The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 21



“I think you’ll like the meals here,” Cristophe said, as he rolled down the hall with Jamie almost running to keep up with him. “Nella’s the head cook; she makes the best yarma soup.”


“She’s Kalorian, then?” Jamie asked.


“Yes, all the staff here are Kalorian,” Cristophe answered.


“Staff, or slaves?” Jamie asked flatly.


“Slaves, of course,” Cristophe replied, puzzled as to why Jamie would have asked such a question since all Kalorians were slaves.


From the moment they left the studio and entered the hall, Jamie heard the chaotic sounds of boys echoing through the corridors. Soon he and Cristophe were caught up in the crowd as all of them headed in the same direction. Shouts, laughter, conversations and the soft slap of sandals against the hard tile floor blended to form a din that assaulted the ear. But what surprised him most were the wings that sprouted from every boy's back.


The only Icarian he knew intimately was Charlie, and with the exception of his sole trip out of Isewier to the Gahdar training camp at Compari, he’d never encountered another Icarian face to face. The wide variety of wing sizes, shapes and colors amazed him, for although Icarian wings conformed to a common set of standards, there were enough individual differences to make for noticeable distinctions. The amazing palate of colors alone astonished him. Most of the older boys had the wingspan of a mature Icarian, but the wings of the younger boys varied in size, from budding sprouts emerging from the backs of the smallest boys to wing sizes bordering on full maturity for the older boys who’d entered puberty. He’d always thought of his own wings as large, but some of the older boys' wing spans were much larger and he wondered if his wings would continue to keep pace as he grew – remaining slightly larger than average. He’d long ago learned that a larger span was one of the characteristics of an imperial but now, looking at the packs of winged boys filling the corridors, he wasn’t so sure.


As they drew closer to the refectory, Jamie could see crowds of students entering the large dining hall. A few feet ahead of him was a cluster of dancers comprised of the boys he’d been with in the studio – the same ones who’d been practicing under Dance Master Sprague. Dressed in their tunics, sashes, sandals and legwarmers, they laughed and joked as they moved toward the large double doors of the hall. Occasionally one of the boys would good-naturedly push or jostle another. Jamie  noticed that while some of the younger boys had white piping around their tunics and wore white sashes, all of the older boys were sporting a variety colors.


Jamie spotted Trajan at the head of the pack. The piping on his tunic and the color of his sash was red and it was obvious that he was at the center of the group’s attention, since he was carrying on an almost nonstop commentary as they walked down the corridor. Orris stood just to Trajan’s right, laughing and smiling at his jokes. The trim on his tunic and the color of his sash was green. The other boys in the group displayed cream, brown, yellow, or blue on their piping and sashes.


Further on, ahead of Trajan’s group, he could see more boys – some older – entering the refectory. These boys also wore sashes of different colors – a few of the red sashes were trimmed in gold braid. Jamie and Cristophe were far enough behind Trajan’s group that no one seemed to pay them any notice. Jamie was grateful for that; he’d already heard enough of their snide comments for one day. Drawing closer, his nose caught the aroma of food and when his stomach grumbled, he realized just how hungry he was.


Trajan’s group passed through the doors, and a few seconds later Jamie stood at the open doorway. Pausing, he looked into the dining hall. The refectory, although quite functional in appearance, was nonetheless bright and cheerful - mostly due to its high, vaulted ceiling, white-washed walls and many windows. Glancing up, Jamie could see that the Gothic architecture of the room concentrated the weight and thrust of the roof in a way that freed a great deal of wall-space for the large, clerestory windows that allowed ample sunlight into the hall. The plain rows of tables that he’d seen earlier in the morning were now covered with white tablecloths and set with plates, glasses and utensils. Down the center of each table was a line of platters, piled with meat, cheese and fruit. Bowls filled with stews, vegetables, and something that looked like the porridge he’d had for breakfast were filled to the brim and ready to be savored. Baskets of bread filled in any gaps and were available in such quantity that any diner could easily reach out and grab a slice. Pitchers filled with milk, water and other types of beverages were interspersed among the plates and bowls of food. It was a bountiful feast that no hungry boy could possibly resist.


“Come on, let's move it along,” a voice called from behind him.


Jamie turned to see an older group of boys standing behind him and blushed with embarrassment when he realized he was blocking the doorway.


“This way,” Cristophe said, scooting his chair into the dining hall.


Turning to the right, they passed row after row of tables groaning with food. Slowing down as they neared the far wall of the refectory where the last rows of tables stood Cristophe stopped, spun his chair around and looked at Jamie.


“Those two rows,” Cristophe said, pointing to two rows of tables along the far wall, “are for the music students. The first table is for the junior music students and the second table is for the senior students.” As he spoke, Jamie noticed that one of the boys taking a seat at the senior musicians' table was the pianist from Master Sprague’s dance class. As the boy sat down, he looked up and saw Cristophe on the far side of the room. He smiled and waved, and Cristophe waved back.


“André is one of the senior music students,” Cristophe said, turning back to Jamie. “He’s been assigned to Master Sprague’s class for this month. The senior keyboard students rotate through the studios, and they all hate it when they have to take their turn in Sprague’s class.”


“I can’t imagine why,” Jamie said sarcastically.


“The next two rows are the actors' tables,” Cristophe said, unperturbed. “The junior and senior students mingle at those tables, because there are so few junior students. Most of the acting students aren’t accepted for study until they’re bit older. Only a few very talented juniors make it into the school when they’re young. Unlike we dancers who begin training as early as possible, the school's directors want the actors to be a bit more mature. Now, the next row,” Cristophe continued, “is reserved for the gymnastic and acrobatic performers who entertain at court functions and royal events. They’re a smaller group, so that’s why they only take up half of one row. Next to them, in the same row, are singers. They’re also a small group. Most of the really talented singers go to the Academy at Eagles Rock.”


“Eagles Rock?” Jamie asked.


“Yes, the Imperial Academy at Eagles Rock. It's where all the most talented artists, writers, philosophers, and others go for advanced training.”


“I've never heard of it,” Jamie said, filing the information in the back of his mind and wondering if he’d ever have access to the net again in order to continue the research he’d begun months before. As he speculated on his chances, it led him to more thoughts of his home. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and tried with all his might to suppress his feelings of sadness and loss, knowing that for the moment he’d been forced into a situation where he had no control.


“It’s a marvelous place,” Cristophe said, not taking notice of Jamie’s sudden sadness. “The academy’s not like the campus of Canon Mon Arts, but its still beautiful and amazing. I met so many interesting people there.”


“You went there?” Jamie asked.


“Yes,” Cristophe said, and Jamie could see he was blushing slightly. “After my junior level was over here at the École, I was sent there for my senior training. I never studied here on the Mountain as a senior. When I was finished at Eagle’s Rock, I came back to the Mondele as a performer.”


Jamie nodded, tucking yet another piece of information away in the back of his mind.


“Now, the row after that,” Cristophe said, redirecting the conversation back to its original topic, “is a mixture of students: they’re writers, poets, playwrights, and composers, along with a few others. They’re all senior students. No juniors study in those fields, since they require greater maturity. They’re a very small group and usually get individual tutoring and do lots of independent project work. Sometimes we perform one of their plays, or dance to some of their music. Eventually most of them go on to Eagles Rock, so we don’t get to know them very well."


“So this place... school,” Jamie corrected himself, pausing to look at Cristophe. “This school is for...?”


“Artists, dancers, musicians,” Cristophe said, smiling. “Anyone with talent in the arts.”


“Anyone with talent who has wings,” Jamie added, reminding himself that every boy in the hall was an Icarian.


“Yes, all Avionnes,” Cristophe said.


Jamie frowned at Cristophe’s use of the term, but said nothing. He knew well enough the Empire’s name for the winged boys they’d created. The term 'Avionne' had been born at Gold Glass, and used as its root one of the human terms for birds: avian. He also knew, from his father’s lessons, that the preferred name – coined by a mysterious Avionne named Jonas – was 'Icarian.' His father had given him a copy of an ancient text from the pre-commonwealth days that told the story of the boy Icarus and after he’d read it, Croal explained to him why Jonas had chosen the term to replace the Avionne label. He wasn’t surprised no one at the École used - or even knew - the term. After all, the school sat in the very heart of the empire in the center of its capitol, and it wouldn’t be wise to use a subversive – some might say 'renegade' – name.


“Finally, these two rows are for the dancers,” Cristophe said, waving at the last two long rows in the dining hall. “Juniors on the left, and seniors on the right,” he concluded. 


"I thought only dancers ate here,” Jamie said.


“Some of the smaller academies don’t have dining halls, so they join us for meals. It’s the same with the artists, sculptors, jewelers and other student craftsmen,” Cristophe said. “They share a dining hall in the Art Academy."


“There are craftsmen?” Jamie asked, surprised.


“Yes,” Cristophe continued, “Gold and silver smiths, jewelers, silk weavers, and craftsmen in stained glass are artists too. They also train here.” Touching the control on his wheelchair, he moved quickly up one of the rows. “Follow me,” he called back to Jamie. “I see some students I’d like you to meet.”


As Cristophe eased his chair into the crowd, a way opened as everyone stepped back to let him through and Jamie followed close behind, taking advantage of the momentary clearing. The noise in the refectory was growing louder as more boys entered and took their places at the many tables and benches in the hall. All around him, boys were eating, laughing and talking. As he followed Cristophe, he looked at the many pairs of wings draped over the ends of the benches. Walking down the row, he was reminded of his father’s rose arbor at the villa, only instead of double rows of rose bushes, he was passing down an aisle bordered on both sides by multicolored feathers. Christopher sped ahead and Jamie started to jog in an attempt to catch up with him so that when Cristophe abruptly stopped short, Jamie almost ran into the back of his chair. Looking around, he noticed they were at the end of the long row of tables reserved for the junior dancers. It was there that three Icarian boys were sitting together, eating and talking. At Cristophe’s appearance, the boys stopped and looked up from their plates. Jamie noticed that all three smiled when they saw Cristophe.


“Hello, boys," Cristophe said, smiling back at them.


“Hi, Master Prefect,” the boys replied, almost in chorus.


“I’d like you to meet someone,” Cristophe continued. “This is Jamie. He’s a new student. This is his very first day, and he’s a little disoriented. I’d like you to make him feel welcome. He’s very nice, and quite talented. I think you’ll like him just as much as I do.”


For the second time that day, Jamie cringed when he heard someone mention that he was talented. He remembered what had happened when the dance master had taken the same tact and shamed him in front of Trajan and his friends, but then he relaxed when he realized that, unlike Sprague, Cristophe genuinely meant what he’d just told the boys; even without entering his mind, Jamie could tell by the tone of his voice and the look on his face that Cristophe was being quite sincere.


The boys looked from Cristophe to Jamie, their eyes conducting a careful examination. Jamie - feeling a bit uneasy after his first encounter with Trajan and his little group of followers - tried to smile, but the look he projected was a cautious one.


One of the boys looked to Cristophe and smiled. “Ok, Master Prefect,” he said, then looking back at Jamie, his smile grew a touch brighter and he added, “Welcome to the École, Jamie, and our favorite room – the refectory. Have a seat. Neela’s made a delicious lunch for us today. Actually,” he continued, “her lunches are always delicious, but today's is exceptional. It’s probably one of the best she's ever made.”


“You say that every day, Lucas,” one of the other boys said, laughing. “He says that every day,” the boy repeated, looking up at Jamie. “You’ll learn that Lucas lives to eat. He’s worse than a dog. Give him a treat and he’ll be your friend for life.”


“Well, I’m always hungry,” Lucas said, trying to sound angry and defensive, but not succeeding since he couldn’t control the giggle that broke through. “There’s nothing wrong with being hungry. All that dance practice makes me hungry. And don’t talk to me about eating, Jeremy. You’re just as bad."


“This is Lucas,” Cristophe said, gesturing to the first boy who’d welcomed Jamie. Jamie slowly and tentatively held out his hand to the boy – a thin redhead with porcelain skin and gray-blue highlighted wings But to Jamie’s surprise, Lucas ignored Jamie’s hand, stood up, leaned over the table, and gave him a kiss on both cheeks.


“His partner in mischief and mayhem around here is Jeremy,” Cristophe continued, nodding to the second boy – the one who’d been teasing Lucas.


Jeremy, sandy haired, tanned, and slightly taller than Lucas, stood up, gave Jamie a warm smile, and also kissed him on both cheeks. “Welcome, Jamie,” he said before sitting back down.


"The other one,” Cristophe said, pointing to a raven-haired boy with greenish gold wings, “is Yves. He completes the ‘Trio of Terror,’ as I refer to them.”


Yves – sporting a wicked grin that made him look devilishly handsome – stood, placed a hand on Jamie’s shoulder, and bending over the table, kissed him just as the other two boys had done.


“Sit down and have some lunch, Jamie,” Cristophe said. “I have an appointment at the Impresario’s office with Tomac, but I’ll be back before you’re finished. Then we’ll return to the studio and keep practicing for the rest of the afternoon.”


“Why don’t you give him the rest of the day off?” Jeremy said.


“And us?”  Lucas piped up. “We’ll give him a tour of the Mountain.”


“Along with showing him how to get into trouble?” Cristophe said, only managing to sound half serious. “Master Sprague’s already cast the evil eye on him; he doesn’t need your help to get into any mischief. Just take care of him over lunch, ok?”


“We’ll take good care of him, Master Prefect,” Lucas said. “We promise.”


“Yes, we promise,” Yves said, folding his hands over his hearts and looking heavenward with a rapt expression on his face, appearing every bit the innocent, virtuous angel Cristophe knew he wasn’t.


“You'd better,” Cristophe said, starting up his chair and moving past them. Halfway down the aisle, he stopped and spun around. “Boys,” he called out, and Jamie and the three boys looked down the aisle at him. “This is his first day, so no trouble and no mischief. Try to set a good example for him.”


“We will,” Jeremy said, grinning a little too broadly.


“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Cristophe said, trying to sound stern, but he was smiling back at the boys as he spoke. “Make sure all of you stay here. Don't leave the refectory until Second Practice; I’ll be back to pick up Jamie.”


 The three boys nodded and waved innocently at Cristophe, who spun around, sped down the aisle and left the dining hall.


“Cristophe must really like you,” Yves said. “He usually waits at least two months before he passes judgment. You must have really impressed him.”


“Not really,” Jamie said picking up a fork and stabbing a few slices of cold roast beef on the platter in front of him. “I’m not all that talented – he shouldn’t have said that. After what I saw in dance master Sprague’s class, I don’t think I’m a dancer at all."


“Sprague?” Yves sniffed as he picked up a pitcher and poured a glass of cold milk for Jamie. “Don’t let him worry you. He’s a good dancer. They say he's one of the best, but he’s mean to everyone. So don’t take what he says too much to heart.”


“You seem a bit old to be a white in the junior troupe; where do you come from?” Lucas asked, piling a few more rolls onto his plate. “Did you study somewhere else and then transfer to the École?”


“No, I’ve never studied formally,” Jamie said, “I’m from Isewier.” And as he said the words he repressed a sigh, for though he was saddened by thoughts of his home, he didn’t want to start off on a bad note with the boys by crying, or sounding sad.


“I've never heard of it,” Jeremy said. “Have you?” he added, turning to the other two boys.


“No,” Yves said as Lucas also shook his head, indicating he hadn’t either. “But then, we’ve never been out of Küronas,” Yves added as an afterthought.


As they boys talked, there was a bit of a stir in the next row a few seats back. Engrossed in their conversation, none of them noticed its start, or its rapid escalation.


“So where is Isewier?” Lucas asked.


“Is this really your first day?” Jeremy said trampling on Lucas' lines and jumping right into the conversation.


“Why are you white? It looks like you’re close to our age,” Yves asked, ignoring the first two questions as if they’d never been asked.


“And are you really as talented as Cristophe says you are?” Lucas said, giving Jamie an inquiring look. “The Master Prefect’s a very good judge of dancers; I don’t think he’d have said you were good unless you really were.”


The questions had been asked one after another and had come in such rapid succession that Jamie, who’d started to fill his plate with food, stopped and returned the serving spoon in his hand to its bowl of steaming vegetables and stared across the table at the boys. He hesitated, unsure of where to begin, what to say, and most importantly, how much detail to give. Still not noticing the rising noise behind them, the boys returned Jamie’s gaze with eager anticipation.


“I... uhm... well, I,” Jamie stuttered. The encounter with Trajan had made him cautious and guarded. The three boys appeared honest and friendly. A quick scan of their thoughts confirmed it, but given the events of the past day and a half he was by now so disoriented, and even fearful, that he was momentarily at a loss for words. “I...”


Jamie tried once again to speak, but before he could get out another word he was cut off as an older boy of fifteen or sixteen approached, and placed a hand on Jamie’s shoulder.


“We’ve just heard that there’s a royal in our presence,” the boy said, looking at Jamie. He was tall, thin, and well developed, his physique that of a maturing young dancer. His dark brown eyes flashed inquisitively as they met Jamie’s gaze.


“No, Caris,” a second, older boy who’d been standing behind the first boy, said. “He’s not just a royal, but a de Valèn. A real live de Valèn, and there hasn’t been one of them in hundreds of years!” The second boy’s voice carried a harsh, angry tone, and as he spoke he looked down at Jamie with a disdainful sneer on his face. “Trajan tells us that you’ve come to rule over us,” he continued. “He says that you’re quite talented, and are going to be our premier dancer. He claims that since you’re from House de Valèn you think that you’re so much better than the rest of us. Is that true?"


At first Jamie was shocked and caught off guard to see himself surrounded by a such large group of older boys – the fact that they were giving him angry looks and speaking in threatening tones was beginning to scare him. His mind hadn’t quite processed everything the boys had said, but he knew that even though they’d been misinformed they were quite angry with him.


“No,” Jamie began, “ I never...”


“So you’re denying it?” Alton cut Jamie off. “Trajan and the other juniors in Sprague’s class told us what you said, how you bragged that you’re better than all of us, and you’ll have all the premier parts in no time.”


Jamie continued to look at the boys – his eyes darting back and forth between them as they spoke – and then suddenly realized that in addition to surrounding him, they were also on the other side of the table crowded around Lucas, Jeremy and Yves. It was then that a small gap in the ranks of boys opened and he caught a glimpse of Trajan, standing at the end of the row of tables. Orris and a group of the younger boys from the morning's practice were gathered around him. As Jamie’s eyes met his, the evil grin Trajan gave him told Jamie everything he needed to know.


“No,” Jamie said, starting to stand up. “You have to understand, I never...”


“Shut your mouth, Prince de Valèn,” Alton said, pushing Jamie back in his seat. “I think I understand very well, but I’m here to tell you that I didn’t study here for ten years just to have some royal little piss ant come in and push his way to the front of the line.”


“But... I’m not trying to...”


Once more, Jamie was cut off by Alton. The boy leaned down so his face was level with Jamie’s. When they were eye-to-eye, he continued. “I’m not a royal,” he said angrily. “None of us are. I guess you expect us to bow down to you. Should we kiss your hand, or your feet, or maybe your ass?”


“No,” Jamie said, “that’s not what I want. I just want...” but that’s as far as he got.


“Well, Prince de Valèn, you’ll be pleased to know that we’ve come to do homage to your royal highness,” Alton continued, and as he spoke some of the older boys reached under Jamie’s arms and hauled him off the bench he was sitting on and raised him to his feet. Jamie struggled and tried to break away, but the older boys were too many, and too strong.


“Leave him alone,” Lucas said as he tried to stand, but another of the older boys pushed him back down on the bench.


“There’s nothing wrong with Jamie,” Yves added. “It’s only his first day. Let him go, or the Master Prefect...”


“Well, Yves, I don’t see the Master Prefect around. Do you, Caris?” Alton said, glancing at the first boy who’d confronted Jamie.


“No,” Caris said, grinning. “Cristophe isn’t here. And we’re not afraid of him, anyway.”


“Leave him alone!” Lucas repeated, now shouting out the words as he tried again to stand, but failed as a tall, blond haired boy standing behind him put both his hands on Lucas' shoulders and pushed him back down onto the bench.


“Jeremy, get Cristophe!” Lucas called out in desperation as he and Yves were suddenly seized and held by some of the older boys.


Jeremy, who was sitting a little further away from the fracas than Lucas and Yves, took Lucas' words as a command. He sprang to his feet and jumped onto the tabletop in front of the bench where he’d been sitting. With a lithe twist of this body he evaded the hands that reached out to grab him, launched into the air in a graceful, ballet-like leap, and somersaulted over the older boys' heads. Landing on a nearby table, he spilled two pitchers of water and overturned a large bowl of stew, then he leapt again and sailed across the room toward the door. Making a landing that was less than graceful, he regained his balance just as two of the older boys were about to grab him, twisted away from them and sprinted out of the refectory. The boys didn’t chase Jeremy, but turned back toward the crowd that surrounded Jamie.


“As I said, we’re here to pay the Prince homage and pledge our fealty,” Alton called out to the others as he moved closer to Jamie, who was on his feet but restrained by two boys, one on either side of him. Jamie struggled, but stopped when he realized his actions were futile.


“But how rude of us,” Alton continued, reaching across the table to one of the large bowls filled to the brim with some of the thick porridge. “Every prince needs a crown, no?" And picking up the bowl, he approached Jamie, raised the bowl over Jamie’s head, and then upturned it.  The porridge poured out all over Jamie. Covering his hair, it dripped down his face, and flowed over his clothes. When the bowl was almost empty Alton jammed it down on Jamie’s head. There was great laughter among the boys. The porridge covered Jamie’s eyes, and he reached up to wipe it away. But before he could, one of the boys pulled his arm down and Alton taunted him again.


“Forgive me, your highness,” he said, now gleefully laughing at what he’d just accomplished, “but it appears your crown is too small for your head. I thought it would have fit perfectly, but I guess your head is so swollen with royal pride...” and he removed the bowl and set it on the table, only to pick up an even larger one, this one filled with stew. “Why don’t you try this one?” Alton laughed. “I’m sure it will fit you perfectly." As he’d done before Alton lifted the bowl over Jamie’s head and poured out the stew. It had the same effect as the porridge, but this time there was more of it and it covered Jamie, flowing down his back and chest, drenching his tunic, running down his legs and puddling in his sandals. When one of the boys released Jamie’s arm he reached up and wiped the stew and porridge from his eyes. When he could finally see again, his eyes caught a glimpse of Trajan and his friends laughing hysterically.


“Leave him alone!” Yves shouted as he struggled with all his might, but many sets of hands were restraining both he and Lucas, who was also attempting to break free.


“And of course, every prince needs a royal robe,” Alton continued, grabbing the trailing edge of the white tablecloth and yanking it from the table. Bowls, plates, utensils and pitchers went flying and tumbled to the floor, soaking the tablecloth with food and drink. Taking the wet, food-smeared cloth, he wrapped it around Jamie’s shoulders. “All hail Prince de Valèn!” he shouted, as all the other boys joined in, laughing and taunting Jamie. The two boys holding Jamie picked him up and stepped up on the nearest bench, dragging him along with them. Then they stepped onto the table and propped him up between them.


“All hail the Prince!” Alton shouted.


“All hall the Prince!” the other boys shouted as they laughed with glee.


“All hail..."


“ENOUGH!” a loud and angry voice rang out from behind the crowd. “Release him!”


The voice was just forceful and loud enough to get everyone’s attention. Dazed, Jamie looked over and realized that it was Jakobus standing at the perimeter of the circle of boys – an angry look on his face. At his side was Garus, whose expression matched that of Jakobus.


“Who’s responsible for this?” Jakobus said, his anger bubbling to the surface as he shouted his question.


No one made a sound. And all the boys began to look to the ground.


“Let him go, now!” Jakobus shouted at the two boys still restraining Jamie, and instantly they did. Jamie stood unmoving, covered in porridge and stew with the bowl still on his head, and the tablecloth wrapped around him. Garus stalked up to the crowd, glaring defiance, and the ranks of boys opened without resistance to let the Kalorian through. He reached out his hand and helped Jamie down from the table. When the boy was back on the floor and standing before him, Garus removed the bowl and tablecloth.


“Back to your seats,” Jakobus yelled angrily. “This will be reported,” he added, and began to upbraid the boys on their behavior, but it was lost on Jamie who was by now so upset that he’d shut out the world around him. Garus gently removed the bowl and tablecloth from him. “Come with me,” the Kalorian said, his voice taking on a softer tone. Putting a hand on Jamie’s arm he added, “I’ll take you to the bath and...”


But that was as far as he got, for Jamie suddenly snapped out of his fugue and surprised Garus by slipping from his grip and dashing out of the refectory. Jakobus called out to him but Jamie didn’t stop. Shamed and embarrassed, he wanted to hide - or at least not be seen in his present state by anyone. Rushing down the hall he almost fell, slipping on the food embedded in the soles of his sandals. Seeing a nearby set of doors, he burst through them and found himself standing in the courtyard bordered by the three buildings. Shocked and disoriented, he wasn’t sure where to go or what to do.


Covered with food and filled with shame, Jamie stood in the courtyard as if in a trance; finally he began to tremble, and then he began to cry. For a few minutes he cried so hard and his body shook so violently with the uncontrollable sobs that he began to find it almost impossible to breath. Feeling light headed and dizzy, he forced himself to stop but continued to hiccough as he took in great gulps of air. When he finally stopped he stood silently in the courtyard as if a spell had frozen him into a statue. A few seconds later, a hand came down on his shoulder. Staring at the ground he had no idea who it was until Lucas voice cut through the silence.


“It was Trajan,” Lucas said. “He stirred them up.”


“Are you ok?” Yves asked, genuine concern coloring his voice.


Jamie just stood silently, his head bowed and his red-rimmed eyes staring at the ground.


“It’s ok, Jamie,” Lucas said. “They won’t hurt you anymore. Jeremy went for Cristophe. When he finds out what they’ve done, they’ll really be in trouble.”


Jamie didn’t care. He hung his head and remained silent. Lucas cast a worried look at Yves, who returned it with a frown.


“Lucas is right,” Yves said, trying to sound calm even though he wasn’t. “They all went too far. Everyone new is teased a bit, but...”


“And... you’re here... to laugh... too?” Jamie said, choking out the words.


“Laugh?” Lucas said. “What?”


“At you?” Yves interrupted, sounding perplexed. “But why would we...?”


“Because... I’m a royal... I’m not one of you... I’m new... I’m supposed to be so much better than all of you... and I’m supposed to take over the whole school...” Jamie said between gulps of air.


“Is that what you think we think?” Lucas said, sounding surprised.


“Jamie,” Yves said. “Cristophe told us you were nice, and that you’re talented. He told us he liked you. He said you needed some friends. If Cristophe thinks you’re nice and likes you, than so do we. There’s never been another dancer at the Mondele who’s been even half as good as him. He’s a legend here – a living legend. If the Master Prefect says you’re talented, you are. Cristophe’s never praised anyone falsely. If he says you’re good, than you really are good, and we believe him."


“And,” Lucas added, “we’re your friends, ok?”


As devastated as he felt, Jamie could sense both boys' sincerity and friendship. He wasn’t sure why they were giving it to him, but he knew they were – a gift to him from their hearts. And even though Jeremy wasn’t there, Jamie knew that if he were, he would express the same sentiments.


“Trajan’s a turd,” Lucas continued. “He doesn’t like us either, because we go our own way, think for ourselves, and aren’t members of his little circle of admirers."


At that moment there was a whirring sound behind them, and within seconds Cristophe rolled to a stop in front of them, with Jeremy close behind. Only slightly behind them, Jakobus and Garus arrived moments later.


“Jamie, are you alright?” Jeremy said with a look of concern on his face.


“He’s ok,” Lucas said, speaking to Cristophe even though Jeremy had asked the question. “He’s a little in shock, but he’s ok.”


Jamie raised his head slightly, and his eyes fell on Cristophe. The normally smiling older boy was scowling in anger.


Jamie remained quiet, not sure what to do next; it was Jeremy who spoke. "Don’t let Trajan and his friends scare you,” he said. “If anything, they’re scared of us. We got promoted to the senior troupe a year ahead of him – the youngest ever to be moved up. And we did it together. They know we’re better dancers than they are, they know we’re not scared of them, and...”


“...and Trajan and his friends wish they were half as good as we are,” Yves said, laughing.


Jakobus made a move toward Jamie but Cristophe raised his hand, stopping the Kalorian before he reached Jamie.


Lucas, silent for once, stepped around and stood in front of Jamie and began to carefully inspect him, giving him a close and through examination. Standing silently, Jamie watched Lucas methodically scan him and he stared back at the thin, redheaded boy, giving Lucas a worried look. Lucas said he’d been uninjured, but the way he was examining him, Jamie suspected he might be bleeding from some unfelt cut that had been sustained when one of the bowls had been slammed on his head. But then, after a few seconds passed, Lucas looked Jamie in the eye and began to grin.


“Hey Jamie,” he said in a mischievous tone of voice. “You know we all missed lunch, and I can’t help noticing that you’re wearing most of the food that was on our table. I’m still really hungry – do you mind if I have a bite?” and with that, he leaned over and kissed Jamie on the cheek and hugged him, and when he stepped back, Jamie could see that Lucas had some of the porridge and stew smeared on his face, tunic and arms. Running a finger across his cheek, he placed it in his mouth, and rolled his eyes. “Honey oat porridge and stew, yum. You don’t mind sharing it with me, do you?"


Following Lucas' lead, the other two boys also hugged and kissed Jamie, and when they stepped back they were also smeared with food. All three of them looked at Jamie and then each other, and started laughing.


“You’ll have to do this more often, Jamie,” Lucas said, smiling wickedly.


“You’re a walking snack cart.” Jeremy added as he and Yves began to laugh. At first, Jamie just stared at the three boys, now smeared with food and laughing their heads off, but he knew they weren’t making fun of him or laughing at him like the other boys had. They’d purposefully gotten themselves dirty trying to make him feel better. As upset and hurt as he’d felt at the hands of the older boys, he couldn’t help but smile and chuckle at how ridiculous they looked.


“Ha, ha!” Lucas said, pointing at Jamie and still laughing. “If you think we look bad, you should find a mirror.”


“I think you should all make your way to the baths,” Cristophe’s voice cut through their laughter.


All four boys turned toward Cristophe. Jakobus and Garus, along with a third Kalorian, were standing behind him. They quickly became quiet, although Lucas couldn’t make himself stop snickering.


“Sure,” Jeremy said, "but we’re seniors, and Jamie’s a junior. Would it be ok if he comes to the senior quarters and takes a bath with us? Otherwise, he’ll have to go up to the junior dorm alone, and...”


“You know it’s against the rules,” Garus said, interrupting Jeremy.


“Come on, Garus,” Jeremy said, almost pleading. “He doesn’t want to bathe alone. Do you, Jamie?”


“Ah, I guess not.” Jamie said hesitatingly.


“There, you see?” Yves quickly jumped into the conversation. “Be nice and let him come with us. It’s his first day, and...”


Garus turned to Jakobus, a questioning look on his face.


“Very well,” Jakobus said, looking at Garus and the other Kalorian, who was nodding his head in agreement. Then, pointing to the third Kalorian, he added, “But Carlos will supervise.”


Jakobus had barely gotten out the words when the three boys dashed across the courtyard to the senior quarters, dragging Jamie by his arms. Once in the senior quarters they made a beeline for the bath. Upon entering the building, Jamie noticed that its layout was identical to that of the junior building. Taking Jamie down one corridor, up a flight of steps and halfway down a second hallway, they came to one of the senior baths. From the outside it looked the same as the one he’d used that morning, but once he was inside he could immediately see that the senior bath was much nicer than the one in the junior building.


“A little different from the mouse baths, no?” Lucas said, chuckling


“Mouse?” Jamie asked.


“Yeah, the flying mice - that’s our nickname for the juniors,” Yves said. “They start when they're only five, with their little wing sprouts. They’re like flying mice.”


“This is the senior bath,” Jeremy added. “We don’t run around messing the place up like the mice do. And besides, we’re the senior troupe – we deserve better treatment.”


“But you don’t look any older than me.” Jamie said, finally beginning to emerge from the trauma haze he’d been in.


“We’re not,” Lucas said, kicking off his sandals and tugging at his legwarmers. “We’re only twelve. We just started our puberty cycle.”


“I’m twelve,” Jamie said, “and I’m...”


“You’re just new, a white,” Jeremy said. He finished taking off his tunic and threw it to the side. Moving to a nearby bench, he sat and began to peel off his tights. “So, of course, you’re with the juniors.”


“But Trajan and some of the other boys are as old as you are.”


“That’s right,” Jeremy said, turning his back to Lucas, who began helping him unbutton his racerback.


“But we’re good,” Yves said, smiling. He was almost completely undressed, and in one final move he hitched two thumbs into the waistband of his dance belt and slid it off his hips. Bending over, he pushed it down his legs, and stepped out of it. Kicking it to the side, looked up at Jamie, and smiled. “We’re very good.”


“Trajan, Orris, and some of their pals are lead-footed clods compared to us,” Lucas said, while Jeremy helped him out of his racer back.


“Come on, lets get into the water,” Jeremy said, pulling off his dance belt and padding his way over to the large, blue-tiled pool.


“We’d better shower the worst off first – especially you, Jamie,” Yves said, stepping under a shower to wash off the worst of the dried food caked on his face and arms.


The other two boys did the same. While they did, Jamie continued to undress. When he'd finally removed all his clothes, he stepped under the warm spray of a shower and, after removing the caked on food from his body and hair, he joined Lucas, Jeremy and Yves in the bath.


Less than a minute after they’d entered the water, Carlos appeared with soap and handed it out to the boys. Jamie took one of the bars but stood quietly to the side, lost in thought.


“You look confused,” Lucas commented, as he began to soap his arms and chest.


“When Cristophe introduced me to all of you, you were sitting at the end of the junior table, but you’re seniors,” Jamie said.


“That’s right. We’re the youngest members in the senior troupe,” Jeremy said, stepping behind Lucas and washing his friend's back. “We stick together.”


“We’re a little different,” Lucas said, switching positions with Jeremy and returning the favor.


“Different?” Jamie asked.


“We’ve always trained together,” Jeremy said, as Lucas scrubbed between his wings. “We form a trio. Cristophe calls us the Terrible Trio, but we really are a trio. We perform together. We’ve been together since we were decanted. When we were little we were with the juniors, but we’ve always performed together. We moved to the senior section as a trio, and we still dance together.”


“We’ve never danced with the juniors or the seniors,” Yves said, walking over to Jamie and turning his back on him. Suddenly Jamie realized that Yves wanted him to wash his back, and ever so gingerly, Jamie placed his hand and the bar of soap on Yves' back and began to soap it up. “It was decided almost from the beginning of our training that we would practice and perform as a trio.”


“So then, you really must be good,” Jamie said, hoping he was doing ok washing Yves. He and Charlie had often bathed together, and even washed each other’s backs, but Charlie was his younger brother.


“We are good,” Jeremy giggled and Lucas and Yves joined in, their laughter suddenly bouncing off the tile walls of the bath.


Jamie remained silent, and after a few seconds Jeremy’s voice echoed through the bath. “Really, Jamie, we are good,” he said, his voice becoming soft and sincere.


Realizing that his silence may have been mistaken for doubt, Jamie replied, “No, I believe you. This is all just new for me. I don’t really understand any of it.”


“Don’t worry,” Yves said. Jamie had finished and now Yves moved behind Jamie and began to soap his back. “We’ll teach you and show you the way around here. Cristophe said you were nice, and he’s always right.”


“Yes,” Lucas said. “Don’t let the mice get to you, and especially don’t let Trajan get under your skin. And anyway, maybe we’ll pay him a little visit some evening and tell him to stay clear of our friend Jamie.”


“You don’t have to.”


“Think nothing of it,” Lucas said, smiling at Jamie. “He’s afraid of us.”


When they were done, the boys climbed out of the bath and dried off with towels Carlos handed them. The Kalorian had brought clean clothes for the boys, including an outfit for Jamie that he suspected had been supplied by Garus. As they dressed, Jamie noticed the other boys' tunics had bright red trim. He could also see that that their sashes were not only bright red, but were also bordered with gold braid.


“Trajan wears red,” Jamie observed, as he watched the three boys get dressed.


“Please!” Lucas said, laughing. “He wears soft red; we’re bright red with gold trim – the highest level for students.


“The highest level!” Jamie said, unable to hid his surprise. “But you said...”


“... we’re twelve, and we’ve only been seniors for one year,” Yves said, cutting Jamie off. “The colors for the juniors are white, beige, tan, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, but take notice when you see them: all of them are a lighter colors. Look carefully when you’re back training with the mice. Seniors have the same colors for the corresponding levels, but our colors are bright and bold. Once you attain bright red, you’re at the top.”


“You only get gold trim if you’re a distinguished student performer,” Lucas said.


“And all of you are?” Jamie said.


“I told you we’re good,” Jeremy pointed out. “So when Trajan tries to impress you, remember: he goes back to white when he comes over to the seniors.”


“And he’ll be in white, dancing in the last row of the chorus line for a long time,” Lucas said, “while we’re part of the main act,” he added with a wink.


“We’re already part of the main act,” Jeremy noted, shooting his two friends an annoyed look.


“You know what I meant,” Lucas said, giving Jeremy a good-natured shove.


“We better go and report to Cristophe,” Yves said, “and when we do, I have an idea.”


“What’s your idea?” Jeremy asked.


“I’ll tell you on the way,” Yves said.


By the time the reached the courtyard, they’d hatched a plan. The afternoon sun was warm and Cristophe was waiting in the courtyard, sitting in the sunlight.


“It took you boys long enough,” he said.


“We have an idea,” Lucas began, giving Cristophe his most innocent look.


“I should say 'no' already, Lucas,” Cristophe said. “Every time you give me one of those looks, I know there’s trouble coming from the Terrible Trio."


“No,” Lucas said, almost pleading, “this is something good.”


“Just tell me,” Cristophe said, shaking his head and chuckling. “I guess I should be grateful for the warning.”


“This is Jamie’s first day, and it’s already been a bad one,” Lucas began. "Jeremy, Yves and I think we should try and make it better for him.”


“And how would you suggest doing that?” Cristophe said skeptically. “By diverting the fountain in front of the Impresario’s office and flooding the basement like your did last month? By gliding off the roof of the music building, and breaking two of their most expensive stained glass windows when you loosened some of the roof tiles, like you did the month before? Or by plowing up the flower garden in front of the opera house when you landed on top of it in the hov you presumptuously commandeered to fly to River Cross?”


“No,” Jeremy said, grinning. “We've already done all that. We’d probably do something more interesting."


Please,” Lucas once more pleaded. “We won’t do anything bad. We’d just like to give Jamie a tour of the Canon Mon Arts. It will cheer him up after such a hard day.”


“And how do I know I can trust you not to get into trouble?” Cristophe said, trying to give the boys a deadpan look, but it wasn’t working with the twinkle in his eye that gave him away. “Look boys, I know you never intend to actually cause trouble, but somehow the three of you always do. And it’s never anything little – it’s always mayhem on a grand scale.”


Looking at Jamie, he could tell that the boy was still overwhelmed and disoriented. Turning his gaze to Lucas, Jeremy and Yves, he noted their earnest sincerity and their desire to cheer up their new friend. He also knew that, at the moment, more than anything else, Jamie needed some friends. Finally, a smile crossed his face and the boys knew they had him.


“Very well,” he said solemnly. “I’ll give you a chance to be good, but so help me, if you get yourselves into trouble I won’t be pulling you out of it. If something goes amiss or gets broken, you might be spending a month at the pot sink in the kitchen, or mucking out the stables."


The boys looked each other and then gave a cheer.


“But there is one thing you can do for me,” Cristophe said.


“Tell us,” Yves said eagerly, “and we’ll do it.”


“Go to the Impresario’s office and give this to Tomac,” Cristophe said, holding a sealed envelop out to the boys. "It’s the junior performance schedule for next month. I was on my way to his office to give it to him when Jeremy came tearing out of the sky screaming that you were in trouble, Jamie. So I rushed back, never getting the chance to give it to him. He needs it today.”


“Sure, Cristophe, that’s easy. We’ll do it," Lucas said, taking the envelope from Cristophe.


“Just see that he gets it,” Cristophe said, “and please... be good.” 


“We’ll be good,” all three boys said in a practiced unison that seemed a little less than sincere, then quickly walked away, dragging Jamie with them.


“You have to scrub pots?” Jamie said as he rushed across the campus with the boys. He was surprised at what he’d heard Cristophe suggest as a punishment if the boys misbehaved


“Yes, if we’re bad. It’s one of Jakobus' punishments."


“Along with mucking out the stables,” Yves added.


“Uhm,” Jamie said. “Maybe it’s a standard punishment that Kalorians impose on troublemakers. Castor had me scrubbing pots all the time, and once I had to muck the stables out for a month."


“Who’s Castor?” Lucas asked.


“The head of household at my home,” Jamie said.


“Where you lived in Isewier?” Yves asked.


“Yes,” Jamie replied.


You had to wash pots and muck stables?” Lucas said, surprised. “But you’re a prince!”


“Castor didn’t care what I was,” Jamie said, suddenly smiling and surprised that he was remembering his punishments at the villa with a strange fondness. “When I got into mischief, he always sent me to the pot sink with the biggest and dirtiest pots to wash. It’s how I got to know the kitchen staff so well.”


“And did this happen often?” Lucas asked.


“Often enough, I guess,” Jamie said.


“That’s great!” Yves said in a bright and cheery voice as a broad smile came to his face


“Why?” Jamie asked, puzzled.


“That means you’re just like us,” Lucas said, interrupting. “It sounds like you have a talent for getting into trouble, just like we do.”


“But we never really try to do anything bad,” Jeremy protested. “Things just go wrong sometimes. We certainly don’t mean any harm and we’ve never tried to hurt anyone, or purposefully get into trouble, it just happens – a lot.”


“He’s right,” Yves said. “Almost every time we have a really good idea – something that might be fun – it usually turns out wrong, and we get into trouble.”


“I know what you mean,” Jamie said, shaking his head in agreement. “That always happens to me. When ever I want to see how something works, or learn something new, or try a new thing, or just want to have some fun, I get into trouble.”


“He is just like us,” Lucas said, leaping into the air and hovering for a few seconds before letting his feet touch the ground again. Then, grinning at Jamie, he added, “I knew we’d like you.”


Both Yves and Jeremy quickly agreed, excited that Jamie was as adventurous as they were.


The afternoon sun had warmed the air to a pleasant temperature as they walked across the park-like campus. “First, we’ll go to the Impresario’s office and give this to Tomac,” Lucas said. “Then we’ll give Jamie our special tour.”


“Special tour?” Jamie asked.


“Yes, all the secret places that no one knows about.”


“Ok,” Jamie said, “that would be fun.” His mind began to race as he realized how lucky he was to have met the three boys.


“Can I ask you something?” Jamie said.


“Sure,” Jeremy replied. “You can ask us anything.”


“If you’re only twelve, like me, how is it that you are three of the featured dancers in the senior troupe?"


“I told you we were good,” Jeremy said.


“I know,” Jamie asked, “but what makes you so good?”


“Something to do with Gold Glass,” Lucas said. “I think we were some kind of experiment.”


“Don’t listen to him,” Jeremy laughed. “He tells everyone that.”


“But it’s true,” Lucas said with calm self-assurance. “I know it’s true.”


At the words Gold Glass, Jamie’s attention quickly focused on Lucas. It was a reply he’d never expected from the boy. “Gold Glass?” he said, trying to sound calm and not too interested.


“Lucas thinks we were part of an experiment at Gold Glass, dealing with muscles. He has this crazy idea that it had something to do with creating an army of Avionnes that would have more flight endurance and be lighter, while at the some time stronger and more nimble on a battlefield. But we never found any proof of that.”


“Well it is true,” Lucas said, frowning at his two friends, "and just because you both think I’m making it up doesn’t mean it might not be true."


“What would make you think that, Lucas?” Jamie asked guardedly. This revelation was a huge surprise to him, and he was curious to know more.


“We found something about it on the net,” Lucas said casually. “And I believe it's true.”


“The net?” Jamie said, and his two hearts fluttered in his chest. “Do you have access to the net?”


“Yes, in the student library; it's over in the old conservatory building,” Yves said. “Access to the whole net is restricted. There are blocks that only allow us to access certain things, but any student can use it.”


“Any student?” Jamie repeated.


“Yes, any student can use the library when it’s open.”


Jamie’s couldn’t believe his ears – access to the net! Maybe there was hope, after all.


“Would you show it to me?” he asked, hoping he didn’t sound too eager.


“Sure, it’s part of the tour,” Jeremy said. “There are some great places to explore in the library.”


“And some great hiding places,” Yves added.


“Here we are,” Lucas said. They’d been walking and talking and Jamie had been so interested in what the three boys were telling him that he’d failed to notice their location. Now, standing in front of a small but grand looking building, Jamie realized it was the very first building he’d been brought to when he’d arrived on Canon Mon Arts the evening before.


“Come on,” Lucas said, brandishing the envelope in his hands as he bounded up the gray granite steps. “After I give this to Tomac, we can officially start the tour."


Jamie followed the three boys up the steps and into the building and an eerie feeling come over him when he realized that he was standing in the same spot he’d stood in almost twenty-four hours before.


“Wait here,” Lucas said, and took off down one of the corridors in the building.


While Jeremy and Yves waited near the door, Jamie was drawn back to the fountain with its beautiful statue of the dancing boy. He walked over to it, and looked up into the smiling boy’s face.


“Isn’t it great?” Jeremy said. He’d come up behind Jamie when he noticed his new friend walking away from them. Side-by-side, Jamie and Jeremy looked up at the boy balanced on the toes of one foot. “The flying arabesque,” Jeremy said, “Cristophe’s signature move. No one’s ever duplicated it. And believe me they’ve all tried, including Lucas, Yves and me.”


“Cristophe?” Jamie said, a bit surprised, but then as he stared more closely at the statue, a light went on in his head. The beautiful, smiling boy balanced on the fountain was none other than Cristophe.


“Yes, he was the best,” Yves said. “It’s true, what we told you – he’s a living legend.”


“But the chair... what happened?” Jamie stammered. “An accident? A fall?”


“No,” a voice said, and Jamie turned around to see that Lucas had returned from his errand and was standing behind them. “Trencher’s syndrome,” he said. “It’s caused by contaminated nutrient fluid in the maturation units. It attacks the nerves in the spine, but doesn’t show up until age eighteen. Then it goes quickly and it leads to... well...  you've seen Cristophe,” Lucas said sadly.


“And he’s one of the luckier ones,” Jeremy added. “Most become almost completely paralyzed. Cristophe can at least use him arms, and his wings weren’t affected.”


“It’s not curable?” Jamie asked.


“No, but it is preventable – at least it is now. Trencher’s wasn’t discovered until those first affected with it were around eighteen, so others who were younger had it too – they were just too young for it to manifest – Cristophe was one of them. No one knew until he turned eighteen and began to show signs of it. In the meantime, the scientists found the cause; they made a drug that they now add to the nutrient formula. It kills the thing responsible for the disease. It's too bad no one knew about it in advance. It’s rare, but unluckily for Cristophe he was one of the ones affected. They say it will never happen again now that they have the proper drug to put into the solution, but that doesn’t help Cristophe."


“Poor Cristophe,” Jamie said, suddenly feeling sad for the boy who had been so kind to him. “There’s nothing worse than a dancer who can’t do what he does best - what he loves to do.”


“True," Yves said.


“I’ve given Tomac the schedule,” Lucas said in an attempt to change the subject, since he was eager to leave. “Let's give Jamie the tour.”


Exiting the building that housed the Impresario’s office, they began to stroll across the campus of Canon Mon Arts. As they did, the boys pointed out many of the buildings and helped provide Jamie with a sense of direction for when he braved the campus on his own.


“The top of the Mountain has all the important structures,” Yves said as they began their tour. “The school, all the concert halls, some important museums and art galleries, the student museum, and of course, the Mondele Royale itself – the finest opera house in the empire.”


“The slave quarters and lesser buildings are a bit lower down on the hill,” Jeremy said.


Jamie was amazed at the number of beautiful buildings, large and small, that dotted the campus. Their styles varied, but each was a jewel – a work of art in itself.


“Here are the dorms for the music students,” Jeremy said, pointing to a long building similar to the  dancers' dormitories.


“Do many students live here – on the Mountain, I mean?” Jamie asked, remembering how Cristophe had told him of the other students artists and performers.


“Yes, the École isn’t just the dancing school; it’s made up of many smaller academies, and all of them are devoted to some form of the arts,” Jeremy said.


“We share our dining hall with about half of the music students,” Yves said, “but if you look past the musician's dormitory, you’ll see a building like the one we use for practice – it also has a refectory, and all of the art students eat there along with the rest of the music students.”


“Cristophe told me there were other students here studying many different things,” Jamie said.


"Sure," Lucas laughed. “It is The Mountain of the Arts. There are painters, sculptors, and those who work in frescoes or the school of design and architecture.”


“So they’re teaching Icari... ah, Avionnes to be artists?” Jamie asked.


“Yes, of course. At least the talented ones – those whose cortical scans show an aptitude for art,” Yves said. “Even the Craftsmen’s House has a school here that teaches furniture making, goldsmithing, porcelain and enamel work, gilding, and plaster art.”


“Craftsman’s House? What’s that?” Jamie asked.


“One of the Houses,” Lucas said. “You know, of the Royal and Imperial houses. You’re a royal - shouldn't you know what they are?”


“Not really,” Jamie said, a bit puzzled. He’d come across a few references on the net, but hadn’t thought anything of them.


“You know, the Avionne Royal and Imperial Houses: if you're a royal, you're automatically a member."


“I am?” Jamie’s voice gave away his shocked surprise.


“Well, of course,” Yves said. “What is your House, anyway?”


“Ah... uhm... well... I really don’t know,” Jamie said. “We had no such thing in Isewier.”


“Really?” Now it was Lucas' turn to sound surprised. “I thought every royal was a member of a House.”


The boys were all quiet for a minute as they thought about what they’d learned. Yves, Lucas and Jeremy had never heard of a royal not being a member of a house, and they couldn’t understand why Jamie wouldn’t know anything about the Houses. Jamie, never aware of such things, couldn’t understand what the boys were talking about and resolved to learn more from them. The silence was broken only when they approached a large building that loomed up ahead of them.


The structure looked like a large chateau; its size alone was quite impressive. Jamie stopped and stared at it. The four-story building, with its many turrets and towers, reminded him of a castle. Its stone exterior, towers, battlements, and gray slate roofs bespoke a design that was powerful, but elegant. Long windows wrapped around all sides of each floor. A large drawbridge gate was lowered over a ditch that surrounded the building and may have once been a moat, but was now dry. The portcullis had been raised and Jamie could see that it opened into a large courtyard. All four boys walked across the drawbridge and through the front gate and Jamie could see that the courtyard was paved with marble tiles. Five beautiful fountains – a large one in the center and four smaller ones in each of the four corners – bubbled and spurted, creating pleasant and soothing sounds. Large windows and a number of stone balconies overlooked the courtyard.


“This is the superintendent's office and residence,” Yves said. "It was the home of the first emperors before the Imperial palace was built on Canon Piazza Imperius. After the emperor moved over there 300 years ago, this became the first school.”


“But then more students came, and they couldn’t all live here,” Lucas said. "So the dormitories were built, and when the students moved out, it was renovated and given to the superintendent.”


“It’s beautiful,” Jamie said, turning in all directions as his eye caught one unique element of the building's design after another. “It amazing to think that only one person lives here.”


“Well, the central administrative offices for the whole mountain are also here and there’s a large staff, so he’s not really alone,” Yves explained.


Leaving the courtyard of the superintendent’s office, they boys continued down an expansive green lawn. The space was a large rectangle, bordered on all sides by buildings.


“That’s the writer’s academy,” Jeremy said, pointing to a building that looked like a classical temple. "They get the nicest building on campus."


The building, with its ionic columns and small copper dome, looked like an architectural fantasy and Jamie knew that Charlie could have immediately told him from what commonwealth period the style had originated. Opposite the temple, on the other side of the lawn, was a large, five-story structure topped with a small cupola. The building had a plaster facade that had been painted a pale yellow, and a steep, sloping roof.  Every window on the front of the building was made of leaded, colored class. A beautiful frieze wrapped around both the top and middle of the building. As they approached it, Jamie could see that the frieze depicted various musical instruments in a repeating pattern.


“The music conservatory,” Jeremy said.


Jamie noticed that two of the windows on the top story were missing and boarded up. Above them, white streaks were etched in the slate roof, and a few roofing tiles were missing. Pointing to the vacant windows, he asked, “Is that where...?”


“Yes,” Lucas said quickly, cutting him off as if he didn’t want to hear Jamie say the words out loud.


“The two windows we broke,” Yves said. “We were trying an experiment with a small sled we made. You see how steep the roof slopes? We took a board and put some small metal wheels on it. Then we climbed to the cupola and got onto the roof.”


“We put the sled down and were going to lay prone on it,” Yves said. “Our idea was that once the sled got to the edge of the roof and dropped away, we would be propelled into the air and soar over the campus."


“I was the first to go,” Lucas interjected.


“That’s when things went wrong,” Jeremy said.


“The wheels jammed up, and instead of turning just cut grooves into the slate and knocked off some off the tiles. That broke the windows,” Yves said.


“When I got to the edge of the roof, I fell off it instead of being launched,” Lucas said. “Lucky for me I’m a good dancer, because I recovered quickly and managed to fly out of it so I didn’t get hurt.”


“When we got down, the deputy superintendent and some of the canon’s security staff met us,” Jeremy said, grimacing at the memory.


“It didn’t go well,” Lucas added. “They just didn’t understand,” he said, sounding honestly puzzled at the negative reaction he and his friends had received.


“We mucked the stables out for a month,” Yves said.


“And we were confined to our rooms during our free time," Lucas said. “It was terrible.”


Jamie nodded his head in understanding. “How big was the board for the sled?” he asked.


After Yves told him, he asked about the size and type of the wheels. “Uhm,” he finally said, after looking up at the roof. "I think your problem was in the design of the sled, given the angle of the roof. I bet if you redesigned the sled, taking into consideration the pitch of the roof, the rate of descent, and putting the Pythagorean theorem to use, it would work. It’s certainly feasible.”


The other three boys looked at Jamie as if he were speaking a foreign language.


“I have no idea what you just said,” Jeremy said.


“But it sounds good,” Yves said. “Maybe next time....”


“You’d do it again?” Jamie asked.


“Sure, why not? Especially after what you said. Even though I don’t know what you're talking about, you seem to understand what you're doing. You make it sound like it would work.”


“It would,” Jamie said, “but I don’t know. I don’t feel like mucking out any stables, and if I’m confined to my room I won’t get to see you.”


“True,” Lucas said. “Well, maybe after you’re here for a while."


That settled, the boys continued on their tour and Jamie could see that they were headed toward a large building that looked like a gothic cathedral – a style of architecture he did recognize from his studies with Mobley.


“The Aristis Concert Hall,” Yves said as they approached, “It’s used for acoustic musical concerts,” he continued. “Much of the Commonwealth’s early music was written for religious reasons, and this hall duplicates the acoustics of a church. It also makes for a dramatic setting to perform in.”


When they reached the entrance of the hall, they entered through its tall doors and Jamie was surprised to see that it did, indeed, look like an ancient church - resplendent with stained glass windows, mosaics, and frescoes. Where an altar would have stood in a church was the performance stage, rigged with lights and other equipment. Leaving the concert hall, they went across the campus to another building Lucas wanted to show Jamie.


The afternoon passed in similar fashion, with the boys taking Jamie all over the Mountain of the Arts, showing him a wondrous array of sights. Jamie got to see the Rondo, a large concert hall in the round with its stage in the center and the audience sitting all around it. He saw the acrobatics gymnasium and performance area. They took him into an art gallery that housed nothing but sculptures. They even showed him the lake that had been created on the Mountain, along with a large, well-manicured field where the students played outdoor sports in their time off.


As the day progressed and the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, Lucas took notice and spoke up. “We better get back to the École,” he said. “It’s getting late, and I’m hungry.”


“You’re always hungry,” Yves said.


“But we didn’t show him the two most important places on the mountain," Jeremy protested, “the Mondele and the Library. And we never even got to any of our secret places,” he lamented.


“He’s going to be here for more than one day,” Yves said. “And hungry or not, Lucas is right: if we don’t get back we’ll miss supper, and that’s an infraction of the rules. We’ll all be in big trouble when all we wanted to do was be nice by making Jamie’s first day end better than it started. We’re probably already late.”


“See how we get into trouble?” Lucas said. “And it’s not even our fault.”


“I understand. It happens to me all the time,” Jamie said, remembering how many times he’d been late when he and Charlie were out on an adventure, having fun. Castor always got cross with him and some times punished him. And when he’d protest that they’d only been having fun and hadn’t done anything wrong, it would only risk getting even more time at the pot sink. The thought brought his mind back to his brother. How was Charlie? What was he doing? He knew he’d be safe with the Ghröum, but he wondered when – and even if – he’d see him again. A shiver went up his spine. He was a prisoner. He had to remember that. His first day had almost been a complete disaster. If it hadn’t been for his three new friends, it definitely would have ended worse than it started.


When they arrived back at the École, dinner was already in progress. The three boys entered the hall and walked to their usual spot. Jamie followed, feeling self-conscious. A few moments after entering the refectory he was noticed, and word of his presence spread like wildfire. Walking to his seat, he listened as the noise in the hall decreased until the only sounds were those of knives, forks, and spoons against dishes. Most of the boys in the dining hall were looking at him. Singled out, he could feel his ears and his face get warm as he began to blush. Looking straight ahead, he walked past the row of senior boys responsible for his shame, but didn’t look at them. After he was seated, the silence lasted only for a few minutes and as boys began to speak and laugh with each other, it resumed its previous level. Jamie couldn’t help but wonder, as he looked around the dining hall at the smiling, laughing, and joking boys, just how many of their conversations and jokes were about him.


That night, back in his room, he lay in his bed and thought about everything that had happened his first day at the École and wondered if it things would get better or worse. He missed his home and family terribly, and he wondered what the future would bring. Feeling sad, he closed his eyes and sighed. His mind was full of so many thoughts he thought it would explode, but eventually he fell asleep.