The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part I - The Golden Orb
With Philippe at his side, Miro gave a whistle and a shout as he strode down the steps, and suddenly the room resounded with the sound of marching feet – many feet. The sound grew louder and as everyone looked on in astonishment, an army of gladiators emerged through the three doors on the upper floor and marched in perfect lock step down the three staircases leading onto the floor of the map room. The sight was impressive, and I could see that every eye followed their movement into the room.
Side by side in pairs of two, the small army that made its way down the stairs was an amazing sight. With gleaming armor, spears and swords, embroidered cloaks, amazing plumed helmets, sashes, pins, multicolored kilts along with, curiously, a pair of barefoot boys dressed only in silk pajamas and menacing swords, they came looking like death on the march. The members of each fighting pair perfectly matched each other in dress and weapons, but every pair differed from every other pair, showing their distinctions as separate fighting duets. Their white and gold wings with purplish tips reflected the light in the room, and dazzled the eye. Once Miro reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped onto the floor of the map room, each and every duet froze in place, standing in pairs on the steps. To their rear stood Evan Mahon – the young first lieutenant who’d accompanied Miro on his mission.
David was the first to reach Miro, clasping his brother’s arm, and giving him a hearty hug. “So I don’t get to kill them all?” he said, smiling at Miro.
“Why should you have all the fun?” Miro laughed. “I promised them that they’d get the chance to kill their share of thrones, and with an army of eighty thousand, I’m sure there’ll be enough to go around.”
David stepped back to let Nic approach Miro, and I jumped when, after facing the army of armed boys, they drew to attention and in unison, all of them drew their swords, pointed them skyward and then brought them down, rapping the hilts against their armored chests in a salute that crashed with a loud report through the room. Still gripping the upturned swords, they shouted in one voice, “Hail Niklas!”
Including Miro and David, I counted fifty-one fighting duets.
“Every duet hidden in Piropolis accounted for,” Miro said, still smiling, “and every one of them ready to kill their share of thrones.”
“But how…?” Charles began as he approached Miro.
“Evan and I found them at Domain Carolus. I’m still not sure how they got there, but that’s not important. After we resurrected everyone and determined that they were fine, we rode here as quickly as possible. We managed to turn a twenty-day journey into twelve days. Our plan was to go to the Amber Palace and report in,” he said, turning to Nic, “but after we entered the city, one of the guards on the gate watch told us you’d recently ridden in from Grüner Platz and were holding council here. I noticed the garrison’s a bit thin – probably been reassigned to shore up defenses around the kingdom, no? We rode through the city and into the forum, then came here. There are only a few guards on the building and when I told them why we were here, they let us enter without challenge.”
By now he was openly grinning. He paused, continuing to smile as he looked around the room at everyone assembled, “So, what’s the plan?” he asked.
“First of all, it’s good to see you,” Nic said, giving Miro a hug. I caught the gladiator giving me a questioning look. When I nodded my head, he smiled, winked at me, and gave my mate a kiss. “As far as a plan, I can say without a doubt now that you’re here, the odds have just gotten better.”
“What is this?” Wilum asked, striding across the room to where Nic and Miro stood. “Who are these warriors?”
“The gladiator duets of Castle Rood,” Nic said, “And my friends,” he added, glancing up at the heavily armed and armored boys standing on the steps of the map room. “They will fight as no others, of that you can be sure.”
“Very well,” Wilum said, although his voice had a skeptical tone to it. “We have our troops, your troops, and these… gladiators. I still don’t see how we can achieve victory.”
“Well, Your Highness,” I began. “As I was beginning to say before...” I looked at Miro and smiled. “…before we were interrupted: I must retrieve the final orb. It’s imperative that I get it before I meet Loran in the Circle of Ondra, and it’s imperative that I reach the Circle of Ondra before Loran.”
“And just how do you plan on doing that?” Wilum asked.
“I’ll journey to where the final orb – the Orb of the Unicorn – is hidden, retrieve it, and absorb it. Then I will go to Taldor Valoren by way of the mountain pass, and retrieve the key that will bring down the magic wall protecting the Kingdom of Altinestra – the land that will become Icaria.”
“And what is this ‘Circle of Ondra’?” Wilum asked.
“One of only two transfer stations I know of for the orbs. The formal, ceremonial station is in the Wizard’s Palace in Küronas, where the elevation and transfer ceremony was designed to take place. The only other one is the Circle of Ondra at Gold Glass Flats near the southern foothills of the Poniçessian Mountains, where the Plain of Zarkistan begins. It is part of the laboratory that Lon Nol used to create and test the orbs. They are the only two places I know of where the essences of the orbs can be contained, and encapsulated if necessary.”
“But what of your brother’s army?” Wilum asked. “Do you plan on letting him freely pillage the continent?”
“No, of course not…” I began.
“Dealing with Loran’s army will be my mission,” Nic said, interrupting me and turning to the king. “But I believe Jamie’s right when he says that Loran’s first goal is to consolidate all of the essences to himself. He made sure Jamie got the Golden Orb, and he knows that time is of the essence now, if he’s to become the wizard.
“As the most powerful force in the land, Loran will be able to do as he wills. He can certainly wait sixty-one days – he’s already waited over twenty five hundred years. He knows that first he needs to become the true wizard, and to do that he must absorb the essences of all the orbs. Therefore, he must be as close to Jamie as possible, in order to take advantage of the situation when the germinus from the Golden Orb becomes active. If Loran is directing armies across the continent, fighting battles, and trying to dominate the land, he risks losing the chance to assimilate the essences of the orbs when the germinus begins to stir. He won’t want to lose his army, but he’ll need to be close to Jamie, and we will catch him in that bind.”
I remained quiet during Nic’s explanation to King Wilum, but winced every time he talked about the germinus activating. While he was being diplomatic and sensitive in my presence, we both knew that if the germinus actually came to life, it would surely spell my death.
“Jamie must get the final orb, but we must do what ever we can to prevent Loran from getting to Taldor Valoren first,” Nic said. “If he can’t get to the final orb – and from what Jamie has told me he can’t – then he will take his army across the Plain of Pons and scale the Poniçessian Mountains. If he makes it through the Pass of Tears at Mt. Coratt, he will have an open route to Taldor Valoren. Once there, he will do whatever he must to bar the pass and procure the key that will bring down the wall that has prevented anyone from entering the Kingdom of Altinestra for the past two millennia.”
“But why should he worry about barring the pass?” King Juston asked.
“An excellent question, Your Highness,” I said. “If my brother and I each have six orbs, we will be matched in ability when we meet in the Circle of Ondra, and once I’m standing within the circle, he’s obligated to fight me. If the germinus kills me, the essences from my body will be free to enter his. If I never reach the circle, then he never has to engage me. He simply has to wait for the germinus to activate and kill me. If he can prevent me from ever reaching the Circle of Ondra, he faces no risk and easily claims the rewards. But once inside the circle, other forces come into play. Complex forces, involving the orbs – many of which I don’t fully understand, and that would require too long an explanation even if I did. I just know that the best place for me to be when I face Loran is in the Circle. He has more knowledge and mastery of the orbs than I do, and he knows that if he can prevent me from entering the circle, he is sure to become the true wizard.”
“Then how do you stop him from entering what you call the Pass of Tears and reaching Taldor Valoren, and the Circle of Ondra that lies beyond it?”
“Now that we have reinforcements,” Nic said, turning to Miro, “we will have three prongs in our defense. The first prong will be the gladiators. They will journey to Wrenstatten and become our eyes and ears. They will also fight a war of shadows, waging battle as guerilla and underground forces. That will keep Loran and his forces busy, while also supplying us with useful information. The second prong will be the Imperial Legion. They, under my command, will be waiting for Loran’s thrones at the terminus of the Plain of Pons, near the wastelands in the foothills of the Poniçessian Mountains – the place you call Fire Block Canyon – and the battle will be joined.”
“But what if Loran sends a separate force ahead of his army to secure the pass?” General Zakaria asked, turning to Nic and giving him a searching look. “A large expeditionary army will take time to march across the Plain of Pons and scale the Poniçessian’s, but a small force can move quickly, and succeed where a larger army might fail. What’s to prevent him from doing that?”
“Nothing,” I said, “he probably will, and that’s where…” I paused closed my eyes, took a deep breath and fought back the tears that threatened. “… and that’s where the third element, and General Brotus, come in to play. If an advance party attacks the pass, he will keep them from succeeding in taking it, and Taldor Valoren.”
At my words everyone turned to look at Brotus, who stood tall but remained silent.
“Brotus?” Wilum shouted. “One man against these killer angels? Impossible.”
“I never said he would be alone, did I, Your Highness?” I replied, giving him a steady gaze. Without waiting for an answer, I turned and walked across the room, to the far wall.
The very first time I’d been in the room, one of the many things I’d observed, among all the other spectacular sights this amazing place had to offer, was a large mirror imbedded in the wall. An intricate and ornate frame, decorated with symbols and markings, surrounded it – markings I’d easily been able to read, but unable to act on. Now, with the essence of the golden orb inside me, I knew that I could.
Opening the screen, I accessed <MIRROR GATE SYSTEM> – a category previously inaccessible to me. Doing a quick review, I closed the screen and looked around the room.
“Brotus and I will be going to Mt. Coratt and the Pass of Tears,” I said.
“But that’s in the Poniçessian Mountains,” Lord Ottavia said. “It’s outside of Taldor Valoren. From here, in Konassas, it would take at least twenty-five days, and that’s if the weather is with you. How can you possibly hope to get there any quicker?”
“With the poison comes the prize,” I said to Ottavia. “It’s true the Golden Orb contains the germinus, but it also contains the means to use the Mirror Gates. Loran couldn’t give me one without the other – it was the risk he had to take.”
“Mirror Gates?” Ottavia repeated, giving me a strange look.
“There isn’t time for me to explain. Nic can do that while I’m gone.” I turned and, looking up at Brotus, I asked, “Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready for this for many years, Sparrow,” he said, smiling down at me.
“Then we’re almost ready,” I said to no one in particular, before I turned and faced the youngest person in the room. “But first, I need you, Lüdowik.”
At the sound of his name, the little boy looked at me in surprise.
“Me? Why do you need me?” he asked – his Taldorian accent suddenly growing thick.
“You need to go back to Taldor Valoren and tell them what you’ve seen, and what you know. It’s important that they’re warned and are ready.”
“But I don’t know if they’ll believe me,” he said. “I’m just a boy, and they might think I’ve made it up.”
“That may be true, Lüdowik, but they will believe your cousin, won’t they, Barsetba?” I said, turning to the young musician whom we’d befriended so many months before.
Barsetba's eyes opened wide, and I watched the blood drain from his face. “They’ll believe the son of the Keeper of the Archives, won’t they, Barsetba?” I asked, “But forgive me, your family doesn’t use your formal name, do they… Seth? And besides, you’ve been keeping your father and the Kalorian League well informed, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” was the only word that softly slipped from Seth’s lips.
“Good,” I said smiling, “tell them what you’ve seen and heard. Tell your father I come marked by the blood of Castor, who is no more. I come marked by the blood of Garus, who is no more. I come marked by the blood of Jakobus, who stood as the first and bravest of the Kalorians, and who I honor this day and forever.”
Seth stood looking at me, as if paralyzed.
“Tell them everything. But also tell them not to go to The Pass of Tears, under any circumstance. And finally, tell them to wait for me. That will be the hardest thing of all, but tell them that the Protector comes to fulfill his promise. Do you understand?” I asked, giving the boy a long, hard look.
Slowly, a wide-eyed Seth nodded his head.
“And give him this,” I said, reaching into my cloak and pulling out the gold and silver baton of the Lord Regent, and handing it to him. “He’ll understand, and he’ll prepare.”
Seth reached out a hand and gingerly allowed his fingers to grasp the baton. From the expression on his face it looked at it as if it would burn his fingers. Carefully gripping it, he took it from my hand. Lifting it to his face he examined it, then looked back to me. Nodding, but still silent, he carefully put it in the folds of his cloak.
“Now it’s time to go,” I said, looking from the boys to Brotus. Then turning to Nic, I added, “I’d like everyone to remain here Nic. I’ll return shortly.”
“Ah…” Miro began, and then paused. “…there is something else I think you should know before you leave.”
“Yes?” I said turning toward him.
“Since you mentioned the Kalorian League… well…”
“What is it?” I asked, becoming impatient
I jumped slightly when Miro gave a sharp whistle, and then turned my head upward when I heard the sound of footsteps. One by one, a group of men passed through the upper doors of the map room and made their way around the circular balcony. Dressed all in black, wearing black cloaks with golden linings, the men took up positions on the upper balconies and stared down at us. A quick count revealed to me that there were over a hundred of them. They looked grim-faced, and determined.
“The Guild of the Archers from the Kalorian League,” Miro said, smiling up at them. “We met them at Domain Carolus. They’re here to stand with us.”
One of the men broke free of the rest, walked down the steps, and stood next to Miro and Philippe.
“Allow me to introduce Hans Kopper, Commander of the Kalorian Guild of the Archers.”
“What’s all this? Kalorian? I've never heard…” sputtered Wilum
“That will be explained in time,” Miro said. “Just know that they are brave and honorable men, and they stand willingly with us.”
After he was done speaking, there was an undercurrent of murmuring throughout the room. I noticed Kopper quietly talking to Miro, and then he nodded and looked in my direction. Miro answered the commander, and also nodded in my direction. Kopper broke away from Miro, and walked down the steps. Slowly he approached me; all the while, his eyes never left mine. By the time the tall thin man was in front of me, I found myself looking up into his face.
“Is it true?” he said. “Are you the one?”
At that moment, I was tempted to give a flip answer – of course I was the one, what did he think all this was about? But looking into his eyes and seeing the intense look of anticipation he was giving me, I simply nodded and answered, “Yes, I’m the one.”
“Forgive me… Protector,” he began haltingly, and from the sound of his voice it seemed he was almost embarrassed to be addressing me. “…but the centuries are filled with your exploits… whether true or not. It’s just that…”
“That you expected someone… larger? Stronger? Braver? More heroic looking?” I said, almost laughing. “Well Commander, unfortunately I am what I am. I guess I look like a little boy to you, and maybe an immature one at that. But to repeat myself, I am what I am. The legends may have become clouded or embellished with time, but I can assure you that one thing is true. I am he who came forward at Mondele Royale, when no one else would. But I didn’t do it out of love, or honor, or even duty – I did it out of hatred. I saw the results from the Prison of Pain. I stood in the courtyard of the Mondele and watched Garus and Castor die. I was forced to stand in the Hall of Mirrors when they tortured Cristophe. So yes, I am the one, but don’t ascribe noble altruism to me, Commander. Hate fired the engine that made me do what I did, and I fear it still may.”
Kopper stood silently, appearing to reflect on my words. I could sense from his thoughts both puzzlement and turmoil, as his eyes were being forced to accept a reality far different from the one that his mind, long filled with the legends and tales, had crafted regarding what The Protector would look and act like.
“Nolet ens Kalora. (We are Kalorians.)” I said, giving him a cold and level gaze. “Nolet ens mannu. Corrs vel’nt absena sas. (We are men. They will never forget that.)”
At my words, Kopper’s face took on a look of surprise and he stepped back from me so quickly he almost fell over his feet.
“You know the words of Jakobus,” he finally said in hushed reverence.
“I was standing next to him when he spoke them,” I said softly.
“He also said something else to me,” I continued, and I could see I’d seized the full attention of the Commander of the Kalorian Guild of Archers. “‘ Du vetan noss’nt pan morat vensuat.’”
Kopper blinked at me, “See that we do not die in vain,” he whispered in a voice so low I was sure no one else had heard him.
I took one step closer to him, and pointed my finger at him, adding, “They did not die in vain. It’s a promise I vowed to keep, Commander. Corrs vel’nt absena sas. They will NEVER forget us!”
Staring at me in silence he nodded his head, seeming to reflect on what I’d told him, but then he quickly roused from his reverie. “But if you go to Taldor Valoren, we should accompany you,” Kopper said forcefully, recovering his earlier poise. “We can’t stand by and not defend our land.”
“Nor shall you,” Nic said, slowly approaching the Guild Commander.
Kopper frowned, looked suspiciously at Nic, and stepped back.
“King Niklas,” Miro called out to Kopper, “the one I’ve been telling you about.”
Kopper continued to look intensely at Nic, and although he cast a wary eye upon the King of Icaria, the commander of the archers slowly extended his hand. Nic gripped it firmly and smiled.
“We’d not ask you to stand by as your land is attacked, but we can best use you in the Poniçessian foothills. There are many of you, and you can make every tree, every rock and boulder a lethal trap as they try and climb the foothills. You can be an important part of the defense of Taldor Valoren, Commander Kopper, and we would welcome your help. We, in turn, will do everything to protect your homeland.”
“And I have just the thing to make you as deadly as vipers,” David interrupted; smiling so broadly I thought his face would split in two.
“And what do you mean by that?” Nic said, turning to David.
“Well, I’ll show you later,” he said, still grinning. Turning to me, he pantomimed the actions of an archer releasing an arrow. Then he jerked both his hands and made a small sound to mimic an explosion.
Nodding to indicate I understood, I smiled back at him.
Kopper remained silent for a few moments, and I could see he was deep in thought. Finally he nodded to Nic and backed away. Miro smiled and motioned for the Guild Commander to resume his position near him.
“Time goes quickly,” I said. “Bring me the bundles.”
From one of the landings in the map room two imperial legionnaires came down the steps, each carrying two canvas bundles in each hand – one large, and one small. Tucked away in them were food, extra clothing, animal furs for warmth, and a number of other things Brotus’d told me he’d need. Setting them down before me, the legionnaires turned and resumed their posts on the upper balcony. Brotus bent down and picked up the larger two of the four bundles. Motioning for Seth and Lüdowik to come forward, he had each boy take one of the two remaining bundles. At the last moment, Esteban approached me and held out a heavy, hooded cloak. I recognized one of the standard cold weather cloaks of the Legion, and smiled.
“It will be cold where you go, Your Grace, and the Legion takes care of its own,” he said seriously. I nodded and turned away, quite touched by his concern. Shrugging out of my ceremonial cloak I handed it to Charles who was standing nearby, and pulled on the heavy, all encompassing cloak of the Legion.
“Now, follow me,” I said to Brotus, Lüdowik, and Seth.
I made my way to the large mirror and waited for the other three to catch up and take their places behind me. I stood a moment before the mirror, looking at my reflection and that of the room to my back. Carefully I read the markings that appeared around its edges, while consulting the screen, and learned – as I’d thought – that it was one of the universal transporters. Bringing the butt of the staff crashing to the ground, I began an incantation, and then reached out my hand to touch a spot on the mirror. The reflections in the mirror blurred until a bright curtain of dancing light appeared in place of the glass. Turning to Brotus and the two boys, I motioned for them to pass through the space where the reflective glass had once been. Brotus paused for a few seconds and I raised the staff and pushed it part way through, indicating that it was indeed a passageway. Turning toward the mirror he paused for one second then quickly passed through and I thought I caught a glimpse of him tightly closing his eyes. Seth gave me a wide-eyed stare – Lüdowik an even wider one.
“Through there?” the little boy squeaked.
“Yes, through there,” I said. “Just like Brotus.”
Taking the younger boy’s hand, Seth turned toward him. “It’s just like the story of Eilus and the Golden Harp,” he said excitedly. “Only now, I’m not so sure it was the fanciful song I first thought it was when my father made me learn it.” Then, hand in hand and with Seth leading the way, they entered and disappeared into the shimmering light.
After the two boys passed through the mirror, I turned back and looked into the room. “I’ll return shortly. Please wait.” Then without pause, or fanfare, I strode into the light. As soon as I passed through the curtain of light and was gone, the shimmering glow ceased and the mirror returned to its original state – once more reflecting light and images from the room. David walked up to it and touched his reflection, only to be met by the cold hard surface of the glass.
“Now what?” he said.
“Jamie told us to wait,” Nic responded, “so we wait.”