The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part I - The Golden Orb


Chapter 1




His Royal Highness, King Niklas of Icaria, stood silent and still atop Commander’s Tor and surveyed the bleak scene beneath his feet. Commander’s Tor was a solitary, rocky hill on the plain of Grüner Platz, in the central valley of the Kingdom of Vorhalla. The tor was a massive upthrusting of granite, rising high above the flat fields that stretched from it in all directions – forming the floor of the valley.


Viewed from a distance, the presence of the large granite tor looming over the pastoral landscape took on an almost alien and unnatural appearance, since it conveyed the impression that here was something that didn’t quite belong in this green and fertile land. Jutting out of the earth and towering over the countryside like some silent, sleeping giant, it looked more like a mountain than a mere hill. It was gray, and devoid of vegetation. Its walls were sheer and steep. Over all, it gave the impression that it had been pushed out of the belly of the earth like some monstrous, deformed child that violently erupts from the womb of its unsuspecting mother.


The top of the tor was mostly flat, with fissures and cracks running through it. In these cracks a few weeds and small plants struggled for life on the barren rock, where the seeds they’d sprung from had been unlucky enough to fall.


While Nic stood on the edge of the scarp and looked down at the fields below him, I sat quietly to his right on a small, raised outcropping of stone that I’d found shortly after we’d flown to the tor’s summit. We’d come to this craggy, desolate rock in order to get a better look at what we’d discovered when we first marched into the Valley of Grüner Platz.  Nic and I, along with Lance and at least one third of the Imperial Legion, had come this way when we learned that there might be a skirmish developing between Loran’s army of thrones and the Vosh, the separatist ethnic group that dwelt on the border of Kalas and Vorhalla.


After acquiring the entire army of Icaria at Eagles Rock, it hadn’t taken Loran long to begin a series of attacks – mostly small forays into the countryside against trade caravans and storage barns. Nic’s thoughts were that Loran was attempting to gain the necessary supplies for a larger campaign. It seemed thus far that my older brother's strategy was to strike in isolated areas with limited troops, and Nic confided to me that he suspected Loran, in addition to gathering supplies, was testing the strength and resolve of the human population. But even one fourth of the royal thrones that comprised the army of Icaria would have been more than sufficient to destroy any and all forces the combined kingdoms could amass. In the past ten days, Nic had been receiving reports of escalating attacks by Loran and his troops with ever increasing frequency and strength, each pinpoint precise and accurate – culminating in this attack on Grüner Platz.


As we'd approached the valley, the scent of smoke had been heavy in the air, and we'd feared the worst. But even this foreshadowing did not prepare us for what we were to witness. Upon entering the valley through Sheppard’s Pass, the sight that smote us was shocking and heart breaking. From the moment we’d emerged from the narrow mountain pass, it was obvious that a major battle had been fought in this secluded and peaceful valley, whose population had been comprised mostly of hardworking and industrious farmers. The journey to the great stone tor was both heartbreaking and terrifying to me. Halfway there, I began to avert my eyes whenever possible to avoid the overwhelming assault on my senses. Even then, the intruding sounds and smells would not allow me to ignore the reality of what had happened in this once beautiful land.


Once we gained the vantage of Commander’s Tor, high above the formerly lush and productive fields of the valley, the scene before our eyes was more than I could bear to look at, which was the reason for my seated position beside my mate, who continued to stand silently studying the countryside that spread out like an ugly, gaping wound before him. Amazed at how strong he appeared to be as his experienced eyes carefully studied the broken world that stretched out below him, I could only assume that his years of combat in the arena had somehow hardened him.


On the ground, the devastation we encountered was great, but from our perch high above the plains of Grüner Platz, it was even more obvious how extensive the destruction had been. As we looked down into the valley, it was easy to see that all that remained of the fertile farms and fields that produced an abundance of wheat and corn for the Kingdom of Vorhalla to both consume and trade, was a barren wasteland, decimated by war. Loran and his troops had carried out a scorched earth policy with brutal thoroughness, and the blackened fields and smoldering ruins of barns and farmhouses stretched out all the way out to the foothills that surrounded the valley.


“They destroyed everything, Nic,” I said in a voice so soft and quiet I was surprised he even heard me, although his equally subdued response indicated that he had.


“It appears that there’s nothing left, Jamie. The entire harvest is gone.”


“Along with almost all the barns, sheds, and houses,” I said.


“And the people…” Nic added.


“Yes…the people,” I barely whispered.


Advancing through the ravaged valley, the charred bodies of many of the local farmers and their families had been hard to overlook. Even from this height, it was apparent that the fields, barns, grain stores, and houses that had once dotted the valley of Grüner Platz weren’t the only things that had been destroyed. There was no doubt that if we continued to probe the smoldering ruins, more bodies would be found. Initial reports from our scouting patrols, comprised of members of the Imperial Legion, seemed to indicate that the panicked farmers and their families had fled to their homes when they were attacked, and burned within them. After our brief exchange, Nic resumed his study of the landscape. A flourish of movement registered in the corner of my eye, and I turned just in time to see Bastian alight on the far end of the flat, open surface of the tor.  As soon as his wings were folded, he strode briskly over to stand beside Niklas.


“Fuck them!” Bastian said, and then fell silent, suddenly frozen as he gazed down on the same view Nic and I had been staring at for the past twenty minutes. After a long pause, broken only by the raucous cries of the carrion birds below, I heard him mutter under his breath, “Everything’s black.”


His eyes took on a distant look as he studied the grim panorama before him. After a few minutes, he roused from his reverie when Nic turned to him.


“Your report, Captain?” he asked the imperial legionnaire.


“I was coming to tell Your Highness of the thoroughness of the destruction we’ve encountered, “ Bastian said, “but I can see that my report is unnecessary.”


“Yes Bastian,” Nic said. “I’ve just been standing here feeling… well… I guess many emotions, all at the same time. Jamie and I’ve barely said a word to each other, and I guess that’s because…”


“…because there’s really nothing to say in the face of this kind of destruction and murder,” I said, completing Nic’s sentence. "Loran has much to answer for."


“If Loran’s goal was to terrorize the inhabitants of the four human kingdoms, I think that I would have to say that he’s thoroughly succeeded,” Bastian observed.


“Unfortunately you’re right, Captain,” Nic said. “This is exactly the kind of thing I was so hoping we could avoid. I knew that a war would be bad for everyone, but I never expected Loran to exact such a high a price on helpless farmers and their families.”


“Loran will do anything to not only become the wizard, but also wear the crown as king,” I said. “We all know that. This is just one of the many steps that he’s willing to take to thoroughly demoralize and terrify the human population. I’m almost sorry that we formed the alliance with the three kings and Lord Ottavia.”


“Why?” Bastian asked, giving me a puzzled look.


“Maybe if we’d fought him on our own, he’d be taking his vengeance out on us and not the humans from the four other kingdoms.”


“I think you did the right thing, Your Grace.” Bastian replied, his voice cool and dispassionate. “The alliance hasn’t made Loran any more or less bloodthirsty, and I don't think that what you see below us has anything to do with vengeance. His plan has always been to kill us and subjugate as much of the human population as possible. The alliance at least allows us to cooperate and communicate with the human population, and to coordinate our defensive efforts.”


“Yes, defensive efforts…” my bitter and ironic tone of voice cut through the smoky air, and Bastian winced at the sound of it. “We’ve not had a lot of success in that direction, have we?” And as I spoke I swept my hand in the direction of the black and smoldering land that lay below us in the valley of Grüner Platz.


“Your Grace,” Bastian said. “There was no way we could have known something like this would happen.”


“No Bastian, Jamie’s right,” Nic responded to the captain of the imperial legion. “We made an alliance with these people. We promised them defense and safety. We told them that once we reached Icaria, their dreams of peace and a better life were all but assured. We offered them a lot at a time when we couldn’t deliver very much to them other than words. Now we can see what our alliance has reaped for them.”


“But in fairness to Your Highness,” Bastian continued. “From what I understand, when you forged the alliance, you had no idea that the entire army of Icaria had been co-opted by Loran, and that some of your subjects would join him.”


“Of course you’re correct, Bastian, but that always was a possibility. It’s something we should have considered,” Nic answered. “We couldn’t have known about everything that would happen, but we could have been more prudent in crafting the alliance. These people are now suffering because of their support of us, and we haven’t done anything to help them.”


While Nic and Bastian continued their discussion, I remained sitting, staring out across the black, smoldering fields toward the horizon. There was a slight breeze blowing across the tor, carrying with it a mixture of smoke and foul smells, and I wrapped the cloak I was wearing tighter around me. It was the cloak of Hippolito – former head of the Imperial House of History and Philosophy. The very same cloak he’d discarded right before our fight in the royal library of Eagles Rock, the same one Andrew draped over me in a modest attempt to cover my nearly naked body immediately after I’d won the contest.


I had to admit that it was one of the most magnificent garments I’d ever seen. It was light in weight, yet soft and warm.  It was black, with lavishly coiled and twisted snakes embroidered on either side of it. And since the day Andrew had draped it across my bare shoulders, I’d kept it with me and worn it frequently, partly because I loved its look and feel, but also to remind those who saw it where it had come from, and how I’d come to possess it. I was slowly learning that not all my actions had to be direct and forceful – involving shows of magic, or special powers. Simply wearing the cloak of my defeated opponent and claiming it as mine sent a quiet yet powerful message to those familiar with the events of that day.


As I sat fingering the intricate embroidery and beading that made up the figures of the snakes, I recalled the events of the past three weeks – three weeks that had come and gone quickly, yet seemed to have occurred in a time and place that was long ago and so far away.


After my confrontation and fight with Hippolito and his subsequent exile, Nic and I, along with General Zakaria and the princes and scribes of the royal houses, met briefly to discuss plans for the evacuation of the fortress. It was decided that since Konassas was already our temporary home, it would be a good base of operations. Once there, the leaders of the royal and imperial houses would be given quarters in the Amber palace. A small force of the Imperial Legion was ordered to remain at Eagles Rock for its defense. Initially Charles fought to stay behind at the former academy turned monastery, arguing for the safety of the books and manuscripts in the library, but Nic ordered him back to Konassas, reminding him that no matter how valuable the books were, our lives were far more precious.


After our eventual departure from Eagles Rock, it took a full week's journey to return to the Kingdom of Kalas, and its capital city. Gathering up and packing the possessions of each prince and scribe had taken a full day in itself; I was surprised that they had so many possessions, since at the time of our resurrection, Nic and I had only the clothes we were wearing, along with his personal cache of weapons.  Arriving at Konassas by midmorning on a bright sunny day, it was a strange looking caravan that passed through the gates and entered the city. I couldn’t help but wonder about the kind of greeting we’d receive.


With Nic and I leading the princes and scribes, and guarded by the Wizard’s Own, we rode through the city in almost complete silence, under the gaze of the troops of the garrison and the curious citizens of the city, who’d decided to get a better look at the strange parade making its way through their city. Entering the forum at last, we approached the Amber palace – our home during our time of exile in Konassas – and I breathed a sigh of relief that we’d arrived safely and without incident. Upon our departure from Eagles Rock, I’d confided to Nic that I feared a possible attack by Loran’s forces, and I was relieved that my fears had proven unfounded.


Arriving at the steps of the palace, I dismounted and shrugged wearily, stretching my legs and wings at the same time. Hearing a commotion, I looked up to see that descending the steps of the Amber Palace and charging towards us like a wild mob, was an army of servants. Hearing more noise in the distance, I turned to see a large troupe of stable boys dashing across the forum to intercept us. Within minutes of our dismounting, the horses were led away for a well-deserved rest, while the baggage belonging to the leaders of Icaria was unloaded from the wagons. There were so many chests and trunks, I thought it would take forever to get them into the palace, but an older underbutler with a stiff military bearing directed the efforts of the household staff. Barking orders, he waded into the sea of bodies, trunks, and horses, and within minutes the process of sorting, labeling, and carrying the vast pile of possessions into the palace was well under way, even as we were passing under the portico and into the foyer of the grand palace that was our home.


Crossing the threshold and entering the great hall, we were greeted warmly by Master Sandro. I noted the absence of Master Cobb, but pushed the thought away as I followed Nic up the grand staircase. It was then that a strange feeling came over me. Suddenly I felt as if I were walking into a tomb, and it occurred to me that this was the first time I’d been here since the murder of Luc. Master Sandro – ever eager to please – began issuing orders to the servants as he attempted to deal with the many new occupants of the palace and their possessions. Leaving the house major domo to deal with the chaos, Nic led me up the stairs. Once we were at the top landing, he paused and called out to the mob below, informing everyone that there would be an informal meeting in four hours time – after everyone had been given a chance to settle in.


Retiring to our apartment, we disrobed and washed the dirt of the road from our bodies. I’d just finished putting on a clean tunic and was slipping into my sandals, when I heard a quiet knock. Nic opened the door, and I could see a grim-faced Prince Andrew framed in the doorway, with Master Sandro standing behind him.


“Your Highness,” the young prince said with a strange formality, giving Nic a slight bow. "Please inform His Grace that the arrangements he requested are complete.”


There was a long pause, filled with a heavy and almost awkward silence. The fact was, there was really nothing to say. As we’d ridden through Konassas, I’d jockeyed my horse up next to Andrew's, and give the prince a series of instructions. Breaking away, he'd left the order of march and vanished. Now he stood before us, having completed his tasks and awaiting further instructions.


“We’ll be there shortly, Andrew,” Nic said. “Assemble the others, please.”


“It’s already been done,” Andrew answered crisply.


“I’ll wait,” I said.


“Jamie, are you sure?” Nic said. “I thought you’d want to go.”


“I do, Niklas,” I answered quietly, “but I wish to go alone.”


“Are you really sure about that?” Nic asked once more. “I think it would be best if you accompanied the rest of us."


“No Nic,” I said quietly, “I really prefer to go alone.”


Nic continued to stare at me, but after a short time wherein nothing but silence passed between us, he nodded and crossed the room to Andrew. A few quiet words passed between them, then Nic followed Andrew out of our apartment and closed the door. After they were gone, I wandered over to one of the many windows that graced our apartment and took a seat on a nearby stool. The sun was bright, and I sat in its warmth and studied the buildings around the forum. The wait was long, but I occupied my mind by accessing The Screen and occasionally observing the activity in the forum. Eventually, a grim-faced Nic returned, with Andrew and Sandro. For a few minutes, they all stood silently. Closing The Screen, I arose from my seat and crossed the room to stand next to my scribe.


"I'm ready. Please walk with me," I said.


Andrew made no response other than a nod, and began a slow, deliberate march toward the door. I followed, but when I reached the door, I turned to glance back at Nic, still standing silently in the middle of the room.


“Jamie, you don’t have to do this. Everything’s been arranged exactly as you requested. I can vouch for that. If you’d rather not…”


“I have to go, Nic,” I said looking into his eyes. It wasn’t necessary to read his thoughts. The look I received back was one filled with concern for what I was about to do.


“Very well, love, do as you wish. I’ll wait for you here.”


I turned from Nic, and followed Andrew and Sandro into the hallway. As we walked down the long corridor, I noticed that even with a compliment of new occupants and additional servants, the atmosphere in the palace seemed more quiet and subdued than I’d ever remembered. On our way down the grand stairway of the palace, we passed the beautiful marble statures that lined the grand foyer.


After living in the Amber palace for a number of months, I’d become used to the fact that the main floor and all the former ceremonial rooms had been turned into a museum. And even though I passed by the large and exquisite collection of objects of art every day, I never ceased to be fascinated with what I saw. Each time I walked this route, my eye would always catch something new, even if it was just the light falling differently across a statue or the vibrant colored pattern of a vase. But this day, none of the many displays and exhibits gave me any pleasure. In fact, I barely noticed them at all.


Approaching one of the two grand salons that stood opposite each other on either side of the great staircase that spilled down from the top floors into the marbled foyer, I was surprised to see both Giovanni and Philippe standing in front of the tall, double doors.


“What are you doing here?” I asked flatly.


“We’re here to go in with you,” Giovanni said softly.


“That’s not necessary, Giovanni,” I said, looking down at the little angel.


“We think it is,” Philippe said. “Your Grace…” For a few seconds Philippe paused, and I could see that he was struggling to find his voice. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace, for being so callously forward. I know that it isn’t my place to tell my betters what to do, but Giovanni and I would… well… we would both like to be with you. Will you permit it? Please, Your Grace.”


“I’m not your better, Philippe,” I said softly, “I’m no one’s better – what lies beyond that door proves that."


“Please, My Lord Regent,” Giovanni said, a pleading tone in his voice.


Wishing neither to speak again, nor argue with the two boys, I simply nodded my head in agreement. Andrew moved in front of me, put his hand on the handle of the heavy oak door, and began to push down on the lever when he abruptly stopped, and turned to face me.


“Jamie, Nic’s right; you really don’t have to do this. I can tell that you’re upset – I can see it in your face. Why don’t you go back upstairs with Nic and rest? The trip from Eagles Rock was exhausting. You can skip this, and we’ll even reschedule the council for a later time, if you wish.”


“Andrew, open the door,” I said without emotion.


Andrew completed the task he’d begun, and fully depressed the handle. Pushing open the door, Andrew stepped aside, and with Sandro, watched me pass into the room. Giovanni and Philippe followed close behind, though at a respectful distance. After I crossed over the threshold, I grasped the golden door handle that was shaped like the head of a swan. With a slight but firm pull, I closed it and turned back into the room. Philippe and Giovanni stood apart from me, and I felt them studying my every move.


The grand salon had taken on a bright and warm appearance as the golden rays of the sun poured through the large windows lining the far wall. The polished marble walls glowed like mirrors as the sun’s rays bounced and reflected off of them, and the gold leaf on the ceiling and column capitals glowed like molten copper.


Walking further into the room, it occurred to me that the last time I’d been here, I’d lopped off the head of the creature calling itself Lon Nol, the creator of the orbs. I glanced toward the floor, looking for the spot where the green and black fluid had oozed from the decapitated body onto the rug, but there was nothing. The beautiful and intricately woven carpet was clean and spotless.


That which I’d come to view lay in the center of the room. Slowly I approached it, noticing that the furniture usually occupying this space had been removed to make room for the large, wooden catafalque that stood like a silent sentinel before me.


Moving closer, I saw that a soft, down-filled mattress, covered in a light blue duvet with golden stars woven into its fabric, had been placed on the pedestal. The thick, plush mattress was stuffed full of the finest goose down and looked so soft and inviting that, had it been placed on a bed, it would have been impossible for anyone to fight the temptation to curl up on it and become enveloped in it softness.


But now, stretching out on its soft and inviting surface would have been impossible, for as it lay atop the catafalque this day, it already had an occupant. Slowly approaching the bier I saw, lying peacefully on it as if in sleep, the body of Luc Tourney, my friend and companion.


By now, my slow trip across the room had come to an end, and I was directly in front of the funerary bier that gently held the body of the little boy. I stood silently, frozen and unmoving. During my time in this land, and especially in my private studies with Andrew, I’d learned a great deal about Sarjanism, the religion of Abbot Gude and the dominate faith throughout the land. It seemed that among its many dogmas and doctrines, Sarjanism placed great importance in the care of the dead, based on something that the founder of the cult, Sarjanus, had said about respect for the dead. So, out of a single, simple comment an elaborate theology of salvation and resurrection had sprung, dictating the care and treatment of the dead.


Because of this doctrine, a separate guild had sprung up, one highly revered and expertly skilled in the funerary arts. The careful arrangement and presentation of the dead before their funerals and interment had become a high art that involved detailed and elaborate procedures, practiced by highly skilled craftsmen. So as I stood before Luc, even knowing the horrible manner of his demise, because of the skillful work of the funeral guild artisans, even the most careful observer would have been hard pressed to guess the little boy’s cause of death.


Luc lay on the mattress so peacefully that it looked as if he’d just crawled up onto a large feather bed and drifted off to sleep. He was dressed in a short white tunic with gold trim and a golden sash. His body was without a mark or blemish. A small emerald bracelet, similar in design to the one Nic wore, had been placed on his right ankle, and I further realized that it had been placed there by the King of Icaria himself, as a loving gesture of respect toward the little boy I’d so vocally insisted he carry off from the governmental palace in Tardon.


I noticed a simple golden chain around his neck, and recognized it as one that I’d often seen Philippe wear. Turning to look at the musician, I could see tears in Philippe’s eyes. Giovanni, who’d been standing next to him, approached me and took my hand. Turning back to Luc, I saw that in his left hand he held the small flute that Cody had cut from one of the fallen trees in the Ardentin forest – carving it into a musical instrument for the little boy’s amusement during our long journey across the open plains. David had placed one of his beautiful daggers at Luc’s side, marking him forever as my sweet knight.


Slowly, I reached out a hand and gently touched his arm, only to be jolted back to reality as the feel of cold flesh greeted me, sending a shiver down my spine and causing my wings to shudder. At that moment, the cruel hand of reality slapped me in the face, for there was no doubt that while he may have looked like a child in sleep, sweet, innocent Luc lay entwined in the arms of death, deep in a sleep he would never waken from again.


My hand had been resting on his hand, but I slowly moved it up his arm and over his shoulder until I brushed his cheek with the back of my hand. As I did so, it seemed to me that the marble statues lining the grand foyer of the palace had felt warmer to my touch. My eyes quickly filled with tears.


“Why didn’t you just agree with them?” I said quietly. “Why didn’t you tell them you’d go along with them? Didn’t you know I’d save you? We saved Jonathan. We would have saved you, too. If I'd had to enter the lion’s den alone, I’d have rescued you. You, better than anyone, knew that.


“I’m so sorry Luc.” I continued, looking down at the lifeless figure. “I have no gift for you, love; the only thing I was able to give you was an early death. I never even told you what the words I spoke to you the last time I saw you meant. I promised I’d tell you in the morning, but I never got the chance,” I said softly as I knelt down beside him. Then, in the secret language of Icaria – a language once forbidden under pain of death – I repeated the three sentences that I’d spoken to Luc, the last time I’d seen him alive. The words were from the first verse of the epic Icarian poem, The Canticle of Wings.


Waking with the dawn,

I climb the morning sky, wrapped in your love.

You are the sun that warms my wings,

the gentle breeze that caries me aloft.

I have wings, but your love gives me flight.”


Unable to continue speaking, I laid my head on his chest and began to sob as waves of grief washed over me. As I cried, a strange thing happened: my voice began to take on an unusual tone and pitch. In fact, it seemed to grow in strength and volume. As I lay sobbing, the sound floated throughout the halls and corridors of the palace. I later found out that the cooks and servants in the kitchen stopped their work when the mournful wail reached them. Even in the royal stables, the stable boys and groomsmen stood silent and amazed among the great war horses of the garrison as the sound of my crying drifted across the forum of Kalas. But even though I was surprised by the sound that escaped my mouth, I couldn’t stop it as the grieving wails came bubbling up from deep inside me and rivers of tears flowing from my eyes, rolled down my cheeks and soaked into the soft white tunic that adorned the body of my friend.


I’m not sure how long I remained with Luc, but it was a long time, for when I could finally cry no more I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. Looking up, I saw that Philippe had joined Giovanni, who’d been quietly standing behind me, and was bidding me to get up.  It was then that I noticed how the warm rays of the sun that had flooded the room when I’d first entered it, had turned to long, gray shadows as the light had moved from one side of the room to the other.


Feeling the awful weight of grief deep in my chest, I arose and walked across the salon, toward the door. When I reached it, I opened the door and left the room without looking back. Much to my surprise, Prince Andrew and Master Sandro were still standing there, waiting patiently. I could see Sandro’s eyes carefully observing me as if he was looking at me for the first time in his life. It was a look I’d seen before, from the people of Tardon when they saw my wings for the very first time. His reaction surprised me, since my appearance was certainly nothing new to Sandro, who’d been a faithful servant to all of the Icarians from the moment we’d arrived in the Kingdom of Kalas.


Passing by Sandro, I observed him making a sign with his left hand, which also reminded me of some of the superstitious gestures I'd encountered in Tardon. One of the household servants had once told me that such actions were made as a sign to avert evil. I frowned a bit; Sandro, of all people, knew I wasn’t evil. But even though I fought the temptation to read his mind, I could sense a feeling of distrust and even fear rising off of him.


I looked into Andrew’s eyes, but the Crown Prince of Xannameir said nothing. He knew my wishes, and was prepared to follow them.  Without pause, he made his way across the foyer. Leaving Sandro, Philippe, and Giovanni behind, we exited the Amber palace and started across the forum. Andrew set a quick and determined pace, and I hurried to keep up with him. After a few minutes of walking, we came to our destination – a gray, low-lying building near one of the palaces surrounding the forum. Andrew said nothing to the sentry on duty, who held the door open for us. Once inside, I wrapped my cloak around myself. The building was dark, and dank; the cold air had a stale and musty smell to it. I blinked while my eyes took a few minutes to adjust to the dim light.


Continuing on, Andrew made his way past the guard’s station and proceeded down a stairway leading below ground. I shivered as we descended the stairs, feeling the air grow cooler and damper. We made our way deeper into the bowels of the building until we were finally in a small, dim room. The floor was dirt, and the walls wet with moisture. Wrapping myself in my cloak even tighter, I shivered when I caught a glimpse of the very large, grim faced guard greeting us. Andrew told the man the purpose of our visit and without a word, he turned and led us down a dark tunnel. I raised the hood of my cloak as droplets of water dripped from the low ceiling, onto my head. A sudden skittering sound made me jump.


“Watch out for the rats,” Andrew said, “and the spiders. They’re rather large, and they bite!"


“The spiders, or the rats?” I asked.


“Both,” the guard grunted


Stopping in front of a heavy, rough-hewn, wooden door, the guard took out a large iron key and placed it in the lock. After the mechanism opened with a sliding clunk, he pulled on the iron ring that acted as a handle and opened the door. I tried to look past Andrew and peer through the door, but the room it opened into was so dark and the corridor we were in so dimly lit, that I could only see a foot beyond it. The guard moved to the side as he motioned for Andrew and I to enter.


Andrew preceded me, and I followed close behind. I watched as the tall boy bent down to avoid hitting his head. I didn’t have the same problem, but did have to fold my wings back and twist as I passed through the narrow opening. One of my wings brushed against the guard, and I shuddered when I glanced into the eyes of the large man towering above me.


“Thank you,” Andrew said politely to the guard. “We won’t be long. Our business here is important, but we’ll be brief.”


“I’m to keep the door open and wait here for you,” were his only words.


“Very well,” Andrew said, nodding in agreement.


Once inside the small room, my eyes were forced once more to adjust to the almost total darkness of the room – a tiny space that comprised a small cell. After a bit, my eyes adjusted to the gloom and my ability to see began to improve. Looking around, I noticed that the dirt floor was rough, and uneven. The stone walls were damp, with patches of moss and lichens growing on them. The air was not only stale, but also foul with the smell of human excrement coming from a small latrine in one of the corners, and I suppressed the urge to gag. The room was devoid of furniture. Only a filthy, straw-filled bag, serving as a mattress, lay on the floor. Crouched on the mattress was the figure of a man. I didn’t have to look closely to know who it was – the former head of household for the Amber Palace, Master Cobb.


The filthy rags he wore stood in stark contrast to the crisp, clean uniform he’d worn when he ran the affairs of the palace. His face was pale and drawn, and I could tell from the bruises on his arms and the cuts on his legs that the guards hadn’t been very gentle during his arrest and transportation to the dungeon that now served as his home. The last time I’d seen Cobb was on the morning of Luc’s death, when he and the household servants were cleaning up the gore from the attack.


Without looking at me Andrew spoke, “As you suspected, Your Grace – our spy.”


Without a second’s hesitation he bent down, reached out to Cobb’s shoulder and ripped the sleeve of his shirt, showing me a cross tattooed on his upper arm – the cross of the Knights of Sarjanus. The instant I saw it, I felt my face flushing as my blood began to boil.


“If you expect me to tell you anything, you’ll be waiting a long time,” he snarled, looking up at me.


“We already know everything we need to know, Master Cobb,” Andrew said flatly. “His Grace is just here to see that justice is served.”


“It’s just like one of you devils to come and kill me,” Cobb said, with a defiant look on his face. “But I want you to know I’m not afraid to die. I knew it was a good possibility when I accepted my mission. Luc’s…”


Cobb abruptly stopped speaking and began to scream, clutching his head in his hands and shrieking as I stood by and coldly watched him writhe in pain. Stopping only when I saw blood trickle from his nose, I said quietly "It offends me to hear that name on your lips, murderer. Never let me hear you speak it in my presence again. You aren’t worthy to lick the dirt from his feet.” I ceased my mental attack and Cobb stopped screaming, but he still clutched his head in his hands, visibly trembling.


“Go on and kill me,” he said, finally finding his voice.


“I have no intention of killing you, Master Cobb,” I said, and I saw the former Head of Household of the Amber Palace give me a surprised look. “There was a time when killing you was all I could think of. But no, Master Cobb,” I continued. “I’m going to make sure that you’re well cared for. I want you to live to see the day when one of the promises I made is kept, and the name of the Church of Sarjanus is relegated to a dark footnote on the pages of the history of this land. And when that day comes, I’ll have you drug from your prison so that you can witness our victory. I, the Wizard of Icaria, say it, and thus shall it be," I finished, using the ancient ritual phrase I’d learned from The Screen that ended all final pronouncements handed down by the Wizard when judgment was passed from the Seraphic Throne. Whether or not Cobb knew or cared was irrelevant to me, since I hadn’t done for his sake, but to further bind myself to the purpose I'd promised.


Cobb said nothing, but his look told me that he feared that more than death itself.


“I thought…”


“You thought I’d come here to kill you?” I sneered. “Hardly. I want you to live long enough to see your twisted beliefs repudiated in the light of day.”




“Silence,” I said in disgust. “I’ve had enough of you.” Turning to Andrew, I pointed to the latrine in the cell’s floor. “I can stomach the stench from that pit easier than the smell of this Sarjanian spy. Take me out of here.” Moving toward the door, I stopped and looked back at the man sitting on the straw mattress. “Good day, Master Cobb,” I said, before turning to leave. “I look forward to the day when we meet again, for on that day justice will be meted out to you in a much fairer way than the sentence you handed Luc.”


Quickly we left the dungeon, and returned to the Amber palace. When we arrived, Nic was there waiting for me. He gave me a smile, but I could tell, as I looked into his eyes, that it was slightly forced, and I knew that he was a bit worried over what had just happened. Moving swiftly to him, I embraced him. He kissed my cheek and held me tightly. And while his smile may not have been completely warm – clouded as it was with concern – the love he held for me was genuine, and flowed over me like a gentle summer breeze.


“I know how difficult that was for you,” he said.


I didn’t answer, but simply stood there caught up in Nic’s arms, feeling safe and secure. After a few minutes, I broke his embrace and stood back to look up at him. Once again, there were tears in my eyes.


“Nic,” I began softly, “I saw the ankle bracelet. It was a beautiful thing to do.”


Nic stood back and looked down at me. A sad smile crossed his face.


“I just wanted…,” then he stopped, as tears came to his eyes.


“I understand,” I said quietly.


I embraced him again and he hugged me with all his strength; so hard, in fact, that had I not been Icarian, he would have cracked my ribs like sticks. The moment ended when Charles, who’d been waiting with Nic in our apartment, approached us with an imperial legionnaire at his side. Nic released me, but not before he gave me one more kiss, this time on my forehead.


“It looks like they’re ready, Jamie. Time to go,” he said.


I didn’t have to ask what he meant; the council that he’d scheduled was about to start. Charles moved ahead of us and began to walk up the grand staircase and I followed with Nic by my side, firmly holding my hand. Andrew fell in behind us, a solid presence at my back. Instead of going left as I had with Andrew, Nic and I turned right and headed down the corridor to Charles' apartment.


“Everyone’s assembled,” Charles said as he walked ahead of us. “I explained to them about Luc, and told them that part of their wait was because we all wented to see him. I also told them about Master Cobb. I’m sure there will be questions. And even though it’s only been a few hours, now that they’re settled they’re eager to see the both of you.”


Approaching the door, I could hear voices coming from the other side. Just as Nic's and my apartment was guarded, so were Charles' quarters, along with the rooms of the other members of the Icarian Council. Outside Charles' apartment, the imperial legionnaire standing guard rose to stiff attention. As we reached the door, he saluted and opened it for us. We passed through the doorway and entered the large ceremonial salon that was part of Charles apartment.


Looking around the room I noticed that, except for Andrew, there wasn’t anyone present who didn’t have wings. Some of them had been standing around in small groups making conversation, while others were sitting, but the moment we entered, everyone rose to their feet, giving us slight bows and nods of deference and respect. As was often my custom, I kicked off the sandals I was wearing, causing them to clatter across the marble floor as they flew into a corner of the room, and walked across the thick plush carpet in my bare feet. They had all seen me dirty, half naked, and barefoot at the time of our initial introduction at Eagles Rock and my subsequent fight with Hippolito, so I wasn’t about to stand on ceremony – especially after the emotionally draining experience I’d just undergone.


I cast my gaze over those assembled, and recognized everyone there. Even though it had only been a short period of time since I'd first met them, throughout the days of our journey to Konassas – through chance meetings, brief encounters, and daily meals – I’d come to know the princes of the royal and imperial houses of Icaria, along with their scribes.


I noticed that Charles, newly appointed imperial prince of the House of Philosophy and History, claimed a stool set near the window. Although he was now Chancellor of Eagles Rock and would most likely spend more time at the Royal Academy than anywhere else, for the immediate future he would remain at the Amber Palace until we could sort things out. I had to admit that I’d need his help in the days ahead. At Charles' right stood his scribe, Lord Oliver, who I’d come to know as a quiet and reserved angel, but immensely intelligent and insightful.


In another corner stood Cody, now elevated from the office of scribe to Prince of the Imperial House of Diplomacy; a few days after I'd appointed him, he had chosen as his scribe an angel named Leonardo.


Leonardo – now Lord Leonardo – had been one of the few angels who’d been placed in the coffins at Eagles Rock who hadn’t been a soldier, an imperial legionnaire, or a member of the council. Although I still didn’t understand as much as I would have liked to about who had been chosen to occupy a coffin and how those decisions had been made, it seemed to me that that the army of Icaria had been given first priority, followed by the Imperial Legion, and finally the members of the Icarian Council.


After everyone had been sealed in their coffins, it appeared that there had been a few remaining vessels, and that was how angels like Leonardo and Giovanni – my master of ceremonies and protocol – came to be included, along with a few others whose coffins we'd discovered and resurrected in the days following Hippolito’s exile. How and why these others had been chosen to occupy a coffin had never adequately been explained to me, and I was starting to suspect it might never be known. At any rate, it wasn’t of the utmost importance. They, just like everyone else we discovered at Eagles Rock, were resurrected and accepted without challenge.


Just as we’d done with the princes, scribes, and soldiers of the Imperial Legion upon their resurrection, all of the others were told of the events and history that had occurred during the long years they were asleep. After these presentations, all were freely given the choice of joining Nic and I, leaving to join Loran and Hippolito, or embarking on their own separate path.


Only one angel, Renaud, had chosen to leave. He was slightly older than Nic, but younger than Loran. He was very tall and thin, and his wings gleamed with a light golden and reddish cast. From his appearance and movement he seemed to be quite agile, but also extremely quiet and reserved. Renaud had intently listened to our presentation – his face an unreadable mask – and upon its conclusion made no response other than to immediately stand up from his seat, bow deeply, and leave the room. Within the hour he’d commandeered some food, a sword, a long bow with a quiver of arrows, and a strong horse. He then quietly departed Eagles Rock.


As I stood in Charles apartment surrounded by the Imperial Council, my eyes passed from Cody to Leonardo; I flashed him a warm smile, which he returned. Knowing how insightful Cody was, I knew that his choice of Leonardo had been a good one. In all that had happened during my brief time awake with Nic, I’d learned that diplomacy is not always an easy career. It requires a rare individual who not only possesses great intelligence, but also charm, humor, a clever tongue, and the forbearance to sometimes put up with the most boring and stupid of people. Cody possessed all of these qualities and more, and I was quickly learning that Leonardo shared the talents of his prince.


The only member of the Icarian Council who was absent was Jonathan, the Oracle of Icaria and Prince of the Imperial House of Metaphysics. The little boy had been though so much in the past few days that Nic and I had decided his presence wasn’t necessary, although his scribe, Lord Longworth, was present to represent the house.


“Please take your seats,” Nic said, as he motioned for those in the room to be seated.


Slowly, everyone followed his suggestion and began to find seats. Since this was an informal meeting, the chairs had been scattered around the room in a random fashion. A few of the princes moved their chairs to form a loosely shaped circle. I noticed that someone had placed one chair on a slight platform, which I assumed was designated for me. I chose to ignore it, and instead sat on a chair that was on the same level as the others. Nic did not immediately take a seat, but stood by one of the large windows that overlooked the forum of Konassas. It wasn’t until we were all seated and I scanned the faces of everyone assembled that I began to sense that something was different in the way they were looking at me.


“What’s wrong?” I asked, sensing a feeling of apprehension throughout the room.

At first no one spoke, although everyone continued to stare at me. Finally Prince Andrius, head of the Royal House of Arts and Letters, broke the silence.


“Your Grace,” he began quietly, “it was the sound.”


“What sound?” I asked, feigning ignorance. But even as I did, I could sense from the rising tension in the room that my attempted naiveté wasn’t fooling anyone.


“If everyone in the city didn’t hear you crying, Your Grace, at least everyone around the forum of Konassas did,” Leonardo added.


I looked uneasily at Nic.


“Jamie, please don’t be coy with us,” Nic said. “We all heard it, and you heard it; in fact, you’re the one who generated it.”


“Those two window panes cracked,” Charles said, as he pointed to one of the long windows in his apartment. “And there was a tray of crystal glasses in the next room that all shattered. It was hard to miss the effects.”


“Yes, of course I heard it,” I answered, bowing my head and looking down at the pattern of flowers woven into the carpet, pretending to be absorbed in their design. “It surprised me too,” I quietly added.


Again, an awkward silence swept through the room.


“We know that it came from him,” Prince Stefan, head of The Royal House of Craftsmen observed, as he pointed his finger at me, “but we don’t know what it was.”


“It was the Great Shout,” a quiet voice from the far right corner of the room said.


The entire company of princes and scribes turned in almost the same moment in the direction whence the comment came, and discovered that Charles' scribe, the quiet and introspective Lord Oliver, had been its source.


“What you all heard is the initial development of the Great Shout,” Lord Oliver continued.


“What are you talking about?” Prince Lex, head of The Royal House of Music and Art, asked in a puzzled tone of voice.


“The Great Shout is the singular charm conferred on the Wizard of Icaria by the Orb of the Bat,” Oliver explained, then fell silent a moment before continuing, “Although at this point, that fact is nowhere near as important as the question of why it’s suddenly manifesting itself in the candidate.”


“What do you mean?” Prince Lex asked.


“In addition to all the vast and unique powers conferred upon the wizard by each of the orbs, there is also the power of Charm,” Oliver quietly said.


“Charles and I had a discussion about Charm in the hours before we stormed Eagles Rock,” Nic said. “He told me that each orb has one singular, unique – some would say super – power, that it holds in secret.”


“That’s correct," I said quietly. “They are all very special, extremely specialized, and quite unique. At the time an orb is absorbed, charm takes root and in some way becomes entwined with the brain and nervous system of the wizard.”


“And you know this, how?” Lex said, giving me a strange and suspicious look.


Without speaking I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and suddenly the screen appeared. I projected it upward on a slight angle while at the same time making it quite large in size so that it could be clearly seen by everyone in the room. I’d never made it this large before other than in private, whilst experimenting with its capabilities. Only once in Nic’s presence had I projected such a large screen, and shortly after I’d generated its display, I became extremely weak and tired. He'd become concerned, and asked me not to do it again. But that had been months ago, and since then my powers had greatly increased as the orbs rooted their essences ever deeper into me, and now I found that generating the large display had no ill effect on me. As I projected the screen, Lord Oliver stepped forward, pointed to an area of the screen and continued his explanation.


“See this symbol?” he said, pointing to a strange mark on the screen. “That’s the sigil for charm. Each orb has its own charm, and each charm is extremely powerful."


“So you’ve know about this for how long?” Prince Stefan said, looking directly at me. His tone, while still smooth and even, struck me as accusatory.


“I recently discovered it,” I answered. “I learn new things almost every time I access the screen.”


“And you didn’t think it was important enough to tell anyone?” Stefan continued, giving me a cold, hard stare.


I glanced over toward Nic, and realized he was wondering the same thing.


“I just discovered it myself,” I said. “I was going to mention it, but I knew that while it was important, it wasn’t something that would concern me for a long while.”


“What makes you say that?” Prince Ivan, head of the Royal House of Science and Education asked.


I could see that what had begun as a meeting was rapidly turning into an inquisition, and I was getting both angry and scared at the direction in which the gathering of princes and scribes was now moving.


“Because it wasn’t important,” I shouted, losing my temper. As I spoke my voice increased dramatically in volume, causing everyone to jump, and several to cover their ears.


“The process isn’t even supposed to begin until after the last orb is absorbed,” I yelled, forgetting where I was or who I was talking to, as the windows on the north wall overlooking the forum of Konassas began to vibrate.


“And even then, the ability to manifest and use charm is something that occurs years after the orbs are absorbed!” I was almost screaming when suddenly a large vase sitting on a pedestal shattered with a loud pop, sending shards of pottery flying through the room and jarring me back to reality. Once again, silence filled the room.


“You have just witnessed the mildest effects of The Great Shout,” Lord Oliver finally continued, once everyone regained their composure. “It only grows stronger as time goes on.”


At his words, those assembled looked uneasily at each other. There were murmurs throughout the room, but what worried me the most were the looks they were starting to give me. As if not noticing the undercurrent of comments, Lord Oliver continued.


“His Grace is correct,” Oliver said. “This particular charm is locked tightly within the Orb of the Bat. It should not be making itself manifest now. As the Wizard has said, the charm of an orb isn’t supposed manifest until all of the orbs have been successfully assimilated into the body of one candidate. Even so, it may take years before their powers take root deeply enough within the wizard to permit him their use. From what little I actually know about charm, some of the special powers and abilities they confer may never manifest themselves in a wizard at all, depending on his intelligence, skill, and temperament.”


“Then what’s happening here?” I said, having calmed my emotions. “And what’s happening to me? I didn’t cause this to happen; I didn’t will it to happen.”


“Zeitzähmer,” a strong, clear, and almost melodic voice said.


Looking in the direction of the voice, I saw that it came from Lord Thomas, Prince Ivan’s scribe, who was now looking strangely at his prince. Ivan, in turn, raised an eyebrow, gave the young scribe a knowing look, and slowly nodded his head in agreement.


“Zeitzähmer,” Ivan echoed the words of his scribe. “Of course, Thomas, you’re right. I should have realized it when he produced the staff of Alexander.”


“Zeitzähmer,” he said one more time quietly to himself, as if for emphasis. Then looking directly into my eyes he added, “Your Grace, you are a bender of time – a Time Tamer.”


I looked around the room and realized that there wasn’t a person there who wasn’t staring at me, some in fear, and others with suspicion. I’d never felt so alone when all of a sudden, a powerful sense of presence swept over me from behind, and a warm hand took my hand in its grasp as it intertwined its fingers with mine, giving my hand a firm and gentle squeeze. Then I felt a pair of warm lips first brush the back of my neck giving me a gentle kiss, as another hand rested on my shoulder. The lips that had first kissed my neck moved to my ear. But even before his soft voice whispered into my ear, I knew who had come up behind me.


“I love you, Jamie; I always have, and I always will. This just means you’re even more special.”


At that moment, if I could have wished for one thing, it would have been that his former Imperial Highness, Prince Hippolito of Hypernia, could have been standing before me. “It was so much more than a ball, my foolish and arrogant prince,” I thought to myself. I folded out my wings and leaned my body back against the now silent boy standing behind me, as he wrapped his arms around my neck and draped his hands over my chest, pulling me tightly to himself. Standing over me, Nic turned and looked intently at Ivan.


“Can you help us understand what’s happening here?” Nic said.


“I can try,” Ivan answered, "but I’m not sure it will make any sense – it barely does to me. When I was chosen to head the Royal House of Science and Education, I was taught the basics of what I am about to tell you, but the plague advanced so rapidly in the end that most of us should feel quite fortunate that we even made it to the stasis units, let alone gained any knowledge that may have helped us after our reanimation.”


Ivan paused for a moment, stood, and walked closer to Nic and me. “Those who gave us form,” Ivan continued, “those we call The Enlightened Ones, were practitioners of something they called the Science of Complexity, and Systems Theory.”


“Do you mean Chaos Theory?” Charles asked. “I remember studying it when I became old enough to begin my studies.”


“Some have called it that, but it has nothing to do with the term chaos as we may think of it. Although I have no direct knowledge of all the facts, I have been told that after Jonas died, Croal started to fear for his life, and developed a case of paranoia. Even though he was an old man and near the end of his days, he locked himself up in his laboratory with a few of his chosen assistants, and began working on a secret project. Two years later, on the eve of Loran’s tenth birthday you appeared, Your Grace, as an infant.


“Croal kept you isolated until you were eight in human years, and while most of the scientists and some few of we Icarians knew of your existence, you were rarely seen outside Croal’s private sanctuary. Rumor has it that you were the only source of his happiness in the last years of his life. Upon Croal’s death, you were sent to the Emperor, and from there the Mondele Royale. There have been countless stories told of you during that time period, but no one knows the real truth – except you. Those of us on the Icarian Council were told that you would eventually be the imperial crown prince, and would serve as your brother's scribe in the Imperial House of the High Seraphim, but that was just an unconfirmed rumor.


“After Alexander died in the Battlecom and Loran had lost his life mate, it was decided that since you were the only other Imperial, you would take Loran’s place as the wizard. That’s when Hippolito was chosen to be your mate, but something intervened and before the ceremony of union could occur, it was discovered that somehow, when you were a child you managed to pick a mate of your own. Of course, as a nine year old Icarian boy, you had no idea at the time what you had done the day you chose Niklas Agramos from an unruly pack of young royal dominions, and the facts of that day didn’t come out until years later when… well… let’s just say when things took a surprising turn for the worse. But it seems that something very special led you to His Royal Highness, and I can see that you chose most wisely, even then.


“I was always told that after the death of Jonas, Croal became fearful and suspicious, and rumor has it that he insisted on personally working on your genetic structure. It is said that he wouldn’t even allow his assistants to know what he was doing. One of his assistants once told me that he remembered one day, as he was assisting Croal with an experiment, he heard the old man mutter under his breath that if Minoton’s disciples wanted to engineer the future, he would supply them with a seven sided die that they could try to roll."


“Am I that seven sided die?” I asked, searching Prince Ivan’s face for some answer.


“I don’t know Your Grace," the prince said. “There are many things we don’t know. I suspect that somehow Croal used his knowledge of genetics and the science of complexity to not only create the unique individual you are, but also to unleash a force on Icarian society that would have the ability to create numerous and immense bifurcations within that society. James of Icaria, from what we’ve seen here today, I’m quite sure that you are that force. I should have realized it the very moment you retrieved the staff of Alexander, but your confrontation with Hippolito took us all by such surprise, I didn’t have time to dwell on it.”


“Is that why this special power, this thing that we’ve been calling Charm, has suddenly manifested itself, when according to accepted knowledge, it shouldn’t even have begun to appear in either Jamie or Loran?” Nic asked Prince Ivan.


“It’s possible,” Ivan answered. “Hopefully, time and more study will shed additional light on the subject. But for some reason, I hazard a guess that it won’t appear in Loran. Loran was created according to the original plan, just as all of us were. His Grace was not created that same way. You are different,” Ivan said, leveling his gaze at me. “What those differences are, only time will tell, but I am more convinced than ever that they are real, and were done on purpose. You are the hand of Croal.”


“One thing is certain,” Lord Oliver said as he walked up to me, his dark brown eyes intently scrutinizing every part of me. “The original Icarian society that was developed, the rules laid down to govern it, the hierarchy created to rule it, and so much more, all stand in jeopardy because of you.”


“But I’ve done nothing to purposely harm anyone,” I replied with a defensive tone in my voice. “Nic and I have been trying to find Küronas, to establish our kingdom and live in peace. You make it sound like I’m some kind of a traitor, or anarchist. In fact, that’s what Hippolito called me – a traitor.”


“Of course you haven’t tried to harm anyone,” Ivan continued, “but your very existence changes everything that has come before, and will mould, in a unique way, everything that will come after. In a very real sense, you are at worst an anarchist and at best, a revolutionary. But I can assure you, Your Grace, that no one here accuses you of evil. This has nothing to do with the destruction of Icaria. If anything, Your Grace, these events herald a new birth and a new direction for Icarian society – an evolution that no one could have predicted. One that will develop as Jonas and Croal first envisioned, based on complexity and unpredictability as new energy flows into a decaying, entropic system.”


“You and his Highness are not the only ones that have been having meetings,” Ivan continued as he waved his arm at the room, taking in the other princes and scribes assembled. “We’ve also been discussing the events of the past two and a half millennia. If we didn’t have confidence in our king and wizard, we would have deserted you. I think I can speak for everyone here when I say that we have placed our future in both of your hands, and no matter if you succeed or fail, I don’t think we’ve made a mistake.”


Immediately after Prince Ivan finished his address, there was silence. But as usual, Charles had to have the last word, although in this case I didn’t mind as his voice rose through the chamber.


“I know His Grace well enough to see that the sad events of the day, coupled with these new revelations, have exhausted him. We will all be remaining in Konassas for some time, so I suggest everyone allows our Wizard a quiet and peaceful night. I’m sure we will discuss this further. I know that Lord Oliver and I will continue to use the wealth of knowledge stored at Eagles Rock to attempt to learn more, and we encourage all of you to share any knowledge you remember from the time before our long stasis. But in the meantime, I would recommend an adjournment for this evening.”


Charles was right: kneeling at the funeral bier of Luc, meeting the princes, learning new and troubling revelations about my powers and my theoretical role as some kind of manipulator of the fabric of the universe had been more that I could absorb at one time. Without any further word, the Princes, their scribes, and the other angels who’d joined us began to file from the room, bowing slightly as they passed the two of us. Finally, most of those in attendance had exited, leaving only Andrew, Charles, Cody, Lance, and Nic – who was still hugging me from behind as I stood leaning against him, as if in a trance. Cody walked by me, stretched out his hand and touched my shoulder.


“Good night, Jamie,” he said with a slight smile, then adding, “I know you’re worried, but we’re all with you. If anyone can succeed, it’s you and Nic.”


“Your Grace, we are all forever in the debt of you and His Majesty,” Lancelot said with his usual shy and stiff formality as he stretched out his hand for Cody. Taking Lance’s hand, Cody followed him out of the room.


“We’ll continue our studies, Jamie,” Andrew added as he approached me and put his hand on my arm. “Look at what we’ve learned so far, and we’ve only examined a small part of the books and scrolls that I discovered and brought to you. I sure there’s still so much we’ll learn.”


“Thank you, Andrew,” I said as the young prince released his hand from my arm, then turned and left the room.


“Oh, Andrew,” I called out, and as the Crown Prince of Xannameir turned around to look back at me, I smiled wearily and added, “Thank you for your help and support today. I am in your debt.”


Turning to face me head on, Andrew approached me, quickly narrowing the gap between us. Looking down at me he a gave me a sad smile, then reached out and gently put his hand on my shoulder. "Friends of the heart do not speak of debt, Jamie,” he said without emotion. For a few seconds he stood with his hand on my shoulder; when he removed it, he turned back to the door and moved to exit the room. “Sleep well, tonight," he called out as crossed over the threshold and made his way into the hall, where I noticed David was waiting for him.


“So Jamie,” Charles said as he walked toward Nic and me, “Are you all right?”


“I honestly don’t know, Charles. Part of me feels like I’ve been buried by an avalanche. I know that I still have many holes in my memories, but I never remember wanting or asking for this position. At first, it seemed amusing when it was just Nic and me. Over time, it changed from fantasy to reality as we learned more. Eventually it became very serious, and now I have to admit that it’s quite frightening to me.”


“Of course, Jamie, I understand,” Charles said, giving me a serious and concerned look. “But if anyone can do this, it’s you and Nic. Why do you think that, for the most part, the Icarian council and the Imperial Legion have stood behind both of you? We all know that there’s something very special about our two leaders. Separately, you probably wouldn’t succeed, but together I truly feel that you could move the stars in the heavens if you really wanted to.”


“Thank you for your confidence, Charles,” Nic said as Charles turned away from us. “I just hope it’s well placed.”


Without another word, Charles quietly left the room.


Nic gave me another strong hug from behind and kissed the top of my head. Then he released me and turned me around to face him.


“Jamie, I’m just as worried as you are. I know you can sense it, and I know that I couldn’t hide it from you if I tried,” Nic said, looking into my eyes. “But I also know that without you, I won’t succeed.”


“Nic, I know I can’t succeed without you either. The more I remember of the day I first met you, and the more I reflect on these last months, the more I know that our lives are so intertwined that to go on alone, without you, would be as impossible as removing a man’s heart from his chest and expecting him to continue living.”


“We are bound by fate, by destiny, by purpose, but most importantly by love, my little angel,” Nic said, taking me in his arms and holding me tight. "Whether we fail or succeed, live or die, it will be as one.”


“Yes Nikki, it will be as one,” I said as I lifted my face to his and he kissed me.


His kiss lingered on my lips… when… suddenly there was a flourish of activity to my left. I shook my head, blinked my eyes, and realized that I had been daydreaming for the past few minutes, and that I was still sitting on Commander’s Tor as Nic talked with Bastian about the scene below them.


The activity that broke my concentration had been caused by Lance who’d flown to the top of the tor and was alighting on its flat, cracked surface. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he strode quickly across the broad flat surface of the great rock and approached Nic.


“Your Highness, there’s something of great importance I think you should see immediately."


I was used to Lance’s naturally serious and reserved character, but I could tell by his expression and the tone of his voice that he was much more serious and concerned than even I was used to seeing. I stood up and walked over to them. I could see that from their conversation, Nic was about to fly off the tor with Lance.


“Nic, I’ll come with you.”


“I’m sure it’s nothing that serious,” Nic said, giving me a slight smile. “If you’d rather, Jamie, you can wait for us here; I know all this has been very upsetting for you.”


“Yes it has, but I would still like to go with you, Nic.”


“It’s really not necessary," Nic said, but as he spoke I suddenly became suspicious that there was something he was keeping from me.


While I was speaking to Nic, I’d glimpsed Lance moving behind me so that my back was to him while he continued to face Nic. I could sense something peculiar in Lance’s demeanor, and as I continued to engage Nic in conversation, I suddenly turned to face Lance, who I discovered was making quiet but emphatic signs to Nic that I should most definitely not join them.


“What’s so secret, Lance?” I angrily said. “Are you trying to keep something from me?”


Lance turned red and cast his eyes down; clearly I had caught him, and even worse, embarrassed the quiet, reserved angel.


“Jamie, please,” Nic answered. “It’s not that at all. Lance has discovered something that he would like me to see, and he feels it might be upsetting to you. He’s only trying to be kind.”


“Upsetting? He thinks it will be upsetting?” I shouted, as my temper ignited. Looking directly at Lance as he hung his head, I continued, “Does General Lancelot assume that these last few months have been so happy and joyful for me? Or perhaps he believes that my tender sensibilities cannot stand further insult, overly sensitive as I am.”


“Jamie, please.” Nic said.


But anger had seized me, and I continued without thinking.


“I suppose such trivialities as having amnesia, being kidnapped, fighting my homicidal brother, seeing my friend’s head impaled on a spike, and fighting a duel with a traitor, cannot be considered truly upsetting, after all.” I was now directly in front of Lance. My face felt hot, and I angrily swiped my arm across my eyes, where tears threatened.


“Jamie,” Nic said, raising his voice.


I stopped my outburst abruptly, but Nic continued.


“Jamie, from what Lancelot was telling me, I would have to agree with him, but if you insist on coming, then by all means feel free to join us. But don’t take out your wrath on Lance; he was just trying to save you any more upset. If anything, you owe him an apology.”


Nic was right. As I had sat daydreaming on Commander’s Tor, reviewing the events of the past few weeks, I had once again become filled with anxiety. That anxiety had unintentionally boiled over and splashed on Lance, like hot water from a bubbling cauldron. He was one of my closest friends, and surely someone who hadn’t deserved the acid of my diatribe.


“Lance?” I said, as I walked closer to him and took his hand. “I apologize for my nasty outburst. I know you were trying to be kind and thoughtful, and I reacted badly. I’m truly sorry. I appreciate your concern, and I hope this won’t discourage you from continuing to look out for my best interests.”


Lance didn’t respond, he just nodded his head in acknowledgement and continued to stare at the ground. It was then that I realized how badly I had embarrassed him and hurt his feelings. I turned to Nic only to see him frown slightly. Looking back at Lance, I began to cry.


“Oh Lance, I really am sorry. Can you forgive me?"


Lance remained silent but gently put his hand on my shoulder and nodded his head as I looked up at his face through my tears. This simple action made me feel even worse, for instead of being angry, or shouting, or simply turning his back to me as he had every right to, Lancelot once again showed his gentleness and compassion in his willingness to forgive my unnecessary cruelty to him. In that moment, I fully understood what Cody had come to love in him. The awkward moment was broken when Nic came over and wiped the tears from my face.


“We’re all tense, Jamie; it’s to be expected. But remember, we all love you and each other.”


“I know, Nic, I really overreacted.”


“Well, if you want to join us, you can. No one has you chained to this rock. You may do as you wish."


“I really would like to come with you,” I said.


“Very well, then let’s go.” Nic waved his hand at the edge of the Tor, then he looked at Lance and added, “General Lancelot, please lead the way.”


Lance began to stroke his wings, and jumped off the side of the tor. Nic and I followed, with Bastian finishing our company. We were only in the air a few minutes as we soared over the countryside. I watched as Lance headed toward the ground. Nic and I followed closely and soon all three of us were standing on the floor of the valley known as Grüner Platz. Our descent had taken us over a large, black patch of scorched and smoldering earth that once been open fields of wheat and corn. At the end of a blackened field stood the remains of a farmhouse and barn, along with a number of smaller buildings, most of which were now piles of smoldering ashes or charred, smoking ruins.


As soon as we landed, I began to look about while at the same time trying to remind myself that only a few short days ago this had been a large and prosperous farm, a fact that I’d surmised from the remains of the house – which from what still remained standing appeared to have been quite grand – and the large number of dependencies that once surrounded it.


Moving on ahead of us, Lance walked toward a small building guarded by two imperial legionnaires; its exterior walls had been darkened by smoke, but still remained standing. The fact that its walls were made of stone had probably spared it from the conflagration. A small arched doorway had been built into one of the sides of the building, with a heavy wooden door set into it. It, too, was charred, but still remained whole and on its hinges. As he got closer, Lance motioned for us to join him in front of the door.


Once we reached Lance and were standing beside him, one of the two imperial legionnaires guarding the building lightly touched the door, and it swung inward. Because it was a bright, sunny day, as the door swung open, a ray of sunlight entered the small space, ran across the dirt floor, and illuminated the contents of the room. As the door swung wider and additional light entered the tiny room enclosed within the four stone walls of the building, I looked inside. What I saw sent a cold chill through my body as my conscious mind tried to comprehend what I was seeing.