The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 20



“Wake up! It’s time to rise,” a strong, forceful voice called out.


Still half asleep, Jamie heard the voice as if it were calling to him from a place very far away. Stirring slightly in his bed, he turned his head away and snuggled deeper into his pillow, following his usual morning routine.


“Get up, student,” the voice repeated louder.


Jamie felt a hand shaking him firmly and wondered why Castor was doing that. He never…


“Get up, student,” the voice said brusquely. “Now!


Opening his eyes, Jamie blinked; the room was darker than usual, and the wall in front of him was a nondescript, light green color. It was then that he realized he wasn’t in his room at Villa Mare Vista. In a flash, the events of the past few hours fell upon him like an unexpected rockslide in a high mountain pass. Tilting his head up from his pillow, it was immediately obvious that the man towering over him wasn’t Castor and as Jamie moved to get up, scenes from the previous day played in his mind. He took in a sharp breath, and the dull pain he’d felt in his chest the day before returned and lodged somewhere between his two hearts, an ache he couldn’t ignore.


“It's time for your bath, student,” the man - a tall, stern-faced Kalorian - said firmly. “I waited until the other students were finished. You’ll be formally introduced in class this morning, but until then you’re to be kept apart. Now, come with me, please.”


The man’s tone of voice, while not harsh, left no doubt that he expected immediate compliance. Carefully sitting up, Jamie draped his wings over the edge of the bed. He rubbed his eyes with his hand and shook his head to clear the cobwebs clouding his head. As he began to fully awaken, a chaotic whirl of thoughts and images exploded in his mind, all vying with each other for his attention. Struggling to awaken and keep his emotions in check, he glanced up at the man and almost wished him a good morning in Kalorian  but then, gratefully remembering the strict admonition from Jakobus, he let the words die in his throat.


Sil… ah… good morning,” Jamie said softly in human speech, but then looked down at the floor, realizing that even this simple greeting may have violated the rules Jakobus had laid down for him.


“Good morning, student,” the man said, immediately adding, “Please come with me,” as he moved to the door and held it open.


The man, like most Kalorians, was tall and thin. Jamie guessed his age to be around thirty years, AS. He looked serious, even a bit distinguished. The man’s close-cropped, black hair had a small amount of gray sprinkled through it. He wore a small, neatly trimmed goatee, which struck Jamie as unusual - most Kalorians went clean shaven. Dressed in a simple tunic and sash with sandals on his feet, the man appeared not unlike many of the Kalorian workers Jamie had known in the settlements.


Slowly getting to his feet, Jamie glanced around the room. It was just as he’d remembered it from the night before. The only view afforded out the high windows near the ceiling was one of sky. The light coming through highlighted the ugly, pale green color of the walls, and did nothing to improve the appearance of the room; if anything, it emphasized how plain and dreary it really was. The small, utilitarian desk sitting in one of the corners was bare, its top was well worn, and Jamie could see initials and dates scratched into its dull, brown surface – a testament to others who’d occupied the room. A small stool pushed under the desk was the only seating in the room. The narrow metal dresser where he’d found his sleep shorts the night before was old – its sides dented, its drawers ill fitting, and its white, painted finish chipped and peeling, revealing the dark gray metal of its manufacture. As he walked to the door, the tiled floor chilled his bare feet. Passing through the door, he stepped into the long corridor he remembered from the previous evening, and glanced each way. The corridor was empty.


“To the bath,” the man said. And since he didn’t offer to tell Jamie where it was, the Icarian boy guessed that someone – maybe Jakobus – had mentioned that he’d used the facilities the night before and knew where they were.


He found the door leading into the bath and was about to open it, but was surprised when the Kalorian reached around him - brushing against one of his wings - and pulled the door open, holding it for him. The bath was as Jamie remembered it – plain and simple. Sunlight streamed into the room from a bank of windows that, like the ones in his room, were set high up near the ceiling. Like his room, this space also had a dingy and worn look to it. More than a few of the tiles on the walls were cracked or chipped, and a few on the ceiling had fallen off completely, exposing plaster that had turned a grayish green.


Unlike the night before when he’d used the toilet, Jamie noticed that the warm air of the bath had a moist, steamy feel to it. That there were quite a few used, wet towels piled against one of the far walls, puddles of water on the floor, and a bar of soap floating in the rectangular pool was evidence that others had recently used the room.


Jamie turned around to look at the Kalorian, who simply stared at him. Sighing, Jamie pushed down his sleep shorts and stepped out of them. Not sure what to do with them, he bent down to pick them up but stopped when the Kalorian called out to him, “Just leave them and take your bath. Your sleep shorts will be washed and a fresh pair will be placed in your drawer tonight.”


Standing up, Jamie walked over to the large pool and examined it, looking for a way to enter. Finally, he spotted a broad set of steps at the opposite end of the pool, leading down into the water. Padding around the perimeter of the pool and stepping over a few of the puddles on the floor, he arrived at the steps and walked into the water. Once his feet were on the white tiles of the pool’s floor he found that, much like his bath at home, the water came up almost to his waist. The bar of soap was floating past so he plucked it from the water. As he did, the still-unnamed Kalorian reached out, offering him a sponge. Wading over to the man, Jamie took the sponge while suppressing the urge to thank him in Kalorian. After soaping it up, he began to wash himself.


“I am Garus,” the man said formally as Jamie bathed. “I’m in charge of this floor and the care of the students who live here, so I’ll be the one waking you most days. Today was an exception - you were allowed to sleep while the others prepared for First Lesson. Today, in class, you’ll be introduced to your fellow students. Starting tomorrow, you’ll awaken at the same time as the rest of them and will accompany them to the bath. When you’re done bathing and dressing, you’ll go to the refectory for your breakfast. When you’ve finished eating, you’ll attend First Lesson. Do you understand?”


Jamie’s head was filled with so many thoughts he barely heard Garus, but he had enough presence of mind to nod his head as he continued to bathe. Lifting his right leg he began to wash his foot while his mind continued to replay everything that had happened to him. He was still quite disoriented, feeling as if he were in a strange dream; as the scenes of the previous day continued to replay in his head, the dull pain in his chest intensified.


“After you’re finished here, we’ll go back to your room and get you dressed," Garus continued. “Then I’ll bring you your breakfast, but after today you’ll eat with the others.”


Shifting his weight to his right leg, Jamie lifted his left leg and washed his foot, but said nothing. When he was finished bathing, he looked up to see Garus standing near the steps with a towel. As Jamie stepped out of the pool, Garus unfolded the towel and handed it to him. Jamie noted absently that it was smaller and not as soft as the luxurious towels he was used to using. When he brought the towel to his face it had a clean smell, but not the soft, sweet, rosepetal scent of the towels he'd used at home. Just as they usually did, his wings suddenly fluttered and droplets of water flew from them. Garus, apparently used to tending Icarians, had backed far enough away to avoid getting wet. After he was finished drying himself, Jamie looked around the bath, and then at Garus. Anticipating the boy’s question, Garus approached with a second dry towel.


“Toss your wet towel in that pile with the others,” Garus said, pointing to one of the large piles of used towels. “Wrap this dry one around yourself and we’ll go back to your room; after today you’ll have clothing waiting for you here in the bath, but since you arrived with nothing, I’ve had some things delivered to your room. I wasn’t sure of your size, so there will be a few pieces for you to try on. After I know what size you are, I’ll see that a suitable student wardrobe is provided for you. Now, let’s go back to your room,” he added, walking toward the door of the bath.


Again holding the door open for Jamie, Garus waited for the Icarian boy to pass through it. Once Jamie was in the hall, Garus joined him and they both headed toward Jamie’s room. With the towel wrapped around his waist, Jamie followed him. In the room, Jamie noticed a variety of folded clothing arranged in neat piles on his now made bed.


“When you were walking to the bath it looked to me as if your sleep shorts fit you well, no?” Garus asked.


“They were fine,” Jamie said flatly, looking down at all the clothing on the bed.


“Good. I’ll have more ordered for you in that size,” Garus said. “Now, try this tunic on,” he said, taking a piece of clothing from one of the piles. As he brought it up, he let the garment unfold; it was a plain, light beige tunic. Jamie unwrapped the towel from around his waist and paused, uncertain what to do with it. Back in the villa, he’d always just left his towel on the floor and Castor would pick it up.


“Its fine,” Garus said when he saw Jamie’s questioning look. “It’s dry, so just lay the towel on the bed. I’ll remove it when we’re finished.”


Garus waited as Jamie put the towel on the bed but then, just as Jamie was preparing to take the tunic from the Kalorian, Garus brushed past Jamie’s outstretched arm, held it up to the boy, and frowned. “Too large,” he said, tossing it back on the bed. “They said you were twelve, but I can see you’re a little smaller than I expected. Here, try this one,” Garus added, reaching down to another pile. After rummaging through it, he handed Jamie a second tunic that looked exactly like the one he’d first picked up. Jamie took the tunic and examined it. It was clean but looked to be a bit worn. As he began to put it on, he noticed that a small tag with a name written on it had been sewn onto the inside hem at the bottom of the tunic. Since Garus had told him to hurry, he didn’t take the time to try and read the name but simply slid into the tunic, wondering why the Kalorian hadn’t first given him any smallclothes.


“It looks good,” Garus said. “Now, take it off.”


Jamie gave Garus a puzzled look.


“I’m just trying to determine your size,” Garus said. “This is old clothing, left over from former students. Now that I know this fits, we can quickly pick out some other things, and I can order new clothing for you.”


Next Garus handed Jamie something that looked like a pair of black sleep shorts, but fashioned out of less material than he was used to; looking closer, he could see they were smallclothes of some kind, but when he took them from Garus he felt something hard and stiff sewn into them.


“It’s called a dance belt," Garus said. "You always put it on first,” he added, taking the belt from Jamie’s hands and turning it to show him the difference between the front and back. Bending over, Jamie  put his foot through one of the holes of the dance belt. Putting his other foot through the other hole, he pulled the strange looking smallclothes up his legs. As he drew them up toward his waist, he could see that the stiffened cup was getting closer to his private parts.


“Make sure you put it on correctly,” Garus said. “You don’t want to injure yourself when you’re dancing." Helping Jamie, Garus began to adjust the belt as Jamie pulled it up around his waist. Once he was wearing the strange piece of clothing, Jamie realized that the stiffened part of the belt completely covered and enclosed his privates in a hard, cup-like shell.


After making one more adjustment, Garus stepped back, looked at the belt and nodded approvingly. Once the Kalorian was satisfied Jamie was wearing the dance belt properly, he picked up another piece of clothing, and said, “Now try this on,” and handed Jamie something that looked like a pair of black tights. Holding them up, Jamie realized that’s exactly what they were except instead of ending in feet the legs were open, allowing his bare feet to stick out.


Going over to the stool, Jamie sat down and rolled up one of the legs as one would a pair of hose, slipped his foot through the end, and made sure it was snug around his ankle. Unrolling the tights up his leg he stopped when he got to his calf, then did the same with other leg. Finally he stood and pulled up the tights until they came to his waist, completely covering the dance belt.


“They look just fine,” Garus said. “How do they feel?”


“Ok,” Jamie said, somewhat disoriented by the strange turn of events the day was providing. By now, at Villa Mare Vista, he’d have had his bath, and would be eating breakfast with Charlie. Charlie… the thought of his brother bloomed in his mind and he felt tears come to his eyes. Determined not to let Garus see his tears he turned his head away slightly, but if the Kalorian noticed he said nothing.


“Now this,” Garus continued, handing Jamie another piece of clothing. It, like the tights, was black. Jamie realized that even though it looked a bit strange, it was a top of some type. It had no sleeves, just holes where his arms could go through. It appeared to be similar to a type of top some of the gardeners at Villa Mare Vista wore in the hot sun, except the back on this one was cut rather strangely.


“It’s called a racerback,” Garus said. “Let me help you put it on." Guiding Jamie’s arms, he placed them through each hole after he'd adjusted the straps. Stepping behind the Icarian, Garus made some adjustments so that the narrow, single strip of cloth in the back came down the middle of Jamie's back where his wings emerged, falling between and separating them. Once he was satisfied with the fit, Garus began to fasten the top. “There,” the Kalorian said in a satisfied tone of voice as he walked around Jamie, examining his handiwork. “This is the basic outfit you will wear during your classes. You will be assisted into it every morning after your bath.”


The outfit seemed comfortable enough, fitting him like a second skin. Reaching up, he adjusted the straps of the racerback top over each shoulder, noting that its design was perfect for covering his torso whilst allowing his shoulders and arms to remain unimpeded for any dance acrobatics or movement. Since the neckline was low and his arms, shoulders and the top of his back weren’t covered he could keep cool as any sweat wicked off his skin to the surrounding air instead of soaking into a more restrictive top.  He also noticed that the racerback afforded his wings complete freedom of movement.


“And now this,” Garus said, handing Jamie something that looked like a tunic with short sleeves, but much abbreviated of length.


When he'd put it on, its hem came only to his hips. It felt comfortable, and the v-neck was trimmed with plain white piping that matched the color of the tunic. Garus helped him fasten it in the back and when it was properly seated around his wings, the Kalorian picked up a long, white sash off of the bed and proceeded to tie it around Jamie’s waist, wrapping it around him twice and finishing with a hard square knot at the front before he tucked the trailing ends beneath the body of the sash. When Garus was finished, Jamie noticed that the sash made the tunic top appear a bit blousy, but it was a comfortable fit.


“You’re white for now,” Garus said, after he finished with the sash. “As you progress, your sash color and the trim on your tunic will change. But for now, you’re a beginner – a white. Now, one final thing,” Garus added, picking up two long  tubes of knit fabric. “These are leg warmers. You can pull them up all the way above your knees before you warm up, or if you start to get cold, or you can push them down around your calves as you heat up. If you get very warm, you can take them off completely - some of the boys do take them off, while others just push them down around their ankles. But for now, put them on so that they bunch up just below your knees, if you’re comfortable with that." Jamie did as he was told, and looked up at Garus when he was finished


“Every morning after you bathe,” Garus said, “this is what you’ll wear. As I’ve already told you, you’ll be assisted in dressing after your bath. The racerback is something that simply can’t be done solo – although some of the boys help each other when there aren’t enough of us to go around. In the practice room, when you're doing your exercises or dancing, you will remove the top,” Garus said, touching the short tunic. “Whenever you leave the practice room, always wear the top, sash, and leg warmers. It's part of your daily dress for class."


At Garus' questioning look, Jamie simply nodded his understanding.


“Take a seat on the stool,” Garus said, gesturing to the stool under the desk as he began gathering up the clothing from the bed. “By the end of practice today, I’ll see to it that you have some new clothing to wear. By the end of the week, you’ll have everything you need. Now, wait here and I’ll be back in a few minutes with your breakfast.”


With his arms full of the rejected clothing he turned to leave, but just as he was about to pass through the door, he turned back and nodded toward the closet. "You’ll find a pair of sandals in there, along with a pair of dance slippers. Put the sandals on. You’ll take the slippers to the practice room. Whenever you are in the practice rooms, you’ll wear the slippers; otherwise, you’ll wear the sandals.”


After Garus left, Jamie went to the closet. The first thing Jamie noted was that the closet was quite small, and not made to hold a large wardrobe. Just as Garus had told him, he found both sandals and dance slippers. Other than the sandals and slippers, the closet was bare. Going back to the stool, he discovered that the sandals fit his feet perfectly when he put them on, and then he realized they were the same ones he’d been given at Gold Glass. After slipping the sandals on and fastening the buckles, he picked up the dance slippers and examined them. They weren’t as fancy as the ones he'd worn when dancing with the Kalorians, but their design was familiar and he knew how to put them on and lace them up.


Returning to the stool he sat quietly, still feeling like he was in a dream – a dream he’d soon awake from when Castor entered the room with his breakfast. But Castor never arrived. Instead, after a few minutes passed Garus returned, carrying a small tray. Placing it on the desktop, he stepped back and gestured for Jamie to eat.


“First Lesson has just started,” he said, “I don’t want you to be too late, or Sprague will be angry.”


After picking up the towel Jamie’d discarded on the bed, Garus once again exited the room, telling the boy to eat quickly and that he’d soon return to take Jamie to First Lesson. After Garus left, Jamie walked to the desk and examined the tray and then, pulling the stool closer to the desk, he sat down and began to eat. The breakfast was plain: some fruit, cheese, juice, and a porridge-like dish that Jamie discovered he liked, although he’d have preferred to have a little honey stirred into it. After ten minutes, Garus returned. When he saw that Jamie was finished, he seemed pleased and relieved.


“Let's be off, then,” Garus said, holding the door for Jamie. Rising from the stool, Jamie walked past him and into the hall. Once there, he saw another Kalorian – this one a man much younger than Garus – standing at the door of the room next to his. The door was open just enough for the young man to stick his head into the neighboring room.


“I’ll be assisting you shortly, Master Prefect,” the young Kalorian said. Looking more closely, Jamie saw that this second man was more of an older boy than a fully mature man. “Your breakfast is coming shortly. I’m sorry I’m late,” the boy continued. “There've been some other things going on around here this morning, but after you eat I’ll see that you get your bath.”


“It’s ok,” a youthful voice answered from inside the room. “Come back when it’s convenient for you, Ovid. I’m not going anywhere,” and Jamie could hear a good-natured chuckle accompanying the words.


“Very well, Master Prefect,” Ovid answered, “Ten more minutes and I’ll be back, I promise,”


“Please, take your time,” the voice replied. “Really Ovid, whenever it’s convenient for you.”


Still holding the door open a crack, Ovid turned when he realized someone was behind him. A smile came to his face when he saw Garus and he nodded toward the older Kalorian. Looking past Garus, the boy’s eyes rested upon Jamie and widened.


“So that’s…”


“Shhh. Enough, Ovid,” Garus said. “Attend to your business. We’re already running behind this morning.” He frowned and continued, “The Master Prefect has been waiting long enough. You can be grateful he’s patient, and not like…”


Suddenly realizing his words were being carefully measured and weighed by the Icarian boy standing behind him, Garus stopped. “Just do your job,” he said briskly, but Jamie noted that although Garus was firm with the boy during their conversation, not once had he acted angry or treated Ovid rudely. When he finished speaking to Ovid, Garus turned back to Jamie. “Lets get moving,” he said gesturing down the hall.


Just before starting off Jamie tilted his head to see if he could look into the room, since Ovid still had the door slightly ajar, but Garus stepped in front of Jamie and gestured for him to move along. As they walked down the corridor, Jamie turned back to see Ovid close the door and hurry off in the opposite direction. Turning back to Garus, he quickly followed in the Kalorian's wake. As they strode down the hall, Jamie saw that the building was really nothing more than a plain dormitory, and its utilitarian coldness did nothing to make him feel any better. Garus remained silent as they entered a stairwell that led from the second to the first floor. As soon as they were at the bottom of the stairwell, Garus passed through a door Jamie hadn’t noticed the night before. Following Garus, he found that instead of being in the corridor of the first floor as he’d been with Jakobus the previous evening, they were outdoors and facing a small square. Jamie realized in a moment it was the same one he’d seen when he’d first arrived.


The morning sun was bright, and the air pleasantly warm. The high, narrow windows in the building he’d just come from may have let in light, but the surroundings it illuminated were so dull and drab that it wasn’t until he’d gotten outdoors that he realized just how beautiful the day was. Looking about, he saw with no surprise that the low, two story brick building across the square was a mirror image of the one he’d just come from. To his left stood the larger building he’d seen the past evening; it was three stories tall and also built from brick, but of a slightly different design than the other two buildings. When Garus abruptly turned left, he realized that it was to this building that they were headed. The lawn between the buildings formed a green rectangle crisscrossed by a few graveled walkways. As they walked toward the larger building with the gravel crunching underfoot, Jamie watched as a small group of Kalorian men trimmed some bushes and weeded some of the flower beds bordering the square. The sight reminded him of Jokum and his crew, who'd maintained the grounds at the villa. The thought stabbed him like a hot poker, and although he tried to push it away, his mind jumped back to the sight of his father dead in his study, and Jamie wondered if he’d been killed quickly or if he had suffered torture at the hands of Savaron Loka. It was something he really didn’t want to think about, yet he couldn’t dismiss the thought from his mind.


“The refectory and practice rooms are in this building,” Garus said, breaking the silence and pointing to the building where they were headed. “After bathing and dressing, you’ll come this way with your fellow students to the refectory for breakfast. After breakfast, you’ll go to your assigned practice room with your student team from the junior group.”


Although he heard Garus speaking, Jamie’s mind was still partially elsewhere and he remained quiet, although he did have the presence of mind to look about and try to absorb as much as he could as he and Garus crossed the courtyard toward the larger building. At the top of the main stairs leading into the larger building was a heavy, dark, twin-paneled wooden door that let into a hallway similar to the one in the dormitory. Directly across the corridor two tall, double-swinging doors were propped open, revealing a large hall with a high, vaulted ceiling. The walls and ceiling were whitewashed, and the floor was covered in dark terracotta tiles. Plain and serviceable tables and benches filled nearly the entire space.


“The refectory,” Garus said, motioning toward the room but not stopping to allow Jamie a better look. Walking down the hall a bit further, he stopped in front of another door. Jamie could hear music coming from the other side. Garus pushed on the door and held it open as he gestured for Jamie to pass through.


Once they were in the room, it was obvious to Jamie that he was in a large dance studio. Partly this realization came from the fact that the studio – although larger and more spacious – was quite similar to the space his father had created for him at the villa. Brass railings ran around three of the room's walls, installed at about waist height. Sections of the wooden floor were covered with thin dark mats, and the ceilings were quite high. But his biggest clue to the room's purpose was the group of winged boys arranged in four rows, one behind the other, and performing a series of identical moves to music coming from a piano in a far corner of the room. The musician was also a boy with wings, whom Jamie guessed to be fifteen. Looking about, he saw that this room – just like every other one he’d been in thus far – had windows near the ceiling that were too high to afford a view.


The boys were all dressed in the same outfit that he was wearing, except that all of them had shed their tunics; a glance about the room revealed a pile of tunics in the corner nearest to the door. Mixed in with the tunics were sashes of various colors. Also near the door were a few chairs, and next to the chairs was another pile – this one consisting of sandals. When he looked back to the boys, he noticed that all of them were wearing dancing slippers similar to the ones he was carrying; some had their leg warmers on, while others had taken them off. All of the boys looked to be younger than he was. Two or three appeared close to his age, a few more seemed closer to Charlie’s age, and some of the boys in the front rows were quite young – so young their wings were still small in proportion to their bodies, and incapable of flight.


Near the edge of the mattes stood a thin man of average height who was dressed in the same outfit as the boys, except he was still wearing the short white tunic the boys had shed. Looking closer, Jamie realized that, unlike his own tunic and those of the other boys, the man’s tunic was made of silk and was set off by golden piping around the collar, sleeves and hem. Tied around the man’s waist was a golden sash with red tassels on either end.


In one hand, the man gripped a staff that was slightly taller than he was. It was thin and black, and had a small golden ball at the top; from the ball sprouted two small, golden wings. As he walked along the rows of dancers, he talked and sometimes shouted orders and directions to the boys. Jamie listened for a moment, and the only thing he heard coming from the man’s mouth was an endless stream of criticism directed toward any boy who made a misstep, mixed with angry shouts and an occasional curse directed at one or sometimes all the boys. As they moved to the music, he pounded the end of his staff against the polished wooden floor in time with the beat.


Once in the room, Garus let go of the door. It closed by itself, slamming loudly. As the sound crashed through the room the pianist, the dancers and the man stopped what they were doing, and everyone turned to see who’d interrupted the practice.  The pianist placed his hands in his lap. The boys remained in their rows, but assumed relaxed postures. The man just stood staring at Garus, and then Jamie. The man’s dark blue eyes were cold and intense, and Jamie was reminded of the look Savaron Loka had given him when he’d first discovered Jamie at the villa.


Walking over to Jamie and Garus with a graceful stride, the man stopped when he was directly in front of them and, as hard as it was for Jamie to believe, as the man’s eyes drew down to narrow slits his intense gaze turned sharper and colder, causing Jamie to involuntarily shudder.


“So this is him?” the man asked.


“Yes, Dance Master,” Garus said in a such a soft and demure voice that Jamie turned and looked up at the Kalorian. When he did, he was surprised to see Garus standing stooped-shouldered, with his eyes on the ground.


“Leave,” the man said abruptly.


Without a second's pause, Garus spun around and headed toward the door. “Yes, Dance Master,” he said, his eyes still on the floor.


As Garus opened the door, the man shouted after him: “Did they give you any message to relay to me?”


“No, Dance Master,” Garus answered in the same strange voice Jamie’d heard him use earlier.


“Then get out of here,” the man said scornfully. “And this time don’t slam the door, you Kalorian idiot,” he added in a shout as Garus turned to walk through the doorway.


Garus closed the door softly behind him, and after it clicked shut - although Jamie was in a room with the Dance Master and about twenty Icarian boys - he felt quite alone. Even though he didn’t really know Garus, the Kalorian had tried to be helpful to him, and now that he found himself suddenly abandoned by Garus, he felt completely isolated. Standing quietly, Jamie watched as the man banished the Kalorian, then turned his stony countenance on Jamie, his eyes resuming their study of his newest Icarian charge.


“Look at me,” the man said sharply, and although Jamie didn’t want to, he raised his head until his gaze met that of the Dance Master. The second they met, Jamie shuddered once again. The man practically oozed anger and hatred from every pore. Even without reading the man’s mind, Jamie could feel the man’s scorn hit him like a hard slap across the face.


Breaking their gaze the man strode across the room, heading to the corner where the piano sat. As he approached, Jamie noticed that the young pianist slid to the opposite side of the bench and actually appeared to be cowering. Ignoring the boy, the man picked up a piece of paper sitting on the lid of the piano. Pivoting, the man glided back across the floor and Jamie was surprised to see just how gracefully he moved. When he reached Jamie, he moved to stand beside him so that he, like Jamie, was facing the small group of boys. Turning to Jamie he looked down at him, then to the paper he held in his hand. Finally looking up from the paper, he stared at the boys who were still standing in their rows but had begun to stare at Jamie with curiosity.


“This,” the man said in a sharp sarcastic voice as he flipped his wrist and gestured to Jamie with an open palm, “is Prince James de Valèn. From this day forward, he will be a member of our company,” he continued, then giving Jamie a wicked smile, added: “He’s supposed to be quite talented.”


Jamie blinked in surprise at the words. It had only been a few months since he’d learned the truth about his brother and himself, and in the past day he’d been referred to as a prince more than he had in his entire life – which, up until his capture, had never occurred. From his studies, Jamie knew that there probably wasn’t a person in the entire empire who didn’t know the name de Valèn and the reverence it held. To be introduced using his surname along with the title of prince would instantly mark him as different, unique, and possibly superior to the other boys – something he desperately wished had been avoided.


What’s more, the manner in which the man had introduced him appeared to have been deliberate, so as to instantly isolate him from the other boys, driving a wedge between him and the rest. To inform all of them that he was quite talented appeared to be a mean trick as well. The man had no way of knowing if Jamie was talented or not – he’d never seen him dance. Jamie had already felt some apprehension from the boys the instant they’d seen him. Now he could sense that apprehension grow as they gathered around him and the wedge began to feel more like a wall as he read their thoughts. Seconds after looking into their minds, he knew he was right.


“de Valèn?” one of the older boys standing in the back row said in a smooth, silky, and slightly sarcastic tone of voice. “Prince de Valèn?”


“Your majesty,” another one of the older boys who’d also been in the back row said, as he moved through the ranks of dancers until he was in front of Jamie. Giving Jamie a slight bow, he continued, “How wonderful to have you here. Is it true you’ve come to teach us how to dance, just as Dance Master Sprague has told us? And that you’re such a great talent?”


The boy was a bit taller than Jamie and had reddish blond hair. His white wings were marked with bluish green highlights. Looking down at Jamie, the boy’s mouth turned up into a malicious grin.


“That means you're second now, Trajan,” another of the older boys said who’d also made his way toward Jamie and as he spoke he turned to the boy who’d just finished addressing Jamie. The second boy had dark yellowish tinted wings and the falsest of smiles plastered across his face. “You won’t be premier among the juniors. Poor Trajan,” he said giving an over-exaggerated laugh. "I guess His Highness outranks us all.”


“Yes,” Trajan said, still grinning at Jamie. "Maybe I’ll even have to move to the front row with the little ones; but then, so will you Orris,” he said, grinning back at yellow winged boy. “Because I’m so much better than you, and if he’s better than me, what does that make you?”


As the exchange between Jamie and the boys went on the man who’d introduced Jamie remained silent, allowing the conversation to continue. It quickly became obvious to Jamie that the dance master was enjoying the confrontation between Jamie and the two boys.


“Well, assume the first position, Your Majesty, and show us what you can do,” Trajan said, making another bow – this time a deep one from the waist as he added a flourish of an outstretched hand to make his move appear even more dramatic. “Surely one from the great and ancient house of de Valèn will have much to teach us. Our hearts are aflutter,” he added with a slight flutter of his wings to emphasize his words.


At the conclusion of Trajan’s performance, Orris laughed and turned to Jamie, giving him a scornful look. “Well, go on,” he said. “You heard Trajan.”


Jamie looked at Trajan, unsure of what he’d meant. He looked at the man at his side with questioning eyes. When the man returned his gaze with a cold hard stare, Jamie knew he would find no help or salvation from him.


“You heard him?” the man said, and while his cold voice gave nothing away, Jamie could feel the dance master's pleasure in the humiliation of this new student growing. “Assume the first position and show us what you can do, Prince de Valèn.”


“I... I’m not sure what you mean,” Jamie said softly.


“The first position,” Trajan said raising his eyebrows and giving Jamie an incredulous look. “Surely a masterful dancer such as yourself knows all the positions perfectly?”


“No,” Jamie said, looking down. “I don’t.”


Orris laughed harshly, and then said, “That’s rich. He doesn’t know the positions, and he’s supposed to be a dancer.”


“Well then, what do you know, Your Majesty?” Trajan asked his voice dripping with sarcasm. “If you’re such a great talent as you're supposed to be, then you should easily be able to show the rest of us witless and lead-footed Avionnes how to dance properly.”


Jamie stood silently, his eyes fixed on the floor.


“Well, show us,” the man shouted, shaking Jamie out of the funk that was closing in on him. Jamie looked up at the man – Sprague, Trajan had called him. “Show us something so I can at least evaluate you.”


Jamie’s mind raced, but standing in the middle of the dance studio surrounded by the boys and the Dance Master Sprague, his mind was a blank.


“Now!” Sprague shouted, “Take off your tunic and sandals and put on your slippers, or I’ll send you to the stables to muck the stalls. I don’t care what the Archduke commands."


Snapped out of his daze by Sprague’s shouts, Jamie moved away from the boys and walked to the far wall. Taking off his sash and tunic, he placed them on the floor near the pile of other tunics. Kneeling down, he removed his sandals and began to put on his slippers. After he had them on and laced up, he walked to the center of the room and stood trying to think of what to do. Finally, an idea came to him. He began to move in time to some unheard music. Jumping, leaping, and spinning he was ready to execute a graceful turn when a shouted curse brought him to a halt.


“What are you doing?” Sprague shouted, his face red with rage. “Speak. NOW!”


“It’s the Tassalo, the…”


“I know what the bloody hell it is,” Sprague shouted, his face going from crimson to purple. “It's a filthy slave dance, one of the vile things they do to make themselves forget how stupid and worthless they are.”


By now the other boys were crowding around Jamie, forming a circle and he felt uncomfortable as their eyes examined him.


“Did you see that?” Trajan said gleefully, his voice dripping in sarcasm. “Our new junior premier is really a Kalorian.” The other boys laughed at Trajan’s remark.


“He has large wings,” another boy said. “I’ve never seen any that color.”


“That’s because he’d a royal, a de Valèn, and a freak,” Trajan said, laughing. “Maybe he’s a royal freak.” And at Trajan’s words all the boys broke into laughter for a second time.


“Do you know the Belly Jump?” Orris said, squealing with malicious delight.


“I’m sorry, I…”


“The Belly Jump,” Orris interrupted Jamie. “You know, that crazy Kalorian dance where they all turn to the left, then to the right, and then spin,” Orris continued, grinning.


“Do you mean the Bel Juram?” Jamie asked, a bit puzzled. “It sounds like your talking about the Bel Juram.”


“Well, we call it the Belly Jump,” Trajan said. “Maybe you could show us that.”


“Yes, the Belly Jump,” Orris said. “That would be rich.” And then he began to chant, “Belly Jump, Belly Jump,” repeating the words again and again. Soon all they boys were laughing and chanting “Belly Jump, Belly Jump.”


Jamie began to back away from the group, but as he did one of the younger boys who’d moved behind him stuck out a foot. Jamie tripped over it, fell backward, and found himself sprawled on the floor looking up at the ceiling. He winced at the sharp pain of falling on his wings.


“Oh, and he’s soooo graceful too,” Trajan laughed, looking down at Jamie.


"Get up and go stand in the corner,” Sprague snapped coldly. “Wait until Cristophe comes, and he can work with you. I don’t have the time to waste on you. The sooner we fulfill Loka’s orders, the sooner I can ship you to Service and Expedition and be rid of you. And the rest of you,” Sprague shouted as he re-assumed control of the room, “Assume your positions, or you can all muck out the stables."


Immediately the smug looks on the boys' faces turned to fear and they scrambled to get back into the rows they’d been in when Jamie'd first entered the room.


Sprague shouted to the pianist, who began to play. As he banged his staff against the floor to the beat of the music while he shouted and cursed, the boys began to move in time to the clear, bright melody coming from the piano. Their movements were identical as they performed a series of steps over and over again. Standing in the corner of the room, Jamie watched them practice, but he remained still and silent. At least an hour went by as the dance master worked with the boys, shouting, cursing, bullying, threatening and occasionally poking one of them with his staff.


Finally, grudgingly, the dance master called for a short break. The students milled about in the opposite corner from Jamie, but he could feel their eyes on him and he could hear an occasional disparaging remark voiced just loud enough for him to hear. After a few minutes passed, Sprague shouted for them to assume new positions, but before the boys could get back in line, Jamie heard a noise behind him. Turning  he watched as the door of the studio opened. Entering the room was the same young Kalorian he’d seen standing outside the room next to his when he and Garus were leaving the dormitory earlier. After the boy entered the studio, he held open the door and Jamie heard a soft whirring sound. Within seconds, a second figure entered the room – a boy with curly blond hair and large, full wings that sported light gray and lavender highlights. He had a warm, friendly smile on his face as he crossed over the threshold, but the most surprising thing of all was that he didn’t walk through the doorway, but rode through on some type of motorized chair, which Jamie realized was the source of the whirring sound.


Once the Icarian boy was in the room, the young Kalorian who’d accompanied him left the studio and closed the door behind him. Smiling brightly the boy maneuvered his chair so that he was facing Sprague and the boys. The chair clicked and whirled softly as the boy touched a control on the arm with his right hand until he was directly in front of the dance master and the boys. Once the chair stopped, he looked at Sprague and the boys and his smile grew even larger.


“Good morning, Dance Master Sprague,” he said with genuine warmth and sincerity. “Good morning, students.”


Sprague just stood silently, acting if he hadn’t even heard the boy’s greeting, but the boys all straightened up and answered in unison, “Good morning, Master Prefect.”


The boy nodded and smiled at their reply. It appeared he was going to say something further when Sprague’s voice broke the silence: “Cristophe,” he bellowed angrily, “there’s been a change of plans. You’re to start working with that one,” he said, pointing the tip of his staff at Jamie. “Find out if he’s even trainable. If not, we’re going to end this farce today. I’m putting you in charge of him. Now get to work.”


Cristophe nodded but didn’t speak and began to guide his chair in Jamie’s direction. In the meantime, Sprague had turned away from the boy in the chair and was looking at the younger boys.


“And you, you clip-winged little turds,” he shouted harshly, “better get lined up or you’ll find the boot waiting for each and every one of you.”


The boys immediately scurried back into their lines, ignoring both Jamie and the boy in the chair. Sprague shouted yet again and the pianist began to play as the boys went through their exercises. In the meantime the boy in the mechanical chair scooted over to Jamie.


“Hello, I’m Cristophe," the boy said, extending his hand.


At first Jamie looked at the chair, then at the boy, and finally at the boy's extended hand. Slowly Jamie brought his hand up to meet the boy’s own, and when his hand met Cristophe’s the boy took it firmly and shook it. As he did, a broad smile came to his face.


“Your name?” he asked, giving Jamie a warm, friendly smile.


“Jamie,” Jamie said softly.


“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jamie,” Cristophe said, releasing Jamie’s hand.


"I’m supposed to evaluate you,” Cristophe said, still smiling. “Lets go to another studio, away from these distractions?” he said, pointing to Sprague and the practicing boys. And with that, he moved toward the door of the studio. Jamie just stood where he was, watching him whiz by. Stopping, Cristophe turned the chair slightly and looked back at Jamie.


“This way,” he said with a grin on his face. “Grab your tunic top and sash. And would you be so kind as to hold the door for me?”


Jamie picked up his tunic and sash from the floor; walked over to the door; and held it for Cristophe. Cristophe moved quickly to the door and was through it before Jamie could blink. Once out in the hallway, he turned his chair so he was looking at Jamie, who was still holding the door.


“Come on,” he said, “we’ll use one of the smaller studios.” And then he deftly zipped past Jamie and raced down the hall in his motorized chair. Jamie went into the hall and the door of the studio slammed shut behind him. There he stood, as if planted, while he watched the boy travel quickly down the hall. When Cristophe realized Jamie wasn’t following him he stopped, turned the chair around, and looked back down the hall at Jamie.


“Come on, Jamie,” he said, smiling. “This way. You don’t want Sprague to find you standing there.”


At Cristophe’s words, Jamie snapped out of his fog and began to walk toward Cristophe, but as soon as he did Cristophe whipped his chair around and sped away down the hall, suddenly disappearing as he turned left around a corner. When Jamie finally got to the cross corridor where his guide had disappeared, he looked to his left and saw Cristophe waiting near a door halfway down the second hall.


“This studio should be just fine,” Cristophe called out, as he motioned with his hand for Jamie to join him. “Sorry, but could you please get the door for me again? The doors in the senior dorms all have levers and are easy to open. They were supposed to switch the handles here in the practice halls for me, but I guess they haven’t gotten around to it yet.”


As Cristophe spoke, Jamie continued down the hall until he was at the door. He opened it and held it for Cristophe, who shot through into the room beyond. Once the boy entered the studio, Jamie followed behind. After he was in the room Jamie could see that it was a complete dance studio, only slightly smaller than the one he’s just come from. There were waist high bars around the room and the floor was covered with a large, gray, mat-like surface that was rather thin.


“Normally, I wouldn’t use this room,” Cristophe said. "They don’t like me in here, since the chair can rip up the Marley floor, but I’ll be careful and sit to the side. I want to see what you can do, Jamie.” And with that, Cristophe carefully drove his chair across the mat until he was on a part of the floor that the mat didn’t cover. He reached down and pulled a lever beneath his seat, which pivoted around until he sat there looking at Jamie, who was still standing on the mat.


“The Marley floor is better for your feet and legs,” Cristophe said. “Now, show me some dance.”


Jamie stood quietly and didn’t move. In fact, he went from looking at Cristophe to staring at the floor as his face took on a glum expression. None of this was lost on Cristophe.


“What’s wrong, Jamie?” Cristophe said still sounding bright and chipper. “It’s ok - there’s no right or wrong at this point. I just want to see what you can do. Ok?”


“I can’t do anything,” Jamie said softly. “They asked me to do some kind of position, and I didn’t know what they were talking about. When I did dance, they laughed and made fun of me. I guess I’m not as much of a dancer as I thought I was, but…”


“Wait,” Cristophe said, cutting him off. He flipped his seat back around, and then carefully began to drive his chair toward Jamie, taking his time to cross what he’d called a “Marley floor.” Once he reached Jamie's side, he paused and looked up at the young boy. “Jamie,” Cristophe began, “you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have talent – refined or raw. I saw the report on you before I came down to meet you. Your cortical analysis was incredible in the areas of movement, and spatial understanding. That’s what they look for in dancers, you know. I understand that you’re a little old, and maybe you didn’t have any formal training – I guessed that right away - but you are special. Trust me. You might not have gotten off to a good start with Sprague and the boys, and while Sprague is… well… let's just say difficult, most of the boys really aren’t bad.”


“So you say,” Jamie said, looking at the floor. “Trajan...”


“Forget Trajan,” Cristophe said. “Trajan is a good dancer, but he’s no great talent. He has his little band of sycophants that stroke his ego – mostly because he’s a smooth talker. And his Avionne genetics make him a Principality, which is almost nobility. I’m sure when he saw that you were an Imperial, it rattled him a bit. Some of the boys are a little more class conscious than they should be.”


“He didn’t act rattled,” Jamie replied finally looking up at Cristophe. “Sprague told everyone I was a prince, and a de Valèn.”


“Yes, but I saw that report also,” Cristophe said. “You are a prince of the blood, no?”


“Yes,” Jamie said, once more looking down at the floor.


“And your name is de Valèn, no?”


“Yes,” Jamie replied.


“And according to the law, you couldn’t use that name unless you really were from house de Valèn, no?”


“Yes,” Jamie said for the third time.


“Then be what you are,” Cristophe said. “If you are a royal, a prince, and a member of house de Valèn, then honor that, Jamie. You’re certainly not an imposter. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”




“No buts, Jamie,” Cristophe said, now smiling warmly. “Now, show me what you can do. Come on, there has to be something you can do, or you wouldn’t be here.”




“I told you, no buts,” Cristophe said, his smile growing even brighter as a laugh escaped from his lips. “You can’t make a mistake. I just want to see what you know. We’ve already established that you aren’t classically trained. So what? If you're as talented as your cortical indicated, that won’t be a problem. It’s not the mechanics the Mondele looks for, it’s talent. So, let's see if you have that, ok?”


Jamie nodded, reluctantly lifting his head to look at Cristophe. Cristophe was still smiling at him. Then he backed his chair away from Jamie and resumed his place in the corner. Jamie stared at the boy for a few seconds. He’d spoken warmly to Jamie with such straightforward confidence, it helped to lessen Jamie’s apprehension.


“Just do something,” Cristophe said, calling out to Jamie. “Anything. Don’t be scared, or worried, or embarrassed. You can’t make a mistake - I’ll accept anything you do. I just need to know where we have to begin your training.”


Jamie continued to stand quietly, thinking over what he should do. Cristophe seemed much different from Sprague, and even the younger boys. He truly wanted to believe the boy's words. There was something so warm and sincere radiating from him that Jamie could easily feel it. It almost reminded him of the times when he would get Charlie laughing at his antics. The thought of his little brother made him sad, but he’d found someone who projected some of the same warm, loving feelings as Charlie and it had lifted his spirits ever so slightly.


Moving to the center of the mat, Jamie made up his mind that he would take the chance. He’d promised his father he would do his best to follow the plan – he owed at least that much to the man who'd created him and raised him as a son. His father was now dead, but he would follow the plan. He would honor the memory of his father – as best he could.


Once he was in the center of the floor, he took a few deep breaths. Concentrating, tuning out all extraneous thoughts, he began to move. Without hesitation he did some of the simpler traditional Kalorian dance steps, all the while waiting for Cristophe to begin laughing at his lack of talent, or yell at him to stop. When Cristophe didn’t stop him, he moved to some of the more complex steps. After a few minutes, he stopped and looked at Cristophe.


“You are talented, Jamie,” the boy in the chair said, giving Jamie an honest and sincere look. “I dare say, most of the others couldn’t do footwork that intricate. Kalorian folk? Am I right?”


“Yes,” Jamie said, his face beginning to get hot as he felt a blush of shame. The boys had laughed at the Kalorian steps he'd shown them. Sprague had virtually called him a barbarian for dancing them.


“Well, they certainly can dance,” Cristophe said. “I often thought I’d like to incorporate some of their moves in my dances, but I was strictly a dancer. I’m certainly no choreographer.”


“I did,” Jamie said, suddenly feeling a bit more confident when he realized Cristophe wasn’t laughing at him.


“You did what?” Cristophe asked.


“I incorporated some of the Kalorian moves into flight.”


“Really?” Cristophe said, and for the first time his face took on a skeptical look. But it passed when he said, “Well, speaking of air, I know you’re twelve so you’re two years past first flight, and I wonder what you can do with those wings of yours. Would you show me, please?”


Jamie began to stroke his wings gently and then jumped. The ceiling of the studio was high and there was nothing to run afoul of, so he began to perform some aerial maneuvers. At first he did a series of simple rolls, somersaults and turns, but when Cristophe shouted his approval from the ground and told him to do more, he became bolder and preformed a series of more complex maneuvers. By the time Cristophe told him to stop he had built up a sweat. When his feet touched the floor, Cristophe was clapping.


“Excellent, Jamie! Your dancing style may be a bit unpolished, but your flight skills are way above average. Where did you learn to maneuver like that?”


“I come from Isewier,” Jamie began, now feeling confident. “On the cliffs there, my br…” he stopped and felt the blood drain from his face. He was about to say that his brother and he had often journeyed to the cliffs and practiced flying and maneuvers. Once more, sweat came to his brow, but it was a cold sweat of fear. He’d almost made a very stupid mistake. He’d have to be more careful about that. “My father allowed me to go to the cliffs near our home and practice,” he said slowly, looking at Cristophe’s face to see any reaction while reaching out to his mind to find out if the boy suspected anything.


“I see,” Cristophe said, appearing not to have noticed Jamie’s near faux pax. “It must have been good practice. I dare say there’s no one in the school that could do what you just did.”


“Really?” Jamie said skeptically.


“Really,” Cristophe said.


“Now, one more thing,” Cristophe added. “You said something about using dance moves in flight; I had my doubts when you told me that, but now that I see how proficient you are in flight, I’d like you to show me what you meant. Is that ok?”


Jamie nodded and lifted off from the floor. Once airborne, he began with some of the simpler aerial moves he’d developed, then quickly switched to some of the Kalorian dance moves he’d choreographed for his air ballets. When he was finished he landed, but then became fearful when he saw the look on Cristophe’s face.


“I’m sorry,” Jamie said, fearing he’d made a grave error. So far Cristophe was the only person he’d met who had treated him kindly. He could tell the boy liked him from the feelings emanating from him, but now he wasn’t sure.


Cristophe sat and stared at Jamie. For a brief few moments he said nothing, then his hands came up and he began to clap, at first slow and soft, but eventually his applause grew louder and more rapid.


“Amazing! I have no idea what you just did Jamie, but whatever it was… well, I’ve never seen anything like that. I didn’t even know it was possible. It wasn’t flying, it wasn’t even aerial gymnastics like they do in some of the circuses. It was a little of both, but also a whole lot more. I guess I’d have to say it was dancing, but… well… I’ve just never seen anything like that.”


Jamie stood stunned. He’d never thought that what he did was unique. He and Charlie had been doing this for some time. And although his younger brother wasn’t really a dancer, Jamie had been able to teach Charlie some of the simpler moves he’d created.


“Now, lets see,” Cristophe said, driving his chair over to Jamie. “What have we just learned from all of this? First, I’ve discovered that you don’t know the classical forms – well honestly, that’s nothing. From what I’ve seen you do just in the last thirty minutes, teaching you the forms shouldn’t be a problem. You're definitely rough around the edges as far as classical dance is concerned, but again, that's something we can certainly work on. Your stage presence and understanding of space is amazing, and I have to honestly admit that I can’t teach you anything there. In fact, I dare say no one can. You’ll have to keep working on that on your own, but I’d encourage you. You’re still young, so you also need to work on strength and endurance – especially flight endurance, if you’re going to execute those kind of moves over a long period of time. They have to exhaust you after a bit, no?”


“Yes,” Jamie said, “I do get tired after doing them for a while.”


“Well, that’s tied to endurance, but you can work on that. You should begin an intensive exercise program. I’d definitely recommend that. The only thing…” Cristophe trailed off.


“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked, suddenly worried.


“Nothing, really,” Cristophe said, “but Sprague is a hard taskmaster. You have to learn that early on. I just get the feeling, watching your bold moves after you lost your self-consciousness, that you’re one who will fight the system. I have to warn you that it won’t go well for you if you do. Although, I also have the feeling that you’ll do as you please anyway,” he added, giving Jamie a wickedly mischievous smile. “Maybe we could use a little of that here, but remember: Sprague is the master, and you are his pupil…”


“He’s evil,” Jamie said sharply, cutting Cristophe off.


“No, Jamie,” Cristophe said, “Not evil, but bitter. I’m afraid he hates us. He hates all Avionnes.”


“Why?” Jamie asked


“Before we came along he was a great dancer – one of the stars of the Mondele, but after boys with wings appeared, who could also dance… well… we became a novelty and the Mondele converted to an all Avionne troop. The premier dancers had to step down. Many of them still dance in lesser venues; the most talented, like Sprague, became teachers, but everyday that he comes in to teach us it reminds him of his past and what he believes we took from him. It’s made him quite bitter and resentful.”


Cristophe said all of this with a kind of compassion that surprised Jamie. Sprague may have been given a bad deal, but Jamie could sense his hatred burning brightly. He could tell that Sprague not only hated Icarians, but wished they never existed. In fact, when Jamie looked into the dance master’s mind he shuddered at the things he saw regarding Sprague’s view of Icarians and what he might be capable of. But Cristophe seemed to not hate the man; in fact, Jamie could sense in him a genuine care and concern for Sprague.


“He’s still mean,” Jamie said. “I just know it. His thoughts give him away."


Cristophe gave Jamie a puzzled look.


Jamie began to blush self-consciously. Once again he’d almost slipped, revealing information he should be keeping secret, but it seemed when he was in Cristophe’s presence he felt at ease. Even though he’d been taken from his home – kidnapped, he felt – and was now a prisoner of the Empire, there was something in the older boy’s demeanor that made Jamie trust him. Of course, he’d surreptitiously scanned Cristophe’s thoughts, just as he’d done with everyone he’d met since his capture, but for some reason he felt uncomfortable – almost deceitful – doing so to Cristophe, and after he’d finished examining the older boy he knew why. Like the boy who’d returned the ball to him two years before, there was a genuine kindness and compassion bound up inside Cristophe. And while he’d characterized the feeling he gotten from Niklas Agramon as pure, the overwhelming emotion he’d gotten from Cristophe was joy – a strange thing, Jamie thought, for a former dancer confined to a mechanical chair.


“I’ll be working with you for a while, not Sprague,” Cristophe said, intruding into Jamie’s thoughts. “We have to develop your skills before you can join the others. But when you do, bear in mind that a little respect, obedience, and kindness goes a long way. If you learn that, he might not be so hard on you.”


“I don’t know about that,” Jamie said. “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like me.”


“Don’t be too hasty to judge,” Cristophe said, looking at Jamie. “Now,” he added, his eyes brightening, “it’s time for lunch. Let's go to the refectory and get you something to eat. When you’re finished, we’ll begin with the positions this afternoon. The sooner we get started, the sooner you’ll learn them. I want Sprague to see that you're teachable, and that you can make good progress. Can you do that for me?”


Jamie was ready to voice doubt and concern, but when he looked at Cristophe and the warm smile the boy was giving him, he remained quiet and nodded his head in agreement. Although he still felt afraid and remained worried, he returned Cristophe a small smile of his own.


“Great,” Cristophe said, his smile growing even brighter. “Then we're off to the refectory to see what Nella’s serving for lunch today.”