The day dragged on and the brothers walked.  Most of the time they followed the road.  Sometimes, they cut across farmer’s fields.  Occasionally, they stopped to eat or drink.  Eventually, as the stars were beginning to brighten in the sky and the moon edged over the horizon, they reached an inn that stood at the edge of a village.

“My friend lives there, little brother,” Daniel said.  “We’re nearly there.”

Emil looked up at his oldest brother and smiled wanly.  He was nearly exhausted; more interested in sleep than dinner.  He followed his brothers into what turned out to be a crowded common room.  Lukas led him to a spot near the corner of the room, away from the hearth while Daniel went off to talk to someone.

He slumped into a seat and sighed deeply.  They had been through so much in such a short period of time.  It felt like his life was falling apart at the seams.  He groaned softly and laid his head down on the table, wishing he could sink into the ground.

“Emil, look at me,” Lukas said sharply.  When their eyes met, he whispered, “Remember the most powerful magic?”

“Imagination, music and love,” Emil replied, his tone almost sullen.  “What happened this morning…”

“Happened because love was involved – the love you have for us and for your kitty.  That love made you want to protect us and your magic responded to that wish,” Lukas said.  “Just don’t make the magic respond to any other wishes, eh?”

Emil blinked and looked down.  He could see that the boards beneath his chair had buckled as if pushed by some unseen force.  Then he looked up at Lukas, his eyes wide and terrified.  “Brother, I don’t want it.”

“You’ve always had it, Emil.  Now you must learn to control it; or it will control you,” Lukas said.  His voice was calm and soothing.  He caught Emil’s hand and flashed him a smile.  he looked up as a serving wench came to their table.

“Something to eat or drink?” she asked.

“Strew and bread for three,” Lukas said.  He laid a coin down on the table as he added, “Cider to drink.”

“As you wish,” she said.  She took the coin and headed off, swaying her hips meaningfully as she walked.

“I think she likes you, brother,” Daniel teased as he sat down beside Emil.

“She knows me for a traveler and figures I’ll bring her out of this work-a-day life she finds herself in,” Lukas corrected.  “Are our friends about?”

“Mine is,” Daniel replied.  “They expect yours to arrive tomorrow.  He’s been to the capital.  Word is that they’re gathering together the young potentials to teach them the right way.”  He shook his head.  “Those beyond that point, of course, can’t relearn and are put into camps or prisons; depending on if they’ve been actively practicing magic.”

They looked up sharply when a girl ran into the inn.  “Red-coats!” she shouted hoarsely.

A taller man came over and caught Emil by his shoulder suddenly.  Before the boy could do more than open his mouth to protest, he was pushed into a chair at the table of a couple he did not know.  “Sir, Madam, your son is joining you for dinner.”

“Of course,”the said.  “Just act naturally, son.  Everything is fine.  We won’t turn you over to the red-coats.”

Emil nodded and glanced over his shoulder, back at the table where the stranger now sat with Daniel.  Lukas was nowhere to be seen and he looked down at his hands, fisted in his lap.  His kitten wriggled out of his pack to hop to the ground and then jumped up into his lap, demanding to be petted.

“I thought we told you to leave the kitten home, dear,” the woman said.

“I meant to… Mama,” Emil said.  “He… he doesn’t listen to me and hates to stay home alone.”  He looked up as the red-coats entered.

“We’re looking for three boys, ranging from age ten to age nineteen, travelling as a group from the north,” the captain of the law-givers said.  He looked around.  “The younger two are very fair and nearly blind.  The law-bringer would like a word with them.  Has anyone like that passed this way since early this morning?”

There were murmurs around the room that were either negative or uncertain and the man scowled.  He looked toward the table that Emil was seated at. Emil forced himself to focus his gaze as best he could on the places he knew the man’s eyes to be.  Blind people, or those who were nearly so, did not meet the gaze of anyone – at least that was the common belief.

“How old are you, boy?” the red-coat snapped.

“E-eleven this past March,” Emil lied.  He glanced at the woman who still had a had on his.  “Mama?” he queried.

“This is you son?” the red-coat asked her.  His voice sounded a trifle uncertain now.

“This is our Felix.  He was sickly when he was small and didn’t grow very well.  But he’ll be fine.  Takes after his father, he does,” she said.  She tousled Emil’s hair in a motherly gesture and he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to stale, to have a mother and father in reality, instead of simply to fool the red-coats.  He glanced at the man and smiled.  His hair was nearly as fair as Emil’s or Lukas’s.

Since the tale was so believable the red-coat went on.  He question several others but, finding nothing in the end left.  Admonishing everyone to tell the law-givers should the three boys show up.  There were nods and murmurs of agreement all around the room.  Then the man left, his troops following behind him like a very small and silent parade.

The townspeople waited a full minute to begin chatting once again.  Then Lukas came over and sat on Emil’s other side.  “Alright, little brother?” he asked, his voice immanently calm.

“Lukas,” Emil said.  He leaned on the older boy’s chest and took a shuddering breath.  “I was so scared.  Where did you go?”

“I hid in the back room of the kitchen,” he said.  “Thank you for helping my brother,” he said to the couple they were seated with.

“You’re Kurland’s friend, right?’ the man asked.  At Lukas’s nod and smiled.  “Any friend of Kurland is a friend of ours.  We were happy to help.”

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