The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part I - The Golden Orb



Chapter 2




At first, I stood in silence, as Nic called my name. I tried to talk, but I couldn’t. Lance approached and handed me a water bag. I put it to my lips and began to drink. I choked a little with the first few swallows, but soon I rapidly gulped down the water; not caring that it was lukewarm. Finally setting the pouch aside, I wiped away a few stray drops, and looked over at Nic.


“Did I really see what I think I saw?”


“If you saw what we saw, then I guess you did. It certainly wasn’t an illusion.”


Still standing in front of the small stone building, I took a closer look at it. It appeared to have been built as either a smoke house or storage shed. It was a tiny building, but its gray stone walls, although a bit scorched and blackened, were strong and sturdy, and the roof and door appeared sound. Every other building on this particular farm had been burned or damaged so badly that they were beyond repair, and I suspected that in time, if anyone came to reclaim this land they’d simply raze what still stood and build anew. The destruction surrounding me was overwhelming, but at the moment there was something more pressing on my mind. It was what I’d glimpsed lying on the other side of the door that had once more slammed shut.


After standing near the building for a few moments, I walked back to the door and slowly pushed it open; the hinges creaked. A musty, smoky smell issued from the small enclosed space and a puff of dust rose in the air. It was instantly carried away by the light breeze that had been blowing most of the afternoon. I tried to suppress the cough that rose up in my throat as the acrid smell invaded my nostrils and scratched my throat. I was unsuccessful.


“More water?” Lance asked.


I simply shook my head.


Just as before, a bright ray of sunlight knifed into the dark and tiny space, flooding it with light. And once again I saw the figure of a small boy curled up in the corner. Staring at me with wide, terrorized eyes the boy looked very much like Luc. Although I knew what to expect, the sight still caused me to shudder and I was still unprepared at the tight band of pain that slowly wrapped itself around my heart. While he may not have been an exact twin to Luc Tourney, the resemblance was close enough to cause an unwanted pang of grief to rise up inside me. Thinking back on my brave little knight, my first urge was to let the door slam shut and leave, but something inside of me refused to allow me to walk away.


For all my speculation and sadness, I didn’t have much time for morose reflection, because once the door opened the boy startled me by putting his hands over his eyes and screaming. It was too much for me; I immediately removed my hand from the door and backed away as it quickly slammed shut, sending the boy back into darkness. I looked at Nic and Lance in puzzlement.


“So far, he’s the only survivor we’ve found.” Lance was eying me with a look of concern completely at odds with the dry, factual material of his report. “It appears he ran in here and hid during the attack. Because the building is constructed mostly of stone and has a dirt floor, it didn’t suffer much damage from the fire that consumed the house, barn and other buildings. One of the Imperial Legionnaires found him just as you see him now. Anytime someone tries to get near him, he screams and backs up into the corner.”


Still slightly in shock from what I’d seen, I stood silently for a few seconds, trying to clear my head and sort out the many thoughts and emotions running through my mind. Logically I knew the boy wasn’t Luc, but emotionally I couldn’t shake the thought as the heavy aching pain returned to my chest.


“We have to do something,” I finally said, turning to Nic. “We have to get him out of there and make sure he’s not hurt. I wonder if his family owned this land. If they did, then he might have witnessed their deaths. If that’s true, I can’t imagine what horrors he might have seen.” The thought sickened me. “But we really can’t leave him like this.”


“Of course not,” Nic moved to my side, his hand gently stroked my arm. He knew I was upset. His touch felt reassuring and the warmth of his skin against mine gave me a moment to catch my breath.


“But he’s terrified, Jamie. Remember: Loran and his army did this – creatures with wings, just like us. He’s a little boy; he doesn’t understand the difference between Loran’s troops and our forces. We all have wings, we all look alike, and to him, every one of us is the enemy.”


Nic was right. The terrified boy had no way of knowing that we meant him no harm. He was still on the other side of the door crouching in fear, probably waiting for us to burst through and kill him. I could only imagine what he might have seen or heard, during the savage attack of Loran’s forces. The fact that he looked like Luc made it even harder for me. In the boy’s scream, all I could think of was the terror Luc must have felt just before he’d been killed by Gude’s followers. I tried hard to push the thought from my mind. Pondering the past would do little in trying to help Nic and Lance come up with a solution.


“He’s probably been hiding in there for a few days,” Lance’s eyes scanned the ruined and ransacked farm. “From the look of the surrounding destruction, and the decay of the victims, we think the attack occurred two days ago.


“In addition to being scared, I’m sure he’s also quite hungry and thirsty,” I nodded in full agreement of Lance’s observations.


After I’d spoken, Nic dropped his hand and faced me head on. From the gleam in his eye, I knew he’d come up with an idea. I was sure of it when he put both of his hands on my shoulder and a slight smile crossed his face.


“Watch this.”


Turing away from me he picked up the water bag at my feet, pulled a small biscuit from the leather pouch at his waist, and approached the shed. The biscuits were hard and dry, but they were made of a mixture of meat, grain and sugar. Carried as field rations by the Imperial Legionnaires, they supplied quick nourishment and energy. Nic reached the door of the shed and slowly pushed it open. Just as before, as soon as the door swung on its hinges and the small space filled with light, the boy pushed himself even further into the corner, covered his face with his hands, and screamed.


Nic just stood there for almost five minutes, holding the door open while the boy continued to cry and scream. As he screamed, I stood at a distance and cringed at the sound, wishing with all my might that he’d stop. The sound sliced through me like a knife. Just when I thought I couldn’t bear another second of the cries of a frightened and terrorized child, exhaustion overtook terror and he finally stopped, dropped his hands to his sides and slumped against the wall. Walking up behind Nic I watched the child stare blankly at Nic as if he were in a trance. Nic crouched down and moved slowly towards the boy, but after advancing only a few more feet, the boy once again began to scream, although this time his cries carried far less force and energy than they had a few minutes before. Nic retreated a bit, and the boy fell silent.


“He’s starting to tire,’ Nic looked up at me and whispered. “I can’t imagine how exhausted he must be.” The look on Nic’s face mirrored the concern I knew he felt in his heart.


Although a part of me wanted to flee, another part wanted to run in, put my arms around the boy and comfort him but there was little I could do. I felt helpless and frustrated. Sensing my turmoil, Lancelot walked over and gently laid his hand on the back of my neck. It was a gentle move of caring I’d seen him do with Cody. It reminded me how kindhearted the young royal throne could be.


“Give King Niklas a chance, Your Grace,” his hand lightly stroked the hair on the back of my neck, and in my pain I was happy Cody had such a mate. “I know this is upsetting for you; that was the only reason I wanted to shield you. I wasn’t trying to deceive you or hide anything from you.”


“I know, Lance,” I said quietly, feeling even worse as I recalled how, only minutes earlier, I’d been so quick to belittle him. And my memory of that shameful moment hurt most of all.


Nic gently tossed the dry biscuit toward the boy, almost as if he were throwing a small scrap of food to an animal. The biscuit arched through the air towards the boy, and landed in the dirt near his feet, where it lay untouched. Once more Nic moved a bit closer, only to see the boy raise his hands to his face in fear. Nic lifted up his right hand, as if to gesture him to stop. He stretched out his left hand, gripping the water bag, and held it out to the boy. The boy put down his arms and looked intently at Nic, and although it was obvious he was terrified, I was surprised when I saw his eyes flash a brief look of anger. It was obvious that Nic wasn’t going to get the boy to take the water from him, so just as he’d done with the biscuit, he gently tossed the drinking pouch toward the boy.


The boy must have been quite thirsty, for unlike the biscuit that he’d ignored, he caught the water skin. At first he looked carefully at it, examining it as if it were something that might harm him, then he turned back to stare at Nic. Nic just nodded at him. Still looking intently at my mate, the boy raised the water bag to his mouth and started to drink. I could see that he was indeed quite thirsty as he greedily gulped down the warmish water. He paused only for a few seconds to catch his breath, and then gulped down some more. Nic remained crouched low to the ground, watching the boy as he drank.


The boy put the bag down and reached for the biscuit. Although it had landed in the dirt and was a bit dusty, the boy put it to his mouth, and bit off a piece; he gingerly started to chew it, but when he realized what it was, he began to chew faster, and in a short period of time he’d eaten the whole biscuit. Nic reached into his pouch, took out another and threw it in the boy’s direction, but unlike the previous time when it was ignored only to lie in the dirt, the boy snatched it from the air with one hand, and quickly began to devour it, pausing only to take a few sips of water between bites and swallows. As the boy ate and drank, Nic turned back toward the doorway of the shed and stared at Lance and me. A thoughtful look crossed his face and it appeared that he was pondering something. Another flash of insight sparkled in his eyes.


“Jamie, please get down and slowly make your way over to me,” he said in a calm and quiet voice.


I stepped through the door. Then tipping my wings I crouched down, and cautiously approached. When I was next to Nic he put an arm around my waist and drew me closer. Brushing his face close to my ear I felt his warm breath on my cheek.


“I just realized that you’re probably the only one of us he’s seen that isn’t wearing armor and carrying a sword,” he whispered softly into my ear. “You’re also smaller and a little younger looking than we are. Do you think you can help?”


“I can try, Nic,” I whispered back. “What do you have in mine? As I crouched next to my mate Niklas explained his plan. When he was finished I gave him a nod. “Ok I’ll try.”


Since I was already crouched on the ground next to Nic, I was on the same level as the boy. Following Nic’s suggestion I continued to advance past him and move closer to the boy. As I did Nic backed away until he was outside the shed. Eventually he was standing next to Lance in the doorway, looking in. Everything seemed to be going well until I moved close, and the little boy startled me by dropping the biscuit he’d been chewing on and stared at me with a suspicious, angry look. Raising my hands, I carefully backed away from him. I turned to look to Nic, then back at the boy.


“Go on Jamie, try again,’ Nic’s tone was encouraging. “At least this time he didn’t scream.’


“No, but did you see the anger?”


“It shows he still has spirit.”


“What if he attacks?”


“You’re a wizard.” And although Nic tried, he couldn’t stifle his laugh, “I think you can handle a frightened little boy, no?”


I frowned when I heard Lance’s laughter join Nic’s. My feelings now bruised, I could feel my hackles rising ready to strike out in anger. But I stopped when I realized that it was the least I deserved after my callous treatment of him.


But I noticed that the two boys laughter caught the little boy’s interest. I could see in his eyes a look surprise. Could it be that the honest good natured laughter of the two royal thrones to my back made them seem less terrifying?


Now that I was on his level I took a closer look at the child crouched in the corner. The little boy was thin, but not emaciated. He couldn’t have been older than eleven or twelve. His slim arms and legs appeared to have some muscle on them. His blond hair, while dirty from the fire and smoke, was cut neatly. And although the clothing he wore was also dirty and had a few rips and holes, it appeared that it was well made. It was clear that prior to the attack on the farm, he’d been properly cared for. I noticed that he was barefoot, a fact that surprised me since he was otherwise fully dressed. My first thought was that possibly the attack had come in the morning when he’d been getting dressed, but had to stop and flee before he had a chance to put on his socks and shoes. There were black smudges on his feet, arms and face, but given his circumstances, that too seemed logical.


I reached out my right arm toward the boy and held out an open palm, but made no effort to touch him. As I crouched there with my arm extended and my palm open and flat, I concentrated, and as I did a warm feeling moved from my shoulder down my arm into my hand. Suddenly a little flicker emerged from the palm of my hand that eventually turned into a tiny tongue of fire, and finally a bright white ball. The boy watched intently as the ball floated above my hand. I gave it a small nudge and suddenly it vanished. I smiled at the boy, but my smile was returned with a dark look of suspicion. I created a few more small, harmless fireballs, each time making them suddenly disappear, but my little tricks had no effect on him.


“It’s not working, Nic,” I said, turning to my mate. “He’s just too afraid. I don’t even have to read his mind to know what he’s thinking, the fear is so strong in him.”


“Well, we’re not going to leave him here,” Nic’s tone was firm.


“I know, but if we sent in a few Imperial Legionnaires to drag him out that would be terrible.”


“I agree,” Nic continued, “but we’re quickly running out of options… and time, Jamie.”


I remained crouched for a few more minutes looking at the boy as he intently studied everything about me. Then remembering his reaction to Nic and Lance’s laughter, I got an idea. I turned around to look up at Nic.


“Nic, could you please come here?”


“I don’t want to scare him any more than he already is, Jamie,” Nic gave me a slight frown as he slowly moved toward me.


“We’re not going to, Nic; just come and stand behind me. And please don’t frown. I think it scares him.”


Slowly I stood up as Nic approached me from behind. I could sense that he was puzzled, wondering what I was going to do.


“I’m not going to do anything to scare him, Nic,” I whispered, “but I’ve got an idea. Just go along with me on this.”


Giving me a nod, Nic made his way to me and stopped once he was directly behind me. Once Nic was in place I looked down at the little boy and addressed him.


“I’m Jamie,” I said, looking at the boy while taking my hands and placing them on my chest.


“Jamie,” I repeated slowly, once more patting my hands on my chest.


I lifted my right hand, turned to Nic, and lightly placed it on my mate’s armor breastplate.


“This is Nic,” I kept my hand on Nic’s chest.


“Nic,” I said again


“Jamie.” Once more I placed my hand on my own chest.


I continued this display a few more times. Then I reached out my arms to Nic and wrapped them around him in a hug. Nic picking up on my intentions wrapped his arms around me, and hugged me back. I even laid my head gently against the armor covering Nic’s chest.


“Jamie… Nic,” I said, giving the boy a slight smile.


Once again I embraced Nic. He held me, and kissed the top of my head. As he did, my mind opened, a passive receptor for the boy’s emotions, and I was shocked when I experienced the terror and fear he was feeling, but mixed with those feelings I could sense great loneliness, and the need to feel safe.


“Nic,” I said again, this time lightly kissing Niklas on the cheek and embracing him warmly.


I broke my embrace, and whispered for Nic to leave the building. He backed away and resumed his post near the door with Lance. I turned to the boy, and one final time I put my hand to my chest.


“Jamie,” I said, motioning to myself while I smiled at him.


Then I extended my arms to him, as if I wanted to hug him as I’d hugged Nic.


“Jamie,” I said again, still extending my arms.


For a full minute there was silence as I stood before him my arms outstretched. I could feel the fear rising from him. His face showed a mixture of emotions, but I stood fast and said nothing. Finally, I sensed something inside him change. I watched as his face began to soften. He opened his mouth and spoke but one word.


“Lüdowik,” he said so softly that I wasn’t exactly sure that’s what he’d said, but attached to the sound was a strange accent.


“Lüdowik?” I asked back.


“Lüdowik, dagg.” The boy said, suddenly giving me a look of fear. “Doss yah nostraic dum mostra mant?”


I looked intently at the boy who I now knew as Lüdowik, and blinked in surprise. I felt a cold chill come over me. From deep within me, the boy’s response had touched something – something that I couldn’t explain or even understand. I wanted to stop everything and analyze what was happening, but there wasn’t time. Instead I twisted my head back over my shoulder in Nic’s direction.


“Nic, I whispered, and then paused for a few seconds before telling him what even I, found difficult to believe: “I know what he’s saying. I don’t know how, or why, but I understand him. His name is Lüdowik and he asked if we’ve come to kill him.”


Part of me was thrown off guard by my ability to understand the language Lüdowik was speaking, while another part of me felt completely at ease and almost reassured to hear the words emerge from the mouth of the young boy. But overshadowing my wonder and surprise was the thrust of Lüdowik’s question. This small, hungry, tired, and terrified child was asking if we’d come to kill him. The swell of emotion that washed over me cracked a dam that released a great flood, for what came next surprised me most of all.


Looking back at the boy, I quietly began to speak. “Jamie, dagg, my name is Jamie,” I replied. The strange words fell freely from my tongue. I knew what they were. I knew what they meant. “Nolet doss’nt nostraic mostra corrs. Nolet ens Ikarisk, nolet nostraic vilus lux, i’vilus ankles – Küronas. Illets corrs trolobin?  We don’t come to kill you. We are Icarians. We are from the city of light, the city of the angels – Küronas. Perhaps you know it?”


The words easily rolled off my tongue, and I knew exactly what I was saying to him, just as much as I understood what he’d said to me. The boy’s eyes opened wide in a look of surprise as I answered him in his own language.


“Yes, I know it. Do you really come from the city of the angels?” he replied, pointing to my wings.


“It’s true Lüdowik, but we haven’t come to kill you,” I replied, and once more held out my arms to him. “Nolet sus compadens – iset maxus venos. We’re your friends – it’s the real truth.”


Slowly the boy stood up. I didn’t move, but only continued to hold out my arms to him.


“But the others? They came to kill?” the questioning look he gave was haunting.


“They did, but they also are our enemies. Lüdowik?” I asked, still stretching out my arms. “I’m here to help you. I’m your friend – it is the absolute truth. Trust me. Please.”


For a split second he hesitated, then suddenly he launched himself into my arms, hugging me and crying piteously. I gently wrapped my arms around him and held him tightly. We stood for a few minutes as he laid his head on my shoulder and continued to cry. He tried to speak, but the racking, gasping sobs prevented him from any further speech. After a few minutes, his crying eased. I led him outside into the sunlight, but he continued to cling to me. I gently stroked his hair and spoke to him, soothing phrases in his own language.


“Jamie, I think it’s best if we get him back to the encampment,” Nic said as he approached us.


I nodded my head in agreement, although I knew in the back of my mind that the task would be easier said than done.


Slowly I peeled Lüdowik’s arms from my neck and stepped back to get a better look at him. The similarity he bore to Luc was remarkable, yet there were definitely differences. He was a bit thin, slightly dirty, and his clothes were torn in places, but he looked uninjured and healthy. Looking first to the boy, I pointed to Nic and began to speak.


“Lüdowik, this is Niklas, King of the Angels. Niklas is also your friend.”


Lüdowik frowned and gave Nic a suspicious look. I walked over to Nic; as he wrapped his arm around me, I leaned my head on his shoulder. I continued to talk to the boy, whose eyes grew wide as I explained what we intended to do. At first he vehemently shook his head no, but after further discussion and persuasion, he slowly walked over to Nic. I could tell he was still quite suspicious, but he reached out his thin arms. Nic gave the boy a warm smile then carefully wrapped his arms around the boy. For a full minute, Nic simply held Lüdowik tightly in his arms. Nuzzling the boy close to him Nic gave him a small kiss on the head and hugged him tight. The effect was instantaneous. Lüdowik hugged Nic back, as tightly as he could. As the little boy clung to my mate, Nic began to stroke his wings, and in no time was airborne. Lance and I jumped into the air and followed him.


At first I thought Lüdowik would panic, but he bravely held onto Nic, taking in the view as we flew over the valley. At one point, from the look on his face, it appeared that he was actually enjoying this new experience. After a few minutes of flight, we came up on our camp. In what I’d come to learn was true Imperial Legion planning and execution, the camp was laid out logically, neatly, and in order. The tents were grouped according to fighting units. Campfires were located in central locations. There was a general mess tent in the center of the camp, with a command post to its right. Nic’s and my tent was next to the command post, in the very heart of the camp and surrounded by all the legionnaire fighting pairs. Nothing was left to chance – even the latrines and rubbish pile were neat and orderly, and at a reasonable, yet safe, distance from camp.


From the time I first bonded with them, I’d learned that everything the imperial troops did was carefully planned, logically thought out, and executed with precision. What’s more, the key officers and leaders of each group had a system of evaluations and examinations, the sole goal of which was the improvement of the legion. Officers never simply ordered, strong armed, or bullied their soldiers. There was a great deal of respect and cooperation among all of the legionnaires.


Upon landing Nic released Lüdowik, who suddenly crouched on the ground. At first his actions surprised me, but as I looked around I could see a number of Imperial Legionnaires standing nearby. They’d saluted Nic and me, as was their custom, the moment we’d landed, but then I quickly understood Lüdowik’s fear when I realized that we’d just taken him to the one place that would frighten him the most – an encampment comprised entirely of troops from the Imperial Legion. And while they were not, in reality, a threat, the little boy, as the sole survivor of a horrible massacre perpetrated by just such beings, didn’t know that and was terrified. Though angry at myself for my lack of understanding, I unexpectedly caught myself smiling as an idea suddenly came to me.


“Lance,” I said turning to Lancelot, “would you please find Giovanni and ask him to join us?”


Lance gave me a knowing look and a slight smile. Nodding in agreement, he walked away into the camp, while I remained with Lüdowik. If anyone could help me win over Lüdowik, it would be Giovanni, the master of ceremonies for the House of the Imperial High Seraphim and my most trusted aide. Remarkably brilliant and poised for his age, it was Giovanni who, in the weeks after our victory at Eagles Rock, had provided me with some additional information regarding the events leading up to our long sleep. Although he too had holes in his memory, the information he supplied was invaluable. There was a bond between us. It was unique and special, and while I didn’t know exactly why, I couldn’t deny it; neither could he. He was constantly at my side, and I often relied on his knowledge of protocol in my dealings with the princes of the royal and imperial houses of Icaria. Far more valuable were the bits and scraps that he sometimes recalled of the final days of the empire.


While Charles knew the history of Icaria and the basis of our protocol, he was far too busy as the new Prince of the Imperial House of History and Philosophy and Chancellor of Eagles Rock to be of assistance. And while Cody was familiar with the intricate dance of diplomatic protocol, he was unaware of the many ceremonies and functions the Wizard was called to as a participant. Giovanni, on the other hand, was a master. Although younger than me, his knowledge of protocol, coupled with his intelligence, poise, and naturally conscientious nature, made him perfectly suited for the job. He was also a happy and sunny boy. It was never hard for me to make him giggle or smile, even though he would feign shock and surprise at my private whispered remarks to him during a formal ceremony or meeting.


When Nic made the decision to journey to Grüner Platz, Giovanni insisted on accompanying us. It didn’t seem to matter to him that this mission was military in nature, or that I warned him he risked injury or even death. He still stubbornly argued his duty to accompany me and offer his assistance where ever needed – although I told him that I couldn’t think of one necessary function a master of ceremonies and protocol would have on a military campaign.


“He’s a Royal Throne,” Nic smile at me one day when I mentioned Giovanni’s strength of character. “Its bred into the bone.”


He was of course right. Like Nic and Lance, Giovanni was a Royal Throne Icarian, truly a unique breed. Fearless and loyal with a great sense of duty and purpose, the royal throne line had character of high principle and strength laced with a will that matched the strongest steel.


With the appearance of Lüdowik, I’d realized a use for my young aide. Since he also was obviously not a soldier, and even smaller and younger looking than me, I thought he might project a calming presence for the still terrified Lüdowik. When Lance returned, he was leading a somewhat puzzled Giovanni through the camp toward us. Watching them approach, I felt a warm feeling well up inside me as I watched the young angel walking next to Lancelot with poise and confidence. He’d been the very first to run to me without hesitation when, in the Library of Donas at Eagles Rock, I’d called the princes and scribes to accounting for their loyalty after having just defeated and banished Hippolito.


“Giovanni,” I said, turning and smiling at him as he and Lance approached. “I want you to take this boy, whose name is Lüdowik, and see that he gets a bath and some clean clothes to wear. Then get him some food from the mess tent, take him to our tent and see that he eats. Hanging from the tent post is a small leather pouch filled with some sweets; after he eats his meal, give some of them to him and take a few for yourself. Keep him there until Nic and I arrive.”


“Yes, Your Grace,” Giovanni said, as he executed a deep and formal bow.


I saw Lüdowik’s eyes widen when he saw Giovanni bow to me, but I attempted to make light of it and quickly shooed Giovanni on his way. Leading Lüdowik by the hand, Giovanni threaded his way through the camp like a veteran. Standing silently next to Nic and Lance, I watched until the two boys turned to the left and vanished behind a row of tents.


I was just about to speak, when Bastian, who’d been flying back from Commander’s Tor, landed in our midst. He had a grave and serious look on his face. Before he was able to speak, Nic asked him to wait until we were alone, and motioned for him to join us in the command tent. Once in the tent and seated around the table, he asked Bastian to continue.


“Your Majesty, Your Grace, General,” Bastian eyes scanned the three of us. “It’s exactly as I suspected: there are no survivors.”


“So now what?” I asked no one in particular.


“I’m not sure, Jamie,” Nic said. “At this point, our forces are split. A small portion of the legion is guarding Eagles Rock, a larger group is back in Konassas, and we have some legionnaires accompanying us. The human army of the united kingdoms is spread thinly throughout the continent, and we have no idea where Loran and his forces are headed, or when and where they’ll strike next.”


“If we’d engaged a small contingent of them, possibly captured some prisoners for questioning, or at least talked to some survivors, we just might have a better idea,” Lance said, “but for now, we don’t have any clues to Loran’s whereabouts or his plans.”


“But we do have one survivor,” I reminded them.


“The young boy, Your Grace?” Bastian asked. “From what my legionnaires have told me, he’s in no shape to know anything.”


“Maybe not,” I nodded, “but maybe more than we know. We won’t know until we get a chance to ask; I’m willing to at least see if he does have any knowledge or information that may be useful. After all, at the moment he’s the only source we have as to what happened here.”


“Jamie’s right,” Nic added. “We won’t know anything until we question him, but we must do it carefully; he’s already suffered more than enough trauma. He has to trust us a bit more, first. Incidentally, he speaks a different language, which is most unusual. In all our time in this land, among all the many different groups of people who inhabit it, everyone has always spoken the same language. I’ve never even heard anyone allude to other languages or dialects among any group or kingdom.”


“Neither have I, Nic,” I returned, “but apparently this boy comes from a different tribe or area.”


“Jamie?” Nic said in a sudden switch of topic. “How were you able to understand and respond to him? You talked to him as if you’ve been speaking his language your whole life.”


“Just one more of my unknown talents, Nic,” I said. “I wish I could tell you. No one’s more surprised by this than I am. Maybe it has something to do with the orbs, or their charm, but I really don’t know. When I have time, I’ll try accessing the screen – there might be something there. But the truth is, I really do understand him, and he seems to understand me completely.”


“Then I suggest that we try to gain some information from him,” Lance said. “Although I doubt that a little boy hiding in a small stone shed can tell us very much.”


“Unfortunately, I must agree, General,” Bastian said, nodding to Lance.


We continued to talk for some time regarding the present situation. Eventually it was agreed that Bastian and his troops would continue to scout the area around our encampment for anything that would give us more clues or information. We also determined that Lance would accompany us back to Nic’s and my tent to see what we could learn from Lüdowik.


By the time we arrived, Lüdowik had finished his bath. Now that the boy was clean, I could see that even though I’d originally mistaken him for Luc and there were similarities between both boys, there were also differences. He was wearing a clean tunic and a well made pair of sandals – most probably belonging to Giovanni. He was sitting on a small stool near the table Nic and I used for our meals. I noticed that Giovanni, in accord with my wishes, had taken down the bag of sweets and offered some to the boy. He was sitting there quietly chewing one when he startled as we entered the tent.


I gave Lüdowik a warm smile and was about to speak to him when Giovanni approached and whispered something to me that raised my eyebrows. After my conversation with Giovanni ended, I turned to Nic and whispered to him. Nic also raised his eyebrows, occasionally looking toward Lüdowik as I continued to speak to the King of Icaria in soft hushed tones. When I finished, I turned toward Lüdowik. I gave the boy a warm smile.


“Are you all right, Lüdowik?” I said. “Has Giovanni taken care of you?”


Lüdowik said nothing and continued to stare back at me. I gently reached out to his mind and tried to calm the jumble of thoughts that were racing through his head.


“Do you like the candy?” I asked.


Lüdowik remained silent as his eyes gave me a careful examination.


“The candy comes from a special friend,” I continued, trying to remain friendly and non-threatening. “His name is Master Arnod, and he takes care of us at the Amber Palace. Master Arnod is in charge of the kitchens there, and he makes some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. I want to take you there so you can meet him and try some of his delicious dishes.”


Lüdowik stared intently at me, but said nothing, so I continued.


“The Amber Palace is our home; it’s very beautiful, and it’s in the city of Konassas. Do you know anything about Konassas? Have you ever heard of it? It’s the capital of the Kingdom of Kalas. Do you know that?”


Still I was met with silence as the boy’s eyes went from staring at me to looking at his feet. So far my attempts to elicit even the slightest response from the boy were an abject failure. I glanced toward Nic and Lance, shaking my head, but I still wasn’t about to declare defeat.


“Lüdowik,” I continued, becoming a bit frustrated and hearing it creep into my voice. “I know that you can understand and speak our language. We won’t hurt you. The others who came here are also our enemies. We are trying to protect this land and its people from them. There are things you might know that can help us so that we can stop them, and make sure this never happens again.”


Lüdowik looked up and met my words with a cold stare; his face was like a mask, devoid of emotion. I noticed an ornate seal sitting on the table. It had come from Eagles Rock and lay at the feet of Giovanni as he slept in his coffin. He claimed that it was the official seal of the House of the Imperial High Seraphim, and insisted that it should always accompany me, no matter where I went. While not large, it was made of gold and silver and was quite heavy. I picked it up and held it in my right hand as I continued to talk to him.


“Please, Lüdowik,” I said beginning to feel my chances at dialogue with the little boy were about to end in failure. “No one here will hurt you; we want to help you as much as we can.”


I placed my left hand on the boy’s shoulder. He looked up into my face, and I could see there were tears in his eyes.


“Where were you when they attacked us?” he asked in a sharp and accusatory tone that both shocked and stung me.


For a few seconds it was my turn to pause as I processed his words, for although it was true that he could speak our language, he had a strong accent.


Nic approached the boy. When he’d entered the tent he’s shucked his armor and was now dressed in a simple battle tunic. Picking up a nearby stool he set it down next to Lüdowik and took a seat. Lüdowik looked up at Niklas and his eyes still held their tears. Maybe it was because he’d flown with Nic. Wrapped in Niklas strong arms the little boy had shown a lot of trust. Nic had strengthened that trust by safely carrying him to the camp. There was something very powerful in trusting someone that much to allow them to hold your life in their hands.


“We were coming through the mountain pass, Lüdowik,’ Nic gently wrapped an arm around the boy. We had no idea they were here. We only discovered the destruction of the land, the murder of all the people and your survival long after they were gone. We still don’t know where they are or where they might attack next. We need your help to find them. We need you to tell us as much as you can remember. We don’t want anyone else to be killed, and we don’t want any more homes and farms to be destroyed. We want to stop the others as quickly as we can.” Nic paused, and when I looked at Lüdowik I watched as the tears he’d held back began to run down his cheeks.


Nic pulled him close and Lüdowik, clutching tightly on to my mate, laid his head against Nic’s chest and began to sob. For a few minutes we were all silent until the boy finally was cried-out and became silent.


“Can you help us, Lüdowik? Will you help us? Please?” I paused, looking into his red-rimmed eyes and waited for his reply.


“Yes, I will try,” he said quietly in the softest of whispers, and lowered his head.


“Lüdowik,” Nic said still holding the boy tightly. “Where are you from? We know that you don’t normally speak our language, and we’ve never met anyone who speaks yours.”


The boy glanced up at Nic, and the look on his face immediately went from sadness to suspicion.


“Lüdowik,” I said. “Ek lan dostosen, ellian feran dat,” as I asked him again, this time in his own language, where he came from.


He looked at me, and while I could once again sense fear, he sat up a bit straighter. “If you understand my language, and if you really do come from the city of the angels as you say, you wouldn’t have to ask where I’m from,” he said.


“But I do, Lüdowik,” I said desperately. “I must. We’ve been away from the city for a long time – thousands of years – and our memories have been damaged. I know it’s a lot for you to understand, and it’s difficult to explain. But you’re here with us, now. We’ve taken you from the place you were hiding. We’ve cared for you, and made sure you are safe. We’re trying to show you we really are your friends. Please, will you tell us where you come from?”


“He’s telling the truth,” Nic said looking down at the boy who was still snuggled next to him.


Hesitating for a few seconds, the boy looked first around the tent, then up to Nic and finally at me. I was surprised when, unexpectedly, he moved away from Nic, pushed out his thin chest and said with pride, “Taldor Valoren.”


At those words, I dropped the seal I’d been holding and it came crashing down on the table, landing on a wine glass that had been sitting there. Lüdowik jumped.


“Did you say Taldor Valoren?” I asked, stunned.


Lüdowik didn’t answer, but nodded his head in agreement as he stared at the shattered wine glass. I was immediately drawn back to the time when we’ d been summoned to the Grand Council of Kingdoms in the strange and beautiful map room that bordered the great forum of Konassas. In the middle of the map had been a tiny territory surrounded by great mountains with the words ‘Taldor Valoren’ carved into it.


King Juston of Aradamia had told us that it had been the final place of exile for those who had contracted the plague, and that it had been chosen for its isolation from the other kingdoms. During my talks with Andrew I’d mentioned it, and he’d confirmed what King Juston had told us, going into greater detail than the King of Aradamia.


After nine hundred years, as the plague began to die out, there remained isolated pockets where it was still strong, along with the occasional individual living in a non-infected area who would suddenly contract it. The plague had been devastating – at least three fourths of the population of the continent had been killed by it. And it caused such a great upheaval in the social fabric of society that there was no chance of rational thought regarding it from the remaining population. When it came to dealing with the disease, only one thing motivated the survivors – fear.


While the inhabitants of the various regions that would someday become the four kingdoms didn’t agree on much, they did agree that the plague had to be wiped out once and for all. A concerted effort was made to round up plague victims and isolate them away from the general population. Six great cleansings followed, over the next one hundred years. During each cleansing, large groups of people from every tribe and territory who had the plague or were suspected of contracting it, were rounded up. It was a terrible time, and one of great suffering for the plague victims and their families. Homes were burned, possessions seized, and they were forced on a long trek under heavily armed guard into the mountains, to the area eventually called Taldor Valoren – the Valley of the Damned.


Six times over the one hundred year period, large groups walked the trail of suffering and death. Each time it was reported that less than ten percent of those who started the journey ended it in the mountains at the entrance to the valley of Taldor Valoren. The guards who escorted the plague victims were themselves suspected of carrying the illness after their weeks of contact with the plague stricken, so they also were exiled to the valley, and their progress watched by remote observers. What made it even worse was the fact that the cleansing didn’t just affect the actual plague victims. Their families were also forced to leave with them, for fear they also harbored the disease.


But the worst part of the story that Andrew told me was that a number of those banished weren’t plague victims at all, but people who, for one reason or another, were unjustly accused having the disease. Often these were people in towns or villages who appeared different, or weren’t liked by the other inhabitants. Those who were unusual, strange, or in some way different from their neighbors were often accused and sent away. If someone seemed eccentric or didn’t conform to the general established mores of behavior they, too, were banished. Other times it was simply to eliminate people who had land, or possessions, or money that others wanted. Once gone, their land, possessions or valuables would be seized by those leveling the accusations. Rarely did anyone step forward to defend the accused, for fear that they too would be banished.


Finally, after much strife and upheaval, the madness ended. After the last cleansing, it was ordered by the descendants of the war lords who’d organized the original purges that the valley should forever remain sealed and isolated. A series of massive rock slides were initiated that destroyed the mountain passes, both into and out of the valley. The end of this terrible time ushered in the reign of Kartannus the Great, who maintained the prohibition on the area, and as the centuries rolled on, Taldor Valoren became a place more of myth and legend than reality.


It was assumed that anyone taken to the place that came to be called Taldor Valoren would eventually die – if not directly from the plague, then simply due to exposure to the harsh conditions of the land. The Poniçessian Mountains were remote and desolate. In such a cold and barren place, no one could imagine that anyone sent there would survive more than a few weeks at most.


All of these thoughts churned in my head when I turned back to Lüdowik. “But no one lives there,” I said.


“I live there,” Lüdowik said, “and so do my people.”


“Are you telling us that you come from Taldor Valoren, the Valley of the Damned?” Nic interrupted.


Lüdowik, frowned as he heard the words ‘Valley of the Damned’ come from Nic’s mouth, and I could tell that he’d felt he’d been insulted. Drawing himself up, he once again puffed out his chest with obvious pride.


“It’s not damned. It’s my home, a beautiful home,” he said with conviction.


“And there are people living there?” Lance asked.


“Yes, many people live in my beautiful valley,” and the look of absolute certainty on Lüdowik’s face said all.


Part of me was in shock. Everything I’d ever learned about Taldor Valoren indicated that it was a place of death and suffering. Those exiled there had been left to die, their bodies forever sealed from the outside world, as if in a tomb. According to what I’d learned, it had been over fifteen hundred years since any contact had been made with this distant and isolated land. Even after centuries had passed and any real danger of the plague had long faded, the collective memory of its horrific legacy was enough to keep the population from being even mildly curious as to what lay in the remote Valley of the Dammed. Yet, sitting before me was a young boy who claimed to be an inhabitant of a land of the dead that was supposed to exist in name only.


At this point we were all curious, but Nic called me aside and reminded me that Lüdowik had been through a lot and it was his feeling that our session with him should end, so as not to exhaust the little boy or raise his suspicions. For the moment he seemed to trust us, even though that trust was at best tenuous.


“Let’s go slowly with him, Jamie,” Nic said. “It’s best to make progress in small steps rather than risk losing our chance of gaining valuable information.”


I had to concur; therefore, it was agreed that we would cease our questioning for the time being, and eat our evening meal. Since Lüdowik and Giovanni had already eaten, I asked my master of ceremonies to take Lüdowik to his tent and rest for the night. As they prepared to leave, I was surprised when Lüdowik turned back to me.


“I don’t dress like this,” he said. “Where are my clothes?”


Although he looked fine to me in his tunic and sandals, I remembered that when we’d first found him, he was wearing a shirt and breeches. I’m sure he had a cotton undergarment on under his pants, and normally wore stockings and some type of leather shoe.


“I’m sorry, but this is all we have for the moment. It’s our normal Icarian dress,” I patiently explained. “When we get to Konassas, I’ll see to it that you get different clothing. I will speak to Master Jaysune, who also takes care of us at the Amber Palace. He will have some clothing made for you – something you’re more used to.”


He seemed to accept this for the moment. Then I explained to Lüdowik in his own language that he would be staying with Giovanni and that at least in our camp he would be safe. As he left, the look he returned to me indicated that he was more than dubious of my assurances of safety, but he accompanied Giovanni to the tent – which was, in fact, right next to the one Nic and I were using.


I turned back into the tent where Nic, Lance and Bastian stood while waiting for me to finish my instructions to Giovanni. After a few minutes of discussion amongst ourselves, a large tray of food was brought from the general mess tent and we began to eat. Between bites of bread, soup, meat, and cheese, and sips of wine, we discussed strategy over supper. Lance reminded us that while biding our time and being patient was admirable, there was still a vast army of thrones with Loran as its leader roaming the countryside, and that eventually we would have to engage them. While Nic agreed we would continue to question Lüdowik, he was adamant that at the same time we should not overtax him with lengthy interrogation periods.


“We want him to feel like we’re his friends,” Nic said, “not his captors. We’ll get more out of him if he feels we’re having a conversation with him instead of submitting him to an interrogation.”


As the evening wore on and we continued to eat, the conversation wandered among many topics. Lance pressed the point of trying to learn as much as possible regarding the whereabouts and plans of Loran and his forces. Bastian couldn’t stop describing the horrors he and the Imperial Legionnaires had seen during their trek through the valley, and their search for survivors. Nic offered some ideas and plans as to our next possible series of moves. And I was more than eager to talk about how all of this would affect our plans to get to Küronas.


When Lance and Bastion finally bid us good night, I walked out with them through the tent opening. Stepping into the cool night air, I accompanied them as they made their way to their tent and continued our conversation for a few more minutes before wishing them a good night. When we finished they entered their tent and I was left standing alone. Pausing for a few moments of contemplation I looked up into the night sky. The stars were shining brightly and the twin moons were in wane – past their half-moon stage and on their way to becoming slender crescents in a few short days.


I took a few deep breaths feeling the cool moist air on my face and then proceeded back to our tent. As I pulled back the flap and reentered the tent, I was surprised to see Nic still seated at the table and staring off into space, obviously lost in deep thought. The light of the candles cast long, flickering shadows in the tent, giving him a brooding appearance.


“What are you thinking about?” I said, taking one of the empty seats next to him at the table.


At first he simply turned and stared at me. His gaze was steady, and his demeanor hard to read, but when a frown wrinkled his brow, I knew something was wrong.


“What is it?” I asked, a bit worried.


“I hate to say this, Jamie. I hate to admit it to anyone, especially you, but I’m not sure what we should do. Not only that, I’m not sure if I’m the one who should be doing it.”


“What are you talking about, Nic?” I asked, returning his frown with one of my own. “I think we’re all unsure – I know I am.


“Look at the complete destruction Loran and his Thrones caused in this valley. If they wish, they can exterminate all of humanity on this continent. And what can we do? How many warriors do we have? How many does he have? I’ve been thinking about this since Bastion and I discussed it this morning – since I saw what they did here.”


“But we have the legionnaires, and with your knowledge of battles and fighting, we have a chance.”


“My knowledge?” Nic said. “And how far will my knowledge get us?”


“Nic, I’ve seen you perform miracles.”


“Where? In the arena? This isn’t the arena, Jamie, and we’re not putting on a spectacle for the crowds. I’m not sure what we can do… what I can do. But look how far you’ve come, Jamie. From the time we emerged from our coffin to now, look how much you’ve grown and changed.”


“Well, I wish I’d grown,” I said chuckling. “I’m still as little as I’ve always been,” I added, trying to continue the joke.


“You know what I mean, Jamie,” he said, not offering me the smile I was hoping for. “You’ve absorbed four orbs. You’ve changed. You’ve gotten stronger – not physically, but in so many other ways. You stormed the abbey. You trained with Brotus, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when you defeated Hippolito, but you did. Now you’re developing Charm – an unexpected turn of events. You’re really becoming the Wizard. But what have I done? Yes, I’ve been with you, and we’ve fought and struggled together. I’m the King of Icaria because I’m your mate – it’s a title that simply goes along with union to the Wizard. But what have I done? What can I do?


“I guess right now I’m feeling overwhelmed. Kings and generals are looking to me for answers, and I don’t really have any. When we entered the cavern of thrones at Eagles Rock and I realized Loran had gotten to the army of Icaria before we did, I knew it would be difficult. Now, here in Grüner Platz, I’m realizing just how difficult it will be. It’s not that I’m afraid to fight – or even die – but so many lives are hanging in the balance – and not just Icarian lives, but human lives as well.”


For a few seconds, I sat speechless as Nic’s words rolled over me. I was stunned that he would feel that way. When he finally finished, I sat silently thinking on the weight of his words. For a while I simply sat with him, but then I slowly reached out and took his hand in mine. My first impulse was to overreact, as I usually did. I wanted to shout at him to look at reality and realize the truth, but looking into his face and gazing into his eyes, I could see so much there. I took a breath and paused, and for good measure took another. Then looking up at the one person whom I loved more than life itself, whom I knew was always sure and confident of himself – or so I thought.


Since we’d first awakened, I’d leaned on him. Depended on him. Relied on him. I’d gotten so used to it I’d taken his love, his support and his strength for granted. Thinking back on how I’d treated Lancelot early in the day the same feelings rose up inside of me. Our love flowed both ways. Not just from Nic to me, but from me to him, maybe it was time I made sure he understood that. At that moment I’d never felt so apart from him, yet so close; so selfish, yet so ready to give; so weak, yet so strong. Taking another breath I began.


“Yes Nic, what you say is correct, but the whole truth is much deeper, and you know it. Of course the orbs, all that we’ve been through, Luc’s death, and so many other things have affected me. But while we still don’t have our memories, we now have many facts available to us – facts that eluded us in the past. My studies with Andrew, our visit to Tahkor, our talks with the princes and scribes, all have shed light on many things.


“Now we may have something even more valuable – Lüdowik – a boy who comes from a place where no one is supposed to exist. I know you’re not afraid to die Nic, I’ve seen you fight. Neither am I. But, like me, you don’t want to throw your life away prematurely, and thus be responsible for the wanton slaughter of innocents.” 


Looking into his eyes I could still see doubt. It was then a memory surfaced from deep inside of me. Giving him a slight smile, I squeezed his hand tighter, and continued. “All of our friends think they know what happened when I was taken to watch you and your friends at play, and you gave me the ball, but they don’t know the half of it.”


Slowly I stood. Still clutching his hand I leaned forward and gave him a light kiss on his lips. Their softness and warmth sent a tingle up my spine. Standing up slightly above him I continued.


“The boy who came to me that day, has turned out to be the most important person in my life I’ll ever know. Reaching down I now took his other hand in mine. Then holding them both I looked down at Nic and smiled.


“We both dealt with the imperial court in one way or another – me at the Mondele, and you at Rood. We both know about all the rumors that eventually came to swirl around us. You remember the stories that circulated about what really happened when I first went to see you in the gladiator’s barracks at Piropolis – even Philippe’s story served up its share of innuendo. I heard all the accounts and all the rumors, and so have you. And even if our addled brains and rotten memories still hold us back, there’s no denying we did something great. Think of the disconnected things floating around in our brains: the day at Mondele Royale, the protectorate, and the Night of Flight. Right now they are only shadows of what really happened.


“But when I look at you, when I look into your eyes, when everything in me merges into everything that’s in you, something deep inside tells me that I would never have gotten to that point if it weren’t for you. If no one else knows the truth, I do – and I think somewhere in here you do too.” I released one of his hands and with my free hand I gently took a finger and tapped the side of his head.


“Something amazing happened during the stand at Angel’s Fall and while for the moment it’s more a name than an event, I know that it was all about you, Niklas Agramos. Alone, I would have never succeeded, and every promise I made would have been smashed to nothing. Thousands have died, but thousands more were saved. Right now these events are at the tip of my consciousness. I hate that I can’t recall them, but I do know that I’ve only ever succeeded because of you.”


Once more I reached down and gripped both of his hands tightly, I began to see his face shimmer and distort as tears filled my eyes. “What I am, what I’ve become and what I’m becoming, isn’t because of an amulet, or a mystical set of orbs, or the Staff of Alexander, or anything else. It is very much because of what you did for me, millennia ago. If anyone has been steadfast, if anyone has kept their promise, my love, it’s you. There is nothing in me that has one shred of doubt as to that fact.


“There are many things we still don’t understand and there are many things we don’t know that are coming to threaten us, and our plans and promises. But there is one thing we both know that is coming, and for that I will need you more than anything. It may be a battle you can’t fight, but it’s one I know I can’t win without you.”


Pulling at his arms, forcing him to stand before me. I looked up into his face – into his eyes. “And as far as being the King of Icaria by default,” I continued, anger suddenly coloring my voice, “if I never existed, it would still be your birthright. You are a king: not a straw king or a puppet king, but a real king. In your heart you are a real king and the blood of kings flows in your veins, and I know it.”


“I come before you Niklas, my king, my mate, and my eternal love, by my choice, and the wish of my heart. I’m bound to you forever, in this life and beyond. Even disunion cannot separate us. I know it. It has been ordained. I cannot take one step forward, without knowing that you are beside me, taking the same step with me. What ever we do, where ever we go, we fly together.”


I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight. The memory of another time flashed through my brain. A time of sadness, a time of pain when his arms were the only thing that held me up, and his strength had given me courage to go on.


For the longest time I remained quiet holding tightly on to him, afraid to look up into the face of the one person I knew I could never live without. And then two strong arms reached around me and held me close. The memory of that sad day returned, but with it the knowledge that I’d never be alone again.


“I’m sorry, Jamie,” he said. “Maybe it’s the weight of the world I suddenly feel on my shoulders. The lives of so many hang on what we do. But you’re right, my love, I know I couldn’t live without you. And although there are still many things I don’t remember, there are a few things I’ve come to remember in the past few months.


“One of those things I do remember is the first day you came to me in the barracks at Piropolis. I’d preformed a mock battle in the Com for the crown prince’s birthday. It was a grand show that my trainers insisted I do. I’d fought hard. I was stiff and sore, and took a long, hot soak in the barracks bath. After I finished, I dried off and as usual, wrapped my towel around my neck and made my way naked back to my quarters to get dressed. When I opened the door there you stood, the famous aristocratic virtuoso from the Mondele, proud and arrogant – a ring on every other finger, and a chain of gold with the emperor’s crest around your throat. You were wearing one of your finest tunics, and a cape that was worth the price of a minor noble’s castle. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes that here, in my private quarters, stood the much rumored little Prince of Isewier, in all his haughty splendor – smuggled into the barracks by my best friend, Miro.


“But you weren’t proud and arrogant. You were… please don’t get angry… a scared little boy. I’d was sure I knew what you wanted, and was even surer when you ordered Miro out of the room with one of your dismissive barks. But then you turned to me and began to speak – at first hesitantly and shyly – and then you began to cry. You sobbed as you kept trying to talk to me, forcing out the words between your sobs. Some of what you said made no sense, something about being a child and getting a ball. Insisting you knew the real me, that you trusted me and that you knew I not only could, but also would, help you. I was so naive I didn’t even really know what to do. But I came to you and wrapped my arms around you to calm you and there was something about doing that which changed me, Jamie. It was as if I was supposed to do it, as if it had been destined to happen; maybe it was. And from that second on, I’ve felt as if my arms were made to hold you.


“After I calmed you and dried your tears with my towel, you continued. What you told me chilled me. It was almost beyond the fantastic. I could have called you a liar, I could have ordered you away, but I couldn’t. Looking into your eyes, I knew you were telling me the truth – a fantastical and unbelievable truth, but the truth nonetheless. But I told you I would help you, because at that moment, I knew I loved you.”


“That’s why I came to you,” I said, trying to wipe the tears from my eyes. “I knew you would help me, and I knew you would love me, Niklas. And look at us now. Do you think I’ve ever thought for one second, that I made a mistake? That maybe I made the wrong decision that day?” Smiling at him through my tears, I continued, “I made no mistake. The day you rescued me in Tardon and agreed to my demand to save Luc proves that. From the beginning, I was always the one who made all the glorious promises and helped fashion the wildest of schemes, knowing all the while that I could never carry them through on my own. But once I found you, I knew that I had someone beside me who could – you, my love. Many are still counting on me, but I’m still counting on you.”


Pulling me closer he looked into my eyes then leaned into me and, he kissed me with fire, passion, and love. “Then we’ll count on each other Jamie.”


“It’s a deal, Nic,” I said, first smiling up at him, then returning his kiss with a passion of my own. “I won’t let you down.”


“And I won’t let you down either, Jamie.” Then his face changed and became a bit softer, “It’s time for bed,” he said, hugging me tightly.


“Yes, it is,” I answered, trying to hug him even tighter than he’d hugged me, but not really succeeding.


I felt his hands reach up and slip the tunic I was wearing off my shoulders. He slowly untied my sash, and the garment fell, to puddle at my feet. Looking into his eyes, my hands pulled at the sash of his tunic as I smiled, more than ready to engage in our dance of love.


When we’d finished and I finally drifted off to sleep that night, I began to dream. Dreaming was nothing new to me. Early on in our quest, only a few weeks after Nic and I’d emerged from our coffin and began our wanderings around the Ardentin forest, I’d started to dream. My very first dream had been of Alexander, and my second, of the mysterious boy who still occasionally visited my sleep. As I absorbed more orbs and the mysterious power called Charm made its presence known, I found myself caught up in many strange and unusual dreams. Some made no sense at all: in one particular dream that I often experienced, usually after long days when I was especially tired and exhausted, I’d be floating, not flying, through a strange dark chasm filled with glimmering lights. That dream never resolved itself – I would simply continue to float through the void alone and without purpose, finally waking up confused and disoriented.


Other dreams were more specific: warriors fighting pitched battles; my hands touching a strange lizard-like animal; large groups of people herded together like cattle, terrified and trying to make their way toward some unseen passage; walking along the seacoast and seeing two great arms rising out of the water a distance from the shore; standing in the atrium of a grand villa, jumping and dancing for a man whose face I could never see; and finally, the strange sound of someone talking to me, but not in a completely human voice. That dream was the strangest of all, for instead of upsetting me as many of them did, this one always made me feel happy – as if I recognized the voice, and it gave me comfort. 


That night, as I lay in Nic’s arms, my dream was quite vivid. I could see armies of angels, both on foot and in the air. There were thousands of them. They were laying siege to a city – a very large, dark city with thick black walls, numerous high towers and scores of battlements. On the ground, great siege engines worked with grim precision, sending large, round, stone balls hurling through the air, reducing the massive, stone walls to rubble. In the air others, carrying burning torches, pots of boiling tar, and braziers filled with hot coals, rained down destruction on both the structures, and the heads of the people within the great, walled city.


The fighting was fierce. Those defending the city sent volley after volley of arrows over the walls and into the air, trying to stop the simultaneous attacks from both the ground and the air. Kettles of molten tar high on top of the walls poured their flesh-blistering brew onto the attackers below. The troops guarding the city fought hard, but they were no match for the onslaught they faced. The mighty winged warriors were like angry wasps pouring from a hive – their only thought being to attack and kill. Like an unstoppable juggernaut, they were relentless. Eventually, the thick walls were broken in three separate places, and the attackers on the ground flooded into the city through the breaches, like water through a ruptured dike. At the same time, those in the air descended with swords, spears, and other sinister weapons, carving and hacking anyone in their path.


As the butchery throughout the city escalated to a fever pitch, a platoon of elite warriors made their way through the streets and alleys of the city. Anyone unlucky enough to be in their path, or who tried to stop them, quickly died. Making their way efficiently from street to street, they quickly arrived at the royal palace. The troops guarding the palace were no match for them, and were quickly dispatched. Breaching the doors of the palace, they entered the great hall and fanned out, their only goal to execute a very specific set of orders. Moving quickly and efficiently through the palace, they scoured its halls and corridors, along with it’s many rooms, chambers and salons. In the end, it only took a few minutes of searching to find the king and crown prince barricaded in the throne room, with a loyal band of bodyguards to defend them.


King Oslo – old, tired, and slightly confused – sat on his throne atop its elevated platform. His son, Crown Prince Dragus, stood next to him. Their defenders were ranged in formation across the floor of the throne room – their backs to their rulers, their faces to the door, their weapons drawn. When the door burst open and the fight began, there was no contest. The king’s own elite, battle-hardened, troops were no match for the beasts who overran them. Although brave and courageous in their defense, they were cut down by mighty, winged creatures like wheat before a farmer’s scythe. When it was over, only King Oslo and his son were left. Then another figure strolled through the door, casually holding a long sword. Smaller than the others, but still tall and muscular; his loose blond hair fell gently on his shoulders, his tunic was smeared with blood, and a fevered light shone in his eyes, belying his casual pose. The warriors parted, and gave him passage to the throne. Climbing the steps, he looked at both the King and the Crown Prince. He started to laugh, and the dream ended.


I awoke to find that I’d moved away from Nic. I was drenched in sweat, and I realized I was violently shivering – whether from the dream, or the cold sweat that covered my body, or both, I didn’t know. Jumping to my feet, I continued to shake. By now, my movements had awakened Nic. He jumped to his feet, took one look at me, threw a blanket around my shoulders, and held me tight. Eventually the blanket mopped up the sweat, and I slowly began to stop shaking as I relayed the dream to Nic, who held me close but said little.


When I was once again calm, he told me to lay with him. It was still dark, and it would be hours before the light of dawn filled the sky. I lay in his arms and stared into the blackness surrounding us, fearful of what I’d experienced. After a while, fatigue won out over fear, and I drifted off to what was, thankfully, a dreamless sleep.