Chapter 22



andon! Wake up! Wake up!” Landon groaned and felt for the covers so he could shield his head against the noise. Unfortunately, he was sleeping on top of them and was unsuccessful in his endeavor for peace and quiet. Too tired to open his eyes and see exactly who would be jumping on his bed while he was trying to sleep, he mumbled for whoever it was

to leave him alone.

            “What was that?” the voice asked. He could feel their breath on his face. He cracked his eyes open. Lee’s excited face was inches from his own, smiling at Landon’s grimacing face. Someone else was still jumping on his bed. He rolled over to see Raina and Mark bouncing gleefully on the mattress, barely managing not to land on top of him. He quickly drew his legs closer to him where they were less likely to be crushed.


“Good morning!” Raina shouted, giggling. “They said we could come wake you up!” Whoever “they” was, they were going to hear about this.

“Very mature of you, Mark,” he grumbled, rubbing the sleepiness from his eyes.

He grinned. “I try.”

            Landon grunted skeptically. “Is there a reason I need to be woken up just now? My lessons don’t start until after lunch.”

            “It’s well past time to wake up. You’ve just missed breakfast,” Lee said, standing with the others on his bed, looking down at him. Sunlight bathed the room with a cheery glow, crushing Landon's chances of arguing about the hour. “But we woke you up because we need your help.”

            His eyebrows rose just a bit, as well as his curiosity. “My help? With what?”

            Raina jumped in enthusiastically. “We are going to build a tree house!”

            Landon didn’t quite know what to think. “A tree house? Where?”

            “Well, we were out playing in the forest,” Who is in charge of these kids? He thought, frowning slightly, “and we found this huge tree that looked like it would be perfect for a tree house! Mark says he can get some wood and you can use your power to help us lift them up and stuff. You can even get a free membership so you can go up there any time you want. Well, what do you say?” They all waited silently for his answer, Mark seeming just as eager as the kids.

            He considered the proposal. It would most definitely cost him a lot of time and effort, but he didn’t want to disappoint them. They seemed as though they were determined to do it whether he agreed to help or not. Besides, they needed a chaperone, and Mark didn’t count. He would probably be the one that needed a close watching most of all. And he had to admit, a free membership to their club did sound appealing….

            “Alright, I’m in.” They jumped excitedly, slapping each other’s hands together and cheering. “But you have to stop jumping on my bed. Especially you, Mark; you’ll break it.” Too pleased to be dismayed, they jumped onto the floor and laughed. “I need an hour to get ready. Lee, can you get a maid to bring me some breakfast? Tell her to bring a lot of food. I’m starving.” The boy nodded eagerly, racing out the door. “Thanks,” he called after him. Raina and Mark followed excitedly.

            Landon flopped back down on his bed as soon as they left and let himself have five more minutes to recuperate before forcing himself to get up. He changed out of his soggy clothes and briefly washed himself. A servant brought a normally unreasonable amount of food for him and he ate it all. Life, for that small moment, seemed simple. Not even his new surroundings marred his peaceful morning ritual. He savored the moment for all it was worth because he knew that as soon as he stepped out of his room, the chaos would erupt again. Nothing would ever be the normal he once knew, so he just had to adjust his definition of "normal" to fit his situation a bit more soundly. But when he thought about it, he didn't know if he wanted normal anymore. The thought surprised him and he felt just a little bit scared about what such a thought would mean. He called things boring now that a year ago would have been the peak of his entire life. He didn't know quite what to think.

            One more unanswered question taunted him: When this was all over, would he be satisfied? It seemed so ridiculous at first, but the more he thought about it, the more troubled he became. Could he handle things going back to normal? He had gotten so used to all the action and excitement that he worried it would be like a step down from the life he was living now. He didn't want this, but what would he do without it?

            He thought about Tiltook and his life there. He had always planned on retreating back to his hometown when the war was over, but that was just the thing. He had gotten a taste of freedom, what life really was. How could he simply up and leave to live in a cabin for the rest of his life? And what about Chelsea? There was no way she would be happy that way. Oh, she would do it for him. She found the peasant life intriguing, but she was a princess, not a farmer. He couldn't change that, nor would he ever want to.

            But he still couldn't bring himself to let go.

            His moment of peace was over already, just like that. He needed to stop thinking so much, or else he might never be happy.

            Someone pounded on the door rather obnoxiously, and he could only guess who it was. Sighing, he swung open the door to find his suspicions confirmed. Lee and Raina burst into the room without invitation. Kids never seemed to need one.

            "Hour's up! You ready?" Lee said, smiling brightly. He suspected the boy had only asked out of courtesy; they didn't care whether he was ready or not. He was coming with them right now. He couldn't help but smile at them. Their cheerfulness was contagious.

            "You bet." A mischievous smile grew on Landon's face. "I'll race you!" spinning around, he took off down the hallway before they could accept the challenge.

            "Cheater!" they called after him, laughing as they tried to keep up with him. He wasn't running his fastest, but he was still well ahead of them. They received disapproving glares as they zipped past, servants cowering or slamming themselves up against the walls to get out of the way in time. The way the kids saw it, they had just been given permission to be savages on expensive property—every kid's dream—and they were going to take full advantage of it. Luckily, they didn't break anything. But Landon had to admit, he was enjoying the unruly dash every bit as much as they did.

            By the time they burst into the cool morning air outside, he was struggling to pant and laugh at the same time. Lee and Raina were close behind him, and they didn't bother with slowing down. Instead, they dove into the dirt and rolled to a stop lying on their backs on the ground.

            They sat there for a moment, regaining their breath. Mark appeared, hauling several rough looking planks over his shoulder and a few tools in his belt. Landon didn't know who would willingly give Mark objects of potential mass destruction, but he always seemed to find them anyway. It appeared he must have acquired some cast outs of the spare would pile. At the Palace, they recycled any wooden object they didn't need as firewood for multipurpose last resorts. It was a good idea, especially with the number of things that went to waste in a place as large as this.

            Landon took a few to lighten his load and followed Lee into the forest. It wasn't a long walk, but the foliage was thick. It almost seemed to have a tropical touch. Moss grew virtually everywhere, and tree branches swooped in odd shapes. It was beautiful, though he worried they wouldn't be able to find their way back. They'd made it back alive once, right? They could do it again.

            They finally found the right tree after a few minutes of searching. Missy was circling the tree like a guard on duty, several scratch marks in the wood indicating where she had decided to sharpen her claws. Landon shuddered to think of what those could do to human skin as the tiger bounded up to Raina and nuzzled her affectionately. He'd heard somewhere that cats could retract their claws. But still, that thing was twice the size of Raina and ten times more dangerous. He made an effort to give her a wide berth.

            The tree they had selected definitely fit the description. The thick, swooping branches were arranged in such a way to support the boards. It wasn't too incredibly high up, nor was it too low. They would need a ladder, first.

            He set to work immediately. Landon and Mark did most of the work, while Raina and Lee helped with the smaller things like holding and fetching. The work was exhausting, but refreshing all the same. He hadn't had some time to just work like a normal person. Training didn't count. Sure it was hard, but it was far from what he considered revitalizing.

            "I wish we could make an arc of branches or something to protect it from the rain...." Lee said thoughtfully as they worked.

            "That's what the trees are for," Mark answered with a hint of sarcasm. Lee frowned at him, but Landon wasn't paying attention anymore, as he did when he was on the verge of some epiphany. Something about Lee's statement seemed to click. An arc....that's it! He dropped the hammer he was holding. An arc! If I can't push back the water, I can direct it! Why hadn't he thought of it before? Lee had no idea how much of a genius he was. Filled with a new vigor, he picked up his hammer and went back to work, dreading his lesson with Leanne a lot less.

            Before he knew it, the sun was high in the sky, signaling lunch time. They had made some considerable progress, but there was still a ways to go. The ladder was done, and a few floorboards. After inspecting their work, they departed for lunch. Lee and Raina were reluctant to go, but their rumbling stomachs overruled their zeal. Landon decided after listening to their scheming that it would be best if he escorted them to wherever they needed to go.

            “Where exactly do you stay?” he asked, realizing that he really didn’t know how they were getting along in the palace. He felt a little guilty for neglecting them lately, but they seemed content.

            “They have a nursery with rooms made just for children. Man, they are so much better than those jail cells!” Lee replied, smiling happily. He seemed so much happier now than he had been in Aroth.

“Do you want to see the nursery?” Raina asked. Her excessive jewelry swung around her grinning face. “It’s packed with toys. I don’t think I will ever be bored again.

Seizing the opportunity to supervise them a little longer, he agreed. Even though he hadn’t known the two former street thieves for long, he already felt a protective instinct toward them. He wondered if this was what it felt like to have kids of his own. He followed them through the corridors until they reached a door labeled Nursery. He wished they would label all the doors. Most had only room numbers.


He took a long look around the room. There were toys of all sorts shoved in every corner. Whitewashed walls painted with scenery gave the room a friendly feel. It wasn’t the tidiest room in the palace, but that was to be expected in a place made exclusively for child use. There were only two other people in the room. A girl that looked to be about Jeaine’s age was playing with a toddler on the other side of the room. They both looked up when they entered. The older girl had caramel colored hair that matched her large eyes. She was petite looking with a pretty face. Her younger companion had wild brown hair and fierce eyes that matched the other's. They appeared to be related. Sisters, perhaps?

            Lee noticed them and quickly clarified. “That’s Nelli.” He pointed to the toddler. “She’s a firesinger. And that’s her sister, Bonnie. She takes care of her.” As if on cue, the little girl’s hand caught aflame. Bonnie gave her a firm stare, and without a word Nelli frowned and her hand extinguished. Bonnie turned her attention back to Landon curiously, as if her baby sister hadn’t just spontaneously combusted. She stood and looked at Lee, her eyes probing for answers. She didn’t seem to talk much. “Bonnie, this is Landon. I’m sure you’ve heard of him.” She nodded, scanning him with a new interest.

            “Pleasure to meet you, Bonnie,” he said slowly, bowing slightly as was polite.

            “Oh, and one thing you should know about her….” Lee said almost timidly. “She can’t talk.”

            Landon stood for a moment, staring like an idiot. He wasn’t quite sure what to say. What do you say to one who couldn’t respond? She raised an eyebrow and held out her hand. She was obviously used to this kind of reaction. He watched her with a new interest as he shook her hand. It was an odd gesture for a girl, but it was, in a way, all she had. She only had actions to speak for her, and this one seemed to say, I may be small and voiceless, but I am not helpless. He nodded slightly in understanding, a silent conversation passed through eyes.

            Her little sister, Nelli waddled up from her toys and tugged on her sister’s dress, eyeing Landon with distrustful eyes. She put her hands on her hips and inspected him much like her sister had. This little girl had an attitude that was obvious in the way she held herself confidently, despite her size and age. It was odd to think that this little toddler held the power of destruction at her very fingertips, yet she was barely old enough to talk. Having received his powers at a later age, he had never considered what it might be like to have known you had special powers since birth. He’d heard that some Stormsingers don’t come to recognize their powers for a long time. They thought it something natural, and therefore disregarded it, much like he had. He found the thought intriguing.

            Nelli decided she was bored with him and returned to her corner of toys. Bonnie hesitated for a moment, then nodded toward him and left to join her sister. Landon didn't know quite what to think of it. She seemed like a nice enough girl, though she could hold her own. A certain respect for her developed as he glanced curiously at her one more time. He couldn't acquire such a commanding air if he tried, and she did it with pure will! Then again, maybe it was the lack of effort to do so that he had trouble with. He didn't want attention. He wished he could be invisible more than he wished to be commanding. 

            They left the nursery, still pondering on the abnormality of the day so far, and it was only afternoon. Then again, every day was abnormal these days. He wondered what was in store for him tomorrow.


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