“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.”