The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part I - The Golden Orb


Chapter 3



The next morning I tried to pretend as if nothing happened, but my mood was black. Somehow I knew that my dream was much more than just that. Its reality touched me to my very core, and I feared what it meant. If it was a harbinger of things to come then it was indeed a bad omen. The worst part for me was the feeling of helplessness that gripped me. After I was dressed, Nic found me pacing outside our tent. When he asked me the reason for my agitation, I told him – this time carefully relaying my dream in far greater detail than I’d done the night before. But while he was concerned and sympathetic, he had to agree with me that there was little we could do.


As our conversation ended, I looked up to see Lance and Bastian coming out of their tent. Due to the limited, and oft times primitive, conditions in the field, it had made sense for both boys to share the same tent – thus saving the transportation and set-up of an additional one if either had absolutely insisted on separate quarters. They hadn’t, but then it wasn’t in either of their dispositions to be demanding. Although I knew Nic was pleased that the two of them got along together so well, I realized we shouldn’t have been surprised. Both showed unflappable poise, while at the same time were quiet and thoughtful by nature.


Esteban, Bastian’s mate and commander of the Imperial Legion, was more direct and demonstrative than the usually subdued Captain – creating a pairing similar to that of Cody and Lance. As captain of the Imperial Legionnaires, Bastian assumed a command that was quite singular and special. Although they were fierce warriors, the troops who made up the Imperial Legion also assumed an important ceremonial role. The balance required a mix of courage, bravery, and skill at arms, yet knowledge of tact, diplomacy and poise – a truly unique mixture of characteristics. Bastian’s thoughtful and calm personality appeared to blend these diverse characteristics in just the proper proportion, thus projecting to those he commanded the perfect example of the model Imperial Legionnaire.


Calling both of them over, Nic asked them to take a small contingent of legionnaires and canvas the valley one more time. This time his goal was not to look for survivors – who, by now, we knew didn’t exist – but to see if anything could be determined regarding the attack itself.


“If we can learn anything of how they approached, their strength, and what their strategy was, it will be useful,” Nic said.


Excusing themselves to carry out Nic’s orders, Lance and Bastian went on their way. Going back into our tent, Nic and I sat down to a tray of bread, cheese and fresh berries. As we ate, I found myself lost in thought. It all started when, looking down, my eye was drawn to the emerald ankle bracelet Nic always wore. The exquisite bracelet wasn’t something one would expect a gladiator to have. The emeralds it was fashioned from were of the highest quality – carefully matched in cut and color. Each gem had been set in a delicate and intricately carved gold setting that, when linked together, formed a chain that circled around Nic’s lower ankle. It was quite similar to the one Charles wore and its design indicated that it might even have been made by the same craftsman. 


Shortly after we’d awakened from our coffin I’d questioned Nic about it, but he had no idea when or where he’d gotten it. As time went on, he came to speculate that possibly I’d given it to him, but if I had, I’d no memory of it. Later, when we learned the clasp of Charles’ ruby ankle bracelet was actually a key, a careful examination of the clasp on Nic’s bracelet revealed a similarity, but it didn’t match the key on Charles’ bracelet, so the mystery continued. 


Although, like me, he’d recently risen and dressed for the day, Nic still hadn’t put on his sandals and as we ate, the morning light reflected off the sparkling, dark green gems as he rubbed his foot on the carpet that served as a covering for the dirt floor of the tent. Absentmindedly I watched as the finely cut emeralds bent and twisted the light that fell on them until they projected an inner fire of cold green light. But while I stared at the bracelet my eyes only half saw the light playing across the stones, since another part of me was looking at nothing external – focusing instead on the inner recesses of my own troubled thoughts.


“Tiger, spider, hawk, bear, scorpion, wolf,” I quietly said to myself, as if hypnotized by the glittering emeralds.


“What, Jamie?” Nic asked.


Still lost in thought and not hearing him, I repeated myself, “tiger, spider, hawk, bear, scorpion, wolf.”


“Jamie? What are you saying?”


Roused from my thoughts, I shook my head and looked up across the table to him – first studying his face, then the space inside the tent as if I’d just appeared out of nowhere and were examining my surroundings for the first time. “Those are the orbs that Loran has absorbed,” I said quietly. “They’re all quite powerful.”


“Are you sure he has six?” Nic asked.


“Yes. Ever since we both started absorbing the orbs, our powers have grown. What’s more, Nic, although Loran and I are at odds, the orbs aren’t. They’re strongly connected. They make up a vast matrix among themselves. Even though they’re in two different imperial bodies, they still have an affinity for each other. Somehow I think they communicate with each other over space and distance... maybe even time?”


“Is that how Loran sensed you when he sent that... thing... that eye, into the council meeting in Konassas to attack you?”


“No, he used other means. I’m not sure what they were, but I know he can’t sense where I am at all times. In that respect I’m lucky, because I can sense him and his presence – the essence of the dragon allows me to do that. He, on the other hand, is blind to my exact whereabouts, but just like me, he knows that I’ve absorbed four essences,” I said. Then giving Nic a serious look, I continued, “You know, Nic, if he absorbs the other two, I fear he may be unbeatable.”


“But we have no way of knowing where the other two orbs are, right?”


“That’s right. The only orb that can lead to other orbs is the Golden Orb – the Orb of the Lion. Because it’s the key orb, it can be used to find all the others,” I said. “When we first came upon Loran in the abbey, I noticed he had the tiger tattooed on his thigh in one of the twelve sections of the circle. He lost his chance at the Orb of the Bat that day, but then managed to get the Orb of the Hawk away from us when we found it buried with Lancelot and Matthew. On that day, I noticed that in addition to the tiger, he had the spider tattooed in one of the other sections of the circle, and I knew he’d absorbed its essence. In fact, that’s how he was able to appear in our midst; I’ve since learned through The Screen that the Orb of the Spider, as one of its powers, confers the ability of apparition. And from the time he got the Orb of the Hawk until now, he’s absorbed three more essences. Of course, where he found them is a mystery to me, but at this point I know that he’s absorbed six.”


“But you still have four, Jamie,” Nic said, “and from what you’ve told me, some of them are quite powerful.”


“Yes, the essence of the snake is one of the most powerful of all the orbs, and so is the essence of the dragon. The essences of the owl and the bat, while more subtle, have helped me many times in these past weeks; the truth is, each orb is powerful and important. The true goal is for them to work in concert, united in the body of the wizard – the one, true wizard.”


“We can only hope we find the other orbs,” Nic said.


“Maybe the Golden Orb,” I quickly said. “It will lead to the final orb – the Orb of the Unicorn – which is a very special orb.”


“How so?”


“It confers the power of healing.”


“You mean you would have the power to heal?” Nic asked


“No, it confers no healing powers on the Wizard.” I said. “The healing it empowers is for the wizard. It allows the wizard to heal quickly from any injury inflicted upon him.”


“Still, that’s a good thing,” Nic said. “If you were injured – seriously injured – it could help you recover.”


“Yes, Nic, that’s its purpose.”


“And what is its charm?” Nic asked.


“The Orb of the Unicorn confers the Charm of Pain,” I said softly.


“Pain?” he said in surprise, “I thought each charm was to be beneficial to the wizard. What kind of charm is pain?”


“A very important one,” I said. “Probably the most important one of all. Charles told me a long time ago, when I only had two or three of the orbs essences within me, that even just those essences could make me appear god-like if I could master them. Can you imagine what a fully invested wizard could do with all the all the essences, their attributes, their powers, and their charm? Now that I’ve assimilated four of the orbs and see how they interact with each other, and me, I can. It’s a frightening thought, Nic. A wizard of evil intent could become a monster, killing and destroying anything that got in his way. I’m just starting to realize that he can fell armies, level mountains, and probably do things neither of us can even imagine. If he got angry with someone, what would prevent him from killing them? What if they were innocent? What, or who, could stop him?”


“Pain?” Nic asked, giving me a strange look.


“Yes, pain. Just as the power of healing is to heal the wizard and not others, the charm of pain doesn’t allow the wizard to inflict pain – he can certainly do that through other means – its purpose is to inflict pain on him. The pain he purposely and maliciously inflicts, he also feels. From my studies, I’ve learned that it was one of the conditions Lon Nol was given when he was commanded to design the orbs. But the pain isn’t just physical. It extends into every level of the wizard’s being: physical, mental, emotional and metaphysical. It burns and sears, and not just for a few seconds – its effects are long lasting.”


Nic was silent for a few minutes, then reaching out, he took my hand. “I’ve learned, over time, how serious being the wizard is, Jamie, but I never realized that it was so all-encompassing,” he said.


“I didn’t either, Nic, but I continue to learn more every day.”


“One of the things I’d still like to know is how the orbs were scattered in the first place, and how they ended up with some of us – like Cody – while others were lost and seem to randomly appear. Now that we have the princes and scribes of the noble Icarian houses, I’m surprised that each orb wasn’t placed with its prince.”


“I’ve wondered the same thing,” I confessed, “It almost seems like it all happened in a rush, like when someone is trying to flee a burning building and grabs whatever possessions they can. Sometimes valuable things are taken, but other times worthless objects are seized while the true valuables are left to be destroyed.”


“That’s a good observation, Jamie,” Nic said, and I could tell from his expression that my words had prompted him to think, and that he was probably pondering a number of scenarios.


We were still discussing the matter when Giovanni and Lüdowik entered our tent. Having already taken Lüdowik to the mess tent for breakfast, Giovanni thought we might wish to continue our questioning of the sole survivor of the attack on Günter Platz. Since Nic and I had just finished our own morning meal, we were preparing to make a more extensive survey of the valley on our own.


I greeted Lüdowik and inquired if he’d slept well. He told me that he had, and I started a brief conversation with him, keeping the mood light and nonthreatening. I even spoke a few sentences to him in his native language. After a few minutes, Nic nodded to me and I instructed Giovanni to take Lüdowik back to their tent and that we would see them at the midday meal. As they exited, I pulled Giovanni aside and told him to keep the boy occupied, and when we returned I might question Lüdowik a bit more. He agreed and left, rushing to catch up with Lüdowik. Nic and I followed them out of the tent a few minutes later. Crossing to an open area in the camp and standing side by side, we leapt into the air.


Once airborne, we began our survey. Initially, our observations yielded no new information. We would fly to an area, land, scout around, and then take off and fly to another area. Each time we landed, it was in the midst of utter destruction. More than once I cringed at the sight of the burnt or mutilated bodies, now ripe with flies and corruption, that we found amid the ruins. Nic said very little during this exercise. But by the time we’d made our eighth landing I saw a look of understanding cross his face. By the twelfth landing I knew he’d learned something.


“What is it Nic?” I said approaching him after he’d poked around the most recent farmhouse we’d landed near. “You act like you’ve discovered something.”


“I don’t know if I’ve discovered something as much as I’m remembering something,” he said, giving me a knowing look.




“We’ll probably never know what formations they used, their numbers, or even their strategy – if they had any – but I don’t think that matters. What does matter is, I’ve suddenly remembered how thrones fight,” Nic said. “They’re like machines: they don’t think, they just follow orders. And once those orders are given, they carry them out. They have no sophistication, and they can’t adapt to suddenly changing situations. I remember how they were at Rood. We sometimes fought them in the arena. They lacked the ability to think ahead – to strategize. When they entered the arena they were told to fight and kill, but while they were stronger than most of us, we could defeat them with just a little thought and planning. I remember Miro taking down half a ‘toon, all by himself. The crowd went wild and Miro, of course, played it up like the showman he is, but after it was over and we were in the bath soaking, I asked him about it. I remember he laughed and told me that thrones were no different than a pack of mirs.”


“Mirs? You don’t mean the little rats that lived in packs near the cliffs of Isewier?” I asked.


“That’s exactly what I mean. You know Jamie, they’re so stupid that if one starts running, the others will follow blindly.”


“I forgot about them, but now that you mention it, I remember playing with them as a child. I’d fly to the cliffs and find a pack of them,” I said. “I’d scare one by throwing a stone at it. It would start running and the others would follow blindly. More than once the leader ran off one of the cliffs and the others would simply follow. It was always amazing to see how short-sighted they were.”


“The day Miro slaughtered over twenty thrones, I asked him how he did it. He told me that all he had to do was get one moving in a certain direction and the others would follow. At that point he was free to move at will and kill them, picking them off one at a time. The amazing thing is that even after he started, as long as he could distract them and get them off on a tangent, they’d forget what had just happened and he’d once more resume his killing spree.” Nic sat down on what looked like a pile of rocks; as he did, I realized it was all that remained of the original stone stairs leading up to a now nonexistent farmhouse. “I think we’re done here Jamie. Let’s go back. I’m going to need to think about this. Damn, I wish Miro were here – I could use him right now.”


“You miss him, don’t you?” I said


“Yes. Maybe not as much as Philippe does, but I do miss him. He’s my best friend, and he’s been gone a long time. I can only hope we see him soon.”


With those words Nic stood, stroked his wings, and was airborne. I did the same, and soon was flying side by side with him. Within a few minutes we were back at the camp. It was time for the midday meal and as we approached our tent, I saw Giovanni and Lüdowik coming out of theirs.


“Join us,” I called out to the two boys.


They entered our tent and sat at the table with us. Our food arrived and we ate, mostly in silence. While I was desperately eager to question Lüdowik, I knew that scaring the little boy or appearing to bully him into talking would lead nowhere, so I held my tongue and ate. As we were finishing, I began to notice increased noise and activity in the camp. Nic was just beginning to rise from the table to investigate when we heard a discreet cough outside the doorflap of the tent. Nic and I looked at each other, and I called out “Enter!”


The flap folded back, revealing a captain of the Legion. “Your Grace, Your Highness, there is an army officer here, requesting an immediate audience. He says he carries important news. Will you see him?”


“Yes, I think we will,” I said. “Please show him in.”


In strode an officer from the army of Xannameir. I recognized him as one of the captains that occasionally accompanied General Zakaria.  His name was Cortova, and as he walked into the tent I was surprised see Brotus following closely behind him, along with a few other soldiers, none of whom I recognized.


Nic was now standing. I remained seated, because the aura I was sensing from Captain Cortova wasn’t a good one. Seconds after our unexpected guests entered, Lance and Bastian came rushing into the tent.


“Wrenstatten has fallen,” Captain Cortova coldly spat out as he faced Nic.


“What?” I said, jumping to my feet and instantly remembering my dream as I felt the blood drain from my face. “What happened?”


“I’ll inform you of the circumstances on the way back,” Cortova said


“The way back?” Nic asked.


“You’ve been ordered to appear before the Council of Kingdoms for an emergency war council.”


“Things are very bad, boys,” Brotus said, interrupting the captain and giving us a grave look.


“Strike camp immediately,” Nic ordered. “We’ll begin the journey back to Konassas as quickly as we can.”


Nic walked over to Cortova and quietly began a conversation with him. Brotus began talking to Lance and Bastian. Within a few minutes Nic left with the Captain. Lance and Bastian followed them out of the tent and Brotus – not to be left out – brought up the rear. After they were gone, I found myself alone with Giovanni and Lüdowik. I turned to Giovanni and told him to begin making preparations for our departure. Since part of that task was to assist me in gathering up Nic and my personal possessions, he scurried off in an attempt to secure help.


Now only Lüdowik and I remained in the tent. Slowly, I sat back down at the table. I looked over in the corner at Lüdowik to see that he was sitting on the ground in what appeared to be an attempt to escape the confusion and excitement that had swept through the tent just moments before. I motioned for him to join me. At first he remained stationary. Speaking softly, I continued to encourage him to sit with me. After a few minutes, he reluctantly got up and approached me. Pulling a stool from under the table, he sat on it and although he was small, the crudely fashioned stool creaked as if it might collapse. When he was once again seated across from me, I looked intently at him. As I did, I could see a boy, young, but strong and determined. Here was someone who had survived a terrifying ordeal and, while frightened and scared, had managed to maintain his poise and courage, even to the point of displaying a bit of arrogance and bravado.


The remains of our midday meal still sat on the table, and I motioned for him to eat some more since we would be making a long hard ride back to Konassas. At first he appeared unsure, and although the news of the fall of Wrenstatten had completely taken away my appetite, in order to encourage him I reached out, took a piece of bread from a bowl sitting in front of me, pulled it apart with in my hands and dipped it in some sauce that had pooled on one of the platters on the table. Lüdowik quickly followed my lead: grabbing a large hunk of meat from a joint on another plate, he put it to his mouth he began to gnaw the cooked flesh from the bone. After a few quiet moments had passed, I stared across the table at the boy who was now too intent on eating to notice my careful examination. At first he continued eating, oblivious to my actions, but after a while he must have felt my gaze because he abruptly stopped and stared back at me.


“My uncle told me that this would happen one day,” he said, in a very matter of fact tone.


“What would happen?” I asked.


“He told me that the people of Taldor Valoren have been waiting a long time for you, and that your appearance may not come in his or my life time or even the life time of my children, but that one day you would surely come. He always talked about it as a happy time. He never said you would come to kill us.”


“We didn’t come to kill you or anyone else, Lüdowik,” I said. “As I told you yesterday, there are some within our own species who are also our enemies. Just like your people, we didn’t expect this, but now we must fight them. It’s not something King Niklas or I like, or want to do, but our hand has been forced. I want you to be safe, and I want your people to be safe. So does His Highness, the king. I want you to believe that. I hope we can show you the truth, so that in time you really do believe it.”


Lüdowik continued to eat, but kept his eyes riveted on me. “You did help me,” he admitted between bites of food, “and Giovanni is very kind to me. No one here has tried to hurt me.”


“And we won’t, I promise. You’ll see more when we get to Konassas. I hope that you’ll continue to learn about us and understand.” I paused for a few minutes when a thought came to me. “Your uncle… where is he? Was he with you in Grüner Platz? Lüdowik, was he killed in the attack?”


As soon as I said the words, I wished I could have retracted them. It had not been my intention to upset the boy, and I watched as his face fell.


“Yes, he’s dead,” Lüdowik said quietly, tears quickly coming to his eyes. “We were just getting ready to leave when we were attacked.”


“How did you manage to escape?” I asked. “How did you survive the attack?”


Lüdowik was just beginning to reply when the flap of the tent opened and Nic stepped in, followed by Cortova and Brotus.


“Jamie, it’s time to go. We must be back in Konassas as soon as possible. I suggest that you prepare to leave immediately.”


I frowned a bit, since I was just at the threshold of getting some potentially useful information from Lüdowik, but I knew Nic was right. I rose from the table and motioned for Lüdowik to join me. Then, with the help of the boy who, as far as I knew, was the sole survivor of the attack on Günter Platz, I began to prepare for the journey that lay ahead.


The next hour was a mad scramble as we prepared to journey back to the Kingdom of Kalas. Tents were struck, campfires extinguished, and horses saddled for the journey. All the necessary preparations an army must make in order to start a forced march were made. We would be journeying back to Konassas throughout the night and over the course of the next day, moving as rapidly as possible. As I rushed about, I couldn’t help but think back to my earlier conversation with Nic about gathering up things in a hurry, and as I moved about the tent trying to secure and pack, I could easily see how things could get lost, or forgotten.


Nic and Lance moved quickly through the encampment, making sure that all the preparations for departure were being made, and that there were no problems that might cause delay. As I worked with Lüdowik and Giovanni gathering things together from Nic’s and my tent, I could hear Bastian barking orders to the Imperial Legionnaires, and every so often I would hear a loud curse from Brotus, urging everyone to move quickly.


Finally, we were ready. Nic and I, surrounded by our contingent of the Imperial Legion, were mounted on horseback and ready to move out, but just as Nic raised his arm to signal our departure, I quickly maneuvered my horse closer to his, took hold of his hand and brought his arm down to his side.


“Nic,” I said softly, “Please let Lüdowik ride with me.”


As I spoke, I nodded my head toward Bastion, who was mounted on his mighty warhorse with the small boy sitting in front of him, sharing his saddle.


“Very well,” Nic said, “but do it quickly. We must be on our way.”


I nudged Arax over to Bastian’s horse and in a matter of seconds, Lüdowik was transferred to my saddle and sitting comfortably in front of me. Nic gave the signal to move forward and we were off, riding quickly through the falling night toward the Kingdom of Kalas, and its capital of Konassas. While our movement through the countryside was rapid, it wasn’t reckless. Nic was smart enough to pace everyone so that both men and horses preformed at their maximum efficiency, making sure that no one became exhausted or fell behind.


As we journeyed through the night, I spoke quietly to Lüdowik. Just before we left, I’d had a flash of insight, which prompted my request to have the boy ride pillion with me. I realized that since we would be riding for some distance, it would be the perfect opportunity to question Lüdowik in a friendlier and less hostile manner. I would direct the conversation more as a chat instead of an interrogation, in the hopes that Lüdowik would become more relaxed and familiar with me.


After a few minutes on horseback, once we’d settled into the journey, I began to talk to the boy. Conversation was quite easy; since he was sitting directly in front of me on the saddle I could quietly talk into his ear, and even though he was facing forward, we were in such close proximity that I could easily hear him. At first I just made the usual small talk, asking him if he was comfortable in the saddle with me and if he needed something to drink, but as time went on our conversation moved to other realms. Ever so slowly, I began to question him about his home and the mysterious place called Taldor Valoren – known to everyone else in this land as The Valley of the Damned. I began my discussion by first asking him how he’d come to Grüner Platz.


“I went there with my Uncle Jaspha,” he answered in his heavy Taldorian accent. “Uncle Jaspha thought it would be a good idea for me to accompany him.”


“Why?” I asked, whispering in his ear.


“It was my uncle’s term as Counselor of Trade for Taldor Valoren,” Lüdowik answered. “Twice a year, the Counselor and members of the trading cohort make the journey to Grüner Platz. We trade many of the things that we make in our land with the farmers of the green valley, and they give us grain, and other things.”


“So why did you go with your uncle?” I continued.


“Because I just turned twelve years old – one year before my time to present myself to the Circle of Leaders. It’s important for Taldorian boys to show the Circle of Leaders their maturity and independence at the time of their presentation. Taldorian girls must also do the same before the Council of Women. My uncle thought it would be good experience, and something to report to the Circle when it was time for my initiation.”


“What’s the Circle of Leaders?”


Lüdowik attempted to answer, but the more detailed his explanation became, the more I realized that his lack of vocabulary was hindering his ability to provide the information I was looking for. Telling him to switch to his own language, we continued.


“It’s a group of people who rule our land. They make laws, and they enforce them,” Lüdowik said, much more comfortable using his native tongue. “They also decide things, like if two people have a disagreement, or if someone breaks a rule.”


“Then are they are like a council, or a court, or a government?”


“They’re a little like all of them, I guess,” Lüdowik said. “This year Horem Jess, a maker of clothing, got into an argument with Alam Foran, a blacksmith. I don’t know what it was about, but I remember my uncle talking about it. The Circle of Leaders had a meeting and asked the two men to come join them in a discussion of the matter, and it was eventually settled peacefully.”


“It sounds to me like your Circle of Leaders is the ruling body of your land.”


“I guess that’s what they are,” Lüdowik answered matter-of-factly.


“You keep talking about your uncle,” I said. “Do you have a mother or father?”


“No,” Lüdowik answered flatly. “They were both killed by rockfall at the Pass of Orris. I was only a baby when it happened. I’ve lived with my uncle ever since.”


“Lüdowik,” I asked, now even more curious, “How long has this trading been going on between your land and the green valley?”


“Oh, I think a very long time,” Lüdowik answered. “Before my uncle was born, and before his father was born.”


“And how do you journey here from Taldor Valoren?”


“We cross along a pass through the Poniçessian Mountains.”


“But I was told that all of the mountain passes leading to Taldor Valoren had been destroyed.”


“Yes, they were, but over a period of many years, one was rebuilt. My uncle told me it took a long time. It’s difficult to travel, and dangerous, and it’s supposed to be a secret. I traveled through it for the first time with my uncle, and it is very narrow and steep. Only one person at a time can pass along it, and it drops off into a great gorge. It’s even more difficult when you’re carrying something”


“How many people live in your land?” I asked.


“Many,” Lüdowik answered, “I can’t count them all, but there are many people living there.”


“What’s it like?” I asked trying to form a mental image of a place everyone referred to as The Valley of the Damned.


At my question Lüdowik fell silent, and I began to suspect that he might be wary describing a place that had been able to remain hidden for so long, But when he finally spoke I realized that his pause seemed to point to the fact that describing such a place might be a formidable task for him.


“There is much to tell about it,” he began slowly. Because he’d switched back to the native language of the land, I noticed his Taldorian accent becoming thick. “It’s a beautiful place, in a deep and broad valley. A great river runs through it. It is a bit like a large city, but it is also like a small village. In school we studied about the great cities: Konassas, Wrenstatten, Tahkor, and Aradamia, and I know Taldor Valoren isn’t like them. But it’s also not like the villages I saw in the green valley. It doesn’t look like anything here.”


“Do people live in houses? Are there large buildings?” I continued with my questioning.


“Some live in houses in the valley, some live along the river, some live on the cliffs. Everyone lives close together – for safety and protection,” he added.


“It’s so high in the snow covered mountains,” I said. “Is it difficult to live in the cold for so many months?”


“It is not cold there,” Lüdowik said. “There is no snow in the valley. It is warm because of the hot springs.”


“There are hot springs in the valley?” I asked, somewhat surprised.


“Yes, and places where the heat comes from the ground. We have rain, but never snow.”


The more Lüdowik’s story unfolded, the more curious I found myself becoming. Everything that I’d learned prior to meeting this boy pointed to the fact that the Poniçessian Mountains were forbidding and uninhabitable. That’s why they were chosen as a place of permanent exile by the warlords who’d initiated the plague cleansings. It had been their goal to create a place from which no one who was sent there could ever return. To the outside world this plan appeared to have worked, but now I was being confronted with one of the descendents of those early exiles who was very much alive, and if what he told me was true, he was part of a large and thriving community living in a place previously thought uninhabitable.


Traveling across the land through the dark of night, Lüdowik and I continued our conversation. After hours of riding, we came to a stream and Nic ordered a halt to the march in order to allow the horses a chance to cool down, rest a bit and have some water. After we dismounted and the horses to began drinking, everyone went to the stream for a drink of fresh, cool water and to take advantage of the opportunity to refill the water bags.


Nic bent down over the stream, cupped his hands and splashed a handful of water on his face. Then he reached into the stream once more with a single cupped hand, brought it to his mouth and began drinking. After he was refreshed, I saw him get up and go over to Lance and Bastian, and soon the three of them were deep into what I imagined was a serious conversation. Lüdowik remained with me. We appeared to have formed a bond, and I was glad the little boy was beginning to feel comfortable around me.


“How are you boys holding up?”


The gruff, deep voice coming from behind startled me, but within seconds I recovered from my surprise and spun around with a smile on my face. I knew it was Brotus. I hadn’t seen him since Eagles Rock, and I was glad that he’d accompanied Captain Cortova on his mission.


“I’m well, Brotus,” I answered with a smile. Then, to be a bit devilish, I added, “But I guess this march is difficult for an old man like you.”


“Listen sparrow, I’ll have you know that this little march is nothing compared to some of the maneuvers Derek the Fat put us through when I was with the Iron Regiment. I can still outfight all of you put together.”


He said all of this with a warm smile on his face and I knew that even though he wouldn’t admit it, he was glad to see me too. He stared at me for a few seconds, but then the smile faded from his face. Bending down until his mouth was near my ear, he whispered, “Are you still practicing, Jamie?”


“Yes, of course, Brotus. We found a Battlecom in one of the caverns under the Royal Academy at Eagles Rock. We guessed that it had been put there for the Icarian army to train on – Nic and I both practiced on it.”


Brotus suddenly scowled at me. “Don’t play games with me, sparrow – you know what I mean. Are you still practicing with the little one?”


I cast my eyes to the ground


“Yes, when I can,” I quietly replied.


“Very dangerous, sparrow… very dangerous,” Brotus said, still looking grimly at me.


“But I think it’s the only way,” I answered. “I already explained it to you, Brotus.”


“That you did, little boy, but it’s very risky. I can’t say that I’m completely in agreement with it.”


“Well, if you have any other suggestions, I’ll certainly accept them,” I answered quickly and with irritation.


Brotus looked startled at my tone of voice and sudden harsh demeanor.


“Well, you’re right Jamie, I don’t have any answers. By the beard of Sarjanus, I wish I did. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Just keep practicing, and remember what I taught you.”


“Remember?” I said with a smile. “How do you think I defeated Hippolito?”


“Yes, I know. I wasn’t allowed to see it, with all that damn private council rot, but I heard all about it. I’m proud of you sparrow, but remember – don’t get cocky. You’re not your brother. You’re younger, smaller, and less experienced. He was trained for this; you weren’t.”


At the mention of Loran, I felt both of my hearts suddenly beat faster in my chest.


“I know Brotus; I’m just trying to find a way.”


“Of course you are, sparrow. I know that.”


Before I knew it, Brotus had me locked in a hug. Enfolded in the fat old soldier’s arms, I could feel his love and concern for me; I also could feel an emotion he was trying to suppress, one buried deep inside of him: worry, mixed with fear. We broke our hug, and as I stepped back, I noticed Lüdowik standing to my right.


“Brotus?” I said, “Have you met my new friend, Lüdowik?”


Brotus turned to his right and looked down on the small boy.


“No, I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”


And with that he stuck out his hand. At first Lüdowik backed away, but Brotus just stood there with his hand out and a smile on his face, and slowly the boy moved forward and extended his hand to the old soldier. I smiled as Brotus gently took the boy’s hand; it was amusing to see Lüdowik’s little hand disappear into the large, calloused hand of Brotus, but after a formal handshake, Brotus gave the boy a wink and a slight bow.


“Very pleased to meet you, my young lord,” Brotus said with a smile and a bow.


At that moment, Giovanni came running up to us. As soon as Lüdowik saw him, he suddenly smiled. I wasn’t surprised; Giovanni had that effect on everyone he met.


“Another sparrow,” Brotus grunted as the young angel came up to us, but I saw a broad smile appear on the old man’s face.


“Your Grace,” Giovanni said as he executed a slight bow. “There’s something I should tell you before we remount. As we were getting ready to leave, Lüdowik told me something. He mentioned a city on a great plain beyond his land.”


At the word city, I turned and looked at the little boy. Now my hearts were racing even faster than when Brotus and I were discussing Loran.


“Lüdowik,” I said quietly, “What does Giovanni mean? What do you know about a city?”


“I was telling Giovanni about the great city on the plain,” Lüdowik answered.


The tension was too much for me; I walked over to the boy and started to speak again, but this time my voice took on a much louder tone. Lüdowik jumped back and gave me a suspicious and worried look. I instantly realized it was because of the Great Shout, and took a deep breath to calm myself before I spoke again, but I could barely contain my emotions.


“Lüdowik,” I said as calmly and quietly as I could. “I know you know of the City of the Angels. I told you we come from there. Well, King Niklas and I have been looking for a city – our city – the City of the Angels. I didn’t mean to scare you just now with my voice, but could you tell me a bit more about what you’re talking about?”


Lüdowik took a slight step back from me, but continued. “When you go through The Pass of Tears and stand on the peak of Mt. Coratt, if the day is clear and sunny, far in the distance, out on the plain, you can barely see something – it looks like a tower rising from out of the plain. My uncle told me that this might be the city of the angels.”


“Lüdowik?” My mouth was dry as I walked up to him and put my hand on his shoulder. “Has anyone from your land ever been there? Has anyone been to the city of the angels?”


“No. I was told that a long time ago men from Taldor Valoren tried, but there is something that they called a great magical wall that stopped them. I think after that there were a few other times when men from Taldor Valoren tried, but they could never break through the magical wall, so they gave up. Some of the men were hurt trying to break through it, and my uncle told me one man even died. After the man was killed, the Circle of Leaders ordered that no one else ever go there.”


“But you have seen this place?” I asked.


“I think I did. I’m not really sure,” Lüdowik answered, “as we went through the pass, my uncle pointed it out to me… but it’s very far away. I think I saw something sticking up from the floor of the valley, but it wasn’t clear to me.”


For a few seconds I just looked down at Lüdowik. Then I turned my back on him and slowly walked away. I felt as if I were in a daze. Lüdowik had seen Küronas, my Küronas, the city I had come from, the city I was trying to get to and couldn’t even remember any more. And now I had just learned that the despised and feared Valley of the Dammed – Taldor Valoren – stood at the very entrance of the land once occupied by The Enlightened Ones, our creators.


As I stood there with my head bowed, a series of images flashed into my head. I could see water, great rivers of water flowing and running, shooting in the air and splashing on the ground, filling up pools and bubbling from rocks. Then just as I’d experienced once before in the map room during the Council of Kingdoms, I was back on a beach looking out at the two great hands rising from the water, each holding a tower – The Gates of Safros.


It was then the reality of what I’d just learned came to me:


At the base of the Poniçessian Mountains,

Before the plain of Zarkistan,

Lies the Circle of Ondra.

It sits, silently waiting.

It waits for justice.

It demands satisfaction.


Overwhelmed by emotion, I found myself unable to speak. Suddenly Nic was by my side; he had his arms around me and was comforting me. I could feel the warmth of his lips, kissing my forehead.


“Jamie-love, what’s wrong?”


Slowly, after a few minutes of just breathing, I was once more able to regain my composure. Standing there with Nic, I began to tell him what I’d just learned from Lüdowik. Even though he’d been eager to continue the march, he stood quietly and listened. After a few minutes, he walked over to Lüdowik and asked him a few questions. Then he returned to me.


“Maybe our search is over, Jamie. Maybe this place, Taldor Valoren, is one of the keys.”


I just nodded my head.


“It’s ok, Jamie,” he said as he wrapped his arms around me. “This is something to be happy about, no?”


And of course he was right, but that wasn’t the reason for my fears. As Lüdowik’s words sank ever deeper into my brain, I suddenly came to the realization that it would be only a matter of time before Loran would learn the same thing we had – if he hadn’t already. And I knew that whether I wanted to think about it our not, my older brother and I had a rendezvous with fate, history, and death.


As I stood there with Nic’s warm strong arms around me, I couldn’t express this to the boy who meant so much to me. It wasn’t as if I was even trying to keep it a secret; I knew that in his heart, Niklas also knew that the time for our eventual confrontation was drawing near. Then, as if he was the one who could read minds, Nic bent down and kissed me deeply. In his kiss, I could feel his love and concern for me. The young angel, who’d handed me the ball, when I myself was just a small child, held me tightly in his strong arms and stroked my hair.


“Jamie?” he softly said. “The time is coming, but you’re far stronger than you think.”


Those were the only words he said, but he continued to hold me. After a few minutes he released me, but not before he gripped my shoulders, bent down, and looked squarely into my eyes.


“It’s time we continued on, Jamie. There are great forces coming to bear, and we have to be ready for them. The alliance needs us; really needs us, and they really need you. They don’t even realize that part yet, but they need you more than they need any army. We have to go and try to convince them of that.”


And with that Nic released me, took me by the hand, and led me back to our horses, which were now refreshed and ready to continue. We quickly remounted and continued onward to Konassas. I knew we still had the better part of a long night of riding ahead of us – a fact I didn’t relish. This time, instead of riding with me, Lüdowik returned to Bastian and I rode alone.