The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part I - The Golden Orb
After a long, sleepless night’s ride and an additional full day at a furious pace, we approached Konassas just as the sun was setting. The great city was a welcome sight as we crested the final hill and began our descent into the valley. Even though it wasn’t Küronas, it still felt like home as we rode closer. The deep and wide River Klee, surrounding the city, was ablaze as the bright orange light of the setting sun reflected off the water. In the distance, the final light of day sent its blazing rays into the forum, the white marble of its buildings seeming to glow from within.
Making our way down the hillside road, we came to the drawbridge at the main gate. The horse’s hooves clattered against the stone deck of the bridge as we moved toward the gate, and even though I’d seen them a hundred times, I still marveled at the great mechanisms for raising and lowering the mighty spans. Soon enough we were at the massive main gate into the city. At the entrance, I noticed that the normal compliment of guards appeared to be at least doubled. Riding through the main gate, I looked up to see the gate watch saluting, and recalled how different this entrance was compared to the very first one we’d made months ago, with Juston Tark.
During our stay in Konassas, the soldiers of the garrison had come to like and respect us. Although I knew that a great deal of that respect came out of the practice sessions Nic, Lance, and David participated in during their mock combat, and training sessions on the Battlecom, I was still grateful for it. When we slowly rode past the barracks of the garrison, I quickly became aware of how quiet it was. I still saw an occasional soldier dressed in full battle uniform, alert and standing guard, but I also noticed that the majority of the soldiers who usually comprised the garrison of Konassas were gone. For a few seconds I was confused, until I realized that a major part of the garrison had likely been conscripted into the larger army, and were now in defensive positions around the Kingdom of Kalas. Without a true standing army, Kalas relied heavily on its alliance with Xannameir for its defense, and I couldn’t begin to comprehend the strain this must putting on King Wilum’s kingdom.
We didn’t pause as we entered the city, but went straight to its center. As we rode into the forum, I realized that my initial feelings were correct – the city was quieter than I’d ever know it to be. As the capital of the Kingdom of Kalas, Konassas was always a busy and bustling city – even at night, one could generally encounter some form of activity. Often merchants from far away kingdoms or outlying areas would enter the city at sunset and begin the slow, laborious process of setting up their stands throughout the night, filling them with goods and wares to entice the interest of the city’s inhabitants at the rising of the sun the next morning. The pubs were always filled with people enjoying a drink and each other's company. Small groups of people could often be seen scurrying to and fro, but tonight the silence was eerie and disconcerting.
Silently riding up to the stable, one street removed from the forum, we dismounted. The small regiment of Imperial Legionnaires that had accompanied us moved about quickly and quietly, and aided by some of the stable boys, began to lead our horses into the royal stables of Konassas. Nic and I prepared to cross the forum, heading for the large round building we called the Map Room.
We hadn't gone more than a dozen steps when General Zakaria and a small contingent of his troops appeared out of the dusk and approached us on horseback. Bringing his horse to a halt, the General swung down from his saddle while the rest of the troops continued to the stables. Nic strolled over to him and they exchanged greetings and began a quiet, although intense, conversation. I adjusted my tunic, stretched my legs – which were stiff from the many hours of riding – and gently flapped my wings, which suddenly seemed too heavy for my body. Giovanni and Lüdowik came up behind me, and I jumped slightly as I felt something pull on one of my wings. Quickly spinning around, I saw Lüdowik standing there, looking sheepish.
“I’m sorry,” he said in his strong Taldorian accent. “I just wanted to feel them.”
When I realized who’d touched me, I smiled.
“It’s ok, Lüdowik; they’re a source of great curiosity to most humans. I know you didn’t mean any harm. Did they feel like you thought they would?”
“Yes and no,” he answered. “I thought they’d be light and soft, but they’re stronger and heavier than I thought.”
Still smiling, I looked down at the curious little boy. “Well Lüdowik, we do fly with them. They have to be quite strong to support us, and if they were too delicate they’d constantly get damaged, and would be of no use at all.”
Lüdowik was spared the need to answer because Giovanni was now standing in front of me. His face had a determined look on it, and he executed a small and formal bow.
“Your Grace, if you are in fact going to the Council of Kingdoms, I think it only proper that I perform my official function as your master of ceremonies.”
Even though the circumstances leading up to our journey had not been pleasant, and I was tired and sore, I smiled at Giovanni as I’d done with Lüdowik. Here was a boy who had been given a task, and he was determined that no matter how trying the circumstances, he would perform it to the best of his ability.
“Giovanni,” I began, “I don’t think the meeting tonight will be a very formal one. Terrible and shocking things have happened since our last meeting with the kings of the council. Tonight, I feel there will be strong words and serious discussion. You will be allowed to accompany us, as will Lüdowik, since we don’t have time to take you to the Amber Palace.”
Just as I finished speaking, a figure emerged out of the dusk and I recognized him as Chancellor Dunham, the same minister who’d introduced us the first time we appeared before the council many weeks before. A few soldiers, carrying torches, accompanied him
“Please come with me,” Dunham said crisply, and without waiting for a reply, turned his back upon us and began walking across the forum of Konassas at a slow and deliberate pace, heading back in the direction he’d come from.
I began to follow the Chancellor. Nic, seeing me leave, turned from General Zakaria and quickly caught up with me. The others from our party followed, along with a few Xannameirian soldiers who I hadn’t originally noticed, but who’d apparently been waiting for us. Walking silently across the forum of Konassas, I could see the round building that housed the great map getting nearer with every step we took.
As we got closer to the map building, there was a shout behind us. Everyone paused and peered across the forum. A figure was scurrying toward us, carrying a torch; it didn’t take us long to realize that it was Charles.
“Wait,” he called out once more, as he ran toward us.
Breathless, he was finally standing in our midst. He had a serious look about him. I watched as his eyes took in our group. He paused and bent over slightly, placing a hand on one knee as he took in deep gasps of air, and I realized he must have dashed from the Amber Palace. We waited for him until he caught his breath. He handed his torch to one of the soldiers in our party, and began to speak.
“We know about Wrenstatten,” he said, his voice now firm and steady, "and I’ve been expecting you. I’m going to accompany you. I knew you were coming back, but we were just told that you arrived in the city and the council was convening immediately. I informed the princes and scribes, but we didn’t have time to assemble everyone. I was told by Chancellor Dunham that King Wilum wanted a private meeting, and he refused my proposal to allow even a representative from the princes and scribes to attend. I feel I was lucky to convince him to allow me to accompany you. At first he refused, but after a bit of persuasion, he acquiesced. I will say that the princes and their scribes are rather anxious and concerned over this turn of events, and although I was able to calm them, they will want a full report from you regarding this council session.”
“I agree,” Nic said, “I want them to know what’s happening. The one thing we need the most among ourselves is solidarity – and the support of the houses. We need to keep them informed. They need to feel a part of what we’re doing. It won’t do any good to create more enemies or have one of them feel they are being ignored, or slighted. If I know anything, I know how aristocrats can be if they feel they aren’t being taken seriously.”
“Maybe we can meet now, and see if we can’t hold another session tomorrow,” I said, “after all, we’ve been riding a day and a half, and haven’t had any sleep. I know things are bad, but if everyone is exhausted, what good will that do?”
“That’s an excellent point, Jamie,” Charles said. “From what I know, the level of anxiety and worry is very high right at the moment. The king most definitely wants to see you now, but depending on how things go, we might be able to ask for a recess and finish tomorrow, with everyone present.”
“Agreed, Charles,” Nic said. “I understand the importance of the present situation, but I don’t see any reason to make hasty decisions in the dead of night. We must act quickly, but we must also act prudently. I can tell you from my experience in the arena, I never saw a fight that was won in haste or without thought, and I never saw one lost if it was well planned and executed.”
As we talked Chancellor Dunham openly fidgeted, growing visibly more impatient with each passing minute. When Nic paused, he seized the opportunity and curtly told us that the council was waiting and we must continue with all haste. Once again he marched off, leading the way. Everyone else in the entourage quickly followed behind. After a few short minutes, we were ascending the stairs leading into the perfectly cylindrical building with the light silver dome. Out of the shadows Cody suddenly appeared. Instantly he was at Lance’s side giving him a quick kiss. Charles raised an eyebrow.
“Let them try to stop me,” Cody said giving me one of his charming smiles.
As if to irrevocably bind his intention he took Lancelot’s hand. Lance in turn gripped his hand strongly and pulled Cody closer. Once inside the building, it was both reassuring and disconcerting to see again the same sights, for I knew that this time we were going to be appearing before the Council of Kingdoms under much different circumstances than the first time we’d been here. Walking past the flickering torches lining the curved hall, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
As we approached one of the large doors in the rounded wall, the soldier standing guard tugged on the handle, drawing it open for us. I blinked in wonder as I looked around the room, for even though I knew what to expect, the beauty and grandeur of the great circular room with its murals, historical motifs, statues, and the magnificent, mechanical celestial clock still took my breath away. I wasn’t the only one in awe at the sight. Looking to my right I could see Giovanni and Lüdowik craning their necks as they tried to take in all the sights before them – their mouths noticeably agape. A slight touch on their shoulders brought them both out of their trance, and I motioned for them to follow me.
I began to descend the stairs with Nic at my left, but I paused for a few seconds and stared into the very center of the room. There, sitting as it probably had for centuries, was the great, polished, circular stone tablet with the bas relief map carved into it. Surrounding its circumference, just as a wide iron band encircles a wagon wheel, was the great oak table, and sitting at that table were many of the same familiar figures that I’d seen sitting there once before, during our first meeting. I immediately recognized a number of the ministers and officials, whom I remembered from our first encounter with the Council of Kingdoms.
Chancellor Dunham, who was ahead of us, continued to walk down the stairs, and with a brisk and impatient wave of his arm, directed us to follow. As I made my descent, I glanced about the room to see who was waiting for us. In one of the seats sat Lord Ottavia. He appeared quiet and subdued. His face was gray, and I noticed that he was unshaven. In fact, it looked as if he was exhausted and had missed a few nights’ sleep. As I continued down the stairs, I could see that the seats that had previously been occupied by King Oslo and Prince Drakis were noticeably empty, and they were nowhere in the room. I involuntary shuddered as I recalled the dream I'd had regarding their deaths. Its depth and detail had been vivid, and left nothing to my imagination. In fact, it had been the one thing I’d glossed over when I’d described it to Nic,
Finally, Nic and I were on the main floor of the map room, standing in front of the table and the large stone map. Preparing to take my seat, I looked up and found myself staring right into the eyes of King Wilum, who was intently studying me from his position across the table.
General Zakaria accompanied us down the stairs, but I noticed that he abruptly left our group and moved to the other side of the table, standing behind and to the right of his brother, the King. Prince Andrew, who had left Konassas a few weeks before to return to Xannameir, was seated at his father’s left. I was surprised to see that he barely acknowledged our presence, spending most of his time staring down at an open book that was on the table in front of him, and as I concentrated on him, I could sense an air of tension between he and his father.
To my left, opposite the empty seats of Oslo and Drakis, sat King Juston of Aradamia, and although he nodded an acknowledgement as we approached the table, I could see that he was also withdrawn and serious as he watched us approach our seats.
Unlike the first time we’d entered the room, no one announced our presence and no one stood as we took our seats. Nic sat to my right, while Giovanni stood behind me to my left and Lüdowik stood directly behind Nic, but I could see that he was standing as far away as possible from any of us seated at the table. Seeing the lack of formalities, I wasn’t surprised when King Wilum quickly stood and cleared his throat. Not a man to waste time, the king came right to the point.
“Vorhalla is in the hands of the enemy. Wrenstatten has fallen. King Oslo and Prince Drakis are both slain. We can only assume from some of our reports that there are troops of killer angels all across the land. We’re lucky that Juston is here, since there have been reports of a large contingent of enemy troops marching toward the Kingdom of Aradamia. Tahkor remains secure, and to our knowledge Xannameir has not been attacked. But while we’ve encountered no hostile forces as of yet, the news I’ve received of the capture of Wrenstatten and the sack of Günter Platz causes me great doubt in our ability to hold them off if they do decide to mount an all out attack on any of our other cities. In fact, I feel that I should be with my people and not here, but at the requests of my brother and son I’ve agreed to meet with you one last time.”
Nic’s head shot up from the table. “Last time?” he said, questioning Wilum.
“Yes, for the last time,” Wilum answered. “I fear that we should never have attempted to enter into an alliance with creatures such as you. I had my suspicions the day I watched that one fight the soldiers in the forum,” he said pointing to Lancelot. “I’m beginning to question my long doubts of the Sarjanist prophecies. Your race appears to be quite fierce, bellicose and destructive, indeed. Now we’re faced with the utter death and destruction caused by these creatures of your own species, that you claim you’re embroiled with in a state of war. Those of us remaining have come together to see what can be done, if anything. We agreed to an alliance, but at this point that alliance has only increased our chances of annihilation from the one whom you claim to be your older brother.”
With that, Wilum now pointed at me. As the angry king’s gaze bored into me, I fought the urge to cast my eyes downward and slump in my seat. Instead, I forced myself to look directly into the eyes of the King of Xannameir as he continued to speak.
“I am here to tell you that there is no alliance!” Wilum was now shouting as he pounded his fist on the great round table he shared with us.
Since I’d been resting my elbows, arms and hands on the table I jumped slightly when the vibration of the blow reached me. Wilum looked as if he was about to say something else, but stopped and just stared at us. It was then that I began to notice that I was getting a slight headache. My vision became a bit blurred. I assumed both came from fatigue after having ridden a day and a half without a proper rest or any sleep, so I tried my best to ignore the feeling as King Juston pushed back his seat and came to his feet. He stood for a few minutes and surveyed the room. Still the best dressed of anyone in the room, his face sagged and his eyes showed fatigue. King Juston was someone I’d come to know as a kind, jovial, and patient man, but as he looked at Nic and me, I could see a deep frown begin to form on his face.
“I must agree with Wilum,” he said, “We trusted you, but perhaps we were mistaken.”
“Your highness, you do realize that Loran’s plan is to subjugate the entire continent?” Nic said. “Alliance or not, his goal is total domination of this land and every inhabitant living it. I admit that we were unprepared, but we are your allies and we will fight to the death to uphold our part of the bargain.”
“Well, your deaths may be quite imminent,” Wilum interrupted. “At the rate Wrenstatten fell and its inhabitants were killed, it’s only a matter of time before this Loran tries to eliminate you.”
Wilum’s words were beginning to sound more like meaningless droning as the headache I’d acquired grew in intensity. I began to rub my temples, trying to fight the dull pain that seemed to come from deep inside of my brain. Strangely, the hair on the back of my neck began to stand on end, and a low-pitched but persistent ringing started in my ears. Still attributing my feelings to fatigue and lack of sleep, I leaned forward and put my now throbbing head in my hands and tried to fight the feeling as I struggled to listen to the proceedings around me. And while I didn’t notice it, Nic, who by now sensed something wrong in my behavior, was giving me a concerned look.
Wilum’s words, forceful and serious, demanded a response and Nic knew he couldn’t ignore them. Giving me one final look of worry, he stood and began addressing the assembly.
“Everything you say may be correct, Your Highness,” Nic said, “but we have no intention of just surrendering. We also have no option. We will fight, and perhaps we will die, but we will never surrender.”
“Maybe not,” Wilum cut in as he glared at us. His voice echoing off the walls he continued, almost shouting, “but our cities are being destroyed, our farms ravaged, and our population decimated. So far, you’ve shown us nothing. Part of me wants to take the lot of you and throw you in prison, then maybe try to at least to cut a bargain with Loran – our freedom for your heads.”
At those words, General Zakaria put his hand on Wilum’s shoulder as if to calm his brother, who was now directing all of his anger toward us. Wilum shrugged the general’s hand away, rose from his seat and pointed a finger at us.
“The alliance, if it in fact it ever existed, is now dead.”
“It's not that easy,” Nic said. "You have incurred an obligation, and…"
“It is that easy,” Wilum said, cutting him off, “and now I will make it official. Bring me the royal secretary of the Council of Kingdoms.”
And with that command from Wilum, a serious looking man, grim faced and business-like with parchment and pen, stepped up to the king’s right side and placed his writing materials on the table. When it appeared he was prepared, he turned to Wilum and quietly addressed the king in a voice so low that, given the ringing in my ears, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Wilum nodded to the man, then drew himself up in his seat and in a firm, loud voice began to speak. By now the ringing in my ears almost drowned out Wilum’s words, and I strained to hear what he had to say.
“I hereby declare any and all alliances with these creatures – 'Icarians,’ as they call themselves – to be null and void, and furthermore I hereby…”
But suddenly he stopped, or more accurately was forced to stop, midway through his proclamation. I could hear raised voices and shouts coming from the back of the room, followed by the slamming of doors, loud curses, and still more shouting. My head was now pounding in pain. I turned to see what the commotion was about, and I caught a glimpse of someone at the doorway, engaged in an apparent scuffle with one of the soldiers standing watch at the door.
“I must enter, now!” A voice echoed through the chamber, and I instantly recognized it as that of Esteban, Commander of the Protectorate of the Imperial Legion. By now, everyone in the room was looking in the direction of the uproar. The scuffling continued for a few seconds, and then Esteban broke free, stroked his wings and leapt into the air. Hovering over the heads of the guards and ministers who’d been trying to surround and block his way, he rose toward the ceiling. I watched as he gently glided down into the room and stood directly in front of the table, just a few feet from where I sat.
But even before Esteban landed, the ringing in my ears rose to a level of such intensity that I wanted to cry out in pain. My head throbbed as the now charged atmosphere in the room caused the air around me almost to crackle and vibrate. I lowered my head and pressed the heels of my hands into my temples. Staring at the ground, I saw Esteban’s feet touch down a few feet from where I was sitting. I looked up, and it was then that I got a good look at my imperial commander, standing strong and resolute before me. His face looked grim, but he also appeared proud of what he had to present to me, for clutched in his hands was an orb – a golden, pulsating orb which I immediately recognized as the Orb of the Lion.
For a few seconds I just sat there, partly in shock at seeing another orb and partly because of the intense pain I was experiencing. While every orb that I’d come into contact with had always increased its hum and pulsations in my presence, this orb was doing much more than getting slightly brighter and increasing its humming by a few decibels. Esteban was holding on to it with all of his might, for the longer I stared it, the more it appeared to act like it was a living object. My first thoughts were of a rabid dog straining to attack someone. The orb continually jumped and lunged toward me as Esteban wrapped his arms around it, trying with all his might to hold on to it. There was no doubt that it had sensed me, or at least an Imperial High Seraphim, and it was trying as hard as it could to get to me.
I slowly stood up from my seat. My legs felt weak, and I gripped the table to keep from falling. The power of the orb seemed too great, and as my head continued to pound I could feel beads of sweat forming on my skin. Nic jumped from his chair to stand next to me, but before he could reach me, I staggered quickly past Esteban, retreating to the other side of the room. The orb jerked in his hands and pulled him around so that it once again faced me; even though he was quite strong, the commander of my imperial guard was struggling with all his might to hold on to the orb. At that moment I felt so overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to assimilate the essence of the orb into my body, or flee from the room.
“What’s the meaning of this?” said Wilum, still standing after his attempt to draft the proclamation nullifying the alliance. His gaze moved from Nic to me, and for the first time since I’d know him, I could see that the King of Xannameir was actually looking at me in a serious and suspicious way.
In the past it has always been Nic, another king, whom he’d focused on, but this time he was looking at me as if he was seeing me for the first time in his life. I suspected that, in a way, he was. To him I’d simply been a young boy, a so-called wizard who hadn’t demonstrated much promise, but now he could see that the mysterious object Commander Esteban was holding so firmly not only seemed to sense my presence, but also appeared to actively seek me out from among all the others in the room.
“Commander, how did you find it? Where did you find it?" Nic asked, his voice amazingly calm under the circumstances.
“On one of the ships at the docks,” he answered. “I intercepted a message that was delivered to the Amber Palace. It was from the captain of one of the large trade ships that ply the River Klee between Konassas and Tahkor – the Tairn. In the message he indicated that he had something of importance to give His Grace, the Wizard. When I got there, I boarded the ship and met with him. He introduced himself as Captain Boden. After I told him who I was and why I was there, he went down into his cabin. After a few minutes he emerged, holding a bag. He told me that his ship had arrived in Konassas yesterday evening and after unloading the cargo today, he granted his crew leave. His first mate returned a few hours later, holding a large velvet bag. When he looked inside, he found this.
“He told me that his first mate had gone into one of the pubs at the end of the dock. As he was drinking and playing dice, a stranger approached him, carrying the bag. The man, whom he didn’t recognize, asked him if he were on the ship that had docked the evening before. When he informed the stranger that not only was he on the Tairn, but was also its first mate, the man asked him if the rumor was true that the Tairn was indeed the ship that had taken the winged creatures from Konassas to Tahkor and back again a few months earlier. When the first mate said yes, the man thrust the bag into his hands and told him to give it to his captain. He also told him to tell the captain to make sure it was given to one of the leaders of the winged creatures.
“Since you, Your Highness, and His Grace were away, along with General Lancelot and Captain Bastian, I went to the docks when word came to the Amber Palace that the captain of the Tairn wished to see someone in authority who represented the Icarians. I know the princes and scribes are also our leaders, but I didn’t think it wise to involve and possibly endanger them. I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a trap, so I took some Imperial Legionnaires and flew to the docks. It was there, after meeting Captain Boden and telling him who I was, that he gave me the bag with this inside. When I heard you’d arrived, I immediately came here from the docks. I hope I did not act improperly, Your Highness?”
“No, not at all, Commander Esteban,” Nic said. “You acted with prudence and caution. You put no one in danger and you wisely acted without alarming the princes and scribes. I would have done the same.”
Esteban exhibited the faintest of smiles at Nic’s words, and it was obvious he was relieved that his King approved of his actions. As they talked, I began to feel so weak that I thought I might collapse to the floor. The ringing in my ears had grown so loud that I barely heard what Nic and Esteban were talking about. I knew now that my sudden illness was all related to the presence of the orb. Previously, whenever I’d been in proximity of an orb, I’d experienced a number of feelings, from a ringing in my ears to an overall feeling of dread. But this time all of those feelings, both physical and mental, seemed magnified many times over. The intensity was more than I could stand. The feelings I was experiencing had grown to such a crescendo that they were finally more than I could bear. I sensed that I had to bring the situation I was now presented with it to its logical conclusion, or I might well go insane.
“Release it,” I said, gathering all my strength as I called out in a cold and commanding voice – a voice that made Wilum himself wince since I’d unintentionally allowed a slight element of the Great Shout to creep into it. In that instant, I saw the king suddenly look at me in a light entirely different from the one that he’d been viewing me in only minutes before.
“Release it,” I curtly commanded, now clutching my head in a vain attempt to ease the throbbing pain.
“NO!” came a shout from across the room, and I could see Nic bounding toward me.
“No, Esteban,” he commanded. “Keep a tight grip on it. Jamie, this is something different; I’ve never seen an orb act this way, and neither have you.”
I looked at Nic, but purposely ignored him.
“Release it,” I said once again in a commanding tone, adding even more volume and force to my voice so the very air vibrated. “NOW!” I shouted, injecting even more authority and force behind my words. “If you don’t, the pain it’s causing me will kill me. I am your wizard. I command you, Esteban.”
And Esteban simply released the orb. The instant he did, it flew through the air like a cannon ball, heading directly for my head.
“Jamie!” Nic yelled, hurling himself toward me. As he did, he grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the orb’s path as it shot past, only inches from my head. It continued though the air in a straight line until it smashed on the wall behind me, shattering with a loud crash and freeing its golden essence.
Although no one else felt it, the air was now so charged with electricity that I could feel thousands of tiny pinpricks all over my skin. I turned to look at where the orb had hit the wall and fractured itself, only to see that its essence had re-formed and was now floating across the room. It flew over my head and headed up towards the dome of the building where it paused, glowing and pulsing.
“What is that thing?” King Juston asked, looking about the room for an answer.
“My destiny,” I said, struggling to remain standing.
Everyone was now on their feet, staring at the charged mass of plasma. Then it began to gyrate, at first slowly, and then more rapidly. Its color brightened, and it began to change shape. In the blink of an eye it went from an amorphous mass of plasma to a glowing shaft of golden light. It rotated ever closer toward me and climbed even higher into the dome. At this point I knew exactly what was going to happen, although instinctively I also knew that this co-mingling of wizard and essence was going to be something I’d never quite experienced, in all the other times I’d become one with an orb’s essence.
“Jamie!” Nic again called, but his voice was far and distant.
Before he could stop me, I ran to the opposite side of the room, raised my head toward the spear shaped essence, threw back my arms, and pushed out my chest as I watched the slender shaft of golden light hurtle towards me with the velocity of an arrow shot from a bow. Before I could blink, it slammed into my chest and threw me to the floor. Although I’d already absorbed the essences of four other orbs, nothing I’d previously encountered could have prepared me for the sensations I now felt.
As I fell to the floor, I saw a flash of colors dancing before my eyes. My head felt as if it would explode. Once on the floor, I felt a rapidly growing warmth flow throughout my body. The feeling grew in intensity until I could feel sweat oozing from every pore in my skin. The ringing in my ears had grown to such intensity that it I felt as if I was standing in the center of a giant carillon, filled with bells madly ringing in a meaningless cacophony of dissonance.
Strangely, the first rational thought that came to me was that I was glad I hadn’t eaten anything, because my stomach rebelled and I began to gag on the bile rising up into my throat from deep inside of me. My head was pounding as the blood raced and coursed throughout my veins, pushed rapidly by my wildly beating hearts. Gasping for air, I felt my chest tighten as if an iron band had been placed around it. The feelings I was being subjected to were by now so intense that I knew that if they would last even one more minute, they would either kill me or drive me insane.
But I didn’t have to suffer them very long; I didn’t even have to endure them for ten more seconds, for as quickly as the power of the orb overwhelmed and took control of me, it suddenly ceased, and I was left laying on the floor of the map room in a heap as if my body had been attacked, beaten, dumped unceremoniously on the ground and left to die.
At this point, most of those who were in the room were now moving toward me, but it was Nic and Esteban who first reached me, kneeling on either side. I opened my eyes and found that I was looking straight up into the dome that hung over the map room, and at the beautiful ceiling with its elaborate celestial murals and great mechanical clock.
I continued to stare at the ceiling for a few seconds, but then I abruptly sat up. Nic and Esteban were gripping my arms and were preparing to lift me to my feet, or at least to a sitting position, but I gently shrugged them off. For a long moment, I just sat there rubbing my head. After a few more seconds, I stood up and looked around the room and into the faces of those who were now forming a circle around me. I could see that Nic, along with Charles, Esteban, and Lancelot, wore looks of deep concern. Cody was staring at me with definite curiosity. Kings Wilum and Juston appeared to be puzzled at what they’d just witnessed, while most of the others were giving me looks of fear or suspicion.
I knew from the knowledge that had been planted within me over twenty five hundred years ago, along with the information from the amulet and my daily use of the screen, that the Orb of the Lion was also known as the Key Orb. In the elaborate initiation ceremony a candidate for the wizardry was required to endure, The Orb of the Lion was designated as the very last orb to be absorbed by a candidate. It was called the Key for its ability to unlock all of the wonderful, powerful, terrible and incredible powers bound tightly within all the other orbs, and complete the final transformation of its host into the true wizard of Icaria. But I’d just received this orb in the great map room of Kalas, not only far removed from any of mysterious initiation rites or ceremonies that were to accompany it, but also out of its proper sequence, without having first successfully absorbed all of the other eleven orbs in their proper order.
At first I felt nothing, after I’d climbed to my feet. I just stood still, holding a hand to my head and staring intently at those assembled in the room. Looking to Nic, I could see that he wanted to help me, but I shook my head ‘no’ as he approached. Only a few seconds passed until I started to become aware of the new and strange feelings welling up from deep inside me.
For a few seconds I stood silently absorbed in my own feelings – both physical and mental. As harshly as my body had been treated during the absorption, I now found myself feeling remarkably strong and invigorated – much as if I’d had a good night’s sleep and was well rested. I also felt a sense of inner calm and peace.
For another full minute, I stood unmoving in front of everyone, but as I began to examine everyone crowding around me more closely, I became aware that I wasn’t just looking at them with my eyes, but also with every one of my senses. I could smell the scents coming from their bodies; I could hear the beating of their hearts. I could sense their emotions and hear their thoughts all rushing at me. In fact, the longer I stood there silently listening, I began to sense that I was not only able to hear the thoughts of those in the room now encircling me, but also the thoughts of the all of the inhabitants of the great city of Konassas. It was both a feeling of great power and one of immense terror, so equally intertwined with each other that I could barely tell if there was a difference between them.
A portion of the veil that had covered my eyes, or more accurately my brain, had been ripped aside. Much of the dust and cobwebs of twenty five hundred years had suddenly vanished. I was beginning to know and understood things in a way I couldn’t explain to anyone – even to myself. Yet, when I looked deeply into myself, I could still sense a void, achingly empty and unfilled. It was the place where seven other orbs should have been. And for all of my new insight, once more the knowledge I’d received in this absorption, although vast, was completely factual.
Most of my own personal memories were still missing, except for one new thing that blossomed in my head and stirred my emotions in a way I’d never experienced before. As I stood there wide-eyed and disoriented, I felt a clammy dampness spread across the surface of my skin. I began to sense that, desperate as I’d been to learn as much of my past and history as possible, suddenly for the first time since Nic and I had begun our quest, I might be beginning to learn much more than I might wish.
“Look at him,” someone shouted.
I turned in the direction of the voice and recognized the speaker as Chancellor Dunham. Facing him, I could see both surprise and fear in his face. At first I wasn’t sure what he was referring to, until Charles also pointed at me.
“Jamie, your wings,” he said, giving me a strange look.
I turned my head in the direction of my wings, flexing the left one slightly until it bent in front of me and was surprised to see that the shimmering, silver irradiance that was normally present on my feather tips had grown even brighter and more intense, causing each feather to give off an eerie silver and blue glow.
“It’s just the effect of the Key," I said in a quiet, matter of fact tone. “It will disappear in a few hours, and it’s really of no importance,” I added to no one in particular.
As soon as I finished speaking, I strode out of the circle that had formed around me and crossed to the great, round table and its map. Although everyone was still a bit shocked and surprised by the unexpected turn of events, King Wilum, true to his iron personality, was the first to recover enough to speak.
“I have no idea what just occurred here, but that doesn’t change the nature of this meeting.”
“It changes everything,” I said quietly as I gave the King of Xannameir a cold and fixed look. “Time is of the essence, and we must all act quickly.”
Wilum returned my gaze with a strong, unflinching one of his own.
“There is no alliance,” he began to say.
“No, Your Highness,” I said, “that is all there is, and we must act now in unison or all will be lost. There are forces that have been unleashed that cannot be ignored or easily pushed aside."
Wilum began to say something in response, but I abruptly turned my back on him and began to stare intently at the large stone map. As I focused my mind on the immense object stretched out before me, a torrent of thoughts flooded my brain. While I fought to control the urges that were welling up inside of me, I found that I could no longer resist them as they bubbled up and pushed themselves to the surface of my consciousness. Finally, I was forced to succumb. The instant I did, I stroked my wings and pushed off from the floor of the room. For a few, short seconds I became airborne, and although I rose only a few feet, my brief flight afforded enough height for me to land on the surface of the map.
I could tell that my actions surprised everyone in the room, including Nic and Charles, but it seemed that they quickly recovered because I could see everyone moving towards the map until they were all gathered around the table, staring up at me.
For a second time I was overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. At first, I felt as if I was going to faint, but the feeling quickly passed and after I regained my composure, I gave in to the urge to direct my hands downward, to the map beneath my feet. As I did, a slight glow began to emanate from my hands and small rays of light sparked from my fingertips. As the rays of light hit the surface of the map, the cold gray stone began to glow, until the entire surface of the map gave off a cold, yellowish light that appeared to be coming from deep within the stone itself.
What was more startling was that as the light became brighter the map began to change, as if it were some flowing, pulsing fluid, and while I was standing firmly on top if it, I had to catch my balance as the slowly undulating surface began to change. Staring intently at the movement beneath my feet, I watched as new features began to form across its surface, and it appeared to become more detailed and complete. Even more surprising was that the blank area that had been destroyed and defaced, now took on features that were clear and defined – as if they’d never been obliterated centuries before. As the intensity of the inner glow from the stone increased in strength and brightness, and it’s shape changed and flowed, various sections of the map began taking on different and distinct colors. For a few minutes, while the map took shape, I was mesmerized as I watched the amazing transformation of what had been a cold gray stone into a warm, glowing object, translucent and brightly colored.
Looking down at those standing around the table I could see that they couldn’t take their eyes off of what they were viewing, but they were about to, because suddenly I raised my right arm into the air and directed a bolt of lightning at the great celestial clock on the ceiling. The force of the bolt's impact made the room shudder as it hit the ancient orrery, causing it to jump and pick up speed. As it did, the map began to change even more. The masses of land moved slightly, while the borders outlining the kingdoms vanished. New names and markings appeared as some of the old ones faded. Finally the mechanical whirring of the clock stopped. As it did, there before our eyes was the entire map – now whole, complete, and accurate, just as it had originally been fashioned over twenty five hundred years ago.
While all the lands comprising each of kingdom and their cities were still visible, there were many startling changes now evident across the surface of the map. The kingdom known as Ghröum, that had been flat and barren, was now a green and beautiful land. And the large portion of the map that had been destroyed now displayed a vast kingdom with cities, rivers, mountains, and plains. All around me I could hear exclamations of surprise and gasps of shock as the entire stone map glowed under the light of torch and candle, once again whole and complete.
“This was the land before the plague,” I said, and gestured toward the map as I looked around the room into the eyes of those standing there.
“Here is the land of Ghröum,” I continued, as I moved over to that portion of the map and pointed downward. “It appears as it was then, a lush and peaceful paradise.”
I could see everyone moving toward the portion of the map known as Ghröum and staring intently at it. Then I moved closer to the center of the large stone and continued.
“Here are the other kingdoms as they were fashioned by the enlightened ones,” I said as I waved my hand outward in the direction of the other kingdoms, and suddenly appearing before everyone’s eyes, there emerged networks of roads and bridges, waterways and canals, connecting all the kingdoms and bringing them together.
Turning my back to the other kingdoms, I looked down at the largest portion of the map. Pointing at the new land mass that had appeared I continued, “and here, rising at the termination of the plain of Pons, is the great Poniçessian mountain range and beyond that, the kingdom of the Enlightened Ones, known as Altinestra.” I bent down and pointed at the topographical rendering of the Poniçessian Mountains. As I did, I could see everyone crowding around that portion of the map.
“Here, at this spot,” I continued now crouching down and gently placing my hand on a section of the Poniçessian range, “through a pass, hidden deep within the Poniçessian mountains, lies a tunnel that leads to the foothills on the opposite side of the mountain range and eventually opens onto the Plain of Zarkistan. Beyond it lies the circle of Ondra and finally, the city of Küronas.”
I gave Nic and Charles a look. Charles had a broad smile on his face and a look of recognition in his eyes. Nic appeared to be looking at me impassively, but I noticed his posture and stature changing as he listened to my explanation and viewed the kingdom that had long been forgotten in his memory. I stepped over the Poniçessian mountain range and pointed further ahead.
Once more standing, I went on. “Here, past Küronas, is the plain of Altonius, home to the great sister cities of Karn and Altamos.” Turning to Cody, I caught a broad smile from the Arch Duke of Altamos, and I knew he was thinking about his home – often called ‘The City of Poets.’ “To the east of Altonius is the Gorge of Pram and beyond it, in the high country, lies the city of Tower Mount and its most spectacular landmark, Angel’s Fall. To the south of the Gorge of Pram is the territory of Grapf. To the west of Altonius are the flatlands of Overland, and the cities of Celesté, Trége, and Clarion. To the south of Altonius, through the forest of Batwig and over the hills of Drexos, lies the coast and the place of my birth – my homeland of Isewier. Beyond that lie only the Sea of Infinity and the Gates of Safros.” At the mention of Isewier, my eyes caught those of Prince Andrew. I had named him Imperial Baron of Isewier. And I could see a smile come to his face at my acknowledgement of it as the place of my birth.
Everyone’s eyes followed intently wherever my finger pointed throughout my explanation, but then I stood up and spun around, moving back over the city of Küronas toward the Poniçessian Mountains. I stopped, once more crouched down, and gently lay my hand on the smallest labeled landmass on the entire map.
“And here” I said quietly, “within the land of Taldor Valoren, is the mountain trail that leads to the pass and tunnel that will take us to Icaria. And it is there, just past the entrance of that tunnel, that we will find the circle of Ondra on the plain of Zarkistan, and the wall of protection surrounding the Kingdom of Altinestra that only the true wizard can open.” At the mention of Taldor Valoren, I could see Lüdowik’s eye widen as he stepped forward to get a better view.
I waited for a few minutes in silence in order to allow everyone to absorb my words while they looked more closely at the map and the features that I’d pointed out. There were many other cities, towns, landmarks and geographical features that I’d not mentioned, but for now I was ready to end my tour of the map. There were other things that would have to be mentioned and discussed, as wave after wave of recognition washed over my conscious mind, and I knew that I would have to be the one to initiate them.
“Your display has been most impressive and enlightening, and I’m amazed at your geographical knowledge of what lies beyond the Poniçessian Mountains,” King Juston said, finally breaking the silence, “but we have a serious problem to solve. At this very moment, whatever happens to the land beyond the great mountain range is irrelevant to our present situation. There are people being murdered by your kind. Some of our cities are now in ruins, and our kingdoms are breaking down in disarray.”
“I still say that we end this so-called alliance here and now,” Wilum added. “We are almost out of time.”
“In that, you are right, Your Majesty,” I said, turning to Wilum.
At that moment I leapt into the air, stroked my wings lightly and landed gently in front of the King of Xannameir.
“Time is running out, not only for you and the Icarians you have made your alliance with, but for me as well.”
At those words, Nic gave me a look that was a combination of worry and interest. As I looked at him, I realized that what I was about to say would have the greatest shock and impact on him, and suddenly it occurred to me that to do it publicly, in this forum, without even having a brief private conversation with him, would be wrong and unfair to the boy I loved so much.
“Your highness, if I could have a short time with my mate, King Niklas, there is something of great importance that we must discuss. I promise that our meeting will be as brief as possible, but it is nevertheless important. It is late, and I would request that you reconvene the Council of Kingdoms early tomorrow morning.”
I could feel Nic’s eyes on me and I could sense his tension and anxiety as he wondered what was so important that I needed to call a recess to discuss it with him.
“That is out of the question,” Wilum angrily said. “Armies of you creatures are killing our people and burning our cities, and we are out of time.”
“Wilum, nothing we do now is going to change the situation.” It was General Zakaria, the king’s brother, who had broken the silence. “Our last reports were that the invading armies have paused their attacks. It’s almost as if they’re waiting for something, or someone,” Zakaria said, now looking intently at me.
“He’s right,” I said, "they have stopped. I can sense it.”
“Father,” Andrew said, “Jamie’s right; it’s rather late. Nothing will happen tonight, and even if it does, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Let everyone get their rest and allow Jamie and Nic the opportunity to talk. They’ve been riding for a day and a half to get here.”
“And one other thing,” Nic said as his voice filled the chamber. “We only arrived in Konassas a few hours ago and immediately came here, but I insist that tomorrow’s meeting include the princes and scribes of the noble houses of Icaria.”
King Wilum leveled a steady stare at Nic, but said nothing.
“If decisions must be made, if plans are to be drawn up, or even if this alliance is to continue to be dissolved, they should be present, just as some of your ministers and key councilors are here tonight,” Nic added, returning Wilum’s stare. “It is only just and fair.”
Wilum scowled and turned his back on us. “Very well, as you wish. We will meet an hour after sunrise tomorrow morning.”
And without another word, Wilum abruptly turned his back on us and began to walk away. But before he got too far, Nic’s voice once more echoed through the room. Turning toward him I could see Niklas standing firm and resolute – every bit the king he was. I watched as Wilum and his advisors turned back to look at the King of Icaria.
“Your Highness,” Nic began looking directly at Wilum, “I wish to be quite clear. When we reconvene tomorrow, it will be as the official government and leadership of Icaria. There will be no more clandestine, nighttime meetings. We will come and stand before this council as the true rulers of Icaria, accompanied by the leaders of our society. Alliance or not, we will be heard in full, and we will be afforded the respect of a legitimate delegation to this assembly. No matter if you stand with us or not, we will stand against the forces that amass against us – and you. Even if you don’t join us, we will do everything possible to protect and defend the human population of this land from those of our race that intend to break and enslave you.”
Charles suddenly broke into a huge grin. Cody’s smile beamed like the sun. Across the room, Andrew suppressed a smile of his own, and I saw General Zakaria nod his head almost imperceptibly. Giovanni's face took on a look of determination as he drew himself up and stood very much like a miniature soldier, seconds before the battle is joined.
“Well said,” Lancelot barely whispered under his breath, and I could see a tiny smile flicker and a look of pride blooming on his face as he looked at the king he’d sworn to protect.
“As you wish,” Wilum said curtly, then turned on his heel and strode briskly out of the map room – his back stiff and straight. Andrew, General Zakaria, and their ministers and aides followed him. Juston and Lord Ottavia followed suit, and soon it was only the Icarians who remained in the large, circular room. We looked at each other, but since there was nothing left to say or do, at Nic’s urging we all quietly filed out of the room and walked back to the Amber Palace, on the distant side of the forum.
“Magnificent,” I said, clasping Nic’s hand. “But I should be jealous,” I added, winking at him. “For all my theatrics, your little speech trumped everything else that happened this evening.” As I looked around our little group, I could see that every Icarian walking across the forum, despite the lateness of the hour and the exhaustion we all felt, walked with pride.