The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part I - The Golden Orb
“So...that’s why Vorhalla lost part of the Ardentin in the Battle of the Three Iron Kings,” Charles said, picking up the cup of hot tea sitting in front of him and taking a long, slow sip. His tone of voice was almost gleeful, and the smile gracing his face gave the impression that he’d just discovered a great treasure.
“Yes, that’s the true story,” Martya said, pouring a cup of the strongly brewed liquid for herself.
“Amazing that none of the histories I’ve studied mention that,” Charles continued, setting his cup down on the table.
“Why would they?” Philias said contemptuously. “They were all written by Oath Breakers, or others of our enemies. The fact that it was the bravery of The People that won the battle for the Kalasim turned out to be of no account when the spoils of that war were handed out.”
Philias and Martya Cardees had been given the task of instructing me in the history and ways of the Vosh, and although that education was directed primarily at me, it was Charles, as usual, who soaked it up like a sponge and then had the audacity to regurgitate it accurately and factually whenever I’d stumble or fumble to answer the questions Martya and Philias plied me with during their attempts to examine my progress – or lack thereof.
In fairness, I hadn’t done that poorly in my studies; in fact, Martya appeared particularly pleased with my progress. But Charles, with his encyclopedic knowledge of random facts and scraps of otherwise inane information, could always best me, especially when the question involved some piece of arcane and totally worthless – or so I thought – information.
In part, I credited my lapses in memory and focus to my sure knowledge that the germinus was silently ticking away inside me; I felt that allowed me at least some leeway for distraction. Between that and the added stress I was feeling over the fact that the headstrong Doshen of the Siron Quat Kalata, Karana Sessani, was keeping me – by her insistence that I meet with the remaining Doshenii of the three other tribes – from fulfilling the very important task I’d set for myself and my companions, I felt justified in missing the occasional answer.
Another factor I credited for my distraction was my own memories, finally trying to resurface. From the time we’d resurrected the legion, princes, and other Icarians at Eagles Rock, those who’d partaken of the Darroot extract before their sleep had given Niklas and me various accounts of our history. Giovanni had been particularly helpful to me, as he privately detailed his experience of the final days of the empire. Yet they all remained without basis, since I didn’t have my own complete memories to compare against the abundant – and sometimes conflicting – accounts I’d heard. Some of the stories made complete and logical sense, while other accounts seemed utterly impossible and fantastical. But the process had been helpful for Nic and me, shaking a few memories loose from our subconscious as it had. In fact, my own memories were to the point where, every now and then, some long forgotten – often totally random and unrelated – piece of information would surface and I’d struggle to put it into context.
Now that I was attempting to learn the history of the Vosh, there was even more information to assimilate into what I’d already learned in the previous months. That, along with my own attempts to rediscover my personal history, sometimes had me doing mental gymnastics that made my head spin. Not that what I’d gained from Philias and Martya wasn’t interesting, helpful, or important, particularly since I’d reluctantly been placed before the Vosh as their personal savior and anything I could learn to help me understand that role had become a serious matter to me. That, along with some other things I’d come to learn, both puzzled and intrigued me, and I was eager to know more.
For one thing, the Vosh language seemed similar to that of the Kalorians, but the Vosh claimed no knowledge of the Kalorians or Kalorian history. They traced their roots back to the dark days of the empire in its final death throes, yet couldn’t adequately explain exactly where they came from, or how they’d emerged. Of course they had their tales and legends, but that’s all they seemed to be. Nothing they told me of the early days of their history appeared very factual. What appeared to be more accurate were the stories of their wanderings, wars, and struggles in the years after their emergence as a people, bound up inexorably with the history of this land after the fall of The City of Light, a term they – like those of the four kingdoms – used to describe Küronas.
Our stay thus far with the Vosh hadn’t been a bad experience, and our time with them had been helpful in gaining new knowledge, but it hadn’t done much to lessen my anxiety over the fact that each day that passed was one day closer to my death. What’s more, I still had a very important task before me – one that I knew had to be successfully executed.
Assigned to a large common tent, my companions and I were allowed the complete freedom of the encampment. It hadn’t taken long for word of our presence – and my position – to quickly circulate among the tribe. And although most people kept their distance, everywhere I ventured I could feel their eyes on me. Heads would turn, fingers point, and quiet conversation pass between groups of people as they’d stop working and stare.
The first evening after my meeting with Karana Sessani, I’d huddled with my friends inside of our tent. We were served plates and bowls overflowing with food and allowed to eat in private. It was a time to discuss what had happened during my meeting with the Vosh Doshen, and speculate on the future. Having been subjected to the language and dialect of the Vosh, I’d commented to Charles on my suspicions regarding their possible kinship to the Kalorians. He cautiously agreed, but in his usual fashion told me he’d have devote a bit more research to the matter.
Although her initial meeting with me had been cordial enough, Doshen Karana Sessani remained aloof, but it wasn’t a point of contention. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I had to wait for the three other Doshenii to arrive so I didn’t mind; during the wait, that my days were occupied by my sessions with Martya and Philias, who diligently tried to teach me as much about the history of Vosh as possible. From the beginning, Charles insisted on joining me and even though he sometimes annoyed me with his tangents and tendency to focus on minutiae, I was glad for his companionship.
Most days, my mornings were spent with Martya and Philias, first reviewing what I’d learned the previous day, then acquiring new information from them. In the afternoon, Charles would usually retire to the library and I would return to our dormitory tent to study the screen – examining the new information that was now open to me after my absorption of the Orb of the Lion. Occasionally I’d venture out into the camp, and even though most of the Vosh remained reserved around me, I’d managed to get to know a few of them a bit more personally.
While Charles and I kept busy, David, Captain Tark, Renaud, and Andrew also occupied themselves as we awaited the arrival of the remaining three Doshenii. David amused himself by sparring and practicing his marksmanship with the Vosh warriors, who quickly developed a healthy respect for the young gladiator. Renaud – as usual all eyes and ears – attempted to learn as much about Vosh warfare and tactics as possible. He also studied the encampment and how it was set up, along with the divisions of labor within the Vosh community, and I could see him developing a kinship toward these honor-bound, serious and determined nomads of the Ardentin.
In addition to Renaud’s reconnaissance and study, I could also see that he was making his own rather strong impression on the Vosh warrior maidens. While I was well aware of the so-called 'Angel of Death’s personal attraction to me, the fact was, I knew from experience Renaud’s true predisposition. Although there were no female Icarians and most of our species were wont to develop strong attachments and relationships among our own kind, a small percentage of Icarians had an attraction to females. Referred to as a’dobren, these Icarians would mate-or at least have relationships-with female humans, and while these unions were devoid of offspring, they were nevertheless commonly strong and loving. The strong physical and mental bond Icarian mating pairs experienced was also present in the a’dobren's relationships, and it wasn’t uncommon for an a’dobren and human female to mate for life.
One early morning I awoke before the others stirred, and I noted Renaud’s absence from our tent. When I saw that his usual sleeping spot hadn’t been used, I smiled to myself. My suspicions were confirmed when I walked out into the encampment and took a quiet stroll among the tents. Gliding quietly past a tent whose flap hadn’t been completely closed, I saw Renaud and one of the Vosh maidens sleeping together. Unable to resist, I cleared my throat loudly as I passed by. The ever-vigilant Renaud quickly stirred. From the corner of my eye I saw him raise his head and look around. His eyes came to rest on me, but I continued on, keeping my back to him and making sure he couldn’t see my broad smile. With a shrug, he put his head back down and went to sleep.
Tark and Andrew, more than the rest of us, spent more time near our tent. As Oath Breakers – even though they were with me – they were looked upon with some scorn and suspicion. It was in one of my sessions with Martya and Philias that I brought up the subject. After looking at each other and frowning, Philias launched into an explanation of how the Voshconnan, acting as mercenaries, had fought for Kartannus the Great in his conquest of the continent, with the promise of receiving territory that they could claim as their own. Later, after Kartannus' death and the breakup of the Kartannan Empire, his successors ignored the treaty between the great king and his Voshconnan mercenaries. Since the line of Kartannus was strongest in the Kingdom of Xannameir, Xannameirians had earned the singular epithet of “Oath Breakers.”
The Vosh’s scorn and distrust of Xannameirians was further reinforced in subsequent wars when Xannameir – at various times allied with Kalas or Vorhalla – fought against the Vosh in their struggle for independence. It had been assumed that over time the Vosh would naturally assimilate into the rest of the human population on the continent, but the experience had been a harsh one for the Vosh. Swearing to preserve their culture, they remained a nomadic people. Isolated from all other humans on the continent and remaining fiercely independent, they vowed to never settle permanently in one place unless it was to form their own independent kingdom.
But for all our new experiences with the Vosh, I continued to anxiously await the arrival of the three remaining Doshenii. I had an important mission to fulfill – a serious promise to keep – and the sooner I continued on my quest, the sooner it could be brought to fruition.
In the afternoon of the fourth day of our stay, my studies of the screen were interrupted by an increase in the usual noise level in the camp. At first I ignored it, half suspecting that I’d imagined it, but after hearing a few random shouts I arose and walked out of my tent, scanning the encampment. As I looked around, I could see people abandoning their work to make their way toward the center of the camp. Following the crowd, I used the strength of my wings to push through the growing mass of people – quickly working my way in the direction of the initial flourish of commotion that had drawn me from my studies. Once I was close to the center of the encampment, I stopped when I saw a large party of strangers rapidly approaching us; just as they were about to reach us they abruptly changed course, angling off in the direction of Karana Sessani’s tent.
Examining the group, I noted that it was comprised of at least one full Shoc of Vosh warriors, along with a few others who weren’t carrying any weapons. As they moved past us, my eyes were drawn to an older woman who not only carried herself with the same regal air of confidence and poise that Doshen Karana did, but also wore the same light gray coat with three diagonal red stripes on each sleeve. Turning toward one of the Vosh whom I’d come to know – a silversmith named Anash – I asked him who she was.
“Arriana Valish,” he replied, “Doshen of the Siron Hom Campa.”
I was surprised to see another female Doshen.
“Are all the Doshen female?” I asked him.
“No, Garon a’ Kalasia,” he said, using my sobriquet from the Mondele – one all the Vosh seemed to recognize and respect. “As you know, there are four tribes. Each tribe alternates between male and female Doshen. At the end of a Doshen’s rule, another is chosen from the opposite sex.”
Surprised, I listened further to his complex explanation with growing interest. During my brief time among the Vosh, I’d come to learn how obsessed they were with equality between the two genders. Men and women, boys and girls were equal in all ways – it was a concept we Icarians found intriguing, since our species was comprised only of the male gender. And our experiences with the other humans on the continent usually pointed to differences in status, social standing and division of labor between human men and women.
But it was obvious that the Vosh viewed the roles of men and women quite differently from the other humans we’d encountered. Among the population of the four kingdoms, men were almost always the warriors, leaders, and rulers. Men also engaged in the more dangerous, or physically demanding occupations, while women were usually relegated to maintaining their homes, raising children, and working at less physically demanding tasks. Not so with the Vosh: for every male smith hammering in the forge, an equally competent woman could be seen along side him, swinging her hammer just as rapidly and skillfully as her male counterpart. And so it was with all of the traditionally male professions.
But the division of labor also went in the opposite direction. Men were also responsible for tending children, preparing meals, and doing the more domestic work that most of the male humans we’d encountered on the continent relegated to females. The men who engaged in these tasks were no less respected than the females working in traditionally male occupations. In fact, the Vosh practiced such fierce equality that no member of their society seemed superior to any other member. Only the Doshen and their circle of counselors appeared to have a higher status, but even that often seemed minor. While Karana Sessani was respected by her tribe, and her orders were obeyed, she wasn’t given much more deference than any of the Vosh normally gave each other – which is to say they all respected each other very much, and treated each other equally. I suspected this had something to do with their history, but no one could provide me with a plausible explanation.
Two days after I’d witnessed Arriana Valish and her delegation arrive, word came to us that another Doshen, Tabon Emerah of the Siron Sel Stalla, had come into camp. Finally, two days after he arrived, the fourth and final Doshen – Jod Tornada of the Siron Verrit Astera – arrived in camp, and I began to hope that I would soon meet with all four Doshenii.
The first day after all four of the Doshenii were in camp I awoke early, eager for my first meeting with them. The day after the first Doshen, Arriana Valish, arrived in camp, I’d made my way to the clearing where Karana Sessani’s tent stood and discovered three new tents had been erected nearby. Making a few inquiries, I was told they’d been prepared for the three visiting Doshen, who would be conferring with Doshen Sessani before their meeting with myself and the members of my party. So, the first morning that they were finally all together in camp, I anticipated their summons – and was surprised and disappointed when none came. Instead, Charles and I were called to the tent of Philias and Martya, who insisted we continue our studies. In the meantime David, Renaud, Juston, and Andrew carried on with their usual routines.
My study session with Philias and Martya went poorly, since I was constantly distracted and unable to concentrate on their lesson – obsessed as I was with meeting the remaining three Doshenii. Charles, taking advantage of my distraction, had smugly answered Martya and Philias’s questions every time I faltered and stumbled – further adding to my annoyance and irritation.
“When are they going to call me?” I finally blurted out in utter frustration when Charles once again trumped me on one of Martya’s questions. Giving me a puzzled look, Philias tried to continue the lesson, but I would have none of it.
“They’re all here,” I said anxiously. “I thought it was so important for them to meet me. They act like they could care less.”
“First Doshen Sessani will invite them for tea,” Martya began. “It is customary that a Doshen who’s been summoned by another Doshen to be offered the hospitality and peace of the camp. Then they’ll share the news from each tribe, and discuss issues of importance for The People. It’s rare that all four Doshenii assemble together in one place, so there will be much to discuss.”
“And what about me?” I said making no effort to mask the growing tone of exasperation in my voice. “Aren’t my companions and I an important issue? I thought I was your savior – the fulfillment of your bloody prophecy? When am I to meet them?”
“When they are ready, Garon a’ Kalasia, they will send for you,” Martya said calmly, giving me a motherly smile. “Possibly in three or four days.”
“THREE TO FOUR DAYS?” I shouted, bounding up from the stool I’d been sitting on and sending it toppling over. “Do they have any idea how important each day is for me?” I continued to rant. “They act as if they’ve come here to participate in some sort of festival.”
“But you are the fulfillment of the prophecy,” Philias said calmly, in a tone I’d come to recognize as common parlance for most of the Vosh. “This is already a fact. Nothing will happen to you until the prophecy is fulfilled.”
“You’re all insane,” I said, my voice growing ever louder. “You have no idea what I have to do, yet you all calmly sit around expecting me to be your savior. I don’t have the slightest idea of what I’m supposed to do to fulfill this so-called prophecy of yours and none of you have any idea that I’ll succeed.”
“Of course you’ll succeed,” Martya said, allowing the slightest of frowns to momentarily cloud her normally calm and placid expression. “The prophecy is the prophecy, and you are its fulfillment.”
Frustrated beyond all rational through, I finally stormed out of the tent rather than continue to argue and cause even more trouble. Fuming and frustrated, I stomped across the camp as far away from Martya, Philias and Charles as I could get. After pacing around the camp for almost an hour, I found myself in front of the tent of the silversmiths and suddenly became aware of the musical ringing of small hammers shaping and forming silver. With a broad smile on his face, my friend Anash, the camp's master silversmith, greeted me enthusiastically. Taking me gently by the arm, he took me on a tour of the tent. Stopping in front of each of his craftsman, he asked them to show me what they were doing, and while the anxiety over my desire to meet with the Doshenii didn’t go away, my anger eventually subsided. It was late afternoon by the time I left the silversmiths, but I only got a few feet from their tent when I felt a hand on my arm. Spinning around, I found myself face to face with Charles.
“Jamie, now is not the time for this,” he said.
“Not the time?” I shouted, as the anger I’d pushed aside quickly reappeared. “Oh, and I suppose you’re content to keep studying Vosh legend and lore while I succumb to the germinus, Charles,” I spat out angrily. “Maybe you’re curious to see how it will kill me? Then you can write an account and add it to their library!”
“Of course not, Jamie,” Charles said, his voice also beginning to rise. “That’s unfair, and you know it. We’re not going to get anywhere if you let your temper get the best of you.”
“Oh, how easy for you to say, Charles,” I growled. “I’d like to see how calm you’d be if you were carrying something inside of you that was determined to kill you.”
“Have just a little patience, Jamie,” Charles continued. “These people have put their hope in you. You can’t think they’d just let you sit here and die?”
“Well Charles, I’ve seen no proof to the contrary. And I tell you now that I’m sick of all this. As we sit here drinking tea and learning the history of the Vosh, Commander Kopper and his archers are going to the foothills of the Poniçessian Mountains, Brotus and the Iron Regiment are preparing to defend the Pass of Tears, Miro and the gladiators are heading to Wrenstatten, and my mate is getting ready to stand against an army of eighty thousand with a little less than two thousand legionnaires and troops, even as the germinus works its way through my body. But of course, as usual Charles, you’re completely correct. I can’t possibly see what I have to be concerned about,” I said, glaring at him and speaking in the most sarcastic tone I could muster.
“But Jamie…” he continued, and then stopped mid-sentence, whatever he'd been about to say lost to the sound of frantic shouting and screaming. For a few seconds, we both looked around in an attempt to learn where it was coming from.
“The river!” Charles said, and we both ran toward the River Challon that bordered the western boundary of the Vosh encampment.
When we arrived, we instantly saw what the shouting was about. A group of small children had been playing near the rapidly flowing river. A few had climbed one of the large trees near the riverbank and crawled out on to a branch that extended over the water. The branch had broken under their weight, and three of the children – two little girls and a boy – landed in the rapidly flowing water, and were almost instantly swept away. Another child, hanging precariously from the bare end of the splintered branch, appeared ready to fall into the water at any second.
An older boy, trying to help the children who were struggling to stay afloat, slipped and was also swept away by the swift current. The growing number of Vosh lining the shore appeared helpless as they watched the children heading down river toward the waterfall, and its roiling, rock-strewn rapids. Seconds after we arrived, Renaud and Andrew bounded out of our tent and were at our side, followed closely by David and Juston, who’d been engaged in a sparring match in a nearby clearing.
“We’ve got to get them,” David shouted, even as he leaped powerfully upward and with a single hard sweep of his wings, shot out over the river.
Captain Tark and Prince Andrew headed for the tree. Seconds later, Tark was giving Andrew a boost up and the crown prince of Xannameir was climbing toward the remaining child in the tree. Looking to David who was now gliding over the river, I watched as he headed toward the older boy, who was floundering helplessly in the grip of the powerful current. Almost at the same moment, Charles and I stroked our wings and were airborne, but instead of following David we headed downriver, chasing after the three children who’d fallen from the broken branch. But as soon as we were in the air, I realized the flaw in our plan. Even though, as Icarians, Charles and I were stronger then most human men, since there were three children in the water, I knew it would be impossible for either of us to rescue more than one child apiece. That would leave whoever was the unlucky third to be swept over the cataract and dashed against the rocks below.
It was then I heard a shout, and glanced back just in time to see Renaud leap skyward. Moving through the air just as rapidly as he did on the ground, he soared toward Charles and me. Then, without so much as a thought and operating on pure instinct, I flew ahead to the roaring and foaming white water of the falls and their rapids; as I did, my wings quickly became wet and heavy from the cold, misty spray rising from the waterfall. Determined to stay airborne, I stroked my wings harder, struggling to keep myself hovering in a stationary position. At that moment I was never more thankful for the screen as my mind ripped through it at blinding speed, giving me access to the new information I held following my absorption of the Golden Orb.
Acting more on instinct than logic or reason, I threw out both arms in front of me as if I were pushing hard against some unseen object and the water from the falls stopped its cascade and began to backup, held in place by a dam – one made of spirit and air. It was enough to keep the children from going over the edge although they continued struggling to remain afloat.
Charles swooped down and grabbed one of the girls, and struggled manfully to keep the screaming, thrashing child from falling back into the river. Just as he began his ascent, Renaud dove toward the water like a bird of prey and grabbed the boy and the second girl, gripping each one by a forearm. Once he was sure he had them, he gave his wings a few powerful strokes and rose skyward. With a child dangling from each arm, he shot back toward the riverbank. He arrived a few seconds after Charles dropped off the girl he’d rescued, and deposited the remaining two children – both coughing and sputtering – into the awaiting arms of the Vosh standing on the shore.
Only after I saw that everyone was safely away from the water and on the riverbank did I release the invisible dam, and a torrent of water poured over the falls, crashing into the rocks below and sending up a great cloud of mist that thoroughly drenched me. Wet and bedraggled as a hen in a rainstorm, I unceremoniously flapped my water soaked wings and slowly made my way back to the shore. Upon alighting, I breathed a sigh of relief to see that all the children were safe – including the one Andrew and Tark had been determined to rescue.
I shuddered as the water dripped from my soaking wet tunic, and I jumped when my wings suddenly gave a series of rapid, involuntary flutters as they attempted to shake off the water dripping from my waterlogged feathers. After a few seconds, I was presented with a thick, woolen blanket by one of the Vosh women and I stood quietly as the water continued to drip from my soaked tunic and still saturated wings. Looking up, I was confronted by four tall and stately figures standing before me. One of them – Doshen Karana Sessani – was nodding approvingly at me. The other three, dressed in typical Vosh fashion were, like Sessani, wearing light gray coats. As I stared back at them, my eyes were drawn to their sleeves and the three diagonal red stripes slashed across them – the sight for some reason suddenly made me feel uneasy.
“It is as you told us, Karana," one of the other three Doshenii said – an older man with a full head of snow-white hair.
“Yes, Jod,” Karana said. “Did you see the mark?”
“I did,” he replied, pointing to my upper leg and the tattoo. “What about the scar?”
“His left shoulder,” Karana said, then looking at me, added, “Will you show them, Garon a’ Kalasia?”
At her insistence I took off the blanket and handed it to the woman who’d given it to me. Reaching up to the neck of my cold wet tunic, I tugged at it until I’d uncovered my left shoulder to reveal the scar – a twenty-five hundred year old reminder of Hippolito and his treachery. I was quite surprised that she’d seen it. Then, as if reading my mind, she turned to Jod and said, “Philias told me about it as soon as he saw it.”
And then the four gray-coated figures stood silently and without expression, looking down at me.
“The water obeyed you,” a solemn looking Arriana Valish finally said, breaking the silence. “You told Karana you are called Garon a’ Kalasia, and you have the mark and the scar – two of the signs we were told to look for. The prophecy is fulfilled.”
“The People are ready,” the fourth man added, looking expectantly at me. I assumed that since the first man to speak had been Jod Tornada, this Doshen was Tabon Emerah, leader of Siron Sel Stalla.
“Ready for what?” I said hesitantly.
“For you to lead us,” Jod said.
'Why did you ever tell them you were called Garon a’ Kalasia?' I thought to myself. Shaking my head in frustration, I began to reply when a look from Charles stopped me cold.
“Now’s your chance!” his thoughts screamed at me. “Do it!”
For a second I paused, and then a smile slowly came to my face.
“Of course, I’m here,” I said, taking two steps to stand even closer to the four Doshenii. “I am here to serve, and to lead you.” And I gave them a slight bow.
Still smiling, my thoughts reached out to Charles. “This better work, Charles, or I’ll have Renaud string you up by your ankles and peel your hide inch by inch.”
Remaining implacably calm, Charles glanced in my direction, but didn’t bat an eyelash.
“We all do what we have to,” was the only thought he sent out to me.
The reaction from the four leaders of the tribes was both amazing, and predictable. Looking at each other they nodded their approval, although their faces remained stern and serious.
“We are yours to command,” Tabon said, nodding his head in my direction.
“Then we must begin immediately,” I replied, quickly seizing the moment.
“What would you ask of us?” Arriana added.
“First, I must accomplish a very important task,” I said.
“We will help you,” Jod said. “The People are yours to command. The prophecy is quite clear on this point: It is only by our obedience to the Garon a’ Kalasia that we will come into our kingdom.”
I shuddered slightly, but the cause of my tremors wasn’t my cold and wet clothes. From what I’d learned from Martya and Philias, these people fully expected me to create a kingdom for them that they could call their own, and the fierce intensity of their belief scared me.
“It’s not your help I need in this immediate matter,” I said, trying to sound as calm as possible. “It’s not a task requiring force of arms, but it is very important, and my companions and I must complete it as soon as possible.”
“We should at least send a Shoc with you,” Tabon Emerah said.
“Very well,” I said, pausing for a few seconds to consider the ramifications. “But they must obey my commands. This is a very important task, and it must be completed as soon as possible.”
“And then…?” Karana asked.
“Then I will need your help. We must journey to the northern frontier of Xannameir and stand with King Niklas at Fire Block Canyon.”
“The land of the Oath Breakers?” Arriana said, doubt and skepticism tainting her voice.
“I’m your savior, no?” I said, stepping up to them trying to sound as confident and resolute as possible. “If that means walking to the land of the Oath Breakers, then so be it. I have pledged you my honor; will you not do the same?"
“You have our honor,” Tabon Emerah said, giving me a cold and steely look. “The People pledge themselves to you. And you to them.”
“Very well,” I said. “Then you will accompany me, although I must warn you, many lives may be lost.”
“Our honor is our honor,” Jod quickly responded. “The People will prevail. The prophecy will be fulfilled.”
Shaking my head, I wished I were as confident as the Vosh Doshenii. “Then we leave in the morning,” I replied. “You may send enough of your warriors to make one Shoc. More than that we will not need. But remember, they must obey me,” I added forcefully
“They will,” Jod quickly responded.
“Then it is settled,” Charles added, with firmness in his voice.
“As you wish, Garon a’ Kalasia,” Tabon said. “We will prepare.”
“Since the Siron Quat Kalata are here under Doshen Sessani,” Arriana said, “the three of us will send messengers to our tribes and they will arrive ready to serve you. We will do as you command.”
“Good,” I said. "Send your messengers, for my companions and one Shoc of your choosing leave in the morning.”
“And where will you go to accomplish this task?” Karana said.
Early evening was beginning to approach. Overhead, the twin moons had just risen over the horizon.
“There,” I said, pointing to Ajax, the smaller of the two. “We journey to the Prince of Tranquility.”
The faces of the four Doshenii were as masks of stone as they nodded without emotion, but after they turned and began walking slowly back to their tents, I was surprised when I overheard Arriana say to the others, “It is indeed as we were taught: the Wind goes to the Sun. We are truly fortunate to have seen this day, and are honored to follow the Garon a’ Kalasia as he fulfills our destiny." Staring at the backs of the gray-coated Doshenii as they walked away, a strange scrap of memory came to me – gray coats, hundreds of gray coats, spread across a green field.
“What was that all about?” Andrew said, rousing me from my thoughts. One look at him and I could see that he was barely able to keep his mouth from falling open. “Jamie, you realize these are the Vosh? I’ve never heard of a race more obstinate and intractable. What have you done to them? The Vosh follow no one! They obey no one! But they were like purring cats for you.”
“Javer vot lossa morata,” I said softly in Kalorian, after the Doshenii were gone.
Cocking an eyebrow at me, Juston Tark asked, “And just what does that mean?”
“'I serve until I die,'” Renaud said quietly, nodding his head in approval. “The motto of the House of de Valèn.”
Turning to look at me, his face presented its usual implacable expression to me, but his words gave away his emotions. “You are truly a’vassian, sa’Crêsmané,” he said in a tone of reverence and respect. “And you told me it was a task for the singer or the master of dance to take up, instead of you. sa’Crêsmané, I believe you have ice water in your veins and steel in your bones. Your father would have been proud of you this day, just as I am. I have never been more honored to serve you. The boy of the wind trumps the skill of the Emperor.”
“Seeing that he was a murderous bastard, I don’t know if I should take that as a compliment or an insult,” I said, quirking an eyebrow.
“Need you ask?” he said, continuing to give me one of his inscrutable looks.
“There’s only one whose heart is pure enough to be called sa’Kronobus,” I said, returning Renaud’s look with a determined one of my own.
“The Baron?” Renaud softly whispered.
“Yes, the Baron,” I replied, and once more found myself shuddering involuntary as I thought of Niklas, the guardian of my heart, facing down an army of eighty thousand thrones.
The moment passed, and I looked around to see that my companions were giving me a careful examination.
“Jamie, what exactly did you mean when you pointed to the moons and said that’s where we were going?” Andrew asked hesitantly. “What kind of metaphor were you trying to make?”
“None,” I replied flatly. “That is where we’ll be going tomorrow."
My reply was met with complete silence, and I saw looks of shock come to their faces as their heads turned skyward to stare at the two moons hanging in the sky. Then they turned to me, their eyes piercing me like glowing rods of steel fresh from a blacksmith’s fiery forge.
“By my bloody wings and the emperor’s stones,” David said, after making a low and steady whistle. “If you can do that…”
Turning abruptly, I started back to our tent. I could still feel their eyes on me, and from the thoughts they were projecting I knew they were shooting each other looks of surprise and wonder, but ignoring it all and without further discussion, I quietly entered the tent and began to prepare for bed. When my head finally rested on my pillow I quickly drifted off to a peaceful sleep, content that I was about to begin the most important task of my entire life, and hopeful that I would succeed.
I was awakened in the morning by voices and the rustling sound of activity outside our tent. Rising from my pallet, I stepped over the sleeping bodies of my companions to the tent's opening and drew back one of the flaps, only to find myself staring at eight heavily armed Vosh warriors as they quietly listened to orders being given by Garda.
“…and it’s been agreed that we will follow the orders of Garon a’ Kalasia,” I heard him say. As soon as he caught sight of me, he stopped his speech and approached. “Two from each tribe, Garon a’ Kalasia,” he said.
I nodded, noticing that, including Garda, there were eight warriors – apparently two from each tribe – of which four were men and four women, and I smiled to myself to see how their view of equality and fairness came down even to this.
“We have been chosen to accompany you,” Garda said.
“Very well,” I replied, “please allow myself and my companions to get ready, and then we will leave.”
Going back into the tent, I roused everyone. Renaud was the first to be ready, having for once not disappeared from our tent under cover of darkness, but choosing instead to sleep with us in our tent. After a quick morning meal, we were ready to go. As we gathered what we needed, the four Doshenii, their councilors, and a fair number of Vosh surrounded us.
“We’ll assemble our tribes and await your return,” Jod said.
I nodded and turned to Garda.
“Where to?” the Vosh Nandal asked.
“Back to where you first found us,” I said.
Nodding, he and his Shoc led the way into the dense forest with David, Renaud, Andrew, Charles and I following. It didn’t take us long to return to the place where Garda and his shoc had intercepted us, and I quickly recognized the strange looking tree near the open clearing. Once there, I strode over to the trap door in the forest floor. Bending down, I began to dig with my hands around its sides. Soon I found what I was looking for, and I reached into the pocket of my cloak and withdrew Nic’s emerald ankle bracelet. Opening the clasp, I placed one end into the lock on the side of the door, gave it a turn, and jumped back when it slowly sprung open on its own. Once it was completely open, I looked down into the hole it had concealed. At the top of the opening, I saw a metal ladder attached to the wall and descending into the darkness.
“Let’s go,” I said, swinging a leg over the edge and stepping onto the first rung of the ladder. Immediately, a pale yellow light sprung into being, illuminating the first dozen rungs of the ladder. At intervals throughout the descent, a new light would come on as I reached the limit of the range lit by the light before, thus progressively revealing the length of the ladder.
Carefully I climbed down the rungs, glad for the sure footing the soft pair of Vosh boots I was wearing provided. Shortly after we’d come into the Vosh camp, we'd found that wearing them as we walked through the forest and its underbrush provided us greater comfort and kept our feet and legs from getting dirty and scratched, so we’d all quickly adopted them.
When I came to the last rung of the ladder, I stepped off onto a cold stone floor and looked around the room I found myself in. The space was compact, but not so small that it couldn’t hold all of us at one time. The yellow light that filled the space was similar to the light that lit the caverns under Eagles Rock. Built into one of the walls was a door, but where it led was of no interest to me. Other than the door, and the ladder that provided access from above, the room was a simple square with four unadorned walls, except for the large, oval mirror set into the wall opposite the door.
The ceiling in the room was high, and the mirror took up every bit of height it provided as it stretched from the floor to the ceiling.
The frame had been carved to look like the figure of a large and ferocious dragon. The dragon’s head stuck out from the top of the mirror and angled downward, so that its menacing eyes appeared to stare down at whomever stood in front of the mirror. The beast’s long and scaly body wound around the mirror and its two sharp-taloned front paws gripped the upper third of the frame. As the rest of its body wrapped around the mirror, its long tail curled back up toward the dragon’s head. The illusion created was perfect, and it looked as if the dragon were fiercely guarding the mirror and its secrets – perhaps it was.
I stood quietly, looking at my reflected image as I waited for my companions and the Vosh to climb down the ladder. Once everyone was assembled around me, they all stood and stared at the mirror.
“Is this like the one in the map room?” Andrew asked.
“No,” I replied. “That one only allows travel throughout the continent. This one is very special – it’s called an exogate. It will take us off this planet.”
“You really can’t be saying what I think you’re saying,” Juston Tark said incredulously.
“Believe it or not,” I said, “but you’ll soon see for yourself.” Then I turned to face the dragon-framed mirror and confidently walked toward it.