I gazed, bemused, at Cody as he beamed a smile at me, then I looked down at the glowing and pulsating orb he held in his hands. Its amber essence, trapped in its thin glassine-like shell, swirled and flowed – first light, then dark – while giving off a low, steady hum. The more I looked at it, the deeper I was drawn into it. Charles stepped between us and broke the spell.
“So that’s what you went back for?” he said with a slight smile.
“Yes, but couldn’t any of you sense it?”
“You know, Cody,” I said, trying to give him a serious look. “We were all a bit involved with rescuing Jonathan. Although, now that you mention it, I did feel a bit of a mental tugging back there, but it didn’t seem strong enough to get concerned over, so I chose to ignore it. I’m glad you didn’t. You know, I’m sorry I argued with you, but if you’d seen the look Nic gave me when he realized you weren’t with us, you’d understand how I felt.”
“It’s ok,” Cody said with a grin. “I know you were just following His Highness’ orders. I really wouldn’t disobey any of his commands, but… well… it was just that…”
“I understand, but next time please try and explain yourself a bit more. If I’d known there was an orb to recover, maybe we could have included it in our plan to save Jonathan.”
“I would have told you,” Cody quickly added, “but I really didn’t feel its energy until I was actually in the camp, flying around – then it was too late to tell anyone. I guess I should have told you what I was going back to get – that was my fault – but at the moment you were preoccupied with the danger to King Niklas.”
“Fair enough, Cody. It’s over and done with now. You retrieved the orb and came back safe and sound; we rescued Jonathan. And on top of all that, no one on either side was hurt.”
Cody nodded his agreement as he continued to cradle the orb. Hearing its hum now, I could understand why none of us might have heard it. Even standing directly before it, I didn’t notice the strong energy pulse that the previous two had exhibited. The pulse from the red orb had been extremely strong, and the light blue Orb of the Bat, although not as strong as the Orb of the Snake, had nonetheless given off a noticeable pulse.
“Where did your find it?” I asked.
“The circus people must have come across it in their travels. I found it hidden in a chest in one of the wagons, under some blankets.”
“Did anyone see you take it?” Charles asked.
“No, I’m sure of that,” Cody said with a laugh. “Once His Grace started tossing lightening bolts around, I might as well have been invisible. No one even noticed me landing near the wagon where it was kept. I walked right in, opened the chest, took it, and left.”
Once more as Cody talked, I found myself hypnotically drawn to the orb, and in a short time, I was staring blankly at it. But its spell over me was broken when Nic approached.
After he and Luc landed, the young boy had complained of pain and soreness in his left arm. A review of what happened after we made our escape from the circus people revealed that when Nic grabbed Luc and spirited him away, in the heat of the moment he’d hastily grabbed him by his left arm with such strength that Luc’s upper arm was left sore and slightly bruised. I was always amazed at the tremendous strength Nic exhibited – especially in stressful situations. As soon as he understood Luc’s complaint, he carefully checked him over for any other injuries. As he did so he apologized for hurting him, but Luc, still rubbing his arm, told Nic that he was fine. Once he was sure Luc was uninjured he approached me, took my hand in his, and began to address Charles, Cody and me.
“Is everyone else alright?”
“It appears so,” Cody said, “but I’m not sure about Jonathan.”
“Well then, let’s make sure,” Nic said.
Jonathan, standing next to Charles, although completely naked and filthy, seemed curiously unbothered by his state. He was a small boy, slight of build, and thin. A quick inspection by Charles, under Nic’s watchful eye, revealed a few cuts, bruises, and scrapes on his body, but otherwise he appeared healthy.
After Charles’ examination, the little boy’s older brother still looked concerned, and he wrapped a protective arm around Jonathan’s shoulders, but Jonathan wore a broad smile. I was amazed at how calm and composed he was for someone who’d just been through such a traumatic ordeal, but was grateful for his seemingly well-adjusted attitude. I was beginning to believe that Charles’ earlier pronouncement about Red-and-Black’s being quick healers might also apply to mental stress, but before I could say anything, Cody approached the little angel and bent down to get a closer look at him.
“Hi Jonathan, I’m Cody. How do you feel?” Cody said in a warm and cheerful tone.
“I’m ok. I’m kinda sore on my back,” Jonathan said, his voice a soft, young child’s treble.
“And he’s naked.” Luc interjected, giggling.
“That was Luc.” Cody had a smile on his face. “He’s closer to your age, but he’s not an angel like us.”
“Yes Cody, I know,” Jonathan said.
I frowned a bit when I heard his response. Jonathan had just entered our camp and really hadn’t been formally introduced to anyone. Being blind, how could he know that Luc didn’t have wings? But I was glad that everyone had survived unharmed, so I brushed the thought away. Then Charles gave the little boy a slight poke with his finger and coughed loudly.
“Oh, yes… thank you all for saving me.” Then Jonathan executed a slight bow, and once more I marked the resemblance between he and his older brother.
“Looks like we’ve got another one,” I whispered to Nic.
Nic just smiled back at me.
I was standing on the perimeter of the group as these exchanges took place. It was then that I noticed the little angel, who just seconds before had been smiling and animated, suddenly became very quiet. He began turning his head side-to-side, as if casting about for something. Finally, his sightless eyes turned to me. And although I knew he couldn’t see me, I felt as if he was looking right at me.
From the minute he’d entered our company, I’d wanted to get a better look at our youngest and newest angel and introduce myself to him, and now I saw my opportunity. He continued to look in my direction as I quietly walked over to him and crouched down. Jonathan continued to stand before me, staring blankly at me with sightless eyes.
“The staff before me…” he said so quietly that I didn’t think any of the others heard him.
Coming as it did from of such a small child, both his grave expression and the solemn tone of voice he used gave me pause for a few seconds, but then I continued with my introduction.
“Jonathan, I’m Jamie and I’m really glad that you’re here with us.”
“I am, too,” the young boy answered with a shy smile.
Then his face changed once again, “To gain the source, you will empty its vessel.” These words were also said so softly that I didn’t think that anyone else noticed.
Without warning, Jonathan took one step towards me and flung his arms around me, hugging me fiercely. His wings pressed against mine, and he clung to me with all his might. Then he kissed me on the cheek and whispered in my ear, “The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel.”
As quickly as he’d embraced me, he released me and stepped back. As he did, we paused and looked into each other’s eyes and although he was blind, from my vantage point crouched in front of him, it appeared that he was carefully studying me. The moment was broken when Luc walked over to Jonathan and wrinkled his nose.
“Well, Jonathan, I think that you need more than just some cloths – you stink! Phheeewww! What if I help you clean up?”
I remembered Luc and his younger brother Jon helping me bathe after I had been discovered and taken to General Zakaria. It seemed he had talent for cleaning up strays.
“That’s a good idea, Luc. I noticed a small stream a little ways back; why don’t you take him there and help him clean up?”
Luc nodded vigorous agreement to my suggestion. “Sure, Your Grace, I’d be happy to do that.”
“Oh yeah, and Luc,” Cody added, “there’s an extra tunic with my things… it’s gonna be a bit big on the little guy, but I think it will at least keep him covered for now.”
“Ok, Cody.” Luc took off with Jonathan.
“I just want to thank all of you.” Charles added. His voice shook a little as he struggled to hold back tears.
“Hey, we have another angel and I think it’s great.” Cody was smiling as he spoke. I knew he was proud of what he and Luc had done, and the fact that he was the only one who had realized another orb was nearby.
“Yes we do,” I added, “and I think it’s great too.”
I walked over to Cody and put my hand on his shoulder. Then Nic stepped into the center of our group.
“Ok everyone, we’ll stay here for the night, but we leave at first light.”
“Nic, you’re such a slave driver.”
“Come on Jamie, you know as well as I do we have to keep moving. Now we not only have a band of monks chasing us, but also a pack of angry circus people.”
Cody started laughing, and between chuckles and giggles managed to say, “Well, after what His Grace did to those circus people, I think they probably want to be as far away from us as possible.”
“Yeah, I did kinda scare them a bit, didn’t I?” I was laughing along with Cody.
“Whether you scared them or not, we still need to keep moving. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Highness.” I bowed deeply at the waist, but also smirked at Nic while I was doing it.
“And none of your dramatics either, Jamie.”
“Never.” I smiled even more broadly and winked at Cody, who gave me a sly grin.
After a short time, Luc returned with a clean and fresh-smelling Jonathan. Although Cody’s tunic was a bit large for him, Luc had tied it up rather artfully and the little blind angel stood there looking sweet and innocent.
I walked over to Luc and put my arm on his shoulder. “Thank you Luc, that was very nice of you. You’re a kind boy and I love you very much.” Then I bent down and kissed the top of his head.
Luc smiled shyly back. “Thank you Your Grace, I love all of you too. I am really happy that I met you, and thank you for taking me with you after my brother Jon died.”
I frowned a bit, but made sure Luc didn’t see my expression. His words reminded me of the ugly woman Mathilde, and Luc’s brother lying on the floor with an arrow in his heart. I tried to push the thought out of my head. Jon’s death was the first that occurred because of me. The others had gone off to begin supper and Luc and I were standing alone. I looked down at the little boy who I’d come to know and love so deeply.
“Luc, I’ve always wondered something, but have never asked.”
“What is it, Your Grace?”
“How did you ever come to serve General Zakaria back in Tardon? I remember you talking about your father, and I know you had a brother, so I assume you had a family?”
“Oh, I never served the Duke of Lionsgate, Your Grace.”
“The Duke of Lion…?” but then I paused when I remembered the General’s order that he’d issued when I was with him in Tardon had been signed using his title of Eighteenth Duke of Lionsgate.
“But if you never served Zakaria, then what were doing at his provisional headquarters?”
“I was a slave of the Holy Office, Your Grace.” He said this with such a nonchalant manner and matter-of-fact tone that I blinked at him in surprise.
“What do you mean a slave, Luc? In all the time I’ve been in this land, I have never seen slaves.”
“Well, Your Grace, I was a slave. There are many of us.”
“And why were you a slave? Were your parents slaves? When you were born did you automatically become one?”
“Oh no, my father wasn’t a slave. He was a blacksmith in Jeppa, my little village just outside Tardon. He died after a horse kicked him. The horse’s hoof made a big gash in his leg and he got sick, and in a few weeks he died. After he died, my mother tried to take care of my little sister, Jon, and me, but we were thrown out of our house because she couldn’t pay the tax to the Holy Office. We lived on the streets, begging, but there was never enough money for food for all of us. She sold Jon and me to the monks from the Holy Office in exchange for food because my little sister became ill.”
“So this Holy Office taxes people?”
“Yes, everyone has to pay taxes to the Holy Office.”
“And if they can’t pay the tax?”
“They’re given a choice. They can have something they own taken from them, like their house or some land, or a horse, or a cow, or some valuable object they may own. And if they really owe a lot, they can give up a part of themselves.”
“What do you mean by a part of themselves?”
“And what happens to these children that the Holy Office takes?”
“Some become monks, but you have to be a believer and pass a test. The others become slaves.”
“And what do the slaves do?”
“Anything the monks want them to do: Make their food. Farm their fields. Grind their grain. Care for their churches and monasteries.”
“Why didn’t you and Jon become monks?”
“My father was an unbeliever. He always complained that the Holy Office and the monks were bloodsuckers, and stole the people’s money. He never did any work for them for free, like the others did.”
“Oh, if a monk needs his horse shod or a meal in a tavern, or if they need healing from a doctor, they never have to pay. They just take what they want.
“Well, my father always insisted they pay. That made the abbot very angry and when my mother sold us, he said he wouldn’t even consider making us monks.”
“I see. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised that Abbot Gude would act this way.”
“Oh, it wasn’t Abbot Gude. It was Abbot Harta. Abbot Harta is the abbot of the monastery in Tardon. Abbot Gude is the Arch Abbot of Eagle’s Eyre. Abbot Harta and all the other Abbots in the Kingdom of Kalas have to obey him. Abbot Harta said Jon and I were the spawn of evil seed and would corrupt the others if we were allowed to become monks.”
“Luc, there is nothing evil about you. You are one of the sweetest and kindest boys I know. Look how you helped us save little Jonathan. You’ve been such a good friend and companion to all of us. I don’t know what we would have ever done if we hadn’t been so very lucky as to have met you.”
“Do you really mean that?”
I looked into the young boy’s eyes, and I could see him searching my face for approval and validation.
“Luc, you may not have wings, but you are one of the sweetest angels I’ve ever known, and when we get to Küronas, you will have a place of honor in our kingdom.”
“Really?” Luc gave me a look of surprise.
Then he began to smile a broad and happy smile. “I would like that, Your Grace.”
“So would I, Luc.” Then I gave him a hug. “Come on Luc, time to eat and rest. We have busy days ahead. And speaking of slaves, I think His Highness is going to be a slave driver with all of us. I can sense it in my bones.”
Luc looked at me and laughed. “Sometimes you say the funniest things, Your Grace.”
I ruffled his hair and gave him a swat on his butt, and he yelped and ran back to the others.
That evening, we quietly sat around the camp. Nic remained a bit wary, and again ordered that no fire be built. So once more we ate cold food, but Cody was still able to turn it into a delicious repast.
Little Jonathan cuddled up to Charles. Now that he was bathed, I could see that he was a beautiful child. He had straw blond hair, blue eyes and wings similar to his big brother, just not quite as defined. They were the same snowy white color as Charles’ wings and were accented by small red and black points on the tips, although the red of Jonathan’s wings was brighter and lighter than the deeper and richer red within Charles’ wings. I suspected that has he got older, the color would darken and deepen in intensity. But nevertheless, it was quite clear to anyone looking at him that he was definitely a red-and-black angel. And though Cody’s tunic hung a bit loose and long on our youngest angel, he looked quite cute, clean and contented.
I was a bit concerned about his blindness, but Charles assured us that he had been born that way and it really didn’t affect his ability to lead a normal life. In fact, Charles argued that he was probably the best flyer of us all. I found that a bit hard to believe, but made no comment as Charles talked to us about his little brother. It wasn’t that late into the night, but without a fire, it got dark very quickly, and so we all went to bed earlier than usual.
We were up at first light and again afoot, traveling east. By late morning, it became apparent that, just as had happened once before when we came upon Castle Rood, we were leaving the forest as the trees got sparse and the ground beneath our feet began to turn into grassy plains. Concerned that we were entering a similar open area, Nic sent Cody on an advance scouting mission, but when he returned he reported that in fact we’d left forest behind, and a vast and open plain stretched out before us.
That evening, we finally made our first fire in days. Nic and Cody caught some rabbits. Luc, Charles and I picked some nuts and berries, and dug up something that looked like a wild onion. Cody performed his culinary magic, and before long we were sitting around the fire with full bellies. After the evening meal, everyone seemed lost in thought. Nic sat caring for his sword and dagger, honing the blades to razor sharpness; I noted idly that his whetstone was a palm-sized piece of coarse, reddish rock – a bit of Castle Rood? Charles sat with his arm around Jonathan, and Cody was demonstrating a levitation trick to Luc.
I broke the silence. “Charles, would you tell us more of our history? You know, convene the Jonah thing?
“You mean The Circle of Jonas, Jamie?”
“Well, that would be fine, but I think there’s something much more important we need to address first.”
“The orb. More specifically, the Amber Orb of the Owl.”
“Well, what about it?”
“I think you need to absorb it, and the sooner the better. Right now, it’s a pretty valuable commodity. There are a few people who would like to get their hands on it, not the least of which is your brother, Loran. It would be best if you absorbed it now.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
“I am right, and you know it. The sooner we take care of this, Jamie, the better. I’ll feel a lot safer with the essence of the orb assimilated inside of you, rather than us carrying it around where ever we go, with the risk of losing it. We can’t allow Loran to have it.”
”You know Charles, I still don’t understand why Loran hates me so much.” Then I stretched out my arm and displayed the snake-shaped bracelet. “I mean, look at the inscription about a brother’s love. If he gave this to me, then why does he hate me so much? Couldn’t we simply have come to some kind of mutual arrangement? The truth is, I still don’t know everything that being a wizard involves, so I’m still not all that anxious to become one. Yes, some of the tricks I’ve performed have been amazing and surprising, but if they’re going to get me killed, it’s not worth it. Loran can be a wizard, king, potentate or emperor, as far as I’m concerned. If he wants me to kneel before him in homage, fine! As long as I get back up with my head attached to my shoulders and my wings intact, I really don’t care.”
Charles stood silently for a while, looking at me with a slight frown.
“Uhm, it’s rather complex, Jamie. You want more answers, and I promise I’ll continue after you’ve absorbed the orb.”
“You know Charles, I’m not all that anxious to absorb this thing. You have no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that hot, molten jelly when it slams into you. But I do have to agree with you, for once: the last person I want to see get his hands on this orb is Loran. Because while I don’t wish him ill, apparently he won’t rest until I’m dead, so I have to do what’s necessary to survive.”
I began to turn away and walk toward Cody who was holding the orb and studying it, but stopped and turned back to Charles.
“Oh, and while we’re discussing brothers Charles, I just want to ask you how come you get the sweet, cute and cuddly little brother and I get the homicidal maniac older brother?” I tried to keep the bitterness out my voice.
“Well, we are Red-and-Blacks, and of the House of Imperial Principalities. Our hierarchy is very different than that of the Archangels of the Imperial High Seraphim, just as Nic’s heritage is different as a Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne.”
“You know Charles, just once I wish you’d talk like a normal person.”
“But, then I wouldn’t be me.” Charles smiled.
“No, I guess you wouldn’t.” I smiled back.
Nic looked up at my remark and shook his head, although I could see that he too was smiling. By now, everyone sitting around the fire was paying close attention to Charles’ and my conversation. Cody and Luc were sitting together, clutching the orb. Nic had put down his sword and I noticed that Jonathan, who had been making his way over to Nic, was now sitting on my mate’s lap as Charles and I faced each other over the fire.
“Ok Cody, give it to me,” I said, motioning for him to hand it to me. “I’ll smash it and take my medicine like a man, no… err… well, maybe like an angel.” I chuckled. Across the fire, Cody and Luc snickered.
Charles frowned. “It’s not that easy, Jamie.”
“Of course it is Charles,” I said, “both of the other times I absorbed the essences of the orbs, it was just like that, so let’s just do it and get it over and done.”
“No Jamie, from what you told me, the first time you absorbed an essence was when you dropped the Orb of the Snake. Don’t you remember what happened?”
“Well yes, sure: it broke open and the essence went into me.”
“No, that happened the second time, when Cody dropped it and it smashed against a rock. When you dropped it, it just bounced.”
“He’s right,” Cody interjected.
“Ok, you’re right. That’s what happened. So what?”
“The second time – the absorption of the essence of the Orb of the Bat – occurred when I threw it at your feet, causing it to smash. Do you remember?”
“Yes, of course I remember,” I said with irritation. “I thought you were trying to throw it to me and just missed.”
“No, I threw it down at your feet so it would hit the ground and smash. Jamie, as a wizard you are able to control almost every aspect of the physical, and even parts of the metaphysical, world. Well, let’s say that you will do that in time, after you have absorbed all the orbs and learned how to properly channel their essences.”
“I don’t do so badly now, Charles,” I said, suddenly frowning. “I mean, look at Jonathan. I got those bars apart, didn’t I?”
“Jamie.” Nic said, and gave me a serious look. “I hope you two aren’t going to start bickering.”
“I have no intention of bickering, Nic,” I replied. “I mean, I am getting better at some of the magic, and my mind probing skills have improved. And I did get those bars open, where no one else could have.”
“You did, Jamie and I’m forever grateful,” Charles interrupted. “But listen to me: if you honestly knew how little of your current powers you are actually using, you wouldn’t believe it. And that’s with the essences of only two of the twelve orbs in your possession. With just these two essences, you could be like a god, but you don’t know how to use all of your powers yet. You’re only learning – and totally on your own, I might add. Loran is ahead of you, with years of actual training at the very hands of Lon Nol – the creator of the orbs.
“Rest assured Jamie, when he gets an orb’s essence, he has a much better understanding of its powers and use, although even he doesn’t understand their full capacity, because his training ended upon the death of Alexander. But trust me; he still has great knowledge of the orbs of Lon Nol, and their many uses.
“But there is one thing you must understand: despite all of your currently active and future potential powers, there is one important area that you have no power over – the extraction of the essences from orbs themselves. Try all you want, but a wizard can never smash an orb and retrieve it’s essence. Someone else must do that. That’s why the red orb bounced when you dropped it.”
“So you’re saying that I can’t smash the purple orb and gain its essence?”
“That’s correct. Someone else must do that.”
“Even for Loran.”
With that, I plucked the amber orb from Cody’s hands and stared into it. It hummed softly, and the second I put my hands on it, I noticed that its color intensified and its pulsing hum grew louder.
“Well, it’s certainly responding to me.”
“Of course! It knows you’re a wizard. It wants to join with you.”
“And exactly how does it know?”
“Because as I said before, you are an Imperial High Seraphim Archangel.”
“And that means exactly what?”
“Well, you’re forcing me to jump ahead of myself, but if it will get you to absorb the essence of this orb, I’ll give you a brief description. When we were created, alterations were purposely made for a number of reasons, the most important one being genetic diversity.”
“Why?” Nic interrupted, and I could see him giving Charles an intense gaze.
“It’s complex, but when I was in the library I came across very early accounts of blights that occurred in the crops the Enlightened Ones first created when they began altering the structure of their world. There’s one account of a great corn blight that decimated almost all of the harvest for that year. The Enlightened Ones discovered that simply to alter an organism wasn’t good enough. If every organism was identical to the next, and diversity and occasional random chance weren’t allowed to take place, a single plague or tiny virus could destroy a whole species. So over time, even though they had the ability to alter the structure of an organism, they learned that the more diverse they kept a class of organisms, the better it would be for the over-all well being of the species. Does this make sense?”
“Yes. So you’re saying that they did the same thing with us?” I asked.
“Yes. Croal was a great believer in the science and philosophy of systems complexity. It was his greatest point of departure with the theories of Minoton and his followers. So when he began the task of creating a new species, he allowed for diversity. Look at our wings: that’s one of the more obvious differences, but there are others. There were a number of classes or ‘races’ created of our kind. One isn’t necessarily better or superior to any other, it’s just that our chances of survival increase with our diversity.”
I shook my head in understanding. “So you called me an Imperial Seraphim Archangel?”
“Yes, because that’s what you are. Your iridescent wings are the most visual manifestation, but there are additional, less obvious, differences.”
“As I told you earlier, he is a Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne. I mean, with those beautiful gold-tipped wings, his over-all speed and strength, and his ability to act quickly and decisively under pressure – it’s quite obvious, of course.”
“Maybe to you Charles, but this is all new to me.”
“Yes, and I’ll be more than happy to tell you more Jamie, but let’s get back to the original point behind this conversation – the orb you are now holding in your hand.”
Suddenly I remembered that I was holding it. Charles’ little description of the types and classes of angels had so fascinated me that I’d actually forgot the original point of his explanation.
“But I can’t break it,” I said, remembering what he’d told me earlier.
“No, you can’t.”
Once more, I studied the object in my hands. This orb, just as the previous two, seemed so fragile and delicate it was impossible for me to imagine I couldn’t easily crack it open by just dropping it.
As Charles continued speaking, I hefted the orb in one hand, and threw it against one of the large rocks that surrounded our campsite. The rock was large and had many sharp edges. The orb bounded off and Cody caught it, and then politely offered it back to me. I took up a rock, large enough to smash the orb but small enough for me to hold. I smashed it against the sphere, but it only bounced off. Then I began to hammer it as hard as I could with the rock, but nothing happened.
I picked up the orb and carefully examined it and saw that there wasn’t a mark on it. I looked back at Charles, and bowing to the inevitable, handed him the orb.
“So do you believe me now?”
“This is just crazy. I mean, I’m meant to use the essence of the orb, yet I can’t actually open the orb and get the essence out without the help of another.”
“Yes Jamie, this was done to ensure safety. Before the time of turmoil it was decided that any candidate for the Wizardry had to have someone else open the orb, thereby creating some insurance that a wizard couldn’t take the essence without permission of the counsel. Of course, this changed because somehow the orbs were scattered and no longer reside with the council.”
“Charles, you’re talking cryptically again.”
“I know, but after you absorb the essence of the purple orb, I will tell you more of our history.”
“Just do it, Your Grace,” Luc was almost pleading. “I really want to hear more of what Charles has to say about our history.”
For a second I wanted to correct the little boy and explain to him that our history wasn’t necessarily his history but then I stopped, for suddenly it occurred to me that Luc’s history had by now become tightly intertwined with ours and if he remained with us in the future, he would have every right to share the rewards, having gone as an equal through the struggle with us.
“Ok, then let’s do it,” I said, and nodded my head in agreement.
“Are you ready then, Jamie?”
“Yes, as ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
With that, Charles laid the orb at my feet. He handed a rock to Luc and instructed him to come over to the orb.
“Now don’t smash it, just tap it very gently, Luc.”
Cody moved closer to Luc. Nic, holding the now sleeping Jonathan, raised his head to get a better look. And I stood bracing myself for what I knew was about to happen.
Luc did as he was instructed. He gripped the small rock and gently tap, tap, tapped… SMASH! The orb shattered like glass. I was astounded. I’d tried with all my might to break the orb, and here Luc, with just a few light taps, shattered it like a fragile egg.
Just as before, the essence of the orb – now amber – pulsed and flowed like a living creature at my feet. Then it floated up above my head. I closed my eyes, for by now I knew what was coming. Like a dagger, it plunged into my chest.
For about a minute, my mind was engulfed in a golden mist. But unlike my experience with the red and blue orbs, I wasn’t knocked off of my feet. I just stood there with my head bowed. At first I felt a bit dizzy, but within two minutes the feeling passed. My vision cleared and I looked up, surprised that I didn’t even have a headache. Yet I was aware of a gradual change in my body. I couldn’t describe it, but I felt a slight rush of energy and all of my senses seemed to get a little sharper.
“That wasn’t so bad.” I looked at Charles and smiled.
“Well, that’s partly because you’ve already absorbed two orbs prior to this one. Remember, the red orb contains the most powerful essence of all the orbs. It is the hardest one to assimilate. And in reality you never should have absorbed it first. It could have killed you, but now that you have its essence in you, it helps buffer the shock of absorbing the other orbs. But another reason you don’t feel sick like you did before is because the Orb of the Owl is much milder and gentler.”
“Yes, I can sense that. But you know Charles, it’s still no less powerful. I can tell, because its essence is already coursing through my body.”
“I never said the Orb of the Owl wasn’t powerful, Jamie. Each orb is powerful, and unique unto itself. The Orb of the Owl imparts wisdom, foresight and intuition. It also assists the wizard in problem solving, and assists the logical functions of the mind.”
“But I thought I got intelligence from the Snake?”
“Well, you did Jamie, but what is intelligence without wisdom and what it wisdom without intelligence? You need both, for balance.”
“Yes, I guess I can see that. It’s amazing, I can’t describe how I’m feeling right now.”
“As you gain the essences of each orb, you become stronger.” Charles said. Your biggest challenge is to begin tapping into the strengths and powers that each of the orbs give you. Only then will your true power be revealed.”
“But how can I do that, Charles?”
“For the moment, you just do the best you can. When we reach Küronas, you will have help.”
“What do you mean?”
“Now is not the time for that explanation: just live with what you’ve been given, and tap into its power as you can. At this point, since we’re wandering in search of our home, there’s no way to initiate and maintain a formal training program for you. But you will be amazed at what you can do with just the essences of the three orbs that now reside in your body, even without training. Combined with the knowledge of the amulet you also absorbed, you’re carrying a vast treasure of knowledge and ability that’s locked inside of you. And honestly Jamie, I think that you’re far luckier than Loran.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because Lon Nol trained Loran, he knows and understands a certain set of formulae – a set system for tapping into the essence of the orbs. But you’re unencumbered by that training; you’re free to explore new territory such as Lon Nol and even Jonas couldn’t imagine. You will create a new and unique mastery of the orbs, not bound by a strict set of rules, taught and memorized by rote. Yours is the harder path, but I predict it will be worth the trouble in the end.
“I honestly think that your way is going to be a much freer and less restricted one. You’ll be able to respond to unique situations, to adapt to sudden change, great upheaval, and the unexpected. I think, in time, you are going to out-class Loran; you’re going to be a wizard even more powerful than any Jonas ever imagined. You are the very embodiment of Croal’s ideas of what some called ‘chaos’. Not only that Jamie, you have the potential to be a better wizard: kinder, more compassionate and understanding – that is if you can ever control that temper of yours.” He smirked a little as he said that last.
I looked over to see little Jonathan quietly curled up in Nic’s lap. He was fast asleep as Nic held him in his arms and I suddenly I got a sick feeling in the pit my stomach – a feeling I knew was totally unrelated to my recent absorption of the amber orb.
“That’s easy for you to say, Charles. Your brother is curled up on Nic’s lap and sound asleep. My brother, on the other hand, is far from asleep. He is curled up like a snake waiting to strike, and I don’t even understand why.”
“Jamie, you can’t dwell on that. I can tell you what I know of Loran as we continue our journey, but understand that he’s on the same quest as you. He will establish his kingdom or you and Nic will establish yours. The key is in the mastery of orbs and our return to Küronas. We have no idea how many orbs he’s absorbed by now. But remember, Jamie – you and Loran are as different as night and day. You each have strengths and weaknesses, but your strengths are being forged in the fires of strife, struggle and hardship. Loran has never had that to deal with that. You are much stronger than you think.”
“Thanks for the inspirational talk, Charles. I surely hope you’re right about this. I guess I’ll just have to trust you for now.”
“Don’t trust me, Jamie – trust yourself. You’ll never go wrong if you do that. Your greatness isn’t in your power, but in your heart. I know that may sound rather sentimental and trite, but it is the truth.”
“Thank you, Charles.” I said, then stepped over closer to him, hugged him, and kissed his cheek.
“Pff…” Charles startled in surprise at my physical display of affection. “While I’m flattered, I’m not your mate. May I point out that he happens to be the one sitting over there.”
I looked at Nic, still holding Jonathan in his lap, then back at Charles just in time to see a brief smile flash across his face. I walked over and sat down beside my Nic, resting my head on his shoulder.
Charles walked back toward the fire. “Anyway, I thought you wanted to hear more of our history, your Grace!”
“Yes, Charles, Grand Historian and font of all wisdom, tell us more. I command you.” Now I was the one smiling.
“For someone that everyone refers to as ‘Your Grace’, I certainly don’t get a lot of respect,” I said as my smile turned into a grin.