The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie

Part II - A Gathering of Angels

Chapter 14


Once we returned to the forest surrounding Castle Rood, life returned to its dull and boring monotony. I was becoming tired of struggling to survive, but even harder to bear was Damian’s absence. From the time we’d found him, his attachment to me was constant. As we walked silently through the forest, I found myself wishing that just once more I’d have to turn and yell at him to keep up with us, or hear one of his hoots at discovering a small nest of baby mice or a clump of mushrooms growing from an old decayed log. But he was really gone, and his absence weighed heavily on me.


I was surprised to find that Charles was the most sympathetic and understanding of my grief. He would often go out of his way to say something nice to me, or engage in simple conversation just to get me to talk. One evening after Nic decided we should set up camp, I sat down by the fire that Luc had started. In the past I’d been more than willing to help the others when we made camp for the night, but after Damian’s death I just couldn’t muster the desire to do much of anything other than follow the others through the forest as Nic led the way.


After Luc and Cody went off to prepare supper, I found myself sitting on a small outcropping of rock rising from the forest floor and staring into the crackling twigs and branches of the fire, once more replaying in my mind the disastrous day at Castle Rood. My fingers ran lightly over the enameled scales of the snake. My touch caressed and lingered on the ruby bejeweled eyes and I flexed my arm, feeling the embrace of the bracelet where it wound up my arm. My thoughts returned to the day Damian first helped me put it on; suddenly, all I could see before me was his crushed and broken body, followed by that one brief second when I had seen him standing in the garden, smiling and sweetly speaking my name.


The feelings of grief that rose up from deep inside me were too much to bear. I buried my face in my hands and began to sob. I didn’t care if the others saw me or not, I only knew that Damian was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. Through my grief and misery, I felt a pair of hands come to rest gently on my shoulders. They moved around to my chest as the arms they belonged to wrapped themselves around me. Charles had heard me crying and was now sitting behind me, hugging me to his chest. I sat and cried in the comfort of his warm embrace until I didn’t have any tears left. That evening, I refused to eat the food that Cody and Luc prepared and I went to sleep early, held gently in Nic’s arms.


Maybe it was Charles sympathy towards me, or a new maturity Damian’s death had forced upon me, but as the days progressed Charles and I got along remarkably well. Our constant sniping had ended, and our mutual respect and friendship deepened. Both of us had come to learn that we each had talents and skills the other didn’t possess, and by working together we could accomplish so much more.


After leaving Castle Rood, our journey continued without incident for many days and I was just beginning to think that we might be out of danger for a while, when all too quickly our feelings of safety were once again challenged. The day began as countless others had. After a quick breakfast we quietly made our way through the forest. The journey had been uneventful until much later in the day, when we began to hear noises off in the distance. Nic motioned for everyone to be quiet and we waited. Silently, I made my way over to Nic’s side.


“Nic, I thought we were far enough away from the abbey by now to not encounter any more monks?”


“Shhhh, Jamie. I don’t think these are monks.”


Motioning for everyone to be quiet, he signaled for us to follow him as he advanced in the direction of the sounds. Slowly and quietly we crept closer, the noise growing louder as we approached the source. As we did, I noticed that there was a large meadow in the forest ahead. As we got closer, it became obvious that some sort of camp had been pitched here. Moving to the edge of the camp, all of us peered through the bushes.


“It looks like a circus.” Cody said in an excited whisper.


“It is a circus,” Luc said.


And in fact he was right: there were tents pitched, and we could see groups of wagons clustered together. People were walking around and a number of fires had been started; around a central one, a small group of women were preparing dinner.


In our travels we’d come across some unusual sights, but what I was now seeing was certainly one of the more unexpected ones. When we first approached the noise, I’d imagined everything from a band of soldiers ready to seize us, to a pack of Gude’s monks ready to kill us, but the very last thing on my mind was coming upon a group of circus people.


Looking closer at the camp, I could see that they, like us, were in transit. From what little I knew of our surroundings, I didn’t think there were any towns nearby they could draw people from to see them perform, so more then likely they were moving between venues. I carefully took in the sight before my eyes, still surprised at what we’d come upon.


What first drew and kept my eye was the assortment of wagons encircling the camp. Some of the wagons were rather utilitarian, clearly made for moving people, possessions, and supplies, but others were highly decorated with gaudy designs, ornate wheels and ornamentation. Many of these wagons looked like giant cages on wheels. There were heavy iron bars around these cages so that the contents of the wagons could be locked up, but still be displayed to anyone interested in looking.


One of the cages held a lion. Another cage had monkeys jumping around inside it and swinging from the bars of the cage.


“Look.” Cody pointed.


My eyes followed to the direction he was pointing, and I could see a wagon with thinner bars that were woven and spaced more closely together. It was filled with exotic birds. Looking closer I could see that inside this wagon was a large variety of birds of many colors and sizes, all chirping, squawking, or cackling loudly.


The camp was active as people attended to their tasks, but the overall atmosphere was one of methodical, industrious work. They didn’t seem like an overtly hostile group, and I couldn’t bring myself to think of them in the same terms as I had the monks. Yet, even back in Tardon, I’d been viewed with hatred and suspicion when first encountering the local people, so I wasn’t so naïve to think that we would be welcomed with open arms, but it might be a possibility. And just as I began to think that we actually might find acceptance with at least one group of people in this society, something happened that completely changed my point of view.


“Over there,” whispered Luc his eyes wide open with a look of shock and surprise.


As he spoke, his voice pulled me from my thoughts and brought me back to reality. At first I couldn’t see where he was pointing, but once I realized what he was trying to show us, my eyes opened as wide as saucers.


We all stared in silence for a few minutes, but couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Then ever so slowly, we moved around the perimeter of the camp, keeping ourselves hidden in the dense undergrowth. We were now closer to what we’d viewed just a few minutes earlier, only now we knew that we weren’t imagining the sight before our eyes.


“Oh Nic, how horrible,” I said, still not believing what I was seeing.


In the cage was a little boy with wings. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old. He was dirty and very thin. I guessed he must have blond hair, but it was so caked with dirt and mud that it was hard to tell for sure. He was naked, and I could see that his thin dirty little body carried more than a few cuts and bruises. He was curled up in the corner of the cage on some kind of pallet, fashioned of a course material stuffed with straw. Even from our distance, it was obviously filthy. Suddenly a man came up to the cage and started yelling at the little boy.


“Get up and eat this before I beat you.”


The little boy lifted his head and looked around. The man started to bang on the heavy iron bars with the wooden stick he was carrying. My first reaction was that he was going to use the stick to hit the boy and I found myself becoming both angry and fearful at the thought. But then he set the stick down and I could see that he had something else in his other hand.


“Over here, you little idiot.”


The small angel jumped and continued to look around. Then the man threw some bones with a small bit of meat on them into the cage. I watched as the little boy began crawling around on his hands and knees. I could see he was feeling his way as he moved around the cage.


“Nic, he’s blind.”


“Yes, it seems so Jamie.”


“Get your ass over here,” the man shouted. “Or so help me, you’ll go hungry. As if I give a damn.”


The little angel finally made his way over to where the bones were. He patted his hands around the dirty floor of the cage and finally touched one. It was covered with some of the dirt and straw that had been covering the floor. Picking it up, he put it to his mouth and began to gnaw at what little meat was left on it. The sight made me ill.


As I got a closer look at him I observed that in addition to the cuts, bruises and dirt that covered his small thin body, I could see that he’d been forced to live in his own excrement. His butt and legs had streaks of dried feces on them. Seeing that was even worse then watching him crawl around the cage, trying to find scraps of food.


When the man saw that the boy was at least eating, he picked up the stick he had set down and rapped it once more again the bars of the cage as he barked a curse, then turned and left. After that, I just couldn’t bring myself to look at this sad, horrible sight any further. Tears welled up in my eyes and I turned away. As I did, I came face to face with Charles, who was wearing the worst expression I had ever seen. There were tears streaking down his face.


“Jonathan,” he almost sobbed.


“Charles? Do you know him?”


Charles looked at me, his face stricken, and nodded his head.


“It’s my little brother, Jonathan.”


         Nic and I just looked at each other.