. “It’s magic; it’s why I’m here. Now help me. Who do you trust?”

“Mother.” The way he said it made me wonder if he was a child begging for his mother’s protection, or if he was giving me the answer to my question.

I spoke into the air above his head. “Empress, this is High Guard Liam McTavish, will you consent to come to me?”

There was an audible gasp from somewhere in front of me, but Connor recognized even that small sound. “Mother?”

“Connor?” said the disembodied voice.

“Empress, we are at your mountain estate. There are issues that need to be sorted out. Would you consent to come to us and help?”

“How are you talking to me? Do I know you?”

“Yes, my lady, though perhaps not by name. Please, call the emperor and give him my name.”

She did, and after he told her who I was, she consented to come. Before she could leave her room to go to a lighter, I brought her directly to us.

She was as beautiful as I remembered. She quickly recovered from her surprise at being brought here so abruptly. She came up to me and touched my face with her long delicate hand. “Yes, I do recognize you now. I’m so glad you are all right.”

“Mother?” said Connor.

She turned to him and accepted with surprise, his ardent hug. I’m thinking such didn’t happen very often.

“What’s going on here?” she asked.

I tipped the couch back upright and cleaned it off, then I recreated a chair that had been demolished in the explosion. I waved the empress and her son to the couch and sat down in the chair. She looked at the thing dubiously, but sat down as I had asked.

“My lady, I’ve been asked to help your son, but I’m not sure he needs my kind of help. What I need from you, and you too Connor, is to talk about all the times Connor lost control and got mad. Anything and everything you can remember. Talk about it, remember it; I’ll be doing what I can to help.”

It was halting at first, and at first, I just listened. When it started to venture into the more irrational areas, I closed my eyes and explored Connor’s brain the way I explored the farmer’s body when I had to rebuild Carm’s bones. Some subjects still touched off some anger, but I couldn’t find any reason for what everyone thought. I even managed to find the tell tail leftovers of the drugs he had been given.

I opened my eyes and watched Connor and his mother talking. There were tears. Explanations. Apologies. This is what Connor needed. Not drugs. Not adjustments.

I isolated myself in a soundproof bubble and called the emperor the same way I had called his wife. “Emperor, this is Liam. Would you consent to come to me?”

“Yes,” he said simply. I suppose that was a show of the measure of trust he had in me. I brought him to stand behind his wife and his son. I placed him back away from the light. They didn’t know he was there.

He just stood there and listened. After a few moments, he stepped forward and rested a hand on both of their shoulders. They jumped and stopped talking as if they had been caught doing something they shouldn’t.

“Keep talking,” I said.

Haltingly they started again, trying to pick up the thread where they had left off. I could tell that it was difficult talking of such things in front of the emperor; I could also tell that it was just as hard for him to listen.

Hours later, I handed them a simple dinner and lit the room with soft candlelight. They talked until the empress fell asleep on the end of the couch, then the emperor and his son moved to the window and continued to talk. They had a lifetime of talking to catch up on and a very large wall to break down between them.

I almost dozed off myself when I heard my name. I looked up and saw that Connor and his father were still talking softly by the window and the empress was still asleep on the couch. I cocked my magical ear and heard Brian’s voice. “…Liam. What do you mean ‘they went with someone named Liam? Where is he? How did they leave without an escort?”

I smiled. “Sorry Brian. They’re with me. Everything is just fine. We’ll probably be back sometime tomorrow. Do you think you can hold the fort down until then?”

“Liam, is that you? Where are you?” asked Brian sounding unnerved.

The emperor heard me speak and came over. I included him in the conversation. “This is classified information, Captain; we’re at the mountain estate. Is everything in order there?”

“Except for the fact that you’ve kidnapped the emperor and the empress, Liam. I’ll have you up on charges for this. Your only second day back here – I thought you could be trusted,” raged Brian.

“Take it easy, Captain,” said the emperor. “Everything is under control here. You will not include this in your report. This never happened. We’ll be back tomorrow. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir, I do, but…”

“That will be all, Captain.” The emperor slid his hand across his throat and I severed the connection.

“Sorry for the interruption, sir,” I said.

He went back to his son and draped his arm across the boy’s shoulder. I heard him say. “It’s hard to be emperor sometimes.”

They roused me as the morning sun was beginning to lighten the eastern sky. “Sorry sir. I didn’t intend to fall asleep.”

“I don’t know how you brought us here, but you better take us back before Captain Wilson has a fit,” said the emperor. He had dark circles under his eyes mirrored by the dark circles under those of his son.

I waved the empress over to us and then I moved us all back to the palace.

Brian jumped to his feet at our appearance, but anything he might have said was silenced by the emperor’s hand. He turned to me as his wife and son disappeared deeper into the apartment. “Explain yourself; what did you find out from all that?”

“I found out that, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with your son. I also found out that you have never talked to him. How can he know you, love you or learn from you if you never talk to him?”

He cocked his chin as if he had been insulted, but he said nothing. “I’ll expect your written report in an hour.” He turned to follow his family into the apartment.

Brian escorted me firmly from the room and after the door was closed, he said, “Liam, if you ever do that to me again, I’ll have your head.”

I smiled; I was tired and hungry. I handed him an apple and then bit into one of my own, then I sat down at the guard desk to write up my report. Today would be a long day.




Friday, January 27, 2012

Chapter 105 - THE INFIRMARY

Connor was much calmer by the time we reached the wing where the infirmary was located. “Please don’t take me in there,” he pleaded.

“And why not?” I asked. “You attacked the emperor. Frankly I’m surprised he hasn’t had you locked up somewhere.”

“I can’t help it. I get so mad at him sometimes. He makes mother cry. I thought it might be better after he made that…him…go away, but its not. He hit her last night. He…”

“You tried to kill her. Does that make you any better?”

He looked up at me. “I…”

I wanted to pity him. He looked so confused. I pinned him up against the wall of the hallway and brought him up a few inches to eye level. “You almost killed me. I have no love for you and I don’t trust you. If you weren’t the emperor’s son, you would have died back there in the office without so much as a whimper. You like to inflict pain; you don’t know the meaning of the word, and showing you wouldn’t help. If you want love and respect, you have to earn it.” I dropped him back to the floor and allowed him to stagger before gripping his shoulder and propelling him ahead of me into the doctor’s office.

At our unceremonious entrance, a nurse paged Dr. Makusic. We waited in the center of the room until he came to get us. When he entered the room, he smiled. I couldn’t see why; a guard was bringing him the emperor’s son and this was not a pleasant visit.

He escorted us back to his office. “I have just spoken to the emperor. I’m glad you have found your way back to us, Liam. The emperor is hoping you might be able to help in this situation.” He chuckled. “By the time you and I are done, you might just as well become a doctor yourself.”

I was confused. “I don’t understand.”

The doctor continued to explain for me while Connor sulked in his chair. “The young master here has been on medication since he was brought here. Tests have shown that his brain chemistry is unstable and the medication helps, but there are times when he manages to avoid taking it. That is when he turns violent and flies into rages. The emperor is hoping you might be able to do something about it much like you did with your young friend when you first arrived here.”

I looked from the doctor to Connor, who was doing much the same thing looking from him to me. “You want me to monkey with his brain. That’s a lot more complicated than bones and muscles.”

Connor sat up in alarm. “What are you talking about?”

I rested a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down,” I turned back to the doctor. “There’s nothing wrong with his brain, at least nothing I can fix.”

“Tests show otherwise. Please try. That’s all the emperor asks.”

I looked at Connor. Drugs he was used to; this was very different. He was terrified. His doctor was handing a guard a butcher knife and telling him to do brain surgery. I stood up and stepped behind Connor’s chair. “Give me some time. Tell the emperor we’ve gone back to the mountains. I’ll stay in touch.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chapter 104 - NEWS

That evening, Brian brought me up to date on all the current events, which included the fact that the emperor had brought his family into the city. That wouldn’t have much of an effect on my duties other then it might complicate things some. Apparently, Connor was not trusted and he had done little to earn any. It made me wonder why he was permitted to stand at the emperor’s shoulder. The situation reminded me of a saying I had heard once. “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.” I suppose it was sound advice, but I didn’t like it that the bomb wielding little psycho was standing so close to the emperor every day.

That night my worries about the emperor were overshadowed by more and definitely better news. Patricia was pregnant. I think I went into immediate shock, but she took care of that too. I must have been walking on air when I reported for duty the next morning because the emperor spotted the difference at once. He just chuckled softly at my announcement. I suppose he had his own memories; to bad it hadn’t worked out so well for him. I looked at Connor where he stood. I wished that I could do something to help; a father and his son shouldn’t be so far apart. It’s such a loss. My father and I were never really close, but he was always there and I loved him very much.

I went through the office in my customary fashion and discovered that today Connor had concealed a six inch blade under his jacket. I restrained the emperor from taking his seat. “I must inform you that Connor has a blade. He didn’t have one yesterday,” I said softly in his ear.

When Connor discovered that I had found him out, he flew into a flurry of rage, drew the blade and leapt to attack us before the other guards could lay a hand on him. I must admit, he had very quick reflexes, but I stopped him short and held him a few inches off the floor while he tried to figure out where the rag in his hand came from, as well as how he was being held off the ground.

“Lieutenant, if you are finished with the security check, would you please escort my son to the infirmary; the doctor knows what to do.”

Connor’s inarticulate growls turned to cries of “No, no,” sounding more desperate each time he said it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chapter 103 - BACK TO EARTH

I thought I would be moving back into an apartment much like I lived in last time, but I found out upon landing, that the emperor had given us his mother’s palace and it’s surrounding grounds as a wedding present, as well as the use of his ship for the duration of my honeymoon. I was stunned to say the least. I would have to discuss this with him when I saw him next. The use of his ship was nice and ensured my return, but the palace was more than I deserved. It should have been held for someone in his family to use someday, not a guard, no matter how important or liked that guard might be.

When we arrived at the place, I found that it was fully staffed and stocked. All that was lacking was the master and mistress of the house…us.

Two days later I received my orders and my uniform by special courier; I was to report for duty first thing in the morning. The honeymoon was over. Well, I thought it was. Patricia sent me to work after a glorious water dance. I was still grinning when I was ushered into the office of the emperor.

The office was much the same as I remembered though many faces had changed. Much to his guards’ discomfort, the emperor stood to greet me like he would never have done to any other person in the empire. “Liam, it’s good to see you. You look well and happy. Married life must be good for you.” He clasped my shoulders smiling; even his eyes twinkled.

It had been almost four years since I had seen him last and he looked no different. “It is, my lord. It’s good to be back.” I hadn’t really thought about it much, but it was good to be back here at the emperor’s elbow.

Another young man stepped up behind the emperor. “I remember you.”

I looked at him closer. At first, I thought he was just another guard, but a closer look told me that he was too young for such a position. Take four years and the trim black whiskers from the young face and it left me with very little, but his resemblance to the emperor told me who he had to be. “You must be Connor. I’m afraid I didn’t get much of a look at you last time I saw you. You left me with a few other things to worry about.”

Further conversation was halted by his father’s hand on his arm. “Not here,” he warned quietly. I wondered if this was why I had been compelled to return. I’m sure I would find out soon enough.

A few moments later, another familiar face entered the room. “Brian,” I said as soon as I recognized him. Gray was showing at his temples and captain’s bars glittered on his collar.

None of that stopped him from shaking my hand tightly and clasping my elbow with his other hand. “Liam, it’s good to see you again. I always knew you’d end up back here.”

The emperor resumed his seat with his son at his shoulder and Brian led me over to stand in front of the desk to receive my personal orders. The first thing the emperor did was open a small, flat, satin covered box. Inside was a medal and a set of lieutenant’s bars. “Captain Wilson, will you do the honors?”

Obviously, this had been discussed before my arrival because Brian knew exactly what was going on. He took up the rank. “This is for service to the emperor over and above the call of duty.” He replaced my sergeant’s stripes with the lieutenant’s bars, and then he took up the medal. “This is for the extreme act of bravery you have shown in seeing to the protection of the emperor and his family.” He pinned the medal to my chest and then stood back and saluted.

I had never had any kind of formal military training so I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Guessing, I imitated him by returning the salute. Apparently, it was what was expected. He brought his hand smartly back to his side and then extended it for a handshake. “Congratulations, Lieutenant.”

The emperor quietly cleared his throat, which moved us to the next order of business. “Captain, at your earliest convenience you will bring Lieutenant McTavish up to date on any changes that has taken place over the last four years, but for now, Lieutenant, you will take up your customary position at my side and perform your duties as you did before.

“Yes, sir,” I said and I moved around behind the desk and took up the position I had held before as if no time had passed.

“Meet me at the carport this evening,” said Brian. “I’m inviting myself over for dinner.”

I nodded absently as I made a magical sweep of the office. My efforts earned a couple squeaks from the secretaries and a chuckle from the emperor who lifted his elbows from his desk when he felt the shimmer under them.

Connor looked in confusion from the girls across the room to his father, but he didn’t see what had happened. The fact that his father didn’t see fit to enlighten him didn’t escape my notice either.

That afternoon, after I had escorted the emperor and his son to their quarters, I laid my hand on the closest wall. Not only did I clear the entire apartment, I also turned the place into a sounding chamber. I then sat down in the outer chamber to finish out my shift and write out my daily report. In it, I explained what I had done to his apartment. Now, no matter where I was or what time of day it was, all anyone had to do was utter my name and I would hear them, and now that I could teleport, I could be there in a heartbeat if there was trouble. There were a few drawbacks; the mention of my name would make the connection every time, even during casual conversation.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chapter 102 - HONEYMOON

The four-hour drive to the spaceport was threatening to be a very subdued trip, but Patricia, with her wonderful instinct, changed all that. At first she began to talk; she told me all about making the things in her trunk and about her time spent away from me in the village and about all the people she had met. Somewhere along the way, her hand found its way into mine and then a little later she was snuggling close. All thoughts of the friends I was leaving behind for the rest of my life were washed from my mind by the first tender kiss that was oohh so long overdue.

The spaceport arrived rather suddenly after that, and I was forced to compose myself at least long enough to reach our ship. Much to my delight, I found out that our ship was a small shuttle; there would be no PTS boost this trip.

The crew took over responsibility for Patricia’s trunk (I did manage to remember to unglue it – barely) while I carried her across the threshold of the shuttle.

“This isn’t our home, Liam,” she said, as she snuggled close under my chin.

“Hush,” I said. “It’s a threshold. That’s close enough for now. I’ll just have to keep trying until I get it right.”

She giggled and wrapped herself around me. We scarcely made it to our quarters.

The crew left us in the shuttle after docking with the emperor’s ship, which was fine with me and we spent the time getting to know each other very, very well.

Though I wasn’t quite a virgin, I might as well have been, because it was all so incredibly different then last time, there was no comparison. I even found ways to use my magic as well, much to Patricia’s delight. Once that was started, she came up with more ideas. By the time we reached Cambay, she had become quite adept at manipulating my magic.

Mother saw to it that we had a much more traditional wedding and reception, but all her efforts didn’t interrupt the honeymoon already well underway.

Since the emperor had supplied his ship for my journey, I was surprised that he wasn’t here for this wedding at least, but I guess, since I had his ship, he wasn’t going anywhere until I got back with it. Somehow, I couldn’t see him getting on a liner, and even though he was the emperor, I seriously doubt that he had more than one ship, though I could be wrong.

In keeping with my promise, I carried Patricia across every single threshold into every single place that might remotely qualify as ‘home’ (i.e. it had a bed) and every time ended in much the same delightful way. The baronial palace has a lot of rooms.

After a month of festivities, my mother sent me on back to the emperor. After all, it was obvious I was supposed to go, since I still had his ship.

The last leg of the trip lasted five months and a handful of days; the emperor’s ship was no space liner restricted to established space lanes. It was too short for me, but all things must come to some sort of an end. I did my best to make sure that only the traveling ended.