Willow '06: The Magnificent Blending - Nathan

Nathan glanced up when his door opened. He had been sitting toying with one of his surgical knives for a long time now, having completed packing his bag more than an hour ago. Since then, he had straightened the remaining possessions in his room, sorted and resorted the clothing in his laundry bin, and sharpened each surgical instrument from his kit to a razor edge. After that he had run out of things to do.

"Are you ready?" the man at the door asked gently.

"No," Nathan said honestly. He looked up into the face of the man who had shown him so many kindnesses in his lifetime, and felt his bleakness rising. "I don't wish to leave here."

"Nathan, Nathan," the man shook his head with a soft smile. "This is a great opportunity for you, son. Very few people get a chance to qualify as a High Practitioner. Should you pass the first tests, you will be in a position few have ever dared to even dream of."

"But to what end?" Nathan asked bleakly. "I have asked, Mister Whitman. No one seems to know what Highs actually do, so how can I know it will be something I want? I'm happy here. I love what I do and how I can help the people here. I don't want to leave."

"And we will miss you greatly," the man said, sitting on the chair next to the young black man. "But besides the fact that it's the law, you can't underestimate this opportunity." Whitman rested a firm hand on Nathan's shoulder. "If you decide you really don't like things after you've given it a try, you can come back."

Nathan's eyes sought the truth in the man's eyes, and found it. "Keep my room clean for me?" he joked weakly.

Whitman chuckled lightly. "We will dust twice a day and three times on Sundays, just to be sure."

Nathan smiled at the older man's encouragement. "Well then, I suppose I should be getting along to the depot," he sighed. Whitman smiled and nodded.

"We should get going." Nathan's puzzled expression made the man laugh. "Nathan Jackson! You didn't think I would let you go without an appropriate send off, did you? I had Carl hitch Sunshine and Windsong to the carriage, and he's waiting to drive us together. You may have to take a public coach from Atlanta to Four Corners, but you'll be riding to the depot in style at the very least."

Whitman put off Nathan's attempt at protest with a wave of his hand as he reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small folder. "I know you've surely packed your papers, but I wanted you to have another copy. Keep one on your person at all times, and the second copy in your bag during the trip, then put them under your mattress when you find a room in the capital. Remember, Nathan, you are a free man and it's certified as such, but sadly your skin will still put you in danger from small-minded folks."

Nathan nodded, all too aware of the fact, but remained respectfully silent as Whitman continued his counsel. "This is a letter to my attorneys in the city," he said, indicating a blue paper. "I have filed copies of your freedom papers with them as well, and I know them to be good and honorable men who will aid you in any way on my direction, should you need it." He pulled a refined yellow page from the collection and held it out to the younger man. "And this is my gift to you, Nathan. You have been my pride and joy since coming here, and I am honored to be allowed to support you in this special time in your life."

Nathan opened the paper and gasped. "Mister Whitman!"

"I do wish you'd call me Gerard." The man sighed with a grin, then sobered as he indicated the paper. "Should you need it, you can take that to any bank in the city and extract funds from your own personal account. There's a sizable balance at the moment, but if you have need of more at any time, have them wire me for approval and anything I can offer is yours."

Nathan felt his eyes tear slightly at his employer's words, once again reminded that he was the luckiest person in the world to have ended up here on this estate and how different his life could have been if not for Gerard Whitman. "All I ask of you in return is that you do your best, don't hesitate to try your very hardest, and make me proud to know you." Gerard put his hands on both shoulders, causing Nathan to stand up as straight as he could.

"I won't let you down, sir."

"You can't possibly, my friend." Gerard smiled warmly. He watched as Nathan opened his satchel and slipped the letter of credit and other papers under the false bottom for safekeeping. "Now, as I understand, Della has prepared a practical feast for you to take with you. I seem to have seen fried chicken, traveling corn bread, cookies, jerky, dried fruits, nuts, and at least two canteens of ginger water. God knows what else the girls in the kitchen have been putting in that basket."

Nathan smiled and patted his stomach in anticipation. "Well know, if I'm gonna make you proud with my efforts at the testing, they're making sure I don't starve on the way there!"

"Starve? You'll be lucky if you're still able to move. I just wonder why I'm expecting leftover biscuits with watered-down gravy for dinner," Gerard said ruefully.

Gerard collected Nathan's bag and the two men exited the room which Nathan had called home for the last sixteen years. He truly didn't want to leave here; he had his friends, his books and studies, and his medical practice. He could not yet truly consider himself a doctor in the normal terms, but the people here on the Whitman estate and in the nearby village of East Point looked to him as their first line of medical help. It was a knowledge that gave him a sense of fulfillment and pride, knowing these people trusted him.

More than anything else in the world, his was going to miss that.

He walked with Gerard from the servant's wing of the house into the main hall and through to the side exit by the driveway. It was a little unsettling to see Gerard's finest carriage, the one used for going to very special parties or meetings in order to make an impression on people, hitched to the two finest white horses in the stables and dressed in their best halters and blankets. To know it was for him, rather than Gerard, was a little overwhelming.

It was also stunning to see the collection of his fellow workers on the Whitman estate to see him off. Nearly every person in the estate's employ, as well at Gerard's young daughter, was gathered around the carriage. Many of the women carried small bundles, and Nathan couldn't imagine how much food and small supplies he was going to be stuffing into his bag before they managed to pull away from the gate. He lifted Katie into his arms for a big hug and accepted the small fistful of wild posies she offered. These he knew he would press into one of the two precious books he was bringing, to keep always as a reminder of the home he loved so much.

"Alright, let them get on their way," a rotund black woman with grey hair declared after much hugging and gift giving had occurred. "The day isn't getting longer and there's still actual work to be done on this-here land." She brandished her wooden stirring spoon like a scepter, and the workers around her groaned but complied. After chasing most of the people off, the woman gave Nathan a fierce embrace that threatened to crush his bones. "Oh, lordy, we're gonna miss you, child!"

"Me too, Della." Nathan gasped as she released him.

"Well, you just write as often as you can," the old woman scolded. "Now you and Master Whitman better get going, or you're gonna miss your stage to the capital!"

Nathan laughed as he and Gerard were scooted into the carriage and Della commanded the young driver to climb up to his place. Nathan noted that Carl was dressed in one of his finest uniforms, and shook his head at all the pomp of his send-off. He suspected it was more than just Gerard's way of saying how much he would miss his employee; more likely, it was Gerard's way of planning to send a message to the workers of the stagecoach line – that Nathan was an important person to Gerard Whitman and should be treated with respect and consideration. The knowledge warmed him to the core.

The trip to the Atlanta stage depot took a little longer than usual, as Gerard had Carl drive them past several of Nathan's favorite spots – the tree grove by the river, the small clinic where Nathan had often helped the villagers with their health, and the park where Nathan had cultivated a thriving herb garden for the use of the townsfolk. The whole time Gerard was counseling his young friend to be careful with his money, to be leery of too-friendly strangers, to be aware of scam artists who would try to take advantage of him simply because of his skin color. He pushed handfuls of coins into the many small secretive pockets which Della had sewn into Nathan's jacket, shirt and pants, as well as the two special coin holds in the bottom of the satchel, until Nathan was sure he qualified as the wealthiest man ever to ride on a public coach.

It was not a common sight for a fine upper class merchant's carriage to pull into the common coach terminal. Most people with enough money chose either a private coach service or had their own coach to travel in, so the arrival of Whitman's obviously moneyed carriage caused more than a few heads to turn. It made Nathan slightly uncomfortable, but he couldn't help but recognize the deference people gave him simply because Gerard was treating him as an honored guest. Gerard stepped out of the coach first and took Nathan's bag and the packed food basket on his behalf, and had Carl give Nathan a hand down as he would his master. Gerard was making sure that the people at the depot saw Nathan being regarded as an equal of someone in so high a social position.

"You really didn't have to go through all this trouble, sir," Nathan said in a low voice as they began to walk toward the coach decks.

Gerard shook his head. "It's my pleasure, and it can't but help you. We both know that our Empire is still not a progressive land in terms of people of your race. It is to our distinct discredit, as far as I'm concerned. By giving you preferential treatment, I ensure that the coach personnel and any of your fellow passengers who see you here with me will do the same." Gerard set Nathan's bags on a waiting bench and took Nathan's hand in a strong grip. "I love you like a brother, Nathan, and anything I can do to give you an edge in this world is my joy to do."

Nathan nodded and shook Gerard's hand in response. Gerard was a rare man in a world that didn't often yet recognize all people as equals, but he was a man of his convictions. Which was just another of the many reasons Nathan didn't want to leave this life.

"What the hell is that?" Gerard said suddenly. Nathan turned to follow Gerard's gaze to see a giant fireball roaring down the street toward them.

** And here I haven't worked out the `Nathan's magic defeats the fireball' scene yet – any thoughts on how Life Magic, which deals with living creatures, plants, etc might be able to defeat a big-ass fireball… well, that'd be Christmas for me!. **

"What in the world happened here?" a voice exclaimed as Nathan climbed to his feet. Nathan saw the local Guild Master hurrying toward him, obviously having run a good distance. "Nathan, are you alright?"

"Fine, Master Carnatos," Nathan replied, looking around to see Gerard helping an older woman back to her back to her feet. "Someone apparently thought attacking the depot with a giant fireball was a good idea. Though to what end, I can't imagine."

"Indeed," Gerard added his voice as he approached. "And while we are discussing this horrible prank, Master Carnatos, don't you think if someone of Fire magic is strong enough to be pulling this sort of stunt, they should be going for testing of their own?"

"Well, I didn't witness the occurrence myself, but based on what people are saying I would certainly think so," the Guild man nodded. "I will certainly look into this immediately, Mister Whitman, I assure you of that."

"I would expect so," Gerard said, putting on his most irritated voice, the one he used when he was choosing to exercise his position in the community. Nathan fought to grin against the way Master Carnatos was bowing and scraping at that tone; Gerard Whitman wasn't the sort to throw his weight around needlessly, but when he did it was an impressive thing. "Now then, I believe you have the necessary things for Nathan's trip with you, so shall we get this over with? I would like to take Nathan to Emmanuel's for a good meal before he begins his journey."

"Certainly, sir," Carnatos nodded hastily. He pulled a small papers folder from his pocket. "Nathan, these are your coach tickets. There is a ticket for each stop on the way to Four Corners. You must be careful not to lose them, not only for the trip itself but also because you'll need the final stub to get into the tests. You'll be taken directly to the testing center, and should expect to take your first test immediately. If you don't check in when you're expected, you may be disqualified and arrested for disobeying the law."

Next the Guild man produced a small purse of coins. "This should cover your travel expenses. Don't lose it, or you may find yourself going hungry before you reach the capital." Nathan accepted with a secret twinkling look at Gerard, who coughed slightly to cover a chuckle and gave an almost imperceptible nod. Nathan managed to smile in a way that Carnatos took as grateful as he accepted the money without a word. "That's all there is to it," Carnatos said. "Good luck to you, Nathan, I have every confidence you."

"Thank you, sir." Nathan nodded. The Guild man scurried off, and Nathan grinned widely at Gerard's soft laugh.

"Good lord, Nathan, we'd better get you going before your bags are too heavy to lift," the estate owner said merrily. "But for now, we have an hour before you have to be on that stage, and I think Emanuel's has a pot roast with your name on it."

JD's Story