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.