The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 17



The hov began a slow descent as its guidance system maneuvered to place the craft directly above its pad near the villa. The powerful engines driving it – quiet as a whisper – cut their thrust, easing the craft to the ground. With the gentlest of thuds, the hov made contact with the pad and Jamie cut the engines. Already running dangerously late because of their unplanned and amazing journey to Ghröum, Jamie was glad he’d insisted on taking the hov instead of flying to the cliffs as Charlie had suggested.


“You better move as fast as you can the second the door opens,” Jamie said, turning to Charlie. “We’re already a half hour over our permitted time. You know Castor’s going to pluck out my feathers one by one for keeping you out so late.”


Giving Jamie a worried look, Charlie nodded but remained quiet.


Jumping from the craft, both boys had started running toward the villa when suddenly Charlie, unfolding his wings, caught a welcome gust of wind blowing in off the inlet. The breeze quickly lifted him off the ground, allowing him to glide all the way to the front gate of the villa. Jamie followed suit and both boys quickly cleared the tall gate, touching down in the courtyard.


“We might be in luck,” Jamie said. “They may all be occupied getting ready for the fête.”


But their luck rapidly vanished as they rushed up to the front door of Villa Mare Vista, then stopped and froze as still as statues when it swung open to reveal Castor waiting to meet them. Although he appeared calm, both boys knew as soon as they saw the major domo's face that they were in trouble. Experience had taught them that while the unflappable Castor always projected a calm outward appearance, his lips often gave away his true inner feelings. Approaching him, they saw them drawn in a thin line across his face and knew that he was more than a little annoyed with them.


“I’m glad to see you remembered where you live,” Castor said calmly as the boys made their way past him. “I was beginning to wonder if we should send out a search party.” And although his words came out in a calm and measured tone, both Jamie and Charlie gave an involuntary swallow, afraid of what might come next.


“We…” Charlie began, but was immediately silenced when Castor, giving him an intense stare, raised one slender finger.


“Go to your rooms and get ready, or we’ll be late for Solstice Fête,” he said as his lips became even thinner.


“I’m sorry, Castor," Jamie began, following his usual script. “I…"


Once more Castor’s finger went up and Jamie, all too familiar with the gesture, immediately stopped talking.


“The blame will be equally shared, young masters,” he said looking down at his two charges. “I’ve come to learn how much your brother covers for you,” Castor continued, turning to Charlie. “All these years you both had me fooled, but no more. You may consider yourselves lucky I’m allowing you to attend Solstice Fête at all. Although, if you don’t go directly to your rooms, bathe, put on a fresh change of clothes, and meet us in the courtyard in fifteen minutes, you won’t be going anywhere. You’ll spend the evening in your rooms while everyone else goes to the settlement. Am I clear?”


Not saying a word, Charlie and Jamie solemnly nodded.


“Then get moving,” Castor said. “Fifteen minutes, and not a second more,” he called out to the boys as they bounded up the stairs and raced across the skywalk. “I mean it,” he added, raising his voice for emphasis, and then smiling to himself when he heard two doors open and slam shut.


Stripping in record speed, Jamie opened his door, ran onto the skyway and crashed headlong into a naked Charlie who, moving just as fast as his older brother, had dashed from his own room and was heading to the bath. Quickly recovering, both boys sprinted to the bath, jumped into the warm water and quickly washed. Shaking their wings as they toweled off, they ran back to their rooms. As usual, Jamie quickly dried his hair with a vigorous rub and threw the wet towel on the floor next to the jumpsuit, small clothes, and stockings he’d feverishly torn off to get ready for his bath. Across the room, a pair of soft and thin-soled leather boots lay against the wall, kicked off and haphazardly thrown in his haste to undress. Rushing to the closet, he ripped some clothing off the hangers, trying to dress as quickly as possible – a feat not easy to accomplish with wings.


Fifteen minutes later Jamie and Charlie were standing in the atrium as their father, Castor and the household staff began to gather in preparation for their journey to the settlement. Both boys' hair and feathers were still damp. Spinoza was perched on Jamie’s shoulder, the lizard’s eyes comically rolling around in its head as it twisted its neck and looked about the atrium. But while Charlie was neatly dressed, Jamie appeared disheveled, having quickly pulled on whatever he could lay his hands on.


“I think you need to tidy up a bit more,” Castor said looking down at the older of the two Icarian boys. "If I recall correctly, that particular shirt was to go to the laundry, if you haven’t noticed, there’s a stain on the front.”


“You told me to hurry,” Jamie said in exasperation.


“Yes, I told you to hurry, but at no time did I hear myself say that you should appear before us looking like a mir rat that’s been drug through a patch of desert briars by a pack of ollif beasts.  Your brother apparently didn’t have any problem picking out a proper outfit and brushing his hair."


“His hair is naturally curly,” Jamie began, “it’s easy to…” but he stopped as Castor raised a finger at him and the head of household’s lips again formed a thin line across his face.


“Upstairs immediately, and put on something appropriate for the Fête,” Castor said, raising an eyebrow.


Sighing deeply, Jamie headed for the stairs, paused and turned back. Reaching up to his shoulder, he removed Spinosa and gently tossed it in Charlie’s direction. Giving a loud akkk! of protest, Spinoza unfurled its wings and flapped them wildly, striving mightily to reach Charlie, who held out his arm to the garga lizard.


“I’d suggest the outfit I already selected for you. I carefully laid it out on your bed so you would see it,” Castor shouted as Jamie disappeared up the staircase. “Apparently you were in too much of a hurry to notice?”


Hearing the light thudding of a boy’s footsteps across the skyway followed by the slamming of a door, Castor once more gave a half smile.


“You enjoy doing that to him, don’t you?” Edwin Croal said, giving Castor a knowing look.


“The boy needs to learn sometime,” Castor said, smiling back at Croal. “He’d just as soon wear rags as the finest garments in the empire – it’s of no difference to him. Now Charlie,” – Castor paused to look at the neatly dressed boy standing to his right – “look at how well dressed and presentable he looks."


Charlie fidgeted uncomfortably under Castor’s approving gaze. He didn’t like to gain favor at the cost of making his brother look bad. He couldn’t help it if he were careful and cautious in his actions and more attuned to the fine details of daily living, while his older brother went through life with reckless abandon. Charlie often envied Jamie’s ability to make his many leaps of faith, and the countless chances he took on a regular basis. The slamming of a door interrupted his thoughts, and he blinked in surprise when he saw Jamie glide down to the first floor. The atrium was large enough to accommodate such a move, but Castor forbade flying in the house and Charlie gave Jamie a wide-eyed look when his brother’s feet finally touched down on the large, hand woven rug on the atrium floor. But although he was sure Castor would make a sharp comment, the old servant just shook his head disapprovingly without saying a word. At Jamie’s appearance Spinoza pushed off hard from Charlie’s shoulder, slapping the young Icarian boy in the face with his tail. Reaching Jamie, it made a graceless landing on its master’s shoulder and bugled out a loud series of akkks, voicing its pleasure.


“What?” Jamie asked, giving Castor a look of such guiless innocence that anyone not knowing the young Icarian would swear he was the sweetest and most obedient boy in the world. “You told me to hurry,” he added.


Castor backed up and took a good look at the now redressed angel boy standing so innocently before him. Dress in the empire covered an amazing range of styles and historical time periods. While the boys often wore tunics and sandals about the villa, they had other sets of clothes for various occasions and activities. Jumpsuits were usually required when piloting the small jump hovs because their cockpit configurations were best suited for garments that were skintight, or close fitting. Robes and cloaks were worn at various fêtes and celebrations. But trousers, shirts, and other styles of clothing each had their place, and Castor always encouraged the boys to dress appropriately for the given occasion or task they were involved in. Although they were isolated at the southernmost tip of the continent in Isewier, they still had contact with some of the Kalorian settlements, and Castor was keen on teaching his young charges proper deportment and social graces. The only difference between most of their clothing and that of the humans or Kalorians was that it required tailoring, so boys with wings could wear it.


Jamie – like his younger brother - was wearing a loose and slightly blousy, long sleeved, white linen shirt, tied up at the vee neck with a black drawstring in a crisscross pattern. He also had on a pair of black velvet breeches that ended just below each knee and were secured there with a pair of golden buttons. White hose and a pair of soft, leather slipper-like shoes completed the outfit.


“I knew you’d be dancing tonight,” Castor said, giving Jamie a quick but thorough inspection, “and the clothing I picked out for you is more appropriate for that, given the jumping and flying you’ll probably be doing.”


“Oh, yes… dancing,” Jamie quickly said. “I need to get my…”


“No need,” Castor said pulling a pair of soft dancing slippers from the large pouch slung over his shoulder. “I already took the liberty. I guess I should feel lucky you remembered to lace up your shirt and at least attempted to brush your hair,” he added as he drew a brush from the same pouch, approached Jamie, and vigorously brushed the boy’s hair. Jamie winced in protest, and Spinoza tried to bite at the brush, but Castor ignored it all, and when he was finished he stepped back and gave Jamie one final look. Castor nodded approvingly, but his lips drew thin when an errant lock of golden hair dropped down over Jamie’s left eye. “I guess it’s as good as can be expected,” he sighed, giving Croal a sharp look of disapproval when he heard the scientist let out a soft chuckle. “Now, let's get moving,” Castor said to no one in particular as he headed toward the door, shepherding Jamie and Charlie along. “We’re already late, and they’ll begin to wonder where we are.”


Castor herded everyone to the large transport hov parked further away from the villa. After they were all strapped in, Croal touched a few buttons and the craft gently lifted off and sped almost silently across the sky. All the hovs at Villa Mare Vista had been preset by the programmers on Croal’s staff and after selecting a destination and engaging the engines, the transports internal computers and guidance system took over. Croal had ordered the modifications as a security measure, thus ensuring a hov couldn’t be flown outside of the travel boundaries he’d established at Villa Mare Vista. The boys always liked to pretend they were actually flying the small jump hov they took to the cliffs and Jamie would play with the control stick and press a few buttons he wasn’t supposed to touch, but the reality was that none of his actions affected the craft once its onboard guidance systems took control; for all of Jamie’s pretense at piloting, a pretense was all it amounted to.


Edwin Croal, sitting quietly in what would have been the pilot's seat on a non-programmed hov, looked about the cabin. To his right, in the co-pilot’s seat sat Castor, his head of household who ran Villa Mare Vista with the skill and precision of a general. Castor had been ministering to Croal since Edwin was a small child. From a time when Croal was much younger than the present age of his two sons, the Kalorian had been a household slave in his parents' home, and over time had risen to become one of the prime assistants to Arbus, head of household at Croal’s ancestral home. When Croal went to the institute to study, his parents sent Castor with him. As always, Castor followed his orders impeccably and took proper care of his young master all through Croal’s academic years. When Croal was chosen to go to Gold Glass as a Fellow and then asked to stay on as a Junior Researcher, Castor remained with him. As Croal grew in stature and position at Gold Glass, he eventually purchased a large tract of land in Isewier and began to build Villa Mare Vista. Once it was habitable, he put Castor in charge of it, and it was Castor who oversaw and supervised most of the clandestine, underground construction at the villa. Since Croal’d installed a Gate at the compound he could travel there whenever he wished, and it eventually became his permanent home.


Behind Croal and Castor, in rows of seats four abreast, sat the remaining household staff. There was Peloss, Castor’s first assistant. Next to Peloss was his wife, Annamera, who served as head mistress of the kitchen at Villa Mare Vista. Around Peloss and Annamera sat their three children: Arndt, Bekka and Suzsett. Further back was Jokum, and while his official title was stable master he was, in fact, in charge of a large staff that not only maintained the stable, but also all the grounds and dependencies surrounding the villa. Athletic and strong, Jokum had been in charge of teaching Jamie and Charlie to ride and the fact that the two Icarian boys were so at ease and adept on horseback reflected directly on Jokum's careful and expert training.


Some of Jokum’s staff sat near him on the transport hov – although most of them lived permanently in Fallon’s Settlement, as was true of most of the household servants. A select handful actually resided at the Villa, but most chose to live and raise their families in the settlements that dotted the peninsula of Isewier along the coastline. Since they all traveled by hov to the villa daily, distance wasn’t an issue.


At the very back of the craft, on specially designed seats, sat Jamie and Charlie. All the hovs had been modified so that at least two seats on each one could safely and comfortably accommodate the two winged boys. The small hov that Jamie and Charlie liked to think of as their own was originally a four-seater that had been modified to a two-seater to accommodate them.


As the hov followed its programming and sped through the sky, Jamie looked out the window to his right. Spinoza, noticing its master peering out the window, lowered its neck, tilted its head to the side and aimed one eye in the same direction as Jamie. Below them lay Monitor Plain – its rich and fertile farmland stretching as far as the eye could see. Charlie, thinking that Jamie was looking at something in particular, looked out of his window, but saw only the same checkerboard patches of wheat, corn, soy bean, and alfalfa fields that his brother was staring at. The late afternoon sky was a beautiful shade of blue. Since today was Solstice Fête and the longest day of the year, it would remain light for many hours.


“Oh no,” Charlie said as he slapped a hand to his head. The thought of Solstice Fête had brought to mind his and Jamie’s mutual birthday. “I forgot your gift,” he said, looking forlornly at his brother and sounding despondent.


“Well, I forgot yours too,” Jamie said, suddenly realizing he’d made the same mistake.


“I didn’t,” Castor said patting the large pouch at his feet. “I have both of them right here,” he added.


“Thank you Castor,” Charlie said. “I’m sorry I forgot.”


“Yes, thanks Castor,” Jamie said. “I knew we could count on you.”


“You won’t always have me around,” Castor said. “You'd best to start counting on yourselves a bit more, boys.” But as soon as the words left his mouth Castor frowned and his lips drew thin. Under Croal’s instruction, the boys – especially Jamie – were beginning to learn that their future might be totally different from what they’d planned. Mentally chastising himself for his rash remark, Castor silently stared out the window, wishing he could retract what he’d been so quick to point out.


The awkward silence that filled the craft wasn’t lost on Jamie, but he quickly looked over to Charlie and smiled. “I think you’ll be surprised when you see what I got you.”


“I hope you’ll like what I got you,” Charlie returned, giving Jamie a hopeful smile.


“I know I will,” Jamie said, giving his brother the biggest grin he could.


Turning away from the interior of the hov’s cabin to once again look out the window, Charlie stared at the lush fields the hov was flying over and thought about the history of Isewier he’d recently learned from Mobley and his father; Jamie, picking up on his brother’s thoughts, also mused about what he’d recently learned and soon was lost in thought as their journey continued. 


Since Isewier was at the southern most tip of the continent and fairly isolated, Croal had chosen it as his home. As his work became more secret and subversive, he isolated himself even more. He’d been both smart and lucky in his choice of Isewier. While the rest of the continent bustled with government activity, finance, culture, and a vast army of Imperial governors, officials, bureaucrats, troops and spies, Isewier was a place of tranquility. Lothar City was the only city located on the peninsula and its sole purpose was to serve as a processing and transport station. Two industries dominated Isewier – agriculture and fishing. Centuries before, a massive irrigation project linked to the great desalinization plants at Jard’s, Tamm’s and Kasha’s Settlements had turned the equatorial desert-like peninsula into a lush agriculture paradise, and while other areas of the continent also produced large amounts of food, Isewier supplied the empire with over thirty five percent of its agricultural products and byproducts, including animal products harvested from the large livestock and poultry centers located on Monitor Plain. Likewise, the waters surrounding the peninsula had become home to a large mariculture industry. Great sea farms, producing millions of pounds of fish, crustaceans and mollusks for consumption throughout the empire, dotted the coastline.


Because agriculture and mariculture dominated the area, it held little interest to most of the human citizens of the empire, who viewed it as a remote, unsophisticated, backwater land infested with common, offish, and uncultured Kalorian slaves. The large desalinization plants, cattle, poultry and mariculture farms along with the vast tracts of farmland did nothing to dispel the myth. Officially, Lothar city had an imperial governor, but for the past century whomever occupied the office visited the city once a year and stayed in the governor’s palace for exactly five days while an accounting was made of the previous year’s production. The rest of the time the governor of Isewier – by tradition the Duke of Drexos – lived on a vast and sprawling country estate in the hill country of Drexos and let the industrial infrastructure of Isewier run itself, which it did with great skill and precision. And in fact, there was nothing to worry about since the great delta city of Imperialas – the southern capital of the continent and summer residence of the Emperor – wasn’t far away and any trouble could easily be handled by the vast array of imperial bureaucrats and the large garrison of imperial troops stationed there.


The fact that Isewier was such a peaceful and quiet place was due in large part to the Kalorian slaves, who for all intents and purposes were in charge of it, and ran the entire peninsula with great skill and efficiency. Laboratory bred clones, Kalorians had been genetically engineered to perform all the manual and menial tasks needed to run the empire. From a basic stock developed at Gold Glass four hundred and fifty years previously, an army of Kalorians had been created. Since both males and females had been created and were quite fertile, it was only a matter of time before, through mating and the procreation of children, the empire had a vast army of workers to do its bidding. It was true that the scientists at Gold Glass constantly played with Kalorian genetics, increasing strength, or size, or certain abilities depending on the needs of industry, but for the most part once the basic stock had been created the empire preferred to use simple breeding as its means of natural selection – choosing to expend its resources on other, more exotic and esoteric products and inventions.


Twice the empire's benign neglect of the Kalorians led to upheaval – each time short-lived and brutally repressed. The first Kalorian rebellion, one hundred years after the creation of the Kalorian race, was a brief affair that lead to the death of a few hundred slaves and the public execution and punishment of a few hundred more. It took the form of a small rebellion isolated to Storm Haven when a group of Kalorian slaves involved in the mining industry near High Tower Plain seized a number of mines, a processing plant, and almost forty large transport hovs. The fact that it even morphed into a rebellion of modest size was due to Storm Haven’s isolation and distance from any large imperial garrison. As soon as enough troops could be dispatched the rebellion was snuffed out, the proper culprits and plot leaders executed, and the matter laid to rest – or so the empire thought.


One hundred years later, after cultivating a network of contacts, developing their own secret language, and stockpiling a cache of weapons, the second so-called True Kalorian Rebellion, occurred. Due to the perceived docility of the Kalorians after the first rebellion, the empire was lulled into the false belief that the Kalorian race had been sufficiently pacified. The insurrection occurred without warning simultaneously in the three sister cities of Celeste, Clarion and Trége – an area known as the golden triangle because it was a triangular shaped piece of land in the foothills and plains of the Poniçessian Mountains, and was bordered by the River Ell to the west, the River Prime to the east, and the Overland Flats to the south. Rich in culture and history, the cities' prime industry was the production of a wide variety of scientific instruments and devices that were transported via exogate to the other systems in the Commonwealth. Unlike many of the Kalorians engaged in agriculture, farming, and other menial labor, the Kalorians in the golden triangle had developed a high degree of sophistication and intelligence that was required for their work in the science- related industries in the Golden Triangle. Although the second rebellion came as a surprise, the reaction of the empire was swift and brutal.


Without any regard for life – human or Kalorian – Imperial troops unleashed the deadliest weapons the empire had created. The emperor himself ordered that, if necessary, all three cities were to be turned to dust and although it never came to that, the brutality and force with which the empire crushed the rebellion was without precedent in the entire history of the Commonwealth. In the end, the rebellion was thwarted, although one final heroic attempt to succeed was made in the Poniçessian Mountains at Raisune’s Heights, where five thousand Kalorians held off thousands of troops and an armada of battle hovs for three days. When it was over, the three thousand surviving rebels were rounded up and taken to Küronas. In the days that followed, the Emperor - wild with rage - threatened the life of every general and commander in the army, along with those commanding the imperial police and networks of imperial spies and agents that monitored activities throughout the empire. Soon, additional rebels and their secret cells were rooted out. Thousands more Kalorians were captured and brought to Konassas – the fact that many of them were completely innocent had no bearing on the matter.


When it became clear that there were more prisoners than prisons, His Imperial Majesty Enrick the Tenth thought it would be amusing to institute a quaint and historical method of execution he’d recently been studying. And so, on every road that led from Konassas, for miles in every direction, thousands of Kalorian prisoners were crucified for the purpose of creating an example for every citizen - both human and Kalorian – that the empire was not to be disobeyed. Accounts of the period all claimed that Enrick himself traveled every highway where the crosses had been erected, personally observing his handiwork. When it was over, and the last rotting Kalorian carcass was thrown into the fire, everyone had learned a valuable lesson.


The human population quickly realized the cost of crossing the empire, and the Kalorians were utterly broken and defeated. After the rebellion severe laws were passed, governing every aspect of Kalorian life. Kalorians had to have special permission to travel – and then only with their masters. They could not congregate independently in large metropolitan areas. Slave owners were held in strict account of their slaves, and after a number of lax owners were either publicly executed or severely punished, everyone got the message. Aristocrats and wealthy humans continued to have personal Kalorian slaves, but their number was limited. Slaves had to remain within an owner’s compound, home, or estate. Kalorians involved in industry worked in more isolated areas of the empire and their activities were closely monitored. Compounds resembling concentration camps were established, and while life in them wasn’t brutal, it was surely spartan and carefully controlled.


A hundred years after the second Kalorian rebellion, the slaves had been pacified enough that some of the harsher controls were lifted and the Kalorians themselves realized that if they appeared passive to the empire, they might fare better.


The so-called Kalorian Peace Movement began with Jard Bekem, a Kalorian working as an overseer in a production facility in Lothar City. Because of Isewier’s isolation, he reasoned that if the Kalorian population there could work efficiently and productively without problems or civil unrest, the authorities might ease their chokehold. He was educated and skilled and began a campaign, visiting all the Kalorian settlements and promoting his message. The Kalorians of Isewier could see the logic of Bekem’s plan and they adopted it.


Over time, the Kalorians of Isewier performed their duties with such skill and precision that fewer and fewer imperial human supervisors were needed to monitor them. Isewier had never been a popular place for humans to settle anyway, since it was far too isolated from the cultured life of the empire. In time, skilled, intelligent, talented, and most of all trusted, Kalorians took their place. Eventually the entire peninsula became, in effect, a Kalorian slave state, and while the Kalorians didn’t have their freedom, those living in Isewier at least had had a much better life than those living throughout the rest of the empire. In recognition of Jard Bekem’s leadership, Sea View Settlement was renamed Jard’s Settlement.


Work on the farms, stations and plants all across the peninsula was performed efficiently by the Kalorian slaves. The desalination plants hummed along, fields were irrigated, crops grown and harvested. Along the coastal areas, the great mariculture industries boomed and all was well. Products flowed into Lothar City where, under Kalorian supervision, food was processed, byproducts turned into useful products and everything was shipped to the rest of the continent. Over time, the imperial army stationed fewer and fewer troops on the peninsula until not one garrison was left on all of Isewier. Officials judged that valuable army resources would best be utilized in other areas of the empire. In addition, Imperialas and Royal Forge to the east, and High Gate to the north, housed a sufficient number of troops, equipment and supplies to take care of any troubles that might arise. But none ever came, and soon Isewier was mostly ignored – much like a once active and fiery volcano that goes dormant for centuries while its violent past fades from memory.


The benefit for the Kalorians living in Isewier was that while they were not free, they were left virtually alone – provided that production and productivity remained up to par. Kalorian settlements eventually passed their own laws and selected their own leaders, under terms governed and sanctioned by an ever-watchful empire.


Still looking out the window, Charlie watched as Fallon’s Settlement came into view. Fallon’s settlement was the smallest of all the Kalorian settlements on the peninsula, but the closest to Villa Mare Vista, and since most of the household staff of the villa came from Fallon’s Settlement and continued to live there when not working at the villa, the settlement’s connection to the villa and its residents was especially warm and friendly. It was also one of the few places Edwin Croal knew to be a safe place to take his sons.


While the eyes and ears of the empire were everywhere, little attention was paid to the peaceful and quiet Kalorian settlements dotting the coastline of the Isewierian peninsula. In addition, the Kalorians of Fallon’s and Jard’s Settlements were fiercely loyal to Croal – one of the few humans they truly respected. While Croal’s freeing of his household slaves was more an act of symbolism than reality, the Kalorians of both settlements nevertheless took the scientist’s actions as a sign that he viewed them as equals, and not the inferior race most other humans on the continent thought them to be.


Croal had never once punished a slave as other humans did. He’d not asked them to do any onerous or dangerous work, as was often expected of them by most humans. In fact he was a more harsh task master to his own human staff and Icarian sons than to any Kalorian serving at the villa. But what made the Kalorians proudest and most honored was the eminent scientist's obvious and outward trust of the Kalorians of Fallon’s and Jard’s Settlements with his two greatest and most precious treasures – Jamie and Charlie. He’d shown his utter and complete trust in them by sharing with them the knowledge and presence of his two sons. The Kalorians had learned about the empire’s creation of the Avionne race soon after the first such creature emerged from the Imperial laboratories, and since their roots also traced back to Gold Glass, they were keen and hungry for any knowledge of the second genetically engineered race to come from the test tubes and Petri dishes of the empire.


From the time Jamie was five, the Kalorians eagerly welcomed and fawned over the beautiful little blond haired, blue-eyed Avionne boy, and when Charlie appeared two years later, they were equally delighted.  It might have been the novelty of seeing children with wings or the fact that these winged children were highly intelligent and well spoken. But no matter what the reasons were, they took to them instantly and quickly adopted them as if they were their own sons.


Likewise, both boys accepted the love shown to them, and flourished – a fact that wasn’t lost on the sometimes aloof Edwin Croal. While Croal could provide a beautiful home and comfortable life for his sons, his own nature was reserved and emotionally cold. The fact that he’d chosen a robot computer – his own private comp, Mobley – as the boy’s private tutor instead of a real person pointed to the fact that he wasn’t finely tuned to the proper raising of children. The Kalorians of Villa Mare Vista and Fallon’s and Jard’s Settlements made up for that with as much love, concern, and compassion as they could shower on the boys.


Under their influence, Jamie and Charlie learned to ride, dance, sing and come as close to swimming as boys with wings could. The boys' time in the settlements was usually spent playing with the other children, helping with chores and sitting among the traditional gatherings of Kalorians, listening to the old tales and legends of the brave and courageous Kalorian ancestors who dreamt of and fought for their freedom.


As Charlie grew, he took to Kalorian history – at least as much as his father would allow him to know. Jamie, on the other hand, became an expert horseman, first learning at the hands of Villa Mare Vista’s stable master Jokum Verg, and then polishing his skills while riding about Monitor Plain with the Kalorian children who’d become his friends. But the thing both boys enjoyed most were the grand Kalorian feasts, celebrations, and festivals held every few months at the settlements. Charlie loved the stories he would hear told time and again at the special Kalorian gatherings, while Jamie quickly fell in love with Kalorian folk dancing.


A tall, thin race whose delicate outward appearance masked their inner strength and stamina, Kalorian men and women could dance with amazing grace. Their dexterity and physical stamina made each of their dances long, complex affairs. The leaping, turning, gliding and stomping across the dance floors that took up most of the space in their community lodges made Kalorian dances a sight to behold. Jamie fell in love with the music and movement of bodies the instant he saw it. The little Icarian boy took to the dance floor the first time he was allowed to break free from the Kalorian nurse Croal had employed to care for him. Jumping and spinning to the beat of the music, Jamie captured the hearts of the Kalorians, who were delighted to see his interest. As time went on, he went from just moving to the beat of the music to actually learning the complex dances. And much to the pleasure of the Kalorians, as he grew older he began to add a new dimension to the traditional dances – flight. Since he could take to the air, a slightly older Jamie began using his wings and ability to fly to re-interpret and transform Kalorian dance forms into Icarian air ballet. Yet his movements always harkened back to their Kalorian folk roots.


As the years went by, Jamie not only danced with the Kalorians, he also preformed for them. Croal converted part of the exercise facility he’d created for his staff at the villa into a dance studio. He knew that at the very least Jamie exertions would be of great help in preparing him for his First Flight. The large open space Croal created, with its very high ceiling, was perfect for Jamie to practice in. Over time, Jamie was even choreographing his own dances – first drawing them on paper, then practicing them until his timing was perfect. By the time he was eleven, he was being asked to dance for his Kalorian friends apart from their normal group dances. By the time he was twelve, no Kalorian fête at Fallon’s Settlement was complete if it didn’t feature one or two of his solo performances. Kalorians came from both settlements to watch and at the end of each performance there were always shouts of “More… more…!”


After the transport hov landed and the doors opened, everyone piled out. Within seconds Jamie and Charlie were surrounded by a phalanx of Kalorian men, women and children. The boys were hugged and kissed and pushed and pulled across the open space that served as the village square. Even Spinoza got his share of attention as he was touched and petted, alternating between purring and voicing staccato akkks. Switching from human speech to Kalorian, the boys joked, laughed, and talked with their friends. As they made their way to the settlement’s community hall Aleigha Verg, Jokam’s wife, approached Jamie. A tall, slender woman, she’d gained the honor of being acclaimed the best dancer in the settlement. It had been Aleigha who’d spent extra time with Jamie after she'd learned of his interest in traditional Kalorian dance. Practicing with him, she'd helped him perfect the forms.


“Silana va desta,” Aleigha said, embracing Jamie and giving him a kiss.


“Silana va desta,” Jamie said returning her hug and kiss, and giving Aleigha a warm and friendly smile.


Aleigha bend down and whispered in Jamie’s ear. “Have you heard?” she began mysteriously, her voice becoming guarded and conspiratorial.


“Heard what?” Jamie asked giving her a puzzled look.


“There’s to be a corpus harp at this evening's dance,” Aleigha said, her eyes taking on an excited twinkle.


“A corpus harp? No? Really?” Jamie asked excitedly. “You’re not trying to fool me, are you Aleigha?”


“No, I’m not fooling you, Jamie,” Aleigha said as she bend down again and her voice got even softer. “It’s just been set up in the hall."


“I still think you’re fooling me,” Jamie said, starting to laugh. “I know that there are only six in the whole empire. The Emperor owns four of them. One is owned by Prince Gestor, and the sixth…”


“…is owned by the Duke of Drexos,” Aleigha interjected. “He and his family are in Imperialas for a week as guests of the Emperor. The Kalorian who plays it is a former resident of Jard’s Settlement. He’s come with the Duke’s Kalorian household servants to Fallon’s Settlement, and with the Duke’s permission they’ve brought the corpus harp. It supposed to be a special treat for us, a gift from the Duke since we're exceeding this year's food production quota.”


“I still can’t believe it,” Jamie said, wide-eyed. “I mean, a real corpus harp right here in Fallon’s Settlement? It’s too good to be true.”


“Well, you’ll believe it when you see it,” Aleigha said, pulling the Icarian boy by his arm and dragging him toward the hall.


But as she pulled Jamie closer to the hall, Edwin Croal approached them.


“Aleigha,” he said, addressing his stable master’s wife as a frown came to his face. “I hear there are visitors in the settlement?”


“Yes, Dr. Croal, but you needn’t worry. They’re natives of the settlement, and they can be trusted. One of the reasons they’ve come to our Solstice Fête is to see Jamie dance tonight.”


“That may be true,” Croal said, “but I can’t take any chances. I think we should go.”


“But Father…” Jamie began to protest.


“How do I know I can trust these outsiders, Aleigha?” Croal asked, searching her eyes. “I just can’t take foolish chances with the boys.”


“They are of us. They are of Fallon’s Settlement. They’re Kalorians. If you wish an oath…”


“I’m not interested in oaths,” Croal said. “You can understand my concern?”


“Of course… of course,” Aleigha said. “Would anyone in this settlement place Jamie or Charlie at risk? If there was any danger, we would have warned you not to come.”


“I still have a mind to leave,” Croal said, worry lines creasing his forehead. “It makes me uneasy.”


“But Father… please,” Jamie pleaded. “Aleigha says they’ve come to see me dance, and they’ve brought a corpus harp.”


“I’ll discuss it with Castor and get his opinion,” Croal said, frowning at his son. “Nevertheless, be prepared to leave immediately.”


“Yes, Father,” Jamie said, lowering his head as his wings drooped. “I’ll never get to see a corpus harp,” he muttered under his breath.


“Now, now. Don’t give up hope so easily, Garon a’ Kalasia," Aleigha said, using Jamie’s Kalorian name.  “I’ve heard that the Kalorians who’ve come from Drexos are related to Castor. I’m sure when he realizes who they are, he’ll approve. So let's go in and take a look at the harp.” Once more tugging on his arm, Aleigha drug Jamie into the hall.


Pushing past a small crowd of Kalorians laughing and talking amongst themselves, they reached the front of the hall and paused. Aleigha let go of Jamie’s hand, then turned and smiled at him. “See, it is true: a real corpus harp.”


Seconds passed as Jamie stood staring at the harp, and it was only after he began to feel lightheaded that he realized he’d been holding his breath. Slowly, he approached the harp. The tall clear tube he found himself next to was large enough to hold a full grown human, or Kalorian. Imbedded into the walls of the tube were what looked like hundreds of small square pieces of metal that sparkled as they reflected the surrounding light. From his studies Jamie knew that each square represented what could best be called a musical note, but such a description couldn’t adequately explain the actual complexity of the instrument. To make it work, the musician playing it would enter the corpus harp – or more accurately, it would be slipped over top of him. Looking more like a specimen in a test tube than a skilled performer, the musician would begin to move and the sensors in the corpus harp would react to the musician’s body movements. Much like a dancer, the musician playing the corpus harp would move, bend, twist, turn, and jump, giving the appearance he was performing a strange sort of ballet. But it was much more complex than that.


The musician could change the key, pitch, and tempo. He could create feedback, and sound loops upon sound loops. He could generate the sound of a single instrument or, depending on his skill, a hundred instruments. He could make the harp sound like a single trumpet or flute, or an entire orchestra. The abilities of the corpus harp were only limited by the abilities of the musician that played it. Most often the players were Kalorians, for while humans could play the corpus harp as Jamie had read, it was the tall, thin, and more flexible Kalorians who could truly do amazing things with it. He’d read about legendary performances by corpus harp virtuosos and had even heard some recordings courtesy of Mobley, but he'd never thought he’d get to actually hear a corpus harp in person, much less reach out and touch one as he did now, extending his arm to place his hand on the outside of the tube. The blaring cacophony of sound that came from the instrument caused him to flap his wings and jump. Spinoza gave a loud akkk! and almost fell off his master’s shoulder. Everyone in the hall turned in his direction and he could feel his face get hot as he blushed in embarrassment. Turning to walk away, he stopped when a voice called out to him.


“Everyone does that the first time they touch it. Don’t let it scare you away,” the cheerful voice said with a chuckle.


Jamie turned to see a tall, thin, young Kalorian dressed only in what looked like the scantiest of skintight white linen shorts. In fact they were so minimal they couldn’t be called shorts at all – covering only the young man's private area. The Kalorian had been standing only a few feet away, but Jamie’d been so interested in the harp, he hadn’t noticed him. Stepping forward, the young man moved to stand next to the corpus harp.


“Come over and I’ll show you how it works,” he said smiling.


Jamie retraced his steps and stood next to the man. Trying not to be obvious, Jamie nonetheless looked the nearly naked man up and down. The harpist, used to the reaction, chuckled once more.


“Remember, it’s called a corpus harp,” the young man said, laughing. “It responds to the body – more specifically, the surface of the skin. The more skin it scans, the better the performance.” He continued to smile and extended his hand to Jamie. “I’m Gordan,” the corpus harpist said.


“I’m Jamie,” the young Icarian said as he took Gordan’s hand and shook it. “And this is Spinoza,” he added, as Gordan reached out to pet the garga lizard. With the young harpist's fingers scratching behind its ear, the lizard began to softly purr.


“Yes, I know who you are, Garon a’ Kalasia,” the harpist said. “I heard you would be here tonight… and dancing. Is this true?”


“I planned to,” Jamie said then began to frown, “but my father’s a bit worried about strangers in the settlement and…”


“Don’t worry, it will be just fine,” Aleigha said from behind Jamie, where she'd been standing quietly.


Just then Charlie approached with some of his Kalorian friends. “Jamie, I’ve been looking for you…” but before he could say another word he was caught up in a big hug and kiss by Aleigha. “I wondered where you were, my little Garon a’ Solais,” she said, smiling and using Charlie’s Kalorian name.


The smile Charlie gave Aleigha faded as soon as he saw the glum look on his brother’s face.


“What’s wrong?” he asked Jamie.


“Father says we might go home,” Jamie said glumly. “He’s worried about strangers.”


“But that’s why I was looking for you. The visitors are related to Castor. He’s vouched for them and they’ve given an oath to father. He says we can stay. I was looking for you so I could tell you.”


At Charlie's words, Jamie’s face broke into a huge grin. But before he could say anything, Charlie bounded off with his friends. A light touch on the shoulder startled him, but when he saw it was Gordan, he quickly apologized for being rude and ignoring the harpist.


“It’s fine,” Gordon said. “From what I overheard, it was good news you’ve just gotten, no?”


“Yes,” Jamie said, smiling. “We’re staying, and I’ll be dancing.”


“I would like to accompany you when you dance,” Gordon said hopefully. “May I?”


“You’re asking to accompany me?” Jamie said, a bit surprised. “I was going to ask if I could accompany you. I mean, a corpus harp… here… at Fallon’s Settlement. I would give anything to dance to the music of a corpus harp, and…”


Suddenly Jamie, realizing his rudeness, looked away from Gordan. “Ah… what I meant was… well… I’d like to hear you play the harp… and it would be an honor to dance to your music.”


Laughing Gordan once more reached out and patted Jamie on the shoulder. “It is alright, I know what you meant. Because they’re so rare, people often get excited when they see the harp.” His smile broadened even further, “And they often forget that the instrument doesn’t play itself. I think because the harpist is so intertwined with his instrument, we’re often overlooked.”


“I’m sorry,” Jamie said, “What I meant…”


“I know what you meant, Garon a’ Kalasia," Gordan said, “and I understand. But I, too, would be honored to play for your performance. I have heard tales of your talent. If you tell me what you plan to do, I’ll attempt to perform with you in an admirable fashion.”


“Yes, I know what I plan to do,” Jamie said, lowering his voice and looking about the hall, “but I want it to be a secret.”


“Of course,” Gordan said. “What do you plan to dance?”


“The Redak,” Jamie replied.


“The Redak?” Aleigha said, almost shouting, and half the people in the hall looked in their direction.


“Shhh,” Jamie said, “it’s a secret.”


“You’re really going to dance it solo?” Aleigha said, her eyes growing wide with surprise. “But you know it’s a group dance. What have you done to it?”


“I’ve created a new interpretation,” Jamie said, smiling broadly. “You know how it’s always danced with two rows of dancers, one representing the freedom fighters the other the imperial troops?”


“Yes,” Aleigha answered slowly as her eyebrows knitted together.


“My interpretation is of Karkal Foss, fighting to the death. All the basic moves are the same, but I’ve reworked it as a solo piece. The opponent is only imagined in the movements of the dancer. And, of course, there are quite a few aerial moves.”


“Amazing,” Gordan said. “I can’t wait to see it. May I play for you?”


“I’d be honored,” Jamie said, "but there are a few differences, maybe I should tell... uhm… sorry, who am I to tell you how…”


“No, no, no,” Gordan quickly interrupted. “It is your interpretation, and the music must be correct. You must tell me, and I’ll attempt to conform to your interpretation. It will be a collaboration,” he added smiling at Jamie.


“If you’re sure?” Jamie said reluctantly.


“Of course,” Gordan said smiling, “I look forward to it. But first we should discuss it.”


Nodding, Jamie began to give an explanation to Gordan; after a few minutes of listening, Aleigha kissed Jamie on the cheek, and then reached out and plucked Spinoza from Jamie's shoulder, leaving him a clear field to practice with Gordon.


“I can see you have much to plan,” she said. “I’ll see you at our table when the meal is served. Remember, you promised to sit on my right side, and your brother on my left.”


“Yes, I remember,” Jamie said, “but what about Jokum? He’s your husband, no?”


“Jokum I have every day,” she said, laughing as she started to walk across the room. “But you and Charlie I don’t get to see half as much as I’d like to.” With a wave goodbye, she walked out the door of the hall.


Jamie turned back to Gordan and continued explaining his interpretation of the Redak. After spending almost an hour with Gordan, he noticed that the hall had gotten crowded as tables were set up for the solstice feast. Within minutes, people began to sit down and he made his way over to the table Aleigha and Jokum were sitting at. His father was also there, along with Castor and Charlie. Charlie was sitting on Aliegha’s left.


“Here’s your seat,” Aleigha said, patting the chair to her right. “You promised.”


Jamie took his seat and Spinoza perched on the bench beside him, since Castor forbade the garga lizard on the table while food was being served after a few unfortunate occurrences at the dinner table at Villa Mare Vista. Within minutes after all had taken their seats, the feast was served. As at all Kalorian festivals, there was a great abundance and variety of food – all of it delicious. After they’d had their fill, Aleigha got up from her seat and made her way back to the kitchen. When she returned with one the Kalorian cooks she was carrying a small bowl, and the cook had a large plate of sweet cakes. After the cook set the plate of sweet cakes in front of Charlie, Aleigha wished him a Happy Birthday.


“They’re all your favorites, love,” she said, smiling at Charlie.


Charlie’s eyes grew wide and a smile came to his face. “I can’t eat them all,” he said.


“Pass them around,” Aleigha said, “there’s more than enough for everyone. And what isn’t eaten we’ll pack for you to take home.”


“Thank you Aleigha,” Charlie said smiling as he reached out and took one of the cakes – a chocolate, cream-filled pastry that was his absolute favorite.


“And this is for the older of our two birthday boys,” Aleigha said, placing the bowl in front of Jamie.


Everyone looked at the bowl, already knowing what it held, and half of the people at the table groaned while the other half averted their eyes. The dark brown and thick, pasty mixture looked anything but appetizing. Called mazum, it was a mixture of toasted ground corn and pounded oats. High in energy, it had an unusual taste that was sometimes masked – rather unsuccessfully – with sugar and cream. It was sometimes given to small children before they were old enough to eat proper solid food, but it usually was a struggle to get them to eat it. Adults rarely ate it, although it was sometimes given to someone recovering from an illness since it was easy to digest and thought to supply needed energy, but it was never a welcome sight on an invalid’s dinner tray.


Looking at the bowl filled with the thick, dark gruel a big smile came to Jamie’s face. “Mazum – my favorite!” he said with obvious glee. “Do you have some honey?”  he added.


And instantly Aleigha, used to his preferences, set a pot of honey down next to the bowl of mazum.


Jamie pulled the honey dipper from the pot and began to drizzle the thick golden honey over the mazum. Returning the dipper to the pot, he picked up a spoon and began stirring the honey into the bowl of warm mazum with obvious delight. Seconds later he had a big spoonful and was lifting it to his mouth when he looked up at everyone around the table and saw the pained expressions on their faces.


“What?” he asked innocently, knowing what was about to come.


“Of all the delicious things someone could request on their birthday, why would you choose something as horrible and foul as mazum?” Jokum asked, screwing his face up into a grimace that clearly showed his dislike for the thick dark mixture sitting in front of Jamie.


“It looks worse than a dog’s breakfast,” Edwin Croal said, shaking his head.


“If you set a bowl out in a field, even the animals and insects won’t touch it,” Castor said looking down his nose at the thick brown past.


“I like it,” Jamie said as he shoveled the first big spoonful into his mouth. “It’s very good,” he added in a muffled tone as he tried to talk around the sticky wad of mazum in his mouth.


Hearing the usual groans and cries of protest over his choice of dessert, he shrugged and continued to eat. At one point he took a spoonful of the mazum and offered it to Spinoza who looked at it suspiciously, gave a sharp akkk! of protest, and turned its head away.


“Suit yourself,” Jamie said to Spinoza, “but you don’t know what you’re missing.” In no time flat the bowl was empty.


“Delicious,” Jamie said when he was finished, and he looked up from the bowl and began to smile. “Now it’s time for us to exchange,” he said, turning to Charlie.


Charlie looked to Castor, and the head of household for Villa Mare Vista reached down and retrieved the large pouch at his feet. Setting it on his lap, Castor opened the flap and reached into it. He pulled out a brightly wrapped package, examined it, smiled, and handed it to Charlie. “This one is your gift to Jamie,” he said. Reaching back into the pouch, he pulled a similar sized object out that was wrapped in paper of a different color. “And this is your gift to Charlie,” Castor added, handing the long slender box to Jamie.


Charlie looked at the box he was holding and then at the one Jamie held. Other than differently colored paper and ribbons, they looked rather similar in shape and size. Jamie noticed the same thing, shooting Castor a puzzled look. Castor had been the one who’d suggested the gift Jamie was about to give Charlie. Later he’d learned that Castor had also suggested the gift Charlie had chosen for him, and he was quickly becoming suspicious.


The boys reached out and handed their gifts to each other with one hand and took the gift they were receiving in the other. When each had his gift, they began to tear off the wrapping paper. Jamie was the first to get all the ribbons and paper off and immediately opened the box. Looking inside, he got a strange look on his face, shook his head and looked to Castor. “You’ve given me the wrong gift,” he said. “You’ve given me Charlie’s gift by mistake.”


“I was just going to say the same thing,” Charlie said, looking up after checking the contents of the box he’d just opened.


“Wait,” Castor said. “Before you both start jumping to conclusions, take them out of their boxes and show everyone. It will all be sorted out soon enough.”


Puzzled, Jamie reluctantly reached into the box and pulled out the gift. There were murmurs of surprise and admiration when he held up a beautiful gold bracelet designed in the shape of an Asp. It was made to wrap around and extend up the arm, giving the appearance that the snake had wound itself around the wearer's arm. Silver and enamel highlights adorned the bracelet, and two bright emeralds formed the eyes. When Charlie took his gift out of the box it was the same bracelet as Jamie's, identical in every way except that instead of emerald eyes, two bright rubies formed the eyes of the Asp bracelet he held out for everyone to see.


Aliegh gently plucked the bracelet from Jamie’s hands and began turning it over as she examined it more carefully. Taking Charlie’s she held them out and began to compare them side by side. “By the emperor’s beard they must have cost a small fortune,” she said looking at the beautiful coiled gold and enameled  snakes with bejeweled eyes.


“You see, there not exactly the same,” Castor said, smiling. “But there’s another difference,” he added. “Look inside, at the inscriptions.”


Charlie turned his bracelet so that he could read the engraving. At first he read it to himself, then smiling, he read it aloud: “To my brother, boy of the sun; from your brother, boy of the wind: our love is eternal – Jamie.”


"And mine says, 'To my brother, boy of the wind; from your brother, boy of the sun: our love is eternal – Charlie',” Jamie read aloud.


“You have used your Kalorian names,” Aleigha said, clapping her hands together, for it was the Kalorians who’d first called Jamie Garon a’ Kalasia – Boy of the Wind - as a comment on his wild ways and sometimes reckless abandon. When Charlie had appeared, it was only natural to call the bright, smiling, and warm-hearted boy Garon a’ Solais – Boy of the Sun.


“Just like our banners,” Charlie said, smiling and unaware of the troubled look Edwin Croal was giving Castor.


“Yes, just like your banners," Castor said, looking away from Croal. Both boys each had a large heraldic banner hanging on a wall in their bedrooms. Charlie’s was of a golden, stylized sun on a field of bright red. Jamie’s consisted of stylized silver gusts of wind against a rich, purple field. “Princes must gather together their symbols of office,” Castor said, so quietly that the only one who heard him was Croal, who gave him a frown. In answer Castor leaned closer to Croal and whispered, “You set this play in motion a long time ago; you have no reason to be surprised at this stage. You know what’s coming. I just pray they’re ready.”


Croal remained silent, but when he turned to Castor and appeared ready to speak, he was stopped when great shouts and cheers broke out in the hall as men, women and some of the older children began to clear dishes and move tables against the wall in preparation for dancing. Those not preparing to dance began to clap their hands and stomp their feet while shouting and chanting. The musicians took their places on the side of the room where the large corpus harp had been erected. They began tuning - plucking, strumming, and blowing their instruments - in preparation for the festivities.


“My slippers,” Jamie eagerly called to Castor. “I have to get ready.”


Castor reached into the pouch still balanced on his lap and pulled out a pair of soft dancing slippers. They were black with a bit of silver and gold embroidery. Charlie watched the familiar ritual as Jamie quickly pulled off his soft leather shoes set them under the table, and began to put on the slippers and then carefully lace them. As soon as he was finished, Jamie jumped up and joined the dancers assembling in the center of the hall. It looked a bit strange to see the smaller, winged boy in linen shirt, velvet breeches and white hose moving to join the tall, slender, plainly dressed Kalorians, but they smiled and shouted when they saw him coming towards them and happily greeted him once he was in their midst. A few spoke to Jamie as he stood with them and although Charlie couldn’t hear what was said, he could see Jamie begin to laugh at their remarks.


Never a people to draw things out, the Kalorian usually acted quickly and the musicians at the Fête were no exception, beginning to play as soon as they saw the dancers were assembled. The dancers also didn’t hesitate; as soon as the music started, they quickly began to move with the beat and rhythm of the music. Charlie smiled as he watched Jamie, on the end of one of the lines, move with the rest of the dancers. With his large wings, it was his usual position. Time and experience had shown that it was the best spot for him, since a quick turn in the center of a line could easily send four or five Kalorians sprawling on the floor when one of his wings hit them. But, never willing to exclude the Icarian boy, over time the dancers had learned how to accommodate their winged companion.


The dancing went on for two hours as more food – mostly light snacks, along with beer and wine – was served to those watching. Finally the last group dance ended and it was time for the solo performances. Rodd Westor, a tall and stately man, was the first to dance and he performed a fast paced athletic dance to an old Kalorian folk song. Others followed until finally Aleigha took to the floor and did a slow, sultry Redalta – the so-called Kalorian dance of seduction. Everyone – especially the men – cheered wildly when she was finished.


“You’d better keep her under lock and key,” Castor said winking at her husband Jokum. “At least half the men in this hall would happily take her home with them after that performance.”


“Only half?” Jokum said, grinning. He was used to the attention his wife got on the dance floor, but felt quite secure knowing how much she loved and cared for him. In fact, he was proud to have married such a woman, who was as kind and loving as she was beautiful.


“Well, the other half would too, but they can’t let on,” Castor said, now openly laughing, “or their wives would take a frying pan to their heads.”


The cheering and clapping continued for a few more minutes as Aleigha took her many deserved bows, but after a bit she held up her hands and the applause died down.


“Tonight, we are honored by the presence of Gordan Bashar, corpus harpist to the Duke of Drexos. We should thank him for playing for us this evening.” And at her words, the audience and dancers alike erupted in thunderous applause and cheers. Gordon, encased in the corpus harp, smiled, nodded his head and bowed, a graceful movement accompanied by a delicate cascade of bell-like notes from the harp.


“Now, we conclude the dancing with our own Garon a’ Kalasia, dancing his interpretation of a special dance,” Aleigha said. “Gordan has agreed to accompany him. I think you’ll recognize it."


There was a bit more applause as Aleigha left the center of the dance floor and Jamie took her spot. A few calls of “Jamieboy” and “Garon a’ Kalasia” could be heard. Jamie, used to dancing for the Kalorians of Fallon’s Settlement, smiled and confidently took his place. Since he would be accompanied by the corpus harp that could mimic a full orchestra, there was no need for any other accompaniment and the musicians had laid down their instruments, eager to give their full attention to watching the dance instead of having to play along. Just as he was ready to start Jamie stopped, gave a shy smile and moved to the side of the room where some of the dancers were standing. An older man, one of the senior dancers, handed him something and Jamie returned to the center of the room. Now holding a wooden sword fashioned and painted to look like a real one, he once more took his position.


“I’m sorry I forgot it,” he said somewhat sheepishly as a small wave of good-natured laughter circulated about the room. But it quickly ended when Jamie’s face took on a serious expression and he turned toward the corpus harp. Inside Gordan was standing perfectly still. Jamie nodded at him, put one foot out, and raised the sword in his hand. Instantly the room was filled with sound. There were beating drums, and the silvery call of trumpets and bugles. A sharp staccato of strings and a jarring baseline rose to a crescendo. Within seconds after the music started the audience looked at each other in disbelief, then at Gordan moving about wildly inside the harp. The music was unmistakable to every member of the audience: the Redak, the song commemorating the bravery of Karkal Foss and the Kalorians who fought with him at Raisune’s Heights and who, although greatly outnumbered, held off the Imperial troops for a full three days before succumbing. As the music grew in sound and fury, everyone's eyes went to the winged boy standing in the center of the dance hall with the sword held at full extension above him and his head thrown back. When a great rolling theme of brass, strings and percussion exploded, so did Jamie, leaping from the ground, sword in hand slicing the air.


The entire dance took fifteen minutes. It ended with Jamie thrashing about in the air in the throes of death, enacting the final moments of Foss’s life when, according to legend, over twenty imperial troopers surrounded him and instead of using of their handheld ghoster’s, they tucked them in their belts, drew their swords and stabbed him to death – inflicting over forty wounds on his body. As Jamie jerked and writhed he slowly floated to the ground, gasping for life. When it was over he lay still and lifeless on the dance floor, his wings covering his body. Then, with a soft, mournful melody from a single violin, the Redak ended. The instant it was over there was a moment of complete silence, and then the hall erupted in applause and shouts. Jamie stood, put one foot forward, dropped to one knee and extended his arms out to either side of his body. As he bowed his head, he spread his wings parallel to his outstretched arms and bowed even lower. The applause grew and shook the hall, many clapping wildly while tears stained their cheeks. Rising, he took the applause, and then once again, dropped to one knee and repeated the earlier move. As he rose for the second time, the dancers crowded around him as the applause continued. When it was over, Jamie made his way to the table where his family sat.


“You truly are an adopted son of Kaloria,” Jokum said, smiling at Jamie.


“One of our adopted sons,” Aleigha said, hugging Charlie.


“Of course,” Jokum said, quickly correcting himself.


“That was very impressive, young master,” Castor said, smiling at Jamie. “The death scene at the end was a bit… uhm… well, maybe a little overly dramatic,” he added, cocking an eyebrow.


Jamie grinned in an admission that Castor just might be correct. “I wanted it to be realistic,” he said innocently.


“It was so real! I was waiting to see you bleed,” Charlie said, giving his older brother an adoring look. “It was… well, it was just fantastic – the best you’ve ever done.”


“Thanks, Charlie,” Jamie said.


“And exactly what was that little move at the end?” Castor said – his right eyebrow still raised.


“What move?” Jamie asked a little too innocently.


“When it was over… that… what should I call it? A bow?” Castor said.


“Well, I was reading how many performers have a special signature ending. A bow, or wave, or a gesture. That’s mine.”


“I see,” Castor said. “Also a little dramatic, don’t you think?” Castor asked.


“No, I don’t think so,” Jamie said confidently. “I think it’s a good way to end. I’ve been practicing it for a while. I wanted to do something different.”


“I see,” Castor said. “Well, it was different. But now it’s time we prepare to leave. The celebration is over, and it’s time for two boys to be visiting their beds.”


“But…” Jamie stopped as soon as he saw Castor’s face.


“We’ve all had a grand Solstice Fête, and you two boys have had a nice birthday celebration, but it’s time to leave. I suggest you make the rounds and say goodbye and meet us at the hov.”


“Yes, Castor,” Charlie said as his eyes searched the room in order to find his friends so he could say goodbye.


“Fine, Castor,” Jamie said grudgingly as he too broke away to say goodbye to the dancers and to thank Gordan for accompanying him.


Twenty minutes later they were in the hov and heading back to the villa. Spinoza was perched on the back of Jamie’s seat, looking out the window while his young master ran his hand lightly over the asp bracelet he’d put on after the dance. Lifting his arm, Jamie caught Charlie’s attention.


“I love it,” he said.


“Me too,” Charlie seconded, smiling and touching his own bracelet.


The flight home was quiet. When the hov landed, Castor sent both boys packing to bed, as another Solstice Fête came to an end – it would be their last together as a family.